May 27, 1998


Two new figures in key promotional groups are calling for a revitalising of the Alice Springs economy by pushing for a boost in NT Government spending, lifting public confidence in the town, and developing close cooperation between the tourism lobby CATIA, the Chamber of Commerce and the town council.Liz Davies, recently elected as the vice president of the chamber, and Mike Gunn, who will take up the position of CATIA's chief executive officer next week, say if the three organisations worked together, they could form a powerful interest group influencing the government, the NT Tourist Commission and local commerce."I just love Alice Springs when it's got a buzz about it," says Mr Gunn. "Let's get everybody fired up and motivated, make them understand what Alice Springs is all about, and get a bit of spirit into the town."Ms Davies owns, together with husband Colin, a string of waste management, earth moving and storage rental companies.Mr Gunn is a former tour coach driver who's worked his way up to become the local manager of the tour company, AAT Kings.He resigned recently to take up the CATIA position, held by no fewer than three people in the past two years. Mr Gunn has served on the CATIA executive for several years.Ms Davies says the chamber is looking at forming a division for young people in business, "stimulating the economy and getting locals excited about the town", as well as broadening opportunities for tourists to experience Aboriginal culture, which she says is "unique and different".Mr Gunn says contact with Aboriginal people and culture is "one of the major appeals for international tourists."They want to understand their lifestyles, they want to see all the positive things in Aboriginal culture."Getting access is the key."He says Aboriginal businessman Paul Ah Chee, from the Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre, is doing "fantastic things".Says Mr Gunn: "We need to work in conjunction with organisations such as Paul Ah Chee's."He has access to some of the homelands and understands the culture."In my previous job I tried to get Aboriginal people to work for us, and I realised how little I really know about their culture, their motivations for working."Ms Davis and Mr Gunn spoke to the Alice News last week, Ms Davies commenting on Aboriginal job schemes that failed to perform, and comparing them to the Commonwealth Government's enterprise incentive scheme, which she says is "almost a one hundred per cent success".Of 14 local participants, 13 are now successfully in business, including Dan Murphy, a sculptor now selling his work internationally.
Davies: Are we just trying to get large numbers or are we trying to get key quality people who really want to flow with it?
Maybe the selection process needs to be reviewed. Maybe [the programs] were too ambitious initially. A lot of it is hard work, especially if you're not used to it.Attitude is paramount. Skills can be learned.Strong leadership is also vital, really keeping the people motivated.
Gunn: I couldn't just walk into an Aboriginal community and get the people. You need partnerships with people like Paul and Frank Ansell, from Pitchi Ritchi, who have the contacts and generate enthusiasm.
Davies: You can't say [to Aboriginal people] we're doing you a favour. You have to sell the benefits. Make them want a job or a business.
News: Why are CATIA, the chamber and the town council not working together more meaningfully at this stage?
Gunn: It's a communication issue.
Davies: Everyone is going through major changes of business planning.There's been a very strong focus by each organisation on its own plans.There's a lot of internal examining of their ideas and aims.Before we start alliances we each have to know what's our role and how are we going to look after our own interests. The council, the chamber and CATIA have just completed that process, and it is only now that we can form genuine alliances.
Gunn: CATIA has just gone through a very extensive process of business and marketing planning, to exactly understand where we are, where we're coming from, what our objectives are.We've had a bit of turmoil in CATIA over the last 18 months.
News: What are the three top priorities on your agenda?
Gunn: I've got about 30 on my mind so it's hard to pick out three. [One is to] get Alice Springs residents to understand what a great place we've got.The key to the Alice Springs tourism industry, as distinct from Ayers Rock, is the domestic market. I couldn't say that in my previous company, but our future is the self drive market.You only have to go down the road to see the cars and caravans heading into town.We have some of the best and safest four wheel driving areas.Just head out into the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges, and cruise around on some of the gazetted four wheel drive roads, it's fantastic!The Mereenie loop road, or out through Boggy Hole - that's tremendous country. We've got to get that message across to the Australians.The early retirees, the baby boomers, in the old days used to jump on a coach and do a 16 day tour.They don't do that these days. They buy a car and caravan, because they've got their super, and they travel three or four months. They can spend a lot of time in Central Australia.
News: What would you promote as something to do in town itself?
Davies: From a woman's point of view, shopping! If I lived in Sydney I would enjoy the Aboriginal art shops.We should return the Myers and Grace Brothers catalogues that land in our mail boxes, and look to the locals. We have great shops here.In effect, you can visit half a dozen art galleries for nothing.Yesterday there were backpackers who walked down Elder Street because they were told they could get a 20 per cent discount in a store there.They walked all the way from town. Little things like that. There are a lot of restaurants, a great variety of foods.
News: In the late afternoon, when people come back from their tours, you could fire a gun down Todd Mall and not hit anyone.
Davies: We need to have a look at that. It's really up to the Todd Mall Marketing Committee. In Adelaide's Rundle Street, you have the little cafes that bring a town to life, especially in the late afternoon.
Gunn: Perhaps it's a case of looking at other centres. Albury Wodonga, for instance, what have they done to attract business? Another thing we don't make enough of here is the weather. Here we are, end of May, and it's sensational.
We should even be highlighting the changes in the seasons.News: The NT Tourist Commission gets as much money as does its counterpart in South Australia which has 10 times the population. Yet our motel occupancy rate is below 49 per cent.
Gunn: The Tourist Commission has gone through a bit of turmoil itself in the last couple of years, there's been a fair bit of unrest since the Kennedy Report days.They desperately need stability. They have to decide on a couple of key initiatives and stick to them. No chopping and changing.
News: Do you see CATIA as an independent lobby or as an appendage of the Tourist Commission?
Gunn: I've got some pretty strong views on that. CATIA is an entity in its own right.By necessity we will work in together with the Tourist Commission, for the overall good of the Northern Territory, but the commission doesn't dictate what CATIA does.
News: Should CATIA, as a lobby group, be financially independent from the government? Does being funded largely by the government prevent CATIA from being an effective watchdog over the government's Tourist Commission?
Gunn: Quite a lot of our budget comes from the Tourism Marketing Duty (TMD). We do need those funds.The TMD money is used for promotions. That's the way to go.But we're our own entity and we won't be dictated to by the Tourist Commission. We'll stand up and have our say when the time comes, I can assure you of that.
News: What should Alice Springs be demanding from the government?
Davies: I told [Trade and Industry Minister] Daryl Manzie at the chamber luncheon that government spending is focussed on Darwin. Let the dollars talk.
Gunn: I agree with that.
Davies: There have been so many cutbacks by departments; let out the repairs and maintenance projects, let out the road works, spend more money on housing and development. We need some more major projects in Central Australia.
Gunn: The Outback Highway project [from Cairns to Perth via Alice Springs] is fantastic.The WA government has committed $25m to it.I'm not convinced the railway is the best thing for Alice Springs. I think the Outback Highway is going to be a lot better for us.I'd like to see the Mereenie loop road sealed, but we need to keep the four wheel drive adventure tracks as well. That way you get two bites at the cherry.People flying in and hiring cars here are part of that huge self drive market. It's the way to go!


A boost to Alice Springs' flagging economy - especially in tourism - may come from an unexpected quarter: from the new owners of the airport.Currently losing money and enmeshed in restrictive bureaucracy and a rigid fee structure, the terminal will cast off its Federal Airports Corporation shackles early next month.Jeff Scheferman represents Airport Group International (AGI), the American half of Airport Development Group (ADG), which will settle for the Alice, Tennant and Darwin airports for $110m on June 10.That includes a rumoured $25m for Alice - a bargain considering that the Commonwealth spent roughly that sum on the construction of the new terminal building just a few years ago.The Australian "half" - 51 per cent, in fact - is owned by Infratil Australia Limited, a specialist infrastructure investor listed on the stock market.Talking to Mr Scheferman is almost therapeutic for his directness and "go get it" attitude.No, they haven't done a deal with the NT Government about the Ayers Rock airport.Tourist traffic has ballooned there over the past few years, despite promises by former NT Chief Minister Paul Everingham that there will never be any direct flights - bypassing Alice Springs - to Ayers Rock.ROCK: CHALLENGEMr Scheferman says the Rock's progress has clearly caught The Alice by surprise - but that's a challenge, not a problem: "We'll aim to recreate Alice Springs as a tourist destination in its own right, not just as a way stop, and we'll promote The Rock as a by-product."He says The Centre has very special opportunities for people seeking "unstructured" holidays, "heading off in a car, map in hand, and not knowing where they will finish up that night."This is damn hard to do anywhere else in the world."Yes, they're going to turn their new Alice property into a world class airport, and the Lockheed Martin affiliated company, with interests in 26 airports around the globe, has some impressive runs on the board.Terminals and airports AGI is involved with include Atlanta and Toronto in North America, and locations in Bolivia and the UK as well as Perth and Hobart.AGI raised annual passenger numbers at the Burbank (Los Angeles) airport from 2.2 million to 4.8 million, and turned Atlanta - previously two gates - into an international hub with 24 gates and 7.2 million passengers.No, Mr Scheferman says despite Lockheed's defence industry affiliations, ADG hasn't done a deal with Pine Gap.In fact, the giant US Air Force Starlifters and Galaxies servicing the base are the only planes not paying landing charges - "yet," says Mr Scheferman.Attracting air travellers and the money they spend in the airport shops during "dwell time" are a major focus for development, likely to be boosted by flexible landing charges. But they're by no means ADG's sole preoccupation.Mr Scheferman says mining and horticulture also present excellent trading opportunities.For example, the company is looking at setting up cold storage and freight handling facilities for grapes and other products grown in the Ti Tree area.At this stage the company hasn't made any plans for the vast area of land not used for aviation purposes (the Alice airport is by far the biggest in the nation), but Mr Scheferman says this clearly presents further opportunities.So far the Airport Development Group doesn't have any local equity, but as Infratil Australia is listed on the Stock Exchange, anyone can buy shares.Mr Scheferman says ADG will have an Alice based executive looking for opportunities and drawing up a marketing plan.He says: "Our plans for the Alice airport will be crystallised over the next 12 months in a Development Master Plan prepared in consultation with the local community."What's his deadline for the first draft? Ninety days from takeover.


At long last the ALP has chosen a replacement Senator for the position vacated by Bob Collins. Of course, we shouldn't be surprised that the process took so long when the final choice was a woman.Politics is still very much an arena where a "woman has to be twice as good as a man". Choosing the right person, in any political party, is far more rigorous, and prospective candidates far more scrutinised if there is a good woman in the line-up. However, Tracker Tilmouth can now get on with his job at Central Land Council without being pestered by the media, and rumours such as those of phone calls overseas to the lead singer of a well-known Aboriginal band, can be laid to rest. Maggie Hickey as Leader of the Territory ALP will, no doubt, be pleased that she can get on with being Leader of the Opposition.Trish Crossin has lived in the Territory for 17 years and is a well known trade unionist. Over the years I have sat with her on a number of different committees and government advisory bodies, generally to do with education or employment. I have always found her to be clear speaking, thought-provoking, forthright but not fanatical. Her career change comes also at the end of her two-year term on the NT Women's Advisory Council.She is seen by WAC members as fair-minded and with an ability to handle difficult internal issues in a diplomatic manner.Her work on the council particularly in the areas of child care, superannuation and the law are seen as a major contribution.Her first test with Territorians will come with the Federal election which appears likely to be held in the not too distant future.Trish will not have had the luxury of much time in her new position and, as we all know, the political scene federally does not leave much time for contact with constituents back home. While I am sure that Bob Collins will be out and about with her during the campaign, she will have to work hard to retain many voters who have traditionally voted for the CLP at Territory elections and the ALP at Federal elections.The initial comparisons with Bob Collins are inevitable. Bob Collins has always been well-respected across the political spectrum in the Territory and deservedly so. A loyal Labor man who could have played an even bigger role in Australian public life if rumours of Paul Keating's offer to find him a safe seat interstate are correct, Bob has generally been seen by Territorians to put the Territory first and the ALP second. Bob's stand on uranium mining is not shared generally by the Federal ALP nor by Trish Crossin, who is well known for her anti-uranium mining sentiments.It is just such sentiments which could prove a stumbling block in the NT. I believe, the combination of the electoral quota system for Senate elections and the hard work that Trish will undoubtedly put into her campaign, will see the seat remain safely ALP.Her only real difficulty would be if the CLP finds a well-respected, high profile candidate to run in the second Senate position. While there may be some political hopefuls who feel they could win the day, I believe it is most unlikely that we will see any change come the election.On the Federal scene the leadership tussle between Peter Reith and Peter Costello is now openly discussed in the media. While Mr Reith continues to do battle with industrial relations on the waterfront, Mr Costello has yet to put up for public scrutiny his agenda for either the GST or other tax reform.Rumours are that while support for Mr Reith in the party room is currently quite high, much of that support comes from members who will lose their seats if the country goes to an election in a double dissolution.Internal power struggles in any political party can be quite ruthless, but whoever wins the day publicly would use that as leverage in a leadership vote. This, of course, supposes that John Howard steps down as Prime Minister.To challenge Mr Howard would have to be a matter of careful timing and would be considered most unwise in the run-up to an election.We have, however, seen previous acts of folly by Liberal party politicians when individuals have become so hungry for power, that they have forgotten the bigger picture.In the past it was a major factor in keeping the Liberals in opposition. In the event of a win for the Coalition, a challenge to the man whose leadership has seen the party returned to government would be unlikely.He could, of course, seek to relinquish the position. While John Howard, who turns 60 next year, may retire early after a lifetime in politics, his timing in leaving this arena may depend on whom he sees as stepping into his shoes.

POLITICS ISN'T FOR PETER KITTLE. Final part of our series.

While the Peter Kittle Motor Company does not want any more dealerships in Alice Springs, they would like to expand their business with other acquisitions that tie in with motor industry.Dealer principal Peter Kittle says they'll move interstate when they can buy another dealership that suits the way they operate. He estimates the move will be made within the next two and a half years:"With communications the way they are now, we're in a position to run a business anywhere in Australia."In this final part of our series on the town's most successful motor company (see last three issues) the Alice News asks Mr Kittle whether, with his proven record in management and planning, he would consider making a contribution to civic life? Says Mr Kittle: "I believe that if I can grow this company to be one of the best companies in the Territory, I can have influence through that more than I could in a government role. "Being a fairly large participant in business in the Territory we get the opportunity to talk to people on both sides of politics and they listen to what we say."Is Alice Springs getting a fair deal in his view?"I would have to say that at the moment I'm not convinced that we are. The performance of governments throughout Australia - and ours is no different - revolves around winning the next election, not around what's good for the country, or the state or territory."There's a classic example of that federally at present, and in the Territory it's not any different."Our opposition is also not as strong as I would like it to be. To have good government you've got to have a strong opposition."I'm more Liberal than Labor - that's because of the way I was brought up and being in business - but I'm not black and white about it. I like to look at what the parties can offer us as a state, not what their beliefs are, and that's how people should be judged too. "There's a lot of hard-working people out there who have different beliefs to you or I, and they can do a lot for us."The bottom line in politics is what are they really there for? Some of our politicians lose sight of what serving the public means."


A boarding school to give children of the Outback better educational opportunities while staying close to their families: that was the dream of the Rev Fred McKay when he started planning St Philip's College in the early 1960s.Rev McKay succeeded "Flynn of the Inland" as superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission. While the Rev John Flynn sought to provide a "Mantle of Safety" for the Outback, working with Alfred Traegar to develop the pedal wireless and founding the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Rev McKay's goal was to put in place a "Mantle of Caring", by creating the cornerstones for a strong, permanent community in Northern Australia.Perhaps the most critical of these was the building of a first class boarding school in Alice Springs, so that families would not have to send their children to school thousands of miles away, or have to leave the Territory altogether when their children reached school age. Rev McKay planned and supervised the construction of St Philip's College, camping at the site with his swag and quart pots until the work was done.A hall was part of the original plan for the College and at 90 years of age, Rev McKay, retired and living in Richmond NSW, rolled up his sleeves and went to work to raise the money to see it built 33 years later. The multi purpose hall, with the largest seating capacity of any such facility in Alice Springs, will be officially opened by the Chief Minister, the Hon Shane Stone, on Friday, May 29 .The $1.8 million dollar building was funded by a national appeal conducted by St Philip's College and supported by almost 1000 individuals and companies throughout Australia. Apart from Rev McKay, patron of the Outback Achievers National Appeal, special guests at the hall opening will be Appeal Chairman, Sydney businessman Bruce Reid, and dozens of people from NSW, Victoria and South Australia who were involved with the original building of St Philip's, as well as some of the original staff members, including the College's first Matron, Lois Hurse (Walker), and the Rev Bert Bell, who was Headmaster from 1965 until 1968 and guided the College through its formative years.


Alice Springs crafts-people have measured up well against national competition in this year's Alice Craft Acquisition, the 24th.Out of 11 acquisitions, five were by Alice residents.Judge Michael Griggs, co-founder of the contemporary crafts gallery Australia Craft Works at The Rocks in Sydney and former director of the Australia Council Crafts Board (1973-78), described his task as "unenviable" because of the impossibility of comparing "like with like."How do you compare hand-made teddies, however finely done, with computer-generated imagery on silk? Or the "superb" raku fired Vessels by Krysia St Clair (acquired) with the Pop Art approach of Deborah Miller's Money Purse Travelling Shoes?Says Mr Griggs: "You have to focus on excellence in workmanship and the way in which techniques and design have been successful in achieving the result the artist hoped for, but there's always that little bit of magic with which one work talks to you more than another."Fragments from Within by Alice Springs Craft Council Chairman Philomena Hali, with its subtle combination of techniques and materials, was one such piece included in the final acquisitions.Mr Griggs also wanted his choices to cover a variety of media and approaches, and "to collectively say quite a bit about the position of the crafts at this point in time".The story-telling in Bronwyn Beesley's screen Something I Wanted To Do placed it in strong contention from this point of view and it too was ultimately acquired. "Many things have been in the artist's mind, associations with the Territory, images of the Dreamtime, the presence of the new Aboriginal generation, with the design held together by the contemporary roads running through it as well as the contrasting traditional walking tracks and camps."Other acquisitions of work by local residents were: Liz Wauchope's Lizard Skin wall-hanging which he described as "amazing" and "a very, very significant and successful art piece" for its interplay of a variety of techniques: "You end up with a piece which shimmers and glows in a wonderful rich manner." Simpsons Gap by Francois Perez which "explores the use of paints on silk to provide images associated with the ranges; it's very different, much more two dimensional than many other pieces in the exhibition, but for me it works very well." Landfall by Milena Young which he saw as "an exercise in the use of colour". Combined with the shibori (crinkling) technique, encouraging shifting patterns of light, Mr Griggs thought it worked "very well" as either a wearable or art piece. He was disappointed by the under-representation in the show of Aboriginal craftspeople, which also mystified Mrs Hali. Nyukana Baker's Ina Wiya - "a very handsome piece of painting on clay" - appeared to be the only Aboriginal entry.Mr Griggs also regretted the relative lack of pieces in wood, an important area of contemporary craft, especially in Western Australia and Tasmania, and one which he would like to see better reflected in the collection.He described the acquisition as "one of most important regional acquisitions of its type, held in high esteem throughout the country."The judges over the years, he says, "have collectively put together an extremely important range of work."Some of the early choices included work by some of the greater names in crafts in Australia, and have since been added to by choices of work by new craftspeople, using new techniques. "It's an extremely important reference point."While commending the public exhibition of parts of the collection, such as the rotating displays in the cases at the airport, he expressed his hope that a permanent home would soon be found for the acquisitions so that they can be permanently on show, "for locals as an inspiration for their own work, as well as for the interest of tourists."

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