August 12, 1998


A "choose, click and book" facility to arrange Territory holidays may be available globally on the internet from early next year, saving visitors up to 20 per cent in tour agents’ and wholesalers’ commissions.The web site is being set up by the NT Tourist Commission (NTTC), using a scheme developed by the Queensland government's Tourist and Travel Corporation.According to NTTC senior officer in Alice Springs, Wendy Hills, Net users will be able to browse through text and picture information, including video-style sequences of major attractions, and even motel rooms.They will be able to make bookings, including tours, accommodation, attractions and - possibly - air travel, by simply clicking on the items of their choice on the web site.This will give them a summary of costs and - if required - confirmation of their schedules.Intending visitors will be able to pay via internet, using their credit cards.The information will be processed by the NTTC's holiday centre in Alice Springs.Ms Hills says some travel agents and wholesalers may be upset about being bypassed, but the progressive ones among them realise that "cyber bookings" are the future, and are exploring opportunities of working within the new system.Ms Hills says a simple version of the program - designed to give information only - will be available to the 80 million net users around the world in the near future, and the booking system will be trialled with travel agents from later this month.Ms Hills, the spokesperson in The Centre for NTTC's managing director Tony Mayell, has been promoted to head of the commission's trade and industry liaison department, for which she has Territory-wide responsibilities, in a major restructuring of the organisation.It is being undertaken in conjunction with the Planning for Growth restructuring of NT government departments announced by Treasurer Mike Reed in this year's NT Budget.The NTTC is reducing the number of its divisions from six to four, and insiders say that many middle-management staffers are required to reapply and compete for their own positions.Sources also say that the number of commissioners may be cut from 12 to six.The overhaul of the $26.5m a year organisation comes in the wake of poor performances over several years.The results for this calendar year are still sketchy, indicating that the self-drive and budget markets are doing well, but the commercial accommodation sector (CAS) is continuing its slide.In The Centre, the CAS occupancy rate has been below 50 per cent for years.In 1997, the CAS and the (much smaller) household sectors (HHS) combined have experienced a 10 per cent drop in visitor numbers and a five per cent drop in income.Last year, 542,000 CAS and HHS visitors came to The Centre (including Ayers Rock), spending $275m.Alice Springs has been hit hard, with a 17 per cent drop in visitor numbers and a one per cent drop in expenditure.Ayers Rock was by far the most favoured destination in The Centre for international visitors, attracting 45 per cent, compared to 33 per cent who visited "Alice Springs sights".About the same number of domestic visitors went to The Alice and The Rock.The top attractions ranked by the number of visitors during 1997 were:-Ayers Rock (257,000); Darwin City sights (233,000); Alice Springs sights (224,000), Kakadu National Park (184,000); Katherine Gorge (151,000); King's Canyon (135,000); MacDonnell Ranges (125,000); Litchfield Park (119,000).


The parlous health of Aboriginal people in Central Australia will be the major focus of study and teaching here by Adelaide's Flinders University.It will set up a Centre for Remote Health on the grounds of the Alice Springs hospital with a Federal grant of $7.5m over five years, plus $1.2m for a building.The centre will coordinate teaching and research, according to Prof Lindon Wing, the dean of the university's School of Medicine, who will be overseeing the project."There are a number of different people who have public health related research projects," he says."Few of those tap into the university system, the national system that brings funds in."Those people are outside the mainstream, if you like."We provide links and strength to them."Hopefully it will bring them together with the other people who are here at the moment, and make the whole thing stronger."Prof Wing says the centre will be looking at the root causes of ill health and early death.The Alice News has learned from a Territory Health source that in the Northern Territory, six times more Aborigines die in the 25 to 49 age group when compared to Australians generally.Says Prof Wing: "If you look at it in terms of Aboriginal health, we don't stand very well, we're Third World."If you look at it in terms of the broad community, we actually have levels of services, through Territory Health or private, that are probably better, particularly compared to what we call Third World Africa."But looking at the outcomes for Aboriginal people we're certainly not achieving this."Prof Wing says while Central Australia has a range of unusual and exotic diseases, these are unlikely to be the new centre's prime concern: "If you look at the grass roots, the issue is not the exotic problems."These are interesting, and they turn everybody on."But the biggest issues are to do with nutrition, drugs and alcohol, and trauma, with the diseases of society like hypertension and diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease, particularly in the Aboriginal population."There has to be a public health focus."It's all to do with fundamental things, housing, water, food and lifestyle."These are the big issues. In the background are hard-core problems."The presence in The Alice of a research and teaching facility with national and international standing will enhance not only the quality of investigative work, but will also bring top professionals to the region, and entice them to stay longer, says Prof Wing."It's very hard to attract health practitioners into these remote areas."We're about bringing an academic centre here which is involved with training, with adding value to the services, being involved with research projects, as a facilitator of the whole process."Having a university here provides standards and a way in which people can get legitimate and recognised qualifications."Hopefully, by providing focus here, and an attractive milieu for people to work and stay, the initiatives will grow, and you will get a critical mass of people who can address the problems, which are huge."It's been an outpost mentality, in a sense."Starting next year there will be programs for nurses, allied health practitioners, doctors, health planners and others working in remote health regions.VISITINGThese will be for people working here as well as visiting students."At the moment the only group who probably bring a university level focus here in Alice Springs are the Menzies School of Health Research."They will have a link with this centre."Research and recommendations by a prestigious organisation are likely to put pressure on governments to act.Says Prof Wing: "What we want to do is to provide standards, link the programs, therefore add value to them, try to get action on some of the things that are known."Results achieved by the new centre are also likely to be useful elsewhere in the world."Australia provides a good model of remote health practice but in a sense it relates to wherever you can think of - whether it's Africa or North America, particularly Canada, South America and Far Eastern Russia."The issues in many ways are the same."


My curiosity was aroused when I received an invitation recently from the NT Office of Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading to attend a forum of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Group. This was not an organisation with which I was familiar. Reading the invitation, however, lead me to discover that the ADR group consists of the Australian Banking Ombudsman, the General Insurance Enquiries and Complaints Service (IEC), the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and the Life Insurance Complaints Service. The forum, under the able chairmanship of Peter Hoey from the local Ombudsman's Office, attracted a good number of business and community representatives and was most informative. Ted Hampton and Mary Blaiklock, who are our local representatives on the NT Consumer Affairs Council, were also there. As many readers would be aware, governments throughout Australia have been trying to encourage industries and businesses to regulate themselves. Certainly, industry-based schemes to settle customer complaints have the potential to improve how business is conducted in the marketplace. The use of negotiation, mediation and consultation rather than expensive court action is in everyone's interest. ADR schemes, such as those represented at the forum, play a vital role in providing consumers with an accessible and effective solution to settling many disputes. While this forum was aimed at business and community advocacy groups, the news for consumers is good. Each of the four ADR schemes are free to consumers. However, in the first instance some attempt must have been made to sort out the problem directly with the company or bank concerned. Each of the schemes have their own terms of reference. They all give independent consideration of your complaint. Importantly for us living in the Centre, all presenters advised that most disputes are able to be settled without the need for face-to-face meetings. The Life Insurance Complaints Service provides free advice and assistance if you are a life insurance or superannuation policyholder who is not satisfied with the written response your insurance company gave to your inquiry or complaint. The General Insurance Enquiries and Complaints scheme covers the range of most domestic insurance and some small business insurance. Sickness and accident matters, motor vehicle and consumer credit issues are also covered by the IEC. The old maxims of "reading the small print" and "ask questions if you are not sure what the policy means" are still the best ways of making sure you get the most appropriate cover to meet your needs. Such terms as "replacement value" or "current market value" may mean the difference of many dollars. The list of exclusions in your policy is as important as what may be included. At the end of the day, we only get what we pay for. If you're on a tight budget, you have to make the hard choice of where your priorities really lie and how much risk you are prepared to take personally. The office of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) covers not just standard telephone services but also mobile services and pay-phones, Internet access, fault repairs and land access issues, breaches of Customer Service Guarantees and certain Industry Codes or Standards. Additionally matters of privacy, operator and directory assistance and White Pages (but not business directories) are also covered. Billing issues, especially back-billing, comprise a large proportion of this Ombudsman's work. It is important to point out that the TIO cannot investigate any case once legal proceedings have begun because the dispute is no longer within their jurisdiction. The message here is to act quickly to avoid legal action over bills. In some instances, the telephone company has commenced proceedings against customers within four weeks of an account's due date. If you dispute the accuracy or fairness of a bill, contact the TIO sooner rather than later. Reading the small print, especially on mobile phone contracts and with Internet Service Providers, is also important. As of July 6 this year the Banking Ombudsman's office is able to assist small businesses in addition to individuals and partnerships. The definition of a "small" business, in this instance, is a business has 15 full time equivalent employees or less; has an annual turnover of $1m or less, and is independently owned and managed. Should you have a matter which you feel you might like to refer to one of these schemes, remember first to try to sort it out yourself. There are limits on the type of complaints that the schemes cover. To check out if your problem can be handled by one of the groups I have mentioned, you can contact Lesley Godwin, who is currently managing the local Consumer Affairs office, on 8951 5883. Consumer Affairs also carries a large range of information and brochures on other consumer-related topics. Their office is located on the ground floor of Helm House, on the corner of Bath St and Gregory Tce. While all ADR groups are located in Melbourne, for the price of a local call, they may be contacted direct on the following numbers: Insurance Enquiries & Complaints - 1300 363 683; Banking Industry Ombudsman - 1800 337 444; Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman - 1800 062 058; Life Insurance Complaints Service - 1800 335 405.


The town council's Civic Centre must become a hub for the community, focussing on the needs of families, youth and children, while also being a welcoming place for tourists.Such is the message emerging from consultations held with user groups and other stakeholders last week, by the consultants Gutteridge Haskins & Davey.The council's Economic and Community Development Director Suzanne Lollback stresses that the consultants have been engaged to explore options for the site, and will extend their consultation to the general public in the near future.Workshops were held last week with users of the existing community meeting facility, the Garden Room, with economic and business interests, cultural and environmental interests, aldermen and representatives of relevant government departments."There was a strong feeling that the Council Lawns should be preserved as open space for community meetings and events," says Ms Lollback.Suggestions for improving the area included more activities like the existing chess board and more children's play equipment.More meeting room space was also proposed: "People thought it needed to be affordable, accessible and flexible, able to be partitioned or opened up according to requirements," says Ms Lollback.Public toilets were seen as an absolute must.Other suggestions ranged over a broad spectrum of needs: family rest and baby change facilities, conference facilities, a bus interchange (for pick up and drop off, not a fully-fledged terminal), and an interpretive centre.Eric Neil, who attended the Economic Opportunities workshop as a private citizen, but who is the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, said that there seemed to be consensus that the Civic Centre site was not right for a convention centre: "It's not big enough for start, but it was also thought that it would take away some of the amenity of the area," said Mr Neil. On the other hand, he said there was a lot of consensus around the need for a purpose built transit centre in the centre of town: "Not just a coach centre, but for anyone who comes into town, such as self-drive visitors who need shower and toilet facilities."However, Mr Neil said business people did not see the need for large commercial interests on the site, because "they already exist within a two minute walk"."But money to pay for such a transit centre has to come from somewhere," he said.Alderman Geoff Harris said that the council's development of bus parking space in Leichardt Terrace is likely to lead to pressure for a bus terminal. However, he thinks that would be a "particularly ugly" use of the Civic Centre.Planning and Environmental Services Director Eugene Barry said he thought it "highly unlikely that a "bus terminal" would have "any sort of dominance on the Civic Centre site."The location at the Civic Centre of community-based organisations, such as the Toy Library and Family Day Care, was also canvassed."While uses should be community-oriented, they don't have to be council uses," says Ms Lollback.There was general agreement that any development should reflect the Central Australian environment, using local building materials and arid zone design principles in structures and landscaping.Mr Barry says $100,000 has been allocated for development of conceptual plans for the centre, arising out of the current consultation."There will be number of options before the council," says Mr Barry, "including the option of not proceeding, carrying out only an upgrade or possibly a staged redevelopment."Funding could also come from different directions, from rates, a loan, or possibly from Commonwealth or Territory government sources."


German-born brothers Paul and Peter Sitzler started work in the Centre with a pick, a shovel and a few tools. By the early ‘60s they started getting their first big building contracts, specialising in remote area work.They formed their company Sitzler Brothers in 1967, growing apace with the region, suffering its lows, profiting from its highs, until they were comfortably established and were able to extend their operations further afield. (See last week's Alice News for the Sitzlers' early years in Australia and Alice.)
Sitzlers started competing for work in Darwin in 1977, but it took until ‘84 or ‘85 to get established. Today Sitzlers is a fairy substantial company there, and at the time it was probably the biggest locally owned construction company in the Territory. "Since I've lived here I've seen lots of builders come and go, they've left town or gone broke. We're probably the only ones left who go back to the ‘50s."In Darwin there are a lot of big companies but they're all branches of national companies, like John Holland and so on."When you get a $4m to $5m contract you get tenders from everywhere. The Adelaide ones are the most dangerous. They have a much lower cost base and they don't realise often that things are much dearer up here and more difficult to get hold of. "Down there they might ring up a timber mill and two days later they've got their timber but we might have to wait three or four weeks. In the old days they would put us on the bottom of the list, because we couldn't afford to ring them every three or four days."A lot of the Adelaide companies went broke, but while they did it they took the work away from us. "It's not always the estimator's fault. We had one period when John Gorton was Prime Minister, and we had I don't know how many millions of dollars worth of work just ready to start when he put a stop to government spending, no new contracts."We had had a fairly loyal core of people working for us for a long time and when things went bad we would hang on to them."We were lucky that we had a good bank, the ANZ bank. Quite often a bank gives you an umbrella and when it rains they take it away. Our bank left us our umbrella when it rained. "When you're building you get progress payments, sometimes once a month, sometimes it takes longer. You've got to do a month's work, pay your men and your sub-contractors, and pay for the material. The architect comes and gives you a certificate, then the owner is supposed to pay you within seven days, or 14 days, whatever the contract is, and sometimes they don't, and that's when you need a bank. "You can only finance a big project up to a certain level and if you don't get any money for it there could be problems." "One time, about ‘73 or ‘74, the railway was out for six weeks, we couldn't get any cement, any lime, none of the basic things for building. I rang my bank manager and said, ‘How much money can I borrow to keep my staff together?' Nearly everyone else laid people off. He said, ‘Go ahead and if it gets too bad, I'll let you know.' "We went down to Ooraminna and quarried rocks, red rocks [out of which the Catholic Church is built] and piled them up in our yard. Occasionally Andrew McPhee, a well known architect here, designed buildings with those rocks, so we stockpiled them. And we had the cleanest building shed in town, swept it about three times a day!"Then all of a sudden we had a lot more work than we could turn our hands to." The power station was the first contract over $1m that Sitzlers won. It was a hard job because it had to be done quickly. The engines were in a ship sailing from England and PAWA wanted to install them as soon as they arrived: "So, we had to work day and night there for a while."They went on to build a big water tank behind the power station, as big as a football field inside, "quite a technical job".Big contracts, tending towards unusual designs or requirements, kept coming their way: water tanks at Mereenie, the Sadadeen High School, the Anglican Church ("another funny little building"), the Greatorex Building, and the biggest one of all, the Ford Plaza, now the Alice Plaza.In Darwin they built a naval base at Humpty Doo, the Anglican cathedral, another big water tank, aircraft hangars for the Navy, a lot of Army buildings at the Norforce Headquarters. Paul and Peter never built any high rise buildings, although the company, now in the hands of Peter's son Michael and his business partner Steve Margetty, has recently completed the Holiday Inn in Darwin. A particularly difficult assignment was Jindalee Stage One at Harts Range: "When we got there we didn't know what to do, it was a big forest of acacia trees, where were we going to start? We had to get a surveyor out from Alice Springs to tell us where the four points were because we couldn't find them, then take a bulldozer and cut a path around so we could put the fence up and then we could set out the buildings, where they had to go. "The second stage - this was a $3.5m contract - we lost by $1700 to a national company and they made such a mess of it! Their staff was not used to building in remote areas and living in camps. That showed me that we had the ability to go somewhere and do that."Now, Paul says, there's not much remote area work left, and what there is, is split up into small lots. Did the fact that they were a local company count in their favour during the tendering process?"They used to say so, but it never did," says Paul.What about their political connections, were they helpful? "No, they were a hindrance. When Everingham was the first Chief Minister, known to be a good friend of my brother - I knew him pretty well too, but he and my brother were good friends - the public servants were doubly careful that we didn't get an advantage or didn't seem to get an advantage. "We didn't get any contracts for the first two years [of self-government], only the pumping station at Mereenie which we got because we were used to that type of work. "I asked the [government] architect what the hell was going on? A couple of times we had put in the lowest tender and hadn't got it. He said, ‘We don't want to have a big builder who takes over everything, we want to create a bit of competition for you, give the little fellers a bit of work.'"That's what he said to me in the face! I felt like punching him in the nose! I said, ‘What's wrong with first come, first served, whether he's big or small?'"In my opinion, Peter's connections were a hindrance, I told him often enough, and he got quite wild with me. But it was true. "Later when we were building for ourselves, Minerals House and the FAI building, which we built with partners, we were asked by government people to give them a proposal for such and such a requirement. That was outside the tendering process. "That could be seen as giving us a certain advantage over others, by only asking us, and perhaps because we belonged to the right party. Otherwise, in straight out tendering we had no help. "The other building we built and owned is the Peter Sitzler Building on the Stuart Highway. That happened at about the time I left the company. "We were approached by the Tourist Commission to build that for them. Then not long after the building was finished, the Tourist Commission was demolished and sent to Darwin, so for a little while it looked like we had a dead duck on our hands. But other government departments moved in. Now Venturin Nominees and Sitzlers own that building, I don't have a part in it. "When we were invited to put up a proposal like that, it meant we owned the building and leased it to the government. There are no government tenants in the FAI building anymore, they moved out and at one stage we had an empty building."That part of Alice Springs might almost be named Sitzlers' Corner, for they also built the Centrepoint Building and the Diplomat Hotel.How would Paul characterise Australians in terms of business?"Most Australians didn't have to start at the bottom like we did, so they don't have that drive. There are two types, the fellows who've really got a go in them: a lot of farmers are like that, I remember them, station people, they worked seven days a week."There are also people who take the easy way out, who would rather have less money and more free time and work their way up. A number of them refused to work overtime when we really needed it, because our buildings had to be finished by a certain time, or when we had a huge amount of ‘liquidated damage' for not being finished on time, so we asked, ‘Please, can you work till eight o'clock tonight?' ‘Oh, I've got something planned.' "Of course, when things got bad, they were the first who were allowed to stay at home, sooner than others."Not that we ever sacked many people, on the whole we were rather short of people, but now it's different. The culture has changed too, it's all contracting rather than direct employment. That's partly caused by high taxation. A building supervisor works long hours, he may get $60,000 a year and he gives half of it away in tax, it's not all that great an incentive. Sub-contractors can bring a lot more [tax deductible] expenses in."What's happened to Sitzlers since Peter's untimely death in January, 1992 and Paul's early retirement , due to bad health, in 1988?Michael Sitzler and Steve Margetty have expanded the activities of the company, becoming more project builders rather than contractors. In Alice Springs they have developed the former Greenleaves Caravan Park, and done a lot of building for the Americans; in Palmerston they have built a supermarket, which is "slowly coming good". "They were trained differently from us," says Paul. "We were tradesmen, we started with a ute, a pick and shovel, and a few tools and worked our way up. "Those fellas were sent to university in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, studied the thing from a different angle. "We would have been at our wits' end running a company of the size it is today, we didn't have the training for it. They got in at the right level and there was a nice company there for them to take over. "My son is a mechanical engineer but he doesn't want to be part of the building industry, he's worked around the world a bit, in oil and gas fields, and now he's gone back to study in Adelaide."It took Paul a number of years before he could resume a reasonably active life, building for members of his family, and looking after his real estate investments. He thinks the years of stressful bush work told on his health:"You would expect materials and they wouldn't turn up. I remember one day a sub-contractor came out to Ayers Rock without what he needed, so he couldn't do much at all. I hopped in a ute at four in the afternoon, drove into Alice Springs, got a hardware man out of his home to open the store up and give me the stuff I needed. Then I said to my wife, ‘You drive me out there, I can't drive any more.' I'd worked from six in the morning that day, it was half past eight by the time I got here, and I had to be back the next morning. That sort of thing happened sometimes, not very often, but a bloke would come with his ten fingers and no brain.'Paul had met his wife Minna, now Deputy of the Administrator of the Northern Territory, while he had been working for her father Pastor Albrecht at the Finke River Mission block in the Gap neighbourhood. "I was invited to tea, but not long after she went to Adelaide for three years to qualify as a kindergarten teacher."When she came back it flared up again and we got married in 1959. For a while she was our camp cook in Areyonga, while Shelley was a little baby, cooking for 20 blokes who were nearly all the nationalities of Europe. "That was the only time she worked for us. Peter and I had a rule that our wives shouldn't work in the company, to keep the peace."Paul's social life was built around his membership of the service clubs, first Apex, later Rotary.A highlight was his role as Chairman of the local Bicentenary Committee, and from 1983 to 1988, representing the Southern Region, together with Fred Hockley, on the Darwin Bicentenary Council.He has been asked to join other committees, but loathes an "all talk, no action" approach: "You get out of these things what you put in. If you're a force to push things, you can get them done."He recalls the work he and other Rotarians did to develop a park on the town side of Heavitree Gap as a memorial to the people who were killed in the Connellan disaster:"We used it a lot ourselves until they brought in the two kilometre law which meant we could no longer go there and have a drink. Now, it's mainly used by Aboriginals. "Henley-on-Todd every year also used to be quite an effort, I would have half my plant down there setting it up."What does this man, whose work has left a long term stamp on Alice Springs, think about the town's built environment?"It could be a lot better. Alice Springs was unfortunately a planned town right from the start, not like the old European towns which grew haphazardly along a river. That grid system, centred on Todd Street, was all planned by bureaucrats. "The older houses are not so bad, but when the housing commission came along and built those 50 and 60 lot houses with no roof overhang, that's what I was against. "Houses here should have a nice curved verandah right around and be on bigger blocks than they have now. I'm very much against what's happening now, the 300 and 400 square metre blocks. It might have saved a lot of money on services, but I don't think it's improved the look of the town."In Palmerston they have a lagoon which the kids all love and they have sails over the play equipment. Here in summer, you can't take kids to the playgrounds. That would be one of my priorities if I had anything to do with council."When it comes to planning, Paul, not surprisingly, is in favour of minimal interference by government, on the one hand, and "the people" on the other: "Officials of the Northern Territory Government and of the old Administration used to be a lot more free and easy when you wanted a permit or whatever. "Now we're getting more like South Australia where if you want to do a bit of building alteration, it's hopeless. "People here are screaming for more say in local planning, but I'm dead against that, I've seen how it operates in other states, it becomes so parochial. "You've got public servants, they've got a law to go by, which our parliament made, they apply that law and that's it. Otherwise personalities come into it to such an extent , and quite a lot of people, when they have a say in things like that, become quite selfish. "It's true, the Ford Plaza, for example, could have been modified a bit but the tourists love it, they can sit and relax, it's cool, and we're a tourist town, so why should it worry someone who lives on the Eastside, it doesn't affect him, that's my opinion."


Alice Springs should take a broad view about expanding its manufacturing base, according to Chamber of Commerce boss Eric Neil.He says a town with one of the nation's greatest concentrations of academics could well include intellectual "products" in its marketable commodities, especially as transmission of information is getting faster, better and cheaper."I'd like to see a lot more money spent on environmental studies, developing research and management of our special environment," says Mr Neil."We've got the land, and we already have a lot of experts here. "Knowledge is a product you can sell."For example, it annoys me that Kakadu and Uluru national parks are managed by someone else."If you look at the Territory managed national parks, it seems to me that they're equal or better to any national parks in Australia."The Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission have proved they're equal to anyone else in the world."We need to commercialise that sort of knowledge so that we can sell it around the globe."Mr Neil says one way of capitalising on this knowledge is to organise international conventions."We should initiate conventions ourselves."We don't need to wait for any group to say, let's have our annual conference in Alice Springs."We know what our problems are."Instead of inviting one consultant here, let's organise conferences, charge people to come here and learn from them while they are here."It would be a double bonus. A conference or convention is never a one way information flow. It works both ways."It would help our own professionals to make contacts, import information - and get paid for it," says Mr Neil."If we had a big enough convention facility we could sell our own expertise in the areas in which we do best, solar energy, outback communications, mining, health."The conventional manufacturing industry is very small, representing just four per cent of the Territory's gross product, according to the Department Asian Trade and Industry.It says the break-up of that production is as follows: homeware (including pottery) and horticultural production, 18 per cent each; arts and crafts (15); hardware (14); timber and metal (8); food (8); clothing (6), information technology (6); agriculture (5); meat products (4) and medical (2).Alice Springs has 78 companies registered to use the "NT Made" symbol, according to the department's Bob Corby.Mr Neil says conventional manufacturing is facing difficulties in The Centre: "The market in Alice Springs is small and you need to send your product to a market which is an awfully long way away. "We need to concentrate on our unique products."The Ti Tree horticultural area, and what people like Tony Alicastro are doing there, is just wonderful."We're also very good at remote area communications," says Mr Neil."What the Centre for Appropriate Technology is doing is just terrific, such as solar power research, and that will in time translate into manufacturing goods."One of the biggest advantages we have is our ability to solve problems, because we have to!"The question is how to turn this into a bigger manufacturing industry."


As the Territory develops a constitution and moves towards statehood, Aboriginal people "don't want to be sitting underneath a gum tree, just watching what's happening," Harold Furber, Deputy Director of the Central Land Council (CLC), told local media last week.The significance of Aboriginal involvement in the development of the constitution was articulated by Helmut Pararoeltja, at Hermannsburg, on April 7, 1989 before the Sessional Committee on Constitutional Development : "We are old men. We people from Northern Territory should make a law. We stay. We've been born here, we stay here, we are going to die here."Some of the white people just come in from states, they've a good life to go back to. But we from the Northern Territory should make this law, one for all and every, not for you and me. That's for everybody ..."All this Northern Territory, black and white, they have been controlled by Canberra, Commonwealth, federal government all the time, and we don't know who they are. We Northern Territory people, we got to have government in the Northern Territory and we can work together."However, nearly a decade later, with the recommendations of last April's controversial Statehood Convention soon to be debated in the parliament, the one thing that seems certain before statehood and a constitution can be achieved in "just terms" and supported by a broad consensus, is that there is still a long way to go.With ATSIC support, the CLC next week will host the Combined Aboriginal Nations of Central Australia Constitutional Convention.Some 600 to 700 people are expected to attend the "grass roots" convention, to be held at Kalkaringi, chosen for its historical links with the landmark Wave Hill "walk off" by Aboriginal stockmen and their families.This walk off in 1966 heralded the development of the Land Rights Act (NT), passed by the Federal parliament in 1976.Protection of land rights will undoubtedly be a key issue at the convention.Indeed the ongoing importance of customary law and connection with the land, seen at least as partly and significantly protected by the Land Rights Act, couldn't be clearer in the oral submissions received by the sessional committee at its bush community hearings. However, that's only where the problems begin in a constitutional sense.What would the self-determination implications be if, for instance, customary law were to be incorporated into the "European" legal system?Would it be better to simply have an acknowledgement of it in the constitution?Or are far greater demands than foreseen by the Statehood Convention going to emerge from Kalkaringi, something which the name "Combined Nations" might suggest? The territorial and regional government models as developed in Canada are bound to be a focus of interest when considering the recognition of indigenous rights.ATSIC regional councillor Geoff Shaw, one of six delegates from Alice Springs to go to the Statehood Convention in April, last week expressed total dissatisfaction with the that convention's deletion of references to "organic law" when other options would have been possible.But would the other options have offered sufficient protection of Aboriginal land rights given the character of the political institutions supported by other resolutions of the Statehood Convention, such as the maintenance of the status quo single member electorates and a single house of parliament?Mr Shaw said indigenous issues were not "taken seriously" in that forum, which is why he joined a "walk out" by other ATSIC delegates.Smithy Zimran, a traditional owner from the Western Desert and a convener of the convention, said federal politicians have been invited to attend and observe next week's convention, which will include Aboriginal ceremonies "to prove that Aboriginal law is still alive and continuing"."We want to get recognition from the Federal government that our culture and law still exist," said Mr Zimran.Mr Furber, asked why he expects that the Government will take heed of the convention, said it is a "positive offer [Aboriginal people] are putting to the Northern Territory and the Federal Governments".He also said that the Chief Minister has written a letter "wishing the convention well"."People who espouse democracy should take note of their own words, such as accountability and democratic processes," he said."We believe in the fair-mindedness of Australians."Mr Furber said that the Kalkaringi event would be the forerunner of other popular Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal conventions in the Territory, and in combination with those, it should have some clout.Asked how Aboriginal people would be made aware of the issues, Mr Furber said the issues are coming from the people, "whatever they want to talk about".Asked if Aboriginal people were happy with the consultation carried out by the sessional committee, chaired by Steve Hatton, Mr Shaw said "some segments" from that consultation "could be discussed" at Kalkaringi.The Hansard transcript from the sessional committee's public hearings conducted on Central Australian communities, offers an eloquent account of grass roots concerns.Mr Zimran, at a public hearing at Kintore on April 4, 1989, asked, "Why is the Northern Territory government trying to take control of sacred sites away from Aboriginal people, to give it to the Minister of Lands?"Is the Northern Territory government prepared to give on the protection of sacred sites before Aborigines are prepared to discuss statehood? Will it guarantee control of sacred sites to Aborigines?"At Nyirripi, on April 10, 1989, Kevin Jurra, expressed mistrust of non-indigenous laws governing sacred sites: "Like those mining companies... they are trying to take over ... they will touch any secret site. They will damage them and to avoid that we want to say no ... They are trying to make this law, a law that is going to allow the government and the mining people to come into our land to look for oil or something and to do other things. They will damage the secret sites. To avoid that we want to say no."At Yuendumu, on April 11, 1989, in a well-attended meeting, a Japanangka man felt it would be important to have constitutional protection of customary law: "If we have this constitution, if we all talk, we want to keep our ‘Kurdiji' young man's ceremony in the Northern Territory, so with that ... the Labor Party when we vote if they get beaten, we'll have that law behind us." At the same meeting, others expressed profound mistrust of "two ways" law.Darby Jampijinpa Ross said, "If you are going to have this new law we will surely lose everything including our Dreamings. Well, what are you going to do about the little boy when he grows up to become a young man, you won't be able to sing at their ceremonies because you don't know, they will also take that from us and the land for good."Paddy Nelson said, "We will stay with the same law and we don't want to change it into white man's law ... Those people from outside want us to change the law but we don't want to listen to them."Paddy Japaljarri Sims said, "White people have many laws, we only have one law that allows us to have the land. That's why we want to keep that old law ... even when we write in language, we don't know what to say and don't really understand what they are saying and they get the better of us."At Willowra, on April 11, 1989, Harry Nelson, echoed similar doubts about translation across the cultures: "These one came here to tell about the draft constitution, which is in very difficult English, this one. We don't have words for those things in Warlpiri. We can't put the English and Warlpiri together."Protection of the Land Rights Act seemed a less problematic concept.At Kintore Riley Major asked: "When the new law comes out , will the land councils still be there or will they be finished?"Mr Hatton: "I think we should ask you that question. Do you want them to continue?"Mr Major: "Yes."Mr Hatton: "That is a matter for you ... If you want it, you keep it going."At the same meeting, an unidentified speaker asked: "How will we put the land council law into the constitution, without changing it?"Mr Hatton replied: "Are you saying that you want the Land Rights Act to stay exactly the same? ... Or are there some things you want, to change it for the better?"At Yuendumu, Ted Granites asked, "What could happen to the Land Rights Act in the Northern Territory?"Mr Hatton acknowledged widespread concern over the issue: "When we become a state, we believe the Land Rights Act should become a Northern Territory law instead of being a Canberra law ... A lot of people have been saying that they don't trust this NT government mob. They say they want to protect the land rights so that they cannot muck around with it. Well, that's what you put in the constitution, to protect them."Ned Hargreaves at the same meeting, was right behind constitutional protection of land rights: "There is no way that white people can come to us today and tell us we want to change that, we want to take it off. "No, on this paper it will always be there for good. For this paper we are all saying yes!"James Japangardi Marshall added: "We've got to think ahead. We got to think about our kids, our children. So let us think about this law they have written down ... so we can put land rights in the constitution for all time." Eddie Jampijinpa Robertson said: "The land rights law and the tribal council law, maybe we can put those old laws into this law ... We will have the law all the time, they can't change anything and they can't take that from us."


In 1974 photographer Jon Rhodes had the extraordinary experience of travelling deep into the western deserts where "a great silence had fallen over the country after the Pintupi left their homelands".He was working as assistant to cameraman/director Ian Dunlop on a Commonwealth Film Unit project, revisiting Pintupi whom Dunlop had filmed ten years earlier.For the Pintupi the journey's purpose was to carry out important ceremonial tasks (which were not filmed) and to look after country.Rhodes carried away a profound impression of the land "having human life breathed into it again, after ten years of silence".Of an earlier trip in 1972 to Pitjantjatjara country he writes: "The country is alive with marks made by both living and mythic animals, and the two are inseparable and intertwined. It was the first time I had met men whose knowledge of their place on earth seemed so complete."These experiences formed the well-spring of Rhodes' work Which-away?, now an exhibition showing at the Araluen Centre (as one of several Australian venues), accompanied by a beautifully produced catalogue, which reproduces all of the photos and vividly describes the experiences behind taking them.Rhodes' focus is on documenting change, be it the patches of light moving across hills on a cloudy day, the gestures of a man as he talks, actions as he hunts, his body as it ages, or a whole culture in a times of enormous transition.The whole show spans more than 20 years, with the main body of work coming from a five month stay at Kiwirrkurra in 1990.That the community allowed him to live with them at that time testifies to the relationship he had established with them. Relationship is indeed one of the strengths underpinning the photographs, one of its most poignant expressions being in Got no mummy.The work is composed of two vertical sets of five images, with a larger central image.On the left is a series showing close up the removal of an embryonic joey from its dead mother's pouch.The series accomplishes what a single image could not: a sense of the crucial physicality of the passing between life and death.This lends a symbolic force to the sequence on the right, in which a child, indeed motherless and who had attached himself to Rhodes, draws himself, birth-like, out of a bag.A child so young could never have been coaxed into making such a primal statement of his condition: the sequence expresses the pain and anxiety of coming into the world and having to fend for oneself, an exceptional opportunity given to Rhodes who knew how to take it. Again there is a great sense of physicality, experience rooted in the body and the body's essential attachment to the earth.The middle image is almost abstract in comparison, judiciously so in this context. It also works on the title page of the catalogue as a stand alone image.Whereas in the vertical columns there is a certain equality between living forms, joey and child, here an essential order is established. Three separate bodily forms appear almost as one, with something like a chain of command moving through them: from the earth through his bare feet to the standing figure, to the sitting figure astride the kangaroo, represented only by its singular tail and whose life force will return both to the earth and to the men, completing the circle.Layered into the image is the passage of recent history, represented by the seated figure's fringed shirt and shoes.Yet another passing is conveyed by the shadows. Shadows are almost a Rhodes hallmark, their contemplation one of the many pleasures of this exhibition. Here the shadows of the men appear circumstantial, more ephemeral than those of the grasses which will pass with the day but return again tomorrow, as they did yesterday. So many things in one image, but it is not an exception. The whole exhibition is ripe with signs, some more inscrutable than others, some within an image, some within the intersection of Rhodes' series or sequences. It rewards a long, close look.

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