ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
July 28, 1999

ALICE HEROIN USE IS FOR THE RICH. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

The prohibitive cost of heroin in Alice Springs is keeping the drug off the streets but not entirely out of the town.A reformed heroin user told the Alice Springs News that a "hit" of heroin here costs $100, compared to $20 to $25 in Melbourne.The man says he knows half a dozen users and one dealer in Alice Springs. He is aware that this dealer, who operates out of an average suburban home, has supplied the drug within the last fortnight.He suspects there may also be another dealer, because the users he knows appear to sometimes "score" from more than one source.He says he doubts there would be more than 20 users in the town because of the cost."I'd be extremely surprised if there were 50," he says.The users he knows are all either in a trade or in full-time employment.He doesn't think any of them would be "breaking into houses" to support their habit. "It's a middle class thing here," he says."The users are not struggling street kids, but people who have access to money and jobs."He says there are a lot more reformed users than actual users here because the town is seen as an escape route from the drug and the pressures that go with it.The News asked the man if any of the users he knows are in trouble with their habit, for instance having financial or health problems?He replied: "Probably, because one invariably does."One of the users is a friend whom he would dearly love to see cut off from his supply."He's a demon for it. I can see myself in him – there but for the grace of God go I. I really hope I don't come home one day and find him dead."The man, resident in Alice Springs over the last three years, says he used heroin on and off for 22 years, but only seriously, that is by injection, for a period of three years."That's when it becomes addictive," he says."It does its stuff well, it's insidiously pleasant. If you take it, you will take it again, and eventually you will start having problems, as with any addiction."All drugs are anti-social, but heroin is the most anti-social, the most selfish of all because in the end you only care about it."The man came to Alice Springs to break his habit. He says he feels cynical about the so-called "war on drugs" of the last few years because during that time the price of drugs interstate has dropped and the supply is greater than ever.He says "it would be nice to see Alice Springs narcotic free" but fears the drug's presence in the town may be the "thin end of the wedge"."I can't see it being stopped."So-called designer drugs, the subject of the play X-Stacy at Araluen this Friday and Saturday nights, are not prevalent in Alice Springs, according to the man: "They seem to come through every now and then," he says.He says the drugs of preference at parties here are alcohol and marijuana, one legal and both available in abundance.Detective Senior Sergeant Don Fry of the Alice Springs Police says the hard drug scene here is small but "involves a significant amount of police time to keep it that way"."Our main ally in the battle against drugs are the people of the town who provide us with information, which we of course treat with discretion and confidentiality."Our ultimate goal is to have Alice Springs drug-free and one dealer is one too many, but we can only have an impact with help from the public," says Det. Fry.

LOCAL VIETNAM VETERAN HEADS FOR BIG BOOK SUCCESS.

Since its launch on Anzac Day this year, Alice author Kenny Laughton's autobiographical novel Not Quite Men, No Longer Boys has sold out its first print run of 3000 and is well into its second.It has received critical acclaim, with Thomas Keneally hailing it as "an important contribution to the Australian literature of Vietnam", and, even more meaningfully for Laughton, acclaim from veterans for "telling it like it was".Says Laughton (pictured in the centre, with fellow diggers in Vietnam): "One veteran came up to me the other day in Adelaide and he said, ‘Mate, you were there all right, your book stunk of realism.' That's the word he used. And I thought, if you are going to tell history that's how it should be told."Of the jungle, Laughton writes it was "a nightmare" of "oppressive heat ... olive-drab foliage – camouflage for the Viet Cong as well as for the dangerous animals that inhabited these wildernesses – and huge black leeches that flourished in the damp undergrowth and waterways, burrowing into the flesh of unsuspecting soldiers."Of his first encounter with the full savagery of war: "All his accumulated horrors ... hadn't prepared him for this. One bloke had only half a body – there wasn't much left below his waist and his guts were hanging out like a string of sausages. The rest of the bodies weren't in much better shape either, with arms and legs missing, and one bloke only had half his head left."Of the loss of his mate Matt in a mine incident: "Kenny knew he ought to say something but suddenly all the saliva in his mouth had dried up. Tears were coming though, welling up uncontrollably in his eyes as he grabbed his forehead with both hands. The sound, when it arrived from somewhere deep inside him, was like a low, guttural howl."The stuff of war, that has come back to haunt him and many of his fellows in recent years.They shared Laughton's experience of Vietnam, but that of being an Aboriginal in the army belongs to few. This is the unique perspective offered by this novel.The nickname "Soot Farter" is given Kenny in his first week in barracks, and race is the basis for being singled out by a brutal instructor. Later he becomes known affectionately, even respectfully, but still racially, as "the little spear-thrower". It is something that his youth in Alice Springs has prepared him for. He writes of the hurt to himself and other soldiers caused by the anti-war movement: "He couldn't understand why all of a sudden they had become the target of such antagonism ... He at least had grown up with the taste of hostility ... and there was an element of fatalism in his reaction to the ill-feeling. He wondered how his mates really felt – if it hurt them too, and if it was the first time they had felt that sort of resentment from their own countrymen."The novel is rich in the thoughts and feelings of a young man with an essentially optimistic outlook and a lot of pleasure in living, pleasure in his strong, able body, in the company of his fellows, in the promise of the future, despite the horrors of war.While Vietnam and the army give the novel a focus, one suspects that Laughton would have had a story to write anyway.Laughton agrees: "Yeah, it's inside me. Some of it's to do with the cultural story-telling background of Aboriginal people, and my old Dad's a prolific writer, he's 82 this year and still writing."Laughton's "got the bug now" and has ambition for his writing over and above literary success: "I'm an old engineer, I built bridges and I'm still trying to build bridges ... with my writing."I'd like to effect a better understanding between the black and white community in this country."There's been some great steps forward in some areas, with our music and our art, but there's still a long way to go. I believe this country still has the capacity to make things right, I don't think we've lost the plot completely."I've got a lot of faith in the young people coming through and I think if there's people like myself and others around who can still have that voice of optimism, we can encourage the young people to find the answers to the problems."How does this novel contribute to a better understanding between black and white?Laughton: "I've said it on many occasions, and I think it's expressed in the book, the two things that I gleaned amongst all that madness of Vietnam was the great humour that exists in the Australian psyche. It's always been there in the military, that larrikinism."The other great, great strength that I'll cherish all my life and I'll take it to my grave, is all the great friends I made, the great comradeship."I guess it was a bit different than in civvy street, it was life and death stuff, but I've never been closer to anyone than those lads I served with. I loved them dearly, and there was no colour thing, it was just a bunch of lads doing their jobs. "It was the first time and probably the only time that I really felt accepted by the wider community ... and by gees that felt good. "It's a rare thing in this country, and that's what we can glean from the Vietnam experience – hey yeah, of course, black and white can work together. We've proved it, done it. It's just about taking the time to understand people."NEXT: Healing war trauma.

GUIDING THE NEXT GENERATION.

"I had a really rough upbringing and I just didn't want to be nobody, I wanted to make something of my life, I wanted people to know who I was, to tremor when they hear my name, I want them to think I am a powerful person," says Donna Lemon, chairperson of the Indigenous Youth Committee (pictured at left).The Alice News spoke to the dynamic 22 year old at the youth forum she helped organise for NAIDOC week. Donna saw the forum as a fun day for young Aboriginal people in Alice Springs, "a day for them to be themselves"."They are always around alcohol, always looking after their brothers and sisters because their parents are out."Some of these kids don't even have parents."We just want them to come down here and be around people who give off good vibes and give them a bit of advice, people who have achieved Year 12 or gone on further, to win awards."She herself is a case in point.Born in Tennant Creek, Donna grew up in Alice where, after years of being a "D grade student" at school, she began a traineeship in community work which she found deeply satisfying and motivating.She emerged 10 months later as Centralian College's 1997 Indigenous Trainee of the Year."That has just given me so much confidence, my head is ready to bust!" she says."You don't always have to have your parents' support, I never. I only had my Mum with me, so it's basically up to the individual. If they want to learn, if they want to be the best they can be, it's up to them."I had family members doing drugs, that drank, there was domestic violence there and I had to see all of this. That's the reason why I don't want to be a drug addict, I don't want to be an alcoholic, I don't want to be suffering domestic violence, getting hit by my partner, it's not right."We don't need to go through all of that to prove that we are somebody."The Indigenous Youth Committee is basically six like minded young Aboriginal people who have been meeting every fortnight for the last 18 months, but it is open to newcomers.Donna says young people "need to be heard" and need more opportunities for recreation – "something to curve them away from the alcohol and drugs scene, and peer pressure".While there is a lot of support from organisations such as Congress, CAAAPU, Tangentyere Council, the Gap Youth Centre, and Waltja Tjutangku Palyapiyi (Doing Good Things for Families) where she works as office coordinator, Donna says many adults don't like kids "getting the chance to talk up"."Especially young Aboriginal people, we're supposed to sit back, shut up and mind our own business."Fellow committee member Masita Maher says youth need to respect their elders "because they have a lot more knowledge than what we do", but "they quote ‘back in our days' and I think back in those days it's vastly different to our days, the ‘nineties."Today there's a lot more pressures going on and that's why I believe there's a lot of youth suicide happening."Masita says she's involved in the youth committee because "I think that it's up to this generation to guide the next generation"."I believe we are going to end up bringing hate-filled souls into the world, that's what we're doing."It's not normal, it's not appropriate especially in a place like this which is so traditional and their culture's so much alive."But by the same token these kids are stuck in between a white society and their own society, Aboriginal culture, that's a big disadvantage."There's a barrier to kids getting into mainstream, with Mr Adamson trying to cut bilingual education, that's really unfair. With these kids trying to get into mainstream, it doesn't mean you have to take away their roots."Like Donna, Masita has come through hard times.She came to Alice Springs from Perth three years ago."I was a youth myself – I've just come out of my youth, I've just turned 20 – but at that age I had a lot of personal problems, family problems, I even tried to commit suicide."I got dragged into drugs, bad friends, criminals, things like that, and I thought that I'd get away and the desert was the most secluded place that I could come to."Little did I know that I was walking into something a bit more heavier than what I was going through but that has made me stronger within to help these kids, that's where my motivation has come from."Of course there are no needles lying around, no junkies, but I mean it's just a matter of time before someone comes into town to introduce these youngsters to those kind of drugs and I believe that will eventually cause disease, there's a lot of factors all around the lifestyle the youth lead around here, it's not their fault."But there is help out there, says Masita: "All I can say to the youth is that we are here for you, if you need anything, it's just a matter of picking up the phone and calling someone."There's not just myself, there's Donna, Robin Nardoo and her sister and her brother, there's Derek Ah Chee, there's plenty of young people around to listen to the youngsters."Masita presents a "Youth in Focus" program on CAAMA radio, 5-7pm every Thursday. Young people can ring her there on 89529204 (fax 89529214) or drop her a line to PO Box 2608.Donna can be reached at Waltja on 89534488.Donna also says the committee "want to get into politicians' ears and get some secure funding" to have more days like the NAIDOC week forum, which was supported by donations from Imparja, Independent Grocers, Coles, Congress, Bi-Lo, Rockmans, and Saverys.

KIDS AT RISK ARE IN THE STREET AS SCHEMING FOR ARANDA HOUSE REFUGE FUNDING CONTINUES.

Should the taxpayer supplied welfare dollar help the most disadvantaged members of our community, or provide jobs and perks for a few fat cats?Students of that question would find much food for thought in an examination of the ongoing Aranda House fiasco.Their attention would be drawn to the apparent disinterest of funding bodies in the actual results which their contributions produce; and the opportunities for funding applicants for playing one donor against another.Just to recap coverage in the Alice News to date (see also our web site): Aranda House is a refuge for the poorest, least privileged and most "at risk" children in Alice Springs, most of them Aboriginal.If left on the streets they are likely to suffer, or commit the kind of property crimes which have become the community's number one worry.Aranda House was principally funded, until the end of June, by ATSIC (some 40 beds), Territory Health (five beds), Aboriginal Hostels and the Federal Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS).A highly public row erupted when concerned staff and committee members disclosed that the refuge's management was setting up a spacious office in the Central Business District (CBD).At the same time, well short of the end of the funding period, money for the refuge itself was running out and kids exposed to a plethora of risks were left out in the street.The refuge is now closed; ATSIC and the NT Government are trading blows as to who's responsible for future funding; Commonwealth and Territory public servants are trying to sort out the mess, while the future of the refuge remains unclear.Investigations by the Alice News have revealed that Senator Jocelyn Newman's FaCS has provided $45,000 for the CBD office.The Federal department blithely proceeded with the grant at the same time as Aranda House – whose administration was the principal purpose of the new office – faced imminent closure.FaCS provided $12,000 towards rent for the office space, $4000 for electrical work, $13,000 for office equipment and $16,000 for supporting the operation of a youth camp at Mt Undoolya (part of the Aranda House operation at the time). The grants were made to the Central Australian Aboriginal Childcare Agency (CAACCA).FaCS gave the Alice News the following reasons for the need for the new office: "The Department was advised by CAACCA in writing, on the 29th October 1998 of the expected need to accommodate seven new staff members due to successful submissions with other funding bodies."The Alice News asked Aranda House manager Allen Furber to identify these seven positions. Mr Furber has not responded.We also asked the same question of Ray Cochrane, who was sacked recently from the management committee for reasons CAACCA chairwoman Anne Ronberg declines to disclose. Mr Cochrane, a teacher and long-time community worker, says the reason for his dismissal was that he was asking too many questions, and because he aired his concerns over the Aranda House mess in public.Mr Cochrane said to the best of his recollection, the seven new staff members included a hostel manager, assistant manager, cook, night watchman, cleaner, groundsman and counsellor.All these were clearly required to be based at Aranda House, not in an office in the CBD some two kilometres away. This was confirmed by another former staff member.The Alice News raised this with Senator Newman on July 16. We still don't have an answer but it would seem that FaCS accepted the assertions by the Aranda House management at face value, and spent public money before carrying out even the most basic of checks.The bizarre result is that the taxpayer has paid for an office to run something that no longer exists.The second reason quoted by FaCS for funding the new office, in the department's first response to the Alice News on July 15, was that "the environment of a crisis youth accommodation centre is not conducive to the key objective of the [organisation], confidential family counselling".Neither Mr Cochrane nor former Aranda House staff members were aware of any "confidential family counselling" within the organisation, outside the counselling provided at Aranda House by a staffer employed by Territory Health.The Alice News then asked FaCS how many "confidential family counselling" sessions have been provided by CAACCA, outside Aranda House, during 1998/99.The department's response to that was somewhat puzzling: "The Department is currently negotiating with the CAACCA for the establishment of a further ... operational position."This position is expected to increase the need for appropriate confidential family counselling space."So, the new office wasn't and isn't needed for a current requirement created by an existing service, as the department's first response indicated, but for a possible future need.FaCS further states that the decision to "relocate" to the new office "was made prior to the withdrawal of ATSIC funds".This is a blatant distortion of the facts. ATSIC has not "withdrawn" any funds: it had made it perfectly clear, at the start of the financial year, five months before FaCS approved the money for the new office, that it was unlikely to fund Aranda House beyond the 1998/99 financial year.The questions need to be asked, has CAACCA, when asking for money for a new office, failed to inform FaCS fully about its funding situation? Has FaCS checked out all the facts before it spent public money, or had it just relied on an assertion in a letter from CAACCA?FaCS' claim that the new office is more suitable for confidential counselling of Aboriginal families, borders on the absurd.The new CBD office in Hartley street is on the top floor of a three storey office building, with an accountant on the ground floor and a legal firm on the first floor.Anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of where Aboriginal people feel at ease would know that the new office must be one of the least suitable places. Additionally, conflict with other tenants confronted with Aborigines in crisis seems inevitable.Did CAACCA not realise that? Did the Federal department fail to make appropriate enquiries? The Alice News put these questions to FaCS on July 16 – no answer.Senator Newman's bureaucrats aren't the only ones apparently running for cover – ATSIC is just a step behind.We asked acting ATSIC manager in Alice Springs, Duncan Dean, a series of questions about CAACCA, Aranda House, and especially, whether ATSIC is satisfied with the way Aranda House has spent ATSIC money during 1998/99.After all, funding was meant to last until the end of June, yet the operations of the refuge wound down and ceased well before that.Has ATSIC monitored the operation it funded? Has it noticed any flaws?Mr Dean hand balled the questions to ATSIC officer Bill Muddle who bluntly told the Alice News that we need to put these questions to Aranda House.Its management has been extremely reticent in providing information (and has now even banned the Alice News from entering the facility).Mr Muddle says a full report about the operations of the refuge in the last quarter of the 1998/99 fiscal year – when things went gravely wrong – isn't due until next week.A former manager of Aranda House informed the Alice News that already in March this year, kids were told that they would have to leave Aranda House or pay hostel fees; and she said the refuge closed in early April.Aranda House manager Allen Furber told the Alice News there had been 77 overnight admissions in May, and 50 in June.However, Territory Health told us that admissions under its auspices averaged two to four a day.NO VERIFICATIONThis suggests that all admissions during May and June were to the five places funded by Territory Health, and none to the 40 places funded by ATSIC.Mr Muddle provided no other details nor explanation, saying ATSIC needed to keep "good faith" with client organisations.Mr Muddle declined to assist the Alice News with the verification of a claim by Aranda House that it ran out of money because demands on its services had been especially high earlier this year (Alice News, July 14).Mr Muddle admitted he had the corresponding occupancy figures for 1997/98 in his office, but he wouldn't release them to us.He invited us to make an application under the Freedom of Information Act. Both FaCS and ATSIC stress that they have stringent auditing procedures, but these are clearly confined to formal accounting for expenditure.No-one seems to give a damn about what's really going on: where is the meaningful evaluation of whether or not public funding achieves the goals for which the taxpayer supplies the money?So, at present the CAACCA and Aranda House senior executives have their new office, while the principal refuge for the most vulnerable of our young people is defunct.Stand by for more – including this week action taken by former staff over alleged unfair dismissal!

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