ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
April 14, 1999

NT GOVERNMENT IN GAMBLING TRADE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The NT Government has awarded Lasseters Casino a licence for internet gambling before disclosing the details of the deal to the Parliament.For the "earth bound” casino the Government collects a tax equivalent to eight per cent of gamblers' losses, but the tax rate for the "cyber casino" has not yet been made public.The rate will be tabled in the next sittings of the Legislative Assembly in about two weeks' time.Meanwhile, the Malaysian-owned Lasseters, in a multi-million dollar global publicity blitz, is touting itself as the first of the world's 200-odd "web casinos" to have the seal of approval of a government.Gaming Minister Tim Baldwin, at last week's launch, described the association with Lasseters as a business "partnership" rather than as an arm's length relationship between applicant and regulator.Mr Baldwin, who was not available to give further details about the arrangement, said the Territory's Racing and Gaming Authority "has played a key role in assisting the team at Lasseters in developing, testing, monitoring and defining the product". The Alice News understands that two or three officers of the authority have worked full-time on the project for two years, and the government has also commissioned several consultants. The cost to the public of this has not been disclosed.Lasseters Chief Executive Peter Bridge says that arrangements are in place for the government to be reimbursed by Lasseters for these costs- expected to be in the hundreds of thousands off dollars.The work included the hiring of a professional hacker to try and bust the scheme; he reportedly found flaws which were subsequently fixed.Mr Bridge described the potential of the market as "enormous", estimating annual earnings at between "$100m and infinity", drawing on four per cent of 137 million web site users.For the moment, in Australia gambling on the new on-line casino is available only to people in the Northern Territory south of Tennant Creek.Mr Baldwin said a national regulatory scheme for web gambling is needed.It is expected that this will ensure state governments of getting their slice of any gambling done by people playing in future cyber casinos in their states.(It's unlikely that Lasseters will be the only government-sanctioned on-line gambling facility: Crown Casino in Melbourne, a Canberra based group, operators on Norfolk Island and Tasmania, for example, are preparing their own web sites, and legislation has been passed in Queensland."The race is on," says Mr Bridge.)There are few limitations for gamblers in other countries, other than self-regulation provided for under-age people and problem gamblers.In essence, according to Mr Bridge, minors would find it hard to play for money because they need to have a credit card, or be able to make a bank transfer, to make an up-front deposit, and have a bank account into which any winnings can be paid, addressed to "account holder only".Mr Bridge says the site provides "cyber nanny" software which parents can download.Territory residents will need to be on the electoral roll or forward their driver's licence before being registered as gamblers.Overseas applicants also will need to provide some "suitable" proof of being over 18, such as a passport or a driver's licence.Problem gamblers can hit an "exclude" button, barring themselves from using their account for seven days. If they press that button three times they exclude themselves for life."This is far more than we have in the physical casino," says Mr Bridge."I've been in the gaming industry for 20 years and I've never seen a poker machine with an ‘exclude me' button."However, the decision to quit or take a break is the player's: "We think if you're part of the problem you should be part of the solution," says Mr Bridge.The site also offers a link to Amity House, where problem gamblers can seek advice and help.The development of the on-line casino, which has cost Lasseters $5m, is the latest coup of the hotel and gambling facility under the management of Mr Bridge.A construction program worth $5m is also under way.The gaming and accommodation complex now has revenues of $20m a year - the same amount the Malaysian consortium paid for the facility in 1996 when it was in receivership.A director of the consortium, ethnic Chinese Kuan Peng Soon, who has served two terms in the Malaysian Senate, says the purchase was an opportunity too good to miss.He says it's well known that Australians are some of the world's keenest gamblers.His consortium has interests in Malaysian infrastructure and manufacturing, with total investments worth about $100m. Mr Bridge says to date, the main clientele of the casino are locals and Australian visitors to Alice Springs, some of whom come here because they have not been made welcome in casinos elsewhere.The casino spends about $100,000 a year on local sponsorships, such as the Alice Springs Racing Carnival and Cup.At last week's launch, three charities were invited to spin the roulette wheel of the on-line casino.The Royal Flying Doctor Service "won" $2600, the School of the Air, $3200 and Amity House, $2000: "This was to demonstrate that the inter galactic casino will continue to support local charities, as does earth bound one," says Mr Bridge.As of this Monday, Lasseters had signed 132 players from countries including Russia, North Korea, Malaysia, Spain, the USA (where internet gambling is illegal), and the former Russian Republic of Azerbaijan (registering $100).

"VISION" FOR ALICE LACKS CONVICTION. Guest comment by artists and author ROD MOSS.

I came home sad from the most recent meeting of the Town Council. This was only the second meeting I'd attended over the years. The last was to caution against the development of a sporting stadium in the middle of residential Eastside. The issues prioritised in my life have been most "voiced" in paintings. But there was a tabling due of the vexed recycling issue which Council seem reluctant to come to grips with. Given the urgency of planetary abuses so many communities are addressing at this point of the century, it seems essential for viable development, that our elected Council become committed to implementing a relevant recycling program with less detrimental environmental impact.The issues passed before I arrived. My despondency came from a presentation by John Baskerville: a "vision" of Alice in 2010. Its premise was based on an enhanced lifestyle and development. He fumbled with the computer program, assuring his audience it was totally devised by local talent. He had difficulty progressing through the menu. Was this a rehearsal? He seemed unflustered by incompetence. But more disturbingly, there was no conviction that he was excited by the vision he was to carry to the purse holders in Darwin.Two computer images on the program, in particular, resonate. An iridescently green golf course, looming large and out of all proportion to a distant Mt. Gillen. And a snap of the floodlit town from Anzac Hill, looking like a strip of Las Vegas from a taxiing jet. As much as anything else – including the possibility of inviting the army to deploy some of its Top End presence to Alice, and the unexplained process of including Aboriginal personnel in a major way in the burgeoning tourist sector – these images lingered. They had that "where are we now?" anonymity, that has been publicly cited as the influence of misplaced taste.A pie-chart indicated the huge income tourism brings into the town and future development. Tourism is dependent on vision. The discussion paper for 2010 is very clear about this. The very quality sought with our depleting dollars and time to "tour" is uniqueness of sight. We value difference, not simulation of the "other". We who reside, and those who visit, do so for difference. I did not arise here, but the deeper growth that has occurred since I chose to do so, has come through resisting the temptation to transform this profoundly different place into a cousin of coastal Australia. It may be that the vision for recycling in Alice Springs also requires some local solution, whilst we glean insights from successes in comparably remote and arid environments.The few things I've stood in the protest line for over the years were things I felt to be unique about Alice: collaboration with Arrernte custodians to save the Todd from a recreational lake, and fights for the older heritage buildings – Turner House (flattened to become a carpark), the old gaol, Marron's newsagency (also flattened ), and the Pioneer theatre.Places I've toured, where the mix of man and land has caused less offence and had some cohesive energy, were often resulting from expediency and the triumph of local talent and materials. These were towns and villages which expressed shared values and visions, which Alice in 2010 invites. I don't share the emphasis given by the presenter at that council meeting. The discussion paper is up front about our uniqueness and difference, our selling points. What I'm concerned about is very much a question of the detail and emphasis given in its big picture. I was saddened by a presentation that could easily confuse a McDonald's Big Mac version of a developing town with its MacDonnells vista.

BARGAIN BASEMENT CULTURAL PRECINCT. Comment by Alice News Arts Writer KIERAN FINNANE.

Question: When the Friends of Araluen receive a Commonwealth grant of $2.3m to develop one art gallery, why do we, the gullible populace, think we are going to get a whole cultural precinct for just $1m?Answer: Because living as we do in a place blessed with extraordinary beauty, great natural and human interest and, in so many ways, good fortune, we still want to believe that those who govern us will do so wanting to live up to our region's potential.Thus, when the concept of a cultural precinct was "sold" to us with excitement over "huge interpretive possibilities" and "seamless transitions", we forgot to be sceptical and wary, to scrutinise, and we got excited too.Well, the bargain basement approach to the cultural precinct is now being revealed for what it is.On March 24 I reported in these pages concerns by users of the Araluen Arts Centre over the loss of facilities to the paleontology exhibits and offices of the Museum of Central Australia.Our photograph showed the display in the foyer of one of the museum's dinosaur skeletons, placed out of any context and without regard to the integrity of the stained glass windows of the foyer.When I visited the arts centre last week, another dinosaur skeleton had taken up residence in the reading area, by the glass windows that look out onto the sculpture garden: where exactly are the "interpretive possibilities" and "seamless transitions" in these displays?Let us not be diverted from properly probing questions about the direction the cultural precinct is taking. Director of the precinct, David Whitney, soon to leave town, refused my requests for an interview. Then, in an extraordinarily unprofessional act, he attempted to head off controversy by feeding information to the Centralian Advocate (March 23) on the core issues of my report, which I had faxed to him as a draft.Unfortunately for Advocate readers, that paper did not question Mr Whitney over the value of the changes, nor over the way in which the decisions had been made, nor did it seek any input from users of Araluen.The issue did not stop there, however, as Ald Meredith Campbell subsequently fired off a letter to the Advocate editor (March 26), lamenting the "rationalisation" of Araluen, as well as "the covert and unilateral process" of the decision-making.Mr Whitney's boss, CEO of the Department of Arts and Museums, Sylvia Langford (who recently had refused to answer my questions about the spending of the Regional Arts Fund) then replied in a letter to the Advocate on March 30.ILLUSIONMrs Langford disclosed information about underutilisation of the lost facilities – the rehearsal room, and Witchetty's kitchen – matters which have to be part of the community discussion about their use and which certainly would have been given attention in my article had they been communicated to me.However, what Mrs Langford did not address was the way in which the decision was made, that is, without consultation with users, nor, as I understand, with the Araluen Advisory Committee.She devoted the rest of her letter to a red herring defence of the work of the museum's paleontologist, Dr Peter Murray.Although aggrieved practising artists have referred to "dead bones" taking over their lost facilities, and to the negative metaphor for the future of the arts represented by the "fossils", the value of Dr Murray's research and discoveries is not under challenge (see my own extensive reports on the "Big Bird" discoveries at Alcoota published over the last two years, now on the Alice News web site archive).The Museum of Central Australia and this community deserve a dedicated exhibition space for the museum's collection, and in particular for the Alcoota discoveries, and proper support for the museum's research work.And Alice Springs' exceptionally rich artistic community – artists, audience and visitors alike – deserve a top drawer cultural precinct, and the money that it takes to get one. It should also be marked by the commissioning of a major piece of public art, a collaborative piece by local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists, celebrating the scope of the culture that is the precinct's focus. David Whitney has resigned and will take up a position in Canberra. Last year he told me : "It's very easy for arts centres to be isolated from their community. The [advisory] committee is one way of reducing that isolation." In the light of his recent conduct, Mr Whitney's assurances now have a hollow ring.He also said that the community groups Araluen worked with had a "much more comfortable relationship with the arts centre than was sometimes the case in the past." (Alice News, October 7, 1998)It has taken only a few short months to undo that legacy. With his departure, it is once again up to the people of the town to make their voice heard: we should demand a director with a demonstrable willingness to work with the community (which includes answering the hard questions when necessary), we should insist on a greater budget allocation for the development of a high quality cultural precinct, including a bigger and better Museum of Central Australia, and we should defend, promote and expand the place of community arts in the Araluen Centre, which the people of Alice Springs should still feel that they own.

DREAMTIME QUACKS SET WEB ABUZZ. (Series)

The achievements as on-line literature of Simon Pockley's The Flight of Ducks do not overcome its "moral copyright" problems, according to his critics.The site is based on the records, written and photographic, made by his ophthalmologist father John in two journeys to Central Australia, the first in 1933, the second in 1976.
This is Part Five of a series by a SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.
Aboriginal film-maker Wal Saunders is, among other things, concerned by the "archaic views" expressed in John Pockley's 1933 journal and the "racism" in the 1976 journal, in which he refers disparagingly to "half-castes", and infers that "real" Aboriginal culture is "extinct"."In this day and age with Hanson and other right-wing people going around spouting their views I don't think these sort of sentiments are going to further our progress as a united nation one bit," says Saunders.But is he granting John Pockley more authority than he has ... and overlooking the opportunity that The Flight of Ducks offers: to scrutinise the scrutineer, to gaze at the ethnographic gazer?Saunders' friend, film-maker and archivist, Mike Leigh is more equivocal. "I'm not saying he should dismantle the site," he says. "These photos are of real significance to him in understanding his relationship to his father and his family ... and for all of us in understanding the relationship between ourselves and the people on the expedition."But I do think there's a good deal of Victorian romanticism involved, and these questions need to be brought out and addressed."Despite his intention to make this free and available and unlimited, it's a very constructed site. You don't get enough discourse. You get other people's views by e-mail, but you don't get his response to them for example."I think he could have constructed it so as to make it possible not only to Homerise his father, but also to give a voice to people who've been dispossessed of land and voice for so long."Leigh also believes the site would benefit from the inclusion of other white views – particularly those of Pockley's fellow expedition member artist Arthur Murch. Besides his sketches of the trip, Murch also made a film which is kept in the archives of the Institute for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islanders and Studies, along with his notes. In contrast to Pockley's "obsessiveness," says Leigh, Murch was a "bohemian and an artist, a knockabout sort of fellow," whose records included some "ironic" themes.Simon Pockley responds that he has been waiting for Murch's widow to include Murch's sketches and accounts on the site – adding that "Larnach will be next." But did he try hard enough to get the "Aboriginal side" to the story? Certainly, despite his relative comfort of travel, he had nothing like the kind of access to Aboriginal people his father did. In his 1996 trip to the centre, Simon Pockley gets a permit from the Central Land Council (CLC) for two days to "traverse the country" through which his father travelled. Among the few Aboriginal people who do speak to him is the grandson of one of the few Aborigines actually identified in the memoirs. He sees no problem with publishing the pictures because the people have been dead so long.The year before, Pockley Jr had sent copies of the photos to the CLC. "They disappeared with a man ... who claimed to be ‘the thought police' on the phone," he told Saunders in an e-mail. "Over the last two years I have sent requests for comment to every Aboriginal group I could find on the net, including ATSIC. But I have received nothing back."Pockley has nevertheless included warning screens for people who might be offended by the photographic contents, which include images of pointing bones collected by his father. He is also investigating the possible use by Aboriginal communities of PICS – the Platform for Internet Content Selection – as a way of screening "sensitive material."NEXT AND FINAL: Divining the nature of "sensitive material".The address of The Flight of Ducks is http://www.cinemedia.net/FOD/See Parts One, Two, Three and Four of our report in Alice News issues of March 17, 24, 31 and April 7 or on our internet archive.

BLACK ART: SELF-REGULATE OR BIG BROTHER? By KIERAN FINNANE.

Only the most rapacious "carpetbaggers" would dispute that there should be fair trade in Aboriginal art, but how to achieve that fairness is a matter of keen dispute.Dealers under the leadership of Adrian Newstead, owner of the highly successful Cooee Emporium in Sydney, want to achieve self-regulation by subscribing to the nascent Australian Indigenous Art Traders Association's code of ethics.This talks about, among other things, conducting one's affairs "in an exemplary manner" and ensuring "equitable and timely returns to artists".But the code will come nowhere near addressing the problems of the industry, according to key Aboriginal arts organisations, Desart in Central Australia and ANKAAA in the Top End, whose executive officers Ron Brien and Marie Munkarra have declined to join the Art Trade board.Mr Brien says their refusal will scuttle the association's hopes of being an industry-wide body, but "it's best to know where we both stand"."We are poles apart in looking at the issues," says Mr Brien. "The association should be just for dealers and they can fight the battle with Desart and ANKAAA further down the track."The "battle" will be over the "inclusion of art centres and artists in the equity base" of the industry.Mr Brien says: "If Art Trade supported art centres more there would be more support for Art Trade."We can always have dialogue, but they've got to realise how important it is to put resources back into the industry. All they've got so far is a code of ethics, and the only comeback from a breach of the code is exclusion from the association. So what!"Desart wants to see compulsory registration of dealers by a government body, set up under an Act of Parliament, with penalties for breaches, ranging from fines to loss of registration, which would then make it illegal to continue dealing.Mr Newstead told the Alice News he is "personally disappointed" by the Desart and ANKAAA EOs' decisions, but that Art Trade will press on. "I should point out that we never discussed whether their organisations would actually join Art Trade," he says. INVITED"They were invited by the seven elected board members to occupy two of the five appointed board positions which can be filled from outside the membership in order to bring in additional expertise."The Art Trade board is really caught between a rock and a hard place. "There are a significant number of art centres and their supporters that feel we have gone too far inviting traders, who work in ways other than through art centres, to join. "However it is also true that there are a significant number of dealers who won't join because they perceive that the board is too closely aligned with the art centres."In fact we occupy the middle ground in a very polarised industry. ANKAAA and Desart are convinced that they are right and that a large number of dealers are unscrupulous and take advantage of artists. "Equally many of the dealers who won't join take the position that the art centres are manned by impractical government-paid people who have no real commercial expertise and simply don't understand the commercial realities of running galleries, the costs of promoting artists and the industry with expensive advertising, and supporting clients' needs."Mr Newstead commends the Desart and ANKAAA EOs for "doing an excellent job under the most terrible pressure"."Their budgets are pathetic given their work load and responsibilities," he says.However, according to Mr Newstead, more and more of Art Trade's 76 foundation nominees are paying their $1000 membership fees. These include quite a few Aboriginal owned and operated companies, and several individual art centres, "regardless of ANKAAA's and Desart's position", he says. Meanwhile, Desart will continue to tackle the "grass roots" problems at the grass roots, says Mr Brien.Among their initiatives, they are asking for industry partners to contribute funds to the Friends of Desart, with the aim of, as a first step, establishing a bush artists' camp in Alice Springs.Mr Brien says the dry (no alcohol) camp would be a place where artists "can be looked after when they come in from communities". This would include supplying them with paint, canvas and basic living facilities.

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