30 years owning Rock but running pool still a hurdle


p2285-Ayers-Rock-handbackBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Today, 30 years after the hand-back (at right) of Uluru to Aboriginal people, they are still far from being serious players in the economic activities surrounding Australia’s greatest natural tourist attraction.
The hand-back was a powerful act by Prime Minister Bob Hawke, interpreted by many as a long overdue turning point in Australian race relations. Regrettably, it hasn’t lived up to the economic advantages it was widely expected to deliver.
Central Land Council (CLC) director David Ross says the current celebrations also mark “a decade of achieving impressive development outcomes [of] the CLC’s innovative and very successful community development (CD) program”.
But that is mostly a program to spend Uluru rent money, and income from other sources in Central Australia, especially mining royalties.
Mr Ross says funds go to such uses as “the Mutitjulu pool, the Imanpa store, the Utju basketball court, the renovation of the historic Ernabella church, support for dialysis patients in Alice to visit their home communities, for the roll-out of the Ara Irititija social history database and many infrastructure projects.”
He makes no reference to what is commonly referred to as “gate money” being used as seed capital for commercial enterprises, owned by local Indigenous people, that could provide employment and opportunities for growth in the world-famous park they own.
We have asked Mr Ross to comment on our report last week about the reluctance of the Indigenous population in the park, and nearby communities, to get employment at the Ayers Rock Resort, owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation.
The CD program’s flagship initiative at Mutitjulu, the Aboriginal community at the base of the Rock, is maintaining a swimming pool built with money from the Federal Aboriginals Benefit Account.
In a review published this month of the CD program, Dr Linda Kelly from the Institute for Human Security and Social Change, La Trobe University, says the program deals with “Aboriginal income flowing from land-use agreements, including royalties, rent, lease and compensation payments, plus affected area payments.
“Assessment in Mutitjulu indicates that the community pool … is making a positive difference to children and families in the community and has reinforced community confidence in its ability to make decisions and influence development outcomes.”
The pool is linked to a “no school, no pool” initiative, says Mr Ross.
However, after 10 years in operation, key functions of the CD program remain in the future: “There is a sense from all reports and programs that notwithstanding ongoing challenges, the Community Development Unit is now well positioned to move beyond program management towards greater facilitation of development processes,” writes Dr Kelly.
“This includes working together with Aboriginal people to create new development opportunities.”
p2285-Mutitjulu-pool-1Yet there are problems even with the simple task of running the pool: “Despite numerous efforts by CASA  [CASA Leisure, an Adelaide based pool management company] and the CLC it has been difficult to attract permanent staff from the community, although there has been some recent success.
“People give various reasons for this. What seems to be clear is that it will take time and needs local solutions and local ideas,” writes Dr Kelly.
“Experience from elsewhere suggest that it will be a slow process, requiring people to build up confidence in the pool management and the value of the employment offered.
“The pool committee have more recently started a range of initiatives to address this area.”
These include providing food for children who go home from the pool and find there is no food there.
Dr Kelly quotes a community member in her report: “We would like to be able to have kangaroo tails and so after swimming we can have a feed. Kids would enjoy. We could have a fire outside and leave them to cook while we swim.
“It is a good way to teach the kids (traditional knowledge) while they are having a good feed.
“We’d quite like to make a little store tuckshop there. After that swim the kids get hungry and go home and maybe mothers don’t have food and kids get hungry.”
 PHOTOS courtesy Central Land Council.
UPDATE 1:30pm:
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion says “today is a bitter sweet moment to celebrate what was achieved 30 years ago but to reflect on how little has changed for Mutitjulu. We need to work closer with the community to realise the aspirations of that day”.
He says negotiations involving traditional owners, community members, Parks Australia and the Central Land Council were well advanced to create a sublease at Mutitjulu.
”I want to see the sublease in place to empower Mutitjulu’s community members and land owners with localised decision-making about the use of their land, and enable them to take advantage of the economic development opportunities offered by Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.”


  1. Clearly little has fundamentally changed in 30 years. David Ross, just maybe instead of distributing gate monies and royalties as at present they be used for capital projects and employment?
    Now that wouldn’t be popular I’m guessing!
    I propose too that cooking a frozen kangaroo tail caught in far off Queensland (?) by commercial hunters is a poor beginning “to teach(ing) the kids (traditional knowledge) while they are having a good feed”. This is clear self deception.

  2. Bruce (Posted October 30, 2015 at 2:57 pm): Can you explain on what basis you make your argument?
    CLC CEO David Ross has nothing to do with distributing gate monies and royalties. These decisions are made by the directors of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta traditional owners’ corporation.
    Nor does Mr Ross possess any powers that would enable him to direct Uluru-Kata Tjuta traditional owners as to how they should spend income owing to them from gate earnings, or from anywhere else.
    On the other hand, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta traditional owners have freely decided, of their own accord, to set aside a lot of their park gate earnings for spending on constructing and maintaining community infrastructure projects in recent years, at both Mutitjulu and related Aboriginal communities, such as Docker River, Areyonga and Imanpa. (Many of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta traditional owners live in those communities.)

  3. @ Bob: I thought it obvious that I was addressing a bigger picture option than “merely” Uluru-Kata Tjuta (I included “royalties”).
    The issues don’t start, or end at Yulara / Mutitjulu gate entry.

  4. OK Bruce (Posted October 31, 2015 at 11:48 am): If you want to focus on “a bigger picture option than ‘merely’ Uluru-Kata Tjuta”, I’ll redraft my comment and continue my challenge for you to explain yourself, given that you have made misleading implications about the CLC and its director in your original comment here (see Bruce as Posted October 30, 2015 at 2:57 pm).
    Can you explain on what basis you make your argument, given that CLC CEO David Ross has nothing to do with distributing any royalties. These decisions are made by the directors of the traditional owners’ corporations, at meetings not attended by Mr Ross or other CLC managers.
    Nor does Mr Ross possess any powers that would enable him to direct any traditional owners as to how they should spend income owing to them from any source.
    On the other hand, traditional owners of several Land Trusts and royalty associations have freely decided, of their own accord, to set aside a lot of their royalty and rental incomes for spending on constructing and maintaining community infrastructure projects in recent years, at central Australia Aboriginal communities such as Yuendumu, Willowra, Walungurru, Nyirrpi, Lajamanu, Hermannsburg and many others.
    As you are probably aware, the royalty associations are separate legal entities, administered separately to the Land Council, and run by separate staff at separate premises.

  5. Many thanks @ Bob for your insights. It seems I owe David Ross an apology if you are correct and he has no influence.
    I see above comments attributed to Ross: “A decade of achieving impressive development outcomes [of] the CLC’s innovative and very successful community development (CD) program”. One could be confused for feeling that real progress was being made.
    I do not even wish to challenge your assertions and leave you to score points without furthering the issues.
    To me, beyond correcting my (potentially serious) error in responsibilities it goes nowhere but semantics. What concerns me is that “Clearly little has fundamentally changed in 30 years!” This point you don’t seem to refute.

  6. Bruce (Posted November 1, 2015 at 3:46 pm): Mr Ross was referring to the decision by some Land Trusts and royalty association groups to contribute some of their royalties and gate money to the community development fund facilitated by the CLC.
    Your claim that “Clearly little has fundamentally changed in 30 years!” is absurd. Thirty years ago very little funds from royalties were going into community development or infrastructure, and royalty associations did not have a cash flow from investments to sustain these activities.
    Many Aboriginal people do not receive royalties from tourism activities, mining, oil or gas, but amongst many of those who do there is a constructive approach to ensuring better futures in their communities.
    It is not helpful to have people with default positions of cynicism and negativity continually pouring scorn on all Aboriginal people, despite their efforts to improve things.

  7. Further to Bruce (Posted November 1, 2015 at 3:46 pm), if you were fair dinkum in your concerns, you would have noticed that Aboriginal living conditions have been transformed in the last thirty years.
    While things are not perfect, the vast majority of remote community and outstation people now live in serviced houses, and have access to maintenance services, whereas thirty years ago many were lucky if they had an overcrowded single room tin shed without water or power.
    Schooling has been expanded, with greatly improved facilities and accommodation for staff, as have health facilities and services.
    Average life spans have increased by more than ten years, infant mortality has dropped significantly, average education attainments have improved, there are far more people in permanent full-time and part-time jobs, there is much better security and safety courtesy of police presence and night patrols, and there are much improved youth and sports / recreation facilities and services.
    Most importantly, excessive consumption of alcohol and its associated violence and morbidities have decreased by a large measure amongst Central Australian Aboriginal people in recent years.
    There remain big problems in relation to provision of adequate early childhood services, secondary education, community and civic development, and employment and economic development. Domestic violence and incarceration rates continue to be major challenges.
    However people who glibly assert that nothing has changed for the better should ask themselves why they are ignoring the advances and good things, and focussing solely on the negatives and remaining challenges.

  8. In addition to other roles, the Central Land Council was established by Commonwealth’s ALR(NT) legislation to act as property managers (like Real Estate Agent) for the various ALR(NT) Land Trusts.
    The Central Land Council acts then on instructions from the Land Trusts.
    It is the responsibility of the various ALR(NT) Land Trusts to each manage their land, similar to other land-owners.
    Problems existing do so mostly due ALR(NT) Land Trusts refusal to issue conventional leases, eg tenancy.
    Refusal or failure to issue conventional tenancy leases perhaps based on advice from the relevant Land Councils.
    Without leases same ALR(NT) Land Trusts as private land-owners are then responsible to maintain housing, services, etc with same accountability as other landlords.
    Yet in these communities, infrastructure, housing (construction and maintenance), basic services, employment, education, conventional community services, various social services, as well as basic civil rights most Australians expect, remain challenged.
    This for one simple reason: Commonwealth Parliament’s refusal to end the ALR(NT) Land Trusts exemptions.
    Commonwealth ALR(NT) legislation exempts ALR(NT) Land Trusts from being held accountable like almost all other land-owners.
    Thus Commonwealth maintains its prominence as an activist racist authority.
    Commonwealth purports to be resolving these problems, when real resolution requires equality for both opportunity and responsibility.
    Commonwealth racism causes widespread denial of accountability, thus denial of civil rights and responsibilities, along with all the related problems.


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