PRIVATE, PUBLIC SCHOOLS: ALICE DEBATE HOTTING UP. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Parents in Alice Springs, where more than half the high school students go to private schools, are calling for more equitable public funding for non-government education.
The national average of private school enrolment is about 30 per cent.
According to a spokesman for NT Education Minister Syd Stirling, a student in a state secondary school costs the government an average of $13,078 a year.
But only $7442 per student – most of it from the Federal Government – is paid as subsidy to private high schools, although they are obliged to teach the curriculum set down by the government's Board of Studies.
The Uniting Church's St Philip's College says it is getting $6204 per head from the governments – less than half of what it costs the governments to educate a high school student.
And private schools have to raise about half the money for infrastructure, while it is entirely provided by the government for its own institutions.
"Federal Treasurer Peter Costello is rubbing his hands with glee, but is anyone listening," says Peter Clements, president of Parents and Friends at St Philip's, with 635 students by far the largest high school in Alice Springs.
"I'd like to see a greater government financial input," says Fred Hockley, chairman of the board of the Catholic Our Lady of the Sacred Heart college (OLSH).
"I pay my taxes as well," says Mr Hockley. "I'm paying for both public education and private education."
St Philip's council chairman Charles Butcher says the funding "inequity" is still a reality, although there has been a gradual increase of government support since it was introduced by Prime Minister Bob Menzies.
St Phlip's principal Chris Tudor says: "Independent schools in the NT are committed to providing a range of quality schools and to arrangements that allow parents to exercise choice irrespective of their capacity to pay, which means greater public funding for private schools.
"We believe all schools should be well funded, resulting in a strong public and private sector."
Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon is backing new Labor Leader Mark Latham who is calling for funding of all schools on a needs basis.
"It's simply wrong for John Howard to throw more and more money at the most wealthy, elite schools in the country – none of which are in the Territory – while other schools have so little," says Mr Snowdon.
"Over the last four years, the King's School in Sydney received a 170 per cent increase in federal funding and Melbourne's Trinity Grammar received 220 per cent.
"Compare this with funding for lower-cost Catholic schools, which increased by just 25 per cent.
"There's no way you can defend that sort of policy."
Needs-based funding would be likely to assist Alice Springs' private schools which under the present regime, despite their much higher operating costs in the outback, get the same per capita subsidies as all other private schools in Australia.
The fees of Alice's private schools are much lower than some of their interstate counterparts: OLSH charges around $1800 a year and St Philip's, $5000.
Mr Clements, Dr Butcher and Mr Hockley cite better education, more discipline, individual care, a good school environment and extra-curricular opportunities as the main reasons why so many Alice Springs parents are sending their kids to private schools.
Dr Butcher says St Philip's also offers interaction with schools interstate and overseas, offering an exchange program abroad in association with the international Round Square organisation.
Mr Hockley says OLSH students can now do transition to Year 12 education "seamlessly".
State school secondary students at Alice High and Anzac High need to change for Years 11 and 12 to the secondary school campus at the Charles Darwin University (CDU) in Alice Springs, formerly Centralian College. (Alice High offers vocational studies for Years 11 and 12.)
Says Mr Clements: "The important thing is that students are happy and are able to build self-esteem in a structured environment that is created for this purpose.
"Private schools tend to concentrate more on the holistic development of young people by teaching a combination of physical, mental and spiritual curriculum.
"Political correctness and the descending government policy over several decades has forced parents, many whom cannot afford it, to desert the public school system despite the obvious talent and dedication of most of the public school teaching fraternity," says Mr Clements.
"It is a case where the tail has wagged the dog for so long and parents have made up their own minds about what is best for their children.
"If we continue to [keep in charge of public schools] an elite group of centrally based social engineers, many of whom are out of touch with core family values, we will continue to have these responses."
Mr Hockley says there is merit in a proposal to give education vouchers of equal value to all parents.
They could then spend them in any school of their choice – public or private.
"It would make a lot of schools sit up and look at their product and see why kids go to private schools now," says Mr Hockley.
"If you don't get the customers you know you're not doing it right."
Mr Tudor says he supports the idea of a voucher system.
Peter Garrigan, head of the NT Council of Government Schools Organisations, suggests some parents may have hidden agendas for sending their offspring to private schools: "Parents often cite discipline, values or religion as the reasons for choosing a private school," he says.
"There is no evidence that behaviours such as bullying or drug use are less common in private schools.
"Parents rarely admit to other reasons, such as the desire to buy an educational advantage for their children or to buy their way into social networks.
"That is hardly something to put government money into."
This year, 51 St Philip's students gained Tertiary Entrance Ranking (enabling them to advance to university). Scores ranged from 38 to 98.3, 12 students scoring better than 90.
The average was 69.37.
At OLSH 32 students gained Tertiary Entrance Ranking, one scoring 92.5 (being the only score above 90).
The lowest score at OLSH was 32.5.
The average was 56.32.
The only government high school in Alice Springs offering academic Year 12 studies, now part of the CDU, not only declined to disclose how its students fared in Tertiary Entrance Ranking, it even refused to say how many students are enrolled.
"We will not release raw data into the public arena because figures can be misleading in the way they are used," said a CDU spokesman in Alice Springs.
DO-IT-YOURSELF TOURISM PITCH.
What would a tour retailer rather sell, a $6 ticket to the Overland Telegraph Station on which he makes a commission of $1.50, or a $600 hotel room worth $150 to him?
No prizes for guessing why the big guys are getting a lot more attention and the small ones get left behind.
Four small Alice tour operators are now setting out to tackle that problem by targeting the consumer direct – and face to face.
It'll work well, says Brenton McRae, the operator of the Telegraph Station.
He and Grant Whan (Royal Flying Doctor Service), Peter Thom (School of the Air), and Rex Neindorf (Reptile Centre) will be talking to potential visitors – not retailers or wholesalers – at the Caravan and Camping Super Shows in Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Melbourne, as well as other similar shows, at a cost to themselves of about $4,000 each.
Some 360,000 people visit travel shows each year in Australia.
The Alice group will also vie for business tourists by presenting possible itineraries that could be booked before arriving in Alice Springs.
A brochure will plug The Alice – not just the parts in which the four have a direct interest – as a destination in itself and as "the perfect place to stay and use as a base whilst visiting the wealth of attractions we have on offer," says Mr McRae.
It's a brave bid to extend the present average stay by visitors, to give a shot in the arm to what the four describe as the town's "flagging" tourism industry, and to develop new business to fill the void created by the Adelaide to Darwin line.
"We need an industry to offset the losses to local businesses created by the railway," says Mr McRae.
A "discount voucher booklet" will be distributed at the consumer shows.
This is a repeat from a few years ago when a similar booklet yielded some surprising results.
Mr McRae says some of the vouchers were cashed in more than a year after they were handed out, and about 1000 were redeemed at the Telegraph Station alone.
And some of the visitors even recognized Mr McRae after meeting him at a trade show: "Love that personal thing," he says.
He says these vouchers were tangible proof of an initiative working.
He says the tourism industry isn't growing and it is unclear to what an extent – if at all – the NT Tourist Commission campaigns are yielding results.
"If you can't measure it, it's not worth doing," says Mr McRae.
However, his group has spoken to the NTTC, is using the commission's stalls at travel shows, and "they are very keen to have us on board".
"Someone needs to pick up the ball and run, and develop Alice Springs as a destination."
The group is also advocating a taskforce including the Alice town council, CATIA and operators.
HUMID WEATHER WILL GO. Report by GLENN MARSHALL, Centre for Sustainable Arid Towns.
Is the weather getting more humid?
Yes and no. This summer has been horribly muggy, but it is part of a long-term cycle of weather fluctuations in central Australia.
Roughly every 30 years there are a few wet, humid years in a row, including 2000 to now, the mid 1970s and the late 1940s as shown by Bureau of Meteorology data.
Every time the weather reverted to drier less humid summers, and there is little reason to suspect otherwise this time. As Des Nelson, a 50-year resident of town, told me last week "people who say it's never been like this before just haven't been here long enough".
Of course, this summer's humidity has been magnified by cloudy weather, little rain and extreme temperatures that means evaporative air conditioners have struggled to perform well and people are converting to refrigerative air conditioners (split systems and box units) in droves.
One local seller reported that his split system sales have doubled every year for five years.
What are the energy, water and cost implications of refrigerative air conditioners to householders, Power Water and tax payers? For the householder it is more costly to install a refrigerative system, but once installed the operating costs are roughly the same as an evaporative system, about $130 per year.
This is because an evaporative system uses little electricity (4 cents per hour, or about $30 per year), but uses lots of water (15,000 to 30,000 litres in a summer or about 10% of a house's total consumption, costing $10-$20) and requires the pads to be de-scaled every couple of years at about $160 per time.
Meanwhile an efficient 7kW refrigerative split system uses no water, but uses about 30 to 50 cents per hour of electricity, or about $110 to $170 per year of power.
However, an evaporative system can cool every room in a house by strategically opening and closing doors, whilst a single outlet split system will only effectively cool the rooms close to it, and the performance of both are greatly affected by the house design, house direction, insulation types, use of curtains and other factors.
For Power Water and tax payers there are substantial cost implications. Summer power consumption is significantly increasing as refrigerative air conditioners multiply, so existing turbines are approaching their generating limits. Therefore new turbines are planned to be installed at a high cost.
For Power Water this is not good, as it will effectively cost them thousands of dollars per kilowatt hour to supply the extra few hundred hours needed, whilst they can still only charge 14 cents for each kilowatt hour.
There are options worth exploring to reduce this peak demand. For example, in a street of ten houses, if no houses have roof insulation then all air conditioners are likely to be working all the time. However, if all have roof insulation then the air conditioners will be cycling on and off due to their thermostats, and so only five may be on at any given time, hence halving the peak power consumption of that street.
It may be cheaper for Power Water to provide rebates for insulation, shading and other house alterations rather than spend heavily on additional generating capacity. There may also be an argument for subsidising the installation of evaporative air conditioners, because these humid summers are unlikely to last.
EDUCATION DEPARTMENT BOSSES UNDER INVESTIGATION GO ON LONG LEAVE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Senior mangers of the Department of Education's Central Australian office have gone on extended leave, despite the office being under the microscope of a government-ordered inquiry into its processes.The inquiry was announced last year following exposure in the Alice Springs News of on-going grievances of a number of teachers in the department, including two former principals (see News issues of Nov 12, 26 and Dec 10, 2003).
The inquiry is being conducted by an independent consultant appointed by the Commissioner for Public Employment, John Kirwan.
Mr Kirwan confirmed on Monday that Ralph Wiese, head of the Central Australian office, and Jennifer Kerr, human resources manager in the office, were on leave.
He declined to make further comment, only saying that the leave was due to them, it had been planned beforehand, and that until the inquiry is complete and its recommendations known, operations of the office should be "business as usual".
Meanwhile, 38 people in Darwin, Alice Springs and one in Melbourne have already been interviewed for the inquiry. They include DEET staff, with an even split from management and present and former teaching staff, Australian Education Union staff, and community leaders.
This is deemed an "excellent result" given the intervening summer holidays. Further present and former teaching staff will be interviewed during the planned February round of consultation.
The consultant is Marli Wallace, of Bandt, Gatter and Associates, Perth-based human resource management experts.Ms Wallace's brief is to:• review and report on the current employee relations environment within the DEET Central Australian Office;• analyse the office's organisation arrangements, values and capability and, where necessary, recommend change;• assess the effectiveness and appropriateness of current disciplinary and grievance processes within the office, as provided under the Public Service Employment and Management (PSEM) Act;• examine issues relating to harassment and bullying in the workplace; and• examine the delegation, accountability and communications systems between the Central Australian office and the Darwin central office.Written submissions to Ms Wallace close on February 27, while she will visit Central Australia to meet with individuals (by appointment) from Feb 16 to 20. These meetings will be held in Alice, Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and Ti-Tree.
Any adverse findings will be dealt with under the provisions of the PSEM Act.Mr Kirwan says the review is on track to report to him by the end of March.It will contain prioritised recommendations on a broad range of strategies to enhance DEET effectiveness through improved systems and organisational change. These will be contained in an implementation plan.The report will then be provided to the CEO DEET, before being provided to the Minister for Employment Education and Training, Syd Stirling, with recommendations from Mr Kirwan.
Mr Kirwan says it is not possible at this stage to say what aspects of the final report will be made public.
"This will depend on the level of detail, the nature of the recommendations and the need to ensure procedural fairness is accorded to all involved.
"It would be my expectation that there will be at least a public release of the actions the Minister and the CPE intend to take, noting that both have different statutory powers and responsibilities under the PSEM Act.
"It is worth noting that there have already been some changes made by DEET, that preceded the review, that have lead to some improvements."
Mr Kirwan says these have been in the area of improved human resource (HR) practices and proactive HR development.
Four senior HR consultants, including one at the Central Australian office, have been appointed as a "one stop shop" for DEET staff to ensure a "highly responsive client service approach".
Each consultant has their own group of clients (including school and office based staff).
A new program soon to be rolled out and available to managers, principals and staff will include training in policy and practices for merit selection, probation, performance management and conflict resolution.
CONSERVATIVE ALDERMEN SAY: COUNCIL GETS MUSHROOM TREATMENT ON LAND TALKS. Report by COURTNEY WHITMAN.
Land shortage is Alice Springs' number one issue, according to Aldermen Jenny Mostran and Michael Jones, although land availability is not strictly a council responsibility.
Ald Mostran says there is a "Land Bank" and the Northern Territory Government could release land "at any time" to ease the shortage.
She says she has repeatedly asked the government to provide council with a list of all available land but the government has not replied.
She also says Cabinet has not responded to council's request for a meeting to discuss Alice Springs' issues.
"We've met with Peter Toyne once, but nothing since."
Ald Jones, as Chairman of Infrastructure and Planning, asks why the government hasn't involved him in any of the discussions they've had with Lhere Artepe, the native title holders' body corporate.
"The mayor has been involved to an extent," he says, " however the problem is that the government keeps saying to us ‘Everything is fine. Everything is fine. The land situation is OK.' And the fact is, it's not.
"We've got to send a message to government that the people of Alice Springs won't be ignored for four years."
Ald Mostran says the council, working towards its own memorandum of understanding with Lhere Artepe, doesn't know what is being communicated between Lhere Artepe and the Territory Government: "What is the problem? We've called on them and the government to answer the concerns of the people of Alice Springs...
"Why can't an agreement be reached with Lhere Artepe similar to that reached between the government and the Larrakeyah in Darwin?"
She says the government's silence on the issue is "deafening".
Housing cost and shortage is "detrimental to business" in Alice, says Ald Mostran.
"It's difficult for employers to recruit if people can't move here."
She also says there is chronic shortage of housing for people over 50. Cawood Court, redeveloped in 2002, could have been used to provide housing for the elderly.
Ald Jones, who will not be standing for council again as he intends to contest the next Legislative Assembly elections for the CLP, says he is not happy with the way the CLP dealt with land issue, but that's no excuse for the current government to "not deliver".
And even when the Larapinta subdivision land becomes available, it still won't be "affordable".
Should land be compulsorily acquired from Lhere Artepe?
Ald Mostran won't go that far.
"We should be able to do this by consensus, we all have to live together," she says.
Taking the Territory Government to task doesn't stop with the land issue.
Ald Mostran says council cannot address many of the economic and social issues of Alice Springs on their limited budget.
Although the NT government is supposed to have the funding and resources to deal with big picture issues like economic planning, town planning, and social legislation, they have consistently refused to do so, she says.
Council has had to dig into its own pockets to help fund the Tourism Futures project in collaboration with CSIRO, invaluable for infrastructure and economic planning, she says. She would have expected the government to also be involved.
She is also hoping the government will support a heated pool for Alice Springs. Ald Mostran says this is a quality of life issue for people with arthritis, competitive swimmers, and the elderly but it will need money from the government to get off the ground.
Ald Jones, who works in the real estate industry, says the current planning process takes too long.
"I think there are a number of developers that have asked themselves, ‘Why should I go to Alice Springs when I can go to another state where the process is much more streamlined?' So I think the planning process has to change in the Northern Territory."
Ald Jones says the government should "work up" an economic strategy for Alice Springs, the sort of big picture issue that the council has not got the resources for.
Their failure to do so is like "someone calling us up and saying, ‘Town council, can you please pick up my rubbish because it hasn't been picked up in a while.' It's ridiculous".
But council could also move on some issues, redevelopment of the Civic Centre for one. This has been on the council's agenda for over six years.
Says Ald Jones: "We've only got four months left on this council. And this is exactly the same thing that happened four years ago.
"A decision needs to be made on the Civic Centre because it's very, very tired. It's a building that represents the people of Alice Springs."
Public toilets in the CBD have been on the agenda even longer, eight years!
The money is there, there's just no place to put them, say both aldermen.
Says Ald Mostran: " There are huge issues related to public toilets, everyone wants them but nobody wants them near them."
Both say an amenities block, probably manned, should to be included in the new Civic Centre plans.
This leads to another issue at the heart of every debate in Alice, it seems – anti-social behaviour. They mention swearing, spitting, urinating in public, and the problem of stray dogs in the centre of town.
The aldermen don't believe that any other tourist towns would allow in their streets the kind of anti-social behavior being tolerated here.
However, they also say that council neither has the resources nor the legislative power to enforce proper behavior on the streets. Once again, that's an issue for the NT Government.Says Ald Jones: "Council has continued to work with Tangentyere Council to ensure that we get some outcomes.
"I still have complaints constantly saying that there's people outside my house in the creek, and there's up to 30 people having a party yelling and screaming, going to the toilet in public.
"I would have hoped that we would have achieved more in social outcomes.
"I think it's more about Tangentyere taking responsibility for the people they are supposed to be representing.
"Decisions have to be made. I just hope that future councils, governments and Tangentyere are prepared to do that".
Pointing again to the Territory Government, Ald Mostran says: "It's fixable if there is a will. If Rudolph Guiliani can turn things around with 11 million people in New York, why can't NT government with only 200,000 people."
Asks Ald Jones: "At the end of the day what can I do as an alderman? That's why I'm standing for parliament. I want to be part of the solutions."
He says the CLP in the next election "will be coming out with very important decisions about the future of this town".
"We want to make sure that the people of Alice Springs are being heard in Darwin, because at the moment that's not happening".
Ald Mostran hasn't decided if she'll run again for council. Right now, she is considering her roles as alderman, mother, business woman, and full time student.
She says she puts in about 20 hours a week attending meetings on behalf of council, dealing with constituents, researching background.
Prospective candidates had better like reading "because there's lots of it!"
She also advises that they come to council meetings, read the Local Government Act and talk to as many people as possible who've been involved in current and past councils."There is a huge time commitment, but it's very rewarding. Stand if you want to serve your community and make it a better place," says Ald Mostran.
Says Ald Jones: "We need people who are prepared to be leaders in Alice Springs, because there are significant issues that need to be addressed and dealt with in the coming years, and we need people who are prepared to do that.
"I'm happy to talk to anyone who needs to know more about the process because the town is too important to just sit back and say that things should be right. We need people to stand up and fight for Alice Springs."
BALONEY, SAYS TOYNE.
Minister for Central Australia, Peter Toyne gave the following response to the aldermen's comments:-Land is an important issue for Alice Springs so it's disappointing to see Mr Jones and Mrs Mostran playing politics and spreading misinformation about an issue vital to the Centre.I can't recall one instance when either alderman have bothered to contact me about any issue to do with the future of Alice Springs.I suggest the aldermen look at the Native Title Tribunal website, read Justice Olney's decision in respect to Alice Springs, then contact my office to organise a briefing so they can come to some understanding of the issues.
Mrs Mostran's reference to the existence of a "land bank" is puzzling and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with her what she means by this.The Labor Government has taken up its responsibilities to release land for the town by negotiating with native title holders.Although these negotiations have been slower than we would have liked, there is no doubt this is the way to stable and predictable future land releases.It is a real shame when town councillors, who are supposed to operate in a non-party political manner, use their position as spruikers for the CLP.At least Mr Jones is upfront about his plans to stand as a CLP candidate. When will Mrs Mostran let us know her real agenda?Attaching their personal political ambitions to such an important issue does nothing to serve the community or advance land negotiations.
If the two councillors can't point to any achievements after their years on the local council, what hope would they have in government?
Despite these attempts to play party politics, the government is sticking to the main agenda, to have land released in Alice Springs now and in the future and we're working with native title holders to achieve this.
BUCKS TO WHIP NAGS INTO ACTION. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
Pioneer Park opens its gates on Saturday for 2004 and not without the traditional element of controversy, and the lure of money to get runners back on track.
Over the Christmas period owners and trainers have been enticed to travel both north and south seeking competition for their stables, and more so the prize money attached to competing in order to maintain feed and services required to keep the operations buoyant.
In Darwin last weekend every player won a prize, with also-rans receiving monetary reward for entering the barriers.
Meanwhile, in the south at Pioneer Park racing was suspended due to ongoing maintenance of the track.
A committee meeting last week saw the Turf Club in town address the problem by introducing more incentive for owners and trainers.
ASTC manager Steve Smedley announced that prize money would be increased and that there would be a reintroduction of prize money for the fourth placed horse. All other runners finishing will receive a $100 bonus.
The new arrangement will remain in place until the end of the financial year with the exception being the Cup Carnival period in April / May.
The programme for the carnival has already been drawn up and members should have received relevant correspondence recently.
For the locals the week by week incentive is certainly better than nothing, but when compared to a return of $400 for a non-placed finish in Darwin it does amount to poor relation distribution of funds. This has been attested to by the leading turf scribe in Darwin, who recognised in the press that racing has to be nurtured Territory-wide.
Already the regional clubs in the bush have been reduced to either non events or picnic races conducted with minimal support. While the likes of the Harts Range event are now merely functioning as a sports weekend, in contrast the picnic meeting at Hanging Rock in Victoria last week attracted in excess of 10,000 patrons and took full advantage of the picnic tradition of the meet.
Here in Alice we need to continue the tradition of the sport and foster its development. Owners and trainers need the potential income from winning races to see the game survive.
The club also needs income to be able to provide the sort of prize money required. To do this more punters need to be persuaded to pass through the gates. In 2004 it is an easy option for punters to access off-course punting facilities in the hope of backing a winner.
Most who gather at the TAB or in a club offering betting facilities, would agree that a day at the races is the "bees knees" . Somehow we need to get the punters back on course to see Pioneer Park, and for that matter bush racing throughout the Territory survive.
LIFE AFTER GETTING FUNDED. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Get funded or give up?Perhaps there's another way.
Ampilatwatja Artists and the all but defunct Urapuntja Artists have combined forces to establish their own gallery in Alice, under the name Sandover Artists, to sell direct to the public.
Neither group have any public funds, but what they do have is a treasure trove of paintings, including some by well reputed artists, such as Minnie Motorcar Apwerl, Margaret Turner, Polly Ngala, Kathleen Ngala, Dave Ross and Sammy Apetyarre.
Narayan Kozeluh, former art coordinator at Ampilatwatja, is now manager of both art centres but says, while he is working hard on getting the gallery ready for its February 14 opening, he won't be directly involved in its running.
He will concentrate on art centre business on the communities, while staff will be employed in the gallery and its "money story" will be managed by a local accounting firm.
He says the structure for the business has been set up in consultation with the Central Land Council and the artists.
Revenue from the sale of art work is keeping the venture afloat.Mr Kozeluh estimates that proceeds from opening day sales alone will go a long way towards covering operational costs.
As well, work is being gathered for a string of exhibitions booked in top galleries in Melbourne and Sydney, as well as in Paris, London and Switzerland.
Mr Kozeluh says Sandover Artists will also be an outlet for artists in the region who do not have an art centre, from Harts Range to Lake Nash.
Meanwhile, theatre producer/director Craig Mathewson's plans for a professional theatre group based in Alice are undiminished, despite minimal government support for the project.
Core funding, announced before Christmas, of $20,000 for his Red Dust Theatre will support its incorporation as a community-based, not for profit group.
As yet, there are no funds available for productions.
While Mr Mathewson will continue his involvement with Red Dust, he says he is now "thinking outside of the square" , raising private money for a small touring ensemble.
In the ‘nineties he worked as director and tour manager for an English-speaking theatre company based in Germany, which toured productions internationally year round.
He says the key to artistically and commercially successful touring is the quality and appeal of the play and a well-planned itinerary in the right sort of venues.
He is convinced that a slickly produced play reflecting the fascinating social and cultural environment of Central Australia could find a national and international audience.
ALL OF OLD GEORGE'S FRIENDS AND RELATIVES WERE SHOT. THE ONLY SURVIVOR WAS GEORGE. Part Sixteen of a Feature by DICK KIMBER.
'Real True History': Coniston Massacre
How many were shot?
Last year marked the 75th anniversary of the killings of Warlpiri and Anmatyerre people that became known as the Coniston Massacre. The deaths occurred following the murder of a white bushman, Fred Brooks, on August 7, 1928. His murderer, Kamalyarrpa Japanangka, was never brought to justice and lived into old age. Two other men, known as Padygar and Arkirkra, were acquitted of Brooks' murder. During three police patrols to find Brooks' killer, led by Constable George Murray, a number of other Aborigines – officially 31 – were shot.
The Board of Enquiry appointed to investigate the killings after a public outcry "down south" found that the shootings were "justified".
For a detailed account of these events see Parts 1-15 of DICK KIMBER's historical perspective, published in the Alice Springs News from September 10 last year.
This week's article examines the hard evidence, as well as the circumstantial evidence, for the now widely accepted much higher death toll.
Members of the police patrol offer the best hints as to how many died, complemented by Aboriginal oral histories by survivors. Next are people who were out in the Coniston country, or living in or visiting central Australia in the 1920s-1930s, in turn followed by reliable researchers.
First I will examine the police patrol members' unofficial or neglected evidence.
In the 1930s an old friend, now long deceased, was acting as driver for a new-chum geologist, when they called in on Constable Murray. After introductions the geologist, not realising that people were normally circumspect when talking to Constable Murray, asked, "Did you really shoot 31 blackfellows?"
My old friend instantly thought that it had not been the smartest question to ask, but George Murray was tickled by the geologist's temerity, and just as surprisingly responded, "That's all they investigated." No further questioning was permitted, a hard look indicating that that particular conversation was at an end. I have no reason to doubt this story.
Constable Murray's implication is clear, but how many more were shot?
In 1928 Jack Saxby and Randal Stafford both implied to Michael Terry that more had been shot, the former referring to the site Tippenbah and the latter to a site west of Coniston.
Randal Stafford, in discussions with at least two other people, also stated that he shot one young Aboriginal woman.
Jack Saxby, while admitting that he "shot to kill", always said under questioning by the Board of Enquiry members that he was uncertain whether he had hit any Aborigines. However, the board stated its formal collective view that this response was because he was afraid of the consequences of admitting that he had shot anyone, rather than that he had not.
Interestingly, both Alex Wilson and Darby Jampijinpa, who worked with Jack in later years, considered him a good, fair, man. Their assessment of him is likely to be correct, for they understood the circumstances that prevailed on the frontier. We who have never had spears and boomerangs thrown at us and literally had to fight for our lives, or who were not caught up as members of a patrol led by Constable Murray, can pass armchair judgement a little too easily.
That Randal Stafford knew more than Michael Terry indicates is recorded by T.G.H. Strehlow. The account is in an unpublished book, which I was kindly given permission to quote from by a Strehlow Research Centre officer, and recreates a conversation Strehlow had with Randal in 1932. Randal does not give any details of his own involvement in the patrols, other than to say he led the party to Brooks' Soak. His account reads:
"Well, four years are gone since it all happened; and lots of blacks were shot for it [the murder of Brooks]. I don't approve of all that the police party did afterwards. I only know of most of their doings by hearsay, of course, for I would not go out far with the police myself ...
"But I can tell you this: most of the things they did were hushed up afterwards at the official enquiry. I had enough of it when I saw Murray coming back to the party after shooting several blacks at the first encounter. "But Murray, Nugget Morton, Police-tracker Paddy, and the rest went on with lots of rifles and bullets; and I was told that they shot down myalls up and down the Lander River for many miles.
"At the enquiry they owned up, I believe, to shooting thirty-one blacks in all, and this figure included two gins as well. But some of the men who went out with Murray told me that the true figure was at least twice as high, and that's not even counting in the odd myalls who were shot from time to time by men like Jimmy Wickham ...
"Now I don't hold with such methods either. I have always believed in fair play and in British justice; and those sorts of shootings were a disgrace to any civilised community. The myalls that did the murder should have received exemplary punishment for what they had done; but to shoot down whole camps of blacks without leaving any live witnesses behind is not my idea of justice."
The only other member of the patrol of whom I am aware who later discussed the shootings is Alex Wilson.
When I first met Alex in 1970, or Alec as I knew him then, I think he took me for a prospector, for I had come into his home on the edge of the Tanami Desert from the droughted Western Australian border country, and hadn't had more than an eye-wash and hand-rinse for more than a week.
Whatever the case, Alex was as are most people, for he used to base his remarks to some extent upon an assumption about the nature of the person to whom he was talking.
For reasons I now do not recall, he yarned about the "early days, bad old days". He had a tendency to boast in the early 1970s and, while not giving a specific figure, he indicated that many, many more than 31 had been shot. I took it that he meant scores more.
I was not researching anything at the time, just having a yarn. In subsequent yarns with other friends and acquaintances, some of whom came to know him through working at Yuendumu, he also implied to them many more than 31, but I do not know of anyone who was given a specific estimate.
What did emerge, though, was that there were not often calls to surrender: people were "shot like dogs", or "shot in cold blood." He admitted to killing two men, one in self-defence and one in general affray. He also stated or implied that all other members of the first patrol shot Aborigines, including (as he stated in Bob Plasto's film) Randal Stafford and Billy Briscoe, both of whom before the Board of Enquiry constantly denied any shooting by themselves.
Otherwise he stated (and other members of the patrol had supported him in their evidence), that he had called out in Anmatyerre or Warlpiri to tell the men to put down their weapons because they could not "beat" a bullet from a rifle.
Constable Murray and Nugget Morton also voluntarily stated in their evidence that Alex was not involved in any of the shootings on the third patrol. All of these shootings were, according to Alex, "in cold blood", with many being shot down while Murray and Morton were still mounted on their horses. And Alex also commented on his deceit to Constable Murray, which he believed had saved the life of the then badly wounded Creeping Charlie.
As I said earlier, I considered Alex an old mate by the time I last met him, near the end of his life. I had heard other bad stories about him, unrelated to the Coniston killings, and he had explained them to me.
However I think, as the only survivor of the patrol who continued living in and about the edge of the scenes of the shootings, he bore the brunt of any ill-feeling by the survivors on behalf of all of the patrol members for the next 50 years and more until his death. I say, whatever your sins, rest in peace, old friend.
I do not know of any other evidence by patrol members that tells of greater numbers being shot during the three patrols, other than Nugget Morton's shooting of his initial attacker in self-defence. This attacker was not included in the 31 deaths that were investigated. It clearly should have been considered, so that the formal tally should be a minimal 32.
Now for the Aboriginal survivors' evidence, which has been alluded to in the discussion about the three patrols' activities.
A minimal 10 other sites where killings took place are identified on the map in the Central Land Council's booklet, "Making Peace With The Past" (2003).
Apart from the previously mentioned Tippenbah, spelt in modern phonetics as Tipinba, with Partilirri as the traditional site name, the others are all along either the Hanson or the Lander Rivers.
The booklet is very conservative about numbers, only mentioning that "[many] innocent people were caught up in the violence"; that numbers were "gunned down during ceremony or hunting", and that "it seems that there were many more" than the 31 admitted to. Referring to other sources they suggest that "the death toll was likely to have been at least double that", which means a minimal 62.
Other than this, I have only been given estimates of a "big mob" at innumerable localities. Since "big mob" has meant, in my experience, any number from six to upwards of hundreds, I have not been able to make a better estimate from Aboriginal evidence than scores more than the 31 admitted to.
As earlier mentioned, the book "Kaytetye Country" (1993) also indicates that Aboriginal patrol members were ordered to burn bodies near a Hanson River waterhole.
A further clear point, in support of certain of the enquiry evidence given by police patrol members, is that not all people were shot. Aboriginal evidence is definite that, while all were rounded up like bullocks, the women and children were normally "drafted" to one side and held for a time while the men were shot.
It was a cruel time, but the women and children were then free to run away. An excellent brief account, both illustrating this and challenging it, is given in Barbara Henson's 1992 book on Pastor F.W. Albrecht, "A Straight-out Man".
Japangardi is quoted, stating that the police party "shot all the people they found", with others fleeing unsighted by the patrol members, in one instance; told two men to go away with the women at another camp; shot a "lot of old men" who were walking on another occasion; shot some others of an exhausted group who "were drinking when they were shot"; and, on sighting smoke from a fire, stealthily approached the camp in which a "really … lot of people were living" and "shot them all", despite them not being at all aware of the murder of Fred Brooks.
Such an account, while not giving specific numbers, suggests that many were shot, and clearly indicates that in most instances they were not called upon to surrender, or given any warning of the police presence, before being shot.
Finally, as good an illustration as any, indicating both the sense of tragedy yet also the difficulty of gaining other than a hint of the men, women, children and total numbers shot, is recorded in Douglas Lockwood's 1964 book, "Up The Track". He discussed the shootings with "George Japaljari, a seventy-year-old Anmatjira pensioner".
"All of old George's friends and relatives were shot. The only survivor was George. ‘They were bad ... bad ... times,' he told me. ‘All-a-bout proper frightened ... can't sleep ... can't lie down ... might be whitefeller come with rifle ....'"
NEXT: Evidence from Central Australian residents and visitors in the 1920s & 1930s.
PRINCIPLE BITES THE BULLDUST. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
For most of my life, I have had little interest in exotic fruit and vegetables.
Then suddenly last week, I couldn't find an avocado in Alice Springs. I felt cheated. I am a paying consumer and therefore I must always be right.
So surely someone somewhere in an avocado distribution centre should have remembered to put one on the refrigerated truck. I would even have paid extra for it (within reason).
Getting all worked up over this minor interruption in the fine goods and services available in Alice Springs made me realise how low I have sunk. I used to have life-long principles and modest needs. And I used to have friends with life-long principles and modest needs too.
For example, one of them never travelled in anything he couldn't fix himself if it broke down. Which led to a long love affair with a fold-up scooter until it broke and he couldn't repair it.
So he walked.
Another acquaintance of mine didn't believe in chemical pesticides for gardening so he cut out squares from old carpet and placed one around each Brussels sprout plant to prevent creepy-crawlies climbing up. His garden had a better floor covering than my house. Principles are important.
So, getting back to the supermarket, I have long held the conviction that you should only eat that which is grown locally.
I probably picked up the idea from a school science television program in the ‘seventies which showed healthy hippies growing potatoes on mountain hillsides while weedy professional people in capital cities insisted on tropical fruits sent from poor countries in container ships at enormous environmental cost.
When the fruit arrived they wasted half by cutting it up the wrong way.
It's peculiar how these childhood influences stay with you.
If I was to apply the rule about eating local produce to Alice Springs, then my diet would become cheap and simple.
It would probably be hydroponic lettuce garnished with a few puny tomatoes that I have eked out of the bulldust in my backyard.
Not forgetting a sprig of rosemary before the plant expires in the forty-three degree heat.
I once met a fruitarian, which is a person who only eats fruit.
He looked like someone with an intimate knowledge of vitamins and a very regular bathroom habit. If you live off lettuce and tomato, I wonder what you end up looking like. It doesn't bear thinking about.
So my principle about local eating bit the dust and I became an avocado snob.
But it's only natural to let go of a few principles when you come to Alice Springs.
You leave them somewhere else, neatly stacked in refrigerated storage in an Adelaide suburb or in a donga with your furniture.
Everyone who moves to Central Australia sheds a long-held principle along the way.
For example, suppose you had always held the belief that golf courses should be naturally watered like they are in Scotland. Bang goes that one.
Or suppose you always believed that air-conditioning was an unnecessary luxury. Better let that one go too. Or that a hard day's physical work in the sun is good for you. You get my drift.
This brings me back to avocados. Once upon a time in a previous generation, nobody would be seen dead eating a pimply green oval thing that failed to identify itself as either a fruit or a vegetable and could be something else entirely.
Nobody would have felt cheated if it wasn't shipped 1500 kilometres to a small town. Which makes me wonder what happened in the meantime.
OH, NO. EASTER NEXT LONG WEEKEND! COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.
It's a bit late to say Happy New Year because we're already a twelfth of the way through 2004 and that's a bit scary!
I hope you've had a healthy positive January, easing into the new year, and a relaxing Australia Day weekend because there isn't another long weekend until Easter…which seems such an age away after a leisurely festive interlude.
David and I celebrated Christmas in New Zealand with my parents and family afar: although it was mid-summer, and the country was in the grip of a fierce heat wave, there was snow on my mountains. Lake and dam levels were at all time lows, but the countryside, as ever, was spectacular. vThe aftermath of the hype of colourful festivities, hundreds of trolls and hobbits mingling with thousands of film followers, joining together to celebrate the world premiere of Peter Jackson's "The Return of the King", (final sequence in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy), in Wellington, on December 1, can still be felt.
The spin off for Kiwi tourism, the magic of the movies, including Whale Rider, and marketing campaigns promoting New Zealand, Middle Earth, as a safe destination, will flow on for years…and hopefully some of those international visitors will cross the Tasman and tour Australia, the Centre, in particular. I mention New Zealand because friend June, an Australian born in England who has called Alice home for 30 odd years, sent me an email which begins: "We are the people of a free nation of blokes, sheilas and [an exceptionally rude word here so I've inserted others].
We come from many lands (although a few too many of us come from New Zealand) and although we live in the BEST country in the world, we reserve the right to bitch and moan about it whenever we bloody like … We are One Nation divided into many states".
It then carries on about the state of the states and those who live there. Of Canberra: "The less said the better" etc. And about our own Territory: "The Northern Territory is the red heart of our land – Outback plains, sheep [a southerner must have penned this, amend to cattle stations the size of Europe], kangaroos, jackaroos [for political correctness I'll also add jillaroos], emus, Uluru and dusty kids with big smiles.
"It has the highest beer consumption anywhere on the planet and the highest aluminium content in creek beds anywhere.
"Although the Territory is the centrepiece of our national culture, few of us live there and the rest prefer to fly over it on the way to Bali and other exotic destinations."
Now those people have another option – assuming they have the time and enjoy rail travel – they will be able to take the Ghan.
We were there, with the thousands, to witness the arrival of the inaugural freight-link train, en route from Adelaide to Darwin, on the 16th.
It was opportune that the grandchildren, Rebecca and Ben, visiting from Emerald, were with us because they were here for the turning of the first sod ceremony in July 2001.
As most Australians applauded Aboriginal artist Roque Lee's art-work on the engine, in-fighting broke out between various members of Darwin's Larrakia people about the stealing of their dreaming animal (The Oz, Jan 19). Roque defended his art, saying it is about the crocodile, the animal, not anyone's dreaming… How does anyone "own" this intellectual property, the dreams and dreaming, this stuff we each carry in our own heads?
Betty Pearce in her welcoming speech at our railway station siding said it all. These tracks across the land, this is white man dreaming.
Travellers, looking forward to undertaking the longest train journey in the world, have now invested over $15m in rail tickets. Let's hope the ticket sellers have also sold the concept, to those passengers, of taking a few days' break from the journey to tour the Alice and surrounds.
The Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony out at the Old Telegraph Station was well attended. Fourteen people chose to take the Oath of Allegiance and become Australian citizens, and later, the Affirmation of Allegiance was echoed by most on-lookers.
The historic venue and scenic backdrop, the flag raising, the guard of honour and the band, Fran, presiding officer, looking regal in her red Mayoral robes, 400 plus voices joining in the national anthem and the light as the sun started breaking through thick black clouds complemented an extremely moving ceremony.
Personally, January has been a month of celebration: wining and dining with friends and family, enjoying a feast of sport, tennis and cricket, no resolutions to break and a couple of lifestyle decisions made.
According to northern news items, the Centre's population is declining at the rate of one family per week: there's never a mention of how many "new" people come to the town. If you've recently returned to the Alice, or you have only just arrived, a HUGE welcome to the red heart of Australia.
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