ART MONEY HAS YET TO JUMP BERRIMAH WALL. Report
by KIERAN FINNANE.
The Alice Springs Festival, scheduled for September and already registered on national events calendars, has just $10,000 in its pocket.
Allocated in the latest round of arts grants from the Northern Territory Government, that money will keep in employment for the next three months festival director Di Mills and part-time administrative assistant Rosie Dwyer.
A letter to Chief Minister Clare Martin, who is also Arts Minister, requesting core funding for the organisation so that it can at least establish an office and assure its director's job, has been acknowledged but as yet no firm answer given.
However, in a statement to the Alice Springs News, Ms Martin's office says the Alice Springs Festival and Red Dust Theatre, at this point also unfunded, "are recognised as key regional initiatives with potential for support through the Northern Territory Government".
"As such, they will be invited to take part in the program preparing arts organisations to apply for major operational funding under the implementation of the Arts Funding and Policy Review in 2003."Under the program it is proposed that the Department will work in partnership with invited organisations to prepare them to submit an application for funding for 2004 that clearly responds to Government's priorities, including the capacity to deliver in the regions."That would seem to mean that both organisations are expected to hang fire until next year.
BOOST?This is despite the fact that the government has announced a significant boost to arts funding for this year.
Where did all the money, a total of $2.4m, go?
The short answer is that the vast majority went to Darwin.
Among the organisations to benefit from the creation of new administrative positions, on top of existing full-time positions, are Tracks, who staged Fierce in Alice late last year, and the Darwin Symphony Orchestra.
Their total operational funds now amount to $146,500 and $200,000 respectively.
The Darwin Festival will receive $191,500.
Other Darwin-based groups to receive substantial operational budgets are Brown's Mart Community Arts ($150,000), Brown's Mart Trustees ($56,000), the Darwin Theatre Company ($191,500), Corrugated Iron Youth Arts ($75,000) and 24HR Art: NT Centre for Contemporary Art ($ 93,000).
Compare these budgets to those of the Alice beneficiaries: $20,000 to Watch This Space; $20,000 and $19,500 to Music Industry Development Inc (MIDI) and the NT Writers Centre (NTWC) to employ part-time project officers here.
It is worth observing here that MIDI and NTWC, of the Darwin-based arts organisations, have lately been among the most proactive in Alice, but are far from the richest: their total budgets are $89,000 and $61,500 respectively.
To complete the tally, Artback (NT Arts Touring Service), chaired by Alice man Peter Yates, and Territory Craft, both of which deliver substantial programs locally, received $231,500 and $252,500 respectively.
The government also invests $2.2m in operational funding for the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct.
Ms Martin's office describes the precinct as "the artistic and cultural hub of Alice Springs, which showcases and supports the Alice Springs arts community through exhibition and performance spaces".
However, what Araluen is unable to provide is accommodation for our numerous arts organisations, which, apart from Watch This Space, continue to deliver highly valued cultural programs from home-based offices, often with begged and borrowed resources to supplement their small project grants.
The local arts community has been lobbying government for arts accommodation in Alice, along the lines enjoyed in Darwin for years at Browns Mart and the Frog Hollow Centre for the Arts, which houses not only the government's arts NT, but also the Darwin Theatre Company, ArtBack, Tracks, Ausdance, ANKAAA, NTWC, and the Darwin Visual Arts Association.
To quote the arts NT website: "Facilities at Frog Hollow include office, meeting, rehearsal, exhibition, studio and storage space."
On this point, it appears that progress is being made. According to Ms Martin's office, "the Department is currently in negotiation to secure a site as a multi arts space for the Alice Springs region. It is likely that an announcement will be made in March 2003".
The statement continues: "We want a facility that can house both the Alice Springs Festival and Red Dust Theatre as well as a number of other arts organisations such as MIDI and NTWC, providing in-kind office, workshop and rehearsal space."Provision of arts accommodation at minimal cost will provide a significant basis for arts development for Alice Springs based organisations similar to that of Frog Hollow Centre for the Arts and Browns Mart Community Arts in Darwin."That's welcome news but it begs the question, why house, for example, Red Dust Theatre while denying them operational funds?
And why is it expected that key personnel can further develop exciting new arts organisations, which in the case of the festival and Red Dust have already put substantial runs on the board over the past two years, without anything like adequate financial support?Procrastination for yet another year is a risky procedure: not even artists can live on inspiration alone.
Acting Executive Director of Arts, Museums and Library Services, Chris Capper, says what Alice Springs requires is "steady development over a period of time".
He sees governance as a key issue for relatively young organisations such as the festival.Says Mr Capper: "Issues around financial support, including local government and corporate support, can be worked through over the next 12 months."
Wouldn't the festival committee do this more effectively if it were able to employ a full-time professional in a reasonably equipped office?
To be fair, the government's Regional Arts Development Officer, Sonja MacLean deSilva, offers substantial in-kind support to the festival, as did her predecessor, Lucy Stewart.
However, it's simply not possible to stage a quality annual event as well as to develop a new umbrella arts organisation for Alice, as the festival looks set to become, with such meagre resources.
Ms Mills says the response to the festival's application to the Australia Council will not be known until July.
Without operational funds and with the festival scheduled for September 5 to 14, this will mean, once again, a very short lead-in time for the final program to be put in place.
"We are working in extremely difficult and stressful circumstances," says Ms Mills."This is a multi-talented population, which delivers a quality product intrinsic to this community. It's like nowhere else in Australia and it deserves acknowledgment in terms of resources."
Craig Matthewson, key driver of Red Dust Theatre, has been told that their latest project, to write and stage a play about the Strehlow family, needs further development. The Arts Grants Board knocked it back for funding.
Says Mr Matthewson, ironically a member of the Arts Grants Board: "It's very difficult to further develop a project like this without core funding.
"I've done the development of Red Dust for the last two years out of my own pocket but I can't keep doing that.
"This is disappointing for Red Dust and for Central Australia generally."
(In contrast to the allocation of operational funds, Alice Springs did well out of the latest round of the project grants, recommended by the Arts Grants Board, receiving 34 per cent of grants (47 per cent by value).)
Ms Mills says the arts community is preparing to call a community forum to discuss infrastructure and core funding issues. They would also like to invite the Chief Minister to personally visit the artists and arts organisations of the Centre.
"We want her to see for herself the conditions under which we are working," says Ms Mills.
2003: THE OPPORTUNITIES.
ERWIN CHLANDA speaks with CRAIG CATCHLOVE, chairman of the Central
Australian Regional Development Committee.
"Alice Springs has the potential to be a perfect place to live, but that is not our reputation around Australia Ð when they think of us they think of hot, dry and dusty.
"We all know that's not true, so let's refocus that."
So says Craig Catchlove (pictured above, right), chair of the Central Australian Regional Development Committee, an organisation a little more than a year old, which provides advice to government, Territory and federal, on regional development issues.
Its membership ranges from business people and public servants to representatives from the Joint Defence Facility and Aboriginal organisations.
There are four Regional Development Committees in the Territory, who each provide a nominee for the Area Consultative Committee which allocates federal regional development funds.
The Alice Springs News asked Mr Catchlove what the local committee sees as the top priority issues for Alice Springs.
Changing our image, around the country and overseas, is one, and the Desert Knowledge movement is an important way to do that. Other priorities are:-
¥ the release of more residential land, which in turn should assist in the provision of affordable accommodation to transient workers;
¥ getting a second airline into the Centre;
¥ sealing the Mereenie Loop Road, which he argues would boost visitor numbers to the Western MacDonnells and Alice by 80,000 to 90,000 a year;
¥ and, responding positively to the Aboriginal urban drift, in particular by increasing education, training and employment opportunities.
Mr Catchlove describes Alice as "a tremendously dynamic town, with cutting edge industries".
"I think that we can be basically described as an island, surrounded by land instead of water but with the same essence of isolation and the same need for innovation.
"We have so much on in this town, we have the potential to be a perfect place to live.
"Our reputation is of course for extremes of climate, but the bottom line is, we have so much blue sky, and so often excellent temperatures to do things in.
"We have the ability to really sell the desert living concept to Australians, which has never been done before.
"Setting ourselves and our image to be Desert Knowledge focussed will be a huge part of that.
"We'll be known for our innovation, for our utilisation of appropriate technologies, for our attitude to where we live.
"That will refocus our image of ourselves as well as the external images of our town, and that in turn will mean a lot with respect to the retention of people.
"Turnover of population in Alice Springs has always been a big issue.
"We're talking about how do we make people think of Alice as a long term place to reside. That comes down to services, jobs, accommodation within the town."Which brings us to the release of residential land. The committee obviously welcomes the expected release of hundreds of blocks in the Larapinta area, pending final resolution of negotiations with native title holders.However, Mr Catchlove says it is not known for sure whether the market will quickly soak this up, as is commonly believed, or whether it will produce an over-supply.
Nobody knows, because the last time a residential land needs report was done was in 1997."That was in the middle of a depression here in Alice Springs, that was a bad year for tourism, a bad year all round.
"And even on the low growth figures that were being projected out of that report, we were going to run out of land and accommodation around 2000, 2001.
"Now we have well outstripped the growth that was projected, and you only have to look at the house and land prices to understand we are in real deficit when it comes to accommodation and land in this town."The committee has asked the Chief Minister to have another residential land needs report carried out, indeed to make such a report a regular occurrence, every three to four years, so that the town moves "coherently into the future".
One impact that land shortage has had is on the availability of cheap rental accommodation.
Among other consequences, this has meant that the tourism industry has not been able to adequately access transient workers because there is nowhere for them to stay.
Says Mr Catchlove: "If the only places they can stay are going to cost them $300 to $400 a week and they're earning $400 to $500, they look at the net result and say why would I bother?
"That's a big issue in this town."
While flats are scarce, jobs are not. For those who have the ability and qualifications to work the reality is a zero per cent unemployment rate.
"But we have huge hidden unemployment, hidden by CDEP, and that's another one of our major issues," says Mr Catchlove."Education, training, trying to right some of the wrongs that have been dealt to Aboriginal people, especially from communities who come into Alice Springs."Education outcomes are appalling, job readiness is a huge issue.
"We are certainly seeing urban drift, as is the world over. It's being dealt with by some of the Alice in Ten programs and our organisation is there to see the areas that are not being picked up."Airline services remain a critical issue.
Mr Catchlove says Qantas has ramped up services to about 90 per cent of the capacity that existed before September, 2001, while the Ayers Rock Resort airport actually has more capacity.
"But having said that, 43 per cent of passengers on these mostly full aircraft are in transit, they are not staying here.
"Alice has turned into a national hub, and this is really affecting the ability of our visitors to actually get here because all those seats are being taken up by people in transit."This, combined with the decrease in the number of discount seats in the market, is reducing tourist numbers significantly.
"We need about 20 per cent more seats to eliminate airline capacity as a factor limiting our growth," says Mr Catchlove.
The "magic word" still seems to be "Virgin", but "I have strong doubts as to whether they will be here in the first half of this year".
Meanwhile, attacking the visitor number issue on a different front, Mr Catchlove argues passionately for sealing the Mereenie Loop road.
"Quite frankly, anyone who has been on that road, knows it's a bloody awful goat track most of the time.
"It falls to pieces very quickly, it's too long."It's not an experiential road, it's an easily degraded dirt road, with potential to be a major highway, linking the Ayers Rock Resort and Alice Springs.
"At the moment we lose a lot of people who go to the Ayers Rock Resort, drive to Kings Canyon and go back to the resort.
"If we could get only half of those people, the potential is huge, we're talking 80,000 to 90,000 extra people.
"We'd have one of the world's most renowned drives: Uluru, up through Kings Canyon, through the spectacular Western MacDonnell ranges, a bit of PalmValley, Gosse's Bluff, Glen Helen, back to Alice Springs.
"There'd be no reason in the world as to why 99 per cent of people wouldn't be doing that.
"We would need dirt road experiences to replace it, but there's plenty of potential there. So we need to identify [those experiences] and start negotiations so that by the time the Mereenie Loop road is sealed, the ball is ready to roll."
"TOWN LIKE ALICE" IN WENTEN'S EYES. Review by KIERAN FINNANE.
The Town Grew Up Dancing
The Life and Art of Wenten Rubuntja
By Wenten Rubuntja with Jenny Green
Like the man, the book about the life and art of Wenten Rubuntja is unique.
Written for a general readership, The Town Grew Up Dancing takes the exceptional stance of allowing this prominent Indigenous man to largely tell his story in his own voice.
This means that large slabs of the text, transcribed from recorded interviews, are in Arrernte (followed by translations) and in his idiosyncratic Aboriginal English.
Combined with a generous photographic record and reproductions of his fine artwork, the book provides a fascinating and impressive Indigenous account of life in and around Alice Springs during times of great change.
A central achievement is that the Indigenous players in our shared history are vividly pictured. One of my favourite passages is Wenten's account of church-going in his boyhood:
"We were at Mpwetyerre Ð you know, where that Casino is now. We came to say ÔAmen' to Pastor Albrecht, old man Irnwerre. Then we went along and said ÔAmen' to Father Moloney Ð we said ÔAmen' to every priest. Old Father Moloney found us and baptised us. We were bludging around for lollies É We went along to every church and got baptised. We went to Father Dominic, to the Jehovah Witnesses' church, to Father Smith, Father Gross and to Father Ted as well Ð we went to all the churches É
"You know kids, they have no shame É We'd all go back and sit on top of the hill, and look down and see, ÔOh, a big mob is going over there to that priest. We'll go to that priest over there É'
"We used to go to the Afghans' church as well, on the edge of the river where their churches were set up in tents É We said, ÔWe been come up and pray Ð we want damper.'"
It's the lived experience, the other side of the often dry old coin of colonial history.Of course, some of the lived experience is harsher:
"Never been properly educated É Come today and stop tomorrow, and get thrashing next day and run away again Ôcos sister hitting them too much you know? ÔGive me your hand.' Then after that on two legs. That means I would be gone then for one week É I went to school but I used to run away all the time É To eat birds. Go round eating birds É"
Wenten says, however, that he did learn to read but not to write, although he can sign his name. Despite this, and the oppressive restrictions placed on Aboriginal people by the administration Ð "you had to have a little ticket to walk around" in Alice Ð Wenten is able to recall using "his young life" to work, fending for himself and his family.
He recalls with pride working as a brick maker:
"We got maybe ten bob or twenty-five bob a hundred. That was penny halfpenny time É We did a lot of work building up the town É"
Wenten also found work as a drover "all over the place from Tempe Downs right up to this side of Tennant Creek and Western Australia É" and cutting timber, similarly all over the place.
"There was jobs all the time, waiting for Aboriginal people. It was good days that day."
His account makes you think twice about current approaches to "job readiness". In whose interest are they?Later at Amoonguna, built in the late 1950s 14 kilometres south-east of Alice "to reduce to a minimum the incentive in native residents to walk into the township at unauthorised times", Wenten and his wife Cynthia worked in the kitchen, Wenten as "a butcher supervisor".
"I used to make sausages and travel to places like Yuendumu to teach others about butchering."
Meanwhile, he had also learnt to paint by watching his father's cousin, Albert Namatjira.
"I wanted to learn. I used to watch him. I'd sit there and watch and keep everything in my head Ð how he was mixing the paint up and all. He gave me a little board, a little half board, and I went back to the telegraph station and started painting there. I went and hid myself behind a rock to paint. I was remembering how that old man was painting Ð his handwork, his mixing and his ideas. After that I brought the painting up and showed it to old Namatjira and he said, 'Eh, who taught you? You've got good ideas.'"
In the 1960s Wenten was a drinker and would trade his paintings for money to buy grog that he'd share. He is frank in his description of this time: "I used to live in the pub É I was mad about drink. I was mad about beer garden. Take-away flagon. Down the creek and do the job in the creek, painting job. Nothing but drinking, drinking, drinking."
He stopped one night in the Stuart Arms in 1976, when his "ideas collapsed".
"My mind was exhausted. Only had ngkwarle. I had three flagons with taxi É When I sat down, I saw the ground turning Ð coloured and spinning Ð like something had turned it around. Then I smashed this ngkwarle Ð I broke the three bottles É Then I been just give up. Just finish. Then land rights start É Then I been work for country."
Wenten's long involvement in "work for country" is revealing. Despite being quite difficult to understand in English, over and over again he managed to successfully nail ideas and feelings in forums around the country, gathering support for the land rights cause.
Many sources cited in the book pay tribute to his ability to include others, to lead.
David Ross, Wenten's nephew and current Director of the Central Land Council, notes how unusual this ability was 20 years ago:
"It was very unusual at that time to be such an up-front, outspoken person who also had the skill and ability to be able to bring people along with him. It wasn't just him leading the charge Ð but bringing people along with him and being able to command respect in the Aboriginal community and in the non-Aboriginal community.
"We have a lot of younger people a hell of a lot better educated than people back in those days, you know, 20 years ago, but I think these old fellas certainly had the ability and the skill to get their message across, and also the theatrics that went with it."
But the fight was also a different fight then, and its form, its culture, its boundaries hadn't yet been sharply delineated.
Wenten painted, according to Dick Kimber, "the first overtly political painting from [this] area", using the acrylic Ôdot' style, in contrast to his watercolour landscape paintings.
He went on to be one of the artists involved in painting the Barunga Statement, which called for a treaty recognising Aboriginal people's prior ownership of the land, and together with Galarrwuy Yunupingu, presented it to Prime Minister Bob Hawke in Parliament House, Canberra in 1991.
The discussion of Wenten's art, although brief, is enlightening.
It reveals that a "reading" of his acrylic paintings is not necessarily as fixed as one might assume.
It suggests their symmetrical structure, often based on a central motif surrounded by two or four other motifs, is related to the structural principle underlying the relationship of Arrernte people to their land and to each other.
"Wenten employs this metaphor essentially to represent the centre Ð which is always a place of cultural significance and provides the point of view from which to read the painting Ð and the periphery."
The centre, then, may represent a significant place in the Alice Springs region or, in another reading, it may represent Darwin or Canberra.
"All are places of power Ð Canberra is seen as a whitefella sacred site in a parallel fashion to the importance of Anthwerrke (Emily Gap) to Arrernte people."
Wenten may also offer alternative interpretations of paintings depending on where he is sitting and what direction he is facing.
"As such the image itself is but one of the elements Ð which include dance, song, topography, story, history Ð that relate to a particular place or story."
His watercolour scenes are generally of specific places Ð "We've got to show country where we live and country with the song" Ð but offer an archetypal view.
"The mountain ranges are more rugged, the river red gums more sinuous, and the placement of waterholes and watercourses more idyllic than in real life."
There are other important, at times more diffuse discussions in the book and there is not room here for reference to all of them. Suffice it to say that the reader comes away with a better understanding of a particular Arrernte world view.
This is chiefly through Wenten Rubuntja's articulations, but is also assisted by the linking narrative and contextual research, written by two non-Indigenous collaborators, linguist and artist Jenny Green (the key recorder and translator, and whose diligence produced the wealth of visual material in the book) and historian Tim Rowse.
The movement between the two approaches Ð autobiography and biography Ð is sometimes a little awkward, but it is hard to know how it could have been done otherwise, while retaining the book's commitment to Wenten's voice.
The book closes with Wenten's inspiring views of reconciliation, the forgiving generosity of which led Ray Martin, at the launch of The Town Grew Up Dancing, to compare him to Nelson Mandela. (Ray and Wenten were both founding members of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, Ray being the chair.)
Wenten: "When English people found our country and [found] Aboriginal people, they put their cities and culture all over our country. But beneath this, all the time, Aboriginal culture and laws stay alive É At first we stirred each other up, then we learnt we had to live together É So it goes on the same for us whether it is one hundred years or two hundred or three hundred Ð there's the Australian community, the Australian Government, Australian culture, and then there is Aboriginal culture, our leaders, and our Law, and we are together in the one country. We are all Australian citizens now."
A slice of life. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.
There hasn't been a lot of "Good News" of late, nationally or
globally, so I thought it would be constructive to pen some parochial
positives as we wait for dramas to unfold, to remind us of what we love
about living in Alice Springs, and what makes the town truly special.
I've collected some bits and pieces to share, beginning with a Centralian daybreak plus a bag of sunshine together with a sliver of our clear blue skies.
A carton crammed with exceptional quality of life; a comfort zone; a recent history of the Centre; a camel ride.
A multi-cultural society; an impromptu Friday night meal at a favourite eating house with friends; a poster of the Old Ghan coming through Heavitree Gap; a 53.5 metre long road-train; paddy-melons growing road-side in amongst the wildflowers.
A box of our good clean fresh air; a segment of the Larapinta Trail; a walk through Olive Pink Botanic Gardens; Sturt desert peas, grevilleas, wattles and banksia in bloom.
An exhibition of art and craft works by talented locals; some lines of bush poetry; an electrical storm lighting up the ridge of our magnificent MacDonnell Ranges; photos of ancient rock paintings.
A packet of freshly picked dates; a wallaby; a thorny devil; a couple of garnets; a bar of Ruby Gorge soap; a bottle of clays, ochres, red, black, white, yellow and charcoal; a jar of tomato jam bought at the Old Timers' Fete.A handful of sand from the river-bed; a bucketful of muddy water saved from the last time the Todd ran a banker; a little flask containing that incredible "after the rain" smell; a panoramic shot from Anzac Hill.A piece of a mall walk at our first Sunday market; a profile of the Post Office, a great meeting place; a small slab (a slabette perhaps?) of sandstone from the local quarry; cattle at dusk out at Curtin Springs; a flautist's sounds reverberating around Glen Helen Gorge.A helicopter ride over Kings Canyon; a walk through the Valley of the Winds; a Jukurrpa 2003 Diary (now on special); a beanie left over from last year's festival; a selection of Centralian musicians' contemporary sounds; a couple of Territory flags and a sense of pride.
A Friends of Araluen catalogue; a copy of the latest visitors' guide and a choice of superb restaurants; a 10 minute drive to work and a shaded car-park; a flowering jacaranda; a huge moon rising; a sense of space; a sunset over Uluru.
The latest Territorian lottery ticket; a couple of galahs; an Alice Springs Cinema movie guide; a smiling David with medals won at tennis in the 2002 Masters' Games; his golf score-card (in semi-retirement, he is aiming to spend time on our magnificent course); a proud old red river gum.
A long range weather forecast; a handful of paperbark; an Alice Springs Yacht Club polo shirt (unfortunately a hike in insurance premiums last year meant we didn't have a presence in the Sydney to Hobart); a coach-load of visitors; an intricately etched didgeridoo.
A ceramic piece bought at the Corkwood Festival; the smell of a wood-fire and barbequed sausages; a publican's welcoming smile and a cold beer on a hot day; a sporting afternoon at one of our many venues and a box of applause.
A (losing) betting slip from the Turf Club; the memory of a blackjack win (ages ago!); a hand-painted silk scarf from Santa Teresa; a season ticket to our spectacular Desert Park; a bottle of Ross River Homestead wine (bought before the facility was closed down) and a photo of David and I, with dear friends, taken at the last party.
P.S. As an after-thought, I thought I should add plans of the CBD before and after road-works, central traffic islands and roundabouts; another proposal for installation of security cameras and up-dates on extra lighting around the mall; a fantastic article from the English Sun (November 2002) promoting the joys of the Outback, (sadly the journo touched Alice only to board the flight back to Sydney); some political paraphernalia and a few broken promises.
Copies each of the NT's new anti-smoking legislation and mandatory pool fencing laws; concerns about alcohol related crimes; a profile of an alleged rapist; columns of Positions Vacant on offer; a statement from Virgin Airlines CEO.
An identikit drawing of an alleged home-invader; a proposal for a new task force to enforce a youth curfew; the burnt-out shell of a stolen Hi-Lux; a copy of a drug-house notice; a truck-load of rubbish collected at random.
A collection of thirsty clients around opening time at the local bottle shop; a suitcase full of anti-social behaviour; and, a couple of sensationalised headlines.
But then, The Territory's a bit like that, and, on balance, when weighed up against everything that's happening world-wide, The Alice is still a special place to live. This has been quite a therapeutic exercise. Welcome back, and I know you'll continue to enjoy it all as much as we do.
He resolved to live without resolution. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
I was planning to wish you a Happy New Year and make a little peppy
speech about dusting off the cobwebs for the excitement of the future
yet to come.
But it's already February. My cobwebs were brushed away weeks ago but have now regrown. In fact, the cobwebs have developed their own secondary webs that are busily attaching themselves to my nooks and crannies like a kind of arachnid Klingon.
Maybe there is a natural therapy that I can use to get rid of them. Something to channel energies or maybe a kind of colonic irrigation but designed to flush out the post-Christmas blues.
Anyway, whatever you were doing since the last time that this newspaper appeared in your mailbox, I hope that you had a pleasant time. My holiday break had some serious highlights. One was standing by a bus stop in Perth waiting for the delayed 5.16pm. I noticed a sign on a brick wall.
It was on a religious building. I couldn't tell you the denomination. But I am a sucker for those kind of simple phrases that are supposed to be rules for life. I was one of the several trillion people who bought The Little Book of Calm, thinking that it would be a cheap and easy way to become tranquil. And then became more tense and anxious because I was guilty about not reading it every day.
Do you know The Little Book of Calm? It's like a pocket-sized reference for people seeking guidance on ways to become calmer and who haven't yet discovered darts. As the author says in the introduction, he wrote it to be "an on-hand comfort to you".
Only one piece of advice appears per page, which makes it a waste of paper and bad for the environment (another source of tension for me). If you open it too much, the spine breaks and all the pages fall out like so much therapeutic confetti, which is stressful too.
But, it did help me in some ways. For example, one page says "Write down your worry; it is marvellous how quickly many worries dissolve when you write them down on a piece of paper". So I started doing that in the Alice Springs News and for while it worked, but now I have a deadline for the newspaper every week, which is another source of anxiety.
Anyway, let's get back to that notice by the bus stop. It was printed in white type on a dark background in the distinctive style of these kinds of notices. It even had that little lettering at the bottom that makes you lean right forward to read it only to bump your head as you discover the name of a local printer. The phrase in bold letters was, "Don't waste the person you are by trying too hard to be the person you are not". Very nice, I thought and kept churning it around in my head like a washing machine during the many hours that I spent on public transport over the festive period. All this revolving had the effect of completely changing the significance of these words of wisdom. They started as a catchy 17-word guide for the perplexed. By the last day of 2002, they were the ultimate anti-New Year's Resolution.
Let me explain. In the days before New Year's Eve, I asked myself what l should try to achieve in 2003, in order to become the person that I am not. A degree in zoology (available over the internet)? Proficiency in Arrernte? An electric guitar version of "Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington"?
Genuine warmth towards other members of the human race? The Jennifer Aniston high-protein diet?
But, according to the notice, why should I bother to waste the person that I am by trying for a little self-improvement. So I have entered 2003 resolution-free. And I believe I am happier and healthier for it, thanks to the printer of that poster by the bus stop in Perth.
This is the point of this column. Are people in Alice serious about resolutions? I think not. The Territorian version of the Little Book of Calm would have no writing on the pages. Just an introduction that said "No worries mate". Local advice on self-improvement would be "Why bother with a New Year's resolution that only lasts three weeks?
Don't even have one in the first place." And as for the cobwebs, unless they have a hairy spider in them with unconventional colouring, what's the fuss?
CRUISING EUROPE: AT HOME ABROAD. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Just got back from your rellie rally and getting a bit jaded with it all? Well, here's an idea that will break the routine but not your bank. PART ONE of a series by ERWIN CHLANDA.
The trouble with travelling in Europe is that hotel accommodation and restaurant food costs about twice as much as in Australia.
This makes "going OS" a once in a lifetime experience for most Aussies. On the other hand supermarket prices there are much the same as in Oz and alcohol is a lot cheaper.
To avoid the former and benefit from the latter we've travelled parts of the old continent in a campervan for the second time in two years and Ð compared to a more conventional trip Ð saved a packet.
This mode of travel not only minimises accommodation and eating expenses.
It eliminates public transport costs, and has a whole bunch of other advantages thrown in.
You unpack and pack your suitcases only once.
Don't worry about travelling light.
The German built Hymer B644 we took for a test drive has huge storage spaces, including a massive two cubic metre rear luggage area, accessible from either side, and under floor storage for awkward cargo such as skis.
We brought all bar the kitchen sink yet used less than half the available luggage space.
It's very nice not to have to meet train or bus time tables, to hump baggage, nor to contend with taxi drivers taking you on a Cook's tour when you destination is just around the corner.
Your contact time with the locals, whose manners Ð especially in France Ð can range from delightfully charming to abysmally arrogant Ð becomes a matter of your choice, not of necessity.
If they drive you mad you just retreat into your own space, with all facilities at the ready.
And your home is also your transport, once you've overcome your apprehension of manoeuvring a seven metre, four tonne behemoth in what at first seems a life and death contest with Italian kamikaze drivers or through a rush hour in Paris.
Size does matter: do all the right things, of course, but apart from that enjoy the respect a big machine earns you from the most aggressive born again Fangio, or the pushiest pilot of a pint size Peugeot.
Our Hymer was a six place model but we found it was ideally suited for four.
Six would have been a crowd, especially in winter when you're likely to spend more time indoors.
You can make your machine fully self contained with respect to water, food, power and heating for at least 48 hours.
That will save you a lot of money because you'll have ample opportunity to spend the night, altogether free of charge, in one of the numerous motorway rest areas or roadhouse car parks.
Thousands of truckies are doing it each night, as well as a growing number of campervan travellers, a lot more than we observed two years ago.
Or you can simply overnight in a street parking space in any of Europe's fascinating cities.
The rules are simple: if you're parked legally and keep your waste water tank drain closed, what you do inside your van is your own business, even in a city.
In Florence we ÒcampedÓ in a residential area and the next night on a look-out over the beautiful renaissance city, in the company of several other motor home travellers.
In Pisa we found a spot just outside the wall surrounding the magnificent cathedral, baptistry and the leaning tower.
These overnighting opportunities, of course, give motor homes a huge advantage over towed caravans whose parking for sleeping other than in dedicated areas is usually prohibited.
In this way we cruised southern Germany, all of Austria, northern Italy and eastern France without paying a cent for sleeping.
Germany, Austria and France have well equipped motorway rest areas, with toilets and wash basins, taking the pressure off the on-board facilities.
In France there are even playgrounds for kids in the rest areas.
Italy is different. On the motorways we used, around 1000 km, there were no toilet facilities at all, tempting us to dub the place the world capital of constipation.
Of course, the Hymer has a dunny but we preferred to keep the cleaning chores to a minimum.
In Germany the Autobahnen (motor ways) are free. In Austria you pay $12 for 10 days unlimited travel.
Italy charges tolls, for example, $14 just for one trip on the 156 km between Genoa and Turin.
The French take the heaviest toll, especially for a big vehicle, for example, $71 for the 415 km between Geneva and Paris. But the Swiss take the cake: it takes less than three hours to traverse their country from France to Austria yet they insist on charging you a minimum of $31 highway toll.
And that's not all. Switzerland isn't in the European Union.
After crossing into Austria, Italy and France while barely noticing borders (and using a single currency, the Euro), upon entry into the land of numbered bank accounts you're confronted with armed border guards demanding to see your passports.
The guards' main function seems to be the collection of the highway toll which Ð at least in our case Ð they did in a rude and officious manner.
That reception made us drop very quickly any plans for a Swiss skiing stint.
Instead we enjoyed five days on the slopes across the border in Austria's spectacular Arlberg region.
For stays of a few days in one location you're well advised to check into a caravan park and benefit from ready access to facilities, including 220 volt power.
It's a good idea to plan these stays in advance (use the internet) to save cruising around looking for them. Van parks stays cost much the same as in Australia, around $40 a day for four people on a powered site. We stayed at the Les 2 Glaciers caravan park in Chamonix, France (talk to Bernard Trappier, he's a good bloke), and the park in Bludenz, Austria, has a super bakery just outside its gate.
Austria's mountainous west is populated by friendly and professionally helpful people, has some of the world's best skiing infrastructure Ð and delicious food (when we ventured out of our own kitchen).
As I mentioned, the Hymer has a storage space right across the bottom of the vehicle ideally suited for skis and snow boards.
However, we chose to hire gear Ð there are dozens of rental businesses around Bludenz Ð getting boots, skis and snow boards professionally fitted, for a cost of around $35 a day per person, less if you take them for a few days. When visitor numbers are low shops are quite happy to give huge discounts, up to 30 per cent, and waiting time at lifts is minimal.
Take advantage of those daily or weekly fluctuations in visitation.
We drove up the Arlberg Pass in Austria Ð the Hymer handled the dizzying hairpin turns like a dream Ð one Sunday and couldn't even get a parking spot in Lech, chockers with skiiers from Germany.
The next day the place was empty.
[Prices in this story are in Australian Dollars at the Euro rate of 0.5769.]NEXT: At the foot of Europe's highest mountain, Mt Blanc Ð and driving a seven metre behemoth isn't all that hard!
LETTERS TO TE EDITOR: Swiss bank ad "no respect".
Sir,- The Banque Cantonale de Fribourg in French-speaking Switzerland plays around with symbols of local and international tourism.
"As far as your dreams" the campaign's headline goes. For more than one year the bank tries to attract customers through more or less well done image compositions.
So far the most ugly one came out this Monday 13th of January: a small town in the area of Fribourg sits on Ayers Rock. Quite a respectless use of images of a holy mountain.
Sir,- According to a recent article in the NT News (Jan 29), police have confirmed that the Pine Gap facility has a key role in the proposed Gulf War and America's "War on Terror" and that it is therefore a potential terrorist target.
This was repeatedly denied during the Pine Gap Protest last October just prior to the Bali Bombings.Local people in Alice Springs are continually told that Pine Gap brings economic benefits to our region but does not engender any risks. Clearly we are being duped.
Centre needs doctors more than Pine Gap
Sir,- With respect to "Is Peter Tait real?" (Alice News, Dec 18) Ð yes, he is.
Not one year has passed since 1945 that the United States Government has not bombed or invaded another nation.There have been countless wars since Pine Gap was erected (to answer Govnor's question). Not on out soil; we just sold them our armaments.
I would like to add that Doctor Tait has a doctor's armaments that are precious to remote Australia, worth much more to us than Pine Gap.
Sir,- I left Ayers Rock at considerable financial cost to myself and family. I would like to suggest that employees who venture into the Northern Territory interior obtain some legal protection to help them survive its special disadvantages.
There ought to be an enforced rotation package introduced for employees in distant and isolated places in the NT. It is common in other countries. Isolated mines in Papua New Guinea, for instance, insist their employees leave for more civilised surroundings regularly at company cost.
If the Territory government finds this politically unacceptable then relocation packages, after a minimum period of service, should be available. The cost of removing goods and furniture to other parts of Australia is so costly that it prevents employees from leaving when conditions at their place of employment become intolerable.Isolation and routine are the lot of many who come to the Territory. At Ayers Rock, for instance, the resignation of staff has become a rout, a symptom of bad management. Most of the junior staff at Yulara come and go but middle management tend to remain for longer periods. This is partly because they bring to the township their wives and families and the cost of removing them and their belongings elsewhere is so high that it acts as a deterrent when things go sour.And very sour have things become. At the top are those whose service in Yulara goes on and on and on. They cannot find other work that pays as well for talents that would get greater scrutiny in cities.
So they stay in their isolated prison and get bored, become stressed and depressed, grow into bullies, and suffer from mental illnesses. Their reigns have caused turmoil for years. Yet they remain in place, mateship no doubt, playing a considerable role in preserving the status quo.It is decent men and women, employees of the company who are victims of intolerable behaviour by the most senior management.
The locals suffer too as monopolistic practices have forced small businesses off the township while company ownership is enforced on everything in sight. This is outlawed in the rest of Australia.
The Aborigines are also victims, barred from attending Christmas parties and discriminated against in the company-owned markets and stores. A responsible management does not behave in this way. But men and women who are victims of too many years of isolation and routine, do. Their judgement is impaired, their decisions suspect.If companies won't attend to their responsibilities, governments should. Relocation expenses, guaranteed by law after a minimum period of service, are the answer. Then mates can do what they like.
SPORT: POIGNANT POINTER FROM BLUES. Report by
The colosseums of all 16 AFL Clubs have been vacated this week as all and sundry from the emperors to the youngest gladiator mount a tour of duty to the far flung regions of this continent.
And the reason for such a massive campaign is simple. The clubs of the AFL need to meet the people in order to promote the game and ensure its premier position as The Australian Game.
After all in a fortnight's time our cricketers will be on the world stage in South Africa at the World Cup, and later in the season Rugby's World Cup will bring Australians unprecedented exposure to the "game they play in heaven".For the esteemed Carlton Club, who appeared to have been mortally wounded but a few months ago, the challenge is to tour the Northern Territory.
This, possibly the toughest yet potentially most rewarding of sorties to the bush, has a truly Territorian feel about it. The Blues are programmed to be right in the forefront of day to day life in Central Australia, and a cross section of desert communities, through to Darwin, the Tiwis and the tropics.
These heroes of the football field have no picket fences separating them from their fans this week.
Deliberately they have been scheduled to mix it in the street, to be at open house barbecues, and to train as a lead up to their "All Stars" game, at the beck and call of the fans.
For Carlton the tour will be invaluable. It will give the club "with a challenge" a real chance to meld as one while on the road, to reignite the faith of the believers, and spread the Blues fever to the uninitiated.
In returning to the hallowed Optus Oval both the club and the AFL will have much to celebrate given the campaign goes to plan.
For Territorians the visit could well be the turning point in many lives.
For some a desire to play at the elite level will be imprinted in the mind.
For others, this initial contact with AFL will mean life long allegiance to the six point game and the Blues machine.
And across the board the cross cultural ties to be developed will be remembered as a positive.
In the aftermath Carlton will march into the 2003 season with much to prove, with the weekly scoreboard telling the tale. Likewise here in Central Australia the football challenge is in our hands.Like Carlton, the CAFL are at a crossroads and have been thrown a life line by the AFL through our parent body, the AFLNT.
During the off season the CAFL has undergone an administrative restructure, with a new look board appointed.Three appointees have come from the clubs. The face of football at Traeger Park for over 30 years, Cal Dean, brings with him experience. Marc Loader, who's been known to have a kick in recent years, is also equipped with accounting skills. And from an earlier era comes Richard Hayes who has played, coached and administered at Souths and knows the game and the people who make the CAFL.The league appointees are headed up by Mildie Raveani. Mildie has served in the Territory for years going back to when Ansett's had Golden Wings in Darwin, and then in Territory airline management. Since those halcyon days Mildie has stayed on in Alice and has moved over to the Plaza Hotel management. His interpersonal skills and managerial experience are known and respected, and his network within the business community place him well to sit on the Board.
With him will be James "Jim" McEwan. James is young, qualified in matters legal, and a devotee of the game.
Bringing the recent history of the CAFL with him lock, stock and barrel will be Life Member Steve Menzies.
And completing those at the table will be Mike Bowden, former player and ardent supporter of Australian Rules.One of the first duties of the CAFL Board will be to appoint the new General Manager of the League.
This position has been publicised nationally and attracted plenty of interest. It is a unique opportunity for an aspiring manager as the position combines the duties of League management and junior development.Interestingly the Central Australian juniors head the country in numbers, largely due to the success of the Auskick programme in Alice.
This year Auskick will proceed to yet another level, catering for footballers in their mid teen age years.
This move will do much to retain the cohort of young players coming through the ranks as it has been the group of teenagers, around the age of 15, who have been prone to withdraw their interest in playing the game.
The tour by Carlton this week really carries a message for everyone involved in Australian Rules. The game is one formulated by the people and for the people. Unless the clubs, their players and supporters get right behind the promotion of the game, as have Carlton this week, Aussie Rules will not fulfil its potential.
By unifying in the celebration of the game, the people of Central Australia can ensure that Australian Rules has a vibrant and effective place in our community.
Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.