November 12, 1997

"If the government attempts to extinguish or diminish by legislation the common law rights of one racial group for the benefit of another, then I believe one has little alternative but to say that, by definition, that is racist legislation."
The Rev Murray Lund of the John Flynn Uniting Church in Alice Springs doesn't mince words in his response to the Federal Government's proposed amendments to the Native Title Act.
He says his thinking is guided by the scriptures: "The Old Testament prophets spoke very clearly to the governments and leaders of their times about dispossession of the poor and injustice in the land."
While Rev Lund has not sought to direct people's thinking on the issue, he says the congregation has been praying over the last year "for our government to come to just solutions" on native title.
"The Christian faith has concern with issues of social justice, in particular where people are marginalised and dispossessed," says Rev Lund. The Assembly of the Uniting Church, its national body, has formally called on the Federal Government to reject any proposal that will have the effect, directly or indirectly, of extinguishing or diminishing native title rights, and instead to develop a regime of coexistence in the land, and require negotiation among the parties who have interests in the land.
The Northern Synod of the Uniting Church, covering the Northern Territory, the Kimberley and the Pitjantjatjara lands, has written to all members of the Senate, similarly urging them to reject the amendments and to require negotiation.
The Uniting Church has a small Aboriginal congregation in Alice Springs, conducting services in Pitjantjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra.
Historically, the church had a mission presence in the Pitjantjatjara lands and still has active congregations in Ernabella, Fregon and Finke. Father Gerald Beaumont, priest to the Anglican Parish of the Ascension in Alice Springs, at the time of this interview with the Alice Springs News had not yet preached on the issues of native title.
Following our discussion, he decided that it was time to become more proactive and made native title and Wik the focus of his sermon last Sunday.
He has certainly had conversations with parishioners on the subject and realises that they hold a variety of views and that some oppose his own. On Sunday, he urged people to discuss the issues with him following the service.
Two parishioners approached him to express their appreciation of the sermon with its focus on a real issue instead of general principles.
He says parishioners would accept him preaching on the subject: they would know that he was expressing his own views, and not trying to "ram them down their throats".
Fr Beaumont has read the Native Title Act and the proposed amendments drawn from Prime Minister John Howard's 10 point plan. "Adequate provision for all parties to be consulted has been made in the original legislation," he says.
"I find it remarkable, given the existing safeguards, that the larger community is now asking for more.
"In a dispute, the Native Title Act, as it now stands and is understood especially in the wake of the Wik decision, gives priority to the preservation of pastoral leaseholders' interests.
"Given that advantage, I cannot see why there should be any further erosion of the rights of native title claimants." Is there anything essentially Christian to be taken into account when considering these issues?
Fr Beaumont thinks there is: "The overriding theme throughout the Old and New Testaments is that of justice, in particular in relation to the poor and dispossessed.
"They are a matter of concern to the God we worship. "The evidence is there in the life of Jesus. He spent most of his time with the powerless. "It is thus our responsibility within a Christian context to take care of the poor, the hungry, those in despair, those rendered powerless, to engage with them compassionately and creatively."
Fr Beaumont says, however, it is not possible for the Ministers Fraternal - who for instance, recently entered the debate on alcohol use policies - to make a joint submission on native title issues.
He says that views within the fraternal diverge on how churches should or should not respond to native title issues.
The fraternal has nonetheless been involved with the reconciliation process, in particular during the recent Week of Prayer for Reconciliation, and during NAIDOC week.
Fr Beaumont is Chaplain at St Mary's Family Services where he conducts a weekly service for Aboriginal children from remote areas in their education program.
He also visits a small Christian community in the Utopia region each month.
He says that while there are many Anglicans amongst Aboriginal people in Alice Springs, he mostly only sees them for funerals. "I regret that the worshipping tradition that we follow in town does not easily translate into something Aboriginal people feel comfortable with."
The Alice News also contacted local representatives of the Catholic, Baptist and Lutheran churches, the Salvation Army and the Assemblies of God. However, they did not wish to comment.

Sir,- For the information of the community in general and Minister Palmer in particular: ´ Most of the remaining structures at the old Alice Springs Gaol are heritage listed.
To quote Daryl Manzie, the Minister at the time the precinct was declared a heritage place: "The precinct includes the old Alice Springs Gaol.....".
If Minister Palmer has read the Alice Springs Heritage Precinct Plan of Management then he should have been left in no doubt that there are listed gaol buildings.
´ Age is not a criteria for heritage listing. Age may or may not add to the significance of a place. ´
The old Alice Springs Gaol does have architectural merit (which, per se, is not a criteria for listing).
Again to quote the previous Minister: "The gaol and hospital were both designed by C.E. Davies and are fine examples of arid zone design of the 1930s."
´ The only similarity between the Stuart Town Gaol and the old Alice Springs Gaol is the reason for which they were built - for holding prisoners. ´
The Northern Territory Government did not call for expressions of interest for the future use of the gaol in a proper and meaningful way and has not been able to prove otherwise.
´ We all know that it is impossible to prove what the "silent majority" think, but a large "silent minority" will not speak up because they fear for their jobs. For example, many people have told us they would like to sign the petition but ... ´
If the Minister's decision is not reversed, no heritage place in the Northern Territory can be considered to be protected for future generations to be able to understand their past.
The Advocate headline of Feb. 1993 - "Alice heritage protected by Act" - has come back to haunt us.
Bruce Strong,
Research Officer,
National Trust of Australia, Alice Springs

Sir,- Firstly, I have actually been inside the old gaol several times in the late 'seventies, to install an evaporative air cooler through the roof of one cell block, then to help dismantle a faulty laundry machine.
Most people would be unable to know what, if any, items inside the old gaol wall may be worth retaining - unlike the old courthouse, the residency, the postmaster's house, Hartley Street school, etc, which were/are open to public view.
Secondly - my family's involvement in building construction in Central Australia began before World War Two, at Jay Creek (Iwupataka), then Hermannsburg, and in town from 1950.
So I attended the rally on Friday, October 30 to learn firsthand, but found no members of the governing party stepping forward to speak - not just representative of a silent majority but being an absent majority. Does the government presume on a majority having NO opinion?
How can the majority discover, what is, or could be made of, this gaol precinct?
Those I know who have shown an interest and put in work towards redevelopment proposals which retain the history - have they been ignored? deceived? used as decoys? deliberately?
If so, this is not representative government, is not particularly democracy: it is a sham, an outrage, a contempt of the community by those whose salaries are paid by our taxes.
Dare they claim a mandate based on present obfuscation and past flummery?
I support the resolutions put at the rally by Fran Erlich, that PROPER - not sham - consultation take place with the local community BEFORE any action proceeds: and that action to be agreed by, NOT in spite of, local input!!! And OPENLY.
Robert Drogemuller,
Alice Springs


"Strange weather" is a commonplace in Central Australian conversation lately, but is it really so strange?
Is it part of the climate change that we hear so much about? CSIRO researcher Dr Mark Stafford Smith, based in Alice Springs, says that climate variability, which goes on from year to year, decade to decade and has always done so, is a "very much larger" factor in the weather we experience than climate change.
Climate change looks at trends that may be developing over a longer term, like 50 to 100 years.
The latest set of forecast scenarios, released by climatologists in Australia in 1996, confirm earlier scenarios of climate change, suggesting that we will get warmer by a degree or so over the next 40 to 50 years.
In Alice, that means that we will tend to have winters with fewer frosts, which may mean that some of summer growing plants like grasses may be able to keep growing in winter time.
It may also mean that some of our wild flowers retreat a bit to the south, but, says Dr Stafford Smith, "as there's plenty of space, I don't think they're endangered".
It's more difficult to model change in rainfall patterns. In 1994 climatologists suggested that Central Australia would become slightly wetter, but higher temperatures causing greater evaporation would balance the end effect.
However, the latest scenarios, using some new models, suggest that, if anything, Central Australia will get a slight decrease in rainfall, which combined with the increase in temperature will make for a dryer environment.
"But we'll still be driven more than anything by the variability from year to year," says Dr Stafford Smith, "because that's much larger than the amount of climate change we're talking about."
The 1993-95 drought was felt throughout the eastern half of Australia and was the severest on record for Queensland.
"They were real El Nino years and people were starting to ask if El Nino was locking in for a long time, under the impact of climate change," says Dr Stafford Smith.
"But we've got evidence from coral reef rings off Townsville [which suggests that] there were periods in the weather sequence before Europeans arrived, when we had several years in a row with really below average conditions, and some longer wet times too."
The coral rings grow more in wet years, in response to the nutrients in the water flushed out from the Burdekin River, and less in dry years.
The rings allow scientists to go back to the 1700s and make estimates of the rainfall for each year.
The most talked about factor in our climate variability is the Southern Oscillation, more colourfully known as El Nino.
El Nino is an effect which arises from changes of temperature in the Pacific Ocean.
In broad terms, under certain conditions there is a change in temperature in the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean, along the coast of South America, which is coupled with a change in the western Pacific, just off the east coast of Australia.
The effect of that change is usually to create above normal amounts of rain in the western parts of South America.
A corresponding change in the currents that run down the coast causes a big kill of fish, an event that has been recorded for 300 or 400 years.
It happens around Christmas time, which was why the people living off fishing there, for whom it was a boon, called it El Nino, the Christ Child.
On our side of the Pacific, El Nino causes the climate systems to move out into the Pacific.
Rain which would normally come and go down the east of Australia tends to occur a couple of hundred kilometres out to sea, bringing about a drought on land.
A contrary condition, recently named La Nina by climatologists, brings about dryer than normal conditions on the western side of South America and very wet conditions in eastern Australia.
As you move west across the continent, the effects of El Nino and La Nina diminish, but nonetheless, looking at Central Australia, 1973 and '74, when the Todd flowed almost continuously, were La Nina years.
The 'sixties had several El Nino years, corresponding with the most severe drought that we've had in Central Australia.
This see-saw pattern of El Nino, La Nina and the years in between which are neither, has been measured for a long time in the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), which is the difference in atmospheric pressure between Darwin and Tahiti.
That is useful because there is not a very long record of good temperature measurements, at most 100 years, but ships have been taking pressure measurements for centuries.
There is a correlation between pressure and temperature: pressures tend to be a bit lower when temperatures are high, so the SOI acts as a surrogate measure of the difference in temperature between the east and west sides of the Pacific.
To date the SOI is the best predictor of when El Nino or La Nina effects are going to happen, suggesting their probability three to six months before they actually have an impact on rainfall.
"The further ahead you look the less reliable it is," says Dr Stafford Smith, "but at the moment the SOI is starting to pick up the pattern which will cause us to have a relatively dry summer season."
The correlation is not perfect: only about 70 per cent but, says Dr Stafford Smith, "that's enough to mean that if you're sitting in October thinking, 'Am I going to get a good summer?' then the probabilities have shifted a lot if you've got a high SOI or a low SOI."
Better data on the temperature patterns in the oceans, measured from satellite, should improve the forecast period: "We might actually be able to get six to nine months in advance of the actual rainfall time which really does give people a lot of time for planning," says Dr Stafford Smith. "It's possible that some of the complicated global climate models, which have been developed partly for weather forecasting and partly to study global change, will allow us to predict the next 12 months or even longer."
Being able to predict more or less rain affects all sorts of things: agriculture obviously - stocking levels, the likelihood of a good harvest - but also civilian preparedness for events like flood and outbreaks of Ross River fever, associated with heavy rainfall.
Trying to improve reliability in forecasting is a big effort in research at the moment.
In Alice Springs, CSIRO is involved in doing some research on trying to understand the extent to which it is actually worth the pastoral industry responding to these forecasts.
SIMULATIONS Dr Stafford Smith is running simulations to look at whether, if pastoralists had adopted this strategy over 100 years of climate, it would have been worthwhile economically or not?
As yet, it is too early to say, but in the next year or two the forecasts will probably improve to the point where it is actually really worth using them, according to Dr Stafford Smith.
In the last few years scientists have also started looking at the patterns of temperatures in the Indian Ocean, and forecasts using this data, particularly useful for Western and Central Australia, will start to emerge over the next few years.
Dr Stafford Smith will hear about the latest findings of this research at a conference in Brisbane this week.
Will climate change affect El Nino? "Scientists are pretty unsure about that," says Dr Stafford Smith.
"We seem to have seen more El Ninos than usual for the last few years, and a few people working on it have suggested that this may be one of the effects of a warming atmosphere. It's a possibility, but that's all it is at the moment. "Oceanographers still don't understand why ocean temperatures shift in the first place. Until they do, [which should happen within the next couple of years] it's impossible to say if a particular change in climate is going to cause a particular change in El Ninos."
The latest three month forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne predicts a below average rainfall for the coming summer.
Does that mean, for example, that the cattle industry in Central Australia should shed stock?
To answer, Dr Stafford Smith uses a horse-racing analogy: "If you've got a wet track or a dry track, then all the probabilities of racing animals change.
"It's not like any of them is guaranteed to win but the balance of probabilities changes for different animals.
"Here when there's a strong El Nino signal, then the probability of getting a reasonable year, instead of being half, is only about a third or less. "There's no way of saying next summer will be poor, it's just saying if you had to bet on it ... "It's probably all we'll ever be able to do with forecasting - talk about a shift of probabilities.
There's always the possibility that a storm will come through and make things better on an individual property or town."
So, if he had to take a bet? "Based on the forecasts you would have to expect a higher than normal probability that we'll get below average rainfall this summer."

KIERAN FINNANE speaks with the judge

Although this year's Alice Prize went to Queensland artist Stewart MacFarlane, at least two Central Australian artists were in contention, and several others fell into judge Betty Churcher's personal category of strong works.
During her short speech, Ms Churcher, former director of the National Gallery of Australia, singled out for special mention well-known Alice Springs painter Rod Moss.
His Fight "could easily have won," she said, describing it as a "deeply felt" work, of "great punch and power" and "very professionally painted".
[Fight was reproduced in the Alice Springs News on August 8.] In an interview with the News Ms Churcher also identified Jennifer Taylor's Working with your Body as a work in contention for the prize.
"I find this a very compelling work," she said.
"It was teetering on the edge of an award for quite a while. "Each little image is almost like a pictograph in some sort of strange language. You feel that if you could only know the cypher, you could read it [and know] what she's trying to do.
"I brought a chair around here and sat looking at it for a long while, it teased me into trying to read it .
"Any one of [the separate, small images] could stand alone, but together they make a very interesting statement."
Ms Churcher found Utopia artist Angelina Pwerle's Awelye striking: "It's got a great energy to it, a great vivacity of line, it really zings across the surface and I very much liked it from that point of view.
"However, it just didn't to my mind quite come together, there are little bits where I feel the artist has let herself down with a clumsy gesture or a clumsy line."
Another Utopia artist, Abbie Loy, also caught Ms Churcher's eye with Bush Hen Dreaming: "It's got a wonderful sense of a textured surface. "All Aboriginal artists have got a marvellous ability to manipulate the surface, it's innate, part of their heritage.
"If only a white Australian artist would work so hard to get a picture cohering in the way that this picture is cohering."
Of Dan Murphy's untitled sculpture she said: "I like the work of this artist very much, I've seen lots of his sculptures, but I don't like this one as well as some of the others I've seen.
"It's probably a more highly fashioned work but to my mind it hasn't quite got the energy of his Frilled Neck Lizard [in the Araluen foyer] or of some of his animals. There's something a little bit awkward about this. In the other ones he hasn't tried for this realism of, for example, the lips and the hair. He's been much more abstract in the way he uses his materials."
The winning work was chosen for its "deep resonance".
For Ms Churcher, a work of art has to engage "in a very real way, straight to the heart". "It can be a photograph, a sculpture, a video, it doesn't matter, but it's got to have that power, a multi-layering of meaning, [be more than] just a momentary sensation.
"I like something that keeps feeding me when I come back to it.
"It's hard over two days to test that out but when I come back on the second day that's what I'm looking for, not for the immediate sensation, not for skill, which I see just as a tool towards an end, but for the expressive power of the work.
"Of course, expressive power differs with the individual, it's a very subjective thing.
"With another judge in here, you would get quite a different judgment." The suggestive narrative of MacFarlane's Doorway aroused Ms Churcher's curiosity: "It pays on a primordial unease, fear of the night, fear of the unknown," she said.
"All of his pictures have this very theatrical feeling for the frailty of the human condition. Here there's a feeling of impending doom, something's about to happen and we are witnessing the moment before it happens."
Ms Churcher highly commended Julie Rrap's Push & Pull : "I'm very interested in the human condition. "This is a large cibachrome photograph of a part of the body where the little folds of skin have been blown up, so that they become almost like a landscape. It's probably the wrist but it defies reading,while also inviting it.
"Beneath the photograph is a cylinder of human hair. "The work is about the tactile presence of the human body, how it would look say to a tiny mite, if you were not able to get back and look at it in its entirety.
"The glossy surface of the cibachrome is another surface ripple on top of the ripple of the flesh itself. I think the highly shiny cibachrome is part of the structure, [as is the tube] in shiny glass.
"Certainly, every time you look at it, it falls into folds not dissimilar to the folds of the skin in the photograph. A very elegant work."
Ms Churcher commented on the ability of the Alice Prize to attract leading mid-generation artists from all over Australia. She commended the permanent collection, the property of the people of Alice Springs, which the prize has created. "Because it is a big prize [$5000] and it offers that four week residency which artists would kill for, you've got the opportunity to get the very best into the Araluen collection."

MATTHEW FOWLER looks at how the Tyranny of Distance was defeated

When Nick Mure and Ben Gunner of Sammy's Pizza Express in The Alice decided to enter the world of the Internet by hosting a web page, no-one knew what to expect.
It just seemed like a fun idea.
In consultation with Jane Mure (a web author - and also Nick's wife) they came up with a concept - to promote Alice Springs and Pizza internationally by providing an entertaining stop over for web surfers.
The site includes links to pizza delivery drivers' sites in America with information on tipping and also stories about deliveries gone wrong. Regular changes are made to the links page, whenever a particularly interesting site is found. It also has Sammy's menu and an Email button. By clicking on the button, people can send messages to Sammy's staff.
Over the last 18 months, checking the Email coming in has been a constant source of entertainment. By far the most common Email has been requests for information on Alice Springs.
Another frequently asked question has been: "What is capsicum?".
Karsten from Denmark wrote: "Hey ... Calling from Denmark in Scandinavia. My brother is working in Alice Springs at the time. I would like to give him your Address to Sam the Pizzaman."
Nick sent back the address and, a few days later, in walked her brother. He stayed for a chat and a pizza - all thanks to the Internet and his sister, thousands of kilometres away.
Mike from California had recently left Alice Springs and wanted to surprise his friend on her birthday. He Emailed his request - could Sammy's Pizza deliver a pizza and birthday card to her if he supplied his VISA card information.
No problem, Sammy's was on to it.
The look on Mike's friend's face when she received the pizza and read the birthday card was memorable.
Other people have sent recipes for pizza. Squid ink instead of tomato paste is apparently the rage in Japan.
Two Alice Springs teachers have sent in some delicious pizza ideas.
And the list goes on. Sammy's staff even helped a tourist from Russia who Emailed to say the paintings he bought in Alice had been left behind. Following the tourist's vague directions they were able to locate the gallery and get the situation rectified.
Being constantly available on the Internet via a web page has been a rewarding experience for the staff at Sammy's Pizza Express.
It has been a great way to get feed back and ideas and to feel a part of the Internet community.
Alice Springs' magnificent environment, in its second century of European habitation, is taking on a new dimension.
We've long been one of the world's most famous places to visit in person.
Now we're becoming a location much called on by travellers in cyberspace, as a mature crossroads in a vast network of what French theorist Paul Virilio describes as the "Greater Nature" aspect of our collective activities.
This "Greater Nature" is the larger cultural space of any community where people live, work and raise their offspring.
The Alice of today is only possible because of the technological objects, the tools of our "Greater Nature" culture that can create a pleasant oasis in a dry, alluringly beautiful but ultimately very hostile environment.
We have all been bombarded with the continued hype of our digital age, complete with vague buzz words such as the super-highway of the future, world wide web or surfing the net.
Yet these advances have a significance for The Centre far greater than elsewhere: for one, the tyranny of distance is no more.
The allure lies in the fact that these new concepts use words from our own real life experiences, that is, our part in nature, breathing the air, enjoying the landscape, the earth and water of our physical realm.
It is becoming clear that the incredible technological developments of our times are creating a new place that promises to make all of that "Greater Nature" part of our social and private lives so much easier and more entertaining.
There are many examples, both nationally and internationally, of towns that have decided to take part in this virtual landscape often referred to as cyberspace.
Towns like Byron Bay have even gone to the extent of conducting council elections via the Net.
So what is a cyber square of a virtual village? In his fictional book Snow Crash, author Neal Stephenson uses the term "Metaverse" to describe a three dimensional world directly drawn on the retina of the eye by advanced laser computer goggles.
This world comes complete with "avatars", graphically rendered representation of the people who choose to "jack in" and inhabit this "Metaverse".
Yes, that is fiction.
However, today, one can find a staggering array of social activities taking place at an unprecedented level over this thing called the "Internet". Latterly a whole new range of service delivery options have been made readily available by the adoption of powerful encryption software and protocols allowing secure transactions to take place.
So how would one take a walk down the Mall in a cyber "Town Like Alice" - a Toddy, in local parlance?
There are several examples of different approaches to presenting a town on the Net.
Take a look at the WA town of Albany for a good example of a virtual town tour using the ubiquitous "http" protocol that is the foundation of the world wide web and the native language of browsers.
Albany's web site consists of a series of many two dimensional photographs of landmarks, street scapes and views of the town that a visitor can look at in any order, either by selecting a part of the town on a map or by taking a simulated walk through the town, where, at street corners you choose your next direction.
Other WWW pages analogous to a town square use a newer protocol that allows three dimensional rendering of buildings and streets. Implementations of these town modules are still very pixilated and not at all like the realistic video arcade games found in the big cities.
The superhighway is in reality a super two wheel track when it comes to sending the Mack truck load of bits that make up this digital simulation of a real world.
Now I hear you ask: "What could I do in this simulated graphical representation of a town?"
Well, actually nothing, as it could be argued that it is just the ghost of you in this fantasy world of bits and bytes.
However, a simulation of any social interactive activity in real life can be replicated on the net.
Each machine and ultimately each user of the WWW is uniquely addressable.
Just as your own mail box sits at your front fence, in its street, in its town, your "login" identity identifies your account hosted by a computer with a specific domain name in a specific category of activities in a specific country or geographical region.
This "addressability" is the basis of sending and receiving information; and because electrons travel at the speed of light there is little to no time delay in individual users at different computers talking to each other.
People talk to each other, in a variety of media formats, ranging from typing to video images and sound, to arrange deals, collaborate on projects, exchange goods and other services.

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