April 30, 1997
A government commissioned report leaked to the Alice News recommends a cultural precinct incorporating a relocation and renaming of the Spencer and Gillen Museum from its present site in the Alice Plaza.
The plan, prepared by Woodhead Firth Lee, architects of Darwin, was commissioned by Museums and Art Galleries of the NT, and completed in February this year.
Noting that the Spencer and Gillen's lease on the first floor of the Alice Plaza expires in December 1998, five options are presented for its relocation: three of these involve having the museum, renamed as the Central Australian Museum, sited at the Araluen Centre, including placing it in a refitted or enlarged Witchetty's, and two propose moving it to the Strehlow Research Centre.
However the document strongly recommends "Option E," the most expensive, which at a cost of $5.88 million would see a new facility of 2,500 square metres (a similar size to the present museum) constructed "either as a stand-alone building or as an extension to the Araluen Arts Centre."
At the same time, and included in the costing, the Strehlow Centre's public display would be upgraded.
The favoured option also allows for a $3 million second stage to "provide soft and hard landscaping and shade structures, and the development of an astronomy viewing terrace."
The museum proposals are just part of a grand plan to create an "Alice Springs Cultural Precinct, a world class facility to showcase the uniqueness of Australia's arid centre, and both increase visitor satisfaction and lengthen their time of stay in Alice Springs."
The Cultural Precinct, in addition to the relocated museum, would include: Araluen Centre, a revamped Strehlow Research Centre, Connellan Homestead, Memorial Pioneer Cemetery, Connellan Hangar Aviation Museum, Bellman Hangar, Kookaburra Memorial, Alice Springs Craft Council, McEllister Park, and a Sacred Hill (part of Arrernte and Luritja women's dreaming) in the centre of the proposed area.
The strategy plan suggests "packaging a visit to the Cultural Precinct as part of a tour itinerary," and identifies the recently opened "Desert Wildlife Park as the strongest potential marketing partner."
Forecasting 177,000 visitors to the Desert Wildlife Park in its first year, the document estimates if "one out of two of them can be enticed to visit the Museum as part of the trip, then a target of 80,000 visitors is readily achieved."
But this forecast is qualified with: "Naturally this will require a skilled and market driven management, and adequate funding to achieve such visitation."
As the plan points out: "If tourists can be encouraged to stay just one extra night each in Alice Springs, some $40 million recurrent expenditure will be generated for the local economy." The driving reason behind the strategy plan is given as: "The declining length of stay for visitors to Alice Springs is cause for concern both to local businesses and to NT interests in general."
The plan contains some interesting figures on tourism in Central Australia: 619,000 visitors came to the Centre in 1995/96 and on average stayed three to four nights, spending a total of $286 million or around $462 each.
Of these visitors, 86 per cent used commercial accommodation with half of them staying in hotels and motels, and one third lodging in caravan parks.
In the same 12 month period the Spencer and Gillen Museum attracted 27,000 visitors, Strehlow Research Centre 29,000, and Araluen Centre hosted 49,000.
Quoting visitor surveys,the plan also lists some of the things tourists want and expect.
Most wanted was visitor information (32 per cent of respondents), followed by Aboriginal culture (27 per cent).
The report says: "People want to interact with Aboriginal people and culture in a meaningful, genuine way. They want to hear Aboriginal people tell Aboriginal stories."
The survey showed visitors would be prepared to pay for these kinds experiences, and "the smaller the group, the better."
Yet nowhere in the recommendations for the Cultural Precinct are there details for providing interaction with Aboriginal people and culture, apart from displays of Aboriginal art.
A vague sentence states the Precinct, "should be interactive and themed around Aboriginal culture," but offers no recommendations about how this might be done.
In fact many aspects of the strategy plan seem heavy with hype and marketing jargon.
It refers constantly to "tourism product," speaks of "opportunities to ïedutain' (presumably a combination of educate and entertain?) with hands on."
The major consideration for marketing tactics, according to the report "is the development of a ïmust see icon' where the sum of the whole will become greater than the parts."
Of course the NT government may decide on another course altogether, one not mentioned in the strategy plan, but with ample precedent nevertheless: the "do nothing" option.

Last week's hoo-ha over scavenging at the town council rubbish dump was rich in ironies.
The alderman most vocal about the illegal activity, Geoff Harris, when he was the coordinator of the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), had played a role in stopping the construction of a council recycling depot.
That scheme may have gone a long way towards providing the kind of cheap or free goods scavengers are now looking for.
The scavengers appear to be mainly Aborigines from the Little Sisters camp, near the north-eastern edge of the dump.
They had stifled the council's recycling scheme at every turn through two of their key organisations, Tangen-tyere Council and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.
Tangentyere has an ongoing publicly funded program to discourage scavenging and highlight its health risks.
Yet on Wednesday last week, when I observed some 15 adults and children rummaging through the refuse just after the dump had closed for the day, among them was a woman who told me she's a member of the Tangentyere executive.
To lend force to her displeasure about my presence she picked up a large rock and threatened to smash my television camera and my mobile telephone.
The issue came to a head when the dump contractor, Environmental Waste Management (EWM), failed to cover the tip face with soil, as the company is required to do every day.
EWM managing director Colin Davies says the work couldn't be completed because a loader had broken down.
Mr Davies says during routine maintenance of a Caterpillar 950 Loader it was discovered that the machine's turbo charger housing was cracked, emitting sparks that could have set the dump alight.
A replacement part could not be obtained immediately because workers at Caterpillar in Melbourne were on strike.
EWM then tried to obtain the part from Singapore which in turn had to order it from the United States.
In the meantime, a second-hand part was found and the machine was mobile again on Thursday last week.
Mr Davies says the options included closing the dump, at great inconvenience to the public, but this was not considered necessary, as dump staff won't allow scavenging during normal dump hours.
"It still goes on despite our attempts to stop it," he says Mr Davies says his company can't be responsible for "trespassers" entering the dump outside these hours.
He says his company complied with the contract specifications, and kept the council's senior engineering staff informed about the break-down.
He says he's asked the council several times to fence the area, but it remains freely accessible from the north and the east.
The scavengers clearly follow a set routine: I saw them last Wednesday entering the area from the direction of the Little Sisters camp a few minutes after the compacting machine had been shut down at 5.30 pm.
The scavengers then scaled the tip face, picking up discarded household items and clothing.
The woman from the Little Sisters camp I spoke to later said they had not picked up food.
Mr Davies says the tip face is covered with a layer of soil, about 15 cm thick, each late afternoon unless unforeseeable circumstances prevent this.
These include mechanical break-downs, which are rare; heavy rain which makes truck access to the soil pits impossible; when scavengers attack dump staff, or refuse to move from the tip face; or when the skilled operator is unavailable because of injury or illness.
Mr Davies says two dump staff had been injured and several vehicle windows broken when scavengers pelted them with rocks.
"We don't confront attacking scavengers," says Mr Davies. "We simply retreat."
Town council deputy engineer Eugene Barry, who's in charge of supervising the tip management, says there are about 100 clauses in the contract with EWM. Their enforcement is a matter of balancing good management of the facility and convenience for the public against the need to be flexible in the case of unforeseeable events and, especially, to keep costs to the ratepayers low.
Mr Barry says the EWM tender, at $392,000 a year, was by far the lowest of the six submitted.
The second-lowest was $443,000 and the highest, $735,000.
The dump contract with EWM was renewed in 1992 and EWM now has the option of seeking a two year extension, at the tendered price, from April next year, with a CPI indexed escalation clause.
Mr Barry says he reported to the council's works and parks committee that in a contract of this nature, there's a likelihood of lapses from time to time.
These are rare, and any problems brought to his attention "have always been remedied by sensible application of the contract specifications".
He says the required rubbish compaction rates have consistently been met.
The ill-fated recycling project, by contrast, appears to be a case study of procrastination, disunity and intrigue.
Recycling must rank high among the most studied subjects in town: Mr Barry says the council has several reports in its archive.
While around Australia, sophisticated management of waste has been a fact of life for years, in Alice Springs yet another report is being prepared at the moment, at a cost to the ratepayers of $7000, under the auspices of the newest recycling committee, headed by Ald Sue Jefford. Recycling was mooted as an "optional extra" when the dump contract was awarded to EWM in 1992.
The plan was for a depot at the eastern end of the dump, just across the railway line.
Locals on their "dump run" would enter via a sealed road, drop off in designated areas anything from bottles, cans, clothes, firewood to building materials, and then proceed to the tip to get rid of anything that can't be recycled.
EWM offered to construct and maintain the "depot" at a cost of a $17,880 a year over five years (a total capital cost of $125,160, interest free).
A separate operator would be found to run the depot.
Acquisition and rezoning of 7.9 hectares of land was put in motion although only about one hectare - adjacent to Commonage Road - was needed for the depot. Mr Barry says the council had every chance of getting a $200,000 grant from the NT Government as an identical amount had been granted to the Darwin council for its recycling effort.
The Conservation Commission was asked to advise, and after some revision of the plans, its Rob Curtis, on behalf of the Director of Conservation, wrote to the council on September 30, 1993: "The current design should work effectively and is supported by the Commission."
However, just two months later, according to a council summary, the commission's local representative opposed the project "despite previous approval from Darwin office", according to Mr Barry.
Such back flips became a common feature of the planning process: The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) gave consent in October 1993 and withdrew it a month later.
AAPA and Tangentyere Council opposed the rezoning application.
The council summary of the events notes: "Appears to be collusion between various parties."
Tangentyere's objection was supported by residents of the Little Sisters town lease - the very camp from which the majority of the present illegal scavengers seem to be coming.
[Tangentyere did not respond to an invitation from the Alice News to provide comment.]
While Ald Harris is now vocal about the dangers of illicit scavenging, as the co-ordinator of ALEC he expressed support for recycling in principle, but expressed strong reservations about the plans for the depot, which was later scrapped.
He wrote to the council on behalf of ALEC on October 11, 1993, that while ALEC "supports the council's determination to build a recycling centre ... there appear to be a number of flaws".
Mr Harris called for the formation of a committee with "representation from a broad cross section of the community" and for the formulation of a "waste minimisation and recycling plan".
Ald Harris says: "As the above quote shows, ALEC at the time supported a recycling centre for Alice Springs but pointed out that elements of the proposal were flawed.
"I don't see how any reasonable person could interpret that as Geoff Harris or ALEC being responsible for thwarting the construction of the recycling depot." Ald Harris pointed out that on April 27, 1995, the council passed a resolution to discontinue the recycling depot project "in view of the relatively high level of recycling currently taking place in Alice Springs and at the dump".
Ald Harris says the Lands Minister gave rezoning approval for the depot site on May 4, 1995.
ALEC, still under Mr Harris' management, received a $30,000 Federal grant early in 1994 to "study waste and work on formulating a recycling strategy", according to a newspaper report.
Today - three years down the track - results of that study are still not known, according to Mr Barry.
Ald Harris says: "ALEC ran the mulching and firewood trial at the tip and so far as I know, the council has been given a report."
Although the depot was scrapped, EWM had carried out extensive works to allow for an easterly entrance to the dump - taking account of the planned depot - and submitted a claim for $180,000 to compensate for the extra work.
The council and EWM later settled for $53,000. Alice Springs still does not have a comprehensive recycling facility.
A depot - for glass and cans - near the top of the entrance road has been in operation for some time, but since the closure of Simsmetal, these materials cannot be processed, and are currently being dumped at the tip face.
A new operator is in the throes of expanding that recycling depot, but Mr Davies says if the current illegal scavenging controversy continues, EWM's new "basic recycling" partner may well be getting cold feet.

Territory Labor Leader Maggie Hickey has introduced Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation into the NT Legislative Assembly.
Calling for CLP support for the Bill, Mrs Hickey says the legislation would "give every Territorian the opportunity to find out what information the government is keeping on them." She says: "We believe the public interest is served by promoting open discussion of public affairs, and the community should be kept informed of government's operations. Members of the community should have access to information held by government on their personal affairs."
Mrs Hickey acknowledges there will always be some bounds "with regard to disclosure of confidential information that would have the effect of being prejudicial on things like essential public interest or the private or business affairs of members of the community."
Freedom of Information legislation, she says "applies just about everywhere else in the country.
"Even those states that don't have it are moving in that direction. "Former Chief Minister, Marshall Perron, said he would introduce it, then backed away from that position, and certainly since Shane Stone's been in place I think the veil of secrecy has thickened."
For the average Territorian, Mrs Hickey says her new legislation, if passed, "would allow access to things such as medical records, information that police might be holding on them, and of course the sort of details that Labor has been seeking in regard to some police investigations.
"We finally got the information we wanted on one police inquiry from the Federal Government, yet Shane Stone said all hell would break loose if he didn't also get a copy of that information, but when we asked for the NT Police report into the same matter we were met with a blank ïno.' "Of course there's no FOI to compel either the Chief Minister or the department to release any information."
Mrs Hickey feels sure the government will oppose her legislation, "but if they do you've got to ask yourself what is it they've got to hide?"
The FOI legislation should come up for debate in the Assembly next General Business day, some time in October.

What police gain on the swings they frequently lose on the roundabouts in their fight against local crime, according to media spokesman, Sgt John Elferink.
"We push people away from one type of offence and they'll drift to another," he says.
Offences in the central business district dropped sharply when for two weeks in March, six Task Force officers from Darwin patrolled the area in tandem with six local officers. ANTI-SOCIAL But while there's been a decrease in "break and enters", anti-social behaviour is now on the rise.
Sgt Elferink says there is a rapid increase in petrol sniffing in Alice Springs, and associated with it many cases of interfering with motor vehicles, mainly their petrol caps and locks. Police are now focussing on catching the ringleaders.
Many of the offenders are juveniles who tend to congregate in groups in and around the town centre and the Todd River.
Sgt Elferink says that policing these juveniles requires a "multi-agency approach", with input from the judicial system, health organisations, welfare agencies and local community groups.
Meanwhile police numbers will be bolstered in July this year, following the induction of at least 16 local residents to a Police Auxiliary Training Course starting next month.
Several local police auxiliaries have recently resigned: 13 of the 20 local positions for auxiliaries are currently unfilled.
Sgt Elferink says auxiliaries perform a vital "non operational" role, from staffing the front office to communication and clerical duties.
Officers have had to be taken off the beat to do the work of auxiliaries who have left.
Alice Springs has 110 police positions and is currently seven constables under strength.
Acting Superintendent Mark Payne says: "Police in Alice Springs are looking forward to an increase in recruitment of local people.
"We're looking for Alice Springs people to join the force.
"Additional policing resources means more police on patrol and engaging in strategic operations directed at reducing anti-social behaviour," says Supt Payne.
The "establishment" number of police in Alice Springs per head of population is roughly three times the national average.

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