Secret Desert Knowledge? Back to the future.


p2332-Eddie-FryBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Two years ago almost to the day the government sacked the board of Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA) after a blistering report by Dr Don Zoellner, of the Northern Institute.
He said there was a need “to cut through the buzz words, complexity and confused messages that are associated [with] DKA in order to determine what government has inherited,” as we reported.
So the government put in a new board, under the chairmanship of Ken Johnson which, lo and behold, is being replaced as we speak.
Who is taking over?
That is confidential, says Acting CEO Jodie Summers.
Who is the new chairman?
That’s confidential.
Is it a woman or a man?
That’s confidential. And so on.
According to a source close to DKA the lucky man is Eddie Fry (pictured), the chairman of Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), a Dagoman-Wardaman man from the Katherine region. He is now based in Adelaide.
IBA would neither confirm nor deny the report by the time of writing.
The IBA website says Mr Fry has “extensive experience within the Australian resource sector and is a specialist in Indigenous and native title issues.
“He holds a Diploma in Business Management from the University of South Australia and is a graduate of the International Lead and Zinc Study Group.”
So what has happened in the intervening years?
Apart from being confidential as well, in the absence of a spokesperson, to say “not much” would seem close to the mark.
Paul Davies became business manager in July 2014 but in March 2015 resigned to later join the “Hatzimihail Group which is seeking to establish a Technology complex in the DK precinct,” as we reported.
The group is headed up by Alex Hatzimihail, a member of a big Alice Springs family. The project did not go ahead. The Alice Springs News Online reported abut this several times.
The DKA website isn’t terribly helpful either.
This appears under the heading of “Current Activities – Energy,” most topical, all would agree: “DKA has commissioned research and stakeholder consultation in 2015-16 to inform the establishment of an Energy Hub / Centre of Excellence at the Desert Knowledge Precinct, which will focus on greater efficiencies in the delivery of remote or off-grid energy supplies and draw on the considerable expertise that exists in Central and Northern Australia. ”
A discussion paper will be available for comment by June 2016, we’re told, with the parameters and business case for the Centre to be developed in parallel and in response to the paper.
June 2016 is now. Whenever the discussion paper appears, what will it be discussing? How to set up a hub, perhaps, excellent as it may be?
Or will it actually be doing something, starting tomorrow, as the community would now doubt like to see? That doesn’t seem to be on the agenda so far.
The manager of the program hasn’t responded to an email from us.
Under “Intercultural Leadership” we’re told that DKA “is currently working with three Aboriginal Ranger teams on intercultural skills that will strengthen their professional and leadership capacities … to identify the intercultural non-technical or so-called ‘soft skills’ they need to perform their roles well, and further to develop project plans that will deliver the particular skills development.” Deadline: End of 2016.
Just in case your eyes have glazed over: they will apparently “identify” but not apply those skills; and “develop plans” but not actually get cracking on anything practical.
Another objective is “Strengthening engagement with Governments,” which does not seem to be a DKA strong point, judging from the Zoellner report and and the inactivity since.
The DKA is also:–
• Mapping existing governance activities and models to determine where DKA’s resources may be best directed in strengthening the links and understanding between remote communities and levels of government.
• [Making] a collaborative effort aiming to improve outcomes for the youngest children in Alice Springs and surrounding remote locations [using] a Collective Impact approach.
• [Seeking] to connect Aboroginal men who were incarcerated or in rehabilitation and with a history of violence to the importance of being responsible to codes of conduct, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Schedule and funding are still under negotiation.
Stand by until the veil of secrecy is lifted.
PHOTO at top: Demonstration and experimental solar panels at the DKA precinct: There were 14 installations in 2008 and numbers tapered off ever since. There are no entries for 2016 and only two for 2015, to record discontinuations of 2013 models. However, the Centre of Appropriate Technology are build frames for a new installation.
p2332-Joss-2One of the opportunities DKA appears to have let slip though its fingers is the manufacture in Alice Springs of the Joss Aussie supercar.
The online magazine Motor reports that Matt Thomas (pictured), the engineer and Joss founder, has struck a deal with  the Hatzimihail Group which had been in frustrating and fruitless negotiations with DKA for some time about building the car in Alice Springs.
The magazine reports the group has obtained a majority shareholding in the venture, with Alice-raised Alex Hatzimihail as the CEO, and will build a $35m manufacturing facility in Brisbane. Alice will get an engineering office, says Motor.
(Google this site for reports on the Hatzimihail Group’s negotiations with DKA.)
EDITOR’S NOTE June 8, 3:50pm: We are continuing to seek verification of the above report in Motor
UPDATE June 8, 4:30pm: We have now been able to contact Mr Hatzimihail who informed us the deal with Mr Thomas as described did not go ahead.



  1. When the Desert Knowledge precinct was first announced by the NT Government in 1999, specifically by then Education Minister (and subsequently disgraced Darwin Lord Mayor) Peter Adamson, I wrote to the then Deputy Chairman of CSIRO, Dr Paul Wellings, urging that the CSIRO in Alice Springs avoid having anything to do with it.
    I received an acknowledgement from him but otherwise was ignored. Subsequently the CSIRO vacated its purpose-built office and laboratory complex (sold to the Centre for Appropriate Technology) and moved across to the Desert Knowledge precinct, where it is now on the verge of closure after 63 years in the Centre.
    I understand Batchelor College is also struggling to survive. It would appear the Institute of Aboriginal Development’s refusal some years ago to relocate to the Desert Knowledge Precinct was a wise decision, notwithstanding the political pressure brought to bear on it to do so.
    Apparently the only winner (at present) of this whole sorry saga is CAT, happily ensconced in the former CSIRO Research Station.
    If a cost-benefit analysis was properly conducted on the Desert Knowledge Precinct, I think it would demonstrate a massive overall loss to the taxpayer; and if it were a private operation the doors would be shut immediately.

  2. This morning comes the news that three out of the four staff of the CSIRO in Alice Springs are to be retrenched, and the remaining person provides a support role for the researchers about to lose their jobs. There is no mention yet about the CSIRO alumni (I think there are two) who also continue to work at the local facility.
    The CSIRO in the Centre has been through a tight time before, when it was reduced to one staff member during most of the 1960s. However, the fact it survived at all was probably due to the stout defence of the organisation by then Member for Alice Springs, Colonel Lionel Rose, and unofficial Legislative Council Member, Bernie Kilgariff.
    This was a period of time when there was a lot of focus on developing the North. It seems that history is repeating, with yet again a political focus on developing the North while slashing resources necessary for the research that should be providing an underpinning for that development.
    We have a political system that is constantly inconsistent, incoherent and frankly incomprehensible. There appears to be such a collapse in standards in our governance at both Territory and national levels that we are giving Alice in Wonderland a real run for its money.


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