August 30, 2000


Draining of the Ilparpa swamp will provide no permanent solution to the town's problems with sewage disposal.At peak usage, when evaporation from the sewage ponds is low, there is an influx of tourists, and rain raises the town's water table, up to three quarters of the effluent – 150 million litres a month – will continue to flow from the ponds into the swamp.According to Mark Skinner, PAWA's regional manager for water supply, 20 to 30 per cent of the flow may be the result of cracks in the town's aging sewage pipes.Ground water is believed to be flowing through those cracks into the pipes.PAWA will be using video cameras to locate the damaged sections, with tree roots being one of the indicators.Mr Skinner says repairs can be carried out by using resin- soaked liners which are inserted into the sewage lines, inflated to press them against the interior of the pipes, and then filled with hot water which hardens the resin.He says the liners can be up to 20mm thick, forming a structural component.The process is expensive – up to $200 a metre.Mr Skinner says it is not yet clear how much of this work will need to be done.Meanwhile John Childs, natural resources director (south) of the Department of Environment, says the swamp is growing reeds because of the nutrients coming from the sewage ponds.He says the "ephemeral" swamp has always contained water in times of heavy rains.However, the reeds, which are providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes, are not part of the natural environment.Mr Childs says although overflow of treated sewage into the swamp is part of the present system, it is rare for it to flow across Ilparpa Road, as it has done for the past few months.He says the concentration of faecal coliforms in the water crossing the road was recently well within accepted limits.It exceeded the limits immediately following the heavy rains earlier this year.However, at the same time the concentration of faecal coliforms in the Todd River, measured at the Gap causeway, was far higher.Even at the popular swimming spot, Wigley's Waterhole north of the town, the count was around double in January and February 1999 when compared with the water flowing across Ilparpa Road at its worst this year.Meanwhile questionnaires are being returned by the public about preferred future options for sewage treatment.Mr Skinner says the deadline for answers is September 22 but early trends show the public doesn't like effluent overflow into the swamp, yet it has reservations about recycling effluent via aquifers from which the town's drinking water is being drawn, even if internationally accepted treatment measures are being used.Mr Childs says one advantage of recycling effluent is that water from a new bore field south-east of the town, which – once the present Roe Creek supply is exhausted – will need to be commissioned at a cost of $25m to $30m, could be used for other purposes, such a horticulture and tourism.[See on our web site a series of Alice News reports on the subject, beginning October 1995.]


Making the Papunya school work for students, parents and teachers has meant putting local Aboriginal people at the heart of the decision-making, and their world at the heart of the curriculum, says principal Diane de Vere, now in her eighth year at the school, almost a record for a bush school. The school needed fundamental reform. Indeed it was demanded by the community of some 350 people, 260 kilometres west of Alice Springs, who strongly supported the appointment Ms de Vere.Together, they have brought the school back from the brink of collapse in 1992, when an active boycott saw attendance plummet to just 18. It is now a highly focused centre of learning marked by an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit. And, enrolments have increased tenfold. The key has not been to somehow entice students to come and get "more of the same". Rather, it has been to radically change what is on offer, to come up with schooling that is relevant to the students' lives.Their world embraces traditional, contemporary and Western forms of knowledge: all are respected and promoted within the school, where two-way learning takes place in both Luritja and English. (Several Aboriginal languages are spoken at Papunya, but everyone speaks Luritja.)A remarkable document displayed in the school library illustrates the approach. It is the product of work over the last three years by secondary age students under the guidance of visiting educators Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle. The school accessed Commonwealth funds to obtain the services of this team. The document, a series of wall charts running along one entire wall of the library, shows a timeline of the history of Papunya, from the 1860s on. Each chart outlines the main events of the decade in the visually rich style typical of all the learning materials throughout the school. (There is a huge resource of stimulating learning materials that have been produced at Papunya: they could enhance learning in schools around Australia. As Bob Collins said in his review of Indigenous education in the Territory: "We [in the NT] should be at the leading edge in the production of educational curriculum material in [the Indigenous culture and language] area.")In the timeline, small "dot" paintings for each decade indicate the continuity of traditional culture through the years.The text, mainly in English, but with some Luritja, is presented in colour coded circles: red for the key event; brown for the events concerning Aboriginal people; yellow for events concerning non-Aboriginal people; and so on. Drawings and maps produced by the students accompany the text, and photographs have been reproduced where available.This comprehensive study has also been used to produce a large illustrated book, "The Papunya School Book of Country and History", which if published – and it should be – would be a beautiful and important addition to any library, most especially in Central Australia.The content of the study is highly specific and locally relevant – the sort of content that's sadly missing from a lot of school studies. For example, alongside pertinent national-scale events of the ‘ nineties – such as the 1992 High Court Mabo decision and the 1997 report on the Stolen Generation – are local events, given equal significance, such as the 1991 Papunya power dispute; the 1994 Papunya School Vision painting (using the visual language of Western Desert art to describe the school community and goals); and the 1998 completion by community member Linda Anderson (Kapunani) of her Diploma of Education. Two more local teachers, Charlotte Phillipus and Monica Robinson, graduated in 1999. The decade is then crowned in the year 2000 by the election as ATSIC Regional Commissioner of long-time Papunya town clerk and outspoken community leader, Alison Anderson.Among all these events, perhaps the formal qualification of the three local teachers has had the greatest immediate consequence for the school. It has helped make real the community's desire to break down the old hierarchies and to bring about a school culture based on "learning partnerships" of students, parents and teachers – Indigenous and non- Indigenous – based on mutual respect and recognition of each other's skills and strengths.Principal de Vere and the staff work hard at developing this culture. It needs to be more than a stated principle, it needs to be lived at every level of school activity. There are now roughly equal numbers of Indigenous and non- Indigenous full-time teaching staff, and over 30 community members are employed as part-time instructors.School assemblies are run alternately in Luritja and English. If a non-Indigenous staff member wants to speak during the Luritja language assembly, they must do so in Luritja as best they can, just as the Indigenous staff must speak English, as best they can, during the English language assembly. Going deeper, and over a period of years, the school has developed a basic curriculum framework document. It is represented in the form of a deceptively simple diagram. At the centre is a Luritja word, "Ngurra", meaning "country". Radiating out from the centre are four key areas: family, kinship and people; seasons, plants and animals; country and history; health and bush medicine.In the even years, teaching teams, made up of an Aboriginal and a non-Aboriginal teacher for every class, develop a program around country and history, as well as family, kinship and people.In the odd years, seasons, plants and animals, as well as health and bush medicine, are the focus.The teaching teams then weave into their programming the curriculum requirements of the Northern Territory Board of Studies. The explicit "learning outcomes" for each term are clearly set out on a wall chart in every classroom. They must be expressed in language that can be readily understood by students and their parents.For example, in Ngaya ("pussycat") class for upper primary girls, the chart tells you that the "focus text" for this term is "Pilawuk – When I was Young" by Janeen Brian (an autobiographical story by a member of the Stolen Generation) , and that by the end of the term the students will be able to sequence and retell the story; they will also be able to spell at least five new words from the text, words like "missionary" and "clinic".The chart equally tells you what Luritja texts the students will be expected to be able to read, what maths, science, and arts outcomes they're working towards.Next door, in Kipara ("bush turkey") class for upper primary boys, the chart tells you they are studying "The Bunyip" as their focus text, and by Week 10 they'll be able to discuss and retell the story in English. Their spelling list includes words like "believe" and "Koori". In maths the Kipara boys are learning about ordinal numbers – 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. They'll be able to put this understanding into practice at this week's "Wangka Walytja Sports", an inter-school carnival.But what about beyond upper primary? Like many communities in the bush, Papunya has been clamouring for years for secondary schooling on site. Seizing the opportunity of Commonwealth funds and an empty building, and relying in part also on the good will of staff, the school has created an industry recognised course in Multi-media for secondary age students. At assembly, young women taking the course showed off printed t-shirts which they had designed using a digital camera and Wordart software.From there, the students – both young men and women – are going on to website design. They hope to use the website to promote their graphics skills and create some employment opportunities for themselves. By the end of the year, 10 students are expected to have completed units in the course.The school is also offering a "curriculum trial" for secondary age students, based on music and band playing. Having on hand as a tutor Warumpi band guitarist Sammy Tjapanangka Butcher (now also Community Council Chairman) definitely helps! The students are the next generation of Warumpi musicians and have already written a number of their own songs. They're booked in to record at Yothu Yindi Foundation studios in Yirrkala next month.The Department of Education's Music Advisor, Bob Smith, was at the school last week, and worked with these students. He commented on how quickly they learn: he would show them a few chords and next thing they were playing them.They're age old skills that have been ignored for too long. As Charlotte Phillipus has written in "The Papunya School Book of Country and History": "We learn by doing, copying, mimicking, watching, acting, telling stories, doing ceremonies, listening to stories from country and from inside our hearts."By honouring and responding to these ways of learning with a relevant curriculum, Papunya is making inroads on the problems of attendance and participation that confound many schools.They have "programs" to motivate attendance. For instance, last week 30 students were rewarded for arriving on time ever day with a picnic barbecue. But no program is going to work as well as students being able to see the real life opportunities waiting for them, at secondary age and into adulthood.


A "new robust global strategy" on substance misuse, expected to be completed this week and involving all government and non- government agencies working in the field, will lead to a "more coherent and sustainable approach" on petrol sniffing, according to Regional Director for Territory Health Services, Sue Korner.(See last week's issue for Part One of this report.)The Alice Springs News asked Ms Korner whether community councils been involved in the development of the new strategy?Ms Korner: "To some extent". "A lot of the ideas have been developed from the work of some of the councils. "There've been some major shifts I believe over the last few years. The councils used not to see [these issues] as their core business, they didn't think they needed to do anything."What's starting to happen now is that there is a much greater ownership at that community council level, a recognition that they need to be part of the solution, and that‘s a major step in the right direction."At the same time they know and we know that they can't do it on their own. The circumstances in the communities won't be changed overnight."Without employment and all sorts of things, there's still going to be a situation where people are going to have a lot of time on their hands. How do we find ways in which that time can be used constructively rather than destructively?"Ms Korner says there is also generally "in the last few years" a new openness about sniffing, "which probably makes dealing with it more possible".She says the Commonwealth is "very interested in us developing a tri-state approach to the whole issue". "South Australia and Western Australia have been invited to participate in a coordination committee. Now that we ourselves have got a reasonably robust strategy, drawing on the work of many people and different programs over the years, we have a pretty good framework for looking at a tri-state approach."Has Territory Health got the right balance between the resources and effort they are putting into preventative strategies and the resources required when things get out of hand, in particular in looking after brain injured people?Ms Korner: "Trying to get the right balance is difficult. We'd all like more resources at the preventative end, but I do think the way we've restructured [redesigning five positions to create a "capacity building team" to work with remote communities] tries to address that imbalance. "It's difficult to walk away from the care of people who have high disability support needs. I don't know that there's easy formulae for this at all."Within our strategy the whole continuum is there. We'd prefer to go for the preventative end rather than picking up the high end all the time. The focus at the moment is to try to do more at the other end."One program that does that is DASA's Remote Areas Aboriginal Alcohol and Other Substances Strategy (RAAASS), funded by Territory Health.The original focus of the strategy was on alcohol abuse, but for some years it has also supported initiatives concerning other substance misuse, despite there having been no increase in funding.In the last financial year RAAASS made $116,633 worth of grants, of small amounts like $1000 up to $10,000-$15,000 per project. Only a proportion of the total went to projects responding specifically to sniffing issues. NEXT: An example of the kind of project the program is supporting.


Central Australia is about to take the world stage again with the release in New York of a new novel, "The Keeper of Dreams".Written by well-known television journalist Peter Shann Ford, the book looks at what happens when a stolen generation success story, now an academic whiz in Houston, Texas, is asked to return to the desert in which he was born to recover an artifact which a wealthy businessman has acquired for his personal collection.Although Mr Ford grew up in Queensland, his career as a journalist and television news reporter for CNN and America's NBC, among others, has seen him travel the world over, and soon he will be one of NBC's Olympic Games news presenters.Mr Ford was in Central Australia recently to attend the Friends of Palliative Care's Tribute to Bob Darken as well as to visit possible locations for when "The Keeper of Dreams" goes into film production.Mr Ford said he has been visiting the Territory "on and off" since 1973, when he came as a freelance journalist to research a story about trucks.The last time Mr Ford was in the Northern Territory was two years ago when he came through to do a site check for his book.He brought his car up on the Ghan, which he says is "the world's best" train."The Keeper of Dreams" is his first novel."The book is about a fabulously wealthy businessman and collector of indigenous artifacts," Mr Ford said."The man acquires an important artifact for his collection. He believes the piece will be safer in his collection than in the desert. But the desert people to whom the piece belongs believes they will die if they don't get the item back. And they also feel the thieves should be punished."In the course of the book, the Aboriginal accomplices who had helped the businessman acquire the piece, meet their fate in the traditional way, but how to punish the wealthy whitefella is another problem."So they decide to call in one of their own people to go after and recover the artifact."And the person they ask to accomplish the task is actually one of the stolen generation's success stories."He is a desert person who had been educated and raised as a white man."The man has been so successful academically that he has been sent to Houston, Texas, to work on NASA's space program," Mr Ford said."Now he is being asked to leave his highly technical environment to return to Australia to help his people recover the artifact."Mr Ford said that "The Keeper of Dreams" is also about what makes a person a hero and what happens when the ideals of heroes conflict.Mr Ford grew up on a property in Miles, Queensland. His father was a dentist and a grazier and his childhood heroes were men like Sir Sidney Kidman, grazier kings, and pilots, "people who got things done, took risks".In his book the wealthy businessman and collector is a hero for some people, a thief for others."The businessman does not believe he stole the artifact; he truly believes the piece will be safer in a vault than in the possession of the desert people to whom it traditionally belongs," Mr Ford said."The characters, as thinking Australians brought up with a western code of conduct, are therefore faced with a moral dilemma."They have to look at the implications of what they have done in a way in which they had not expected to be confronted."The techie, an educated Aboriginal born in the desert but who has been raised and accepted into his adopted society, is now faced with a dilemma which goes to the core of his being. Does he respond as his white education has taught him or does he follow his Aboriginal roots?"Although "The Keeper of Dreams" is only being released in the United States at the end of the week, film discussions for an Australian produced film are already under way on both sides of the Pacific. "We are hoping for an all Australian production with American financing," Mr Ford said."Part of the film will be shot in Houston, but the rest will be shot in the Northern Territory, from one end to the other, from the Top End through to Uluru."In fact it was the idea of making "The Keeper of Dreams" into a film that brought Mr Ford and veteran Australian director and film maker Lee Robinson together."Do you know the old adage, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears? Well that is what happened with ‘The Keeper of Dreams'. "Three years ago I sent Mr Robinson an advance copy of the manuscript."He got in touch with me and asked if I had thought of making a movie with the material."Since then Mr Robinson has been my tutor and my mentor, my ‘ elder'."Just as documentary filmmaker Lowell Thomas passed on his knowledge to Lee Robinson years ago, Mr Robinson is passing on his knowledge to me."We should not call our elderly, 'elderly' but ‘elders'. The storytellers are our inherited legacy; their stories have to be passed on".


Gallery Gondwana director Roslyn Premont celebrated 10 years in business last week, with a gathering treated to traditional dancing by some of the gallery's Aboriginal artists and members of their family, and the opening of a new exhibition from Tiwi Designs who are also celebrating – 20 years of incorporation.Before coming to Alice Springs in 1987, Roslyn spent 10 and a half years overseas working for Foreign Affairs. People would ask her to tell them about Aboriginal people."I didn't know much myself," Roslyn recalls."I was then asked to accompany a group to a festival in New Caledonia and became interested in the culture and the people. The art came second; my interest grew out of a sense of aesthetics."I love beauty, but I have no formal background in art."What I bring to art is a genuine interest in culture and people."Roslyn came to Alice to manage what was then a government Aboriginal art gallery located next to where KFC is now."It was pre-boom, when Aboriginal art was not that popular."I came for six months but the six months went quickly and three years later I decided to open my own gallery, Gallery Gondwana."Those were the days when people thought only the work by old men were valuable and that when all the established artists passed on, there wouldn't be any art left. "When I started the gallery, I didn't want to only concentrate on the artists who were known, those who were established. I was determined to work with emerging artists, to take risks. And it has paid off."It is wonderful to see those artists who were emerging artists then, now winning awards, and not just old men but also middle aged men and women."And the artists have the spirit to keep inventing themselves, to try new styles and new ideas."People should not put people in glass cages; people are people."This week Roslyn, along with acclaimed artist and friend Dorothy Napangardi, are headed to Sydney to open their Sydney Salon in Annandale where Dorothy will be in residence. (They also plan to see some of the Olympic events.) Meanwhile, the Tiwi show of ceramics, fabrics, sculptures, paintings and works on paper continues in Alice.Tiwi Design began out of a small room underneath the Catholic Presbytery on Bathurst Island in 1969.Two young men, Bede Tungatalum and Giovanni Tipungwuti, worked with the art teacher from the school, Madeline Clear, to produce wood block prints.This art form was introduced as a link to traditional wood carving techniques.By 1969 the artists started to transfer their designs onto silk screens and printing textiles quickly became a major activity.They were awarded the Industrial Design Council of Australia's Good Design Award in 1970, and went on to form a partnership, employing Madeline as art adviser.The partnership changed to an association in 1980 with the aim being to promote, preserve and enrich Tiwi Culture.Thirty years on, there are up to 80 artists working with Tiwi Design annually. They exhibit their work locally, nationally and internationally and have created their own website to target a world wide audience.

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