September 8, 1999


Emotion charged statements accompanied the removal of the rock last Saturday which has since 1953 marked the grave of the Rev John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Australian Inland Mission.The boulder was replaced with a similar one from Arrernte country near Alice Springs after intervention by prominent elder Wenten Rabuntja.Brian Smith, the national director of the Uniting Church Frontier Services, said "the pain of their grief" of the Kaytetye people, from whose Devil's Marbles, south of Tennant Creek, the rock had been taken, had "at last been heard".PRESSURE AND DISTRESSDavid Ross, the acting director of the Central Land Council, which played a crucial role in the return of the boulder, said "rightly or wrongly" the rock had been taken without consultation with custodians, and that had caused "pressure and distress" for many years.Jeremy Hobbs, whose Oxfam-Community Aid Abroad met the $10,000 cost for the exchange, described the act as the end of "50 years of struggle" and "addressing the mistakes of the past".He took the opportunity at a press conference of taking a swipe at the Reeves Report which he said sought to "dismantle and disempower" the Aboriginal land councils, and at "double talk" in Canberra where he said the government is seeking to "subvert Aboriginal ownership".The most poignant statement came from the 93-year-old Rev Fred McKay who four years ago lambasted plans to return the rock, but last week described the exchange as "a bit of a miracle and another splendid moment of bush history".The Rev McKay, who has close ties with St Philip's College, provided a special statement to the Alice News (see below).About 200 people – mainly non-Aboriginal – were present as Arrernte elders, including Rosier Furber and Frank Stevens, and Warumungu / Kaytetye custodian Leslie Foster Jampijimpa, delivered impassioned speeches about sacred sites, and brushed the rock with gum twigs before it was hoisted onto a truck.

The Rev. Fred McKay, in September 1995 and 1999.
The Rev McKay, in Alice Springs to promote the fund raising for the new St Philips college hall, granted the Alice Springs News an interview in September, 1995. He talked about moves to take back the Devil's Marble, atop of the grave of his friend and mentor, the Rev John Flynn. Last week, as the campaign to repatriate the boulder bore fruit, the Rev McKay gave us a new exclusive statement which bears testimony to the reconciliation process.The Rev McKay said in 1995:When John Flynn died in 1951 ... I buried his ashes. I brought that jolly Devil's Marble from Tennant Creek. D D Smith, who was the director of works here, he made the suggestion, so I went up to Darwin to see the administrator, who was Frank Wise.He said: "I'm representing Her Majesty the Queen and I give you permission."We picked out this nine ton marble and got a low loader, and brought it here. Namatjira, he clapped, you know, he came out and he watched us doing it. He said: "If any man deserves a Devil's Marble, John Flynn does."Twenty years later - more than that - there were some well meaning radicals who said: "Hey, you pinched a totem stone." Well, I said you take me to it and tell me where it came from. I could find no Aborigine who knew where it came from. It had no markings.When we examined the anthropology of the area, it had no folklore of Aboriginal culture behind it. There was lot of fuss made about it. I had to go to the Government and give the whole story about it. They said: "It'll never be moved. It's a sacred site now."Now it's accepted and it's part of Central Australia - part of Australia.
This is the exclusive statement we received from the Rev McKay last week:-
There are some interesting sidelights in the stories which appear to be circulating in connection with the Devil's Marble on John Flynn's Grave.Imagination so easily takes over from real knowledge, and this is understandable in easy and friendly conversation when quick rejoinders are made which are not reasoned with good sense.Let me state definitely that it is factually untrue for anyone to claim that the Devil's Marble was stolen. This is an affront to Christian people.Fifty years ago, even in the letters of F. J. Gillen and Baldwin Spencer (1894-1910), there was no authentic general knowledge of what Aboriginal custodianship meant. The transfer of the so called Devil's Marble to Mt. Gillen was no dark deed in the night. There was no stealth or mystery. It was carried out in broad daylight by George Nicholls, an Aboriginal driver employed by the Public Works Department. It was the shifting of a carefully selected outback stone to a place of honour on a Christian grave. It was 22 years later that public discussion arose about the Aboriginal custodianship of the stone.On 29th August 1996 an official meeting was held by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and a decision was made was made that the stone be shifted back to its home site.My deep feelings of honest grief were made known at that time, along with many others. My religious attachment to the stone increased with the passing years. It was the dedicated guardian of the ashes of the man who had shown the way of real service to bush people.Without changing compelling sentiments of the heart, it was Flynnian common sense to accept the decision of the authoritative body and to plunge energies into the task of creating a greater glory for Flynn's Grave.I have watched the Arrernte people and worked beside them. They are an inspiring group. David Alexander has shared his untiring work behind the scenes. A more excellent stone than ever is now being mounted above Flynn's ashes. It has the rich brown countenance of its Creator. It carries nature's years. It has a glorious rugged sensitivity that belongs to the Arrernte family alone.Bobbie Stuart and Wenten Rabuntja have placed their hands of blessing on this stone. Rosie [Furber] has caressed it. In Frank Steven's face there is the look of sacred awe.You ask me if I have changed my heart. My heart unchanged abounds in admiration for the Arrernte people who have exchanged rocks on Flynn's Grave and given it a new glory – an honest outback glory greater than ever.


The organisation running the now defunct Aranda House youth refuge has used public money to buy the silence of an ex-employee.Gail Bontjer, a former manager of the refuge, is understood to have been paid $3500 by the Central Australian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (CAACCA) in an out-of-court settlement of an unfair dismissal claim, roughly twice the amount appropriate under the circumstances, according to a reliable source.In return, Mrs Bontjer had to sign an agreement not to speak to anyone about the affairs of CAACCA and Aranda House. Says Andy Godfrey, the local organiser of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, who represented Mrs Bontjer in her case before the Industrial Relations Commission: "It was a very generous compensation package which included a very restrictive confidentiality clause."The clause prohibits her from talking to anyone about the settlement, the circumstances or the termination, the organisation of CAACCA in general, or anything else in connection with the agency."The settlement meant that there was no need for public hearings nor for transcripts of proceedings which would have revealed details of the running of Aranda House.The refuge all but closed in May this year under controversial circumstances when CAACCA used $45,000 to set up an office in the CBD while scores of children, many of them in desperate need of care, were turned out into the street.The Alice News has learned that a second former client of the refuge has now died, from a drug overdose, following the suicide of another former inmate.CAACCA is receiving ongoing funding from the Federal Department of Family Affairs and Community Services (FACS).The department's grant for 1999/2000 is $160,000.Meanwhile funding for Aranda House remains up in the air after funding by ATSIC – guaranteed only until the end of 1998-99 – came to an end.At present only five of the 50 beds are in use, under funding from Territory Health, and with a skeleton staff provided by that department.The Aranda House building is owned by the NT Government and made available at a "peppercorn rent".NT Health Minister Steve Dunham, who is represented in still fruitless talks to set up a "cocktail of funding" from sources including the NT Government, ATSIC, Aboriginal Hostels and FACS, says he is becoming "increasingly frustrated with dealing with this issue locally and I will be taking it up Federally".Meanwhile both CAACCA and FACS are declining to give specific answers to the Alice News about how the grants to the organisation are being used.While all other players regarded FACS as one of the major funding sources for Aranda House, this is being denied by FACS.The Federal department says running Aranda House became a major focus for CAACCA as a result of funding from other sources, while the FACS money is "to provide, in co-operation with other agencies and in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, a placement service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children; and to provide resources and counselling to children and families going through fostering / adoption / share family care".FACS will not say how many families or individuals are availing themselves of CAACCA "counselling" – a type of service also available from several other agencies in Alice Springs.FACS says it provided CAACCA with money for a new office because it employed seven new staff members; but while FACS claims it is not funding Aranda House, all seven new staff were workers at the refuge.According to former employees, there is ample office space at Aranda House.FACS says the new office was needed to provide "greater client confidentiality" but declines to comment on assertions that Aboriginal people in crisis would feel comfortable in the new premises: they are on the third floor of an office building in the heart of the town's Central Business District.FACS also declines to reveal details about an allocation, via CAACCA, of $16,000 for the Undoolya Youth Camp.A youth worker has told the Alice News that only a few hundred dollars of that grant has been made available to the camp.The Federal department says CAACCA "are required to acquit this grant through their annual audited statement and this will need to show that the funds were expended appropriately".Although the deadline for this acquittal has now passed, no details are being released by FACS, and the department has told the Alice News it will provide no further information.The Alice News has asked NT Senator Grant Tambling to obtain further details for publication.(Earlier reports on Aranda House are on the Alice News web site at .)


The planned Desert Peoples Centre, a consortium delivering education and training to Aboriginal people in Central Australia, is much more than a building program.The outcome of 12 months of deliberations by the boards of both Batchelor Institute and the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT), aspects of it will become a reality irrespective of decisions about co-location of the two organisations, or about capital expenditure on the redevelopment of their facilities.As CAT Chairman James Bray puts it: "The consortium is a collection of minds, skills, and various different [ways of] thinking."Batchelor Chairman Gatjil Djerrkura says the approach is one "that's overdue in many areas", and expresses the hope that "it will become a role model around Australia".A joint meeting of the boards last Wednesday approved the setting up of a joint committee to oversee the work of a small executive which will in turn coordinate three working groups made up of the staff of both organisations, only one of which will be focussed on facilities. The other two will be looking at collaboration in the academic and research programs at present delivered separately by the two organisations; and at services.Says CAT Director Bruce Walker: "If we can't convince governments that co-location on a single site makes economic sense, there's no reason why the consortium can't work with CAT remaining where we are, upgrading our buildings and Batchelor doing the same. "For example, there's no reason why we couldn't both adopt a similar payroll package, or accounting package."It would be a lot easier to do if we were on one site, but there's no reason why we couldn't do it if we were on two."It won't be as good but it will still work. It's the strategy that's important."That strategy seeks to respond to the education and training needs of Central Australia's Aboriginal people, making up 14,000 of the region's total population of 37,000.Some 10,000 live outside of Alice Springs and it is in their communities where most of "the action" needs to happen, according to Dr Walker.He says the joint boards have visualised the consortium as an octopus with a central hub in Alice Springs, and communication, people, skills, exchanges flowing along the tentacles to and from the region's smaller communities. To a certain extent the "octopus" already exist: Batchelor has study centres in a number of communities; CAT "sends people out with swags and vehicles". The question the consortium seeks to answer is how do you improve the flow between town and the bush.Says Dr Walker: "We think we can do that best by co-locating, optimising the amount of money we spend on facilities, and maximising the opportunity we have to deliver a better service out bush."The chairs of both boards have emphasised that the consortium is open to other providers of education and training.Mr Djerrkura told the Alice News: "It's not a matter of forcing people to join, it's very much a matter of when they are ready for it, we'll be there."CAT and Batchelor will continue to do what we are doing. The consortium will be able to take on the bigger picture of bringing other agencies and institutions into this concept."[This move] is towards building pride and self-determination for this region, particularly putting the ownership of the future of education into the hands of the people for their people."We are here to help," says Mr Djerrkura.Mr Bray says it may not be possible for too many indigenous organisations to co-locate on the preferred site (on the Stuart Highway, opposite Yirara College), visited last week by members of both boards and Education Minister, Peter Adamson: "You would need a huge block, twice the area, but the point is you can be part of the consortium anyway. "It's like a lot of the universities, they have campuses all around the place, but they're all linked. We're going to have remote communities as part of this, and they are way out in the never-never."There's only so much funding, and governments like to see positive outcomes, and they've got to put it into so many buckets. We could do so much more by coming together, working on one goal, having a focus."The important issue is delivering to the people out there, being of service. "There was concern about our identity at [last week's] meeting. Okay, I said, we're going to be separate entities under one mushroom or one shield. We'll each still have the skills we're bringing to the project."The consortium is expected to deliver a 10 per cent improvement on current efficiencies, and co-location could make savings of 20 per cent on capital expenditure.As Dr Walker says, "That's a lot of money that could be redirected to a whole range of new issues".What is the scope of this "range of new issues"?Dr Walker: "Both organisations are concerned with what people are grappling with now in small remote communities, wanting to be on their land, having to deal with the difficult economic, social and cultural issues that arise from that."Rather than just delivering courses to yield student contact hours, we are trying to actually be involved in the development of new responses and new enterprises, new approaches."Take, for example, a training program that Batchelor currently runs on broadcasting in remote areas. One of the things that CAT could offer to complement that is to train young people in regional response teams which fix hot water services, doors and locks, but also go and do maintenance work on the broadcasting units."Together we could be running not only the courses, but guaranteeing some work experience and possibly generating jobs."It's got a load of potential."The Northern Territory Employment and Training Authority has estimated that Aboriginal people in the Centre in the 15 to 19 years age group are likely to increase by 20 per cent by the year 2006. This could mean that more than half the demand for vocational education and training in the region could come from indigenous people.WELFARE RESOURCEDr Walker points out that these young people will be confronting life on communities that have grown up "because there was a welfare resource", in a time when that resource is outstripped by the level of complexity of the demands upon it.Says Dr Walker: "The consortium can foster the debate we have to have about small remote communities, and try to draw from that debate courses, training programs and enterprise options."The vision goes even further.Says Mr Bray: "One of the questions we asked in the meetings was, if we had happy, healthy, well-educated and economically independent Aboriginal people, if a miracle happened overnight, what would they want to do, what would they want to learn, how would they want to spend their time, and how can we foster that through this consortium."


In a bid to keep its doors open, the Alice Springs Ballet School will restructure, separating the school from the student ballet company.Director Lyn Hanton told the Alice Springs News that the decision was made with the support of a group of parents of students, past and present, who met with her last week.The ballet school, currently with 172 students enrolled, has been without any government assistance since 1994, deemed ineligible because of a failure to acquit a previous grant, which Mrs Hanton says they are unable to do, because they are in debt. (See News, Aug 25).She said parents at last week's meeting had resolved to "take up the issue, lobby government, get answers"."They want to keep both the school and the company going," said Mrs Hanton."The school can probably be viable on the basis of the fees it collects, but it is the ballet company that we really want to grow and develop, and it can only earn income through the box office."Mrs Hanton says she also met last week with recently appointed cultural precinct director, Suzette Watkins."Araluen has asked arts organisations for suggestions for future development. I will be submitting that we need a purpose built studio facility for the performing arts in Alice Springs, that would be best located at Araluen," said Mrs Hanton.New Arts Minister, Chris Lugg, in Alice Springs recently to open the Museum of Central Australia, told the News that while he is concerned that the ballet school may have to close its doors, he is more concerned "about having the finger pointed about misuse of taxpayers money".Said the Minister: "I am aware that the Department has funded [the school] to the tune of about $75,000 over the years and the big problem is that when you hand out taxpayers' money there's a responsibility that goes with it, and the chief one is that you must account for that money and say where it has gone. "Ms Hanton has failed to do that for the past two, three, four years perhaps."Despite numerous letters from the department since 1996 she still hasn't acquitted that money."News: She says that's a matter of her paying off the debt, that it's quite clear what the money was used for but that when she didn't get her next round of operational funding ...Minister: I'm not sure of that sort of detail but she must satisfy the requirements with regard to which those grant moneys were given to her, because they were a clear condition of getting the grant. She must account for it to a standard acceptable to the Government's auditor. That's not negotiable, that must be done, that's a responsibility we have with giving out taxpayers' money.News: When an arts organisation that is basically performing its function well, gets into a bit of strife, couldn't there be some sort of situation negotiated where they are paying off their debts but they are still being given some sort of assistance?Minister: You're missing the point. It's not paying off debts, it's about accounting for public money. Every other organisation that gets money, accounts for it. Whether they put it to use is a side issue really. You must account for that taxpayers' money. That's got to be seen to be above board. News: Is there a question over where the money went? Mrs Hanton says it was used to pay one salary, it went to one person ...Minister: There's no question over that at this stage. Those sort of questions come after you acquit the money. She's said she'll do this a number of times. The Department has written her numerous letters but she still hasn't done it. She approached the Department in April this year and said I'll have all this for you in two weeks. To my knowledge we still haven't seen it.The ball is in her court. She must do this.The News put this to Mrs Hanton.She says: "What the Minister is saying is incorrect. When I saw his predecessor, Peter Adamson, all I was asked for was two pages of notes outlining where the Ballet School was at, which I supplied."Each time they change ministers a bit of the story gets lost."I told Mr Adamson, ‘This is the situation, what can I do to fix it up, what can you do to help me?'"He assured me he would do something help, but after a week of phone calls telling him that I had to have an answer by the end of second term, I got a fax saying I would get nothing."They just fall back on that acquittal story, but until I've paid off all outstanding moneys I can't acquit."That little tiny word ‘acquit' involves a difficult scenario unless it's done it the simple way, which is the way I think it should be done. "I could send three group certificates to Darwin. Why do I need an audit done?"On the other hand, if I could get even a little bit of support, the audit would be done in an instant, I could afford it. But without support I do not want to authorise spending more money."The News has since put several more questions in writing on this subject to the Minister. They have been referred to the Department and we expect to have some answers by next week.


Territorians should register their concerns about the proposed Planning Act by signing a petition being circulated in all areas, urges the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT).The petition calls on the NT Parliament to:
• remove overriding Ministerial power to approve development applications;
• allow Territorians the right of third party appeal;
• improve the transparency and accountability of the Development Consent Authority by making minutes of meetings available to the public; and
• empower locally elected and accountable community representatives on the Development Consent Authority.
Says LGANT Executive Director Jeff Hoare: "The petition will alert Members of Parliament to the concerns felt by people about the planning system in the NT and hopefully bring about changes."Lands Minister Tim Baldwin appears to have ignored most recommendations by Early James, who was commissioned to produce a report about town planning two years ago. The NT Government is refusung to hand over planning powers to local government, which has charge of these functions in other states.

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.