ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
June 30, 1999

MAYOR SEEKS ROAD DEAL TO COMPENSATE FOR RAILWAY. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Alice Springs Mayor Andy McNeill and the head of a group promoting the Outback Highway, Laverton's Councillor Patrick Hill, say if the Commonwealth subsidises the Darwin railway, it should also put money into a high standard east-west road link through The Centre.Cr Hill says the benefits of the proposed Darwin railway, for which Canberra has promised at least $100m, could be enhanced greatly by creating a transport hub in Alice Springs, linking the north-south railway into an east-west road system.And Mr McNeill says while he is not against the Darwin railway, it is clear that its benefit to Alice Springs will be limited: the town stands to lose as rail takes over a portion of the Alice to Darwin freight, much of which is now carried by a vibrant trucking industry based in The Centre.Two weeks ago, Peter Mostran, southern vice president of the NT Road Transport Association, has called for a matching of the grants for the rail project from the NT and Federal governments, with a similar expenditure for roads in the region (Alice News, June 16).Mr Mostran says the road transport industry in The Alice is not opposed to the Darwin railway so long as it will be competing on an “equal footing”.Mr McNeill says Barry Coulter, who resigned recently as the NT Minister for the Railway, had "for the last two years" predicted a $40m annual loss to The Centre's road transport industry, once the railway starts competing for freight.The Outback Highway, between Winton in Queensland and Laverton in WA, would serve more than 100,000 people in the nation's most remote areas, says Mr McNeill.Cr Hill says if Canberra part-funds the Darwin railway, there is a case for seeking funding for the Outback Highway as well, "because it creates a link across the country, from Cairns through to Perth."Cr Hill says the cost to bring the road up to the standard of a "good, safe, reliable gravel road, suitable for conventional cars" is estimated at $117m.So far WA and Queensland have committed $25m each, and the Territory Government is "fully supportive".In the NT, the majority of the link is sealed already.The only bad section is a stretch either side of the Docker River community, according to Cr Hill, who says he travelled from Laverton to Alice Springs last week by conventional car in just 18 hours.Cr Hill says his group was invited to put a submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Regional Development in remote Australia, and has made a request for $59m.He says a submission to the Centenary Fund has been unsuccessful so far "but we don't think that avenue has been put to rest yet. "We're continuing to push that as well."The group is asking the Commonwealth to match the funding allocated by the states, plus a further $9m.Apart from its significance as a major east-west link, the highway would be used for local livestock transport, tourism and access to Aboriginal communities."We've got nothing against the Feds putting $100m into the railway," says Cr Hill."What we're looking at is the opening up of Central Australia."To get the full benefit from the railway we need good roads."We could have a transport hub into Alice Springs, and another one at Leonora or Kalgoorlie."The Outback Highway would form a connection between the north-south railway and rail systems in both Queensland and WA.Cr Hill says there is keen support throughout Australia for the Outback Highway, including from state ministers and Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher."Now we've got to get them to commit some money," he says.Meanwhile the road transport industry in The Centre has received a ringing endorsement from Stuart Hicks, the chairman of the National Road Transport Commission.EFFICIENTSpeaking after the Third Heavy Vehicle Transport Remote Areas Conference in Alice Springs on the weekend, Mr Hicks said Australia's trucking industry is the most efficient in the world.And he says it is a "celebrated fact" that the operators of The Centre's road trains – conceived some 30 years ago by Alice Springs entrepreneur Kurt Johannsen – are in the lead.Mr Hicks says the world learns from truckies in Australia's outback about cost efficiency, reliability, operating safety and how to carry big loads over long distances.He says the conference resolved to form a group seeking to set nationally consistent standards, including higher load limits and dimensions, for road transport in the outback.The standards are likely to fall in line with those set in the Territory some 18 months ago.So far the Northern Territory, South Australia, WA and Queensland have agreed to join the group, and NSW is considering it. Mr Hicks says the conference also looked at high-tech "intelligent transport systems" including cameras capable of detecting driver fatigue, improved fatigue management – which may not be linked to just driving hours – and even driverless vehicles.

WHAT DISCUSSIONS, ASKS I.A.D. DIRECTOR (Letter to the Editor)

Sir,- I refer to your lead article entitled "Alice may get Joint Campus" (Alice News, June 23).There are a number of misstatements of fact by Minister Adamson in your report. The entire foundation of the Minister's refusal to agree to redevelopment on this site has been his demand that we co-locate with Centralian College. This requirement has been the fundamental basis of his objection to the Institute of Aboriginal Development (IAD) remaining on this site. Now, some two and a half years down the track he says that the Centralian site has been put aside.As his recent comments in your article prove, his entire argument for the past several years has been a charade. Is he making decisions on the basis of whim? He claims that IAD has firmly shut the door on the issue of negotiations over a consortium with other providers in Alice Springs. He misstates the real position. IAD sought undertakings that IAD's infrastructure needs would not be part of the consortium feasibility discussion. In the absence of those undertakings IAD withdrew from the consortium negotiations. You reported our chairman's comments that the Batchelor / CAT negotiations are "another issue altogether". We do in fact have joint endeavours and cooperate in a number of forums on indigenous education matters. The implication that IAD is somehow parochial in its attitudes or otherwise uncooperative with other education providers is absolute nonsense. Minister Adamson's inference that we are refusing to talk about redeveloping our campus is also wrong. His memory is short and imperfect. We met with him in the early part of this year at the Chief Minister's office in Alice Springs. One other point in your report which requires clarification is the comment that IAD refused to move to Centralian College for fear of a loss of identity. There are also significant cultural reasons, among others, why the Centralian College site is inappropriate for IAD's activities and these were identified in the independently commissioned Land Use Assessment Report. The Minister recognises the unsuitability of our current teaching facilities, consisting of old houses and demountable buildings. It is disappointing that he fails to see the contribution that IAD makes to the education of its current students and the role models that they will be as parents to the next generation of school children. We could do more with purpose designed facilities. The poor performance of the mainstream education authority in the Northern Territory is evidenced by the establishment of the Collins' Review of Indigenous Education and the preliminary views reported in the Bush Talks Report of the Federal Human Rights Commissioner. Would it not be more profitable for the Minister to work in partnership with IAD? And not in conflict as has been the case for the last two and a half years! There is another fundamental issue that the Minister fails to address. The overwhelming focus of reports into indigenous education over the last decade has made this strong point: the importance of Aboriginal people having control of the delivery of education to Aboriginal students and respect for the decisions of Aboriginal communities. Minister Adamson has consistently flouted the thrust of those reports by failing to respect the decision of this board to remain on its current site. Has all the work and tax payer resources been for nothing? Minister Adamson uses arguments about the efficient use of resources – he would do well to look into the mirror more closely.IAD's concern is to deliver the best quality programs to its students, yet it continually has to divert its efforts to respond to the Minister's campaign of misstatements and misinformation through the press .Our students, and indeed the wider community, would benefit greatly from the Minister ceasing this negative and obstructionist approach, so that we could work together to deliver the urgently needed training and skilled Aboriginal employees that Central Australia so desperately needs.
Donna Ah Chee
Director, IAD
Alice Springs

BUSH TEACHING NEEDS MONEY AND VISION. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

John Ingram, who is retiring after nearly 15 years at the helm of Batchelor College, has made a plea for significant changes and increased expenditure in Aboriginal education.He says bush schools should be controlled by their communities with support from the Territory Education Department; there must be far broader access to secondary schooling in remote communities; teachers need to be better prepared; and governments must recognise the need to lift the parlous state of indigenous education.Mr Ingram says most Batchelor students are mature age because today's young people simply don't have the literacy and numeracy skills for tertiary training.And changes to Austudy next January show that outback education is "a battle still being fought and not yet won with a Federal Government bureaucracy that frequently seems to be uncaring of the special needs and the special nature of indigenous people in remote areas".He says Batchelor needs a network of staff and better infrastructure in communities, including housing, phones, computers."We're many millions of dollars away from that [but] it's not so expensive that if the nation thought it was important, they couldn't find those dollars."Batchelor currently has students from about 250 communities but study centers – often just a single room with a telephone, fax and computer – in only 45 (about 25 in The Centre), with a total of 14 staff now based on communities.Mr Ingram told the Alice News: "The discussions that we're currently having with the Centre for Appropriate Technology are the most propitious development yet, both in terms of getting vastly improved facilities [in Alice Springs], and in terms of the educational benefits to be derived from a collaborative partnership."However, "a lot of what's happening in juvenile education is disappointing."There are still a lot of Aboriginal people who leave school without a significant level of literacy and numeracy."Probably the most disappointing thing is the lack of opportunities for many young people in secondary education."It's something that affects Batchelor a great deal, of course."Mr Ingram says Batchelor is "giving adult Aboriginal people the tools to make decisions for themselves to influence governments and the powers to run education and health themselves."He says the students "have the skills within their own culture – we don't teach them that" but Batchelor equips them with "the skills of writing, talking and understanding how the system works, being able to take control of schools and health centers."It's through those means that they can influence the decisions about effective development of their own communities."The college needs more staff and facilities out on the communities."There is a lack of understanding, particularly in the Federal Government, of the cost of delivering education in remote areas."The cost can be quantified, we've done a lot of work on that ourselves."Governments like quick fixes, do it by email or internet or something of this sort."The majority of the people don't have access to those things, and won't have for many decades yet."He says while the college – to become independent from the NT public service tomorrow – as a tertiary institution relies on NT and Federal funding, primary and secondary education is entirely a Territory responsibility.A review is in progress into education at those two levels.Mr Ingram says a crucial aspect is the kinds of teachers the NT is able to recruit."The induction, training and professional development of teachers to work in Aboriginal communities needs to be very well done."I don't believe there is a very good correlation between pay and income and commitment and understanding. NT teachers are well paid by comparison with other states. "The salary levels for schools have out paced salary levels for lecturers in universities and tertiary institutions."Pay is not the big issue. It's the kind of people who're recruited to work in communities, making sure they have the skills in teaching English as a second language, in bilingual education. That's what's most important."I believe the government is committed to that, from meetings I've attended in recent weeks."Putting more responsibilities into the hands of school and community councils is a good step, providing that they are also supported in their understanding of the decisions they are making."Very often, in the past, that ability has been given to [communities] while in fact the decisions have been taken by school principals. "And that's not what it's about."Mr Ingram says "there needs to be a vision of what schooling can be and needs to be."It needs to be relevant to what parents in the communities want for their kids."There certainly need to be opportunities in secondary education, and for remote area people that can't just be provided by correspondence or by radio."Commenting on Education Minister Peter Adamson's claim (Alice News, June 23), that the bilingual education debate is obscuring the major obstacle in remote areas, namely that parents aren't sending their children to school, Mr Ingram said: "I think bilingual education is quite important, and I'm interested to see what the Minister has said in the News."It is a problem that the kids aren't attending school, it's a serious problem, but I think it's important to see that as a symptom of the way in which schooling is delivered, and of what parents and kids see as the outcome of schooling. It needs a long term vision."Unfortunately the media have presented it as a choice between bilingual education and teaching English as a second language."They're not alternatives. The two should happen together."Mr Ingram says: "There has been progress in some areas, particularly where Aboriginal people are taking control of the schools."The kind of tertiary education Batchelor is delivering is relatively new."In 1990 we had 450 students enrolled. In 1985 we had 100 students. Many of the courses we're offering are only just getting their first graduates, because the courses are new."Today, there are some 2000 students enrolled in Batchelor courses.Asked whether it's possible to have tertiary education without secondary education, Mr Ingram said: "We do, at the moment. "Very few of our students have secondary education, but it becomes much more difficult."[It would be easier] if there were people leaving secondary education with something akin to mid to upper secondary school level of attainment, but it isn't there at the moment."Our students are mostly mature age."Young people leaving school are not coming to Batchelor College because we can't deal with them, because they haven't got secondary education."

BIG FLAP ABOUT SMALL PART

Publicly funded facilities worth an estimated $350,000, including two homes and a state-of-the-art solar power station on a remote Aboriginal community, were rendered all but useless for several months because bore pump parts worth $22.68 had failed.The problem was finally fixed when Stuart MLA Peter Toyne bought the parts and offered to fix the pump himself, after negotiations with the Power and Water Authority, ATSIC, the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) and nearby community councils since early this year had been fruitless.Today, some 30 people on the Welere outstation near Utopia, north-east of Alice Springs, have ready access to water again.ATSIC has now offered CAT a contract worth $10,000 to fix community bores, after the commission's Alice Springs manager Richard Preece and councillor Peter Gunner intervened.But no-one has yet explained why for at least 16 weeks, an entire community had to cart water from 20 km away because of a simple malfunction.The parts requiring replacement are called pump buckets and are worth $6.30 each, if you buy the top-of-the-range leather variety. Plastic ones go for $5.Four are required to be mounted on the pump shaft, an assembly similar to a bicycle pump, only bigger.To do the job it may be necessary to pull the shaft, which is moved up and down by the windmill, out of the bore casing, but it's a simple operation requiring little training and simple tools. None of the nearby communities appear to have the skills to do the work.According to Mr Toyne, PAWA informed him that it is not responsible for maintaining bores commissioned on Aboriginal land since 1994."It's about time the NT Government and ATSIC came to an agreement to ensure that all population centres have guaranteed drinking water," says Mr Toyne."Without water nothing makes sense."Lindsay Bryceson, PAWA Regional Director South, says PAWA has not maintained bores on outstations for about the last five years, but they do look after essential services in communities on Aboriginal land, of which there are 68 in the Northern Territory.EMERGING POSITIONServices on outstations are generally supported by resource centres or community councils, who are funded by ATSIC to do so, according to Mr Bryceson.He says discussion has begun between PAWA and ATSIC about the possibility of PAWA maintaining services on outstations on a cost recovery basis, and "a position" should emerge on this within the next three to six months.

IS SPORT CHANGING OR ARE WE? Comment.

Last Saturday night was to have been a blue ribbon night for basketball in Alice Springs, with the conduct of grand finals. Alas it became a real fizzer when Rebels men's and women's A Grade sides forfeited, giving their opposition a premiership without having to bounce a ball on the boards.The forfeit, and the reason for it , were sounded early, and it is unfortunate that interstate competition clashed with the big night out in Alice Springs. But the no show serves another morale blow to sport in the Centre, and makes one ask questions.Already this winter season the flagship of Alice Springs sport , Aussie Rules, had to cancel a round of matches, due to the unavailability of umpires. At Anzac Oval the fledgling Vikings team, who in forming ensured a four team CARL competition, have had to forfeit due to lack of numbers. And both West and Central Memo have had their difficulties in ensuring adequate numbers fill the team sheet each week.A few years ago hockey was the biggest junior sport in town, and the senior men's and women's competitions were strong. These days they battle.In primary school sport, Alice Springs did not send a team to the Aussie Rules NT Exchange this year, and it is feared other representative sides will not travel in 1999. This is not due to a lack of numbers but rather is the result of the subsidy for Centralian sport being cut to the point where young athletes cannot afford to represent their town.Even at the show on Friday we Centralians will not see the cattle in the grand parade. No cattle, in a town built around the pastoral industry? In a word, it's not just sport.Television sport is thriving. It is great that people in rural and remote ares can watch live AFL, Rugby League, Wimbledon and the World Cup.But should this be to the detriment of local participation? Surely our primary school representative sides should be able to compete against their comrades in the Top End. Basketball fans should be able to watch their town heroes participate in the premiership. The sound of the whistle should surely be heard of a Sunday afternoon at each end of the town.And what is a show without the cattle?

CENTRE STAGE STILL WAITING FOR PRINCE CHARMING. By KIERAN FINNANE.

From imminent closure last year, Centre Stage has come from the brink, with last weekend's successful production of the pantomime Cinderella capping off the achievements of a difficult six months.The familiar faces of the older generation of Centre Stage stalwarts – in particular Michael Kelly perfect as Maybelle, and Kurt Murray a delightful fop – anchored a performance full of youthful zest, charm and humour that suited well the age range of the full company.The youngest member, Samantha Chambers, just five years old, held her own as a tiny tourist and a "security bunny", while the not much bigger Chelsea Petrick was in danger of upstaging everyone with the panache of her Boris, bunny servant to the Prince.Kasey Fox had the right mix of sweet and sour for a pantomime Cinderella and sang quite beautifully.Clare Dilger brought the house down with her back alley punk interpretation of Cinders' fairy godmother– spikey hair and tats combining outrageously with tutu and sparkles.The work of choreographer Ngoc Phan, much in evidence in recent Centre Stage productions, was particularly successful in this one, keeping the production moving along with a lot of bop, especially from the bunnies.A radiant enjoyment of what they were doing stood out among the bunnies and the younger teenage members of the company, from an exuberant Rob Evison as Buttons to the loyal and charming group of girls who seem to have grown up with Centre Stage over the last few years, in a range of supporting roles in this production.This, and the support from people around the town, is what keeps director Bryn Williams and his band of hard-working volunteers going:"When you see the response of the audience who are seeing kids not just doing something well, but doing it really well, when you get a little five year old who is holding the stage along with the Michael Kellys, that says a lot about the community spirit of Centre Stage," says Bryn."That's why we'll keep hanging in there."While he describes the year as "quite low key", Centre Stage nonetheless managed to produce, after just seven weeks in rehearsal, Richard III at the end of Term One, then became closely involved with Child of the Night, with Bryn directing his first community show in years and a lot of Centre Stage actors taking support roles, while at the same time rehearsing Cinderella.All this, without any government funding and without a "home".MLAs John Elferink and Peter Toyne offered financial support to Cinderella, Gerry Baddock donated the script, and rehearsal space throughout the year has been made available by Our Lady of the Sacred Heart schools and by Centralian College, but there is no office, no stable base."That makes it really hard in terms of time-tabling, going from one place to another, and fitting in with other people's needs. If there's a show on at Centralian, for instance, we are out of there for three weeks."It has been quite disruptive for our client group."Also, now that I am teaching full time at OLSH, we've also had to scale down the classes we were offering and not take any new members, just maintain the group that we had."Bryn is confidant that Centre Stage's outstanding debt to the Youth Centre – the sticking point with the NT Department of Arts and Museums – will be paid off by the end of the year.Once that is done, the company will seek government funding and hope to be able to employ tutors to hold classes again.Meanwhile, without missing a beat, they are preparing a performance for the Territory-wide youth festival in August:"We're working on a script called Our Town, an American play about growing up in a small town, which Glenda Ward and myself are adapting to be about growing up in Alice Springs in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties."A substantial amount of research has gone into that. We've been working with Jose Petrick amongst others, rewriting the script and working with the cast to develop the dialogues."As well, the 16, 17 and 18 year olds, taking their lead from the Year 11 OLSH production of For Coloured Girls ... , are developing a similar play about young women in Alice Springs and the issues they face. This will be for performance later this year or early next year.There is also a major fund raiser in the pipeline, a charity dinner, using the menus from Jackie Kennedy's time at the White House, and building entertainment around that theme: "We've approached the casino who are well behind the idea and that should completely clear us of debt."Bryn continues to be heartened by the professional success of former Centre Stage members.Cale Morgan, who made his farewell performance in Alice as Richard III, was signed up within ten days of his arrival in Sydney by Cate Blanchet's agent, John Evans.Lucy Slattery, from the Requiem generation, after an excellent year with the State Theatre Company of South Australia last year, is also on her way to Sydney, where Bryn has no doubt that she will be snapped up.And former Centre Stage stage manager Amanda Anderson has been accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, over 2000 other candidates.

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