Skywalk Budget item could be game changer for Alice

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 COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA

 

This line in yesterday’s Budget is a likely game changer for Alice Springs: “$10m for a skywalk tourism experience.”

 

The location is not yet determined, but it’s a no-brainer: The splendid ridge of the MacDonnell Range between The Gap and Flynn’s Grave.

 

The start or end [# 1 on the Google Earth photo above] of that walk is a 10 minute stroll from the tourism precinct [# 2]. The reward are the magnificent views into the West (photo at bottom) and East Macs, of the town and its hills to the north, the mostly flat country to the south, and the delight of soaring eagles, roos, and plants quite different to those on the land below.

 

Now stand by for:–

 

[A] The community gets behind this project wholeheartedly, creating a sensational nature experience which works 360 days a year, unlike the one-day or one-week wonders, no matter how fabulous they may be, on which we’re currently putting our hope for getting the tourism industry out of its slump. We are creating an assets that will last for generations.

 

 [B] Divisive bickering rises to a crescendo, with irrational redneck fervour in one corner and the perpetually fragmented Aboriginal interests in the other. Lack of leadership blows another great opportunity, and we’re sliding further towards being a welfare town. And Aboriginal culture, rather than being seen by the world as a treasure of our region, will be regarded yet again as an obstacle. And gone will be the opportunity for Aboriginal people to make a dollar as guides and storytellers.

 

The beauty, the mountain range, is already there. Practically nothing needs to be built, bulldozed, dynamited or whatever. Even signs for directions and warnings can be provided through apps on GPS equipped mobile phones. Local IT whizz Edan Baxter has created a system that can be adapted to that purpose.

 

Because there is no need for physical changes, most sacred site concerns would be taken care of. A similar point was made by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) in connection with the Festival in Light.

 

Concerns that remain need to be discussed with respect and good will. Trouble is, the “official” native title organisation Lhere Artepe is going through yet more internal strife, and some key traditional owners are outside the AAPA.

 

No-one other than the Aboriginal people can fix this: As the business community has the Chamber of Commerce and the tourism industry has Tourism NT, the town’s Indigenous community needs to have a single go-to with authority to negotiate, a phone number and an email address. That, for better or worse, is how the world operates these days.

 

Meanwhile the Budget papers say: “Consultation will begin with traditional owners and stakeholders in Central Australia.”

 

 Much of the administrative and regulatory arrangements are in place: The location is within the Municipality of Alice Springs which is run by the Alice Springs Town Council. It is also within the Desert Park which is run by the NT Government.

 

Most locals have been up there at least once: From Flynn’s Grave  [# 1] the walk, and a few metres of easy climb, to the top takes around an hour. Then it’s around three hours to the towers and down to The Gap.

 

But that is not all, by any means: The southern flank has some 12 rocky gullies (three photos in the text), rivaling in beauty King’s Canyon, and 10 minutes by car from the post office – not five hours to Ayers Rock Resort or King’s Canyon.

 

A typical gully takes around five hours for the return trip to the summit. My family and I have “done” almost all of them, over the years.

 

And at the foot of the range are some glorious camping spots.

 

So far the town’s officialdom has ignored this immense potential asset.

 

The town council, in what surely was one of its less than glorious decisions, closed the road past the landfill [# 4] along the bottom of the range.

 

Access to the gullies is now via a much longer route, via Ilparpa Road, turning north on a dirt track along the western fence [# 5] of the sewage plant.

 

What’s more, the council is now planning to extend the dump west further into the Desert Park land [# 6].

 

p2329-Chlanda-BrownCr Steve Brown (at right in the photo, with the writer of this comment, at the trig point on top of Mount Gillen ridge) in the past signalled this would be done over his dead body: He advocated keeping the new transfer station and the tip shop where they are, but to take the garbage to a new site south of town, in or near Brewer Estate.

 

The amount of garbage produced is one three-trailer road train a day. It could bring back to town soil dug from the new dump site and use it to cover the present one.

 

With a bit of planning, all that could have been done in cooperation with the construction of the hugely unnecessary railway overpass. Another inglorious council moment.

 

It is of course significant that Cr Brown is the CLP candidate for Araluen. He no doubt has the ear of Chief Minister Adam Giles because he stands behind him every time Mr Giles has his photo taken in Alice Springs.

 

And there is more: Gazing south from the top of the Mount Gillen ridge a significant feature is the sewage plant, known by most as the turd farm: It smells, overflows at times into the nearby swamp, breeds mozzies, evaporates billions of liters of water a year in the driest part of the driest continent, and is overdue for replacement by a recycling plant.

 

And that would open up two square kilometres of prime real estate owned by the people of the Territory and not encumbered by native title.

 

What’s keeping us?

 

Meanwhile the Independent Member for Araluen, Robyn Lambley, says about the description in the Budget papers: “This is an old idea that has been thrashed around by many for decades.”

 

She says “skywalk adventure tourism experiences” are not an economic priority for Central Australia “given the tough times many Centralians are experiencing.

 

“A simple bus tour taking people up to the top of Mount Gillen would have saved us all a lot of money,” she says.

 

This is how Parks Minister Bess Price describes the project in a Budget statement: “Tourists will get a bird’s eye view of spectacular Outback scenery under a $20 million initiative to build adventure experiences, including skywalks, at Territory national parks.

“Concept plans have already been revealed for a skywalk at Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park.”

 

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12 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. Dr Wrongo
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Aboriginal culture is a treasure of our region but if you want to exploit it and Aboriginal people there needs to be an element of respect for the culture and people.
    That tourists want a cultural experience is well known but I believe they want a real cultural experience not an ersatz version created in some whitefellas’ mind to exploit indigenous people / culture and rip off tourists.
    After 25 years of involvement with indigenous people in Central Australia including some cultural tourism activities I can promise you that indigenous people are happy to share their culture when they are treated respectfully and are able to do it on their own terms.
    If it is culturally wrong to trample all over a sacred site it is going to be difficult to find a culturally connected person to lead the tramplers.
    However, if people and sites are respected it becomes a lot easier to find people to share the stories for these places and the infrastructure needs are minimal – like a Troopy and a picnic basket should do it.
    Also, using Steve Brown as some kind of back up for this story is quite bizarre given he has so little respect for the natural environment and openly advocates for the destruction of its beauty and biodiversity.

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  2. Fred the Philistine
    Posted May 28, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    @ Erwin Chlanda: I would have to agree with Edan, you will need signs and protective barriers, for safety.
    Also you will need wheel chair access. If we want tourist to come we need to make sure things are in place.
    The blue mountains and the Grampians all have signs and safety barriers. Don’t forget we will need thousands of people to pay for this. One hopes this will be a commercial proposition, and not another project asking for Federal handouts.

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  3. Erwin Chlanda
    Posted May 27, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Hi Edan, I didn’t mention you in a politiking context but with reference to your remarkable IT skills.
    Nevertheless, your contribution to the debate about the skywalk is greatly appreciated!
    By the way, I’ve done it five times, not needed any signs nor protective railing, and lived to tell the tale.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

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  4. Edan
    Posted May 27, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Very kind of you to mention me in this visionary (pun intended) piece Erwin – although I could have sworn I told you recently I was keeping a low profile on the politiking front!
    Anyway I’ll take a piece of the wild dog bait for the sake of the story.
    Whilst I concur with the vibe “it is an exciting time to be a Centralian”, I would encourage voters (in Araluen in particular) to keep an open mind about the promises and commitments (and lack thereof) made during this extended election campaign.
    Further, (and I don’t want to rain on this feel-good skywalk story too much), readers should know that whilst digital technology has great potential, you’re still going to need to need to work intelligently with AAPA, Councils, Parks, TOs et al to get things done. Believe it or not they do all actually exist to perform what should / could be a valued function in the governance affairs (and distribution of powers) in the NT. A high quality, high traffic skywalk without signage, protective railings or viewing platforms is not possible otherwise, no matter how good the supporting digital app technology.
    Don’t get me wrong I do surely find entertaining the image of Steve Brown, atop Mt Gillen, cutting through a giant piece of red tape. But for me personally I’ll be storing this one in my scrapbook of glossy info-graphics and filing under “Alice Springs News classic hits” for now.
    I look forward to learning more about this and other budget allocations (from all parties and other candidates) in coming weeks.

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  5. Fred the Philistine
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    I think it’s a excellent idea, let’s get private enterprise behind it, but let’s look after what we already have, like our caravan parks and the Finke race.

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  6. Hal Duell
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 10:33 am

    I do simply love election years.
    Millions and millions.
    Billions and billions.
    Let’s have another one next year.

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  7. Chandra
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 9:55 am

    A brilliant idea (which will no doubt be killed in it’s infancy by those objecting to everything) and one that could be extended to many parts of the Territory.

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  8. Peter
    Posted May 26, 2016 at 9:30 am

    @ Steve Brown: Could not agree with you more. Truer words were never spoken.
    (Pause for a cup of tea and a little lie down.)
    It is a radical change to see Adam and the CLP show anything that could be remotely construed as guts and vision.

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  9. Andrew Crouch
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    Good on you Erwin for flagging the opportunity – it’s arguably the best close-to-town half day walk.

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  10. Steve Brown
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    There’s absolutely no doubt that a Skywalk along the top of Heavitree Range to Mount Gillen would be a fantastic addition to our tourist product while also creating an incredible exercise and recreational asset for Alice Locals.
    In recent years the Mt Gillen climb has become very popular with locals for this purpose, anyone who made the climb will know what a fantastic opportunity the range presents, a beautiful piece of untamed wilderness situated right slap in the middle of our municipality, within walking distance, even for those with just a few hours to spare.
    Robyn Lambley’s “she’ll be right, just drive them up the road and save the money approach” simply doesn’t cut it with me.
    I believe we should spend the dollars creating a world class facility, after all we are in competition with the world for the tourist dollar.
    Closer to home Alice Sprigs is in direct competition with The Rock for that dollar. Additions like this to our product help make the Alice the logical choice as a base from which to explore The Center.
    It is not good enough to sit back and hope they will come. This is the kind of entrepreneurial enterprise or extra effort we have to make if we are ever to re-establish our central role in the Territory and Australian tourist industry.
    It absolutely is a case of build it and they will come!
    The one thing I can guarantee is that sitting back doing nothing will get us just that, nothing!
    All that being said, I have absolutely no idea where the southern Sky Walk is being planned for, but if its location isn’t already fixed I will be lobbying like hell to make the Mt Gillen project front and center of the Government’s attention.
    At the same time we’ll be lobbying traditional owners for their support of this project which could become such an important asset for our community.
    In the meantime, good onya Adam Giles and the Territory Government, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a bit of guts and vision for a change.
    Of course there will be knockers but hang tough, let’s show the world that Alicespringites aren’t afraid to have a go.

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  11. Peter
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Love the idea, Erwin, but I see two potential issues: Firstly, in summer it is just too hot (during the day); and secondly, I can see people painting signs already for the “don’t climb our sacred ranges” protest marches.
    What about a skyrail instead?
    At the risk of sounding like the spruiker from the monorail episode of The Simpsons, this could be a massive changing of the tide for the challenge of making Alice a year-round tourism destination.
    Hell, it could even be solar powered and run at night. Imagine floating along the top of the ranges just on last light in an unlit, air-conditioned gondola as the stars come out with the lights of the Alice below.
    In most places, you rarely see stars any more.
    Yes, it would cost more. The Cairns skyrail cost $35 million in the mid-90s and is about the same length as Desert Park to the Gap but it had amazing engineering challenges.
    It probably wouldn’t cost too much more in the Alice, even today.
    Cairns was built by investors but a $10m buy-in by government would start the ball rolling.
    It’s a pipe dream maybe but I reckon you could have it built long before the arguments over a walking track have finished.

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  12. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted May 25, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    What is keeping us? Bureaucracy, ego, control freaks, the list is long …
    If the land custodians agree to a light display on the MacDonnell Range, a cross (christian symbol) 20-metre tall with LED-lights on top of the mountain to “usher in the second coming of Jesus” instead of a serpentine cross sculpture (the Brazen Serpent Monument) similar to the one atop Mount Nebo, more attune with Aborigene culture, they should not object to this project. It will display the beauty of this country, richer in Aborigine history / culture than Uluru, and guided. Aborigine guided tours would show the visitors.

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