October 29, 1997

The need to expand the public hospital and possibly to build a private one are the main reasons for the Cabinet decision last week to demolish the historic Alice Springs gaol, according to the Minister Responsible for Central Australia, Araluen MLA Eric Poole.
However, hospital board chairman Hermann Weber says just the vacant area at the southern end of the prison block, outside the walls, has been applied for by the hospital for its expansion.
"That would at least alleviate our short term needs," Mr Weber says.
"We knew we couldn't touch the old gaol."
The government's move has sparked wide-spread anger in the town from groups wanting the complex for tourism information, arts and business purposes, including setting up a badly needed bus terminal.
The groups say they will go all out to stop the decision and are calling for a moratorium on the demolition.
Spokesperson for a loose coalition of objectors, Alderman Fran Erlich, says most parts of the gaol were heritage listed as part of the Alice heritage precinct in 1993.
Ald Erlich says Heritage Minister Mick Palmer, who announced the decision, has not sought the advice of the Heritage Advisory Council, and while he's free to act against its recommendations, it is "highly unusual" for a Minister to have done so.
Ald Erlich says the Cabinet had gone ahead without any public consultation.
Mr Weber says the government canvassed all its departments late last year or early this year to see if any of them wanted the site.
"Ours was the only department that put in a bid," says Mr Weber.
Mr Poole did not disclose details of any bids for a private hospital.
Mr Weber, who was involved in an earlier proposal for a private hospital, says these plans were abandoned when builder Peter Sitzler passed away some years ago.
Meanwhile Domenico Pecorari, a heritage architect appointed by the Heritage Advisory Council for Central Australia, describes as "highly suspect" assertions by Mr Poole [see interview below, editorial page 6] and MacDonnell MLA John Elferink that the buildings are structurally unsound.
"That's a prison, for God's sake, which by nature has to be pretty soundly conbstructed.
"Is the government saying they were keeping prisoners in an unsound building as recently as six months ago? "No evidence that I know of has been produced to say that the buildings are unsound," says Mr Pecorari, who describes the old prison as "one of the jewels in the crown of the heritage precinct".
He says: "Someone must be clutching at straws to justify the demolition decision."
He hopes to be conducting an inspection in the near future. MacDonnell MLA John Elferink says he supports the Cabinet decision because it will allow for a "more responsible" use of the land.
"I can't really see any buildings there worth preserving," he says.
Although the maximum security section may be "significant" it isn't worth preserving because there is one in Darwin.
"No building is worth preserving because it is old," says Mr Elferink, "and the construction of an extension to the hospital would create jobs." Meanwhile Ald Erlich says opponents to the gaol's demolition will raise the controversy at an arts conference and at a meeting of the Heritage Advisory Council, both in Alice Springs this week; hold a rally on Friday; will lobby MLAs; start a letter campaign; go on talk-back radio and display posters.
Ald Erlich says representations will be made to the acting Minister, Daryl Manzie, due in town this week.
Ald Erlich says apart from CLP politicians she hasn't spoken to anyone who thought the demolition of the historic complex was a good idea.
"I haven't heard of anyone who thought they were doing the right thing," says Ald Erlich.

ERWIN CHLANDA speaks with Central Australian Minister Eric Poole

News: Where do you stand on the demolition of the old gaol?
Poole: There is nowhere for the hospital to expand. We are going to need increased accommodation for nurses. I'm sure within the next five years we'll have a private hospital. Where are you going to put it?
News: Is it a private hospital or the public one that needs the land?
Poole: It will be a combination of both. You'll never see a stand-alone private hospital in Alice Springs. It will need to utilise some of the services of the public hospital, as is the case in Darwin.
News: So, it's a private hospital that will need the land?
Poole: I don't think we've reached that stage yet, but I think it's just too valuable a block of land to pass up.
News: Would it not be valuable as a tourist attraction?
Poole: You've got some complications there. For example, the kitchen area is condemned. The floor is rotten. Much of the electric wiring needs replacement. It's incredibly expensive. That's why we built the new gaol. One of the things people may wish to keep are the tin sheds. Someone said to me years ago that the tin sheds are the only [example] of prison accommodation of its style in Australia.
News: They will stay?
Poole: No, the whole lot will end up going. We've basically made a decision that the site should be cleared.
News: Did you vote in favour of it?
Poole: You don't vote in favour or not of something in Cabinet. I'm part of the Cabinet decision. When Cabinet makes a decision it's a decision of Cabinet.
News: There's a lot of community support for using the building for a variety of things, such as an information centre, an arts centre, bus terminal.
Poole: And I think all those things are worthy. At the end of the day, though, the majority of organisations that have expressed an interest would not be in a position to pay a commercial rent.
News: What would be a commercial rent?
Poole: It would be expensive, because of the very nature of the buildings. A couple of the areas are basically cells. I mean, what do you do with a cell?
News: There seem to be lots of ideas.
Poole: They're pretty small areas to make something viable out of.


Transport costs, lack of competent staff and NT government disinterest are constant obstacles for small business in Alice Springs.
Sally Anne Herlaar, from Desert Dwellers, has to rely on transported foam for the swags her family business designed and manufactures, increasingly for export Australia-wide and overseas.
Each piece measures two square metres: the cost of transport means the swags cost $60 more in Darwin, for instance.
"We also have to buy in large bulk so there tends to be more wastage of material in the end," says Mrs Herlaar.
"There should be some sort of subsidy to make life easier for the small businesses here.
"The tourism industry brings huge amounts of money into the town. Some of those profits should be used for this.
"Subsidies would enable us to be more competitive with other businesses interstate.
"People are always putting their hands out to us for sponsorships and donations, when the small business is a cause in itself."
Mrs Herlaar believes that small businesses hold the town together.
"This sector employs more people than the public service," she says.
"Yet too much is spent on purposes which don't generate income nor help the town to survive."
Rosario and Antonio Food Processing started trading 15 months ago.
The Alicastro and Iacobini families, who produce, process and preserve sun dried vegetables, have found they have to do a lot of forward planning to succeed.
"It takes seven days for the supply to get to Queensland, so we have to make sure we have sufficient stock," says Carol Alicastro.
John King, of King's Furnishers and Bedshed, does not see freight costs as an unfair disadvantage.
"A lounge suite which sells in Adelaide for $999 costs $1100 in Alice. "We've learned to live with it. I do not expect government hand-outs and assistance.
"As employers, we opened the business here, we knew the situation, knew the pitfalls. You have to adapt.
"We have been successful in dealing with the problems of isolation and have managed to get the better of these to the best of our ability.
"Most people who live here accept they have to pay freight.
"Very few object. It's part of life."
Some small businesses say a more serious problem than freight costs is a shortage of staff.
Mrs Herlaar finds it near impossible to get upholsterers, motor trimmers and industrial textile fabricators.
"There is a lack of training but more of an effort has to be made in encouraging people here.
"There are seven people employed in this company. We should be working on a staffing of 12 or 13. "We have our own training scheme, but waste money on trainees who, on average, leave three to four months after training.
"Only two of us have been here for the eight and a half years we've been operating.
If we only had more staff we could turn over more and make healthier profits.
"However, the cost of living is too high.
"We need to put the rents down, to make people more inclined to work here.
"You pay around $240 for a house compared to $140 in other states.
"Many trainees I've had on contract, leave after their training because of such costs."
Apprentices are disadvantaged in Alice Springs because they often have to go to Darwin or interstate for the "theory" part of their training. Gary Lambert, a spokesman for the Minister of Training, Peter Adamson, said he was aware of this problem, but that improving training in remote areas proves too expensive.
"We would love to create more accessible off the job training in such areas as Alice, but is it an economical use of public funds to set up an entire scheme to train one person?
"The problem is a thin market in Alice. There are not enough apprentices on the ground to justify a full program.
"Our role is to make sure our trainees are contracted out through the NTETA (Northern Territory Education and Training Association) and stay in that location for that period of time.
"We cannot take responsibility for what happens after that. Alice has to make itself attractive enough for people to stay."
Mrs Herlaar believes that employing young non-Aboriginals is far more unstable than employing Aboriginals.
"Aboriginals often take a little longer to train but they are more likely to stay in their home-town than all these other transients."
Some businesses in this sector do actually believe that being based in Alice benefits their trade.
"Though we have to fly some of our perishable products out which is very costly, the benefits still outweigh the costs for us," says Mrs Alicastro.
"People don't mind waiting a little longer for a quality product.
"It also helps to do your marketing. We have done trade shows in Queensland and South Australia.
"People believe that our product grows in a pollution free environment out here, and are impressed by the superior colour of our sun dried tomatoes.
"Because of the extra sun we get, we can produce two crops a year compared to one crop for interstate growers.
"We've just planted 400 olive trees on trial and they are coming on wonderfully.
"Our motto is 'The taste of Italy made in Australia.'
"Alice is not as far from Sydney as the traditional producers of our products, Italy, Portugal and Turkey.
"We see ourselves as an import replacement company.
"Thankfully, Australians are extra keen to buy Australian made goods."
Others trade in Alice because they cannot bear to leave.
"I would be making greater profits somewhere else but I can't leave because I love the place," says Mrs Herlaar.
Technology, especially the Internet, makes isolation less of an issue.
Mrs Herlaar has an e-mail address but not a website as yet.
"It will probably save us money on phone-calls and administration," she says, "and should improve sales overseas. "The biggest relief will be if we can successfully advertise for staff on the Internet.
We hope to have a website running in the next six months."
Some are too busy for the Internet. Says Mrs Alicastro: "We haven't had time to think about it. All major restaurants and supermarkets in the Alice stock our goods and our product has found its way on to the shelves of 60 Coles and Woolworths around Australia in just 12 months." The tourism and hospitality industry, including the Ayers Rock Resort, has brought extra income for some secondary industries, but not all. Says Mr King: "We don't get as much work from Ayers Rock as we'd like but we are continually offering our product to the best of our ability. "We supply carpets, curtains, blinds and bedding.
"I know a lot are unhappy with the situation but some suppliers from Alice took the work for granted and incurred the wrath of these people [at the resort]."
Rosario and Antonio Food Processing hope their success will encourage others to give secondary industry a go.
"It has been good that we have bought our food processing technology and expertise to Alice Springs," says Mrs Alicastro, "and we've employed 12 people."
"We are hoping to go into the bush tucker market, as well as preserve all those wasted mangoes thrown out by companies such as the NT Mango Association.
We're even looking to work with the Alice's cattle industry and butchers to preserve meat and produce Alice Springs' own dog food.
And what do The Centre's successful industrialists advise?
Says Mrs Alicastro: "Anyone with an idea should make use of the expertise in government departments: "The NT Government has been more than helpful.
The Department of Asian Relations, Trade and Industry in particular gave us a lot of their time in research, advice and finding markets for us." Says Mr King: "People forget that it is only a town of 25,000 and that we are very lucky to have the facilities and infrastructure we have. "When they come here people should come with the right attitude that they are in the Centre of Australia, and work with what they've got."

Part Two of a report by GRETTA SCADDING

If people are aware of Alice's Muslims at all, they often think of them as the stereotypical fanatical brainwashers.
This is the experience of converts to the faith, such as Abdullah Ali, who finds that people expect him "to pull an AK47 on them".
However, those who were born and bred here, descendants of Afghan families, meet different responses, found reporter GRETTA SCADDING in this second part of her report.
Meride Satour estimates that her extended family numbers about 150 in all, a community in itself!
"We don't need anyone else, but I don't like the fact that we are a hidden community," says Meride.
Many Muslims, both Afghan descendants and immigrants, feel lucky to live here.
Says Rachel Warner, whose grandfather was an Afghan cameleer: "I would not like to go back to Afghanistan at the moment, considering what's going on there.
"Women there don't have such a good deal. "I'm lucky to be treated as an equal, and here in Alice Springs if I want to do anything, I do it." However, there are some, such as Abdul Khan, a respected leader at the local mosque and a lecturer in mathematics at Centralian College, who miss the history and cultural background of their home country.
Mr Khan is due to visit Peshawar, in northern Pakistan later this year, a city with a strong Afghan community.
Today's Afghans in The Alice are not complaining of racism, but there are isolated nasty events.
Meride says her niece was taunted on her way to the mosque.
"She was wearing a scarf and long gown. "She is only nine and it is not healthy to be subjected to that. We are proud of who we are. Why should we suffer this?
"I feel people only fear or make fun of what they don't know enough about."
It is no coincidence that the local Afghans are closely bonded to Aboriginal people, often through inter-marriage.
Says Meride: "We associated more with the Aborigines, because they were outcasts like us. "You will find many Aborigines with Afghan surnames.
"They took these on when working for the camel drivers.
"Aborigines were treated like people by the Afghans."
Mr Khan believes the community has a big role to play in educating Aborigines about alcohol: "We have quite a few Aboriginal Muslims, and we make them aware that drinking is not part of the Islamic way of life.
"I don't preach to them though, it's up to them to change."
For those who don't drink alcohol, being a devout Muslim can put a strain on social relations.
Says Abdullah: "There is certain alienation if you don't drink alcohol, as this town's social activity revolves around drinking. "You are sometimes accused of being a bit of a square or a social outcast.
"After a while I have managed to gain respect in some cases. "It's hard work though!" The community also feels there should be more respect for their ancestors.
"The only thing associated with the Afghans is the Ghan train," says Meride, "and that memorial outside the council building.
"No one thinks about what it means.
It makes me annoyed when you think of what the old Ghans went through and what they suffered ... what they stand for today means zilch. "They had to go away sometimes for 12 months at a time, without seeing their family.
"No Ghan was ever lazy. Though they worked so hard, they were put out of jobs and given no help.
"We need younger generations to feel proud of who and what we are."
Mr Khan agrees: "These people had a low level of education but in spite of all that, their contribution was very significant.
"The government has acknowledged that to a certain extent.
Look at Sadadeen Primary school.
That was given an Arabic name.
"The house system there and trees in the grounds are named after Afghans.
"Visitors should be able to see this history of the town, though.
"This is a tourist town, and should exhibit some sort of obvious memorial in or near the Mall."
Rachel believes there should be more information in tourist brochures.
"Look at how exposed Aboriginal culture and history is," she says.
Meride also believes Alice Springs could have given more help with the mosque.
The Muslims had once been given land to build on, but had no source of income.
The land was taken away by the government a long time ago.
In 1990 Mr Khan applied to the government for land which finally was allotted to them in 1991, and the mosque was opened in November 1992.
"We did not have enough help with the mosque. That is the least thing they could have done," says Meride.
"My father helped lobby for it. We had to fund-raise to provide a lot of money to build, service and run it.
"This involved a lot of door-knocking and taking money from other Islamic communities.
"I think a memorial fund could have been set up for this purpose.
"We also need a bus so more people can get out to the mosque," she says.
"It is difficult for some. We still do fund-raising ourselves but it is never enough.
"We would like to purchase a plaque for the wall at the mosque." Muslims keep in touch through an interstate newspaper and 330 societies across Australia, and Mr Khan is about to publish a newsletter especially for Alice Springs.
It's a different story outside the close-knit group.
Says Abdullah: "I know there are people in Alice Springs who don't even know the mosque is there.
"It should be more than just a mystical ornament to most people."
Rachel would like more exposure through documentaries and literature.
"SBS did a documentary about second and third generation Muslims who get into trouble and can't get jobs in Australia.
"It reminded me of us when we were younger.
Your parents still follow the religion but you get lost in the system.
"Also, at the recent International Woman's Day in Alice Springs, there were no other Muslim women present. We are still hidden," she says. Says Mr Khan: "We want to have a small library attached to the mosque, and a museum section where we can keep souvenirs and memorabilia of the early Afghan families.
"We would be delighted for such contributions. I would like to see that this becomes a place where people come to visit, to see what the Afghans did.
"We're planning to have an open day so people can come here and see what the Islam community is all about, find out more about our practices and read our literature.
"We can have a cup of tea, food and some sweet things. "This will hopefully happen in the first week of November."
Says Meride: "As the old saying goes, ignorance breeds contempt, whereas knowledge can enrich our lives."
The mosque is open on weekends, and prayer is from 12.30 to 1.15 pm on Fridays. Everyone is welcome. Interested people can contact Mr Khan on 89 535564.


Watch This Space, Alice Springs' first and only artist-run exhibition space, is more than its bricks and mortar.
While as from the end of this year it will no longer occupy the 1950s ice and soft drink factory behind Swingers on Gregory Terrace, the artists are determined that it will live on.
Earlier in the year they tried to hold on to the building by lobbying the owner, who intends to take over the building for his own Aboriginal art business and warehouse, but to no avail.
They are continuing to look for another venue that is affordable and appropriate as an experimental art space, but lack of a venue does not mean that their activities will cease.
"It is imperative to maintain the local and national profile that Watch This Space has generated with artists and audiences alike," says Pam Lofts, who has chiefly coordinated activities and funding for the Space since its first exhibition in March 1994.
She cites the Space's excellent track record of more than 90 exhibitions, events and performances involving over 200 artists, as the reason why funding bodies should continue to support them, building or no building.
There are plenty of other possibilities for making and exhibiting art in the Central Australian context, she argues.
Both the natural and urban environments can be used as exhibition sites.
A virtual gallery on the Internet could showcase work to a wider audience and set up dialogues with other artist-run and contemporary art spaces.
Camps for local and interstate artists, at a venue such as the Hamilton Downs Youth Camp, could be organised, as could workshops and artists's talks.
Community arts projects could continue as opportunities for artists to explore and develop ideas.
Art could be shown in a nomadic but art friendly space such as empty shopfronts.
SOUND Sound works could be broadcast on community radio.
Lofts is concerned that, without a physical location, the Space may not be able to attract funding to develop the new program structure and is urging all interested to write letters of support and to continue submitting proposals for 1998 (send to PO Box 3942).
Meanwhile you can see the Space's latest shows: The community of those who have nothing in common is an installation by Liz Day, a Sydney-based artist whose work is based around the notion of a market or a place of exchange.
Says Day: "Through the process of shopping, lawn sales, tips, the discovery of local objects reemerges as an installation which relates to the space and the Alice Springs location."
I'm OK, you're OK by Melbourne-based Audrey Fairthorne is about the circumstances which prevented her from personally coming to Alice Springs and also a personal fiction of Central Australia and Alice gleaned from popular culture, old geography, Australian colonial art history and her imagination.
Both show until November 1, Thursday and Friday 11am to 3pm, Saturday 11am to 5pm.

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