October 2, 2002.


Frontier Services staff from across the vast Australian inland say that drug and alcohol abuse is rising at an alarming rate yet there is no increase in services.
Celebrating their 90th anniversary last week, the Uniting Church organisation Ð formerly the Australian Inland Mission founded by John Flynn Ð restated in a four-day conference in Alice Springs their commitment to providing services in the Outback even as many government and business services are being withdrawn.
National director, Rosemary Young, says alcohol and drug abuse is an expression of hopelessness by many who see their communities in decline and no prospects for a turnaround.
She described the decline in rural and remote area populations as "frightening".
Twenty years ago, 21 per cent of Australians lived in rural and remote areas. Today it is 11 per cent, and it is predicted to drop to eight per cent by 2010.
Says Ms Young: "We are the only organisation that has never reduced our commitment to the inland.
"We have credibility there and we are able to advocate on the basis of that.
"We also have our people working right across the Outback and so we are able to provide timely information to government and business about what is happening on the ground.
"We believe it is time for government policy to discriminate in favour of rural and remote communities, to retain people in the heartland of the nation.
"We put all our resources into providing services but we have good connections to advocacy organisations like the National Rural Health Alliance and Uniting Care Australia and weÕll make our message heard through them."
Ms Young says one of the biggest worries for Outback families, whether they are living in Indigenous or non-Indigenous communities or on stations, is the education of children.
Many station people are finding themselves very stretched to be able to supervise their childrenÕs studies as they used to, while in small communities where there are schools, very high teacher turnovers are the big concern.
There need to be policy changes to get professionals to stay longer, but there also need to be perception changes, says Ms Young.
"We need to talk up the good things about living in rural and remote communities so that the decline does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"These communities are often great places to bring up young families, and working there can be very rewarding because you can make such a difference. But before you achieve that you need to build a relationship with the community and that takes some time."
Ms Young also spoke of the need for programs in rural and remote areas to be not only well-intentioned but properly targeted and culturally appropriate. For example, there are no childrenÕs services in remote Western Australia, where tiny communities are scattered 400 to 500 kms from one another.
In such circumstances, a program is unlikely to work if it requires people to come together, develop a proposal and make a submission to government.
There needs to be some long-term structural development first, says Ms Young Ð improved communications and employment growth.


People who "derive any or part of their income directly from the sale or promotion of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products" have been barred from voting membership of the Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA).
The change to the constitution, requiring a two-thirds majority, was carried at a special general meeting by the narrowest of margins, 38 to 17, or 69 per cent.
The vote followed impassioned debate in which some speakers claimed that for some 10 years, liquor industry figures on the DASA committee had blocked recommendations for alcohol supply restrictions.
But others argued that the industry must be fully part of the quest for solutions to the town's grog problems.
The meeting last Thursday coincided with an announcement that trial restrictions brought in by the Liquor Commission early this year had resulted in significant improvements of key indicators of alcohol abuse, including reductions in arrests, hospital admissions and consumption.
The mover of the key motion, psychologist Mike Tyrrell, told the meeting surveys of community "perception" indicated that DASA had been "hopelessly under the thumb" of the liquor industry.
In order to provide leadership in "minimising harm and maximising health" DASA's decision-making needs to be free of people who have a "serious conflict of interest", said Mr Tyrrell.(Another motion, also moved by Mr Tyrrell and seconded by DASA president Anne Mosey, that industry figures can have "associate membership", was carried.)
Ms Mosey, who ceded chairmanship of the meeting to Chamber of Commerce director Beth Mildred, said people from the tobacco, liquor and pharmaceutical industries were barred from membership of several national bodies dealing with substance abuse.
She said DASA should fall into line with that national approach.
Ms Mosey said these organisations included the Prime Minister appointed Australian National Council on Drugs and the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, as well as the non-government peak body of all alcohol and drugs action groups in the nation, the Alcohol and Drug Council of Australia.
However, DASA staffer Helen Noonan, speaking as a DASA member, told the meeting alcohol abuse is a "whole of community problem" and needs to be tackled hand in hand with the alcohol retailers.
They had readily supported initiatives such as Sober Bob and Drinksense, and participated in DASA programs for liquor employees such as the Responsible Service of Alcohol courses.
(DASA manager Nick Gill said this week that the NT Government has just approved a grant of $16,750 to provide free training to 100 employees of the liquor industry in Alice Springs.
"We have written to the peak body of the industry inviting them to decide how this money should be allocated," said Mr Gill.)
Ms Noonan said the industry should not be denied rights of full participation, but perhaps committee membership should be limited to one or two people.
A staffer of the Road Safety Council, Mick Bell, said it would be "unfair" to shut out the industry.
Bob Durnan told the meeting he had been attending DASA and alcohol issue forums since 1997.
The former DASA board and management had "not permitted onto the agenda" the issue of restrictions.
Liquor licensees, their friends, staff, family members and consultants had been "quite dominant" on the board.
Mr Durnan said it was clear that the town's alcohol consumption needed to be halved which means "some licensees must go out of business".
As voting members of DASA liquor traders would have a clear conflict of interest.
MLA for Greatorex Richard Lim (CLP) and former Labor candidate for Araluen Mike Bowden presented a surprising consensus in opposing the motion.
Dr Lim said the industry should have "equal rights" as DASA members.
Mr Bowden said people in a small community needed to work together.
It was wrong to "alienate" the liquor industry; it was better to have it on side rather than "throwing rocks at us".
Diane Loechel, of the Todd Tavern and the spokesperson for liquor licensees, told the meeting DASA needed the input from the traders in the formulation of educational strategies such as Sober Bob.
"We have every right to assist DASA," said Ms Loechel.
In two years on the board, as just "one voice", she had not been in a position of blocking any initiatives.
A motion that "at least half of the elected committee members shall be persons of Aboriginal descent" failed "on a technicality", says DASA manager Nick Gill.
Although 33 votes were in favour and 14 against, three were "wrong ballot papers" considered as informal votes.
Although this left the count short of the two-thirds majority "it indicated to me that the membership was in fact in favour of the motion," says Mr Gill.
Meanwhile Ian Crundall, of the liquor trial Evaluation Reference Group (ERG), says a drop in consumption had shown up in the first wholesale sales figures for alcohol since the liquor trial began in April.
Compared to the same periods in the previous two years, the amount of pure alcohol sold was 4.6 per cent lower for the months April to June.There had been some very marked changes across different beverages:-
¥ There was an 81 per cent reduction in cask wine alcohol, as it went from around a third of the market to about one-twentieth.
¥ Fortified wines increased by more than 700 per cent, from 3,100 litres to nearly 24,000.
¥ Mixed spirits more than doubled to around 7,000 litres and heavy and mid-strength beers rose by nearly 12 per cent.
Compared to the same period in 2001, other data found that over the five months since the start of the trial there had been marked improvements:-¥ Police report an 11 per cent reduction in alcohol-related incidents.
¥ There has been an overall increase of four per cent in alcohol-related assaults, but this was mainly in the early months and the incidence has trended down since then.
¥ The number of protective custodies has dropped by 15 per cent.
¥ Ambulance call-outs related to alcohol dropped by five per cent.
¥ Selected presentations to the Emergency Department are 16 per cent lower.
¥ Fewer people were placed in the sobering up shelter.
Says Dr Crundall: "Feedback from the community indicates that many problems that occurred early in the trial are now returning to pre-trial levels.
"However there continues to be a concern among tourist operators about the inconvenience of the late opening hours and lack of casks for travellers. The trial has been operating for nearly six months and it seems that some initial teething problems are starting to be sorted.
"There has clearly been a shift to beverages of higher alcohol content and there are some ongoing matters such as litter.
"But there are also some significant gains being reported in terms of health and amenity.
"It remains to see whether the next six months will bring different results or see these current changes consolidate."


The recent alleged armed clash with a TV crew, after which the Alice Springs police is preparing a string of charges, wasn't the first by Rabbit Flat roadhouse licensee Bruce Farrands.
In 1988 he made a threat to me and my television crew of three near Rabbit Flat: "If you're not out of here in five minutes I'll shotgun the whole outfit," he said.
Minutes later we heard gun shots.
When I and the crew, after an overnight camp near the Rabbit Flat airstrip, went to the roadhouse to collect two television camera batteries and a charger, which we had left there the night before, we found the equipment lying on the ground, damaged beyond repair. Farrands was sitting alongside it, on a 44 gallon fuel drum, with a rifle across his knees.
I reported the attack to police at Yuendumu where we were filming the annual sports weekend for a national television program.
Our visit to the roadhouse had been prearranged some weeks earlier when I and the producer of the show visited Farrands.
The program tracked the trip of the Balgo football team from their home community in WA via Rabbit Flat to Yuendumu.
A police officer at Yuendumu took notes of the complaint and I requested a prosecution of Farrands.
Soon after I advised the Yuendumu police that I was going overseas but I could be contacted in Paris, care of American Express.
However, the officer in charge advised me in writing that no further information was required from me, and no contact was made.
When I returned to Alice some three months later I learnt that the prosecution had been abandoned. Why? Because I'd been away.
I raised the matter with the then Chief Minister, Steve Hatton, who sent me a letter of apology.
My insurance covered the damage of about $2500, and the insurers Ð I understand Ð recovered the amount from Farrands.
Alice Springs police say they have confiscated firearms on September 18 from Farrands after the recent reported incident, and have suspended his firearms licence.
The seized weapons are a 12 gauge shotgun, a .22 pump action rifle, and assorted ammunition.
Police says Farrands volunteered to hand over also a .223 bolt action rifle belonging to his son.
A police spokesperson says: "He will be summonsed to appear on charges of assault / threaten with a firearm, failing to meet storage requirements, possessing ammunition without a permit, pointing a firearm at a person, and breaching conditions of a firearms license."
The spokesperson says police won't be considering a complaint about Farrands' fitness to hold a liquor license until the criminal matters have been dealt with.

Workshops minus overalls. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

In simpler times, people would sometimes be let off work for a couple of days to go on a course.
Some time ago, I went on a course about time management. It was a waste of time.
A man in a suit spent half a day explaining how he organised his in-tray. Meanwhile the participants kept anxiously glancing at their watches.
But the training course is dead. These days, we go on training workshops. I always thought a workshop was a place where people in overalls made a lot of noise using sheets of metal and power tools. But no, it's where urban types go to drink instant coffee and work out solutions to problems that they never knew they had.
Anyway, the phenomenon of the training workshop has reached the deepest parts of the outback. On a training workshop last year I picked up one of those little pearls of wisdom that stay with you for years. A phrase to remember.
It might not have been in the same class as, say, "Don't spend money you haven't got," or "Never enquire about a sick person's condition unless you see a boil on their face", but it was good all the same. The advice was, "Always have the humility to be puzzled".
Being frequently puzzled and not very humble, this meant a lot to me.
So in this vein, I would like to share a few things that puzzle me.
First of all, why does the Post Office close on Saturdays? Surely that's when most of us want to buy stamps and greetings cards.
Why do some people look worried when they say "no worries"?Why are public toilets always locked when you are absolutely desperate to use them? Don't they know that you sometimes have to go outside business hours?
Why do the security staff not stop you when you take 10 items through the "eight items or less" checkout at Bi-Lo?
I keep expecting an alarm to go off.
Why does the person behind the bank counter call me "mate"? I don't know him.
When you want to buy four pop rivets, why can you only buy a bubble pack containing 50? I have a cupboard full of little bags of nails and screws.Why do so many car names end in "a"? Magna, Lantra, Vectra, Astra, Barina, Navara and all the rest. Is it some kind of psychological trick where the sound at the end of the word stimulates hormones that make people want to buy a new car?
Why do people say "g'day" twice? Isn't the first time enough?
Why do people love airports and hate bus stations? It's not fair.
There, that feels better. Maybe the training workshop has a secondary purpose, which is to give some of us the space to let off steam.
Kicking through the dust along the Todd or gazing over the railway yards from the top of Anzac Hill, my mind often wanders to bigger and even more puzzling questions in life. Children can help.
Apart from in-jokes, there can be nothing more irritating than someone telling you stories about their own children.
But this one is relevant so please indulge me.
Much smaller than they are now, my children once asked me who made the world. Was it a building company? If so, how did they paint the sky?
It was a real effort to answer this, because at the time I was in the middle of something much more important like eating my dinner or watching Blue Heelers.
But I did the right thing and gave full attention to this potentially important advance to the knowledge of my children.
"That is the most difficult question in the world," I said, trying to sound wise and fatherly. "So difficult that nobody can agree on the answer."
Then I talked them through the religious explanation of creation. And then the scientific one, complete with hand gestures to show how the earth formed from the big bang.
"But who made the big bang?" they asked.
"And how did people build the earth if they had nothing to stand on until the earth was built?"
Phew, I thought, where did they get these questions from? It wasn't like this in my day.
Mid way through my next unconvincing answer, I noticed that the children had glazed over. Which was a relief, really, because I was always better at TV dramas than metaphysics.
In the end, it was all too difficult. And it was all too puzzling. So many things are.

Keeping the Alice open for business. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.

On Wednesday night, David and I gate-crashed the Hilton-on-Todd. Francoise managed to do the "loaves and fishes thing" with an exotic Indonesian dish she'd prepared for Ian and his grand-daughter, Sarah, visiting from Queensland.
We enjoy our visits to the farm: lively conversation and after we've solved most of the problems of the world, and usually over a bottle of red, we invariably get around to talking about "by-gone" days around the Centre.In the early 1980s a submission was put forward by a group of businessmen to relocate the council chambers.
The proposal was to build new council offices, library and access centre together with a multi storey car-park on the council owned block on the corner of Hartley and Gregory Terraces, opposite what was the Telford Hotel (now the Diplomat Motel).
This would have then paved the way for other usage of the parcel of prime land which is currently home to the council chambers. Plans for the redevelopment of the block incorporated a general coach and passenger terminus with associated services, coffee shop, toilet facilities, newsagency, booking and tour offices.
On Thursday I sat in the mall with Lori, drinking coffee, watching with interest the coaches negotiating the turn right from Todd Street into the parallel parking spaces along Gregory Terrace É the flow of traffic was interrupted and cars banked up. The double-decker coach from Bendigo made exciting viewing, tilting, lurching and leaning. The passengers looked quite relieved as they piled off the vehicle. The town council site is a strategic one. It has ready access from four arterial roads. The access into the general town centre and Todd Mall doesn't make the life of the friendly coach captain very easy, as he tries to manoeuvre sizeable vehicles around narrow roundabouts, into single lanes, streets and terraces with raised centre islands.
Is it time to conduct another feasibility study: re-visit an "old" idea which would seem, even now, to have merit.The Australian Local Government Association Convention is being hosted in Alice in November Ð for the first time ever it is being held outside Canberra and it's thanks to hard lobbying by our Mayor Fran, CEO Nick and team. There'll be over 800 delegates here scrutinising, and hopefully enjoying, our town.
The mall was really vibrant last Sunday. It would be tragic to lose our markets, and along with them a sense of community pride and spirit. Concerned traders said that the matter of public liability insurance cover is currently under review by Town Council. In the latest council budget, a new initiative under consideration was the installation of security lights and cameras in the Mall. The issue of lights has been on (and off) council's agenda for years!
A positive council initiative could be the steering of a proportion of surplus funds into insurance premiums to enable operation of the markets whilst other insurance options are actively sought. Some operators are saying that the Alice doesn't seem to have definite high and low seasons Ð the visitors, travelling by road, rail and air, keep coming, year round.Which is surely incentive enough to keep Alice Springs open and accessible all the time.

LETTERS: Ann getting under the skin ... again.

Sir,- What a nasty diatribe by Ann Cloke (Alice News, Sept 25)!
If you take offence that Peter Garrett thanked one mob in the audience ahead of the other, this does not equate with discrimination.
It says more about your own delusions of grandeur. You may even be able get some treatment for that.
I noted in your column that Les and Marie and David and Heidi and the Loy clan and dozens of friends and the golf club and Michael and Virginia (the list goes on and on and on) all got a mention before Peter Garrett.. I hope he doesn't take the same offence.
Also, your demeaning comments about aging protesters sounds rather ageist to say the least.
I find the level of comment and opinion in your column does not belong in such a quality paper as the Alice Springs News.
Robyn Pedler
Alice Springs
[ED Ð The Alice News is proud to be a forum where Robyn Pedler can express her views, and we welcome Ann Cloke's views in the same vein.]Sir,- You claimed the photo accompanying your story on planned Pine Gap protests ("Pine Gap in a Troubled World" , Sept 11) was of a Pine Gap protest held during Prime Minster Howard's recent visit.
The gathering was in fact primarily concerned with protesting at the appalling treatment of refugees, particularly the incarceration of children.
A secondary concern was the government's plan for sending Australian solders to kill Iraqis who are no threat to us and are certainly not our enemies.While it is feasible that the majority of people at that protest are unhappy with the presence of Pine Gap and its potential for facilitating what can only be described as United States' acts of terrorism, it is absolutely inaccurate to describe the gathering as an Anti Pine Gap protest. I do appreciate your paper keeping the community informed about the Pine Gap debate.Stephanie Mackie-Schneider
Alice Springs

Sir,- I write concerning a new security bill being considered by parliament, with which the Howard Government is attempting to strip civil liberties in the wake of theÊSeptember 11 terrorist attacks.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 is being opposed by the Labor Party because it reduces citizens' rights to be free from arbitrary government interference.
This bill shows the government's disrespect for basic human rights and established legal principles.
Under the banner of fighting terrorism, this government is sacrificing the basic rights of every citizen of this nation.
In doing this, the government is conceding victory to the very people whom it purports to be fighting.
The proposed bill gives the intelligence agency powers to detain Australian citizens Ð including children Ð incommunicado and without legal representation for up to 48 hours.Detainees need not have committed or be suspected of any crimes Ð ASIO simply needs to consider them likely to possess "relevant information".The Joint Standing Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD had earlier forced the government to remove other provisions it regarded as too contentious.The audacity of some of the measures in the original bill was breathtaking.There were provisions which would have made it possible to detain a child incommunicado for an indefinite time, with no legal representation, on the mere suspicion that the child might know something about a crime that was yet to happen.Society will be judged by how it treats its weakest, including those it seeks to incarcerate.The Labor Party will do all in its power to make sure that the rights of individual Australians are not sacrificed by passing legislation that could form the basis of a police state."Warren SnowdonMHR, Lingiari


This summer Central Australia will confront a fire threat from the fuel load generated by two very good rainfall seasons followed by an extremely dry six months.
There haven't been conditions like this for 20 years and to make matters worse Parks & Wildlife officers have not been able to do the prescribed burning they would have liked to.
Says regional parks manager, Andrew Bridges: "Normally we look to burn on those days in July when there's a strong high pressure system going across the Bight, and a high likelihood that local temperatures will go below zero.
"In the past we've been fairly confident that we can light a prescribed burn in the afternoon and it will go out overnight.
"This year they weren't going out, even though the temperatures were going below zero.
"The volume of the fuel was higher than we've had before, and the moisture was certainly lower than last year when we also had high fuel loads.
"That was something we hadn't confronted before. We weren't able to do as much burning as we would have liked, though we still directed the majority of our resources to fire management."
What's been done in parks about the fuel load issue? Is it mostly coming from buffel grass?
"Only in the close to town areas.
"We've got a lot of areas remote from Alice Springs that don't have buffel.
"Spinifex is also a fuel that burns very readily, we generally try to break that up.
"A lot of the parks have put in control lines, or have tried to reinforce existing control lines, for instance by burning a strip alongside a road to create a larger break.
"We've also been breaking the fuel load up, creating a few patches so that if a fire does come through there's a bit of a refuge for the lizards and mice that can't run away from fire, that rely on being able to hide or duck under ground."
Have parks had enough resources for the job?"I think so. The main limiting factor was that the window of opportunity to do the work started late and ended early. It became windy very early, and that reduced our degree of confidence to prescribe burn."
Now it's a wait and see situation that will be assessed at the end of the fire season: "Of the wildfires that burnt we'll have to consider was there more that we could have done to reduce the impact?
"Did things happen that we didn't expect?
"Is there more we could do in the future to try to prevent that, even though we probably won't face these conditions for another 20 years."How confident is he that the region's parks are protected?
"It's difficult to say. I'm confident that people have used the available information and done the best they can. We'll wait and see now."
Bearing in mind though that 80 to 90 per cent of fires are deliberately lit or else caused by campfires that have not been properly put out, there is still a lot that people can do to reduce the risk.


KIERAN FINNANE continues her series on the Desert Park. See parts one and two in the issues of Sept 18 and 25.Breeding endangered species programs at the Desert Park were allocated $340,000 by the Territory government this year.
What headway have these programs made and to what end? Is the preservation of biodiversity an end in itself?In 1996, as the park was being developed, the Central Rock Rat, thought to be extinct, was rediscovered. It had been 36 years since one been seen in the wild.
A breeding colony was established at the park, and knowledge accumulated about their normal litter size, their gestation, how long they live, how they pair.
Says park manager Graham Phelps: "This is captive data, and needs to be thought about in terms of how it could change in the wild, but it's information that's extremely difficult to get in the wild.
"Without that sort of data you can't make population projections and know how to go about preserving that species."
So why is it important to preserve the Central Rock Rat?
Mr Phelps: "It is about the preservation of biodiversity and some of us value that as intrinsically wonderful, marvellous, exciting, stimulating and fun!
"There are also people who'll say that it's important for ecosystems function which has a direct impact on humans in the future."And some people who say it's important because what right have we to take away choices from future generations about what they'll utilise, what they'll see. If we allow avoidable extinctions they'll inherit a world that is less interesting, less diverse, possibly less functional, and that's a bad thing."I support the three arguments.
"Extinction is a natural process but if it's because of something we do and we have the opportunity to not do it, I'd be really sad.
"It is possible that we'll get some major collapses in systems, from what were diverse and wonderful systems to Ð by just tinkering around the edges Ð almost monocultures."We have to ask ourselves do we want to live on a planet inhabited only by cockroaches or do we want to live on a planet with a wide variety of invertebrate fauna, including cockroaches, as well as a whole bunch of flora and other fauna?"Although populations in the bush have increased since 1996, the Central Rock Rat is still critically endangered.
What about other species where the efforts have been made over a longer period?
In 1980 there were only two tiny colonies of the Central Australian Mala in the wild in the Territory. Fortuitously, 17 animals were brought into a breeding colony in Alice Springs before the wild colonies got wiped out, one by fire, one by a predator soon after. The only Mala in the world were 17 in a cage.
Fourteen of them bred. The population expanded to 60,100, all managed tightly in captivity.
Around Australia, 60 to 70 Mala are still managed very intensively: scientists choose who they pair with so the genetic diversity of the species is maintained.Genetic testing has shown that this has been successful.As Mr Phelps says, " we haven't turned them into little clones by in-breeding them".
"That has taken a huge amount of effort and money. Was that a species we should have let go?" he asks.Now there are a couple of hundred Mala in an enclosure at Watarrka (Kings Canyon), which is fenced off from predators and is relatively low management.
There is also a population on an island off Western Australia where there are no introduced predators, and two other populations in WA that are being bred up for release into low management enclosures.
Meanwhile, says Mr Phelps, there's a huge amount of work being done to control feral animals and fire.
"If we can get on top of it, we can get them back into the wild."
This sounds extraordinarily ambitious but it has actually succeeded with some species.The Brush-tailed Bettong, which visitors can see in the park's nocturnal house, is a breeding program success story. It is no longer on the endangered species list and neither are Western Quolls. The Desert Park contributed Western Quolls they bred to a release program in WA, which has now been able to stop.
However, not every species in the world can be preserved in this intensive way Ð "there are simply not enough spaces in our zoos", says Mr Phelps.It is vital, he argues, to halt the rate of extinctions by getting "the public excited about looking after the natural environment".
"That's a really good tourism outcome Ð because if you love this country, you have a better time, you know more about it, you're going to read more and come back Ð and it is also our number one conservation outcome.
"It's absolutely how you get effort. You don't look after something you don't love.
"We wouldn't get money to breed Mala if the public didn't think it was a good thing.
"Six million people a year go through Australian zoos, and about the same number through botanic gardens. That's how those institutions can predominantly affect conservation.
"When they come here people say ÔI didn't realise there was so much life in the desert, I thought it would be dry and dusty'.
"And we say to them, ÔNow you know why you gotta care!
"That's our major role, getting to the hearts of people and that has two different but very important results for Central Australia."


Outsite 2002, the second sculpture show presented by Watch This Space in the picnic area of the Desert Park, although a little disappointing, is still worth the visit, not least because it is just so enjoyable to consider art in a huge expanse of magnificent landscape, and especially when the art gives itself the task of responding in some way to that landscape.The first Outsite was held last year during the inaugural Alice Springs Festival and, with better funding and a longer lead-in time, attracted interstate as well as local artists and on the whole had greater depth.
This show is not helped by one of the works Ð Thisbe Purich's balloons Ð having flown away, even if the thought, "Lift up your eyes and see", was still there.
MANIPULATINGIt is not helped either by the prize-winning work being under-realised: Shaun Leyland's "A Waiting Gaia" (pictured) does not fully live up to its concept drawing Ð partly a problem of manipulating his material, locally quarried slate, and partly because he didn't have quite enough of it.
The idea behind the piece is attractive Ð Gaia, Leyland explains, denotes a scientific principle that the earth is a whole living organism.
She is represented here as a sleeping earth goddess, reference to broad ancient principles of respect for the environment and to Aboriginal stories that animates the landscape with the presence and deeds of ancestral figures. Leyland suggests by the silhouette of his piece that Gaia is waiting within the Mount Gillen range that rises splendidly as the backdrop to the site.
The problem for me is that having made its statement, the piece does not have much further resonance. It is pretty much a case of what you see is what you get, and this is true for most of the show, even if what you get is enjoyable.
The exception is Pamela Lofts' "Prick". The circle of pompous little gold rabbits, all eyes are on a bentwood chair in the middle of the spinifex ring on which they are sitting, is totally surprising and gets you thinking.
PLAYFULHere are playful, multi-layered references to the history of non-Indigenous occupation of Australia (the rabbits, their circle of council, the chair), built on fragile structures (the spinifex ring) that make being "comfortable and relaxed" challenging to say the least (the spinifex cushion) and the fallout of all of this for the natural environment.
It's a neat but complex little edifice for some probing ideas which tend towards brain-snapping because they are so circular and enmeshed (the gold webbing).
It's rewarding: it challenges you to think and it's humorous at the same time.


It was one of those nights when surprise lurks in a corner of Alice Springs.
The Scout Hall on Larapinta Drive was full to bursting, cars, lots of parents and children everywhere.
It didn't look like an audience Unspun, a performance "mapping the journey of a woman to the "underworld" and back"É
Soon a more likely character was telling you that the town's latest theatrical production Ð there've been four productions of original plays in less then two months Ð was a kilometre up into the hills, you'd best take your car.
At the top of the climb an usher showed you where to park and pointed out seating in an area outlined by lanterns. The evening (on Friday) was warm and dark, the candlelight added to an atmosphere of gentle anticipation.
The seating, 20 or so chairs and a large tarp, was at the top of a road that wound away out of sight. What was down there?
Here already were inklings of some of what was to come: the audience, out of the comfort zone of a theatre and not quite sure of how things would unfold, were being taken care of; the site was being used to good effect Ð as a metaphor for journey, as a stage of rich possibilities.
The play started.
Playwright and director Dani Powell set the scene in verse: a girl is born É her childhood desires constrained by social forces, her sensibility affronted by ugliness, her trust wounded by cruelty, she starts to learn to bury parts of herself, to forget freedoms and joys she once new.
Then Powell and ushers led the way down the hill.
A natural amphitheatre opened up. On a footbridge over a small dry dam, lit by a single torch flickering in the breeze, a woman was singing softly, while another played the accordion. What strange place was this? What happens here by day? But anyway, what a fabulous setting for theatre and this troupe, Red Shoes Ensemble, seemed to know how to take full advantage of it.
The audience was led around a corner.
A flattened area backing into the hills is littered with old tyres, wooden palettes. Our seating awaits us.
Powell has ceded place to a group of women in a frantic ballet, one of whom breaks out of the "rat race" to speak to us. This is Karen, I learn from the program. On stage though, she is anonymous, the Young Woman, who speaks about her sense of something missing, the need to find out who she really is. Emily Cox in the role is a major plus for the production: she has a vitality and litheness on stage which are very engaging and help counter the creeping inertia of her role that arises from its generality. We never really get to know much about this suffering female subject.
The audience moves again. Now the Young Woman is asleep on a bed-like structure at the edge of a flat that drops way into a valley. Through a gap in the hills we can see the distant lights of town. The wind picks up, difficult for the players perhaps, but it is as if on cue: it bodes ill for the Young Woman and others who have lost their foothold in the world. But it blows nebulously.
This scene, or rather sequence, about the Young Woman's and others' fall becomes quite protracted. The nature of the story telling Ð an everywoman tale, archetypal characters, few intrusions of everyday life and shifts in tone, almost no dramatic tension and no humour Ð starts to wear thin for me.
A high point is the recounting rap-style and in rapid dance of "The Red Shoes", the fairytale about thwarted female desire that gave Powell her lead for Descent, of which Unspun is a series of excerpts.
Another high point comes with the next sequence, via the use of a beautiful prop, a rigid upper torso and flowing skirt, all white Ð a ghost self with whom the Young Woman wrestles.
In the final scenes the Young Woman does vanquish the pull of the "underworld" Ð which I read as a predatory black depression. In her recovery, she is nourished by the knowledge that this is an experience shared by many women. There is a ritual sanctifying of her path-finding: she smears herself in mud and is washed clean by the sisterhood.
The feminist imagery here was too tried and true for me. But there had been plenty of surprises and rewards elsewhere: the evidence of a huge commitment by director Powell and the whole troupe to excellence in the staging of the piece; the talents of Bek Mifsud in set, costume and prop design; Cox's performance.
And last but not least the delight of a theatrical experience in this particular, little known corner of Alice. I'd like to go there again sometime soon.

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