ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
April 25, 2001.


TOURISM CHIEFS WOO OVERSEAS VISITORS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The NT Tourist Commission increasingly wants to lure overseas holiday makers but first it needs to boost air travel capacity into the Territory. NTTC managing director Tony Mayell says the commission no longer sees itself exclusively as a domestic promoter, leaving advertising abroad to the Australian Tourist Commission (ATC). And he says while the Territory's foreign visitors are currently "at the mercy of Qantas", his talks with other airlines – especially Virgin and Impulse – are promising more and easier access to the NT."We've taken a decision in the last couple of years to really put more focus on the international market," says Mr Mayell. "We treat the market now as global market place, and I think you have to do that. "We just don't say we've got to give so much effort to the domestic market as distinct from the international market. "We're dealing with a global population base and the segments we are seeking internationally have the same characteristics as the segments domestically. "Where we're getting the best bang for our buck is where we're going put our dollars. "When you look at our budget, the actual spend between domestic and international was pretty much level. "We tend to drive the ATC as much as the other way ‘round, in our key markets like Germany, the USA and the UK." The NTTC's strategy is likely to be encouraged by the economic downturn in Australia, the cheap Aussie dollar providing huge advantages for overseas visitors. The name of the game is improving the yield, attracting the bigger spenders: last year visitors spent nearly two million nights in the NT but spent an average of just $116 per person per day, or $88 in the significant self drive market. The average stay was seven days. Says Mr Mayell: "Whilst the domestic market still delivers a huge percentage of business for the NT, particularly when you take into account the self drive market, you've got to really question how much influence you have over that market in traditional advertising. "The key to get to that market is attractive public relations activity, media activity, and that's what we've done domestically. "The cost of doing that is generally less than traditional advertising, and that's enabled us to put more resources into markets we know are going to give us the sort of return we're after. "The days of straight TV advertising and that sort of thing are fast passing us by. "We've got to be far more clever in the way we hit our target markets. "The international market is exceptionally attractive to us. "The new board of the NTTC is very aware of the fact that the international market is the one we need to look at putting more resources into," says Mr Mayell. "There is really no limit, and rather than putting a figure on it we've got to be right up with what's happening in the market place. "If the domestic market fell over completely – which I can't see happening – then we wouldn't hesitate in heading off into the US, for example." The major stumbling block to more overseas business is the poor international airline capacity into the NT."We are fighting for international visitors who are being wooed by other states in Australia. "Qantas has basically monopolized the arrangement and we're stuck with that for the time being. "But we're pursuing other opportunities very, very aggressively." These include deals with the Star Alliance – Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Ansett – once the latter "gets through the issues it has". Says Mr Mayell: "We are certainly concentrating on a fairly major plan now to get them to look at the Territory more closely than they have. "I'm talking about the international perspective. "We're going to see some real benefits when we get some true competition on the routes here. "About 90 per cent of the capacity is governed by Qantas out of Singapore into Darwin on the daily service, and that flight goes on to Cairns. "Capacity is an issue and also the air fares level is an issue. "Freeing up some of that capacity to get more of it into the Territory does impact on the way we spend our money and how much money we spend overseas." However, the Territory is "no closer than we were 10 years ago" in achieving these objectives. "At the end of the day we're totally at the mercy of the airlines. "I'm spending a hell of a lot of time at the moment talking with Impulse and Virgin Blue. "Those discussions are going extremely well and I think that will make all the difference because both those carriers have grown the market considerably. "It's not a matter of pinching business from Qantas or Ansett; it's about creating new business." For example, Mr Mayell says the Melbourne to Brisbane sector now flown also by Virgin saw a growth in traffic of 64 per cent: "It's just huge. "If we can get that sort of operation happening in the Territory, it would make a massive difference," says Mr Mayell. He says "co-operative marketing" – where the NTTC pays a third of promotional expenses initiated by operators – is under utilised. Just $800,000 – or 10 per cent – of the NTTC's advertising and marketing budget was spent on co-operative marketing last year, including $160,000 paid to the Ayers Rock Resort Company. According to Mr Mayell, in Queensland 60 per cent of tourism advertising is done cooperatively. He says: "We're hopelessly outgunned by the other states." The NTTC offer is "available to any operator irrespective of their size". "We're very mindful of the fact that if we have a large operator come in and say, of that $800,000 I want to take $500,000, that just won't happen because we recognise we've got a job to do for the broader industry as well. "We're now getting some of these smaller niche operators in front of the marketplace, and that was the whole idea behind Territory Discoveries as a wholesale operation, and the international marketing support scheme. "Everyone has an equal opportunity and if anything we're more vigilant to make sure the big guys don't bully the small operators out of it. "Strategically the future of the NT lies with these specialist operators. "There is every opportunity for operators either to band together to tap into the co-operative marketing funds, or do it individually. "We're encouraging the regional tourism associations, including CATIA, to become active in this area as well. "The industry is still running on the formula that sees government putting up 90 per cent of the tourism promotional funding which compared to the other states is a pretty weak position."The NTTC has an annual budget of $28m, compared to about $45m for its Queensland "opposition".Three quarters of the NTTC budget is spent on general marketing and advertising. A slice of the remainder goes to the commission's Holiday Centre "which I am completely dedicated to keeping in Alice Springs", says Mr Mayell. The facility can act as a full booking agency domestically while international enquiries are passed on to travel agents. Mr Mayell says it would be a small step to expand the full booking operation to overseas travelers – most of whom now browse the internet before deciding on their trip. "There are some policy issues, of course, because you can't afford to alienate a distribution network – all the tour operators and agents in markets like Germany who work very closely with us. "If you go boots and all into direct bookings you may be shooting yourself in the foot. "But there is no doubt that the way travelers are buying product now, they want to get more direct contact with the people who know the story and have the best possible information at their fingertips. "We're seeing quite a bit of direct business coming into the Holiday Centre now" especially domestic enquiries, says Mr Mayell. "Our business is growing in that respect." Interested people "get top quality information which hasn't been that easily accessible from the general travel agent around Australia whom we found to be almost bereft of knowledge, despite the large amount of money we spent on educating them".

ALICE COMPANY'S CLIENTS: 96% ARE FROM OVERSEAS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Understanding your market and focusing on a consistent, regularly available, quality product is the key to success in niche tourism, says Darren Lynch of NT Adventure Tours.The company started eight years ago, with two vehicles and a " handful" of guides doing tours to Ayers Rock from Alice Springs.Today they have a fleet of 110 vehicles, offering two day to 10 day tours throughout the Centre, up to the Top End and into the Kimberleys, and for the last two years have also been operating in Tasmania. They have seen around 30 per cent growth in demand and turnover every year since they began, and are now carrying annually around 75,000 passengers.About 96 per cent of their clientele are from overseas, coming from the UK, Europe, Scandinavia and Asia, with Americans a small minority – all looking for "soft adventure".They want the excitement of the Outback without the hardship: after a day's hiking through spectacular landscapes, they like to be able to take a shower and use a flushing toilet, says Darren.NT Adventure Tours now has 40 permanent camping sites throughout the Territory – including sites at Ayers Rock Resort and Kings Canyon, and others, more secluded and private. When their tour groups arrive they can immediately start to unwind and enjoy their night under the stars, rather than have to "set up tents and cook in the dark".Touring like this costs from $100 to $120 a day: the company is catering for a budget conscious but discerning market, says Darren."They want a high quality product that gives good value for their dollar."The majority are in their twenties, thirties and forties, although older active travellers will also chose these tours. Some are students and backpackers, more are professional people, and they all want to learn something about the environment they are in, to take away the memory of a special experience.The company has 170 staff of whom 120 are tour guides. New guides are inducted every eight weeks.It offers its own training over six weeks to groups of 10 to 15 selected candidates.Some of the training is developed "in-house", by two full time training managers, one in Darwin, one in Alice.But each group of trainees also spends "many hours" with people with local expertise, like national park rangers."Environmental and cultural sensitivity, especially in relation to Indigenous culture, is given high priority in our training," says Darren.The company this year won a national Australian Export Award for Business Services, the only Territory business, and the only tourism operator in Australia, to win one.

AGED HOME SHORT STAFFED: ARE THE RESIDENTS AT RISK? Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

A registered nurse who has been working at Hetti Perkins Nursing Home over the last 10 months says the nursing home suffers from a huge staff turnover rate, constant staff shortages and low morale, while the administrator, responding for Aboriginal Hostels who run the facility, says the shortage of nurses is worldwide, and the turnover at Hetti Perkins does not significantly differ from other facilities or health care providers.The administrator Christine McDougall, says the shortage of nurses is particularly evident in aged care and most especially rural and remote areas like the Northern Territory. (See Alice Springs News, April 11.)She says the situation is so serious in Australia that the Commonwealth Government has announced a senate inquiry into retention and training of nurses with particular emphasis on aged care. She and her Nursing Care Services Manager (NCSM) have been involved in industry and research groups that are looking at ways to resolve the problem nationally. The nurse, Margaret Graham, a resident of Alice Springs for four years, and with 28 years' nursing experience, claims two NCSMs at Hetti Perkins have taken stress leave, and then resigned during the last eight months.Ms McDougall refutes this.She says the current nursing care services manager has been in the position for three months. Prior to that the Acting NCSM was in the position for two months, then requested to return to work on the floor as a registered nurse (RN); and, prior to that the NCSM left at the end of her contract. "There have been no staff in this position going on stress leave in the past eight months," says Ms McDougall.Mrs Graham alleges that there are constantly new staff – including expensive agency workers – on the floor at Hetti Perkins. She says existing staff are having to continually orientate new staff, and attention to such basic procedures as fire and emergency evacuation drills is suffering.Ms McDougall responds: "Agency staff are employed for no less that two months at a time and are highly experienced and valuable members of the nursing profession. "All new staff have been orientated to the fire and emergency situation, and a number of core staff at the facility have had fire warden training and are available to train and orientate as part of their job description." Mrs Graham says she would hate to be on duty at night if a fire broke out. She says on duty for the care of 40 residents are just one registered nurse, one enrolled nurse, one personal care assistant and a groundsman. When one of them takes a break, she alleges there are "big deficits" in cover.The residents are in four separate 10 bed wings, and the walking distance between each wing is significant. Ms McDougall: "Hetti Perkins Aged Care Home is a new facility and it has achieved a full three year accreditation from the Commonwealth Government, relating to all policies, practices, procedures and building requirements. "The building is built to the highest safety standards with regard to safety and fire prevention. "The staff numbers are higher than the industry average at night for this number of residents and well and truly meet the Commonwealth Government requirements."She also says she lives on site and is always available in an emergency.Mrs Graham suggests that the root of the problem is a poor Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, which she says sees staff being paid less than their public sector counterparts.Ms McDougall: "A new Certified Agreement has recently been voted on with a majority of yes votes after a process which commenced in August of last year. "All Aboriginal Hostels staff nationally have been extensively consulted and represented throughout this process."In response to Mrs Graham's complaints about how she herself has been treated, Ms McDougall says, "Industrial relations matters of Aboriginal Hostels staff are dealt with through the appropriate processes."She has no further comment to make.Mrs Graham alleges that, despite the staff shortages, she has been told that her requirements to work only a certain number of shifts on certain days are too inflexible and that she will no longer be offered work at Hetti Perkins. This came, she alleges, after she and another Alice-based registered nurse had agreed to job share to fill a full-time permanent position. As a mother of a young child, she chooses to work part-time, three shifts per week. She also wants to be paid as a casual, and says she has never signed an employment contract with the home. She says, if she were working as a casual through an agency, she would be paid at the end of each week.But by working directly for the home, she had to wait a month to be paid.After she worked extra shifts at the beginning of March, which brought her hours to over 21 in the week, she says the administration, without consulting her, changed her status to " permanent part-time", which caused a 30 per cent loss in pay. She says it took her six weeks to get the money owed, and achieved that only after she had brought Braitling MLA Loraine Braham and the national director of Aboriginal Hostels into the dispute. After this, she received a letter telling her she would no longer be offered casual shifts. She says she felt so shabbily treated, that she gave one hour's notice and walked off the job. (There were other qualified staff present, she says.) She says she was told that if she walked off, she would be reported to the Nurses' Registration Board.

LIFE PROMOTION IS FOR MEN AS WELL AS YOUTH.

Identifying and supporting people at high risk of doing harm to themselves appears to be a way of preventing suicide in Alice Springs.After five youth suicides in 1999 and three in 2000, there have been none since.Also, among the young people identified as at risk, there have been no attempts at suicide since last June.The recent death of a 25 year old is the first adult suicide this year. The deceased was not known to Mental Health Services (MHS), although they have recently expanded their suicide prevention brief to include for particular focus adult males, from 25 to 45 years of age.Says Program Manager in Central Australia, Linda Keane: "People at high risk who have had a history of self-harming behaviour generally do continue that pattern. "We can identify now a break in that pattern." It's heartening news for members of the Life Promotion team, formed in early 1999 in partnership with the Mental Health Association, to work on early detection and prevention amongst children and youth.They established a Youth at Risk Network among people in a wide variety of organisations and groups who have regular contact with youth.They've provided them with training to help them identify young people at risk, and on how to approach those young people, encouraging them to open up and seek help.A number of young people are now being "very actively" supported, says Ms Keane.But will these young people remain vulnerable, continuing to need intensive support?Developing their resilience is a goal of the MHS child and youth worker, who is training her "front line" colleagues to help them work in turn with young people.Their approach has been modelled on national and international programs, involving a lot of role-playing and "testing out".Says Ms Keane: "Some people have a typical way of responding to a problem which they fall into whenever a problem arises. "We try to give them other strategies: for example, instead of getting drunk when you feel bad, maybe you can go out with friends on a big hike, or play soccer, or find a friend to talk to."This approach is in line with a new emphasis on recovery.Ms Keane says her staff are undertaking training to develop "a lot more skills in how to deal with recovery"."In the next 12 months we'll see our community based services really picking up on a lot of these ideas."The better trained we have our staff, the more we'll reduce the crises and the more time we'll have to spend on keeping people well." MHS work in this area is being informed by their "Leave No Footprints" service. Recognised as "best practice" for Indigenous mental health in Australia and New Zealand, this program, first developed in Central Australia, responds particularly to the mental health needs of Aboriginal people living a more traditional lifestyle, usually in remote communities.Says Ms Keane: "They have told us that they want a different range of supports and interventions when they are unwell. "They want traditional healers involved, their family involved very substantially, while also having access to some of the Western mental health interventions, such as medications, and people skilled in various therapies."We've developed partnerships with traditional service providers, and after a couple of years of working in this way, we are being told by our consumers in remote areas that this is a better response, this is what they want – to come in and help but be respectful, leave no footprints, don't do any harm."Another significant shift in MHS has been to recognise that over-dependency on the mental health system is more debilitating than it is helpful.Ms Keane: "If a person becomes dependent on a mental health system, it means they are not accessing normal supports from people in their family, friends, they're not joining clubs and so on. It means that we are actually doing them a disservice."In both remote communities and in Alice Springs, MHS is trying to help people "get more connected to normal supports within the community". This can also mean giving support to carers: "Carers really have a vested interest in that person recovering from the disability they are experiencing. So, when we're looking at the ways we can help a person recover, it might in fact be supporting their carers." MISUSINGThrough "Leave No Footprints" MHS are working closely with communities, particularly through their councils and health centres, to look at some of the antecedents for mental problems.Ms Keane: "We're asking, are people in your community misusing substances because of boredom, because of unemployment, because of the memories of their dislocation and so forth. "There are times when we get involved in community development projects, which are aimed at addressing the antecedents at the same time as caring for the person with the mental problem."It sounds good, but are people struggling to access this level of support?Ms Keane says "compared the national averages, we're not doing too badly."

MENTAL HEALTH SPENDING GROWTH.

The NT has experienced the second highest spending growth in Australia on mental health services, according to the National Mental health report 2000, drawing on 1998 data. However, this still left it ranked fifth in per capita expenditure. In 1997-98 the Territory spent 96 per cent of its funding on services primarily directed at the adult population. Per capita spending on these services was 14 per cent above the national average and the highest of the jurisdictions. Specialist services for children and adolescents accounted for the remaining four per cent of the expenditure. Per capita funding to this group was 60 per cent below the national average and the lowest of the jurisdictions. The Territory and the ACT are the only jurisdictions to not provide specialist mental health services to older people. Services for this group are met by the adult mental health and general aged care programs. There is little supplementing of public health sector mental health services by private psychiatrists funded under Medicare Benefits Schedule. In 1997-98 the number of attendances by private psychiatrists were only 22 per cent of the national per capita average, by far the lowest level in the country.

DEPT OF HEALTH: RUNAWAYS JOB FOR COPS!

Sir,- In response to your article, "The welfare people couldn't care less", published on April 18, we would like to clarify the role of Family and Children's Services (FACS). The primary responsibility of FACS staff in Alice Springs is the protection of, and prevention of harm to, children within their own families, and caring for children who cannot live safely with their families and are in the care of the Minister. This includes management of the formal Foster Care Program. Your article indicates that "Shane" had runaway from "his foster home". However, as indicated in your article, "Shane" is in the care of his natural family, and is not within a formal Foster Care Program under the care of the Minister. Your article could be seen to imply that FACS or "welfare" has the formal responsibility for the care of this child. This is not the case. The role of locating runaway children and returning them to their family lies more properly with the NT Police Service. Further, FACS has no legal mandate to intervene in the lives of young people and their families unless the intervention can be justified under the Community Welfare Act. FACS works collaboratively with the NT Police and non- government agencies in addressing the care needs of children at risk of harm within their own families, and in providing ongoing support for children and families. FACS also funds non-government agencies to provide support and assistance for young people and their families, including Youth Workers. It is these agencies and professional family counsellors to which Mr Fullerton was referred to help locate "Shane", and also as a source of longer term support for the family. Responsibility for crime reduction does not lie solely with any one government agency, nor does it lie with government alone. The broader community and families have a significant role to play. This is reflected in the NT Safe program, a whole of Government collaborative approach to crime prevention. Community representatives and organisations are vital participants at all levels of this initiative.
Dr Ian Crundall
General Manager, Alice Springs
Territory Health Services

MYRTLE NOSKE STILL DRAWS A FINE LINE! Report by DOROTHY GRIMM.

Finely drawn and beautiful renditions of Central Australian scenes in charcoal and chalk are featured in Central Australian artist Myrtle Noske's first solo exhibition, currently on display at Araluen. "They are only sketches," Myrtle said. "I wanted to see what the works would look like before doing them in oils." Viewing the works, which include landscapes of Glen Helen, the MacDonnell Ranges, and pastoral scenes, one cannot help but think of the longstanding debate as to whether or not a black and white photograph is more effective in presenting its "story" than a coloured one. Myrtle was born in Central Australia at Deep Well Station in 1926, the seventh of seven children of the pioneering Johannsen family. Her father Gerhardt was a stonemason and builder by trade and the family also ran a station and worked the mica mines. Myrtle studied art at the Melbourne Technical College, now RMIT, after World War Two. She returned to Central Australia and married Albert (Bert) Noske. "Bert drove for my brother, Kurt, and we just ‘clicked'," Myrtle said. Myrtle accompanied her husband to a number of remote locations where Bert worked mostly as a miner. Myrtle sketched using a sketch book and pencils when she had " nothing else to do". "I would replenish my supplies when we came back to town," Myrtle said. When the Central Australian mining business collapsed, Myrtle and her family settled on a poultry farm off Emily Gap Road and Myrtle continued with her art work."It wasn't commercial," Myrtle said. "I didn't do any commercial art until Mrs Harvey opened her shop and asked me to do little paintings for tourists who were interested in taking home a souvenir of the Centre." Myrtle became involved in the Art Society (CAAS) and served as the organisation's treasurer for 12 years. She also entered numerous competitions and exhibitions winning several awards, including the Caltex Art Award in 1974, the General Motors Holden Best Landscape Award at the 1977 Central Australian Show and the Advocate Art Award in 1984. Myrtle taught art at the Alice Springs Community College for nine years and assisted students at the Braitling Primary School in a history project mural in 1983."This is my first solo exhibition," Myrtle said. "There used to be so many exhibitions and competitions, one didn't need to have an exhibition as there were plenty of exhibitions in which to participate." Currently Myrtle is working on a book about Alice in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s based on her own life as a child growing up in Central Australia. It will be illustrated with lots of her meticulous drawings, many based on family photographs and others on her own photographic memory – "I never had a camera," Myrtle said. Her exhibition continues at Araluen through May 13.

MUSIC'S IN THE HEART OF ALICE! PAUL HILLSDON speaks to loacl Rock star Leon Spurling.

It's all about music: it's in everyone's heart and some people believe, as does local musician Leon Spurling, that it is the heart of The Alice. Through his music, words and melodies, Leon (pictured at right) manages to capture feelings and emotions that listeners can relate to. But, who is Leon Spurling? If you haven't had the pleasure of travelling in his father's cab or listening to his latest CD "Leon Spurling", then it's time you got in touch with the acoustic rhythm and alternate melodies that Leon so genuinely has to offer. Guitarist for 12 years, and singer song-writer for the last six, Leon's versatility of sound, which compliments his musical talent, has proved to be a burden for him, rather than a bonus: "I have over 40 songs to go onto the next album and I'm supposed to choose which ones I want. I want all of them!" The majority of Leon's music (so far) has been solo numbers: Leon, his acoustic guitar and his ever original voice. His next album (due mid-year) will guarantee more songs incorporating his band but keeping that personal, honest touch with his trademark acoustic sound. Last year was a big year for Leon. With the growing popularity of his latest self-titled album, Leon found himself travelling to Melbourne and Adelaide and supporting for artists such as Christine Anu. This year, he has concentrated on songwriting for the upcoming album. Of the tracks featured on the album, deserving special mentions are: Julianne; A Song for the Lonely and Unloved; Lazy; and, Yellow Raincoat. Leon has come a long way since his first album, "Songs about Love, Drugs, Fame and Supermarkets", and there is a lot of anticipation building around the completion of the upcoming album. But with Leon's capturing sound and his constantly creative mind, there is no doubt that it will offer a new yet authentic taste to tempt his listeners.

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