"Scoop" leaves town


The words “leaving town” raise the specter of that ultimate protest about all that’s wrong with Alice Springs, that final act of disapproval, triggered by one too many barking dogs at night, one too may drunks in the street – or in the case of Steve Strike, one too many government promises cynically broken.
Steve is a product of the boundless opportunities of Alice Springs – yes, a long time ago now, when there was nothing you couldn’t do.
He came to Alice employed as an Aboriginal Training Officer for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs when, some three decades ago, he saw the potential to become a successful photographer.
As you could if you had the guts and vision in the Territory of those days, he proceeded to earn himself the nickname “Scoop”, freelanced for a string of national and international publications, shot pictures of The Centre’s glorious nature that found an enthusiastic market.
He became a local “fixer” in demand by media organisations the world over, covering that romantic, fascinating patch that is The Red Centre. He branched into location management, scouting, logistics for mining and media companies.
“I have the keys to lots of gates,” says Steve. It’s an asset few can match, on the ground knowledge accumulated over decades that the town and the region will now need to get much less of.
Coincidentally Steve became a one man promotion machine for The Centre.
Fast forward to today: Steve was chief consultant and partner with a Territory advertising agency who spent nearly $300,000 to pitch for work with Tourism NT (2013-14 budget $54.2m), producing images and videos for tourism advertising and TV commercials, a multi million dollar gig.
They were naively believing the propaganda that Territory businesses will not only to be considered in Territory government purchasing, but given a slight advantage.
Steve says the work went to an interstate company and now he is packing up.
His office for 24 years is already empty. It is in a CBD shopping arcade that has the shutters down too often. Steve will – for the time being – keep the gallery next-door, but open only by appointment.
He will focus his interests on Darwin and China where he has a small office providing services for rich tourists wanting to enjoy The Centre.
In 1985 he bought out Les Taylor’s Action Photography in Gregory Terrace. His children Lia, 24, and Ben, 18, both “Alice born and bred” weren’t even born yet.
Both could have tourism related jobs here, however Lia has been working in the snowfields and living overseas. Ben has just a few weeks left at St Philips College. Are they likely to come back or stay?
“Tourism in Alice Springs is stuffed,” says Steve. There is no adventure tourism any more or it has scaled back dramatically.
Balloonist John Sanby has sold out. Nick Smail’s camel operation has gone. Where are the Brennans and Taylormade Tours, the Harley rides? The helicopter tours?
The industry, once thriving on the gut feeling of local owner-operators, is now largely owned by interstate or overseas corporations and managed by staff on limited stints who, unsurprisingly, do not have the passion and local knowledge of the pioneers.
Steve knew them all: For decades it was a full time job shooting images for their brochures. It’s nearly 10 years since Steve has shot a tourism brochure in Alice Springs.
Steve says science – much of it dubious – and bureaucracy have turned “the product” from adventurous, sometimes daring, often impromptu, matey outback fun into something bland, boring and predictable: “Dumbed-down, air-conditioned gloss.”
The tourism industry right now is a disaster. “Many Alice Springs motels have been converted into apartments, some are carried by their chains not because they are making money but for the prestige: It looks good having something in the middle of the country.” And it serves the loyalty programs.
Compared to the lavish standards set by the Asian accommodation industry, their much lower costs yet incomparably better service, the offering in Australia generally is poor and, consequently, doomed unless it lifts its game – a lot, says Steve.
The Rock resort is mostly run by “ring-ins” from interstate. Steve says the much touted highlight of a (massively priced) dinner on a sand dune of the Longitude 131 “tent” complex was the cultural talk by an Aboriginal elder. Pointing at the monolith in moonlight he use the word “Loolooloo” several times.
Steve asked him what he was talking about: “You know that rock is called Uluru, don’t you?”
“No,” came the answer. “I’m from Redfern.”
Steve says he took a room in the Ayers Rock Resort in June, costing $389 night. The bin still had garbage in it, the lampshade was on floor. The shower head was held together with gaffer tape.
His clients from China, a film crew, were shaking their heads. “You can get a 7 star hotel China for half the price,” says Steve.
He says the Alice art galleries are not making money from passing tourists, but from wholesaling to art galleries interstate and overseas.
Having a slick gallery is useful for being distinguished from a carpetbagger operating from a shed, he says, just in case a wholesaler happens to pop into town.
But it’s window-dressing, and an expense likely to become unnecessary. What will happen to the Mall then?
The town needs to take a history lesson from the vision of the NT’s first Chief  Minister, Paul Everingham.
He set a high benchmark, building five star hotels in Alice Springs and Darwin and the “global icon” Ayers Rock Resort “from scratch”.
Says Steve: “Everingham didn’t need a set of statistics, or reports from 1000 consultants. He had a gut feeling and he went for it.”
True, the resort was losing money while it was run by the government bureaucracy, but it got into the black the moment private enterprise took over.
Most importantly, the flow-on was a string of four and three star hotels: “There was confidence. People went nuts getting into the industry.”
In the 1980s The Alice had some 30 hotels. And the owners were wearing out shoe leather hawking their wares door to travel agents’ doors in Europe, Japan and the USA.
Many of these motels and hotels are now converted to flats or housing complexes – lost to the industry.
“The Territory image was raw, rugged, wild, fascinating, the epitome of the Outback” says Steve.
People want to have an experience. Nobody gets out and feels the heat and the flies.
“The government wants everything regulated and compliant. If you haven’t got 3 green ticks or accreditation, then you are a no go zone. It’s an imported bubble mentality.
“People come for the opposite, they want to go to a pub with a corrugated iron dunnie out the back, yarning with rednecks over a beer, it’s what the Territory was all about,” says Steve.
“Instead it’s all regulated, sanitised. They’ve killed it.”
[The Alice Springs News Online is seeking comment from Tourism Minister Matt Conlan.]


  1. What is wrong with the CLP ministers? For so long we in Alice have been voicing loud and clear that labor supporters in government departments are deliberately penalizing Alice businesses for being a strong CLP support base.
    Now the CLP are in government so many businesses are losing contracts to Darwin businesses or interstate.
    Your strongest support base and you turn your backs on us. Shame on the lot of you.
    As ministers you have the ultimate power to direct your departments to stop this attack on Alice springs businesses.
    Act now and take control of your government departments before it is too late. Labor was a circus of stupidity. Now you are in power fix the mess. Clean up your departments and give directions.
    Give Alice businesses back their share in government contracts and clean out the Darwin and interstate businesses that have won contracts over Alice Springs residents. Just like the master builders fiasco – an insurance that is not insurance. All orchestrated by people in government departments.
    Clean up the Labor mess before voters in Alice turn their backs on you at the next election.

  2. If you did not believe that “The Alice” is dying, believe it now. When people like Steve give up, it spells the end. Shamefully, you can place the blame squarely on “The Administration” both local and Federal, with help from the “do gooders” and the greens.
    To be honest, I cannot see how the town will ever be the thriving, happy place it was in the 1980s ever again. It is shameful, and disgusting that the power brokers did this, but it is a fact. Residents had better learn to live with it.

  3. In relation to comment by Janet Brown, I might add that quite a few years ago we had a hero in this town whom the locals embraced enthusiastically. He was a “shock jock” on radio 8HA. He had no fear, he tore into all an sundry, especially those who were full of spin and no substance.
    He was vociferous, he was demanding, he was unapologetic, he ripped shreds off those who failed to deliver. He had the power to make Chief Ministers cry.
    We then saw him run for a seat in parliament, the Alice Springs community backed him all the way. He was our “man”.
    Now he is a “Minister” … yes it is Matt Conlan! But what happened to “our man”? He’s gone, vanished or vanquished? Not even a shadow of his old self! Our ferocious lion that roared with out fear is now a mouse. Come on Matt we want you back! Alice needs you!
    On the other hand we have one of the hardest nosed and most experienced politicians in the country right in out back yard too. She cut her teeth with hard nosed manipulators like Charlie Perkins, Geoff Clark and Pat Dodson.
    Yes, she has swung from tree to tree, but one thing is never in doubt with this woman … her people and her constituents always come first.
    But alas! Barely one year into our new government our fearless Member of Parliament Alison Anderson has already been shafted. Why is standing up for your principles such a crime?
    I dare say the ramifications of this foolish move are yet to be felt.

  4. @Steve Strike.
    Good post … more strength to your elbow. Keep up the good work mate, and prove that there are still some fighters in The Alice.

  5. Is Alice dying? I hope not, but can anyone honestly say it’s vibrant?
    Where is the money, admittedly a fair sum, to develop the Melanka and the old Commonwealth Bank sites? And develop them as what?
    Why are only 30 blocks being turned off out at Kilgariff?
    Why has the old Scotty’s Bar right in the middle of what’s left of the Todd Mall been empty for two years?
    What happened to the airplane graveyard?
    Bunnings has opened and seems to be powering on. The Green Well is about to open. Something new is being built on Whittikar St. We’re not history yet, but it would be good to see some of the empty shops taken up and a bit more enterprise happening.
    Tourism is important, but we need to grow Alice as a place to live, not just as a place to visit. What do we really have to offer? Proximity to the Rock and dot painting might not be enough.
    It looks like the Coalition will be pushing ahead with plans to grow the Top End. If we get leap-frogged there, then the spectre of Coober Pedy looms.

  6. Steve Strike has captured Matt Conlan perfectly, if unwittingly. No substance. Full of himself on radio, full of bluster, but no substance. We have a history of electing blowhard blowins to public office here in the Alice. We are getting our just desserts with Adam and Matt, ambitious but vacuous. We need to be able to persuade some of the many able and committed people in our town to stand for Parliament, not people on the make from down south.

  7. Strikey is a legend. He must be about the last to go. I always enjoyed my associations with you Steve.
    I still get back to town quietly every year and I think much of what Steve has to say is sadly true.
    (I’ll forgive you for that windmill in the mall though mate!) All the best in your new ventures Steve. Cheers, Brett.

  8. We have been in tourism for 41 years in the NT and have never seen such a downturn. You are so right Strikey – I think that our politicians are out of touch.
    I have left many messages to meet with Matt Conlan but it seems he is too busy traveling to other destinations, he doesn’t return my calls. He needs to make a connection with the people who have supported the NT for so long.
    These days there are many new chums amongst drivers who are the front line, many tours now are just express runs with regular turnover of drivers and in many cases they have never understood what makes a good tour, it’s very disappointing. Even the dress code has gone downhill.
    Ian and Lyn Conway

  9. I recall when Steve arrived in Alice. At that time it was a thriving tourist destination.
    When I left in 1998 the rot was starting to set in.
    The day they closed the Tourist Bureau in Parson St and Darwin took control, was the day the first nail was hammered into the coffin.

  10. Such a shame, what happened to the hundreds and thousands of tourists in Alice for many years. Flights were all full, coaches full, accommodation full. Now you can hardly get a flight into Alice.


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