PRIZE: ALICE'S TREASURE HOUSE ENRICHED. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
A total of nine works, worth nearly $40,000, have joined the Araluen Collections as following the judging on Friday of the Alice Prize – Australia's longest-running and increasingly prestigious contemporary art prize.
The recently concluded Desert Mob, the 14th annual exhibition of Aboriginal art centres in the region from which Araluen always has first picking, added 14 works to the collections, worth $45,000 (catalogue value).
A drawcard for 28,000 visitors to date this year – about 70 per cent of these are from out of town – the Araluen Collections have been built substantially out of these exhibitions, as well as the NT Art Award (no longer acquisitive), and amount to a publicly-owned asset that must be approaching the million dollar mark in financial terms alone.
Its cultural worth to the community is incalculable; its worth as a tourist attraction has probably yet to reach its potential.
Enhancement of the collections through quality acquisitions is a sound investment on both counts.
The Alice Prize represents a model that could be looked to by communities around Australia, according to this year's judge, Anne Kirker, senior curator at the Queensland Art Gallery.
The original intention was to put Alice Springs on the art world map and it has succeeded in this, says Ms Kirker.
She first heard of the prize 14 years ago as one of the top contemporary art prizes in the country, when she came to Australia from New Zealand.
"It continues to be that.
"Because it is run by volunteers [members of the Alice Springs Art Foundation] who have a very strong commitment to building up an art collection of distinction in the centre of Australia, it is actually a model for other communities to follow.
"It stands for something that is really important and the effort is absolutely worth it.
"In the visual arts world, alongside the Hermannsburg movement and the Central Desert paintings, it is an absolute drawcard.
"The Alice Prize is part of the art scene take on Alice Springs.
"It is impressive that it doesn't limit itself to one medium, like painting, and impressive that Indigenous artists are hung quite seamlessly alongside their Euro-Australian counterparts.
"It is no longer the only contemporary art prize to do this but it certainly was the first."
Clifford Possum Jabaltjari was the first Aboriginal artist to win the prize, for his Mulga Seed Dreaming in 1983.
These days Aboriginal artists are always in contention, though this year the highly commended work by Linda Syddick Napalltjarri, Land, Lakes and Spirits, might have been just pushed out by interest in new media.
Ms Kirker split the prize (as it has been on four occasions previously), awarding it to Alice-based artist Nicky Schonkala and NSW artist Tony Coleing.
Though their work at many levels could hardly be more different, both artists have had recourse to industrial production technology to realise their creative intentions.
Schonkala, newly arrived in Alice with 10 years of professional arts practice behind her, is a textile artist.
This work, Girl Looks Backward Girl Looks Forward, is made up of 15 small banners showing self-portrait images woven in black and white.
The images are derived from photographs, manipulated using computer aided design and woven on a computer controlled industrial Jacquard loom, a piece of equipment Schonkala says she would never be able to buy and not normally be able to access. (The one she used belongs to RMIT where she taught textile design for seven years).
This is only really of interest of course because she was able to use it to make an image of exceptional power.
The original photographs, showing her after brain surgery and emerging from the long process of recovery, are probably stark and compelling but the woven images have created a more profound work.
Their softness and their reversibility (they could be viewed from behind) suit her theme of vulnerability, of mortality at a most intimate level.
Co-prize winner Tony Coleing, whose artistic career stretches over 30 years, is probably also concerned with human vulnerability but approaches the issues on a grand scale.
The work, Command F, is fittingly enormous, billboard size, and he used a company specialising in commercial billboard work to produce his image – computer painted on vinyl.
Ms Kirker read it as about our globalised society – "a shifting image, like a molecular form, in a state of continuous change".
She saw in both works the interface between the artist's creative imagination and the commercial sector: "It's what much art is about today and they've done it very, very well, both of them."
She was looking for work that "represents contemporary art of today that will have relevance for today and the future"; "for images with conceptual power, that reached out to the viewer, that were technically very well resolved, and really good additions to the foundation's collection which is like a litmus test of what has been happening in Australian art practice since 1970".
She did not want to be "politically correct" though she thought that her choices in the end could be construed that way: "One's very aware that you are in a bi-cultural community here. It's roughly half and half Aboriginal people, new settlers and tourists like myself.
"One of images that has been purchased at my insistence is the Linda Syddick [but that's] not because it is by an Aboriginal artist, it's because it is a very good work.
"You could [also] say I've picked a male of an older generation and a female who is local.
"I was mindful to a certain extent of what was already in the collection but I think you have to get past the politically correct. In competitions like this, you have to go for what you feel is really the most compelling and wonderfully executed and sustained in terms of its realisation."
BUYING ART: THE HARD DECISIONS. COMMENT by KIERAN FINNANE.
The difficulty of picking winners in the Alice Prize serves each year as a reminder of the complexity of judging works for acquisition.
I was critical in these pages recently of acquisitions made from Desert Mob by Araluen (Alice News, Sept 8).
Discussion subsequently with artists Wayne Eager and Marina Strocchi – both of whom are represented in the Alice Prize and are among Alice's most successful non-Indigenous artists, making a living from their art – raised the possibility of an advisory board for the Araluen Collections.
They have a deep knowledge of and involvement with the Aboriginal art industry.
Strocchi was the founding coordinator of Ikuntji Arts and Eager was a field worker with Papunya Tula from 1996 to 2000.
They were commissioned by a Dutch collector to buy from Desert Mob for a private museum in Utrecht, Netherlands, specialising in Aboriginal art.
They say their experience at the exhibition was telling about the present state of the industry and reflected in the choices for acquisition.
After Araluen had had first pick of the cherry and after many national buyers had made their purchases, they were amazed that Eager's first choices of work by Jacky Giles and Coiley Campbell of Kayili Arts (from Patjarr in the Gibson Desert, WA) were still available.
"People will say that it is only our opinion," says Eager, "but it is an educated opinion."
Says Strocchi: "I thought the Patjarr work was important because it was unique, striking, very early work from a new art centre, reasonably priced, and relates very strongly to the early Papunya boards that are so important to the history of contemporary Aboriginal art."
(Thanks to some early acquisitions and the loan of the Papunya Community Collection there is a small but very interesting display of early boards at Araluen.)
"Work of museum quality is being passed over," Eager says, "in favour of lesser quality work.
"A place like Alice Springs needs a lot of discussion about what is good art, about how the public collection is being put together.
"It could be quite different quite easily."
"There should be accountability in acquisitions," says Strocchi. "Perhaps we should have a board."
On the Patjarr work, curator Tim Rollason – who has worked as coordinator at Keringke Arts and Ikuntji and later as development officer for Desart, with all the art centres of the region – says he carefully considered the work but felt it was still developmental.
"I thought the image-making and the application of paint could be further refined. It was nowhere near as strong as early Papunya works, but I look forward to seeing more from this art centre as they develop."
To their credit, Araluen's director, Suzette Watkins, and Mr Rollason, who are together in charge of the acquisitions, are willing to discuss the idea of a board.
First of all they stress that there is accountability through their continually updated and publicly available acquisitions policy.
This establishes priorities for proposed acquisitions, with top of the list at present being the strengthening of the Central Australian Indigenous art holdings.
That, of course, is as it should be since it is probably Australia's greatest art movement and is recognised around the world.
Mr Rollason says an acquisitions board or similar has pros and cons.
He has worked previously (in Victoria) with an acquisitions committee and says the input of some members was valuable while others were running to a narrow agenda.
Ms Watkins, whose background is in performing arts and who decides on Araluen's theatre program, herself works with a reference group, informally constituted of local theatre patrons.
She values their dialogue but final decisions about the program are down to her.
She says the idea of a board does not represent a high priority for her but neither does she rule it out.
"It's an interesting concept but it could be complex," she says, especially in relation to who would be on such a body and what its processes would be.
MORONIC MUTTS AND MAD MUSIC: WHAT YOU CAN DO. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
In the suburbs of Alice Springs you've just gone to sleep, your neighbour comes home, the dogs over the road go beserk and set off every other dog in the neighbourhood – they must be able to hear the din in Yuendumu.
Or, it's 3am and you're deep in slumber when suddenly two teenagers on the loose after a party start singing "I like Aeroplane Jelleeeee" right outside your window before moving onto "Bananas in Pyjamas."
Or, it's Sunday and the handyman next door starts a major construction project.
What can you do about it?
The Territory, unlike other jurisdictions, doesn't have a Noise Act, but between them the council, the police and the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment (DIPE) say they have got it covered.
If it's barking dogs ring the council; if it's parties or just carousing, call the cops; if it's a chainsaw on a Sunday, call DIPE.
But better than all the above, the experts suggest, in the first place go talk to the offending person.
In the vast majority of cases, raising the issue will settle it.
"If people haven't spoken to the person they're complaining about, generally it's because they are afraid," says Peter Bannister, environmental scientist with DIPE who handles complaints about noise emanating from private property.
FEAR"Fear raises the emotions and often makes the whole situation worse than it actually is.
"The person being complained about is often offended that they weren't spoken to in the first place."
The legislation Mr Bannister can call upon is the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act, which has a section dealing with "environmental nuisance".
He gets on average one complaint a month.
Since the Act came into force in February 1999 there has never been an occasion to prosecute.
The most common cause for complaint is construction noise and motor vehicle racing on rural properties.
On the latter he says, "people have been either cooperative or heeded the warning".
And with construction, generally the job is over by the time the complaint is made.
Houses have to be built so construction noise is allowed Monday to Saturday, 7am to 7pm. It is not allowed on Sunday.
Problems sometimes arise in summer because people like to pour concrete before 7am to beat the heat.
Another summer irritant is noisy evaporative coolers, especially in cluster developments.
Band practice, insistent loud music and noisy backyard equipment like angle grinders and air compressors are more occasional causes for complaint.
Barking dogs can be dealt with by council rangers under animal control by-laws.
Head ranger Clem Wheatley says he gets about one complaint a week.
He says barking dogs are a huge issue for councils around Australia.
There's no magic solution; it's often a question of people's different levels of tolerance.
"It's like living next to a railway line," says Mr Wheatley. "After a while you stop hearing the trains."
Council can only take action against the dog owner if the barking is "unreasonable" and for that to be the case, complaints need to come from more than one person.
"We have to be careful not to get mixed up in the personal arguments of individuals," says Mr Wheatley.
"And a magistrate would not be swayed by just one person having a problem when others in the neighbourhood don't."If a complaint is made, the rangers will go and talk to the owner of the dog being complained about: "Generally that settles it.
"Dogs bark for a reason – they're frightened or hungry or bored.
"Owners can do something about all those things or can get help from animal behaviourists."
Rangers may also take action about other noises in public places, but most loud music complaints relate to private parties and get dealt with by the police, under the Summary Offences Act.
In the month of October Alice Springs police had 88 complaints about noisy neighbours, mostly because of parties and loud music.
In almost all cases, says a police spokesperson, a caution, if necessary backed by the threat of a Summary Infringement Notice (a fine), was all that was needed.
LETTERS: CLC chief hits back and draws more fire.
Sir,- Dear, oh dear, what a lot of spleen has been vented over the Central Land Council in recent weeks by the likes of the Alice Springs News, Murray Stewart and John Machado.
Reminds me of the good ol' days when the NT was led by the CLP and we watched election advertisements which showed a growing mass of black covering the Northern Territory.
Sadly the sentiments and untruths are much the same now as they were 25 years ago which is at least one reason why the Central Land Council continues to exist – fighting this sort of rubbish which would see Aboriginal people left landless again – rather than pack up after 10 years (as suggested by the Alice Springs News).
As for the CLC locking up the land and preventing economic development?
All over rural Australia towns are dying.
Yet apparently Central Australia by the wave of the CLC's magic wand and the repeal of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act can be made to defy the effects of remoteness, globalisation and lack of education and become an economic power house.
We live in the centre of Australia, the driest part of a dry continent, where much of the land is arid and marginal and exactly why it was given back to Aboriginal people in the first place.
As for royalties, The Alice Springs News has got it completely wrong again which is the reason I am often reluctant – with the certain knowledge we will be branded "clandestine" and "secretive" - to bother comment on these pages at all.
If royalties were paid at ten per cent plus – as the Alice News suggests – then even the richest miner would go broke.
The traditional owners who do receive royalties for mining ventures on their freehold land are similar to non Aboriginal people who receive rent or dividends.
But because they are Aboriginal, it gets called "sit down" money.
At a crucial time when we need to be working across political divides to help progress complex issues, these tired old arguments just waste time.
Again and again we have to hear it as new people like Murray Stewart come to town, leave, and get replaced by other equally ignorant itinerants.
I would, instead, prefer to thank the people of Central Australia who helped make the Central Land Council's birthday such a success.
In particular, we congratulate the NT Liquor Commission on the port bans which were so successful.
I am told that police call outs on the night were down by nearly two thirds.
We are still waiting for other evaluations but we have no doubt the move benefited the whole town.
So instead of fuelling division and conflict in the community an event like the CLC 30th birthday shows that goodwill does exist on all sides.
We would like to give our sincere thanks to the Alice Springs Town Council, the NT Police and Tangentyere Council and the night patrols.
Central Land Council
ED – Mr Ross' slur on our standard of reporting is rejected. He has a hide uttering it after ignoring our numerous requests for information and comment for some years.
Mr Ross conveniently overlooks that the most trenchant criticism of the CLC comes from its own clients.
Whether he likes it or not, they are also our readers and they, like any others, expect to be given a public voice through our medium.
Mr Ross thinks he has a monopoly on representing Aborigines – he doesn't.
We didn't say the CLC should have shut down 20 years ago.
We said it should have started getting its act together on commercial development – tourism and horticulture in particular.
Mr Ross says he doesn't see those opportunities. Many do.
So far as mining is concerned, Aborigines – under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976 – have far broader powers than non-Aborigines to prevent mining on their land, and hence they can drive a more powerful bargain with respect to demands for compensation.
Furthermore, the Commonwealth pays to the Aboriginal Benefits Account (ABA) an amount equivalent to the royalties that mining companies pay to the NT Government – 18 per cent of their profits as defined in the NT Mineral Royalty Act.
The ABA then distributes this "royalty equivalent" as follows: 30 per cent to land councils, 40 per cent to affected traditional owners and 30 per cent to other Aborigines in NT.
This arrangement only applies in the NT and benefits only Aborigines.
The term "sit down money" is fair comment because the beneficiaries don't have to raise a finger to obtain these benefits.
We also offered Alderman Murray Stewart and John Machado right of reply to Mr Ross' letter.
Sir,- Let's strip away the mask and reveal who David Ross really is.
In the weeks leading up to the so-called CLC's 30th birthday celebrations, both myself and Mr Ross debated the matter of the imposed temporary grog restrictions for this occasion.
Despite our disagreement I attempted to honor Mr Ross' right to freedom of speech by extending my hand for a conciliatory shake.
His response was most unexpected and certainly not in keeping with his leadership position in the Indigenous community.
He brashly refused to accept my hand and in a stand over thuggish like manner, pressed down on my right shoulder, saying in a most audible fashion, "You're nothing but a f***ing CLP stooge, you are typical of most of the councillors in this town, you are in it for your f***ing selves".
In the immediate hours after this remarkable out burst, I attempted through his staff to speak to him directly in order to invite him to lunch so that we could discuss our differences.
He failed to return any of my messages, therefore I resorted to leaving his staff a most exact message which gave him every avenue possible to reach me and to organize such a meeting.
To this date he has failed to do so and I am guessing, after his reference to me as an itinerant, that I won't be on his Christmas card list, let alone sharing a lunch.
In response to his reference to my statements made to the Alice Springs News, I firmly stand by them in relation to the repealing of the Land Rights Act and the abolishment of the CLC as one of the necessary measures needed in order that Indigenous people can begin to move forward.
Further, it is absurd for Mr Ross to compare the miserable failure of the CLC with the down turn in rural and remote economies.
Mining, one of the staple industries on Indigenous land, has not by any definition, attracted sufficient numbers of Indigenous workers.
The CLC's dishing out of royalties / handouts, has also led to a pathetic malaise leading to disposable income in return for absolutely no meaningful employment output.
You see Mr Ross, the rest of rural Australia, who would be insulted by your comparisons, are either adapting their economies to provide other avenues of employment or they uproot themselves and go to where the work is.
Your other salvo was delivered to hard working Australians, who through their blood, sweat and tears, happen to have scrimped and saved enough to buy a home in order to rent it out.
You compared them to Indigenous land owners. I ask you, how hard did they work for their massive capital gain, and how much tax are they paying on their royalties?
Answer? A big zero to both.
David Ross, your people are some of the most talented individuals on this earth.
Sadly, you and your organization are welfaring them into oblivion.
While your pocket is filling with money, your people are dying or being imprisoned at alarming rates, but I suspect this is the reason why you won't face me to debate these matters. SHAME ON YOU.
I offer this challenge now.
Prove to the Alice Springs community that you are not the secretive organization that you vehemently defend.
I will debate you in any public forum, anytime.
Let's put it all on the table. Let's discuss your failures or successes. Let's discuss how much you are paid from the public purse.
Let's discuss the royalties made from mining companies and the like, and let's discuss your agenda of ensuring that the majority wear the brunt of your so-called reformist alcohol approach.
Finally, as for me being an itinerant as you so arrogantly suggested:
Should I ever leave this town, I would want to leave a legacy of one who contributed to creating a better Alice Springs, a town that is inclusive, economically dynamic, and provides the platform for Indigenous triumphs.
I ask you Mr Ross, what will your legacy be?
Sir, – In response to David Ross's (Director of CLC) letter, I would like to make a few comments.
After reading your lengthy and shallow article, David, I feel that you, the director of CLC are a bitter and disillusioned man.
David, you should be concentrating on the next 30 years, the future and learn from the past. Work positively with the government of the day be it Labor or Liberal.
Get amongst the Aboriginal traditional owners and the elders and listen to their cries for help. Don't get political.
Get in your car and visit the communities, by yourself, leave behind the anthropologists and lawyers.
Talk to staff in communities, irrelevant of their political background. Sit on the ground and listen to the Aboriginal people and after a while you will learn something.
Show them that you can lead them into the future. Aboriginal people deserve and should get better.
They are awaiting a leader to change their status quo. You are the director. Make changes.
Start with the abolition of the permit system, it brings in racism and division. I am sure that Aboriginal Traditional Owners and Elders are capable of telling unwanted staff or visitors to get off their land if the choose to do so.
Give them some liberated ideas and freedom to handle their own problems. I feel that they are sick of the 'do-gooders' that exist on both sides of the fence (indigenous and non-indigenous).
I feel that the CLC will not last without some positive changes, changes that will show leadership, determination and guts.
You said in your article that "good will does exist on all sides" and I totally agree with you on this one.
The future CLC could rest in your hands. If you are the director for the future, David, get out there and direct.
$340,000 PAINTING SHOT IN THE ARM FOR KIDNEY CLINIC. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The world's best known art auction house gets together with the world's most remote community of artists who in the face of their crushing poverty produce paintings worth a million dollars, including a women's painting bought by one of Australia's richest men for $340,000.
They spend the money on a dialysis unit for their tiny community saddled with one of the world's highest concentrations of kidney failure, and in the process demonstrate that tribal Aborigines – with a little help from others, including their member of parliament Peter Toyne – can be independent from the welfare machine.
That's what there will be to celebrate for hundreds of Western Desert people tomorrow converging on Kintore, 400 kilometres west of Alice, for the opening of the first remote community renal dialysis unit in Central Australia, a service they have developed and largely paid for themselves.
Amidst the celebrations there will be sadness when they remember the man whose vision it was, Kumantjayi Zimran.
This community leader was forced to come to Alice in the late 'nineties for dialysis, living "like a dog on the fringes", as he put it.
Sarah Brown, manager of the Western Desert Dialysis Appeal (WDDA), says Mr Zimran's experience in town was a sad contrast to "being a significant person at home", and he dreamt of finding a way to offer kidney disease patients treatment in their home communities.
He died before his dream became a reality, but it was on its way.
Mr Zimran was able to attend the auction of four unique works of art at Sotheby's in November, 2000. The paintings had been done specifically to raise money for a Western Desert dialysis unit by separate groups of men and women at Kintore and Kiwirrkurra, just across the border in WA. Another 35 paintings were donated to the auction by art dealers and artists.
Media magnate Kerry Stokes paid the highest price for the Kiwirrkurra men's painting and in all the auction raised over $1m.
However, spending the money for the intended purpose proved harder than raising it.
Federal Health Minister of the day, Michael Wooldridge, poured scorn on the idea, saying no one in the world had ever been able to make it work in the desert. Even at the time this was not true. The Royal Perth Hospital had been running a Remote Area Dialysis Program since in 1989. (Alice News, Feb 7, 2001).
People from Kintore and Kiwirrkurra as well as Haasts Bluff, Mount Liebig, Papunya and Tjukula on the "kidney committee" (WDDA) took themselves off to the Kimberley to see how it was done.
There they saw an Aboriginal man doing his own peritoneal dialysis (PD), hanging the bag with its sterile fluid from a tree.
They saw another hooked up to a haemo dialysis (HD) machine in the back of a community clinic.
It was the encouragement they needed. Then came the detailed planning of a service that suited their needs.At present there are 16 renal patients from the Western Desert receiving dialysis in Alice Springs. (The total population of the region is 2000, a further 40 of whom are diagnosed with kidney problems. The renal unit in Alice is bursting at the seams. They treat close to 150 people. At any one time some 15 to 20 per cent of patients don't turn up – if they did there wouldn't be enough machines.)
With WDDA's resources, it would not be possible for all of the Western Desert patients to go home.
So the kidney committee – now incorporated and renamed Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (WDNYPT), meaning "making our families well" – decided on a three-week rotation system, choosing themselves who would go first.
The Department of Health provided two HD machines and one was put in a rented house in Flynn Drive where a patient can be taught self-care by a specialist renal nurse.
It took WDNYPT 18 months to jump through all the hoops of neighbourhood opposition and administrative approvals.
But there was also support: Ms Brown can't speak too highly of the encouragement and practical support from the nurses at the renal unit, "despite all the demands on them and the tragedy they deal with".
The second HD machine has been installed in the Pintubi Homelands Health Service clinic at Kintore. Water supply problems have been overcome by a reverse osmosis unit and a storage tank.
The first patient, Amy Nampitjinpa, went back to Kintore on September 26 last.
While she enjoyed her three week reunion with family and community, another patient, Mary Tolson, was being prepared in Alice.
She is reaching the end of her three weeks now: she's been gathering bush tucker at every opportunity, dancing at ceremony, visiting at her late husband's out-station.
Next week Ivan Butler will be the third patient to return to his community.All of these patients are on HD and are thus tied to the machine at Kintore. Another young woman, 19 years old, has been taught to do her own PD and has been back living in Papunya since July. Two more patients are now being prepared to do their own PD.
Apart from the three-week rotation the service is also committed to providing all patients with six 'return to country' trips a year – a night and two days in their various communities, flying in, flying out.
According to Ms Brown, Darwin-based nephrologist Paul Lawton, participating in the progressive evaluation of the service, has already noted a significant improvement in the patients' clinical health as a result of being able to go home, or planning to go home.
In town the service has employed, apart from Ms Brown, a half-time patient support worker, Joy Wurst. One of her ideas has been to help the patients scattered in various hostels and houses across town, often living alone or with only one or two relatives, to come together as the Western Desert Renal Choir. They will hopefully be in voice for tomorrow's festivities.
Two specialist nurses, Roger Holloway with 36 years experience in the field and Julie Marfan, also with remote and renal experience, are now on board as renal nurse/trainers. The Territory Government has donated their wages for 12 months.
One of the nurse/trainers accompanies the returning patient and while in Kintore teaches family members about their relatives' care needs.
As more people become competent in self-care the model of service can evolve.Ms Brown says some people believe prevention should take priority and have argued against the focus of scarce resources on dialysis.
"We see it differently," says Ms Brown, who hopes that the service will eventually attract operational funding, without losing its independence.
"Before dialysis was something that happened only in town, it was seen as frightening and seeming to lead to death.
"Since the machine has been in the community, heaps of people have been taking a look and some of them have been saying, 'I want to get a check-up'.
"It will be a huge asset to the health service to have two experienced renal nurses present, who can help with the development of screening and education programs, building on the interest that's there now.
"This has been a great exercise in Aboriginal problem-solving, a bit like Bush Mechanics, but instead of cars uniting families, it's the HD machines.
"They've become tools not just for treatment but for family and community well-being."
RUSSEL WARD: THE BEAR NECESSITIES OF LIFE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
"When both my daughters were born with spina bifida, I had no choice but to be a carer," says Russell Ward, more commonly-known around Alice Springs as Bear.
Rochelle was born in 1973 but sadly died at just 18 months. Shahna was born just four and a half months after her sister's death, and is now 29. She is paralysed from the waist down but is able to lead a normal life, and following her father's passion for sport has played wheelchair basketball for Australia at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
"We had no idea either of the girls had spina bifida until after they were born," says Bear. "With Shahna we had a test at 16 weeks to check for abnormalities but it wasn't picked up.
"It was hard for me when they were born, especially when it happened for a second time. You think it's your fault. We had trouble conceiving a child, you see."
After she was born Shahna was hooked up to a drip and six hours later she had an operation to remove fluid from her brain. "It was awful seeing her like that," says Bear.
But since then, his only daughter has grown stronger and stronger, now living an independent life with her mother Lynne in Wollongong, New South Wales. He says he's very proud of her, "She's a good kid".
Bear decided to turn his painful personal experience into something positive and has made it his mission in life to care for children with disabilities. A look at his photograph album, lovingly put together, shows him looking after dozens of children throughout his life as a carer, many of whom have now died.
Pages show him dressed up as Father Christmas, giving birthday parties, taking children swimming, reading and talking to them and making papier maché toys.
Much of Bear's career as a carer has been in Alice Springs, after he moved here 15 years ago following a trip around Australia. "I came here for a holiday to have a look around and never left. There's a lot of opportunity here." Bear has worked at all the facilities caring for disabled people in Alice Springs, including St Mary's and CASA.
"I had always worked on the waterfront," he says, "But there isn't much water up here so I got a job at Acacia Hill Special School. I have been very lucky, it's a job I love."
Bear lives at the school as part of his job as caretaker, and is also a teacher's assistant helping children with severe physical disabilities or those with autism or behavioural difficulties in the classroom. He's been there for seven years. Outside of school he takes care of children one-on-one at weekends, so their parents can have some time off.
He shares his memories of one particular boy he cared for called Sebastian, an Aboriginal child. "When he was born the doctors said he'd only live for two weeks but he fought on for five years, the little bugger. He had a disease something like leprosy but he had a heart of gold.
"I met him in 1995 when I helped raise money to send him to Brisbane to meet his heroes the Broncos," Bear remembers. "We had a barbecue with Wendell Sailor and Allan Langer.
"I remember just before he died we were watching Mary Poppins, it was the day before my birthday. Two minutes before he passed away he looked up at me and said 'You're so bucking ugly Bear' – he couldn't pronounce the letter f. He was 10 years old."
Because of his services to the community, Bear was voted Centralian of the Year in 2003, nominated by the MP Lorraine Braham. Not knowing he had been put forward for the accolade, he says he was shocked and pleased to win. The presentation was at the Telegraph Station on Australia Day – after hitting a kangaroo with his car, he remembers. "Hitting a roo on Australia Day and being presented with Centralian of the Year was a pretty big day for me," he laughs.
Many of the photographs Bear has in his album are of him helping children play sport. The day I interviewed him, he was bowling with Shane Millard, 32, who is bound to a wheelchair. "We've known each other for about five years," says Bear. "We bowl together every week."
As they knock down the pins and even score a strike, their relationship is compassionate and humorous, without being patronising. Bear is a regular face at the Dustbowl, playing in a local league every week (currently his team are top of the table).
Sport is what Bear knows about best, having participated in every Masters Games since they began in Alice Springs. He has been involved in rugby league for most of his life, and in the NT he has played in the forward position for the Memo Club Tigers, and also the Golden Oldies with the Dingoes.
He was president of the Central Australian Rugby League from 1993-1997, and until last year he coached local youngsters rugby league and rugby union, plus swimming and athletics."But I gave rugby away this year. I've done enough with it in the NT and I wanted to concentrate on swimming and ten pin bowling," he says. Currently president of the Alice Aussi masters swimming team, Bear won his first gold in the pool at the Masters Games in October for the 200m backstroke.
"I get a buzz from swimming. I've competed in carnivals all over Australia and swam in the nationals in Adelaide this year."And in his youth, Bear was a successful boxer, becoming the 1959 Golden Gloves Australian lightweight boxing champion and fighting in the 1960 Olympic trials.
Asked where he gets his nickname Bear, he explains his father called him it as a boy because his hair stuck up like a koala. Now it's become something of a signature – he calls his home "the Bear cave" and is often seen at sporting occasions wearing his furry bear head hat.
"I've sung Running Bear more times than Johnny Preston," he says of the fifties' classic song.
When I ask him about a Mrs Bear, Russell shakes his head, explaining that in 1992 after 23 years of marriage to Lynne, they divorced and she remarried a year later.
"I haven't thought of remarrying. I've been on my own too long and I'm going to give in gracefully." He doesn't seem to be short of offers however, telling me how he went to a ball recently dressed in a fifties-style pink shirt and sequins which he made himself. "62 and I still got a girl for every dance!"
He says he has no regrets: "If I had my time again I'd do everything the same. I've had 62 good years. A few downers but I've had a fair run."
A few weeks ago he was admitted to hospital with chest pains.
Will he slow down? Unlikely.
"If I'm helping someone, it's a small gain. Whoever they are, a child has got to have a chance. I'm easily motivated because I enjoy meeting and helping other people – and I don't mind a chinwag either."
IN LOVE WITH A HILL.
Alley Pascoe, a Year 6 student at Gillen Primary School in Alice, is one of two Territory winners in the Nestlé Write Around Australia competition.
In this the competition's tenth year of operation it received a record number of entries – over 38,000.
Alley was presented with her prize – $500 worth of books for her and another $500 worth for her school – at a ceremony in Darwin yesterday.
Like the character in her winning story, Alley recently moved to Alice from the east coast, but unlike her character, who leaves Sydney, Alley came from a small town – Bellingen, not far from Coffs Harbour – and she took no convincing. She and her family wanted to come and are delighted with their decision.
Her winning story follows:
City To Centre
My heart raced in anger and my head spun in fright. My parents, the people who raised me, here, in the heart of Sydney, had just announced that we were moving to the centre of Australia. We were moving to Alice Springs."You can't do this, I'm a city girl. I can't live in the middle of nowhere, it's just not possible," I argued in defence.It obviously made no effect because today is sadly the last day of my existence in Sydney, the place I know and love like the back of my hand. I know the buildings that are covered in glass windows, I know the parks that are dotted in to freshen the air, I even know the roads and the white lines on them that are like a language only drivers understand. I was born here and my whole life is based around this town and its people. I can't leave, I just can't.As the plane left the airport I got a different perspective of the towers that I had only ever seen from the ground.
They looked like toothpicks sticking out of a large concrete slab. The harbour melted into the slab and a huge bridge crossed the smooth water. Seeing my home disappear into the background made me angry so I shut the window flap with a bang.
Then I got sad and started to cry. "There's probably only one street, and I could get lost in the desert or I might not make any friends. I don't want to go," I pleaded to Mum who was sitting next to me and hugged me in sympathy while saying, "Well it's a bit late now, isn't it".
The blue water and green forest soon turned to red, red dirt and grey saltbush.
When I stepped out of the aircraft the heat was that overpowering I could feel my legs caving in, so I rushed into the terminal.We collected our bags, hopped in a taxi and sped off through the gap and into…a city? I couldn't believe it, my one street town was a city, not nearly as big as Sydney was, but still a city.
We soon arrived at our new home and mum decided we should go for a walk at the nearby Botanic Gardens so we could get used to our surroundings. I agreed.We walked up a rocky hill.
Each step was amazing,Each rock was unique,
Each second was priceless.The mica in the rocks shined when the sunlight hit them and the shrubs swayed in the light breeze.I sat down on a large smooth rock and stayed there as blue turned to black, sun turned to stars and dread turned to love.
ALICE CRICKET MIMICS POOR SCORES IN TEST. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The fickle nature of cricket portrayed itself on television screens world wide when Australia could not make a hundred runs in the fourth innings against India in a dead rubber to the series.Traeger Park produced a similar day's play on Saturday.
The pitch, which has always been capable of destroying sides, was at its best on Saturday when wickets tumbled and an outright result was not out of the equation.
In the first day of play a week earlier Federal had won the toss, batted and appeared to be on shaky ground when they could only muster 128 runs.
Saving their bacon was the trusty hand os B J O'Dwyer, who compiled 57 before being caught off Jeremy Biggs by Kevin Mezzone.
Otherwise only Craig Galvin's 27 and Marcus Becker's 15, both being dismissed by Peter Tabart, contributed in any marked way to the tally.
Fortunately for Federal, two wickets were then picked up as the shadows came over the ground.
At stumps on the first day West were left on 2/ 24 with work to be done to claim a first innings victory.
When Peter Tabart (6) and Ryan Thomson (0) resumed at the wicket on Saturday, neither side could have guessed what lay ahead.
Tabart went about his business to score 23 before Curtis Marriott had him trapped leg before wicket.
This was far from Tabsy's best score but it certainly became West's top score for the innings.
At the other end of the pitch, Rick Lavercombe unleashed a withering performance to see him claim five consecutive wickets.
Thompson added only three to his overnight score before Lavercombe tumbled his stumps. Rory Hood also only made three before being caught by Chris Clements, off Lavercombe.
Tom Clements claimed a catch to dismiss Jeremy Biggs for a mere four and his brother Leith Hiscox found himself trapped LBW for a globe.
All of a sudden West were in strife at 6/36.
The bowler's paradise then gave Marcus Becker his opportunity to claim a piece of the action.
Becker bowled captain Darren Clarke for three. He then had Ben Reichstein and Lee Polkinghorne each dismissed for a duck, and bowled Becker.
Becker finished his 6.5 over spell with 4/2, while Lavercombe bowled 12.2 overs for the fine return of 5/17.
After 33 overs West had been dismissed for 49 runs, leaving Federal 79 runs in front.
For both sides however the fun had only just begun.
Feds key bowler Lavercombe came off the field with a hamstring problem, and as he sat in the pavilion Federal's situation turned for the worse.
In a period of eighteen overs, Feds were tumbled out for a mere 30.
The top three batsmen fell to the bowling of Jeremy Bigg with Brendan Martin going LBW for 6; Michael Smith the same way for 5; and Craig Galvin for 7.
Peter Tabart then took advantage of the pitch conditions to dismiss Tom Clements, caught by Ryan Thomson for 5.
Biggs saw Chris Clements on his way LBW for a duck while the old master Jarrad Wapper could only compile 7 before Tabart bowled him.
Biggs then really hit his straps claiming the tail and an innings return of 7/21 off 9.4 overs. Tabart's 2/1 off 3 was commendable while Rory Hood claimed a wicket for six.
The game was in the balance as West entered the arena for the last dig.
They needed 120 for outright victory while Feds needed 10 wickets. 23 overs later the full story was revealed.
The openers got Westies off to a start with a partnership of 26, with Pat Ryan falling for 9 off Marriott.
Hood and Tabart then pushed the score to 47 before the second wicket fell.
But from there it was curtains as Marriott, Wapper and Becker in covering for the injured Lavercombe edged their side close to full points.
Tabart managed a creditable 25 before being run out.
Biggs held the middle order together albeit temporarily with 14 and hood contributed 11.
Otherwise Becker and Wapper claimed three wickets a piece. Unfortunately the VB man Wayne Todman copped a cracker from Wapper to find himself retired hurt and hospitalised.
Reichstein and Polkinghorne were defiant and prevented Feds from claiming the winning wicket with scores of not out 4 and 5 respectively.
At stumps the game was saved by West who were 8/85.
Wapper returned 3/13 off eight overs and Becker 3/33 off his eight.
At Albrecht Oval the scenario was more predictable. RSL had enjoyed a commanding first day's play by dismissing Rovers for 67 and then batting to a commanding 8/ 200.
This week largely through the work of matt Salzberger RSL further progressed the lead, finishing their innings at 238.
Salzberger remained at the crease on 80 not out when the innings finished.RSL Works with a lead of 161 then set about the task of achieving outright points.
Their fire power again proved potent with Matt Forster returning 5/42 off 16 overs giving him eleven wickets for the game.
Tom Scollay continued to impress with 2/31 off 13 overs while Salzburger and Wayne Egglington picked up a wicket each.
Rovers put in some hard yards to give the game some respectability. The openers Matt Pyle and Greg Milne scored 33 and 43 respectively, giving the Blues a glimmer of hope.
Jason Bremner also contributed making a handy 26, but otherwise the task proved too much for the Rovers who were dismissed for 153, just short of the RSL target.
The outright victory will give RSL confidence, and have them well placed to tackle the reigning premiers Federal, for top spot.
For Westies the loss may be a wake up call. , Hopefully through complete faith in his product Wayne Todman will be back in the field this week.
SPEEDWAY: FURIOUS FUN. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The NT Street stock Titles were decided at Arunga Park Speedway on Saturday night in a fun filled atmosphere.
Fans are always brought to life by action and early in the evening this was provided by Max Owen who was wiped out after only two laps.
Later Peter Harris met his Waterloo when Ian Menzies, reeling from a clip from Lucinda Owen, put paid to Harris' chances.
With a minimum number of stoppages the titles were run and won by the Fentech team.
While Henry and David Fenton remained vigilant in the pits, the job was handed over to Tony White to take their AU Falcon through the Cathedral Motor Company sponsored thirty lap final.
White had control from flag to flag and rewarded the team with a number one ranking.Second across the line was local Grant Harris in an XF Ford, who covered Ian Menzies from Darwin in his EA Ford.
Filling fourth place was Lucinda Owen who again proved she can match it with the men.
The Junior title was a more sedate affair.
All eyes were glued on Jason McIvor from Darwin who represents the Territory on the national circuit and seems destined for bigger and better things.
McIvor careered away to an all the way win in the title sponsored by Central Plant Hire. Another visitor to town, Tristram Western, from the western districts of Victoria, claimed second spot while the local Matthew Johnson propelled his vehicle across the line in third spot.
Speedway will resume at Arunga Park on Saturday week, November 20.
We like what we know. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
My mum thinks I'm a hopeless shopper. I will walk into a clothes shop and take a quick look around, scanning the hangers, mannequins and shelves. If I don't see a colour that I like I will turn around and walk out again. This is not my mum's approach. She will really look through the clothes and invariably she finds nice outfits, often at reduced price. I have tried to follow her example but a limited budget and shopping with children restricts me and mostly I can't be bothered, but ultimately I may miss out on that perfect dress or the pair of shoes to die for, without even knowing about it. I went to the opening of the Alice Prize on Friday night. As I walked through the galleries I realised I was scanning the walls as I would in a shop, looking for familiar favourite colours and designs. I saw some things that appealed to me, but mostly I was overwhelmed. Seeing 58 works of art is like meeting 58 people and there were plenty of people there as well. What did I think of the exhibition? It was beautiful, so well hung, nicely laid out, enough space for each artist's work. And there were some things Ireally liked but a lot of it I did not understand, or could not relate or connect to. Contemporary art is not always beautiful in the classical meaning of the word, and it can be hard to understand if you have little or no knowledge of what is going on in the contemporary art world, or if you haven't had have some kind of art education. It is easy to feel stupid because you don't know a language. If you did know you may be able to interpret the message and tell whether it is a something trivial, something really deep or just a slice of life. What is being communicated? What skills are needed to create something like this? Why does the artist feel s/he needs to tell us in this particular way. Is it just about self-expression or is it about communication? In order to understand and be able to relate to other people through their creations you have to take an interest and engage, be prepared to bring parts of yourself into the equation, just like when you meet someone in flesh and blood. When you stand in front of a piece of art there isn't a response from the artist to you personally so instead of having a dialogue with him or her you have one with yourself. We must see something we recognise , something that validates us and our existence. It isn't always that we are up to having serious talks to ourselves about ourselves. A lot of people observe that they could not have certain art works hanging on their walls. Why? Maybe because that art does not correlate to how I think of myself or maybe it is something I don't want to share with others or something I'm too uncomfortable to remind myself of.We like what we know. Women, and some men too I'm sure, end up buying the same colour lipstick over and over again. We have wardrobes full of clothes all the same style and colour and keep eating the same type of food. An art exhibition can challenge what we are comfortable with and ultimately we may learn something new about ourselves and come to like some aspects we did not even know existed. It is a journey of discovery both of ourselves and our fellow human beings.
Always flat out. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
People in town sometimes describe happenings in other places as being 'full on'. I hadn't experienced the meaning of this expression until I went to Sydney on a recent trip. For a fish out of water, this was supposed to be a metaphorical return to the water, meaning back into the urban mainstream. But I arrived during the wettest weather this year. Everything was damp from the newspapers to the doormats to the ice cream cones. The metaphor was lost. In fact it was drowned. After hours of traipsing around in the rain, I discovered that my waterproof coat was, in fact, an expensive piece of blotting paper. Soaked to the skin and unable to see through my glasses, I staggered into an Italian restaurant in Paddington. I don't even like Italian food, with the exception of risotto, which I ordered from a pleasant waiter with a ponytail and a fixed grin. My expression was unmoving too, but more like a grimace. It stayed that way as my clothes drained their contents onto the floor. I expected the waiter to produce one of those yellow 'slippery when wet' signs that railway station cleaners use, but he was too polite. Soon he returned with a plate of risotto in one hand and a pepper grinder the size of a baseball bat in the other. He applied the pepper grinds to my risotto for a full three minutes. I know it was this long because an Avril Lavigne song was going around my head and I reached the end before he finished. After each verse I caught his eye to signal that the helping of pepper was enough thanks, but he kept turning the wood with the vigour of someone squeezing soap suds from a towel. I should have asked him to do my soggy socks.Visiting a public place where people gather provides an opportunity to be anonymous. I went a full twenty-four hours without saying anything to anyone, which is much more satisfying than it sounds. By the time I broke my silence to ask the doorman at a pub which televised soccer match they would be showing that evening, I worried that I might have forgotten some words of English. Then I realised that it doesn't matter because one endearing feature of Sydney is that there exist umpteen versions of the same language.When you don't talk much, you listen better. After the restaurant, I went to an art house cinema. Standing in the foyer, I heard a woman explaining at length how a friend had sent her a new verb by SMS. Her friends feigned interest. Then later on I listened to a bus driver explain with dry sarcasm to anxious tourists that they would know when the bus reached Bondi Beach because that's where the water comes in to the shore. They thanked him six times in one sentence.I was the only passenger in the bus back to the airport. The driver was keen to talk. "So where's home?" he asked. This simple phrase led to a discussion of the River Todd, water quality, desert communities, Aboriginal affairs and the lack of racial integration in the New South Wales town where he was raised. He left me with his negative view of George Bush, as if I was a floating American voter. It was only 8am and already enough conversation for one day. So I sat in the departure lounge watching a woman shaping her nails with a file the size of a carpet slipper. Like the waiter, she approached the task with manic dedication, coating the carpet with white dust. As I boarded the flight home I realised that all my tiny experiences in Sydney had one thing in common; they were full on. firstname.lastname@example.org
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