Loop Road heading towards jobs


p2450 Palm Valley 1By ERWIN CHLANDA
Scotty McConnell is clear where the new Mereenie Loop Road must lead: to sustained employment for the people in that corner of his sprawling electorate of Stuart.
But he is far from dogmatic about how this should happen. He’s offering his multitude of ideas as food for thought: “Does the wider community or the industry support these things – I don’t know. I’m just engaging in a conversation.”
He says Hermannsburg’s Historical Precinct (below right) is the “keystone attraction in that region. I commend Finke River Mission for the work they are doing operating that precinct and the commitment they are showing to it.”
The precinct and the nearby Palm Valley (above right) provide natural links between Aboriginal inclination towards some occupations and the tourism industry.
He says many local Aboriginal people aspire to become rangers but he acknowledges that this is limited by how many positions are needed.
But there is also much interest in interpreting work, which could be extended to its widest sense, “being the tour guide who talks about his own country”. And the potential for these jobs is practically unlimited.
After a history with the German Lutheran mission of 140 years “Aboriginal people there can play a role in interpreting that site, from a first person perspective. Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
p2402 Scott McConnellMr McConnell (pictured) says Palm Valley is accessed by a very rough road, made up of sand, river pebbles and bed rock, through the Finke River: “It is impracticable to maintain it in any way or turn it into a high volume public road.”
He suggests for people who don’t have heavy 4WDs, guided day tours to Palm Valley in purpose built vehicles could be run from the Hermannsburg precinct.
This could be done with Indigenous members of the community “whose country it is. That’s what visitors are really looking for.”
It’s currently being done from Alice Springs but running tours from Hermannsburg could cut out three hours of driving. It would be an opportunity for existing operators, including budding Indigenous ones, working together “rather than starting from scratch”.
Should there be a new large caravan park in Hermannsburg, as proposed by the NT Government?
“If a development, private money or public money or a mix of both, doesn’t benefit the local people and their employment I would really question its value. That is a must. Is it realistic? Is the employment sustainable?”
p2449 Hermannsburg precinct 6 OKNEWS: Present indications do not suggest it. Is there the manpower in Hermannsburg willing to engage in sustained employment?
McCONNELL: Absolutely.
NEWS: So why are they not engaged to a larger extent in the Aboriginal owned Top Shop and its string of enterprises nor at the historical precinct?
McCONNELL: We have a convenient jump-to that is used all too often, saying Aboriginal people just don’t want to work. I fundamentally dismiss that, especially as a person with a background of working in stock camps, when I was a kid. These camps were entirely operated by Indigenous people. Today we’ve made the work environment far too complex.
He says many people from places such as Hermannsburg who are looking for work are moving to Alice Springs. One blockage are the incessant meetings on communities, held during work hours to suit visiting bureaucrats and NGOs. Shops and clinics are not open after work hours. There are also family and cultural commitments.
McCONNELL: Some say the answer is for people to work fewer hours. I don’t agree. If you want to be in a work environment you have to work 30 hours a week or more or the income wouldn’t be worth-while.
Mr McConnell says more services are needed on the Loop Road. Travellers need to be confident they can get fuel, clean ablution facilities and basic supplies, drinks and food, “like the BP in Tennant Creek”.
“The Top Shop could do this but I don’t want to pick sides.”
Amazingly, Mr McConnell, the local Member of Parliament, has not yet been shown the government commissioned report about the proposed $6.5m caravan park. He has been given little opportunity to have a role in its preparation. The government engaged interstate consultants, Simon McArthur and Associates, to prepare the report.
“I would like to see the financial modelling that such a facility works,” he says.
“I’m much more motivated by a strategy of numerous small enterprises than big, high-cost infrastructure projects.
“I’ve been very concerned about these consultants and whether the consultation has been adequate and diverse enough.”
p2450 Hermannsburg water pipe 1 OKHe says there have been other reports, including for a “signature lodge” in the gas Palm Valley fields and a new camp ground just outside Ormiston Gorge, that have come to nothing.
“That can sap people’s enthusiasm. Better build on projects already in place, such as concessionaires on the Larapinta Trail.”
Mr McConnell says the failure to make the six kilometer access road to Gosse Bluff suitable for conventional vehicles is a “glaring omission”.
He says much more should be made of existing functions and he deplores that the “significant event” of the precinct’s 140th birthday last weekend was virtually ignored.
The annual Korparilya Day horse race weekend, commemorating the saving of Hermannsburg with a hand-dug pipeline (monochrome photos by PETER LATZ)  from a well during a prolonged drought in the 1930s, could be turned into a major festival.
It includes a church service and a dress-up ball where locals, including kids, appear in cowboy garb with “hats, boot, chaps and spurs”.
He says: “Community based events can become tourist attractions, such as the Yuendumu Sports Day, the Bush Olympics, used to be.
“These incredible athletes we have here, who play AFL on dirt, often with no shoes.
“We have lots of AFL supporters around the nation. Could that be a tourist attraction? I think we should have that conversation.”
Many communities could have their “bespoke” events but these should be allowed to “grow organically”.
He says the magnificent East MacDonnells make sure that people who come here for “the big blue skies, dirt roads and informal camping type of experience” are not missing out.
p2450 Hermannsburg water pipe 2 OKTrephina and Ndhala Gorges, the historic Arltunga mining town, and “of course Ruby Gap,” the pinnacle of hard-to-get-to natural wonders, make sure of that.
“And there are Chamber’s Pillar and Rainbow Valley.
“They are all very low volume, all dirt road incredible experiences, through the back way via Ambalindum cattle station, the Arltunga Loop Road or the Gardens Road,” he says.
“We still do have that full-on outback experience.”
PHOTOS: Monochrome photos courtesy PETER LATZ from his book Blind Moses.


  1. It is a while since I’ve been to Tnorala (Gosse Bluff) but it is a registered sacred site.
    This will surely place limitations on it in regard to major earthworks such as a sealed road.
    The road also follows a creek bed to pass into the inside of the impact structure. The same limitations surely apply to it as to the Palm Valley track, although on a smaller scale.
    As for the caravaners, they could unhook their vans and leave them at the main road for a trip into Tnorola. Perhaps there could be a parking area for this.

  2. Reading this article almost breaks my heart. I lived in The Alice for over 10 years in the 1970s and for me, the very isolation of the place and the lack of so called modern amenities such as sealed roads and supermarkets was a huge part of the attraction of living there.
    Talk of loop roads, and even more government control over this, one of the last true wild country experiences is, as I have said, heartbreaking for those of us that remember the old Alice.
    PS: For those who wonder why I ever left, it was to give my eldest son the opportunity to develop a thriving business Down South.
    I still miss the Alice and her lifestyle.

  3. @ Charlie Carter, Posted June 7, 2017 at 9:24 am
    Hi Charlie,
    The six kilometre access road to the edge of the Gosse Bluff crater is 1.5% of the 400 km Inner Loop. That means 98.5% of the Inner Loop attractions are now assessible by any car, whereas one major attraction, Gosse Bluff, is not because the short access road is designated 4WD.
    The crater, one of our major natural wonders, was a specific reason for spending $25.5m of public money to provide a magnificent round-trip, rather than having two out-and-return options.
    Most people would consider that an excellent investment decision were it not for the exclusion of most travellers, including intending ones, from Gosse Bluff.
    Calculated at the cost of the 43 km section just completed, to seal the Gosse Bluff access would have cost $3.6m, or far less as a 2WD dirt road.
    Most would agree that spending this paltry sum would have been worth-while, adding Gosse Bluff to the West Macs attractions accessible by conventional cars.
    You appear to be defending a situation were tourists with deeper pockets will get access to this attraction whereas others won’t.
    Are you suggesting that Gosse Bluff being a sacred site justifies giving richer people access that is denied to poorer ones?
    According to a local quote I got yesterday, a small 2WD hire car costs $384 a week, and a 4WD $1204, more than three times as much.
    Are you saying the access road to Palm Valley in such poor condition because it is a sacred site?
    The caravaners I spoke with explained they were not prepared to unhook their vans and leave them unattended in what they see as a very remote area.
    Of course us locals know that remoteness enhances safety, but we can’t mandate what people believe who’ve travelled thousands of kilometres to enjoy the beauty of our country, and spend their money with us. The customer is always right, as the saying goes.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor, Alice Springs News Online.

  4. G’Day Erwin,
    I did not say, or imply most of the things you attributed to me. I was raising some facts that may have had a bearing on the decision.
    It would be good to hear what the Traditional Owners have to say. I recollect that the access to the interior was intended to be low key and limited.
    Rather than the bold suggestion that the 6km be sealed perhaps a more nuanced solution could be found.
    You did not address the point that the last part of the track goes along a creek, and for practical and environmental reasons (as well as possible cultural ones) it could not be sealed.
    Maybe the access road up to that point could be upgraded, with a parking area there, and those without 4WD could walk in (I estimate about 1.5 km)
    The caravaners may also feel more comfortable about leaving their vans in a designated car park off the main road.
    Several attractions in the West Macs require a short walk, such as Serpentine Gorge, and Redbank Gorge so it is not without precedent.

  5. Good one Charlie! A little leg work for a great reward. The walk in would be an enriching experience for those able and willing to undertake it. Some people would miss out – so be it.

  6. Erwin, a further clarification.
    You wrote: “Are you saying the access road to Palm Valley in such poor condition because it is a sacred site?”
    No! Look at the sentence as a whole: “The road also follows a creek bed to pass into the inside of the impact structure. The same limitations surely apply to it as to the Palm Valley track, although on a smaller scale.”
    To be absolutely clear, the limitation is because both run along a watercourse.
    As a further thought, perhaps with the consent of the TOs, the parking area suggested could be a “bush” camping ground. Just VIP (ventilation improved pit) dunnies, bring everything else, like Redbank.
    It could be a great experience, and a programmed stopover on the loop. Park the van, or the 2WD, set up camp, walk into the impact structure, perhaps watching the sunset. Stay the night in the campground, and see the sunrise on the outer rim in the morning.
    Next stop the camp ground at Ntaria, leave the 2WD vehicle (or the van) there and take the day trip into Palm valley.

  7. @ Charlie Carter, Posted June 13, 2017 at 3:51 pm
    Exactly, Charlie. A camp ground accessible by all vehicles, not just 4WDs, at the entrance to the Gosse Bluff crater would be excellent. A three or four kilometre walk into the crater would be just perfect.
    A 12 kilometre return walk just to get to the entrance of the crater, for those who don’t have a 4WD, the ones for whom the Loop was sealed, is insane planning.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.


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