November 27, 2002.


A film crew of 23 and several tourists in camper vans were trapped in a wild fire destroying a large section of the West MacDonnells national park, the principal icon of Alice Springs tourism.
An eyewitness, local photographer Steve Strike, says on Monday last week more than 30 people were ushered by police to a lookout on Namatjira Drive, between the Hugh River and Ellery Bighole, as a wall of flames raced towards and past them.
Fireballs were leaping between crowns of trees, and spot fires ignited dry grass several hundred metres ahead of the main front.
Renowned Central Australian botanist Peter Latz says it will take 20 years Ð and for some of the species, 200 Ð for the damage to be repaired.
One of the Centre's major forests of corkwood trees was burned.
Mr Latz says the extreme fire danger was known for at least two years, and he blames the "Darwin based governmentÓ for failing to understand local conditions.
Meanwhile local head of the Parks and Wildlife Service, Andrew Bridges, says "prescribed burning" Ð creating fire breaks Ð had been hampered by an unusually short period of cold weather, when burning of fire breaks can be carried out, as well as by lack of manpower.
Just 10 rangers had tried to cope with the fire threat along with other duties in the 2060 square kilometre park.
Meanwhile 40 rangers are working in the 13 square kilometre Desert Park on the outskirts of Alice Springs, and the southern region parks service has 40 further staff on other duties.
Mr Strike says the near tragedy was unfolding when he was escorting the seven car film crew convoy from Alice Springs to Glen Helen where a commercial was due to be filmed.
He says he saw smoke on the horizon and when he reached the top of a crest he saw a wall of fire coming towards him.
He drove through it to check on the safety of vehicles ahead of him and then backtracked through the flames Ð blistering rubber components on his roof rack Ð to make sure crew members behind him were out of danger.
"A 30 foot high fireball exploded before my eyes," says Mr Strike.
"The bitumen road was alight.
"Rocks exploded, with shards blasting off them.
"I've since found out it's called exfoliation.
"The heat blows off bits the size of dinner plates, leaving white patches on the blackened outcrops."
During that time Mr Strike says he saw several Britz hire 4WD vans driven by tourists emerging from the smoke.
When he reached the elevated lookout he found the members of the crew and tourists who had been led there by a police officer.
By that time the road had been closed by police at the turn off from the Hermannsburg Road.
Says Mr Latz, who was born in Hermanns-burg, has a national reputation as an arid zone botanist and is the author of a major book about bushfires: "It makes my heart bleed.
"It's a real tragedy.
"Possums Ð a threatened species Ð were building up in numbers there."
How long will it take for the flora to recover?
"It depends on rain," says Mr Latz. "But you'd have to say 20 years.
"The real problems are the corkwoods and the ironwoods.
"They take 200 years to recover.
"This is a tragedy we're going to live with for the next 200 years."
Mr Latz says in normal burns the thick bark of corkwoods offers them protection.
However, in "extreme fires, the young ones will survive but the old ones will die.
"That stand is mostly old ones so the mortality will be pretty high."
Mr Latz says the blaze comes as no surprise: a major seminar of all players was held some two years ago at which the danger was discussed in detail, taking account of the good rainfall seasons and the resulting "fuel" growth.
However, nothing adequate was done, says Mr Latz.
"Every bit of spinifex should have been burned before last Christmas.
"Spinifex jumps back very quickly."
He says around 80 per cent of the West MacDonnells park is spinifex, and the big fires that come out of it damage the sensitive non-spinifex areas.
"In 1976 we said we will never let this happen again.
"But with the change-over of staff in the parks service the lessons were forgotten."
Mr Latz blames Darwin bureaucrats out of touch with the Central Australian reality, and "greenies who don't like burning parks" Ð even when it is done to save them by burning fire breaks.
He says even some rangers are "preservationists and greenies" instead of conservationists.
"It will happen again.
"We had more fuel this time than in 1975 due to global warming.
"That should have mobilised resources.
"We had a workshop about two years ago.
"But how to you motivate Darwin to allocate more resources?"
Mr Bridges says the extent of the fire is not yet clear.
It was started by lightning strike north of the Chewings Range, entering the park through the Alice Valley east of Elley Bighole, moving initially west and Ð with a change of wind on Monday last week Ð east towards Alice Springs, on both sides of Namatjira Drive.
Conditions this year were difficult because cold nights, suitable for burning breaks, usually May to August, were this year confined to a shorter period.
And as earlier fires in the park had shown, the vegetation was more flammable than usual.
"Even in nights below zero degrees the fires did not go out.
"We had to have more resources at each of those fires to try and make sure they didn't flare up during the day.
"In the past we were able to say, with a high degree of confidence, that the fires will go out.
"Because of the low humidity and low fuel moisture this year that wasn't the case.
"We used more resources at each individual fire than what we would have in the past, which meant fewer burns got done," says Mr Bridges.
"We only have so many trained people, and they put their maximum effort into fire management this year.
"It also comes in the visitor period.
"We have our obligations to keep the facilities clean and up to scratch.
"Rangers are Jacks of all Trades, they have to do a bit of everything."
Mr Bridges says last week's fire was "not really a major disaster.
"It ups the ante a little.
"It's not so much one fire that is the issue.
"It's the frequency of fires, and whether the plant species get a chance to grow and recruit, seed and re-establish before another fire comes through.
"None of us had confronted this before. We thought we were reasonably well prepared.
"We've never had the extent of people lighting up that there has been this year.
"The fires started early, and a lot of them were deliberately lit.
"That's not something we had to contend with much in the past."
Mr Bridges says the question needs to be answered: "Is there more that we can do over a number of years leading up to wild fires occurring Ð perhaps Ð once every 20 years.
"We have a situation we haven't faced before."
Mr Bridges says there had been three good rainfall years of fuel build-up.
"In the 70s, fires in Central Australia took out an area the size of Tasmania. We haven't seen that Ð yet."
He expects some of the trees "will come back pretty quickly.
"Mulga is not very tolerant to fire so it dies.
"But the fire also is what germinates the seed.
"The trick in managing that Ð and it's the same with a lot of the acacias in Central Australia Ð is to not allow a second fire to go through until the seedlings have grown up and have seeded to replenish the seed in the soil again.
"That's something we have to manage over the next few years now."


The live export of camels is growing every month, but the camel industry will not take off to its full potential unless animals can be slaughtered in Australia.
Peter Seidel of the NT Camel Industry Association, one of the speakers at next week's Regional Outlook Conference, predicts between five and 10 thousand animals will be exported in the coming 12 months.However, the ceiling of the industry is the total feral camel population, some 500,000 across Australia and growing.
If many more animals could be slaughtered here, in Halal abattoirs, Mr Seidel is confident that lucrative markets, hitherto untapped, would open up in the USA, Europe and Japan.
Halal, he explains, simply requires that each animal be blessed by a licensed Muslim slaughterman who also must be able to draw first blood.He says it is not cruel, as may be popularly believed.
"It is in every way a wholesome, hygienic, humane method of slaughter."
At present, Australian camels go mostly to Muslim countries in south-east Asia.
The problem of live export is mostly one of size, in particular of ship decks, which means that only small animals can be loaded.
There are some ships with a greater deck height but not enough.
In an ideal world an export abattoirs would allow camel meat to be processed in Alice Springs, or even elsewhere in the Central Australian region, says Mr Seidel.
The cost to build one is estimated at around $5m but that kind of investment is not forthcoming from the private sector.
The Territory government has funded a feasibility study for a multi-species abattoirs (see Alice News, June 26). It is expected to be completed before the end of the financial year.
"If we get one, all primary producers in the NT, not just the camel industry, will be grateful," says Mr Seidel.
"It would open up a lot of options, including for Aboriginal communities, some of which are already established as cattle stations and all of which in the bush have access to feral animal populations, whether they be horse, camel or buffalo."
At next week's conference, Mr Seidel will talk in part about training requirements for the industry Ð "the same for Aboriginal communities as for any others who want to enter the industry from scratch".
The range of skills are the basic primary industry ones, from welding, in order to build and maintain yards and loading ramps, as well as vehicle maintenance, animal husbandry and some veterinary skills.Camel-only production is very new: the Anderson brothers on One Hump Downs, part of Amburla pastoral lease, are among the few focussed just on camels.
Most production involves co-grazing, with some producers, such as King's Creek station, also diversifying into tourism.
Interest from Aboriginal communities is varied: they all have the resource, says Mr Seidel, but it's not always a priority.
Tjuwampa, west of Hermannsburg, are "really putting in the hard yards to develop their infrastructure" and Docker River, Amata and Fregon are already contributing some animals to the live export effort.
Mr Seidel says the camel industry can work hand in hand with conservation strategies.
"The feral population has to be reduced. If we can take the animals out live, then that works in everyone's favour."
The Alice Springs Regional Outlook Conference, focussing mostly on primary industry, will be held at the Convention Centre on December 5.
NEXT: The impact of feral camels on the landscape and native animals.


We can't both be right.Last week the Alice Springs News lead story was headlined "Big drop in crime".It was reporting the Office of Crime Prevention's quarterly publication of crime and justice statistics, released in full last Wednesday. We had obtained an embargoed preview.
The publication in itself was a first for the Territory, a milestone in disclosure: an 84 page report, available to all via the internet, containing detailed breakdown reports for all crime categories in each major centre.
The Centralian Advocate on Friday headlined its report in response to the same publication, "Alice property crime soars".
The public could be forgiven for being confused and sceptical.
The Alice News' preview focussed on the decline registered in property crime in Alice Springs for the September quarter of this year. The decline was demonstrated in relation to the previous quarter, but also, more importantly, in relation to the same quarter the previous year.
The decline also tallied with figures for an overlapping period, July to October, in both years, revealed, in a separate report in the same Alice News issue, by local police commander Trevor Bell.
He further made comments on significant changes in policing and crime prevention (liquor restrictions and complementary measures) for the period.
That all added up to the credible good news story that we put to our readers last Wednesday.
The bad news story in the Advocate last Friday Ð two days after the release of the report Ð chose to ignore, as its primary focus, the latest figures, a curious judgement by journalistic standards.
Having access to the full report allowed the Advocate to tally the figures for the past financial year and compare them to the total for the previous financial year.
This showed an increase in crime but ignored the possible impact of recent changes in policing and crime prevention initiatives, the latter arising in good part out of a long community campaign of which Alice Springs can be proud.
Liquor restrictions were introduced in Alice in April this year, followed by complementary measures and a concerted effort to do something about Alice's so-called "street kids" (see report this issue). It is reasonable to assume that the impact of these initiatives would be seen in the September 2002 quarter figures, making them the obvious focus for a news story.
The Advocate's approach tallied neatly with Opposition Leader Denis Burke's focus on the Police Annual Report figures which were also for the past financial year and reveal an overall increase in crime of seven per cent.
However, in his media statement accompanying the release of the report Police Commissioner Paul White describes "an encouraging downward trend in crime [that] has occurred since early this year", that is, half way through the reporting period.
It clearly suited Mr Burke to make political capital from older statistics that varied with more recent ones reflecting well on the government.
It is noteworthy that Mr Burke and his CLP predecessors, over a quarter of a century, made a complete hash of their "fight" against crime.
And it is no surprise that sections of the media, long used to regurgitating self-serving CLP media handouts, give Mr Burke a free kick.
Make no mistake, the current government's commitment to release crime figures Ð warts and all Ð every three months represents a sea change in the potential for public debate about these most disturbing issues.
It gives traders, who are bearing the brunt of petty theft, an opportunity for constructive involvement.
The attitude of some can be summarised in this way: "These figures are all wrong because most people don't report crime any longer because the police don't do anything about it and if they do the courts let people off lightly."
The doubters can't have it both ways: if they don't provide information to police and other government authorities, those bodies can't base their strategies on the full set of facts.
In any case, according to Commissioner White, speaking on last Friday's ABC Stateline, unreported crime has long been understood to represent around 20 per cent of total crime, a figure more or less constant in all jurisdictions.
The Advocate also challenged the credibility of the statistics on the basis of the September quarter showing no record of murder, when everyone knows that a man was killed on the Wills Terrace footbridge within that quarter.
ABC radio similarly noticed that no murders had been recorded for Tennant Creek since September 2000, when once again it is widely known there was a killing of a teenage girl there earlier this year.
Justice Minister Peter Toyne acknowledges the apparent anomaly and says the Office of Crime Prevention will have to re-assess how it is presenting these killings so that the report reflects what the public is observing.
In both cases, under the current system, the killings will enter the statistics once Ð and if Ð a conviction for them has been obtained.
Of course, the decline in crime will have to be sustained for us all, government, police and citizens alike, to rest easier. The December quarter figures, which we are now guaranteed of seeing, will thus be of great interest.
The new government deserves credit, albeit with the caution the Minister of Justice has himself expressed, for the heartening September quarter figures.


How far are we towards getting Alice's so-called "street kids" off the streets and out of the crime loop?In mid-August Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne told the Alice community that his government would "stand or fall on the outcomes" of concerted moves to achieve this.
Dr Toyne says "considerable efforts" to date have resulted in "the development of an unprecedented framework for inter-agency interaction".
"This includes for the first time the involvement of Indigenous groups in concert with government on the development of strategies."The key initiative has taken off in the name of the Safe Families project,targeted at assisting extended families to keep their children off the streets and put them on a more positive track in life."The work of the Office of Crime Prevention adds another strategic layer ofgovernment focus to addressing the problems of street kids," says Dr Toyne, who in August set a deadline of the "start of the warm weather" for the new youth services to be underway.
They're getting there.
Tangentyere Council's's Jane Vadiveloo says coordinated case management of young people by key youth services working together is happening.
These services Ð Tangentyere, ASYASS, Congress and Reconnect (auspiced by Gap Youth Centre) Ð come together in regular forums to review progress.
Family and Community Services (FACS) of the Territory Health Department attends some of these meetings.
At a hands-on level, some eight young people from the high risk group of about 30 are being taken weekly to an outstation to be assisted by social and emotional well-being counsellors, while at the same time developing practical
skills, for instance in building maintenance and construction.
For others safe accommodation and adequate income are the more pressing issues.
Ms Vadiveloo describes "a number of young people who have to fight and scrape to put food in their stomachs".
In this regard the combined services are still in the consultation and planning phase for the Safe Families Project and FACS' coordinated care policy, decribed by Ms Vadiveloo as "the most significant recent development on the youth services front" is still in the process of development.
Safe Families has still not finalised how to financially support extended family members, including the diversion of Centrelink payments to them.
If there are no appropriate family members, supported accommodation needs to be found.
This is available through ASYASS for young people over the age of 15.
But there is still nothing for the under 15s.
Again, Ms Vadiveloo says policies are still being developed.
Meanwhile, combined agencies Ð Congress, Bushmob (auspiced by DASA), the Town Council, the Youth Centre, as well as ASYASS and Tangentyere Ð are working to have a Youth Drop-in Centre up and running by the school holidays (two and half weeks away).
This will operate on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, from a building at the back of the Wills Terrace Youth Centre, offering young people "referral and support". While the drop-in centre will be funded from Indigenous program funds, no young person would be turned away, says Ms Vadiveloo.
A new youth refuge, to be operated jointly by Tangentyere and ASYASS and funded by Aboriginal Hostels as well as the Territory Government, is in the pipeline but needs a greater commitment of funding.
Ms Vadiveloo says the budget requirements for the safe operation of the refuge have already been made very clear to the funding bodies.
Says Dr Toyne: "The outcomes of the FACS policy framework will scope the way forward and outline resource implications.
"With the Government moving into budget planning early next year, I expect to have a very clear picture to take to Cabinet of the budget requirements to continue the efforts through Safe Families."Ms Vadiveloo hopes the refuge doors Ð at a new site, not at Aranda House Ð will open by March, "February at the earliest".
She is concerned about the lack of adequate support in the meantime for educational initiatives like the Irrkerlantye Learning Centre, a joint project developed by Tangentyere Council and Centralian College, with the college now being the main source of funds and the main employer. Ms Vadiveloo says Tangentyere simply does not have the funds to help the project more than it already does, with counselling assistance, holiday programs and the provision of some sport and recreation equipment.
"The positive outcomes of Irrkerlantye in terms of crime prevention as well as education need to be recognised.
"If Irrkerlantye wasn't there, those kids would be on the streets. They would not go to a mainstream school," she says.
"Historically, youth services have been under-funded, depending on the good will of staff to keep going, which is simply not sustainable in the long term."
Nonetheless, she says between them the youth services are seeing and supporting the town's "at risk" children every day.
"We may not be able to fix the family violence and family drinking for these kids but we can support them on a daily level," she says.
"And we have got kids who have done well, who have moved on to have their own families, who are not involved in substance abuse, who are not getting into trouble with the law and who know how to access services."It's important to take time to celebrate what these young people have achieved against the odds and the remarkable job done by youth workers in the most difficult circumstances."They are extremely committed to both improving the lives of young people and improving our community."
Dr Toyne says the work and commitment of the agencies has been outstanding and should be acknowledged by the wider community."To achieve real change for these kids and the wider community we have to work in partnership Ð and those partnerships between government and non-government agencies are being cemented through the Safe Families project."At the crime prevention level the formation of regional crime prevention councils will soon have add to the efforts to address crime. The councils will have open access to government, provide advice on crime issues intheir regions and work with government on targeted strategies to addressregional crime issues."


Much of the petty crime in Alice Springs which is driving traders to distraction is being committed by street kids, numbering 30 to 50 by some official estimates.
There are "lots more," says Will MacGregor, who with his Aboriginal partner Bruce Steen runs Bushmob.
These kids are hungry, sleep rough, are constantly exposed to violent abuse, don't attend school Ð circumstances that would ordinarily result in large scale intervention by child welfare authorities.
Their decisive action would be as much in the interest of the young people as the community at large.
But authorities are doing little at the moment Ð occasional placements in foster homes Ð clearly afraid to raise the spectre of another "stolen generation" of "taken away children".
It's a fear that's "paralysing the public service," says Mr MacGregor.
The government does acknowledge that the buck stops with it: the "ultimate guardian" is the Minister for Health who oversees Family and Children's Services (FACS), says Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne, who has made fixing the problem his top priority.
But for the moment the government is putting its trust in a coalition of private "service providers" (see report this edition), mainly publicly funded Aboriginal organisations.
Key initiatives are still not in place; some players, such as Eddie Taylor and the Youth Night Patrol (Alice News, Nov 20) are still out of the loop; and collaboration between the organisations is recent, after a long history of bickering and rivalry.
That's got to stop, says Dr Toyne: In this "life threatening" situation there is no longer a place for "ancient feuds and tribalism".
Mr MacGregor, 44, married with two children, says he was a park ranger and " a full-on alky".
He quit drinking 13 years ago and devoted himself to youth work full time.
With Mr Steen he has cobbled together resources from the Commonwealth Department for Family and Community Services, the Myer Foundation and Newmont Mining, operators of the gold mines in the Tanami.
Bushmob, which operates under the auspices of DASA, has "one and a half staff", one demountable building, two silver bullets, a Toyota ute and a 25 year old Troopie "with 500,000 km on the clock".
The main initiative, about once a fortnight, is taking kids who want to come out bush for one or two days.
Mr MacGregor and Mr Steen make contact with the young people Ð aged 12 to 27 Ð in the streets, shopping centres, town camps. Sometimes they are referred by other organisations.
The young people are mainly Aborigines, but sometimes white youngsters join them, on their way "up north" to look for a job and stuck in Alice Springs for a couple of months.
The typical "client" might not have had any sleep the night before.
He might have been the victim of violence, sometimes sexual.
"Do you want to go to hospital?" is often the first question Mr MacGregor asks.
"They are hungry. They have no money for food.
"One of the things they're getting out bush is at least two good meals.
"They might have had their gear ripped off, so clothing might be a problem.
"Why can't they go to school? ÔI can't because I can't have a shower,' they tell us.
ADDICTION"They might be caught in an addiction cycle, alcohol or ganja.
"Ganja is huge at the moment."
Mr MacGregor says most have given up hope of ever being part of the mainstream society.
"I'll never get a job. I'll never be working Ð why should I bother?"
Some live on the dole, "arse money, because it's for sitting on your arse Ð and they say this with a great deal of sadness".
Mr MacGregor says they are desperately unsure about their place in the world.
"What am I?
"Am I a Nike kid?
"Am I going into initiation this Christmas?"
Frequently the parents have succumbed to alcohol and the grandparents are too tired for raising a second lot of kids.
"However, they often do," says Mr MacGregor.
The young people Ð if they sleep in a town camp Ð would usually spend the night on the floor, maybe on a mattress, or " anywhere you're likely not to get hassled by someone, behind a bush, in an alley".
"There are always people around looking for money for grog, people off their face who want to rouse someone.
"The kids eat junk food, chips, lollies, shoplifted from supermarkets, whatever is going".
Mr MacGregor acknowledges his contribution is small Ð but at least he's making one.
"They are the kids who are forgotten and discarded.
"Maybe we've become a lazy society which doesn't give a damn about its children."
Meanwhile organisations spend a great deal of their time vying for public money.
The street kids are painfully aware of this: "It's like mum and dad having an argument," says Mr MacGregor.

Sometimes it's just too much all at once. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

"It was a dark and stormy night." At school, my teacher used to suggest this line as an alternative to Ô"Once upon a time" when opening a story.
Believe it or not, this was supposed to be a magical combination of words that would make the creative juices of hapless children flow like the Todd in flood.
It never worked for me. I suffered from the childhood equivalent of writer's block. It went on until I was twenty-seven.
A couple of weeks ago, it really was a dark and stormy night in Alice Springs.
Exciting too, because my new water tank, so lovingly installed, had been waiting for a decent rain for months.
So when the heavens finally did open, this was a genuine cause for dancing in the downpour.
It also gave me a good reason to examine closely every home made offset and joint in my caringly crafted colourbond gutters.
Searching for these gutters had been one of a long line of humiliating home improvement episodes in my short and na•ve Northern Territory existence.
As far as I am concerned, gutters for houses are made from one material and that material is grey PVC. You buy them in long sections and you cut them to size with a junior hacksaw or a decent Swiss Army penknife while holding a cup of tea in your spare hand.
Bob's your uncle. They're up on the house and ready to be clogged by leaves before you can dangle a daggy dingo's drongo, or whatever the phrase is.
This allows lots of time for more important intellectual pursuits like reading hardware store leaflets or sweeping stray mulch off your pavers.
The trouble is that every professional tradesperson that I asked for PVC gutters seemed to either cough to disguise their amusement, tell a limp joke so that they could have a good laugh in the open or maintain a deadly stony face.
And then laughed when I was out of sight.
So having learned that PVC just doesn't work in this part of the world, I ended up with heavyweight prefabricated sections of steel gutter that seemed to require either team lifting or a medium-sized crane to offer them up to the fascias.
It's lucky that I have been going to the YMCA. Otherwise I would never have raised them above ankle height.
Anyway, to cut a long story very short, the gutters made it up onto the house and they sloped the right way because I realised in the nick of time that water does not flow uphill.
I even siliconed all the gaps and sized the tank using an impressive combination of manufacturers tables, data from the Bureau of Meteorology and sneaking a look at other tanks down our street.
Then I re-routed the air-conditioner outlet pipe into the tank and crept out of the house at regular intervals to listen to the soothing trickle of water echoing inside it.
If vegetarianism gives you self-righteousness and flatulence, then water tanks offer self-righteousness and a hollow sound that makes you want to eat lentil burgers.
When a non-entity like me is trying to get to grips with desert living, established Centralians offer lots of friendly and welcome advice.
It's the street-wise version of desert knowledge.
The kind that you find in quirky books about portly men with denim bibs, trade secrets and tinny outhouses.
For example, I have learned that air-conditioner run-off is saline. Pop rivets are not as stupid as they look.
To reduce the impact of the sun, you should make sure your house does not have a long west-facing wall (a bit tough if you already moved in).
Even if you don't need it, buy or borrow an angle grinder.
There are fifty-seven varieties of mulch but only one name for it.
Make sure you always have some corrugated iron nearby as you never know when it might be handy.
Snakes are scared of goannas and cats. Chooks can be carried off by wedge-tailed eagles.Frogs like toilet cisterns but cisterns don't like frogs. Tanks like mine overflow even if you size them using scientific methods.
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of this advice, but it's good to have it anyway.
It can be tough to be faced with all this new learning about all these subjects.
And to have the inferiority complex of being surrounded by people who sound like an outback version of Better Homes and Gardens.
While nothing that you say back to them makes any sense at all. Sometimes, just like the rain, it is too much all at once.

Trying to get a grip on things. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.

Our Prime Minister, John Howard, is urging all Australians to be alert but not alarmed. "Be vigilant," Washingtonians and New Yorkers have been told.I was tuned into John Laws the other day and heard an American caller say that citizens have been advised to be aware of foreign looking/speaking people in vehicles, which, he noted, brings most of America's cab drivers under scrutiny: this would also be the case in Australia, especially Melbourne and Sydney.I sometimes hear my niece, Lesley-Ann, and her brother Bart complaining that they're never allowed to do "anything".
At the tender ages of ten and nine, what they really mean is that they're not allowed to do certain things Ð which quite possibly their sis, Emma, a few years older, was allowed to doÉ walk to the corner shop, play on the vacant block of land across the street, go to the movies on their ownÉOLD WAYSTalk to any senior citizen and listen to stories about growing up in the 1930's, 40's and 50's. There was a greater sense of safety, and with it, freedom, back then.
People haven't felt secure since well before the September 11 tragedy, and the foundations of confidence have again been rocked by the Bali bombings.
Together with all the social nasties that people try to cope with on a daily basis, there is now the added threat of global terrorism to contend with.SURVIVALI came across an article by David Astle in the Sydney Life and Travel magazine, last week, about a man called Gosta Lileqvist who is running Global Risk Awareness and Safety Program courses, GRASP for short.
GRASP tackles, along with riot survival, kidnapping, gasmask drills and minefield tiptoeing, the art of taking sensible precautions, hints for maintaining calm in stressful situations and making risk management part of everyday life. Some of it comes down to good old common sense: drive with windows up and doors locked (I know a lot of people observe that rule here in Alice Springs); change routes to and from daily destinations Ð it creates interest, and, if someone is watching, breaks any familiar patterns.
These courses are being run in Australia, and they are all about survival. Some people, depending on where they live, apply these golden rules daily Ð it's second nature.
David and I have clocked up a lot of flying hours over the last few months and, like most travelers, have found that watching everyone furtively checking out everyone else, has brought a new dimension to travel Éwho are our co-passengers? Is "it" safe?
I lunched with friends Lori, Julie, Kate and Francoise last week, catching up on happenings around the Alice, talking about all manner of things and we swapped baggage stories Ð the girl who left her hand-bag on a seat in a train station in London and came rushing back to find the general area cordoned off and police everywhere: the chap who left his hold-all unattended in an airport lounge and returned just after it had been blown up.VIGILANCE
As John Howard has said, many times lately, regarding general warnings issued to the public: We're damned if we do, and damned if we don'tÉIn these volatile times, we must practice vigilance, and take common sense and instinct with us, wherever we go.


The Eagles, reigning premiers in the CARU, showed last weekend that they are serious contenders for the flag again this season when they careered away in the second half to record a 38 to nil victory over last year's grand finalists, the Dingo Cubs.
In the other game Kiwis went from being five all with the Federal Devils at half time, to win 17-5 at the final bell.
In the Eagles demolition of the Cubs, the former Misfits scored 14 points in the first half and then ran away in the second session. Again, talented faces presented themselves as stand out players in a team which these days seems to simply revel in the joy of running on the paddock.
Lincoln Peckham, Paul Williams and Fred Vaka did plenty to keep the ball active and in fact Vaka finished his day at the office with two tries.
Otherwise Tui Ford, Malcolm Hill, Trent Abbott and Simon Nono each placed the ball for a try, and David Kerrin converted four attempts.In the Cubs camp it was Whiley Steele and Andy Werner who were the pick of the Dingo players.The second half also paid dividends for the Kiwis against the Devils.
Grant Souter and Shannon Richards paved the way for a Kiwi victory, with Pat Ah Kitt showing how to play the game with two tries.
Assisting Ah Kitt on the ground and around the posts was John Ah Matt who also celebrated with a try and a conversion.For Federal, the game at least unearthed another player of the future. Sam Kumara from Sierra Leone ran the ball deep into the corner before taking on four opponents and scoring Feds' only try.
Otherwise the novice, Kumara found he had Sam Moldrich, Daniel Presley and Simon Castle on hand to lend valuable assistance throughout the game.
Centralian Rugby is now at the point of testing itself at representative level.
On Saturday week the CARU will run onto the Katherine ground to do battle against the side who see themselves as Territory champions.
The inter-town game will be witnessed by the Mosquitoes Coaching staff and so there is more than just representative pride at stake.The local boys will be coached by Joe Dixon, with Russell "Bear" Ward on hand to manage the troops, and the indispensable George Frank with his First Aid box to mend the wounded.
The CARU squad will train and Monday and Wednesday nights and will take the bus to Katherine on Friday week.


Pioneer Park gave its supporters plenty to celebrate on Saturday when over the four card event trainer Kevin Lamprecht saddled up all four winners.
Jockeys Barry Huppatz and Terry Huish each recorded a riding double.For Lamprecht the day to remember began when his 3/1 chance, He's Tough Enough revelled in a drop in weight to take out the Lew Hoad Class 6 Handicap over 1000 metres. Starting out of barrier two He's Tough Enough led from start to finish and went to the line a length in front of the well supported Al Tayar at 7/4. Kucite who offered the handy odds of 2/1 in the ring filled the minors.Huish made it a double in the Imran Khan Trobis Class D Handicap over 1400 metres when he booted Sir Romeo to the line in another all the way win. Starting at 7/2 Sir Romeo,went one better than his recent minor place finishes to down Kohaton at the 4s and Prismatic Reef (8/1).In the 1200 metre Dr John Flynn Handicap over 1200 metres, Lamprecht send Pelt out as even money favourite to do battle in a five horse field. On the turn Pelt had the job in front of him but he produced plenty in the run home to defeat Star Damsel who started at 8/1 , and Nev Connor's Zillionaire at 7/4.Come the last the Ian Botham Class2 Handicap over 1200 metres the punters invested in Soccer who was lining up for a hat trick of wins and so went to the barrier in the red at 4/6. Alas the favourite was run over by a couple of outsiders with Lamprecht's second string starter Miss Shore taking the money at 7/1, with 10/1 chance Kenny's Idol picking up the second place cheque and Soccer filling the minors.Lamprecht came to Alice Springs racing from Tennant Creek and in recent years has gained the respect of all in the racing fraternity for his honesty and his professionalism as a trainer. The rewards for his dedication are now being harvested.


The Albrecht Oval pitch was rumoured late last week to be a deck suiting the bowlers, grounds staff having been able to do little by way of preparation until Thursday.
The late cut and continuing sultry conditions provided the bowlers with a real green top when play began on Saturday afternoon.RSL captain Jeff Whitmore wisely offered Federal's Allan Rowe first dig on the pitch, and in a relatively short time his decision delivered the goods.
Matt Forster, a seasoned campaigner, soon found the conditions right up his alley and over a period of 15overs he destroyed the Federal offensive.Such was the pitch that Tom Clements, who can read the ball pretty well normally, let a Forster delivery pass through to his detriment, and the collapse of the Feds' castle began.
To his credit, Jarrod Wapper stuck around for a while to compile 16, and new comer from the Adelaide Hills, Nick Johns, got to 19. Skipper Rowe also was able to put on 21, but in all the innings lacked any real venom.
It was Forster's day as he finished with 8/54. Cameron Robertson showed his support with 1/14, and Graham Schmidt tidied up with 1/2.
RSL then took the initiative with bat as they put on 197 for the loss of only four wickets.
Rod Dunbar in his opening role got the Razzle off to a flyer with 53, and Scott Robertson scored a quick fire 20.
At the crease still are Whitmore on 85 and Tom Scollay on 23 both not out. Whitmore's innings has been timely, and despite being dropped at 40 has given his side a sheet anchor start.
For Feds, Rowe taking 3/45 off 11 overs kept his team's chances alive.It will be interesting to see the RSL tactics this week. After a further hour at the crease, with Whitmore beyond his 100, it may be time to invite Federals back to the crease in the hope of an outright result.Sunday's game turned out to be another to favour the bowlers. West, in batting first, and without Ken Vowles, could only muster 143 before being dismissed.
For Rovers, Adrian McAdam led the charge by taking 4/22 off 12.2 overs. Glen Holberton couldn't be kept out of the action and he snared 3/26 off nine overs, while Sam Curtin, who also had nine overs, returned the figures of 2/22. Matt Pyle picked up the remaining wicket.Westies were given an opening stand of 37, before the wickets began to tumble. Adam Stockwell was able to offer some resistance with 29 before falling to a catch by McAdam off Holberton. Otherwise it was only the middle order efforts of James McLoughlin and Bruce Sedunary, both scoring 28, that kept Westies in the hunt.
It was after four and in fading light that Rovers began their reply, and with Jeremy Bigg and Ryan Thomson in full flight, Rovers soon found the going tough. Pyle fell to Biggs for six, Peter Young and Peter Kleinig each quacked, and Greg Dowell made the most of the conditions with 10 before falling lbw to Thomson.With the combination of poor light and a pace attack taking advantage, it was wise to call stumps after nine overs.
Just minutes after the close of play a thunder storm consumed the town.

LETTERS: Did Pine Gap warn us of the Bali bombing?

Sir,- In response to "Lenin/Trotsky" (Alice News, Nov 6) the Medical Association for Prevention of War agrees, as Mr Murray states, that the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is an intelligence, ie "spy", base. It is because of this that it is involved in fighting wars.
We do not agree that it is helping prevent terrorist activity and protecting Australia. Did it warn us of the Bali bombing?If there is a war with Iraq, the JDFPG will be helping to fight this war.
The war will kill many Iraqi civilians. This is morally outrageous. It will also endanger the lives of Australian defence force people. It may focus the enmity of Islamic terrorists on to Australia.
Does this make Australia more or less secure?
Dr Peter Tait,
MAPW NT Branch


Sir,- There is no town in all the world like your town.I am an American but have adopted Alice as my city of choice. We moved to Alice after living in Los Angeles for three years.
Moving from six lane traffic to the snail pace streets of your charming outback was like going from hell into heaven. I felt like I was in the movie Back to the Future.
Because of the fast pace of living in the States many in our country dream of going back 50 years in time to live a more relaxed life. That dream of mine was fulfilled for my wife, Mary Lou, and I for three years as we savoured the Alice.
The people were friendly and uncomplicated. Many of the men reminded me of John Wayne (the cowboy) Ð rugged, independent and proud they had made it on their own.
I love my country but the outback people are much easier to get to know than the suburbanites in the US.
The desert and the hills that surround Alice have a beauty all their own. The air is free of smog and the skies are so clear that you can see the milk in Milky Way.
I have been back three times to visit since leaving in 1999 and have always been welcomed back with those staunch words, "G'day mate".
Your friends forever,
John and Mary Lou Palm


Sir,- There's nothing like competition to bring out the honesty in a businessman.
So why don't the town fathers of Alice work on getting some aviation experts to form a plan to either start a new airline or welcome a small airline that could serve Alice?
Tax breaks or other incentives might be needed for a while.
One would think that the tourists, commercial travellers, Pine Gap business and even the backpacker traffic would be sufficient to guarantee success for a few routes at first, then perhaps to Sydney, Darwin, Cairns, and Adelaide.
One way to draw customers away from the competition could be to offer a meal somewhat better than the brown paper bag with the cold sandwich and expensive drinking water.
Trust me, once a competing airline starts operating ticket prices will drop like a shoe on the bedroom floor.
Robert Graham,
Missouri, USA


Sir,- Re the last paragraph of "Centre Ablaze" (Alice Springs News 20/11/02).That fire was started by lightning on Tuesday night on Owen Springs, west of Pine Gap, and never got to Honeymoon Gap.
We (Bushfires, Parks & Wildlife, Temple Bar, and later White Gums etc) burnt a fire break to control it on the north east front on Sunday night/Monday morning, which only came as far east as the west boundary of White Gums, at Burt Bluff.
The west front went I don't know where. The south east front burnt through Pine Gap, and then as you said, bolted south back through Owen Springs.
Earlier, on Wednesday, another lightning strike in Kuyunba Reserve ended up taking out over 14 per cent of Temple Bar, and I don't know how much of the Reserve.
Rod Cramer
Alice Springs


Sir,- The federal government has revealed that its Tourism Green Paper will be delayed by up to five months - they have failed to act on concerns over tourism.The government's inaction is an insult to the Northern Territory Tourism Commission, which made a considerable contribution to the paper.This is a time for immediate action, not wrangling and dithering.Visitor numbers to the Territory are down Ð we are losing thousands of bed nights a year in Central Australia alone Ð and the margins in the industry are extremely tight.The government knows the way forward, but it's simply refusing to commit itself.Australia needs to develop a northern aviation hub to capitalise on regional tourism and transport opportunities.Both the NT government and tourism operators have spent a lot of time developing proposals for these opportunities, but the federal government still hasn't got around to canvassing them.How much longer must the industry wait?I also call on the government to provide market assistance for an alternative airline carrier into Central Australia Ð a lack of services is the reason behind the drop in the region's tourist activity.The current downturn is about more than perceived terrorist threats.That fact is that ever since the federal government allowed Ansett to collapse, tourism in the Northern Territory has been suffering.
It's clear to most in the industry that the Centre needs an alternative airline.
While I am aware that the NT Tourism Minister, Chris Burns, is currently engaged in talks with Virgin Blue, the question is what is the federal government doing about this issue?
The answer is probably nothing.
Increased air services into the Centre would see the industry expand dramatically Ð the demand is there to be developed.
Warren Snowdon
Member for Lingiari


Sir,- I'm writing in response to your isue of November 13.
I enjoyed the column by Ms Ann Cloke, "Trans Tassie Relationships". Nice words Ann.NZ is truly a magnificent place to have a holiday (or live in my case). Thanks for the promo!
Cheers from Christchurch
Kevin Allen
Ex Alice Springs (NZ since 1996!)


Sir,- Once upon a time, I corresponded with a man who taught Aboriginal children. (I live in the United States.)
His name is Anthony Fisher, and the address I used to write him back was PMB via Alice Springs Northern Territory 0872 Australia.
Could you please let me know how I could locate him?
It's been years since we corresponded, and I'm guessing that he has since relocated.
I've tried the internet yellow and white pages, but to no avail.
Melissa Roth


Sir,- CLP Member for Solomon, Mr David Tollner, was forced to back away from yet another of his election promises when he was asked on radio about his commitment to not support the full sale of Telstra unless the Stuart Highway had mobile phone coverage.Mr Tollner responded "I do have to back away from that promise".Both Mr Tollner and Telstra claim that services provided to rural and remote areas, along with CDMA coverage, have improved and that it's on target for its sale.
But there are still large areas along the Stuart Highway and in rural areas that have no CDMA coverage and unreliable landline services.The Estens Inquiry shows that this Government is prepared to sell Telstra regardless of the consequences for Australia's phone services.
I am constantly receiving complaints from dissatisfied customers. For instance in the Florina Road area just west of Katherine, a well populated and significant pastoral and agricultural/horticultural area, people are telling me that phone services are patchy and they have inadequate mobile phone coverage, low internet data speeds, constant internet line drop-out and inadequate consumer protection.
This is the very reason why Telstra should not be sold. Telstra have now admitted that the landlines are unreliable due to the pair gains system. Telstra's use of pair gains is a cost-cutting measure aimed at improving its bottom line and fattening itself up for sale.
The CDMA service in some cases is a backward step compared to the old Analogue system, as people at least had coverage which was useful, during floods or if equipment broke down.
In regional Australia, our problems are so serious that even this totally flawed report concedes that there are still major problems in some areas.
I believe that a fully privatised Telstra will be a huge private monopoly and too powerful for any Government to effectively regulate. The sale of Telstra is definitely not on my agenda.
Trish Crossin
Senator for the NT

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