FIRST LABOR BUDGET: BUSH DOES WELL BUT NOT MUCH FOR ALICE.
Bush roads are getting a major shot in the arm in the first Martin Budget, and some remote communities are doing well, but spending in Alice Springs is mostly small beer.
¥ $15.37m will be spent on new works and for maintenance on the regionÕs roads and highways.
¥ $1.26 million for improvements to air-conditioning at Alice Springs High School.
¥ $700,000 for an additional chiller at the Alice Hospital.
¥ $768,000 to complete the hospital redevelopment.
¥ $800,000 to upgrade the Alice Springs Hockey field at Traeger Park Sports Complex.
¥ $250,000 to upgrade equipment at the Araluen Centre.
¥ $1.5 million for the Tanami Road Stage 1 of a three-year program to widen and seal selected sections.
¥ $880,000 allocated to the construction of a retardation basin upstream of the Lovegrove drainage channel, west of the town to help reduce the potential for flood damage in Alice Springs.
Essential Services projects to improve community capacity include:
¥ $350,000 to construct a new power station control room building and install a new switchboard, generator sets and a second fuel storage tank at the Nyirripi power station.
¥ $600,000 to upgrade the power station at Kaltukatjkara (Docker River) to provide a reliable and cost-effective power supply.
¥ $250,000 to drill and equip a new production bore at Papunya to provide a reliable and secure water supply.
¥ $200,000 to upgrade the sewage treatment facility at Papunya.
¥ $250,000 to upgrade the power station at Papunya and reduce noise levels.
¥ $400,000 to electrify existing bores at Hermannsburg to optimise bore pumping capability.
DOCTOR CRISIS IN CENTRE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Alice Springs has fewer than half as many doctors per head of population when compared to the national average, yet there is a glut of GPs in the affluent suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.
To get more GPs into Alice and The Centre as well as other areas of need, an Alice Springs doctor is urging a national campaign on two key policy reforms.
John Boffa, in the latest issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (vol 26, no 4), argues that AustraliaÕs rural and remote medical workforce "is only just being kept afloat by overseas-trained doctors" Ð in many cases to the great cost of the developing countries that trained them Ð while the inequitable distribution of Australian-trained doctors has hardly been touched.
"GPs are moving into wealthy urban areas at least in part to protect their income, creating a GP surplus unrelated to need," says Dr Boffa, the Public Health Medical Officer with Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.
These surplus GPs each cost Medicare on average about $180,000 per year and contribute to a highly inequitable consumption of medical resources.
Dr Boffa quotes a 1998 study which revealed the highest usage rates of MBS and PBS resources were in suburbs like Double Bay in Sydney at almost $1000 per head, while the lowest rates of less than $100 per head occurred in remote communities such as the Kimberley region of WA.
While the national GP population ratio is around 1:900, the rate in Central Australia is 1:1100 for Aboriginal people, and 1:2200 for non-Aboriginal people.
This is clearly inequitable and not good enough in the Australian context, says Dr Boffa (though before Central Australians start feeling too sorry for themselves, consider that in the African nation of Uganda there is currently only one doctor per 24,700 population!).
Dr Boffa argues that it is unethical to "poach" doctors from developing countries to solve our medical workforce problems, and it is also unreliable, given the increasing international competition for them.
In recent years, financial incentives in particular have made some headway on recruitment and retention problems in rural and remote Australia.
Among them, Remote Area Grants (RAGs) have encouraged GPs working in areas of need to bulk bill, by topping up their income with $50,000 recurrent grants.
The system has seen some very remote GPs earning packages of $200,000 a year. Congress offers GPs salary packages worth about $130,000 a year for a 37.5 hour working week, with better than one night in five on call.
Unfortunately, says Dr Boffa, in many jurisdictions the RAGs have been discontinued or dramatically reduced by the Rural Workforce Agencies administering them, who want to use their limited funds more "flexibly".
Dr Boffa says this has worked to the disadvantage of some very remote Aboriginal communities and should be the subject of reform:"I believe that RAGs need to be returned to the Commonwealth as an uncapped program.
"In addition, the concept of RAGs, which has proved useful, could be extended into all areas of need to encourage bulk billing GPs to practise [there]."
Dr Boffa quotes a 2002 Access Economics report that suggests that a 120 per cent loading is required to attract the average urban GP (earning about $100,000 a year) to the bush.
The trouble is, though, that communities with the greatest need can't necessarily afford this level of financial incentive.Dr Boffa thus argues that non-financial incentives need to be considered, in addition to existing programs.
These include linking voluntary years of service in areas of need to preferential, but not exclusive, access to the subsequent career pathway of choice, and restricting Medicare provider numbers according to "the relevant target of say one GP to 1100 people".
Says Dr Boffa: "Preferential, but not exclusive, access to the areas with the most popular provider numbers could then be given to GPs who have worked the longest in areas of need."Given the growing popularity of the North Shore of Sydney, Melbourne's eastern suburbs and some large regional centres, such a system would create a very substantial, non-financial incentive for work in areas of need."
Dr Boffa says the opposition to these types of reforms from some members of the medical profession is "one of the major reasons why equitable access to GPs has not been achieved for some Australians".He says some doctors' groups should not be allowed "to dictate the terms of the debate on such a critical public health issue".
A spokesperson for federal Health Minister, Senator Kaye Patterson, says the Minister has not seen a comprehensive proposal on non-financial incentives along the lines suggested by Dr Boffa.
"The Minister is happy to look at new ideas but I imagine these proposals would be quite difficult to administer," says the spokesperson, who also reiterated the government's present policy on the allocation of RAGs.
"It is up to the Rural Workforce Agencies to allocate these grants as they see fit.
"The RWA in the NT, of which Dr Boffa is the chair, gets $1.9m from the government."The Central Australian Division of Primary Health Care (formerly of General Practice) recognises the "real problems of mal-distribution of doctors in Australia", says executive officer, Vicki Taylor.
She says the division supports the principle of rewarding doctors who work in areas of need.She says bulk-billing has reduced considerably in The Centre, creating access problems for some clients, and the division supports a reward system for doctors who bulk-bill.The division has not yet discussed in detail non-financial incentives such as those proposed by Dr Boffa, who is a member of the division's board.
"It's a very serious and contentious issue and it's very important for the debate about it to happen," says Ms Taylor.
DESERT KNOWLEDGE: BIG BUCKS FROM LATERAL
THINKING? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
If you're having a hard time getting a handle on what Desert Knowledge is all about, try this for size.
It's how Clive Scollay, organiser of the Outback Central symposium starting in Alice Springs a week from today, tells the story.
About 20 per cent of China's landmass Ð seven time the size of Britain Ð is deserts and they're growing by 3500 sq km every year, according to the Xinhua news agency.
The sand dunes are now within 160km of Beijing.
Dust storms from the Gobi, when they hit the capital's wall of pollution, create a muddy, foul fallout Ð not the kind of thing you want around at the best of times, and especially not for the Olympic Games in six years' time.
It all started when the erstwhile proud and powerful Mongols were relegated to becoming an impoverished and powerless minority, eking out an existence as herders of sheep and goats which eat everything in sight.
The rest of the vegetation is being burned by the nomads to keep warm in the sub zero winter nights.
Needed are more suitable forms of making a living in the desert, and an energy source other than burning dwindling firewood.
It's a problem of fantastic proportions that will cost billions to fix.
It will take expertise capable of dealing with vast amounts of land, and in a cross-cultural environment.
Ring a bell?
China, population 1.2 billion, is shopping for solutions.
Israel and the USA, for example, know quite a lot about deserts, but Clive says China looks well beyond the dollar bottom line. It needs to like the people it is dealing with, and it seeks to forge long term relationships.
At the moment Oz is the flavour of the month.
The $25b North West Shelf gas deal, brokered by John Howard, is one manifestation of that.
Another is the Aussie team already in place to help organise the 2006 Olympics.
A further one Ð in a very small way so far Ð are inquiries, during a visit to China by the Alice Springs based Centre for Appropriate Technology about installing energy systems other than burning dwindling firewood.
For some 20 years Australia's CSIRO has been working at the edge of the Gobi planting a barrier of trees in a bid to keep the desert in check.
Alice Springs scientist Mark Stafford-Smith has been a key adviser.
Yes, they're planting Aussie gumtrees.
And what has all that got to do with a talk fest in little old Alice?
Well, a Chinese delegation will be there.
And if the symposium will bring together local problem solvers with people who have extraordinarily deep pockets, says Clive, then Desert Knowledge will have chalked up its first major victory.
The drive-in circle of life. COLUMN by STEVE
Whenever I pass the old drive-in cinema south of the Heavitree Gap, I get a melancholy feeling. It's the same inexplicable mood that goes with the sight of a dead tree, a rusty bike chain or a cheese sandwich without pickle.
This is strange because I have no happy, sad, romantic or any other memories of drive-ins. Neither do I like them much. They remind me of the epic poem "Autogeddon" by Heathcote Williams, where aliens visit earth and make the mistake of believing that cars rather than people are the inhabitants of our planet. Looking down on a drive-in from the air, you could make the same mistake.
After all, what could be more bizarre than driving into a cinema to watch a movie? In Queensland, I saw a drive-through pie shop. I wonder if they have drive-through tattoo parlours. You sit in the vehicle while they ask you to lean forward so they can engrave a bat on your shoulder blade.
But as for cinemas, surely they are supposed to be a shared experience. You go to the big screen for the excitement of seeing the film while it is fresh and new. You savour the buzz of others in the theatre doing the same and you hear their reactions through the groans and the laughs. Surely doing this at a drive-in, stuck inside a station wagon with the windows wound up, can't offer the same entertainment? But then again, not having romantic memories of drive-ins, I wouldn't know.
So if I don't know anything about drive-in cinemas, why the melancholy frame of mind? This troubled me for weeks and then finally I worked it out. It must be something to do with the plans for the old drive-in. It's going to be turned into a servo. This means that all those memories of old movies, all that popcorn crushed into the dirt, all those relationships begun or ended, all will finally be gone forever. How desperately sad.
And while this conversion takes place we townspeople can observe a servo on Wills Terrace becoming a car park. Therefore it stands to reason that, somewhere in Alice Springs, there is a car park that is being considered for redevelopment as a cinema. Drive-in to servo. Servo to car park. Car park to drive-in. Step aside cute Disney lion cubs. Make way, Lion King. It's the Central Australian version of the Circle of Life.
Before I came to live in the Alice, I told friends and relatives of my plans. It's the polite thing to do. One of them remarked that they had seen the town on a television documentary that showed that the streets were clogged with ugly four-wheel drive vehicles being driven by men wearing long white socks. It must have been an old film, I chuckled nervously.
Television documentaries have a lot to answer for. But then so does the real experience of visiting a place. Take Birmingham, England, for example. According to history, this is the cradle of the industrial revolution. Pay a visit and you realise that it is actually the Birthplace of the Elevated Concrete Expressway.
Mexico City should be the mystical centre of ancient Aztec culture. Instead, due to vehicle pollution, it's the City Where You Shouldn't Breathe Too Much.
Or Los Angeles, the city of angels. More accurately, Los Angeles is the city of that phenomenon where smog forms a lid over a conurbation, making the air taste like three-week old egg noodle soup. Which reminds me of that joke Ð what's the difference between Los Angeles and a bowl of yogurt? The yogurt has a living culture.There's a danger in this for Alice Springs. Build too many car parks along our main streets and the place will start to seem like less like the home of desert culture and more like the City of Three Hour Parking for Shoppers Only.But I guess that's the circle of life. You can't be a service centre for an area twice the size of France without expecting people to drive into town and expect somewhere to park. Trouble is, most of them only come from the Eastside. And I thought that the car park next to the Anzac Oval is half-empty most of the time.
Feeling gloomy about all of this, I went down to the old drive-in and wandered around. The screen was tall, wide and clean. I kicked the spinifex growing through the bitumen and gazed mournfully at the old projectors. The place felt like it had been abandoned in a hurry. Like a ship without a crew or an old mining town.
In the entry booth, I looked for ashtrays with smoking butts. I guess ultimately this was just a field with a screen at the end. A good place for those aliens to land, maybe.
THE LAST CAMEL TRAIN: REVIVING LINKS.
DICK KIMBER continues his account of The Last Camel Train's journey (see Part One in last week's Alice News).
As the Last Camel Train left Oodnadatta on August 9, the well-wishers began their return to the Alice. Others tootled about Oodnadatta, surprised to see sparrows again, visiting the Pioneer Graveyard, and browsing in the railway building's museum.
There the people of past eras worked hard, played hard at the races or smiled out from their photographs.
Their names often rang connections between Oodnadatta and the Alice Ð Breaden, Ah Chee, Spicer, Giles, Tilmouth, Kunoth, "Wallis Fogarty Ltd, Storekeepers", Harding (bushman, prospector, station owner, publican, butcher, cattle-duffer and horse-"borrower"), and Aboriginal police trackers "Tiger" and "Yumpie". (I had been fortunate to be able to talk with the blind tracker "Yumpie" Jack in 1970.)
At the "Pink Roadhose", with its dry pink canoes for hire, I had a brief yarn to Kidman station-hand Clive Warren and cameleer Don Aziz, grandson of Sultan Aziz. Don had had hard times during his life, but retained a sense of humour with his word-play "as is" on his name: "As they say, I'm Aziz now, will be Aziz tomorrow, and for evermore will be Aziz."
The camels had made 18 kilometres with their loading, and I caught up with them at their late afternoon camp along a gidgee-lined creek. All of the cameleers were attending to their animals, Jane Mitchell with her partner Wayne Braszell at ease with five month old Julie as well as the camels.
Scotty Balfour, leader, was there, a mixture of explorer and cooky "Wishbone" out of "Rawhide", helping Morgan Flint and Dave Evans prepare the evening meal.
Kase Connole, nursing sister from the Flying Doctor Service in the Alice, had had her first patient Ð herself! In helping to peel a first spud, she had cut her finger.
Peter Ross, water-truck driver, relaxed while his grandson Chansey wrote notes in his diary.
The evening meal was top-tucker, and afterwards Scotty held everyone's attention as he explained the basic requirements of the travel.
"We all want to have a good time, but as you know there is a serious side to the jouney too. The first thing is for all of us to understand about the camels."
Here he turned to Nic Smail, who gave us the basic rules, commencing with, "First, they are really nice animals, but don't try to cut through a string, ducking under the rope. They have their sense of order and space."
When he had finished, Scotty emphasised the need for everyone to unburden themselves of any problems they perceived, not to dwell on them and become bitter. That way the camp would remain happy, work well, and everyone would enjoy themselves.
He expected everyone to collect any rubbish every morning: "We want to leave each camp as we found it."
And finally, he exhorted people to not let all of his hard work in digging holes go to waste: the toilets were there to be used.
It was all basic common-sense and respect for one another and the country. Alfred Giles, 125 years before, and knowing the same route through past travels, had addressed his overlanding party as follows:
"You must remember Ñ that Ñ everything we require Ñ we shall have to depend upon our own exertions to produce.
"You will not Ñ see for many months any faces but those of your own comrades and one of the main causes of success attending expeditions Ñ may be attributed to the good feeling and willingness that exists among the men comprising the party.
"Assist each other all you can and where you do pull give a strong pull, a long pull and pull altogether; remember horses may be collar proud but men never should.
"The trip is a long one and a weary one. At times, however, it will be like a travelling picnic while at other times you may be called upon to perform trying duties such as travelling behind stock for several nights in succession through long and arid stretches Ñ or you may have to sink wells in the beds of sandy rivers and make troughs to water the stock and you will have to watch the stock by night as well as by day.
"You must be prepared, perhaps, to expel attacks made by hostile blacks as well as those made by mosquitoes."We settled in to a bit of yarning over a drink or three, and enjoyed Ted Egan's light-hearted camel poem. Then someone suggested that everyone introduce themselves. And so around the circle we went Ð all of those already mentioned in this and the previous article; Fred Gray of the ever-helpful Alice Springs Lions Club; Chris Tangey, Steve Strike and son Ben there to make a film and photographic record; Margaret and Fred Merchant of the Dooralong Valley in NSW enjoying a touch of the journey; and Bob Adams, driver of the hay truck. Bob, a retired school-teacher who weighs in at around 130 kilos, gave as a nick-name "Toyboy" to appreciative laughter.
Neil Waters asked if anyone had a spare spotlight: one of the Smails' young camels had broken its rope and left the creek-line. So all of those with knowledge of camels spent an hour in a fruitless search.
All but a few stayers were in their swags when a contingent of young people from Oodna arrived, hoping to join a party. They had parked their vehicle far enough away not to disturb anyone, and had a brief friendly catch-up before heading back home.
One young woman was from Germany and another from Norway. Oodnadatta is so friendly it attracts visitors like moths to a flame.
At 4am on the 10th, I got up, reached up to the Milky Way and did a few chin-ups among the dazzling brilliance of the stars. More usefully, I quietly put a few large gidgee logs on the two fires.
That old bushie Peter Ross was first up a little later, enjoying the early morning darkness and the fires. All peoples on earth have enjoyed the warming comfort of fires for hundreds of thousands of years.
It has only been in the last century that large numbers have begun cutting themselves off from the glowing coals and the golden flames.
We are fortunate in the Centre that we can still enjoy them.
Soon others joined us, and in the pre-dawn light more and more people stirred. And the straying camel was found just 200 metres away.
Cereal, fried eggs, sausages, toast, an apple and a cuppa Ð it wasn't exactly getting by on the smell of an oily rag! There would not be too much Barcoo rot on this journey, and not too many would need to be carried on a stretcher like the explorer Stuart 140 years before.
The clean-up began, and then the camels were on their way up the track towards Mount Dare.
MATESThose of us who had to head back to the Alice farewelled the mates who were to travel the entire track.
For the rest of the week travel was much the same, with the distance reaching 30-40 kilometres per day. Eric Sultan, emulating his grandfather Sultan Mahomed, tried walking beside the camels.
Word came in to the Alice of the trials of the journey. Were there bushfires, poisonous snakes, rationings of food, attacks by dingoes, dust-storms, a million flies? Please send more bread. Can you send out a spaghetti ladel?
Please send out some liniment for sore feet. It is difficult answering a mobile phone while doing up my fly, but I'll manage.
Two of our three billies have holes in them! The twenty-first century's crises were never-ending!
At last they reached Eringa Waterhole, place of the Perenti Dreaming.
Here, in 1860, John McDouall Stuart and party had dismounted from their horses and stripped off their clothes to go for a swim.
Aborigines, watching from a distance, thought that they were seeing skeletons shedding their skin, and fled in terror!
And here, in 1875, after floods had forced them to spend days perched in an old coolibah, Frank Treloar and his sons had taken up a cattle and horse-breeding station.
They had prospered until the 1890-1891 drought, when all of the cattle, then many of the horses, perished.
One of the brothers had left to attempt to find land to agist their stock.
After a time the other had taken the two fittest horses, but both had died under him.
Men at the Transcontinental Hotel had seen a strangely gigantic mirage. It materialised into the brother, doing a perish as he staggered into town. He was remembered as "The Man of the Mirage" for a century after that time.
RULES: MOMENT OF TRUTH IS NEAR. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
Now is the time for good men to come to the aid of the party
Only two minor rounds of Aussie Rules remain for 2002, and then three weekends of finals.After that the real festival for Australians takes place on that Saturday in September when the sacred MCG hosts the AFL Grand Final.
In a cross between a daze and a hangover administrators and fans of our national code will then turn away from the infatuation with a bag of leather and indulge in summer sports.
Somehow prior to that swing to summer, lovers of Aussie Rules in the Alice urgently need to sit down and formulate a recipe that will improve the situation at Traeger Park in the coming years.
On Sunday two A Grade matches were played out, and neither served the best interests of the game we call our own.
West, the top side in the competition, handed Federal, the cellar dwellers, a hiding to none. They booted 32.32 (224) to the Demons' mere one point. Then in the game that was expected to keep the fans believing, South trounced Rovers 24.17 (161) to 4.5 (29).
In terms of affecting the final four neither game was significant. Rovers were never going to climb into a double chance finals situation, Federal were going to stay on the bottom, and for West and South nothing was to alter.
But for the dwindling crowd of faithfuls who again rolled up at Traeger, the entertainment didn't hold a candle to the televised AFL games beamed and broadcast into households throughout the land.West were motivated to kick a record number of goals against Federal, and apart from poor kicking could well have been in the hunt to record a record. Alas they booted 6.12 in the opening quarter, with a gusty August breeze no doubt affecting accuracy.
With Feds held scoreless, the Bloods reeked havoc in the second term with a further 7.5 to the Demons' one and only point.After half time the top dogs forged further ahead 11.7 to nil, and they completed the game with an 8.6 final term.Across the ground West had winners. The optician Jarrod Slater was 100/100 in his sights with a stellar performance.
Since joining the Bloods early in the season he has fitted neatly into their team play and has proven to be the initiator of downfield attacks.Steven Squires proved valuable in front of goals once again, with a bag of nine goals this week.
He really showed his strength on Sunday with strong aerial display and some good old fashioned direct leading within the 50 metre zone.
Across the centre Jarrod Berrington again played a dominant role and he really catches the eye when he follows play into the half forward area to capitalise on his initial work out of the pivot.
So too Karl Gunderson and Rory Hood plied their craft diligently, setting things up for Squires and recent find Jamie O'Keefe.
In the Federal sector, winners were few. It was refreshing to see Michael Graham reappear and don the boots. He placed himself at full back and while the "Flash" of old may have lost an element of zap, his heart was still in the play.
Similar could be said of skipper Darryl Ryder and campaigner Glenn Moreen, who each gave 100 per cent in a side under the hammer.The late game was expected to be a real contest with Rovers and South looking certainties to meet again in the first semi final. However, thoughts of a close encounter were dispelled somewhat when the Yuendumu connection were unable to make it to town.
This virtually decimated the Blues forward line, and with Jamie Tidie a withdrawal, the backline was also exposed.
In the first term the high leaping Clinton Pepperill dominated the rucks and Souths had Lloyd Stockman literally running amok out of the centre and looking for Jeffery Lowe in the goal square.
Darren Talbot opened the register for the Roos but then Bradley Dodd successively drifted goalwards through the half forward line to post four goals for the quarter.Otherwise Lowe and Bradley Braun were able to open their accounts and South were on fire, up 8.4 to 1.0 at the first break.
The Blues' goals scorer for the term was Malcolm Kenny, who repeated the trick in the second term to bag two goals for the game.
Rovers other goal in the second term went the way of the inspirational John Glasson who, despite being far from a sprint champion in this day and age, bounced his way through the centre and capped the attack off with a major from within the 50 metre zone.
Such inspirational play, however, was not enough to get the Blues into gear. Souths countered with 4.5 for the quarter. Lowe poked two goals through; Alvin Briscoe came good with a major; and Shane Hayes showed his calibre with a fine kick through the big sticks.At the half time break, Souths sat on 12.9 (81) to Rovers 3.2 (20).In the premiership third term, South left no stone unturned as they added 7.4 to 1.3. It was Jeff Lowe in the goal square who assumed the role of master of ceremonies as he planted six goals, while the former little maestro of the Roos machine, Wayne Braun, put through a vintage six pointer.
Late in proceedings big Wilson Walker scored what was to be Rovers' last major for the match.
For the Blues the run to the line was a dismal one, with many meaning well but few responding to the call.
At the South end Shane Hayes burst into the game with two goals; Briscoe and Dodd added one a piece; and in celebration Lowe kicked his tenth to seal the game for the Roos.
The 24.17 (161) to 4.5 (29) victory to South was a confidence booster for the club who, if at full strength, could be a real chance for the flag.
At the helm Shaun Cusack again did the hard work.
Accompanying him was Trevor Presley who feels no pain, and credit should go to Harry McCormack, Malcolm Ross, Stockman, Hayes and Lowe for their efforts.In the Rovers' quarter it was the war horse John Glasson who led from the front.
He had Karl Hampton as a comrade in arms, Brendan Smith was ever reliable across half back, and a determined Tony Scrutton battling away in the rucks.This week Federal take to the field for the last time in 2002, against South. This match will be followed by the contest between top teams Pioneer and Westies.
IN ISOLATION, THE PAST IS YOUR COMPANY. Review by
A man sitting under a raintree in the desert, a woman floating in a bathtub in the Pacific: for all their difference, Red Dust's two short plays produced for the Alice Springs Festival have quite some similarities.
Isolation throws up the past Ð with its cast of main characters, the past is your company. You can embrace it, go forward out of it with a new understanding of yourself, of life; be overwhelmed by it; or, as most of us do, follow a path somewhere in between.
Theatre works best with the extremes.
Lola in "Dust", by Anne Harris, goes right out on a limb, cutting herself loose from her past, which, for all the loss involved, gives her the possibility to review it and take what she needs to renew or even reinvent herself.
Lennie in "Under the Raintree", by Michael Watts, is forced to confront his past by his son, Ronald, who needs to understand it in order to go forward himself.
Both plays have at their heart an awareness of connectedness: without it life is dull and grey, unimportant. Lola and Lennie, because of their radical isolation from people, experience a sublime connection with the natural world.
Lola: "The waves subsided, / The moon came out. / There were stars. / I lay here, / Like a baby. / And just looked, just took it all in. / Like I'd never seen the sky before."Lennie: "I can sit in one place all day and feel totally unimportant, sort of tiny, no more important than the smallest bit of grass or rock, and yet somehow, connected to everything."But neither can stay in that place. It's not in the nature of human existence.
Lennie is an old man; at the end of the play it seems he won't do much with a possible new connection to his son, in full light of the awful truth about their separation for 23 years. Ronald though has found what he needed; has a new sense of wholeness. Lola, in middle age, has a lot of living before her. As she puts foot to ground, after her long ordeal, there is an exhilarating sense of her future possibilities.
"Dust" is part of a longer work, in which Harris, born and raised in New York and now living in Alice, will explore more broadly the themes of immigration.
Harris and Lola are second wave immigrants: their forbears came from Poland to America.
They had an inherited knowledge of exile before experiencing it for themselves; Lola, at least, could be seen as contaminated by it. The wound of her father's exile festers in her as anxiety.
The theme of exile is a particularly rich one for Alice Springs' many immigrants, whether from interstate or overseas.
"Under the Raintree" dwells on the way love can be contaminated by possession. Watts roots his story in the history of the races in Central Australia: it's strong fare, but less complex, more resolved than last year's "Train Dancing".
Legendary guitarist of the Western Desert, Sammy Butcher (ex-Warumpi) will add to the resonance of "Raintree" with tracks from his forthcoming CD, "Desert Surf".
With two new plays by local writers, interpreted by local performers, Red Dust Theatre is consolidating its position as an invigorating cultural force in The Centre, grounded in relevance for life in this unique part of the world.
Return to Alice
Springs News Webpage.