ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
July 30, 1997
DOUBTS ABOUT THE ALICE TO DARWIN RAIL PROPOSAL IRK
Uncertainty surrounding the Alice to Darwin railway proposal is
delaying some road transport investment in Alice Springs and causing
bitterness in the industry.
However, truckies say generally speaking, itÍs business as usual
for them, and theyÍre cynical about politiciansÍ promises
about the rail link.
Dean McBride, of McBride Transport, an executive member of the NT Road
Transport Association, says even if the line is built, many customers
will continue to use road transport.
"Even if the rail is heaps cheaper, road is more reliable," says Mr
He's doubtful of private investment in the line: "No-one in private
enterprise is stupid enough to back a loser, and Johnny Howard's too
smart to put money into it.
"Mr McBride says his company is "only a small wheel" yet it puts $6m a
year into the Alice economy, for wages, fuel, tyres and services.
He estimates the total value of the industry to Alice Springs at
between $50m and $60m.
Mr McBride says Barry Coulter should not be the Minister for Transport
and the Minister for the Railway at the same time, because there is a
clear conflict of interest.
"This could only happen in the Territory."
He also says the industry is kept in the dark about any progress with
the railway: "All we know is what we read in the papers."
In his view the rail proposal - and the imminent elections in South
Australia - are delaying a decision to allow "double" road trains into
Wingfield near Adelaide, although passing lanes and dual highways are
now in place all the way.
At present, the second trailer must be disconnected from the road
trains at Lochiel, some 120 km west of Adelaide.
Another local transport manager says while around 60 per cent of
freight to Alice Springs comes by rail, there has been a steady trend
back to road transport in the past two years.
"There's a swing away from rail," he says.
Prime Minister John Howard's failure to commit Federal funds to an
Alice to Darwin project, and a new proposal for a line from the eastern
seaboard via Mt Isa - bypassing The Alice - have made "everything
"ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR THROUGH THE EYES OF THOSE
WHO'RE DOING IT. Book Review by KIERAN FINNANE."
Behind each screamed exchange, each staggering drunk on our streets is
a very human story - of a man or woman with their memories, longings,
frustrations, dreams and pain.
What's more, they hate the grog and what it's doing to their lives.
In her latest book, Alice author Alexis Wright warns that the
"reconciliation" process is forcing Aboriginal people to lock inside
themselves their stories.
Wright says in her introduction to Grog War: "Constraining the sting of
the memory of a painful and shameful history will only make it grow
"All Aboriginal people need to be free to stand up without fear and to
be able to tell their own stories themselves."
Wright goes on to use her narrative gifts, powered by her passionate
desire for social justice as well as the collaboration of Julalikari
Council, many Warumungu people and other residents of Tennant Creek, to
tell the story of that town's war on grog.
The story starts before grog, with a beautiful evocation of the land
that nurtured the Warumungu before their world was turned on its head,
spearheaded by the arrival of John McDouall Stuart in 1860. Before we
meet Stuart however and proceed through the years to the present
determined campaign to beat the grog, Wright introduces us to a
fictional Warumungu couple Lucas and Devine, in a chapter that drives
home, like a long shard of glass, the focus of Grog War.
This chapter, and another later in the book revisiting the same couple,
brings to life, from the inside and with painful intensity, that
increasingly well-worn phrase "anti-social behaviour".
For all the interest of Wright's otherwise factual account, delivered
in a highly readable narrative style, her insight was to realise the
provocative power of fiction.
It could remind the reader that our present fixation on eliminating
public disturbances, unpleasant and even harrowing as they may be, is
in danger of becoming, like "reconciliation", a policy of containment,
rather than one of healing to achieve a lasting, inclusive peace.
Through Wright we meet Lucas, drunk and getting drunker, sitting in the
middle of Patterson Street, the main street in Tennant Creek.
Drivers are blasting their horns and yelling abuse as they are forced
to drive around him.
His countrymen, gathered on the footpath outside the nightclub,
occasionally back him up, while his wife Devine, also drunk, screams at
him to get off the street.
Wright tells us: "Feeling sick enough to die [Lucas] took another sip
from the ïgreen can'. Usually, if he drank all day it would be
enough to dull the pain.
"A pain which was like sledgehammers with blunt knives attached,
hammering inside his head.
"But for some reason the grog was not working today.
"And today his heart had been beating quicker and he was feeling that
he was not breathing in enough air ...
"Cars and trucks had been forced to slow down to avoid hitting either
Lucas or his dusty old ringer's hat, which he had placed with a casual
toss on the bitumen a few feet away.
He offered a toast with a curse from his ïgreen can' to those who
had got through his obstacle course, particularly if they had shown
respect for the hat.
"Why don't you at least pick up your hat?" said some bloke, a
"He spoke as if the hat was the only thing that mattered ...
"Devine was getting persistent and would not stop yelling and screaming
at him to get off the street. You're a fool. You're like an old dingo.
Stop making me feel shame and get off the street,' she hissed between
moving traffic from the edge of the footpath ...
"He was angry that she was drunk and she was bonier and more rundown
than ever and only thought of the grog the same as him."
Lucas' mind wanders back to his days as a ringer, breaking in horses
all over the Barkly, the Top End, the Channel country and far beyond
from the age of 14. He reminds his kids of how hard he worked, urging
them to get "off their butts and get themselves a job".
He remembers the referendum in 1967 which meant "he was as good as any
man", with the legal right to walk into a pub and get his own beer: "I
felt full of power."
He also remembers the equal pay decision in the 1970s: "That was it.
Round up everybody. Chuck them on the back of a truck. Then all them
pastoralists just drove everyone into town and we got dumped.
No one wanted you to ride their horses anymore."
He thinks about Devine cutting herself with broken glass just so she
can get sent to hospital, jabbing herself with a needle in front of
hospital staff, once even stabbing herself in the chest, so great was
her longing for a bed in the hospital.
He thinks about the terrible fight they had when Devine found him
"cheating on her". She hits him with a crowbar before she cuts herself,
screaming and crying "I only want to die now and be with my baby girl."
Lucas also remembers visits from government people, coming around all
the time to talk about culture, meaning, he knows, "we want you to do
corroborees for tourists".
Slim Dusty's words comfort him, because they express what he feels:
"They had my future wrapped up in a parcel and no one even thought to
Lucas' evening ends when he is hit by a panel van.
NEXT WEEK: Lucas has recovered from his injuries and he's off the grog
but it may be too late for Devine and their children.
Grog War by Alexis Wright
269 pp., paperback.
COMMENT by Editor ERWIN CHLANDA: WHERE IS THE
OPENNESS IN GOVERNMENT PLEDGED BY TERRITORY CHIEF MINISTER SHANE STONE?
Where does covering-up finish and outright lying start?
The Alice News last week followed up a tip-off about a riot in Alice
Springs' new and highly controversial gaol.
The report came from someone we had good cause to consider a reliable
We rang Correctional Services Minister Steve Hatton's office and spoke
to his press secretary, Warwick Sinclair.
The answer he gave us was that no riot had taken place, but that we
would no doubt write the story, anyway, and so why don't we leave him
We didn't publish a report but made more enquiries on Wednesday last
We again spoke to prison insiders: All of them were loath to give us
their names for fear of losing their jobs - no doubt a consequence of
the NT Government's draconian muzzling of its "public" service.
This story emerged: A number of prisoners hurled objects at prison
officers, shouted abuse at them and refused to go into their cells as a
protest over "time out of blocks", visiting arrangements and access to
telephones to receive calls from their relatives.
Several fires started.
The prison cells surround an enclosed courtyard; there are outdoor
areas where sport can be played.
The inmates' gripe was over a reduction of time they were allowed to be
outside the cells and outside the courtyard.
One of our sources says the protest was directed "at the system, not
The Alice News finds it highly likely that these reports are accurate.
We faxed this update to Mr Sinclair - no response.
Mr Hatton and his handler are making a farce of Chief Minister Shane
Stone's assurances of open government.
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