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

‘Bring back school based constables’
Oh, I don’t know about that, Evelynne – I recall there were a lot of ratbags during my time at school, and quite a number of them were the students 😉

‘Bring back school based constables’
@ Phil Walcott (Posted March 17, 2018 at 2:55 pm): Interesting comment, Phil, because when I was a student at the Alice Springs High School in the late 1970s there was a school counsellor employed there. Her name was Glynnis McMahon, if my memory serves me right, a highly regarded person who worked at the high school for many years.
She passed away in 1989 as I recall, and maybe wasn’t replaced at a time of increasing budgetary constraint. That’s speculative on my part but given you arrived here in 1993 not long after massive cutbacks to public expenditure including significant attrition of staff positions, that’s probably the reason there were apparently no school counsellors employed here by that time.

Federal study casts light on future source of town water
Our family visited the Rocky Hill lucerne operation in the early 1970s when an open day for the public was held there. It continued to operate throughout the 1970s but was long abandoned by the mid 1980s.
I still have in my possession the Primary Industry flow charts for the development of the horticulture industry in Central Australia from the mid 1980s onwards, courtesy of permission from then Horticulture Senior Technical Officer, Frank McEllister.
One aspect stood out for me, there was no mention of potential horticulture development at Rocky Hill.
I inquired of this with Frank, and he told me that area was excluded from consideration because it was reserved as the future water supply for Alice Springs.
This was at a time when it was still expected the town’s population would reach 50,000 by the turn of the century and the NT Government had officially announced the development of a satellite town on Undoolya Station would proceed.
All of this is now forgotten but history always comes back to bite us in the end.

Cops hush up dangerous joyride
I witnessed a similar incident that evening too, which I think was the same vehicle.
I was walking on the footpath next to the ANZ Bank along Parsons Street when this utility came screeching around the corner from Todd Street and raced towards the Leichhardt Terrace intersection.
The utility turned left and charged up towards Wills Terrace where I lost sight of it.
When I got to the corner of Leichhardt Terrace, I observed the utility speeding over the Wills Terrace Causeway where it spun around the Sturt Terrace roundabout, tyres screeching, and then charged back along the causeway onto Wills Terrace past the Todd Tavern, when I again lost sight of it.
Despite being a block away from most of the action I witnessed, I had no difficulty hearing the young hooligans yelling and shouting. They were clearly defiant and rebellious, and deliberately challenging authorities.
Presumably they felt they had nothing to lose by indulging in this behaviour and were heedless of the possible consequences of their actions.

A good spot for the art gallery?
Hal, this is just the latest attempt to re-purpose Anzac Oval as a village green, first proposed by the Alice Springs Town Council in 1979 and firmly resisted by the rugby codes (and especially by John Reeves, then ALP Alice Springs branch president, rugby league president, elected as alderman on the town council, and not long afterwards elected as Member for the Northern Territory. He is now a Federal Court judge.).
The village green concept was tried again in 1994 when the ASTC attempted to relocate the rugby codes to the Ross Park Oval, enticed there by the promise of lighting to facilitate games at night; and stoutly resisted and defeated by local Eastside residents, led by the Eastside Residents’ Association of which I was then a committee member.
And now here we go again …
Quite apart from the old high school complex, Anzac Oval itself is of considerable historical value as it is the first turfed sports oval in the NT and it was established entirely as a community effort over the summer of 1951-52 – no government assistance involved.
Part of that work was done by the town’s children who were organised by the new Youth Centre into an emu parade on one weekend that cleared the whole area of rocks and sticks.
Ah yes, the bad old days of Commonwealth control.

Be Sociable, Share!