ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
October 6, 2004.


GOVT. GETS A HANDLE ON SNIFFING. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

A string of initiatives and more funding will close the gaps which hampered treatment and control of young people sniffing petrol or other substances such as paint, known as chromers.
Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne says there will soon be a seamless chain of government responsibilities, services and facilities to deal with sniffers out bush and in town, ranging from occasional users to brain damaged people with potentially homicidal tendencies.
This will end a situation where there was often no point in taking action because follow-up was unavailable.
For example, even if police took into custody a sniffer in a bush community and sent him to Alice Springs, the Family and Community Welfare Services (FACS) might have had no capacity to deal with him, and he would be released into the streets (Alice News, Sept 8).
Dr Toyne says the government, in part urged on by disclosures such as in the Alice Springs News, will now spend money on more staff and better facilities in the bush as well as in town.
Alice Springs will get an escape proof facility, possibly at Aranda House, with an annual budget of about $300,000.
It would be used for obligatory treatment, also to be introduced under new legislation.
There will be a secure facility, likely to be near the Alice gaol and staffed by prison personnel, to confine people rendered dangerous by sniffing.
And new laws will make sniffing illegal and permit the confiscation of sniffing substances. At present if police confiscate them are exposed to allegations of theft.
Dr Toyne says the new regime will provide not only appropriate care for the sniffers, but greater protection for the community from their criminal conduct.
He says there are about 350 chronic sniffers in the Territory.
An estimated two thirds of them are in Central Australia.
The Centre already has seven treatment outstations but at present they are subsisting on one-off Federal or Territory grants, and are being run largely by volunteers.
Dr Toyne says this will change with recurring funding for at least three years, during which outstations will each get around $80,000 a year for equipment and wages.
Each will have two staff, possibly including one paid for by the work for the dole scheme, CDEP, and "topped up" with NT Government funds.
Detention and treatment centres will be set up on the communities in consultation with the locals.
Only with their consent would police cells be used, and then only if an adult is available to act as a companion for the sniffer.
If that cannot be arranged, the sniffer will be taken to Alice Springs and admitted to the rehabilitation centre.
The sniffer may become subject to a court order for compulsory rehabilitation.
Through the rehabilitation centre medical checks for a range of disorders, that may or may not be sniffing related, will be able to be arranged.
Dr Toyne, who is also the Minister for justice and health, says the regime has been carefully negotiated with all players since earlier this year.
FACS will get two additional staff each in The Centre and in the Top End.
Dr Toyne says treatment outstations with more than 30 sniffers may get a teacher.
Prison inmates are already deployed to some outstations to build accommodation for sniffers.
Talks are under way with police forces in WA and SA to deal with sniffers going across borders.
Meanwhile Shadow Attorney-General Jodeen Carney says last week's announcement about petrol sniffing by Family Minister Marion Scrymgour was a "cynical attempt to pre-empt the findings of a Parliamentary Committee".
Ms Carney says it was also a "desperate act to make ‘an' announcement before … the CLP's Bill giving police powers to seize inhalants and make sniffing illegal is due to be debated in Parliament".
"After three years the Parliamentary Substance Abuse Committee is due to table its long-awaited report [during] these sittings, leading many to believe that the Government's announcement was politically driven.
"The final embarrassment for Government in this saga is that in April [Dr Toyne] said that a ban on sniffing would be ‘counter-productive'.
"He categorically ruled out banning petrol sniffing.
"Yet, on Friday Marion Scrymgour announced that sniffing would be banned."
Dr Toyne says Ms Carney is misquoting him. He has always been in favour of banning sniffing but not of making it a criminal offence.
He says while Ms Carney apparently wants to send 350 children to prison, at taxpayers' expense, he does not and never has.


IT'S DESERT IGNORANCE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

If you believe the government hype, from the Desert Knowledge precinct in Alice Springs there will soon pour forth profound wisdom that will make the drier parts of the world much better places and Alice Springs a much richer one.
How exactly this will be accomplished is still a mystery and now veteran desert naturalist Des Nelson has cast more doubt on how much we really know about desert living.
The most noticeable part of the precinct so far is the intersection of the South Stuart Highway with the Avenue of Knowledge – a name seemingly borrowed from Chairman Mao's China.
The intersection features some very pretty street lights, interspersed with very ugly electricity poles.
The pretty ones were first planted there in a silvery finish, taken down again and returned with black, green and ochre powder coating, making an appropriate "entry statement", as we were told at the time by the authorities.
The Avenue of Knowledge is still fairly short, about 20 metres, and equally truncated appears to be the knowledge used to build it.
The roundabout in the middle of the intersection is filled with sand in which is growing one of the nastiest of weeds, Mexican Poppy.
Des is a former weeds inspector, a custodian of very extensive desert knowledge and as a resident of the farm area, passes through the intersection daily.
For more than a week he noticed a very large Mexican Poppy plant near a very large sign touting the laudable expenditure by the NT Government on Desert Knowledge.
Des was doubly curious about the prolonged presence of the nasty thistle because the government's current weeds inspector is headquartered in the arid zone complex just down the road, and would also be passing the prime specimen of Mexican Poppy a couple of times a day.
The big plant has now gone but there are still many little ones in the roundabout hub's sand.
For Des this is a clear sign that the builders of the Desert Knowledge complex are critically short of desert knowledge.
He, and several other local nature lovers, have over the years noted with dismay the spread of Mexican Poppy in sand carted from Alice.The plant is now growing unchecked in the formerly pristine Larapinta Valley west of the town, has infested Roe Creek and other creeks, and has reached Watarrka-King's Canyon national park on the back of trucks.
All this raises the question, are we going to sell desert knowledge or do we need to buy some?


AMBULANCE POLICY: LIVES AT RISK.

The new St John Ambulance policy to "treat and transport" may cost lives because resources are tied up with trivial cases, says MLA for MacDonnell John Elferink.The policy is a response to allegations that a Darwin ambulance officer failed to respond to a call, resulting in death. This has sparked a government inquiry. St John now responds practically to all calls by picking up people and taking them to the hospital outpatients' section, even if the complaint is obviously trivial.
Such cases previously have been dealt with by ambulance officers on the spot, rather than taking the patient to the hospital whose emergency department now has to deal with a sharp increase in admissions.
And, says Mr Elferink, critically ill patients may miss out on transport if all available ambulances are tied up with frivolous cases. It's more likely that the service is being used as a free taxi, he says.
"The service should have trust in the quality of its staff. They should be able to make the decision about whether or not to transport.
"Are they going to be right 100 per cent of the time? No. Is a doctor going to be right 100 per cent of the time? No."
Mr Elferink says St John officers in the NT are among the most highly trained in the nation. They are often head hunted by overseas services.


RICH AND POOR IN LINGIARI.

Households in Alice Springs were among those with the highest average gross take-home incomes in the NT each week, according to a statement by Insurance giant AMP.The statement was based on an analysis of Census data published in the latest Income and Wealth Report. Other areas of affluence in the Territory were Alyangula and Darwin.
However, the Northern Territory's income growth was found to be lower than in most of the other states.
The lowest incomes were found to be in households in Adelaide River, Avon Downs and Barunga.
The report also showed that income growth in the cities and the bush was comparable. Average household incomes in Darwin rose by 14.9 per cent, compared with 16.4 per cent in rural areas.
The income gap between Australia's rich and poor postcodes grew only marginally between 1996 and 2001. The average Australian's income has risen by around 26 per cent. Three-quarters of all Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders are living in postcodes below the mid-point average income increase.
Good education and a good job leading on to a better income are linked. In the bottom 10 per cent of postcodes, less than half of all adults had jobs.


CONTROVERSIAL ENTRY WINS FIRST PRIZE IN $1000 ALICE SPRINGS NEWS SHORT STORY COMPETITION. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Your characters are in Central Australia. Their story makes us understand its passions.
This was the challenge editor Erwin Chlanda set for the inaugural Alice Springs News short story competition.
In the 69 entries we received, characters ranged from a Dutch tourist waiting for the Todd to come down, to an Aboriginal boy sent out by himself at just 11 years of age to look after a well on Loves Creek Station; from a woman called Alice working topless in a bar, to a daughter who comes to understand her father in his death; from a grog runner to a born again Christian carpenter.
Many stories were inhabited too by the land. It was more than a setting; it was a powerful presence integral to the unfolding of the story, a source of suffering, redemption and hope.
Writers have sounded the rich depth of Central Australia as it is now, as it has been and in some ways as it will always be.
From this diversity our judges – singer-songwriter, historian and NT Administrator, Ted Egan and head of English at St Philip's College, Dr Al Strangeways – had to choose three outstanding entries, first, second and third.
First received a prize of $1000 from the Alice Springs News; second, thanks to the Alice Springs Resort and Voyages, received two nights' accommodation at the Ayers Rock Resort; and third, a prize of $250, offered by Asprint.
Leni Shilton won third prize for Sista. It tells the story of a nurse and mother of young children dropped into a remote community for two months, the challenges she faces, and the rewards.
Dr Strangeways, speaking also for Ted Egan, has described it as "a mosaic of brightly coloured moments in a woman's life as she learns how to learn".
Leni herself has worked as a remote area nurse. She has been writing for many years, mostly poetry, with many poems published in local and interstate anthologies.
She has also taught creative writing and is currently teaching literacy and numeracy at the Alice Springs Correctional Centre.
Second prize went to Penny Whiley for The Bridge, described by Dr Strangeways as "a nicely played encounter between young and old, and between an old man's idealising of the past in confrontation with a present that seems to have little to offer either young or old".
Penny will be known to many as a teacher of senior school English and Philosophy at Centralian College. She has been writing short stories and poetry for a number of years, tending to focus on the way life in the Territory impacts on the young and the old, and families in particular.
And finally, the winner. We made this competition open to all comers, to citizens of the world of any age or background.
We did so in the knowledge that Central Australia is a powerful place … and that not only adults and not only people for whom it is home may have important stories to tell about it.
For our winner it is home, at least for the time being, and we doubt that anyone who hadn't spent a good part of their youth here could have written this story.
What is remarkable though is that this writer is still in her youth, in fact she's studying for her Year 12 exams. Chay Brown has an exceptional story-writing talent.
Dr Strangeways has described her entry, titled Beyond the Mermaid, as "an original and vividly told story of a fleeting moment in a young woman's life. This moment both changes her life in some small but vital way at the same time as standing as a representation of all that seems unlikely to change.
"The voice of the narrator is powerful and well-sustained, unflinching in its depiction of her world" into which "she draws the reader".
Beyond the Mermaid is in fact the first chapter of a novel-in-progress, of which Chay has written six chapters. She hopes to finish it next year while she defers university studies. The seemingly whimsical title refers to the main character's favourite movie, The Little Mermaid, beyond which she has most obviously moved!
It is our great pleasure to publish Chay's story in this issue of the Alice Springs News, with Penny's and Leni's to follow in the coming weeks.
We thank all entrants in the competition. In country where stories are a currency more important than money, you have made a significant payment into our cultural treasure chest. We look forward to more from your pens next year.


INAUGURAL ALICE SPRINGS NEWS SHORT STORY COMPETITION WINNER: "Beyond the Mermaid" by CHAY BROWN.

WARNING: This winning entry in the Alice Springs News Short Story competition contains language and scenes that may offend some readers.

I heard about his death on the radio but at the time, I didn't know it was him. It's hard to tell these days or any day in fact. You get so used to it that it doesn't matter. There isn't any shock when you think you don't know the person. Now I think I miss him. Clocks can wind back so why can't time? Why can't I just reset this whole world? I must have wagged the lesson in school that taught us these things… time resetting and how to deal when you figure out it's all just a waste of more time. I miss him because I remember him.
The first time I saw Garrif, he was in a run-down Holden with a car full of black boys. We were just walking, me, Leanora and Sharnah. We went past Paint and Panel on George Crescent to check out this party. They didn't let us in, but we're never allowed in. White people are scared of half-castes. I'm not half-caste though, I just hang with them, but I still wasn't allowed in. Must be the clothes I wear.
Garrif and his mob pulled up beside us.
"What youse mob doing?" the driver yelled over the rap.
Sharnah must've known him coz she answered him ‘stead of keeping walking.
"Nuthin. We just went past Paint and Panel but it's invite only or some shit."
I know it wasn't coz it was invite only. It was because they were white and Sharnah and Leanora are half-caste. It was a guys' party, but their little slut girlfriends would have told them not to let us in. It's coz they wear Sportsgirl little short skirts and we wear Wu-tang. That's metallic baggy shorts to past our knees and big baggy shirts. They're scared of us. Think'll we'll bash ‘em for wearing short skirts and we probably would too.
"Youse mob should jump in wit us," yelled the driver again, turning down the music.
"Nah, you got full car, aye?" Sharnah said whilst me and Leanora stood on the street corner, shame.
"It'll be right."
"Alright then. Shove over." Sharnah opened the door and waited for the boys to move over on the seat.
"Come on, youse mob!"
Leanora looked at me, decided Sharnah was safer and went over to the car and got in. It was pretty packed. No room for me.
"Hurry up Jamie!"
"Nah, there's no room," I said looking at the car. "Where you want me to sit? The roof?"
"Just sit on Leroy's lap," Sharnah said elbowing the boy next to her.
"No way!"
"Just get in? What you wanna walk? You'll get raped."
"Alright, fuck ya," I said and went round to the other side of the car. There was like two layers of dust covering the whole thing, these mob must live out bush, I thought. I opened the door and climbed in on top of Garrif.
"Oi, look out!" he said as I nearly kneed him in the balls.
"Sorry," I said and sat on Leroy's lap. My face burnt in shame.
"You're right. What's your names?" Garrif asked looking at me.
Sharnah answered for me. "This is Leanora and this white girl here is Jamie." Sharnah grinned at me and introduced Garrif.She knew I hated being called a white girl. We all come from the same stock. All bred in the Alice, all poor and all bored with everything. She just does it to bag me out though, it doesn't matter.
We drove around the dead streets for a while. It was late and the streetlights burnt up a frosty sky. We couldn't talk or nothing coz the music was so loud, the whole car was pulsating with beat. It was giving me a headache, but I didn't say nothing.
"Oh my god, can you turn down the bloody music or what?" Sharnah asked for all of us I think, though her head was in her hands and she rubbed her temples. The music dipped slightly and the driver, whose name I still didn't know, said, "Where we going?"
"Let's go get a feed." Leroy's muffled idea came from behind me, I must have been squashing him but he didn't complain.
Everyone looked round at each other.
"We go for a feed, sis?" Sharnah asked Leanora.
"Yeah but after I gotta go home. My Ps already be pissed I stayed out this late."
"Alright, les go truck stop then. Any of youse got any money?" the driver asked.
Sharnah and Leanora looked at me. I was the only one of us who had a job. I worked at KMART dusting shelves, pulling things to the front just so little kids could grab them and go screaming around the shop, gnawing and drooling on the packaging. It was the only thing I could get though and I had a friend who worked there already, so it wasn't too bad. Just putting up with the manager's shit was the worst of it.
I sighed. "Alright. My shout. Let's go."
"Thanks sis." Sharnah smiled her huge cheeky grin and clapped my shoulder. She was so pretty with her long golden ringlets against her caramel skin. She had amber eyes with the longest and darkest eyelashes I've ever seen. Me and Leanora teased her they were like camel eyes. I wished I looked her like her. We sped through the sleepy town, not bothering to stop at any red lights. It was two in the morning so in a town of pissheads, no one was sober enough to drive at this time. In fact, most were passed out by then. So we figured we weren't in any danger of crashing, we just sped straight along the Stuart Highway in the silence of night, till we got to the truck stop.
We pulled up and we all fell out. Leroy rubbed his quads and sighed with relief, I blushed. Truck stop's just a fuel-up station for the constant train of lumbering semi-trailers coming through town. It's twenty-four hour and has got all the deep-fried food you could possibly want. It was dusty and the wind whipped us with a fierce cold, so we cuddled our jackets around us. We got inside as quickly as we could and made our selections. Everyone basically wanted chips with sweet chilli sauce and spicy chicken wingdings.
Sharnah charmed the large rumbling Maori man behind the counter for discount. That huge smile of hers got us a few dollars off. I wasn't complaining. Leanora went and sat down in shame though.
We decided against sitting outside and all seven of us sat around a white plastic picnic table that hadn't been wiped for at least three days of beef burgers.
We didn't care though, we were used to worse. We split open the white oil-stained bags and everyone dived at the food. Tomato and sweet chilli sauce was sprayed over the chips and everyone ate, licking the salt from their fingers as they went.
Sharnah was chatting with the driver. Me and Leanora just sat there quiet. We didn't know these boys and didn't wanna say anything.
I just stared at the floor. It was brown lino that was peeling up in places. It could do with replacing, in fact the whole place needed replacing. It was all so worn down by the sun and the wind that it looked like a public toilet on Gap Road rather than a place someone would go to eat at.
Sharnah stood up and so did the driver.
"We're going." She smiled and made her eyebrows jump up her forehead. Meaning that her and this boy were going off to fuck.
Leanora stood up too. She hadn't seen the eyebrows. Sharnah glared at her and again in a strained over emphasised voice said, "We – are – go-ing."
Leanora got the message but she wasn't happy.
"How are me an' Jamie s'posed to get home? You can't leave us here wit these mob."
"Hey! You'll be right wit us. We aint gonna rape you. Plus we family now cuz, your sister here's bout to fuck my brother.
"We's related now so you don't have to be scared of me."
It was Garrif talking. He was leaning back in his chair with a grin spread across his face.
Sharnah just glared at him and said to Leanora, "We'll be back later", and with that she and the driver went out to the run-down car and left, squealing the wheels as they went.
"Don't know why they had to take the car, coulda just went round the corner," Garrif said. His mates laughed.
Leanora plonked herself back down next to me and promptly entwined her arm in mine to prevent me from jumping up and running away too. She needs company Leanora, she can't go it alone. She looks fierce as all hell but she might as well be a mouse. She was taller and rounder than all the boys there. She looked like Aretha Franklin but slightly bigger with slightly lighter skin. She always had her dark hair pulled straight and tight back into a plait that left two ringlets dangling down her back. She looked like a big scary girl but I reckon one of those sluts back at the party in their little minis could have whooped her ass.
"Thanks for this, aye?" Garrif said through the five chips stuffed in his mouth, chilli sauce whooshing around in there too, like they were in a washing machine.
"No problem," I said and pretended to be very interested with my hands. My hands were a pale white like the rest of my body, with warts dotted here and there. I shoved them away in my shorts pockets, I was embarrassed about them.
"What was your name again?" Garrif asked me. I didn't want to look at him, talking with your mouth full was something I was taught was rude, and this guy had sticky orange sauce dribbling down his chin.
"Jamie."
"Where you from?"
"Here."
"You local? Born and bred?"
He just kept shooting off questions. I didn't want to answer him, I wanted Leanora to save me but I was with the wrong friend. Sharnah would have told him to shut up at "hi!"
"No I came here when I was little from Adelaide," I said trying to find something else to be interested in.
There was a pause in Garrif's questions and I hoped he'd run out of them. I didn't want to talk to this boy. He scared me. Full bloods often do.
Full bloods is what the majority of Alice Springs called the darker Aboriginals, those with two Aboriginal parents and the others of mixed race were half-castes.
Just when I had found a nice pattern etched in the lino to look at, Garrif fired back up.
"You got family? How many brothers and sisters you got?"
I shifted uncomfortably. I didn't like talking about my family to anyone, let alone a complete stranger. I thought if I just said there and glared at the lino, he'd get the message. So I held my head so it was level with the picnic table and stared fiercely at the floor. He just thought I didn't hear him. He kicked me under the table so I was forced to look at him.
"I asked you something. You got family?"
He was a mud black, the colour of black sandstone after the rain. He was beautiful in a way, with his grubby chin and smiling brown eyes. He had a thin moustache too that was sexy, and curly black hair.
He was alright looking but he wouldn't go for me anyway, Aboriginals don't go out with white girls.
"Yeah," I said and left it at that.
"So why you hang with these mob?" Garrif said leaning back in his chair."What mob?""Sharnah and that girl there, sorry I forget your name.""Leanora," she said and gripped my arm tighter. I had pins and needles and my arm was starting to go numb, so I had to pull it free. She looked very insecure without something to hold onto and searched for something else.
"Coz they're my friends," I said matter-of-factly.
"You're white," he said.
"Yes."
"OK."
Sharnah and the driver came back not long after. Leanora jumped up and told them to take her home. Sharnah glared sourly at her and agreed. We all piled back into that banged-up dusty Holden and sailed back through the sleepy town. A haze had settled over my surroundings – the navy-blue bitumen, the drowsy gums weeping over the road and the big broad endless night of stars all took on glinty white specks.
I took this to mean I was tired and after they dropped Leanora off at her dodgy government house that had long since been abandoned by a few Yanks, I insisted they take me home too.
It was quiet on the way to my house. Garrif kept looking at me and pretending he wasn't. I knew he was sneaking sideways looks at me because I was sneakily looking at him too. When we pulled up out the front of my modest sunburnt orange unit, he leant across and whispered in my ear.
"Can I have your number?"
My face raged with shame and nodded. I pulled out my 3310 Nokia and he pulled out his. I read aloud my number and he gave me his in return. Sharnah shamelessly observed this with a smirk that made my face burn more fiercely. He lazily brushed my shoulder then and smiled.
"I'll call you tomorrow?"
"OK," I said and jumped out the car. I watched them pull away and I waved. They pumped the beats as soon as I got out which made me think they gift-wrapped the silence as an opportunity for a conversation between myself and Garrif.
Though nothing had passed between us, he had my number. Sharnah had finally succeeded in hooking me up with a black boy and I would never hear the end of it.
Black boys don't usually go for white girls because we're white. That's another boundary. My life was full of boundaries.


LETTERS: International airport for Alice - more than meets the eye.

Sir,– With reference to your recent comments on the future of Alice Springs Airport, may I make the following points.
It seems to me that comment by both politicians in your last edition have missed the point. And perhaps a golden opportunity.
In the ‘nineties when ownership of the airport changed to Infratril, a listed company.
That company called for submissions on what to do with the land surrounding the airport. I wrote a lengthy letter to them suggesting that they look at an international airport and an international standard research facility on the land between the airport and Col Rose Drive.
The facility I had in mind was to be directed towards attracting overseas research facilities in the areas of solar research, alternative systems of waste treatment in an arid environment where water is both scarce and expensive, and alternative hydrogen technology.
This submission was re-directed towards the consulting engineers in Darwin and I understand was to be included in their submission to the government. I have not sighted the report as yet. It may have been the genesis of the Desert Knowledge Project. I have never had any response, but the DKP was not what I had in mind.
I again raised the possibility of an international airport here when the controversy over the third runway option at Sydney Airport was raised.
International flights from Europe via Singapore and Malaysia flew right over here several times a day. It seemed obvious to me that flights should be terminated here and the transit passengers distributed from here on the domestic network. Hamburg and Singapore use the hub concept to great advantage – much lower capital and land acquisition costs, with much of the infrastructure and land readily available at much lower cost than in Sydney.
There is a fuel refinery within 10kms of the Alice airport.
The airlines would have been subjected to lower landing fees and administrative costs.
The arguments seemed to place a lot more emphasis on why it could not happen through customs and immigration difficulties.
I had 13 responses; 11 claimied the Alice option should be pursued.
The Environmental Impact Study for the third runway option stated the some 13 per cent of the international arrivals in Sydney were transiting to other destinations in Australia. Assuming that this is true also in reverse, some 25 per cent of the passengers through the international terminal don't need to be there.
The entrenched tourist investment on the eastern seaboard seems to be the major reason why the idea was never pushed further within any level of government.
I actually put the idea to Virgin management and had an encouraging response to the effect that all options were open. They subsequently settled in Brisbane. I doubt that the Alice Springs option was ever put to them at a government level.
The Centre for Appropriate Technology has conducted a monitoring function for Japanese interests in various parts of the country for some time. Given the nature of that institution and its involvement with the government and a perceived lack of commercial focus in favour of training, the whole thing needs a fresh and very commercial approach.
It is possible that the airport could be the secondary profit centre, after the technology park. Some astute readers may remember in the late 'seventies Japanese interests were talking of producing hydrogen by hydrolysing our artesian water and piping it all the way to Japan!
The Japanese are renown for their long term thinking and strategic planning. Unfortunately everything for us revolves around three or four year cycles.
The owner of the Sydney airport (Maccquarie Airports) is rapidly acquiring a reputation as a very profitable company, constantly raising charges to their clients, the airline companies.
They are in a position to do this because of the increased traffic through their airport.
The airlines must surely be on the lookout for alternatives, which I believe we could offer them.
In addition to these factors it is probably possible for some airlines to do the return Singapore / Alice trip without having to refuel. This would have significant cost savings to them if it were possible, as Singapore is the world-leader in refining technology.
With the advent of the railway, perhaps Singapore fuel could be transported here.
T Shiell
Alice Springs

No more taking from the poor to create a wealthier elite

Sir,- As the second Greens candidate for the Senate in the NT, I would like to thank the many in the NT who have helped and supported our ever-growing party.
My interest in joining the Greens and then becoming a candidate sprang from my alarm with the directions and decisions and outright lies of the coalition government and their opposition's collusion on detaining refugees indefinitely and invading Iraq.
Having worked in the caring fields of teaching, disabilities and counselling and recently studying an alcohol and other drugs course at CDU, I am aware of the huge need for service provision across Australia. Services have been grossly under-funded in the past leaving those less well off suffering unjustly.
With 800,000 children living in poverty in Australia and an ageing population, the desperation of many thousands of Australians must be heard and their needs catered for.
The issues involved are wide and varied, from pensioners who can't afford dentures and are suffering depression from not having eaten solid food in years, to those who've worked hard to make a home, only to have their water supply poisoned with chemicals associated with farming or forestry. Our Greens want to help solve the many problems experienced by individuals and communities to make life more enjoyable and safe for everyone.
We realise that there are no blanket solutions, and people should be able to participate in all decisions and actions for outcomes which suit their community needs.
Another Green voice in the Senate will allow greater support to the growing number of senators whose desire it is to have an honest government, and prevent unjust actions from adversely affecting us and our environment. No more of this harmful coalition who take from the poor to create a wealthier elite.
If we don't toss John Howard overboard his lies will prevail and he will go back to destroying the health, wealth and education prospects for the "underclass" he has worked so hard to create.
Shan McKenzie
Greens Senate candidate

Mend the skills gap

Sir,- Labor has pledged to provide an extra 400 TAFE and training places for citizens of the Northern Territory and 36,000 more places nationwide, by 2009.
These new places will ease the skills crisis confronting key industries and give more Australians the chance to learn a trade.
Labor's extra places will deliver more mechanics, plumbers, childcare and aged care workers, fitters and turners, electricians and other skilled workers that Australia desperately needs.
This commitment will give at least 400 more Territorians the chance to get a TAFE or training qualification.
That means a more secure future for those who would otherwise have missed out on a TAFE or training place. Australians without a TAFE or university qualification are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as those with further training.
The Howard government will not fund any new TAFE places even though thousands of students miss out on a TAFE place every year.
After implementing cuts to TAFE in real terms since 1997, the government has a promise for 24 privately-run technical colleges that will charge upfront fees and aims to have only 7,000 students in undisclosed locations after 2008.
It is a tragic waste of talent that around 15,000 school leavers missed out on a TAFE place last year because of inadequate funding from the Howard government.
Australia needs more skilled workers to fill existing and future skills shortages and remain internationally competitive.
Labor's skills policy provides the TAFE and training places needed to meet this challenge.
Warren Snowdon
Member for Lingiari


TOO WEARABLE, NOT ENOUGH ART. Review by KIERAN FINNANE.

The people meter said it all: there was only really one wearable art piece at last Saturday's awards that knocked the audience's socks off.
It was the felicitous "Venetian Bride", using the very nature of its recycled materials – pre-loved venetian blinds – to create its alluringly feminine statement that was also full of surprise.
Four designers worked on this piece: Jo Nixon, Virginia Sitzler, Sarah Hill and Steph Gaynor.
Model Jessica Lopes worked their ingenuity to perfection: raising the mini-blind that veiled her face at just the right moment (her Eurasian looks were perfect for its suggested orientalism), spreading the train to reveal a pert behind with the just the right coquetry.
Not surprisingly 160 votes ensured that "Venetian Bride" won the People's Choice Award, an innovation of this year's event that's bound to stay.
It also won the judges' vote in the Recycled or Found Object category.
The awards otherwise were not quite as exciting as last year's, not as provocative, not as sexy, not as diverse.
Men were missing in action. There was only one young boy designer – Sean Chalmers, a Year Four student at Gillen Primary, who did admirably well; and there were no male models.
Last year they gave the night a definite edge.
The emphasis this year was more towards the wearable, less towards the art, and it needs to be the other way around. The event must distinguish itself from a fashion parade, however delightful, so perhaps some selection criteria need to come into play. It will also be a challenge for artists / designers to renew their ideas, their sources of inspiration.
J9 Stanton won in the Natural Fibre category with "Feral Dilemma", a powerful and cleverly constructed statement about feral animals, particularly cats. But if you had seen her entry last year, then this year's became a variation on her theme, thus losing the "wow" factor, a stated criterion for the awards.
Colleen Byrnes' "Desert Summer" won in the Open Fantasia category, with a brilliantly colourful demonstration of her high-order design and sewing skills. But again, her entry last year shared many of the characteristics of this year's.
The student prize went to Kelly Trembath, who also won last year's. Her Open Fantasia entry, "Desert Heat", was at the fashion end of the spectrum, something encouraged by the prize itself, which includes an airfare to Sydney to do work experience with leading fashion designer Akira Isogawa.
Perhaps the work experience opportunity should rather be with an artist who works with the body, who could really challenge a student's ideas and take them in a different direction.
Runner-up student was Rebecca Koser in the Natural Fibre category with "By Gum", again a very wearable outfit skilfully made from gum-leaves.
Pushing the boundaries more was student Kael Murray's entry, "Eden", cleverly acces-sorised with an apple. It had a "wowness" of form and construction as well as the nudity that was integral to its statement.


RSL WORKS BOWL TO VICTORY IN FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.

On cricket's opening day of play, the RSL Works side issued a warning to the rest of the competition that they are the team to beat this season.
Over the winter months RSL have pondered their situation as reigning club champions and yet not holders of the A grade premiership.
In an amicable manner they have reinstated Matt Forster as captain and have set their sights on the 2004 – 2005 flag.
Albrecht Oval was a picture considering the early start to the season, with both bat and ball having a fair opportunity to prove effective.
RSL batted first with Graeme Schmidt and Luke Southam establishing a strong position before Southam fell to the bowling of Jamie Roth for 22.
Entering the arena was Scott Robertson who has always promised plenty and this proved to be his time to produce. While Schmidt compiled 75 before falling to Shaun Lynch, Robertson soldiered on for an unbeaten 134. His brother, Cameron, gave support with 9 before falling to a Matthew Pyle catch-off. Lynch, and then Jamie Smith, saw the innings out with the centurion, claiming 14 runs.
In the 45 over innings RSL registered 3/282, with Rovers' Lynch being the best with the ball taking 2/68.
Rovers have struggled against the odds for a couple of seasons now, but have been able to defy the critics by hanging onto the competition despite a loss of manpower.
They were certainly tamed in their debut for this season when Matt Forster unleashed a spell of pinpoint bowling that returned 6/16, so decimating the batting line-up.
In support, spinner Wayne Eglington came to the fore late in the innings to finish his day with 3/15. For Rovers, Matt Pyle and Nick Clapp each got a start at the top of the order scoring 14 and 11 respectively. Darryl Lowe then held sway with a timely 36, but from that point the Blues could offer little, conceding at 10/98 off a mere 26 overs.
Sunday's fixture carried with it a similar outcome with the laurels this time going to the Wests Club who downed the reigning champions with consummate ease.
Wests batted the openers Peter Tabart and Simon Vaughn, spending little time at the crease scoring 4 and 5 respectively with the wickets going to Curtis Marriott and Jarred Wapper. The Federal advantage was short-lived however when Rory Hood and Daniel Cook took the score from 2/14 to 3/155.
Hood in his return to local cricket showed a sense of maturity and used his free flowing style to advantage in compiling 80 before being run out. Cook however established his credentials for the 2004 – 2005 season with a top score of 93.
The middle order then went through something of a slump with Leith Hiscox (12) Kevin Mezzone (6) and James McLaughlin (9) not going on. The damage had been done however, and Jeremy Biggs' handy 24 not out helped Wests into a winning position of 8/254 after 45 overs.
Tom Clements returned 3/23 to top the bowling figures while the other wickets were shared between Marriott, Wapper, Alan Rowe and Rick Lovacombe.
In chasing a formidable score Federal just didn't produce. Jeremy Biggs and Hood pierced the batting line-up early when Tom Clements went for a duck to Biggs, caught James McLoughlin.
At 1/1 BJ O'Dwyer and Shaun Windgrove were under the hammer and they put together a partnership of 38, when Biggs caught Windgrove off Hood for 18, and then Biggs had O'Dwyer trapped LBW while on 23.
The wickets tumbled from there with Michael Smith (22) and Allan Rowe (21 not out) being exceptions to the rule. Humbled, the Feds team ended their innings all out for 117.
Best with the ball was Jeremy Biggs who took 3/27 off 9 overs. Supporting him well was Hood who returned 2/32 capping off a fine game.


RACING: ABRA MAKES MAGIC AT PIONEER PARK. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.

Memories of Darwin Carnival racing revived at Pioneer Park on Saturday.
Vince Maloney's Geiger Blue re-entered the winner's circle and Tony Player trained a double including the northern performer Abra.
In the opening race, the Grey Desert Class 4 Handicap over 1200 metres, Bold Politician led carrying the benefit of the apprentice Matthew Hart's 3 kilo claim, with Apiary keeping him honest. By the turn however the penny section was over for Apiary which allowed the front runner to bowl out to a three-length lead, and in a position to counter any charge.
Both Criterium and Abra made their run accordingly and with Bold Politician developing the staggers, Abra was able to take the race up to the leader and claim victory by a long head.
A length and three quarters back, Criterium was able to hold out fellow equal favourite Apiary to fill the minor placings.
The Pseudonaja Class B handicap over 1400 metres saw the $2.50 favourite lead from the jump with Play Again Sam, Fleeting Bird and Shirley's Boy settling in the running. By the turn however the favourite had run her race and faded in the run home to bring up last place. Vivian Oldfield's Play Again Sam subsequently took charge of the race to come home an easy winner by three and three quarter lengths. Greet The Ksar, who came home second, put in an eye-catching performance making up ground in the straight by virtue of a rails run.
Shirley's Boy completed the placings three quarters of a length further off the pace, with Hot Chilli Woman leading the remainder of the field to the post.
Prior to the Horse of the Year, three-year-old Class B Handicap over 1100 metres, Garbled, was a tip, and in winning at $5 proved to be a most worthwhile investment.
Garbled lived up to recent track work and led from Crowne Pilot, who found the pace testing and was looking for gas at the turn. In the straight it was all Garbled, eventually winning by three lengths from the improving Shrewd Ace. Pretty Tubby then paddled home to take third place.
The performer to watch though was Shamoxie who didn't travel like a winner but made enough impression to suggest better things were on the horizon.
Tony Player recorded his training double for the day when he saddled up Bysanto in the Al Tayar Open Handicap over 1100 metres. Juroma took up the running early and led from Pelt, Punk and Bysanto. The front runner had control of the race by over two lengths at the turn, with Pelt battling and Punk feeling the pinch at the 400 metre mark. In the straight Bysanto opened up and gave chase to overpower Juroma with 50 metres to go. He then went to the line a winner by a length, with Pelt hanging on for third, a length and a half away from Juroma.
In the last The Not Abandoned Class 2 over 1100 metres, Geiger Blue made amends for his last start third a fortnight ago, winning by a comfortable four and three quarter lengths. Starting at $1.70 favourite Geiger Blue shared the lead with Classic Rainbow, but showed no mercy in the journey down the straight. As Classic Rainbow faded off the pace, Prince Blev rattled into second place.
In fourth behind Classic Rainbow was the fast finishing Stun Gun who would have pleased connections with the run.


Tourist in my town. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.

I've been out to lunch three times and to dinner twice in the last couple of weeks, which is well over my yearly average.
For the most part the food has been satisfactory, the service has been OK to very good, and I have enjoyed playing the tourist.
Unfortunately, otherwise pleasant meals were spoiled by loud discordant music.
Whatever happened to elevator and restaurant music?
I remember having trouble talking to people in nightclubs and bars when I was younger because of loud music – but never over lunch.
Maybe my hearing was better then or I had less to say, but apart from no dirty dishes after the meal, these days I see little advantage in having lunch out with someone if it is impossible to have a conversation.
Most of the shops I have been into lately have had loud music playing too.
Apparently research on dairy cows has shown that they produce more milk when listening to Mozart.
The big supermarket chains play easy-listening music at a comfortable level. No doubt their research proves that this music calms and relaxes their customers and makes them spend more.
Maybe mainstream restaurants have chosen instead to follow the example of fast food outlets that don't encourage their customers to settle by failing to provide comfortable seating and a peaceful environment.
You only have to have a very vague notion of the financial markets to know that hamburgers are not selling as well as they used to while the supermarket companies are doing exceptionally well.
I asked one shop attendant whether the music bothered her, seeing as she had to work with it on all day, but she said it didn't worry her as she had got used to it and didn't hear it anymore.
A bit like living next to a busy highway or airport for a long time.
But when you step in from the outside which happens to be the Alice in spring time with flowering acacias and singing honey eaters, and you don't have to spend all day in the shop, you'd rather walk straight back out again.
Instead of battling the music you could shop on the internet in peace and quiet and have lunch at home on paper plates.
The tourists come here for a break from their fast-paced, noisy lives in the cities, only to find it's not possible to talk about their holiday experiences over lunch because of the loud music.
This is a town with a slower pulse.
A lower pulse rate means a longer life. Why not take a leaf out of the supermarket giants' book and tune into one of those radio stations the dairy farmers use.
I'm sure that visitors and locals as well as shop and restaurant owners would have a more enriching experience.
As for me I would be able to escape the mess and the noise at home for an hour in peace over a salad and an uninterrupted chat to a friend.


Journey to the centre of the patio. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

This column has often teetered on the brink of cosy domesticity.
But please give some credit where its due: at least I've spared you the breeding habits of Loppy the Wabbit and topical tips on what to do when your Velcro sandpaper won't stick to your electric sander (hint: pick off the fluffy bits).
This week let's stop fighting the tide of humdrum household life and plunge right in.
That reminds me, you must come around and see my raised beds sometime. I spread chicken manure on them to improve soil structure (so the book advised) and to nourish the spring brassicas. The leaf growth on the cabbages is phenomenal and enough to keep me awake at night with excitement.
All we need now is actual cabbage, but let's not get too ambitious.
At least there are leaves, which is more than I can say for the pumpkins. What is the matter with these plants? They want TLC and water? Don't they know we're living in a desert for crying out loud?
There's a pergola that I renovated by surgically removing the rotten timbers and inserting new ones.
It took a skill set that you would normally associate with a cosmetic procedure to uplift droopy cheekbones.
I nearly broke my back in the process, requiring a different surgical procedure, but it was worth it. We can't have a saggy pergola, can we? What would the neighbours think?
This particular timber frame was so droopy that a half-decent crop of grapes might have self-mashed on the patio. Do you know whether grapes stain pavers? I always wondered about that.
They say you learn something new every day. Well I learned that one of the best features of my home is that the mulch is made of rocks instead of bark. This means that it doesn't get washed away, blown about or simply disappear like truckloads of the other stuff that I used to spread around my old place only to find it somewhere in Mallam Crescent after a heavy rain.
There's always a downside to mulch. In this case it's the green things around which it is arranged, otherwise known as plants. Most I hadn't seen before we moved in. I was getting used to the semi-crispy natives that I planted in my old backyard.
Now I have pointy succulents that sit squarely on the ground and don't move when the wind blows, along with thin semi-trees that look dead but still sprout new growth. It's like living in an alien land where the answer to worries about premature plant death is to pour water constantly in the mistaken belief that God will provide it for ever more. Naturally, I don't bother.
Standing in the yard holding a hose always seems such a waste of human talent.
I am told that plants like this are collectively called exotics. They don't look exotic, they look weird. But despite the lack of water still they survive.
Who needs gardening advice when you can find out all you need to know by doing nothing and seeing what dies.
Then again, this is an arid zone, so I must get a rainwater tank. If I had a drop of water for every time I have heard someone in Alice Springs say those words, I wouldn't need a rainwater tank. Some folk say it every six months for twenty years.
The reason is that, like a night's sleep in a hammock, tanks are great in theory but painful in practice. All that bending of gutters and downpipes is enough to make you sit in an armchair and think about it for another six months.
Next week the election is on, but it's hard to compete with ground-breaking analysis of the breeding habits of Loppy the Wabbit.
steve@afishoutofwater.com


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