October 11, 2000


Calls from the multi million dollar motor home sector of the tourism industry for more appropriate facilities have met sharply diverging responses.Peter Severin, the president of the NT Wayside Inn Association, says "bush camping" should be made available more widely for owners of the fully self-contained vehicles.He says providing low-cost or free overnight camping areas attracts this type of traveler to the region, and they then buy a wide range of goods and services from local businesses.But coercing them to pay for camping would "kill the goose that lays the golden egg".Meanwhile Alice Springs' Mayor Fran Erlich has ruled out the provision for motor homes of a low cost parking area with the municipality.She says they can used established caravan parks, or pull up at "thousands of places" outside the town.Mrs Erlich was responding to a statement by Don Eldred, an executive member of the Campervan Motorhome Club of Australia (Alice News, October 4).He said during the motor home rally in The Alice last week that the club's well organised members, whose internet site available in English, French, German and Italian also guides thousands of visitors from overseas, give preference to towns sympathetic to their needs."We have large statistics to prove that every time one of these vehicles stays for a week, the average that goes into that community is $300," Mr Eldred said."But if a town becomes unsympathetic, we've got very long ranges in these vehicles, all right, we'll go on to the next town that is more attuned to our requirements."The club has 24,000 members owning 12,000 "rigs" some worth more than $300,000 and is growing at the rate of 500 members a month. An estimated 5000 motor homes are in the Territory during the tourist season."The whole idea of self-contained vehicles is that they do not need the wide range of services offered by caravan parks."I'm not prepared to pay $22 for a tap and a piece of ground to stand on," said Mr Eldred.Other participants at the rally complained that they had been moved from Crown Land where they camped prior to the rally.Says town council CEO Nick Scarvelis: "Our officers did speak to a couple of people to say, do you realise this is illegal, you shouldn't really be here. That's all. "There was no issue of fines, no draconian measures taken, and people made their own judgment about whether they moved or not." Mr Scarvelis says he was "aware of complaints from inside the municipality" about the motor homes parking outside designated areas."Our reaction was complaints driven," he says.Asked who the complaints had come from Mr Scarvelis said: "That''s not for me to say."Mrs Erlich says motor home owners can camp "in the bushty't expect that they can go into any national park or wherever and camp."It's correct to make an example of that."You don't come into a town and expect that you can break the rules."There are thousands of places around Alice Springs where they can camp wherever people go on weekends, where you go, where I go to camp, any creek bed, any area outside municipal boundaries, but not in reserves, because that's where they do get moved on."Asked whether the town council would set aside a parking area, inside the municipality, for self-contained motor homes, Mrs Erlich said: "No, because there are caravan parks."Mr Scarvelis says: "We have a very important responsibility to support the caravan parks where people have invested a lot of money."Mr Severin says motor home owners are welcome to park overnight free of charge at his Curtin Springs roadhouse 80 km east of Ayers Rock. He is gaining their bar, restaurant and fuel trade.He says: "We were chock-a-block with them."We had an enormous turnover."But you don't fleece them for everything."If you're nice they will come and if you're not they won't."Mr Severin says some roadhouse proprietors, especially in the Top End, have an "attitude problem which needs to be addressed". He says Mr Eldred "has a lot of good points, and I sympathise with him"".Says Mr Severin, a veteran pastoralist who has converted his historic homestead on the Lasseter Highway to cater for tourists: "Motor home people should be able to camp anywhere in the bush, on pastoral land."They are not conducting a business."Nobody in their right mind would stop them so long as they don't leave rubbish behind and desecrate the land."Nobody would prevent them from sleeping over night."Mr Severin says there is "nothing wrong with camping in highway rest areas."There are not enough rest areas."He says he is opposed to providing toilets and showers at rest areas because that's the function of roadhouses and caravan parks."If we want tourists to come up here we need to be a bit more lenient: Give a little and get a lot back," says Mr Severin."We need to make these people really welcome, or they'll tell their friends, these bastards will fleece you!INVESTMENT"The market is changing and we who have set up our business and spent our money are inclined to want to make our investment work."This is a new form of tourism and it has to be catered for, one way or another, if we want the business."To my way of thinking this is a golden opportunity for us to say, Stay with us free'."First it was coaches, then air, then motorcars and caravans, now motor homes are added to it, and it's big money."Meanwhile MLA for MacDonnell John Elferink says in the interest of safety the NT Government is providing rest areas on the major highways where overnight parking has been a "thorn in the side of roadside inn proprietors".He says: "It is unfortunate that tourist guides interstate and overseas feel that it is necessary to say that it's OK to overnight in these places."This has led to problems of hygiene and in many respects does represent a form of competition for roadhouses."Mr Elferink says the issue should be the subject of "broad consultation" seeking opinions from the industries involved, as well as the general public.Meanwhile rally organiser Marilyn Wratten says the individual event participants spent more than $300,000 in Alice Springs.Taking into account purchase by the organisers of services including food, entertainment, rent and rubbish removal, she says the town the town earned well in excess of $1m with the two week long fixture.


Official requests to visitors in motor homes not to overnight in public places have brought into focus the town's illegal camping problems.Late last week there was a camp (pictured above) in the drain running parallel to Lovegrove Drive, about 100 metres from suburban homes.Empty beer cans and wine casks indicated that illegal drinking had taken place there. A nearby resident says she had observed several similar camps in the area, and their occupants had been defecating in the open. Town council CEO Nick Scarvelis says the long term strategy for dealing with illegal campers is to step up the "return to country" program for bush visitors, in conjunction with Tangentyere Council. In the meantime people are being "moved on" although it is clear they will, in many cases, only camp illegally elsewhere around town.He says the camp in the drain was cleaned up by council workers on Monday. The occupants are believed to have gone back to their community, or moved into one of the 18 Aboriginal town lease areas.Mr Scarvelis says while there are still "hot spots" such as Billygoat Hill and the Todd south of the Gap, the total number of campers has decreased from 300 to 400 three years ago, to around 150 today, and the river near the town centre is now relatively free of them.A Tangentyere spokesperson says the organisation has recently entered into a three year funding agreement for "return to country" with the NT Government, a "very positive" change from annual funding which provided "little security".She says this will enable Tangentyere to transport up to 20 people a day back to communities.Tangentyere bought two Troop Carriers with 10 seats each, replacing a two-wheel-drive bus which was unreliable.There are funds to buy tickets on commercial bus services to Uluru, Erldunda and Curtin Springs.The spokesperson says Tangentyere wardens estimate the number of illegal campers at any given time to be 100, but there are increases during football, after royalty payments or because of "sorry business".Complaints about illegal camping often come from residents of Aboriginal town lease areas.


The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress will not reveal nor comment on the costs of a trip to the Olympic Games by its " cabinet", the organisation's board of management, and senior staff.The Alice News was told by two independent sources, both Aboriginal, that Congress which receives funds from the Federal Department of Health and Aged Care used Congress funds for the trip, including the charter of a bus, travel allowances and tickets to the games. One of them said a friend of his is hoping to get a kidney machine which would possibly cost no more than the amount spent on the trip.Congress director John Liddle said the Alice News should investigate the motives for the complaints, and that the provision of kidney machines is the responsibility of the NT Government. After the News put the allegations to Congress the organisation released a statement, headed "Congress Sydney Study Tour Press Release", to all local media but did not respond to requests for further details.The release claimed "cabinet members and directorate staff ... have just returned from a successful tour of Aboriginal Medical Services through Victoria and NSW."The tour had two goals, to meet with other Aboriginal Health Services to compare experiences and services, and to give members of Congress the opportunity to join in other Aboriginal activities from around the country at the Sydney Olympics.URGING ON"Of course like many other Australians, the desire to urge on our Aboriginal athletes wasn't absent. "Particularly the two local Aboriginal athletes, Henry Collins and James Swan, who were supported by Congress. "With the Olympics on it provided Congress with an opportunity to meet and discuss Aboriginal health issues with a broad range of people and to support our local boys."Going by bus gave the study tour the opportunity to meet with a lot of Aboriginal people running medical services to share ideas and compare notes."The release says the group made contact with five services across northern Victoria and NSW, from Broken Hill to Redfern.Although the release quoted a contact person and his phone number, there was no answer when the News rang several times last week.Mr Liddle did not return a phone call from the News.The department's regional manager in Alice Springs, David Scholz, says he has been assured by the Congress executive that no department funds have been used to purchase Olympic tickets, to provide spending money nor cover personal expenses."The department has been assured the only expenses attributed to our funding were those incurred in undertaking bona fide liaison visits to other Aboriginal health services in Victoria and NSW, a legitimate function of community controlled health services," says Mr Scholz.NT Senator Grant Tambling, who is also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, says: "If any Aboriginal constituent complains to me directly I will have the matter investigated for the propriety of any government money that may be caught up in this."


Each of the thousands of people attending last year's Birdsville races inhaled about six grammes of dust as a result of the "significant dust event" that blew in on cue from the desert.We know because Griffith University's Grant McTainsh was there with sophisticated scientific equipment to measure the event's impact, and CAAMA the Alice-based Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association was on hand filming his work.CAAMA had just concluded negotiations to produce a $420,000 one hour documentary about dust storms for international distribution on National Geographic Television.The result, dramatically titled "Red Storm" in the vein of Hollywood features like "Twister" and "Volcano", had its "world premiere" at Araluen last Saturday, as a thank you gesture to the people of Alice Springs who had supported the production."We would have been given help elsewhere, but not so freely," says Associate Producer Jacquie Bethel."If there was a dust storm happening anywhere, people would ring us."We'd say, We need a helicopter in 15 minutes' and we'd get it. "People lent us everything from eskies to winches. "The resources a small town made available to us were phenomenal."From contract close to shooting start the Alice crew had one week up their sleeve: among their tasks, a four day drive across the Simpson Desert! At Birdsville, where they had a date with "Dr Dust" (McTainsh), there were 20 other crews in town, but the CAAMA crew was given precedence everywhere they went. Bethel credits the groundwork laid by fellow Associate Producer as well as researcher and writer, Chris Tangey, as well as the ability of the predominantly CAAMA-trained crew to mix it with the locals.Perhaps too, people living in one of the dustiest places on earth were glad to see that aspect of their environment become the subject of a prestigious documentary. But with the best backing and preparation in the world, the documentary may not have turned out nearly as well had nature not chimed in. Not only did an exceptional storm blow up right on cue at Birdsville, but another terrific event occurred while the crew were filming at McTainsh's monitoring station. This led to an excellent live action sequence during which McTainsh and his assistant struggle to set their equipment as dust rolls in off the horizon.They have just succeeded when the full force of the storm hits and McTainsh's hat is blown off. He runs after it, but the wind carries it always just out reach in a maddening dance. It is the best of quite a number of warm-hearted, humorous touches in the film.But apart from the drama and here the film is lent a lot of power by archival footage of a massive dust storm enveloping Melbourne in 1983, as well as by a wonderfully high roll of red dust filmed in the Pitjantjatjara lands last year what is there to say about dust storms?Aren't they just the top blowing off the dry interior of our continent and there's nothing much to be done about it? As the documentary reveals, there's quite a lot more to it. McTainsh's study has shown that dust storms are as much associated with flood as with drought. Flood waters deposit a huge load of nutrient rich silt on flood plains, which when it dries out and as its iron content oxidises becomes the red dust of infamy.The finest particles carry most of the nutrients and are the ones that will blow the furthest. How can we prevent this depletion of our environment? One answer, very gently put by the film, is through better management of cattle on pastoral lands.But, interestingly, less dust blowing off our continent would have its downside for the oceans and the life they support. Because the red dust is iron-rich it promotes the growth of plankton to the benefit of the entire marine food chain. McTainsh and the film crew also follow the dust to the alps of New Zealand. The sample of red-stained snow and ice gathered off the side of a crevasse as CAAMA's camera rolled was the first to be tested and proven to have its origins in the Diamantina. Our loss is New Zealand's gain.The dust trail may also explain the baffling occurrence of the often deadly Q Fever in Brisbane. The disease is prevalent among people who work with sheep and cattle, but is now understood to be also borne on dust particles carried for considerable distances.Without doubt, with "Red Storm" CAAMA has produced an entertaining and informative documentary for popular consumption. Chris Tangey says National Geographic only produce one out of every 15,000 proposals they receive. While it is not CAAMA's first international co-production previous partners include the BBC and Channel Four the association with National Geographic, a big American player in documentary production, lifts CAAMA's profile considerably.However, in its content, "Red Storm" represents something of a departure from the typically Indigenous focus of CAAMA's productions, so how does the project fit with CAAMA's overall objectives?It does have some Indigenous content that may well have been overlooked by another production house. There is a touching sequence where the Birdsville district ranger, an Indigenous man, tells his grandchildren a traditional story about a whirlwind.There is also a sequence with Arrernte women showing how they ward off willy-willies from their camp; and a rather fanciful sequence with a Kadaitcha man, one of whose weapons is to throw up a blinding dust storm in the path of his target.Significant production roles were held by CAAMA-trained Indigenous crew members. These include David Tranter who was the principal sound recordist; Robyn Nardoo, camera assistant; Jason Ramp, who filmed the Pitjantjatjara lands sequence; and Sue Thompson, production assistant.The three CAAMA staffers involved throughout the project were Jacquie Bethel and Chris Tangey, and the then Executive Producer Matthew Flanagan who produced and directed the film. Flanagan has now returned to his home in Byron Bay, and long- time CAAMA staffer Priscilla Collins has become Executive Producer.After 11 years at CAAMA, Tangey has lost his permanent position in the course of a restructure, but will continue to work for the organisation on a project to project basis. Principal camera work for "Red Storm" was by Sydney-based cinematographer, Joel Petersen. Post-production was done at Spectrum in Sydney. The editor and narrator were Ted Otton and Nicholas McKay.The film will be released in Australia on Austar on November 6, after which it will be broadcast on Imparja. In Europe it will be released on December 6, on National Geographic Television, while the American release is planned for January.


After a childhood "more feral than free" on cattle and buffalo stations in the Top End, Liz Martin raised her own children in the coal fields of Queensland and road construction camps around the Territory, until their need for the company of other children brought her to a more settled life in Alice Springs.Here, her life long passion for the road transport industry has found a natural outlet in the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, now a significant tourist attraction with over 50,000 visitors a year, run by the Road Transport Historical Society of which Liz is President.With partner Bruce Cotterill, Liz has also entered the commercial side of the tourism industry. The couple bought the Alice Wanderer, a day tour company which they have built up from two busses to seven, and are leasing the Date Gardens as the Wanderer's base.Liz is a fourth generation Territorian on her mother's side, but her father was a Welshman, in the British Navy until he jumped ship in Australia.She says she owes much of her interest in the Territory's history to him."He looked at things through new eyes, and because he was always learning, we were always learning too."Things that my uncles, my grandparents took for granted, Dad always wanted to know more about. "He ended up being one of the famous buffalo shooters, in there at the beginning of the new era of shooting buffalo for their meat. There was the likes of Tom Cole who'd done it for hides previously. "Dad was one of the pioneers in that field and I should say my mother was too because she was right in there as well."Liz's mother was Yvonne Holland, daughter of Jack and Elizabeth Holland. Jack came to the Territory in the 1930s to work for the Durack family on Newry Station.He was a horses' drover to start with and ended up a station manager.When Liz was born at Gordon Downs Station, near Katherine, her grandfather was the manager of nearby Coolibah Station and her father, Ron Ball, was already head stockman on Gordon Downs. Ron was actually an illegal immigrant, but it hadn't stopped him marrying Yvonne. They went on to have five kids; he served in the Australian Army in Korea; and was eventually made " Immigrant of the Year"."I think it was in 68, and they sort of discovered he was an illegal, so there was a lot paper shuffling behind the scenes to get all that sorted out," Liz laughs. While Liz was still a toddler the family moved to Top Springs, a cattle dipping station where Ron was employed as a stock inspector for the Animal Industry Branch, the equivalent of the Department of Primary Industry in pre self-government days. The dipping at Pussycat Dip was intended to control ticks in cattle going from the Territory up to the meatworks at Wyndham.It was a pretty isolated life for the young family. Any visitor was big news, and Liz dates her interest in trucks from then."There were three of us kids at that stage, Elaine and Joe were my sister and brother."We were quite used to seeing the cattle come in with people droving them through on horseback, but the big thrill was when Noel Buntine started to come through with his B-model Macks."I can remember all of us being loaded into the back of the old Landrover and going down to the dip to watch this phenomenon! "It was just cattle coming in on a trailer on the back of a truck and it was the biggest thing that had happened all year!"The stores truck used to come out too, once every six or eight weeks"It brought the mail, fresh fruit and vegies, our new school work from the Correspondence School in South Australia and it took our old school work back down south to be marked. "It was always such a big thing the truck's coming! You'd know because of radio messages coming through from elsewhere, then it'd arrive and we'd all sit down together to a barbecue or a roast. "The trucks literally were our lifeblood, they were our contact with the outside world."Apart from their parents and the trucks, the children's world consisted of Ma Hawkes, an old lady who ran the Top Springs Hotel, a bush pub which provided very basic supplies to the locals; the jackaroos, ringers and drovers who came through; and the local Aboriginal community."The Aboriginal kids were the only other kids within a 500 mile radius and we grew up with them. Some of them we formed lifelong friendships with. "When we moved, I remember being absolutely distraught and hanging on to a little girl called Hilda. I didn't want to leave her. She was the only other girl of my age I'd ever met."A friend of mine said my childhood was more feral than free! "And looking back, we were pretty wild, we ran loose as a lot of the bush kids did in those days. "We could all drive by the time we could walk! "Wed think nothing of going and jumping in a car and going fishing or shooting a pig. "We used to go down the creek with the Aboriginal kids and we'd take nothing with us for the day. We'd catch what we were going to have for lunch, and make a fire and cook it. "We could all shoot, we could all drive. My father was adamant that it didn't make any difference whether we were girls or boys. All us girls got taught how to change a fan belt and how to look after a flat tyre from the time we could walk. "He was just as insistent that my brothers knew how to wash their clothes and cook a damper as well. "There was no discrimination between the sexes with my father. We all had to know how to do everything. He was very big on making sure that if we were ever lost in the bush that we could survive." Throwing them in at the deep end was Ron's approach. The first time Liz was left in control of a vehicle is deeply etched in her mind."It was at Old Marakai homestead, which is now adjoining the Kakadu National Park. "We had an old Toyota, which was all cut down with roll bars, and it had the glorious name of The Guts Truck'. "Marakai was a buffalo station and we had a meatworks there, we produced buffalo meat for export to Germany and for consumption in Australia. It was one of the first stations to produce buffalo meat for human consumption and regulations certainly weren't what they are in the meatworks of today. "We simply loaded the skins and the hides and the bits we didn't use onto The Guts Truck and took them down to a tip and tipped them off. "It certainly wasn't a glamorous vehicle, it always smelt really bad. "Dad took me out in that one, showed me everything, like where the brakes were and then he jumped out and walked away, about a kilometre from the homestead."I drove backwards and forwards for about an hour, crying because I didn't know how to stop it and my mother was saying, For Chrissake, get in the car and show her how to stop it!' He was saying, She'll remember, she'll remember,' and I did eventually. "It was pretty traumatic but they couldn't get me out of it after that. I would have been seven or eight then."Teenage years brought the misery of boarding school. Liz was sent to St Gabriel's and All Souls in Charters Towers in Queensland. Although she did well in her studies her ambition was to be an archeologist she didn't last quite two years."I actually got expelled! A lot of the Territory kids did in those days. After such a free and easy lifestyle to go into such a disciplined environment, I think it was a little bit of a shock to our system and to the school system!"She finished Year 10 in Darwin, boarding with her grandparents, and then decided to leave. She did her matriculation a few years later, and found adult learning much easier, but that was not before doing a four year apprenticeship as a hairdresser.Her mother, although she remained at Marakai, owned a hairdressing salon in Darwin and thought hairdressing would give Liz a secure future."I absolutely hated it the whole time. The day I finished my apprenticeship I never went back. It all seemed to me, after growing up the way I did, such a pretentious false sort of environment, but for my mother's sake I stuck to it. "I was always a bit of a tomboy. My mum was a bit of a pioneer tomboy. She was the first woman in Darwin to have a speedway licence for a saloon car and I was the second. We really had to fight for the right for us to be involved and race with the men, not in ladies' races."Liz's next step was to marry her now ex-husband. "He was carting Adelaide-Darwin and he used to come out to Marakai to pick up the buffalo meat. "We bought our own business and we ran roadtrains Adelaide- Darwin for a while."Then we moved over to Queensland to the coal fields for about five years and worked over there."While we were there, we were offered a job bitumising what's now the Lasseter Highway, was then the Petermann Road, from Ayers Rock to the Olgas."We came back to Alice for six weeks and 20 years later, he's gone but Im still here. "I got custody of the trucks!"On her own, Liz ran them until they were paid for: "If I'd ve sold them then I would've ended up with nothing and still owing the bank money." When there was no one else to drive them, Liz would, but she tried not to be away from her two children too often.Coming into town for the sake of the kids had been "the downfall" of her and her husband's relationship: "It took me a lot of adjusting after living in the bush all of my childhood and half my adult life to that point. And he was away eight months of the year. You just grow apart and do your own thing."In Alice, Liz worked for a long time for the Northern Territory Road Transport Association, both on their committee and as their CEO, making the public and governments aware of the modern day issues of road transport such as, the cost of registrations, taxes and excises, driving hours, and road safety. She then went into business again, buying the Truck Shop spare parts business, after first working in it for 12 months. The kids were still at school and she was still running her trucks. Eventually, sick of working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, she decided to take some time off. But to stop herself from getting bored, she wrote a book, "Australian Road Transport Heritage", and got involved in the then fledgling road transport museum.
NEXT: The "working vehicles" museum.

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.