Trees on Melanka block no longer sacred?


p2274-melanka-trees-2By ERWIN CHLANDA
Three sacred trees on the Melanka block are at risk from car parking traffic and lack of irrigation, according to local gardening expert Geoff Miers.
Four large gumtrees, not including any of the sacred ones, have already died.
Developers planning a $100m hotel and residential complex on the land had to design the buildings around the sacred trees (drawing above right) which now appear to be neglected.
We have not been able to obtain comment from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority but will publish it if and when one is provided.
Mr Miers, when asked to comment, said the compaction of the ground by parking cars is likely to “contribute to the detriment” of the trees.
The ground used to be irrigated periodically, but has not been for some time.
p2377-melanka-trees-9-okHe says the ground should be mulched and barriers placed “around the tree protection zone that surrounds each tree”. This zone roughly corresponds with “the canopy line”.
The block, until recently the site of a planned eight-storey development, is now on the market again.
The  News has asked the selling agent to notify the owner that we are seeking comment, and the agent agreed to pass on that message.


  1. Tourists come to Central Australia for the landscape and unique cultural heritage.
    Sadly our town seems to be intent on turning the tourist tap off.
    Look at the bike path at Annie Meyer Hill – what a blot on the landscape.
    You couldn’t design something less in sympathy with the environment if you tried.
    And as for our unique cultural heritage there is no respect that I can see. Unless its an ersatz version of culture designed and owned by whitefellas.

  2. I will never understand how a tree 40 years old can be considered sacred. The general area maybe, but a tree?

  3. Many trees around Central Australia are sacred. Some may be hundreds of years old, some much younger. A sacred tree grows and eventually dies but the story doesn’t die, and nor does the sacred spirit. Soon a new tree grows to take the old one’s place. Simple really.

  4. It looks like the Melanka site with its trees will be with us for some time. Eventually something will be built on that now vacant lot, and I look forward to learning what that will be.
    About the negative comment on the bike path around Meyers Hill, or Annie Meyers Hill: During its construction I too worried about the visual impact on the Todd River, but since its completion, I have no problem with it.
    Yes, it is a construction and as such not natural or organic, but then what is Alice if not the same. I say well done Council. It will be used and appreciated and eventually found to be another far from offensive addition to our built environment.

  5. Thanks “Just Saying”. My statement was more about they should make the space or location sacred and not a tree. Trees come and go and sometimes never grow back, but the space will be there forever.

  6. Given the size and age of those trees they should have their roots down to the water table and so should not need watering.
    Watering mature gums encourages the roots to stay near the surface. If heavy rains soften the soil and we get strong winds they fall over.
    Sadly Ray is close to the money as more than a few projects have been held to ransom.
    The final result, once sacred title was granted, was a conversion for money.

  7. This is the trend in social media, but it takes on special relevance when attached to a newspaper. In what is being declared a post-truth age, trolls generalise and it ends up being accepted as objective fact. This is the new journalism.

  8. No Russell, it ain’t. Our journalism is in the reports, and we stand by them.
    Many readers’ comments are providing valuable facts.
    What some say is not news nor fact, but an expressions – sometimes outburst – of opinion. But they have the freedom of speech as well.
    Our readers know to tell the difference.

  9. I’m not questioning your journalism, Erwin, but in the instance of “Ray” and “R. Henry” – statements purporting to be fact should be backed with example.
    Generalisations such as “our readers know how to tell the difference” are given as fact when it can’t possibly be proven.

  10. Post Truth is not quite accurate in the description of current trends. That is only a construction of the extreme right wing.
    Rather, I would describe modern discourse as Post-Journalism.
    The truth is widely known, but those with the power to convey it either cannot or will not do so. For varying reasons. This is the very antithesis of journalism.
    And while I may disagree with Alice Springs News Online on certain issues, fortunately it is not something they engage in.

  11. Yawn. We’re talking about a couple of trees that are not even in imminent danger.
    How this became a vehicle for discourse on the post truth age is confusing.
    Who really cares. About the trees, that is.

  12. You seem to have a good point, Harold (posted December 3, 2016 at 8:13 am
    Since November 30 we’ve made several requests to the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority for comment. Not a peep out of them.
    Regards, ERWIN CHLANDA, Editor

  13. With regards to the river gums on the site and adjacent to the carpark opposite the Memorial Club, it’s worth recalling that many decades ago they were saved from being cut down due to popular protest from Alice Springs residents, long before there was any general notion of them being regarded as sacred sites.
    Local Aboriginal people comprised a significant part of the municipal workforce in NT Administration times, and sometimes were involved in the removal of such trees – this was simply the work they were tasked to do.

  14. Thanks, Russell (Posted December 2, 2016 at 6:36 pm).
    What you label as a generalisation is an assertion we make with complete confidence: Reader statistics for each report – which we have to the accuracy of one through Google Analytics – establish that stories attracting little or no comment (the majority) can have just as many readers as stories that attract a lot of comment.
    This shows us that readers are coming on to our site primarily for the journalism it provides, while we welcome the many who also respond to the forum for discussion it creates.

  15. We should all care about trees Harold.
    They are very important in adsorbing CO2 and releasing O2. They provide shade. And they can be aestheticly pleasing or were once when it comes to Malanka.
    Promotions of early development plans spelled out the promise to build around the trees. As time drags by if current practices continue there may be no trees left to build around.
    Hopefully the owners of the site will now take their responsibilities seriously and take steps to better manage parking by establishing a protection zone around the remaining trees and encourage growth of new trees in place of those that have died.

  16. If “Ray”and “R. Henry” believe that sacred sites are being sold out for economic gain, then let them provide examples and/or details.
    If so, then perhaps the TOs should comment. Maybe, they or their delegates are forced into partaking in an economy by this method and that should be investigated.
    This seems to me, at least, a more balanced way of allowing comments that strike at an indigenous belief system to be made public by social media.

  17. @ R Henry:
    “Sadly Ray is close to the money as more than a few projects have been held to ransom.
    The final result, once sacred title was granted, was a conversion for money.”
    I don’t remember any example which fits this description Mr Henry, perhaps you could provide us with some, and some pointer for where might go for confirmation?

  18. And why would TOs commenting favourably on an indigenous belief system in The Alice Springs News Online be either more or less than any other person commenting negatively on, or questioning the relevance of, an indigenous belief system in this forum?
    In these times when freedom of speech is under attack from cultural Marxists the world over, short of outright slander, let’s allow the debate to flow freely.

  19. If the trees die that doesn’t mean they are no longer sacred and can be removed.
    Remember the tree at Traeger Park that was poisoned so they could build grandstand?
    The dead tree is still there but no grandstand – so best to do all we can to keep the trees healthy.

  20. To attempt to answer your question, Hal, the nature of Traditional Owners (TOs), as anyone following Doris Stuart’s input to the new installation on the riverbank might understand, is to speak for sacred sites within their authority.
    That authority is vested in the Dreaming as a spiritual belief system, much like, but different in doctrine to others, e.g., Buddhism, Islam, Christian, Hindu, etc.
    Persons who do not ascribe to that belief system, either by birth or faith, would be expected to speak from a lesser authority.
    A TO, I believe, cannot speak in bad faith.

  21. @ Russell Guy, Posted December 3, 2016 at 5:58 pm
    “A TO, I believe, cannot speak in bad faith.”
    This statement echos the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, a doctrine held to be an unassailable truth by members of the Roman Catholic faith.
    Both seem to posit a higher authority, as in your assertion that anyone speaking contrary to a TO’s statement speaks from a lesser authority.
    This higher authority is then used to negate any doubting or differing views, rendering any further debate inconsequential.
    I question the universal validity of both, for while both are valid for those within the respective belief system, neither are held as sacrosanct by those outside.

  22. @ Hal,
    If you care to read in context, you might note that I was careful to distinguish doctrinal matters in the examples given, but if you want to go on to comparisons between the Dreaming and Catholicism that’s your business.
    The only point I attempted to make about faith is that it can belie logical reasoning to a non-subscriber.

  23. This has gone beyond what I intended to say about a complex situation, but to clarify the point about bad faith.
    The only incident involving a fabrication of a Sacred Site that I can recall was the Hindmarsh Island affair in 1994, which had repercussions for the South Australian community involved and led to a Royal Commission.
    It had political repercussions for the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and the Keating Government, before Keating went on to make his famed Redfern Speech.
    The point about bad faith in any spiritual complex is that it has consequences regardless of whether the person(s) involved are aware of it or not.
    In the 1980s, the tail of the Ntyarke ancestral caterpillar, where they crossed Barrett Drive was cut by roadworks.
    Around the same time, whilst working at CAAMA, we reported on how subdivision in the Gap was threatening trees sacred to Yeperenye where they emerged as butterflies, like children from school, as it was explained by the TOs at the time.
    There are many such stories in recent times of TOs advice failing to be heeded, including of late, the issue I drew Hal Duell’s attention to with Doris Stuart and my comment about pressure to partake of an economy. Informed people can read between the lines without having to have it spelled out in great detail.
    I do not personally know of any examples of bad faith in the Alice, which is why I challenged “Ray” and “R. Henry” to put up, but the point is that pressure has been applied since whitefellers arrived for compromise on sacred sites.
    The affect of this suppression has taken its toll on many indigenous people of course, including many of my friends who have tried their best to remain true to their Dreamning inheritance.
    They have not acted in bad faith, nor they are infallible in conscience, but the trees at the Melanka site are one of the remaining places where something can be done to restore faith in the Dreaming in this town.
    As I said at the beginning, this is a complex area, as is the current challenge to absolution within the framework of the Catholic Church’s involvement in the Sexual Abuse Royal Commission, but it seems to me that some people don’t want to understand as Lindsay Ross has commented.
    The consequences of bad faith are not just applicable to Dreaming subscribers.

  24. Thank you, Russel, for acknowledging that TOs do sometimes get it wrong.
    Not surprising, really, as sometimes getting it wrong is a universal human failing, and something we all share equally.

  25. @ Hal: You may well know the old historical truth which still applies in terms of not acknowledging a sacred site for fear of it being destroyed.
    This complicates what is far from a straight-forward Western approach to land management, even appearing to be non-logical in reasoning, either through faith and/or politics.
    In the Hindmarsh Island affair, which Chris Kenny addressed in a book-length account at the time, the situation begged the question of whether a TO can be judged in bad faith according to non-subscriber standards, given the historical persecution.
    That was along the lines of what I am trying to say in my initial comment about bad faith.
    Since my last comment, my attention has been drawn to a recently published book by Stephen Bennetts, “The Right to Protect Sites: Indigenous Heritage Management in the Era of Native Title” (pub. 2016, AIATSIS).
    It offers an insight into how complicated preserving the Melanka site could become under existing legislation.
    Constitutional Recognition is a step towards preserving Dreaming heritage, whereby some of the intense social pressure may be taken off TOs and indigenous communities, more especially if we can find some way of interpreting Keating’s Redfern Speech in the spirit of which it was made.

  26. Hi Russell, glad to see that three words could stir up such a response. How dare you say I am a newcomer? I have been annoying you for years.
    My three word initial comment simply stated the obvious. Aboriginal groups are able to negotiate with mining companies (for example) on the exploration / mining on their land.
    By negotiate, I mean an agreement to do a certain activity for a particular consideration (money). Many mining companies have been charged and fined for damaging sacred sites.
    So one group has agreed to be awarded compensation for the damage caused by the other.
    The importance of the site can/has sometimes determined the monetary penalty. You can google that to find the factual links.
    Hence, to some degree, sacredness = dollar value is correct.
    I remember being told that an event I organized needed a welcome to country speech. I thought OK that’s a nice gesture, and when approaching the appropriate body, was told “yes would love to, the fee will be $300”.
    I was gobsmacked that the opportunity to share culture with visitors from around the country was accompanied by a fee schedule.
    Sometimes a simple comment is enough to start a conversation, which was my intention, and that worked quite well. Just because I choose not to have my full name published does not invalidate my right to an opinion, it could be that public comment on a public forum and having different opinion to the populist thinking, could be against a policy I work under.

  27. You’re back, Ray. I thought what you meant was that if we respected culture and sacred sites Arrernte might be more interested and trusting and might be more inclined to share the culture and stories and that would perhaps lead to more tourism opportunities for the town and community: Sacredness = dollar value.

  28. @ Just Sayin. I agree, there is that side to it as well. My point was that under an Indigenous land use agreement, native title can be extinguished, if the monetary compensation is agreed upon. Everything has its price, if the price is right.
    Those who choose to be offended by this will be, not much I can do about that.
    Your comments about respecting culture and sacred sites are interesting.
    I was unaware that business oportunities to bring tourists into town have been scrapped because we don’t show enough respect and therefore trust does not follow. This is a shame.
    Which proposals were they, because the number of bookstores and galleries in town that promote Aboriginal culture are impressive, not to mention the quality of work done by CAAMA that show a culture thriving with modern technology.
    Are you referring to the respect and trust shown to local business in town that are actually running and bringing tourists into town that are smashed up, are pelted with rocks, broken into, used as a toilets, etc?
    Trust and respect are a two way street, and non-indigenous attractions are also responsible for bringing tourists into town as well.
    There is both black and white history in this town, and tourists come here to experience both.
    Or maybe they come here for one and learn about the other, how’s that for a win win?
    I believe that many developers would be keen to get involved with a project on the Melanka site, but who wants to touch it with the complications of those sacred trees?
    I am sure that if one of them died due to construction activity, a huge fine would be written into the contract (dollar value).
    Instead, we have an unkempt eyesore in town that could be transformed into something amazing, but it just sits there until the price is right, or they blow over in the next big storm. If it was the tree itelf that was sacred, would a solution be to propogate a cutting and plant that in a place acceptable to the Arrente?
    I remember that idea working for a single pine tree that featured on the Turkish peninsula just over 100 years ago.

  29. I am sure that some idiot can think of a story about the trees, preferably while high on some drug, any drug will do and then someone can put a sign up and tourists can say ooh ahh and take photos. I spose that would be the closest that anything can come to happening on that bit of land.
    Once was told by an old bloke that the oldest thing on that block was the buildings that were pulled down.

  30. @ Ian Rennie (Posted December 7, 2016 at 10:38 pm): Well Ian, your “old bloke” informant is simply wrong, at least in regard to the river red gums on the site, as any aerial photos of Alice Springs from the 1930s will prove without a shadow of doubt.
    Further westwards, only a short distance, the river gums gave way to a decent stand of coolibahs, a few of which exist in the streets behind the old gaol and in the railway corridor.
    However, the “old bloke” is correct about the other trees on the Melanka site.


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