ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
June 28, 2007. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
A record of denial. By KIERAN
The record of denial and
procrastination by Chief Minister Clare Martin and her government over
the abuse of Aboriginal children goes back to well before the delayed
release of the Anderson-Wild report and the complete absence of a
decisive action plan in response to it.
• Last week Ms Martin continued the
attacks of mid last year on one of the whistle-blowers in this saga,
former NT public servant Gregory Andrews. His accounts of crimes at
Mutitjulu near Ayers Rock, together with revelations by Alice
Prosecutor Nanette Rogers sparked off the Anderson-Wild “Little
Children are Sacred” report. Inaction on the report has now led to the
Prime Minister’s extraordinary plan to take over control of Aboriginal
communities in the Territory, a massive blow to the authority of Ms
• Ms Martin’s government has never
provided satisfactory answers to a September 2004 investigation by the
Alice Springs News into lack of action and underspending on child abuse
and neglect, nor the failure of her then Police Minister, Paul
Henderson, to instruct police to act.
• Ms Martin ignored the invitation in
May last year from Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney to have a
bi-partisan approach to the issue. Ms Carney’s offer came with the
outline of a plan that contained some of the elements that are now in
the Howard Government’s plan. It also came with the warning that the
Territory risked losing considerable control over what was happening in
its jurisdiction if the Territory Government failed to act.
Mr Andrews says Ms Martin is continuing to mislead the public.
He came to national attention last year for his statements about child
abuse and neglect in Mutitjulu, statements made first in the context of
a coronial inquiry (while he was still a NT Government employee) and in
June last year, anonymously, on the ABC TV program Lateline (while he
was an Australian Government employee).
The Lateline interview, coming in the wake of an earlier one with
Central Australian Crown prosecutor Nanette Rogers, shone the national
spotlight on the child abuse problems in Territory Aboriginal
communities and governments’ apparent failure to deal decisively with
Following these revelations Ms Martin commissioned the Anderson-Wild
On October 11 last year Ms Martin and her deputy, Syd Stirling, under
the protection of parliamentary privilege, savaged Mr Andrews’
professional reputation. (Alice Springs News, October 26.)
In a letter to Ms Martin, dated November 8, 2006, Mr Andrews detailed
the error of their various claims about him and his actions.
Mr Andrews asked that his letter be tabled NT Legislative Assembly in
order to correct the record.
He wrote: “I believe you have a responsibility to correct the record or
you will be in breach of paragraph 14 of the Members’ Code of Conduct
and Ethical Standards, relating to the requirement for members to act
honestly and to take all reasonable steps to ensure that they do not
mislead the public or the Assembly.”
He has never had a reply.
Last Monday, June 18, Ms Martin appeared on the Lateline program to
discuss the Anderson-Wild report and again made, according to Mr
Andrews, factually incorrect and critical statements about him and his
2006 appearance on Lateline and the work he did while employed for the
Ms Martin said: “Greg Andrews went on the program anonymously when at
the time he was working for me, for the Northern Territory Government
in Mutitjulu, because I had been so concerned about the problems
there.” (See transcript on Lateline’s web archive.)
Mr Andrews has told the Alice Springs News: “I was not working in
the NT or for the NT Government when I went on the program.”
Ms Martin also said last week on Lateline: “[Mr Andrews had started
work for us] a couple of years before.
“He had direct line to me, he had direct line to me in terms of his
reporting ... But the first reporting I get from him is anonymously
through your program. So, of course, I’m disappointed and of course I
wonder about the credibility of what he’s saying when that’s how he
chooses to do it.”
Says Mr Andrews: “In the course of my work at Mutitjulu, I never met,
spoke to, or directly communicated with Ms Martin in any form.”
His letter of November 8, 2006 provides detail about the kind of
reports he did make in the course of his employment and to whom he was
He says that he has records of reports he made and the names of police
officers and government officials he spoke to who were “responsible for
addressing violence and child abuse and neglect at Mutitjulu”.
He says he “was interviewed formally by Alice Springs CIB about child
abuse at Mutitjulu”.
“Together with a senior officer from your [the Chief Minister’s]
department, I met with the Assistant Police Commissioner in Darwin and
we discussed the human rights abuses occurring at Mutitjulu.
“I also regularly reported issues concerning child abuse and neglect to
the Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services.
“This department and the Northern Territory Police were both
represented at senior levels on the Working Group to which I reported.
“I had an on-going dialogue about the problems occurring at Mutitjulu
with Northern Territory public servants and police from these
“I have a range of documentary evidence about my reports to the
Police and other Northern Territory Government officials responsible
for the protection of children during my employment on the Working
Together Project [at Mutitjulu].”
Later in his letter Mr Andrews says: “My statements on Lateline in June
2006 were consistent with the evidence I gave – both in writing and
verbally – to the Northern Territory Coroner during his 2005 inquest
into the deaths of two petrol sniffers at Mutitjulu.
“In its own submission to the Coroner of 24 August, 2005, the Northern
Territory Government submitted that, ‘the Coroner should accept as
credible the evidence of Mr Gregory Andrews’ ...
“Your Government submitted to the Coroner that my ‘evidence was broadly
supported by Ms Vicki Gillick [NPY Women’s Council], Mr Blair McFarland
and Mr Tristan Ray [both of Tangentyere Council’s CAYLUS]’.”
Ms Martin’s latest attack on Mr Andrews prompted him to release to the
Alice Springs News the major portions of the November 8, 2006 letter.
Mr Andrews told the News: “I have a deep moral conviction to stand up
for the victims of abuse and to challenge the perpetrators and those
who condone it.
“The humiliation, defamation and harassment that I and my family have
endured since appearing on Lateline have strengthened this conviction.”
Alice Springs News editor Erwin Chlanda did a major investigation into
the Territory’s record on child protection in September, 2004.
At the time the then Community Welfare Minister Marion Scrymgour had
made a 7300 word statement on the government’s plans to tackle rampant
abuse and neglect, which included a review and complete overhaul of the
Community Welfare Act, which she said would be completed in early 2005
(it is still in draft form).
Ms Scrymgour said “we need an integrated response to families who are
in strife” and described police as “front line workers” in outlying
communities where Family and Children’s Services (FACS) has no
The Martin Government’s failure to provide staff for the police post at
Mutitjulu, opened with fanfare last year, has become a matter of
But the News’ investigation (see our web archive, September 1, 2004)
revealed that the then Police Minister Paul Henderson (likely to become
Ms Martin’s successor and now rather sooner than later) had a poor
understanding of the role of police in the matter of children’s
The Community Welfare Act refers specifically to police as one of the
agencies charged with taking action in child abuse and neglect matters.
Questioned by the News, Mr Henderson said the police “act upon
The News put to him, given that police are based in remote areas while
FACS staff are not, that offences against children could be something
he would instruct his police to keep an eye out for.
He said “The Minister cannot direct the Police Commissioner.
“I cannot countenance an area where I would instruct the police to
engage in a particular operation.
“That is fundamentally an issue under the Police Administration Act for
the Police Commissioner.”
The News pointed out that it was clear that Mr Henderson was wrong.
With the arrival in the Territory, over the coming days and weeks, of
Australian Federal Police and police seconded from other jurisdictions
to respond to the national emergency of child abuse on Territory
Aboriginal communities, it will be plain for all to see just how wrong
At the time the News quoted the Police Administration Act: “The
Commissioner shall exercise and perform all the powers and functions of
his office in accordance with the directions in writing, if any, given
to him by the Minister.”
The News also pointed to overwhelming statistical and anecdotal
evidence that suggested that the broad powers provided under the
existing Community Welfare Act were not being used as widely as they
could or should be.
Its provisions include: “The Minister, an authorised person or a member
of the Police Force may, where he or she believes on reasonable grounds
that a child is in need of care, and that no other action would ensure
the adequate care of the child, take the child into custody.”
And: “Where a member of the Police Force believes on reasonable grounds
that a child has suffered or is suffering maltreatment, he or she
shall, as soon as practicable, notify the Minister” and “may
investigate the circumstances to ascertain if the child has suffered or
is suffering maltreatment.”
The News also pointed out, not for the first time, that the Martin
Government (though they had increased funding and FACS staff numbers)
and previous CLP governments had consistently been under-spending their
Federal Grants Commission allocations for Family and Children’s
The News also asked police for details of its work under the Community
However NT Police Commissioner Paul White, in Alice for a “photo
opportunity” with mounted police, declined to discuss the issues.
A local officer, Detective Superintendent Don Fry, was nominated to
field the News’ questions – about statistics, numbers of reports made
to police, numbers of occasions police acted on its own initiative, and
what kinds of actions those were.
However, Mr Fry’s replies were general and unspecific and the News was
told there would be no further comment (see our web archive, September
The News wrote: “The episode is yet another example of what the Martin
regime means by open and transparent government: all show and no tell.
“Of course, matters of life and death are such unpleasant things to
Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney has reasonably pointed to the letter
she wrote to the Chief Minister more than a year ago (May 19, 2006)
urging her “to convene a bi-partisan meeting with the sole purpose of
addressing the breakdown of social order in Aboriginal communities and
then approaching the Federal Government with a plan of action”.
This was after Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough had called for a
national summit on violence in Aboriginal communities, which Ms Martin
had refused to attend.
Ms Carney’s letter said in part: “There is no room for political
point-scoring in this matter.
“I am aware that during the CLP’s time in Government, although much was
done, achievements were disappointing.
“Similarly, in the last five years, while the ALP has also made
considerable efforts, the results are disappointing.
“This demonstrates that a much more comprehensive approach,
driven by delivering real and sustained outcomes, must be our
“It is important to note that Minister Brough’s comments have placed
him on a somewhat aggressive footing in addressing this
“Basically, he has said that ... if the Territory doesn’t do something,
the Commonwealth will.
“This could potentially see the Northern Territory’s self-governance,
autonomy and our sovereignty compromised ...
“I am concerned that if the Territory is not at the negotiating table
when it comes to action by the Federal Government, the Territory will
be sidelined; and may lose control over what is happening in our
A year later Mr Brough made good his threat.
Says Ms Carney now: “Had the Chief Minister adopted my proposal for an
agreed plan of action, in full or in part, it would have been
impossible for Mr Brough to ignore our collective resolve.
“We would have been 12 months on from where we are now and still in
complete charge of our destiny.”
Ms Carney’s plan of May 2006, which called for the formation of a
crisis Cabinet, with Federal representation as well as bi-partisan
Territory representation, included in part:
• mandatory regular health checks for all children under 16 years of
• tying Centrelink payments with school attendance;
• use of Australian Federal Police;
• dismissing any local Government Councils deemed dysfunctional and
• declaration of “areas of operation” to be targeted (the Federal
Government’s plan refers to “prescribed communities”).
She says: “While the Prime Minister varied some of our proposals, he
has adopted others.
“My long-standing wish to see the removal of customary law as a
mitigating factor in sentencing, rejected three times by the Martin
Government, will finally be achieved.”
Ms Carney further accuses Ms Martin of a back-flip on “talkfests”.
Last year Ms Martin refused to go to Mr Brough’s national summit on
child sex abuse.
Ms Carney quotes Ms Martin as saying, 12 months ago: “If
you said to me : Should you stand publicly and go on about it or
should you do something, I know what I will do. I will do
something. That is exactly the reason why endless talkfests about
issues of domestic violence and child abuse facing Aboriginal
communities is not the way to go.”
Now, with Ms Martin supporting a national conference on child sex
abuse, Ms Carney says “the irony could not be more profound”.
Two Hidden Valleys. By ERWIN
When John Howard, on Thursday last week, made the historic announcement
that his government would be taking over Aboriginal communities in the
Territory, its Chief Minister was handing an NT flag to the driver of
one of the trucks that had brought the V8 Supercars circus to Hidden
Valley raceway in Darwin.
The next morning, in the other Hidden Valley, the one in Alice Springs,
the scene was as far from a glamour event as one can imagine.
It was a scene Mr Howard says he wants to change, forever.
In one house of the notorious town camp, a family of about 10 was
soaking up the sun after a freezing night.
They had slept on the veranda and by a wind break outside because the
toilet had over flowed and sewage was flooding into the living room.
A women resident says this problem had been there for three weeks.
The house was surrounded by garbage, some in piles, some strewn about,
from beer cans to rotting food and dirty disposable nappies,
undoubtedly a health hazard.
One of the residents says a full garbage skip hadn’t been emptied for
Tangentyere Council will not disclose how much public money it is
getting to provide municipal services to the town’s 19 camps.
Rumor is that their total budget is $23m a year – more than the town
We reported the mess at Hidden Valley to Tangentyere.
They replied that a plumber had been sent to the house five times
recently, on June 15, 18, 20, 22 and 25, to remove from the drain
clothing, mechanical parts, a bottle and a coat hanger, and repaired
the inspection opening lids four times.
We went back to the house on Tuesday this week and our woman informant
said maybe kids were putting stuff into the toilet drain.
The skip had been taken away that morning. Tangentyere says it appears
it was owned by a contractor.
The ocean of rubbish was still there.
The responsibility for dealing with health hazards of this kind lies
with the government of Ms Martin.
It’s likely to be one of the many functions of which Mr Howard will be
Every house in the camps looks much the same – derelict, surrounded by
broken cars, filthy.
This scene, repeated a dozen times in the camps around the town, is in
crass contrast to a statement by Tangentyere’s Housing and
Environmental Health Manager, David Donald: “Tangentyere recently
completed a Fixing Houses for Better Health (FHBH) programme, run by
the Family, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FACSIA)”, the
people spearheading Mr Howard’s campaign to “normalize” Aboriginal
Says Mr Donald: “This trial surveyed each house across all Town Camp
Communities and applied stringent environmental health based tests on
each section of each house, including a flush toilet test.
“The flush toilet test had 15 separate test components, including
testing the cistern, refill time, flush time, stop cock, pan, toilet
seat, doors, door locks, walls, toilet roll holder, ventilation, shelf
for toilet paper storage, floor finish, floor drainage, lights etc.
“The results of this survey found that 99% of all houses surveyed (196)
had 100% of all 15 test components working.
“This was considered by the FACSIA project managers to be an extremely
good result, with the two house failures the result of no shelves for
“These two houses now have shelves, as a result of this survey.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has announced that it expects the
Territory Government to resume all special leases over town camps in
the major urban areas where “lease conditions have been breached”.
The Federal Government says it will act in this area if the the
Territory Government fails to do so.
Town Council backs Mal except on
dongas. By KIERAN FINNANE.
The Alice Springs Town Council on Monday strengthened its
opposition to the use of dongas in the proposed short-term
accommodation facilities for bush visitors.
Aldermen passed a motion supporting the establishment of such
facilities, but said that they should be of “substantial construction”,
that is, bricks and mortar, not dongas.
The draft motion had referred to “future” facilities, leaving the way
open for the facility in Len Kittle Drive, set to go ahead, to use
However, aldermen agreed on Monday that the objection to the use of
dongas should extend to the Len Kittle Drive site.
Alderman Melanie van Haaren said aldermen also wanted a “very targeted
clientele” for the facilities (which so far are intended to be open to
anyone) and for them not to be in “large enclaves”.
Ald Samih Habib asked if the search was on for an alternative site, now
that Dalgety Road has been excluded.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff said Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough had
wanted council to consider the issue but there was no mention of
council finding a site.
She presumed the “original firm” (Qantec McWilliam) were still
A spokesperson from the office of Minister for Planning and Lands Delia
Lawrie confirmed on Tuesday that “a project is underway assessing all
possible alternative sites around Alice Springs”.
“That information will be provided to the Commonwealth when it is
ready,” said the spokesperson.
Ms Lawrie was one of three Territory Ministers briefed by Mal Brough in
a video linkup on Monday. The other were Police Minister Chris Burns
and Minister for Local Government and Housing Elliot McAdam.
The Town Council also voted unanimously to express its strong support
of the Federal Government’s plans to tackle child abuse on Indigenous
communities, and resolved to offer in-kind support if required while
asking to be kept informed during the implementation process.
Expecting that the moves will lead to greater migration from the bush
into Alice Springs, aldermen also resolved to write to the Territory
government asking for “financial and logistical support” to cope with
Defying logic, however, when Ald van Haaren later asked aldermen to
discuss writing a letter to support remote communities being given
access to the dongas, they declined.
Ald Van Haaren said communities she had visited last week had told her
they wanted the dongas and wanted council support for their request.
Tough love made real. By ERWIN
As public servants are tearing out their hair about how to cope with
the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister John Howard,
legendary volunteer social worker, Graham Ross, and Steve Brown, who
heads up Advance Alice, are quietly getting on with a project that’s
certain to help children in distress.
The two are setting up a “tough love” camp west of Alice Springs, on a
Golden Mile block owned by Mr Ross’ “Auntie” Trudy Inkamala, who’s
letting him use about half of her land near the Standley Chasm
turn-off, ringed by the magnificent ranges of the West MacDonnells.
A 99 year lease is being applied for.
At the back of the land lies Fish Hole, which has permanent water, and
beyond that, about three hours’ walk through the ranges, is the
Hamilton Downs Youth Camp.
The block, apart from its views, has a small house, so accommodation
for the children will be needed.
Mr Brown says he’ll seek help from the public, and from the small
business owners attached to Advance Alice.
Coincidentally, the project is probably falling within Mr Howard’s
strategies, and as such is likely to attract some Canberra cash.
Apart from that Mr Ross knows exactly where he’s going – he’s done it
all before, in Alice, in the ‘seventies and the ‘eighties.
And what he doesn’t know or have, his extended family will provide,
drawing on the resourcefulness of their English, Scottish, Alyawarra,
Arrernte and Indian ancestry.
“There were lots of street kids who went on to really good things,”
says Mr Ross.
“My young fellow, Loughlin, went to play league footy for West Adelaide
“James Swan went to box in the Olympics.
“And Aaron Pedersen, he always told me he would be somebody important.
“He ended up a film star.”
What will he be getting the street kids to do?
“It’s to give the schools a helping hand, and the mothers, when they’re
having problems, and give the poor kids a good start in life,” he says.
“We can be an extension of the schools, or get them off the streets,
help the police.
“Too much blame is put on the police, you know.
“These kids shouldn’t be in the hands of the police at all, going into
the police stations.
“If the town’s people really cared, well, you’d be there, doing a
little bit for your community, for your society.
“We’re all Central Australians, why can’t we work together to make a
better world for kids?
“We’ll have better citizens, rather than this angry mob beating up on
“If they want to fight we can put gloves on them here and teach them
how to box.
“Some of us can box, you know, teach them a bit of karate, just for
their own confidence and self respect.
“They don’t go out and use it on the streets.
“And they can have some brumby horses, break in some horses, or ride
some quiet ones, make a few little trotting sulkies, a few quad bikes
to ride around on.”
Hard work isn’t anything that ever worried Mr Ross, aged 63.
He was a ringer on Neutral Junction Station near Barrow Creek, and the
“axe man” for government surveyor Barry Allwright for more than a
“Later on, down the track, we’ll get these kids, like we did years ago
when I was doing street work, to set up our own soup kitchen.
“We used to have a big double decker bus parked near the Youth Centre
on Anzac Hill.
“We’d pick all these kids up and take them there.
“Sid Ross Hostel used to cook the curries and the stews and the soup
“We’d have television upstairs, they could watch something that was
going to be useful for them to see.
“We’d have the people down the bottom having their meals. We’d drive
them home from there.
“We’d have a bus for the elderly people and the drunks and we’d run
them home, and then we’d use the bus for the street kids.
“So after a while there was no problem on the streets in those days.
“We never had thugs beating up people, being angry, because everybody
cared for them.”
Would the kids stay with him at the Tough Love Centre?
Say Mr Ross: “Well, they wouldn’t have a choice.
“If they are referred to us through the schools, the courts or the
police, you bring them here, and I can’t see why they would want to run
away if you treat them right.
“Give them a lot of love. They’re missing out on a lot of love.
“A lot of these kids are looking for a father image.
“If we can get some fellas here to look after these kids, even give
poor mum a helping hand, you know.
“They’re missing out on a lot of things, they’re feeling deprived, but
here they wouldn’t be, this would be the place where we can help them
to grow up and take their place in society.
“Remember when they had the horse breaking out at Arid Zone?
“You watch a kid getting a horse up into the float.
“How did you get the horse into that float? A little bit of kindness.
“You put some feed in there and the horse would walk up to it, and the
sound of walking up the boards wouldn’t scare him then.
“They were little horses from Yambah Station [about 50 km north of
“John Gorey used to give them to us.
“He was a mighty man, wonderful man.
“When he passed away it was the finish of our street work because we
didn’t have a property.”
Well, now Mr Ross has a property again.
Sitting on the veranda of the small but neat house Mr Ross reminisces
about the camp outs at Yambah he organized for street kids every
They would be taken there on the backs of three utes, 10 kids each, one
driven by him, one by Peter Lorraine and a third by Dr Peter
Fitzpatrick who now practices medicine in Tennant Creek.
They would hunt and spotlight much of the night, for ‘roos, rabbits and
goannas, and gather bush foods.
Once a year Mr Ross used to take up to 50 street kids for a week to
Vanderlin Island, in the Gulf of Carpenteria, and to Lake Woods, near
The former street kids are all in their thirties now, and most have
jobs, says Mr Ross, with the town council, Tangentyere or Aboriginal
Now the new generation needs a bit of tough love.
The nuts and bolts of change. By
Alice Springs’ restrictions on alcohol will be widened as part of the
Federal Government’s emergency plan for the Territory’s Aboriginal
Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough says customers in Alice and
other urban centres will have to provide ID if they are buying more
than three cartons of heavy beer and state where the alcohol is going
Register of large quantity purchases will be kept and regularly checked
by police with a view to preventing grog running to communities.
The total ban on alcohol in communities will also extend to
non-Aboriginal residents of those communities.
Meanwhile, Mr Brough says the Territory Government will be expected to
develop a comprehensive strategy to tackle the ‘rivers of grog’ across
Mr Brough says his government’s intervention in alcohol management will
remain in lace until the Territory Government has appropriate laws
enacted and until they can demonstarte that they are in fact being
“There is no point in having laws if people simply ignore them or [if]
there is no police presence there to enact them,” says Mr Brough.
Other details to emerge:
• The implementation taskforce will be based in Alice Springs
under Operational Commander of the implementation group, Shane Castles,
a career police officer with 32 years of experience, who was
Commissioner for Police in the Solomon Islands.
He will have full-time staff working to assist him.
Mr Castles’ office is expected to be in place this week.
The taskforce is made up of of eminent Australians, including logistics
and other specialists as well as child protection experts.
Magistrate Sue Gordon, chair of the National Indigenous Council and
author of the 2002 Gordon Report into Aboriginal child abuse in Western
Australia, will lead the taskforce.
Territory members of the taskforce are: John Reeves QC; Miriam Rose
Baumann, principal of St Francis Xavier Catholic School, Daly River,
and current member of the National indigenous Council; and Paul Tyrell,
CEO of the NT Department of the Chief Minister.
• Mr Brough announced on Tuesday that “small survey teams” would start
visiting communities this week.
“The teams will consist of NORFORCE vehicles, personnel and logistic
support for a small group comprising officers from Families, Community
Services and Indigenous Affairs, Health, DEWR and Centrelink. There may
be some AFP personnel.
“It is important that these small teams, many of whom have NT
understanding and experience, have the opportunity to sit down and have
a meaningful engagement with communities.
“These initial visits this week will include scoping existing
facilities in communities and establishing future needs as part of the
“After these discussions, more substantive involvement in these
communities will commence during next week based on the outcomes of the
“While those services are being placed in the communities, the advance
teams will begin discussions with the next group of communities, with
this pattern of discussions followed by implementation continuing over
the coming months.”
• The permit system will continue to apply to the vast bulk of
Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory – this includes
The Territory Government will also be given the power to make laws to
temporarily restrict access to areas where the permit system no longer
applies to protect the privacy of a cultural event or to protect public
health and safety.
The permit system will be removed for common areas, road corridors and
airstrips for “prescribed communities”.
In Central Australia these are: Kaltukatjara (Docker River), Mutitjulu,
Aputula (Finke), Areyonga, Hermannsburg, Wallace Rockhole, Santa
Teresa, Amoonguna, Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff), Papunya, Mt Liebig, Kintore,
Nyirripi, Yuendumu, Yuelamu, Nturiya, Pmara Jutunta (Ti Tree 6 mile),
Ampilatwatja, Willowra and Ali Curung.
All of the communities visited in the Centre by the Anderson-Wild
inquiry are on this list, but not all on the list were visited by the
Private residences and sacred sites will continue to be protected.
People attending court hearings and performing Commonwealth or Northern
Territory Government duties on Aboriginal land will not require a
• Police seconded from other jurisdictions, paid for by the Australian
Government, will be sworn in as Territory Police and will operate under
• Military resources, including NORFORCE, will be used to provide
logistical backup – vehicles, communication, interpreters, tents to
accommodate the emergency response teams.
• A dedicated hotline has been established for people seeking
information about the response and wishing to volunteer
services. Call 1800 333 995.
Brough’s revolution: the good and
the bad. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
When Prime Minister John Howard declared a state of emergency in
Territory Aboriginal communities, I could think of no better people to
ask for their opinion than Frank and Wendy Baarda.
I’ve known them for 30 years.
They have lived in Yuendumu for all that time and raised their three
Wendy is a school teacher and Frank runs the locally owned Yuendumu
Despite its name its main business is a grocery store.
Both Frank and Wendy consider themselves independent from the
bureaucracy, both government and Aboriginal, and have over the years
provided me with invaluable insights into the world of the Warlpiri,
quite a few of whom are also long term acquaintances and news sources
Being whites without direct Warlpiri family ties further enhances their
objectivity while their close and friendly relationships with locals
affords them unique knowledge of the local scene.
Our exchange about the momentous current developments began, as so
often in the past, with a tongue-in-cheek Letter to the Editor from
Frank. He wrote:-
Because of the polls, we have been expecting the Howard government to
pull a rabbit out of the hat.
My money was on a terrorist scare (a Muslim farmer with a load of
fertiliser), but I should have realised that we have entered a “don’t
mention the war” phase.
From the people that brought us the GST we were never going to have,
the Tampa and the children overboard incidents, the dogs and balaclavas
wharves, the “we have a mandate to sell Telstra”, the “we didn’t know
about the AWB bribes”, and the list goes on ... we now have the
protection of indigenous children.
They certainly studied Dr. Goebbels’ methods well. They are masters at
demonizing and stereotyping.
Every Muslim man a potential terrorist, every refugee a queue jumper
and potential criminal, and now every Aboriginal man a drunken pervert.
(“Oh, but we never said that”).
“We should never have got into Iraq based on a lie.” ... “Aha, you must
be in favor of Saddam Hussein.”
The Federal Government has pulled a political stunt that is
counter-productive and in one fell swoop has wiped out years of quiet
and successful efforts on Aboriginal communities at improving the
It has even further reduced Aboriginal Society’s decision making power
(virtually non-existent as is) and ability at improving from within.”
“Aha, you must be in favour of the sexual abuse of children!”
Thou doth protest too much!
“No this is not for political reasons, we are just worried about the
Now pull the other one!
It was vintage Baarda cheek, but the issues of violence and sex abuse
of children have been around for too long.
He had to do better than that.
It was Wendy who replied, on their joint behalf, to my follow-up
Her answers were as much a robust rejection of the Howard plan, as – I
think – proof it is necessary.
NEWS: Who is saying “every Aboriginal man is a drunken pervert”? Pat
Anderson and Rex Wild are not saying that, but their highly disturbing
report, from which John Howard and Mal Brough are taking their cue,
asserts that the incidence of cild sexual abuse in Aboriginal society
is at an unacceptable level and constitutes a national emergency. Most
reasonable people on both sides of the political fence seem to have
accepted that proposition.
WENDY: No one is actually saying that every Aboriginal man is a drunken
pervert. It is implied in the same way that it is implied that Muslims
support terrorists though actually many deplore terrorism. Pat Anderson
and Rex Wild’s report identified over a hundred problems in Aboriginal
communities which they addressed making recommendations. Why is child
abuse the only one politicians have taken up? Because they see votes in
it. It’s something every-one will agree on. Where did they get their
figures from? I personally think that child abuse is no higher in
remote communities than in the cities. Has anyone compared the figures?
It may be higher in town camps where grog is available every day. It
may be higher in some communities.
I think poverty and the failure to provide jobs in communities is more
of an emergency.
NEWS: In what way has the Howard plan “wiped out years of quiet and
successful efforts on Aboriginal communities at improving the social
WENDY: Mal Brough’s response puts in jeopardy many programs and
restrictions already in place in the NT, to protect children and deal
with alcohol abuse and family violence.
All the measures he includes in his Fact Sheet 21/6/07 have either
already been introduced in the NT, would be counter productive, or have
nothing to do with protecting children.
Most if not all communities on Aboriginal land already have alcohol
restrictions. Men still do sometimes succeed in getting grog in. It is
a challenge. It’s the only way (apart from football) to gain status and
fill in the time.
Seconded police will take years to learn all the back roads into these
NT communities have chosen to be dry communities. Will Mal Brough’s
imposed restrictions be as stringent and will they have community
NEWS: What’s the social fabric in Yuendumu?
WENDY: Yuendumu people are only a few generations away from a nomadic
hunting life with a really different culture which still persists in
many aspects of life.
Traditional life was a lot more violent and women and children had no
rights. There was no concept of individual rights.
Every thing was for the survival of the group. The rules were
unchanging and old people were the only ones who could make decisions.
There are many ways in which traditional customs and values are in
conflict with the demands of modern life.
It takes time to adjust to the modern world that has landed around
The cooperative life style persists. In Yuendumu families are working
well. People look after each other very well.
Government services like health and education are not working so well
mainly because there is not nearly enough community involvement.
The hurdles have been raised too high for local people to get
Other organisations such as the Women’s Centre, Old People’s Program,
Child Care Centre, Mt Theo Youth Program, Warlukurlangu Artists and
Warlpiri Media are working well because they have no literacy based
hurdles and have a lot of local workers.
NEWS: What is the school attendance and the level of achievement?
WENDY: School attendance and achievement are very poor. Very low. I
think this has been an emergency for a long time.
It’s getting worse as the need for education becomes less. No one here
has any chance of getting a job that requires education.
There have been several enquiries into Aboriginal education with
excellent recommendations. None have been implemented.
The only action on the Collins report are office based administration
things, nothing that relates to the effectiveness of schooling.
NEWS: How many people have jobs?
WENDY: There are 60 CDEP workers spread around the organisations. They
can earn up to $450 a week if the organisation they work for can pay
top up. There are 30 Aborigines in full time non-CDEP employment and
about 70 casual non-CDEP workers.
As far as welfare payments go, a couple with three school age children
gets $382.80 a week (Newstart) plus family assistance of $ 72.73 per
week per child. That’s $218.18 for three children plus family
assistance B ($43.54 per child per week). That’s $731.60 all up per
week. But this doesn’t go far in Yuendumu!
NEWS: How many Yuendumu people are working in the Granites Mine which
is bending over backwards to employ Aborigines, especially local ones?
WENDY: At present two. They won’t let families camp near the mine or at
the outstation near there. They also need some level of literacy.
NEWS: You have a sealed all-weather airstrip suitable for small jets,
and you’re within an hour’s flying time from the tourist hubs of Alice
Springs and Ayers Rock whose visitors are principally interested in
meaningful contact with Aboriginal people.
How many tourists a year are welcomed in Yuendumu to see traditional
dancing, hunting, bush tucker gathering, story telling and Western
WENDY: Many tourists come and buy paintings. Almost every day there are
one or two cars or a plane. There is no other tourist program. This
would take a white organiser and money to set up.
NEWS: Do you have fruit and vegetable gardens? You certainly have no
shortage of land nor labour, and I believe there is ample water.
WENDY: There are no fruit or vegie gardens. In Native Welfare days
there were. When Native Welfare closed it was suggested to keep them
going to supply the shop but the council was told this was not the
purpose of them and that it would not be economical.
NEWS: How is the cattle project going, complete with abattoir – or are
you now transporting in these foodstuffs that could so readily be
produced locally (and used to be).
WENDY: An agreement between traditional owners and the Yuendumu Mining
Company as just been reached so that the cattle project can continue.
This is non-literacy based, outside work for locals at mustering time.
NEWS: I am perplexed to hear that the Aboriginal society’s decision
making power is “virtually non-existent”. For more than 30 years the
people of Yuendumu have been the freehold owners of their land.
WENDY: Local decision-making power is non-existent. Our local council
is officially powerless. It got into debt because of whitefella
bungling. It’s now clear of debt but still powerless. We do have an
advisory council until [the NT Government] bring in the shires.
NEWS: The Warlpiri have at their service the Central Land Council with
100 plus employees, an annual budget (I understand) of $5m. Surely
there is enough cash and manpower available to put in place all the
commercial initiatives outlined above. What’s the problem?
WENDY: Although Warlpiri own the Yuendumu reserve, the land is held by
a land trust that they have nothing to do with. The land trust has no
money to fix nor initiate anything. Government departments can build or
put people here without permission. The only say over this land that
people have is through the permit system which the emergency plan wants
to get rid of.
Most of the council budget I suppose goes on building houses, paying
outside contractors, plumbers, electricians, carpenters on big travel
allowances and running the power house. I believe a new house here
NEWS: The Central Land Council has a three fifths share in Centrecorp
which has or controls assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
WENDY: I have never heard of Centrecorp.
Dear Clare, you’re getting it all
wrong: Gergory Andrews' letter.
These are the major portions not referred to in our report of the
letter of November 8, 2006 from Gregory Andrews (pictured) to Chief
Minister Clare Martin, and copied to her deputy, Syd Stirling.
Dear Ms Martin,
I am writing to you in my personal capacity and not in my capacity as
an Australian Public Service (APS) employee ...
It has come to my attention that on Wednesday 11 October 2006 you made
a number of comments about me which were erroneous in the Northern
Territory Legislative Assembly.
Comments made about me by Syd Stirling MLA in the Northern Territory
Legislative Assembly on 19 October 2006 were also erroneous ...
It is incorrect to say that I was an “employee of the Federal
Government working in the Territory”. Your Department would be able to
advise you that I was employed by the Northern Territory Government as
Manager of the Mutitjulu Working Together Project from late August 2004
until February 2006.
My position was administratively located in the Department of Community
Development, Sports and Cultural Affairs, and your Department had
principal oversight of me.
My chief manager in the Northern Territory Government was initially the
Principal Policy Adviser, and the Executive Director, of the Office of
Indigenous Policy in your Department ...
The memo that you wrote to Police Minister Henderson in November 2004
was not written by me. I understand that it was drafted by the Office
of Indigenous Policy in your Department. I was consulted about it and
provided input. Your Department advised me that a range of other
Northern Territory Government agencies – including the Police – were
also consulted about it and provided input.
You alleged that “anything that Greg Andrews presented to us we said,
‘you report to the police straight away’ “ in relation to the reports
of abuse that I made. I do recall being advised by my supervisors to
report any violence and threats against myself to the Police. I cannot
recall being instructed by your Department or any other Northern
Territory Department to report incidents of child abuse or violence
against women to the Police.
It is incorrect to allege that I “never reported anything” to the
Police about the abuse and violence occurring at Mutitjulu ...
I reported to Yulara and Alice Springs Police allegations I heard and
observations I made of criminal behaviour, or evidence of it in
I met regularly with the local Police and also had discussions with
senior Alice Springs Police ...
I did not send an anonymous fax after I left Mutitjulu. I have never
sent an anonymous fax about Mutitjulu. I have never seen the fax to
which you refer. I understand that it was sent by the Australian
Government’s Office of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination before I started
work there. I had no knowledge that it was sent until I learnt about it
in the press after the Lateline show went on air in June 2006.
You alleged that many of the reports I made about Mutitjulu had “no
substance”. Denying my statements about human rights abuses occurring
at Mutitjulu repudiates the women of Central Australia whose
representative forum, the NPY Women’s Council, confirmed on 7 August
2006 that “the people who spoke on Lateline did not make up those
stories... [t]hey are not liars or mad” ...
My statements on Lateline in June 2006 were consistent with the
evidence that I gave – both in writing and verbally – to the Northern
Territory Coroner during his 2005 inquest into the deaths of two petrol
sniffers in Mutitjulu.
I consulted widely in the preparation of my submission to the Coroner
and shared drafts of my submission to the Coroner and shared drafts of
my submission with your Department and other members of the
Working Together Project (including the police) before I provided
it to the Coroner.
This consultation included seeking input on the degree of human rights
abuses and allowing reasonable critique of my submission’s content.
The Office of Indigenous Policy in your Department advised me that it
supported my submission ...
I was advised by the Department of Justice that my submission was
“excellent”. I have documentary evidence of this meeting.
After my appearance in the witness box during the Coronial inquest,
your Department advised me that it supported the oral evidence I gave.
In its own submission to the Coroner of 24 August 2005, the Northern
Territory Government submitted that, “the Coroner should accept as
credible the evidence of Mr Gregory Andrews” ...
I have never used the term ‘paedophile ring’ to describe human rights
abuses occurring in Central Australia. The only people on the Lateline
program who discussed the question of paedophile rings were Jane Lloyd
and the former community doctor, Geoff Stewart.
Your claim that my performance was “very disappointing” contradicts the
submission of your own Government to the Coroner of 24 August 2005.
Your Government submitted that, “the Coroner should comment and commend
Mr Andrews for his apparent rapport with the community and the advances
he has made steering the Working Together Project”.
It also contradicts the Corner’s own independent findings which were
published on 10 October 2005. The Northern Territory Coroner said, “I
have rarely met a more qualified, committed and emotionally and
culturally supportive advisor in terms of Aboriginal substance abuse
problems than Mr Andrews. His work is simply outstanding”.
Your claim that my performance managing the Working Together Project
was “very disappointing” contradicts direct feedback I received from
At the end of my tenure, the Executive Director of the Office of
Indigenous Policy in your Department wrote to me thanking me for my
“tireless work in relation to the Mutitjulu Working Together Project”
and acknowledging that the “significant progress” made under the
project has been “in no small part due to [my] own energetic efforts to
assist the community and various government agencies to identify and
confront a number of issues that are critical for the future well being
of all community members at Mutitjulu” ... I have kept this letter.
Reflecting your Department’s positive view of my performance managing
the Working Together Project, the Executive Director of the
Officer of Indigenous Policy in your Department encouraged me to apply
for and then offered me a Principal Policy Adviser position in your
Department in late 2005.
In relation to Mr Stirling’s statement to the Northern Territory
Legislative Assembly of 19 October 2006 that I am a “staffer to
Minister Brough”, you and Mr Stirling should be aware that I am an
employee of the Australian Government’s Department of Families
Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
I have never held a ‘political’ or staffer position with the Australian
Government. Mr Stirling’s other comment that I am a “lying little grub”
was infantile and distasteful. It is not what I would expect of a
representative of the people. It reflects badly on Mr Stirling and on
the Northern Territory Government.
In the Northern Territory, too many people are speaking in whispers
about the violence against women and children. They are afraid of being
overheard by those perpetrating the abuse.
They are troubled that those who should be listening are not. They live
in fear of retribution from the perpetrators of abuse or those who have
vested interests in maintaining the status quo and are unwilling to
acknowledge and address the suffering.
During my time in the Northern Territory, I found that once I had
slowly built the confidence of people, information began to flow.
Everything I reported was based on what people shared with me or what I
Denigration of those who speak out against abuse is a condemnation of
the victims. It sends a message to all Australians black and
white that if people speak out against sexual abuse, they will be
punished and publicly humiliated.
A number of vested interest holders have promulgated a range of false
and defamatory material about me in relation to this matter. This has
diverted attention from the important issue at hand.
It is disappointing that you have contributed to that.
I note that the Assembly next sits on 28 to 30 November 2006. I look
forward to hearing from you by then.
Soccer self help. By FIONA CROFT.
Local residents’ opposition to floodlights at Ross Park are but one
hurdle for local soccer – oops, it’s now called football – to jump in
its plans to create a permanent home for the sport.
The Territory Government’s grant of of $500,000 falls well short of
what’s required for night lights and an upgrade of the club rooms, but
the locals are taking a “can do” approach, says Paul Lelliot,
president of the Southern Zone of the Football Federation
At the Town Council meeting on Monday night residents of Winnecke
Avenue, which runs along one side of Ross Park, expressed concern over
heavy traffic, intense usage of the park and the lighting proposals.
In particular they objected to use of floodlights on what they had
heard would be six nights a week till 9pm and even 10pm.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff suggested that a meeting be organised with the
Football Federation, the residents and council officers to iron
out the problems.
Mr Lelliot says he will attend that meeting but can meanwhile allay
He says lights will be used for training from Tuesday to Thursday, but
only till 8pm when they will be automatically shut off.
He says the federation are hoping to be able to stage a “fully fledged
competition” at night, which would take some pressure off use of the
park on the weekend.
It’s not certain whether this would be on a Friday or Saturday, however
it is likely it would finish at 10pm.
He says the federation also want flexibility to stage exhibition
matches but these would be only from time to time.
Meanwhile, the Territory Government grant is accumulating interest as
It is hoped that the upgrade of clubrooms will provide an elevated
viewing area with change rooms and showers underneath.
This work and the installation of lights, expected to cost around
$250,000, will go to tender, but local expertise will help to bring
A grade player and Probuild director Phil Danby says the Southern Zone
committee “may become the head contractor, who subcontracts out”.
In this way, says Mr Danby, there would be “no builder’s profit
margin in it, it would be cheaper”.
Mr Lelliot says this will enable the federation to get maximum value
from their grant.
Self employed tradesman and A grade player Gio Morelli is also willing
to pitch in.
He is “born and bred” Alice and has been playing soccer since he was
His father and the Italian community set up of the Verdi club in the
1960s and now Mr Morelli’s three children all play.
He says, at age 41, soccer is “in the heart”.
“ I’ll keep going – I play, coach and referee seniors, and I’m involved
with the juniors.”
This is a healthy family lifestyle in the Centre’s fresh air, says Mr
Morelli, far removed from playing indoor computer games.
And because he’s a plumber and a builder he can “organise subbies
or myself to have significant input” into the new club rooms.
Talented A grade player and trades assistant Adrian McAdam has been
playing since he was four.
He says he spends his time outside of the game encouraging people to
get involved, and is always part of the “team effort if work needs to
Referees David Hood, an employee with Power and Water, and Rick
Kinsell, from Jindalee, both volunteer outside of their referee duties
With “one shower rose” in the present club change rooms, Mr Hood said
he was really looking forward to the new facilities.
Mr Lelliot says Ross Park grounds to date have not been well maintained
by the Town Council and the pitches need careful attention, in
particular those near the school.
“This is a council responsibility,” he says.
Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the world and the Centre now has
730 registered players, overtaking sports like netball with 600 players
and AFL with about 400.
There are 150 to 200 girls who play in mixed teams – they are
“fairly well protected with the rules, it’s not rough”, says Mr
The Centre has only produced one national soccer star to date, Charlie
Perkins, the famed Aboriginal leader, who in the 1950s played
professional soccer with English team Everton and in teams in Sydney
But talent is starting to emerge, says Mr Lelliot, and a new
development officer is being sought to help refine it.
Veggie variety or the road less
travelled? By FIONA CROFT.
The vegetable you buy in the supermarket could be four to 20 weeks old
and have travelled 2000 to 4000 kilometres, if it was even grown in
That doesn’t sound very appetising, but can we in the Centre
sustainably grow our own?
David de Vries, director of the Centre for Sustainable Arid Towns, says
historical research has shown that tropical and temperate plants,
including citrus, watermelon, table grapes and date palms, grow well in
the region, but with fuel relatively cheap, the bulk of our produce
gets trucked in.
For example a mango picked in the Top End, will be packed and trucked
to wholesalers in Adelaide, then repacked to travel back to Territory
The journey means much nutrition is lost.
Mr de Vries’s advice: “For nutrition and taste grow your own.”
Apart from the burgeoning table grape industry around Ti Tree, there
are a couple of successfully established market gardens right here in
Moe McCosker, a plumber by trade, established Territory Lettuce on
Ilparpa Road 15 years ago.
Perfectly formed lettuces in various shades of green to red grow in
water with a mineral mix surrounding their roots.
Mr McCosker’s niche market is for 10 different ‘fancy’ lettuces
supplied to Coles supermarkets, restaurants and wholesalers in the
Alice Springs region and Darwin.
It’s a seven day a week business and cost “mega dollars” to set up.
Every year Mr McCosker faces problems with winter frost, frozen pipes,
The drought three years ago brought in a plague of thrip.
Biological control agents and organics are added to keep insects and
disease at bay to his 24 hour trickle fed hydroponic plants.
In the height of summer Mr McCosker uses 100,000 litres of town water a
The chlorination and salt content has to be removed by circulation
through a desalination unit.
Important minerals are added to sustain the 90,000 plants growing at
any one time. In summer they grow in three weeks, and winter it takes
four to five weeks.
Lettuces are 98 percent water.
Each plant uses 20 litres. All up the business and the McCosker
household use 36 million litres of water every year.
Tinh Nguyen and his wife Lan Le own the Alice Market Garden in
Heffernan Rd. They are expanding their love of food to include a
Vietnamese restaurant, opening in August.
The couple arrived in Alice Springs as refugees in 1994.
After five years in catering at the Alice Springs Airport, Mr Nguyen
bought the market garden where his wife was working and which had been
established by Dieter Winter.
Today the couple grow European and Asian vegetables, keeping insects
away from the plants with night lights and a mix of garlic, oil and
water, and fertilize with cow manure from the cattle yards and their
own chicken manure.
Like Mr McCosker they use town water.
“We can get bore water but the town water is better for the plants,”
says Mr Nguyen.
They spend $1000 a month on average on their winter water bills and
$3000 a month in summer, watering for six minutes three times a day in
summer and twice daily in winter.
On the basis of six months of winter and six of summer, that’s an
annual bill of $24,000.
At 69 cents a kilolitre, that’s about 34,782 kilolitres or 34.7 million
litres, a similar figure to Mr McCosker’s.
They grow their vegetables for locals, restaurants and hotels, and the
“For people who go out bush [the vegetables] keep for a long time.
Hydroponics don’t last, if grown in the ground they’re stronger,” says
Further out from town, another horticulture project apparently draws on
the same water basin as the town’s.
In 2002 Richie Hayes from Undoolya Station diversified from the family
tradition of growing cattle to plant 100 acres of table grapes.
Grapes grown here can reach the market before grapes from other
Emerald in Queensland is now providing Mr Hayes with some competition,
but he keeps an eye on the market “to determine what to plant
Mr Hayes says he works “eight days a week”.
Is it profitable?
“Yes and no.”
He and his wife, three girls and dad and brothers all have an input.
Specialist pruners and pickers come from Mildura in Victoria and
several locals are employed, about 35 people over the year.
The business uses bore water “supposedly from the same basin as town
“I pay for the power to get the water out,” says Mr Hayes.
He wasn’t willing to state his water usage.
He is now growing cabbages which he says are not in the ground as long
as other regions.
So, with evaporation and time in the ground taken into account, “the
water usage should be the same” when compared to non-arid regions.
Mr Hayes is also venturing into growing melons and pomegranates, the
juice of the latter valued as a natural anti-oxidant.
It’s hard to get firm figures on the impact of water usage from growing
plants in the desert.
There are no water restrictions in Alice and the town has one of the
highest per capita consumption rates in the country.
It has relied on the Roe Creek borefield in the Amadeus Basin for
drinkable water for over 35 years.
Each Alice Springs household uses a daily average of 1600 litres (over
half a million litres a year). In 2004 the town used 10,425 megalitres
Mr de Vries says gardens, including market gardens, use “enormous
amounts of Territory Government water – a huge environmental cost”.
But is this better than using fuel to bring fresh produce in from the
Department for Natural Resouces spokesperson John Childs says
calculations weighing up water versus fuel costs and impacts have yet
to be completed.
“With the focus on Solar Cities there is a whole range of scrutinizing
the comparative energy costs. It could be worked out,” he says, “it
could be a good student project.”
The Alice Springs Water Resource Strategy overseen by Mr Childs has yet
to be released.
Scott Large, Project Manager of Desert Knowledge Australia COOL mob,
says local green thumbs need to be talking and gleaning knowledge from
one another: “Value the knowledge and advice sharing - what’s worked
and what hasn’t.”
People are “guilt ridden” about water usage, says Mr Large, but
watering can be done efficiently “to suit the seasons, and by using
good soil mulch”.
Horticulture consultant Geoff Miers, formerly a lecturer in
horticulture at Charles Darwin University, says locals can grow
vegetables well in Alice Springs even with its high water evaporation.
There are “no dig” and purely organic gardens operating in local
backyards and rural blocks. “People can lose up to 50% of their water
with sprinklers”, he says, but it’s unnecessary.
“With limited drip fed watering systems, either subsurface or trenched
into the ground, your plants can be watered every three days, develop
deep roots and survive well into healthy nutritious food that can reach
your table in minutes.”
Alice Springs News short story
competition: 2nd prize winner Jennifer Mills. Sponsor: The Lane
One for sorrow, two for mirth, she says.
It’s an old rhyme. Three for a death and four for a birth. Any more
than that, and it’s roadkill.
It’s the second thing she’s said to me after whereya headed and a nod.
Superstitious, but we all are. Me, I prayed to Ned up in heaven that
I’d make it out, and I’m alright so far. She drives past the carcasses
of long-dead vehicles, the scrub and spinifex, kicking up a dust I see
change from red to white in the mirror. Passenger side. I’ve never met
this woman before, but she seems like she can take a joke.
You a witch or something?
Maybe. She grins and there are holes where teeth should be. My mother
used to say it, she explains. Back in the day. You see so many this
time of year, it goes round in my head.
There are worse things to circle your brain, I think, than crows.
The upturned cars that punctuate the track have all been stripped down
to their bones; they’re pretty, in the way of skeletons. There are no
more hills. There are only these relics of old accidents to look
What possessed you to come this road? she asks, by way of conversation.
Quicker by the highway.
I tug my sleeve down over the warm steel bracelet and tell her I’ve
always wanted to see this country.
Not much to it, she says. Like this for another ten hours. Her hand
waves at the termite mounds that stand up out of the grass like
tombstones. My eyes shake with the road’s corrugations. I wonder when I
last had a decent sleep. She glances at me then, and her look takes me
in. I shed the greens days ago but you can still see the shadow of
prison bars against my skin.
So what do you do out here anyway, I ask her.
Oh, this and that. I ran away from a bad marriage. Bastard broke my arm
twice. Would’ve killed me if I’d stayed. Been back there working on the
mine but I’m over it. Headed for the coast for a bit. See what happens.
She looks about fifty, and I wonder about her, cruising around like
this. I can see the hint of an old tattoo on her forearm, disappearing
into the sleeve. Looks like a home job. Me, I’ve been running for
years, she says. You look like you just started.
I stare straight ahead, try to fix my eyes on the horizon. It
disappears into a heat haze, you can’t see where it goes.
The outside is like this. It has no edges.
You come far?
I shrug and drop the cuffed wrist down beside the seat.
Don’t talk about it if you don’t want to.
We drive in silence for a while. The road gets worse, whole sections of
it dropping into banks of red sand. At one point there’s even a tree in
No radio out here is all, she says.
S’why I always pick you guys up. Get jack of talking to myself.
Four states, I say. Four states in a week.
Shit, you’re caning it. Must be some trouble.
I nod and stare and pray quietly to the Kelly gang. It doesn’t work,
because I feel her foot lift. The vehicle slows to a stop. She gets out
of the car and I grab my plastic bag, ready for the kick, but she’s
only going for a piss.
I get out and walk a way up the road to relieve myself. A tiny trickle,
I’m dehydrated again. Yesterday I walked so far in the heat I nearly
shat myself. I glance up at the horizon ahead.
There on the road is a fetid carcass, an old cow bursting its skin. A
cluster of crows – a murder – going at the guts. I feel nauseous as I
button my fly and return to the car. Sitting there strapped with
jerry-cans and spare tyres, it looks ready for the end of the world.
When I open the door I do it with the wrong hand. As we drive past, the
crows leap up into the air and swim around in the dust.
You gonna tell me what you were in for, she asks quietly. I tug at my
sleeve, but it’s too late.
She’s already seen. I rack my brain for an explanation. The satellite
phone’s sitting in its nest on the dash, the coppers waiting at the
other end. I should roll myself out of the car and onto the roadside,
but those dark birds are waiting. There’s no way out.
Murder, I want to say. I want to scare her into driving me all the way.
If I had a knife I could, but something tells me she’d fight back.
Stuff it, I think. You gotta trust someone sometime.
Armed robbery, I say. Three years for aggravated.
She raises an eyebrow. What with?
The woman laughs then. Her laugh is harsh and dry like the country and
it fills the car. She bangs her wrist on the wheel and reaches for the
My hand creeps up towards the doorhandle, ready to roll. She fumbles
under the satphone for something. I press the seatbelt open. She hands
me a bobbypin.
Can you manage with that?
Maybe. I’m not much of a burglar.
Obviously. Hands up, this is a barbeque!
I almost smile then. I almost inhale. I remember that somewhere at the
end of this road is the ocean, waiting there, cool and blue; and on the
other side, who knows? Another country maybe. Another shot. I’m not
gonna stuff it up this time, I think, as the lock slides open in my
A little later, I toss the broken cuffs out the window. As they fly
through the air, a couple of crows snap at them. Two for mirth.
Alice Springs News poetry
competition: 1st prize winner Leni Shilton. Sponsor: Asprint.
I go in search of mint under the kurrajong tree
between the couch grass
and the mass of brown pods
filled with tiny silken needles
I find the mint –
a few stalks of bright green remain
struggling at the pot’s edge
the rest is dead.
It is a time of famine in our backyard
with only the chickens taking delight
in the quarter acre of dust.
For their own good,
the basil and capsicums have been fenced
each with its own dripper
the rest is left
and won’t survive this desert dry.
Beyond the yard
I look for words in this wasteland
torn by my longing
for the curve of a coastline –
of colour and water.
People visit from the coast
Ah! they say, this is what it’s like!
– this landscape littered with dying trees
and a river filled with
I tell them I can’t remember –
there’s too many days of dusty haze.
I only know the world is clearer
seen from here
and when I leave
and can’t seen the desert anymore
I am afraid.
The only mint to survive
grows on my window sill
where I can tend it daily.
I water and turn the pot
and keep the pungent leaves
from gazing out the window.
LETTERS: Howard’s not right till
he’s fixed the problem.
Sir,– John Howard lied to us about people throwing their kids into the
sea because he could. He wasn’t right.
John Howard jumped in with Bush to go to war because he could. He
John Howard connived with Bush’s rendition program because he could. He
John Howard intends again to swashbuckle over people’s constitutional
rights because he can. But is he right?
He intends to barge in over what people are doing now without caring to
know where the struggles are and what he might smash because he can.
But is he right?
And can John Howard cut down on liquor outlets, stop pornography,
improve education opportunities, support community people to turn the
tide against sexual abuse, create a bit of hope?
You’d better, Mr Howard, because you’d better not walk away after six
months saying it’s too hard.
You’re not right until you’ve solved the problem.
Whole new ball game
Sir,– Discussing antisocial behavior is a whole new ball game after
last week’s declarations of intent by the Federal Government. But
no matter what happens there, I think at least the following three
measures deserve a mention.
One, traditional law would not be considered when setting jail and bail
conditions for Aboriginal offenders.
We all live on one land and need to answer to one law, without
Two, any crime committed while under the influence of alcohol or any
other proscribed substance would automatically generate a 100% increase
in the existing penalty. This would apply across the board from
theft to manslaughter.
And three, all acts of vandalism would be paid for in full by the
If their only source of income is welfare then 50% is not too
much to take.
If the culprits are underage kids with no income of their own, then
their parents would be required to make good the damage.
These three measures would help establish a sense of personal
responsibility and would involve families in straightening out
delinquent feral children.
With these measures in place we would see a reduction in antisocial
behavior on the streets in Alice Springs.
ED– One of Mal Brough’s requirements of the NT Government is that
they legislate to remove customary law as a mitigating factor for
sentencing and bail conditions.
Sir,– It’s a sad day for the Northern Territory when the Australian
Government makes the first move in responding to the report into child
sexual abuse in NT Aboriginal communities.
The report required strong action and strong measures but the
initiative has been taken away from the NT and this reflects badly on
the government as well as the parliament.
Did government members urge the Chief Minister to show leadership and
react immediately to the report? Were they comfortable with her
The Chief Minister now must announce that the government will
co-operate fully with the Australian Government to protect these young
In recent years I introduced amendments to the Bail Act and the
Sentencing Act to address issues relating to abuse of children and the
government rejected these changes.
All members of the government need to search their consciences and ask
themselves if they could have done something sooner to avert this
action by the Australian Government.
Independent Member for Braitling
Sir,– The Australian Association of Social Workers – NT (AASWNT)
welcomes the release of the [Anderson-Wild] Report and its
We look forward to the Chief Minister and NT Government placing a high
priority on the implementation of this Report. We believe the
protection of children from abuse is clearly an issue of national
significance. The AASWNT has long called for bipartisan support to
address this issue across both the Northern Territory and Federal
The AASWNT feel strongly that the recommendations from the
Report need to be actioned and hope that this important document
is not overshadowed by the recently announced Federal government ‘state
of emergency’ actions .
The desire for an urgent response must not outweigh the importance of
genuine consultation with Indigenous people, which is vital for
effective long-term change. Whilst we welcome the Federal government’s
move to finally take some action in this area, we believe the best
response would be to follow the 97 recommendations of the Report.
Social Justice Sub-Committee
The world has moved on, Mr Tollner
Sir,– In response to David Tollner (leters, June 21):
In 2007 it is widely recognised that real strength in outcomes lies in
diversity and partnerships, not mergers into monolithic structures.
Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education has welcomed the
potential siting of the United Nations University Research Centre on
Traditional Knowledge in Darwin since our discussion with the
Vice-Chancellor of Charles Darwin University on their bid.
Such UN Centres forge links and create opportunities with organisations
already on the ground, giving overseas students and academics a range
of research perspectives and practices to work with; a much richer
experience than that from the simple ‘consolidation’ into one Centre
that Mr Tollner suggests.
After Mr Tollner’s foray into this area earlier this year, we had hoped
that he might save himself the embarrassment of uninformed comment by
visiting Batchelor Institute to see what is actually being achieved.
Unfortunately this hasn’t happened, so through this publication let me
bring him ‘up to speed’.
According to the Australian Universities Quality Agency report in 2006,
Batchelor Institute ‘has a vital national position as the only higher
educational institution solely for Indigenous students’.
Currently involving about half of our approximately 3000 students, the
Institute offers 12 undergraduate Degrees, three Graduate
Certificates/Diplomas and has 10 students in a Master’s by research,
with a PhD available from the beginning of 2008. The other half of the
students are involved in the 50 VET courses on offer.
A $2.9m Research and e-Learning building will be completed for the
start of the 2008 academic year on the Batchelor campus to house the
Research Division and of course in Central Australia, construction has
begun on the Desert Peoples Centre, a consortium between Batchelor and
the Centre for Appropriate Technology.
The Institute has a strong and well resourced MoU with CDU and last
week signed a Partnership Agreement with the NT Government in which 12
areas are nominated for particular collaboration in training, pathways
to employment and research so that we can ‘work together to improve
economic and social outcomes for Indigenous people in the NT’.
Mr Tollner needs a new tune – the Batchelor/CDU merger melody really is
getting very old and tired – the world has moved on.
Saving the Old Ghan
Sir,– In reply to Tom Lothian’s letter (June7):
The Old Ghan has found its saviour in the National Transport Hall of
Fame who has taken up the challenge of getting the Old Ghan up and
The Hall of Fame is going to apply its own methods and techniques to
sort out the issues that have been the cause of past failures in
managing the museum.
From what I can see, the main problem with past efforts is the
inability of people to work together towards a common goal(the
running old trains).
The Hall of Fame has an excellent record and over the past 12 years has
grown into an fabulous exhibition of the trucking history of Australia.
If they apply only half the passion that they put into the Hall of
Fame, then the Old Ghan will be an exceptional place to experience and
learn about the history of one of our great icons.
In a very short time they have managed to lift the Tea Room output and
variety to an all time high, including providing a venue for
mothers’ clubs to spend time relaxing over a cappuccino and scones with
cream and jam.It will not be long before the trains will be running
again for the locals’ and tourists’ enjoyment.
The future restoration of the Ewaninga station will also provide a
possible camping and entertainment site for The Finke race goers and
ADAM CONNELLY: Nanna’s nose - not
My backyard is a courtyard that separates my house from the carport.
It is a small stretch of cement with a clothesline on the wall on one
side and a patch of earth on the other which has a few plants. A place
for a modest garden.
But the garden that occupies the space there is strangely anything but
Indeed the plants that have taken residence in my backyard have taken
it upon themselves to grow at such an alarming rate that the courtyard
now resembles some small part of the Amazon.
If there is more rain in the next few days I could expect to find
Doctor Livingstone within the dense foliage.
Or even an as yet undiscovered mammal. In fact you can all thank me
later for the extra oxygen floating around town.
The irony here is that I have contributed extraordinarily little to
this ecosystem. Can’t remember the last time I took a hose to this
In fact I had an uncanny ability in the past to kill plants. I am
herbicide in human form. My previous attempts to cultivate a small
garden could have me on war crime charges. The death rate in the
“garden” was so severe even the lawn perished.
Yet here in Central Australia, a place not known for its hospitable
conditions, I can do everything but kill these plants. They’re taking
over and there’s nothing I can do about it. The Triffids live in my
backyard and they’re ready for world domination.
I guess I kinda thought gardening would be one of those skills that
would just come to me once I got to a certain age. When I was a kid,
old people were the ones good in the garden. Mum, Dad, Nan and Pop. I
thought, like wisdom, a green thumb comes with age.
Well, I’m now as old as my parents were then and I still know very
little about anything botanical. Oh sure, I can identify a rose and a
I know you’re meant to wee on a lemon tree but to be perfectly honest,
but that’s about it.
And I’m really jealous.
I see these amazing gardens around town. These floral miracles that
front homes around the place and I wish I had the ability to create
such masterpieces myself. You could say that I’m green with envy
I hear terms like “raised beds” and “cottage style” and I respond to
them in the same fashion as hearing Aboriginal language. I hear both
all the time but I have no idea what the words actually mean.
What is it that makes the understanding of something as natural as
gardening so difficult to me? I am a man of decent intelligence.
I can grasp complex ideas like justice, faith and liberty, yet I don’t
know how to prune. Are you even allowed to prune a frangipani? When do
you prune a rose? I don’t want to kill these beautiful plants I just
want to get to the clothesline from time to time.
Why? Is it my urban upbringing? Was I too long as a child in an
environment devoid of the need for gardening skill that I now have no
possible chance of ever learning how? I hope not. What will I do
with myself in my winter years?
My grandmother had the best garden in south-western Sydney I’m sure.
Christmas bushes, ornamental chilies and these awesome pine
trees. I inherited her nose and her hair but not her gardening
I guess I can count myself lucky that unlike most of the country we can
water on a whim. Otherwise my backyard might just be indistinguishable
from the Tanami.
Back to front page of the the Alice Springs News.