Dealing first with Hal Duell’s comments, the Taffy Pick Crossing …

Comment on LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure by Alex Nelson.

Dealing first with Hal Duell’s comments, the Taffy Pick Crossing (originally the Casino Causeway) was constructed in 1981, and opened in July that year simultaneously with the opening of the Federal Hotels Casino. Federal Hotels and the NT Government jointly funded the construction of the Casino Causeway.
Amongst the earliest critics of the new causeway was Taffy Pick in a letter published in the Centralian Advocate in early December 1982 – three months later the flood of March 1983 swamped the foyer of the casino and ripped out an 11 metre wide chunk of the causeway.
A study was undertaken from 1984 onwards by the NT Government for the construction of a full size bridge to replace the Casino Causeway; and in 1986 the NT Government announced a $5.7 million project for the reconstruction and re-alignment of roads at the north entrance of Heavitree Gap and South Terrace, including a large roundabout at the Gap, re-alignment of South Terrace, a new bridge downstream from (and replacing) the Casino Causeway, a roundabout on the east bank of the Todd linking Stephens Road and Barritt Drive with the bridge, and extension of Stephens Road to link with Sadadeen and Undoolya. Only the roundabout at Heavitree Gap has been built, and that was a separate project in 1994 that was part of the NT Government’s plans for the rejuvenation of Alice Springs (which in itself sounds awfully repetitive, doesnt’ it?).
The NT Government transferred responsibility for the Casino Causeway to the Alice Springs Town Council in early 1987. Following the flood of April 1988, the mayor Leslie Oldfield begged the NT Government to urgently replace the Casino Causeway with a properly constructed bridge.
The NT Government has long publicly recognised that the Casino Causeway exacerbates flooding of properties by the river for a distance of 400m upstream from the causeway but has never done anything to resolve this problem of its own making.
To my knowledge and recollection, there have been four major occasions in the past 30 years or so when sand has been removed from the Todd River within the urban area. The first was in the early 1980s but was suspended in 1982 following assessment by the NT Conservation Commission that showed that sand removal was having an adverse effect on the river gums.
The second was in August / September of 1988, when the Department of Transport and Works removed sand that had accumulated next to the Casino Causeway. This was only a few months after the flood that year and coincided with the Flynn by-election campaign, during which the effect on flooding by that causeway was a major concern of voters in that electorate. (The CLP polled last and Labor topped the poll on that occasion, the only time this has happened in an urban electorate of Alice Springs. The CLP’s preferences helped NT Nationals candidate Enzo Floreani to win).
The next major sand extraction that I recall was a decade ago, when the Alice Springs Town Council was granted $400,000 for the extraction of sand from Heavitree Gap to Taffy Pick Crossing, which also included extensive spraying of couch and buffel grass. This was a part of the NT Government’s Alice in 10 project; and this particular project was meant to be the first stage of cleaning up the river all the way to the top of town. It never progressed beyond that first stage; and (as predicted on the ABC by both my father and myself) this was a complete waste of money.
The last major sand extraction from the Todd River occurred in 2006, in a project funded by the Martin Labor Government. This involved an upgrading of the Wills Terrace Causeway and extraction of sand downstream along the CBD, which cost (from memory) $600,000.
So now we have yet another publicly funded program of removal of sand from the bed of the Todd River, based on utterly spurious documentation upon which the Alice Springs Town Council relies to justify the expenditure of public monies.

Alex Nelson Also Commented

LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure
Perhaps I can answer your query, Hal – in short, yes, the removal of the sand at the junction of the Todd River with Chinaman’s Creek (yes, that was its name) at the north entrance to Heavitree Gap was unnecessary. This same area was sprayed with Roundup to kill the couch and buffel grass all the way to Taffy Pick Crossing and the sand was excavated only 10 years ago (I took photographs). It was a complete waste of public money.
For a good example of where to see the effect of unimpeded water flow of the Todd River, it’s worth checking the river bank adjacent to the Arid Zone Research Institute. You’ll see an extensive indentation carved into side of the river with a sheer drop of three metres; it looks rather like a miniature version of the Great Australian Bight. This feature was caused by the flood of 1988, when the river water carved out a chunk of land (at least in the hundreds of tons of soil, perhaps more) and completely swept it away.
All the trees and grasses on the side of the river bank did nothing to prevent that erosion, they all vanished downstream. Shortly after that flood, when I went exploring out that way to see what had happened (I was living nearby at the CSIRO Field Station at the time, now the Centre for Appropriate Technology) I observed trees and grasses teetering on the edge of that bank, with partial exposure of the roots dangling metres above the riverbed (again I took photographs). This stretch of the riverbank is the largest natural sudden change of the land I’ve seen occur anywhere in this region’s vicinity.
The point here is that when there is a major flow of the river, piles of sand and sediment held together by grasses will simply be swept away.
It’s also worth noting that the slope of the riverbed through town between the Charles Creek junction at Schwarz Crescent and Heavitree Gap to the south is a drop of 10 metres. Thus the impact of floodwaters backing up at Heavitree Gap itself has a minimal effect on the town further upstream.


LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure
Peter Driscoll’s comment highlights why so much inaction has occurred with flood mitigation and management of the Todd River through Alice Springs during the period of time almost equivalent to self-government of the NT. Essentially the NT Government’s attitude (under CLP rule) was that the single most effective measure to counter flooding of the Todd River would be the construction of a flood mitigation dam in the hills upstream of Alice Springs.
Two locations were proposed during the 1980s; the first was at the Old Telegraph Station, the second at Junction Waterhole further north. Both sites were strenuously resisted by Arrernte traditional owners concerned about the impact the dams would have on sacred sites.
Technically a “dry dam” for flood mitigation would be the most effective measure against large floods but this would require extensive re-negotiation with TO’s who undoubtedly remain wary in light of the bitter diviseness this matter has generated in the past. The project would stand a much better chance of success, I think, if any suggestion of permanent inundation for recreational purposes (as insisted upon by the NT Government in the past) is ruled out completely.
But that still leaves us with the need for dealing with localised flooding of the Todd River through town and for adequate management of it at all times.
Currently the Todd River, for most of its length in town, is at or below the natural bed level of the sand. This is evident (as Charlie Carter pointed out on ABC radio a few days ago) by observing the bases of old river gum trees which predate the existance of Alice Springs – many of them now sit well above the natural bed level of the river at the time of their germination with significant root exposure. River gums never grow naturally with their roots exposed. This is particularly evident just downstream of the Wills Terrace Causeway, which was extensively excavated just six years ago. This same stretch of the river is now slated as Stage 3 for the current sand-mining of the Todd River by the Alice Town Council, as stated by Greg Buxton on ABC radio!
There is also photographic evidence, too – the best example I know is a photo taken by Rev. John Flynn from the top of Meyers Hill in 1926 with a view towards what is now the CBD. The riverbed and west bank adjacent to the Civic Centre has not changed in almost 80 years.
Equally I know of a photo held at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden taken during the drought of the 1960s, which views Olive Pink’s flora reserve from across the Todd River. Again, the riverbed and bank adjacent to the OPBG has not changed.
In the 1950s my father regularly camped in the Todd River adjacent to May’s Guest House (now the Institute for Aboriginal Development on South Terrace), where the riverbank is quite high and steep. It was so in the 1950s and remains the same today, it hasn’t changed.
The only part of Charlie Carter’s letter I disagree with is where he states The Alice Springs Flood Plain Management Plan 1996 concluded that the Tuncks Road causeway has no effect on the bed level of the Todd River. That’s clearly not the case now, where there is an obvious drop in the river bed on the downstream side – so much so, that just a little further downstream it is easy to observe the concrete capping that marks the position of the Palm Valley gas pipeline for the old power station. This was constructed in 1983, and the concrete capping was buried beneath the sand level at that time. Now it is exposed.
Only the Schwarz Crescent causeway shows no impact on the Todd riverbed, yet that is where the Council has, and is, removing sand from the Todd!
Finally, the cause of sand and silt buildup in the Todd River through the town is regularly attributed to the presence of exotic grasses, especially buffel and couch. While these grasses are most undesirable from an environmental perspective, they clearly are not the main cause (if any) of the perceived buildup of sand and silt. These grasses dominate along many of the rivers and creeks in the Central Australian region yet nowhere else have they caused any major flow restrictions; for some reason, they only do so (according to many) within the confines of the town’s urban area.
Strangely, that’s the only stretch of the river where we have all these causeways, too.


Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Turn rock-throwing into backflips: how community can help
I smile at the circularity of Rainer Chlanda’s preferred location of a youth hub without walls at the “courthouse lawns” (DD Smith Park), adjacent to the Alice Springs Police Station (the former Greatorex Building) and across the road from the local magistrates courthouse.
I say “circularity” because the first drop-in centre for youth on the streets at night was located in the old police station on that corner where the courthouse now stands. Established in 1976, it was named “Danny’s Place” and lasted all of no more than a year when it was forced to shut down to make way for the said courthouse.
And from that time on, youth drop-in centres, real or proposed, have bounced around from one site to another all through town; including an old house in the north end of Todd Street that was demolished to make way for an office block (now called Eurilpa House), the empty Turner Arcade – the last shop there was Grandad’s icecream shop, a once popular hang out for kids of my generation, also in the north end of Todd Mall (that was my suggestion, nearly 30 years ago) which was later bulldozed to make way for expanding Alice Plaza and new carparking spaces; and even the abandoned waterslide site in the early 1990s, which instead was demolished to make way for infill real estate development (Mercorella Circuit, near the YMCA).
We have decades of recent history of kids in trouble (or causing it) being shunted from pillar to post. As a society, history shows we’re not really fair dinkum about resolving this issue.
Sadly, there is nothing new in any of this – Rainer’s father and his colleagues were reporting on these kinds of issues 40 plus years ago, and it continues unabated to the present day.


Wakefield insists on Anzac Oval, ignores majority
@ 5 Minute Local (Posted June 14, 2018 at 5:41 pm): Definitely living up to your pseudonym. Your suggestion is not a new idea – it’s been raised several times since the early 1970s.
The last occasion was when the construction of the railway north to Darwin was being finalised in the late 1990s-early 2000s when there was significant lobbying of the NT Government to re-route the railway around Alice Springs, including by the Alice Springs Town Council.
I also took up the cudgels on this issue as an individual and was publicly criticized by a local CLP member, notwithstanding the same member several years earlier had himself advocated the removal of the rail yards out of the town centre and to re-route the eventual railway to Darwin via west of the town.
These pleas were rejected by the government as being too late or too expensive (it would have added about three per cent to the overall cost, from memory). There’s no prospect of this happening now.


Wakefield insists on Anzac Oval, ignores majority
@ John Bell (Posted June 13, 2018 at 7:51 pm): John, the only sacred trees on the Melanka site would be (or are) two old river red gums near the southeast corner adjacent to the intersection of Stuart Terrace and Gap Road.
None of the other trees I’m aware of on that site are local native species nor predate the construction of the Melanka Hostel.
This includes the towering lemon-scented gums of which the majority are now dying or dead as a consequence of lack of care and the extended dry conditions.
Consequently the trees don’t pose any significant issues for redevelopment of most of that area, at least as far as sacred sites are concerned.


Wakefield insists on Anzac Oval, ignores majority
@ Hal Duell (Posted June 12, 2018 at 7:59 am): Hal, I’m still in the process of collating information. Gathering the history pertaining to this location is rather like measuring a piece of string but it all adds up to demonstrating the considerable heritage value of this site, the extent of which I think will surprise many people.
The nomination for heritage listing of the oval and school will definitely proceed.
The fact that this issue has blown up in the NT Government’s face demonstrates the stupidity of over-reliance on advice from vested interests (with no regard for anything except their bank accounts) and overpaid outside “experts” who have no background in local knowledge.
Once again we see the consequences of the corporate amnesia that afflicts this town and Territory, and history shows it makes no difference which party is in power.


Cemeteries could be turned into parks
There is another method of burying the dead which is also held to be environmentally friendly, it is called “promession”.
According to the Wikipedia entry on this subject, it’s a system of disposal of bodies of much more recent origin (two decades ago) than alkaline hydrolysis (19th century).
It involves cryogenic freezing of bodies in liquid nitrogen to -196°C (in effect, crystallising them) after which vibrations are applied that shatter them in minutes into fragments.
This material in turn is freeze dried and all metal or other non-natural components (eg. fillings, artifical joints) are removed.
The final stage involves “the dry powder being placed in a biodegradable casket which is interred in the top layers of soil, where aerobic bacteria decompose the remains into humus in as little as 6 to 12 months.”
Invented in Sweden, it’s a method already expressly adopted in South Korea and has expressions of interest from up to 60 other countries.
I think promession also deserves consideration as an option for burials.


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