ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
October 24, 2001.



SEWAGE PONDS TO STAY. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Building another evaporation pond is the NT Government's "preferred option" - proposed by PAWA - for dealing with health and environmental problems at the Alice Springs sewage plant. This puts on the back burner plans for a treatment plant and horticultural storage dam at the airport – estimated to cost $8.5m – which would have avoided the waste of an estimated two billion litres of water a year, and replaced all the ponds currently occupying some two square kilometres of prime real estate. A spokesman for PAWA Minister John Ah Kit says while all options, including a pipeline for treated effluent to a proposed vineyard near the airport, remain under consideration, "we are constrained by the wreck of a budget we were left". He says spending $2m to $3m on a new pond would be "a solution both financially responsible and achieving important objectives". These are mainly the control of mosquitoes which can carry the potentially fatal Australian Encephalitis disease which struck down several Central Australians in the recent past. However, the new pond is not likely to be ready before the summer, the main mosquito breeding time. The spokesman says the government is aware that recycling is a more appropriate solution, considering that water is a "finite resource" in the region. Under such a scheme treated effluent would be injected into underground water basins and be ready for retrieval as drinking water in 20 to 50 years' time. "At the moment we don't think that would get us through the cost difficulties," says the spokesman. Meanwhile Glenn Marshall, coordinator of the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), a member of the Urban Water Management Strategy Reference Group, says: "the budget ‘black hole' should not push the government down a route which is unacceptable to the community, provides no return for the money invested, and only defers overflows to the swamp for a few more years. "The public said clearly at PAWA's community workshop last year that they did not want any further evaporation ponds which waste Central Australia's most precious resource, water," says Mr Marshall. "Other options are a major water efficiency program in the town, short term irrigation of pasture grasses, longer term irrigation of agricultural crops, and irrigation of the golf course and ovals in the town."All of current measures attempting to deal with the sewage disposal problems are moving too slowly, and a serious health problem is once again looming with the onset of summer." Mr Marshall says despite pumping, "there is still 390 mm of water in the Ilparpa swamp, and summer is rapidly approaching. "Currently the pump is drawing it down slowly, but it may be another two months – Christmas – before it is dry, if no rain occurs. "We visited the ponds last week and they were overflowing again due to the rain of the past week. "The Ilparpa Swamp Rehabilitation Group has developed a good plan to manage reeds (and hence mozzies) but it relies on the swamp being dry enough to get access for slashing, controlled burns and spraying reeds. DRAIN"One of the most important things is to install the gravity drain under Ilparpa Road to allow rapid draining of current water and of summer rains (which are predicted as part of the four year wet cycle). "Construction is currently awaiting a 'yes' or 'no' response from native title holders, who have been briefed by government many weeks ago. "If a yes is given, the drain could be in place within a month. "No-one at the meeting last week knew the current status of that decision. "There are numerous government departments (and others like ALEC) with responsibility for various aspects of the issue, but PAWA is not vigorously coordinating the whole thing. "The Department of Primary Industries is examining horticulture reuse options, Transport and Works is constructing the draining, the Department of Lands and community groups are actioning reed eradication works," he says."In my opinion PAWA needs to be vigorously driving this process to speed up the decisions and actions. I believe the NT government should be saying to PAWA 'this is an important community issue, PAWA is the manager of the problem' and hence needs to be more focused on solving the serious issues at Ilparpa swamp. "For example, PAWA at last week's meeting was not sure of the status of the native title holder drain decision, because Transport and Works has been given responsibility for it. Yet it is this issue which is the bottleneck preventing rapid draining of the swamp by PAWA and hence reed eradication works commencing." Mr Marshall says Ilparpa residents have commented that concrete culverts were delivered to the side of Ilparpa Road in the week prior to the NT election, and haven't moved since. Mr Marshall says rapid action would "substantially reduce the Australian Encephalitis risk from mosquitoes this summer. "After all, if we end up with more people in intensive care from Australian Encephalitis – like last summer – PAWA and others will have some serious explaining to do." Mr Marshall also says a demand management program would buy "a bit more time for the town to enact a long-term effluent reuse scheme". Equally, he says there are sound economic reasons for measures to reduce water consumption, which would reduce sewage volumes overflowing to the swamp, and possibly halt it altogether: "It currently costs PAWA more to get water to people's taps than they charge for it. "Consumers are charged around 60 cents per 1000 litres, but it apparently costs PAWA about $1.20. "If PAWA saves water, it saves money." Mr Marshall says in Kalgoorlie in 1994-95 the WA Water Corporation spent $2 million on water efficiency measures, and saved $6 million in three years. He says the measures included supplying and installing to houses, free of charge, low flow shower heads, dual flush toilets, mulch and native trees. Audits were done of schools, hospitals and other government buildings followed by "retrofitting" those. "The customers save water and money, so does PAWA, and the government obviously revels in the glory of the program. "Everyone is a winner," says Mr Marshall. "Such a program is due to start soon in Alice Springs anyway. "ALEC has suggested that PAWA should consider investing additional money into this program, perhaps an additional $1m to $2m, beyond what would have been spent anyway."

ABORIGINAL LAND TITLE FRUSTRATES COMMERCE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

As the election debate heats up about the commercial use of Aboriginal land, no area highlights the issues better than the Iwupataka land trust, just west of Alice Springs. The trust occupies as Aboriginal freehold nearly 300 square kilometres in the picturesque West MacDonnells valley (photo above). Sometimes referred to as the "golden mile" for its string of publicly funded outstations in some of The Centre's choicest locations, just minutes from town, the land is ideal for enterprises ranging from rural living to hobby farms, Aboriginal art ventures and cultural tourism. The dozens of houses have been built with public funds allocated by ATSIC or the Indigenous Housing Authority of the NT to Aboriginal corporations. However, according to resident John Carroll, neither the corporations nor their members can use the land as collateral for loans, nor can they make any decisions independent from the trustees for the entire area. Says Mr Carroll: "Everybody comes under the land trust, and all the members of the trust own the whole area. "I don't know how you can call it ‘owners' because no-one has got tenure to it at present. "It's ridiculous. People are told where they can live out there [but they are not given a] bordered and boundaried area."Mr Carroll says he would like to "do my own thing rather than being part of a big communal thing". He lives 27.5 km from Alice Springs, on the northern side of the Hermannsburg Road. "I would like to have something up on the wall that says, this area belongs to me. "I could then go to local businesses and say, this is what I've got, it's a great area where you could start small hobby farms, the soil's pretty good and there's a water pipeline out there now. "I'd like to look at the possibility of leasing little areas, putting a couple of little units or a house here and there. "Furniture companies pay big money for tree plantations. "But when they don't see a certificate of tenure such projects can't go on. "People in Australia are getting side tracked by bodies like ATSIC and the Central Land Council." Mr Carroll says the public is told "we've got Aboriginal people back on their land, we're helping them to do this and set up that, when, really, they haven't got people back on their land, they haven't given people back their land. "The land councils are the trustees. "We have the Iwupataka Land Trust committee but the trustee of the land is the Central Land Council (CLC). "A lot of the people who live out there have to be, under the Land Rights Act, an incorporated body [under the Commonwealth Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations]. "Most of the associations' common seals are kept by the CLC. "We asked them for our seal so we could give it to our accountant and they refused to release it." Mr Carroll says he could not get an answer from CLC director David Ross as to whether the land could be leased by a private company. "We've got some great water holes at the back, just on the Simpsons Gap National Park boundary. "Fish Hole is beautiful. But as things stand at the moment we can't do anything with it. "We need to have control over our land. "We're never going to be up there unless we do. "There are risks but we need to take them. "The CLC keeps telling us Aboriginal people don't want to mortgage their land. "Says who? The CLC?" A spokesperson for the Central Land Council said that the CLC had received requests from other members of the Iwupataka Land Trust and was currently assisting the members with their enquiries about land use. However to date no request or proposal had been received from Mr Carroll.

TIME NOW TO RECLAIM THE DAY? Column by ANN CLOKE.

I decided years ago that when people politely ask, "How are you?" it's no use giving an in-depth answer. The enquirer doesn't want to know about aches and pains, depression or stress. So, no matter HOW I am, I'm always (ostensibly) great! If I'm not, then gardening is extremely therapeutic. It's such a wonderful time of the year: the nurseries are full of plants and seedlings and brilliant ideas for our gardens. You can guarantee just when all seems to be blooming in the garden of life, something untoward happens. I'd been busy fertilising and replanting garden beds just before the detective knocked on the door – he introduced himself and asked if I'd like to see his ID. (That hadn't actually occurred to me!) He then produced his badge and explained his presence. The house to house appeal in the immediate area was to ask all residents if anyone had seen anything unusual, anyone different, on that particular morning. David and I have lived in this house for some 15 years: this is the first time that we've been door-knocked by the police, and seen "the community assisting the police" policy in action. I was told what had happened and shown an identikit image. The sketch reveals a clean cut, well presented male of Aboriginal appearance somewhere in his late teens. The particular incident was really disturbing. A schoolgirl, 15 years old, had been assaulted in broad daylight on a bright Wednesday morning. It was a blatant attack. She was pulled from her bicycle whilst taking the short cut through the power house road to school. She was lucky – she escaped. Someone MUST know the perpetrator – he's dangerous, and has to be caught. It is still a talking point. People are horrified that something like this can happen here. What is also distressing is that there has been no follow-up through the media because there is, at this point, nothing new to report. Police Media Liaison Officers told me that they are acting on information received, and several lines of enquiry are being pursued. Obviously if anyone has additional information regarding that particular incident (or any other) the police would like to know. As we head towards Friday, October 26, and the internationally recognised Reclaim the Night march (Alice News, Oct 17), it is sickening to recognise that there is also a need for some sectors of society to reclaim the day. This rally provides an opportunity to join together, show strength and solidarity and to protest against all violent acts towards women and children. Any person, female or male, young or old, SHOULD be able to ride, or walk, to school and elsewhere, especially in daylight hours, without fear of attack. I was back in the rockery with seedlings and thoughts when Alex (Dial-A-Garbo) came to collect the rubbish. He commented that: "You can be anywhere when you're in your garden". Usually, I am. Ours is full of colour, secluded and peaceful. After the detective's visit nothing seemed as rosy somehow.

DEEPLY GRATEFUL FOR THEIR 'QUIET MIND' IN THE ALICE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

After seven years of living in a single room in Cairo, Mattu Kamara and her five children now live in a three bedroom house in Alice Springs. Her ten-year-old daughter, Lumbah, is going to school for the first time in her life. Teenagers Abdullah and Fatma have entered high school, having completed four years of schooling between them.They're loving it. Terrible worry has slipped from Mattu's shoulders: she knows that if she, as the children's sole parent, gets sick here, there'll be help at hand, the children won't starve. The things average Australians take for granted are received as wonderful blessings by this family from Sierra Leone, one of the world's very poorest nations. Of the six, only Mattu knows her country. She left it as a newly wed to join her husband, Suliman, in Egypt in November 1982. She was 19 years old. Her father had been chief of her village but had died when she was a baby. Her mother has since been killed in Sierra Leone's protracted civil war. Mattu was the youngest of seven children. She doesn't know if any of her siblings are still alive. Suliman was studying law in Cairo. They lived off the money he would earn in Germany during semester breaks. Once he'd finished his studies, he was supposed to return home but by this time the couple had four children with another on the way and they dreaded returning to the violence and poverty of Sierra Leone. At the end of 1992 Suliman left Egypt, where his visa had expired, to look for work in Saudi Arabia, intending to send for his family once he'd found a position. There he was arrested for being without a visa, and despite informing police that his family were all in Cairo, he was sent back to Sierra Leone. The very night of his arrival, his native village was attacked by rebel forces and he was wounded. He escaped into the bush and was later taken to hospital where he died from his wounds and the complications of sugar diabetes. Mattu says the only way she and the children survived back in Cairo was through the kindness of a friend of her husband's, Mahmod Zahran, a man from Sierra Leone married to an Egyptian woman. He took them in, offering them one room in his flat. She got work as a housekeeper, 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week. The money she earnt though was not enough to keep them. The two eldest children, Sam and Abdullah, also looked for work. With their help, the family got by, but there was not enough money to rent even a two-room flat. Without residents' visas, the children had no right to go to school. Mattu and Mahmod, whom the children called "uncle", did their best to teach them to read and write Arabic at home. (Mattu's native language is Menday but her schooling in Sierra Leone was in English, which she speaks well.) If Egyptian police had caught Mattu without a resident's visa, she would have been expelled. "God helped me because I was never asked," says Mattu. In nine years of daily struggle, Mattu had never heard of the United Nations. When she finally did, through a friend from Mali, she applied for assistance. She wasn't even thinking of resettlement, she just wanted a "blue card' which would entitle her to some financial help. Eventually a UN official proposed she should apply for resettlement, but not before suggesting she should return to Sierra Leone. Mattu refused. She hopes one day to return; it pains her that her children don't know the country they come from; but she doesn't want to return with empty hands, to a village that's been raised to the ground, to possibly no surviving family, and to certain danger, if not terror and death, for herself and her children. The official asked her whether she knew anyone in the US, Canada or Australia. She knew nobody. Her application, together with that of four other young men from Sierra Leone, went to Australia. After some six months they got news they had all been accepted: they would be going initially to Alice Springs, where the Muslim community was willing to help them settle in. They were all supposed to go together but it took a little longer for accommodation to be organised for Mattu's family, so the four young men went ahead. Mattu was anxious at first: the country and language would be very strange to her family and if anything happened to her, who would be there to give the children advice? The anxiety was eased when they arrived in Alice one evening last June: their four "brothers" from Sierra Leone were waiting for them, together with a Centrelink officer, the Imam from the Alice Springs mosque and Jawad Khan, president of the local Muslim community. They were taken straight to the house where they now live. It had been furnished with donations from the community; a meal of Indian food had been prepared for them. "The children were very happy when they saw this house," recalls Mattu. From living in one room they now had a house with three bedrooms, a bathroom and big garden for them to play in.Three days later the four younger children started school. With limited English the work has been hard but they're all making rapid progress. Mattu says the teachers give them "special care". "I have special care too," she says. She's referring to the Imam, a regular visitor and helper, and to her friend, Fran Woods who takes her to the Migrant Resource Centre and who's helped her plant a garden – vegetables, citrus trees, flowers (Mattu's family were farmers, growing coffee, bananas and cacao). Mattu is deeply grateful for the help she has received, but says "I hope we can soon help ourselves to change our life." Her first task is to improve her education:"To put your family up, you must first have education, then you can do something for yourself."That's why I was really frustrated for my children in Egypt. "If you don't have education now it is difficult for any door to open to you." Have the children made friends at school? They say yes; they like most of their schoolmates. The youngest have experienced some teasing, but Mattu says that can happen anywhere where your colour is different. It sometimes happened in Cairo too, but mostly people were friendly, willing to help. "Anywhere you go, you can find enemies and you can find friends, if you know how, if you open your heart to people."Mattu thanks everybody and thanks Allah for this chance to change her life. As she speaks about this, the tears roll down her cheeks. "We have a lot of people in Africa who need help. I would like them to have the quiet mind that I have now. "If the government of Australia has a way to help people like me, I ask them to do it."

FROM R.A.A.F. TO C.L.P.: RON SAYS 'I'LL LISTEN.' Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

On August 19 CLP candidate for Lingiari, Ron Kelly, found his diary had suddenly become empty: the ministerial advisor for then Minister for Regional Development, Tim Baldwin, was out of a job, quite free to pursue his own ambition of representing the people of Lingiari in Canberra. He says he's been "wearing out his shoe leather" in the electorate ever since, listening to what people feel are the issues. Mr Kelly came to the Territory with the RAAF in 1988. When he quit the force after 13 years, he and his wife decided to stay in the Territory and make Katherine their home. He subsequently became Telstra's area manager, in charge of Telstra's reconstruction in the wake of Katherine's 1998 floods. He's been an active member of the CLP since 1994. He says: "We are not dictated to by southern political parties, although we have affiliations with some. "We certainly believe that development of the Territory must come first. It's not a great time for the CLP though, is it? In terms of his own political career, his timing has been unfortunate. "I disagree," says Mr Kelly. "We now have a Labor Government in the Territory for the first time and I, certainly with all other Territorians, will be waiting very eagerly to asses their performance. "But we need to have a party that listens to Territorians and takes their concerns forward, rather than having representatives of Federal parties coming to the Territory and telling us what to do." As for Aboriginal issues "what we've been doing for the last 26 years in terms of Aboriginal self-determination clearly hasn't been right. "We haven't got the developments and improvements that perhaps the rest of Australia has enjoyed. More of the same is not the way forward. "I agree with Aboriginal ownership of land and I agree that there is native title associated with land in the Territory, I've got no problem with that. "All I'm saying is that if people wish to develop country and have enterprises on their land then they should be given the opportunity to do so."He laments the lack of tourism ventures, pastoralism and mining on Aboriginal land, providing sustainable income – "real jobs, not CDEP jobs" – for Aboriginal people. How would he go about changing that? Mr Kelly: "I am prepared to sit and talk with anybody at any time. "I think we need to set aside some of the differences we've had and just pick some projects which we could start on. "People could make the choice, do we want to have eco-tourism on our land or don't we? When Mr Kelly dropped into the Central Land Council during his recent visit to Alice, director David Ross was unavailable, but Mr Kelly left his contacts and an open invitation to talk. Regional development, the focus of his previous role with the former CLP Government, was not the party's strongest point. In Alice there was a widespread perception that's the CLP's commitment was primarily to Darwin, and remote areas have certainly been neglected. Mr Kelly protests that Alice in 10 and particularly Desert Knowledge were projects that the CLP were "pushing very hard". (Desert Knowledge had a promise from the CLP of a mere $750,00O over three years in the lead-up to the election, compared to a promise of $10m from Labor for the Desert People's Knowledge Centre as a first step in the process. The project will be the focus of a reception by the Chief Minister at the end of the month.) Mr Kelly also says the Alice to Darwin railway will bring "jobs, growth and transport" through the Territory, albeit with some "unique challenges" for the road transport industry in Alice Springs. What issues were a priority for most people he talked to? Australia's commitment of troops to "the war against terrorism" has been uppermost in people mind's. "Like any Australian, I don't want to see Australian soldiers injured or killed but we have to be there," says Mr Kelly. "I can only hope that those who go away come back safely." The aviation crisis is a worry, especially for the tourism industry in Alice. On this, Mr Kelly and colleague, CLP Senate candidate Nigel Scullion, made a presentation in Alice of plans by a consortium of Territory businesses centred on Nhulunbuy to get a regional airline up and flying, servicing an Alice - Darwin - Nhulunbuy - Cairns circuit and drawing on the presently grounded Flight West fleet. Roads – the Tanami Road, the mooted East-West Highway, and flood-proofing of the South Stuart highway – are seen as a "big issue" in the electorate: "We definitely need greater Federal spending on roads in the Territory. "Funding the NT on a per capita basis will never give us the money we need to look after our roads." Health and education have also been widely raised as priorities. Mr Kelly was concerned that Labor's promise to withdraw finds from Category One private schools would have an impact on "an awful lot of Territory students living in remote parts, whether they be communities or cattle stations, whose access to education is through boarding schools". Isn't he talking about a tiny minority here? "It's still a choice," says Mr Kelly. Isn't the critical issue in the Territory one of funding a strong state system, particularly one that can deliver on Indigenous education? In this regard, Mr Kelly says the focus should be on attendance: "If the Federal Government were to concentrate on programs to lift school attendance – what we've been doing in the past has obviously not worked – then even more pressure would be brought to bear on state governments to match that with the necessary facilities." Access to health services for all Territorians is important but "we have to put the work in to prevent people from getting sick in the first place". "There has been some good work on healthy living, especially in communities, but it hasn't hit the mark. "That is by far the most important area we have to address."

CRICKET: WICKETS AT LAST!

Cricketers in Central Australia may have had to wait a week for the A grade season to get underway, but it was all worthwhile: 700 runs were amassed in two days on the turf and 29 wickets were taken. On Saturday Wests met Rovers in a challenge of grand final dimensions. Each side had a point to prove and Rovers wasted no time with first use of the bat by generating 167 runs. The main influence on Rovers' tame scoring rate was the enigmatic Ken Vowles who snared three for 27 off seven overs. He was supported by Peter Lake who finished with 2/24; and Peter Tabart in taking 1/27. But with the bat, Sunraysia recruit, Ty Rayfield entered the fray early and recorded 42. He showed his true worth, and will become a focus in the Blues' surge towards a premiership. This was followed by useful knocks by skipper Mark Nash with 23, and then Peter Kleinig with 30, which created (at least) a target. West went to the crease with Rob Wright scoring 17, before Shane Law and Brian Manning came together and stitched up the game. In an amazing display of his hidden talent Manning literally took the bowling attack apart. He scored 60 and within the innings were a plethora of fine shots, including a six that will take a good batsman to eclipse. At the other end Law played a supportive but essential innings to end on 33. Later in the order Peter Lake contributed with 25 to ensure a Westies' win in 36 overs, with the loss of six wickets. In the field Rovers toiled, but were well led by their captain Nash who pocketed 4/18. On day two the pitch held up, and the Federal clash with RSL was one worth viewing. Federal went to the crease first and put together 9/ 183 in their 40 overs. Rory Hood played up to expectations with an skilful 47. Shaun Lynch compiled 35; and Mark Schmidt, Tom Clements and Jarrod Wapper contributed 13 each. With the ball, it was Cameron Robertson who did the damage by taking 4/41 off eight overs. Jamie Smith was productive with 2/31 off six overs and Graham Schmidt chimed in with 1/33. Federal seemed to take control early in the second dig when they had RSL 2/45 off the first 10 overs. However, in his usual manner Schmidt was able to wear down the attack, and in making 49, created a window of opportunity for the Razzle. Jamie Smith proved worthwhile in his knock of 27, but then the real bullets were fired. Luke Rowe put together a valued 36, while Luke Southam played a masterful innings of 56, to snare the game. Southam was in such touch that he blasted the Federal trump card Jarrod Wapper for 20 off one over. Wapper ended the day with a dismal 1/63 and must have wondered what happened to those halcyon days of playing the West Indies on Traeger Park. From the Demons' point of view though, he was not alone. RSL scored 189 for the loss of four wickets in 32 overs, and so said, "thank you" for the premiership points. This weekend cricket returns to Traeger Park. In the last of the one day fixtures until mid December, Rovers play Federal at headquarters. At Albrecht Oval Westies will face RSL.

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.