Arrernte House traces its beginning to February 1975 when the …

Comment on Dylan Voller’s mistreatment started in Alice Springs by Alex Nelson.

Arrernte House traces its beginning to February 1975 when the Whitlam Government announced that Lot 215 on South Terrace was the site chosen for “a remand centre for children and plans [were] being prepared by the Social Development Branch of the Northern Territory”.
The Department of Housing and Construction announced the awarding of the tender for “the juvenile remand and assessment centre” to Sitzler Bros. in October 1975.
“The centre will have family-type accommodation for up to 18 young people” and the “attractive concrete brick buildings will be arranged around a centre courtyard” with “facilities for group activities such as crafts and recreation areas”.
The new “Alice Springs Training and Assessment Centre” was officially opened by Senator Bernie Kilgariff almost 40 years ago on October 27, 1977 – Universal Children’s Day – which he named Giles House.
It was already controversial “because although completed some months ago, the centre has remained closed because of lack of staff. Juvenile offenders on remand are now being held in the prison for adults”.
At the official opening, the Assistant Director of Social Development assured “the centre would encourage children to ‘look out’ – not to restrict them” and “that the purpose of the institution was to look after the welfare of children who had failed to conform. It was not a punitive institution”.
Senator Kilgariff stated the centre “would do away with the practice of having to send children to the adult prison”.
He “also announced the formation of a committee advising the centre on Aboriginal or part-coloured inmates. Representatives from Aboriginal organisations would serve on that committee” and “consideration was also being given to the training of Aboriginal welfare workers”.
The Deputy Leader of the NT Opposition, Neville Perkins, “welcomed the establishment of the centre”, describing it as “potentially a significant improvement on the previous situation whereby there was a serious lack of proper retention facilities other than gaol for children in conflict with the law”.
Perkins further stated: “In view of the fact that a suitable facility for juveniles in conflict with the courts is now established, the Majority Party [CLP] has a responsibility to legislate immediately to halt the practice of gaoling children with adult prisoners under the provisions of the Social Welfare Ordinance.
“Since the statistics indicate that the largest proportion of juvenile residents at the centre are likely to be Aboriginal, it is vital that the Department of the Northern Territory make provision for the appointment of Aboriginal parole officers to operate at the community level in coming to terms with delinquency problems. The limited accommodation capacity of the centre also reinforces the need for suitable arrangements in dealing with juvenile problems in the community.
“The available statistics demonstrate also the need for sufficient Aboriginal staff to be trained and employed by the centre, especially in regard to improving the cultural and communications barriers which are likely to arise”.
A school social worker, John McCarthy, “described the concept of using Giles House for the purpose of training and rehabilitating Aboriginal juveniles who didn’t conform on settlements and missions as yet another example of the outdated and archaic thinking of government departments in the field of Aboriginal welfare.
“Mr McCarthy said it was quite unrealistic for administrators to believe a white, urban, middle-class institution could prepare rural Aboriginal youth from a predominantly Aboriginal community to conform to the standards of their own particular community and culture”.
Early in 1978 Giles House was still experiencing problems when the Member for Alice Springs, Rod Oliver, revealed the centre housed only two inmates believed to be “two male Aborigines aged 14 and 15” and that “he understood that staffing problems were the reason why Giles House was not yet being used.
“An official opening was held on October 27 last year when a director was appointed” but “in the meantime many sources have expressed concern over children being held in the adult prison.
“A local social worker said about 150 children had been held in the Alice gaol since 1973, some of them more than once – a total of 200 admissions. Of the 200 admissions 39 were of children under 14 years.
“The two children in gaol now were practically in solitary confinement for 14 hours a day because they were being kept separate from the adult prisoners for much of the time.”
All of this was happening in the late 1970s when I was a student at the Alice Springs High School. One of my classmates was Mark Payne, who eventually rose to become an Assistant Commissioner of the NT Police until recently appointed as Corrections Commissioner.
Giles House came under review by the NT Government in September 1990 when once again it was down to two inmates. Correctional Services Minister Mike Reed “admitted the operational future of Giles House lay in different areas with the opening of Darwin’s Don Dale juvenile centre [scheduled] in May 1991.
“The Don Dale Centre will cope with the future needs of Territory juvenile justice.”
The Director of Probation, Parole and Juvenile Justice, Lyn Keogh, “would endeavour to discover future additional uses and alternative programs for Giles House” which may include “housing for youngsters that need accommodation because of a home situation” and “juveniles in custody that can’t survive in normal schools”.
In January 1991 it was announced “Giles House will all but close as a juvenile detention centre from July this year when the new $1.7 million Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre in Darwin is completed.
“When Giles House was first built, it was the only juvenile detention facility in the Territory and the majority of offenders were from the Top End. The number of youths at Giles House began declining when the Malak House in Darwin and the Wilderness Youth Camp in the Top End began operating.
“Transport and Works Minister Fred Finch said Territory builders P. W. Baxter and Associates had been awarded the contract to build the new Don Dale centre which will replace Malak House. It will be purpose built for juvenile offenders and house maximum and minimum security prisoners.
“Mr Finch said it would include a medical centre, catering and laundry facilities, administration area, swimming pool and multi-purpose ball court”.

Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Inquiry into fracking: Giving it the green light?
@ Hal Duell (Posted December 15, 2017 at 10:56 am): There have been several proposals and experimental projects for tapping into tidal power around Australia, including the northern coastline.
In the mid 1990s experimental work for harnessing tidal power in the Apsley Strait (which divides Melville and Bathurst Islands of the Tiwi islands) was conducted in a joint project by the Northern Territory University (now CDU) and the Power and Water Authority. Nothing seems to have come of it.
If I recall correctly, the Member for Nelson, Gerry Wood, suggested more recently that Apsley Strait (which is directly north of Darwin) be investigated for harnessing tidal power.
It does seem to be an obvious location for such a facility.


Inquiry into fracking: Giving it the green light?
The release of the draft final report of the inquiry into unconventional onshore fracking in the NT comes just two days after the 50th anniversary of Project Gasbuggy in New Mexico, USA.
On December 10, 1967, the US Atomic Energy Commission detonated a 29 kiloton underground nuclear explosion to test this method for fracking for natural gas.
It was the first of three such tests conducted in the US which was a part of a wider program (called Operation Plowshare) to find civil engineering uses for atom bombs.
Project Gasbuggy was of direct relevance to Central Australia because great expectations were held of this method for potential use in the new Mereenie gas field.
In fact, Magellan Petroleum had already applied to the US and Australian Atomic Energy Commissions for a licence to conduct nuclear fracking in The Centre.
Hopes were dashed when the gas extracted from the test sites consistently proved too contaminated with radioactive particles to be safely used; and the new method of hydraulic fracturing helped bring to an end the research program of Operation Plowshare in the mid 1970s.
Of course, it is unconventional onshore hydraulic fracking that now lies at the heart of the current controversy.


Keith Lawrie Flats – people have had enough!
The Keith Lawrie Flats came under pressure for demolition in February 2004 from neighbouring residents and then Member for Araluen, Jodeen Carney. This story was part of a feature report about the problem of petrol sniffing in Alice Springs.
The Minister for Housing, John Ah Kit, stated the NT Government had no intention of demolishing existing public housing stock, and in March 2004 announced this block of flats would be a part of the government’s multi-million dollar “urban renewal program.”
I was suspicious of the initial report about the Keith Lawrie Flats as it was only three years after the former CLP government had announced its intention to demolish the Cawood Court complex and replace it with house blocks and a retirement village.
The effect of this approach was obvious – it would reduce the quantity of available housing in town at a time of existing short supply and so contribute to driving up the price of real estate.
The CLP lost office before this could happen, and in late 2001 the new Labor government (specifically Housing Minister Kon Vatskalis) reversed that decision in favour of the CLP’s former practice of selling rundown public housing to developers to refurbish the flats and release them for private ownership. Consequently the Cawood Court complex became the City Edge Apartments and sold rapidly when released for sale.
I had a few letters published in the Centralian Advocate (and got some haughty responses) early in 2004 about this matter. The Keith Lawrie Flats were later shut down for quite some time. I took photos of the abandoned complex about January 2006, by that time over-run with weeds.
Later that year the units were reduced in number from 32 to 22, were extensively renovated and (as I recall) were to be closely monitored and controlled to avoid the problems that afflicted them previously.
The stories I have on file about this don’t reveal the public expense involved but sadly it’s apparently entirely wasted as this complex has reportedly reverted to slum conditions again, effectively within a decade.
At least some of the blame for this must accrue to the previous Country Liberals government because the flats surely can’t have declined so precipitously in just the one year of the current government.
In 2004 I suggested the Keith Lawrie Flats should be sold, renovated and released for private sale. The Housing Minister, John Ah Kit, wrote to me saying the government was reluctant to do this because of the adverse impact on waiting times for public housing.
Given the return of the anti-social behaviour at the Keith Lawrie Flats and other complexes, maybe the NT Government just has to bite the bullet on this one and offload these properties for sale.


Pollution? High fliers get it easy.
While it’s preferable that dumping of fuel in the sky is undesirable for a range of reasons, this incident is small beer compared to the overall impact of aviation emissions in the atmosphere and its substantial well-documented contribution towards climate change.
This is clearly evident from the DIRD’s statistics quoted above – if 0.01 per cent of “of fuel used by the aviation industry each year is released into the atmosphere” through dumping then the obverse suggests up to 99.99 per cent of aviation fuel is eventally combusted and emitted as various greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides (which generate ozone at lower height levels), water vapour and other contaminants, all of which contribute to atmospheric warming.
Some more information is provided by DIRD on its web page “Aviation Emissions – Managing the carbon footprint of Australian aviation”.(https://infrastructure.gov.au/aviation/environmental/emissions/).
Another website (https://www.quora.com/) provided some interesting answers in 2015 on the question “What is the impact of dumping fuel by aircraft in the atmosphere?”
One answer states that vaporised dumped aviation fuel contributes to “emissions of atmospheric pollutants such as benzene  and ground-level ozone” but another contributor vividly points out that “it’s a fart in a hurricane compared to all of the carbon being pumped into the atmosphere” and “focusing efforts on fuel dumping would be akin to checking the pedicure on a gunshot victim.”
Others point out that vapours from fuel spills by motorists at petrol stations in total far outweigh the effect of air pollution from aviation fuel dumping.


Pay up, and you’ll make the news, inquiry is told
Manipulation of public opinion by the mainstream media in the Northern Territory is a time-honoured practice that dates back more than quarter of a century, and possibly further.
I awoke to this in the NT election campaign of August 1997 when a Murdoch-owned newspaper published on the day before the election a front page story warning that the vote was too close to call.
This was patent rubbish but it triggered a vague recollection that I’d seen something similar before; and as I’d been heavily involved in the two previous NT election campaigns I checked the back copies I’d filed away.
Sure enough, the same trick had been played with both front page stories and editorials published one day prior to the election days of June 4, 1994 and October 26, 1990, warning of the closeness of the polls. The technique was employed in Alice Springs and worked in favour of the ruling party.
The method wasn’t used in 2001; instead the election campaign began with a front page story stating the CLP was a red hot favourite to win – no prizes for guessing what happened on August 18 that year!
It was this pattern of reporting during the 1990s that alerted me to the value of the (literally) paper trail that has been laid by print media in the NT over the decades.


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