ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
July 23, 2009. This page contains all
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
Littering, swearing, camping,
begging: Alice fights back. By KIERAN FINNANE.
Town Council rangers will no longer have to witness the act of
littering in order to take action against the litterers of public
places, and swearing and begging in public places will become an
Camping in public places at any time will also be an offence. Currently
it is only prohibited between 9pm and 6am the following day.
The measures are among the proposed new by-laws relating to the
management of public places that council will vote to put on public
display in its monthly meeting next week.
Under the existing by-laws, not reviewed since 1987, the act of
littering – described as “deposit of offensive matter” – is prohibited.
The proposed new by-law (bl43) covers more broadly the fact of
Not only will it prohibit dropping or throwing litter; it will also
prohibit leaving it behind.
Likewise, putting litter in such a location that it will fall, descend,
blow et cetera in or onto the public place and causing, permitting or
allowing it to do so are also prohibited.
An “authorised person” – a council appointee such as a ranger or a
police officer – can enforce the by-law if they observe a person moving
away from litter in a public place and “reasonably believe” that the
person has deposited the litter or does not intend to return and
dispose of the litter.
Council clearly intends to tackle with this by-law the often observed
situation where groups of people enjoy a picnic lunch on the Civic
Centre or other lawn areas and then leave their food wrappings and
drink containers behind them.
The by-law may be harder to enforce in more crowded situations, such as
concerts and parades, where similar litter invariably gets left behind.
The kinds of unwanted public behaviour that the new by-laws identify
are no doubt evidence of a change in concerns and expectations over
Begging and swearing in public places are not covered in the existing
by-laws and neither of course is public drinking.
Drinking liquor, having an open container of liquor and displaying the
effects of intoxication in public places are all prohibited by the new
Lhere Artepe, the native title holder body, made it clear in 2005, with
their move to develop cultural protocols, that begging and humbugging
were among the behaviours not acceptable to them and could be tackled
by by-laws (http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/1247.html).
The proposed by-law 57 prohibits begging or soliciting money or goods
in a public place.
Deputy Mayor John Rawnsley asked during Monday night’s committee
meeting whether the situation of people gathering around ATMs and
humbugging others for money would be covered by the by-laws.
Council’s director of Corporate and Community Services, Craig
Catchlove, said that situation would be covered by the begging by-law
together with the proposed new powers to move people on.
Under the proposed by-law 83 an authorised person can move someone on
if they are asleep in a public place or if they are engaged or likely
to be engaged in conduct involving a breach of the by-laws.
A person can be directed not to return to the vicinity of the place
where the offence occurred for up to six hours.However, it is specified
that by-law 83 does not apply to a person picketing a place of
employment, demonstrating or protesting about or publicising their
views on a particular issue.
Nonetheless people engaging in all of these activities must have a
This was questioned during the committee discussion by Aldermen
Rawnsley, Jane Clark and Samih Habib.
Ald Rawnsley said the situation could be “problematic” for council to
be the permit-issuing authority if the protest was over a matter
involving the council.
He also saw the possibility of council being wrong-footed if a protest
was for a good cause yet for some reason a permit had not been sought.
He wanted the terms of the by-law to be more specific or else for
council not to go “down this path”.
Ald Clark, also concerned about the “freedom to protest”, wanted more
“sophistication” in the wording of the by-laws. She expects that there
will be “a lot of response” from the public on this issue.
Alds Sandy Taylor and Murray Stewart stressed their support for the
democratic right to protest yet could not see a problem with the
issuing of permits.
CEO Rex Mooney pointed out that existing by-laws require a permit for
protest throughout the entire municipality.
Ald Liz Martin asked whether the by-law covered protest by single
individuals “with smelly cars”.
This was clearly a reference to the perennial irritant to council of
David Chewings’ placard-bearing vehicles promoting his various views.
Mr Catchlove said anyone displaying a sign in public publicising their
views will require a permit.
However if the view expressed is actually in the bodypaint of the
vehicle this could be a loophole, said Mr Catchlove.
Graffiti is another target of the proposed by-laws, with both
perpetrator and victim caught in the net.
Aldermen on Monday supported a weakening, proposed by Ald Taylor, of
the penalty for the “victim” who fails to remove the graffiti from
their property. This will attract only two penalty points (one penalty
point is a fine of $130) compared to 10 penalty points for perpetrators
Ald Clark pointed out that the “victim will always be caught” while the
perpetrators are “rarely caught”.
Aldermen also supported strengthening the penalty for people letting
off fireworks illegally, again to 10 penalty points.
The toughest sanctions in the proposed by-laws are against dumping
goods and materials containing commercial waste (500 penalty points )
and failing to remove such waste (100 penalty points per day).
Littering will attract three penalty points, begging and swearing, one.
Persistent breaches of by-laws would lead to a toughening of penalty:
the same offence on at least two occasions within seven days attracts a
penalty of three times the amount (dumping by-law 45 excepted).
A persistent breach of the camping by-law (26) will be proven even if a
different public place is being used on succeeding days to the original
Persistent parking offences (three within seven days) could result in
the impoundment of a person’s vehicle.
Aldermen agreed to Mr Mooney’s suggestion that a public information
meeting be held to discuss the proposed new-by-laws once they are put
Ald Stewart urged his fellow elected members “to hold the ship steady”
during the public comment period, commending council as
“action-orientated and progressive” and the proposed by-laws as an
effort to make Alice Springs a “more positive” place to live and do
Centrecorp: Did CLC breach
land rights act? By ERWIN
Within two months of the Alice Springs News suggesting that the Central
Land Council (CLC) was, as a majority shareholder in the investment
company Centrecorp, in breach of the Land Rights Act, the Centrecorp
trust deeds were modified to preclude that possibility.
This would appear to be an admission that for the two decades prior,
during which Centrecorp amassed assets worth an estimated $100m, the
CLC was indeed in breach of the law under which it operates.
During an extended investigation into the CLC’s relationship with
Centrecorp by the Alice News, a key issue to emerge – apart from the
question of benefit to the Aboriginal people of Central Australia from
the investments – was whether the CLC is compliant with Section
23 of the Act.
This section says a land council may carry out commercial activities
only “in any manner that will not cause the Land Council to incur
financial liability or enable it to receive financial benefit”.
The section does not just say land councils must not incur profits or
losses. It says they must not be exposed to profit and loss.
So whether or not the CLC received benefits from Centrecorp’s
activities in its first 20 years, or risked financial liability, it was
outside the Act if it exposed itself to either.
In view of the CLC’s majority shareholding of Centrecorp, and CLC
director David Ross’ membership or chairmanship of a string of boards
associated with Centrecorp, questions clearly needed to be asked.
The CLC has been stonewalling enquiries from the Alice News about its
relationship with Centrecorp for years, but our investigations have led
to a string of disclosures.
And now a Senate Committee Inquiry into the relationship between the
CLC and Centrecorp is underway and due to conduct hearings in Alice
Of late the Alice News has been seeking comment on CLC issues from
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, who has ultimate
responsibility for the land council as a Commonwealth statutory
A highly credible source has now been provided (not by the CLC) to give
us advice and information, on the condition that we do not disclose the
circumstances of this arrangement, nor the identity of the source.
The source told us earlier this year that stipulations included in
Centrecorp’s trust deeds – it is a charitable organisation – were a
guarantee that the CLC complied with Section 23.
At about the same time we obtained a copy of the deeds from NT Senator
Nigel Scullion, provided to the Senate by the CLC following a request
in Estimates Hearings.
Senator Scullion and Shadow Justice Minister George Brandis had been
examining the CLC about mining royalties and Centrecorp dealings
(see reports in our online edition at www.alicespringsnews.com.au).
However, the Centrecorp deeds appeared to contain no clear restrictions
on financial opportunities available to its shareholders.
We reported this on May 21 this year
(<http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/1616.html>), quoting a
clause in the trust deeds.
Last week, on July 16, our source told us: “Our lawyers have pointed
out that the version of [the clause] you have quoted is no longer in
“It was removed [in fact it is still in the text of the deeds] and
replaced by a ‘Deed of Variation of Trust’ dated 31 May 2006.
“The clause 7 currently in force and ‘Additional Provisions’ added
by the Variation Deed expressly preclude the CLC from benefitting in
any way howsoever from the trust fund.”
The CLC, who have had every opportunity over the years of responding to
our requests for comment and information but have never availed
themselves of the opportunity, gleefully reported our error in their
submission to the Senate Committee Inquiry.
The CLC did not of course inform the Senate that the modification to
the deeds came 48 days after the Alice Springs News published a report
pointing to the problem, headed “Money trails lead to 75 Hartley
Street”, that address being the Centrecorp office
Meanwhile, the Alice Springs News has made a complaint to the Senate
about permitting the CLC to publish on the Senate website statements
containing falsehoods about the News, and attacking its integrity.
Submissions to the Senate are protected by Parliamentary privilege – no
defamation action can be launched.
We told the Senate we should not have been denied a simultaneous right
of reply, that the News is preparing a response, and that the CLC
statement should be removed until we have had a reasonable opportunity
The News notes that the CLC statement asserts no mining royalties have
been included in the seed funding for Centrecorp, as the News has
reported several times as speculation, not fact.
The CLC statement says: “The CLC receives and distributes royalties
from resource exploitation on Aboriginal land. None of those funds have
even been distributed to Centrecorp.”
Despite repeated requests, no on-the-record statement to that effect
has previously been given to the News.
We are now passing this information on to our readers.
Mr Ross, according to a recent report released by Federal Finance
Minister Lindsay Tanner, in one year received $63,528 in director’s
fees on top of his salary from the CLC
Centrecorp’s assets at present include half shares in Peter Kittle
Motor Company, now operating also in South Australia, the local L J
Hooker franchise, the Milner Road Food Town supermarket (with
Tangentyere Council holding the remainder), Mitre 10, a 33% share in
the Kings Canyon resort, and valuable commercial real estate including
a 60% share in the Yeperenye Centre (Lhere Artepe has 40%).
Police reopens school sex case
after victim’s parents speak out. By ERWIN
A former student of the Alice Springs Highschool will be placed on
Youth Diversion for aggravated assault after grabbing a girl around her
stomach and trying to touch her breasts at the school in 2006.
This action follows disclosure of the events in the Alice Springs News,
after receiving information from the girl’s parents earlier this month.
But police say there had been no claim two years ago of sexual assault,
and none had taken place.
The boy was arrested and interviewed last week.
A police spokeswoman says the victim had told police in a statement at
the time that the offender was harassing her by grabbing her around the
waist and trying to touch her breasts at school.
“The complaint was given to a School Based Constable (SBC) to deal
with and when told this, both mother and complainant were happy for
this to occur,” says the spokeswoman.
On August 25, 2006, the victim’s mother had told police she’d seen the
offender in town and wanted to take out a restraining order.
On August 31 the SCB contacted the victim and her mother and
discussed the various options, such as restraining orders, and the
SBC tried in vain to locate the offender.
On October 25 the SBC contacted the Home Liaison Officer at the school
and she said she’d spoken to the offender’s family, and had been told
he’d left the Territory and wasn’t coming back.
“The victim’s family were informed of this by the SBC,” says the
spokeswoman. At this point it would have taken a warrant of arrest to
involve police interstate.
“If information came to hand of the offender’s location interstate, we
would seek the assistance of that jurisdiction so that the person could
be interviewed,” says the spokeswoman.
On March 15, 2007 the SBC “was tasked” to add an alert on PROMIS (the
police data management system) that the boy was wanted for questioning.
The spokeswoman says this is usually done in cases where no progress
has been made, after “anything humanly possible” has been done, and
before a case ceases to be actively pursued. However, the alert is
The resumption of the active enquiries was triggered when the parent’s
distressed account was published in the Alice Springs News on July 2,
under the headline “School sex offender got away with it, say victim’s
Police were “tasked” to be on the lookout for the alleged offender.
The boy was located, arrested and interviewed on July 11.
Sitzler Bros get $14.2m pool
Sitzler Bros have won the tender to build a “state of the art” Aquatic
and Leisure Centre, the Town Council’s largest capital project of $14.2
The project is jointly funded by Federal and Northern Territory
Governments and the Town Council.
Mayor Damien Ryan and Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton
announced the winning tender at a poolside occasion on Tuesday.
The decision to award Sitzler Bros the tender was seen as also bringing
great economic benefits to Alice Springs.
Said company principal Michael Sitzler: “With Sitzler being a
local business, employing local people and using local suppliers for
the majority of works, this announcement is great news for the local
The contractors will be on site from August and hope to complete the
project in 12 months’ time.
The facility will be open to the public from next October, and in time
for the 2010 Masters Games.
Pictured are: Sitzler Bros’ Trevor Jacobs (second from right) with,
from left, Alds Liz Martin, Murray Stewart and Samih Habib, Mayor
Damien Ryan, Ald Sandy Taylor, Minister for Sport and Recreation Karl
Hampton, and Ald Brendan Heenan.
Plan for reinstatement of
K-Mart wall lacks detail. By KIERAN FINNANE.
An application to reinstate the “sandstone feature wall” on the Kmart
building in Railway Terrace has gone on display at the Department of
Lands and Planning in Alice Springs.
There was uproar when the wall – a mural in local sandstone – was
demolished after damage during a storm in September last year.
The display period for public comment ends on July 31.
The documents detail the reinstatement of the wall in all its technical
aspects, which will overcome the structural deficiencies seen to have
contributed to the wall’s failure.
They also provide an assessment of the original sandstone, salvaged
during demolition, and say that for 20% of the reinstatement new
sandstone will be required.
There are no details about how the original layout for the sandstone
mural, depicting the profile of Heavitree Gap and the Mt Gillen range,
will be achieved.
The list of works that makes up part of the application says “Refer
others for details of stone colour and layout”.
There is no other reference within the documents to layout.
However the terms “full reinstatement of the wall” and the “original
mural wall” are used in the documents.
The contact for the applicant, Centro Properties Group, is Mario
Boscaini, state manager for the company. Unfortunately Mr Boscaini is
on leave till August 10.
Mr Boscaini was reluctant last year to commit to full reinstatement,
and commented that the original development permit did not specify
maintenance of the mural, but only of the “sandstone wall”.
He expected “some movement” from authorities on what the reinstated
wall would look like and what it would be made of (see
The Alice News asked if someone else from Centro could answer our
questions. We had not heard back at the time of going to press.
Cash for container takes off
In the first five days of operation of the Town Council’s cash for
containers scheme residents took 209,000 glass and aluminium drink
containers to the deposit centre – at Territory Metals in Smith Street.
With the deposit of each container worth five cents, residents were
able to put into their collective pocket $10,450.
Alderman Samih Habib expressed concern at Monday’s committee meeting
that at this rate council will quickly run out of money for the scheme.
Council’s Director of Technical Services Greg Buxton says the
initial uptake has surpassed expectation but he is expecting deposits
to slow down once the public areas of the town are cleaned up.
Ald Liz Martin reported that areas around Norris Bell Avenue (leading
to the road Transport Hall of Fame and the Old Ghan), formerly littered
with thousands of drink containers, are now clean.
Rangers will be reporting next week to council about drink container
litter in other public areas.
The professor & the
boomerang. By KIERAN FINNANE.
When Professor Steve Larkin first went to university he was asked
questions like could he throw a boomerang, did he drink a lot, how come
he was so fair skinned, why didn’t he speak an Aboriginal language.
This was at the University of Queensland back in the early ‘80s.
Prof Larkin (pictured) had grown up in Darwin, the son of a Kungarakany
woman, from country around the township of Batchelor and Litchfield
Park, and a non-Indigenous man.
The family were evacuated to Brisbane in the wake of Cyclone Tracy. It
was there that Prof Larkin experienced life in a high school that had
an explicit academic focus, prompting him for the first time to think
about higher education.
After completing his matriculation, two years in a clerking position
back in Darwin made up his mind. He wanted more of a challenge than
routine clerical work could offer.
He accepted a deferred offer to study towards a Bachelor of Social Work
degree at the University of Queensland.
Almost 30 years later Prof Larkin is now Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous
Leadership at Charles Darwin University, making him, at the time of his
appointment, the highest ranking Indigenous person in an Australian
Looking back on his undergraduate days he says the reaction of his
fellow students to his Indigeneity was “a bit confusing”.
“My racial background was never called into question until I went to
“There was a feeling of being separate from my family because of my
“I’d never had this in Darwin, everyone knew which family I belonged
Still, he got on with his studies and graduated in 1984, returning
again to Darwin to take up a job in the then Department of Community
Development, doing child protection and community welfare work.
As he progressed in his social work career, he decided to pursue
further qualifications, and began a Masters in Social Science, through
distance education at Charles Sturt University, graduating in the late
Before his appointment to CDU, Prof Larkin was Principal for five years
at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Studies in the ACT.
His new position at CDU, which he has held since January, is focussed
in part on getting more Indigenous students enrolling in higher
Does that involve tackling low levels of achievement at primary and
secondary school first?
“Universities are an integral part of the education continuum,” says
“It’s in all our intersts to invest in children gaining literacy and
“We want them to progress through primary and secondary school to Year
12 and on to higher education.”
The challenges are still great.
“It’s a big jump to become educated in another culture.
“How do we provide an effective bridge that will enable children to
master the language, conceptual thinking and world view of another
“How do people from rural and remote areas get to that level? How do we
find out what works, what doesn’t?”
The Alice News puts to him the common view that the grandparents of
today’s Indigenous children, educated in the mission era, are generally
more literate and numerate than their grandkids.
“It’s true that the mission education system had its successes, but it
created other problems too,” says Prof Larkin.
“When the influence of the churches diminished in the settlements,
those settlements over time became dysfunctional. There are still
tensions today, in places like Wadeye and Maningrida between all the
different groups compelled to cohabit in one space.
“The missionaries had a captive audience and succeeded, but but there
were unintended consequences after they left, that have to do with the
problems associated with transitioning from dependence to independence
with little or no resources or support.
“I think the majority of rural and remote people see the value of a
western education, but they are trying to find a way where they and
their children don’t have to pay enormous cultural costs to acquire
There are strong Indigenous enrolments in vocational (VET) courses at
CDU – 40% of VET students are Indigenous, but they tend not to progress
through to the higher VET levels (Certificates III and IV) or on to
Prof Larkin wants to compare Indigenous and non-Indigenous VET
“If a greater proportion of non-Indigenous students are going further,
we’ll need to investigate how we can best encourage Indigenous students
to do the same.”
Some Indigenous university enrolments are coming from mature age
students, people who’ve been successfully employed but are wanting to
formalise their knowledge.
There are also increased Indigenous enrolments from outside the NT,
which Prof Larkin puts down to the growing recognition of CDU as a
centre for Indigenous learning.
“It’s a small uni but a good niche uni, well-positioned in terms of an
“Our on-line delivery is attractive, and we’re trying to make it more
so, improving the quality of our materials and support.”
Another focus of Prof Larkin’s job is the recruitment of more
Indigenous teaching and research staff, not only in associate and
support roles but also as lead investigators.
“It is mostly non-Indigenous researchers who are generating new
knowledge, and who predominantly are interpreting it, analysing it,
taking it to government.
“Research starts with a question that needs to be answered. We want
more Indigenous researchers to pose the questions and develop the
methodologies to answer these questions with an Indigenous perspective.”
What is an Indigenous perspective?
“Indigenous people see and experience the world in different ways to
non-Indigenous Australia,” says Prof Larkin.
“ The creation and validation of knowledge also differs between the two
“Whilst Indigenous research methodologies do not outrightly reject
traditional western research paradigms, they do challenge its theory
and practices as the necessarily best way to obtain and form new
“Indigenous research methodologies require research to be of positive
benefit to the community, that the community must be fully engaged
in all the parts of the research process, that Indigenous
researchers lead the research and become part of it themselves.
“The western academic notion of the objective, detached neutral
observer becomes unsustainable in this context.”
As a consequence, Prof Larkin believes Indigenous researchers “are more
likely to take a critical perspective, asking just how effective is a
particular program or service because they are driven by the need for
their research to contribute towards a positive transformation to the
community’s quality of life.”
Professor Larkin’s appointment underlines the importance of Indigenous
studies to CDU – it was the first such position in Australia at the
Notre Dame University in Western Australia have since appointed an
Indigenous woman at the Deputy Vice-Chancellor level at their Broome
“There is a feeling across the campus that we are entering an exciting
“I’m impressed by the capability and commitment of the staff.
“They are prepared to be entrepreneurial, to take some risks, to think
“And, at the same time, it’s a small, personal, warm, welcoming,
“The university is a leader in post-graduate research focussed on
the landscapes that make up the Territory such as deserts, tropical
savannas and coastal systems.
“We’re close to Southeast Asia, we have a 30-40% Indigenous population,
two-thirds of whom live in rural and remote areas, where English is not
a first language.
“All these things are seen as both challenges and opportunities at
The university MOU with the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary
Education has already borne fruit.
A successful joint submission to the Australian Government’s Education
Investment Fund will see the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledge
and Education built on CDU’s Casuarina campus.
The facility will include accommodation for students coming in for
block study as well as two MALUs (Mobile Adult Learning Units –
truck-mounted, fully-equipped classrooms).
Separate submissions in a first round were not successful, says Prof
Larkin, but when the two institutions joined forces in the second round
they got what they wanted.
“It’s a fundamental partnership for us.
“The Batchelor model is important – as an Indigenous institution with
its own way of working, teaching, doing research.
“It must be maintained, but we’re best positioned by working together.
“It can only enhance our capabilities and vice versa if we coordinate
better so that we don’t duplicate and compete.
“The most important people in all this are the current and prospective
Indigenous students, whom we want to see get unfettered access to the
highest quality teaching and learning.
“There’s no point in us competing where we don’t have to.”
The university is committed to greater community engagement, seeking to
avoid education and training for their own sake.
“It means we have to do more to engage with industry, the private
sector, the public sector.
“We need to work in partnership with them to stimulate employment
opportunities, to align their workforce aspirations and requirements
with what we provide.
“A key part of this will involve working more closely with the new
Meanwhile Veronica Ecenarro graduated this year from Charles Darwin
University with a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) – now known as a
Bachelor of Teaching and Learning. Employed at Yipirinya School, Ms
Ecenarro co-ordinates the Alice Springs arm of an international program
that helps struggling parents to tutor their children at home.
Ms Ecenarro originally came from One Arm Point, 200 kms north of Broome
in WA, and moved to Alice Springs after “falling in love with the
place” when she visited her sister in 1996. Armed with vocational
education qualifications, she took up an assistant position at
Yipirinya School in 2003. It was there she decided to further her
studies at CDU. Source: CDU media release.
Quest for truth in northern
travels. REVIEW by KIERAN FINNANE.
There’s an unwritten book that haunts the pages of Nicolas Rothwell’s
The Red Highway: it would give account of his experiences as a
correspondent for The Australian in the Middle East.
Rothwell was there for a year, returning to Darwin, where he has lived
now for several years, during the 2005 build-up.
He hints at the weight of his memories: days spent alone, traveling
remote northern roads “in an attempt to leach away the more disquieting
memories of my Middle Eastern sojourn”.
He reports being urged by his friend, Alice Springs photographer and
environmental campaigner Mike Gillam, to tell the real story – “after
where you’ve been, and all the things you’ve seen” – but Rothwell
counters: “Some things are best untold. Or the way to tell them best is
not to tell them.”
So perhaps that book is not unwritten, but wrestled with at a tangent,
via this meandering journey across northern and central Australia,
evoked in Rothwell’s idiosyncratically lyrical style and with a
sensibility finely attuned to the enormity of human suffering and loss
across the ages, the magnificent dreams of men and women and to the
character of the landscapes and human communities in which he finds
Threaded through the book also is his attempt to settle within himself
anguish over a heightened sense of his own mortality as well as the
push and pull of exile.
The desire to be ‘at home’ – in the sense of deeply connected – is
overlain always with the deep knowledge that that can never be.
The Latin dedication of the book to “AA” is one part of a famous
declaration of love (from The Cynthia of Propertius): “omnia tu nostrae
tempora laetitiae”, meaning “you are my every moment of happiness”.
Preceding this in the full quote are phrases translated as: “You alone
are my home, you alone my parents…” Nothing of this experience of
sheltering love is rendered in the book but the words of the dedication
extend an arch of solace across a narrative that is inhabited by
longing and dread.
Almost all of the people, living and dead, whom Rothwell encounters on
his mythical Red Highway, are in exile like himself. This is a
foundation state for all settler Australians, experienced more
consciously and acutely by some than by others, and more particularly
by people in remote Australia where strong Indigenous presence is a
constant reminder of what recent arrivals we are and how contested that
One, the Czech artist and collector Karel Kupka, is a man in Rothwell’s
image. When Rothwell imagines him “poised beside some red-dirt
airstrip, waiting: tall, and thin, and somewhat out of place”, he could
be writing of himself. They share Czech origins, deep European culture
as well as their quest for transcendental truths about the world and
human existence, which they intuit can be discovered in ‘the North’.
For Kupka it was in particular in the Aboriginal world of the North and
its direct link to the ‘dawn’ of art.
For Rothwell the North is a realm not specific to geography or a
society or a time. It is the nucleus of a vast body of coincidences,
insights, visions, stories, knowledges that link and make meaningful
his wide-ranging excursions across time and Earth.
“How little a life’s course comes down to”, he writes when he finds in
an archive the letter from Kupka that bids farewell to “northern
travels and the pursuit of art”. Kupka will remake himself as ‘a man of
rigour and science” and “would be cured at last of his collecting
passion, and his desire to find a home”.
Rothwell weeps over this letter, knowing the dark experience – the
Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia – that had prompted it. The book
he goes on to write is a daring reclamation of his precursor’s original
I say daring because, for someone who commands national respect as a
journalist, it is one thing to write about someone else having visions;
another to give account of your own; one thing to evoke the intense
emotions of someone else; another to infuse your researches and
reflections with your own grief, yearnings and fears.
I found myself resisting the emotional intensity and the kind of
magical realism at first. My notes for this review were initially full
of questions. Can this person really be speaking like this? Can
this encounter actually have happened like this? Isn’t Rothwell
projecting a lot here?
But little by little I was won over. If the book feels haunted, it is
Its intensely personal way of thinking and feeling and speaking about
experience, its quest for knowledge and understanding outside the
bounds of rational inquiry, interwoven with the observations,
researches and perceptions of a journalist at the height of his powers,
provides compelling reading for all who feel disappointed in the
plainness of settler Australian accounts of this country, for all who
feel a lack of cultural permission, who fear to be derided if they
speak of the unprovable, the spiritual, the visionary, the intuitive.
Recently an artist, a painter of landscapes, shyly admitted to me that
she felt as if the land was answering her, taking part in a kind of
conversation with her when she paints.
She said she felt embarrassed, especially as a non-Indigenous person,
to write that in her artist’s statement. Thinking of The Red Highway, I
urged her to write it as she feels it. We do ourselves and our culture
a disservice if we don’t.
All this said, there is also much in The Red Highway for those who are
hungry for concrete information. It gives fascinating accounts of
places you may hope to one day also experience, from the Catholic
cathedral in Darwin – Rothwell quotes Andrew McMillan’s description of
it as “a temple of art and beauty” – to the Church of St Anne and the
pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem; from the landscapes of the remote
north-west whose “scale and silence” empty all Rothwell’s thoughts to
the drama of a summer storm in the desert.
For Central Australian readers of particular interest is the account
Rothwell gives of a conversation with ecologist Peter Latz, whom he
describes as “the Linnaeus of Central Australia”.
The pair camp in dune and outcrop country to the south-west of Alice
Springs. Latz challenges Rothwell’s perception of the country as
“And it is,” says Latz, “a beautiful landscape – beautiful, and
destroyed. There’s almost nothing left; it’s a skeleton; it’s been
He describes a journey he had made into a belt of country at the
western extremity of Lake Amadeus, devastated by rabbits who had
survived the onslaught of calicivirus, leaving no marsupials, large or
small, no emus.
“The country wore a forbidding aspect: it had been scoured, almost in
its entirety, by savage wildfire, which had penetrated beneath the
surface and carbonised the upper layers of soil.
“Where once there had been groves of coolibah and bloodwood along creek
channels, bare plains now reached away.
“Beside the wells and waterholes there was not a single surviving
quandong tree to be seen.”
And so the litany of destruction continues.
But Latz denies that this is “a bleak summation”.
“Biology is change: the dance goes on. There’s no one correct
Later Latz asks Rothwell what the bush tells him?
“How beautiful life is,” replies Rothwell, “how precious, and how
quickly withdrawn. We come into consciousness from nothing, for the
briefest of spells, for no reason – and then darkness once again.”
Although there are still some 80 pages and a return to coastal country
to go, this captures in mood the end point of Rothwell’s journey along
The Red Highway.
At the close of the book, we leave him at a cliff’s edge with the low
shape of a dark vessel – surely the shape of death – drifting towards
him on the tide. But it is no longer a sight full of foreboding, as it
was at the start of the book. Rothwell is reconciled: “what we love is
constantly being taken from us, and returned in memory, and so our
longings gain their final shape”.
Let termites do your gardening.
ALEX NELSON finds that termites
make a useful contribution to gardening in the Centre. The observation
first occurred to him when he was monitoring new plantings, established
with the McEllister Method, at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in April
For previous installments of this series, see issues of May 14 and 28,
June 4 and June 25.
A month later, and the response of the new plants was very encouraging
– the majority were growing vigorously and there were no losses.
It was about this time that one of the jarrah pegs toppled over –
termites had completely eaten away the portion below soil level.
Several other pegs displayed evidence of strong termite activity.
Yet the new plants showed no sign of being attacked or of ill health.
I was well aware that jarrah timber, despite being extremely hard, is
highly favoured by termites in Central Australia but the rapidity with
which some of these pegs were being devoured suggested that termite
numbers in the area of the new plantings was abnormally high.
And that is when the penny dropped. I realized that my practice of
incorporating dry leaf litter, sticks, dead grass clumps, and (in this
case) weathered mulch, for the purpose of building up humus in the soil
was actually providing a bonanza food source for the resident termite
It seemed that little of this material was decaying in the soil; rather
it was being consumed by termites but they were apparently not
interested in the roots or living stems of the new plants in the
Instead, the plants usually grew rapidly without showing any ill
effect. I decided to test this observation further.
In the 2008 plantings of a range of species I added shredded newspaper
to the back-fill soil.
The initial response was excellent. Again, there was no indication of
soil nitrogen depletion and nearly every plant grew with marked vigour.
While I left the OPBG later that year, in visits to the garden since it
has been gratifying to note that the majority of new plants have
continued to grow well. There have been a few losses but none appear
attributable to termite attack.
The McEllister Method appears to provide a way to integrate gardening
and horticultural practice with the environment by capitalising on the
requirements and behaviour of termites – the very creatures that are at
the core of a functioning ecology. This is explained as follows:
After using the McEllister Method to prepare new plant positions, the
backfilled soil in each position is soft and unconsolidated but has no
soil structure at all; rather, it is an amorphous mix of damp soil,
fertiliser, manure and/or compost, perhaps some gypsum, and non-decayed
organic matter (leaf litter, sticks, dry grass or hay, wood chip mulch,
and/or shredded newspaper).
Termites are attracted to disturbed soil, especially if it is damp.
Often they will respond in a matter of hours, certainly within a day or
two. They encounter a most unusual situation – copious quantities of
edible carbon-rich non-decayed plant matter buried well below the soil
Termites normally have to forage for food at or above the soil surface,
where they are vulnerable to predation; but within the backfilled holes
they are presented with a smorgasbord of food that can be consumed in
The termites respond with alacrity to this abundant food source, and
the industrious insects are soon tunnelling their way through the soil
creating a network of holes and pathways as they consume and remove the
dead plant matter.
This is their preferred food source when there is sufficient moisture
in the soil to prevent dehydration – in these circumstances they ignore
plant roots and other living plant matter in the vicinity. The
termites’ tunnelling activity has the effect of rapidly creating soil
structure right beneath the roots of each new plant.
The termites also ignore fertilisers and much of the manure buried in
the soil as they consume the non-decayed plant matter. This results in
a surplus of nutrients available for the new plants to utilize,
importantly including soil-borne nitrogen.
Because so much of the non-decayed plant matter in the soil is removed
by the termites, there is relatively little of it to be decayed by
fungi and bacteria; in turn this ensures there is no major temporary
depletion of nitrogen. Consequently the new plants tend not to display
any symptoms of nitrogen deficiency.
The combination of termite-constructed soil structure with ample
supplies of nutrients enables the new plants to respond immediately
with vigorous new growth. The roots are able to penetrate quickly deep
into the soil, which is important for enhancing the long-term drought
hardiness of the plants. If the plants are well cared for and
maintained after establishment, they tend to respond with rapid growth,
reach maturity faster, and have enhanced long-term survivability.
This broadly outlines what I believe occurs when using the McEllister
Method to establish new plants. It is based on limited observations
over a long period of time but it does suggest an alternative means of
achieving success in gardening under Central Australian conditions that
has not been given any previous consideration. It is a home-grown
methodology that has evolved in response to the local environment and
is complementary to it.
The McEllister Method (and the reasoning behind it) requires much more
experimentation and assessment of its potential. Yet the concept and
implementation of this method is not complex – it is an idea that any
competent person can test and adapt for their own circumstances in
similar conditions to Central Australia.
LETTERS: Climbing Rock is "a
privilege, not a right".
Sir,- A particularly vexatious headline, blazed across the front page
of last week’s Alice News, (16 July 2009) – Right to climb Uluru may
The right to climb Uluru?
Is that like the right to watch the full moon rise over the MacDonnell
I think it’s more like an honour and a privilege and, one, in the case
of climbing the Rock that has gone against the wishes of the
traditional owners for a very long time.
It can be difficult for those of us who don’t have sacred sites of our
own to understand what it must be like.
Hard to understand but it shouldn’t be so hard to respect?
About that big sacred sites issue of 1992, the damming of the Todd
River, the learned Hal Wooten QC wrote: “It is difficult for those of
us who have grown up in Western European culture to appreciate the
nature of the attachment to and concerns about such areas on the part
of Aboriginals … the issue is not whether we can understand and
share the Aboriginal beliefs, but whether, knowing they are genuinely
held, we can therefore respect them.”
The traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park ask visitors
not to climb Uluru because of its spiritual significance.
They also feel greatly disturbed when visitors die or are hurt on their
land, as happens with monotonous regularity.
They prefer that people don’t climb. Why isn’t that enough?
Only thirty something percent of visitors to the Rock disregard the
wishes of the traditional owners and scramble on up, do their business
at the top and come back down.
Some fall down.
Keeping the climb open for that thirty something percent seems to me
like catering for the lowest common denominator.
That renders our overall product cheap and tacky. Do we have to
give the tourists what they want no matter how stupid and insensitive
it is / they are?
Closing that climb at Uluru is long overdue.
The tourism industry has shown itself to be entirely capable of
marketing and promoting to suit the times and the circumstances.
This exciting new step forward can be used as an opportunity to
demonstrate an evolution of the tourist industry and of ourselves as a
(Are you really sorry Mr Rudd?)
It can also offer an opportunity to develop new products and
experiences for visitors, of which there are already plenty, that are
in keeping with the immense natural and cultural values of the
Sir,– Aboriginal women from communities targeted for radioactive waste
transport and storage are calling for the government to repeal federal
laws facilitating the NT dump and remove the nuclear waste management
portfolio from Minister Martin Ferguson.
Yesterday, July 15, marked four years since the former Howard
government announced the federal dump plan for the Northern Territory,
a policy the Rudd government is continuing.
Public opposition stopped the radioactive waste dump in South Australia
and Kokatha women who fought the SA dump have resolved to help their
family who are now being targeted. We will support any community that
is targeted for a radioactive dump.
The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA) clearly
contravenes articles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples which state “no storage or disposal of hazardous materials
shall take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous peoples
without free, prior and informed consent”.
It is hypocritical of the ALP Government to support the UN-DRIP and
continue with Howard’s waste dump plan. The Northern Land Council,
which nominated the Muckaty site for the dump, should stop
disempowering Traditional Owners of Muckaty Land Trust who oppose the
We are bitterly disappointed with Martin Ferguson’s recent comments
that he will pick a site for the federal waste dump before he consults
with the targeted community.
This is a shameful attempt to silence the majority of Territorians that
oppose the nuclear waste dump. Minister Ferguson has not visited any of
the affected NT sites in the time he has held office.
It is the government’s political obligation, and international best
practice, to undertake proper consultation with affected communities.
Four years is an unacceptable amount of time to have this waste dump
issue unresolved. The ALP promised to repeal the CRWMA, the NT dump
Mitch, Engawala (near the Alcoota dump site)
Donna Jackson, Larrakia Nation
Rebecca Bear Wingfield, Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta Aboriginal Women’s
Sir,– I write regarding the Federal Government’s proposed changes
to Youth Allowance criteria for those students pursuing tertiary
For those students who don’t live within a bus / train ride to their
TAFE Colleges or Universities, there is no choice but to leave home and
take up accommodation in another town / city.
Up until and including this year such students could qualify for the
Youth Allowance under the Independent Status criteria if they were 25
years old; or if they worked 18 months part-time; or if they worked for
15 months full-time after graduating from Year 12; or if their parents’
combined income was under $80,000.
The Federal Government has now changed the goal posts,
There are thousands of gap year kids working this year who believed
they would next year and for subsequent years at uni be entitled to the
full Centrelink Youth Allowance of $375 per fortnight if they earned
over $19,500 this year.
Now, for some, the only way they can qualify is under the parental
income test criteria.
This combined parental income cut-off has been raised to $137,000.
On the surface this may appease the concerns of many, but the question
we need to start asking the Hon. Julia Gillard, is what is the sliding
scale for qualifications for payment.
For example, if parental income is $80,000, will the student be
entitled to full youth allowance payments or only partial youth
Ms Gillard’s speech in Parliament on Thursday, June 18, carefully did
not go into the details of the new criteria.
It is believed that there will be a senate inquiry into this
legislation, but do any of us know the history of the efficacy of
senate inquiries? Do they usually overturn legislation?
Also, the present Commonwealth Accommodation Scholarship is being
replaced by the Relocation Allowance.
Under the scholarship, students were paid $4000+ per year whilst
undertaking tertiary studies; but under the relocation allowance, they
will receive $4000 for the first year and $1,000 each subsequent year.
We need to know which is the fairer system.
Indigenous language suppression and revival
Sir,– On Friday, June 26 on Radio National there was an item on the
News about whether there is any evidence to support the restrictions
the Northern Territory Government is imposing on bilingual education. A
little later there was an item on dying Indigenous languages, featuring
the teaching of a no-longer-spoken language of the Sydney area.
There is a lot of effort and money now being put into ‘reviving’
Australian Indigenous languages (to our knowledge especially in New
South Wales and South Australia).
‘Reviving’ a language, in the Australian context, means trying to teach
the basics of it to descendants of the speakers; there is no chance
that it could return to its original status as the main medium for
communication in a community.
At the same time, bilingual schools in the Northern Territory are being
forced to switch from the local language to English for a large part of
their teaching time.
It seems that the philosophy is that if a local language is still
living – still being learnt by the children as their first language –
it is to be suppressed until it eventually is no longer spoken, or
perhaps has only a few old speakers left. At this stage a program is
started, lavishly funded (at least in comparison to the funding put
into supporting the living language), to ‘revive’ it.
Can it be that there’s a lack of logic here somewhere?
Gavan and Rosalie Breen
Smell the flowers
Sir,– Members of the Central Australian tourism industry and the
general public can now cast their votes for their favourite tourism
operator or product, with nominations open for the 2009 Central
Australian Tourism Industry Awards.
Now in its third year, the awards recognise and reward excellence in
the tourism industry, as well as provide an opportunity for local
tourism operators to let their hair down at the end of a demanding
In the current economic climate our tourism industry is having to work
extra hard to keep business at a sustainable level and the Awards night
gives them time to smell the flowers and pat each other on the back.
We expect the event to sell out again this year. Last year over 360
guests attended including representatives from our region’s gateways –
Tennant Creek and Coober Pedy.
Categories for nomination include Young Achiever, Industry Achiever,
Primary Tourism Operator, Community Festivals and Events, New Tourism
Innovation and the Barry Bucholtz Award for Excellence.
Funds will be raised for the local charity arm of Make-A-Wish
Foundation, when prizes are drawn out of raffles and door prizes
announced throughout the event.
Tourism Central Australia will be auctioning a large range of local
artwork, jewellery and tourism experiences, so we encourage all Awards
night guests to bring plenty of extra cash for raffles and donations.
Local entertainers, including singer song writers and music show will
entertain the crowd, and a surprise celebrity will host the night.
Nominations close on 31 August 2009.
Chairman, Tourism Central Australia
Scholarship for keen young reader
Sir,– The Rotary Club of Alice Springs Mbantua is providing a one year
scholarship for the literacy component of the Kumon program.
Kumon is an internationally established and recognised maths and
literacy program with an Alice Springs office located on Eastside (near
the Mobil petrol station).
We are asking residents of Alice Springs to use their networks and help
We are looking for an Aboriginal child (four years or older) with
strong family support and from a background where opportunities to
engage in the Kumon program would not otherwise exist (for example
because of the financial position of the family or language barriers).
This scholarship and the work of families has the potential to make a
profound difference to the literacy outcome of a successful applicant.
If the scholarship works over the course of the year then we will do
what we can to tap into other Rotary clubs to provide similar support.
Rotary Club of Alice Springs Mbantua
Sir,– My name is Ken Hall, my age is 69. As a young lad of 17 I worked
on droving trips in the top part of Queensland.
For the last 19 years drovers from all over this great land of ours
have met at the Hall of Fame at Longreach on Labour Day (May Day
weekend) for three days.
In 2010 we are celebrating our 20 years of getting together. Over the
years we have found many drovers don’t know about this weekend. As it
is a dying job we would like to get many of these old drovers and wives
and others to our next reunion.
They should contact Hank Cosgrove, Roving Ambassador for the Australia
Stockman’s Hall of Fame. Phone: 07 33974667. Address: Meteor Street,
More public servants
Sir,- The government has failed to issue the March quarterly report
detailing the number of public servants in the Territory.
Despite the Government’s promise to bring the growth of the public
service under control, numbers continue to rise substantially.
This is not an attack on public servants – they do an important job.
But continual blow outs in employee expenses budgets mean that
increasing amounts of money have to go to public service wages rather
than the service delivery to Territorians.
It represents poor planning by the Labor Cabinet because it shows they
stick to their budgets when it comes to managing this expense.
A couple of years ago Labor blew its employee expenses budget by $120
million, which means less money was available for crucial services like
schools and hospitals.
They think by hiding the numbers the problem will go away.
NT Shadow Minister for Public Employment
Sir,- Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education invites
nominations into the 2009 Batchelor Institute’s Indigenous Education
Hall of Fame wich recognises and celebrates the outstanding
contributions individuals had made to Indigenous education.
We are looking for inspirational leaders committed to improving
education outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
Inductees into the Hall of Fame demonstrate the highest levels of
excellence as scholars, artists, educators or through demonstrated
service to others while also having a high standard of personal
integrity and concern for public good.
“We invite all members of the community to consider nominating people
who meet these criteria.”
The inaugural inductee into the Batchelor Institute Indigenous
Education Hall of Fame was Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM in 2007.
Nominations close August 7 with Batchelor Institute, Batchelor Post
Office, Batchelor NT 0845 or fax to (08) 8939 7127.
ADAM'S APPLE: Dyslexia through
the effluxion of time.
The Samurai say that every decision should be made within seven
They believe that within that time the mind should be focused and able
to digest all the information required for the right decision to be
That’s probably one of the reasons there aren’t that many Samurai
Too many hastily made decisions.
Like fighting armies of cannons and guns with swords.
Probably should have taken another breath or two before giving the go
ahead for that idea.
It’s probably the same reason you never saw too many asthmatic
I on the other hand make well thought out decisions. Most of the
choices I make in life take more than the seven breath limit imposed by
the ancient code of the Japanese warrior.
Sometimes this is also a poor option.
I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent in the bookstores of
Alice Springs trying to pick the next thing I want to read. I have a
terrible case of biblio-selectophobia.
I literally cannot judge a book by its cover. I look at the cover.
I read the blurb on the back cover. I read a page or two. I put the
book down and do the same with the next book.
I only go into book stores knowing that I can cancel my plans for the
rest of the afternoon because that is how long this process can take.
The upside of such indecision is that I get to know the bookstores
around town fairly well.
I can tell you where to find the dictionaries in various stores and
where they keep the trendy old school life manuals like “100 things
everyman should know”.
But every time I enter a bookstore, no matter how long I spend
inside, I am always dumbfounded by the amount of self help books. There
are rows of them all purporting to help people in different areas of
From “How to Get Rich Without Getting Out Of Your Pyjamas” through to
“24 Ways to Help Her Lose Her Baby Weight.” The shelves of bookstores
everywhere seem to be able to solve every problem ever invented. I
swear there is a book that tells men that women really do like it if
you cheat on them, as long as you buy her pretty things.
I don’t really understand that need in the human condition to rely less
on commonsense and more on the advice from a well dressed person with a
degree from a University you’ve never heard of.
Now I have no objection to people writing these books.
I’m sure Dr. Phil says things that really can help some people. I’m
also sure that the people who write books about financial matters are
Probably from selling so many get rich quick books.
What I really don’t like about these books is that if the advice
contained within these tomes doesn’t make you a multi millionaire or a
better parent or more passionate lover, it isn’t the books fault.
Obviously the fault lies at the feet of the reader who quite clearly
didn’t believe the advice hard enough.
If history tells us anything it is that panaceas rarely work.
You can’t solve everyone’s problems with the same solution simply
because the conditions surrounding that problem are different.
History also tells us that if you really need help in some part of your
life, you could probably do with real professional help. A financial
consultant or a psychologist or a personal trainer.
In fact if the self help book you are reading has the authors name
followed by their profession and the three words “to the stars” after
it, what makes you think they know anything about the problems in your
If history tells us anything it’s that people that hang around
celebrity often forget what real life is like.
History indeed does tell us these things. You can buy history books in
If you can find them.