ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
October 25, 2000

SITES SACRED FOR ALL BORN IN ALICE! Report by KIERAN FINANE.

"All kids born at the Alice Springs Hospital are yipirinya kids."That goes for white as well as black kids, and it means they belong here and have a responsibility to look after the place, including its sacred Aboriginal sites.It's not the first time Wenten Rubuntja and other Arrernte custodians have said this, but last week was the first time many, including senior public servant John Baskerville, had heard it.It wasn't the only surprise at a workshop last week organised by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA).Aborigines can offend against sacred sites and there has been at least one prosecution.The real estate industry wasn't there (but were invited), although trees and other features on land they deal in may well be subject to the relevant legislation (see break-out story). While there are penalties for damage to sacred sites, compensation may be negotiated: for example, Optus, having erected a tower on top of the range near Heavitree Gap without permission, are now paying for the rehabilitation of the sacred site at 6 Gap Road, opposite the hospital, one of Alice's many yipirinya sites.A house erected on top of the small hill has long been a source of anguish to custodians. It has recently been demolished and removed, the site has been fenced, and revegetation work starts this week.There's an exceptionally high level of interest in sacred sites in Alice Springs: the town occupies one third of one per cent of the NT's land mass, yet 20 per cent of all register inspections carried out by the AAPA concern Alice Springs.The occasion for the airing of all this information was another first, a workshop on "Living with Sacred Sites in Urban Areas" attended by around 40 people from government departments and private enterprise.Mr Rubuntja's inclusive message to participants was underlined by custodian Bob Stuart: "If we all care, I'm sure there's a way we can all share."How much custodians care was made clear by Rosie Furber, speaking on a video recorded by AAPA. She said talking about sacred sites was like talking about "part of my arm, my fingers". She said custodians expect their sites to be safe and protected, just like a person.If a site is hurt, "we feel like the public and the developers are hurting us".She said it is important "not to talk about our sites except to our family. We don't just go around telling people and we don't intend to. Only when [the sites] are threatened."She said Aboriginal people know about the sites "in their songs and paintings", "from their dreaming time".This doesn't sound as though there's a lot of room for sharing, if you think sharing is about disclosure.The kind of sharing custodians were talking about seemed to be a matter of coexistence with mutual respect. They also suggested that there is some room for negotiation. They were quizzed from the floor about what they meant by "respect" for a site: did it mean don't touch it, don't walk on it, don't climb on it?"You don't like us to climb very often in sacred sites areas, or I believe that might be the case, I'm not sure," said one speaker.Bob Stuart replied: "You do go up Anzac Hill though, don't you?"(Anzac Hill, or Untyeye-artwilye, is an important site for Arrernte people, although also extensively used by non- Aboriginal people, in particular the RSL. The site was registered in 1982, and at that time custodians made clear they were not seeking to limit access to the site.)Pushed further on the matter of respect, Mr Stuart again replied with a question: "Well, for instance, do you have to get permission to walk into a church? Providing you don't take a bulldozer in there."When it comes to doing works, Mr Stuart advised "always ask permission, go to the AAPA and you'll get your answer".(And in 95 per cent of cases, Authority Certificate applications are granted, as AAPA Regional Officer, Sarah Dunlop, pointed out.)However, from May 26 this year, another factor has entered the equation: the Federal Court determined on this date that native title exists over all vacant crown land, parks, reserves, and watercourses, including the Todd and Charles Rivers, in the Alice Springs municipal area.The native title holders – "descendants of the original Arrernte inhabitants of the Mparntwe, Antulye and Irlpme estates" – must now be consulted on matters of use and management of their lands.For native title land, not only the custodians, but the wider group of native title holders must be consulted.Said Mr Stuart: "We‘ve asked that question amongst ourselves so many times: we can clear this site as a sacred site, but, hang on, it overlaps, there's also native title ... we're wearing two hats here."Native title lawyer from the Central Land Council, Austin Sweeney, said just how native title holders will exercise their legal rights "is something they are going to be working through in coming months and years". However, he suggested that this will be done most effectively by "working with the Northern Territory Government, the town council and with other Aboriginal organisations", not by "racing off to court".Custodian John Stuart stressed that he and his family don't want to be always "tied up in court".His aunt, Doris Renehan, pointed to the practical difficulties custodians encounter with site clearance for works:"Restrictions are put on us so we must have a distance from that tree to where the developer can start work."To us we have no boundaries on that ..."We have no measurements in our culture for a development to start two metres away from that site ..."We're giving every inch, getting closer and closer to that site, and it's very hard, we just can't come to terms with that one."Then there's also the matter of weight.Said John Stuart: "When we do a certificate clearance and we say ‘no heavy machinery' and some people might ask ‘what's heavy?'."You could almost go to court on the word ‘heavy' ... "We've just spent four years in court now [for the native title claim] and that's heavy."He also pointed out that custodians are a very particular group of people for particular sites, "not just a whole gang of us".A custodian can not make a decision on their own. John must listen to his seniors, his "mothers", Doris Renehan and Elaine Peckham.They must let him know what they are doing; and equally his children must be aware of their decisions"That's how we pass to one another the ‘altyerre'," he said.Bob Stuart introduced this term to the discussion. He doesn't like the words "dreaming" or "dreamtime": "It's as though a person has dreamt it all up."The proper Arrernte term is the "altyerre", meaning "from the beginning" or "the supreme being". "We've all got a supreme being, I'm very proud to be a part of that," he said.Custodians and AAPA were questioned about the public availability of information about sacred sites and "a perception in some quarters that sites pop up out of nowhere as an obstacle to development". AAPA CEO David Ritchie said that there never will be "a definitive list of sites" but that a lot is known already (there are over 100 registered sacred sites in Alice – which have been subject to an exhaustive documentation and verification process – and a further 200 have been recorded).He said that in Alice Springs in particular the authority has done a lot of work over the last couple of years, re-surveying sites, in particular so that their records are accurate "with respect to cadastral information".He said any member of the public may request an inspection of the register with respect to a particular area.The authority will also provide more general information, as determined by the custodians, about other known sites.THREATSSarah Dunlop said greater communication about sites and the authority's activities was the purpose of the workshop, the first time that the authority had undertaken such an exercise anywhere in the Territory.A question was also asked about threats to sites coming not only from developers, but from "the behaviours" of other Aboriginal people.Sarah Dunlop was the first to respond: "In simple terms the general community just sees a blanket sea of Aboriginals and doesn't distinguish between custodians and other Aboriginals. "It's really important to remember that in any community there are different sorts of people with different rights and responsibilities."Disrespect is not just shown by the non-Aboriginal community; there are also members of the Aboriginal community that show disrespect. "The fact that some Aboriginal people may be behaving on a sacred site in a way that is not appropriate according to Aboriginal tradition, doesn't mean that that sacred site is not important. It just means that there are social control problems in all communities." Doris Renehan commented on the difficulty of protecting sites in a town: "We haven't got the sorts of controls that other communities have over their sacred sites where they are more protected from damage than we are here. "We can't control that any more because they can say but this is a town, you have no rights as Aboriginal custodians over these sites.""We have done everything possible in our power to protect that site but unfortunately we can't be there 24 hours a day to control it from the damage."Mr Stuart: "We are not policeman saying, ‘What are you doing here, using that as a camping ground?'. We haven't got that [power]. "The only thing we've got is the AAPA."David Ritchie pointed out that being Aboriginal does not give a person the right to breach the Sacred Sites Act. Indeed, the last prosecution AAPA ran and won was against an Aboriginal person. Mr Ritchie did not rule out future prosecutions in relation to breaches of the Act in the Todd River, for example the burning of sacred trees.John Stuart also called for enforcement of other relevant laws and by-laws: "That's one of the things you should be pushing, the Two Kilometre Law, that's flagrantly disrespected. "That's one of your mob's laws."

POLLIES HEAD FOR STARTING BLOCKS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Twenty Country Liberal Party functionaries, their identity kept a tight secret, will be deciding next week who will represent Araluen in the Legislative Assembly after the next election.Or rather, it would be that easy if it were not for the Meredith Campbell wild card.The former alderman and energetic networker, especially among the lower-case "l" liberals around town, is standing as an independent.She is likely to attract the preferences from both the ALP and the CLP.This makes this blue ribbon CLP seat – held with 60 per cent of the vote – somewhat shaky. Remember, Jenny Mostran got 2800 votes for Mayor yet lost to Fran Erlich who had just 2100 but got Geoff Miers' preferences. Politics can be a fickle game.Ms Campbell herself is undecided whether or not she will be directing preferences.The ALP isn't ready yet to announce its candidate – except that she's a woman.That means – at least at this stage – the CLP is likely to have the only bloke in the race race for Araluen, with businessman Peter Harvey and current MacDonnell MLA John Elferink rumored to have the front running.Mr Harvey, president of the Finke Desert Race, says getting a fairer slice of the government cake for Alice Springs would be his major objective.He would seek to drag The Alice "out of its current economic slump".The vehicle dealer and property developer says the town has a huge potential but needs energetic leaders to bring it to fruition. First term member Elferink has a vigorous local profile and a reputation for independence and speaking out.These qualities endear him to many Centralians of all persuasions but may be unsettling for the preselection panel, not usually given to adventurous decisions.Elferink scored big in the last NT budget: the government bought Owen Springs cattle station and is further developing the Mereenie loop road.There are now clear indications that the town's disgraceful sewerage system will be replaced.Solicitor Jodeen Carney is also tipped to be a contender for the CLP preselection in Araluen, but is regarded as an outsider, despite working hard on her profile as convenor of the Women's Advisory Council and as the new head of the Cancer Council.So who knows? There are four other seats in The Centre – all up for grabs. There are whispers Ms Carney may get a guernsey in Braitling where Loraine Braham has local popularity but, as Minister for Central Australia, isn't exactly setting the world on fire with a vision for her region.The 20 members of the CLP, their identity not even known to the candidates for preselection, who make up the "collegiate" preselection panel, are drawn – five each – from the four Central Australian CLP Branches (Araluen, Alice Springs, MacDonnell-Greatorex and Stuart).That panel will be selecting all five candidates in The Centre, for Stuart, MacDonnell, Araluen, Greatorex and Braitling.The ALP has electoral colleges of 15 people for each seat: five members are elected at the annual conference and they have a hand in all preselections. The other 10 are elected by the respective branches.Unlike the CLP, the ALP will disclose the names of the members of the preselection colleges.Mr Elferink, surprise winner at the last election in the erstwhile Labor stronghold of MacDonnell, says he will go " where the party wants me" – even if that means facing Labor's choice for his huge seat, the southern-most in the NT, Aboriginal man Harold Furber, a member of the "stolen generations".(A TV documentary about him and his sister will go to air on SBS at 7.30pm on November 7.)Mr Elferink says he has been asked by many locals to stand as an independent in Araluen if he doesn't get preselection there.However, he says he won't, as this would be a slap in the face of the CLP party members who have put his faith in him.He has a claim of some legitimacy to Araluen because a substantial number of voters in his MacDonnell electorate – most of them conservative – have been transferred to the town seat: the Ilparpa "farm" area will become part of Araluen as a result of the recent electoral redistribution.This will give Mr Furber an easy run unless the CLP again comes up with a wild card independent, as it did with Ken Lechleitner last time.Mr Furber is a special projects officer of the Central Land Council (CLC), life-long sparring partner of the CLP Government.The land councils played a big role in the defeat of the statehood referendum, at odds with both the CLP and the ALP.From all indications so far the poll in Greatorex will be a yawn again. With the ascension to Mayor of one-time independent hopeful Fran Erlich, no third candidate is so far in evidence in Greatorex.However, ex-alderman and failed mayoral contender Geoff Miers says "approaches have been made and I understand further ones will be made" to interest him in running as an independent. If he does his preferences are likely to flow to the ALP's Peter Kavanagh.At the moment sitting Member Richard Lim (CLP) and Mr Kavanagh are neck and neck for the title of "most boring politician".However, ALP insiders say Mr Kavanagh, manager of a large tour company, is quietly making his mark in the local business community, not usually a prime constituency for Labor in The Centre, while CLP sympathisers praise Dr Lim's diligent efforts for his electorate. Certainly neither express "big picture'"vision for the electorate or the region.The addition of the Ross River Highway area to his electorate in the redistribution will no doubt be an advantage for Dr Lim.In Braitling, the only whisper is that the health of Loraine Braham, Minister for Central Australia, may be a worry.Although the ALP's Peter Brooke has begun to make a few public noises, he still needs to get up to speed.In Stuart Labor's leading light Peter Toyne will be taking on a much enlarged electorate – 330,000 square kilometres, more than four times the size of Tasmania. Stuart will be taking in less of the town but be expanded to take in most of the Victoria River Region, north of the Tanami Desert."Some Members can walk across their electorates. For me it's a 15 hour car trip up to the northern boundary," says Mr Toyne.He's hardly likely to again be facing Tony Bohning, who's failed four times before – twice to Mr Toyne and twice to his predecessor Brain Ede.

'NATURAL' DRAINS TRIAL BIG EXPENSE FOR RURAL BLOCKS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

A new approach to subdivision in the Emily Hills rural area seeks to minimise impact on the natural environment, yet one of the land owners says it has been very expensive and it will be the last time he does "anything like it".Rather than "carve up" the area into standard two hectare blocks, as was initially proposed, the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment (DLPE) worked closely with developers Savant Pty Ltd (on behalf of owners, Mark Baldiserra and Samih Habib) and consultants Willing & Partners, to leave intact, as far as possible, the natural character of the area, including its drainage system.In that system, described as "sheet flow", stormwaters run off slopes in a myriad of tiny rivulets and gather on flat land which becomes a shallow watercourse, draining towards the Todd River.According to Peter McDonald, DLPE Regional Manager, carefully drawing up boundaries and access to blocks so that they do not cut across the natural drains, and specifying "building envelopes" on each block for the same end, can obviate the need to install conventional drains.The "building envelopes" prescribe the area on each block where houses and their infrastructure can be put.The end result is a subdivision of 21 blocks of varying sizes and shapes that follow the lie of the land and situate neighbours at a certain distance from each other, in keeping with the rural character sought for the locality.Of concern to some existing residents in the area is the fact that some blocks in the subdivision are under the recommended two hectare minimum size for the RL2 zoned land.In fact, one third of the 21 blocks are under two hectares, with one block measuring just one and a quarter hectares.Mr McDonald says this is "far more preferable" than the initial proposal in which all but two of the blocks were at least two hectares."While one third are under two hectares, two thirds are two hectares or more."To preserve the natural drainage system which will protect the native vegetation and prevent erosion, it was necessary to come up with a non-standard solution."And we can't make the block sizes so large that they are impossible for the developer to service and still sell at an affordable price."In any case, part owner Samih Habib says the project has been far more costly than he and Mr Baldiserra had expected."We can't back out at this stage but we certainly won't do anything like this again."The way things are going who is going to spend money in developing this town?"How much can people afford to pay for a block of land?"And even though we have done all of this, some people are still whingeing. Short of people living in trees, what more do they want?"Meanwhile, the new-look subdivision, with its varying lot sizes, was proposed subsequent to the public exhibition phase of the developers' application.Fred Finch, Chairman of the Development Consent Authority, told the Alice News: "The Development Consent Authority does have the power to consider on merit variation to the size of lots within a zoning."However, the overall intensity of this subdivision is in keeping with the intentions of the RL2 zoning."Mr Finch says the authority has learnt from the mistakes of " the simplistic approaches" of the past."What we are looking at is a better overall result in the environmental and residential sense."We're now recognising that the fenced boundaries of the block and the location of the houses are more meaningful, in terms of environmental impact, than the size and shape of the block."This is the direction in which we'll be heading with most rural subdivisions across the NT."What about the public comment process? How did it happen that the public did not see the final plans for the subdivision until it had been approved?In fact, says Mr McDonald, the final plans grew out of the public exhibition phase. It was in response to the exhibition of the application, that DLPE made a submission to the Development Consent Authority that there may be a more environmentally friendly way of laying out the subdivision.Says Mr Finch: "At the end of the day, the development proposal we approved mirrored the Department of Lands' submission on what would be a more appropriate layout and we have a far superior result." However, approval of the subdivision was subject to the Alice Springs Town Council passing its subdivisional drainage plans, which it recently did, after consulting with the developers, Acer Forester and the DLPE.Prior to this, in response to the Alice Springs Structure Plan released in May last year, in which the Northern Territory Government proposed a four-stage low density residential development of Emily Hills, the council had commissioned from Acer Forester a report on a drainage plan for the whole area.Council CEO, Nick Scarvelis, says the plan, still in draft form and up for public comment, is an attempt to take a holistic approach and to put some forward planning into drainage issues in the area.He says this kind of approach may equally need to be taken with respect to the provision of power and water services to the subdivisions.He says council was concerned that it was being asked to approve the drainage plan for the Baldiserra and Habib subdivision, before it had completed its plan for the whole area.However, he says residents' submissions to the Baldiserra and Habib application indicated support for low impact, sheet flow drainage, as did the DLPE's submission.Says Mr Scarvelis: "We talked it through with the Department of Lands and have approved this approach for stage one, subject to it meeting a number of performance criteria."We have a high expectation that it will work in this area which is relatively flat, and that Heenan Road residents [immediately to the south of the subdivision] will not be adversely affected."Roger Botrall, the town council's Director of Infrastruture Services, says existing problems of flooding during heavy rains on Heenan Road won't be solved by the new subdivision, but neither will they be added to.He says there may be problems of access to blocks in the new subdivision during very heavy rains because the road is level with the surrounding land: "This is what we'll be looking at over the next five years."In the case that problems arise, the council is holding a bank guarantee of $200,000 from the developers for a period of five years. (Mr Habib says the Department of Transport and Works is also holding a bank guarantee of around $25,000.)Mr Scarvelis says the amount is adequate "to cover changes if they need to happen".The likely changes would be the cutting of conventional trunk drains.He says big rain events will not be required to test the effectiveness of the sheet flow drainage: "Moderate rains will give us the performance information we need."Meanwhile, the public has until November 13 to comment on the draft Emily Hills Drainage Plan, which Mr Scarvelis says is still largely based on a traditional drainage model, as there is not yet enough known about the forward plans of government and the developers for stages two to four.Coordinator of the Arid Lands Environment Centre, Glenn Marshall, told the Alice News his members think the sheet flow model has "good potential". "But given that it is untried in the subdiv-isional context, we'd like a conservative approach taken on further approvals," said Mr Marshall.(Mr Habib says the model has been tried successfully in Nevada, USA, and also at the Desert Park in Alice Springs.Mr Botrall could not comment on the Nevada case, but says the Desert Park operates on the same principals but in different circumstances, which include the presence of some natural watercourses which drain the area.) Mr Marshall asked if the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment would be undertaking education of residents in how to maintain sheet flow on their property over time.OWNERSAnd what will happen if the property changes hands: will the new owners also be educated?Mr Marshall also queried whether the bank guarantees provided by the developers would cover the costs of drainage works downstream of the subdivision? "These works would appear to impact particularly on the residents of Heenan Road and on the Ross Highway," said Mr Marshall.According to a town council press release, Libby Prell of the Alice Springs Rural Area Association (ASRAA) commended the town council and the DLPE on the commissioning of the Emily Hills Drainage Plan. However, she expressed concerns about the lack of direct consultation with residents of the area and called for greater transparency in the planning process.ASRAA chair Rod Cramer and Mayor Fran Erlich agreed to make representations to the Development Consent Authority to ensure that future proposals be considered according to their impact on the overall development of the area.Mr Cramer called for greater community consultation from all agencies in the future development of Emily Hills.

MOTOR HOME RALLY ENDS ON SOUR NOTE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The motor home owners rally in Alice Springs has ended on a sour note, although its organisers estimate it has put $1.5m into the local economy.As the last of the 650 "rigs" are pulling out of town, some local businesses are saying a few participants were pushy and arrogant.One roadhouse operator says he's asked motor home owners to leave because they attempted to barter for a lower fuel price.But some of the local enterprises scored points with the well organised group – and reaped the rewards.Coles Supermarket, for example, actively wooed the visitors, offering free tea and coffee, and free delivery of purchases to Blatherskite Park, site of the rally.Rally organiser Marilyn Wratten (pictured at left) says garbage collectors Hannons, which also provided a shuttle bus service, were " excellent", and the entertainment at the rally was "great". It featured Ted Egan, Warren Williams, Bloodwood, the Hermannsburg Ladies' Choir, Shauna Hartig and astronomer Andrew Fitzgerald.But there was friction at times when the members of the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia sought to capitalize on their joint purchasing power, asking for discounts. The club has 25,000 members, is growing at the rate of 500 a month, and has sophisticated communications systems, including a web site used as a guide by "motor homers" visiting Australia from around the world.Adverse comment following the rally will no doubt affect future business in Alice Springs from the modern day wanderers, most of them retirees and on the move for much of the year.Mrs Wratten, who's been in The Alice for more than a year setting up the rally, says the main sticking point was Blatherskite Park, "which should be run by the town council".She says the rigs were "sardined in one area" when the park management reneged on providing 90 sites in the equestrian area, on the southern side of the main arena.This led to electricity shortages, disrupting appliances from medical equipment to air conditioners when temperatures were much higher than the visitors, mainly from southern states, were finding comfortable.This, says Mrs Wratten, was despite a $24,000 hire fee, including power, for the two weeks of the rally, plus two more weeks for setting up.She says by comparison, the rally at Roma two years ago cost $4000 for the grounds, plus $2600 for electricity, for 1000 motor homes, 350 more than made their way to The Alice.That worked out at $6.60 per motor home compared to $37 in Alice Springs, for two weeks' rent."And there was power to spare at Roma," says Mrs Wratten.However, one of the Blatherskite Park trustees, Jeff Farmer, says the sites south of the arena were meant only for the " overflow" – if motor home numbers exceeded 800.He says this had been agreed to some six months before the rally.The electricity shortages was a decision by their own committee, which had agreed to use air conditioning "sparingly"."There were no electricity shortages," says Mr Farmer."There were 100 spare sites which were not used."We charged them $3.50 per van per night, including electricity, plus GST."The club charged this out to its members at $8 a night, making a $4.50 profit per day per site," says Mr Farmer."We charged nothing for the large Greatorex pavilion."They ran their office for four weeks in the Lands and Housing building, and some organisers camped there, at a nominal charge," says Mr Farmer."We charged them for the Everingham pavilion because they were using it for commercial exhibition space, rented out by the rally organisers at $50 per three meter bay."They made a lot of money out of this."We charged for the space under the grandstand which was used by caterers under contract."All the other buildings were free, including the Parks and Wildlife area, and the demountable near the grandstand."Mrs Wratten says the town council gave the rally a $5000 grant but the motor home rally had to pay $3500 to the NT Motorcycle Association when it was discovered that Blatherskite Park had double-booked with the Bikers Rally, which was moved to the Gapview Resort.Mr Farmer says the bikers' rally had been booked first and the motorhome people didn't want them there."Blatherskite Park is owned by the NT Government and managed by seven trustees on a voluntary basis," says Mr Farmer."There are two salaried staff employed by the government but all other costs must be met by horse agistment and hire fees."Mrs Wratten says the publicity about the motor homers' preference for "bush camping" has sparked interest from the owner of a rural block near Honeymoon Gap, and private enterprise may in the future provide the kind of services on which public ones fell short this time.

"NUGGETT" COOMBS: YOU CAN LEAD A HORSE TO WATER, BUT... Interview with TIM ROWSE by KIERAN FINNANE.

"Even if you have people's best interests at heart you can't coerce them into advancing. "There has got to be a degree of choice involved."Showing government how to actualise or put into practical form the idea of Indigenous choice – by Aboriginal people forming themselves into local incorporated bodies – was, I think, Coombs' most important achievement in this area."So says historian Tim Rowse, author of "Obliged to be difficult", an account of H. C. "Nuggett" Coombs' contribution to Indigenous affairs, published recently by Cambridge University Press.During his visit to Alice Springs earlier this year KIERAN FINNANE interviewed Dr Rowse about his subject. She started by asking him how a former Governor of the Reserve Bank came to be involved in Indigenous policy in the first place?
Rowse: He became involved on invitation by then Prime Minister Harold Holt who found to his dismay that in May, 1967, 91 per cent of Australians were agreeing that the Commonwealth should take an active role in Aboriginal affairs policy, not just in the Northern Territory but all over Australia. Holt had just succeeded Menzies and really had no clear ideas about how to use that mandate. So he selected to take on the project a policy intellectual who was nearing his retirement as Central Banker but who had a great reputation as a man fertile in ideas on a lot of different policy areas.
News: Given the title of your book, did he also have a reputation for being difficult?
Rowse: Holt had been Treasurer in the Menzies years and Coombs had been Governor of the Reserve Bank, so they had been around the table for lots of debate about government policy in the 1960s, and Holt had good reason to know that Coombs was a very determined advocate of what he thought was the right course of action for government. Coombs said to Holt "I'll do this but I hope you're fair dinkum, because if you're not fair dinkum, I will feel obliged to be difficult and Harold, you know how difficult I can be."That is the context for the book's title.
News: So why did Coombs take on the project? Did he already have a pronounced interest in Aboriginal matters?
Rowse: He did have a bit of an interest in Aboriginal culture as any educated person would in the 1960s. There had been a rethinking of what Australia's cultural heritage was. To give an example: in 1965 the Australian Government sent a whole lot of cultural exhibits to the Commonwealth Cultural Festival in England and Coombs was on the national committee that organised Australia's contribution. The exhibits included a collection of 57 bark paintings and objects curated by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. In a speech that Coombs gave in Liverpool, England, he referred to that collection, not in any way that was particularly interesting, but it shows that that educated people were starting to think and talk about there being an Aboriginal artistic heritage as well as a non-Aboriginal one. That sense of course was promoted by the missionaries, but that is another story.
NEXT WEEK: What Coombs hoped to achieve.

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