ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
March 6, 2002.



TOWN COUNCIL: AND NOW, THE DISMISSAL? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Alice Springs Town Council must implement recommendations from the Department for Local Government or risk suspension "to prevent further damage to the standing of the council," according the Minister for Central Australia, Peter Toyne. Despite adopting recommendations to undergo counselling about staff relationships, and other issues, the council last week decided not to renew the contract of CEO Nick Scarvelis when it expires in September. Mr Scarvelis was the main target of a motion of no confidence in senior staff, moved by Deputy Mayor Jenny Mostran earlier this year. Council finance committee chairman Dave Koch says Mr Scarvelis hasn't been sacked, he's simply been told his contract won't be renewed. He is free to re-apply for the position, which may well get a new job description. This, says Dr Toyne, isn't in line with the government report dealing with uncertainties about the council's budget surplus. Says Dr Toyne: "Recommendation number six called for the aldermen and the senior staff to be available in good faith for a mediation process. "It would have the aim of resolving any differences and bad feelings of any sort. "Quite clearly the council can't adopt this recommendation and then move almost immediately to indicate that they won't renew the contract for Nick Scarvelis. "The Minister is very determined to make sure that all recommendations, including the one that says they should sit down and mediate, are followed, with a genuine desire to work towards a resolution," says Dr Toyne. "The recommendations have been adopted by the council and they have to be seen through in full. The bottom line is if the Minister is not satisfied that the recommendations have been taken on board by the council, we've got the option of suspending the council." The council decision on Mr Scarvelis' contract was made behind closed doors but the Alice News understands it was carried on the votes of Ald Koch as well as Aldermen Geoff Bell, Bob Corby, Samih Habib, Michael Jones and Jenny Mostran. LOST CONTRACTThe issue is fast moving into the realm of comic opera: one council insider says that a signed copy of Mr Scarvelis' contract cannot be found. Meanwhile, the CEO is understood to be considering an unfair dismissal claim. Ald Koch says he understands that the council was due to have advised Mr Scarvelis one year clear of the end of the contract whether or not it would be renewed. This deadline has been missed by some months. Ald Koch also says he is determined to get the council's financial reporting and decision making on an even keel. "It's a bit like Fawlty Towers," he says. "I am used to clean, precise business procedures. "I've been on council five and a half years and at no time did I actually know where we stood financially. I don't like being part of this. I have a very good business reputation and I don't like it being tarnished by inefficiency."

TOWN COUNCIL: WHAT VALUE ELECTION PROMISES?

The issues currently tearing apart local government in Alice Springs were well and truly on the agenda two years ago, during the campaign for the election that gave birth to the current town council. How long does it take elected members, the ratepayers may well ask, to fix problems that have been staring them in the face for a very long time? Issues of budget formulation, financial control and who's running the show – the senior staff or the elected members – were hotly debated in early 2000. Alderman David Koch, who was being criticised at that time for his poor record of meeting attendance, was not only re-elected, but subsequently retained his chairmanship of the crucial finance committee. Ald Koch now works in town and he says his meeting attendance is "exemplary". Deputy Mayor Jenny Mostran, who is in the eye of the current storm as the alderman moving the motion of no confidence in the senior staff, in 2000 campaigned on her skills as a team builder and political independence. But a year later she joined the Country Liberal Party and is now on its Central Council. Ald Geoff Harris, who did not seek re-election, and Ald Susan Jefford, who successfully did, caused a huge row by going public in the Alice News with allegations that elected members were getting the mushroom treatment from the executive officers. These officers were being hotly defended by Ald Fran Erlich, now Mayor Kilgariff, and Ald Meredith Campbell, who was one of four sitting aldermen not seeking re-election. Ald Geoff Miers, who had the council's best record of meeting attendance for two terms (and had been a regular face in the public gallery in the four years preceding his election), was standing for Mayor – and missed out. With more than half the aldermen likely to be fresh to local government, and a new Mayor, Ald Miers said early in 2000 that there would be a need for "experience at the helm". "It will be critical to foster good working relationships – with aldermen, officers and most importantly the community – from the start." Ald Jefford, despite characterising her first term on council as "entirely frustrating", said new aldermen will arrive on council with "their good ideas", as she did four years earlier, and they will be "blasted by the organisation and frustrated at every turn". They would need some experienced aldermen there to help them, said Ald Jefford. "It takes a couple of years to understand how it works. "I started off with high hopes of a lot of things changing very rapidly. "There was a lot of support in the community and from some other aldermen for improvement in the town's waste management. "I set up the Waste Management Committee, wrote up its charter myself, did some of the work normally done by the council officers, to get the ball rolling. "Every idea that the committee has put forward has been met with opposition from the officers – it won't work, it costs too much. We have got nowhere. When people stop me in the supermarket to ask how our waste management plans are progressing, I am embarrassed to be part of this organisation." Waste management has now been fixed, although the dump is still in a highly inappropriate location, but other issues have not. Ald Jefford said the officers "have their own ideas" and regard the elected aldermen as "a nuisance". "The officers set the agenda. If we are aware of an issue, we can ask for a report. "A report turns into a project, then a consultancy, it's all a clever way of doing nothing. "Council has gone too far down the path of consultancies. We have had one on just about every issue. I don't know if we've had any action." Ald Harris said he had been "defeated by the system", claiming aldermen do not have control of a single important area of council policy, including the budget. "On the few occasions when my requests for reform or information were supported by my fellow aldermen, the bureaucrats ensured that nothing really happened." Ald Harris said in the lead-up to the 2000 council poll that any action proposed by an alderman requiring significant reform, effort or thinking is "almost impossible" to achieve. "Look at shade over play equipment in council parks. There is not a single alderman who doesn't think we should have shade over play equipment, we've had a consultancy, but from that initiative I can't point to one piece of equipment that is now shaded."Four years ago I would never have anticipated how it could take so long to achieve so little." (Shades have since gone up – two in the park adjacent to Araluen and one in Gosse Street.) Ald Harris said in a comment piece directed at people thinking of standing for the 2000 election: "So you're going to run for Council because you think you can do a much better job: make sure you go in with your eyes open. "New elected members can expect to be congratulated by senior bureaucrats. "You will be shown around the Council offices and told, ‘if you want anything done, just come to me.' "You will be feted and your ego stroked; ingratiation will be the first approach. "In the first three months, you will be given (for your own benefit) a massive amount of information to read. There will be at least three inches of paperwork for each meeting. "Not many elected members will have the stamina. The clear message is, trust in your senior Council bureaucrats because you cannot hope to read enough to keep up with us. "You have three options here: admit defeat (this is the easiest path); read all of the papers (and give your family a taste of things to come); or ask the officers to summarise the important information from each report into a paragraph. "Please note that option three will be met with staunch resistance. Your fellow elected members (who haven't read the papers) will call you ‘a woos' and those who have already taken the easy path will accuse you of making extra work for the poor Council officers. "The Council officers will then explain to you how summarising will be impossible because everything that they have given you is desperately important, provides context, etc etc. "Three months in and the pleasantries are over. "The elected members have been sussed by the senior Council officers. "There are those that have fallen into line and will support the bureaucrats by rubber-stamping reports and recommendations. "Hopefully, for democracy's sake, there is not already a solid majority of elected members in this category. Now it's time for the officers to consolidate their power and control. "This is the bit that you always thought was funny on Yes Minister. Who's laughing now? "Throughout the year, vigorous debate will be encouraged about whether to give $500 to this charity or that. "Meanwhile, information about a long term financial plan is promised for four years and never seems to arrive … "In my experience over 90 per cent of the agenda items discussed by elected members are generated by unelected Council officers. "This leaves very little time and energy for items (often of high priority for the community) to be generated by the elected members. "With over 100 full time Council staff this imbalance is not surprising, but is it good for democracy?" Ald Harris' litany of complaints continued. Remember, all this was said two years ago! Ald Koch said this week Mr Harris had a good point. "I applaud ex alderman Harris. I wish he had run again. What he is saying is what the new aldermen are picking up on now, frustration over delays. "Officers can stall initiatives for up three years and then hold them over for the next council and then nothing happens. "Tony Alicastro and I fought for some three years to get the answers, but senior management did not follow through on the recommendations, and we finished up with this absurd budget inaccuracy." On the Alice News of March 15, 2000 Aldermen Campbell and Erlich launched a stinging rebuke of Ald Geoff Harris' attack on senior town council staff, describing his claims as a "cheap shot" against people "unable to retaliate in an unfettered public discussion". The current Mayor said council members are well able to be effective. She said she had succeeded in what she had set out to do as an alderman, "trying to get adequate community participation in decision making" on matters including strategic planning. Aldermen Erlich and Campbell rejected the assertion that officers were "ingratiating" towards the newly-elected aldermen: "It didn't happen in 1994 for Fran Erlich nor in 1997 for Meredith Campbell, and nor were we ‘feted', nor did we have our ‘egos stroked'. "Maybe the latter only happens to those who possess egos. "We are quite able to do the reading and preparation required for committee and council meetings, despite family, work and other commitments …"The key to being effective on Council is to convince fellow aldermen of the value of your arguments. "The officers provide advice, but they do not sit in the chamber and vote." Another alderman who did not seek re-election in 2000, Tony Alicastro, said he usually got what he wanted from the executive staff – but not without difficulty. He claimed two months before the May 27, 2000 election that it could indeed be frustrating to achieve a particular end on council, but the responsibility for that rested with the individual alderman. He said he had "no problem" with officers "being pushy" about particular issues. "They are only doing their job, and if we, the elected members disagree with them, all we have to do is say no. "If I want something I scream until I get it. I agree it should not be like that but it happens at every level of government. "There's always a strong power game between the bureaucracy and the government. It gets down to the ability and strength of elected members to assert their position. "If we don't, then we are not doing our job." Ald Alicastro said at the time – and history clearly repeats itself – he was concerned that the then administration had been the particular target of criticism, when he thought that many of council's problems had been left behind by the previous administration. "Anyone can tell you of my spectacular disagreements with Nick Scarvelis [council CEO], but the fact is that the previous administration left a lot of things up in the air, and he came into the job having to face the situation and fix it." Ald Alicastro thought in early 2000 that the council was trying hard to "fix" the budget process. He said the deficit that council had in their expenditure at the time was at root no different from the surplus (in the order of $700,000) that they had for each of his previous seven years on council. "Either way it means that we are not doing the budget properly. "A surplus achieved with a five per cent rate increase means that the rate increase was completely unnecessary. "Unless we have a clear assessment of our financial capabilities then we can spend the next 10 years making promises and developing corporate and business plans, and at the end of the day not have enough money to do any of it properly." Today – two years on – clarity about the budget problems remains a task that is eluding then council. Jenny Mostran, now Deputy Mayor and the mover of the motion of no confidence in the senior staff earlier this year, told voters in 2000 that she would bring to the job effective management skills and the kind of financial background needed by a Mayor. She told the Alice News on April 5, 2000: "My management approach is one of mutual respect, it's conciliatory and deals with the facts. "You need to take the emotive side out of it, deal with the facts. You have to be able to deal with all types of people. "I've proven that I can do that in my business life, and in the enormous variety of my community interests. "I'm also not afraid to make decisions, I've had to make a lot of hard decisions in my business career." As mayor, Mrs Mostran told the voters, she would prioritise team building, "not just with the aldermen but with the officers". "The different roles of the two groups need to be respected and understood. "The people who are doing the work are looking for direction from the aldermen and the Mayor. "The aldermen aren't there to carry out the work, they are there as a management board." Mrs Mostran said at the time she was not a member of any political party and said council needs to be apolitical, to keep trust with all sectors of the community. She is now a member of the central council of the Country Liberal Party. "My firm view is that council should remain an apolitical, community based organisation, able to relate to all the people of Alice Springs," she said."We must do something to stop the disenfranchisement of sections of our community, and any politicisation would be disastrous from that point of view." Flaws in the financial systems that are today threatening to bring down the council were clearly an issue for Mrs Mostran two years ago. She said three days before being elected as an alderman: "Why is it that the deficit of some $300,000 was so unexpected and explained by some report system problems? "Why is it only this year that depreciation has been allowed for in the balance sheet? "Why is it that the council has expanded its management and administration department over the last three years when government and business have streamlined their administration systems and used the money saved for infrastructure and service? "The new council must have a business and professional approach to work and guide council staff into achieving the services that the community deserves. "Council must have leadership that can unite and build a team with a ‘can do' attitude and have the ability to make decisions." This week Ald Mostran says she is disappointed she hasn't been able to work with the executive management "because I won't toe the line, but team building has been successful because I have the majority of the aldermen and council staff on my side". Alas, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

BLACK STUDENTS: 40% AND RISING. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

More than 40 per cent of school students in Alice Springs are now Indigenous and the proportion is growing. Less than a decade ago, there were perhaps six or seven Indigenous students to a class, and most of them would have been born and raised in Alice.Today, not only are the numbers climbing, but an increasing proportion are students whose families have moved to town from remote communities. Their level of education is varied, with many having been to three or four different "bush" schools. What kind of impact is this having in classrooms and how well equipped are schools to deal with the challenges?"For classroom teachers it means a broader spectrum of needs in one class," says general manager of schools in Central Australia, Russell Totham. Scaffolding Literacy, or the Accelerated Literacy Program as it is now known (see Alice News, February 6 and 13) is one of the teaching strategies being trialled that will respond to this "broader spectrum of needs". But what about the relationship side of things, which Mr Totham says is the key to effective teaching? How well do teachers, many of whom are recruited from interstate, understand their Indigenous students and their families?In the mid-nineties every teacher in the Territory was required to do a cross-cultural course, although there has not been a department-wide cross-cultural initiative since then.For new recruits, part of the criteria for employment in the Territory is cross-cultural experience and experience with teaching English as a second language.However, Mr Totham says it is sometimes difficult to recruit candidates with this kind of experience. If new recruits come on board at the start of the school year, they undertake a three day orientation program that includes cross-cultural training.This is jointly delivered by the Departments of Education and Health.However, if the recruit starts mid-year, their orientation is "entirely school-based". It is up to the school, in particular the principal, to provide "appropriate professional support" to probationers. Is it possible that a teacher new to Alice would be in front of a classroom without any cross-cultural training?Mr Totham says that is "highly unlikely". He says the department is exploring ways to help teachers continue to develop their cross-cultural fectiveness. It is always possible, he says, for a teacher to choose to undertake a cross-cultural training course in relation to his or her probation, performance management, or their school plan (or all three).Improvements in Indigenous education are part of every school's action plan and every principal's performance goals. The goals are mandated but how schools set about achieving them is flexible. "There is more than one right way," says Mr Totham "We are getting down to measuring and reporting on outcomes in a way we've never done before, and requiring from year to year improvements on those outcomes."There are dedicated resources within schools: every urban school has at least one Aboriginal and Islander Education Worker (AIEW); most schools also have a Home Liaison Officer.The Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness (ASSPA) committees are also critical, and every school has one. Given these resources, is it possible that an Indigenous child in Alice Springs could "slip through the cracks", be left floundering in class, or be simply not getting to school?"If a child is in trouble, there are at least three people who should move in response: the classroom teacher, the local ESL teacher and the AIEW."The AIEWs are part of a team within schools and they are critical in bringing together support around any Indigenous children in difficulty. "They are also proactive in developing networks of Aboriginal parents to make a contribution to schools. Last year they had a key role in getting schools involved in the Yeperenye Federation Festival."

RESTRICTIONS WILL WORK: LIQUOR COMMISSIONER. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Alcohol supply restrictions in Alice Springs will start on April 1 – three months late because of an appeal by traders which was dismissed by the Licensing Commission last week. Chairman Peter Allen said the commission fully accepted scientific evidence that the restrictions had merit and warranted the 12 months trial. "The best evidence remains that consumption is a function of both demand and availability, and that reducing availability does produce a reduction in consumption statistics," Mr Allen says. "To what extent and effect remains to be seen in this case, but as a trial the commission remains convinced that these two measures are effectively directed." The trial will be subject to ongoing monitoring, as well as rulings deemed necessary about products allowed for sale. The trial will also be accompanied by a string of "complementary measures" including an extension to the Tangentyere night patrol to allow it to operate from Monday to Saturday from midday to 1am, and an extension of the sobering up shelter hours to allow it to operate seven days a week. Mr Allen says the NT Government will contribute over $250,000 in cash and kind towards these measures. But Murray Preston, who appeared for the applicants, says changes of supply hours haven't worked in the past and will not work now. He claims minor changes of supply hours are "a waste of time". Says Mr Preston about the decision: "Who are the real abusers of alcohol? It does nothing to tackle that problem. "It's the people who are drinking far too much." The ban of casks bigger than two litres will simply lead to "a change of product". "We're going to have a heap of broken glass around town, and probably a terrific increase in glass related injuries at the hospital." Mr Preston says the decision could be challenged further by a review in the Supreme Court based on "a challenge on procedures or the application of some wrong principle of law." "We have to look carefully if that's the case." The appellants were Northside, Eastside and Flynn Drive Foodlands, Hoppy's Cash Store, BP Gap Deli, Scotty's Place, Bojangles, Tyeweretye, RSL, Memorial, Golf, Federal and PINT clubs, Todd Tavern and Outback Inn Resorts. The trial conditions will remain the same as announced last year, except that heavy beer can be sold in bars from 11.30am weekdays instead of from 12 noon.Other key measures are:- • No take-aways before 2pm on any weekday, and they shall cease no later than 9pm, but hours will remain unaltered on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. • No liquor shall be sold or supplied for consumption away from the premises in containers larger than two litres. The written decision summarises evidence given to the commission during the appeal hearings. This included evidence from Bill Ferguson, manager of the Aboriginal owned Tyeweretye Club. He is reported as saying most of the club's clients "drift off after 12 noon, when take-away liquor becomes available elsewhere, but they will not be staying on to the new take-away time of 2pm because they will not have come in to the club at all in the new situation. "They will spend the mornings drinking stored take-away outside the club if only light beer is available inside. "Light beer has been pushed in the club, but all light beer initiatives have been unsuccessful. "Even though light beer sells at half the price of heavy beer, the club still has stocks of light beer which are now years old. "The members don't drink it. "The main concern is that there will be an upsurge of storage of takeaway for consumption the next morning, with consequential impact on the well being of members." The Foodland Group's Paul Venturin is reported as saying that there were trial restrictions in 1994/95, when licensees were asked to co-operate in limiting cask wine sales to one per person, and not before 4pm. "This resulted in a significant increase in the sales of port, broken glass everywhere in public car parks, and an upsurge of break-ins probably because the wine drinkers didn't get fired up until the hours of darkness. "The chain stores did not stick to the restriction, but Foodland did, even though it was very difficult to police as consumers moved from one outlet to another. "That restriction had no effect on turnover because of product substitution. "The new restriction won't affect turnover either, as Foodland voluntarily does not sell Fruity Gordo, the current product of choice. "The new restrictions will move the trend to another product and a decision will then have to be made in respect of the new product of choice. "Cask business is only five per cent of liquor sales, but it was the number one seller back when it was stocked." The three Foodland stores used to sell six pallets of 240 casks each every week before deciding not to stock it. "The market for ready-mixed drinks is already increasing significantly, now 15 per cent of sales, with a customer base currently 50 per cent indigenous." The commission's report quotes Hoppy's James Southam as giving in evidence that there have been dramatic improvements in Aboriginal alcohol-related behaviour over the last 15 years. "The present problems are nothing like they were. "When Hoppy's first started in 1989, for the first years the police had to be called on a daily basis to scenes of aboriginal fighting, violence, glass breaking. "By 1996/97 the calls to police had reduced to about once a fortnight, and these days it would be maybe once in three months." The venue has suffered 55 or 56 break-ins. "There has been only about one a year over the last five years; the time before that accounts for the other 50. "In the early eighties the scene in town was drunken Aborigines on corners and shop fronts to a disgusting degree. "It is so much improved today. "They are a quarrelsome rowdy people, and that should not be seen as alcohol related but a different set of values. "The situation currently seen in town is a separate issue from the alcohol issue. "The lawlessness is mostly at night. Pushing the cycle another two hours into the night makes no sense. "During the previous trial of delaying cask wine sales to 4pm, the sales of fortified wine increased 700 per cent. "Smashed glass was everywhere. "The current market for their cask wine and fortified wine is 99.99 per cent aboriginal; for the pre-mixes it is about 50/50. "Without cask sales there will be a re-identification of their changed needs. The problem will remain unaffected. "The problem is Aboriginal violence. The restrictions will just make the thrust groups feel good but do nothing for the alcoholic. "There is an awareness that the premises are on various groups' lists of problem premises, but there are people involved in the issue who are hellbent on blood. "It was recalled that on one occasion one of the prohibitionists dropped a young person off at the shop to deliberately try and provoke an unlawful sale." The decision reports the Todd Tavern's Dianne and Ray Loechel as saying that the restrictions will not affect trading at all, "the premises will simply be more congested while open". "The venue has only one bar that opens at 10am, and its clientele is 98 per cent Aboriginal, and its sales 99.6 per cent heavy beer. "Between 10 and 12 we might have 350 or 150 patrons, depending on the availability of money. "It's a myth about the Riverside bar being problematic; they are generally good-humoured people, presenting no more or less problems than anywhere else. Seldom do the police have to be called. "There is generally a group of 50 to 60 people waiting for the bottleshop to open, about half of them actual customers. "There are no behavioural problems at the moment, but it will become very congested by the longer wait and the more people waiting. BOTTLE SHOP"When the Loechels first took over, bottleshop trading was directed almost entirely at Aboriginals. "The initiation of a wider range of product has increased sales such that Aboriginals are now about 30 to 40 per cent of the bottleshop's market. "More large wine casks are sold than any other product, but it is decreasing with the increasing popularity of port and ready-mixed spirit drinks. "The cask restrictions will not achieve anything because other products will be substituted. "The problems in Alice, assaults and windows being broken and the like, is a consequence of youths now staying out later at night, probably out of boredom. "Mrs Loechel as a member of the DASA committee was told at every meeting she attended that she should not be there because of a conflict of interest as a licensee. "She has found all the committees of which she has attended meetings to be very one sided and dominated by persons seeking restrictions. "The Loechels fear for the independence of any evaluation body, and its anticipated over weighting with Aboriginal groups," the decision says.

N.S.W. REPORT SHOT IN THE ARM FOR CONTAINER DEPOSIT LOBBY. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

An independent review tabled in the NSW Parliament last week has found that the benefits of container deposit legislation significantly outweigh its costs, and recommends that it be introduced in that state. The comprehensive review comes as the NT Government is considering the introduction of CDL in the Territory.The government has extended the deadline for public submissions on CDL until March 14, which will allow time to absorb the information in the NSW review.BENEFITSCommissioned by the NSW Minister for the Environment, and conducted by Stuart White of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology in Sydney, the review found that the "annualised" net economic benefits to the state, if recovered materials from containers were recycled, would be $70m-$100m. These benefits would be largely due to environmental benefits, valued at $100m-$150m a year, and don't include the value of "visual amenity" achieved by litter reduction. The latter is in itself an important benefit, especially as both in Australia and overseas it has been the major driver of CDL introduction. The review found that CDL enjoys strong support from local government and environmental groups and majority support from the community. The recycling industry offers limited support, while the beverage, packaging and retail industries maintain their long-standing opposition. However, Dr White found that CDL's potential benefits, considered on a "whole of society" basis, significantly outweigh the costs. If a CDL system could not be established, Dr White says industry recycling targets should be strengthened to reach 90 per cent recovery of beverage containers. The estimated environmental cost of disposing of a single average beverage container at the landfill in NSW, compared to recycling that container, is 8-9 cents. The cost of recovering the container through a combined CDL and kerbside recycling strategy is 2-3 cents. Consumers would bear the largest cost burden of CDL. The beverage industry as well as large and small retailers would incur some costs, depending on the extent to which these could be passed on to consumers, and on the type of CDL system introduced. In his recommendations, Dr White says small retailers should be protected from bearing an inequitable burden. He says local government would realise benefits through reduced costs of kerbside collection, as well as through the value of unredeemed material in the collection. While there would be some job losses in kerbside collecting, sorting and garbage disposal (25), there would be job increases (1000-1500) in collection depots and retail outlets. Charities and some disadvantaged groups in community would benefit from redemption of deposits. Dr White says the overall benefits of improvements in the recycling rates of container material and in litter reduction, are achievable through other programs, such as mandatory recovery and setting recycling targets. However, international experience suggests CDL is the most effective mechanism for achieving high container recovery rates. Potential legal impediments are less likely to arise if CDL is implemented by industry or at a national level.It needs an effective mechanism for administration and regulation, but this can be achieved with careful reference to Australian and international experience. Dr White recommends "point of sale" return for all beverage containers made from aluminium, glass, PET, HDPE, PVC, liquid paper board and steel, which would be subject to a 10 cent deposit. COMPENSATION Apart from some protection of small retailers, he also recommends a mechanism to ensure that outlets involved with collection and redemption are compensated for their effort. The Arid Lands Environment Centre, which has long lobbied for CDL in the Territory, is not keen on "point of sale" returns. It argues instead for an independent "super-collector" and asks that unclaimed deposits be retained in a specific fund for litter, waste, recycling, environmental health and alcohol programs (rather than go to general government revenue or back to the beverage industry). ALEC argues that unclaimed deposits in the Territory would be worth some $2m per year. Dr White's review is available at www.isf.uts.edu.au/CDL_Report.


FEBRUARY RAIN. Column by ANN CLOKE.

Isn't it wonderful to wake up to clear blue skies? I overheard someone telling a visitor that it doesn't usually rain at this time of the year, that the Todd never flows in February/March, that this is unusual weather! Friends Anne and Will have been monitoring our rainfall for many years, and tell me that the average for February is 74mms. It brought to mind a night, February 11th 1997, and my brother's angel – not that Norman believes in "angels," but I have, always. At the time, Norm was a part owner in the outback resort, Ross River Homestead. He and his crew had been out there for weeks, upgrading, extending, repairing, and then it started to rain, torrential stuff. When the skies open up over the desert, watercourses alter, rivers gouge out deep channels and tracks, roads break up, trees are uprooted and our dramatic countryside changes yet again. A convoy of vehicles left Ross River at dusk on February 10th: the first 15 kilometres were unsealed, and the road was quickly turning into rich red mud. Norm was in the last truck with Simon. He drove slowly, only just able to see the tail-lights of the vehicle ahead, windscreen wipers battling against the force of the rain, towards the first "river" crossing, the Benstead, which flows out from spectacular Trephina Gorge. Halfway across and the truck was bogged to the axles. Unlocking the wheel nuts, they heard a roar: Norm said he looked back across his shoulder and saw a wall of muddy water with trees and rocks hurtling towards them. They both leapt onto the tray, grabbed the spare tyre and as the truck was pushed sideways into the flow, they jumped over, and out, into the rapidly rising Benstead River, using the tyre to keep afloat. It was an anxious time – they'd been missing for hours, and "what if" scenarios were being played over and over again. David was away on business, heading back that morning: I waited with my sister-in-law, Lee, the children, Emma, Lesley-Ann and Bart and others until daybreak. It was still raining: potholes, felled trees, mud, slush and scattered rocks made it difficult to negotiate the highway. I like to think we rescued the guys, but they saved themselves. Survival instinct, together with Norm's "angel", Lady Luck, had kicked in: they'd snatched hold of the branch of a solid old gum tree standing on higher ground, an "island" in the middle of the river, and that's where they'd spent the night. They were walking back towards the road when we arrived, in Mick's twin-cab, at the crossing. Norm said the force of the floodwaters, the size of trees and rocks being swept down the river was terrifying. Watching headlights, 12 hours earlier, swing away from the river as the others decided to head to Alice to raise the alarm was sobering stuff. David's company had a think tank out at Ross River Homestead a couple of weeks ago. It was raining steadily out here, he told me. The Todd's flowing, I responded. We had dinner with Anne, Will, Jane, Liz and Bill on Friday evening (the 1st) and a few drops of rain fell. In March we can expect around 24mms – now that is usual. The Red Heart looking green again - beware flash flooding in the desert.

LETTERS: Noel Pearson has the courage to say how it is.

Sir,- I congratulate Kieran Finnane on the courage she has shown through her recent series of articles on the crises facing Aboriginal communities (Alice News, Feb 20 & 27). Sutton and Pearson have taken the lead in pointing out some of the real problems facing these communities. It takes a brave journalist to take up their argument in a place like Alice Springs. What needs to happen now is a frank and honest debate in which the communities are invited to take part. We should now be mature enough to recognise that the problems arise from the clash of two cultures not just the racism of one. The Aboriginal side of the ledger needs to be constructively but critically scrutinised and analysed as much as the whitefella side has been, and continues to be. This will only work of course with the Aboriginal side being fully represented by those facing the most challenging problems not just by those chosen for their articulateness in English or "whitefella" education. Let the people speak for themselves, they know their own problems and their own cultures best. The time for "Protection" is past. It didn't work when the government was doing it and it's not working now. To me the most destructive kind of racism is the one that says to Aboriginal People, "Yes, you have problems but whatever you do wrong is our fault". To treat people as equals you need to credit them with the ability to make moral choices, to accept responsibility for those choices and to do something about their own problems – not pity them, and shift responsibility for their mistakes to governments or whitefellas in general. When I arrived here more than twenty years ago I was convinced that the problem was racism and that all whitefellas who had gone before were either incompetent or racist – the arrogance of youth. Now I have seen several generations of young idealists come and go and the problems have worsened dramatically. I have seen dedication and idealism coupled with heroic effort on one side on the part of both whitefellas and black-fellas and it is obvious to me that if the problems were simple they'd all be solved by now. On the other side I've seen bitter cynicism, gross incompetence and corruption again amongst both whitefellas and blackfellas. The problem is we are all human and prone to all these things and blackfellas aren't less or more human than whitefellas – they're about the same. So let's jump on old fashioned racism with a passion when it raises its brainless head but we need to do more than that. Let's treat Aboriginal people as fully human and challenge them to do their bit for the sake of their own children and involve them in the process as equals, not as a protected species on the verge of extinction that we all pity. Because like Kevin Gilbert said, a whitefella will never do it.
Dave Price
Alice Springs

Sir,- Dear old Ann and Lori and Julie and Kate and Wendy, Stephanie, Franca, Vicki, Franćoise and David, not to mention the others. What a dilemma they face – where to retire? (Alice Springs News, Feb 20, "Fortress Alice – Do you think you'll retire here?".) Not where to get their next meal or their next bed but actually where to retire? What are they to do? It's a dashed nuisance isn't it? The natives set up camp on some of the best parcels of land Australia has to offer, developed this bloody stupid way of living without stamp duty or lawns or television games shows and then they have the temerity to find our dominant, arrogant, indulgent, expansive way of life a little bit hard to digest. I've talked to John and Wolfgang and Sally and Dave and Stephanie and Matty Gee and Fred and Ziggy and Julietta, amongst others, about this. We're all migrants and refugees and strays who wandered up here and made it our home too. We enjoy the climate and the lifestyle and the countryside too (except Steph who hates the middle of summer) and we enjoy it all the more because we get to live amongst the people who were here first and evolved a whole way of being and knowing that is intricately connected to their country. They generously share parts of that with those of us who are listening. That evolution of culture that was moving along quite steadily, as cultural evolution tends to, stepped up to top gear once us migrants started to move in. We are a dominant lot, us whitefella migrants, making rules and structures that everyone has to live by and do their best to make sense of. Now, it's not without its crinkles or hiccups or creases, this process of indigenous people figuring out how to adapt to the new world order. It's not without its confusions and casualties. It can be a fascinating and joyous thing as well, the coming together of different cultures. You can learn about each other's differences and marvel at the similarities. Sometimes those people who are collecting their moneys on certain days in the Todd Mall, for example, might hang around in larger family groups or speak in different languages or make more noise or have a different bathing regime than you or I. They're just cultural differences, not differences in decency or humanity. The majority of the Aboriginal people I know, Maureen and Alice and Frances and Beverly and Magdalene and Jack and Teddy and Joyleen (just to name a few) don't drink and don't fight and don't break and enter and they smell around about as nice as showered almost daily, middle class, respectable me. They amaze me because I reckon if I had their family histories I'd be sitting in the creek drinking cheap wine and wandering around doing break and enters. I find those people to be so respectful and powerful and proud of who they are that they've found a way forward despite the mess. There are casualties too, indigenous people who've come out more hurt. You get that in any culture, the heroin addicts on the streets of all our capital cities, the behind closed doors, white-collar wife bashers, the corrupt cops, deviant men of the cloth etc. Many of us migrants to Alice are working together with indigenous people to try to improve the situation for the whole community. We figure that we're all in it together, one big footy team. If the centre half forward's done a hamstring the whole team suffers. You have to get in there amongst it. As someone smart once said, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. They say Mars is quite secure at the moment. Sorry about the sarcasm but we're visitors really and we should be watching our manners. Good luck with your decisions.
Linda Wells
Alice Springs

Sir,- Alice Springs is the kind of place that I thought I'd want to retire to. After having visited and lead tours to the Alice over the past few decades, I have come to love the feel of the town and its people. The Alice is unlike any place I've visited in Europe, America, or in Australia. Alice has a feel, a sense, a history and potential unlike other Aussie towns. It saddens me to read that the social conditions have become so intolerable that many life-long residents and new immigrants to the Alice are considering uprooting themselves from the wonderful town that Alice has been and can be. Certainly the circumstances that have brought about this concern are valid and must be addressed by all within the community. Understanding and reconciliation need to be major components of the conversation and conversion experience in the Alice, if a brighter, more positive future is to be accomplished. My heart goes out to those who are suffering across the pond in the shadow of Anzac Hill and the MacDonnell Ranges. May the heritage and hope of the Alice be held in the hearts of its citizens! From an American friend, who is an Aussie at heart,
Dr. Marc A.Wessels
Marc.Wessels@noaa.gov

Sir,- My daughter has spent a fairly long period of time in the paediatric ward of the Alice Springs Hospital and I can't help but admire the dedication of the doctors, nursing staff, and PSA's. Particularly the nurses, I feel a great admiration for .... often finishing very late at night and going home for a few hours' sleep and restarting early in the morning. Sometimes doing a double shift, day/night shifts. These people were always cheery, wonderful not only with the patients but also with their worried parents. Of course making sure everyone else's needs are catered for, but often their work situation meant that their own weren't. The doctors were wonderful too and very thorough in their examinations with little Nae Nae and not leaving anything at all to chance. The PSA staff were wonderfully friendly and also looked after my little girl and me extremely well. So thank you, Alice Springs Hospital!
Nicky Young, Rebecca's mum!
Alice Springs

Sir,- Could you assist me in searching for lost relatives? I lost my sister in 1947 and we have reason to believe that she married an Australian soldier and moved there. She had a son from another marriage and we think that the shame of that at the time could have contributed to her disappearance. Her last known location was the Midlands in England. Her son was born in London (Paddington) in 1942. His name is David Joseph McKenzie. His father was from Canada. My sister was born in England in 1922. Her name is Chloris (Claire) Elmira Tait. Her parents are Frank Johnstone Tait and Ellen Jane Tait (Miller). She has three siblings who would love to meet her and her family. Please contact me at wjtdd@powersurfr.com or 12216- 136 Ave Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Doug Tait

EXPO 2002: ECONOMY - STEADY AS SHE GOES.

"Steady as she goes" seems to be the motto for the local economy which is "holding up not too badly, much better than Darwin." That's the view of Neil Ross, head of the Chamber of Commerce, organiser of the two day Expo 2002, to be opened on Friday by Chief Minister Clare Martin. "We'll have to live with the fact that there is going to be just one major air carrier into Alice Springs, and we'll be struggling to get the number of seats we need for the tourist industry to expand," says Mr Ross. He's looking forward to get the ear of the Chief Minister on this and other issues, in the chamber's bid to "keep the government honest". Mr Ross says he has concerns with the new administration's ability to deliver on some of its promises, and the jury is still out on its ability to govern well "given its inexperience". He says: "It's taken them a fair while to really hit the road and start doing a few things." But he says it's a "positive" move to hold a sittings of Parliament in Alice Springs in April. This is "delivering on their promises to make the government more open to people and more accountable". It would be unfair to blame the new Labor government for all current woes: "There are a lot of things happening in the economy which are quite outside the NT Government's control" and they couldn't be expected to "send themselves broke by subsidising everybody". A major national issue is insurance premiums: "Businesses which can will be passing along these costs and at the end of the day people will be paying more. "And the not for profit organisations will be struggling for survival." Mr Ross says the chamber will be very keen to monitor progress with the NT Government's efforts to resolve the native title issues in the town. "We had a meeting with Minister for Business Paul Henderson for an hour recently. "We were very pleased with the discussions. "We're hoping to establish a direct dialogue with the Central Land Council and the parties involved in the negotiations. "From a business point of view it's quite frustrating that progress seems glacial and we don't know whether there ever will be a resolution. "If we can at least talk to the parties more directly we might get a better understanding where everyone's coming from on this. "If the government can get something done on this in the next year or so, to the satisfaction of all, that would be a major achievement, a wonderful thing for the town, and something the previous government obviously could not facilitate at all." Mr Ross says the chamber is involved in the monitoring of the 12 months liquor trial: "We did give some cautious support to the concept of the trial," he says. "We are not at all sure it is addressing the real issues. "It seems to be attacking the symptoms, not the causes of the problems. "Unless there is a really meaningful outcome for these restrictions we wouldn't be supporting anything further than the 12 months trial. "And we don't want to see it as the thin edge of the wedge for further restrictions." Mr Ross describes local benefits from the Alice to Darwin railway as "minimal". He says: "A couple of local people got some significant work out of the railway. "Tennant Creek is of course benefiting enormously from this, it's booming like it hasn't done for years. "They're all pretty happy up there. "But I think for Alice Springs, no, we won't see a dramatic effect at all, I don't think." He says "I prefer not to comment" on the current town council wrangle. "It's not constructive for me to suggest how the council should run its business." However, Mr Ross says the council has been "very involved" in the Alice in Ten project, as has the chamber. He says the Desert Knowledge "think tank" is a bright spot on the horizon but so far "there is a lot more potential than action". But the Alice in Ten initiative is a good example of "by and large" the town being "quite prepared to work through its problems in a constructive sense rather than having pot shots at each other all the time." Another example for this is the Expo itself: "I've seen the changes from a few stalls to basically a sell-out every year now. "The Expo is well attended and well supported, and we thank the town for that."

ALICE PLAY SHOCKS AT ADELAIDE FEST. Report by DARYL GRAY.

Alice's fledgling Red Dust Theatre premiered their first production, Train Dancing, at the Adelaide Festival last Sunday. Over 100 patrons turned out to see Michael Watts' play, about one-third of them former or current residents of Central Australia, perhaps better prepared than most for its "raw and at times violent assault on human frailty and racism". Among them was former Alice identity DARYL GRAY, who wrote this review.
This was not entertainment, this was painful, disturbing, confronting theatre, and dysfunctional human relationships are its dark and dusty heartland. When I say "painful", I refer only to the subject matter, the storylines and the burdensome reality portrayed so honestly and poignantly by the cast of actors, particularly Roger Menadue and Barbara Saunders (as husband Ed and wife Molly). Playwright Michael Watts does not attempt to resolve issues raised in this play. Rather he sets up a voyeuristic portal into the lives of four people related by blood ties, incest, rape, isolation, love and a warped, obsessive work ethic which derails the lives of all four with tragic results. To provide a counterpoint and give the audience a chance to catch their breath, director Craig Mathewson and musical director Anne Harris punctuate the drama with an eclectic mix of instrumental, ballad and rap or hip hop musical interludes. A male visitor from Melbourne commented afterwards: "Boy, this is a heavy little number, the music was good though, the rap guy was real good, you know, good lyrics and stuff." Indeed Steve Hodder's rap was performed in a very accomplished manner as were the songs by Jacinta Nampitjinpa Castle. The vocalists were backed by a small ensemble of musicians: Django Nou, Amber Barrington, Cyril Franey and Anne Harris.Castle's voice has a soft yet strong resonance that led a couple from England to comment: "We thought that Violet's voice was very sweet, particularly given the bitter circumstances she was a part of! Gosh, it's a very confronting play, is it really like that in Alice Springs?" Inherent in the English tourists' question is the specificity of this play. It is about Alice Springs, but it also has universal themes. Like many of the "ex-Alice mob" I spoke with after the play, I saw the everyday tragedy that is the tattered fabric of Alice Springs society played out in the lives of these four sad souls. However, the taboos of racism, incest, alcoholism, rape, psychological abuse, and domestic violence are touchstones for all peoples everywhere. Even when you're contemptuous of such behavior, it is a fact of life. One Adelaide woman said to me, "Thank God I haven't been through any abuse of that kind, my family seems quite normal in comparison! I mean it is well done I think, especially for a small group from a country town." This then is the core merit of Watt's play, that however disturbing this play is, and it is, sometimes we need to journey into the heart of darkness, if only to challenge our complacency, and to better appreciate the light, or count our blessings. One family walked out about 15 minutes into the play, which I suspect was because of the explicit sexual references and language, given that the parents had brought along two sons and a daughter, all of whom were under 13. A critic for another newspaper left before the end of the play. Was this because of other events to be covered, or because she had seen enough? Her review will answer that query. As Ulysses (Steve Hodder) tells us in the opening moments of the play, his grandfather walked lightly on the earth and brushed out his footprints in the sand so as not to lead devils back to his homeland and family. Train tracks are a little harder to ignore, and as this story warns us all, whitefella tracks can weigh very heavily upon the land, boding ill for the future. Go see this play, but don't take the kids, and be prepared for a well paced, and very confronting portrayal of the human condition by some very clever people.

PLANNING A SHOW? WE'LL HELP!

The Northern Territory dance and peforming arts company, Tracks, will be in Alice next week, March 12 and 13, to talk to about developing a major performance for next year's Alice Springs Festival.(That's assuming that we get a festival next year: this year's festival, planned to augment Year of the Outback events, is in the hunt for funds right now.) Tracks has just received triennial funding from the Australia Council as a Territory-wide company. Says artistic director Tim Newth: "We can't really justify that if we don't do something substantial with the Alice Springs community." But does he think people in Alice will want to see a company that is Darwin-based involved in "their" festival? Newth: "Tracks are very good at igniting interest, getting a community excited around an idea. "If that happens then we'll take the process further, apply for funding and do a project. "The community will guide it, who's going to be in it, what it's going to be about." Tracks works with large groups, from 60 to 200 people, around a core of professional artists. Typical of their approach was the Darwin project, 4WD, Sweat, Dust and Romance, which involved the St Mary's football team, ballroom dancers, Aboriginal performers, a ballet school, an over-sixties group, a circus group, a primary school, and a drumming and dance group from PNG, now resident in Darwin. In the process, there was a lot of skills development: the PNG group wanted to work with a PNG artist, and funding was obtained to bring that person over; the Aboriginal group had a chance to work with a Sydney-based choreographer. "People identified their needs and their dreams and we worked to bring in the most appropriate people to help realise them," says Newth. Their track record on community involvement has brought them national recognition. Last year Robyn Archer invited them to take part in Tasmania's "On the Island" arts festival. They coordinated work at seven different sites across the island, in a project driven by Indigenous Tasmanians. In late November of this year Tracks will bring "Fierce, the Story of Olive Pink" to Alice. Pictured is Trevor Patrick in the role of Olive Pink, or Talkinjirra as the Warlpiri knew her, with the Yawalyu Dancers from Lajamanu in the Tanami Desert.

CRICKET: FOUR CHASE ACE! Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.

The chase for a premium berth in the finals has really turned up the heat in local cricket with all four sides remaining in the hunt, based on last Saturday's play. In a year where the elements have denied the competition regular results, it has come down to the round of matches prior to the major series which will determine the side to drop out, and also the side to gain automatic entry to the grand final. At Traeger Park West were pitted against RSL Works. Each have enjoyed success with the Bloods sitting at the top of the premiership table, and RSL the acclaimed One Day game champions. Westies' skipper Ken Vowles had been in doubt for the game as ATSIC Eleven selection could have called him up for a game in Canberra, but as it is he led his side onto the field Saturday and "held up one end" with sustained bowling. The Bloods kept the pressure on RSL compiling a non-earth-shattering 183. Graham Schmidt opened with Rod Dunbar but fell victim to a Jeremy Biggs' delivery which was judged LBW, when he was on eight, and the tally 10. Jamie Smith joined Dunbar and they compiled a partnership of 29 before Vowles snared Dunbar, LBW for 27. The incoming Jeff Whitmore assisted the score along, making a start yet not being able to consolidate, as he fell to a Peter Lake catch off Peter Tabart's bowling. Interestingly, Smith suffered a similar fate when on the same score of 15, caught Shane Law and bowled Dave Clark. The performance of Scott Robertson proved to be the most valuable for RSL as he put 41 on the board, lifting the aggregate from 4/73 to 5/130. Alas Robertson fell to a tweeker from Kevin Mezzone, which proved to be his first of four wickets. Mezzone seems to be a bowler of potential who showed in the Super Eights that with confidence he can flight the ball and produce results. There were signs of this on Saturday, and with self belief and an element of risk taking, the slow bowler could be a valued contributor in the finals. Troy Camilleri added to the RSL struggle when he was run out for 20 with the score not being enhanced. From 7/140 RSL fell to be dismissed for 183. Luke Southam (4) added to Mezzone's glee, as did James Tudor who was also caught and bowled for 10. Wayne Eglington (11), Matt Forster (7) and Cam Robertson (5) helped RSL limp to their total. Late in the day West faced seven overs and at stumps were 21 without loss. They had Vowles at the crease and a wealth of batting to come. Much now rested on the RSL bowling attack led by Forster. They will have to be at their best to contain the Bloods on Saturday. Federal have a similar challenge at Albrecht Oval. They batted first on a good deck, but found only Jarrod Wapper to be in real touch. The former Cricketer of the Year rose to the occasion, coming in at fourth wicket down and batting through to the final ball of the innings. He was caught off Tie Rayfield for a magnificent 95, to set Rovers 196 for victory. For both sides the result has plenty at stake. Rovers could rise to minor premiers with a win. Federal would lift themselves into the finals should they gain the points. Rory Hood was trapped early by Rayfield, LBW for a duck before Feds got a score on the board. Tom Clements and Jamie Chadwick then resurrected the situation by compiling 51 before Clements fell, caught Jamie Carmen off Peter Isbel for 25.The incoming Adrian McAdam could only muster a single before Carmen again successfully appealed for a catch, this time off Craig Murphy. Star of the innings, Wapper was then only at the crease for nine runs before the partnership was broken when Chadwick fell LBW to Isbel for 31. From that point it was left up to Wapper to hold the order together. He played the shots while those joining him battled. Craig Prettejohn fell for three, caught Carmen and bowled Isbel. Brendan Martin, on debut, was snapped up at first slip off Greg Dowell for nine, and Shaun Lynch was bowled by Dowell for a duck. With the score at 7/106 Federal looked to be in the stew, when a serviceable partnership emerged. Skipper Alan Rowe joined Wapper to increase the aggregate to 181, before Rowe was caught in the slips off Smith for 22. The incoming Sean Wingrove could not establish himself and was bowled by Rayfield for a duck, while the last man in, Luke Wilson did his best to partner Wapper. Alas in asserting control, Wapper holed out for 95 in an innings worthy of a century. Rovers dismissed Federal in 65 overs with Rayfield 3/30 off 11 overs, and Isbel 3/59 off 18, sharing the honours. Greg Dowell's 2/28 off 11 complemented the performances. The Blues went to the crease and at stumps were in a sound position without loss. It wil be do or die for the Demons in Saturday's second day. Bowler Adrian McAdam will have to be at his dynamic best to avoid the fat lady stepping onto the stage.

RUGBY: EAGLES ARE LIFTING OFF!

By PAUL FITZSIMONS
By the last week in March the Eagles could well enter the CARU history books, on the premiership board alongside the Warriors, Devils, Cubs, and Tigers. Since Rugby came to town on the Verdi Club Oval (as it was then known), the Eagles (formerly Misfits) have been part of the Union, but invariably the collector of wooden spoons. But they have been far from the laughing stock of the Union. Competition needs competitors, and in the formative years, without the Misfits running on every week, the CARU would not be where it is today. After years in the wilderness, the turning point for the Eagles was signalled last season. They appointed Roy Daye as coach, and while the man of many faces had his weaknesses, he headed a flock of Eagles prepared to put in the hard yards. The year was not one that glittered in gold. There was friction, emotion boiled over at times, and they failed to reach their premiership goal. But it was the signal of things to come! The 2001- 2002 has been season to be remembered. Roy Daye has moved on, Joe Dixon has slipped into the fray, and quietly tuned the Eagles up. Like a decade or so ago, when he took a group of young lads and moulded them into the Dingo Cubs, Dixon has brought to the Eagles the core ingredients of what Rugby success is all about. This year the Eagles have run on to the paddock with both numbers and a game plan. They have stuck to that plan without being distracted by the opposition forces. And by applying themselves and playing within their capabilities they have consistently won games. This weekend they will run on against the Cubs, as heirs apparent to the minor premiership. During the season they have amassed 53 premiership points to a mere 30 by the Cubs; 29 by the Kiwis; and 27, the Devils. Deservedly they will start favourites, but as Dixon will remind them, a champion is only as good as his last game. In the last round, this week's opposition, the Cubs, would argue that the Eagles got out of hell with a two point victory and Roger Rudduck's pack will be out to square the ledger. On field the Eagles have at the helm Tui Ford, who has a splendid blend of youth and experience to meld. Levi Calesso, Sam Moldrich and Henry Labastida ooze in potential and know no fear. Alongside them is the guile of old campaigners, Damien Willy, and John Cooper. And if need be the "Bear" Ward and Dixon can jog on to settle things down. Facing them, the Cubs are after all the reigning premiers. They have Geoff Bates, Karl Gunderson, Paul Veitch , Andrew Werner and Peter Hendry, to name a few, who have talent and experience. From the sidelines Roger Rudduck keeps the line in focus, and adding zest to the pack is the inimitable "water boy" Morgan Flint. From Flint up through the ranks the Cubs know what is required at this time of the year. They too had to rise through the ranks and eventually taste grand final defeats at the hands of the then mighty Kiwis, before winning the last year's premiership. The game on Saturday will have all the ingredients of a final, as the Cubs and Eagles vie for the psychological advantage, going into the major round. As a curtain raiser the Devils will test the Kiwis in a match to decide third place and so finals participation. Last week the Devils took it right up to the Cubs, in going down 12-10; while the Kiwis were run over by the Eagles 27-1. In the Devils camp, Terrence Titus has been remolding an outfit of young fellows who have slipped into the breach after the mass retirement of Devils from the Shane Ride era. It has taken Titus two years but in his ranks he has players with youth and potential. They play to a game plan and are progressing well. Leading the pack is Steve Schmierer, who has become the firing pin for the Devils. He has the dour Rod Staniforth to flank him, and more experience in Paul Venturin to lend a hand. Add to this the young legs of Jimmy Niland, David Humphries, Tim Blacker and Simon Moldrich and the Devils look the goods. In opposition however the Kiwis can't be written off. No longer do they necessarily boast a list with direct links to the long white cloud, but tradition does hover over them. James Shelford, Rocky Manu and George Hereora know what is required to be there in the finals. While they will not start favourites, Devils should be wary of the ever determined Kiwis!

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