ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
October 29, 1997
WHO'S AFTER THE OLD GAOL LAND?
Report by ERWIN CHLANDA
The need to expand the public hospital and possibly to build a private
one are the main reasons for the Cabinet decision last week to demolish
the historic Alice Springs gaol, according to the Minister Responsible
for Central Australia, Araluen MLA Eric Poole.
However, hospital board chairman Hermann Weber says just the vacant
area at the southern end of the prison block, outside the walls, has
been applied for by the hospital for its expansion.
"That would at least alleviate our short term needs," Mr Weber says.
"We knew we couldn't touch the old gaol."
The government's move has sparked wide-spread anger in the town from
groups wanting the complex for tourism information, arts and business
purposes, including setting up a badly needed bus terminal.
The groups say they will go all out to stop the decision and are
calling for a moratorium on the demolition.
Spokesperson for a loose coalition of objectors, Alderman Fran Erlich,
says most parts of the gaol were heritage listed as part of the Alice
heritage precinct in 1993.
Ald Erlich says Heritage Minister Mick Palmer, who announced the
decision, has not sought the advice of the Heritage Advisory Council,
and while he's free to act against its recommendations, it is "highly
unusual" for a Minister to have done so.
Ald Erlich says the Cabinet had gone ahead without any public
Mr Weber says the government canvassed all its departments late last
year or early this year to see if any of them wanted the site.
"Ours was the only department that put in a bid," says Mr Weber.
Mr Poole did not disclose details of any bids for a private hospital.
Mr Weber, who was involved in an earlier proposal for a private
hospital, says these plans were abandoned when builder Peter Sitzler
passed away some years ago.
Meanwhile Domenico Pecorari, a heritage architect appointed by the
Heritage Advisory Council for Central Australia, describes as "highly
suspect" assertions by Mr Poole [see interview below, editorial page 6]
and MacDonnell MLA John Elferink that the buildings are structurally
"That's a prison, for God's sake, which by nature has to be pretty
"Is the government saying they were keeping prisoners in an unsound
building as recently as six months ago?
"No evidence that I know of has been produced to say that the buildings
are unsound," says Mr Pecorari, who describes the old prison as "one of
the jewels in the crown of the heritage precinct".
He says: "Someone must be clutching at straws to justify the demolition
He hopes to be conducting an inspection in the near future.
MacDonnell MLA John Elferink says he supports the Cabinet decision
because it will allow for a "more responsible" use of the land.
"I can't really see any buildings there worth preserving," he says.
Although the maximum security section may be "significant" it isn't
worth preserving because there is one in Darwin.
"No building is worth preserving because it is old," says Mr Elferink,
"and the construction of an extension to the hospital would create
Meanwhile Ald Erlich says opponents to the gaol's demolition will raise
the controversy at an arts conference and at a meeting of the Heritage
Advisory Council, both in Alice Springs this week; hold a rally on
Friday; will lobby MLAs; start a letter campaign; go on talk-back radio
and display posters.
Ald Erlich says representations will be made to the acting Minister,
Daryl Manzie, due in town this week.
Ald Erlich says apart from CLP politicians she hasn't spoken to anyone
who thought the demolition of the historic complex was a good idea.
"I haven't heard of anyone who thought they were doing the right
thing," says Ald Erlich.
'YOU DO NOT VOTE IN FAVOUR OR NOT OF SOMETHING IN
ERWIN CHLANDA speaks with Central Australian Minister Eric Poole
News: Where do you stand on the demolition of the old gaol?
Poole: There is nowhere for the hospital to expand. We are going to
need increased accommodation for nurses. I'm sure within the next five
years we'll have a private hospital. Where are you going to put it?
News: Is it a private hospital or the public one that needs the land?
Poole: It will be a combination of both. You'll never see a stand-alone
private hospital in Alice Springs. It will need to utilise some of the
services of the public hospital, as is the case in Darwin.
News: So, it's a private hospital that will need the land?
Poole: I don't think we've reached that stage yet, but I think it's
just too valuable a block of land to pass up.
News: Would it not be valuable as a tourist attraction?
Poole: You've got some complications there. For example, the kitchen
area is condemned. The floor is rotten. Much of the electric wiring
needs replacement. It's incredibly expensive. That's why we built the
new gaol. One of the things people may wish to keep are the tin sheds.
Someone said to me years ago that the tin sheds are the only [example]
of prison accommodation of its style in Australia.
News: They will stay?
Poole: No, the whole lot will end up going. We've basically made a
decision that the site should be cleared.
News: Did you vote in favour of it?
Poole: You don't vote in favour or not of something in Cabinet. I'm
part of the Cabinet decision. When Cabinet makes a decision it's a
decision of Cabinet.
News: There's a lot of community support for using the building for a
variety of things, such as an information centre, an arts centre, bus
Poole: And I think all those things are worthy. At the end of the day,
though, the majority of organisations that have expressed an interest
would not be in a position to pay a commercial rent.
News: What would be a commercial rent?
Poole: It would be expensive, because of the very nature of the
buildings. A couple of the areas are basically cells. I mean, what do
you do with a cell?
News: There seem to be lots of ideas.
Poole: They're pretty small areas to make something viable out of.
SMALL BUSINESS IN THE CENTRE: WOES AND JOYS
Report by GRETTA SCADDING
Transport costs, lack of competent staff and NT government disinterest
are constant obstacles for small business in Alice Springs.
Sally Anne Herlaar, from Desert Dwellers, has to rely on transported
foam for the swags her family business designed and manufactures,
increasingly for export Australia-wide and overseas.
Each piece measures two square metres: the cost of transport means the
swags cost $60 more in Darwin, for instance.
"We also have to buy in large bulk so there tends to be more wastage of
material in the end," says Mrs Herlaar.
"There should be some sort of subsidy to make life easier for the small
"The tourism industry brings huge amounts of money into the town. Some
of those profits should be used for this.
"Subsidies would enable us to be more competitive with other businesses
"People are always putting their hands out to us for sponsorships and
donations, when the small business is a cause in itself."
Mrs Herlaar believes that small businesses hold the town together.
"This sector employs more people than the public service," she says.
"Yet too much is spent on purposes which don't generate income nor help
the town to survive."
Rosario and Antonio Food Processing started trading 15 months ago.
The Alicastro and Iacobini families, who produce, process and preserve
sun dried vegetables, have found they have to do a lot of forward
planning to succeed.
"It takes seven days for the supply to get to Queensland, so we have to
make sure we have sufficient stock," says Carol Alicastro.
John King, of King's Furnishers and Bedshed, does not see freight costs
as an unfair disadvantage.
"A lounge suite which sells in Adelaide for $999 costs $1100 in Alice.
"We've learned to live with it. I do not expect government hand-outs
"As employers, we opened the business here, we knew the situation, knew
the pitfalls. You have to adapt.
"We have been successful in dealing with the problems of isolation and
have managed to get the better of these to the best of our ability.
"Most people who live here accept they have to pay freight.
"Very few object. It's part of life."
Some small businesses say a more serious problem than freight costs is
a shortage of staff.
Mrs Herlaar finds it near impossible to get upholsterers, motor
trimmers and industrial textile fabricators.
"There is a lack of training but more of an effort has to be made in
encouraging people here.
"There are seven people employed in this company. We should be working
on a staffing of 12 or 13.
"We have our own training scheme, but waste money on trainees who, on
average, leave three to four months after training.
"Only two of us have been here for the eight and a half years we've
If we only had more staff we could turn over more and make healthier
"However, the cost of living is too high.
"We need to put the rents down, to make people more inclined to work
"You pay around $240 for a house compared to $140 in other states.
"Many trainees I've had on contract, leave after their training because
of such costs."
Apprentices are disadvantaged in Alice Springs because they often have
to go to Darwin or interstate for the "theory" part of their training.
Gary Lambert, a spokesman for the Minister of Training, Peter Adamson,
said he was aware of this problem, but that improving training in
remote areas proves too expensive.
"We would love to create more accessible off the job training in such
areas as Alice, but is it an economical use of public funds to set up
an entire scheme to train one person?
"The problem is a thin market in Alice. There are not enough
apprentices on the ground to justify a full program.
"Our role is to make sure our trainees are contracted out through the
NTETA (Northern Territory Education and Training Association) and stay
in that location for that period of time.
"We cannot take responsibility for what happens after that. Alice has
to make itself attractive enough for people to stay."
Mrs Herlaar believes that employing young non-Aboriginals is far more
unstable than employing Aboriginals.
"Aboriginals often take a little longer to train but they are more
likely to stay in their home-town than all these other transients."
Some businesses in this sector do actually believe that being based in
Alice benefits their trade.
"Though we have to fly some of our perishable products out which is
very costly, the benefits still outweigh the costs for us," says Mrs
"People don't mind waiting a little longer for a quality product.
"It also helps to do your marketing. We have done trade shows in
Queensland and South Australia.
"People believe that our product grows in a pollution free environment
out here, and are impressed by the superior colour of our sun dried
"Because of the extra sun we get, we can produce two crops a year
compared to one crop for interstate growers.
"We've just planted 400 olive trees on trial and they are coming on
"Our motto is 'The taste of Italy made in Australia.'
"Alice is not as far from Sydney as the traditional producers of our
products, Italy, Portugal and Turkey.
"We see ourselves as an import replacement company.
"Thankfully, Australians are extra keen to buy Australian made goods."
Others trade in Alice because they cannot bear to leave.
"I would be making greater profits somewhere else but I can't leave
because I love the place," says Mrs Herlaar.
Technology, especially the Internet, makes isolation less of an issue.
Mrs Herlaar has an e-mail address but not a website as yet.
"It will probably save us money on phone-calls and administration," she
says, "and should improve sales overseas.
"The biggest relief will be if we can successfully advertise for staff
on the Internet.
We hope to have a website running in the next six months."
Some are too busy for the Internet.
Says Mrs Alicastro: "We haven't had time to think about it. All major
restaurants and supermarkets in the Alice stock our goods and our
product has found its way on to the shelves of 60 Coles and Woolworths
around Australia in just 12 months."
The tourism and hospitality industry, including the Ayers Rock Resort,
has brought extra income for some secondary industries, but not all.
Says Mr King: "We don't get as much work from Ayers Rock as we'd like
but we are continually offering our product to the best of our ability.
"We supply carpets, curtains, blinds and bedding.
"I know a lot are unhappy with the situation but some suppliers from
Alice took the work for granted and incurred the wrath of these people
[at the resort]."
Rosario and Antonio Food Processing hope their success will encourage
others to give secondary industry a go.
"It has been good that we have bought our food processing technology
and expertise to Alice Springs," says Mrs Alicastro, "and we've
employed 12 people."
"We are hoping to go into the bush tucker market, as well as preserve
all those wasted mangoes thrown out by companies such as the NT Mango
We're even looking to work with the Alice's cattle industry and
butchers to preserve meat and produce Alice Springs' own dog food.
And what do The Centre's successful industrialists advise?
Says Mrs Alicastro: "Anyone with an idea should make use of the
expertise in government departments: "The NT Government has been more
The Department of Asian Relations, Trade and Industry in particular
gave us a lot of their time in research, advice and finding markets for
Says Mr King: "People forget that it is only a town of 25,000 and that
we are very lucky to have the facilities and infrastructure we have.
"When they come here people should come with the right attitude that
they are in the Centre of Australia, and work with what they've got."
MUSLIMS IN ALICE SPRINGS: THE HIDDEN PEOPLE
Part Two of a report by GRETTA SCADDING
If people are aware of Alice's Muslims at all, they often think of them
as the stereotypical fanatical brainwashers.
This is the experience of converts to the faith, such as Abdullah Ali,
who finds that people expect him "to pull an AK47 on them".
However, those who were born and bred here, descendants of Afghan
families, meet different responses, found reporter GRETTA SCADDING in
this second part of her report.
Meride Satour estimates that her
extended family numbers about 150 in all, a community in itself!
"We don't need anyone else, but I don't like the fact that we are a
hidden community," says Meride.
Many Muslims, both Afghan descendants and immigrants, feel lucky to
Says Rachel Warner, whose grandfather was an Afghan cameleer: "I would
not like to go back to Afghanistan at the moment, considering what's
going on there.
"Women there don't have such a good deal.
"I'm lucky to be treated as an equal, and here in Alice Springs if I
want to do anything, I do it."
However, there are some, such as Abdul Khan, a respected leader at the
local mosque and a lecturer in mathematics at Centralian College, who
miss the history and cultural background of their home country.
Mr Khan is due to visit Peshawar, in northern Pakistan later this year,
a city with a strong Afghan community.
Today's Afghans in The Alice are not complaining of racism, but there
are isolated nasty events.
Meride says her niece was taunted on her way to the mosque.
"She was wearing a scarf and long gown.
"She is only nine and it is not healthy to be subjected to that. We are
proud of who we are. Why should we suffer this?
"I feel people only fear or make fun of what they don't know enough
It is no coincidence that the local Afghans are closely bonded to
Aboriginal people, often through inter-marriage.
Says Meride: "We associated more with the Aborigines, because they were
outcasts like us.
"You will find many Aborigines with Afghan surnames.
"They took these on when working for the camel drivers.
"Aborigines were treated like people by the Afghans."
Mr Khan believes the community has a big role to play in educating
Aborigines about alcohol: "We have quite a few Aboriginal Muslims, and
we make them aware that drinking is not part of the Islamic way of
"I don't preach to them though, it's up to them to change."
For those who don't drink alcohol, being a devout Muslim can put a
strain on social relations.
Says Abdullah: "There is certain alienation if you don't drink alcohol,
as this town's social activity revolves around drinking.
"You are sometimes accused of being a bit of a square or a social
"After a while I have managed to gain respect in some cases.
"It's hard work though!"
The community also feels there should be more respect for their
"The only thing associated with the Afghans is the Ghan train," says
Meride, "and that memorial outside the council building.
"No one thinks about what it means.
It makes me annoyed when you think
of what the old Ghans went through and what they suffered ... what they
stand for today means zilch.
"They had to go away sometimes for 12 months at a time, without seeing
"No Ghan was ever lazy. Though they worked so hard, they
were put out of jobs and given no help.
"We need younger generations to feel proud of who and what we are."
Mr Khan agrees: "These people had a low level of education but in spite
of all that, their contribution was very significant.
"The government has acknowledged that to a certain extent.
Sadadeen Primary school.
That was given an Arabic name.
"The house system there and trees in the grounds are named after
"Visitors should be able to see this history of the town,
"This is a tourist town, and should exhibit some sort of obvious
memorial in or near the Mall."
Rachel believes there should be more information in tourist brochures.
"Look at how exposed Aboriginal culture and history is," she says.
Meride also believes Alice Springs could have given more help with the
The Muslims had once been given land to build on, but had no source of
The land was taken away by the government a long time ago.
In 1990 Mr Khan applied to the government for land which finally was
allotted to them in 1991, and the mosque was opened in November 1992.
"We did not have enough help with the mosque. That is the least thing
they could have done," says Meride.
"My father helped lobby for it. We
had to fund-raise to provide a lot of money to build, service and run
"This involved a lot of door-knocking and taking money from other
"I think a memorial fund could have been set up for this purpose.
"We also need a bus so more people can get out to the mosque," she
"It is difficult for some. We still do fund-raising ourselves but
it is never enough.
"We would like to purchase a plaque for the wall at the mosque."
Muslims keep in touch through an interstate newspaper and 330 societies
across Australia, and Mr Khan is about to publish a newsletter
especially for Alice Springs.
It's a different story outside the
Says Abdullah: "I know there are people in Alice Springs who don't even
know the mosque is there.
"It should be more than just a mystical ornament to most people."
Rachel would like more exposure through documentaries and literature.
"SBS did a documentary about second and third generation Muslims who
get into trouble and can't get jobs in Australia.
"It reminded me of us when we were younger.
Your parents still follow
the religion but you get lost in the system.
"Also, at the recent International Woman's Day in Alice Springs, there
were no other Muslim women present. We are still hidden," she says.
Says Mr Khan: "We want to have a small library attached to the mosque,
and a museum section where we can keep souvenirs and memorabilia of the
early Afghan families.
"We would be delighted for such contributions. I would like to see that
this becomes a place where people come to visit, to see what the
"We're planning to have an open day so people can come here and see
what the Islam community is all about, find out more about our
practices and read our literature.
"We can have a cup of tea, food and some sweet things.
"This will hopefully happen in the first week of November."
Says Meride: "As the old saying goes, ignorance breeds contempt,
whereas knowledge can enrich our lives."
The mosque is open on weekends, and prayer is from 12.30 to 1.15 pm on
Everyone is welcome. Interested people can contact Mr Khan on 89
WATCH THIS SPACE - DISAPPEAR?
Report by KIERAN FINNANE
Watch This Space, Alice Springs' first and only artist-run exhibition
space, is more than its bricks and mortar.
While as from the end of this year it will no longer occupy the 1950s
ice and soft drink factory behind Swingers on Gregory Terrace, the
artists are determined that it will live on.
Earlier in the year they tried to hold on to the building by lobbying
the owner, who intends to take over the building for his own Aboriginal
art business and warehouse, but to no avail.
They are continuing to look for another venue that is affordable and
appropriate as an experimental art space, but lack of a venue does not
mean that their activities will cease.
"It is imperative to maintain the local and national profile that Watch
This Space has generated with artists and audiences alike," says Pam
Lofts, who has chiefly coordinated activities and funding for the Space
since its first exhibition in March 1994.
She cites the Space's excellent track record of more than 90
exhibitions, events and performances involving over 200 artists, as the
reason why funding bodies should continue to support them, building or
There are plenty of other possibilities for making and exhibiting art
in the Central Australian context, she argues.
Both the natural and urban environments can be used as exhibition
A virtual gallery on the Internet could showcase work to a wider
audience and set up dialogues with other artist-run and contemporary
Camps for local and interstate artists, at a venue such as the Hamilton
Downs Youth Camp, could be organised, as could workshops and artists's
Community arts projects could continue as opportunities for artists to
explore and develop ideas.
Art could be shown in a nomadic but art friendly space such as empty
Sound works could be broadcast on community radio.
Lofts is concerned that, without a physical location, the Space may not
be able to attract funding to develop the new program structure and is
urging all interested to write letters of support and to continue
submitting proposals for 1998 (send to PO Box 3942).
Meanwhile you can see the Space's latest shows: The community of those
who have nothing in common is an installation by Liz Day, a
Sydney-based artist whose work is based around the notion of a market
or a place of exchange.
Says Day: "Through the process of shopping, lawn sales, tips, the
discovery of local objects reemerges as an installation which relates
to the space and the Alice Springs location."
I'm OK, you're OK by Melbourne-based Audrey Fairthorne is about the
circumstances which prevented her from personally coming to Alice
Springs and also a personal fiction of Central Australia and Alice
gleaned from popular culture, old geography, Australian colonial art
history and her imagination.
Both show until November 1, Thursday and Friday 11am to 3pm, Saturday
11am to 5pm.
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