Newcomers, FIFO crowd tear the heart out of The Alice


It’s very easy for a person like me with more than 30 years of hindsight to make comment on the failures of the government decision making process.
Decisions (or their lack) have had a huge impact on Alice. The NT is being run largely by newcomers with very little NT experience or history here.
It’s very easy for those people to import their past work practices and try to implement them here. Their consultative process means bringing in more southerners to put their slant on our situation. Rarely do they ever communicate with long serving Territorians.
Over the past 10 to 15 years I have observed issues over which government could have had influence, had they really been concerned, issues and decisions that could have improved the future and the growth prospects for Alice Springs.
The Granites gold mine originally had a strong service and staff base here in Alice Springs.
The advent of Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) saw that base shift to Darwin and Perth where about 400 employees are now based. Alice lost out.
The Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar had about 50 Airforce employees based in Alice to service that facility. They were all relocated to Edinburgh in SA. Alice lost out.
When the Alice to Darwin railway was built, it destroyed our home grown roadtrain industry. Alice lost out.
When the Labour government won power in the NT, slowly but surely they moved a lot of government jobs to Darwin. Alice lost out.
On the plus side we have had some short term injections which have masked our true position.
First came the Intervention, which dumped $1b into the pockets of southerners who largely lived the lives of FIFO mine workers.
They were paid huge sums of money to come and analyse a situation, not fix it. They spent a lot of money in Alice on accommodation, transport and living costs. They then disappeared when the money dried up, but the problem still exists.
Then we had another $1b to $2b dumped on Aboriginal housing. Yes, some local contractors made some cash, but largely the same practice was applied. FIFO builders came from interstate, fulfilled their contracts and disappeared with most of the loot.
If anyone is in doubt about the state of the NT then they should go and have a personal look at what is happening (or has happened) in our Capital Darwin!
If you haven’t been there in years you will be shocked. Ugly concrete towers are spreading across the CBD like cancer. There are billions of dollars of development going on in nearly every direction you look.
The focus is clearly on Darwin. I recommend every resident of Alice make one trip a year just to see where our money is being spent.
On a quick glance around Alice I try to see evidence of capital expenditure here. Even going back five years it’s very hard to find.
I see a Rusty Toaster in Bath Street. There are some new rooms and a flash new pool at the Casino.  The once bustling, thriving Melanka is gone. I see some new concrete in Todd Mall which should have been instigated 15 years ago.
Maybe there are a few developments I missed, but honestly, if that’s all we got to show for 10 years of progress then we haven’t progressed far.
Yes, there are some businesses in Alice that are booming. The quaint Mediterranean style cafes that are the de facto offices for scores of itinerant do-gooders, who service our welfare industry, have never had it so good.
This industry has become the backbone of Alice. Sadly this industry is reliant on the generosity of our taxpayers to survive. It is not self perpetuating.
Tourism is moribund. The damage has been sustained over a long period of time. This industry takes years and years to build.
Investments made today often don’t show returns for two to five years or even longer for international tourism.
In our case our government marketing machine has fluffed around with pseudo feel good marketing largely based on non existent cultural experiences. The NT Labor government sunk millions into cultural tourism for no net gain.
My take on cultural tourism is this: Why would anyone pay top dollar to experience it when you can get it for free? The moment anyone arrives in the NT either by car, train or bus, our culture is immediately visible and present on our streets for free, no matter what town or city you arrive in.
I’m fortunate to have a partnership with one of the largest and most progressive touring companies in Australia, a company that defied all odds and grew their business 17% during the GFC.
Sadly this company looks at the NT with disdain. They have tried very hard to develop “product” here and grow business here. They just can’t make it work.
Their customers’ level of satisfaction with the NT is very poor compared to their growth markets of the Kimberley in WA and Cape York in QLD.
These markets are booming. Yes, in Alice Springs’ case they do have tours that start here, but the passengers are whisked straight up the wild Tanami track and into WA. The tour concludes in Broome.
On questioning the directors why they feel their passengers don’t enjoy the NT, the answer is, you took the Outback out of the Outback!
Too much blacktop, too many pine logs, too many don’t do this don’t do that signs, just an overall feeling of entering into a controlled environment instead of something wild and remote. Maybe there are some lessons here for our current government.
Unfortunately for me, I can’t afford to keep pouring money into a black hole. To survive we have to go to where the money is. Right now it is not in Alice, but if there is ever a hint that Alice is about to fire up again I will be home in a flash.
There is no place on earth I love more than Alice.
Some of STEVE STRIKE’s masterpieces (all copyright Steve Strike Outback Photographics), from top: Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the rain; Rainbow Valley; Simpson’s Gap.


  1. Steve Strike hits quite a few nails on the head here. In particular, his analysis of the problems presented by the current CLP government members’ lack of long term Territory experience rings very true, as does his identification of the previous government’s sometimes Darwin-centric approach.
    One lesson from this should be that Alice Springs residents need to take the ALP more seriously, and get behind electing some ALP members into the Legislative Assembly to represent Alice. There is nothing more certain than that the present CLP government will be the shortest lasting in NT history. We need to prepare for the change of government by getting behind longterm local residents to become ALP candidates now, and making sure they get elected.
    In Clare Martin’s government, longterm Territorian Peter Toyne fought a valiant fight to get Central Australia the attention it deserves, and the revamp at the hospital is one of several tributes to his persistent efforts; but in the end it wore the Lone Ranger down, and he left office a partly broken man. Alison Anderson fought the same fight between her election for the ALP in 2005, and her frustrated exit from the Henderson ministry in 2009.
    Let’s plan better for next time, for the sake of Alice and the whole of Central Australia.

  2. Another example of blow-ins trying to run ventures in Central Australia is, somewhat ironically, the Indigenous Land Corporation’s purchase of the Ayers Rock Resort.
    I read that the ILC has written down the value of its Resort by $65m and cannot meet its $10 million per year debt repayment.
    Remember when we were concerned that Ayers Rock was taking tourists away from the Alice, now the issue is that the resort is so run down that it is not attracting tourists who may then visit the Alice.
    The entire ILC concept of setting up a national hospitality training centre at the Rock has misfired and Central Australian tourism will suffer because of it. This is yet another disaster for local tourism.

  3. If Steve wasn’t feeling sick to the stomach already he certainly will be after that comment Bob! You have the sheer insulting audacity to offer that comment after what your lot “Labor” and the Loopy Left did to our community over twelve years of disastrous Government!
    You wouldn’t even fund the communities’ most basic needs such as law enforcement!
    You allowed our community to be ripped apart, decimated, yet you still have the ill manners to comment in such an article. You and yours are directly responsible for driving Steve out of Town!

  4. @ Steve Brown. You write elsewhere pleading with the NT Government to show some “guts and vision”.
    The failing tourist industry is connected to the 40 year increase in alcohol supply and its impact on the Territory, particularly those whose culture the majority of tourists come to see. Guts and vision? I don’t think so.

  5. @ Bob Durnan: You just don’t get it do you? The reason you don’t get it, is you had your snout in the government funded trough for most of your time here.
    We are not talking politics here, we are talking about the government machine, the bureaucracy! The people who run the NT are not elected politicians but powerful bureaucrats.
    Your so-called Labor dream team allowed the government administration to be ruled by a centralised committee. A formidable gang of 10 to 12 bureaucratic imports, most from down south. These heavies made all the decisions on where the NT $billions would be spent. Alice Springs had one vote in that gang.
    Any wonder we got shafted.

  6. I remember arriving here in 1998, past the golden era but still vibrant.
    You could walk from the Todd Tavern, to the Stuart Arms / Legends, across to Scotties, down to Bo’s onto Melanka’s, down to the Memo and then onto the Casino and finally the SGB at Rydges.
    The one thing that amazed me was that mid-week felt like a weekend, people were out and about, the whole town felt alive and vibrant.
    It was amazing to come here from a small Queensland town where the streets in were virtually deserted after 7pm.
    Sadly, Alice Springs is becoming that small town.
    Steve has many theories about the demise of our town, and all governments would be well served to listen to his views, and similar ones from other business people who have left town.
    At best have a token business presence here while they chase the dollars in areas that are really starting to take off.
    These voices would be far better listened to rather than the consultants who perform economic and social mapping on a computer and are paid a fortune, regardless of how their ideas perform.
    The crossing at the Gap is a classic examples of listening to the bureaucrats rather than the locals.
    I too, like may others love this town, despite all the problems, and hope that one day it can beat strongly again, as the heart of the nation should.

  7. @ Ray.
    Faith without works is the same as hoping things will change without doing something.
    Like many who post similar dissatisfaction, the alcohol supply situation continues with a handful of people posting an opinion about the need for the NTG to go further than Alcohol Mandatory Treatment (AMT), embrace a floor price and a day/days free from take-away alcohol as an act of social responsibility and vision that a society awash in this much pathology must begin to change if it’s to avoid disaster.
    This is not prohibition, but a sensible way to clean up the streets by moving so-called problem drinkers into a more respectable and supervised environment and will have many positive flow-ons into current areas of concern such as tourism, employment, welfare and health.
    I sympathise with your ‘heart of the nation’ sentiment, but other states, with the exception of Queensland, are being pro-active about limiting alcohol supply, while the NTG is aligned with the alcohol industry whose lame excuse about supply reduction damaging the tourist industry is laughable given the violence.
    It’s unfortunate that some commentators accuse those who protest as being members of the “Loopy Left”, whilst tolerating the dismantling of the BDR, sweeping the alcohol issue under the AMT carpet and writing as if they’re interested in reforming the status quo.

  8. Sadly, Steve is spot on. And I can add nothing to his comment.
    That said however, I am doubled up with laughter at Bob’s post.
    It is his crowd and others like him that have brought The Alice to where it is today, and all I can say to him is “good luck with trying to get the people of the NT behind you. You are going to need it”.

  9. Alice Springs News … thank you for posting this guest comment by Steve Strike.
    Steve Strike … we have admired your wonderful abilities and tourism attributes for more than 30 years. You Sir, are indeed correct, in every detail expressed.

  10. Thanks, Steve Strike, for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It’s interesting reading all the best for your future endeavours.

  11. Well said Steve, very sad but a fact of life.
    I look at Tennant and the possibilities that could or should have been, Alice is unfortunately going down the tube the same way, a welfare town keeping people in jobs, all sucking on the nipple of government.

  12. Stephen Who? Never even heard of ya … the going gets tough the tough run away.
    “There is no place on Earth I love more than Alice.” You need to get out a bit more!

  13. Did the government start the town centre dumb down with the sell off of the Melanka workers hostel? Hands up all those people who came to work in Alice Springs and remember the fun and social side of living there till they found other accommodation and often their life partners. And the centre of town buzzed with life.
    Steve is correct. Blow in-pollies, their blow in business mates and government heavies (we’ve had some doozies over the years) have done so much damage.

  14. If consideration for the actual consequences of bureaucratic and other policy (on tourism in the real world) was contemplated and acted upon we may have a different outcome.

  15. Rather ironic all of this. For a long time we on remote communities have also been complaining about the blow-ins … from Alice Springs!
    It’s getting so that the blow-ins (yes I’m one of them albeit over 40 years ago) outnumber those that grew up out here.
    I reckon quite a few of them don’t even know that the local language is Warlpiri, certainly can’t speak any of it.
    As for Closing the Gap it is non-Territorians that define the Gap that they are intent on closing.
    They miss the point that Bridging the Gap should take priority over Closing it, and would cost a lot less.
    It might even encourage more tourism!

  16. @ Sensible Steve. Mate you really are an ignoramus aren’t you. Never heard of Steve, where do you live? Under a rock?

  17. Nobody gives a damn about your backwards tow, any money or advancements made to it would be pure waste. Focus on Darwin or real towns in real states.

  18. The two Steves (Strike and Brown) are both absolutely correct – and Bob Durnan still has a ‘sense of humour’!
    We left primarily because of the reasons outlined in these comments, and had lived in Alice for 31 years. We would still be there if the town had been serviced and supported by LOCALS!


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