ROADS MONEY DOUBTS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
It is unclear whether deteriorating bush roads will benefit from a new pot of Federal money.
They have been missing out on $20m a year because to date Canberra, under its Roads to Recovery program, has been funding only roads that are within local government areas.
In the NT, only population centres are "incorporated", and not the vast areas in between.
But now the Federal Government has decided to not only run another four year cycle of Roads to Recovery, but also to add – nationally – $100m to the $200m channelled to local government roads each year.
The extra money will be "to undertake local land transport projects of strategic regional importance, especially supporting emerging and expanding industries," says a spokesman for Senator Ian Campbell, Minister for Territories and Roads.
How much of that $100m the NT will get – if any – will depend on the quality of its submissions, says the spokesman.
It appears the Territory won't necessarily win either way.
Even if the 70-odd local government bodies expanded so as to cover all of the NT with a patchwork of shires – as in the eastern states – there is no guarantee that the benefits enjoyed by existing councils throughout Australia will be extended to any new ones in the NT, according to Senator Campbell's spokesman.
In any case, the cattle stations lessees seem in no mood to come under local government: "We are strongly opposed to any further incorporation of the NT as there would be no benefit to our industry," says the Cattlemen's Association's Stuart Kenny.
"We already pay a lease on our pastoral properties, and would consider an extra tax, in the form of council rates, to be inappropriate."
The 70 stations in the Alice Springs area range in size from 380 to 7337 square kilometres. Annual lease payments, two per cent of the unimproved capital value (UCV), range from $1600 to $40,200.
The UCV is pegged by the Valuer General taking into account stock carrying capacity (but not improvements such as homesteads, fences and bores).
The average lease payment in the region is $6754.
Mr Kenny would not make further comment but it seems that cattle station people are also not likely to be enthralled by being governed by a council whose elected members would be predominantly Aboriginal.
According to an NT government department document, the Commonwealth provides untied Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) funding to local government councils annually for the maintenance of local roads through the Northern Territory Grants Commission.
In 2002/03 $10.57m was distributed for the maintenance of 13,653 km of roads, which included the roads maintained by municipal councils and the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT).
All these roads are inside population centres, the majority in the four municipalities of Alice Springs, Darwin, Katherine and Tennant Creek.
But 8,000 km of local roads in rural and remote areas are maintained by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment (DIPE).
No funds are received from the Commonwealth for the maintenance of these roads.Even if these roads were to be transferred to local government through boundary extensions, they would not attract any increase in overall FAG roads funding to the Territory.
Says a spokesman for Local Government Minister John AhKit: "The archaic historic basis of the FAG roads funding formula puts the contemporary development of local government in the Territory at a distinct disadvantage compared to the long established local government arrangements in other places."
Territory Government planners take an optimistic view of getting a slice of the $100m because it "aligns well with the Territory Government's Building Stronger Regions – Stronger Futures strategy.
"Regional Development Boards will be significant stakeholders in the process as more detail of the program is unveiled."
The departmental document also says the Commonwealth has announced that commencing in 2006/07 an additional $265m, from the winding up and redistribution of the Fuel Sales Grants Scheme, will be made available nationally for transport infrastructure projects.
Core funding for the implementation of the AusLink National Land Transport Plan will also be announced in the upcoming 2004/05 Commonwealth budget and will be additional to the other initiatives.
The new funding arrangements are adopting the theme of requiring and rewarding collaborative regional strategic planning involving local business and community stakeholders, local government and State / Territory Governments working together to support emerging and expanding regional industries.
SCHOOL SEX PIX SET OFF UPROAR. Report by JULIA WINTERFLOOD.
By JULIA WINTERFLOOD"I hate it."
"Pornography is not art."
"It puts us off our lunch."
"I don't want to study in here!"
"It's broadening people's horizons.""It's good to … see life from a different perspective other than Dolly magazine."These were some of the comments made by students about Belinda Mason-Lovering's "Intimate Encounters", a landmark photographic exhibition exploring sexuality, disability and body image, on show in the Charles Darwin University (CDU) library.
As predicted, the exhibition is causing serious controversy among the library's users.
The majority of students I interviewed thought the library, as a public learning environment, is a highly inappropriate venue for the works to be displayed.
Many students said that they felt uncomfortable and uneasy surrounded by nudity, and that encountering images of naked people in an area where they are trying to study is extremely distracting.
In their comments they mostly stayed away from the disabilities of the naked people.
A petition to have the exhibition removed was launched by a Stage Two student on Friday.
Eli Waterford said: "I go to the library to study, so I want a peaceful and quiet learning area, but when I look up all I see is dudes with dongers hanging out and it distracts me and I don't want to look up again."
Luke Ross agreed: "It's a bit hard when you're working on a computer and you look up and that's all you see."
Many students also believed that people should have the right to choose whether they see the exhibition or not.
Natalie Herrick suggested that the art be relocated to a venue where someone would have to decide to see it, rather than being subjected to images they felt were "too graphic" or "too revealing".
"Is this the best venue? In an art gallery type setting, you can choose to go and see images of naked people, and then leave. But in a library, you have no choice but to be confronted by these images," was another comment made.
"The library is a place of learning, it isn't the Playboy mansion," one girl exclaimed.
The library is a designated learning environment, and not an establishment to exhibit "offensive, unpleasant, and disturbing" photographs, was one point reiterated by many.
But Geoff Sloan, Manager of Information Services at CDU, explained that the works had been strategically arranged in order to allow people to decide whether or not they wanted to be in close proximity to the exhibition.
Specific areas where the works can not be seen have been made available – some desks and chairs are out of direct view of the art, and an entire wall of the Electronic Learning Centre has been left vacant.
Intimate Encounters is the third in a series of exhibitions facilitated by Artback (an organisation which tours visual and performing arts in the Territory) to have appeared in the CDU library.
Artback warned venue holders about the show's potential to offend some viewers, but advised that it was suitable for students in years 11 and 12.
CDs containing digital images of the artworks were also issued to various CDU staff before the exhibition was launched, and all agreed that the exhibition's content was appropriate for the students.
However, despite the students' poor response to the presence of these challenging images in their learning space, aren't learning and understanding two of the focal points of the exhibition?
The artist's intention is surely to provide able-bodied people with an insight into what has been an almost taboo subject.
Nearly everyone in our society assumes that if you're disabled, you aren't sexually active.
The artworks are questioning the hidden assumption that only the most attractive and successful among us lead active and healthy sexual lives.
What better way to enlighten people about the realities of living with a disability than by prominently displaying the works in a public place of learning?
Although the majority of students I interviewed objected to the library as a location for the exhibition, most of them didn't express a problem with the actual subject of disability and sexuality.
They said they just felt that the explicit depiction of sexual activity and nudity was unacceptable.
But some people expressed extremely positive attitudes.
"I applaud anything that challenges our understanding and impressions of 'normality'," and, "It's good to be taken out of your comfort zone – see life from a different perspective other than Dolly magazine," were two of the remarks in the Intimate Encounters comment book.
Nic Wiles thought the art was "really expressive. It's good for people to realise what disability's all about.
"It's broadening people's horizons."
Tim Knispel said: "It's quite interesting, it's teaching people about understanding people for who they really are.
It's getting younger audiences in touch with how the world works and is basically teaching them about life."
In the photographs people with all sorts of disabilities, some more obvious than others, have contributing their innermost thoughts and feelings to the finished product.
All of them are activists and allies striving for a basic human right: the right to be a sexual person.
LAND: MORE GOOD NEWS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
A major uncertainty about the development of 85 residential blocks at Larapinta was removed last week as a by-product of the Alice Springs native title holders' decision to sign an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with the NT Government.
An earlier agreement in principle – as a government spokeswoman described it – provided for the government to hold off developing its half of the land until the native title holders, represented by Lhere Artepe, have finished selling theirs.
That understanding was without time limit, at worst preventing any development if the Aboriginal project failed.
However, says Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne, the new agreement will allow the government to go ahead with its portion of the land three months after signing the ILUA.
That could be sooner if Lhere Artepe manages to make arrangements for development earlier.
One hurdle is already out of the way – the Development Consent Authority has approved the land for residential purposes.
Dr Toyne says the government will call tenders for the development of its 40 to 45 blocks.
"We will accept the best overall proposal."
Dr Toyne says there may be room for a few hundred more blocks at Larapinta.
When fixing the prices for the blocks it will develop, Dr Toyne says the government will take into account the valuation from the Valuer General – "not below" – as well as market trends and the views of the real estate industry and the public service.
The fact that around 600 blocks will become available in staged releases at Mt Johns Valley (Stephens Road) will also influence the value of residential land.
"It would be irresponsible to release too much or too little land," says Mr Toyne.
The government would be guided by the needs of first home buyers as well as the interests of existing home owners seeking to safeguard their investment.
Dr Toyne says real estate industry estimates of urgent need vary between 150 and 300 blocks.
HERO WORSHIP. Report by COURTNEY WHITMAN.
Murray Stewart, the blind council candidate with a vision for Alice, will take an "irresistible" architect's drawing of a "Heroes Under the Sun Museum" to the doors of the rich and famous in an endeavour to find financial backers.
Mr Stewart, a myotherapist and dedicated vision impaired sprinter, is president of the Heroes Under the Sun Foundation, which wants to honour the work of emergency service workers and volunteers throughout Australia.
The museum display will tell the story of firemen, policemen, emergency service workers, ambulance workers, trackers – professionals and volunteers.
Says Mr Stewart: "Australia throughout history has had remarkable natural disasters. Cyclone Tracy, the earthquake in Newcastle, bushfires … the list goes on and on.
"Australian weather is so diverse, and at the end of the day, natural disasters are forced by the weather.
"We're actually going to have a Star and Storm watch observatory, and we're hoping to get a radar tracking device so people can see storms coming".
There will also be displays that track the history of various "hero" services, tied in with an online reference website.
A Garden of Remembrance will name the people who've given their lives for the community. New names will be added bi-annually in an "induction process" that will bring people from all over Australia.
"Halls of fame in general are for movie stars, sports heroes etc. But real heroes haven't got a home. That's what this complex is about," says Mr Stewart.
At its completion the complex will "employ up to 40 people".
It will also bring to Alice Springs the potential for many conferences.
"Conferences of emergency services personnel and meteorological conferences. Our convention centre can sit about 380 people.
"From my perspective this is about giving a final reference to those who've given their lives. This will be the only museum of this type in Australia. This is it."
Is there a location in mind?
"We've deliberately not found a home for it yet, because the first thing we wanted to do was create an irresistible project design to attract backers.
"This is, after all, about people who've given up their lives and risked their lives to help others. And so in our view this will receive national support."Mr Stewart estimates the price tag at $20m to $30m.
The foundation intends to raise money by "knocking on doors, people like Kerry Packer, organizations like Telstra and BHP Billiton", as well as approaching governments setting up a national membership scheme.
They have started to put together a business plan and will meet with the Minister of Central Australia Peter Toyne this week "to discuss possible allocation of land".
What if land was just not available now at this stage in Alice Springs, but he was told that there might be this sweet little three hectare plot in Darwin?Mr Stewart: "My personal feel is that Alice Springs is the natural place. We are talking about a national project, and it should be right here in the Centre of our great country.
"Many people will say what about Sydney? What about Melbourne? What about Canberra? Well, in my view it should be here. I'm a pretty stubborn person, and I want to do it here.
"This is why now, I'm moving forward on the business plan. I said two years ago it was going to be a seven year project.
"But we now have the complex drawings, we've got these meetings happening, the next step is to raise the funds to get stories from all over Australia sent to us.
"We've raised most of the money so far by holding ‘seventies fundraisers, and this next one on Saturday will allow us to continue work on the business plan and to start writing to people all over Australia to get the ball rolling as far as finance is concerned."
The fundraiser, Sizzling 70's Sensation, is on this Saturday night at the Memorial Club, at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15.
The foundation, at present a "handful" of people, is also calling for community involvement. Membership is free. If you'd like to get involved, please call Murray Stewart at 0407 256 428.
FORSTER NAILS WESTS' COFFIN. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
RSL's Matt Forster has missed his vocation: he should have been an undertaker.
A blinding 58 not out in the last hour of the first day's play from Forster set up a win for RSL Works in the elimination final at Albrecht Oval.
On the second day he nailed the coffin and snuffed Wests out of the game by taking five wickets.In downing the Bloods, RSL now have the week to prepare for the grand final against minor premiers Federal who enjoyed a break.In the knockout West won the toss, with Jeremy Bigg giving RSL the opportunity to put the pads on first, obviously hoping to get something out of the wicket.
In fact by mid-afternoon Biggs' decision seemed well vindicated as the Bloods had RSL on the cusp at 7/145.
Graham Schmidt had given the Works boys a handy start with 58, while partner Tom Scollay went for 13, caught by Greg Dowell off Ryan Thomson.
Skipper Jeff Whitmore compiled 21 before Daniel Cook snapped up a catch off Shane Trembath, being the first of three wickets for the West speedster.
A duck to Scott Robertson and a single to Troy Camilleri, both off Trembath, did not help the RSL cause, especially as the mainstay Schmidt was trapped by Luke Sprague, caught Ryan Thomson.
In the middle order however it was Jamie Smith who took control centre stage and in a swashbuckling innings was responsible for RSL's ability to hold the fort. Craig James' stay at the crease only yielded four before Sprague scattered his stumps. Matt Salzburger then gave Smith the support needed to continue his innings of 56, before being caught Trembath, bowled Thomson.With the demise of the "push from the bush" , RSL then had Matt Forster enter the arena. He wasted no time in advancing the cause pushing the ball into the gaps and making the best of his giant stride to compile runs.
Salzburger was caught by Leif Hiscox for nine and so it was Wayne Egglington's turn to lend a hand. He did this well, allowing Forster full control.
Forster dominated in the last hour and saw that West were not going to take to the crease with a mediocre challenge. His 58 not out was a match winning hit, as he took the RSL score over 200 ending the day at 9/243.
In the dying balls Egglington fell to Ryan Thomson LBW, allowing the seasoned Bernie Nethery to face a ball or two and score a single.243 certainly seemed enough for the RSL, as Wests were led in the bowling by Ryan Thomson with 3/33 off 13 overs and Trembath with 3/30. Otherwise Luke Sprague snared 2/27 and Jeremy Bigg picked up a single.The stiff easterly breeze on Sunday certainly affected the game, this again illustrating the benefit of batting first and getting a score on the board. Wests however took the game right up to RSL from the outset.
Adam Stockwell engineered an opening 74 before Wayne Egglington caught him off Graham Schmidt. Luke Sprague was not as effective contributing 17 as the other opener, caught Whitmore and bowled Matt Forster.
This was the beginning of another rendition of Forster at the top as he proceeded to take a further four wickets. He bowled Kevin Mezzone for six; had Greg Dowell adjudged LBW for eight; bowled Daniel Cook for six; and saw captain Bigg caught by Wayne Egglington for 16.
Interestingly Wests reached 7/144, in comparison to RSL being 7/145 on the day before.
In Wests' favour Darren Clarke got his act together and scored 56, with some assistance from Leif Hiscox who scored 15 before being caught by Craig James off Scott Robertson. But the tail for West did not wag as it had for RSL. Salzburger claimed Clarke's scalp and Trembath was then run out for a duck, so leaving Ryan Thomson not out nil and West 10/212 off 63 overs.This week the premiership comes down to two days' play between Federal and RSL. RSL need to defeat Federal outright to claim the flag. It should be a corker of a game.
THE LUCK OF THE IRISH. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
Viv Oldfield renewed his links with the Irish on Saturday when the first of the St Patrick's Day Meeting races was claimed by his rank outsider, Shrewd Ace.
In the 1000 metre Hourglass Jewellers Limerick Inn Two Year Old event the heavily supported Kenoath led but didn't have it all his way as Archart and Crown Pilot applied pressure in the running.
Shrewd Ace, showing $15, with Darwin's Paul Denton on board, sat quietly midfield. In the straight Kenoath was able to shrug off his immediate opposition but was left battling up front, so allowing Shrewd Ace to slip along the fence, while Thin Red Tape made an impressive run down the middle of the track from seventh or eighth place.
At the lunge to the line, Shrewd Ace had enough up his sleeve to record a win by a long neck over the favourite Kenoath with Thin Red Tape a short half head away third.
The 1000 metre Betta Electrical Guiness Class Six proved the class of the Sheila Arnold trained Border.
Crazy Cotton jumped and led but hung on the corner. This allowed Border a nice rails run to claim the race by a length. Babouchke started favourite and rattled home for third place behind Crazy Cotton, after being well back in the field.
The Murray Neck Music World Blarney Class Three Handicap over 1200 metres gave Lady Archer a win. She jumped from barrier seven and was not headed. Geodude and Burran made their runs in the straight but the leader was able to hang on to score by a head with a length separating second and third. The favourite Not Abandoned travelled wide in racing and came in fourth.In the Hahn Premium Leprechaun Maiden over 1400 metres the favourite Leica Cumnock led from barrier three with Tim Norton on board. At the winning post the two year old had progressed out of Maiden class, with a win by eight and a quarter lengths.
Liase had shown promise early but found the going tough in the run home while Sinker finished a length and a quarter away in third place.The feature event of the day was the St Patrick's Day Cup. Raced over 1400 metres Edge to Edge provided the visiting Denton with his second win for the day after jumping from barrier 11 and seeking the lead.
LETTERS: Knockers go home!
Sir,- "Will all bright sparks stand up?" (Ann Cloke, March 17). What an incredible piece of journalism.
I stood for council to solve problems, therefore my support for the multi-storey car park was on the basis of looking at a problem and seeking a solution. Obviously that sort of thinking offends you.
The idea that people do not need to park where they shop defies economic logic, what about the elderly and parents of young children?
Surely the supporters of this idea have never tried to walk with a pram and a couple of toddlers around the streets in the heat, let alone the mobility issue for the elderly. Or don't they matter anymore?
The multi-story car park is not a new story. I never claimed that it was.
Many clever people come up with constructive ideas; few follow them through. I have lived in town for 30 years and have seen people achieve the impossible because they would not listen to the critics.
Wouldn't it be great to get support for this idea to deal with the parking problem so it could come to fruition rather than continue in folklore.
Perhaps you would prefer I sit on the fence and organize consultants' reports that never get actioned, or just leave town because it just gets too hard.
There are many bright sparks out there, and l trust they are not put off by your ramblings. I guess your article has just increased the number of cynics and armchair critics, saying someone should be fixing up these problems. If you're not part of the solution you are part of the problem.
It is obviously easier sit on the fence, but that does not get things done does it!
ED - Some views Ald Mostran ascribes to Ann Cloke are actually expressed by others, in Kieran Finnane's report headed "I love a sunburnt carpark", also March 17, an article all about seeking solutions.
Sir,- The Alice Springs Town Council has not given ratepayers enough information about the proposed new council chambers.
Comments close this Friday (March 26) but the proposed development is only on display at the Civic Centre Offices.
Ratepayers should have been surveyed directly to enable them to make informed comments.
Unfortunately the display prompted more questions than answers. How much is it going to cost ($7m plus)? What level of debt will the council have to take on? How will this be serviced? Will rates increase to cover this cost?
Could the occupational health and safety issues raised be addressed in a more cost effective manner? What benefits are for the town itself?
I believe the Town Council have their priorities wrong. With everyone pointing to the decrease in tourist numbers and the need to promote our town, what has the council done? Very little, it seems, compared to other councils.
They did not support the Great Southern railway in the arrival of the Ghan. They reluctantly gave token support to the Alice Springs Festival.
They need to get behind activities such as these to encourage more visitors. Comments from visitors indicate that the town looks shabby and neglected.
The Town Council should be putting their money into presentation of the town, promoting tourism, providing facilities such as toilets instead of spending ratepayers' money on a grand centre we don't really need.
Speaker & MLA, Braitling (Independent)
Sir,- Overheard this week in a local watering hole:-
Did you see The Column this week?
No, what was she on about this time?
Same old, same old ... "We appear to be developing different rules for different groups."
So what's the idea, should the rules be the same for everyone?
That's the drift.
Whaddya mean, deep? It's just Hanson-like facile claptrap!
No, No! It looks facile at first sight, pick an easy target and get everyone to agree the rules should be the same for all ... but then …
But then what?
Once you've established the principle, then move on ... legalize gay marriage for instance.
That'll please the chardonnay socialists in Old Eastside!
Then up the tax on wine, make it the same rate as on beer.
Crikey, you've just lost the chattering classes there, cobber!
And then maybe move onto newsagents and chemists...should they continue to get special protection in law? And then what about those people who get special tax advantages by being allowed to create family trusts and split their income? Get rid of those "different rules" too, mate!
Crikey, it IS deep!
Read between the lines, sport, it's all there for any bright spark to see, there are layers within layers, just like a Patrick White novel.
Crikey, I must have been a dill not to see that.
No argument there sport.
Migrants to stop population decline? COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.
According to the latest survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the overall population of the Territory has grown at a rate of 0.2 per cent, which sounds positive, just enough to offset the number of people leaving, but it's not, because the only area showing real growth is Palmerston, and the population of our town, Alice Springs, is in decline.
Reasons that some businesses have closed doors, causing employees to lose jobs and heart and head interstate, include an ailing tourism industry; the land shortage and lack of development opportunities; lost road transport contracts because of the railway; and lack of Government capital expenditure and tender opportunities in the region.
Some people don't enjoy our isolation so Alice isn't a long-term option anyway.
Others leaving cite on-going anti- social behaviour in the town, associated criminal damage, cost of living, sea change options or family commitments elsewhere.
But we have to get it all into perspective. The town has a transient reputation: People leave, others arrive. Some doors close, others open.A positive populating policy is needed, attracting people who would like to settle in the Territory, Alice Springs in particular.
There are plenty of employment opportunities in various fields and a relatively comfortable lifestyle to be enjoyed here.
Last year, trainee nurses from South Africa and The Philippines were offered temporary placements at our hospital, and there is always a demand in the Alice for qualified professionals – doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, dentists, dental technicians and teachers.
However, at any given time, advertisements can be seen for clerical and wait staff, check-out operators, taxi drivers, sales people, welders, etc.
In those industries where it is impossible to attract skilled people away from coastal metropolises to the Centre, accredited employers are able to link up with the Federal initiative , Skilled Immigration to Regional Australia scheme, launched by Gary Hardgrave, Minister of Immigration Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs in Townsville, last May.
It allows for fast tracking of immigration permits, work and entry visas for those people who possess the necessary skills and occupations which regional Australia needs. And it makes sense – people desperately seeking to leave their own countries are pleased to take up positions in rural regions.I visited an Immigration Australia website – I wanted to see what the Territory Government is doing to entice some of the migrants to our part of Oz.
Of the 108,000 people accepted into Oz in 2002-2003, 220 now call the Territory home.
The majority of business immigrants moved into New South Wales and Victoria. Other skilled immigrants, those with trades qualifications, relocated to regional Tasmania, South Australia, Western Oz and Queensland. Every other state was on the web-site listing skill field shortages: diesel and motor mechanics, metal workers, electricians, air-conditioning mechanics, electrical equipment tradespeople, plumbers, chefs, cabinet-makers. I couldn't find any Territory links to that particular website.
Many employers experience the difficulty of attracting qualified people to the Centre. My husband, David, has had two successful recruiting trips to South Africa to employ young accountants for the three Deloitte offices in the Northern Territory.
Last year I was able to join him – interviewing dozens of potential candidates, talking to the spouses, selling the concept of living here, the sense of community, schools, hospitals, sporting facilities, the Territory climate and lifestyle.
So, of the 220 new migrants to the Territory, 10 have positions with Deloitte. They relocated, with young families in many instances, to this brave new land. On Thursday night a friend asked David if he would have a chat to a young couple from South Africa, both highly skilled in their respective professional fields (not accounting), and looking at accepting employment offers here. They listed the pluses of relocating with their two children from Pretoria to Alice Springs: freedom of speech, the ability to have opinions without fear of reprisal. A safer upbringing for the children – they'll be able to sleep in their own bedrooms (they share their parents' master retreat, bars on windows, gun under the pillows and all internal doors double locked) and ride their bicycles to school and the local shops.
They will have control over their future. They can't believe how lucky they are to be offered a chance to live and work here – and are hopeful that necessary immigration papers and work visas will be processed quickly.
A shame that they flew out on Friday morning because a Biltong Boerwors Braai Vleis, the brainchild of Rhodesian born Alicephile, Pam, is being held on Saturday afternoon at the Old Telegraph Station – a chance for "whenwe's"to get together at a spectacular venue and a meeting point for Africans new to Alice.
David and I had a delightful Saturday evening, sitting under a huge clear sky, with friends, Anne and William, Sarah and George, once whenwe's, but after 20 years in the Alice, certainly now Centralians. It's elementary, isn't it? Incentives have always been needed for Australians elsewhere to consider taking up employment in the Centre and some of our tighter immigration policies need to be relaxed to allow overseas people to fill skill shortages here. It's a matter of balance: if some of us choose not to continue living here for whatever reasons, positive populating policies need to be in place to find those who do, who may love the Alice so much, they never wish to leave.
Fragments over the garden fence. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
Have you had that dream, where you're walking naked down the street and everyone looks at you? Me neither.
Actually, I didn't write that line. It's the opening words of the first single by Jennifer Love Hewitt, yet another actress-turned-singer whose work can be heard on most radio stations in most countries of the world.
The rise of standardised international music, heard in lifts and supermarkets from Madras and Morocco to Moorabbin, is another drip in the never-ending flow of sameness that our generation is experiencing.
It might be great to have hot hits in common with people from diverse cultures, but the local talent ends up losing out. European soccer squashes interest in the Malaysian league.
American movies put the squeeze on French ones. And so it seems that there is diversity that people value and other kinds of diversity that we do not.
For example, some of the most sociable people I have met suddenly become fiercely anti-social when it comes to relating to anyone of a different culture, language or class. This applies to most of my extended family.
In fact, I can claim the dubious distinction of having a family tree that lost a whole branch through emigration to far-off places when immigration into the UK started in the sixties. Was it the food or the weather or the unrelenting traffic that drove them away?
No. It was the prospect of meeting a West Indian bus conductor or having a Pakistani doctor take their temperature.
Those were interesting times in England and they still continue. Thirty years ago, most of your neighbours would have been people who had the same cultural touchstones as you – sliced white bread, Meccano, corned beef, Boy's Own, Sandy Shaw, beach huts, boiled eggs, the Famous Five. They earned a living in a similar kind of factory or office and they went to work and returned home at about the same time.
Your in-jokes across the garden fence were instantly understood by the neighbours and helped you to get along with them. Tastes in beer and soccer could be compared.
All that changed with the arrival of a multicultural society. The country became more interesting, more exciting and with better skills and services as a result of its diversity. But it also became more fragmented.
A recent Harvard study concluded that trust and cooperation are highest in communities with the least diversity of people of different ethnic backgrounds. But in more diverse areas, people were not only more suspicious of people who weren't like them, but they didn't trust people who WERE like them either.
If trust and communication are the building blocks of health and happiness, these findings say something to people in small multicultural towns like ours.
Clearly, the backslapping, lend-you-a-spanner, fancy-a-stubby, good neighbours are likely to be more reserved when faced with cultural and language diversity in the same street.
The Alice is a place where making a contribution to the community actually feels like that.
Take up a position in a committee or lend a hand at a working bee and you make a difference. Or at least that's how it feels.
But the word community includes the word unity and Alice Springs is hardly unified. We have the symptoms identified by the Harvard study. The suspicion and mistrust that grows slowly between people who don't quite manage to understand each other.
Meet someone with whom you don't share common cultural reference points and trusting them is that much harder than it is with your back-slapping buddy next door. Instead, you have to work on finding common ground.
Strangely enough, it could be that standardised international music is doing us a favour. One day, everyone will know the same lyrics.
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