October 13, 1999


The owner of the Ayers Rock Resort, General Property Trust (GPT), will be looking for other tourism properties in the Territory and throughout Australia following its unsuccessful bid for a major hotel chain.Grant Hunt, CEO of Ayers Rock Resort Management Pty Ltd (ARRM), says by last Friday’s deadline, a higher offer had been received for the BT Hotels portfolio including Hayman Island, Sheraton Brisbane, Sydney Intercontinental, Canberra Park Royal and Melbourne Airport Hilton.GPT’s bid was a strong indication that the company is pleased with its first major foray into tourism: Ayers Rock Resort now gets far more visitors than Alice Springs, which for decades had been the starting point for trips to the great monolith.Remember the slow-drawl assurance from the father of the Yulara, former Chief Minister Paul Everingham: "There will never be any direct flights to The Rock!"Well, there are, around 40 a week at present, and the tail is now vigorously wagging the tourism dog. However, CATIA general manager Mike Gunn says the company’s activities present some major opportunities for the tourism industry throughout The Centre: "ARRM are using their resources world wide to promote not only the Rock, but King’s Canyon and Central Australia generally."That's a positive thing."As long as we can put the name out there, the flow-on [for other businesses] will come."ARRM have the strength, the dollars and the marketing ability – let's work with them."He says there are opportunities for local traders but they need to be "proactive, go after the business. "We can't sit on our hands."ARRM is coy about its turnover and about how it spends on supplies with Central Australian businesses.Karen Hedges, public relations manager for ARRM, provided the Alice News with a list of 68 local suppliers to the resort, and says the company spent "tens of millions of dollars" in The Alice last fiscal year."If suppliers in Alice Springs are competitive, we're certainly happy for them to give us a quote," she says."The suppliers need to be service oriented."ARRM makes up five per cent of the assets of GPT, which has total assets worth $4.5b, and is managed by Lend Lease.The Rock Resort is a powerful lesson that it's not just bricks and mortar that count, but what you do with them.The NT Government built Yulara in the early ‘eighties and sold the 60 per cent it owned, for $220m, in December 1997.The Government never really made a go of Yulara while it owned it, while now the resort is booming.The cost of the Government's investment (rumoured to have been $500m) was never fully disclosed , nor were the ongoing running costs.It is believed the resort – including 104 square kilometres of freehold land – was sold for less than half of what the taxpayer paid for it.Under government ownership the hotels were run by a succession of management companies and some private enterprise interests.Says Mr Gunn: "There were three separate hotels, marketing themselves independently and competing against each other."Making the complex a single unit was what "turned the resort around."The day we can achieve that in Alice Springs we'll kick some goals."It is believed that in Yulara's early days, Sheraton, for example, was on a retainer, at taxpayers' expense, guaranteeing the international management company of the five star hotel a generous base income irrespective of occupancy.Annual visitor numbers show a rise from just over 100,000 when Yulara opened in 1984, to just under 250,000 at the time of "restructure" as a single resort in 1991.Still owned by Territorians, that's when things started to buzz: under the management of Wayne Kirkpatrick, annual visitor numbers rose to 350,000 by 1996.Today, the resort runs at an annual occupancy rate of around 76 per cent, with "rack rates" between $25 for bunk beds to $675 for deluxe suites in the Sails in the Desert.Comparative statistics are impressive: the Rock Resort has 670 rooms while Alice has 1589 (in 23 properties).According to the NT Tourist Commission's 1997/98 statistics, Alice Springs gets 230,000 visitors a year, the Rock now gets 370,000 (400,000 visit the Uluru National Park).Put differently, when compared to Alice Springs, the Rock gets 70 per cent more visitors although it has well less than half the number of rooms.The average length of stay at the Rock is 1.6 nights, according to Ms Hedges, while the corresponding figure for Alice Springs – surprisingly – isn't available.The industry reports that tourism business is booming in Alice Springs this season.Visitor statistics for Alice Springs in 1998/99 are this likely to be far healthier, but are also not yet known.Mr Gunn says he is "frustrated" that more than three months after the end of the financial year, the NT Tourist Commission still hasn't produced visitation figures for 1998/99.It's now idle speculation how Territorians could have benefited from continued ownership of the resort, which serves visitors to one the nation's greatest natural attractions.Former Chief Minister Shane Stone, after announcing that he would "normalise" Yulara and make it like any other town, where you can buy a home and start a business, ultimately sold the place lock, stock and barrel.However, what Alice Springs still can do is to get a few hints about how to make visitors happy.Despite some expansion of facilities – around $60m worth – the resort's "hardware" today isn't all that different from when it was built.But the "visitor experience" has improved out of sight, and it's the little things that count.There is a cosy village feeling. Walking and bicycle paths are everywhere.The "town square" has lots of shade, a fountain, chairs and tables. You can sit pretty well anywhere you like, no matter where you buy your food from. You can charge your meal to your room, no matter where you're staying.There are no "don't" signs.As 63 per cent of the visitors are from overseas (17 per cent from Japan), there's a stimulating cosmopolitan atmosphere. (Sadly absent from the mix, however, are local Aboriginal people, the owners of the very attraction that brings all these people here in the first place.)Gecko's Cafe, with a pleasant outdoor area in the main square, has a liquor license and excellent pizzas for around $15.At the bakery ‘round the corner you can get fresh croissants from 7am onwards.The fast food place across the square offers a delicious fisherman's basket for just $7, sit down or take-away.A sumptuous smorgasbord dinner at the Desert Gardens is $40 a head, kids dine free.The Emu Walk apartments ($298 a night for four) don't have a pool but you're welcome to go for a dip at the Desert Gardens.Off-duty staff aren't excluded: they're welcome to have a drink at any of the numerous watering holes, including the posh bar at the Sails.The resort has lots of trees and sizable parks with lush lawns where people – visitors and locals alike – are welcome to spread out a blanket and lie in the shade.There's no public "anti-social behaviour" – or none that we noticed.No need to feel guilty about the lawns, either: while Alice Springs wastes an estimated two billion litres of water a year, through its outdated, evaporation-based sewerage plant, the Ayers Rock Resort recycles its grey water for irrigation.Gums planted just 15 years ago tower over the buildings.Staff display a low-key friendliness, and the words "sorry, can't help you" have obviously been outlawed. We asked for a bag of ice at the Emu Walk reception. Less than two minutes later, a bell boy from the Desert Gardens arrived on an electric trolley with two bags, no charge.Ms Hedges says the staff are alert to national foibles: "When the Americans go to dine they like to be served very quickly."They don't want to necessarily sit around for a couple of hours," she says."The Italians by contrast are happy to do just that!"Another bottle of wine, relax, have coffee, talk, and go on from there."They also like lots of bread, lots of water."ARRM clearly think they're on the right track to bigger and better things: Philip Cox, the Sydney architect who designed the resort nearly 20 years ago, is back to draft a new master plan, looking not only at tourism facilities, but also at the total infrastructure for water, sewerage, roads and power generation.ARRM manages and holds a 46 per cent share in the booming King's Canyon Resort, where a $5m upgrading program has just been completed.The other Kings Canyon Resort share holders are the Aboriginal investment company, Centrecorp, 33 per cent; Commercial Development Corporation, also representing Aboriginal interests, 17 per cent; Ngurratjuta, three per cent; and Mary Sitzler, one per cent.ARRM also owns the Alice Springs Resort (the former Pacific Hotel), recently expanded, near the Stott Tce bridge in Alice Springs.


"My ambition is to survive," says Donna Ah Chee, head of the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD), surely one of Alice Springs' more fraught positions over the last year of battle for the release of funds to redevelop the organisation's South Terrace campus.While in recent weeks she has refrained from making comment about that controversy, Donna here talks to the Alice News about her path to the top at IAD and her thoughts about the future.Donna started with the organisation over 12 years ago as a secretary. She had been a student at Tranby Aboriginal Cooperative College in Glebe, Sydney, and intended to go to university.A visit to Alice Springs in 1987 where she met Paul Ah Chee, now director of the Aboriginal Arts and Culture Centre, led her to change course: "That's history, we got married and then I came to IAD."Donna spent her childhood in Redfern, Sydney.On her mother's side her family are Bundjalung people from the far north coast of New South Wales. Her grandmother is from Cabbage Tree Island.When Donna was a teenager her family were moved out of Redfern, together with other low income earners, to Sydney's western suburbs. She completed Year 10 in Macquarie Fields, then moved to Grafton for a year where she did a secretarial course. This got her a job with the Commonwealth Public Service who sponsored her further education at Tranby. What had been her ambition during her adolescent years?"I don't think I had any ambitions. Just to be able to complete Year 10 as an Aboriginal person was an achievement, and then to get a job. "It was probably during my time at Tranby and with the Commonwealth, working with Aboriginal communities across NSW, that I decided that I wanted to work with my own mob, make a contribution to Aboriginal affairs."After she had been with IAD for a number of years, the then director, Barbara Flick, targeted Donna as a future manager."She didn't say anything as such, but she'd take me to meetings, I would basically observe her in action. Those meetings would be with politicians, senior bureaucrats, senior community leaders, whether it was in Alice Springs or elsewhere."That, combined with the formal training I was getting in the Management Training program, allowed me to move into middle management. Then eventually I became the deputy director and now the director of the organisation."Barbara was inspirational in the way that she operated, politically as well as in running an organisation, how she dealt with the indigenous issues within the organisation and the non-indigenous, that balance that you always have to find when working in a cross-cultural situation."She politicised the organisation, the people who worked in it."I'm a firm believer that your staff are your main resource, they're the important aspect of what your organisation's on about."It's always a good motto, I think, to invest in your staff. At IAD we particularly pay attention to indigenous staff."When did Donna first became politically aware as an Aboriginal person?"I've always had a connection to my mother's side which is where our Aboriginal descent comes from, that's always been very strong, more so than with my Dad's side which is non-Aboriginal. We have a connection but it's much stronger with my mother's side."We were aware of our Aboriginality, but my politicisation really came as a result of going to Tranby and through what has happened since. It's important, being black is political, whether we like it or not, it's how you use that energy to make your point that's critical."How has she managed her career along with having three children?"My family network has been extremely important, having my Mum, my Dad and my mother-in-law – my father-in-law passed away not long after Paul and I got married."We got married and had children fairly late in our lives, and getting into senior positions coincided with that. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for those three people, and that support continues. Even though the three kids are at school, their grandparents play a major role in the family, in the upbringing of their grandkids and the support they give to Paul and I."At times would she have liked to have led a less pressured life and spent more time with her kids?"I have those thoughts regularly, but Paul and I have organised our busy schedule in a way that we spread ourselves amongst the children. He organises them of a morning, so that I can start work by 6.30, seven o'clock. I go home at five so that he can work back, in between my Dad picks the kids up, my Mum looks after them with my mother-in-law cooking tea."Everyone's chipping in. I believe it's a contribution to the Aboriginal people of Central Australia because of the work Paul and I do, but it's also a contribution to our family in terms of us getting our own economic base. That's what Aboriginal people have to do."It's hard, extremely hard. Most of the time Paul works six days a week. It gets to the point where he's jumping off a plane and I'm getting on."Our time together as a family is on Sunday, and we do other things that the kids want to do, like football and BMX, and we make sure that we participate in any of their school activities."What next after IAD?Donna has already had thoughts of leaving IAD, but "my deputy and my chair convinced me to stay"."I had six months off and I had a bit of time to reflect. In a way I'm glad they did talk me out of it, but at the same time I think you shouldn't stay in the seat for too long. "You should move on to enable fresh thoughts and enthusiasm to take the organisation forward."When she does go, it will probably be to work in the family business, the Aboriginal Arts and Culture Centre. "Again, that's contributing to Aboriginal tourism within Central Australia but also to the family."Donna is actively involved with Central Australians for Reconciliation."What I would like to see, and I know it will obviously take a lot of time, is the elimination of racism, whereby there is respect for indigenous people, mutual respect, both black and white, and there's respect for Aboriginal self-determination."When I say that I mean organisations like IAD, community-controlled providers – whether in education, healthor land issues – have a vital role to play in the make-up of our society. Our contribution as indigenous people, we believe, makes a better society for all of us, and there should be investment in us to deliver."The example is our buildings. We should be operating out of educationally sound buildings, not houses, not bedrooms being used as classrooms, old demountables."We need the support of the wider community because we are part of the community."Does she feel proud of what she has achieved so far?"Absolutely. It's a positive role model for women and other indigenous women. Just like I looked up to others that impressed me, I hope that I provide that sort of impression too. "It is hard being a woman, let alone being black in a fairly senior position within the community and within the organisation as well."But you have to hang in there and provide strategies for yourself to deal with the hard times."I'm proud of what I've done and glad I was identified. I think it was great that there was this leadership that actually pulled me out from among all the others and gave me some direction. It put me on a road to something that I will never regret. I'm very grateful for the opportunity."


A regular visitor to Central Australia and reader of the Alice News website, Alfred (Fred) Pruckner, was distressed to learn in our June 16 issue of the temporary closure of the legendary Old Andado homestead 12 miles inside the Simpson Desert, where the equally legendary Molly Clark offers the only tourist accommodation in the remote east of Central Australia.Molly had had to close her doors because her old generator had given up the ghost and she couldn't afford a new one. Fred cherished memories of his visits to Old Andado and decided to do what he could to help out.In August he held a "rag fair" (jumble sale) for Old Andado in a big car park in Groß Enzersdorf near his home city of Vienna. Here is his (slightly edited) account:-The weather here in Vienna was not as it should be in August . It was raining cats and dogs at a temperature of about 15°C.Nevertheless we had a great time. The action began at six o'clock in the morning: we were not yet out of the car and a lot of people wanted to know something about the articles or wanted to buy some of them. After 10 or 15 minutes the rush was over and we could prepare our selling area. We had a big umbrella against the rain and a long table for the presentation of all our articles. Everyone was trying to get a lower price, and the longer the rag fair was running, the cheaper the prices. By ten o'clock, nearly everything was at the same price, it was really funny. We sold old shoes, trousers, a pair of skis, two old mobile phones, a tea set and a coffee set, some drinking-glasses, and a lot more.At half past twelve, we packed up with nearly $400 in our pockets.My special thanks go to my friend Heinz Cibulka who helped me a lot and donated some of the articles, and to all the other people who donated things: Mrs Gertrude Gerwig, Miss Sabine Lang (Heinz's girlfriend), Mrs Maria Pichler (my neighbour) and to Mr Alfred and Mrs Martha Pruckner (my parents).Also many thanks to my friends, Mr Tony Kueberl, who lent me his car, a Chrysler Voyager, and Mr Christian Gerwig (nickname Crisu), who scanned the photos I sent to Alice News on the Internet.Meanwhile, the Northern Territory Government has stepped in to loan Molly a generator for as long as she needs it. With power on, the homestead has again been receiving visitors – "mobs of them" – since the beginning of July.Molly was touched to hear the news of Fred's fund-raising on the other side of the world: "My luck must have changed!"While she obviously no longer needs the money for a generator, she says it will nonetheless be useful to fix "something or other" around the historic homestead.


After two years in makeshift classrooms, with desks made from materials salvaged at the local dump, the Northern Territory's most remote secondary school, indeed the only one away from the Stuart Highway axis, is set to get a permanent home.Alice-based architect Brendan Meeney has drawn up plans for the Nyangatjatjara Secondary College on a site adjacent to Yulara's "industrial" area, looking across an open plain to Kata Tjuta (the Olgas).The Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) has provided $2.3m of the necessary funds, while the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation (NAC) is negotiating with Ayers Rock Resort Management (ARRM) for a 25 year sub-lease of six hectares of land at a peppercorn rent.Project officer for the development of the college, Wayne Anthoney, says Education Minister Peter Adamson and MacDonnell MLA John Elferink have been very supportive.NAC is still negotiating for extra funds for power, water and roadworks.The college grew out of the desire of parents at Mutitjulu, the Aboriginal community at the foot of Uluru (Ayers Rock), and at Imanpa, some 100 kilometres to the east, to send their secondary age children to school "on their own terms and on their own land". The college thus became one of the ways that NAC, originally an ATSIC funded organisation set up in 1993, addresses its three "Es" strategy: education, employment, and economic development for the Nyangatjatjara people.With funding from DETYA , the school opened its doors at the Yulara site on July 21, 1997, receiving 18 girls from the two communities for a month's residential program. Now 22 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 are enrolled, with about two thirds of the original 18 still there.While the girls are in residence, boys across the same ages, though in lesser numbers, attend programs in their communities. In each ten week term there is a cross over period of one week in the home communities, then the boys go into residence at Yulara while the girls attend their home campus.Docker River students are now also enrolling, with the old store at Docker River being renovated to serve as the home campus. At Mutitjulu the college uses a demountable, while at Imanpa they have renovated an old clinic that was in virtual ruins.Separation of girls and boys was a key demand from parents, its absence one of the dissatisfactions with the other secondary options available to them.The students are working on improving their literacy and numeracy in line with DETYA guidelines. Other aspects of the curriculum focus on computer skills, life skills and health, reflecting parents' aspirations for a practical post-primary education.Students' previous schooling varies enormously. Some have had little to none.To date the college has had considerable support from the ARRM, which lent them four transportables and the site to get started. The long, narrow floorplan of the transportables (designed as cabins for a tourist campground) is far from ideal for educational purposes, but the college has accepted their limitations in order to get on with the job. The school aims to eventually have an enrolment of 100. Mr Anthoney estimates there will be 150 secondary school age children in the feeder area by 2005.By then he expects that the first generation of graduates will be successfully applying for jobs in the area, including at the Ayers Rock Resort.Already the college offers a number of employment opportunities for local Aboriginal people who work as assistant teachers, house parents and recreation staff, with a Mutitjulu man recently getting his bus driver's licence in order to drive the school bus.

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