ABORIGINAL HEALTH SERVICE: MASSIVE SURPLUS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
The Alice Springs based Aboriginal health service, Congress, has had a multi-million dollar surplus for several years, peaking at $6.1m in 2002, almost equivalent to the organisation's total annual funding.
There has been an accumulated surplus every year since at least 2000, when the figure was $4.2m.
In 2003 it was just under $6m.
"Unexpended grants" in that year amounted to $1.2m.
Each year since at least 2000 the organisation's financial statements have recorded interest earnings of about $200,000.
This came to light when NT Senator Nigel Scullion made inquiries with Health Minister Tony Abbott following a request for information from the Alice Springs News.
Congress director Stephanie Bell said she had no comment to make for this edition of the News, but may respond in the next one.
Congress has told the News previously that it would not disclose to the newspaper any financial details, nor how the public money it receives is being spent.
Their 2003 annual report describes programs but does not provide any financial information.
Congress' main funding source is the Federal Department of Health, which this year will provide $7.6m for 14 programs.
It is understood Congress also receives minor funding from the NT Government and other sources.
Senator Scullion says he has been told by the Office of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, a branch of the department, that management of surpluses has been a "key focus" during the second part of this financial year.
Senator Scullion says organisations with surpluses will be asked to propose "how the funds can be spent, in line with the funding purpose, by 30 June 2004."
Negotiations will follow about "either approving those proposals, or seeking repayment of those surplus amounts by withholding them from future funding releases," says Senator Scullion.
He says: "Given the state of Aboriginal health, I am surprised at the size of the surplus, and for how long it has been there."
Congress' financial situation seems in stark contrast to its repeated public claims that governments are under-funding Aboriginal health care, most recently on occasion of the opening of a youth drop-in centre (Alice News, April 21).
The massive surplus is being revealed at a time when Indigenous health is again prominent on the political stage, with calls for more government funding.
Australian Medical Association President Bill Glasson, after a visit to the NT this month, said: "Paediatricians are telling me that the health of the kids in this state is worse now than it was 20 years ago.
"We have, as I said, some of the worst statistics in the world."
Dr Glasson said there needs to be a government commitment "to make sure that [there are] sufficient resources to meet the needs, and not just saying here's a certain amount of money and trying to make that fit the needs".
Prime Minister John Howard is locked in debate with Opposition Leader Mark Latham about whether services previously supplied by ATSIC should be "mainstreamed", and there is now a proposal to subcontract to private enterprise Aboriginal legal aid services.
Senator Scullion says it appears that the department is paying much closer attention to auditing financial reports than to assessments about the effectiveness of programs.
"I don't know the answer specifically but my discussions would indicate that that's the case.
"There must be records to show the success or otherwise of treatment."
Asked whether there is any assessment of improvements in general health or specific indicators, Senator Scullion says: "I'm not so sure it's done in every event. We can perhaps make sure it is done.
"It is my general knowledge that [a qualitative assessment] isn't focussed upon nearly as much as the financial auditing.
"We audit the money that is spent on the programs but we don't actually look at auditing the outcomes.
"The programs are reviewed internally by the department … with the intent of continually improving those programs.
"But the auditing process that's publicly available is only about money, that the money is appropriately spent within the service agreement."
ALICE NEEDS A LAKE, SAYS ATSIC MAN. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Alice Springs needs a lake.Aboriginal people need an elected body to represent them.
Des Rogers, Alice Springs' ATSIC regional council chair, is passionate about both.
He has no intention of "disappearing" in June 2005, according to the Prime Minister's calendar.
As this paper appears he is gathered in Sydney with other regional council chairs and, he hopes, key Indigenous leaders from around Australia to take the fight to the next stage.
ATSIC is "dead and buried", says Mr Rogers, as is its board of commissioners – "the so-called Magnificent Eleven who have tarnished the reputation of Aboriginal people".
But an advisory body of "distinguished Indigenous people" as the Prime Minister is proposing would be mere tokenism and would deprive Aboriginal people of genuine representation, their democratic right.Mr Rogers welcomed the separation of powers within ATSIC, leading to the creation of ATSIS to administer budgets and deliver programs, with the elected arm concentrating on policy and advocacy.
He was also looking forward to negotiating around the four alternative models of representation proposed in the review of ATSIC commissioned by the Federal Government; indeed there had already been a preliminary meeting with Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone to do just that.
The Prime Minister's shock announcement of April 15 has cut this reform process off at the knees, despite the government having spent $1m on the review.
But Mr Rogers is not one for sifting bitterly through the ashes.
He now sees two windows of opportunity for the elected arm: the first is in the next three weeks, lobbying the Opposition to defeat Mr Howard's Bill in the Senate and to argue for a new negotiated model of representation.The second is over the next year, while the regional councils structure remains in place.
Mr Rogers is not against mainstream delivery of programs as such, but he says the regional councillors must do everything in their power to make sure that elected representatives of grassroots Aboriginal people have the oversight of those programs: what should be done, how, and then, is it working?
Improved well-being is what the focus should be, not how much money is spent, says Mr Rogers. Indeed he thinks buckets of money are a terrible distraction and that's where a lake for Alice Springs comes in.One of the many boards Mr Rogers sits on is the newly created Southern Region Development Board, chaired by Mayor Fran Kilgariff (Alice News, March 10).
Mr Rogers argues that the most important thing that the board should work on is getting everyone who lives in Alice Springs feeling good about living here, sharing a sense of pride and ownership of the town, a sense of common purpose.
And a recreation lake would be just the project to bring that about. Alice is a great town; the one thing it lacks, he says, is a large body of water and that can be overcome.
Forget the flood mitigation dam north of the Telegraph Station: that can never be for important cultural reasons.
Create a lake on government-owned land at Owen Springs and call it the "Inland Sea".
Residents, black and white, would love it, tourists would love it, it would be a huge additional attraction for people to stay and for new people to think about coming here.
The town would grow and economic development would follow.
The future of people in Central Australia is Mr Rogers' passion: all of the people, he says, not only Aboriginal people.
"We need to think outside of the box to create it together."
LARAPINTA HOUSING LAND: A MISSED CHANCE? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
If location, location and location is the driver of most real estate ventures, timing, timing and timing was what killed one proposed in 2000.
Its proponents say it made a lot more sense than the two pocket-size developments, 40 and 46 blocks, respectively, that will result in Larapinta from the native title agreement with the NT Government sealed last week.
The ceremony was noteworthy for the vigorous mutual backslapping, and the empty seats in the large marquee shading mostly pollies, VIPs, public servants and some Aboriginal functionaries.
Two lots of primary school kids, one group black and the other, white, bussed in for their cute symbolic value, were sitting in the sun on the lawn of Albrecht Oval.
The proponents of the earlier proposal, who don't want to be named, say the size of their development – 654 blocks – would have provided much better economies of scale, allowing blocks to be turned off for $45,000 to $55,000.
This is well below the expected $75,000 to $85,000 for the current proposal.
Land would have come on stream at a rate much like the one proposed now – around 100 blocks in the first year, then about 50 blocks a year, more or fewer depending on demand.
Huge savings would have been achieved by having an ongoing construction process, says one of the proponents, not a stop-start situation inevitable with the present arrangement.
The 2000 proposal had none of the hallmarks of a fly by night venture.
One of the town's most respected businessmen, a long-time local, showed me a large drawing of the proposed subdivision, every street and every block marked.
He also showed me a two centimetre thick feasibility study.
PROFITSThe partners, black and white, would have shared $13m in profits over seven years.
What's more, it would have been a genuine joint venture between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal interests, including one of Alice Springs' biggest and oldest firms.
My source says the idea had the support of a major Aboriginal representative organisation.
The government of the day was all for it.
At the same time the Larrakeyah were getting started on their $50m residential development south of Darwin.
The Top End project, now well into the selling stage, was the model for the failed 654 block one in The Alice.
The Alice model preferred in the end may not do all that much for race relations.
Because of agonising delays, first with the setting up of Lhere Artepe, the native title body, and later with the Indigenous Land Use Agreement, land prices shot through the roof, and confidence in the local economy was tested to its limit. And now we'll have a "whitefeller" development on one site, and a "blackfeller" development more than half a kilometre away .
The Alice joint venture proposal came all at the wrong time.
Although extinguishment of native title was at the core of the Larrakeyah project, it went ahead, under the former CLP government, outside the native title framework.
In essence, the presumed native title holders made a deal with the government over a large slab of land.
One part would remain untouched because of its ceremonial significance.
Native title would be extinguished over a second part where several sporting facilities were established, so they could continue to function unhindered.
And the government gave a development licence to the Larrakeyah over the third part of the land, now the site of the subdivision, being marketed by former Alice Springs real estate identity Les Loy and his L J Hooker franchise.
Things didn't go so smoothly in The Centre.
Following an initiative by prominent local Aboriginal businessman Bob Liddle, Justice Olney of the Federal Court declared in 2000 that native title existed on Crown Land in the municipal area of Alice Springs. (No such declaration has ever been made for Darwin.)
From that point onwards all dealings in native title land had to be negotiated with an authorised body.
It took a further two years, until May 2002, for that body – Lhere Artepe – to be set up.
Two more years went by with sometimes ferocious wrangling within Lhere Artepe before last week's agreement was finally signed.
That agreement is for an amount of land that will not be nearly enough to meet the town's needs.
However, at last week's signing both sides made it clear that the agreement – the first of its kind in Australia – would become a template, making further agreements far less complicated.
The timing for my source's project was unfortunate not only from the point of view of native title laws: the political landscape changed dramatically with the Territory's first ever Labor government being elected in August 2001.
Ironically Labor, the party usually regarded as having much better relationships with Aborigines, had to look on helplessly as public frustration mounted to boiling point over skyrocketing real estate prices and the complete lack of new residential land.
My source says the 654 block proposal was put to the new government but rejected. (A government source says there was some awareness of the proposal but no formal development application.)
It is likely that the new government had an agenda other than clearing the way for the most cost effective construction of subdivisions.
If the government allowed all the town's substantial land requirements to be met by just one location, then only one of the three moieties making up Lhere Artepe would have benefited from the multi-million dollar boom soon to unfold.
Not a happy proposition.
On the other hand, the land buyer will pay the price for any solution pandering to Aboriginal factions.
The situation is indicative of the fragmented situation in Alice Springs. No doubt the Larrakeyah also have moiety subgroups – yet they could decide on a single development that meets the commercial and technical requirements to maximise economies of scale.
Pity the Arrernte couldn't have done the same.
NATIVE TITLE DEAL WON'T DROP PRICES.
The land release at Larapinta, now secured by an agreement between the NT Government and native title holders, won't have a major impact on the housing market, according to Doug Fraser, the head of Alice Springs' biggest real estate agency.
The L J Hooker boss says a "correction" is taking place already, with prices dipping slightly after an unprecedented 20 per cent growth in the 12 months to November 2003.
Mr Fraser says there is likely to be a further correction, but the industry doesn't expect that to be a major one.
Fewer settlements have occurred in February and March this year (78 each) when compared to January (102) and December (108).
"We still have shortage of stock," says Mr Fraser.
"Every property that is well presented and priced, we find, is getting good enquiry rates and selling at or close to the asking price."
He says there is no "dramatic decrease" in offers being made.
However, some people's "expectations haven't been realised" especially when they expected the rate of increase in prices to continue.
"We probably have had the biggest increase in average prices in the last three years that we've ever had," says Mr Fraser.
"You can't keep going in such a sharp incline.
"But I don't think you'll see a dramatic fall.
"There may be one or two properties for which the vendor has received exceptional prices.
"If someone wants to sell these in the next 12 months, they may be selling in a slightly flatter market."
Mr Fraser says about the new Larapinta land: "I expect the blocks to come on the market for between $75,000 and $85,000 but market forces will dictate.
"What worries me is that they are only small subdivisions.
"It would be difficult for the subdivision to be viable with only 45 blocks.
"Economies of scale dictate that the numbers aren't large enough.
"There are likely to be two developers and there are separate parts of the subdivision.
"We've put to the government some time ago that the subdivisions are too small to be economically viable.
"When you have machinery on site it's expensive to get it back later.
"Once the two subdivisions are completed it will be a new tender process all over again."
Mr Fraser says: "We need 100 blocks on the market now, 50 next year and 50 the year after, as a minimum.
"That's in Larapinta. Bear in mind, this is low entry real estate.
"This is not the golf course, or Araluen or Carmichael.
"This is for low entry, first home buyers, who don't have big money to spend.
"The average worker, the average couple – they're not on big money, they want a block to build a house, start a family.
"That's the sort of land Larapinta should be.
"But even at $75,000 to $85,000 I'm concerned the prices are too high.
"At this stage the government's first home owners assistance scheme cuts out at $180,000, although they're talking about increasing that.
"That leaves $110,000 to build a house.
"Building costs are now over $1000 a square metre.
"So the buyer gets a 100 square metre house, and that's not what people are looking for."
Mr Fraser says he understands there are drainage problems at Mt Johns Valley, the next site for a development under a native title agreement: "There is demand for up-market land there.
"You are probably looking at $100,000 plus."
The rental market – as indicated by the vacancy rate – is "basically unchanged".
He says: "The vacancy rate is the best indicator, it is the first sign of a movement in the real estate market.
"If the vacancy rate blows out it means there will be a correction in the market.
"We were up around seven or eight per cent vacancy rate in January and February.
"That's down now to less then 4.5 per cent, which is a pretty good rate.
"You can't get below two per cent because people are always moving."
Mr Fraser says the lack of land has slowed all home building work to a crawl, with a flow-on effect into trades, suppliers of building materials, as well as furniture and white goods.
But despite all that, "the town is still travelling reasonably well, and that shows that the rest of the economy supporting the town is going reasonably well.
"But you can't keep going like that."
Meanwhile Shadow Minister for Central Australia Richard Lim welcomes the signing of the Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) between the Northern Territory Government and the Lhere Artepe for land release at Larapinta Stage 4.
"Now that the ILUA is signed, the government must release the terms of the agreement so that taxpayers know what their commitment to the development is," Dr Lim said.
"The Martin Labor Government has already agreed that the lifting of Native Title from the Larapinta area is worth 50 per cent of the commercial value of the land through awarding half of the available allotments to the Lhere Artepe.
"The Government should now tell us what other commitments were made in the ILUA, such as which party (government or Lhere Artepe) will pay for the installation of electricity, water and sewerage services to the block.
"This is not an unfair expectation in the interests of open and accountable government.
I now ask the government to be open about the Larapinta land deal."
Dr Lim said he was also concerned by reports that the price of each housing allotment, when released, will be at a price that is beyond the reach of most first home buyers.
"It is incumbent on government to negotiate further with the developers of the whole 85 allotments for some blocks that could be priced specifically for first home buyers," Dr Lim said.
Dr Lim said, as an aside, that he would be keeping a close eye on the time frame for when the first housing allotment is release.
"The Minister for Central Australia is on record as saying that he would put his house on the market if no housing allotments were turned out by January 2004. He later recanted and said that he promised his house would be on the market if no housing allotments were turned out in early 2004, which I take to mean before June 2004."
LETTERS: Critics - grist to my mill.
Sir,– Responding to Clem Wheatley's comments (Letters, April 21), as a candidate in the upcoming council election, I am not a politician.
I am merely a ratepayer who is extraordinarily happy with my current occupation but who is passionate about this town and what needs to be done to create a sound future for its residents.
In putting myself on the line to achieve this collective goal, I fully understand that the only thing coming my way in the short term will be verbal or print sprays from people such as yourself.
Recently friends of mine, a local couple returning to Alice from a holiday in Cairns, whilst glad to be home, the welcome mat rolled out for them, as their vehicle trundled back through the streets of Alice, was sadly a montage of some of the filthiest streets in our nation.
This was in stark contrast to their previous week spent walking through the pristine streets of Cairns and stretched out sunbathing on fresh and scrupulously tidy grassy banks.
It is little wonder therefore that their return was tinged with unfortunate feelings of dismay and embarrassment.
The truth is, the rangers do have responsibilities under the litter act.
I simply ask the ratepayers of this town to judge whether they believe the laws under this act are being satisfactorily enforced.
Concerning my so-called scant regard for the occupational health and safety of our rangers, as president of the Heroes Under The Sun Museum whose aim is to herald the work of those, both men and women, who risked their lives to protect and /or rescue us, my compassion and unyielding support for rank and file law enforcement officers, no matter what the uniform, cannot be questioned.
I understand that the rangers and the police in this town share healthy dialogue, therefore through communication, surely our rangers could seek a police-overseeing role when fulfilling risk-taking obligations.
To get Alice moving there are some not-so-nice problems that are going to require some short-term not-so-nice solutions.
There are many people in this town including myself who are up to the challenge.
To get the job done, I will take any criticism squarely on the chin on behalf of this town. It is a price I am more than willing to pay as I believe this town can, with a little effort, become the jewel in Australia's crown.
Sir,– I concur with the criticism of your editorial comment (21/04) and that of others, with regard to the proposed redevelopment of the Town Council's Civic Centre offices.
The manner in which this project is being thrust onto the community has all the hallmarks of a scheme designed to prop up the local construction industry rather than meet the needs of council.
The arguments in its favour seem contrived and artificial, and certainly the priorities are wrong.
The Alice Springs Public Library ought to be the first stage of any redevelopment proposal.
Quite apart from the need for expansion, I believe its location is less than desirable with respect to its vulnerability in the event of a major flood.
Admittedly such occasions are rare but only one is needed to cause a serious loss to the community, and in particular I have in mind the Alice Collection, a significant proportion of which is irreplaceable.
Two options present themselves to my mind.
The library could be relocated elsewhere to larger and safer premises, or else the existing facility could be converted into a two-story building.
Either way, this would provide ample room for expansion of other council offices.
I also believe the council chambers need to be expanded to accommodate (and encourage) a greater public attendance in the gallery.
The civic space in the middle of the complex, which is utilised mainly by vagrants and is largely untouched by the current redevelopment proposal, would be both ideal and ample for such purpose.
I see the opportunity for a quite impressive forum, not only for council meetings with increased public participation, but as an ideal venue for Commonwealth and NT government parliamentary committees, inter-school debates and parliaments, and the like.
I would also point out that in 1996 your paper headlined a proposal by local businessman Samih Habib (now an alderman) for a bus terminal complex on council grounds adjacent to Stott Terrace.
This was supported by the then Alderman Daryl Gray (for whom I have great respect), and certainly I still believe Mr Habib's proposal was eminently sensible and well-considered.
Alas, the council thought otherwise, eventually discarding the proposal in favour of a major bus terminal in conjunction with the railway station to be constructed by a prominent local business.
Not only has nothing come of this "preferred option" but the said business is subsequently on record bemoaning the lack of activity in the local construction industry!
Mr Habib's proposal ought to be re-instated, for here the council has the opportunity to do something positive for local construction and tourism, which in turn through either rent or sale can offset the costs of redevelopment of the civic centre.
Sir,– I am disappointed by your cynical overtone regarding the commitment of organisations and government [to a new drop-in centre for kids at risk – see last week's issue, p. 5.]
I regret not being able to be more positive about the positive role of government on this occasion.
As for the "multimillion dollar budgets" of our organisations, you should know how strictly our budgets are accounted for.
You are wrong in saying that we are not contributing, as four organisations are contributing staff through their existing youth budgets to rotate on a roster to operate the centre.
Why do you have to be so negative about something that should be seen in a positive light?
[ED – The major part of the report was an interview with a Tangentyere staff member and drop-in centre coordinator.
Nothing in our report suggested the organisations referred to had failed to account for their expenditures.]
ART FROM CENTRE IN TOP VIENNA GALLERY. STORY and PHOTOS by ALFRED PRUCKNER.
In their second collaboration, Australian curator Michael Eather and Austrian collector Karlheinz Essl have mounted a new exhibition, SPIRIT & VISION - Aboriginal Art at Mr Essl's gallery, Sammlung Essl in Klosterneuburg near Vienna.
The "spirit" of the title refers to Aboriginal traditions, while "vision" implies future development.The exhibition, which opened at the start of April and runs until the end of August, shows 134 artworks and objects by 94 Indigenous artists from around Australia, from its big cities to its most remote communities.
A significant proportion of the works are by artists using new media, including light box displays, digital phot-montage and DVD.
Mr Essl acquired many of the works on show during his last trip to Australia in March 2003, when, together with Mr Eather, he visited Alice Springs, Uluru, Papunya, Yuendumu, Balgo Hills, Halls Creek, Kununurra and Cooinda in Kakadu National Park.
From there they went on to Maningrida, Melville Island, Bathurst Island, Darwin and Brisbane.
The pair's first collaboration, "Dreamtime - The Dark and the Light", was shown at Sammlung Essl in 2001.
Pictured are works from the Essl Collection: Two Snakes at Alinittiti, 1972 by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (below); and Two Old Men, 2002 by Michael Nelson Jaga-mara (above right).
NOWHERE TO HIDE WHEN ALICE'S RADAR ZEROES IN. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
For the nation, the Jindalee "over the horizon" radar is an increasingly sophisticated tool to detect intruders by sea or air.
For Alice Springs it means 50 families living here, the people running the installation since the early 70s.Its concept hasn't changed since then, but its performance has immensely, says Wing Commander Stephen "Zane" Gray, the commanding officer of the No 1 Radar Surveillance Unit in Adelaide.
"Originally we could see an object the size of a Concord.
"Now we can spot a Cessna 172."
Wood is not very conductive, so boats made from timber remain less "visible", and WGCDR Gray says the minimum size of a target is classified information.
However, in the next 10 to15 years, and in part with the recent $62m boost for radar sites, he says scientist are confident Jindalee's performance will increase up to 100 fold.
The range of conventional radar, the kind you see at airports with its rotating dish, is limited to direct line of sight.
Conventional radar can "see" a high flying plane 300 km away but at low altitude the range is much less. Objects disappear when they get below the horizon.
HIDINGBut "there is nowhere to hide" from the Jindalee system, says WGCDR Gray.
This is because the radar "sees" the craft from above.
Jindalee's massive ground antennae, nearly three kilometres long, send and receive radio waves.
Approximately 90 km up they hit the ionosphere where they are "bent and bounced down", hit targets on the surface of the earth, and echo back the same way to be received by the installation's second antenna.
The transmitting and receiving arrays are 100 km apart, at Mt Everard and near Harts Range.
The Alice installation is facing north, and can cover an area from 1000 km to 3000 km in a 90 degree arc.
In collaboration with similar installations in Laverton and Longreach, the system can "image all of Northern Australia."
"It's much cheaper surveillance than using a fleet of aircraft."
WGCDR Gray says there has been progress in the last 30 years with hardware and software, refining the capability of detecting targets.
But significantly, more powerful computers make better sense of what the myriad of planes and boats to Australia's north are up to.
At the heart of the evaluation of the signals is No. 41 Wing based at Williamtown near Newcastle.
It merges the Jindalee information with data from civilian and military ground based radar, and information about known traffic, such as scheduled airliners and ships.
The results go to the Australian Federal Police, Coast Watch and Australian Defence Force Agencies, says WGCDR Gray. They check anything suspicious and act accordingly. While the computers do a good deal of the work, human intuition hasn't been retired yet from the process.
A radar operator saying "that looks odd" has often been the trigger for fruitful action.
How many baddies has it caught so far? "The exact number is classified information, but the Jindalee information is providing our enforcement agencies valuable intelligence against illegal immigrant vessels seeking to enter Australian skies and waters," says WGCDR Gray.
DEATH OF FIRST TIME SNIFFER: CALL FOR A CORONIAL INQUEST. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service (CAYLUS) is calling for a coronial inquest into the death of a teenager at Willowra in late March.
The teenager, whose funeral was held at Ti-Tree on Friday last week, appears to have died after sniffing petrol for the first time.
Blair McFarland of CAYLUS says the teenager's family fear the death is a result of payback.
They are having trouble understanding that it could have been caused by sniffing because they have seen plenty of young people sniff without dying.
Mr McFarland says he has spoken to a family member, explaining that sniffing just once can indeed lead to death, for example, by asphyxiation.
He says the coroner's report will help clarify this for the family, but a coronial inquest would go further, looking into the wider circumstances surrounding the death, which include what is and is not being done to prevent petrol sniffing in Central Australia.
He says recommendations from the last coronial inquest into a petrol sniffing death, held in 1998, have only been partially implemented.
Surprisingly, what would seem to have been the easiest recommendation to implement, has not been.
In 1998 coroner Warren Donald recommended that any connection of a death with the abuse of petrol or another inhalant be reflected in death certificates and autopsy reports. Mr McFarland says this has not been done and consequently there are no reliable statistics on inhalant-related deaths.
"We know anecdotally that deaths occur but there is a real need to get a clear statistical picture."
The coroner's second recommendation was to establish an adequately funded consultative body to look at and recommend appropriate prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and legislative measures.
Mr McFarland says CAYLUS has largely been able to fulfil this role.
At present it has two employees, himself and Tristan Ray.
Funds for his own position run out in June and for Mr Ray's, in August.
He says discussions with the Commonwealth about extending funding have been encouraging but "nothing has been signed yet".
The third recommendation, to establish and maintain detox and rehab facilities, has been partially implemented with initiatives in the bush, at Injartnama, Ilpurla, Ipolera and Mt Theo.
However, there are big gaps, including Alice Springs: "Where is a safe place in town where you can take a kid who has been sniffing?" asks Mr McFarland.
A safe environment and experienced support people are vital as it's no easy matter dealing with a person coming off a petrol high. The death investigated by Mr Donald in 1998 occurred when a 14-year-old, coming down off petrol, smashed a window, lacerating his arm. He subsequently bled to death.
The fourth recommendation, that sniffers be monitored after their return to their community, has not been implemented to date, though CAYLUS has just received funding to employ a caseworker to do this over the next two years.
The fifth and final recommendation was that a tripartite strategy be developed by NT, SA and WA.
Mr McFarland says a cross-border inhalants committee, chaired by Alison Anderson, meets every three months.
He spoke to them about a year ago but hasn't heard anything since.
The Alice News understands that this committee (the Tri-state Cross Border Reference Group on Volatile Inhalants Usage) is only now – six years later – on the point of commissioning a planning project to work out what sniffing and other youth substance abuse programs and facilities are needed in the NPY tri-state area.
RAELENE BROTHERS LOSE THE BLUES. Review by KIERAN FINNANE.
It's not every day that you'll find yourself dancing to an irresistible beat and driving lyrics that talk about … Gap Road, the Dust Bowl, Melanka's.
To get local audiences on their feet and dancing to music about the place they live in is the delightful "sport" of the Super Raelene Brothers.
Sport because they're passionate about it, it's more than just a hobby, but they're not looking for fame and riches. They're looking rather to be bold and joyful, for themselves and for their listeners.
They have a sound all their own, making something compelling, original and fun out of the limitations of a two-piece outfit.
Real brothers, Basil and Derek Schild were part of a four-member band in Adelaide called Aunty Raelene.
"Raelene because the name is just so Australian," says Basil, "and we wanted to get away from the North American packaging of most popular music."
When they came to Alice – Basil in 1997 to take up his first assignment as a pastor for the Lutheran Church, Derek in 2000 to work as a lawyer for Aboriginal Legal Aid – they kept Raelene but decided against a band.
They're already busy in the rest of their lives, it's just simpler being two.
"And if we fight, as brothers we soon run into each other and patch it up – it makes it harder to sink," says Basil.
He laughs then because they don't fight; they enjoy each other's company a lot and that's obvious when you see them perform: theirs is a very playful vibe, all the more so when they hand out percussion instruments to the audience and there's sound coming from everywhere.
The upbeat playfulness is a direct response to living in Alice, not because they find the town light-hearted, the opposite is more the case. When they began to understand how tough life could be here, they decided they wanted to make people laugh and dance.
They changed their style from folk to what they describe as "a sonic waterhole of sweet harmony and funk".
Basil starts the beat on a kick drum: "It puts people on the dance floor in the first three seconds. It's a dance beat, you could do it, anyone could do it."
Then he swaps to bass guitar or acoustic, Derek comes in on violin, Basil starts to sing.
The lyrics, which they write together, are under-pinned by a serious commitment to social justice.
This has been part of their lives since childhood in a committed yet open-minded Lutheran family, but they don't beat you over the head with polemics.
The songs tell stories, for instance about the history of Alice Springs "between the rock and a hard place"; make telling juxtapositions, like the one about the Spanish busker at the Morphetville dog race; and satiric commentary, that puts, for example, a Coca Cola executive to work in the renal unit.
Basil won't let us quote any here because he says lyrics die on the page: "They're not like poetry, they need the music to make them live."
And if you're too busy dancing to really take them in, then the brothers have succeeded because first and foremost their music's about having a good time.
They tried doing a fortnightly gig at Sean's Bar back in 2002 but they got sick of it.
"Regularity just doesn't suit," says Basil.
Now they want to be part of the occasional event at beautiful locations in Central Australia. The first of these kicks off on Saturday, May 8 at Glen Helen, where they'll be joined by another local outfit, Sweet Chilli.
A night of dancing till you drop … into your swag.
BASHED: ONE BOY'S STORY. By JOSH D AMDAHL.
I was 14 years old when we moved from Darwin to Alice in 1996.
I had few expectations but ended up staying for five years.
My parents are missionaries and have travelled the world since before I was born.
I'm 22 years old now and living in Florida, just trying to get by.
Alice will always have a place in my heart and mind; it was my home, where I grew from an innocent child into what I am today.It was a time in my life packed so full of ups and downs that I'm confused as to whether I love the place or hate it with a passion.Enrolling at Anzac Hill High, I had no idea how much I would change over the next few years, of how my life and my personality would be altered.
I led a sheltered life until then, and was as naēve as they come, eager to be influenced.
I was introduced to hatred for the first time and saw many things that I would place in my subconscious, to find later in life or never allow to resurface again.Alice has and always will have an atmosphere of its own with hardships as well as and unique experiences.
The mixture of its people's backgrounds and their ways of life is a major contributor to the boiling pot that is Alice.
There is a breed of hate that begins with violence and will continue as such if nothing is done to suppress it.
This problem affects every race, colour, creed and walk of life, and is spread thinly across the surface, but goes deep into the minds of both the victims and the victimizers.
We must end the violence and the hate from which it is born.
There are some really good people in Alice but the bad ones make life hell for everyone. The excuse that was used to start many fights that I witnessed, was a claim that a racist remark had been made.
I was attacked while walking a girl home from school one day.
My attacker was much larger than I, an Aboriginal youth, with a girl and a young child.
After throwing a mountain bike and several punches at me, he encouraged the child, who was below my chest level, to attack me while he stood back, daring me to hit the kid.
The girl that was with him screamed for him to stop, and that it was only because I was white.The thought that he was attacking me just because I was white shocked me.
I hadn't seen the guy before, never known this kind of hate, this racism.
This wasn't the first, or the last time I would be attacked.
I was confronted once every couple of weeks, or was with someone who was, and was attacked at least six times during the five years I was there.Everyone that I knew, when I lived in Alice, knew of the gangs of unorganized youths that roam the streets, looking for someone to bash, for any reason, or no reason at all.
They are wannabe terrorists, with no goals or motives, and don't seem to want to accomplish anything by their acts.One night, when I was about 16, I went to a party with an older friend from school.
It was an open party, but we knew most of the people there.
It started out great; the sun was still up when we began drinking, but not much happened until the end of the night.
The party died; just a few guys talking, drinking, and smoking some weed.
I don't know if everyone was drunk, but I was very drunk and started feeling ill.
I stumbled outside to be sick.Finding a comfortable spot with both hands on a chain-link fence, I did my thing, and turned to go back inside.
I took a step toward the door and heard a horrible sound.
I glanced to my left to take a look at what was coming at me; it was trouble. There are a couple of areas around town that I would say are bad to be caught in after dark; anywhere downtown, along the Todd, or along Gap Road, and at some of the flats on Bloomfield Street, where I was.I saw silhouettes first, and my fears were confirmed.
I was about to be intercepted by a gang of young Aboriginal guys, and I knew I'd be in for a rough ride.
The front door was about two meters away, but it was too late.
I was too wasted to make the leap.
Darkness moved with them and I was quickly engulfed.
I managed to grab the security screen with my right hand, as I was slammed against a brick wall.They asked for a cigarette, but I didn't smoke at that point in my life.
The problem was, I was holding onto a pack for a friend, and it was jutting out of my chest pocket.
It was quickly liberated from me, but only held two smokes.I managed to hold onto the screen, as they began punching and attempting to pull me away from the door.
I screamed for my friend, Nick.
I have never screamed like that before, or since.
I think they heard me inside; they had to.
They may have even looked out the window and seen what was happening, but there were just too many of them out there to risk helping me.
I have seen this kind of thing before, and been on the coward's side of it.
I'm not proud of that and will never forget.I screamed repeatedly, all in vain, no help would come.
I was yanked from the screen and swept away by a wave of bodies that cursed and taunted me.
There were so many of them and even more voices.
They called out from all around, giving instructions to my attackers on just how to beat me.
‘Kick him in the head!' ‘Kill the white p——!' ‘Punch him in the face!'With my fists on either side of my head, I braced for the worst.
I ducked and deflected as many punches as I could, and was doing well for a while.
I didn't feel the pain, but knew it would come.
I remember asking them to be careful of the jacket I was wearing, because it belonged to my sister.
This may seem strange, but at the time, I was dead serious.
I think they were a little confused by that.The crowd held me up when I couldn't stand under my own power.
I eventually found myself back at the fence, further down from where I was sick. Some were behind me, on the other side, and while I was attacked from the front, the ones behind kicked me through the fence.
Finally I met the ground and was kicked into a corner.
I screamed at them, knowing I was in this alone, and could have my head stomped any second.
"You think you're big?" "You think this makes you big men?" "You're real big aren't you?"
I wasn't begging for mercy, though I may have had tears in my eyes.
I was angry and tired. I lay there in a sort of fetal position, covering my head and groin.
Then something strange and disturbing happened. While the attack continued, one of them sat on the ground near my head and asked me if I was all right.
He said everything would be okay and shook my hand, holding onto it.
It was strangely comforting, in an uncomfortable way.
He asked me my name, and then punched me in the head.They must have tired out, because for some reason, they disappeared into the night.
The beating only lasted five minutes, but in fight time, that's a long time.
CARRYA couple of them, including a kid that couldn't have been more than 11 years old, took me to the door and knocked, carrying me inside.
The kid announced that I had been bashed, then asked for a drink and a smoke.
I shouted that he was part of it, but he quickly darted out.
I lay on a couch and felt sore all over.
Someone held a bong to my mouth and lit it.
I drew back a lung of smoke and threw up on the linoleum floor.
I passed out after drinking some water, but not for long.I took a trip to the hospital in the morning, where I checked out fine.
I survived virtually unmarked.
I never took a direct hit to the nose, mouth, or jaw, and no blood was drawn.
My back was scratched up from the ground and I had a tiny bruise in the corner of my eye, about the size of a small pea.
I was sore all over, and bruised, but I don't bruise easily, so it wasn't that bad. The way I see it, I was lucky, but they were also weak, and couldn't land a solid punch.
They just swung away like cavemen trying to break open a melon.I remember one or two of them, but no names, or any kind of concrete description to give the police.
They had nothing to go on … case closed.
I never heard of anyone getting arrested for this kind of assault.
It may be hard to catch someone without a good description, but it's the same people doing these things all the time.
The atmosphere of hate and fear that I felt lurking around every corner is what makes me wonder if I hate Alice Springs or if I would ever return there.
Being degraded and stepped upon, literally and figuratively, has changed me in ways I cannot fathom.
I have lost a lot of the confidence I had in my fellow humans.
My compassion for the less fortunate was exchanged for the constant need for self-preservation.
I'd be interested to hear how things have changed; I hope they have.
I wouldn't want anyone to go through some of the things that I have.
AUSSIE RULES: SOLID WIN FOR FEDS. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The first full round of CAFL was conducted at Traeger Park on Saturday with last year's battlers Federal and Rovers opening proceedings.
Federals won the day 23.15 (153) to 12.5 (77) in a game that was entertaining despite the scoreline.
In the late game South continued to impress by accounting for West 18.15 (123) to 15.2 (92).
Federal showed true attitude in their approach to the game.
They have recruited well from within the town and have the talents of Santa Teresa players on hand, and train in their community in a manner that blends with the overall vision of coach Gilbert McAdam.
This strategy is achieved by the benefit of having Greg McAdam based at Santa Teresa and coaching along the lines of the McAdam model of football.
On field Gilbert's presence and that of Adrian McAdam in the forward line tops off a combination that could see Federal evolve into a vastly improved machine.
Rovers have adopted a policy of going back to their grass roots here in town and under Brett Wagner, have a spirited, albeit young and raw, cohort of players.
In the first quarter both sides became accustomed to match conditions on Traeger Park.
Federal had seven scoring shots to four but only led 3.4 (22) to 2.2 (14) at the first break.
From there however they proved themselves while Rovers found the experience demanding.
Federal had Gilbert McAdam back to a semblance of fitness that lifted him to the elite level of the game.
With him in the engine room was Darryl Lowe, a transferee from Wests , who has the ability to turn a game off his own boot.
Daniel Palmer, looking significantly less bulky than in recent years, hit his straps across half forward and Adrian McAdam was a moving target in front of the posts.
Using these key players as a ready-made channel from the centre bounce to the goal square, Federal was able to score 6.2 in the second term to Rovers 1.2.
Then the third term proved to be a reasonably even quarter with Rovers unearthing Geoff Miller Jnr as an asset for the future.
The Blues stayed in touch with Federal by scoring 5.0 for the term as opposed to 6.6, so giving the Demons a 50-point lead at orange time.
In the final quarter, both physical and mental fitness became an issue as Federal moved to 23.15 (153) to 12.5 (77) by the final siren.
Adrian McAdam's 10-goal bag was inspirational for his team-mates.
He had plenty of support through the field from the runners who delivered. Damian Ryder, Darryl Ryder and Ralph Turner were prime movers in this regard. They found space and ran the ball with flair, finding their target regularly.
Rory Liddle's game has developed and he contributed well in the ruck and around the ground.
Other players of note were Patrick Ah Kitt and Andrew Braedon.
It was pleasing to see Kenny Morton and Aaron Reid displaying their skills for the Blues.
Along with Miller and Clifford Tommy, who was responsible for three goals, these players showed the value of youth in a developing side.
Backing the young legs was the experience of Karl Hampton and Glenn Shorrock.
The late game was played at a higher standard, and as with the week before against Pioneer, South were able to jump their opponents West in the first quarter.
Without making excuses it was Wests' first real run of the season, and they do have several players still to pull on the boots.
On the day however they were outclassed 7.3 (45) to 1.1 (7) in that opening stanza.
From then on West played catch-up football.
Key to the Roos' outstanding start was Sherman Spencer who set the forward line alight with three personal goals in the term.
He again teamed well with the emerging maestro Gilbert Fishook who kicked two goals, of his bag of seven, and the electric Curtis Haines.
The second term belonged to West as they were able to peg South back scoring 5.1 to 4.3.
Kevin Bruce, Keith Durham and Damien Timms began to exert an influence on the game, and Henry Labistida was in fine fom.
It was possibly a waste to have a player of Labistida's talent playing from a back pocket when the Bloods were calling out for help in the engine room.
New comer Clint Shaw, showed, in this his debut match in Central Australia, that he has what is needed, but with assistance from Labistida, the West advance into the attacking zone could have been more pronounced.
In the premiership third quarter West maintained links with South by scoring 4.0 to 4.6 but by three quarter time needed to be closer than 40 points down to give themselves a chance.
For South, Ali Satour was dominating in defence, Darren Talbot was allowed to roam in space far too easily, and Charlie Maher was instrumental in getting plenty of ball to Spencer, Fishook and friends in the forward line.
Adding to West's woes, right on the three quarter time siren, Labistida (who by then was playing on the ball) and Shaw experienced a clash of heads resulting in a trip to hospital for the latter.
In the run home South opened the margin to 10 goals, almost scoring at will, until a Kevin Bruce-inspired rally gave the Bloods something to raise their heads about.
By the final siren they were able to reduce the margin to 31 points, 18.15 to 15.2.
DUCHOVNY SHAPES UP FOR CUP. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
Duchovny won the Redbank Wines Chief Ministers' Cup on Ladies Day at The Park.
The 2003 winner of the Alice Springs Cup thus claims cup favouritism for this year's event.
Previously Duchovny signalled that he was serious by running an impressive fourth.
This week the Catriona Green-trained champion settled at the tail of the field for the 1900 metre journey.
Market Link set the pace with Grey Desert and Rockhound close behind.
By the turn the stayers put in their claims.
Furnish was the first to surge, along with Above All and Duchovny.
Above All from South Australia claimed Furnish and looked the goods only to see Duchovny have the last lunge and take the race by a long neck with Above All a long head in front of Furnish who completed the minors.
In the Alice Cup on Monday, Duchovny will benefit from the handicapper's assessment of him in only having to carry 54.5 kg as opposed to his allotted 58 for the Chief Ministers' run.
The seven-event card was launched by a classy performance from Edging Around in the 1200 metre Peter Sitzler Class 2 Handicap.
Edging Around, the class performer in the field, led and showed his true ability.
He went to the line a winner by a length and a half from Becant who travelled on the winner's girth from the jump but could not sustain the run.
A further length and a half in arrears was Saratoga Boy in third spot while the race favourite Tonnes of Style brought up the rear.
The Murray Maintenance Services Class 4 Handicap over the1000 metre dash proved worthwhile for those who listen to tipsters.
During the week The Burcutter was hot gossip around town and he proved his worth.
In a performance reminiscent of stable-mate Scotro, The Burcutter led with pace and was not headed.
He scored by three lengths from Jovial Tryst who was having his second run back after an 18-month lay off.
Filling the placings a length and three quarters back was La Mexa who rattled home from the rear of the field.
The Gillett stable cleaned up in the Hourglass Jewellers Class 1 Handicap over 1400 m.Chigwidden was ridden up close to the pace, set by The Red Faced Rat.
On the turn Tim Norton on Chigwidden left The Red Faced Rat behind.
As Chigwidden charged to the line Milestone appeared from the back of the field to take it right up to the leader.
Chigwidden took the money but only by a nose from Milestone, with the Red Faced Rat a length and a half away third.
Cartoon Hero was the first of Catrione Green's winners for the day when Paul Denton guided him to the line in the 1400 metre Murray Neck Betta Electrical Class 6 Handicap.
Being the less favoured of the Green nominations, Denton rode him up and challenged the field to run him down.
Bright Vision was the front runner in the charge to catch the leader but he fell short by a length and a quarter, while Wolf Trap who missed the start, ran with Bright Vision but faded into third position by a length and a quarter.
The favourite, Tjilpi from the Green stable did not feature in the proceedings finishing sixth.
The Jetset Alice Springs Trobis Class B Handicap over 1200 metres was the promising Bellanto's chance to cash in.
In his last two starts he has finished second but, although still a little green, was most impressive.
Gold Taurus conducted business at the front of the field with Bellanto second in the running.
On the turn however, jockey Norton gave his charge a free run and the response was pleasing.
Bellanto went to the line five and a quarter lengths in front of Foghorn Leghorn with Centre Raja a length and a quarter back in third.
The Darwin Horse Floats Weight for Age over 1100 metres was a critical race for Peter Moody's second consecutive winner, Al Tayar, who needed to win to ensure a run in this Saturday's Schweppes Pioneer Sprint.
Predictably Scotro piloted the field from the jump with Ring Cycle, Beau Master and Emphasis in pursuit.
Al Tayar settled in 8th but was able to come home like the wind to mow down Emphasis on the line to score by a head.
Three quarters of a length away was the third-placed, favourite Scotro.
Alice Springs comings and goings. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.
Last Friday night David and I were among dozens of others at Bojangles attending a real estate firm's cocktail party.
A farewell function for Eugene and partner, Sharon, leaving for Darwin and an equally bright and happy future in the north, and a welcome to Neil, his wife, Annie (who was actually born here), and their three sons, relocating back to Alice after a 12-year stint in Katherine.
Life's all about people coming and going, moves afoot.
David and I are also relocating soon.
My fellow scribe, Steve, aka Fish out of Water, wrote "Desert Poser to Desert Loser" (April 7), about buying his first home in Oz, here in the Alice and the trials and tribulations the process entailed.
David and I have resided happily at number four, enjoying fabulous times with family and friends, for over 17 years.
I was confident that someone would walk in and see what we see, love our house and make an offer. Wrong!
During a week of doing the Oz crosswords, I started getting subliminal messages, but not from the real estate salespeople – clues included "representative", "offer", "landed property" and "finance".
So I decided that this week's column would have to be based around real estate.
Our house, lately, is impeccable all the time, just in case someone wishes to inspect five minutes ago.
However we've given up willing the phone to ring, because more often than not, it's "just" family or friends.
I switched on television's Today Show a few weeks ago as the pros and cons of purchasing, versus leasing, a property were addressed.
The questions of possible rising interest rates, the highs and lows of real estate and the state of the nation's marketplace were also discussed.
During the third week of marketing our house, vandals drove up the kerb and knocked over what was a wonderful sandstone sculpture bearing the street name, smashing it totally.
Council workers got onto the problem, but it couldn't be compared to fixing aluminium street signs, which some people delight in bending, breaking or turning in the opposite direction.
Ours was a work of art created by the late Bardius Goldberg, who sculpted magnificent pieces at a much higher level.
A bulky concrete rock look-alike on a plinth has now replaced it.
"Is this an omen?" I kept asking David.
Perhaps we're supposed to stay in Alice after all?
Household equipment which had worked perfectly well for years suddenly needed attention or, in one instance, replacement.
Was this another sign?
David is not superstitious; they weren't signs, merely irritations.
Over leisurely lunches at excellent eating houses around town, meeting up with dear friends, Lori, Francoise, Kate, Jules, Stephanie and others, I pondered these points.
The mantra of my old business, Range Real Estate, was "We care what happens".
The essential attribute for any intending employee, apart from honesty and integrity, was empathy: the ability to imagine what the other person, whether it was a vendor, purchaser, landlord or tenant, was feeling.
We sometimes got it wrong - underestimating the trauma suffered by the client. Marketing the family home and relocating comes in at number two on the stress list, second only to losing a spouse or partner.
It's one of the biggest decisions that people make – buying or selling property.
It's emotionally draining and frustrating, especially when real estate agents promise to ring, and forget.
When I first advised Erwin, Editor Extraordi-naire, that David and I were planning to sell up and head east, he laughed, saying that perhaps my critics would band together, run chook raffles to raise the money to buy the house just to ensure that I did leave town.
We're planning to drive out at the end of May, whether we've sold or not.
The worst scenario will be having the benefit of tax deductible trips into the Alice to inspect the house, our investment property, socialising with friends, marvelling again at enormous clear blue skies and immersing ourselves in this spectacular and dramatic desert-scape.
And, if that's the worst outcome in the whole scheme of things, then it's not too bad at all!
They are all at sea! COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
Local newspapers must be about the best value item you could possibly buy.
Where else does less than a dollar bring you sport, news, classifieds, debate and comment, all in one hit?
And if you get your quality newspaper for free, even better.
This view was reinforced a while ago when I visited the Sunshine Coast.
As usual in a new place, one of my first tasks was to buy a local paper and plonk myself down in a comfy chair with a glass of local ale.
Yes, life can be tough.
The newspaper was published in Maro-ochydore.
It included one of those page-filling vox pop surveys where a reporter and a photographer interview passers-by in the street about an issue of local importance.
The subject was "where should the centre of Maroochydore be?"
These are moments when you realize just how fast-paced some of the coastal development has been in this country.
Over 40,000 people live in Maroochydore.
All the infrastructure of a modern city is in place, including the inevitable plush riverside mall with its copy-cat stores and a shiny cinema.
The town has a cavernous RSL Club that looked like it would accommodate several jumbo jets and was no doubt full to the rafters with people frenetically feeding gold coins into gurgling machines.
Along the coast, people have crammed themselves into steep-sided stacks of apartments in the clamour for the slightest glimpse of the sea.
Developers have constructed artificial canals to give as many people as possible a slice of waterfront.
It is like the Australian dream gone mad.
Maroochydore is sure to have a few gated housing developments by now, the ultimate in suburban paranoia, but I couldn't see them for the glare of the fresh concrete.
Thousands of people live along the Sunshine Coast and a projected 83,000 more will need to be accommodated in the shire of Maroochy between now and 2011.
Yet the design, the nature and the location of the centre of Maroochydore has been an afterthought.
Look, I have long understood that Queensland is full of the bizarre.
It has drive-in pie shops, epic train rides that end in Mount Isa and the world's most enduring advertising campaign for a tattoo parlour.
But the Sunshine Coast takes the biscuit.
The state is vast, but everyone tries to congregate in the same corner.
They build a town, then they work out where the centre should be.
For crying out loud, what is the matter with these people?
Wandering around, I tried my hardest to locate the soul of Maroochydore, thinking that this should also be where the centre of town is nominated.
But then I realized that the soul is not actually a location, but more the culture of the many clubs and societies of retired people who make up much of the population.
Often, the most sincere people live in the most off-putting towns, as if they realize that they must compensate for the surroundings.
If I came to the Alice from Maroochydore, I might develop some similarly jaundiced impressions.
But it is clear that the best features of Alice Springs concern not what it is, but what it is not.
One lesson from Queensland is that we are lucky that we are not a coastal strip development.
Another is that a dry desert drain, with the seductive promise of water arriving one day, has more character than a manicured, grass-lined fake channel with shiny white boats nosing their way along it.
The ocean might be pleasant enough, but look what you have to go through to enjoy it.
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