ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
December 10, 1997
BID TO SAVE OLD GAOL BY BUYING IT
People seeking to preserve the old Alice gaol say the NT government is
bent on demolishing it and only a hard-nosed commercial approach can
save the historic complex.
Heritage architect Domenico Pecorari, who says he has the support of
the National Trust as well as other local groups and individuals, has
drawn up a plan to subdivide and sell portions of the land to a variety
Under the plan, the major buildings, some of which date back to 1938
and are monuments to the townÍs social history, would be
Mr Pecorari says his proposal expects to realise $1.56m for the
His proposal is for the land included in the heritage precinct only and
does not include the vacant southern one-third which will remain
available for hospital extensions or other purposes.
Mr Pecorari says it's clear the government has no ambitions of
enhancing the town heritage precinct at its own cost, nor to make cheap
accommodation available for artists and crafts people.
His preparations are still being frustrated by denial of free access to
Mr Pecorari said on Monday that although the government wants to sell
the complex, it has not let prospective buyers in to look at it.
He says data and photographs he has available to date were gathered in
illegal visits, after climbing over the wall.
Mr Pecorari says the historically significant old gaol buildings are
tightly grouped to the front of the prison grounds and occupy a
relatively small portion of the land.
The site should be subdivided or strata-titled into seven parcels, some
including the older prison buildings of historic importance.
They are (the numbers correspond with those on the map; prices are
estimates of value; suggested uses are noted):-
 Old Gaoler's Residence, 1938, heritage listed, $220,000; suitable
for interpretive centre, restaurant or professional office.
 Prison Officers' Club, recently built, not heritage listed,
$160,000; cafe, restaurant or professional offices.
 Vacant land, $240,000; coach depot or artists' workshops.
 Original cells, old stone building and original women's cells,
1938, heritage listed, $150,000; tourist retail, exhibition spaces.
 Original cells, old office building and warder's cells, 1938,
heritage listed, $150,000; tourist retail, exhibition spaces.
 Original cells, 1938, heritage listed, also including the dining
room with wall paintings (not listed), $300,000; backpacker or hostel
 Vacant land, $160,000; any tourist related activity.
 Car parking area, $180,000, of possible interest to the town
DAMNING AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT: IT IS THE
REASON FOR THE GOVERNMENT'S PLANS NOT TO PRESERVE OLD GAOL?
The NT Government's obvious eagerness to bulldoze the old Alice gaol
may be rooted in its notorious reputation.
CLP politicians no doubt want to get rid of this monument to their
failure - over decades - to improve conditions described by
international organisations as barely human.
Built for 110 inmates, the gaol at times held 260 prisoners -
especially when drunkenness was an offence and perpetrators were
sentenced by the hundreds, in court hearings that lasted barely two
minutes a case.
The following is an excerpt from an Amnesty International report in
In one prison Amnesty International did observe conditions which could
well be judged unacceptable according to international standards.
Alice Springs Prison in the Northern Territory is a generally miserable
and cramped prison which is significantly overcrowded.
The bulk of the accomodation comprises three dormitories with places
for about 40 prisoners in each.
Amnesty International visited one of these dormitories at midday on a
Sunday when the staff shift change was taking place.
The prisoners were all locked up and only a skeleton staff was present.
We were informed that the other two dormitories were of a similar
The dormitory Amnesty International visited occupied a whole building
beneath a single roof with solid walls but spaces below the eaves for
The interior was entirely open plan but was sub-divided by mesh wire
into seven or eight sections in each of which were six or seven beds
(bunks and singles), an unscreened urinal and a cold water tap.
There were no facilities, nor indeed space for prisoners to keep
Because the sub-divisions were made of wire it was possible for the
prisoners to see and have contact, if they shouted, with any other
prisoner in the building.
The dormitory we saw contained approximately 40 prisoners, all of them
Amnesty International was informed that about 80 per cent of the Alice
Springs prison population is Aboriginal.
It was hot and, despite the open eaves, smelled strongly of sweat and
The Alice Springs Prison is designed to accommodate about 120
prisoners, but it reportedly is often significantly overcrowded.
It reportedly holds more than 150 inmates at certain times.
Prisoners are confined to the dormitories for 16 hours a day, from 5 pm
to 8 am and from 12 noon to 1 pm.
During these periods of confinement prisoners are obliged to use toilet
facilities within their caged sub-divisions with little or no privacy.
Amnesty International is concerned that conditions of detention in
Alice Springs Prison may violate the rights of Aboriginal people to be
treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the
human person", as set out in Article 10 of the ICCPR, and that in some
cases this may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The Commission unequivocally condemned the use of dormitories of the
sort still in use at Alice Springs and Wyndham prisons, and being
phased out but still in existence at Townsville and Broome prisons.
However some prison administrators told Amnesty International that such
dormitories are eminently suitable for Aboriginal prisoners because,
they said, Aboriginal people prefer to sleep communally and are
reluctant to be alone in a cell.
In fact, most prisons catering largely for Aboriginal people relied
heavily, if not exclusively, on dormitory accommodation until very
At the same time, one prison superintendent stated that a
non-Aboriginal prisoner would not be able to cope with such prison
conditions. Whatever may be the validity of these assertions, Amnesty
International is concerned that such cultural suppositions should not
be used as an excuse to provide grossly inadequate, overcrowded or
degrading communal accomodation specifically for Aboriginal people.
WHEN CHIEF MINISTER SHANE STONE TALKS TO HIS ROUND
TABLE OF YOUNG PEOPLE, MANDATORY SENTENCING IS OFF THE AGENDA.
Chief Minister Shane Stone claims to listen to youth, but about what?
His Round Table of Young Territorians does not have a position on
mandatory sentencing, arguably the harshest youth justice regime in
During this, the Round Table's first year, most of their time has been
spent on laying the groundwork for future Round Tables.
Outgoing President Mathew Smith acknowledges mandatory sentencing of
juveniles as an important issue, but says the Round Table did not have
enough time nor information to reach a consensus on it.
He is confident, however, that next year's Round Table will take it up.
In an interview in last week's Alice Springs News, Mr Smith expressed
his personal view that detention of rural youth in the Don Dale
Detention Centre in Darwin is a ñbig problem".
Again speaking as an individual, he also distinguished between the
cases of chronic repeat offenders and of those who ñsteal
mattresses or break in to try to feed themselves", although the
sentencing law does not.
Mandatory sentencing in the latter cases could be seen as
ñfairly harsh", he said.
While members of the Round Table feel that they can say anything they
want to in their meetings, Mr Smith says their public statements cannot
This is Part Two of an interview by KIERAN FINNANE.
Mathew Smith : It has to be remembered that it is the Chief Minister's
Round Table of Young Territorians.
In 99.9 per cent of cases you can say whatever you like.
The point one per cent, as long as you're saying it as an individual,
I wouldn't like one of the other members to speak on behalf of the
Round Table if they hadn't asked me personally what my view was.
News : Is there a full cross section of youth represented?
In particular, are indigenous youth from bush communities and town
lease areas represented?
Smith : I'd have to say yes for this year, we've got two indigenous
representatives [James Swan, now based in Darwin, and Graham Smith from
Tennant Creek] out of 16, which is not a bad percentage.
I'd like to have the opportunity to encourage young indigenous people
to apply because they just don't.
They really should be encouraged, people who have access to the
communities and to the youth here in Alice, they should be encouraging
them to apply.
Next year there may be a difficulty because we just didn't have enough
applicants, only a couple.
They stand a 100 per cent better chance of being selected than the
people in Darwin, simply to make the Round Table representative.
We do it demographically, and look for different backgrounds, cultures,
living areas, living conditions, to get 16 completely different people.
News : How genuinely interested is the Chief Minister in what you have
If it's something clearly against his line of thinking, how much would
it count for?
Has that ever occurred?
Smith : Yes, it has. I won't say what it was on.
The beauty of it is, Shane will come in and you can say whatever you
like, once you walk out of the meeting room he doesn't hold anything
He made the point in the first meeting, whatever is on your mind, you
have to broach it with him, because you are there to represent
Territory youth, and if you don't tell him you think something is
wrong, you are not doing your job as a representative.
Outside of the meeting that's a different matter, but he certainly
encourages us to say whatever we like to him or his Ministers.
I've been doing interviews for next year's Round Table, together with
the Director of the Office of Youth Affairs.
We'll make recommendations and I imagine the Chief Minister will take
our recommendations into account but the final decision is his.
News : Have you identified an agenda for next year?
Smith : What we started this year will roll on, because the members who
are continuing have a personal interest in those issues.
Juveniles in the justice system is one of those.
But they really have to formulate their own Round Table.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A BUSH HOUSEWIFE - HALF A
By ROSE COPPOCK
In outback Central Australia sixty years ago there was no electricity.
That meant no refrigeration in the home - which might have been
only a bush shed with an earthen floor, roofed and even walled with
boughs and spinifex.
A few sheets of iron usually covered the dining table and stove.
Stone houses , though surrounded by open verandas, would have been hot
in summer, with a fire in the wood-burning stove to heat flat irons,
bake bread or cook a roast dinner.
Roast dinners and meals made of steak were luxuries, for fresh
(unsalted) meat would keep only for a few days after a beast was
Weeks of boiled, dry salted beef would follow, accompanied by whatever
vegetables the lady of the house was able to grow - little enough
during hot weather.
Then even a good supply of potatoes and onions brought in from the
South might perish.
Patties made from cooked meat, stews and curries with plenty of rice
and dried peas disguised the taste of old, salty corned beef.
By day the raw beef was hung in a jute flour bag securely tied against
A stray blowfly in the hessian-sided drip safe with the cooked food was
not unknown, and a maggot on a dinner plate was brushed away without
too much concern!
Ants, with their pungent smell, were worse than flies, for they clung
determinedly to food, resisting all efforts to dislodge them.
The safe, like any other food cupboard, probably stood in pots of
water, but the odd ant might float across on a hair or a speck of dust.
Tinned butter from South was often rancid on arrival.
A herd of goats solved the fresh milk problem: boiled milk produced
A separator enabled butter to be made.
Goat mutton was welcome on the menu, too.
Making bread from hop yeast meant setting the yeast first.
When that had risen after about six hours a batch of bread was mixed
and set in a warm place to rise, usually overnight.
Next day the dough was kneaded, cut into loaves and set to rise again
in greased tins before baking.
At this stage pieces of bread dough might be fried in fat to be eaten
hot with jam for breakfast.
Dried fruit, sugar, fat and spice and to bread dough made a fruit loaf
"Bread kept in air-tight crocks in hot weather soon went soft and mushy
In a calico flour bag it became dry, but remained edible for days.
Jam was made from pie-melons, rosellas, tomatoes and cape gooseberries,
all cultivated in Central Australian gardens.
The fruit was washed and podded or, in the case of melon, peeled and
diced by knife on a wooden chopping board, the seeds removed.
Jam was boiled and stirred over a low fire for hours, in a large pot on
Jars were washed, dried and warmed in the oven before the hot jam was
Cakes were made with fat rather than butter, and there was no electric
blender to mix them!
Instead of ice cream there was rice pudding, vermicelli or bread and
butter custard if the chooks were laying well.
Gingernuts made without eggs were popular for smokos, though likely to
crack your teeth if you didn't dunk them in tea!
There was often no water on tap at outback places sixty years ago.
When her husband was away a battler's wife might have to draw water by
windlass and bucket from the well.
A station manager's lady would have someone to draw and carry it to the
house for her.
She would also have Aboriginal women to help with the housework.
Additional staff meant more cooking!
There would be a little tin wurley or bough hut up the flat, hiding a
pit topped with a wooden seat: an old newspaper stuck in the wall, a
bucket of ashes and a tin to scatter them downwards.
The nearest thing to a bathroom was a bucket of water, a dish and a
cake of home-made soap on a packing case outside the kitchen door.
If a woman wanted to swill more than her face and hands she used a tin
tub after dark - in front of the kitchen stove perhaps, in winter.
Men took a bucket of water, soap and towel to the vegie patch at night.
Every bit of beef or goat fat was rendered and kept for making soap.
A mixture of fat, water, caustic soda and resin made a volatile brew
that boiled over the moment the housewife's back was turned.
It demanded a low fire, a watchful eye and endless stirring until it
reached the right consistency, forming golden strings and droplets that
hung rather than fell from the raised copper stick.
The mixture was left to set overnight, then tipped out next day, solid,
though soft, and cut into blocks to become iron hard as time passed.
Kerosene lamps partially lit the main room (the kitchen) for a few
hours after dark.
Useless in wind, they popped and flared, blackened their glasses and
often went out.
With no radio or television, people read, played cards or the wind up
gramophone, or sat outdoors yarning of an evening.
Without fly wire to keep insects away, lamplight attracted every moth
and flying ant in the vicinity.
When mosquitoes and flies were particularly annoying after rain a smoke
bucket" of smouldering cow dung gave some relief.
On winter evenings the woman might sew, mend or darn beside the kitchen
The treadle sewing machine assembled clothes for most of the family.
By day there were correspondence lessons to teach the children: bottles
of ink and pens with scratchy nibs!
The woman dispensed medicine, diagnosed and bandaged to the best of her
ability - mashed soap and sugar for boils and infected wounds, condys
crystals as antiseptic.
Orphaned animals were hand reared; laundry was boiled with scraped soap
in the wood-fired copper, or scrubbed against corrugated glass or metal
Mail days brought half a dozen copies of the South Australian weekly
farming paper, The Chronicle", all at once.
Imagine all those births, marriages and deaths columns to scan for news
of city friends and relatives!
There were the Country Women's pages, and Madam Wu ...
There was no time for a Central Australian housewife to feel bored or
There were never enough hours in any woman's day.
But today, life's a lot easier!
MURRAY NECK - A 60 YEAR OLD TRADING DYNASTY THAT HAS
TAKEN THE HARDSHIP OUT OF LIVING IN THE OUTBACK
In 1937 a Dodge Buckboard made its way north from Adelaide to Alice
Springs with an exciting cargo on board: the Centre's first radios.
Until that time the only form of rapid communication between Alice
Springs and the outside world was Morse code.
At the wheel of the Buckboard was David Neck, who had an agency to sell
the radios, thus establishing the Neck family's foothold in the infant
In 1997, his son Murray is able to look back on 60 years in the
business of retailing electronics: "I've seen this industry develop
from the most basic product to the very sophisticated product that we
"Our family business has acted as a service organisation in that
industry, a supplier of product to the community.
"We've introduced to Central Australia almost every product that we've
ever sold, from the first radios and fridges to electric irons,
toasters and jugs, the microwave oven, the mobile phone."
Such is the pace of research and development in electronics, the future
is hard to predict.
"Nothing stays still," says Murray. "We're always looking for ways to
improve our business. "Technology-based service has not been developed
in Alice Springs nearly as much as it could and it seems a logical
direction for expansion.
We can offer the community, government departments, and businesses a
whole rage of technology based products: home theatre, surveillance
systems, public address systems, in fact a huge range of services, some
very technical, some not so technical, and some applicable to motor
vehicles such as car audio and car security."
These services were unimaginable in the 1929 town of just a few hundred
inhabitants when Murray arrived as a babe in arms.
The railway line had just been extended from Oodnadatta to Stuart, as
Alice Springs was then known.
Murray's family already had connections with the town.
His grandmother, born Annie Williams in Cornwall, England, had come out
to Australia on a sailing ship as a child, with her family.
They settled, along with many Cornish people, in the copper-mining town
of Moonta, on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.
Moonta was known as Little Cornwall, as it had been established by
Cornish people who, Murray says, were reputed as the best copper miners
in the world.
As a young woman, Annie arrived in Stuart to stay with Moonta people,
friends of the family who had just opened the Stuart Arms.
There she met Murray's grandfather, Charlie Meyers, who had travelled
from the Barossa Valley, bringing stock up to the Lutheran mission at
Charlie liked the area so much that he took out a pastoral lease at
Redbank, now part of Glen Helen Station. He later sold the lease,
moving into Stuart, where he opened a saddler's shop.
Annie and Charlie married and went on to have three children, the
eldest of whom was Murray's mother Dorothy, born in 1898.
At the time of Dorothy's birth Annie was the only white woman living in
As the end of her pregnancy approached, she travelled by dray to
Oodnadatta, then by train to the nearest midwife in Port Augusta, and
then all the way back with her newborn baby.
Later Annie and Mrs Bradshaw at the Telegraph Station were to help each
other in childbirth.
Annie took her family to be educated in Adelaide, where Dorothy
attended Muirden College.
Later she joined the staff of Charles Moore, then the biggest emporium
in South Australia.
During the First World War she met Murray's father David.
The war ended before David saw active service, and he and Dorothy were
married in the early 1920s.
Murray's sister Heather was their firstborn.
She is now Heather Clough, and lives at Epenarra Station, north of
The Neck family were originally Dutch, had migrated to England, and
then to South Australia.
One of Murray's jobs in retirement will be to find out more of their
David had been the sales manager of a real estate company called Catt
& Catt, but towards the end of the 1920s, with the Depression on
its way, he was looking to the north for new opportunities.
Before working in sales, he had been a market gardener.
"He was a pretty hard worker, he could turn his hand to anything," says
Murray. "But he was a particularly good sales person. "I've inherited
that, and so have my children."
Annie and Charlie had separated, with Annie returning to Stuart to run
a boarding house.
She had aspirations of building a hotel and asked her son-in-law to
come up and help.
"Right from the start my grandmother and my father didn't hit it off,"
"She was pretty volatile, and my Dad was probably impatient."
David, however, had more than one string to his bow.
He had come with some commission agencies, and started selling for
Murray remembers spending many childhood hours pouring over the Harris
Scarfe catalogue: "It was a Bible, like the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a
big thick glossy-covered, leather bound book, full of pictures of all
sorts of things, leather goods, furniture, grain, food items."
It was not long before David bought a block of land on Todd Street, the
site where Dymocks Bookshop now stands, paying 250 pounds.
There he established an iceworks and a cordial factory, and later
opened a milkbar where the family sold their own home-made icecream.
At the same time David continued selling as a commission agent for
In 1932 the Telegraph Station was moved into Stuart, and the town was
renamed Alice Springs in the following year.
Trains were scheduled to arrive once a week, with a fortnightly
The "off train" was for goods only.
News of the outside world came via the newspapers, always at least a
Murray started at the Alice Springs Primary School in Hartley Street at
the age of four:
"It was just across the road from where our family was living in a
corrugated iron home, on the corner diagonally opposite where the
Diplomat Hotel is now. There were only two rooms at the school, with
the four junior classes in one room, and the three senior classes in
the other. My first teacher was Joyce Jameson."
She later married Ron Donellan and they brought up a family in Alice
The headmistress at the time was Maisie Robb."
Running a household at this time was an arduous job."
Murray's mother, like everyone else, did the washing using a
wood-heated copper in the backyard.
Washdays were once a week.
She cooked on a Metters wood stove, and the only means of keeping food
cool was a homemade, hessian-sided cool safe.
Butter was tinned and didn't last long.
Goats' milk was delivered daily.
With the demise of the camel trains, a number of Afghan families
settled in Alice Springs, establishing goat herds and fruit gardens.
"Their fig trees were absolutely huge," recalls Murray, "and we could
climb them like monkeys."
Murray's grandmother Annie had her own herd of goats, a big poultry
run, grew her own vegetables and a lot of fruit to supply her boarding
Murray's father, being an ex-market gardener, also grew vegetables,
particularly during the winter months.
Eventually a butcher's shop opened and beef appeared more often on the
Necks' dinner table, as an alternative to goat's meat.
They could also buy groceries from Wallis Fogarty.
The family's iceworks became quite popular.
They delivered to customers on a daily basis.
The cool chest, an improvement on the cool safe, had been developed.
NEXT WEEK: Home comforts take back seat as WW II breaks out.
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