July 15, 1998


Alice Springs should take advantage of having "the biggest patch of dry land, moon country" in the world, to host international celebrations of next year’s 30th anniversary of the landing on the moon.This is the brainchild of that unique interpreter of our landscape, Bert Cramer. "Alice is in the middle of a 100 mile crater. Well, what's two miles out of centre? It's in the middle!"There is a bigger one than our 100 miler, that's at Yucatan, Mexico. That crater is 110 miles in diameter, one half being under the Gulf of Mexico. We've got the biggest one not under water," says Bert."My count so far is that we've got 25 lesser ones inside that big single impacter, but they must have come in together like a shovelful of rubbish and set up a single big rim. It would be astronomically impossible to get it like that by random chance over millions of years."In Bert's view this setting would be ideal for a "space age" festival to celebrate "Armstrong putting the first human footprint on the moon".The anniversary occurs on July 20 in America, July 21 in Australia, being on the other side of the international dateline.Bert thinks the festival should highlight aerial sports such as gliding, sky-diving and air shows, and have a hi-tech emphasis."What have they got here in Australia? Over 60 skydivers in one pattern. Break the record again here in Alice Springs! "We've got four space orientated stations, Pine Gap, the one alongside RSL, Jindalee, and of course the one at the CSIRO which is watching satellites for just about every man and his dog and the rest of the planet."They'd be worth asking if you could have have an Open Day there. You could walk around a little bit with a guide or in between two guides. "You couldn't go walking around by yourself, checking if the screws are tight enough! People would be tickled pink!"The big dream would be a getting in a suitable telescope, where you're picking out parts of individual craters."Bert also thinks we should have a parade and could take the opportunity to showcase some of our other attractions: stage a mini Finke Desert race, a rodeo, bicycle races "round and round the crater here. We should have people here in droves and droves, camping room only!"He says he presented his idea at a recent CATIA breakfast for "attractions people", but "I've given up on them, they're not going along beyond what they can think up at their tea breaks. It was all right when we had bosses like Reg Harris who'd cut and dried this bloomin' country, put his heart and soul into it and he knew what we had. "Hermann Weber had it for a while. These men knew the county and knew how to run a business. "Now it's being run by academic managers, they've got their diplomas or whatever. We want a local man again who's going to put something into it."When I was introduced to the new chairman Mike Gunn, I said oh yes, you're the man who worked for Ayers Rock. Ayers Rock has taken all the bloomin' custom for Central Australia, we get the leftovers, they're buying up Alice Springs, getting it on the cheap, and eventually when they've got enough they'll take over Alice Springs! You'll find the bloomin' directors are somehow all inter linked."They had a meeting once about putting the two in together. I was the only one who put in a motion against it, I never even got a seconder, I told them they'd be sorry when they did it. From that time forward Alice went down and Ayers Rock went up. "It suited the Government, they put that many millions into it."Bert's moon festival would be unique to Alice Springs: "I'd try to invite Armstrong, although I know he doesn't like public attendance very much. He didn't do it on his own, he's the first one to tell you that, but still it was him who had the first footprints on the moon. "We don't know who the blackfeller was who put the first footprint on Australia, that's lost, but this one we know."The whole moon expedition was a tremendous milestone in the achievement of man, and Alice Springs could celebrate it. Why not!?"


An Alice Springs News survey shows that local businesses are experiencing a varied but generally good tourist season.Two service stations report a considerable increase in business.At Mobil Teppa Hill Ian and Robin Reid estimate the increase in turnover and number of clients to be as much as 20 per cent, compared to the same period last year.Another centrally located service station reports an increase of 10 per cent, describing the result as "on par with the best years".BP Red Centre, under new management, reports turnover in the last six weeks as up slightly.Danny Wilson says: "The season is here and happening. Things are looking good for the year."If this indicates a rise in the self-drive market, one would expect caravan parks, for example, to be also doing well.Brendan Heenan at the MacDonnell Range Holiday Park reports that business is up by five per cent on last year and that visitors are staying longer.He describes the season as very good, when compared to the last five years, expecting that the Masters Games will cap it off.At the Heritage Caravan Park, Jeannette Coffey also says turnover and number of visitors are up compared to last year, although she was unable to put a figure on the increase.She says visitors are staying for about the same length of time, but describes the season as "booming".Ms Coffey says the message that people need to stay longer in Alice Springs "needs to go south".However, at the G'day Mate Tourist Park, Paul Simmons says business is down by about seven per cent compared to the average over the last five years.Mr Simmons considers anti-social behaviour by indigenous people, including stones being thrown at cars travelling through Heavitree Gap, to be a contributing factor to the decrease.In the backpacker accommodation sector, where most visitors are also travelling by road, Toddy's is experiencing a "booming year", the busiest out of the last five.Steve Chatley says they are "flat out" with an increase in turnover estimated at 10 per cent, and a rise in visitor numbers of some 15 per cent.Mr Chatley says about 20 per cent of Toddy's customers arrive by air, about the same self-drive, 15 per cent travel by coach, and 45 per cent come in package tours.He says, however, that visitors are not staying for as long as in previous years. Another backpacker establishment says business is much the same as the last five years.About three quarters of their visitors arrive by road, although not many in package tours.By way of general comment, the manager of this establishment feels that it is too expensive for people to get around and see things in Alice Springs: tours and rented cars are over-priced.In the budget accommodation sector, one business reports a downturn in custom, with fewer visitors staying for about the same length of time.For this business, the season is the worst in the last five years.At the All Seasons Frontier Oasis, where 75 per cent of visitors arrive by air, the last six weeks have seen an increase of about three per cent in turnover. The season, however, is significantly down on that of 1996, although guests are staying longer.Ted O'Dea at the Diplomat Hotel, where the majority of custom comes from the corporate sector, says the season was slightly down till the end of June, but up for July."Enthusiasm for month of July is very positive and I feel quite confident about the winter season," says Mr O'Dea.Turnover and visitor numbers at Rydges Plaza, where 80 per cent of guests arrive by air, are up by an astonishing 60 per cent in the last six weeks. The rise is due to a conference for 400 delegates which brought over 700 people to town for at least five days.The Plaza's Rod Hearn says a conference centre in Alice Springs would increase visitation to the town.A centrally located hotel also reported the benefits of accommodating delegates to a medical conference, with business up by about 10 per cent. Its business has grown steadily over the last five years at a rate of five to 10 per cent. At another hotel business was down in June, but up in July, described as "excellent so far".Compared to the last five years the season is "down a little".So, how have Todd Mall businesses fared?Michael Hollow at the Aboriginal Desert Art Gallery says that while turnover in the past six weeks is much the same as last year's, the number of clients is down by about 15 to 20 per cent.Mr Hollow says fewer tourists are coming in because tour companies take them out of town. "Tourists should stay longer in Alice Springs," says Mr Hollow.Bryce Ponsford at Gallery Gondwana, which targets collectors, both private and institutional, also says fewer people are coming into the gallery, although turnover has remained stable with sales at the upper end of the market increasing.Further down Todd Street, the Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre reports that turnover and business numbers are up by about 10 per cent.A spokesperson says: "The industry is vibrant. It's good to see people still choosing Central Australia as a destination."


Territorians could be forgiven for wondering what's happening on Territory Statehood for little has been said since the flurry surrounding the Convention earlier this year. I can advise, however, that the topic is about to take on a new lease of life. The report on the proceedings of the Convention, together with a document incorporating the Convention's Resolutions on a new State Constitution, have been tabled in the Legislative Assembly. They are due for debate during the August sittings of the Territory Parliament.Additionally, the Federal Minister for Territories, Alex Somlyay, has announced that he will shortly be placing a submission before Cabinet in Canberra for the Northern Territory to become a State. It has also been revealed that the Federal Minister's recommendation is that the Territory receive no more than its two existing Senators at this time. This is at odds with the proposal of Chief Minister Shane Stone to increase the number of Territory Senators to four on a grant of Statehood, with an increase to 12 over a further period of time. One area of agreement between the two Ministers is that the NT be admitted under Section 121 of the Australian Constitution. This would require the support of both Federal Houses of Parliament and provides for a new State to be established by an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament. It also gives that Parliament power to impose its own terms and conditions.On a more personal note, I have passed all briefing papers which I received as a delegate to the Territory's Statehood Convention, to the Alice Springs Public Library. These include the NT Statehood Working Group's Final Report and the Sessional Committee's Terms of Reference on a Final Draft Constitution. Also included are Hansard transcripts of public hearings and other published papers. While not forming part of the official briefing papers, I have also given the Library the information papers provided by Territorians for a Democratic Statehood.
Readers would be aware of my article some weeks ago about the Women's Shelter, with an overview of some aspects of its history. I was pleased to be contacted by Pam Ditton after that article as I was unaware of her role in the organisation. The clear and detailed account of her recollection of events at that time, published in last week's paper, were also most informative. As I advised Pam, happenings which I may touch on in this column are not intended to open old wounds. Further, the column, as I have stated on a number of occasions, welcomes feedback. Pam is right when she says maybe it's time a history of the Women's Shelter should be written. I have long believed that there are many excellent community based organisations whose facilities and work are often taken for granted. The Women's Shelter is one such group.What has become apparent in talking to Pam, and many others, is just how turbulent was the period of the ‘70s and ‘80s. That is not to say it is an easy run today. However, with the rapid development of the town (at one time the fastest growing town in Australia), the growth of the Space Base, self-government and a housing policy which actively encouraged people to come and live here, growing pains were, in hindsight, inevitable.Combine this with a growing awareness by a young population better educated than their parents, together with Aboriginal people, all trying valiantly to make sense of their lives in a socially and politically changing environment: they were indeed challenging times.Convincing any government of the need for support services was incredibly difficult. Many individuals worked as volunteers, at the same time lobbying politicians, aldermen and bureaucrats of the essential nature of their service and the need for funding. Difficulties were not confined to community groups. While often at odds with local groups looking to local government members for support, the Alice Springs Town Council suffered its own internal trauma in the early '80s. This became public when the Mitchell Report was commissioned by the NT Government to investigate difficulties experienced with council administration.As we move towards Statehood it is important to remember that all our struggles and experiences are a vital part of this town's development and character. The dedication and commitment to achieve what we believe is best for our community,despite the many ups and downs, is a tribute to the resilience of many individuals. The records and recollections of many organisations need to be properly documented before they are lost. One such community group which is taking this initiative is Bindi. The organisation is recording its history in preparation for its 20th Anniversary. They would welcome any personal recollections from those close to the early days of its establishment. Should you be able to help, please contact Mark Ambrose or Lesley Foy on 8952 7277.


"Houses in Central Australia should be flexible, even if it's just adding fly screen verandahs so you can sleep outside in the summer."They're the most pleasant places to be in this climate, and you don't have to be running air conditioners."Award winning architect Brendan Meney believes transplanting home designs from "down south" to The Alice doesn't make much sense.People in the Centre not only live in one of the world's harshest climates, they also make lifestyle choices quite unlike those of people elsewhere: they have a yearning for freedom, travel, life in the bush.All that needs to be reflected in our homes, says Brendan, whose mud brick house sits snugly and unobtrusively on the side of a rocky hill in the Golfcourse Estate."People here seem to move around a lot because of the wide open spaces."They go out bush, they like camping. When they come back to their houses they put themselves into a situation where that flexibility disappears," says Brendan."In our home, for instance, we've got a master bedroom but at present we're using it as a study."We're sleeping in the studio because in winter, it's a nicer space."Take, for example, transition spaces, courtyards: you can open the inside up to the transition spaces, without going right out into the harsh climate."All that creates the atmosphere inside the house," says Brendan. "The relationship to the outside is very important."In the summer, with the canvas blinds all the way down, it feels like a tent in here, because it creates good quality light through the fabric," says Brendan. "As the sun moves around, it's reflected from the landscape on to the blinds, so the shadows of the trees are dancing on the awnings: "It's not a solid shade. It has movement and colour."The choice of colour is another example, says Brendan."You should consider the reflective surfaces of the walls, and utilise them."If the room tends to be a little dark, use lighter surfaces to reflect light down into the building."The best quality light comes from the south, because it has no heat in it."Unlike in other human domains, size doesn't necessarily matter: the Meneys' rooms are generally small - but appear spacious.This is achieved by the varying levels (aided by the sloping terrain on which the home is built), and by openings to other rooms.Extra ceiling height and "glimpses out the windows" make the space feel much bigger than it actually is."Creating that illusion of space within a person's budget is very important."Brendan also uses "cameos, a glimpse though a window, framing a little view, picking on pieces of the outside, like a picture."The greatest challenge, of course, is to cope with the cold winters and hot summers, without burning up a fortune in heating and air conditioning."Take this house, for example. It has a summer and a winter zone."The long side of the house should face north-south."The northern eaves need to be wide enough to keep the sun off the walls during summer, when the sun is more overhead, but narrow enough to let the winter sun "cut under the eaves, come through the windows and hit a thermal mass in the building."The warmth is collected by the thermal mass, in the walls and the floors.In the Meneys' home the concrete floor is covered with black slate to absorb heat, transferring it to the southern side of the house.The mud brick walls are another structural element which insulate against heat by "creating a time lag".Other ideas for creating thermal mass include sand filling block work walls.For the eastern and western walls - hit by the low sun against which eaves can't offer protection - Brendan suggests a variety of solutions.One is a form of turned-around brick veneer structure: cladding set off from the brick wall and shielding it from the sun.It is ideally movable so that in winter, the morning and afternoon sun can be utilised to warm the building, while in summer it can be protected from the heat."This essentially creates a "vertical verandah", says Brendan.The cladding can be lightweight iron, timber, compressed sheet or any other external lining."You need to vent the top and the bottom so that the hot air can get out."You're stopping the radiant heat before it has a chance to hit the thermal mass."Most people can't come to grips with that because they've been brought up with the idea that the bricks should be on the outside."That doesn't work as well. You don't want that thermal mass to heat up in summer."Other options to protect the walls from the summer sun include movable awnings or shades.The Meneys' western wall features an elevated verandah along the full width.Although facing Mt Gillen, this side of the house has only a small window in order to minimise heat problems."In the summer you sit outside most of the time anyway, and in winter you want the place to be fairly enclosed."You want temperatures to be stable, so we've opted for more thermal mass, and adjustable blinds to shade the mud bricks in summer."In winter the sun cuts under these verandahs and heats up the walls."The house has a courtyard facing south "so that all the cool breezes that come up the valley are drawn into the house."We use the courtyard as a micro climate, heavily vegetated to cool down the air."South facing courtyards are the places to be in summer where you get the shade of the house."Other low energy cooling devices are small ponds outside windows: the air passing over them cools off before it enters the home."A central courtyard allows you to get air flow right through the building, by achieving good cross ventilation through the windows."The roof design is also crucial: I work on the theory of volume venting so you don't get a lot of heat build-up in your roof space."You build a canopy over your house, shielding from the sun. That's essentially what it's creating, although it looks like an integrated part of the house."The eaves need to be vented, and "active vents" placed on the roof to draw out hot air.The vents can be powered by solar energy, wind or by acting on the venturi principle. The roof space, at the ceiling level, then needs to be well insulated."People need to ne mindful of the baggage they bring with them when they caome to live here," says Brendan."We're learning to live in a very special place. It's not easy, but it's hugely rewarding when we get it right!"


Two Centre communities, Titjikala and Aputula (Finke), along with two from the Top End, will be pilots in a Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT) project to bring some 70 rural and remote area community councils "on line".Internet and email facilities have the potential to overcome a lot of the administrative problems experienced by remote communities, says LGANT Executive Director Jeff Hoare.His association applied for $2m for the project, out of the Territory's allocation of $16m from the Commonwealth's Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, totalling $250m raised by the part-sale of Telstra.The pilot scheme will cost $214,000.Mr Hoare said that communities' dealings with, for instance, Centrelink should be one of the areas to benefit from the new information technology.At present communication about Social Security benefits is still often by mail, which can be very slow out of remote areas, or by fax, which is relatively expensive.In the meantime, Mr Hoare says a productive recent meeting with Centrelink officials , has recognised the problem of some remote communities carrying out what is effectively Centrelink agency work without adequate compensation.LGANT recently released results from a survey of rural and remote communities, claiming that they are being underpaid an average of 23 hours per week for doing Centrelink work, amounting to a shortfall of $1m per year.Amoonguna, just 15 kilometres south of Alice Springs, is among those protesting. "Centrelink say we're too close to Alice Springs to be an agency, but they are treating us like an agency," says Amoonguna Council Clerk, Barry Byerley.There are no public transport links between the community and Alice Springs.A taxi fare is $40 for the round trip, or $25 one way. Taxis will take up to five people. The minibus - described by Mr Byerley as a "godsend for the community" - will take up to 12 people for a $20 one way charge.There are only three or four private vehicles in the community, which has 246 people "on the books" as permanent residents, but an additional floating population at any time of 30 to 70 people.The council has just one registered vehicle, and resists pressure for its use for anything other than administrative business.A trip to Social Security is thus no simple matter, but what's more, Mr Byerley says, "the people here prefer us to help them.""They find the Centrelink office in town too daunting, and they feel shamed if they don't understand how to do things."It takes time and patience to do the work, and we know them. We can see someone with a new baby, and we say who's claiming ‘baby money' for that one? No-one? Okay, we can help you get some ‘baby money'."Centrelink send us information direct about how to fill in the forms, and our office manager is tied up at least 25 hours a week, seeing from 20 to 50 people a day, doing Centrelink work."They say they'll provide us with envelopes and fax paper, but that's not enough. We've been trying to get an agency agreement for more than two years. We want them to pick up the tab for our office manager's time."Mount Liebig, some 200 kilometres west of Alice Springs, has an agency arrangement with Centrelink but claim they are being underpaid.Ann Jones, who carries out the work, says they are paid for 15 hours per week, but are doing nearly double that, with the community council paying the excess.Three quarters of the 280 strong community depend on Social Security payments. Mrs Jones looks after 150 recipients in Mt Liebig, and another 60 odd from outstations."At the moment there are two, four, six and 12 weekly forms. I'm never free of forms and I have to chase people every day of the week."My biggest problem is finding people in time, as they never know when their forms are coming and nor do I. If they're on six weekly forms for example, they have two weeks to sign, but if I don't catch them in the first week, then we have to fax the form through, because the post from here is too slow."This is costing the community 50 cents per form, until we can get a free fax line put in direct to Centrelink."Mr Hoare says LGANT is confident that some of these issues will be resolved over the next 12 months.He says a matrix will be drawn up for consideration in future budgets, showing the exact position of each community with respect to Centrelink services.Mark Wellington, Centrelink Manager in the NT, says Centrelink works hard on "getting access and equity issues right".To this end they are working on a proposal to set up specialist call centre services for indigenous people, one based in Darwin, another in Alice Springs.He says it is recognised that indigenous people with English as a second language may have difficulty using the currently available national call centres with their numerous recorded messages and instructions.The specialist call centres will be staffed by indigenous people, preferably with indigenous language skills and a "good understanding of local conditions".Mr Wellington says the LGANT survey findings were not discussed and verified with Centrelink before they were made public.One survey comment reported council staff attending a Centrelink training course, with the council having to pick up wages and travel costs.Mr Wellington questions the veracity of this report, saying that at a Centrelink agents' training course recently completed in Alice Springs, all participants had their wages and travel expenses paid by Centrelink, including some who are not part of the "formal program" but who are used as "community contacts".Mr Wellington says his organisation is very happy to talk to LGANT about "service delivery enhancements".He says a model which has been working very well for several months now is having a Centrelink staff member based permanently at Tangentyere Council, replacing a former agency arrangement."This is something we would like to try to do in other communities, but everything is budget limited," says Mr Wellington.

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