SUBSIDIARIES OF MULTIMILLION DOLLAR BLACK COMPANY PAY NO RATES. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The 466 non-rateable properties in Alice Springs which are not contributing to municipal revenue include some owned by Centrecorp Aboriginal Investment Corporation.
Among Centrecorp's assets are 60 per cent of Yeperenye Pty Ltd, two other shopping centres in Alice, a bank property, a retail petrol outlet and several commercial buildings including the local Centrelink offices.
A Centrecorp director Owen Cole would not comment on the issue. He said a large number of businesses come under Centrecorp's umbrella and the Alice News would have to be specific about which properties were involved.
A detailed report on the properties will be presented to aldermen at the next finance committee meeting.
"I'll be interested to see the list, hopefully they've got it right," said Mr Cole.
At a recent council committee meeting Alderman Robyn Lambley expressed concern about wealthy companies not paying rates.
At Monday's full council meeting Ald Samih Habib called on those people who have never paid before to pay now.
Meanwhile, council is set to raise rates next year following the adoption of a framework for a new rating process.
A bid, supported by the mayor, to keep secret the planned rate rise failed narrowly at Monday's meeting.
The proposed framework was moved into the public section of the meeting on Monday night, thanks to the votes of Aldermen Melanie Van Haaren, Murray Stewart, Samih Habib, Meredith Campbell and Ernie Nicholls.
Its adoption had been set down for the confidential part of the meeting.
Member of the public Rod Cramer, president of the Alice Springs Rural Areas Association, had asked at the start of the evening for the matter to be discussed in the open part of the meeting.
Ald Van Haaren, seconded by Ald Stewart, responded by moving that it should be.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff was prepared to use her casting vote against the motion until Ald Van Haaren called for a division and it became clear that a majority of aldermen present supported it (Alds David Koch and Geoff Bell were absent).
Aldermen voting to deal with the matter in the closed part of the meeting, apart from the mayor, were Marguerite Baptiste-Rooke, Robyn Lambley and Jane Clark.
The framework establishes a policy of general purpose rate increases in line with Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases.
It also nominates a percentage figure over and above the CPI to fund specific projects as determined by council at the annual estimates meeting.
Ald Stewart sought assurance that no changes would be implemented this year.
CEO Rex Mooney said the framework together with differential rate modeling (see last week's issue, or our web site) was being presented to aldermen now to allow them plenty of time for it to be considered for 2006-07.
Ald Stewart described the framework as "a lazy way out".
He said: "It's wrong to go to the same old bucket, the same old people. I understand the need to raise revenue but I'm not prepared to rely on the rating mechanism alone."
He called on council to be "inventive" about other ways of funding its activities.
Ald Habib said the ratepayer is becoming "a rare species.
"We can't afford to put rates up more than the CPI," he said.
Ald Van Haaren saw the framework as supplying transparency and predictability, and thought CPI increases were acceptable. She did not vote for the measure allowing for an additional percentage figure for special projects.
This was supported by the mayor and Alds Campbell, Lambley, Baptiste-Rook and Clark.
In other council business, aldermen reversed their decision to not allow Bass in the Dust to be staged at Anzac Oval this year, responding to pressure from the community, and in particular young people.
A petition signed by 500 of them was presented during the meeting.
Ald Stewart, who congratulated the young people for "belting council around the ears" - "democracy in action" - donned a pair of slippers to mark the occasion of his backflip.
A majority of aldermen also backed further "investigation" of dry area legislation introduced in Port Augusta and Ceduna - a "junket" that the ratepayers should not have to fund, according to Ald Stewart.
Aldermen will be meeting next week with Police Minister Paul Henderson to ask what more the Territory government can do about public drunkenness and anti-social behavior as well as enforcement of the existing 2km law, which forbids drinking within two kilometers of a licensed premise and is widely abused.
CAMEL FARM BOUGHT BY ROCK COMPANY. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The Frontier Camel Farm, owned by Nick and Michelle Smail for the last 24 years, has been bought by Anangu Tours, the Indigenous tour company operating at The Rock.
The company had previously bought Uluru Camel Tours from the Smails and more recently the star-gazing attraction, the Milky Way Café in Alice Springs, from Arifah and Laksar Burra.
The Milky Way sale was finalised last week, while the camel farm deal was due to be finalised yesterday as the Alice News went to press.
The expansion by Anangu Tours does not seem to be affected by the difficulties faced by parent company, Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation (NAC).
As the Alice News reported last week, the Office of the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations has asked the governing committee of NAC to show cause why an administrator should not be appointed to conduct its affairs.
Anangu Tours general manager Simon Webb did not respond to the News' request to comment on the expansion.
The News learnt this week that Clive Scollay is no longer CEO of Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation.
When asked to confirm this, Mr Scollay said he did not renew his contract "after four constructive years".
Meanwhile, Nick and Michelle Smail are looking forward to a well-deserved holiday, taking in New Zealand and a motorbike safari up the east coast of Australia.
They intend returning to Alice and buying a house in town (until now they have always lived at the farm).
The camel farm had not been on the market but Mr Smail said Anangu Tours made them "an offer we couldn't refuse".
"They'd had bought our Ayers Rock operation and knew how we worked.
"There's a happy synergy between the two, serving different clients, giving a different demographic the opportunity to ride a camel.
"The Rock business has one third Japanese clients, whereas in Alice we're lucky to see one Japanese a week.
"We do more backpackers here, while at the Rock backpackers tend to be tied up in very structured tours.
"Our key staff in Alice are staying on, they're all capable, competent people.
"I'm sure Anangu Tours will introduce an Indigenous element, as that is their whole focus at Uluru - they are the only ones doing guided Anangu tours and painting tours."
Former Milky Way owner Arifah Burra says it will be business as usual at the star-gazing attraction.
The Burras sold not only the premises (the former Chateau Hornsby Winery) but their product, the Spirit of the Night Sky tours.
Laksar Burra, who developed the unique format of the tour, drawing on traditional stories of the night sky from Indigenous cultures around the world as well as scientific understandings, will continue to be involved for the next three months and on special occasions.
ALICE: HOME OF THE RISING SUN. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Householders have told Alice's Solar City bid organisers that they want solar electricity to be more affordable.
The only way to get solar power in Alice is to generate it yourself and it takes about 50 years to recoup your investment at the current buyback rates.
Householders said they were prepared to wait five years, some, even 10 years for payback ... 50 is a stretch.
It is already possible, if you install a photovoltaic (PV) solar system, to "sell" the power you generate to the Power and Water Corporation: it goes straight back into the grid and offsets the cost of what you consume.
Under these circumstances, your property has two power metres, one for current in, one for current out.
But the Power and Water Corporation currently only "pay" what they charge, 14 cents per kWh.
Householders, at a public meeting last week attended by 70 odd people, told the bid organisers they'd like to see a higher buyback price to offset their investment.
At present it costs around $15,000 to $18,000 to install a PV system , providing about 20 per cent of an average household's electricity use. (It's distinct from solar hot water systems. PV systems convert sunlight into electric current, while solar panels used for heating water take heat from the sun directly into the water.)
On average a household-size system generates 1500 kWh per year. At 14 cents a kWh, even with the current $4000 Australian Government rebate, it would take more than 50 years to recoup the investment.
The average life of a PV unit is generally regarded as 30 years (most manufacturers now provide a 25 year warranty demonstrating the high reliability and long life of the panels).
The first PV unit in a private home in Alice Springs was installed in 2000. There are currently two houses with such units.
Obviously the bid organisers want to understand the impediments to boosting that number, but solar power generation is not their sole focus.
The Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO), initiators of the $75m program (to be split between at least four successful bidders), want each bid to also address energy efficiency, modified electricity pricing and "smart metering".
"Solar generated electricity is recognised as expensive on its own, but when it's packaged with energy efficiency, cost reflective pricing and smart metering, it starts to become more feasible," says Andrew Thomson, leader of the bid team.
Does this mean that the per unit price of solar goes down or that people don't use as much power so spend no more?
"It's a combination of both, as well as higher prices paid for what is generated by the PV systems," says Mr Thomson.
"So with a large number of systems to be installed, it is envisioned that better prices can be negotiated, combined with more favourable prices paid for the generated electricity.
"Add to that a reduction in energy use by the household through energy efficiency measures, and cost reflective pricing signals encouraging electricity users to move use from high cost periods to low cost periods if they can and choose to do so.
"The smart meters [an electronic display screen in, say, the kitchen which would show how much energy was being consumed by the residents at any one time] are necessary to provide the householder with real-time feedback so they can make informed choices about what electrical loads they will operate and when.
"This is the holistic approach of the Solar Cities program, with all elements contributing to one another.
"We need to show how the initiatives can be bundled together and deployed on a large scale within a defined area, in our case the town of Alice Springs.
"And how the barriers to such a deployment can be overcome in a cost effective way, with existing technologies. Solar Cities is not about experimental or emerging technologies.
"Most of the initiatives that Alice Springs will pursue through solar cities will be economically viable in their own right, but the AGO accepts that the schemes need help to gain momentum.
"We'll put a detailed business case for our approach, including marketing plans and an exit strategy to demonstrate how Alice Springs would maintain the program once the government support comes to an end.
"At the end of the six year program the AGO want to see if there are approaches that can be replicated in other communities, that they can tell people and businesses about.
"An underlying principle of the program is that none of the participants should be financially worse off. We are developing ways to achieve this. And ideally, people, as well as the environment, should be better off."
This raises a question: If advantages can be gained through energy efficiency, cost reflective pricing and smart metering, why would people take the financial hit of installing a solar plant when the conventionally produced power is much cheaper? The organizers say many residents of Alice Springs (and Australia) want to contribute directly to improved environmental outcomes in their lives.
"Generating your own solar power is a powerful and immediate method to achieve this and people are prepared to invest in such outcomes," says Mr Marshall.
Householders told the organisers they wanted to see energy efficiency rewarded on energy bills, via a lower tariff.
With a dual tariff policy, promoting the use of many household appliances in off-peak time, householders would benefit from a reduced power bill, and Power and Water would benefit from not having to have so many generators on stand-by to cope with the peak loads that occur on hot summer days in Alice Springs.
Off-peak tariffs have been available elsewhere in Australia for decades.
The importance of a "one stop shop" for information was also emphasised at the meeting.
Householders appear to be ahead of the business community in energy "literacy".
This can be put down in part to the work of Cool Mob, which has 500 local households signed up to achieve greater energy efficiency.
Cool Mob grew out of a national AGO initiative, Cool Communities, but at the end of the program it ceased in all other states. Only the Alice Springs and Darwin groups maintained their focus.
Today they are part funded by the Territory Government, some business involvement, the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) and in kind support.
The Power and Water Corporation recently entered into a partnership with Cool Mob, paying them to conduct free energy audits for customers who think their energy bills are too high.
Cool Mob offers practical solutions to achieve greater energy efficiency, making houses more comfortable in summer and winter and lowering consumption and the bill.
This kind of partnership and the direct involvement in the bid of Power and Water as well as the town council, the Territory government, ALEC, Tangentyere Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Desert Knowledge CRC, all give Alice an edge over its competitors, says Mr Thomson.
And having the highest take-up of solar hot water systems in the country (60 per cent take as opposed to a national average in single digits) doesn't hurt either.
But a greater involvement of the business sector remains a challenge.
A meeting held with representatives of small businesses, 40 odd people representing 23 businesses, "opened the door" on the issues, says Mr Thomson.
For many businesses energy consumption is not a high proportion of their overheads and historically has not been seen as a priority.
The biggest issue raised was the lack of incentive for lessees to make changes to their premises. There was no agreement reached on acceptable payback periods for investment in solar.
Businesses also expressed concern about the lack of readily available pertinent information.
Some businesses in the tourism sector are interested in enhancing their eco-tourism profile by installing visible PV systems. Kings Canyon Resort is the standout example in the region. As yet, there's nothing comparable in town.
Mr Marshall says the tourism appeal of a "DesertSMART" town has yet to be fully appreciated.
"But think of all the times you've had visitors who ask, 'How do you live here!?'
"There is a niche tourism opportunity to show them how well we really do it."
The final bid is due on April 28.
Alice's competitors are: Adelaide Solar Citizens; Blacktown Solar City; Brighter Future - Sydney Olympic Park / Auburn Solar City; Central Victorian Solar Cities Project; Coburg Solar City; Kalgoorlie-Boulder Solar Cities Project; Perth Solar City; Solar Cities Adelaide; Solar Newcastle; and Townsville: Queensland Solar City.
CLARE MARTIN AND THE MLA FOR MACDONNELL. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Excuse me? Am I hearing this right?
Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin seems to be saying, in a nutshell, that it's quite OK for a member of her government to have shaken down some of the poorest people in the nation, laundered the cash through a community council entrusted with millions of dollars in taxpayers' grants, bought cars with council money, and given them away to her mates.
The alleged racket, outlined in the Alice News (Feb 16), hasn't been denied by the member concerned, MLA for MacDonnell Alison Anderson, whose signature appears on a Papunya Community Council minute authorising the "donation" of three cars to community heavies, members of her family, as the Opposition has since alleged.
And the government this week confirmed the car scheme has been in place.
A spokesman says: "Store profits are meant to be used for the benefit of community members."
Ms Anderson, who has declined to be interviewed by the Alice Springs News, was the CEO of Papunya council at the time of the minute.
The note, published exclusively by the Alice News on February 16, was tabled in Parliament last week by Greatorex MLA Richard Lim.
Ms Martin replied that Dr Lim, as a former Minister for Local Government, should know how business is done in a place like Papunya: "Papunya is governed in a particular way. If they want to dispose of property, it is done by council resolution. "That is the fact of the matter.
"The document that the member for Greatorex is waving around supports that.
"It is done according to the way that Papunya Council runs. What am I supposed to do about that?"
Ms Martin's government has paid significant amounts of money to the Papunya Community Council (her government won't say how much).
The Department of Local Government, during Ms Martin's government as well as her predecessors', has had a close involvement with the Papunya council.
Last year, after the Alice News broke the story of financial irregularities at Papunya, the council there experienced a flurry of activity by local government officials.
And Ms Martin says: "What am I supposed to do about that?"
Spin, which is at the very core of the Territory's administration, at best can be a nifty device of damage control.
But in the Papunya scandal, where the alleged victims are some of the nation's most impoverished people, Ms Anderson's own people, as she keeps telling us at every opportunity, the Martin Spiel is deception.
Yet there's more of the same from Ms Martin: "The federal government has had an investigation through Justice and Consumer Affairs, we have had investigations and the police have had an investigation.
"We have had one allegation after another and they proved baseless."
Some investigations are noteworthy for failing to get comprehensive evidence from some fairly obvious people, for example, the community's former accountant, and its former CEO Steve Hanley, Ms Anderson's estranged husband.
The result of the Federal investigation has still not been made public.
The Territory police was quoted in the Centralian Advocate, which followed up our story last week without acknowledging that we broke it the week before, that the memo we published had not been investigated.
And the government continues to stonewall enquiries by the Alice Springs News about a letter allegedly concocted by Territory public servant Allan van Zyl, to clear Ms Anderson of vote buying allegations. (Google this on the Alice News web site.)
"The nature of Papunya and the Local Government Act is that it is not an incorporated association under the NT Associations Act," claims Ms Martin in Parliament. "No, the Minister for Local Government does not regulate the disposal of property by association councils."
The NT Grants Commission, in its distribution of Commonwealth local government assistance, talks of local governing bodies as a term to cover councils as well as associations that carry out local government functions.
Does Ms Martin say local government such as the one ruling Papunya, can receive public money but not be accountable for it?
Where are the answers to the questions last year from the Papunya auditor, Deloitte partner W. R. McAinsh: "Approximately half of all assets could not be located or were vehicles which were clearly scrapped. "We were not provided with explanations for the large number of assets missing or scrapped."
Ms Martin's dodging and weaving on the Anderson issue is not just pathetic, it's a cruel slap in the face of the thousands of powerless people in the bush, exposed to incompetence and corruption.
Papunya, 250 km west of Alice Springs, is one of Australia's most wretchedly poor communities, living almost entirely on welfare.
It has only one store.
That store is supposedly owned by the people there, via the social club.
There is strong evidence to suggest in fact it's run by Ms Anderson's clan which for decades has treated the community as its private fiefdom.
Ms Martin declined requests to be interviewed by the Alice Springs News, and the Papunya council has not responded to requests for comment.
At a time when Alice Springs is experiencing urban drift of avalanche proportions, the Territory government needs to clean up the act of the bush communities.
They must become places where people can live in dignity and have the prospect of a normal life.
The government's efforts at reforms so far have been failures. That's what Ms Martin needs to put her mind to, not rhetoric: "The Member for Greatorex asked me whether I stand by the Member for MacDonnell," she intoned in the Assembly last week.
"I do absolutely, as does every single member on this side of the House."
HAS ALICE GOT A BRAIN DRAIN? Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Senior political figures in Alice Springs are criticising the government for gradually removing the decision-making power of civil servants in Alice Springs to government staff in Darwin.
CLP president Jenny Mostran and Loraine Braham, the independent member for Braitling have both put the issue to Clare Martin.
"It's a huge concern to me," says Ms Mostran.
"In the last 12 months all decision-making has been taken away from Alice Springs and given to Darwin, no local managers here can make decisions.
"Even regional development is based in Darwin rather than in Alice Springs or Katherine or Tennant Creek which is unbelievable.
"It follows that trend of centralising all decision-making in Darwin.
"I spoke about the transfer of decision-making in the public sector at the Office of Women's affairs forum in Alice, late last year, and Clare Martin stated in reply she acknowledged it had happened but said it wasn't a conscious thing."
Ms Mostran says this brain drain is particularly prominent in the departments of sport and regional development.
A civil servant who has been in a senior position for five years in Alice Springs says he was not prepared to be named but stated that headhunting by Darwin is an increasing problem. "Offices in Darwin are making the grab.
People within the public service are headhunting people down here. It's as if they're saying 'Alice is a second rate city, you don't need brains down here, this is where the action is'.
"Lots of people who are in Darwin are there because they have been headhunted from Alice Springs. It's not a fair thing to do."
He said early in 2005 he heard of "a determination" to place 35 or 40 executives into Alice Springs, supported by Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne and Alice's most senior civil servant, John Baskerville, but it was not followed through.
"They said we were starved of senior people and all decisions were being made in Darwin. How were people here expected to deliver?" asked the anonymous civil servant.
Neither Dr Toyne nor Mr Baskerville would comment on the issue when contacted by The News.
Loraine Braham challenged Clare Martin in a parliamentary debate on October 19 last year over the issue of two senior managerial positions at the health centre which were removed. Reportedly, the employees were Del Hird, the manager of community health, now moved to a desk at Eurilpa House and Denise Goedemondt, personal assistant to the director in charge of age and disability issues, thought to have been forced to move sideways with reduced decision-making power.
The women said they were unable to give a comment to The News, but they told Ms Braham they felt "undermined" by the decision.
"By downgrading their positions the autonomy has gone," said Ms Braham.
"Over a period of time decision-making has been taken away from Alice Springs in the area of community health," she said.
The health department spokesman, Tim Pigot, responded: "Community Health recently moved to being managed on a Territory-wide basis, not a Darwin or Alice Springs basis. For example a senior nursing position is held by a staff member in Katherine. Also, several executive positions remain unfilled after the change and the potential is there for them to be held by Alice Springs staff."
The chief minister, Clare Martin, declined to give a more detailed response to questions, and provided only this general comment: "We have significantly increased the number of public servants in Alice Springs and this has included a fair share of senior positions when compared to places such as Darwin."
She would not provide the numbers of senior positions or when this number was increased.
The spokesperson for Paul Henderson, the minister for regional development said any suggestion of lack of decision-making power in Alice Springs is "simply not true", as did Tiffany Stodart, the media and marketing manager for the Office for Sport and Recreation, who says the suggestion is "incorrect".
"The Alice Springs Office of Sport and Recreation, part of the Department of Local Government, Housing and Sport is responsible for the delivery and facilitation of all sport and recreation initiatives in the region. In particular they are solely responsible for the delivery of the Alice Springs Masters Games, the implementation of Participation and Development Programs, Grants and the implementation of the Indigenous Sports Program, as well as representation from the NTIS to ensure Alice Springs athletes have a pathway to elite development."
DESERT NETWORKING IT REALLY DOES WORK. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
A local mining company has smashed its budget target for the year in six months, and says it's partly thanks to belonging to the Mining Services Network.
Last November 9 the Alice News reported that Fluid Power NT hoped to increase its business by $100,000 by April through belonging to the network. This is a group of 20 local businesses which have linked with mining services companies in Broken Hill, the Upper Spencer Gulf, Mount Isa and Kalgoorlie-Boulder to promote their expertise to the industry and to share ideas and skills.
The network is a joint initiative of Desert Knowledge Australia and the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre.
John Joseland, the director of Fluid Power NT which supplies services and equipment to the mining industry, now reports that this target was met in six months, in December.
Says Mr Joseland: "It's increased our business by about 25 per cent by opening up lines of communication and contacts. We've got six or seven new businesses we're negotiating with who have heard about us through the network."
Although he says advertising, reputation and word of mouth are also vital to attracting and maintaining business, Mr Joseland believes the network has made a significant difference in finding new clients.
"The success of the last six months has been because of a combination of things but the network has given us new contacts. How we work with those contacts is up to us but the network is putting us in touch with people we haven't previously done business with."
For example, following contact through the network, Fluid Power supplied parts and services to Xstrata, a zinc and lead mining company located in Mount Isa. It was a major project completed just before Christmas and Mr Joseland says there is potential for further projects to be carried out.
Simon Worssam, a director of The Watershed, has also found the network a useful tool. The Watershed supplies materials to the Granite mines, and although Mr Worssam says it's difficult to value how much the network is worth to his business in terms of dollars, he says being part of it is crucial: "We've strengthened relationships with mining companies that we supply bits to, and one crucial one in particular.
"So much is likely to happen in the mining industry in Central Australia over the next five years, and we need to be there at the beginning."
The success of the Mining Services Network will be talked about at the World Mine Ministries Forum conference in Toronto next month. Mike Crowe, the networking and communications manager at Desert Knowledge Australia, will give a presentation on "the ways we've been successful in using video conferencing and the internet to create networks of businesses that can communicate across vast distances".
"Most business networks share a geographical proximity but in this case we have been able to link business across desert Australia. Whilst I'm in Canada, I'll be able to promote these desert business people who have a serious edge in the ability to operate in remote environments," says Mr Crowe.
Trade ministers and CEOs of corporate companies from 40 countries are taking part. Since it began 18 months ago the network has signed up 80 members.
BOOM IN FORTIFIED HOMES.
A company in Alice Springs last year built 31 houses, offices, ablution blocks and other structures for Aboriginal communities, up from 22 in 2004 and 11 in 2003. The buildings are designed to withstand greater than normal wear and tear, at significant additional cost.
The buildings are designed to withstand greater than normal wear and tear, at significant additional cost.
They are transported to communities as far away as Ceduna on the Great Australian Bight and in the Kimberleys.
The company, operating from the "old airport", is Western Australian based Murray River North.
CEO Richard Machell says about a third of the company's $25m annual turnover is generated in Alice Springs.
Local manager Wayne Pratt says it's an advantage to produce the houses in "controlled conditions" in Alice Springs.
COMMUNITIES He says this reduces the workers' presence on communities to three or four days when up to six sections of the buildings, slab and all, are joined together after transport on a low loader.
The slabs, up to 15 by 4.8 meters in size, are poured into a permanent mould at the Alice site.
The structures, based on welded steel stud frames and steel roof trusses, are built in WA.
Prior to transport the sections of the houses, right up to the installation of kitchen and bathroom fittings, are completed in Alice Springs.
Up to 50 staff and sub-contractors are working here.
The houses have special features making them more resistant to vandalism.
For example, the wall panels, instead of plasterboard, are from compressed fibro cement (CFC) sheets, weighing 80 kg each.
The ceilings are made from pressed metal.
Toilets are sometimes made from stainless steel instead of porcelain, which is more fragile.
One office building had 12 mm plywood inserted into the walls, between the CFC sheets, insulation and the external custom orb cladding.
Mr Machell says it's hard to say how much the special features are adding to the cost or a normal.
As a guide, this staff house (pictured) on a Central Australian community is 140 square metres, with a 40 sqm deck and a 26 sqm garage.
The cost: $315,000 (not including land, of course).
IS BLACK HOUSING A DEBT WE MUST PAY? Comment by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Housing Minister Elliott McAdam's theatrical demand last week for an Aboriginal housing "Marshall Plan" worth $1.8 billion would have had some traction in the 1970s and 80s.
In those days appeals such as the NT front bencher's, "stop fiddling around the edges and condemning future generations to the ill health and misery that current overcrowding and homelessness is sentencing our people to" struck a chord.
By the 1990s half the Territory had become Aboriginal freehold land, frenetic spending on a multitude of "programs" - and not their success - had become the yardstick for government commitment to Aboriginal improvement, the outstation movement had begun to turn sour, and the public was asking when things would finally be getting better.
Today, after 30 years of land rights, they're asking why things are getting worse.
And Mr McAdam merrily regresses into the 70s, not even asking some of the obvious questions.
In Oz the norm is that people work, save some money, buy a house, get a mortgage and pay it off.
Getting endless handouts are not an option for the vast majority of Australians.
For Mr McAdam to not even ask why Aborigines should continue to be treated so radically different is maybe the reason why, "to be brutally honest‹we are going backwards in Indigenous housing in the Territory," as he himself puts it.
Surely, by now the debate ought to have progressed to embrace at least the following issues:- Aborigines are not work ready: is it not time to cease such patronising claptrap, and instead recognise the resourcefulness and tenacity of a people which has prevailed in a pretty demanding environment?
There is no work in the bush: in addition to art, which is booming, what about pastoralism, horticulture and - above all - tourism?
Communist regimes are dwindling around the world but are alive and well on Aboriginal land in the Territory: why look after your house if it's not owned by you, but a collective run by a faceless and all powerful bureaucracy?
Komla Tsey, in the 90s, with his ebony skin and colourful, flowing robes, cut an impressive figure in the coffee shops of Alice Springs.
An Edinburgh university graduate, Dr Tsey headed up the Menzies School of Health Research in Alice Springs, and he was gently surprised at the fashionable claims that Central Australian Aborigines live in Third World conditions.
Back in 1994 he told me that his home town in outback Ghana, where people were lucky to see a doctor twice in their lifetime, wanted a hospital.
After campaigns over many years a few trucks delivered building materials.
That's as far as the government would go in providing a hospital: the villagers built, equipped, staffed and maintained it, treasuring it as their community's most prized asset.
(Compare this with Guantanamo Bay style staff accommodation, pictured at the top of this page, entirely supplied by the taxpayer to a Central Australian community, which had to make no contribution whatever. On the contrary, the house had to be given "caged" verandahs and specially reinforced walls, at substantial extra cost, to make the occupants safe from thefts and assaults.)
Five years later Dr Tsey told the Alice News that improvements in Aboriginal health "depend on having greater control over their lives and the things that affect them.
"A central part of addressing the social inequality is what researchers in the field have called 'the mastering factor', that is, the development of a set of abilities, skills, and attitudes that enable people to 'problem solve'.
"Particularly pertinent to the situation of Aboriginal people is that education - in the formal sense - is invariably implicated in this process of 'mastering one's environment' or taking greater control vis a vis the wider society."
And that, to be sure, is doing a lot more than accepting handouts.
Seven years later the best Mr McAdam can do is to say: "We should, effectively, look at the cost of meeting Indigenous homelessness and unmet housing need as part of the national debt ... we are failing to pay off."
HE WORKED HARD AND PLAYED HARD. Obituary by ELISABETH ATTWOOD
"When Dad first came here and built his house, there were only four houses on Eastside. He would bring all his mates down and Mum would make them tea. She'd make pancakes. There was a big fluorescent light that hung in the shed, and if you wanted to eat a pancake, you'd have to flip it over the light.
A local historian and a train enthusiast have discovered there are at least three Old Ghan trains buried in country around Alice Springs.
"There were more bloody pancakes on that light than there were on people's plates."
Roger Harris, son of the late Reg Harris, says his father will always be remembered as a man who was a great mate. Reg was a true pioneer of the Territory: a sportsman, businessman, volunteer and quintessential Centralian personality.
He arrived in Alice Springs in May 1947 to work as an electrician at the Alice Springs Hotel. "People remember him as travelling to work on his pushbike, tool bags on the handlebars," says Ren Kelly, who first met Reg in the 1960s and later would work with him founding the town's first radio station, 8HA.
Reg's business interests grew and he went into partnership to form HMW, a mechanical engineers which carried out plumbing and air conditioning fittings. Later Reg built the lane at the top of the Todd Mall, known as Reg Harris Lane, where he had a gas supply business.
He was also the director of the regional airline, Con Air - and used to tell the story of how one night, ground staff at the airport were forced to hold the plane for the local doctor - who was delayed attending the birth of his son, Roger.
Reg was an active member of the Rotary Club for much of his Alice life, and was one of the organisers of the first Todd River Regatta. He will be remembered for his mighty efforts after Cyclone Tracey in joining service clubs together in Alice Springs to raise $150,000 and offering practical help for those affected in Darwin - still a national record for amount of funds raised by just 14,000 people.
Reg was the father of AFL in Central Australia. He played in the very first AFL game in Alice Springs in 1947, and also in early matches between the town and communities. He used to tell the story of how he didn't intend to play in that first match because he went to the rodeo instead. But when Federals were a player short, he watched the rodeo and then afterwards played in the match for the remaining three quarters.
He played for Federals between 1947 and 1959, and was the coach for Pioneers for the year following, and also the captain and coach of Alice Springs Football team for six years running. He sat on the Central Australian Football Association board from 1947, and after he became chairman organised the building of the Traeger Park oval and grandstand.
Reg had an interest in the tourist industry, and owned the Midland Motel (now Annie's Place) for a time. He was enthusiastic about attracting tourists to Alice Springs, and served on several tourism boards.
"Harris had good sense of humour, and he loved to party," says Ren Kelly. "People will remember him because he loved life, worked hard, played hard. Once he got involved in something like the appeal for Cyclone Tracey, he gave it his all.
"His memory for recalling sporting activities and games he played in was excellent - and he was of the view that quite often facts destroyed a good story.
"Another thing I remember about Harris was that he was one of the few people who had a rapport with Olive Pink. No one else in town did but he and Miss Pink got on very well."
In 1980, Reg was slowed down by damage to his lungs caused by his years of handling asbestos as an electrician. But his enthusiasm and interest in Central Australian life didn't dwindle: he shared his Territory yarns regularly on 8HA on Fridays.
"He loved to see people get on, it gave him a buzz when someone was successful," says Roger.
This was demonstrated at his funeral on Tuesday, with three of his apprentice electricians acting as pall bearers: Arthur Ah Chee, Malcom McGaskill and Don Hauth.
Reg died on February 21 after a fall at his home in Adelaide.
He is survived by his sons Roger and Scott, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
REAL GHOST TRAINS IN THE SIMPSON. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
The men are determined to recover the trains, get them heritage listed and running again for tourists and locals. It is thought the trains were buried between 1929 and 1960, after a series of derailments caused by bad weather and poor tracks.
Satellite imaging shows high magnetic registrations of deposits of ore or steel in six locations between the SA boarder and 100 kms south of Alice Springs.
Chris Vaughan, vice president of The Ghan Preservation Society, and Graham Ride, a pictorial historian, have been researching the sites since September, and will start excavating over the next month.
Co-owner of Bojangles, Chris says his curiosity was sparked in 1998 when by the Kerien family donated to the pub a photograph taken in 1934 of a derailed train (PICTURED).
"I had locals coming in looking at the picture, and saying did I know that trains like that were buried when they couldn't be recovered," says Chris.
Bojangles is full of train memorabilia - including the bar and the tables, which are made from Old Ghan sleepers and line. "The trains we're trying to recover travelled on these tables we're sitting at now."
Up to 65 trains travelled on the line between Adelaide and Alice during the war years, bringing supplies, trucks and the US army on their way to Darwin. According to oral evidence of fettlers, the men who built and managed the line between1929 and 1960, trains derailed frequently because of isolated large downpours which shifted the line with the force of flooding. The 300 tonne of weight the trains carried would push them off the track. The trains might also have been moving too fast or have been poorly maintained.
Evidence suggests that up to six trains were buried to prevent alarming new passengers travelling up the line, and to concentrate the effort into rebuilding the line as quickly as possible rather than moving the crashed locomotives.
It's thought the trains were always meant to be recovered but the sheer logistics of digging up an 80 tonne, 53 foot train from the desert was too great. Several derailed a considerable distance from the line, and were lodged underground thanks to flood, drought and sand. Also, there were no more than 400 white people in Central Australia in the 1930s. Eventually any recovery plans were scrapped with the introduction of diesel powered trains in the 1950s.
No one is thought to have died in the derailments.
"Every other state and territory would have had the funds, equipment and procedures to recover the trains but in the NT, we didn't," says Chris.
Armed with satellite imaging last September Chris and Graham went exploring in the six areas identified..
"We recovered coal, baggage labels, hitches and crockery from three crash sites," says Chris.
"The next stage is to peg locations and start searching for magnetic readings on the ground using metal detectors and mobile airborne magnetic readers to give a snapshot of what's underground."
Chris is particularly keen to recover the NM engine.
Only 22 NM engines were manufactured in 1925 and only two are left that he knows of. "We want to reunite the town with the romance of steam travel. "We would love to have the Old Ghan puffing into town and use the sleeper carriages so people could travel out into the desert and sleep there.
"People ask what is there to do in Alice Springs for tourists, and this is a way of extending people's stay in Central Australia. "Five years ago Alice Springs was asked by the Tourist Commission to nominate an icon for the town. No one could come up with anything. The Ghan is part of our identity and it's under utilised. It should be heritage listed."
Chris says Alice Springs could learn from the way steam railways are operated in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.
"We will make it a community project and involve people like local prisoners in the digs. But we'll need funding to get operational. "Once we've got this further evidence we'll come back and tell the government why they should be supporting the project."
ART BUSINESS: TAKING ADVANTAGE OR TAKING CARE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
I'd been warned it was a sweatshop taking advantage of Aboriginal people and wasn't expecting to be made welcome.
But Kurt Jangala, who says he is an initiated Warlpiri man, and the Indigenous artists he looks after at his Railway Terrace home, were disarmingly friendly and open.
Kurt and his wife Melissa provide accommodation and food to three elder male artists, Dinny Nolan, Teddy Egan and Frankie J Whitlam and also feed their families who are welcome to visit anytime.
Nolan is the direct cousin of Clifford Possum, and one of the founding artists at Papunya Tula. Teddy Egan is a former police tracker who has lived in Alice Springs for many years, and Whitlam moved here from Yuendumu.
"It's three old men and myself who paint. They own the business," explains Kurt. "Aboriginal life works on the basis of exchange. So does our art business.
"I supply the canvas and paint, and we're fairly selective who we let come and sit down with us. We want to encourage a group of artists who will come back regularly."
He says the practice has been misunderstood by galleries but he firmly believes it is the best way to respect and reward his "family" for the art they produce.
"Some people say we're locking the artists in by locking our front gate, but the truth is we're keeping people who steal out," says Melissa.
"Dinny earnt $2500 and his family knew what day he'd receive the money. They came around and took him and all his money," says Kurt.
Kurt admits their way of doing business is unconventional. "It's 80-20 [that is, the artists receive 80 per cent of the earnings] but we don't operate with money. We tried giving cash but it was stolen or given away. Dinny, he spent $1500 on a car for his son. His son took it, got drunk and left the car on the side of the road.
"I have an American Express card, all the earnings go on that. If they want something, I'll buy it for them. I pick them up if they go somewhere.
"The effect of the art on Aboriginal people, even if they are looked after well, is that they will spend the money on rubbish or it gets stolen. The way we do things, it's more to produce a better lifestyle. They have enough food, I buy grog for them, they have somewhere to sleep.
"Their drinking has slowed down dramatically - I introduced them to different types of alcohol and informed them about it. They can sit and drink a beer and think it's nice rather than destructive."
Kurt says he grew up in Sydney but moved to the Territory when he was 18. His mother married a Warlpiri man and Kurt lived at Yuendumu as a missionary before he was initiated.
He says the three men are his family.
Kurt began the operation after Dinny Nolan's wife died last year. "Dinny's wife was dying of cancer so she came to live with us here with Dinny. It was beautiful. She spent time with Dinny until she passed away.
"I feel an obligation, because Dinny is my stepfather's oldest brother."
Dinny Nolan told me: "We live here. I lost my wife, I was here. Kurt kind to me.
"I'm painting for my sorry when my wife passed away."
Teddy Egan says: "We are three old men. Kurt, he looking after the money, for tucker. People, they might come along and steal or buy grog [with] the money. We wait for him [Kurt]. He buy tucker for all - my kid, my family.
"We're not bad men. We drink, have a couple of cans, have some tucker.
"He [Kurt] looks after us. He does the cooking for us.
"He is our grandson, we all family."
Frankie Whitlam says: "We all lost our wives, so we're stopping here."
Their grandchildren live in Larapinta and regularly visit. They support the arrangement, says one of them, Rahab Spencer: "We can visit anytime. They are all right here. They are cooked for."
Kurt says he'd like the artists to become independent: "I teach them about the way of the white art world. Like if a certain style of dot painting is selling really well, then that's the style of dot painting we'll do. That it's better to wait and sell a painting at a good time. Or not to go on the mall and sell it for $20 when it's worth $150."
Kurt says he sells the majority of the paintings on Ebay with no gallery or middle men, charging around $350 a painting, depending on size. Other paintings are sold through word of mouth.
He says on average he makes $2000 a week, and budgets $2000 a week for housing and feeding the three men and their families.
"Any money left over, we are saving to go on a holiday. We want to take the men and some of the family to Sydney. There is a gallery below the Opera House and we'd like to perform dancing beside the paintings, to show the paintings come to life."
Kurt says the art world can be an unjust one: "We sell a painting for $350 on Ebay but dealers or galleries can sell it on for up to $6000.
"My ideal as an artist myself is to see the painting go from the artist to someone who will enjoy the painting and put it on their wall.
"But all I've really sought to do, if we can raise the money the artist gets then that's fine. It's a step by step ladder.
"There are some reputable people around but also some people stealers. Art dealers have taken paintings from Dinny and given him $200 and then sell them for $2000. Sometimes they don't even pay the $200."
Kurt says it's not an easy business but he has the support of the artists. "I am an administrator who controls the business side of it but I am also an artist. There is one outsider who relays back to communities - Harry Nelson at Yuendumu, the chairman there, and Michael Nelson at Papunya, so what we do is accountable. They support us and Michael is my mentor. It keeps it balanced."
LETTER: ALICE ON A SLIPPERY SLOPE.
Sir,- I sent the following letter to the mayor and aldermen of Alice Springs.
It is time that the Town Council stood up for the town. Bit by bit, we are sliding down a slippery slope. Some of you may disagree with me. That is fine.
However, I ask you to look closely at what is happening to our town. When I said in Parliament on Tuesday, February 21 that "A senior public servant says the Northern Territory government seems set to move 5000 to 7000 Aboriginal people from bush communities to Alice Springs", during a debate on Indigenous housing, the Minister did not deny it.
I suggested in my speech that bringing in 5000 or one sixth of the town's population into Alice Springs in a short space of time will have a major cultural impact.
Those who argue against the establishment of a US military base in the Top End recognise that cultural dissimilarity poses a major community challenge.
Darwin has over three times Alice Springs' population so how much greater will the effect be for Alice Springs.
Such a move will surely create a major impact on our municipality and community.
The Council must consider, among other things:- whether the municipality of Alice Springs can cope with such an influx without adequate planning of physical and social infrastructure;
capacity building for the people coming to live in the municipality who are currently ill-prepared for urban living;
adequately addressing the issues of litter and dogs; public hygiene; humbugging in the streets; alcohol problems and their consequences such as broken glass in public places, drunken people lying on street verges and violence as well as gambling in public places; a stronger good neighbour policy for our municipality;
and noise pollution/intrusion against neighbours.
Further, I suggest council rangers be empowered to do more, and that there be stricter litter policies, or if the council considers that the litter policies are adequate, that the rangers be made to "police" the litter policy more effectively.
If they enforce the litter policy as they do the parking policy, there may be less litter on our streets.
"Humbugging" by itinerants should not be allowed in the streets. If people want to busk in the mall, then they get a permit from council.
While there was recent improvement in the lighting in the mall and the car parks next to the post office and behind the Hartley Street School, it is my belief that council should embark on more lighting in the mall, the said car parks and also the Anzac Oval Car Park.
I suggest that this matter be addressed through a report from council's officers to an appropriate council committee. I am sure the council officers will discover more processes that could be implemented to improve the safety in our town. I accept that some of you will consider that I am grandstanding and politicising a social issue. Be that as it may, you are the duly elected politicians of our municipality and have the responsibility to keep good social order for all residents in our town.
I seek that you focus on this as a matter of some urgency.
Richard Lim MLA
Campground won't help urban drift
Sir,- I am concerned that our town council's belated focus on temporary camping grounds will not adequately address the issue of the current and expected influx of new town residents. It is beyond argument that Alice Springs needs temporary camping accommodation for temporary bush visitors. This, and clear signage, were identified at its inception as necessary components of the 2km law. As we still have neither, it is small wonder that the 2km law has not worked and is not working today. As an aside, I notice that a new sign in Walmulla Park states "Welcome to Walmulla Park" but it does not mention the 2km law. This is in a public park often used by drinkers and around the corner from three take-away liquor outlets. Why is that? But let's focus on the temporary camping grounds. When they are finally established, how will they help the town cope with new arrivals if the new arrivals are moving into town on a permanent basis? "Urban drift" is not necessarily a temporary phenomenon. If the deterioration of bush communities continues, the people living on them will look for somewhere else to live. Those in Central Australia will move into Alice Springs, and as Australian citizens, they have every legal right to do so. Our town council is also considering a "move on'" by-law to aid in dealing with this influx. The question remains, if someone has moved into town permanently, and the temporary camping ground has already been made use of, where will they be moving on to? Hal Duell Alice Springs.
Early encounter with Alison
Sir,- I have sent a copy of this letter to Chief Minister Clare Martin.
I have been reading the articles pertaining to Alison Anderson (Feb 16/17) with great interest.
Over the years, nothing much has changed with her.
My dealings with Alison goes way back to being a 10 year old, the fifth person to be accommodated in Giles House [a juvenile detention centre], and Alison started as a Group Officer.
I first ran foul of her wrath after an altercation with two of the three individuals sentenced with the murder of old Mr Webb from Huckitta Station, over her biased and preferential treatment of those individuals. It was my first encounter with what now I know as racism and I didn't like it.
Obviously, after coming off second best with going head to head with Alison and numerous trips to the "Security" section for such minor infractions as swearing, not sharing my cigarettes, being tardy, I had to come up with a different tack if I was going stay out of Cell 13.
After a while I was grudgingly allowed to go on field trips with Alison, but they always seemed to have the same purpose.
We would go to Traeger Park to the Aussie Rules so that Alison could hang out with her family, or we'd have to do community service yard work on either her or one of her relatives' properties.
After one such yard cleaning, I mentioned to Alison as to "why we always seem to be working on her stuff" and she replied that "it was better than being at Giles House".
Granted, it was, but when we got back I was taken from my room straight to isolation for "taking a swing at her and trying to abscond".
That was when I knew I had to steer clear of her, a sentiment shared by the majority of Giles House's European descendant "guests". I'm wondering when someone, with enough stones, will stand up and fully investigate all these accusations concerning Alison's tenure at Papunya, not just for the benefit of Papunya, but for the entire Central Australian community.
But alas, as with most allegations of impropriety directed at Aboriginal organizations, not much will come of it for fear of someone being branded a racist.
For my mind, those organizations should be held to the same strict accountability as [public companies] like Telstra, BHP, Westpac and the like. After all, aren't they trading on the public's dollar?
Boise, Idaho, USA
ED- We offered Ms Anderson a right of reply. She did not respond.
'Be part of something great'
Sir,- I am one of a group of concerned parents of young people that participate in the Australian Air Force Cadets in Alice Springs. The local organisation in Alice is on the verge of closing due to the reduced numbers of youth joining. This organisation is more than an entertainment or distraction for kids. It instills qualities of leadership, responsibility, honor, and patriotism through fun, challenging and educational activities.
I don't know if they are not getting the word out or if today's parents and kids just don't care about being more than just being entertained. There are higher achievements in life and many exciting and worthwhile activities for young people.
I would like to ask you to do an article on the local Air Force Cadets as a public service. Interview their commander, Ken Watts , who has been leading this for many, many years and also please interview some of the impressive cadets who will no doubt become the leading citizens in our community.
Ask the parents in your readership to encourage their kids to be a part of something genuinely great. They will certainly be proud of their youngsters. Frank Dahlberg
ED- We thank Mr Dahlberg for his suggestion. Elisabeth Attwood will bring readers a story from the cadets' training camp when it takes place later in the year.
Big thank you
Sir,- During a recent squall that ripped through the airport, tree branches were torn of, skylights smashed and one of the big aircraft hangar doors levered out of its rails.
A phone call to Neata Glass and Ross Engineering, and tradespeople were at our premises only one hour later. A big thank you to those businesses, your quick response time prevented further damage, and we are certainly impressed.
Keep up the good work!
Alice Springs Aero Club
Alice no non-entity
Sir,- May I congratulate you on your comment , "2005 : It was really ... pretty awful" (Dec 21, 2005). It is a pity that the individuals who have created so much difficulty in the local business world will take absolutely no notice of these incidents and continue to pat themselves on their collective backs (or should that read butts) and treat Alice Springs as the nonentity they seem to want it to be!
Please keep up the excellent work.
LET THEM EAT CAKE. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
Children I have spent considerable time over the past few years getting together with other mothers for playgroups and coffee mornings. It has been a nice way to socialize and get to know new people.
I have been known to refer to this lifestyle as "my cake existence" as there is usually something sweet and homemade to accompany the hot or cold drinks.
We lead privileged lives, secure, light and sweet like an award winning sponge and the only cloud on the horizon is the extra kilos we are collecting or trying to keep at bay.
Conversation is limited as a group of children of varying ages makes it impossible to concentrate on anything for very long. Problems relating to children, housework, husbands or partners and sometimes real estate may be discussed. Safe subjects. Light and sweet like the snacks. It provides a break from the often lonely and tedious days at home in the heat with only a couple of small children to talk to.
Lately I have been spending some time at the Alice Springs Hospital where more than anywhere else in this town one is confronted with the great differences between our socio-economic groups. It is a reality miles apart from that of cheery coffee mornings.
I sometimes think we might be suffering from "survivor's guilt" or the "cake complex". We who have it all, who can function quite well in this society, who know the rules of the game, when we notice the sufferings of those less fortunate in our immediate environment.
When told about the people starving because there was no bread, Marie Antoinette, the queen of King Louise XVI, is reputed to have said, "Let them eat cake". Although according to the historical web sites I have consulted, she never actually said that, she was later beheaded at the guillotine, at the age of 37, for being royal, a victim of the French revolution.
When privileged, it is hard to imagine what it is like to starve, to have nothing. From the starving masses' point of view, her fancy outfits and an easy life in luxury would have seemed like an insult. Her experience of the world did not include lack of food and she was raised to believe her place in it was as a queen.
Our understanding of things is based on our experience. Our society is quite complicated. It assumes that you can read, speak English and have a certain amount of general cultural knowledge.
You are expected to know how to bake, for instance. When presented with a recipe for sponge cake that tells you to separate eggs, you already know how to go about it. Yet we are often impatient with people who are illiterate, clumsy or ignorant, unless they are our own children.
At an afternoon tea the other day I had a discussion with a friend about stupidity. I maintained that not knowing better does not make one stupid.
Stupid means "silly or foolish, either generally or in particular" according to my dictionary and synonyms include senseless, witless, brainless, weak-headed and slow.
I grew up surrounded by shades of blue, my mother's favourite colour. Without thinking, I have chosen the same shades of blue for my own home. My parents might think I'm strong-willed and contrary yet deep down I follow the program that my childhood experience provided for me. Personality might be 'nature' but attitudes is 'nurture'. There is nothing wrong with a coffee break or a piece of cake but it should not stop us from reflecting over the challenges we and others face.
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