December 1, 1999


"One thing were thinking about doing is wed like to stop them, shut the gate, and have our own buses on the inside, run by Anangu."The "gate" is the entrance to Australia's best known national park where Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) rise out of the seemingly endless Central Australian country of red sand dunes, yellow spinifex and ancient desert oaks."They" is the nearly half a million tourists a year, 63 per cent from overseas, who emerge each morning from the booming and luxurious Ayers Rock Resort to marvel at, walk around, photograph or climb The Rock.And the "Anangu" - the local word for Aborigines - are the people of the Mutitjulu community, at the base of the monolith, and others in The Centre with traditional affiliations to Uluru, who are becoming increasingly assertive about getting a bigger slice of the rapidly growing tourism cake.Their timing is acute as the world is about to focus on Uluru as the starting point in Australia mid next year for the Olympic Torch relay.Alex Forrester and Graeme Calma would be the first to admit that "shutting the gate" would be an act of last resort. But it's clearly a bargaining chip: "This is something we've spoken about a few times, in the Central Land Council," says Mr Calma, who is the powerful council's executive member for the region.Mr Forrester is a Yankunytjatjara man. His traditional land is between the resort and Kata Tjuta, and he serves on the Mutitjulu council. His sister, Mr Calma's mother, was "stolen" by the authorities. Mr Calma got a "white" education in Darwin and is now back as the works supervisor at Mutitjulu.That there isn't much work going on there weighs heavily on his mind: the unemployment rate stands at 95 per cent while at the resort, set up on a 104 square kilometre freehold block adjoining the park, nearly 1000 people from all parts of the nation are employed.The absurdities don't stop there: since Bob Hawke's "hand back" of the park to its Aboriginal traditional owners in the 1988 bicentennial year, the people who own the nation's greatest tourism magnet get the least out of it.A three day park ticket costs $15. The traditional owners TOs in Territory parlance receive a quarter of that, namely $3.75.At the same time, a guest of the resort for three days would get no change out of $600, with daily rates ranging from $12 a head for a camp site to $650 for a suite in the five star Sails of the Desert.This revenue goes to the resort owners, Ayers Rock Management, which is part of General Property Trust (GPT), which has assets of $4.5 billion.PRIVILEGEFor the privilege of being based at the resort, which is outside the park, tourism operators pay the resort company a commission of around 15 per cent of their turnover, plus rent for commercial and residential spaces.To operate inside the park they pay a license fee of just $50 a year.Only a fraction of that goes to the traditional owners.Says Mr Forrester: "We're getting a raw deal."They are giving our culture away and we're getting nothing in return."You can't give culture away for free. And that's what they're doing. They're really benefiting from our culture."The lion's share of the park fees goes to the Commonwealth service, Parks Australia, which holds the 99 year lease over the park and manages the attraction.Meanwhile alcoholism, petrol sniffing and violent crime at Mutitjulu are at high levels, despite opportunities that must be the envy of Aborigines anywhere else in Australia.Although the Aborigines have a majority of two on the parks management board, this clearly doesn't translate into control.Says Mr Forrester: "They handed the park back to the Aborigines but the Aborigines have nothing to say. "Canberra still owns it. All them rangers run the place, not the Aborigines."Adds Mr Calma: "Yeah, we've gone back in time."The Board of Management, they should have been a lot stronger in the early days."We seem to be cleaning their mess up now."David White, resort general manager, says a push to raise the TOs' share of the gate takings from 25 to 50 per cent "is an issue between Parks Australia and the Mutitjulu Community and the traditional owners".Mr White says the resort and the Tourism Consultative Committee think that the $50 annual license fee for commercial operators in the park should be raised.Says Mr White: "The figure being proposed is about $500."Certainly it should be similar to Kakadu which I understand is around that figure."That money is handled by Parks Australia North under the lease. We can't change that."This appears to be where the biggest money line issue is, do TOs get 25 or 50 per cent, should they be getting infrastructure maintained, and so on."Mr Calma and Mr Forrester say that Parks, which currently provides electricity, water and sewerage to Mutitjulu, has pointed out that a portion of the gate fees are being used for providing these essential services. They appeared to question whether a greater slice of the gate fees for the community would put in jeopardy this arrangement.The TOs' majority on the board is of little help: "There's problems within the board, because the white board members are going against the wishes of the traditional owners."Maybe you've got the wrong people on the board. "Maybe they're asking the wrong questions."It's just a headache at times," say Mr Calma and Mr Forrester.They're adamant that employment at the resort needs to become broadly available: "There's a bit of a wall there, it's been there for a while, we need to knock that wall down."JOBREADINESSThe community now has a steering committee to formulate major employment strategies, seeking Federal funding for a three year "job readiness" program.Mr Forrester and Mr Calma accuse the resort of reluctance to offer jobs: "They say we're not job ready. "They say we're unreliable, we don't turn up, when they haven't really tried us."They are quick to criticise us," they say."You see a lot of people gardening there. Aboriginal people can do that."Yet Mr Calma and Mr Forrester admit that they don't know "anyone who actually went there and asked for work."Mr White says he speaks with the community regularly, goes to meetings there about every three weeks, and employment is a major discussion point.He says: "I'd love to be able to employ the local Aboriginal people. "That would be fantastic if we could get more of the community working here."However, he says for "certain positions in the resort, they need to be job ready"."For certain tasks and positions they need to have literacy and numeracy skills. They have got to have dialogue with the guests. "They've got to understand room numbers and guests' names, read chemical labels.SAFETY"The safety of the employees and the guests is important, and the level of service to the guests must be of a high standard," says Mr White."If there are people who're job ready right now, send them in."I'm happy to go to Mutitjulu, take my human resources staff along, interview the people, assess their skills and see if we can find suitable positions in the resort."But once they start work they, like anybody, have a responsibility to do the job."We've had Aboriginal people working here."I can give specific examples of people who've worked here, where they were supposed to turn up at eight o'clock. "It's very important that you turn up at eight o'clock, if you need to pull down 100 bags or wash 5000 towels."If you don't turn up it's going to affect a number of other staff and at the end of the chain, the guest."So, come eight o'clock, Joe isn't here. What do we do? "Joe either comes in at nine, or Joe doesn't turn up."He turns up the next day. Where have you been, Joe?"I forgot. I can go through numerous examples where that happened."Despite the wealth of Aboriginal culture at Uluru, Mr White says Aboriginal dance troupes hired by the resort in the past were from interstate."The local traditional owners do Inma [ceremony] but they don't do Inma every night."If you take a job you have to take the responsibility that goes with the job.DELIVERING"If you want customers to come to you, your enterprise, you've got to deliver the goods."Every time you schedule an itinerary you've got to turn up."On the other hand, the Mutitjulu community is extremely strong in arts and crafts, as indicated by the growth and success of their business enterprises in the area."Mr White says his company, Ayers Rock Resort Management Pty Ltd (ARRM), has a clear policy about development of Aboriginal participation in the industry: in the short term it is promoting the handful of small Aboriginal owned and operated touring and arts enterprises.COLLEGEAnd on the long term strategies ARRM has put its money where its mouth is by providing land for an Aboriginal-owned secondary college and about $300,000 for initial start-up costs, buildings and hardware (see report in this edition).Mr White says there's little point in "trying to develop employment for Aborigines and integrate them into what we do, for which they may not have a desire: the Aboriginal people may not want to be a waiter, a cleaner, or carry bags."Our strategy thus far has been quite strong and positive, and I think we should continue in that way, and that is developing and supporting their touring products, the educational process and their business infrastructures, such as Maraku Arts and Crafts and Anangu Tours, for example, buying their products."Over three years, the resort has invested more than $1m in Aboriginal ventures."While we may not be employing Aborigines direct, there is employment being gained by us purchasing and promoting their products, and making these Aboriginal enterprises stronger."I see that as a much sounder policy to get the ball rolling straight away."We do come in for some unfair criticism. "People say, where are all the Aboriginal people who work here?"But lots of the Aboriginal people don't have a desire to work here, because they feel uncomfortable, or they'd much rather be doing their craft or their art or talking about Uluru or their tjukurrpa (dreamings), and not carrying bags eight hours a day or digging a hole."Mr White sees this as a "positive" way of dealing with the volatile and complex realities in The Centre.He says he's just reached an agreement with Mutitjulu about an issue that had sparked nation wide allegations of racism. A pool was built for the use of resort staff and residents, excluding tourists, who had their hotel pools.A Mutitjulu resident cried foul, saying the money for the pool was from cash reserves of the town council, dissolved when the resort was sold.However, a condition for using the money was that the resort agreed to take care of the ongoing maintenance and running costs, estimated at $130,000 a year.The storm in the pool was resolved, says Mr White, "through a series of meetings and mutual agreement which satisfies all parties".ENJOYMENTSays Mr White: "The privacy and the quiet enjoyment of the 1100 people who live here is important to us, as is the privacy and quiet enjoyment for the Mutitjulu residents out at Mutitjulu."There is a mutual respect for this."While this has brought the resort and the Mutitjulu community a little closer, a vast gulf remains.The resort has its rules, and the community has a permit system regulating access, threatening penalties of up to six months jail and a $1000 fine for offenders. At least for the time being, people are keeping their distance in the shadow of Uluru.


MLA for MacDonnell John Elferink says the Territory Government should buy Owen Springs cattle station.He says it is expected to come on the market following the death earlier this year of its lessee, Lizzy Milnes, a member of the Hayes pastoral family. A purchase would be "better than compulsory acquisition".Mr Elferink says Lands Minister Tim Baldwin "has taken on board what I had to say" but has not yet made a commitment. The 3652 square kilometre station straddles the Stuart Highway south of Alice Springs, and the Larapinta Drive and Glen Helen Road to the west.It also includes an area around Ellery Big Hole, in the Western MacDonnell Ranges, currently blocking the construction of the Larapinta walking trail.Mr Elferink says the purchase price would need to be governed by ruling market values. The land could be used for the future expansion of the town, and a range of other purposes, including 100 acre hobby farms, commercial and experimental horticulture, and bush camping tours.Primary production enterprises would get a shot in the arm from the proposed Alice to Darwin railway, expected to reduce the freight costs for containers from $2000 to $700, says Mr Elferink."We can allow Alice Springs to become a mere railway stop or we can grasp the nettle with both hands, as Darwin did after Cyclone Tracy, to turn the opportunities offered by the railway into something significant. History has shown time and again that towns along major trade routes do very well."There appear to be two good sources of ground water on Owen Springs, neither of them affecting the present town water supply. Sections of the land could be used by interests attached to the Desert Knowledge Consortium, launched two weeks ago under the auspices of the Centre for Appropriate Technology.Mr Elferink says there is a good case for extend the town's electricity grid south as far as Orange Creek and Jim's Place roadhouse, 90 km down the Stuart Highway, where a camel tourism enterprise and a lucerne plantation are also established.Use of Owen Springs for purposes other than pastoralism would require an agreement with Aboriginal native title claimants.Mr Elferink says at present there are, nation wide, 11,000 applications before the Native Title Tribunal, which to date has resolved just 50 applications. Private negotiations have settled 450 applications.


Sir,- The two and a half years that I lived in the Alice represent some of the most exciting and enjoyable years of my life. I have many fond memories of the friends, food, and sites that I left behind when I returned to the United States. I was assigned to Detachment 421, known locally as "The Det", back in October of 1987. I flew into town with virtually no information about Alice Springs. Sure, I had read all about this cattle town in the middle of the outback and seen the pictures, but the materials that I was reading dated back to 1977 and 1967 respectively! Since I had just spent the last eight months on US Air Force installations in the States, the idea of being transferred to a remote detachment, where you don't even wear uniforms seemed exciting and full of mystery. The assignment description said that I would have to "live off the local economy" and buy and cook my own food, and I relished the opportunity. Would I have to buy myself a washer? Rent an apartment? Every picture seemed to show a bright red, dirt road: based on this information, I sold my Chevy Camaro, thinking that everyone in the Alice must surely use four-wheel drive! When I got off the airplane at the Alice Springs Airport, I was met by most of the whole detachment: Colonel David Ebersole, Harold Hughes, Dan Thompson, and Ray Baney, just to name a few. Detachment 421, located just across the street from the RSL club, is also known amongst the Australian government as the Joint Geological and Geophysical Research Station. This seismic station is a joint venture between the United States and Australia, and the data from the seismic array located just north east of Alice Springs is sent real-time via satellite to both Canberra, and to Cocoa Beach, Florida. The primary mission was the detection of underground nuclear explosions. Countries like Pakistan and India, France, and Russia all were either testing actively, or were suspected by the international community of having the capability for testing. The Australian Bureau of Mineral Resources (BMR) had a small office that used their seismic stations for the detection of underground nuclear tests, as did the Americans. The US government assigned the mission of detecting these explosions to the US Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC). AFTAC has the charge of monitoring safeguard "D" of the 1963 limited test ban treaty. Countries like the USA, USSR, France, UK, and others all signed this treaty that basically states that they will never detonate a nuclear test in space, under water, or in the air. AFTAC monitors the planet to watch for any nuclear explosions in order to see if any of the cooperating countries violate the treaty. Australia did the same thing through the BMR, through its own seismic stations as well as JGGRS in Alice Springs. The Det was established in Alice Springs in 1955, and US personnel assigned there have always been encouraged to take a positive and active role in the community. My job was that of station operator. I was one of the team members that actually studied the seismographic data. I analyzed the data and catalogued the earthquakes. Alice Springs sits atop a large, rocky plate that is very stable. As such, it is a nice place to put a seismic station for the purposes of studying regional seismic events. The station can pick up earthquakes from all over the world. About once every 15 minutes or so, a small earthquake would emanate from the Fiji island area. Well over 99 per cent of all small earthquakes occur deep enough in the earth that no one ever feels them. Yet, sometimes these earthquakes occur near the surface, and people feel them. Back in early 1988, an earthquake occurred abut 25 km southwest of Tennant Creek. We were sitting around the Det when it hit. A low, swaying sensation went through the building and our sensors went mad. Seismometers are designed to pick up minute ground motion generated by earthquakes from the other side of the world, not by earthquakes that are essentially in your back yard. It is somewhat akin to shouting into your doctor's stethoscope! Thus, our station was absolutely swamped by the seismic waves. Most of us were in the back of the recreational center, and as soon as we realized that an earthquake had passed through, we headed to the office. When you are logging an earthquake series, you become very busy indeed. Later on in the month, I took a trip with the pastor of the Alice Springs Lutheran Church to Tennant Creek. Pastor Peter Thamm had a parish that spread across most of the Territory. Since I was then attending the Lutheran Church, I tagged along and met some of his parishioners. We stopped by the seismic fault line on the way back and saw where the quake had kinked up a high-pressure natural gas line. It's a wonder and a credit to the welders and engineers that the line did not explode! Gas workers dug up the line, and painstakingly placed it on sand bags so that any subsequent aftershocks wouldn't cause additional damage. Then, there was that flood. I've only seen rain like that once before: eight or nine inches in 24 hours. Nearly an entire season's worth of rain for the Alice. When I looked out my window in the morning, I could see the Charles River cresting the banks and creeping onto the detachment grounds. When the water reached our staff house a couple of hours later, I decided it was time to move the motorcycle and the car. Well, I put the car, a white 1970 Ford Fairlane, up behind the RSL: since I didn't want to inconvenience anyone, I moved it off the bitumen and onto the dirt. That was a mistake. That red dirt had turned to quicksand, and the car sunk practically to the floorboards! Oh well. At least it'd stay put that way. The Charles and Todd rivers became a raging torrent and they crested at the same time. Our detachment was at ground zero, where the two rivers meet. The river carried away anything that was not lashed down. It destroyed the fence, and deposited half a meter of sand on top of the lawn in places. It was quite an adventure, I must say. Our staff house was filled with water, but the overall damage was minimal. When the flood was finished, there were many people a lot worse off than us. Something that I really cherished about Alice Springs was the sense of freedom: I used to lash a blanket and a bottle of water to the motorcycle, and just drive out of town, usually at night. We'd drive 15, 20 miles or so, turn left, and drive out into the bush. We'd lay down the blanket, and look up at the stars. One of my most favorite places to go at night were the rock carvings south of town. There was this claypan to the north of the rock carvings, and late at night, the moon would shine off the dried clay as if it were covered with water. You could listen for hours and not hear, nor see, any other sign of human activity. It was like being in your own private world. The 10,000 year old carvings added a sense of mystery to the site, and the stars above gave you a sense of space. I'd lay the blanket either on the claypan surface, or at the base of the rock. I would lay on the blanket, wide awake at 2am, and stare at the stars. The stars in the southern hemisphere are most striking. There is nothing that parallels it in the northern hemisphere, except maybe the northern lights. Once in a while you could even see a satellite go whizzing by. That would be about the only sign of mankind I would see when out there. It was very peaceful, and I have never experienced anything like it since. These are just some of my memories of the Alice. I hope some day that I can return with my family and share these experiences with them.
Daniel Burk Haslett,
Michigan, USA


Like most of their peers in bush communities, students at the Yulara-based Nyangat-jatjara Secondary College, have reached adolescence with literacy and numeracy still at lower primary school level. Of the 70 odd students at the college, from 11 to 17 years of age, not one is yet able to undertake mainstream study for the Northern Territory's Junior Secondary Studies Certificate.Before the college was established, there was little opportunity for these students to improve their education. Their low literacy levels ruled out correspondence courses, and the majority did not want to leave home to attend boarding school in Alice Springs or even further afield.Former Labor Senator and Cabinet member Bob Collins, in his recently released review of Indigenous schooling in the NT, described a government "policy vacuum" on the provision of remote area compulsory school-age secondary education.The Territory's only area schools at Batchelor, Jabiru and Alyangula, all in the Top End have been developed and staffed to meet the needs of a predominantly non-Indigenous student group, according to the review.In this context, the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation (NAC), responding to the wishes of families from Mutitjulu, at the foot of Uluru (Ayers Rock), and from Imanpa, off the Lasseter Highway, near the Mt Ebenezer roadhouse, took matters into their own hands to develop the college (see Alice News, Oct 13, 1999). They opened a makeshift residential campus at Yulara in July 1997, with "home" campuses in Mutitjulu and Imanpa. By next year Docker River, close to the Western Australian border, will also have a home campus.Separation of boys and girls is a key demand from parents. Thus, while girls are in residence for a month at a time at Yulara, boys attend their home campus, and vice versa. With the college now into its third year, principal John Amadio says student attendance is generally around 60 per cent, but can drop to very low levels.This is due to the mobility of the students' families, and to the demands of their cultural obligations, as well as to many of the parents' poor understanding of what schooling requires."Most of the parents want their children to be educated, but they don't necessarily understand that this means the students coming all day, every day, for years," he says.Boarding has been hard for some students, but extra "exit" weekends have helped them overcome their homesickness.Poor health, inadequate housing and substance abuse on the communities also all affect attendance and the way the students learn. But, says Mr Amadio, while it is important to recognise the problems, it is also important not to see them as insurmountable.He hopes improved facilities planned for the Yulara campus will lift attendance, although they are a year behind schedule, and still not fully funded.He says conditions at Yulara are very cramped, and recreation options on site are scant. The students can use facilities at the Ayers Rock Resort, but that makes for a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.The limited facilities also restrict opportunities for parental involvement in the school. There are only four toilets and four showers, so a parent-teacher evening on campus, which would mean accommodating many of the families overnight, has not been possible.The college has an all-Aboriginal board of management, which has stipulated two main aims for the educational program: to get students to the stage where they can undertake mainstream secondary studies to a senior level, and to prepare them for entry into the workforce.The proximity of the Ayers Rock Resort offers the students opportunities not available to many other bush communities, says Mr Amadio.In the last term the college has trialled a work program for some of the older students. They were to undertake paid work in Mutitjulu three mornings a week, were expected to attend TAFE for further job training, and school to improve their literacy and numeracy.The program worked for a couple of students but on the whole was not a great success: "We need to review it," says Mr Amadio."While there are some exceptions, most of the students have a lot of difficulty in articulating what they want for the future."We are trying to get them to build on commitments and see consequences, but in doing this we are finding our way. We are constantly trying to tailor learning to their social context, to make it as relevant to their lives as possible."Mr Amadio says most students want to see an immediate benefit for their efforts. Learning to drive and getting their licence offers one such opportunity for older students."We hone in on the driver's test to build their literacy," says Mr Amadio. "But it's not possible to make everything entertaining. At the end of the day there are some things that the students just have to sit down and learn, and that's what we are working towards."Meanwhile, in Alice Springs Bob Collins will address an Indigenous Education Forum at Yipirinya School, being held to coincide with the school's Open Day next Wednesday, December 8.The forum will also hear about "good practice" in Indigenous education from the Irrker-lantye Learning Centre and Yipirinya, and about a number of other projects and proposals. Enquiries to Yipirinya on 89525633.


While heart disease is the number one killer for all Australians, its incidence shows up 20 years sooner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."For Aboriginal people in the 24-35 year age group, the incidence of heart disease is 13 to 18 times higher than the national rate,'' says Pat Field, director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs for the National Heart Foundation.The reasons are probably a combination of a number of health risk factors, including hereditary tendency, smoking, a diet high in saturated fats which comes with eating a lot of fast food, and physical inactivity."In the Aboriginal population there is still a lot of oppression and depression. "People lack power and control. "This all comes together to paint a poor picture of health," says Ms Field.Dr John Wakerman of the Centre for Remote Health agrees that social factors play a role. "People who have a stable work environment feel that they have some control over their health," Dr Wakerman says."But those in rural, remote areas often feel they do not."Such things as the availability of fresh foods and the affordability of that food when it is available, access to health care services and health education are also factors."Increasingly we are concerned with social and economic factors and their effects on heath."People who feel disempowered and disadvantaged have a higher rate of cardiovascular disease."Ms Field and Dr Wakerman were among some 35 delegates from around Australia who attended a national research workshop on heart disease held in Alice Springs recently.A collaborative effort by the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Centre for Remote Health with support from the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), the workshop aimed to identify critical gaps in knowledge of heart disease in rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.According to Dr Wakerman, this workshop was different because it brought researchers, health service providers, community people and policy makers together in order to identify and agree on priority areas for research."We want action to come out of this workshop, not just more talk," says Dr Wakerman.Ms Field says action is important as many Aboriginal people have told her they are "sick of going to funerals"."Many people die of undetected heart disease," Ms Field says."We don't know if it is because they haven't gone to health centres or they have gone to health centres and their condition was not diagnosed."Ms Field said she is unaware of any follow-through on people who have had a family member die of heart disease.LINKS"We need to link in with people and talk to families," Ms Field says."We need to talk not only about the management of disease but also do some screening."We need to extend out a little and to make sure people have access to the right information."Ms Field says language is a factor but that materials have been developed which are appropriate, including a heart health video and specific information on rehabilitation."But we need to think of other material and to work with Aboriginal people," says Ms Field."We also need to focus across the spectrum of chronic disease as many of the risk factors for heart disease are the same for kidney disease and diabetes."Academic researchers need to work together rather than each going off and doing their own thing."

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