ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
April 30, 1997
MULTI MILLION DOLLAR MUSEUM PRECINCT PROPOSED
A government commissioned report leaked to the Alice News recommends a
cultural precinct incorporating a relocation and renaming of the
Spencer and Gillen Museum from its present site in the Alice Plaza.
The plan, prepared by Woodhead Firth Lee, architects of Darwin, was
commissioned by Museums and Art Galleries of the NT, and completed in
February this year.
Noting that the Spencer and Gillen's lease on the first floor of the
Alice Plaza expires in December 1998, five options are presented for
its relocation: three of these involve having the museum, renamed as
the Central Australian Museum, sited at the Araluen Centre, including
placing it in a refitted or enlarged Witchetty's, and two propose
moving it to the Strehlow Research Centre.
However the document strongly recommends "Option E," the most
expensive, which at a cost of $5.88 million would see a new facility of
2,500 square metres (a similar size to the present museum) constructed
"either as a stand-alone building or as an extension to the Araluen
At the same time, and included in the costing, the Strehlow Centre's
public display would be upgraded.
The favoured option also allows for a $3 million second stage to
"provide soft and hard landscaping and shade structures, and the
development of an astronomy viewing terrace."
The museum proposals are just part of a grand plan to create an "Alice
Springs Cultural Precinct, a world class facility to showcase the
uniqueness of Australia's arid centre, and both increase visitor
satisfaction and lengthen their time of stay in Alice Springs."
The Cultural Precinct, in addition to the relocated museum, would
include: Araluen Centre, a revamped Strehlow Research Centre, Connellan
Homestead, Memorial Pioneer Cemetery, Connellan Hangar Aviation Museum,
Bellman Hangar, Kookaburra Memorial, Alice Springs Craft Council,
McEllister Park, and a Sacred Hill (part of Arrernte and Luritja
women's dreaming) in the centre of the proposed area.
The strategy plan suggests "packaging a visit to the Cultural Precinct
as part of a tour itinerary," and identifies the recently opened
"Desert Wildlife Park as the strongest potential marketing partner."
Forecasting 177,000 visitors to the Desert Wildlife Park in its first
year, the document estimates if "one out of two of them can be enticed
to visit the Museum as part of the trip, then a target of 80,000
visitors is readily achieved."
But this forecast is qualified with: "Naturally this will require a
skilled and market driven management, and adequate funding to achieve
As the plan points out: "If tourists can be encouraged to stay just one
extra night each in Alice Springs, some $40 million recurrent
expenditure will be generated for the local economy."
The driving reason behind the strategy plan is given as: "The declining
length of stay for visitors to Alice Springs is cause for concern both
to local businesses and to NT interests in general."
The plan contains some interesting figures on tourism in Central
Australia: 619,000 visitors came to the Centre in 1995/96 and on
average stayed three to four nights, spending a total of $286 million
or around $462 each.
Of these visitors, 86 per cent used commercial accommodation with half
of them staying in hotels and motels, and one third lodging in caravan
In the same 12 month period the Spencer and Gillen Museum attracted
27,000 visitors, Strehlow Research Centre 29,000, and Araluen Centre
Quoting visitor surveys,the plan also lists some of the things tourists
want and expect.
Most wanted was visitor information (32 per cent of respondents),
followed by Aboriginal culture (27 per cent).
The report says: "People want to interact with Aboriginal people and
culture in a meaningful, genuine way. They want to hear Aboriginal
people tell Aboriginal stories."
The survey showed visitors would be prepared to pay for these kinds
experiences, and "the smaller the group, the better."
Yet nowhere in the recommendations for the Cultural Precinct are there
details for providing interaction with Aboriginal people and culture,
apart from displays of Aboriginal art.
A vague sentence states the Precinct, "should be interactive and themed
around Aboriginal culture," but offers no recommendations about how
this might be done.
In fact many aspects of the strategy plan seem heavy with hype and
It refers constantly to "tourism product," speaks of "opportunities to
ïedutain' (presumably a combination of educate and entertain?)
with hands on."
The major consideration for marketing tactics, according to the report
"is the development of a ïmust see icon' where the sum of the
whole will become greater than the parts."
Of course the NT government may decide on another course altogether,
one not mentioned in the strategy plan, but with ample precedent
nevertheless: the "do nothing" option.
ILLEGAL SCAVENGING SPARKS ROW OVER DUMP MANAGEMENT
Last week's hoo-ha over scavenging at the town council rubbish dump was
rich in ironies.
The alderman most vocal about the illegal activity, Geoff Harris, when
he was the coordinator of the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), had
played a role in stopping the construction of a council recycling
That scheme may have gone a long way towards providing the kind of
cheap or free goods scavengers are now looking for.
The scavengers appear to be mainly Aborigines from the Little Sisters
camp, near the north-eastern edge of the dump.
They had stifled the council's recycling scheme at every turn through
two of their key organisations, Tangen-tyere Council and the Aboriginal
Areas Protection Authority.
Tangentyere has an ongoing publicly funded program to discourage
scavenging and highlight its health risks.
Yet on Wednesday last week, when I observed some 15 adults and children
rummaging through the refuse just after the dump had closed for the
day, among them was a woman who told me she's a member of the
To lend force to her displeasure about my presence she picked up a
large rock and threatened to smash my television camera and my mobile
The issue came to a head when the dump contractor, Environmental Waste
Management (EWM), failed to cover the tip face with soil, as the
company is required to do every day.
EWM managing director Colin Davies says the work couldn't be completed
because a loader had broken down.
Mr Davies says during routine maintenance of a Caterpillar 950 Loader
it was discovered that the machine's turbo charger housing was cracked,
emitting sparks that could have set the dump alight.
A replacement part could not be obtained immediately because workers at
Caterpillar in Melbourne were on strike.
EWM then tried to obtain the part from Singapore which in turn had to
order it from the United States.
In the meantime, a second-hand part was found and the machine was
mobile again on Thursday last week.
Mr Davies says the options included closing the dump, at great
inconvenience to the public, but this was not considered necessary, as
dump staff won't allow scavenging during normal dump hours.
"It still goes on despite our attempts to stop it," he says
Mr Davies says his company can't be responsible for "trespassers"
entering the dump outside these hours.
He says his company complied with the contract specifications, and kept
the council's senior engineering staff informed about the break-down.
He says he's asked the council several times to fence the area, but it
remains freely accessible from the north and the east.
The scavengers clearly follow a set routine: I saw them last Wednesday
entering the area from the direction of the Little Sisters camp a few
minutes after the compacting machine had been shut down at 5.30 pm.
The scavengers then scaled the tip face, picking up discarded household
items and clothing.
The woman from the Little Sisters camp I spoke to later said they had
not picked up food.
Mr Davies says the tip face is covered with a layer of soil, about 15
cm thick, each late afternoon unless unforeseeable circumstances
These include mechanical break-downs, which are rare; heavy rain which
makes truck access to the soil pits impossible; when scavengers attack
dump staff, or refuse to move from the tip face; or when the skilled
operator is unavailable because of injury or illness.
Mr Davies says two dump staff had been injured and several vehicle
windows broken when scavengers pelted them with rocks.
"We don't confront attacking scavengers," says Mr Davies. "We simply
Town council deputy engineer Eugene Barry, who's in charge of
supervising the tip management, says there are about 100 clauses in the
contract with EWM.
Their enforcement is a matter of balancing good management of the
facility and convenience for the public against the need to be flexible
in the case of unforeseeable events and, especially, to keep costs to
the ratepayers low.
Mr Barry says the EWM tender, at $392,000 a year, was by far the lowest
of the six submitted.
The second-lowest was $443,000 and the highest, $735,000.
The dump contract with EWM was renewed in 1992 and EWM now has the
option of seeking a two year extension, at the tendered price, from
April next year, with a CPI indexed escalation clause.
Mr Barry says he reported to the council's works and parks committee
that in a contract of this nature, there's a likelihood of lapses from
time to time.
These are rare, and any problems brought to his attention "have always
been remedied by sensible application of the contract specifications".
He says the required rubbish compaction rates have consistently been
The ill-fated recycling project, by contrast, appears to be a case
study of procrastination, disunity and intrigue.
Recycling must rank high among the most studied subjects in town: Mr
Barry says the council has several reports in its archive.
While around Australia, sophisticated management of waste has been a
fact of life for years, in Alice Springs yet another report is being
prepared at the moment, at a cost to the ratepayers of $7000, under the
auspices of the newest recycling committee, headed by Ald Sue Jefford.
Recycling was mooted as an "optional extra" when the dump contract was
awarded to EWM in 1992.
The plan was for a depot at the eastern end of the dump, just across
the railway line.
Locals on their "dump run" would enter via a sealed road, drop off in
designated areas anything from bottles, cans, clothes, firewood to
building materials, and then proceed to the tip to get rid of anything
that can't be recycled.
EWM offered to construct and maintain the "depot" at a cost of a
$17,880 a year over five years (a total capital cost of $125,160,
A separate operator would be found to run the depot.
Acquisition and rezoning of 7.9 hectares of land was put in motion
although only about one hectare - adjacent to Commonage Road - was
needed for the depot.
Mr Barry says the council had every chance of getting a $200,000 grant
from the NT Government as an identical amount had been granted to the
Darwin council for its recycling effort.
The Conservation Commission was asked to advise, and after some
revision of the plans, its Rob Curtis, on behalf of the Director of
Conservation, wrote to the council on September 30, 1993: "The current
design should work effectively and is supported by the Commission."
However, just two months later, according to a council summary, the
commission's local representative opposed the project "despite previous
approval from Darwin office", according to Mr Barry.
Such back flips became a common feature of the planning process: The
Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) gave consent in October
1993 and withdrew it a month later.
AAPA and Tangentyere Council opposed the rezoning application.
The council summary of the events notes: "Appears to be collusion
between various parties."
Tangentyere's objection was supported by residents of the Little
Sisters town lease - the very camp from which the majority of the
present illegal scavengers seem to be coming.
[Tangentyere did not respond to an invitation from the Alice News to
While Ald Harris is now vocal about the dangers of illicit scavenging,
as the co-ordinator of ALEC he expressed support for recycling in
principle, but expressed strong reservations about the plans for the
depot, which was later scrapped.
He wrote to the council on behalf of ALEC on October 11, 1993, that
while ALEC "supports the council's determination to build a recycling
centre ... there appear to be a number of flaws".
Mr Harris called for the formation of a committee with "representation
from a broad cross section of the community" and for the formulation of
a "waste minimisation and recycling plan".
Ald Harris says: "As the above quote shows, ALEC at the time supported
a recycling centre for Alice Springs but pointed out that elements of
the proposal were flawed.
"I don't see how any reasonable person could interpret that as Geoff
Harris or ALEC being responsible for thwarting the construction of the
recycling depot." Ald Harris pointed out that on April 27, 1995, the
council passed a resolution to discontinue the recycling depot project
"in view of the relatively high level of recycling currently taking
place in Alice Springs and at the dump".
Ald Harris says the Lands Minister gave rezoning approval for the depot
site on May 4, 1995.
ALEC, still under Mr Harris' management, received a $30,000 Federal
grant early in 1994 to "study waste and work on formulating a recycling
strategy", according to a newspaper report.
Today - three years down the track - results of that study are still
not known, according to Mr Barry.
Ald Harris says: "ALEC ran the mulching and firewood trial at the tip
and so far as I know, the council has been given a report."
Although the depot was scrapped, EWM had carried out extensive works to
allow for an easterly entrance to the dump - taking account of the
planned depot - and submitted a claim for $180,000 to compensate for
the extra work.
The council and EWM later settled for $53,000.
Alice Springs still does not have a comprehensive recycling facility.
A depot - for glass and cans - near the top of the entrance road has
been in operation for some time, but since the closure of Simsmetal,
these materials cannot be processed, and are currently being dumped at
the tip face.
A new operator is in the throes of expanding that recycling depot, but
Mr Davies says if the current illegal scavenging controversy continues,
EWM's new "basic recycling" partner may well be getting cold feet.
LABOR LEADER WANTS FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LAWS
Territory Labor Leader Maggie Hickey has introduced Freedom of
Information (FOI) legislation into the NT Legislative Assembly.
Calling for CLP support for the Bill, Mrs Hickey says the legislation
would "give every Territorian the opportunity to find out what
information the government is keeping on them."
She says: "We believe the public interest is served by promoting open
discussion of public affairs, and the community should be kept informed
of government's operations. Members of the community should have access
to information held by government on their personal affairs."
Mrs Hickey acknowledges there will always be some bounds "with regard
to disclosure of confidential information that would have the effect of
being prejudicial on things like essential public interest or the
private or business affairs of members of the community."
Freedom of Information legislation, she says "applies just about
everywhere else in the country.
"Even those states that don't have it are moving in that direction.
"Former Chief Minister, Marshall Perron, said he would introduce it,
then backed away from that position, and certainly since Shane Stone's
been in place I think the veil of secrecy has thickened."
For the average Territorian, Mrs Hickey says her new legislation, if
passed, "would allow access to things such as medical records,
information that police might be holding on them, and of course the
sort of details that Labor has been seeking in regard to some police
"We finally got the information we wanted on one police inquiry from
the Federal Government, yet Shane Stone said all hell would break loose
if he didn't also get a copy of that information, but when we asked for
the NT Police report into the same matter we were met with a blank
ïno.' "Of course there's no FOI to compel either the Chief
Minister or the department to release any information."
Mrs Hickey feels sure the government will oppose her legislation, "but
if they do you've got to ask yourself what is it they've got to hide?"
The FOI legislation should come up for debate in the Assembly next
General Business day, some time in October.
POLICE WIN SOME, LOSE SOME ON ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
What police gain on the swings they frequently lose on the roundabouts
in their fight against local crime, according to media spokesman, Sgt
"We push people away from one type of offence and they'll drift to
another," he says.
Offences in the central business district dropped sharply when for two
weeks in March, six Task Force officers from Darwin patrolled the area
in tandem with six local officers.
But while there's been a decrease in "break and enters", anti-social
behaviour is now on the rise.
Sgt Elferink says there is a rapid increase in petrol sniffing in Alice
Springs, and associated with it many cases of interfering with motor
vehicles, mainly their petrol caps and locks.
Police are now focussing on catching the ringleaders.
Many of the offenders are juveniles who tend to congregate in groups in
and around the town centre and the Todd River.
Sgt Elferink says that policing these juveniles requires a
"multi-agency approach", with input from the judicial system, health
organisations, welfare agencies and local community groups.
Meanwhile police numbers will be bolstered in July this year, following
the induction of at least 16 local residents to a Police Auxiliary
Training Course starting next month.
Several local police auxiliaries have recently resigned: 13 of the 20
local positions for auxiliaries are currently unfilled.
Sgt Elferink says auxiliaries perform a vital "non operational" role,
from staffing the front office to communication and clerical duties.
Officers have had to be taken off the beat to do the work of
auxiliaries who have left.
Alice Springs has 110 police positions and is currently seven
constables under strength.
Acting Superintendent Mark Payne says: "Police in Alice Springs are
looking forward to an increase in recruitment of local people.
"We're looking for Alice Springs people to join the force.
"Additional policing resources means more police on patrol and engaging
in strategic operations directed at reducing anti-social behaviour,"
says Supt Payne.
The "establishment" number of police in Alice Springs per head of
population is roughly three times the national average.
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