CATCH ATSIC PLUNDERERS, SAYS COMMISSIONER. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
"Weak bureaucrats" failed to call to account ATSIC officials over their "selfish plunder" of the commission's programs, at the expense of the wider community.
This allegation was made by Des Rogers, ATSIC regional council chair in Alice Springs, to the Senate Committee on the Administration of Indigenous Affairs taking evidence here last week.
Later, in a closed session, he named names and urged prosecutions.
Mr Rogers, a recently elected alderman, was speaking "as an individual".
He says "main-streaming" of Indigenous affairs will deliver little benefit to people on the ground if government departments continue "nine times out of 10" to talk to "the wrong Indigenous people".
These are "the same people who have manipulated the system for their own benefit and the benefit of their extended family".
Mr Rogers says there must be new and transparent mechanisms for service delivery, which ensure that grassroots Indigenous people are consulted about the programs that directly affect them, but which don't allow community members or the governing council to handle the money relating to the program.
"The control of cash should remain squarely outside of community self interest," says Mr Rogers.
What mechanisms the government may have in mind are completely unclear, he says.Policy decisions, following the abolition of ATSIC and ATSIS, are made on the run: chaos and confusion reign.
A meeting about the new arrangements, convened by Wayne Gibbons, former CEO of ATSIS, newly titled the Associate Secretary of the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination, did little to clarify the situation other than to confirm that it is changing day by day.
Mr Rogers' job, along with those of the 35 other regional chairs around the country, runs for another 12 months.
This is supposedly so that the government has access to advice from Indigenous leaders, but Mr Rogers says there is so far no sign of that advice being sought.
The Senate committee hearing last Tuesday followed one on Monday on native title issues, and preceded one on Thursday about legal services.
"It was extremely poorly managed," says Mr Rogers.
The regional council had only had two weeks' notice of the Tuesday hearing and hadn't had time to have their own meeting.
That was why Mr Rogers decided to address the committee as an individual, not as the regional council chair.
Meanwhile, he is about to lose his staff of three, who will relocate into the Department of Immigration, Multicultu-ralism and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA). He will presumably be left sitting out his contract alone in 100 or so square metres of office space.
"If I want help, I guess I'm supposed to go down in the yard and throw stones at the DIMIA windows to attract attention," he comments wryly.
He says staff morale is at rock bottom and many former ATSIC/ATSIS employees are looking for other jobs.
Despite his suspicion that the government is driven by a "divide and conquer" strategy, Mr Rogers is looking forward to the Prime Minister's announcement of a National Indigenous Board.
"It's no good staying outside the room, you can't participate in the discussion if you do and why wouldn't you want to participate?" he asks.
"I'll continue to participate in the various boards I sit on and chair, and I'll be knocking on the door of the Indigenous Coordination Centre as much as I can to ensure that programs and services are delivered in an appropriate manner."
Mr Rogers has also decided to get himself a degree in political science, enrolling at Charles Darwin University this semester.
"When common sense prevails again in a couple of years' time I want to be in a better position to make a significant contribution.
"These are critical times and I'm not going to turn my back."
VOYAGES IN PUSH FOR THE TOP SPOT. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Voyages, the company owning the Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon and Alice Springs Resorts has cast a $2.5m vote of confidence in the future of tourism in Alice Springs, according to general manager of the Alice Springs Resort, Gerd Beurich.
This has come at the same time as the company's acquisition of P&O Resorts, a string of nine boutique-style properties around Australia, at locations like Cradle Mountain in Tasmania.
This expansion into other "eco-tourism, experiential locations" is seen as a "perfect fit" with Voyages' "red centre" properties, which remain the company's primary focus, says Mr Beurich.
Would Voyages look at another property in Central Australia?"If there was an opportunity and a fit … but that's only speculation," says Mr Beurich.
His preoccupation continues to be returning the Alice Springs Resort and its newly launched restaurant, Barra on Todd, to " their place as the premier property in Alice Springs".
Isn't this fiercely contested?
Not fiercely, he suggests. The other contenders have "different markets, different expectations".
The Alice Springs Resort, employing a staff of 70 to 90, caters for a mixed leisure and business market, varying according to the season but averaging out at 75 per cent leisure and 25 per cent business of their total 50,000 to 60,000 guests a year.
Marketing to leisure visitors is handled by Voyages, while corporate business depends more on local relationships, which partly explains the resort's recent high profile, at the Araluen 20th birthday celebrations, at the Camel Cup, and its invitation to some 300 local business and community leaders to sample the wares of the Barra on Todd.
But companies also have a "social responsibility", says Mr Beurich.
"We are part of this community and what better way to make a contribution than to support the Lions Club in the running of the Camel Cup?"
Attendance at the event is climbing with the resort's sponsorship and this year Voyages as a company also came to the party, with donation of sales and marketing resources.
Inviting high profile guests like the Ambassador of Afghanistan Mahmoud Saikal and actor Gary Sweet also helps, while the resort's corporate tent ran a sweepstakes which raised a further $1600 for Lions.
Why the Camel Cup? Why Araluen?
Once again, it's a matter of "fit and opportunity" as well as "corporate responsibility".
"Everyone sponsors the horse races, I was interested in doing something different.
"The Camel Cup is a tourist event with a lot of potential.
"Attendance could climb to 10,000, which would be good for the whole town.
"Arts at the moment is more of a niche market and is something we do to support the people of Alice Springs.
"Arts sponsorship tends to be forgotten yet if we didn't have Araluen with its variety of performances, Alice Springs would not be as good a place to live."There is yet another string to this bow, however. Mr Beurich readily admits that Alice Springs and Ayers Rock "have not always had the best relationship", which has a lot to do with the way the expansion of the Ayers Rock Resort has drawn visitors away from Alice."By supporting the local community we want to change that perception," says Mr Beurich.
He also says that Alice Springs as a community should take advantage of the relationship with Ayers Rock "for all it's worth".
"Instead of fighting it, we should try to pull as many as possible of the half million people who visit the Rock into Alice Springs.
"And why wouldn't they come? We have the East MacDonnells, the West MacDonnells, European history in the Centre, Aboriginal culture."
There has been a lot of concern about the declining fortunes Alice's tourism industry lately. Is that not something he shares?
Mr Beurich says everybody had it tough for the first six months of this year but there's been "a huge jump" in June and July and he expects business to be vigorous until the end of November.He welcomes recent developments, like the Destination Alice marketing strategy and growing business at the Convention Centre.
The Alice Springs Resort only benefits from really large conventions when properties nearer the centre are booked out, but "every bit helps", says the optimistic Mr Beurich.
The key is "you have to go get it, don't wait till it comes to you."
LETTER: Mt Sonder ban - some answers, more questions.
Sir,- Thank you for inviting the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) to comment on [articles about restriction of access to Mt Sonder because of sacred sites – Alice News, July 7 and 21].
The articles incorrectly assert that the Parks and Wildlife Service (P&WS) have exceeded their authority by asking park users to restrict their activities to the Larapinta Trail when traversing Mount Sonder.
This is not the case. The articles also imply that the P&WS is disposed to closing off areas to the public on the pretext that this is required by this Authority. This is not borne out by the example of Mt Sonder.
Specifically, the AAPA Certificates issued to the P&WS in 1997 reflects the wishes of custodians at the time and requires P&WC to include in any written information given out to visitors "a request that walkers do not stray from the walking trail within the Mount Sonder area".
This is in no way comparable to the situation at Uluru. Aboriginal custodians allow visitors to climb Mt Sonder and have only asked visitors to respect the sanctity of the site by staying on the path.
Both articles imply that through registration of land as a sacred site, Aboriginal people will lock up large areas of land within a number of parks in Central Australia.The AAPA must ensure that before site registration, the owner of the land concerned has a chance to comment on the proposed registration.
The AAPA makes and records findings in relation to the immediate or possible detrimental effects the fact that the site is a sacred site may have on the owner's proprietory interest in the land.Once a site is registered, this does not necessarily restrict non-Aboriginal activities within the site. Applications can be made to the AAPA for an Authority Certificate, which if issued, will allow the activities to take place or will set out conditions under which the activities can take place.
Over the last 15 years this system of Authority Certificates has worked well with around 250 Certificates issued giving approval for infrastructure and visitor amenities on Northern Territory Parks and Reserves.
CEO, Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority
[ED – The Alice Springs News stands by its reports and by our interpretation of the facts.
The Parks Service did tell us it closed off Mt Sonder – except for the Larapinta Trail – because of sacred sites.
Mr Stead is making a case for the Territory Parks Service while, surely, it should itself answer charges levelled at it by the bushwalkers, or more particularly, Chief Minister Clare Martin should, as she is currently negotiating the handover of the parks to Aboriginal ownership.
Mr Stead confirms our reports that the sacred sites certificates of 1997 merely require the Parks Service to include in any written information "a request that walkers do not stray from the walking trail within the Mount Sonder area".
It is up to the Parks Service to explain why in May this year, seven years after the AAPA certificates were issued, it dramatically restricted access to Mt Sonder, and prohibited access to its summit.
The "request" cited in the AAPA certificates offers the option of following it or not.
If the custodians wanted the Parks Service to impose a ban, or a direction, then they would no doubt have instructed the AAPA to make that clear in the certificates.
The AAPA did not include such a condition in the certificates.
Mr Stead says access rights enjoyed for decades are now subject to application.
At the same time Ms Martin is assuring the public that the proposed handover of parks to Aboriginal ownership will not change access opportunities.
Also, what was the AAPA told by the Parks Service when it was asked about "the immediate or possible detrimental effects" of the sacred sites certificates before their issue? Mr Stead is declining to give further answers but we hope the Parks Service will.
ATSIC'S SOLAR MILLIONS: THEY CAME AND THEY WENT. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Why has ATSIC been sent down the gurgler?
The following story may cast some (more) light on the question.
For a dozen years ATSIC in South Australia funded a renewable energy (RE) project across the Pitjantjatjara Lands, in the remote north of the state.
It served more than 40 outstations and communities.
At one stage the project was the nation's biggest user of solar panels and provided vital feedback to a cutting-edge industry.
When it became clear that the project was cost efficient, well regarded within the industry, appropriate to the sprawling Aboriginal lands and well run, ATSIC shut it down.
At the same time just across the border in the Northern Territory, ATSIC presided over – and began to fund – a very similar project.
Only here, taking into account other Federal funding, the average costs of individual systems are about four times greater that under the project ATSIC funded in the Pit Lands for more than 10 years.
According to the just retired head of the Pit Lands project, Chris Duff, south of the border the technology was state of the art.
In the north, he says, it is from "the horse and cart days".
While south of the border ATSIC dismantled a tried and proven team, on the other side Bushlight was born, with an administration several times the size – 23 people, not including installation crews (Alice News, July 14).
The Pit project was run by two people, plus up to 12 field crew.
It took Bushlight two years to install the first unit, a small one, last November, for just a single dwelling.
Bushlight's $8.4m, from the Federal Greenhouse Office, will be enough to keep the administration in money for the scheduled four years.
But what this administration will be doing is far from clear: the final year's funding for the actual equipment and installation costs, for which previously ATSIC had supplied the money, isn't yet guaranteed.
In line with "mainstream" agencies continuing ATSIC's work, the Federal Department of Family and Community Services has now taken over.
A spokesman for the department said last week: "Any request for funding for renewable energy projects will be considered together with the housing needs in the area.
"The same process as ATSIC's will be adopted."
Bushlight will install just 90 to 100 small systems, but it says it needs a large bureaucracy – now spread over three states – to establish individual energy requirements and to train people in the maintenance of the systems.
That training consists of cleaning the solar cells, and putting distilled water into the batteries, if they are lead acid batteries – hardly requiring exceptional skills.
If gel batteries are installed then the maintenance, by the users, is limited to cleaning the solar panels.
Pitjantjatjara Council Projects received around $600,000 a year for its RE division which, under the management of Mr Duff, installed 20 systems in 1990/91 and then up to five a year, with a final total of 41.
The smallest were systems for single houses of nine kWh a day – about the size that Bushlight is using throughout, costing $55,000 including GST, installed.
The next one up is the 12 kWh a day "verandah set" for one to two houses, sometimes supplemented with wind and diesel generators.
Value: Around $90,000 installed, including GST.
And then there is the 30 kWh a day "paddock pack", a sea container mounted hybrid system, switching automatically between solar, wind and diesel generators, as conditions and power demand dictate.
Cost: $155,000 to $180,000 – still less than Bushlight's cost for a single house unit.
The biggest system installed by Pit Council Projects is a $1m plant in Watarru, near Pipalyatjara, on the SA-WA border, started in 1995/96 and incorporating wind turbines, solar panels and two diesel generators.
But the hardware, advancing more rapidly even than computers, according to Mr Duff, is just one thing: it's more important to know the society than the systems, he says.
The challenge is to adapt, over the years, space age technology to the highly fluid and often turbulent conditions in Aboriginal areas.
Mr Duff and many of his team got to know their clients over almost two decades working in the Pit Lands.
"At first we put in very basic units.
"We observe how they are utilised.
"If they are utilised well, we put in more generating power" – a task made easy by the modular design of solar gear.
It works the other way, too: if less power is needed, perhaps if someone has died and part of the family shifted away, parts of the gear can be removed.
Mr Duff says the systems in the Pit Lands "are as varied as the number of places you have got them in".
"For some people cars are a death trap. Some cope well with cars.
"It's the same with solar stations.
"Some utilise them fully, and can handle a more sophisticated system."
From day one of the project the team had logged data which show the degree of use and care each system was receiving.
"Some people should not be given any system.
"You see cabinet doors jemmied open.
"Half of the batteries are missing.
"People fiddle with them.
"A car battery won't go, so they rip one out of the solar battery bank to get the car going.
"It didn't matter how good the system was.
"It's a family thing. The user group is all important."
The Pit Council Project team – headed by Mr Duff and technician Dave Bajjali – kept up a strict maintenance regime without which, says Mr Duff, all systems would break down within six months.
Three services were carried out every year – "despite the fact that ATSIC did not provide any money for repairs and maintenance," says Mr Duff.
"Replacing one battery can save 19 others in a bank.
"Intermittent maintenance will mean intermittent power."
(After its four year funding period Bushlight will be handing over maintenance to outstation support centres.)
There were drawn-out but fruitless negotiations between Pit Council Projects and Bushlight in its early days.
"For eight months I talked to Bushlight on behalf of the Pit Council," says Mr Duff, but ultimately he and the alternative energy industry in Alice Springs "walked away".
"There were no dramas, no harsh words, but it got to the stage where there was so much inertia."
Mr Duff says at the same time manufacturers began keeping their distance because Bushlight wanted technology "that went out with the ark".
Mr Duff has a cynical view of the demise of his project, and what he sees as the likely fate of Bushlight: "ATSIC has closed down something that was efficient.
"They think something can stand on its own two feet and they pull out their money too soon.
"Like with all other ATSIC programs, they don't want to get tied up in maintenance.
"They believe in capital spending, just dump it into the bush."
Mr Duff says Anangu Pitjantjatjara Services managed to get some money from ATSIC in May, when the organisation was already in its death throes, after it had declined maintenance funding for the best part of a year.
That allowed Mr Bajjali to do a service run which got all 41 systems back up to speed, says Mr Duff.
Bruce Walker, the director of the Centre for Appropriate Technology which oversees Bushlight, replies:-I think you have correctly reported Mr Duff's cynical view of the Pitj Council Projects and I note that recent money has allowed Mr Bajjali to fix 41 systems. There is a paradox in this somewhere.
[ED – We didn't say "fix". We said "bring up to speed" as the systems had, because of funding cuts, missed out on some of their usual four-monthly services.]Bushlight's total staff is 23 including resource development, technical services and field services. The administration is quite small.
Bushlight is an energy services project not an energy systems project. This subtle difference is conveniently overlooked by many people in the RE industry.Bushlight works on energy services in communities that do not necessarily receive energy systems. Unlike Pit Council's regional project, Bushlight is a national one and will work in up to 240 communities across three States and the NT.
The drawn out and fruitless discussions you refer to occurred between Pitj Projects and CAT, not Bushlight. These discussions were seeking to incorporate the Pitj Projects expertise into the national Bushlight project through involvement in a services company.
Inertia is not a word that most people would associate with CAT.
In an energy services context the description of training that you have outlined is very inadequate, simplistic and misleading. Bushlight does not have a system that costs anything like $155,000 - $180,000. [If Bushlight spends its intended budget of $18.4m on 100 systems then their average cost will be $184,000. News, July 14.]
SKILLS LEARNED IN CENTRE HELP ANN TO HELP CHINA. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
How would work in a small town in the middle of Australia prepare you to work on an international development program in China?
It was the question recruiters for Save the Children UK were the keenest to have Ann Davis answer.
When the former principal of Batchelor Institute's Alice Springs campus applied for a position with Save the Children she didn't even have a passport.
She'd spent the past 25 years working in education in Central Australia, from teaching in tiny bush schools to a range of adult education jobs, culminating in her term at Batchelor, an institute delivering tertiary training and education to Indigenous people.
She'd been happy to know that an Aboriginal person would replace her at the end of 2003, and was keen to take up a new challenge.
She obviously passed with flying colours her written test and face to face interview with Save the Children, but they were baffled: what would she know about cross-cultural situations, she'd never even worked overseas.
Little did the people interviewing her in London know about the dramatic mix of cultures in Australia's centre.
Ann recalls: "After the interview I went for a walk along the Thames near their office.
"I glanced up at the building and they were leaning out of the window, waving to me.
"I went over and we spent another hour in the foyer with them trying to make sense of the work I'd been doing here and the kind of challenges we face in Central Australia and how that would equip me for the China job."
Ann must have been convincing for she was offered the position – one of two foreigners working with a team of 14 locals – and has just had her contract renewed for another year.
Back in Alice for a short break and reunion with friends, she told the Alice News that in fact skills learnt in her long experience in Indigenous education have been "highly transferable".
They basically come down to an ability to communicate with people in a cultural situation very different from your own.
In China she speaks through an interpreter but language is only part of the story.
Ann explains it like this: "You have to put your ‘I, me, my' on hold and relate directly to the situation you are in, rather than out of the one you come from."
From this point of view, she says she was much better prepared going to China than she was when she arrived from Adelaide in Pipalyatjara, in far north-west South Australia, when she was in her twenties.
"That was a much greater deviation from my known world than arriving in China."The flexibility and listening skills I had to develop then, and the lessons I learnt about knowing how to relate to people on an honest personal and professional level, were a great training ground for my current position."
Even with the extraordinary difference in scale – Ann says, "The Kintores I visit there have 270,000 people" – person to person communication is critical.
Her work is with the Yunnan Minority Basic Education Project, which is about reforming traditional Chinese education, based on a lot of rote learning and regurgitation, towards a more active child-centred approach. It's also about delivering education to more children.
The focus has been on "training the trainers", the people delivering teacher education, and it has been well received in three pilot sites in Yunnan province.
Ann's job has been to develop a replication plan to eventually take the reform right through China.
"The way to do that," says Ann, "is to invest in the local situation, develop the skills and understanding of more people, who can then take the work a step further.
"The sort of dialogue that's needed is made possible by being an outsider.
"Communication in China – who can speak to who – is highly structured.
"I can negotiate at provincial and prefectural level, and bring these levels into dialogue with one another.
"Their understanding then gets passed on at the county level."
In this way, with Ann acting as catalyst, the project has so far been up-scaled from three counties to nine.
Another branch of the project is about developing income-generating projects to provide scholarship money for children to attend school.
There are 43 million people in Yunnan province, with some 26 minority groups.
The area is very mountainous and many people live in serious poverty.
To date 27 projects have been seeded by Save the Children, including tea plantations, orchards, bath-houses, shops, and pig-raising.
Who will receive scholarships is decided in community discussions.
"There's a ‘no free lunch' approach, which I like," says Ann.
Children from remote villages have to board in larger centres.
Ann recalls visiting one boarding facility in the early evening to find children preparing their meal from food their families had sent them.
"It was cold and wet. I went into a hut with a compressed earth floor which in those conditions was mud.
"The children, just little tackers, were working in semi-darkness.
"The only light came from their tiny cooking fires."
Ann was concerned about the children's situation. She took photos and showed them to her Chinese project manager.
He told her that if the photos were shown to someone in Beijing, money would be found to build a kitchen and supply a cook, but then all the food would go to feeding the cook's family and the children would be hungry.
It was an example of having to let go of her own perceptions and accept the local context.
If Central Australia had prepared her well for being able to do this, what are the lessons of China for Central Australia?
The parallels are there, says Ann, for instance with people belonging to ethnic minorities receiving their education in Mandarin.
But the big difference is that most people have a livelihood.
"In China you see people all the time taking the initiative themselves.
"It might only be by polishing shoes or carrying water, earning the equivalent of $100 to $150 a year, but it gives their life structure and purpose, the thing that so many Aboriginal people haven't got.
"For many Aboriginal people their lives have never been so troubled. Developing a daily livelihood would seem to be an essential step to recovery.
"In Australia we have created history, paying people to sit down and do nothing but get sicker.
"Not having to work to meet daily needs has also silenced and pacified people.
"It is inspiring to see all the humble and creative ways that people in China find to get their piece of the pie."
On top of the world. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
I have a fridge magnet of a bird sitting on a small hill.
Underneath it says: "From here I can see the whole world, the world that counts that is".I thought of that when I went up Anzac Hill not long ago. From there I had a very good view of "my world".
Before 1934 Anzac Hill was known as "The Hill". At that time Alice Springs had a population of just over 200 people.
What you could see from the top of the hill then would have been a lot different to what you can see today although the magnificent backdrop of the Ranges both close and distant would still have been there.
Many of our town's important and prominent buildings had not even been thought of back then. The Catholic Church was built in 1967-68, Panorama Guth in 1975, the Alice Springs Hospital in 1977 and The Anglican Church and the Araluen Centre in 1984.
In the last 70 years the Alice population has grown from 200 to 27,000 people. We are now going to get a new Civic Centre to improve conditions for the council workers and to improve our image.
I wonder what the new Civic Centre will look like from Anzac Hill.
Many of our visitors are either taken to, or choose to climb "The Hill", to get a good view of our town.
I was up there with all these people from other parts of the world peering down at my world. Mostly I don't get such a good look from above. Most of the time I am not on top of my world at all.
It is good to change perspectives sometimes, to consider issues from different view points. How we see ourselves and how we would like to be seen. What we feel that we are all about and what we look like from above or the outside.
Does it matter what the tourists think about the look of our town? It is nice if they like it and have a good holiday experience here but many only stay for a few days and then return to their own hills, their own worlds.
What they see is coloured by their previous experiences. They will interpret what they see through their previous knowledge.
Their view will be that of the outsider, the visitor, the tourist. From above and from afar.
I think it is important for us as a town to strive for a built environment that reflects the multifaceted character of this place and its history and not simply what we think the tourists would like to see.
Sometimes as I sit in my car in Todd Street or Hartley Street or Bath Street or Railway Terrace, trying to turn right into Wills Terrace without throwing caution completely to the wind, I wonder whether some minor road works should not be given some priority.
Our buildings and roads need to be functional for those who live here as well as those who visit and use these facilities.
Safety and practicality as well as beauty need to be considered.
Things can look very different on the ground to what they look like from above and ultimately this is our world, the one that counts, for us.
Tourist dollar takes a ride. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
I met two French women outside Big O. They asked for a lift to the Desert Park, but I didn't want to go.
Actually, it was Range Hardware, but I couldn't make that rhyme.
Few people would have the strength of character (or is it pushiness) to rock up to a passer-by and ask for a ride. It's hitch-hiking, but without the thumb. Clearly, backpacking does this to normally shy and retiring people from France.
As a backpacker you see the world, or at least disconnected bits of it where the cheap flights go.
You have a good time and you spend as little as possible. My advice is never stand behind a backpacker in the queue for an all-you-can-eat-buffet. They pile it high and you end up treading into the carpet those pieces of potato salad that fall off their plate.
I have often wondered what Alice Springs would be like without tourism. Not a thought that I like to linger for long. If anyone reckons that the Alice is a hardship posting for short-term contractors, reconsider it after a sustained period without visitors. Then we'd really look like a desert outpost.
In other places, the performance of a single industry is less critical. I was brought up in Ipswich in the UK, a town with a diverse economy.
We had agriculture, fishing, light industry, warehousing, distribution, fertiliser production, vast retail services, some tourism and a growing insurance and financial services sector.
The place was like a textbook example of the mixed economy. My extended family of aunts and uncles still work across these sectors in a variety of jobs. I used to think that every town was like this.When I went back to Ipswich, the manufacturing sector had shrunk and the number of offices and lunchtime cafés to serve the white collar workers had grown. The town's modest folk, while forever whinging about the weather, seemed confident that they could adjust to any trend in its fortunes.
Meanwhile, a cheap ticket to watch the local soccer team set me back $40, which is one indicator of the prosperity of the place.
I worked in various companies before leaving Ipswich in the ‘seventies. Back then my gloomy mates reckoned the place was an economic basket-case. The local paper was full of scare stories about the grim future of one industry or another. This seems like a joke when you think of the dependence of regional towns in Australia on just one or two major industries like tourism.
So it's little wonder that we have to sit through those adverts on Imparja featuring walking tourist banknotes getting off the plane, riding into town and ending up in the tills and pockets of a range of gleeful people.
One fifty-dollar bill strolls into an electrical store while the staff pretend to be smiling contentedly, including a man who was clearly asked to stare at the empty upturned palm of his hand and didn't ever get to meet the note with legs in person.
Yes, yes, I get the message; we should value the tourist. Just don't ask me for lift. Outside the hardware store, I mumbled something to the French women about the last westbound bus having left the Post Office an hour ago.
This may have been the least useful piece of tourist information they had heard that week.
Then for some reason I said "No worries", but at least it made me sound like a real local.
If the tourist dollar with legs benefits everyone, then should we all become grinning billboards for the wonders of the Alice, forever warm and welcoming to anyone who looks foreign because they're not wearing a beanie and a lumberjack shirt?
Well, I suppose so, but sometimes it's okay to let the veneer crack. Alice Springs people are friendly enough, but I'm pleased that they never become too happy-clappy. I reckon it would damage the tourist industry.
AUSSIE RULES: WIN BY PLAYING TO THE WHISTLE! Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
Federal were poised to produce a boil over in Aussie Rules when they took the already declared minor premiers West right to the line.
But in the tension of the last quarter emotion in the Federal camp shifted their focus from desire to win and maintain possession of the ball, to the questioning of umpiring decisions, and at the final bell West were 9.17 (71) to Federal 9.10 (64).
On Saturday there were indeed situations that could have been questioned.
One umpire, for instance, could have been seen by some as having conflicting interests because his son, although not in the Bloods line up on this occasion, is normally a West player.
In fairness, however, his appointment apparently resulted due to the last minute unavailability of the originally selected man in white.
In addition, decisions were made that could have been seen as being either fair or incorrect.
Both West and Federal played out a game that was close and of a high standard.
The bottom line is that the good has to be taken with the bad - including umpiring. Federal have come a long way from their disappointing days deep in the cellar, and will be a force to be reckoned with come the finals, given they continue to improve and learn from the experience every game.
West enjoyed a nine shot to six opening quarter but failed to establish themselves in the lead due to poor kicking and a Federal defence that played exceptionally well from the outset.
Feds tagged, smothered and ran relentlessly, and the strategy worked as they rested at the first break two point leaders.
A similar pattern prevailed in the second quarter, with West scoring 2.5 as opposed to 2.3 The normal free-flowing break that a Ben Whelan could establish lacked the subsequent drive Adam Taylor would usually generate to the waiting hands of Kevin Bruce in the scoring zone. Nullifying this free ranging game were Adrian McAdam, Damien and Darryl Ryder, and Ryan Thompson.
The third term saw a really switched on Federal team outscore their opposition and register a five point lead at oranges.
At the break coach Gilbert McAdam grouped his players away from supporters and floated them as one around the oval, lifting each and every player to a new level of desire.
In the West camp fill-in coach Ian Hodges maintained a calm and methodical approach to the challenge.
The last quarter in fact saw West take the lead and run out seven point winners, with significant factors determining the outcome.
For Feds Adrian McAdam became a victim of cramping and, while stoic in defence, he could not offer the drive that his disposal would normally ensure. West's Keith Durham played a masterful role in breaking the deadlock, scoring two vital goals, by using his guile and experience at a time when tensions were at a crescendo.
The distraction of Federal's questioning of umpiring decisions then made up the triumvirate of factors that gave West the win.
Although still down on numbers, the Bloods uncovered yet another talent source in Mark Bramley. Andrew Crispe and Michael Gurney influenced the game, and the presence of Whelan, Bruce and Durham was invaluable.
For Feds, the path to the grand final must now part of each player's mind set. Adrian McAdam, despite cramp late in the game, played a pearler. Pat Ahkitt and Sheldon Palmer worked tirelessly, and the Ryders and Thompson ranked well up in the best players.
In contrast the match between Pioneer and Rovers ended in a percentage booster for the Eagles as opposed to yet another nightmare for the Blues. Pioneer kicked 38.21 (249) to 2.6 (18).
SOCCER: GOAL SPREE YIELDS FINAL FOUR. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
Federal Strikers made their presence felt on Sunday when they shot six goals to two against the Scorpions in a game that was critical to the formation of the final four in local soccer.
It was a must win game for both sides as a finals birth is pending in these last few matches of the minor round.
Federal came out blazing early and were unlucky not to score when in the first 10 minutes one shot for goal hit the upright and then another went wide.
In reply Scorpions were able to gather together a defensive wall that ensured the scores remained goalless at the break.
In the fiftieth minute young Chris Constable found the back of the net and established a break for Scorpions.
Four minutes later however the might of the Strikers came to the fore as Neil Rutland evened the score. He wasted no time to bag another two and so complete a hit trick, while Adrian McAdam, Chris Hatzimihail and Graham Chistmas chimed in with goals to establish an unassailable lead of 6-1.It was only in the eighty-third minute that Craig Rueben was able to reply with a goal to make it 6-2 on the whistle.
Verdi yet again came to realise that the race to the premiership is not being conducted in a one way street. TDC played particularly well to lead the game early when striker Fabio DeMarco goaled at the thirteenth minute. From there Verdi were forced into a catch up style of play, with Ross Arezollo forcing the draw at the fifty first minute.
While the A Grade competition is now evenly poised at the top end of the ladder, the results in B Grade painted a different picture.
Federal Scorers proved too strong for the struggling RSL outfit who were beaten 9-1. Eddie McGill was the man of the moment with five goals for Federal, while in the RSL quarter it was only Brian Carter's finesse from a corner that put them on the board.
The Scorpions then took scoring to yet a higher level when they accounted for TDC 10-1. Scorpions proved again to be the team to beat as they drove the ball continually into attack, with Tony Karamidis leading the charge and scoring five goals. Chris Huen and Matthew Gridley added to TDC's pain with two goals each.
The Central Falcons versus Buckleys game was expected to have everything. Both sides played a positive brand of soccer with chances at either end restricted. The difference between the sides was team work, as Buckleys rallied to have Brad Dienses, Allan Joe and Tom Clements each find the back of the net and score a 3-1 victory. Robby Nardoo saw that Falcons recorded their solitary goal.
Stormbirds retired to their haven at Federal Club on Sunday night to sup on mother's milk as they celebrated a fine 4-2 win over Dragons. David Stockman lived up to expectations with a hat trick, for which he will be remembered as he now adjourns on holiday for an extended period. In reply Neil Murtagh scored a double for Dragons.
The C Grade competition saw two games of extremes played. The Gunnaz took all before them to score a 12-0 win over the Scorpions. In an exhibition of fine team play and the exuberance of youth, the Gunnaz ran wild.
Charlie Myers clicked in with four goals and was aided by a hat trick from Harry Nicholson and a double from Eddie Tickoft. In all, six of the Gunnaz line up scored in this paralysing display.
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