Desert Knowledge offshoot turns 10: The Clever One – really?


There is one thing Ninti One – translated as Clever One – has practised persistently in its first decade of operation: spin.
Its General Manager Operations, former Alice Springs mayor Fran Kilgariff, this week gave a briefing about the Desert Knowledge offshoot, Ninti One, turning 10.
It included the multi-million dollar, Federally funded, five year camel cull due to end this year.
She said more than 100,000 camels had been “removed”. We asked were they had been removed to.
We and many other media have reported extensively about the animals being shot from helicopters and left to rot where they dropped in the desert.
Ms Kilgariff told us only Managing Director Jan Ferguson could grant media interviews. No answer on camels despite a day and a half of trying to get one.
The 100,000 killed camels – some 40 million kilograms of edible meat – make up 10% of the estimated population of one million which is doubling every seven to eight years. So far from being clever the exercise has been likened to the Gillard government’s pink batts fiasco.
Ms Kilgariff claimed “expertise” in camel management had been obtained. We asked what kind and by whom – no answer.
How many camels were mustered and sold? How many people were employed in the camel project? How much did it cost (expenses less any sales profits)? How many feral camels are there in Central Australia now? Zip the lip.
A significant part of Ms Kilgariff’s account was about the setting up of community researchers (photos) by Ninti One, up to 90 people in the NT, WA and SA. As Aboriginal people are one of the world’s most examined ethnic groups, it should perhaps come as no surprise that they are now researching themselves.
Are there not more pressing employment objectives than Aboriginal consultancies? Has research over the past decades not provided enough information for basic changes to be made in the catastrophic areas of health, crime and employment, we asked. Zip.
There is now much discussion about the reluctance of Aboriginal people to accept jobs in the few existing horticultural projects in The Center, and about this work being done, for example, by Vietnamese from the Riverland and backpackers.
The only planting work shown in Ms Kilgariff’s presentation is being done by a whitefeller. How many local people are now employed in horticulture as a result of 10 years’ work by Ninti One? The answer … well, you guessed it.
In October 2010 the Alice Springs News Online spoke with Ms Ferguson about a cattle management tool using telemetry that had been in development for some years by Ninti One predecessor DK-CRC.
NEWS: One of the projects in the first six-year CRC was what I understood to be a pastoral management tool, and there is a similar project planned for the second CRC. What was the take-up by industry of the systems developed in the first CRC? How many cattle stations are using them?
FERGUSON: This is where you come from a basic misconception. What we developed is now with a commercialisation company and eventually you’ll be able to buy it, assuming all that is successful.
NEWS: How do I contact the commercialisation company?
FERGUSON: I’ll see if they want to talk to you, they may, they may not. I may be contravening privacy legislation if I gave you their name.
So, how many cattle stations have bought that tool? It is still undergoing “trialling” on 20 cattle stations around the NT, Ms Kilgariff told us.
Silence was the answer also to our questions about:-
• Ninti One wants to get away from government contracts, seeking more private private ones. How many have been obtained? From whom? For what revenue?
• What was the average annual budget of Ninti One and its predecessor over the 10 years? Where did that funding come from?
• What have the following projects mentioned by you achieved to date: population mobility project, life of mines, energy futures, carbon economy, art economy outside art centres, Aboriginal tourism, Aboriginal enterprises, bush tomatoes, interplay between health, wellbeing and employment … quality of life (does that really need more research?), is remote education effective, pathways to employment?
And, of course, does the organisation – motto Information – Innovation – Ideas for Remote Australia – deserve the name it has given itself, the Clever One? If so, why?


  1. The camel cull was a bone-lazy, totally unimaginative and stupefyingly wasteful response to an on-going problem. Camels have become like rabbits. They need management. They need thinning. No argument. But why just shoot them and leave the carcases to rot in the sand-hills?
    Not ninti. Not ninti at all.
    Dry meat, or jerky, is not that hard to produce. Doing it on an industrial scale is already an established industry in the NT. With a bit of imagination, by being ninti, a mobile set-up could be put into play.
    There is real hunger in today’s world. We could help alleviate that.
    But to produce camel jerky in the amounts needed to make a thinning impact on the national herd, access to the country where the camels are breeding and willing workers either local or imported are essential.
    And I can hear the shutters going up at CLC from here. What are those boys so scared of? Of course post-rhetoric leadership would be required. Could that be what they are afraid of?

  2. The only objective of this article by ERWIN CHLANDA seems to be “slander”. Unlike other articles, this one starts with a venomous sting right from the first paragraph.
    May be ERWIN CHLANDA is better at offering solutions for addressing Indigenous disadvantage, particularly how to get Aboriginal people work in horticulture.

  3. It is good to see that Erwin is still prepared to “tell it like it is”. A true journalist and a brave man. I live in the USA now, and I truly wish such refreshing honesty were the norm here instead of the fear of not being “politically correct” (not calling a spade a spade). Perhaps now that we have a new government in Aus we may see other journos taking a leaf out of Erwin’s book.

  4. Suggest you look at the transcript of senate estimates committee of may with senator Sean Edwards re expenditure and results.
    All heading for cover.
    I have a file 2cm thick and a plan to create an industry around a $4 billion market but …
    Imagine where we could be if that $19m plus had gone into research instead of helicopters and bullets. This was just another bad move against Arid Zone Research Institute where this research should have taken place.
    Think Henbury instead and a multi species processing facility at Brewer Estate.


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