September 24, 1997

NT Tourist Commission bureaus selling direct to the public in AustraliaÍs capital cities may soon be on the agenda again as the commission is looking at ways of converting the wide-spread "awareness" of the Territory, into actual bookings.
The sales offices were closed in 1992 in a controversial move following the Kennedy Report. Commission deputy managing director Peter Nuttall says there are no firm plans at the moment for reopening the bureaus, but tourist operators - especially in Darwin - have said "they would like to see it happen". He says such a move would take a decision at the top level, by the commissionÍs board with approval from the Minister.
There has been a gradual revival of the commissionÍs direct contact with the customer since earlier this year this year, going beyond a mere advisory function.
The commission, through its Alice-based holiday centre, now takes and confirms bookings for a range of travellerÍs needs, from air travel to accommodation and tours, "consumer" functions which had been suspended in the wake of the Kennedy Report. The Alice holiday centre, serving the entire Territory, then channels the administrative functions through travel agents. "We're taking bookings direct from the public and then referring the clients to travel agents for payment," says Mr Nuttall.
He says it's a great advantage for intending travellers to get details from a Territorian - even if the paper work is done by an agent closer to the person making the enquiry. Mr Nuttall says the "Alice in Wonderland" press campaign has already netted 100 firm bookings in its first week. He says the commission's next objective will be to build up the "shoulder" and off-peak parts of the season in Central Australia.
Meanwhile police are investigating a suspected arson attack on a "bush restaurant" operated by tourism industry identity Pat Brennan near Jesse Gap. Fire destroyed a brush shelter and damaged tables and benches. Mr Brennan says the damage amounted to $13,000, but the shelter has now been rebuilt, allowing a resumption of trade.


Long-term unemployment isn't fixed by providing jobs alone, says Carmel Williams, senior case manager with Centapact, a program of Centacare NT, an employment support agency funded by the Commonwealth.
"Forcing people who are not ready for employment into a job can be disastrous. It can be seen as just another failure in their life history and they don't need any more failures. "We have to ensure they are job ready by working from the inside outwards, resolving the deeper issues, otherwise having jobs available has no effect," says Mrs Williams.
She gave the News two fictional "case studies" typical of the clients she deals with.
While Aboriginal people experience some difficulties in relation to employment that are specific to their history and cultural background, Mrs Williams says the kinds of problems "Linda" and "Henry" present with can cross all cultural boundaries.
Linda is a middle-aged woman and a sole parent with four children. She had learning difficulties at school and wasn't able to achieve the minimum standard.
She's had little work experience since she left school. She came to Centapact completely lacking in confidence. She'd become pregnant at a very young age, and has been in a series of relationships that have been abusive.
She's been beaten and hospitalised on a number of occasions. Throughout this she encouraged her children stay at school. Three of them have achieved a minimum standard of education, but, although they are young, they are already also considered to be long-term unemployed.
Linda's got no transport and she rarely manages financially to stay in the accommodation that she has.
She's thought of suicide quite a lot in the past and often finds it hard just leaving her house.
After some time, once trust has been established, Linda tells Mrs Williams (whom she would know, of course, by her first name) about the violent and abusive experiences that she had in childhood.
After some professional counselling and consistent moral support and respect for her, Linda gains enough confidence to go out and get unskilled part-time work.
She's kept that work for several months now and her self-confidence has dramatically improved. One of her older children has also become a client with Centapact and Mrs Williams has some strong leads on a traineeship for that young person.
"So Linda and her family have some hope," says Mrs Williams. "If we had ignored the deeper issues in her situation and focused only on getting her a job, it might have been another failure for her to cope with. "It could have set back by months the whole process of her moving forward in her life. "So there's the importance of looking at the wider picture - it's not purely a question of supplying her with a job."
Centapact works to improve each client's situation to a point where they're confident enough to be able to cope with life: "It's a long way away for some people," says Mrs Williams.
Henry came to Centapact as a middle- aged man in obvious poor health. He's homeless, English is his second language. He has little or no schooling, has never worked and drinks every day.
He doesn't care for himself at all and doesn't eat regularly. In fact he's quite emaciated. He tells Mrs Williams how unhappy he is about his life; he has seen several of his family members die.
He feels responsible for one death which was pretty close to him. He says he drinks to forget and he sometimes wishes he were dead. He admits he's often violent when he's drinking and he gets into fights very easily.
He is issued a summons to appear in court. He has problems remembering the date and time and he doesn't understand the letter. He fails to appear in court; a warrant then goes out for his arrest and so a cycle sets in.
In further sessions with Mrs Williams he reveals that he had a violent father and talks about many violent incidents in his past that he just can't forget.
Of all Henry's problems he has decided to deal with his drinking first. Since his association with Centapact began he has twice taken himself to a dry-out place and stopped drinking for a number of weeks.
"He still remains very vulnerable but this is a very positive sign," says Mrs Williams. "The process of change with Henry will be slow, and will be fraught with pitfalls.
"There aren't any quick fixes to address his issues. "If you gave him a clean set of clothes and a job tomorrow it would simply not assist him to make his life better. "His drinking is one of many problems and is symptomatic of deeper and wider issues. "So to take the one problem and pretend that is the only issue with that person is not to do the person justice."
Some of Mrs Williams' clients come to Centapact voluntarily, others are referred by the Department of Social Security as a result of being unemployed for a certain amount of time.
Most of them have, like Linda and Henry, a combination of at least four or five barriers to them getting employment. For Aboriginal people there are also the inter-generational effects of dispossession, only now being brought to light.
A lot of Aboriginal clients have expressed fear of non-Aboriginal people. "Of course, why should they have a lot of trust in what Western people do when they have experienced a long history of Western people interrupting and disturbing their lives in major ways?" asks Mrs Williams.
"Several clients said they had to leave their jobs because of racism and some find it too hurtful to talk about such experiences." So, does she think that employment programs simply structured to get Aboriginal people off the dole are pointless?
"If those employment programs were to take into account the wider issues I've talked about, then they could be very good and positive. "But often, not enough resources, depth of understanding, and respect for individual circumstances results in band-aid solutions rather than long-term solutions," says Mrs Williams.
Centapact never forces anyone into anything: "It has to come from the client. "The unemployed feel powerless already and we don't want to take any more power away from them. "You want them to feel they are determining their own direction. It makes them feel they have control coming back into their lives. "The act of decision-making in itself is positive."
What does Mrs Williams see as the solution for long-term unemployment?
"Essentially, and this is the reason I agreed to this interview, we must promote a greater understanding of the deep physical and psychological scars which the long-term unemployed suffer.
"We need to treat these problems from the source, not just symptomatically. "That means dollars spent in education. It is so important to give children a good start in life.
"We need to assist families to be well, health education is crucially important for mental well-being. Adequate housing, good clean water, this is still a real issue for a lot of Aboriginal people.
"Then we need to get more community based funding of special programs that have been proven to work. "In my experience, employment projects which cover at least six months and are based on group dynamics and support are more successful.
"This gives the time for relationships and a mutual trust and respect to develop. "Rapport is so important in overcoming barriers. Go into their environment.
"I often do this, go into the bush to the river beds, they begin to trust me and know I respect them." Rather than money being given to employers, in Mrs Williams' view it is better to give it to experienced people who are qualified to deal with the core issues.
She admires, for instance, the work that the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) does: "What they do works because they concentrate on the gradual development of the individual.
This develops skills and self-esteem," she says. She says that 90 per cent of the long term unemployed have poor self-esteem, but it is not a cause, rather a result of many things which need to be dealt with.
According to Mrs Williams, training needs to start with an interest or passion, followed by the introduction of practical work skills: "This always has a more positive outcome.
"The problem here is so many young kids don't have goals or dreams. Life just happens.
"Getting them enthusiastic about something unlocks the persistence, drive and determination needed to work.
"Initially, training needs to be given outside of the work environment, which then needs to be introduced slowly so that the individual is absolutely sure of what they need to do.
"It's often not cheap to do a program like that, but if anyone added up the cost to the community, to the environment, to individual people of not addressing the deeper issues, that cost far outweighs the immediate burden.
"We all need to work together. This is often very difficult. "Departments and organisations can assist each other in joint pilot programs. "It's true there are a lack of resources but if we were all heard as one voice, governments would have to address the issues of funding.
"Politics focuses on independent areas such as health and education.
"Unfortunately we don't have the leadership to see that these areas all interconnect, so what is saved in one area is picked up in another. "For example, long-term counselling is often not available due to the expense, but it is something all organisations need to work with.
"The most valuable employment assistance, in my view, is to direct resources to those who are doing creative, ground breaking work trying to get people into valuable, meaningful work, such as the case-managing projects at, say, Tangentyere Council and the agency where I work, Centapact."
Mrs Williams says employers generally don't look at the bigger picture: "Just look at the high staff turn-over in Alice Springs. It's huge. "Employers are battling to constantly train people whereas another option would be employ people who are stable and long-term residents. "They haven't got time to get the long-term unemployed into a state where they are stable.
They think short-term, but they could benefit from thinking long-term. "Once again, I am sure if they added up the cost of this continuous training of people who come and go, they would realise they could do better to focus on a six month introductory program, from which in the end they would reap the benefits.
"The only cost would be in training, and assigning a buddy amongst the staff to work alongside the new worker, until they start to feel comfortable and confident about the work they're doing.
"Spending more money on improving self-esteem through employment programs which coordinate counsellors, case-managers and educators as well as skill trainers, will diminish the costs involved in alleviating dysfunction."


Controversial American Bishop Jack Spong, in Alice Springs recently, characteristically threw out some challenges to his mixed denomination audience.
He urged people to read the Bible "through Jewish eyes".
Many of the stories should not be taken literally, as they were not meant to be.
"Literal interpretation of the bible," he says, "has been used to justify slavery, ban textbooks, deny the rights of homosexuals, subordinate women and justify war and revenge."
I wanted a local perspective on this man from New Jersey. I asked an Anglican, Catholic, a Baptist, a Lutheran and a true fundamentalist, a member of the Pentecostal Potters House Fellowship, what they thought.
Anglican Deacon Milton Blanche said: "I think his presentation is challenging, refreshing and enlightening. "He pulled away a lot of the myth and covers that have built up as part of the Christian fabric. "Listening to him, you cannot but believe that there must be room within Christianity for people who are homosexual. "He certainly has affected the congregation and perhaps the tone of our sermons.
"Alice doesn't have a lot of exposure to theologians with international standing.
"It is the perfect place though for someone like him to speak. It's so cosmopolitan, with people drawn form all over Australia, and a large European community.
"It is more open to new approaches, it does not have the built in rigidity and conformity that a lot of churches elsewhere have.
"To have a person like this..well it certainly bought a smile to my face." Catholic Sister Kay O'Neill was also sympathetic to Bishop Spong's views: "I was very impressed with the man. He challenged us all.
"There is nothing in the Bible which instructs that women or homosexuals cannot be ordained.
There is no way we can take the Bible literally anyway. We should treat it as a story which conveys a moral message. If taken literally it doesn't make sense.
It contradicts itself. "As Bishop Spong pointed out, in Deuteronomy, it instructs that if children back-answer their parents they should be executed. "Not many would call this the spirit of the Christian message of love. "But, according to the fundamentalists we should take that part literally too.
"Also, Galations mentions that we are neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, we are all one in Christ. "While this is ignored, other parts of the Bible taken literally have allowed evils to exist such as male patriarchal tradition, persecution of minorities, and slavery.
"Warring parties in Ireland, the Lebanon and India and Pakistan rely on the Bible as their weapon."
Chris Marshall, a Baptist said: "Bishop Spong is an important biblical scholar. His views are very stimulating, though some of his conclusions are questionable from a biblical perspective. "He defines God in such abstract terms, that you can do and believe anything you want.
It's very wishy washy. "I would find it hard on his terms to build up a personal intimate relationship with God.
"I would have some difficulty in accepting the ordination of homosexuals, though the Bishop was right in saying the Church's attitude towards them at times is far too oppressive.
"Alice Springs is a very exciting place to live, all sorts of interesting people come here, whilst missing out towns ten times its size. "It was Bishop Spong's wife who insisted on him coming here.
Because she wanted to see the Centre so badly she gave the locals the opportunity to hear him speak." Basil Schild, a Lutheran pastor, said: "Bishop Spong asks the hard questions, but these are the same questions the Church must ask if it is serious about communicating with the post-modern world.
The answers we give may be different , but the questions must be heard." Richard Tozer, a pastor at Potters House Fellowship, was far from admiring the Bishop: "We believe the exact opposite of Bishop Spong. As Pentecostals we believe the exact words of the Bible.
This does not mean we are crazy and are going to go off in a spaceship or anything." He says he believes the bible is "literally" God's words and that God's "moral laws are unchanged". He also believes in literal miracles and the literal parting of the Red Sea: "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for instance make no bones about the fact that the miracles they, saw, they literally saw.
"As for his ordaining practising homosexuals, it is blatantly wrong in God's eyes," says Pastor Tozer. "Therefore we should not embrace their ordination.
"Still, this is something that Jesus predicted. This would happen just before He returns. "We have ex-homosexuals in our churches. I pointed out to them God's Words on this subject. "They repented and turned away from it. I care for these people. I don't want them to spend eternity away from God."
Pastor Tozer says he doesn't believe it is God's "initial plan that women should lead from the pulpit.
"However, I know of women with good and loyal hearts who are doing so."
Pastor Tozer says he's "not convinced Bishop Spong knows Jesus Christ, or God, for that matter. "If you follow [Bishop Spong's] teachings you'll end up in a pickle and the bible becomes a heap of tripe."

What standard of literacy do employers in Alice Springs expect and what do they get? As many jobs here rely on customer contact skills, particularly within the tourism and hospitality industry, a high level of literacy is demanded.
The general feeling among most employers who spoke to the Alice News was that literacy levels, particularly spelling, had dropped during the last 10 years.
They were also disappointed to have so few Aborigines among their staff, but said that there are very few even applying for jobs.
Karen Davis from the Plaza Hotel said: "Basically, a high level of literacy is required here, as we rely on effective communication with our guests.
"Even the back of house staff need to have a high level of skill in this area. However, we don't discriminate, we do help people with problems, and simply let the rest of the staff know that there may be some communication problems.
"But illiterate people usually don't have the confidence to approach us in the first place." Len McKay from Qantas agreed: "First impressions count here, all communication in whatever form must be accurate."
Employers didn't have much experience of dealing with completely illiterate people. Robyn Piltz, from the recruitment agency Workzone, said: "I have managed this place for six years and I would say only two people indicated that they had any real trouble with filling in the application form."
However, younger people were more prone to making spelling errors. Said Mrs Piltz: "The age-group that has the most problems with spelling on forms was the 20-25 age group, though the other day I had one 50-year-old woman who couldn't spell plumber'."
Mr McKay also noted the age factor in spelling correctly: "The younger ones lack attention to detail and I find they often leave off the ends of words, for example, ther' instead of there'.
"It's more laziness rather than a lack of spelling skills." Ray Martin, customer service manager for the local ANZ Bank, finds that applicants who have just left school lodge application forms which are often grammatically inaccurate.
Terry Sutton, from Sutton Motors, thinks basic literacy levels have dropped in the last 10 to 15 years. Tony O'Brien, from MSS Security, commented that of course the older workers are more literate, having spent more time in the world.
Many companies in Alice use literacy tests in order to screen and select the best employees. Said Mr McKay: "This has to be done because the employee has to be able to read some very exacting regulations, for example in the reservation system. "If they fail the literacy test, the applicant won't even get to first base.
"It is not just about putting out a CV." The ANZ's Mr Martin explained the rigorous literacy test the bank requires its job applicants to undergo: "It entails audio, video, arithmetic test, addition skills and attention skills. "The assessments are all precisely evaluated on a computer system. "The sit-down test is 90 minutes long with 40 questions. "It is assessed at Human Resources, Adelaide, and then comes back rating the person's strengths and weaknesses, and in particular their written skills.
"You cannot officially fail the test but the best performers are selected. "The standard of some applications is fairly low," he said "Less than 20 per cent won't go further than application stage.
"We look for stability, we have to have long-term commitment that's why the test is so rigorous." In Mr Martin's experience, Alice Springs has a higher proportion of literate job applicants.
During his time with a branch of the bank in Darwin, well over half, if not 60 per cent of applications were "lower than we would expect to proceed with assessment."
Mr McKay said he's disheartened that only one Aboriginal person is working with Qantas in Alice Springs, and only two in Darwin. "We don't discriminate.
This company promotes equal opportunities, but still the percentage of Aboriginal employees is too low. "It is not a question of being Aboriginal.
It seems to me that many Aborigines aren't making first base because so many don't go to school to get the literacy skills." TRUANCY In Mr McKay's view, there is a different attitude towards truancy committed by Aboriginal children.
"If non-Aboriginal parents don't send their kids to school, the authorities get onto them, but if the child is Aboriginal the attitude is, he or she's gone walkabout, don't worry about it. This is too often the easy way out.
"You see them slouching around the mall and the riverbeds, wasting time. "Many are not comfortable at school - well, that's because education starts in the home.
Home-tutoring is a natural part of our family structure.They are not getting the start in life they need." Mr Sutton was surprised to discover that at his son's school a social studies teacher was correcting students' spelling while the English teacher didn't bother: "They were more concerned with the imagination "As long as they have used the right word, such as 'nite' instead of 'night', it is OK to write it as it sounds, as you pronounce it."
Mr Sutton said that literacy standards among his employees can be "pretty poor, even amongst clerical staff. "The main problems seem to be understanding English, pronouncing it, use of capital letters and how to write them.
"I always find incorrect spelling on the job cards, but the main thing we look for is the ability to pick up the concept of a small business.
"We need people who can work together, use their nuts and work on their own. "There is not so much time to do things properly now. "In some companies, general education and common sense are more important than grammatical correctness."

Following the launch of Employ Alice Springs, seeking, as a way to curb anti-social behaviour, to create 50 positions for Aboriginal people in local private enterprise, the Alice News assigned reporter GRETTA SCADDING to talk to Aboriginal people already working in private enterprise.
Last week she spoke to Paul Ah Chee, manager of the Aboriginal Arts and Culture Centre, a family-owned gallery in Todd Street, and employees Stephen Forester and Daryl Armstrong.
The key to a successful work environment, for employer and employees alike, has been job satisfaction and participating in shared goals for this small but thriving business.
Beth Turner by contrast works for a major corporation. At 41, she has been employed by Qantas in the Customer Services Department for 17 years.
She applied for the job just like everybody else, with a formal application form and interview. "I went to university in Adelaide. Getting a job like this demands a reasonable standard of education and one of the most important qualities is presentation and how you come across."
When I mentioned that few Aboriginal people work in the private sector Beth remarked: "Job availability isn't the problem. There is a lack in the attitudes behind black and white education.
"We're all victims of society's problems. We have to educate people. The differences between us all have to be accepted and appreciated. "Getting employment, or even wanting it, is all about self-esteem which starts at school. Kids aren't getting that essential confidence and pride from the beginning, whether from their school or their parents who perhaps can't teach it to them.
"It's all a matter of how you feel about yourself. I have never suffered any racism or prejudice from my colleagues. There was no reason for me to feel intimidated. "It is a matter of both Aboriginals and White Australians being educated in how to create self-esteem as a way of knocking down the barriers."
That essential confidence is something Chris Forbes gained as soon as he started work at Matilda's Amusement Centre in Gregory Terrace. He has worked here for two months, serving customers and cleaning up after them.
"I prefer to work than to be on welfare," he said. "It's the best job I've had. I worked for Arrernte Council before but I prefer working here. You meet a lot of people and I'm my own boss really.
I have more responsibility than I had there." Chris commented that Lynne Whale is the best boss he has worked for, and that he never experiences any racism problems at work.
"But I think the reason so few Aboriginals work in small business or private industry is because there is a lot of racism involved. "Many employers don't trust us, and we can sense this. There is fear of racist employers, so many of my mates don't like to work unless it's Aboriginal run.
"There is a lot of racism in this town. I suffered from racist name-callings when I was walking around. I felt low about myself before I started work here."
Chris believes that to get more Aboriginals involved in the private sector requires there to be more Aboriginal-run businesses, which are less intimidating.
Chris is the first Aboriginal person Lynne Whale has employed: "I am absolutely impressed with him. We have to go away later this year and Chris will be running the show, that's how much we trust him.
"I didn't employ him because he was black or white. I employed him because he's not afraid of hard work. He's reliable and honest. "I had a couple of white kids working here before him.
Both were problems. One was stealing from the till, and I had to get rid of the other one because of drugs." Lynne believes that employers make too many automatic assumptions: "A lot of employers have plenty of whites steal off them, but just don't realise it. More employers out there should give young Aboriginal kids a go, there's an awful lot of kids out there who want to work.
RESPONSIBILITY "If more of them were given a position of trust and responsibility at a young age there would be fewer problems in this town."
Paul Ah Chee also believes that employment is the way to solve social ills as long as it is carefully researched to suit individual employees: "These private companies [responding to the Employ Alice Sprigs initiative] will have access to funding but they need to find people to match the job.
"I think that out of those 50 prospective employees, around 10 per cent will stay for 12 months. "A lot of them are put under pressure as unemployed to do something they don't want to do.
They end up doing it because they don't know how to say ïno'. "When it doesn't suit them it reflects back on everybody, not just themselves but Aboriginal people in general.
"There needs to be more careful screening but the problem with commercial business is you can't wait three weeks to look for the right person, you need someone now." Paul says restriction of alcohol sales has to go hand in hand with employment programs: "Both need to be worked on. As far as I'm concerned there's far too many outlets selling alcohol. I think it's too readily available.
"If it's not available at all, I have to resign myself to not getting it until tomorrow.
This is crucial in attempting to relinquish the alcohol [habit]." Although Paul would like to be more optimistic about Employ Alice Springs, he does remain pessimistic: "I believe education is the key to making the transition easier from Aboriginals in their community to their dealing with work ethics.
"We need courses that are appropriate and relevant to Aboriginal people and what they want to do. "Then look at placing them in the work-force in areas that they feel comfortable in."

The Pioneer Football Club celebrated their 26th A Grade Premiership in 50 years of CAFL competition when they demolished Wests at Traeger Park last Sunday.
The Eagles ran out winners 23.15 (153) to the Bloods 8.7 (55). To add icing to the cake, the Pioneer Reserve Grade and Under 18 sides set the stage for the League team by also accounting for West in those divisions.
In the Reserves the Eagles scored 8.9 (57) to Wests 5.7 (37); in the Colts the Eagles assured the club's future by kicking 13.17 (95) to Wests 3.6 (24).
The League match was always seen as being the undefeated Pioneers' title, but the way in which they went about this win was the real achievement.
Lachlan Ross who has often played below his full capability since his return from Essendon, took control of the game in the first quarter.
He sensed that if the Eagles had an "Achilles heel" it was with the young players facing grand final football.
Ross, in true captain's style, took the game by the horns in the opening stanza and from the half forward flank set up opportunities for the Pioneer forward line that ensured scores on the board, but also settled the team into a pattern of play focussed upon possession and effective delivery.
This enabled Fred Campbell and Shaun Angeles to blossom as the game progressed.
Campbell went on to win the Everingham Medal for Best Player afield, but he was well supported by a host of Eagles.
Craig Turner, who has shown this year that he has a future beyond the CAFL, dominated in the air. Terry Duckford booted six goals and set up countless opportunities for team mates.
Steven Briston bagged four goals and found open spaces in the forward line as he pleased.
Many of these attacks were instigated from the back line where Trevor Dhu and Bradley Perris set their lines up like juggernauts, as they propelled any West assault back their way.
By quarter time Pioneer had a 27 point lead, which extended to 10.5 (65) to 3.6 (24) at the major break.
While Pioneer were purposeful, West spent the half chasing their opposition.
It seemed as though they were overwhelmed by the occasion.
Jason Bertrand won plenty of knocks only to see the Bloods' crumb-getters missing.
Uncharacteristically Rory Chapple had a quiet day, Steve Lowe was eclipsed, and the small man duties were shouldered by Aaron Mitchell and Grant Connelly.
It was hoped that West could bring themselves back into the game in the third quarter but it was not to be.
Pioneer heeded coaching advice and continued to make the ball their sole objective.
They kicked eight goals to two for the session and put the game beyond doubt. Then in going to the line 98 point winners the Eagles outscored Wests, five goals to three in the last quarter.
For Pioneer the future seems to be nothing short of roses.
They have a host of young players coming through the grades, and several of those playing A Grade should be focussed upon AFL aspirations. Particular credit for this achievement must go to Lance White and Roy Arbon.
These co-coaches understand their players.
They have created an atmosphere both on and off the field that is conducive to success at the highest possible level, and hopefully the fruits of their labour will be realised by up and coming Eagles.

KIERAN FINNANE reviews the controversial Sugarman project

The teaching and healing propositions of the Sugarman project crystallised in the riveting final performance of this ambitious mini-festival of arts and ideas, held at Araluen over four weeks ending September 14.
The project, involving visual arts, music, theatre, workshops, talks, discussions and readings, centred on an inventive retelling of one of Western civilisation's great foundation stories, the myth of Dionysis.
The final episode reiterated the fundamental importance of people being able to tell their stories, those stories being listened to and their meaning recognised.
The Dionysis story is vast in its scope and extraordinary in its detail.
People who saw the preceding week's performance, which focussed on Dionysis' years of travels, his descent into alcoholic excess and madness, had a taste of this.
The final performance returned to the beginning and, as in most stories, the beginning is very simple: there is a baby who needs love and care. The story is told by the grown Dionysis/Sugarman, through the mouth of author and narrator Craig San Roque.
Dionysis has returned from his travels.
In true therapeutic fashion but also - thanks to the artistry of the Sugarman troupe - with great poignancy and poetry, he confronts his family with the story of his beginnings, in the form of three dreams.
The first dream speaks of the violence at the heart of this family in which three generations of fathers have died at the hands of their sons.
Even before there were sons, there was the first mother Rhea, who made the rivers and the hills, the bees and the snakes.
Rhea is killed by her husband, the angry Uranus, god of volcanoes and fire.
Uranus is killed by his son Kronoss/Crow who in turn dies when his son Zeus/Lightning smashes his head with a rock.
The second dream tells of the Sugarbaby's dismemberment by the Crows but he will be born again, in the third dream, in the conflagration of his second mother's womb.
She is Semele, the illicit human lover of Zeus, who asks the god to reveal to her too much of his power and love: she is destroyed in the act of coition.
Dramatically, this last scene embraced what were probably the strongest and weakest moments of the staging.
The convulsing Sugarbaby, lying on the ground in foetal position, conveyed distressingly well the accumulated trauma expressed in the three dreams.
However, Semele's fate, which seems to me an extraordinary, single-image comment on the consequences of addiction, was under-realised.
The intoxicating power of, in this case, eroticism was treated with, for me, surprising reserve.
It also appeared that the painting of this same moment had similarly missed its mark.
(On this point San Roque has commented that the sensitivities of a mixed audience, and in particular of Aboriginal people, had to be taken into account, particularly in the representation of sexuality, childbirth and the spirit world. Rightly so, of course, but therein lies a further challenge to dramatic innovation.)
The drama of the first half of the performance moved on from this point in necessarily summarised form: Sugarman gets no rest from his memories and for the first time drinks wine.
It helps him forget but it also brings him enormous trouble.
This is the period of his travels and also of the development of his relationship with Ariadne.
Learning to love, Dionysis also starts to learn to put the pieces of his life back together.
Before he can be whole a great task awaits him: he must descend into the underworld in search of the spirit of his mother, Semele.
San Roque's script of this section of the story uses some of the language and images of a road movie.
This was taken up in both Christopher Brocklebank's stage direction and in the music: slide guitar as Sugarman left behind his broken-down truck and radio, mournful saxophone solo as he walked into the Valley of the Lost Mothers, percussive cacophony as the gap where the spirits go in and out opens up - actually the bonnet of a rusty Holden carcass.
"Gazing at his mother's rock he went in, he began to cry, he began to weep, the Sugarman remembered his mother, the fire all around him ... her spirit leaving her, her spirit leaving him ... "This is the most terrible thing a child can find, the ashes of a burnt out mother."
Sugarman collects Semele's ashes and rubs them into his skin, and, in the stuff that myths are made of, rises again on the third day, with his mother in his arms.
He takes her back to the council of the gods, restores her to a place in his family, ceded by the old Hestia.
For the first time in his life he is happy: "He only wanted [his family] to hear his story." After this Sugarman changed, he had found his job: "He began to tell stories, in the stars he made shapes, in the ears of men he made music, in the limbs of women he made dancing. "He made all the wild ceremonies of the world and everyone was happy ... listening and dancing." So, out of the depths of 'grog trouble', it is possible, through the work of heart and head - love and understanding - to come to wholeness, and out of wholeness it is possible to come to art, that distinctively human, outgoing energy that shapes our world.
San Roque began his work on the Sugarman project in response to questions from Aboriginal people about grog: "Grog is a European story ... You made the grog and you sell it to Aboriginal people but you do not pass on the story that goes with it ... Grog is powerful, to control it we have to know the Tjukurrpa."
San Roque told the people he would find the story: "When I know it properly I'll come back and sit down with you and show you."
The implied process of cross-cultural fertilisation immediately raises the spectre of cultural appropriation.
However, on the evidence, apart from a few obvious borrowings suggestive of the place and lifestyles of Central Australia, San Roque and the Sugarman troupe, although they have worked closely with some Aboriginal people during the evolution of the project, are nothing so much as vigorous excavators and reinterpreters of their own cultural heritage.
Western culture in the late twentieth century fully embraces a dynamic concept of tradition.
In the words of San Roque: "Our traditions are there to lead us and feed us, but we also have the opportunity to keep on creating our traditions and to remake our world."
It may be popularly assumed that this attitude distinguishes 'the West' from more strictly preserved indigenous cultures, including those of Aboriginal Australia but there appears to be plenty of evidence of interactive cultural dynamism among Aboriginal peoples.
An exhibition called Perpetual Motion visiting Araluen in October last year focussed, via artifacts and art works, on Aboriginal creative responses to the presence of Europeans over the last 200 years.
More recently, R.G. (Dick) Kimber has published an essay on the dynamic history of Central Australian Aborigines.
He cites, for instance, the incorporation of rabbits into two mythologies, and the creation of a "Pussy-cat Dreaming" site.[1]
It will be interesting to observe whether or not, or in what ways, Aboriginal people find resonance in and make use of the Dionysis story. Finally, to acknowledge some individual achievements in the performance of Sugarman: Peta Morris in the role of Ariadne was a tiny powerhouse of dramatic talent with a big singing voice; Jonathan Sinatra movingly expressed the childlike vulnerability of one side of Dionysis, while Malcolm Mitchell, during the preceding week's performance and on opening night, with a quite different persona - intense, dark and physical - gave an excellent interpretation of another side.
The list is not exhaustive but space dictates only mention now of the music, beautifully attuned to the script, expressing its huge range of emotions: Dian Booth on violin and percussion, James Harvey on tuba, trumpet and vocal sound effects, Mark Wohling on guitar, Katrina Stowe on clarinet and percussion and Ben Ewald on saxophone.
At previous performances, Dave Albrecht played drums and Dig Jamin, guitar. [1] "The dynamic century before the Horn Expedition: a speculative history" in Exploring Central Australia, edited by S.R. Morton and D.J. Mulvaney; Surry Beatty & Sons, November 1996.

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