The adequacy of judicial sentencing



Part Two. 

I suspect that statistics will confirm many of our trivial convictions referred to in Part One would not result in a custodial sentence interstate.

Yet all too often a light sentence that defies logic is handed down in a serious case. That fails to pass the pub test. We are told that we were unaware of all the mitigating circumstances. Perhaps so. But when the Director of Public Prosecutions appeals a sentence as “manifestly inadequate” (Sunday Territorian May 2024), something is clearly wrong.

Whatever, the perceptions of soft sentencing renew the crescendo for mandatory sentencing.

Mix in the controversial (excessive) use of bail provisions, and you can really get an argument going.

So, on the one hand there is a view that the courts are too harsh. The social reformers, a few academics, and the unaffected in the suburbs of our major capital cities subscribe to this view, I suspect.

And on the other hand, the victims of repeated break-ins, or home invasions, regularly by repeat offenders on bail, believe the courts are too lenient. The victims of crime are screaming at the politicians to extend mandatory sentencing. There is no doubt that the police are frustrated at arresting the same offender multiple times.

I repeat. In a nutshell, social reformers are appalled by mandatory sentencing, but the victims of crime are disgusted by soft penalties, and bail, handed out by the courts.

How do you begin to reconcile those opposite, deeply held views?

Parliaments are in the middle, and it is quite easy to see how the Legislatures arrive at mandatory sentencing.

The cost of incarceration – a couple more copy and pastes from Google: Australia spends more than $5 billion per year, which amounts to over $330 per prisoner per day.”

“The Department of Communities and Justice have today revealed in NSW Budget Estimate hearings that the per day cost of keeping a person under 18 in prison is $2700, totalling an annual cost per child of $985,500 and with 212 young people presently in custody in NSW, the State is currently spending $208m per year on young people in prison. The Department also disclosed that of the 212 children in custody, 129 are First Nations young people. “

Now governments, and their treasuries are funny things. They can produce money out of a hat to meet the ever-expanding costs of imprisonment, and hospitalisation.

If an unfortunate is sentenced by a court to prison, or hospitalised by a doctor, government just meets the cost of prison on hospital. It is non-discretional. It cannot be denied or deferred until next year or the one after. There seems to be a bottomless impress account. In other words, not programmed, therefore not “expenditure”.

It is extremely difficult to get approval to SPEND money in anticipation of a SAVING later. Like immunisation programs to save hospital costs. Or diversion programs to save gaol costs. Try asking for $10,000 now to fund a program that will save you $100,000 next financial year, and you strike the closed minds of money managers. People who deal in numbers that add up and balance NOW do not think like that.

Not only are the costs of incarceration draining our finances, but the ineffectiveness of this practice as a deterrent is obvious.

A series of eye-opening reports published in March 2024 by the Justice Reform Initiative (which includes four former high court justices, three former police ministers and four former state premiers) said that gaoling people was deeply misguided: “The assumption is dangerously wrong. The idea that by dispatching men, women, and children to prison we are preventing them from committing further crime is deeply misguided. Instead, gaol is too often a training ground for violence, populated by a ready network of future co-conspirators.”

It is imperative that we change but what are the alternatives? I will outline the obvious examples.

Aboriginal Customary Law was reported on 40 years ago by the Australian Law Reform Commission, focussing on the states’ justice processes. It resulted in various efforts around the country to adopt different structures, or to co-opt senior Indigenous authority figures, into judicial proceedings. More study, and more work is needed.

Restorative Justice work has been done in various locations around the country, but the approach has not got a decent foothold despite success. It makes so much sense to make the offender face the victim (and vice versa).

Justice Reinvestment is another thoughtful attempt to divert people from the penal system. (The Australian Law Reform Commission said a justice reinvestment approach to criminal justice reform involves a redirection of money from prisons to fund and rebuild human resources and physical infrastructure in areas most affected by high levels of incarceration.)

Family Responsibilities Commission is a spectacular example of justice reinvestment developed by an extraordinary man in North Queensland, Noel Pearson.

It directly addresses the concerns I expressed earlier in this paper about the Australian government processing huge payments fortnightly then looking away. He convinced both the Queensland and Australian Governments to legislate to create the commission.

The ultimate tool available to the commission is a Community Income Management (CIM) order. Commissioners can determine what proportion of welfare payments is managed on the person’s behalf.

It also overcomes the fatal flaw in the former Basics Card approach (in various guises) where ALL residents in a remote locality were put on the card. It had the effect of penalising those community members who led an exemplary life and left no incentive for those who did not to improve their ways. The Basics Card also saw the development of ingenious ways to navigate around it.

Justice Reform Initiative says jailing is failing. The Northern Territory News on 23 May 2024, in an article clairvoyant in its timing, posted a story titled: “CLP forced to backflip after repeated digs at NT Deputy Chief Minister Chansey Paech over ‘Jailing is Failing’ T-shirt.”

What generated this latest heat is a Justice Reform Initiative Group. At the risk of being repetitive I want to stress that this is a serious group of professionals. It is chaired by one of my former Federal ministers, includes several more, along with a who’s who of politics, the legal profession and Indigenous leadership. (In other words this is not a group of contrarians likely to show up at every protest demonstration.)

The group has said: “The evidence is very clear that jailing is failing as a deterrent, it is failing to reduce crime, and it is ineffective at addressing the drivers of criminal justice involvement.” Governments cannot simply dismiss these people.

All these alternatives lend themselves for adoption as easy cultural fits into Indigenous cultural practices. They are bound to produce better outcomes than Correctional Services.

Internationally, the jury is in! Through the adoption of more modern thinking like this Norway has been able to reduce the re-offending rate from 70% to 20%.

NEXT: Other obvious anomalies with the administration of the law.

Wine, not climb



Sixty five thousand years. The world’s oldest living culture. One of the things that make Australia great. Aboriginal people and the tourism industry are clearly made for each other.

Well, no.

Danial Rochford (pictured), CEO of Tourism Central Australia, says the industry lobby is looking at options for greater involvement of Aboriginal people, possibly through entrepreneurship as well as CDEP-style initiatives with government support.

However, these moves are in an early phase. Mr Rochford estimates “roughly about 10%” of the region’s tourism operators are Indigenous owned.

Meanwhile the current relationship between Indigenous people and tourism seems more hostile than cooperative.

In October 2019 traditional owners banned climbing The Rock, a favourite adventure for millions of Australians and visitors since the 1930s.

The mountain range between Heavitree Gap and Honeymoon Gap, or Mt Gillen, was declared a registered sacred site in December 2020.

The range was a favourite walking area in the immediate vicinity of the town. Its southern flank features about a dozen magnificent gullies, the nearest one just 20 minutes walk from the tourism precinct.

“Custodians have asked that the site not be climbed,” the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority states.

The long-planned mountain bike track in the Aboriginal-owned West MacDonnells national park has still not received the traditional owners’ approval.

And the elephant in the room is the secretive Centrecorp Aboriginal Investment Corporation Pty Ltd, owned by the Central Land Council (three shares) as well as the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Tangentyere Council (two shares each). It has investments estimated in hundreds of millions of dollars, but little or none in tourism.

Its website says in the early 1980s the Central Land Council was considering an investment corporation “that would allow Aboriginal people to participate commercially in the inevitable resource and tourism development projects … rather than simply observing this development take place around them.” Yes, tourism.

According to its website, Centrecorp’s principal investments are in: Peter Kittle Motor Company, Yeperenye Shopping Centre and other properties, LJ Hooker Alice Springs, Milner Road Foodtown, Mercure Alice Springs Resort (according to Mr Rochford that is no longer current), Alice Springs Memorial Club property (currently being developed by Congress as a “health hub”), Properties at 75 and 82 Hartley Street Alice Springs, and Hertz Commercial Vehicle franchises in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

“Centrecorp does not receive any operational grants or royalties,” claims the company on its website.

This is an interesting statement: Centrecorp may not but Aboriginal royalty associations do, including from the Tanami mine, owned by Newmont, the world’s biggest gold miner.

It is understood the associations elect to invest the royalties through Centrecorp.

We were unable to get replies from Centrecorp to these questions: What is the total value of Centrecorp assets? What percentage of this is in tourism assets in Central Australia? What are the main ones? Is Centrecorp planning to invest in further Central Australian tourism assets? If so when? Costing how much? What assets (e.g. Wilderness Lodges in the MacDonnell Ranges)?

Mr Rochford says: “Tourists are looking for the culture, the histories and the stories and to immerse themselves in understanding that 65,000 years of culture.”

NEWS: Generally speaking, they are not getting it directly from the Indigenous people. Why not?

ROCHFORD: We’re on a journey. It has started, it is fair to say, with a small number of Indigenous tourism businesses. We’re working with a lot of micro to medium size businesses.

He says these include Standley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge, Finke River Adventures and KARKKE at Kings Canyon.

ROCHFORD: Visitors want to hear indigenous cultural stories and hear firsthand from traditional owners but we now need to think how we can meet that demand. We know there are many interested in tourism, it is something new for most who have not worked in tourism before, many who are not in the industry don’t really understand the industry very well. That’s the challenges for agencies like ours.

NEWS: You say the tourism’s brand has been immeasurably damaged by some elements speaking out loud in national media about the worsening youth crime rate in Alice Springs, now often featuring aggravated assaults at knifepoint. Taking a broad view of Aboriginal influence on tourism, let’s not kid ourselves, behind every eight or 15 year old offender are Aboriginal parents neglecting their children.

ROCHFORD: We have to face the reality that we have to, as an agency, work with our industry, work with government and partners to try and reverse the damage to our brand.

NEWS: Who actually goes out into the Aboriginal camps and says, where is Johnny? Is he still in trouble? What can we do?

ROCHFORD: In my four years here I’ve seen agencies working more closely with one another. All relevant agencies. The community expects it.

NEWS: What is Tourism Central Australia itself doing to reduce crime, something your members’ future in business depends on?

ROCHFORD: Whoever is committing a crime must face the full force of the law.

NEWS: More law, more police? It’s not working, is it?

ROCHFORD: If someone is breaking into an 80 years old person’s house, the full force of the law should be applied.

NEWS: Could crime not be prevented?

ROCHFORD: That dovetails into two points. We have been very long and loud talking about preventative policing. Having enough boots on the ground to ensure crime doesn’t occur in the first place. That will have a flow-on effect that fewer young people don’t get into the justice system and then into prisons. We need to focus on housing, health and poverty issues, economic empowerment. Traditionally that has been the role of the CDEP programming in remote parts. Tourism plays an absolutely important opportunity.

NEWS: How many Aborigines does the local tourism industry employ?

ROCHFORD: I’ve never seen that statistic broken down. In a recent review of the CDEP program we stated tourism could be a jobs factory for Indigneous Australians.

NEWS: How will that work?

ROCHFORD: There needs to be some form of support to encourage Indigenous Australians into opportunities to work for Indigenous and non-Indigenous tourism businesses.

NEWS: Is there anything stopping this?

ROCHFORD: There are cultural reasons.

NEWS: Define those, please.

ROCHFORD: Tourism does bring with it a bit of rigidity.  If you have a nine o’clock tour there is a need for someone to turn up at 9am. Other regions have realised the challenges of cultural sensitivities. I’ve seen other regions using Indigenous owned labour hire firms. If somebody can’t turn up for that 9 o’clock tour they make sure someone does turns up.

NEWS: Should people being offered a job have their dole terminated?

ROCHFORD:  A lot of people talk about the employment issues. I like to talk about entrepreneurship. I want to see more Indigenous tourism entrepreneurs.

NEWS: How would you encourage them?

ROCHFORD: The first thing is finding out who is interested in getting into tourism and I would openly encourage anyone to reach out to Tourism Central Australia and other agencies. There are a lot of support packages from governments and NGOs.

PHOTO Instagram.

Crime is killing the economy


The health of the business economy is fundamental to the on-going health and survival of a society and a region. The failure of the economic system and the businesses that sustain it, leads to major social breakdown.

Importantly, such major negative effects can also commence in the opposite direction. That is, the failure of government institutions to maintain law and order and to govern in a competent manner, resulting in social instability, can lead to the failure of the economy.

This is apparent in a number of developing countries such as Haiti, Sudan and a number of African and South American states.

Such failure commences a dangerous, reinforcing cycle where subsequent economic failures lead to increased unemployment, poverty, further social breakdown and associated higher levels of crime and violence.

Discussions with leaders of Territory business indicate that a number are asking whether this is the future of the Northern Territory. The signs are ominous.

Businesses are being forced to shut down in centres such as Alice, Darwin, Tennant Creek and Katherine. One only has to observe the increasing number of empty and boarded up shop fronts.

Such closures are particularly important in the Territory given the fragile nature of the business sector.

Nearly 50% of the economy in the Territory is employed in government and community services.

The private sector is fundamental to the future growth and development of the Northern Territory and it is essential that this sector be encouraged to grow further and mature, so that the Territory economy can diversify away from an overall dependence on government.

However, increasing social dislocation and violence amongst mainly Aboriginal people, now has Alice Springs rated as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. It is preceded only by several South African and South American cities and Port Moresby.

This is having a major impact on the tourism sector, one of the main drivers of private sector growth in the Territory. It is also having a major impact on the running costs of a range of small to medium sized businesses and leading to major recruitment shortages of skilled staff.

Small to medium sized businesses are another important driver of economic growth and development. Many of these are being badly affected as they are located mainly in urban areas where the problems of social disruption and violence are being experienced.

As businesses close, less products and services are available to the wider, mainstream community, compared with other Australian centres and the push and pull factors to leave the Territory increase. The destructive cycle intensifies.

A number of business leaders are asking how this can be allowed to occur as the once safe, prosperous, vibrant, happy Northern Territory with an enviable life-style, is fractured and destroyed before peoples’ eyes, by a lack of competent governance and a confused police and judicial system.

How, they ask, can there apparently be a different law for people based on racial background, such that in the face of violent demonstrations with weapons for example, no arrests are made?

Such major concerns would have to explain why the business sector in the Territory has been recently reported as providing around twice the amount of donations provided to the governing Labor party. This is surprising given the advantage possessed by the Labor party with access to union funding.

However, it is important to appreciate that these negative economic effects will escalate and impact on wider society. Such difficulties are likely to cause increasing problems to both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal people, as the future development of the Northern Territory flounders.

Uncultivated vastness a refuge from cacophonous cities



Flights in a light aircraft enhance my perspective of the lower Lake Eyre Basin. This view of country recalls the epic presence of water in a landscape often portrayed as barren in Coober Pedy’s literature, film and art history.

In the surrounding desert there are certainly significant creeks with occasional coolabah fringed waterholes that in good seasons satisfy our traditional expectations of a billabong. But we must begin our journey hundreds of kilometres upstream to sense some of the contextual grandeur of Australia’s greatest treasure, the Eromanga / Great Artesian Basin, situated beneath the Lake Eyre Basin, and extending across 30% of the Australian continent.

Palimpsest and patinated, the surface terrain is both sparsely vegetated and yet deceptively rich in focal points, patches, swamps, colluvial catchments, micro basins and subtle intermont valleys. Fluvial processes, complex and vast continue, albeit diminished from a time when the Finke River flowed strongly into the Macumba and on to Kati Thanda / Lake Eyre, with the most recent flow recorded at 700 years ago. The desert pavements and dominant rocky features of generally low elevation defy my simplified rendering.

Overall, the land is intensely braided with micro-channels (normally dry) that feed into creeks and watercourses of growing stature. I look down as we pass over a circular feature with clearly defined concentric ripples cast in stone, surely some kind of mound spring, an “extinct” oasis once fringed with lush vegetation.

To my inexperienced eye, phrases such as “braided river channels” resonate but there are so many variations that I risk raising the ire of geomorphologists by using such phrases too loosely. Suffice to say descriptions such as anabranching, anastomosing, macrochannels, multi-thread river styles and much more are referenced in the literature of lacustrine and palaeodrainage devotees.

Crossing the border into South Australia the country reads as a heterogenous topography featuring clay soils and a complex of low silcrete regolith and uplands, surfaces sharply incised with micro channels and modest drainages, gradually trending southerly and feeding into a series of significant creeks, the Indulkana, Maryatt, Agnes that gather and grow as they feed into the Neales and Macumba, eventually reaching the terminus of Kati Thanda / Lake Eyre.

This vast country is intensely marked by the harvesting, infiltration and passage of water. Elevations are variable at a local scale but the southerly trend is very gradual overall.

The absence of higher elevation mountain ranges is beguiling so we don’t instinctively think of this country as a vast water catchment of more subtle horizontal relief. Minor drainages carry rainfall down the flanks of stony rises and across claypans into meandering creeks that combine to form major rivers, like the mighty Neale.

In this country, rivers and creeks are often comprised of numerous channels that can be exceptionally wide overall and slower moving than the deeply incised rivers we know so well; the headwaters of the Finke, Palmer, Hugh and Todd in the upper Lake Eyre Basin.

My aerial reveal is mostly the colour of dry clay, a few isolated pools, miracles in the middle of nowhere but the widespread presence of water in this variegated catchment remains episodic in nature.

Water moves inexorably towards Lake Eyre during flood events and there is barely a single hectare that does not carry the “recent” marks of water harvesting, collection or transport. Patches of darker vegetation mark those places where sheet flows lingers a while and water penetrates to the clay subsoils beneath. Trees appear on the banks of the largest watercourses such as the Neale, where hardy coolibahs replace the red gums of the headwaters further north.

Modulating, rushing and slowing down to a whisper, the wind in this landscape is an almost constant force of nature. That low rumble, the sound made by a vehicle approaching from a great distance, rising and falling in response to contours of the road.

Is this the drumming of rubber tyres on corrugations of gravel and clay? Parked up on a high point to admire the setting sun I’ve looked in the rear view mirror many times expecting the approach of a four wheel drive that never comes. At sunrise and sunset this is one of my favourite places, just east of Coober Pedy where the town’s margins interface with a hint of wilderness on the William Creek road.

Sound-shifting as it echoes through the complexities of an undulating landscape, a gentle yet forceful wind eddies and flows through ravines and over denuded mounds of crushed and exploded sandstone.

It really is the wind of an ancient shore line and the rusty detritus of the miners, their excavators, trucks and conveyors, listing and abandoned, do resemble ship wrecks teetering and trapped on a treacherous reef. Here and there corrugated iron verandahs, shacks and old buses serve as modest porticos to fabulous underground homes.

Is it any wonder that the occasional restless sailor, retired from a life on the ocean finds solace, serenity and the freedom of uncultivated vastness in their final years at Coober Pedy. The birds and kangaroos that share this place are more than enough company for hardy people, jaded and restless, refugees from cacophonous cities and crowded suburbs.

Overlooking Kanku Breakaways and the Eromanga Basin the light show is always changing. At day’s end, rank after shifting rank of alternating shadow and light stretch tens of kilometres to the horizon. Horizontal lines and highlight waves that reflect shifting shorelines and river flows of the Cenozoic or perhaps the relentless push pull between south easterlies and northerlies.

Overhead, a pair of kestrels somersault and soar while in the far distance a line of emus following the dog fence (the subject of a future essay) materialise from the heat shimmer.

Located 850 km north of Adelaide and 680 km south of Alice Springs, Coober Pedy clings doggedly to its claim as Australia’s opal capital and many of the 2,000 residents were bitterly disappointed when the NSW State Government took the initiative to create an “Opal Centre” at Lightning Ridge.

Designed by revered Australian architect Glen Murcutt, yet I can’t help thinking, in the parlance of Coober Pedy, maybe the town dodged a pit fall. Visitor centres are notoriously expensive to operate with costs rarely covered by the funds they generate from tourists.

Of more desperate need, perhaps a generous philanthropic entity might employ Murcutt to design an aged care centre, where the Octogenarian miners might be sustained socially as they seek comfort in the rich languages of their childhood.

On a positive note, Purple House has established in Cobber Pedy, offering renal dialysis services to all residents who would otherwise be forced to travel to a major population centre.

Recently there’s talk of a film history centre and my concern is aroused once more. Coober Pedy still has an operational drive-in cinema, one of the last film venues of its type in the Australian inland.

I can’t help thinking all that film industry memorabilia could be simply arranged in a perimeter arc at the drive-in, some protective shelters added. Unlike the monolithic approach taken at Lightning Ridge, the town’s ad hoc built environment, like a shell midden on an ancient shoreline, lends itself to a dispersed scatter of attractions, with existing surface and subterranean options in abundance.

I can well imagine a film festival, with the drive-in cinema as flagship supported by improvised indoor spaces and inspiring underground venues, showing different classics from Coober Pedy’s unparalleled film history and revealing new Australian releases.

The built environment eschews the orderly grid of town planning principles. The predictable main street is named after Hutchinson, the boy who famously found opal. However the road network at large has adopted the unofficial tracks made by miners with their ready access to earth moving machinery and little patience for the formalities of civic survey.

This gives the town a large degree of anarchic flair and the popular navigation aid Siri uses language such as “slide right” to guide me through the maze of “goat tracks” to find a reclusive miner at his or her dugout.

Intriguing place names like Ice-cream Hill, Potch Gully Road, German Gully road and Tom Cat Hill have proliferated, a clear indication the community of Coober Pedy have chosen to ignore dignitaries and immortalise the banal. Even then as I search out my friend I must look for a certain derelict blower truck signposting the correct driveway and the house beyond, jack-hammered under the brow of a small hill.

Impressive architecture exists alongside impoverished suburbs of vernacular construction that don’t always meet modern building codes but add so much richness and verve to the town.

A fascinating array of commercial and domestic dugouts have been carved with laser precision and others with flamboyant curves and a touch of Raiders of the Lost Ark abandon. Indeed many of my favourite Coober Pedy creations are officially unapproved but I have no doubt they will outlast compliant residential towers of less maverick charm that crowd our cities.

With its vaulted and scalloped sandstone ceilings, a tribute to the skill of tunnelling machine operators, the underground Serbian Church is beyond extraordinary and the Desert Cave, a touch of luxury conceived by Robert Coro of a pioneering Italian family.

Modern facilities including a theatre and the Big Winch restaurant overlooks the town and attracts a sunset viewing crowd of locals and tourists. In the absence of “big” supermarkets, the local IGA is outstanding and he prehistory exhibits of the Umoona Museum are a tribute to the outreach efforts of the South Australian Museum.

Another neighbour sits outside, in the shade of a modest verandah. He moved to Coober Pedy for the dry air that agrees with his lung and heart troubles. His home is hidden, although airshafts poking through the rocky roof suggest a spacious building envelope beneath the silcrete rubble.

This unique habitat of desert dwellers has created subterranean suburbs that provide a great sense of space because so much of the surface still reads as buffer zone and open “bush”. On matters of sustainability, Coober Pedy is a shining example.

At least half the town’s residents live underground and require little or no power for air-conditioning or heating. During my visit in January 2019 the evening news reveals disheartening failures in a western Sydney suburb, officially the hottest place on earth!

An aerial perspective reveals a neatly conceived suburb with charcoal grey corrugated iron rooves, minimal eaves, heat storing block walls and narrow interspaces between neighbours.

There’s little potential to plant a shady tree anywhere and a distressed migrant being interviewed on the verge, observes that he can’t continue or afford to live in his house. Doubtless the split system air conditioning is running flat out while the adjacent verge is clad in heat retaining green astro turf.

“At 48.9 degrees, Penrith was officially the hottest place on Earth on January 4, 2019. But heat loggers placed at 120 locations around the local government area for heat research commissioned by Penrith City Council found that on that day the mercury rose to 52 degrees in the suburb of Berkshire Park, 51.5 in Agnes Banks, and 50.1 in Badgerys Creek.” (Angus Thompson, Sydney Morning Herald, posted 5-12-2020).

This moment exemplifies the tragedy of Australia’s failures to address climate change, of Government planning and Council regulators, that enabled commercial imperatives to triumph over science.

The cost is borne by society at large but most acutely by those conned into buying or renting a corrupted version of the great Australian dream. On this day the temp at Coober Pedy, a supposed cauldron in the desert was in the mid 40s with negligible humidity and I was exceedingly comfortable in the cool of my dugout.

Lines of clouds, an ever passing parade, immense thunderheads, the drift of virga and the artful tracery of cirrus against an impossibly blue sky, tantalise the senses. Hovering on a distant horizon, the stratocumulus formations over a thousand metres high are measured by the thickness of my index finger.

Rain out of reach more often than not. To those who live in arid country, they offer luminous beauty or towering grandeur but not misplaced hope. Distance and visibility are too great; rain is rarely expected (a clear advantage for well situated outdoor events) and disappointment a fool’s occupation.

At sunset the light creates a dramatic step change, slender highlights growing in colour and intensity and then finally collapsing back into shadowlands. In the “fields” surrounding Coober Pedy the sharp-edged square silhouettes of warning signs come to the fore and combine with a backdrop of black pyramid mounds set against a shiraz sky, a startling Nolan sunset for this photographer.

Sunsets and sunrises, those daily phenomena in colour and choreography, are appreciated by every resident in much the same way that coastal denizens are nourished by the transient moods of the ocean.

As any jaded photographer can attest, colourful clouds, even when they’re crowning the soft hues of crushed sandstone are unworthy. And yet Coober Pedy seems to feed the inner child. Is it really possible that I’m photographing the night sky and sunsets with the abandon and excitement I felt looking through the lens of my very first SLR camera?

The sky truly is ascendant here and for Coober Pedy’s surfeit of dreamers, for its pilgrims and worshippers of every faith, for atheists and agnostics, for every seeing person, resistance is futile.

PHOTO AT TOP: Serbian underground church in Coober Pedy.

Earlier stories by MIKE GILLAM

The surprising abundance of Coober Pedy Jul 12, 2024

Survivor of atomic crimes in The Centre Apr 30, 2024
Night drive Apr 19, 2024
Moving closer to that elusive miracle of life and light Mar 24, 2024
Flash flood of budgerigars Mar 18, 2024
Following feathered dancers into the desert Mar 13, 2024

The surprising abundance of Coober Pedy



Capturing one of the largest internally draining river systems in the world, the Lake Eyre Basin occupies more than 16% of the Australian continent.

Deeper still, the Eromanga / Great Artesian Basin covers 30%. Within this landscape context of ephemeral rivers and epic wetland catchments there is much, much more to Coober Pedy than its promotion as “the opal capital of the world” or otherworldly manifestations of its lunar-cum-Martian landscapes.

Elevations here vary between 103 and 238 metres above sea level and the average annual rainfall, at 140mm is about half that of Alice Springs, 680 km up the road.

The opal fields of Coober Pedy were revealed in 1915 by Will Hutchison, a 15 year old travelling with a party of gold prospectors. His story is immortalised in “The boy who discovered opal”, an enchanting children’s book by retired teacher and local author, Sue Britt.

A rush followed soon after and the mining community variously expanded and contracted in response to world events, the opal market and availability of water. The opal field attracted returned servicemen after WW1 and boomed post WW2 with an influx of European migrants wanting a fresh start.

Coober Pedy, absorbed a great deal of this post war pain and trauma and the small frontier community received an abundance of education, ingenuity and creativity in return.

While a miner’s life was typically frugal, war impacted refugees from Europe found the peace they craved and I can well imagine the attraction of this small dot of humanity in the centre of the continent, far away from congested cities. For strangers arriving in a strange land, no one felt conspicuous in a town of 50 or so nationalities, united in their obsession for opal and an appetite for work.

“During 1920, Coober Pedy received its name. We formed a progress-cum-vigilantes group because of lack of law and order. The first night we met we decided on a name for the field; an old White Cliffs miner suggested Coober Pedy, which meant white men living in a hole. As 90% of us were living in dugouts we thought it very appropriate so we notified the authorities in Adelaide.

This is from the book ‘Wilful Murder in the Outback” by Arch Burnett. For those who view Coober Pedy in a negative light, I should clarify that Wilful Murder was the name given to the author’s model T Ford by the paying passengers he carted cross-country to the opal fields.

The White Cliffs connection does broaden the scope for the precise language origins of the name bestowed on Coober Pedy. Certainly, Aboriginal people were attracted to the area by the activities of white pastoralists and miners and the potential for paid work.

Some travelled from afar and this nomadic passion continues today. According to Wikipedia the name Coober Pedy may also have its origins from the Kokatha-Barngarla term kupa-piti but I can’t confirm a source for this.

At Innamincka, in the basin’s south-west, a 1906 Government report notes: “Aborigines are in the habit of crossing the South Australian border and seeking relief at the … depot, owing to there being no depot in their own state (Qld.) nearer than 200 miles.”  Station manager Artie Rowlands made it clear that any Aboriginal stockman was as good as a white, “and not to forget it”. (Circa 1924) from Fred Blakeley’s book Hard Liberty, published in 1938.

At first glance the opal mining town of Coober Pedy looks dishevelled, about as far away from the style and order of South Australia’s capital Adelaide as you can imagine.

Three wind turbines and a solar array make a statement at the southern entrance to the township and a local engineering invention, the legendary blower truck, greets visitors at the roadside.

The northern approach is perhaps more dramatic, a man-made pyramid desert with rhythmic echoes of Namibia. Its shallow reputation as the wild west fits the picture for those travellers who search out places of reassuring familiarity and predictable comforts and don’t bother to explore Coober Pedy for themselves. Endlessly stereotyped as a place of lawlessness and violence, winnowing fact from fiction is a daunting task.

It’s true, the celebrated opal wealth of Coober Pedy attracted rogues and others of criminal bent in the seventies and eighties but their presence has waned. It’s also true that an inadequate investment in policing and a tendency to summarily dismiss “minor” crime reports as “bullshit disputes between miners” allowed anarchy to flourish in the opal fields.

As their pegged claims were raided or machinery sabotaged, miners were often left to take matters into their own hands. On one memorable occasion two detectives arrived from Adelaide to investigate the use of explosives to destroy valuable earth moving machinery. They failed to locate the culprit while confirming a popular theory, that police attention is much more diligent if a national insurer is exposed to significant losses.

Viewed from ground level, through horizon touching days and infinite starry nights, the sky is ascendant here. Cloud formations tower above a natural landscape of heterogeneous hills, mere strokes of colour at the vanishing point. Maze-like with rubbly flanks and distinctive silcrete hard cap, larger formations may appear as plateaux remnants and steep sided mesas deeply incised with gullies and drainages.

Terra firma or more accurately T.infirma owes much of its character to the small scale workings of the Coober Pedy opal miners, of excavations, numbering in the millions. The tent sized pyramids created by miners hoping to strike it rich, form a rhythmic vista of light and shade, in pastels of yellow, white and red. Noticeably absent are the huge open cuts that swallow battalions of trucks with wheels as tall as a house and yet in combined surface area these workings do actually dwarf many open cuts.

This Pyramid desert opalises our first impressions of Coober Pedy and its industrial spirit; a contradictory experience that taunts my mind’s eye as it oscillates between absolute destruction and windswept beauty.

Patterns of time, wind and erosion, the horizon touching pyramids somehow transcend stereotypical vistas of mining devastation. In truth this desert has been turned upside down and the spoil of exploratory drilling reveals the colours of the cross bedded marine deposits up to 90 feet deep.

Filtered through a fine haze of airborne dust, shadows are open and soft in the midday sun, and the white highlights of the conical peaks retain a vestige of detail. Thanks to the legislated modest size of exploration drilling parcels at a maximum 400m by 400m and actual mining leases of just 100m by 50m, the mine workings retain a vestige of human scale. Not-withstanding these limits, I’m reminded by my miner friends that the nature of opal hunting is more about nuance, knowledge and phenomenal luck, than having huge machinery.

It’s undeniable, I have an aversion to mining, amplified by stories of sacred rivers mined and diverted, of priceless aquifers threatened and wildlife lured to their death at tailings dams across the inland.

Once, a friend discovered a dense carpet of budgerigar carcasses around such a dam at a gold mine near Leonora, WA where a poisonous drink of cyanide had destroyed a super flock. I wonder how many of these events are reported to compliance authorities and how mining corporations can justify their profiteering short cuts, underwritten by such failures? Thankfully, I’ve not encountered such negligence within the Coober Pedy opal mining fields.

The town’s industrial aesthetic is further enhanced by old blower trucks, drill rigs and conveyors of every conceivable make and vintage. Improvised, grafted and hybridised, the distressed machinery layer of Coober Pedy creates a gallery of public sculptures, engineering surprises and inventiveness in every street, marvellously free from a curator’s oversight. Time, rust and decay help to blend ecological and mechanical realms with mosaics of cracked paint that speak of arid country and the forces of nature.

Beyond Coober Pedy’s impact zone, the unscarred topography speaks of earlier epochs, a time of shallow estuarine environments, of basins and low rocky headlands. Breeding colonies of water birds flourished here feeding on squid, crabs and mussels. These intriguing life forms persist in the fossil record, often imbued with the opalised colour so highly prized by collectors. In 1987 an almost complete 2.5m skeleton was discovered by a Coober Pedy miner. The carnivorous reptile was duly named Umoonasaurus demoscyllus, an aquatic species from the early Cretaceous, approximately 115 million years ago.

There would be no Coober Pedy if not for the events of the Cretaceous Period (146 to 66 million years ago). Deep layers of muddy and sandy sediments formed beneath the shallow Eromanga sea and marine biota flourished. Over time the ocean gave way to plains, lakes and rivers, until tectonic movement exposed the Eromanga rocks to strong chemical weathering.

During the Cenozoic (66 million years ago to the present day), the global climate became more arid and unstable. Major rivers covered the Eromanga rocks in sands and gravels until about 42 million years ago. After that, a long history of alternating cold, dry glacials and warm, wet interglacials created the landscape we know today.

During weathering events, dissolved silica moved in groundwater beneath the landscape and hard silcretes formed. Elsewhere hydrated silica spheres captured in faults and voids, retained rich and colourful catchlights. These are the hidden treasures sought by miners within formations of opal bearing potch.

More valuable than opal, the bed of the vanquished Eromanga Sea would ultimately form the confining layers of Australia’s greatest treasure, the Great Artesian Basin. This marine legacy also formed the building blocks of Coober Pedy’s unique social history and development. Certainly the sedimentary sandstones and patchy layers of chalky white Alunite can be viewed within the walls of most underground buildings.

Experienced drillers talk of the locally variable rock, of layers often jumbled, from the striking jasper that can occur in reddish claybands and hard caps of silcrete, calcrete, and gypsum higher up, with layers of sandstone beneath that are soft in places where moisture is present and harder lower down with higher concentrations of silica. Mudstone lies at the very bottom of this typical sandstone profile.

Out of every opal hunter’s reach lies the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park (above), a place of airbrushed beauty, of sculpted formations in whites, yellows and reds. Giant sandstone dingos are represented by two starkly different hills, one white and the other tan, sacred ancestors resting side by side. Kanku forms part of the traditional country of the Antakirinja Matuntjara Yankunytjatjara people. At 15,000 hectares the untouched fragility and sweeping lines of Kanku are a wonderful contrast to the disturbance of the mining leases that cradle the town.

The Breakaways are a culturally rich example of pristine uplands in the surrounding desert catchments. These striking landforms reveal a picture of watershed and movement best appreciated from the air. Where localised runoff infiltrates surrounding gibber plains and shallow basins of cracking clay soils, disjunct swamps and ephemeral wetlands appear as isolated green smudges. The heterogenous silcrete formations, eroded and only sparsely vegetated, harvest rainfall across vast landscapes of low topographic relief.

“Silcretes are hard silica-rich duricrusts that occur widely across the Lake Eyre Basin. Their key geomorphic characteristics are their capacity to protect underlying softer rocks from erosion, and the water-shedding that can significantly influence flow hydrology. Silcretes form during weathering … (and)  were exposed at surface by erosion of softer overlying regolith during continental aridification two to four million years ago … (Silcretes occur) as semi-planar rough layers, lumpy boulder piles, or broad areas of rounded rocks (gibber plains or stony mantles).” From: Gresley A. Wakelin-King, Landscapes of the Lake Eyre Basin: the catchment-scale context that creates fluvial diversity; Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia; DOI: 10.1080/03721426.2021.2003514

From steep sided redgum creeks such as the Maryatt, Agnes, Indulkana and Alberga, floodwaters converge in the mighty Macumba before coursing onwards to Munga Thirri-Lake Eyre. The hard surfaces of colluvial slopes harvest rainfall and combine with sheet-flow, gathering into the Arckaringa Creek and Neales River.

From the air these can appear as a wild complex of channels, twisting and tangled, like long tresses of human hair. The flood prone nature of this hard country and the Neales River in particular inspired construction of the spectacular Algebuckina railway bridge, an engineering marvel and testament to the dynamism and force of ephemeral waterways it was expected to weather.

From 3000 feet, reefs of gypsum glint in the sun and I recall the curious nature of such country when viewed at ground level. Amplified by glittering sheaves of gypsum, the heat shimmer flows in a visible wave that evokes an incoming ocean tide meeting a gravel beach.

Trees, birds and mountains are distorted by the shimmer wave, a painterly texture that helped me to resist the example of my desert friends beguiled by the lure of seaside retreats. At Coober Pedy, in this land of raking shadows, beneath an immense sky of drifting colour and gradations, the Eromanga Sea is sublime and yet unfathomably, this place is seriously under-valued.

On this visit the springtime seed load has consolidated after several wet years and the ancient lagoons are now awash with flowers. Bright magenta Swainsona, blue bush with burnished copper discs and pop saltbush, its seeds protected within a “marshmallow” foam designed to float and disperse during rainfall events. The birdsong is sparse but captivating, led by the wonderful electronic calls of dusky wood swallows as they converse with each other across the gibber plains.

Photographers and film-makers often portray Coober Pedy as a stony wasteland: that much celebrated “moon plain”. Conversely I delight in the incredible transformation that comes with modest rainfall, a vegetative mantle of blue, yellow and every hue of green, crowned by a riot of wildflowers. A tiny herb with yellow star flowers catches my eye and I must endlessly confront the limitations of my plant knowledge. Fortunately there is a field guide, Wildflowers of Coober Pedy written by Tim Webb, a retired mariner who lived here once.

Is it my imagination? Are these larger than life flowering plants more desperate to attract pollinators compared to their relatives inhabiting the MacDonnell Ranges, where vegetation luxuriates in a rainfall regime twice that of Coober Pedy? The blue bush spines are huge, perhaps a defensive response to kangaroo ancestors such as Protemnodon viator or rhino-sized Diprotodon related to the southern hairy nosed wombats that still occur in palaeoenvironments near Kingoonya, two hundred kilometres further south.

Scattered mulga occurs throughout and within a few kilometres of the town in any direction, dry creeks and occasional waterholes support graceful coolibahs, the shadiest of the local trees, their nesting hollows a haven for budgerigars. A spectacular form of Pittasporum (inedible “native apricot”) occurs here, its bright yellow fruits, fabulous baubles that would look right at home on a Christmas tree.

Within 50 metres, the plant community changes in response to soils, drainage and light. Trees, sparse and stunted, are replaced by low shrubs such as Witchetty bush and Eremophillas, that offer pools of precious shade if you’re a diminutive dragon or cryptic invertebrate.

Denied adequate old growth hollows, corellas frequently nest in rock niches, crows colonise machinery masts and power poles, while kangaroos, owls and bats thrive in temperature stable mine shafts. Several of our friends have “pet” kestrels that perch under verandah roofing and most provide water for clouds of zebra finches that gladden the collective spirit of this community.

Ptilotus (Mulla mulla) in soft pinks or green, crowd subtle indentations, creases and gullies concealed by the stubble plain of native oat grass. A mass of Parakeelya (above), tens of thousands of succulents, tall delicate stems supporting showy flower heads that wobble and sway in the hot breeze. Hot pink petals surround the yellow centre and within this dancing multitude a single plant, pivots like the prima ballerina, its petals an attention seeking snow white.

Links to stories by MIKE GILLAM in the first half of 2024:

Survivor of atomic crimes in The Centre Apr 30, 2024
Night drive Apr 19, 2024
Moving closer to that elusive miracle of life and light Mar 24, 2024
Flash flood of budgerigars Mar 18, 2024
Following feathered dancers into the desert Mar 13, 2024

Fight with nulla-nullas, spears, a baseball bat and a machete



The NT Government’s incompetence to provide even the most basic level of public safety, its huge police force notwithstanding, was predicted by Bob Catley who said 20 years ago that the Territory would be unable to achieve Statehood.

Police reported yesterday it responded at 1.15pm to a large group fighting with various weapons on Bath Street. That is the street in the middle of the CBD, between Coles and Woolworth.

A number of weapons including nulla-nullas, spears, a baseball bat and a machete were seized.

Prof Catley is a highly published author in the fields of politics and economics, worked in the early 2000s as a professor at CDU, and at a number of universities in Australia and New Zealand,

He felt it was far more likely to end up as a “colonial type region” with town centres such as Port Moresby and a wider region such as PNG, with associated high levels of social dislocation and problems

In this scenario it would be dominated by badly organised and managed Aboriginal interests as most whites will leave – as in PNG.

He advances a number of reasons for this, including a lack of economic development, high welfare and government dependence, a very high and rapidly growing Aboriginal population and poor governance.

Such characteristics he argues, are typical of many colonial states. In the case of the NT we have a colonial state within a country!

A defence presence will be the main core interest that remains.

He argues that this will accelerate as governments in the NT have not been able to get a model going where whites and Aboriginal people can work together in the mainstream economy.

This outmigration of the white community is certainly what is happening in Alice with house sales  are at record levels as whites vote to leave.

This is also likely to be happening in other urban centres such as Darwin and Tennant Creek, for example.

Immigration levels to the NT can be expected to continue to fall as governments are not capable of addressing the fundamental requirements of including Aboriginal people in the mainstream economy. 

I am sure my old sparring partner Bob Beadman would agree with this. 

If governments continue to ignore the dangers of this “separate development” both Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal communities will suffer. So will the NT more generally.

PHOTO AT TOP: The first Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, 1976, was meant to be  the first step towards statehood. It’s unlikely to turn out that way, claimed a leading academic 20 years ago. Today the chronic and out of control crime puts it even more into doubt. PICTURED in the back row, from left to right: Ron Withnall, Grant Tambling, Milton Ballantyne, Eric Manuel, Marshall Perron, Ian Tuxworth, Nick Dondas, Roger Steele. Middle row: Hyacinth Tungatalum; Roger Vale; Roger Ryan; Paul Everingham; Dave Pollock; Rupert Kentish. Front row: Geoff Letts; Dawn Lawrie; Les MacFarlane; Liz Andrew; Jim Robertson. Eric Manual replaced Bernie Kilgariff in the 1976 Alice Springs by-election. Photo taken on March 17, 1976. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

Youth crime: Parents need to act, says Yan


It’s time parents of delinquent young people took control of their offspring, and if they don’t, laws need to be brought in to oblige them to do so.

CLP Member for Namatjira Bill Yan said this in an interview with the Alice Springs News on Show Day, two days before “about 20 male youths” allegedly assaulted, at 2.15am, four off-duty police officers, including three women, walking home at the end of night on the town.

The police media release says: “One female was pulled to the ground and had her bag stolen, another female was punched in the face and kicked multiple times and had her mobile phone taken while the male was also punched and kicked multiple times.”

We asked Mr Yan: “Do parents have responsibilities and are they committing crimes by failing care for their children?”

YAN: There are a number parents out there who are not looking after their kids and are handing over their responsibilities to grandmothers or aunts. Part of our policy platform is to hold parents accountable for their children. That’s where it starts. What we see now is police picking up children and taking them back to the same situation, and at times to harmful and dangerous situations because of the policy of taking them back to a “responsible adult”.

NEWS: How do you fix that?

YAN: There has to be somewhere for those kids to go and it can’t be short-term, whilst parents and families are worked with to provide that safe place for a child. We’re putting children into harmful and dangerous situations and a government should not be doing that.

NEWS: What do you do instead?

YAN: One of our platform is “sentenced to a skill”. Very early when the kids first come in contact with the justice system you put on some diversionary work with Saltbush, for example.

NEWS: Does that work?

YAN: For the odd kid it probably works. But there are others where it’s not working. Then kids will have interaction with the justice system, racking up offences until the absolutely last option is to put them into detention. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the middle. We want to do stuff in the middle area. We have a lot kids who don’t want to engage with mainstream education. You can engage people in education but through vocational education. They like doing things with their hands. We need a facility where kids can come, a live-in facility, but also include parents, elders, community, a wholistic approach to working with that child. When a kid comes out, a period of time later, the aim is to change these behaviours, change where they see themselves in the community, with usable skills for getting a job. I’ve seen it work in a custodial setting.

[Before politics Mr Yan was the superintendent of the Alice Springs prison.]

NEWS: Are you saying the kids would be obliged to do this. Can they say no?

YAN: We would see this as a tool for the courts to send a child to, rather than detention.

NEWS: What if the kids don’t play ball. Apprenticeships are available now. So is trade school. Why aren’t they using that? Would these children be obliged to go to your facility and stay there?

YAN: If the court says they have to go there then that is a court order. Their behaviour there is part of the nitty gritty and we haven’t really looked at that yet.

NEWS: Will that be in draft form before the election next month?

YAN: We are starting on that stuff now. There are a lot of players who need to come to the table.

NEWS: Why hasn’t this been done a lot earlier?

YAN: This has been a policy position of ours for some time.

NEWS: Do the parents have to be involved?

YAN: The parents have to be there, working with the kids to make it successful long term. The parents should be at court hearings as part of what’s happening with the child, as part of the court system. All too often this doesn’t happen, it is not a requirement. I’ve been an advocate for many years now on strengthening the banned drinkers register. If the young person in trouble is taken back to parents who are under the influence of alcohol, then those parents are not able to care for their child. They should be put on the banned drinkers’ register. They should forego the right to purchase alcohol.

NEWS: Do parents commit an offence if the don’t provide the necessities of life for their children?

YAN: That’s been spoken about for some time. I don’t know whether it’s a grey area within our legislation. There are things that can be done but the government are not doing. Families not caring for their children can be put on income management. That exists right now, today. We asked in Estimates of how many families have been put on income management for failing to look after children. It’s fewer than 10 Territory wide. That is certainly a blight on government. Here is a tool that can benefit kids that’s not being used.

NEWS: The next question would be, have these parents committed a punishable offence?

YAN: I don’t know. I’d have to look at the legislation. A fine or imprisonment is not the outcome we’re looking for. I wouldn’t use punishment as a term. You’ve got to keep the family together as much as you can, but there have to be some consequences.

NEWS: Yet parents know there are no consequences for not looking after their children.

YAN: We see so many parents blowing all their money on alcohol. Some of these kids are doing things just to get food, they are hungry, and that should not happen in any modern society. We shouldn’t see that happen in our town. That’s where that education management of parents needs to come in.

NEWS: Education is a voluntary thing. Anyone can reject it.

YAN: That may be where we need to look at legislation. If we have a parent who doesn’t look after the child properly, does the legislation exist to compulsorily require that parent to do something? If it doesn’t, do we then go and look at that legislation and actually change it so it is a compulsory for a parent to do whatever may be ordered to make sure they are providing adequate care for their children. It’s children who are losing out here. We’re having an abused generation. Every child has the right to be safe.

PHOTO: Mr Yan at the Show last Friday, orange top, taking part in the sawing competition.

Corporate buyers may end family cattle industry


How come the value of cattle stations is skyrocketing? The bar of the Centralian Beef Breeders Association was a good place for a pub test.

Some of the biggest pastoralists from The Centre, and agents from interstate, were having beers at the end of the Show, just days after the sale of the 65,000 hectares Woolner Station in the Top End for by an overseas corporate buyer $49m, according to the Cattlemen’s Association’s newsletter.

The News spoke to several of the bar’s patrons on the condition of not naming them, about what is clearly a historic switch from a 150 years old family-based industry to investment opportunities for big companies, some from overseas, and superannuation firms.

The question by the News was always: “How come the sale prices are going thorough the roof?”

The answers:

“I’ve got no idea. Prices of cattle are down. Nobody knows the answer. I’m not from here.”

“We’re not making any more land.”

“You’d better ask the blokes who are buying them. They obviously know something nobody else knows.”

“No comment. They clearly have a bigger cheque book than the next bloke.”

Are purchases in line with the earnings being made?

“Sometimes you make a dollar, sometimes you don’t.”

“Ask the guy with the blue hat over over there. He bought a couple.”

“I tell you one reason is because the families are getting out, family people are leaving. Kids want another life. Companies are coming in. We’re all pretty naive here. We live in Australia, Alice Springs, if you look at the world there is only so much land. The reality of economics, it does not make sense.”

“Look at the Canadian prices at the moment. What we are getting for a kilo they are getting for a pound over there.”

“Because the corporates are buying them. Not with borrowed money.”

“They are people who want to expand but they don’t stand alone on their purchase price. They are bought by people who are prepared to buy because they want to expand, but they don’t stand alone, they have other properties that are paid for. Just to have the income from their other places to pay the interest.”

Isn’t it simple to calculate the income – carrying capacity of two head per square kilometre, three years to be ready for the market and bring $1000 a head? This kind of calculation?

“That’s what I’m saying. They won’t stand alone. If you purchase a property you need other properties to generate the income to cover the interest and over time, as you pay down your debt, you start to break even as your interest costs are reduced. The corporates buying them have seven or 11 year plans and they don’t intend to keep an asset. If they are a superannuation company they put their money into various industries and they get out at a pre-determined time and the capital growth is what they are chasing. So they only need to break even while they own them. When they sell them they move the money into another industry.”

“We buy them and the intention is never to sell them. These people, the corporates, they buy them with the intention of selling them. We buy them as our families expand, we need more country. We’re competing with them. They are not emotionally attached [to the land]”.

“[The stations’ prices are going through the roof] because they are good things.”

“I have no idea. Somebody is keen … I have no idea.”

“Land value is rising Australia wide. They are not making any more land, Central Austraia is the biggest organic pastoral region in the world.”

“It must be a culmination of factors, I suppose.”

“It’s not because of the cattle prices because the prices are not that good, they are OK. I don’t know why [the station values are going though the roof]. We were only talking about this yesterday.”

“A lot of our part of the world is superannuation investment funded.”

“A lot of overseas money.”

From China?

No. Canada.

Thousands for the Show, millions for Parrtjima


The Alice Springs Show wants to bring back attractions from earlier years but it needs more cash and manpower.

The NT Government puts in about $40,000 a year, according to Show president Andrew Barrett.

But the annual cost for “lights on the hill” Parrtjima, which is staged by a Sydney company, is estimated to set the taxpayer back $2m a year.

“Those events have been commercialised by the Major Events Company whereas the Show is still a community run, volunteer based organisation,” says Mr Barrett.

“That’s what makes us different. We’re very community focussed. We rely on support from local businesses. The support we get from the community is fantastic.”

There were no rodeos in the past few years and the spectacular Camp Drafting and Bronco Branding have moved to Harts Range and Aileron, respectively.

Both require top riding skills, are examples of how cattle mustering was done in the past and usually can’t be seen at agricultural shows of southern states. (See below Alice Springs News video of the Bronco Branding competition on Undoolya Station in 2020.)

“You don’t see bronco branding at the Sydney Show. No, you definitely wouldn’t. It’s a very unique South Australian, NT thing,” Mr Barrett says.

“We had conversations with the camp drafters towards the end of last year but unfortunately the person who was going to help us was injured in a horse accident. It’s definitely on the cards to bring back [these] horse events,” says Mr Barrett.

“The oval is there, we should use it as much as we can.

“The hardest thing is having the volunteers to run these events.”

Camp Drafting and Bronco Branding could fit into efforts to turn the Show into a tourist attraction, Mr Barrett says.

The Show Society is a member of Tourism Central Australia and is now using the visitors’ centre for promotion and ticket sales.

Trade displays are difficult to expand.

“With staff issues the way they are in Alice Springs, some businesses find it hard to cover two days of the Show.”

But there are always examples at the Show of extraordinary efforts (photo at top).

It’s common for median income couple to have a car each. With Dan and Josie Hodgins it’s no different except that Hers, the blue one, with a Turbo Barra Falcon engine, can run 400 metres in 9.23 seconds, reaching 214 km/h.

His, the red one in the background, with a Holden LS3 engine, can do the 400 metres in 8.8 seconds, topping 244 km/h.

What’s more the couple built the dragsters themselves, for a surprising $15,000 and $20,000 respectively.

How many hours did it take them? They’ve long lost count, say the boilermaker and the primary school staffer.

What could make the Show bigger and better?

“We’d love to increase our numbers on the ground. It’s the biggest community event in Alice Springs. Getting that information out there, that the Show is here and we support the community. People interstate don’t quite understand what it is, where it is and when it’s on.”

Is that where Major Events could help?

“Advertising. As a not for profit we can’t spend tens of thousands on advertising. That’s not in our budget. We need to spend our money on our facilities.”

What would he add to the Show if he had the money?

He laughs: “Camp drafting, bronco branding, people love that sort of thing. We had the rodeo one year before the Show, as Katherine does, but it comes down to people organising it.

“It’s been tossed around to have a three day Show, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Obviously that extra day would create a lot of work. There are a few things we’ve been toying with.”

Buffel grass declared a weed


Buffel grass has been declared a weed and a management plan will now be formalised towards reducing its impact in Central Australia, according to Environment Minister Kate Worden.

She says the Buffel Grass Weed Advisory Committee unanimously recognises in its strategy that areas where buffel grass poses the greatest risk to biodiversity, cultural, and community values should be prioritised for management.

A management plan is due for completion by the end of the year.

The Arid Lands Environment Centre says it welcomes “this historic decision” following “a decades-long struggle to confront one of the greatest threats to the arid and semi-arid lands.

“Buffel grass is transforming landscapes and changing fire regimes,” says CEO Adrian Tomlinson.

“It is already found in every mainland state and the Northern Territory and has the potential to spread across 68% of the continent.

“In 2014, Federal Government Buffel Grass Threat Abatement Advice was released, in 2015 buffel was declared a weed in South Australia and today the Northern Territory joins the call for national coordination and resourcing.”

Mr Tomlinson says in Budget 2024, $750,000 has been invested into the strategic management of buffel grass. This includes $575,000 for program management, planning and technical services to implement buffel grass management in Central Australia.

The funding also includes $50,000 for a Fire Ready (South) Program to reduce fire risk from buffel, $75,000 for a herbicide program in Central Australia with a focus on community groups, local councils and $50,000 mapping and data analysis.

ALEC policy officer Alex Vaughan says: “Since the 1950s, buffel grass was deliberately planted at scale across Central Australia as a pasture grass and as a dust suppressant for overstocked and degraded lands.

“This moment makes clear that the ongoing proliferation of buffel grass is unacceptable. The arid lands are a site for healthy communities and Country. Our inland rivers, threatened species and sites of ecological and cultural significance must be conserved against the impact of buffel grass invasion.”

Mr Tomlinson says: “I want to acknowledge the wonderful information sharing and advocacy for a response proportional to the threat posed by buffel by the Alice Springs News over many years and pages.”

The News has asked the NT Cattlemen’s Association for comment.

PHOTO: Buffel at the Telegraph Station waterhole after which Alice Springs is named.

Our showgrounds – more than meets the eye


Everyone knows the Annual Show is going to be there this Friday, and the Red Centre Nats for revheads in August, but Blatherskite Park caters for a string of further community uses and is looking for more on its 80 hectares.

Run by volunteers – usually seven trustees, currently six – the park’s range of income is from renting out horse stables to providing spaces for clubs such as the Radio Control Car Club, the Men’s Shed, the Hindu Society, BMX, two dog clubs and lots more.

The boom periods include the Finke with competitors and visitors setting up camp in the park, and other times when town caravan parks are overflowing.

Occasional users include the Defence Forces, and other large groups, appreciating the generous space for camping as a big group.

Blatherskite has 30 approved caravan and camping sites.

There has been conflict with private caravan park owners claiming unfair competition from the government. 

But manager Rachel Turner, who’s been in the position for a year, says: “In my time here our relationships with other caravan and camping businesses has been cordial and helpful.”

The park has some 100 structures plus roads, many of them ageing, fences, water and electricity systems, trees requiring safety pruning, all of which, of course, need maintenance costing money.

This can be “challenging,” she says.

Some cash comes from the NT Government – Ms Turner said she could not disclose the amount.

The government “also helps out at times of unexpected problems.

“The government also helps in time of large, unexpected problems.” 

The government owns the land.

The management by the trustees is gazetted under the Crown Lands Act, as is the case with Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, the only two Recreation Reserves under the Crown Lands Act in The Centre.

Photo Show website.

The park was set up in 1977 mostly to cater for Alice’s diverse horse riding community and to provide a much bigger ground for the Show which till then had been staged at Traeger Park in town.

Ms Turner says Blatherskite Park has been developed with aid from the NT Government and grants awarded to the varied user groups.

Equestrian clubs included, and still do, the pony club, western riding and others that promote dressage and showjumping, still providing spectacular competition in the arena in front of the grandstand during much of the Show.

There is a rodeo arena, available for hire by allcomers.

Some 80 agisted horses are also a money earner, grazing between September and May.

Among them are race horses from Darwin being spelled, local horses needing to be spelled and get on some grass as well as old, small or injured animals.

Ms Turner says Power & Water is a great help, supplying the park with reclaimed water and receiving the effluent from the park.

She says the trust is keen for the community to see the park as a place for families to have a picnic, generally recreate and to engage with the multitude of interest groups there.

PHOTO: Sideshow alley, 2019.

Power for the asking, in more ways than one



The NT Government is charging you five times as much for electricity compared to what Fred next door is paying for solar.

Got an envelope? Turn it over. Here we go.

As you’re living in a home of four people you’re using 17 kWh (kilowatt hours) per day.

At 28c per kWh you’re up for $9.90 a day.

To get the same amount of power Fred invested $8000 for solar panels and has a 10% share, with nine neighbours, in a $50,000 battery. His assets using free sunshine are worth $13,000.

Given the equipment’s lifetime of 20 years – 7300 days – that’s $1.78 a day. That’s less than one-fifth of $9.90.

This is not taking into account the 55.42c per day the NT Government is charging you for the wires running past your house, whether or not you are using them, $4045 over 20 years.

That obligatory expense for what will soon become stranded assets and can be removed by the stroke of a politician’s pen. It no doubt will be as public pressure mounts.

Time to have a beer with Fred and yarn about joining his mini grid? Mmmmh.

The occasional expressions of commitment to renewables by our political leaders are not matched by their actions which are in inversely proportional to the amount of sunshine we have.

Just 13% of the town’s electricity consumption is from solar. A mere 3% or 4% comes from the Uterne Solar Farm, south of The Gap and owned by South Korean company Korea Zinc.

The town’s heroes on the march to 50% solar by 2030 are the quarter of Alice’s home owners with panels on the roof and private enterprises such as the airport and the DoubleTree by Hilton.

Apart from a token effort around the civic centre the Town Council is missing in the climate action although it controls lots of empty land that could be used for solar farms.

In fact a tiny fraction of that would suffice to generate all the solar power the town needs.

The percentage of vacant Crown Land within the Alice Springs Municipality is about 26% of it, a total area of 84 square kilometres. Much of that is strewn with garbage.

About two square kilometre is all that would be needed for the array.

Returning to our back of our envelope: The power consumption by Alice Springs in 2021/22 was 197 gWh (billion watt hours), 197,000,000,000 watt hours.

Alice Springs has an average of nine hours of sunshine a day.

In a year a 400 watt panel produces 1,314,000 watt. (Panels producing 400 watt are at the top of the range. Some are as low as 80 watt.)

The town’s total demand of 197,000,000,000 watt hours divided by 1,314,000 watt per panel equals 149,923 panels needed. At $150 per panel that would be $23m.

Former CLP Chief Minister Adam Giles not so long ago spent $100m on ten gas-fired generators.

It is clear we need to think much bigger, in numbers as well as embracing renewables. The notion of power comes into play in both its meanings – political power being the other one.

Are renewables given their appropriate attention by a government obsessed with extracting gas from Beetaloo?

Tariffs are a prime argument in elections – remember, we’ll have one in August. “More power bill support for Territorians from Monday,” is today’s handout.

The government, as a monopoly supplier, caused a furore when it slashed the Feed In Tariff.

And now nuclear has crashed onto the scene, with the Feds in control if there is a change of government next year.

People having their own power – in more ways than one – may well to become a refreshing democratic development.

PHOTO: VIPs at the opening of the Uterne solar power station in July 2011: Thirteen years later the Korean-owned facility is still the biggest array in Alice Springs.

Government drops Henley on Todd



The NT Government has reduced its minor subsidy for the iconic tourist attraction Henley on Todd to an extent where the even cannot take place this year, according to MLA for Braitling, Josh Burgoyne.

The writer of this report has has produced television news, current affairs and documentary reports for all national and overseas television networks for several decades and found keen world-wide interest in the quirky function that each year attracted thousands of visitors to the town, especially young people.

Mr Burgoyne said: “Today I was made aware that the 2024 Henley on Todd, meant to be held in mid-August, is not going to be going ahead due to lack of support and funding from this Labor NT government.

“Previously the event was successful in receiving $150,000 through the Community Benefit Fund, but for some reason this year’s application was knocked back.

“Along with the Community Benefit funding being pulled, organisers have also advised that the previous $180,000 over a three-year deal that the event received from Major Events had now been reduced to $50,000 for 12 months.

“Once again this Labor Government couldn’t care less about anything that occurs south of the Berrimah line with this being the second Central Australian event in as many weeks now under a cloud with a lack of support for the Masters Games meaning it will be a smaller event.

“The dry river boat races have been occurring in Alice Springs since the 1960s with locals and tourists racing against one another.”

Trivial convictions, logic defying light sentences



I suspect that statistics will confirm many of our trivial convictions would not result in a custodial sentence interstate.

Yet all too often a light sentence that defies logic is handed down in a serious case. That fails to pass the pub test.

We are told that we were unaware of all the mitigating circumstances. Perhaps so. But when the Director of Public Prosecutions appeals a sentence as “manifestly inadequate” (Sunday Territorian May 2024), something is clearly wrong.

Whatever, the perceptions of soft sentencing renew the crescendo for mandatory sentencing.

Mix in the controversial (excessive) use of bail provisions, and you can really get an argument going.

So, on the one hand there is a view that the courts are too harsh. The social reformers, a few academics, and the unaffected in the suburbs of our major capital cities subscribe to this view, I suspect.

And on the other hand, the victims of repeated break-ins, or home invasions, regularly by repeat offenders on bail, believe the courts are too lenient.

The victims of crime are screaming at the politicians to extend mandatory sentencing. There is no doubt that the police are frustrated at arresting the same offender multiple times.

I repeat. In a nutshell, social reformers are appalled by Mandatory Sentencing, but the victims of crime are disgusted by soft penalties, and bail, handed out by the courts.

How do you begin to reconcile those two opposite, deeply held views?

Parliaments are in the middle, and it is quite easy to see how the Legislatures arrive at mandatory sentencing.

More from Google about our incarceration costs: “Australia spends more than $5 billion per year, which amounts to over $330 per prisoner per day … the per day cost of keeping a person under 18 in prison is $2700, totalling an annual cost per child of $985,500 and with 212 young people (129 are First Nations) presently in custody in NSW, the State is currently spending $208m per year on young people in prison.”

Now governments, and their Treasuries are funny things. They can produce money out of a hat to meet the ever-expanding costs of imprisonment, and hospitalisation.

If an unfortunate is sentenced by a court to prison, or hospitalised by a doctor, government just meets the cost of prison or hospital. It is non-discretional. It cannot be denied or deferred until next year or the one after. There seems to be a bottomless impress account. In other words, not programmed, therefore not “expenditure”.

It is extremely difficult to get approval to SPEND money in anticipation of a SAVING later. Like immunisation programs to save hospital costs. Or diversion programs to save gaol costs. Try asking for $10,000 now to fund a program that will save you $100,000 next financial year, and you strike the closed minds of money managers.

People who deal in numbers that add up and balance NOW do not think like that.

Not only are the costs of incarceration draining our finances, but the ineffectiveness of this practice as a deterrent is obvious.

A series of eye-opening reports published in March 2024 by the Justice Reform Initiative (which includes four former high court justices, three former police ministers and four former state premiers) said that gaoling people was deeply misguided:”The assumption is dangerously wrong. The idea that by dispatching men, women, and children to prison we are preventing them from committing further crime is deeply misguided. Instead, gaol is too often a training ground for violence, populated by a ready network of future co-conspirators.”

It is imperative that we change.

NEXT: Alternatives. Part one: Fighting crime: Is the law an ass?

IMAGE at top: Google Earth image of the Alice Springs prison. The arrow shows the recently completed juvenile detention facility at a cost of $24m. “Juvie” images in the text are from Facebook.

Government silent on health crisis



Some 20% of medical staff at Alice Springs hospital are doctors from interstate as concerns about safety and poor accommodation are make recruitment of permanent staff difficult.

AMA NT president Robert Parker says earlier this year “the drama about the alcohol relaxation didn’t help.

“People often make their plans for employment 12 months in advance.

“Reporting of home invasions in Alice Springs doesn’t make people feel particularly safe, and all the recent publicity including the curfew at night probable make people more aware of safety in Alice Springs.”

Associate Professor Parker says the other major issue is accommodation, such as small areas, small rooms, single bed rooms, shared bathrooms: “People prefer large spaces to relax in.

“The accommodation issue is very important, having sustainable, continuous safe housing for staff.”

Competitive awards are also reasons why people may go elsewhere.

“We work with locums and they are very expensive. We find locums to do the work. You use consultant and registrar staff. You can usually find residents.”

Meanwhile the Department of Health is either unable or unwilling to answer simple questions about staff shortages at the hospital which some have described as being at crisis level.

We asked the department at 8:11am today: “What is the number of Alice Springs Hospital employees when all positions are filled?

“How many positions are currently vacant or filled by Fly in, Fly out personnel?”

At publication we still have no responses.

Meanwhile the Community and Public Sector Union did not provide a comment requested by the News, saying it was “hoping you could elaborate more on the crisis”.


UPDATE: An NT Health spokesperson provided this statement at 4.52pm today (Tuesday, June 25):

As at 31 May 2024, there were around 1,360 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions at Alice Springs Hospital (ASH). Of these positions, around 83% were employed by NT Health, including some staff who travel from interstate.

Around 9% of the workforce was agency based and there was a vacancy rate of around 8%.

There is a national shortage of healthcare workers across Australia and this has presented challenges for NT Health. NT Health has been actively working to manage staffing levels while undertaking targeted recruitment campaigns.

Utilisation of agency health staff is a consistent method of workforce management across Australia, and uptake fluctuates based on operational requirements.

The utilisation of agency staff ensures Territorians continue to have access to quality care, including those living in regional and remote areas.

Fighting crime: Is the law an ass?



I have thought seriously about whether it is wise to be raising issues about the administration of law during a crime crisis in the Northern Territory that has attracted negative international attention, businesses closing, people leaving, tourism dropping, in an election campaign fought on reducing crime.    

Australia’s imprisonment rate of Indigenous peoples is a domestic embarrassment and causes international condemnation and shame. Other countries around the world imprison people from the lower economic ranks disproportionately, but our problem is acute.

And it is shockingly expensive and ineffective.    

So, is the law an ass?

I am not the first to harbour doubts. A quick Google will reveal the phrase has its origins in a play from the 1600s, and was popularised by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist; it references the mythical obstinacy and stupidity attributed to donkeys, and calls out the legal system for rigidly and stubbornly applying the law in a one-size-fits-all way.

Well, let me Quote Mr Google again: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” According to a large number of inspirational mugs and posters, this famous quote comes from none other than Albert Einstein.

So not to raise the elephant in the room would amount to remaining silent. Acquiescing. Accepting. We are certainly not delivering best practice and I have a duty to join the chorus.

Maintaining law and order is a complex problem, yet on the street corners of every city around the world you will find people with all the answers. And it is the same here in the Northern Territory.

It is a national problem. Indigenous people in NSW are imprisoned at 10 times the rate of others, and the statistics are even worse in other States including SA, WA, and the NT.

An abundance of solutions will be put before us in the next few months, because we have elections looming in August for the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Of course, “law and order,” crime, will feature prominently in the election campaign. It happens every time. It is what we do.

We know there is an election campaign underway, because of the appearance of aspiring politicians replete with fold up chairs and beach umbrellas positioned along busy roads waving frantically at passing motorists. What do they stand for? It is like the annual migration of birds from the Northern Hemisphere – fortunately, we have fixed term elections, and this phenomenon occurs only at four-yearly intervals.

The root causes? We will never agree on the answer to this question. Some want to blame the British invasion, or Captain Cook, or colonialism. As a nation we shy away from the uncomfortable truths in the reports of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody on the underlying causes.

Others want to blame the Australian Government. A former Northern Territory Attorney General once said: “The Commonwealth creates the problem, and it is left to the Northern Territory to mop up.”

I am certain he was referring to our generous system of welfare benefits and the social consequences. More than $200 billion annually. The mix of Youth Allowance, Job Search Allowance, Supporting Mothers Benefit most with no mutual obligation requirements attached. Free money in other words.

An individual’s entitlement to benefits usually exceeds the starting wage for someone entering the workforce. A disincentive to work! Seriously.

And a household’s entitlement to the full range of benefits can be astonishing. Then in some cases add royalties from mining operations on their land. About 40 years ago a Remote Area Exemption (no work test) on eligibility for unemployment benefits was introduced. In other words, one could decline a job.

The combined effects of these measures led to a belief that there is “no need to work because the government will keep me for life,” children who grew up having never seen either parent working abandoned school because they did not need an education as government would give them free money too.

Even so, at every budget time, there is a clamour to increase the unemployment benefit. Increase the disparity between wages and welfare? Further disincentivise people from moving from welfare dependency into work? (I am not entirely heartless – I can guess how hard it is to survive on welfare benefits in the cities.)

The fundamentally flawed structure of our welfare benefits and wage rates creates intergenerational welfare dependency.

Most other government programs evaluate whether the program is meeting targets. That cannot be the case here. Processing huge payments year in year out that are causing social mayhem, and then looking the other way, is not the mark of a compassionate society. It resonates of neglect.

We have unintentionally created idleness. A questioning of self-worth. An erosion of self-responsibility. And all the associated negative social fallout.

The gaols are full.

Do we need some more analysis of the reasons? (I suspect that the work has been done, and the figures are on a shelf somewhere gathering dust.) I would like to see:

  • A comparison with interstate experience on the scale of seriousness of the crimes committed by our inmates. (There is a suggestion that we gaol for trivial reasons.)
  • how many are inside because of fine default?
  • what was the financial capacity of that household to pay the fine?
  • How many are on remand, and for how long?
  • How does the length of remand compare with other states?
  • Why is there a delay in the Courts processing these cases?
  • Are the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Police manipulating delays?
  • Or are these two crucial agencies overworked and under-resourced?
  • What is the connection between idleness and incarceration?
  • The connection between idleness, and health status, substance abuse, domestic violence, child neglect, school absenteeism

I imagine that this work would now be categorised under the new, enlightened, title of Justice Reinvestment. You spend a $ now to save even more in the future.

I am quite sure that if we had reliable data on this interconnectedness, we would stop providing free money every fortnight, year in year out and congratulating ourselves on our generosity.

Two former Police Commissioners said: “You can’t arrest your way out of this problem.” And obviously nor will spending huge sums on more prisons help.

NEXT: The adequacy of judicial sentencing.

$1.6m a day for NT debt as Alice is in strife



The Labor government’s big-spending budget ahead of the NT election will hit a record net debt of $11 billion by next year – $2 billion more than expected last year.

The NT will be paying interest of $1.6m a day – increasing to more than $2m a day by 2026-27, with net debt to forecasted levels of $12 billion.

This puts debt at around a whopping 34% of Territory Gross State Product (GSP). This is very high for a small economy where a lot of wealth earned through gas exports for example, leaves the NT.

In addition, the measure of GSP does not take account of the very large interest payments leaving the NT to pay for the government debt. Taking into account these factors, debt is likely to be over 40% of the productive capabilities of the NT economy.

Such an enormous debt from such a small economy as the NT compares to that of South Australia at around 11% and the largest economy in the nation, that of NSW, at around 12%.

Not only is the NT being supported by very large revenue transfers from the rest of Australia through the Commonwealth Grants Commission but the only government capable of picking up the tab for the major waste and inefficiencies of government in the NT is the Federal Government.

It is also likely that as the social and cultural problems escalate in the Territory and Alice Springs in particular, and more and more money is borrowed to “throw at the problem” the expenditure and debt levels will increase to such an extent that the cost of servicing the debt will start to have a major impact on the funding available to meet basic program requirements.

In the absence of thoughtful policies and management, designed to deal with the rapidly emerging problems, it can be expected that social dislocation will escalate further. 

As the substantial waste in the Territory begins to affect the revenues available from the Commonwealth to the other States, they are bound to start applying pressure to the Commonwealth to take control of the waste and misuse of resources being supplied to the NT by other Australians.

It is important as a minimum, to the rest of Australia, that the North remain a centre for population for the defence of Australia. But the question is now being asked as to whether there is a far better way this could be achieved.

It has been suggested that the Territory should be placed under alternative governance arrangements, given it does not appear after nearly 50 years of trying, to have the abilities and human capital available to manage its own affairs in an ethical, effective and efficient manner.

Recent comments by the NT Chief Minister and Treasurer on the release of the Budget that ‘’you cannot just breathe hot air on the issues and give them a bit of a shine with your t-shirt’’ – are an example of the naïve, unacceptably uninformed and complete lack of understanding of the urgent need to deal with the complex problems facing the NT and Alice in particular.

The availability of “easy money” is seen as the way to proceed.

The NT Budget predicts private investment is expected to contract although public expenditure will increase by 12%.

There has been insufficient effort and success in establishing productive sectors within the NT economy that can drive growth and employment on a sustainable basis.

Around a very high 40% of total employment in the Territory works in government and community services. While this may assist governments to win elections, it acts as a major brake on Territory growth and development.

Such a very high level of government involvement in the economy “crowds out” private sector investment and employment generation activities and stifles entrepreneurship and innovation, essential to economic growth and development.

Far more effort needs to be directed at diversifying and growing the Territory economy. This should involve the use of gas and importantly solar, as a feedstock to industry and a source of power.

In addition, far more focus and effort should be given to high technology sectors such as advanced computing that are not restricted by high transport costs and distance from markets.

Such products include new computer software technologies and applications (e.g. for defence), high precision cutting and welding and building technologies, advanced robotics and intelligent computer based production systems, automation of processes, control systems to monitor manufacturing processes and products and systems for environmental management.

There are four major factors that power economic development and growth: resource endowments, highly skilled people, investment and technology, and innovative management and organisational know-how.

The NT is most fortunate to have very strong resource endowments in the form of location, land, water and mineral resources, for example.

However, compared with other jurisdictions in Australia, it is very weak with regard to highly skilled people and innovative management and organisational know-how. This includes the critical role of governance in the NT.

Given continuing failures in the education system at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels it is also severely constrained in its ability to contribute to the second very important requirement.

This has been further worsened by the declining attraction of the Territory as a home destination by skilled people and families wishing to move and work in the NT.

Such significant constraints mean that the NT is unable to successfully take advantage of its high quality resources which should act as a major competitive advantage.

These constraints restrict the willingness of investors to risk capital investment in such an uncertain environment.

Without skilled people, organisational know-how and investment, economic and social development comes to a halt.

Unfortunately, this is worsening in the Northern Territory. This cannot be solved by borrowing and spending more on government projects – a road to collapse. 

Complex problems requiring talented people cannot be solved by with other peoples’ money nor employing mates as part of an old boys’ or old girls’ network, worsening the problems. 

Unless this can be rapidly appreciated the Territory faces a very uncertain future.

This is being recognised by an increasing number of people as out-migration to other regions and centres in Australia, continues to climb from NT centres such as Alice Springs.

An important example of such chaotic governance and administration is provided by Alice Springs. Additional major construction activity is indicative of an inability to face and deal with complex underlying social and economic problems. But throwing money at these problems, in a classic example of pork barreling, will not solve the issues.

Such construction includes the controversial art gallery, in the early phase of construction just in time for the election; the Supreme Court building, regarded by many residents along with the gallery as being well placed to win a competition as the ugliest and most inappropriate building in Alice Springs; and a new “juvie” prison building near the adult prison for the detention of young offenders.

None of this construction activity can be regarded as improving the longer term economic prospects and employment opportunities for the people of Alice Springs, or as improving the serious problems associated with social dislocation and crime.

Such activities are directed at government and NGO self-serving activities, with little focus and concern on the major disadvantages facing Aboriginal people living in ill-health and poverty with little education and training opportunities or employment.

Rather, it is more likely to enrich the pockets of developers and their associates.

It is sadly ironic that many peak Aboriginal organisations appear to be following the lead of the NT Government in a lack of willingness to face and deal with the substantial problems facing Aboriginal people on the ground.

Some for example, are moving into major land and building development such as the Melanka development on Todd Street.

This aims to build 174 multi-level dwellings at a cost of $90m. Directors include David Ross, a former director of the Central Land Council and Randle Walker, who heads up the Aboriginal Investment Company Centre Corp which has as shareholders the Central Land Council, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Tangentyere, responsible for the delivery of services to Town Camps.

Discussions about “problems” are usually articulated in millions of dollars.

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress for example, receives over $65m a year to provide health services to Aboriginal people. Paradoxically it is located in a large facility opposite the Alice Springs hospital.

One is left wondering why a close on-going partnership with a major hospital containing highly skilled medical staff would not achieve better outcomes at far less cost to the Australian taxpayer.

The NT government may have expected such pork-barrelling to have acted as a stimulus to population and economic growth in Alice Springs. In fact the reverse is happening. House sales in Alice Springs are double the level normal for this time of year as the population votes with its feet.

This can be expected to occur increasingly, in other Territory centres due to major problems of governance, both in terms of NT government failures and that of Aboriginal run organisations.

PHOTO: The poetically named Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Gallery of Australia (ATSIAGA), costing – at current estimates – $150m.

Dr Don Fuller holds a first class Honours degree and PhD in economics from the University of Adelaide. He has worked as senior public servant in the Territory and as Professor of Governance and Head of the Schools of Law and Business at Charles Darwin University. He grew up in Darwin and attended Darwin High School.

New car dealership as Kittles reported sold



Mayor Matt Paterson and Tory Federal Member Jacinta Price are making hysterical demands for Australian Armed Forces to deal with our juvenile delinquents.

There are twice as many homes for sale than usual.

Dozens of shops are shuttered.

Is that a good time to start a business in The Alice?

Suresh Millar, from the vehicle company North East Group, doesn’t see a problem: “Like anywhere in Australia there are areas with social challenges.

“We probably came at the right time. We’ve been here seven weeks. Prior to us coming there was an extra reinforcement with the law. With this being in place we see everything good and settled. We’re quite happy with the way things are happening.”

Group Service Manager  Millar (at left in the picture with Rafael Padilla, Dealer Principal) is opening two new businesses, one on North Stuart Highway and one on Smith Street, introducing brand franchises including Mitsubishi, Kia, Hyundai, and the iconic GM Holden to the region.

The Emanuele Family auto firm was  founded in 1978, has 520 staff, is now represented in all states other than Tasmania and WA – and they having their eye on that.

Mr Millar says his company’s focus is on “what we can bring to town, how can we be part of the community, run a good business, add a good vibe from the Northeast Group about what we do as a family, employ local people.

“Alice Springs for us is a no brainer. It is central to Australia.

“It’s easy for us to commute from the head office in Adelaide. We’ve had a lot of experience in Port Augusta.”

There will be 20 staff here, including former employees of Northpoint and Sutton Motors.

We put to Mr Millar: Peter Kittle Motor Company was well known for selling more cars than the rest of the local industry put together.

“Peter Kittle is obviously not trading here any more,” says Mr Millar.

“They have sold out to the AP Eagers group. They re a respected automotive giant in Australia.”

Eagers Automotive Limited, on its website, states it has an estimated share of over 11% of new vehicle sales in the Australian market.

The News is seeking comment from Peter Kittle, the Aboriginal investment company, Centrecorp and AP Eagers.

Says Mr Millar: “We understand there’s a lot of Toyotas in town but what we bring to the table is options.”

He mentions especially Kia and Mitsubishi, both of which offer electric vehicles.

“A lot of Holden customers transitioned to Kia. We are also a service outlet for GM Holden.”

Is there going to be a price war?

“No. At the end of the day the value of the car is exactly the value of the car.

“We will also be very strong in used cars, late model second hand vehicles.”

All go for art gallery

NT company Sitzler has been awarded the tender to construct the National Aboriginal Art Gallery.

Site preparation and first stage construction works are set to rollout in the coming weeks, according to a government media release.

The project represents the most significant infrastructure investment in Central Australia, with a joint investment of $154m from the Northern Territory and Australian Governments.

The gallery has now been renamed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Gallery of Australia (ATSIAGA).

The National Reference Group endorsed the name after it was tested by the market to ensure it was representative of Indigenous Australians; and defined and described its primary purpose.

It is anticipated ATSIAGA will open in 2027, and will attract thousands of visitors to the town each year.

The first stage of construction will secure the site, establish a site office, complete the design development, secure the managing contractor, and begin value engineering; with $2.2 million accelerating these works into delivery.

Spreading illness down generations


The explosion of type two diabetes, obesity, kidney disease and renal failure among remote and closed NT Aboriginal communities – at least 10 times the incidence among non-Aboriginal people – can be tracked to poor lifestyle choices not only within individuals: Such acquired changes can be passed on to the offspring down generations.

This is known by the tongue-twister “Lamarckian acquired inheritance trans generational phenomena”.

Diabetes and associated metabolic disease can lead to heart attacks and limb amputations, chronic eye diseases and blindness, and debilitating chronic kidney disease and end stage kidney disease requiring dialysis and kidney transplants.

The question needs to be asked as to why the growth in such diseases has escalated so rapidly over the past few decades.

In our view, it is clear from the latest scientific research that induced diabetes, caused for example by excessive consumption of alcohol, leading to very high blood sugar levels in either the mother or father individually, or both, are directly relevant to the escalating calamity engulfing Aboriginal peoples.

The initial transmission is usually thought of as being strong through the mother but equally, such acquired disease traits induced in the father are also observed to be transmitted to first generation children, wholly or in part, in studies of animals.

It is likely that such important knowledge is not fully appreciated by health bodies responsible for Aboriginal communities. 

Where do these important scientific facts lead us? They lead us directly to the design of far more effective policies aimed at controlling the explosion of related illnesses.

The question needs to be asked as to why the growth in such diseases has escalated so rapidly over the past few decades.

Very high blood sugar levels affecting many traditional Aboriginal grandparents and great-grand parents over 60 to 70 years ago, by exposure to non-traditional high salt and sugar and Western processed foods diets, are also suspected as a primary cause.

What is observed from research is that whether the initial diseased state is acquired in the mother or the father, this state can be transmitted to offspring and then the “hereditary” effect is reinforced in subsequent unions among those who have the disease.

An escalation in the incidence of apparent “genetic” diseased states therefore proceeds into subsequent generations.

The key observation is how the medical–health problems escalate over time. The escalating Lamarckian transmission process needs to be appreciated by those responsible for health.

Importantly, to achieve reversal from such debilitating health issues as diabetes, action needs to be initiated as soon as possible, as the original first generation effects are far easier to reverse than say at the fourth.

Possible action should include early treatment of type two diabetes by medical interventions, as well as substantial lifestyle and dietary changes. Sufficient exercise for example, is also important.

However, the first step to solving the uncontrolled diabetes and kidney disease in remote Aboriginal communities is an understanding of the root causes of the trans generational epidemic.

PHOTO: Purple House provides dialysis in the most remote parts of Australia. It is an Indigenous-owned and run health service operating from its base in Alice Springs.

Ted Steele and Don Fuller grew up in Darwin and attended Darwin High School and Adelaide University together. Both have remained firm friends over the years. Ted completed a PhD in Science, specialising in Genetics and Immunology, while Don completed a PhD in Economics. They both share a high degree of interest and concern about Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

Missing girl

Police hold concerns for missing 16-year-old Sheila Armstrong who was last seen at her residence in Sadadeen around 8pm on Wednesday, May 22.

She is of Aboriginal appearance, small build, 157cm tall and wearing a long black hooded jumper with a sports branded logo “Champion” on the front, and long pants.

Long lost Sister Eileen interview inspires Alice movie


Isabel Smith, nee Almond, who is the subject of a major film project called Finding Miss Almond, was interviewed for a book about Alice Springs icon Sister Eileen Heath, long-time manager of the former St Mary’s Anglican mission.

For 27 years the 40-page transcript remained hidden.

I am Isabel’s grandson, collaborator on the film with Hollywood Director Mark Webber. Finding the text became the trigger for a book about my grandmother’s life of devotion to caring for Aboriginal children, our film’s compelling subject.

In 1996, author and historian Annette Roberts was conducting research for a biography of Sister Eileen called A Life with the Lid Off.

The transcript came to light when I was put in contact with Mrs Roberts by Terry Cleary as the sale of the St Mary’s site by the Anglican Diocese of the Northern Territory erupted into a major local issue in late 2022.

Former residents of the mission, principally the St Mary’s Stolen Generation Group, were concerned about future access to important cultural locations such as the chapel and its heritage-listed 1958 mural by Hungarian artist Robert Czakó.

The mural, which features biblical scenes, saints, and portraits of several people who lived at the hostel at the time, was restored in 2021.

I am pleased that the transfer of the historic hostel came with a commitment to preserving the history and heritage of the location, including the chapel.

Given my grandfather Percy Smith’s former role as superintendent of St Mary’s I was glad to play a small part in helping the former residents to preserve something very important to them. Indirectly I received a document that is very important to me and my family.

The transcript brings my grandmother’s voice back to life for me and includes such crisp descriptions and rich detail, which painted images in my mind perfect for scenes in a film.

Some of the key events recalled include, Isabel’s first meeting with Percy Smith who established the Anglican Church in Alice Springs in 1933.

She describes a quaint, humble, unassuming and slightly built man, she first encountered on the old wooden steps of the original church in Bath Street. This was the spark of their love story, which provides the basis for the film.

Then she laughs about him tucking his long black cassock into his trousers after church and playing table tennis with the children after Sunday mass.

In the mid-1990s Isabel received word that a biography of Sister Eileen Heath was being written by Roberts.

Eileen Heath had been manager of the St Mary’s mission in Alice Springs in the late 1940s and into the 1950s when Isabel and Percy returned to Alice Springs from St Francis House in Adelaide, where they had been caring for a group of Aboriginal children including budding achievers Charlie Perkins, John Moriarty and Gordon Briscoe.

March 20, 1996 was set for an interview. It was a sensitive time as Isabel had been preparing her evidence for the National Inquiry into the Stolen Generation set up by the Keating Government.

The interview reveals much. Isabel initially enjoyed talking with Annette and they were engrossed in discussion for more than three hours.

I could see that my grandmother was a little frustrated at being diverted from time to time from what she was trying to say. She was always very deliberate in the things she would say. Never a wasted word. Having a tape recorder running also made her a little anxious.

The interview forced Isabel to recall great memories of her life with Aboriginal people. She recalled challenges such as her husband teaching Sister Eileen to drive.

Ms Roberts put in a lot of work. Isabel felt that during the interview that Annette was able to delve deeper into the layers of Sister Eileen. To Isabel the final book was quite balanced and the research impeccable and it was favourably reviewed in the Alice Springs News, in a comment by Bob Beadman.

The remarkable thing was that Sister Eileen was still alive at this time, aged 96.

Mrs Roberts pressed on to find a publisher. For a number of reasons, this was delayed for a few years, and by the time the book was published it was 2002.

The interview is an engaging read. It details the first time she met young Charlie Perkins and his mother Hetti and brother Ernie. Their first group mealtime with the other children and their love of Golden Syrup. As part of the interview Isabel Smith said: “Charlie looked a perfect angel and I must say that is how he was to me.

“I never had one bit of bother with Charles, clean, tidy and neat, particular. Hair was always well groomed. Whatever he had, he made the best of it.

“And Ernie wasn’t any trouble. He used to follow in Charlie’s footsteps. Charlie looked after him. That was that.”

Mrs Roberts also revealed that Isabel was reluctant to allow her interview to be used for the book, and did not give permission for more than five years, in 2001, a year before she passed away in 2002, when the book was published.

I wondered why Isabel would give such a detailed interview and then not allow it to be used. Initially I thought it was because she wanted some distance between the 1997 release of the Bringing them Home National Inquiry report. Then I knew she also wanted my father to write a book about Percy Smith, The Flower in the Desert, which was published in 1999.

Mrs Roberts told me last week: “I think the delay in Isabel allowing me to use the interview came from early concerns her son John had about it, because of the tensions that developed between Sister Eileen and the Smiths when they returned to Alice Springs in the 1950s.

“This in fact is the reason I was so delighted to be able to include the interview because it showed the other side of the coin.  Not that it ‘changed’ my thinking about Eileen, but that it showed a fuller picture of three people working in very stressful situations, each giving it their whole hearted effort.”

I did have a 2001 video interview with Isabel, which is now available on the film website, but it is not as detailed and these recollections and less clear as my grandmother was older and weaker, then aged 87 and in the final stages of her life.

If I had not become involved in the St Mary’s sale issue I may never had found this interview.

Without the interview the film script would probably have never been written.

Mrs Roberts said: “Isabel and Percy Smith were an incredible couple, devoting their lives to the welfare of so many indigenous children.”

PHOTOS: Percy Smith, a quaint, humble, unassuming and slightly built man, whom Isabel Almond first encountered outside the original church in Bath Street. At top: Ernie and Charlie (at right) Perkins around the time they were at St John’s Hostel in Bath Street. Charlie became one of Australia’s most energetic spokesman for Aboriginal people and issues, operating privately and as a top public servant, without fear and often with an exuberant sense of humour.

FOOTNOTE: Mr Smith is the script writer and producer of Finding Miss Almond. It is set in part in Central Australia, and recounts the history of Indigenous people who had been in the care of Rev Canon Percy McD Smith MBE and his wife Isabel E Smith OAM, many of whom achieved outstanding careers and greatly advanced the cause of Indigenous affairs.

Bush buildings boom: Where does the balance go?


Araluen’s Independent Member has pressed the NT government to disclose the construction costs of dwellings in the bush after media statements last year indicated there may be a flood of $1.5m mansions across remote regions.

Robyn Lambley (at right) was told this week the average cost to build a three-bedroom home in a remote community is $554,499, over the home’s life and under the Remote Housing Investment Package.

The questions arose from a tender of $30m to Alice Springs based Pedersen NT for 20 new houses and “upgrade and refurbishment” for 18 more, as reported by the Alice Springs News on October 30 last year.

At the time Ministers Selena Uibo and Chansey Paech left the public in the dark about actual figures. They claimed in a waffly media handout a “massive achievement” (Uibo) and finding it “exciting to see how happy families are to receive the keys to their new homes” (Paech).

It took till this week for the Government to provide the facts enquired about: And it wasn’t because they had a change of heart about their policies of secrecy: It is required by Parliamentary procedure.

Ms Lambley, following a request by the News, submitted what’s called “written questions” to the Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, which happens to be Chief Minister Eva Lawler.

“Written Questions” must be answered with 30 days, but Ms Lambley had to rattle the CM’s cage to get the replies, about two weeks late.

Here are further questions asked by Mrs Lambley and the answers given to her about “remote housing construction”:

Q: Remote housing land doesn’t need to be bought. It is owned by the Aboriginal people who live there, land they gained under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 or on town leases in Alice Springs. Is this correct?

A: The Northern Territory Government cannot own or buy the land on which remote community houses are situated. The land is either: Aboriginal land held by a Land Trust under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and is not transferable under the statute; or held in freehold or under a perpetual lease by a corporation or association comprised of Aboriginal people who live there.

Q: Is there a minimum requirement in the remote housing contracts for a number of apprentices and trainees? How many? For what periods? What trades? Is the progression of those apprenticeships monitored, and if so, how?

A: Under the Conditions of Tendering that is mandated for all NT Government agencies, the minimum number of apprentices and trainees required in standard construction vary depending on the value of the contract.

For example, a contract of $500,000 requires one apprentice and no trainees. A contract for $3m requires five apprentices and one trainee within the period of the contract. For contracts less than $1m a trainee may replace one apprentice.

Any stipulation of trades will be specific to the tender and will be monitored as part of the audits undertaken by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics through the Contractor Compliance Unit.

The level of compliance is reported at the end of the contract in the Contractor Performance Report and is taken into consideration on future quotations and tenders.

Q: Contractors need to submit an Indigenous Development Plan which is monitored throughout the life of the contract, including employment. Are copies of this plan available to the public? If so, where can they be found?

A: All remote housing contracts require an Indigenous Development Plan to be submitted within 14 days of contract award. The plan is Commercial in Confidence and is included in the audit undertaken by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics through the Contractor Compliance Unit.

Q: What are the consequences if apprenticeships are terminated ahead of their terms (by the employer and/or the apprentice)?

A: The level of compliance regarding apprentices, trainees and the Indigenous Development Plan is reported at the end of the contract in the Contractor Performance Report and is taken into consideration on future quotations and tenders.

Mr Paech, describing a similar project as “job-creating [and] building sustainable communities and better lives for our Aboriginal Territorians” did not provide details supporting that claim.

Q: Please provide details of a typical new remote house – square metres, materials, numbers of bedrooms, toilets, bathrooms and provide a plan drawing of a typical dwelling.

A: The average enclosed area for a three or more bedroom home is 144 square metres. The number of bedrooms are determined in consultation with the community, as is the built form and materials.

One toilet and bathroom is provided for two bedrooms and under, while two are included in homes with four bedrooms or more. Three bedroom homes have two toilets and one bathroom.

What remains unclear is where the balance of the money will go: The Pedersen budget is $30m for 20 houses. At $554,499 each that amounts to $11m. Where will the remaining $19m go? 

The Albanese / Lawler $4 billion project is for 2700 houses at $817,000 each (according to a Federal Government spokesman). That works out at $2.2 billion. Where will the remaining $1.8 billion go?

Some communications from the News research:

• Mid to late October 2023: Uibo, Paech and the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics (DIPL) dodge questions about aspects of the Pedersen tender.

• The reply about apprenticeships given to Mrs Lambley isn’t doing much better: What does it mean that the Contractor Performance Report “is taken into consideration on future quotations and tenders”?

• November 3, 2023: Mr Paech is asked for an interview as the only front bencher in Central Australia. He declines.

• Murray River North, which is building homes in Alice Springs mostly for Aboriginal areas in The Centre, says it is bound by commercial confidentiality to not disclose the value of contracts signed with the government “to the level of detail you are chasing”.

• March 14, 2024: A Federal Government spokesperson says: “The average cost of delivering a 3 bed house in remote NT communities is $817,000. This includes not just the build, but infrastructure such as connections to services.” The spokesperson does not give on-the-record answers to several other questions from the News.

• March 12, 2024: Lawler and Uibo refer to “a landmark joint $4 billion dollar investment for housing in remote communities across the Northern Territory to help close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. [This will] see up to 270 homes built each year.” $4 billion for 2700 homes works out at $1.5m per house.

PHOTO at top: Bush home under construction at the Murray Valley site at the Alice Springs airport, for road transport to its destination.

Budget boost for cops ‘already spent’


Most of the “extra” $90m in the NT Budget for police has already been spent, according to the Police Association.

President Nathan Finn says (above, left): “What wasn’t disclosed by the Chief Minister and Police Minister is that more than $70 million of that $90 million funding has already been absorbed because the department has blown its budget this financial year.

“That blow out is not surprising given the extraordinary number of resources that have been sent to Alice Springs, ongoing violence in the West Daly Region, the overwhelming number of calls requesting an emergency response coming into the Joint Emergency Services Communication Centre, and the unsustainable overtime members right across the Territory are undertaking to address record levels of crime, harm and violence in the community.

“Additionally, Minister Potter told Mix 104.9 that the $90m was ‘separate to the $570 million over five years’ but was later forced to clarify the $90m is, in fact, included in the total $570 million commitment.

Meanwhile Independent Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley (above, right) says there is not much new in the Budget for Alice Springs.

Most of the promises made by the government since coming to power in 2016 – eight years ago – have not been delivered,” she sys.

“The few Infrastructure projects which have been delivered make up less than $100m or 20% of the more than $700m promised.

“This is a massive under-spend of more than $580m on game-changing projects.”

She lists: The National Aboriginal Art Gallery, estimated $250m (2018); the National Aboriginal Cultural Centre, $100-200m (2018); flood mitigation, $155m (report from 2017); Alice Springs Juvenile Detention Centre, $35m (2018); Arumbera Industrial Estate, $20m (2018); the completed CBD Revitalisation, $20m (2017); new Rugby League ovals, $20-30m (2018); Red Centre Adventure Ride, $11m (2018); Watarrka Walking Trail, $6m (2018) and a new Home for Tourism Central Australia, estimated $5m (2024).


Booze for bush. Taxpayer helps.


The NT Government is inviting tenders from consultants to develop Community Alcohol Plans (CAPs) designed to bring back booze to remote communities currently dry.

Early last year, the new interim alcohol protected areas (APAs) opt-out model came into effect across the Northern Territory.

It meant all communities are dry, and it is against the law to bring in, possess, consume, sell or supply alcohol in these areas.

But a community can have its interim APA revoked by submitting a CAP to the Director of Liquor Licensing.

It is a process the applicants will be assisted with by the consultants who “must have an ability to interpret, deliver and explain alcohol policy to a wide range of community members and be able to work, consult and deliver the requirement in remote settings some of which involve flying in single engine aircraft and/or driving long distances or dirt roads,” says the tender document.

The government says online the objective is “to reduce alcohol and related harms”.

The contracts will run for 18 months. The regions of the consultancies are East Arnhem, Barkly, Big Rivers, Top End, Darwin, Palmerston, Litchfield and Central Australia including Alice Springs.

The Liquor Regulations 2019 have been updated and now provide further guidance on CAP requirements, including how communities can show that the plans are supported.

For communities with a population over 50 people, the CAP must include: The total number of adults who are genuine permanent residents of the community, that is, they do not have another place of residence and the methods used to determine the total number of adults who reside in the community.

For communities with a population of 50 people or fewer, the CAP must include a list of adults whose principal place of residence is within the community and the signature from each adult showing their support of the plan, provided that this represents at least 60% of the eligible cohort.

The tender invitation nominate more than 40 “prospective tenderers” including major accountancy firms, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal NGOs, medical organisations, and small consultancy businesses.

PHOTO courtesy police who seized a large quantity of alcohol destined for remote communities on Saturday in three vehicles travelling together 30km south of Alice Springs. They carried 99 four litre casks of wine, 23 one litre bottles of spirits and 10 330ml premixed drinks. The three female drivers, aged 28, 35, and 55, were issued a notice to appear for August 15, 2024. The seized alcohol was destroyed.

Buffel not declared a weed: Why not?


A campaigner and hands-on combatant of buffel for a quarter century, Alex Nelson, says the government’s initiative about the imported grass taking over much of The Centre is a time wasting exercise.

“There is no reason for not declaring it a noxious weed. They have all the information they need. This is kicking the problem down the road.”

Mr Nelson, who is also a frequent political commentator, speculates that the August election is on the government’s mind: “They are trying not to offend certain people. For example, the Barkly electorate is on a knife’s edge.”

Is the Parks and Wildlife Commission having a laugh?

He says declaring buffel a weed, as it is in South Australia, would open the door to biological control.

Instead the government is planning to spend $1m mostly on buffel and also on gamba in the Top End for “nothing practical”.

Environ Minister Kate Worden says in a media statement that last year the government formed a Technical Working Group which recommend a Weed Advisory Committee to develop a management plan “with the view of declaring buffel grass a weed” and to consider “priority areas and methods where direct management of buffel grass will be valuable and most effective”.

In the Budget $750,000 “will be invested into the strategic management of buffel grass.

“This funding will continue annually and include $575,000 for program management, planning and technical services, $50,000 for a Fire Ready (South) Program, $75,000 for a herbicide program with a focus on community groups, local councils and $50,000 mapping and data analysis.”

This means a $750,000 funding commitment for buffel every year.

Meanwhile the Arid Lands Environment Centre is calling for “strong weed declaration on buffel grass” but otherwise welcomes “the explicit steps taken to improve the management of the highly invasive, flammable grass”.

Mr Nelson has fought buffel on his parents’ rural block, created standout example of buffel removal, maintenance and expansion at Olive Pink Botanic Garden and is currently finishing buffel control work at Pitchi Ritchi Sanctuary.

He says constant watch is needed “forever” so past work is not lost, but after an initial control phase less effort is needed to ensure lasting results.

Co-ordination is essential to avoid occasions when volunteer teams are very enthusiastic at the start but numbers thin out and buffel takes over again.

PHOTO at top: The prime attraction of Alice Springs, and the place where its white community’s history began, the Overland Telegraph Station: The Parks and Wildlife Commission is not clearing buffel between it and the iconic waterhole (photo above) after which the town is named.

The Alice Springs News has published many reports and comment pieces about buffel. Google them on our site.

Red tape strangles Bangtail Muster

When you throw a couple of gold coins into the buckets at the Bangtail Muster you’re probably thinking the money will go to a worthy charity.

Think again.

The $1400 or so donated by the 3500 delighted spectators each May Day makes up barely 10% of the event’s cost.

Of course the couple of dozen volunteers from the Rotary Club of Alice Springs, one of the town’s oldest service clubs – a dwindling cohort – don’t get the cash. 

It goes to a company providing traffic management, this year estimated to cost $14,000, according to according to Eli Melky, the manager of the fixture.

Most of that cash will again come from the Town Council, the NT Government and Yeperenye shopping centre.

And it all used to be so easy in a town that was famous for making its own fun.

Of course there had to be traffic management between 1961, when the club took over, and about 2017: Club members had lollypop sticks with signs on top saying “Go” on one side and “Stop” on the other. They kept perfect control of the streets for these 65 years.

Then the bureaucrats got their claws into the event.

The parade varies hardly at all from year to year – same starting point, up Todd Street, through the Mall, with the Anzac Oval the destination. Notwithstanding that, every year a new traffic plan has to be drawn up, some 35 pages of it, and at a cost of some $1200. Most of he rest of the expense is for staff. 

Assuming traffic management is hardly the stuff of Albert Einstein, Rotary members decided to get qualified in the art, to save the event and channel available funds to the community.

Easier said than done: An instructor had to be brought down from Darwin, at a cost of $12,000. 

And then, notwithstanding that the Muster hasn’t changed much since 1959, the bureaucrats decided to limit the validity of the traffic management qualifications acquired by the Rotarians to a mere three years.

Apply that to the Henley on Todd, which starts with a parade, and to the events for motoring fans, plus add the growing costs for insurance, the future of the town’s DIY entertainment is not looking great.

Albanese’s $250m: Where it will go


The Australian Government has announced projects to be funded immediately or over four years with the $250m grant and other Federal contributions allocated by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in a bid to stem youth crime in Central Australia.

A statement to the Alice Springs News today says consultation is taking place across the Northern Territory and including the Central Australia Plan Aboriginal Leadership Group and the Office of the Central Australia Regional Controller, Dorrelle Anderson.

Initiatives include:

$50m for community and regional infrastructure over four years under the Federation Funding Agreement.

A list of the first nine projects is totalling $5.2m: Playground upgrade in Atitjere, new playground in Engawala, oval lights (for the training field) in Laramba, new play system in Nturiya, change rooms in Pmara Jutunta, oval lights in Ti Tree, half basketball court in Wilora, oval lights in Kintore and Titjikala.

Future projects are to be identified through further engagement with the Central Australia Plan Aboriginal Leadership Group.

$40m for on-country learning to improve school engagement “specifically the on-country learning measure which will support improved student enrolment, engagement, wellbeing, and learning outcomes at schools in Central Australia through community driven responses supporting improved  community engagement.”

$23.5m Two projects – an additional $5m towards for the construction of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Todd Street Health Hub (pictured). Construction work is underway. And $18.4m to expand the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress’ Child and Youth Assessment and Treatment Service.

A Funding Agreement is in place and expanded services are being delivered, says the statement.

$10m for justice reinvestment: Only community-led, place based initiatives to be delivered in the Central Australian region (in line with the NT Government’s boundaries) are eligible.

Funding for this program is non-ongoing, and only available through this grant opportunity from 2024–25 to 2026–27.

The objective of this grant opportunity has a specific focus on crime prevention, the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, and diversionary measures relating to the illegal use drugs.

One service will “take a coordination and referral approach to justice reinvestment in the Ngurratjuta region, focusing primarily on the young people of Papunya, Mount Liebig and Haasts Bluff.

“It will connect young people at risk of offending or re-offending with circuit-breaker activities, referrals and support, and bring the communities together to facilitate the first stages of a broader Justice Reinvestment strategy for each of the communities.”

$3.9m for a youth services action plan is currently under development, informed by engagement with young people, community members and other stakeholders across the Central Australian region. Nous Group have been engaged to develop the plan.

The Action Plan will examine how governments can better support young Indigenous people in Central Australia, ensuring they develop and live healthy and productive lives, are strong in Culture and are socially connected, and are positive participants in their communities.

The Action Plan is expected to be finalised between June and July 2024.

$3.6m for up to five junior ranger sites: Consultation with local organisations in three locations is underway in Central Australia.

$7.5m for effective governance to ensure successful delivery: Strong governance arrangements are in place to drive coordination and delivery of the Better Safer Future for Central Australia package.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) has employed staff in Alice Springs and Canberra to implement the Central Australia Plan and to support the Central Australia Plan Aboriginal Leadership Group hold regular meetings to provide implementation advice.

$10m for digital connectivity: Funding to improve digital connectivity for First Nations communities in Central Australia to be provided through the Regional Connectivity Program.

$0.5m for Wi-Fi Solutions in Alice Springs Town Campus.

$30m for Remote Training Hubs Network to support up to seven remote training hubs to be established as part of the Remote Training Hubs Network.

The first two hubs will be established in the communities of Yuendumu and Ntaria, subject to ongoing community workforce planning and engagement.

$30m for strengthening family and community partnerships to support place-based initiatives in Regional and Remote Central Australia, targeted at strengthening family and community safety. This project is being developed in collaboration with communities.

Alice shines in Bangtail Muster

Photos and text by ERWIN CHLANDA

It wasn’t hard to follow the theme for this morning’s parade: Smile.

Blue sky, bright sun, zero pollution, the four degrees night soon making way for a perfect 20C day, thousands in the town centre taking part in the Bangtail Muster parade or watching it pass through Todd Mall into Anzac Oval.

The name dates back to cattlemen cutting off the hairy end of cattle’s tails, counting the tufts to keep score of the number of heads mustered.

The first parade was held in March 1959. Then District Officer Bill Nordavan suggested the idea, and together with Frank King, local furniture store owner appointed as chairman, the event was run by the Chamber of Commerce aided by a pound for pound subsidy from the Minister of Territories. 

The parade became an annual event with the then newly–chartered Rotary Club of Alice Springs taking over the running in 1961.

Good-bye to bottle shop cops?


Bottle shop cops may be replaced by unarmed officers from another department while the Mayor, an ardent supporter of the Point of Sale Intervention (POSI) provided by the police, declines to comment.

He will also not discuss his claims that the recent curfew was a success.

A current trial involves the deployment of Licensing Inspectors alongside existing police officers to conduct POSI duties at selected takeaway licensed premises in Alice Springs.

Police Superintendent Drew Slape said in a media release yesterday: “We acknowledge that police presence will always reduce anti-social behaviour in public locations, however we must balance this alongside the best use of police resources.”

Mayor Matt Paterson told the ABC on April 9 that POSIs “provide a dramatic impact in Alice Springs following the carnage after stronger futures lapsed.

“The police auxiliaries officers on bottle shops prevent that. Without them we see a dramatic increase of alcohol.”

Mayor Paterson would not respond to a request from the Alice Springs News to disclose on what his assertion is based.

In fact the Mayor, via a spokesman, provided a blanket “no comment” to other questions as well and would not comment on crime figures during and after the curfew.

He claims it had a “positive impact”, despite seven criminal offences (all alleged) involving numerous offenders during the 21 days the measure was in place. This does not include any offences not reported by the police in its media statements.

• Aggravated robbery by an intruder entering the bedroom of the 66-year-old female resident.

Aggravated burglary by three who smashed their way through the front door of an East Side residence with an axe.

• A female was hit on the head multiple times with a baton and then punched in the face. The victim retreated into a bedroom while the offenders ransacked the residence for about 20 minutes before leaving the home with two sets of vehicle keys. The offenders returned to the residence a short time later and demanded the residents leave the bedroom before smashing in the door with the axe and stealing jewellery, a laptop and a quantity of cash.

Arrests – Stealing with violence the CBD. Multiple reports of a group of youths causing a disturbance at Alice Plaza and Yeperenye Shopping Centre.

Attempted burglary three male youths in relation to an attempted burglary with a weapon … three youths attempting to gain entry to a property. One of the youths allegedly threatened a resident with a knife.

Aggravated assault. A 27-year-old male was walking from Barrett Drive towards Tuncks Road. He was confronted by up to four males and assaulted, before the offenders stole items from his person. The victim sought treatment at the hospital for facial injuries and bruising.

Burglary. Multiple offenders in a camping store. Up to eight offenders stole a large quantity of hunting equipment and cash.

Aggravated burglary by three youths overnight entering a residence, armed with various weapons. One of the offenders threatened one of the residents with a firearm before the group stole the keys to two vehicles and fled the scene.

Here is what happened – allegedly – since the end of the curfew, with the increased police numbers still in place:

May 2: Male broke into a residence and threatened the 68-year-old female occupant before stealing an unknown amount of property.

April 29: Attempted burglary by three youths and criminal damage at Amoonguna school. A vehicle at the location was also extensively damaged.

April 23:  16-year-old youth commit burglary  after males had unlawfully entered a residence.

April 22: Multiple burglaries and stolen vehicles Police Airwing hangar.  Both vehicles are believed to have been stolen earlier in Gillen. Pursuit. The three male occupants, aged 17, 19 and 21, were arrested at the scene. A previously reported stolen silver Toyota Hilux into a civilian vehicle, causing damage to the vehicle and minor injuries to its 46-year-old female driver. Police pursued as the Hilux fled the scene and was sighted driving at high speeds along Ilparpa Road. Pursuit was terminated after losing sight of the vehicle on a dirt road.

April 19: Aggravated robbery occurred in Araluen. 35-year-old male assaulted with an edged weapon and subsequently robbed. The victim suffered injuries to his head, face, arms and lower body, and was conveyed to hospital.

April 18: Altercation on Erumba Street, Brailting involving three females who are known to each other. A 25-year-old female suffered serious injuries to her hand and lacerations to her head, and was taken to hospital. Two females aged 17 and 21, were arrested at the scene.

The News asked the Mayor whether his public statements were based on surveys, and if so, could we have a copy of the results. If not, what were they based on?

“A whole lot of anxiety disappeared. People go out to the CBD to restaurants.”

The Mayor also stated that the Banned Drinkers Register needs to be reformed but gave no indication whether the nine elected council members had formulated guidelines for such a reform.

Meanwhile the council decided by majority vote to commission a by-election for the replacement of Councillor Steve Brown who has resigned.

The election will be held by the NT Electoral Commission at a cost expected to be in excess of $150,000.

The 2022 by-election, in which Gavin Morris was the successful candidate, cost $151,381 but the commission’s fees have gone up recently.

Mayor Paterson and Cr Mark Coffey voted in favour of the alternative way of finding a successor for Cr Brown, which is cost-free to the ratepayer: Appointment by the councillors from nominations received.