ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
October 20, 1999

FEDERAL UNIVERSITY PLAN WOULD HIT CENTRAL AUSTRALIA HARD. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Tertiary education in Central Australia would be dealt a serious blow under proposals by Federal Education Minister David Kemp, according to Territory MHR Warren Snowdon (Labor).He says plans to replace the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) with a loan system charging real interest rates would preclude many locals from going to university interstate, where they are already facing the high cost of living away from home.Smaller universities, such as the NTU in Darwin, which offers courses in The Alice, would suffer because, under Dr Kemp's proposals, their three-yearly funding would be threatened.Instead, universities' revenue would largely come from a Universal Tuition Subsidy – effectively a voucher system, according to Mr Snowdon – which students can take to any university.This will favour the big, well-established teaching institutions which offer a wider range of courses, says Mr Snowdon.Meanwhile Territory Senator Grant Tambling (Country Liberal Party) declined to comment in detail on the Kemp proposals, leaked to the Labor Party last week, but said "the Government stands by its commitment not to deregulate student fees".However, Mr Snowdon says the increased financial burden – which could more than triple the cost of courses – will come not from the basic fees, but from the commercial interest rates incurred during the life of a study loan.Mr Snowdon says the current HECS scheme takes into account CPI increases but doesn't charge interest.Under HECS, students commence repayment of their loans when they reach a certain level of income.Mr Snowdon says Dr Kemp is "proposing commercial, compounding interest rates on the true cost of the courses."It's estimated that the cost of a veterinary course would be $100,000 instead of $28,000.Mr Snowdon says because of the interest payments, the cost of tertiary education would increase sharply even if the course fees were not raised. He says: "The leaked submission indicates there are eight regional universities already operating in deficit."We know that in the case of the NT University, they've lost, since 1996, 145 student places."You can no longer do English at the NTU. They're getting rid of staff. It raises serious questions."We've already lost 25 student places from Batchelor College."Batchelor has a campus in Alice Springs and the NTU runs courses through Centralian College."A couple of interstate universities offer courses through the Institute for Aboriginal Development in Alice Springs."What's likely to happen is that unless you can guarantee ongoing recurrent funding to these regional universities, then their ability to provide the courses they are currently providing will go down."And their ability to expand their range of courses, which of course is what we would like in Alice Springs, will be non existent."The opportunities for local students to study in Alice Springs will lessen," says Mr Snowdon."This Universal Tuition Subsidy follows the student to whichever university he or she wants to go to."So effectively, the universities aren't guaranteed an amount of money."That means in the case of new and regional universities which have low student numbers and high per capita student costs, their ability to provide a full range of courses will diminish."Their ability to provide new infrastructure will diminish."All the big, old university, the sandstone universities, they've got their infrastructure. "They've got student numbers of 20,000 to 25,000."Because the big universities provide the full range of courses they don't have difficulties in attracting students."Mr Snowdon says Central Australian parents would face an even greater cost burden for sending their children to university, putting tertiary education beyond the reach of most people outside the top income brackets."That effectively means the dumbing down of our society."The Kemp scheme "would hit us a lot harder than the cities," says Mr Snowdon.He says the proposals come on top of a 25 per cent increase in course fees since 1996, and a lowering of the threshold where students need to start repaying their HECS loans.Mr Snowdon says he doesn't believe the Government's assurances that course fees will not be deregulated."These are the people who said we wouldn't have a GST. How can you believe them?"They're promoting the idea of private sector universities at the expense of the public sector."Mr Snowdon, a former teacher, says when he first studied he had to pay full fees."Then the Whitlam Government got elected, and university fees were abolished, and anyone with the capacity of going to university could do so. You didn't have to worry about the cost of the course."Now we're coming back to a situation where the cost of the course is going to be a real determining factor as to whether or not young people are going to university."That's wrong. We should be providing incentives, not disincentives for going to university."Parents with three or four children will say, only one of you can go to university. That's what it's leading to."People will need to choose between a house and an education," says Mr Snowdon."Absurdly, many of the people who're making these decisions now are the beneficiaries of free or subsidised university education."He says the policies proposed by Dr Kemp would do little to further education in the NT where we "have the poorest high school retention rates. "We want to improve those," says Mr Snowdon."Regional universities are about a lot more than just teaching young people."They are about regional infrastructure. They provide an economic base for the community."The Batchelor College here, the Institute of Aboriginal Development, they're good employers, providing a capacity for people to get jobs in their own community."Take that away, and it affects the local economy far more than it would in a big city."Senator Tambling provided the following statistics:-
• An additional $870m in 1999 brings the total Commonwealth education funding to more than $11b a year.
• In 1999 there are a record number of undergraduate student places (up seven per cent from 1996), fully funded undergraduate places (up 3.5 per cent from 1996) and revenue for universities (up 4.5 per cent from 1996 in constant dollar terms).
• LATE NEWS: CLP Senator Tambling says as of Monday, Dr Kemp's university funding proposals have "no status", but Labor MHR Snowdon claims they were put up at the behest of Prime Minister Howard and predicts "they will be back in another form".

TODD LEVEE WRANGLE: M.L.A. LIM ON WARPATH. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

An Alice Springs alderman says while the NT Government still has not put in place any substantial initiative to prevent loss of life and widespread damage from a flooding Todd River, a local CLP politician has derailed a town council initiative to bring relief.Ald Geoff Miers, the chairman of the council's planning committee, says there was an "excellent" chance of getting a grant from Canberra for a levee bank to control flood waters on the Old Eastside."In fact, we were the only ones in the NT to be in a position to apply for the grant," says Ald Miers.However, he says NT Lands Minister Tim Baldwin failed to pass on the application from the council, and did so clearly on the behest of MLA for Greatorex, Richard Lim.(When asked to comment, Dr Lim confirmed that he had advised Mr Baldwin against forwarding the council application. He subsequently withdrew that statement, threatening the Alice News with legal action; then supplied a written comment denying Ald Miers' allegations. See box.)Ald Miers says the Commonwealth had set a deadline of only two months for the application. In this instance the council had to act quickly."And besides, we're elected to make decisions," says Ald Miers."To undertake a project like this the council has to consult and negotiate with a number of parties, including the Sacred Sites Authority, the Commonwealth and the general community, to name but a few."On what basis is Dr Lim holding up the project?"Ald Miers says the council was confident of receiving $130,000 – to be matched dollar for dollar by the NT Government – because the application was thoroughly documented, and well within the criteria for allocations from a $4m Federal fund for flood mitigation projects.He says the Charles and Todd Rivers Master Plan recommended a levee on the banks of the Todd as an option for flood control.A subsequent consultant's report had provided further details.But some two months after the deadline, the application is still on Mr Baldwin's desk, says Ald Miers.He says the most recent expression of public support for the project had come at a public meeting this month, attended by 25 people, only two of whom had voiced opposition."Dr Lim and other CLP Parliamentarians in Alice Springs are out of step with the community," says Ald Miers."I don't know whether it's too late now."Ald Miers says the NT Government had done practically nothing to prevent flood disasters since the Federal Government – "for political reasons" – quashed the construction of a $20m dam upstream from the Old Telegraph Station.He says the only improvements since then had been to the early warning sensors.Ald Miers says rumours about the proposed levee being two metres high were wide of the mark.The mound would be quite low, little more than knee-high for much of the levee, and would be made to "look like the natural landscape" to blend in with the park lands between Gosse and McMinn Streets.In some sections it would be just over a metre high.Ald Miers says the council would be doing the landscaping and irrigation work.Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Minister Baldwin says the time has not expired for the application. The spokesperson said the Minister will be writing to the Mayor of Alice Springs, Andy McNeill, on matters of public consultation this week.

Greatorex MLA Richard Lim acted in a bizarre manner when the Alice News sought a response from him to allegations that he had been instrumental in scuttling a town council application for a flood mitigation grant (story this page).Dr Lim gave News editor Erwin Chlanda a lengthy interview on Sunday afternoon.When Mr Chlanda faxed him a draft of the entire report as it stood at the time, including Ald Miers' allegations, Dr Lim rang him and said: "If you publish this I'll sue you." We had a further phone call from Dr Lim on Monday, saying his lawyers would be in touch with us. He offered no further comment. He subsequently faxed a written comment, essentially contradicting his verbal statements, but did not withdraw the threat of legal action.The following statements were made by Dr Lim in the initial interview, and – as we understand it – withdrawn by him later:-Dr Lim confirmed that he had advised Mr Baldwin against forwarding the council application because the council had acted "without prior consultation with the community".Although Dr Lim conceded he is not aware of any substantial public opposition to the project, he said: "The application went off and the council consulted with the community afterwards."That's doing things back to front."(Ald Miers has since pointed out that the time available for the application was very short – see report.)Dr Lim claimed an information pamphlet sent by the council to Eastside residents had been "fairly poor". Dr Lim said he is aware that the Eastside Residents Association is neutral about the project.He had "voiced discomfort" to a council officer but had not actively obstructed the project.Dr Lim said: "My suggestion to Tim Baldwin was [that] the community was too uninformed."If the council wants to build it, so be it."If I were the Minister, I would want to be certain the community wants it. "No-one actively supports it but no-one is against it."Dr Lim also said there is confusion about where portions of the funding would be coming from.He said his understanding is that the total cost would be $290,000, with half coming from the Commonwealth, one-third from the NT Government and the balance from the council.Dr Lim's faxed statement now follows:-Thank you for copying to me the draft article. In respect of paragraph 1, you report an allegation of Geoff Miers which I deny, namely the assertion that I have derailed a town council initiative.Paragraph 2 reports a further allegation by Geoff Miers that the Minister refused to process the application at my request and that I confirmed that allegation to be true.That paragraph ought to be corrected for it is inaccurate. While I remain critical of the process of consultation undertaken by the council, I have not advised the Minister against the proposal.All substantive communication I have had with the Minister in respect of this issue is documented and corroborated what I now say to you. Accordingly, paragraph 2 should accurately report that I deny the further allegation of Geoff Miers.Might I repeat the suggestion I made yesterday that you contact the Minister to obtain, first hand, his position in this issue.

NEW ROLE FOR STREHLOW CENTRE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Once a significant tourist attraction in Alice Springs, the Strehlow Research Centre's public display now occupies only a small corner of the new Museum of Central Australia.The secret and sacred Aboriginal objects of the Strehlow Collection, in the past the subject of controversy, are still in the building's high security vaults, right next to the museum.However, even less public attention is drawn to the presence of these "tjuringas" – strictly accessible only to those entitled under traditional law – as a result of the changes.Meanwhile, some Aboriginal men have recently brought objects into the centre for secure storage, and to date, there have been no requests by Aboriginal men for objects to be repatriated.The public face of the centre had as its focus the life story of the late Professor TGH (Ted) Strehlow, one of Australia's most noted linguists.An all-male Sensitive Issues Committee manages access to the restricted objects of the collection, excluding from this crucial function Strehlow's widow, Kathleen, a lifelong member of the centre's board. The centre was established as part of a deal with her in return for her husband's collection. At its peak in 1994-95, 30,000 people visited the SRC's public display. As tourism to Alice Springs declined in the following years, the number dropped to 25,000 a year.Its display function, including all marketing, public relations and relevant staff and resources, was handed over to the Northern Territory's Department of Arts and Museums in July last year. Director of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Patrick Filmer-Sankey, says that it is arguable that the main "beneficiaries" of the Strehlow display were tourists, rather than Territorians."With the loss of the rented Museum [of Central Australia] space we were confronted with a difficult choice between allowing the museum, which was heavily used by the local community, to close or to relocate it to the Strehlow exhibition space," he says.They chose the latter, including in the new museum a "smaller, but dense display on Strehlow and the work of the Research Centre".Mr Filmer-Sankey says the local community reaction has been "strong and very positive", and that he has encountered "no adverse comment on the reduced Strehlow component".He says a peak tourist body described the new museum as "a pearl', while one of the larger tour operators has described it as "a real must see in Alice'.The Alice News asked the SRC's board about the change:-The SRC's core functions have always related primarily to research and management of the Strehlow Collection, some 1200 Central Australian Aboriginal ceremonial objects accumulated by him between 1932 and 1978, together with their documentation, 16mm movie film, sound recordings, photographs, field diaries, genealogies (family trees) and manuscript material.The display of non-culturally sensitive items from the collection had a high profile due to its effective marketing which offset the less "public" realm of research and management.The MCA, now relocated from the Alice Plaza into the Strehlow building, incorporates aspects of the previous SRC display, including boomerangs, stone knives and body ornamentation, into a much broader exhibition of the region.The focus on Strehlow's life story, via photographs, text, film, sound and a handful of the Strehlow family's personal items, has been considerably diluted. However, some of this material may be used in the future, including some manuscript material and Strehlow's "tools of trade" – old film, photographic and sound recording equipment.Meanwhile, the SRC continues its core functions, operating under its own legislation, the Strehlow Research Centre Act 1988. Its research activity aims at furthering knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal traditions, and honours Strehlow's memory.A seven-member board presides over the centre and the activities of its four research staff. Aboriginal interests on the board are represented through a fluent Arrernte speaking non-Aboriginal man, Garry Stoll of the Finke River Mission,who has extensive networks among the Arrernte people of Central Australia.There are no Aboriginal members of the board, chaired by Assoc. Prof. Charles Webb of the Northern Territory University. The board says liaison with Aboriginal men from Central Australian communities is an ongoing process to ensure that their wishes with regard to sacred objects are honoured. Advice on the overall management of the collection is also sought from the broader Aboriginal community. Public access to the collection will always be limited by the need to keep some material secret in respect of cultural traditions. An all-male Sensitive Issues Committee was established in 1991 to deal with matters of a culturally sensitive nature. This was in response to Aboriginal men's concerns that women should not be present when such issues are discussed.For the purpose of access, the collection is divided into two broad categories, "open" and "restricted". The open material contains nothing that will offend Aboriginal sensitivities or malign living reputations.The restricted category is further divided into "private" and "secret/sacred" and consists of Aboriginal "men's only" material. Decisions on research access to these categories are made on a case by case basis by the Sensitive Issues Committee. Access is never granted without consultation with, and permission of, the relevant Aboriginal men, and is closed except to the men with affiliations to the specifics of the material, and/or their researchers.Subject areas for research broadly include anthropology, history, linguistics, Native Title, social organisation and land tenure, the Stolen Generation, the public administration of Aboriginal affairs, the missionaries, archaeology, visual arts, music, and museum exhibition.A subject of controversy in the past has been the repatriation of ceremonial objects in the collection to their traditional owners.In its issue of July 12, 1995, the News reported that a consultant had been appointed with a view to hastening the repatriation of some objects. The then executive officer of the SRC, David Hugo, told the News that some 800 objects had documentation which would allow them to be affiliated to contemporary Aboriginal men. The board says that these comments were "the expression of a personal view at the time", and further:"The Act, as you pointed out in that report, stipulates that a function of the Board is to secure the Strehlow Collection ‘and keep it intact'. This part of the Act is always explained in any dealings over the Strehlow Collection between Aboriginal men and Centre staff."The Northern Territory Government has undertaken to be responsive to Aboriginal wishes to have the material repatriated if that is deemed culturally appropriate by all the Aboriginal groups involved. "This would necessitate an approach by Aboriginal people affiliated with objects in the Strehlow Collection; a recommendation by the Board to the Minister; and the Minister taking that advice to Cabinet for a change to the legislation. "The Board continues to address the issue of repatriation."More recently Aboriginal men have brought objects into the Centre for secure storage. In one example, the objects were previously stored at a site increasingly visited by tourists and the objects were at risk of being discovered. "An agreement was drawn up stating that the objects are only being stored at the Centre; remain the custody of those Aboriginal men affiliated with the site; and could be retrieved at any time under conditions stipulated by the Aboriginal men."The affiliation programme is slow, cautious and continues. Aboriginal men have visited the Centre to view objects. To date there have been no requests by these Aboriginal men for objects to be repatriated, although the Centre anticipates that such requests may occur."In 1995 the Central Land Council acquired some 150 secret/sacred Aboriginal objects from Strehlow's son, Carl, reportedly paying more than $1m for them. A CLC spokesperson told the News that an initial approach had been made to the SRC to store some of the newly-acquired objects there. This was described by Mr Hugo as a "political breakthrough".The News asked the board about its current relationship with the CLC. The board responded:"The SRC can only comment on the relationship from its own perspective. The SRC continues to seek a constructive and effective working relationship with the CLC, as it does with other agencies and organisations. "The SRC and CLC share common goals, and naturally, there are areas of competing priorities."The issue of storage in the SRC of objects held by the CLC was discussed. To date storage has not taken place."The CLC declined to comment on both issues of repatriation of ceremonial objects, and on its relationship with the SRC.The News also asked the board about the centre's relations with Aboriginal individuals:"In general, from the SRC's perspective these relations have been very good and the SRC has been able to satisfy requests for information and access on many occasions. "The SRC has been established for eight years now and has proved itself able to be trusted with the confidences it has with its Aboriginal clients, the secret and confidential information it holds, and the safe and secure storage of the Strehlow Collection."Access to genealogical information remains a major source of enquiry. However, both the nature of the SRC's clients, and their requests for information and access, continue to broaden [as discussed above]. "There may also be a ‘seasonality' to the types and numbers of requests. For example, much fieldwork in Central Australia is conducted in the cooler winter months and there is a corresponding rise in requests from local and interstate clients."During the summer months the SRC was visited by European scholars at separate times (perhaps escaping their freezing winter!) for more history-based research."

MINISTER FOR CENTRAL AUSTRALIA IS VAGUE ON ITS FUTURE.

Cooperation among Centralian organisations and individuals was stressed by Minister for Central Australia Loraine Braham on Monday when she identified six priority areas for "Alice in 10" to be moved from the planning to the action phase.The priority areas have been identified after feedback on the public discussion paper,The Face of Alice Springs in Ten Years Project , launched by the NT Government in March this year.The six areas are: developing Alice Springs as a centre for arid zone excellence; having the built environment reflect the beauty of the natural environment; developing the Todd and Charles Rivers as community areas; improving the quality of Centralian life; developing Alice Springs as a service centre for the mining industry; and the building of an Alice Springs convention centre . Mrs Braham said arid zone knowledge and expertise acquired over the years, including Aboriginal knowledge, could be gathered and presented in a marketable form not only for the Centre but for the whole world.She said future building development "should be in sympathy with the environment.'' She suggested people should think of the Todd and Charles rivers as part of their front yard rather than their backyard, and that one day Centralians would be playing the hugely popular beach volleyball in the town's dry riverbeds.As for improving the quality of life, Mrs Braham said, "People have been talking about getting all the groups to cooperate for years. Now is the time to bite the bullet and get cooperation from all over."She said mining companies tended to look to South Australia and Western Australia for support services, but now "businesses and people in Alice Springs should be encouraged to provide [those] services."On the convention centre, Mrs Braham said a decision should be made by March, next year. She concluded by inviting attendees to talk with one another to see how they could work together to enable the projects to become reality, but made no commitment on government spending.

OUR TOWN: PARADISE OR PRISON? Review by KIERAN FINNANE.

The final act of the play Our Town, performed by Centre Stage at Araluen last weekend, is set in the Memorial Cemetery: Emily Webb, the young woman whom we have seen grow up, fall in love and get married in the preceding acts, is newly dead.Her mourners have their back to the audience, Emily emerges from among them to enter her grave, alongside a number of people she grew up with, including her brother, who died from a burst appendix on a scouting trip, and her mother-in-law, Mary Gibbs.Emily has died in childbirth. Mrs Gibbs, although she has lived to see her children grow up, has also died prematurely, perhaps from the exhaustion of raising a family in fairly harsh conditions. Perhaps too, the play would seem to suggest, from never realising her dream of seeing the "mother country", England. The money she had set aside for this, she left to her son and Emily, who tells her now that they used it to build a shed.This doesn't rattle Mrs G., who at this stage is getting used to being dead. The play is fascinating on this point, that being dead is a process, a gradual letting go of all the material and emotional detail that ties us to life, in order to release what is eternal in ourselves. On the other hand, as Emily struggles with this letting go, the play speaks about how to live: the importance of bringing awareness to our everyday lives, and of relishing their moments.The original Our Town, by American author Thornton Wilder, and set in New Hampshire at the turn of the century, offered the Centre Stage team rich possibilities for adaptation. The important thing was to find the ways in which the detail of particular lives intersects with the detail of a particular town, in this instance, the Alice Springs of the ‘fifties and ‘sixties.Mrs Gibbs was a successful example. Her dream – seeing the "mother country" – points to an important feature of the psyche of her and earlier generations of white Australians. The barriers to her doing so, and her boredom with the annual excursion to Adelaide, point to an important feature of how white Australians experience Alice Springs: remoteness is a difficulty, to say the least. That the money she could have used to realise her dream ultimately went to building a shed, that icon of white Australian settlement, was another clever touch.Although the stories of other characters did not unite as many pertinent themes, on the whole, they sat easily and convincingly in their Alice Springs setting. Olive Pink, however, did not escape caricature, while the characterisation of Jeannie Swan, the Webb family's half-caste maid recruited from the Bungalow, sat at the most optimistic end of the spectrum of Bungalow stories.The least successful aspect of the adaptation came when a "stage manager" treated the audience to something like a guided tour of the town: the usual rundown on streets and buildings, dates and "characters". The material was on the whole unimportant to the story, while unfortunately interrupting, even dissolving the tension of the drama. There is a narrator in the original play who similarly intervenes in the story telling, but I understand that Wilder's narrator was a little less concerned with the physical environment, a little more with philosophical reflection.A town is many things to many people, we all have our own maps of "our town". The way in which particularly "the old Alice Springs" is generally represented has left us with one picture that tells the same story, over and over. The many stories are what is important: the time is ripe for many more "our towns" in many forms.It was a shame that threatening weather forced Centre Stage's production indoors at Araluen. The plan had been to stage it on the lawns at the back of the theatre, where the action could have taken many of its cues from the surrounding landscape and the night sky.Centre Stage are to be congratulated for not allowing the transfer indoors to put them off, and Ryan Parker and Bryn Williams deserve special credit for stepping into the breach to read the parts of two actors who withdrew at the last minute.Rose Lillecrapp (Emily) and Meghan Wright (Mary Gibbs) both gave well judged performances. Kurt Murray (George Gibbs) and Violet McGinness (Jeannie) had plenty of stage presence but a greater emotional complexity would have helped. Ashley Briggs as the stage manager had a big job to do, but a different characterisation of this role might have lessened the impression that we were being sold the tour guide's approved spiel.Directors Glenda Ward and Bryn Williams are to be thanked for seeing in Wilder's beautiful play the means to say something important about the way we do and could live in this place. It would be enriching, especially for the local audience, to see this work taken further and given new exposure.

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