June 2, 1999


The start and finish line for future Finke Desert Races will be at a new multi million dollar motor sports complex in the Ilparpa Valley, if race organisers and MLA for MacDonnell John Elferink get their way.The complex would include also a new speedway track, a quarter-mile drag racing strip and facilities for go-karts, rally cars, off-road cars, the NT Motorcycle Association and possibly in the future, a street circuit as well.The proposed site is near the dirt track of the motor cycle club – with may also benefit from the proposal – in the Ilparpa Valley.Finke director Jol Fleming says as the NT Government has spent several million dollars on the Hidden Valley racetrack in Darwin, Alice Springs can now make a good case for government support. (This year the race received minor support from the government's new Special Events Unit.)Mr Fleming says the Ilparpa Valley site is generally considered preferable to another location on the now privately owned Alice Springs airport land.The Ilparpa proposal is being formulated by the Alice Springs Motor Sport Action Group (ASMSAG), headed up by Mr Elferink and Alan Stainer, president of the Central Australian Drag Racing Association.Mr Elferink says the NT Government owns the land, which is set aside for future sporting and light industrial use.He says the proposal being discussed with the government centres on the site presently used for speedway, just off the North Stuart Highway, and in close proximity to growing residential suburbs.That land has been leased to the Arunga Park speedway club by the NT Government for about the past 30 years.If the government consented to donate that land to motor sports, it could be subdivided, generating an estimated revenue of $1.5m.That could be the seed money for a state of the art complex at Ilparpa, including comprehensive facilities for competitors, spectators, administrators and media, creating a venue for national and international fixtures.Speedway is under pressure to move because of the noise affecting nearby residents.Drag racing is using one of the airport runways and makeshift support buildings, while the Finke event – celebrating its silver anniversary next year – has major plans for greater national and international recognition.Mr Fleming says the two single events attracting the most international visitors to Australia are both motor sport fixtures – the Melbourne Grand Prix and the "Indy" at the Gold Coast."There's no reason why The Finke, with its unique outback appeal, couldn't be number three," he says.This year's race will have some 380 competitors, half of them from interstate and 12 per cent from elsewhere in the NT. Including support crews, some 500 people will be coming into town, spending more than half a million dollars.Two years ago, a competitor from WA brought a support crew of 12, spent more than $20,000 in Alice Springs and raced a buggy worth $250,000."It's serious business," says Mr Fleming."It's also unique. "There's nowhere in the world where you can combine a great camping holiday with watching a top motor race."Mr Fleming says having the Finke start-finish line on the western side of the Stuart Highway would not be a problem as competitors could cross the highway, and the railway line, under the Roe Creek bridges, making their way to the existing track.For a quarter of a century, Alice Springs people and companies have developed "The Finke" into one of the southern hemisphere's toughest and best-known desert races, with minimal government support."Considering what the NT Government has done for Hidden Valley, it's now time Alice Springs got some significant support," says Mr Fleming.Mr Elferink says when – and if – the financing of the Ilparpa project is resolved, "upon the turning of the first sod" the ASMSAG would hand over the further development of the complex, and its administration, to a board of trustees.(The Finke Desert Race web site is at


Going into politics is not something you decide to do when an election is called or a sitting member resigns: it starts years earlier, when you do something as innocent as joining a school council.From there it can be quite a long road as you hone your skills and build a support base, but if you want to do it and you are "half way intelligent", you can. The message is probably good for aspiring politicians of both genders but it was being delivered to women by Senator Trish Crossin in a forum on women entering politics, organised by the Women's Advisory Council and held in Alice Springs last Saturday.Sen Crossin emphasised the importance of being yourself ("You don't have to suddenly start wearing ten times as much make-up as normal and getting a glamorous hairdo!"); of being well-prepared – through networking, lobbying, reading, gaining public speaking skills; of giving yourself plenty of lead-in time; of having a campaign team; of talking to other women who know the ropes.She said women in politics support other women getting into politics across party lines."No matter what political persuasion you are, if you are a woman and you want to get into politics, ring me!" she urged."You will find that you have things in common with other women in politics, and together we can change the way men think."Sen Crossin's offer was echoed by NT Minister Loraine Braham.Mrs Braham said pre-selection by the CLP was the most difficult political win of her career. In preparing for it, she sought the advice of former Chief Minister Shane Stone, "who has a good political nose".She said she refused to answer when one member of the panel asked her, "Just how old are you?"She was also asked if she was physically up to the job: "How are you going to manage walking around your electorate?""I bet they didn't ask the blokes questions like that," commented Mrs Braham.She said it was frustrating to always be identified as a woman by the press and colleagues, who expect female politicians to handle "women's issues".She said there is less emphasis on her gender now that she is a member of cabinet.Sen Crossin said that at first that she was daunted by thinking that she would have to be on top of so much information, but she shouldn't have been: "You have staff who work with you and the party give you your lines on every issue."The senator admitted that this can be frustrating if you don't agree with the party on a particular issue, but "there are avenues for dissent". Finally, however, party decisions are binding.Mrs Braham said that while she has plenty of staff in her position as a Minister, this is not the case for backbenchers in the Territory parliament.The politicians' comments followed a simulated pre-selection of a candidate for the "Progressive Reform Party" in the electorate of "Centralia".The pre-selection was entertainingly contested by Franca Frederiksen, Fran Erlich and Fiona O'Loughlin in scripted roles.They faced a panel made up of Sen Crossin, Mrs Braham and Alice Springs magistrate Cathy Deland.Mrs Frederiksen played the part of a well-connected business woman with a skeleton in her cupboard (a son who been in court for growing marijuana plants).Mrs Erlich played a somewhat fidgety "woman of the people", with a few odd ball traits such as believing she had been Queen Bodacea in a previous life. Mrs O'Loughlin's character was one Ann Hogget, of uncertain background and going under fast in a world of confusing acronyms: "Think of me as a lump of clay which the party could pummel," she invited.For the benefit of the audience, the panel drew the lessons of the aspirants' performance.Mrs Braham warned against "giving away unnecessary information" (such as a drug-using son)."Wait until you are asked," she said.Mrs Deland, "one of the least political people around" by her own description, but drawing on her experience from the bench, counselled against fidgeting and walking up and down – "your listeners lose concentration" – and against reading a prepared speech. She said speaking to head notes would be the better way to go.For Sen Crossin, the essential thing was to put across a sound knowledge of the electorate, and to demonstrate that you are in touch with its people."Presentation and nerves – you can work on those things," said Sen Crossin.


A strange way to do business: the Aged Care Advocacy Service (ACAS) of Central Australia, with responsibilities in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, has been defunded by the Commonwealth with just one month's notice, and this done while its director was away on leave.Its committee of management, made up of unpaid volunteers including a number of elderly people, have been given less than one week's notice to be at the ready to work with Commonwealth officers over a day and a half on an amalgamation of their service with the Disability Advocacy Service (DAS).This all comes on the heels of a restructuring of ACAS following a review concluded in 1997.It also comes just after the ACAS director resigned from his former position with Territory Health Services from which he had taken leave to start work with ACAS 18 months ago. He now finds himself out of a job.Dean Casey was on holiday with his wife and three children in Bali when he learnt that the service he directs was to fold.In the week before he left for Bali a meeting with the Commonwealth had been cancelled by them.He was contacted in Bali by Margaret Wait who chairs the ACAS committee of management and reluctantly asked him to cut short his holiday and return to help deal with the crisis.Both Mr Casey and Mrs Wait say they are not against amalgamation with DAS, but they are outraged by the process.Says Mrs Wait:"In 1997, following a pretty turbulent period in this service, we had a review by Brian Elton and Associates. "Brian Elton was the backbone of setting up advocacy services throughout Australia. We sought the best to do this review. It was critical [of our service] and that was what we expected and paid for."They made certain recommendations out of which we were able to rebuild the service and we worked very hard to do so."Following consultation with stakeholders we set up a strategic plan, and defined our vision – ‘ensuring a fair go for all older Centralians'."This is the international year for the older person and I think this is not a very cozy thing to be doing to older people."This was popped on us last Monday. We are unpaid volunteers, we have some people from Old Timers, another two ladies over 60, I'm no spring chicken and we have worked extremely hard."I think they came in here thinking they were going to roll us."I object strongly to the fact that this woman from the Commonwealth came here knowing full well that our director was on leave, having cancelled an appointment with us the previous week. Our staff here and particularly Dean are being made sacrificial lambs!"Mr Casey, who is gleaning his information from a media release made by the Commonwealth, speculates that the move against ACAS has been made in order to find money to fund an advocacy worker based with the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women's Council (NPY).Mr Casey: "We are very much in favour of NPY having an advocacy worker. "We don't for one moment want to decry that. "We are in favour of colocation with DAS and are on the record as saying that. That isn't the issue."Our problem primarily is the process, that they've arrived, dictated to the committee of management, ceased our funding and after that they are now saying let's sit down, we'll bring in a facilitator and we'll negotiate a merger of ACAS and DAS. "It's the cart before the horse.SAVING MONEY"Their primary motivation is to save money and to provide cheaper advocacy, which we believe is not in the best interest of Central Australians, nor of Aboriginal people."The area of the aged care reforms is fairly complex and you need very skilled and qualified individuals in the area."We are dealing with people's money, their livelihood, and residential care agreements for nursing homes, bonds, fees and charges as well as things like asset declarations for Centrelink, as well as the general run of the mill complaints."The proposal as we understand it is that they are not prepared to pay the level of salary that they are currently funding us for."In Central Australia, unless you are prepared to offer a reasonable salary level, you won't attract staff and you won't be able to retain them."In the past there were people employed in the area who were unqualified and they carried out what I would call ‘uncritical advocacy', causing a great deal of trouble for the nursing homes and hostels, and the aged care industry generally."Our fear is that there may be in theory an increase in advocates but they are going to be of a lower standard and it would appear that Central Australia is going to be offered a second rate service."Although the Commonwealth in its media release announces that "Central Australian residents are set to benefit from an increase in advocacy workers" it is not clear how that increase has been calculated.At present, ACAS employs three full-time officers who share among them the administration of the service.They have heard that the transfer to DAS will be of one full time advocate, one half time Aboriginal liaison officer and an unquantified administrative component. As DAS has a coordinator, they have been given to understand that the ACAS director's position is "surplus to requirements".The only new position to offset this loss would appear to be the Aboriginal aged care advocacy officer based at NPY.According to Mr Casey, the Darwin-based officers to which the local ACAS is answerable knew nothing of the proposed changes.Mrs Wait says her committee of management would not even know as much as they now do if she had not been "forceful". "We know nothing of the facilitator, what her qualifications are, what her background is, what the terms of reference are. We don't want to find out as she steps off the plane. We've got to be prepared."Last Friday afternoon I was rung and asked if my committee was ready for the meeting." Of course they are not. Some of these people will have to be picked up, some of these people work full time. How are their employers going to feel about them being missing for half Wednesday and all of Thursday?"I asked where exactly the meeting was to be held, and was told ‘some resort place, near the roundabout and over the bridge, some time in the afternoon.'."Why haven't they thought up a new name, why haven't they done a constitution, why haven't they got a budget ready and said this is the material you'll work on."They expect unpaid volunteers to sit down, work together for one and a half days and to come up with the conclusions they have already reached."They are being paid, they are out somewhere on the weekend relaxing, while we are in here [on Saturday, at the ACAS office], trying to work out what they want. Why should I ask my people to work on a constitution, we've done that already!"DAS, in a statement to the press on Monday, described the Commonwealth's media release and statements by Dino Hodge, Health and Aged Care Regional Manager, in an interview on ABC radio as "a total distortion as to the substance and status of negotiations [with DAS] to date".DAS said it had asked the Commonwealth to provide factual documentation of its proposal to include aged care advocacy as an additional function of DAS.As of Monday no such documentation had been provided.DAS expressed astonishment at "the obvious lack of adequate process or preparation" when the decision to defund ACAS was made.MHR Warren Snowdon has called for an immediate review of the decision, and for ACAS to be guaranteed funding into the future."This decision was not taken in the Northern Territory but in Canberra and obviously by someone who does not know what is going on. "It is a bitter irony that it has been made in the Year of the Elderly," said Mr Snowdon. Mr Hodge had not responded to a request for comment by the time the Alice Springs News went to press.


In the heart of beef country, can butchery be losing its attraction as a career? Small numbers of prospective apprentices have put a question mark over the future of the butchery training facility, currently located at Gillen House in Alice Springs, that has served the whole of the Territory for the last 14 years.However, well-known Alice Springs identity Shorty Bail, who started butchering here 38 years ago, says he has been told by Centralian College that they are seeking to retain the facility.Its fate is one of the issues being considered in a submission from the college to a draft masterplan seeking to establish a strategic framework for The Centre's existing and emerging training infrastructure needs over the next five years.Mr Bail, whose son is now a third year butcher's apprentice at the college, says: "We don't want to send our young fellows away. We want them to learn here."He says the college teaches skills essential to a small butchery business like his own, such as the breaking up of beef or lamb, and making sausages, which are not taught in the supermarkets, who are now the biggest training providers for butchery.The deadline for comment on the masterplan is June 10. A similar document is being developed for each of the Barkly, Katherine, Arnhem and Darwin regions, with all five documents expected to be finalised by the end of 1999. The documents will be used by the Northern Territory Employment and Training Authority (NTETA) in considering bids from the various organisations which request its assistance for the provision of facilities.NTETA's Joyce Turnbull, Director of Planning, says her organisation understands from the major supermarkets that butchery is not "a career that people here are aspiring to", and that they are having to import most of their butchers from interstate.Ms Turnbull says she also understands that there have only been three new butchery apprentices in the Territory in 1999."NTETA will run any type of training for a viable group," says Ms Turnbull.Nationally, 12 is considered a viable number but, given the Territory's small population base, NTETA will support a group as small as seven, and in certain circumstances has supported even smaller groups.The problem for butchery is that it requires expensive infrastructure for training and the question is whether to include a new facility in a possible relocation of Gillen House to the main campus of Centralian College."Sufficient projected enrolments are critical to justify the expenditure," says Ms Turnbull.However, Ms Turnbull says she cannot see "any basis for concern" over retail traineeships:"Retail doesn't require much in the way of specialist facilities. A group could be run in Jabiru if there were the required numbers."Wherever the retail industry is thriving, traineeships follow."Before NTETA sends anybody interstate for training, we take into account all the costs involved and if we can do it for the same amount, we'll do it locally even if the numbers are tiny."Given the diversity of our small workforce, the number of trainees who must be sent away is really minimal," says Ms Turnbull.VET (vocational and employment training) providers must constantly deal with uncertainty in their future planning."You cannot make any automatic assumptions about enrolment numbers," says Ms Turnbull.New arrangements governing apprenticeships allow the apprentice and his or her employer to choose the registered training provider they want. In a number of fields there are more than one provider, even in a place as small as Alice Springs. In retail, for example, Ms Turnbull says there are several registered providers here, including Centralian College and at least one Aboriginal organisation."Dealing with the ups and downs is not easy," she says."It requires organisations to be flexible and innovative in how they structure their classes."The situation provides a great incentive for the organisations to be in touch with their customers, that is, with industry."That can be very tricky in the Territory, though, because of our small population spread over vast distances."For example, in butchery, an apprentice could pop up from anywhere in the Territory. It would be difficult for Centralian College to predict."On the relocation of Gillen House, Ms Turnbull says there is in principle support at NTETA for a tourism and hospitality training facility to be based at Centralian College, but a firm decision awaits the submission of a revised proposal from the college."I expect the desire for an improved facility will be at the heart of the college's submission," says Ms Turnbull.However, she says Gillen House, although not purpose built, has been assessed as satisfactory for its education and training role, and that a future use for the building will also be a consideration in the college's proposal.The Australian National Training Authority has made $5m available for capital development in Alice Springs, subject to the endorsement of the master plan. Centralian College did not respond to a request for information and comment.


I got a lesson in supermarket economics a few years ago when the NT Government decided that people on Aboriginal communities must pay for their electricity.Before flying to a community west of The Alice I interviewed the Central Land Council's Tracker Tilmouth who was up in arms about the government's move: Brandishing a list of hair raising grocery prices in remote stores, Mr Tilmouth claimed some of the region's poorest people were now unfairly being walloped with another charge.A couple of hours later an angry community leader told journalists that the small bush town would rather live without electricity than pay for it.We witnessed the bizarre spectacle of PAWA workers walking the streets with long rods, removing fuses from the tops of power poles adjacent to homes of power rates defaulters.These disconnections soon had an absurd side effect: the local power house began to run at well below design load, causing the cylinders of the diesel engines to glaze. To repair that damage reportedly cost a lot more than PAWA could earned from the handful of consumers who were now living in the dark.With a couple of hours to spare, and curious to check on Mr Tilmouth's claims, I ambled down to the store and asked the manager (I am quoting from memory): "Can I please take pictures of your outrageously priced groceries?""Please, go ahead," he replied, somewhat to my surprise.When I had finished he said: "What you need to realise is that we could easily undercut Woolworths in town."We don't pay rent, freight isn't all that dear, and we have a predictable, captive market."But our prices don't reflect our costs, they're set by the community council."We make an excellent profit and every month or so the store buys a car for one of the council members."I was shocked about what on the face of it appeared to be a blatant and cynical exploitation of the local populace, by their own leaders.I'd found little plastic cars inside my cereal packets from time to time, but had never heard of getting the real thing as a routine bonus for grocery shopping. I rushed back to the community leader for a comment.She said yes, it's all true, but consider this: "We don't have any public transport.Aboriginal people share most things, especially vehicles."If one breaks down you borrow you mate's."Have you ever seen an Aboriginal owned car that's not packed with people?"If we need to go to town or to ceremonies, we need cars."So, the apparent grocery scam was in fact an ingenious savings plan to provide the next best thing to public transport, which the great majority of Australians take for granted.Banks and finance companies aren't exactly falling over themselves lending money for vehicles to people on communities, and putting a few dollars aside each pension day to buy a car some time in the future, is difficult in a society where sharing, borrowing and card gambling are the order of the day.So, the store acts as a pseudo finance company.In fact, Greatorex MLA Richard Lim, who is heading a Parliamentary enquiry into food prices, says such programs are not unusual in communities.He says he's encountered three main schemes.Firstly, there are community owned stores which make minimal mark-ups, "allowing the family budget to buy more food."Secondly, there are community owned and managed by incorporated bodies striving to make higher profits, which are then used for benevolent purposes."These can include buying a mini bus for the community, or refrigerators for every household, or improvements to public amenities."And thirdly, there are other community stores that are privately incorporated, and the profits directly benefit certain individuals only, and not the whole community."In this case it may be seen that these individuals are exploiting the community with high mark-ups."Dr Lim's committee has completed hearings in The Centre and will be holding hearing in the Top End in the middle of this month. He says his report will be tabled in the Assembly on August 19.


Judge of the 25th Alice Craft Acquisition, Paul Tiernan introduces himself humbly as a "wood turner with no formal training".He learnt his trade at a technical college and was working for builders when he got his first chance to exhibit in an Australian Craft Show.It opened his eyes to wood turning as a craft: "The more good things I saw, the more I wanted to make."That's the starting point: there has to be the want to make."He now exhibits regularly and is acknowledged as a master craftsman.Tiernan lives on 10 acres near Kyogle in northern NSW. "I'm really lucky, I haven't got people influencing me, only the bush," he says."I make a small commercial product which I sell. I work hard for three weeks, then it's playtime, I take the time I want, forget about money and everything else, get a piece of wood, have some ideas before I start."I'm never be quick or fast when I shape the wood, I look at it for a long time because once you've shaped it, it's basically history, it's not going to go anywhere else."When I work the medium, turn the wood to a certain thickness, at any particular time it could break. I respect what I have in front of me, even if it breaks or gets disappointing, as long as I learn from the object what's going on. The wood gives back to you."It's like catching a wave and riding it all the way. If you come off the end before you want to, it's a bit disappointing, but if you come off the end when you want to, you feel really good about it."Wood is becoming harder to come by, that's why I put a lot of work into my pieces, and I only use wood that has fallen down, maybe laid on the ground for 80 to 100 years."What was Tiernan looking for in choosing pieces for the Craft Acquisition?"I'm looking for how well the person has worked with whatever medium they have chosen. How far they have taken it. "For the shape and how beautiful a piece is as an object, and, as a really big thing for this collection, durability."The pieces chosen have to last for a lot of years. We're already up to the 25th year, there might be a 50th year one day."So my main mindset is to think long term. "The pieces I pick don't have to be fashionable, they just have to stand in their own right."In any case, I think that when we make anything at all, we should make it last. "Part of the responsibility of any craftsperson who takes on any medium is to control the medium, so I'm looking for that."It's essential in my view that a craft piece is hand made, that's what this is all about, how we use our mind and our hands together."It also has to have technique. A piece can be well constructed, very neat and tidy, but not be happening as craft."For me, simplicity is a good state of mind in craft. Some people make things just to be different, but it has to come from inside you."Visitors to Araluen can see the pieces that finally stood out from the rest for Tiernan, as well as plenty of others in this, the silver anniversary of the acquisition.With over 250 pieces, the acquisition attracted a record number of entries and a record number of big names this year, but sadly fewer Territorians than usual.Shows until June 13.

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