This month (April 2017) will be the 25th anniversary of …

Comment on Melanka development break-through: Work starts next week by Alex Nelson.

This month (April 2017) will be the 25th anniversary of the official opening of the Scouts Hall on Larapinta Drive; in fact, it’s on Anzac Day.
The Scouts previously had their hall at the base of Billygoat Hill, on the corner of Stott Terrace and Bath Street. The Scouts were granted their new lease of land on Larapinta Drive in October 1984 (courtesy of then Member for Araluen, Jim Robertson), however they continued to occupy their old facility in the town centre until 1992.
The NT Government had long-standing plans to widen Stott Terrace into a six-lane road and this meant acquiring leases on the southern side to allow this widening to occur.
This process started in the late 1980s, with the dismantling of the original CAAC building and demolition of the abandoned Sunny Centre building on opposite corners of Hartley Street – these blocks remained vacant for many years afterwards.
(Material salvaged from the former Congress building was used in the construction of the Old Ghan station and museum at the MacDonnell Siding south of town, now a part of the National Road Transport Hall of Fame complex).
The old Scout Hall at Billygoat Hill was demolished, and the property on the opposite corner – the Repco Building – was also destined to be removed (today’s Red Hot Arts centre).
The only southern corner that couldn’t be acquired for the Stott Terrace widening was at Todd Street because one three-storey wing of Melanka Lodge was built close to the property’s boundary.
That was no problem, it just meant that Stott Terrace had to swing to the north side and acquire the necessary land from KFC – which is the reason why KFC itself is built well away from the Stott Terrace boundary.
All of this planning was associated with the proposed expansion of Alice Springs towards Undoolya, formally announced by the NT Government in July 1987. Stott Terrace was to be the main road link with Undoolya Road near Centralian College (now CDU) and then on towards the long-anticipated Undoolya urban satellite development.
None of which came to fruition, of course; and not least due in part to the national recession that hit the Centre hard in the early 1990s.
The planning for the the “Undoolya Option” was suspended and eventually dropped; and likewise the same occurred for the six-lane development of Stott Terrace.
The former Scout Hall site at Billygoat Hill was converted into a small park in 1993, landscaped with native plants and lots of sand rather than lawn (I worked on the project).
In the mid 1990s Repco moved across to its current premises in the new light industrial development that replaced the former railway housing precinct; its former property in Bath Street varying between vacancy and serving as a base for various art enterprises.
The two long-vacant blocks on the corner of Hartley Street were taken up in the early 2000s with new office buildings that mirror each other.
And then the ultimate irony began in 2008 when Melanka Lodge was demolished to make way for bold new multi-storey developments – which like the multi-lane Stott Terrace widening planned some two decades earlier, have never proceeded.
To top it all off, the Scouts have “commandeered” the only vacant lot by Stott Terrace – the Melanka site – exactly 25 years to the month since they left their own lease at Billygoat Hill.
Well done, Alice Springs, I love it!

Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

How does a future in opera sound?
There is an intriguing link between the Sydney Opera House and a singer who got her big break in Alice Springs.
In 1958 a young couple and their family in NSW came to live in the Alice, they were Tom and Lorna Oliphant. Judging from a street address published on one occasion, which was in the (then new) railway cottages precinct just to the west of the town’s centre, Tom Oliphant must have worked for the Central Australian Railway.
Lorna Oliphant (nee Beulah) was a Wiradjuri woman originally from Forbes, NSW. Both were accomplished singers and soon became the stars of the newly formed Centralian Musical Society from about 1960 onwards.
In 1962 Lorna Oliphant entered a national talent quest held for that year’s NADOC week (as it was then known). Mrs Oliphant, who entered the competition by submitting a tape with three songs, won first prize which led to her gaining a scholarship at the prestigious Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
The family was given a big send-off with a variety concert held at the Alice Springs Youth Centre later that year; and in time Lorna Beulah, who came to be known as The Nightingale, became a renowned opera singer performing in concerts around the world.
It was her voice that was used to test the acoustics of the brand new Sydney Opera House prior to its official opening in 1973.
Strangely she is now barely remembered. She passed away in 2012.


Sweet Country, a voice demanding to be heard
I’m looking forward to seeing this film, to study it as much as to just watch it. For this reason I will probably see it twice because there’s always too much to take in from a single viewing of a well made film.
I noted with interest Pip McManus’ observation: “The camera rarely moves above eye level, in fact it most often looks upward from ground level and focuses on rich grainy detail of flesh or rock, hand gesture or marks in the sand. Elders Archie and Sam know they are witnessing the desecration of country, the potential loss of sacred knowledge.”
I will be intently watching the landscape, especially the vegetation, to see if and how often buffel grass can be observed.
I anticipate the scenery, as much as the story, will tell us how much we really know of our recent history, of how much has changed and is still in the process of being lost.
Another point worth noting: “While Sweet Country does adhere to many of the tropes of the Hollywood Western genre – wide open spaces contrasting with close shots and dark claustrophobic interiors, silhouetted sunsets and liquor-sodden saloons – there is a determined turning of the tables.”
It’s worth remembering that amongst Aboriginal people across regional Australia for much of last century by far the most popular film genre was the Hollywood Western, of cowboys versus red indians as often as not – exemplified on February 19, 1942, when Tiwi islander Matthias Ulungara seized the pistol of crash-landed Japanese fighter pilot Hajime Toyoshima and reputedly ordered him to “stick ’em up allasame ‘Opalong Cassitty” thereby capturing the first prisoner of war on Australian soil.
A final point to keep in mind is “that signature blackfella humour and playfulness” which is as much alive today as it’s ever been, and is often deployed against the unwitting amongst us. It is used to great effect in the mainstream media, creating impressions that aren’t necessarily accurate.
None of this is to deny or downplay the conflict and confusion that did arise as Europeans encroached upon the territories of indigenous people. Sweet Country seems likely to offer much food for thought.


NT News interfered with reporting to protect ad income from NT Government: Allegation
This situation has been going on now for 30 years.
It commenced from July 1988 when the Centralian Advocate had the temerity to publish a scathing front page editorial after the CLP dumped Chief Minister Steve Hatton and replaced him with Marshall Perron.
This was the fourth leadership change in government in as many years and the Advocate didn’t pull its punches in its savage criticism of the CLP.
During this period the CLP was rocked by the resignation of Deputy CM Ray Hanrahan from all his portfolios and then from the CLP, finally resigning from politics in August 1988.
This was followed by the Flynn by-election of September 10, 1988, in which the CLP suffered a 21 % swing against it in what was formerly a safe seat.
It was clearly evident from this result that the CLP could no longer rely on any seat in the NT being safe and its hold on power was at great risk.
It was exactly at this time there was a sudden change of management of the Centralian Advocate, when accomplished reporter and long-serving editor Bob Watts was replaced by Gary Shipway and sent to do mostly court reporting for the NT News until his retirement in 2005.
(For his part, from about 1991 onwards, Shipway went on to serve as the chief media advisor to the CLP for many years – he is now a reporter for the NT News).
In the late 1980s the CLP cultivated extremely close relations with the management of News Corp in the NT, to both sides mutual advantage. It was a crucial factor for the success of the CLP during its “bonus decade” in power of the 1990s.
This situation has largely continued to the present day, with News Corp essentially prostituting itself to whichever political party happens to be in government; with the notable exception of the self-destructing Giles Government with which it was impossible to be seen in public support of it.
I am able to provide evidence to verify my claims. There is no doubt that the independence of the media in the Northern Territory (not just News Corp) has long been severely compromised to the overall detriment of good government of the Territory.


Telling the stories of war: we could do so much better
It’s worth noting that many of the plaques that “stud the walking path along the river” as a major component of the “Australian Armed Forces Commemorative Walk” might be described as “understated.”
Recently I walked along part of that pathway and found that many are now so faded they are barely legible.
All that public expense in their production and installation – only a little over two years ago – appears to be well on the way to being wasted.
Perhaps it’s in keeping with the demise of the RSL Club on the north side of Anzac Hill, which couldn’t sustain the attempt to revive its operation at the time. The whole exercise seems to have been badly mishandled.


To die for country
Two Centralian veterans of mixed race parentage, Harold and Milton Liddle, were prominent in the years following World War Two in highlighting the injustice to people who, such as themselves, who had fought in the war but were denied equal rights as citizens of Australia.
Together with another prominent Australian veteran, London-born Jim Bowditch, who from 1950 to early 1954 was the editor of the Centralian Advocate, they succeeded in gaining citizenship in 1953 for part-Aboriginal people and some full-bloods (the terminology then officially in use) in the Northern Territory.
This is an important part of Central Australian history that is largely overlooked.


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