February 11, 2004.


The Opposition says the Government should go ahead with residential subdivisions on Crown Land in Alice Springs without an agreement for compensation with Lhere Artepe, the body representing Aboriginal native title holders.
CLP spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs John Elferink says action is desperately needed to stem the haemorrhaging of population resulting from the shortage of land and its high cost.
"The interests of the town now outweigh the interests of a few individuals," says the outspoken MLA for MacDonnell, a rural seat with a predominantly Aboriginal population.
He says native title holders have had every opportunity of reaching an agreement with the Government about the 80 block development in Larapinta, where the government had claimed that land would be turned off more than a year ago.
Mr Elferink hinted last year that compulsory extinguishment of native title rights may need to be considered.
Now he says he is echoing the stance on the issue of the CLP Parliamentary Wing, that the Government should without further delay, unilaterally determine what it considers fair compensation, and pay that amount into a trust account for later distribution to native title holders at their discretion.
And if they did not agree with the settlement they could take the matter to court.
Mr Elferink says such a process would be in accordance with the Native Title Act which provides for court determined compensation in cases where no agreement can be reached for the extinguishment of native title.
"The NT Lands Minister needs merely to sign a directive acquiring the title and the acquisition is a reality," says Mr Elferink.
"It then becomes a matter of compensation which, as the NT Self Government Act requires, should be on just terms."
Such a compulsory acquisition should have taken place "at the latest when the government failed to live up to its commitment to turn off blocks by Christmas 2002, well over a year ago."And Mr Elferink claims native title holders may do much worse with compensation ordered by a court than they stand to gain from a commercial deal in currently land starved Alice Springs.
He says Lhere Artepe may be hard pressed to convince a judge that the proposed Larapinta development, at the western edge of town, would result in loss of significant traditional activities, especially given that the sacred sites are protected by other legislation.
"Native title is a right of access to enable the pursuit of traditional and cultural activities, ceremonies, hunting rights, and so on," says Mr Elferink.
"I regularly jog through that area and have seen no evidence of such activities.
"Half the freehold value of the housing blocks, which is what's on offer now, may well be a lot more than a court would grant," Mr Elferink says.
There are few precedents for the value of native title but the Darwin railway may be a guide.
Freehold rights were acquired for the 1420 km corridor, about 100 metres wide, leading through a variety of Aboriginal land, including inalienable Aboriginal freehold, or on pastoral land, likely to enjoy native title rights.
Paul Tyrrell, the Chief Executive of the Department of the Chief Minister, and the government's principal railway planner, says the cost for these rights, for 200 years, were "in the order of" $8m.
The rail corridor is about 140 square kilometres. The proposed Larapinta subdivision is 32 hectares.
At that ratio native title for the Larapinta subdivision is worth around $18,000 Ð around one-fifth of the price of a single block of land in The Alice at the moment.
In fact the value may be even less: the railway corridor includes Aboriginal freehold land Ð Larapinta does not.
The case of the native title holders may be even more precarious if it comes before a court.
Mr Elferink says the lessee of DeRose Hill, a sheep and cattle lease south of the NT border, has fought a claim in the Federal Court which found that no native title rights had survived on that land.
Mr Elferink says the evidence showed that no ceremonies or other traditional pursuits had taken place on the land in the recent past.
The claimants are appealing to the High Court.
The Government, ever since its election, has vigorously pursued the Larapinta deal which would see the native title holders getting freehold possession of half the land, and the right to develop it.
A logical next step would be to develop Mt Johns Valley, near the casino, which has the potential of at least 600 blocks. But internal strife has so far rendered Lhere Artepe incapable of coming to a decision.
The organisation has 30 members representing some 80 native title holders from the town's three major clans.
The situation is reminiscent of the system under the Land Rights Act which requires all decisions about the use of land to be made by land trusts, consisting of hundreds of people, rather than by the people with immediate traditional rights to pieces of land.
In more than a quarter of a century of land rights there has been no significant commercial development in the southern NT where Aborigines own half the land, despite ample opportunities in tourism, pastoralism and horticulture.


Murray Stewart's blidness doesn't stop him from having a vision for Alice Springs.
By running for local government in the upcoming election, he hopes to "get Alice moving", an appropriate slogan for a sprinter.
Mr Stewart currently holds the Australian record for the 60m "vision impaired" sprint. When he was 19 he was the second fastest vision impaired sprinter in the world and he's hoping to be the first vision impaired person to compete in the Masters Games.
Born in Newcastle, this self starter has his own ideas about where the town should be heading and what the Town Council should be doing to get it there.
At the top of his list is "our indigenous issue", which he says is a national disgrace. "Unless we deal with it rapidly, firmly, and with creativity, the five minutes to midnight clock [for Alice Springs] is going to dominate the agenda."
The "issue" as he talks about it covers the usual Ð poor health, low life expectancy, unemployment, substance-abuse, abuse of women and children, anti-social behaviour and so on.
Mr Stewart feels he's in the "box seat" to speak on the subject. He was taken from his parents when he was young, "because in those days that was how the government dealt with disabled people".
Originally, along with his twin brother, he was forced into a school in Sydney. Says Mr Stewart, "Our parents actually came and stole us back."
Eventually, at 13, the brothers became the first vision impaired children ever to be integrated into mainstream school in Australia.
He says they wouldn't let the taunting and bullying they experienced there defeat them.
"You get to a point in life where you've got to drive your own bus. You can't keep looking backwards. The more you look backwards on those types of things, you'll get nowhere. "Indigenous people are too busy looking backwards. They must now look forwards.
"[They should] realize that the colour of their skin is a gold mine.
"People don't come here to see you and me. They come here to see the Indigenous people.
"They've got to realise that within their skin, their culture, themselves they hold emotional and financial wealth."
To access this wealth he talks of assisting Aboriginal people become "independent" by, for instance, making Aboriginal artwork or music GST free, thus stimulating those businesses.
Conventional school should be replaced by an Academy of Sport, Art, and Music, where children would be taught "things that they are bloody good at" and would attend because they would have more fun learning.
Money for such a venture would come a redirection of funds: "There is plenty of money. We are spending literally billions of dollars on useless, politically correct, no directional programs.
"$130 million a year comes into this town from social security. Some of that could fund a school."
At the same time, council also needs to take a hard stance on "child abuse".
Says Mr Stewart, "If you haven't been molested as a 10 year old Aboriginal girl, or boy, you are dead set lucky".
Asked how he knows this, he says it is through being in touch with health professionals. (Mr Stewart is a myotherapist at the Alice Springs Therapeutic Centre.)The only reason that these abuses are allowed to continue, says Mr Stewart, is because of "political correctness gone mad".He proposes zero tolerance on petrol sniffing and suggests a curfew for kids on the streets at night.
He says that council should help set up a facility for kids which is "safe, clean, health conscious" and, most importantly, open when needed and possibly linked to his proposed academy.
More radically, he suggests a "big stick" approach on health and hygiene in certain environments, such as the hospital and schools.
Saying that the town is "swimming in a bacteria pool", he says people should not be accepted in these environments if they are in a "non-hygienic state". The infrastructure should be provided so that they have no excuse for not being hygienic.
He denies such views have anything to do with racism.
"I know what it's like to be a minority," says Mr Stewart. "I'm on their side. Being vision impaired, in school, we were picked on, bullied, you name it, because we were different, you see?"
As passionate as he is on the subject of Indigenous people, Mr Stewart has other ideas as well.
The town needs to bite the bullet on water consumption.
Water use reduction goals should be set and if they are not reached he suggests restrictions be imposed.
He also suggests creating satellite towns around Alice, instead of adding on, in order to preserve the "relaxed atmosphere, and light traffic".
Council needs to think things through: "If you go and add 7,000 people to Alice, and you don't have the industry to support that, you'll just have 7,000 unemployed people in Alice."
He wants to see Alice Springs become the "icon of tourism in Australia".
He came to Alice Springs with his wife Brigida on their honeymoon five years ago, and they fell in love Ð with the town Ð at first sight, returning to live three and a half years ago.
"I don't think that we have any appreciation for how lucky we are. How good is this? How good is the weather, how good are the people?
"We're the capital city, if you like, of the real outback. Darwin has that pretend element, but we're the real thing.
"Let us not fall for Darwin's theory of Alice Springs' evolution. We've got to make sure people stop here as well as Darwin and we've got to give them reasons."
He has already taken action to match his words. A national "Heroes Under the Sun Museum" here in Alice would celebrate the contribution of emergency service workers and volunteers. He is president of a committee driving the project, which raised five thousand dollars last year to pay an architect to do concept drawings for this "hall of fame with a difference".
The next step will be to go to the Territory and Federal governments, but if they don't come to the party, he is sure private enterprise and the Australian people will.
Mr Stewart has a lot of organisational drive.
He pioneered a Healthier Living Expo in Alice last year (they occur regularly interstate, he says), he's launched the idea of a "Dare to be Different Week", scheduled for August 1-7. The latter explains his hair colour (donated by Sylvester's) and is designed to raise awareness of depression, with the backing, he says, of national organizations Beyond Blue and Lifeline.
These are the sorts of initiatives that could help turn Alice away from "the precipice" and going towards great things instead of in "completely the other direction".
"If we build on the magnificent assets the town already has, we will kick ass.
"We should be supporting small business, supporting the townspeople who have creative ideas, and developing new ideas with creative energy."We should be on the world stage. Council is the one arm of government that can afford to be and should be 'one eyed' Alice Springs."
That his ideas are a long way from the "roads, rates and rubbish" role of town council doesn't faze Mr Stewart.
"If we haven't got the power because of the rules of government Ð what councils can and can't do Ð that's fine. Then we should be advocating for those other governments to do [what is necessary] anyway.
"I'm no shrinking violet."


The NT Government is stepping on a few toes with a training program for Indigenous builders in the bush.
John Ah Kit, the Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Indigenous Affairs, wants to combat the stultifying idleness of young Aborigines in remote communities, and equip them to earn money that isn't just welfare.
But the results of the scheme (Alice News, Nov 19, 2003) won't be known for a few years, and there is disquiet in private enterprise Ð reluctant to speak on the record Ð about awarding construction and training contracts outside the tender system.
According to a spokesman for Mr Ah Kit, the scheme is aimed at raising the understanding of modern homes and pride in "ownership" of them, likely to prolong the life of the dwellings and reduce their currently horrendous maintenance costs resulting from neglect and vandalism.
Sir Humphrey would call Mr Ah Kit's move "courageous" because all indications are that it won't work on the broad scale on which it is set out, notwithstanding the awarding of certificates to 19 trainees late last year.
A fundamental question remains: the task of training apprentices normally falls on private enterprise operating in a variety of trades, with some financial help from the Federal government and school-style learning for a few weeks a year.
Why then is there a need for a separate program for Aborigines, with all the attendant expensive bureaucracy, and the "apartheid" connotations attached to such schemes?
Given the right attitude by the trainees Ð and trainers Ð would not the "normal" apprenticeships have worked just as well?
The fact is that "white" bush builders, building government-funded housing on communities, have tried for decades to recruit local Indigenous labourers and trainees, mostly with paltry results.
Now Mr Ah Kit is abolishing the tender process with respect to a big slice (more than half) of the current IHANT program in the southern region, giving the work to the Aboriginal owned and Alice-based Tangentyere Constructions.
In addition Tangentyere has been put in charge of the training, also a task for which normally tenders would be called.
Tangentyere isn't saying how much its contract is worth. The industry guess is just under $1m a year.
So what was formerly a transparent process based on public tenders is now shrouded in quite a bit of secrecy.
And competitive tendering for public works, a process designed to give the taxpayer value for money, is being sidelined.
What's more, 14 houses are being built at a very slow pace Ð two a year on seven communities.
That's done so that training can take place in a thorough fashion, says the spokesman for Mr Ah Kit.
The syllabus of the training is identical to the one used across the nation.
"The modules of the Building Construction Certificates 2 and 3 are determined through a nationally accredited training package," says the spokesman.
In between practical work the apprentices' progress will be evaluated by the Charles Darwin University, and they will get numeracy and literacy tutoring.
The program embraces most skills needed to build a house.
Level 2 apprentices are taught mounting roof trusses and wall plates; mounting roof and ceiling battens; erecting verandah beams, posts and rafters; roof cladding, fitting gable ends and awnings; ceiling linings and insulation; installing (prefabricated) kitchen, benches and wardrobes; painting; installing canvas blinds and wood burners; and fencing.
More advanced skills are taught in Level 3.
Tangentyere Constructions manager Hans Mouthaan, a former senior executive of the construction giant Clarendon Homes, says the schedule is identical to the one used throughout the nation.
"This is a fair dinkum training program," he says.
"It's not tokenism."
Skills that cannot be offered in the bush are taught during "block releases" to building sites in town.
With jobs such as laying the concrete slab, "brickie's" block work, core filling, electrical and plumbing the apprentices are merely helpers.
On July 25 last year Tangentyere Constructions advertised for contractors to carry out the following work on the 14 training houses: concrete slab; block work; plumbing; electrical, air conditioning; wall and floor tiling.
That's not an indication that the program is failing, said the spokesman last year: "The apprentices are working towards a qualification in General Construction, at this stage at Certificate Level 2, and this does not specifically qualify the apprentice for a trade in plumbing, electrical work, concrete laying etc.
"Specialist trades people are contracted through Tangentyere Constructions (the project manager) to do this work on training houses.
"At the completion of Certificate 3 in General Construction, the graduate will be qualified to supervise the construction of a house on their own community or within the mainstream.
"Further, the graduate would be qualified to obtain a general Building Licence in other states in Australia."
Over the years "bush builders" have become a breed of their own; working long hours, being highly self reliant, fast and multi-skilled.
But Indigenous apprentices under the scheme won't be exposed to such a demanding environment.
The wisdom of this is doubtful: What is the point of training builders in a way that fails to make them competitive with others in the industry? As well, the scheme adds some $40,000 to the cost of dwellings and they take much longer to build.
This flies in the face of the dramatic need for more housing in Aboriginal communities.
But Mr Ah Kit's spokesman has no doubt the scheme will be a success: "The development of local Indigenous building teams creates real jobs on remote communities and is contributing to the development of the capacity required to establish and develop business enterprises.
"The program will give the trainees exposure to a wide range of activities and opportunities and develop their skills in a number of areas," he says.
"Training always takes time Ð there is no doubt about this.
"The training houses are built to the same standard as other houses. The construction time is secondary to the learning outcomes, quality, and employment."
Clearly, in the end it all will depend on the tasks the apprentices are set, and how they cope with them.
Bush builders have long been obliged to offer employment and training opportunities, but of course they have no power to force people to take them up.
For example, a typical "bush builder" contract of the Indigenous Housing Association of the NT includes the following clause: "Aboriginal training and employment: The Principal has directed that all of the works be contracted out.
"Notwithstanding the above, every attempt to assist local individuals seeking employment is expected.
"The Tenderers shall state in their tenders how their contract will provide for meaningful employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including the nature of the employment and the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be provided with employment or training opportunities."
A long-established company managing construction in the bush told the Alice News that they are unaware of any prosecutions of builders for breaches of such a clause.
But several builders told us that people on settlements simply were not interested in the jobs.
Among them is Alice Springs based Carl Pedersen, a bush builder for 20 years.
Response to his attempts at local recruitment has generally been "very poor".
He says: "People just don't turn up.
"I have been chasing them in the street.
"There is not enough backing from the communities."
He says the normal routine is for him to speak with council members before start of the work. The council would nominate a group of young people.
But when the job actually starts some three weeks later, "people may have moved or it may be too hot.
"They throw their hands up and say, they don't want to work.
"Training schemes don't work because they are more about employment.
"You can't just have them for a couple of days and then the person is gone.
"Quite often you get different people every week.
"You must have the same people, or it is not training, it is employment of labourers."
Mr Pedersen says on the rare occasions when trainees stuck to their jobs it had been the result of pressure from the elders.
"It totally depends on the backing of the community," says Mr Pedersen.


'Real True History': Coniston Massacre

Last week I looked at the unofficial evidence of members of the police patrol and Aboriginal survivors, all of which suggested that many more than the officially recognised 31 had been shot, but fell short of specifying a number.
The best other reference is probably provided by Miss Annie Lock, on the basis of Aboriginal accounts she heard at the time of the shootings, and by implication also some pastoralists' comments that she heard about indirectly.
Her account was alluded to in an earlier issue referring to Aboriginal accounts, but is now quoted in full as it appears in A. Markus's 1990 book, "Governing Savages". That she did not give the same account to the Board of Enquiry is almost certainly because she was extremely stressed; knew that her account was a summary of oral accounts by surviving Aborigines, not directly witnessed evidence; and knew that Constable Murray, who had the right to question her along with the board members, would deny such evidence.
"The natives tell me that they simply shot them down like dogs & that they got little children & hit them on the back of the neck & killed them & in front of the eyes of those they left they knocked the dogs in the head & threw them in the fire.
"They rounded the natives up like mustering cattle & cleared or shot them out as they came to them. They had some prisoners & took the chains off them & told them to run away & as they were running they shot them. This is the natives' verdict & we have to be careful and prove it, but, I questioned them in different ways & when they least expected it, even to boys & girls & they all say the same thing & instead of [31] it was over 70."
Aboriginal oral histories recorded by Pastor Tom Fleming at Yuendumu and ethnographer C.P. Mountford (recorded in Hartwig's thesis), as well as Bryan Bowman's comments to me about what he had heard from Aborigines, confirm that Police Paddy was cruel, sadistic and ruthless when he murdered children. No other member of the patrols is recorded as having been deliberately involved in such murders, and it appears that Murray stopped him murdering children after the first incidents (though he may well have continued to murder them when working independently during hunting down of people).
F.E. Baume, a journalist who visited Coniston station in 1932, looked upon Randal Stafford and the station-hands who worked for him as heroic characters. He accepted that they had no option but to fight to hold the station against hundreds of Aborigines, and in his 1933 book, "Tragedy Track", summarised:
"Constable Murray, Randal Stafford and others saw that vengeance was done. Many blacks were shot. The missionaries claim that the shooting was brutal and unnecessary, but having heard from trustworthy men like Stafford, Rieff [prospector and friend of Stafford's], Trooper Tony Lynch and others of the habits of some of the desert tribes, I will not listen again to the charge of brutality levelled by some well meaning men against the police and the posse which saw that justice was done."
The journalist was entitled to his opinion, but I suggest that he had been compromised in his report by having been assisted and hosted by Randal Stafford and Simon Rieff. The law of the land at no time had indicated that a "posse" was meant to see "that vengeance was done".
In that he must have known full-well that 31 was the number killed in "vengeance" for old Fred's murder, and attacks on Nugget Morton and Harry Tilmouth, Baume's use of "many" suggests to me that he was not prepared to name the true number. And if "justice was done" when a minimal 31 Aborigines were killed in retaliation for one white man's death, the scales of justice were rather unevenly balanced, whatever was thought of the "habits of some of the desert tribes".
Cecil Madigan, who was the key geologist at the time of Baume's visit, was also a former soldier who had served on the Western Front during the time of terrible slaughter in World War 1. He was a man who was precise with his words and, while he only refers to the numbers killed on the first patrol, he uses the word "extermination", which suggests that he understood from Randal Stafford that a much greater number were killed.
In 1935 Frank McGarry, though travelling with Randal Stafford's trusted messenger Percy to "Tippenbar", where he met "Alick Wilson" (Alex was often called Alick or Alec), makes no mention at all of the police patrols. However a station-hand of the era, who worked on a neighbouring station, told me that he had heard from one of the noted bushmen of the country that "men, women and children" were shot. The patrol members, having located a camp, waited until very early morning, approached stealthily to ensure that the Aborigines were caught by surprise, and shot without warning. He had been told that "hundreds" were shot. This was a sincere account, with no intention to exaggerate, and the minimal it means is 200. I took him to mean more.
Paddy Tucker, who as previously mentioned travelled widely throughout the entire area of the killings (and still further afield) in the late 1920s to1930s, was very careful in his estimation. He deliberated for a long time, initially using his right hand to count 10 per finger, then thinking further before telling me in the early 1970's that he believed that over 200, and possibly as many as 300, had been killed.
When I expressed surprise at this many, he said that the shootings were not restricted to 1928. Pastoralists, prospectors and other bush workers had kept things very quiet among themselves, but some had shot people whenever they came upon them through to the early 1930s.
The area had not been restricted to the Coniston-Broadmeadows country, but was more generally "out west" and north-west of Stuart Town, or Alice Springs as it formally became known (after decades of a greater prevalence of use of the Alice Springs Telegraph Station address, to which all mail was sent through to the late 1930s).
Much as Paddy was being completely honest in this view, I doubted that it could be 200, or even 300. Perhaps the fact that so many people had fled elsewhere, such as to Wave Hill, Hermannsburg and the Mount Liebig country, or as old Jack Ross told me, remained in their own country well away from the scenes of the police shootings, gave the impression of a death-emptied country.
It was generally believed, too, when I first yarned to people, that some of those who had fled had perished of exhaustion and thirst.
Still, there was Jack Saxby's account of an earlier "shoot to kill" encounter, unavoidable in the life-or-death circumstances in which he found himself; a story I have been told which implies that Harry Tilmouth shot two other Aborigines shortly before Fred Brooks was murdered; Jack Saxby's and Randal Stafford's shooting without effect because of the dense scrub; Jimmy Wickham's shooting of two men and Randal Stafford's knowledge of such shootings, as well as his suggestion that more were shot by men like Wickham; Dinny Japaljarri's account of an estimated 10-15 having been shot west of Central Mount Wedge; and another account by Windy Jampijinpa which involved the shooting of his father out near Pilininyanu (towards Mount Farewell) in about 1934.
Furthermore Walter Smith, legendary old prospector, independently confirmed Paddy's belief a decade later. In 18 months of tape-recording with him, he only got tears in his eyes twice, once recalling his parents, and the other in recalling what he had seen out along the Lander River. He was riding his camels along when he saw numbers of spherical white objects.
"They were like paddy-melons. The skulls. A man felt sorry. There must have been two hundred of them Ð big ones, little ones, men, women, kids, everyone."
The bodies had either been left on the surface in the various camp-groups along the Lander, or buried at very shallow depth, the sand simply being scooped over them. Showers of rain had caused the Lander to flush down, exposing and tumbling the bones and the skulls.
Walter's image was simple but striking.
Apart from the tragedy of it all, the dilemma 75 years later is to determine what shootings were done by the police patrols, and what were done by groups of hard bushmen independent of the patrols.
Three others who learnt of the police patrols' activities in the 1930s were Pastor F.W. Albrecht of Hermannsburg while on a Warlpiri area mission patrol; the previously mentioned Patrol Officer and linguist T.G.H. Strehlow; and Charlie Priest, an itinerant worker who did not visit the area. They all recorded estimates of "over 100" being shot during the police patrols on the basis of what they heard. (Strehlow must have taken into account stories he heard in addition to what Stafford had told him).
In talking with Bill McCoy (long-term public servant of the era) when he was in retirement in Alice Springs, he indicated that he had heard many stories about what had actually happened.
In fact so certain was he that unarmed prisoners had been shot that he believed that Constable Murray would ensure a gun-shot death of a later prisoner, Willoberta Jack, who had shot Harry Henty in self-defence. Bill believed that George Murray would arrange an "attempt to escape", thus allowing him to shoot Willoberta. He very clearly warned Murray that this must not occur, and Bill believed absolutely that his warning ensured that Willoberta had a fair trial, and was set free.
However, as Paddy Tucker told me, it didn't do him much good. No Aboriginal could be allowed to get away with shooting a white man on the frontier, whatever the circumstances.
Paddy believed that, upon his return to Central Australia, Willoberta had been given poisoned flour by a pastoralist. Constable Murray was backed up without him asking for support, and that was the end of Willoberta Jack.
Old Bryan Bowman, who managed then owned Tempe Downs station at the time of the shootings, but then later owned Glen Helen and Coniston stations in the late 1930s-1940s and thereafter for decades, was a most interesting character.
He had heard that Murray, as leader, had shot many but that Jack Saxby and Police Paddy were the main "trigger men" on the first patrol. He had also heard that Police Paddy had been absolutely ruthless, at one stage killing some children, and that on the later patrol Nugget Morton had been merciless too.
All of the other patrol members had had a hand in the shootings.
While he believed it entirely possible that many more had been shot, Bryan was unusual in having training in accountancy, and having a good "bush lawyer's" understanding of the law. As he also said, 31 was the only number that had formally been considered and admitted to. All else, however honestly stated, was hearsay or circumstantial evidence, even if the skeletons could all have been examined and been found to have had bullets in them.
NEXT: Murray, murderer or hero?


The Pioneer Park track has been resurfaced over the summer, but despite all good intentions there still appeared to be an unevenness in the track, with those runners on the fence digging into the sand while horses coming down the middle of the track enjoyed a firm run.
As with the run into Christmas, it was the frontrunner who tended to dominate.The first of the day, the 1000 metre Redbank Wines Class Six Handicap, saw the race-fit Ganga score by a length and a half from By Joe, with the favourite Kings Alley filling the placings.
Ganga showed that his recent campaign in Darwin was worthwhile as he and By Joe battled it out up front.
In the straight By Joe claimed the lead but was overhauled by the fitter Ganga.
Kings Alley disappointed in the running and was over three lengths off the pace at the finish.
Burran proved his ability in taking out the Colemans Printing Class One Handicap over 1000 metres. The favourite Snow Key jumped well with Burran settling in second spot. In the straight, Burran headed for the mid-section of the course and enjoyed a firm run home, while Snow Key found the going tough at the 150 metre mark, allowing Burran to score by two lengths.
This was the first of a riding double for Ben Cornell. Rustic Outlook made good ground along the fence to take third place.
Emmy Wehr had a good reason to celebrate when Sarason's Girl broke through in the maiden class.
The 1100 metre Schweppes Maiden saw Sarason's Girl and Western Jester battle it out, after accounting for Shackleton at the 600 metre mark.
Being fresh and showing pace Sarason's Girl took control in the run home and scored by three quarters of a length. Sinker was impressive in coming home third, a short neck behind Western Jester.
Cornell's double came up in the Crowne Plaza Class Three Handicap over 1100 metres. On board the equal favourite Compass Boy, Cornell surged to the lead and dictated the terms of the race from there. Zedrovski raced competitively to finish in second place, a length and three quarters back. Crown Pacific ran well to finish third.
In the last, the ZIB Open Handicap over 1100 metres, local favourite Scotro made a comeback to racing in the Alice and returned a result for his punters. Over Christmas he travelled to Adelaide, and although not coming home with riches, gained a drop in weight from the handicapper.
Appreciating the inside barrier draw he jumped and led in his customary style.
At the turn he led by seven lengths, and completed the journey effortlessly.
Queens Image claimed second spot, with fledgling apprentice Matthew Hart doing well in his first ride. Gamera filled the placings.


After 20 years in the desert studying wild camels, scientists Birgit Dorges and Jurgen Heucke say they know almost all there is to know about the beasts.There may be "another two per cent, but that would take another 20 years!"
The pair, partners in life as well as work since 1979, will return within the next few months to their native Germany.
It is time to replenish the coffers, and Jurgen also wants to take care of his mother, now in her eighties.
The contrast will be huge.
There are only a handful of scientists in the world doing the kind of long-term study on wild populations of animals that Birgit and Jurgen have done.
This is not so much, they suggest, because of the rigours of the lifestyle as because of money.
Their four year doctoral studies on camels' social organization and adaptation were financed by a grant from the German Research Foundation, and the manufacturers of Camel cigarettes sponsored them with a vehicle. (No endorsement of smoking was required).
After that though they had to piece together finances themselves, getting some Australian Research Council grants, working from time to time for the infant camel industry, using up all their savings.
This bought them time "to do their job properly" and the most rudimentary comforts for home, a camp affectionately dubbed "Camelot" in a 20,000 hectare paddock they fenced themselves on Newhaven Station.
In the beginning they slept in an open swag on the ground, but a nocturnal visitor soon put an end to that.
"It was a 'stinking hot' night in January," recalls Jurgen, smiling at his Australian turn of phrase, " we were lying on the swag, naked, very tired after a whole day spent with the camels.
"It was around 10pm. I felt something heavy on my shoulder and then my legs.
" I jumped up, Birgit did too É"
"We did all the wrong things!" says Birgit.
"I couldn't see without my glasses but Birgit could. It was a King Brown, six feet long, as long as the mattress."
At a safe distance, their scientific instincts took over: "He didn't do anything to us, so we observed him," says Birgit, " he was putting his head inside the pillowcase for a while and then he went away."
The next day they came in to Alice Ð a 400 kilometre drive, dirt roads most of the way Ð to buy a "snake proof" swag, the kind with a mosquito net that you can zip shut.
These days they actually have an old brass bed, sitting out on the flat Ð a luxury, but not as highly valued as their satellite phone.
At the time of the snake visit they didn't even have a Flying Doctor radio, though they were given one immediately afterwards by Parks & Wildlife.
Luckily, they've never needed emergency care. Indeed they look in the best of health. Perhaps that's something to do with fulfilment, professional and personal.
Birgit says with a laugh that it's amazing they haven't killed each other by now, but they admit then to being close and recognise that one of the plusses of these 20 years is the time they've had to get to know themselves and each other in a way that few people are given.
The key to living together in such isolated and at times trying circumstances, says Jurgen, has been to learn tolerance and to be aware of "reducing little things which make life unnecessarily stressful".
Work, in any case, has left limited time for arguments. Out bush they never take a day off, rising each day with the camels, and when their scientific work is done there are the simple matters of their own survival to attend to: chopping wood to heat water, carting water, cooking in their bush kitchen.
Keeping the common goal of their research in mind has got them through the low points, like this summer, for instance, when every afternoon it was 45 degrees in their shelter, a converted removalist's truck.
Wouldn't it have been cooler under a tree?
"Forty three degrees maybe and a million flies!" says Jurgen. "I don't know how many flies I've swallowed just by breathing. I still don't like it."
Jurgen talks more than Birgit, whether it's about their scientific work or about their personal experiences.
It prompts the question, has been any disadvantage to her as a scientist to have worked in tandem with her husband?
"I know him, I put up with him talking more," laughs Birgit.
"But when it comes to pure hard data, our scientific colleagues take me as seriously as if I had done the study on my own, but neither of us could have done this study on our own.
"As a team we have been very successful."
"Each is responsible for different jobs," says Jurgen, "in science and in everyday life."We have the same scientific knowledge but each has his own approach, by brainstorming we come to a conclusion."It takes a lot of discussion to understand why animals do certain things."Difference has been very fruitful for our research. We would discuss our observations and come to a mutual explanation.
"If you research on your own you see things the way you expect them. It's good to have someone else who has seen the same thing and can discuss it."
The hardest times have been when the work was not going well.
After they gained their doctorates, they undertook a body temperature study in collaboration with scientists at the University of Queensland.
This involved implanting data loggers in their research camels, most of whom they knew as individuals.
In the first year of the study, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. All of the data loggers failed, so they lost a year's work, and as well some of the camels died.
Birgit: "Some of my very preferred animals died. We were responsible because we had given their implants. These are bad memories.
"Other things like a three days dust storm when you can't do or see much, were not fun but we learned to live with."
So, what did the body temperature study show?
That the camel has made remarkable adaptations to its desert environment.
Contrary to popular imagination, the camel cannot store water (it is fat in their humps), but by varying their body temperature they can conserve water.
A dehydrated camel will lower his body temperature to 35 degrees at night, and raise it by up to six degrees during the day, to avoid sweating.
This can conserve 20 to 30 litres of water a day.
Camels' niche adaptation in this land where they have no natural predators Ð bar dingos for newborns Ð means that they are on the increase, exponentially. The population doubles every six to eight years.
From a base of around 30,000 in 1986 there are now around 200,000 camels in the Territory. In 2010 there'll be 400,000 and so on.
Biologists but also ecologists, Birgit and Jurgen have been looking at the impact of this population growth on the local vegetation.
This aspect of their study, which they began in 1988, has revealed that camels eat some 350 species, mostly leafy plants and herbs, hardly any grasses.
They developed a palatability index for the plants, from one to seven, one being for plants camels will eat if there's nothing else, seven for their preferred plants.
Says Jurgen: "Three plants in Central Australia, with an index of seven, are already under pressure because of camels: the quandong, the bean tree and the curly pod wattle.
"They will be gone off the menu if nothing happens.
"Around 20 plants have a palatability index of six. They are not badly off now, but by 2016, there could be 800,000 camels in the Territory! What then?
"How about one to two million? That's the problem with an exponential growth rate. People just don't get the picture.
"We definitely know this, it is published, but it is not taken seriously enough.
"All the emphasis is on the cane toad, but people in Canberra don't realise what camel populations we might run into."
The solution, even for Birgit and Jurgen who have spent half a lifetime with the animals, is to harvest them for their meat.
And we're talking a lot of meat: 20,000 animals a year before you make a dint on the population.
Says Birgit: "We love camels, they are very interesting animals, but we are concerned that there are too many and that arid Australia will suffer.
"Right now the problem is still manageable if a proper industry is established."
By the early 'nineties Birgit and Jurgen had basically completed their research. The years since have been valuable in presenting very varying weather conditions allowing them to test their understanding of the patterns of the animals' social organization.
The very dry 12 months from October 1995 to October 1996 were then followed by very wet years, where camels would gather in herds of up to 200.
It is in their genes to be in big groups, they explain, as there is a lesser chance of being eaten Ð this response driven by evolution, not by their present Australian conditions. But in dry years the groups shrink to a mere handful, for when food is scarce the camel's main competitor is another camel.
To be able to come to firm conclusions on matters like this, the biologists had to observe the activity of groups around the clock for periods of 48 to 72 hours, once a month Ð during full moon so they could drive at night without lights Ð for years.
Every 10 minutes they would make notes on what each member of the group is doing.
Not surprisingly, activity varies according to age and gender, but the variation is quite extreme. They have observed, for instance, that females feed six to eight hours per day, summer and winter. Bulls on the other hand eat all day long in summer, but during rutting season in winter, they eat for only half to one hour per day, losing up to one third of their body weight.
The intensive observation periods during summer were, needless to say, very trying.
The camels sit in shade from about 10am to 4pm; the only thing they do is shift as the sun shifts.
Meanwhile Birgit and Jurgen were sitting in their car in the full sun: shade is scarce in the desert and they didn't want to push the animals out.
Have they been able to pursue any other interests over the last two decades?
" We are open to new things in our minds," says Birgit, "for example, dingos. Just from pure observation we have seen what have been till now undescribed behaviours. If we were to come back we would like to do a study on dingos."
They're not kidding. Once they've regrouped and have a bit of money behind them, they want to be able to spend their time between Australia and Europe, though avoiding, if possible, the worst of the heat here and the worst of the cold there.
Newhaven, now owned by Birds Australia as a wildlife sanctuary, has long been a dingo refuge and is therefore an ideal place to do a dingo study.
While they were at it, they could perhaps also discover that elusive two per cent about camels.
What could that possibly be?
They don't know, no one ever knows, but it could be something quite surprising.
For example, explains Jurgen, in the 'eighties they observed to their astonishment a bull camel killing a newborn calf.
They have since seen the behaviour more than once and have come to understand it as the "selfish gene approach", which can also be observed among lions, for instance.
The bull killing the calf is not the father (statistically bulls never mate with the same cow twice). The bull saves himself the time and energy of finding a suitable mate if he kills the calf, so prompting the mother to shortly afterwards come on heat and have his calf in the following year.
Cows have their counter-strategies, leaving the group to live in seclusion when they are calving.
The first time Birgit and Jurgen observed the infanticide it occurred in a small paddock and they thought it might be a response to being fenced in.
Because of this, they intervened. Jurgen chased the bull off with a big stick, the only time they have ever interfered with their research animals. The camel they saved that day, in July, 1987, is still alive: they have since seen her birth several calves herself and speak of her with some fondness.
However, having observed infanticide in quite different conditions, they now know it for natural behaviour, nothing to do with being fenced in and would not interfere again.
Isn't life in Germany going to seem a little tame after all this?
It has its attractions. They'll be living in a wing of an old castle in the country near Braunschweig in the north, with woods and hills nearby to go walking in.
Both might do some teaching in universities: they feel they know a thing or two about desert ecology now.
They'll be close to family and friends.
But somehow that doesn't sound like the end of their story.


"The virtually impossible has been done."Alice Springs Steiner School Council member, parent and Public Officer Chris Shilton was describing the school's move from the grounds of Araluen to its new Ragonesi Road location in just a few weeks.
"In early December last year we didn't know what we were going to do," Mr Shilton said.
"We didn't know where we would be going or even if we would be able to keep the school open if we couldn't find a new site."But we were determined to keep going."
And keep going they did: after a gruelling summer's labour for the school community Ð some 50 families, staff and friends Ð and a slight delay to the start, staff and children returned to their relocated home on Monday.
It was only on December 12 that the application to use the vacant site on Ragonesi Road was approved.
"There was nothing on the site when we started," said Mr Shilton, "no power, no water, nothing.
"And shortly after we got approval a bush fire went through and burned what few trees there had been.
"But despite this being one of the hottest summers on record and the site being almost a dust bowl we have had tremendous support, including a grant from the NT Government to help with moving expenses."
Mr Shilton said the key to the whole operation has been the sense of community."People would come to help for a couple hours and end up staying for 10."'We just want to finish this project,' they'd say.
"The Steiner philosophy works on all levels; parents have built everything, from the desks to the various facilities."There have been countless working bees, and through working together friendships have been formed."People who once normally just waved at each other in the car park when dropping off their children have gotten to know each other better.
"The five shade structures were all designed and built by parents.
"Shade was important because of the openness of the site."
Volunteer site manager Mel Crowley estimated more than 40 people have helped in a variety of ways, from bringing morning tea to installing fence posts, from moving desks to mopping classroom floors."Mr Crowley's task has been colossal," Mr Shilton said, "from co-ordinating various aspects of the move with companies located all over Australia, including planning around holiday closures, to overseeing the arrival of the power and water infrastructure and filling in the trenches."
But with power and water installed last week and the classroom demountables brought to the site and outfitted over the weekend, the school is up and running.
"It is very exciting to see this period of uncertainty come to an end," Mr Shilton said.
"A lot of love, time and devotion has been given to getting it set up.
"We have lost a few students because of the uncertainty but we hope to build the numbers up again.
"The Steiner School offers kindy through to Year Six and we plan to open a new playgroup soon on Fridays.
"The playgroup is a creative one and gives people a chance to see what the Steiner philosophy is like."Last year we had our first group of students complete Year Six.
"These students had never been to school anywhere else.
"We had a graduation ceremony for them and they have now entered various high schools in Alice Springs."
As for the future, Mr Shilton says the school has a two-year lease for the Ragonesi Road site but he expects the school to stay in that area permanently."There is a lot of work to do to control dust and to plant vegetation," Mr Shilton said."This is a beautiful open area and we will be designing from scratch.
"There are a number of possibilities and we will be giving a lot of thought to designing and building an eco-friendly facility.
"We hope within the year to make a start on a permanent building. The exact location is yet to be determined but it is likely to be in this vicinity."

Must see and do's in Alice Springs. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.

The card she handed me read: "Jan, International Girl of Mystery", but after a few hours spent with David and me she wasn't quite so mysterious as the rider who, in late January pulled into the post office car park on a rather large black CB Honda 750cc Sports Cruiser motorbike with NSW rego plates. Black boots, leathers and the helmet removed to show a mass of long blonde curly hair É
"Have you ridden solitaire all the way from New South Wales?" I had to ask.
The answer was yes, and around Tasmania, through Victoria, South Australia to hereÉ
Jan was staying at Toddy's, had caught up with postcards, emails, her washing, refuelled mind and body, and was leaving the next day. She'd been to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and had been led to believe that there wasn't a lot on offer around the Alice.
Over lunch at the Sports Bar I mentioned that she hadn't touched any of our gorges, Panorama Guth, the Reptile House, the Date FarmÉ or seen the superb vista from Anzac Hill!
So she moved in for the weekend. And we played tourists Ð around the town, along the MacDonnells, Standley Chasm at midday when it was 45 degrees and the colours were, indeed, fiery red hotÉ Out to Motocross at the Ilparpa track on Sunday to watch my niece, Emma, and dozens of others riding, jumping, racing (they competed at Deep Well last weekend, and I just hope it was a bit cooler down there!).
Jan was intrigued to see the PeeWees racing, the tiny tots, four and five year olds, because they're not allowed to race in England until they are much older. She took dozens of photos, the track, the competitors, the town and surrounding countryside.David and I farewelled her at sun-up after a busy weekend. She's got everything on the bike, extra fuel tank, tent, ground sheet, air mattress and pump, sleeping bag, picnic blanket, gas cooker, even snorkelling gear. She's a self confessed coffee snob and brews up her beans in a small percolator. Her travelling companion, Barnaby, a little brown bear who sits on the bike, has also, like the more famous Bromley (as per Alan and Patricia Campbell's books), had his photo taken at beautiful places: the lavender fields in Tasmania, the Twelve Apostles on our fabulous Great Ocean Road, in front of Uluru and around Alice.
I don't believe there's any such thing as a "horror stretch of road", headlines in the Advocate last week, reporting on the death of a tourist in a car accident on Lasseter's Highway. There are circumstances Ð sun glare and weather considerations, road conditions, pot holes and bull dust, road-trains, railway crossings, cattle, camels, birds of prey and kangaroos on the road, tyre blow-outs and other distractions, international (and interstate) visitors unaware of our great distances, and there are still those who travel without wearing seat-belts, speed, drink and drive etc.
Years ago the Marlborough highway, between Rockhampton and Mackay, was labelled a "horror stretch": there were a number of unexplained incidents, the disappearance of hitchhikers and murder on that particular section of the highway.
Jan's had a good run through Outback Queensland, considering everything was under water a couple of weeks ago, Camooweal, Mt Isa, Cloncurry, Winton, Emerald (David's oldest daughter, Helen, and Richard, Becky and Ben have been there for 12 months through hot dusty conditions: they now know why their town is so named, not only for the precious stones around, emeralds, rubies and sapphires, but also for the fresh green colour of the foliage after the rainsÉ not good for the miners, but great for the cattlemen), through to Blackwater and Rockhampton and then north through Marlborough to Cairns, and a few days of total rest and recreation sans motorbike out at Fitzroy Island.
Jan has now clocked up over 15,000 kilometres without any dramas: calling in at police stations, advising of her destination and ETA, enjoying the ride, respecting and revelling in those long stretches of lonely road. She enjoyed her (extended) stay in our town and according to comments in our visitors' book, she'll tell everyone she meets about the Alice and the Red CentreÉ and the next time David and I go to England we have a place to stay in picturesque Cornwall.
Jan will return, travelling again by road, not rail.
We've certainly had great media coverage regarding the Ghan: hopefully the initial positive response will convert to much needed tourist dollars in the Alice.
It's imperative that Ghan passengers know what, apart from our fabulous Desert Park, is on offer here. Otherwise they'll be like Jan É passing through, unaware of the must see / do's in town.

Did Xmas mark birth of Steve Waugh? COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

Big events are only worth attending for the small incidents that lie within.
I can explain. Eighteen months ago, I took my son to a one-day international at the Melbourne Cricket Ground between Australia and South Africa. It was a rare opportunity to see the wonderful stadium full to the rafters. There was a run chase because, well, there is always a run chase in limited-overs cricket. So it was supposed to be exciting, but really it was only another run chase.
Spectators struggled up the Himalayan gradients of the stands clinging on to trays of frothy liquid. While Victor and I gazed at the half-naked and salmon-coloured fans, our attention wandered to a plastic bag that was being gently blown around the MCG at the level of the upper tiers. Very graceful it was too, like a blue bird of prey but without feathers or wings or talons or any other bird features, come to think of it.
This bag became our abiding memory of that game as it swooped over the podgy people below. When we left the ground early, we were approached by an insistent man who asked me for my passout voucher. He wanted to see the end of the run chase for free. I couldn't face it.
If only passouts had been available for six weeks during Steve Waugh's retirement celebrations.
Then those of us who think that sports stars already get too much adulation could have switched off until it was over.
If an alien had arrived in Australia in late December, he or she would have thought that Christmas was a festival for celebrating the birth of Steve Waugh. Just the build-up to that last Test left me exhausted. Whole governments are assassinated and warrant less coverage. I think it is safe to say that Steve Waugh was bigger than Christmas this year, which is a melancholy thought.
This experience only serves to harden my view about small incidents and big events.
Let's forget big events altogether. Instead, we should savour the small exchanges and little observations that make up the minor stuff of existence.
Take the new railway, for example. There was a big event in 2001 to turn the first sod with a silver shovel. It was notable for the Aboriginal protester who held a placard saying "Sorry" over the Prime Minister's head while he was addressing the crowd.
At the same place a couple of weeks ago, the journey of the first train to Darwin will stick in the mind for the re-enactment of battle scenes from the "Last Samurai" that was required to distribute the souvenir medallions.
The arrival of the train in Tennant Creek will be remembered for the interview with a local politician on Territory Radio during which she casually mentioned that the town hadn't had time to get ready for it.
Someone recently reminded me that Alice Springs is internationally famous. Despite being a tiny dot on the map and a smallish town, people all over the world know about it.
So the Alice itself is a bit of an event. But if anyone comes to visit me here, I'll skip the obvious attractions like the Desert Park and the Camel Races.
The real insights come from more mundane pleasures like a ride around Kurrajong Drive to admire the amphitheatre of the rocky outcrops or supping a smoothie in Yeperenye and watching the shoppers.
Better still, some banter with the newsagent or a chat with a fellow cyclist who tells you all about Kalgoorlie and how the mining industry operates.
Just another reason for appreciating the bread and butter of life.

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