In my lifetime in Central Australia I have seen tourism …

Comment on Tourism slump a wake-up call for operators by Steve Brown.

In my lifetime in Central Australia I have seen tourism develop from its infancy, nothing more than the dreams of a few passionate locals who went about selling what they saw around them.
It was bringing the sheer rugged beauty of The Centre to the world! Nobody tried to invent a product, with clear and open eyes they saw the beauty, the dynamic and contrasting colors, the rugged ancient ranges with their sheltered awe-inspiring gorges, the clear blue skies of the day and a firmament as big as the universe at night.
There was our sheer isolation, the almost mystic stories of survival and triumph of our people over such a harsh environment, our interaction with one of the world’s oldest living cultures.
Yep, they saw we had more than enough to attract the world to our doorstep, and they were right!
By the early eighties our tourism was booming bringing people from all over the world.
Australians thought of us as their own precious back yard, they sent us their children on the school holidays in huge numbers, with buses in their hundreds arriving for events such as Henley on Todd and the Camel Cup.
We were riding the crest of a wave, the whole world before us, new businesses springing up everywhere, investment pouring into hotel motel accommodation.
Alice Springs had the country’s fifth busiest air port, much to the chagrin of Darwin – and then disaster!
In 1989 came the pilots’ strike, the whole world of tourism collapsed, and our visitor numbers dropped in the order of 80% overnight, and till this day have not returned to pre-strike levels.
We should be asking ourselves why? What has changed so radically about our product that the only tourist we now attract, apart from a mediocre caravan trade, are middle-class trendies looking for an exotic life experience in a place no one else wants to go?
And how should we go about changing that? Well we can’t blame it all on the pilots. Tourism had reached a pinnacle at the time of the strike, it had undergone a huge injection of funding and enthusiasm at the hands of a young, first off-the-ranks CLP Government celebrating the Territory’s new found freedom in self government.
They had taken many risks and backed all kinds of ventures in their enthusiasm to bring about a self sustaining economy for the Territory, none greater than the Yulara Development. Eventually, after facing sustained criticism from some quarters, with interest rates at an all time high, they panicked and in the scramble to divest themselves of what they now saw as a liability, they sold Territory Tourism down the drain.
They were making deals, signing contracts that should never have been made, agreeing to airport and road expansions that sabotaged tourism elsewhere in the Territory.
The flagship of Territory tourism, Yulara, was pandered to at the expense of the rest of the industry and eventually sold off.
The price? The success of Territory tourism! Yulara became an even more gung-ho monopoly, stifling smaller trend-setting competitors, introducing a disrespectful, meat-market approach to their visitors.
Giving no consideration to the concept of returning visitations they set about ripping as much as possible for as little as possible from every unfortunate visitor who went their way.
A year or two before the strike we began receiving lots of very angry long winded comments about the Yulara resort from passing tourists who felt used and ripped off.
Yulara was often compared to Hamilton Island that was also receiving very bad press at the time. Tragically what was happening at Yulara began to reflect on the rest of the Territory. When you add to that the anger generated by an increasingly militant Commonwealth park management, that was then and is now hell-bent on saving the park from tourists, you have the makings of an industry disaster! And that’s exactly what we got, a disaster.
How do we save ourselves from this plight, reinvigorate the industry? Do we spend our time pandering to the whims of a few demanding middle class trendies who might have a few more dollars but only because they are to bloody stingy to spend them, or do we cater for that market as best we can while we fight like hell to get back our lost, our rightful appeal to the vast numbers of ordinary every day travelers who once made us so successful?
If we are to achieve the latter there are some very necessary clean-up steps required.
• At Yulara firstly, by hook or by crook, control of the park must be wrested from the Commonwealth and put into the hands of a board of management whose entire income is directly related to visitor numbers through the gate.
• The board must remove the ridiculous restrictions and charges on commercial photography that have generated such enmity for the region, and cost taxpayers billions in exposure.
• Rangers, either Commonwealth or Territory, must take a step back into a purely regulatory role. All direct management of any park must be by persons whose income is generated by visitor numbers. The monopoly of the Yulara resort must be split up, either by buy back or by the release of further land for other developments.
• Single attraction, flagship advertising by government must cease! Any tourism advertising by government must fund each region equally. Alice needs to go back to its original products, where it began, before The Rock was of any significance, back to the MacDonnell Ranges and the many services and attractions the town itself has to offer.
• Bring an end to the deliberate misuse of work, health and safety issues to manipulate the opening and closing of the climb and walks by setting a firm, measured (by publicly displayed gauges) ruling that says the climb will be closed while the temperature is over for example 42 degrees Celsius and / or 20 knots wind speed and reopened immediately conditions change.
• Stop supporting the Rock and Yulara at the expense of the rest of the industry! Market the whole of the Territory as a destination, severely limit direct flights into The Rock and directly favor by price and access, those who tour elsewhere in the Territory. We need to see a lot less of The Rock and a lot more of everywhere else in our advertising.
Above all else, we must give people what they pay for. We must get rid of the paternalistic lecturing that requires not only that people are told about, but that they actually comply with Aboriginal traditions such as not climbing The Rock. It’s an expectation that is both paternalistic and utterly ridiculous.
In short we have to open up access to our parks, remove the nanny state bullshit being used to manipulate public access, start treating our tourist as we should, as VIPs, reintroduce some good old fashioned customer service and in time our industry will shine again.
Steve Brown
Alice Springs

Recent Comments by Steve Brown

Pine Gap and the Nobel prize the Oz government ignores
@ Hal: My reference is to Russell’s dad escaping the Germans and arriving in Australia.
Given that he escaped Germany during WW2, if he then set out for Australia he would have arrived during Australia’s greatest hour of peril, facing an imminent Japanese invasion.
Out of the frying pan almost into the fire, bar for the intervention of the USA.


Pine Gap and the Nobel prize the Oz government ignores
@ Hal.. My comments relate to the American efforts in the Pacific not Europe. It would behove every Australian to member those efforts, together we turned the tide against the Japanese in New Guinea and in the huge naval battle, The Battle of the Coral Sea! These Battles, strong Australians and Americans standing up, laying down their lives for what we believe. It is they who you can thank for the last 70 years of Peace! Not lefty activist hanging on fences, Australians should never forget that fact. We should not bite the hand that held so strongly to our own, in our Nations hour of peril, Love or Loath their politics, we owe them a great debt, “Yep” The good Old USA!


Pine Gap and the Nobel prize the Oz government ignores
Kind of odd that your Dad didn’t note after escaping the Germans that the only thing that stood between him and the Japanese was the strength and commitment of the USA. Or perhaps he arrived after the work was done and failed, like yourself Russell, to acknowledge those who did that work.
Those who sacrificed their lives, bringing about the “peace” that you seem think you have some claim on.
Peace is brought about by strength, Russell, not by cringing appeasement or for that matter by dirty unemployed blow ins climbing on the fences of our nation’s defences! Acting Russell for those who would tear us down, not for peace!
People in general across the world, including Americans, want and strive for peace, Russell. Funnily enough they actually do not like or appreciate the efforts of so called peace activists, in attempting to break down their positions of strength, because, Russell, those who read history, who understand human nature, know that only the strong find peace and hold it only while they remain strong.
Just as we have seen with North Korea, years of cringing appeasement instead of an early strong stance has led to escalation allowing the creation of a nuclear armed rouge state! A threat to the entire world!
The only thing that will bring North Korea to the negotiating table, Russell, is if they truly believe America is intent on attacking them.
That makes Donald Trump the most likely person to bring about peace! Try not to choke, lunatic lefties!
In the event Korea can’t be forced to disarm all the peace activist in the world hanging on fences all around the world will not make the slightest difference to Kim Jong-un unless of course they succeed in weakening the American position which of course would leave a laughing Kim Jong-un free to wreak havoc and mayhem upon the world. Because that, Russel, will be thee inevitable outcome.
Look back through your history books and see how long appeasement has ever kept a bully at bay.
Appeasement escalates!
It is not the road to peace it is the road to war!
Yes that’s scary, you’ve a right to be afraid, but don’t worry just as they have on every occasion before someone else will stand up for you and you better hope like hell that those Yanks you love to sling off at, are among them, or we, Russell, all of us, are in bloody big trouble!
Wisdom tells us that its not a particularly smart idea to bite the hand that feeds you. I can absolutely assure you that neither is it a particularly smart idea to bite the hand of the only nation that stands between you and annihilation!
America and Americans have stood beside us Aussies through thick and thin they have shed countless lives to protect us as we in turn have done for them.
They are our brothers and sisters defenders of western democracy at all costs and they have been a great big fantastic contributor to the town of Alice Springs, a huge rewarding contributing part of our community, for some 50 years!
A contribution that vastly exceeds the very questionable contribution of a few disaffected peace activists whose true intent was tearing our society down. Yes, the left over rejects of the failed Communist era.


Master plan for town, reconciliation plan for Australia Day
More divisive green party identity politics…
Just making sure those Aboriginals are separated out from the rest, nothing wrong with apartheid if you’re on the right concerned and well meaning side of it.
Aboriginal Aussies need to be reminded every day of their isolation and victim status, especially the kids, can’t have them thinking they’re just like everybody else, equal to the rest of us.
We can easily achieve this goal by flying separate flags, can’t have Aboriginal people thinking of themselves as equal partners in the Australian Nation! “Not one of the mob”! If we allow that how are we going to justify speaking for them, patronising them, creating wonderful government programs at huge expense to look after them? “Yes”, of course at a small fee, Greens have to live too. This is all for their own good, they are victims you know….
Yes all of the above is to be read with dripping sarcasm.
Segregation, Paternalism, Apartheid are our enemy not our friend, deeds done in another race’s name not at their request is what’s known as Paternalism or being Paternalistic. It is the most vile and the most destructive of all forms of racism, it steals away other people’s souls, their identity, their equality and their lives!
Yep, that’s Green Party politics.
Anzac Hill belongs to all of us.
it is there to represent and commemorate the Nations War dead it was given over by the TO’S specifically for just that purpose. We should recognise and respect that dedication.
Anzac hill represents the Nation that means all Australians regardless of race, in this place we are one! Reconciliation is about helping Aboriginal Australians to be comfortable with, or accepting of, being “part of the mob” it is about forgiveness and moving on! It is not about perpetual isolation!
Extending Apartheid!
Its about being “Equal” and perhaps most importantly, about “feeling equal”!
You do not achieve that outcome by exacerbating division!
By flying separate Flags in a place where we gather as a Nation remembering those who sacrificed their lives for all of us Australians, regardless of our genetics.


Tourism, cattle, mining, oil, gas: The world’s your oyster, Stuart.
I agree with all that you say Scott the real question is what are you going to do about it?
You’re the man in the chair.
Over some 63 years of living and working in the bush I came to understand the aspirations of Aboriginal Centralians – especially the kids are just the same as yours and mine.
No-one wants to be left sitting in the bush condemned to an existence somewhat akin to living museum piece, belittled and patronised while being force fed a hopeless going nowhere culture of victimhood, propagated of course by those with vested interest in the status quo!
Yes, Aboriginal people are aspirational! Of course, they are!
That is the driving force behind the ongoing fight for total equality.
It will allow individuals to be able to be the masters of their own destinies to receive reward for their efforts as individuals. It will allow individual ownership and control of homes of land of royalties, just like other Australians!
Equality will allow those who are aspirational and prepared to get off their backsides and work to benefit from their efforts, as opposed to the present system of community ownership, very like the failed Communists systems where those who did want to get ahead were dragged down by those who couldn’t be bothered.
This must change Scott. Break down the stranglehold of the Land Councils, they are parasitic organisations that simply feed bureaucrats while the average Aboriginal person lives and dies a pauper under their rule.
While I understand this will take a long time to achieve we must begin the conversation, show direction give those with aspiration hope something to strive for.
In the meantime, Scott, we have a more urgent problem: Your Labor Government has only been in for a bit more than a year yet we are already seeing the funds sucked back to the North to feed a luxurious lifestyle of Darwinians at the expense of the regions.
GST revenue intended to benefit and advance the lives of all Territorians are once again benefitting those in the capital, while we simply miss out!
Work is running low in the Centre. Love or hate Adam Giles while he was Chief, we saw more even, fairer distribution of revenue under his rule.
So, what are you going to do about that, Scott, Chansey, Dale?
Not much going on down here and we are relying on your voices at the table.
Which kind of brings me to the larger subject the eternal battle of the regions to gain a fair share of revenue, no matter who’s in Government in the North.
I can’t ever see that changing. Centralians are now even weaker with the loss of a seat.
Unless the people of the regions are prepared to put aside party politics and act as a block supporting whichever side they may choose in Government.
Looking back over a chain of failed [from a regional point of view] governments, it is quite clear that the talent pool of experience long term Territorians who understand and can represent the issues is quite small across all parties.
Given that councils made up of members from all kinds of political backgrounds can work it out and perform their role, maybe it’s about time Territorians outside of Darwin considered the establishment of a regional party which puts aside the normal Labor, Liberal divide, and worked jointly to advance the interest of the regions.
Which of course in the end are also the interests of the capital – healthy productive regions, a booming capital.


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