ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
September 22, 2004.


DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER BACKS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT FOR ALICE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

John Anderson, the Federal Minister of Transport, is backing a plan to open the Alice Springs airport to international traffic, both charters and scheduled flights.
He told the Alice Springs News on Saturday: "I've always adopted a policy of saying if people want to develop an international airport we're right with them."
Will he support a proposal being developed by Senator Nigel Scullion, and leading figures in the local branch of the Country Liberal Party, in collaboration with the company owning the Alice airport?
"I have not been personally approached, but I am always keen and the runs are on the board," said Mr Anderson, also Leader of the National Party and the Deputy Prime Minister.
"I've done it for other airports.
"My only note of caution would be, go into it carefully from a commercial point of view.
"From a government and official point of view we'll always support it."
Said Senator Scullion on Saturday: "I'll be providing the Minister with details."
Senator Scullion is seeking to form a "regional partnership" raising $250,000, half each from the Territory and the Commonwealth.
This would fund an "interim proposal" for the next two or three years.
Arrangements are being made to obtain baggage screening equipment from Cairns that is second-hand "but still well and truly within specifications".
The scheme would include training of existing Federal Airports Corporation staff to handle quarantine and customs, initially brought in from outside and working with people in Alice.
An increasing number of local people would be trained to perform these tasks until no outside help would be required.
Senator Sculllion says a business plan is being put forward by the Alice Springs airport.
"I've looked comprehensively at that today," he said last Saturday.
Asked how long it would take to get the project off the ground Mr Anderson said: "It doesn't take us long.
"You've got to get your fire fighting and your customs, you've got to get all that stuff up to scratch."
Would it be for charter or scheduled flights?
"You could do both or either."
Senator Scullion says unlike the Ayers Rock Resort at Yulara, the Alice airport doesn't need any new infrastructure.
"All facilities are here," says Senator Scullion. "The runway is long and wide enough.
"Yulara would need over $20m spent on it, simply to provide for that."
Prominent CLP figures Jenny Mostran and Michael Jones say long term locals have been pushing for an international airport in Alice Springs for 40 years.
"This is the closest we've ever come to make it happen," says Ms Mostran.
"We wouldn't have any of the environmental issues they have on the east coast.
"We wouldn't have the curfew problems.
"Alice Springs could once again be the tourism educator of Australia" in connection with the Charles Darwin University.
She says direct international flights would be a boon to the Alice economy which took a serious knock from the Darwin railway."The railway is a very positive national project but it has had a major impact on the road transport industry."
Mr Jones, who has been preselected for the NT seat of Braitling, says the Western MacDon-nells national park, currently "under-marketed", would attract many overseas visitors, and the quarantine and customs functions would create "more jobs for the town".


POPPY IS TOO PRICKLY FOR PUBLIC SERVANTS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Mexican poppy, a nasty thistle invading the town section of the Todd River, is a glaring example of bureaucratic neglect.
The weed was first recorded by veteran ecologist Des Nelson, at that time a weeds inspector, when in the late ‘sixties a lady brought in a plant from the quarantine paddock, near the Old Ghan site.
Mr Nelson says the infestation probably emanated from hay stock fodder.
He eradicated the few plants, digging them up and burning them.
In November 1988 Mr Nelson discovered a small infestation in the Todd River, at the now closed Heffernan Road crossing.
He told the weeds authorities at Arid Zone at the time that Mexican Poppy was scattered in the sandy creek bed as far as could be seen.
Mr Nelson, now no longer a weeds inspector, says he told authorities that "something should be done about it, and pronto".
The answer was nothing could be done because Mexican Poppy at that time wasn't on the noxious weeds list.
In November 1991 Mr Nelson noted in his diary that Mexican Poppy was now "far more extensive [than when he first saw it] and very common".
Although Mexican Poppy is now on the weeds list it has been allowed to spread and become a common pest in many waterways in the southern region.
Interest in the plant reached a peak in 1997-98 when a Central Australian Mexican Poppy sub-committee drafted a management plan.
Rod Cramer, of Temple Bar Station on Ilparpa Road, was a member.
He says the committee produced a plan for the town council, which it adopted as a policy document, but "I have never seen it since," says Mr Cramer.
"I've asked the council a number of times what they are doing with it and they couldn't find it.
"We went a long way [towards] developing a draft management plan for Central Australia.
"Then there was a change of NT Government weeds officer and he kept stalling.
"They didn't want us doing any work.
"Having a committee was a pacifier and was clearly never meant to achieve anything," says Mr Cramer.
He says he spent about $100,000, in equivalent of wages, fighting the weed in Roe Creek which runs through his property.
"Each year for four years we spent seven months fighting Mexican poppies," he says.
"We demonstrated you can deal with it.
"The biggest problem is making decisions, and find the weed before it seeds."
CONTRIBUTEMr Cramer and his brother Lance have maintained Roe Creek in good condition and have been successful in engaging the Pine Gap base to contribute.
It is possible that landscaping at the base using contaminated sand was the cause of an outbreak in that area.
Responsibility for control work in specific areas of the West MacDonnells National Park, Roe and Laura Creeks, Todd River, Ross River, Emily and Jessie Gaps and roadsides was allocated to the relevant agencies.
A separate management strategy and action plan was developed for the West MacDonnell National Park.
One good thing to come out of the discussions for Mexican Poppy management was that it was listed as a high priority candidate for biological control research.
Apparently funding to commence this research was approved in the 1998 NT Government budget.
Greening Australia is not aware of any outcome of this research.
The issue of controlling the movement of infected sand from approved sand mining leases was never adequately dealt with, let alone the unauthorised removal of sand.
The original Weeds Act had a clause about spreading weeds through the movement of fodder and cattle, but not sand.
In 1998 the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) ran a campaign to highlight the inadequacies of the actions being undertaken at the time, especially in regard to the spread of contaminated sand around Alice Springs and along the Iwupataka water pipeline running west from the town along Larapinta Drive.
Greening Australia's area of responsibility was originally from Heavitree Gap to the Heffernan road crossing.
The Alice Springs Town Council did control work in the town area from 1993 when a prolific outbreak occurred in town and in the Ormiston and Finke Rivers, prompting community and agency concern.
Greening Australia subsequently received funding for a project from the southern boundary of the Telegraph Station to John Blakeman Bridge, south of The Gap.
MONITORINGGreening Australia has taken the responsibility seriously and have kept Mexican Poppy under control through constant monitoring and removal by the project officer to prevent the middle Todd developing an infestation similar to what can be seen adjacent to Amoonguna.
This has involved organising community events with volunteers, prisoners, town council workers and Greening Australia contractors.
It has also involved alerting garden maintenance contractors to the problem and controlling plants in areas where no action was likely to occur.
This work has been supported by the Telegraph Station rangers who prevent Mexican Poppy entering the town through a creek that drains from the CSR North Quarry.
It is possible that the rangers have been successful in recent weeks in convincing CSR to accept more responsibility for controlling the weed on their site.
The Mexican Poppy management plan was meant to be reviewed in 2003 but as far as Greening Australia is aware that never happened.
By then most of the original stakeholders had put the problem in the too hard basket, although the town council two weeks ago provided 42 man hours to Greening Australia to control the latest identified outbreak of Mexican Poppy, according to a council spokesman.
A lot of areas where control had occurred did not get the necessary follow up to maintain the results of previous work.
Overall Mexican Poppy is an example of a weed that should never have got away.
It has limited habitat preferences.
It is generally confined to sandy creeks and rivers especially in the arid zone.
The original infestations were quite small.
It is easy to spot and is not easily confused with other plants.
As an offshoot of controlling Mexican Poppy Greening Australia detected an outbreak of Patterson's Curse in the Todd River and eradicated it.
Mexican Poppy control work has also lead to the detection and control of Coffee Senna, another significant weed.
The amount of vehicle traffic in the Todd and the spiny nature of the seed capsule means that the town will always be prone to reinfestation from downstream populations.
The lack of control over the movement of contaminated sand is the other major issue.
Greening Australia no longer has funding to undertake works in the Todd and Charles Rivers.
There is no guarantee as yet that either the town council or the NT Government will commit to any programs aimed at controlling weeds or reducing the impact of fires fuelled by buffel and couch grass on native vegetation.


RUBBING SHOULDERS WITH SPORT STARS. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

"These kids are so naturally skilled it's unbelievable. It's a joy to play with them. I asked one boy, Dallas, to kick the footy ball at a tree – I missed it but he hit it eight times, spot-on."Aussie Rules star Luke Darcy was speaking about his experience as part of last week's ARMtour (Athletes as role models) to Santa Teresa, an Aboriginal community about 80 kilometres from Alice Springs.
As our four-wheel-drive vans parked alongside the Ltyentye Apurte Community Education Centre, a swarm of children poured out into the playground and start a frenzied free-for-all footy game.
As the girls and boys began to recognise their sporting heroes, like Luke and Will Minson from the Western Bulldogs and Olympic swimmer Linley Frame, among the throwing, catching and kicking, grins got even bigger and energy levels rose even higher.
They jumped around the athletes, shaking hands and hugging them, telling them their names (and those of all their brothers and sisters too).
The aim of the ARM program is to promote healthy messages like the importance of going to school, not getting involved with alcohol and drugs, eating well and playing sport.
The first tour was held in 1997 and since then over 7,000 children in 12 remote communities in Central Australia and the Top End have benefited.
Founder of the program, John Van Groningen, set up the scheme after working with the Lajamanu community in the Tanami Desert.
"We're hoping to reduce the gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous people," said John.
"Hopefully it will encourage some of the young people to perhaps have a career in sport.
"Seeing our athletes today inspires me. Some have given up their end of season trip to come here, and many have paid their own way too."
It was Luke's first tour with ARM.
"I've got a little boy who is 13 months," he said, "and coming here gives you a different perspective on life.
"These kids haven't got many things but they're so happy.
"For me, I've got more out of seeing these children than I could ever hope to put into the program.
"There's a lot of misunderstanding about Aboriginal culture and I want to learn more about it. "Addressing the problems of drugs and an unhealthy diet isn't done in a day but this sort of program creates awareness and hopefully makes a difference.
"If we can help just one or two of these kids it will be worthwhile."Luke played a video showing highlights of his football career, the children laughing and cheering as they watched their hero's sporting achievements.
It's his job to talk about healthy food choices ("Don't have chips for breakfast, have something like cereal with milk or fruit") and impress on them the importance of coming to school every day.
Then it was time for the children to show off their footy, basketball and softball skills. The athletes coached them for nearly two hours, sharing tips and advice on throwing, catching, pitching and tackling.
"This doesn't compare to a usual day for me," said player number 27 for the Western Bulldogs, Will Minson.
‘The pitch has no grass although there aren't too many stones!
"I'm glad to be here and I hope I'm encouraging the kids."
Softball is the girls' favourite sport, and they didn't hide their excitement at being coached by a near-Olympian. Kate Quigley, who plays softball for the Australian women's team, narrowly missed representing Australia at the Olympics this year.
She spent an hour helping a little girl called Megan.
"She's unbelievable," said Kate. "She's got natural talent and knows so much about the game. "These kids aren't scared of the ball and they're smashing it! It's my first tour and I didn't know what to expect. It upsets me that the families here are so poor."
Megan spoke up shyly: " I like having Kate come to teach us. I love softball."On the basketball court former Victoria Giants player Nic Mirich said he was getting a great deal out of his fourth ARMtour.
"Sport is a big pastime here, these kids love basketball and the whole culture like hip hop music that goes with it.
"These kids are so athletic and their hand and eye coordination and timing is great. They play all day – it's in their nature.
"I'm happy to be committed to the project and what I like most is that we keep coming back to the same communities to see the kids again and reinforce the messages.
"There's a lack of role models in Aboriginal communities so hopefully we can fill that gap."
All-rounder Dallas, 10, liked playing basketball with Nic: "It was fun. I watch basketball on television and I like playing it at school and with my friends."
After the coaching session, the athletes got a well-earned break and dinner before turning into their swags and sleeping at the side of the football pitch by the camp fire.
The next day's activities included relay races, team games, tug of war and dancing to the song YMCA (a definite hit with the children).
It was world-champion breastroker Linley Frame's birthday, and the children sang (or shouted) their school song to wish her many happy returns of the day.
"It was my dream to represent my country in sport, and I want you to have dreams like that," she told to the rows of children looking up at her.
This was Linley's fourth tour:
"It's a privilege to come to these communities, not many people have the chance to do it, " she said.
"The affection these children show and the love they give is overwhelming. They remembered me from the last time and I'll keep in contact and encourage them by email."
Sport plays a big part in the lives of the children and young people living in Santa Teresa.
The sports facilities are constantly in use. There's a basketball court, dusty football pitch, swimming pool and a sports hall complete with perennially popular (but holey) trampoline.
Donated football uniforms from magistrates courts and local businesses hang in the sports locker rooms.
George Shorrock, a Lancashireman who has been in Australia since 1966, has been working as youth sport and recreational coordinator at Santa Teresa for 18 months, having spent 10 years working in Aboriginal communities in Central Australia."We're fortunate here that the community here is proactive. We've still got problems of course but thankfully we don't have the petrol sniffing issue that other communities have," he explained.
George heads a team of 11 young men and two young women.
"It's my aim to do myself out of a job. I'm training the recreational officers so the community becomes self-sufficient in organising sport programs."
The most popular sports in the community are football and basketball amongst the boys, and softball for the girls.
The children (and their parents) love using the pool to cool down in during the summer and are generally confident in the water.
"Sport is a great way to encourage discipline and plays a huge role in a community like this," says George.
"For these kids to meet people like Luke Darcy who they see playing footy on television, and Kate Quigley with her standard of softball playing, well, they'll never forget it.
"The ARM tour is like a spoke in a wheel – spokes on their own don't do a great deal but put them together and they become a vital part of the wheel.
"It has an enormous impact on the youngsters when the athletes are here and after they've gone, we keep repeating the messages about making the right healthy choices in life, from what they eat to going to school, participating in sport and staying off drugs.
"A healthy mind and body will mean these kids are more likely to succeed in their lives. They can see that these athletes have succeeded by working hard so hopefully it'll inspire them to do the same. "Sport is so important in these kid's lives. Quite frankly, it's all they've got."
The school at Santa Teresa has six teachers and a lot of support staff. Grade five and six teacher, Tina Sell, joined earlier this year. There are 120 children on the register although attendance is often poor – Tina's class had just seven out of 25 children turn up yesterday.
She welcomes initiatives like the ARMtour: "Everyone is so involved with AFL in Santa Teresa – they love football! To have elite athletes come to visit is very good for them.
"Trying to get these kids to school every day is a constant battle, but if they see these athletes working hard, it gives a good positive message.
"It's nice for the children to show off their skills to the athletes as well, showing them what they can do."As the athletes were leaving, the children hugged them and some gave presents of rings or bracelets.Robert Kopp, 36, a sport and recreational officer at the community, thanked the team for their efforts: "It's a big thing for us. We want to get somewhere in life just like everyone else.
"It's always an Aboriginal dream to be the best we can be. Maybe with the support and encouragement of you all, the kids here will be able to achieve their dreams."


WORK FOR THE DOLE: HOW TO GET IT RIGHT. INTERVIEW by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, in Alice Springs to launch the election campaigns of Territory Senator Nigel Scullion and CLP candidate for Lingiari Maisie Austin, spoke with Alice Springs News editor ERWIN CHLANDA about the work for the dole program, CDEP, and the catastrophic conditions of Aboriginal people despite a quarter of a century of land rights.
NEWS: The official unemployment rate in Lingiari is eight per cent – one of the nation's highest – but the actual unemployment is around 25 per cent, counting the 8000 CDEP participants. The scheme, for whose creation 30 years ago Lingiari's sitting Member Warren Snowdon takes credit, is widely rorted and rarely leads to mainstream employment but is welcomed by politicians of either leaning because it conceals the true level of unemployment. Why is your Government continuing to support CDEP?
ANDERSON: It was started by the Fraser Anthony Government. The problem is turning CDEP programs into meaningful, long term opportunities for Aboriginal people. I don't think we have done that well enough. [Because of the extraordinary high participation rate the impact of CDEP is] worst here.
AUSTIN: CDEP needs to be reviewed. It's been around for 30 years, and while it is better than just sitting around and getting money for nothing, it's time that we turned it into real jobs for real money, top it up to encourage people to learn more skills and ultimately, get real jobs.
NEWS: So why haven't you done that?
ANDERSON: We are. Well, we haven't done it here, but in my electorate [Gwydir in northern NSW, including towns with large Aboriginal populations such as Bourke, Brewarrina and Walgett] we're trying a completely new program called the Aboriginal employment strategy.
We get younger Aboriginal people to run an employment agency. We've got three going now, in Mooree, Tamworth and Dubbo, where they mentor young people while they take up new jobs.
We've gone through businesses – everything from MacDonald's, farmers, Woolworth – and said, right, we want you to get fair dinkum about giving some young Aboriginal people a go. It's been a tremendous success, far more successful than anything we've tried to date. That is something we could try here. It involves Aboriginal people themselves to mentor one another into those jobs.
It also requires strong local leadership and somebody willing to make a difference. [In that sense] Maisie could become an agent for change.
NEWS: Alice Springs had a business-driven program some years ago [in 1997, Employ Alice, launched by then Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron] seeking to place 50 Aboriginal people in jobs. Practically nothing happened.
ANDERSON: Well, in Mooree, Tamworth and Dubbo we managed 500 jobs in about three years. Sustained jobs.
NEWS: How does it work?
ANDERSON: Good mentoring, so that employer and employee know what to expect and they come to understand one another.
You have a break-down in understanding at the moment. CDEP has been going for so long that many people who have been on it for a long time don't have the confidence to go and work for anybody else. And those other people don't have the confidence to take them on.
AUSTIN: I'd like to see that happen in the NT but it goes deeper than that, right back to indigenous education. A lot of the young people have got to want to work. There is work in communities but a lot of them don't want to work. And that's the difference. We've got to change that mentality.
NEWS: In the half of Central Australia's landmass which is Aboriginal owned, conditions are catastrophic. One child a month dies from petrol sniffing. Health, education and economic development are at unacceptable levels, despite excellent opportunities, especially in tourism.
Yet access to these commercial opportunities has to be negotiated through the land council which – in a quarter of a century – has been unable or unwilling to create any economic progress of note. Is there a case for amending the NT Land Rights Act?
ANDERSON: I know the problems are real. I have to be honest, I don't have an answer. I know that you have to address the employment issues, and somehow or other, the answer lies in being much tougher on substance abuse. I'm a bit with Noel Pearson. It's just an excuse to say that people get into substance abuse because there is nothing else to do. Take the substance abuse away and they'll find their energy to do something more constructive. That's part of it.
You need someone like Maisie, who is from that background, to tell some of these home truths. The world we live in is so politically correct that if you're not from that background it's too easy for you to be painted as not caring or as racist.
NEWS: Why do people seeking to set up enterprises on Aboriginal land need to negotiate through the land councils. Why can't they negotiate with the communities direct? It's Coalition legislation and you haven't done anything in a quarter of a century to fix it.
ANDERSON: I would love to do something about it but you'd never get it through the Senate.
NEWS: Who would block it?
ANDERSON: Almost certainly the Labor Party, and the independents and the Democrats.
NEWS: Have you introduced changes to the Act?
ANDERSON: I would have to check how long it is since anyone's seriously tried to change the [land rights] legislation.
AUSTIN: The leaders themselves in the communities have got to start standing up and being leaders, and looking at how they can best manage their own country and communities, the future of their own people. They should be telling the land councils what they want rather the land councils telling the traditional owners what they should be doing.


WALKING BAREFOOT. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

There are no podiatry services out bush – until recently there wasn't even a podiatrist in town – but if there were, lives could be saved.
Stepping on a sharp stone or a hot ember is not going to kill you, but if you don't feel the pain because of nerve damage caused by diabetes, and then don't look after the wound, the consequences can ultimately be fatal.
Aboriginal people are two to four times more likely to suffer diabetes than non-Aboriginal people, and 17 times more likely to die as a consequence of it, mainly due to high levels of cardiovascular disease (heart and blood vessel problems) and kidney disease.
Aboriginal people in bush communities are also more likely to suffer trauma to their feet, from walking barefooted, on sharp stones, prickles, hot ash and so on.
Uncared for because unnoticed, the wound to their foot festers and ulcerates.
It can go on like that for a year or two but as the infection becomes increasingly potent a partial if not whole amputation is necessary.
And the evidence shows that once a person has had an amputation, there is a high probability of death from heart disease within five years.
That's why looking after feet is much more than a cosmetic issue.
Ideally, there would be a podiatrist regularly visiting Aboriginal communities, but "we're never going to get all the resources we want," says Annie Farthing, co-convenor of the recent Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH) conference in Alice Springs.
"That's why we've got to look at the problem in different ways."SARRAH member Jason Warnock is a podiatrist in private practice in Townsville but someone who is "passionate about remote health".
He grew up in a small north Queensland town, where his father was the GP."He didn't work for wealth," says Jason, "he worked for the health of his community.
"It was bred into me that everyone deserves an opportunity of good health in their own community."
REMOTE
As a podiatrist Jason has developed his expertise about feet in the Indigenous context by visiting the Aboriginal community on Palm Island once a month for the last eight years and undertaking a series of contracts in remote areas for Queensland Health.
So when SARRAH wanted to develop some resources to help non-specialist health professionals better care for feet he was well prepared for the job. On behalf of SARRAH, he applied and got funded under the federal Rural Health Support, Education and Training Program.
The resources – presented in draft form at the SARRAH conference – are a series of graphically illustrated diagnostic charts that identify for health professionals what to look for (not just at the critical site but over the whole foot).There's also a poster showing people how to care for their feet: things like washing, clipping toenails, using a pumice stone on thick skin and protecting feet with some type of footwear.It could save a life.


TALKING ABOUT HEALTH. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Betty Marrngangin, a trained teacher who speaks clear and fluent English, spent 10 years on dialysis before she received a clear explanation about how it worked for her body.
The Elcho Island woman, forced now to live in Darwin to receive dialysis, says she got the explanation only after she had developed the confidence to ask questions.
Betty was in Alice recently for a national rural and remote allied health conference, presenting with colleagues Anne Lowell and Phyllis Batumbil their research into miscommunication between health professionals and Indigenous patients.
The trio knew they were on to something when they videotaped five consultations between health staff and their patients.
The health professionals involved were two doctors, two nurses (one of them a dialysis specialist), and a dietician.
After the video, they interviewed each person separately. They all reported satisfaction with their communication.
However, when the interviews were analysed there was not a single match.
"In every interaction there were serious misunderstandings," says Anne, based in Darwin and working for the last 15 years on these issues.
"I used to be like other patients," says Betty, "listening to doctors and nurses but not asking questions.
"When I started working on this project I thought I better start talking up for myself, share my ideas, not just follow."
Not asking questions can also be an issue for non-Indigenous patients, says Phyllis, from Matamata Homeland in East Arnhemland.
The problem lies in the power relationship, she says, with doctors at the top and families at the bottom.
She puts forward the metaphor of paddling in a canoe: doctors and patients all need to paddle in the same direction.When doctors and patients don't share the same language, it can be tricky.
The solution is obviously the use of trained interpreters in consultations.
But the women's research has shown that despite interpreters being available, they are hardly used at all.
"It's the culture," says Anne. "Everyone is used to just getting by.
"Anyone working for the Health Department in the Territory can ask for access to qualified interpreters through the NT Government's Aboriginal Interpreting Service at any time, at no cost to their program. But they don't do it.
"At the Royal Darwin Hospital, interpreters are available every day on site but are significantly under-utilised.
"Even when they are used, the communication is often not effective.
"People don't realise the kind of culturally specific language and metaphors they are using.
"Some of it is just not translatable."


HENLEY ON TODD: NO PIMMS BUT LOTS'A VB. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

Back where I'm from in England I live just down the road from a place called Henley-on-Thames.
It's a picturesque little town with a wide, deep river flanked with lush banks, weeping willow trees, a park and a cricket green nearby.
Cows graze in the fields and white swans drift gracefully along with the gentle current.
When I was younger, going to feed bread to the ducks was the highlight of my Sunday afternoon.
When I got older and rowed for my college at university, we came to race at Henley at the prestigious regatta held every summer.
Crews from Oxford and Cambridge competed, as well as teams all over the world including international Olympians – Steven Redgrave's club is based in Henley so he always rowed there.
After the races, a quick change into a pretty frock and matching hat before a riverside picnic of strawberries and cream with cucumber sandwiches is the tradition of the day.
Then it's off to people-watch at the royal enclosure before packing up the tartan picnic rug and heading home.
So when I heard about the Henley-on-Todd regatta in Alice Springs, I was looking forward to a quiet Saturday afternoon of pleasant rowing and a glass of Pimms and lemonade or two.
I signed up with a team of three others from England, made sure I ate well that week and got a good night's sleep on Friday before changing into my zephyr the next morning and doing some quick stretches.
As I walked down to the start of the race I got into a bit of a panic. I couldn't find the river. I could hear people cheering and even see the tops of several white marquees but no water was in sight.
The only water I eventually saw was being squirted from the water pistols of a group of loud men wearing furry suits and calling themselves the Vikings.
Instead of the genteel sound of splashing oars and polite clapping, the air was filled with country music and roars from the crowd during the gunboat battle.
In my race (yep, that's me in the front of the boat at right) there were no university crews lining up in matching vests stroking the course – more like drunk Aussies in bathtubs falling over in the sand.
And I couldn't find a warm pint of beer for love nor money, so it was VB in a can so cold I had to leave it in the sun for half an hour before drinking it.
But it wasn't all bad. I didn't need to use my umbrella all day.
Yes, the Henley -on-Todd regatta is certainly different from Henley-on-Thames, but after experiencing the mad fun, good humour and friendliness of Alice Springs, I know which event I prefer to compete in.


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Learning, listening the keys to tackling substance abuse.

Sir,– The Alice Springs News has appropriately updated us about the current situation with petrol sniffing in the communities.
Our various government departments are unable to work effectively with this problem. Isn't the reason for this that there is no new thinking to the problem?
Rather than throwing money at communities, government staff might be better off using funding to help community people spearhead their own investigations and follow up action.
An example of this might be the employment of anthropologists or other experienced people to sit down in the dust for a lengthy time and encourage community members to develop their own future. It has been done, but often gets squashed by senior government who don't connect with what the communities are thinking themselves.
I was out at the Yuendumu community at Mt Theo outstation recently to look at what they have been doing to help the problem of petrol sniffers and why they have had effective outcomes.
The project has been successful mainly due to the efforts of aboriginal initiatives, not government thinking and money. What's important about the work at Mt Theo is not only the successful content of the program, but the initiative of the community in taking on the full responsibility for the project.
The expense of the venture is borne almost completely by the community individuals and businesses. By doing it this way the resolve has to be strong and there is little avenue for personal acquisition of too much wealth and all the difficulties that presents (not that government funds should be unavailable).
The project has provided a healing environment not only for the sniffers but also for the community to continue to come to terms with the trauma which is often present.
At Mt Theo, workers are now looking to extend help into other areas of substance abuse using the same community commitment.
Isn't this an example of how the government ought to be encouraging community people to apply their own particular skills to find solutions to their problems?
David Marsh
Alice Springs

Council media
policy 'nonsense'

Sir,– The Alice Springs News front page story last week "Aldermen baulk at being gagged by media policy", prompts me to a few words.
Allow me to indicate an existing model for public expression of legitimate dissent.
That the council might attempt to restrict publicity for diverging opinion to avoid "reputation" being denigrated (given Australia' reputedly onerous libel and defamation laws?), suggests rather that such exposure be necessary to ensure that Council does in fact fairly accommodate that variety of community interests.
Restrictions on information and comment detract from knowing, understanding, and finding agreement.
Surely such reminder is not necessary? Denigration derives from distress, satisfaction prompts praise!
It is surely a nonsense that the council CEO has been involved in concocting spurious propositions.
Robert Drogemuller
Alice Springs

Council, a one
man band

Sir,– In March 2002 you wrote a full page article on the disenchantment of elected members of the Alice Springs Town Council and concluded with the words "the more things change, the more they stay the same".
How true.
Council is still a one man band, only the accompaniment as changed slightly.
Gerry Baddock
Alice Springs

Screwball policies

Sir,– Congratulations for your publication's persistence in exposing the debacle concerning the civic centre redevelopment.
This is real investigative journalism, an art form that is sadly and notably lacking in mainstream media in the Alice.
This matter begs the question as to whether other projects have been implemented in which places needing upgrades have proceeded on a scale vastly in excess of requirements.
The redevelopment of the Alice Springs Hospital in the mid-1970s has the dubious distinction of being probably the first such project.
In 1994 a person, impeccably qualified to know, informed me that the Alice Springs Hospital is a facility that would normally cater for 160,000 people (a similar hospital exists in Canberra, I have been told more recently).
The hospital redevelopment was completed in 1977, when Alice Springs had about 15,000 residents.
It has been further "redeveloped" in 2002 for $31m, and another $11m is allocated for further capital works.
The State Square project in Darwin is strikingly similar to the civic centre in all but scale.
It is as if the blueprints and finances for State Square (which, incidentally, is only two-thirds complete) were bunged onto a photocopier, reduced by 90 per cent, and voila – here is our grand new civic centre.Even the current political and economic circumstances pertaining to Alice Springs mimics the NT at the time when the State Square project was devised.
No matter how it is dressed and disguised, our new civic centre will be a miniaturised carbon-copy dead ringer for State Square.
This pattern of "redevelopment" demonstrates we have been duped for decades and the new civic centre is really a case of rates for mates.
Shortly after Labor took power in Darwin, a political adviser to the chief minister got up to some amorous antics with his girlfriend on the speaker's chair in the legislative assembly.
I wonder if anybody will do likewise on the mayor's chair after our new civic centre is built?
Well, why not, as either through taxes or rates we are all getting screwed.
Alex Nelson
Alice Springs

A smile costs
nothing

Sir,– It saddens me at the treatment I received this Sunday visiting one on your tourist establishments.
I have been in Alice Springs since late May and in this time have visited most tourist places, some more that once and have nothing but the highest praise for them.
As I am leaving shortly, several people reminded me that the Panorama Guth was also worth seeing.
I wish I had not bothered to take their well-intentioned advice.
On paying my $5.50 I was sternly advised "Go to the back, up the stairs, that's the way to start". No idle chat or a smile or g'day was offered.
I did as advised, enjoying what I saw even though the smell of naphthalene was a little disconcerting.I then went to the front reception to ask if there were any print out brochures available to explain why and when Henke Guth had started this unique venture.
I was told it cost $4 to buy a brochure which would tell me about Henke Guth. I declined this offer and was told that nothing in the world was free any more.
I replied that at $5.50 maybe a small free print out could be made available. What happened next was most uncalled for, this rude man then shouted at me and banged the picture on the wall with his hands "Look, it is everywhere for you to read!" And then stormed off muttering some obscenities.
The unfortunate part is this man was teaching his grandsons to man the reception area and they were witness to his outburst.
I have worked in the service industry for many years and dealing with public can be irksome if one is not feeling well or having a bad day.
However this sort of behaviour is unacceptable. I feel that this man should know common courtesy and a smile is still free in this world and even more so if one pays $5.50.
I will not advise people to visit this tourist establishment, of that he can be sure. If he has ever done any tourist training he would know you only have to tell three people, be it positive or negative feedback, to have a snowball effect.
K Philpott
Alice Springs

Alice's festival
gets a just Desert

Sir,– The recent Bass in the Dust concert sponsored by the NT government has been a resounding success.
The line-up of five national and four Territory bands including The Superjesus, Christine Anu, Hilltop Hoods, Resin Dogs, TZU, Tecoma, Blacktide, Cinco Locos and C-Kaliberation gave a cross-section of music to appeal to everyone.
Christine Anu's inclusion added an extra component to appeal to a diverse audience.
Ms Anu's appearance was welcomed by a large cross-section of the crowd and her behaviour, while unconventional, should be viewed in the context of a boisterous event in front of an excited young audience.
The concert was thoroughly enjoyed by the 1003 young people who attended and the festival is looking forward to an even greater success next year.
Clive Scollay
Chairperson
Alice Springs Festival

Goodbye to a true
community spirit

Sir,- David Lloyd is leaving Araluen at the end of the month to take up the position of manager of the Capital Theatre in Bendigo.
How on earth will the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct manage without him?
David started at Araluen as a volunteer theatre technician when he was 15.
His knowledge of the Araluen Centre and the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct is encyclopedic. His relationships with groups throughout the town have ensured that the community is involved with the precinct and the precinct with the community.
Apart from his work at the precinct, David is also the director of entertainment for the Masters Games and has been active in a number of community groups around town, including the Alice Springs Steiner School and Afghan Traders.
David will be sorely missed indeed, but the skills he has developed over his years at Araluen will stand him in good stead at Bendigo.
Bendigo is lucky to have David, and the passion he brings to his work as well as his sense of humour will make him as loved and respected there as he is here in Alice. Onya David!
Suzette Watkins
Araluen
Alice Springs

Sir,– "Who would you trust to lead the country?" asks Prime Minister John Howard.I certainly will not trust a PM to lead the country who would treat traumatised people fleeing persecution, starvation and loss of family members as criminals.
Many saw family members raped and slaughtered, and then watched children die from starvation. With no hope or so-called "queue" for them to join, these people made a desperate bid to reach a country that would give them acceptance and a life.
They arrived in leaky boats at the "lucky country", the country of the "fair go".
What did they find? An impending election, a prime minister so desperate to stay in office that he was prepared to push the lie that parents threw their children overboard.
He and Minister Peter Rieth linked those suffering people with terrorists. Some Naval officers vainly tried to correct the story, and later key public servants were stopped from appearing before the Senate enquiry.Then came the Tampa boat from led by a captain who had a heart for people.
More lies and vilification followed. We saw a heavily-armed Australian "swat" team racing out to board the Tampa. What terror would those people have felt when they saw that boatload of fully armed soldiers approaching?
I can hardly believe such heartless political manipulation.
We spent billions of taxpayer's dollars building remote razor wire concentration camps around the country. Some men, women and children were imprisoned in them for up to five years, and some parents were kept from seeing their children.
Then came the lie that numerous islands that were in Australian territory were no longer "Australia", and billions were spent persuading poor Pacific countries to have our concentration camps on their territory.
Even today there are still some refugees left in Nauru.
The fear campaign split the Australian people, and caused a spate of attacks on mosques and Muslim people.Complaints of some brutal treatment by staff, as well as mental and emotional breakdown were made.
No independent investigation was allowed.
The government's policy was condemned by our medical and psychiatric organisations who warned of the consequences of long term incarceration, and urged the speedy integration of these people into the community, especially the many children.
They were not heeded.
Many Australians want a government that places people, decency and integrity before political expediency.
Rev Jim Downing
Darwin, formerly Alice Springs

Labor committed
to reconciliation

Sir,– Following the launch of Labour's indigenous affairs policy, it's clear that reconciliation will be a major objective of a Latham Labor government.
In the spirit of reconciliation, Labor in government will acknowledge Indigenous Australians as the original custodians of our land at the formal opening of each parliament.
Mark Latham as prime minister will apologise on behalf of the nation to the stolen generations.
This will be a powerful recognition of past wrongs.
It will also be backed up by an investigation of alternative ways to resolve legal claims resulting from children being taken from their families.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission will also be asked to review all of the government's responses to its Bringing Them Home report into the stolen generations.
A Labor government will also commission a comprehensive independent review of the wages of indigenous workers, which for many decades were confiscated by governments and placed into trust funds. Much of this money was permanently withheld or lost.
The Howard government has sought to eliminate reconciliation from the national agenda.
But Labor is committed to making it a central focus of the Indigenous affairs portfolio.
Following on from this, I'd like to highlight the fact that the Howard government has taken money from a business program funded by Indigenous Territorians to pay for projects in its indigenous affairs policy.
Senator Vanstone, has no right to dictate how the Aboriginal Benefit Account funds are spent, as they come from mining royalties. The minister announced that the government would freeze the ABA for a number of years.
But many Indigenous people across the Territory have requested seed funding for commercial activities and joint ventures, including projects associated with the trans-territory gas pipeline.
The minister raised the issue of Aboriginal equity participation in the trans-Territory gas pipeline from Wadeye to Nhulunbuy, but she didn't say what the ABA should toss in.
Labor believes that Aboriginal people should be given a place at the table when these policies are developed and important regional decisions are made.
We will actively seek to facilitate these projects, as well as others that are identified as priorities by Aboriginal Territorians.
Warren Snowdon
Member for Lingiari

Public services
must come first

Sir,– Australia will not get the public services it needs until we break the major parties' tax cut addiction.The Greens ask: "How could John Howard and Labor both offer tax cuts when our public schools and hospitals are hanging by a thread?"Australia is as prosperous as it has ever been and yet our public services are dangerously under-funded.Voters are consistently saying that they want investment in public services before tax cuts.Labor savs 7 out of 10 voters will benefit from their tax cuts. The Greens say 10 out of 10 will benefit if governments invest in public services.
Our party voted in the Federal Parliament to redirect the Government's last two tax cuts into spending on public schools, hospitals, universities, public housing and the environment. But the major parties are not listening.Billions of dollars are needed for the public services which our community depends on, but instead our money is being used to bribe voters with cash in their back pockets.
Tax cuts can't benefit those who are not even earning an income. Improved services benefit everyone living in Lingiari, especially with such overwhelming local issues as substance abuse, chronic shortage in accommodation and support services for youth in trouble.
And, in your issue of Sept 1 Warren Snowdon wrote: "What's the point of health insurance if the closest private hospital is more than a day's drive away?"
There is no point. However, the Labor Party currently has a policy to maintain the Private Health Insurance Rebate, which indirectly funds Health Insurance companies to the tune of $2.4 billion, paid for by the taxpayer.
The Greens welcome Labor's commitment to oppose the government's further half a billion dollars funding to prop up the private health insurance industry, which is largely irrelevant to Territorians.
However, the Greens call on Labor to support our policy to abolish the Private Health Insurance Rebate and direct the monies to our drastically underfunded public health system.
I'd also like to bring to your attention the Greens Arts and Culture policy, launched this week in conjunction with Territory Indigenous artists David Gulpilil and June Mills.
The arts are more important than ever in defining our character and identity. We have an extremely vibrant arts and culture scene in the NT, particularly the aboriginal art industry which is becoming one of our major export markets. However we can do much more to boost the arts and cultural industries.
We want to support community-run arts initiatives and artists and ensure they benefit from sales by strengthening indigenous copyright and guaranteeing indigenous artists a royalty payment from the re-sale of their work.
Our aim is also to increase funding for public broadcasting including to the ABC and restore the services of Radio Australia and its now defunct Darwin transmissions.
James Bristow
Greens candidate for Lingiari

Sir,– I write regarding a review of the play Justice by K. Finnane in the Alice Springs News last week.
I went to see the play myself and as well as having a great Saturday night out I was inspired to think about many provocative issues which were raised.
The thing I liked about the plays was that they gave the audience insight into the lives of the characters in a court room without making any subjective comment on who might be right and who might be wrong. The plays bought home to me that everyone has a different perspective of what justice means.
I think Finnane missed the point of the plays entirely. She said that nothing changed for the characters.
To me, this is the whole point.
Nothing could change because their individual stories had to be boxed into a regimented, arbitrary legal justice system. Everyone has a different perspective, but the law only has one. ‘I thought the article was very negative when all I can see about a local group of people putting on a local production of a very high standard is that it is positive.
Finnane makes note that it is the writer's debut play. Well. why not give her a go to make a start by encouraging her and the rest of the theatre group who must have out a lot of work into the production. At least they are having a go and if this is the first I can't wait for the next one!
Shane Frederiksen
Alice Springs

Sir,– I am writing to express my dismay at an article by K. Finnane about the recent plays titled Justice.
I heard about the plays through a work colleague of mine and went along because I was at a loose end at the weekend.
To tell you the truth I didn't expect much because Alice is a small town and I had never heard of the theatre group putting the plays on.
I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained. The plays were moving, funny and mind boggling all at the same time.
Quite in contrast to the comments made by your journalist I thought that the story of each character was told in cleverly constructed detail when one considers that each play told a separate and distinct story in less than 20 minutes.
I think that the comments made by Finnane show a lack of understanding of the issues raised in the plays and were gratuitously insulting. I refer to her criticism that the main events of the character's lives were over.
It appears to me that Finnane has not had much to do with the legal system before. Being sentenced to a term of imprisonment and the days or maybe years that follow when one believes that this sentence is not just would be a pretty main event don't you think, K. Finnane?
Peter Singer
Alice Springs

Sir,– I wish to express my disappointment in the tone of the article the Alice Springs News ran on the play Justice, performed last weekend.
I am from Adelaide, South Australia and am in Alice Springs for a month in my employment capacity. My time here has fortunately coincided with the Alice Springs Festival.
I saw a number of acts last week which I found both entertaining and to be of standard rivalling those in the Adelaide Fringe Festival.
The performance I most enjoyed in the Alice Springs festival was the play Justice. I found it thought-provoking, intriguing and cleverly done.
I was not alone. When I stood around talking with people after the show there were a lot of people sharing my thoughts.
I was very surprised when I found out that that this was the writer's first play to be produced.
I go to theatre regularly in Adelaide and the script was as good as many I have seen performed at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide's largest venue for theatre performance. The acting was also of a high standard.
When I read the article by K. Finnane I found it to be insulting and it appeared to be directed personally towards the writer, who I understand is a local person.
I also found the article to show a lack of insight into the non-judgmental message the writer clearly intended.
In response to the article I wish to say that there were many people at the play who really enjoyed the performance and went home with a lot to think about.
Thank you to the cast and crew of Red Dust Theatre for one of my most enjoyable nights in Alice so far. I'm sure that the Adelaide Fringe Festival would welcome Justice to the performance list.
S. Hall
Adelaide

KIERAN FINNANE replies: While welcoming debate, I reject the suggestion that my comments were directed in any way personally at the playwright. I dealt only with her approach to her material. I also would not have dreamt of insulting her or Red Dust Theatre with a response of "it's good for a local production". Artistic endeavour in Alice Springs can be every bit as exciting and vitally interesting as artistic endeavour anywhere, and if it's not we will say so.


WESTIES TAKE RULES FLAG. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.

Wherever grand finals are played, they have the ability to seduce even the least sports-minded with the atmosphere and energy they generate.This was certainly the case at Traeger Park over the weekend, when West took two flags home to Milner Road, they being the rewards for premiership victories in both the A and B Grades.
And in the under 17s the Federal Club celebrated with a premiership for the first time ever at junior level, and since 1982 across the board.
In the preamble to the festivities, the HCA Harrison Trophy for outstanding service to football was awarded to Cal Dean. His name is synonymous with football in the Centre. Since coming into town from the bush in the ‘sixties, Cal has been tireless in his endeavours, initially with Pioneer Club and in more recent times with the League.
It's not drawing a long bow to suggest that without Dean, footy matches at at Traeger Park would often have not gotten off the ground. Over the years it has been Dean at the coal face ensuring all is in order, and often copping the flack from those who "demand the world" and often give little in return.
On field all three premiership games carried messages for our community. In A Grade, West, after something of a hangover after their 2002 Premiership, bounced back to take the 2004 title. A key component in the win was the dedication the administrators and players showed over the season. West were the club who trained together and played together.
As the final panned out, the game was close with the Bloods winning 10.14 (74) to South's 10.11 (71). While Mark Bramley was presented the Best and Fairest Award, the Everingham Medal West were well-served by their dominant big men Ben Whelan, Kenrick Tyrell and Kevin Bruce.
The depth of player strength at West reflected itself in the B Grade final when the Bloods accounted for South 13.7 (85) to 7.9 (51). For West it was a team performance that took them to victory. In front of goals Ben Hux again proved his worth scoring seven goals.
The under 17 premiership going the way of Federal was a godsend for the club that for years now has found the going hard. In the seniors, Gilbert McAdam has resurrected the Demons over the past two years, and to have the juniors bring home a flag should give the whole club renewed belief in success.
At half time Pioneer actually headed Feds by two points, but from that point Sheldon Palmer with seven goals, Liam Patrick and Baden Pechham set Federal on fire and they had a six goal to nil third term and a further five goal run home to finish the game. At the siren Federal were 15.13 (103) to Pioneer 7.2 (44).
While the curtains have closed at Traeger Park for the playing season, the administrators will be hard at it through out the summer.
A number of issues still need to be resolved. Income must be a priority, as the change of playing days certainly affected crowd sizes at Traeger.
The conduct of CAFL games in the evening is also a matter to be examined. The difficulty of playing at dusk, then adjusting to lights (which carry with them a demanding expense) is not conducive to a high standard of play.
In addition, the cold of a desert winter also takes its effect on a Saturday evening with only the die-hards waiting around until 7.30pm for a match result.
Traeger Park has been upgraded and further improvements are in the pipeline, but at League level the needs of the paying public need to be addressed. Attention to simple catering needs would go a long way to satisfying those who continue to support the game.
On the bright side, the continued development of junior football via Auskick has seen an enormous groundswell of support from youngsters and their parents. The well organised, proactive and positive approach of the organisers has ensured all juniors can participate in a safe and encouraging environment.


SUNNY NETBALL VICTORS. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.

Sundowners lived up to expectations when they came home with the 2004 A Grade Netball Premiership, and in doing so etched their names in history.
Not since 1977 when Federal won five consecutive titles has the feat been emulated.
In this year's final Sundowners faced West for the third time in a month and again proved their supremacy wining the game 40-24. To their credit West jumped out of the blocks well and set up a four-goal advantage, before the victors settled and established their game plan.
Over the season the "Sunnies" have been the dominant team in the competition verified by their 53.5 goals-a-match average.
In a packed day of netball action where nine grand finals were played, the thrill of premiership success was not limited to the A Grade result.Centralian Masters, who originally formed in order to keep fit for the biennial Masters Games, took out the flag for both A Reserve and B Grade.
In the A Reserves Wendy Baxter was voted best on court after her side downed Memo Rovers PABS 39-16. The Masters also came up against Memo Rovers ROTS in the B Grade, where Rovers gave it their best shot to go down 28-22. The Masters' Christi Barney was voted best on court.
The 2004 season has had its highs, but for Federal tough times had to be faced early in the year when a sector of the senior players defected to form Central Panthers.
The loss of key players and the resultant lack of depth left Federal behind the eight ball in the upper grades. But good things come to those who persevere, and Federal not only took out the C and D Grade premierships, but they also came home winners in all four junior titles.
In C Grade Kathy Robinson starred in her side's 46-34 win over Neata Glass Giants. In D Grade Jenny Lambert was best on court as Federal accounted for Memo Rovers 39-21.
At the 17 and under level, two Federal sides faced each other in the final, with Feds Dragons beating the Devils 27-17. Dragon's Tegan Pannell was best on court.
The 15 and under competition saw Federal Groovy Chicks power home over OLSH Murray Neck Musicworld, with a 43-31 result. Groovy Chick Amy Sherrin played an outstanding game.
Division 2 of the 13 and under competition had seen West finish minor premiers. But in the game that mattered, Funky Federal defeated their opponents 19-11 with Cindy Drover proving her worth.
Division 1 of the age group resulted in Foxy Federal being too strong for OLSH Sundowners Green, 25-14. Foxy Kate Rilstone was voted best on court.
At the presentations the Association introduced Players' Player Awards at senior and junior levels. For the seniors, Lauren Mengel and Ebony Miller were joint winners, while Bronte Hewitt was voted Players' Player at junior level.


Clouded vision needs spring cleaning. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.

This last week I have washed all the windows in our house.
It has made a big difference. You don't think there is any glass in them now!
I did not realise how dirty they were until I had washed them. I thought I could see out perfectly well despite the odd smudgy hand-mark and the film of red dust.
In our efforts to tidy up and clean we also took a trailer load of rubbish to the tip, and the tip shop. In the next few days we will clear out cupboards and take things to the op-shops.
We are stocktaking and getting rid of what we don't need, what is old, has been outgrown or never fitted in the first place, dusting, washing curtains and emptying drawers.
Recently an old friend came for a business visit from interstate to set up a branch office in town. Her work colleague had organised a meeting with a real-estate agency over the phone.
Her colleague is a very well spoken and well educated man who also happens to be Aboriginal. When my friend and her work mate turned up for the appointment with the property manager the reception they received was very cool and it turned out that suddenly nothing was available at all.
My friend, who grew up in the Territory and has lived the greater part of her adult life here, was shocked and hurt on her colleague's behalf and really saw what people of the "wrong colour" have to put up with all the time.
I did not think things were that bad around here. I thought this was behaviour that people were intolerant of; I have been of thegeneral view that ours is a tolerant multi-cultural community with social problems, but little blatant racism. Maybe that is what I would like it to be and therefore it is what I've chosen to see.
I like to assume people are good, just and reasonable. I am completely outraged and baffled when someone is being judged on gender, age, race or creed, yet prejudice is all around like the dust motes you only see in a pool of light.
Why did my friend not say something in the real estate office? What could she say? Nothing was said out loud that was racist. It was body language and refusal to find something suitable.
It would have been easy for the property manager to justify their response by saying that, in a perfectly friendly manner, all the available properties had been taken 10 minutes earlier.
We all sometimes make judgements based on prejudice rather than reason and fact. We know boys are usually a bit more boisterous and reckless then girls so we assume they have pushed the girls in the play ground when they have fallen over, especially if the girls tell us so.
We know that a girl wouldn't lie but that a boy would, especially to save his own skin.
I would like to believe in innocent until proven guilty, not "sentence first, verdict afterwards", like Lewis Carroll wrote.
A bit of dust here, some dirty fingers there, piles of papers, old clothes and broken things.
Sometimes we don't realise we are looking through windows that need cleaning, that our vision is clouded and our thinking flawed. Sometimes we need to spring clean our minds.


The dimming of the flame. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

Many people make life-changing decisions for the sake of an important principle. More power to them, I say.
The trouble with our culture is that it's uncool to tell people about the principles or the convictions that you hold. This enforced reticence turns us all into bland and soulless stereotypes; over-polite and under-passionate.
I have never understood what "barbeque-stopper" is, but I can only imagine that it involves someone talking about politics or religion instead of footy and holidays.
Such is the veil of privacy around what we actually believe in, that it can be refreshing to meet a person who doesn't hide their beliefs. So in a spirit of daring openness, let me explain that I am a lifelong vegetarian.
I say "lifelong" because some people, especially in carnivorous locations like the Northern Territory, seem surprised that the vegetarian diet can actually keep you alive for a lifetime.
Well, for me it's 25 years and counting, given that I only really started as a teenager. Before that, I enjoyed the standard diet of assorted animal parts covered by some sort of flavoured liquid like sauce or gravy.
My experience shows that it is possible for teenage moral rage to endure the test of time.
I always had a sneaking admiration for real teenage rebels. You know the kind; kids who disappeared for days with members of the opposite sex or hitch-hiked to exotic locations and learned complex traditional board games from the locals.
Or they provoked stand-up rows with their parents over minor details of their clothing.
Ironically, the most memorable rebels sold out years ago. Take Billy Connolly. I wonder what kind of marketing advisor whispered into the ear of Billy Connolly that he should feature in adverts for investment products from multinational venture capital companies. This is a man who is married to an Australian radical. A man who used to embody anti-authority with his every utterance.
Someone you could bet your superannuation on remaining true to his principles and still living in a garret in his seventies. It can be depressing when your heroes become more bland than you are.
The limit to my own teenage rebellion was politely to ask my mum to be excused from liver and onions today please. There was a time when my father started paying me a shilling to eat my meat, but unfortunately ceased the practice when I started a paper round and so became solvent overnight.
Otherwise, I might have been able to buy an investment product from Billy by now.
I might have been docile at home, but out in the streets was a different matter. All my friends were foxhunt saboteurs who, coming home after saving one furry animal, couldn't stomach seeing a different one on their dinner plates.
Especially one that had been factory farmed. If anyone asked me why I had taken the path of vegetarianism, they would need to set aside 40 minutes for a proper table-slamming, air-punching piece of oratory.
My radical times ended ages ago. My youthful ideals wore thin. I couldn't string together much of an argument for vegetarianism any more. It has become an important habit rather than a moral conviction.
If I did put up a case, foxes and factory farming wouldn't feature. Instead, I would stick to middle-aged conversational staples like the cost of living and the benefits for your health.
Being a vegetarian is cheap, I would say, and it is good for maintaining a healthy weight.
This shift in priorities is known as "the dimming of the flame". It may be a wistful sign of the passing of time and the process by which we mellow with age, but at least I had a flame in the first place.
steve@afishoutofwater.com


Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.