April 18, 2001.


Alice Springs will get a new sewage treatment system, replacing the controversial evaporation ponds which after heavy rains overflow into the nearby swamp, are foul smelling and are linked with mosquito borne diseases, some of them life threatening. The new plant may include effluent reuse schemes. The latest Urban Water Management Strategy document gives the system a 2002-03 start date. There is no capital works commitment as yet, but informed sources say an announcement is likely in the near future, probably in the lead-up to the Territory election this year. Exactly what type of system will yield the greatest cost-benefit to the community will be one of the many questions looked at by a Demand Management Study about to be commissioned as part of the strategy. The strategy – aiming for a "holistic and coordinated approach" to Alice Springs' water use – is being developed by a steering committee made up of representatives of the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment (DLPE), the Power and Water Authority (PAWA), the Department of Primary Industries, the Alice Town Council, Tangentyere Council, the Arid Lands Environment Centre, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Territory Health Services.It is also drawing on community input at workshops and a questionnaire conducted in August last year.There are two likely options for sewage treatment. One, that is adopted fairly widely in rural communities throughout Australia, is an artificial "wetland", where the effluent flows through deep gravel beds, being "polished" by the natural processes of plant and animal life as it goes along. There is no water at the surface, so it can't promote the breeding of mosquitoes.The other option is to treat the water in a plant so that it can be used elsewhere, for example irrigating public sporting areas and parks. "That's probably the better one for Alice Springs," says DLPE's John Childs, Director, Natural Resources (South), who is chairing the strategy committee."Reusable effluent would displace irrigation, say, of Yirara College or of some other development south of town, or could even be brought through the Gap, reducing our need to use potable Roe Creek water."Mr Childs says the plant most widely used now is called a DAF (Dissolved Air Flotation) plant: there would be no open air ponds; the water would leave the plant ready to irrigate with, or following more extensive treatment, ready to drink.Apart from creating the possibility of effluent reuse, a treatment plant would also eliminate effluent overflow into the swamp, reducing its potential as a mosquito breeding site.That's a high priority target, being addressed in the short term by pumping out the swamp. (A different approach to sewage treatment is the obvious long term solution.)PAWA is also pumping effluent from the ponds themselves, spraying it onto vacant land between the two sets of ponds, so that it doesn't flow into the swamp. To the suggestion that pumping the effluent-contaminated swamp water into St Mary's Creek is a "cheap and nasty solution", Mr Childs says he would like to hear of other short term alternatives. He says on a number of visits to the creek he has not detected any unpleasant smells, the water has been clear, and "for the most part" it meets the criteria for contact swimming in natural water bodies.The warning signs erected by PAWA are there "as a precaution". In the future, when the town's sewage is being dealt with differently, the swamp will still fill up after rainfall, and will still flow down St Mary's Creek. Until the thick infestation of cumbungi reeds in the swamp can be removed, Mr Childs says that pumping it out may continue to be required to reduce mosquito breeding. The natural course of the creek is past St Mary's, along the front of the racecourse car park, across Heath Road, down through the rural subdivisions, past the airport and ultimately back into the Todd. It recharges the ground water throughout its course, but Mr Childs says the flows resulting from pumping have not gone beyond the racecourse area. He says the pumped water has been a minor component of the total volume of the flow in the creek. Removal of the cumbungi reeds will be on the " to do" list of an Ilparpa Swamp Rehabilitation Committee. Invitations to join this sub-committee have been sent out to a range of community groups and relevant government departments, and Mr Childs says outside expertise may be brought in.Better water management will also see increased use of Town Basin water (under the Todd River), again with a view to reducing demand on the Roe Creek bore field. The Town Basin was Alice Springs' sole water supply in the ‘sixties, providing 1000 megalitres each year, now about 10 per cent of the town's overall use. It was not used at all in the ‘seventies, but by the mid-eighties was being drawn on again for some irrigation. In 1993 PAWA installed a secondary pipeline which bumped up its use for irrigation of the golf course and ovals to around 1000 megalitres a year. The strategy aims to increase that use to about 1500 megalitres, or 15 per cent of the town's overall use. It could even go beyond that level, depending on how the basin reacts to pumping at the higher rate. A consultant's report due out soon will make recommendations about where the water will be used. Town Basin ground water is Alice's main alternative water source, but some gains could also be made from better use of rainwater run-off in future subdivisions (see Alice News, Dec 13, and Oct 25, 2000), and even in private gardens. (Over half of each resident's average water consumption of 1100 litres per day is used outside.) Mr Childs says, because of our highly variable rainfall, rainwater tanks, unless they are very big, are probably not important in the big picture of reducing demand on Roe Creek water, but their use will be further explored. Reducing actual consumption was given high priority by last year's community workshop. Consumption has been reduced by about 20 per cent over the last decade (from 11000 megalitres to around 9000 megalitres a year) but it is still exceeds a sustainable level. The Demand Management Study will identify the cost-benefit of a range of reduction opportunities, like a further decrease in lawn areas, and fitting dual flush toilets into houses and motels (on average we each produce about 250 litres of sewage per day). Reusing household water (greywater) would also reduce demand on the reticulated supply and is the subject of a soon-to-be-completed study commissioned by ALEC, and partly funded by the NT Government. Community acceptance and cooperation is essential to the success of the strategy, and to that end a new education project – focused on changing the attitudes and behaviour of future consumers – is being piloted at the Sadadeen campus of OLSH College. In second semester the OLSH students and their teachers will be working towards accreditation of their school as "WaterWise". Similar programs in WA and Queensland are already very successful, says DLPE's Water Conservation Officer, Nanet Pagsanjan. Part of the accreditation criteria is to have a water focus incorporated into the curriculum, either as theme, or as a one off subject. After completion of the pilot at OLSH, the NT WaterWise program will be opened up to other interested schools. Ms Pagsanjan says she hopes it will operate in every local school for decades to come: "Alice Springs' water issues won't have a use by date on them!" Ultimately, the implementation of the strategy should see exemplary integrated water management in Alice Springs. The strategy ties in well with the Alice in 10 Desert Knowledge Project and its concept of the town as an arid zone centre of excellence. Says Mr Childs: "At the moment I don't think we can advertise ourselves as that, but with community acceptance and support and the right levels of cost-benefit, we should actually end up as arid zone showcase in terms of our water management." [The Alice Springs News has reported comprehensively about the problems of the present outdated sewage plant, including a series of articles in October 1995, and in February 1997. These reports are in the archive section of our web site at]


Territory child welfare authorities rejected his desperate plea to help find his 14 year old grandson missing for three days, says a well known Alice Springs man now living in Quorn, SA. Cameleer Noel Fullerton, long time tourist operator, TV star, co-founder and principal supporter for decades of the world famous Alice Springs Lions Camel Cup, says he contacted the Family and Children's Services (FACS) in Alice Springs when the boy ran away from his foster home early last week.He says he was told by the service – part of Territory Health – that it could or would not do anything until the child returned home. Mr Fullerton says he told FACS the child was at grave risk because of drug use in the past. But all FACS did was give him the phone number of a private counselling service. The boy returned to his home in Alice Springs last Thursday and on Friday travelled to Quorn where he is now in Mr Fullerton's care. Mr Fullerton says the boy was in danger yet "the welfare people couldn't care less"."They should have taken action to have the boy found."You are worried about crime in Alice Springs but the department is doing nothing."How long does it take for the authorities to act?"The boy was missing for three days."His aunt looked for him for three days without any help."I am far away and I asked for help."The boy, Shane (not his real name) gave the Alice Springs News a vivid account of drug taking, burglary, vandalism, gang life and violence among early teenagers in the town. But the local officer in charge of FACS told the News she had no time to deal with media enquiries about the matter because her office is short staffed and has "several unfilled positions". She said the News would need to speak with the media officer of Territory Health.Since Wednesday last week the News unsuccessfully tried to reach her on her office phone, mobile phone and by email. She did not return any messages. Shane says the street kids are "mainly Aboriginal and coloured". He says: "If they have no food it causes them to steal food, chocolates and things. "They know they can't be searched on their bodies, so they put [the stolen items] where they can't be touched. "In a shop they have the right to search their bags but U[secy personnel] can't search in their pockets. "They steal from small shops and big supermarkets. "They are 14 to 16 years old. There are a fair few of these kids, maybe dozens." He says they also break into homes to steal "money, valuables". "Bikes are one of the main things that get stolen. "If no-one's home they might break a window or [see] if anything's unlocked. "They sell goods maybe to second hand shops and things." The boy says he hasn't observed thieves selling goods but has been told that's how it's done. "They don't have a very good attitude towards the police. They don't understand they are going to help them." They know police want to catch them but it is "not very likely" that they will be caught. "They get as far away from the police as they can, mainly running away as fast as they can." Who would they turn toÜ for help? "They may have an older brother or something." Would they think of asking the authorities for help: "No." Shane says he's had no knowledge of hard drugs being available in Alice Springs. There's plenty of marijuana, but it doesn't seem to include the potent varieties that have come on to the illicit market recently: "The only thing that I know that's available in Alice Springs is marijuana. "There are places in Alice Springs you can go to [to buy it], like a normal house. "I don't know the price." He says of the group he'd knocked around with – all under age – "about half" are using marijuana. Their reasons for breaking into houses are "most likely" to get money to buy drugs. "Most people go to school. Some do wag, about a quarter" of the groups he encountered. What are the parents doing about the anti social behaviour of their children? "Most of the parents don't care about how long their children stay up," says Shane. Why do these young people play up instead of taking advantage of leisure opportunities offered in Alice Springs, such as a multitude of sports, the Youth Centre, and so on? "[They play up] to have fun. "A lot of these kids like sport and they have sporting heroes as well. "It's easy to get into a team. Most of the [street kids] are in a team. "They go to training and play on weekends. They mainly like contact sports, Aussie Rules and Rugby." However, a "lot of people are vandals as well. They're showing off. "It's mainly like people saying that they were there." Most of the vandalism is done by "a couple of people, four or five, they just go around graffitiing". They're also likely to assault people: "It makes them feel good about themselves, knowing that they can beat someone smaller than them," again in larger groups, more than just two or three. "They are gangs. "They pick on other groups. "They usually hang around at night, waiting around for people. "I was riding home one night, me and a friend, and there was a big group of kids on bikes. "They wanted to get our bikes." Shane and his friend made their escape. Says Shane: "In that gang they were all coloured kids. It's mainly coloured kids. I think they mainly live in camps." Do their parents know what their kids get up to?"Yes," says Shane. "The kids get grounded and stuff, but not for a very long time." The gangs Shane has encountered are exclusively male. He says he's never seen a girl in a gang. There is no child prostitution, to the best of his knowledge. His younger peers keep out of the way of gangs with older members "because they are bigger and stronger". Younger kids would be bashed up by them "if they're given a chance".

REPLY FROM THE DEPARTMENT (in Issue 0812, April 25, 2001):-
Sir,- In response to your article, "The welfare people couldn't care less", published on April 18, we would like to clarify the role of Family and Children's Services (FACS). The primary responsibility of FACS staff in Alice Springs is the protection of, and prevention of harm to, children within their own families, and caring for children who cannot live safely with their families and are in the care of the Minister. This includes management of the formal Foster Care Program. Your article indicates that "Shane" had runaway from "his foster home". However, as indicated in your article, "Shane" is in the care of his natural family, and is not within a formal Foster Care Program under the care of the Minister. Your article could be seen to imply that FACS or "welfare" has the formal responsibility for the care of this child. This is not the case. The role of locating runaway children and returning them to their family lies more properly with the NT Police Service. Further, FACS has no legal mandate to intervene in the lives of young people and their families unless the intervention can be justified under the Community Welfare Act. FACS works collaboratively with the NT Police and non- government agencies in addressing the care needs of children at risk of harm within their own families, and in providing ongoing support for children and families. FACS also funds non-government agencies to provide support and assistance for young people and their families, including Youth Workers. It is these agencies and professional family counsellors to which Mr Fullerton was referred to help locate "Shane", and also as a source of longer term support for the family. Responsibility for crime reduction does not lie solely with any one government agency, nor does it lie with government alone. The broader community and families have a significant role to play. This is reflected in the NT Safe program, a whole of Government collaborative approach to crime prevention. Community representatives and organisations are vital participants at all levels of this initiative.
Dr Ian Crundall
General Manager, Alice Springs
Territory Health Services


"My success has come from the injustices suffered by my people, from the battles I've had to have with various governments, but the misfortunes of my people continue, so I can't really talk about success." So says Alison Anderson, outspoken community leader at Papunya, now an ATSIC commissioner, mother of five, grandmother of two. She spoke at a recent Women's Advisory Council seminar on " Surviving success and failure". Alison – pictured in the middle with Gap Youth Centre manager Joanne Miller (at left) and Uniting Church deaconess Frances McKechnie (at right) – described herself as a Luritja/Pintupi woman, born at Haasts Bluff, growing up in the assimilation era when "some bright white feller" decided she should be sent to Alice Springs to get an education. She was just nine years old and was excited about going on a shopping trip. When she didn't go back home, she thought her "whole world would collapse" around her. For a couple of years she wagged school at every opportunity – visiting relatives in hospital, or going down to the creek to sit with Albert Namatjira's family, or if a lift was on offer, trying to escape back to Papunya. But there came a time when she realised that, through schooling, she had an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the Aboriginal leaders she admired most – Kumantjayi Perkins, Australia's first Indigenous university graduate, and Harry Nelson from Yuendumu, who had been sent to boarding school in Darwin. She decided to take the opportunity and settled down to study. Looking back, she says she is grateful – "otherwise I wouldn't be standing here today". "It was as though I was locked into the room of my culture and I found the key to the world outside through education. "I found that other world interesting but could see that it had nothing to offer us as Aboriginal people."It repressed us." After graduating from high school Alison started work in the public service, registering births and deaths. The shocking mortality statistics for Aboriginal people "really hurt" her. "That gave me the strength to say we've got to go back to stage one, to the time before substance abuse, alcoholism, pollution, to the time when we had economic development within our clans. "I realised that Aboriginal people don't understand the structures that govern them, and that we have got to get governance back." Alison was appointed to the Aboriginal Development Commission at the age of 21, the first Indigenous woman from Central Australia to be so. Since that time she says she has had "a mandate" from her people to work towards a better future on their behalf. Her message to them is not to rely on what non-Indigenous people can deliver, but to stand up and demand their rights. They should stop spending so much time trying to please non- Indigenous people who come into their communities, but rather use them as a resource, and focus on their children. "We have left our kids behind," says Alison. The youth at Papunya are "just not educated". "You won't get any of them attending a youth conference." The lesson from this is that if the Northern Territory Government can't deliver education in the communities, then the communities should be able to out-source it to someone who can. The same applies to the whole raft of social services: they need to be dealt with holistically by regional units of governance – which in the remote areas of the Territory would mean government of Aboriginal people by Aboriginal people.Alison says all the "players", including the NT Government, are sitting at the table discussing this as a future approach.She says regional governance would see an end to the "picking" at isolated problems in communities by "do gooders" – "we call them our great white hopes". "I'll tell you why there is such an increase in petrol sniffing. The sniffers have got programs set up for them and the other kids see that and say let's sniff to get onto it. "But people with PhDs don't see that, they just look at different problems in isolation, and walk out of our communities more fluent in our language and culture than our own kids who've got nothing."Alison says there are "great black hopes" as well – people who are protecting their jobs, unwilling to train others to take over. She says it's time for women in ATSIC to push the men out: "I don't think they've done enough to sort out the problems."It takes women power to do that." Back in the early ‘nineties Alison forced radical change at Papunya School by organising a community boycott. When the police delivered two boxes of truancy notices to her, she took them back down to the police station and burnt them! She has a shrewd understanding of the power of grass roots action and is an inspiring straight-talker: white and black "hopes" alike, watch out!

RADIOACTIVE WATER: FACTS ON THE TABLE. By ROBYN GREY-GARDNER, Technology Transfer Officer, Centre for Appropriate Technology.

Radiological analysis of the Yuendumu community's drinking water detects levels of uranium exceeding the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG). Some community members are concerned about potential health risks and have been in a dialogue with the NT Power and Water Authority in recent years over possible initiatives to reduce the potential source of risk. Defining health risks and the kind of treatment and management that is most appropriate for a relatively small community such as Yuendumu is not an easy task. It requires detailed water testing and analysis to provide accurate and reliable data on which decisions about such management and treatment can be based. According to the first comprehensive and publicly available groundwater study in Central Australia by AGSO (Australian Geological Survey Organisation), the Western Water Study (1998), uranium has been detected in two of the three production bores which supply the Yuendumu community. The uranium is naturally occurring and associated with uranium mineral deposits in nearby rock formations. In the Western Water Study, many of the waters were not tested for the presence of uranium, so that the full extent of the problem was not clearly determined. Reliable data on the level of radionuclides in the water have been difficult to obtain. We understand that further comprehensive testing of the water at Yuendumu community is currently underway. One result from the Western Water Study showed a level of uranium of 28 mcg/l. This level of uranium in the drinking water exceeds the limit of 20 mcg/L (ADWG 1996) based on toxic effects – rather than radiation. There is little information available on the effects of long term exposure to uranium through drinking water but research has shown that it has an effect on the kidney. The US EPA states that exposure to uranium in drinking water may result in toxic effects to the kidney and that some people who drink water containing uranium above the current US limit of 30 mcg /L, over many years, may have an increased risk of getting cancer. It is interesting to note that the uranium level of 28 mcg/L at Yuendumu would be acceptable under US EPA Guidelines. The ADWG define water which, based on current knowledge, is safe to drink over a lifetime and constitutes no health risk. For most water quality characteristics there is no point which defines which is clearly safe and which is unsafe. Therefore the guidelines that set the limit of 20 mcg/L err on the side of safety and the levels are likely to be reduced further to 10mcg/L this year. However the ADWG are only "guidelines" and coupled with appropriate community consultation they can form the basis of a starting point to agreed levels of service. RISK The Australian water industry is increasingly moving toward community consultation and risk management processes. Risk management in communities with high radionuclides could include securing an alternative drinking water supply, installing a dual reticulation system or treating the water to an agreed level. The risk management approach is a means to reduce the health risks in a way which is also cost effective. Given that treatment to extract uranium from water is expensive and the issue of how to manage the waste is critical, a thorough exploration of a range of options for water treatment and supply is required. An open and transparent consultation process will assist the search for solutions and at the same time increase community confidence through the sharing and understanding of reliable water quality data. On the available data the level of uranium in the Yuendumu water supply may exceed ADWG. Accurate data have been difficult to obtain and this has compounded the difficulty of managing the situation. Treatment options may not have to require sophisticated or expensive technologies in order to manage the situation to deliver outcomes to the community concerned. However, implementing community consultation processes as well as mechanisms for obtaining and disseminating accurate and reliable data is crucial. That such processes and mechanisms are based on cross-cultural awareness is critical in developing and sustaining community confidence in the water supply. Health risks and strategies to reduce the risk in a cost effective, culturally acceptable and successful manner need to be identified.


What does it take to be a rock star these days? From the late ‘sixties rock has been about turning your amps up to 11, and becoming a star was about taking your ideas that one little step further. But what's left for a young band after everything has been done? Music. Not rap, rock or blues. Just music. And when local Alice Springs band , J*den (pronounced Jayden), were asked to define their style, responses ranged from um to er ... Says Andrew Castle: "We like to be versatile, incorporating a mix of different styles together. Often I write a song that, once completed, sounds the same as a song that's been done before." Songwriting is carried out by the band, together and individually: "We know we're on to something when we write a song in 10 minutes." "Look me in the eyes" is J*den's heaviest song. When asked for its meaning Simon Fitzgerald sums it up with a smirk: "It's about getting f...ed over. It was written with so much aggression and to write it down and perform it musically was a huge release." Cool, calm and collected, each J*den member knows where they want to go, and that's all the way up. Their stage performance also suggests that they are ready for the spotlight. A hard look with a hard sound combined with a professional and positive attitude is what J*den rely on to keep them moving forward: "If we didn't stay positive, we would never have had the opportunities we've had." J*den have played with the best of them. Artists such as Screaming Jets, Killing Heidi, Vanessa Amorossi and Magic Dirt have all called them forward to support them when they were in town. Next on J*den's schedule will be their first album which will be on sale, "when the songs are good enough". After that, they want to escape the Alice and show the rest of Australia what this town can produce. So while they're here, keep an eye and an ear open for the latest in alternative sound. No, they're not different, but yes, they are original. "We play for us, and for us only, but when ya got 2000 people jumpin' around and running amuck because they like what they hear, well there's nothing better than that."

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