ALICE'S AGONISING CHOICE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
If they didn't they were likely to lose their livelihood - or their minds.
If they did they were likely to seriously harm a young person.
That – as they saw it – was the brutal choice for Jill and Peter Brooks who on Friday nights for five weeks put a soft drink bottle full of petrol outside their second hand car dealership.
The objective was to save petrol sniffers the trouble of breaking in to steal petrol, as they had been doing almost every night for years. Last year, 270 times.
"On three occasions [the free petrol] was successful," says Mrs Brooks.
"People didn't break in.
"They just took the fuel, as they would have done from the tank of a car."
But wouldn't the fuel she put out harm the young people sniffing it?
"Oh yeah. They're zombies.
"You see them walking around town and you know they are petrol sniffers.
"People say they can be cured.
"What happens, they get sent out bush – but they come back."
Says Mrs Brooks: "What Barry Abbot [an Aboriginal elder with many years of youth work behind him] achieved out at Wallace Rockhole was amazing.
"There should be more people who care about their community.
"You talk to the mobs from most communities, they are just devastated because all their young people, a whole generation, is going to be lost to petrol sniffing."
The sniffers' impact on her life and her husband's has also been traumatic, although the financial loss over the years has been just "five to six grand".
Says Mrs Brooks: "We got our three cars back.
"But when you are at home and you hear the phone go at one o'clock in the morning, there's been another break-in, the emotional side of it is enormous.
"I am just so angry.
"I just say to Brooksie (her husband), we've been at it a long time, let's give up."
Mrs Brooks, who came to town in 1981, says the problems eased very recently when the dealership engaged the security firm Chubb.
Since then, she says, "the coppers have been magic, amazing.
"They sat in this office in the dark and they caught the three main offenders.
"We haven't had any trouble for two or three weeks.
"The people who stole our three cars also made the mistake of stealing a magistrate's car.
"So they got sent up to Darwin for six months.
"The magistrate found out what it's like to lose your car.
"Finally we got something done."
Mrs Brooks says "taking away mandatory sentencing was the stupidest thing that's ever happened in the Territory.
"I don't know what Clare Martin thinks she was doing."
"For the government to say there are 360 sniffers in the whole of the NT, what a load of crap.
"There's more than 360 in Charles Creek [an Aboriginal town camp across the creek].
"It's a devastating problem that's going to kill this town.
"All that bullshit about Opal fuel.
"I mean the price of ordinary fuel is $1.20 a litre. Opal would be about $1.60.
"They'll [have Opal] on communities, so what's going to happen is that the community ratbags are coming into town."
Mrs Brooks says Tangentyere Council, which has a petrol sniffing control program, also wasn't of much use when she contacted them: "They said they'd send somebody ‘round but never did.
"We are not anti Aboriginal people, that's frightfully important, because they are our bread and butter.
"The majority of them are very lovely, wonderful people.
"It's a minority that's upsetting the whole town and the whole area."
SILVER CIRCLE STILL WIELDS BLACK POWER: ALLEGATION. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Members of the former ATSIC "silver circle" have found positions in other organisations, and are continuing their "stranglehold" over Aboriginal affairs in Central Australia, according to information received by Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Lim.
He says he has passed on the information, including several names, to Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone.
Dr Lim says he urged her to hold an independent enquiry into the payment by ATSIC of $42,000 to the Papunya council.
The payments were made while the current ALP candidate for electorate of MacDonnell, Alison Anderson, was the ATSIC commissioner for the region, and her husband, Steve Hanley, the council's CEO (Alice News, April 6).
The money was for grassing of a football oval which never took place.
Senator Vanstone has asked her department, the Office for Indigenous Policy Co-ordination, to make a report but Dr Lim says that may not be "as objective as it can be".
He says: "Some people involved with that office are close to the Aboriginal industry in Alice Springs and they shouldn't investigate each other."
The inquiry should be done by people "attuned to Central Australia's Aboriginal politics" or else "the Minister will not get a clear picture of what happened".
Dr Lim says Aboriginal people in The Centre frequently refer to the "silver circle" and while the circle has a hand in the investigation there will always be doubts it has been done properly.
Dr Lim says a probe into any rorting must also ensure that people providing information are not victimised by the "silver circle".
The NT Department of Local Government asked the Papunya council in September last year to find a "suitable CEO" and Mr Hanley was replaced on an interim basis by Peter Cole, who works for the department.
But Mr Cole was thrown off the community at 24 hours' notice late last month.
ASSETSThe Alice News asked Local Government Minister John Ah Kit how much in NT and Federal funds, respectively, has been paid to the Papunya council in the current financial year, and when has the department last inspected the asset register of the Papunya Council.
We've had no reply to either question but a spokesman for Mr Ah Kit told us the Papunya council's "business case is being investigated by our department".
Mr Ah Kit has since announced he would not be contesting the next election.
FUNDING AFTER ATSIC: WHO'LL WIN? Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
"We've turned the way we deal with Indigenous affairs completely on its head," says federal minister Amanda Vanstone.
"Instead of having bureaucrats in Canberra deciding things, we're going directly to communities to work out what they need, where they want to be in 20 years time, how do they get there and what they need to get there."
Ms Vanstone says her department wants to be "flexible with funding – we want to go out to communities and meet them so we can work together".
And, of course, "everyone has to be accountable".
The Indigenous Coordination Centres (ICCs) established last July with the "mainstreaming" of ATSIC functions, have responsibilities for individual communities.
Ms Vanstone says they will work "like an overseas embassy".
"It's the embassy's job to find the solution. In the past, a community … might have had to go through nine different organisations to get money.
"It's now our job through the ICC to shop around … to find a solution.
"We have to listen on the ground to ensure we're providing Indigenous Australians with the support they need."
Organisations like Tangentyere Council, Centre for Appropriate Technology and Congress now have to apply for grants through Government departments via the ICC, like the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and the Department for Family and Community Services (FACS).
But will this new system of funding mean that organisations will have to be more accountable for the money they spend?
Spokeswoman for Kay Patterson, the minister for FACS says: "We can't comment on the previous ATSIC guidelines but certainly now, Indigenous organisations applying for funding will have to meet Australian Government Tendering and Service Funding Guidelines.
"When organisations receive funding, an agreement is met and regular reporting on service delivery is often part of that agreement.
"How often reports will be asked for is contingent on the type of funding.
"These reporting guidelines ensure accountability of the use of public funds."
Ross McDougall, ICC manager in Alice Springs says ATSIC was subject to "the most rigorous rules of accountability".
"Sometimes people had an impression ATSIC wasn't accountable for its actions but this was a perception rather than reality," says Mr McDougall."I was a senior manager at ATSIC for 10 years and my staff had 18 audits during that time – from the Australian National Audit Office and internal auditors."
Ex-ATSIC employees make up 80 per cent of the staff at the ICC in Alice.
They are "highly motivated and knowledgeable", says Mr McDougall. Working to a whole of government approach, which wasn't the case in the past, "should give much better opportunities for Aboriginal people," he says.
The system of funding, however, will be the similar to ATSIC's: "In terms of accountability, when we provide funding we do so in two ways – through a funding agreement or a consultancy contract.
"A funding agreement is like a contract and it's a public document. It's a grant to provide benefits to Aboriginal people for housing or employment.
"A consultancy contract is for research like examining the feasibility of a housing project. We would engage a consultant under a legally-binding contract."
Mr McDougall says that much of the funding given out by the ICC will be ongoing, for services such as water supplies or powerhouses – but these aren't automatically given out, they'll have to be applied for every year. "We track these costs from year to year."
Mr McDougall believes the ICC will be an improvement on the old ATSIC system: "It's a more flexible system of funding.
"With ATSIC, government grants were inflexible to a point. Now there's a way for communities to help themselves through the government's Shared Responsibility Agreements which means they'll engage directly with the community. If a community identifies a need, it can apply for funding directly.
"For example, a small community near the Plenty Highway were going to lose their store after the elderly couple who ran it wanted to retire. The store was on an old mining lease so it wasn't feasible for anyone else to take it over.
"The government agreed to fund the store and the community has a written agreement it will make improvements to health and education through it.
"The health clinic staff will provide advice on healthy food to stock, and the store will be used to deliver morning tea to school children to improve attendance.
"The aim is to extend this to a hot lunch to make school more attractive to kids.
"There are old car bodies lying around the community which are a health issue because of the sharp metal and the community has agreed to move them to a dump one kilometre away from housing.
"The written agreement isn't a legal document but when we discussed the penalty, the people in the community said it will be their health and education which will suffer if they don't do it, so they said why wouldn't they do it?"
Warren Snowdon, member for Lingiari, believes the new system will be "unlike ATSIC which was transparent and was responsible to the community".
"A whole government approach is trying to be achieved but the fact is the budgets in independent portfolios will depend on the priorities set by the government, not the community.
"The government might take against an organisation because of their view of the world and use their funding to change their behaviour instead of basing it on their ability to carry out functions.
"We've seen how funding has been used prior to the last election on regional rorts. The government is very partisan with the way it deals with communities.
"With ATSIC gone the filters will be missing. There's no capacity for people at community level to be involved.
"The government is trying to develop new models which may happen. But driving this are the priorities of the central government, not Indigenous priorities.
"There's no certainty what will happen to funding for organisations. We just don't know. Much will depend on the knowledge and experience of the staff.
"In Alice Springs they're highly motivated people," says Mr Snowdon.
Christine Evans of the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination says there is no uncertainty: "The delayed passage of the legislation has not impacted on the delivery of programs under the mainstreaming arrangements, nor does it change the way programs will be delivered under the management of mainstream agencies."
Des Rogers, former ATSIC regional chair, resigned from ATSIC and is now the operator of Indiginy, a consultancy business for non-Indigenous companies to work with Indigenous people.He believes "the theory behind the ICCs is really good – all departments working together.
"But I'm sceptical about positive outcomes. There will be less coordination than there was before and community people will become even more confused.
"It will exacerbate the problem of only looking at short-term projects as well.
"And I think in the longer term, the department offices working within the ICC will slowly drift away back into their departments.
"All of these government departments have pointed the finger at ATSIC saying it failed to provide services. Now they're responsible they will find it very difficult to show results."
Will organisations be forced to become more transparent in their bids for and spending of funding?Says Mr Rogers: "It's about being accountable for the funds you get, which is a good thing.
"But it will create more administration for Indigenous organisations – they will have to put in a whole range of bids to a whole range of departments. And not all the departments have the same principles for applications. It will be a hell of a lot more work."
ZENITH: LOVING THOSE MELLOW TUNES. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Sitting under the shade of the palms at the Date Farm, sipping a cool drink and listening to live music is my idea of a perfect afternoon.
Especially when the band is as fresh as Zenith, made up of singer and guitarist Jayden McGrath, 15, his best mate drummer Callum MacKenzie, 14, schoolmate Evan Berard, 15, the bass player, and his cousin, Aaron Clark, 16, on bongos.
Zenith is an unusual name for an unusual band: "It means point above," says Jayden McGrath, 15, who goes to school at St Philip's.
"I was looking through the dictionary and liked the name."
For such a young group (none of the lads are over 16) I was impressed by the maturity of their music – most youth bands I've seen have been into the music that's popular in record stores, but Zenith have looked beyond that for their inspiration.
"That's the response we get from the audience – that we're more mellow, not heavy or anything," says Jayden.
"We try to be a lot different from other bands in Alice Springs, we're into a different style. A kind of bluesy roots tone. It's our own original style, a cross between heaps of different music.
"I play a lot of slide guitar and we've got the congas which is a lot different from other bands. Aaron has rhythm and after he played with them for a bit we decided to include them in the band."
The band did quite a few covers at the Date Farm that afternoon of popular numbers by the John Butler Trio, Pearl Jam and Ben Harper – and pulled them off pretty successfully, especially the John Butler Trio's Betterman.
But the group also write their own music. "We play a fair bit of original songs. I write them. The music tells me what the lyrics are so I write the music first," says Jayden. "Once I get the guitar and vocals, we all have a play and it comes together pretty well. I've been playing guitar for about three years – my dad has played for a while so he got me into it.
"Lots of our lyrics are based on government. We don't write much about love and stuff. Everyone's writing about that but we wanted to get opinions.
"Centre Way is about war and our own opinion about it.
"I went on a year nine camp and wrote a song out there, Endeavour Camp. We went into the bush for nine days. It was good – a lot laid back, we got rained on for the whole time! The song is based on nature – what the world has to offer, like in Alice Springs. "
When I ask Jayden if Zenith aims to be a group with a political message he says: "Yes and no, we don't get too carried away but want to get a couple of views across."Meanwhile, they keep practising in the jam rooms at either Jayden's or Callum's house and intend to do some recording. We haven't figured out a name for the CD yet but we're going to copyright it and sell it." Zenith, you've got one buyer already.
PRIDE JOB. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
"Now that we've got these," says Stacey Campbell, waving the certificates in her hand, "we'll start looking for jobs."
She and cousin Alexis Miller have just completed Certificates I and II in Business at the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD).
Alexis started the course first, then Stacey joined her. The study helped them to improve their computer and office skills and now they want to work in "customer service", says Stacey.
What sort of jobs?
"Oh, receptionist or administration would be good."
Will they look for work in Alice?
"Alice or Perth, wherever we can find jobs."
The young women have family in both places and have spent time in both. They were shy about being photographed, but were urged to agree by a relative: "C'mon girls, this is about breaking into the workforce."
Stacey and Alexis were among 140 students (not including those from Tennant Creek and driving students) to receive certificates and statements of attainment in a graduation ceremony at IAD last week.
Such ceremonies are always an occasion for pride in achievement, but at the Indigenous institutions in Alice they are blessed with an extra dose of warmth and humour, rather than pomp and circumstance.
The teasing, laughter and expressions of pride and congratulations passing between the students, staff and the audience, especially as the students had photos taken with their teachers, made the lengthy proceedings both touching and entertaining.
Many of the students being acknowledged had only partially completed their course, but no doubt last week's celebration, which included a communal dinner, encouraged them to keep going.
Others graduated from completed courses, including three men and a woman who gained their Diploma of Interpreting.
I spoke to Matthew Palmer and Brendan Drewe who are both already working as interpreters at the Alice Springs Courts.
"Our job is the second most important after the magistrate's," says Brendan, who speaks eight Indigenous languages, working as an interpreter in four – Pitjantjatjara, Ngaanyatjarra, Luritja and Pintupi.
Is it difficult to interpret in a legal context?
"Not really, I find it quite easy," says Matthew, who speaks Arrernte and Alyewarre. "But it's very busy, we need more interpreters."
"It can be challenging, when people use big words," says Brendan.The course obviously can't teach students the meaning of all the legal jargon, but it gives them a framework for being able to find out what terms mean, explains lecturer Barry McDonald, who co-teaches the diploma with Pitjantjatjara interpreter, Lena Taylor.
The course also looks at ethics, business, personal and professional development, and cultural issues and awareness.
There's a big demand for qualified interpreters and everyone who has graduated from this course, wanting a job, has found one, says Barry.
Lexine Solomon (pictured), producer and manager for CAAMA Music, received a Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment. There were 13 others to graduate from this course last week, each applying it to their different field of endeavour, from publishing to counselling.
For Lexine, originally from the Torres Strait Islands and living in Alice for the last three years, the qualification will enable her to run music workshops in remote communities. Already CAAMA sends a sound engineer to communities to record local musicians, from bush bands to church choirs.
There is a strong local market for the music but it is also increasingly in demand both interstate and overseas, says Lexine (pictured). Art galleries, for instance, who are exhibiting Aboriginal art, like to be able to source music from the same area as the artists to accompany their shows.
Lexine, a singer songwriter herself, hopes that the workshops she runs will help musicians develop their talents further.
ALICE SPRINGS SHORT CHANGED: CHAMBER. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Alice Springs would be "short changed" if the the NT government didn't increase substantially its capital works spending next financial year, says Chamber of Commerce chairman Terry Lillis (pictured).
The chamber has asked both sides of politics to comment about what they would do, but has received no answer yet from either side.
He says a $50m "figure has been bandied around that may be available to be spent.
"We feel the southern end of the Territory has been short-changed and with the elections pending, a lot more will be forthcoming, and I would be surprised if it wasn't."
Mr Lillis says the tourism side of the economy is going pretty well, but the retail and building "side of things is pretty ordinary".
He says affordable land would be necessary to boost the economy: Some land has come on stream but it seems "there is a bottleneck now.
"We are continually reassured that the land shortage will ease but we need to ensure it is going to be affordable land.
"We are not aware of why it's taking so long."
Mr Lillis says the government claims that once a blueprint for land releases is in place, as it now is with the 85 block Larapinta development, "it will be adopted and can flow on into future releases.
"They have the blueprint but nothing seems to be flowing."
Would the chamber talk to the native title body, Lhere Artepe?
"No, that's not the chamber's role.
"We are not a political group. It's up to the government to talk to them, not the chamber."
Mr Lillis says his best guess for the timing of the election is straight after either the Alice or Darwin horse racing cup carnivals – late May or August – when the towns are in a buoyant mood.
COUNCIL - BARE EARTH POLICY? Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
After 12 years of nurturing, all gone in three hours.When Jane Bannister left her house last Monday morning, her carefully tended verge was intact: free of buffel, as is her five-acre block; a thin cover of hardy native grasses and wildflowers; and close to the fenceline, a healthy stand of mature whitewood trees, native to the area, self-seeded.
When she returned at midday, the verge was bare and dusty. All that was left was some debris, littered across her driveway.
She could see the town council's grader at work, further along the road.
A phone call to the council's works depot put a stop to the destruction.
The grader hasn't returned since.
One side of Schaber Road in Alice's rural area is now a dust bowl; the other grassed and studded with occasional self-sown native vegetation, a pleasant country road.
EXPLANATIONOfficial explanation: a complaint to Alderman Geoff Bell, from "someone", that the table drains had not been cleared, had prompted the work.
But why a grader? Usually grass on the verge (buffel in most cases) is controlled by a slasher.
Projects manager Paul Barreau couldn't say.
After further enquiries, second official explanation: vegetation was growing in the table drain and could have impeded the flow of stormwater. The grader cleared both sides of the drain.
Mrs Bannister lives on the corner of Schaber Road and Colonel Rose Drive.
Her block straddles the crest of a gentle rise.
The vegetation, that is the whitewood trees, were growing on the crest, a metre or so above the table drain in the News' estimation.
Mrs Bannister says since 1993 she has always managed to prevent damage to the trees, simply by being there and talking to council workers. She even had star pickets and stakes in place to protect some of the younger trees, but the grader swept all before it, dumping the uprooted trees on the other side of Colonel Rose Drive.
As the work has since been stopped, how necessary was it really?
It was stopped because of dust, says Mr Barreau. However, work was set to continue from Monday.
And what is the council going to do now about the dust and erosion, especially in this time of drought?
"The drains are designed with 1:8 gradient to keep erosion to a minimum."
Mrs Bannister's now denuded corner has a much steeper gradient. What about there?
Mr Barreau could not say.
In a council statement since, the News has been advised that "any erosion to any drainage channel or road is council responsibility and will be repaired if required after any storm".Says Mrs Bannister: "The government and the council promote Alice Springs as an international centre of desert knowledge but the council shows no knowledge of land husbandry and soil erosion."
THE DIDGE MAN SAYS: IT'S UP TO COMMUNITY TO PROMOTE ALICE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Promotion of the town is everybody's business, says Andrew Langford, director of the Sounds of Starlight Theatre on Todd Mall."The Northern Territory Tourist Commission is doing a really good job of promoting Central Australia, but it's also up to the community and the local industry to show there are things to see and do in Alice Springs as well," says Mr Langford, who has been in the industry for 16 years, operating Sounds of Starlight for the past nine years.
"It's a competitive industry so we all need to join forces and get the message across loud and clear.
"International wholesalers love Alice Springs, and the operators we met in Europe are very enthusiastic about promoting the destination. They're very keen to learn a lot more about the area and its attractions, the art and culture, our national parks and the variety of soft adventure activities we have on offer."
Andrew and his wife Samantha spent the summer visiting international wholesalers in the travel industry as well as conducting didgeridoo workshops and staging private performances in France, Germany and the UK.
The highlight for them was when Andrew was invited to play the didgeridoo at the Australian Embassy in Paris, where they met with 70 travel specialists from across Europe. This was organised with the assistance of the tourist commission and the NT Government's Trade Support Scheme.
"We met with the top sellers. They are motivated people and had either been or were coming to Central Australia. Some had even been to the show," says Andrew.
He found the knowledge international wholesalers have of Alice Springs varies greatly: "Most of them couldn't say anything negative about the place, in fact raved about it, and said they can't wait to get back here.
"Those who hadn't visited, or didn't know much about it, thought it was in the middle of nowhere with not much going on – a stopover en route to Uluru.
"They were surprised to hear about the range of things to see and do, the variety of attractions like the Sounds of Starlight theatre and all the restaurants we have here."Andrew comments on the growing importance and reliance of the internet within the tourist sector. "Two very large French travel agencies we met in Paris said they rely heavily on the net for their information – they email a few thousand of their clients regularly with their travel newsletter.
"Because of that we're looking at the way we market Sounds of Starlight on the internet and are currently revamping our website."
As well as people from the tourism industry, Andrew met with potential visitors through his workshops in Scotland. "People there knew very little about Alice Springs – a couple had visited but others saw it as something from a Town Like Alice.
"By the time I had finished, they were ready and willing to come and experience it for themselves!"
Andrew says he enjoyed playing in Scotland: "I had haggis! And it was so cold I had to warm up my hands before playing and stop my lips from sticking to the didge."
Andrew is hopeful that the tourism industry in Alice has turned a corner in attracting visitors. "We found last year numbers were picking up and it's looking like this will continue this year.
"Last year over 20,000 visitors came through our doors, a significant improvement on the year before. We had to increase the number of performances from three to five during the May, June and July period.
"Over the last couple of years, I've noticed the market is predominantly American and European – although we have also had visitors from Turkey, Japan and Chile.
"It's been a tough time for the industry here over the last few years – 9/11, Ansett, SARS, the Iraq war, petrol prices, airline access issues. But if the tourist commission and local tourist operators all work together, I'm confident that the future will be positive for everyone."
And Andrew believes that the message about Central Australia is slowly getting through to the travel industry based in the capital cities: "We're getting increasing numbers of travel industry personnel from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne coming to the show on famils.
"It might not take effect for a few years but they're improving their knowledge of the destination and selling Alice Springs. Gradually the message is getting across."
More exposure will come with the Australian Tourism Export Council Symposium (ATEC) being held Alice Springs for the first time on 26 April. Andrew says it's one of the leading travel expos in the industry and "it will be great for inbound tour operators to experience the theatre and Alice Springs, first hand".
The doors of the Sound of Starlight theatre opened last week for the new season and will play to audiences on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights during April and May.
In June, July and August the three musicians of the company (Andrew, percussionist Tony Gribble and keyboardist Kyle Harrison) will extend performances to five nights a week.
The group have composed 20 new pieces between them over the summer break, and chosen six new tracks to include in the show.
One of the tracks is called Six million sleepers which celebrates the completion of railway line from Alice Springs to Darwin.
Andrew explains why he believes the show is successful among tourists as well as locals: "It's a night to remember.
"We describe ourselves as a musical and anecdotal interpretation of Central Australia and it strikes a chord with the audience.
"People also love the spectacular slides we show taken by Mike Gillam, who is a local photographer. And everyone always enjoys the spontaneous jam sessions at the end of the night."
Next year, Andrew hopes to play at the Australian Embassy in Milan and also Spain. He has follow-up workshops and gigs lined up in Heidelberg in Germany and Glasgow in Scotland.
COLOUR POWER WINS TITJIKALA. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Our four wheel drive crunches through the gravel and sand as we cruise through the community of Titjikala searching for the arts centre.As we turn a corner it's easily identifiable – the most colourful building in the community, with primary colours announcing it as a centre of creativity.
Sculptures of animals and birds hang on the railings outside.
I've been invited to visit the centre by Graeme Smith and his colleague John Oster, of Desart, the advocacy organization for Aboriginal art centres in the central region.
It's the first time they've visited this particular community.
We're greeted by Ravi Guruju, one of the coordinators of the centre who takes us through to the display shop brimming over with locally-produced work. Large and small canvasses in bold contrasting colours lie on tables and hang on walls. Many of them are in abstract traditional styles, though the colours used are bright rather than muted and natural. Circles feature widely, surrounded by almost seventies-style flowers and detailed small patterns.
My eye stops on a painting by Marcia Alice. It's an incredibly intricate design of flowers encased in circles of colour, linked by detailed patterns of tiny dots. The overall effect is a sort of cog and wheel design.
On the shelves of the arts centre shop are neatly-made raffia baskets, decorated wooden spoons, dot-dot tissue boxes and picture frames. T-shirts with Aboriginal designs lie folded next to striking lino prints and delicate silver earrings.
A series of dogs made out of raffia hang on the wall, and I later find out they're part of an exhibition coming up in Sydney called Camp Dogs. The dogs are simple but striking – about half a metre long, made from natural-coloured raffia by Nora Campbell, Cora Meruntju and Sandra Summerfield.
There are about 30 artists in Titjikala, and roughly 10 come to the art centre every day.
"They're a very keen group," says Siri Omberg, the centre's second coordinator.
"They come in at 8 o'clock in the morning!
"We provide all the materials including paints, brushes and canvasses, and when we sell the art, we get half and the artist gets half."
The centre grew from craft activities, like batik, silk painting and linocut work, offered at the community's women's centre. In 2000 a grant paid for a new centre to be built and employ one full time and one part time coordinator.
Because many of the families at Titjikala are related to those living in Santa Teresa and Finke communities, the styles of painting produced in these three communities overlap.
"The Titjikala style is tightly-knit paintings, though not as tight as Santa Teresa," explains Omberg. "The style is getting more free – several artists are starting to paint landscapes.
"And the painters here don't necessarily tell a story. Lots of their paintings are simply of the landscape."
She leads us into the workshop, where a group of about 30 mostly older Indigenous women are quietly painting. Lena Campbell is one of the Centre's most successful artists, and one of the only younger women involved there.
I watch her precise movements as she carefully dips a blunt rounded tool into a camera film case of paint and dots it on her large black canvas. Her work is neat and symmetrical in pattern, depicting bush tucker like honey ants and bush plums. I loved the bright colours she uses, which are quite different from the earthy-toned paintings I'd seen previously – Lena uses green, purple, pink and brilliant blue in her work.
She's been painting for six years: "My grandfather was from South Australia and my grandmother from Finke," Lena explains.
"Because I've grown up in Titjikala they can't pass on their dreaming stories to me. I don't live on the land where their stories come from.
"When I started I did different kinds of paintings to these but they didn't suit me. So then I started doing bush foods.
"I do pottery as well – baby birds, cockatoos and that. Mine was the first one to get sold at Araluen."
Omberg shows me a piece Campbell painted of a baby in a coolamon, a traditional wooden bowl.
"I painted it for the new childcare centre," says Campbell.
The image of the baby is almost cartoonish in its cuteness, nestled in the centre of the painting sleeping under stars and moon. The inky blue colours evoke a restful mood. The baby is encased in a circle, surrounded and nourished by bush tucker. It's in contrast to Campbell's other work and shows her versatility.
Geraldine Mulda is the other young painter in the community. When I meet her she is breastfeeding her baby in between painting. "I like to spend some time in the art centre.
"I come here after work at the crŹche centre in the afternoon."
Her style is very different from Campbell's – much looser and more representative.
She's a quiet and shy young woman, not keen to speak about her work: "I painted raindrops in country," is all she will say about her picture which depicts kangaroos in the bush, in front of hills, trees and clouds. She uses similar colours to Campbell's although the overall effect is more muted because the colours aren't repeated in a regular pattern.
She also paints on a much smaller scale which Guruju says is typical of the younger women: "Older women grew up drawing on the ground but school changes things. The focus there is very small – drawing on a limited size in books. This comes through in the paintings."
Currently there are only two men associated with the centre but their work is in demand across Australia. They produce sculptures made from ordinary objects found in the community, like horses and stockmen made from fencing wire. I was shown a helicopter sculpture made by Johnny Young. The body of the helicopter is fashioned from fencing wire; an old plastic bottle forms the windscreen; and a tape deck acts as a generator to power the chopper which actually whizzes round.
Last year Young's piece, Aboriginal band at Titjikala, won the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award in the People's Choice category. His winning entry at one of the biggest showcases of Aboriginal art in Australia has been sold to a museum in Holland.
Young's and Wallace's work was exhibited at the New York annual contemporary art fair and they'll also be exhibiting in San Fransisco. "The sculptures have been acquired by major galleries in Australia, including the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian National Gallery in Canberra," says Guruju.
"Their sculpture work is reasonably unique and they're very good at it.
"One of the problems perhaps with other community art centres is that sometimes there's no continuity in the production of work. But I take the men out to the bush every week and so they regularly make these sculptures."
In a few weeks Young and Wallace will be passing on their knowledge by teaching children in the school at Titjikala how to make sculpture.
Proactive and enthusiastic, Omberg and Guruju have worked hard to establish the art centre and develop professionalism, promote the fine art side of the business and increase commercialism.
Omberg recounts what happened when Batchelor College held a lino cutting workshop at the centre."It was great – it brought a lot of young women into the centre. But after two weeks [the college] had to take away all the equipment. The artists wanted to continue printing so the art centre bought a printing press.
"Now we produce cards and limited edition colour prints – and we can't keep up with the quantity of cards in demand. We're looking into having them commercially printed. We'll choose some of the most popular prints and pay the artists a one-off fee so the rest of the money goes into the art centre for better quality canvas and tools."
Guruju shares her vision: "We're developing new products like jewellery, decorated wooden spoons and small paintings. Bigger paintings cost a lot so having a choice of prices means we can offer different things to different people.
"My project is to develop T-shirts. People can't find ones with decent Aboriginal designs on them, so I hope to fill this gap by producing T-shirts with interesting logos from our artists."
However, Omberg says the future of the centre lies away from crafts: "Painting things like picture frames opens doors for people to get started but if we want to be taken seriously as an art centre we need to aim for the fine art.
"Although Titjikala has always been well-known for the variety of work done here, it's a natural thing to strive to be the best and I really would prefer if we could concentrate on beautiful paintings.
"It's started to happen – Marie Shilling has exhibited fine art at the Art Mob Fine Art Gallery in Tasmania and Marcia Alice has shown her work in Sydney."
Unlike most communities, a permit isn't required for a day visit to Titjikala, which is about 120kms south of Alice Springs.
Clare Martin's thanks for nothing. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
Years ago when I was home with my first baby I let a vacuum cleaner salesman in to demonstrate his wonderful vacuum cleaner.
As soon he set foot in the apartment he began praising me for my interior decorating skills, pot plants, curtains and pictures. I could not afford the vacuum cleaner but I let him clean the rug and sofa and show me how dirty they had been.
More recently another vacuum cleaner salesman knocked on our door. My mum was arriving the next day and I thought I could let him clean a difficult rug for me. Selling $3000 vacuum cleaners, he was much better at his job than the last one.
My husband and I took several hours to break down but finally signed on the dotted line, thinking that we were giving in because the other really wanted it. As soon as he left we had a chance to discuss our true feelings in private and realised that neither of us really wanted this machine.
Wherever we look someone is trying to sell us something by creating a need or telling us it will make us feel better, look better or be happier. Flattery is a key ingredient to successful selling. My dad told me of a salesman who would come to his shop and always say how much he liked him.
Although Dad knew it was part of the routine and was embarrassed by it, he could not help feeling flattered. It is nice to be told that someone likes you even when you suspect that they might be exaggerating.
Equally, if a sales person says something negative about you, or if you feel ignored or that you are an imposition on them, they might lose out on a sale. On Friday I went dress shopping with a girl friend. When my friend went to try on a dress, one of the shop attendants said, "That won't fit you". It did fit, but my friend didn't buy it.
Selling politics is no different to selling anything else. You need to get your voters on side by telling them that you like and respect them and will do everything you can to please them.
Thanking someone for their contributions and participation, like the Chief Minister did in her recent letter to many of Alice Springs households, is a nice thing to do as long as the person you have written to actually did those things. Otherwise you are insulting them by showing that you really do not care about them personally.
I want to believe that our political representatives care about us, but it is not enough to tell us in Alice that lots has been done, that things are going ahead and that more needs to be done.
Show me that you love me, show me that you care. Don't just say it or print it in a patronising rubber-stamped letter.
As Danny Deckchair discovered, we don't like to be referred to as "the little people". We all contribute in many ways to our society.
I hope that some of our local representatives will wake up to themselves and realise that they represent the People of Alice first, not the Labour or Liberal Party.
How good really is all that clean air? COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
The outdoor Central Australian lifestyle, with its clear air and ample opportunities for exercise, is supposed to be good for you.
For this reason, I can never understand why everyone gets sick so often for a few days at a time. Yet here we are, dropping like I wish the flies would drop.
Even stranger than the high incidence of ailments is the reaction of people at work when you return. It's good to have you back on deck, they say, as if we inhabit ocean liners. I check that we're not on a boat by glancing at the floor and trying not to say "Aye aye, Captain".
No, I was right, this is not a sea-going vessel but an air-conditioned office in a desert town. It has colorbond window frames.
If I became disorientated during long days in bed, then I am even more confused now.
I relate this story because I almost didn't make it this week. I've been sick too, which is the worst thing to happen to an A-type personality male who can't relax and has a propensity to over-work.
"Get a life," my doctor implied, but using more sympathetic and diplomatic language. He was right, of course. I just can't seem to find one that fits properly. The problem started in my toe. One morning I found a little hole in the skin on one of the toe knuckles.
Then the toe turned a funny colour and stayed that way for a month.
I won't go into detail in case you are having lemon meringue for dessert.
It became painful when I was in Victoria last month. So I popped into a pharmacy expecting, like all blokes do, an instant diagnosis and an even quicker cure for about two dollars fifty. In fact, to save time I explained my own confident amateur diagnosis and held open the palm of my hand so that the person behind the counter could drop a cure into it, already wrapped in one of those nice little bags.
The pharmacist was a Sikh and a tolerant man. He remarked that I must be from England. I replied that yes, I was and isn't it a shame that it's so obvious. "You're from England too, aren't you?" I returned the non-compliment. It was one of those serendipitous bonding moments made without eye contact. Lovely, but it didn't do much for my toe.
The infection spread to a number of other places. Think yourself lucky that this is not an email as I would certainly attach photos of the infected body parts. After a bout of the flu arrived, I collapsed in a heap and so almost failed to bring you this account of how I collapsed in a heap. Thanks to the good doctor, my health was saved by a course of antibiotics that made my toes curl, even the bad one. So the story has a happy ending. As you can tell, I don't exactly glide effortlessly through illness. What's the point of minor medical problems if you can't wallow a while in self-pity? But the experience has made me notice that many locals shrug off injuries like they hardly exist.
Let's say that your mate Daryl sustains a bite in the Achilles tendon from an unknown venomous reptile while walking the Larapinta Trail. His response is, "No worries, mate, I never used that part of my foot much anyway." This will never be my way.
AUSSIE RULES: WESTIES FIND WHAT IT TAKES. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The replay of last year's grand final between West and South warmed the cockles of the heart at Traeger Park on Saturday.In the days prior to the game South were bolstered by Joey Hayes again standing up to be counted, as coach. This has taken a load off the shoulders of Shaun Cusack, who can now concentrate on his pivotal role on field. Also of note at the Super Roos' box was the flamboyant former ATSIC Chair, Geoff Clarke, lending his support.
On field, however, the early honours went the way of West who established winners in Kevin Bruce at half forward and Keith Durham in front of the sticks. Their physical superiority ensured two early goals that were countered later in the quarter by the brilliance of Gilbert Fishook. The game was evenly poised at 2.1 each at the first break.
In the second term South pressed for supremacy, with Sherman Spencer and Fishook capitalising and being well fed by the talented Charlie Maher and Jamiah Hayes.In reply West were able to steady as the term progressed, and Bruce came into his own. Whether in the air or on ground, the half forward controlled proceedings, booting three goals himself.After the long break West applied themselves and scored seven goals to two to claim the game. Leading 13.2 to 7.4 the Bloods put themselves in an unassailable position and so they played a containing last term to win the match 15.6 (96) to 9.7 (61).
Bruce's six goal haul was only an indication of the level of his play. As has come to be expected, the Bloods have recruited well. Jason Rosenthal had a field day and plied his trade comfortably with the likes of Mick Hauser, Michael Gurney and Mark Bramley. The presence of Durham at full forward was reassuring for those driving the ball forward, and he will be an obstacle for opposition as the season unfolds.
It was also evident that coach Wayne Campbell has the Bloods at a level of fitness superior to that of years gone by. They concentrated on skill work and displayed a disciplined approach to their task.
South also have plenty of positives to take home from the game.
To go down by 35 points does not make for a close encounter, but the essence of a good side is evident. The Cusack-Maher combination, the return of the maturing Hayes, and the solid presence of Ali Satour is heartening. Up forward Fishook and Spencer are going to be menacing forces for all sides.In the curtain raiser, Pioneer had a field day. New coach Paul Ross has regrouped the Eagle forces, and they ran out winners 27.20 (182) to Rovers' 4.2 (26).
The Blues endured a scoreless first quarter but then gained some pride, with Geoffrey Miller scoring three goals in the middle quarters and Graham Christmas finding the big sticks.Pioneer however took the game on its merits and systematically compiled a percentage boosting score. They booted six, then seven, another six, and then another seven goals. quarter by quarter.
Craig Turner returned a personal tally of seven while Michael MacDonald bagged six goals. Down field again the ‘Rolls Royce' Graham Smith was the mastermind. Aaron Kopp dominated aerial duals and Geoff Taylor was constantly at the drop of the ball. Significantly Ezra Bray has returned to the fold.
It would be a huge boost for Pioneer, and the CAFL, if Bray could recapture some of his teenage potential.
GUNS WERE BLAZING. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The artillery was blazing at the track on Saturday while the Young Guns basked in the autumn atmosphere of music, fashion and fizz, and the betting ring resonated with the drone of punters plying their trade on the working class stock exchange.
Rewards went to the faithful early when The Tailor enjoyed a four and a half length win in the Emily Dash Two Year Old over 1100 metres. The Tailor was able to jump from barrier four with the silken hands of Paul Denton driving him along the fence to lead all the way from the favourite Razor One, who had proven too good for The Tailor in their last two encounters.
Filling the placings was Potaski from the Viv Oldfield stable. Notably, the well-supported Whysall Road was a scratching at the barrier.
The Bacardi Lion Maiden Plate over 1200 metres saw Fission Belle start favourite and cross from barrier eight to lead early. By the turn, however, the effort had proven too much, which allowed Denton to again claim the ascendancy. He pushed Sindared up to take a handy lead, finishing four lengths in front at the post. Embossed rattled home from midfield to be placed second, while Allspent, out wide, took third place.
Dodoma followed the pattern of searching for the lead early by crossing from barrier eight to lead in the 1000 metre Melanka Party Bar Class B Handicap. Although searching for fuel by the post Dodoma was able to account for Swepscay by two and a half lengths, with Gaelic Dance third.
The Northern Air Charter handicap over 1000 metres predictably saw Scotro make the pace. However, age and weight may be catching up with the Terry Gillett gelding as in the straight the first up performer at Pioneer Park, Adamataig claimed the lead. Top Squire drew on terms with the leader but could not go on, hence allowing Adamataig to get to the line by three quarters of a length, with Scotro holding on for third place.
Another newcomer to Alice Springs then showed his worth in the Murray Neck Music World Class Four over 1400 metres. Howdy Ken had the astute David Bates on board and was saved behind the early lead of Orso and Radiant Society. Radiant Society was the first beaten, and with Orso left in the lead, Bates was able to time the Howdy Ken run to the minute and so claim the money by two lengths over the honest gallopers Orso and Saratoga Boy.
The NT Guineas over 1600 metres was the race of the day and a chance to show the calibre of our latest crop of three year olds. Sponsored by the Crowne Plaza, the prestige race was taken out by a horse with class.
The Viv Oldfield trained Shrewd Ace settled at the rear of the field with Kim Gladwin aboard. At the half mile he was urged to make his move. In a staying exhibition he accounted for Kappa, Greimota and the South Australian Dancing Scene in his stride. Such was the win that Gladwin put the whip away some 50 metres from home as the aptly named gelding claimed victory. Greimota collected the second place cheque and Kappa filled the placings.
In the last, the Rainbow Reticulation Quality Handicap, Doolam Player gave Gladwin a riding double when he surged to the line to claim the favourite Bevan by a short neck, with Song Mekong third.
The Carnival continues on Saturday with Ladies Day and the Chief Minister's Cup.
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