WILL ALICE SPRINGS MISS THE TRAIN? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Alice Springs Mayor Andy McNeill and Stuart MLA Peter Toyne are separately calling for a Territory Government study of the economic impact on the town when – or if – the Darwin railway goes ahead.The line’s future seems a lot less certain than the current political hype is suggesting.The Asia Pacific Transport Consortium, announced last week as the group selected to build, operate and own the link for 50 years, has yet to secure the bulk of the finance.The Federal and NT Governments have committed $165m each, and South Australia, $150m, a total of $480m.That leaves $770m to be raised. The consortium – six national and international companies – will not say how much of its own resources it will be investing. The consortium says it will be seeking to raise an undisclosed amount of money from banks, a process that will take until March next year: there is no commitment from lenders as yet.However, Rick Allert, the head of the Australasian Rail Corporation, representing the three governments, says the corporation has been advised by Deutsche Bank, and the consortium, by Macquarie Bank, that this is a "bankable project".Says Territory Federal Member Warren Snowdon: "What guarantees do we have that there will be no further calls on taxpayers’ funds down the line, if the operation is not commercially viable? "That’s the key question."Mr Snowdon says whil building the line is likely to be profitable, he has doubts that running it will be as well.It seems the players are still getting a grip on what the project means to potential users.Says bid director Franco Moretti, representing consortium member Brown & Root: "Companies are only just beginning to recognise the opportunities the rail link will provide, in terms of both their bottom line and their international growth prospects."Yet there are claims that construction will start mid next year.Mr Moretti says now that government financial support has been secured, the group is moving on "to the next phase of the project, finalising documentation, financing and approvals".Meanwhile Alice Springs is likely to be drawing the short straw:-
• The town will cease to be a railhead.
• Construction is unlikely to start in Alice Springs, but at two other points, one likely to be Tennant Creek, the other, possibly Katherine.
• Despite an additional commitment of $130m in public funds, according to Mr McNeill the corporation has ruled out a track alignment east of Alice Springs, as demanded by the Alice Town Council. Mr McNeill says it now seems certain that the line – if built – will run right through the middle of the town. Yet the council’s proposal would cost just $14m, little more than one percent of the total cost.
• Mr Toyne says road transport managers have told him The Alice will lose some 200 jobs, "equivalent to nearly half of Pine Gap shutting down".
Ross McMahon, the local representative of the Road Transport Association, says he’s not against the railway but hopes "they don’t use the money collected from the road transport industry to build it."He says registration fees for prime movers were raised not long ago from $800 to $5300.He says after a spin-off during the construction phase, job losses in the industry – "it’s hard to say how many" – seem inevitable, although perishables are likely to continue to go by road.Mr McMahon says he is "amazed" the line is going ahead at all because the Ghan freight service has recently been reduced from six to five trains a week."They're trying to cut back the service," he says.Although Opposition Leader Clare Martin welcomes "the dream of the railway" finally becoming "a reality", Mr Toyne has made it clear that his own attitude towards the project will be governed by the interests of the town.Meanwhile Alex Kennedy, spokesperson for the Adelaide-based consortium, says the "land bridge" will serve principally Adelaide and Melbourne.Sydney, Perth and Brisbane "are not in the equation", she says.A major attraction for using the link will be the performance of the Darwin port – still under construction – expected to be able to turn around freight at the same speed as Singapore."It will be the fastest port handling facility in Australia, by a mile," says Ms Kennedy.She says initially there will be 14 trains a week, one a day in each direction.A passenger service is not included in the consortium's brief but the operators of the Ghan train have expressed an interest in going through to Darwin, says Ms Kennedy, and there may be other operators. There are no commitments as yet.She says 70 per cent of the construction requirements – materials and labour – will be from Australia, the balance from overseas. She was unable to say how much will be provided by Territory companies.Mr Toyne says one road transport firm, which has the contract for a supermarket chain, spends annually in Alice Springs $2.5m on fuel and $20,000 to $50,000 on tyres.Many of the company's drivers live in the town, earning $1200 a week.At present, transport costs between Adelaide and Alice Springs, per 20 tonnes, are $897 by train, compared to $2100 by road.He says the NT's investment in the project is "totally inequitable": Opposition Leader Kim Beazley had offered up to $300m from Federal coffers if a Labor government had been elected.
WHAT THE RAILWAY WILL DO FOR US: CENTRAL AUSTRALIA MINISTER LORAINE BRAHAM EXPLAINS.
The Alice Springs News put the following questions to Minister for Central Australia, Loraine Braham, last weekend:-• To whom will the new railway provide advantages, and what kind or advantages?
• It is said the construction will create 1000 jobs. Given that involuntary unemployment in Central Australia is practically zero, what advantage will the region get from that?
• To what extent do you expect the project to improve the region's real unemployment of around 15 per cent, given that the majority of the jobless are concealed in CDEP schemes, are Aborigines, are long term unemployed and have demonstrated little eagerness to enter the conventional work force?
• What impact do you expect the railway to have on the road transport industry based in Alice Springs, and its support industries, in terms of turnover and employment?
• What proportion of materials, in terms of money value, will be sourced from Alice Springs businesses?
• In terms of percentage share holding in the consortium, what is the slice of Territory businesses and Central Australian businesses?
• In terms of per capita public funding for the project, the Territory kicks in more than $1500; South Australia, $136 and the Commonwealth, $9.70. From the Central Australian perspective, how can that disproportionate spending by the NT be justified?
• Given that nearly half of the funding for this "private enterprise" project comes from the public purse, will Alice Springs Town Council demands – to reroute the track east of the town, rather than bisecting it – now be met ?• The NT Government has sold its share in the Ayers Rock Resort for $220m to an interstate company with no inherent responsibility for the social and economic development of Central Australia. Properly managed the resort, in Territory hands, could have played a key role in the development of the region's tourism industry which is labour intensive, has the capacity of vast further expansion and is using an indefinitely renewable resource. The NT Government appears to have used the sales proceeds from the resort to invest in the rail project that, once completed, will create few new jobs and may decimate an industry [road transport] that has been the cornerstone of the region's economy. On the face of it, it's a double whammy for The Centre. Your comments, please.
Below is a slightly edited version of Mrs Braham's response:-
The Adelaide to Darwin Railway has been designed with the development of regions and communities in mind.The construction will come in two spreads – north of Alice Springs, and north as well as south of Katherine.Local industry participation is a key objective of the NT Government, who have a project target of 70 per cent local content during the construction phase. Construction of bridges, provision of concrete sleepers and steel, ballast and rail clips plus associated earth works wil provide employment opportunities and will generate population growth. This will have a flow-on effect to the local economy. Among other benefits are the local sourcing of civil works, fuel and food supplies and accommodation, to name a few. The railway as an alternative and competitive transport system will provide longer term benefits for local tourism, mining and pastoral industries.The Central Australian economy is vital to the Territory with enormous expenditure in the tourism sector, untapped potential in the mining industry and opportunities in horticulture and livestock.The question regarding per capita funding ignores the fundamental core of the railway project: the railway is being built in the Territory, not in South Australia or elsewhere in the country.The infrastructure will be the lifeline from North to South for generations to come and will open up the Territory to opportunities as yet unavailable.You could in fact reverse your question and ask why should South Australia contribute to a Territory project.The debate the Alice Springs Town Council has raised, and which I note the Member for Stuart supports, is short sighted. The train passes by a short stretch of residential area but then continues out of town through an industrial route. To shift the station would be to encourage a satellite service centre to be set up away from the town. This town already has the capacity to provide the service requirements, and to bypass the town would not advantage the users of the rail or be in the interests of the business sector of the town. We have seen too often the effects of moving a highway to bypass a town in the mistaken belief it is better and less disruptive. The economic downturn that has occurred has had a disastrous effect on many small towns in regional Australia.The rail could play a major role in national defence strategy, and Alice Springs has the ability to develop as a maintenance and support/storage centre for defence.
TOWN PLANNING 'NO' TO RURAL SUBDIVISION SCHEME.
The Planning Authority has rejected an application to subdivide the five hectare Chateau Hornsby vineyard and winery into four lots.The proposal met stiff opposition from neighbours and other "farm area" residents, principally because the new lots would have been smaller than two hectares, the minimum lot size stipulated in the town plan for the area.A current approval to subdivide the winery land into three lots will lapse in January.There were 13 submissions to the application by Denis Hornsby, the owner of the land, all opposed to the scheme.Mr Hornsby told the Planning Authority that he has been unable to sell the smaller blocks approved in 1997.Chairman Fred Finch said the authority is concerned with maintaining the integrity of the town plan, not with the commercial viability of a development scheme.In the reasons for the decision, authority delegate Hermann Weber told Mr Hornsby: "The proposed lot sizes do not comply with the minimum lot size required under the Alice Springs Town Plan (as amended) for the RL2 - Rural Living - Dispersed Settlement zone."The proposal is not considered to have demonstrated special circumstances which justify the required variation."The proposed subdivision is considered likely to detrimentally impact on the amenity of the surrounding area as advanced by public submissions."Several objectors made oral submissions to the authority.In the early ‘nineties an application by Mr Hornsby for blocks smaller than two hectares was approved by then Lands Minister Max Ortmann, under controversial circumstances, and despite massive public opposition.
BID FOR ONE CLASSROOM WAS ASKING TOO MUCH. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
At Apungalindum School, a home learning centre (HLC) attached to Utopia hub school, north-east of Alice Springs, as many as 40 students attempt to do lessons in an old "half" demountable and an outdoor shade area.They have two tables and a few benches. No fans. Cupboards with their few learning materials are tied to posts.There is no ablution block.There is however a dedicated assistant teacher, a community member, who has nurtured the school into existence, enrolling the students in the Alice Springs School of the Air and supervising their lessons.Her efforts were recognised in 1996-97 when the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA) provided funds for a tutor.With the HLC showing consistent enrolments of more than the minimum 12 – in fact 19 students with an attendance rate of 80-90 per cent daily – the Northern Territory Department of Education (NTDE) agreed to provide a visiting teacher one day a week from the start of second semester last year.This year NTDE has provided a full-time teacher. The Alice News understands that this is her first teaching post. Despite what must be extremely arduous conditions, to her great credit the teacher is still there.Enrolments have grown.According to Apun-galindum community chairman, Ken Kunoth, there are 40 students enrolled, with on average 25 to 30 attending daily.The students range in age from four to 16 years.The teacher and assistant teacher run two classes between them, alternating between the demountable and the shade area.Last year the school applied to NTDE for a building grant to provide a basic classroom, small office and general purpose area. The project was estimated to cost $175,000. The school received a firm quote to supply the classroom and an ablution block for $187,277.Both figures are considerably less than what the News understands to be NTDE's average costing of a classroom in remote areas – $350,000 to $400,000.Despite this, Cabinet did not accept the application and the school has been told to reapply, this time for "a more modest proposal". However, Mr Kunoth says the school was "previously told that we would have a classroom that would accommodate all our students that come to the Home Learning Centre".He says the "more modest proposal" would be too small for their students and that the community will not accept it."We feel [NTDE] should honour the original offer."A spokesperson for Education Minister Peter Adamson said the issue was being looked at by the department."It's understood there was a mis-communication regarding the difference between submitting a capital works bid and a minor new works bid for a classroom," she said.However, Peter Toyne, Labor's Shadow Minister for Education and Apungalindum's elected member, says there is a lot more to the issue than a question of mis-communication.He says the discrepancy between the quote received by the community and NTDE's average cost for the provision of comparable facilities needs to be explained."The Education Department's own IESIP [Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program] report talked of ‘a history of using IESIP funding as substitute funding' and the ‘transferal of unexpended funds to capital works'."With the money NTDE says they are spending, bush schools like Apungalindum could be getting two classrooms instead of one."Someone in Cabinet needs to explain this," says Mr Toyne."The department's IESIP review damned the whole system. With this example at Apun-galindum we are seeing just what their approach does to particular kids in a particular community and to their hard-working teachers." At the time of going to press, Minister Adamson had not responded to an invitation to comment on Mr Toyne's statements.
ALICE WOMEN ARE SAFE BUT NOT FREE. Report by DOROTHY GRIMM.
"Read my lips, yes means yes, no means no!'' chanted more than 200 women and children as they marched through Todd Mall on Friday night.The march from Anzac Oval to the Town Council lawns was part of the annual Reclaim the Night observances in Alice Springs and around the world, with women gathering to celebrate their strength and to demand the right to walk on the streets without fear of rape and violence.Despite threatening skies, the event in Alice had a festive mood as women, children (many in carriages), dogs and others gathered on the lawns to watch performances and listen to music, readings and talks.The Alice News asked some of the women about whether or not they feel safe in Alice, receiving answers with a similar theme – they feel safe because they are careful."I'm always safe," said Barbara Curr."I don't drink, I don't go to unsafe places, and I'm aware of my environment."Annie Zon asked, "Does any woman feel safe?"She said women restrict their sphere of freedom by limiting where they go, butshe felt things were improving as more people, both men and women, become aware of more equal relationships between sexes."The only way it [restriction of one's own freedom] will stop will be when women are understood as equal," Annie said.Kim Roberts focussed on what society considers appropriate clothing for men and women."Men are not ashamed of their chests and are allowed to go topless at swimming pools and other public places," Kim said."Why should women feel conscious of having a bare chest?"Many cultures do not have trouble with their women being topless."In those cultures, topless women are not asking men to make sexual advances."Men are able to go shirt less and I can't."Alderman Meredith Campbell also talked about equality, or the lack thereof, in her remarks to the gathering."Why are women still subject to threats and intimidation when we inhabit our public spaces at night?" she asked."Is it because a woman's place is in the home?"Why should women want to be out by themselves at night anyway?"Don't they need the protection of a man, or a group of buddies?"Society still assumes a lot about where women want to be, with whom, and the activities women may wish to indulge in."Meredith cited a recent article in the Sunday Territorian, written by a male journalist about a male taxi driver who demanded sex from his female passenger to complete the journey, even though she had sufficient funds to pay for the ride home.According to Meredith's account, the woman's screams brought help and eventually the police, but then the taxi driver was allowed to leave without further questioning while the woman was required to supply further details including an ATM receipt to show she had the money to pay her fare.The article also informed the readers that the woman "had been drinking" and that she was a single mother of a three year old child."The implication of these comments on the character and practices of the woman who chooses to travel alone after drinking at a nightclub until all hours of the morning will not be lost on you," Meredith said."Sunday Territorian readers may have already passed judgment on this unfortunate woman."The police and criminal justice system may have done so too."Yes, my friends, we have a lot of work to do."
ROYAL RINGER PRINCE WILLIAM? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
If Prince William becomes a jackaroo at Delmore Downs, as Australian and British newspapers are suggesting, he'll be doing lots more than mustering cattle in the scrub.The 1249 square kilometre station, 180 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, is a medium-size cattle run by Northern Territory standards, but one of the most vibrant centres for contemporary Aboriginal art.While lessee Donald Holt is a third generation cattle man, his wife Janet played a key role in developing the now world famous Western Desert "dot painting" art movement, centred on the Aboriginal community of Papunya, some 300 km to the west.In the late ‘seventies, Mr Holt was busy breeding Santa Gertrudis cattle, now about 4000 head and considered some of the best cattle in Central Australia. Mrs Holt – then Ms Wilson – commuted from Alice Springs to Papunya, overnighting in a caravan at the dusty and impoverished settlement. She supplied artists with paints and canvasses, and built up the cooperative, Papunya Tula Artists, to market the traditional paintings now commanding top prices around the world.Utopia, an Aboriginal community just to the north of Delmore Downs, soon followed in Papunya's footsteps: dreamtime stories, usually created in The Centre's red dirt with ash, feathers, ochre and human blood and hair, was given a permanent form with the white man's media of acrylic paint and canvas.As falling prices and drought plagued the cattle industry, Aboriginal art boomed and rivalled pastoralism as a money earner in the region.Today, the legendary double decker, three trailer road trains still transport cattle from Delmore Downs each year.But the station's other product leaves on the light aircraft of art collectors and dealers from around the world, taking off from the 1400 metre air strip alongside the homestead.Mr Holt has played a key role in the close relationship with the Aboriginal people in the region: he grew up with them. His maternal grandfather, Charles "C. O." Chalmers, arrived in 1921 from Queensland in a covered wagon, droving a small herd. He almost perished before he found water.He pioneered bore drilling, was the first to use fences and dams, and founded one of The Centre's most enduring cattle dynasties.Mr Holt built on the inter-dependence of white and black people in this remote region. He still employs Aboriginal stockmen on a seasonal basis, now one of the few stations in The Centre to do so.But his relationship goes well beyond commercial aspects: as a gesture of trust, local elders have told him many of the sacred stories for the area.The Holts have been collecting Aboriginal art for 34 years and were mentors to some of the most famous artists, including Kathleen and Gloria Petyarre and Emily Kame Kngwarreye, who died in 1996.She became the most sought after woman artist in Australia. Illiterate and living in a humpy, she also became one of the nation's top money earning women.Mr Holt says he has not been approached by the Palace about giving a ringer's job to Prince William, and will not comment further. However, the Holts' chances seem enhanced by the fact that they have had several Eton boys as jackaroos in the past."We have a couple more coming next year. They do a good job," says Mr Holt.The Holts' four children are current or past students of Geelong Grammar, where Prince Charles spent a year at the Timbertop campus.
ALICE PRIZE: TRADITIONAL TO DIGITAL. Review by KIERAN FINNANE.
Artists from Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff, 230 kilometres west of Alice Springs) are on a roll: a group retrospective exhibition, Ikuntji Tjuta, is currently touring interstate; Long Tom Tjapanangka won this year's Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, and now Mitjili Napurrula has won the 30th Alice Prize.This follows Marlee Napurrula's Alice Prize win last year.Prize judge Doug Hall, Director of the Queensland Art Gallery, described the work – Watiya Tjuta, Tali Kutjarra, Uwalki  (pictured far right) – as an "inverted template".Rather than working on a white ground, over which motifs would be applied in colour – "the Western approach" – the artist has done the opposite, laying down her now characteristic tree motifs in white on a bold, dark pink ground.The paint is thinly applied, veiling another layer of motifs, perhaps an abandoned idea, perhaps a deliberate obscuring.Mr Hall praised the work for "telling an important women's story" with "simplicity, clarity and great graphic strength". Mr Hall has taken a particular interest in Ikuntji painting since an earlier visit to the Centre to judge the 1993 Alice Prize. On that occasion he snapped up a work by Daisy Napaltjarri Jugadai – " I'd never seen anything like it" – for the QAG collection, and took a trip out to the Ikuntji Women's Centre, out of which the artists have worked since 1993.Without detracting from the merit of the winning work, and the two acquisitions, Mr Hall told Saturday night's opening crowd at Araluen that it had been very difficult to pick a winner.He put his choice in the context of the resources of the prize: the winner receives $5000, a four week residency in Alice Springs with airfares; and the winning work, as well as one or two other recommended works, is normally acquired.Mr Hall said that particularly the residency has put the prize on the national visual arts calendar, and has allowed the collection which the prize has developed to become "equal to or better than that of any other regional gallery collecting over the last three decades".He said he "procrastinated for half a day" over his final choice, with a final list of ten or so works, most of them "the quietest, most understated, most intimate and by women".He ultimately recommended for acquisition two works using new technologies.In Annie Burns' untitled digital print on fabric  he responded to the "strange lyrical quality" coming out of "the hardness and rigour of a calculating new technology"."There's a romanticism to it, a sense of inquiry, they are not just computer-generated heads. She's obviously interested in portraiture, and you don't expect it to come out of a technique like this in such an interesting way. It's also slightly disconcerting, there's a slight weirdness, other world-ness to it."David Harley's Red & Green Backgrounds  are ink jet prints but have something of "the lusciousness of fluorescing crushed pastel"."They have this lovely soft tactile quality to them, the kind of air brushed zeal of someone like Howard Arkley, a really nice, intense visual charge [with] lovely little scratchy personal gestures, as well as the bleeding that you get from watercolour" – all things that "you don't expect to happen in an electronically generated image".Mr Hall said he was particularly mindful in his choices of not being seduced by technology or technique itself. Rather, he looked for the way in which artists had gone beyond "the normal seductiveness" of their medium."I'm also mindful of what's has been collected over the last 30 years. You want to keep the collection alive, progressive and relevant," he said.In this respect many viewers may regret that Pip McManus' The Poisoned Well  (pictured above right) has not been acquired. It was on Mr Hall's final list but was perhaps excluded by its price ($10,000).The work is made up of numerous ceramic hands, raised in what seems to be a reference to the Buddhist symbol of enlightenment. They are assembled in the shape of an eye, their surface a lustrous, dark green, and bearing the imprint of leaves from many different plant species.The title of the work is expanded in a sentence inscribed on the hands in the lower left corner of the "eye": "History is the poisoned well seeping into the groundwater."There is another sentence in the upper right corner: "A forest shares a history which each tree remembers even after it has been felled."A booklet accompanies the installation. It has 100 pages, one for each year of this century, each recording estimated numbers of people killed in acts of war, colonisation and political terror – acts that can be interpreted as genocide. It starts in 1900 with the 220,000 to 270,000 Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders killed since 1778, and ends in 1999 with the 200,000 East Timorese killed since Indonesia invaded their country in 1975. In the intervening years there are acts of genocide, from the most infamous to the little known, to fill every page. The references to the natural world – the motifs of leaves, the forest, both literal and metaphoric – connects the devastation wrought by war and terror on many natural environments to the devastation of their peoples.The whole work has the gravity of a memorial, the quiet clarity and beauty of a prayer or meditation, as well as the potency of the best political art.Mr Hall commented: "It's a really good work. Instead of being belted over the head with some kind of preachy didactic, [McManus] does it in a really quiet, understated but engaging way."I like the idea of being able to have the profundity expressed through the book sitting with a single image."Mr Hall also paid tribute to the work's formal qualities: "Technically it's just so well done, very accomplished but not slick." Other works he particularly appreciated were Anita Elliott's Perpetual Cycle  – "so subtle, so discreet ... a sort of feminised conceptualism" – and Nyukana Baker's Minyma Malilanya  – "a fabulous design" with "a lovely crispness and clarity" in the print-making.By way of general comment, Mr Hall said he was interested in "art that poses more questions than can be answered". He said, "There's no point in artists painting pictures that you stand in front of, see this, read that – what's the point? There is no point."He also said: "There are very few works in the show that are purely cerebral, art for art's sake. There are narratives and subjects with a lot of emotional attitudes and moods."That's interesting because at the moment in Australian art there is an endless repetition and revisiting of conceptualism, minimalism, a lot of young artists visiting the generation who immediately preceded them. "They are doing it in a slightly different way – instead of the aloofness, coolness that you got through conceptualism and minimalism, they are imbuing it with a sense of the personal."Billy Thomas's work, Wardruddi Rockhole , prompted this comment:"It's interesting because we are finding a much more painterley aspect coming in [to Aboriginal art], a manipulation, a kind of blurring that takes place, and in some cases even a narrative with specific animals and other elements that will appear. "Instead of that rather regimented rigour that we saw [in earlier work] about the way in which to tell a story, there's a quite inspired, almost unconscious informality, as though stories are mutating into a different kind of visual experience."It's lovely to see those shifts taking place."I think it's really interesting that as remote as many of the artists might be in terms of where they live and practise, they are now seen as an inseparable part of the recent history of Australian art, and the way in which they might have adapted and responded to that, is a really important question."
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