Senior Arrernte men take a stand: time to do something about young people causing trouble on their country


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Above, from left: Matthew Palmer, Phillip Alice, Jonathan Conway, Shane Lindner. 

“This is not just a town,” senior Arrernte man Phillip Alice told the small but significant gathering on the Town Council lawns.
“This is Arrernte country … people need to come here and respect Arrernte ground, this has always been Arrernte ground, this is always going to be Arrernte ground.
“They cause a lot of trouble and they don’t respect this community.”
He and other senior men had approached the native title holder body, Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation, to  faciliate the meeting. It was time for the Arrernte nation to step up “to do something about all these young people who are causing problem in Arrernte ground”.
p2467 Arrernte men Alice 430“We can’t just let whitefeller mob, non-Aboriginal people, talking a lot on newspaper, Arrernte mob need to go forward now because this is Arrernte country and we’re the leaders.”
Left: Mr Alice talking, Mr Lindner, Mayor Damien Ryan.
It’s about more than talking:
“We want to try and set up an Arrernte community patrol, so they can drive around, woman and men working together, so we can walk the streets … them mob causing trouble, send them back.”
This is the Aboriginal way:
“If we go to their country, as Aboriginal people, blackfellers, we don’t cause any trouble. If we cause trouble there, they just have a meeting and they tell us ‘Go!’”
He recognised the problem of parents “not looking after their kids”: “One mob is drinking, one mob is not worried for kids … A lot of kids in town, they’re just running around, they’ve got no guidance.”
Guidance is what senior Arrernte people “walking the streets” can give them.
Mr Alice was a community police officer at Santa Teresa for 25 years and he wants to work closely with police, night patrol and other organisations. He mentioned Tangentyere, Bush Bus.
Andrew Lockyer and Ken Lechleitner, representing Congress, and Kerry Le Rossignol and Greg McAdam from the Institute for Aboriginal Development were among the crowd and expressed their strong support for the “cultural authority” of the senior men. IAD also offered a meeting venue for the future as well as liaison with their Arrernte Elders groups.
p2467 Arrernte men Campbell & cop 430Lhere Artepe will put its own resources into the initiative although they are approaching government and private corporations as well for support. Robert Campbell, the current CEO, also said a proposal will be put to the Lhere Artepe board to reduce the hours of sale for takeaway alcohol through the outlets in the three IGA supermarkets that Lhere Artepe own.
Left: Commander Tony Fuller and Lhere Artepe CEO Robert Campbell.
Mr Alice said his group, “as senior traditional owners of the land,” had suggested this.
Part of the plan is also for a few of the senior men to go out to surrounding communities, said Mr Campbell, “to explain what is going on here in Alice Springs, how much devastation this antisocial stuff is causing local businesses, local people here within Alice Springs.”
They also want to work with “your surrounding clans, your Warlpiri, Pitjantjatjara and a few others to help out with the patrolling as well to alleviate some of the problems with their particular clan groups”, said Mr Campbell.
He was realistic – “We’re not going to alleviate all the antisocial problems” – but also hopeful.
Mentioning the recent events at the Peter Kittle car dealership as well as others in “the local businesses just around here, in the Plaza, in the mall”, he said:  “It’s gone too far now and we all need to work together as a collective group, rather than having individual groups, and … work as one to achieve this common goal.”
Senior police welcomed the initiative as a “positive step”, showing leadership and taking ownership of some of the problems.
“This is not a night patrol, there’s no legislative powers, locking people up,” said Commander Tony Fuller.
“It’s more about reinforcing to visitors to this area, to say, hey there is cultural obligations on you when you are on this land.”
With Mr Alice, they had talked about a model for the community patrols: “We discussed getting shirts, maybe only coming out when there’s problems or a greater influx of people in the area rather than a 24/7 patrol.”
Member for Namatjira Chansey Paech acknowledged “our Elders here, they’re my family, I respect them”. He also said they need help: funding for “cultural programs for our kids that are in care and don’t have that cultural responsibility handed down to them because they are removed from their families.”
“When you are disempowered you do run amok,” he said.
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The group had already done some thinking about that, said Mr Campbell, about being proactive, not just reactive: “There’s a few individual senior men that have stations … they can actually do stuff, exactly what you are talking about, doing the cultural stuff, getting them out of town, overnight camps, if not weekly camps.
“There are people out there who have put their hands up and are willing to do that.”
He also spoke of taking young people on trail rides, bush walks.
Matthew Palmer, who lives at Corkwood, an outstation north of town, later told the Alice Springs News Online that he is keen to be involved with this. He also commented that it is not only businesses and property owners who are hurting as a result of the recent disturbances.
“They are burning our sacred sites, this is a big reason for what we are doing,” he said, expressing particular hurt about the recently destroyed trees south of the Gap, “totems for us Arrernte people”.
“This is linking us with the business people, we are all in pain,” he said.
Mayor Damien Ryan expressed the Town Council’s desire to work with the group. For example, it might be possible to involve some of the senior men on occasions with the nightly youth pickup service, run jointly by  Council and Congress.
Jimmy Cocking, from the Arid Lands Environment Centre, asked about the possibility of a deeper engagement between senior Arrernte people and the council. While it is great to see the senior Arrernte men taking a lead, he said it is a shame that “the only time we have this engagement is when stuff goes wrong”.
With discussion at federal level about having an Indigenous voice to parliament (the proposal the Referendum Council wants to have put to the Australian people), what about having an Arrernte voice to council “to help council to work in ways that are more culturally appropriate?” asked Mr Cocking.
p2467 Arrernte men RC & PA 430There is a memorandum of understanding between council and Lhere Artepe, said Mr Campbell: “We’ve had a few talks now, one particularly last week.”
Left: Mr Campbell and Mr Alice.
He also spoke of Lhere Artepe’s work on creating a rangers group “not just to concentrate on the river corridor and our sacred sites, but trying to educate people as well, going around to local schools and anywhere we get invited to, to talk about the importance of Alice Springs to Arrernte people, giving the cultural perspective that our senior men and women have, how much it means to them. That story hasn’t been getting out.”
Councillor Brendan Heenan asked how the senior men were going to approach the kids on the street, to communicate  with them about learning their culture, their Aboriginal ways and law.
Mr Campbell said some of the senior men will take younger siblings with them to “have that communication at that level, rather than at a senior level, we need to accommodate all scenarios, older, younger, middle-aged as well.”
K K Akarana (Akers), instigator of the community group called FOCAS (For Our Community Alice Springs), made a strong point about not leaving behind “the kids who are doing the right thing” because  “we are so concentrated on the negativity that is happening at this stage”.
FOCAS gets 10-12 volunteers – “multi-ethnic long-term residents, people that understand the differences of Aboriginal law and white man’s law” – most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, doing foot patrols in the CBD, keeping an eye on the kids in the streets and coming out of the disco at Youth Centre, talking to them.
The majority aren’t the ones causing the trouble, she said, but unfortunately they are “painted with the same brush” as the minority.
The FOCAS volunteers try to help them get home but it’s not simple: “How are you going to move them back out, how are you going to process them? That’s our issue.
“Some kids will go home, some won’t, they don’t have a home to go to or they refuse to go home.”
Ms Le Rossignol said she also hears from kids in schools that what they need is “a safe place to sleep at night”. She said having a youth centre for a few hours is “a bit of a bandaid solution”.
Ms Akarana suggested that when the youth bus service finishes at 11.30pm, the majority of kids are still on the street. Until there is an after hours facility, “where are you going to take them?”
“This is the stuff we want to hear,” said Mr Campbell. “It’s something we can work on, a strategic plan to do that, in the safest way.”
Ms Akarana thanked the men for “stepping up”: “A lot of people tend to think, especially on the social media, you aren’t trying enough. This is going to make a massive difference.”
But Mr Campbell said it was not about “trying to feed social media”: “For us, it’s about senior men wanting to making a difference on their own country.”
Shane Lindner, one of Lhere Artepe’s directors, who had stood alongside him the whole time, wrapped up the meeting with two words: “Let’s start!”


  1. This will be such a great measure, I can see nothing but positive coming from all these proactive persons. I am so greatly encouraged.

  2. I think we all need to grab hold of this initiative and give it all the realistic, practical support the community can.
    Great to see the elders and Aboriginal corporations belatedly put their hands up.
    Good stuff!

  3. Great to see the Elders’ initiative, well done.
    Keep the ASTC and pollies away from this plan is an excellent start.

  4. There is an Arrernte organisation in town owned and run by elders that has been working for many years to build pride and respect amongst the Arrernte community. “Doing the cultural stuff” working to make families stronger and safer. Trying to build jobs, provide pathways for children etc etc etc but no funding from the territory and a drip feed from the feds, just enough to keep the doors open but not enough to be as effective as it could be.

  5. Fabulous.
    Great to see Aboriginal elders showing initiative, so let’s get behind them and give the support needed.

  6. It is great to see the Elders wanting to help with this problem, however, I feel they need to go to the parents and families to help them to control these juveniles, that would be more realistic.

  7. An excellent infusion into the solution mix. Proud cultural Arrente elders stepping up to bring so much of their knowledge and understanding of how to ‘be’ on this land has the capacity to impact positively on our current reality.
    Acknowledging that some inter-generational influences have impacted negatively on our current situation and teaching others about how we all are able to live in harmony around this place is crucial. Whilst none of us can ‘undo’ the past, we most certainly can impact on the present and future of this great land.
    Huge respect to those involved…great to hear your strong voices and see your strong actions.

  8. Fantastic!!! Yay. Hope we get our “old” town back for all to enjoy…day or night. Hope the tourists come back, the families stay, the small businesses thrive and get to keep their profits, the economy grows. Well done gentlemen and good luck!!

  9. As one of the (sadly) very few attending the meeting, I thank the elders for taking action, but fear it will not achieve much without the support of the whole town. The problem is not just that of neglectful parents and requires that we all take a long, hard look at the root causes. Far from getting back to our “old” town, I’m hoping for a “new” town – one that is rooted in mutual respect, looking after each other, fairly sharing our resources and taking care of country. The local indigenous culture provides many of the ways by which we may achieve this, collectively.

  10. We all know the old adage: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
    But it also takes a whole child to raise a village because a community survival is conditional to children knowing and committing themselves to the values and practices that have allowed their community to exist across multiple generations.

  11. I have always felt that Arrernte country should be far more respected than it is and that the mayhem caused by visitors from out of town has caused terrible damage to sacred sites – look at the state of the trees in the river down past The Gap now.
    I totally support these men and their commitment and so should we all.
    There are two points I would like to make however. In 2010 I marched with Arrernte men in the Stop the Violence march and was absolutely delighted to see the action they were taking at that time.
    It was not long after a grand daughter to us was murdered in their country by an outsider. We were desperate for them to use the traditional authority that should be respected by all other Aboriginal people to bring back some order and control.
    However, nothing much happened because submissions for funding failed. Action needs to take place whether there is funding or not. I see an awful lot of people wandering the streets with nothing to do.
    There is plenty of time to do something in. Grass roots action works when it is carried out by those who are simply determined to act whether they have funding or not.
    When that happens and the action they take achieve demonstrable success then the funding will follow.
    My second point is that Chansey Paech is absolutely wrong when he claims that the problem of kids roaming the streets at night and getting into trouble is caused by them being taken away from their families.
    How did you grow up Chansey? Where did you get your education?
    The kids we know who are on the streets and who we have tried to chase down to get them back to their families come from communities where their languages are still spoken, where ceremonies are still performed, where everybody tells you their culture is strong but where some people in positions of authority will sell them marijuana and do nothing to take responsibility for the kids’ behaviour and where their parents are either in jail or on the grog and drugs.
    The kids we know and love, who are being cared for by white fellas, and in one case a Koori woman, of good heart and dedication are, in fact, doing very well at school, are looked after well, are in good health and definitely do not roam the streets at night.
    They also have plenty of contact with their Aboriginal families and culture – from a safe base.
    We are working very hard to keep things that way despite the complete nonsense begin sprouted by the “you’re making a second stolen generation – this is cultural genocide” crowd and their damaging influence on politicians and the courts.
    What you are saying is rubbish, Chansey.
    It doesn’t make me feel confident that the government you are part of is going to come up with answers if it relies on people like yourself for a useful analysis of the problem.

  12. I applaud these men for their initiative and hope they’re soon joined by Arrernte women as they bring cultural respect and authority to the fore.
    Theirs will be a HUGE undertaking and David Price is absolutely right when he says they will need ALL our support.
    Most in our community will show these mentors and role models the respect they deserve.
    Drawing on the past experience of night patrollers however, they will be confronted on occasion by hostility, belligerence and potentially violence.
    It’s true, in many situations they will be much more effective than police. Culturally they are university trained but some will need more training to apply these skills in a challenging urban environment, where they will be exposed to all manner of human complexities, vulnerabilities and mental illness.
    Existing service providers can’t relax and expect Arrernte men to make a substantial difference without support. They will need basic insurance cover because they’re taking personal risks for the benefit of this community.
    To go the distance and be effective this initiative will need paid coordinators at the very least.
    Like Tangentyere, that operates a service focused on town camps, they will need vehicles.
    Finally, I do hope they can retain some elements of volunteerism in their ranks because those driven by a sense of cultural or civic duty can help to protect such endeavors from the corrosive potential that money alone can bring.
    Equally, adequate funding is vital to protect organizations that rely on a largely volunteer base from member burn-out. Surely the NT Government, Alice Springs Town Council and Tangentyere are already stepping up.

  13. Looking back through the archives at this story, it was hoped this initiative might have helped the situation, but after tow and a half years the streets at night are worse off.
    What happened after this meeting?
    Did the actions mentioned happen or was it just a talk-fest?

  14. July and it’s worse now than then. What the Aboriginal elders need to realise is that failure on their part reflects badly on all Aboriginal people. While this may be an unfair conclusion try looking in reverse.
    A few white people are racist, so the whole of the white community is racist. So these kids, apparently Aboriginal in appearance are giving the whole lot of you a bad name and a lot of this feeds racism and hatred.
    To the elders, if you want to fix it, do so.
    If not, then stop waving the racist card because your inaction is actually promoting racism. The stats show Aboriginal people are over represented in gaol, perhaps it’s because they break the law more than white people. This would be fact not a racist statistic.
    Let these young people know that age is no protection for them, if they are old enough to attack people they are old enough to cop the punishment.
    So elders, before the “racist white” start defending and protecting themselves and their property, why not step in and show us your true values.
    That is the best way to get ongoing respect.


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