SARS BIGGEST TOURISM DISASTER EVER: OPERATOR. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
SARS has rocked the most successful Central Australian owned tourism business, VIP - a stark warning for operators, including the Ayers Rock Resort, heavily dependent on big spenders from overseas.
In just a few weeks Ren and Joy Kelly's Ayers Rock based VIP Tours dropped in value from an estimated $10m to $3m.
"Parts" of the company were bought recently by Australian Pacific Touring (APT) but VIP's Alice Springs and Darwin operations have been scaled down, says Mr Kelly (pictured at right), to meet the demand which is about 30 per cent lower than last year.
He says the owner of APT, Geoff McGeary, has kept VIP alive and the financial stability of the large organisation "will ensure that VIP will be able to meet and survive the challenges of tourist industry".
The firm, which had weathered storms including September 11, the Ansett collapse (including massive losses as the airline's Ayers Rock agent) and the War on Iraq, at the peak of its operations employed more than 100 people and conducted luxury tours with vehicles worth $6m.
VIP's annual turnover was $8m.
But the insidious respiratory disease, leading to massive reduction in arrivals from all parts of the world, broke VIP's back, says Mr Kelly.
He was a tourism pioneer at The Rock, giving up his job as manager of Radio 8HA in Alice Springs and buying the Red Sands Motel (pictured below) at Ayers Rock in 1975.
The Kellys built up the Red Sands, an outback style conglomeration of corrugated iron buildings and dongas, from 40 to 99 rooms, and welcomed the first overseas visitors to The Rock.
"I can actually remember the first Japanese visitor we had, in about 1978," says Mr Kelly.
"I know that sounds funny, because of course since then there have been millions of visitors to The Rock. We were the first motel at Ayers Rock that was open all year round.
"Before that it was seasonal.
"You'd open for the tourist season and then everything would close.
"It was basically a domestic product."
Before the advent of Yulara the tourism complex was at the base of The Rock, consisting of four motels similar in style to the Red Sands, including the Chalet, Inland - scene of the notorious Mack Truck murders - and the Uluru, all owned by a succession of Central Australian identities.
"It's been a hard struggle.
"Joy and I worked hard for 28 years, and it's quite disappointing when you think you've come to a point where you can expand and start to do other things, that an event such as SARS pulls a life's work apart.
"I know that Joy is terribly, terribly upset, and I guess I am too."
Late last year Mr Kelly negotiated - through a firm of accountants - with potential partners to further expand the operation.
But then came SARS: "The people who were interested in it walked away.
"We had people like merchant bankers interested in coming into the company with equity."
Ultimately the accountants appointed to lead the company to greater heights became the administrators of the firm.
Not only was expansion out of the question, there was no hope of continuing at the company's current level of activities.
"Like most businesses which are geared to look after the international market we were bleeding.
"And we were bleeding badly."
More than 90 per cent of VIP's clients were international visitors.
"We were badly burned by September 11 and the Ansett collapse.
"Our cash reserves prior to September 11 were substantial.
"September 11 and the Ansett demise cost us that cash reserve.
"Ansett owed us a lot of money because we were their agents and managers at Ayers Rock Resort.
"We'll never see that money because there is nothing left in the Ansett bucket.
"We had just completed a training review for all our staff to meet the new standards for the international and domestic airlines, which cost us a lot of money.
"We got hit on three fronts with Ansett.
"The fourth hit was that the employees dealing with Ansett, their wages and entitlements, were not covered by Ansett because they were employees of our company.
"We believed the administrators of Ansett saying that things were going to come back.
"So we integrated those employees to hold on to that expertise, in the expectation that there would be, in the near future, a resumption of Ansett services.
"That never occurred. We carried those wages for about six months."
It wasn't the first bad experience with airlines for VIP: The first was the 1988 pilots' dispute when Ayers Rock was without flights for more than 100 days.
But the current crisis is far more severe, says Mr Kelly.
"The pilots strike affected Australia only. People were still coming in from overseas, visiting the East Coast.
"The international market hadn't changed."
So while the pilots' dispute was certain to come to an end, sooner or later, the current crisis is "far less predictable.
"It is the most concerning disaster that's ever affected our tourist industry."
And the government is sitting on its hands, says Mr Kelly.
Canada, which even has SARS within its borders, is spending 100 million Canadian dollars to re-invigorate its tourist industry.
"The Australian government, and the state governments are just watching the industry crumble.
"The industry is frustrated that we haven't got any direction, not the funds to go out and do the job.
"Joe Hockey's White Paper and Green Paper might just as well be Sorbent Paper.
"It does absolutely nothing for the industry."
(Federal Tourism Minister Hockey last week announced a $20 million international marketing initiative, which the Australian Tourism Export Council claims is "a major boost for the tourism industry". Mr Hockey says the government will be spending a further $45m over the next four years.)
VIP soared to unprecedented success on the back of Mr Kelly's do-it-yourself promotions in Europe and Japan.
He says after the pilots strike "we didn't have the wherewithal to meet the challenges of the competitors in the domestic market, so we put our energies into the international market.
"We started with Japan, which was slow to grow.
"We had an innovative idea about how to package - with a guide and a fixed price, and as that developed we moved into the European markets.
"You should always aim for the highest standard you can achieve, and a higher standard than your passengers expect.
"You always have to have the product first.
"You can't say ÎI'm going to do this' because there is a lead time of about two years.
"You've got to have the vehicles, the guides, the tours planned before you go to the market.
"You go to the market in 2003 and you're selling a product for 2005.
"You've got to keep that product alive, the staff, and carry the infrastructure for that two year interim period.
"A major wholesale in Italy, Gastaldi Tours, still a client of the company, started off with one VIP product, back in 1989.
"They had had lots and lots of problems two or three years previously with other operators.
"Twelve months later the same Gastaldi manager came to me and said, Ren, this is the first year that we have not had to refund money.
"We're really pleased with what you've done.
"We'll now put that product in our catalogue, plus any other suggestions you may have.
"And that developed every year," says Mr Kelly. "Now they're saying to us, what product would you like us to put in our catalogue?
"And we're talking about 70 page catalogues that cost millions of dollars to produce, and they print thousands, aimed at the middle to the top end of the market."
The Kellys' touring business started in 1984 "with private cars and guides, for the top end of the market.
"And then we broadened that out, with the same standards, to a small group quality product.
"We successfully targeted an affluent international market."
How did he get it?
"Knock on the door. Shoe leather. It's as simple as that.
"We used the Austrade Export Market Development Grant, but it's real hard work.
"It's shoe leather on the ground.
"A lot of operators expect tourists just to arrive on their doorstep and say, here I am and here is my chequebook.
"You've got to sell the destination first and then the product.
"And then you've got to make sure that what you deliver is exactly what you promised."
Australia does not have problems with terrorism on its soil.
"It's a safe destination," says Mr Kelly.
"But Australia is a long haul and normally a once in a lifetime tour.
"It will probably take us five years to get back to where we were.
"But the top and the bottom end of the market may rebound quicker than the middle."
This is Mr Kelly's view after attending the Australian Tourism Exchange in Melbourne last week where international buyers "optimistically reported a better than anticipated response to their own campaigns".
It's the big spenders the Kellys were so successful in attracting.
Mr Kelly says they travel business class on international flights, and spend a couple of nights in Sydney.
"Part of their Australian experience would be the outback, and they may come to Alice Springs and Ayers Rock.
"They would stay in a four and a half to five star hotel, not a suite, usually, but in a room.
"They would dine at a number of restaurants, probably not in the hotels.
"They would see what food is on offer elsewhere, look for a good meal, a good bottle of Australian wine.
"They would normally look to private touring or a small group touring program.
"They probably spend the best part of $1500 to $2000 a day."
A terrorist attack on Australian soil would "put us further behind the eightball" but many of our overseas visitors come from places not new to terrorism, says Mr Kelly.
"The Basque separatists in Spain have been bombing and murdering for years."
Americans, however, could well be frightened off even more by any terrorist activities in Australia.
CLP ROW: THREE QUIT. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Three key members of the CLP in Alice Springs have resigned from the party's management committee in the row over the leadership of the Opposition by Denis Burke.
Vice president Michael Jones, treasurer Andrew Maloney and Brian Marlor joined three Top End members in quitting the committee, which has 10 elected mebers, on Monday night.
This follows the parliamentary wiang's refusal to dump Mr Burke who has the support of Central Australian MLAs Richard Lim and Jodeen Carney, but not John Elferink, who resigned from his front bench positions last week.
Mr Maloney, speaking in his own right, says while the party should allow the politicians to elect their own leader, "all we can ever hope for is that enough pressure is brought to bear that they listen to what the party is saying".
Mr Maloney says there are no threats of disendorsements, but at the same time the Alice CLP will not allow the party's Central Council to overturn a locally made preselection decision as they did prior to the last election.
"The new preselec-tion process in place will not allow that to happen," says Mr. Maloney.
"Darwin won't be allowed to override our preselection ever again."
He says he resigned because he did not support the outcome of Monday's meeting.
"It's a sad day," says Mr Maloney.
NO REQUIREMENT TO PUBLISH FINANCIAL REPORTS: CONGRESS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
"There is no requirement for Congress to publish any financial information in its annual report.
"Congress' financial accountability is to the Aboriginal community, through its AGM, where all financial reports are tabled, and its funding bodies, which also received fully externally audited financial reports," says a statement by the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress in reply to a report in the Alice Springs News headed "Black health organisation ripping off taxpayer" (June 4).
"A fundamental principle of Aboriginal community control and self-determination is that it is to the Aboriginal community that Congress (and any other Aboriginal organisation) is primarily accountable.
"How Congress expends any other non-tied monies is the responsibility of the duly elected cabinet in accordance with the organisation's aims and objects.
"This precludes non-Aboriginal organisations from telling an Aboriginal organisation how to run its affairs."
The Alice News report, using information published by Congress on the internet, calculated the average cost to the taxpayer of each consultation by a Congress medical staff - including health workers and nurses - at $223.
The News had asked for information and comment before publishing its report but none was provided.
Says Congress: "The statistical errors created by the simplistic representation of what a comprehensive primary health care service provides, reflects an inability to understand complex issues that face the regional Aboriginal community and that Congress' many and varied services attempt to address.
"Simply dividing the total of patient encounters into the total income figures and claiming this as the per consultation dollar amount for the Congress medical clinic illustrates this.
"Obviously compared with a private general practice clinic there are many other services and costs borne by Congress, which is much more than a medical clinic.
"Such additional services include transport services, pharmacy services, children's services and under twos program, frail aged and disabled program, specialist clinics, male health program, hearing program, women's health and birthing services (Alukera), a childcare centre, the social and emotional service's activities, Aboriginal Health Worker training, and policy and advocacy work.
"All of these services, as well as the considerable infrastructure costs of running such a large organisation, make up the total funding figure of around $7m."
The News will request from Congress detailed information about the results of these initiatives, given that the organisation has been a recipient of public funding for 30 years.
"For non-Aboriginal people these programs and services are provided not by a general practice, but by a whole range of other government and non-government service providers.
"A proper comparison could have been made against the new Commonwealth benchmark figure for Aboriginal comprehensive primary health care services in remote areas under the Primary Health Care Access Program.
"The Central Australian benchmark is a funding level of about $2000 per person per year and Congress is currently receiving just over $700 per person per year in total funding.
"The national average for primary medical care expenditure for all citizens is now $390 per person per year.
"Given the increased level of sickness in the Aboriginal community, no-one could reasonably argue that Congress is anything other than seriously under-funded for the services and programs it is trying to deliver.
"In fact, total health expenditure for Aboriginal people is only marginally higher than for non-Aboriginal people and primary health care expenditure is in fact lower.
"The assertion that the information is from the most recently available annual report is incorrect.
"The information cited is from the 2001 Annual report, when the 2002 Annual Report has been publicly available since February this year, where it was tabled at the organisation's AGM."
The News takes this as an invitation to the Congress AGMs, which it will be attending from now on.
"Finally, although there has been an attempt to understand the number of consultations provided by doctors and Aboriginal health workers (AHWs), this analysis has failed to recognise that doctors were also involved in a considerable proportion of the AHW consultations, again making the published assertions incorrect."
The News based its calculation on the published figures for consultations by personnel including AHWs, nurses and doctors.
"The analysis completely fails to recognise the role and value of AHWs to an organisation such as Congress - they are not meant to be doctors or substitutes for doctors and therefore the comparison being asserted is false."
ROTARIAN GETS A TOP HONOUR. Report by DOROTHY GRIMM.
Service above self is the motto of Rotary International and one that Alice man Neil Ross has followed.
Mr Ross was honoured by the Rotary Club of Alice Springs last week, as a Paul Harris Fellow.
This is an international award, commemorating the man who founded Rotary in 1905, Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney.
In describing Mr Ross' contribution, Keith Pearson, also a Paul Harris Fellow, said "Neil has been involved in Rotary totally". "Neil was born in Alice Springs," Mr Pearson told the club gathering.
"His father, Ron Ross, was a member of this club for 23 years (1966-1989) and as a young man Neil was active in the Rotaract Club of Alice Springs."
Rotaract is for young adults aged 17-25 years which aims to stimulate high ethical standards in all occupations, to develop leadership and responsible citizenship through service, and to promote international understanding and peace.
Alice Springs had an active Rotaract Club from 1976-1996."It was at Rotaract that Neil met his wife Julie," Keith continued."They left Rotaract when they got too old.
"In 1995 Neil joined the Rotary Club of Alice Springs and became very involved in all Rotary projects. "During Neil's year as club president (1999-2000) the club was involved in a number of projects including fundraising to enable the marking of hotelier Ly Underdown's grave at the Old Town Cemetery and cooking barbecues for numerous events, including one for the Olympic Torch.
"Also during [that year], 22 computers from the ANZ Bank were sent to Adelaide at no cost and later sent on for use in a developing country, and $1000 was donated to assist in the building of a roof for a preschool in Papua New Guinea.
"And club history was made when its first woman member, Glenys Aird, was inducted into active membership on May 12, 2000. "Neil has been active in Henley-on-Todd, the Bangtail Muster, helped the club's international exchange students, and done a fantastic job in advancing international understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service."
In accepting the honour, Mr Ross said he was "stuck for words".
"I love what we do in Rotary," he said.
"You don't join Rotary looking for honours; you join out of love for what Rotary does for others. "I only hope that my small contributions have in some small way helped someone somewhere. "To receive recognition from the club is a bonus."
By April 1996 the number of Paul Harris Fellows throughout the world exceeded 500,000 including the Pope, Michail Gorbachev, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Mother Teresa.
In Australia more than 16,000 people have been named Paul Harris Fellows.
In its 43-year history the Rotary Club of Alice Springs has only named 20 Paul Harris Fellows.
NEW HERITAGE GROUP POPULAR. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Over 70 people have joined the preservation association, Heritage Alice Springs Inc, since its inaugural AGM two weeks ago. They include people from interstate, Darwin and other parts of the Territory, and a number of life memberships have been taken.
"We see that as great support," says Domenico Pecorari, one of the instigators of the group and elected its president.
"There is no going back now."
Office bearers include photographer Barry Allwright, Bev Ayers (former National Trust branch secretary for seven years) and Pauline Cockrill (curator of the Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame).
Mr Pecorari expects membership to stabilise at the 120 mark, "a good base" for applying for grants, fund-raising and organising heritage activities.
The first of these is scheduled for July 19 (1.30pm), when there'll be a tour of the Pitchi Ritchi Sanctuary, conducted by Elsa Corbett, wife of its founder Leo Corbet.
It will be a rare opportunity to see the sanctuary's chief feature, the sculptures of William Ricketts, and to hear about its history.
Established in 1955, originally as a bird sanctuary, it was Alice Springs' first man-made tourist attraction. It has been closed to the public in recent years.
"This will be a main focus of our group, getting out there and involved in our town's heritage, not discussing it at armchair level," says Mr Pecorari.
Numbers on the tour, which will include billy tea in the gardens, will be limited to around 25, so booking are essential. The tour will be run again in the future to meet the expected demand, both from members and non-members.
For membership, bookings and info, ring Mr Pecorari on 8952 5420 (BH).
LETTER: Grog trial report fair.
Sir,- As the person responsible for oversighting the evaluation of the recent liquor trial, I must respond to your article on June 11 which presents a commentary by Professor Dennis Gray. It contains a number of misrepresentations and concerns. It is unfortunate that in making an assessment of the evaluation, Prof Gray did not bother to speak with key people beforehand. Had he done so, his comments might have been better informed and more appropriate. Prof Gray seems to be under the misconception that those charged with evaluating the trial were also responsible for managing the strategies put in place. The evaluation process was to determine what resulted from the trial - not to make the trial work one way or the other. These two functions are quite different.
The conditions of the trial were determined by the Licensing Commission, and while its decision indicated a willingness to change how the evaluation was conducted, this does not equate to giving the evaluation team and the ERG authority to change the actual trial.
The Licensing Commission, along with a range of other key organisations, was certainly presented with regular information about how the trial was progressing and it was left to them to alter the strategies. The evaluation would then have been modified to accommodate such changes and it is in that context that Terms of Reference for the evaluation would have been changed if necessary.
It is offensive to be told by Prof Gray that the ERG and the evaluation team "stood by and did nothing". His indictment is misdirected.
There are many organisations that could have taken further steps but did not. Admittedly some of those were part of the ERG, but they could have approached authorities or introduced initiatives within their own right. I do not believe anyone involved in the evaluation process was unsympathetic to the situation. To portray them in such a callous light is unfair and unfounded, given the specific role they were given in the trial.
Prof Gray dismisses the notion of a targeted ban on Port in conjunction with a focused campaign and a continued ban on containers larger than two litres as "a waste of time". He does not actually say why this would be the case. This proposal was based on the identification of a specific problem, constant feedback from the community that it was the Port that needed to be addressed, and a number of other sensitivities mentioned in the report.
The only solution mentioned by Prof Gray is more extensive limits on the kind of alcohol available. While this may be an option, it is unclear how the proposed price control mechanism would work and no evidence has been produced that "making beer the cheapest form of alcohol" will have the desired effects. To completely dismiss one option in preference to another which is yet to have demonstrated effects is presumptive and raises questions of why a more complicated approach would be taken ahead of a simpler one in the first instance.
The report referred to by Prof Gray was titled "summary" because it pulled together information from several more detailed sources. One of those other sources deals with the harm indicators and includes various statistical analyses. That report is available on the website.
It presents more comprehensive and technical information. As this would not be of interest to large sections of the community, the summary report was compiled to present the major elements of the evaluation in a more "user friendly" way.
While accepting that greater attention may have been given to statistical significance in the summary report, some of the interpretations made by Prof Gray about the data are incorrect. The areas highlighted in the article make little difference to the conclusions drawn.
A major error is Prof's Gray claim that sales of alcohol dropped during the trial. They in fact were higher. The major report examines the figures back to 1995 and found no significant difference. This is why the summary report concludes, "virtually no change was found in the amount of alcohol sold".
Prof Gray also criticises the analysis of sales figures for not matching it to the number of consumers. This was recognised during development of the evaluation framework. Due to major problems in obtaining reasonable and timely estimates of the number of residents and visitors to town, this was not considered feasible. It was agreed by the ERG that wholesale sales would be the accepted proxy measure.
If Prof Gray has some techniques by which reliable per capita consumption can be calculated within the necessary timeframes, then I would hope he would share them for the benefit of all.
It was good that he was able to apply his expertise to the evaluation, but essentially the matters raised by Prof Gray make no material difference to the overall conclusions of the evaluation.
The community of Alice Springs should be confident that the reported results of the trial are a fair reflection of the various data that were available.
Dr Ian Crundall
Plenty of room to swing a cat. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
It is said that the grass is always greener on the other side. So I went across my street to take a look.
Actually, the grass needs several tanker loads of water every year to keep it remotely green. Like make-up spread thinly, you know that just underneath is the dry earth anyway. So why bother in the first place? I was brought up on the kinds of phrases that are designed to instil feelings of guilt in self-centred children. Refusing to eat liver and onions at a time when the famine in Biafra was leading the news (after Cyclone Tracey), I was asked by my parents to imagine what a hungry African child might think of me.
"Count your blessings," they said. The situation in Africa was a horrifying thought, I can tell you. But not terrible enough to make that liver slide down. In this way, they saddled me with a tendency for guilt and a vegetarian habit that persists to this day. Maybe you have had similar experiences.
With the passing of time and the mellowing of the mind, expressions like "count your blessings" and "it's just a phase you're going through" become quite reasonable things to say. So now I use them all the time against my own children. As sure as dog owners end up looking like their dogs so we, who used to rebel against our parents, end up sounding like them.
But the problem with the phrases that people bring with them to other places is that they rarely fit. For a saying to have real meaning, the context has to be the right one. For example, I have a big nose.
When I say "it's no skin off my nose", there is an immediate context that gives the expression more meaning.
Taking the point a stage further, it may be true that the grass is greener, but what a stupid expression to use in the middle of the desert. Surely there must be a more location-specific alternative that we can use in Central Australia.
I have tried but nothing quite cuts the mustard (excuse the inappropriate agricultural saying).
In fact, there are quite a few sayings that work in one place but sound absurd in Alice Springs. Take "there's not enough room to swing a cat".
But there is enough room and lots of cats to swing as well, if only we could catch them. Or the one about it being "as busy as Bourke Street in the rush hour". Actually, it's not busy.
That's why I moved here. "You look like a stunned mullet" can have little impact on people who are several hundred kilometres from the sea.
How can someone say "no sweat" when we sweat all the time? Alice Springs needs more of its own sayings and fewer imported ones. For example, "Off like a bucket of prawns in the hot sun" refers to the length of time that most visitors spend here.
My favourite is "You must have kangaroos loose in the top paddock".
Wouldn't it be great to dedicate your life to introducing new and cool phrases to the language until they are so well accepted and normal that they don't feature in humorous collections of Australian sayings.
Like almost everything else in the Centre, sayings were made up somewhere else and then imported.
Worse still, we happily appropriate other nation's slang terms as our own.
Take hang out, booze, zit, catch some rays, night school, slammer, cool, hip, nerd, spooked, bonkers, screw up and the rest. It is little wonder that the French go to such lengths to protect their language from the onslaught of American English.
Apparently, "Anyhow mate!" is a saying someone uses to change the subject when they are bored with what you are saying. See you next week.
What you see is what you get. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.
Lavanya, like Miriam my middle step-daughter, was born in southern Africa.
She now lives in England and has joined us for eight days after four months on the road: an interlude in India, two months touring New Zealand via the Magic Bus, getting on and off where she pleased, a few days in Northern Queensland, 10 days around Tasmania, time with Mim in Sydney exploring the Blue Mountains, Beta and beyond, arriving in the Red Centre last week.
I meant to get up extra early on Saturday morning because Lavanya's pick-up time was 5am. It's really dark at that time of the morning, and extremely cold, although some say that the minutes prior to sun-rise are actually even colder, so I stayed in bed. By the time I did get up, the day had begun, another clear blue sunny one, and Lavanya was probably down around Rainbow Valley somewhere. Hopefully there was a stopover at Jim's Place, Stuart's Well, for hot toddies and nibbles, the last sign of running water for a while and maybe Dinky, the resident dingo, crooned a special early song for them all.
Lavanya has headed out on a three day camping trip to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon via Rainbow Valley and other beautiful places. Last year I booked quite a few visitors, at different times, on local tours with the same company. They each loved the experience and the countryside. Libby especially, a city girl and dear friend, who'd never been camping before and opted for the five day outdoor experience. Even now, a year on, she still talks about the magic of our crisp star-filled nights, as she woke regularly each night to realise that she needed to get out of her beautifully warm swag to cross to the bush ablution block.
"No, of course you won't be too cold," David and I enthused on Friday as we helped Lavanya sort out a few extras - just in case. A beanie and gloves borrowed from Lori's daughter, Lia; a couple of extra jumpers (not kangaroos); a fleecy lined sleeping bag (to go inside the fleecy lined swagSÿyou can never be too sure); extra thick socks and a big bottle of green ginger wine, a favourite warmer.
"Have you been camping?" Lavanya needed to know.
"Yes, but not for ages," we had to admitSÿeven though this is the best camping time of the year.
The day she flew in we did the usual around Alice tour, up Anzac Hill to get a prospective of the town, the Todd River, Heavitree Gap, the MacDonnells and Mt Gillen, then a loop up to the top of Range Crescent - another great viewing spot - across the golf course to our magnificent ranges. Lavanya cannot believe our clear atmosphere after London smog and fog, the huge horizon and the sunsets. One of the real bonuses about living out here in the middle of the Simpson Desert is that incredible "what you see is what you get" feeling. There are no cumbersome high rise buildings marring our landscape or blotting out the sky-space. Height restrictions imposed around the Todd Mall precinct and town in general mean we have unobstructed range views from almost everywhere. The only interruptions to a perfectly clear line of vision are the odd rocks, red, orange and brown, a pillar, pinnacle or ragged range, possibly a part of a caterpillar dreaming.
The landscape is untouched. When copywriters thought up that line, "I can see for miles and miles", they were probably inspired by our sprawling countryside.
When Lavanya gets back to Alice we'll "do" all the touristy things - wander through the mall, around Adelaide House, Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame, Panorama Guth, Royal Flying Doctors' Service, before visiting the Cultural Precinct, Olive Pink Gardens, the Date Farm and maybe head further east to Emily and Jessie Gaps, Corroboree Rock and Trephina Gorge. I love showing off our Red Centre.
Lavanya indicated that she had no intention of climbing Uluru. She decided for cultural reasons that she won't.
When I asked Mim how I would recognise Lavanya, she said, "Look for a petite, pretty Indian lass". As an African born Indian Lavanya has experienced prejudice - living in London, she continues to do so.
It has been refreshing to hear her thoughts. She has arrived here with preconceived ideas about our Indigenous people - in Cairns and around Cape Tribulation, tours were conducted by local Aborigines. Lavanya was thrilled to meet and interact with them - she talks about stolen generations, displacement, lost souls, land issues, heritage, dreamtimes and walkabouts. I wonder if those views change somewhat after she returns from her tour on Monday, and spends time around the Alice, trying to piece together the present with the past, before boarding the Ghan for Adelaide on Saturday?
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