VISITORS NUMBER DOWN BY QUARTER. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
The number of holiday visitors to Alice Springs in the two years ending June 2003 dropped by more than a quarter, 26.4 per cent, from 348,000 to 256,000.
This was revealed by the NT Tourist Commission in its first recent release of NT Travel Monitor figures for the town itself.
Since 2001 only statistics for the region were available, skewing the picture for Alice Springs because they included Ayers Rock and King's Canyon visitation.
CATIA chairman Lynne Peterkin says the figures confirm earlier anecdotal evidence.
She says: "Alice Springs is hit especially hard because it has a high proportion of overseas visitors, around 40 per cent from overseas, while the average for other tourist destinations around Australia is an average of 20 per cent."
The global terrorist threat remains a key factor, says Ms Peterkin: "While Australia is classed as a safe destination tourists have to physically get here and that they don't class as a safe operation."
Holiday travel from within the NT, too, has declined dramatically: Fewer than 30 per cent of visitors came in 2002-2003 when compared to two years before.
Ms Peterkin says that may be a factor cheaper flights out of Darwin becoming available.
And interstate visitation dropped almost by a quarter, to 77.3 per cent of the 2000-2001 figure.
The only increases have been in the "visiting friends and relatives" and "business" categories, although from very small bases: Between 2000-2001 to 2002-2003 there were increases of 132.7 and 120.9 per cent, respectively.
Overall visitor numbers in Alice Springs fell from half a million in 2000-2001 to 410,000 in 2002-2003.
Ms Peterkin says the NTTC is launching a Destination Alice Springs campaign, with a local advisory committee being formed at the moment, to promote the town in isolation.
The spokesman for the NTTC says projects already under way have included the commission's partnership with Virgin Blue, "which resulted in more than 1000 extra visitors coming to Alice Springs in the shoulder-season."The NTTC is dedicated to promoting Alice Springs as a destination in its own right.
"For example, Alice Springs is continually highlighted in our media familiarisation program, with a group of journalists representing suburban newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne planning to attend the Alice Springs Cup day next month," the spokesman says.
"After a few tough years projections are looking good for 2004.
"In February, the NT Holiday Centre received an average of 370 calls per day.
"This marks an increase of more than 80 per cent compared to the same time last year."
Ms Peterkin says Alice Springs Ð just now thinking about "branding" itself Ð is still playing catch-up after losing its erstwhile prime attraction, Uluru.
Yulara was gazetted as a town in 1976, followed by the development of the Ayers Rock Resort by the NT Government.
The General Property Trust bought the freehold over the 104 square kilometres in December 1997.
"With Ayers Rock they don't need any assistance.
"Ayers Rock itself has become a brand," says Ms Peterkin.
"There is recognition now that Alice Springs itself needs some specific marketing.
"Central Australia as a whole with Ayers Rock as the icon has been well marketed.
"But Alice Springs itself has fallen behind."
Why hasn't Alice Springs acted decisively when 10 years ago or more, Ayers Rock was taking off as a destination separate from Alice Springs?
"Because of the government policy," says Ms Peterkin. "The government policy at the time was to market Central Australia.
"But now there will be some efforts put in to getting a marketing strategy for Alice Springs.
"Ayers Rock has always been the drawcard.
"Because of the growth of the actual resort the idea of Ayers Rock as a place you visit from Alice Springs is gone."
She says when the Ayers Rock Resort was given facilities such as an airport for large planes, "CATIA did protest at the time.
"There was a lot of lobbying from CATIA not to put in a bigger airfield.
"However, we didn't win that lobbying," says Ms Peterkin.
The spokesman for the NTTC says it has been cautious about releasing visitor figures previously "because of [the need for] further refinement of the existing data to increase its accuracy".
"The NTTC has commissioned further analysis to obtain reliable information about visitor nights and expenditure at a subregional level.
"These statistics do not include people who have transited in the Alice Springs Airport on their way to other destinations," says the spokesman.
"The latest NT Travel Monitor data for the December 2003 quarter is currently being reviewed and will be released to give a total 2003 overview for the Territory in the coming months."
NT Government will be spending $27m over three years in addition to its normal NTTC budget.
The first $7m is to be expended by the end of this financial year, then $10m a year.
Three-quarters of the $27m will go towards marketing.
Ms Peterkin says "niche marketing" will be one objective, seeking to attract wealthy travellers.
PROP CLEAR! GYROCOPTER NATIONALS IN ALICE.
Quite a few pilots drowned at Bond Springs over the weekend.
They either undershot or overshot whilst attempting to land on an aircraft carrier.
Well, not quite.
The "carrier" was drawn in chalk on the Bond Springs airstrip.
The water was a long way out.
Those not making it onto the "deck" simply landed on the dirt before or after it.
It was one of the competitions for gyrocopter pilots from all over Australia, in The Centre for the Australian Sports Rotorcraft Association's national championships.
In all there were 23 of the machines, costing between $7000 and $45,000.
You can de-rig them easily and transport them on trailers, although one competitor flew all the way from Ballarat.
It took him four days. At around 100 km/h flat out gyrocopters aren't faster than cars Ð but you can cut the corners.
Driven by a push propeller and held aloft by a freewheeling rotor, the one- or two-seat machines are a cross between a light aircraft and a helicopter.
Training and safety management are seconded to the association by the government aviation authority, CASA.
If you buy a machine you usually get 15 hours of training thrown in Ð and in most cases that's enough to get you "solo".
By comparison, a light aircraft licence costs around $10,000, not including the purchase of the plane, of course.
The machines are put together largely from non-aircraft components.
The engines are often from small cars.
At an operating cost of around $30 an hour gyrocoptering is cheap flying.
Second only to skydiving, it affords a very immediate experience of the elements.
Most pilots sit on a chair mounted on a sparse metal contraption, no cockpit, no doors, no roof, no floor.
Only the more elaborate models have a cabin.
Carrier landings wasn't the only discipline at the nationals.
Dropping bombs (flour bags, actually) was another, dispatched towards a cross on the ground in a kind of dive.
"The Germans would have been quite safe," said one observer.
Another task is spot landing with the power off (the gyrocopters glide very safely), and a navigation flight around a 40 km triangle spiced with the need to make a number of observations.
If you want to join these "magnificent men" email Llewella Evans on firstname.lastname@example.org
BUSH HEALTH: TWO DEGREES NOT ENOUGH!
The Centre for Remote Health is all about better preparing health professionals for work in remote areas (see last week's report on its first five years). The path to date of one of its staff members is a prime example. COURTNEY WHITMAN reports.
A Bachelor of Science with a double major in Human Biology and Psychology, and a Masters in Public Health, both from the University of WA, weren't enough for Carly Dolinski: wanting a more "hands on" approach to remote health care, she recently became one of the first graduates of Charles Darwin University Bachelor of Nursing delivered through the Centre for Remote Health in Alice Springs.
The dynamic 26 year old came to the Central Australia in 2000 as coordinator for the newly created "Out of Alice" Project, a student placement program for final year medical students from Flinders University, who experience over six months health care and public health issues in remote settings.
Carly came on a two year contract and ended up staying for three and half years, "due to the unique and wonderful environment of Central Australia, its rich culture and history, the stimulating work, job satisfaction, lifestyle and people".
She was on "a steep learning curve" when she arrived, trying to come to grips herself with the nature of "remote health" Ð the distance, the environmental factors, funding resources, and the culturally appropriate services that must be available to communities.
She says the "generic education" of her first two degrees did not adequately prepare her for work in remote areas.
"What enabled me to work effectively was working alongside the health practitioners of all disciplines, researchers, educationalists, and community members at the Centre for Remote Health.
"These people became my mentors and friends.
"They shared with me their cumulative experience in the remote health field to help me learn, develop and cope."
While she was doing her nursing course Carly set up a remote nursing student interest group. The CARAH (Central Australian Remote and Aboriginal Health) Club brings together undergraduate nursing students in Alice Springs who are passionate about remote health.
Apart from its peer support role, the club "enables the students to be advocates for remote health", says Carly.
There are 18 other rural health student clubs based at universities throughout the country - CARAH is the newest. Together they form the National Rural Health Network.
The experience of living and working in a remote environment only widened Carly's curiosity about Aboriginal culture and remote health issues.
"The more that you live in that environment and get into it the morequestions there are."You can't, and shouldn't, expect to know everything. I think that's what keeps you going."Right now Carly's taking a break from the Centre, working as a Registered Nurse in the Spinal Unit at the Royal Perth Hospital.
At the end of this month, though, she'll move to Calgary in Canada, where she'll return to research project coordination at the University of Calgary, working on indigenous health practices there.She met her future Canadian employer at a conference in Alice Springs, hosted by the Centre for Remote Health.
"I'll hopefully learn knowledge and skills that I can then bring back to the Territory," says Carly.
DESERT PROFESSIONALS HELP MONGOLIANS SURVIVE SNOW. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
What do workers in The Centre's deserts and the icy plains of Mongolia have in common?
The need for survival skills, which is what local company IM Training could offer to Anglogold's geological exploration team based in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia's capital city.
IM Training, made up of Ian Cuthbert and Mark Butler, both based in Alice, have just returned from a month spent there in intensive training of a team of 15 for work in harsh and remote conditions.
It was "an opportunity too good to turn down" and one that they expect to replicate in the future.
"Now that we've done it, they know we can and I'm sure we'll be asked again," says Mark.
What the desert rats couldn't bring to the job from their police and military backgrounds and their adaptation of this knowledge to the mining industry in outback Australia, they got from sub-contractor Greg Paul, a member of the Victorian Police Rescue Squad with extensive experience in alpine search and rescue.
The trio made the journey into Mongolia from Beijing on the trans-Siberian railway, giving themselves a chance to acclimatise to the sub-zero conditions, often down to Ð20, and with wind chill, Ð30.
"When you're coming from 40+ degrees, that hurts," says Mark.
The weather around Ulaan Baatar is incredibly variable.
Even in spring and autumn it can change from fine to freezing in a matter of hours, which means that workers in the field need always to be prepared.
Part of the training consisted of establishing protocols for response to critical conditions and emergencies.
Other members of the geological survey team are generally the best placed to respond: they're there in the field, backed up by good vehicles, communications and other equipment, with direct knowledge of the prevailing conditions.
"They can generally respond to the emergency without needing to bring in the authorities," says Mark.
"The essential thing is that everyone needs to know what to expect.
"If someone misses their radio schedule, then an absolutely predictable chain of legal, sound actions needs to follow."
This part of the training relied heavily on interpreters.
That generally went well, but there were occasional hiccups.
When the team were asked to write a simulated search scenario from "the last known point of contact", one member turned in a scenario taking in the "last nine points of contact".
Much of the rest of the training was hands on, in the field Ð at night living in a typical Mongolian "ger".
These huts are round to deflect wind, with skins lashed to a wooden frame, topped by canvas.
With a wood stove in the middle, they're "warmer than you'd think", says Mark.
Mark spent a lot of his time teaching defensive driving techniques.
"Most of the Mongolians drive offensively," he explains.
"For instance, if they were approaching a stopped vehicle, rather than bearing down on them and then slamming on the brakes, which is what they typically do, I taught them to slow down well in advance."There are now 11 people in Mongolia who know how to drive safely," he laughs.
Greg passed on snow survival techniques, which include digging trenches to create windbreaks and making snow caves for overnight shelter if you become stranded.
Why wasn't there local knowledge about what to do in these situations?
"The Mongolians generally avoid going out in extreme conditions," says Mark.
He also found that most of the Mongolian geologists had overseas rather than local experience.
He says in the past, during the former Soviet occupation of the country, mining exploration was carried out by Russians.
While Mark and Ian themselves learnt a lot about survival in the snow, Mark was able to pass on a lot of fire-lighting tips, using materials at hand, such as two AA batteries in a small bed of steel wool and cotton wool.
How did a tiny Australian company get the job? Why not a North-American team, for instance?
"IM Training have experience in a specialised niche", says Mark.
Having worked a lot in mining and geological survey camps, they have a "good understanding of what the industry wants" and indeed, over the years have helped companies like Anglogold (formerly Acacia Resources) to refine their procedures.
It's another example of "desert knowledge" export, with a bit of southern know-how thrown in.
LETTERS: No funds? Local nurses suffering.
Sir,Ð I am writing this letter out of absolute desperation!
I am an ex-employee of the Alice Springs Hospital (ASH), where I had the pleasure of working with some of the best nurses I have met during my 14 years of nursing as far afield as New Zealand and the USA.
My family enjoyed life in Alice for two years, though the appeal of better pay and work conditions finally got the better of us and we decided to move to NSW.
A little piece of our hearts will always remain in the Territory and so, because I care, it infuriates me when I see the NT government neglecting the needs of the people of Alice Springs.
While I was working at the hospital I found myself extremely frustrated with the obvious cost-cutting in certain areas, while in other areas the sky seemed the limit.
For example, up until recently the hospital relied heavily on agency nurses, who enjoyed far better conditions than locally employed nurses doing the same work.
Fortunately the current management in its wisdom no longer employs nurses from these agencies at what must have been massively inflated costs (most enjoyed higher pay rates, free accommodation, meal subsidies and free flights).
Instead of passing on some of these savings to the locally employed staff by way of education grants and subsidised accommodation or meals, all nurses now enjoy a reduction in available grants and reduced assistance with study!
During the last few months that I was at ASH, they were very short of anaesthetists, so they were flying them in from Darwin at an exorbitant cost no doubt.
Why are there absolutely no incentives offered for staff retention?
Why do nurses have to fight with management for better conditions, indeed fight just to retain the conditions we have?
The last EBA that occurred during my time has now come in to force.
It was again a fight with an "us against them" mentality.
Nurses are worked to the extreme so management can reach some bureaucrat-determined goal.
What happened to caring for the patient and the community?
I left in the early part of January, and am still waiting on back-pay as a result of the latest EBA which I am now told I can expect May 6 (I hope they mean this year!).
Their pay office cries "under resourced".
I have a wife and four dependants, limited income to draw on and feel unappreciated and very let down.
Look at the mess we are slowly creating in our anaemic, strapped-for-cash health system.
Whatever happened to governments that were for the people, by the people?
Let's hope it's not too late to produce politicians and management that are willing to stick their necks out for the people of the Territory whodeserve special consideration.
Harry Bouma RN
ED Ð We invited the Alice Springs Hospital to respond:-
Firstly I am sure the Alice Springs Hospital nursing staff will appreciate Mr Bouma's comment that they were "some of the best nurses" he had met".
We are proud of them too.
Mr Bouma raises many important issues and each will be addressed individually.
From time to time we have had to rely on nurses hired through agencies on short-term contracts to cover patients needs.
This happens when significant numbers of our staff are for example struck down by the flu and there is high demand for hospital beds.
At those times we do have to offer different conditions to attract nurses on short term contracts to relocate to Alice Springs temporarily.
We do this when it is the only way to ensure patients are properly cared for.
Study assistance continues to be provided as we encourage all nurses at the hospital to upgrade their skills.
This has led to an increase in applications for study support so financial assistance has to be spread between more staff.
Conditions for our permanent nursing staff have improved since Mr Bouma left Alice Springs.
The 2003 Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) agreed to earlier this year places NT nurses salaries within the top three of States and Territories across Australia.
It provides an 11 per cent increase in salary over three years and improved allowances and conditions.
All currently-employed nurses and doctors have received their back pay owed as a result of the backdating of the EBA.
We are in the process of contacting and processing the pay of all former NT nurses and doctors which, with changing shifts and penalties, is a huge task.
I am sorry Mr Bouma has had to wait so long for his back pay but I am informed that he has been contacted and that it will be will processed as soon as possible.
Executive Director of Nursing
Nudity - a fact's a fact
Sir,Ð It seems very surprising that Tom Bird (letter to Ed, April 7) was disturbed by the mix of assumptions, personal opinion and fact in Julia Winterflood's article (March 24) about the photographic exhibition recently displayed at Charles Darwin University Library, considering his own letter contained an even less clearly separated mix of the same ingredients.
As well as the many unsubstantiated "assumptions" he makes, his letter has several examples of highly subjective statements based on his own views that he declares as fact.
One example: "The fact is we all know we look better with our clothes on."
I don't necessarily agree with this, and, aside from my own opinion, it ignores a long tradition of the portrayal of nudity in art and culture that dates back centuries and is a recognised and acclaimed part of many cultures across the globe.
Another example: "Fact is, if this is art..."
Though this comment taps into a relevant and important debate on what is and isn't art, it is again Mr Bird's subjective point of view claiming to be fact, which by definition (Penguin Macquarie Dictionary) is "what has really happened or is the case; truth; reality; something known to have happened".
I congratulate Julia Winterflood on her article, and considering the exhibition discussed has been so controversial, I found it very appropriate and enriching that some personal opinion was included within her report.
Sir,Ð Federal Labor's policy of Aboriginal self governance is another victory for the politically correct and yet another setback for indigenous Australians and towns like ours throughout regional Australia that are becoming the dumping ground for problems brought about through such insane ideology.
The policy proposes to give indigenous communities even more money and power with no strings attached.
Mr Ah Kit says "there is not one successful indigenous community in the Territory".
This strategy therefore will be tantamount to filling a very deep bath with our money with the plug already out.
Have you noticed some of the ATSIC commissioners are mute or even supportive of the opposition's proposal to replace ATSIC with a national democratically-elected indigenous overseeing body?
I'm sure they clearly understand that treading warily may very well result in their own re-election despite having presided over ATSIC's litany of failures.
This will be like handing a blind man the keys to the Ghan; it will derail leaving more death, destruction and misery amongst Aboriginal communities in its wake.
By way of suggestion perhaps this new body could be renamed AWWOT Ð Another Way to Waste Our Taxes.
As a candidate with absolutely no political allegiance in the upcoming town council election, these are the reasons why I am stating with unyielding clarity that before it is too late, this town must not allow outsiders to dictate the agenda when it comes to Central Australia's social ills.
It is time for locals to meet the challenge head-on to devise and implement our own solutions, no matter how draconian they may initially have to be.
To surrender under the ideological weight of those from big feel-good cities will result in the drowning of our great town.
Keep the change. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
The first experience of many people when they arrive in a new place is to take a taxi.
This puts taxi drivers at the forefront of creating that crucial first impression that visitors gain.
Those 15 kilometres into town make all the difference.When I had youthful ideals, it was clear to me that taxis were a bad thing.
I didn't need anyone to drive me around while my legs could turn the pedals of a bike.
Taxis were an expensive luxury reserved for wimps and posh people.
Now I use taxis regularly, having shifted yet another lifelong principle from the credit to the debit side of my ethical account.
At this rate, I will lose every last scruple that I ever had, sometime in the middle of next year.
I know occasional visitors to the Alice have other reasons for not using taxis.
They prefer to avoid the risk that they might wind up stuck in a 20-minute journey on the end of a dreary and prejudiced lecture about the state of the Aboriginal community.
In a taxi, nobody can hear you scream.
But let's leave this particular subject for another time.
Another reason that I never used a taxi until well into adulthood was that the rules of tipping always bamboozled me.
Basically, I didn't know how to tip.
Nobody had ever showed me.
To have any confidence, I needed to see instructions written up on the dashboard next to the little signs about what happens if you vomit in the cab. Instead I was expected to guess the local tipping norms, a difficult prospect for a shy person.
These days I am bolder. During my first day in the Alice, I asked one taxi driver what kind of tip was normal.
"Oh, just round it up," she said.
So I did, which was 20 cents over the price on the meter.
This was another case of ordinary life being more interesting than it looked at first sight.
Having heard the stories of how London taxi drivers disdainfully hand small tips back to passengers, the idea of a taxi driver accepting 20 cents was something of a revelation.
I asked a friend to explain.
Tipping is un-Australian, he told me, because everyone is equal in a classless society and so to tip someone is an insult.
That's fantastic, I thought.
Someone give me the citizenship forms.
I'll fill them in now.
A short while after this, I read an exchange of letters in a newspaper on the subject of tipping.
Two readers who had clearly never worked in a low-paid industry where tips are welcome, were debating the ideology of service gratuities.
The gist was that one took the classless society line, arguing that people should be paid properly in the first place and shouldn't have to be patronised by small change from the dusty corners of customers' purses.
The other one reckoned that market forces should prevail.
Customers should offer an incentive for better service.
Don't tip and you'll get what you pay for in a market economy.As ever, the truth lies some distance from romantic twaddle about class and even further from academic debate.
Tourist industry guidebooks always tell you to tip handsomely.
People who have no idea what they are talking about tell you the opposite.
In the meantime the locals do what they always do, which is to hand over virtually nothing to anyone who hasn't thoroughly earned it.
For my money, you can forget the morals of this one.
Alice Springs is a service town.
If someone gives good service, if they work long unsociable hours for unglamorous pay and if you can afford it; do them a favour and round the bill up.
Keeping all you love. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.
Latest statistics show that the Territory's suicide rate is still 50 per cent higher than the national average.
Mind Matters Plus is a suicide prevention strategy, a new mental health and well-being program which is being trialled at certain schools throughout the Territory.
It and other initiatives such as Life Promotion Program, Youth at Risk Network, the Peers Skill Program, and Beyond Blue identify the issues and explore ways to overcome them, facilitate keeping the lines of communication open for all Territorians, young and old, and are actively supported by health and educational bodies.
In May 2001 my niece Emma and I went along to Araluen to see the stage-show "Keep Everything You Love" which was on tour from Brisbane.
David Brown's powerful play explored the tragedy of youth suicide and touched on the emotions of shock, grief, despair, confusion and guilt.
In March 1999, judged by a panel of Brisbane theatre critics, it won the Matilda Award for excellence in writing and directing for the theatre.
The play centres around a boy and a girl, friends and Year 12 students, who are trying to come to terms with the suicide, and stigma surrounding it, of a friend and peer, Jack.
Through clever video, animation and computer-generated sequences, the audience learns about Jack, and in deconstructing their relationship with Jack, the two young people are able to reach some sense of understanding.
They identify a number of life affirming strategies such as the importance of communicating feelings, especially for males and the importance of seeking help, support and guidance through counselling.
I read recently that many men prefer the term "debrief" as opposed to "having sessions" with a counsellor for fear of being labelled "weak".
Other strategies are acknowledgement of diversity in an individual and acceptance of "difference", understanding and accepting mental health issues and also dispelling notions of stigma attached to mental illness.
The constant affirmation throughout the play is keeping the lines of communication open.
Keep talking, keep listening, keep it together.
The show had received acclaim for its sensitive handling of tough subject matter from many sectors in Queensland including health and youth workers, counsellors, suicide support groups and individuals who had been bereaved by suicide.
Emma was completing Year 12, and had been touched by suicide, as had friends and classmates, six times during the previous 18 months.
I thought it was an extremely moving and thought provoking production, as did she.
I spoke to David Lloyd, production manager at Araluen who said that performances here, for whatever reason, weren't well attended Ð some high schools supported it, others didn't.
A male friend who works within the teaching fraternity said there is so much on offer through any given year and huge demands on the students' time that decisions have to be taken about what fits, or doesn't, into extremely busy schedules.
The results of a local survey are listed on the website promoting the play and showed that 58 per cent of those who saw the play felt that they were better informed about suicide prevention while 61 per cent said they had a better understanding of suicide risk factors.
48 per cent knew of someone deceased by suicide while 51 per cent knew someone bereaved by suicide.
According to the questionnaire that some of the younger attendees had taken time to fill out, they thought that the media was quite negative about the play and some students actually felt it was adults railroading what they (adults) feel is a teenage issue Ð how to deal with suicide and loss.
It's not only a teenage issue. It concerns everyone Ð young and old, rich and poor, male and female, black and white.
Sometimes we undertake to do something for reasons other than the amusement factor Ð like viewing "The Passion of the Christ" Ð still breaking all box office records, much to the delight of Mel Gibson.
David and I went to see it, with Ian and Francoise, and hundreds of others, over Easter.
I have put "Keep Everything You Love" in the same category Ð both are extremely powerful pieces, impacting on audiences and creating much discussion.
Perhaps it would be an appropriate time for an approach to David Brown, with the backing of health and education groups, to bring this show back to Araluen and the Territory, to target audiences, students, parents and tutors.
Some critics suggested that it could be dangerous for young people to see the play.
But the young are growing up very quickly, and the play became a conversation point for those who had seen it, actively opening up lines of communication.
Keep talking, keep listening and keep it all together.
RULES CARNIVAL: PIONEER RECLAIM PREMIER POSITION. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The Ngurratjuta Lightning Carnival over Easter not only provided a spectacle for thousands of visitors to Alice Springs but also gave an insight into the coming season in both communities and CAFL circles.
By 8pm on Sunday night after 41 games of Australian Rules, Pioneer and Western Aranda took to the centre stage to decide the carnival winner.
The Eagles, in a mood that almost reflected the bad memories of last year, when they finished second in September and didn't even play in the carnival final, won 7.5 (47) to Western Aranda's 4.2 (26).
They led at half time 5.3 to 1.0, with Clinton Pepperill in the ruck dominating and Graeme Smith in vintage touch.
Over the past season or two, Smith, the "Rolls Royce" of Australian Rules in Alice, has suffered recurring injuries.
But on Sunday night he was back to his old self with some telling interceptions, effective turn-overs and pinpoint accuracy in his kicking.
Pioneer won the game but the efforts of Western Aranda did not go unnoticed.
STYLEThey have developed a style of play most worthy of CAFL standard and while like last year they had to settle for second place, the signs are on the board that in a premier competition in Central Australia, they would be up there with the best.
In looking at the carnival overall, it was interesting that Trucking Yards failed to register a side this year.
This may have favoured Pioneer who over the years have lost the services of many players to the Truckies.
The Magpies from Yuendumu, 2003 winners, cruised into town this year without the hype of 12 months ago, and managed to make the quarter finals.
Put to the test by Pioneer, they succumbed 3.0 to 5.7. Other quarter finals also had an impact on the result, and were possible indicators of what is to come.
Federal had little trouble in claiming victory over Rovers 7.5 to 2.2.
Feds however found their nemesis in Western Aranda who knocked them out in the semi finals 3.7 to 2.1.
This proved a disappointment in particular for coach Gilbert McAdam as his charges had chances to snatch victory.
On the other side of the ledger however, Greg McAdam, coaching the Feds' country club Ltyente Apurte, had his side try for the other semi final place against Pioneer. They were outclassed 7.4 to 0.2 but the experience would have done them no harm.
The Ngurratjuta Plate, Division Two of the carnival proved to be a low scoring but evenly contested final.
McDonnell Districts recorded a two-point win over the Western Desert Eagles, 1.5 (11) to 1.3 (9).
This week they will start their campaign in earnest when they face Southern AP in the pipe opener of the season.
Early form and last year's record would indicate that the Districts side will bring home the bacon.
In the second fixture of Sunday's play, Ti Tree and Ltyente Apurte will go head to head.
Ti Tree's Roosters accounted for Western Aranda in the minor round of the carnival, only to be knocked out in the semi finals by the Districts.
Hence a good close encounter should take place this week.
Saturday football in the Centre this year will feature the CAFL competition.
To mark the opening of the season (and provide balance to the calendar!) only one game will be played, that being a replay of last year's grand final.
South will meet Pioneer.
Pioneer are coming off a carnival win and are looking surprisingly fit at this stage of the year.
They have lost the services of Joel Campbell who is honing his skills in Melbourne.
The Eagles have also cleared a string of lads notably to Federal including the Liddle brothers, Damien Kopp, Brian Cooper and Augustine Campbell.
Within the club however the cup seems to be spilling over with young players seeking glory in the green and gold colours.
With Roy Arbon, Graham Smith, Lachlan Ross, and Trevor Dhu to steer the ship they will be right up to traditional Eagles standards in 2004.
In the South camp, things seem to have consolidated.
Bradley Dodd and Trevor Hunt have moved to West. Ricky Orr and Damien Ryder are now at Federal and Aaron Harvey has moved to Rovers.
However the Roos have recruited well, particularly from the bush with the likes of Curtis Haines, Max Fejo, Charlie Lynch and Clinton Ngalkin donning the blue and white colours.
RACING: YOUNG GUNS SET TO BLAZE AWAY. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
Premium racing begins this Saturday, Young Guns Day when the 2004 Cup Carnival will be launched.
Some 200 horses are stabled in the Pioneer Park precinct ensuring top fields for the month-long spectacular.
Ringside and in the Pavilion an enthusiastic crowd should lift the atmosphere of this day to new heights.
The running of the NT Guineas will be the feature event and as a taster, five races were conducted last Saturday, the first being the Undoolya Class Four Handicap over 1400 metres.
The Lynne Williams visitor from Darwin wasted no time in adjusting to the conditions by taking the event by a length and a quarter with Paul Denton in the saddle.
The top weight, On My Oath, played a merry tune in front early with Abra and Cartoon Hero making it a three-horse-race with the other contestants well back.
By the 400-metre mark Cartoon Hero was under pressure, allowing equal favourite Abra to cruise up to the leader and prove too strong in the run to the line.
On My Oath held on to collect the second-placed cheque while fellow equal favourite Burran ran on well enough to complete the placings.
The money in the second race, the Deep Well Class B Handicap over 1400 metres, was well and truly centred on the Vince Maloney campaigner Everytime, who started in the red.
Centre Rajah guided the way early on from Emmie Weir's Sarason's Girl, with Upton settled in well by Barry Huppatz in third place.
Everytime travelled behind them.
In the straight Sarason's Girl had already run her race and the big horse Upton found his feet and proved up to the challenge of overtaking the leader.
Upton controlled the run home to score a three-length win over Everytime with Lava Flow a further half length behind in third place.
Lava Flow, another visitor from the Top End showed enough to be marked in the black book for further good performances over the carnival.
Swiftly has been out of the winners' circle for over a year and in the 1000 metre Owen Springs Class Six Handicap made a return to racing worth remembering.
For the jockey Kevin Gladwin the win was a first at Pioneer Park, and nursing to the line the 60 kg weight allotted to Swiftly was a credit to him.
Starting wide from barrier 10 Gladwin wasted no time in challenging by charging to the lead beside Compass Boy.
The two raced fiercely over the journey with Swiftly showing more strength in the straight to win by half a length.
Earth Legend again gave his connections heart when he made up good ground in the straight to catch up Compass Boy and the two crossed the line as one.
The top weight Afinity from the Sheila Arnold stable was having its first run having travelled up from the south and no doubt used the race to adjust to the conditions.
Vince Maloney was rewarded in the Bond Springs Class One Handicap over 1000 metres when his Victorian import Moon God saluted, paying $9.
Edging Around jumped from barrier eight and controlled the running, setting a good pace.
Moon God travelled off the pace in second or third place.
The eventual winner made his move on the turn and proved his worth in the straight winning by seven lengths and recording a sound time of 1.2.98 for the distance.
The favourite Tonnes of Style put in an impressive run to come home second, with Saratoga Boy a neck away in third place.
The Terry Gillett stable completed the day's racing on a high when Darrowby Livewire took the money in the 1200-metre Orange Creek Open Handicap.
Ridden by Tim Norton, the horse jumped well from barrier six to command proceedings.
In making a successful transition into Open country, Norton had no trouble taking him to the line a two and a quarter length winner.
Juroma who appears to need to lead to win travelled behind all the way to take second place.
The big improver in the race was Pelt who ranged within half a head of Juroma on the line.
Of the other runners Bathers and Border both disappointed. The win by Darrowby Livewire puts the Gillett stable in an enviable position for the Pioneer Sprint.
It could be that the horse could line up with stable mates Our Mate Jack, Scotro and Nappa in the feature event.
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