ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
November 5, 1997
OLD PRISON ROW: THE HOSPITAL ISN'T SHORT OF SPACE
Report by ERWIN CHLANDA
Araluen MLA Eric Poole's assertions that the old gaol must make way for
hospital extensions and a private hospital appear to have little
credibility in the light of facts revealed by the hospital's general
manager, Joyce Bowden.
As well, several reports now before the government are recommending
changes to rural health services which would reduce pressures on the
Mr Poole said last week that more on-site nurses' accommodation is
needed and that he's ñsureî that within five years, "we'll
have a private hospital".
However, Mrs Bowden says a site is already earmarked on the present
grounds for a private hospital.
Staff now occupy 46 residential units and 126 staff rooms on hospital
land but only around 30 people - those on emergency call-out - would
need to be accommodated on site.
That means some 140 staff could be living anywhere else in the town.
It would be "preferable but not essential" for the staff to live near
the hospital, says Mrs Bowden.
There is also space on the present hospital land for a proposed
Integrated Community Care Centre, which may take over the functions of
the Flynn Drive Health Centre.
The Alice hospital, with a staff of 600 by far the town's biggest
employer, is one of the nation's largest for a town of its size: The
Alice hospital has 170 beds, compared, for example, to Kalgoorlie's
Kalgoorlie has a population of 30,000 and - including remote areas -
serves 70,000 people, compared to 25,000 and 45,000, respectively, in
Mrs Bowden says Alice Springs is in a unique position with the nearest
large hospital more than 1500 km away in either direction. (Kalgoorlie
is 600 km from Perth.)
Because of this and patterns of illness here, and the need for
specialists, "the range and scope of services provided is considerably
greater than would be provided in a town of similar size but closer to
major public hospitals".
In the long term it is likely that improved health services in the
bush, currently under study by the NT Government, will ease pressures
on the Alice hospital.
(For a limited period they may actually increase, as sick people
presently not receiving adequate health care are discovered.)
While Aborigines make up 30 per cent of the population, they make up 50
per cent of the hospital's patients.
They stay an average of 7.5 days, compared to five days for
What's more, 35 per cent of the 9500 people admitted each year are from
remote communities, with black children representing a grossly
disproportionate share of the patient numbers.
Recent medical services planning studies are calling for:-
´ more Aboriginal health workers;
´ appointing permanent doctors to major Central Australian
communities at present served only by visiting doctors;
´ and an increase of allied health staff, such as
physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
Meanwhile the government's plans to raze the historic goal has prompted
a variety of responses:-
´ Mr Poole told the Alice News last week that tin sheds within
the gaol may be worth preserving because they are the only prison
accommodation of its style in Australia.
However, according to the National Trust's Bruce Strong, the tin sheds
were sold at auction and removed last year.
´ Contractor Liz Davies, of Environmental Waste Management, says
she would not take on the job of demolishing the gaol because of its
Mrs Davies, whose company operates the land fill for the town council,
says two loads is the maximum permitted for casual dumping, and a
special application needs to be made for volumes in excess of that.
No application had been made by the weekend.
It would be up to the tip's owner, the council, to make a final
decision about whether or not to accept additional demolition debris.
´ Greatorex MLA Richard Lim, secretary to the NT Cabinet,
declined to say what view, if any, he put to the cabinet on the gaol.
"Cabinet decided what the Minister [Mick Palmer] recommended. I cannot
add to the matter," says Dr Lim.
"I can't talk about the cabinet process."
He did not know of any development proposals for the site other than
those put forward by historian Max Cartwright, Milton Blanch and artist
Dr Lim says he had received many letters from locals.
Commenting on the opposition to the demolition plans by Alice Mayor
Andy McNeill, Dr Lim said: "Is he suggesting the council will buy the
He says he doesn't know the financial value of the site.
Dr Lim says he would not favour the development of a shopping centre
LETTER WRITERS LASH OUT OVER OLD GAOL DEMOLITION
CRASS Sir,- The latest crass decision by the NT Government has been to
level the old Alice Springs gaol.
It is absolutely clear that heritage listing means nothing to this
present government, the members of whom have behaved like vandals over
both Redbank Gorge and the gaol.
As the old gaol is next door to the Flying Doctor Service, which is one
of the most popular tourist destinations, it obviously has great
potential to be a complimentary tourist attraction.
I recommend that consideration be given to part of the old gaol being
retained in its present form, and that members of the public be
requested to make suggestions about other options for use.
Genuine consultation with the citizens of Alice Springs has certainly
not occurred. R G "Dick" Kimber. Alice Springs.
WORDS FROM GOD Sir,- I write in response to your report last week to
ask a few more questions of the Member for Araluen, in his capacity of
Minister for (from?) Central Australia, about the proposed demolition
of the recently vacated Alice Springs jail.
´ If land is at such a premium for the development of the
hospital's facilities in Alice Springs, why give away several hectares
of land (and buildings, and contents) next door on the corner of Gap
Road and Traeger Ave?
´ Gosh! Private hospitals?
Hasn't there been a sign in the corner of that very site, for the last
two years extolling the development of a "future private" health care
facility on "this site"?
Why do we now have to go the way of the old jail?
Someone just forget to take down the sign?
In economic terms, if a commercially based health care facility
cannot "stand-alone" in Alice Springs, why use tax payers money to help
Who helps pay to keep to keep it running if it cannot stand alone?
If [other] businesses in this town cannot "stand alone", do you use
public funds to help them to do so?
´ Is it (the private hospital) to go the same way as the
retirement home on the "10th" - a 400 square metre block development,
or become a "new Ford Plaza"?
Perhaps you can take up the proposal of that particular developer and
build a replica of the jail around Mt John somewhere (it would, after
all Mr Elferink, create some jobs).
´ How many people in Cabinet wear white shoes?
Speaking of Cabinet: "You don't vote in favour or not of something in
What? How are decisions made? Telepathically? By divine intervention?
Cut the Deck? Spuds?
Come to think of it, why have a Cabinet secretary if there are no votes
or decisions to record? Beam me up Scotty!
"When Cabinet makes a decision it's a decision of Cabinet."
Der. Perhaps Shane should have a few more letters after his name: C.M;
M.L.A; B.Ed; B.Laws; QC; F.O.A.T; G.O.D. Now really, does he just tell
Does Mick the Minister just charm Cabinet (with a Liverpool Kiss) into
a yes vote?
Sorry I forgot, in this democratic system you don't vote!
Do you quickly say yes at the first sign of Mike (just call me at the
Savoy) opening his mouth? How is a decision made?
Ten words suggest the extent of your concern: "It's just too valuable
block a block of land to pass up."
End of story! It is plain to see for a majority of the residents of
Alice Springs that all members of this government worship at the altar
of the great god DEVELOPMENT and bugger anybody or anything that gets
in the way.
To answer your question: "I mean, what do you do with a cell?"
Use it for an electoral office. There is, after all, not much of
substance to fill up the space.
The impression I get from reading the trite answers to some pertinent
questions is that even as a minister in this government you have no say
or no influence.
Prove me wrong. Go on, I dare ya. Michael Sandford. Alice Springs.
[ED - Richard Lim MLA has pointed out to the Alice News that since Mr
Stone's recent reshuffle, Mr Poole is no longer the Minister
responsible for Central Australia. In fact, Mr Stone has not seen fit
this time ïround to appoint anyone as the Minister responsible for
NEW PARTY Sir,- One would think the world famous "Town Like Alice"
heritage buildings would mean something to a government that purports
to promote tourism and small business.
Or is the ruling CLP so infiltrated with "developers" and big business
that it has lost its way?
In order to rid ourselves of these insidious interest groups we perhaps
need a Centralian political party.
I, for one, would like to see Fran Erlich lead such a party.
The CLP, whose real power base is of course the Alice Springs region,
has put its head on the chopping block once too often regarding the
I know, and they know, just how precarious their hold on the northern
seats really are.
The financial reality of the Alice Springs tourism dollar is simply
this: town tourism (heritage buildings), Aboriginal art and culture and
scenic bush locations (Standley Chasm etc).
A party that can effectively protect and promote these very unique
resources will get my vote! Henry Royce. Alice Springs.
PRECEDENT Sir,- The announcement [of plans to demolish to old gaol] was
made the day the Minister Mick Palmer departed overseas, leaving the
repercussions to be faced by the acting-Minister, Daryl Manzie.
Ironically Mr Manzie was the Minister who declared the Alice Springs
Heritage Precinct on June 30, 1993.
Despite statements to the contrary, the Alice Springs Gaol IS part of
the Heritage Precinct - a declared Heritage place, and is therefore
itself a Heritage place which is listed on the NT Heritage Register.
The Alice Springs Heritage Precinct is also included on the Register of
the National Estate and is listed on the National Trust's Register of
In the past Ministers have declined to accept recommendations for the
listing of nominated places from the Government's own advisory body,
the Heritage Advisory Council (HAC), and later oversaw the demolition
or relocation of a number of those places (eg. the former Nurses
Quarters in Darwin).
This latest action threatens to set a precedent in that for the first
time the NT Government will consent to the demolition of a Heritage
place declared under its own legislation.
There is a prescribed procedure to be followed under the NT's Heritage
Conservation Act, 1991 before any declaration of a Heritage place may
Seemingly this procedure will now no longer apply to publicly owned
places if the Government proceeds with this desperate act.
It seems that the Minister, at the whim of Cabinet, can simply bypass
procedure for whatever reason appears convincing at the time - even in
light of an apparent lack of any development proposals or indeed the
tenuous value of this particular site remote from the CBD.
The relevant section of the Act requires that the HAC be consulted
prior to any revocation of heritage listing, but again the Government
is apparently acting without any such consultation - not with its own
advisory body; not with its own Heritage Conservation Branch; and
certainly not with the public.
Why do we have to have confrontation through the media when
consultation might provide a workable solution?
We constantly hear and read about the promotion of the "character" of
Alice Springs and the Territory to the expanding tourist market, and
here we have yet another attempt to remove a large and important part
of that character.
The Old Gaol represents almost 60 years of the Alice's history and is
an integral part of its heritage.
The Government is now proposing to clear the way for more development
that can be seen in any other city of town in Australia rather than
encompass a process that could adaptively utilise the present site and
retain its heritage values.
Wasn't the Marrons Newsagency debacle enough?
The community must surely ask - has the Government made any genuine
attempts to call for expressions of interest for development of the
site in relation to its heritage listing and the possible retention of
Certainly we are not aware of any.
It is acknowledged that it is not going to be easy to provide an
appropriate, viable range of options for the future use of the old gaol
in the short term, but to rush the demolition of a site that is
irreplaceable would amount to little more than vandalism.
The Minister has stated that the land is required because of a scarcity
of such land within easy reach of the CBD.
Yet there is a large area of cleared land in the old railway housing
precinct that is no further from the old gaol to the CBD - or has this
been earmarked for a development that we are not being consulted over?
The community went through a long and necessary consultative process
with the government before it, the Government, put its seal of approval
on this important part of our heritage.
If this plan to demolish the old gaol is allowed to proceed it will not
only effect the destruction of a declare heritage place, but will
seriously undermine the Heritage Conservation Act and the Heritage
Advisory Council itself.
Importantly, also, it will create a dangerous precedent for the
continued destruction of the Northern Territory's unique heritage.
The Northern Territory, and the people of Alice Springs in particular,
should not allow this tenuous proposal to proceed. Bob Alford.
Director, National Trust.
TOURIST CENTRE Sir,- I am writing to you regarding the removal of the
Old Alice Springs Gaol by way of being bulldozed.
I am not speaking for myself but for the citizens of Alice Springs as
well as I know they will all be behind me.
That the Old Gaol could be made into a very nice bus station for
tourist coaches and tourists alike, incorporating shower rooms,
restaurants, coffee shops, change rooms for mothers with young
children, car parking for private cars.
There could be enough parking for our local Asbus. In the grounds of
the Old Gaol could be added some beautiful shrubs and trees and gardens
with outdoor eating areas under shaded areas. D E Harrison.
CLEVER USES Sir,- The Old Prison presents Central Australia with the
unique opportunity to develop a tourist attraction.
Alice Springs lacks a single one stop venue which provides a total
history of this region.
We do have a series of stand alone attractions such as the Desert Park,
Old Telegraph Station, Stuart Town Gaol, Ghan Preservation Society,
cemeteries and camel rides etc.
My concept is the creation of a centre that would provide a total view
of Central Australia while enhancing each of the other attractions.
The buildings and grounds would be used to provide a theaterette,
working arts and crafts areas, gift shops, food outlet, parking
The theaterette could cover topics such as the land formation of
Central Australia, dust storms, meteorite impacts; rain, floods and
drought, Aboriginal habitation, European settlement, life today in the
Centre, a look at the future.
Static displays could highlight snapshots of the history in Central
Australia - Aboriginal lifestyle, camp life, corroborrees, hunting.
A display dealing with European settlement could cover early
exploration, camel trains, the Ghan, the Flying Doctor.
These displays could be set up in some of the cells and rooms as well
Each would feature lifelike figurines with special effects, sound,
smoke and dust.
The scenes would be connected by a mini Ghan Train.
A commentary would be played over individual headphones.
Several cells, rooms and some outdoor space could be made available (at
reasonable commercial rates) to local arts and crafts persons.
Visitors would view artists at work and have the opportunity to
purchase their works in the gift shop.
For a gift shop, only Central Australian items would be sold - with
emphasis on the works produced by the house artists.
There would be a fully licensed eat in and take away restaurant.
Specialities would include "bush tucker" style meals.
Simpson Street would be closed off.
This area would combine with the vacant block next to the RFDS for car
and coach parking area for the tourist precinct, including the RFDS.
The project could be financed by a NT consortium which could include
the NT Government.
There would be several levels of employment opportunities in the
development and construction stage, and long term, could offer
hospitality, maintenance and administration positions, and self
employed arts and crafts people would have an outlet.
FEEBLE Sir,- Your article on the old Alice Springs Gaol was
illuminating but the feeble excuses from our politicians only served to
highlight the dangerous apathy of this government.
Ministers who can't find their voice in cabinet should resign
particularly the invisible Minister for Lands, Planning and Environment
who has failed an important test of public confidence.
Finally why do we need heritage assessment, Federal and Territory
heritage legislation, heritage architects and planners, historians, a
heritage advisory committee of the National Trust when we have the
newly elected member for MacDonnell, John Elferink!
He can tell us all we need to know. I wonder which branch of science he
plans to upstage next?
INCENSED Sir,- More than a week has passed since the Minister for
Lands, Planning and Environment, Mick Palmer, released the news about
Cabinet's decision to demolish the old Alice Springs Gaol.
During that period, while the Minister has been overseas, we have
witnessed an extraordinary reaction against that decision from the
Alice Springs community.
Greater even than that provoked by the incident of the draining of
Redbank Gorge - also a heritage related matter.
Most people are incensed at the way in which the decision about the
gaol was made, but many are also concerned at the possible loss of the
gaol and the implications that such a precedent - to destroy a heritage
listed property - will set for the future of the Northern Territory's
Yes, the whole of the Northern Territory's heritage is under threat if
this decision goes ahead.
So far, the only response from the Government to the public outcry is
an assurance from the Acting Minister, Daryl Manzie, that the gaol will
not be destroyed before he hands the reins back to the Minister on
Monday, November 3.
Mr Manzie also made it clear that Cabinet will not be easily dissuaded
from its decision.
The National Trust will continue to support the community in its
efforts to reverse Cabinets decision and will continue to strive to
have the gaol preserved for future generations, as is our duty, under
the National Trust Act.
Bruce W Strong. Research Officer. National Trust. Alice Springs.
AYERS ROCK RESORT SOLD FOR PITTANCE
The new owner of the commercial facilities at Yulara, and of freehold
title over the town's 100 square kilometres, General Property Trust
(GPT), will continue to control all commercial activities at the Ayers
GPT chief executive David Ross says the company may "lease out space"
to other operators, and continue to charge fees from them, as has been
the case with the Ayers Rock Resort Company.
The fees are currently understood to be at between 13 and 18 per cent
Meanwhile, the NT Government will continue to provide power, water,
sewerage and other utilities at "gazetted rates" as well as public
service personnel for such services as the school, clinic and Parks and
This is a clear breach of an undertaking by Chief Minister Shane Stone
who promised a "normalisation" of Yulara, creating conditions as in
"any other town".
The resort company was until this week owned by the NT Government (60
per cent) and the Advent Group which had interstate financial
institutions as its members.
At $220m GPT clearly secured a bargain: The resort recently underwent a
$60m upgrade and is estimated to have a replacement value of $500m.
GPT, the largest "diversified property trust" in Australia, manages a
portfolio worth $3.5b and has about 80,000 investors Australia wide.
GPT's deal includes 392 dwellings, formerly owned by the NT Housing
Commission, the former Pacific Resort in Alice Springs, and a long-term
lease over the Connellan jet airport which generates an estimated $5.8m
in airport fees a year.
Mr Ross says present resort staff would be offered continued
He says the resort, now attracting more visitors than Alice Springs,
will not be changing its promotional strategies, and has received no
special undertakings from the NT Tourist Commission: "Where people
choose to travel is up to the market," says Mr Ross.
The resort can accommodate 3000 people and more rooms will be built
"subject to demand".
SHOULD AUSTRALIA BECOME A REPUBLIC?
KIERAN FINNANE speaks with local candidates for the constitutional
There's a national election coming up - have you heard?
By Friday week enrolled voters around the country will receive a
package of materials, including ballot papers to elect candidates to
the Constitutional Convention to be held in February next year.
Two Northern Territory delegates, elected by non-compulsory, postal
vote, will attend the convention which has as its agenda items just two
issues: Should Australia become a republic?
If so, what political model should be adopted?
If the convention supports change, the matter, in terms defined by the
convention, will be put to the Australian people in a referendum.
The two candidates who have come forward in the Southern Region are
They are David Curtis from the "A Just Republic" team, which has in its
sights broad constitutional change including a popularly elected
President, formal recognition of indigenous prior ownership, the
introduction of a Bill of Rights, and formal recognition of local
government ; and Fran Erlich, an independent candidate, although
associated in this campaign with her brother Michael Kilgariff, CLP
candidate for Fannie Bay.
They support minimal change to the constitution to achieve an
Australian head of state.
There are no monarchist candidates from the Southern Region but there
is a two person Monarchist Team from the Top End, as well as a
reputedly right wing team from the Alternative Three campaign which is
fielding candidates in every state and territory.
Voters will receive a 100 word statement on each group with their
Mr Curtis is the only indigenous candidate in the Territory.
He is currently serving as ATSIC Zone Commissioner for Central
Australia, with local government as his specialist portfolio.
He spent six years as an alderman on the Tennant Creek Town Council,
winning his first term in a by-election against a large field of
He built on that clear evidence of broad support from the community to
get the council to recognise its responsibilities towards all of its
constituents, indigenous as well as non-indigenous, and to develop a
good working relationship with Julalikari Council, of which he was then
He says that achievements in Tennant Creek, such as the introduction of
alcohol trade restrictions and the recent awarding of the landfill
contract to Julalikari, are small but important acts of reconciliation
which should serve as examples around the country.
A member of the Labor Party, Mr Curtis intends eventually to stand for
parliament, possibly on a Territory Senate ticket.
He says it is vital for indigenous people to participate in the
political process and his candidacy for the Constitutional Convention
is one more way that he can set an example of doing just that.
A Just Republic wants to include in the preamble to the Constitution a
recognition of prior ownership of Australia by indigenous peoples.
Mr Curtis says that while we don't have to dwell on the past, we can't
forget it. Recognition of indigenous rights is necessary for the whole
country to move forward.
Mrs Erlich says that while reconciliation is outside the scope of the
convention, we must achieve it before we can progress much further.
"While Aboriginal people feel aggrieved, it will be difficult for us to
think of ourselves as one nation," she says.
Our system of government has proved itself remarkably stable, but Mrs
Erlich argues that it is nonetheless perceived by others as one whose
head of state does not derive power from the people, but rather
represents the monarch of another country.
"People might think that the issue of a republic does not touch their
lives, but it does," says Mrs Erlich.
"Australia's standing in the world and how we think of ourselves
affects each and every one of us."
She says the convention is historically important as it mirrors the
processes of the 1890s when a series of people's conventions lead to
the development of Australia's constitution as it stands today.
In her view, a minimalist approach to the republic has the greatest
chance of succeeding as 'yes' votes in referenda in Australia are
notoriously difficult to achieve.
She also favours as "much simpler", avoiding the complicated codifying
of powers of a popularly elected head of state, her or his election by
a two thirds majority of both parliaments.
Mrs Erlich says today's Australia is a very different place to the
Australia of a century ago, with many people feeling no allegiance to
England or its monarch.
Becoming a republic would be "unifying" and lead to Australians
developing a clearer idea of their identity.
SEXUAL ASSUALTS IN CENTRAL AUSTRALIA ARE MOSTLY A
Report by KIERAN FINNANE
Most women and children who are victims of sexual assault are not
pounced on by a stranger but are assaulted by someone known to them.
Statistics quoted by Territory Health Services in their Sexual Assault
Training Manual say that 80 per cent of offenders are known to the
Of 45 clients seen by Cecelia Titus, the THS Sexual Assault Counsellor
in Alice Springs since the beginning of May, only one was assaulted by
The other assailants were either the victims' family members or friends
or members of a group such as a church or school.
Sexual assault is one manifestation of violence that has been the focus
of Reclaim the Night campaigns since their origins in England in the
late ïseventies in the wake of the "Ripper Murders".
The campaigns have typically called for safety for women and children
in the streets.
However, this focus has broadened to a protest against violence in all
aspects of life, and a call for safer workplaces and homes, as well as
Says Ms Titus, one of the organising committee behind last Friday's
Reclaim the Night rally, attended by at least 100 people in Alice:
"Violence in the street and in the home has basically the same cause,
which is the socialisation of men to use violence in the different
areas of their lives."
While the members of the Reclaim the Night committee have varying
beliefs about violence, all are equally committed to stopping it.
In her field, Ms Titus hasn't seen any evidence that there has been a
decrease in sexual assault.
"In one sense that is depressing for a service like this, but in
another - in that many clients are for the first time doing something
about their experience which may have occurred a long time ago - it's
Of her 45 clients to date, nine have been children, seven of them under
11 years of age.
One of these was not the actual victim but was affected by sexual
assault within their family.
The children are all dealing with recent experiences, whereas many of
the adults, including two men, have been dealing with childhood
"Most of the adults have talked about their experience to someone in
the past," says Ms Titus, "but if it was a sexual assault within their
family, it's still often a secret within the family.
"A lot of problems remain until the secrecy is broken.
"However, it's important not to make assumptions. There are as many
different ways to respond to sexual assault as there are people.
"There are assumptions that if you have been abused, you are
"Sexual assault changes your life, as would, for instance, an event
like the early death of a parent, but it doesn't necessarily mean that
you become flawed or that you can't get on with your life in the way
that most of us do.
"If the statistics are what we think they are - that one in four girls,
and one in eight boys, are sexually assaulted before they reach 18
years of age, then many of us have been assaulted and many of us are
getting on with our lives.
"Those statistics also mean that sexual assault will affect a lot of
people either directly or indirectly, and it's important to know what
you can do about.
"Most people aren't aware of a service like ours until they are unlucky
enough to need it.
"In the meantime people can do something about these issues by getting
involved with activities like Reclaim the Night."
Counselling at the Sexual Assault Referral Centre is available to
everyone, men, women and children of all ages and all cultures who are
affected by sexual assault.
Ms Titus says she would like to see more Aboriginal women using the
daytime service, following up on the crisis counselling they receive in
the after-hours service.
You can phone the Women's Information Centre on 89 515880 for an
The after-hours emergency counselling service is available via a phone
call to the Alice Springs Hospital switchboard on 89 517777.
TERRITORY SINGER AND YARN TELLER TED EGAN PUBLISHES
Report by KIERAN FINNANE
"It's not my born country, but it's certainly my sitdown country," says
Ted Egan of the Northern Territory.
He's given the title Sitdown Up North to his autobiography covering the
period from 1949, when he arrived as a 17 year old in Darwin, until the
The book breathes Ted's enthusiasm to "be there", to live the moment
with great vitality, tipping over on occasions into a larrikinism
fuelled by grog, which provides many an amusing anecdote in the earlier
In terms of "big picture" Territory history, in particular the history
of race relations here, Ted had an uncanny ability to be in the right
place at the right time and he reviews his experiences with
clearsighted intelligence and compassion.
Combined with his exceptional memory for names, dates, places and
events, Sitdown Up North in substantial parts reads as a social
history, although "I know how much I don't know", Ted humbly admits.
It is also written with the story-telling flair that one would expect.
The Territory Ted came to was a pretty good place for a bright young
He fell into well paid work and the vibrant social life of a small
community that was, by necessity, self-sufficient and in many ways
liberated of the shackles of the conservative south.
Not so for the black man though, as the young Ted was quick to realise.
His first contact with Aboriginal people came when he was kicking a
football around a vacant block with a fellow Victorian.
"Two shy Aboriginal blokes" watched from the sidelines until Ted kicked
a ball to them and they joined in.
"And were they any good!"
As well, they were friendly and Ted, naturally sociable and curious,
was interested in them:
"I had never forgotten the time when, as a paper boy in Melbourne, I
stood, enthralled, and listened to two New Zealand soldiers singing in
Maori on a suburban train ... a Maori and a Pakeha, both very drunk,
but obviously so proud of who they were and where they came from.
"In meeting these two Aboriginal blokes I sensed that here might be the
opportunity to one day develop a similar level of affinity about
It was early days but this vision made Ted receptive to the
opportunities that came his way.
He played a key role in developing the legendary St Mary's football
club, becoming their first captain at the age of 20: "I considered,
then and now, that was one of the greatest honours of my life."
The first team consisted of one Chinese, three mixed-race blokes, two
whites and the rest were Tiwi from Bathurst Island.
A senior Tiwi, Aloysius Puantulura, told Ted he would teach him Tiwi:
"Then you can talk straight way all that young boy."
On the occasion of the first St Mary's win, Paul Hasluck, Minister for
Territories, was visiting Darwin.
He noticed Ted speaking in Tiwi during the game and subsequently
offered him a job in the Native Affairs Branch as a Cadet Patrol
So began Ted's more official involvement with Aboriginal people and his
increasing awareness of the injustices they were suffering. From this
point in the narration, this aspect of his life is the major focus of
Sitdown Up North.
The story ends when a somewhat burnt-out Ted decides to "sing songs and
tell lies for a living".
In the early fifties, Aboriginal people were subject to the rigid
controls of the Aboriginals Ordinance: a person deemed to be Aboriginal
within its terms was not allowed to live in town without special
permission; was not allowed to 'roam at large' between sunrise and
sunset; they could not vote, were not allowed to drink alcohol, earned
'native' wages and even that money was paid to them at the discretion
of the Director of Native Affairs.
Those of mixed race could apply for an exemption - the notorious "dog
Ted became aware of these conditions simply by living in Darwin.
He writes: "To this day I am appalled that the rest of us accepted the
status quo. If we had really thought about the issues we should have
taken to the streets on their behalf."
In the field, Ted learnt about subtler but more insidious controls,
such as the Church Missionary Society's interference with the marriage
promise system on Groote Eylandt, which reaped tragic consequences
(these events are documented in Ted's book Justice All Their Own).
Local readers will be keen to reach Ted's chapters on The Centre.
Following his experience on Groote, he was promoted to Superintendent
and posted to Yuendumu.
He arrived in Alice Springs in May 1958, to find the nights freezing
and "the whitefellers very hard-nosed in their attitude to blackfellers
It was 'them' and 'us' as far as local whites were concerned."
At that time, in Yuendumu there was no shelter at all for its 800
They camped in the open and slept at night warmed by tiny fires and
Some of the old people still slept naked.
"I quickly formed the opinion that the Aboriginals of Central Australia
... were the toughest people in the world," writes Ted, although "today
they are not coping at all well."
There were also no electricity and no telephone.
Contact with the outside world was via the Flying Doctor radio.
Ted was determined to make Yuendumu as self-sufficient as possible.
The reserve was surrounded by four cattle stations, the owners of which
all suggested to Ted that Yuendumu could also run cattle, offering to
give advice and help if he needed it.
He took them up on the offer and laid the foundations for a cattle
In the meantime, he observed that the Warlpiri's ceremonial life
continued: "More often than not [workers] would still have blood,
feathers and ochre mixed into their hair and on their bodies."
Ted regrets that he did not spend more time studying the Warlpiri
language and culture: "I was a bit too imbued with the work ethic
during my time at Yuendumu."
He didn't realise the "enormity of the level of dispossession" of the
"By 1950 almost all their country ... was taken up by cattle stations.
[They] could still access their country [but] in reality were
discouraged from moving around too much by the enticement of the white
man's commodities, ... supplied to them at great risk to their health
Ted acknowledges that he was a vital cog in this system that took
dispossession to be a fait accompli.
"I did not start to develop even a glimmer of the truth until the
1960s. Those who scream for extinguishment of native title over
pastoral leases ... mouth nonsense stimulated by sheer greed, political
opportunism, lust for land or paranoia provoked by the guilty knowledge
that we shafted the blackfellows in this country."
There is not room here for even a summary of Ted's insights and
comments, let alone the scores of riveting anecdotes.
On the provision of housing to Aboriginal people he is absolutely
The whole process, he says, is "riddled with political skullduggery and
outsiders imposing their views".
He talks about solutions, with mobility being the operative word.
He says it must be obvious that solutions to present day problems of
Aboriginal people must be found by themselves, though with support.
His work at Yuendumu failed: "Forty years later there is only one
indication that I spent four years at Yuendumu and flogged my guts out.
Yuendumu has some fine footballers and it is always acknowledged that I
taught the game to their fathers and grandfathers."
Ted went on to become a school teacher in which role he was again
posted to Groote Eylandt, as the government moved to take over the
provision of education from the missionaries.
He titles this chapter in his life "War Games": "It was more like war
or an armed truce at best.
They were soldiers ... This not you island Mistegan. This my island. I
born here. This my sitdown country."
In 1967 Ted was made District Welfare Officer on the Gove Peninsula.
This was the year of the referendum which provided henceforth that
Aboriginals would be counted in the Census. Ted makes important
clarifications on the progress of Aboriginal "citizens rights".
On this referendum, which gained an unheard of 90 per cent "yes" vote,
he writes: "The 10 per cent 'no' vote came from .. places where there
were sizable Aboriginal populations, and the worse the reputation of
the place for race relations, the higher the 'no' vote."
The Territory did not get to vote as it was not a state, but "there
were angry demonstrations by whites in Alice Springs, who would have
registered a hefty 'no' vote if given the chance."
Ted's role in Gove, where Nabalco had established a bauxite mine and an
alumina plant, was to act as go-between on the various parties in
issues affecting Aboriginal people.
This was his first exposure to 'land rights' issues: "I surprised
myself at how strongly I aligned with the Aboriginal camp against my
own employers, the government, but on reflection I wonder how anybody
could take up an anti-Aboriginal stance when their claims were so
obvious, so real."
He met future Aboriginal leaders such as Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who acted
as a "wonderful intermediary" as most old people at Yirrkala spoke no
English, and scores of politicians.
About the latter: "I resolved never to employ any of them. The banal
questions, the big-headed airing of so-called knowledge, the
patronising behaviour towards Aboriginals, the sheer rudeness were
characteristics I did not expect, but now realise are common."
In that period two exceptions to the rule were Lance Barnard and
Another shining light of difference was Dr HC "Nugget" Coombs, the news
of whose death broke last Wednesday, the day Ted launched Sitdown Up
Ted says he became a "Coombs man": "I could not help contrasting his
respectful behaviour to [that of] a senior man from Darwin who used to
fly out regularly, and bring a big bag of Minties."
Coombs eventually offered Ted a job as research officer with the Office
of Aboriginal affairs, "the ones who care", as Coombs put it.
In this role, he became involved in another great land rights battle,
that of the Gurindji, about which Ted wrote his famous song Gurindji
Blues: "Poor bugger me, Gurindji".
Sitdown Up North ends before the Gurindji claim victory, but just as
Australia gets its first prime minister to "ever mention Aboriginals in
his policy speech, and that in the opening paragraph!" Gough Whitlam.
Ted's mid-life crisis was upon him.
Gurindji Blues brought him to the notice of RCA.
He recorded two albums of his songs which went gold, something almost
unheard of in Australia at that time.
He took a trip around Australia to rethink his life, spending a few
days to sit down with Vincent Lingiari, for whom he sang Gurindji
Blues: "The old bloke laughed, then cried."
A quarter of a century has passed since then.
That will provide the material for the next volume of autobiography,
which will undoubtedly include a chapter on the making of The Drover's
Boy, the movie.
After a battle to raise finances and to rid himself of an unwanted
production house, Ted has taken on the role of Executive Producer,
appointed noted documentary maker David Roberts as director and says
the film will be on silver screens around the world this time next
The Territory Ted writes about, for all its injustice and conflict,
makes today's Territory look rather pallid.
For men in particular it provided an endless source of fascinating
experiences and adventure (Ted acknowledges the very different
experience for many women, especially mothers including his own wife
Rae, who had to "do it hard").
For all our loss of 'the frontier' or our gains in 'civilisation', the
injustice is still there in Ted's view.
At the launch of Sitdown Up North, he told the Alice News:
"Everything's got to be confrontation now and that's pretty sad. "I
think the reason why I've enjoyed this place so much is that I've made
the time to sit down and listen to people.
"You don't learn anything when you're talking, so I've listened to lots
and lots of very wise people.
They've been from all sorts of financial and racial backgrounds but
they've all had something interesting to tell me.
"I think we've lost that a bit.
"We're in the grip of politicians much to much and they see life only
in terms of how to win that next election.
"They really don't care for the spirit of the place and we've got to
take them into the knowledge that unless they care about the spirit of
the place, we'll boot them out."
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