Anti-social behaviour outside Memo Club is no longer a significant issue since police have "proactively engaged with management to ensure compliance with security and licensing requirements," says police spokesman Simon Eldridge. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.
Far from addressing matters to do with the recent activities of Geoff Booth, the only question from the public put to councillors last Monday was about how council could address “the underlying causes of poverty and disadvantage in our community”. The questioner said it would be a “win-win” way of tackling anti-social behaviour and wanted to know what vision Councillor Jade Kudrenko (pictured) had for council’s role. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
While he was "really impressed" with the many "community harmony" initiatives taken in Port Augusta, and with their apparent success reflected in the town's general appearance and atmosphere, the consultant reporting back to the Alice Springs Town Council was at pains to point out the "very significant" differences between the two towns.
Alice has twice the population, said Craig Wilson of Craig Wilson Consultancy, formerly an employee of the Alice council, now based in Mt Gambier.
Port Augusta has only one Aboriginal community on its periphery, Davenport, in contrast to Alice's 18 town camps.
Davenport, which is not a dry zone, has a population of around 200, compared with the 2000 to 3000 living in Alice's camps.
Around 1300 people from outlying areas use Port Augusta as their regional hub, as opposed to the 11,000 to 12,000 for whom Alice is the regional centre, said Mr Wilson.
Key among the initiatives have been the Port Augusta Aboriginal Community Engagement Group and the City Safe Program. The engagement group's enquiries into budgets and outcomes of various government departments and agencies were initially seen as "threatening" but are now well accepted. City Safe is in the hands of a private contractor whose personal qualities seem to account for a good deal of his success. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
PICTURE: Port Augusta's ACEG in session. From left – Khatija Thomas Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, Aaron Stuart, Katy Burns, Alwyn McKenzie and Corey McKenzie.
Under the no-holds-barred Mayor Joy Baluch, the Port Augusta council drives the local state and federal agencies, not the other way round. They are held to account in monthly meetings. This has gone a long way towards a solution of what was a near-terminal anti-social behavior and alcohol crisis. Could it be the template for the councillors and Mayor taking the reins in Alice Springs on Monday? ERWIN CHLANDA reports.
"Port Augusta is alcohol free. You cannot drink in a public square. If you want to drink you go home, to a pub or a club. You will not drink in the streets and you will not sit on the beach and consume alcohol.
"And you will not create havoc and unsocial behaviour. You piss off back to Alice Springs to the Todd River. That's where you go because in Port Augusta, City Council rules and regulations must be complied with."
What about people who contravene that regulation?
"They are dealt with appropriately, are put on a bus and sent somewhere else."
Who puts them on the bus?
"Our Safety Officer does."
And that person plays a very major role in the town.
Nancy Joy Baluch – her friends call her Joy – doesn't mince words. She has served as the Mayor of Port Augusta from 1981 to 1993 and from 1995 till now. That she's battling cancer wasn't at all evident in our telephone conversation yesterday.
"In 1981 we had a town square. It would have drunken whites, drunken blacks, fornicating in public, in the presence of tourist buses," she says.
"Our tourist trade went down to zero. Port Augusta became a place not to be seen in.
"Today we are a tourist destination. We have turned our image around.
"People who lived here some 30 years ago, are just overwhelmed by the transformation."
But don't expect results overnight, says the feisty Mayor.
PHOTOS: Top – Once a dirty recess, a haven for vagrants and drinkers, the beach and foreshore are now the town's playground. Above right – Mayor Baluch. Photos courtesy Port Augusta City Council (the Mayor) and The Transcontinental Port Augusta (aerial shot).
When the aldermen and Mayor Damien Ryan now seeking re-election, were standing for council in 2008, law and order and alcohol regulation were at the top of the local agenda and there they've pretty much stayed for the four years since. What's new is the dramatic decline of the Alice Springs town centre. Two weeks ago I suggested it might be a "shuddering readjustment"; now it is starting to feel like a nose-dive, with the voluntary administration of the Memo Club and the closure of the Town & Country Tavern made public knowledge on the one day.
The picture is one of a town centre being abandoned, even while we talk about its rejuvenation or revitalisation. The term may soon have to be resurrection.
KIERAN FINNANE looks at where we were four years ago and where we have got to now.
Pictured: Alice Springs closed for business? The southern end of Todd Mall around 6.15pm last night. Dead as a doornail.
People do still fall in love with Alice Springs. Amidst much gloomy talk, it's good to be reminded of that. It happened to Edan Baxter when he arrived here five years ago and his ardour is undiminished.
He still sees at the forefront all the things that have built the town's mystique – the fantastic mix of people, from around the country and the world, alongside Aboriginal people, the presence of their ancient culture, the closeness of pioneering history, burgeoning creativity, stunning natural environment.
But many decisions are made that limit the "amazing potential" of all this, he says, and this is what has prompted him to nominate as a candidate in the coming Town Council elections.
At 32 years old, he's pitching himself as a "younger, fresher voice" but his emphasis is on the long-term. He sees the focus of public debate on "the issues of the day" – such as young people on the streets at night and anti-social behaviour – as something of a dead end. KIERAN FINNANE profiles this Town Council candidate.
Owners of the Alice Plaza would welcome the re-introduction of traffic to the northern end of Todd Mall. Their representative, Tony Bruno, says they have always believed that the mall was too long and that traffic and some convenient, short-term parking would help bring life back to the northern end.
If that were to happen, would the Plaza consider re-orienting its business towards the street?
"Anything's possible," says Mr Bruno. "If the landscape changes that could be looked at."
UPDATE, posted October 7, 2011, 9.40am : Steve Thorne, of Design Urban Pty Ltd, who headed up the design team behind the proposals for revitalising Todd Mall, is "hugely encouraged" by the responses of Alice Plaza interests. "Unless there is a response from retailers and other businesses adjacent to the mall, it is not worth spending millions on bringing traffic back in." Revitalisation can't be done "half-heartedly", he says. "There's got to be a dramatic change in the environment. The mall has suffered 'death by 1000 cuts', through a lack of transparency, activity, vibrancy. "Without those things then what you get is the anti-social behaviour that people don't want."
While Mr Thorne's role in the CBD project has finished for the time being, he has been engaged by the NT Government to chair its Urban Design Advisory Panel and will be keeping a watching brief on what happens in Alice.
Pictured: Top – Musicworld with its back turned to Todd Mall. At left – Could this lively frontage, inside the shopping centre, face the Mall? KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Report figures on the proportion of Aboriginal people expected in Alice by 2030 "way, way off". Researcher now says she got it wrong.
"Rest easy, the public servants are onto it. But if you've got any (cost free) new ideas, let us know."
This was essentially the message from Tuesday's feedback forum on the Alice Springs Community Action Plan. The fact that the forum did not cover new ground or open up a space for new insights, directions and initiatives would have given comfort to the boycotters (see separate report), although Alderman Eli Melky did attend.
First up, consultant Jane Munday summarised the report she had compiled, "intended as the first stage in developing" the action plan. This is described as a "research report", commissioned by the Department of the Chief Minister. Ms Munday is experienced and well-qualified in public relations and marketing. Her report is essentially about a number of consultation exercises she conducted; its "research" is not of the probing kind. For instance, she repeats what is frequently heard in public fora, that "the proportion of Aboriginal residents (now 21%) is expected to increase to about 45% by 2030". She sources the figure to a presentation at the Kilgarrif forum by the Department of Lands and Planning.
Such an increase would be huge, a radical change to the demography of the town and with potentially far-reaching implications, but it is "way, way off" according to Dean Carson, Professor for Rural and Remote Research at Flinders University. Ms Munday has provided a comprehensive reply which appears at the end of the full story. KIERAN FINNANE reports. Photos: The crowd thins as boredom sets in. NT Police's Assistant Commissioner for Regional Operations, Mark Payne.