March 24, 1999


The Alice Springs Town Council is positioning itself to take a far more active role in the economic development of the town.To this end it has commissioned the Alice Springs Economic Profile, released last week, and summarised in another first, a quarterly newsletter, launched just yesterday.The two initiatives arise from the council's "commitment to consultative, partnership-based economic development".It sees itself, with the support of the other two tiers of government, as well placed to facilitate local economic initiatives.To date the council has developed, in partnership with the business community, an Economic Development Grants Scheme to foster pilot and catalyst businesses, and the Alice Springs Internet site.The newsletter reports that work on performance indicators for different sectors is underway and they will be profiled in the next issue, and regularly thereafter.ECONOMIC PROFILEThe council has an Economic and Community Development Branch, which works with its Economic Development Advisory Committee.The Economic Profile, produced by Street Ryan and Associates, paints an interesting picture of the social and economic character of Alice Springs.Did you know that 40 per cent of Alice Springs households earn more than $52,000 per year, compared to 27 per cent Australia-wide? We're rich! But wait, the Alice's cost of living is much higher than the Territory average: for example, the median housing loan repayment in 1996 was $867 per month compared to $559 for the Territory.However, we don't let that deter us from being a town of serious shoppers: the main industry sector, in terms of both employment and number of businesses, is retail.But shopping locally doesn't necessarily mean that the money stays here: substantially fewer micro businesses than typical suggests the domination of chain or franchise operations, a situation which may contribute to the leakage of income from the town.We've all heard of the Territory's low school retention rate (42 per cent compared with 71 per cent for the nation), but did you know that 32 per cent (!) of Alice's secondary school age students are sent to school elsewhere?On the other hand, while we may worry about schooling for our kids, they enjoy some of Australia's lowest student-teacher ratios.Our strong labour market conditions are often touted (a 73 per cent workforce participation rate, compared to 60 per cent throughout Australia; a less than five per cent unemployment rate compared to the national nine per cent).However, over the last three years there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of people receiving unemployment benefits in Alice Springs.Long term unemployed Aboriginal people represent over half the total unemployment register, although Aborigines make up only 15 per cent of the population.The socioeconomic gap between the indigenous and non-indigenous population, described as "significant and widening", is listed at the head of the Weaknesses category in the profile's SWOT analysis.It also receives attention in the Threats category: "The large and growing disparity between the skill levels and socioeconomic characteristics of the indigenous and non-indigenous population and associated social disharmony can have a significant impact upon quality of life and business confidence."The trend in jobs towards more skilled positions is listed as a Weakness "which particularly disadvantages the Aboriginal population".Government policy and restructuring is at the head of the Threats category.Direct government employment reduced by 19 per cent from 1986 to 1996, while total employment grew by 19 per cent. The profile comments: "While restructuring may result in a transfer of tasks from the public sector to the private sector, there is no guarantee that these tasks will be undertaken by Alice Springs workers or businesses."The town's natural attributes, high profile and identifiable image head up the list of Strengths.Recreation and cultural industries, eco, agri and cultural tourism are all Opportunities which arise from such attributes, but there are others, less expected, also put forward, such as arid zone knowledge economy development and specialist health services.If you would like a copy of the newsletter, ring the council on 89 500 500. The full Economic Profile document is available for $20.


Revamping tourist promotion, building a convention centre, sealing the Mereenie loop road, and tackling the town's grog problem by making life on bush communities more appealing, are high on the agenda of the new Minister for Central Australia, Loraine Braham.An Alice resident for 37 years and former principal of Braitling School, Mrs Braham was appointed the NT's second woman minister when Denis Burke became Chief Minister in the wake of Shane Stone's demise. (Noel Padgham-Purich was Minister for Housing and Conservation for one year from December 1983.)Until taking on her new role Mrs Braham was the Speaker, who clashed significantly with Mr Stone over a ruling she made in the House.She says Alice Springs' population is "stable" with little growth.She describes the current local economy as "a little flat" but in some areas, notably the mining industry, "there seem to be things happening".According to one caravan park owner, "tourists are beginning to move again".Mrs Braham says: "We obviously had that slump after the Asian economy [collapsed], so a lot of the marketing, especially for this year, has been a little lost."We have to aim at the other markets, the UK and America, for example."Mrs Braham says she is "pushing hard for a convention centre here in Alice Springs before a Darwin convention centre is built".Alice caters well for conventions with up to 300 participants, but "we need to look further and capture that 500 to 800 market".The proposed centre would need to serve small as well as big conventions, linked to the existing accommodation infrastructure.The aim would be to entice convention participants to stay on in the region "for a couple of days", to experience the region's attractions, using The Alice as their base.There is no "final decision" yet on the location of the proposed centre.There have been discussions with the owners of Rydges Plaza, who have expressed interest in siting the facility in their area of the town, where most of the hotels are.Consultants are currently looking into the viability of the proposal.Mrs Braham says the marketing of the Desert Park should be changed, and visits to it should become "more of a hands on experience".She says: "I always remember as a kid I had my photo taken with a koala, I was actually allowed to hold it, and I think people would like that sort of hands-on experience at the park."But I suppose parks and zoos are never commercially viable. They rely heavily on government subsidies."The Desert Park wouldn't on its own be an attraction for overseas tourists, but it could as part of a package, including Ayers Rock."It's early days, perhaps we expected too much too quickly" from the Desert Park.A prime focus of her department is to assist Aborigines to become involved in business, assisting with viability studies and identifying funding sources.Thirty proposals are currently under examination, about one third of them in the southern region: "We see there are lots of opportunities yet untapped," she says.Rather than "sitting back and looking at a movie," cultural tourism should provide visits to communities, such as is provided by Wallace Rockhole near Hermannsburg."Look at what the Jarwon people have done in the Katherine area."That's what we need to generate down here."Robert Lee from the Jarwon Association says they don't want to be dependent on government handouts."It's a great thing to hear."Pirlangimpi, formerly Garden Point, in the Tiwi Islands is an example of a community that has a social club whose profits go back into the community."The club have assisted in building a swimming pool, they sponsor a football club, they have a golf course and units where visiting people can stay."They have learned to keep their economy within their community, and are doing something with it."It's great to see!"Mrs Braham says the Mereenie loop road to King's Canyon should be sealed over five years, taking in also the Glen Helen via Gosse's Bluff to Hermannsburg section. Tenders are already out to upgrade sections of the Mereenie loop west of Hermannsburg to a higher gravel road standard.Mrs Braham says tourists are unfamiliar with driving on unsealed roads, which results in many accidents.She sees the east west highway from Queensland to Perth via Alice as a "long term, tri-state and Commonwealth project" and the Territory "has big projects on the go at present, particularly the Darwin railway".Government agencies are looking at water resources around Ti Tree to see how much more the horticulture industry there could be expanded.Asked to comment about the alcohol problems and anti-social behaviour in Alice Springs, Mrs Braham asked: "What can I say that hasn't been said before?"We need to make [outlying] communities more attractive, so people would [only] need to come to town occasionally, for certain reasons."At the moment [Alice Springs] is becoming a place where you opt out, when you want to get out of a community."That's a little sad.LAW AND ORDER"People are concerned about law and order."How you solve it, I don't know, I really don't."We just have to come up with solutions and do the best we can."About restricting alcohol availability Mrs Braham says: "I am a great believer in freedom of choice, people having the right to purchase alcohol."It's all to do with being a responsible member of our community, not abusing the rights of others."I don't think just closing an outlet would solve the problem. "This would be a bandaid solution."It's bigger than that."It comes back to why people are coming to town to drink, why they are overstaying their visit, why they are wasting their money on grog."That's the final way we want to go – making people self-sustainable on their own communities."In the meantime, communities should get social clubs permitting "controlled" drinking."You've got half the Territory as a dry area down here. "You know they're not dry, you know there's grog abuse out there, grog runners, people going in drunk."So it's not really working, anyway."Mrs Braham says the "Thirsty Thursday" experiment in Tennant Creek shouldn't be transplanted to Alice Springs, which needs to find its own answers – yet no-one so far has come up with viable solutions.Mrs Braham says the government's decision to put the $30m upgrade of the Alice hospital – now to remain in government hands – back on the agenda is a major bonus for the town's economy.However, Mrs Braham says several services within the hospital could be privatised – including sections of the outpatients department, plagued by long waiting times; a private wing should be considered, and specialist services as well as the pharmacy could become private.

LET'S HAVE A BOOM! Guest Editorial by LIZ DAVIES.

Alice Springs is on the verge of another boom. We have all the ingredients to make it happen and business confidence is higher than it has been for a long time.   Last week's Expo, run by a very pro-active Chamber of Commerce, highlights what can be done locally – buy local, shop local and we can all benefit. The range of services in Alice Springs is remarkable for a town of this size. Nowhere else in Australia would such a small population have so much within its reach.   Business confidence in the future was demonstrated by the number of computers and related wizardry at the Expo. The Internet shows us to think globally. We can sell to the world and buy as well. However, instead of just focusing on the initial "cheap" price remember that after sales service is superior from a local company. What is the use of buying a bargain when it breaks down shortly afterwards?  Local business has to give value for money and support the products it sells – and that is exactly what we saw at the Expo.   Recently, a Junior Chamber of Commerce was formed to encourage in dynamic young business people a belief that Alice Springs is a fantastic place to do business, as well as a great place to live. Our young people have more and more reasons to stay in Alice or to come back after their studies and increasing numbers of those who dream of retiring to the beach, are somehow making their way back.   Business is the engine of growth for any town and you can not have prosperity by stifling, hindering and obstructing those with a dream to succeed. We should be encouraging our entrepreneurs and recognising the contribution that business has made to our town. We can not help the disadvantaged by attacking the achievers. History has shown that we need a strong social justice system. We can not do everything to promote business and ignore the people with nothing. However, handouts do not work. Business people have a community obligation – we are the thinkers and visionaries – so let's have a plan to resolve the number one problem in our community – alcohol abuse. According to the police, alcohol abuse is the contributor to 90 per cent of the crime in Alice Springs. Hard drugs are not the issue here, as they are in the capital cities, but the havoc to our community that alcohol brings is just as devastating. Lives are wasted, families suffer, our hospital and police resources are stretched, vandalism costs money and alcohol abuse impacts on us all whether we realise it or not. Imagine how great Alice Springs could be without the present extent of this community problem. It is encouraging that now, for the first time in the 16 years my family and I have been in Alice Springs, that there is a genuine belief by community organisations closest to the problem, including the police, that we can solve some of it. It has come out of the "too hard" basket!   Already this year there have been many changes. We have a new Chief Minister and Loraine Braham is the new Minister for Central Australia. The government has released its "Alice in Ten" document and is asking for comment. This is one of the most important papers that has come out for comment in a long time, expressing a vision of what Alice Springs could be like in 10 years' time. We, the people of Alice Springs, have a golden opportunity to shape the destiny of our town. If you, as an individual, want to make a comment on any aspect of government policy that affects your life or business, simply contact the Department of Industry and Business for a copy. If we do not say anything Darwin will decide what they think is the best for us!   Yesterday, the Alice Springs Town Council launched its own vision – its Economic Profile for this town. While it is great that there are grants available to stimulate new business ventures, more emphasis should be placed on forming partnerships with business. Business has the knowledge, and government through its legislation or bylaws can either promote or hinder business opportunities. We all need to think of the future and in this Chinese Year of the Rabbit, let's hope we prosper and grow with abundance.   We can tackle the alcohol problem and at least make a start on improving our town. We can encourage business and provide a catalyst for growth. We can protect the environment and assure our future resources. We simply need to stop wasting time criticising and start focusing on solutions.   It is only in conjunction with looking at our social problems that we can create a town worth living in. People come first and business is made up of people. Let's encourage locals and work together. There is already a buzz around the town, new ventures, especially the recent movie auditions for Ted Egan's The Drover's Boy , are bringing an optimistic feeling that we are still pioneers and we have a great road ahead.


"There used to be live dancers in there, now it's full of dead bones."These were the words of a frustrated local performing artist on hearing that the rehearsal room at the Araluen Centre was being turned over to the Museum of Central Australia's fossil exhibits.It would appear that the loss of the rehearsal room as well as the kitchen in Witchetty's is a fait accompli, and that the "one stop culture shop" of the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct has some hidden costs – such as these – that have not been put before the public.The Alice Springs News further understands that the Araluen Advisory Committee was not consulted about these changes, and that they were brought about over the summer when usage of the centre is at its lowest ebb and many people, committee members as well as users, are not in town.The News gave extensive coverage to the planned changes at the precinct over three issues late last year (Sept 23, 30 and Oct 7).While there was discussion of a significant "upgrade" to the centre and an expansion of the storage facilities, there was no mention of loss of any facilities, nor of the accommodation in the centre of parts of the museum's exhibits.These were supposed to have been relocated into the Strehlow Centre, using its display area and its boardroom."Putting cultural artifacts in context" with the exhibits having "a complete interrelated look, feel and function" were to have been hallmarks of the changes.Now it seems we will have dinosaur skeletons and fossils in the foyer and adjacent areas of an arts centre, areas typically used by the performing arts, and with some scope for visual arts exhibitions. The placement of the dinosaur also has complete disregard for the integrity of the foyer's stained glass windows, one of Alice Springs' all too few examples of "public art".The performing arts – at the community end – are the main losers with the change of function of the rehearsal room and Witchetty's kitchen. A group such as Sprung, significantly supported by Araluen in its early stages – a support which paid off in Sit, one of the best local arts events of last year – now finds itself without affordable and appropriate rehearsal space.Sprung is primarily a dance group and ideally needs a sprung floor to work on. They have benefited from small arts grants to offset the cost of their productions, but the cost of hiring rehearsal space will add considerably to their outlays. Coordinator Liz Logan says the arrangement Sprung had with Araluen in the past – and for which "we were grateful" – allowed for the repayment of the rehearsal room fees from the performance takings."We repaid Araluen $500 after the performance of Sit," says Ms Logan."A group like ours, in which some members are not working, will find it very difficult and maybe impossible to raise money in advance for rehearsal space elsewhere. "The cost appears to be $20 an hour, and we need to book space in advance for 10 to 12 weeks, twice a week for two hours at a time. That's at least $800 for people, who don't get paid for their performance, to come up with."The most regular users of Witchetty's have been Desert Sounds for rock music gigs and the Alice Springs Country Music Association.Matthew Guggisberg of Desert Sounds says: "I am surprised that major changes have taken place at Witchetty's without consultation with me as a regular user about how those changes affect my ability to use the space."He says without the kitchen it will be extremely difficult to successfully run a bar at the venue, and that bar sales are essential to the viability of the events he produces.He also says the kitchen area was used by artists while preparing for their performance and wonders where artists will be able to go now ?Gus Williams of the Country Music Association says his group is not particularly concerned by the loss of the kitchen, as their bar operation is limited.Lance Robinson, who presides over the Friends of Araluen – who as recipient of the Federation Fund's $2.3m grant for the development of a third gallery at Araluen, are now important players in the centre's business – says the changes came "as a little bit of a surprise" to him.He says at a meeting with Araluen management at about the end of November there was discussion of the possibility of using Witchetty's kitchen for the operation of a much needed cafe at the arts centre."We were told all the equipment had been taken out, but we assumed the kitchen would still be used as an adjunct to Witchetty's," says Mr Robinson."In general we are informed about changes at Araluen, particularly in light of what we are doing now with the new gallery."It appears that the development of the new gallery may offer a solution with respect to rehearsal space.Although further funding from the NT Government would need to be forthcoming, there is discussion of constructing a mezzanine level to provide new office space for staff. A new rehearsal room could also be a possibility and could even provide "a better space", says Mr Robinson.REHEARSAL ROOMHe says that occupation of the rehearsal room and Witchetty's kitchen by the museum may be "a short term inconvenience", but significantly, he is "not sure".As one source commented to the News: "It seems increasingly that the people of Alice Springs are removed from the decision-making processes at Araluen. People didn't think carefully enough about that when the town council got rid of it."[The town council handed over Araluen to the NT Government in 1996.]Local performing artist Katrina Stowe, who attended the AGM of the Araluen Advisory Committee last week, urges people in the community to take up the unfilled positions on the committee and "get informed and active" about the arts centre."We need to make sure it is maintained as a place that spreads arts practices into the community," says Ms Stowe."Having fossils in there is such a metaphor, we should take it as a warning!" Araluen Director, and also Director of the Cultural Precinct, David Whitney, did not respond to repeated phonecalls and a faxed invitation to comment on a draft of this article.


The Flight of Ducks is a website hailed as a leader in the new craft of on-line publishing, but also vehemently criticised by some for undermining the privacy of indigenous cultures.In PART TWO of a report by a SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT the Alice Springs News continues the saga of the site created by Simon Pockley.Pockley uses writings and photographs by his ophthalmologist father John, which give a revealing account of contact with Aboriginal people in Central Australia in the course of two journeys, undertaken in 1933 and 1977.Objections to the site have been focussed particularly on the material from the earlier trip, when Aborigines' right to say yes or no was not acknowledged. (See PART ONE in last week's issue.)
As a boy, Simon Pockley's knowledge of his father came largely through stories of his life he shared at the family dinner table.Otherwise John Pockley was mostly absent. The third in a family line of ophthalmologists who didn't want to be ophthalmologists, he believed duty was the first priority in life, and worked up to 365 days a year, often voluntarily.The doctor's diversions, which rarely included his family, were the classics of French and English literature and music, and his trips into the bush. When he died, Simon Pockley found the records of two of these trips, between them spanning 43 years of his father's life.The first (1933) was contained in a couple of hand-written journals and a type-written manuscript and the tobacco tins, full of deteriorating prints and negatives.The second described another trip to the Centre, this time alone through the deserts of Western Australia in a Land Rover, when John Pockley fulfilled a dream he had articulated in the 1933 journey, to climb Mount Olga.Now a mere mouse-click away from each other in cyberspace-time, the two journeys starkly contrast the young John Pockley, a keen and open-minded observer of the world, with the elderly version – reactionary, bitterly opinionated, sometimes racist and yet admirable in an old-fashioned way for his courage and stoicism.Simon Pockley recognised many of the stories in the 1933 account from his father's mealtime talks, but was intrigued to discover variations between the original record and subsequent accounts. The effects of time on memory are one of the themes explored in The Flight of Ducks.Whenever he had urged his father to document the trip, Pockley Sr had brushed the suggestion aside, saying, "But I was so young then."The journals reveal the trip was in fact the formative experience of Pockley Sr's life, and that he had been tinkering away at the early account for four decades, embellishing and enlarging its various details.Pockley describes his journey by train to the Centre, his stops at Quorn, Alice Springs and Hermannsburg with likable understatement and gentle satire. The photographs of the desert and its white settlement are well-composed and of historical interest.But according to Mike Leigh, former film archivist with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies Institute in Canberra, there is no doubt where the broader appeal of The Flight of Ducks lies."This is a very personal site, but it gains its strength at the expense of Aboriginal people," says Leigh. Keeping Pockley company on the camel pad from Hermannsburg are Hezekiel, an Aboriginal guide, artist Arthur Murch, craniologist Stanley Larnach (who studied the skulls of indigenous peoples in the hope of discovering their racial origin) and the young T. G. H. Strehlow, later to achieve fame and notoriety for his own interactions with Aboriginal culture.As the journey progresses they encounter more and more Aborigines, until eventually there are more than 200 camped nearby. The white party swap food and water for tjuringas, skulls, and "photographs of family life". Murch makes numerous sketches of the natives while Pockley attends to a number of patients, one with an abscess on his leg, another suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. He pities an old woman who has apparently been left behind by the others. He reports a translated conversation about the fate of twins under tribal law.

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