June 17, 1998


Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley says making public drunkenness a crime once more isn't the only measure against anti-social behaviour the Territory Government should be looking at.Speaking to reporters during a visit to Alice Springs last week, Mr Beazley said: "Everybody is in favour of being tough on crime."We need the other side of the coin - being tough on the causes of crime, getting down to the business of ensuring that people get a chance in life, people get an opportunity for education, for training, people get a chance for doing a few things for themselves, other than wander 'round in the streets in a state of despair."If I was a Minister in a state government, and I saw instances, large scale, of public drunkenness around the place, I would start thinking about blaming myself, for a minute or two, rather that striking an attitude which I know in the end, will cause unbelievable trouble for police."They've got better things to do with their time, [than to] fill up space that doesn't exist in gaols that ought to be there for people committing serious offences."Now, if you're going to provide the gaol space and provide the police, then fine, if you're not going to do that, shut up."Commenting on NT Chief Minister Shane Stone's proposals for "zero tolerance" policing, Mr Beazley said: "My suggestion to Shane Stone would be this: have a look at the number of police men and women that there are in the NT; you may well need a lot more."Have a look at your expenditure on gaols. You may well need a lot more gaol space for it. I'm very much in favour of a strong law and order position. People have to feel secure in the communities. But I do not like premiers who on the one hand say that, and on the other hand do not provide the policing, do not provide the accommodation."I suspect Shane Stone, on this front, joins a long line of state premier hypocrites."Mandatory sentencing, zero tolerance, all the rest of the catch words by state premiers, when they find themselves in a bit of political trouble, and want to go 'round making a bit of work for themselves, always have a price tag on the end of it." Mr Beazley also commented on a range of other issues: "I think the NT [will be] ready for statehood - and it should get statehood - when the NT political leadership sits down with all sections of the NT community and gets consensus."Everybody else in this country will respect a campaign for statehood in the NT based on that consensus."The NT has a really great future. But somehow I just do not feel that the NT Government is currently quite up to the task. This NT Government spends most of its time trying to score off a substantial proportion of its people, [going] around the place as well-funded strikers of attitudes."There have got to be people who actually build a sense of community and unity."When they’ve got that in the NT they’ll get the results in terms of the constitutional arrangements which will mean that everybody in this country wants to stand up and applaud their statehood."Mr Beazley said a Federal Labor government would free up funding for a redevelopment of the Institute for Aboriginal Development campus.At the moment, NT Education Minister Peter Adamson is withholding a grant from Canberra - under current arrangements needed to be released through the NT Government - because he wants the institute to rebuild in the vicinity of the Centralian College, and use some of its facilities.Mr Beazley said: "There’s $2.5m waiting to be passed across to what is one of the world’s best practice training institutes, something of which all Territorians could be justifiably proud."[The money is] sitting there in the NT’s coffers, $2.5m which I’m sure people in Alice Springs would quite like to see spent."If we win office we will liberate that $2.5m to do the work that it ought to be doing, reinforcing strength."So often in politics you find yourself reinforcing failure. It’s very nice, now and then, to be in a position where you can reinforce strength."So I would urge, in the three months before the next Federal election, the NT Ministers to pick up the pile of papers on the right-hand side of the desk, pass it over the $140,000 a year cheque, to the other side of the desk, and sign on the bottom line."Mr Beazley said the small size of NT electorates, in terms of number of constituents, is a major obstacle for Territory Labor to win government.He said: "What happens, there are only 3000 people on the roll.[A sitting candidate] can turn up every day on everybody’s doorstep and have a chat."So when people take an objection to the CLP, or to whatever happens in Parliament, they’ll take an objection to the Government but they won’t take an objection old Fred or old Freda, who happen to be their local representatives, and they let them stay on."What I'm trying to point out is that old Fred and old Freda don't have enough work, and what the people of the NT need to start to do is to make their politicians do a bit for the dough they earn."On the Territory's bid to have representation on the Ayers Rock and Kakadu national parks, Aboriginal owned but leased to the Federal Government, Mr Beazley said: "As I recollect, those sorts of positions were offered at the time [when the boards were set up], and the NTGovernment, as is usual, had a giant case of the sulks, and wouldn't be in it. "And now, having a giant case of the sulks, they want to knock over somebody's private interest in land in order to have a make-work program for the overstaffed NT Parliament and Ministers."My suggestion to the Northern Territory would be this: how about having a sensible conversation with an Aborigine in the NT for a change, just try it."Try it for 10 minutes and see where it gets you."


Making drunkenness a crime again in the Territory is "up for discussion" in the wake of Shane Stone's "zero tolerance" study tour of New York and Los Angeles, confirms a spokesperson from the Chief Minister's office.The proposal has sparked a lively debate about applying the law and order regimes of these huge American cities to the Territory's tiny cities and towns.Local experience in the not so distant past may be more relevant. The Territory has already had what could be described as "zero tolerance": drunkenness in public places was only repealed as an offence in 1974, but disorderly behaviour and a range of similar offences remained on the statute books beyond that date. Today disorderly behaviour is an offence under the Summary Offences Act, usually attracting a Summary Infringement Notice (on-the-spot fine), but optionally it can be dealt with by summons or arrest. Presumably, under "zero tolerance" the second option would become mandatory.Before the arrival on the scene of Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid (CAALAS) in 1973, most of those accused of "street offences" pleaded "guilty", and it wasn't unusual to have more than 100 defendants and as many convictions in a single morning.With proper legal representation (which would still be available today) many defendants started pleading "not guilty". Their cases would take hours, possibly days, and the court system began to clog up. There appears to be no reason why a similar scenario wouldn't reoccur with "zero tolerance" .The theory goes that after an initial increase in the crime rate, prosecution acts as a deterrent and the crime rate starts to drop. Will it? That is the critical question.Most of the local stories of when drunkenness was a criminal offence focus on the Magistrates' Court as conducted by the late Godfrey "Scrubby" Hall.Ted Skuse, a private barrister and solicitor practising in town at the time and a frequent witness to the court "deluged" by up to 100 defendants at a time, remembers Scrubby as a "very fine man and a great magistrate" who found the laws relating to drunkenness "oppressive and difficult to apply".This estimation of Scrubby is somewhat at odds with the image evoked by the early Aboriginal Legal Aid lawyers, as reported in Lawyers in the Alice by Jon Faine.This highly readable book, the transcript of interviews originally broadcast on Radio National, is a colourful and at times shocking oral history of Alice Springs at the turning point brought on by the emergence of Aboriginal organisations. The Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) was the first.Indeed it was one of the earliest legal aid offices in Australia, preceded only by the Redfern service in NSW and the Fitzroy service in Victoria.James Montgomery, the very first lawyer employed by CAALAS in 1973, found the experience overwhelming because of the huge caseload, and traumatic because of the harassment (by white people in town)."Initially the magistrate was very benevolent," he tells Faine, "and tried the soft approach, and we were all friends trying to do a good job."The police were very upset, as I recall it ... once they realised how much more work it would create for them."There were so many people who'd been arrested each night on street offences, we then had to make a decision about how we would approach it, because if I was going to appear for all these people all day every day, I'd be doing nothing else, because of the number."I think at one stage we even decided that it would be a good idea to stop the police arresting them, if I in fact clogged the courts a little bit ..."By the time Geoff Eames, now a Supreme Court Judge in Melbourne, took over in May, 1974 the magistrate seems to have found his stride.Eames recalls his first day with the service:"You find that the list is 100 per cent Aboriginal."The person hearing it in a tin-roofed courthouse is a man with the name 'Scrubby', Scrubby Hall. Everyone knows him as Scrubby."He knows himself as Scrubby, and the nickname really said it all. It was ... welcome to the 19th century."A day in the Magistrates' Court with Scrubby was definitely an experience not taught in law schools."When he was dealing with people charged with drunkenness he'd have the prosecutor call them out five at a time."And so five people would go up and five names would be read out and he'd say, 'Are you all guilty?' and there'd be a sort of muted chorus of what might have been 'Yes', and all would receive convictions and discharges."I saw Scrubby on one of the first occasions do that in a fairly spectacular way."He managed to convict a witness who was there for a case I was in, who simply went up when his mates went up. It was just a circus."David Parsons, a Melbourne barrister at the time of Faine's interviews, was at CAALAS from 1974 to 1976.He told Faine: "I remember the first case or cases as it's more properly described. After about a week of being in Alice Springs ... it was my turn to do the morning list ... it had been a show weekend, which meant that most of the Aboriginal people from the surrounding settlements and missions would come to Alice Springs, some of whom would get hopelessly pissed."So the morning list on the morning following the long weekend would mean that, as I then found out, there were people stretching out from the courthouse."I walked past this line of Aboriginal people as I was on my way to court ... assuming that everyone was lining up for an injection outside something like the Health Department ... [but] sure enough, that was the morning's list."There were 127 people, most of whom were charged with drunkenness but some of whom were charged with quite serious criminal offences - aggravated assault was the most serious that was charged on the day."So I appeared before His Worship Scrubby Hall SM, late of New Guinea, and commenced the list ... at the rate of about ... three every 10 minutes or something like that ... You don't appear as anything other than somebody standing up and effectively arguing for the tariff of the day, which from memory was about two bucks ..."What I do remember is when all of a sudden I started pleading 'Not Guilty' to offences of drunkenness, and the look of surprise on Scrubby's face."Frank Vincent, a "gun" criminal lawyer who started visiting CAALAS to run major trials in the mid 'seventies, now also a Supreme Court Judge in Victoria, recalls a similar experience at a "bush" court in Yuendumu."I stood up in the courtroom, announced that I appeared on behalf of all the accused ad today everybody was pleading 'Not Guilty'."I've never seen a more obvious look of horror on the face of any individual in my life as I observed on the face of the magistrate that day. "In any event, I cross-examined the first policeman quite happily for a substantial period of time ... I argued and fought quite a few of these cases for a while. The whole proceedings were stopped because it began to rain. "The magistrate's aeroplane was quietly sinking up to its axles in mud on the dirt airstrip."The remainder of the list was cancelled and after a month or two of fighting these cases, we discovered that the crime rate in Yuendumu dropped quite dramatically."Pat O'Shane, now a magistrate in NSW, was the first woman and first Aboriginal lawyer to work with CAALAS, starting in 1976.She also found the experience overwhelming: "I used to cry a lot," she tells Faine.She remembers a list from the mid-seventies at Yuendumu of "something like 310 charges against 85 defendants", including children under 10 years being charged with "stealing Commonwealth property".She went "berserk" over it and it became "a very big issue" in which the Commonwealth intervened.Her first day with CAALAS appears to have been typical of the time: "There were about 120 people queued up on the street outside the courthouse doors ... I'm never going to forget that experience."To walk down there and see a queue about half-a-mile long down the street was something that I would never have believed had I not seen it for myself. "And in fact for years afterwards I used to relate that incident in terms of cattle dipping - the way in which people were just processed through the court in such a hurry was something that was outside my very limited experience here in Sydney, and for that matter outside my imagination."Once I got accustomed to what was going on there, I figured that there were lots of occasions when people were simply throwing in the towel and entering pleas of 'Guilty' when they probably had a case."I became a bit of a hard-liner you might say, about that situation, and unless it was absolutely clear-cut as far as I was concerned, the clients were going to plead 'Not Guilty', and always put the police to the proof."Phillip Toyne, who joined CAALAS in 1975, echoes the experiences of his predecessors: "I turned up [at Warrabri] and because of floods and the illness of a magistrate, there'd been a couple of court sessions adjourned, so there was a three-month build-up of cases. "I turned up with one field officer from CAALAS, and we had a court list of something like 90 defendants and 150 charges ... and I was expected to seriously take instructions in relation to all of those matters, some of which were many months stale, where the defendants had almost no recollection of what was meant to have happened ... especially in drunkenness cases - it was a fiasco ... "The Magistrates' Courts were real meat factories. It was just parading these desperate people through and processing them; that was the new regime, that was the improved version as a result of CAALAS being around. What it was like before then must have been truly horrific."So, how long will it take for "zero tolerance" to have an impact on the crime rate? The experiences quoted above range over three years without any sign of diminution in the "morning list".As there is no reason to suppose that charges in the future wouldn't be defended whenever the case is not absolutely clear cut, won't the police have a very significantly increased workload, producing evidence?Pat Miller, Director of Aboriginal Legal Aid, who grew up in the period evoked above and whose father was instrumental in the early development of the legal aid service, says that the typical drunk and disorderly person does not belong to the criminal element. "They are people with an alcoholic problem, not a criminal problem. They have a sickness and need help. "Arresting them will take the police and court system's attention off urgent and important matters," she says.Meanwhile, Central Australian Youth Justice (CAYJ) made claims last week that increased imprisonment rates in the year following the introduction of mandatory sentencing have cost the Territory taxpayer in excess of $9m.The lobby group says that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average daily prison population in the NT had increased by 42 per cent, by the end of 1997.During this period, the cost to accommodate, feed and clothe a prisoner in the NT was $169.44 per day (Commonwealth Grants Commission, report on Government Service Provision, Vol 2, 1997). This translates to an annual increase in the cost of accommodating prisoners of approximately $9.6m, says CAYJ. Reference: Lawyers in the Alice, Aboriginals and Whitefellas' Law, by Jon Faine, The Federation Press 1993.


The more things change, the more they stay the same.In September 1974 Bernie Kilgariff, member for Alice Springs, rose in the Legislative Council to support the Police and Police Offences Bill which would see the repeal of public drunkenness as an offence."Everyone recognises that drunkenness is not a crime but a sickness" he began."However, I support this bill with some reluctance. I would have thought that the government would have made some statement as to the handling of intoxicated people in the future."There were 7000 charges of drunkenness on the books last year and that appears to be one of the main reasons why the government introduced this legislation - to get rid of that embarrassment. What are they going to do with drunken people in the future?"There has been a vague reference to detoxification units but little else. I have asked questions in the house. There is absolutely no indication of what the government is going to do in the future for intoxicated people. "What I am afraid of now is that the police station will be turned into a night shelter and nothing else will be done about detoxification units and institutions to look after these unfortunate people."We have so many intoxicated people in the Territory. They will be brought to the station by the police themselves ... The police don't want the job. These people will be put into the drunks tank and, after some 12 hours, they will be released from jail."In 90 per cent of the cases, they will wander back to the hotel or to a place where they will continue drinking a flagon."The only benefit that is coming out of this legislation is that it will take the drunk off the street and allow him to sober up in a drunk tank. Nothing else is going to be done for him. The matter is serious and must be given consideration."Mr Kilgariff went on to quote part of a letter from the President of the Northern Territory Police Association: "This association endorses any action which may be taken to introduce detoxification centres into the Territory. There is little doubt that a more enlightened approach to drunkenness should be introduced."


It's sometimes invisible; it's never deserved; it terrifies our children; it leaves us powerless; it can never be justified; it happens on all levels; it's domestic violence. And it's a crime.These were the opening words from long time local resident Barbara Lowe, Director of Holyoake, when launching the new Domestic Violence Information and Resource Kit on behalf of the Alice Springs Women's Shelter last week. The kit is most comprehensive and is primarily aimed at those working in government and community service organisations. The issue itself, however, is a community issue and just as important as the more publicised concern of anti-social behaviour.The strong force in the daily running of the Alice Springs Women's Shelter is Esme Tyson. Esme was a well-deserved recipient of the Chief Minister's Northern Territory Women's Achievement Award earlier this year. She arrived in Alice at the end of 1985 and has been actively involved not only in the operation of the Shelter but also in acting as an adviser to Government and participating in the formulation of the NT Government's Domestic Violence Strategy.Taking time out to catch up with Esme about improvements in services and awareness of domestic violence (often referred to as DV), she told me that last year's television advertising campaign had been most effective in highlighting the issue.The introduction in 1994 by the Housing Commission of its own DV Strategy and the establishment of The Domestic Violence Legal Help Service, plus a counselling position, is of enormous importance to those wishing to move out of violent family relationships. Neither should the role of the Police go unmentioned. Often the first on the scene of the more physical assaults, the training of officers to deal with such incidents now forms an important part of police training. The establishment of the DV Police Unit in Alice Springs provides important support to victims and is a much valued service. Last year the Territory Government took out three of the prestigious Australian Violence Prevention Awards. The first for The Aboriginal Family Violence Strategy, which is acknowledged nationally as a leader in this complex area. The second for the Community Education Program "It's got to stop....." and the third for a Data Collection Project. This tracks and reports on the incidence of DV in the Territory and is the only such project in Australia. Aside from winning awards, the Territory has developed Australia's only accredited training program for DV workers and professional groups. We are also the only State/Territory in Australia which legislates for Interim Restraining Orders to be obtained by telephone reporting of a DV incident. This is most important in remote areas.While domestic violence is generally seen as occurring in husband to wife relationships (defacto or legally married), it occurs in a wide variety of relationships including son to mother or sister, and even in teenage dating relationships.Same sex relationships can also have DV problems, and, an issue not often faced by the women's movement is that of women's violence towards their male partners, although these incidents are few in number.Violence may take many forms. In addition to the physical and verbal abuse which is often depicted in advertising or movies, it can take other forms such as economic, emotional, sexual or social abuse. Using money, even to the point of denying personal or family essential items, to manipulate and control a woman's life has been a major reason why the women's movement has promoted economic independence as so crucial to women. Emotional abuse takes many forms including threats to kill or injure, not just the person immediately involved but also family and/or friends and even pets. Hiding the car keys or destroying letters from loved ones, burning photos of other family members, or even destroying a woman's knitting and sewing, are some of the more insidious incidents I became aware of when working in this field. Social abuse may include isolating an individual from family and friends, and controlling which social events are attended. Such isolation makes it easier for the man to further abuse his partner. Domestic and family violence needs to be talked about publicly and often. It is an area in which it is extremely difficult to bring about change. Even the best programs aimed at improving the behaviour of those who inflict this sort of family violence have a success rate of only 30 per cent.For those seeking help or information, the Domestic Violence Counselling & Support Service can be contacted on 8952 6048, and the Alice Springs Women's Shelter on 8952 6075. Remember, domestic violence is a crime!


CATIA general manager Mike Gunn has welcomed a wholesaling initiative by the Tourist Commission (NTTC).He says many small operators will now have access to an increased sales network which would otherwise be beyond their means.Mr Gunn says the proposed commission - around 20 per cent - is "reasonable" as some international wholesalers charge up to 33 per cent.The initiative was announced recently by new NTTC marketing manager, Andrew Clark."Over recent years there's been a noticeable lack of NT product available in the retail travel agents on the brochure racks, and a lack of NT product that can be easily booked by consumers walking into their local travel agency," Mr Clark told industry representatives recently.He says the travel industry will do the retail selling but the NTTC's Holiday Centre in Alice Springs will act as the reservations unit for the wholesale department."We're packaging the product and the travel agent acts as the middle man."The NTTC, as the wholesaler, will be "looking for a commission from the various products to justify why we put the brochures together, why we have a sales team, why we have a reservations unit," Mr Clark says."We would contract with [operators] special rates and we would package that into different offers within the brochures; we would develop the brochures and get the sales team to go out to the travel industry, get the brochures up on the racks, teach the travel agents how to easily sell the products."Then we'll have the reservations unit at the Holiday Centre take the bookings from the travel industry."Smaller operators will benefit "because we will be establishing niche brochures - whether it's fishing or fossicking, Aboriginal culture type product - so there certainly will be opportunities for specialist product to be featured and highlighted."Never before would they have had the opportunity to be in travel agencies all around the country."For that service the NTTC expects to "follow traditional wholesalers' fee structures" of charging a 20 per cent commission, half of which would go to the travel agencies, the retailers.Mr Clark says the Holiday Centre is a commercial centre "similar to the Queensland Sunlover, or Temptations Tasmania."We're not breaking new ground so far as the industry at large is concerned."Three or four other major states have a similar wholesale program through the retail chain."It's a big step for the commission in that it's taking responsibility for a commercial aspect."However, it may be "a few years" until the wholesale programs become established, but it's conceivable that they will start making money."The government have invested the extra $1.5m they've put into the commission's budget this year expressly for the purpose of setting up the wholesale department."Will it ultimately be self-funding?"We'd like to think so, yes," says Mr Clark."Any extra funds that are made, if and when it does become profitable, I would say would be put back into promoting the NT as a destination."


The Finke Desert race is more than ever showing its potential as an event of international status. This year it attracted the likes of Peter Brock and Tony Longhurst. Both broke down, but immediately after the race, both resolved to mount a challenge again next year.A web page developed by the local Redback productions gave the weekend a further international dimension, with full descriptions of the Finke activities from the Prologue to the Finish.Troy Dann also did his bit by incorporating the Finke race in his high rating national television series. Footage of the event was also broadcast on the Nine, Ten and ABC networks.And once again this "weekend of a lifetime" was run by local volunteers, on a shoe string budget, without a major sponsor.Race director Jol Fleming is adamant that the race is what it is because of the dedication of these locals, who begin preparations now for Finke '99.He also sings the praises of the 95 per cent of competitors who prepare their own vehicles, at their own expense, in the back shed, with minimal sponsorship, and literally fly through to Finke by the seat of their pants. Included in the field this year was local restaurateur, Oscar Cardosa, who raced as a youth in Portugal and has never lost the passion for two wheel touring. Harry Bitar, better known in business circles, also dons the leathers for two days, and Yulara identity Kurt Johannsen never misses a Finke. Genial publican David Koch not only competes but puts in plenty in the voluntary administration and sponsorship effort.At the front of the field, Alice Springs has a host of potential champions knocking on the door of Stephen Greenfield. It is not only he who will keep the cars from taking outright honours in the future. Should locally produced Craig Carmichael ever take a break from the professional circuit, the field would be choking in his dust. Darren Griffiths on another brand name bike would certainly challenge the best. Andrew Pinto in winning the 250s showed his potential this year, as did 16 year old Wayne Pengilly in winning the 125s. The tradition will continue.Finke is a one off event in the motor industry calendar. It is different in that it races both bikes and buggies. And it stands out in that the town of Alice Springs, as one, supports the event. Thousands flock south to camp along the track and it is Centralians who ensure the 140 motor cycle and 68 car nominations.It is a true community festival, run by the people, for the people.However Jol and his team of volunteers are not kidding themselves in regard to the awesome load they take on in order for Finke to happen. Jol believes that once the race receives greater national television coverage, sponsorship will follow. In trying to attract that coverage there is at least one hurdle to be jumped. In the CAMS Off Road Racing calendar a points scoring event is scheduled each year on the Queen's Birthday. CAMS would obviously like to have the Finke race change its date, but it is understandable why local organisers want to keep things as they are, even while knowing that this clash will limit the number of elite car contestants attracted to the Alice, and the chances of the national body putting their full weight behind Finke promotion.All organisers also realise the enormity of the administrative exercise as Finke grows.Hence it may be timely for us to look in our own back yard for real support. Presently the Department of Recreation and Sport provides some assistance by way of use of resources and limited "people power". However, when one looks at the expenditure on the Lasseters' Indoor Challenge over the past three years in Alice Springs, the infamous Cannonball Run, or at the allocation of funds to Darwin's Hidden Valley for the coming motor sport series, one can spare a thought for the Finke volunteers. This major event is a proven winner with 23 years experience under the belt. It is a tourist attraction and at the same time plays a vital role in contributing social capital to the community. It makes a profit.To go the next step and gain international status, it seems our government has the chance to back a winner.


"If I was meant to do anything when I came to Central Australia, it was to get a drama series up," says CAAMA Executive Producer Matthew Flanagan about the proposed Glen Helen series for television.Mr Flanagan's enthusiasm has already been rewarded in round one of the long haul to get major production finance.The NT Departments of Asian Relations, Trade and Industry, and of Arts and Museums, as well as the Alice Springs Town Council have each put $5,000 towards script development.This money will go towards engaging an established script writer (negotiations are underway with Denny Lawrence and Jackie McKimmie), to work as a mentor with local writers. Mr Flanagan has approached to date Alexis Wright, Terry Whitebeach and Liz Trigenza .On this step,with its obvious appeal to the industry development philosophies of the government bodies committing funds thus far, Mr Flanagan says: "We want to see skills left here in the Territory, not just watch our talented people go to the cities."With a couple of pilot scrips in the bag, CAAMA would next apply to the Film Finance Corporation for funds for eight one-hour episodes.The storyline as it stands has been developed by an industry professional Michael Robinson, with Marcia Langton, Professor of Aboriginal Studies at NTU, as a consultant.The natural setting is in and around Glen Helen Gorge; the social setting is at the Glen Helen Hotel.This is the hotel as we have yet to really see it, transformed into "a truly unique Outback hotel" by its Western Arrernte owners, not as the lodge it was under the management of the legendary Di Byrnes, Jill Scott and Sandra Clyne.Curiously, the background notes to the story outline overlook the fact that, under its new Aboriginal ownership, the accommodation section of hotel has been closed now for almost two years, its redevelopment caught up in a morass of conflicting political and bureaucratic agendas, black and white.Mr Robinson sees the cast of main characters as the three Western Arrernte elders of the Management Committee, the fictional Old Joseph, Billy Goodluck and Herb the Tracker. The hotel manger is the "highly imaginative and flamboyant" David Devine, the supervisor the "tough fix-it man" Dan Flanagan, and Mrs Mills is "the large, practical Outback woman" who organises, of course, the accounts and supplies.They have inherited from former owners an old Aboriginal stockman called Brumby, "who spends his days riding his horse around the area, telling interested tourists about Glen Helen's history and philosophising with the hotel's only permanent resident", a novelist, Ian Mann.Add to these Senior Constable Mick McLean, the helicopter pilot Bert Flood, and a young Aboriginal doctor based in Alice Springs, Bev Pananka Collins who "mixes a fair bit of her people's traditional medicine with modern medical practice, almost always with perfect results".Mr Flanagan says: "A Town Like Alice needs to be brought up to date. In this frontier setting, where white and indigenous Australia mix, we also have a crossroads for the entire world." That's the potential, but as the storyline stands, we have A Country Practice and The Flying Doctor, rejigged a little by Dead Heart.The challenge for the local writers will be to serve to a commercial television audience quite a new brew, that has as its ingredients the far more interesting lived reality of contemporary Central Australia, including at the very least some less two-dimensional female characters, both black and white.Such a development would undoubtedly find support from Mr Flanagan. He says the series should be "unashamedly Australian"."It won't be shot in a shoe-box, it should have action, pace, intrigue, intelligent personal stories and it should say something about the environment, natural and social, in which we live, without being afraid to touch a nerve, while not getting on a soapbox."

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