ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
August 22, 2001.


HISTORIC POLL - LABOR SET TO RULE: BUSH POLLIES WILL JOINTLY TACKLE ISSUES. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Members for the two bush electorates in The Centre - as big as Central Europe and the principal source of the region's opportunities as well as its problems - are set to cooperate on major issues despite belonging to opposed parties. Stuart's Peter Toyne, who hopes to get the portfolios of education and regional development in the Territory's first ever Labor government, says if John Elferink in MacDonnell "comes up with good ideas I give this personal undertaking that I'll be more than happy to help him facilitate them". It was no surprise that Dr Toyne retained his seat with a substantially increased majority in the swing to Labor. But Mr Elferink's re-election in MacDonnell, despite the loss to Araluen of the mainly conservative Ilparpa in the recent change to electoral boundaries, is little short of a miracle, the result of a personal campaign in which Mr Elferink was on the go almost constantly for several months – and lost 14 kilograms. It was the only bright spot for the CLP decimated after holding power for 26 years, and likely to be in Opposition by the end of this week. Says Alice Springs Mayor Fran Erlich: "Whatever happens, whichever party is actually in power at the end of this week, the old entrenched attitudes of the CLP will have gone, and some entrenched positions as well, because the CLP will have to evaluate where they have come from. "They've lost the northern suburbs in Darwin. "It's obvious the CLP values are no longer the values of a lot of Territorians. "Historically it's quite interesting that their heartland may come back to being Alice Springs where it all started, where it was a grass roots movement originally." Mrs Erlich's father, former Senator Bernie Kilgariff, was one of the party's founders. Mr Elferink and Dr Toyne have collaborated in the past on alcohol control issues, organising, together with ATSIC official Richard Preece, a representative public forum in March last year. Issues they are now likely to tackle jointly include the Great Outback Highway, which Mrs Erlich says was advanced in a meeting in Alice Springs last week of mayors and officials from Queensland and WA centres, "although there have not yet been political statements" from governments in those states. However, she says in the past both governments have put some funds towards the project "and if our government was willing to fund it, then I'm sure they would be willing to come to the party as well". She says the previous WA government had pledged $25m over 10 years.Mrs Erlich says the highway – to which the CLP made no commitment but Labor promised $40m over two terms – is a "strategic road for outback Australia" which will make Alice Springs the hub not only for north-south, but also east-west traffic. "It can have a lot of economic benefits not only for Alice Springs but also the other communities in the outback which currently have roads which are not all weather," says Mrs Erlich. Dr Toyne says a Labor government would first ensure that there is a "concerted effort" also from the Queensland and WA governments (both Labor) "so we don't have a fantastic road in the Territory and a goat track across the borders". The Plenty Highway north-east of Alice, and the Gunbarrel west of Ayers Rock, will be sealed. Says Dr Toyne: "The long haul trucking industry will be looking for alternative activities in three years' time, when the Darwin railway is completed, if that industry is to stay in Alice Springs at the present strength." Dr Toyne and Mr Elferink are likely to co-operate also on development of land and enterprises in the remote areas; and the problems in Aboriginal communities that are at the root of anti-social behaviour and racial tension in the town. Says Dr Toyne: "I've always worked with John Elferink on a personal level in a bipartisan way where it was appropriate. "John and I have a very strong interest in economic development in the bush. "We could argue all day who's right or wrong [about ideological points] but that's not important," says Dr Toyne. "The fact is we both want to see the land and spare capacity in communities applied to economic projects. "It would be crazy that when we're dealing with the same set of circumstances there isn't that offer made and honoured. "In our efforts to alleviate the problems associated with grog and itinerants and anti-social behaviour, it doesn't make any sense for me to try and monopolise that when he's got the other half of the bush communities. "We've got to work together as we did for several years in exploring the possibilities for solutions to the grog problems in Alice Springs. "I am prepared to go on doing that."Says Mr Elferink: "Ideological difference will occur but [for example] if roads is the issue then ideology should not get in the way. "We should be able to get along well enough to deal with issues such as roads. "Transport is a major issue. "For me economic development is fundamental and this is where probably where he and I are going to be the most at loggerheads. "I have remained critical of the structure of the Land Rights Act as well as some of its administration. "At the end of the day, if you don't create jobs in the bush you can build as many schools, clinics, roads and space stations as you like, you ain't going to change it for the people in the dirt. "I'd like to see a much more commercial approach to land management." Mr Elferink says "if Labor forms government then I would put a lot of pressure on them to live up to their promises. "There is speech after speech from them in Parliament saying how hard done by the bush is, and if they were in government they would fix all these issues. "Well, it's pay up time, guys."
Dr Toyne says other projects in The Centre promised by Labor include:-
• $6.5m for the Tanami Road to start "as soon as it can be processed through the Transport and Works processes", an amount that may be supplemented by the mining companies west of The Alice. (The CLP promised minor funding for that road.)
• A $5m Traeger Park redevelopment over two years, starting as soon as "a final planning process" is completed, based on conceptual drawings and a schedule already produced by the Central Australian Football League.
• $10m for arts, educational and cultural facilities – with a $20m top-up from Canberra if a Beazley government is elected later this year. (The CLP offered $250,000 a year for three years for planning.)
Dr Toyne says there will be two major projects, mainly the Desert People's Centre, opposite Yirara College on the South Stuart Highway, and a tourism focused performance venue on privately owned land at the Red Centre Resort on the North Stuart Highway. He says these developments will become a major bargaining chip in the native title negotiations with the Arrernte people – a key to the commercial development of new land in the town, and the current excessive cost of residential and industrial land.
• $28m over four years for higher education in the NT – open to bids for "binding contracts" from teaching institutions in The Centre, including Centralian College, Batchelor Institute, the Centre for Appropriate Technology, the Centre for Remote Health, and the Menzies School of Health Research.
• The Centre will get around a quarter of the additional 100 teachers and 100 nurses promised for the NT. (We need to find ways of keeping them in town, says Mrs Erlich, "trying to reduce the turnover".)
• The Office of Central Australia, with a senior staff member based in Alice Springs for each of the seven ministers , will " immediately" replace the current office – and staff – of the Office of the Chief Minister. That office will have a video conference link with Parliament House.
Comments Mrs Erlich: "It's more than just having communication – it's having influence, being able to actually get money for Central Australian projects, get government support for Central Australia."
• The Mandatory Sentencing Repeal Bill will go into the first sittings of a Labor government "under urgency" – possibly in October. (The CLP would retain the controversial laws.)
• A draft bill for Freedom of Information – consistently rejected by the CLP – will go before the public as quickly as possible.
• The Electoral Office will be moved out of the Chief Minister's Office "as quickly as possible, making it fully independent".
• Dr Toyne says while there won't be any "night of the long knives" for public servants ("we'd be as bad as the CLP") they will be reminded "that they are public servants and that they are not working for a political party". Positions will be filled on merit.
"We need to restore the separation of power between the political arm or the government and the bureaucratic arm, so public servants don't need to look over their shoulder to see whether they're pleasing their political masters or not," says Dr Toyne.
• A "fully agreed and resourced outcome" on liquor through a lock up style meeting involving all relevant ministers, and interested parties: "We're not going to have another gab fest. "We're going to deal with major objections there and then and get the show on the road."
• Labor would open up the town planning process, shrink the powers of the Minister to override the Development Authority, make it fully representative, give it a much greater autonomy from the Minister, and "link it much more closely to local government".
Says Mrs Erlich: "We have always said that local government is best placed to look at planning needs of the town. "Our delegates on the Development Consent Authority are not allowed to speak with council's voice, and I'd like to see some change there." Dr Toyne says "the money is there" for these programs: the spending is "based on the 2001/02 Budget papers in the format standard to all governments in Australia, "not the CLP wrinkle the numbers part of the Budget". Dr Toyne says: "Provided that Treasury confirms that the information in the Budget paper is accurate, and remains accurate, Access Economics is satisfied that the bottom line we say we're going to deliver in the first four years of our government is going to be achievable provided we stick to the line items as we put them forward. "The money is there. We will achieve the bottom lines we've announced." Dr Toyne says of the large debt run up by the previous governments: "If we don't start addressing that by first of all bringing the Budget into balance and then start making inroads on the debt levels, then we are going to be in trouble." Savings will be achieved by chopping "hundreds of items" including reducing the number of ministers from nine to seven, cutting millions spent on "glossy brochures" and ministerial entertainment and consultancies.



ART CENTRE: OPEN AND SHUT CASE! Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The new wing of the $1m arts and cultural centre in remote Balgo, built in part with ATSIC money, has been shut down just three weeks after its opening by Federal Arts Minister Richard Alston because ATSIC is cutting funding for staff. This is according to Tim Acker, the centre's manager for more than two and a half years. ATSIC regional manager Ross McDougall says a $90,000 annual payment for operational expenses in the past six years is being reduced to $46,000 this year and will be phased out altogether next year. ATSIC says it will continue to consider "one off" infrastructure grants on a needs basis, and allocated $200,000 for a staff house last fiscal year. But according to Mr Acker that house will probably be as empty as the new cultural centre because there is now no money to employ the staff member who would have lived in the dwelling. The tiny community – half way between Alice Springs and Broome – has made a name for itself on the national art scene with traditional paintings in brilliant colours and bold shapes. Mr Acker says last year the enterprise turned over $1.1m, some 70 per cent of which was paid direct to the artists. It is the only source of income, other than social security payments or CDEP wages, for four communities, about 1000 people. Warlayirti Artists Aboriginal Corporation is running the arts and the new cultural centre – both accommodated in the same building – as a single enterprise. Now a war of words is raging across the outback with emails zapping between Balgo, the ATSIC offices and Perth, Kununurra and Canberra – and the Alice Springs News, trying to get the facts and seeking comment. ATSIC says it put in, for infrastructure and seeding money, "in excess of $1 million" for one wing of the complex, namely the art centre, including more than $300,000 for bricks and mortar. But Mr McDougall says ATSIC didn't fund the new wing, the cultural centre, because "ATSIC's policy guidelines do not allow for funding of cultural centres – only art centres". The new wing was built with money from the Centenary of Federation Foundation, under the control of Senator Alston, as well as from the WA State Government. But no sooner had Senator Alston, hundreds of Aborigines from the wider region, and a string of VIPs from as far as Melbourne, Sydney, Alice and Broome rolled up their swags and departed after the opening ceremony on July 21, than the bombshell of the ATSIC funding cuts hit Balgo. A wrangle ensued about who told what to whom and when about the phasing down or phasing out of operational funding. Mr McDougall claims ATSIC signalled its intention to cut funds in 1999, but admits that no consent for this had been obtained from the community. Mr Acker says the arts and cultural organisation is resolved to become self sufficient, but not in the time frame forced on it by ATSIC. The $300,000 a year left over once artists have been paid is not adequate to run the operation in one of the nation's most remote regions. He says Balgo is one of the most expensive communities of Australia. "For example, a litre of diesel costs $1.70." The intended functions of the cultural centre – now closed — go well beyond the sale of art and would include glass works, crafts, recording of the local language, and documentation of the still intact Aboriginal culture in the region. Mr McDougall says Balgo is a "fantastic example of a community that has moved very close to self sufficiency" and the ATSIC money is now needed by art centres starting off. He says: "The Balgo Arts and now Cultural Centre have had a number of helpful suggestions and offers from ATSIC as to how they should staff their new cultural centre. "ATSIC has offered CDEP workers, paid for by ATSIC, to staff the centre. "These people would be an excellent source of staffing as they know the area intimately, would not require payment from Balgo Arts Centre, have the cultural intellectual capital necessary for a tourism centre and are looking for ways to acquire tourism industry experience. "ATSIC would like to see local Indigenous staff in the centre – currently staffed by all non Indigenous people – but, to date, this offer has been rejected," says Mr McDougall. However, there is no staff to supervise any CDEP workers for the cultural centre. There have been 12 Indigenous workers at the art centre over the last two years including casuals, permanent part time.Mr McDougall claims that "ATSIC has offered advice and suggestions" about the running of the centre, but "ultimately these are decisions for Balgo Arts Centre to make. "It is unfortunate that the group responsible for the centre's success – ATSIC – the same group which continues to offer infrastructure investments and business advice, should be criticised in this fashion." However the current impasse is resolved, the opening of the centre remains in memory as an occasion of pride and passion, reflecting the contemporary blend of cultures in Balgo (see Alice News, August 8 for the first part of this story). Senior Aboriginal law man Robert Wirrimanu and Catholic Bishop Christopher Saunders each played central roles in the ceremony.The two beliefs have lived side by side in Balgo since the Catholic mission was founded 60 years ago, but people didn't accept Christianity "until about 20 years ago," says Father Matt Digges. Originally from Sydney, he's spent the past 12 years in the Kimberleys. After the four decades of probation the locals "obviously made the decision, most of them, that Christianity is not incompatible with the basis of Aboriginal law". Now 80 per cent, more men than women, especially younger men " claim allegiance to the Church", says Father Digges – a much healthier average than across the nation. Some 25 per cent of the 400 locals attend church regularly. And he says they're playing a key role in the fight against the scourges tearing apart black communities across the outback: booze and petrol sniffing. Father Digges says sniffing returns in waves: "It's awful when it comes because it's so destructive of people's health. "The main people who reach out to the sniffers would be people who are actively involved in the church, church leaders." But more and more now the art is seen as a potent weapon against substance abuse and crime, touching the very core of the problem: poverty is ameliorated by the revenue from paintings; and the feeling of being at the bottom of the heap is overcome by the national and global recognition of black art. Canberra, ATSIC and the WA Government may well be saving a fortune down the track in law enforcement and health costs by spending money on the arts in the bush. Prominent Melbourne gallery owner Beverly Knight has known and worked with Balgo artists since the late ‘eighties. She says more than the money, pride in having their culture recognised is the painters' greatest reward: "They want you to learn and it's their way of teaching you. "You can look and see and learn about their country which is their whole reason for being." Says Jimmy Tchooga, president of the culture centre and a painter himself since the ‘eighties: "We write the story down in English, about the country" the painting relates to, but "only little bit of the story, not too much. "The sacred bits we keep secret." Another guest at the opening was Judith Ryan, senior curator of the National Gallery of Victoria. "There is a genuine pride in seeing their work hanging in a gallery," she says. "They like to see it with other art, they like to see it with the Australian Heidelberg school, Australian landscapes. "They like to see how their work is exhibited, how well it's looked after." The two women shared a bush donga for the weekend with Hetti Perkins, curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of NSW, and daughter of the late Aboriginal activist. The three are well equipped to cast light on the phenomenal rise of Aboriginal art, and its underlying puzzle: the reason why Aborigines produce paintings is fundamentally different to the reasons why whites are looking at them. The artists' subjects are mostly dreamtime stories that uninitiated viewers not only don't know, but are not permitted to know. And the lifestyle of the painters couldn't be more different from that of their patrons. Ms Knight, who confesses "I've never bought a painting looking at the story first, never," says time and again she has seen the ownership of an Aboriginal art work changing white people's lives: "When people have an Aboriginal art work they look at things differently. "They look at the good things. They read a little bit, they learn a little bit. "The change is quite extraordinary. "Their children are forcing them to do that, anyway, because children in schools now almost have a thirst for the knowledge, whereas when I went to school the Aboriginal culture was totally hidden. "I debated the white Australia policy when I went to school. "I was totally ignorant. I had no idea." Ms Perkins says it's the passion in the paintings that links the artist in one world, to the viewer in the other: "It's not just laying down the story, it's successfully representing the power of that story through its aesthetic interpretation. "So in that way there are two things converging."She says what overwhelms the non Aboriginal viewer is the " power and significance, without necessarily knowing the details". It's an agenda quite foreign to the standard fare of Aboriginal politics as digested by the mainstream media, and consumed on the eastern seaboard, a point not lost on Senator Alston. In Balgo there were no banners, no activists chanting slogans. He says the people there are "just interested in living their lives, making sure that they have facilities that will enable them to express themselves in the way they want to. "The further you are away from the problem the more you deal with it in abstract terms, and quite often, slogans, because the hard yards are not very sexy. "You're trying to cure trachoma, and you're a Fred Hollows, you're not going to be out there enjoying yourself, you're actually working in very tough communities and conditions, and you're doing work very few people would be able to do themselves. "So there are a lot of unsung heroes, but it's very difficult for the media, unless they travel out to these communities, to understand that what people are really concerned about, is how to improve their own lives. "They're not interested in political slogans and debates. "In fact, there is quite a deal of suspicion [in] some of the traditional structures. "What they're interested in is how they can actually make their lives more meaningful. "They desperately do want to find work and opportunities of looking after their families. "The way in which some of the artists have been very successful has meant that money has come back into these communities and been dispersed." So, against that background, what do the words "treaty" and "sorry" mean? "Well, I think they're part of a debate that will go on but I think unless and until we take a lot more notice of the Noel Pearsons of this world we won't really begin to tackle the fundamental problems." Senator Alston says the Aboriginal activist and Queensland lawyer is on the right track: "There's a debate going on in the Aboriginal community itself which I think is being led by Noel Pearson. "It's all very well to say that you've got to be concerned about addressing the perceptions. "I think the realities of [bush] community life are ones that should inspire all Australians to do something practical. "I think we're very generous as a nation in helping people in third world countries but we tend to overlook the fact that we have third world conditions in many parts of remote Australia. "A lot of people are thinking very deeply about what it is that''s important in trying to change the lives of people for the better. "It's not so much a matter of just leaving it to others, it's to work it out for themselves, it's trying to work in partnership with them and not to impose your own ideas on them. "I think everyone recognises there needs to be a greater concentration on the root causes of poverty, malnutrition, and that I think is where governments can really play a major part. "The cultural life, particularly when it becomes almost the sole employment generated in the community, can make a very big difference."

VOLUNTEERS: ALL HANDS TO THE PUMP! Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

The threat of a club folding or a popular activity disappearing will usually get volunteers coming out of the woodwork to save the day, reminding us of just how much they contribute to "quality of life" in Alice Springs. Last week local junior soccer was looking at an uncertain future, as its committee was down to just two members, the president and registrar, prepared to serve another 12 months. A plea went out to parents, with a warning that the competition next year could not be conducted without a viable committee.On Sunday, a successful AGM filled all positions bar the secretary's, laying the foundations of the 2002 season. But president Barbara Glover, grandmother of a current player and in her seventh year in the job, says next year she may look at "retiring gracefully", so the search will be on again. It's a story typical of many a community association. Unless you're on the inside, it's easy to overlook the effort involved.In the last few months, Mrs Glover says she has had to put in at least two hours a day, six days a week to keep the Junior Soccer Association going, and that's just her contribution. The association conducts 16 games of a Sunday, with each game involving two coaches, two team mangers, and two referees – that's 96 volunteer positions, not counting those required to run the canteen, and the rest of the association's office- bearers. Quite often the same individual fills more than one role. The new vice-president of the association is also a coach; the assistant secretary will coach a team next season.The association's big deficit at the moment is referees. From a pool of some 50, they are down to a dozen, and it will be essential to a smooth season next year for more to come on board.Lead-up to a season is also a demanding time for volunteers: three Saturday mornings are set aside for a team of 10 or so to measure and mark up the seven playing fields.Then each July, at show time, the goal posts have to be removed and reset, and the grounds cleared of debris from fireworks. A big and on-going job. A different intensity of effort is required for special events. No one knows this better than Bill van Dijk, executive officer of Henley-on-Todd, and secretary of the Rotary Club of Alice Springs.He says if the event doesn't get a "90 per cent plus" turnout from all three Rotary Clubs in town – plus help from the Lions Clubs. which is returned when they do the Camel Cup – "then we're struggling". Both the Yeperenye Federation Festival and the Alice Springs Festival are drawing on volunteers. Some 250 people have responded to the Yeperenye Festival's call for help, and organisers are now talking to service clubs about further help, especially, given their experience in events and crowd management, as supervisors of the larger volunteer team. Some volunteers are already involved in the festival's administration and artistic preparations, but the big need will be in the week leading up to September 8 – welcoming and helping visiting performers to settle in – and on the weekend itself – in a range of tasks from stage management to garbage collection. The Alice Springs Festival, which starts this Friday, is and has been almost entirely a volunteer effort. Grants from Arts NT and the Alice Town Council (two lots of $10,000) have allowed the employment of a coordinator for 12 weeks and will meet some of the festival expenses.But a big part of the coordinator's job has been to attract further sponsorship, which has come mostly in the form of in kind support, from local businesses and arts organisations, the latter mostly voluntary bodies.Sonja Maclean de Silva, in the coordinator's seat, says an energetic and able committee had made the concept of the festival a reality, but when she started work some nine weeks ago there was still no structure, no program. That the big picture – a program catering for a wide range of tastes and promoting an impressive array of talents – and the little picture – right down to table decorations for Friday's masked ball – have come together so quickly is down in good part to the committee members and a host of other volunteers."If we'd had to pay for all the resources we've used, we'd have been way out of our league," says Ms Maclean."There's not a person involved, including myself, who hasn't given their own time."With an event like this, you have to love it, or you're in trouble." It's a different kind of love perhaps that gets people putting up their hands for a whole range of vital behind-the-scenes services. Volunteers make up the Red Cross' disaster response teams. They train once a month, in three teams of 10, to be able to respond to an event like a jet crash with multiple casualties or fatalities. In an excellent example of collaboration with a giant corporation, Tele-Cross sees Telstra employees volunteering to come to work early and ring around incapacitated people in the community to make sure they are all right. If someone doesn't respond, they alert the Red Cross who then send out a team to visit the person. Meals-on-wheels is also a lifeline to people who are home- bound and incapacitated for whatever reason. Four volunteers in two cars deliver the meals to some 70 people each weekday.Another well-known voluntary service of the Red Cross is the " mobile shop" doing a twice daily round of hospital wards. A lesser known service is their palliative care team, who visit the terminally ill to provide companionship and help. Red Cross also offers training and supervision to people referred to them by Centrelink: doing voluntary work can fulfil "mutual obligation" requirements and often helps people back into the workforce. Some activities are more difficult to find people for than others: Rotary struggles to get enough people selling tickets in their Melbourne Cup sweep, the proceeds of which fund their John Hawkins Memorial scholarship. Red Cross also find it hard to get enough volunteers selling Territorian Lottery tickets in the shopping centres. Mr van Dijk says all service clubs have experienced a downturn in membership. He suggests that the biggest problem is time: " People are willing, but they're often busy at work, working longer hours than they used to, and they're already giving a lot of voluntary time." Rotary's weekly meetings are also a big commitment in a busy schedule. Red Cross' various programs require some 100 volunteers a week; many are retired people, but not exclusively. The oldest volunteer at the moment is 84 years old. High school students are being exposed to voluntary work as part of the curriculum; Red Cross is just one of the organisations to tap their youthful energy, and regional manager Craig Hodge says there are plans to relaunch Junior Red Cross in the town's secondary schools.Mr Hodge says volunteers are the most important people in Red Cross: "Without them we wouldn't exist and the community would be much worse off."They can never be praised enough." The St Vincent de Paul Society is one of the first ports of call for the poor and homeless in town. The society has a confidential assistance program run out of its "centre of charity" on Railway Terrace, every weekday from 9am till noon, and on Saturday mornings. Members working in pairs also visit people in their own home, in particular to offer budget counselling.Material assistance – mostly food and clothing – comes from donations and the profits of the St Vinny's shop. Two paid employees and some 50 to 60 volunteers carry out the society's regular work. More come forward at Christmas to deliver food hampers.They are not necessarily Catholics: "We are open to anyone who wants to help," says secretary David Rielly. "We have volunteers from the Uniting Church and Anglicans."We recently had a backpacker from Germany helping us for a few weeks."Once again, a lot of the volunteers are retired people, but on Saturday morning people who work full-time also do their bit in the assistance office. Mr Rielly says some volunteers have put in 20 years of service.

RACIAL WARS WITH GUN IN PANTS. Preview by KIERAN FINNANE.

Talking, writing, making art about race relations in Alice Springs and Central Australia is generally approached with as much trepidation as a high wire act.Train Dancing, a theatre piece opening next Tuesday at Araluen as part of the Alice Springs Festival, throws fear and delicacy out the window, and goes straight for the race relations' jugular.The script grew out of a poem by Alice writer Michael Watts printed in these pages some years ago after three Aboriginal people were run over in separate incidents on the train tracks south of the Gap. The poem was remarkable for its imaginative empathy for both " actors" in such a tragedy. It was suggested that it would be the driver's "worst nightmare, to run over someone". The victim had been on a bender and was trying to get home: "If you walk on the road,/ The cops will get you,/ If you head through the scrub,/Who knows what's waiting?/ So it's the railway track, /" and "That beckoning chasm of sleep". In the process of developing the script, the stance of the original poem has all but disappeared.The train and the driver have become the bearers, metaphorically, of devastating colonising forces in the Centre. The language used to describe these forces is graphically sexual; they are seen as endlessly repeated acts of rape. Murder is just the next step: running over an Aboriginal man on the track becomes a pre-meditated act. Watts is pulling no punches: Train Dancing is a stomach- churning challenge to white Australians to accept moral responsibility for the ravages of colonisation. Whether it will succeed in this is another matter.The writing, often richly lyrical, in passages Shakespearean, is also excessive, but then excess is part of the logic of the piece. Many people will probably find Train Dancing hard to take, even outrageous, but it does force you to ask yourself, is it because I don't really want to approach the full ugliness of the truth?My main reservation concerns the representation of the victims, a young Aboriginal couple, who are seen as tragic but ennobled in their despair – a romanticisation not permitted elsewhere. The script is tightly directed by Craig Mathewson, with a "less is more", physical theatre approach.Live music on stage (Anne Harris on piano, Amber Barrington on violin, Django Nou on drums) adds greatly to the atmosphere of the piece.There are standout performances from Jacinta Castle and Steve Hodder as the young Aboriginal couple. For two relatively inexperienced actors, they pull off their challenging roles with remarkable grace, ease, and depth of feeling. Castle also reveals herself as an excellent singer. Roger Menadue and Barbara Saunders have a more difficult task. Their roles are more confusing (a deliberate strategy by Watts, which is tough on the audience too but serves to emphasise the metaphorical nature of his narratives) and, on the whole, utterly repelling. They pull them off admirably. Train Dancing is a risk taking experiment and as such deserves commendation and serious consideration. Mathewson stresses that his company wants feedback: they hope to further refine and develop this piece which just five weeks ago did not exist in any form.

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