Millions spent, youth gets four hours a week

p2408 Skate Park 2 OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Country Liberals leader Terry Mills pledged $2.5m “to transform the Anzac Hill youth centre” giving “access to youth workers and other appropriate support networks” to “provide a safe place for children on the street at night and opportunities for positive contacts between police and young people (photo below).

 

“This is a first step in the considerable body of work required to re-engage young people into the broader community.”

 

That was in the heady election month of August 2012 when youth crime and misconduct topped the agenda as it does now.

 

Four and a half years and more than $5m later, for bricks, mortar and corrugated iron, the centre is a “safe place for children” for exactly four hours a week, from 6pm to 10pm on Saturdays.

 

According to coordinator Angie Prettejohn, an average of 140 kids – almost all Aboriginal – engage in “unstructured” activities – hanging out, listening to music, watching videos, shooting hoops, playing pool – in a program financed by the Department of Families.

 

“Our Saturday Night recreation program caters for young people off the street,” she says.

 

“They find their own way here throughout the night.”
“They are not members of the Alice Springs Youth and Community Centre.”

 

This is an astonishing statement considering the government-professed purpose of the youth centre: How come they are not members?

 

p1933 Youth Centre MillsFor the rest of the time, the complex, soon to enter a further multi million dollar construction stage, is pretty well a playground for people who can afford to pay for its use – mostly martial arts, boxing, gymnastics and a multicultural play group.

 

These are all activities that could be enjoyed in a number of currently empty buildings or shops around town, or in established clubs, private or public, or at the existing facilities of the youth centre (with repairs as required), now re-named the Alice Springs Youth and Community Centre.

 

Manager Marie Petery makes much of the fact that the centre is run mostly by volunteers. But surely, this is the case also with the ping pong association and the bridge club and hundreds of other community organisations.

 

After the backstabbing of Mr Mills by Adam Giles, and the near annihilation of the CLP after one term of a Giles government Labor Chief Minister Michael Gunner is now touting “the most comprehensive overhaul of the youth justice system”.  What role will the centre’s “Saturday Night Recreation” be playing in that?

 

One of three boys in their late teens, regulars at the function, told the Alice Springs News Online that come 10pm, “when the cops are trying to take the kids home, a lot of them scatter”.

 

This observation was confirmed by five teenagers, three girls and two boys, aged between 11 and 14, also regulars at the function. They walk to the centre and take the bus provided to return home in a town camp at the end of the night.

 

Why only one night for the kids?

 

Ms Petery, who has been associated with the centre since 1984, says she doesn’t want to encourage them to be in the CBD longer than that.

 

According to her, most town camps have buildings and facilities that could be used for youth activities. Children could even sleep there. The camp dwellers should be running their own fixtures.

 

p2408 Eileen Moseley OKEileen Moseley (at right) has lived in the Larapinta town camp for more than 30 years and her kids – like thousands of others – regarded the night at the youth centre, Fridays in those days, as the highlight of their week.

 

Ms Moseley says her kids’ most feared punishment for being naughty was not to be allowed to go to the youth centre.

 

She says in the days of Joan Higgins running the centre, the town’s kids – black and white – mingled there, became friends. (This was so too for this writer’s four children raised in Alice Springs.)

 

The three boys in their late teens we spoke to  were at the skate park (top of the page) on Sunday. All three said they enjoy going to the Saturday night function: Shooting hoops and playing pool were their favourite activities.

 

The five young people, whom we met at a town camp, enjoy pool, dancing and movies at the youth centre.

 

We were given positive comments also from two other girls at the camp, one mentioning dancing and the other saying she enjoys the evening but asked to be paid for any further information (we declined).

 

Ms Moseley says of the youth centre: “Hardly anybody goes there now, why are they renovating it?”

 

She says the community centre in the Larapinta town lease used to be a primary school. Now the kids go to Gillen Primary, after a smooth change-over.

 

p2408 Larapinta camp OKThe building houses the highly successful art centre (at left), Yarrenyty Altere Artists, whose members are selling work around Australia and overseas.

 

Ms Moseley says if they were to run a youth centre at the camp with their limited resources – most people in the camp have employment – troublemakers from elsewhere may turn up.

 

Forcing people to have their own centres would be “segregation”.

 

Supervising children is fraught by legal changes in recent years, says Ms Moseley’s husband, Daniel Forrester.
“We have lost all control,” he says, because any chastising is likely to result in family violence charges.

 

“The kids report you to the police. We need to go back to the old days.”

 

 

FOOTNOTE:

 

The News wanted to visit the youth centre on Saturday night. We received this email from Ms Petery on Friday, after several conversations and emails to research this report. She said: “We will not be granting you entry into the centre as we have a duty of care to all young people in our programs.

 

“It’s inappropriate for us to allow people to come into the centre to take photographs of the children without permission.

 

“I have spoken with Territory Families and they support this decision.”

 

I had not proposed approaching children without parental permission. I was in discussion with Ms Prettejohn about finding ways to seek permission from parents or carers to speak with and photograph kids as they were being dropped off at the centre.

 

I was doing this because I believe the town needs to hear directly from young people about issues concerning them.

 

Ms Petery clearly doesn’t think so, and neither does the department which asserted we had to have its permission to do the story.

 

We don’t, and here it is.

 

 

 

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4 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. John Bell
    Posted February 14, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Erwin’s probing comments: The current state of affairs of the Youth Centre is sad testament to the demise of a once-great Alice institution.
    The Centre and its matriarch, Mrs Joan Higgins, quietly emerged over the years as the gold standard model promoting family youth sporting and recreational activity for the holistic Alice community.
    The Centre’s big fundraising day, the jewel in its crown, the Bangtail Muster Sports Carnival, brought the whole town together, crossing all cultural boundaries.
    For 30 years, 1972-2002, I made sure I was in Alice on that day for the May Day Mile. Every year Mrs Higgins rang me, wherever I was, to encourage me to return.
    Every year Mrs Higgins would greet me on my return and discuss the changing town circumstances that began to threaten the Centre’s big day with dwindling crowds. We also discussed the social dynamics.
    First it was the rise of an increasingly affluent society’s “Sport of Kings” at Pioneer Park and other money spinning pursuits. Finally, the insidious burden of public liability proved to be the final straw.
    Greeting me at the gate at Anzac in 2002, Mrs Higgins had tears in her eyes and her voice wavered as she sadly broke the news that this great community day could no longer continue.
    As the small group of runners in the May Day Mile that day ran down the back straight in the final lap for the very last time, it was overwhelmingly sad, but at the same time uplifting, to see a solitary, happy young Aboriginal family cheering from the embankment … and then turning into the final home straight to be urged home by the sport’s day’s small group of faithful stalwarts, all the way to the finish line.
    It is an Alice community tragedy, a monumental example of lost direction, a sign of skewed social priorities and political correctness gone mad, that in 2017 the Centre has now come to this, where a respected journalist is not even allowed in the door to talk about the Centre and its problems.
    Mrs Higgins would be heartbroken.

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  2. Jenny
    Posted February 14, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    My understanding is the Youth and Community Centre is available to many groups in the community.
    Due to the hard work of the manager and committee they have been successful in applying for funds to upgrade the facilities.
    I know that many families who are struggling have had fees waived or reduced to ensure children can partipate. Other than the grants recieved the centre is self supporting.
    I also believe the Gap Youth Centre is fully government funded and in the past offered after hours services.

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  3. Harold
    Posted February 13, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Sad but unsurprising.

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  4. James T Smerk
    Posted February 13, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    How does this kind of thing happen? Only used for four hours. Money well spent, Government.
    I would like to see the business case put forth to get the funding, how did they sell the idea of a flash four hours facility.
    And the fact the department didn’t want the story to be made public (which would tell me they have something to hide) pull your heads in, you work for the public and they should be allowed to know anything regarding community services!
    It’s called transparency, which unless I’m wrong is the foundation of a good government.
    If the issue is they don’t want youths hanging around the CBD late, well why did you build it there?

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