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

Air traffic: Looking down on Alice
Interesting to hear that the Alice Springs Airport was blindsided by Qantas’s announcement for flight schedule changes and deletions.
I wonder if that offers any portents about our chances of hosting the airline’s second pilot school? Far from being The Centre, we seem more and more to be on the outer.


No youth detention facilities in residential areas: MLAs
It’s only in comparitively recent times that we’ve developed an abhorrence to gaols and juvenile detention facilities within or near suburbia.
There are two heritage-listed old gaols in or close to the CBD area of town. The old gaol in Stuart Terrace – now the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame – was built in 1938, simultaneously with the old Alice Springs Hospital and the Royal Flying Doctor Service, all neighbours along the same street frontage facing Stuart Park.
There was also new housing on the other side of Stuart Park (now a historical precinct) where the top bureaucrats and civil servants of the day lived, all in close proximity to the gaol. Nobody minded.
In the early 1960s more housing was built between the old Alice Springs Gaol and the new Traeger Park oval. Our family moved into a new residence on Telegraph Terrace on the block between the gaol and Traeger Park, living there for three years.
There was also a new motel (Midlands) and primary school (Traeger Park) built within a short distance of the old gaol – again, nobody was fussed about it.
In 1977 the first juvenile detention facility in the NT, called Giles House, was officially opened by Senator Bernie Kilgariff on the corner of South Terrace and Kempe Street in the Gap area.
I’m unaware that anyone objected to its presence in that suburban location.
There were many escapes from the old gaol and Giles House over the years, it’s nothing new.
It wasn’t until the new Correctional Facility was opened in 1996 that the practice commenced of putting gaols well outside of the town area. Now many of us think that’s a normal situation but, from a historical viewpoint, it’s quite unusual.
If a juvenile detention facility is established near the Desert Knowledge Precinct, it’s still a considerable distance from the nearest suburban area of Kilgariff.
Seems to me some people are considerably overstating the risks and simply giving vent to their prejudices.


Independents now ineffective?
Alice Springs has a long tradition of CLP members becoming independent representatives, starting with Rod Oliver (Member for Alice Springs) who lost preselection to Denis Collins in 1980; Denis Collins (Member for Sadadeen) who in turn lost preselection to Shane Stone in 1987 and was twice re-elected as an independent; and likewise Loraine Braham (Member for Braitling) who lost CLP preselection in 2000 but went on to win two subsequent campaigns.
One might include Ray Hanrahan (Member for Flynn) who resigned from the CLP in mid 1988 and continued as an independent for about three months before his resignation from politics. By the standards outlined by Steve Brown, Hanrahan took the honourable course but the subsequent by-election on September 10, 1988, didn’t work out too well for the CLP – the party came last out of three candidates with a swing of over 21% against it, and it was CLP preferences that enabled NT Nationals candidate Enzo Floreani to take the seat.
And then there was Alison Anderson (Member for MacDonnell) who resigned from the ALP and ricocheted from the CLP to Palmer United Party to independent (I forget the exact order).
One can go back over half a century, when independent Member for Alice Springs, Colonel Lionel Rose, announced in the NT Legislative Council in August 1965 that he was the leader of a new political party, the North Australia Party – and he was strongly supported by Non-Official Member, Bernie Kilgariff, who worked in close association with Rose.
The NAP didn’t last very long – it was wiped out in the elections of October 1965, with only one candidate, Tony Greatorex, winning the seat of Stuart. Greatorex, in turn, joined the Country Party when it was established in July 1966.
Whatever one may personally think about elected members changing their allegiances while in office, there’s never been a legal case against anybody (and that goes for other parliaments, too) obliging a sitting member to resign because they’ve changed their minds about party memberships. It’s up to voters to decide their fates whenever elections are called.


Anzac Oval will be site for gallery: Gunner
Twenty years ago Alice Springs found itself in a remarkably similar situation.
The NT Government was determined to demolish the old gaol in Stuart Terrace and replace it with infill development (all the rage at the time). The NTG was CLP and, under Chief Minister Shane Stone, had been returned to power with an overwhelming majority of 18 members.
There was resistance from local residents determined to save the old gaol as a heritage site. The arguments we’re reading and hearing today over the old Anzac high school and oval site for the NAAG are markedly similar – nearly identicial in many respects – to the bitter dispute that raged for months those two decades ago.
What was the outcome? The NT Government lost on two counts; first, the old gaol was saved; and second, the CLP lost office at the next general elections in 2001.
The CLP had been in power for 27 years but the current Labor government, behaving in exactly the same fashion as the CLP 20 years ago, is only halfway in its first term.
We live in a time where political party allegiances are evaporating, and voters can and do switch their support in no uncertain manner.
Given the astonishing high handed arrogance of the Gunner Government, it seems fairly clear it will suffer at the hands of the voters at the next Territory elections.
History – and contemporary politics – unequivocally demonstrates that big margins provide no protection in the polls anymore.
The inference is obvious.


Four charter flights from Japan to Alice Springs
The concept of Alice Springs Airport serving as an international flight arrival and departure facility is an old one.
It’s typical of the difficulties this region faces with major infrastructure developments of this kind; consider, for example, the histories of constructing the north-south railway (well over a century from its original conception), the sealing of the south Stuart Highway (this took decades), and the still awaited sealing of the “Outback Way” and Tanami Road (first called for by new Member for Stuart, Tony Greatorex, in 1966).
Nothing new in any of this; and it’s telling that progress on these issues is no faster under self-government of the NT (or, in the case of the airport, under private ownership) than it was when the Commonwealth had direct control of the Territory.
Some of us may live long enough to see the completion of all of these major transportation infrastructure developments for Central Australia.


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