On a particularly busy day on the working-from-home front, my bed will be impeccably made, ready for some home magazine photographer no less to swoop in, a-flashing. All my water bottles will be filled, lined up in a row and chilling in the fridge, ready for the sweat I’m going to break when I get around to fixing up that strawberry patch. Oh my god, my cat is so cute and totally needs to be cuddled and crooned till she looks at me like, ‘are you ok?’ and bolts out the window. Of course all the washing is done and god forbid if I have to go to the toilet or wash my hands by the mirror; all of a sudden the toilet needs to be scrubbed and I have plucked my eyebrows to within a centimeter of my hair line!
There's a movement around Australia to arrest urban decline. Alice could follow the example of some other fight backs.
They're bucking a trend: as businesses close down or leave the town centre for another location, they've moved into Gregory Terrace, just around the corner from Todd Mall's busy southern end. They've done a clever and stylish revamp of the former fish 'n' chips shop; they're catering to younger consumers – 18 to 35 years – and doing what it takes to appeal to them: offering an experience, not just a product; a cool aesthetic, and working flexible hours.
Dwayne Chapple and partner Peta Coburn bought the tattooing business, formerly at the Polana Centre on Smith Street, after Mr Chapple had been working in it for three years. "We wanted to get away from the stigma of the old shop, the old tattoo cliches. We wanted to be part of the community, be where the action is," says Mr Chapple.
Stay True Tattooing is a good example of a business recognising the strength of the local younger market, says Matty Day. A former professional skateboarder turned community development activist, he recently joined the business innovation committee started by Alderman Murray Stewart in an attempt to get some creative focus on Alice's declining economic fortunes.
Mr Day is convinced that there is opportunity in the current situation. He is taking his cues from the Renew movement, which began in Newcastle in late 2008, driven by a prominent arts and media identity, Marcus Westbury. Melbourne-based, Mr Westbury had grown up in Newcastle. He found his home city in decline: in the two main streets 150 buildings were empty. The area was widely seen as violent and dangerous; there was a lot of vandalism, graffiti, and growing anger and distrust in the community. His answer was to establish Renew Newcastle. In just 18 months the situation had turned around. The ideas started to catch on: there are now similar revitalisation schemes in Adelaide, Townsville, Geelong and Parramatta. Mr Day says Alice should be next. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Top – Tattoo artist Dwayne Chapple at work. His business has relocated from Smith Street to the town centre: "We wanted to be part of the community, be where the action is." • Above – Matty Day wants Alice to think about rebuilding in our own community instead of putting all our eggs in a hoped for, but maybe elusive tourism basket.
Re-channeling the 'biggest issue', not trees
We sounded a false note of optimism last week when the Alice Springs News Online reported that the Town Council had got the message about tree protection in the Todd and Charles Rivers. Work by trusties from the gaol, observed by readers knocking down buffel grass in the Todd, was no more than usual, occurring "most Thursdays" according to council's Director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton.
We would be wrong to think that the elected members are particularly stirred by the evidence of destruction of trees in the Todd and the persistence of the conditions that threaten them. With the exception of a brief comment by Alderman Jane Clark, no-one spoke of the trees at council's meeting last night. That there was discussion at all about the state of river came down to concern about flooding. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Trees ablaze in the Todd, opposite the Crowne Plaza hotel, on November 8, 2011. Alice News reader Dy Kelaart took this shot, commenting: "Fire crews were in attendace as bystanders with the many obsevers watching in disbelief as fire engulfed the beautiful old river gums. An amazing spectical, shame about the majestic trees!" Senior Station Fire Officer in Alice Springs, John Kleeman, says fire crews would definitely have tried to put out the fires as "this is our job". The Alice News visited the site yesterday. Many of the trees in the mid-channel island have survived, although one (at right) has been utterly destroyed. Meanwhile, the buffel grass all around is greening up. If unchecked, by spraying or slashing, when it dries out it will again create the tinderbox conditions that fed this fire.
What a weekend! Art here, performance there and even more art over yonder! It started with the dance theatre production, Close To Me. Performances by a cast of people of mixed abilities from Acacia Hill School and Life Without Barriers were so beautiful I was moved to tears several times! It was amazing to see Araluen Theatre packed out by such a diverse cross section of people. And I’ve never heard such pre-show raucousness and such a fast falling hush as the lights went out.
The next night it was out to Araluen again, this time to see the beautiful group show aptly titled, Sequences and Cycles: Contemporary Ceramics from the Desert. Pip McManus’ little, insignificant men set against vast and monumentally contrasting circumstances particularly enchanted me.
Then the next night to a dinner hosted by puppets at Watch This Space. I had already had, to varying degrees, two intensely emotive visual experiences and now I was being led into a room blindfolded and sat next to people I didn’t know ...
Pictured: Earth by Pip McManus. Photo courtesy the artist and Araluen Arts Centre.
As we 'speak' there are crews of trusties from the gaol in and along the Todd River, slashing the grasses around the base of mature trees. It seems that the message has gotten through that the community wants these trees protected from fire and urgent action is required. But there are other river management issues to consider.
"With trees you can talk of death by fire, but you can also talk of death by mowing."
The debate around protection of trees in the Todd from fire has expanded to broader river management issues. For instance, why, in the stretch of the Todd between Schwarz Crescent and Wills Terrace, does there appear to be practically no regermination of the river gums? On the eastern bank of the river the natural vegetation has been utterly transformed by the planting of exotic species, mowing and irrigating. The view across the river is all but unimpeded. There are a few surviving giants in the riverbed and nothing else. If they were to be destroyed by fire, would we have succeeded in sterilising the river?
The Alice Springs News Online asked Sunil Dhanji, former project officer for Greening Australia's Todd and Charles Rivers Biodiversity Project, what he thought might be going on.
Mowing is important for knocking down bulk fuel, he said, but the crew need to identify and avoid germinants (new growth). Doing this has to be built into the crew's work program; the crew needs to understand what they are doing and why. Getting this kind of management happening depends on having a vision of what you hope to preserve and promote in the landscape. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: A tamed river , utterly transformed by the planting of exotic species, mowing and irrigating. Are we rendering it sterile? This is the east bank of the Todd between Schwarz Crescent and Wills Terrace. Photo by MIKE GILLAM.
Despite more knowledge and cooperation ...
• nearly half the Centre burned this year
• 24 cattle stations had more than 50% burn
• 3 cattle stations had more than 70% burn
• another 26 stations had 30- 50 % burn
Gone are the days when landowners had to rely on "sniffing the breeze" in fire season – yet this year nearly half of Central Australia burned.
The North Australian Fire Information website (NAFI) has completely changed what's possible, according to Lyndee Severin from Curtin Springs Station. In the narrow window of opportunity for preventive burning at Curtin Springs this year, using NAFI's live fire maps meant they could adjust their plans "on a half day basis". Mrs Severin spoke with feeling at Tuesday's fire management seminar at the Desert Knowledge Precinct, featuring a presentation by fire scientist, Grant Allan. Mrs Severin said as pastoralists they were well aware of the fire threat represented by the massive build up of vegetation following above average rains: "We absolutely knew what was goign to happen."
Mr Allan's core message was that fire is an essential component of the Central Australian landscape and has to be used as a management tool consistently. Leaving control burning until there is a large build-up of fuel can be leaving it until too late, he said.
This year almost 40% of the southern half of the NT has burned. A large proportion of that was caused by wildfire in the months August to October, as well as by control burns getting out of hand, despite the best of intentions. Maps showing the intense and relentless progress of the fires over a large swathe of country, from the Simpson in the south-east to the Tanami in the north-west, brought a shocked gasp from the seminar audience.
KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Top – The Centre burns. Photo by OLIVER ECLIPSE. Above left – Pastoralists Ashley and Lyndee Severin at the seminar. Right – Fire scientist Grant Allan .
The Australian Government's Stronger Futures legislation – essentially a further Intervention – will "sunset" after 10 years, says Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin. When its measures achieve their objective, they will not continue. An independent review will commence after seven years, with its findings to be tabled in parliament.
Progress has been made, says Ms Macklin, but "across each of the Closing the Gap targets, the gap remains the greatest for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory" and in particular "some children are still not receiving proper care, and that is completely unacceptable".
Adam Giles slams Feds giving themselves new alcohol reform powers in NT
The Australian Government will add to the ways in which it tells the Northern Territory Government what to do with new measures to tackle alcohol abuse just announced.
It's a move vehemently criticised by Shadow Minister for Central Australia, Adam Giles (pictured), who says the "Territory Labor Government has again ceded its sovereignty to the Commonwealth as a direct result of its failure to bring about improvements in living conditions on Aboriginal communities."
The NT's most recent alcohol reforms have been packaged under the banner Enough is Enough but they are clearly not enough, in the view of Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.
The Stronger Futures legislation, being introduced into the national parliament today, will give her new power to request that the NT appoint independent assessors to look into licensed venues that are contributing to significant alcohol related harm to Aboriginal people through their serving practices.
“If the independent assessors find that the venues are disproportionately contributing to alcohol related harm to Aboriginal people, the Australian Government will work with the Northern Territory Government to ensure the practices of those venues change,” she says.
Specific venues are not mentioned in the government's announcement but the so-called 'animal bars' (video below) of Alice Springs have been the subject of controversy, with strong criticism of their mode of operation aired in the national media, and would seem likely candidates for scrutiny. – Kieran Finnane
Alice Springs wants to be a player in the global tourism business but it is allowing one of its major assets to be destroyed by neglect and vandalism. Vienna has its famous Woods, New York its Central Park and Paris has the Bois du Bologne. Yet Alice's Todd River, a wild landscape in the heart of the town, is abandoned to arsonists, vandals, litter bugs and remains shut off from visitors whose major attraction it should be. KIERAN FINNANE comments.
Deliberately lit fires have exacted a heavy toll on the Todd River and its trees since the warmer weather began. It seems that we are in a brief moment of reprieve but instead of moving to the front foot, the town seems to be sitting back, waiting for the worst to happen.
We can hardly expect the destructive mindset of the arsonists to have changed all of a sudden, so why is there not a sense of urgency about doing what it takes to reduce the fuel load in the river corridor?
The action that needs to be taken is not rocket science – immediate removal of combustible material around individual trees, possibly linked with fire breaks. Every tree is precious, from the ancient giants to the more recent trees. Their protection is all part of the investment.
The Alice Springs Town Council, as trustee of the Todd and Charles Rivers, must step up to its responsibilities. Or is all this talk of connecting the town to the river, our greatest natural asset, mere lip service? – Kieran Finnane.
Pictured: Top – The aftermath of Spring fires in the Todd River, south of Tunks causeway. Right – Charred ground beneath a red gum which has shed its seed pods. By photographer and naturalist MIKE GILLAM.
In our slideshow MIKE GILLAM tells the story in 12 images.
"The Intervention’s new alcohol measures are steps, but they’re just small steps, when what we urgently need are big steps," says newly elected President of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory, Russell Goldflam.
The latest measures announced under the Intervention involve compulsory income management for people with alcohol-related problems and ministerial approval of local alcohol management plans under guidelines yet to be announced.
The "big steps" that Mr Goldflam and CLANT want are a floor price and volumetric tax. Measures such as these would have a chance of making inroads on the NT's appalling levels of domestic violence, fueled by alcohol.
"Let’s have a minimum price on grog so that nothing alcoholic is cheaper than the current price of beer. And let’s have a tax based on how much actual alcohol is in the product, to wipe out the ridiculously unfair advantage cheap and nasty cask wine producers have over all their competitors.
"Do that, and we’ll see an immediate, substantial and sustained reduction in grog-fuelled violence," says the senior Alice Springs legal aid lawyer who has represented hundreds of clients charged with assaulting their partner or other family members.