February 6, 2002.


The NT Government and native title holders are about to start talks aimed at creating hundreds of building blocks in Alice Springs, and giving the Arrernte elders a stake in the town's economy. This will be a step towards meeting a demand estimated by Real Estate Institute spokesman Andrew Doyle to be up to 500 blocks over the next few years, and bringing land prices within reach of first home buyers. Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne says the aim is a series of "indigenous land use agreements" over various locations, rather than one single agreement. These agreements can be negotiated progressively, dealing with the less contentious parcels first, which could then quickly become available for development. "In the early discussions we agreed the best way forward is not to try for a monolithic, all encompassing agreement which could take quite some time," says Dr Toyne. "There are areas where complexities need to be dealt with. "So we want to break it up into indigenous land use agreements negotiated on an urgency basis." The negotiations will cover a total area of Crown Land far greater than the presently developed portion of the town. Once there is agreement around the demands of the native title holders, the NT Government will be able to sell its land, turning it into a significant source of revenue. Says Dr Toyne: "Potentially it's a win-win situation. "Everyone moves forward together. "Government will be able to realise revenue that is currently locked up." Dr Toyne says the ongoing delays with the setting up – by the Central Land Council (CLC) – of a body corporate for the native title holders isn't an obstacle to negotiations. He says: "There is no reason why we can't talk to them. "They are clearly identified in the judgement of the court and they are represented by the CLC as the designated organisation that can undertake negotiations on their behalf. "So there is nothing to stop us from starting the negotiations. "We're talking weeks rather than months." Dr Toyne says the start of the negotiations "will make the completion of the incorporation of the body corporate more urgent". "And that's not a bad thing." Dr Toyne says money won't be the only thing on the negotiating table. "We're encouraged that native title holders are not talking about passive, royalty-type payments. "They're talking about getting an active stake in the economic relationships in the town. "For example, they may want to carry out a residential development that's on some of the land, as well as releasing land to the general market for other developers. "In effect they will become developers, partly to provide housing for their own people, partly to gain an economic stake in the town." Dr Toyne says the native title holders are "speaking with a unified voice and have some very constructive ideas they're going to bring to the negotiations. "It's not a ‘you've got to give us' type of negotiation. There are very strong ideas, beneficial to the town and the region." The Desert Peoples' Centre, for which the government has already pledged $10m, "would respond to one of their expressed needs," says Dr Toyne. Mr Doyle says: "Any progress with the native title issue is fantastic news for the town. "Depending on the cost of getting that land to the market we may have more affordable land for first home buyers." He estimates that over three to seven years 250 to 500 blocks will be needed. "There is a very limited supply of land available for first home buyers." Mr Doyle says 420 square metre vacant blocks are currently selling for $65,000 and 800 square metre blocks for $85,000 – and only very few are available. He says in Palmerston 600 to 800 square metre blocks are available for between $40,000 and $60,000. "That's really the level we need to be shooting for here to provide a reasonable size block of land so first home buyers can get a comfortable home for $150,000 to $170,000, including land." Home prices in the town have risen between $5000 and $25,000 in the past year.Mr Doyle says development on the land in Head Street, passed in at auction last year, will now go ahead. Stormwater problems and other council issues have been solved and it is believed the Lands Minister has approved the sale. Meanwhile Mr Doyle says his firm, Framptons First National, has received a massive 60 expressions of interest for the now derelict Cawood Court public housing flats, closed down by the government last year. He says the deadline for expressions of interest is this week.


In 1975, following the wet early 'seventies, more than half of Central Australia burnt. "We said then that we'd make sure it never happened again," says Peter Latz, former senior botanist with the Conservation Commission and lifelong naturalist in the Centre.The problem is, says Mr Latz, that most of those who witnessed the devastation of 25 years ago have moved on or grown old.Now the same thing is happening and little is being done about it. Mr Latz estimates that over the last two summers once again more than half of the Centre has burnt out."We have a very uncertain climate, but bureaucracies like predictability."The Top End is nice and predictable. After the wet, everything dries out and you burn off."Here, in spinifex country, we know what to do but it isn't being done. The spinifex should be burnt when it's ready, and that's not after so many years, but after so much rainfall, it might be every five years or every 15 years.WILD CARD"Buffel grass is the wild card."In terms of the whole of Central Australia, it's minor, but the trouble is that it's in the nicest areas, including around Alice Springs. "We desperately need more research into ways to control buffel. "You can burn it off but it comes back so quickly."We need to come up with a biological control."What's the danger if nothing much is done for another quarter century?"Central Australia will end up with either just spinifex or just buffel grass – a lovely place to live!" At the Bushfires Council, senior fire control officer Neil Phillips agrees that fuel reduction is the key to fire management and says landholders urgently need to address this more systematically. "They should look at it like an insurance policy," he says. "We are in a situation at the moment where some areas, without careful control, are facing the possibility of an annual fire." He says having fire management on the national agenda, especially in the wake of the recent New South Wales fires, may help the Territory, which has a vast land mass with a sparse population and limited resources to manage it. He says significant gains could be made by reducing the number of fires that are deliberately lit at inappropriate times. Last week, fires at Jessie Gap, Owen Springs and Ilparpa Valley were all deliberately lit, as were numerous smaller fires.


The question of who knew what and when about its budget surplus has plunged the town council into an unprecedented crisis, just as Alice Springs needs leadership through a threatening tourism downturn, and the nation's eyes are turning towards the town chosen to host the premier event of the Year of the Outback. Mayor Fran Kilgariff has accused fellow council members of conducting a "witch hunt" and has asked whether they are following a political agenda. Seven aldermen, without prior warning, subjected their four most senior employees to public humiliation. The control by elected members over council business is now in grave doubt. And despite its robust financial position the council is perceived as being in trouble. On Tuesday last week the council carried a motion of no confidence in its four senior staff members. The principal target, CEO Nick Scarvelis, had been out of town for a month and a half, and was in Adelaide where his mother had just died. The motion's mover, Deputy Mayor Jenny Mostran, who in 2000 lost the mayoral election to Ms Kilgariff by nine votes, says the matter couldn't wait until Mr Scarvelis returned three days later. "I wouldn't have got an answer anyway," she says. "There is a difference between being right, and toeing the line and sitting down and shutting up about a system that isn't right. "I want the truth to come out and this was the only way it would. "I'd waited long enough. "This is just a symptom of the closed management that operates at the council. "This is a management issue – nothing else. "There is no political agenda." Only Ms Kilgariff, Ald Raelene Beale and Ald Sue Jefford opposed the motion. Ald Russell Naismith was absent. Mr Scarvelis says despite being asked by Ald Mostran to resign, he will not be doing so. Asked what the furore had done to his reputation, he said: "It's best not to comment at this point in time." Ald Mostran says she'd been trying to get details about the size of the surplus since mid last year, but had been given a stream of conflicting information. She had no difficulty convincing the entire council that further clarification is needed – in fact that need had been identified already last year. Two resolutions were passed unanimously to seek further details from staff, and to get help from the Department of Local Government to streamline procedures. Mr Scarvelis says he has no problem with that, either. But it was the third motion, to censure not only Mr Scarvelis but also Suzanne Lollback, (community development), Roger Bottrall (works) and Eric Petersen (finance), that plunged the council into crisis and may well involve it in expensive litigation. Yet it could also all turn into a storm in a teacup: two initial supporters of the censure, Ald David Koch and Ald Annette Smith, have now moved to have the no confidence motion rescinded, and a special council meeting has been called for tomorrow. Mr Scarvelis says the council finances are in good shape, and – despite the need for some fine tuning – the 2001/2002 budget process had unfolded with active involvement of the aldermen, and in a manner completely transparent to them. He says there was a deficit in 1999/2000, a break-even in 2000/2001 and now there is a surplus of $2m, the majority from "carry over projects" – works in progress from the preceding fiscal year. Mr Scarvelis says this is no different to several previous budgets. At the end of the 2000/2001 financial year a decision was made, by the aldermen, that the budget estimates would be prepared on the assumption that there would be no surplus. Mr Scarvelis says that decision was made by the aldermen although it was clear that there would be a surplus to be carried forward into 2001/2002. It was a conservative strategy, he says, and was adopted – by the council – in the knowledge that early in the new financial year, a surplus could be defined and allocated to projects. There was a cash surplus from grants, income from the land fill, recovery of bad debts and additional interest on investments. None of these were absolutely certain before the estimates were required to be completed. Additional surpluses came from unfinished projects (to be completed in the 2001/2002 financial year) and savings on wages, and again the aldermen had full knowledge of this from "revised estimate statements".Mr Scarvelis says not a single alderman took issue with this approach at the time. In fact, says Mr Scarvelis, the aldermen knew the exact size of the surplus – the cause of the current row – in early October last year.In November they allocated $460,000 for projects ranging from footpaths ($150,000), to public toilets ($125,000) and Garden Cemetery ($50,000). Mr Scarvelis says the aldermen decided on the five per cent rate increase for 2001/2002 in full knowledge of a likely surplus, clearly intending to use that surplus for projects not funded in the original estimates. There had been no rate increase in the preceding year. Mr Scarvelis says the process was no different to previous years when – in October – money was voted for a string of projects. Ald Mostran disagrees with that. She says at the time of the estimates – about June 2001 – she was told the surplus would be $30,000 to $50,000. In a media release last week, Ald Michael Jones, a supporter of Ald Mostran's motion, says if the surplus was $500,000, why wasn't this published in the estimates and in the annual report. This appears to be the presently accepted figure of the "surprise" surplus, around three per cent of the council's $17m budget. But Ald Mostran claims the real figure is still not known: "Where is the documentation for this?" She says two national accounting firms have described the monthly financial reports as "next to useless" and none of them had revealed that there would be "anywhere near this surplus". "We still don't know to this day what the final figure is. We are having different people telling us different things. "We should know at any given stage to about 10 per cent either way what our financial position is."Ald Mostran says she didn't participate in the grant allocation last November (because she was away in Canberra on council business), when Mr Scarvelis says the surplus situation was made adequately clear. Another bizarre aspect is Mr Scarvelis's annual performance review – also in November – by a panel of four aldermen including Mayor Kilgariff and Deputy Mayor Mostran. Ald Mostran says: "That's confidential and I can't speak about that as I would be breaching the Local Government Act." But Ms Kilgariff says the panel, whilst requiring some modification to financial processes, had unanimously passed a recommendation to the council to renew Mr Scarvelis' contract by a further five years. Mr Scarvelis says he went on Christmas leave in the firm belief he would be at the helm of the council administration for another term. That recommendation has not yet been voted on by the council, but may be discussed at tomorrow's special meeting. Ald Mostran says she had informed acting CEO Bottrall of her intentions to move motions about council financial processes but had not told him in advance about her motion of no confidence. While Ald Mostran is coy about the Scarvelis review panel, she says tomorrow's special meeting should be open to the public. Ms Kilgariff disagrees, because of a provision in the council rules to discuss behind closed doors staff matters or issues "potentially prejudicial to a person". (Her ruling on this can be overturned by a vote.) Ms Kilgariff says the current events invite questions of a political agenda, and whether a "strategy" is unfolding. Ms Kilgariff says the council gallery last week was studded with CLP heavies, including Country Liberal Party former vice president Brendan Heenan. One person had a council meeting rule book at the ready. She says Ald Jones is now the vice president of the NT CLP – the party's most senior person in Alice Springs – and Ald Mostran is on the CLP Central Council. Greatorex MLA Richard Lim, front bencher in the defeated CLP government which managed to clock up an undisclosed $107m deficit, weighed into the fracas with a media release. Dr Lim – like several other former council members – found a stint as alderman a useful stepping stone into the Legislative Assembly. Ms Kilgariff says Dr Lim's release is "quite hysterical in its tone, talking about our financial crisis, for Heaven's sake". "Since when is a very healthy surplus a financial crisis? "Perhaps Richard Lim considers a budget black hole as not being a crisis. "He says we budgeted for a deficit. We didn't. "He says we're in breach of the Local Government regulations. We are not. "He's quite defamatory about me." Says Mr Scarvelis: "I regret [the issue] appears to have been politicised. "What other agenda is there? "At the end of December I was given to understand that my contract would be renewed for a further five years. "This debate has been whipped up in my absence. "I'm not clear what the agenda is." Says Ms Kilgariff: "Our staff members are entitled to due process and natural justice. "And this is where council's focus must be."


A three point plan on illicit drugs with "pretty tough measures against manufacture and distribution" will be part of the NT Government's fight against crime, says Attorney General Peter Toyne. He will be announcing the Office of Crime Prevention this month, charged with formulating a "whole of government" approach, and the public will be mobilised strongly to take part. Dr Toyne says NT Safe under the previous government was "too centralised". The process of community input – including Neighbourhood Watch – into the fight against crime will be "regionalised". Dr Toyne says the three point plan on drugs will be supported by new laws likely to include provisions for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime, and enhanced powers to search premises. "Police Commissioner Paul White has a long history of dealing with organised crime in South Australia and we'll be guided by him," says Dr Toyne. Use of morphine and its derivatives "has been a very large problem Territory wide". "There is still a problem with Ecstasy and LSD. There is some cocaine around." Dr Toyne says the Drug Task Force, which started work last week and is due to report in May, will provide further details. Police are saying it's a significant problem. "We've had different versions of that over time. "That's one of the reasons the Drug Taskforce does need to draw together what everyone knows about it." (Alice Springs police declined to comment on drug use.) Dr Toyne says the government's plan calls for a "significant drug rehabilitation program so we can take drug users out of the market place at the same time as trying to close down as much as possible on those people who are dealing." Dr Toyne says responses to anti social behaviour and its link to alcohol abuse will need "a very wide definition of what is crime" – and what's causing it. ‘There is no point in sitting passively until a threshold has been reached. "We've got to get in ahead of that stage and deal with the conditions that lead people to criminal behaviour." The complementary measures to the proposed grog restrictions in Alice Springs – still under appeal by elements of the liquor industry – are part of the strategy of crime prevention. He says measures implemented already – including the abolition of mandatory sentencing – are successful: "The feedback I've had from the courts is that the new regime is working very well. "There are stiff penalties handed down for serious offences and minor ones are no longer in the courts where they shouldn't have been in the first place."


Happy New Year and one month! David and I had a brilliant festive season, full of fun and friends … hope you did also. Christmas was spent out at Glen Helen Lodge with hosts, Sue and Dave, who really spoilt us – and Francoise, Ian, Carolyn, Neville and others. Big rains and lightning playing across the cliffs made for some interesting photos – the gods were angry. Getting back to town was a bit of a drama for those in conventional vehicles: the Hugh was running wide and high, people partied roadside as they waited for water levels to drop. The Todd River flowed for days, which didn't at all dampen spirits for Centralian revellers. While the Red Centre turned green, New South Wales battled bush-fires, Victoria had snow, Tropical Cyclone Bernie threatened northern parts and Western Oz suffered drought conditions: a dramatic time nationally. We celebrated New Year's Eve with Kate, Kingy, Kay and Burt, and on January 1, we barbequed out at my brother Norm's, with Lee and family. Sometime later, sunset drinks with Anne and William, in between, lunches with Lori, Julie and other friends ... Resolutions simply do not work for me so I don't make them – which means I can't break them. No self-flagellation or disappointment, not this early in the year anyway! Those of us who call Alice Springs home love the space, ranges, colours, countryside and contrasts and our quality of life here, so we have always known that Alice is the hub of the Outback. Our Mayor, Fran, together with her team, has successfully put our town forward as "Capital of the Outback". It's official, and a great achievement. To truly optimise this new status, it's important to ensure that visitors to the Centre go away feeling positive about their Outback experience. If we all love this town, this country, so much, why are we allowing it to deteriorate?We are still battling anti-social behaviour including the problems of litter, public disturbances, drunks and troublemakers, loitering around the town centre, menacing passers-by. Certain actions offend and it's time we said so: there has been much talk about making people accountable for their actions but nothing seems to be done about our core issues. We are not supposed to judge, but WE are being judged by whatever the media and our visitors convey to the world at large At times we need to get away to look objectively at what we do have here in Alice Springs. Heading north along the South Stuart Highway in this, the International Year of the Outback, after a three week break, watching the MacDonnell Ranges looming larger by the kilometre, the scrub, desert oaks, rocky outcrops and big skies were a welcoming sight.


In an age of cool, it is not often, in a gallery setting, that we encounter undisguised either expressions of wonder or of personal suffering, both of which are prominent in Henry Smith's fist solo exhibition in Alice Springs.Opening at Araluen this Friday, Odyssey of Wonder is a show of ink and pastel drawings, a surprise in itself, as Smith arrived in Alice with a solid reputation as a sculptor, with some 20 years of freelance commissions behind him.Like so many others, Smith fell in love with the landscape of the Centre when he first came for a visit in 1978. He was not able to return until 1997 when he took up a position in the art department at Centralian College, teaching sculpture. In his free time he began a long exploration of country and feeling, traced in these works on paper. Again like so many others, Smith talks about the special "presence" of the landscape. He sees in it signs of "grace, struggle, survival, desperation", parallel to the human condition.Why the exploration led him to drawing rather than sculpture is something he can't fully explain, but he says he can "cover more ground" with drawing, "put down more, explore more". "Sculpture is often two per cent inspiration, 98 per cent hard work," says Smith."And at a certain point you become locked into your original idea, it's hard to change, whereas with drawing you can work through changing ideas and feelings very quickly." Yet most of what we'll see in the gallery is the product of many hours' work. In the field, Smith mostly makes thumbnail sketches and carefully annotated strip drawings. He may spend a whole day just noting how different forms in a landscape take shape as the light changes. The large drawings are generally worked up in his living room, which serves as his studio and where I first saw the lovingly evoked "Sacred Place", a two metre wide charcoal drawing of a valley in the Eastern MacDonnells. Smith opens this space before the viewer, as if it's at our feet; renders its old textures in delicate detail; infuses it with light. Interestingly, this drawing came early in the chronology of exploration.Later personal experiences, states of mind and artistic experimentation took Smith off in other directions. Two of the self-portraits show the artist full of anguish, consoled only by the land, particularly its trees. Then, it would seem, Smith emerged from this dark hour, experiencing a transfiguring wonder at nature's strength and beauty. (It is not surprising to learn that he has practised meditation for some 20 years.) Such experiences are profound, but are perhaps the most difficult to render with profundity: Smith's metaphors in this phase of work are somewhat literal; they more describe his vision than enter into it. There is at least one other significant strand of his work that should be mentioned: drawings which blend a Western way of seeing the land – as elevating, awe-inspiring – with a suggested other possibility, playing with the "building blocks" of an Aboriginal visual representation – dots, and repeated lines, not symbols. This has the interesting effect in some instances of cutting the land loose, which may be where Smith is heading, having the courage to make the journey, accepting its ever-elusive goals.


The closure of their shop-front gallery is not the end of Watch This Space.Alice's only artist-run initiative never was primarily about having permanent exhibition space: its main goal has been to foster experimental and non-commercial art, which often takes shape outside a gallery setting.Founding coordinator and on-going curator, Pamela Lofts, says loss of Australia Council funds which prompted the decision to close the gallery is being seen as "an opportunity to re-evaluate what we've been doing"."The gallery was a commercial space, chewing up a significant chunk of our budget, and may have altered our direction to a certain extent."The Space is also supported by Arts NT and these funds will be used to maintain a scaled-down program of events.This may include a second Outsite sculpture prize. The inaugural prize, with all work sited at the Desert Park, was one of the highlights of the Alice Springs Festival last year. Artists' camps, now something of a Space tradition, are another possible focus. At this stage, and pending supplementary funding, three are planned at sites linked by the Finke River.As in the past, an established guest artist would lead the camps."Artist-run initiatives are about people, about who is prepared to do what," says Lofts."We are not in a place where there's a major arts institution pouring out energetic young artists to support an initiative like this. "But we've had terrific public support in the past and we're look forward to that continuing."Artist-run spaces do come and go, but I don't think this one should, because it contributes so significantly to the cultural life of Alice Springs."An AGM is due in March, when Lofts hopes an energetic committee will be elected to take the Space forward.


While his peers go on to further education and training, Ryan Coppola has set his sights on a career with a difference, on his bike. The teenage cyclist who has given the likes of Tony Fitzpatrick a run for his money around the velodrome and streets of Alice Springs over the last few years, dreams of an international cycling career.As a starting point he has packed his bags and relocated in Adelaide, where he has been "put up" by his grandparents, and is busily seeking employment to sustain his full on cycling life.Wasting no time, he is undertaking a 50 kilometre training ride each day. He has also joined the local Norwood cycling club and found himself entered in the Tuesday night Criterium series. To Coppola, although competing in B Grade, the change from Alice has been considerable. On his debut ride in the big smoke he found himself pitched against a field of 30 riders from a variety of South Australian clubs. He has now ridden strongly in two such events and is focussed on setting himself for victory in a Sunday race, so qualifying himself for A Grade.From there, he aims to qualify for the Institute of Sport. In making the move, Coppola is indebted to his coach from the Centre, Dean Rackley, and his cycling mates from Alice.Indeed in Alice a plethora of budding cyclists with similar aspirations to Coppola have been putting in the hard kilometres. The Northern Territory Championships which were conducted here over the Australia Day weekend revealed the depth of talent that exists in Central Australia. Featuring were Alex and Jack Rhodes who have also relocated to Adelaide in the pursuit of excellence. The meet was extended to a three day carnival when Alice coach and ex Australian champion, John Pyper, arranged the inaugural NT teams challenge on the Friday night. This proved to be a real success with teams coming from South Australia, Katherine and Darwin to take on the Alice riders. The challenge featured Pursuit, Kieran and Madison Time Trials. Despite South Australia entering a crack Pursuit team, it was Corey Heath from Katherine who starred.In the support races Liam Hodge and Daniel Herrick collected prizes for victory rides in the Juniors. Darwin's Alistair Hartley and Chad Anderson dominated the senior races, with Hartley winning three races. The best performer from Alice was Shane Douglas.On the Saturday night heats took up most of the program, with the 400 metre Pursuit being a feature. The Darwin team headed by national level competitors Hartley and Anderson proved too strong for Shane Douglas, Daniel Davis, Andrew Jones and Andrew Koop from Alice. The local lads learned from the experience and will no doubt improve with time.On the finals night, Sunday, Katherine's Corey Heath again stole the show. In a clean sweep he took out the Under 17 Men's Championship. Top Ender Alistair Hartley proved too good in the Elite Men's Class, but otherwise Alice Springs paraded its own talent. Daniel Davis captured the Under 19 Men's crown. Jack Rhodes took out the Under 15s and Liam Hodge the Under 13s. In the Masters, Andrew Koop took all before him to claim his divisional championship. With Centre cycling at a high point and our emerging talent prepared to transfer south to improve, the future looks all roses at the velodrome.

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.