October 9, 1997


"Oh hell, what have we done?" was his first reaction to winning one of the nation's top tourism awards, says Paul Ah Chee, manager of the Alice-based Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre.
"We were absolutely exhilarated, but realised immediately that the hard work is just beginning. "Now that we're the leader of the pack we have to live up to the expectations we've created."
The art and tour business won the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander section of the National Tourism Awards last Friday after winning a Territory Brolga in July.
Mr Ah Chee says there was powerful competition: The Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park in Queensland, the Tobwabba Cultural Centre in NWS, Camp Coorong in SA, the Brambuk Cultural Centre in Victoria and the Cooljaman resort in Cape Leveque, WA.
He says the national judges were obviously impressed on several scores: the centre's extensive use of the internet, the fact that all the company's 16 employees are Aborigines, that most of the staff undergo continuing training, and the range of services offered, including a gallery in Todd Street and a cultural tour business offering excursions ranging from half a day to a fortnight.
"Our trading record and expansion was also a factor," says Mr Ah Chee, "and how we tie in with the community."
The centre's energetic approach to promoting Aboriginal art and culture has led it to embrace new technologies.
Its web site, at, is contacted by an astonishing average of 1600 people a day from around 75 different countries.
The site, set up by Collin Cowell, started as one page 12 months ago and has now grown to 50 pages.
Through it people can access written information as well as video and audio presentations, even take a didgeridoo lesson from the comfort of their own home.
From your ten year old computer whiz kid to famous customers such as Tracey Chapman, Aboriginal culture appeals to a wide variety of people.
Of the 180 Aboriginal web sites in existence, 120 are owned by non-Aboriginal people.
The Art and Culture Centre's web site has found itself ranked in the top ten Aboriginal sites contacted by people in America.
Mr Ah Chee suggests the reason for such popularity is attributable to the presentation of cultural information, over and above making "hard sales."
Although the centre does make sales through the Internet, its site is not purely profit orientated.
The centre employs one person specifically to reply to the 60 Emails they receive each day from people with topical questions which can be extremely demanding.
As computers and the Internet become a way of life in today's society, it seems obvious that Alice Springs will have to take advantage of the incredible opportunities they offer for international exposure and recognition.
The Arts and Culture Centre has proved that distance is no obstacle if you're "on line".
They also emphasise that this system does not only benefit the retail sector.
It knows no boundaries and offers potential for every industry in the town.
It also offers a perfect foundation for business interaction and networking.
In the words of Mr Ah Chee: "Alice Springs cannot simply rely on people walking through the door, it has to market itself internationally."


While the Employ Alice Springs scheme, designed to help curb alcohol abuse, may not have made the instant breakthrough claimed by its instigators, it is making progress.
Last week president of the Drug and Alcohol Services Association, Iain Morrison, told the Alice News that 22 people had already been employed under the scheme and a further 24 were being interviewed.
Mr Morrison has now revealed that he only "understood" that information to be true.
He had heard these figures in an informal discussion at a DASA Board of Management meeting.
Shane Arnfield, who also took part in this discussion, says he supports the validity of these figures, but will not say which people are involved, nor where he got the information from.
"What's the point of upsetting these people by hounding them?" asks Mr Arnfield.
"You have to understand the culture. These people are shy. Some of the employees have indicated they are afraid of media attention. "When accepting the job, they didn't think they would be placed under a media microscope. "Many have also declined to be interviewed by Imparja. "We don't want the media jumping ahead of the negotiation stage."
Mr Arnfield says the Employ Alice Springs committee has been approached by one employer "keen to employ 60 Aboriginal individuals" and that there is also an organisation north of Alice asking for six to 12 people.
Antony Yoffa, at the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES), confirms this. He also says that 15 job vacancies have been lodged through the CES, but employers are still in the process of short listing and interviewing.
"There are not 22 Aboriginals employed at this stage," says Mr Yoffa Officially, there are eight Aboriginal people employed through the program.
Of the eight, half were referred by Tangentyere Council and half by the CES.
Mr Yoffa says the CES had hoped to fill 20 positions by now, and expect to exceed that number eventually.
"We are still doing employer visits at the moment," he says. Rob Murray of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry says: "I can say that if everybody who expressed an interest goes ahead with it, there should be 80 or 90 vacancies lodged before long. "Obviously a percentage of those will not go ahead, as a 10-15 per cent drop out rate is expected," he says.
Are the jobs being advertised as specifically for Aboriginal people?
Mr Yoffa says: "We are holding the jobs back specifically for Aboriginals. We avoid conflict by not lodging these jobs on the computer. This saves other applicants wasting their time. "We take prospective employees for these jobs from those who have registered with us. When a suitable applicant can't be found we go to Tangentyere, or the CDEP scheme at Arrernte Council."
Mr Arnfield describes this strategy as "positive discrimination".
The News spoke to one employer who has responded to the scheme.
Peter Ryan at Busymode Electronic Services has employed Jason Kennedy as an apprentice technician.
Mr Kennedy has been with Busymode for three weeks. Mr Ryan says: "After my wife attended the DASA breakfast forum, we were inspired to contact the CES and request a job applicant.
"Although we didn't specify that we were interested in an Aboriginal person we were very open to the idea after being impressed by an Aboriginal who had worked for us previously."
Busymode is receiving a $100 per week subsidy for six weeks to train Mr Kennedy.
Mr Ryan says: "Of course, I usually would have preferred to get someone already trained, this is a necessary incentive."
Mr Kennedy had been long-term unemployed and was glad to have a job with prospects.
He was referred by his case manager at Tangentyere Council. QUALIFICATIONS Mr Kennedy says: "I do not think these jobs will affect the alcohol problem but they are giving Aboriginals without qualifications or an education the chance to make something of themselves."
Eric Neil, who chairs the Employ Alice Springs committee says: "We've made a positive step in the right direction, and the program will continue to grow.
"Employment is an issue in the whole scheme of things, not just related to alcohol. "You still have to get the right person for the right job."


Halcyon Lucas has won the 1997 Northern Territory Art Award with her abstract painting Talisman.
This is the third time that Mrs Lucas has claimed the award.
Work by her has also been acquired in several previous awards, including last year's, for the permanent collection housed at Araluen.
Mrs Lucas believes she may be the only person who has exhibited every year since the awards started in 1970. She is also the only exhibitor who has been disqualified, when in 1977 the entry deadline was changed without her knowledge.
On opening night at the Museum of Central Australia Mrs Lucas told the gathering of artists and friends: "In 1966 I stumbled with fear and trembling into art.
"It was like searching the world for treasure and finding it in one's own backyard. "With no prior knowledge I just knew this was the treasure and I knew how to swim. "It was akin to an aquatic bird's first sight of real water, joy unbounded."
"Joy unbounded" is exactly the feeling expressed in another entry by Mrs Lucas in this year's award.
Called The Dancers it is a highly original sculpture of two free-standing "figures", made from branches bound in fantastic configurations, that evoke ethereal trees with a suggestion of the human (definitely feminine) about them.
The branches are wound about with many-coloured wools, so while they have solidity, they also look seductively soft.
Working in three dimensions gives Mrs Lucas a freedom of expression which she seems to intuitively know how to live up to.
Interestingly Talisman , by contrast, is very much about boundaries.
Whatever the feelings here - they are more complex than joy - they are going right to the edge, only just contained by the canvas and occupying, as it were, all its planes.
Without wanting to read too much into the title, it perhaps gives a clue: a talisman is used to invoke protection.
Here it would seem that the restrictions of the canvas, analogous to the rational mind, are the protective shield from the powerful chaos of emotion that has driven the hand, knife and brush.
Mrs Lucas says that while she loves abstract painting, she finds it much harder, more demanding than figurative painting.
In the process, she closes off her mind and allows her hand to do the work, guided by she knows not what.
The award exhibition also offers the chance to see other interesting work, mostly by Alice Springs artists. There are noticeably few Aboriginal artists - only Mary Anne Malbunka from Ipolera and Djapirri Munungirritj from Yirrkala.
Among the judge's special mentions is a fine portrait (a little undermined by its joke, I thought) of Iain Campbell by Homer Coderre.
It's worth comparing it with Mr Campbell's own entry and to realise that there's only so much that a face reveals of what's going on in a person's mind!
Sally Mumford's Road Story continues in the vein of her sympathetic yet surreal narratives of Aboriginal life in the contemporary desert, a teaser for her exhibition with Ben Ward, which opened at Watch This Space last night (runs until October 15). Not singled out by the judge but striking for me were two entries each by Debra Boyd-Goggin and Alex Toyne.
Both these young artists, currently studying at Centralian College, are also represented in the Fresh Eyes show at Araluen.
Debra is fully committed to a lurid surrealism drawing on youthful experience - with titles like Adolescence, Family, and Moshpit.
Alex is more restrained but also hooked into the subconscious with a singular vision of her environment - strange clusters of red rocks like elongated loaves of bread, being squeezed out of existence by the surrounding suburban environment.
Also intriguing is work by Rhys Burnie.
Again surrealism is an influence and again, the vision is singular: alienated figures in subtly threatening environments.
Less subtle but forcefully threatening is Rhys's Pine Gap "golf ball" metamorphosed into a giant black spider.
Fresh Eyes is a stimulating viewing experience, setting up relationships between the work of young artists and works from Araluen's permanent collection.
This Friday there will be an opportunity for young people to respond with sounds to the art works, in a workshop with demonstrations and assistance from the Junior Alice Springs Strings Group. At Araluen, 6-7pm.

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