ERWIN CHLANDA AND KIERAN FINNANE COVER THE FOUR
DAY DESERT KNOWLEDGE SYMPOSIUM:
Getting the people behind you
Last week's Desert Knowledge Symposium, the first, was hailed as a
"remarkable step" Ð coming together to actually chart a course for
the future; and questioned as a "fantasy" Ð what would anyone,
looking at Australia's experience of desert management, want to take on
Keynote speaker, Steve Wells of the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, USA, at the end of the first day, commented: "I think you've embarked on something I wish the United States had considered about 30 years ago, before larger developments and changes in our desert landscapes had occurred.
"You are taking a step that is pretty remarkable É I've worked in deserts all my life and to see people coming together to actually chart a course and think about harmonious activities is something that I've never seen really in the United States."
From the floor, Jocelyn Davies, based at Adelaide University and a contributing researcher to the Desert Knowledge cooperative research centre bid, challenged Australian credibility in desert management: "There's the worst record of mammal extinctions in the world; there's a huge disparity in wealth along racial lines; there are quite unresolved land tenure systems, with two different systems now operating; there's a crisis in Indigenous governance and health; we've been exporting the wealth from these regions to the coastline; and the residents in these desert regions don't pay the real costs of the natural resources they use, particularly water.
"Are we really selling a reality here, or is this some kind of fantasy, that there's something from desert knowledge, as we are applying it now, that we've got to sell?"
Ms Davies's challenge points to a key task for Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA): that of taking the community with them in this "alternative futures" process.
The community needs to trust and believe in the process and to do that, they need to understand it. Any definition would appear to be multi-faceted.
Bruce Walker from the Alice-based Centre for Appropriate Technology, said the DKA process acknowledges the mistakes and limitations of the past: "We're owning that É we're saying that you develop good things when you look back at what you have done and work out new ways of doing it É We want to set up different processes, different governance structures É
"[It's] unlike everything else that's impacted on Central Australia Ð the decision to put communications through Central Australia, the decision to put the Joint Defence Facility in Central Australia, all those decisions were taken on the other side of the world.
"Desert Knowledge is a decision that's been taken by people who live in Central Australia and we're pushing it out to the rest of the world.
"That is a fundamental difference."
But what is it that we're "pushing out"?
Is it the research and innovation capacity of organisations like CAT and CSIRO? And if so, don't they do that already?
And because there are commercial opportunities in this kind of activity, is that what you call a "knowledge economy", a brave new world for the highly educated few?
In fact, the concept seems to be more inclusive, more all-embracing.
Ifor Ffowcs-Williams, of Cluster Navigators Ltd, New Zealand, suggested: "Every industry, every activity that is under way right now in the Territory should be considered as knowledge-intensive, even the traditional pastoral [activity].
"[We should be] looking not just at the export of live animals, for example, but the export of our knowledge, our skills, our systems É finding different income streams that draw from the knowledge we have here in the Territory."
Debra Amidon, from the University of Texas in Austin, USA, offered, in her upbeat style: "Draw the circle around everyone and let the discoveries begin!"
As knowledge is embedded in human beings, said Ms Amidon, a knowledge economy creates a level playing field, for developing and industrialised nations alike Ð read, for laymen and experts alike.
She had some nice examples that seemed to support that view: for instance, that 72 per cent of ideas leading to innovation in enterprise come not from specialists, but from customers.
In a paper she circulated, she quoted from a Special Millennium Edition of The Economist: "Few of the inventors responsible for the astonishing wave of innovation between 1750 and 1860 were scientists; most were artisans or engineers with little or no scientific training.
"They were men of common sense, curiosity, energy and a vast ingenuity, standing on the shoulders not of scholars but of similar practical types."
That sits well with the image of people in the Outback as multi-skilled and resourceful, able to think "outside of the box".
Tim Flannery, Director of the Museum of South Australia, gave an example that was easy to relate to: a pastoralist in the New England area of NSW who freed himself of the "encumbrance" of land ownership.
Now, as good seasons arrive, he buys cattle and agists them, then as the El Nino weather cycle "starts to swing and the door closes", sells them off at a great profit, and does something else while the drought lasts.
"You couldn't do that if you owned land, he's actually freed himself from this incredible European mindset that the ownership of land is everything É
"Australia is now teaching us that isn't the only way you can make a living."
However clever though, this is still just an isolated example.
"Connectivity" seems to be the key to being able to talk about a knowledge economy.
Carlos Scheel, a professor from the University of Monterrey, Mexico Ð the only keynote speaker at the conference from a developing country Ð pointed to the success of India in the software industry, in contrast to their incapacity when it comes to supporting a banking system: "Ever tried cashing a cheque in India?" he asked.
At present, Central Australia manifests comparable sharp contrasts: research scientists, innovative technologies, electronic communications alongside, for instance, very low levels of literacy and high unemployment in remote communities.
Similarly, there is an advanced understanding of how to live sustainably in our desert environment alongside widespread practice of the exact opposite.
Michael Ossipoff, Director of Capability for Telstra, dazzled with the latest possibilities of disseminating knowledge, stressing though that they can only be seen as "enablers", not solutions.
However Prof Scheel drove home a point about access: in Mexico, 90 people in 100 own televisions, but less than 20 in 100 own telephones.
That disparity would be even greater in our Aboriginal communities.
In 1999 Prof Scheel's university tried to set up a Masters program on commercialisation of science and technology, in partnership with the University of Texas.
"We had to drop the science because there is no science in developing countries.
"So we started a commercialisation of technology program, although we had to drop that word also because we couldn't find the technology."
Ms Amidon's paper ackowledges that "the ÔDigital Divide' could exacerbate the gap between the haves and have nots", but in the very next clause dismisses this point with the following: "the human (vs. the information or technology) agenda will place the emphasis on all people and all cultures Ð where it belongs!"
This important area of discussion is abandoned with the next sentence. We have to take it on faith that there is a human agenda out there.
To be fair to DKA, though, they have put a "human agenda" at the heart of their three-pronged vision of sustainability, harmony and wealth creation.
Mary Ann Bin-Sallik, a PhD from Harvard and Dean of the Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies at NT University Ð the first Aborigine to be employed in the higher education sector in Australia Ð gave the keynote address on harmony.
She described the relationships between black and white Australians as a "resounding cacophony".
To move towards a "symphony" requires trust, which for many Indigenous Australians around the country had been shattered by the watering down of the Native Title Act.
Said Dr Bin-Sallik: "At the time of the watering down, the silence from industry was not only deafening, it was sickening to us.
"We've not recovered from that experience.
"I urge you to ask yourself if you'd recover from such an experience if it was thrust upon your world from a more dominant and alien culture? É
"Do you think you would then trust the dominant culture?
"How would you react if industry and scientists were silent during your betrayal and then later came and said we want to explore working relationships with you?"
Speaking further to the nature of working relationships with Indigenous people, ATSIC Commissioner Alison Anderson, outside the symposium, said intellectual property rights of Aboriginal people "need to be protected so the rights remain with the Indigenous people".
She is calling on the government to legislate.
She said current laws, such as copyright, are not "real protection".
As Dr Bin-Sallik said: "Relationships or partnerships cannot be forged on crumbs or symbolic gestures."
And that last sentence holds true for people generally.
It is quite easy to imagine DKA going forward as a CSIRO- or CAT-style of organisation in its new Desert Knowledge Precinct and "creating wealth" from, for example, "database development and measurement of desert environments", as suggested by Dr Wells.
For the circle to go around everyone, considerable energy would need to be put into "processes", as opposed to "structures", as suggested by Dr Bin-Sallik.
In a desert knowledge "symphony", all the players would need to understand where they fit in.
After the first symposium this is till an outstanding question. - K. F.
Sewage plant water waste: Alice is ideal for
Is Alice too small to have an effluent recycling plant?
No, says one of Australia's top water resource experts, Perth based CSIRO scientist Tom Hatton.
The town's sewage plant, using evaporation as a method of disposal, currently wastes an estimated two billion litres of water a year.
Ground water Ð millions of years old Ð in the Mereenie basin is dropping to unrecoverable levels.
The government is planning to open up a new bore field at a cost estimated at $40m to $70m.
And earlier this year NT Minister Kon Vatskalis said while his government is seeking commercial uses for treated effluent, a fully fledged recycling plant is not an option because the volume isn't sufficient and cost of water would go through the roof.
Dr Hatton, whilst saying he has no detailed knowledge of the Alice situation, says new technologies offer recycling opportunities for smaller communities.
"Given the major constraints and considerations on pulling more water out of the environment, we're all looking for opportunities to reuse water more than once.
"There are regions and municipalities around the world that reuse water many times before they finally dispose of it" Ð as often as seven times.
But only 10 to 15 per cent of water is re-used in Australia.
Dr Hatton says an economic method such as filtering waste water through soil and allowing it to seep into underground basins from where it can be recovered seems a system well suited to Alice Springs.
"Alice has some peculiar patterns for water use and disposal because you have so many non residents at any given time.
"You have many visitors and that creates different times of peak demands and peak disposal times.
"The particular combination of soils, need, climate and some of the other particulars of The Alice make it very attractive, I would have thought, rather than using the water only once and put it out to a sewerage treatment plant in order to let it evaporate away.
"From what I have gathered you are overdrawing on your local sandstone formation water supply.
"It's probably feasible to treat and store water from effluent for well under a dollar a kilolitre."
Alice consumers are currently paying 66 cents a kilolitre.
But what do people think about reusing their effluent?
Mr Hatton says CSIRO surveys in WA Ð where supply has reached crisis point Ð have revealed two responses.
The answer to where would you like to see new water to come from is "by far and away" urban run-off and treated effluent.
"But when we ask the second question, what would you find an acceptable use for that water, the last thing on the list is drinking.
"No matter what assurances they are given, people always think twice about drinking treated water, particularly out of a sewage treatment plant.
"They are happy for it to go on the golf courses and public areas Ð and that's fine too."
The clear answer for Alice seems to be a dual pipes network in homes and throughout the town.
"It costs a lot more to retro fit than to build them into new homes.
"One of the things we're advocating is that new homes have dual reticulation systems built in, so that if and when a utility can provide water of two different qualities it's there, it's ready to go."
However, there may be an opportunity in Alice to fix past mistakes.
Sewage pipes in parts of the town are seriously deteriorated and will need replacing in the not too distant future.
When the pipes are dug up, laying dual water mains would be a comparatively minor effort.
Have we got what it takes?
An inventory of what we need and what we can sell is fundamental to
the Desert Knowledge concept, says Barney Foran, former Alice resident
and now working for CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems in Canberra.
Speaking to the Alice News over lunch, he said: "If we prattle on about sustainability, which is ensuring the place keeps going in the long term, and is part of the theme of Desert Knowledge, the real themes are the energy and material flows that underpin us sitting here, where this fish comes from or this bread roll."
With the global sustainability issue now several decades old Ð and the local Desert Knowledge focus now four years old Ð we still have no comprehensive answers to these questions.
Says Mr Foran: "If the Desert Knowledge economy wants to look at being a brain economy, rather than a sweat economy, then we need the framework and the data to know how much we use.
"We export a huge amount of stuff out of the desert, a lot of it is ore, but some of it is beef, some wine, grapes from Ti Tree and so on.
"Until we run our balance sheet and work out whether we're expecting to be exporting more than we're importing, on the Ôsustainablity' of Desert Knowledge we're having ourselves on.
"Just the same thing a banker would say: what are our inflows and outflows?
"Without a dispassionate analysis of what the data is, there can be no policy to redress problems of equity, fair share É all those things.
"If you prattle on about knowledge, you'd better accumulate it."
Mr Foran says the basis of such a survey is population Ð predictable because of five yearly censuses: "People are the main drivers of demand for litres of water, tonnes of food, joules of electricity and litres of fuel."
Having done a survey "you can start to project whether you need to make revolutionary changes now or whether marginal changes will suffice."
So, what do we know about this balance so far?
Says Mr Foran: "There is a huge amount of transport involved in our everyday lifestyle.
"A tub of yoghurt É where is that coming from? Yet we expect Coles supermarket to be full of them.
"We need to know about the huge hidden flows [of] the goods and services into the region, and only then can you identify some of the key issues.
"We may run into energy constraints in 20 years.
"Our whole tourism may by then be based on aircraft, when we could have made a decision to put in a very fast train network that has about one fifth of the energy consumption per passenger kilometres.
"I think in Australia we're not prepared to take this long term punt with these big infrastructure items."
Does it make sense that the Alice to Darwin railway under construction won't be suitable for very fast trains?
"The question is whether, in time, we can have a reasonable speed train going on there.
"You might be asking that question!
"The tourism industry might have to focus on some major restructuring."
Mr Foran says technology has one half of the answer and lifestyle the other.
And on that score, says Mr Foran, Alice should be taking a leaf out of Alice architect Brendan Meney's book. (Mr Meney has just been invited as one of four keynote speakers to a major convention in Saudi Arabia).
Says Mr Foran: "The architecture of building in Outback Australia is just a transplant from southern Australia.
"All around us we see southern Australia with mulga trees outside."
- E. C.
Nearly half the world's carpets come from a town like Alice.
The town of Dalton in the USA is much the same size as Alice
"Dalton has 174 carpet mills and makes 45 per cent of the world's carpets, both synthetic and wool.
"There is an even smaller place in Italy with just 7000 people and that place makes 60 per cent of Europe's socks."
This is how Ifor Ffowcs-Williams (pictured) brought into focus one of the symposium buzzwords, "cluster".
Says the founder and CEO of the New Zealand company, Cluster Navigators Ltd: "Think of a cluster as a community of interest with a focus on wealth creation.
"That community might be the engineering companies in Whyalla or the tourism operators in Alice Springs.
"There is an important dimension here of being close to people, not just firms being close to each other but also to the support structure, like TAFEs and CSIRO, with specialist facilities.
"There are government organisations supporting the cluster.
"Think of the cluster community as a team with a particular focus.
"You have a number of clusters in Alice Springs. You don't need to invent them.
"It's a question of understanding them.
"Tourism is one. Another one would relate to renewable energy, solar and geo-thermal.
"It's important to think of the more technology intensive clusters because that's where you create higher value jobs.
"In the broader sense Desert Knowledge is a cluster because it is bringing together people who've got particular skills in working in a desert environment, in a research and development sense but also in a commercial sense.
"The key thing in moving a cluster forward is linkages.
"It's the dialogue, the quality of trust," says Mr Ffowcs-Williams.
"And it's because people know each other and can find each other, that new things happen.
"That's part of what Desert Knowledge is about, putting people in touch with each other.
"And that might be putting someone in Whyalla in touch with Broken Hill É or with Nevada or Saudi Arabia or Marrakesh, who have particular skills or even, hopefully, are becoming customers for the skills we've got here in Desert Knowledge Australia."
So, what is it that a cluster could do for local tourism, for example, that the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association (CATIA) isn't doing right now and has been doing for years?
"Desert Knowledge is working at a higher level," says Mr Ffowcs-Williams.
"Tourism organisations around the world are focussing on promotion, and they do a good job.
"But they don't focus all too often on things like training, capacity development, on increasing the number of attractions in a community.
"In a fragile environment like Alice Springs tourism development ties in with other things, the design of buildings, for example.
"You can't look at tourism development in isolation."
Mr Ffowcs-Williams says Desert Knowledge isn't necessarily about inventing new technologies but adapting existing ones to an environment.
An example of that is putting renewable energy systems into remote communities Ð a task currently undertaken by the local Centre for Appropriate Technology.
"You can then take that knowledge to the Sahara Desert or to the Middle East."
Mr Ffowcs-Williams says another example is the Alice Desert Park which is "absolutely amazing, astonishing".
"I sense there are skills and knowledge that have been developed in Desert Park Alice Springs that could be used in Marrakesh or in Dubai [where they] perhaps don't do anything as sophisticated as what you have got."
- E. C.
COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
Last week's four day Desert Knowledge Symposium gave opportunities for schmoozing, networking, brain-picking and getting a national or global take on local Ð desert Ð issues.
An unprecedented number of top brains Ð and a few lesser ones Ð were in town, joining the impressive line-up of local experts.
While some of the 15 minute talks from the "out of towners" lacked local focus and had clearly been performed elsewhere, the relaxed management of the event in the comfortable and well-equipped new convention centre gave ample opportunity for extra-curricular activities.
Clive Scollay and his team gave media excellent access to the "stars".
If you developed a serious case of brain lock during the official talks you could readily get explanations and Ð more importantly Ð a local angle on a string of global issues over lunch, coffee or a smoke in the courtyard.
Says cluster expert Ifor Ffowcs-Williams: "The long lunch breaks, the coffee breaks, were well timed. They were great.
"In a way you can look at formal presentations almost as excuses that bring people together, to network.
"Video conferencing is OK but there is no substitute for eyeballing."
To tout the symposium as "international" was a little fanciful: by the count of John Baskerville, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Chief Minister, there was one delegate each from Japan, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, two from New Zealand and four from the USA.
Interstate delegates were also pretty thin on the ground: ACT nine, NSW 17, Queensland 21, SA 24, Victoria three, WA 11 and Ð roaring applause at the convention dinner Ð 246 from the NT.
Mr Baskerville estimates about a quarter of these were public servants.
He says the convention cost the taxpayer around $150,000 Ð the rest of the budget was raised from session and other fees.
But what the hell.
After four years of years of mostly inconclusive pottering Desert Knowledge Australia, founded in The Centre, has now had its official start.
Most pleasing of all, with the Desert Knowledge precinct (definitely) and the $96m Co-operative Research Centre (hopefully) getting under way, no-one in the far flung inland of Oz seems to be contesting Alice Springs' claim to be the capital of an increasingly vigorous movement.
The NT Government has already committed $10m to the precinct. The CRC will be worth $96m, operate across five states and the NT and will be run from Alice Springs.
A funding application is before the Federal Government and if Mr Howard puts his money where his mouth was, two weeks ago in Alice Springs, we'll be home and hosed.
Says Mr Ffowcs-Williams: "I'm excited by what is happening. I sense there are a lot of different things coming together.
"It is not easy to pull together different levels of government Ð and we're talking about three levels here.
"Desert Knowledge has managed to work its way through that and is adding value. And it's great.
"I'm impressed by the scale of it, by the vision.
"That's the opportunity, putting Australia, and this bit of Australia that's being seen as the Outback, on the world map.
"Because of globalisation it is now possible to do that.
"Today it's Desert Knowledge Australia.
"Maybe tomorrow it is Australia as the desert knowledge centre of the world."
What will she remember? Report by DICK KIMBER.
By the time that you read this many of you will have joined in the
celebrations that occurred when the Last Camel Train arrived in the
However, here is my last installment on their journey.
Every morning as the camels set off, the women were striking in their individuality. Perhaps they can be seen as representatives of all of those many bush women who travelled the old camel, and later Ghan railway, route.
There, walking all the way, was nursing sister Kase Connole of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in the Alice.
She strode in the footsteps of Nurse "Lottie" Bett, in 1911 the first nurse appointed to Oodnadatta, and sister J.C. Finlayson, who followed immediately afterwards.
Liz Tier walked beside her, like the Alice's first school-teacher, Ida Standley, of whom the late Mort Conway (one of her first students) said with respect, "She was a woman-and-a-half!" Liz's family, and the staff and students of St Philip's College, must be very proud of her.
Interchanging walking with riding of their own camels were Michelle Smail and Jane Mitchell, like the generations of bush women who went before them. Among women who come to mind are those of the Bloomfield, Hayes, Tucker, Nicker, Johannsen and Coppock families, and the wives and daughters of all of the Hermannsburg missionaries.
I recall generous-hearted "Topsy" Tucker making her husband Paddy and me a cup of tea, and Paddy telling me of the tragedy which befell them.
They were coming with loading from Oodnadatta to the Alice, with Topsy riding the lead camel, nursing her very young baby. Something, perhaps a snake, frightened the camel, and Topsy dropped their child. She instantly slid to the ground, finding to her horror that the following camel in the string had placed its foot down on the child.
Her death-wail told Paddy the terrible news, and they buried their baby beside the track in an unmarked grave. Although another son, Bruce, was born and survived, the tragedy came to mind every now-and-again.
Paddy only told me the story once. It was triggered by the memory of another tragedy of a century ago.
His older brother Jacky, who had been Paddy's best mate, had left home on Owen Springs station to work on a station near present-day Finke.
He and another young lad had perished while searching for strayed horses. The other station hands, and Mounted Constable Ernest Cowle, never found Jacky's body, despite desperate searches with each day's shade temperature in the 40s Ð and no shade to be had. No such fate befell the members of "The Last Camel Train."
Rozane Cummings, handsome dark-haired grand-daughter of Mulladad, walked much of the way too, but also rode the camels and had a spell in the vehicles. Rosy represented the generations of Afghan-descent women, like Vera Satour who, as a girl, travelled vast distances on camels; or Sallay Mahomet's French governess mother, Adrienne Desiree (nee Lesire). She and Sallay's father Gool set out from the Western Australian goldfields country when Sallay was but a baby.
She nursed Sallay, shielding him from the burning sun, while Gool steered by sunrise, moonrise, the Southern Cross and other stars, trusting in his God.
They had had a hard time of it, but eventually struck the Old Telegraph Line and made their home at Farina.
And then there was five month old Julia, snug and warm in her little red outfit, and cared for by proud father Wayne Braszell when her Mum, Jane Mitchell, was travelling with the camels. Otherwise she sat in her mother's lap, as happy as any baby who ever travelled the route.
What will she remember of it, I wonder? I suspect the warm absolute love of her mother and father, perhaps a sense of blue sky, red earth and the moon and stars, and possibly a sense of warm flames and the smell of smoke.
Maybe the sounds of gentle voices and laughter, or of camels rumbling, will be part of a merged memory with other sounds of her childhood, or the shadow and sunshine that touched her eyes as the ironwood and desert-oak leaves swayed in the breeze.
In 100 years someone will ask her to recall the journey, and she'll talk about her Mum and Dad and stories she has heard, and the "memories" that have come to her through viewing photographs and old films.
This little girl and these women are of the Outback, not just The Year of the Outback. However there was that about this celebratory event that was an adventure to be cherished.
Philippa Bridges, guided and assisted by Macumba Jack and his wife Topsy, enjoyed such an adventure 80 years ago. Corrected extracts of the last stages read:
"[As] the afternoon waned, we reached the Depot Sand-Hills ... The sand was as red as brick dust, and the camels floundered about in it. We went up and down some steep rises.
"Topsy alighted and caught a sand-devil, a little animal that looked like a large toad, but walked like a lizard, and was clothed in a patchwork of small squares, each with a soft but prickly spine. It carried its little Ôswag' on its back, and thrust out its head from a sockety head like that of a tortoise. It seemed to have no weapon of defence but to make faces.
"Throughout my whole trip I had no more lovely camp than that in the Depot Sandhills. The wind was cold enough to make me glad of a tent, and the natives built a big fire.
"It was a clear night, with many stars; the Southern Cross tilted over sideways, and Orion looked very remote. A light wind moved among the casuarinas, and when it stopped the needles continued to sway with the sound of waves upon the beach.
"Wind among gum-trees is seldom restful, É but a capful of breeze among the casuarinas turns the whole of the Depot Sandhills into a melody."
Just as Philippa Bridges and her Aboriginal companions enjoyed the support of all others along the route, so too did the members of The Last Camel Train appreciate the support of the NT Government and many sponsors.
Ted Egan in his role as ambassador for the Year of the Outback, the people of Oodnadatta, Pam Holland, Lorraine Braham, Bloodwood, Australia Post, the Lions Club, Mayor Fran Kilgariff and the Alice Springs Town Council led the way in enthusiastic support.
Without the equally impressive backing of Nic and Michelle Smail of the Frontier Camel Farm, complemented by Neil Waters of Camels Australia, Marcus Williams of Pyndan Camel Tracks and Jane Mitchell, the re-enactment simply could not have taken place.
Other keen supporters included the NT Tourist Commission, SA Tourist Commission, Warren Snowdon, Peter Toyne as a private citizen in addition to his Government role, Richard Lim, Jodeen Carney, ABC Radio, Imparja, Carlton United Breweries, Peter Kittle with vehicles, Bojangles, the Alice Springs News, The Framing Place, W B Mobile Windscreens and Alice City Tyrepower.
And then there were the song-writers, singers, musicians and recorders of "The Last Camel Train" album, launched at CAAMA a week ago, and worthy of being a prized item in all of the schools and homes of the outback.
There was a generosity of spirit and heart in the donation of their songs, time and skills that reflected a continuum of that outback willingness to lend a hand. People proud of their Afghan heritage were joined by mates who, whether Aborigines or Aussies of English, Scots, Irish or other background, are all part of Central Australian society. Now, though, there has been safe arrival of Scotty Balfour and all other members of The Last Camel Mail team, as well as the safe arrival of the mail.
They followed well in the footsteps of the old Afghans and all other cameleers. And like them, they have earnt our respect.
PICTURED above right is Mayor Fran Kilgariff receiving a Quoran from Dr Ameer Ali, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. At right in the photo is Eric Sultan, a descendant of Afghan cameleers and Alice Springs identity, organiser of the Last Camel Train. ABOVE LEFT is Jean Finlayson (front) and a woman believed to also be a Deaconess with Australian Inland Mission (AIM), riding a camel side-saddle in Central Australia.
A city girl from Melbourne, Jean was an AIM nursing sister and Deaconess who spent 18 months at the AIM hostel in Oodnadatta (its second nursing sister).
She was persuaded by John Flynn to volunteer to spend a year at Alice Springs (then Stuart) to pioneer a nursing service here and to make recommendations regarding the building of an AIM hospital (later to become Adelaide House). She was to spend a little under a year here from 1915-1916, having to return to Melbourne early to nurse her ill mother. Photo National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame.
Whose brain is melting down? COLUMN by STEVE
I promise I'll stop reading them soon and do something more worthy,
but one of my Outback guidebooks says, "The thought of the Red Centre
can send chills up the straightest spine even in the most brain
I will try to remember that next time I'm standing in the checkout queue at Bi-Lo.
Apparently, people come to the Red Centre to get their fascination with it out of their system. I can't somehow see our town in the same mystical light as, say, the Hindu temples of Kathmandu or the Inca ruins of Peru. But there is no doubt that Alice Springs is an exotic location, at least to those poor souls crammed on a Melbourne commuter train in winter drizzle. And to visit here is a dream for many, and was for me too.
Everyone has an obsession that they need to get out of their system. For instance, the other day I awoke with a worry in my head about my insurance policy. So I called the UK and spoke to a patently bored woman in an insurance office in a dreary Midlands town. All these towns have a rich history of mediaeval conflict and pageant that was followed sometime in the sixteenth century by a one-way traffic system and a parking problem that persists to this day.
Anyway, when I mentioned that I was calling from Australia, she sounded just as glazed as before. No offence was intended, but to someone in the Midlands of England, Australia means Melbourne and Melbourne might as well be Manchester. They are just overgrown cities a long way away, which you have no good reason to visit.
However, when I gave my address as Alice Springs, her tone changed and her spirits soared as she eagerly explained to me how she had always wanted to travel to the Red Centre ever since she read that novel "A Town like Alice". Sadly, she had never been able to realise her dream. Perhaps she couldn't get insurance.
Anyway, I finally managed to end the conversation and get the phone receiver back safely into the off position (this was an international call, after all). Then I thought some more about the emotions brought about by an unfulfilled dream. The pain and the regret. The frustration of an unrealised ambition. That little nagging something that you have to get out of your system before you can find real contentment. Or so the story goes.
I got one of my own fascinations out of my system recently. I had been talking about taking a trip on a microlight aircraft for some time. Probably years, if the truth is known.
Microlights are those machines that look like a big handkerchief with a lawn mower engine tied on the back. Finally, I went to see a man who was offering trial flights.
I gritted my teeth and I took the flight. I'll spare you the details, but needless to say it was a gut-wrenching, windblown, 1000-metre high opportunity to hang on for dear life and engage in no conversation at all with the pilot. My advice to novice flyers is wear the right trousers.
But back to the point. There's nothing wrong with satisfying an obsession. And our town is one example. People come to Alice Springs for greater reasons than to buy a foot long roll at Subway, even if it can be annoying queuing behind them in your lunch break. They can look confused and they can appear dazed. They want to see a part of Australia that they have heard about since they were children and have always wanted to visit.
So little wonder that many visitors meander around Central Australia trying to make sense of the expanse of the bush, the bright lights of the Alice, the dry Todd and the mountains behind. We should make allowances for that. I will try to remember, next time I meet a visitor.
All at sea after festival fever. COLUMN by ANN
When David and I travel, I generally navigate and he drives, which
tends to contradict much of Allan and Barbara Pease's bestseller "Why
Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps", but possibly explains why,
when we were recently overseas, we ended up, quite by accident, on the
north eastern coast of England, in Whitby, the home port of Captain
The replica of the Endeavour (which was built in Sydney) sailed in on June 20 Ð it was super to welcome the tall ship and her crew, quite a few of whom were from Australia, and to join in homecoming celebrations.
"Welcome Endeavour" banners lined the streets, and we noticed a couple with "G'day Mates!!" on them. There was a bright festive atmosphere and the media gave this "feel good" story exceptional coverage.
In July the English tabloid, Sunday Telegraph, ran another nautical tale reporting on the progress of the voyage of the Windeward Bound, marking the 200th anniversary of the first circumnavigation of Australia by Matthew Flinders. The article was titled "Crew Abandons Ship as Master Becomes Mistress"É all to do with health and safety issues on board the vessel, but, in the main, with the crew's reaction to the revelation that Captain Sarah (formerly known as Brian) is having a sex-change operation.
Captain Sarah alternates between wearing the heavily starched white uniform of the Merchant Navy and tight jeans or shorts with figure hugging singlets and shirts complemented by stunning pieces of jewellery.
A colourful character but possibly not the image that generally springs to mind when conjuring up images of a ship's master called Captain Brian Ð or is it?
An exciting evening at the Festival Club at the Alice Springs Resort: I went with Libby, visiting from Brisbane for the first time, and we met up with other friends, Lori, Liz, Franca, Sarah and most of Alice, and spent a few hours sitting around the pool enjoying the night, a display of fashion, feathers, voiles, nets, silks, satins, funky hair-dos, scintillating stories, songs, dance and theatre.
That was days before the Samba street parade on Friday night when hundreds of happy people, adults and children, filled our mall with colour, innovative and elaborate costumes, pulsating music, laughter and life.
I was lucky enough to have a drink before and after the Friday night Wearable Art Ð Hair Extravaganza presentation with friends, Franca and Philomena. They won the Recyclable Wearable Art section, with their aptly named entry, "Old Bags", incorporating a dress made from used tea-bags with matching hold-all, knitted plastic shrug and headpiece. Alice Springs is full of talented people, and there were some incredible entries Ð but only so many prizes.
On Sunday I saw a purple coach in the car park: it brought to mind the lavender bus, Priscilla, and her Desert Queens. They would have adored the excitement, flair, flamboyance and verve of our Alice Springs Festival É
It's been a dynamic few days! Where to wear those slinky sequinned little numbers Ð in storage, with Captain Sarah's nautical off the shoulder frocks, until our next festive time.
Green cramming. COLUMN by GLENN MARSHALL.
Should environmental education become a core subject in Australian
There is a strong argument for it, simply because today's kids will inherit and will have to fix serious environmental problems created by past and present activities in Australia and elsewhere.
These include global warming, land clearing, erosion, salinity, river declines, over-population, inequitable wealth distribution, the spread of weeds and a host of other activities that will impact directly on their quality of life.
We already invest billions in these areas, and by deliberately empowering our kids with knowledge, they will be able to inherit and understand the issues, the implications of continuing declines and how themselves, governments and corporations can contribute to solutions.
Ultimately an informed population produces informed politicians, informed company heads and positive actions (hopefully).
The current debate around ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is an example of this. European awareness of global warming implications is high and politicians have signed onto it, reflecting the will of the people, for fear of being voted out of office.
Here in Australia and in America, polls show around 80 per cent of people want our governments to sign the protocol, but because general awareness and concern around global warming is not as high as in Europe, our politicians are gambling that they will not suffer at the ballot box because of inaction.
In Central Australia there are no specific environmental subjects taught in schools, but students are exposed to environmental issues through science and social education subjects. The NT curriculum encourages teachers to use real life examples in their classes and this is where the Alice Springs Environmental Educators Group is utilised.
It is a collaboration of teachers and external organisations such as ALEC, Waterwatch, the Desert Park, Greening Australia, Junior Rangers; the Parks & Wildlife Commission, Cool Communities, DIPE, Landcare and the NT Minerals Council where ideas and resources are generated and offered broadly.
Two weeks ago, a Science Fair was held at the Araluen Precinct for hundreds of primary school students and featured numerous activities. ALEC ran a "dump bugs" activity where kids made insects from recycled materials to promote reuse of resources. Junior Rangers ran an event on native animals; Waterwatch showed kids how to identify water insects; DIPE ran a water conservation activity; the Desert Park had microscopes for identifying the hair of various native animals; the Bureau of Meteorology showed kids how clouds are formed and other groups did other things.
When special events aren't on, organisations offer their help in other ways. For example, Waterwatch conducts field trips into Ilparpa Valley for middle secondary students to examine the impact of town-related activities including the dump, the sewage ponds, weeds and motorbikes on biodiversity and Ilparpa swamp. Waterwatch has tailored the trips to fit within the NT curriculum.
A brilliant environmental education activity was held at the Desert Park two weeks ago when the performance "Spencer, the voice of water" was held by members of the Environmental Educators group in the Birds of Prey amphitheatre at night.
Written by local Waterwise officer, Robbie Henderson, it featured a young military dragon, mulgara and honeyeater who defy the advice of Spencer, the wise old burrowing frog, and head off to a forbidden spring only to be trapped there when drought arrives.
Full of music and action, it had the audience of about 150 kids, mums and dads spell-bound whilst imparting lots of messages about living in the desert, respecting water and learning how various native animals cope with drought.
Due to popular demand it is going to be staged again so make sure you get along to it. It is testimony to Robbie and the talent that lies in Central Australia.
Many people might remember the highly successful Desert Park stick insect project that was held in schools and homes in 2000. Kids were provided with know-how and eggs and they took them home to rear them and study their development. Over 1200 people participated in that activity.
The NT government has environmental programs for students, including a Waterwise Schools program that was successfully piloted at the OLSH Sadadeen campus in 2001 and will start in other Central Australian schools in 2003. It encourages teachers to incorporate a water theme into various subjects to raise students' awareness of water and its careful use.
For example art students could use the Todd River as a theme for their creative works.
Of course there are many theme days, weeks and months including Waterweek, Biodiversity Month, Science Week and Threatened Species Day to name a few.
The Alice Springs Environmental Educators group can be contacted via Robbie Henderson at 8951 9223.
MINISTER AH KIT TURNED OVER NEW LEAF, BACK TO
SCHOOL AT 27. Report by DOROTHY GRIMM.
The importance of education, both Indigenous and non-indigenous, was
stressed at the graduation ceremony held at the Central Australian
campus of Batchelor Institute last week.
"We are here today to honour the achievements of so many people," said Gatjil Djerrkura OAM, Chairman of Batchelor Institute Council.
"These people have made the commitment to education and community and the love and support of their families have helped them achieve their education goals.
"Batchelor provides an unique opportunity to do so.
"Batchelor is a diverse place of education by our people and for our people.
"Batchelor is a great success story and will continue to grow to support the aspirations of our people."
Mr Djerrkura spoke of the hope for the Desert People's Centre on South Stuart Highway and finding ways to continue to provide "both ways" education, Indigenous and Western, for the people of Central Australia.
"The challenge is the need to meet the educational needs of the people of Central Australia, to recognise the students' commitment and ensure that their efforts for further education have not been in vain.
"Education and training provide the access to and quality of life of future generations of Indigenous Australians."
Minister John Ah Kit also spoke on the value of education, citing his own experience:
"I did not complete high school.
"I played sports and worked as a stockman.
"But here in Alice Springs things changed when I listened to Kumanjayi Perkins talk, the way he spoke, the places he had been, the people he had met.
"It was the stimulus to go back to studies.
"It was a challenge at 27 to go get qualified.
"I went to Adelaide and studied social work.
"I had the experience of education, learning to study and learning the complexity of work.
"Education is of critical importance to our people; that is the message for people to take back to their communities and families, while at the same time do not forget the heritage of Indigenous people.
"The skills learned are of enormous value to communities and to each other and people should continue and expand their education in the years to come."
Awards were then presented to students who had completed various certificate and diploma courses in the fields of Health Studies, Community Studies, Education Studies and in the Community Education and Training Division.
Among them was young Alice Springs woman, Natalie Kopp.
Natalie received a Certificate II in Library and Information Services and this week leaves for Darwin as a finalist in the DEET sponsored Vocational Education Trainee of the Year Award, ATSIC Division.
In Darwin Natalie will be interviewed by a panel who will determine the winner.
Natalie attended Bradshaw Primary School and Alice Springs High School.
She said she has always been interested in books and thoroughly enjoys library work:
"I did trainee work at the Alice Springs Town Library, the Central Land Council Library and the Batchelor Library."
The winner will be announced at a dinner in Darwin on Saturday.
GOSH, IT'S A DOG'S WORLD! Report by PAUL
Despite competition from jazz players and country singers, the Alice
Springs Dog Obedience Club steals the show every year at the annual Old
The "doggy" people magnetise fete-goers with their performances of tricks and trials, exhibiting the close bond of understanding that can be developed between handler and performer.
Although the club has been in operation for over 30 years, it was about five years ago that the members decided to change their training philosophy to one of positive motivation.
This is where the handler rewards the dog's response with a treat, like cheese, bacon pieces etc, and makes a big deal out of every attempt made by the dog to do the right thing.
The theory is that a rewarded behaviour will continue, while an ignored behaviour will fade and finally cease. To this end a nationally accredited training package, the Canine Good Citizens certificates, has been developed and the Alice Springs Club has shaped and moulded its program within the structure of these certificates.
After successfully completing an eight week beginners' course, members are encouraged to continue their training with the ultimate aim of trialling their dogs in competition.
The exhibition of the Obedience Club members' achievements at functions like the Old Timers Fete entertainingly illustrates the value of well-behaved canines in the community.
Indeed the hour-long performance at the fete revealed some true characters in the dog world.
Sinbad, for example, is a two year old Tenterfield Terrier, handled by Roxy. Sinbad has passed his basic obedience test and is now in the pre-trial class. He may be small but he is tough and full of energy.
Jedda performed at the 2001 Fete as a four month old, and this year the 16 month old Kelpie showed just how far she has come in 12 months. Jedda loves her food and when she grows up would like to work as a food critique for dog food companies!
Sally with her handler Laura proved that cross-breeds are just as good at obedience and agility as their pedigree counterparts.
Adding diversity to the exhibition were the five year old Vintage (Vin, for short); Jessie, the German Shepherd; Shadow, an Australian Shepherd; Bailey, the four year old Dalmation.; and Prue, the two year old Staffy.
One by one the canines showed their skills in obedience by following orders and responding to the delight of handlers and onlookers. Using jumps, tyres, and a tunnel the dogs proceeded to demonstrate their sporting prowess.
New members are always welcome and can meet at the Blatherskite Park Clubrooms on the first Thursday of each month at 7pm. You too could be a star at next year's Old Timers Fete.
Rules: only four left. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The minor round was completed at Traeger Park on the weekend, with Aussie Rules fans left somewhat perplexed as to what lies ahead.
Federal have now bowed out of the 2002 competition but for the final four the voyages to premiership honours will follow very different courses.
West are sitting at the top of the ladder. With a season behind them that rightfully puts them as flag favourites they are going into the major round on a run of confidence.
To top off that preparation the last winning premiership players, those from 20 years ago, have been wooed back to Milner Road for a reunion on this Friday night and then a day at Mona's Lounge on Sunday. The presence of these immortals will no doubt make an impression on the babies of the West line up as well as the experienced players, many of whom have come to the club from competitions where tradition plays a much greater role.
Westies urge all supporters to join in the weekend, providing players with "pump" from the sidelines.
On Sunday last West showed why they have gained favourite status. They took on a somewhat depleted Rovers side and disposed of them by 169 points.
After the first bounce, coach John Glasson in playing across half back was able to intercept the Bloods initial knock out from ruck and plant the ball deep in the Blues' scoring region for only a minor score to result. In fact a minute later he repeated the dose for the same result.
In contrast West then settled and scored eight goals in that first term, without a major being earned by the Blues.
An astute observer in the crowd summed it up at quarter time saying "Rovers didn't came to play today". 8.7 to 0.4 said it all, with Daryl Lowe having a real purple patch and booting three goals.
In the second term West applied real pressure and scored with ease. They added a further 7.4 while the Blue boys battled their hearts out to register 1.5. The major to put Rovers on the board came off the foot of Russell O'Keefe, who took the loose ball off the pack in the goal square to notch the pipe opener.
At the other end of the field West had a real winner in Jamie O'Keefe who dominated aerial duals and produced four telling goals.
By half time the game had been run and won, with the Bloods 86 points in front and running on adrenaline.
In the third term Wests showed little mercy and their charge was led by the best afield, Karl Gunderson. The plucky wingman saw that three goals came off his boot in the quarter, and by teaming with centreman Jarrad Berrington was responsible for driving the final nail into the Rover coffin. In the Rover camp it was the ever reliable Sherman Spencer and then Leo Jarrah who were able to bolster the score by two goals.
In the run to the line, the final quarter was played out with each side playing at their own level. West were able to notch another seven goals, thanks in a big way to the Gunderson drive and the effectiveness of Steven Squires and O'Keefe in the forwards.
The final score lay at 30.24 (204) to West, as opposed to 4.11 (35) to Rovers.
For John Glasson the voyage forward will be met with some influences that are unavoidable. Hermannsburg is poised to celebrate 125 years since the establishment of the mission, and in addition Western Aranda are in premiership contention in the Country League.
Hence the "Moose" will be counting the numbers early on Sunday, hoping for a full turn out. Given that he can run on with a full complement, Rovers will be up against a tough opponent in South who almost toppled Pioneer on the weekend.
South had only themselves to blame for not claiming the premiership points, when in the last five minutes of play they had opportunities to register the six pointer required.
Pioneer established early control of the game, with Aaron Kopp providing plenty of drive out of the centre. Although he may not poll well in medal or newspaper contests, Kopp is without a doubt one of the consistent players in the CAFL and would be an early pick in a Team of the Year.
The Eagles scored 6.2 to South's 3.3 in the first term and held that lead through most of the game.
By half time Pioneer moved on to 9.7 to South's 6.5. South had a defence that proved itself to be stoic, with Trevor Presley leading from the last line. Up forward a promising sign from South was a prodigious goal off the boot of Malcolm Ross.
In the Eagles' quarter Ezra Bray really came to the fore and in fact finished off with the best game he has played for the club since coming home. Also in the Pioneer backline, the "big boys" Lance White and Kenny Cole honed their skills when it counted.
To start the third term Pioneer enjoyed the pleasure of playing in a very open forward line, and by switching play regularly penetrated the goal-scoring zone regularly.
It was good to see the old campaigner Ian Taylor in the action with an early goal in a term when his team scored three. Whisper around the ground was that Taylor is to move to WA in the near future, so to take in a vintage Taylor performance in the finals would be one to add to the many memories of a fine Centralian player.
At the orange break the Eagles were still seemingly well in control of things, up 12.9 to 9.8. However, South did send a few signals out late in the third term as they scored two points which normally would have gone through the middle.
Shaun Cusack continued to keep the fire alive for the Roos as he took a strong mark within scoring range from the opening hit out of the last quarter. Alas he missed!
From that point however South really took control of things and scored the next two goals thanks to Bradley Braun and Gilbert Fishook.
Suddenly Pioneer were under seige. Wayne Braun added fuel to the fire with a vintage goal and only three points separated the sides, in South's favour. In the last minutes Rury Liddle, who played a top game in ruck and around the ground, made every post a winner and turned the "budgerigars" back into Eagles, by posting a goal and so regaining the lead.
In time on, the Roos didn't give up. Presley, now in the ruck, and Cusack cleared the ball from the centre, only to see a turn over deep in their scoring area. Then in a second wave of attack, Fishook had a shot from deep in the South half forward flank, to see it fall short in the goal square, and very nearly capitalised upon by Presley himself.
In desperation Pioneer drove out of the very last line of defence to move the ball down field as the siren rang. The Eagles walked from the field as victors, with South losers but far from disgraced.
South played well enough to be ranked favourites against Rovers in this week's knockout final. They have gotten where they are without the Adrian McAdam or Willy Cole influence. If Willy Tilmouth returned for the finals his talent would be appreciated, but as is, Shaun Cusack has a side that can progress at this business end of the season.
However their voyage is to be one of self belief. They have a team of real triers going into the big games and confidence will play a major part in the survival.
For Pioneer the second semi final will be a test. They meet West who just got to the post over them a fortnight ago. The Eagles have a huge tradition to uphold, and this will sink into each player during this week and those to come. If they are to be real finals contenders they have to lift, and back their coach and their team mates to the hilt, both on the ground and at training. The Pioneer club can never be written off at this time of the year and on Sunday they will be at full throttle to gain automatic entry to the grand final.
Desert Mob getting better every year. Review by
The 12th Desert Mob, which opened on Sunday as one of the Alice Springs Festival's last events and shows now till October 6, gives plenty of evidence of the sustained vibrancy of the Aboriginal art movement.
A huge mixed crowd and rapidly formed long queue of prospective buyers responded to the assured performance of leading artists and crafts people, alongside some new directions and emerging talents.
The show fills to capacity two galleries, including the new one whose high southern wall is used to good effect.
Large canvasses by Peggy Jones, including the one illustrated, dominate this wall but don't overshadow. Have the creatures of the natural world ever had a more affectionate interpreter? Possibly, but Jones work continues to delight.
In the category of assured in the same gallery are works from Keringke Arts, which include canvasses, for the first time that I have noticed, by male artists, with Paul Williams' "Winter Sun on the Simpson Desert" a beautiful contribution.
First time participants in Desert Mob, Irrunytju Arts from Wingellina in WA, have made an impact with two acquisitions by Araluen. According to the catalogue, this is a recently established arts centre Ð by the efforts of women in the community starting a second hand shop! Ð and painting on canvas has been only occasional until now. The assurance then of a painting like Tommy Watson's "Walpa" is astonishing.
John Cooley's snakes and the large bowl by Elizabeth Dunn continue Maruku Arts' impressive record in works carved from wood, but this year Maruku are also showing a canvas by Minnie and Eadie Curtis from Mutitjulu.
The sisters have just had their first show in Darwin, from which they sold 15 paintings to be hung in the new Parks Australia building there. Maruku have built their identity on wood carving, but the pull of painting is very strong. Once Ernabella Arts' silks were a signature for Desert Mob, but now painting dominates. It's exciting though to see a painting like Alison Carrol's "Stars and Moon", moving right away from the classic Ernabella ornamental design, into a daring black and white statement of dazzling optical effect.
It's exciting too to see yet another artist from Bindi Centa Arts developing interesting work. Drawing in pastel with dye washes has brought out greater expressive possibilities in Jane Gurney Mervin's work and I was not surprised that her compelling portrait, "Manguka", was snapped up.
Billy Benn is also using this medium to lovely effect in his landscapes.
Figurative work seems to be gaining a little momentum: Bessie Liddle, whose screen print "Walka" has been used in the exhibition's promotional material, is also showing a pastoral scene, "Iltiltjari Station", which was acquired by Araluen. This painting reads like a statement of "two way" living: the foreground sets out the features of station life Ð a fence, chickens scratching in the dust, people on horseback, trees framing a house Ð while the background, with its striated plains, deep blue range and weighty sky asserts itself as of another, more enduring order.
In contrast, in the exhibition's most out of the way corner, is Gloria Doolan's "Lost Souls", using a cartoon style of drawing to make a statement on the misery of those lost to the grog. This subject is such a dominant one in the discussion of Aboriginal affairs: it's interesting to see an Aboriginal artist handle it, but the rest of the show is a joyful reminder that so much else is also part of contemporary Aboriginal life.
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