Widow cities and rural bliss: a diverse electorate

p2331-Heidi-Williams-220By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

If the CLP didn’t have Heidi Williams (pictured) to run in Namatjira they might have to invent her. Her background is as diverse as the sprawling electorate in the Territory’s south: part black bush communities with their endemic problems, part well-off white rural residents on comfortably sized blocks, all along the southern side of the range.

 

And for her take on the most troubling concern of Alice Springs at the moment – out of control kids – she can depend on experience from both sides: a white woman having children with an Aboriginal man and having one foot in a bush community, and the other in town.

 

The blue-eyed blonde with a Swedish, Norwegian, Scottish and German ancestry, who grew up in the Armidale region of NSW, came to The Alice in 2003.

 

After some work in a pharmacy in town she moved to Hermannsburg where she ran the tea rooms in the historic precinct for four years, almost (as she puts it) perfecting the skill of making Apfelstrudel while developing an interest in politics.

 

In the turbulent years of the Intervention and the hapless Labor moves to reform local government she became a confidante of the legendary local politician and musician, Gus Williams, whose importance was underscored by the government providing for him a state funeral in 2013.

 

In that year her four-year marriage to his son, country music crooner Warren H, fell apart although his “amicable and supportive” role in her blended family’s life continues.

 

Ms Williams moved back to town in 2013 and took a job with Bess Price, the CLP Member for the adjoining bush seat of Stuart.

 

The kids – hers and all the others – and their future  is the principal reason for Ms Williams now going into politics in her own right.

 

She says the urgency is acute: “The bush communities have become known as ‘widow cities’.

 

“The men are either incarcerated, they’ve moved on or they’ve passed on.

 

“We’ve got all these children who are being raised, sometimes by the mother, but a lot of times it’s the grandmother, or the auntie, or whoever has her hands on deck to try and raise these children.

 

“I am a mother, and I am in the situation where I’ve got children everywhere.”

 

That’s two of her own, two of Warren H’s from a previous marriage, and a little ring-in who turned up one day and didn’t leave.

 

She is standing for Parliament “to influence change of the future for these children, in a more effective way than just a piecemeal approach”.

 

She says the younger ones mostly stay out on communities “but if the parents or the carers tend to come to town a lot the older ones are hanging around the town camps, often not enrolled in school full time. They are missing out a lot on education.”

 

Ms Williams is very much in favour of children who are roaming the streets being “picked up, to enforce them getting on that bus, or getting on that plane” which would take them home and go back to school.

 

Should they be forced?

 

“Absolutely. I believe so.”

 

Chief Minister Adam Giles recently said: “We are not going to mandate the forced lock-up of kids who may be walking around the streets at seven o’clock at night. We are not that draconian”.

 

Says Ms Williams: “I’m not sure about that. The amendment of the Bail Act to remove the resumption of bail is some help, and so are electronic monitoring devices. But these are measures after the event.”

 

“We need to get a lot more of the responsibility back to the carers – where is that 11-year-old Johnny? What’s he up to?

 

“I know a lot of carers are struggling. They are at their wits’ end. The children feel they don’t have to listen. It’s a case of having fatherless children.

 

“I am conservative in my values. I believe it does take a man and a woman to raise a child.”

 

She says she is lucky to have older children who live with her: “One is a big brother and one is a big sister, and they provide that, which supports me, and the small kids have that balance of male and female.”

 

Ms Williams says she has for years been reaching out to sitting Member Alison Anderson, who in traditional terms is the equivalent of her sister in law, to see “if we can work together” – but without results.

 

Ms Anderson, during the current term of government, moved from the CLP to the Palmer United Party to being an Independent.

 

Ms Williams says compared to several electorates she has visited, Namatjira “is one of the most neglected. It’s like it has been forgotten”.

 

Would she not have to blame the current government for the past four years of that?

 

“It is like that because it has a Member who has chosen to step away. So there has been a lot inaction.”

 

p2331-MutitjuluShe lists significant expenditure announced in the 2016/17 Budget, including $10m for housing in Mutitjulu (at left, at the foot of The Rock) – 20 new ones and fixing up four which are “beyond repair”.

 

We put the following questions to Ms Williams, as we had on Friday to Mr Giles: The people of Mutitjulu, directly or indirectly, own the Uluru National Park as well as the adjacent Ayers Rock Resort.

 

Over the years the resort, including under its previous owners, has made significant efforts to recruit local labour, with paltry results.

 

Should not the Mutitjulu residents get a job and pay for their houses on land they also own, rather then getting the taxpayer to provide them?

 

Yuendumu and Papunya, where job opportunities are vastly less available, are getting five and two houses, respectively, in the current NT Budget.

 

Says Ms Williams: “The issue is the overcrowding. A lot of people from Imanpa and Docker River come to Mutitjulu. One house has 15 people in it. The Mutitjulu Aboriginal Corporation has gone throughout difficult times. Now they run the store and some people are working there.

 

“The corporation says, enough is enough, we want to run this community. And I understand there will be announcements about the future this week.”

 

NEWS: Should the people there take jobs which are handed to them on a platter?

 

WILLIAMS: The resort has up to 30% Aboriginal employment now.

 

NEWS: They are mostly from Redfern, from Queensland and so on.

 

WILLIAMS: They are from all around Australia, you are right, but there are local people starting to work there. A lot of local people also work with Parks Australia. There is a whole generation of people in their mid twenties who have gone away, got a really good education, and have come back. They are in key jobs in the community, and they want to drive that change.

 

In his comment on the subject, Mr Giles pointed to income from arts sales by people in other communities.

 

He said: “There are a range of different dynamics in terms of Indigenous servicing, lifestyle and living conditions right across the Territory.

 

“They all have different economic opportunities. We should not be penalising Mutitjulu by not providing them a standard or effective living conditions just because they have a resort next-door.”

 

NEWS: Are the houses rented? Are there conditions (such as having a job)?

 

WILLIAMS: At the moment they are not, but the houses are not built yet. The Remote Housing Development Authority has just been formed. That’s the vision. It includes community ownership, looking at appropriate land tenure and individual home ownership, managing their own tenancy, repairs and maintenance.

 

NEWS: What is the element of self-help in that process? If a doorknob falls off, what happens?

 

WILLIAMS: In Docker River the residents have just finished a whole lot of home refurbishments. It was contracted out by the MacDonnell Regional Council. A lot of young people were doing the work. It was fantastic. Now we need to transfer that knowledge into real jobs. I know from my own experience that a lot of improvising needs to go on out there in the bush.

 

NEWS: Is that the vision?

 

WILLIAMS: It’s not yet set in concrete, but that’s what I want to happen.

 

And as well there are more mundane election issues: One close to Ms Williams’s heart is widening Ilparpa Road and adding bike paths and walking paths.

 

“It’s so dark and so narrow now,” she says.

 

 

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7 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. Toby
    Posted June 8, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    It was the Howard Liberal government that brought in the Intervention that turned the clock back 30 years in Aboriginal affairs. It caused all the current dilemma and upheaval across the NT, such that Aboriginal people have little control of their destiny. There are too many fingers in the pie from all sectors of government who hardly talk to each other, as well as other vested interests.
    It can be truly said to be an Aboriginal industry good for others. Because of this exclusion, Aboriginal people have become indifferent to what’s happening around them, supposedly for them, but without them.
    The Remote Housing Development Authority is a fine example. There has been no consultation with Aboriginal people about it.
    Who will it be made up of, and headed up by whom? No doubt by some mate (hack) of the CLP government and other select people announced by said government.
    The Remote Housing Development Authority is not a first in the NT for the NT government to claim it as unique and a first ever. Heidi Williams has not been in the NT long enough to know that the Indigenous Housing Authority of the Northern Territory (IHANT), long preceded this so called new concept of RHDA.
    IHANT was a partnership between the NT government of the day and the Commonwealth Government represented by the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the Department of Family and Community Services.
    Parties to the partnership pooled their money for Aboriginal housing, which was then allocated by IHANT, to seven ATSIC Regional Councils in the NT at the time. Where will the ongoing funding for RHDA come from? We don’t even know that. Does the NT government? Anyone can Google information on IHANT. I know about IHANT because I am a former member of IHANT.

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  2. Vicki
    Posted June 8, 2016 at 10:11 am

    What a great response from Heidi to Lou Hayes. Very informative.
    I am really pleased to see Heidi running for the seat of Namatjira which now encompasses the Rural Area of Alice Springs. She will be a dynamic and articulate representative of all of the people of Namatjira, unlike the race aligned and petulant previous Independent Member for Namatjira. Go Heidi!!

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  3. Heidi Williams
    Posted June 7, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Hi Lou, It would be great to meet you to discuss your perception.
    In case people have short term memory, what has happened out bush under the 12 years of labor has been consistently disempowering.
    I know because I was living in a community at the time. The botched Local Government reforms that took the voice away from the bush, the CLP brought it back.
    There was a record investment into remote communities across the Northern Territory. Namatjira has seen a great share of it, under a CLP government.
    There was the abysmal SIHIP failure of dodgy repairs and millions of dollars wasted on administration to interstate companies. This government has introduced the Remote Procurment Policy that sees a 30% Aboriginal employment requirement for all remote contracts.
    The recent announcement of the Remote Housing Development Authority, a first ever in the Northern Territory’s history,is giving ownership back to the bush. It is a housing strategy that the Northern Territory has not had since we last held government. This government is delivering.
    I spent a few years working in Aboriginal economic development. This drove me to study at night for a post grad in Indigenous Policy Development, while working in the electorate of Namatjira.
    This opened my mind and through educating myself I found the core to improving the policies and livelihood of our next generation. It is all in the ability to influence change as a MLA.
    That’s what I’m driven to do, achieving true liberalism.
    I also encourage you to see what Minister Price has achieved as the Minister for Housing in just over a year.
    She has influenced positive change in public housing. How does building houses in places like Utopia and Elliot that have been long forgotten equate to being the worst Minister?
    I note your reference to my appearance: As a progressive liberal I draw to your attention that if in 2016 we can’t have all people welcome in all industries despite our physical appearance or gender then we truly are not moving with the times.
    You are right, what counts is the person that will work hard for the bush. I have worked from the ground up, in private enterprise, with sheer determination and hard work. This the bush has seen and I look forward to continuing to support the electorate of Namatjira.

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  4. Peter
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    @ Hal: Apparently not, although with Alison you can never really be sure.
    Chansey is apparently a nephew of hers so most believe she will be supporting him (although nobody I know says they heard this from the Member personally).
    There was also talk of her supporting the ALP candidate in Stuart, although again this was bush grapevine stuff.
    Meanwhile, the Member for Stuart continues to strut her stuff around the Barkly. There is talk of a CLP candidate but no official announcement.
    Could it be that Mrs Price is trying a different electorate on for size, this close to an election?

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  5. Lou Hayes
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    The reason Namatjira has not received any additional infrastructure is because the CLP have starved the electorate as a way of trying to punish Ms Anderson for leaving there party.
    Is Ms Williams not familiar that it’s the party that she’s standing for that have starved the bush and created these so called Widow Cities?
    People in Alice Springs might be fooled by her glamorous, platinum blonde facade but I don’t think the people of the bush are fooled.
    They want someone that will actually get out and work for them not the staffer of one of the worst housing ministers.
    Heidi claims that she wants to drive change; well, if she couldn’t do it as a chief of staff for a party that’s in government already then what hope has she got ?

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  6. Hal Duell
    Posted June 6, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Has anyone heard from Alison Anderson? Will she stand again? If not, whom will she back? Things like that?

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  7. Enid Harland
    Posted June 5, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    I wish Heidi all the best in winning her electorate. She is a very accomplished young lady and I am sure will do her very best.

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