ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
September 25, 2008. This page contains all
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
Wanna have fun? Make your own! By KIERAN
The major events of this year’s Alice Desert Festival were all home
grown, demonstrating a vitality of cultural life in this community that
would be the envy of many.
Organisers reached into established pools of tradition and talent to
construct a program that affirmed the best of what this sometimes
troubled desert town has to offer.
The two main imported attractions, Neil Murray and Stephanie Alexander,
were integrated with events that had deep local roots.
Murray’s influence on music coming out of the Central Australian bush
goes back a quarter of a century. The Warumpi Band from Papunya, of
which he was a founding member, recorded the first rock song in an
Aboriginal language in 1983. There is now a plethora of such songs and
an ever-growing number of bands, some of whom are moving beyond the
dominant reggae-rock flavour.
The festival paid fitting and moving tribute to Murray when the
250-strong Super Choir, formed from all the local choirs at the “Many
Roads One Voice” concert, sang “My Island Home”. This was his
composition for the late Warumpi front man, G. Rrurrambu, which went on
to become a national hit for Christine Anu in 1995.
The “Many Roads” concert, produced by the Central Australian Aboriginal
Media Association, drew on the strengths of a 25 year recording
history, which were shared with and honoured by choristers of all
Among the songs unearthed for the occasion was “The UPK Shower Block
Song”, composed by Bill Davis and Suzanne Bryce around 1990. It’s a
message song promoting personal hygiene, with a catchy rhythm and
melody and lyrics in Pitjantjatara and English.
At the festival it was a sung by a rowdy group of whitefellers led by
Davis – the MSG Boys, kitted out in boxers and bathrobes, brandishing
back scrubbers and towels.
They gave a funny and impressive (given that most would not be Pit
speakers) performance and were a huge hit, not least with the many
Aboriginal members of the audience.
This was a noteworthy moment: there are not too many like it in the
round of life in Alice where tensions in black-white relations are
never far below the surface. A little more shared humour could go a
long way to shifting ground in this regard.
Stephanie Alexander, renowned chef and food writer, particularly known
for The Cook’s Companion, was invited to help judge the Bushfoods /
Now in its fourth year, the competition has a loyal band of
participants and supporters and a wave of new recruits. Six out of the
12 finalists in this year’s recipe competition – all local domestic
cooks – were first time entrants; and two of them went on to win
in their category (see separate story this edition).
Professional chefs competed in the Culinary Challenge, more congenial
to the demands of their profession. It also took the tastes of
bushfoods to a wider audience.
Six different establishments put a bushfood / wildfood offering
on the menu, using wattleseed plus one other bush or wildfood
ingredient, and diners were asked to rate it.
Over 400 diners took part, with Andrea Celofiga from the Jolly Swagman
in Todd Mall taking out the people’s choice for her “Bushlava”, a
wattleseed, date, and walnut baklava steeped in Red Gum honey syrup.
Ms Alexander was also asked to taste all of the Culinary Challenge
entries and choose the one she thought best. She gave her vote to Paul
Korner, head chef at the Red Sea Restaurant for his Smoked Kangaroo
Fillet, served on top of a spicy tomato and wattleseed chutney with
sweet potato ribbons.
An important outcome for the bushfoods movement of The Centre is that
the influential Ms Alexander took away with her bush ingredients, ideas
and recipes to experiment with and write about. Speaking at the
gala dinner that closed the competition, Alexander said she was
“knocked out” by what she had experienced, her head was “buzzing with
possibilities” although she didn’t underestimate the challenge ahead.
Alice Springs should secure for itself the reputation of being the
destination people come to to eat bushfoods. She urged cafes and
restaurants to serve the foods “proudly”, without disguising their
names or flavours.
And she urged the community to get behind the bushfoods push with a
The festival’s competition was evidence of a deepening local interest
in what can be achieved in our kitchens with the ingredients that grow
on our doorstep. Finding ways to take this to the next level – where as
many locals know the taste of wattleseed as know the taste of sesame
seed – is the obvious giant next step to be taken.
In years to come the competition will be recognized as having helped
lay of the foundations of a true desert fusion cuisine, one that pays
its respects to the native foods of the original desert peoples and is
more of a feature of everyday life in The Centre.
The festival has moved beyond the fringe character of its early years,
achieving strong mixed audiences for its biggest events – Wearable Arts
in the lead-up, and the parade and music events of the opening weekend
– while maintaining a commitment to local ingenuity and originality
that resists with lots of verve the threatening tsunami of
celebrity-obsessed mass popular culture.
The festival program drew to a conclusion on Sunday, but the coming
weeks will continue to be busy and rich in cultural offerings, with
Desert Mob and associated events this weekend, followed by art at the
heart, the Regional Arts Australia conference and accompanying arts
program, on the following weekend.
All of this activity draws on the creative and organizational energies
of a relatively small group of people, many working long hours on small
wages and many volunteering – hats off to them.
Housing land management:
should it be the next job for the Feds? By ERWIN CHLANDA.
How come there is, in the availability of land and housing, a vast gulf
between what’s on offer and what’s needed, namely affordable
accommodation for young people on low incomes who are a mainstay of our
How come Lands Minister Delia Lawrie, through a spokeswoman, says the
government doesn’t provide headworks (water, power and sewage to the
edge of a development) for private developers, when in fact it has
been, and currently is, to private developers who are native title
How come the independent Development Consent Authority (DCA) is acting
merely as a clearing house for the Town Council and the Power and Water
Corporation (P&W), imposing their conditions on developers without
scrutinizing whether those conditions are reasonable and necessary?
And how come the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, which “was
created to enable Government to provide opportunities to better
coordinate planning and development of the Territory’s economic
infrastructure” (according to the government’s website), can at the
same time be the regulator of private developers, and their competitor?
The government clearly has a brainlock on these issues, possibly to the
extent that there is a case for the Commonwealth to become involved, as
it saw necessary in matters affecting Aboriginal people.
Some say thank God we’re not a state and the Feds can still step in and
It all went from bad to worse when the new NT Labor government,
supposedly committed to tackle horrendous land costs, fluffed its first
major test in Alice, the Stirling Heights development of 80 odd blocks
on the western edge of the town.
The Federal Court had just declared native title to exist over most
Crown Land in town.
Now untried politicians, who’d clearly been in a deep slumber during
their quarter of a century in Opposition, were called upon to act.
As it turned out, appeasing the vocal Aboriginal lobby was more
important than providing homes for all the town’s people, including of
Stirling Heights was under native title and it was necessary to pay
compensation for it to be lifted.
What’s fair compensation?
As it was argued at the time by the conservative side of politics, the
proper forum for this was the Federal Court, following compulsory
acquisition, as is provided for in the law.
And then it would have been up to the Commonwealth to pay whatever
compensation the court decided: this was a clear undertaking made by
Canberra when it oversaw the native title process.
But instead the NT Government created a dog’s breakfast, the
compensation came out of Territory coffers, and now apparently all is
set to be repeated in Mt Johns Valley.
Cut to today.
While developer Ron Sterry in his Ragonesi Road project (pictured at
right) is made to jump hurdle after hurdle (Alice News, Sept 18,
http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/1533.html) the wash-up at Stirling
Heights is as follows:-
The NT Government gave native title holders half the land as
compensation for extinguishing native title.
But that’s not all.
The native title holders, who very quickly sold the land to a private
developer, also got $1m worth of head works thrown in, the very
utilities for which Mr Sterry is paying through the nose.
In round figures, these are the numbers at Stirling Heights:-
The public owned the land.
The public spent $2m on headworks.
The public gave half the land (with headworks) as native title
compensation to Lhere Artepe, the local native title body.
The public sold the other half for $1m.
The public hasn’t got the land any more and on top of it is $1m poorer.
Are we going to do this again some time soon?
Watch this space in Mt Johns Valley, although government sources are
quick to point out that Stirling Heights wasn’t meant to be a
This situation shouldn’t invite an attack on native title holders: they
have rights and they would be stupid not to benefit from them.
But the mess should invite the government to look at another option:
get the native title holders to buy the freehold of the land over which
they have native title rights, and then develop it, at their own
expense, as any other developer would.
The decision “Hayes v Northern Territory, 2000, Federal Court of
Australia” gives native title holders formidable bargaining powers.
They have “the right to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of
the land and waters of the determination area ... the right to make
decisions about the use of the land and waters [and] the right to
protect places and areas of importance in or on the land and waters”.
But the bargaining powers of the government aren’t to be sneezed at,
either: there’s plenty of land not encumbered by native title, to wit:-
• The airport, privately owned, and in terms of area, the biggest in
Australia. About 10% (400 hectares) of its 35.5 square kilometres has
been flagged for residential development and much more could be used
for tourism and industry.
• Arid Zone Research Institute (AZRI) on corner Stuart Highway and
Colonel Rose Drive. (Both options were reported in the Alice
News, July 3; www.alicespringsnews.com.au/1522.html)
• And – most alluringly – the two square kilometres between two
magnificent mountain ranges, featuring craggy gullies rivalling King’s
Canyon in beauty, five minutes drive from the CBD; the water main runs
past it, and so will the electricity mains from the new Owen Springs
power station, as well as the fibre optic cable linking us to the
Yes, this is where our leaders have put the rubbish dump and the sewage
plant that evaporates three thousand million litres of water a year in
the driest part of the driest continent in a world running out of
For a fraction of what the Henderson government is spending on the
Darwin Waterfront, we could create enough housing land for much of this
century; put in place a state-of-the-art sewage and water recycling
plant, like hundreds of others around the world in places not claiming
to be the custodians of Desert Knowledge; and get rid of stench and
mozzie breeding grounds.
This might mean legislation to drag P&W into the third millennium,
but as they say, you can’t make an omelette without ...
Mr Sterry is at the mercy not only of P&W, but also a Town Council
requiring drainage and road standards that are clearly in the clouds,
when they should be on the ground, with people queuing for dwellings.
The current system does not provide for an independent arbitrator to
mediate between developers and the all-powerful (when it comes to
making the rules) Town Council and P&W.
The DCA could have that role, if it were given the power and resources
to assess requirements these authorities are making, knocking them back
“We don’t have the authority to direct P&W or the Town Council,”
says DCA chairman Peter McQueen.
“We cannot look over their shoulder.”
It get worse: Alice Mayor Damien Ryan would not even comment on the
very specific accusations made by Mr Sterry, who claims the standards
of roads and drainage demanded will add thousands of dollars to what
the public will have to pay for the blocks.
Is there a case for the government, or the council, to subsidise the
Mr Sterry says private developers are facing competition from the NT
Government acting as a developer in its own right.
Government sources say they are subject to rulings from P&W and the
Town Council as is any other developer, and the decision of what land
is used for what purpose is made by the independent DCA.
The fly in the ointment is this, says Mr Sterry: the DCA consists
entirely of honourable citizens, but mostly they do not have a great
deal of technical knowledge.
At the end of their table sit planners from the department, which may
well be a competitor of the applicant.
They give advice, and a report to the DCA, on planning policy issues,
including environmental matters, land capability and compliance with
the town plan in force.
Mr Sterry makes no suggestion that these public servants have anything
in mind other than the greater welfare of the public.
But he says it could be argued that the process isn’t at arm’s length.
Have we here a case of the police officer, the prosecutor, the judge,
the jury and the executioner all being the same person, he asks.
For example, says Mr Sterry, not so long ago the reports from the
departmental advisors to the DCA had been withheld from him, until
former DCA chairman John Pinney hit the roof and a system of natural
justice was put in place.
In fact, until late 2005 these reports were withheld not only from Mr
Sterry but from everyone, but now applicants can get a copy and anyone
else can read them at the department’s front counter.
What technical advice other than that from the department – itself a
sometime property developer – does the DCA get?
Mr Sterry says the Victorian Government, for example, has created an
independent statutory body, known as VicUrban, to do the land
developing for the government, on the same basis as any private
Should we have a similar body here?
Mayor's openness short-lived?
Has Mayor Damien Ryan’s commitment to transparency and communication
just hit a wall?
I thought the words “no comment” would never pass his lips.
They just have.
The question goes to the heart of this town’s existence, it’s the Big
Yet when the Alice Springs News raised it, His Worship swiftly slid
behind the door for cover, and so did his officers, two weeks in a row.
The issue is affordable housing: a major developer, spending his own
money on opening up 260 blocks, says the council’s utopian, unnecessary
and impractical requirements are driving up costs to a point where the
land is out of reach for low to middle income earners, the very people
the town needs to keep its economy functioning.
Now, that developer may well be wrong. But if he is, then Mayor Ryan or
senior council officers will need to give us the details.
The main questions are about the standards of roads and drainage. The
difference in construction costs is in the millions.
In the mess that passes for land development in Territory, the Town
Council and the secretive Power and Water Corporation have pivotal
roles: what they say goes.
There is no-one with the authority nor the resources to challenge their
These are automatically included by the Development Consent
Authority – supposedly the voice of the people in the process –
as conditions for permission to proceed.
The Town Council may well have a good case for the conditions it is
But it has a clear obligation to disclose these reasons, in every
detail. No comment doesn’t cut it.
House prices are still going up
House prices continued to climb in the first eight and a half months of
2008 when compared to the same period last year.
Using the website www.nthomes.com.au the Alice Springs News checked 10
sale prices each in 2007 and 2008, in each of four suburbs, Larapinta,
Gillen, Old Eastside, and Golfcourse Estate.
In the farm areas we averaged nine sales for 2007 and five for 2008.
There were increases greater than 7% in Larapinta, Old Eastside and the
Prices climbed better than 2.5% in Gillen, but remained level with 2007
in the Golfcourse Estate.
The house prices in the five areas varied hugely.
Larapinta had the lowest average, $245,819, and dearest homes were in
the farm areas, averaging $597,500.
In the Golfcourse Estate you’d be forking out an average of $482,250
for a house, with the Old Eastside not far behind at $450,300, while
Gillen is a relative bargain at $286,350.
Lean living for single
pensioners in Alice. By KIERAN FINNANE.
“If I wanted to run a car and go out at night I couldn’t do it,” said
Grace Sanders, 87 years old.
“I need a new fridge and a new washing machine. I’ll get them when the
ones I’ve got have packed up completely but I’ll have to go into debt,”
said Marilyn McVeigh, 68.
“I live in a Territory Housing flat. I would not be able to do the
upkeep if I owned my own home,” said Rhonda Picard, 78.
All three women live on the single pension.
None of them were really complaining. In fact they were remarkably
cheerful when they spoke to the Alice News at the Senior Citizens
clubhouse where they were having lunch and getting ready to play Bingo.
There was general agreement amongst the dozen or so gathered that the
rate of the single pension – $546.80 a fortnight – is simply not
enough, but there was also a sense of powerlessness – “What can we do
about it?” asked one woman.
And Ms McVeigh said she doesn’t like “to whinge”.
Mrs Sanders said without the concession pensioners get on their power
bill they “wouldn’t be able to live”.
This amounts to half the quarterly account or $1 per day, whichever is
the lesser amount. There are other concessions too, for instance on
water and sewage and council rates, but this is the one that was most
mentioned to the News.
“We are very lucky in the Northern Territory,” said Mrs Sanders.
She and her husband came to Alice Springs 34 years ago “to babysit”
They weren’t intending to stay but they did. Now he has passed on.
She still likes to “cook a little bit for my family” – that takes her
food bill to $120 a week.
She finds Alice Springs “very expensive to live”.
“The supermarkets charge what they like, extraordinary prices – they’ve
got a monopoly.”
She lives in a one bedroom Territory Housing flat.
Her phone bill is the biggest she gets – over $200 a quarter.
That allows her to call her family interstate. She judges the
cost as “pretty good really”.
She doesn’t spend much on clothing as a lot of things are given to her.
She gets half price taxi transport because she can no longer use a bus
– “I’ve had both hips and a knee done.”
She mentioned the free interstate airfare the Territory Government
gives pensioners once every four years. Now that she doesn’t travel
this can be used by her daughter to come here.
Her lifestyle may be modest but overall, said Mrs Sanders, “I live
well, I eat well, but then again I can cook!”
Marilyn McVeigh is a neighbour of Mrs Sanders. She has lived in
Alice for 18 years.
She does manage to run a car: “It’s a small old car, it doesn’t cost a
lot to keep on the road. I would like a better car but, oh well.
There’s a lot I need that I can’t get. You learn to live with that.”
She makes craft items and sells them at the markets. She spends what
little she earns there on the materials to continue her hobby. Rhonda
Picard also runs a car but the insurance, license, petrol, and medical
check-ups every six months “all add up”.
Public transport isn’t an option as she doesn’t live close to a bus
If she didn’t have a car, “it would take away my independence”.
“I don’t want to be dependent on my family for transport – they’re all
working,” she said.
But her family do help her out – “I don’t want for anything”.
Looking around the clubhouse, she said most people there had family in
Luigia Sabadin came to Alice more than 50 years ago. She lives in her
own three bedroom unit.
“I’ve got a big family – they come and go for holidays.”
She gets a small amount from her late husband’s superannuation as well
as a part pension.
“When I want to do anything in the flat, I have to save hard.”
She lives close to a bus route so she catches a bus when she wants to
come into town. Waiting for the bus to go home at the stop opposite the
Post Office can sometimes be a frightening experience, she said, but
she can’t afford to take a taxi.
A woman, who did not want to be named, in her late sixties, also owns
her own home but fears that one day she may have to sell.
“Renters don’t have to worry about upkeep and insurance.
“I’ve sometimes wondered if I should sell but I don’t want to.”
She loves working in her garden, has got quite a library of books,
videos and DVDs and an accumulation of archives from a busy life. She
doesn’t know how she would cram herself into a one bedroom flat.
She worked all her life but didn’t start a superannuation fund until
about 20 years before her retirement.
“As a younger woman, I was never encouraged to do super, it was always
a male thing.”
She went onto the pension when her super ran out.
She says without the pension she’d be flat broke but she’s not far off
being broke anyway.
Weekly food bills come to about $100 – “I don’t buy extravagantly with
food. If there’s a few luxuries in there I’d be lucky.”
She draws around $100 in cash per fortnight for everyday expenses.
The rest she must watch carefully to pay the bills – insurance,
repairs, especially to air-conditioning, power and water (she’s
grateful for the Territory Government’s concessions), her car.
She uses a bus to go to town but to get somewhere like the industrial
area she needs to use her car.
She travels when she can but it’s a “penny pinching” exercise or else
she relies on someone else’s frequent flyer points.
She is still able-bodied and would perhaps continue to do some work but
hates the bureaucratic intrusion into her life of having to report her
On the single pension you are allowed to earn $132 a fortnight. If you
earn more, you have to report it.
She recognises that there have to be rules but says the amount you are
allowed to earn is too small and the way the system operates is
It can take some time before the amount in excess of what’s allowed is
taken out of your pension, and it can come at a bad time. “You should
have saved what you earned”, she’s been told.
You can apply for a loan against your pension when you have an
unexpected expense but that leaves very little to cover ongoing
She appreciates the discounts to seniors offered by local businesses.
But supermarkets don’t offers discounts; Kmart does only one day a
month – “very poor for a business of that size”.
“For the people of my age, and the work we’ve done, and the small wages
we earned, we need a little more.
“Australia wouldn’t be where it is now if it weren’t for us. We paid
She has friends who struggle.
“Quite a few of us hate being in the situation we’re in, where we have
to be careful about everything.”
National Seniors – with 300,000 members the largest consumer
organisation for older Australians – is calling for an immediate $30 a
week increase in the single age pension, by raising it from 59% to 66%
of the couple rate in line with other OECD countries. This has been the
subject of a Senate Bill introduced by the Opposition this week.
The current couple rate, with both eligible, is $913.60 a fortnight.
National Seniors spokesperson in Alice Springs, Margaret Gaff, says the
Territory Government’s election promises will help:
“In the lead up to the election, the Chief Minister promised pensioners
and carers free bus transport and driver’s licences and a concession of
$150 on motor vehicle registration.
“This amounts to about $100 per annum in the hand for owners of motor
“The dollar benefit for those who use bus services is unknown.
“This is a boon for Territory Seniors, but it indicates no long-term
Recipes from old
Europe get bushfood makeovers. By KIERAN FINNANE.
The best of European food traditions fused with the unique flavour of
bush ingredients won the day in the final of the Bushfoods / Wildfoods
Ange Vincent’s Gravlax with Desert Lime and Saltbush (pictured far
right) was judged best savoury dish, with guest judge Stephanie
Alexander commenting on its potential for “serious commercial
Gravlax is a Scandinavian dish of cured salmon, usually served as an
appetizer. Ms Vincent used the traditional curing approach but
substituted dried and ground saltbush leaves and desert limes for the
customary mustard and dill flavours.
The most prolific entrant and a first-timer, Ms Vincent also had a
fresh (as opposed to dried) bush tomato and date chutney in the
wildcard category, adapting a traditional English chutney recipe; and
in the dessert category, a wild passionfruit tart, flavouring the
classical French filling of eggs and sugar with the pulp of the native
passionfruit (a lovely light pumpkin-like taste).
Also a first-time entrant, Liz Coroneo (pictured) wowed the crowd with
her winning dish in the dessert category. She made a lemon myrtle and
wattleseed blancmange with poached quandongs, delicately de-stoned to
retain their whole round form and arranged in a cluster, with a
spectacular brittle, looking like a golden tiara, crowning the elegant
Local chef Beat Keller remarked on the difficulty of succeeding with a
blancmange and commended its choice as a way to set off the bushfood
flavours Ms Coroneo used.
Blancmange (the word derives from Old French) has a long history in
Europe, reaching back to Arabic influences in the Middle Ages.
Typically it is made with almond meal, for which Ms Coroneo substituted
macadamia nut meal (the macadamia being Australia’s leading bushfood in
terms of its commercial success both here and overseas).
With the texture of a firm but light custard, the blancmange slid down
the throat in layers of subtle flavours and sweetness.
In all there were five finalists serving sweet foods, with Anna Svava’s
Kalkardi Mignonnes the last to be served, in the wildcard category.
A less decisive entry at the end of two hours of tastings may have had
trouble staking its claim on the judges’ palates. But this was a
wattleseed innovation par excellence – you were in no doubt about what
you were eating.
As Mr Keller remarked, the bite-sized Mignonnes filled your mouth with
wattleseed – you could go on tasting them for an hour afterwards, as
there would still be some seed there.
Ms Svava used a simple French marzipan recipe, adding whole roasted
wattleseed, and lots of it, to the traditional toasted hazelnuts, and
using a little mallee honey as well as sugar to sweeten.
Once the mixture had been chilled she formed small balls and dipped
them in chocolate made slightly piquant with Tasmanian mountain pepper.
A final touch was to crown the balls with lerp, the sweet-tasting scale
insects that look like flakes of sugar, found on the leaves of gum
It was what Ms Alexander was looking for, a truly assertive bushfood
recipe that was also a taste sensation. Her fellow judges agreed,
awarding Ms Svava the wildcard category and also the overall honours.
Although these refined recipes are very alluring, they are not what
will take bushfoods to the masses.
A driving force behind the competition and another of the judges, Peter
Yates said that for this reason he rated the only bread entry highly,
as bread is an everyday food – the “staff of life” and the traditional
way of using grains, as Ms Alexander also remarked.
It was a sourdough rye bread with roasted wattleseed, made by first
time entrant and novice baker, Nick Tyllis.
Mr Yates also provides much of the regional bushfood product that is
available in town commercially (mainly at Afghan Traders, home of the
competition), sourced from Indigenous harvesters.
At the close of judging he pointed out that in Europe most people
closely involved with food preparation know what foods are available in
what season, and in the rural areas, continue to gather wildfoods.
This kind of relationship to local seasonal foods is possible in The
Centre, he said, if people take the trouble to find out about what
grows where and when.
For example, Capparis mitchellii (wild orange) is ready right now for
the picking. There are plenty of plants growing on the commonage and
along the creeks and rivers.
It tastes “terrible” straight off the tree and needs to be pickled in
salt or a brine.
Mr Yates recently used fruits he gathered and pickled last year in a
cream sauce on pasta – “Delicious!”
Chef Rayleen Brown, another mainstay of the competition since its
inception and a judge, grew up eating many of the bush ingredients in
their raw form.
For example, the tiny red and gold berries off ruby saltbush, dredged
in sugar, were served by finalist Tanya Howard as a colourful touch to
her Crunchy Quandong Pie.
Ms Brown remembered with pleasure collecting cupfuls of these with
other children – they’d tip their heads back and roll the berries into
She was delighted to see the involvement of young cooks, like Sylvia
Hoppe and Liz Coroneo, in the competition.
“This is our future,” she said to the finals crowd.
She would especially like to see young Indigenous kids get involved,
noting that many Indigenous people are “losing touch with bushfoods”.
Ashif Mawani won the people’s choice with his Kangelloni – canelloni
with ‘roo meat in a bush tomato and quandong sauce.
‘New settlers’ in paper chains
and flesh. By KIERAN FINNANE.
Sue Richter’s New Settlers series, the second of which went on show at
Watch This Space last Friday as part of the Space’s offerings for the
Alice Desert Festival, seems almost a custom-made reflection on aspects
of the festival.
The reflection is thoughtful and thought-provoking.
With typically immaculate execution, Richter has created a maquette of
a composite Central Australian landscape rendered as a theatrical
The proscenium arch that frames the scene suggests the neo-classical
edifice of an institutional building, adorned by kangaroo and emu in
their emblematic form – making perfectly clear that this is national
history and culture that Richter is talking about.
But instead of telling her story with figures like explorers Burke and
Wills – whose fate is almost synonymous with European ‘disconnect’ from
the land – Richter turns her attention to … ballerinas.
Richter has her ballerinas strung as a chain of paper cutouts across
the gap between rising steep walls of red sandstone ranges.
There are also live models, young girls in leotards, photoshopped into
Other models, adults, appear to be acting in a drama, frozen in moments
of high emotion and romance.
There’s a threatening male figure, with gun raised to shoulder.
And then off-stage – in the wings and overhead –are another set of
figures, modeled in plaster of Paris, like those of the first in the
series, shown at the Desert Park last year.
These skillfully reference figures by Degas, famous French painter and
sculptor of ballerinas. One pores over a book of Degas reproductions;
others appear to also be purposeful – but are they, or if they are, to
Balanced on rafters above the stage a puppeteer has lost control over
what he is doing – a figure on a string plunges towards certain death.
But this drama is without dimension, the figure another paper cutout.
This is all done with a playful touch, making its fundamental points
lightly– that Europeans came into this country not only with guns and
all they represent, but also with the alluring trappings of cultures
that have their roots on the other side of the world, and that, in the
context of this place we live in, these are somewhat two-dimensional,
Richter is not on a soapbox about this; there’s a certain tenderness
for these “new settlers” but there’s also clarity about how they are
situated in the national story and about how that story sits with the
land in which it has been enacted.
After the Richter opening I went on to Witchetty’s for “Bon Voyage”,
presented by the Cats Meow Cabaret.
This was a high energy, fun-filled couple of hours of cabaret-style
performance, with a loose narrative woven through it around a girl’s
voyage into the desert.
It was a huge crowd pleaser (except for those who were turned away on
Friday after standing in the longest queue I’ve ever seen in Alice
Springs – even longer than the Target queue on opening day).
It showcased an impressive depth of performance talent, from the
chaotic slapstick of Circosis to the lyrical shadow puppetry of Frances
Martin, via the dancing and musical flair of a whole host of people.
There’s no “but” to my comments except to say that here we all were,
Richter’s “new settlers” in the flesh, with our hunger for a
light-hearted innocence, reaching for the threads – the delightful
threads – that connect us culturally to people like ourselves, however
removed from them we may be geographically and in much of the matter of
our everyday lives in The Centre.
Journey to the limits of
endurance. By R. G. (Dick) KIMBER. Part 3.
The story of
surveyor-explorer F.R. George. Part 3.
We left Frank Rees George last week on January 15, 1906 as he and
Hatton were setting out to look for water that would allow them to
travel northwards. Two of their party had been badly injured in an
attack by a Pitjantjatjara group and all had been exhausted by many
months of travel during a period of fierce heat and drought. See first
and second parts in our web archive September 11 and 18.
Days later, having failed to find water, George and Hatton returned to
camp, where they found that the other men, who had also been searching
for water that had been reported by earlier explorers such as Giles and
Tietkens, had found all of the rock-holes dry.
With the camels now in ever-weakening condition, and no known prospects
of reliable water on the route which they had to follow to do useful
exploration, George reluctantly decided to return to the Telegraph
However, before the return began they met a solitary Aboriginal man,
whose physical condition was “very poor”, indicating that he was
“evidently having a bad time”. When he showed them a close to
inaccessible small water in a gorge on January 22, George gave him food
After a further week, during which time the loading was recovered by
one group while George and everyone else rested as much as possible
while still doing necessary tasks, they began the return.
Pitjantjatjara men acted as guides to occasional rock-hole waters for a
time but, while assisting in the George party’s return, they were not
of use for a new start on the intended travels.
The weather remained so extremely hot that night travel was used
whenever practical, and George’s references to “another scorching day”,
then a day when even at sunrise it was so hot that he thought it “must
have been nearly a record”, indicate the privations that were part of
the job. An account of a rest day on February 5 gives some idea of one
of the most pleasant days experienced:
“Making waterbag and mending clothes. Had novelty of a cool
breeze last night, but by noon a real hot gale was blowing from
east. Shot a crow, which cooked for dogs, who refused to eat
There are hints throughout that George was driving himself to the
limits of endurance, one such reference late in the journey reading:
“Lack of sleep is very trying, and whilst travelling I and others of
the party used at times to see visions.
“Once I saw a tiger come out of the scrub; at another time some sheep;
and also fancied I was guiding my camel through a lot of camp equipment
and camel kegs, which appeared to be scattered about the ground.”
They eventually reached the George Gill range and Tempe Downs station,
then travelled via Glen Helen station into Alice Springs, so that Hall
could “catch coach to Adelaide and get medical advice, his eye giving
him much trouble”.
George, in considering his men’s well-being first, was acting as any
leader should, yet it was in the end to his detriment. His own
troubles caught up with him, and the following note was added at
the end of his published journal:
“Alice Springs was reached on March 31. Unquestionably he was worn out
with anxiety regarding the safety of his party and the hardships they
had undergone; but he was in no manner daunted, and was full of hope
that their troubles were past and success still lay before them.
“As is so often the case after a hard trip, the change of water and
diet induced inflammation of the bowels, and caught him so run down and
unfitted to withstand further stress that it had a fatal ending, and he
passed away quietly in his sleep on the morning of April 4.
“Being in the prime of life, but 32 years of age, a promising career
was cut short, and the Government lost a servant than whom no-one was
more zealous and enthusiastic in his work. It was a great shock
to the other members of the party, who all spoke of him in terms of
high affection, and paid tribute to his unfailing courage and
His grave is at the old cemetery in George Crescent. The drought
period of 1905 to 1906 had claimed his life, and virtually as he died
Professor Gregory’s book of the south-eastern section of the Centre was
available in the book-shops.
Its title was “The Dead Heart Of Australia”, and it was an apt title
for the country as it was then, and as a eulogy of a kind for “The
Surveyor.” For the next 30 years, although the book’s major focus
was the Lake Eyre country, its title prevailed as the image of Central
The Dead Heart.
Feds get behind top chef to put
and food-producing gardens in schools
Renowned chef and food writer Stephanie Alexander used her visit to
Alice as guest of the latest Bushfoods / Wildfoods competition to
promote the work of her Kitchen Garden Foundation which aims to bring
pleasurable food education to primary school children.
Ms Alexander and a growing number of supporters, from governments to
individuals, want to see a healthier, happier generation of Australian
children, who have a more balanced approach to life – enjoying fresh
foods harvested from gardens they have created and tended.
She recognises children aren’t interested in what’s good for them and
not good for them.
“They only care if it’s fun, exciting and tastes good”, which is what
the program aims to provide.
The Federal Government has allocated $12.8m to support the work of the
foundation, which has called for expressions of interest from
government schools around the nation.
Some local schools have responded to this call, Ms Alexander told the
Up to 190 schools will be supported, with infrastructure grants worth
$60,000 available progressively over four years.
The grants will be used to develop a productive kitchen garden in the
schools as well as a home-style kitchen, where whole classes of
children will be able to cook together and sit down at table to enjoy
what they have made in each other’s company.
Schools will be encouraged to grow what is appropriate for their
environment and climate so in The Centre bushfoods would be part of the
repertoire, says Ms Alexander.
A Kitchen Garden Program is already underway in Victoria, partly funded
by the Victorian Government. There are 27 schools involved, with 22
more coming on board in 2009.
The program grew out of a pilot established by Ms Alexander together
with Collingwood College in 2001.
The pilot explored “whether learning to grow food, cook it and eat it
as a regular part of the school curriculum could have a positive and
lasting effect on children’s attitudes to food”.
The whole school community has to get on board for the program to
succeed, says Ms Alexander.
The federal grants do not cover the cost of salaries to employ
part-time specialists in kitchen gardening and cooking, so schools have
to work out how they can come up with these resources.
As well the program will affect time-tabling – with children in Years
Three to Six attending weekly classes in the garden (45 minutes) and
the kitchen (90 minutes).
It will also divert fund-raising efforts and change the playground –
but “in the most positive way!”, says Ms Alexander.
A Molotov cocktail of musical
genres. POP VULTURE with CAMERON BUCKLEY.
Something for fans of music, fans of theatre, fans of the cultural
injection and fans of just being seen out – this event may swing and
hit like a homicidal metronome.
From swimming in silver strings, and rolling with the rhythmic punches
of electro to floating in the liquid silence that lives in between and
feeling the intramuscular tones of bass and treble clef as you exit the
amphitheatre, the deep blue orchestral experience is a must for any
This Queensland based production company offers a Molotov cocktail of
musical genres. The mix of both, past and contemporary sounds, laced
with original pieces, contributed by composers living all over the
world is an opportunity for the audience to take an armchair ride into
a realm where sound and timing are the rule.
deep blue also comes to Alice Springs bearing the gift of tuition. The
company has a junior program aptly named young blue. It involves
getting local primary school students, with a passion for the lure of
singing strings, to contribute to a set piece that will be performed on
deep blue has been penned as having the rich sound of an orchestra,
with the presence of a rock group. Accompanying this party to be held
in your eardrums is a light and picture theatrical set that will aim to
bring the viewers into a void that will check your day to day problems
at the door.
It’s just your being versus the yield of the music, no body blows from
the mosh pit, no sticky club floors, not even a conductor writhing like
a possessed TV evangelist preaching that every baptism has a “use by
This night is truly shaping to be a sell out, so make like a worm in
need of soil and go. Because the sound of people talking about it will
be at the opposite end of the scale as to how good this will make you
Festivals to solve climate change?
There’s been a suspicious link this year between Alice’s rain fall and
our big community events. In fact our only rain this year has come with
The Fink Desert Race, Henley on Todd, Bush Bands Bash and last Saturday
a storm was brewing all day for the High Voltage Love Parade.
Then I heard that the choir and crowd at Trephina just missed a shower
out there on Sunday and then wind and threatening showers forced the
Bushfoods gala dinner to move from the Olive Pink Botanic Garden to
At the High Voltage Love Parade, the end for me of the Alice Desert
Festival, one of the best in its existence, Sam Chen got the crowd
crooning into their schooners and pretty soon the liquids in the room
turned to condensation, and the clouds swirled outside.
Johnnie Skid and The Chanfloozies brought the doowop before the storm.
The Human Canvas Project summoned thunder with keys, drums, belly dance
and picture percussion, an engaging mix of art forms – what more could
you ask for?
There was some light rain during The Moxie.
Then, the thunder bellowed a drum roll as Dr Strangeways took the
stage, and as they started to play, the crowd were induced into a kind
of reggae rain dance.
Rain poured, lightning struck and the crowd quenched their thirst for
the high voltage party they saw on the back of a truck.
In this time of climate crisis, Mother Nature offers salvation in
celebration and a replenishing incentive to sing and dance while we
have the chance.
Do you think the river will flow for Bassinthedust or there’ll be a
flood for The Regional Arts Conference? Vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to 0432 031
540 (text messages are charged at 50 cents per vote).
Intervention: stemming the carnage in the bush.
Sir,– I want to set a few things straight for Marlene Hodder and the
merry band of “Indigenous leaders” and brave culture warriors she
and her group have invited to “invade” our town.
To begin with my “nastiness” was not meant to be “underlying”, I meant
it to be right up front – in your face, so to speak. I have obviously
been too subtle. Hopefully the nastiness of this letter will be an
appropriate response to the poor attempt at a nasty little sting in the
tail of her own letter.
First there was a survey recently conducted by the Central Land
Council, an organisation that cannot be accused of being biased towards
the Intervention, that showed that the MAJORITY of Aboriginal people,
especially women and those most vulnerable to violence, in remote
communities and town camps actually supported the objectives of the
Intervention and felt that life had improved because of it. That is the
ground swell that I sense and have always known existed.
I will tell you very plainly and unequivocally why I support the
Intervention, while at the same time being critical of some aspects of
its implementation. I thought I had done that before, but here we go
My wife of 30 years is Warlpiri and also supports the Intervention,
that in itself gives me confidence to agree with her.
I have been involved personally and professionally in what could be
called “Indigenous affairs” for over 30 years in Central Australia. All
of my descendants can legitimately claim to be Indigenous and I am
deeply concerned for their welfare.
We lost 30 friends and loved ones in a 12-month period a couple of
years ago. They were all Aboriginal and most of the deaths were totally
avoidable; some were the victims of homicide; the perpetrators were
Most of these deaths were associated with alcohol including that of a
21 year old and a 26 year old niece.
My wife’s life has been directly threatened on a couple of occasions by
I have personally been forced to walk the streets of this town with a
police escort because I did what I could to support my in-laws through
legal means during a feud they were involved in that lasted almost
My grand-daughter was knifed to death by her ex-husband who got off on
manslaughter rather than murder because he “only stabbed her once”.
Two of my preteen female relations have been raped. I could go on and
on but maybe that’s enough.
I have an aversion to such behaviour even if some try to justify it on
the basis of culture and traditional law and I am accused of cultural
genocide because I object to it.
But Marlene’s little group will try to convince us that the
Intervention has nothing to do with any of this, it’s actually a
cynical and racist land grab by an immoral government to open the way
for uranium mining.
Marlene should have tried linking it to Japanese whaling as well, that
would have brought even more southern culture warriors to her cause.
But OK I’m sprung, you’re on to me. You’ve let out our guilty little
secret. Yes, we sometimes take work from the Commonwealth of Australia.
We actually make a living as independent consultants. We give cultural
and language training to Government agencies at all levels, private
industry and Aboriginal organisations working with Aboriginal people in
Central Australia and beyond. Yes, we’re in thrall to the forces of
We do this because we want our kids to be educated, healthy and safe,
because we want Aboriginal people generally to take their rightful
place in the economy and our society. We want them to get off the grog
and the dole. We want the killing and dying and chaos to stop.
We are immensely proud of our work.
In relation to the Intervention, we have had the privilege of working
with some of the most decent, experienced and committed people,
Indigenous and non-Indigenous, we have ever worked with and we
certainly hope to do more to help make it work.
My wife has been working with her own people, in her own community, in
her own language. Part of her job has been to make sure that they
really know what is going on and actually have the ability to make
informed and effective decisions in relation to the Intervention. A
whitefella with views like Marlene’s called her “a fifth column”. We
are used to being insulted.
Yes, you’re right the people on the ground have never had a real voice.
They have been manipulated and lied to by those who have a political
and economic interest in the continuation of the murderous chaos that
provoked the Intervention.
My wife was coping with a situation so eloquently described in that
incredible full page ad placed by the board of the IAD in the same
edition of this newspaper that carried your letter: “… a short period
of poor management, mismanagement, poor performance, some
unprofessional staff conduct, some breaches of the code of conduct,
vandalism, theft, and criminal damage of vehicles and property”. That
sums it up well though, in this case, the word “short” may not be
You see even Indigenous “leaders” are now willing to admit that not all
is well in the Indigenous paradise of Central Australia.
But Marlene wants you to believe that my wife and I are entirely
cynical and thoroughly mercenary as well.
Along with Langton, Pearson and Mundine (I presume that’s Warren and
not Anthony) we’re only interested in the money.
I thank her for associating our names with those brave and intelligent
fighters for their people’s welfare. But she forgot Yunupingu, another
one who is not afraid to engage with those who produce jobs and wealth
to get a better deal for his mob. Is he a bit too close to home for
Another one of the poor miserable souls whose country was invaded and
whose land has been grabbed.
No folks, it’s not because of the grief and pain we’ve felt at the
graveside of so many we’ve loved who shouldn’t have died. It’s not
because we think that human beings of whatever race should not suffer
the indignity of being mauled to death by dogs or burnt to death
unattended in an old people’s home in the bush. We do it for the money.
But then such a view makes as much sense as the unconscionable lies I
have found in the literature put out by Marlene’s group.
Maybe Marlene’s loved ones sleep more safely at night than ours in the
town, that before the Intervention, had the world’s highest stabbing
Maybe she’s not too concerned that all of the stabbings were black on
black, therefore somehow acceptable.
Oh and one more thing. Exploration for uranium does not go ahead on
Aboriginal land without the agreement of the traditional owners.
Is Marlene telling us that those who have agreed are too stupid to
figure out that they’ve been duped by the forces of evil or are they
just thoroughly mercenary like we are?
And are the voters of Western Australia equally duped, stupid or
mercenary? I would like to hear Marlene’s responses to these questions.
Your literature tells us that your little band of culture warriors who
are going to save us all from the twin evils of the Intervention and
uranium mining will have the chance “to hear the point of view of
effected (sic) peoples”.
Well, that’s us Marlene, and we will be very happy to give our views to
your mob free of charge. I was a little miffed not to get a personal
invitation. I’ll see you at the demo.
Postscript: It was because those who fought for Mandela’s freedom did
not speak against Mugabe that he managed to destroy Zimbabwe’s economy
and murder, brutalise and deliberately starve his own people. The job
wasn’t finished with the end of Apartheid or minority white rule and
the job here didn’t finish with the granting of land rights.
Sir,– I want to encourage Marlene Holder and friends from the
Intervention Rollback Action group to take another look
before they take any action to roll back the Intervention.
The women and children from communities which have been subject to
the Intervention are much happier and look decidedly healthier. The
women are clearly happier, now that part of their money is
guaranteed to be available for the essentials of family life.
Many of the men I have spoken with are also glad of the income
Previously they were unable to control their spending (as is often
found with addictive behaviour) and they left their families with
insufficient funds for healthy living.
My many friends from these communities tell me that they now have
respectable pay packets for the work they do.
They feel much better about their work roles in their communities now
that “proper”pay is available for the many new jobs which have been
It is my belief that the Intervention has restored dignity to many and
will continue to do so for many others.
Let the Intervention be fine tuned, but let it roll on.
No need for nuke
Sir,- Plans by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology
Organisation (ANSTO) to construct a new radioactive waste storage
building at Lucas Heights mean there is no need for the federal
government to push ahead with a nuclear dump in the NT.
This development is a welcome acknowledgement of the continuing deep
concern and opposition to the current NT dump proposal and provides a
clear circuit breaker in a long running debate.
The Rudd government should now honour its commitment to repeal the
highly undemocratic Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act,
which allows a dump to be imposed on the NT community.
ANSTO’s application states the planned new facility will “enable
appropriate storage, monitoring and inspection”.
It seems logical that these ongoing operations should occur close to
the site of production, where most of Australia’s nuclear trained
scientists are located.
Why truck waste thousands of kilometres when the majority of the waste
earmarked for the NT dump is produced by ANSTO at Lucas Heights?
Beyond Nuclear Initiative
Nepotism in NT sport?
Sir,– Nepotism is alive and well in athletics in Alice Springs.
My granddaughter won six gold medals in the recent Northern Territory
Athletics Championships in Darwin and brought home the hurdler of the
Has she been selected for the Pacific School Games? No.
A girl in the same age group has been chosen who just happens to be the
Has she been able to win a race against my granddaughter?
You will never convince me that the most talented athletes are chosen
to represent the Northern Territory interstate.
ED – The Alice News offered the organisers right of reply. Helen
Taylor, Manager School Sport NT provided the following:
All students who nominated for the Pacific School Games were considered
at the recent combined School Sport NT and Athletics NT Championships
held in Darwin.
Only students who had completed a nomination form for the Pacific Games
prior to this competition were able to be considered.
A Track and Field team of 86 students has been finalised to represent
the NT at the Pacific Games, including 16 students from Desert
Storm cluster schools in Alice Springs.
Unhealthy work ethic?
Sir,– Racial prejudice was one of the main themes of Story Wall on
Thursday, September 13.
The Australian Government was blamed for perpetuating such an
injustice, but racial prejudice is just one of the outcomes of being in
a society that expects us to earn our living from inequitable,
discriminatory, hierarchical, exclusive and competitive workplaces.
The Australian Government is not the only government that upholds such
an unsustainable system. Historically, many societies have been
structured in such an inhumane way.
To remedy the breaches in human rights that have been occurring for
centuries, it is necessary to remedy our unhealthy work ethic.
Currently, the purpose of our work is to prove our worth and value to
society by earning as much money as we can so that we can afford to pay
for the ever-increasing cost of our basic human rights.
To bring about real and lasting positive change I suggest that the
purpose of our paid work ought to be to strive to learn how to live
co-operatively, and to seek to live in as unified, egalitarian, just,
sustainable and healing way as we can.
How is this possible? The knowledge is within our selves.
We need to be empowered, heard, trusted, encouraged, supported and
guided to live in a way that is meaningful and healing for us.
Thanks for paper
Sir,– You guys have a fine paper – it lets me know how life is on the
other side of the world.
What do we believe in, what do we know?
I am often taken by surprise at the pace of the world. Even here in
Alice Springs where the pace of life is positively pedestrian compared
to places with skyscrapers and light rail networks, sometimes I feel as
though I’m running at full stretch just to keep up.
Every so often one is forced to stop, to let the world with all its
narcissistic zeal, speed past like a Japanese bullet train. Stop and to
I get so caught up in keeping up that sometimes I wonder if I really
Take the stock market for example. Last week we saw mum and dad
investors as well as retirees spanked to within an inch of their
bullish lives. Commentators and economists alike were foretelling the
end of capitalism.
Twenty four hours later everything is back to normal and as far as I
can tell the spark that caused the correction was George W. Bush
telling people to calm down. One news bulletin tells of the end of the
world as we know it, the next says we are saved by a bloke who can’t
We are being asked to act on climate change and I think we should but
with terms like carbon capture, clean coal, offset carbon trading
schemes and alternative energy strategies I wonder if anyone will have
the time to think of a plan.
No wonder I find myself unsure of what I actually think.
I know the difference between right and wrong. I also know the
difference between right and wrong isn’t always that much.
I know that sometimes wrong can happen, even with the best intentions.
I know that it is harder for me to be good than it is to be bad, but
I’m working on it.
I know that despite climate change the world can be a cold place.
I know that passionate people are more important than much anything
I know that more respect should be given to those that have been rather
than those that never will.
I know art and I know what I like. I know I like people who have an
I know I like people who aren’t afraid to argue.
I know that people who read are more interesting than people who look
pretty. I know that I am not good at first impressions. I know that
people generally have to warm to me. I know that I always have to warm
I know that everyone has a skeleton in their closet. I know that
imperfection is more interesting than perfection. I know I don’t
like lemongrass and cheesecake. I know I do like meat.
I know that I don’t like country music and I know it’s nothing
I know what is good for me. I know that what is bad for me is always
I know I like to dance even though I’m not very good. I know real men
cry and not just when their team loses. I know that great men aren’t
always good men.
I know that what politicians talk about and what is important are
rarely the same thing.
I know that life is full of irony. Why do CEOs make more money than
scientists? I know that advertising is the art of turning
clichés into money. I know that’s also the definition of current
I know I’m not good at fixing things. I also know that I will pretend
that I am good at fixing things.
I know I should be better prepared. I know I should read maps, read
recipes and read instruction manuals. I know I should think before I
talk. I know I should not fall for the wrong women.
I know that the type of government doesn’t really matter. Capitalism,
communism, socialism, hell, a theocratic oligarchy, none of it makes a
difference if the leaders don’t care about the people.
I know that most leaders start with great intentions.
I know that spin is a necessary evil. I know that spin happens every
time a politician opens their mouth.
I know I’d jump at the chance of voting for a person who shuns that
I know a fair bit. But still I find it tough.
Maybe this week we all need to reflect on what it is we know, what we
believe and what we want to know. Maybe we need to collectively have a
big deep breath. I know I could use one.