ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
February 23, 2000

OLD GAOL IS LEFT TO ROT. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The public fervor for saving the old Alice Springs gaol two years ago isn't matched today by initiatives for making use of the historic building.A campaign by hundreds of locals kept the bulldozers at bay in 1998, but the gaol is still empty, locked up and – according to the National Trust – deteriorating.A spokesman for Heritage Minister Tim Baldwin says the Minister hasn't had a proposal for use of the site in his 12 months in the job.His predecessor, Mick Palmer, knocked back three schemes.The spokesman would not say whether or not the government would expect to sell the site to developers who – following heritage listing – are now compelled to preserve key features.However, the spokesman said: "The government will continue to explore all options, so long as all declared heritage values protected."A figure of $1.6m has previously been mentioned by local conservationists as the price of the land.The spokesman says Territory Health Services are set to declare soon whether or not they require the land south of the gaol for an expansion of the hospital.In any case, this could not impact on the historic section inside the prison walls.The spokesman indicated Mr Baldwin is keen to get recommendations from the National Trust: "It depends what they put to him."Dave Leonard, a member of the Council of the National Trust of Australia, NT, says the current oversupply of office and commercial spaces in the town is a major obstacle.Previous development schemes for the gaol relied on preserving its appearance, but developing sections of it for retail and office uses.Says Mr Leonard: "As there is still a surplus of office and shop space, there is no incentive to develop the site."We would be sucking business out of the other parts of the town, and that is counter productive."The gaol has been saved in time but before its time."Mr Leonard says in the past the National Trust has been used as a "landlord of last resort".It now holds a "reasonable portfolio of heritage sites" in Alice Springs: 86 Hartley Street, used as offices of the Family Court; Hansen House, let as a private residence; and the Stuart Town Gaol, next to the new court house.The Trust leases the old Hartley Street School. Mr Leonard says the trust's role is conservation and education."We are not entrepreneurs. We don't have the finance."He says gaols are "notoriously difficult" to run as an attraction.The Fremantle gaol has reverted to community and tourist use, with some support from the WA government which has taken up office space.However, the Melbourne Gaol "seems to work well, because of its position and its association with Ned Kelly".Mr Leonard says the old Alice Springs gaol site could be well suited for a bus terminal, as well as offices – facilities the town council is currently proposing to develop on its civic centre land.

POKEMON: TEACHERS THWART TINY TRADERS.

School kids wanting to become "men in suits" trading shares, options and futures may be cutting their teeth on Pokemon – unless they go to Bradshaw Primary, that is.The rules of supply and demand, experience triumphing over greenhorns, rewards for shrewdness and knowledge – they're all encapsulated in the little colourful cards.They hone in pre-teens the kind of reflexes and instincts which earn the captains of industry their breathtaking salary packages and stock options.And all that without a teacher uttering even a single word. Explains one eight-year-old wheeler dealer: "Cards that have a circle are not rare."If they have a diamond they are pretty rare, and if they have a star they are very rare."A card with a star is worth more than the others."It costs you about four cards with diamonds to get one card with a star."I've got four cards with holographics."Some cards with holographics are worth more than others."It depends how rare they are, and how much ‘damage' or ‘health' they have."Nidoking, for example, is a fearsome looking creature with 90 health points.Text at the bottom outlines the capacity to do damage, 30 plus in this case."I don't play Poke-mon," says my informant. "I just trade the cards. I used to, anyway."Until, in fact, the deputy principal of the school in Alice's western suburbs banned Pokemon and all the evil that goes with it: no longer the cut and thrust of the free market economy at Bradshaw.Who used to trade?"Everyone, well, mainly boys, at lunch and recess," says my informant."Not all people would agree on deals. You can get ripped off."Clefairy can mind read. She's worth a Zaptose."Little kids often get good cards and the bigger kids might rip them off."That's how the little kids learn, when they get older."I ripped off a bigger kid once. I gave him a Beedrill for a Nodoking."The school hierarchy's reasons for banning the pint-size market economy are a closely guarded secret: the Alice News asked for an explanation but didn't get one.The consequences may be grave: the once flourishing business has now reportedly gone underground.In the absence of the usual trading floor opportunities offered by the school yard at recess, there's now feverish bartering on the school bus.When will the market economy return to Bradshaw? Will new sanctions be brought down? Will the World Bank step in? Our financial pages will endeavour to keep you up to date!

RAIN, PRIZE BOOST FOR PASTORALISTS. Comment by BOB MILLINGTON.

The rains throughout most of Central Australia over the last two weeks give pastoralists promise of a bumper season. For some, like those at Orange Creek Station, it might be thought there has been too much rain, but with the usual fortitude of the rural community the damage will be repaired and the work will go on, taking advantage of these good rains. Pasture response already is spectacular and will good feed for months. The Centralian Land Management Association's 10 year Landcare program can now proceed into its planned new phase with this top season as a starter. Already the winner of the 1998 Alcoa of Australia National Community Landcare Group Award, CLMA took out two more awards at the September 1999 Nabalco Northern Territory Landcare Awards. The association and myself as coordinator have consequently been entered as finalists in two categories of the National Landcare Awards to be held in Melbourne on March 2. CLMA is contesting the prestigious BHP Landcare Research Award for our work on rabbit control, our first major project. In 1990 rabbit numbers were in plague proportions and the damage they were doing was horrendous. With funding support from the National Landcare Program and technical support from the NT Departments of Primary Industry and Fisheries, and Lands, Planning and Environment, and the Parks and Wildlife Commission (NTPWC), a 300 sqkm ripping program was set in place to prove the value of known control methods. Following this the Bureau of Resource Sciences (BRS) funded the appointment of a rabbit control project officer to formalise a best practice rabbit control manual for arid Australia. In 1994 Will Dobbie was appointed and it is his work from that time that won last year's Research Award for CLMA. Following the BRS project CLMA, with Dr Dave Berman (then with NTPWC) developed a rabbit control strategy for Central Australia based on a philosophy of destruction of rabbit habitat, their warrens, progressively from the northern limit of their distribution. Two years' funding from the Drought Landcare Program component of ANCA (now Environment Australia) allowed CLMA to start putting this strategy into practice. Individual pastoralists were doing control on their own stations which greatly increased the area worked. At the CLMA sites a monitoring program was set in place not only to monitor rabbit numbers but also environmental responses – abundance of predators, raptors, small mammals and reptiles and changes in vegetation. MONITORINGBecause these sites were already set up, when Rabbit Calicivirus Disease escaped from Wardang Island ANCA approached CLMA to set up additional monitoring sites throughout the region. In all eight sites were established and environmental baseline measurements taken before the arrival of RCD in Central Australia in May 1996. This monitoring was funded for two years by BRS and the NT Government. The results have been published and presented at scientific conferences. Since then CLMA has continued monitoring, with members' support, to the limit of its resources. The monitoring is giving very positive results. The CLMA rabbit control program was submitted for the award with professional support which stated: "The (CLMA) project is a unique example demonstrating the benefits of science being conducted by (owned by) a land managers' organisation in association with government departments" and "pre-RCD data of such quality was not available in the programs established in other states. Monitoring programs established in other states were subsequently modelled on the CLMA monitoring program". CLMA has proven that to get the full benefit from biological control – RCD and Myxo – practical mechanical follow-up control is essential. The other award won by CLMA last year was the NT's NLP Individual Landcarer Award. This was awarded to myself, as coordinator of the association's first 10 year program. The position was funded by the National Landcare Program of the National Heritage Trust. Members identified issues that were important to address for regional sustainable productivity. A regional strategy was developed, and practical on-ground works set in place to demonstrate techniques to assist management. These included control of ferals and weeds; starting a data base of resource condition and developing, with Meat and Livestock Australia, a management-useful monitoring system; promoting water harvesting by using ponding banks for land rehabilitation (members financed a vehicle mounted laser plane); harvesting native species seed for revegetation works; addressing erosion from roads, tracks and thoughtless off-road vehicle activity; and commencement and support of species protection as the need is identified. The role of coordinator is that of a catalyst servicing the group, not telling it what to do, and developing relationships with those who can assist positively in achieving the group's objectives. The NT award (and possible national one) is a boost to Landcare in the rangelands generally where the constraints of distance, time and small population make approaches that have to be taken different to those in more closely settled areas. That's a reality to us but it's often not understood by decision makers.
Bob Millington, CLMA

GROG WOES: THE LONG ROAD TO SOLUTION. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The town council's initiative to deal with alcohol abuse problems is getting into top gear, with recommendations to Liquor Commissioner Peter Allen scheduled for the end of June.Ald Meredith Camp-bell, who will have resigned from the council by then, in preparation for contesting the Legislative Assembly seat of Araluen as an independent, says the focus will be on any improvements to be gained from restricting supply.Mr Allen can bring in control measures only if a "community intention" can be shown, says Ald Campbell, while saying it is not clear exactly what that means.She is upbeat about the project although it is more complex, drawn out and expensive than similar initiatives elsewhere.While Tennant Creek and Katherine have managed to tackle their grog problems through collaboration between local government and a string of community organisations, Alice Springs has engaged three Queensland based consultants.The project will cost $52,000, provided by the NT Government's Living With Alcohol.The project was announced mid last year but it took almost until the end of 1999 for the "contract details to be confirmed," says Ald Campbell."We didn't think it would take that long but it did."I am dismayed about the delays."The people most widely seen as the core of Alice's alcohol problem – public drinkers engaged in "anti social behaviour" – appear unlikely to take much notice of the education and consultation process getting under way now.They can't be expected to peruse the suggested reading list of 80 titles, attend focus groups or public meetings, nor give a coherent response to the planned surveys.On the other hand, it is already clear that the rest of the community thinks that something needs to be done – and urgently.Although the town council is nominally in charge of the expenditure, it is not taking an active role."The council is not providing any officer time for this project," says Ald Campbell.Neither does it have any clear policy about the town's alcohol crisis which, she says, "permeates every aspect of our society and has been tearing the community apart for the best part of 30 years".Says Ald Campbell: "The council does not have active policies in relation to alcohol reform, and are leaving it to a broad based community group [the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee]."Tennant Creek and Katherine had their own decision making processes and the Liquor Commissioner was convinced they provided to him a comprehensive community approach."He doesn't believe we have managed to provide that."Previous submissions were too disparate and too oppositional."There wasn't in his mind a united community approach to alcohol reform, especially on the matter of licensing control and reform."The elected aldermen, as a body of 11 people, have never been able to provide that united view on the question of alcohol control."And so the Liquor Commissioner has asked to go to the people, and if it's going to take that much money to convince him, we'll have to spend it."Ald Campbell says locals had applied for the consultancy contract but the Queensland firm, Hauritz and Associates, "had the best credentials" and put in "best work schedule".This will start next month with a public education campaign, says Ald Campbell, with "an emphasis on the harm minimisation message that when alcohol is controlled by formal, informal and community regulators it can function within a community positively."Alcohol availability has an impact on public health and disorder."This is not new but needs to be reinforced".The education campaign will demonstrate "links between alcohol availability and harm, and public disorder" with experts presenting information from the "local, state, national and international levels, with a whole of community target."In April the researchers will put up options and seek public opinion on them.This will form the basis of the submission to Mr Allen.Ald Campbell says he has been kept informed about the initiative, and "he likes the way we're doing it."

TREATED EFFLUENT FLOWED OVER ROAD DURING RAINS.

Treated effluent from the sewerage ponds, but no sewage, overflowed into Ilparpa swamp during last week's big rains, according to John Baskerville, Alice-based Assistant Secretary, Chief Minister's Department.The treated effluent over-topped the banks of the main holding pond. Water from the swamp then flowed across Ilparpa Road, and down the St Mary's Creek.Mr Baskerville said he was not concerned with the quality of the water overflowing into the Ilparpa swamp as the water in the ponds is tested on a regular basis. "We are very close to being able to recycle that water for non- potable uses."An engineering study underway is looking at the idea of injecting the treated effluent back into the aquifer below the sewerage ponds, or alternatively running a stand-alone pipeline through the Gap to use the water for irrigation of parks and verges, where town basin water is now being used.Recommendations from this study are expected to be made by the end of this year. The town basin level is dropping "at a rate of knots" and with each flow of the river is becoming "sweeter", that is, less saline."We might soon be able to look at the town basin for a potable water supply," he said."It's part of an overall strategy to reduce our use of water from the Roe Creek borefield, which is a finite resource."The Roe Creek basin is locked into layers of Mereenie sandstone, and monitoring of the borefield has established that even in high rainfall events the basin is not being replenished. Luckily, other aquifers supplying communities around Alice Springs and monitored by Water Resources are being replenished.

FLOODS: RESCUE, NOT PREVENTION! Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

With no effective flood mitigation, in the event of a major flood, like Katherine's on Australia Day,1998, Alice Springs would rely on early warning from its Flood Forecasting Network and an effective counter disaster plan.According to Iain Burns, Strategic Planning Officer, South, for NT Emergency Service, last week's heavy rains across Central Australia were a "good test" of the recently reviewed Regional Counter Disaster Plan."It's a working tool for the management of all hazards and it's looking pretty good," says Mr Burns.Flooding tops the list of predictable major disasters for Central Australia, followed by transport accidents and hazardous material spills or leaks.The key to management of such disasters is effective coordination."You have to get people together quickly and know who is responsible for what," says Paul Herrick, Fire Station Commander, and also coordinator of the "survey and rescue" group on the regional Counter Disaster Planning Committee.The survey and rescue team includes fire fighters, Parks and Wildlife staff, and volunteers from the Emergency Service and the Bushfire Council.Collaboration with Parks and Wildlife staff is indispensable during regional flooding, says Cdr Herrick. "They know the area backwards, the best ways to get in and out, and have got good equipment , especially communications, in all their vehicles."It's a multi-agency task, where everyone knows their role and works together. Alice is too small a town for there to be any kind of professional jealousy, as long as the job gets done, that's all that's important."Two weekends ago, when information started coming to hand about a number of people and communities stranded by rising floodwaters throughout the Centre, the Emergency Services mobilised. Beyond a few instances of rescue, their main task was the supply of food to isolated communities and outstations, and to stranded motorists. This was mostly done by aerial drops of the food packed into "heli-boxes", which, as their name suggests, have flaps causing them to rotate, slowing their descent.While remote communities are generally well-prepared for temporary isolation, says Mr Burns, some can be caught out, as was the case with Nyirripi last week, when a police aircraft was used to fly out their 600 kilogram food order from town.Outstations, however, are usually too small to have facilities for the long-term storage of food. On the weekend, Emergency Services dropped six heli-boxes to Winbarrku, south-west of Papunya, where four people were still isolated and had run out of food. Mr Burns thinks it unlikely that Alice itself could face a worrying food shortage in a major disaster: enough would be flown in to keep the town supplied.In Alice Springs there are around 50 trained Emergency Service volunteers. That's deemed to be "plenty" in normal circumstances or even in the kind of emergency experienced recently, but what about in a big one?Mr Burns says more volunteers would be brought in from surrounding areas, such as Yulara, Tennant Creek, and, if necessary, Darwin.Similarly, if an emergency were to last for an extended period, relieving managerial staff would be brought in.Says Mr Burns: "In a major disaster, everyone in the local area is likely to be affected personally , including all the Emergency Services staff. And even if they weren't affected, they eventually need to get some rest, so there are always contingency plans for bringing people in."This goes for all levels, including the controller and coordinator levels. However, the "outsider" wouldn't be left to work alone, he or she would always work alongside local staff in relay.To maximise the efficiency of response, a new Emergency Operations Centre is being set up at the Fire Station. It will be housed upstairs, in the station's conference room, ready to be in full swing at 20 to 30 minutes' notice.

‘ONLY A DAM COULD HELP'

There is no "if" about a major flood in Alice Springs, it's only a matter of "when", and if any of the massive storms in the last couple of weeks had fallen in the Todd River catchment area, it could well have been "now".What's more, since the 20 year ban on a Todd dam imposed in 1992 by then Federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Robert Tickner, because of sacred sites issues, no significant steps have been taken to protect the town.A flood of the magnitude of Katherine's on Australia Day, 1998, or even bigger, is sooner or later "inevitable" in The Alice, according to Regional Manager of the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment, Peter McDonald. The Probable Maximum Flood (PMF) is calculated as having a one in a million chance, but "the potential exists", confirms the 1996 Alice Springs Floodplain Management Plan.In a PMF, practically all of the town would be under water. The Alice Springs Hospital (within the one in 100 zone) would be flooded up to first floor level, and access to its buildings would be cut.The Telephone Exchange (outside the one in 100) would be inundated by up to 2.5 metres.Only the Police Station is considered by the plan to be sufficiently flood proof "for all events up to the PMF".At the time of the plan's publication the Counter Disaster centre was located on the first floor of the Police Station. It is now, however, at the new Fire Station, alongside the Ambulance Station, access to which, the plan says, would be cut off during the peak of a one in 100. Fire Station Commander Paul Herrick says the re-named Emergency Operations Centre is on the first floor at the new station and is considered flood proof.Access to the Fire Station would be "restricted in a major flood", but he expects that the tanker, which has more than a metre's ground clearance, would still be able to access the station.Says the plan: "[In a PMF] the Todd River would potentially flood all of the town CBD and most of the commercial and residential areas west of Lovegrove Drive and Bradshaw Drive. "On the east side of the river, flooding would extend as far as Spearwood Road. "South of the Olive Pink Flora Reserve, the Casino grounds and golf course would be flooded. "The Hillside Gardens and Links residential areas would not be affected by Todd River flooding."The Charles River would flood most of the residential areas north of the railway yards. It would also flow overland behind Teppa Hill and Anzac Hill into the railway yards and towards the CBD from the west."Mr McDonald says a single flood mitigation dam is the only effective way to bring a major flood under some sort of control in the town area.The design under consideration for the proposed dam at Junction Waterhole on the Todd was for mitigation of a one in 100 event. It would still "help" even in a flood as big as Katherine's, according to Mr McDonald, but in a PMF, while it would be designed not to fail, it would have little mitigating impact.However, a single dam is off the agenda following the embargo on the Junction Waterhole works by Mr Tickner, invoking Federal Indigenous heritage protection legislation.A series of small dams in the Todd catchment would have inherent technical difficulties and would also face objections for Indigenous cultural reasons.Alice's best defence has to now come from being prepared, and waiting until "the big one" would be leaving it too late. [See story facing page on the Counter Disaster Plan.]Our Flood Forecasting Network can only give us an hour's warning of a "flood wave" registered at Wigley Gorge, on the Todd some 10 km north of town.In the case of widespread and intense rainfall throughout the catchment, the flood wave could travel at a higher velocity and reach town in less than an hour.The forecasting network consists of computerised stream level recorders and rain gauges located throughout the Todd and Charles catchment areas. If the recorders exceed pre-set levels they trigger an alarm linked to a pager held by a rostered Water Resources duty officer."We then analyse the data and communicate an initial flood forecast direct to the Watch Commander at the Alice Springs police station," says Mr McDonald.Last week's flow of the Todd came nowhere near flood levels, but at its peak it would have only taken another 20mm of rain in the catchment to cause a significantly higher rise in town. (This amount of rain on a dry catchment would not even produce a flow in town.)Levee banks along the river, between one and two metres in height, could provide protection in a one in 100 flood. However, they would be over-topped in a flood like Katherine's, providing little or no protection and "flood damages may even be worse than if no levee was constructed", according to the plan.Such levee banks were ruled out in any case on the basis of blocking access to and views of the river, and of being in conflict with future plans for the development and care of the river, as outlined in the Todd and Charles River Masterplan.The only levee recommended by the plan is one to protect the east side of town in a one in 100 flood. The town council has proposed a shared cost arrangement for the construction of the levee. Commonwealth funds are available, but the Territory Government has yet to make a decision, pending the completion of a public environment report by the council."It won't do anything for the rest of the town, but it was never meant to," says Mr McDonald.He says all other recommendations of the plan have and are being worked on.These include the introduction of planning and zoning controls specific to flood prone areas; flood proofing of commercial buildings and buildings containing essential services (Mr McDonald believes the latter are now all flood proof or in the process of being proofed, to the extent recommended by the plan); the continued provision of flood insurance to householders by the Territory insurance Office; and improvements to the town drainage system.The much talked about removal of the Casino causeway will eventually happen when Stephens Road is extended to provide alternative access for Mt John Valley residents, as recommended by the plan.However, this will only reduce flooding in the South Terrace area for one in 20 and one in 10 events. It will have no significant effect on larger flooding events.Meanwhile, new maps indicating revised inundation limits for Alice Springs will be released later this year. They will give a more accurate picture for counter disaster planning as well as town planning, and may have an impact on flood insurance premiums.

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