Reply to Hal Duell: Asking candidates for their ideas about …

Comment on How can we all be winners? by Mike Gillam.

Reply to Hal Duell: Asking candidates for their ideas about managing the Todd River is a distraction and I hope they have the good sense to thoroughly investigate the issues before committing themselves. As a member of Town Council’s environment committee Hal is in a perfect position to advocate for control burns during winter as part of a strategy to reduce fuel loads in the Todd.

Given the abundance of buffel and couch and the likely future addition of fountain grass invading our region’s rivers, a calamitous loss of old-growth trees is inevitable. Resources needed to undertake control burns, reduce fuel loads and mitigate hot summer wildfires throughout the region’s watercourses would be huge. But Hal is perpetuating a myth when he claims it’s ‘impractical’ to reduce fuel loads and mitigate the effects of wildfires within the town area using appropriate methods – including the controlled use of fire. Given the river islands, steep banks and tree density in parts of the Todd, a ride-on option is hardly appropriate for many land management tasks and most people will see through Hal’s ridiculous wheel-barrow comment.

Apart from the rare deployment of prisoners with weed eaters I’ve seen very little activity by the river Trustee (Alice Springs Town Council) before and during the current severe fire season to reduce fuel loads. Much of Council’s ‘land management’ in the river appears focused on river-bank lawns. I estimate it would take a week for a team of 8-10 prisoners with weed-eaters to cut the grass encircling red gums along the river’s length from Heavitree Gap to Schwarz Crescent. Follow up and judicious use of Round-Up around valuable trees could greatly extend the benefits of this work. Intervening larger areas of buffel and couch could be burnt off as a regular winter (cool) burning program to reduce fuel loads throughout the urban river corridor. Ground crews will still need to use fire rakes to pull debris away from some trees. Sorry, but this can’t be done efficiently while sitting on your backside driving a machine.

Historically, cool winter burns were undertaken in the Todd River by Bushfires NT before they were relieved of their role (in the municipality) in favour of the Municipal Fire Brigade. Contrast this with: “…In urban and rural areas of Darwin volunteer brigades from Bushfires NT are paid to manage ‘fuel loads’ on crown land. This provides a source of income to the volunteers and in Darwin this practice mitigates the problems that Alice Springs is experiencing. In Alice Springs there is a unique opportunity to increase employment of Aboriginal rangers/fire-fighters, particularly as a seasonal work-force to address the current crisis. Their visibility working within the town area is very likely to reduce the number of deliberately lit fires…” I made these comments in a submission (dated 12 October 2011) that I emailed to the Dept. of Chief Minister and cc’d to Dept. of Lands and Planning. I’m still waiting for a response but I believe that reform in the Todd and Charles Rivers is not far off. Many thanks to the Alice Springs News for highlighting the plight of the river and providing this valuable forum.

Mike Gillam Also Commented

How can we all be winners?
Hal, I think your latest comments take readers full circle once more. I have no problem (when conditions are safe) with “mosaic burns”.
Quoting from an old version (April 2001) of the Todd and Charles Rivers Fire Management Plan: P.9 Recommendations (#7) “Use of Prescribed burns should be considered after taking into account smoke hazards and legislative constraints.”
Obviously the controlled use of fire is one option for reducing high fuel loads in our urban river corridors – my concern is that we are endlessly debating the basics of land management but very little pro-active management is actually happening. Fire management needs a regular and ongoing commitment from the managers of urban bushland, most notably Crown Lands and the Town Council supported by the Fire Brigade.
Buffel grass in the river is currently too green to burn but there is plenty of work to be done because conditions are ideal for weed eaters and spot spraying. Last spring there was a very narrow window of opportunity (when the grass was dry enough to burn) for control burning in the rivers.
When this opportunity had passed (too windy) land managers needed to use other methods for reducing fuel loads eg. weed-eaters and slashing but to a large extent, fire prevention didn’t seem to occur. As Trustee for much of the urban Todd and Charles Rivers, the Alice Springs Town Council should be implementing the recommendations of fire management plans every year, not waiting for a catastrophic fire season to … act?
While admirable effort was invested in fire control lines it’s clear we need to do much more to protect old growth trees. Council candidates interested in river management might find the “Todd and Charles Rivers Masterplan” (Clouston and Assoc. L. Arch. 1995) and the most recent fire management plan a useful introduction.


Recent Comments by Mike Gillam

Melanka building would obscure unequalled backdrop
While I broadly support the views of the writer, I’d like to correct what is clearly a typo.
The building height limit in the CBD is 14 m. not 8.5m, and for the record, I won’t be making a submission to the NT Planning Commission, a Statutory Authority advising the NT Government on planning matters including building heights in Alice Springs because I don’t regard the public consultation process as genuine.
Recent calls by the Chief Minister for expressions of interest in the development of land at Whittaker Street, just outside the western boundary of the CBD and in an area with a LOWER height limit, makes a mockery of this public consultation.
The artist’s impression shows a building that dramatically exceeds the stated limit for this area, from memory, not even 14 m but currently 8.5m.
Of course, the nature of legislation, regulations and town plans may be subject to the extraordinary powers granted to the responsible Minister who can always find some justification.
In closing I would give credit to the NT Planning Commission for its recognition of the value of protecting some critical east west sight-lines across the CBD.
However the town’s future shape and collective massing of buildings will be determined to a large extent by the uncoordinated actions of individual developers and politicians in the decades ahead.
Ultimately this is a game of chance and DESIGN, that elusive collective vision for Alice Springs, appears to be taking a back seat in the process. As a struggling tourist town we can and should do much better.


Festival broadens ambitions of Alice Cinema
At a time when the town’s commercial centre is under great stress we are very fortunate to have such dynamic and progressive people directing the cinema complex.


A funny thing happened to me on the way to the tip …
Delightfully zany, elegant, rigorously conceived and resolved, an asset to the landfill and the town. Congratulations to the artist for her uncompromising effort and those on the Town Council who placed their faith in her and dared to make this happen. I hope the obvious quality of this public art has raised the confidence of decision makers and they feel vindicated to do it again with equal rigour. Perhaps in time, as the town’s artistic side is further highlighted and revealed we may regain some of our reputation as a tourist mecca.


Dancers take over after dark
Not denying there is an equivalent need for the hard core stories but surely this is the Alice Springs News at its very best.I’m kicking myself for missing the event.


Residency is at risk, says heritage group
Hal, where to start…If you peddle misinformation some readers might hyperventilate. But I think you’re ignoring the elephant in the room here…no-one likes their time being wasted and that’s how I feel trying to unravel your torrent of opinion and innuendo. Time prevents me from responding to more of your posts. It’s not simply that you distort reality by describing The Residency as “…current inactive state…” or that it’s preposterous and insulting to say, “Have you considered that Heritage Alice Springs’ dogmatic approach to these matters contributed to the Old Riverside not being given Heritage listing?” What an outrageous example of shoot the messenger by some-one who has not seen the nomination by HAS. But wait there’s more, “…I often think the heritage crowd exceed their brief…” Really? They’re the main reason you can cite the example of the Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame at its fantastic heritage location. And again, “…We don’t have very many buildings worth listing. Too many tin sheds, and who really cares…” Your regard for vernacular architecture including sheds is out of step with rising national interest and ignores much of the development history of Alice Springs.
PS Re. leasing the Residency for use as a cafe, I reiterate the issue of onsite car-parking. From memory, 6 parks are required for every 100m2 of net floor area and any alfresco dining areas – so I’m guessing this site would have to at least double the existing parks – this reasonable condition may be waived by the Minister BUT it’s in the best commercial interests of cafe owners to provide viable parking to lessen the impact on the street during periods of peak trade. And no, the idea that a new venture would be allowed to free-load on existing public car-parking is unlikely to win much support. The RFDS has it all, why try to replicate that experience with less at the Residency?


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