POKER MACHINES ADDICT WANTS HER MONEY BACK. Report from KIERAN FINNANE.
An Alice Springs woman has asked Lasseters Casino, who open their multi-million dollar extensions this week, to reimburse money she lost in a gambling spree after she had asked to be barred from entry.The woman has been battling a poker machine addiction for a number of years.She estimates that she would have poured up to $90,000 into poker machines in the last ten years. With the help of counselling she had stopped gambling and had asked the casino to bar her. She says she spoke to a member of the casino’s security staff and supplied him with a photo of herself.She says she received assurances that they would bar her from entry. She says taking the step to have herself barred was part of the therapeutic process she went through to try and break her habit.Serious illness in her family, however, altered her resolve and she went to the casino to get away from her worries.To her surprise she entered without being questioned, and over the next three to four months she lost $17,000.Says the woman: "I was half expecting to be kicked out all the time. People knew me. There were a couple of staff members who said, 'Oh hello, haven't seen you for a while'. I was really amazed."The adrenalin was going, not only because I was on a machine but because I was thinking I was going to get picked up, that was part of the thrill as well. "At one particular point I had problems getting a note into a machine, and a member of the security team helped me work out why it wouldn't go in. That is incredible! That was a person who should have been throwing me out and I felt kind of smug thinking that he was standing there helping me."Did she try to change her appearance?"No! At no point did I change my appearance at all! I ordered drinks, I sat at the machines, the same as I normally did."Lasseters' Chief Executive, Peter Bridge told the Alice News: "We have a strong self-exclusion policy. If you are part of the problem, you must be part of the solution. That is the way we see it."Mr Bridge says that the casino receives more than 350,000 visitors a year and at any one time, up to 10 people may request self-exclusion."This is the first instance we have had of a visitor saying that our policy has not worked for them," he said."We stand by our procedures and believe we go to great lengths to assist people if they have a problem."In relation to the claims being made by the woman, Mr Bridge told the News that it is now almost two years since the first report of the incident, but further details of the matter are still required.The woman says a first letter outlining her claims was sent by her solicitor in December 1997.Solicitors for the casino responded in January, 1998, denying any liability on the part of their client and warning that any proceedings would be vigorously defended.The woman is now seeking further legal advice and has also been in touch with the Sydney-based No Pokies Party, who she says are interested in her case.Ultimately, isn't it down to her to control her gambling?Says the woman: "I know a lot of people will say, 'Well you went back in'. Unfortunately when you are a compulsive, excessive anything, gambler, drinker, drug addict, you need barriers put up. The fact that I could get back in that once allowed me to get back in ten times."It had been six or seven months since her last gamble. "After the first time I thought this is it, I won't do this again, but because I am compulsive I was drawn back and back until $17,000 later ... !"I always felt like while I was sitting at a machine I didn't have to answer to anyone, it didn't ask anything of me, it didn't want its tea cooked, I wasn't on a time limit."It was like a stress free environment, I didn't have to do anything, I put my money into the machine and it did everything for me, I was a zombie but there was no pressure."I've never gone there thinking I've got $50, I'm going to win $70 and go home. I could win $100 and spend $300. My problem is not winning, it's the machines, the sounds, the thrill of being there, not the wins, the wins I've had I've stayed and spent."That's where I say the casino has to be accountable. They have a small sign on the change counter that says, 'Are you a gambler?' There is no 24 hour help line, they tell you to ring back during office hours. "If you're gambling in the early hours of the morning and you're at rock bottom and you need help you don't want to ring in office hours! "Then you're normal, your adrenalin level has gone down, you're back to being a mother and a wife and hiding the compulsion that you've got and looking for the next dollar to put in."I was lucky – I never stole or did anything illegal, I just spent the family money."The woman describes the casino and other venues where there are poker machines as "very, very dangerous" places for her. She says there are too many machines in Alice Springs.Mr Bridge says there are 238 in the casino, recently up from 200, and another 140 in the community. That's approximately one for every 68 people.The woman objects to EFTPOS facilities being available in the casino:"At least when you had to go out to get money, you had 15 or 20 minutes in the car to take a deep breath and talk yourself out of going back. Now it's a two minute job, on your way to the toilet you just hit the EFTPOS."She says her bank statements confirm that she used the casino's EFTPOS a number of times when she gambled away the $17,000.She says she was overwhelmed by feelings of shame when she finally realised how much she had lost and what it would mean for her family."I was ashamed to think that I had worked so hard to give up gambling – and I had believed I could. "At first I thought I was just an idiot, but about eight months later I thought I might be an idiot but the casino had to be accountable as well."I had to demean myself by going to this guy and saying I have problem, I'm a gambler, I can't help myself. "He made me feel that I was important to the casino but I'm not, my money is, but as a human being I'm not."I don't want the other $60,000 to $70,000 that they've got of mine before I asked to be barred. I just want the $17,000."Lasseters has spent in excess of $4m on its extensions, incorporating an Irish bar, a new entry and foyer, expanded facilities for its internet division, and expanded gaming areas. Apart from the increase in poker machines, Two Up has been reintroduced.The work has also allowed more natural light into the complex.The Northern Territory Government, which in 1997-98 collected $25.573m in gaming taxes, levies and fees, recently announced increased support to community services assisting problem gamblers.Darwin-based Amity House, which provides face to face and telephone information and counselling on problem gambling, received a 12 per cent increase in its funding, up to $70,420 for 1999/2000. (Amity can be reached on 1800 629 683.)Anglicare, which provides financial counselling, has been funded for $24,000 to extend its services beyond the greater Darwin region in a pilot program. It also receives $24,000 annually for a part-time staff member.
CHANGES IN JOB NETWORK LINE-UP. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Tangentyere Council is hoping to set up an employment agency in Alice Springs while one of the current players, Asset Recruitment, is reportedly closing down.Tangentyere, whose main task is to support residents of Aboriginal town lease areas in The Alice, says it is well placed to improve the disastrous employment record of its clients.Paul Acfield, who is in charge of the Tangentyere initiative, says the organisation's daily contact with unemployed Aborigines creates the trust, special knowledge and credibility needed to tackle the indigenous jobless problem.Tangentyere has on its Elder Street premises a Centrelink office, which issues dole payments."We have lots of people coming through our doors, seeking help," says Mr Acfield.Federal government tenders have now closed for organisations wanting to offer employment services in the town.It is understood that current operators, the Catholic group, Centre Care, and Employment National, are the other two tenderers.Asset Recruitment was not available to comment but reliable sources say the company has not re-tendered, and several employees have either already left or are now themselves job hunting.Meanwhile industry sources say Alice Springs is a hard place for commercial employment agencies to do business.On the one hand, jobs – especially skilled ones – are usually more plentiful than applicants. Most trained people can find work without the assistance of commercial agencies, which means they are missing out on their fees.The sources say there are many Aboriginal people who have never been in the mainstream work force, and it's hard to place them. This is where Tangentyere hopes to make a difference - provided it can raise the up-front funds to obtain the government contract.These special circumstances in Central Australia raise the questions of whether the present competitive job network system is appropriate here, and what future role the "work for the dole" CDEP system should play, according to the sources.Mr Acfield says Tangentyere, which failed to get accreditation in the previous round of tenders about two years go, is seeking an ATSIC loan.He says the Tangentyere service, if it is set up, will be available to any job seeker but it will focus especially on an "intensive assistance" program for Aboriginal people who have been unemployed for a long time.Tangentyere has also applied for a "job matching" service, one of the five services for which the tenders had been called.Mr Acfield says the Federal Government introduced in May the Indigenous Employment Policy under which a subsidy of $4000 is paid for the first six months of employment.He says Tangentyere would seek to place its clients especially in the tourism, hospitality and retail industries.
NEW MUSEUM: IT'S A BUZZ, NOT A TEXTBOOK.
A museum should stimulate the imagination, not act as a textbook, says Patrick Filmer-Sankey, Director of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, in Alice Springs last week spreading his enthusiasm for the new Museum of Central Australia.This approach goes against contemporary museum theory, which he says has a tendency to "dumb down, to assume the reading ages, the intellectual capacity of the audience, in such a way as to always be immediately accessible". He says the new museum tries not to make "limiting assumptions about the audience"."I don't know what may or may not interest you as a visitor, I don't know where your opportunities for opening up may lie, but if you make too many assumptions you close things out as much as you open them up."So, the display, while it has a structure, avoids being didactic.Its chief architect, Alice-based paleontologist Peter Murray, says he has tried to suggest a vast sweep of history, "like a James Michener novel".Indeed from the vantage point of the mezzanine level, the visitor scan across the epic story, reading its chapter headings: from the Big Bang, through the earliest development of the earth and the impact of cosmological events on its formation, all the way to the contemporary environment of Central Australia.However, this is not a simple linear journey. It tells a story of flux and change, with links backwards and forwards in time.Says Mr Filmer-Sankey: "Alice Springs was surveyed in 1888 because of the ruby rush. That was the misidentification of a two billion year old mineral. "The water you get out of your taps, it's 75,000 years old."The Olgas and Ayers Rock, the MacDonnell Ranges are all part of the same big twists and thrusts – go outside and see them!"These distant planet-shaping phenomena affect us directly."What I'd love people to do is come here, get some idea of the sweep of things and go out and see differently the landscape, the way we use it, why it is that we can be here."Entry to the museum is free for locals, so we hope people absorb a bit, sip, go out and come back, gradually get more and more. "We have piled on the information, there are long words, there's a vast amount of information and objects, all quite carefully contextualised, but we've avoided simplifying things to a point where there's a beginning, a middle and an end. That's just not the way it works."Visitors could use the display, for example, in preparation for a walk up Ellery Creek in the Western MacDonnells, or even closer to home, up Anzac Hill, which would take them back through hundreds of millions years.The extraordinary series of phenomena that shaped this region are quite clearly laid out in these places, says Mr Filmer-Sankey."These places tell us something about processes, rates of change, the lack of stability in the natural world which we don't normally think about because we operate on such a different time scale. "I hope we will be able to get those sort of broadening messages across." A former marine-biologist, Mr Filmer-Sankey's love of his work developed during his childhood visits to the British Museum of Natural History. "Very old fashioned, wooden cases, nicely hand written labels, and my favourite room was the bryazoae room."I didn't know what bryazoae (little colonial animals) were for another 10 years, but that room told me something more important, that there was much more to the world than I was aware of, it was systematic, it was accessible, and it mattered to somebody. That opened things up for me."There's nothing old-fashioned about the look of the new Museum of Central Australia – it uses state of the art design technology – but it does have the aura of an enchanted world born from long-held passion, one which Mr Filmer-Sankey, Dr Murray and taxidermist Ian Archibald – a master of his art – evidently share.Mr Filmer-Sankey emphasises the importance of the museum's research program."A museum shouldn't just be an exhibition venue. "A deep understanding of this environment and the ability to conduct research in it informs this institution, and in this sense, Dr Murray is its greatest resource."Has the redevelopment of the museum been limited by the existing Strehlow Research Centre building into which it has fitted?"There are always compromises to be made," says Mr Filmer-Sankey."Even when you have the opportunity to sit down and design a museum it's never right. There are features of this building which are bad – obvious minor flow problems – and features which are good."Apart from the clever exploitation of the view from the mezzanine level, the potentially awkward ends of the crescent-shaped space have been very nicely used, at one end to suggest a view into the far reaches of space, and at the other, to recreate the rock formation at Honeymoon Gap (an actual cast) as a dramatic stage for a watchful dingo and a predatory feral cat.Is the facility big enough for the museum's collections? "Of course not! There's never enough space or enough money or enough people. The capacity will always exceed what is there to support it. "Given the resources we do have available this is great, and I wish we had something like it in Darwin at the moment."Mr Filmer-Sankey says MAGNT will try to duplicate some of MCA's approach when they rework Darwin's natural history gallery next year.He also expresses the hope for more of a north-south interaction: "It's hard to do but I think we are trying and making some progress."
NEW TOP COP FACES BIG CHALLENGES. Interview by ERWIN CHLANDA.
On the face of it, The Centre's new top cop is in for a tough challenge: Alice Springs has about three times the number of police officers compared to the nation's average, nine times the homicide rate, an avalanche of property offences and an alcohol related "anti social behaviour" problem apparently out of control.Bob Fields, who took over as the Southern Region Commander last week, takes a far less bleak view.He joined the NT Police force in 1971, most recently was the Commander (Crime) in Darwin and has never before worked in Alice Springs.He says "very positive steps" have been taken in Alice Springs in the last 12 months, and especially, the past six, in curbing anti social behaviour: "The situation has improved dramatically, from what I can gather," he says.Commander Fields says comparing The Centre's average homicide figures with the nation's gives a false picture."Some of the homicides that occur here are certainly not of the same nature that you see in Victoria or NSW."A number of the homicides in the Territory occur in Aboriginal communities, they occur in a tribal situation."They are homicides that you don't see in places like Victoria and NSW."To compare our homicide rate with that interstate "gives a distorted view of the level of danger or the level of fear that people might feel in a community."There's a world of difference of what the homicide rate means in the Territory compared to Sydney and Chicago or New York."Certainly in [some parts of the United States] people can't walk the streets of their city without a fear that they are going to be accosted, robbed, mugged or maybe murdered."That's clearly not the case in the Northern Territory. That's clearly not the case in Alice Springs, even though we have, if you take a very simple statistical look at it, a high homicide rate relative to other areas," says Commander Fields."I don't think anyone walks around the streets of Alice Springs and thinks that because we have a high homicide rate, they are somehow in danger of being struck down."It would simply be a nonsense for people to push that line."Commander Fields says taking measures against our homicide rate is difficult because, of course, police don't become aware of a killing until after it's been committed.However, one field where police can be active is domestic violence: restraining orders can be imposed but these "don't always work" – especially when the police "do their job", obtain an order from the court but it is ignored.Says Commander Fields: "The first we might hear of that order having been breached is when we hear that somebody is dead."Commander Fields says unlike with anti-social behaviour and traffic offences, "homicide is an extremely difficult area in terms of coming up with any meaningful [preventative] strategies that you can consistently maintain."But anything that can lower the level of anger, the level of violence in the community, whether it be strategies through counsellors, welfare agencies, police intervention, juvenile protection, through threat of punishment they may receive, all of that helps."A strategy that does work in some communities are shelters for women to retreat to."Some other communities are developing men's shelters. "When people drink to excess and run the risk of going home and becoming violent, with possible tragic consequences, they can go to another place and sleep off the effects of too much alcohol, and then make their way home when they are sober."That's just one example. It sounds simple and mundane, but it does work."Commander Fields says there are several opportunities for police to work with referral and counselling agencies "to abate some of the anger that comes out in domestic violence situations."I'm sure that through persistence and a sustained effort there are people whose lives can be saved, or [protected from] having serious injuries inflicted upon them," says Commander Fields."It's not a case of developing all singing, all dancing sorts of strategies to deal with all the problems confronting a community."Sometimes quite simple strategies are effective if we're able to sustain the effort."Domestic violence is a classic example where that is important."Commander Fields says while the community still sees "anti social behaviour" as a major problem, "I am quite heartened by what I hear about an improvement in the situation."I put this down to the efforts of my predecessor, Robin Bullock, and the people who worked for him."PATROLSHe says patrols in the mall and the CBD have been stepped up, and he will be expanding that police presence "further out from the mall area so that people feel they can go about their business, be it day or night, weekday or weekend, and don't have to be concerned about problems of drunkenness or anti social behaviour causing them some disruption to their lives."He says the police are represented by Superintendent Gary Moseley on the committee, under the auspices of the town council, investigating strategies to curb the effects of alcohol abuse, including possible restrictions on take-away sales.Commander Fields says: "I certainly wouldn't be, at this early stage, blowing into town from Darwin, telling that committee or the Liquor Commission how to do their job or what conclusion to reach."He says consulting a wide section of the community is "the way to go" because any measures that don't have the support of the wider community would not be effective and "there would be an over-reliance on the police to make those recommendations work".He says alcohol related offences are "clearly a primary focus of policing, not only in Alice Springs but in any of the urban across the Territory."It takes up a disproportionate amount of our resources, but on the other hand clearly it is an issue that's in the public's mind, and we need to devote sufficient resources to – as much as possible – ease the public's concerns and worries about the problems that flow from excessive drinking," says Commander Fields."We welcome the amount of discussion and enquiry that is going on about the issue of public drinking."He says initiatives such as the "Thirsty Thursday" in Tennant Creek are likely to be taken into account by the Alice Springs enquiry.PUBLIC DRINKINGIf a measure "eases the problems of public drinking, and more importantly, if it eases the impact that public drinking and the problems that flow from it on the rest of the community, then clearly it's a worth-while initiative."These things have to be tried in an environment where people aren't scared if they fail."You can sit down and do nothing, and say it's inevitable, we can't do anything about our problems, or you can make an attempt to deal with them," says Commander Fields."From my point of view I'm happy to see that things are being tried, that people are looking for solutions, and hopefully, we'll emerge with a better community."Commander Fields says the comparatively high number of police officers in Alice Springs needs to be seen in the context of their duties and the number of support staff police have in other jurisdictions.He says police in NSW, for example, have "a large support staff who preform a lot of functions police in the NT are doing".He says these functions include registering firearms, working on computers, preparing documentation and front counter duties, although in the Territory, too, there's been an increased use of police auxiliaries, and moves to "civilianise" administrative functions currently performed by police officers.
USER-FRIENDLY STATEHOOD NEEDED, SAYS CAMPAIGNER FRAN ERLICH.
Fran Erlich, a leading local voice on the issues of statehood for the Northern Territory, has welcomed the Chief Minister's apparent change in approach to relaunching the statehood process.Following a trip to Canberra, Denis Burke is talking of "a much more people orientated process", says Mrs Erlich."Through his talks with John Howard he's realised that perhaps he has to stick more closely to the recommendations that the Legal and Constitutional Committee came up with."From what I understand we might now get three referenda, one to kick start the process, one for a draft constitution which would be developed by a constitutional convention, and another one at the end of the process to see whether people still want to go through with it. It sounds good."A spokesperson for the Chief Minister says that the Prime Minister supports statehood for the Territory to progress. Once the "threshold question" of whether Territorians want it is established via a first referendum, Mr Burke would then favour a democratically elected constitutional convention or series of conventions to develop a draft constitution, which would be put to the people in a second referendum.It is possible that a third referendum would follow to finalise the process."Mr Burke's approach will be based on consultation, and not doing too much , too quickly, not overwhelming people," the spokesperson said.Mr Burke had earlier accepted only two out of the six recommendations of the Legal and Constitutional Committee that consulted widely with Territorians after last year's failed referendum. He had promised an education campaign, leading to a referendum, with a new constitution to be largely based on the Territory's existing Self Government Act, with the necessary legal changes sorted out in Canberra. Mrs Erlich said she would be "very much against the idea of the Northern Territory's constitution being written in Canberra".Mrs Erlich: "I think it is very clear that people want to be educated, which is one of the recommendations they had accepted, and that people want a referendum, which they had also accepted. But a constitutional convention, which is either fully elected or very nearly so, was also very important to a lot of people and I am hopeful that we will get that now.The other recommendations of the committee relating to the inclusion of Aboriginal people are essential, as we saw at last year's referendum. If you don't include Aboriginal people then it's likely another referendum would not get passed."Mrs Erlich is keeping in touch with Darwin-based organisers of Territorians for Democratic Statehood:"At this stage our attitude is wait and see, but the importance of a constitutional convention was something we put very strongly in our submissions to the Legal and Constitutional Committee. All sorts of issues that need to be discussed should be discussed in the Territory."Mrs Erlich says it is "essential that people just get a simple question – do you want statehood or not?" in the first referendum but "people have to have an idea of how that is going to come about before they make that statement"."The slogan after the failed referendum became 'Let's do it again, but next time let's do it right'. I'll be really looking to see that we do it right, that everybody is included and has a chance to express their views, not just on the simple question of do you want statehood but about all the other parameters of what sort of a state we want."Is there much political energy building around the issue? Are people still feeling the level of commitment and concern that we saw last year and during the hearings that followed the referendum?Mrs Erlich: "I think that level of concern takes a while to generate.People are still talking to one another and looking at what is happening. I think at this stage we are a bit too far away from concrete decisions for much heat to generate."Much sooner Territorians, like other Australians, are going to have to vote on whether or not to become a republic. That is also an issue that Mrs Erlich is involved with.Mrs Erlich: "I'm working for the Yes Coalition people in the Territory because I really think Australia needs that final, even if symbolic, step towards full independence."The Yes Coalition are trying to get all the republicans to accept the fact that we may not all get the sort of republic we want but by being part of splinter groups we will be making sure that the yes vote doesn't get up."The referendum question is a problem. It asks not only do we want a republic but how is it going to work in the one question, so republicans who want direct election of the head of state will find it very difficult to vote yes."The question foresees the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by an Australian president elected by two thirds of the House of Representatives."I had hoped that we could have a simple question, and then resolve the other issues when it is clear which way people want to go. "I think John Howard, who is an avowed monarchist, must be quite pleased with how the question is framed because it is going to be difficult for a yes vote to get up with that question."Is there much interest in the Territory over the republic issue? Mrs Erlich: "Not a lot. I think people, having gone through the statehood process, are a bit jaded. "There hasn't been a lot of clear information readily accessible to people. I gather that will happen, and perhaps that will stimulate people's interest. "There is a lot if disinformation and misunderstanding, people talking about republics being susceptible to military coups and than sort of thing. "For myself, I can't really see that it's very difficult to have an Australian President who takes over much of the role of the Governor-General, as a ceremonial head of state. "I have a problem with the direct election scenario. Many people think the two thirds majority of Federal Parliament will make it a difficult process but I think it will probably be far less political than if you have people who have to run campaigns, have policies, platforms and that sort of thing to be elected. "You are going to have to have quite a bit of money to run that sort of campaign and you will have to be backed by big business or else a political party. "That would be a much more radical change to our constitution and a more political process than the other. But basically I will accept anything to become a republic."Is there any advantage or otherwise for Territorians if Australia becomes a republic?Mrs Erlich: "I don't think so. "I don't think it would either impede or hurry up the statehood process. "Of course, we in the territories will have less say than people in the states and that might make people think about the statehood process again."
AYERS ROCK DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN.
The sunrise viewing area at Ayers Rock is a disaster waiting to happen says long term tourist operator Jeff Tucker.He claims there is not enough space on the side of the Rock ring road for the hundreds of people and dozens of vehicles gathering there most mornings.Mr Tucker (pictured above right), who has been conducting tours to Uluru for 26 years, says never has the risk of collisions or people being run over been greater than now.He says he has witnessed coaches overtaking other vehicles on the blind corner nearby, and tourists crossing the road without regard to the traffic, to get their photographs.Mr Tucker says he understands the ring road is part of the Lasseter Highway.Another problem are the frequent altercations between coach drivers either taking on board or setting down passengers, or competing for the limited parking spaces.He says the arguments between drivers are hardly presenting the industry in a dignified way to the visitors.PICTURED above left is a photo taken by Mr Tucker last week, of a coach crossing the double lines on approach to the sunrise viewing area. ABOVE are Japanese tourists crossing the highway during the peak traffic period.Before the advent of Yulara the park had a special viewing area, with car and coach parking, on a sand dune near the old motel area.This is now part of the Mutitjulu settlement and off limits for visitors.
BUSH EXPORT: KNOWLEDGE.
Central Australia has the potential to develop education and training as an "export industry", with the latest, small but successful, foray into this market made in July this year by the as yet little known Arts and Education Institute of Central Australia (AEICA). AEICA provided what they term a three week "learning experience" for a group of 25 students from the University of Western Sydney (UWS) and two of their teachers.The total budget for the study tour was $35,000, money which, with the exception of the airfares, all came into Central Australia. AEICA formed in 1996 with the intention of cultivating, according to its chair, psychologist Craig San Roque, "learning events related to our interests".Broadly, these interests are in education, the arts, and healing, particularly in inter-cultural and cross-cultural contexts in Central Australia.Not surprisingly, work in these areas excites interest elsewhere.In 1997 prominent academics from all over Australia attended a three day colloquium on "the interaction between Aboriginal and Western senses of place" held at Hamilton Downs, and organised jointly by AEICA, the School of Social Ecology at UWS and the School of Philosophy at La Trobe University.Following that event , the UWS expressed interest in providing a similar opportunity for their students, both post- and under-graduates.Says San Roque: "We attempted to negotiate on their behalf with some local institutions, but found to our surprise that they were not in a position to manage such an experience effectively."AEICA then undertook to do it themselves.San Roque: "Our principle was to draw upon experienced local people, of whom there are an incredible range, to act as guides or tutors, making their local knowledge available to the students, putting the students into direct contact with people and places of Central Australia."It worked beautifully."The group spent a week in Alice Springs; three days at Intjartnama, an outstation near Hermannsburg where Barry and Elva Cook provide a therapeutic program for petrol sniffers; visited Lilla, a small Aboriginal community near Kings Canyon, Hermannsburg, Uluru, and Hamilton Downs, from where they were led on a three day walk back to Alice by eminent local ecologist Peter Latz.San Roque: "The students wanted a direct experience of local art, the environment and the developments in culture, both European and Aboriginal, in Central Australia. We set up the framework that gave them that. The locals got paid and had a great time, the students had a great time and everyone was satisfied."One of the keys to the success of the tour was the inclusion of Aboriginal people on the local "panel" of experts.At Intjartnama Elva and Barry Cook introduced students to some of the health and social problems encountered in remote communities; Elva and her daughters showed the students their art, took them for walks, teaching them about the country, and to Hermannsburg where Elva recounted a history of the community from an Arrernte point of view. San Roque: "They had two or three hours of stories, warts and all, about Hermannsburg, there in the heritage precinct from people who had lived there. Barry Cook brought in his experiences and anecdotes, and there was a discussion between Elva and another Aboriginal woman who had a different experience."In Alice Springs Billy Tjampitjimpa took the students on tours around town – to outside the courthouse, the Todd Tavern, the Mall. Bertha Nakamarra Dixon, using the paintings developed by the Healthy Aboriginal Life Team, introduced the students to the history of substance abuse and approaches to it in the Centre.Margaret Mary Turner and her daughters introduced them to Eastern Arrernte culture and language. San Roque reports Margaret Mary as saying, "We want to teach our culture directly to these people. We don't want Europeans teaching on our behalf ." AEICA organiser Linley Lefay also reports that Elva Cook and Billy Tjampitjimpa were inspired: "Billy got really excited about being able to work in this way, to be able to work from his own personal life, to teach people about it. And Elva said the same thing, it was very inspiring to tell her own personal story."Sam Miles, who is at present working as a consultant on employment strategies in the bush, comments: "AEICA have made contacts with a market that we haven't seen before out bush, the education type of market."In my work for Intjartnama, we did the demographics – there are about 200 kids turning 18 every year, so we say that's what our job needs are. Every year we have to create 200 jobs. "In the mainstream economy it takes about $250,000 capital investment to create one job, so for 200 jobs we would need about $50m a year out bush. Cattle stations require an investment of $500,000 for one full time job."What these guys are doing doesn't need that huge input of capital, it's got more to do with transferring intellectual knowledge."I see this as the only way we're going to get jobs out bush – we're not going to get anything like the $50m a year, even if the investment opportunities were there."The work AEICA have been doing is important because knowledge and intellectual property work is more likely to mesh with Aboriginal culture than the mainstream nine to five jobs. It's pretty ground breaking stuff."But how sustainable is it?San Roque: "Sustainability has to do with the skill, in this case Linley's, of knowing who amongst our relatives and contacts is likely to be available and drawing on them. If, for instance, Bertha wasn't available we would find someone else. We wouldn't try to set up an institutionalised framework that guaranteed that the Aboriginal contributors were plugged in because we know they have far too many other commitments."It's basically a question of knowing that there's a pool of 50 to 60 possible people, and then there's a certain flexibility and intuitive improvisation required."Can it only ever work in a small way, once a year and for a small group?Lefay: "It can definitely be done more than once a year, for different groups. Each group would be different because of the people in it, the time they have, their interests."It could be organised on demand, although it takes a very high energy commitment while it's happening."Lefay emphasises the importance of negotiating the program "through relationship, through community rather than relying on institutions". "Central Australia has potential to be a more personal learning environment, based on relationship, not just going to a lecture in an institution," she says."The students we had were learning on the land in direct experience with people who live here, and at Intjartnama and Lilla, with the people who own the country."AEICA have already received requests for more study tours, including one for performance students from the UWS.San Roque: "Our involvement so far with the social ecology school has put an emphasis on small group, interactive situations, but that's not the only desire that universities and others have. Look, for example, at the remote health course developed by Flinders University and NTU. The possibilities are enormous."Miles, however, is concerned that Central Australia doesn't have "the structures in place to deal with the mainstream economy"."We've got such a limited population, a lot of positive one off things happen but there isn't the critical organisational mass to keep growing them. "This group here have got their act together, they're good at networking, Craig in particular, but let's go back to the pattern. You go through a pioneering stage, an establishment and consolidation stage, and then a growth stage. "In the pioneering stage, it's all individuals having a go, but you need to get it picked up. We always seem to be in the pioneering stage. This group will do a lot of work but who is going to come in behind them? Can they take it to the next stage?"And how do they keep all these qualitative aspects in the experience, and still make money out of it, benefit for the people out bush?"San Roque: "You can, we are doing it ."Intjartnama is a good example. A few years ago Barry and Elva would not have been as confident as they are, now that they know how much they enjoy it and how receptive students are to what they have to offer."I think a learning experience and environment is a much more sustainable thing to offer than the conventional tourist one. The models are there, from the Centre for Remote Health to Desert Tracks in all its variations."If we study them carefully we will find a combination that works.""Since I've come back, hearing how people in daily life talk, I can hear their assumptions about the desert and Aboriginal people. I know it's a coastal mind set, I can hear that now and it confirms how invisible Central Australia is to the majority of people in Australia." – Student, UWS"It was the most extraordinary experience for me. Fantastic, extremely challenging and also shattering at times, but incredible. It was very hard for me to come back." – Student, UWS"I was consistently impressed with the high level and quality of the people and experiences which composed the visit to Central Australia." – Student, UWS.
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