March 5, 2003.


The "brown boxes" Ð tawny port, the cheap grog of choice since the trial of alcohol restrictions began almost a year ago Ð have turned life at Hidden Valley town camp from desperate into a living hell.
There is no sign of drinking slowing down. Far from improving the situation, the ban on large casks of wine, provoking the switch to tawny port, has made the drinking "worse", says senior Eastern Arrernte woman and resident at the camp, Agnes Abbott.
The camp is a stone's throw from suburban Alice Springs, not far from the YMCA, but in terms of a lifestyle, it's another world, a rather frightening one for the non-drinking adults and dozens of children living there.
The drinking goes on day and night, seven days a week; the vast majority of adults do nothing but drink; children are starting to drink as young as 14; there are incidents of violence daily.
If this is the experience at other camps as well, some serious rethinking will need to be done about the present regime of restrictions, set to be comprehensively reviewed.
Mrs Abbott readily agreed to speak under her own name to the Alice News and to be photographed outside her home, even though she is aware that her comments may draw anger from some people.
She is a lifelong teetotaller, having tasted wine from a flagon once as a young woman. She neither liked the taste nor the smell and since then has seen the suffering of too many people to ever want to change her mind.
"I don't drink because I see a lot of people, they get hidings from their husbands.
"I think this grog's worse, what they call Ôbrown box'. The port wine.
"People getting worse, fighting and all that. They getting sick, going to the hospital, it's terrible."
Mrs Abbott is one of maybe 10 adults who don't drink, out of a "big mob".
She is particularly concerned about young people drinking.
"They just walk around drunk, making fools of themselves.
"See that girl with the yellow t-shirt, she drinks just about every day, she's about 14 or 13.
"She doesn't go to school.
"Young people around here are just robbing old people, look for tucker and drink.""My granddaughter, I always talk to her. She says you can't run my life, I'm old enough, I'm not a little kid any more for you to tell me what to do."
Buses come every morning to take children to school.
Mrs Abbott says they try hard to get the teenagers to go.
"They started night school at Irrkerlantye for teenagers, but they never go there.
"They tried to round them up to go to school but they don't go.
"Little kids go to school, but I don't know what they're going to do when they get teenagers.
"I suppose they'll be the same as this other mob."
While I'm speaking to Mrs Abbott, a drinking party is under way at a neighbouring house. There's loud music and shouting. It's about six o'clock on a Friday evening.
A neighbour, another non-drinker, comes over. She tells us about one drunken woman attacking a sober woman the night before, pulling her hair, knocking her to the ground.
"She said sorry this morning. Too late to be sorry after she flogged her."
Why did she pick on her?
"For no reason. Because she was drunk!"
Had anything like that ever happened to her?
"That won't happen to me, I'll hit her back!"
Mrs Abbott says about the victim: "She doesn't drink but her sons and daughters drink. She's having big problem.
"Her son always bash his wife, half kill her during the night."
Mrs Abbott's niece, Carol Turner, comes home from work. She is one of two women at Hidden Valley who have a job at Irrkerlantye, a learning centre for a group of East Arrernte families.
According to Mrs Abbott, nobody else in the camp has a job.
Mrs Turner is a teacher's aide, having trained at IAD. She says, "It's really important for me to get a job to support my children, and to teach my children to grow up and get a good job."
The drinking party is happening at her house.
She agrees to talk to me the next day.
"You see my house, it's like a pub!" she says in disgust.
Not every drinking party turns violent. Mrs Abbott says of her niece's household: "They drink seven days a week there. They don't fight, they just drink."
When I go back the next day, I ask Mrs Turner why the drinking goes on in her house when she doesn't want it to?
"When I tell them you not allowed to drink in my house, they say, ÔOh, we're families. You can't kick us out of the house just like that.'
"Sometimes I get really depressed because it's my children's home.
"Most of my family's all drinking tawny port now. Lots of them.
"My niece's children and they're very young, about 14 and over. Drinking every day.
"They don't go to school. They go to town, if somebody buys alcohol, they follow that person down the creek and drink it.
"The family give kids money and they give it to a grown up person and the grown up person buys [the grog] because they say you can get half shares of it. It's really bad."
She agrees with Mrs Abbott: "That tawny port is much worse than the cask wine".
She says: "Some people drink it with water now, and some people just drink it straight out of the box, which is very strong.
"I think it makes them hypo, they walk around all night, every night. It makes them go silly in the head.
"People getting stabbed. Women and men.
"Some older people that drinks that tawny port, they get very sick, I think they have liver problems, and vomiting and diarrhoea."
It's now about 10.30am. Young men arrive at a neighbouring house. One of them is carrying a "brown box". (Bottleshops open from 10am on Saturdays.)
Mrs Abbott: "When you see them come back from town they don't bring any shopping, they just get them port, carton of beer, might be carton of Jim Beam."
Do food vouchers help?
"Some people get food vouchers, old people like me, I don't know about the young people, I think they are just spending money on grog."
Mrs Turner says "heaps of money" goes on grog: "Some of these people around here, they don't budget their money, they just spend the whole lot in one day.
"They don't buy any groceries, and the next day they go looking in other people's house for something to eat."
Mrs Abbott won't give her family any money for grog: "If they want food, I just buy food and give them food."
I ask Mrs Abbott if anyone tries to help.
She says Irrkerlantye tries.
Tangentyere Night Patrol drives through towards 7pm. They wave as they go past. I ask Mrs Abbott if they help.
"If people fight, if we call out to them if they drive by, they'll come to our place and try to help people and some people try to fight them!
"And they have to call the police to help them."
She also says: "Night Patrol comes only seven o'clock, he don't come around a bit late, only once he go around.""They've just driven through, you won't see them again tonight?" I ask.
"No, we won't see them again."
"You won't see them after dark?"
Does she talk to anyone about the way she sees things going?
"No. Tangentyere see what's happening, they know what's happening in town camps."
Have they been able to help?
"No, they don't help. And we haven't got a phone out here, we haven't got anywhere here to ring the police if they fight here.
"We have to go for help to Sadadeen Shops."
How does she get there? "Walk."
The distance would be well over a kilometre. Has there ever been a public phone?
"Yeah, before, in that little tin shed over there, a long time ago, might be 10 years ago."
It was vandalised and not replaced. I ask Mrs Abbott if a phone were put in her yard, would she be able to look after it, stop it from being destroyed? "Yes."
I ask Mrs Turner is anybody doing anything to help with the grog situation?
"No." What about Tangentyere?
"No. Nobody comes around and asks."
With Mrs Turner, Mrs Abbott takes the children there "out bush, show them how to catch, how to hunt."
Does anybody else teach the kids at Hidden Valley about bush tucker?
"Only me. I teach anybody's kids. Sometimes I take the girls out bush and teach them culture.
"I still got our culture. I don't know about these other ladies."
Says Mrs Turner: "Out bush the kids are really interested, when they come back in town, it's like a blank."
I go back to the grog question. What can be done?
Mrs Turner: "Should do something about that tawny port."
I ask Mrs Abbott if the restrictions should stay?
"Yeah," she says, uncertainly, adding, "But worse since then. Restrictions should change maybe, to get rid of the port."
Hidden Valley is in a particularly lovely part of Alice Springs.
As the name suggests, the camp, on a big acreage, is tucked into a valley surrounded by low hills. You can walk into the hills and beyond to collect bush tucker, hunt kangaroo.
You'd think life there would be idyllic. Instead it seems that it is mostly squalid and often dangerous, but out of sight, out of mind, except for those who live there.
I ask Mrs Abbott, "Is there anything good happening here, in the life of your family and other people living here? Are there good things that happen?"


The builder failed to compact the soil under the slab, the floors sagged, the walls cracked, and the damage amounted to $100,000.
The builder did not adequately water proof under and around the concrete slab, allowing water to flow through the walls, effectively turning the lounge room into a spa bath.
The builder took an up front payment of more than $120,000, put down the footings and shot through, never to be seen again.
The builder, in a "design and construct" job, obtained a permit for the floor, but not for the rest of the building. Once the house was finished the client couldn't sell it because he couldn't get a Certificate of Completion, with no recourse to the builder.
These are some of a litany of horror stories told by Alice Springs architect and building certifier Len Smyth about an industry were practically anybody can call themselves a builder.
Mr Smyth now represents Central Australia on a panel advising the NT Government likely to introduce a licensing system for builders Ð the last Australian jurisdiction to do so.
He is calling on the public to present its views to the panel due to meet in Alice Springs next week.
The mooted changes to the Building Act 1993 have the full support of the Territory Construction Association (TCA), the industry lobby.
Its CEO Michael Kilgariff is a member of the six person panel, including also representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Association, Real Estate Institute and the insurance industry.
He says the TCA has been pushing for a licensing regime for about 20 years, which he says CLP governments "chose not to implement".
What's more, the TCA wants the system to cover not only domestic housing, as proposed at the moment, but also commercial buildings.
It is likely that licensing will also be extended to construction industry trades, including tilers, roofers and concreters, says Mr Kilgariff. Plumbers and electricians already have to be licensed.
Mr Smyth says the aim of the changes is to protect the consumer.
At the moment the Home Building Certification Fund (HBCF) set up under the 1993 Act provides a "first resort protection to residential building owners from the necessity to engage in self-funded litigation in the event of failure of a residential building to comply with a certification requirement under the Building Act," according to the government discussion paper.
But Ð absurdly Ð the HBCF does not protect a home owner from loss caused when builders die, "disappear" or become insolvent.
This, so the discussion paper suggests, will be fixed by the introduction of a mandatory indemnity insurance scheme.
It would allow the winding up of the HBCF.
Mr Smyth says the public should not jump to the conclusion that the current dramatic hikes in insurance premiums will add a major burden. He says in one business the premium went from $12,000 to $36,000 but was then "negotiated back" to $27,000.
"Reliable builders will pay less," says Mr Smyth.
Nevertheless, some will argue that prudent buyers, as they do now, can continue to protect themselves by negotiating construction phases, and pay for each of them only once they have been completed properly.


The Commonwealth has given financial backing for an after-hours GP clinic for Alice Springs, but a hike in insurance costs, particularly to cover "vicarious liability", is delaying progress.
In lay terms, "vicarious liability" means that claims against the after-hours clinic could also extend to the daytime medical practices that contribute staff to its roster.
The model approved by the Commonwealth and developed by the Central Australian Division of Primary Health Care involves the principals of the three private medical practices in town forming a separate company to operate the after-hours clinic.
It would be staffed by a roster of their doctors, offering fee-for-service emergency GP care.
"It needs to be a viable business," says project officer for the division, Jane Tishler, "but it's not going to make huge profits.
"It's basically being offered as a service to consumers and we didn't budget for the huge amount that's now needed to cover this Ôvicarious liability'."Ms Tishler says there are on-going discussions between the Commonwealth, the Territory Government and the division about how to overcome the problem.
From her inquiries she understands that some after-hours clinics in other centres around Australia are taking the risk not to insure against vicarious liability, but she says all parties in Alice want a solution which offers "some sort of security".
Meanwhile, negotiations with the Alice Springs Hospital, to refurbish a building in their grounds to house the clinic, are also under way.

Suburban nightmare. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
This is the story of a driveway that went missing.
I think we can all agree that drives are critical to a healthy life. They enable you collect your mail. You stand on them when you talk to the neighbours, assuming that you ever do.
And they provide a means by which you can stagger home after another day pounding the keyboard or talking to clients about ideas that require development through further pounding of the keyboard.
In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, the drive is the ultimate suburban essential. Without one, you probably don't even live in the suburbs and how shocking is that?
So imagine my feelings when somebody stole mine. Yes, they stole my drive. It was a Saturday morning. I woke up.
The rain in the Alice had stopped. I peered outside. The whole surface of my drive was missing. I paced around for a while but I couldn't see it. Worse still, I couldn't bring myself to curse or kick a hard object because it was too bizarre. I mean, who would have a use for second hand cracker dust?
I went inside and turned over the problem in my head, so distracted that I poured fruit juice on to my cornflakes. Why do these cereals have such stupid names anyway? I mean, CoCo Pops are really chocolate pops, aren't they? Adding some fruit juice to them must have multiplied their nutritional value by several times. And Nutrigrain cannot seriously be for iron men. If that's the case, why am I not iron?
After the amount that I have eaten since entering the country, I should be the Centralian equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger, rather than a superannuated John Cleese.But that's beside the point. Someone had entered my property, paid for by BankSA (I mean the property was paid for by them, not the intruder) and subject to a mortgage stretching light years into the future. Then he or she had dug long trenches about six inches deep and carried away the debris.
I examined the scene of the crime more closely. It seemed like they had hosed down the area afterwards because I could see the grooves made by the water.
Obviously, they were trying to cover up any forensic evidence. But why use a hose in the middle of a rainstorm?
The mystery deepened. I became confused. I considered calling in the authorities, but a friend of mine pours scorn on anyone who summons the police for a problem that they could solve themselves. He reckons it contributes to globalisation, or something. So I decided to sort it out for myself. Except, try as I might, I couldn't sort it out.
That night I slept badly. If a drive is the ultimate suburban dream, then the loss of one brings tormented nightmares. What would happen if all my neighbours turned up for a barbie? What would they think of a person who cannot get his cracker dust together?
If my home was selected for a TV auction show and a crowd of earnest people stood behind the picket, fence pricing every garden gnome and grain of rock mulch, what would happen to the value of the house?
What would I walk on when collecting my mail? What would I sweep every weekend? My life would be totally empty.
The next day, I paced up and down the street admiring the drives of more fortunate people. Then something remarkable happened.
I turned the corner and there it was. The debris of my drive in a neat pile about fifty metres down the street. It had been washed there by the storm water. The desert rain had been the thief.
So this was a crime that was eventually solved. But the story illustrates an even bigger crime. Which is how pathetic and self-absorbed suburban life can be.

Feeling faint from furious fast food fantasies. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.

The day after Terry and Alison's huge birthday bash out at the Turf Club a couple of weeks ago, at which dozens of interstate well wishers joined local revellers, I was feeling rather ordinary.
So David cooked up a wonderfully greasy breakfast, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, fried bread, our first fry-up for months!We felt a bit guilty after we'd eaten, but managed to get over it.
In this age of convenience there's no real need for anyone to ever have to cook again.
The head of the household simply needs to ensure that the weekly budget is set to cover the cost of school lunches from the local tuckshop or corner store, and the evening meals, pizzas, hot-dogs, burgers, fried chicken, fish and chips and whatever other fast foods take the fancy.
Immediately after consumption of these time-saving meals, or, during, if so desired, simply suggest a few hours of family relaxation, preferably in front of a screen, computer or television.
That way there's no need to communicate at all É it allows Mummy and Daddy a chance to enjoy quality time together without actually having to entertain the kids. In fact, they'll be so busy glued to respective screens, they probably won't even realise that anyone else is there.Lately there has been much media coverage devoted to the subject of child obesity.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been poured into hosting conferences to "tackle the problem".
It doesn't need a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist to conclude why today's children are often somewhat over-weight Ð sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and consumption of the wrong foods would certainly be contributing factors.
In America, according to a Fox News release, "Lawyers See Fat Pay-Offs in Junk Food Lawsuits," it's quite appropriate for an obese person to sue the Fast Food Chain , perhaps whilst intoning a mantra such as "Banish that burger, put down that pizza, give chips the chopÉ"
The article suggested that the community as a whole must address the matter of obesity, and that if a class action was successful it could result in the removal of certain foods from shop shelves and the closing down of said problem takeaway shop.
Once again "the system" will allow people to shirk responsibility for their own actions, to shift the blame to others.
To totally confuse dietary issues, the front cover of one of last year's Weekend Australian magazines showed a happy smiley face consisting of two fried eggs for the eyes, a fried tomato nose and a BIG smile made up by cleverly placed rashers of bacon. It was "Eat fat and be happy", the new eating revolution.
The report was titled "Praise the Lard".
It now seems that many scientists and nutritionists are suggesting that foods relatively rich in some fats are good for us, that we do need to chew the fat every so often.
But the article reiterated that the most sensible way to burn off those excess calories is through exercise.
It was noted that despite all the advertising of "low fat", "no fat", "lite" products on supermarket shelves, Australians, especially young ones, are still battling obesity.In a town like Alice Springs every sport is catered for (apart from snow and water ones, although intrepid motor boat enthusiasts and skiers have been seen on occasions on instant lakes around southern places like Erldunda!).
Our facilities are first class and we don't have to commute great distances or book a court or game months in advance.
There is no excuse not to join a club and play a preferred sport.
In this ever-changing world of dietary solutions we're probably better off eating our words Ð a lot less fattening than fad diets or fast foods.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Skating sensationalised?

Sir,- I usually look forward to receiving your newspaper every Wednesday because it provides a second, usually different and unembellished insight to the news here in Alice Springs.
For example, I was pleased that your newspaper had the courage to publish Ann Cloke's unpopular opinion regarding the degradation Alice Springs is experiencing on a daily basis. Your newspaper has also allowed the voices of those on the fringe to have their say. In a free, democratic society, this is one of our true privileges.However, I see no point in including the Catholic Church's decision to prohibit skateboarders and bicyclists on their private property in an article that focused on a confrontation between skateboarding youths and police officers.
The article was less than clear about the property being held privately, thus subject to much different circumstances than public property such as the town council owned skate park. It implied that the church property was public, which it is not.
The photo caption was also inflammatory and sensationalist.I also take issue with the fact that your newspaper appears to be more than sympathetic toward the skateboarding youths who were in violation of the town council by-laws.
The police, according to your article, were carrying out their duties by directing the youths to the area allocated to them and built specifically for them and their chosen pastime.
As with any other citizens who choose to disregard the lawful directions of our law enforcement officers, the youths were penalized by having their skateboards confiscated. The article implies that this was excessive punishment by the police towards the youths. I disagree, wholeheartedly.
Too many excuses and chances have been given to youths who skateboard in unsafe and improper areas. I have seen skateboarders removed from parking lots, the church verandah, the Todd Mall and the retaining wall at the building directly across Parsons Street from the Police Station. By now, I would think that these youths would have gotten the notion that they are not allowed or desired in areas not designed for them. They should expect some kind of reprimand for disregarding our laws.The article illuminates that both the newspapers in Alice like to sensationalize the news if it will sell more papers. Since the article did not state who authored it, your readers can only guess at who made such a "mountain out of a molehill."
I will receive your newspaper with a bit more skepticism, the kind I reserved for the other paper.
Mary C. Keefe
Alice Springs
[ED Ð The Alice News is grateful to the writer for contributing to the debate about skate boarding. Managing Editor Erwin Chlanda accepts responsibility for all material appearing in the newspaper, including stories not carrying a by-line. All parties were granted comprehensive right of reply to the issues raised, and their responses were fairly reported.]


The Darwin railway, now on our doorstep, Pine Gap and the gold mines in the Tanami are the main drivers of the Alice economy.
Neil Ross, head of the Chamber of Commerce which is sponsoring Expo 3003, says in addition, the pastoralists "can't do anything wrong at the moment".
"With the recent rains confidence is back."
Mr Ross says tourism is still flat in the wake of Nine Eleven but he expects the advent of Virgin Airlines Ð "hopefully" flying to The Alice from late this year Ð would have a major impact.
Mr Ross says unlike the industries subject to boom and bust cycles, servicing outback communities has become a reliable source of income for the town.
This has become the "most stable" element within the local economy.
For example, at the moment Power and Water is expanding its infrastructure in several remote communities.
However, the ongoing shortage of housing land is putting a dampener on the town.
Mr Ross says the economy of Alice Springs has learned to deal with lean times better that Darwin which suffered when the boom in the 1990s, fuelled by the defence build-up, came to an end.
The Expo, started with "humble beginnings" about 10 years, is now the chamber's showcase event, held for the first time in the Convention Centre.
Vicki Spence, Expo coordinator, says there will be more than 60 exhibitors on 86 sites, "far more than we've ever had before".
"The new venue has created a lot of interest."
And it won't all be serious business: four fashion parades (Friday 11am Ð for the trade Ð and 5pm, Saturday 11am and 1pm) will brighten up the days.
The event has free admission and will be opened officially at 1.30pm on Friday by Chief Minister Clare Martin.


Ben Cornell was the toast of Pioneer Park on Saturday night after returning to scale successful on three of the five winners on the card.
Engaged by the Terry Gillett stable, Cornell celebrated on Mr Cardin; Barrow; and Eminency.
The 1400 metre Absolute Steel Class Five Handicap saw Ilkara prove that he has potential with an all the way win. Starting equal favourite ($2.25) Ilkara, from the Kevin Lamprecht stable, proved too strong in the running, staving off Ayr Rider by half a length, with Maison Buste making for an exciting finish between second and third, a short neck being the margin.
In the second Cornell gave Mr Cardin the run of the race over the 1400 metre Schweppes Class One Handicap. Sarason's Girl led early and favourite Palazzo kept her honest out in front.
Meanwhile Mr Cardin was held back patiently allowing those upfront to expend energy. On the turn Cornell peeled Mr Cardin out and into the action, and as they came down the straight he made every post a winner. Mr Cardin cruised to the line a winner by three and a quarter lengths, and paying $3. Palazzo ($1.80) hung on for second by a length from the tiring outsider, Sarason's Girl.
In the Australian Liquor Marketers Maiden over 1200 metres, Pierrot wasted no time in the running, bounding to the lead. Meanwhile Michael Cullen nursed the eventual winner Revoque Star mid field early.
One hundred metres out Revoque Star (favourite at $2.50) knuckled down to the job and gained the upper hand over Pierrot, to win running away by half a length. Pierrot held on to second money by a length and a half, with Prismatic Reef filling the placings.Barrow who has played second fiddle to stable mate Nappa in recent weeks, showed his potential in the Yalumba Class Three over 1100 metres.
Awesome Vento showed cheek early making the pace and Navigator joined in the charge. Barrow took the sit in third place, making his run on the turn, coming into the straight three wide.
At the 200 Barrow claimed the lead, and extended his lead to two lengths at the line. It was Cornell's second result for the day, as Navigator ($3.40 equal favourite) battled on to hold second place from the running on Arch Henry ($5) by a short neck.
In the last, the Castlemaine Perkins Open over 1000 metres, the Cornell treble was completed. Eminency and By Joe took each other on at the front of the field with the $2.20 favourite Eminency proving too strong in the run home.
By Joe faded to finish well back, while the old favourite Scamandro was able to come along the rail to claim second place over Binoculars.
Eminency claimed victory by two and a half lengths while two lengths separated second and third.
This weekend racing moves to Tennant Creek where a five event card will give the punters of the Barkly a chance to punt on course.
The St Patrick's Day meeting, a long time favourite which has been in troubled waters in recent years, will benefit from a large contingent of Alice Springs horses.
No doubt Kevin Lamprecht, a favourite son of Tennant Creek people, will be well supported.


The dream for all triathletes is to compete at the Australian Iron Man Championships in Forster, NSW.
The ultimate is to progress from this test to be there at the infamous Hawaiian Iron Man event.
Here in Alice Springs a small group of triathletes have dedicated themselves in recent years to this pursuit, and this year they have a secret weapon which may well see them bound for the big one in Hawaii.
Their secret weapon is Peter Gwynne. Gwynne has come to town with the YMCA and in settling here has had an immediate impact on aspiring triathletes and Iron Men.
On Sunday morning this mentor had his chance to show Alice Springs how to do it. The Alice Ultra Tri was a perfect launching pad for the fellow who has done Hawaii more than once.
In a stunning performance he swam 1750 metres, then rode 60 km and finished the morning off with a 15 km run.
Following him home (seemingly miles away) were Dean Nankivell, Damien McGrath and Tim Pearson. For the place-gettters, to have competed with Gwynne would have been a privilege, and for those on the sideline it would have been just as inspirational.
Two spectators, and Forster aspirants, Tavis Johannsen and Craig Kazim, will no doubt up their training and race performances, spurred on by the inspirational Gwynne effort.In the ladies' division, Lois Sharp and Sally Lucich completed the testing triathlon.

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.