ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
September 6, 2000

LIQUOR COMMISSIONER IS 'SERIOUSLY COMPROMISED'. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Labor Party in Alice Springs says Licensing Commissioner Peter Allen is seriously compromised by the actions of Chief Minister Denis Burke and Minister for Central Australia Loraine Braham, over the controversial Hauritz report on alcohol abuse.Stuart MLA Peter Toyne says the government is "subverting the Licensing Commission by preventing the commissioner from discharging his responsibilities under the Act. His position is untenable."Mr Toyne described the government's actions as a "disgrace".He says: "In any other part of Australia both the Liquor Commissioner and the head of government would have very serious questions to answer regarding the separation of powers, between public servants and the political arm of government."This issue has been taken out of the commissioner's hands for political reasons."Labor candidate for Braitling Peter Brooke says Mr Allen's silence is matched only by the silence of MacDonnell MLA John Elferink (CLP).But Mr Toyne says he valued the bipartisan approach to the issue which Mr Elferink had been offering "from his side".Says Mr Toyne: "We achieved a lot and we can continue to do that."In a joint statement Mr Toyne, Mr Brooke and Greatorex candidate Peter Kavanagh accepted as their branch's policy the bulk of the Hauritz recommendations – but with some significant exceptions.They said they are "satisfied that the Hauritz report methodology is sound and that its contents accurately reflect the opinions of Alice Springs residents on alcohol issues."Labor accepts the main finding of the report – that Alice Springs has a serious, whole-of-town problem with alcohol consumption and its related harm – and believes that prompt action on the report recommendations is needed."We believe that a broadly-based town forum is needed to facilitate the implementation of the recommendations on behalf of residents, and in concert with them. The most appropriate forum to do this is the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee (AARC)."Labor believes that public initiatives, particularly in controversial areas such as alcohol use in communities, must stand on high levels of community support if they are to succeed."Of the 90 individually mandated recommendations in the Hauritz report, 81 have strong to overwhelming support amongst town residents and should be assessed for prompt implementation by AARC. In the case of eight recommendations, the survey found that resident's opinion was split, to the extent that significant resistance to their implementation could be expected."These recommendations are: banning happy hours; alcohol free days; reducing the number of licences; banning supermarket and stock and station take-away sales; and making sporting and major events alcohol free.The ALP spokesmen say: "In the case of these recommendations, Labor believes that they should not be proceeded with unless further consultations with townspeople either improve the levels of support or result in more acceptable alternatives."They say the recommendation dealing with the role of licensing inspectors drew a high level of "don't know" responses because residents were unaware of their current work.The spokesmen say the Hauritz report is "unique in that it properly reflects the concerns of the townspeople as a whole, rather than individuals or organisations with vested interests"."Alice Springs residents expect and deserve a prompt and constructive response from relevant authorities to the report recommendations. "The Labor Party and its public representatives will do everything possible to support townspeople, acting through the AARC Forum, in achieving this result."The policy is in conflict with the Hauritz report because it stresses that its recommendations should be "accepted as a complete package" and the "disassembly and use of selected recommendations will result in mediocre achievements".The recommendations Labor is supporting include:-
• Assured funding of measures for three years by the NT Government.
• An Aboriginal member on the commission and a deputy commissioner in Alice Springs.
• No new licences – but Labor takes that to mean no new take-away licences.
• Criminal sanctions for breaches of the Liquor Act.
• That the trading hours of take-away outlets be reduced significantly.
• That wine in casks of more than two litres be banned.
• That sales of wine, sherry and fortified wines in glass containers larger than one litre be banned.
• That quotas are placed on sales of fortified wines, sherries, spirits, holding outlets to their current levels of wholesale purchases.
• That all sales of fortified wines and sherry before 5 pm are banned.
• That there are the same take-away hours for clubs and hotels.
• That the Liquor Act is amended to include "public need" for a new outlet to be considered in the granting of a license.
• To investigate whether service stations and convenience stores should keep their liquor licences when "a large proportion" of their trading is in liquor.
• Covert checks on trading practices.
• "Apart from legitimate reasons" keeping alcohol out of work places.
• Barring taxis from buying take-away grog (but not their hirers).
• Breath testing by licencees of intending buyers suspected of being drunk.
• That licencees provide "safe transport home" for "obviously vulnerable patrons."

DARWIN RAIL MONEY IS NOT YET ON TRACK. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

There is still no agreement for the financing of the Alice to Darwin railway. While the Territory, Federal and South Australian governments have pledged $480m, the Asia Pacific Transport Corporation – the consortium selected to build the line and operate it for 50 years – has yet to do a deal with the AustralAsian Railway Corporation, which represents the governments, concerning the remaining $720m. The key question seems to be the profitability of the line, a key consideration for the banks which will provide the finance to the consortium. Says spokeswoman Alex Kennedy: "What the banks who want to lend now seek to ensure is that the risk profile of the project fits [the banks'] risk profile for lending and equity. "That is what is negotiated between us and governments in the present lead-up to contract close." Ms Kennedy says the consortium hasn't asked for more money, but neither she nor corporation spokeswoman, Jane Munday, will disclose whether the governments have been asked to guarantee the borrowings by the consortium. Contract close has been delayed for several months. While Ms Munday says it is now likely to happen this month, Ms Kennedy says "it could be end of September. It could be early October". "No-one wishes to set a date to it. "The consortium has no idea on that timetable." Ms Munday says under no circumstances will the governments underwrite any of the loans of the consortium.Neither party will give information on any guarantees or collateral the governments are demanding from the consortium, in the event of the project's failure, to safeguard the public investment of $150m from the SA government, and $165 each from the NT and Federal governments. "That is what is being negotiated at the moment," says Ms Munday. The consortium was chosen from more than 30 expressions of interest in 1997 and is made up of Brown & Root Engineering & Construction; Genesee & Wyoming; Barclay Mowlem Construction; John Holland Group; Macmahon Holdings, and MPG Logistics. While forward contracts to carry freight on the line are clearly a key factor in the lending banks' deliberations, neither party will make any comment on any agreements that may be in place. Ms Munday says the NT Government has done "freight studies prior to the tendering process in order to be satisfied that the project is viable". "It is for the consortium to comment on freight operations once the railway is completed." Ms Kennedy says that any freight deals are "commercial in confidence at this point" and in any case, "until contract close this technically remains a government project." Meanwhile the only information about freight the corporation will release is contained in a speech in May by CEO Paul Tyrrell – which is long on possible uses of the line, but short on specific contracts in hand at the present time. EMERGINGHe talks about "emerging developments" such as Timor Sea oil and gas and that "the railway could influence potential backers contemplating the construction of an LNG plant in the Top End". Other points Mr Tyrrell makes include:-
• build-up of defence forces;
• stimulating "perhaps" fertiliser production at deposits such as Wonarah on the Barkly Highway;
• the South Australian Steel & Energy is pilot testing its Direct Reduction of Iron technology at an investment cost of $15 million at Whyalla, with full production likely to occur near Coober Pedy on the existing railway.
• the potential to bring major international firms establishing significant offices in Darwin.
• land bridge trade "is expected" to reach 50,000 containers per year five years into operation – and there is "plenty of room" for expansion on this conservative number.
• the Masterplan for East Arm [in Darwin] provides for sophisticated high-capacity container handling facilities able to handle up to 500,000 containers each year – or about 20 per cent of the total present Australian container trade.
SHIFT
Says Mr Tyrrell: "Of course, such volumes of container trade through the north are still some way off, but it is not difficult to see how part of the focus of trade between Australia and the world – particularly with Asia – will shift from the eastern seaboard to the central corridor one this new transport system is in place."

WRONG LABEL.

A local art dealer, Michael Hollow, says businesses in The Centre may be missing out on hundreds of thousands dollars worth of trade because of an error in an information pamphlet for visitors to the Olympics, issued by the NSW Department of Fair Trading.It warns visitors not to buy Aboriginal art works unless they carry a "Label of Authenticity". The brochure depicts a triangular logo with the heading " Collaboration Mark", and says: "A visit to Australia is not really complete without taking home an item produced by one one of our talented Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artists."But avoid fakes. Make sure this label is attached to the item."However, the owners of the label, the National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association (NIAAA), say not only has the department used the logo without their permission, but it's also using the wrong caption.NIAAA executive director Kevin Francis says the logo is new, and has never been intended to be used as the sole mark of authenticity for Indigenous art.He says the intention had always been for the mark to operate alongside other symbols used throughout Australia.Mr Hollows says so far as he knows, no dealer in Alice Springs is using the NIAAA label although much authentic art is on sale in the town.Mr Hollows says he has urged the department to withdraw the brochure but neither its head, Brian Given, nor NSW Fair Trading Minister John Watkins have agreed to it. Mr Watkins had not even replied to his correspondence, says Mr Hollow.

WHEN TOURISTS ARE NOT SHEEP. Report by DOROTHY GRIMM.

"Want to get somewhere and see everything?"Want to do an organised tour but don't want to feel like a terrorist?"Then do the Reggie!"These comments were written by Steve from Manchester, UK, after travelling last month with Remote Possibilities Australia between Alice Springs and Darwin.Remote Possibilities is a new, independent, locally owned and operated company which travels up and down the track leaving Alice Springs for Darwin on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and leaving Darwin for Alice Springs on Tuesdays and Sundays.The aim of the trip is not to see how fast you can get from point A to point D or vice versa but rather to get a feel about what life in the Territory is all about and to see many of the magnificent sights along the way, while leaving the driving to someone else.Stops along the way include the Devil's Marbles, Tennant Creek, Mary Anne Dam, Elliot, Daly Waters, Mataranka Hot Springs, Katherine, Edith Falls, and Adelaide River.Itineraries can be adjusted to meet people's needs. For example, one can ride to Tennant Creek or Katherine and spend a few days and then catch a return trip."Anything is possible, that is why we've call the business, Remote Possibilities," said Stuart Stevens, who with Reg Ramsden owns and operates Remote Possibilities.Both men have been involved in the hospitality and tourism business for many years.They have met the travellers, and heard their stories about the things they would have liked to experience but didn't because the opportunity did not seem to be there.And because Stuart and Reg love the people and places of the Territory so much they want to show and share with others what living in the Territory is all about."We are Australians, we drive an Australian bus on Australian roads and we stop along the road to meet the local characters," Stuart said.The Australian bus is a 40-foot long Denning Coach built for dirt roads, with air conditioning, heat and a toilet. The bus is designed for 46 passengers but they usually carry 35.The vehicle has a proven record for safety and reliability in all conditions, say Stuart and Reg."The Ozzie Bus is superb (driven by Ozzies of course)," wrote Louise and Dan from Scotland in June.The videos shown are usually educational, about subjects like Kakadu in the wet, or Australian made films which reflect the Australian lifestyle, like "The Castle".Stuart first came to the Territory in 1986 while he was with the Australian Army.A love of the region drew him to Darwin in 1993 as workshop manager and assistant operations manager for Australian Kakadu Tours and associated companies.Since 1996, he has worked as a contract manager and consultant for a number of tour companies providing logistical support.He was also responsible for training and procedures for management to workshop staff.A qualified diesel mechanic, Stuart holds a heavy vehicle licence, coach licence and plant operator's ticket.Reg received his early training, and worked for a while, in the hospitality industry on the east coast of the United States:"I worked at a bar in Hoboken, New Jersey."It was an Aussie bar called the Billabong Bar."My father was in tourism in the Territory so I came to Alice Springs."Here, Reg first worked in the backpacker accommodation sector with Sahara Tours, then worked as a guide with Northern Territory Adventure Tours.The idea of Remote Possibilities grew out of a desire to offer people different tours."Our trip provides an alternative to flying and an alternative to express bus travel," Reg said."And we leave in the morning and travel during the day so people can see the sights."We spend the night in swags at Daly Waters."We vary the itinerary a little all the time."The idea is for people to have a good time as they travel up and down the track."D. Renger wrote in their comment book in July: "It's great to see a small company with commitment and effort willing to help travellers discover some REAL sense of this great, bizarre land of Oz. At times it felt like we were on a leisurely, inspired discovery of secret ancient places, NOT just another boring bus trip. Beat the big boys at their own game, you're much better than them. Thanks again." And in August Martin from the Netherlands wrote: "In the beginning I was a bit sceptical about this trip but I had an excellent trip and would recommend it to everybody I know. One thing: maybe you could do a three day trip as well, one day canoeing in Katherine Gorge."For the same trip, Michel and Virginia, "the Frenchies", added: " We enjoyed a lot your trip. The time is passed so quickly thanks to all the different and interesting stops we did. Your organisation is very professional and we like a lot the atmosphere. We appreciate the way you behave with nature and your knowledge about culture." Remote Possibilities also aims to support the businesses and people who live and work along the track:"Like the people who run the roadhouses or the pub at Daly Waters," Reg said."We have a $5 sleeping bag fee for people who do not have their own sleeping bags."That fee supports a young couple and their children."We also encourage our travellers to buy a postcard or ice cream at the various stops we make along the way."We explain to the people that even these small purchases can help support the people who live in these remote places."Stuart and Reg hope to be able to share their enthusiasm and knowledge with others, especially young people."We'd like to organise a work experience program for young people," Reg said."There are a lot of teenagers in remote areas who could excel in tourism if given half a chance."We've had a young Aboriginal lad, James, ride with us on occasion and the people enjoy meeting him and talking to him."A lot of travellers say they don't get to meet and talk to Aboriginal people, so this provides an opportunity for travellers to meet Aboriginal people while at the same time young Aboriginal people get first hand experience in tourism."Mette from Denmark wrote in July: "This has really been two excellent days. Your talks along the way and the good spots we stopped on our way have made the long drive feel short! The food has been really good and the meal at the pub was just excellent!"Your idea about training young Aboriginals up on your bus sounds like a really good idea, and I am sure it will attract many tourists. I will definitely recommend it. It has actually been a really cheap tour compared to what a good experience you have given us." Dana from the USA agreed: "Having Aboriginal guides or assistants brings another dimension to touring the NT" As did Anton from England: "Super tour, great food, particularly at Daly Waters. It was a great opportunity to meet new people and the talks along the way were very in depth and educational as well as entertaining. "The sights off the beaten track were fantastic and well worth the visits. Can't get over such great value for money and certainly will be recommending you to every backpacker thinking of coming down to Alice from Darwin and vice versa. "Super idea to involve the Aboriginal kids of today's generation on the tour, a super way for tourists to interact with the Aboriginal culture. James, you are a good kid and it was great to get to know you."Reg and Stuart said that they hope that Remote Possibilities will grow to include other journeys in and out of Alice Springs, both regular ones or one-offs to help people get to where they want to go and enjoy the sights on their way.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE: QUICK RESPONSE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

The only quick response program for substance abuse in the Centre is run by the Alice-based Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA).It's their Remote Areas Aboriginal Alcohol and Other Substances Strategy (RAAASS), funded by Territory Health.The original focus of the strategy was on alcohol abuse, but for some years it has also supported initiatives concerning other substance misuse, despite there having been no increase in funding.In the last financial year RAAASS made $116,633 worth of grants, of small amounts like $1000 up to $10,000-$15,000 per project. Only a proportion of the total went to projects responding specifically to sniffing issues. An example of the kind of project the program supported is the works team in a community west of Alice, initiated by a community council employee to give some 25 sniffers something to do.A grant of $10,512 went towards tools and equipment such as fencing wire, steel posts, and work safety gear so that the team could carry out repairs around the community and on outstations.The money also provided for a food allowance: hunger is one reason why people resort to sniffing, says DASA manager Nick Gill.As well, there was money to pay some of the old men to sit with the young men of an evening to teach them about culture.This project has been funded for a three month period, and may be funded for a further three months, but not beyond that.RAAASS money is for start up only. After that communities have to find other, longer-term sources of funding or their project folds.Says Mr Gill: "RAAASS is a drop in the ocean but DASA – and I believe other agencies – would fight to keep it going."Much more needs to be done but these grants are a vital source of support to communities trying to develop their own responses to the issues."There is a very quick response time to communities' requests. The board meets every Tuesday and the community can get their money within a week if necessary."We would be very worried if this funding was moved into a bureaucratic structure where it would not be possible to make a rapid assessment and response."WORRYNT Manager for the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, Leonie Young can understand this worry. She says, from the Commonwealth's perspective and as spelt out in its Framework Agreements with states and territories, it is important for funding to be responsive to community needs.There is considerable Commonwealth funding supporting inhalant misuse programs in Central Australia (across borders). The National Illicit Drug Strategy has provided more than $1.9m over four years towards three petrol sniffing programs, run by NPY Women's Council, Warburton Community Inc., and the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council of South Australia.The Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health will also contribute over $700,000 this year to support outstation rehabilitation programs at Injartnama, Ilpurla, and Mt Theo, and an NPY program in Amata."With the Framework Agreement and the new operational plan we've got what we need to provide a coordinated and integrated response," says Ms Young.

BOOST FOR BATCHELOR COLLEGE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Amidst moving celebrations of the achievements of more than 50 Aboriginal graduates at Batchelor Institute last week came the quiet acknowledgement of another big step forward. The Institute of Aboriginal Development (IAD), whose Chair, Greg McAdam, was guest speaker at the ceremony, will be a partner in the Desert People's Centre, a collaborative initiative which may eventually result in a joint campus, announced by Batchelor and the Centre for Appropriate Technology last year. Reference to the development was made almost in passing during the speech by Deputy Chair of Batchelor's Board, Rose Kunoth-Monks. Minister for Aboriginal Development and for Central Australia, Loraine Braham, representing the Minister for Education at the event, expressed her government's enthusiastic support for the move, as a "more efficient use of resources". Invited guest, Kenny Laughton, a former director of IAD, was also delighted, saying that it was something he had tried to achieve during his directorship some five years ago and it was great to see it happening now. Director of Batchelor Institute, Veronica Arbon, would not be drawn on the news, saying only that it was still early days in terms of working out the detail of the collaborative relationship between the three partners. The centre's Joint Committee was to meet on Friday afternoon and is due to report to the Northern Territory Minister by the end of this year.The project is yet to win a commitment to funding but submissions have been made to both the NT and the Federal Governments.Meanwhile, Batche-lor Institute in its own right would appear to be thriving, if the atmosphere of excitement and pride at last Thursday's graduation ceremony is any guide.Children flying balloons formed a guard of honour; the Titjikala Band suspended for a while their bush brand of rock music; staff in their academic gowns beamed, whooped and cheered as the record number of students received their awards. The students themselves were women and men of all ages, with a significant number of young graduates and award recipients, as Mrs Kunoth-Monks noted. Four women received their Advanced Diploma of Teaching: Mona Kantawarra from Hermannsburg, Charlotte Phillipus and Monica Robinson from Papunya, and Carolyn Windy from Areyonga. All four already work as educators in their communities' schools. In a particularly moving moment, Mona Kantawarra, after receiving her award, was called back to the stage, as the Hermannsburg Choir rose to their feet and sang to celebrate her achievement. Four students also received special awards: Carolyn Windy, the NT Department of Education Award for Most Outstanding Final Year Student in the School of Education; Christine Kamara Joe from Tmara, graduating with an Advanced Diploma in Indigenous Primary Health Care, also received the Territory Health Services Award for the Most Outstanding Student in Health Sciences; Judith Nelson from Ernabella, a Certificate II graduate in Community Care, received the Qantas Award for Outstanding Achievement; while the Chubb Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Central Australian Campus went to Emily Cox, a health-worker from Hermannsburg, who is continuing her studies. Following the ceremony, Vietnam veteran, author and former IAD director Kenny Laughton launched the 17th issue of the institute''s journal, Ngoonjook, which is devoted to the writing of students of Batchelor's inaugural Certificate III in Creative Writing course. Three graduates from the course, Ted Hampton, Mitch, and Rhonda Ross, then eaÁch rverses from the song they had composed collaboratively with Murri singer-songwriter Kev Carmody. In another moment of great poignance, Rhonda Ross dedicated the reading to the Stolen Generation. This was followed by the launch of a second publication by Central Australian Aboriginal authors and educators: Stephanie Blitner, Veronica Dobson, Fiona Gibson, Barbara Martin, Nancy Oldfield, Ruth Oliver, Imelda Palmer, and Rosie Riley. Titled "Strong Voices" this is a reflection on Aboriginal pedagogy, articulating a set of principles and teaching strategies appropriated by these educators and "made Aboriginal". Mrs Arbon, Batchelor's first Indigenous director, says the institute is in a consolidation phaseafter a period of rapid growth, particularly in the vocational education and training (VET) area. A significant portion of the VET activity is in the form of "flexible response training", whereby a community can request highly specific training in almost any area. There are now [over 45 awards on regular offer at Batchelor, at both the VET and the higher education level. Mrs Arbon says top priority for the institute is to strengthen "its both ways philosophy and try to underpin itself more effectively, allowing space for Aboriginal students to bring their cultural paradigms into a Western academic learning environment". The Federal Government has funded "a much stronger and more appropriate network of study centres across the Territory where students in communities can study or access a phone or a fax to contact their lecturers, or where we can run one on one or small group workshops". "We're also moving towards improving or increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staffing numbers [now more than 80] within the institute. "They've grown about five per cent in the last year which is a huge increase given the stru√ggle to achieve educational outcomes that Aboriginal people face." Mrs Arbon, who is joined by an Indigenous Assistant Director, Byron Davis, says a high percentage of the institute's Indigenous staff are Batchelor trained, with a number also holding other awards from universities. Mrs Arbon spent her childhood in the bush, in the main around Urapunga Station near Ngukurr, although her roots are in country around the border of the Territory and South Australia down to Oodnadatta. She had little formal schooling until the age of about 10. She looks back at this childhood with gratitude for the grounding it gave her in knowledge that until now – and it's only just beginning – has had little recognition outside of Aboriginal communities. Mrs Arbon began tertiary studies – a Diploma in Community Development – in the early ‘eighties with the Aboriginal Task Force based within the South Australian Institute of Technology. She went on to do a degree in AEnthropology and Politics at the University of Adelaide, and followed up with a Master in Education from the University of Sydney. She is currently enrolled in a PhD at Deakin University. Part of her research is to look at "how you manage in an Aboriginal way in a highly Western tertiary institution". "Nothing has been done in that area, it's a huge question, but I think it's a question we need to explore," she says. Her work is an example of the "both ways paradigm" in a tertiary institution: "In research your studies should have some value for the community. "You should be working collaboratively with the community, rather than imposing on them. "You'd be hopefully asking questions in collaboration with the community, hypothesising collaboratively. "You'd be taking back to the community reports on outcomes and progress." vIn relation to employing Aboriginal staff the paradigm involves making sure that the systems and processes are in place not only to recruit people, but also to support them, particularly in their first year of employment. Mrs Arbon describes the cross-cultural context in which Batchelor staff work as extremely complex and demanding, requiring a lot of staff development. ķ"When I did my master degree, I did a paper on Indigenous underpinnings to education systems across the world and there's very little out there. "That's when I realised that the Western schooling system is so powerful that we've got a lot of work to do if we intend to maintain our culture in this modern world. "That's what took me to Batchelor because I knew it was struggling with those questions." Batchelor does offer national training packages but "tempers" them by developing their own resources. Its most successful "school", in which some 600 of the total 2200 students are enrolled, is the Community Studies School, offering training in all the basic skills and knowledge that a remote Aboriginal community requires. These include language studies and linguistics; land management; natural and cultural environmental management; drugs and alcohol; business; administration; arts and crafts; media; and some of the social sciences areas. (Last Thursday nine students from Central Australia received awards from this school, while 36 received awards from the School of Health.) GROWING FAST Meanwhile, the fastest growing learning area has been adult basic literacy and numeracy, with courses offered by the Community Education and Training division. Are we seeing an impact from Batchelor's training at community level, in terms of greater Indigenous employment and improved management? Mrs Arbon: "We run a survey of graduates of awards and we know that 89 per cent are in work right now; we know that three per cent are on leave without pay of some form; we know that a few have passed away and others may not be in employment. "The vast majority of our students are out there working, in communities doing real jobs, but the success of students being employed is dependent on a whole range of things, the normal things we expect in any community, like the provision of infrastructure, the money to employ people, the will to employ people, and sadly there are still barriers out there. "We all know that infrastructure in communities is sorely underfunded. "We know that communities are quite often welfare dependent. "There are broader issues than getting an award to getting a job, but despite that we have got high employment statistics for our graduates."

ALICE AUTHOR LAUGHTON HAS HUGE READERSHIP AMONG US VIET-VETS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Vietnam veteran and author of the novel "Not Quite Men No Longer Boys", K.C. (Kenny) Laughton, launching a special issue of the Batchelor Institute journal, Ngoon-jook, at last week's graduation ceremony, called for a major employment strategy for Aboriginal people in the Centre.The former director of the Institute for Aboriginal Development said after 20 years of CDEP it was time to be offering something better to people like the 50 plus Batchelor graduates who were developing their skills and education.He told the graduates and the hundreds gathered to celebrate their achievements that there is tremendous interest in "us mob" in the United States, and that the time was ripe to build on that interest.He urged them to think about, among other opportunities, starting their own businesses.Kenny recently returned from a six week tour of the US, promoting an Australian Vietnam veterans' exhibition as well as his novel.The exhibition was of a 30 foot mural and a set of portraits done by Derek Walsh – "a mate I served with at Eight Battalion" – of the 504 Australian soldiers who were killed in Vietnam.Kenny and Derek first met during battle in 1970: "I was going through bodies, handing over their documents to this young intelligence bloke and it turned out it was Derek. "Thirty years later we ended up in Repat together seeing the same shrink."That's when Derek told Kenny about his mural idea, and the portraits grew out of that. Kenny researched and wrote the accompanying 40 page booklet which has completely sold out its print run of 8000.The Americans rolled out the red carpet for the two Aussies:"We started off in Washington, got there for Memorial Weekend which included Rolling Thunder: 300,000 motorbikes led the procession and the ground shook for three hours."He and Derek set up at base of the Washington Memorial, a black marble wall bearing the names of 58,000 Americans who died in the war."We had over a million people go through in three days looking at our exhibition."Their wall is very impressive, it brings you to tears, but when the Americans saw the faces of the boys on our mural – little kids, women, ex-soldiers were crying, shaking our hands, saying thank you, welcome home."Most of them didn't know Australians had served there, other than the boys who served with us. That was a real eye opener for them, and seeing a young Aboriginal feller that had served that put another whole thing to it. "I think they're very interested in us. And it changed my whole perspective on them. "All you ever see is the worst stuff on TV, but when you meet the people – I met some of the nicest, friendliest people I've met in my life in America, they could not do enough for us."Kenny handed out over a thousand order forms for his novel, which tells a largely autobiographical story of a wide-eyed Aboriginal kid from the bush joining the Army and going on two tours of duty in Vietnam: "If I'd had a truckload with me I would have unloaded them without any problem at all."There are three and a half million veterans over there with friends and family, that's a pretty big audience."From Washington, Kenny and Derek went on to Los Angeles, Chicago, Gettysburgh, Philadelphia and New York, with TV, radio and internet coverage all the way.

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