ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
October 21, 2010. This page contains all
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
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Ayers Rock Resort: Lots of jobs
for locals. By KIERAN FINNANE.
Jobs and training, new economic opportunities for the residents of
Mutitjulu, Imanpa and Kaltukatjara (Docker River), as well as the
promotion of Anangu culture, are the aim of the communities’
involvement in the acquisition of the Ayers Rock Resort.
Through their company, Wana Unkunytja, the communities gained a 7%
stake in the resort following its purchase last week by the Indigenous
Land Corporation (ILC).
They are unlikely to earn dividends from their share for another 10
years – the time it will take for ILC to recoup its $300m investment –
but the employment and training opportunities can start immediately.
Chair of the Wana Unkunytja board, Margaret Smith, and four other board
members went with CEO Matthew Ellem to Sydney last Friday for the final
signing off on the deal between ILC and former resort owners, General
In her speech on the occasion Mrs Smith emphasised the focus on
employment and enterprise: “When the resort was put up for sale we
wanted to work with an organisation that shares our vision of
Indigenous employment and enterprise generation.
“We know that jobs for Anangu and all Indigenous Australians is why the
ILC has made this investment.”
There are more jobs at the resort than the populations of the three
communities can fill (and in any case some residents work in other
roles, on their communities and in the national park).
Numbers are a little fluid, but Kaltukatjara has around 300 residents,
Mutitjulu around 200, and Imanpa, 150 – 650 all up, with around half
under the age of 20.
At present the resort employs 670 staff and and in the past has
employed up to 1000.
The partnership of Wana Unkunytja and the ILC has set a target of 200
Indigenous employees by 2015, growing to 340 by 2018 – more than
50%. At present Indigenous employees make up 1% of the resort
workforce, with none coming from the three nearby Anangu communities.
Training will be delivered through the National Indigenous Tourism
Academy, which ILC will establish at Yulara through their Sydney-based
National Centre for Indigenous Excellence.
It is intended that 200 Indigenous people will be in training at the
academy each year from 2013.
CEO of Wana Unkunytja, Matthew Ellem, is enthusiastic about the ILC’s
employment and training strategy as the kind of structured approach
necessary to make a breakthrough.
But he says Wana Unkunytja will be looking at setting up contracts that
could be operated by community residents in the immediate future.
Landscaping for the resort grounds is one such possibility.
Another is for Anangu Tours to offer visitor experiences at the resort,
such as campfire tours, painting workshops, inma performance.
Maraku Arts and Crafts and Walkatjara Art, which both operate at the
Cultural Centre in the national park, could expand to the resort as
“A couple of years ago kids from Nyangatjatjara College were painting
in the market square at the resort every Wednesday – there’s no reason
why things like that can’t happen again.
“The atmosphere at the resort will change, there’ll be a different
vibe,” says Mr Ellem.
Further down the track, it might be possible to set up a commercial
laundry at Mutitjulu, using the same type of work pool arrangements
that have been successful for Anangu Tours.
The 15 year old Aboriginal tourism company, based at The Rock, employs
a pool of 20 local guides, who between them conduct four tours a day,
28 a week.
Only in exceptional circumstances have guides not been available for
scheduled tours, says Mr Ellem.
Programs at Nyangatjatjara College will be integrated with the Tourism
Academy, says Mr Ellem.
In recent years the college, which has been operating on campuses in
the three communities, has not had a high enough attendance to attract
funding for programs at the boarding facility.
The facility has been used by Anangu Jobs, in partnership with CDU, for
training adults, as well as by other Aboriginal organisations for staff
training and in-services.
Mr Ellem says next year it is intended to get some of the college
students involved in inter-generational learning, alongside their adult
relatives, doing Certificate I in tourism, for example.
He also hopes that attendance will build to allow the boarding facility
to function as it was originally intended.
The Alice News asked Mr Ellem about the record of the college in
getting work experience and traineeships for students.
As Mrs Smith said in her speech: “We want our young ones to be able to
walk both ways – to know their own language and culture and to be able
to understand and participate in whitefella ways.”
The hopes have long been there but how will the new regime manage to
have any greater success?
He said a member of staff at the Outback Pioneer Inn in 2002-03 had
been very committed to training local people; four trainees had started
and were making good progress but when the member of staff left, the
He says Indigenous employment was a secondary goal for Voyages, whereas
it will be a primary goal for ILC and Wana Unkunytja.
The News asked Mr Ellem about Wana Unkunytja’s own record of employment
of Anangu in their various businesses.
He responded as follows:
• Anangu Tours – predominantly Anangu staff;
• Triple A Accounting – no Anangu employed at present, some have been
in the past, a trainee will be put on next year;
• Uluru Autos – none, though the dream was to have apprenticeships for
Anangu and perhaps these will come about through the academy;
• the community store at Kaltukatjara – three permanent casual staff
are Anangu working regular hours, and one school student is doing two
hours each afternoon with a view to starting a school-based
apprenticeship next year.
This situation at the store is an improvement on last year when Anangu
were only doing jobs like shelf-stacking on a very casual basis. This
is because the new store manager is “better at working with Anangu,”
says Mr Ellem.
It’s the perfect example of why he so welcomes the creation of the
training academy – “so that progress won’t depend on the good will of
one or two managers”.
Anangu Jobs, also one of the Wana Unkunytja group, employs three Anangu
staff, two Arrernte and three non-Indigenous. It has the job services
provider contract for each of the three communities. Its star
ratings – a national scheme measuring the relative success of the
providers in achieving employment and education for their job seekers –
show it to be competitive or better than other providers here.
It earned three stars at Kaltukatjara and four at Mutitjulu.
Imanpa top scored with five stars. Residents are employed at the Mount
Ebenezer roadhouse (six artists paint on site), at Angas Downs in land
management jobs (the community is also developing a tourism plan for
the property), in the store (operated by Outback Stores), in shire
jobs, and health and aged care jobs.This year over 100 people have been
through training, including business and construction.
The last was to prepare people for work with SIHIP. Mr Ellem is
disappointed that SIHIP is so focussed on speed that none of the
trainees have been engaged, but it is hoped that they may be employed
to do maintenance in future and certainly they have the skills
now to do maintenance on their own houses.
Land council deputy: no record or penalty. By KIERAN FINNANE.
Gina Smith, Deputy Chair of the Central Land Council, has pleaded
guilty to an aggravated assault charge, but no conviction was recorded,
nor penalty applied.
Two other charges against Mrs Smith were withdrawn. Magistrate John
Neill said that the assault was at “the very lowest end of the scale”,
but he would not find that the offence was trivial.
He said: “You behaved badly, publicly and struck out at your husband
whose only offence as near as I can tell ... was to seek to protect you
Mrs Smith’s husband was in court to support her. The case was brought
to a conclusion in the Tennant Creek Magistrates Court on October 8.
The offence occurred in Tennant Creek on December 30 last year.
Mrs Smith was intoxicated and got into an argument with a patron at the
Memorial Club. Her husband grabbed her around her body and escorted her
from the premises. Police went to their home where the couple were
arguing. Mrs Smith told police to leave the property, pointing
her finger in their faces. Her husband again grabbed her by the arms,
urging her to calm down.
She raised her knee and struck him in the nose, causing it to bleed.
After this she was placed in protective custody and told that she would
be summonsed. The prosecution accepted that it was “one quick blow that
caused a slight injury”.
They also accepted that Mrs Smith is of good character. The lawyer
representing her had said she was “of excellent character”: “She’s a
contributing member in society both here, in Tennant Creek, Barkly
region, and also Central Australia” and she had “a consistent work
Mr Neill said: “It’s one of the drawbacks of having a high profile and
being a successful public figure that people in many ways are less
forgiving if you have a fall from grace than if you are somebody who
doesn’t have a good character.
“So I simply urge you to be aware of how easily this relatively minor
piece of offending could have been more major if you had hurt your
husband more seriously. Alcohol makes fools of us all. Learn that
Child protection fiasco tortures most
In a litany of heart-wrenching misery the report into the NT child
protection system says Territory children “are more likely to be
exposed to various forms of harm such as family violence, alcohol and
drug abuse, physical and sexual abuse and neglect ... to alcohol in
utero, to contract otitis media with the resulting hearing loss, to be
anaemic, and to experience the impact of developmental trauma.
“Alarming numbers of children in remote areas do not attend school or
only do so episodically, and their achievement levels are far below
minimum acceptable standards.
“In many areas, children wander aimlessly around communities and become
involved in dangerous or illegal activities.
“As one paediatrician commented, in the Northern Territory we see ‘the
normalisation of the abnormal’.”
The NT Government commissioned report says children in remote areas are
more likely to have health and addiction problems, to be living in
crowded and unhygienic housing conditions, and to be reliant on welfare
“Compared to the rest of Australia, the number of young, single women
having children without the skills or resources to provide for their
safety and wellbeing is alarmingly high.
“Older women are being asked to assume the child rearing tasks that
usually fall to parents as so many of the latter are affected by
alcohol and other drugs.
“Many parents told us that they need help with parenting skills, and
are losing the ability to appropriately discipline their children.”
The inquiry says statutory child protection system is overwhelmed by
the demand on its services, understaffed and under-resourced, plagued
by very high turnover rates, defensive after having been subject to
numerous public complaints, audits and investigations, in conflict with
key stakeholders, uncertain about its role, beset by internal stresses,
and struggling to meet even the most basic expectations.
“For example, the public would naturally expect that when they believe
a child is being harmed and report this to the agency, the matter will
be investigated speedily and effectively.
“This has not been the case for some time in many service delivery
“At the end of June there were over 870 children who had been reported
to be ‘at-risk’ who were awaiting a formal investigation by Northern
Territory Families and Children (NTFC).”
The report confirms the importance of the Aboriginal Child Placement
Principle and makes a string of recommendations to improve the system
dealing with children needing to be removed from their immediate
“Many gaps and limits in care provision and support systems for foster
carers were identified.
“In the absence of a strong family support sector, child protection
services have been expected to respond to a range of concerns and
reports about child wellbeing, family difficulties and entrenched
community problems rather than responding to reports of harm and
injuries to children.
“The result is that these services struggle to do both tasks and have
not been able to do either very well.”
Aboriginal children constitute 43.3% of the children in the Northern
Territory but make up 74% of the population of children in care.
NTFC relies heavily on foster care with the majority (64%) of children
placed in this type of care, while another 22% are placed with kin and
“The Inquiry heard again and again the now ‘common knowledge’ that
children in remote Aboriginal communities live with inadequate housing,
nutrition, education and safety.
“It is not surprising then that children subject to child protection
concerns in the NT are more likely to live in families with poor diets,
in overcrowded and substandard housing, engage inadequately with
schooling and live in communities where poor health, violence,
alcoholism and drug abuse is common and where basic safety needs are
So far as the department’s staff is concerned, “the examples and
stories about commitment, burden, burnout, stress, bullying and
exhaustion provided unqualified evidence of a non viable system.”
The Inquiry proposes radical alterations to the way the current system
of out-of-home-care operates in the Northern Territory “and the
recommendations capture this imperative for change, including
recruitment and training of further workers, in order to address
serious staffing shortages and workload concerns”.
The inquiry is making 147 recommendations.
Chief Minister Paul Henderson this week announced that “major reform
and restructuring” will begin immediately in six key reform areas,
backed by a $130 million additional funding injection over five years,
overseen by a cross-agency Child Protection Reform Steering Committee.
The Department of Health and Families will be divided into two
agencies, with a new department dedicated to child safety and
wellbeing, reporting directly to the Minister through its own Chief
Ten interstate and overseas experienced child protection workers will
Mr Henderson says an additional 42 professional child protection
workers will also be recruited on top of the 76 frontline and support
workers announced earlier this year in the “$14.7 million child
protection worker drive”.
New Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley, and CL spokesperson on children
and families issues, says NT Minister Kon Vatskalis is “peddling the
same untruths and denials that have contributed to the breakdown of the
system under a decade of Labor rule.
“The Minister’s assertion that the Government spends $135million a year
on child protection services is as deceptive as it is cruel.
“The Territory budget clearly shows, the Government spends $31.1million
a year on child protection services.”
Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says while “state and
territory governments are responsible for statutory child protection”
her government will:-
• spend an additional $34 million to protect children from neglect and
• implement a system where NT child protection authorities recommend to
Centrelink that a family’s welfare payments can be income managed if
that’s in the interest of the child. Up to 70% of a parents’ welfare
payments can be income managed.
• an extra $25 million to improve support for families recommended for
child protection income management;
• around 100 additional community-based family support workers;
• five Children and Family Centres by 2012.
• an extra $7.6 million over two years for a new mobile child
protection team and additional remote workers;
• $1.5m to expand the ID card technology to ensure alcohol restrictions
can be enforced.
Ms Macklin says the latest six-monthly report on the Emergency Response
– the Intervention – “demonstrates improved services to children and
families, particularly in remote parts of the NT.
“Over the last couple of years, we have committed an additional $1.2
billion to the Emergency Response and during that time we’ve delivered
an extra 62 police, 80 night patrols in remote communities, for
children who are at school every day there are around 7000 meals
delivered to them each school day, there are now 22 safe houses in
communities, child health checks have been conducted and just as
importantly there have been 19,000 follow-up specialist services for
children after they’ve had their initial health checks”.
The NT Law Society’s Matthew Storey says the inquiry seems to have
focused on the form rather than the substance of decision making.
Children must have an “articulate and independent voice in decisions
about their welfare.
“This is what an independent child representative does.”
Driving offences skyrocket: Bad drivers
or more police? By KIERAN FINNANE.
In the six years from 2003 to 2009 driving offences in the NT jumped by
The big hike in numbers came in 2006-07, going from 10,249 to 18,843,
then steadily rising to 25,279 in 2008-09, compared to 10,308 in
Are Territorians becoming ever worse behind the wheel or is it that
driving offences are being more stringently policed?
It appears the latter is the case, according to Thalia Anthony from the
University of Technology in Sydney, who spoke recently at a criminology
conference in Alice Springs.
And she argues that that Indigenous communities in the areas prescribed
by the Federal Intervention are bearing the brunt.
She says while child sexual abuse triggered the Intervention in the NT,
crime statistics show that sexual offences flatlined in the six years
2003-09, while aggregate driving offences skyrocketed.
The Intervention put more police into remote communities but their
activities have resulted in more prosecutions in the public rather than
in the private realm, says Dr Anthony.
Police do not back away from their attempts to make roads in the
Territory safer for everyone, says Acting Superintendent Travis Wurst,
at present in charge of policing in remote communities in the Southern
He says fatalities on Territory roads are much higher than the national
average, reaching a shocking high in 2008, with 75 deaths, but dropping
to 31 in 2009, and to date this year, 37.
With the Intervention starting in mid-2007, the peak and then the drop,
which looks like being sustained this year, has occurred within the
period of the Intervention.
The decline can probably be attributed to the increased presence of
police in remote communities and their determination to bring people to
account while the road toll is so high, says A/Supt Wurst.
He says the Southern region unfortunately contributes a
disproportionate 50% of the Territory’s road fatalities and police will
therefore continue to focus on roads, especially drink-driving, with
alcohol a factor in 48% of fatalities.
Dr Anthony says many of the prosecuted driving offences concern
victimless crime – driving unlicensed, uninsured and unregistered.
There are also regulatory offences (such as driving on the wrong side
of the road, not wearing a seatbelt, failing to stop or give way) and,
in comparison to all of these, few dangerous driving offences.
A/Supt Wurst says while police have a certain level of discretion in
relation to minor driving offences, they do take, as with
drink-driving, a “zero tolerance” attitude towards not wearing a
seatbelt because it too is an important factor contributing to road
He also says that the majority of drivers on remote communities have
licences, register their cars and are compliant with road rules.
Dr Anthony says it is easy to detect and prosecute the less serious
driving offences. With no requirement for witnesses, most go straight
to plea, conviction and sentencing.
Almost a quarter of the offenders in Northern Territory prisons over
the course of the year are there for driving-related offences. Their
terms of imprisonment are two to three months.
Dr Anthony reports this against the backdrop of the NT prison rate
increasing faster than any other state or territory since the
Intervention, rising 23% between 2006 and 2009 –16% above the
Australian average over the same period – with 82% of the prison
population being Indigenous.
A/Supt Wurst says it is unlikely that people are in prison for minor
driving offences; the sentences would be for drink driving or more
Dr Anthony points out that while incarceration rates have been high and
increasing for Indigenous people in the NT, there has not been an
increase in the proportion of Indigenous people in prison.
“Despite special measures to increase policing in Northern Territory
Indigenous communities, there was no evidence to show more Indigenous
offending resulting in imprisonment compared to non-Indigenous
offending resulting in imprisonment.”
Dr Anthony questions the fairness of increased policing without a
corresponding provision of increased services on remote communities for
driving instruction, awarding licences, registering and inspecting
A/Supt Wurst says police stations allocate one full eight-hour day per
fortnight to providing driving-related services to community residents
and make “every effort” to travel regularly to the smaller communities
within their service areas.
The Alice News asked Dr Anthony whether rigorous policing of minor
offending could help prevent more serious offending.
She doubts it.
She says when she talks to Indigenous people about driving offences,
they express confusion over regulations and penalties.
In this regard, they need better legal services, to explain more
effectively how the law and its penalties work, she says.
The News asked her whether she had a breakdown of figures, showing
where offending occurred – how much of it was occurring on major roads
leading into urban centres.
She said a lot was occurring on highways, which have been patrolled
since 2006, and in town.
She suggested that the prohibition of drinking in prescribed areas,
some of which are very large, has led to more driving on major roads.
A/Supt Wurst says: “The police focus on highways is to ensure all road
users adhere to the Territory road rules and drive within their means
in the Territory conditions.
“This is particularly the case when considering the large number of
tourists that use our remote highways.
“Unfortunately, two recent accidents on the Lasseters Highway highlight
the need for this ongoing commitment by police to ensuring safety,
particularly of tourists, on our roads.”
With regard to the prohibition on drinking, A/Supt Wurst notes that
alcohol was banned in remote communities prior to the Intervention. He
acknowledges that in some cases the prescribed areas have increased the
alcohol restricted areas.
For example at Ntaria people who choose to drink, instead of going
about five kms from the community, now go about 30 kms to the boundary
of the prescribed area.
But he says this “has not necessarily increased the number of cars on
He says roads are getting better which means vehicles are lasting
longer in remote areas and more people may have access to these
vehicles: “This has little to do with the Intervention.”
Booze litter deadlock. By KIERAN FINNANE.
A confidential mediation between the Town Council and Yeperenye Pty Ltd
as well as a number of other owners of takeaway liquor premises was
held last Thursday before the Registrar of the Supreme Court in Alice
Lawyer acting for Yeperenye and others, Peer Schroter, said the purpose
of the mediation was to explore possible settlement of the court
proceedings in which his clients are contesting charges by the council
for cleaning up litter in public places, about half of it takeaway
The council is not proceeding with the charge in this financial year,
now that the NT Government has promised a Territory-wide container
deposit scheme by late next year.
However, the council has refused to rescind the charge imposed last
Of the mediation Mr Schroter said that “unfortunately the parties were
unable to reach an agreement and accordingly it appears that the matter
will proceed to trial”.
Council CEO Rex Mooney said the mediation was convened “by court order”
but declined to comment further.
A trial date has been set for 16 December in Darwin before Chief
Justice Trevor Riley.
They’re keen and they’re mean.
Keen, mean and ready to roll are, from left, Donna Matrix, BethWish,
Raging Ruby, Isla Tack, Axle Sparx, Erin Blockerbitch, Ram Bam,
Bulldosie, Little Miss Sew&Sew, and A & S.
Roller Derby is the name of their game. It’s a full contact women’s
sport played on quad roller skates, the fastest growing women’s sport
in Australia, according to Ms Sparx. It’s just starting in Alice, but
the rollergirls are taking it seriously, training three times a week,
working towards their first “White Star Assessment” – the minimum
skills test. They’re hoping to have their first public games mid next
Ms Sparx says a league is also starting in Darwin, with the Alice girls
planning to take them on in some intra-NT games.
Getting into the spirit they’ve planned a Rockabilly Rolla Round Up
this Saturday at Monte’s Bar.
Says Ms Sparx: “All you greasers and molls should set yr heels on fire
‘n’ git on down to Monte’s bar ‘n’ diner for a Saturday night of roller
derby inspired good times!
“Get yr hair curlers out and yr brill cream in, bobby socks on and yr
tight-arse off and come throw some dollars around at the Malice Springs
Roller Derby League cash-raiser number two!”
There’ll be top-class roller derby flicks, hula-hooping, whip cracking,
tricks on skates, a raffle, DJs and dancing, chilli dogs, popcorn,
sundaes and spiders available at the diner, soda pop and cherry vodka
cocktails flowing at the bar.
They’ll have their glad rags and skates on – what about you?
On the serious side, the girls are looking for a new practice venue. At
present they’re using the rink at the Alice Springs Youth Centre but
the surface is rough unpolished concrete – and they’ve got the
skin off to prove it.
Nature inspires in Miss Pink’s garden. By KIERAN FINNANE.
The infinite variety of form and pattern in Nature has provided
inspiration for a group of local artists and craftspeople whose work is
showing in the exhibition room at Olive Pink Botanic Garden.
There’s everything from woollen socks in wonderful colours and
textures, to finely wrought silver jewellery, passing by delicate
papier mache, deftly turned wood, richly coloured felting, and
well-observed drawings and prints.
Some have taken their cues from the images in two books by Rob Kessler
and Wolfgang Stuppy, Seeds – Time Capsules of Life, and Fruit
– Edible, Inedible, Incredible, copies of which are available for
Others have been prompted by the natural objects and creatures more
immediately around them.
With 16 people involved – “an informal network of craftspeople,
from the old Bent and Twisted mob and market stallholders” – there
should possibly have been more exhibits, but there’s enough here to
charm and you can extend your visit outside, with Nature’s own
show. – Kieran Finnane
Desert trip of a lifetime. By DICK KIMBER.
The entire country was burgeoning with life in all of its forms and
colours when, with long-term friend Joc’ Schmiechen (a gourmet bush
cook!), his brother Tom and four SA wilderness scientists we crossed
the Simpson Desert in early September.
We travelled south of the Alice to Dalhousie Springs (northern SA),
then across the French Line (named for a French oil exploration
company’s uncapped road of the 1960s over hundreds of sandhills) and,
when four days into the journey, turned south to the Kallakoopah Creek
country. (The Kallakoopah links with the Macumba and Warburton
and flows into northern Lake Eyre).
I doubt that any living person other than ourselves and others who are
travelling the Simpson this year has traversed the heart of the Desert
in a more remarkable season, and had there been a little more rain
after the considerable falls of this year in general and the first two
days in particular we would not have made it.
(As it was, one of the vehicles became bogged several times in claypan
country and had to be snatched out by the others).
There was water in the western gibber country, great shallow lakes and
gilgais full where last year everything was bone dry; claypans full to
overflowing and further great shallow lakes in the sandhill swales, and
a flowing Kallakoopah Creek, with swans and ducks, stilts and
dotterals, and in the fringing low bushes large numbers of handsome
little Orange Chats.
A pair of pelicans flew overhead, indicating that there were no fish
where we stopped.
Throughout the sandhill country, which gradually changes in colour from
red to pink to white (the latter along the brackish Kallakoopah), there
were plants of all desert kinds flourishing, covering the sandhills and
all of the land that wasn’t under water.
Almost waist-high green Ptilotus grew in remarkable masses for hundreds
of kilometres, nearly “drowning” the cane-grass, so much so that we had
to push hard to get through it while walking. There were other
vividly coloured wild-flowers as far as the eye could see along many of
the sandhills – vastnesses of yellow, huge masses of poached-egg
daisies, immense swathes of white, purples and golds.
Trees and bushes that were dying last year included some that were
dead, but the majority were remarkably recovering, and there was an
“electric” nature in the vivid intensity of some of the greens.
Even the normally sedate grey gidgee was park-like and almost dancing,
and long-dead branches lying on the ground provided us with the best
firewood one can ever have in the Centre.
Every day, right out in the sandhill country – where an acquaintance
who worked “out there” in 40-60 degrees heat in the mid 1960s only
recalled seeing one small bird in months – there were flights of
budgerigars flashing by, flocks of Zebra Finches, the regular flash of
red of Crimson Chats, flocks of Cockatiels and Peaceful Doves, Brown
Songlarks ever and again soaring and singing, and at every camp a
Other birds such as Masked Wood-swallows and Fairy Martins were less
common, but still often seen and there were others fleetingly seen, or
less common still, like Black Kites, Brown Falcons, Crows and Crested
At the Kallakoopah I found a Wedge-tailed Eagle’s nest only two metres
off the ground in a relatively rare coolabah (it is too salty for them
along most of the Kallakoopah) with two eggs and a freshly killed
native Long Haired rat, also known as the Plague rat because it has
been known to reach plague proportions.
I would not be surprised if there is a plague of them before the year
is out, for I saw plentiful tracks in the nearby sandhill country, but
this was the first one caught by the Wedgie in a long time; all about
the base of the tree, an adjoining tree and a fallen dead roosting tree
were rabbit skulls and rabbit bones.
We saw fresh dingo tracks every day but they were not common, and
surprisingly to me, in almost 800 kms of travel all told in the desert,
I only noticed two fresh camel tracks along with a few old ones, and
only a few old emu tracks and no bush turkey tracks (though Joc and I
had seen one bustard near Mount Dare).
Grasshoppers were present in small numbers compared with the millions
in the period March-June, the flies were noticeable by their nearly
total absence, and there were no mossies.
And though I had seen stone tools in the vicinity of waters in the
early gibber country between Dalhousie Springs and Purnie Bore, and
knew that archaeologist Mike Smith had observed plentiful Aboriginal
stone tools at another part of the Kallakoopah and Joc had also seen
some last year, I only observed a solitary stone flake near the
Presumably our two stops near this creek were at places too salty for
The vastness of land and sky was a constant, as was the dew on our
swags each morning and the sense of revelation as we crested each
sandhill. The seeds must lie dormant in zillions and zillions for
such an astounding transformation to occur.
Although I have been privileged to witness both the withering droughts
and these occasional giant paint-brush strokes in the desert landscapes
since 1970, I have never before seen the sandhill country so
dramatically springing and singing with life and a brilliance of
Tom Schmiechen, who first led a tourist group across the same route in
the very wet 1981 season, and who with his brother Joc had crossed it
last year when it was the driest year on record, had also never
seen the desert in such a vastness of plant growth and vivid
We left the white sand Kallakoopah country, via the salt lake country
about a replica of Poeppel’s mid-1880s surveyor marker peg.
Red sandhills again dominated as we entered the eastern Simpson, with
park-like gidgee stands in swale after swale, and flashes of
wild-flowers now, rather than immensities of them. A large swamp
prevented the usual direct route to the sandhill known as Big Red, but
soon we crested it in 2WD, so compacted by recent rain was the
The view was breath-taking.
From Big Red to the next sandhill was a huge coffee coloured lake, the
largest in the memory of one of the oldest Birdsville residents’
NEXT WEEK: What a birdlife bonanza!
ARROW: Oopsy, I have upset someone.
My column drew its first letter from an angry reader last week (October
It included, let me see, I’ve got a copy here, ah yes, “as misleading a
heap of emotional scaremongering garbage as I’ve ever read”. Wow!
I knew the bit about dog waste in a toddler’s drinking water would
shock, that was the point and yes I am distrustful of statistics as I
am currently studying the subject at university.
The maths don’t lie but depending on the information gathered and the
parameters applied all sorts of answers can be drummed up. I’m not
going to bang on about this, I don’t mind being pulled up if I am wrong
but in this case, old mate has missed the point.
The mining of uranium requires water.
That water becomes radioactive as a result.
This water has to be stored somewhere, usually a dam.
If the dam bursts or leaks it goes into the aquifer and, all assurances
aside, could end up in our drinking water.
Speaking of uni, I’m nearly done. Three years of hard graft and I only
have one exam left (the nefarious statistics) before I re-enter the
working world. I don’t have to get too worried just yet though; there
is a two month trip to Europe to struggle through first.
There will be a wonderful reunion with absent wife in Adelaide before
we (and number one son) travel through at least five countries where we
don’t speak the language fluently.
So we are going to be like some of our international guests here in
Alice, peering at phrase books, pointing at things we want and looking
hopeful, and eating things that we are sure we didn’t order.
Being somewhere you don’t understand the language is a bit like having
a television that only picks up late night SBS, without the subtitles.
You can start to feel a bit isolated and listen in vain for a familiar
accent – or even language. It lets you know that you’re well out of
your comfort zone.
On the whole I have been very kindly treated by the people that I have
almost certainly annoyed due to the fact that I am unable to
I also had my thigh slapped in Spain once, hard, by a big barman who
wanted me out of the way so he could roll his keg past me – much to the
amusement of the locals. Poor man had probably been asking me to get
out the way for ages, and I didn’t understand him so he resorted to a
universal language and I got the message.
I have since taken Spanish lessons in order to avoid a repeat
experience. That still leaves a lot of languages to be slapped in
And pity the poor fool (me) that chooses to drive a car on the wrong
side of the road in a country where you can’t understand the street
signs (Spain again). Plus someone broke our side mirror, probably
because I had parked in somebody’s place or broken some unknown rule.
Don’t think I don’t like Spain though, I love it! But I won’t be
driving and I know what “salir del camino de mi barril, tonto” means
(“get out of the way of my barrel, fool”).
So if you see someone in sandals and socks looking lost, be nice and go
up and try to be helpful.
These folk want to enjoy themselves and will almost certainly be
relieved if you can point them in the direction of Anzac Hill or
wherever they may wish to go. This is the best tourism campaign we can
have, friendly, helpful locals.
And the person you help here may be the one who rescues me when I’m
lost in Germany …
No monitoring of uranium drilling?
Sir – I’m not arguing for or against any uranium mine, but those who do
(for or against) would do well to check the facts before diving in.
Then we wouldn’t have the naive comments I read in last week’s
letters in the Alice News, where it was suggested we could safely rely
on the “scientists and engineers” to make sure nothing goes wrong.
The fact is that under the granting of an Exploration Licence, at which
point all the exploratory drilling takes place, the explorers are under
next to no scrutiny, certainly in the NT.
Anyone else in the NT needs to get a permit and a licensed driller to
drill for water. A licensed driller has to provide drill logs to
the NT Government, and amongst other things, has to take steps to
ensure the integrity of any aquifers encountered.
If you are drilling for minerals, no such obligations exists – you do
not need to be licensed, drill logs need not be submitted, and no steps
need be taken to protect the integrity of aquifers. And nobody in
authority is watching.
I’m aware of at least one stock production bore, now surrounded by many
hundreds of such holes, where the integrity of the water aquifer has
been compromised, and the water from the bore is now similar in colour
to the contents of a certain well publicised burst tailings dam in
So don’t rely on the NT Authorities to look after our interests, and
don’t kid yourself that the problems might start once extraction of an
ore body starts, as by then it may all be far too late.
ED – The Alice News requested a response from the Department of
Resources which issues Exploration Licences and sets the approval
processes for such licences. None was to hand at the time of
going to press.
Same song sheet
G’Day Erwin – Breen and Brown (letters, October 14) seem to be singing
from the same song sheet.
The similarity in wording is remarkable. Breen” ... not to put stuff in
the ground, but to take it out...”; and Brown: “... a mine doesn’t put
it in it takes it out...”.
Whose song sheet, I wonder? Cameco/Paladin’s maybe?
Regardless of the origin, the argument is a complete red herring.
Radioactive material in situ is relatively (and I emphasise relatively)
When it is dug up the radon gas is released, the concentrated uranium
handled, stored and transported, and the tailings exposed to the
It cannot be “demonstrably safe”. It has not yet been demonstrated.
Geological formations may be stable at the moment, but when you dig a
bloody great hole in the middle, accompanied by lots of blasting, it is
not scientifically possible to forecast the outcome with complete
I accept that the probability of a fracture opening up and
contaminating the Alice water supply is low.
However, even at 1000:1, I don’t want to bet the Alice to a uranium
The radon gas release is inevitable, and the exposure of the people of
Alice highly likely.
Very problematic is the management of the ‘tailings’, the left-over
rubbish that still contain radioactive material that it is not
profitable to extract.
They should be managed safely for thousands of years. This is going to
happen? Pull this one, it plays Waltzing Matilda.
Everyone should now be aware of the dangers of tailings dams from the
catastrophe in Hungary that has been on the news all week.
It couldn’t happen here? Oh yes it could !
Congratulations to Chief Minister Henderson for listening to the people
of the Alice.
The swing to the government in a by-election is validation of the
The suggestion that the Chamber of Commerce “represents” the Alice is
The “big end of (a small) town” is more likely. AKA CLP central.
Sir – The purchase of Yulara resort by the Indigenous Land Corporation
(ILC) is a turning point for Territory tourism.
This is big business and there are big risks.
There will be plenty of detractors, mostly from those who have
absolutely no idea what Uluru is all about.
Our tourism image has suffered terribly over the Howard/Bingle years
and the sad thing is that Martin Ferguson’s latest effort is probably
not enough to reverse the damage.
The Lara Bingle strategy was launched in 2006 and cost us $180
million. It went hand in hand with such a downturn in visitors
that former PM Rudd called it an absolute rolled gold disaster.
The image portrayed to many was that we were a nation of ockers, yobs
and racists with no respect for history or culture.
We must do better than this.
On ABC radio last Sunday night, Charlie King was talking
music and travel with Warren H. Williams. Charlie said that
Warren’s version of the anthemic song, Great Southern Land, was so
moving it could be used to our tourism industry’s advantage.
My thoughts exactly Mr King!
I do think that it is a risk worth investing in firstly on the
A good campaign would be worth a couple of Angela Pamelas, if you get
We in the Territory recognize our unique genius loci or spirit of
place. Just look at the potential that our culture and
environment gives us.
The ILC has promised a National Indigenous Tourism Academy at Yulara to
be functional from 2013.
I would like to see this development to not necessarily exclude
Desert trip of a lifetime
Sir – Your headline story of September 16 quoted me as saying,
“In white man’s time this is ... the best season ever”, but the story
was strongly edited from my discussion with Kieran Finnane to give
understandable focus to speakers at the Lake Eyre Basin
This led to two errors in the article and friend Des Nelson writing a
letter suggesting, as your title to his letter indicates, that “‘68 was
Flower Power season!”
I do not at all dispute Des’s comments about the wonderful 1968 season,
but hope that you may see fit to publish the corrections and my
The main purpose of it was to encourage people to get out bush and
enjoy the season.
There are wonderful patches of wildflowers everywhere, and huge
kilometres long-swathes out in parts of the Simpson.
And as a complementary time to getting out bush, I commend the Desert
Park, which has dazzling brilliances of golds, blues and other colours,
and a constant cheerful chirruping of birds.
Far more importantly I had indicated that it was the centre of the
Simpson Desert to which I was referring, not the cattle station country
about the edges of the desert.
I also mentioned that, on the basis of my reading of all known
explorers’ accounts and many other references there had almost
certainly been similar seasons in much of central Australia in 1869-72,
1876-77, 1886-7, 1908, 1916, 1920-22, 1948, and 1966-68 as well as on
three or four occasions from 1972-2002.
ED – See Mr Kimber’s account of his exceptional journey starting page
on two wheels
Sir – In regard to your motorsport story on your website (October 7),
good to see.
But wasn’t there a couple of top fuel nitro Harleys out there as well,
being the fastest thing on two wheels on the planet and so in Alice
That’s a huge wrap for your local drag racing and worthy of a mention .
I love racing out at Alice Springs and would like to see it more often
as they need all the promotion they can get.
Wayne (Camel) Barrett
300 pre-loved bras
Sir – Thank you so much for the article you wrote on the bra collection
that Gondwana was doing (September 9 issue). We had a really
strong response and have collected over 300 bras!!!!!
Turn off the sprinklers!
Sir – If we cannot get it right for the small, how can we get it right
for the large?
I often observe sprinklers irrigating a new patch of lawn on the corner
of Leichhardt Terrace and the Wills Terrace causeway, opposite the Todd
They come on every day, it seems, from about 4.30 pm.
Large chunks of this lawn are gutted each time there is a moderate flow
of the river, and every time hapless council workers go to substantial
lengths to reinforce and repair the damage. They use red soil to repair
the damage; consequently the sand of the riverbed downstream from this
site now has a distinct reddish tinge from all the red silt mixed in
But it’s the mindless sprinkler irrigation regime that really bemuses
It is already one of our wettest years on record, and there is an
artificially-induced waterhole next to this lawn.
There is a constant supply of moisture percolating upwards through the
soil of the riverbanks due to capillary action, resulting in healthy
vigorous green vegetation that can be plainly observed along the entire
Even if it were not to rain again for the coming summer, there is so
much moisture in the soil there is unlikely to be any requirement to
irrigate the lawn for most of the period.