YOUTH REFUGE FUNDS WASTED - ALLEGATIONS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Members of Aranda House management committee and staff claim money for the youth refuge – possibly as much as $70,000 – may be in the process of being diverted to set up a plush office in the CBD for the organisation running the facility, the Aboriginal Child Care Association (ACCA).The staff, some still employed and some recently sacked, say dozens of young people at risk, many of them likely to commit property crimes, are back on the streets.This is because there are no funds left for the hostel which previously catered for up to 50 youths a day.Neither Aranda House manager Allen Furber nor ACCA chairperson Anne Ronberg followd an invitation from the Alice News to provide a comment.Insiders say there is ampe office space in Aranda House itself, which is located in Kempe Street near the Gap.The allegations come at a crucial time when Federal ATSIC funding for Aranda House is about to run out, and there is a strong campaign for the NT Government to accept the funding responsibility under its own Community Welfare Act (Alice News, April 28).A spokesman for the local ATSIC regional council says it had gone to great lengths to provide, despite severe Federal budget cuts, nearly $200,000 for Aranda House in the past and again in the current financial year.The spokesman says the council considers Aranda House is playing a "crucial role".Despite the knowledge, for some two years, that ongoing funding by ATSIC is not assured, it appears the Aranda House management has done little to secure any reliable, permanent source of money.About one year ago ATSIC commissioned an enquiry into the operations of Aranda House, and into the organisations responsible for it.The ensuing report was scathing about the management, treatment of young people in its care, staff relations and other matters. None of the 36 recommendations made by the enquiry appear to have been taken into account – in fact, the situation has clearly deteriorated further.[The report has been leaked to the Alice News – see next page.]The staff and committee members, who asked not to be named because they fear reprisals, say only an average of about four young people a day are now cared for at Aranda House, under funding from NT Correctional Services (for "bail clients"), as well as from the Federal Family, Youth and Community Services.Each program has a maximum of five places.However, say the workers, the refuge section, with 14 beds for girls and 14 for boys, often supplemented with swags and mattresses, is now closed, although the current ATSIC funding was designed to support the facility until the end of June.MLA for Stuart Peter Toyne, who has carried out several studies about crime in the town, says the closure will have "a direct effect on property offences and suicides."There is probably no more important issue in the town than youth problems."If we don't cut the cycle now all we can look forward to is another dysfunctional generation."Mr Toyne says the "scant resources" available should be focussed "on the basically intended programs".Even if facilities such as Aranda House were running at full capacity, says Mr Toyne, "it would not go close to meeting the identified need in the town".The staff members claim Aranda House has of late been rife with nepotism, mismanagement and neglect.The Youth Night Patrol, which receives $87,000 a year from ATSIC, is still active but it has nowhere to take the street kids it picks up on the three nighs a week it operates.One youth has been sleeping on the footpath outside the refuge.Another, subjected repeatedly to serial homosexual rape, has nowhere to go.Full-time counsellors and youth workers have been sacked, and replaced by casual staff who - at a pay of just $12 an hour - cope with young people who are armed with screwdrivers and knives, and who are high on alcohol and petrol, or on paint and glue obtained in store break-ins.One staff member says on a busy night, up to 200 young people are picked up by the Youth Night Patrol, staffed by several capable and highly motivated youth workers.The only current option is taking them back to their often dysfunctional families where they may be exposed to violence and sexual abuse.The workers say counsellors meant to go to town lease areas aren't doing so because they are scared.Staff have allegedly been sacked whilst on sick or annual leave.One senior staff member - now also dismissed - was several weeks overdue for classification as a permanent employee.Funding from Aboriginal Hostels to employ a manager, assistant manager, cook, cleaner and a night watchman are apparently at least partly used for purposes not approved because several of these positions are unfilled.A committee person says members are prohibited from speaking to the staff and volunteers, who in turn have been required to sign guarantees that they will not talk to the media.Even if the present alleged scandal can be resolved, the fate of Aranda House in the next financial year is uncertain.NT Minister for Health, Family and Children's Services Steve Dunham has not responded to a request for comment, but reliable sources say that the NT Government – under pressure from the Alice Springs community and in view of its own legal obligations – is coming to the view that it will need to assist Aranda House in a significant way.According to a spokesman, Aranda House has made an application to ATSIC for funds for 1999/2000 but has been told to have any chance of success, it will need to meet program guidelines.The spokesman says the organisation has given a proper accounting of ATSIC funds.ATSIC has not been told that the refuge section of Aranda House is closed, but there has been no independent verification about the refuge's current operations.
THE LESSONS FROM ARANDA HOUSE.
The alleged gross mismanagement of Aranda House throws up some fundamental questions.How can it be that the NT Minister for Health, Family and Children's Services Steve Dunham, and Minister for Central Australia Loraine Braham, are leaving a large number of young people, for whom they have a clear duty of care, in the hands of an organisation about which there is strong and unrefuted evidence that it is – at best – incompetent?Mr Dunham and Mrs Braham owe a lot of answers to the people of Alice Springs who for years now have been on the receiving end of a property crime wave – quite likely committed by the some of the very people Aranda House is funded by the public purse to look after.Mr Dunham, his predecessors, and Mrs Braham should have known for two years that ATSIC funding was due to run out, yet neither of the Territory Ministers put in place an appropriate regime of care for the young people that would serve them and – in the no doubt numerous extreme cases – protect the town.If the money was being spent with reckless carelessness, as it appears to be the case, then Mr Dunham and Mrs Braham were under an obligation to step in – or do they not consider as their constituents the young, abused, homeless and predominantly black people in Alice Springs, whether they have criminal tendencies or not?The question also needs to be asked why is it that ATSIC provides public money to an organisation, for two years in a row, without apparently ensuring that this money is spent properly?In May last year ATSIC commissioned the Community Business Bureau, an Adelaide based management consultancy firm, to report on the Central Australian Aboriginal Childcare Agency (CAACCA), two of whose major initiatives are Aranda House and the Aboriginal Childcare Agency, which in turn are closely linked.The report, available since early last year, was principally compiled by Anne Bunning, who says in 1997-98, CAACCA had a budget of $665,000, of which 61 per cent had come from ATSIC.Ms Bunning's report reads like a summary of how not to run these crucial functions.It says CAACCA has no organisational plan and the director "has regular contact with perhaps 20 per cent of the staff".Aranda House clients "talk of suicide, many are engaged in substance abuse, and many have poor literacy skills, while others need a temporary respite from a difficult family situation" while the NT Government is "moving further towards ‘locking up' people found in the streets, and those whom authorities think may be engaged in some sort of crime".Yet Ms Bunning is moved to recommend such basic initiatives as the development of "an employment strategy designed to attract high quality staff," and that the management committee should receive a monthly written financial report.She says the Management Committee should develop a "Performance Agreement with the Director which describes the tasks to be carried out by the Director" – amazingly, there clearly is no such agreement.Staff – reportedly coping, as a matter of routine, with armed juveniles high on alcohol or other substances – should have Senior First Aid certificates."Currently there is no requirement for staff to be trained in first aid," says Ms Bunning.She states CAACCA needs help from an external facilitator "implementing a planning process in the organisation".There should be "project indicators" – in other words, defined objectives – and an assessment of "compliance with statutory obligations" – that is, whether or not the organisation is doing its job.Ms Bunning's two and a half page account of her 10 day visit to Aranda House reads like a horror story.Excerpts:-
• Girls may leave Aranda House in the morning in the Yipirinya School bus, and return at lunchtime in the police wagon cage having been sniffing paint; they may disappear again, and be picked up later by the Youth Night Patrol (YNP).
• Staff are untrained but show enormous commitment to the work they are doing.
• A large group of girls aged 12 to 14 were sniffing paint at the sideshow in town ... the girls [were] frequently resident at Aranda House. They were reluctant to be picked up by the YNP ... later in the night, the police asked YNP to come to the game shop in town where two of the girls were now being looked after; the girls reluctantly came with the YNP; after driving around in the bus for perhaps two hours, they were dropped at the home of a relative of one of the girls, as it was past the curfew time at Aranda House. There were no lights on at the house.
• On the Saturday night, the YNP staff took these two girls and two others from the police wagon cage in the middle of Todd Mall in a state of extreme distress ... two of the girls kept talking of suicide; they were driven around in the YNP vehicle for perhaps an hour while the staff calmed them down; the girls were banned from Aranda House for the weekend because they were not attending school during the week; the girls were dropped back in town; after some negotiation with Aranda House staff, the girls were later allowed to stay at Aranda House.
• One afternoon a bail client had gone to town and not reappeared ... [after being found by YNP] it was discovered he had a head injury ... [after receiving stitches at the hospital and returning] he was unable to shower or clean up because there was no hot water; the resident came from the north and was dressed in a thin shirt; he had not had any dinner, the Aranda House worker indicated that there was no food available, although he appeared to have some soup later.
• [One evening] two of the girls, after verbally abusing the worker for some time, took the Toyota keys and stole the vehicle.
• Arrernte girls will not stay at Aranda House if the Warlpiri girls are staying there.
• Some girls appeared reluctant to get out of the YNP bus and stay at Aranda House when they found a male staff person on duty; they simply stayed in the bus, ultimately being dropped off at a dark house.
• Other young people ... are unwilling to stay at Aranda House if the "paint sniffers" are there; the security of their alternative accommodation is unknown; staff thought they may sleep in the river.
• Staff are trying to cook a meal or answer the telephone or provide the radio service for the YNP at the same time as they are trying to support distressed, often suicidal, clients of the accommodation service.
• One of the YNP vehicles was unregistered at one stage because the cheques had not been signed.
• Two staff (in separate vehicles) are often engaged in driving and ringing around town searching for Management Committee members to sign cheques.
All this – quite clearly – before the present crisis made things even worse!Meanwhile, ATSIC says that many of the recommendations of the Bunning report have been implemented, and the organisation is going through a difficult time because of the funding uncertainty.Financial reporting by the organisation to ATSIC has not thrown up any major concerns about financial accountability.
ABORIGINAL HOUSING: STILL MILES BEHIND. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
As draconian measures – including making dole payments only in the recipients' own communities – are being mooted to keep people out of town, in a bid to reduce anti-social behaviour, some more reasonable enticements to stay at home are slow in coming.An obvious one would be to provide homes in the first place: NT authorities dealing with the problem estimate that the shortfall currently is 2600 houses still needed in remote communities.In 1992 the remote area housing backlog in the Territory was estimated at 3100. In the past seven years 500 homes were built, bringing the stock up to 4500 homes now.However, 131 were built last year, showing an acceleration of the effort.Since 1991 the indigenous population in the NT has grown by a staggering 16 per cent.The 1991 census found that the NT has the largest housing shortage in Australia, and that 22 per cent of the nation's total indigenous housing need is in the Territory, but ATSIC says it's now closer to 30 per cent.NT departmental officers are currently conducting environmental health surveys of all housing in the major remote communities.Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron was recently quoted in a national newspaper as saying that 40 per cent of houses in remote areas are "uninhabitable" and dwellings last an average of just eight years.NT Housing Minister Loraine Braham has not responded to an invitation to comment.In any case, NT departmental officers do not yet have comprehensive data on the maintenance of the publicly funded homes: a process to carry out systematic assessments of maintenance and care for the homes started only mid last year. What's more, although the establishment of the Indigenous Housing Authority of the NT (IHANT) in 1995 aimed at coordinating state and Federal initiatives, it appears that there are again at least two major programs operating side by side, both drawing on ATSIC funds.IHANT in 1998-99 had a budget, including $4m from the Territory government, of just under $39m - nearly half from ATSIC.IHANT is now working parallel with the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (NAHS) which received in the same year, for the NT alone, $41.4m, all of it from ATSIC.NAHS is project-managed by the Ove Arup & Partners consultancy firm, of Sydney Opera House fame, under contract to ATSIC.The popular wisdom is that IHANT is building basic, robust and practical homes, while the NAHS structures are generally much dearer and incorporate more sophisticated design elements.Sources say there is a lively debate, given the dramatic need for homes, about the merit of spending large amounts of money on a few architecturally designed homes, while so many people are still living in humpies.MLA for Stuart Peter Toyne says the clearest example of community wishes being ignored is the Six Mile – south of Ti Tree."Clearly, the direction the community wanted to take was quite different."They wanted more basic houses and more of them - and they didn't get them."Ove Arup in Darwin say they're not allowed to make media statements.In any case, even the basic homes favoured by IHANT cost an average of $115,000 - although the land, of course, is free.IHANT's construction work is program-managed by the NT Department of Housing; once homes are built, the Department of Local Government assists communities in the management of their housing stock.Allocation of money is on a needs basis and decided by the IHANT board: the chairperson is elected annually; the other members are the seven ATSIC regional chairpersons or their nominees; the two NT ATSIC commissioners; one nominee from Federal Family and Community Services Minister Jocelyn Newman, and up to seven members nominated by Mrs Braham. Aborigines are in the majority on the board.Currently only five of these Territory positions are filled.Although IHANT's program is managed by the NT Department of Housing, which gets an annual fee of around $3m, the budget comes almost entirely from Canberra: in 1998-99, ATSIC kicked in $15.6m and the Department of Family and Community Services, $19.5m.Participation in the building work by the beneficiaries ranges from nil – everything is done by outside contractors – to the community providing labour and apprentices: at Lake Nash, for example, 18 locals are working on the 10 houses currently under construction there by NAHS, under the supervision of a qualified builder.Only qualified tradesmen like electricians and plumbers are brought in from "outside".A community source at Lake Nash says the local interest in the project continues well after completion: there are well cared for gardens, the homes are looked after, and people pay rent.Finke and Yuendumu are other communities with extensive local participation.Mr Toyne says Lake Nash is quite rightly being held up as a good example of what community participation can do. However, he has assisted the community "in a long and hard battle to get the style and cost of housing they want, and the training programs to support local participation".Mr Toyne says the funding agencies should more closely heed the communities' wishes as to the style and cost of homes.He says: "Participation by local people should be mandatory unless the community specifically says it doesn't want to do it."Any participation of community members in the construction is directly reflected in the capacity to maintain the houses once they are built."
NEXT WEEK: HOW TO MAKE HOUSES LAST LONGER.
YES, MINISTER, THE OLD POST OFFICE IS UNIQUE!
Sir,- It's official! The 1932 Alice Springs Post Office, complete with its original Repeater Station building, is the only one of its kind in the whole of the Northern Territory.The only other Post Office with its Repeater Station is at Newcastle Waters but those buildings, built in 1942, are made up of two modified steel-framed Sidney Williams Huts and are clad in corrugated iron.Furthermore, enquiries with the Australian Heritage Commission's database has revealed that there are only two other Post Offices, complete with their Repeater Stations, on their Register of the National Estate, for the remainder of Australia.The Minister, Tim Baldwin, and his Heritage Advisory Council have indicated that they are prepared to live with their decision to sacrifice the Repeater Station building – the very thing which makes our Old Post Office so special – so as to accommodate a perceived short-term commercial gain for Telstra.Well, I for one say that this is just not good enough, and they should all be ashamed of themselves for selling this town's heritage so short.Any commercial benefit to Telstra gained from the demolition of the original Repeater Station building needs to be considered against the immeasurable loss to Alice's heritage by reducing our "unique" Post Office to the status of that of any other Post Office in any Australian country town.Does Telstra, the Minister and the Heritage Advisory Council need reminding of how the people of Alice Springs have in the past been prepared to fight for the few historic buildings we have left?Have they forgotten how the community fought to save the Old Hartley Street School from becoming a carpark, of how the Pioneer Theatre's redevelopment was tempered to incorporate the historic buildings and, more recently, the public reaction to the NT Government's proposal to demolish the Old Alice Springs Gaol?Come on Telstra, look beyond the next shareholders' meeting and show us your credentials as a "good corporate citizen", and allow Alice Springs to retain an important set of historic buildings for the long term benefit of our town.And to the Minister and members of the Heritage Advisory Council, I ask that you begin to show some courage in resisting those who would continue the destruction of my town's historic buildings, and to concentrate on your main purpose – the identification, protection and conservation of the Northern Territory's heritage.Domenico Pecorari
ALICE CASINO TO BE WORLD'S CYBER GAMBLING MECCA?
Gambling enterprises in the NT, with the Alice Springs based Lasseter's Casino leading the charge, seem set to corner the internet gaming market because of the low tax charged by the Territory Government.Lasseter's, which claims to be the world's first government licensed web casino, is paying just eight per cent tax, while media reports say Victoria is proposing a 50 per cent tax. Lasseter's web gambling tax was announced in last week's sittings of the Territory Parliament although the casino received its "cyber" license on April 9.The tax – the same as for games other than poker machines in the "land based" casino – is paid on the total amounts lost by gamblers, the casino's winnings. It is expected that gaming taxes in Queensland and the ACT will be around 20 per cent, possibly lower for internet gambling. (The tax on poker machines in the NT varies and is currently set at 17.5 per cent.)The low tax regime in the Territory may lead to an influx of online gambling enterprises, whose services would be accessible from anywhere in the world.However, Lasseter's has an agreement with the NT Government that no other casinos – web nor land based – will be licensed in the southern part of the NT until July 1, 2000.Lasseter's CEO Peter Bridge last week joined the debate about internet gambling in the wake of comments by independent Senator Brian Harradine and the chairman of the Church Gambling Taskforce, the Reverend Tim Costello.Mr Bridge says it is easier to monitor and control access to online gambling than it is to its "physical" counterpart. He says since starting the online facility, 2500 people from 62 countries have established internet gaming accounts with Lasseter's, setting up credits averaging $200. The current limit is $500.
BOOKS THAT GIVE THE OUTBACK ITS SOUL. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
With an historian "beneath every rock" in Alice Springs, David Myers, founding publisher of Central Queensland University Press, is calling for more support for local research and writing from the Northern Territory Government.In town last week to launch two histories from the heart, by local authors Rose Rawlins Coppock and Judy Robinson, Professor Myers urged support for training in the collecting of oral histories, the establishment of an Alice Springs archives, and said he would be approaching the NT Government to enter into a joint venture with his publishing house."When you want to build up a myth for a special region, and the Red Heart of Australia is a very special region, it's not always commercially viable," says Prof. Myers."You might sell 800 books, but none of the big publishing houses will touch that, they want to be sure they can sell 5000!"Prof. Myers says it requires a long term view to gradually build up interest and involve tourists in the market, leading to higher print runs. "But that building-up period is uneconomic for a publisher. "What I'm suggesting is a joint venture between our press and the NT Government, in particular through the Minister for Central Australia, Loraine Braham."I'm not saying the Government should pay for everything, that's a terrible mentality. "I'm talking about a venture where I risk as much as they do, and it's such a little risk really."It would probably only take some $50,000 a year, with joint funding from my university, in return for which they'd get an agreed number of handsome books."Such a venture could achieve many things of interest to the Government, according to Prof. Myers: from creating a steady supply of "corporate gifts", to furthering the "great interest in Australia from international tourists"."I'm not talking about the people who come in for five days and visit Brisbane and the Gold Coast, but rather the people who come out here to Alice and do tours around the wonderful MacDonnell Ranges. "They need a souvenir to take home which will continue to excite their interest, through the mind, not just through their eyes, which will bring them back, to become the ‘repeat tourist', as they say in the industry." Bush Tracks and Desert Horizons by Mrs Coppock and Bushman of the Red Heart by Mrs Robinson are just such books, as well as being books of social history, says Prof. Myers."They celebrate the struggle, in different times and different ways, of ordinary people, not kings and queens, who had to come to grips with the harsh climate and make a go of it."They are two quite different books. Judy's contains some family history but it's mainly about that extraordinary man Ben Nicker [her uncle] and his exploring and camel expertise, covering a vast area of inland Australia. "It's a book of heroes, the stuff of myth and legend, whereas the basis of Rose's book is her extraordinary childhood on something like a dozen different cattle stations, how she and her parents lived without any of the conveniences we take for granted, and the people she met, famous characters of the outback, people like Bob Buck or Jimmy Wickham."She and her mother had the good sense to take the photographs, write about the people they met, the relationships they formed, and it gives you a social history of daily life."Family history is often disparaged or looked down upon by university academics, but I think they are wrong. It depends on what the family did. "In both Judy's and Rose's cases, the families did quite extraordinary things. They suffered privations and hardship which I can only marvel at, made five or six different houses out of local materials in the course of their wandering through the Territory, travelling by camel cart , and preserving their dignity through all that."The books are not the first Territory books to be published by CQUP, nor will they be the last."We've already got at least half a dozen prominent books which have come from the NT," says Prof. Myers. "That's caused me certain problems with the Queensland Government!"There's a bush telegraph out, he says, that's telling people about a company called Outback Books (CQUP's imprint) and, at his office in Rockhampton, he's knee deep in unsolicited manuscripts from all over inland Australia."People are coming out who've had extraordinary experiences."They talk about preserving history, that's very important, but of course you can preserve history with just one copy, put it on a tape recording or on a CD-Rom and place it in a library or in the archives. "Publishing is about something more than that."It's about reaching an audience, and that's the mission Prof. Myers has given himself:"I want our press to become the Australian publisher of outback books. That's a pretty big ambition, but I think there is a niche there at the moment that's not filled."It's a question of selecting manuscripts that will be of wider interest than the immediate region that they are written about, and then presenting them well:"There's a way to present the outback to America and Europe, the subject matter has got to be a superlative of some kind, something unique."Then if you give the books exciting covers with colour that's representative of bush Australia, tourists will start taking them as souvenirs, rather than buying tea towels or rabbit fur golf club covers!"It's a principle he followed with Mrs Coppock's and Mrs Robinson's books: in both cases the warm earthy colours of the Centre are immediately striking. Mrs Coppock's features a contemporary photo of a bush track, contrasted with the black and white of her invaluable historic photos, while Mrs Robinson's assembles her own painted landscapes and portraits in a panorama reflecting the scope of the story she tells.But what is a university press doing involved in a venture of this kind?Prof. Myers: "We started off as an orthodox university press, doing academic books, research, until I found that regional histories in joint ventures with shire councils all over Queensland were both more interesting and more lucrative. "Then I stumbled on an outback author called Marie Mahood, who had spent ten years in the Tanami Desert and wrote a series of books about her experiences there."She rocketed to become our star author, and I thought if one outback author can do this, so can others."Gradually, over a five year period I've become more and more fascinated by the potential of Outback Books which has virtually taken over the press."It couldn't have been done so far without my university pouring $900,000 into the press in the last six years, nor without the Queensland Government's investment of $200,000."The leaders of the university are ecstatic because they can see the value of the publicity that the press gets through Outback Books, but of course the purist academics, who aren't the slightest bit interested in PR for the university, only want academic books produced. "I have become very sceptical about academic books in general and the motivations for producing them. I can say that because I have done nine or ten myself, but when I look at the actual sales records I think maybe we all would have been better off to publish them on CD-Roms and deposit them in the library."There's no other academic press in the world that would do what we are doing, but I've got broad-minded chancellors and vice-chancellors, and I'm ecstatic because I'm getting to see bits of Australia I never would have seen otherwise and I'm getting to meet the most extraordinary people."Do these tales of extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances feed into the academic pursuits of CQU scholars? Prof. Myers: "They will in time. The regional histories have already attracted academic attention. The outback books haven't yet and that's because of the huge gap between city culture and bush culture."In a way it's shameful , but in another way it's a fantastic opportunity for my press to leap into that void. If I spend the last ten years of my career doing that, I shall feel very pleased with myself."It's clear from reading the metropolitan newspapers and listening to the radio that Australia, in the cities and after some initial debate, has taken an extraordinary turn towards Asia, towards multiculturalism based partly on our immigration, partly on our trade needs. "But the bush people tend to look back to the way things were before technology changed, before the road trains came, before the helicopter mustering, and to a way of life which no longer exists. "The common cry you'll here is we must preserve this before it's lost, before the people die who lived it. "It is a cry from the heart because they loved their way of life. "For them it wasn't hardship, it wasn't misery, it wasn't loneliness, it was a privilege. "The first time I heard a bush author like Marie Mahood say it was a privilege to live for ten years in the Tanami Desert I cracked up, but she was serious and I began eventually to see."
WHAT ABOUT TODAY'S OUTBACK? ARE THERE NEW STORIES WORTH TELLING? KIERAN FINNANE CONTINUES HER INTERVIEW NEXT WEEK.
DREAMTIME SUFFERS WEB EXPOSURE: THE DUCK HAS LANDED. Conclusion of Series.
Does the Internet offer opportunity or threat, or a bit of both, to indigenous culture?With Part Seven we conclude the series by a SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT on the controversial website known as The Flight of Ducks.Created by Simon Pockley, it is based on the records, written and photographic, made by his ophthalmologist father John during two journeys to Central Australia, the first in 1933, the second in 1976.
The various people who have contributed to this discussion of The Flight of Ducks – Aboriginal film-maker Wal Saunders, film-maker and archivist Mike Leigh, Tanami Line pioneer Peter Toyne, and South Australian Museum director Chris Anderson – all concluded that if The Flight of Ducks contained an Aboriginal perspective, the "sins" of the Pockleys would be forgiven.In one conversation, Saunders suggested The Flight of Ducks could become the subject of a Native Title hearing over intellectual property. Could we be facing a Wik case of the mind, in which Aborigines and other Australians compete for rights to the shared terrains of history?Simon Pockley himself calls for a "networked pluralism" which he believes offers Aboriginal interests the best opportunity yet to tell their own story, alongside his and his father's. But he also concedes the Net may be "culturally biased" against Aboriginal groups, partly because its access is personal rather than collective."I don't think Wal Saunders or most Aboriginal groups have any idea of the tidal wave of digital material that's coming, most of it from people who don't give two hoots," says Pockley. Saunders describes the Net, however, as a "great opportunity for Aboriginal people to stop seeing themselves or being thought about as the Other ... the people who live in remote Australia or the ones who live in Redfern or Sydney." As far as he is concerned, the Aborigines in The Flight of Ducks are "other".But as yet only a handful of Aboriginal groups have made use of the Net. They have made their own decisions about what is appropriate to be revealed. Some are selling paintings, others didgeridus. Alice's Aboriginal Arts and Culture Centre runs an attractive and reasonably informative site that attracts thousands of visitors. OBJECTIONSThe Yuendumu community, which has pioneered the Aboriginal use of television and video-conferencing on the "Tanami Line" so far has no homesite, pleading a lack of resources. Two years ago it e-mailed its own strenuous objections about The Flight of Ducks. to the site.They were dutifully posted by Pockley, who publicly mourns the failure of Aboriginal groups to take up his invitation to share space on the site. But he also says he is "hardening" on the issue of cultural copyright."Speaking from my own cultural standpoint, I claim the right to tell this story," he says. "I am a pluralist. There are many stories to tell."When pressed, Pockley describes himself as a builder rather than a story-teller. His next project is called Land, a website in which he plans to use datascapes developed on The Flight of Ducks. The core, or "hyperspine" of Land is four years he spent alone in The Warrumbungles in Western New South Wales in his twenties, building a series of "landscape sculptures" and – interestingly enough – a tower, linking a spur with a west-running range. In a funding application to the Australia Council that evoked his father's 1933 night in the desert, Pockley described his vision of Land as a campfire "around which people can share their stories."Where the story of The Flight of Ducks will end and who will share it may depend on the persuasive powers of its opponents. So far the site has prevailed, even against an investigation by the ethics board of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology after Pockley had submitted the site as his PhD thesis.Should The Flight of Ducks through cyberspace be grounded – or even abandoned by Pockley – it would assume a more static life. It is one of a few dozen websites singled out for preservation by one of its fans, the Australian National Library. The ANL takes monthly "snapshots" of the site, forever a work in progress, for the pilot project, a tentative attempt to grapple with the tidal wave of data and metadata unleashed on the Net. Appropriately enough, the project has been tagged Preserving and Accessing Networked Documentary Resources of Australia - or simply Pandora.
The address of The Flight of Ducks is http://www.cinemedia.net/FOD/
See Parts One to Six of this series in Alice News issues of March 17, 24, 31, April 7, 14, and May 5.
Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.