August 25, 1999


The Alice Springs Ballet School, without any government support since 1994, is on the brink of closing its doors.Director Lyn Hanton, who started the school 20 years ago as a volunteer at the Youth Centre, says she is worn out and frustrated by the lack of support."I don't know what the Northern Territory Government wants. Do they want people like me to blow up and bust? "Do they want the ballet school to stand still? "Do they want it to be a commercial organi-sation? But I'm not a business woman, I'm a ballet teacher."I only look at things from the point of view of the parents, the students and, if I'm doing a production, of the audience."Perhaps I've missed the point, but any money we get goes back out into the economy of Alice Springs. It can only develop the town. "Perhaps we are doing too much, perhaps they don't want us to do that much."There are 172 students enrolled at the school, many of them doing two, three and up to five classes a week. In most years the school has between 170 to 200 students.Mrs Hanton claims that it is unique in the country for its associated student ballet company."I'm primarily a choreographer and work towards performances. That's different from most ballet schools but it makes our students better, they are always striving to get to a certain level by a certain time, it raises the standard."What we have here does not exist anywhere else in Australia. I wish people would understand that."One of Mrs Hanton's students, Claire McDonall, is currently an interstate associate of the world-reputed Australian Ballet School, working towards auditioning next year for a full time place there.Several of her past students have made careers in the arts and in ballet teaching. What she has effectively offered them is vocational training.These include Angela Lloyd (nee Spicer), Karen Millington, Rachel Lancaster, Tracy Foster, Emma Beven (the current Miss Northern Territory and now teaching at the ballet school), Mrs Hanton's daughter Lisa Jackson, and most recently Erica Sims and Alix Revel.These last two trained full time under Mrs Hanton last year to prepare themselves for auditions at Australia's most prestigious schools of dance.While neither gained admission to the Australian Ballet School (Erica actually got to the finals) both were accepted at prominent schools and continue to make their careers in the performing arts.Just as important, in Mrs Hanton's eyes, are the countless students she has trained over the last two decades in what she sees as life skills."Of all the students who have gone through the company, none of them smoke, none of them have got into trouble, they are all employed, got great careers, been overseas, they are very much in the achieving world."In the end, if they can sit opposite someone in a job interview, be confident enough to speak to an adult and be proud of what they have done, then we have done a good job."Apparently it is not a job the Government considers worthy of support.The school benefited from its first operational funding grant of $25,000 in 1992. Mrs Hanton says that, on the advice of the then Office of the Arts, the school separated from the Youth Centre and became an incorporated body at the start of 1993.They again received a $25,000 grant and Mrs Hanton used the money to employ Bryn Williams as a drama teacher, working towards her vision of a performing arts school for Alice Springs."That year went along quite well, we were very busy, we had 600 plus students, it sort of exploded a bit." Mr Williams's side of the enterprise had become Centre Stage Theatre and again, according to Mrs Hanton, the Office of the Arts advised separate incorporation."Bryn and I thought that was the natural turn of things, we would each be eligible for funding and it would work better."I understood that operational funding was ongoing funding and very rarely did anyone lose it once they had it. Everything seemed to be going very well."The Office of the Arts sent me an officer who was our internal auditor. He set up our books and told us how everything should run. He developed a discussion paper to work out our relationship with the Youth Centre. He worked on our behalf on and off for over 12 months. "Miraculously all records of the things he did for us seem to have disappeared, vanished off the face of the earth."When I refer to those times, they say, in Darwin, we don't have any record of that."In brief, Mrs Hanton says she was led to expect that her operational funding would be renewed and that she could budget accordingly. Then, the bombshell:"The day I was due to get the $25,000, instead I got a letter in the post saying, ‘I'm sorry you won't be getting it', but I had already spent the money!"The school was in debt for $25,000, unable to formally acquit its previous government funding because of the debt, and thus became ineligible for further government assistance."I used to think grants were a huge lucky strike that would free you up to develop and take you further."It seems that the opposite is true. You never know what's going to come through, they say one thing and do something else, so you're forever hoping and trying. "For me to sit down and write up a grant application the way they are supposed to be written and do all the right things, takes me months."It's just too hard, I can't be bothered anymore. "But without some support, I can't develop the school. "It's ready now to have a semi-professional ballet company, with five or six people paid as dancers and who are multi-skilled enough to work as teachers and choreographers, to take dance into the schools and the smaller towns, Katherine and Tennant Creek, do a performance in Darwin once a year, in Alice once a year, perhaps even take it into South Australia . "I've had discussions with prominent people involved with a lot of money who have shown interest in sponsoring the company and taking it further. That would bring money into the Territory economy, but if you are not government funded in the first place, how can you attract sponsors?"I've suggested that the performing arts have a purpose built facility at Araluen. "It's looked upon as pie in the sky but I know we have the children to put through the door. "All the children I have taught have had to fight to get where they are. "If they were involved in a sport they would have more support. I'm not saying that sports shouldn't have the level of support they do, but I don't understand why the arts don't have the same?"I'm 47 now. I could continue to work the way I do, for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, for a number of years but I would like to think that this organisation could be handed on if I decided to finish. "For the children it needs to continue."But if I ever stop and think about what I do and about giving it to someone else – who would be mad enough? No one."MIRROR IMAGEThe story, as we understand it from Mrs Hanton, bears a remarkable similarity to what has happened to Centre Stage: an artistically and educationally successful non-profit organisation gets into a small amount of strife and is left entirely to its own devices to cope, putting in jeopardy the training and enrichment that organisation can offer to the young people of Alice Springs, and by extension to the whole community.In the context of budgets for arts organisations in Darwin, the size of the ballet school's debt is small.In the 1997-98 financial year dance organisations in Darwin received $218,850 in administrative and operational funding alone.The arts in Alice Springs are crying out for some long-term administrative and developmental support. As Mrs Hanton says: "There aren't enough people in Alice Springs jumping up and down about what we are not getting."At the time of going to press new Arts Minister Chris Lugg had not responded to the AliceNews' invitation to comment. The Minister will be in Alice Springs this Saturday, 2pm, to open the new interpretive centre of the Museum of Central Australia, now located in the Strehlow Research Centre building.


The results of a survey of the community's view on take-away alcohol restrictions won't be known before the end of June next year.And even then there's no certainty that any new measures introduced as a result of the study wouldn't be challenged in court.The survey will be commissioned by the Alice Town Council with a $52,000 grant from the NT Government's Living With Alcohol program.However, hoteliers' spokesman Ray Loechel, lessee of the Todd Tavern, says his section of the liquor industry will await any decision of the Liquor Commission resulting from the survey.He says as there hasn't yet been a survey nor a ruling, he cannot say how the licensees would react to any new measure.Take-away restrictions introduced recently in Katherine are currently being challenged by licensees in the Supreme Court.According to Alice Springs Alderman Meredith Campbell, the Liquor Commission brought in the restrictions in Katherine following submissions by a representative group of locals and organisations headed by government front bencher Mike Reed, and in the wake of public outrage over "anti social behaviour".Ald Campbell says about the initiatives by the Alice Town Council: "It's our best effort, best shot."The liquor debate has gone on for 20 years and we're trying to get it right."Liquor Commissioner Peter Allen told the Alice News earlier that he can act only in accordance with a clear expression of the community's wishes, but failed to define how they need to be expressed, except to say that "if it happens you'll know it".Ald Campbell says the survey will investigate mainly whether the community thinks that broad availability of take-away grog has an influence on excessive consumption, resulting in disturbances, and whether take-away restrictions should be brought in.She says the survey will be carried out by a consultant yet to be hired, and national advertising seeking applicants for the job will start soon."The Liquor Commissioner has requested the survey, to seek the views of the community," says Ald Campbell.The move signals that the town council is now taking a leading role in the issue, previously in the hands of a forum sponsored by DASA, which failed to come up with any conclusive results.However, Ald Campbell says: "I don't know what Mr Allen wants, what he expects."The results of the survey will inform him about the wishes of the community."While the council will administer the research contract, the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee (AARC), of which Ald Campbell is a member, will direct and supervise the research and consultancy process.Other AARC members on the project's steering committee are Superintendent Gary Moseley of the Alice Springs police, ATSIC Regional Director Richard Preece, Mr Loechel, and a Territory Health Services representative. The steering committee will receive technical support and other guidance from the council's Community Planner, Dr Janet McIntyre, and Associate Professor Dennis Gray, of the National Centre for Research into the Prevention of Drug Abuse.It is likely that the outcome of the Katherine court challenge will more closely define the powers of the Liquor Commission.Meanwhile Supt Moseley says his officers are recording the origin of wine casks "tipped out", especially when the "Two Kilometre Law" is being broken.Wine casks have been marked since about March this year to indicate where they have been bought.Supt Moseley says that initiative "isn't telling us anything we don't know".He declined to reveal the major sources of the casks in Alice Springs, saying this is commercial information.However, the data are given to the Liquor Commission.The survey as to the origin of the liquor was the brainchild of MLAs John Elferink (MacDonnell, CLP) and Peter Toyne (Stuart, ALP), and local ATSIC's Mr Preece.Ald Campbell says the "place of origin" survey is flawed because it fails to reflect problems caused by alcohol in the home and focuses mainly on consumption in public.


Statehood for the Northern Territory is not dead, according to the youth of Alice Springs.Delegates from all Alice Springs high schools, along with those from Tennant Creek and most Darwin high schools, concluded that statehood is a likely outcome for the Northern Territory, at the Fifth Annual Schools Constitutional Convention held by the Constitutional Centenary Foundation at Parliament House in Darwin last Friday.While believing the Northern Territory will eventually become a state, the 52 delegates expressed concerns that it will not happen unless steps are taken to ensure that there will not be a repeat of last October's statehood attempt, which was defeated by 51 per cent at the polling booth .A major concern raised by the delegates was the level of public participation in the statehood process.Following an address from the Chief Minister, Denis Burke, and question time with Steve Hatton, chairman of the parliamentary committee investigating statehood, the delegates reported that they wanted to see a far greater public education campaign held prior to a future vote on statehood, conducted by a body independent of the Government and lobby groups, which would reach people living both inside and out of the major centres. The delegates believed that a lack of understanding contributed to the No vote.They also believed that public mistrust in the Government's handling of the last statehood push, from the drafting of the constitution to the ambiguous question put to voters, influenced the vote.Delegates believed many voters were concerned about what would become of Aboriginal land rights, uranium mining and national parks in the NT, which are presently controlled by the Commonwealth Government because of the NT's status as a federal territory. Groups were divided on who should hold these powers under statehood, with some groups wishing to see the Commonwealth retain control, others believing the Territory should be handed the reins.Most delegates believed statehood was important for the rights it would bring to Territorians, with the Commonwealth at present effectively able to make and break laws for the Territory, as seen with the enactment of the Andrews' Bill, which scuttled the Territory's voluntary euthanasia legislation. There were suggestions from the delegates, however, that a bicameral system of parliament, with an upper and lower house, be established in the NT to replace the existing system. Delegates feared that taking the current one house system, in which the majority party is able to pass its Bills without amendment, into statehood would leave no protection against rogue laws being introduced.One issue that there wasn't much consensus on was the number of federal representatives the Territory, if it became a state, should have in Canberra. At the moment there is one in the House of Representatives, and two in the Senate. Some believed little, if any, increase was adequate given the NT's small population,and it would not disturb the delicate balance of power in the lower and upper houses in Federal Parliament. Others believed that the NT should be put on equal footing as the other states and given at least five MHRs and 12 Senators, despite population differences.The youth delegation was pleased to hear that the current push for statehood is being carefully handled, addressing many of the youth recommendations.During the second session, delegates expressed their views on what should be in the new preamble to the Australian Constitution, which will be voted on by the Australian public on November 6 this year.Most delegates wanted to see a new preamble added to the Constitution, while some others were concerned that despite all the best efforts so far, it would be nearly impossible to write a preamble that everyone was pleased with.Many delegates believed the reference to God should be removed, though two groups argued that it should become god with a lower case ‘g' so as not to be specific to the Christian religion, acknowledging the many varying religious beliefs of Australians. Another view was that the reference to God should be made at the end of the preamble, rather than the beginning.There was division over whether kinship or custodianship should be used to describe the Aboriginal people's relationship with the land, but all agreed that Aboriginal people should be recognised as the first occupants of Australia, who were not consulted on white settlement.Most of the delegates wanted John Howard's ‘mateship' back in the preamble, in order to give it more of an Australian feel than a requirement to be friendly. Some delegates disagreed, believing it was a male inclined colloquial word.Gender equality was also discussed by the delegates. In the model to be voted on there is no reference made to equality between men and women. Many agreed that such a reference should be made, while some argued that it was not as big an issue in Australia as some other inequalities are.Almost unanimously, delegates wanted to see Australia's youth written in to the preamble and recognised as the holders of the future.Most delegates did not want the preamble to have any legal backing, preferring it to become a statement of Australia's history, present beliefs, and ambitions for the future. With no legal backing, it was suggested that a list of principles believed in by the Australian people be included at the end of the preamble. This, it was thought, would be a way of getting around including a Bill of Rights in the Constitution.At a time of proposed constitutional change at both Territory and national level, it is encouraging to see those who will be most effected, the youth, having a strong voice on the issues involved, and being willing to work with the rest of the community in the creation of our future.


Health Minister Stephen Dunham rejects claims that the Alice Springs Hospital Accident and Emergency Department is in crisis (see last week's Alice News).Mr Dunham says that an assessment of the hospital is being conducted by Dr David Green, a senior member of the College of Emergency Physicians.He says the recently tendered resignation of Dr Aung Tut - the head of the department for more than 10 years - was "not unexpected" and was "not a part of the assessment process".In regard to the numbers of patients treated in the Alice Springs Emergency Department, Mr Dunham says that approximately 30,000 people presented to the Emergency section every year (the News reported "about 32,000").Of this figure, however, a significant number could confidently be referred to as "General Practice appropriate", many of whom present for simple reviews, says Mr Dunham."There would simply not be 30,000 emergency cases in a town of 25,000 people. The average of 40,000 for a population of 120,000 in Darwin (at the Royal Darwin Hospital A & E Section) is nationally more realistic," he says.Mr Dunham's population figures include Palmerston and the rural area.The Alice News estimated attendance at the Darwin A&E at 38,000, making the point that the use of the facility in The Alice is far in excess of Darwin's, when considered on a per capita basis. At the same time, Darwin's A&E department has up to three specialists, while there was - until the resignation of Dr Tut - only one in The Alice (now we have none).The department says Darwin "would have more emergency presentations than at the Alice Springs A&E", suggesting that many patients here could be dealt with by a JP.Mr Dunham says Dr Tut is being replaced "by a specialist of Dr Tut's skills if not at a higher level".Mr Dunham also said there was no threat to "the Flinders project in Alice Springs" [the Centre for Remote Health].

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.