September 12, 2001.


Industry should lobby the airlines harder to get more services into the Territory, says director of the NT Tourism Commission, Tony Mayell. The arrival of Virgin Blue, with routes into and out of Darwin announced last week, is evidence of the commission's negotiations over the last year, says Mr Mayell. "But I would like to think it just doesn't depend on us. It's time for industry to get off its backside and do its bit." Virgin's Darwin routes are "back of clock" operations, meaning that they fly out of coastal ports late at night, just before curfew, arriving in Darwin in the early hours of the morning and returning to the capitals in time for the lift of curfew. "It's the sort of model we have brought to the airlines' attention some time ago," says Mr Mayell. "Ideally, we would see an increase of normal daylight services into the Territory, but at least this establishes a foothold." CATIA general manager Craig Catchlove says this kind of off- peak schedule could well suit the convention delegate market, because it allows the delegate not to lose a business day in travel. "All you have to do is schedule the first day of your convention to start a bit later," says Mr Catchlove. However, Mr Mayell says the real rewards are at the lower end of the market: "Back of clock operations suit the leisure markets."Mr Mayell says increased services to Alice Springs are "very much on the commission's agenda".VIRGIN BLUEVirgin Blue says it will offer routes to Alice Springs "hopefully sooner than expected". A spokesperson told the Alice News: "I agree that Alice is just as isolated as Darwin, but unfortunately it's a case of one step at a time for us and we definitely have plans to get there as soon as we can... hopefully sooner than expected." Virgin's Richard Branson emphasised expansion into the regions when he rejected Air New Zealand's $250m take over offer last week."I felt it would be selling out both the Australian public and our delightful staff at Virgin Blue," he said."Instead we will invest many millions more in expanding our fleet and flying new routes."If Ansett feels that some regional routes are not viable due to their higher costs, we would be happy to assist by offering seats to them on flights we would operate. "This would make sure the regions don't suffer."Mr Branson said Virgin's costs are a fraction of the competition's due to their young fleet: "Fuel costs are lower while maintenance and reliability are the best. This enables us to keep our fares low." Mr Branson also spoke of "blatant anti-competitive behaviour" used to drive out small airlines, and of Virgin's complaints before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission " regarding Qantas's predatory practices".Meanwhile, Qantas has announced extension of "web fares" into Darwin as well as Perth. These are one way fares at prices up to 65 per cent off full economy, bookable only on the Internet. The Alice News asked Qantas if the new offer had only come about as a result of competition from Virgin Blue.Regional general manager for the Territory, Steve Farquer, said the Internet fares were introduced in November last year, in three city pairs. They proved successful and have been progressively added to."A range of destinations – many where Virgin Blue doesn't fly – [are] offered on the website," says Mr Farquer. "We will be looking at extending our range further, domestically and internationally. "This latest move is all about the continuing Qantas Internet sales strategy – it is not related to the activity of competitor airlines." Mr Farquer describes it as a "proactive approach – not reactive".The Internet deal Darwin-Sydney one way costs $319. The News asked Qantas why are there no discount fares to capital city ports available out of Alice Springs on the scale that they are now in Darwin, at just about twice the distance? (Our enquiries last week indicated that our best one way deal to Sydney at the moment would be a holiday package, costing $350 plus one night's accommodation.)‘COMPLEX'Mr Farquer responded that "yield management is a complex process, managed day by day and route by route". "Some sectors offer greater fare flexibility than others."We routinely offer sale fares to certain destinations – including Alice Springs."In August 2000, for example, we offered a fare of $220 one way/$440 return to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. In April 2001, we offered a $431 return fare to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane."We also offer package holidays - through Qantas Holidays- which can provide good value for many leisure travellers. "Whatever fares we put into the market have to be sustainable over time. "Qantas – like all airlines operating in Australia – is a commercial business and needs to be able to operate services that are profitable. "If we bring in special fares or particularly low fares, we have an obligation to ensure we have a substantial number of seats available at that price. "Flights on some routes cater for a much higher percentage of higher yield business traffic, but much of the traffic in and out of Alice Springs is primarily leisure and holiday travel and we require high load factors to balance the cost of operating the service."Mr Farquer could not elaborate on Qantas's future plans for Alice "for commercial reasons"."But we can say that we are constantly monitoring the price and capacity mix on our Alice Springs routes to maximise access for tourists and provide capacity for residents who want to travel from Alice Springs. "We will continue to offer sale fares when and where warranted, and we will also continue to add capacity to the route when it is warranted."A spokesperson for Ansett also said that its routes into all ports "are constantly under review"."We make changes and offer deals if we can operate profitably," said the spokesperson.


It was a bold message about the future of the earth's most ancient surviving culture, directed as much at its present day practitioners as at the world at large. Before a crowd of some 12,000 or more at the Yeperenye Federation Festival last Saturday, under the Alice Springs desert sky, the triumphs of Aborigines over the millennia were celebrated, the agony of their most recent generations recalled, and their resolve to survive and prosper expressed in powerful terms. Spectators came from the nation's most remote communities, dressed in shabby clothes, and as the desert night fell, wrapped in old blankets. They shared the showgrounds lawn with the town's middle class whites, sitting on picnic rugs with their kids, and giving their cameras a workout. From the grandstand watched a sizeable representation of Australia's political Who's Who, including the joint fathers of Aboriginal land rights legislation, former Prime Ministers Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam. The current PM was notably absent. Someone quipped Mr Howard had said "sorry ... he couldn't come".There was silence as the names of blacks who died in prison rolled over the giant screen. Later the crowd went wild as the gorgeous Christine Anu sang " Cos I'm Free", with behind her images of Cathy Freeman, winning Olympic gold. The black faces were proud, and a little bemused that such a glitzy production should be staged in their honour. And the whites were equally proud, because they were taking part in a reconciliation fest that may be a further step towards resolving the region's – and Australia's – racial tensions. By mid-evening the statement at the heart of the $3m festival had already been made, in the most convincing way imaginable: 35 groups from all over Australia had been on the red dirt stage, stomping, leaping, shuffling and chanting, their bodies painted, women bare breasted, men bedecked in feathers and wearing towering head gear. They'd come from all corners of the nation: a small group from Tasmania, Palawa people, addressed the crowd in English, saying they wouldn't be dancing; the massacres, displacement and disease of early white settlement had killed their people, their language and their songs. Above all, the tribes of Central Australia left the world in no doubt that their culture is alive and kicking, even though most of the continent's 390 original black "nations" had suffered tragic declines. The organisers made a dramatic statement that preservation of culture transcends race.More than 2000 school children – white and black – set in scene a spectacular lantern parade: five huge caterpillars, the totem for the town area, were locked in battle with stink beetles. The young performers, at least those born in the region, were doing the traditional duty of all Yeperenye kids, no matter the colour of their skin: keeping the stories alive. And their elders, the Arrernte, hosts of the festival, opened the festival with a dance not performed for half a century. As the oldest culture moves into the future it will work with the newest gizmos – the festival was a stunning example of this. The ABC recorded the event with 12 cameras, including one at the end of a massive boom, swooping and tracking dancing that has its origins in pre-history. The images appeared live on the giant screen used in the Olympic games – and made their way onto TV screens around the nation on Sunday night. The commentary from traditional owner Max Stuart boomed across the grounds from rock concert speakers the size of a small house. And Aboriginal compere Aaron Pedersen, star of the national TV series Wildside and Water Rats, grew up in Alice Springs and is proud of his connections here. At least two others regard the event as a high point in their lives. One is Paul Ah Chee, chairman of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), which staged the event with $3m from the federal Centenary of Federation Fund and ATSIC. Mr Ah Chee "Ngala" is of Southern Arrernte, Yankunytjatjara, Wangkangurra and Chinese origin, a major tourism operator in the region, arts dealer and a member of the Australian Tourist Commission. Looking back on the festival he says: "That's pride. That is strength."The other is executive producer Clive Scollay, who estimates at 35,000 the total number of people "through the gates" over the weekend. "The people of Alice Springs can be very proud to have supported this festival so well," he says.


CAAMA chairman Paul Ah Chee says the festival may become a " catalyst" for similar events held every two years. He says it may have an "initial focus on Aboriginal song, dance and ideology, but then broaden out to include non Aboriginal people".Says Mr Ah Chee: "It's going to get a fantastic amount of coverage. "I think it's a great opportunity for corporate sponsors to get involved. "I think governments would also have to play a huge role. "Dialogue has already been started in a loose sort of way." Executive producer Clive Scollay says there may be a "small blow-out" to the $3m budget, mainly because road trains had to be hired when the two RAAF Hercules transport aircraft, due to fly in the stage equipment, were diverted to Christmas Island during the asylum seekers emergency. Mr Scollay says about $1m was spent on personnel, half of that on performers for the concert as well as the traditional dancers from 20 regions around Australia. The stage cost about $250,000. The remainder went on getting Blatherskite Park ready for the huge influx of people, many of whom camped there, and on promotion.


Alice kids and straight lines don't go together!The one and only rehearsal of the festival's lantern parade, involving over 1000 primary school students, offered moments of high comedy ... as well as a long wait. They were a raggle taggle mob tripping along with their lanterns, in long wavering rows, more or less four abreast – in fact much less than more. A dust-laden wind was blowing, and lots of candles blew out only seconds after they were lit. Pace was uncertain, and wide gaps developed in the lines. The lagging children would be told to catch up, they'd surge forward but meanwhile the front-runners had halted ... lanterns squashed and tore, but luckily hardly any caught fire and there were no injuries. It was all done with inimitable high and carefree spirit, hilarious and delightful to witness – and darkness would cover the multitude of sins!On the big night, lanterns had been repaired by the festival team, new bigger candles provided, there was little wind, it augured well.But contrary to expectation, there was again a long wait. Children had been told to arrive at 5.30, definitely no later than six. There was no sign of action until after 7pm, and little hope of a performance until after 8pm. The shed was dusty and deafening, sorely trying the patience ... not so much of the kids, as of their teachers and parents. The kids certainly got restless, but with typical invention whiled the time away: Indian wrestling, football with water bottles, chasey, tag ... help!! The game plan was quickly revised: the candles will burn for two hours, let's march them out into the arena where at least they'll see the action.What a relief for the long-suffering adults, and what inspiration to see the children immediately forget the wait, the cold and their half-empty stomachs, and engage with the spectacle. They marvelled at the huge crowd, the traditional dancers, the giant TV screen and the boom camera. They oohed and aahed and cheered the sky-divers.They were spellbound by the caterpillars, and even more so by the stinky beetles. They loved the unfolding moths, and were wild about the special effects, especially the fireworks and pyrotechnics ... but these had only just begun when they got the word to move. A few looked back to catch a starburst as they were hustled away to the shed. Parents were shaking their heads: fancy the kids missing out on the fireworks! But children don't hang on to disappointment, they were soon telling each other their favourite bits and how awesome and wicked it all was!


Alice Springs Town Council has secured a major local government conference for the town with about 800 delegates attending the week-long event next year.Mayor Fran Erlich said, "This is a major coup for Alice Springs as the Australian Local Government Association National Assemblies have always been held in Canberra previously. "The number of delegates attending, including elected local government members and staff from across the country, and that the assembly lasts a week, means the town will enjoy a major economic boost immediately and the benefits of the exposure as a tourist and convention destination over the longer term."In April, Mrs Erlich and council CEO Nick Scarvelis addressed the association executive in Canberra to lobby for the conference."We highlighted the ability of the town to handle major events, especially with the completion of the convention centre, and that Alice is a thriving regional hub with access to sophisticated international-standard infrastructure for business, tourism and communications. "We also pushed the significance of holding the conference, scheduled for November 2002, in Alice Springs during the Year of the Outback."We will be having talks with the airlines about extra flights for the conference and the need for more flights and cheaper flights to Alice Springs generally", the Mayor said.


Steven Spielberg may be a wiz with special effects, but the makers of "Bush Mechanics" use the real thing.The last of the four half hour programs – shown at the "world gala premier" at Araluen last week – was just meant to be a movie about a rain maker at Yuendumu. He's played by Tommy Jangala Rice, who needs some sea shells to make his craft work. But no sooner did Tommy start painting his magic symbols on the V8 Falcon, to be traded for the shells from a colleague of his in Broome, than the skies darkened, storms blew up, lightning ignited bush fires, two cyclone systems merged, the whole continent copped record downpours and Muswellbrook, all the way in NSW, was struck by disastrous floods. Remember late last year?All this may come as a surprise to the average TV viewer (the series is screening on the ABC beginning this week), but the 300 odd locals in the community at the edge of the Tanami Desert, home of the bush mechanics, took it all in their stride. The reason is, well, Tommy really is a rain maker, and Juka Juka, a Devil's Marbles lookalike place 30 km west of Yuendumu, where he performs his magic, really is a rain maker's place. No big deal. The inclement weather made for great locations but added to the challenges for "by the seat of our pants" film makers – Dave Batty, who spent many years in Alice Springs and now lives in Broome, and actor / co-director Francis Jupurrula Kelly, from Yuendumu. Where Spielberg would have had a fleet of motor homes, the cast and crew of Bush Mechanics swagged it all the way to Broome. Dave recalls one night when lightning transformed the dot painted V8 into a ghostly strobe-lit image, but he was too tired to reach for the camera and film it, torn between fear that a bolt might strike his iron camp bed, and trying to keep the downpour out of his swag. The two episodes shown at the premiere aren't quite as rich in what Dave calls "tricks" which were the main focus of the original program. Like, what do you do if the fuel pump of your car breaks down? You put the petrol into the water container of the windscreen cleaner, hook it up to your carburettor, and push the "wash" button from time to time. And so on. Instead, the current series lives on the happy go lucky, boisterous nature of the five characters, Steve Morton, Erroll Nelson, Simeon Ross, and Junior and Randall Wilson – all Jupurrulas, "which makes for harmony on the set," says Dave. Another fundamental difference from a Spielberg movie is that in Bush Mechanics, the dialogue is "written" after the filming. This is how it works: Dave, who's also the cameraman, doesn't speak much Warlpiri. All the dialogue is in Warlpiri. So Dave shoots a whole lot of footage and – with the advice of Warlpiri speaker Francis – selects the good bits. There are lots of these, making of Bush Mechanics a kaleidoscope of close-knit and easy going community life. It may not always be like that, but it's great to see the upside.


Yuendumu Football has been banned from Traeger Park!Emotion spilled over at the final siren in the preliminary final between Yuendumu and McDonnell Districts last Saturday week, and as a result the "gate keepers" of Traeger Park, the CAFL, have banned two Yuendumu officials from the ground for life, and further, have imposed a similar fate on the whole Yuendumu club. A long time member, now a trainer and formerly a player, Francis Jupurrula Kelly, says the decision was made without giving Yuendumu a fair hearing, entering a defence nor having a right of reply. He says he pointed a finger at an umpire but did not touch him. He says he's been pushed "out into the darkness without [getting the opportunity of] standing up for my rights at a tribunal. "I don't even have a clue what the reason is. "I never thumped an umpire. "I pointed a finger at him for not giving a 50 metre for one person. "Where is my right? "I rang them up [the CAFL] and they said to me, go and ring the Chief Minister." Ron Thompson, league general manager, says Mr Kelly's claims are " not consistent with statements from security, police, umpires, officials and other witnesses. "In fact what he is saying is a total untruth. "Trying to persuade people with misleading statements about the actual incident certainly doesn't do the cause of Mr Kelly or Yuendumu any good at all." Mr Thompson says Mr Kelly and the club were not invited to the hearing "but as per the constitution they are entitled to appeal, based on the grounds of new evidence. "To this point they have not taken up this opportunity. "We have not heard from Mr Kelly. "The players are not banned. "They will be allowed to re-register with other teams." Mr Thompson says the people who caused the problems were officials. Two officials entered the playing arena while the game was going on. He says he had a phone call from Yuendumu council vice-president Warren Williams the day before the hearing. Mr Thompson says he did not specifically invite the accused to be present but suggested "a representation" should be made. The CAFL wanted to deal with the matter quickly, "given the nature of the incident, and the blatant breach. "The CAFL felt there was enough evidence to hand down a decision. "There were 2000 or 3000 witnesses. "We have had unanimous support from seven of the eight country clubs."The executive of the CAFL have come down tough on the incident, a heated skirmish centred on abuse towards the umpires and which marred the otherwise epic encounter between the two western desert nations.Of course, emotional outbursts are nothing new to footy at Traeger Park.In fact controlling them has been the major challenge of the CAFL, as it struggles from year to year to revive interest in the game to the levels of past generations.In the mid-eighties South fans made national headlines when tension erupted, ending in Rover supporters and CAFL officials seeking the protection of change rooms and offices. Then in the early ‘nineties, Rover coach Sam "the wonder wheel" Trimbell himself had to address his players from outside the fence on Gap Road, while serving a suspension as a result of his lack of emotional discipline.Late in the ‘nineties, Adrian McAdam, had an outburst, focussing his attention on the umpire, then instilling fear into the crowd on the Westies hill, finally trashing a rubbish bin, in between verbal abuse of CAFL officials. Any follower of the game can pinpoint a long list of other incidents where players, supporters and officials have exhibited behaviour which has maybe vented their anger, but has also contributed to the game of a Sunday afternoon drifting into virtual oblivion. The families who used to go, now stay home and take in AFL on the telly, without fear of an unpleasant outburst spoiling their day. Correctly the CAFL have taken action, in an attempt to solve the problem of last Saturday week. However does the draconian step of banning Yuendumu, without entertaining a full enquiry or right of appeal improve the situation? Surely listening to both sides of the story is essential to a positive resolution.A generation ago Aussie rules fans applauded the antics of "model" VFL players like fabulous Phil Carman and Carl Dietrich, before that John Nicholls and the revered Captain Blood, all men of might who stood for everything tough in our national game. At the same time many of the supporters at Traeger Park last Saturday week, were in the western desert fighting the 1958-66 drought which wiped out true tribesmen and their families. These people's role models were warriors of a very different kind, from a very different place and time. Ted Egan and his mates got Aussie Rules going at Yuendumu in those times, and for the Walpiri warriors, as with other central Australian communities, football has become more than a sport you take to on the weekend. Indigenous Centralians live, breathe and lust for football. It is their lifeblood.In a fortnight, most footy boots in Alice Springs will be thrown in the bottom of the wardrobe until next Easter. But at Yuendumu the festival of the boot will march on, ignorant of 40 plus degree heat, dirt and gravel ovals, or the lack of oranges at three quarter time. The summer competition in the Tanami will host six local teams culminating in a grand final prior to the CAFL Lightning Carnival at Traeger Park in 2002. Footy does not start and stop on communities. It is not something you play simply to run off some fat, or build up a thirst. It is integral to their way of life and fulfils a much greater community need than that of city dwellers. Family dysfunction, domestic violence, and substance abuse are the 21st century hallmarks of many Indigenous communities. Playing footy, particularly at Yuendumu, is a cornerstone in the counter attack to this social dysfunction. Playing the game develops a close bond, teamwork, respect, endeavour, determination, ambition, admiration, role modelling and more in young players. Bush schools are not overflowing with aspiring students. Clinics and hospitals are overflowing with sick people. Communities gather at Traeger Park to meet, compete and be happy. Too often their other meetings are at funerals. By taking their firm stand, the CAFL are recognising a behaviour problem at Traeger Park and want it solved. But is the colonial approach the way to go?When Adrian MacAdam was suspended, an arrangement between him and the CAFL saw him staying in touch with the game by umpiring and helping officials out, and he came back to the game a wiser and better football contributor. So too with Yuendumu. An outright ban is not the solution. Emotions will boil over again, with another club maybe, but at the same setting. It is by nurturing the behaviour modification process and creating pathways for resolution that things will improve. Warlpiri people do not need the door "slammed in their face" with no right of reply.

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