TERRITORY CONSTITUTION NO CHECK ON GOVERNMENT POWERS. Report by CHRIS HALLETT.
The question on statehood that will be put to Territorians by referendum in a month is like the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?". A simple yes or no answer doesn't suit a lot of people. At the forum organised by Territorians for a Democratic Statehood (TDS) in Alice Springs last Saturday the consensus answer was "maybeÓ. Neither could the 70 or so people who attended at various times through the day agree on what exactly the question means. The question is: "Now that a Constitution for a State of the Northern Territory has been recommended by the Statehood Convention and endorsed by the Northern Territory Parliament:- do you agree that we should become a State?" UNDEMOCRATICThe problem for most people at the meeting was the proposed constitution and what they see as the undemocratic way it was developed by the Government orchestrated Statehood Convention. The four members of the Legislative Assembly who spoke at the meeting - John Elferink, Lorraine Braham, John Bailey and Peter Toyne - all stated they would vote "yes" to the question. However the Labor members, Mr Bailey and Mr Toyne, still objected to the constitution and hope to change it later. Peter McNab, a constitutional lawyer at the NT University and a TDS member, flew to Alice for the forum. He was also one of the delegates to the Statehood Convention, appointed by the Government. Mr McNab supports statehood but will cast a "no" vote based on his disappointment in the proposed constitution. His disappointment stems from what was left out of the minimalist model constitution presented at the convention and the lack of any real opportunity to discuss alternatives. He said the proposed constitution is a workable document "which more or less reflects the status quo". Said Mr McNab: "It is a marked improvement over the colonial 19th century state constitutions but the real issue is whether in 1998 as we go towards 2000 we shouldn't do what other countries have done in terms of modernising their constitution. "That is have more than just the status quo but have some real progressive limitations on government and the most obvious one is a Bill of Rights. "Canada has had an entrenched one since 1982 and New Zealand has had one since 1990. "Britain has had an indirect one through being in the European Union for the last 20 years or so and it has been strengthened over time. "And a lot of other countries as they have moved towards self government have had a Bill of Rights, South Africa I should add as well. "So the modern trend has been to build limitations on governments because now human rights are such a big part of people's lives. "A basic problem is that a constitution's role is to police the powers of the executive government, the ministry, yet they largely chose the members of the constitutional convention and are driving the statehood agenda."If you wanted any evidence that the executive government is in danger of continuing to monopolise the whole political show in the Northern Territory, this is it. "If you wanted evidence to show something is wrong, just look at the way they have handled this process which is basically to give themselves a blank cheque. "By not telling people they have a chance to rewrite the rules of government they are going to put in concrete the power they have now. "The power they have got now is to spend a million dollars on a campaign to manipulate the process, distort the process, not consult people, give then no time to really consider the issues. "Now all those things are being done because, as far as we are concerned, there are no legal limitations on them, and unless or until you get some checks and balances so they have to be accountable for these sorts of things, or there is a change in the political culture, you will continue to have what I consider to be abuses." Government members Mrs Braham and Mr Elferink, dismissed calls for provisions in the constitution for freedom of information legislation as not belonging in a constitution. Given the minimalist model of the constitution, it is interesting that single member electorates have been entrenched in it. Mr McNab commented: "I don't think that has been done deliberately. Maybe it was to make it clear we would never move to a multi-member system (as in Tasmania and the ACT) without having the people's consent, but most constitutions tend to leave those matters of detail to be worked out by parliament."Under the proposed constitution, the governor, who replaces the current administrator, is hired and fired by the premier. There is no process for parliament to vote on the decision or to endorse the candidate for governor or to sack him or her. Mr McNab said further that there had been an almost a complete paring back of the governor's traditional reserve powers, the governor having a very limited role in rejecting advice of the government, much more limited than anywhere else in Australia.He said there are no institutional restraints on the governor's dismissal, whereas in other states a submission or an advice would have to go to Buckingham Palace before a governor could be sacked. "So that is a big change," said Mr McNab."There is an attempt to reform or codify the governor's reserve powers, but they have been reformed or codified by a mix of republicanism and fear about what happened in 1975 [the Whitlam sacking] and a general statement that it is the political executive that is in charge and there should be no leeway for the governor to do anything in the name of the Crown."CUSTOMARY LAWThe major area of the constitution regarding Aboriginal law is an obligation on the Territory Government to negotiate to produce at the end of five years, or at such later date that parliament allows, an attempt at a codification of Aboriginal customary law and harmonisation with non-Aboriginal law, Mr McNab told the forum."At that point it would then be recognised as a source of law in the NT," he said "Anything that attempts to incorporate in a meaningful fashion Aboriginal law into European law and give it stronger legal effect, is obviously a step forward."But, it is no substitute for sacred sites laws and land rights, though some people argue you could bring all those sorts of things in."
WHEN TERRITORIANS GET CRACKING. COMMENT by JUNE TUZEWSKI.
The Alice has long been seen as a place of opportunity. Today we associate the birth of our town with the Overland Telegraph Station, but the original town, located a short distance from the Telegraph Station, had its origins in the search for rubies and gold. David Lindsay had come across granite, which he reported as studded with rubies or garnets, in 1885 while in Central Australia on pastoral survey work. Australia was in recession and those hopeful of making some money ventured to the Centre. Miners camped on the banks of the Todd, just south of the Telegraph Station while on their way to the ruby fields or waiting to pick up supplies or mail from home. When the rubies proved to be garnets, many miners, reluctant to return to their home towns because of the depression, stayed in the Centre prospecting for gold. Sometimes the very decision to come to the Centre represents a fresh start in life. More often, living here can open one's eyes to new beginnings and a change of lifestyle. An early example is Billy Benstead who ran away from home in the 1870s at the age of 14 and became a station hand at Undoolya Station. Billy, together with his wife Tryphena, built the first Stuart Arms Hotel. The decision to build the rail line from Oodnadatta to Stuart in the late '20s lead to the disappearance of the Afghans and their camel-trains, but saw others taking advantage of the change. Increased commercial activity and the prospect of gold at the Granites saw the town's first bank - the English Scottish and Australasian Bank Ltd - established in 1932. Up until this time banking facilities had been provided by agencies at the post office. The town's name change from Stuart to Alice Springs was officially proclaimed on August 30, 1933, and has a story of its own. Over the years the development of the town has provided many business opportunities for those prepared to take the risk, work hard, and put in long hours. More recently our community has made a conscious effort to preserve some buildings from our past and to use them for commercial or community purposes. It is a pleasure therefore to see the bringing together of the old and the new in a new business in the National Trust listed Postmaster's Residence in Railway Terrace. This was built during the depression years by unemployed people, on a day labour scheme, and constructed at the same time as the post office on the corner of Parsons Street and Railway Terrace, next door. Officially opened in 1932, Dudley Adamson was the first Postmaster to occupy the house which continued to be used as the Postmaster's residence until 1977. Now, having stood vacant for a period following a number of commercial tenancies, it houses the Alice Springs Therapeutic Health Centre. Aiming to balance mind and body, the Centre is operated by local identities already well-known in the healthcare field. On the team are Vicki Engeham, Ailsa Inness and Ruth Linn together with Ruth Berlin, Craig San Roque and Lynne Pfitzner. Complementing these practitioners are Brigitte Muller, osteopath, and Glen Lu, chiropractor, who will be providing their services on a monthly basis. Within the Massage Team are Vicki, Ailsa and Ruth Linn. Vicki will be providing Aura Soma therapy, which uses coloured oils for certain ailments or emotional issues. Ailsa's expertise is in the practice of Myotherapy which is a combination massage. Looking at the science of human movement, the aim of Myotherapy is to assist people to achieve maximum performance from their muscular system. Ruth Linn provides Prescriptive and Therapeutic Massage using aroma therapy oils for relaxation. Within the Psychology and Psychotherapy practice is Ruth Berlin, Craig and Lynne. Craig San Roque, is a senior psychologist, trained in London and Sydney and brings with him many years of experience. He specialises in a range of issues including personal and family problems, cross cultural anxiety, dream analysis. He is currently President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Jungian Analysts. Ruth Berlin is another well-known long term resident who has worked as a General Practitioner. More recently she has moved into the field of psychotherapy and counselling and these are the services she will be providing through the Centre. Lynne is also a registered psychologist and provides counselling for personal growth. Gone are the days when we have to go south for these services. The new Therapeutic Health Centre has attracted a group of practitioners who are not only familiar with the unique conditions of Central Australia but have the skills and experience equal to those offered elsewhere. A confidential and supportive environment is enhanced by the tasteful decor of the beautiful old building. The pioneering spirit of people making the Alice their home and starting a new business here is alive and well, and in this case, operating in the shadow of our colourful history. (Many thanks to Bruce Strong who provided information on The Postmaster's Residence.)
ANOTHER LOST GENERATION IN THE MAKING? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Batchelor College is the light at the end of the long and dangerous tunnel that is Aboriginal education in the Territory.In the past 15 years the college has picked up the pieces of a government schools system that has consistently produced some of the nation's worst results, mainly because it has never come to grips with the cultural realities governing the lives of Aboriginal people.Yet, while the state schools in this regard are bombing out, Batchelor routinely exceeds the achievements of other tertiary institutions around the country with respect to student retention, as well as the record of ongoing employment for graduates.College Director John Ingram says the drop-out rate is under 30 per cent: "That compares very well with the attrition rate from universities."The employment record for graduates with accredited awards since the late '70s is even more impressive: 82.5 per cent of them have jobs, an additional 8.2 per cent are are on leave and three per cent are in part time employment."No other university in this country could say that."Sadly, it's not the next generation which broadly benefits from this, but the one after, because most of today's young Aboriginal people have not been brought up to a level ready for post-secondary education.So when some 110 graduates, many present, dressed in academic gowns, were honoured for their achievements in an outdoor ceremony at the college's Alice Springs campus last week, most were in their middle age.The function, attended by 200 locals, was presided over by one of Australia's most impressive Aboriginal role models: college council chairman Gatjil Djerrkura, an Arnhemland man who before being drafted by the Coalition Government to chair ATSIC, was running a private company employing 160 people, black and white.Its own fleet of trucks and earth moving machines provides a range services to the Nabalco mining giant.Mr Djerrkura's company, owned by 13 clans, has never had any government subsidies, he told the Alice News, and gets any finance it needs through mainstream commercial borrowing."These are the sorts of things we need to demonstrate more and more," says Mr Djerrkura. "Things are achievable.'ACHIEVABLE'"It's the sort of thing I'm trying to preach at the national scene in the position I'm in at present: the private sector is looking to partnerships with indigenous people around Australia, and that's very encouraging."It's a new ball game. It requires perseverance, understanding and a change of heart."Achievement is very much the buzzword in the college as another lost generation is in the making in the Territory.Mr Ingram, who is due to complete his contract with the college next year, took over the running of Batchelor in 1985, it had one campus, one course and 100 students.Now it has 2000 students, up to 30 courses ranging from health - the main focus, chosen by more than a quarter of the students - to journalism, and has campuses in Darwin, Alice, Katherine and Tennant Creek.Next year it will break away from the NT public service and operate - similar to the NT University - under special legislation.Yet Batchelor's impressive success is tainted by the absence of the kind of young people who populate learning centres the world over."It's a tragedy," says Mr Ingram."Unfortunately, juvenile education [in the bush] isn't producing people with a very high level of literacy and numeracy."The simple fact is that there are no realistic opportunities for secondary education for remote community kids."Aborigines wanting a secondary education are "expected" to go away to Yirara, Kormilda or St John's."But they're at puberty, and in respect of ceremonies, and becoming an adult in the community, that's a very important time," says Mr Ingram."Many parents don't want their kids to go away at that time."It's vital that opportunities are provided for secondary education that are appropriate to the nature of the communities, and the culture these people are part of."They could study through distance education, but their level of academic attainment isn't sufficient to be able to handle distance education strategies."The tragedy is that there are kids who are leaving school."And those who've gone away to school often have problems settling back into the community."We're seeing the consequences, petrol sniffing, alcohol, people being wiped out by motor cars, and so on."What do those young people do in the communities?"Parents are genuinely worried about that, but they're feeling a degree of powerlessness."The greatest outcomes of Batchelor College are going to be felt by the generation after the next."They're upgrading their education, they're going to be able to gain control over their lives and their communities."Of the 2000 students at the college, says Mr Ingram, "no more than three or four dozen have a secondary education, and most of those are from urban areas interstate."Mr Ingram says the great majority of present students are "experienced people, they have families, they have cultural status in their communities, and they usually have some kind of work experience, such as teacher's aides."Many of the health students would have worked as untrained health workers."Nowadays, in the last year or so, Territory Health won't employ them unless they have a certificate."But academically, of course, they have a lot of ground to cover in a short time."As a consequence, most students will take six or seven years, "with some time out", to complete courses which have a nominal duration of three or four years.The problem with such a late start is that the average "career expectancy" is around 15 years, compared to at least double that for conventional-age students, while the demand for qualified people in the communities remains overwhelming.Mr Ingram estimates that at least double the number of graduates presently working is needed, given the burn-out rate for staff, and the magnitude of problems in the communities.A typical Batchelor student "does a couple of years, then works for a while and comes back a year or two later".Marion Swift [pictured at right] is a mature age student from Hermannsburg, who graduated with an associate diploma in health and received an award last week as an outstanding health graduate after full time study for three years.She won't be studying this year because "she's needed in the community", says Mr Ingram, "but will return next year to do her advanced diploma".This close connection between the students' learning career and their communities' needs is a hallmark of Batchelor's purpose.Mr Ingram says when enrollees are asked why they want to study, "almost universally they say 'I want to learn to help my people'."Almost everybody will say that."Very often they're not sure what that means or how to do it."Graduation ceremonies are often held in students' homelands."These are very moving ceremonies, the whole community is there, supporting the students and recognising their achievement."The demand for education of various kinds is very strong."Many people enrol in the college to upgrade their literacy and numeracy, and then go on to do a job in their communities."In Central Australia, the Institute for Aboriginal Development, the Centralian College and other institutions are offering courses for Aborigines - often in collaboration with Batchelor - but Batchelor is "by far" the biggest indigenous education institution in Australia, says Mr Ingram. Health education the biggest subject, but the teaching offered ranges down to tailor made courses, run in response to demands from individual communities: for instance, a Borroloola group was taught about work on fishing boats "because there were employment opportunities".Batchelor is facing serious threats, says Mr Ingram: students - some from interstate - rely heavily on Abstudy for travel and accommodation allowances, yet there have been "severe cutbacks".Mr Ingram says: "Abstudy is under review again and we don't know what the outcomes are going to be."We operate in the remotest parts of Australia. That's what we see as our mandate."Getting an understanding in government what remoteness and isolation really mean, in terms of delivering an education program, is probably the biggest single issue."It's something I spend more than half my time talking about."The college gets its $15m annual "core funding" mainly from the Commonwealth ($8m plus $2m from funds for Aboriginal education); $5m comes from the NT.The separation next year from the NT public sector, says Mr Ingram, will allow Batchelor "to better target finances and place the governance of the college in the hands of Aboriginal people, through the college council."OWNERSHIPMr Djerrkura says this will give Aboriginal people a greater "sense of ownership".While he agrees that Aboriginal control has in some other fields failed to deliver the goods, "in terms of education it's a new field."We've tried other projects and programs but we haven't touched education in its entirety."We will be better able to control our future if we are able to achieve the basic education and qualifications that we need to have."He describes the present education system as "paternalistic, what others have thought is best for us."In that context it has failed."
THE WORLD GAINS FROM WORK BY ALICE SPRINGS SCIENTISTS (Part Two). Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Locally-based research, especially in the area of arid zone environmental management, has "quite an image at a world level, to a degree which is much greater than the size of the town would warrant, and we really do need to capitalise on it,"says CSIRO researcher Mark Stafford-Smith.In last week's Alice News, Dr Stafford-Smith identified the new direction in which CSIRO's Alice lab is heading, away from the narrow view of what goes on in a square metre towards a view of what goes on in a whole region, embracing the social processes that are required to develop the best balance of land use practices.This week Dr Stafford-Smith describes examples of how this locally developed intellectual capital can be marketed around the world, and reflects on how this could enhance the image Alice gives itself.Australia, the US and Israel are all developed nations that can provide a good technological context for research.Israel, says Dr Stafford-Smith, tends to take a very technological approach to land use, being under an economic imperative to "carve production out of marginal landscapes".Australia, with its very extensive landscapes, tends to have a more ecological approach, using tools like fire and altering grazing pressure to manage the environment.Combined with our experience and knowledge of extreme variations in dry and wet years, this makes Australian knowledge especially valuable in places like Southern Africa and India."The US puts a lot of effort into those places too but they have a relatively limited appreciation of the climate variability that people have to live with," says Dr Stafford-Smith."Also, people in the African or Indian situations have a more subsistence use of the landscapes, depending on them for their survival rather than just for their livelihood."A drought in Southern Africa and India means death. "That is generally different to the Australian experience but the growing effort to work on Aboriginal lands has useful parallels, and this work provides quite a bit of expertise here in Central Australia, at CSIRO, CAT, the CLC and some others, which is relevant to other places in the world."What are the current demands for that expertise, and, given the relative impoverishment of the countries in question, how does the work get underway?A collaborative research project with India is just getting started.Scientists at an arid zone research institute in Jodhpur have collected a huge amount of botanical data. Alice CSIRO scientists can offer them an understanding of how to synthesise that sort of information and draw out its implications for land management, and of how to use satellite data to do broadscale monitoring of the results of this management.The project came about through the interactions between the scientists of both countries at various conferences and international visits."Those are the sorts of things that build relationships," says Dr Stafford-Smith. "Then eventually you get to the stage where you need a more substantial interaction which requires funding support." This is likely to come from an Australian overseas aid grant which will support CSIRO's involvement, as well as pay for some of the work being done on the ground in India. That's an issue in terms of us trying to produce economic outcomes from our knowledge. "A cooperative environmental management project between us and people in India or Southern Africa is always going to be funded by a third party like the World Bank or, as in this case, ACIAR [the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research]."Three major international conventions, which are gaining increasing credence, provide a context for this type of relationship. They are the Biodiversity Convention, the Desertification Convention and the Climate Change Convention. "All three have very clear clauses which require developed nations to assist developing nations to apply appropriate technology in the goal of whichever convention is concerned."That puts the onus on countries like Australia to try and provide the collaboration which enables the useful things from here to be picked up elsewhere. "At times too, ideas from some of those developing nations come back and are used here. It's not just a one way relationship."Dr Stafford-Smith says it is a shame that the town of Alice Springs doesn't reflect more that it's a place where "there is a little humming along of ideas which are relevant to this particular environment". "CAT, for example, has been around for a long time but the town has been very poor at grabbing hold of the opportunity to use or display their expertise."Maybe that is starting to change, with new thinking in organisations like the town council. "There are real opportunities now, if an alliance can be built to think about these things. Places like the Desert Park present a fantastic location for display of arid zone innovations.The time seems ripe, although it's sad that it didn't happen 10 years ago."
NEW LAWS BUT NOT ENOUGH MONEY TO DEAL WITH MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS.
"If it's your sister or your mother who's a looney, who belongs in Ward One, then it becomes more than a joke."What are you, the guy on the street, going to do about it then?" asks Lyle Gamertsfelder, Chairperson of the Mental Health Association of Central Australia (MHACA). But how likely is it to be someone in your circle of family and friends who suffers from a mental illness ?Territory Health Services (THS) in a 1996 report quotes international research suggesting that 2.8 per cent of the population will suffer a major mental disorder in any 12 month period.For Alice Springs, that means 450 people.So for them, says Mr Gamertsfelder, "you'd want a decent place for treatment, and a decent follow-up, so that they can find their way into the community again."In the association's view, does the recently passed Mental Health and Related Services Act offer a positive framework for the achievement of these goals?The general consensus when the Bill was introduced last December was that it was "a vast improvement" over the 1980 Mental Health Act it replaces.After a number of clarifying amendments and technical adjustments, the Bill was reintroduced and passed, and once again the MHACA is heartened:"The amendments reflect consumer concerns and appear to be fairly positive," says coordinator Geoff Harris.The concerns included the Minister's proposed discretion to disclose information about consumers to third parties."They appear to have tightened that up, so that the Minister can disclose information only on specific recommendation from various people like the Departmental Secretary or the Ombudsman, in the public interest or in the interest of community safety," says Mr Harris.Access to patient records, recently highlighted by Peter Holmes' five year battle [see Alice News, July 22], is another area more satisfactorily addressed by the new Act."There are now going to be more bodies you can appeal to, to get access to your records," says Mr Harris.Another MHACA concern was over the rather broad definition of who could be considered as suffering a "mental disturbance". They say the new Act provides a more focussed definition.But in this regard, the association remains concerned over the type of facilities that will be provided for the mentally disturbed and the pressure on already tight resources that arises out of extending the scope of the legislation.Says Mr Gamertsfelder: "At present we don't have a proper built facility for people with mental disturbance."Those people are sometimes held in the police cells, or sometimes brought around to the [psychiatric] ward. "The only other place is the prison."While the association is concerned about the welfare of the mentally disturbed - in balance with issues of community safety - they are keen to see increased resources made available to deal with them."If you broaden the definition of who comes under the umbrella of the mental health services, and you don't increase resources, are there going to be a whole bunch of people who drop off the end of the line because there's not enough staff to cope?" asks Mr Harris.[Questions put two weeks ago to the Minister for Health, Denis Burke, about protocols, facilities and resources for dealing with the mentally disturbed, remain unanswered.]The association says mental health services are already under pressure. Committee member Robin Cruickshank says more nurses are needed for the community mental health team: "They keep people out of ward, provide the support that people need, but there are not enough staff to keep up with the workload."They have such a high turnover. The staff get sick of the workload and leave, and people are left wondering what they are going to do because the staff are not there to cope with them."Another important factor in keeping people "out of ward" is the recently named Heritage Clubhouse run by the MHACA with support from THS, out of the former superintendent's house at the old Alice Springs Gaol. The association is expected to take over full running of the Clubhouse early next year.Ms Cruickshank suffers from a major depressive illness, which kept her unemployed for four years, although during that time for two years she cared for her grandmother, who has since passed away. Before the Clubhouse opened last September she was in the ward every three to six months. LONG WAY"Since the Clubhouse has been open I haven't had one admission. It's brought me a long way, I'm really pleased," she says.She has benefited from the Clubhouse's employment program, working regularly for 10 hours each week, cleaning business premises.She also mixes with people, in contrast to her former solitary lifestyle, and has developed an interest in the mental health consumer movement, which takes her to conferences, and leads to work on various committees."It's filled up my life so much," she says.Mr Gamertsfelder's experience of mental health services goes back further: He was "in the ward" in the early '80s when the medications weren't as "clean" as they are now. He says he was "like a zombie" for two years before he stopped taking them.He felt more himself but still had the depression, and eventually his life - work, marriage, family life - collapsed around him.New medications have got him "back on track, so that I can cope normally" but "they don't change your life," he says. "You have to be involved in that part, through whatever your interests are."For Mr Gamertsfelder, as for Ms Cruickshank, the mental health consumer movement has become a major focus.They are both on THS' Mental Health Service Management Committee, Mr Gamertsfelder is on the consumer group of the Central Australian Division of General Practice, and Ms Cruickshank is part of a research team at the Menzies School of Health Research, putting together a directory of services for people with a psychiatric illness in Alice Springs.Is it possible that mental health services, and the demands on articulate consumers like themselves, will end up taking over their lives?"There is a danger of that," says Ms Cruickshank.Mr Gamertsfelder also admits that the movement is starting to take up a lot of his time, but it has its distinct rewards:"You've got to have something to do. I'm going on 61 and I need something positive that I can handle. "I like the mental health thing because I'm learning about myself and other people at the same time. "Just going to a psychologist and telling him about all the rubbish in my life, didn't cure me. I didn't feel better at all. All it was doing was rerunning that tape. "The situation has become much more advantageous for people with mental illness. It's important for us to grab hold of it, the ones of us who can. We should be helping the others, the people who just can't cope, who are very damaged. "It's like a footy game, you do your best to get your team across the line. "When you start to know the others, you become attached to them. When we lose a member through natural death or suicide, it's very disturbing. At those times I think, 'Gee, I'd give anything if only I could have done something to help them.'"The knowledge of the brain is improving all the time, but it's such a big thing, there's so much to learn about, it's like a journey into space. "When I see people like Robin get involved and they start catching on to stuff, it's really terrific, it's like a flowering."The Heritage Clubhouse can be contacted on 8952 3311.
PAINTER BOWLED OVER BY CENTRAL AUSTRALIAN COLOURS. Review by KIERAN FINNANE.
Landscape painter John Borrack, who currently has a show of 20 paintings at Gallery Gondwana, first came to the Centre in 1961, flying in a DC3 from Melbourne at 10,000 feet."From Broken Hill to Oodnadatta and on, we followed the riverbeds all the way. The patterns of a landscape were a revelation to me," he says."When I arrived in Alice Springs, I was bowled over by the colour. My painting was never the same after that."What he saw was an intensity of colour, a vividness of oranges and reds, and a transparency of shadows that he had not encountered before.Interestingly, his interpretation of those colours is a rather muted one, more focused on their relationship to one another under the intense light of day. Borrack doesn't choose to paint the glowing landscapes of early morning and evening.His watercolour lends itself to this exploration because of its transparency: colours layered one upon another.His painting career has been committed to landscapes in watercolour."People might think this is rather anachronistic," he says, "but in my view it's the vision that's important. Style is a matter for the individual."Landscape is my starting point, what I believe in. "You can seek too much innovation for its own sake. "I'd rather think of myself as an artist trying to build on a tradition."In that tradition in Australia Borrack has always had great respect for the colonial painters Eugene von Guerard and John Glover, through to the Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts of the Heidelberg School.He also cites the Scottish-born painter William Frater as an early influence: "He was probably Australia's first post-impressionist and had a tremendous influence here in the 1930s, before the Nolan period," says Borrack.Frater also visited the Centre, and he and Borrack painted Mount Gillen together.The French post-impressionist Cezanne was another great influence.Borrack earnt his living as a teacher until 1981 when he was 48 years old. He has been painting full time since then, based at Mernda in the Plenty Valley, Victoria."An artist has to work their way through a visual language. It takes a long time. The few artists who achieved greatness at a young age are profound exceptions," he says.He made 12 trips to the Centre through the '70s and '80s, again in 1996 and now.His small works are painted on the spot, capturing immediate visual sensations and feelings, while he develops larger works in his studio, as interpretations of the smaller works.He doesn't use photos: "A quick sketch is worth a hundred photos," he says.He embraces the landscape from two points of view, one where the subject is on top of the viewer, a confrontation, graduating to panoramic views in which the landscape opens onto an infinite perspective.Borrack tries to work towards a one man exhibition every year, of 40 to 50 works."It's very important to put yourself on the wall. It brings home to you what your progress has been or if you are repeating yourself."I try to face up to that ruthlessly. It's an expensive business with no guarantees but that's one of the constraints I work with."Borrack believes in a disciplined practice, painting every day whether he feels like it or not."Once you put brush to paper, something always happens even if its doesn't work out in the end," he says.
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