March 10, 2004.


Local Government Minister John Ah Kit has been shown a wish list of major projects for Alice Springs.
The newly formed Regional Development Board has seen it Ð or compiled it, depending on whom you talk to Ð but neither will say what's on that list, although it has now been channelled into the NT government's budget process.
This seems an inauspicious start to the board, directly advising Mr Ah Kit, consisting of 10 people.
Most of them have been prominent in public life while the town has stagnated over the past 10 years.
Not one of them has a record of outstanding economic or commercial achievement, which would give hope that the board will be greater than the sum of its parts.
The chairwoman is Mayor Fran Kilgariff, who says economic credentials aren't needed for the job.
She is presiding over people from bodies including the Chamber of Commerce, Central Land Council, ATSIC, Cattlemen's Association and CATIA.
Most of them have served on countless boards and committees (work your way back from Alice in Ten).
While Ð individually Ð their track record in matters economic is poor or absent, will they Ð collectively Ð come up with useful advice about the development of our region? It seems Mr Ah Kit cannot give a dispassionate answer to that.
In fact he's irritated by the mere question.
"They're at the coalface. They have experience.
"They have skills. They have local knowledge," he snapped.
He says this board, and the four others across the Territory, have been set up to give him direct advice on development issues.
They "won't be toothless tigers" like their predecessors under the CLP governments, says Mr Ah Kit.
But while budget process is well under way but the board is not.
While the other four boards are said to be up and running, the one in The Centre still has some vacancies, has met only a couple of times and, says Ms Kilgariff, "we haven't set our own priorities" although there is "plenty enthusiasm from the people on the board".
Mr Ah Kit told the Alice News the board delivered the wish list to him on Friday, February 27.
When we spoke to him on the weekend following he said he hadn't yet read it.
At first Mr Ah Kit said he would release the list to the Alice News.
Later he said: "I will seriously consider whether I can release that list to the News."
Later again he said he may not do so because he wouldn't look too good if some of the projects didn't get up.
Late last week an aide said he would check the "status" of the list Ð and then didn't get back to us.
Ms Kilgariff said it wasn't the board which gave the list to the Minister.
In fact it had been compiled by "public servants and other people in Alice Springs [who] put up their budget considerations to the government and it is internal government business," said Ms Kilgariff.
"The board has seen that list and at this stage, because we haven't set our own priorities, we decided we wouldn't be commenting on that list."
So, what's on that list? We asked Ms Kilgariff, wouldn't public feedback, to her board, about the items on the list be a useful and democratic thing, now that the government is deliberating about which items to spend public money on?
Ms Kilgariff: "I do know the list but it's not for me to say.
"It's got nothing to do with the board, that list. It's Cabinet business.
"We were asked to comment on it, and we decided until we had our own processes and priorities in place, that we would not be condoning or otherwise somebody else's list."
One board member says the projects on the list are mainly oriented towards boosting tourism and work on the Mereenie Loop Road is high on the agenda.
When asked why he appointed as his development advisers the usual suspects, people with scant Ð if any Ð economic skills, Mr Ah Kit seemed to regard the question as an affront.
"I'm born and bred in the Territory, mate," he shot back.
"I've been involved with Aboriginal organisations for 20 years.
"I've been in politics [for several years].
"I know many people out there in the community.
"I know what their standing is in the community in terms of people speaking highly of them.
"I called for nominations.
"These are the people in the Central Australian region who can advise me, properly and professionally, on how we can move forward, so Alice Springs is not left behind as the Territory develops.
"Their track records speak for themselves, if you want to look at them individually."
What track record?
The land council has been asked to provide a nominee, says Mr Ah Kit.
"The Central Land Council (CLC) has been very entrepreneurial, moving things forward.
"We see Watarrka [King's Canyon] and the developments there.
"We see Centrecorp, we see the Aboriginal organisations that have been established, like Arrernte Council, we see the land council in part ownership with Peter Kittle Motor Company."
The Minister draws a long bow here: Aboriginal money put into Centrecorp and Peter Kittle almost certainly comes from mining royalties, principally from gas and oil in Palm Valley and Mereenie.
Aborigines don't have to lift a finger to get those funds.
The Alice News has made many efforts to obtain information about Centrecorp, owned by the CLC (three fifths), and Tangentyere and Congress (one fifth each).
But every time we asked the CLC declined to give answers.
"We see the land council as being very important in having a position on this board," says Mr Ah Kit.
"Some people may say they haven't developed their country as much as they should have.
"We're a government that wants to work with the Aboriginal organisations, especially the land councils."
Ms Kilgariff says the board members are appointed as members of the community.
Four "in part" were selected because they were born in Alice Springs, and have a "long term commitment to the town".
Why are there no managers on the board with a track record of running well a big corporation?
"There aren't any big companies such as that in Alice Springs.
"The fact that they haven't nominated means they are a bit too busy.
"I don't believe that you need to be running a big company to have an interest or expertise in the development of the central region.
"In some ways if you were involved in a large company you would have a conflict of interest," says Ms Kilgariff.
She says Alice Springs is not stagnating: "It is still growing at point eight of a per cent."
According to a spokesman for Mr Ah Kit all five boards have been offered grants to visit similar boards in other parts of the country.
The other four boards have taken up the offer but the Centralian board has not.
Ms Kilgariff says rather than "traipsing around the country" representatives from three boards Ð Goldfields Esperance, Kimberley and Upper Lake Eyre Ð have been invited to give presentations in Alice Springs.
Her own wish list includes the sealing of the Mereenie Road, a new five star tourist resort in Alice Springs, "perhaps something like the Longitude 121" at Ayers Rock; development of the east-west Outback Highway, and sealing the road from Kingoonya to Streaky Bay.
On the social front Ms Kilgariff is interested in Aboriginal elders drawing up "cultural by-laws" for itinerants, "what local Arrernte people might want to tell other people about what behaviour they expect in Alice Springs".
However, she adamantly rules out enforcement of by-laws by council staff: "The Alice Springs town council is not going to ask our rangers to pour out alcohol.
"It is not our job. That belongs to police who are properly trained.
"We are not going to put our rangers into positions where they are untrained and unprotected."
Why doesn't the council train them?
"Because it's not our job. It's not part of our core responsibility to be policing alcohol.
"It's a state and Territory function."


Alice Mayor Fran Kilgariff, now also heading up Local Government Minister Jack Ah Kit's Regional Development Board for Central Australia, displays an amazingly casual attitude towards the facts and figures of the town's major industry, and the one with enormous growth potential Ð tourism.
"I don't believe tourism is stagnant," she says.
"I think international tourism has dropped a little, but there are more backpackers here than there used to be.
"And a lot of tourism businesses are actually doing well.
"It's not across the board. There are some that are doing well.
"A lot of tourism operators are actually very optimistic around town.
"I don't believe it is stagnating."
Does she have any figures?
No, not with her at the time of our interview. And she makes no offer to provide them later.
The lack of data is a worry because, as Ms Kilgariff says, "the council spends a lot of money developing tourism, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
"We facilitate, we provide money, we make sure that the town looks good, clean, tidy, that the infrastructure and facilities are up to scratch."
As the council is obviously flying blind with their investment in tourism, what does the ratepayer get for all this money?
Ms Kilgariff would be hard pressed to say because there are no figures for the town of Alice Springs, at least not recent ones.
This is an issue prominent tourism figures have repeatedly criticised publicly, and about which the town council has done nothing.
Ms Kilgariff's fellow board member, CATIA's Craig Catchlove, could tell her the NT Tourism Commission (NTTC) doesn't provide statistics for Alice Springs, only for Central Australia, and that, of course, includes the Ayers Rock Resort.
Mr Catchlove says "there is very little real growth" in the Alice Ð but that's based on anecdotal evidence.
According to CATIA the NTTC provided visitor numbers in Alice Springs for 1995 to 2001, as follows:
95/96 - 349,00096/97 - 301,00097/98 - 304,00098/99 - 389,00099/00 - 320,00000/01 - 368,000The "best guess" average income in those years was $150m a year Ð no hard figures, though.
And then came September 11, Bali, Ansett, SARS, Afghanistan and Iraq Ð but we have no numbers, no bed nights, no dollars for the town for that crucial period.
"We provide money for conferences, we sponsor the Masters Games, we put money into tourism initiatives, such as Tourism Futures," says Ms Kilgariff Ð but to what avail?
The Mayor says the council has lobbied the government on all sorts of issues: "I'm quite happy with the $27.5m that is going into tourism promotion, the hundreds of thousands of dollars the government has put into promotion of Virgin in the last six months.
ENTHUSIASM"I firmly believe that tourism is going to grow in Alice Springs.
"Alice Springs as a destination has to be marketed with more enthusiasm.
"What we are at the start of is looking at a brand for Alice Springs.
"Amazing Alice is a great idea," says Ms Kilgariff.
" Perhaps it's a process of building on that.
"There are a number of people around town who are doing their own thing in terms of the brand, and promoting the brand.
"I think the days of frontier image are long gone.
"We're no longer a frontier outback town but something that reflects Alice Springs as a go-ahead, innovative, creative, bustling town, a centre of excellence, an enthusiastic, vibrant, go-ahead town."
All we need now are the facts to back all this up.


While the public library, urgently needing to double its floor space, has had its new building put on hold to a future second stage, council administration will get their new offices in Civic Centre redevelopment plans put on display last week.
The plans also reveal that a public ablutions block will be built fronting Todd Street.
There'll be a new, larger and more functional Garden Room, also facing Todd Street.
The present chambers will become council's reception area, while the present reception area will be refurbished as chambers that can also be used for community purposes.
A new building to house council administration will extend from the reception area eastwards and has been designed to fit in with the Afghan theme of the existing building.
It will overcome the present "serious overcrowding" in the admin offices and replace plant, equipment and engineering systems that have reached their use-by date.
NEEDS"The aim has been to provide a modern administration building and community facilities that will meet our needs for the next 10 to 20 years," says Roger Bottrall, council's director of planning and infrastructure.The council lawns and palm trees will remain, with paving in the corner towards Todd Mall.
The south-western corner, opposite KFC, will become the site for a new public library, but that won't be built until funds are found further down the track.
Carparking between the proposed library and Leichardt Terrace will be formalised, providing 300 places for the public and council staff.
The south-eastern corner will be landscaped, leaving existing large trees in place.
The courtyard containing the amphitheatre will be enclosed and no longer available to casual users. It will, however, be available for community functions.
All of this, in a design by national firm Gutteridge Haskins & Davey, now awaits public comment over the coming month.
GHD won the tender on the basis of their "proven record in the design of public buildings", says Mr Bottrall.
Community consultation till now was not thought warranted because the main changes will be internal and are operational, not community issues, says Mayor Fran Kilgariff.
She also says that extensive consultation undertaken by the previous council was taken into account.
"When we tried to incorporate all that the community wanted, we came up with a design that would have cost $12.5m.
"We simply did not have access to that amount of money and decided to go for renovation instead."
The estimated price tag for this first stage of the redevelopment is $6m, which will come from council's funds.
Alderman Bob Corby, on the Civic Centre sub-committee together with the mayor and aldermen Jenny Mostran, Geoff Bell, David Koch and Raelene Beale (until recently), could not remember the exact arrangement for community consultation Ð "that was left up to staff".
But he says "the appropriate consultation will be forthcoming" now that the plans are on display.
Ald Mostran says, apart from reviewing the previous consultation, the sub-committee worked with the Arid Lands Environment Centre and Cool Communities on the energy issues of the redevelopment. As a result, the design on display, using passive design features such as north-south orientation and sub-floor ventilation, has a four star energy efficiency rating.
The community now has a chance to respond to detailed plans and she hopes they will: "The Civic Centre has to be community-owned. We don't want to put the plans out there and have them ignored," says Ald Mostran.
She joined the sub-committee to "push the toilet issue".
She is convinced that having the toilets prominently placed and well lit will deal with a lot of "the negative issues" of the present facility.
She says this has been the experience of other regional centres, such as Broome and Port Augusta.
"But if a lot of people say, Ôwe want you to hide the toilet away', we would have to pay them some attention," says Ald Mostran.
Mayor Kilgariff says there will be grassroots consultation about the new library. Council has approached the Territory Government for financial assistance to build it and she hopes the process will begin next year.
As a stand alone building the new library would have the potential to reflect a different theme.
"There is scope to make it a more Indigenous themed building," says Ms Kilgariff.
It could also present the opportunity for greater orientation towards Todd River.
"But would you then want a carpark on the corner of Todd Street and Stott Terrace?" asks Mr Bottrall.
Ms Kilgariff says orientation towards the river was "not a high priority" for the first stage of the development.
She also says access to the library would probably be best from Todd Street.
Debate about the present library has intensified over recent months, with Ald Corby notably expressing concern at unpleasant odours, visitors eating and sleeping, being barefoot, and children being unsupervised.
Library manager, Glenys Aird, confirms that some users of the library have complained about these matters, but she says other visitors have commended the library on the work they have done to make the library accessible to the whole community.
"The increase in library usage, almost double in five years, has largely come from Aboriginal people, which is extraordinary in terms of public libraries in Australia," says Ms Aird.
She says library staff "mounted a vigorous case" to have the library included in Stage One of the redevelopment, as current visitation requires a doubling of floor space to cope with numbers and the different types of usage.
"We thought a new library for the whole community would be the best way to spend the money available, even though we acknowledge that the administration desperately needs new office space," says Ms Aird.
"We accept council's decision and we are working to address some of the issues within the constraints of using the existing building for another five years."UNAWARE
Ms Aird says she is unaware of council's approach to the government for funding for a new building, although she knows such an approach has been "mooted".
On the library staff's request of council, Mayor Kilgariff says the sub-committee considered it "not feasible" because the approach was only made "in the last couple of weeks and at that stage the redevelopment plans were "too far advanced".
Ald Corby's motion at council's end of February meeting, that enforcement of by-laws regarding hygiene, dress and behaviour standards in the library be investigated, was carried.
Council is now awaiting a report from officers on the issue.
Ms Kilgariff says she is "certainly not in favour of dress codes or security guards" in the library, and does not believe that staff want that either.
SUCCESSFUL"We have a definite policy of equity of access to the library and the implementation of it with regard to Aboriginal people has been particularly successful," says Ms Kilgariff."Until we have a new library there may be some other options to help deal with the problems that have arisen."These could include employing more staff, modifying the air conditioning, providing more cleaning, all of which cost money and should be considered as part of the budget process."
Ald Corby says he is waiting for the officers' report before making further comment.
Ald Mostran says it is important to find "inclusive" solutions to the problems at the library. She did not rule out "dress standards" although "they would have to come from the community, not from me".
"The library is a pivotal service that council offers.
"We need to think about what it is used for and to talk to all user groups to see what common ground there is."
Ms Aird says library staff have also suggested that they work with Aboriginal organizations to address some of the issues, including appropriate staffing and child-care.
They are already talking to the Education Department about school-age children who are in the library on schooldays.
More immediately, they are also working on changing the present layout to create some "quiet zones", which should be completed by the end of May.
Ms Aird says public libraries throughout the world are places for "the disenfranchised, safe havens as well as repositories of history and culture and sources of information".
This social and community focus means that consultation on what the new library should be like should be put in place from the beginning, a chance also, says Ms Aird, "to sell the concept of the public library to the community again".


Maisie Austin OAM says it's crunch time in Aboriginal affairs and that augurs well for her candidacy in Lingiari.
As a woman and as an Aborigine Ms Austin would be fighting an uphill battle as the CLP candidate for Lingiari, the predominantly black seat taking in all of the Territory except Darwin.
But she says the long entrenched power structure Ð a Labor Member backed by the land councils Ð has achieved so little for the folk in the bush that they are looking for fundamental change.
If that's true the softly spoken businesswoman from Darwin Ð the first Aboriginal owner of a real estate business, she says with a smile Ð may be on her way to Canberra.
Ready to split her domicile between Darwin and Alice, where she has "strong Aboriginal family connections", the Wardaman / Jaywon descendant, a former director of an insurance loss adjusting company for about 20 years, owner of boutiques, and a martial arts school for 25 years, has previously been the CLP's second Senate candidate, offering no chance of victory.
But now she's in the main game: She says she needs a mere five percent swing to unseat Labor's Warren Snowdon.
She concedes that standing a black candidate in a black seat has its problems.
The candidate, of course, gets support from his or her own family, but other clans may be hostile.
Tribal tension would come into play Ð not a recipe for victory: It seems better to have a non-Aboriginal politician, with a proven empathy for his constituents, who can impartially take issues to the Parliament.
And that, after all, has been whitefeller business, and politics, by and large, rightly or wrongly, has been men's business. That means being a woman is an additional handicap.
Good examples of successful pollies, because they are white men, in a black seat are former Territory Member for MacDonnell, Neil Bell (Labor), a fluent Pitjantjatjara speaker, and his CLP successor John Elferink (coincidentally a friend of Ms Austin's), popular in the bush whilst not carrying any "rellies" baggage.
In 2001 Mr Elferink defeated Central Land Council (CLC) figure and Aborigine Harold Furber.
Ms Austin says there is now a growing trend amongst Aboriginal people to call off all political bets because of the sustained misery in Aboriginal society, and the manifest failure of the land councils and sitting politicians in bringing about change.
"Times are changing, and attitudes of men, too, realising that the leaders don't necessarily have to be men," says Ms Austin.
"It's for me to go and change the attitude and the psyche of Aboriginal people to see that you don't have to be a man to fight for the rights of people.
"Sometimes a woman's voice can be a lot stronger."
Ms Austin says there are fewer regional elements, opportunities for pork barrelling, in Federal elections: "The issues affect equally nearly all the clans and communities, right across the NT.
"They are generic issues," she says, indigenous education, housing and health, substance abuse, economic development Ð the old, unchanging litany of black misery.
"I would like to be able one day to show Aboriginal people a window of opportunity, to create a better lifestyle for them, and gain self esteem, feel good about who they are.
"Community leaders have to start helping their own communities."
She readily admits that the perception was that her own party, in 26 years in power, neglected or mismanaged Aboriginal affairs in the Territory.
"There is a perception that the CLP was a red neck boys' club that didn't necessarily promote Indigenous people and issues.
"So what I say now is that things are no longer as they used to be.
"The fact that they have preselected me as a candidate is a step in changing the psyche and attitude of the party.
"The CLP needed to change its attitude.
"The feeling in the CLP now is really exciting with Terry Mills as the leader.
"There is a new committee, younger people with new ideas, they have listened to the community.
"They are trying to make changes, win the confidence of the community."
But Ms Austin says Aboriginal people must "start helping themselves".
"They can't keep blaming somebody else.
"They really need to realise what assets and talents they themselves have in their own community, and stand up and be counted, saying we can do this, we can get out of this psyche, this lifestyle that we've been in for so many years.
"They've got to be serious, too.
"I'd like to see the community councils be given the incentive, encouragement and assistance to solve problems themselves."


This is part two of COURTNEY WHITMAN's interview with Aldermen Annette Smith, who has yet to make up her mind about standing again for council, and Aldermen Geoff Bell, who'll "probably" stand. (See part one in last week's issue.)
On land shortage and its impact on real estate prices, reacting perhaps to recent statements in these pages by Alds Mostran and Jones, Ald Smith says "it's not the government's problem, it's ours".
She wants to know why council thinks it has to constantly run to government.
"The whole thing needs rethinking," she says.
Ald Bell, however, thinks council has done "really well so far in lobbying [government] to get the town rocking and rolling again" with a land release.
As a local initiative to promote tourism, Ald Bell helped found the Ambassadors to Alice Springs project, which recognizes the contribution of local business people to the promotion of Alice.
Peter Seidel, Executive Officer of the Camel Industry Association was the first honorary ambassador in September of 2003, and Wayne Kraft was recognized recently as the second.
Their jobs involve them in talking up the town and region when they are away, "fostering business, tourism, and cultural" networks.
However, Ald Smith is critical of council for having "no formal policy" on how "tourism is to be promoted and supported."
She also finds the lack of community involvement in council meetings very "discouraging".
"It's the ones that never come in that say the most," says Ald Smith, referring to the whinging in letters to the editor and people generally complaining about the town.
"I find it very disheartening," she says. "I'm sick of people trying to find fault here. There are a lot of happy, well adjusted people here.
"We need to iron out wrinkles, but why would people like us be here if it's not OK to live here?
"The schools are great. I don't know why we undermine the town, and ourselves."
Both say time is the biggest consideration for people thinking about standing for council. Ald Smith adds commitment, " absolute commitment".
"You have to be contactable and reachable, you've got to read, do your homework," she says.
Ald Bell agrees, "There are times when your time is infringed upon, but if you feel like you've got something to say, have a go."
Ald Smith stresses that differences make council stronger.
"We need diversity in council," she says.
"People should never think they haven't got what it takes.
"Everyone's got a skill. Council is an amalgam of skills."Ald Bell urges prospective aldermen to take advantage of information sessions that council will be holding, wishing that he'd been offered one before he ran.


Mildie Raveane had a weekend he'll never forget, when after hosting the Collingwood versus Port Power match as Chairman of AFLCA (the good old CAFL) he was able to watch part of his superannuation portfolio, Chigwidden, stroll to the line at Pioneer Park on Saturday afternoon paying $7.
The face of the Crown Plaza, Mildie has talked up Chigwidden's potential, racing in Darwin last Cup time or down south over the summer. Algie Trengrove had the horse in Adelaide, but in resuming at Pioneer Park the "Razor" Terry Gillett has successfully taken over training duties.
In the 1100 metre Schweppes Maiden, She's a Card trained by Catriona Green, was set to make it three wins in a row for the stable when the speedster jumped to the front. Rustic Outlook joined her at the lead, however, and this may have told on the filly's performance.
Come the turn Litigious made a run and straightened up looking the goods, but Chigwidden, who had camped mid field in the running found plenty, and came down the middle of the course under a full head of steam to score by two and a quarter lengths. Litigious held on for second, while the favourite She's A card filled third place.
Earlier in the day, the 1000 metre Maiden Two Year old was run. Unlike last year when Drifter proved to be a star performer, it seems this year's crop of two year olds are more evenly set. Tim Norton took the favourite Crown Pilot to the lead from barrier one, while Leeches, Sharmoxie, and Thin Red Rag raced as a group about two lengths off the pace. At the business end of the race Leeches pulled out plenty and was able to overpower Crown Pilot to win by half a length. The favourite took second money and Sharmoxie filled the placings.
Scott Leckey from Darwin then enjoyed a riding double under the instructions of trainer Catriona Green. In the 1400 metre Redbank Class Two Handicap, Leckey had the mount of Pierrot, a well bred performer who is resuming after an extended spell from the track.
The apprentice threw caution to the wind and led on Pierrot, enjoying a pressure free run two to three lengths in front. In fact as the race went on the challenges didn't and Pierrot strolled to the winning post, four and three quarter lengths in front of the equal favourite Burran, with Aldilar a further three and three quarter lengths back in third spot.
The Green / Leckey combination then buttered up in the Absolute Steel Class Five Handicap over 1200 metres when Cartoon Hero saluted. In the running the favourite Edge to Edge settled off the pace with Mr Cardin, allowing Gold Boss to dictate terms in front. Being more a 1400 metre horse Cartoon Hero was further back, but it became a different story in the straight. As they went to the line Cartoon Hero had too much strength for Mr Cardin and recorded a one and a quarter length win. Third place was filled by Gold Boss, with Edge to Edge a disappointing fourth.
The last of the day, the Castlemaine Perkins Open handicap over 1000 metres, had punters marking their black books after Our Mate Jack lived up to favouritism and scored by two and a quarter lengths. Crazy Cotton led with Ganga back, and Our Mate Jack in third place.
Crazy Cotton called it a day at the top of the straight leaving it to Ganga and Our Mate Jack to make their moves. In the style that has taken Our Mate Jack from maiden to open company in just 12 months, the favourite went to the line looking good for the Cup time sprint.
Ganga finished second and the veteran Le Saint came from last to collect for third place. The win also gave a riding / training double to Tim Norton and Gillett.

Azaria still with us. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.

The adage, the truth is often stranger than fiction, is a huge understatement.
There have been occasions when David and I have travelled, whether it's interstate or overseas, that as soon as we reveal we live in the Alice, questions, apart from the usual (Do we have sealed roads? Are there shops and schools here?!), are asked about the dingo, the missing baby and Ayers Rock. I was interested to read an article in the Oz, 4/3/4, Media section, New Light on Dark Mystery, re a script based on the case against Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, written by film maker Tony Cavanaugh and his Liberty Productions partner, his wife, Simone North.
Months of research, plus interviews with hundreds of people to ensure accuracy, will now hopefully culminate into Liberty's production of a mini series for the Seven Network.It brought to mind a conversation a couple of years ago when David and I were with friends, Anne, William, Hermann and Ruth (who have since left the Centre to retire in Clare), Stephanie, John, Mandy, Ian and others, on a balmy Sunday evening enjoying sundowners under a huge Centralian sky.
William asked who amongst us was living in Alice back in 1980 when little Azaria disappeared Éwhich turned out to be the majority of those present Éexcept William and Anne, who were still in the middle of southern Africa, as was David. William posed two questions: Did we believe that Lindy was guilty at the time?
If so, did we change our minds when she was released, and subsequently pardoned, after serving three years in Berrimah?
In a relatively orderly fashion, everyone around the table answered.
There was an overwhelming belief from those assembled that she had not taken her baby's life.
Perhaps she knew more, but she was certainly innocent of the crime of which she was accused.
Sometime later, I read that Lindy had erected a bronze sculpture in a special place in the middle of her garden on the property in New South Wales which she shares with her husband: a celebration of a precious life, tragically shortened, a water fountain of a baby bathing, in memory of little Azaria.
The Weekend Oz magazine, October 19/20, 2002, ran an article: "Dingoes and Divas Ð the making of a Rock Opera called Lindy", giving the background, for the few who didn't already know it, to the show which was opening at the Sydney Opera House that week.
Composer Moya Henderson wrote the stage play over a ten year period, courageously battling and overcoming public opinion, emotions, casting and production problems, to put together the work.
Lindy Chamberlain was involved with the production, making changes and corrections to ensure that the story line paralleled, as closely as possible, reality, making certain that her first words, that now famous sentence:
A dingo's taken my baby, were written into the script.
The 1988 film, Cry in the Dark, released in Oz as Evil Angels, was well attended and showed that the mystery and intrigue surrounding the Azaria incident hasn't diminished with time.
It's easy to forget that it really happened, it's not a fairy-tale with an ugly ending.
It was 1982: Max Rainer was the manager of the Alice Springs Bowling Club and I was (self-appointed) assistant manager É keeping the accounts and running the bar.
Dennis Barrett, (since deceased) Magistrate of the Alice Springs Court and Frank Gibson, (also deceased), one of the Police Officers who was on duty when little Azaria disappeared, used to play competition lawn bowls most weekends.
It was an extremely volatile time and the townspeople in general were angry Ð emotions ran high, accusations were rife and there were ugly scenes outside the Alice Springs Courthouse.
Lindy was persecuted, hounded by the media and the hearing, for security purposes, was relocated to Darwin.
Months after Lindy was found guilty and sentenced to gaol, both Dennis and Frank revealed that they had always believed she was innocent.
People are punished daily because of public perceptions, prejudice and outcry.
In May a man called Murdoch will stand trial for the murder of Peter Falconio, the young British tourist who disappeared south of Barrow Creek on July 14, 2001.
Joanne Lees, his travelling companion, was also under scrutiny, not quite accused, but almost, when she first recounted her story about the incidents surrounding the disappearance of her lover.
We have become a nation of sceptics, even though we are aware that bizarre and tragic events continue to happen in this remote part of Oz.
The events surrounding Azaria's disappearance were even stranger Ð the world looked on, pointed fingers and judged Ð it will make interesting viewing, twenty odd years on, to see the story as perceived by Liberty Productions.

Your Oscar is in the mail. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

Wouldn't it be better if the Oscars were run differently?
Academy members would be sent forms that invited them to vote. They would tick the boxes and return the forms.
Then the prizes would be worked out and the golden statuettes despatched to the winners in padded brown envelopes by registered post.
Actors would briefly stop work on their latest film to accept the award and to have a small black-and-white photo taken.
The picture would later appear in the Academy annual report.
No need for a massive ceremony and all the mindless sparkle that surrounds it.
The benefits of this process are obvious.
The general public wouldn't have to watch entertainment professionals giving themselves yet more awards.
We wouldn't have to suffer overwrought speeches by highly-strung actors in clothing that doesn't fit.
But most of all, the whole process would be more efficient, meaning that the same result is achieved for much less effort.
There, that's sorted out then. Next week; cookery on television.
Let's go back to reading recipes in food-stained, dog-eared paperback books instead.
Making the Oscars more efficient appeals mainly to beige management types who don't get out enough.
For example, I was reading a management article recently that rated the efficiency of countries in a league table.
The conclusion of the analysis was that the much higher productivity of the United States compared to competing nations was solely due to the willingness of the workforce to have short holidays of eight working days a year on average.
Even the Germans, with their reputation for discipline and a powerful work ethic, make sure they get at least three times the recreation leave of the Americans.
Here in the Alice, far from the Land of Eight Days Leave, people broker a nice line of self-deprecating jokes about how inefficient the place is. Have you heard the one about meetings always being late due to the Territory time difference?
What about the oft-repeated remark about the consignment that is always bound to arrive sometime Next Tuesday (or NT).
Or the comment about there being no such thing as a punctual Territory tradesman.
I might be a fish out of water, but I reckon I've heard them all.
Jokes about how shabby we are. Just one symptom of an inferiority complex that probably afflicts most places located far from the frenetic and dynamic cities where clearly all the clever people must live and work.
But, then again, inferiority depends on where your benchmarks are and with whom you are comparing.
To take just two fine groups of people, I have heard that both Buddhists and Cubans live for the moment.
They try to enjoy what they are doing and don't spend much time planning for or worrying about what's around the corner.
In Cuba, for most people the future doesn't bear thinking about (more long months with no money).
And for Buddhists, to focus on the future they would lose the chance to savour what is happening right now.
So I reckon that the problem for Territory culture is that too many people make excuses and jokes for sloppiness.
We need to borrow from the Cubans. Instead of blaming the heat or the remoteness or some other lame excuse, it's far better to claim proudly that lateness and inefficiency are just vital aspects of local culture that outsiders are far too shallow to understand.
After all, the supposedly sophisticated and business-like people who organise the Academy Awards or the Allan Border Medal or any of those other back-slapping events don't suffer from an inferiority complex about sloppiness and inefficiency.
So why should we? And if you're expecting an award, it should arrive sometime Next Tuesday.


People of the Bidyadanga community, also known as La Grange, were removed from their desert homelands in WA some 40 years ago, yet when they began painting in the mid-nineties their traditional country was still their subject.
Bidyadanga artists will be among the stars of Gallery Gondwana's first exhibition of 2004, Divas of the Desert, not least because their work Ð fresh, vibrant, colourful and distinctive Ð underlines the ongoing vitality of Aboriginal art.
Divas will become an annual feature of the Gallery Gondwana program, honouring the work of women artists, who as they paint, indeed do "sing their country" Ð recalling the journeys and events of mythological ancestors as they ventured across the landscape during the Tjukurrpa.
This year's Divas presents a body of some 50 paintings from, apart from Bidyadanga, Warlayirti Artists (Great Sandy Desert), Mankaja Arts (Fitzroy Crossing), Maruku Arts & Crafts (Uluru), Utopia Artists (Eastern Desert), and Warlukurlangu Artists (Tanami Desert), as well as Alice Springs.
It features both established senior law women Ð including Eubena Nampitjin, Elizabeth Nyumi, Narputta Nangala, Alice Nampitjinpa, Molly Rogers, Cory Surprise, Kathleen Petyarre, Betsy Lewis and Dorothy Napangardi Ð and emerging artists, such as Julie Robinson, Weaver Jack, Bertha Linty and Eadie Curtis.
COTTONAlso showing will be Minymaku Cloth, reflecting a new approach to textile art in 12 2.5m lengths of silk and cotton by six Pitjantjatjara women from Amata in northern South Australia.
And, as if all this isn't exciting enough, fibre, bronze and prints from Maningrida (on the coast of Central Arnhem Land) will round out the show.
They include examples of "new directions" by Maningrida artists, following their association with Urban Art Projects (UAP).
This lead to incorporation of hard-edged media, in particular, cast bronze and aluminium in sculptures of echidnas, bush mice and pig, camp dogs and turtles by some of Maningrida's most accomplished and talented artists, such as Lena Yarinkura, Bob Burruwul and Lena Djamarrayku.
Exhibition opens this Friday, 5.30 Ð 7.30pm.

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.