February 18, 1998


"We are here. Let's get up and get going. With people like Suzanne Lollback, myself, the new CEO of the council, Nick Scarvelis, we are really addressing the fact that we have got to make the town profile itself far more significantly. I think the citizens of this town will see monumental changes in the next six months."
The monumental changes will take place - if at all - without Merran Dobson, the third general manager to leave the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association (CATIA) within a year.
Five days after her enthusiastic pronouncements to the Alice News, Ms Dobson abruptly resigned on Wednesday last week.
CATIA chairman Steve Byrnes released a statement on Monday quoting "personal reasons" for her departure.
Ms Dobson will add only that "unforeseen circumstances" require her to be in Brisbane urgently.
She did not deny reports by several CATIA members that constant tension between her and some CATIA office staff are the real reason for her departure.
"All I am saying is I have to return to Brisbane," she says.
While "there is always conflict at any time" she describes the rapport between her and the staff as "great" and "excellent."
Ms Dobson joined CATIA in August last year, a turbulent year for the organisation which opened its new office near the town council chambers on February 6.
General manager James Corvan left early in 1997, apparently because he had been made an offer CATIA wasn't prepared to match.
According to members, Mr Corvan's replacement, Kevin Lewis, was sacked after only a few weeks on the job, and is now taking action against CATIA for wrongful dismissal.
Mr Byrnes declined to discuss any matters relating to previous staff, saying Mr Lewis' action is "CATIA business".
Mr Byrnes says the position is "prestigious" and he anticipates that he will find a replacement for Ms Dobson who will be leaving in two weeks' time.


The Labor Party and the Alice town council will support each other in the push for container deposit legislation, according to Deputy Mayor Geoff Miers and candidate for Greatorex, Peter Kavanagh.
"The council has a policy favouring container deposit legislation, so has the Local Government Association of the NT (LGANT), and any government that chooses to introduce that policy, local government will work with," says Ald Miers.
"If it was the CLP tomorrow who decided to reverse their stance, then obviously local government would work with the CLP."
He says casks and bladders, strewn by drinkers along much of the Todd River bed in the town, should be included in the scheme, attracting a deposit of 50 cents to $1 each.
The scheme needs to provide an incentive large enough for people to return the containers, or for others to collect them.
"You wouldn't see an empty wine cask in the river because they would be too valuable," says Ald Miers.
Mr Kavanagh is a former president of LGANT, which has unsuccessfully lobbied the government to introduce the scheme, favoured also by other anti-litter organisations, including the Territory Anti Litter Committee.
MLA for Greatorex Richard Lim says there has been "no change in the government's position" against deposit legislation, and he has nothing further to add.
MLA for MacDonnell John Elferink says a container deposit scheme has "failed" in South Australia but he is currently conducting his own research into the proposal, looking at legislation in other states.
He says he will be meeting with Alice town council CEO Nick Scarvelis soon.
Mr Elferink says he regards the cost to the taxpayer as an important consideration: "The community benefits from dress shops but the government doesn't provide those."
Mr Kavanagh says: "We need to bite the bullet. We need to act now. We need to look beyond the dollars and cents in the short term to the long term future for Alice Springs."
He says Territory Labor adopted the introduction of container deposit laws as a policy at its convention late last year.
He cannot comment on the "nuts and bolts" of the legislation at this stage: "We'll do the research, we'll get the legislation right and we'll clean up Alice Springs.
"We'll be delighted to work with the Alice Springs Town Council."
Mr Kavanagh says the packaging industry is certain to oppose the moves but "in politics you're always going to alienate some section of the community. What we're trying to do is to support the overwhelming cry that's come from the people and the council in Alice Springs."
Ald Miers says container deposit proposals were "killed off" by the wine cask levy, designed to pay for clean-ups.
However, "it does very little at all to address the litter problem apart from employing a few people," says Ald Miers.
If the government is unwilling to bring in deposit laws, then the town council should explore possibilities of introducing them in the form of by-laws, he says.
Both Ald Miers and Mr Kavanagh are critical of methods used to gauged the proportion in the total litter stream of rubbish that could attract deposits.
They say in litter surveys, each match stick, cigarette butt or a straw are counted as one "item" - and so are a bottle, can or wine bladder.
Yet the latter have the "biggest visual impact on this community," says Ald Miers.
"The current methodology used by [the NT Government] to calculate the potential effectiveness of container deposit legislation is ridiculous," says Mr Kavanagh.
"To regard a wine cask and a cigarette butt as an item of litter of equal significance is ridiculous in the extreme. When you drive through the town with a coach load of tourists, and you go past a mountain of cans and a pile of used wine casks and bladders, it is not only embarrassing, but it has a deleterious effect on tourism."
Mr Kavanagh is a manager in a major local tourism enterprise.
He says the current opportunity for tourism development may be lost "unless we do something immediately. We are going to suffer in the long term and the future of Alice Springs is at risk."
Ald Miers says recycling is becoming less attractive as an alternative to deposit legislation because prices for scrap are falling: "I'm certainly aware that the prices are going to drop again later this year," he says "I guess one has to ask the question, who is actually behind the drop in the price for recycled products? "Is the packaging industry controlling that price or is it other forces? "As prices drop, recycling becomes less and less viable."


Talking to people about Container Deposit Legislation (CDL) is rather like talking about an Australian Republic.
The majority appear to be in favour, but no one is sure what form it should take to meet community needs and to work effectively.
The issue of refundable deposits on cans and bottles is raised on a regular basis, and the recent call by Territory Mayors has once again put the topic up for public debate.
I am aware that both Mayor Andy McNeill and Deputy Mayor Geoff Miers are both longtime supporters of the concept.
This is important, as we need them on-side if the matter is to be resolved.
Regular visitors and ex-residents of South Australia appear to have mixed opinions about whether CDL works in that state.
But then, who says we have to have the same sort of scheme in the Territory?
Chief Minister Shane Stone is correct when he says that CDL would result in valuable funding being withdrawn from Keep Australia Beautiful NT.
Having worked for KAB, I am aware that this organisation attracts the major portion of its funds from a section of the packaging industry.
This group at least recognises that food and beverage containers contribute to the litter problem.
There is no doubt that the introduction of legislation would cause them to withdraw funds.
KAB acts as Program Manager for the Territory Anti Litter Committee and whilst they receive funds and support in kind from the NT Government and sponsors such as Territory Rent-A-Car, the hole in KAB's budget would be substantial.
The activities of KAB, which has only a handful of staff, and the various voluntary TALC committees often goes unrecognised, except at large events such as Garden Fairs and during Tidy Town time.
Out bush it is a different story: across the Territory, KAB, with valuable assistance from field officers in the Department of Local Government, is playing a major role in Aboriginal communities.
There are a small but growing number of Aboriginal communities which put our urban centres to shame when it comes to litter.
Through the encouragement of KAB and the Tidy Towns Competition, plastic bags are being replaced with locally designed cloth bags; some communities have banned disposable nappies and others have introduced their own recycling programs.
These vary from dismantling and storing old car parts for re-use to free icy-poles and fruit for kids returning drink containers to the local store. Regular clean-ups are a natural part of life and positive reinforcement is given through teachers in schools and staff in health clinics.
The renewed sense of pride often leads to other initiatives too numerous to mention here.
The benefit to general health, increased self-esteem and setting standards for the future cannot be under-estimated.
It would be devastating if this work could not be continued when, in fact, it should be expanded.
Whilst at first glance it appears easier for all, for Territory Government legislation to be introduced, does this need to be our only option?
Given the diverse nature of our communities and urban centres there would be many practical difficulties in introducing a Territory-wide scheme. That doesn't mean the issue should be abandoned.
However, for the NT Local Government Association to continue to raise the issue every six to nine months is waste of time unless the wider community demonstrates that it really supports the concept.
Town council aldermen are ideally placed to work and discuss innovative approaches to local problems.
Whilst this may be a Territory-wide issue, it is also a local problem.
Local governments also have the ability to introduce their own by-laws if necessary.
The Alice Springs Town Council already has in place a sub-committee to look at waste minimisation.
I'm not aware if a container deposit scheme or similar has been investigated by this group.
If not, perhaps it should be put on the agenda.
Prior to its establishment, I do recall that council undertook a number of consultations with food and drink outlets and various other organisations to explore ways for drink containers to be returned.
For various reasons the scheme did not proceed.
This could be revisited and alternatives researched.
The most viable option could then be run as a pilot project after appropriate funds had been sought.
Refundable deposits are most attractive because we will appear to get something back - you, me and the kids picking up public litter to earn a few dollars for a movie ticket.
Whatever the outcome, we all pay, either through our hip pockets, rates or taxes.
When we do nothing we still pay through fewer visitors, lowered morale and possible health risks.
We have elected representatives to deal with issues like this.
Community consultation generally works well in our town.
Where is our community spirit?
What are we waiting for - or doesn't anyone really care?


Heritage architect Domenico Pecorari says he is coordinating about 10 small business people from Alice Springs, interested in putting together a group bid for the old gaol site, seeking to preserve and restore most of its historic buildings.
The bids close on Friday next week as the controversial Heritage Conservation Amendment Bill is expected to be passed by the Assembly. The Bill will give the Minister for Lands, Planning and Environment, Mick Palmer, unlimited powers over heritage sites.
It is widely expected that the NT government will bulldoze the gaol once the new laws are passed.
Mr Pecorari says the group is mainly interested in tourism related uses for the old buildings, including an audio visual display dealing with the town's history, and a working printing press museum.
"We are putting together a submission that we hope the government will have to seriously consider," says Mr Pecorari, who announced earlier that he's seeking to raise more than $1.5m for the project.
He says the deadline is unreasonably short, taking into account that many people were out of town for the Christmas and New Year break.
Mr Pecorari says he is "surprised" about the attack by the Territory Construction Association on plans to find a commercially viable way of saving the historic buildings (Alice News, Feb 11).
"It appears as though the association may see our proposal as a threat to its members, builders and developers, some of whom have been used to buying up land more cheaply for development," he says.
Meanwhile real estate agent and auctioneer Ian Builder says he wants to promote the use of the entire old gaol site - including the historic buildings - for a retirement village.
He says there is a "fair chance" that some of the existing buildings may be incorporated in the project, although they were likely to be a "deterrent" to developers.
Mr Builder says he is dealing with "two or three interested parties."
Lesley Mearns, the president of the NT National Trust, says she raised with Greatorex MLA Richard Lim her concerns about the new heritage legislation during a ceremony to hand over to the trust the ownership of Les Hanson House, diagonally opposite the old gaol.
She says the trust has been paying for the maintenance of the house since the 1980s under a lease agreement, and negotiations about a title hand-over had been in progress for some time.
Mrs Mearns says it may be a coincidence that the building was handed over amidst vigorous opposition to the government's handling of the old gaol issue.
"We're very glad they did hand it over," says Mrs Mearns.
She says she talked to Dr Lim "at quite some length" about the heritage legislation.
"We pointed out there are some sections of the amendments that really would make protection of heritage in the NT very difficult, particularly those sections which allow the Minister to make changes basically of his own volition, to destroy a building, to desecrate a building, to make significant alterations."
Mrs Mearns has called for the withdrawal of the Bill, saying it would give the NT the "worst heritage legislation in Australia," and possibly undermine the Territory's quest for statehood.


If you think Pine Gap is secretive, try finding out some details about the sale of the Alice airport.
The apparent head of the local consortium apparently bidding for the facility, builder Michael Sitzler, isn't returning phone calls.
Other consortium members aren't talking because they have signed secrecy agreements.
Local Federal Airport Corporation (FAC) manager Wayne Tucker says he's been instructed to say nothing.
Sydney financial advisors BZW, acting for the Commonwealth Government in the bidding process which is closing tomorrow, won't even release details of what exactly is on offer, except to applicants preselected late last year.
Neither will the firm say who's been pre-selected or short-listed.
Not even Mayor Andy McNeill is aware of what's going on, the crucial role of the facility for the town's future notwithstanding.
Mr McNeill says he was involved in the consortium some time ago, but bowed out when continued membership became conditional upon a financial stake.
Besides, Mr McNeill says, he too, had to sign a secrecy agreement.
However, there are some details on the public record, and a bevy of rumours, which invite lively speculation.
For example, there are apparently tensions within the Alice Springs consortium and some members have resigned and are trying to get their money back.
The prime question seems to be, why would anyone want to buy a business that lost $627,000 in 1996-97, according to the FAC's annual report, on a total revenue of $4.4m, nearly half from "aeronautical revenue."
The assets are valued at $26.6m in the report, and 803,234 passengers used the airport during that year.
All these figures include Tennant Creek.
Separate details are not available.
It's likely that the consortium headed by construction boss Sitzler doesn't give two hoots about the aeronautical business, but has a keen interest in another aspect of the deal: land.
With 3548 hectares, the Alice airport is by far the FAC's biggest property.
Brisbane comes a distant second with 2685 hectares, Melbourne third with 2365. Sydney - the nation's busiest airport - is on only 881 hectares, according to the annual report.
As real estate prices in The Alice have skyrocketed to become second only to Sydney, the airport's freehold land, most likely immune to native title claims, is a developer's dream.
The airport block extends in the west to the Stuart Highway, north to Colonel Rose Drive and east to the Todd River.
In addition there's a big chunk south of the runways, a total area nearly 10 times bigger than the suburb of Gillen.
Even taking out the "noise cones" at each end of the main runway, there is a massive amount of residential and commercial land waiting to be developed.
Some offers magnificent views of the MacDonnell Ranges and Mt Undoolya; some is begging for tourism facilities, for example, at the Stuart Highway T-intersection.
What's more, with the rural subdivision to the north, and the airport to the south, the northern portion of the land has many of the water and electricity "head works" already in place (but no sewerage - the rural area uses septic tanks).
According to a town council source, there have been mumblings about developing the FAC land during discussions about the new land use structure plan for the town.
However, these discussions appear to have stalled: there have been no meetings "for several months," according to the source, and the "plan" hasn't even reached the stage of an outline.
Not even people at these top level meetings are aware of what's going on with the airport.
Feeling like a mushroom?


Katherine's flood disaster prompted the Alice News to ask authorities about flood plain management in our town.
"Let's pray it doesn't rain," responded Mayor Andy McNeill, adding that "it's a situation council and government are looking at all the time." "Hardly relevant to the present agenda in Alice Springs," said a staffer in Minister Mick Palmer's office.
"I haven't had any phone calls about it in the last three years."
In fact, in 1994, not all that long ago, a master-plan for the Todd and Charles Rivers was released and a Flood Plain Management Committee formed, headed by Department of Lands Regional Director, John Baskerville.
The masterplan recommended the replacement of the casino causeway by a new bridge and the eventual removal of the river bed level road crossings.
The committee received funding from the Federal Government following the blocking of the proposed flood mitigation dam at Junction Waterhole. On the agenda of possibilities in 1994 were:
multiple small dams in the catchment area;
levee banks in flood prone residential and business areas;
better insurance coverage, including possible compulsory insurance;
examination of the zoning system and stricter enforcement of provisions.
At the time of going to press, Minister Palmer's office had not been able to provide an update on the Flood Plain Management Committee's progress.
The town council's Director of Planning and Environment Services, Eugene Barry says that while management of the Todd is a Territory Government responsibility, the council has achieved improvements in a number of the town's secondary catchments.
It is hoped that local flooding at either end of Burke Street and at the Sadadeen roundabout has been "fixed" by upgrades to the drainage systems in the Green-leaves catchment.
The upgrades should be sufficient to cater for a one in 100 year event, says Mr Barry.
The flash flooding that occurred in Larapinta in 1992 was considered a localised one in 100 event.
Drains in the area were at capacity and overflowing before there was any water in the Todd.
Minor blockages in the drains have since been cleared, but no major work has been done in the area, apart from the rebuilding (by the NT Government) of a structurally unsound retardation basin.
He says planners must take into account complex flooding scenarios.
For example, in a one in 100 event the Todd takes six hours to peak, considerably longer than it takes the town's stormwater drains to peak.
In "freak" circumstances, where a one in 100 event in the Todd catchment was followed five hours later by a one in 100 event in the Greenleaves catchment, the two would peak together.
"You would have a Noah's Ark situation," says Mr Barry, "but its likelihood is calculated as one in 10,000."
He says by and large, improvements in the secondary drains means that flooding will have subsided there before the Todd peaks, thus avoiding a back-up of river waters into the drains.
Mr Barry said council would like to see more retardation basins around the town but that the native title claim and sacred sites protection have made that almost impossible.


While the Commonwealth Government has ruled out the proposed export of red-tailed black cockatoos, the Northern Territory will go ahead with plans to commercially harvest the birds.
The recently released management program for Calyptorhynchus banksii has withdrawn a draft proposal to harvest, under a permit and quota system, free-flying juveniles and adults, but will introduce legalised harvesting of eggs and hatchlings.
While the protection of the free-flying birds has been welcomed by the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), it says the entire harvest concept ignores the fact that there is "poor scientific data on the impacts upon a population when eggs and hatchlings are removed."
ALEC made a detailed submission to the Parks and Wildlife Commission at the draft stage of the plan, and together with other environmental groups, worked to raise public awareness of the issues around the harvesting proposals.
It says that the public response has not been given "the credit and importance" it deserved and that many important points raised in response to the draft have not even been mentioned in the final report.
ALEC says the report's claim that the birds are abundantly distributed over the whole management zone (Darwin Coastal, Daly Basin and Pine Creek biogeographic regions) is based "on one aerial survey in the Victoria River region."
"How can a report seriously state that the NT subspecies has maintained its range and abundance based on one survey?" asks ALEC.
The report describes a harvest limit of 600 eggs or hatchlings per annum as "very conservative".
Once again, ALEC asks where is the baseline data that would allow such a claim when the report itself admits that "within the NT the specific habitat requirements of [the subspecies] are poorly known" and that there are "no quantitative data" on the distribution or abundance of nests. ALEC argues that "nesting habitat, biology and nest productivity data should be collected before harvesting, not with the commencement of trial harvesting."
It says current threats to populations of the bird - such as land clearance, inappropriate fire regimes and illegal harvesting - have not been adequately addressed in the report.
ALEC criticises the omission from the report of any reference to where royalties from the harvest will flow.
It also describes as "outrageous" the addition of the word "deliberate" to the penalty clause relating to animal welfare: "It nullifies all responsibility placed on the permit holder to abide by permit conditions and animal welfare guidelines.
If the permit holder can just plead ignorance or incompetence, then technically he or she could manage their permit and birds in whatever way they wish, regardless of regulations."
ALEC says that the plan is based on an assumption that "commercial wildlife utilisation invariably leads to a conservation benefit."
"In fact," argues ALEC, "the history of Australia has shown that commercial harvesting can lead to over-exploitation and irrevocable harm to wild fauna and flora", citing as examples our fisheries, forests and whales.
ALEC says conservation strategies should be firmly in place before commercial programs are considered: "Economic benefits from wildlife utilisation may be one outcome of a conservation strategy, rather than conservation being an outcome of a commercial utilisation program."
[The Alice News sought a comment from the Parks and Wildlife Commission, but had received no response at the time of going to press.]


"They say I'm 'their painter' and I feel okay about that."
Alice Springs artist Rod Moss is talking about the Eastern Arrernte Aboriginal families who have peopled his art and life in Central Australia for the last 12 years, the "White Gate mob".
"On their side, they want the dignity of a reasonable relationship, not one that's just between nine and five," he says.
"These days there are very few opportunities for them to have that sort of contact with white people."
"The present generation of men and women can't say any longer, for example, 'I know him, I worked for him for 10 years', whether it was doing cattle, driving trucks or whatever."
Relationship, accumulated experience and knowledge are the foundation of this body of Moss' work.
While particular paintings and drawings can evidence this, a view of the body of work allows a greater appreciation of its depth and strength. Where do you come from, Brother Boy?, an exhibition opening at Araluen this weekend, drawing on Moss' output over the last four years, is thus welcome.
During events associated with the Sugarman project presented at Araluen last year, Moss talked to some 80 slides of his work featuring the White Gate families.
Alcohol and its abuse, the primary concerns of Sugarman , were also the subjects of some of the work, including key paintings such as the tragic Fight.
I was more struck, however, by the fullness of the life experiences Moss had represented.
There were many images of people, adults as well as children, going about everyday life, at work and at play, mostly together, the same closely linked group across three and four generations, variously exuberant, amused, ironic, proud, matter-of-fact, thoughtful, sombre, depressed, anguished.
Images of Aboriginal people at the positive end of this emotional scale are rare in whatever media, if we exclude the cliches of laughing children and the romanticised view of "indigenous people in harmony with nature."
At the negative end, on the other hand, we are presented with only too many, and usually within a "them and us" framework.
Moss' images of suffering among the White Gate families transcend this kind of delineation.
He achieves this in several ways.
One is by the directness, the lack of contrivance, of the relationship between painter and subject.
This is evident from the very first, a portrait of Xavier Neal, which will be included in the current exhibition "to show where it all started", says Moss.
This is not an image of suffering but of friendship, which as it grew, with Xavier and with others, has meant that these Johnsons, Neals and Hayes suffering the calamity of relationships or of their loss in death - such as in the great Funeral at Santa Teresa - are the same Johnsons, Neals and Hayes that we see elsewhere, engaged in the other business of life.
They are not archetypes but people with a most certain identity and context.
Their suffering can be understood in its particularity as well as in its commonality with what all people come to face, sooner or later, by various degrees.
Even when a work is seen in isolation, the other work and the experience that has been fundamental to its continuity over the years, impart to it a distinguishing sense of particularity rather than of generality.
Another way Moss overcomes the "them and us" view is by drawing on some of the great compositions of the nineteenth century French realist painters, such as Courbet, Manet and Seurat.
The viewer does not have to be consciously aware of this to be susceptible to its effect of renewing images in our cultural memory with unsuspected possibilities and power.
In the twin works that have lent their name to the whole show, it might be thought that a sharp dividing line between "them and us" is the very concern.
It is, but it cuts both ways.
The contrast in life experience has always been acknowledged in the very medium chosen by Moss, the graphite used in the representation of the Aboriginal people in contrast to the paint used for "Europeans."
Graphite also separates the Aboriginal people from the surrounding landscape, in a conscious refutation of seeing them and the natural world "as one" (a la Ainslie Roberts).
Two new elements in subject matter are discernible in the work of the last four years.
One is the growing up of children and all that happens around their play and their maturing.
The adults have changed slowly - we easily recognise over the years Edward Johnson, Xavier, Moss himself and others, but the children, Moss' own and his friends', grow from babies to young boys and girls and start to assert themselves more powerfully in the work.
The second is ceremonial subjects, such as Negrido.
The title, a Spanish word, refers to the last hour of darkness before dawn, when a certain stage has been reached in an initiation ceremony.
Moss says that it is only within this recent period that he has been asked to paint these occasions and that he has felt sufficiently confident to do so. Another area of exploration, the representation of land of traditional significance to Moss' friends, began some time ago.
In this show we will again see the beautiful nocturnal drawings of Anthwerrke (Emily Gap).
Moss says he has been asked on occasion to represent "dreaming" stories but that he has refused: "I don't feel comfortable, that's not my area, they can paint those things," he says.
"But with certain landscapes, I'm struggling. I want them to be somehow tough, resilient, vital and alive."
Meanwhile Moss has continued work on his social subjects, the "most pressing" from his point of view, and with which he often achieves the very qualities he aspires to in the new landscapes.

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