Of real estate, roses and living in the CBD

By SUZANNE VISSER

 

We left Alice Springs in 2009, after having lived here for more then a decade, because we wanted to buy a house and we were disgusted by the prices which had just gone up again, this time by 40%.

 

I had just sold a business in Alice and decided to invest somewhere else. Erwin Chlanda wrote an article about our departure, it was accompanied by a photo of us in the Mall, suitcases ready.

 

“Alice, Love it, leave it” the article was headed and it described how yet another business owner was leaving, taking her money out of Alice Springs. That business owner was me.

 

What the photo did not show was my bleeding heart. I’ve always loved Alice, and Alice had always been good to me. Yet I was going to betray her, because of her real estate prices and what you could get for them. I cried that whole first day of the road trip to NSW.

 

To cut a long story short: we’re back since 2012. We lost the business that we bought and the house that we bought in NSW and everything else we owned.  If I say “drug Mafia”, I probably do not have to explain more. If I say “Nimbin” you understand the whole story perhaps.

 

What is important is that we chose to come back to Alice to find work after disaster had struck in NSW. Work in Alice Springs was, as usual, found in a wink. Now we needed a house.

 

Buying was out of the question this time. I arrived in Alice in June 2012, six months before my husband, and lived in a share house until he joined me.

 

The share house was in a Sadadeen street that was described to me on numerous occasions as “a war zone”. I decided to live in this “war zone” just to check out what it would be like.

 

I had after all lived next to the river and opposite the salt bush for many years and had walked through it to take short cuts, also at night, only to be shouted at: “Hey sis, nice boots!” or “Want a piece of chicken, sista?”

 

I had never locked the gates to my business, not even at night, and nothing was ever stolen except for an aluminium rose that was part of an art work. When I reported the stolen rose to the Alice Springs News, Kieran Finnane wrote an article about it and a new rose appeared out of thin air!

 

This was brought about by Mike Gillam in the Alice News of 23 October 2008.

 

The case of the stolen rose

 

Sir,– Re. letter to the editor pleading for the return of a stolen rose, one of three made from recycled aluminium cans by bulldozer driver, occasional sculptor and currently, law student at University of Adelaide, Simon Holding.

 

To create this exquisite vase of roses Simon painstakingly de-constructed actual roses and replicated them in metal, petal by petal. The artwork was subsequently sold during an exhibition of sculptures at the silver bullet cafe in 2006.

 

Simon was touched by the sentimental value placed on his work by local business woman, Suzanne Visser, and asked me to send her a replacement rose. He also offered to weld all three long stemmed roses and the vase to an appropriate counter, plinth or other heavy steel surface!

 

To the person who stole the sculpture I would like to add: there is a big difference between taking a flower from a garden and stealing artwork and hopefully this difference will tarnish you in the eyes of the recipient.

Mike Gillam

Alice Springs

 

After the story of the rose and my experience walking in the river and through the salt bush during my first time around in Alice I decided to ignore the “war zone” remarks and moved to Aneura Place in Sadadeen to wait for my husband to join me.

 

I decided to never lock my car and leave things in it overnight: small items like a jumper, some change, a half full pack of cigarettes, a bottle of beer, a new towel.

 

Not only did I never encounter anything that remotely resembled a war zone in that street, my car was never, not even once, opened. I checked this by sticking pieces of paper between the doors and the body of the car whenever I closed the unlocked doors.

 

It was an experiment. It went on for six months. In the end I was almost hoping that something would happen, that someone would at least take that handful of gold coins that were there in plain view … but no-one ever did.

 

I decided to tell this “war zone” story to the Alice Springs News as soon as it would be appropriate to do so. That time has come now. That unlocked car is not in that street anymore, it is somewhere in the CBD.

 

When the good old peaceful quiet share house days in Sadadeen were over and my husband and I were ready to rent a house together we decided it was going to be either “out bush” (Colonel Rose Drive and surroundings, Ilparpa, Ross Highway) … or the CBD. No suburbs for us this time.

 

The CBD is not what you call hip, but we would make it hip by moving there, we told ourselves. And the bush, well the bush has been hip for years.

 

The bush did not work out in time, there was nothing suitable available. So the CBD it was. People were listening with eyebrows raised to our plans to possibly rent in the middle of the CBD. “What about the noise, the fighting, the screaming, the vomit, the pee and the poo?” they asked.

 

We shrugged. Maybe we were again embarking on something insane, but this time we had nothing to lose. So we did not listen to all well meant advice and warnings and moved to the CBD. That was three months ago.

 

We’re 0 minutes from Kmart, 0 minutes from Yippy and 0 minutes from Coles. We have range views. And you cannot imagine the peace and quiet. We love it!

 

We hardly use the car. Woollies is our pantry and our freezer. Monty’s is around the corner. We walk to work. I have not encountered much noise, or screaming, vomit, pee or poo at all.

 

It’s a bit too quiet here in the evenings. If only everyone would come to the CBD we could create for ourselves a nice, convenient, cozy, hip town centre where businesses are open after 5pm and tourists like to dwell. There’s vacant land and buildings galore.

 

The CBD is not dangerous, I go anywhere, on foot, at any hour of the night, yes also to the 24 hour shop. I cross the Melanka site. Alone. A woman. At night.

 

And I dream of how nice it would be if people would live above all these shops, where now dark windows gape. If people would go out for a stroll and meet on the corners of the streets for a yarn. If there would be light behind these windows and shop fronts. If people would sit on their balconies watching the world go by.

 

Imagine an Alice with a CBD like Venice, where one can hear footsteps on the pavement and music coming from little cafes. Why not? Why not in Alice? We’ve got it all: the weather, the stars, the clean air, the international community, the empty buildings.

 

All we need is people. And you don’t even have to be brave. It is perfectly okay in the CBD.

 

Photos: Suzanne and Mike – sad to leave, happy to be back.

 

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8 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Veronica
    Posted January 4, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    What a lovely, inspiring story.

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  2. Rick Everett
    Posted July 28, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for your insight Suzanne. I am currently contemplating a move from Newcastle NSW to Alice Springs, having been offered a new job there. I know little about the area and it is great to read positive stuff given that is a big move for our entire family. Perhaps I will bump into you in the new hip CBD. All the best Rick.

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  3. Sandy
    Posted June 5, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for the uplifting story, Suzanne. You, Mike, Bob, all of you are right – Alice is a great town and I would like a dollar for all those who have left, only to return at a later date. One day the CBD will be filled with residential living and shops will be abuzz again. Sooner, rather than later, I hope.

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  4. Suzanne Visser
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Bob Durnan,
    “Conventional negative doom-saying bullshit that is served up with monotonous regularity.”
    Well said! That’s exactly the point I wanted to make. There is the occasional aggressive drunk here, yes. But compare that with a town like Byron Bay (we were close to this once beautiful coastal town), which has now become the most dangerous town of NSW. The fuel for aggression there is not grog but speed. In Byron Bay whole gangs go party crashing base ball bats in hand. Murder is a regular occurrence. Not to mention Nimbin, once the place to go and “find peace and love”. Semi-organised crime is everywhere in those beautiful hills and what is worse: the police there is useless. The police here are great. Compassionate but firm. And our social services, such as the YSOS, but also the Women’s Shelter, DASA, CAAAPU, and the social workers at Centrelink, to name only a few, are second to none.
    I’ve always thought that the spaces above shops in the CBD should be converted into living accommodation and I also think Alice Springs needs a stunningly built skyscraper by a upcoming killer architect, somewhere in the desert, to attract tourists and to solve the housing problem. Something with a museum on the ground floor and a restaurant on the top floor and a panorama like we once had by Hank Guth, and apartments with stunning desert views, some of the apartments lofts with only the bare minimum so that people can build them up at their own pace. If I were rich that would be a project I would embark on tomorrow. As for now I long to work again for one of these amazing organisations mentioned above.

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  5. Bob Durnan
    Posted June 1, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Thanks Susanne, great to hear from somebody who is prepared to look at the town with fresh eyes, and not fall for the conventional negative doom-saying bullshit that is served up with monotonous regularity in all manner of the town’s forums.
    I (and several others who comment here) have written about similar experiences of the river and CBD at night over the last couple of years.
    If you know what you are doing, treat people with respect, don’t over-react to the occasional angry drunk, and take a bit of care around any current known trouble spots, you are unlikely to strike any trouble in the CBD or riverbed areas during the evening or daytime.
    This applies especially over the last 15 months since the diligent work of the night-time youth outreach workers (YSOS) has reduced anti-social behaviour by bored and alienated youth to a very low level, supported by excellent policing and daily follow-up by social workers who liaise with the youth and their families.
    If more shops were set up with accommodation included or converted to town houses, and more flats were built around the CBD (without going overboard in terms of height) I am sure that the CBD would be rejuvenated and provide a wonderful living environment.

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  6. Gini Kessler
    Posted June 1, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Suzanne, your courage along with Mike’s has truly inspired me. Having known you since the 90s in Tokyo, you’ve had to contend with so much adversity. You’ll never know how much I admire you and all your accomplishments. Your giving, loving heart that has reached out to help only to get stepped on again and again, but you just keep being yourself and reaching out to others. You are one in a million in my book and I’m proud to call you my friend!
    Gini

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  7. Suzanne Visser
    Posted June 1, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Mike Gillam,
    Nice to hear you again! Thank you for your kind words.
    The word “rose” seems to still be current between us. This time in “rose coloured glasses”. Yes, our town can be dangerous at times, but where we decided to settle, on the East Coast, was a zillion times more dangerous.
    I think danger also depends on one’s own attitude and hey, it is nice to write about something nice for a change.
    Not all is gloom and doom and there’s much about our town that can and should be enjoyed.
    I saw it with fresh eyes when I came back and compared to many towns in Australia it is colourful, multicultural, a town of painters, and very very laid back. The friendliness of the people was also something I had almost forgotten in my two years of absence.
    Kind regards,
    Suzanne Visser

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  8. Mike Gillam
    Posted June 1, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Suzanne and Mike, Nice to hear you’re back in town and I’m sorry to hear of your experiences on the east coast.
    Many thanks for reminding us that stereotyping people, suburbs and places like Alice Springs denies the existence of a greater reality and sometimes treating people as trustworthy is a good starting point. And I’m sure you’re wise enough to know that you’ll be disappointed on occasion.
    Before someone pours scorn on you with a jibe about seeing the world through “rose” tinted glasses, may I suggest caution walking around the CBD at night.
    Unfortunately our town, like many places around the country, is not totally safe at night.
    Risk taking should be measured and the consequences of getting it wrong should always be considered first. That said, the CBD can only benefit from your presence and good will.

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