Perhaps I can answer your query, Hal – in short, …

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

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.

Alex Nelson Also Commented

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.


LETTER: Removing sand from the Todd makes no sense as a flood mitigation measure
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.


Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

CLP propaganda courtesy of a Senate office?
Lobbying for sealing the south Stuart Highway began in 1953 when the Alice’s first tourism association was formed.
Bob Rumball raised the subject and former Brigadier, Noel “Tommy” Loutit, made the first representation to the Federal Government about it.
The south Stuart Highway was finally sealed in 1987, so it took 34 years to achieve.
To my knowledge, the first call for upgrading and sealing the Plenty Highway and Tanami Road was made by the newly elected Member for Stuart, Tony Greatorex, in July 1966.
In the following month a similar call was made for the Petermann Road (now in part the Lasseter Highway) by a touring party from WA.
So that was 52 years ago – over half a century – and still counting.
The current “Outback Way” effort was preceded by the “Reef to Rock” campaign that began in 1984 and carried on into the 1990s, especially under former Mayor, Andy McNeill.
The Member for the Northern Territory was granted full voting rights in Federal Parliament in 1968 (that was Sam Calder in his first term) and we got two senators in 1975.
Seems to me a case can be made that getting this increased Federal representation has not resulted in any significant advantages for Central Australia over this time.


‘Anzac Oval not for sale’: govt under pressure on gallery plans
I will simply point out to everyone concerned that the old school complex at the north end of Anzac Oval has by far the greatest heritage value of any school campus in the Northern Territory – repeat, the Northern Territory.
I have come to this conclusion after months of gathering information, commencing well before the end of last year.
It would be unconscionable for the NT Government to proceed with any development on this site without first undertaking a properly independent and professional assessment of the history and heritage values of this location, including genuine public consultation.
This has not happened.
If this Government decides to proceed with this developnment in disregard of the heritage values of the old school site, it will lose all credibility that it may currently have and demonstrate it cannot be regarded as any better than its predecessors in office.


Youth crisis: broken window of tolerance
This is a brilliant article, Rainer, a valuable contribution to public discourse that will stand the test of time.
Much of what you have written has been observed before, and much of what you describe is instantly recognisable from the time of my own childhood here in Alice Springs.
However, when I was young there was a sense of the corner having been turned when the NT achieved Self-government and there was great hope for the future. Things were about to change for the better for everyone.
I feel a sense of deep disappointment combined with great anger that nothing has improved for so many people in the Territory, and generation after generation of young people born here find themselves “coping” in life conditions no better – and, in many cases, far worse – than the supposedly “bad old days” of Commonwealth control.
It’s equally profoundly disappointing that the energy and intellect of young people such as yourself, Rainer, are left to pick up the pieces of a failed legacy of earlier generations.
But it’s wonderful that you are doing so, and that’s why hope survives.


Alice may follow Wadeye’s lead on street kids
This seems to me to be precisely the concept that Maya suggested and I supported for the old high school at Anzac Oval.
Today comes the news of increased GST cutbacks to the Northern Territory but the NT Government seems hell-bent on spending taxpayers’ dollars it’s not going to have on capital works projects both here and in Darwin that are not supported by the majority of people (VOTERS).
In the NT election campaign of 1977, virtually a referendum on impending Self-Government, Labor’s slogan was “First things first – statehood comes later.”
In this year of the 40th anniversary of Self-Government, I say “First things first – focus on the kids.” Forget about underground carparks for public servants, four-lane boulevards cutting through public parks, a new museum to compete against MAGNT, or a national indigenous art gallery on the wrong site.
We all need to get our priorities straight, not least the NT Government.


Art gallery: Door slammed on Desert Park
There are two old river red gums at the corner of the Melanka site near the intersection of Stuart Terrace and Todd Street. These trees are very old and probably predate European settlement.
The remainder, by contrast, are much younger.
They were most likely planted in the early or mid 1970s, after the construction of the Melanka hostel.
They are not local native species. Several are in poor health or have died, their decline due to their abandonment since the demolition of Melanka.


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