Migratory threads

By ESTELLE ROBERTS
(MOZZIE BITES is on holidays)
 
Have you ever seen a bird fall out of the sky? I have. Once. And it was here in Alice Springs. Happens fast. A thud – and the thing that was hovering up high in the corner of your eye now lies still on the road.  Some sort of hawkish bird in a mid-air, mid-flight crash tackle had felled a crested pigeon. Once I moved on it swooped down and arched back up with the pigeon between its claws amid a screeching cacophony from terrified avian witnesses.
Since arriving in Alice Springs I have had a field guide to Australian Birds out on constant loan from the library. Sometimes I like to read the calling descriptions, caw-caw-caw-tucka-tucka-tucka-tucka-tucka-tuk, wokka-wokka-chokka-chokka-chooka-chooka. I find this quite amusing!
I have never noticed so many birds before. I’ve identified a few, that crested pigeon, magpie larks and yellow-throated minors. The latter a sugar fiend commonly found pinching sugar sachets from outdoor café tables.  All these thoughts about birds led me to thinking about the transient nature of Alice Springs.  A lot of the people I have met have a similar story to my own, thought I would come for a visit and so far … have stayed.
Two very good friends of mine are leaving Alice Springs this week. They gave my cat Kalua and I a spot to park when I first pulled into town and they link me back to my previous incarnation as a Sydney city cat. Helping them pack and clean up, I thought that old Bessie Smith song,  ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down ‘n’ Out’ could have just as easily been called ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Moving House’.
We took a walk along the train tracks the other day, heading north.  We didn’t get very far or even get out of town but I saw the Ghan and the excited passengers disembarking and I saw the bored impatience of the drivers of the cars banked up at the railway crossing.
I thought about these types living their lives, working, on their way home to their lives of families and friends and wondered how long for? How long have they been here? How deeply do their roots in this place run? Or are we all more like migratory birds that move about on currents propelled by the strong and strange pull of transience. The word transience is so often coupled with Alice Springs and it’s little wonder really with so many thousands of people coming and going every year.
A few weeks ago returning from a walk I noticed a perfect little brown bird, maybe a spotted nightjar dead in the middle of the track I was sure it hadn’t been there when I first went by. According to my field guide they are possibly winter migrants. I wondered what all these sky-fallen birds were trying to tell me? Something ominous or just purely strange in a kind of eerie beautiful way.  I’ve noticed that at times I have a new fluttering shadow hovering about me. I imagined that maybe with my good mates going back to Sydney this black and white willy wagtail has decided to take on their watch over me.

What you say …

LETTERS
 
Carbon tax pre-empted?
 
Sir – A comment on the purchase of Henbury Station by the Federal Government in cohorts with a private company R M Williams.
Have I missed something? Has the Parliament already legislated a carbon trading scheme?
If not, why are we pre-empting that legislation by buying up productive land for carbon sequestration?
How long do we allow the absolutely ridiculous speculation in carbon trading schemes to continue before we put a stop to what amounts to blatant land speculation?
A new round of the schools and insulation fiascos?
If allowed to continue unchecked, proposals such as these will eventually threaten the food security of our nation.
The announced purchase of Henbury Station just to the south of Alice Springs serves to highlight the absolutely farcical nature of these poorly thought out opportunistic carbon sequestration schemes.
It’s proposed to de-stock the property, supposedly allowing it to return to a “natural state” which would apparently sequester more carbon than it presently does.
But would it? The property will only grow what the rainfall will allow. Given that cattle eat grass, not trees, I think you will find the property already supports the number of trees per acre that it will naturally grow.
De-stocking will result in more grassy growth which when left uneaten will result in more fires.
Repeated fires lessen the fertility of the soils resulting in the suppression of tree growth which eventually results in grassy plains which means more fires and eventually hardly any trees at all.
So you end up with no carbon sequestration, no pastoral industry, no income, and no jobs for locals. What a great outcome!
Removing food-producing acreage lessens not just our nation’s but the world’s total food supply.
Given that we are not producing enough to feed the world, the removal of any production means somewhere somebody starves!
How long before that person becomes us? Further, if our nation is dumb enough to foster this and other proposals like it, why in the hell are we doing so in conjunction with outsiders, instead of the people who live in the immediate surrounds?
These are people who have depended for generations on the surrounding pastoral industry for work. This entire proposal is a threat to The Centre’s viability, traditions, and lifestyle! It must be stopped.
Steve Brown
Alice Springs
 
 
She knows how we feel
 
Sir – I’m glad that Rosemary Walters took umbrage to the Yuendumu “if u want porn go to Canberra” signs. She proved the very point we tried to make.
To stereotype whole communities as being dysfunctional and infested with drunks and paedophiles, as was done with the Northern Territory Emergency Response (The Intervention) is highly offensive and unjust. To paraphrase Rosemary: “I live here and I don’t think Yurntumu-wardingki are very interested in porn. Before the Intervention many people here had never heard of pornography.” Yet we’ve lived in the shadow of the “No Alcohol No Pornography” signs for over three years.
Frank Baarda
Yuendumu
 
 
Prisoners who need to stay behind bars
 
Sir – Prisoners convicted of sexual offences, who are likely to re-offend, can be kept behind bars, under a plan by the Country Liberals.
The Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act will see criminals who are still considered dangerous stay behind bars.
If there are prisoners who authorities believe will commit further crimes on their release, we will make sure they stay where they belong – in jail.
This is not a form of double jeopardy, where the prisoner is sentenced to another term for the same crime; rather it’s an order of indefinite detention to protect the community.
There is similar legislation in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, and it’s time the Northern Territory moved to keep dangerous criminals behind bars.
Under the plan, the Attorney General can apply to the Supreme Court for “Public Protection Orders” which would allow a prisoner to stay in jail beyond their head sentence.
The government would have to convince the Supreme Court there was a high chance the prisoner would re-offend.
Meanwhile the Northern Territory continues to lead the country in violent assaults.
A compilation of Bureau of Statistics figures released today (July 26) show the Territory has the highest number of violent assaults in the country.
During the 2009-10 financial year, there were 6,800 instances of physical assault in the Territory, meaning 5.3% of the adult population were on the receiving end of violent crime.
The next worst jurisdiction is Western Australia with a 3.9% rate of physical assault, followed by Queensland (3.5%); South Australia (3.3%); Tasmania (2.9%); ACT (2.7%); Victoria (2.6%) and New South Wales (2.4%).
While there has been a slight reduction in physical assaults against the previous 12 months, the level of violent assault in the Territory continues to come from a very high base, but I suspect it’s on the way up again.
The ABS figures show Territorians are also the most likely to be the victims of malicious property damage, car theft and break-ins in the country.
The Government should release the latest crime statistics immediately.”
John Elferink
Shadow Justice Minister (Country Liberals)
 
 
Thinking outside the square
 
Sir – With the inevitable final decision by the Lands and Planning Appeals Tribunal, permitting Telstra to proceed with a 24 metre high phone tower in the Larapinta area after seven years disputation, one wonders whether a different approach by all parties concerned might not provide a more satisfying long-term outcome.
Travel broadens the mind, it’s said; and as my flight approached Riga International Airport in Latvia in July, 2008, the first thing that caught my attention was an enormous tower (pictured) situated on an island in the Daugava River near the city’s southern outskirts.
The third tallest manmade structure in Europe, its primary purpose is for transmission of TV channels across much of the flat Latvian landscape.
It resembles the world-famous Eiffel Tower in Paris, perhaps lending some credence to Riga’s claim to be the “Paris of the Baltics”.
It’s an imposing edifice, unmistakable on the skyline yet situated so that it does not inappropriately dominate the city, which architecturally is seen as one of the most diverse and best preserved in Europe.
The sheer scale of it is best appreciated from close-up, which I did on a pleasant river cruise that included a tour around the island. It creates a startling juxtaposition with the natural vegetation below, yet its simple structure creates an elegant solution to what otherwise risked being an ugly utilitarian blot on the landscape.
Far from despoiling the view, this TV transmission tower actually creates an attraction as a landmark in its own right. It’s evident a lot of thought went into its construction, most impressive given the impoverished status of the Latvian economy.
In many respects Latvia reminded me of my home in Central Australia. By European standards it’s a remote and under-populated region (about the size of the Irish Republic, Latvia has 2.5 million people, much less than either Sydney or Melbourne).
Tourism is a major economic mainstay, much of it occurring on a seasonal basis as it does here (coincidentally the same time of year).
However, as an independent nation Latvia cannot rely on constant taxpayer funded largesse as we do in the Northern Territory – there’s no equivalent of a Canberra for that country.
So necessity becomes the mother of invention – in Riga a tremendous amount of effort has gone into preserving, restoring or reconstructing the historic character of the old city, while modern structures like the TV transmission tower add a new dimension to architecture which can add to, or at least complement, the aesthetics of place and nature.
Perhaps there are some lessons in that for us.
Alex Nelson,
Alice Springs
 
 
Get out of cushy Canberra, say NT cattlemen
 
Sir – The Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association has backed calls for the independent review and Senate Inquiry to extend their deadlines and come to Northern Australia to talk directly to affected producers and their families.
If the Senate doesn’t leave the rarefied chambers and cushy armchairs of Canberra, we will have no confidence that it will have done its job properly. People need to be given a chance to have their say when the committee is considering draft legislation aimed at closing down an entire industry which is vital to Northern and rural Australia. Pastoralists won’t have a say if the committee sits only in Canberra. In fact, by sitting in Canberra it will be unduly influenced by the uninformed activists based in Southern Australia who have ready access to their politicians.
Our recent trip to Canberra revealed a frightening lack of knowledge and understanding of basic issues surrounding the live export trade, indeed of Northern Australia generally, among politicians representing Southern constituents.
It is a telling fact that 80 per cent of Australia’s land mass is represented by only 6.6% of Federal Parliamentarians. It would be a gross miscarriage of justice and a failure of democracy for such a vital matter to be considered only in the committee rooms of Parliament House, Canberra, without exposing the Senators on the committee to the realities of what is being proposed by Senator Xenophon, Andrew Wilkie and the Greens.
I back comments by Labor Member for the Kimberley, Carol Martin, at the weekend who expressed concern that the inquiries will lack balance if they don’t have face to face contact with pastoralists. Ms Martin pointed out that pastoralists were helpless in the whole process, whereas animal welfare lobbyists had had five months to prepare for the airing of the Four Corners footage. Ms Martin was quoted on the ABC at the weekend as saying, “The cattle industry has been brought into ill repute by a stupid government making stupid decisions to please one per cent of the constituency who usually don’t vote for bloody Labor anyway.”
I say, “Hear hear.”
Rohan Sullivan
NTCA President
 
 
RSPCA ‘radicals’
 
Sir – Far from being the “protector” of animals that they claim to be, the RSPCA is showing they are nothing but a bunch of radical extremists, hell bent on ruining the Northern Territory economy and putting hundreds of families onto the welfare queue.
The RSPCA’s recent online publication for schools focusing on northern Australia’s live cattle trade demonstrates they are more interested in misleading students and teachers and creating economic and social mayhem than they are about animal (or human) welfare.
The ‘resource for schools’ lifts the veil on the RSPCA and shows their true colours, which are out of step with educational values and highlights their hidden agendas. Through this supposed educational resource they are misrepresenting an industry that is the lifeblood of the Territory and is a vital social component of the country.
Rather than work with graziers to assist in lifting Indonesia’s animal welfare standards, they call for a complete ban on all live exports. The consequence of this would be tens of thousands of cattle slowly starving or being shot where they stand on Territory and Australian farms, while at the same time ceding all influence over what standards apply overseas.
It shows the RSPCA has no regard for the protein needs of some of our poorest neighbours and no regard for Australia’s quarantine risks if a country like Indonesia is forced to source beef from countries not declared foot and mouth disease free.
Providing material for students and teachers that is not linked to the curriculum shows how little the RSPCA is concerned about proper and decent student education. Far from being a “non-government, community-based charity dedicated to protecting the welfare of all animals – great and small, the RSPCA is showing themselves up as not being a friend of the Northern Territory and its people.
All Territorians and Australians, especially those in the north, should visit the site before considering supporting the RSPCA – there are plenty of other non-profit groups that care for animals but don’t pose such a threat to our way of life.
Kezia Purick
NT Shadow Primary Industry Minister
 
 
Government doesn’t care about animal welfare
 
Sir –  Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig’s decision to lift the ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia—despite the fact that Australian officials have not inspected any Indonesian abattoirs and there is no system in place to ensure that cattle are stunned prior to slaughter—shows that the government doesn’t care about animal welfare.
Instead of requiring Indonesian abattoirs to make meaningful animal welfare improvements, Australia’s government has bowed to pressure from the livestock industry. This comes less than a month after footage showing horrific cruelty in Indonesian abattoirs—including cattle being beaten and having their throats hacked and their eyes gouged out—aired on ABC’s “Four Corners”, sparking massive public outrage.
While the public is rightfully shocked by this cruelty, PETA has known about this and similar abuses occurring in the live export industry for years. In 2006, after a joint PETA and Animals Australia investigation showing abattoir workers in Cairo chasing cattle, slashing the animals’ tendons and beating them with heavy metal poles, Australia temporarily halted live exports to Egypt, but these too have since resumed.
Living beings should not be treated worse than cheap cargo. It’s time for Australia to do the right thing and ban all live animal exports for good. To learn more, visit PETAAsiaPacific.com.
Jason Baker
Director, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Australia
 
 
Exploration worker in the 60s says he likes resource project
 
Gday Erwin, (and Team) – Thanks to your excellent weekly online News Service.
We have just read with much pleasure the best news story [about the coal to diesel proposal in the Simpson Desert] ever produced since Alan Wauchope and Peter Wilkins were in competition!
I commenced my working life in the Alice in the early 1960s, on the first oil and gas exploration lines out from Mt Dare and Old Andado.
We miss Alice.
Kind regards to all who know us up there in God’s Country.
Peter and Marlene Bassett
American River
Kangaroo Island.
 
 
Neighbors not consulted over school’s outdoor learning area
 
Sir – Education Minister Chris Burns is again riding roughshod over the interests of residents living near an Alice Springs school.
The construction of a Covered Outdoor Learning Area at Gillen Primary has angered residents living near the school.
It’s de-ja vu for Alice Springs residents. Residents living near the school were not consulted on the nature of the building and its proximity to homes.
Most only received notification that the building was to be constructed just a few days before building commenced.
This failure to consult bears a disturbing resemblance to the development of an indoor basketball stadium just metres from homes at Centralian Middle School.
It’s beyond belief that just a few months since committing to improving the Government’s consultation processes, the Education Minister is presiding over a similar debacle in Alice Springs.
I have written to the Education Minister expressing my disgust at the Government’s failure to consult over the school development and I will work with residents to have their objections heard and to have the COLA relocated elsewhere within the school’s grounds.”
Robyn Lambley
Member for Araluen
 
 
Love, sadness for The Red Centre and Aussie arts and crafts
 
Dear Sirs (a very British greeting but that’s what I am) – I have just read your article about Renate Schenk, along with reports in other papers of alcohol related crime, with sadness.
My husband and I first visited Alice Springs in 1994 when we drove from Uluru to Ross River and finished with a few days in Alice.
We fell in love with The Red Centre and the Outback. The whole experience was everything we hoped for and although, even then, we were advised to avoid the Todd River area in the evenings, we enjoyed our few days exploring the main tourist areas.
In Alice we bought three wall hangings of the type shown in your picture – they were all proudly “Made in Australia” and we have them still.
Between 1986 and 2006 we have visited Australia six times and each time we were determined to explore a different corner of your fabulous country. Grant you, the impetus for our visits was having family out there but after the first holiday in 1986 we needed no ulterior motive to keep returning – just the funds!
Each trip gave us some magical moments and wonderful memories. There are too many to recount.
We returned to the Red Centre in 2001, hiring a small campervan out of Alice and spending a week exploring Uluru (again), Kings Canyon and the McDonnell Ranges, including the Mereenie Loop Road.
Our only slight disappointments came with the inevitable “progress” and the increase in tourists.
The base walk around Uluru became discreetly cordoned; it made no difference, those who wanted to take the 1000th photo simply stepped over the rope and ignored the signs to respect the sacred areas.
Port Campbell National Park and the 12 Apostles went from a wild and wonderful natural experience in 1986 to fully commercial, Visitor’s Centre with coach parks and boardwalks by the time we returned in 2003.
By 2006 we noticed a marked increase in accommodation and car hire costs (and the UK pound wasn’t as weak then as it is now!); everything seemed much more commercial, whether it was Sydney, Noosa, Gold Coast and so on.
Our biggest disappointment was the amount of cheap souvenirs. Trying to buy anything of decent quality made in Australia became a challenge almost as tough as Outback driving!
My favourite store in Sydney has gone to the wall – Weiss Art. We did find a small family business with a stall at The Rocks Market in Sydney where I spent a small fortune.
And in Queensland we bought two watercolour prints by a local artist. They now are proudly hung in our lounge. But I guess that we are of the few who would rather buy one genuine Australia-made article than ten made in China.
It must be even more difficult now that the infamous Global Downturn has affected most of us.
We are now retired and know that with the current exchange rates between our two countries my husband and I cannot afford to do the kind of independent trips we used to enjoy and the organised tours all tread a well worn route, moving on after just a day or two in each place.
They miss so much.
We hope to get back to Australia one day and when we do we’ll do our best to support local arts and crafts – if there are any.
Good luck and best wishes
Isobel and Dave Smith
UK
 
 
Lifting of live export ban welcomed
 
Sir –  The Federal Government’s decision to lift the suspension on live cattle exports to Indonesia is a relief to the industry and pastoralists who have faced almost a month of uncertainty about the future of their industry and the trade to Indonesia.
Now our efforts and focus must shift to immediately hammering out the logistics around the practicality of how the resumption will take place on the ground.
Primary Industry Minister Kon Vatskalis will be talking with officials and industry about:
• assisting the transition back to exports;
• supporting Territory families affected to understand how the resumption will work;
• identifying after-effects including managing oversupply of cattle;
• exploring new potential markets in Asia.
We estimate there will be an extra 100,000 head of cattle left on country that would otherwise have been exported to Indonesia. As the cattle trade resumes it is important that the necessary assistance is provided to Territory pastoralists to help manage their excess cattle.
The NT Government will also provide funding to host and train Indonesians involved in the industry so that animal welfare standards are adhered to.
Paul Henderson, Chief Minister
Kon Vatskalis, Primary Industry Minister
 
Sir – I cautiously welcome the Federal Government’s decision to lift the blanket ban on live beef exports to Indonesia.
While details are sketchy, I welcome Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig’s announcement that live cattle exports will resume with Indonesia and hope the decision breathes life back into an industry that has been on its knees.
The decision to slap a six-month blanket ban on live exports to Indonesia showed the Federal Government was woefully out of touch with northern Australia. Its knee-jerk reaction has damaged northern Australia’s economy as well as our relationship with Indonesia.
Senator Ludwig’s back-flip was necessary and overdue. I look forward to seeing the details, although it appears the Commonwealth has put the industry back on the same footing it was immediately after the Four Corners program went to air.
In the weeks since the blanket ban was announced, the livelihoods of thousands of Territorians have been under threat as income streams dried up. I hope the Commonwealth honours its commitment to compensate pastoralists and workers affected by the ban.
The blanket ban has highlighted the importance of the Northern Territory re-establishing a permanent presence in Indonesia to capitalise on our strategic relationship to mutual benefit.
Terry Mills
Opposition Leader

New to the net


 
When it comes to using computers people in the most remote outback of Australia have a lot of catching up to do.
Of 45 people interviewed in three communities, only 6% had a computer at home, and only 1% had internet access at home.
“This makes take-up an issue,” observe the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT), Swinburne University and Central Land Council who have just released a study.
They surveyed Kwale Kwale, Mungalawurru and Imangara outstations, all in Central Australia.
Major findings included social and cultural issues surrounding take-up. Barriers include affordability, cost, billing, lack of computer skills, general knowledge and maintenance.
“Aboriginal people participated in the research are keen to gain Internet access and use this at home, but need more training and education on how to use the Internet and computers,” the survey found.
Pictured from left at Mungalawurru are Rosita (visitor), Esmeralda with Karen’s new daughter, Karen and Cynthia.

Nature can still turn on a show – but can the man-made Outback?

Lake Eyre, Australia’s biggest salt lake, continues to experience bumper years as a tourist attraction. Thanks to significant rainfall beginning in 2009, it has slowly filled and brought the surrounding desert to burgeoning and magnificent life. A visit to the natural wonder also takes travelers to the very heart of the man-made Outback, the legendary Birdsville and Oodnadatta tracks, the old Ghan railway and their tiny human habitations, some abandoned, some still clinging to life, trading on their Outback image. Last summer KIERAN FINNANE returned to the site of her earliest encounter with “the Outback” – Marree, linked to Alice Springs by shared explorer, Afghan cameleer and railway histories. Many in Alice believe that our town’s Outback image has taken a big dent in the last three decades at the hands of planners and developers and inadequate heritage protection. Marree looks to have shared a similar fate, though from an absence of attention rather than too much development zeal.
 
Watch the slideshow!
 
The Outback brand covers a vast area – one operator even claims you can experience the Outback in a Queensland Gold Coast theatre restaurant!
My first encounter with what I sensed to be the Outback was in country at ‘the back of Bourke’. I was working for a television company at the time, following the late motoring identity Peter Wherrett in a reconnaissance trip for a Variety Club Bash.
I’d grown up mostly in Sydney and, although I’d lived overseas for a period, in my own country I’d scarcely ever been west of the Great Dividing Range. On the Wherrett reccy, once we were beyond Bourke, I felt, as so many others have, that I was entering quite a different Australia and the Outback was its name (I had yet to visit a non-urban Aboriginal community, quite another country again).
Two tiny towns back then expressed for me the essence of the Outback – remote outposts of human habitation in a vast landscape, attached to the rugged past of the frontier yet remaining resilient in the present. They were Innamincka in far north-west NSW, and Marree in north-east SA, the starting point of the legendary Oodnadatta and Birdsville Tracks.
All I really remember of Innamincka is the pub and the flies. There were two flyscreen doors to pass through to get to the pub’s cool interior, allowing you to get rid of most of the flies on your back before sitting down to an excellent roast for lunch.
The flies can’t have been as bad in Marree. My memory of its beautiful two-storey stone pub in the late afternoon is unclouded by them. Travelling with Wherrett ensured our crew the attention of the publican who joined us around a large table for a spirited evening of food and drink.
We overnighted in the high-ceilinged rooms upstairs – bathroom down the hall – and I remember standing on the lovely second-storey verandah, looking out across the old railway station into the warm desert night and looking up at the clear sky where Halley’s Comet was supposed to be visible. Bright moonlight meant that it wasn’t. This was in 1986.
The intervening quarter century hasn’t been kind to Marree, where I returned for the first time just before Christmas. Travelling with my husband and fellow journalist Erwin Chlanda, I turned east just past Coober Pedy, on a well-maintained dirt road that passes through the old dog fence and an ever-changing landscape en route to William Creek. This tiny ‘town’ has preserved its Outback charm. After a beer at its corrugated iron pub and friendly chat with the publican, we then drove along the southern shores of Lake Eyre South, where the skeleton of the old Ghan line is gradually disappearing into the sandhills.
Arriving at Marree, what was immediately missing was the general impression of effort and pride that we’d observed in William Creek. It’s dilapidated, yes, but also appears depressed, as though no-one cares. Yet a local man, a descendant of Afghan cameleers, told us that they had just experienced their biggest ever tourism year.
What had the tourists thought, I wondered, when they approached the historic Marree Hotel, still standing but with its stone edifice flanked on either side by corrugated iron fences surrounding two donga parks? When they asked for a room, as we did, they would have had the choice of upstairs – the tall windows now sealed, the only air you can get noisy and conditioned whether the night is hot or not – or a donga in a gravelled yard with a few cotton palms. We opted for the deadly-dull donga – for $120! – because at least we could open its window.
But first we went out onto the hotel verandah. The view is still there, of course, across the railway line, out into the desert. But the verandah boards were warped, the seating dusty and broken, the ashtrays full, and a few stale empties were lying around.
We ate in the dining room downstairs – acceptable country pub food – under a mural celebrating Marree’s heritage while all around us were the signs of that heritage rapidly losing its value and meaning.
In the morning we wandered across to the “museum park” – a few transport relics, including the late Tom Kruse’s old mail truck – an under-inspiring display for a town with such an interesting story to tell.  At the southern end of the platform a house that was surely part of the rail complex was falling into ruin.
In the rest of the town ugly corrugated iron fences around homes were common. Only the police station, the hospital, and Marree Aboriginal School were notable for their neat face to the world.
We tried to find the cemetery, but the signposting led us to the rubbish dump. Disheartened we headed out of town, driving into the North Flinders Ranges whose beauty was the perfect cure for this jading return to a town that appeared to have lost its way.
Tourism isn’t the only reason to respect the past and promote it in the present but it’s a pretty important one. I asked the South Australian Tourism Commission whether it is concerned to protect Marree’s heritage character and if so, what is it doing about it.
In reply Flinders Ranges and Outback Regional Manager, Peter Cahalan, said “the SATC continues to support heritage conservation, despite having no statutory powers in the areas of town planning and heritage”.
“In Marree, the SATC has funded projects to renew the central zone with tree plantings and other works, supported the development of the telecentre and interpretive displays at the railway station [these were closed when we visited], funded the redesign and reprinting of the town’s heritage brochure and funded an upgrade of the Arabunna Centre including the production of a short film about the Arabunna people.
“In discussions with local stakeholders, the SATC has consistently encouraged best possible design principles to new buildings.
“Looking to the future, the SATC is developing ideas for reinvigorating the marketing and development of the Explorer’s Way between Adelaide and Darwin.
“Marree is a key node on the alternative Explorer’s Way route – which runs through the Flinders Ranges and up the Oodnadatta Track – and will benefit from increased traffic on the route.”
Here’s hoping.
But back in Alice, mid-winter and at the height of our tourist season, the sad thing to reflect upon is that visitors in search of the man-made Outback, coming on to Alice from the Lake Eyre region, would similarly find precious little of it surviving here.

Kon Vatskalis a stand-up comedian at uranium conference?

The hypocrisy of this media release is surely breathtaking: “Resources Minister Kon Vatskalis will deliver a keynote address to hundreds of delegates attending Australia’s largest uranium conference this week … where [he] will promote investment in the Northern Territory.”
How will he explain to the conference that his government, with blatant political opportunism, during the run-up to a by-election, cancelled the exploration licence it had issued to Cameco Australia Pty Ltd for the Angela Pamela site, after Cameco had spent millions of dollars there?
How will he explain away the haplessness of that action, given that Labor had Buckley’s chance of winning Araluen, and of course did not?
And how will he explain to the Greenies that, now the by-election is out of the way, he is all in favour of uranium mining?
Is it any wonder we’re laughing stock of the nation. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Canberra, not Yuendumu is the capital of porn

Frank Baarda, long time Yuendumu resident, Manager of Yuendumu Mining Company (which runs a store at Yuendumu), multi-linguist and occasional wearer of shoes has his finger on the pulse of the remote community.
The events he chronicles in his current “Musical Dispatch from the Front” are grist to the mill of the ardent anti-intervention campaigner: One of the notorious blue signs planted by the Canberra interveners (Exhibit 1) was creatively modified by locals (Exhibit 2), but that was swiftly removed. This is how Frank saw the “snaffling”:-
After I dispatched this morning’s Dispatch, I went to the airstrip to assist with fuelling an aircraft.
Two Shire workers were unbolting our Welcome to Yuendumu (if you want porn go to Canberra) sign. I asked them why.
Don’t you ever ask them why …
They were told by their boss to snaffle it.
So I went to see the SSM (Shire Services Manager) to ask her why. Why, oh, why?
“Because what was on the sign wasn’t meant to be on it.”
“What was meant to be on it?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know what’s underneath it.”
“Quite a few people are going to be upset by its removal.”
“Quite a few people didn’t like what was put on it.”
“Did anyone tell you to take down the sign?”
“No, that was entirely my decision.”
She claimed responsibility. She is better than Rupert Murdoch.
The SSM has been on our community around two months.
An attempt was made to un-snaffle the snaffled sign.
This failed because the SWS (Shire Works Supervisor) wouldn’t let go of the snaffled sign.
He was asked why.
“Because I have a directive from head office.”
The SWS has been on our community for less than a week.
It begs the question as to why the Welcome to Yuendumu (if you want porn go to Canberra) sign that is alleged to be offensive to some people, was snaffled after only a fortnight, whilst the blue signs that have been offensive to a great many people, were not, after more than three years.
Do I detect a double standard? Is there (heaven forbid) an element of racism to this? Nah!
 
LETTERS
Porn in Canberra?
 
Sir – I was puzzled to see the debate in your paper about Canberra being the capital of porn. I live here and I don’t think Canberrans are very interested in porn. We just go to work, come home and watch the news like everyone.
The ugliest stuff we have here is that some people listen to radio shock jocks from Sydney. These petrol heads have no respect for facts but spout endless rubbish about how bad the carbon tax is. We are so lucky to have a Prime Minister who is willing to tackle the difficult but vital task of moving us into the new green world economy.
Rosemary Walters
Palmerston ACT
 
 
Stereotyping
 
Sir – I’m glad that Rosemary Walters took umbrage to the Yuendumu “if u want porn go to Canberra” signs. She proved the very point we tried to make.
To stereotype whole communities as being dysfunctional and infested with drunks and paedophiles, as was done with the Northern Territory Emergency Response (The Intervention) is highly offensive and unjust. To paraphrase Rosemary: ‘I live here and I don’t think Yurntumu-wardingki are very interested in porn. Before the Intervention many people here had never heard of pornography.’ Yet we’ve lived in the shadow of the ‘No Alcohol No Pornography’ signs for over three years.
Frank Baarda
Yuendumu

When pettiness gets out of hand

By ERWIN CHLANDA
 
Given the lavish provision of recreational facilities in The Alice, mostly publicly funded, you’d be inclined to think that playing sport is a great way to build a harmonious, happy and healthy community.
You’d be wrong – in at least one case: the Alice Springs Tennis Association.
It has about 200 members, mostly white and middle class.
Amongst them is a part-Aboriginal 12-year-old boy, Zoltan Ross (pictured), who wants to be a tennis star. He’s happy to train hard and has some runs on the board in interstate competitions. But that’s no thanks to the club nor, apparently, to its manager and coach, Craig Gallagher, who is said to have told Zoltan, in front of other children, that his “feet stink” and refuses to give him singles coaching.
Mr Gallagher’s partner Pat, allegedly said to Zoltan, also in front of other children: “You smell.”  This prompted the boy, described as shy by his parents, to withdraw from all junior club activities. So says Zoltan’s mother, Angela Ross, a school teacher and a member of a prominent local Aboriginal family.
Whether she is right or not we can’t say: we put her litany of complaints – all 2446 words of it – to the association’s president, Tony Jennison, in an email. He did not respond. We rang him two weeks later to enquire whether he would like to exercise the right of reply we had offered him and he said: “No comment.”
And so we’re left to wonder whether that friendly outback town of Alice Springs has lost the basic skills of stopping a minor, petty issue from blowing up into a major brawl involving a string of government instrumentalities. So far the Department of Justice, the anti-discrimination authorities, the Alice Springs Town Council, which owns the Traeger Park complex, and local politicians have been drawn into the fight.
Ms Ross, the only Aboriginal member of the committee, says she will now seek a resolution through grievance provisions in the constitution, and possibly a special general meeting.
Why has she not done so before?
“We now realize this is something we need to do, and we’ll be doing it,” says her husband, Zoltan Ganya, who played for Australia as a junior in Hawaii and mainland USA.
Ms Ross says she was not informed about a meeting during which allegations against her husband were discussed. She and her husband had not been given a right of reply.
As the association will not put its side of the story we can only report what Ms Ross and Mr Ganya are saying. This is a small part of it:–
• Mr Ganya began to coach his son, nicknamed Zolly, but this has now been stopped by the association, allowing only the official coach to provide training to anyone on the courts. Fathers, for example, can’t.
• Mr Ganya was stopped from entering a side including Zolly into the Thursday Night Competition.
• An African coach, living in the tennis centre’s house, who frequently gave free lessons to kids, was dismissed – “to the surprise of many” – when Mr Gallagher was employed.
• A bid by Mr Ganya to introduce students, some Aboriginal and underprivileged, from the Centralian Middle school into the association’s program was knocked on the head by Mr Gallagher. He said about one of students that she did not fit into the association’s junior coaching group.
• Mr Ganya was – falsely – accused of giving alcohol to minors and leaving an abusive message on Mr Gallagher’s answering machine.
• Mr Gallagher engaged in petty conduct such as locking Mr Ganya out of the complex or out out of the toilets; charging non-members rates, $15 an hour, for lights.
Says Mr Ganya: “After a social hit with my workmates, white, Asian and Aboriginal, a few of us were having a beer only for Craig to walk in and ask for our group to leave early because ‘they might all think it’s alright to come in here’.
“The two Indigenous friends weren’t drinking; both were 19 and 22 respectively and play for Territory Thunder. As a matter of fact they were both playing tennis at the time he walked in and both were not drinking – nor do they drink.”
Mr Gallagher is now due to leave, says Ms Ross, and a former manager, Matt Roberts, will be retuning to Alice Springs. This, she says, may resolve the conflict.
 
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – I cannot understand why this young man has been subjected to the shame and unacceptable behaviour of the coach. Great to hear Matt Roberts is returning – he will sort out the association and continue of the fantastic work he did years ago. Zoltan stay strong and ignore the ignorant people.
Trevor Read, Darwin

Remote air traffic control: another loss of skilled workers in Alice Springs?

By ERWIN CHLANDA
 
The air traffic control tower at the Alice Springs airport, built in 1968, may soon become a relic, and four jobs may be taken out of the town.
Airservices Australia is planning a trial beginning late next year of “remote tower technology,” allowing controllers to be based elsewhere in Australia – and conceivably, overseas – working with images and data transmitted by broadband or fiber optic cable.
The current edition of the magazine Flight Safety, published by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, says this would relieve staff from having to live in remote communities and extreme climates: “Attracting controllers to work in such arduous conditions over a long period will become more challenging as time goes on … we can locate the remote tower centre in much more lifestyle-beneficial areas.”
Alice Springs has been singled out for the trial of the Swedish designed system under an agreement between Saab Systems and Airservices Australia.
It says there are currently four air traffic controllers working in the Alice Springs tower and this number has been “relatively stable over the last five to 10 years”.
The trial will not interrupt the airport’s operation, says Airservices.
The technology would allow object tracking and alerting, infrared vision and image enhancement and “predictive software danger of collision”.
Airservices’ Jason Harfield, after attending an air traffic controllers’ global conference in Netherlands, is quoted in the report: “We are not required to provide control tower services for all RPT [regular public transport] aircraft, as some European air navigation providers.”
Alice Springs was chosen because it has a roughly equal mix of Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Visual Flight Rules (VFR) traffic, a total of only 65 movements a day – that’s arrivals and departures.
CASA air traffic specialist Jan Goosen says: “Aircraft beyond normal view can be projected on the display as a labelled radar track … this means controllers gain an earlier awareness of aircraft in the vicinity of the aerodrome than is possible by optical means alone.”
But Mr Goosen also says controllers who participated in the trial overseas told him it could be difficult to judge “relative distance and / or position between aircraft when they had to provide visual separation instructions.
“This issue may be overcome by the availability of radar information … and by technique – more reliance on the pilot to see and then follow / avoid,” Mr Goosen says.
In other words, it’s up to the pilots to see and be seen. The Alice Springs airport does not have radar.
The report sings the scheme’s praises: “An onsite controller looking through a window would see an aircraft with the aid of binoculars, but a controller viewing the same scene remotely could see the image magnified on the screen with the aircraft’s type, registration, altitude and airspeed displayed and could be alerted by predictive software if it was in danger of collision with other aircraft.”
But an earlier media release from Airservices recognizes the shortcomings of the remote system: “Weather presents another issue to be contended with. Unlike Europe, we will have to deal with heat, dust and very occasionally, heavy rain at our site in Alice Springs.
“A lack of multiple communication systems in Australia’s sparsely populated interior means providing appropriate back-up paths for critical data in the event of an outage is also a challenging task,” says the release.
“For example, using an available alternative fibre-optic route for path diversity will involve a transmission distance of around 7,000 km.”
Maybe the features of the remote system should be incorporated with the current practice of manned control towers, making them even safer.
Flight Safety magazine sets the scene for its report in this way: “The day’s last flight touched down as the blazing outback sun was hovering over the horizon like a welding torch. The jet taxied towards the demountable building that served as a terminal.”
Alice Springs in the future?
With our CCTVs monitored by cops in Darwin, the heavies of our bureaucracy being hauled out of Alice, and the boss of the CRC branch of Desert Knowledge (not Desert Knowledge Australia!) having moved to Adelaide, maybe we should become sensitive to any more withdrawal of services and the people who run them.
There is a poignant quote from Judith Brett’s insightful essay into the depletion of rural and outback communities (Quarterly Essay Issue 42), commenting on the effects of the banks’ downsizing from their “imposing historic buildings” in the main-streets: “Rural towns were dismayed. Since the founding of these towns, banks had brought in new families: bank managers to join the local golf club and chair fundraising drives, and tellers to play in the football team and marry their daughters. Now all they had was an ATM.”
The other argument in this context worth keeping an eye on is about the high speed broadband: Will it bring expertise to the bush, or take it away?
Photo from Flight Safety magazine.
 
Update Thursday 4.30pm: Airservices Australia said today that the Alice Springs control tower will not be closed unless traffic drops below the levels mandated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.”
 
Update Friday 3pm: Erwin Chlanda, Alice Springs News Online editor, and Rob Walker, manager of corporate communications of Airservices Australia, were interviewed by the local ABC radio this morning.
Mr Chlanda sought an undertaking that the tower would continue to be staffed with people resident in Alice Springs.
Mr Walker said he was “more than happy to give the assurance that Erwin is looking for, that Airservices Australia has absolutely no plans whatsoever to close Alice Springs tower or to actually implement this technology into Alice Springs on any sort of permanent basis”.
But he added the rider that there were no such plans “at this stage”.
Questioned by the ABC whether the technology could be used “in tandem” with human air traffic controllers Mr Walker said: “That’s correct … we can provide our controllers with a higher level of information than they currently get.”
Mr Walker made it clear that any changes to the tower’s operation would be subject to the requirements of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
He said: “CASA is the regulator and they make up the rules on how the airspace is used and we are actually the service provider for the control of the airspace.
“The way CASA works is they are always looking at different airports and different locations around the country … aircraft movement numbers and passenger numbers.
“The decision to add services or subtract services is based on volume of use. There is nothing to suggest that anywhere, particularly Alice Springs, is going to lose or have reduced services.”
The Alice Springs News had not suggested that services would be reduced, but that there may be a possibility of the controllers being relocated if the trial of the remote system was successful.
Mr Walker said a new tower would be built at the airport “which will have a set of cameras on it and that will provide a 360 degree view of the airport and the immediate surrounds.” He said the images will be sent to Adelaide during the trial.
The News has put follow-up questions to Airservices and CASA and we will report the answers as soon as they are to hand.
 

Corp, Gaff get gaol for "vicious joint assault"

By KIERAN FINNANE
 
A “callous, calculated, vicious joint assault” in which the victim suffered “serious harm” earned the perpetrators, Jason Corp and Benjamin Gaff, sentences of three years and nine months imprisonment from Justice Judith Kelly last Friday.
The “sustained, unprovoked and unexplained” nature of the attack, aggravated by the two perpetrators being in company and by the use of a weapon (a shovel), put the offending in the “middle to serious end of the range for offences of this nature”, said Justice Kelly.
In her judgment, the perpetrators bear criminal responsibility for the violence they personally visited on the victim, and for the violence visited on him by one another.
The attack took place in Alice Springs on May 29, 2010, just three days after Mr Corp had been released from prison, having served part of a sentence which was suspended from May 26. He will now have to serve the remainder of the suspended sentence (one month and nine days) on top of the new sentence.
Mr Corp’s criminal history in the NT counted against him. From March to May 2010 he had been convicted of four driving offences, three aggravated assaults, one of them on a woman, another on a child, and five drug offences. He also has outstanding warrants in Western Australia and convictions there, one for assault causing bodily harm, one for breach of a Domestic Violence Order.
Justice Kelly set his non-parole period at two years.
She said she did not accept the interpretation of the Crown facts put forward by Mr Corp’s counsel, that the sudden and unprovoked assault on the victim by Mr Gaff had taken him by surprise, and that Mr Corp had tried to help the victim (other than when he pulled him down from a wall behind which he kept guard dogs).
She said he had offered no explanation of his offending and she had trouble accepting that he was “truly sorry” from what he did, as distinct from regretting the situation he found himself in.
He did benefit from a 25% reduction in sentence in acknowledgment of his guilty plea and his assistance to police in relation to the non-fatal shooting at Junction Waterhole that occurred on the same day. Justice Kelly would otherwise have imposed a five year term of imprisonment.
Mr Gaff also benefitted from a 25% reduction on the same grounds and additionally that he showed evidence of the “beginnings of remorse”.
Mr Gaff’s account of the circumstances of the offending was “self-serving” and “inconsitent”, said Justice Kelly. She accepted that he had been drinking and was shaken by the shooting that occurred earlier in the evening but she did not accept this as an explanation of the assault. His role in the violence was also greater; he landed the first punch (fracturing the victim’s nose) and also struck the victim with the shovel and kicked him a number of times to the head.
However, Justice Kelly accepted dealing with Mr Gaff as a first time offender (his conviction for a firearms offence post-dated the assault and came about as a result of a police search for the weapon involved in the shooting, with respect to which he gave police “valuable assistance”).
She also accepted that the offending seemed “out of character”, that he is “very young”, that he has “good support” from family and friends, and “reasonably good” prospects of rehabilitation. Accordingly, she ordered Mr Gaff’s sentence to be suspended after 18 months, of which he has already served some nine months. From his release he will be on a good behaviour bond for three years, be under the supervision of the Director of Community Corrections, and will not be able to purchase, possess or consume alcohol for the duration.
 
Earlier reports here and here.

Flat tourism season due to big picture factors, not to negative publicity, say operators


 
Offering more for visitors to do: nocturnal tours are regularly booking out at the Desert Park. A guide helps visitors spot any of the following creatures of the desert night: the Bilby, Mala, Spectacled Hare-wallaby, Burrowing Bettong, Brush-tailed Bettong, Stick-nest Rat, Short-beaked Echidna, Bush Stone-curlew, Golden Bandicoot. Photo courtesy Desert Park.
 
By KIERAN FINNANE
 
The current tourist season may be “a bit flat” but it’s a cyclical business and it will “come back”.
That’s the view of Michael Toomey, manager of commercial and retail operations at the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Alice.
He believes big picture national and international factors are a much greater influence on the current flattening than specific factors such as the Tiger grounding and negative publicity about the town’s social problems.  Violent incidents and anti-social behavior in town get “blown out of all proportion” in the media, says Mr Toomey, and are “insignificant” compared to what happens in the capital cities.
There must be two airlines into Alice Springs and Mr Toomey wants to see the NT Government working on persuading another operator to service the town. But if people were intending to visit, the Tiger grounding would not have been enough to stop them coming, he says.
“It would only be having a small impact, people would find another way to get here,” says Mr Toomey.
He sees the greater impacts as coming from the high Australian dollar and the climate of “uncertainty” in relation to national leadership and direction. The attention being given to the carbon tax and its impact on household budgets has people worried and saving, rather than spending.
All this is not enough to deter his organisation from taking the long-term view, and they’re putting their money where their mouth is. Mr Toomey says their recently announced $3m redevelopment of the visitor centre will help generate business for the town and the region and hopefully will encourage other operators to invest in their businesses.
Tourism Central Australia’s general manager, Peter Grigg, also takes a philosophical view: “Tourism is a business activity and like all businesses, tourism businesses will have their peaks and troughs.”
But he does hope the current trough will turn into a peak soon.
Businesses can help by “value-adding” to their products, a much better approach than slashing prices, says Mr Grigg.
Value-adding can be a matter of “refreshing” interest, as has happened with the recent change of ownership of Annie’s backpacker accommodation and as will certainly happen with the RFDS redevelopment.
Offering more than your competitors will bring the business in, he says. One caravan park, for instance, can offer a powered site at $30 a night; another can offer a powered site and a whole program of activities – a movie night, star-gazing, something for kids – at $40 a night. Mr Grigg’s bet is that the second park will get the business.
Deals like “stay four nights, get a fifth night free” are another good strategy for caravan parks. This being said, the region’s caravan parks are starting to fill up. Mr Grigg was in Tennant Creek last week and caravans arriving after 4pm were missing out on the sites.
It’s clear that the self-drive market, core business for the Centre, started late this year. Easter is always the kick-off point and it came late. There was also an extended wet season. A lot of self-drive visitors intend venturing further north and want to be sure that roads will be passable. He says the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley, for example, opened only a couple of weeks ago.
TCA is looking into how other regions around Australia are faring this season, to help assess whether the downtown the Centre has experienced is similar elsewhere or whether more local factors are at play.  Mr Grigg says the feedback to date is that there is a flattening Australia-wide. Overseas destinations like Vietnam are offering strong competition, and within Australia Lake Eyre is a major drawcard. Mr Grigg hopes that there’ll be some flow-on for the Centre from Lake Eyre trips.
TCA is also working to get “good news” stories into “eastern states” media. The association has put out a call to its members for subject mater and employed a writer. While he does not deny that there are “issues” in the town, Mr Grigg does not believe they have fundamentally shaken the Centre’s reputation as a “must see” destination.
Gary Fry, director of the Alice Springs Desert Park, is of the same view. He says the park’s solicited (through their twice monthly surveys) and unsolicited feedback is “overwhelmingly positive” both about the park and the town. This makes him confident that big picture rather than local factors are behind the current downturn.
He’s able to put a precise figure on it – in 2010-11 visitation to the park was 8.4% down on 2009-10 figures, and the decrease was across all the demographic groups of both international and domestic visitors. In raw numbers, some 70,500 visitors came through the gates in 2010-11, with NT residents counting for less than one-fifth.
Going back further, the visitation figures show a distinct downturn in 2007-08, which coincides with the global financial crisis setting in and provoking a global recession. For the preceding three years the numbers were consistently around the 90,000 mark, dropping to 74,615 in 2007-08, much the same the following year, picking up slightly in 2009-10, but dropping again in 2010-11.
Like Mr Grigg, Mr Fry sees the market picking up at present. The park is on track to get more visitors this July than it did last July. As of Sunday they had had nearly 6000 visitors with two weeks to go, while last July they had just over 10,000: “It looks like we’ll exceed that.”
Mr Fry says his team are always trying to broaden the appeal of the park, to offer visitors what they want. The park’s nocturnal tours were established in response to feedback that there was not enough to do at night in Alice. He says the tours, with 25 participants, are “booking out on a nightly basis”.
The park’s “cultural presentations” also continue “unabated, in response to visitor demand for greater contact with Aboriginal people.

Itchy feet and big brain

By ESTELLE ROBERTS
(MOZZIE BITES is on holidays)
 
Stuarts Well stole my heart. And kidnapped my imagination. I got big brain, a friend’s term for when your imagination gets so big it stretches the contours of your brain. This happens most when it rains.
But let me start at the start.
My feet had been feeling really itchy. Completely unrelated to the rash on my neck though, which according to long term Alice Springs residents is probably due to the water here, “Oh yeah, everybody gets some sort of rash-dermatitis-type-thing when they get to Alice”. Great.
My initial weeks of kicking around with not a lot to do soon turned into a pot luck dinner, gig, exhibition opening or backyard fire, every night kind of weeks, leaving me gasping for down time and craving some wide open spaces with 100s of kilometres between the next stop and me.
Was I getting nostalgic for my last home at the truck stop? Maybe a mini road trip would sort me out?
So a friend and I drove out of Alice Springs one drizzly afternoon and, music blasting, tore up the highway till we took the turn off for Rainbow Valley. The drive till then was without incident, a feat in itself considering the road trains careening our way.  Turning onto the shatteringly corrugated red track, the country took on a breathtaking glow as I caught my first glimpses of the setting sun playing charades with the red-splintered cliffs. I thought that dinosaurs could still be living up there and nobody would know.
The  fish curry cooked over the fire was delicious, and the expanse of cloudy sky, lit here and there by a barely visible moon enveloped us in its wide grasp.
After some sunrise pancakes we called into the Stuarts Well roadhouse for a cup of obscenely over-priced instant coffee, which was perhaps worth the money as it took me straight back to my old truck stop.  Even as a seasoned barista, there is something about instant coffee and white sugar that I secretly enjoy.
The roadhouse is a curious joint, of an architecture defined by generations of expansions and add-ons of haphazard materials and a dried up pool in the courtyard. A piano sits centre stage in the dining room whose walls are lined with dusty photos and news clippings, most of them dedicated to Dinky, the internationally renowned singing dingo that has made it as the subject of a Trivial Pursuit question.
We got talking to Jim, the owner, about a photo that looked like a big crop circle in the middle of desert. He told us all there is to know about the lucerne field and its circular shape, apparently a water and energy efficient irrigation design.
Over the next hour the dining room filled with people as we listened to Jim tell stories and to his dingo sing.  I like a passionate person who tells stories as though everybody else is just as passionate.  Before we left, he casually let loose the biggest story of the day, “The road house is for sale. Any of you mob interested, make an offer”.
My eyes must have rounded and I felt my heart race and skull tighten as big brain set in, imagining all the possibilities for the place. A self-sufficient oasis! A menu inspired by whatever’s in the market garden! (So no huge trucker breakfasts or mixed grill plates.) Star-gazing pool parties on suffocating summer nights! WWOOFAs in earth bag domes! A venue for music and art events, workshops, artist retreats and, and, and …  the potential as expansive as the country around it. I could feel my lack of road trippin’ being cured by an urge to create something, something as inspired as the country around me.
 

Last migrations

By KIERAN FINNANE
 
A soaring bird can take our hearts with her; in her flight we see an incomparable image of freedom. Conversely, there is no more potent image of mortal endings than her fall to earth in death. “Succumbing to gravity” she leaves the airs, expiring in the space of the earthbound before passing beyond.
Pamela Lofts in two compelling series of drawings meditates on this final physical state. Her subjects are fallen Shearwaters, birds that undertake extraordinary migrations across the hemispheres. Without being told this, we can intuit it from the drawings. The last movement of each body speaks of a profound exhaustion, a life fully expended.
In the smaller drawings, the series of 16 titled Free Fall (a broken curve), the birds appear to have exerted themselves to the last breath, their wings outflung, their heads thrown back. In the five larger drawings that make up the series Landfall (wind-scoured), the birds seem to have drawn their energies into themselves. There is something more desperate in the Free Fall series, the birds’ desire to go on living, to regain the airs, enacted to the very last. With the Landfall series there is a surrender, a final folding of the wing and then no more.
There is sorrow at the heart of this show, but the sorrow is leavened by the work’s meditative beauty. Lofts is a fine drawer. Readers familiar with her book illustrations will know that, but these drawings in the character of their mark-making are more like the work that won her the Alice Prize in 1995, Landscape (on the road again). This was a large-scale drawing of the decaying carcass of a kangaroo, a road kill. The scale allowed an ambiguous reading of the carcass as landscape; Lofts, who always has a strong idea at the centre of her work, was commenting on the brutality of the way we, in this technological age, move across the land. Her drawing was able to render the texture of matted fur, the many tones in its darkness, the contrasting tautness of sinew and muscle, the smooth hardness of claw and bone, which at the same time could all be seen as a tortured landscape under a sombre sky.
The ambiguity in the current drawings is of a different order; the birds are unmistakably dead but still we see life in them, the essence of their lives – flight. With the mark-making there is a similar brilliance in rendering the textures and lights in the birds’ dark feathers, whipped by cold winds, the beautiful curve of wing, domed head, slender neck, hooked beak.
There are two further elements to the current exhibition. The Sea (tide-washed) is a series of 21 small framed oil pastels, showing waves, sky, a distant headland in many moods.The framing is important. It emphasises the artist’s gaze into a space – the sea and the sky – about which there are unknowable qualities, an eternal “beyondness”. By contrast, the drawings are presented unframed, giving them a heightened immediacy, the physicality of the death of the body. Pinned to the gallery walls only at the top, the paper curves up and, with the smaller series, inwards at the bottom corners. These curves and their shadows cast on the wall create a double visual echo of wings, of remembered flight.
There is also a video, on a tiny screen, titled Some sort of ending. It shows the unceasing movement of the ocean, a metaphor for the enduring breath of the world, the great life cycle in which we join, each for our time.  A wave breaks on the shore, another comes.
This exhibition, under the overall title Free fall (time after time), opened last Friday at Watch This Space, the artist-run initiative conceived by Lofts in 1991 and officially established in 1994. At the opening the current committee, through its chairperson Dan Murphy, announced the creation of an annual award for a Central Australian artist, named The Lofty in honour of the space’s initiator. Lofts and the five other founding members  – Angela Gee, Pip McManus, Jan McKay, Mary-Lou Nugent and Anne Mosey –  were also all given lifetime memberships. The award, in December of each year, will give the recipient $1000 prize money and the opportunity to exhibit at WTS in the following year with no charge for gallery costs.
Free fall shows until July 22.
 
Pictured, above: From the Free Fall (a broken curve) series. • Watch This Space initiator Pamela Lofts with founding member, fellow artist and friend, Pip McManus. Below: From the Free Fall (a broken curve) series. Installation. • Opening night of the exhibition at Watch This Space.
 

 

Town camp artists commissioned by Darwin Festival

A 75 metre mural commissioned by the Darwin Festival is keeping Tangentyere Artists busy this week. The painters from Alice Springs town camps are tackling it section by section in the warehouse space on Fogarty Street that they hope will eventually become their fully-fledged studio.
The corrugated iron mural will be wrapped around the festival’s Lighthouse venue, a big top tent, in Festival Park. Larrakia artists had the commission in 2009, artists from the Tiwi Islands last year, and now Tangentyere Artists have taken the baton.
The opportunity arose after their exhibition at Darwin’s Outstation Gallery last year and will be great for further raising the profile of the art centre in the capital.
It will also tell a different story about town camp life. Painters are working in characteristic vein: Dan Jones is creating one of his truck scenes at Utopia, underlining the link that many town camp residents have to country and communities outside of Alice; Margaret Boko is painting vignettes of children playing, men hunting, people sitting together around a fire and her written texts tell us that traditional beliefs continue to loom large for her people; Alison Inkamala is evoking sunlit country that shows no sign of modern life, nor of people at all, except that you sense them through her fond memory.
Six of the artists will travel with staff to Darwin for the Lighthouse opening on August 13, following the announcement of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards on August 11. Margaret Boko is a finalist in the awards, as well as in the Togart Prize for Territory artists, which will be announced on September 8.  Alison Inkamala is also a finalist in the Togart.
Alongside all this activity another town camp family has created their own jewelry line, fashioning earrings and brooches out of bottletops which they paint with colourful designs. Some of the recycled bottletops are beaten flat and painted on both sides. Others are pressed into a dome shape and paired, a bit like castanets, with different designs on the outside surfaces.
Louise Daniels observed the technique in a workshop, took the idea home and her relatives have responded with enthusiasm. The pieces have been selling well from stalls at special events and soon will be featuring regularly at the Sunday markets. At $10 for brooches, $20 for a pair of earrings, they make a unique affordable gift while further down the track the family may look at developing more than one range.
SLIDE SHOW:
Margaret Boko at work on a mural section at the warehouse; warehouse interior; story painting by Margaret Boko; Dan Jones; a landscape by Alison Inkamala followed by the artist herself;  jewelry makers, Maryanne Gibson and Cherolyn Gibson; some of their earrings; camp life in a narrative scene and close-up by Margaret Boko.
 

Pine Gap: Expose or the official story?

PICTURES: Top – The Pine Gap spy base. Above left: Author David Rosenberg (in sports shirt) pictured presenting a $1000 book voucher to St Philip’s College principal Chris Tudor. At right: The Pine Gap Four after the quashing of their conviction for entering Pine Gap in 2005 (from left) Adele Goldie, Donna Mulhearn, Bryan Law (with hat), and Jim Dowling, of the group Christians Against All Terrorism. Only the Alice Springs News and the Canberra Times printed the photograph below, showing Ms Golding on the roof of a building in the inner compound of Pine Gap. Other media were also offered the photo but yielded to police pressure not to publish it. The Alice Springs News enhanced the background of the photo but the shadow of Ms Golding’s hand on the base of the antenna shows the picture is authentic. Mr Rosenberg described the incursion by the four as “the most serious security breach in Pine Gap’s history”.
 
 
By ERWIN CHLANDA
 
“It certainly isn’t a WikiLeaks type of story,” concedes David Rosenberg, author of Inside Pine Gap.
Despite the titillating sub-title “The spy who came in from the desert” the book reads more like the official story.
“It was well and truly vetted. I certainly did get approval from the various review boards,” Mr Rosenberg told the Alice Springs News.
There were four of them, in fact, including the Pre-Publication Review Board of the National Security Agency, for which Mr Rosenberg work for 23 years, bigger and more secretive than even the CIA.
But while there isn’t much in the book which people like the Australian National University’s Des Ball hadn’t already told us, it’s now more than well-informed speculation, because it has Mr Rosenberg’s certification, so to speak.
“It is an expose of what happens at Pine Gap. After being there for 18 years I was in a credible position to be able to relate what goes on, particularly because I worked in operations the entire time,” says Mr Rosenberg.
“There is quite a lot of information in the public domain … but not at a level of detail that I was able to provide. I don’t think anybody has ever written about [Pine Gap’s role in] the searches for downed pilots. Or collecting signals that are sent by various weapons systems.”
One thing the book clarified for me was why the base is near Alice Springs, in the middle of the country. The author explains that the down signals from the satellites it communicates with are quite broad. If the base were near the ocean then spy ships from hostile nations could more easily pick up the transmissions. But it would be pretty hard for the KGB to set up listening posts in Papunya or Finke.
For a long time Australia had been outdoing the US in hushing up details about The Base. A turning point came when Prime Minister Bob Hawke, quoted by Mr Rosenberg, in 1988 spoke openly about its functions “to collect intelligence data which supports the national security of both [US and Australia] and contributes importantly to the verification of arms control and disarmament agreements”.
The “space base” had been in the news in 1975 when Gough Whitlam – as claimed in one of Australia’s enduring conspiracy theories – was sacked as Prime Minister because he was going to shut down the facility.
In 1974 Victor Marchetti, author and ex-CIA officer, described the base as a “vacuum cleaner” sucking up signals. Mr Rosenberg confirms this: “Anything that transmits electromagnetic signals into the atmosphere is fair game for really anything out there to pick up. I do talk about the Pine Gap satellites picking up information that is transmitted, any kind of electromagnetic signal. You certainly have heard reports about conversations being picked up by the media when they do their eavesdropping.”
NEWS: Except when we do it we get into trouble. Just ask Rupert Murdoch.
ROSENBERG: We are under a tasking constraint as to what we can look at.
NEWS: Nevertheless, the book makes it clear that, for example, all telephone and email communications that go, at least part of the way, by transmission can be picked up by Pine Gap equipment.
ROSENBERG: That is certainly a possibility. Anything that is transmitted is basically fair game.
NEWS: Would you agree that Pine Gap is the United States’ most important military base on foreign soil?
ROSENBERG: That’s a subjective opinion depending on who uses the data.
NEWS: To what degree are people in Alice Springs subjected to Pine Gap style electronic surveillance? It’s no secret when the space base convoys of busses are traveling every day on the South Stuart Highway, and planting a roadside Improvised Explosive Device, as they are used in Afghanistan and Iraq, wouldn’t be any big deal. Would you not wish to have the jump on that?
ROSENBERG: I can certainly say Australians and Americans are not targeted by Pine Gap. It is not involved in that sort of surveillance whatsoever.
NEWS: You are making a strong point that the Aussies and the Americans are sharing the information gathered. Do the Aussies get all the information which, for example, you send to the headquarters of your organisation? Do the Aussies automatically get a copy?
ROSENBERG: There are distributions that are put on each message. The Australians do have access to those reports that come into and are transmitted by Pine Gap.
NEWS: What percentage of reports would be transmitted to Australian secret services?
ROSENBERG: They have access to all of them. Reports that are of interest to people within the Australian government – they have access to all of the reports.
NEWS: Do they need to know that a certain report exists so they can ask for it, or do they get a list of what’s available?
ROSENBERG: You can set up a filter to allow you to receive reports, maybe key words or subjects that you are interested in, or reports on anything that is of interest to Australians. The extent of the partnership, the extent of sharing that goes on within Pine Gap, that was speculative, but in my book I was able to confirm that everything in operations is shared equally between the Australians and the Americans.
NEWS: Each country, so it is rumored, has a cypher room to which the other country does not have access. Is that right?
ROSENBERG: I didn’t have anything to do with that end of it. I never went into the cypher rooms. It wasn’t part of my job. Cryptological capabilities are proprietary to each country.
The book, apart from being a glowing tribute to the beauty of Central Australia and its friendly community, has its light moments. Whilst being vetted prior to getting the spy job Mr Rosenberg flunked two lie detector tests – over smoking pot.
He confessed to have puffed the magic dragon 20 times. When he was interviewed by the FBI the officially acceptable number was 10.
“I kind of wondered what they would have said if I only smoked pot nine times,” he says.
On the other hand, rigorous examinations as to whether he is homosexual (a no-no amongst spooks at the time) he passed with flying colours. He’s now on his third marriage, all to women, including his
current “very happy” one to an Australian singer and quite obviously a major reason for leaving Pine Gap and becoming an Aussie.
Early in his 18 year stint in The Alice, equipped with one of the highest security ratings, with the cold war in full swing, The Base was considered a prime nuclear target. Opponents, in a sustained campaign, saw it as the kind of place to be zapped in tit-for-tat scenarios of an escalating conflict, each superpower taking out a foreign base. It would have shown they meant business without – at that point – attacking the mother country itself.
Says Mr Rosenberg: “The world was a different place in the ’70s and the ’80s. Since that time basically terrorism has become a concern of many governments.”
NEWS: Wasn’t this a plausible scenario during all of the cold war?
ROSENBERG: That was a reasonable and probable scenario put forward by the leadership, yes.
NEWS: Do you agree with it?
ROSENBERG: That was certainly before my time. I was actually still in high school in the 1970s. People at the time considered this something of a possibility if somewhat very, very remote.
NEWS: That scenario was touted as a possibility right up to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
ROSENBERG: They had a big nuclear arsenal but ever since the end of WWII those military crises, if you will, have been able to be resolved diplomatically, without taking the nuclear option.
NEWS: How come you missed 9/11? You first heard about it on CNN, then on the bus, going to the base.
ROSENBERG: That’s right. It caught us all by surprise. I talk in the book about the intelligence community being basically fractured at that time. There were basically walls between the various agencies. Sharing your information with other agencies wasn’t done very easily. A lot of the information that could have been used and put together simply wasn’t. That certainly had a major impact on why the attacks on 9/11 were successful.
NEWS: And that flowed over to the supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, didn’t it?
ROSENBERG: I don’t think so. The reason for that wasn’t that there wasn’t any communication. We in the intelligence community were certainly looking for evidence on WMDs and as I say in the book, nothing really came across my desk, or I never read anything over 10 years of reading reports about Iraq, that they had WMDs. We just didn’t have the conclusive evidence, at least not at Pine Gap.
But I’ll also say the White House has access to a lot more intelligence information than we did at Pine Gap.
NEWS: Did the NSA, which is apparently even more important than the CIA, make the point to the government that they had nothing solid on WMDs in Iraq?
ROSENBERG: I don’t know what the leadership at the time was saying to the White House, but from the frontline I can certainly say there was nothing available to us, and nothing from our level was passed to the White House that, yes, Iraq does have WMDs. If it had been I’m sure many of us in the intelligence community would have been aware of any conclusive evidence out there. We thought other sources may have passed evidence to the White House but in the end this wasn’t the case.
Mr Rosenberg says his book’s objective is partly to debunk claims made by anti-base protesters.
NEWS: What kind of claims?
ROSENBERG: That we are killing civilians.
NEWS: Isn’t that what you are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan almost every day?
ROSENBERG: All of that happens on the ground. The information we pass back is simply in response to intelligence gathering. We get tasked to find this information and we pass that back whenever we can. Pine Gap has not, and would never target civilians.
NEWS: It’s part of the war effort, surely?
ROSENBERG: Providing intelligence is always part of the war effort, yes.
NEWS: So the war in Iraq, for example, couldn’t be conducted without you guys.
ROSENBERG: It could certainly be conducted but the intelligence community is quite broad. You have naval assets, you have ground assets, other facilities similar to Pine Gap, but the amount of intelligence wouldn’t be at the same level without places like Pine Gap.
NEWS: If you can, as you explain in the book, give information about launching of Scud missiles, and their location and readiness, then that is a pretty intense involvement in the war effort, is it not? You would have passed on information about insurgent groups?
ROSENBERG: I do talk quite a bit about the role of Pine Gap in that effort. We certainly look for anything that is of interest to the military that we are tasked to do. One of the most important issues is to be able to locale road mobile missiles. That effort is shared among the intelligence community which have their own assets such as aircraft and drones.
NEWS: You are one of the world’s most highly skilled spies, have one of the United States’ highest security clearances, you became an Aussie. You offered your services to the Australian Defence Signals Directory, to ASIO and ASIS and they said, “no, thanks”?
ROSENBERG: It was surprising. The problem was getting an Australian security clearance. When I left Pine Gap in 2009 it was the year I became an Australian citizen, so I would have needed a citizenship waver to receive the Australian security clearance. In the end it was too problematic and appeared they didn’t know the exact procedure of what I had to do to get that waver. I was quite disappointed in the end. I thought my 23 years with the NSA would have been quite valuable for the Australian Government.
NEWS: Are you saying to me that the creme de la creme of the Australian spooks couldn’t work out whom to see about what bureaucratic process to follow for them to give you a job?
ROSENBERG: That’s correct. It was only one of these organizations that I’d gone through but I did apply to the other agencies but they didn’t show any interest.
NEWS: A final question: Was I one of the individuals about whom new arrivals at Pine Gap were warned in their induction briefings?
ROSENBERG: I can say no to that. I think that you are one of the trusted individuals in Alice Springs, from what I know.
NEWS: Here goes my carefully cultivated bad reputation.

Cows' stink? No, it's man made.

By ERWIN CHLANDA
 
“I suppose that’s the cows we can smell here,” an interstate friend suggested to me as we were wandering around the Alice Springs Show on Friday last week.
“No,” I said. “That’s human poo you’re smelling.”
The odour was wafting in from the sewage ponds next-door to the showgrounds on a gentle westerly breeze, putting a dampner on the joys of the great annual event for two-thirds of the town’s population who were there.
It was another anecdote in the sad saga of Power and Water’s management of the town’s waste, underlining corporate spin that has reached new heights.
The poor tourist season and the consistently dry weather notwithstanding, the evaporation ponds aren’t keeping up with the discharge from the town.
The plant produces fluids of varying degrees of purification – none to the extent of being drinkable.
Let’s look at two of them.
One is used for irrigating the show grounds’ grassed areas and a lucerne patch within Blatherskite Park where horses are grazing.
That water comes from the ponds and is processed further through a Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) plant.
“The system is designed to ensure plant water is not intended to be used where human contact occurs,” says a P&W spokeswoman.
And: “Spray irrigation is limited to times outside of public use.”
In other words, human contact with that water is to be avoided.
But what about the water that is released into Ilparpa swamp, and from there makes its way into St Mary’s Creek, and – open to anyone – flows under the Stuart Highway, past St Mary’s home for children, the new complex of transitional housing, a place where babies are born, and to Pioneer Park racecourse.
P&W has a cute way of describing that water: It “has completed final treatment through waste stabilisation ponds”.
Excuse me? Should that not be: “It has only completed treatment through waste stabilisation ponds?”
So while water used for irrigating Blatherskite Park is not fit for human contact, although it has passed through the DAF plant, effluent straight out of the ponds is allowed into public places.
 

Letter to the Editor: Leaders in government's pocket?

Sir – The comments by Julia Ross on the Action for Alice advertisements leave me flabbergasted. As we report that Rome is burning, does Ms Ross attack the messenger, or the person who lit the match?
Does she pander to the bloke with the match in case he lights you up again, and go all out for the messenger instead? No mistake, there is only one way out for Alice: to deal with the issues. Any attempt to pretend they don’t exist is blatantly immoral.
Ms Ross’ claim that Action for Alice is responsible for the downturn in our economy because of our enormously successful advertising campaign to win the ear of government is simply stunning!
Action for Alice only swung into action after the streets of Alice had descended into complete mayhem, over the 2010 Christmas period.
This occurred because, as the police put it, they had taken their eye off the ball.
Just how good is Ms Ross’ contact with her supposed constituency? Out of the 350 businesses signed up to and putting money into Action for Alice ads, a good many were members of the chamber. She might do well to spend a little more of her time talking to her members than worrying about her own perceived role of whispering in the odd pollie’s ear.
The traumas portrayed in the Action for Alice adverts have been occurring at an escalating rate over a good number of years, plenty of time for the pollie whisperers to swing into action
The chardonnay-swilling set, as Ald Stewart describes them, sold us out a long time ago, when they took government funding for their various roles, forthwith never being brave enough to raise an objection in case it was detrimental to their funding.
This current government has demonstrated its preparedness to use that leverage more than any other I remember, the result being that these organisations, rather than representing our town’s woes, have themselves become part of the burgeoning bureaucratic schemozzle that has become the norm in the Territory.
It’s an approach that has led us to the very edge of chaos. Ms Ross is right about one thing: this town needs a shot in the arm, a new and fresh approach.
I think the beginnings of that should be a flurry of resignations from those who have filled these representative rolls in our community, to little or no effect, making way for some fresh, independent thinking, backed up by some good old-fashioned intestinal fortitude, so clearly missing in the current batch. Meanwhile Ms Ross, Rome really is burning!
Steve Brown
Alice Springs
 

Smug leaders are letting down their town: alderman

By ERWIN CHLANDA
 
Alice Springs’ leaders are a cosy club, a snobbish hierarchy, drinking the same cocktails and dumping on people daring to highlight their incompetence in fixing the town’s escalating problems, says Alderman Murray Stewart.
Despite the number of houses for sale and businesses closing at an unprecedented level, the Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Central Australia are not coming up with the tough responses needed, he says.
Ald Stewart was responding to statements by the chamber’s chair, Julie Ross, claiming that the advertising campaign by Action for Alice had backfired, spreading the word about the town’s lawlessness to potential visitors in Australia and abroad, rather than making the point to the politicians who can make a difference.
Ald Stewart says he is a supporter of Action for Alice but had nothing to do with the decision to launch the campaign.
But he is scathing about the leaders “club” which will “scorn” people outside their “clique” trying to creating the kind of solutions the leaders are incapable of.
“There is no place in Alice Springs for their ridiculous social lifestyle, their boring smugness.
“They should acknowledge they are a failure,” says Ald Stewart.
He says the town saw a boost in policing “for five minutes” while the Legislative Assembly was sitting here, but now assaults and other crimes are out of control again.
“When Parliament finished so did the police presence,” he says.
Ald Stewart says the long mooted youth curfew needs to be brought in.
Young people at night not obviously engaged in an occupational pursuit “should be frisked for any offensive weapons and smartly sent home or to a facility where they are supervised”.
Offenders should be committed to compulsory rehabilitation.
“Let’s do it and flash those pictures around the world,” says Ald Stewart.
He says the leaders had failed to stop the hike in alcohol costs, done nothing about the high fuel prices, and it had taken 8HA talk show host Adrian Renzie to have Qantas include Alice Springs in their assistance to stranded Tiger passengers.
Meanwhile police are calling for witnesses to an assault in Alice Springs last week. A 29-year-old man was returning from a pizza shop at about 8:30 pm on Wednesday when he was set upon by three youths near the Stott Terrace / South Terrace roundabout. The victim was punched to the head before falling to the ground and then kicked several times to the body. The offenders are described to be of Aboriginal appearance, aged between 13 and 19. The victim’s wallet was stolen in the attack and the offenders returned a short time later to also take the victim’s pizza. The offenders left the scene in a red Ford Falcon station wagon. Witnesses who may have seen the youths pictured in the surveillance images above were asked to contact 131 444 or call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
 
Police media release 17:26 CST Monday, July 11, 2001:
The attention to detail by a closed-circuit TV operator in Darwin has led to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in Alice Springs yesterday. CCTV was monitoring in the vicinity of Gap Road on Saturday night when the operator noticed a person matching the description of a youth who was wanted for the assault and robbery of a tourist last week.
The operator alerted members in Alice Springs who immediately attended the area. When police arrived in the area and approached the youth he ran from police but was caught a short time later.
Superintendent Michael Murphy said this is another great example of CCTV monitoring and just how effective it can be across the Northern Territory.”
 

Local business needs shot in the arm

By ERWIN CHLANDA
 
The government urgently needs to get behind Central Petroleum’s project to produce “ultra clean” diesel from massive coal deposits in the Simpson Desert. That’s the view of Julie Ross (pictured), chair of the Alice Springs Chamber of Commerce.
She says there is little else the local economy can look forward to: the construction of accommodation on Aboriginal town camps, funded by Canberra, is drawing to a close. Apart from tenders soon to be called for a gas pipeline to Pine Gap, expected to cost $5m to $6m, and headworks for the Kilgariff suburb at the AZRI site, there are no major infrastructure projects.
“The only growth industries are pest control, security and removalists,” says Ms Ross, “dealing with the mouse plague, the crime wave and people leaving town.”
She says labour shortages are already beginning to bite: one company has lost a refrigeration mechanic and it now takes three to four weeks to respond to service calls.
“We are at a critical stage. Skilled people are leaving town and new employees aren’t coming to town because of the negative publicity.”
Ms Ross says the tourism industry is on its knees, not helped by the unfortunate publicity generated by Action for Alice. Instead of taking up the issues of crime and public disorder with the politicians, Ms Ross says the group’s advertising suggesting rampant anti-social behaviour by young people has been going to all the wrong places. The Murdoch owned London Times last month did a two-page spread calling Alice Springs an “Aboriginal community crippled by crime and violence … where even security guards live in fear”.
Ms Ross says the coal to diesel proposal should not be subjected to the treatment suffered by the Angela Pamela uranium project on which the NT Government pulled the pin during a by-election. She says the site’s distance from town, some 200 kms, environmentally friendly product and huge benefits to the local economy should put into perspective any opposition.
The government has already missed the boat with the rare earths project at Nolan’s Bore near Aileron: all processing will be done at Whyalla because “the NT Government was too slow off the mark, not offering land in Darwin,” says Ms Ross. The processing requires huge amounts of water and therefore needs to be near the sea.
 

"As long as adults drink, younger people will"

By KIERAN FINNANE
June 23, 2011
 
At the recent forum about young people’s dreams for Alice Springs, a schoolgirl asked what could be done about underage drinking. She said that she knew of students leaving classes to go home for a few beers, describing it as “ridiculous”. She later agreed to speak to the Alice Springs News in more detail about drinking among her peers.
Her name is Mikaela Simpson (pictured above). She is 17 years old, a confident, motivated Year 12 student at Centralian College and boarding at St Philip’s as her mother works out bush.
She says almost every time she goes out, which she does with her mother’s permission, she witnesses a fight and it’s not only the guys – girls are getting involved as well.
“Ninety-eight percent of the time they’re extremely intoxicated,” she says. “Their egos get so big and you only have to look at someone the wrong way and it’s on.”
She camped overnight by the racetrack on the recent Finke weekend. In the morning as she was putting her swag into a car to go home, a fight erupted between a carload of girls and a carload of guys. Most had been drinking the night before and one guy in particular was still really drunk. As insults flew between the two groups, he began hitting the girls’ car, screaming and swearing. One of the girls was egging him on and eventually spilled some of her Coke on him. This sent him off the deep end and he ended up smashing the windscreen of the girl’s car.
The Finke weekend wasn’t exceptional. On any ordinary weekend a lot of people will say they are going out to get drunk, says Mikaela. If they’re underage, usually an older friend buys the grog for them (there’s a lot of socialising between different age groups). She also says some parents are open to the idea of teenagers drinking: “They understand that some are responsible and know how to do the right thing.”
Are her peers paying for their alcohol themselves?
“The majority of the time, yes. They work to earn their money or sometimes friends buy it for other friends or even parents pay for it.”
What’s the drink of preference?
“Anything and everything. Everyone’s different when it comes to drinking, but the majority are drinking spirits like vodka, Bundy, or Jack Daniels etc.”
She says at parties, it’s a regular sight to see people throwing up, falling over, starting “unwanted business”.
Does she mean sex?
No, she means fighting and “making a mess of themselves”. This is the worst consequence of drinking, she feels: girls getting hit by guys, guys passing out either because they’re so drunk or have been hit, girls or guys having car accidents because they’re drunk.
She’s never seen her friends in a situation of having unwanted sex.
Is that because the girls are strong about what they want?
“It goes both ways. If a girl doesn’t want it, she knows to speak up, and a lot of guys know that ‘no’ means ‘no’.”
Although she’s concerned about underage drinking, Mikaela also does it. She says she had her first drink in Year Nine but it was not until about halfway through Year 10 that she began regularly having a drink at parties. She says she sometimes gets drunk, though only if there’s a friend who’s going to take care of her (and definitely not if she’s going back to the boarding house).
Drinking amongst young people is simply a “fact of life”, she says. She doesn’t think it can be stopped, but “there are probably steps that can be taken to minimise it”.
She’s not thinking about restrictions, but rather about other forms of fun. As is frequently heard from young locals, she’d like there to be a lot more underage gigs. She doesn’t only mean big bands from interstate. She says there are quite a few local bands and young people enjoy watching their friends play. It would be a good alternative to sitting around in a house, getting drunk, which “gets boring after a while”.
As long as adults drink, younger people will, says Mikaela.
“You see older people doing something and you think that’s what I’m going to do. And if you took alcohol off the shelf then people would find some other substance.”
She thinks maturity is the best cure. Even amongst her peers, she can see the dawning of a realisation that there are better things to do with their time.
Note: The Alice News has published this report with the consent of Mikaela’s mother.
 

Coles takes lead against ultra-cheap wine

By KIERAN FINNANE
June 23, 2011
 
The fight against the availability of ultra-cheap wine in Alice Springs has had a win, with Coles Liquor announcing that its Alice store from July 1 will set a minimum price of $7.99 for bottled wine, including cleanskins, and will no longer sell two litre casks of wine.
The move will make the minimum price of their standard drink of wine $1.14. The store will continue to sell one litre casks of wine, targeted at the tourist market, for $15 ($2 per standard drink). Coles Liquor national promotions, including discounting wine by 25-30%, will no longer be available in Alice Springs.
The changes will be reviewed for possible introduction in other stores across Australia “where there are sensitive community issues to manage,” said Managing Director of Coles Liquor Ian McLeod
in a letter to the Chief Minister on June 20.
The Alice move comes in the wake of a flurry of national publicity around the local campaign for setting a floor price for alcoholic drinks, with $1.20 – currently the price of the cheapest full-strength beer –  proposed as the minimum price for a standard drink.
This would eliminate the ultra-cheap wines – cleanskins which have been selling for as little as $2 a bottle. Campaigners – chiefly the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition through their spokesperson Dr John Boffa – have argued that these wines have undermined the effectiveness of the current restrictions regime in Alice. Before they came onto the market during 2009, the existing regime was credited with an 18% drop in pure alcohol consumption, brought about by a 70% switch to beer and an 85% switch away from cheap wine.
Campaigners say that a floor price could help reinstate the preference for beer over wine. NT Minister for Alcohol Policy, Delia Lawrie, has dismissed the possibility of her government’s action on a floor price, sticking to the line that the problem lies with a minority. They will be targeted through the government’s Banned Drinkers Register, while “it is drinks as usual for the rest of us”, according to Ms Lawrie’s throwaway line.
Meanwhile, our cashed-up youth appear to be unaffected by price: with hard liquor their preference they enter the drinking culture with abandon, according to our young interviewee.
See also a backgrounder on alcohol and alcohol policy by Kieran Finnane published June 22 in the online journal  Inside Story.
 

LETTERS: New challenge for online shopping for grog

Sir – Labor’s banned drinkers’ register, which penalises all Territorians not just problem drunks, is quickly turning into a farce.
From tomorrow (Friday, July 1), anyone buying take away alcohol must show photo ID, which is checked and scanned, before the sale can go through. Labor says personal details won’t be kept and the scanning process will only take seven seconds, but that’s far from the truth.
A constituent has handed me a letter they received from one of the major grocery chains. It says if they wish to shop online and include alcohol in their shopping then they will have to fax copies of their personal details to the shop and those copies will be kept on file for future reference.
The email states that orders from 1 July 2011 will require a:
• NT or other Australian drivers licence; or
• NT or other Australian evidence of age card; or
• Passport; or
• NT Ochre Card.
The email ends with an invitation to “fax a copy of your ID through… upon receipt of this letter.”
This means people living in the bush or on cattle properties or who simply live too far from a bottle shop, or even pensioners will be forced to hand over their personal details if they want to buy alcohol online.
With identity theft becoming an ever increasing issue and cost to our community, people are being forced to hand over personal details with no control over how the information may be used.
Labor’s alcohol policy is an invasion of privacy, and once again ordinary law abiding Territorians are being punished, because Labor can’t keep drunks off our streets and out of our parks.
Peter Styles
Shadow Minister for Alcohol Policy
 
 
Minister responds, sort of
 
Sir – The CLP’s latest flimsy and misleading attack on the Banned Drinker’s Register proves they are soft on crime.
The party that said that “the link between crime and alcohol is negligible” are now complaining that people who want their alcohol home delivered will have to provide their home address.
The Member for Sanderson’s latest clanger confirms his party’s shaky grasp of reality, with a misleading tirade against the Banned Drinkers Register that effectively accuses online retailers of potential identity theft.
Mr Styles falsely claims that people buying alcohol online will have their details recorded on the Banned Drinker’s Register. As consistently stated, the ID scanner system being rolled out across the Territory does not record any personal information.
The simple scan of your ID checks your name against the Banned Drinkers Register – if you are not banned, you are free to purchase alcohol with no information recorded – the whole process takes about seven seconds.
To regulate alcohol sales made away from the checkout, online retailers are requiring licence details for online purchasers from the Territory to ensure they are not selling to banned drinkers.
The personal details Mr Styles refers to are necessary for the completion of an online order whether it includes alcohol or not.
Is it official CLP policy for online orders not to include an address? It would be interesting to see how these orders would be delivered.
The reality is that the CLP want people who commit grog-fuelled violence to continue to have access to alcohol.
We know 60% of all crime in the Territory is alcohol related.  The CLP are soft on alcohol abuse and soft on crime.
Much like their embarrassing claim that there is no link between alcohol and crime, Terry Mills and the CLP have proven themselves out of ideas and out of touch with Territorians.
Delia Lawrie
Alcohol Policy Minister
 
 
Responsible drinkers pay for failures of government
 
While it is commendable that a number of Alice Springs licensees have moved to take action against problem drinking in the town, it’s unfortunate responsible drinkers are being made to pay for the failure of the Labor Government’s alcohol policies.
It’s unfortunate it’s being left to the liquor industry to find a solution itself because of the ineffectiveness of Government policy.
A floor price on alcohol will have the effect of increasing the cost of living in the Northern Territory and will hit ordinary Alice Springs residents who enjoy a bottle of wine with their evening meal.
It’s already expensive to live in the Northern Territory without taking away the competitive nature of business and the benefits that come from that.
The Henderson Government’s position on a floor price is all over the shop, with Treasurer Delia Lawrie last week dismissing a concept her Government had fostered for months and the Chief Minister this week applauding the move.
What is certain is residents of Alice Springs will pay more for a bottle of wine than elsewhere in the Territory.
Instead of punishing all Territorians with drinking licenses, the Government should target problem drinkers.
Labor talks about cracking down on problem drinkers and mandatory rehabilitation, but the reality is much different.
The Government’s much publicised Banning Alcohol and Treatment (BAT notices) are a damp squib.
While the Government promised problem drinkers issued with BAT notices would face mandatory rehabilitation, the reality is somewhat different.
Instead of mandatory rehabilitation, problem drunks will be referred to an approved provider which could be a nurse or Aboriginal health worker for discretionary rehabilitation.
This could be as little as a health counseling session before the term of the BAT Notice is reduced at the discretion of the approved provider.
This hardly constitutes mandatory treatment.
Under the Country Liberals, drinkers placed in protective custody three times in six months will face mandatory rehabilitation. No ifs, no buts.”
Peter Styles MLA
Shadow Alcohol Policy Minister
 
 
Lhere Artepe Enterprises Supermarkets continue their alcohol strategy
 
The Northside, Eastside and Flynn Drive Cellarbrations stores have for a long time taken a responsible position on the service of Alcohol.
We are continuing our 18 months ban on “clean skin” wines and will maintain our floor price on wine, port and spirits based on a price per standard drink.
Most people probably haven’t noticed we have been using a floor price at Northside Cellarbrations for over two months.
This strategy has given us a significant drop in the amount of behavioural issues presenting at the Northside store.
Importantly our approach has not affected the vast majority of our customers, who are responsible drinkers. They have been getting the same great products at the same great prices.
We welcome announcements by Coles and Woolworths that they are also adopting a responsible approach to the ranging and pricing of products that contribute to anti-social behaviour.
A floor price is the best way to address alcohol related issues, it reduces problem drinking, it stops problem products entering the market, and because it only affects the bottom 2% of products, responsible drinkers will never notice the difference!
Reagan Garner
General Manager
Lhere Artepe Enterprises Supermarkets
 

Bring back the cheap booze: town council

By KIERAN FINNANE
June 27, 2011
 
The Alice Springs Town Council will be writing to Coles, Woolworths and local IGA stores (now Lhere Artepe Enterprises Supermarkets)  asking them to reverse their recently announced decision to set a minimum price for cheap bottled wine in their local outlets and to withdraw cask wine from sale.
The vote was five in favour, three against. The three included Mayor Damien Ryan who asked aldermen to allow the letter to go out under the CEO’s signature, rather than his. On protest from Alderman Samih Habib Bitar he accepted that he would sign the letter.
The motion was put by Ald Murray Stewart, seconded Ald Eli Melky. Alds Brendan Heenan, Liz Martin and Habib Bitar voted in favour. The Mayor was joined by Alds Jane Clark and John Rawnsley in voting against.
Ald Stewart described the move by the big retailers as “most unjust” for Alice Springs and as discriminatory, especially towards seniors and tourists, including grey nomads, traveling on a budget. He also raised the potential danger for Indigenous women of drunks armed with a bottle rather than a cask.
This concern was echoed by Ald Habib Bitar, who said the retailers will have “blood on their hands”.
Ald Stewart was dismayed that the move had come on the eve of the rollout of the NT Government’s latest alcohol reforms. He also accused “the corporates” of profiteering, with the increased profit on the sale of cheap wines going into their pockets and not towards community benefit, such as rehabilitation services for alcoholics.
Ald Clark said she could not support “the aspersions” cast on the motives of the corporates. She said they had been lobbied by organisations arguing for the public health benefit of a floor price and this could have been their motivation.
She noted that cask wines will still be available through some outlets, and said she would like to see how the reduced volume of sales, through the actions of the supermarket retailers, “pans out”.
Ald Rawnsley said it was “courageous” to put the motion up as it’s a “sensitive debate” but he disagreed with it. He said while the move could be seen as discriminatory, on the balance it might be constructive, just as Basics Card is seen to be by many. He sympathised however with the “angst” of pensioners.
Mayor Ryan said he couldn’t recall aldermen voicing concern over discrimination in relation to Basics Card. In his view the retailers were looking at the “triple bottom line” and taking responsibility for the impact of their products on the community.
 
 

Coles says it will lose revenue, not profiteer

KIERAN FINNANE reports
Tuesday June 28

Coles expects to lose revenue as a result of foregoing the sale of cask wine in Alice Springs, says General Manager of Corporate Affairs Robert Hadler, rejecting any suggestion of a profiteering motive for their actions.
He said cleanskin wines were only ever sold at ultra-low prices in short-term promotions and he did not expect much of an impact on revenue from the decision to set a minimum unit price for these wines.
Mr Hadler spoke to the Alice News after he had made contact with Mayor Damien Ryan this morning to discuss last night’s vote in council (see report below). A majority of aldermen supported a motion to ask Coles and other retailers to reverse their decision on the sale of cheap wines in the local market. Mr Hadler says Coles will respond formally once they have received council’s letter.
He says he understands from Mayor Ryan that there are different views held by councillors. He says his company’s “strong view” remains that the initiatives they have taken meet “the needs of their customers” and the company’s “broader responsibility to the community”.
The company took the action because “it was the right thing to do,” after listening to the concerns of community leaders including the Reverend Basil Schild, Dr John Boffa and CAYLUS (the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service, strong lobbyists for substance abuse strategies including the rollout of Opal fuel).
Despite the likely loss of revenue, Mr Hadler says Coles will be comfortable with the outcome “if it helps reduce alcohol harms and abuse in Alice Springs”.
What evidence of this will they look for?
Mr Hadler says Coles expects to visit Alice Springs in the near future to assess the success of the move and whether additional steps need to be taken. He says they will be pleased to meet with the Town Council at this time.
The News asked him about concerns regarding bottles being used as a weapon. He said he could not see that the existing risk would be enhanced by Coles’ actions but the company is prepared to review the decision, in consultation with community leaders and the NT Government, if there are “any unintended outcomes”.
On the impact of their decision on pensioners, Mr Hadler says the company remains committed to providing value for money to all its customers, particularly for low income and fixed income customers and tourists. He believes that bottled wines at $7.99 and one litre casks at $14.99 will meet this demand.
Regarding the suggestion of broader discrimination towards Alice Springs, he says the company complies with a range of regulatory restrictions in other Indigenous areas in the NT and other states. As an example, he pointed to the Casuarina Business Precinct Liquor Accord of which Coles is a signatory. Concluded in April 2011, it commits licensees to “use their best endeavours” to ensure that sale of wine and fortified wine in two litre containers is restricted to one container per customer per trading day and to withdraw from sale “ready to drink products” in units greater than 500 ml.
 

Alice at the table of Canberra grog summit

By KIERAN FINNANE
Posted July 5.
Photo: Alcoholic drinks decanted into soft drink bottles in Alice Springs.
 
With a floor price for alcohol and no take-away sales on Centrelink payday, the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) would achieve its aims. Not much more harm minimisation could be expected through supply reduction, says the group’s spokesperson John Boffa, who in his day job is a doctor at Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.
“At that point we would turn our attention more fully to other strategies,” says Dr Boffa, “because we know that restrictions on alcohol are not a magic bullet.
“Even with optimum restrictions in place, there’ll still be a lot of excessive drinking in Alice and the NT as a whole and a lot of violence flowing from that.”
With the cooperation of retailers a partial floor price – a minimum price per unit of alcohol – in Alice Springs has been achieved. Perhaps more importantly, the publicity around it has given momentum to a national push for the introduction of a floor price around the country. On Wednesday (July 6) Dr Boffa joins like-minded lobbyists in Canberra for meetings with some 60 politicians. PAAC was accepted as a member of the National Alcohol Action Alliance around two months ago and must be one of the group’s most useful recruits, given the focus on the issues that it has been able to generate.
Dr Boffa says the national alliance’s main platform is about getting price mechanisms to play a role in consumption reduction. He says it’s good policy for government, as it’s proven to work on a population-wide basis and costs virtually nothing.
What about the popular outcry that is bound to ensue?
Dr Boffa urges people to stop and think: do they really consider that a minimum price for a standard alcoholic drink that is no more than the price of a can of Coke and often cheaper than bottled water is too much for people to reasonably pay?
“As Coles have said, there is still a very large volume of affordable alcohol available. All that has been eliminated is the ridiculously cheap alcohol.”
The price mechanisms being lobbied for by the national alliance are a floor price and a volumetric tax. The latter applies the same rate of tax per litre of alcohol across all beverages.
The alliance wants both, but Dr Boffa’s personal view is that a floor price is more achievable and fairer. Both work to eliminate from the market ultra-cheap wine, the big baddy from a public health point of view. However a volumetric tax would also increase the price of wine in the bracket that many responsible drinkers choose from, the current $10 to $14 range, while significantly decreasing the price of very expensive wines. Meanwhile, the price of beer would also rise by about 5%. So the tax, unless it was formulated to overcome these consequences, would advantage wealthy drinkers, while disadvantaging the not so wealthy.
A floor price is a relatively new concept and at present has been applied nowhere in the world. Dr Boffa’s confidence in its impact is based on research into the way other price mechanisms, making the cheapest wine dearer, have worked.
In Alice Springs the removal from sale of four-litre cask wines from September 2006 and the restricted availability of two-litre casks and fortified wines led to a 19.6% drop in population consumption, a 70% switch to beer (less harmful than wine), an 85% move away from cheap wine, and a corresponding 21% reduction in serious harms.
Consumption started to rise from mid-2009 when ultra-cheap bottled wine began to be promoted. Currently population consumption is 14% below pre-restrictions levels. Dr Boffa is confident that it would return to around 20% if an effective floor price could be achieved. This would require the remaining two local bottleshops (at Todd Tavern and Gapview Hotel) to cease selling two litre casks.
Tennant Creek’s Thirsty Thursday and ban on liquor in containers larger than two litres, introduced back in 1995, also achieved a 20% drop in consumption and a big switch to beer.
More recently restrictions were introduced in the WA town of Halls Creek. From mid-2009  you could not buy take-away full-strength beer there and you could not start drinking at the town’s pub before midday unless it was with a meal. A review of the restrictions after 12 months showed a “significant” drop in alcohol-related incidents requiring police response and “significantly fewer” alcohol-related injuries and presentations at the hospital. However, there had also been “some” displacement of drinking to other towns, with Kununurra experiencing an increase in general violence and alcohol-related harm. (The displacement of problems from one town to another demonstrates the value of a national approach.)
This evidence all relates to Australian examples. Dr Boffa also points to international research, including a study of 18 pricing policies for alcohol in England. The results, published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, last year, showed that price increases were effective for “reduction of consumption, health-care costs, and health-related quality of life losses in all population sub-groups”.
The World Health Organisation, in a 2008 paper on strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, also says price is “an important determinant of consumption”, and that a “particular concern emerges when alcoholic drinks are cheaper than nonalcoholic alternatives such as bottled water”.
Dr Boffa said this is the kind of evidence that PAAC have previously presented to Coles and that he would take them through again when and if they visit Alice, as suggested by their General Manager of Corporate Affairs Robert Hadler (see report below). He says action on Alice’s alcohol issues requires leadership based on evidence, not on popular opinion. In any case, he argues, the current views of the majority are unknown as there has been no proper survey of residents’ attitudes since 2000. At that time 96% of respondents rated alcohol as a serious to very serious problem for Alice Springs, while 36% supported some kind of restrictions on availability of alcohol as a solution.
He says the NT alcohol problems are not confined to Aboriginal drinkers. Statistics published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2010, by a team of researchers including Dr Steven Skov, Public Health Physician for the NT Department of Health and Families, show that non-Aboriginal consumption in the NT is about 1.43 times the national average, while Aboriginal consumption is 1.97 times. Deaths attributed to alcohol occur in the NT at 3.5 times the national rate; for the non-Aboriginal population the rate is double the national rate – bad enough – while for the Aboriginal population, it is 9-10 times higher, a profoundly tragic state of affairs. Hospitalisations related to alcohol in the NT occur at twice the national rate.
Dr Boffa says that the Central Australian statistics for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations are likely to be worse than the NT-wide statistics.
 
 

Stopping the next generation of alcoholics before they start

By KIERAN FINNANE
 
We can do something to prevent the next generation of alcoholics from developing and it involves intervening in the earliest years of life: little children need their parents or other care-givers to be interacting and talking with them daily, reading to them, putting them to bed at regular times; they need to be physically active and to have a good playgroup of children of similar age. International research, conducted over many years, has shown that children benefitting from this kind of care in their first years will grow up to be far more resilient to addictions.
 
While to date the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition has focussed almost exclusively on curbing existing heavy drinking, it is starting to turn its attention to prevention. Spokesperson Dr John Boffa says the first three years of life are critical. For many disadvantaged children, by the time they enter school it is too late for the cognitive and emotional development that will help them succeed in education and resist addiction in later life. Without the brain capacity to do well at school, they will most likely drop out at the earliest opportunity, and their impulsivity, poor concentration, lack of self-discipline and self-control will predispose them to develop addictions in adolescence.
 
Dr Boffa recognises that the vast majority of adolescents will experiment with alcohol and drugs, but says the most disadvantaged young people are more likely to indulge in persistent very heavy drinking. In adolescence this causes permanent brain damage which in turn leads to further diminished self-control, spiralling down into full-blown addiction. Dr Boffa says this is what is going on for many Aboriginal heavy drinkers; it is not a genetic predisposition to alcoholism but the result of physiological deterioration that commenced with excessive abuse of alcohol when they were teenagers.
 
In his day job Dr Boffa works for Central Australian Aboriginal Congress. That organisation has published a policy paper on rebuilding family life in Alice Springs and Central Australia. In it they are pushing for a three-pronged approach to turn around the early years of the most disadvantaged children in our community and so divert them from a likely future of under-achievement, unemployment, addiction to alcohol and other drugs and possible criminality.
 
Two parts of the approach are in place: nurse-led home visitation to mothers, both before and after the birth of their babies, and a pre-school preparedness program.
Home visitation has been happening in Alice Springs for the last 18 months and has already led to a significant improvement in birthweight of the children born in that time (a critical developmental factor). Congress wants to see the program extended throughout Central Australia.
A team working on preparing children to enter pre-school started work in February this year, and so far 30 children who otherwise would not have attended pre-school have been enrolled and continue to attend.
 
The remaining part of the approach, not yet the subject of a funding application but that Congress is advocating for, covers the years in between, during which there is important and rapid cognitive and emotional growth that underpins a child’s future development.
“If we wait until age three or four to enroll the most vulnerable children in education, they will enter far behind,” says Congress CEO Stephanie Bell.
 
British researcher Michael Marmot, studying the fates of 17,200 UK babies born in the same week in April 1970, found that the things that made a critical difference to brain development and subsequent life chances, including good health, included: daily one on one interactions and talking with young children, daily reading, going to bed at regular times, being physically active and having a good playgroup of children of similar age.
 
Both the nurse-led home visitation and getting children into pre-school can help to varying degrees achieve these things. The establishment of educational daycare centres could fill in further gaps. The model that Congress is promoting is the “Abecedarian approach” of Professor Joseph Sparling, developed in Carolina, USA.
It involves:-
• “learning games”, where teachers engage daily with one or two children at a time in short interactive sessions;
• “conversational reading” to each child, every day;
• “language prority”, surrounding spontaneous events with adult language; and
• “enriched care-giving” in which teachers encourage children to practice skills like cooperating, counting and colour recognition, during care routines.
 
The day care centres would operate for six hours a day, four days a week, with one teacher for every four children. The teachers do not need to be tertiary-trained. People in the community committed to working with children and who have an acceptable level of literacy could be trained on the job. Congress says 250 children in Alice Springs could benefit from such a program and it would also create local employment.
 
The long term benefits for the children in Prof Sparling’s program have been remarkable:
• fewer risky behaviors at age 18;
• fewer symptoms of depression at age 21;
• healthier life styles. The odds of reporting an active lifestyle in young adulthood were 3.92 times greater for children in the Abecedarian program compared to the control group (children from identical disadvantaged backgrounds who had not had the benefit of the program).
 
“If there was a medicine that produced this odds ratio every child would be on it!” says Ms Bell.
 

Rod Moss wins Prime Minister's literary award

By JACQUIE CHLANDA in Canberra
and ERWIN CHLANDA
 
The Hard Light of Day by Alice Springs author Rod Moss today won the Prime Minister’s non-fiction award worth $80,000 and the huge prestige attached to it.
The book chronicles the lives of Aboriginal people at the White Gate community, a squat on the eastern edge of town.
Mr Moss (pictured above at White Gate) was at the National Gallery in Canberra to receive the award from Ms Gillard.
He spoke to the Alice Springs News minutes later.
“I’m just a bit bewildered,” he said. “I’m in esteemed company. I’m one of them now, apparently.
“I don’t think I’m suffering any chemical imbalance but if feels unreal.
“I’m a stranger, an outsider here, surrounded by other writers with their own coteries of literary people.”
Did he shake the Prime Minister’s hand?
“Yes, she has a warm little mitt. She has a capacity for mingling. Her speech felt very genuine.”
Mr Moss said neither Ms Gillard nor Arts Minister Simon Crean referred in their speeches to the contents of the books winning awards or short-listed.
Mr Moss is a teacher, noted painter and long-time resident of Alice Springs.
He says “part two is happening already,” a continuation of the subject from where the book left off in 1998 “to last week”.
This was prompted by the response to the book, previously culminating in the Chief Minister’s NT Book of the Year award earlier this year.
But the sequel may “not see the hard light of day,” he quipped.
Judges Brian Johns AO, Colin Steele and Dr Faye Sutherland say in their comments the book “draws a picture of Aboriginal Australians living in The Centre that we have rarely experienced on such a moving level.
“Rod Moss, with unflinching, knowing vision, reveals the harsh realities of the day to day lives of Aboriginals with devastating force and insight.
“Nothing is spared – the pain of chronic ill health, the alcoholism, the mutual violence, the aimlessness of the dislocated and the impoverished.”
They say the book is enriched by Moss’ paintings and photographs.
The author’s friendship with tribal elder Arranye “is the spiritual backbone of the book, starkly realistic, yet both enriching and encouraging, transcending the often desperate circumstances.
“There is humor and there is hope,” the judges say.
 
25 years of love and anguish: Review of the book by KIERAN FINNANE
White Gate residents: We will not go, it’s home. By KIERAN FINNANE.
 

Alice airport could close in major flood

4.5% downturn expected this year but investment continues
 
By KIERAN FINNANE
 
The Alice Springs Airport could not be guaranteed to remain open in the case of a major flood cutting access to the town through Heavitree Gap.
Mayor Damien Ryan put the question to the airport’s general manager Katie Cooper when she made a presentation to council on Monday night about the airport’s contribution to the Alice economy.
If Heavitree Gap were cut off by major floodwaters, road and rail links from the south would be severed. It seems also that air links could be restricted or could cease because of the difficulty of getting airport staff from their homes in town to their workplace.
Ms Cooper told councillors that the intention would be to maintain staffing levels and operations, but she could not give a “100%” guarantee. For example, if the flood occurred in the middle of the night, getting people to the airport “might be a challenge,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ms Cooper said the Alice airport contributes 0.4% to the NT GSP (gross state product). Slow steady growth of annual passenger movements is forecast: from 630,000 in 2009, projected to grow to 940,000 by 2029. A decline of around 4.5% on previous years is expected this year, however. The 20 year old facility was built to cater for up to two million passenger movements a year, so there is room for much more rapid growth, which Ms Cooper said NT Airports is bent on chasing.
She said bringing in scheduled international services is unlikely on the basis of current usage, but NT Airports “actively seeks partnerships with airlines,” with representatives attending the global route conferences each year. Charter flights from overseas have gone into abeyance.
Again Ms Cooper said NT Airports is keen to make use of the facilities to receive them. Currently the aircraft tug and other facilities are in storage, costing the airport money.
Ms Cooper said one of things “against us” is the high Aussie dollar, although that’s a country-wide problem. She said more positive stories about Alice as a destination “would be useful,” mentioning as “not very helpful” the recent London Times article, describing Alice as “cursed by alcohol” and as a town “where even the security guards live in fear”.
Slow growth aside, investment in the airport is continuing and commercial opportunities for its assets are being sought. The Alice airport now has its own iPhone app, the second airport in Australia to have one, following Darwin (also owned by the NT Airports). $8m is about to be spent on apron overlay, following the $10m runway overlay in 2009.
She also mentioned the Remote Towers trial (of the air traffic control centre operating from Adelaide) as representing a “significant investment” by Air Services Australia. This is expected to start at Alice Springs in late 2012.
On the boneyard, announced to fanfare in May this year, she said Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage is out looking for clients. She is hoping that work will start on building the facility later this year, with the airport apron overlay possibly offering an advantage of asphalting “synergies” for the boneyard project.
She said it is not clear how the tourist potential of the facility could be managed, given that it will have direct access to the airport runway, but she said some of the USA boneyards have “quite a big tourist market”. She did not know how may jobs would be involved in the boneyard operations.
The airport is continuing to work with the NT Government on the extension of the Kilgariff subdivision into airport land. An MOU exists and a further agreement is being worked on. Ms Cooper described this as a “long-term project”.
 

Fly-in, fly-out desert knowledge

By ERWIN CHLANDA
 
A branch of the desert knowledge movement, that supposedly quintessential Central Australian drive to transform the governance and economy of the vast desert regions, seems to have turned into a fly-in, fly-out operation.
Jan Ferguson, the CEO of the Remote Economic Participation CRC / Ninti One, which was spawned by the earlier Desert Knowledge CRC, now reportedly lives and works in Adelaide, and so does the Communications Manager, Linda Cooper.
Neither returned phone calls and emails from the Alice Springs News in the past few days.
Board member Harold Furber, one for the founders of the desert knowledge movement, asked about the apparent new arrangements, says: “I find it very hard to comment.”
Mr Furber, together with others, has worked tirelessly to bring the movement to fruition: “It was a Central Australian idea,” he says.
Two other branches, Desert Knowledge Australia and the Desert People’s Centre, are still firmly rooted in the Alice Springs.
The Remote Economic Participation CRC’s Donna Anthes (General Manager Operations) and Tammie Boehm (Executive Officer) are still based here.
We put to Mr Furber that a true headquarters of an organisation would be where the CEO works.
He repeated his earlier statement: “I find it very hard to comment.”
Ninti One notably has a massive Federal Government contract to cull feral camels, mostly by shooting them from helicopters.
 

PM will be asked to help Alice's flagging tourism industry

By KIERAN FINNANE
 
The Town Council is writing to the Prime Minister to ask for financial assistance for the tourism industry in the Centre. While councillors voted to take this action back in May, it has now become more urgent with the grounding of Tiger flights.
Alderman Samih Habib Bitar at Monday’s meeting appealed to councillors to use what lobbying power council may have to help get Tiger back in the air on the Melbourne-Alice route.
Ald John Rawnsley went further, asking whether council should not send a delegation to government to ask for a financial assistance package, given the “particularly rough time” the town has had from the impact of the high Australian dollar and the negative national and international publicity around high levels of crime and anti-social behavior. (Clarifying later for the Alice News, he said the delegation would be to the Territory Parliament, with a package to be funded by both the Australian and Territory governments.)
Councillors were reminded by Director of Corporate and Community Services Craig Catchlove that they had already resolved to send a letter to the Prime Minister, asking for special assistance. In fact, he said a letter had gone out, although an enquiry by the Alice Springs News revealed that it is still in draft form. It will be sent this week, almost two months after council’s resolution.
At Monday’s meeting Ald Habib Bitar suggested council should approach Virgin Blue to see whether they could reinstate flights to Alice.
However, Ald Jane Clark argued loyalty to Tiger is warranted if they get back up and running. What must be avoided, she argued, was a return to Alice being serviced by only one airline. She criticised Qantas for originally excluding Alice from its special deals for stranded Tiger passengers.
She had had two children caught in Melbourne by the Tiger grounding and had been facing having to pay two $900 one-way airfares to get them home. She said there were definitely no special deals for passengers to Alice “until enough people kicked up a fuss”.
A one airline situation would represent a “real danger for the tourism market”, said Ald Clark. She said council should establish a “lobbying position over the next couple of months” to ensure that other airlines service Alice Springs.
Deputy Mayor Ald Liz Martin took up the theme of the damage being done by negative publicity about Alice Springs.
She said media were responding to “negative people in the community”; that this was endangering investment in the town; and that the impact was going beyond the town, being felt all along the gateway routes into the region.
Mayor Damien Ryan requested the CEO to have a report prepared, drawing on “knowledgeable people in town”, to provide direction for councillors on the issue. CEO Rex Mooney said that the report would be ready for the end of month meeting.
Speaking later to the News, Ald Martin said “good news messages” need to get out about all the wonderful natural and man-made attractions of the town and the region. If the government funds became available, they could be used to “subsidise” publicity in niche publications not normally targeted by tourism marketing campaigns. These would be the monthly subscription publications relating to fields where there are attractions of special interest in the Centre, such as art, sport, road, rail and air heritage, said Ald Martin.
Ald Murray Stewart is on annual leave and was absent from Monday night’s meeting. However, he was the initator of the original motion to write to the Prime Minister. He told the News that in his view Alice Springs and its tourism industry in particular had experienced a calamity as a result of deteriorating activity on the streets and the publicity around it. Just as the Australian Government had stepped in to offer assistance to Queensland to help its tourism industry get over a difficult period, so they could do for Alice Springs, he said. He said the town’s troubles are not of the same magnitude or tragic nature as Queensland’s but there is certainly an economic downturn.
He favoured using any government assistance to “drive new tourism events”, and also used that word “niche”. For example, there could be “a celebration of great Australian voices”, not only in song, but also spoken word, like the wonderful recitation of iconic Australian poems by actor Jack Thompson.
“We should zero in on two or three unique events and time them for the shoulder periods of our tourism season when the weather is still  OK,” said Ald Stewart.
 

To climb or not to climb?

Whenever you mention that you’re going for a trip to The Rock the conversation always seems to head in one direction – are you going to climb it? Have you climbed it before? It’s as though this meager act reflects upon your personality, yet alone moral self.
This past weekend I drove down to Uluru to fly from the airport that is controversial for industries dependent on tourism in Alice Springs, to Sydney.
On the way my friend and I managed to sight a running emu, two side by side dancing eagles, almost step on a whip snake and break down on the side of the road for several hours – all classic, camping in the bush stuff. Nearly every car that passed us as we tampered with the axles, knobs and bolts, was a deluxe, state of the art campervan, four-wheel drive, or tour bus. I marveled at their chic steel beauty and wondered, with an unintended absence of political correctness, where the beat-up camp cars from the Indigenous community were.
When we finally got the engine sorted and moving again it wasn’t long until the out-of-proportion inland island that is Uluru greeted our eyes.
We arrived at the campsite next to the resort and were shocked to find the grounds almost empty. I thought it was tourist season! However, as we headed into the park the long line of climbers – to quote Lindqvist, more like dots on an Aboriginal painting than conquerors – showed us where the action was.
Growing up in Alice, where land rights issues are at the forefront, I was aware even when I was in primary school that Uluru was holy ground for the Aboriginal people of that area, the Anangu. I’d only been there once until hitting adulthood and in all frankness the only image I remember is the Coca Cola icy-pole dangled before my nose, then clasped between teeth that couldn’t believe their luck. I wasn’t allowed sugar as a kid, so to have something so sweetly devilish in my clutch was far more impressive than what looked like a huge anthill. Still, I remember swearing loudly and quite ignorantly to a fellow playmate that I’d never ever climb it and very forcefully telling her that her dad was a “big meanie” for even attempting the trip.
Now that I’m an adult, however, I find many of my good friends and family have tackled Ayers Rock, trailing the track to the top. I also hear some around town proclaim
that many of the traditional owners don’t mind if white people hike up its surface. Information at the park’s very own Culture Center claims that it was customary for the men to put a sacred stick at a certain place at the very top to instigate ceremonies. It could then be argued that no one knows the answer, that the information has perhaps crossed lines.
I remember reading once that Uluru was restored to its original owners in 1985 on the condition that they immediately leased back the whole area and made it accessible to tourists. The only Aboriginal people I saw in my two days there were a beautiful young woman walking around the art gallery with her baby. I felt too self-conscious of my tourist appearance to ask her how she felt about the expanse of resort and shopping center having no reflection of, what I presume is, her culture, merely tacky furniture and outdated carpets.
Walking around the base of ominous landmark on Saturday and looking in at the keyholes and cavities covered in ocher paintings, I painted my own image of the Anangu singing and dancing beneath the shadows of their sacred home. I had to wonder what benefit a title is when you can’t inhabit what you own. It was lucky I was wearing sunglasses because I actually cried.
In reality what you hear is a mishmash of languages and accents from around the world. All genuinely excited voices of warmth, but alien in feel to the landscape. I was trying to dampen the pompous ‘know it all’ in me and come to some kind of closure whilst still there, so I asked a rather puffed man at the trail’s edge how he felt about hitting the ground. “Are you going to ask me how long it took me?” he smiled. “45 years. I’m serious!” He went on to tell me how he had started when he was only five on a trip around Australia with his parents and had made it back with his girlfriend to complete the ascent now that he was old enough. The pride and joy in his face was lovely and I couldn’t help but smile back.
Now I’m confused. I don’t know what’s ‘right’. I still haven’t climbed it and won’t until I know where I stand in this ethical debate. Maybe I’ll never know. I guess this is what life asks of us all the time – to come to our subjective decisions and face the reactions to the choices we make. Photo by OLIVER ECLIPSE.