By ERWIN CHLANDA
Country Liberals leader Terry Mills pledged $2.5m “to transform the Anzac Hill youth centre” giving “access to youth workers and other appropriate support networks” to “provide a safe place for children on the street at night and opportunities for positive contacts between police and young people (photo below).
“This is a first step in the considerable body of work required to re-engage young people into the broader community.”
That was in the heady election month of August 2012 when youth crime and misconduct topped the agenda as it does now.
Four and a half years and more than $5m later, for bricks, mortar and corrugated iron, the centre is a “safe place for children” for exactly four hours a week, from 6pm to 10pm on Saturdays.
According to coordinator Angie Prettejohn, an average of 140 kids – almost all Aboriginal – engage in “unstructured” activities – hanging out, listening to music, watching videos, shooting hoops, playing pool – in a program financed by the Department of Families.
“Our Saturday Night recreation program caters for young people off the street,” she says.
“They find their own way here throughout the night.”
“They are not members of the Alice Springs Youth and Community Centre.”
This is an astonishing statement considering the government-professed purpose of the youth centre: How come they are not members?
For the rest of the time, the complex, soon to enter a further multi million dollar construction stage, is pretty well a playground for people who can afford to pay for its use – mostly martial arts, boxing, gymnastics and a multicultural play group.
These are all activities that could be enjoyed in a number of currently empty buildings or shops around town, or in established clubs, private or public, or at the existing facilities of the youth centre (with repairs as required), now re-named the Alice Springs Youth and Community Centre.
Manager Marie Petery makes much of the fact that the centre is run mostly by volunteers. But surely, this is the case also with the ping pong association and the bridge club and hundreds of other community organisations.
After the backstabbing of Mr Mills by Adam Giles, and the near annihilation of the CLP after one term of a Giles government Labor Chief Minister Michael Gunner is now touting “the most comprehensive overhaul of the youth justice system”. What role will the centre’s “Saturday Night Recreation” be playing in that?
One of three boys in their late teens, regulars at the function, told the Alice Springs News Online that come 10pm, “when the cops are trying to take the kids home, a lot of them scatter”.
This observation was confirmed by five teenagers, three girls and two boys, aged between 11 and 14, also regulars at the function. They walk to the centre and take the bus provided to return home in a town camp at the end of the night.
Why only one night for the kids?
Ms Petery, who has been associated with the centre since 1984, says she doesn’t want to encourage them to be in the CBD longer than that.
According to her, most town camps have buildings and facilities that could be used for youth activities. Children could even sleep there. The camp dwellers should be running their own fixtures.
Eileen Moseley (at right) has lived in the Larapinta town camp for more than 30 years and her kids – like thousands of others – regarded the night at the youth centre, Fridays in those days, as the highlight of their week.
Ms Moseley says her kids’ most feared punishment for being naughty was not to be allowed to go to the youth centre.
She says in the days of Joan Higgins running the centre, the town’s kids – black and white – mingled there, became friends. (This was so too for this writer’s four children raised in Alice Springs.)
The three boys in their late teens we spoke to were at the skate park (top of the page) on Sunday. All three said they enjoy going to the Saturday night function: Shooting hoops and playing pool were their favourite activities.
The five young people, whom we met at a town camp, enjoy pool, dancing and movies at the youth centre.
We were given positive comments also from two other girls at the camp, one mentioning dancing and the other saying she enjoys the evening but asked to be paid for any further information (we declined).
Ms Moseley says of the youth centre: “Hardly anybody goes there now, why are they renovating it?”
She says the community centre in the Larapinta town lease used to be a primary school. Now the kids go to Gillen Primary, after a smooth change-over.
The building houses the highly successful art centre (at left), Yarrenyty Altere Artists, whose members are selling work around Australia and overseas.
Ms Moseley says if they were to run a youth centre at the camp with their limited resources – most people in the camp have employment – troublemakers from elsewhere may turn up.
Forcing people to have their own centres would be “segregation”.
Supervising children is fraught by legal changes in recent years, says Ms Moseley’s husband, Daniel Forrester.
“We have lost all control,” he says, because any chastising is likely to result in family violence charges.
“The kids report you to the police. We need to go back to the old days.”
The News wanted to visit the youth centre on Saturday night. We received this email from Ms Petery on Friday, after several conversations and emails to research this report. She said: “We will not be granting you entry into the centre as we have a duty of care to all young people in our programs.
“It’s inappropriate for us to allow people to come into the centre to take photographs of the children without permission.
“I have spoken with Territory Families and they support this decision.”
I had not proposed approaching children without parental permission. I was in discussion with Ms Prettejohn about finding ways to seek permission from parents or carers to speak with and photograph kids as they were being dropped off at the centre.
I was doing this because I believe the town needs to hear directly from young people about issues concerning them.
Ms Petery clearly doesn’t think so, and neither does the department which asserted we had to have its permission to do the story.
We don’t, and here it is.
By ERWIN CHLANDA