ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
June 21, 2000

CHALLENGES AHEAD: NEW TOURISM BOSS. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.

The Centre's prime tourism lobby, CATIA, will lose its annual lump sum allocation from the "bed tax" – which makes up the bulk of its budget – when the tax is abolished as part of the new Federal tax regime coming into force on July 1.Instead, the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association, and the Territory's other regional tourism associations (RTAs), will receive NT government funding on a program by program basis, subject to approval by the Minister.However, CATIA's new general manager, Craig Catchlove, says he is confident this will not impair the organisation's independence."Instead of us telling the Government what we've done in the past, and them okaying what we've done, now we tell them beforehand, and they say whether or not it is OK," says Mr Catchlove."They'll be having ultimate control but we've always been answerable to the Minister."Our funding has always been mostly from the government."He says previously the funding – making up 57 per cent of the $500,000 budget – previously had to be acquitted under the "Partnership NT" with the NT Tourist Commission (NTTC) and "it's been getting tighter over the years".Mr Catchlove says without the government contribution "we couldn't do half of what we're doing now. We have a large role in marketing inside the Territory, the region. We'd have to get rid of all our marketing function, and that would include the visitor information centre." He says the 10 per cent commission CATIA earns from tour sales "wouldn't be paying for itself."It's not in a commercial situation at this point."The margins are so slim, you can't afford to do anything else" – such as giving free information to thousands of tourists who call into the Visitors' Centre in Gregory Terrace.Mr Catchlove says the RTAs have no difficulty asserting their interests: "Full and frank is a very good description of what goes on in our meetings with the NTTC."Funding allocations, trade shows management and responsibilities, reviews of initiatives, responsibility for brochures and a variety of other issues are discussed openly."The NT Government is wholly accessible by everyone," he says."You can get in the Minister's face. "You can skip three levels and talk to the person who really counts. And the RTAs are very good at that. It's not a gun to the head situation. "It is a partnership and we're working for the same cause."Mr Catchlove says 1999 was a good year for the industry but "this year isn't looking super tremendous". Floods, petrol prices affecting the drive market, the Olympics and cold snaps have had a "cumulative effect" pushing visitor numbers down, and South Africa, which is "cheap as chips" has become a powerful competitor for the NT as a wilderness destination for European visitors."NZ has it sewn up in the adventure market."Mr Catchlove says The Centre needs to update its image to keep abreast of the changing demand."Our imagery can be a little misleading because of the current emphasis on something spectacular."We need to look at our imagery, and that is actually happening."The new NTTC advertising campaign uses the current stock of images."In America, having a go is part of the national ethos."But here, when you try something out of the ordinary and it doesn't work, you're in trouble."It's been very much ‘let's play it safe'."I would be looking at giving potential visitors ideas of what they can do in reality."The present imagery is waterfalls in the wet season, balloon flights over the Western MacDonnells, not a true indicator of what we've got."We need to focus on the rugged and spectacular," says Mr Catchlove."We've got enough of that and we need to put people in there, so they can see themselves in that situation."A picture of a canyon is a picture of a canyon until you put people in there, enjoying themselves."For the ‘empty nesters', the affluent 40 to 60 year olds, who have money to travel, you've got to have a combination of the scenic and the civilised."Car hire companies are through the roof and long haul coach companies are in the doldrums."The baby boomer generation wants to do it themselves. They want an experience."On the other hand, says Mr Catchlove, "too many Australians believe coming to the NT is not a holiday, it's an ordeal, it's hard work."It's not where you come for a relaxing holiday, it's where you come to do things."Look at the itineraries travel agents put together. "Every minute is filled up with doing something. You don't need to!"It's also a nice place to sit in an open air coffee shop, just hang loose, enjoy the world going by and de-stress."That imagery needs to get out."Mr Catchlove says the image make-over should also focus more on the knowledge based economy promoted by such groups as the Desert Knowledge Consortium or Alice in Ten: "This town has, second only to Canberra, the highest number of degrees per head of population."We shouldn't have the image of a remote country town but as a "great place where so much exciting stuff is happening"."The town's looking good but it doesn't have an image."If I said Santa Fe to you you'd know exactly what I'm taking about, with respect to image, architectural style, the feel of the place."We need to set off into a similar direction."Building styles are one aspect crying out for change: "It shouldn't be too hard to put in a code of how buildings should look."Take, for example, Stratford on Avon. You can't just put any kind of building in there, you have to conform to a look."Fast food places all around the world, when they move into a heritage area, they have to conform with the style."What we've got here is just the generic style."You just make them do it."Most buildings have a 20 year life span."When they are rebuilt developers should be required to "come up with whatever is decided upon as being the look."And in 50 years' time we will have a look!"One of the best buildings in this town is the NTTC complex on the North Stuart Highway."It's functional, has the look of being for a hot climate, it has verandahs, thick walls."It makes sense."Mr Catchlove says "huge issues" are facing the town: there are indications that "most of the Aboriginal communities will be virtually empty in 10 years' time at the current rate of people moving into town."How is that going to impact here?"Where are these people going to live? "Will we have programs for more town camps?"Mr Catchlove says more access to pastoral areas and Aboriginal properties is "not an issue" because we already have "dirt roads galore" although the Explorer 4WD program – ultimately leading from the SA border to Elliott and the Victoria Highway – "needs to be kicked along a bit".The section from Ross River to Plenty Highway is open now."We'll lose the image of the Outback Territory if we don't have something like this to offer tourists."This program's slipped off the priority list but now it's slipping back on."It's nine tenths of the way there," says Mr Catchlove, with negotiations with land holders and Aboriginal corporations on track.Small scale operators seeking to set up tourism businesses on cattle stations are fighting an uphill battle against the tour wholesalers' preference for "product" capable of handling large numbers of people."The hardest part is marketing, and getting into wholesale programs, providing the volume the ‘inbounders' like, to make it worth-while for them," says Mr Catchlove."Getting into a wholesaler's program is really an uphill battle."And they don't want too much of one product."So they won't have four different properties in there, they'll have one."The number of wholesalers who handle this product is small."Trying to build a relationship with these guys, you're talking three to four years."And you can't give up. "The first year the wholesaler will nod, yeah, who are you?"The second year he'll say, oh, you're back!"The third year he'll start talking to you."That's three years of having to go overseas. "It costs money galore – with no income."It's like banks. They won't lend you money when you actually need it."There are so many operations who go away."The Internet is changing the industry fundamentally but wholesalers as well as conventional promotion and advertising will not become obsolete, says Mr Catchlove."You still have to be motivated to click your mouse on Central Australia."That's why we do the visiting journalists program, why we sponsor journalists."When they do an article about Central Australia it's worth its weight in gold."It's much better than advertising. You see an advert you go flick."You read an article and you think, that's tremendous, I'd like to do that."There's a trend for major web sites – such as Big Pond Travel – to take on the role of wholesalers, but they are still charging hefty commissions.Trying to get the "hits" direct is fraught with difficulty: "As a small operator you don't have the time seeding your site so it comes up at the top."If you're number 355 when you bring up Alice Springs bed and breakfast, no-one's going to get to you. You also need to handle the online booking systems."That's why people are using wholesalers."The net is not the magic panacea for everyone, but things could change."At the moment people are going on the internet via big portals, and these are just taking the place of the big wholesaler, another middleman."You'll never get rid of travel agents but the internet certainly has changed them."Bucket shops will be a thing of the past where you buy cheap flights because that's what you do on the internet."But would you buy a $5000 holiday? That's another thing entirely, because you want someone to talk to about that. "That's where the travel agents will find their niche, which is what's happening in America."The bottom end of the travel market fell out."Travel agents are like lawyers now, you want to talk to a travel agent you have to pay a fee."They normally give a refund of your fee when you make the booking, but if you want to use their professional knowledge, I'm sorry, it costs money."And if you want to be a travel agent, you'll have to be super specialised to get people to use you, otherwise they can get better information off the net. "It's going to be a change, and travel agents are amongst the most nervous people in the world at the moment."Mr Catchlove says The Centre could boost its backpacker business, currently about 40 per cent of the local market."We get at best half of them," he says. "Why?"These guys are here from anywhere between six weeks and two years."We've got to get them out of Sydney, that's the biggest problem."They get in the habit of earning, spending, earning and at the end their visa is expired."There is great potential in that market."

C.A.T.I.A. RULES OUT EXTRA COMMISSIONS.

CATIA has clamped down on the practice of some companies paying commissions greater than the set 10 per cent, according to new general manager Craig Catchlove.The Alice News recently revealed that AAT Kings provided CATIA a free ticket for every 10 tickets sold, in addition to the standard commission.Mr Catchlove says the executive has barred the practice: "It's 10 per cent for all members, no difference, it's across the board."It's been stopped."You can't do it, not when you're in a membership situation where everyone's treated equally."Having said that, I'm not a believer in saying to people, sorry, I'm not allowed to recommend," says Mr Catchlove."That would be an abrogation of responsibility by the CATIA staff. "They're there to find out what is suitable to the client," and recommend certain tours."But you don't do it because you get extra commission."

WHO'S GOT THE BETTER CAMEL RACE?

Boulia – population 400 – is going all out to knock Alice Springs – population 27,000 – off its perch as the nation's capital of camel racing.Paddy McHugh, the president of the Boulia Desert Sands Racing Camel Festival, says racing camels from most other states will come to Boulia, bypassing Alice Springs.He says he's been trying hard to arrange for The Alice to be part of the racing circuit which also takes in Charleville and Blackall – but the date didn't suit the Alice Lions Club, organisers of the event.Lions spokesman Bill O‘Flaherty says the only suitable date clashed with the Alice Springs annual show, and no arrangement could be made with the Show Society.So both camel fixtures will now be on July 15.The tiny town just across the Queensland border, a newcomer to camel racing – this is the fourth year – is expecting roughly the same crowd as is The Alice, which will be staging its 30th Camel Cup.And Mr McHugh says the Boulia event is "proper racing" with 1000 metre heats, and a 2000 metre Cup race, while The Alice fixture is just "a display" over a quarter of a mile."If the racing industry here wants to develop it needs to emulate the blue ribbon events in the United Arab Emirates."They race over three to eight kilometres."We want to develop a professional entity for the camel industry in Australia. We're even drug testing camels!"Our camels have been training for six months."If The Alice drags the chain it won't progress in what ‘s worth $1m in Queensland alone at the moment, and could grow hugely with Middle East interest."Top camels in the Middle East are worth $3m to $4m each, says Mr McHugh.The Queensland Government has passed special legislation to allow bookmakers to operate.The Ministers for Housing, and Mines and Energy will fly to Boulia in the government jet, Seven Central and the Min Min Encounter will present "Young Start of the Country" and Fred Brophy's boxing troupe, including the Birdsville Mauler, will be taking on all-comers in the legendary travelling boxing tent.The three-day program features wild camel catching, and an auction of some 100 beasts: "They're very popular these days as a way to get rid of Prickly Acacia weed," says Mr McHugh.There will be clowns, skydivers, market stalls, fireworks and "plenty of free camping and fire wood for the cold nights"."It's bigger than Ben Hur," says Mr McHugh."We have $30,000 prize money."Mr O'Flaherty says the Alice camel races, which don't offer prize money, have been on national and international tour programs for years and the majority of spectators are from overseas.All proceeds go to charity.Some 30 camels for the 10 races will come from local tourism operators, Nick Smail, the Fullerton family and Ross River.Only two Americans will fly in for the international challenge, but the US team will be supplemented with Pine Gap staffers. The three Lions Clubs organising the event distribute around $20,000 each year raised by the Camel Cup to local charities.

DOPE IN SCHOOLS. Report by EMILY KANAAN.

Dope-smoking is becoming more widespread among younger teenagers.A school student myself, I have even seen it being used in schools and public places, like parks and school ovals, and know teenagers who smoke it at friends' houses or in their own house. Kids often turn up to class with bleary red eyes and a craving for water. They disturb others who want to work, by giggling and fidgeting. They are unable to do their own work because they cannot concentrate. I have seen them become destructive, as they are so hyperactive. I don't think the teachers are completely oblivious to the problem but they certainly don't or can't do anything about it.So why do teenagers do it?"I use it as a way to escape reality," says one 15-year-old girl. She uses it three or four times a week and started when she was 14 years old.To relax, get high and have fun, were some other answers.I realised how available cannabis was when I spent an evening with schoolmates.I had been invited to the Youth Centre on a Friday night. My friends met on the oval with a group from our school. After dark they lit up a bong and passed it around.Most bongs are home made; all you need is a lemonade bottle, a short piece of flexible hose pipe and weed. They were nervous in case they got caught but that didn't stop them. I was not pressured to join in, as peer pressure doesn't happen much any more.People are starting to respect your decisions.The teenagers I spoke with about smoking aren't your usual stereotyped "druggies".They are quiet kids from respectable families.Most did admit to having problems communicating with their parents.They were unsure if their parents knew that they smoked dope."The majority of teenagers I know smoke dope," says one 15 year old.‘'Some of us are scared of the effects it will have, but most of us don't worry. We don't care what kind of dope we smoke."They either get it from dealers, friends who get it from dealers or they grow it themselves.With so many part time jobs available in Alice Springs for young people, they are able to support their habit with their own money.Sargent Harrison of Alice Springs police says: "We are aware of how widespread the problem is. "Some parents do approach us and we occasionally get involved in teenage drug situations."Unfortunately, if we stop one dealer another takes over. We need to stop the demand."Although dope-smoking is already widespread it has the potential to get worse.Parents need to approach their teenagers in a non-judgmental way.The problem is the community's but should be addressed in the home.Unfortunately some parents are not aware of what help is available.One father I interviewed said he would not recognise the signs of cannabis use in his daughter. "I would be really disappointed if I found my daughter smoking dope," he says. "I assume we have a close relationship but maybe there are things she wouldn't share with her mother or myself." His wife said she is very frightened for teenagers and the pressures put on them. Her 10-year-old son knew of children younger than himself who had tried smoking dope.Another mother said she knew her teenager used drugs but couldn't do anything about it. Her daughter had tried a number of different substances and had become abusive and dropped out of school.Meanwhile, a cannabis information evening will be held tonight at Centralian College Theatrette, 7pm. (See also front page story, Alice News, June 7.)United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on Monday and Treatment Works Week will be observed in Alice Springs with a number of "open houses" and displays.Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA) will begin the week with an open morning at its premises at 4 Schwarz Crescent from 9am to 1pm (sausage sizzle at noon).Members of the public will be able to tour the Sobering-Up Shelter and learn about the variety of services DASA offers.On Monday afternoon, people can learn more about the work and facilities of the AIDS Council of Central Australia, during an open house at the Todd Street Centre.Holyoake, on Newland Street, will be open to all on Tuesday from 9am to noon: stop by for Devonshire Tea and learn more about Holyoake's programs.And on Wednesday, stalls and information on a variety of alcohol and other drug agencies, including DASA, Holyoake, Todd Street Centre, Central Australian Alcohol and Other Drug Services, Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Program Unit and the Program Unit of Correctional Services, will be at the Alice Plaza from 9am-4pm.

DESERT KNOWLEDGE GROUP: GLOBAL OR LOCAL? Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Is the Desert Knowledge Consortium trying to run before it can walk?While some speakers at a day-long workshop last week were looking at ambitious global strategies to take Central Australia's economy in new directions, key local players made it clear that they felt excluded by the process.The keynote speaker, Adelaide-based academic economist Professor Richard Blandy almost immediately renamed the fledgling consortium "the Australian International Desert Knowledge Project".He said: "You can't think too high" when you want to "transform the nature of your economy"."The way to go" would be via the forging of "international alliances", particularly important for "this sort of intellectual activity".Prof Blandy's achievements include the creation of the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University and a stint as director of the Melbourne Institute attached to Melbourne University; he is currently Professor of Economics at Flinders, and Chairman of the Hawke Centre for Applied Economics at the University of South Australia.He said the role of intellectual property in economic development can't be over-estimated, citing the classic examples of Silicon Valley in the US, and, closer to home, the South Australian wine industry, "driven to world standard" by the input of the Waite Institute and Roseworthy Agricultural College.However, by the end of the day, Prof Blandy admitted that he had not, until now, paid much attention to the cross-cultural context of the Centre. Undaunted, he suggested that the resolution of differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous interests could be "a fabulous contribution to this project" that would "undoubtedly attract enormous international interest and money – providing they could learn from it".In between the Professor's addresses the workshop had heard from a number of Indigenous speakers.First up was Paul Ah Chee whose Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre has created 22 of the mere 140 jobs in the Territory's tourism industry held by Indigenous people, out of a total of some 5000 jobs. (The 22 include seven interstate trainees, as the AACC is expanding its role to become an Indigenous education and training provider on the national stage.)While tourism brings $700m into the Territory, only three per cent of that goes to Indigenous tourism operations, said Mr Ah Chee, despite the fact that 80 per cent of international visitors to Australia want to have an experience of Indigenous culture, and the Territory is potentially best placed to provide it.William Tilmouth, Executive Director of Tangentyere Council, made an emotional plea for the removal of "institutional barriers" that exclude Indigenous people from involvement in the kind of prosperity envisioned by the Desert Knowledge Consortium.He said 30 years ago it was unthinkable that an Aboriginal person would occupy a senior position in an agency delivering services to Aboriginal people; today the rhetoric may be different, but the reality by and large is not, said Mr Tilmouth.He called on the Desert Knowledge Consortium to embrace "inclusive models of service delivery that empower Aboriginal people"."Without involving Aboriginal people in the formal structures [of the consortium] and without recognising their traditional knowledge, you'll have a recipe for failure," said Mr Tilmouth.There may have been some discomfort and frustration over the raising of these issues – one participant said to me that he had not come to the workshop to hear this "political agenda" – but there was also support.Bruce Walker is the Director of the Centre for Appropriate Technology and has been a driving force of the Desert Knowledge project. He says he has gone to great lengths to ensure that Indigenous people and organisations have been involved. He says Tangentyere Council, the Central Land Council and CAT have all taken part in the process to date. He urged participants at the workshop to think about Indigenous involvement, not as a negative, but as an opportunity to develop a shared future: "It's fundamental," said Dr Walker.However, it can be hard to see beyond the status quo, when there is still such a long way to go in terms of Indigenous education, employment, and social regeneration and development.Prof Blandy proposed an "audit" of current capabilities as one of the immediate next steps for the consortium, but in terms of basic Indigenous well-being, how much could be notched up as exemplary for the rest of the world?The workshop heard, all too briefly, from the principal of Papunya School, Dianne DeVere, who over the last eight years has worked with the community to establish an "Anangu-led" model of education. Ms DeVere sees her job and that of other European teachers at the school as feeding relevant Western knowledge into a curriculum developed by Aboriginal teachers and community members, reflecting their priorities and aspirations, their world. She questioned as the sole measures of success, "high literacy marks and standard jobs". Whatever the successes of Papunya's approach, it is but one school in what we know to be a system in crisis in terms of both participation and outcomes.The workshop heard too from Tangentyere Job Shop's Peter Strachan on Aboriginal unemployment: 16.5 per cent in town, compared to 3.9 per cent for non-Indigenous people. Over half the Aboriginal people working in town are employed by Aboriginal organisations; and some 400 are employed under the CDEP "work for the dole" scheme – and as such not counted as unemployed.The situation, as we all know, is far worse in the bush where Mr Strachan suggested only 10-15 per cent of jobs are held by Aboriginal people unless there is an effective CDEP program.Mr Strachan invoked jobs in the mining industry and the Utopia Citrus project as signs of hope for the bush, but with the latter still in the exploratory phase and the former not an overwhelming success for local people (a significant proportion of Indigenous employees at the mines are from interstate), it still feels very much like we are in infancy taking our first steps, rather than maturing and ready to leap onto the world stage.The bright note, apart from Mr Ah Chee's achievements, came, as ever, from the Aboriginal art industry. According to Tim Rollason, Development Officer with Desart (his is a new position funded by the Northern Territory Government), Desart is preparing for an imminent expansion into the Japanese market "where there've been no inroads to date" and has made some progress on returning to artists a proportion of resale moneys (one Melbourne auction house has voluntarily taken this step).Art centres are often the only income producing entities on bush communities, Mr Rollason said, with turnovers ranging from $50,000 to $1m. Art sales bring into the region about $2m per year, a small proportion of the value Central Australian art contributes to the Indigenous art market Australia-wide, worth about $200m annually.On the non-Indigenous front, the presentation that excited the most interest – perhaps because it was the easiest to grasp – was the "nuts and bolts" success story of growing hydroponic lettuce in the semi-rural area of Alice Springs. The man who has put in "the hard yards", Mo McCosker, told the workshop that his business is likely to double within the next two years, from his current production of 500,000 head of lettuce to one million. This is being "market driven", he said, with Coles and Bi-Lo supermarkets in Darwin and the Defence forces leading the demand for his consistently available, good quality product.Mr McCosker, a plumber by trade, started experimenting with hydroponics in his backyard in the early ‘nineties. After a spell of "feeding the neighbourhood" he went commercial, engaging a consultant from New South Wales to help him set up his plant. The process has since involved some trial and error, particularly with respect to lettuce varieties suitable to the Centre's climate, and control of water quality and water temperature.Mr McCosker now uses cooling towers and a desalination plant to treat the water, the latter allowing him to significantly decrease his water usage, while increasing his productivity.Dr Walker threw up a question for the workshop to consider: if Mr McCosker's enterprise were to be replicated here and elsewhere, how would his intellectual property be protected? How would his "research & development" become a saleable commodity? Answering this question will be an important consideration in developing a desert knowledge economy.The question would equally apply to another innovative entity, the Centre for Remote Health, which is shaping its multi-disciplinary role as it goes along. Director John Wakerman impressed the workshop with a map of Australia showing the geographical location of the 55 students enrolled in the CRH's Remote Health Practice Program (just one strand of the centre's activity). They are in every state and territory of Australia, including Christmas Island, with naturally a strong scattering across remote areas, but also represented in the metropolitan areas, indicating the presence of health care professionals preparing themselves for work in remote Australia."We have found a niche," said Dr Wakerman, "and we do have ambitions to build an international profile in this domain."Mr Tilmouth said he was "encouraged" by the approach of the centre, particularly with respect to its understanding of the context and history of Aboriginal health, and its teaching in this area. But while there is strong Aboriginal presence, including Mr Tilmouth, on the centre's board of management, and despite the best will of the centre, Aboriginal people are still predominantly at the "disempowered" client end of the relationship. Small inroads will be made as the centre feeds its programs into the training of Aboriginal health professionals, but how does this stack up on the world stage?The desert knowledge audit to be undertaken in the near future will perhaps answer this question.In one of the workshop's small group discussions, a senior public servant expressed what he understood to be the NT Government's impatience for the Desert Knowledge Consortium to go beyond the talk stage and to get "some runs on the board".Prof Blandy had some ideas on how to make that happen; he'll be writing a report which will be used to approach the Territory and Federal governments for an injection of development funds – $500,000 was the figure mentioned.He said the commencement of specific projects under the Desert Knowledge banner should be announced sometime next year, possibly as Centenary of Federation projects, drawing on government, business and international investments. He suggested these Desert Knowledge projects could generate economic activity worth $50m. The audit of desert knowledge capabilities – local, nation-wide and international – would be part and parcel of the process that gets the project or projects to that point."It's high risk, no guarantees, but the rewards would be fantastic," said Prof Blandy."Not just in terms of money but also the emotional rewards – Australians have always been haunted by the possibility of doing something with the desert."He also advised, in case of failure, a fall-back position, such as the establishment of a "CRC" (cooperative research centre) – "a more limited objective, but still valuable".Prof Blandy and others, notably Dr Walker, talked about the importance of the project taking local people with it, of them not getting a sense that they are losing control, or not clearly seeing the benefits to themselves.However, the involvement of Prof Blandy as a consultant to the Desert Knowledge Project, and of a number of senior public servants is progressing a concept that "grass roots" people are still struggling with. In the small discussion groups it was clear that many people weren't really ready to be biting off big chunks of Key Strategies A and B, like how to provide "promotion and concept integration" or how to establish a "Graduate Desert Knowledge University". Before these can become a reality local people need to get a firm handle on the concept, to understand where they can fit in, and be convinced there is mutual benefit from their involvement.A lot more information needs to be shared, starting with a more detailed exposure of all the local examples of desert knowledge enterprise: almost all of last week's presentations suffered from too limited an exposure to be really useful. Many participants would have shared my impression of a limited scattering of small, clever enterprises up against entrenched, much larger and not-so-clever economic and social structures.Further, Indigenous participants underlined what we already all know but what is easy to lose sight of: that Central Australia will have a "bright future" only if it involves Indigenous people, not just for moral reasons but because they hold one of the keys to what's unique here.After all, they ran the region's original desert knowledge economy, which should provide plenty of inspiration for this new drive to respond to the challenges of contemporary arid zone living, not only in Central Australia, but potentially around the country and the world.

WHY THESE KIDS CAN'T TAKE THE NORMAL SCHOOL BUS.

While authorities debate strategies about getting Aboriginal children to go to school, a practical way of ensuring the attendance of some 50 of them at local government schools – by picking them up in a bus – is under threat.Tangentyere Council has been providing an informal pick up and drop off service for school children living on town camps for the last three years, but no longer has the funds to continue the service.The children attend schools all over town: Sadadeen, Ross Park, Acacia Hill, Gillen, Bradshaw and Alice Springs High School.The bus run has been piggy-backing on the resources of other programs, using the vehicle from Tangentyere's Homemakers and Old People's Service, and money for the drivers' wages from savings made on the CDEP program.A change in policy on payment of CDEP workers has dried up these savings. Tangentyere formerly had a policy of "no work, no pay", but, as CDEP is at bottom a social welfare safety net program, it was decided that in the interest of workers' dependents, unworked hours would be paid in the form of food vouchers.Now some 800 hours of wages per year are needed to maintain the school bus run, assuming that somehow a bus is kept in running order on the road.Mike Bowden, Manager for the Community Development Division of Tangentyere Council, has contacted the Department of Education asking for assistance to maintain the service.The department's Director of Schools, South, Russell Totham told the Alice Springs News: "We have no answer right now, but we are looking at ways to solve the problem."Indigenous education is a key area for the department, and we will do the best we can."There is, of course, a network of school bus routes both within town and from the rural residential areas south of the Gap. Why can't town camp children use these busses?Mr Bowden says none of the mainstream bus routes stop outside or go into any of the town camps; few of the children are likely to have the money to pay for their bus fares (which they must do if they live within a five kilometre radius of the nearest school, and most of the town camp children do); and, there are more complex problems.Mr Bowden says he knows from his experience as a former teacher that in an unsupervised context "latent racism is unleashed", subjecting students to tension and stress."All the prejudices held by both groups come to the surface."A driver, as the sole adult on the bus, can't be expected to assert control."This experience is confirmed by Principal of Yipirinya School, Fiona McLoughlin.Yipirinya runs a bus service for its students, not only to the town camps, but to outstations as far afield as Burt Creek, Harry Creek, Yamba and Jay Creek."It's the nightmare of our life," says Mrs McLoughlin."The outstation bus run does a thousand kilometres a week. It's eating into the money we should be spending on our education programs."But we've got to get kids to school in the first place, or there won't be any education programs."So, why can't at least the town camp children either walk to school or use the mainstream bus service?"Some children can and do walk, but the chances of others making the front gate are minimal."We use our bus service as a daily liaison with families."Some families make every effort to get their kids to school, but others, because they have been so failed by their schooling and the system more generally, don't see the benefit."The drivers support the kids. They talk to the families, find out where the children are, if they are sick."We don't see it as encouraging dependency, we see it as survival."Many of these kids simply would not get on a mainstream bus service. They have a poor image of themselves and would feel too intimidated."Mrs McLoughlin says she has been told by the Education Department that there is an existing subsidy to assist with getting children to school, but it applies only to the use of the family car for this purpose.She laughs: "Hardly any of our families own cars! The only working parents are the ones who are employed at our school."Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) College in Alice also runs its own bus service specifically for Aboriginal children.Kathy Grant, Indigenous Education Coordinator for the OLSH campuses, says a visit by the Pope in the 1980s changed the way OLSH was thinking about Indigenous education."The Pope saw the need to support Indigenous people from a different angle, and after a number of discussions, this saw, as one approach, making a school bus available."At present, the schools' ASSPA (Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness) committees fund the operational costs of the service and the Marist Brothers provide the drivers on a volunteer basis."We are very fortunate to have these resources," says Mrs Grant."We don't know how we would maintain the service without them."OLSH has also seen the need for providing adult supervision on the bus, beyond the presence of the bus driver. Mrs Grant, another staff member and one of the Marist Brothers are rostered to travel on each bus run."We see that as part of our ‘duty of care', ensuring that children can travel safely and happily to and from school," says Mrs Grant.As well as doing the rounds of the town camps, the OLSH service will pick up children from private homes, if need be. They look at the situation of the children, family by family. They find out if they can travel on the mainstream service with their brothers and sisters or cousins, or even match them with a "buddy", who may be a non-Indigenous student.If these options aren't available, they will pick up the child: a case in point is that of a little girl in Transition, in the care of her grandmother who also cares for a disabled relative, and who lives at some distance from the nearest mainstream bus stop.Mrs Grant says OLSH has found the bus service has had a considerable impact on attendance and retention of Indigenous students.Further, they have found that as the students get older, they become more confident about getting themselves to school, whether by using the mainstream bus service or by other means. The special bus service is used mainly by the primary and middle school students, says Mrs Grant.

Letters to the Editor: "DISCLOSE REAL COST OF THE TORCH SHOW".

Sir,- I call on the ASTC to release to the public the true cost of the Torch extravaganza and the amount of money that ultimately left town.Apart from satisfying the pretentious egos of a few, there was no earthly reason for the production to have been done in such a way as to require staging, lights and sound equipment to be hired in from interstate along with the crew.Will these inter/intrastate suppliers come back to town to support schools, local charities and artists as the local companies do?The poor sound at the Gap ceremony was a precursor of things to come, along with the live cross that did not work or happen.First we were treated to a horrid sounding video stage, the image from which was bright and colourful.Then [in the street parade] came the sound of generators and guitar amplifiers, blaring out a noise so distorted it was hard to recognise the music, dragged along in contraptions that needed a third wheel.Meanwhile unfolding or should I say folding down at the other end of the oval was the fire sculpture that had been incorrectly lifted by one crane causing it to crack in the centre, necessitating two more cranes being brought in to save the situation.Did the engineers who put their name to the event, design this structure and will they go on to design a dam?Listening on the night to the squeaks, pops, feedback, pregnant pauses, uncoordinated timing and the bad ending, it surely did not reflect the five days of testing the PA and rehearsals paid for by the Alice Springs ratepayers.What will the ASTC do with the $30,000 piece of original music we all paid for?As for the truckload of lighting, all anyone saw was a red wash, nothing even remotely spectacular or reflecting the capabilities of the equipment used.A Sea of Fire from 10,000 candles in the wind, what a joke. A couple of dozen fire drums around the oval would have looked better and warmed the crowd.I saw comment that people lit their candles early; with no safety lighting on the oval it is a good thing they did. The ASTC does not allow other users to take this public liability risk.You may ask, who am I to say such things?I provided the entertainment, PA, big screen and production for several thousand people on Anzac Oval last New Year's Eve from 9.30pm to 2am for FREE.The same local company, namely mine, did the Masters Games Opening for over 10,000 people on Anzac Oval in 1998 and 96/94/92/90.I and my company, AV Sound & Lighting, have been "local" for 20 years. I may be lacking in social skills and tact (common amongst electronics technicians that strive for perfection) but when it comes to the audio-visual, sound and lighting production of a show, I excel.That's why over the years I have done the production of more conferences, concerts and events in Alice Springs than anyone else locally or from interstate.I was looking forward to attending this event as a spectator having watched the rehearsals and of being consumed in this joyous event, but as I looked around at the lost crowd covering the oval not knowing if that was the end or not, I could not help feeling a little ripped off knowing the cost.
Robert Brackenbury
Alice Springs

Sir,- Our town recently played host to probably the most exciting event Alice Springs has ever seen ... The Flame ... watched worldwide.We understood it was supposed to be a community event involving locals.What a shame about the Flame!What a shame a local business was NOT used to help with the production of such an event!What a shame most of our many talented musicians were NOT invited to such an event!What a shame the local charities serving food on the night had to give a percentage of their takings to SOCOG!What a shame about the Flame.What a shame an overseas visitor with a broad accent was employed as production manager, why not a local!What a shame I along with many others employed in the Plaza shopping centre were fined for parking outside my place of work when we had lost our usual parking spaces to this local community event!What a shame the local council chose this community spirited day to place fines on vehicles. What a shame hundreds of thousands of rate payers dollars were spent paying a handful of people to organise local children and adults (in their free time, in freezing conditions) to perform acts (some of them repeated), that we might have seen at a local school concert!What a shame an idea created by a local group of brainstorming (former) friends in 1997 was used for the financial benefit of just one.But most of all:What a shame the most reported and significant component at the Gap could not be heard by those present or the TV crews ... (locals could definitely have done a better job with the sound).
J. Joiner
Alice Springs

Sir,- We all witnessed the arrival of the Olympic flame.We all saw the parade too. Almost all the town was there.The flame refused to ignite on every instance ... and at Uluru it was extinguished soon afterwards, and reignited.There was not a single person of Hellenic origin participating in the events.Nobody was invited.There was VERY little Hellenic spirit in it.The Lord Mayor of Athens presented to the Aborigines a symbol showing the goddess Athena "crucified".Congratulations to the lady, first bearer of the torch, who carried it barefooted.The little children braved the cold and made a very good presentation. The dancers with the horned head-dress and swords were an anomaly.The torch resembled a broken bull's horn. Nothing elegant in it. Just like the eyesore shape of the Opera House it is supposed to represent.Long ago I suggested to the council to name a street after a Hellenic name (like Hestia, the goddess of the family bond) in commemoration of this historic event. I guess it fell on deaf ears. I write the above just for historical reasons.
Kon Tsiaprakas
kon@roonet.com.au

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