August 5, 1998


The lack of local workers, despite massive unemployment and underemployment in the region, is being described as the major obstacle to further expansion of the table grapes industry north of Alice Springs.Growers say some two-thirds of the pickers and other semi-skilled labourers required for the harvest later this year will need to be recruited from interstate.The balance will be mainly Alice Springs residents and backpackers. Meanwhile, the jobless rate in the nearby communities of Ti Tree, Willowra and Utopia is believed to be around 80 per cent, with some people taking part in the CDEP "work for the dole" scheme.Neither Employment National nor the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs in Alice Springs were able to give the Alice News unemployment figures for the communities. However, Les Smith, in charge of the Arrernte CouncilŐs CDEP program in Alice Springs, says his organisation has made detailed enquiries about employment opportunities in the area, and is likely to place several workers there this year.The table grapes industry was pioneered by the NT Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPIF) in the early 'seventies.One of its employees at the time, Ian Dahlenburg, later set up the first "farm" near Ti Tree, an area with good water, soil and an almost frost free climate.Now five companies are producing "out of season" grapes which - unlike those grown almost anywhere else on Australia - are available before Christmas, a major commercial advantage.It is one of the great success stories in The Centre.The planted area increased by 50 per cent in just the last year, from 200 hectares in December 1997 to about 300 hectares by the end of last month, according to the DPIF's Geoff Kenna.He says the gross value of production in the 1997/98 season was $8.1m on an estimated yield of 1800 tonnes.Bernie Brady, a director for the biggest operator, Territory Grapes, says his company has a five-year plan to double its area under cultivation from the present 130 hectares to 260.Territory Grapes is currently growing two red and two white varieties, mainly for the domestic market, but small amounts are exported to Singapore and Hong Kong.Mr Brady says apart from the harsh climate, the lack of a stable work force is the major obstacle to progress.At present the company employs about 10 permanent staff at its Ti Tree operation, but during picking time, beginning in November, some 70 will be needed.Mr Brady says two thirds of them will come from interstate, "permanent itinerant" workers who travel around the country, following the ripening seasons not only for grapes, but other produce as well.His company, which has been active near Ti Tree for two years, had discussions with local communities about recruiting workers but "there does not appear to be a willingness to come to work every day".Mr Brady says the people he spoke to "never came back with any commitment".Timing of the harvest is crucial: the contract workers, paid an hourly rate plus an incentive "box rate", need to be available when the grapes are at peak condition.Mr Brady says the job is "medium skilled" and can be learned in about two days. Pickers are told each morning what colour and size to pick.There are also jobs for stacking boxes and loading them onto road trains.Workers are accommodated on site.Mr Brady says an expansion of the industry may in time lead to a stable local work force."An array of products could be grown here," says Mr Brady, who is also a member of the Ti Tree water committee."There is good water, good growing land - all we need is a commitment from workers and operators."


A strong case has been made to continue public funding for a vaccination program against the lung ailment, invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD), which each year strikes down between 40 and 60 people, and contributes to the overcrowding of the Alice Springs hospital.In addition there may be an unknown number of people who are infected but are not hospitalised and are therefore not confirmed. This year, because of an acute shortage of beds, the hospital is deferring elective surgery indefinitely, and is seeking to accommodate in local motels bush patients waiting for treatment.The crisis, according to a reliable source, is further aggravated by the drop in the number of available beds in the wake of funding cuts in past years.According to a report published last month by the program coordinator with the Territory Health Services' Population Health Unit in Alice Springs, Central Australia "reports the highest incidence of IPD in the world", with Aboriginal people the major sufferers.The two-year immunisation scheme came to an end in June.Says the report: "It is to be hoped that the pneumococcal immunisation practice will be sustained in an ongoing way in order to effect a real change in the rates of disease."IPD is known to be fatal in five to 20 per cent of Aboriginal adults who contract the disease, "rising to 40 per cent in those over 59 years", although the actual figure may be much higher.The group at highest risk, with more than two per cent of the population infected, are children under two for whom the existing vaccine is not effective."A paediatric conjugate vaccine is currently being trialled and if effective will be of enormous benefit in the future," says the report.However, the vaccination campaign has made significant inroads among adult Aborigines whose rate of illness is massively greater than in the general population:"In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal people are four to 10 times more likely to be hospitalised with pneumonia or influenza than non-Aboriginal people."It is likely that IPD plays a part in much of this burden of respiratory disease," says the report.The rampant heart, kidney and liver problems among Central Australian Aborigines make them especially vulnerable to IPD, according to the report: "Renal [kidney failure] disease has reached epidemic proportions and it is estimated that over 1500 Aboriginal people are affected."The prevalence of diabetes ... is estimated at between 10 and 20 per cent of the adult population."Alcohol has been shown to be a major risk factor [for IPD] worldwide."Alcohol consumption in the Territory is 70 per cent higher than the consumption for Australia as a whole, and pneumonia, particularly pneumo-coccal pneumonia, is the most frequently recognised serious infection seen in those with chronic alcohol abuse."A review of cases in 1985-90 showed that 62 per cent of Aboriginal adults with [IPD] had one or more risk factors present, and over 41 per cent had problems with alcohol abuse."The report says IPD vaccines have been known since 1977; the initiatives in The Centre followed a Menzies School of Health Research study in 1994, suggesting that if 80 per cent of at-risk adults in Central Australia had received the vaccine in the preceding two years, five deaths and 29 hospitalisations would have been prevented.The vaccination program, requiring boosters every five years, got under way in 1995-96, when IPD inoculation rates were "near zero", with the aim of covering 80 per cent of the "at risk Aboriginal population in Central Australia", and to "decrease hospitalisation".All Territory Health facilities, four Aboriginal health organisations, the Alice and Tennant Creek hospitals, aged care facilities and general practitioners were encouraged to promote the program, and a detailed database was set up to monitor progress and record details of people who had been vaccinated.By October last year, only 2785 people had been immunised - around a quarter of the adult Aboriginal population in The Centre, including regions in WA and SA.It was difficult to determine how many people needed to be vaccinated, says the report: "For the 15 to 50 age group, experiencing the highest attack rate ... other than children under two ... there is a lack of accurate epidemological information of chronic diseases."The prevalence of diabetes, for instance, is something that can only be estimated."It is thought that the known diabetics only represent half of the real prevalence."Although liquor sales figures are monitored, it is not known how many people in Central Australia consume hazardous amounts of alcohol, this being the single most significant risk factor for invasive disease."Mobility of patients further makes keeping accurate records difficult.The report says IPD vaccinations cannot be regarded as a sole answer to the problem: "Overcrowding and lack of washing facilities ... as well as general levels of malnutrition have been identified as factors."A multi-disciplinary population health approach is needed ... including nutrition and environmental strategies."The Alice News understands there has not yet been an evaluation of the effect of the vaccination program on the number of IPD cases.


Last week I promised to let you know more about the Central Australian Folk Society (CAFS) and also the Alice Springs Centenary Celebrations which centred on March 11, 1971. One hundred years before, the site of the Old Telegraph Station had been chosen as a Repeater Station for the Overland Telegraph line. Many of the Centenary celebrations and projects were organised by the Alice Springs Tourist Promotion Association. One project was the building of the Centenary Fountain (near the building now occupied by Senior Citizens Club). The Fountain, was a community project, built and financed by local businesses and residents, but has been dismantled in recent years. Other events included a rally of vintage and veteran cars, the first Camel Cup, a Railways Period Costume Cabaret, and a beard growing competition which attracted a line-up of more than 50 entrants. Organised by the Rotary Club of Alice Springs, spectators at the judging had great fun giving unsolicited assistance to judges Andrew McPhee and Pat Faulks. Australia Post arranged first day covers and special stamps. Three horse riders, Kelly Hargrave, John Dare and Brian Korner, carried mail from the railhead at Oodnadatta to the Old Telegraph Station in a reenactment of earlier postal services. Among the many activities at the Old Telegraph Station that week was the Alice Centenary Folk Festival, a tribute to our pioneers organised by CAFS members. Performers included local folk club personalities such as Taffy Evans and Peter Bate, the newly formed Todd River Jazz Band, and some singers from Tennant Creek and Whyalla. However, everyone was totally overwhelmed when 3000 people turned up for the Sunday night concert. In the days of no public transport, they came on foot and by car, with blankets, pillows, chairs and eskies. Scotty Balfour (a performer then from Tennant Creek) recalls an apologetic Master of Ceremonies, Dave Spafford, explaining to the crowd that the club had expected no more than 800. Despite difficulties with the sound system due to the numbers, the verdict of the town was that it a most successful night. Profits from the catering were donated to a committee charged with organising a new town swimming pool. While television arrived in the Alice in December 1972, it certainly did not dampen the Folk Club's popularity. Locals and visitors continued to follow the performers at their many Sunday night venues over the next twenty years. As some earlier members of the Folk Club dropped out or moved elsewhere, their places were taken by people such as Scotty Balfour who moved to town in '71 and Bob Barford in '74. Those who had performed solo began forming themselves into groups. The growing reputation of CAFS through the talent and travels of our local entertainers, lead to the club hosting two extremely successful National Folk Festivals in the Alice, one in 1980 and the second in 1987. Dave Evans, Barney Foran, Scotty and Bob were lightheartedly called the Public Service Robots, but better known publicly as Bloodwood. Their group was formed in '79. They, and others (Bob Sharp, Alan Hughes, Barry Skipsey, Alan Craddock and Dave McColl), who over the years have formed part of Bloodwood, have done much in promoting the Territory both in Australia and overseas. Centralians certainly took much pride in Bloodwood performing at the Edinburgh Festival. Commitment and dedication by club members who have always played for "the joy of it" has also distinguished it from interstate clubs, where players take a cut from the night's takings. Funds raised on Sunday nights have been channelled back to the club to assist with travel expenses or for other items such as upgrading equipment. Over the years, the club's many charity performances would have raised huge dollars for worthy causes. The list of members who have given unstintingly of their time and energy is long. Three of the longest "stayers" who deserve public recognition are Morag McGrath, Mary Evans and Godfrey Taylor. Sadly the last five years has not seen much activity on the folk club scene. Changes in lifestyle and the growth of the town certainly mean more choices for Sunday night activities. Speaking with Scotty Balfour about this, he also mentioned that a lack of a good and appropriate venue was significant. Fewer new performers and the opportunity for paid work for those already established, are also factors to be considered. The folk scene in Alice has always attracted families. Changes to the Liquor Act, in relation to food, drink and children on licensed premises in the early '90s, has also played a part. Informally, folk music lovers still get together. And, if I've whetted your appetite for a good "jam session" don't miss the opportunity to tune into The Folk Show on 8CCC FM, each Sunday from 2-4 pm. Put together by Scotty, Bob Barford, Dave Evans, Deborah Munn and Michelle Scott, you'll be assured of some good entertainment.


In the 1950s two German immigrants, Paul and Peter Sitzler, established what became Alice Springs most successful construction company, Sitzler Brothers, now in the hands of Peter's son Michael and his Darwin-based business partner Steve Margetty.The history of the company is revealing about the history of Alice's development, its highs and lows, successes and failures.
Shortly after his 21st birthday in 1951 Paul Sitzler set sail for Melbourne on an Italian migrant boat, together with 38 other building tradesmen from Germany. In the southern German town of Haiterbach, he left behind his father, recovering from his years as a prisoner of war, his brother Peter and a sister.They were living in an almost cashless society, but surviving better than many on their subsistence farm."My father had about three hectares of land, where we grew just enough wheat, barley and potatoes to have two pigs, of which we slaughtered one to make small goods which lasted us the year. There was enough wheat to bake our own bread, and enough barley and potatoes to feed the pigs. There was no money anywhere. The timber industry had to cut down a lot of trees and send them to France for war reparation. At that stage we were better off having that little farm, we had a bit more food in our stomachs than many, but we had to work very hard to get it."Paul's mother had passed away and his father leant heavily on his sons for the family's living. Paul saw no prospects in such a life, and as soon as he was of age, he fled, "as far away as I could".Three years later he sent the fare to bring out Peter, 22 years old and "in the same intolerable situation". "Then my father was left with my sister and he had to work. He had a fairly good life after that."We sent him quite a bit of money, we had a guilty conscience of course. He was out here for half a year once and thoroughly enjoyed it. "He died when he was 85, so that bad health bout he had didn't hurt him all that much in the long term."Germans were still prohibited immigrants in 1951, but Paul and his fellow tradesmen had been furnished with Certificates of Exemption, and were supposed to go back to Germany after two years. After disembarking in Melbourne, they were driven to Morwell, a brown coal area 90 miles out of Melbourne. "When we got there it was a sea of mud, it came up over our gum boots."We were supposed to stay there for the two years, but I only stayed for six months, from September to March, working on a briquette factory and a brown coal gasification plant."I was doing form work, huge columns of concrete and things like that, bases for machinery. It was very interesting, the whole building industry was quite different from that in Europe, we had to change. "We'd had a three year hard, basic training in using tools, that served us well, but buildings are a lot more solid in Germany because of the climate. Nothing is nailed together, it's all mortised and tenoned, real tradesman work. "Here we just nailed everything together, but we had to learn to drive nails into hard wood without bending them. In Europe it's all soft wood."From Morwell, Paul was sent to Adelaide. Together with a friend he got caught when the English contractors employing them went broke. They weren't paid for six weeks, and things were starting to look grim.Paul took up an offer of work from a farmer in the Adelaide Hills. For nine months he cleared scrub - " taboo nowadays but not then" - and ate and lived with the family. "That was the best thing I could have done at that stage because that's when I learnt English."When we first arrived the 38 of us had stuck together a bit, and then the language of the building industry was German, not English. The big companies were nearly all made up of Germans or displaced persons from the camps in Europe. I used to get very irritated when I would go shopping and couldn't say what I wanted, I had to point. I couldn't cope with that."In the building industry in those days we used to earn about 25 pounds a week.The farmer offered me ten plus board."When it came winter, raining all the time, the farmer didn't need me any more. I was a bit confident with my language, so I went back to Adelaide to get job as a tradesman again. But I didn't like working in a city. "One night I went to an English class at the Lutheran church hall in the city. A fellow called R. A. Drogemuller was there, looking for a carpenter for Alice Springs. I said, 'You've got one!'"I gave notice, packed my gear, drove my old Ford up to Quorn and put it on the train. Two and a half days later I was here. "No heartache, I was glad to leave Adelaide. In the church hall that night they'd showed slides from Hermannsburg and Alice Springs, all those mountains. I couldn't believe that there were colours like that, but sure enough there were."R.A. Drogemuller was a "Barossa German" but Paul thought of him as an Australian. Had they met in Germany at the time, he says they couldn't have been friends:"It makes a big difference to some Germans where you come from. His ancestors were from the north whereas we come from the extreme south. In those days there was no inter-marriage between north and south. It's different now of course."In Alice Springs now Paul is only in close contact with one German, Herman Weber; the rest of his friends are all Australian born. "I think that's because in the first few months I couldn't get out of what I almost call a ghetto. I was relying on German speaking people all the time. When I finally could get out, I didn't want to have much contact with them anymore."After about a year in Australia Paul got a letter from the Immigration Department inviting him to apply for permanent residency. It was as easy as signing a slip of paper and sending it back: "It's different now, they think you're a criminal if you want to come into the country!"When Paul arrived in May 1953, Alice Springs had a population of 2,000. Tradesmen were scarce. There was a bit of building going on all the time; houses here and there, the old E.S. & A. bank had just been finished (roughly where the picture theatre is now). He worked for R.A. Drogemuller for a year, the biggest job being the Old Riverside Hotel."Then things got a bit slack, so I said I'd go bush for a while, I wanted to see the country. "I was working for a boss then until 1957, in places like Yuendumu and Hooker Creek. It was primitive in those days. It took about six hours to go to Yuendumu on a little sandy track. We built little schools, health clinics, eating houses where they used to feed the Aboriginal kids twice a day. That was in the days of assimilation. "It gave me the taste for working in the bush. Later on my brother and I made it our specialty to work in remote areas and do a good job, which those people weren't used to."Peter came straight to Alice Springs and the brothers worked for R.A. Drogemuller, again for about a year, before setting out to work for themselves, on cattle stations like MacDonnell Downs, Napperby, Erldunda. That lasted for about a year and a half. Each station had four to six weeks work, building sheds, adding on rooms to their houses. "I built a big fireplace at Aningie Station," recalls Paul. "I had to quarry some white rocks from a site where the Ghan Preservation Society is today. I'd worked in a quarryoccasionally after school when I was a kid."Life was slower in those days, our pay was six pounds a day, whether you worked eight hours, nine or ten, you got six pounds and food. We had to pay for our own petrol to go to the station and back. We couldn't get very far with that, so we decided to do proper contracting."Peter went to Melbourne to see the Olympic Games in 1956. "When he came back he said, 'Let's work for ourselves, just the two of us.' That's when we started, in about 1957."Paul became an Australian citizen in 1958, and Peter followed suite as soon as he could: "We knew we were never going back to Germany."At first the brothers built houses, until they realised that there was no money in it.The first NT housing loans had come out, but the government were very slow in paying their contribution."Later on we worked for Gordon Lyons, Donnelly and Lyons , they were joiners. I was making baby cots, "meatsafe" cots, so the mosquitoes couldn't get to them. In those days the mozzies were worse than they are now. But that sort of work didn't appeal to me, I'm more an outside fellow."In about 1962 they got their first big contract, $50,000 to build offices, houses, a school, and an eating house at Areyonga. "That was a hard place to work. It took me at least 12 hours by truck and trailer, loaded with bricks, to get there. There was no bitumen road, we had to go very slowly. Mostly in summer we had to drive at night, not during the day. I had to do lots of trips, 7000 bricks per load and we needed about 120,000, that meant at least 15 trips. "We did the same at Hermannsburg on the way back. We didn't even get back into Alice Springs. From there we went on to Yuendumu. That's when we started to get ahead a bit and made enough money to buy some decent plant, a back hoe, a decent tip truck, it all came out of that bush work."Paul visited Areyonga during the last federal election and saw the buildings there still standing, although a bit worse for wear. In Yuendumu some of the buildings have been destroyed: "The first houses we built there had just one room with a fireplace and a curved roof verandah, they were more or less shelters, 70 of them. The night before we handed them over to the government, we had to guard them because they would have ripped the doors off and burnt them for firewood."They had all these louvre windows with wire glass, but you can smash them too. Later on they got a bit smarter and used metal louvres."It was quite an effort to do that sort of work and then see it treated like that, it wasn't very nice."At the end of the '60s Alice Springs started to expand. The Sitzlers were the first sub-contractor for the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap, doing all their concrete work."From then on the town really grew rapidly, from about 6000 in 1965 to about 10,000 in '72. Around '67 we had to buy a little crane to build the Catholic Church. "Then we built the first stage of the Catholic school, the Baptist Church in Yuendumu, and the Lutheran Church at the Gap. We lost a bit of hide on every one of them because they were all such unusual designs. "We were solely contractors, we never did any designing, the two don't mix, or didn't mix, they do now."I was the estimator and I under-estimated the complexity of the designs. That Catholic Church type of structure hadn't been attempted in Alice Springs before. Luckily we had that little crane, otherwise we couldn't have done it."The brothers worked as a partnership, P & E.W. Sitzler, until 1967, when they formed their company, Sitzler Brothers."We were a solid company once we got over that hiccough with the Catholic Church where we lost a bit of money. From then on we were in a fairly stable position."Though there are always ups and downs. The building industry is like that. The Ford Plaza could have gone bad on us, it did in the end, but we could cope with it. If it had happened three or four months earlier we would have been in real trouble, like our competitor TMC, who went broke over the Territory Inn, not being paid."It happened to us a few times, not very often, usually we were a bit careful about whom we worked for. You learn those sort of things."In the wake of Darwin's Cyclone Tracy, work dried up in Alice Springs. The Sitzlers finished off their contracts, but no new ones came. Peter, " more the business man" realised they would have to go to Darwin for work."That took a while to get established, it was much more my brother's baby than mine. I was a more practical person. In that way we were working very well together, but sometimes we moved a bit fast, undertaking things for which we didn't have enough capital base. But so did everyone else in the Territory, that's why the place grew so quickly."


There has been no visible change in the squalid living conditions of Mavis Wayne, her seven grand children and a seemingly growing number of extended family members in the so-called Warlpiri Camp on the northern edge of Alice Springs.However, Mrs Wayne told the Alice News that the families have been promised a house and four sheds by Tangentyere Council.She expected work to begin yesterday.She said Tangentyere personnel last Wednesday morning visited the makeshift camp, where old tents and tarpaulins have provided the only shelter for the families in two weeks of cold and wet weather.She said these personnel told her the group would get housing there at the Warlpiri Camp and that she is "happy".However, Tangentyere Council did not reply to a request for confirmation of the move.Meanwhile, former Tangentyere head, Geoff Shaw, called an impromptu press conference last Thursday to respond to the lead story in the Alice News.Mr Shaw, although he was accompanied by Tangentyere's media liaison officer, said he was speaking as a citizen of Alice Springs, a town camper and a client of Tangentyere Council, not in an official capacity.He described the article as "the same old shit", saying "you can find this [situation] every day, it occurs quite frequently.""Tangentyere Council now is the scapegoat in terms of these people," said Mr Shaw."They are not our responsibility. If they had approached us prior to moving onto that place we probably could have assisted with that."But bear in mind that the [housing] money allocated to Tangentyere Council is very limited and is given for a specific job that has to be done ... basically for infrastructure, putting a sewerage system through the Gap to camps in the southern area of town."[Tangentyere's last annual budget was $4.7m from ATSIC alone, plus more than $1m for housing from the Indigenous Housing Authority of the NT (IHANT). Tangentyere receives substantial funds from other sources, but even its own annual report does not disclose the full funding picture.]Mr Shaw said: "There's no inter-tribal issue here."However, he went on to comment: "Let me also tell you some of these people have got access to land where they come from" and asked, "Are they carrying out a tourist operation on land that is not theirs? One could make that comment if one was a native title holder."As to the future of the families, he said: "Now the normal process will occur. Tangentyere will assess the problem, and will try and talk to other agencies to [get them to] accept their responsibilities. "Other agencies can come to the party in terms of alternative accommodation ... Let's go further than looking at Arrernte Council and the Aboriginal Housing Information and Referral Service, let's go further north and look at the Government to try and assist in alleviating this problem."A lot of Commission houses and flats have been sold off, to the extent that people were basically made homeless and ended up in town camps or down in the river bed."There should [also] be an analysis done on whether adequate funding is made available on rural and remote communities. That's the first port of call. "They should be given the right amount of money to look after this problem [of] ill health. You can look after diabetes if you've got adequate housing and the right support services. Those have to be provided by government."On the emergency relief fund that is allocated to Tangentyere and Congress, Mr Shaw said: "The emergency relief money is not for crisis accommodation. We use that when people haven't got enough money for food or if people have to go away somewhere. We also try to recoup that money to maintain that service."We're away from developing tent cities [and] silver cities. We want to adequately accommodate Aboriginal people in the likes of structures that you're accustomed to, three to four bedroom houses."He said the families "should go through some kind of educational process on how to socialise and live in harmony in town", adding "you have to make sure that white people in this town provide proper employment for these people, so that they can live a lifestyle that you're accustomed to."On the allegation made by Michael Griffin that IHANT is dominated by Tangentyere-related personnel who have caused a massive reduction in funding to the Aboriginal Housing Information and Referral Service, Mr Shaw said if that were the case, "I think Tangentyere would be getting more money."The Aborigines Inland Mission did not respond to the News' request for comment on last week's story.


"When you look at similar size towns anywhere across Australia, you won't find the same level of commitment to a whole range of artistic activities as you do in Alice."At a meeting with artists and representatives of the arts industry last Thursday, Arts Minister Daryl Manzie acknowledged the exceptional proportion of practising artists per head of population in the Alice Springs community.He claimed that his department's funding reflected support of their level of activity, with Alice Springs receiving $6.21 in grants monies per head of population, compared to $3.80 for Territorians generally, and $1.88 for other regions.He said further that in the Southern region, which includes the Barkly, 47 per cent of grant applications were approved. This level of approval was comparable to Victorian and South Australian levels.Grants monies disbursed in 1997-98 in the Southern region totalled $221,000 (with the visual arts receiving some $80,000 of that). This figure should reflect the recent injection of new funds via the joint NT Government and Commonwealth Regional Arts Fund ($1m over two years).Mr Manzie's central proposal at the meeting was to introduce an improved mechanism for artists and the arts industry in the regions to provide "input to arts policy and development".The proposed mechanism would replace the former NT Arts Policy Advisory Board, on which Alice Springs was represented solely by David Whitney, Director of the Araluen Centre, (and of the newly-dedicated cultural precinct as a whole).The mechanism would include six-monthly regional arts forums, open to all, which would feed into regional reference groups, drawing their membership from across the arts.The proposal was welcomed as an improvement on the past, though with a number of qualifications and questions:Richard Micallef, representing CAAMA Music, suggested a strengthening of the aim, by replacing the word "input" with "influence".However, Mr Manzie thought that the words had equivalent meanings.Stephen Fox, formerly of 24 HR Art in Darwin, now of the Maruku Arts and Crafts Association at Mutitjulu, emphasised the importance of practising artists as well as heads of arts organisations being represented on the reference group.He also commented, on the basis of his experience at 24 HR Art, now funded as major arts organisation, on the difficulty Darwin-based organisations have in effectively supporting regional activities. He mentioned in particular the case of the Alice Springs' contemporary arts organisation, Watch This Space, currently without a venue and as a result receiving only limited funds.Mr Manzie recognised the problem of "stop/start" funding: "We have to find a way of getting around that," he said. Christine Lennard, among several hats part-time coordinator of Watch This Space, also commented on the fact that all of the major arts organisations are Darwin based and asked what sort of input the regions were going to have in those organisations. Mr Manzie said a certain amount of funding received by those organisations was dependent on their activity in the regions.Ms Lennard also suggested that the regional reference groups should meet collectively from time to time, to provide opportunities for partnership, coordination and cross-fertilisation.Mr Manzie said: "We could look at that."She further suggested that the reference groups be informed of the funding applications from their region. Mr Manzie said that, while his Department wouldn't disclose that information, applicants could volunteer the information to their regional forums if they so decided.Peter Yates, who operates a visual arts-related specialist tour business, asked if the "Berrimah Line" influenced funding?Mr Manzie said he was aware of the perception that it did, but that the Department tried hard to be equitable, and that the proposed new mechanisms for regional input were part of that effort.He also commented a different picture emerges, depending on how equitability is measured: whether you relate spending to the total population or to the level of arts activities.Mr Yates commented that there was no shortage of arts activities in Central Australia and that the arts industry is underestimated."It could very well prop up the tourism industry but we need to get very serious about that," said Mr Yates.Mr Manzie agreed, noting the size of the potential market with some 700,000 tourists visiting Alice Springs each year."Better use could be made of the product," he said, citing the crocodile industry in the Top End as an example. "Once the crocodile was given an economic value, it proliferated," he said.Jacqueline Bethel, representing CAAMA Productions (CAAMA's film and video arm), said that NT film makers were disadvantaged to "a great degree" by not having a Territory film office or commission similar to those of the states."The Department of Arts and Museums simply hasn't got the kind of funds we need to make films," said Ms Bethel.Mr Manzie said that his government would not be getting into the business of funding film productions but that its film policy, still in development by the Department of Asian Relations, Trade and Industry, was looking at the "best [other] ways of providing support".Peter Tozer, from 8CCC, asked whether arts funding would remain at its current level, and whether the proposed regional forums would have any decision-making powers?Mr Manzie said that arts funding was not "locked in", and "where the funding is depends on where the activity is."He also said that, at this stage, the regional arts forums would not be "distributors of largesse".Pamela Lofts, of Watch This Space, commented that peer assessment panels, involving practising artists in the assessment of grant applications, would be a way of ensuring "improved input" from artists themselves.Mr Manzie responded that his proposed mechanisms were "a first step".

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