February 7, 2001.


Ted Egan, who for five years has been battling to raise money for his $6m feature film "The Drover's Boy", says Chief Minister Denis Burke is "posturing" about developing a Territory film industry while his government is "steadfastly refusing" to assist the Alice Springs based project. Mr Egan is flying to London this week in a last chance bid to raise overseas capital before the approval for the film's prospectus by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission runs out. Mr Burke last week hosted the world premiere in Darwin of " Yolngu Boy", a $4.5m movie for young audiences, directed by Top End film maker Stephen Johnson. Mr Burke said his government is now considering "how to further assist the film industry" in the NT. The government is understood to have supported "Yolngu Boy", set in Arnhemland, with a $300,000 grant. "The NT Government is proud to have provided financial assistance to this film and applauds the many private investors and Australian Children's Television Foundation for their commitment to the project," Mr Burke said. Mr Egan says the 3791 investors in "The Drover's Boy", including " hundreds of Territorians, all of them voters, must be wondering what's wrong with their project" for the government to give it the cold shoulder. "I'm sure the investors are not blaming me." Mr Egan says there was dialogue with the government over several years, but no reason has ever been given for the refusal of official support. "I wonder why they bother to posture on the subject when they don't seem to want to do anything," says Mr Egan. Mr Burke said last week that "Yolngu Boy" is the "first time a collaboration between the producers, director and Aboriginal people has evolved to tell such a story. "The film offers an insight into a culture Australian audiences have never seen before." Mr Egan, who describes Mr Johnson as a mate and "applauded" him on the success of his film, says he's raised with the government Aboriginal involvement in his own project, and other possible ones in The Centre. "I've entertained millions of tourists, I present the world's longest running one man show - 30 years - and I've promoted the NT all around the world, and still will, because I believe in the product," says Mr Egan. "In Canada I had a promotion, ‘when you come to the NT I buy you the first Fosters'. "The next year I bought hundreds of beers for Canadian visitors." The video clip of "The Drover's Boy" won the Golden Guitar at Tamworth last year. Mr Egan says this puts any doubts about the quality of the film beyond doubt. MLA for MacDonnell John Elferink says he put Mr Egan's case to the government but did not succeed in gaining support. "I think it's a shame because it is a good opportunity to promote The Centre. But it's ultimately the government's decision how to spend public money. "You lobby for projects and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That's life in the big city." A spokesman for the Chief Minister declined to comment specifically on the refusal of Mr Egan's proposals , but said Mr Egan is a "great ambassador for the NT". Proposals for this form of support are considered from time to time, said the spokesman. "However, the NT Government continues to not make provision of public funds as a finance broker, but will consider support in a form of business development in the early stage, and other forms of support for those proposals that are clearly developed and financially sound."


Claims by Federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge that kidney dialysis "is something that no-one in the world has ever been able to make work in the desert" have been refuted by Territory Member Warren Snowdon (ALP). "He was in fact totally out of order," he said. And the Alice Springs News has obtained information from the Royal Perth Hospital about its extensive Remote Area Dialysis Program, which currently assists 54 Aboriginal patients in the bush, the most remote living at Kalumbaru in the Kimberleys. According to the ABC, Dr Wooldridge commented in Kintore, west of Alice Springs, a community which recently raised $1m at an art auction to set up its own dialysis facilities: "A renal dialysis unit is an enormously difficult thing to maintain. "Keeping sterility, keeping the technical skills up. "It's something that no-one on the world has ever been able to make work in the desert. "I understand that the people of Kintore want it but there are enormous difficulties because it would be a world first (laughs) if it worked." The News spoke with Associate Professor Mark Thomas, a consultant to the Royal Perth Hospital. Dr Thomas was not asked to comment on the situation in Kintore, nor on what Dr Wooldridge had said, but to outline the Royal Perth Hospital's program. Dr Thomas says the Remote Area Dialysis Program currently assists 54 Aboriginal patients in the bush. The program started in 1989. Some 47 of the Aboriginal participants in the remote program use the peritoneal dialysis which feeds a sterile fluid from a bag through a tube into the stomach, four times a day. The remaining seven Aboriginal patients are on "home haemo dialysis" using a machine which requires a "spouse, house and nouse," says Dr Thomas. This means the patient needs a trained helper, as well as a room with power, water, drainage, temperature control and security. "Nouse" is required to absorb the training which takes around three months. However, once set up, the haemo dialysis – requiring the insertion of a needle in the arm – is cheaper than the "tube" variety. Dr Thomas says while the requirements are complex, people usually find "creative solutions" given the only other choice of going to a city for treatment. He says ongoing treatment in an urban dialysis centre costs between $30,000 and $60,000 per patient per year, while the " bush" treatment is only about 25 per cent more expensive. The setting up cost in a remote location for the haemo dialysis is $12,000 to $20,000, plus some $5000 for a water treatment plant, provided the other services are in place. Dr Thomas says the success rate is "surprisingly good": The infection rate, necessitating antibiotic treatment, for Aboriginal patients on peritoneal dialysis is one episode in every seven to 14 months. This compares to 30 to 50 months for non Aboriginal patients. Says Mr Snowdon: "Dr Wooldridge obviously has no idea about the trauma and the cultural and other ramifications associated with hospital-based treatment. "It's very clear that Aboriginal people do not want to spend time away from their country even when they are very ill and that is reason in itself for him to support the Kintore initiative." Territory Senator Grant Tambling (CLP), who is the Health Minister's Parliamentary Secretary, did not respond to an invitation to comment.


In some remote Aboriginal communities in the Centre, people are travelling up to 70 kilometres from home to collect their firewood. "That's a pretty precarious position to be in," says director of the Centre for Appropriate Technology, Bruce Walker, "but we have no real idea of how widespread and serious the problem is for the 1200 or so Indigenous communities of Australia."Six employees of mining and resources giant Rio Tinto are soon to bring their experience and expertise to bear on this and a number of other challenges facing Aboriginal people in remote areas. The six will be recipients of fellowships under a program developed by CAT and Rio Tinto as part of their three year partnership, formalised in November 1999. Other projects will see the fellowship holders and CAT staff working with communities on ways to: develop safe gas cooking; harvest stormwater run-off from roads; prevent mineral scale in hot water systems, evaporative air-conditioners, pipes and taps; and, develop a Geographic Information System (GIS) database that will allow CAT to track the status of housing and infrastructure in the communities they work with across Australia. A further fellowship will take the recipient on a five day tour through the Kimberley region, with the CAT technical advisor based in Derby. With the fuel wood survey CAT is looking for a methodology, using remote sensing, to determine the density of "biomass" around communities and thus learn how far residents are likely to have to travel to find wood. How big is this issue? Is it worth investing more time in? Further, is there a capacity (and economic development opportunity) for initiating new growth to trade off as carbon credits against emissions in industrialised countries overseas. "This will be an early sussing out to see if there's potential there," says Dr Walker. Opportunities for using renewable energy systems in small communities are limited by heavy electrical loads required for cooking and water heating. If people are able to use gas for these things, then renewable energy becomes more attractive. Gas is potentially the cleanest and cheapest fuel for cooking in remote communities, but CAT has found it difficult to encourage the use of gas for a range of reasons. One, says Dr Walker, is fear of explosions and leaks; another is the logistical difficulty and expense of getting a qualified gas fitter to connect gas bottles to equipment. The fellowship holder will work on developing a device complying with Australian standards that will enable community residents to connect their gas bottles themselves. "That would cut out one chunk of cost," says Dr Walker. "Then a subsequent project could look at the next set of problems, the leaks, the level of demand, and so on." A Rio Tinto fellowship last year focussed on a dust measurement project in the Pitjantjatjara lands. Now the roads in many communities on the lands are being sealed, in part as a dust control measure. This year the fellowship will look at the feasibility of harvesting stormwater runoff from the roads with a view to encouraging vegetation, which would act as a further dust suppressant. Anyone living in the Centre is familiar with the scale build- up resulting from the region's hard water. This is particularly troublesome in remote communities because of the expense and difficulty of maintenance. Attempts to use scale-prevention devices available on the Australian market have had mixed results. The fellowship recipient will set up an experiment, carried out by CAT staff, to determine the optimum conditions in communities for effective performance of scale-prevention devices, and to assess the different devices currently available. With the community database mapping project, CAT is again looking for a methodology. "We have significant lines of information that we currently don''t know how to pull together into a comprehensive database," says Dr Walker. "When someone rings up with a problem, we want to be able to say these are some of the other things happening in your community, have you thought about those, and so on. "We'll be able to broaden our appreciation of the community's issues and even highlight trends in communities." The final project, the Kimberley patrol, opens the fellowship program up to Rio Tinto staff who work in administration and management. On the patrol route, the recipient together with CAT"s officer, will talk to communities about what's working and not working in their houses andther infrastructure. Says Dr Walker: "The patrol is about building relationships, attempting to resolve issues with early information, linking people to other people and to networks, so that they don't feel they're out there on their own when something goes wrong."The fellowship is about trying to build a support base within Rio Tinto, so that there's an understanding that some of the issues that people talk about in the bush are unique, that they do need either extra money or special attention that's not normally given in a mainstream program or in a capital city response." The practical benefits arising from the fellowship program are obvious. The less tangible, but from CAT's point of view, equally important benefits come from the relationships developed with people along the way. Says Dr Walker: "There've been a number of people we've been exposed to through this project, first piloted in 1998, whom we've had further dealings with as private citizens. One of them has since come to work for CAT. "They have tremendous research expertise in their labs and can link us with people from all around the world. It broadens the level of input and thinking that the CAT board and staff can then do. "The CAT board were also keen to have an alliance that gave them an insight into private sector operations." But, are not a global mining giant and a small, if innovative and growing, service provider to Aboriginal communities, strange bedfellows? What's in it for Rio Tinto? Bruce Harvey of their Aboriginal Relations Unit says it's "just another facet of the company's relationship-building with Aboriginal īpeople throughout Australia". Usually, this effort goes on in the hinterland of Rio Tinto's mining operations, but at present, apart from exploration activity, Rio Tinto does not have any operations in the Centre. If current exploration were to lead to a mining proposal and ultimately an agreement with the landholders, it would take 10 years to get up and running. A "shared interest in remote area technology" provides the foundation for the CAT-Rio Tinto relationship, says Mr Harvey."And there's learning in it for Rio Tinto, technological as well as social learning about the challenges and aspirations of people living in the bush." That sounds rather altruistic. Not altruism, says Mr Harvey, but it could be described as " strategic philanthropy". "It's a partnership of equals which took about three or four years to develop. We don't approach these relationships without thinking, and without some anxiety about where things could go wtrong." Jabiluka could provide just such a setting, couldn't it? Dr Walker: "The CAT board is conscious that Rio Tinto could, in one decision, create difficulties for a lot of our work and our relationships, but at least we get to express an opinion about that at a level that a lot of other organisations don't get to deal with. "If somebody's not in there talking to them, then Rio Tinto are less likely to know what the issues are from our perspective. "CAT's technical insights are a valuable complement to issues raised by particular communities and land councils. "Part of the exploration of the partnership, before it was formalised, was talking to key individuals about the impact on us if they decided to blow up this or mine that. We asked them what their position would be? "CAT would never take a legal line with Rio Tinto because we would lose. We are interested in binding them in a different way, through specific relationships. "At the end of the day it's an individual who signs off for the company. "It's a different approach, involving a bit of risk taking and daring. "From our point of view, they've got the best technical resources around and we can access them; and they only work on projects we define through the partnership. "To date it has been a pretty good relationship." Mr Harvey says "a fair exchange of value" must be at the heart of any relationship between his company and Aboriginal communities. He cites the Hammersley mine in the Pilbara and the Weipa bauxite mine in Cape York as examples of such an exchange, where "impact benefit agreements" provide education, training, employment and enterprise development opportunities for Aboriginal people. He says Rio Tinto is currently reviewing its involvement with ERA at Jabiluka, but in any£ case, since their involvement, negotiations have been proceeding at "a much more considered pace". "There has already been solid progress in our dialogue there. "There is no longer the sense of anguish associated with urgency." Working in partnership is not new for CAT. Notably, they work closely with three Cooperative Research Centres: Water Quality and Treatment, Renewable Energy, and Aboriginal and Tropical Health. An alliance with a major corporation is in a different league. There is a lot of talk these days about the power of such corporations being greater than that of national governments.That may be the case but, says Dr Walker, CAT – almost entirely funded from, and operating in, the public sector – is "far more vulnerable to a change in government policy than to any decisions Rio Tinto might make". "And we actually get to talk to the head of Rio Tinto whereas we don't get to talk to the Prime Minister!"


Alice Springs' McDouall Stuart Branch of the National Trust of Australia is trying to get the National Trust (NT) Council to provide adequate funding so that the Trust's office at the Old Hartley Street School can be reopened. The office was closed late last year when the NT Council decided to drastically reduce its funding of the office assistant's position and thereby effectively downgrade its Alice Springs office. Council president Gillian Banks and treasurer Lesley Mearns were in Alice Springs last month to discuss the situation.Throughout a six-hour meeting, Alice Springs people spoke passionately about how much their history and heritage meant to the town, and about how, with the Alice office closed, the National Trust was missing out on the opportunity to inform people of the existence and the work of the National Trust throughout Australia. They also told the Top End visitors that they did not like plans to move all of the Alice Springs archival and research material to Darwin for storage, sending copies back as they get around to it. Chairman of the McDouall Stuart Branch, Domenico Pecorari, said that the Trust's membership in Alice is about equal to that of Darwin city and makes up about 40 percent of the membership in the whole of the Northern Territory. He also said that the Alice Springs heritage-listed properties which the National Trust owns and leases provides the Trust with about $50,000 per year in rental earnings, the majority of which goes to pay salaries of Darwin-based personnel and office costs. "We have asked the National Trust (NT) Council to consider our motion of providing adequate funding, about $30,000 a year, so that we can staff and maintain their office at the Old Hartley Street School, " Mr Pecorari said. "We do not think $30,000 is unfair considering about $50,000 comes from Alice Springs." Mr Pecorari said members of the McDouall Stuart Branch believe the National Trust needs a strong presence in Alice Springs "to look after heritage issues related to this region". "The National Trust (NT) cannot look after heritage issues in Alice Springs from Darwin anymore than people in Alice Springs can look after heritage issues in Darwin. "We believe we made our case to Ms Banks and Ms Mearns when they were here last month. "Now it is up to them to disseminate the information. "Hopefully they will be able to sway the Council to vote in favor of our motion at their meeting at the end of the month."But Mr Pecorari admits that the McDouall Stuart Branch committee is not optimistic, and they have talked about alternative actions if funding doesn't come through. "Alternatives include petitioning the NT Government to intervene on behalf of Alice Springs by changes to legislation or changes to the funding arrangement," Mr Pecorari said. "Another option is to form our own group, a breakaway group from the Northern Territory Trust, which represents Central Australia and to seek our own funding from the government."

COMMENT: Getting the town going?

Happy New Year! As always we're resuming publication on the first Wednesday in February. This is our eighth year of serving the community, distributing more than half a million copies of the Alice Springs News during the year. It's going to be an interesting one. With the local economy still in the doldrums, the latest " hiccup" (as a government spokesperson called it) of the "all eggs in one basket" railway project is giving new currency to the many unanswered questions surrounding it. What, if any, benefits will the link bring to Alice Springs? Why, if speed is the major point of the link, are we building a line limited to 110 km/h? What, if any, freight contracts are in place to justify the massive public investment? There is a requirement that 70 per cent of the project's cost must be spent in the NT or in South Australia. How meaningful is that to the NT given that this requirement would be fully met even if ALL the 70 per cent is spent in SA, and none in the NT? Is the Darwin railway – if it is ever built – going to be the biggest sheltered workshop for our southern neighbor since the Collins Class submarine? Fortunately, the political scene is far less dull than the economic. Chief Minister Denis Burke has brought forward to today the deadline for sacked Minister and sitting MLA for Braitling Loraine Braham to declare whether or not she will be standing as an independent. She says if the answer is "yes" – and by the start of this week she still hadn't made up her mind – Mr Burke will ban her from the Parliamentary wing meetings, even for the balance of the current term. "If I stand he will kick me out," says Mrs Braham. She says she's also facing expulsion from the CLP. Given the ruling party's performance in The Centre over the past few years, that may greatly enhance her chances as an independent. No wonder that even the preselected CLP candidates are making noises that the Government will need to lift its game a lot. On the cultural scene, the town will celebrate Federation with a $2m party in September, funded by Canberra. Another beneficiary of Federation spending is Araluen, soon to open its new gallery. We'll be asking Mr Burke what his government will be doing for Centralians, especially in the key areas of economic development, health and education, in town and in the bush, and, just as importantly, what are Centralians doing for themselves? Watch this space!


PICTURED at top: "camping" in the snow in Austria and (above) next to the cathedral in Chartres, France.

Everybody said don't do it, you'll freeze to death, there'll be no caravan parks open, you can't drive such a big vehicle in snow and ice, you're mad. Well, we not only did it – a winter tour of Austria and France in a mobile home – we enjoyed the excitement and beauty as free and unregimented travelers, avoiding the day to day hassles, expense and time wasting of finding transport and accommodation. What's more, we flew Malaysia Airlines "mixed class", traveling "upstairs" for the 12 hours non-stop leg between Kuala Lumpur and Vienna or Paris – no doubt a trying experience in economy. For an extra $1000 you not only arrive refreshed in Europe, you have access to the business lounges in Darwin and Kuala Lumpur (the latter a veritable palace!), as well as first class check-in. Included in the return fare ex Alice Springs of around $3400 – which applies all year ‘round – is a five star hotel room in Kuala Lumpur on the way back for the 10-hour stop over, where you can greatly reduce the effect of jet lag with a peaceful snooze and a good meal. Europe by camper van is a hoot! You see more for less, especially if you have a bent for adventure and a healthy disrespect for convention and authorities. Holidaying in the off season avoids summer crowds and offers lower prices, while the risk of wet weather is hardly greater than in the warmer months. The four of us (two adults and two kids aged 9 and 12) road tested a German built Hymer, worth a cool $105,000, for good reason known as the Rolls Royce of motor homes. In the northern winter this mobile home's most welcome feature is its excellent insulation, including double glazing on the windows and 30 mm thick metal-styro-plastic walls. The gas heating is completely odorless, thermostat controlled, almost silent, and cheap to run. All you notice is the quite whirr of the electric fan, reticulating warm air to five outlets in the spacious cabin. An 11 litre bottle of gas (the van is equipped with two) costs around $40 and lasts, with nightly use, including hot water, about a week. The Hymer people say the van is safe for up to minus 20 C. In Austria we slept in it for several nights of minus 12. No worries at all – we even had to turn down the heating. When you spread the cost over a small group of four or six, traveling in a motor home becomes very economic. Groceries in Austria, Germany and France are roughly the same price as in Oz. Liquor, when bought in shops, is a lot cheaper. European hotels are expensive, and they frequently charge per head. The Hymer vans start from $100 a day ("preseason") for the model sleeping four, with unlimited kilometres, ABS brakes and Europe-wide service support. Hymer-rent now has 42 outlets in Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Denmark and Sweden (new ones are being added). There are doubtlessly many rules about motor home parking in Europe. Whether or not we broke some of them I don't know because we didn't check. This may be cheeky but it worked. We didn't spend a single night in a caravan park, even though we noticed a very nice one in Paris, with lots of trees and by the river Seine, on the outskirts of the inner city (near Porte de St Cloud). While it was far from crowded in the middle of January, there were quite a few vans there. Especially in France we saw many more motor homes on the road than we had expected. At less than 3500 kg our Hymer (it was the B 544 model) is regarded as a normal passenger car (and can be driven in Europe with a normal Australian car license). There's nothing to stop you from parking it like a normal car – subject to local restrictions, of course. You want to be in the inner cities where hotels are dear. During the day short term parking is generally in force there, but not between the early evening and around 8am. A good strategy for overnighting is to find a parking spot late in the afternoon when business parkers are leaving. You buy a 60 minute parking permit for around $1, to cover the balance of the term parking for the day, and you're set for the night. The Hymer has blinds all ‘round, offering exceptional privacy. As it turned out its insulation against the cold also served as a great sound dampener. For example, we slept twice in Vienna's busy Lerchenfelderstrasze. Trams passed within less than a metre all night. We hardly noticed them. The same applied to traffic noise in a side street off Boulevard de Belleville in the 11th arrondissement of Paris.On the motor ways overnighting is even easier. The many parking bays are used by thousands of truckies for a kip. No reason why you can't sleep there, too. Most of these parking areas in France are large, well-kept and even have playgrounds and picnic tables. HOSPITABLE They're far more pleasant than their stingy and inhospitable counterparts in Australia. In one Austrian skiing resort we "camped" in the center of the picturesque village. Parking areas serving the ski tows and lifts are empty at night. The Hymer doesn't need external power (presumably unless you park for a few days) because it has two batteries which recharge during driving. With its 200 litre water tank, toilet and shower you are absolutely self sufficient. There are separate tanks for the toilet waste and gray water, avoiding making a mess in the wrong places. Independence from "outside" services is enhanced by a good size fridge (gas and electric, the latter both main and car battery driven), a three ring gas stove, plenty of storage space for food, and a comfortable table for four. Most of Europe is safe – but there are exceptions. We dropped a visit to Prague: everyone we talked to in Austria counseled against trips by car to the former eastern block because stealing is rife. Thieves even make forays into western Europe. Current joke in Vienna: Visit Warsaw, your car is already there. Don't be fazed by driving a big vehicle. Ours was nearly six metres long and 2.3m wide. The length is no worries but the extra 30 centimetres width needs watching. Take your time. When in doubt, slow down or stop. The huge mirrors are a great device for locating yourself in relation to traffic lanes, other vehicles, guide rails, and so on. We managed to squeeze the Hymer through the narrow streets of medieval Chartres, with millimetres to spare. Don't try this one at home! If you're a closet truckie you'll be in your element: fabulous visibility; much higher driving position than a car; a seat with more positions than the Kamasutra; arm rests; power steering via the near horizontal steering wheel; a short floor- style gear shift (five forward gears) mounted half way up the dash, right at your finger tips. The gutsy 2.8 litre, 90 kW diesel direct injection engine, transverse mounted to save space, is the heart of the Fiat power plant, chassis and running gear which make up the platform for the van. Our Hymer's front wheel drive performed well in ice and snow. Traction is enhanced when you fill the mid-mounted 200 litre water tank. The Loos Haus hotel and restaurant, at Kreuzberg, an hour's drive south of Vienna, built by the famous Austrian architect Adolf Loos in 1928, is perched on a hillside with breathtaking views of the Rax and Schneeberg mountains. When we visited, the narrow and steep road with dozens of hairpin turns was covered in ice and snow, although gravel had been spread. Our problem free arrival at the top in the big vehicle evoked some "wunderbars!!" from the locals. We needed the snow chains (on the front wheels only and not hard to fit) just once, on a steep section of a minor road near Salzburg, when fresh snow had fallen and the gravel spreading crew hadn't yet been through.
NEXT: Driving in Paris is fun ... if you have a sense of humour!
[Costs are expressed in Australian dollars at the rate applicable on February 2, 2001: A$1 = 1.09 German Marks; 3.68 French Franks and 7.73 Austrian Schillings.
The Hymer Rent email is E-mail ralf.torresin@hymer.comThe company's web site is
The Malaysian Airlines agent in Alice Springs is Jetset, Michael Loy, Tel 08 89 528573. The Alice Springs News staff were full fare paying passengers on Malaysian Airlines.]

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