June 15, 2000


World Vision caused an uproar five years ago by setting up aid programs at Papunya, putting the community in Central Australia on the same footing as those in the third world.Today the charity's sole domestic initiative has won a few battles against rampant disease in the settlement 250 km west of Alice Springs.But Mark Wenitong, an Aboriginal doctor from North Queensland, who has overseen the initiative since inception, says the end of the war isn't anywhere near in sight."We'll stay as long as it takes," Dr Wenitong said as he handed over the reins to Dr Ngiare Brown, from Sydney, last weekend.Papunya's 300 people, nearly all of them dependent on welfare, are amongst the nation's sickest, with heart, lung, kidney and liver ailments at staggering levels, made worse by alcohol abuse and petrol sniffing, bad diet, a shocking lack of hygiene, and trauma caused by fighting and vehicle accidents.World Vision operates from the Women's Centre, just 10 metres from the much bigger clinic run by the Northern Territory Government, but its objectives are much broader.Territory Health, run by white staff brought in from Alice Springs on limited stints, and assisted by local health workers, and a doctor flying in at least once a fortnight, has its hands full with curing people – or at least patching them up.World Vision is aiming not only to cure but to prevent illness. It wants to put health care into the hands of the locals, create an economic base for them other than "sit down money" from the government, train locals to become their own advocates in such matters as liquor control and funding submissions, and raise the level of literacy and numeracy to make it all possible.It's a tall order.Some of the short term goals are being accomplished: five Aboriginal health workers are being trained and are working alongside the World Vision nurse, Teena Clark, the organisation's only full-time staff member in the community. Health worker training is to certificate standards acknowledged by other services.Territory Health does not have a current indigenous health worker training program in Papunya, but is in the process of initiating a scheme together with the community and World Vision.Monitoring of infants' weight has helped to cut the "failure to thrive" rate in halves, down from about 11 per cent (although Dr Wenitong says similar advances have been made in other areas of the Northern Territory).And the store now carries much better stocks of healthy food, some of which is used by World Vision's Papunya soup kitchen, operating from the back of a utility at special occasions to promote good nutrition.The community has commercial opportunities second to none, through its world famous Western Desert dot painters.Their works fetch up to $100,000 in the galleries of Sydney, London and Paris, but Papunya's beat-up cars and shabby, over-crowded houses bear no witness to those riches.Dr Wenitong says World Vision now supplements its Papunya budget of around $85,000 a year by buying paintings from the "brilliant" local artists, usually at prices higher than those offered by the Alice Springs dealers, and selling them at "Walkabout Galleries" throughout Australia."Our capacity building is identifying strengths of a community and working with them," he says.The profits go into "health hardware" such as heavy-duty washing machines and water coolers to give people an alternative to sugary soft drinks."Given the rate of diabetes that's very useful," says Dr Wenitong.But World Vision's medium to long term objectives are more difficult."The problem with health promotion is that your funding basis is only for a few years but often there are no short term outcomes."You're looking at improvements in five to 10 years."We're now concentrating on the skin sores in the school to reduce the rates of rheumatic fever, which in turn will reduce the rate of rheumatic heart disease and heart failure."But we wouldn't know that until 10 years down the road."Litter ranging from used disposable nappies and dog faeces to car bodies and derelict buildings pervades the community and profoundly shocks visitors – but Dr Wenitong loses no sleep over it."The rubbish and the problems to do with rubbish are not what kills Aboriginal people," he says. "It's so far down the list of causes for mortality in Aboriginal populations that I understand that people don't see it as a priority."The main killers are cardio vascular diseases, respiratory disease and – to a lesser extent – accidents and injuries, and diabetes."Rubbish has nothing to do with most of those things whatsoever."But Dr Wenitong says while litter is of scant clinical significance, the locals' indifference towards it illustrates their state of powerlessness: that's where medicine and politics meet, and a circular argument gets under way with little promise of resolution – like so many other discussions about Aboriginal affairs across the length and breadth of the Northern Territory.The people of Papunya – from the Warlpiri, Arrernte, Luritja and Pintupi tribes – have had freehold title over their land, a former reserve, since the passing of the NT Land Rights Act of 1976. So how come they are powerless?Dr Wenitong: "There has been land ownership but in my experience that hasn't resulted in any control of the land and of people's lives and destiny."It's all right to say you've got your land back, now what are you going to do with it?"Dr Wenitong says a treaty with the Australian government would be a great step forward: both the Maoris and the American Indians – with whom treaties have been entered into – "have had huge improvements in health"."Recent studies have shown that the lack of control over your life and destiny are a risk factor for cardio vascular disease."We've been given certain things, within limits we can control some of our destiny. "But in the big picture we still don't have very much control."Do Papunya people not have complete control over their land?"Yes, but where do resources come from?"Do art, tourism, horticulture and cattle not offer a great range of opportunities?"When you look at land, two different cultures see completely different things."You say, wow, what capital, what investment opportunities, blocks of flats, meat works, a gold mine."And these people, although I can't speak for them because I'm an urban, salt-water person, but I know from having spoken to them, they see something completely different in land and their relationship to it."It's not necessarily one that dominates land, or uses it. "It's one that just lives with it."


The issue of a flood mitigation dam for the Todd River needs to be raised again, according to Country Liberal Party vice-president Brendan Heenan, the party's most senior official in Central Australia."We need to look at the dam once more. The Chief Minister has brought it out for discussion again," says Mr Heenan (pictured)."I think it's sensible to have new discussions."It just means sitting down with the Aboriginal people."He says if the earlier favoured location north of the Old Telegraph Station, ruled out for 20 years by former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Robert Tickner, isn't suitable then other locations should be considered "to slow down the Todd".If the big rains in the region during February and at Easter this year had fallen in the Todd catchment area, "we would have had a metre of water through the whole town."There has to be some solution, maybe a couple of dam walls further upstream."It's for the benefit of the whole town."You're looking not only at millions of dollars worth of damage, but also at lives lost."We've lost a few Aboriginal people [in floods] over the years."The Aboriginal people could show they can work with the community."Mr Heenan says the newly elected town council should play a role in the management of the Todd, not only so far as flood mitigation is concerned, but also cleaning it up."We should make more use of of the river," says Mr Heenan. "It looks a mess at the moment."It would be great if the Mayor could get a majority of aldermen who could work together, and work for the town, and get things moving."I think before it's been a pretty hard job to get things done for the town."There are a lot of issues on which the council can work with the government," says Mr Heenan."The council owns a block in the Western Precinct, where I think a new railway station and a bus terminal should be built."Safe car parking is also a very important issue, day time and especially at night."The Leichhardt Terrace car park, near the cinemas, should be better lit."There should be strong lights at the Anzac Oval car park. People won't park there because cars get vandalised. "We need safer car parking. The council does work closely with CATIA to promote tourism," he says.The NT government should be listening to the council "as long as the council has a majority voice".Anti-social behaviour problems are improving but the issue "still has a long way to go."How should this be tackled? "That's the hard question," says Mr Heenan. "I know police presence in the Mall has made a big difference."We were losing overseas visitors into Alice Springs, by them being molested and harassed in the Mall."We lost 3000 or 4000 bed nights from just one group."The Italian owner of the tour company and his wife were walking down the Mall. "His wife was accosted, and he said, that's it. The town lost his business."Mr Heenan says many problems are caused by alcohol abuse: "We should have wet canteens on Aboriginal communities."The Tyeweretye Club [near the show grounds] was set up to teach people how to drink in an acceptable way."There is no reason why facilities like this couldn't be built out on the settlements."It happens up at Snake Bay, I went to have a look."They have a bar up there, it opens at four pm and closes at six. "They can take half a dozen cans with them. They can buy meals. That's a sensible way of doing it."Mr Heenan is opposed to take-away restrictions: "If you impose too many restrictions people will just go underground."People will be selling grog off the back of vehicles left, right and centre."You know what's going on already, casks of wine being sold for $50 off the back of trucks."I can't see how restrictions are going to work."We're a tourist town!"He says initiatives by the CLP government are "starting to bear fruit": the reconstruction of the hospital, delayed until arrangements for the private facilities were in place, is getting under way with $14m from last year plus $16m from this year's budget, as is the partial sealing of the Mereenie loop road.Mr Heenan says the purchase by the government of Owen Springs Station, first proposed by MacDonnell MLA John Elferink, is "a great initiative".Mr Heenan says Mr Elferink is now discussing farming or horticulture investments at Owen Springs with commercial interests, including people from South Africa.In addition to farming investment there could be tourism facilities on the former cattle station, another golf course, a resort, caravan parks, "who knows?" says Mr Heenan."The town may actually be able to grow in that direction."He says Greatorex MLA Dr Richard Lim is "performing well."He has represented the Chief Minister and Attorney General at a few conferences. "He's performed very well in those, judging from the feedback I'm getting,"His forte would be health. "I'd like to think that one day he'd be eligible for a ministry. "We'd like a bit more representation down here.Mr Heenan says the CLP will be using a "collegiate" system for the preselection of candidates for the next NT election.That means they will be picked by a group drawing its members from the four CLP branches in The Centre: Greatorex / MacDonnell; Alice Springs (which looks after Braitling); Araluen; and Stuart.A large field is tipped to be interested in the blue-ribbon seat of Araluen, to be vacated by Eric Poole at the next election.Expressions of interest are likely to be invited within a couple of months, Mr Heenan says.It has not yet been decided how many representatives from each branch will make up the preselection panel.


There is no scientific evidence that the overall level of the bed of the Todd River has been raised over the last 40 years, except in the immediate environs of Heavitree Gap.While old timers remember the Todd as having a deeper channel, cross sections of the river surveyed at regular intervals since 1962 attest that the bed, for most of the length of the river through town, has not risen."The profile of the channel has changed," says Peter McDonald, Regional Manager of the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment, and Chairman of the Alice in 10 Todd and Charles Rivers Project Group."Some of the islands have got bigger – wider and higher – but the channels between them are now deeper than they were before."So the space available for the river to flow through, through most of the town, is just as great as it was 40 years ago."Unfortunately we don't have survey data on bed levels prior to 1962."However, near the Gap there is clear evidence that the sand levels are increasing and to address that we may have to remove some sand."The build-up of sand near the Gap is greatly exacerbated by weed infestation, says Mr McDonald."There's a lot of couch and buffel that wasn't there years ago. Weeds growing on the banks stabilise them. Then when flood waters flow along the banks, sand builds up, in particular in the roots of the couch grass, and the grass just grows up through it."Then the process repeats itself with the next flow, with the banks and islands, but also the bed of the river, building up in some places."Eventually if that is not turned around we will see a lot more sand in the bed of the river, and that inevitably has got to lead to a flooding problem."Tackling weed infestation and the sand levels at the Gap are just two of a wide range of issues being considered by the rivers project group."Sand mining" near the Gap is one possible rehabilitation option, says Mr McDonald."If you talk to the old timers they'll tell you that the Army took a lot of sand out of the river during the war years, and it was common after that for it to be taken for building purposes."Today, it's one of the options that has been discussed in the media."It needs to be discussed with the project group and there would have to be consultation with the Native Title owners. The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority would also need to give clearance."Would removal of sand have a flood mitigating effect?"To some degree, yes."But what we want to do, as far as the environmental side of Todd management goes, is to restore the channel to what we believe is a condition that existed before we saw the changes that have taken place in the last few decades, with weed infestation."We would see sand mining mainly from this point of view. "It would have an effect on flow in the river, but it's a bit hard to say what effect in the long term and what impact it would have in the case of a major flood."The causeways across the Todd, especially the Casino causeway, are also the subject of popular discussion. Will the project group look at the impact of the causeways on river management?Mr McDonald:"Some people see the Casino Causeway as the major problem causing flooding, but the studies done show that this isn't so."Small flows go under it, large flows go over the top with little impediment. "It does slightly increase water levels upstream in intermediate flows, and sand accumulates here requiring occasional removal. "Removing this causeway would have minimal impact on the flood risk for the town."But the Alice in 10 Project isn't about causeways. It's about restoring the river to its rightful place as a symbol of Alice Springs. "We've turned our back on it for years, it's been seen as a drain, and a place for public drunkenness and social disorder, somewhere where it is not safe to go. "We want to turn that around, restore the river so the community takes pride in it, looks after it and uses it as an asset."Mr McDonald says the bed-level causeways provide some degree of obstacle to the movement of sand in a flow of the river."But let's do a reality check on this: we have a town on both sides of the river, we have to get from one side to the other, if you look at it realistically we really have no choice."As to whether they are bridges or causeways, that's a matter of cost and priority."But that's not what the Alice in 10 project is about. It might come up in the discussion.But it's not within the ambit of the project to resolve causeway problems."Is the ambit of the project already defined?"No, but it is focussed on issues other than causeways."It's on issues of the use and management of the Todd River. I don't see causeways linked to the Alice in 10 project."Is the town drainage system depositing silt in the river?"Not much. "More to the point, it is putting some rubbish into the river. "The other issue is that some of the drains flow all the time, and that's contributing to weed growth and has to be addressed."What role will the project group take with respect to drinking and anti-social behaviour in the river?The issue will be approached in liaison with the Alice in 10 Quality of Life Project Group, but even so, it's going to be "a tough one", says Mr McDonald. "In due course that will be something that the group will have to come to terms with."The participation of a wide range of stake-holders is the key to getting some effective solutions discussed."We don't want to sit around debating an insoluble controversy. We want to find out where the common ground is for everybody and see what we can do."Mr McDonald and project officer for the group, Wayne Hoban, recently met with the Native Title owners to speak about the project."We were very encouraged by their response, they made it clear that they are very keen to see the river as a place of pride for them and respected by the community. "We talked to them about the interpretive work the group could put to the broader community to enhance their understanding of the Aboriginal values associated with the river."And we will be looking to their support in grasping this hard nettle of campers and drinkers and the damage they cause to the river."Aboriginal interests are also represented on the group by delegates from Tangentyere Council, the Arrernte Council, the Central Land Council, and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.They are joined by representatives of a number of government agencies, the town council, Greening Australia, and the Arid Lands Environment Centre. The group is divided into three sub-groups, focussing on infrastructure, environmental issues and Aboriginal participation."So far, the response we've had has been overwhelmingly positive," says Mr McDonald."I've been pleasantly surprised by the degree of optimism and the positive sense that something's really going to happen as a result of the group's work."Ownership of the river is shared: it is Crown land held under reserve by the Alice Springs Town Council, where Native Title co-exists. "So clearly, there needs to be cooperative management and partnership in any management structure to make this work," says Mr McDonald."The Department of Lands, Planning and Environment has the lead agency role within government in relation to Todd and Charles River management, that is quite clear, and we talk to the council and the Native Title owners, and we carry out works in conjunction with council."Work has already begun on reducing the fire hazard in the river, due to the weed response to this year's heavy rains.The recent frosts are drying off the weeds, increasing the fire risk.Joint action by the government, Greening Australia, conservation volunteers, Correctional Services work teams, and the town council, has seen a lot of the grass along the banks mown, particularly around the trees in a radius of a couple of metres, and the flood debris from the trees has been removed. The town council have also begun to create fire breaks at the storm water drains, which will be permanently maintained as part of the town's fire management program.They are working too on reshaping the banks of the drains, so that they can be maintained more easily. The Territory Government has provided funding to see that this work gets done immediately. This is in addition to $350,000 provided in the Alice in 10 budget for the project next financial year. "But that's not the sum total of funding available," says Mr McDonald."This department gets an annual budget allocation for land management issues. We also continue to work on natural resource management issues across the river area like we do everywhere else."Council has a budget for its program in the river. "Correctional Services work teams have been involved in litter control in the river for years."Greening Australia has funding for their Todd River project through the Natural Heritage Trust, and one of the jobs of the project group will be to explore what other opportunities there are for getting funding to do good work in the river."Apart from the environmental and social issues discussed above, the group is looking at landscaping and pathways along the river banks, possibly including lighting, shade structures and some seating; enhancing the river beds to encourage the community to use them for walking and other recreation; and interpretive signage about the river environment and its cultural significance.The Todd and Charles Rivers Masterplan, completed in 1994, is their basic reference document. "By and large most of the issues it identified are just as valid today," says Mr McDonald."Now that the Native Title ownership of the river corridor is established, the way is a lot clearer for government to negotiate on the issues."


Believe in all kids and give them a sense of responsibility is the philosophy of Braitling Year Six teacher, Ewen Jondahl."I love kids," Ewen said."I find it very exciting to share my knowledge with kids."And kids teach me things in return."Ewen Jondahl's dedication was recently recognised when he and another Alice Springs teacher, Celeste Becker, received an award for excellence in teaching in South Australia and the Northern Territory. The awards, which have state and national categories, are an initiative started in 1994 of the Australian Scholarships Group Friendly Society, a non-profit cooperative with more than 250,000 family members throughout Australia.Parents and students nominate and seek support from their school community for teachers whom they regard as excellent.An independent panel of educators, parents and students then select teachers for awards."One never stops learning ways to improve as a teacher," Ewen said."School is a powerful tool and it is important to make learning exciting for kids."If kids do not enjoy school, they don't learn as much."Ewen believes in a huge amount of positive reinforcement."I believe kids will try harder if they think they are going to get some reward."And I have fun with the kids; I show them that learning can be fun."I also believe in treating each child equally and that every child has something of value which they can contribute."I look for the good in children and do not focus on any negatives."As part of the nomination process for the award, Ewen had to give a five-minute oral presentation on a problem facing schools.His talk was entitled "If Only ..." and looked at what a perfect classroom might be like in a world where parents provided their children with huge amounts of love, set firm parameters for socially accepted behaviours and were consistent in their expectations.This perfect classroom would also be one where children respected themselves, each other and the world around them.Although Ewen said the typical classroom was far from that ideal, each of his classes had brought him strengths, understanding and a faith in his own ability to cater for the individual needs of his students.Ewen was first nominated for an excellence in teaching award in 1997 for his work at Sadadeen Primary School.This time he was nominated for his inspiration and dedication, and for his work in the creation of Information Technology (IT) Troubleshooting Teams, something he started at Sadadeen in 1998 and has introduced to Braitling since starting there early this year."The IT Troubleshooting Teams are made up of Years Five and Six students who are interested in helping their peers and teachers to use computers, including how to surf the net, access email, use the scanner and the quick take camera, and so forth," Ewen said.From Victoria, Ewen has been in the Territory for eight years."I was out bush for awhile and taught at Red Sand Hill School and also at Finke," Ewen said."I also taught at Acacia Hill; I have a special education degree."And I was as Sadadeen Primary School for four years and loved it."Ewen was nominated for his award by a parent who was also a teacher."I was really proud of that," Ewen said."Principal Mary Blaiklock, my colleagues, my parents, the teachers who I've had around have all helped to make me a better teacher."There are lots of teachers who deserve recognition."I'd like to say to parents that if there are teachers out there making an impact on your children, consider nominating them for the awards."The awards lift the profile of teachers and show teachers that you appreciate what they are doing."NEXT: Celeste Becker, a science teacher at St Philip's College.

WHAT A PARTY! JANE LEONARD was there when locals celebrated the arrival of the Olympic torch.

Though it was all hype to some, there were plenty of people out on last week's chilly Thursday evening to take part in the Alice Springs leg of the Olympic Torch Relay, an event which has its origins, not in Ancient Greece, but in Berlin, at the 1936 Olympics. Adolf Hitler was the first to elaborate on the tradition of the Olympic flame, when he introduced the torch relay to promote his theory that the Germans and Ancient Greeks possessed a shared ancestry. These dark origins have been obscured by more recent myth, which prefers to hark back to the ideals of the sacred flame which indeed burnt for the duration of the ancient games, signifying "purity, reason and peace among Nations". These ideals, however, appeared to take a back seat in Alice, in favour of goals of local participation and promotion, albeit in an atmosphere of general good will and cheer.As the Olympic flame arrived at Alice Springs airport late Thursday afternoon, officials and spectators were already dotted along the South Stuart Highway and clustered at the Gap where the welcoming ceremony by traditional owners would later occur. In town, on the council lawns, participants nervously practised in preparation for the street parade. An American woman yelled instructions at some cheerleaders, and members of the Casart Mixed Ability Theatre's "Sea of Faces" could hardly contain their enthusiasm and excitement. Used car yard style coloured flags lined the Mall, and people began to gather along its length. The cheery, excitable atmosphere did not stop a bouncer outside a bar from throttling a hapless patron, watched with apathy by locals and with horror by tourists. Down at Anzac Oval, a reasonable crowd was already milling around between the various food stalls, all of them, except for the sponsor's tent, serving standard Alice event fare – sausage or steak sandwiches – it was simply a matter of choosing which charity you wanted to give your $1.50 to. The sponsor's "Superscreen and Chatstage" blared annoyingly, while a comedian tried to raise a hooray from the few who were paying attention. The action was elsewhere. At around 5.30 the street parade hit the mall, lead by torch-bearing emu rider, Robin Laidlaw, and followed by a chaotic but happy juxtaposition of all sorts of dancers, cheerleaders, musicians and performers of all ages and skill levels.Each group's music, on a portable sound system wheeled along on a trolley by a clown, competed desperately with the throaty thunder of the Finke Desert Race vehicles between them, but no one seemed to mind. The whole thing reminded me of country town parades from the ‘sixties, and though it was no Rio Carnivale, an atmosphere of warmth and good cheer emanated from all.As the desert sky began to put on its own spectacular show, there was just time to try and get back down to the Gap.When I arrived, Heavitree Gap, known to Arrernte People as Ntaripe, was crowded with people, including kids from community schools from all over the desert. It was a more respectful, down to earth, even sombre crowd than up town but there was a still strong feeling of anticipation in the air. This was added to by a large contingent from national and international media lining the road, brandishing fluorescent passes and trying to get each other out of the way of their stories and shots.They completely ignored a policeman trying to organise them in his best school teacher tones: "Youse have been asked to move, now I suggest you do it ..." Cheeky local kids made the most of the attention from overseas crews, posing and wrestling with nervous cameramen. Like everything in the Territory, the relay was running a bit behind schedule. As the official relay bus dropped off the next young torchbearer clutching his unlit torch, a disappointed teacher next to me exclaimed to her students "What? Did it come by bus? I thought they were supposed to run!"The boy disappeared into a media mob while behind all the fuss, a few people stood around fires, kids kicked a footy, rock wallabies crept along the crevices of the especially illuminated range, and around the "Beware Falling Rocks" sign, the Arrernte elders waited casually for the flame to arrive.Flashing police escorts and cheering heralded the 52 year old torch bearer Lina Totani-Mercorella's eventual arrival, although almost immediately she was lost in a frenzy of media activity. Somewhere amongst it all, the SOCOG Torch Relay Events Manager, Barry Galligah, spoke with the elders. The muffled words of his request filtered though a speaker: "We respectfully ask for your permission to proceed across your sacred land." Then came the reply by Arrernte elder, Max Stuart – a brief and warm welcome to Central Australia followed by "Righto, you're welcome to go through". It was difficult to see what happened next but I caught glimpses of officials screaming instructions at the boy, 12 year old Brendan Kelleher, carrying his now lighted torch on through the crowd. Further up the road I spoke with Brendan, an Alice resident born in the Territory, nominated as a torchbearer by his Mum. He said it was "exciting" but that he'd had a "nervous" wait and that being part of the relay was important to him. He added: "I thought it was special how I had to wait for the traditional owners to say that we could come through."There was barely enough time to get back down to Anzac Oval for the community celebration, and I arrived at the north end of the Mall as Zac Thompson, another local youth, took over the flame and carried it in to the cauldron on the stage. Fiona O'Loughlin, local comedian, was hyping up the crowd of around 10,000 for some "fun stuff with fire". Dancers in decorated motorcycle helmets leapt around with sticks of fire taken from the cauldron and then passed the fire to waiting school children – "fire runners" – who ran out to light candles distributed earlier to the crowd, igniting the "Sea of Fire" that was supposed to spread quickly from person to person. Unfortunately many people had missed the point of waiting for the flame from the stage and had already lit their own candles, though it hardly detracted from the proceedings. While this was happening, other dancers set fire to the Giant Running Man, the creation of Alan Bethune, who had wobbled and lurched out from behind the sponsor's truck. The flames brought him spectacularly to life and members of the Federal Football Club, working together like a Viking rowing crew, pushed him forwards to light Dan Murphy's fire sculpture of the giant perentie lizard with Olympic ring scales. My first impression when various parts of the lizard popped and sizzled alight was that it had not ignited properly, but over about 15 minutes, the fire gradually travelled around its entire outline and as the impressively blazing image was almost complete, fire works exploded above. These proceedings were complimented by the inspiring yet accessible music that came from the local musicians on the stage, including Bill Davis, the celebration's director, on key boards, Katrina Stowe with her haunting clarinet, Leon Spurling singing and Warren Williams playing guitar. The crowd seemed awe struck, high and happy. Half of the people around me were dancing, and to get an Australian crowd to spontaneously dance is no mean feat. As the flames died down, in a vaguely comic scene, SOCOG officials, against a background of Star Wars type music, extinguished the cauldron and took the flame in its little lantern cage, off on its way under police escort. Ernie Dingo, the other compere, summed up this part of the proceedings with a tongue-in-cheek "very sweet". Though it had been a very satisfying spectacle, the wind down seemed a little vague and disorganised. After another brief burst of fireworks and one last song from the Gigantic Choir and Band, I left amongst an animated crowd. All that remained burning were a few sets of Olympic rings on the lizard's back and a small fire coming from the behind of the Giant Running Man. In a few short hours the celebrations were over, but who was responsible for all these elaborate events and what did putting them together involve? I spoke with Craig Catchlove at Alice Town Council who told me that the responsibility for all the torch relay community celebrations falls completely to local town councils at locations along the relay route. He said the council was approached by SOCOG about a year ago to "go all out on" the first welcoming celebration of the relay. And who pays?"SOCOG provides the flame but the rest has come from the town," said Mr Catchlove. Council has been the major contributor, with the NT Government throwing in $10,000 for fireworks, and local businesses and individuals contributing around $100,000, in kind or in cash. On the total cost, Mr Catchlove said he had "stopped counting after the quarter million dollar mark".So what justifies spending such a large amount of money on a celebration related to and promoting an event that is to be held elsewhere? Mr Catchlove: "Firstly, it is about pride in our town, showing the world what this town can do, what sort of an event we are capable of putting together. "A big pat on the back is in order for the businesses and people of Alice Springs, who have contributed so much in labour, effort, services and money." Aside from local artistic people coming up with the ideas, most of the work building and putting together everything for the event was done by locals, including engineering, materials and labour for the fire sculpture and eight metre metal running man, not to mention the 700 people involved either as performers or assistants on the night.Mr Catchlove also cited world wide and national exposure as another benefit to the town, albeit brief. He said that there were "squillions of media representatives, including upward of 150 international and national journalists, Channel Seven presenting a national news report from in front of the Todd Mall street parade, and Stan Grant from Today Tonight nationally covering the welcoming ceremony at The Gap". It was about "projecting a more sophisticated image of Alice Springs" which is often over looked next to Uluru and other Territory attractions. So what will it leave our community with? "Well, the $20,000 structure for the fire sculpture can be used again for other events, like the Masters Games, and the experience has provided a huge learning curve for the town. "This is not something just put on for Alice Springs, but BY Alice Springs for Alice Springs."Last November council gathered various local artistic representatives and asked them to come up with ideas. Bill Davis, the writer and director of the entire community celebration, came up with the concept of "The Sea of Fire" after a meeting of local artistic talent called by the council in November last year. From February work on the events has been "full on". SOCOG had requested that local Arrernte people be acknowledged as original owners of the lands in a speech, but Mr Catchlove, thinking back to a cross cultural workshop he had done, came up with the idea for the permission ceremony at the Gap, as a more meaningful and culturally appropriate way of acknowledgment. This part of the proceedings, Mr Catchlove said, was fully supported by the Central Land Council, ATSIC and local Aboriginal people, although southern media were last week reporting the event as a protest. Mr Catchlove said he knew nothing about a protest and could only imagine there was some confusion in reporting the nature of the event.Only hours before the flame arrived in town, I spoke to the extremely busy Mr Davis, in the midst of preparations on Anzac Oval. I asked him what the whole process had been like for him. "An absolute headcracker. "It's been a very complex matter but really gratifying. "Everybody's got into the idea and zoomed with it." Mr Davis stressed that it was a ratepayer-funded event with small contributions by ATSIC and NT Government, and that meant it was OUR celebration – "a genuinely Central Australian expression rather than something to do with all the SOCOG hoo-haa". "It's 15 seconds of us showing Central Australia – our people, our music, our performers – to the world."What will the community get out of it? I look at the 50 kids running round practising for tonight's 'Sea of Fire' in front of me, and they're into it, they're directly engaged, they know what it's all about. "It's an opportunity for people to be directly engaged, whether it's in the Gigantic Choir, or the street parade, or the ceremony at the Gap, or as part of the Sea of Fire. It's a once in a lifetime experience." I asked him what inspired the "Sea of Fire" concept?He explained that the emphasis was on the flame from Greece and "not the torch thing", that it came from thinking about the idea of everybody being able to have a little bit of this sacred fire from overseas. "You get this Sea of Fire created from a flame in Greece and people here are all part of that, everyone can have a little bit." What benefit the whole thing will have for the town in the long run is still unclear, as there seems no way to immediately measure exactly how much exposure our community got and to what end, but walking back up the Mall after the celebrations, the atmosphere around town was uniquely alive for that time of night. Restaurants were full, people were sitting and standing about talking and calling to each other, and excited kids were tearing around. Food stalls and buskers gathered small crowds, and for a normally subdued regional town to experience this kind of mood on such a scale seems, momentarily, a worthwhile thing. I passed one little kid being hassled by his parents to hurry up. He continued to shuffle along, intently guarding his candle flame from the chilly breeze, and called quietly back: "But I've gotta keep this alight. It's the Olympic flame."On Friday the flame began its trek from Anzac Hill in the morning before the relay wound around Alice Springs and headed on to Mt Isa in the afternoon. A protest was held opposite the Alice Springs Court house where about 100 people lit candles for peace and to bring attention to, as Aboriginal leader Margaret Mary Turner said, the "sadness" of being "hit by mandatory sentencing for our children". Aside from this protest, the lofty ancient Olympian virtues of purity, reason and peace might have gone largely unacknowledged in the torch relay's journey through Central Australia, but there seems to be no denying that the people who were involved had a pretty special time, whatever the cost.The torch will pass back through the Territory later on its 100 day journey around Australia, stopping for more community celebrations in Katherine, Nguiu and Darwin.


Alice motorcyclist, Stephen "Greenie" Greenfield righted the history books at the Finke 2000 on the weekend, by reclaiming the overall honours for the bikes and particularly for the Honda team. In doing so he made the 2000 Finke crown his third, having won in 1997 and 1998.In a whirlwind ride home from Finke, "Greenie" was able to recapture the two wheel supremacy over the greatest desert race track "in the world", and set himself up well for the Nevada 2000 (in July) and then the Australian Safari. The Tattersalls Finke Desert Race was again one of intrigue as the elements played their part , as much as the heroics of the 400 competitors.A decade ago the Finke was threatened by the waters of the river the race is named after. In that year water levels dropped sufficiently just days prior to racing to allow competitors to reach the community of Apatula. This year the story was different. Cars and then bikes hurtled to the Finke crossing just two kilometres short of the turn around point, 229 km south of the start, to find the water initially at a depth of some 18 inches. It played havoc with man and machine. The need to drag vehicles from the mire led to conditions at the crossing deteriorating and a real bog hole was formed.An historic decision was made by race officials to begin the return leg of racing from the north bank of the Finke. This accounted for slick times on day two, creating one of the most sensational results of the race to date.Prior to the start Finke followers were shocked to hear of two bikes colliding during a practise run on Friday. Local Ben Dombrowski and Victorian Glenn Boxall, on a Kawasaki KX 500 and Yamaha WR400 respectively, ended their chances after a collision which saw both riders hospitalised.Then on Saturday the Prologue, raced over a newly designed track designed for maximum spectator access, saw the race start in earnest. Last year's outright winners Mark Burrows and Michael Shannon claimed poll position for the car start, while last year's bike supremo Ricky Hall got the number one spot for the two wheelers. Even in the Prologue, Finke 2000 wasn't without an element of the spectacular as Brett Taylor and Barry Spears in their Southern Cross rolled. The race to Finke was always going to be a scorcher with the ideal track and weather conditions making pundits lean towards a win for the cars. Predictably Burrows led the convoy into Apatula clocking 1:55:46. Paul Simpson in his single seater was again placed prominently with a time of 2:02:13, followed by the team of Richard Bennett and Geoff Roe. While it may have been smiles for many, the attrition rate in the four wheel section on the first leg was great, with some 29 vehicles having to call it a day. Dion Simpson who registered fourth place on the grid as a result of the Prologue was an early victim. Taylor and Spears, having survived the Prologue rollover, had their means of conveyance "die". Tony Byrnes in his locally designed truggy got to Deep Well only to have a track rod let him down. Earlier in the race, Dave Fellows and Tony Pinto, who have savoured success in years gone bye, did in a manifold gasket and were forced to retire. Then, at the Finke, Hayden Tapnell, the second fastest qualifier in the Prologue, found out what it is like to get wet. Following the cars, the bikes defied conditions and were led towards Finke by Rick Hall. Alas he had to step off his machine in the dying section of the run south, only to be overtaken by Greenfield. A mere two minutes separated the Honda pair when they arrived at Apatula. But the difference between Greenfield and Burrows was measured in seconds.By dawn of day two it was apparent that the boggy billabong at the crossing was not acceptable as part of the race course. Burrows and the cars left, albeit late, from the north bank and came home in much heavier track conditions. However, the Open Buggy 2200cc Turbo of Burrows and Shannon revelled in the sand and recorded a 1:52:13 return journey. Paul Simpson in his Jimco Single Seater, hung in for second in 3:56:30. Others to feature were the team of Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki in their Jackaroo, who took the honours in Classes Seven and Eight. Alas for local supporters, the Phil Clapin Toyota Ute must have realised it was in its home country when it reached Finke and there it stayed. So too for the fans of Peter Kittle and Adam Ryan. Their Jimco could only travel as far as Rodinga on the homeward voyage before the white flag had to be signalled. However, one bright light to emerge was Sports Minister Chris Lugg who, with Neil Anderson, was able to gain fifth place in Class Five.Then at 12 bells the bikes were dispatched again from the north bank, and while Greenfield prayed his machine would hold together, he pulled out all stops to match the performance of Burrows. History will record that he achieved this by crossing the finish line in 1:48:07. Hall ensured the Honda CR500 quinella with a time of 1:53:16; and Andy Haydon from the Race team on a KTM 520 filled the placings. A remarkable performance came from fourth placed Mark Espie. As a junior Espie was tops in Alice Springs and took to national racing with the world at his feet. Now after some years in the twilight zone, Espie returned to Finke this year and on a Yamaha YZF426 was able to win fourth place overall in the bikes and be champion in Class Five.Another huge performance came in the Class Four where the champion Wayne Pengilly, riding a KTM 125, took all before him and featured in the overall rankings. An effort of note came from the "old man" of desert racing, Phil Lovett. Lovett was racing the Honda XR650 which Greenfield will use in his Australia Safari campaign. No doubt Greenie's eyes would have lit up when Lovett brought the machine home third in his class.Wendy Ogden, the only woman in the race, overcame rib injuries, and last minute repairs to her bike (with Greenfield's help) to complete the course.And in a performance that reflects what Finke is all about, former five time winner of the race, Randall Gregory completed the course in his Quad. The innovation of racing Sidecars was another of the highlights of Finke 2000. Barossa Valley based enthusiasts formed a class of their own for this inaugural year, and provided the trackside fans with plenty to remember. Winners of the new class were Shane Schiller and Steven Doecke on a EML Kawasaki 500, from Eudunda in South Australia.

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