May 10, 2000


Beef producers must provide high and consistent quality to succeed in today's domestic and international markets, according to Lachlan Bowtell, Meat and Livestock Australia's national operations manager."Your jar of Vegemite is always the same," he says, and the consumer of meat is looking for the same assurances.Central Australian producers would benefit from forming partnerships with meat works, wholesalers and retailers, controlling processes all the way along the chain, and resulting in "brands" or "labels" that guarantee the buyer set standards."Reputation builds premiums," he says.Mr Bowtell says Meat Standards Australia (MSA) – now already operating in Queensland, Western Australia and Sydney – licenses producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers.The industry is planning to expand MSA Australia-wide. He says growers in The Centre are facing difficulties because of fluctuating rainfall and and inconsistent feed supply for the cattle grazing over vast areas.The quality of meat can be affected by stress caused to animals foraging on poor pastures and a "random diet", making the meat tough.Poor mustering, transport and slaughtering methods can cause further deterioration.At present much of the meat produced in The Centre is sold as low grade industrial meat for hamburgers to Australian and overseas fast food chains, while the majority of the table meat consumed in Central Australia is brought in from interstate.However, Mr Bowtell says a massive 30 per cent of the Australian beef trade is in mince, and as its tenderness is not at issue, local growers have significant sales opportunities so long as fat content and flavour are appropriate.And promoting "locally grown product" and "regional cuisine" to residents as well as tourists is still "a huge market relatively untapped," says Mr Bowtell.He is in Central Australia this week to promote cheaper cuts of meat to local chefs in a bid to maximise the use of cattle and sheep carcasses.Scott Blackham, of Adelaide's Turners Butchers, which is supporting the marketing drive in Alice Springs and Ayers Rock, says his firm is buying Australia-wide but along strict guidelines of the animal's age, size, fat content, the colour of the meat and the fat, as well as butchering and packing standards.The firm, nearly 100 years old and employing about 60, is a major supplier to the hotels, restaurant and catering industry in Central Australia.Australians were eating 39.6 kg of beef and veal in 1997 – a steady increase since 1992 – but per capita consumption dropped to 38.4 kg in 1998. Mr Bowtell says: "People now eat less meat. 250 gram steaks in 1985 are now down to 180 or 200 grams."There's only 80 to 100 grams of meat in a stir fry."The grower-funded MLA says the Northern Territory was running 1.5 million head in 1999, up from 1.3 million in 1995 with a peak of 1.6 million both in 1997 and 1998. (Queensland has the biggest herd, with more than 10 million head, and Australia has a total of 25.8 million head.)The domestic market is worth $2.5b a year, and export, $3b.In 1999 the NT produced 11,300 tonnes of beef and veal, of which 5925 tonnes – more than half – was exported overseas, a drop from 6604 tonnes the year before.According to the NT Government's Alice in Ten discussion paper, in Central Australia the pastoral industry earned $17m in 1996-97, compared to $287m for tourism and $241m for mining.

OUR PAST WE PASS. JANE LEONARD surveys the Old Alice.

The recent Heritage Week opened my eyes to the many National Trust Heritage buildings around Alice Springs, usually quite unnoticed although they are dotted between the shops and businesses that I regularly visit.It seems it's quite possible to live here for years without ever being aware of these historic treasures or the insight they offer into the history of the town since white settlement. These sites are cheap to visit, ranging from free to a couple of dollars. You can take in the best of what they have to offer during a shopping trip or lunch hour, and you can always go back for more at some other time. Last week I visited a couple of these places in the Central Business District. The first was the old Stuart Town Gaol, where I was fascinated, not only by the building, but by the National Trust volunteer on duty, Bill Sullivan. Tucked in between the Law Courts and the Police Station in Parsons Street, the old Stuart Town Gaol is a small, almost quaint stone building. As I go through the old iron door to what was once the smaller of the two cells that make up the building – the one for white prisoners – Bill Sullivan greets me from behind a desk. In a town so full of transient residents it is always a bonus to meet someone who has been here for a long time.Bill not only provides a wealth of knowledge about the gaol but also about the town where he has lived for about 50 of his 75 years, arriving in 1927 as a four year old with his parents who worked on the construction of the railway from the south. On the notice boards to the side of this small cell, Bill points out various buildings in photos of the sparse early Alice Springs. There's a mischievous glint in his eyes when he talks about the old Buff Dance Hall where he used to go dancing. While we're there, an older Aboriginal man pops his head in the door, surveys the scene, and nodding, comments: "Thirties, forties, this my home." He mimes handcuffed wrists and laughs. Surprising both the man and myself, Bill proceeds to chat to him in an Aboriginal language. After the man goes on his way, Bill admits modestly that he can speak both Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara, which he picked up as a child with his parents on the railway and during his droving days after he left school when he worked for his brother, bringing cattle from Roper River to Mount Dare near the southern border.After a few more anecdotes about life in early Alice and the gaol, Bill directs me around the back to the larger cell, the one that was used for Aboriginal prisoners, where there is a display about the history of the gaol and the police force of the Northern Territory. On the way around I pass a huge mural depicting police in action over the years. I'm not sure whether it's the colour – a general sepia except for the stark white of a modern day police vehicle – or the subject matter – police supervising lines and chain gangs of Aboriginal people – but I find it a rather disturbing picture. To get to the main display I go through a depressing stone exercise yard and another old iron door which has something like axe marks in the metal. Though some of the material in the display is small and difficult to read, I find it worth taking the time to examine it. Some of the faded photos and typed captions are shocking: one small snap shows two men smiling with a skeleton in between them. Another shows several men digging next to the caption: "Securing the heads of two unidentified murder victims in desert".I read some fairly gruesome stories in the Finke Police Station Day Journal of December 1957 which follows day by day the search for a woman, her daughter and friend and the eventual discovery of their bodies some way from where they were last seen at Glen Helen. On a cheerier note I read old newspaper articles like the Darwin Sun's story "Humps of History - A Camel Cop Remembers" about policeman Bill McKinnon, also a childhood friend of Bill's. Perhaps it is our convict and bushranger history that makes Australians so interested in gaols as tourist destinations, but you often forget to ponder what actually went on there. On a cold day like the one on which I first visit, the dankness is almost overwhelming. I stand alone in the musty, claustrophobic back cell which was the town gaol from 1909 to 1938, and despite the displays and pictures, I feel very uncomfortable. As I wander around the room I have to be careful not to trip on the ominous iron rings cemented into the floor. (Notes on the wall claim there is no record of them ever being used.) I think about the gaols that are still functioning, and that in their own modern ways can be as brutal and barbaric as those from our past. I take a moment to think of a close friend of mine in gaol down south, and the irony of paying to visit such a place. On the way out I ask Bill how he got into volunteering and he tells me it was after a visit to The Old Hartley Street School, another National Trust building, where he spotted his photo as one of the first students, in the back row of an old class photo on display: "Best lookin' kid in the school." After talking with the National Trust officer there, Bev Ayres, he began volunteering work for both the gaol and the school. "Funny me happy to spend time there now," he says. "Couldn't get further enough away from the place as a kid." Bill has now been working as a volunteer for six to seven years, and during Heritage Week was presented with a Heritage Award Certificate from The National Trust for his efforts. These awards acknowledge "the significant contribution of people who have dedicated their time in presenting and preserving the history of Central Australia." A talk at the gaol with Bill certainly does that, and in an accessible and interesting way.NEXT: The Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame.


A commitment to financial restraint and sound long term financial management must underlie any fiscal policy by the town council, with rates being linked to cost of living increases (CPI) or alternatively to reflect real cost increases in council operations.Alice Springs ratepayers are already in the top bracket when it comes to paying rates, averaging over $1,000 annually. The ratepayer can't be expected to meet the brunt of the burden.In 1999-2000 the council has budgeted to raise $8,382,081 in rates of a total budget of $14,972,718. Rate contributions represent 56 per cent of the total budget.While council's total budget has increased marginally by only 7.4 per cent from 1994 to 2000, rate revenue has increased cumulatively by 45.6 per cent. The number of rateable properties has increased by approximately 10 per cent over this period.Council must work harder at attracting other funding to improve its cash flow, it can't simply rely on increasing rates to sustain its expenditure levels.While rates have been increasing, grant funding has gradually been declining with an 18.5 per cent drop over the past six years. Council needs to give a greater priority to seeking out Territory and Commonwealth funding opportunities.Council needs to work harder at developing stronger links and partnerships with the NT and Commonwealth governments. Council certainly is in no position at this time to undertake new loan borrowings as an alternative source of funding, especially significant loan amounts as would be required for a new civic centre.To service any sizable debt the council would need a definite sustained upturn in economic growth. For significant council infrastructure development in the town, it would need growth rates similar to those of the late ‘eighties.Council would be wise to maintain its current strategy of working towards being debt free by the year 2002-03.Certainly the building of a $12m to $15m new civic centre is simply unaffordable. A $6m loan for example would incur annual repayments of at least $562,000 for 20 years, an eventual cost of near $12m. It's a big financial commitment from a small budget and it equates to a large percentage of council's capital development funding.Certainly ratepayers have to be confident they are receiving value for money and that council has a focus in the first instance on providing excellence in the core services areas.Council has been criticised recently for an over reliance on expensive interstate consultants. Some criticism is certainly warranted. However having said that, council has quickly become well placed on a range of issues from town planning, drainage and waste management to implement development plans and seek external funding from an informed position.The town's previous growth has been stimulated in the past by a strengthening of industry such as defence, construction, and development of Alice Springs as a service centre for Central Australia. Economic development in 1999-00 has certainly plateaued. For the economy to pick up and be buoyant it needs immediate stimulation through new initiatives and enterprises.As a facilitator and planner, through its economic advisory committee and its planning committee and section, council can certainly play an increased role by bringing the town together with a view to looking at long term planning.Council can be pro-active in stimulating economic discussion, promoting innovation, arid zone research and local industry, providing incentives for small business and working towards facilitating projects that will promote economic development within the town.A railway development advisory committee should be established immediately to look at the full potential of the Adelaide to Darwin railway. With all sectors of industry and the town working together we should be able to ensure that Alice Springs benefits to the fullest from the railway extension in the longer term.Certainly Darwin will become the railway freight head with huge potential through its harbour developments.Palmerston is now mooted as the passenger terminus. Katherine and Tennant Creek have new industries being brought to their towns to service the rail development.Alice Springs also is likely to benefit to a degree in the short term from the railway development. However in the town's best interest we need to focus on the longer term. Can we benefit by being directly linked to Asia? Is there the opportunity for a large transport precinct to be developed south of Alice? These are two questions that need exploring.A vibrant small business economy is essential for Alice to have a healthy economy. Too many small businesses have been leaving of late or are contemplating leaving; this trend must be reversed.There is a lot of room for development in regional tourism. With the development of a strategic approach, partnerships being formed and a commitment to growth by the industry it's not unrealistic to suggest millions of dollars would flow into the Central Australian economy.Similar potential exists within the arts and culture industry. I wonder how many are aware that the arts and culture industry is worth well over $8b annually?Alice Springs should be being promoted as one of "the" art capitals of the world.Likewise enormous potential exists in horticulture and arid zone knowledge industries.The town council in partnership has the ability to stimulate discussion around sustainable economic growth and can even offer small incentives.However, it is the Northern Territory Government that this community must look to for immediate and significant financial assistance to stimulate growth.Alice Springs needs at the very least a $30m injection of capital development funds from the next NT Government budget. With growth rates of less than one per cent, when the other major Top End Territory centres have growth rates of 10 to 12 per cent, small business and the construction industry are hurting.The conference centre, completion of the last stages of the Desert Park, the realisation of the proposed hospital developments, headworks for future new residential and rural development, the promotion of industrial development at Brewer Estate, and a real commitment to the Alice in Ten projects all need to be progressed now.With a healthy buoyant economy the burden on ratepayers will be lessened and in time Alice Springs Town Council will be in a position to borrow to develop major infrastructure for the community.


Almost weekly the Alice Springs News does battle with the "no comment" culture now deeply entrenched in the Northern Territory.The recent airing of conflict and criticism within the Alice Springs Town Council has gone some way to breaking with that culture, and has not had the dire consequences predicted: mayoral and aldermanic candidates have not been frightened off. Indeed, their campaigns for election at the end of this month have probably benefited from a greater than usual interest in local government issues stimulated by the controversy.Senior council staff took the criticism on the chin; elected members leapt to their defence; the public wrote letters to the Alice News; democracy was in action.By contrast, former town clerk Allan McGill, all the way from Darwin, had his lawyer fire off a letter to us, uttering threats because we quoted a current alderman as saying that there were "a lot of things left up in the air" by the former council administration.Politicians, government departments and many organisations could well take a leaf out of the current administration's book. The habitual refusal by figures in the NT Government and some Aboriginal organisations to divulge information about their publicly funded activities is not confined to probing journalists.A recently completed report on mandatory sentencing in the Northern Territory reveals how two prominent academics were stalled at every turn by NT bureaucrats when they attempted to develop an "Offender and offence profile" for their document. One of them, Associate Professor George Zdenkowski of the Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, has a national and international reputation as a sentencing expert. The other, Dr Dianne Johnson, is an anthropologist, with extensive experience working as an advocate for young people, most recently as an official advocate for NSW State Wards, appointed by the relevant Minister.The authors apologise for the truncated form of the particular section of their comprehensive report.They were trying to develop a detailed understanding of:-
• the number, age, race, gender and geographical location of those persons convicted of mandatory offences;
• the profile of first, second and third "strike" offenders;
• the distribution of designated property offence types; and
• the cost of imprisoning persons convicted of designated property offences.
In other words, all factors highly relevant in considering whether or not the laws could be considered as effective and just ways of preventing crime.In July 1998 the authors inquired about the availability of relevant data.They were advised by the Attorney-General's Department that there was then no system for the official collection of crime statistics in the Territory.Such statistics as existed, collected for instance by the police, were not publicly available.However, the NT Government had contracted a consultant to advise them about establishing a crime statistics unit. More than a year later, in September, 1999 Prof Zdenkowski was referred to the newly appointed Director of Statistics.Prof Zdenkowski reports that this man told him that he was not a criminologist but had an information technology background. He describes him as "courteous and cooperative" and as seeming to be "interested in a dialogue about the relevant issues", including methodology problems.The evening before their appointment, the Director of Statistics told Prof Zdenkowski by phone that he had been told by his superiors that he could not see him and that "he had been rather naive in agreeing to do so".He then referred Prof Zdenkowski to the Acting CEO of the Attorney-General's Department.Prof Zdenkowski left several messages for the Acting CEO, none of which were returned. When he finally spoke to her and asked about "the nature of the problem", she replied "No comment".He asked whether official statistics related to mandatory sentencing were likely to become available in the future, and she again replied "No comment".The authors write: "This seemed a bizarre and absurdly defensive response from a departmental head".At the same time, Prof Zdenkowski was experiencing similar problems in his dealings with the police.An appointment with the Assistant Commissioner in September 1999 was not kept. In his place, Prof Zdenkowski met briefly with two departmental employees, who advised they had just joined the statistical unit, that a new data program was being developed, that it was unclear whether data from the old system could be "migrated" to the new one and they were not sure if any of this information would be available.In any case, he says they explained that there had unfortunately been a double booking and the meeting was terminated. Prof Zdenkowski was invited to put further requests in writing.When he did so he was referred back to the above-mentioned Director of Statistics, and with regard to imprisonment issues, referred to the Commissioner of Correctional Services.The authors had already written to the Commissioner of Correctional Services and at the time of finalising their report – months later – had received no reply.Readers may think that this behaviour relates only to the political sensitivity of the mandatory sentencing issue, but that is not the case.The broadest range of issues are veiled in secrecy as far the NT Government and its bureaucracy are concerned: from buffel grass (we were not allowed to talk to anyone in the Parks and Wildlife Commission about methods of controlling buffel grass in national parks), to the supply of relief teachers (it took three weeks to get only the vaguest of statements from the Department of Education about a situation described as critical by the head of the NT Principals' Association).In these two instances, the refusal to give information seemed particularly absurd as the problems are plain for all to see, and their causes and solutions go beyond the responsibility of the Government and its departments alone.
NEXT: The role of the background briefing on sensitive issues.


International visitors were spending more and staying longer, says Australian Tourist Commission Managing Director John Morse.Welcoming a recent release of tourism data by the Federal Minister for Tourism, Jackie Kelly, Mr Morse said the key indicators of tourism industry success were clear.According to the BTR's figures, tourist spending during the year ending September 1999 totalled just under $9 billion, a 16 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, he said.The number of nights spent by tourists in Australia was also up, rising 14 per cent on the previous year to 106,000."The increase in expenditure can be attributed to a variety of reasons but there is no doubt the softness of the Australian dollar against other major currencies has encouraged greater spending."Mr Morse said BTR figures revealed the average international visitor to Australia spent $2,216 while in the country.Their biggest outlays were on accommodation ($846), shopping ($468), organised tours ($111), car hire and petrol costs ($94), other transport ($82) and communications either by phone, fax, Internet or postage ($50).The BTR figures also confirmed backpackers' status as the biggest spending visitors to Australia, outlaying an average of $4,559 each while in Australia.In the year ending last September, backpackers represented nine per cent of all international visitors to Australia and stayed an average of 69 nights in the country.


Alice Springs fabric artist Phil Hali is ready to share what she learnt at last year's Third International Shibori Symposium in Santiago, Chile.Shibori, Phil explains, is the Japanese word for tie-dying which is a resist technique that uses pleating, stitching or clamping to prevent, or resist, dye from reaching part of the fabric, therefore creating patterns.Phil was one of seven Australian artists selected to attend the week-long symposium, with the Australia Council funding the trip.The symposium included fashion parades, exhibitions, top artists talking about and showing their work, and workshops, attended by 300 people from all over the world plus a lot of people from Chile."The worldwide shibori network is very large," Phil says."The workshops were conducted by top people in their field and there were people translating what the tutor was saying in Spanish, Japanese and English all at the same time."That could get frustrating."At the same time, there was an artisan market in which every country in South America was represented.Phil was amazed by some of the material used, such as a cow's udder.A display at the Santiago museum of pre-Columbian art with excavated works from 600-700AD, also provided food for inspiration, with one group from California studying and trying to replicate the technique."The designs were very intricate and complex, and they used natural dyes," Phil says.Phil was also able to visit the textile university at Valpariso, whose students hadshown slides and had put on a fashion show at the symposium."The area had been affected by earthquakes so there were little wooden classrooms where the people worked."It just showed how people can overcome anything if they try. These people were creating some very beautiful things with very little equipment." Phil took another trip to some hot springs in the mountains."We were experiencing altitude sickness."It took an hour to get there along a narrow road on the edge of the mountain. My fingernails are still embedded in the vehicle's seat!"But we did finally get there and swam in the pools."Everything you saw looked tie-dyed, even the buildings looked like shibori buildings."Phil's family is Portuguese and some of her relatives live in Venezuela. She took the opportunity to catch up with them: "They made me feel so welcome."I tried lots of traditional foods, but the traffic is horrific and there are no lights at night."I learned to eat empanadas and to drink hot sweet black coffee served in a glass"And cherimoya, like an ice cream, was everywhere, and sweet caramel cakes."I was often asked if I came from [Portuguese-speaking] Brazil, but when I told them I came from Australia, you should have seen me trying to explain to them in Spanish where Australia is."Starting on Wednesday, May 31 at the Territory Craft Studio, Phil will be holding a workshop in fabric painting and surface embellishment. The workshop runs from 10am to noon for three Wednesdays.For more details, contact Territory Craft on 8952 4417.

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