September 10, 1997

A new employment program for Aborigines is seeking to curb anti-social behaviour as Alice Springs two major alcohol abuse lobbies are heading for a showdown over grog sales restrictions.
The Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA), with a strong representation from the liquor industry, is opposed to restrictions and wants to solve the problems by offering jobs, education and a blanket enforcement of the two kilometre public drinking law.
The Peoples Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC), on the other hand, wants to ban bottle shop sales on Thursdays and Sundays, and front bar trading on Thursdays, and is lobbying the town council to become active in alcohol control measures.
Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron yesterday launched Employ Alice Springs, which the Liquor Licensees Association (LLA) says will be seeking to place at least 50 Aboriginal people in jobs.
Senator Herron and several other speakers addressed about 100 local business people at a breakfast. Paul Venturin, southern region chairman of the LLA, representing 11 liquor stores including supermarkets, told the Alice News last week he is "excited" about Employ Alice Springs as a measure far more viable than sales restrictions.
The initiative has been developed from a DASA proposal, he says. Mr Venturin, whose company owns the three Foodland stores in Alice Springs, says local liquor outlets have "really cleaned up their act" in the past two years.
"There is a moral obligation for us to look past our front door," says Mr Venturin. Although licensees have been branded as money grabbers and racists they have shown growing concern "about people abusing the product".
Most LLA members observe a limit of one wine cask per person per sale, and some prevent "third party sales". Mr Venturin says the two lobbies for liquor stores and pubs are now working closely together, and are both represented on DASA.
"Behind the scenes the licensees play a big part in DASA, on a consultative basis, always involved in promotions such a Drinksense or Lighten Up campaigns. "Barriers that once used to exist between hoteliers and supermarkets have been knocked down," he says.
"We try and solve the problem as a group rather than pointing the finger at each-other."
Mr Venturin says his Hearne Place store, across the road from the notorious Charles Creek public drinking area, is considered one of the town's two major sources of cask wine bought by Aborigines.
He says the experiment of opening bottle shops at noon instead of 10 am has "proved fruitless because it just shifted the problem to another time of the day".
He's adamant that the sales restrictions in Tennant Creek are a failure, leading to "bulk purchases on Wednesdays".
Mr Venturin says there's no need for the town council to become involved in the alcohol debate. "The part that frustrates us, and we're all ratepayers, is that we're just duplicating processes that have been in place for a long time.
"The council doesn't need to set up another forum of alcohol policy discussion. "We've had lengthy discussions with some 63 people, representing organisations around town, all involved with the DASA forum.
"We won't rest until we've placed 50 Aboriginal persons, some of whom are possibly tied up in the grog problem, in some form of employment. We're confident we are going to achieve that. "It's really the young we're talking about. There are horrendous stories out there, 15 year olds who have two kids under their arms already.
"The opportunities just don't exist for them to get a job." With education and support for the people likely to be entering the cycle of alcohol abuse, "we might be able to break that cycle".
He says his three stores employ 70 people: "Our first Aboriginal employee has just started with us. "Aborigines don't approach us for a job, and secondly, there's some kind of barrier that we put up ourselves."
But even with job schemes for non-Aboriginal people "our success rate is not very great, either," says Mr Venturin. He estimates the "hard core" drinkers causing most of the anti-social problems to consists of around 100 people.
Are they beyond redemption? "In my heart I hope not," says Mr Venturin, "but it seems they may be a lost cause. "They've probably been in that cycle for the last 10 to 15 years. It's very hard to break.
"If the town is looking to cleaning up its image, it's got to enforce the two kilometre law. "I can't be critical of the police. They have a very difficult job, based on the numbers in town.
"We don't have the police numbers. "Every time a police officer walks up to a group and pours out their drinks, there's some kind of aggression, a dangerous situation," says Mr Venturin.
"Maybe we need more community police officers, Aboriginal police officer programs, where they can specifically concentrate [on the two kilometre law]."
It prohibits drinking in public within two kilometres of any licensed premises, including clubs and restaurants. This means public drinking is illegal practically anywhere in the town area.
"I think DASA, the liquor licensees and and most people in general, really believe that enforcing the two kilometre is a key to cleaning up the town.
"We need to use our powers more forcefully. But the next question is, where do the drinkers go?" Mr Venturin says setting up drinking areas around town has been mooted.
"Obviously, these sites would have to be out of the view of the majority of the tourists who're visiting us.
You've seen the type of drinking around roadhouses. It's rather unattractive." He says DASA has also discussed the need for camping areas with ablution facilities for bush visitors, as well as coining slogans exhorting them to behave in town.

People expecting Employ Alice Springs to solve our anti-social behaviour problems may well be kidding themselves.
Three major Central Australian bush enterprises - including one that's tried very hard - have found it all but impossible to employ Aboriginal people from outside Alice Springs.
The Ayers Rock Resort Company (ARRC), 60 per cent owned by the NT Government, has 600 employees. According to ARRC human resources manager Glen Cameron, not a single one is from the Mutitjulu community, at the base of the Rock, just 20 km away.
Mutitjulu community advisor Jim Glover says some 70 per cent of the community's work force is unemployed.
Yet the ARRC staff is largely recruited from interstate, and many need to be paid relocation allowances.
The resort opened in 1984 and ARRC took over its management and part-ownership in 1992. Mr Glover says the reasons for the locals' lack of interest in working at Yulara are a lack of skills and the fact that the resort company exercises "a big control over the work force" and "rules them with a rod of iron".
He says a new report recommending a training and employment strategy is due for release this week. Mr Cameron says there appears to be no interest by people from Mutitjulu in working at the resort.
ARRC has no difficulty finding workers from the "skill base" available in the capital cities and some, locally.
The average time non-executive workers stay on the job is around 10 months.
Asked whether at least unskilled jobs, such as porters, gardeners, kitchen or laundry workers could be filled with local Aboriginal people, he said all work in a tourist resort has an element of customer public relations.
Etiquette and presentation are important. "They're often the first face a guest sees," says Mr Cameron. "They need to be well versed in customer service." Asked whether he considered Aboriginal people to be unsuitable for this type of work, he said race was "irrelevant".
ARRC has contributed $300,000 to a recently opened college for Aboriginal people, and provided land for it in the resort's industrial area for a "peppercorn rent", according to David White, the resort's deputy manager.
He says ARRC sees Aboriginal-owned enterprises such as Anangu Tours as the "vehicle for Aboriginal employment".
The situation is little different with two of the Centre's gold producers, the Granites and Tanami mines. Tanami Mine has an elaborate program of cross cultural workshops and even literacy and numeracy training on the mine 80 km from the WA border.
The mine required consent from the traditional owners, and the agreement with them stipulates that Aboriginal people are employed so far as it is economic and safe to do so.
Yet only 30 of the 240 workers there are Aboriginal, and most of them are from Alice Springs. At present, only two workers are from Lajamanu, 230 km to the north.
None are from Yuendumu, 360 km to the east, although the company is prepared to air lift workers from there for their two weeks on, one week off shifts, as it does from Alice Springs.
The Alice Springs based Aboriginal workers, especially those with previous cattle station experience, are said to be excellent all-rounders and the "best long term workers" on the mine, driving dump trucks and bulldozers, and working in gold processing, the laboratory and in administration.
There is a strict screening process for staff, including police checks and alcohol and drug analyses. Despite several enquiries the News has been unable to get details about the Granites gold mine, 260 km from Yuendumu.
We understand that only nine Aborigines are employed there. Tracker Tilmouth, director of the Central Land Council, says employment provisions "were written into all mining agreements signed by the CLC on behalf of traditional owners.
"Some companies have been slower than others to fulfil these clauses. "Basically the CLC encourages the use of Aboriginal contractors employing Aboriginal people wherever we can.
"Recent talks with the North Flinders Mining Company, who run the Granites mine, have been encouraging and we hope to see some positive developments in the near future," says Mr Tilmouth.

A new Arrarnta translation of the Bible, including for the first time not only the New Testament but extensive portions of the Old Testament, is soon to be launched by the Finke River Mission Board.
It comes at the end of a long line of translation effort by the Lutheran Church in Central Australia. Their first publication appeared in 1891, just 14 years after the first missionaries arrived in Hermannsburg (Ntharia).
The book was a collection of stories from the Old and New Testaments, psalms, hymns, occasional prayers and Luther's Small Catechism. Difficulty in translating concepts like "holy" and "Lord" was met with the use of Latin equivalents.
This first translation was expanded on by the Rev Carl Strehlow who also translated the entire New Testament. Parts of this were published in the mid to late 1920s.
"It is clear that these men were still struggling to learn the grammar of the language," says Pastor Paul Albrecht, who has headed the current translation project.
"While the translations as such left a great deal to be desired, one can but admire their effort and tenacity". Renowned linguist TGH Strehlow, son of Carl and who grew up speaking Arrarnta, provided the next translation of the New Testament, which was published in 1956.
It was marked by the use of diacritics - symbols such as dots and dashes under letters to indicate their correct pronunciation.
He incorporated many words and synonyms that were known only to the old people, in the hope that his translation would help preserve the richness of the Arrarnta language.
However, many of these words are now not known and haven't been for some time.
As well, Ted Strehlow, working at a time when translations of the Scriptures had to be word equivalent, forced the Arrarnta language into a Greek-English mould.
GREEK SOURCE He invented Arrarnta equivalents for Greek concepts and reproduced long Greek-style sentences, with many relative clauses.
These last two features of his work ultimately created the need for the new translation. Today, translation theory and practice has changed dramatically.
A translator now looks for a functional equivalent that is meaning-based. Pastor Albrecht gives the example of translating "a land flowing with milk and honey".
The word equivalent method might well convey something the Hebrew text never intended to say: "In Arrarnta," he says, "the words for milk and breast are identical,.
"So you can work out for yourself the pictures a land flowing with milk and honey would conjure up in the minds of Arrarnta readers and hearers!"
Another difficulty was encountered with Isaiah's vision in the temple: "Holy, holy, holy! / The Lord Almighty is holy! His glory fills the earth." Not the least of the problem was that Arrarnta has no word for "glory".
Finally, Dr John Kleinig, from Luther Seminary, suggested turning Isaiah's thought around, by saying that the whole earth is God's taboo place, a place of significance because of God's presence: "Alha ntjapara makamaka ekura nama." "I must admit," says Pastor Albrecht, "that the Arrarnta translation convey's Isaiah's meaning to me more meaningfully than the English."
Pastor Albrecht acknowledges the contribution of others to the translation project, among them the Arrarnta pastors, the late Nahassen Ung-kwanaka, Eli Rubuntja and Davey Ingkamala.
The Western Arrarnta Bible is published by The Bible Society in Australia.

Aboriginal people, mostly from Alice Springs, with a history of unemployment will be employed by the town council to construct concrete footpaths in suburban areas of Alice.
However, a man who ran a similar scheme 15 years ago has expressed reservations about the project's usefulness. Steve Strike, now a professional photographer, says very few of the trainees went on to steady jobs.
The new employment and training project, instigated by Alderman Geoff Harris, will be funded from the existing budget of $308,000 for construction of cycle tracks, footpaths and driveways throughout the town.
In the past this work has been carried out by a mixture of day labourers and contractors.
Under the new scheme $120,000 will be allocated to contractors, $88,000 to day labour and $100,000 to the Aboriginal Project.
"The idea is to provide not just employment in construction, a major industry in this town, but training as well," says Ald Harris.
"We want the training to be accredited by the Northern Territory Employment and Training Authority (NTETA), so it's not just ad hoc.
The trainees will actually go away with a certificate and a skill they can use in the future."
In the first year four people will be recruited.
"If we're successful we hope to continue and employ more," says Ald Harris, "with more organisations following suit. "The council is welcoming submissions from anyone interested in managing similar programs.
"Youth employment is one of the biggest problems in town, and this is a positive move to tackle it.
It is a start for the council to address bigger issues." The project has been advertised as a complete tender, as the council wants a contractor who can provide the training and get the work done.
"If no-one tenders for it we'll know it's not a good idea," says Ald Harris.
Among those already interested is Rod Alcock, of Construction Industry Skills Foundation Limited. He has been involved in lobbying for this project, and is passionate about improving training within the construction industry.
"For too long there has been a lot of ïMickey Mouse' training in this town, not just for Aborigines but for our youth in general," says Mr Alcock. "I have a lot of problems trying to get first year apprentices into the work force.
The kids just don't have the skills. "There is a lot of employment available here but it doesn't work if the training is not effective. "There are too many different bodies working against each other, too much conflict.
"More quality training is needed, but this is hard due to the limited market here.
"A lot of organisations are probably guilty of not giving enough support for programs such as these in the construction industry.
"A lot sit on the fence." Mr Alcock believes that more public commitment on such projects would vastly improve the situation.
"It's all very well for the councils and governments to say ïtrain, train, train,' but they have to put their hands in their pockets and invest.
Private companies would be able to afford the time if Shane Stone said: ïWe want a group of apprentices to build these two houses, here's the funding.'
"Hopefully this project will set the precedent by combining accredited training with a strong emphasis on its relevance to future employment. "There are too many people running around with certificates, which are of no use to employers. Hands-on experience is what counts.
"This project should concentrate on building self-esteem, which is the root of good training.
"There is a sense of pride when a trainee worker says to his mate: Hey I built that.' "He's learning and bringing in a wage at the same time," says Mr Alcock.
Mr Alcock believes that a properly run traineeship would have at least a 60 per cent employment rate at the end. However, the idea of hands-on construction training for Aboriginal people isn't new and the last time it was tried the employment rate fell way below that expectation.
Some 15 years ago the Federal Government funded work specifically to give Aborigines skills.
Mr Strike managed these crews. "Out of 200 or so who went through on the scheme - 30 at any given time - I know of only three or four who are employed now," says Mr Strike.
"I wouldn't say it wasn't worth the effort, there were some good fellas and it wasn't skill that caused problems. None of them had any trouble adapting.
"But many were not motivated because they were having to conform to a European work ethic when they would have preferred to follow a traditional life-style.
"Some would disappear and you'd never see them again. "It's difficult getting a contractor to train people who may very well bolt on you after two or three weeks."
HUGE GAP Mr Strike believes the council's intentions are good, but there is a huge gap between trying to help and what many Aboriginal people actually want.
"It appears there are some people on council who want to be seen to be doing the right thing by Aboriginal people because they are politically motivated and wear their heart on their sleeve.
"But, they are only taking on four trainees, which is really tokenism, and have any of these aldermen asked the Aborigines if they want to work for the council?"
Mr Alcock also says that, according to the NTETA records, only three Aborigines from remote communities in the NT have succeeded in becoming tradesmen in the last 10 years.
Yet millions are still being spent on the same training schemes. "Not many of them make it through," says Mr Alcock. "They have the work skills, but not the conflict resolution skills.
"In a real work environment there are always going to be disagreements, but often an Aboriginal employee will mistake criticism for racism. When there is conflict they don't usually come back the next day," Mr Alcock says. Despite past failures, there are high hopes that this project will instigate change and become, as Ald Harris says, "a relatively cheap and effective way for council to begin tackling underlying social and economic problems of the town."

Why do Alice's gardeners love living in this town? Alice News reporter GRETTA SCADDING spoke to people at Sunday's TALC Garden Fair and found that, overwhelmingly, they want to stay in Alice long-term and many love the idea of retiring here.
"I was struck by the vibrant atmosphere at the fair," says Gretta. "People young and old, grasping balloons and hot dogs, smiles everywhere radiating behind shiny green foliage...happiness abounded.
"What a stark contrast to the rather critical comments I had previously heard from backpackers and some of the young offenders in town." Bert Sutton, 78 and his wife Lil, 77 lived on Railway Terrace for 40 years.
They retired to Adelaide but now want to come back. "I wasn't born here", says Lil, "but I will always call Alice my home wherever I am.
"I remember coming here in 1942, on the train.
There were no sleepers and I was in a carriage with nine men.
I was a very naive, shy little girl then but I wasn't when I'd been here a while!"
Lil also prefers the kinder climate in Alice and finds the people much friendlier. "It's a pleasure to come here because there's no graffiti, which ruins Adelaide.
"And, of course we miss the oranges here, have you tasted them? They're the best grown oranges in the world, and of course fantastic grape-fruits."
This couple only left Alice twice, out of necessity rather than choice. "The first time," says Bert, "was because the army sent me down to Adelaide and the second, was because Lil had to see specialists due to women's problems.
There was no-one who could help her here." "The hospital was great, don't get me wrong", Lil added, "and the doctors were nice but they just didn't have the equipment."
Mary Morgan, 68 and Wal, 71 also adore Alice. They've been living here for 10 years, in the Gillen area.
"To be truthful I wouldn't have liked to have lived up here in my forties.
We lived near the beach and the mountains in Wollongong, and had a good life... hubby had a good job. "We moved here to be near our daughter who loved it after visiting and falling for a local lad."
Mary loves Alice for its lifestyle.: "There's so much going for it. We like the lack of traffic, the air, there's not much smog, the people, so friendly and helpful.
"The kids here are better behaved. We've lived opposite a school in both places. We got a lot more abuse in Wollongong. "The charities here are a pleasure to work for, you get to meet all the tourists.
We work at Adelaide House and the positive feed-back we get from visitors is so fulfilling. "They do so much for old people like us in Alice. There's the lovely retirement home out there, Old Timers'.
"We feel that if we need help and support, we just have to get in touch with the right people here and we'll be right." Ron Hunter, 39, and his family have lived in Alice for 20 years.
Ron emphasised the closeness of the community here: "I don't see Alice as isolated or boring at all. It has the benefits of developing from a small to a large town but you go to events here and you're bound to see plenty of people you know.
"Alice's geographical isolation only brings people closer together. It is hard for anyone to feel isolated with the way people are here. "There wouldn't be a town of the same size anywhere which can match the incredible social infrastructure in Alice."
Ron wasn't sure about retiring here: "However, I will say that a lot of people we know have thought it would be greener on the other side. They always end up wanting to come back. I do think it's natural to retire where your friends are."
People thought recreation and entertainment are more than adequate. Lil can't understand why the children here are bored: "They've got a lovely youth centre, there's plenty to do, if only they had the motivation to entertain themselves."
"Living standards have changed", says Bert. "I mean when I was at school, I was lucky to get myself a push-bike. Now they're all driving motor cars and they're still bored.
"It's not the town that's at fault. These kids would be bored anywhere." Mary agrees: "Of course there's stuff to do for everyone here. Lifestyles are just different.
In our day we'd just pack our lunch, and go across the paddocks black berrying and rabbiting. Kids aren't motivated to do that now. "A lot of the kids now, unless you're spending money on them, they're not happy.
"Their imaginations have gone to be replaced by material wants which are only a superficial stimulus. "There are a lot more pressures on kids now though, with drugs especially.
We're happy the age we are. "On the other hand we know a lot of kids who were born here and wouldn't live anywhere else." I spoke to Luke Gardiner, 13 who has lived in Alice all his life and only wants to leave when he's older out of necessity: "You can't make it big here.
I want to join the legal profession but once I've made it down south I'll be back.
"There's plenty to do. There's a lot of good hills to go mountain-biking on, and there's cinemas and Imparja." Mary and Wal have too much recreational choice for their own good: "Look," said Mary. "Sometimes we've got three or four things to go to at week-ends and we don't know which way to go.
"The Country Music Club, barbecues which are an all year round novelty here because of the spectacular weather. I don't mind the heat. "I prefer air-conditioned air to cold air!" Sonya Oldfield, 35 and Paul Donahue, 26 moved from Yulara six months ago because they needed to send their children to school.
They are much happier here where there is far more to do. "It's a great place for kids to scramble around in the bush", says Sonya. "There's plenty of space here for them , you know where they are, it's safe compared to a city, for sure."
"It's like any place," said Paul, "it's what you make it. You make a good band of friends and you can have a good time anywhere." However, Paul and Sonya don't think they'll retire here.
"We'd retire somewhere that's greener, where you can go fishing, just more water around in general. "This is a great rough and ready place if you are young, but we'd want a bit more comfort and luxury in our old age."
I asked what they would wish for if a fairy offered to make Alice perfect with a wave of her magic wand. The main thing missed was fishing. It was thrown at me by every man I spoke to.
Said Bert: "I like to do a bit of fishing you know, and you can't fish in the Todd, the water's not there long enough. You have to go on a bit of a trek to do it."
Lil was disappointed by her first return to Alice after leaving: "All the lovely old buildings are gone and Todd street has changed. The heritage hasn't been fully protected."
"They should have left it as it was," said Bert, "and built a huge concrete jungle through the Gap somewhere rather than the modern sprawl ruining the Centre.
"Everything was rough and ready before but we enjoyed it that way. When I first came here we had to go into town every day to pick up our meat because there were no refrigerators in those days.
"It took you all day to do your shopping because you knew everybody in town, you'd stop every five minutes for a natter. "The atmosphere has changed in that respect, but it's still more intimate than any other town I've been to."
Mary said she is sick of hearing people knocking Alice. She wishes Alice wasn't so undervalued in the tourism market for the sake of visitors and locals. "We have so many people coming into Adelaide House and they get so disappointed.
They've got to fix this up. Quite a few of the tour operators down South are not selling Alice enough. "They spend four or five days at the Rock and a day in Alice.
The visitors get so angry when they find out there's so much to see in Alice.They miss out on everything. "A lady came in who had been booked in at Yulara for 5 days.
Two days later she was bored to death and came to Alice independently. She couldn't believe she had to leave the next day when there was so much to see.
"The Government should stop concentrating on filling the beds at Ayers Rock." Sonya and Paul said Alice would be better if they weren't constantly asked for money and cigarettes when walking down the mall.
"There's lots of drunken and abusive people all the time", said Sonya. "The two kilomete drink ban law that is already in place should be enforced to eradicate the drinking problem in the streets and make it a more pleasant town," added Paul.
Ron said the best present the town could get was a resolution to the alcohol-related social issues and employment. Paul also said that a dam would bring the population age down a bit , because such sports as water-skiing would be available.
"Of course we miss the coast", said Paul, "but if you live in the Centre you can have great coastal holidays. If you live on the coast you've got nowhere to go on holiday!"
Luke thought Alice would be better with extended building of the mall, particularly more shopping centres. It seems that there are locals out there who can't get enough of Alice.

Centralians keen to take a walk on the wild side wing their way to Birdsville for the nation's best-known bush racing event on the first Saturday each September.
After a two hour flight across the Simpson Desert the drought comes to a rapid end as they head for the famous pub - conveniently right alongside the air strip - or the race track bar: on race week-end, a semi trailer load or two of beer is consumed.
You can't blame the locals for that, all 100 of them, including kids: they're flat out looking after some 5000 visitors, and raising around $50,000 for the local hospital and the Flying Doctor.
About 1000 people come by light to medium size aircraft, making the uncontrolled strip busier than Tullamarine and Kingsford Smith put together.
The planes double as accommodation, with the pub booked out on race days for the next 100 years, according to locals. Although the races started in 1882 and have been run annually, except for war years, for many they're just an excuse for having one too many, sleeping in the swag, taking the four wheel drives into the outback.
RUDE T-SHIRTS Over the past years the patrons have slipped into higher age brackets, as if they've resolved to go to Birdsville, buy a rude T-shirt and fight their way through the dust to the bookies as something they've got to do before meeting their maker.
Considering the hundreds of thousands of cans consumed, there is very little trouble. Late on Saturday a streaker darted across the main street to the pub where a lively two-up game was in progress, and several hundred patrons sat on the footpath under the oft-photographed verandah. Half a dozen Queensland coppers looked on impassively.
Fighting is positively encouraged with Fred Brophy's famous travelling boxing troupe, taking on all-comers. Fred, who modestly describes himself as the fairest boxing umpire in Australia (if not the world), has developed skills well beyond those of a referee: he combines the qualifications of a promoter, alcohol counsellor and mediator with those of an unerring crowd controller.
Fred's troupe is the last travelling boxing show in Australia, popular in the Outback but banned in NSW and Victoria.
Pensami won the Cup won by half a head, and the honour couldn't have gone to a more deserving owner: David Brook, the local - well - everything, including businessman, pastoralist and pilot, has been the secretary of the racing club for nearly a quarter of a century.
In his and Nell's sprawling home, dozens of guests from all corners of the nation congregate for the weekend, while David looks after most chores related to the meeting, including running the Calcutta and providing neckties for mates wanting to go to the ball.
Pensami's trainer is George Dawson, from Strathalbyn near Adelaide, who had six winners in 17 years and was unplaced only once in that time.
David's explanation for Pensami's win: "He likes Birdsville." So do most who go there on race weekend - whether just once in their lifetime, or every year.


A blue-eyed redhead talks about being Aboriginal. She describes the disbelief of black and white alike when she asserts herself as an Aborigine.
A light-skinned but clearly Aboriginal woman talks from a great well of sadness about returning to her mother's country.
These are the first images of Apekathe (Fair skinned), a half-hour television documentary produced by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, one of a series of five programs for the National Indigenous Documentary Fund.
The first images introduce the two story tellers, Priscilla (Cilla) Collins and Maureen McGregor. It is not obvious how Maureen fits into the theme declared so clearly by Cilla and by the title, until we meet her children.
The offspring of Maureen and her husband Steven, also an Aborigine of mixed descent and who directed and wrote this moving, entertaining and beautifully shot documentary, are two fair-skinned little girls with great mops of red hair.
Their appearance ("Their hair must have come from the McGregor side!") is a source of amazement to Maureen but, like Cilla, she believes that being Aboriginal is ultimately all about a sense of who your family is, not about skin colour.
However neither woman sweeps colour under the carpet, as it so often is, albeit with the best of intentions, by anti-racist sentiment.
Apekathe is disarmingly frank in talking about colour as important in people's perception of themselves and of others.
The end result on the screen is an uplifting assertion of identity but perhaps for fair-skinned Aborigines this is more possible in Central Australia, where so many Aboriginal people of full descent have survived, compared to other areas of Australia and in particular Tasmania. Cilla's family on her mother's side are descended from the union of an Arltunga miner, William Smith, and an Arabana woman born in Oodnadatta, Topsy.
Cilla's father, who appears at the family reunion in the film, is a white Australian. Cilla grew up in Alice Springs, among a large extended family presided over by her grandmother.
She says she has never met her father's family and that her strong sense of Aboriginality is derived from the family that "stuck by me". One can safely say that Cilla is an extrovert: she has strong screen presence and her "gift of the gab", particularly the commentary she provides on her marriage to Allan Collins (incidentally the cinematographer for Apekathe), supplies many of the humorous moments in the film.
Maureen has a quieter personality but, in a case of "still waters run deep", endows the film with an almost haunting sadness and great tenderness.
She was born in the Daly River area, lost her mother at a young age and spent some years on a mission before being fostered by the McTaggart family.
She speaks of them with great fondness, and her foster father appears with her in one scene of the film.
Yet this fortunate happy experience does not mean that she doesn't feel and express a great sense of loss in relation to her family of origin.
The beauty of the riverine landscape and the powerful emotions of Maureen, Steven and their children as they are reunited with her Aboriginal family make the Daly River sequences the most striking of the film. Apekathe goes to air on ABC television on October 2 at 8.30pm.

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