ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
July 12, 2000

GROG A PROBLEM FOR WHOLE TOWN, SAYS SHOCK REPORT. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Take-away restrictions, much more vigorous enforcement of the Liquor Act and expanding several organisations dealing with alcohol abuse should all be part of a bid to bring Alice Springs' liquor consumption down to the national average within 18 months.These recommendations, released today, are made by consultants Hauritz and Associates after a survey of community attitudes commissioned by the town council and funded largely by the NT Government.Alice's consumption is currently 2.5 times the national average, and close to 1.5 times the Territory average.The report, entitled "Dollars Made from Broken Spirits", says that the community "very definitely recognises that there is a problem with alcohol, rates this problem as serious to very serious" and also sees the problem as one involving the "whole of Alice Springs".Alice Alcohol Representative Committee chair Meredith Campbell, says that anyone denying the "truths" clearly laid out by the report "will do so because they believe their commercial interests will be threatened or their lifestyle choices curtailed".She calls on the community to read the report – "it's all there" – and to act: "This is a thirsty country, but we are hungry for change," says Ms Campbell.The report urges that the full package of recommendations be taken on board: "Disassembly and use of selected recommendations will result in mediocre achievements that will not sustain in the long term."Its much anticipated recommendations on restricting alcohol availability are as follows:
• that the trading hours of take-away outlets be reduced significantly;
• that wine in casks of more than two litres be banned;
• that there be the same take-away hours for clubs and hotels;
• that all sales of wine in glass containers larger than one litre be banned;
• that all sales of sherry and fortified wines in glass containers larger than one litre be banned;
• that quotas be placed on sales of fortified wines, sherries, and spirits, holding outlets to their current levels of wholesale purchases;
• that all sales of fortified wines and sherry before 5pm be banned;
• that happy hours be for no longer than two hours in a day;
• that the number of liquor licenses currently held in Alice Springs be reduced;
• that no new liquor licenses be granted;
• that there be an alcohol free day/s;
• that the Liquor Act be amended to incorporate public health policy related to alcohol;
• that the Liquor Act is amended to include public need for a new outlet to be considered in the granting of a license;• that Thursday be selected as the preferred alcohol free day.
The report recommends that these "alcohol management practices" be held in place until local alcohol consumption matches national levels.However, the report goes much further than simply recommending restrictions on availability. Its wide-ranging recommendations attempt, not to stamp out, but to rein in the "drinking culture" of the town.One way of doing this would be to get serious about enforcing the provisions of the Liquor Act.The report points out that against a background of high alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm, there were but five complaints concerning Alice Springs brought before the Licensing Commission in the last five years. Of these, one was not proven; one was given no penalty; and two more had their penalties watered down. Only one licensed premises suffered a four day suspension for its bottle shop, during which, for two days, the whole premises was suspended from trading.The report says that the community has "stated quite clearly that they want breaches of the Liquor Act dealt with severely, they want under-age drinking stopped, binge drinking reduced significantly, and sly-grogging also severely dealt with".
To achieve these ends, the report recommends:
• Aboriginal representation on the Licensing Commission [at present, there is none]; and
• the appointment within one month of a Deputy Licensing Commissioner, based in Alice Springs, with powers to refer breaches of the Liquor Act to the criminal justice system.
CONFLICTThe report suggests that the Licensing Commission has a " conflict of interest" when dealing with breaches of the Liquor Act, in that "increased sales produce greater financial returns"", while "regulation to national standards competes with this".However, as the mission of the commission is "to minimise harm arising from the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol", the community is in effect the "customer" of the commission "whom it has to serve and safe-guard".To this end, the report recommends "a graduated set of sanctions ... to give [the commission] the power to deal effectively with breaches of the Liquor Act".Another task of the Deputy Commissioner, one of quite a long list, would be to deal with major breweries to bring about increas edes of low alcohol beers.The report reveals that low strength beer sales have consistently fallen since 1995/96, while sales of full strength beer have increased by five per cent and of cask wines by 21 per cent during the same period.The social fallout from this increased alcohol consumption, during 1998/99, included: the expenditure of $24m on 6.847 million litres of alcohol; the arrest of 2,999 people for alcohol- related offences; the placement in protective custody of 4,400 people; 1,341 alcohol-related admissions (442 involving assault) to the Alice Springs Hospital Accident and Emergency section; 6,918 admissions to DASA's sobering up shelter; and, 1,956 call-outs by Tangentyere Night Patrol.Services personnel dealing with alcohol-related issues are often experiencing extreme stress, akin to that of a combat situation, says the report.It also says that there is an evident cost borne by families: women and older people are stressed and tired; children live in chaos and witness events that no child should ever have to see, "let alone live through on a regular basis".To maintain community motivation and vigilance in dealing with the issues, the report recommends the formation and resourcing of an Alice Springs Alcohol Community Action Task Force, which would prepare a three year outcome based management plan, with a three month implementation phase.The task force would publish collated monthly trend data on alcohol consumption, alcohol-related harm and breaches of the Liquor Act, and place quarterly data before the Liquor Commissioner.The report also recommends a six monthly review of progress during the three year period.The task force would have three sub groups which would oversee the implementation of a wide range of recommendations, which taken individually may seem relatively insignificant, but taken together amount to a considerable confrontation of the accepted practices of a "drinking culture".FUND RAISERSThe Regulators Task Group would see to, for example, the removal from the Licensing Commission's website (of the promotion of special licenses for the sale of alcohol as community group fund-raisersIt would also oversee the regulation of taxi drivers to ensure that they not buy or carry alcohol on behalf of other persons not present as hirers of the vehicle.It would aim for a reduction of alcohol consumption at major public events where only low strength beer would be sold in a limited, enclosed area.Under the regulation heading is also the recommendation that police resources be gradually withdrawn from the transfer of inebriated people between various agencies; that this be undertaken by a Tangentyere Day-Night Patrol, allowing police resources to be directed to the regulation of licensed venues and sly grogging.The report recommends that licensees, under the watchful eye of the Licensees Task G!roup, would have to provide opportunities for all people to drink in well presented, non- crowded bars and lounges; price low strength beer lower than high strength beer in all instances; provide free water in bars and drinking lounges; and provide snacks and meals in all bars and lounges.Under the licensees heading the report also recommends, as a measure to prevent under-age drinking, the introduction of a teen ID card for all young people aged 14 and over; and the use of a breath-alyser by the staff of licenses premises to ensure that they are not serving an intoxicated person.NIGHT PATROLRecommendations for the Common Issues Task Group to oversee include the extension and increased resourcing of Tangentyere Night Patrol (to a 24 hour service), the Wardens Scheme, and CAAPU; the creation of a sobering up and detox centre for young people who cannot be admitted to DASA's shelter; and, the creation of segregated safe houses for men, women and children at risk of alcohol related violence.Under the common issues heading the report also recommends that any town camp wanting to be alcohol free, should be granted this status by the Licensing Commission; and that, at the wishes of a town camp, an inebriated person be excluded from the camp and alternative accommodation found.To assist the task groups in the implementation of this raft of measures the report recommends the appointment of a technical and expert assistance team.

HERITAGE ACTIVISTS WILL TARGET MANY BUILDINGS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Heritage campaigners say they will be applying to the government for protection from demolition of up to 30 buildings around Alice Springs, including the Todd Tavern, the Totem Theatre and several private homes in the Old Eastside.The tavern, near the Todd footbridge, is the last remaining old style hotel in Alice Springs, and the Totem is one of only a handful of original WWII buildings left.The move follows the demolition of "The Ritz" in Parsons Street. Although that home had a rich history, no application had been made to preserve it.Photographer Mike Gillam, who is spearheading the mass listing, says once the applications are made, the ball to preserve the town's historical treasures is in the NT Government's court.Several volunteers will be asked to help with the initiative.Mr Gillam says anyone can apply for the listing of a place on the Heritage Index.Heritage Architect Domenico Pecorari says the process begins with the nomination.This is followed by an assessment by the government's Heritage Advisory Council, whose local members are Mayor Fran Erlich and Jim Hayes. The HAC makes a recommendation to the Minister.Ultimate listing is at the Minister's discretion. He can also initiate an assessment process in his own right.Mr Pecorari says many of the properties still without any heritage protection have been examined and assessed by the National Trust, for inclusion in its own heritage register.That register, however, does not afford protection from demolition.The head of the government's Heritage Branch, Steve Sutton, would not disclose how many properties are currently under consideration for listing.He told the Alice News that we would need to obtain that information from the Minister, Tim Baldwin.When the News spoke to Mr Baldwin at the Alice Show on the weekend he promised to obtain the information, but by Monday this week he had still not provided the details.Mr Pecorari says the government has a grant program to assist owners with the restoration of buildings protected by listing on the Northern Territory's Heritage Register.Usually only a portion of the costs incurred are reimbursed.Mr Pecorari says he understands the total Territory-wide budget for this purpose is about $140,000 a year.The News asked Mr Baldwin about the fund but he was unable to give details.

GROG, DRUG BODIES SCALE DOWN AS NEW TERITORY FUNDING REGIME STARTS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Community organisations dealing with alcohol and drug abuse are scaling back services because of rising costs, while the NT Government's Budget allocations have remained the same as last year.However, the funding regime for non-government bodies is changing dramatically.Health Minister Steve Dunham says his department has moved to a "purchaser – provider – funder model" under which certain services will be bought, and others not, a departure from the allocation of annual subsidies.And he says the Cabinet's judgment of the value and effectiveness of initiatives will rely "lots" on recommendations from the new Ntsafe committees, headed by senior police officers and including yet to be chosen public servants and private citizens.The manager of the Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA), Nick Gill, says his group has reduced the operating times of the Schwartz Crescent sobering up shelter by a full day a week.The shelter is now closed from 6am Sundays to 2pm Tuesdays. Previously it reopened at 2pm Mondays.Mr Gill says on past figures, this will mean 700 people a year will now need to be taken to the police cells instead of to the shelter.He says DASA is facing higher costs because additional staff training is needed – in part required by the health department.(The reduction of DASA's service comes at the same time as the report commissioned by the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee (AARC) recommends an extension of the service. See story page one, this issue.)Tangentyere's remote area night patrol program has been forced to abolish one position, and reduce another one to a .6 position.This program provides networking support and training to the voluntary night patrols on Aboriginal communities across the vast distances of the southern region of the Territory.Former manager Blair McFarland, who last week accepted a redundancy package from Tangentyere, says the program is being penalised for having reduced its need for government assistance last year by earning money for its delivery of training. He says that despite having let government know that the program would this year require funding assistance at previous levels, the government has frozen its funding to the low level required last year.Mr McFarland says this blow to the program has come at a time when government is expecting more from remote area night patrols."They are now looking at them as back-up for the ACPOs (Aboriginal Community Police Officers)."They are finding that where ACPOs are working on their own in a community, they are floundering, but where there is a night patrol, they have a lot more success."Mr McFarland says that training of the night patrols by police has been mooted, but there is danger in the work of night patrols being too closely aligned to police work."They should be able to pursue their public health and community development roles."The original idea of the night patrols was that they act as a buffer between Aboriginal people and the criminal justice system."To do that they need to maintain a certain distance from the police."The program is now in the hands of part-time coordinator Jennifer Walker, who Mr McFarland says will be trying to mobilise NTETA's support for training.He says Ms Walker will be struggling on her own to maintain an effective service previously delivered by a culturally appropriate male and female partnership.The Aboriginal controlled alcohol rehabilitation facility CAAAPU – despite growing demand for its services – has reduced its residential program from 52 to 32 weeks a year, leaving the town without such a service for 20 weeks.(The AARC commissioned report also recommends an extension of services provided by CAAAPU, to include outreach and court diversion for chronic repeat offenders.)Holyoake will need to cancel programs and charge more for its services. The new funding scheme comes in the wake of the High Court's outlawing of the tax on "heavy" beer – previously the source of funds for many of the programs.But the NT Government has gone much further than finding the money elsewhere:"Living With Alcohol was like a secretariat."Moneys went to domestic violence, to Correctional Services, to police, the Liquor Commissions."Those moneys will now go straight to them, not through Living With Alcohol."The Government wants to look broader than just alcohol," says Mr Dunham."For instance, inhalant substance abuse is a big problem."While Living With Alcohol is a good program and should continue, it's no longer the top of the hierarchy. "It sits in its own right as a program and we want Ntsafe to walk across those other issues that may not necessarily be alcohol related but may impact on the lifestyle and safety of the community."Territory Health Services has changed itself to a purchaser – provider – funder model."We'll be looking at those things we want to purchase, and purchase them. With all of the non government sector – and there's something like $62m going to them – we're looking at the services they provide and whether we want to buy them, and at what level."That's not just DASA, that's the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Red Cross blood transfusion, Holyoake – all of them."Ntsafe will have a whole of government approach."I will be the ‘alcohol and drugs man' but there will be other issues that relate to other agencies or departments."Mr Dunham says Ntsafe will be "pivotal in the government looking at whole of government ramifications for problems and solutions."Ntsafe's recommendations would influence Cabinet decisions about how and where it allocates funds, not only through the Health Department.Asked how much notice he would be paying to the Ntsafe recommendations, Mr Dunham says: "Lots, because my people will be on it. We would have great input into recommendations because largely we would have fed the research."Mr Dunham says while he is a "big player" in Ntsafe's "critical lifestyle issues of safety in the community" he's not the only one: "There could be issues like car theft or break-ins, and they may not be related to alcohol or drugs."He says Ntsafe is facing a big challenge: "We're talking about issues of behaviour and lifestyle modification."These are very difficult issues for government to grapple with. People's attitudes are changing incrementally. It's all very well to say, you wear a seat belt or we'll fine you."It's much more difficult when you talk about what you eat and what you drink, how much you consume, and issues that can make you unhealthy," says Mr Dunham."The things that will take you to hospital are largely things that you can fix."I can try to educate you all I like, but sometimes it takes a while."With Living With Alcohol we gave it 10 years."It's performed very well. "We've had it independently analyzed and we can demonstrate that had it not been in place, it would have cost us something like $120m."Putting it in place has cost us much less than that."It suppressed problems that would otherwise have cost us money – but it's guess work."There is no move to reduce to number of non-government bodies active in the drug and alcohol field: "You must have a multi pronged approach," says Mr Dunham. "There is no one solution."He says there have been significant achievements: light beer is now far more popular, largely an achievement of Living With Alcohol. (However, the AARC report says sales of light beer have fallen by 18 per cent since 1995/96.)But younger people are drinking and smoking more. While there are fewer problems in the NT with illicit drugs than other jurisdictions, "this is not something we can rest about because the problems do occur here."But the two trends that are the most worrisome are alcohol and tobacco."

THE "SILENT SAM" CALDER BIOGRAPHY: WWII FIGHTER ACE, CATTLE MAN AND TERRITORY POLITICIAN. Interview by ERWIN CHLANDA.

"Not So Silent Sam" is about Territorians who put their lives on the line for their motherland, who founded Australia's most successful political party in an Alice Springs living room, took control over land the size of a small European country, started an airline, and plied a mate with whiskey to persuade him to single handedly represent one-sixth of the nation in Federal Parliament.The biography of Sam Calder is written by Bobbie Buchanan – herself the granddaughter of legendary drover, Nat Buchanan.The book hits the streets as the Territory is agonising over racial problems, is still living on massive Commonwealth handouts, its private economy all but stagnating, its public debate stifled by secrecy, bureaucratic arrogance and the strictures of political correctness, and while a coherent vision for the future of this erstwhile romantic, exciting region is still nowhere to be found.At worst this book will have readers yearning for the days when you could have goals and – with guts, determination and powerful allies – achieve them in the Northern Territory. At best it will make us realise that it's time to get cracking again, and apply the spirit of our "pioneers" to a new set of opportunities.Sam is now 84. He's old enough to speak candidly, as he did in an interview with the Alice News for this review. His exploits cover little more than half a century. It's the very recent past, yet to the many who came to live in the NT not all that long ago, it may well appear to be ancient history, so very different is the place now.Sam comes from a privileged Melbourne family but chose to seek his fortune in the outback.In 1939 he and boyhood friend Damian Miller – combined flying experience 45 hours – flew an Avro Avian biplane from Melbourne to The Alice to help Eddie Connellan found Connellan Airways.It developed a vast network of medical, passenger and mail services throughout the Territory – much later to fall victim to a personal feud with then Chief Minister Paul Everingham, who gave preference to Ansett for the crucial Darwin to Alice " milk run".In World War II Sam did flying of a very different kind: as RAF pilot he took Typhoon fighters – still largely in their developmental stage – into battle against the Germans.Sam flew 120 missions. Half his squadron was killed.After the war Sam came back to The Centre, flying for Eddie as chief pilot, managing cattle stations and, from 1966 to 1980, serving as the Territory's Member in the House of Representatives.Local identity Reg Harris recounted the circumstances of Sam's " election" at last week's launch of the book, in the old Connellan Airways hangar.The Country Party's John "Black Jack" McEwen, a long-time friend and supporter of Eddie's who had funnelled a lot of Canberra money into the airline as a strategy to develop the north, was looking for a candidate to break the decades-long Labor hold on the Territory seat.Eddie said Sam would take on the job. Sam said no. The negotiations around Eddie's pool, at his Araluen homestead, alongside the town's first airstrip and now part of the cultural centre on Larapinta Drive, continued over several Scotches. Sam agreed.A public life began which had its roots in Sam's youth and the connections of his influential family."I was a station bloke but I had a Melbourne background as well," says Sam."I knew the process, the families."I used to play on the Fraser family tennis court."With Malcolm?"We didn't consider Malcolm a tennis player," says Sam. "But his cousin, Doug, from a station out near Beaudesert, he and Roger Kimpton, from Kimpton flour mills in Melbourne, and Peter Davies, we used to play doubles on this fabulous grass tennis court."By the time he stood for Parliament Sam was well known."I'd flown all over the Territory, except Darwin, for Connellan Airways, so everyone knew Sam Calder, the pilot."Connellan Airways used to terminate in Katherine. "I knew Katherine and, of course, the cattle stations."Come the election I left Alice Springs and Tennant Creek to my friends down here, Damian Miller, Ted Marron, the newsagent, Les Loy, the land bloke who's now in Darwin, and others."I didn't electioneer in Alice Springs at all for the first election."I set up an office in Darwin and tramped the Top End."Sam was elected by 480 votes in 1966, the start a 14 year stint in Canberra. In later elections his lead grew to "a couple of thousand, but never much more than that".In 1974 the Country Liberal Party was formed.Paul Everingham, for whom Sam clearly had no time, but who became the NT's first Chief Minister, and later the Territory's Federal Member in Canberra, wanted to call it the Liberal Party."I said no bloody way. I'm a Country Party bloke. "So we called it the CLP and it stayed that way," says Sam.The party which has ruled the NT ever since "started in Damian Miller's living room", in his sprawling home in Larapinta Drive."Everingham was a city solicitor."I told him not to go down there [to Canberra], he wouldn't do any good. "And he didn't."He wrote this article in the newspaper that Sam Calder never did anything."Don Jessop answered it by saying, well, we've never heard of Everingham, and he never did anything, anyhow."(Mr Jessop was an MHR at the time and later became a Senator for South Australia.)However, "Silent Sam" had become the ex-pilot's "gong" by then, and he says there are two explanations for it."During the Air Force I went through the Empire Air Training School, having been picked as a pilot."As I was being trained to be an officer and a gentleman" – he emulates the British accent – "they used to emphasize the fact that you didn't brag about anything you did, you didn't stand over the other ranks."I did quite a few things in the Air Force [he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross] and never said anything about it. "It's probably in the log book."So that was the start of it."And then I come back and get into Parliament. "Jim Bowditch [then editor of the NT News], who was a dead Labor bloke, doesn't print any of my press releases."And then he says, oh, Calder never does anything, you never read anything about him, and Bowditch was running the paper!"So, that's how I came to be called Silent Sam."But I had the satisfaction of beating Bowditch at squash."In fact, Sam says he played a crucial role in Canberra: while he held the seat the NT was granted self government, the New Ghan line was built and the South Road sealed.He and Mr Jessop, as members of the government transport committee, "convinced the others they had to build that railway. "We got that," says Sam, although Gough Whitlam took the credit for the new line when he became Prime Minister.Most importantly, the NT Member, previously allowed to vote on Territory matters only, was granted voting rights equal to all other MHRs, and Territorians got the vote in national referenda."No one knows that I crossed the floor in a joint sitting of the Senate and the Reps to vote for Senate representation for the Northern Territory," he says."Never been done before."My party wanted to have nothing to do with this, but I said I have got to do this."I talked to [Ian] Sinclair and [Doug] Anthony and they said, right-o Sam, you go and do it."So we got the Senate."While "Canberra control" was the big bogey in the Territory, its Member was regarded as "somewhat unique".The seat, created in 1921, had mostly been held by Labor, by Harold Nelson and later his son, Jock."We used to ask Jock to do things for us but because we were Country Party and he was Labor he wouldn't do anything about it."And, of course, at that stage they were never in Government."A battle Sam lost was over Aboriginal land rights in the Territory becoming law in 1976."I told them that the Liberals had sold out, that the Labor Party had decided to give the country to the blacks," says Sam."I saw Whitlam put a handful of sand into Vincent Lingiari's hands."I said to Whitlam later, where did you think that one up?"He said a journo chatted me up about it, coming up in the plane."That's what he told me."The now famous gesture by the Labor Prime Minister in the remote community of Lajamanu, heralding in a new era for Aborigines, clearly is not one of Sam's fondest memories.What's his view of the national and international controversies over poor health and education in the Territory, and mandatory sentencing?"You're looking at Aborigines, obviously, because the rest of the Territory is pretty well educated, and the system is regarded fairly highly."If you've got a mob of people who won't work or won't go to the hospital when the money is there, then you can't do much about it."That's what's happening today. "They're hollering because they don't have wonderful health."And you still see a gin sitting under a mulga tree with a snotty nosed kid, and there is a health clinic, and they don't go there."It is improving slightly."It's mostly the fault of the "meedja – the media," says Sam."They wouldn't know a blackfella from a barramundi, as they say."The Territory's current Chief Minister has Sam's full approval: " He's got Army training, this Denis Burke. "He came as a colonel in the Army in the North."I think Denis Burke is a straight shooter."He says [the Aborigines] have got to get off their arses."To a great extent the money is there."You can't achieve it all at the same time."This bloke steals a packet of biscuits OK, but he had 17 convictions before that!"Whoever reads that in the papers, or hears about it?"That's the baloney that's going on and that's why Territorians like us feel so snarly about it."I've been here 50 years or more, "We're what you might call racists or something, but for God's sake, when I was in Parliament I had hundreds of Aboriginal friends out in Arnhemland and other places, good day, Sam, how'ya going, and I'd stand up and say, this sit down money is no good, you've got to be out there, working all the time."It doesn't happen."Hardly any blackfeller works today, they just get money."I tell you what we did, Milton Willick, one time manager of Wave Hill and then Hamilton Downs, an ace cattle station manager, myself and Bill Waudby [formerly of Mt Wedge], we said ‘ give us a chance to run this cattle enterprise at Haasts Bluff''."They buy these places and then they eat the herd."We asked them, let us run it. "We didn't want any remuneration. We want these fellows to work. "We'll help them run these places."The project never came off; ironically, a similar initiative by current MLA for MacDonnell, John Elferink (CLP), for a joint cattle venture on Aboriginal land at Haasts Bluff, failed recently, some 20 years later.However, Sam says there are some Aboriginal activists he and his associates "could work with," naming Noel Pearson, of the Cape York Land Council, and Pat Dodson, previously from Alice Springs.But Sam says there are others he couldn't see in a constructive role: "You've got fellows who are virtually pushing their own barrow, sometimes financially and the other times just for their own aggrandisement."Any regrets?"I'm disappointed we're not a state," says Sam. "That campaign was bungled."What about the nuclear power station he proposed for Gove?"I remember coming out with that one. "They said, what the hell are you talking about? "I'm not certain I wasn't dead right. I was on about universal national service, the defence of the north, and about the fact that we should have nuclear submarines."The only thing is, we haven't got a nuclear power industry so we couldn't fuel these subs."Author Bobbie Buchanan's only regret is that the publishers – Central Queensland University Press, which now has a string of "outback" books to its credit – limited the number of pages."Not So Silent Sam" is easy to read, full of facts, well documented without being at all scholarly.Bobbie is not a member of any political party: in her book Sam the Man comes first. She sees his political leaning as clearly a consequence of the circumstances and opportunities, not dogma."There's enough material for 'Not So Silent Sam – the Sequel'," Bobbie told the crowd at the launch. No doubt about that!

HOME MADE FUN BIG WINNER A THE ALICE SHOW. It was the first for JANE LEONARD.

As I enter Blathers-kite Park for my first Alice Springs Show I wonder how it will match up with my city childhood expectations and experiences: will it offer a mixture of excitement and nostalgia, or will it be like the kind of giant advertisement that the Melbourne Show had become? When I was a kid in Melbourne, I used to look forward to going to the show almost as much as Christmas. Show bags were still made of paper and contained specially made miniature samples, like the tiny sausage meat selection in the Don Smallgoods bag. Sometimes we recognised an item entered by a relative in the cooking, sewing or art sections, but that became rarer as the years went by. As I grew older the useful freebies and interesting exhibits of the Melbourne Show were replaced by massive corporate displays with give-away junk advertising. To get a show bag meant shuffling through a jam-packed pavilion to buy a bag of what you could get for the same price at any milkbar. All I can remember of the last few times I went in my late teens is an expensive bunfight. I gave up and tried to hold on to my memories.We enter the Alice Spring Show via the pedestrian gateway and are at first a little bamboozled about where to head. I'm not great with maps so decide to put away the tiny, sparsely detailed map in the program given to us at the gate and to just take it as it comes. It's probably all very obvious to people who go year after year but some welcoming signs or coloured flags wouldn't go astray for us first-timers. My partner and child want to get to the animals first but we get stuck in some horse yards and end up backtracking towards the noise of the amusements. The animals will have to wait. Following others, we come across the Rumball Hall. For me, this is what shows are all about – a forum where making the effort to do it yourself in these readymade times is still celebrated and rewarded. First the photography, then the cooking section: magnificent sponges and fruit cakes, the sort you only see if you still have an old time grandmother, make the mouth water. Not so the uncooked pizza lying amongst the cakes like a rebel statement against take-away food. Alongside these are homebrew beers with names like Norty's Colonial, Redneck Lager, Al's Pale Ale and Boo's Brew. The kid's breakfast tray section is a real treat. Though in some entries the plates of fruit have gone limp and the cereal (with real milk!) has gone a bit soggy, they are almost like little poems, such touching heartfelt presentations complete with accessories, cards and messages. The winner was Antji Chalmers' "Breakfast for Dad at The Finke", complete with a tiny tin of Spam and some Panadol. I equally enjoy poring over the kids' hobbies, art and dioramas. It's great to see the effort made in most entries and the detail, creativity and humour in some, particularly in the animals, birds and space age creatures made from fruit and vegetables. All these sections offer such insight into the world of children and half the fun is watching people recognise and discuss their own or others' entries. Helen, an Alice resident, says to me: "It's great being able to look around and know who did half the things on display." I haven't been here long enough yet. The faces of the kids who've put things in are so proud. I like the idea that they can receive a prize for preparing breakfast for someone or for making something out of cardboard or vegetables, and not just for achieving at sport or academically. The show reinforces the importance of celebrating the small achievements in our lives, as well as the big. The only areas of disappointment in the Rumball Pavilion are in the art section where, for a town as creative as Alice Springs, there seem to be so few entries. Likewise in the vegetables and produce area. In the short time that I've been here I've met many vegie garden enthusiasts, yet you can almost count on your fingers the number of vegetable entries, laid out rather sadly on big white empty benches. Only one head of lettuce in the open section, when we have at least two commercial lettuce growers in the area as well as all the keen home gardeners. With so few entries, nearly all win a prize, most going to "Alice Correctional" (gaol inmates) who are the only people to have made the effort to put together a great display of farm produce. That surely should be a bigger part of a show with such close rural ties.After Rumball Hall I wander through the Everingham Pavilion and the Greatorex Building. The majority of exhibits are by government and community organisations alongside itinerant stalls selling cheap clothes, prints, rugs, toys, jewellery, and knickknacks such as "revolutionary" ironing accessories and vegetable peelers. The latter remind me of those old style hawkers you see in American western movies, but having seen enough of them in Melbourne markets, I don't find them very appealing.But it's particularly good to see the public face of the community groups and local organisations that are so often anonymous acronyms in newspapers, and to recognise people you've seen about and place what they do. Free bags, good stickers and fridge magnets and some great posters (like those at the CLC stall) are readily available.There are smaller numbers of local businesses in between all these. I enjoy the Shorty's Meats exhibit, showing how a slab of beef evolves into a sausage on the barbie. I ask a couple of exhibitors how important the show is to local business. David Marriott from Marriott Agencies is "very happy" with his presence at the show but emphasises that "it's not about selling things but showing the community who you are and what you do".Greg Clarke from Solahart agrees. He says most of their business comes from their well known name and word of mouth but "it is still important to be seen to be part of the community". He comments that things are a bit quieter than last year.Emerging from the world of exhibits, I head for the noise and chaos of side show alley. It's much the same as those I remember from the Melbourne Show as a kid, only perhaps there are a few less big rides here. The main difference is that I was younger then and I loved it. Now it seems like some kind of surreal nightmare with multiple sources of incredibly loud music blaring from every side, and touts almost harassing you every few feet to try your luck for a gaudy array of prizes. The violent and unnatural movements and deafening sounds of some of the big rides are disturbing. But like me years ago, the kids are loving it. Though I find it hard to take and have little interest in participating, I'm still strangely curious to wander around. This is a part of our culture that is slow to change, that remains relatively untouched by the computer age. The games on offer are the same as they've been for years – hook a plastic duck, put a pingpong ball in the mouth of a clown, knock down some coke bottles with a ball. I talk to one man, Michael, who recognises the same side show booth (one with a little mechanical arm) that he operated as a youth years ago in Bowen, when he was beaten up in an ongoing side show workers' feud. Though some of the show workers sport a weary look that tells you they've been doing it for years, there's also a surprisingly cheerful and enthusiastic element. At a Lucky Numbers booth I speak to Janine, an artist and performer originally from Melbourne, who has recently been in Coober Pedy and then camping with the Earthdream convoy, an "alternative" group of people travelling around Australia putting on dance parties and performances to raise awareness of environmental issues. She says most of the workers, apart from those travelling full-time on the show circuit, are in town with the Earthdream convoy. Though she seems to be enjoying zestfully delivering her spiel into the microphone, she's not entirely sure about working at the show: "The epitome of what I despise the most is gambling and I just happen to get the job [manning the Lucky Numbers booth] which is only gambling really, pure luck, no skill involved at all, unless you're into exercising intuition." We look for the carousel to give our daughter a ride. A man in a ticket booth bearing the sign "Merry-go-round" grumpily says this is not where you get tickets to the merry-go-round. We find the right booth and wait our turn. A sign announces that the cheery looking Brown Brothers Merry-Go-Round has been going since 1918. It's heartening to look up at the old wooden structure, the horses chipped and faded, nothing high tech in sight and to imagine all the kids who've ever ridden it, some now very old or even dead. My nostalgia gets the better of me and I'm definitely keener than my two year old to ride on it. She is too disturbed by the big noisy "Hurricane" huffing and whizzing nearby. We leave in search of a quieter spot, a showbag and some food. The showbags seem to offer value for money if you choose well. We get a mini bag of choccy frogs for two dollars, along with a Pooh backpack with some reasonably sturdy and useful items for $12.50. Apart from the battered sav variety of snack, there is a range of foods to sample but we go with the old favourite – the charity stall sausage sandwich and a free cuppa from the town council's tent. We then settle on the grass in the shade to watch the horse and dog events in the ring, welcoming the relative peace. Little kids with elaborate plastic weaponry and camouflage backpacks roam around like gangs of mini terrorists and keep us as amused as the other displays. After a bit of a break we decide to see the animals. We saunter along in the sunshine with plenty of elbow room. We learn how to grow an Eremophila from a cutting and get some more great posters from the ATSIC stand. The dozing bulls in the first enclosure set the sleepy tone for the rest of the Beef Breeders' area in the far corner of the showgrounds. People quietly lean on fences discussing the merits of the cattle, or sip on beers in The Beef Breeders' Association Members Only bar. I ask cattle steward Matthew Smith how important the show is to the industry: "It's relevant. It helps bring the community together and helps promote the industry to the people that live in town. "It's a great learning curve for the kids too, like when the judging happens they can see why one [animal] is better than the other."Visiting the poultry shed is just like visiting someone's farm, with cobwebbed junk piled up in a corner amongst the birds on display. I've forgotten just what a weird creature a turkey is. It's good to have the opportunity to stare at them and the bizarre chooks and ducks near by. A lack of competition means that all three turkeys, like some other varieties, have won first prize in their divisions. We head to the dog arena. Some teenage girls giggle and point at the sign on the gate: "Bitches in season not allowed on ground". Inside the enclosure, competitors are settled in little campsites watching the entrants and their owners go through their paces. In some, the manicured dogs sit on frilled pedestals while kids sit behind on the grass. It's been a big day and we opt to watch the fireworks from the distance at home. On the way out we come across the Living History Story Tent. A man offers an entertaining and informative display of aspects of life gone by, like candle making, while his dogs gently round up some ducks in the background. It seems a shame that this exhibit is not somewhere a bit more central where it probably would gather bigger crowds. Likewise with the entertainment tent. We discover it too on the way out, well away from any food or drink outlets. A lot more people could enjoy the music and dance displays if it were nearer to the action.There is some discussion about the demise of the show as an effective forum for businesses, with some regular local exhibitors withdrawing this year. But I felt very satisfied with my first visit to the show. Perhaps it ‘s because I'm recently from the big unfriendly city and still carry the nostalgic desire for a more human past, but I loved the Alice Springs Show, in all its glory or lack of it. And the large numbers of people also seeming to enjoy it would appear to agree, even if they didn't go to buy cars. In the current political climate there is a strong pressure for everything to be economically justified, but I think there is still a need for events like the show, accessible to everyone and there mainly for their enjoyment.I found this year's Alice Show informative and fun. It was also one of the few bigger events that I've attended since arriving a year ago where there seemed to be equal numbers of people from all sections of the community, attending and enjoying the event together. And it's just a small detail, but it's good too to go to a show where the kids can get still get free balloons.

HUGE CROWD FOR 'ROAD SHOW'.

A theatrical production celebrating trucking life and staged on a roadtrain will be the feature event of this year's reunion in Alice Springs of the national Road Transport Historical Society, and will also be presented at the Araluen Arts Centre.Society President Liz Martin says they are expecting well over 3000 visitors from interstate as well as two and a half thousand from around the Territory for the six day reunion from July 28 to August 2.Keeping alive the camaraderie that used to bind together people in the road transport industry is the aim of the reunion."It now takes 19 hours to drive a truck to Darwin, instead of the 19 days it once did," says Liz."It's a lot easier and shorter so there aren't as many opportunities to help each other out as there used to be, and there aren't as many crazy stories to tell."So we're celebrating the achievements of the last 100 years in a specially big reunion for the year 2000."The play "Roadtrain", by Hellie Turner inspired by truckie poet John Taylor, is showing on day two of the reunion (Saturday, July 29 at 2pm). The play combines humorous dialogue, doggerel yarns, and original songs drawing on the real life trucking experiences of Turner and Taylor, as well as a lot of research. It immortalises the "truckspeak'" of the industry and Taylor's verses, also available in several published volumes.The publicity says "Roadtrain" guarantees "100 per cent Australian ingredients: blue lingo, blue lights, big trucks, bad routes, burping blokes, funny jokes, long drives, hard lives, hard up wives, great songs, ripper yarns."

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