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HomeVolume 27Town camps: This could herald a new era

Town camps: This could herald a new era


Ilpeye Ilpeye’s celebration on Monday, marking the receipt of freehold title after a determined battle over more than an decade, was remarkable not because of who attended, but who didn’t.

Getting ready for a show.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner was presumably preparing for his resignation the next day.

Housing Minister Chansey Paech wasn’t resigning but he wasn’t there either.

Mayor Matt Paterson didn’t show although he was getting a new suburb.

The three local Parliamentarians, Josh Burgoyne, Bill Yan and Robyn Lambley were not there, and neither was Tangentyere CEO Walter Shaw.

That is understandable, because Tangentyere are losing a part of that archipelago of misery over which the publicly funded organisation has control.

We were hoping to interview Mr Shaw but he didn’t return our calls.

Town Councillor Jimmy Cocking attended.

So did Cr Mark Coffey, who had handled the freeholding negotiations during his time with the Federal Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA) in 2009 and 2010.

Cr Cocking, in conversation, remarked that it had taken the council four years to get to the point of agreement and handover with the NT Government in regards to the standard of the access road.

“As an elected member I am not aware that this process was contributing to the delays associated with the handover of freehold title,” he said.

The obvious question now is, will other camps go down the same road?

Ilpeye Ilpeye’s owners (if they choose to do so) now can subdivide, lease, develop and sell blocks and set up rental “investment” dwellings, no different to the way people can on the other side of the drain in Sadadeen – or anywhere else in town.

Ilpeye Ilpeye matriarch Josephine Golder Palmer.

Unlike the other 17 town camps they are no longer bound by NT Government leases nor have their affairs controlled by Tangentyere.

It has taken them well over a decade to achieve this, against relentless pressure from Tangentyere to join a 40 year arrangement developed in the wake of the discredited Federal Intervention.

The process was for the Feds to compulsorily acquire the land under lease to the NT Government as a step towards freehold for Ilpeye Ilpeye community (Ilpeye Ilpeye means needle bush tree in Central Arrernte, commonly found around Central Australia).

Darryl Pearce, who headed up the native title body Lhere Artepe during part of the negotiations, spoke at the celebration, saying the Golder and Stirling families back in the the old days had been “pushed from one place to the other” carting around a big old army tent as a mobile home.

They are not just native title holders but traditional owners of the land, said Mr Pearce.

They were under ongoing pressure to sign the 40 year agreement which did not reflect the nature of attachment to the land which freehold represented.

“One family said no,” said Mr Pearce.

“They chose not to sign.”

Mr Coffey said the Trucking Yards camp had considered going down the same path but despite similar cultural attachments to the land decided to sign up for the 40 year lease deal instead.

There are other camps in splendid scenery and with lots of land: Larapinta Valley (90.61 hectares) in the western part of the town and at the base of the MacDonnell range; Hidden Valley (28.55 ha), separated by just a low ridge from the posh Golf Court Estate; and Warlpiri camp (8.72 ha) off the North Stuart Highway.

Ilpeye Ilpeye is on 11.69 ha.

Tangentyere says on its website: “Our leadership has always maintained the significance of self-determination through re-empowerment and community control over their own affairs.”

Compared to Ilpeye Ilpeye’s rights and opportunities that claim doesn’t stand up. The lease areas cannot be subdivided nor sold in parts, and major responsibilities for finance and housing are not in the hands of the various camp associations, but of Tangentyere.

Anna-Lisa Stirling, the CEO of the Ilpeye Ilpeye Aboriginal Corporation, says their land is held in trust for their people and not anyone outside the two families.

However, the construction of rental accommodation available for anyone is very much on the cards. IIAC may consider being a registered housing provider and provide rental housing in the future.

There will be homes for people working in the community, including builders, says Ms Stirling.

Ilpeye Ilpeye’s population is about 40, and among those of working age, she says 30% to 40% have jobs in town, ranging from day labour to work in the legal system as interpreters or police liaisons.

Efforts to “normalise” and “mainstream” the camps sporadically come and go, with no sign that the Ilpeye Ilpeye model will be adopted and – hopefully – bring improvements.

In May 2009 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the “notorious Aboriginal town camps will be compulsorily acquired by the Rudd Government after Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said she could no longer tolerate the ‘appalling living conditions’ and endemic violence some 2000 residents are forced to endure.”

The number of town camp residents appears to be elastic. Tangentyere claims to be “working with every household in the Alice Springs Town Camps and more than 10,000 Aboriginal people from across Central Australia”.

The ABS 2016 census puts the number of camp dwellers at 961.

In January 2016 the ABC reported: “At a rally in Alice Springs this morning, town camp residents called on the Territory Government to reverse its decision to put a private company rather than an Indigenous community housing group in charge of tenancy in the camps.

“But the Government has defended its decision saying it was compelled to put the contract out to public tender under agreements signed when the Federal Government took over leases for the camps in 2009.

“Walter Shaw … said the decision was one more step away from Aboriginal control of housing in the camps.”

The Alice Springs News over 30 years has published tens of thousands of words about the camps and its people. Google our archive. These are some examples:

In April 2014 the then NT Housing Minister Bess Price announced a review into lease arrangements, infrastructure assessment, service delivery, housing and engagement in the economy.

A study is scathing about the failure to encourage commercial opportunities and says subdivision should be permitted while Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy wants to assess opportunities on a case-by-case basis.

Town camp women want to be heard: Say stop to the violence.


Photo at top: Ilpeye Ilpeye’s people celebrating on Monday.


  1. Might be time for a follow up story? Houses broken down and sitting empty after evictions of traditional owners from their own lands by a private real estate agent. Self-determination!

  2. @ Paddy: The traditional owners of the land did not pay for the houses they are being evicted from and have not paid a modest rent and many have trashed the houses.
    Why should tax payers, most of whom pay for their own houses, tolerate this situation?
    Why should other Aboriginal people who need housing tolerate a situation where their own prospects of being housed are undermined by a small minority?


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