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HomeIssue 10Aussie tourists 'hassled, disappointed, fearful' in Alice, Uluru

Aussie tourists ‘hassled, disappointed, fearful’ in Alice, Uluru


The media are sometimes blamed for harming our tourism industry by reporting “bad” news. This blame often comes from people who’d rather shoot the messenger than deal with the message.

For our part, the Alice Springs News Online has extolled the lifestyle in The Centre, and the magnificence of our landscape, in hundreds of stories and pictures, and our team, over nearly four decades, has produced thousands of TV news, current affairs, magazine and documentary pieces which put our region on the world map – better than any advertising agency could ever dream of doing.

But when we become aware of a “bad” news story that is poignant and whose publication may lead to positive changes, we’ll also publish it – and this is one of those occasions.

An Australian tourist emailed Mayor Damien Ryan and all councillors, saying he would be “embarrassed to recommend Alice Springs and Uluru to anyone”.

That email was forwarded to us by Cr Steve Brown, who said the public needs to know about the fears and disgust experienced by this group of people who came to Alice Springs for a great time and left disappointed.

We sought permission from the author to publish his email. He granted it but asked for his name – supplied to the council members and known to us – to be withheld. Here then is that visitor’s unabridged message:

A group of us have just visited your city and have had a wonderful week sightseeing Alice to Uluru and much in-between. There are a few things I think you should know, some of which I am sure you already do. We all agreed that we would never recommend anyone visit Alice Springs. To be specific, we were very disappointed because:

• As Australians, we would be embarrassed by the behaviour of the indigenous population. We were warned not to go certain places at certain times by your locals. We feared for our safety many times.

• We did walk and shop in Alice only to be sometimes hassled by the local Aborigines.

• I know I am speaking in generalities, and you may be used to it, but the smell of many of the locals was unbearable. We left shopping, and we left the Casino because we could not bear the smell of some the people. Before you declare us racist, we would be concerned by any people with these issues.

• Uluru, the Olgas, Standleys, Simpsons Gap etc etc etc – all great. One thing was missing – the people supposedly caring for these wonderful pieces of nature. We spoke to many other tourists who simply could not believe there were no Aborigines around at these wonderful places to really promote their culture. The only culture we saw was NOT what we would want the world to see.

• Cafe and restaurant services were generally quite poor. We rarely received good service at still very high prices.

• Hotels were fair to average – nothing stood out.

I guess the Alice Springs Town Council can do little in these matters. But we thought, as fellow Australians, you should at least know why we feel the way we do. The bottom-line is that we would be embarrassed to recommend Alice / Uluru to anyone. I am sorry to be so vocal, but what nature has given us in and around Alice / Uluru should be shared worldwide!

Photo: Drinking and fighting in the town centre.


  1. Since the editors have gone to the trouble to get permission from the authors of the e-mail to publish it, I am hoping the authors will follow the comments as they unfold on these pages.
    From my heart, thank you. What you have written is true, as all of us who live here know full well. We may not feel comfortable admitting it, but the hard truths you mention stare us in the face every day.
    It’s not the whole truth. Alice is much bigger than the few who feel empowered to trash themselves and the town we all live in. But it is a large part of our truth due to it being so very public.
    Thank you for speaking out about what you have experienced. Other visitors, and many locals, (most visitors and all locals?) have experienced exactly the same, and its well past time to point out that the King has no clothes.

  2. It is far beyond time that we adopted a no nonsense zero tolerance attitude towards the issues of cleanliness and behaviour raised in this letter.
    Cleanliness and behaviour are not issues of race. They are issues of respect.
    Health regulations have long required people entering shops and public spaces to be wearing shoes, clothing and be clean.
    Community behavioural expectations are a matter of law. It is time we as a community insisted on these laws and regulations being enforced For everybody’s benefit.
    The deteriorating standards of cleanliness and behaviour constantly on display around us have come about because there has been a perception that these issues are in some way racist in their nature. They are not.
    As the long as the rules are applied equally to all people of all races then they are not racist. Presuming that some people can’t be well behaved, clean, or that they just naturally have offensive odour is both untrue and very definitely racist in its nature.
    It is true that the living conditions of some, particularly our bush visitors, make it difficult to be clean and tidy.
    We can do something about that, by making sure that there are readily available ablution facilities.
    I have raised on several occasions the necessity for “Welcome to Town” visitor centres to be constructed at our northern and southern entrances providing ablutions and change of clothes facilities at an affordable rate for visitors arriving in town, making it simple for them to comply with well published dress, cleanliness and behavioural expectations.
    I have received many, many complaints about our town similar to the one published here. As a community we should all be aware of the very real damage these issues are doing our image both as a place to visit and as a place to live.
    The cost of providing “Welcome to Town” facilities is a mere pittance compared to the losses in income brought about by our community’s continued tolerance of health and behaviour standards that many visitors find intolerable.
    Throughout the world people living in absolute poverty alongside open drains in slums still manage to make themselves clean tidy and acceptable to others. So can we.
    There is no excuse for allowing this to continue. Insisting on a standard lifts everybody up, it fosters community harmony, self esteem and respect.
    And it’s about time we found the intestinal fortitude to bring this about. Consistent, zero tolerance enforcement of the rules will quickly see compliance become the norm, good for everybody, great for tourism and fantastic for our community.

  3. I feel the same as the tourist, and I live here. Alice Springs is a beautiful place, for the greater part being ruined by (and let’s be honest here) indigenous Australians. In my line of work I speak with tourists all the time – Americans, Japanese, Germans etc.
    I have not crossed paths with a single one who leaves this town with a sympathetic feeling towards Aboriginal Australians.
    I am often asked about their antisocial behaviour, why they are always sitting around, how they can afford so much alcohol, why they stink so much, and what happened to the culture Tourism Australia promotes.
    I tell them it all comes down to respect for society, respect for property and respect for themselves – and the truth is that too many of them have none.

  4. My question, following Steve, is who gets to decide what is acceptable and why are they the arbiters? Serious question.

  5. That monologue routine’s an absolute killer Steve (Posted May 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm). Who’s your writer?
    Maybe you could give it an airing in a comedy slam at the Olive Pink Botanical Garden, and raise some money for local endangered species, such as the near-extinct Rude Centralian Feral Dingbat (a subspecies of the national Great Big Rude Australian Dingbat).
    I understand that AZRI researchers reckon the remnant local feral dingbat population is getting thin on the ground now.
    This is not just because of the dingbat’s penchant for encouraging buffel grass, and then getting caught in the flames.
    It is also because CATIA members have been promoting dingbats as a desirable exotic hunting and food item for the extreme adventure tourists. These tourists actually track dingbats down while they are snoozing, singe their tough old hides off, and eat them rare with a desert raisin crust.
    It would be a serious and unacceptable attack on our heritage and values if the dingbats went down completely in the face of a violent onslaught from dirty disrespectful untidy unfragrant extreme adventure foreigners.
    The dingbats need you Steve; just do it.

  6. When will the PC do rights driving the guilt wagon wake up to the fact that a spade is a spade?

  7. While I agree that what is written in the email is all truth, I think it is well worth noting that the email seems to be nothing more than a natural reaction from an Australian who really has no idea about how the other half live.
    It must have really been a shock to uncover the way in which SOME local Aboriginal people have begun to conduct their lives. But adopting a ZERO tolerance policy is not the right reaction to this situation.
    The subjects of this email are people, this is how they have come to live and behave (for whatever reasons), and reacting like an embarrassed parent scolding their misbehaving children actually will not help.
    Instead pollies need to realise that it is a multi-layered issue which requires a multi-layered response. Hiding them and threatening punishment for poor hygiene and anti-social (not illegal) behaviour is not going to change anyone or anything.
    Welcome to the product of past policy failures. It isn’t pretty is it, Australia?
    But what happens from here will determine whether we are going to be facing this problem again in the years to come, or whether a change and a restoration in the self-worth and confidence of these PEOPLE can occur.

  8. Thanks Renee (Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:48 am) for introducing some valuable insights, sense and thoughtfulness into this fraught debate.

  9. Filth is filth, violence is violence. For way to long have we been directed to accept this as “their culture”. Who are they? Filth and violence – are they really a cultural way of life for Aboriginals?
    Clean and tidy persons are displaying respect for themselves and others. It is referred to as social inclusion, being part of a community.
    Violence is unacceptable at any level in society yet we ignore the adherent violence everywhere. We demand bullying to stop in the school grounds and on social media and other areas of social interaction.
    It is time we all took a breath and agreed that filth is a health issue and not acceptable. It is time to address violence at all levels as unacceptable.
    Typical of so many in this day and age to attack anyone who states the obvious whilst they themselves ignore the issues. This is where we break down in society we do not address issues of need. We choose the distractions.
    A footy match, Mall upgrade and so on. Like the slogan “Positive Alice” is a runaway statement to ignore the suffering of the people at so many varied levels.
    Many of our elected members on Council went there on the banner to clean up our town and what has been done to lobby NT and Federal governments to assist in cleaning up our town, providing housing to those moving here by building and providing affordable accommodation. Nothing!
    More houses sold from the NT government housing stock. Over the last 20 years there has been over 500 NT government housing stock in Alice Springs sold off and to my knowledge less than 50 built.
    We have hotels that have closed doors and sold off their rooms. So where do tourist stay. Our ignorance is why our tourism has declined.
    We have no town plan, no business plan, no future plan for growth in tourism and tourist facilities.
    We just keep doing the same thing, tripping over our own feet because we fail to see where we are going or where we need to be.
    Because where we are now is nowhere. This new CLP government has again chucked the baby out with the bath water by implementing the new building code and handing it over to Master Builders group. Way to go very practical.
    Wipe out every small builder and ensure big business has the monopoly over building in the Territory. This same lame policy has been thrown out in every other state as it makes building extremely expensive and decreases the opportunities for people to own homes.
    And impacts on the employment prospects for the population. Talk about us and them. Time as I said to stop take a breath and stop making decisions on the run and design a business plan that will work and benefit the people of the territory by growth, social inclusion and respect.
    Address the needs of the community and stop the ride and step off and take a look and see if this is really where we want to be.

  10. @ Janet Brown. “Filth and violence – are they really a cultural way of life for Aboriginals?” Not any more, nor less than definitions of filth and violence could be ascribed to non-Aboriginal cultures.
    The majority Aboriginal society is closer to a traditional lifestyle than the majority of non-Aboriginal residents in Alice Springs and there are some thankfully different aspirations, but not, I suspect, in optimum health outcomes.
    Herein lies the difficulty for “social inclusion”. An analysis of the public health burden in reference to the NT Budget gives a fair indication as to how that might be improved.

  11. @ taxpayer. I really enjoyed your post, but how about some reflection time?
    To say the “Indigenous” or “Aboriginal” mob stink, have no self respect and are basically all the same shows your complete lack of understanding and knowledge of Central Australian dynamics.
    Now to me, it’s obvious that your money is made from showing tourists the best of Aboriginal country to make your money. Now, to say that “Indigenous” people have no self respect is to group us all together.
    A Warlpiri person would be totally offended if you said that they were the same as an Arrernte person.
    Now on the flip side, it would be the same as me saying all white people are red neck racists (like you), because that would be totally unfair as many white Australians (unlike you) are decent people.
    Now, if your perception is that the “indigenous” ruin this town, then why are you here? You don’t belong to this country, you assume no authority over it and you cannot prove through international law that you own it through sovereignty.
    You are no different to the immigrants who arrive on our shores from overseas, and the self righteous attitude you display will be exposed in time.
    So I say to you, if you can’t deal with the cultural hot pot that Alice springs is, then leave.
    Go back to where you came from, if you know where that is.
    And for the Alice News that allows these brainless [people] to post, you should also be ashamed, as you are not contributing to fixing the issues this town has.
    [ED – One thing you will need to learn, “Perrurle”, is the meaning of freedom of speech. Let me adapt the saying: the Alice Springs News Online may not agree with what you are saying, but we will defend to our last breath your right to say it. And that does not include the right to vilify – hence the substitution of your choice of word with [people] – see above. We look forward to your next post.]

  12. And for all you people who say it is part of Aboriginal culture to be violent and drunk and disorderly, you need to remember who bought all these things to Central Australia.
    It shows that you don’t actually know Aboriginal people, and you need to pull out the microscope on your own people.
    You bought the disease, you bought the grog, you expected us to conform to your society, and still do.
    If you want to complain about Aboriginal people, then leave.
    Australia was established as a penal colony, you are the descendants of the worst of the worst from Britain. Be proud.

  13. @perrule the country is called Australia. It is home to those who are born here and those who want to be here.
    It does not discriminate on race and really does not care who was here first. Because those people are now deceased.
    Their linage may live on but no one has a greater right than anyone else to the land – it is here for us all it does not care about nationalities. How we live in this land is what defines us.
    To blame others for self harm and failures is to remove their rights as an individual. Life is not easy for all of us. But it is how we deal with adversity that defines us.
    You generalise all who are not Aboriginal for introducing all those nasties (products everyone has a choice to say no to) as supplied and introduced by them.
    There are a huge number of Aboriginal persons who have non Aboriginal blood and lineage in their heritage. But I would like to take this one step further and don’t get scared perrule. WE ARE ALL HUMAN! Yes, we are made up of blood, bone and everything else. No difference except what we think. And how we treat others.
    And then another step: How is stating the obvious racist? The true racists are those who treat people as different and sets policies and addresses people through race.
    Yes, the true racists are our governments. There is nothing wrong with addressing persons by description. White Caucasian male dark hair, Asian woman … these assist in descriptions, they are not racists.

  14. @ Janet Brown. You are right about “how we live in this land defines us”, but would your opinion extend to why it is that protective custody admissions in the Northern Territory show that Aboriginal people constitute about 87 per cent of all people taken into protective custody? Source: Jared Sharp. Advocacy Manager. North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency. ABC The World Today. 28/5/13.

  15. Hi Russell, at a guess, I would say that would be because 87 percent of the people who require protection from themselves or the protection of others through excessive alcohol consumption are Aboriginal.
    I would support Jared’s figures completely. The same would probably also apply to the massive number of aboriginal people appearing in court daily, because they are the ones who commit the crimes.
    I would imagine that that figure would also be around 86-87 percent. I have lived in the same house for 10 years, and only once have I had to call the police, or ambulance for Caucasian people.
    Not being racist here Russell, just stating what I have observed. The Crown land near Lovegrove Drive is full of Aboriginal people camping (illegally, with no toilet facilities, and with young kids who obviously do not attend school).
    The litter, abandoned blankets, and flies in summer that are attracted to human waste, are not something that a civilised society should have to witness.
    Sadly, I have never seen a white person in these conditions in the last 10 years.
    This could explain what the original article was about, tourists coming to our town through million dollar promotions and leaving, disgusted in what they experienced.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful for these tourists to go away with great memories, rather than disappointment. We should be grateful they took the time to explain to us what we need to be aware of, so we, as a community can work on fixing them, for the benefit of all.
    We are all part of the human race, who came first is not as important as understanding that we are all in it together.
    Sorry Russell, still no last name, but don’t let that diminish the fact that what I have said is my true opinion.
    Cheers, Ray.

  16. Janet Brown
    @ perrule the country is called Australia. It is home to those who are born here and those who want to be here.
    It does not discriminate on race and really does not care who was here first. Because those people are now deceased.
    Their linage may live on but no one has a greater right than anyone else to the land – it is here for us all it does not care about nationalities. How we live in this land is what defines us.
    To blame others for self harm and failures is to remove their rights as an individual. Life is not easy for all of us. But it is how we deal with adversity that defines us.
    You generalise all who are not Aboriginal for introducing all those nasties (products everyone has a choice to say no to) as supplied and introduced by them.
    There are a huge number of Aboriginal persons who have non Aboriginal blood and lineage in their heritage. But I would like to take this one step further and don’t get scared, Perrule. WE ARE ALL HUMAN! Yes, we are made up of blood, bone and everything else. No difference except what we think. And how we treat others.
    And then another step: How is stating the obvious racist? The true racists are those who treat people as different and set policies and address people through race.

  17. Government needs focus on education, need dump racial tag reports.
    Report what percentage of people taken into protective custody are:
    (1) first-timers;
    (2) graded by number of times taken into custody;
    (3) Indicate which of them have:
    (3a) less than basic functional level of oral English;
    (3b) less than Australian average year 6 reading;
    (3c) less than Australian average year 10 certificates;
    (3d) less than Australian average year 12 certificates;
    (3e) less than Australian formal post school standards accreditation;
    (4) IF homeless, why?
    This shifts focus on more realistic, and achievable, needs.

  18. I agree in certain way with you. Thing is that the Aboriginals live in their country, we are just visitors.
    We need to accept that we are coming to their home and are visitors.
    I agree the smell is not great but that’s how they have lived for thousands of years.
    There is not much water there. They don’t like us have the hygiene standards that are not the Aboriginal.
    I am not Australian. I am American.
    I stayed four months in Alice Springs and my experience was as expected. I felt welcomed and never felt fear.
    Like in any other place I was always aware of my surroundings. I wish I could go back soon.
    There is nothing like the Alice Springs night sky. Could spend my whole life looking up at that night sky. Enjoy your country and accept what you can not change.

  19. I’m a little confused reading some of these comments about white people just landing here 240 years ago and bringing booze and bad manners with them.
    In fact, isn’t that what the Aboriginal people did 40,000 years ago? They just landed here from Asia and just decided to stay here, didn’t they?
    They travelled from Africa and Northern India and crossed either by canoe or boat or by walking across a land bridge between Asia and Australia, didn’t they?
    So couldn’t it be argued that Australia’s first people were actually Indian or African?
    These people are the Aboriginals’ ancestors, aren’t they?
    Shouldn’t they be the rightful owners? Or does that just not fit into folk law history?
    I realise it is very convenient for current Aboriginal people to claim it is their land, but who gave them the right to it, any more than any other people?
    This is how this “rights” thing works.
    And how does that make the current situation with the Aboriginal people all the fault of the white people that came here, 240 years ago?
    And yes, I know the do-gooders are going to sprook the “generations of Aboriginals have suffered” mantra.
    But after 240 years, don’t you think they have had enough time to get it sorted?
    Nobody seems to be responsible for their own actions anymore.
    Truly, where has all this gone wrong?
    Aboriginals get drunk, disorderly and fight in the streets in Alice Springs, so we blame the British Government for something that happened 240 years ago. That’s pathetic.
    Aboriginals are over represented in our jails BECAUSE THEY COMMIT CRIMES.
    Do people honestly think that the police gather up a posse every Friday night and ride out specifically looking to lynch Aboriginals? these are the views of clever, university educated people protecting their PC believers and the cotton wool wrapped minority groups.
    Everyone has feelings, everyone is important, everyone should have a meaningful and important job title – everyone should get an ice-cream. This is what this country has become.
    With all this PC BS, we have created a society where nobody is responsible for what they do because the wrong-doers and the PC believers just point the finger elsewhere and cry racist!”
    You are all too scared to do anything other than tow the PC line. Just appalling really. Nobody is out to discriminate, people just want a slither of reality to cling to.
    And until we get rid of this “tape over our mouths” PC BS, the situation will just get worse.
    And just for the record, some of us aren’t clever. We don’t have a bachelors degree. We just have real life experience. Not experience we have read in a book, written by another clever person with a degree. We see the world for what it is.
    But anyway, you clever people are steering the ship now – onto the rocks.
    Good luck.

  20. Just to say Nina, I never reached Year 10 by the government. I’m fifty and they say I’m Yr7 competent. Like what! I’m a full blood Aussie born but not my ancestors who were Irish and Scottish. But the government did wrong by heaps of us kids.
    My best mate for 10 years is full Aboriginal. He didn’t pass Yr3 because the government din’t care.
    But he went to Yr10 like me. We remember because we had met when we were five at children’s homes and then high school.
    It was meant to be for us to look after each other and recognise what shit we had been through with the government. I say it in anger, not supported by family and Whom do you Trust?

  21. I have often entertained a trip to Alice Springs. I questioned my choice after hearing and reading negative reports about the place.
    I became a little more sceptical after researching and reading motel reports regarding safety precautions they have in place including locked up areas for visitors’ vehicles. And warnings about walking around town alone at night.
    Over the past five years I have met seven Alice Springs ex pats, five Indigenous and two non Indigenous. All are born and bred in the Alice Springs area, as their families are. Their warnings are even more defining: “Don’t go there. Why do you think we left.”
    As much as I want to go there and see the area, I think the local culture is not the Indigenous culture I have experienced in the Eora country I was born and raised in and the Midginbul country I now live in.
    I guess I will go without seeing Uluru because of the attitude of the Arrernte people. I’ll stay away and leave it to them.


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