TOURISM: WAKE UP! Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The outlook for Territory tourism is brightening, says the NT Tourist Commission, but it seems to be passing Alice Springs by, say a number of local operators, extremely concerned about industry stagnation in this town.
In its update of May 25 the NTTC quotes Drake employment forecasts as expecting growth in Territory jobs mainly from the tourism and hospitality sector, "with business in this sector the best it has been in five years".This is in stark contrast with the experience of the operators the Alice Springs News spoke to.
Angie Reidy, owner till 18 months ago of Sahara Tours, now co- owner of the Outback Novotel (formerly Vista), and owner of the Desert Palms and Toddy's Backpackers, says the industry is the worst she has seen it in her 26 years in Alice.
Gone are the days when "early morning in Alice was like the start of the Grand Prix", says Ms Reidy, with dozens of operators, including double decker coaches, heading off to Ayers Rock.Alice is no longer the hub of tourism in the Centre and is failing to attract tourists in its own right, she says.
Custom at the Desert Palms has dropped by eight per cent and in face of a continued flat if not declining market she has no choice but to try to win greater market share, in other words, to take customers away from other operators.
"What that happens we are all in a no win situation," says Ms Reidy.
Brenton McRae, the concessionaire at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, says two years ago he was employing nine staff, now he has only five.
This is because his visitor numbers have dropped by 12,000 compared to two years ago, and "I'm doing better than most", he says.
Sandi Todd, who with husband Malcolm operates the Alice Wanderer specialising in tours of town attractions, had a better than anticipated first four months but is experiencing a "very quiet" May.
The unexpected lull is a worry for her staff: "They were so busy in April I had trouble giving them a day off, but when there is a lull and I can't provide enough work, the drivers become uneasy and start looking around for another job.
"Then the problem would be finding good people to replace them if they leave and we get busy again."Last winter was so quiet that Ms Todd was driving herself six to seven days a week. When that happens, she points out, the impact is not only on her family's business: "With fewer jobs in tourism there's less money flowing through the local economy."
All three see Alice's problem as partly one of marketing. And in this they are in agreement with the Tourist Commission who want to develop a Destination Alice marketing strategy.
Destination marketing has never been tried in the Territory, says Mark Crummy, a former Darwin-based tour operator who has been appointed as destination marketing manager for the commission.
Campaigns in the past have been focussed on generic images, "camels for the Centre, crocs for the Top End".
This has meant that Alice Springs the town has not been "branded", people haven't known what it was about.
To come up with a brand and a strategy to sell it the NTTC have formed a marketing advisory committee, of which Mr McRae is a member.
But Mr McRae, in his own words, is the only member "who lives or dies by the number of visitors through the door".
Ms Reidy did not know of the existence of the committee until a couple of weeks ago and is concerned that there are not more small owner-operators represented.
Ms Todd nominated to be on the committee but her nomination was not accepted. Nothing to do with sour grapes, she says, but the committee is dominated by people who draw their salary whether or not the industry is thriving.Mr Crummy says the committee is not a "closed shop", but the commission wanted it to be broadly representative of the industry and related industries.
It includes representatives of CATIA, the Town Council, the Desert Park, the Murray Neck group, Bellette Media, and Imparja.
The Murray Neck group to get a retail perspective; Bellette Media because they know "marketing jargon"; Imparja because with its "huge footprint" it could play an important role in a campaign directed at the self-drive market. (The latter seems odd given the sparse population of the footprint area.)
The accommodation sector is represented by Janet Chisolm of the Tilmouth Well roadhouse.
However, Mr McRae says that at the end of the day the membership of the committee is immaterial if it is not given a clear charter by the Tourist Commission.
"It needs a clear agenda and time frame," says Mr McRae."If it's there only to be another committee formed for its own sake it will be a waste of time."
Ms Reidy is worried about the timeliness of the committee's processes.
Their first step has been to put out tenders for "pre-perceptions research", which will be focussed on domestic travellers.
"This will be used as a basis for the development of the positioning strategy, related creative and the campaign", says the commission's update, with deadline at the end of the calendar year.
Ms Reidy says the industry needs action within two to three months and is concerned about the lack of focus on international travellers.
She is also concerned that moves supposed to benefit Alice Springs tourism, for instance, the completion of the Adelaide to Darwin railway and the imminent sealing of the Mereenie Loop Road, will only contribute to the steady decline of Alice Springs' relevance.
"What Alice Springs hotel or restaurant benefits from the Ghan's four hour stop-over in Alice Springs?" she asks.
"We need to get information to potential passengers so that they stay a few days in Alice Springs, not a few hours."
And a sealed Mereenie Loop Road will "just make it easier for visitors to head straight out of town", to Kings Canyon and on to Ayers Rock.
She is dismayed, and has expressed this to Chief Minister Clare Martin who is also the Minister for Tourism, that the Territory Government is putting money into a convention centre in Darwin when the Alice Springs Convention Centre is struggling.
"This I know," she wrote to Ms Martin, " as I own two hotels on Barrett Drive É with very few forward bookings for conventions.
"In the next 12 months there are less than six national conferences coming up, hardly enough to generate any money into the economy.
"Would it not be more logical to get this one up and running profitably first before Darwin once again goes in opposition with Alice Springs?"
The Territory Government has allocated $100m to the $500m Darwin waterfront development project which will include a convention and exhibition centre.
A spokesman for Ms Martin said, "We don't think Darwin will take customers away from Alice Springs."We believe that a convention centre in Darwin will help over all, attracting more people to hold conventions in the Territory."The Alice News asked what research underpinned this belief.
The spokesperson said any possible impact on the Alice Springs Convention Centre was looked at by consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers in the first half of 2003.
He said: "Of course while you can't stop the transfer of some business, the key directive for a Darwin Convention and Exhibition Centre was that we wanted to see new business brought to the Territory.
"The two Convention Centres will target very different markets and we want a facility in Darwin that will attract new international, national and Territory business."As such, a key finding of the PWC report was that there was no facility in the Territory for conventions of up to 1500 people Ð nor with the ability to hold exhibitions in conjunction with that."With this in mind Ð and to help target different markets to Alice Ð the Darwin Convention and Exhibition Centre will be about twice the size (4000 sqm) of the Convention Centre in Alice Springs (1200 sqm)."We want both facilities to complement each other Ð and any existing local convention facilities Ð to build the NT as an events destination."
Marketing manager for the Alice Springs Convention Centre, Helen Dobell Ð who has relocated from Sydney to Alice after 18 months in her position Ð says there are 29 national conventions booked for the coming financial year, with a total of 11,845 delegates.
This figure does not include, she says, any of the events, such as balls and concerts, whether local or national.
Ms Dobell also says the Outback Novotel is at the top of the accommodation list on the Convention Centre's website.
Ms Todd, whose Alice Wanderer business offers tours specifically for Ghan transit passengers, says they are "not getting much from the stopovers".She says the problem is that Great Southern Railways (GSR) won't allow them to put their brochures on the train, so that people can't plan in advance how they will spend their stopover time.
She says when they do get customers, the story is always the same: "If only I'd known how much there was to see in Alice."A spokesperson for GSR said they would be "inundated" if they allowed tour operators to put their brochures on the train. In four to six weeks CATIA will have an information booth at the Keswick Rail Terminal in Adelaide, and GSR also offer advertising in their Platform magazine.
It is published annually with a print run of between 50,000 and 70,000. Advertising costs $4500 for a half page, $6500 for a full page.
The spokesperson says that the Desert Park, for instance, advertises in the magazine.BROCHURE
Ms Todd says the advertising rates are "out of the question for a small operator". Her full colour brochure in a print run of 20,000, which does her for the whole year, costs $3000.
She says she has suggested to GSR that only those operators with tours designed specifically for transit passengers have their brochures on the train, but says GSR won't accept this.
Ms Todd, however, thinks that marketing is only half the problem. She believes Alice Springs is still suffering from poor airline services. Virgin Blue only offer a direct flight from Sydney.
Ms Todd says as long as there is no competition from other destinations and particularly no alternative to Qantas on the Adelaide, Alice, Darwin route, then Alice remains an expensive destination and will suffer the consequences.She also believes that Alice cannot be marketed without Ayers Rock.
"Ayers Rock is the icon," says Ms Todd, "and we have to accept that most tourists coming to Central Australia will want to visit the Rock."We have to acknowledge this but also market Alice Springs as a Ômust see' destination.
"We have a wonderfully romantic history, the magnificent West MacDonnell Ranges, great hotels and restaurants and can offer wonderful outback experiences."
Ms Reidy is not so sure of the usefulness of marketing Alice with Ayers Rock. International tourists with limited time have direct access to the Rock. For them to want to come to Alice, the town has to offer something very attractive.
She says the town, in contrast to similar sized towns in WA like Geraldton and Bunbury, looks flat, grubby and tired.
She says an industry contact in Europe has told her that WA is the "flavour of the year", promoting itself as an outback destination with beaches.
Alice has to come up with something pretty special to combat that, says Ms Reidy, and fast.
HUNT FOR SNIFFER RAPISTS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Police are investigating several men suspected of trading paint for sex with under aged sniffers.
The General Duties Investigation Unit is working from a list of about 75 men supplied by social worker Blair McFarland, who had culled them from some 150 names supplied to him by Mad Harry's owner Craig Lambley.
Mr Lambley stopped selling spray paint cans, the drug of choice for many Alice sniffers, about six weeks ago, because of the disastrous impact on the users' health.
Prior to that Mr Lambley, and his wife, Robyn, who had a high first preference score in Saturday's council elections, asked for and recorded the names of male adult buyers of "sniffable" spray cans.
The Lambleys had stopped selling the cans to children, and were conscious of the legal requirement to refuse the sale if they knew Ð or should know Ð that the paint is for sniffing.
However, it became clear that some men were buying the cans and passing them to children.
Mr Lambley says there had been several reports about "deviants".
Repeat buyers were of particular interest to him, as well as people who were clearly giving false names, in which case he recorded a description of the customer's physical appearance.
Mr McFarland, who heads up the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS), says the poverty of the sniffers, the incidence of venereal disease, growing wariness of shop keepers about selling paint cans to children, and ample anecdotal evidence suggest that major crimes are being committed on young people in the town.
Sgt Craig Ryan, of the Alice Springs police, says shopkeepers are now requested to log name, date and time of spray paint purchases.
He says the police are setting up a database that will be used for tracking suspect buyers.
Meanwhile Eddie Taylor, who runs the Youth Night Patrol, says: "The abuse that goes on is shocking.
"I've seen kids kicked and punched because they are sniffing.
"People just don't want them around."
Mr Taylor has been a volunteer youth workers for 20 years.
He says there is currently a group of 20 hard core sniffers in town, mainly girls, aged between 12 and 18.
"These are kids nobody wants," he says.
"They will suffer brain damage and in a few years most of them will be dead."
Mr Taylor says they seem to have drifted into town from bush communities, and clearly survive on stealing and prostitution.
They sniff on Billygoat and Anzac Hills, in the Keith Lawrie Flats in Bloomfield Street, near the amphitheatre inside the civic centre complex, and under the Todd Bridge.
They can often be seen walking down Todd Street, their wine cask bladders full of fumes in full view.
Mr Taylor and a group of other volunteers patrol the streets on five nights a week, making contacts with kids "hanging out" and giving them lifts home.
But they leave the sniffers to "the experts, the people with certificates," says Mr Taylor.
Despite his extensive experience Mr Taylor has not heard of the "safe families" project for street kids.
He is a strong advocate for reopening Aranda House as a youth refuge, but says his appeals to the NT Government are falling on deaf ears.
Mr Taylor, whose day job is as a town council ranger, puts this down to his reputation as a CLP supporter.
POLICE MEDIA LOG: Friday, May 28, 2004. Sniffers Arrested.
Four teenagers were arrested after joy-riding in a stolen car while sniffing paint.
Police had earlier received a report that a Ford Falcon had been stolen from a Blain Street residence. Shortly after 10pm the car was noticed heading west on Larapinta Drive. Police tried to stop the vehicle but the driver refused to obey police instructions.
The vehicle continued to travel outbound on Larapinta Drive until it was driven onto the verge of the road and became bogged about three kilometres past Flynn's Grave.
Four teenagers were found in the car, each with a bladder of paint.
Two males, aged 13 and 14 and two females aged 13 and 16 were arrested and taken into custody.
Commander Gary Manison said the young age of the offenders was of concern, but the fact they were driving around while under the influence of paint was of even greater concern.
"To be driving while under the influence of paint is extremely dangerous," Cmdr Manison said."It's just fortunate no-one was killed or injured.
"The public need to be aware of just how these young people sniff paint so they can alert police if they see people sniffing.
"It appears the preferred method of paint sniffing is to pour the paint into disused wine bladders and inhale the fumes straight from the bladder. So, if members of the public see young people acting in an unusual manner or carrying wine bladders they should immediately inform police so we can talk to them and try to get them some help.
"The issue of sniffing, while not illegal, is certainly a health issue in this region and police are concerned that these people get the assistance they need.
"Police have been working very closely with other agencies in an attempt to stop this form of abuse by our young people, but we need the public to help us by reporting such activity."
Three of the four teenagers involved in the unlawful use of a motor vehicle will be considered for juvenile diversion, while the fourth Ð the 13-year-old male Ð will appear before the Alice Juvenile Court at a later date.
NT CRIME STATS DON'T MATCH NATIONAL ONES: HANDY TO BAMBOOZLE THE PUBLIC. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Crime figures published quarterly by the NT Government are not suitable for comparison with the rest of the country.
For example, we may be told, as is the case now, that unlawful entries in Alice Springs are down when compared to a previous period.
But how does our town stack up against the rest of the country?
We do not know.
Teresa Robson, Executive Director of the NT Office of Crime Prevention (OCP), says the way the OCP compiles its numbers is different to the way the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) does theirs.
She says: "Although [the ABS] figures are also based on crimes recorded by police, they refer to a count of victims rather than offences.
"For example several offences may be related to one victim."
She doesn't explain why she isn't using the same methods so we could all know where The Alice stands in the national pecking order of nasties.
As the OCP is collecting police data about Alice Springs anyway, why doesn't it asking for data that would allow comparison with the data quoted by ABS?One likely explanation is that saying we had a big drop in crime sounds a lot better for the government than admitting we're still very close to the bottom of the heap.
This is how the Territory rated in 2003, according to the ABS, in the number of "unlawful entries with intent" per 100,000 people:-
A fascinating aspect of the Territory figures for "unlawful entries with intent" is this: the sub-category involving the taking of property is about line ball with the other states.
However, in the sub-category called "other" Ð that is, breaking in but not taking any property Ð we're second only to WA: per 100,000 people we had 808.2 victims from whom nothing was stolen, around double the NSW and Qld figure, nearly three times Victoria's.
What does this suggest? Do we have very incompetent burglars? Or do we have a lot more criminals interfering with other people's property just for the hell of it?
Being able to compare The Alice with the rest of the nation is very relevant at a time when the spectre of "leaving town" is on everybody's mind and lips.
The burgeoning crime prevention and social mopping up industry keeps telling us: "Come on, it's just as bad anywhere else."
As we can see, it obviously is not.
We've just entered the latest quarterly round of chest beating (by the government) and mud slinging (by the opposition) over crime figures.
Police Minister Paul Henderson: "Police Ð properly resourced and supported with tough laws and effective crime prevention initiatives Ð are leading the charge to drive crime down."
Opposition Leader Terry Mills: "The victimisation rate for assault in 2003 decreased for all states and territories EXCEPT Northern Territory and Tasmania. Northern Territory recorded an increase of seven per cent to 1,874 per 100,000 population."
OBFUSCATIONCrime figures that are inconclusive (at least so far as national comparisons are concerned) fit well into a picture of growing obfuscation by a government elected on a platform of transparency.
A year later it pronounced it would "stand or fall" on its record of dealing with juvenile offenders, with a strategy avoiding detention as much as possible, in favour of placing offenders with "safe families" as its major initiative.
The Alice News has reported extensively on these issues.
In the past two weeks we've been trying to fill in some gaps, but can't get answers to some pretty simple yet crucial questions.
In one interview we were told that Alice has a constant population of 30 to 50 sniffers, rising to 200 during events such as footy carnivals, but no safe families have yet been selected.
In another interview we were told that about 15 sniffers have been placed with safe families, apparently mainly outside Alice Springs.
Which story is right?
There were some more questions:-
What is the current number of street kids in town?
What does that number fluctuate from and to?
In the past three years, how many kids have been helped off the streets and how many have joined the ranks of local street kids?
(One source says the individuals have changed but the total number of street kids has not, which means that the situation from the community's viewpoint has not improved.)
Where have those kids no longer on the streets now gone and what are they doing?
Where are the new street kids coming from?
How many safe families have been identified in Alice Springs township and in Central Australian bush communities?
How long does it take to find a safe family and place a child?
What was the average time taken for the 15 children placed so far Ð if indeed they have been?
What happens with kids while a search for a safe family is under way? (Consent to be placed is needed from the child, the child's family and, of course, the "safe family".)
What happens with kids if an appropriate safe family cannot be found?
What is the annual cost of the Safe Families program? Of the other initiatives connected with street kids?
Meanwhile the 2004-05 NT Budget for Family and Children's services has been increased by 8.6 per cent from $41.2m to $44.8m.
In 2002-03 the NT Government received $67.6m from the Federal Grants Commission for "homeless and general welfare" but spent only $2.5m for that purpose.
It received $98.5m for "family and children's services" but spent only $30.1m for that purpose.
See also on our web archive section at www.alicespringsnews.com.auApril 21: "Vandalism: who are the victims?"
May 5: "Sniffer onslaught: Alice ill prepared."
May 12: "Kids on the street."
May 12: "Numbers tell the truth of warm in the tummy politics."May 26: "NT cops are world leaders in keeping youngsters out of prison."
FRANCES' LEGACY GOES ON IN HER FAVOURITE COMMUNITY PARK. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Residents who live in the area around what has been known as Undoolya Park gathered in the cold and damp of Sunday afternoon to continue the legacy of care for the park maintained by Frances Smith over three decades.
The park has been formally renamed Frances Smith Memorial Park in her honour.
Frances, who died suddenly in 2003, was secretary to the Undoolya Park Development Committee, formed in 1974 following residents' petitions to the Territory Government, and later the Town Council, to maintain the land as open space.
With the petitions successful, and the government in fact setting aside twice as much land as had been asked for, Frances began her daily commitment to looking after the area.
She, husband Clarry and their three children, Michael, David and Helen, lived on Burke Street, their house backing onto the park.
Often with Clarry's help and at times community working bees, Frances picked up rubbish, watered, planted, and was involved with others in the design and construction of the early play equipment.
"The residents paid for and did everything in those days," says Clarry.
Up to five days before her death she was still turning on the drippers that watered the trees.
She would have been dismayed in September last year when the Town Council workforce, without consulting residents, cleared a lot of undergrowth and self-seeded shrubs and trees from the park, removed traffic barriers (which has led to a lot of off-road driving in the park) and also removed one set of the mounds used by local children for BMX bike-riding.
On Sunday, residents reactivated the development committee, dubbing it the Frances Smith Park Group and hoping to meet with the council to plan for a modest program of works over time.
The group want to honour and promote the long-established community uses of the park: formalise the pathways that have been worn over the years; reinstate the bike jumps, having one set for older kids, and another for the younger ones; reinstate off-road parking (removed years ago); protect the rest of the park from cars; increase planting and repair the dripper system.
It's a campaign after Frances Smith's heart.
(There will be a renaming ceremony when a new sign for the park has been made. Go to the Alice News website for our obituary of Frances Smith, published Feb 26,2003.)
IMPARJA'S ATSIC MILLIONS IN DOUBT. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Imparja Television's $2m grant from ATSIC is in the balance because of the organisation's imminent demise.
The subsidy, paid annually since the station was founded in 1986, runs out this month, says CEO Alistair Feehan.
The responsibility for the subsidy "looks like going to the Department of Communication but I don't have a letter yet to say we've got it".
The money was initially for satellite costs, an expense picked up by state governments for the nation's two other remote television "footprints" which cover Ð roughly Ð WA and Queensland.
During Imparja's initial license hearings by the Broadcasting Tribunal, both the NT and the SA governments said if the other applicant Ð Kerry Packer Ð got the licence they would pick up the tab, but they wouldn't if it went to Imparja's parent company, CAAMA, as it ultimately did.
The Federal Government may well take the view that Aboriginal money can be better spent than on what's essentially a rebroadcasting facility of mainstream shows, with a minuscule Aboriginal content. ("Friends" has 10 more episodes to go!)Mr Feehan estimates that three per cent of airtime is Aboriginal, counting news, because the reader is Aboriginal, although the majority of news stories are purchased from networks.
One of the two home grown shows is Nganampa, which looks like a low cost production of stories told by traditional elders, in Aboriginal languages, a valuable cultural resource.
Mr Feehan says Imparja buys Nganampa from its major shareholder, CAAMA, and while not disclosing its cost, denies the program is low cost.
He says the shows cost "a lot" and "we pay a premium for the product".
The other locally produced show is the kids' program, Yamba.
Mr Feehan says Imparja now spends $3.4m a year (of which the ATSIC $2m is a part) for satellite links, providing transmission services for other Indigenous users.
These include Channel 31 (a second TV channel run by Imparja, on air 10 hours a day and with purely Indigenous content) and eight Aboriginal radio stations.
Another argument that public money earmarked for Aborigines should continue to flow to Imparja is that a third of its staff is Indigenous.
"They are being trained in numerous areas of broadcasting and are some of the most talented creative and operational staff on the station."
In the hurly burley world of Australian TV Imparja is an unusual animal.
It is the last independent TV station in Australia. That means it has no formalised network agreements, and can buy its programs from wherever it wants.
But, says Mr Feehan, "it costs money to be independent".
Imparja and Seven Central have the same footprint, almost half the nation, 4.3m square kilometres, but with only 430,000 odd viewers in it.
Neither Seven Central nor Imparja are allowed to broadcast into cities or major regional centres.
Mr Feehan says in The Centre Imparja has its nose in front with 60 per cent of the audience while near the coast, it's the other way Ôround.
He says Imparja doesn't commission one rating survey per year but sells commercials on the basis of how well shows rate in other markets.
Mr Feehan, a former manager of a national cinema advertising company, says Imparja will have to move to the Desert Knowledge complex south of The Gap, or another location, because there is not enough room on the present Leichhardt Terrace site.
"It's a matter of money," he says, and some more of that will be needed for the switch to digital.
The Federal Government has not yet announced the digital rollout for the central footprint, the last region to remain analogue.
Mr Feehan says Imparja has 23 shares; 13 are held by CAAMA ("which doesn't interfere, we're running our own business").
The remainder are held by organisations Ð the Top End Aboriginal Bush Broadcasting Association, Warlpiri Media, Tiwi Land council, Pitjantjatjara Council, the Northern, Central and Maralinga Land Councils, and ATSIC (two shares).
"It's a profitable enterprise," says Mr Feehan. "But shareholders get no returns.
"Profits are put back into the business to support the company's social objective.
"Imparja spends Ð in cash or in kind Ð $1.4m a year supporting community based programs and events," says Mr Feehan.
Neither Imparja's annual report nor its constitution is available to the public.
COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA: Alice vs. Darwin Budget - there's a sting in the tail.
The 2004-05 NT Budget spends five times more on public works in Darwin than it does in Alice Springs.
That's not so bad given the population in the greater Darwin area is about five times that of Alice Springs.
But there is a sting in the tail.
Darwin has substantial projects that will greatly enhance its commercial and business opportunities.
These include the Darwin Port Corporation ($20.3m), Waterfront ($2.2m), East Arm ($5.7m), waterfront development ($6m), cruise ship terminal ($2.5m) and East Arm Port (total of $20m).More than half of the Alice money is for the Desert Knowledge and Desert People's Centre ($14.4m of the total $22.5m).
At this stage these allocations are for the relocation of two relatively minor players in town, Batchelor Institute (currently under review), and the Centre for Appropriate Technology.
Will Desert Knowledge turn a dollar in times to come?
Who knows. The trick will be to turn an interesting concept into a commercial enterprise.
What is Desert Knowledge, who wants it and how much are they willing to pay for it, remain the questions still begging for answers.
Some holders of "desert knowledge" have been trading in it for years, on the national and international market (CSIRO, for example). Some are getting well under way (the Centre for Remote Health, for example). Neither of these seems to need any external encouragement.
On balance, would a boost in tourism infrastructure be a more constructive investment?
Or after the CLP's Yulara and Sheraton fiascos, are we too scared to try that again?
LETTERS: Whiskey is for drinking, but water is for fighting.
Sir,Ð As traditional owners of the Owen Springs area, west of Alice, we are upset about proposals to create a lake on our traditional country.
A lake would be detrimental to traditional owners.
Our country is to be looked after and protected so our children can learn about their ancestral heritage and their culture.
If we go looking for bush tucker or hunting we teach our children not to destroy or break branches off trees.
We don't go around wrecking the country.
This place is our traditional land, our heritage and we need to keep our ties with this country.
A lake would destroy our natural environment.
It's not about money and it's not about getting votes.
It's about respect and proper consultation.
All these people who think it's such a great idea - especially just before a Town Council election - should think again.
As locals, they should know that there are traditional owners who belong to that country who have not been consulted.
To date there has never been any consultation, just statements in the media by people who don't belong to that country and have no ties with it, no spiritual no connection at all.
It's a beautiful place just as it is.
If you want to live near a lake then you should move to a place in Australia where there are lakes.
Owen Springs area
Sir,Ð Thanks for your great photo of the Todd River flowing (see News, 29/5).
People in the desert over here become very excited at the sight of flowing water.
As we often say: "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting".
South West USA
Sir,Ð I am trying to trace an old friend who I believe emigrated to Australia in 1970.
His name is Roy Brassington and he'd be 54 years old now, a native of Nantwich, Cheshire in the UK.
He was an engineer for British Rail.
The last time I heard of him he was living in the Alice Springs area.
If anyone knows of him, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
A SONG CHANGED HIS LIFE. PROFILE by KIERAN FINNANE.
"I got given a song and it changed my life."
The year was 1997, the singer Warren H. Williams, the song "Raining on the Rock", written by Australian country music legend, John Williamson.
Radio producer with CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association), Graeme Archer, recognised Warren's exceptional singing talent and suggested he record the song.
"I did my version and Graeme said, ÔYou've come this far, let's see if John wants to record it with you'.
"A couple of months later John said yes and it changed my life."
The pair released the song as a single and added it to their own albums. On Williamson's it went on as a bonus track, but it became the hit single off the album.
It projected Warren from being a Central Australian identity, somewhat in the shadow of his father, Gus, onto the national stage.
In the following year he sang at the Country Music Awards, the Arias, and the Australian Tennis Open.
Not surprisingly, given its coming together of black and white Australians around a great symbol of the land and its peoples, the song became an expression of the spirit of reconciliation, and Warren was asked to sing it at the Bridge March in 2000.
"People know who I am now."
When this kind of career break happens, it is often as the culmination of a lot of hard work and long-held dreams. Warren, though, until then had been taking life pretty quietly.
Born in the Central Australian, Western Arrernte community of Hermannsburg / Ntaria in 1963, he was the third of five children to Gus and Rhonda. He remembers a happy childhood on the then Lutheran mission, much of it spent in the company of his grandparents on his mother's side. His grandfather, Gustaf, was an Aboriginal evangelist and his grandmother, Eileen, was also very religious. Warren remembers her lovingly.
"She was one of those people who would feed anybody who was hungry, who never had a bad word to say about anybody. She had a really good heart."
She taught him the Ten Commandments and a lot of hymns.
"She was trying to make me a better person and I really did enjoy it," he recalls.
There were cousins about, a lot older than him, but mostly Warren enjoyed playing by himself, with his grandmother close by.
Through the mission and also because of the proximity of Alice Springs, Warren was well aware of the outside world.
"We kept up with the times," he says.
He describes the education he received at the mission school as "pretty good": "I appreciate it now."Pastor Doug Radke was in charge.
"With our upbringing, we respected our elders. We respected him. A pastor was an important person in the community."
This message of respect was also coming from his father and uncles, whom Warren describes as "strict". Gus wanted his children educated in both the black and the white ways, and Warren feels lucky that both sides were there for him.
There was music all around: the church choir, the hymns sung by the whole congregation, the music round the campfire, his father's band. He learnt to play and sing as if by osmosis, starting to play drums for the band in his teens and, if the vocalist or bass player didn't turn up, he'd fill in.
When he was around 14, Warren's parents separated and he and his brother and sisters moved with Gus to Ali-Curung (then known as Warrabri), a 400 kilometre drive from Hermannsburg over roads much rougher than today's. The separation was hard at first, as it would be "for any kid", and it was just the beginning. The next year Warren was sent to board at All Souls school in Charters Towers. He describes that experience as "interesting"."It was the first time I had met a lot of Aboriginal people from outside of the Territory and the first time I realised that a lot of them had lost their tribal ways.
"That was a big shock to me. In a way I found it sad. Here I was talking about Aboriginal things, and you'd think they'd know what I was talking about, but they didn't."
After a year at All Souls Warren was sent to Immanuel College in Adelaide. He was happier there, but at 16 years of age wanted to be moving on. At the end of another year he came home to Hermannsburg.
"For a while, life didn't hold anything in particular and I was getting into strife like teenage kids do.
"That didn't change until I started living with my kids' mother."
That was when he was about 21 years old. He and a group of other young men had been working together, in stock camps and for the community council. Then one by one they all "got hitched up". As his children started to come along, Warren continued to work for the council and was still playing guitar in Gus's band, at Hermannsburg, around bush communities and each year going down to Tamworth.
"Nobody really wanted to know about Aboriginal bands, but that didn't matter to me. I just wanted to play and if the audience had a good time, then I had a good time.
"I didn't worry if I had recognition or not, but Dad, it was his dream to be recognised and he has achieved that."
Gus's handprint is in the "hall of fame" footpath in Tamworth and these days three generations of the Williams family play to some acclaim in the capital of Country.
Warren is happy about his older children's interest in music but wants them, above all, to do what they want to do, not what he wants them to do.
He sees the future for people in Aboriginal communities as "up to them".
"Community life for me now is another world," he says.
Watching television and playing video games have become the dominant past-times. When he was young man, there was no TV on the community.
"Life was what we made it. The work was good and we were fitter than most of the kids today. There were many more kids playing sports then.
"But it's up to oneself. You can switch the TV off, go outside and make something of your life. It's your choice."
Beyond this, Warren's message to his own children is "be good to your neighbours; if people want help, help them; be happy".
He is happy, as he continues to build on his success.
"Old Place" (on "Where My heart Is") is perhaps telling about his recent life choices that have taken him away from Hermannsburg: "This is my home, but I can't live here anymore," goes the chorus.
The Western Arrernte landscape, made famous by his forebear Albert Namatjira, figures strongly in some recent songs.
Others, by his own description, are "lovesick". They are all distinctly Aboriginal, Warren says, because "they are written by an Aboriginal person".
And that identity, while it is, of course, partly heritage, is also what he is shaping for himself.
New columnist is romancing The Alice. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
It was very clever of the people of Stuart to rename it Alice Springs and so avoid confusion after the Post and Telegraph Office moved from the Telegraph Station into town.
A practical move that gave us a pretty female name with a romantic touch to balance the tough masculine environment.
Central Australia is a man's country, sweetheart.
But like the early pioneer women, let's call them "Miss Alice", us womenfolk follow our hearts here anyway.
Like a migratory bird from the arctic circle landing at the sewage ponds I followed a pre-wired plan and ended up here, as far away from my birthplace as I could possibly get.
Does that make me feral or just exotic?
Home is where the heart is. Ann Cloke loves this place as it's been her home for many years but she will go where David goes. She will follow her heart.
Alice Springs is many things to many people.
I have observed that what people see around them is often what they are feeling inside.
When I first arrived late one winter's afternoon I was met by the man of my dreams and an Alice Springs glowing in the light of the setting sun.
That rosy first impression has stayed with me and nurtured me through the challenges.
People will say that the town has changed.
That it is not as good as it used to be. Naturally things change, but so do we.
When we are first in love we can put up with our husband leaving his dirty socks in different parts of the house (and never in the washing basket!).
It doesn't matter that we don't have a new sofa or that we sit on director's chairs around a milk crate and have our meals.
When we are in love we can live it rough and still be blissfully happy.
Some say that feeling fades, that we wake up to reality and demand a better lifestyle.
I say it's a good thing if you can remember that feeling.
How you first felt with someone.
To put the rose-coloured glasses back on and see things in the soft light of the late afternoon.
To the arctic waders, the sewage ponds are a haven where they can rest, feed and nest. To us, it might seem a pretty awful part of town, smelly, dirty and a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
To me, the migratory birds at the ponds are a symbol of the non-Aboriginal society of Alice Springs.
We are not really from here but we make it our home.
We see beauty where others see hardship and discomfort.
I did not love this place when I first came here.
Alice Springs and myself was a marriage of convenience but I have grown to love it.
The longer I stay, the better it gets and the more attached I become.
I have put down roots and planted gardens.
I have given birth to my children here.
The more of myself I have invested emotionally in this town and its people, the more I have enjoyed it.
My grandmother used to say that there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.
That was in Sweden where they never get 40 degree days and clothes are really not the answer, but that is not the point.
It is how you deal with a situation.
"Miss Alice" coped with the heat and cold, with the isolation, both physical and social, for better or worse.
As long as we feel loved and can love, and follow our hearts, it doesn't matter where we are.
With rose-tinted glasses, anything will look good but then we might also discover the sometimes hidden beauty is all around us.
It was lucky the men of Stuart changed its name to Alice Springs.
Maybe they knew it would appeal to women and they wanted some more around or maybe they had fallen in love with the beauty of Central Australia and wanted a name to do it justice.
And when in doubt about the choices our heart has made for us, we can think of "Miss Alice" and remember we are not alone.
The pain of rain falls always on the plain! COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
Rain is always welcome, so they say.
Except that this is not entirely true.
After all, the sun is one of the main attractions of the centre.
We even have a radio station named after it.
So if the climate brings too much rain and for too long (like, more than two hours), then we start to feel just a bit cheated.
Well, at least I do.
This is what happened during the rains a few days ago.
To begin with, everyone said how wonderful it was that the rain was here.
Then, on the second day, they said it again, but without the same conviction having had a lukewarm shower that morning because there was no sun to heat the water. On the third day, we reckoned the rain was great and isn't it good that the Todd is getting a proper flush, while we secretly hoped that the drizzle would stop.
Then by the time the skies cleared and the sunshine returned, there was a sigh of relief that normal service had been resumed.
Like everything else that results from self-interest and a short attention span, this behaviour can be put down to human nature.
We want something very badly, in this case precipitation.
Then when we get it we start thinking about the next thing that we can't live without, which might have been the way things were before, meaning sun.
Did you know that in Canberra right now, it is dry and dusty?
People are thinking of taking their holidays here to enjoy the lush greenery.
Then again, not being a farmer, I have a privileged view of the weather.
The closest that I ever achieve to being a real farmer is scraping chicken poo on to my raised beds.
But listen to farmers interviewed on Radio National and you reach the conclusion that they would only be truly contented if it rained 24 hours a day until they retired and then every other day after that.
Everyone in a desert wants more rain.
Nobody says they want less for fear of being like the only person at the dinner table that dislikes apple pie.
We start to sound like disciples of Chairman Mao in the 60s, going around repeating the same slogans to each other as if we lack an original thought.
"Serve the people" the Chinese used to chant. "The Todd is getting a flush" is our equivalent. Both are equally tedious.
And yet despite claiming to love the rain, it is ironic that cold and damp Territorians look even more miserable than most other rainswept people.
Which begs the question, how much rain is the right amount for the average resident of Central Australia?
I don't know the answer, but I'll tell you anyway.
For non-farmers, a good wet day once a month would be just fine.
No more, no less.
Forget the fine drizzly stuff, let's get it out of the way quick through a short, sharp downpour.
Just fill the future Alice Springs lake, recharge the town basin, keep the native plants going but don't send so much precipitation that it makes the roads any worse.
Oh, and before I forget, rain brings some relief from that annoying static when you touch a metal surface.
Once a month without it would be less shocking too.
But when the rain is over and the sun returns, I always feel a tinge of disappointment in myself for not buying a bigger rainwater tank or for forgetting to spread some fertiliser on my garden beds.
And I feel a bit guilty that I didn't enjoy it more.
Desert rain is a wet towel hanging on a kitchen chair.
Quite soon, it gets in the way.
VERDI PUT TO THE TEST. REPORT by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The undefeated Verdi A-grade were tested by Federal Strikers on Sunday as they fought tooth and nail to force a nil-all draw.
Federal benefited from the presence of Adrian McAdam, Luke Bosio and Simon Danby against the experience of Verdi headed up by Gio Morelli and Alby Tilmouth.
Federal had a chance to open their account in the first half via a penalty but a magnificent save by goal-keeper Ross Arozzolo kept the score at 0-0 at half time.
In the second half, Federal seemed to gain the upper hand but were kept at bay by the efforts of Morelli in defence.
The other A-grade fixture opened with a magnificent five-goal feast of success when S&R Vikings took on Neata Glass Scorpions.
In the sixth minute Mark Harvey netted the opener for Vikings and 10 minutes later Conrad Tamblyn extended the lead through a deflection.
Down but not out, the Scorpions pulled one back thanks to Chris Constable in the 24th minute, only to find Gesu Galotta reply for the Vikings.
Scorpions kept cool however and were rewarded in the 40th minute when Steve Constable scored, reducing Vikings' lead to 3-2 at half time.
The fiery first half took its toll in the second with both teams unable to add to the score. The points gave Vikings second place on the premiership ladder.
In B-grade Buckleys had a 1-0 win over Central Falcons.
Despite only having nine players, Buckleys were able to take the points and retain top spot on the ladder.
It was early in the second half that Tom Clements took advantage of a free kick to register the winning goal.
Federal Scorers dominated in their 11 to 0 win over RSL.
A hat trick from Chris Clements and doubles from Patrick Smith, Nat McGill and Corey Wade, as well as goals from Josh Wiles and Justin Ryan proved too much for the opposition.
Scorpions were able to maintain their unbeaten run when they downed TDC 4-1.
It was a game worth watching with attacking flair resulting in Scorpions' Christian Huen snaring a hat trick.
The other B-grade fixture was not played as Dragons were down on numbers due to work commitments. Thus Stormbirds accepted three points without having to slip on the boots.
The Stormbirds were seen in a different light in the C-grade where it was only a goal from Geoff Harris that kept the undermanned and young Gunnaz out.
The nine-man Gunnaz gave the game everything, and with both sides improving each week, good games can be expected in the weeks to come.
In the other game Desert Spinach went down 2-0 against Neata Glass Scorpions.
The Scorpions' Marcus Becker and Chris Zahra scored and both Lachlan Farquharson and Deana Horwood were significant contributors.
For the Spinach, goal-keeper Tim Dilworth and Rory McLeod were prominent.
TURN-UP FOR THE BOOKIES! Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
It was a day of upsets at Pioneer Park on Saturday.
In the 1200 metre Al Tayar Class 6 Handicap the Burcutter seemed to be the trump card in the pack of four starters for trainer Terry Gillette, but Mr Cardin the only starter from outside the stable was the eventual winner.
Odds-on favourite the Burcutter led the field from Barrow and Cherry Bay but in the running, showed every indication of being a 1000 metre specialist and felt the going.
Mr Cardin, with Ben Cornell on board, was able to take advantage of an inside run to grab the lead and cruise home, with Burcutter and Barrow filling the minors.
The second race of the day was abandoned after the inside gates opened early providing some starters with an advantage.
Several horses completed the run, and under the circumstances the race was called off.
In the third, the Our Last Resort Class 3 Handicap over 1100 metres, the Will Savage-trained Kareshim proved too strong.
POTENTIALOn Alice Springs Cup Day the galloper had showed potential and this Saturday, Garry Lefoe led the horse to command proceedings.
In the straight he raced away with the honest toiler Burran finishing well to take second money and Lady Archer filling the minors.
The Solario Handicap over 1000 metres proved to be another surprise when the highly fancied, odds-on starter Scotro was beaten into second place by Swiftly.
The mighty midget led as usual with Swiftly and Aspen Star hunting up.
On the turn Scotro seemed to hang allowing Swiftly the chance to drive along the rails and claim victory.
Son of Grace also impressed at the finish.
In the last John Cornell had his first local winner with son Ben in the saddle when Miss Movie Star saluted over 1000 metres in the Trobis Maiden.
Miss Movie Star took the lead and controlled the running from top weight Balbriggan who ran his race back in the field, then finishing well.
In third spot was She's a Card who showed pace early and battled on well.
WEATHER COLD BUT BLOODS ON THE BOIL. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
West will probably be in the hot seat for a berth in the Grand Final and Rovers will equally probably accept the wooden spoon, given the weekend's Aussie Rules results.
Football at Traeger Park on Saturday night was far from conducive to bringing footy supporters back to the local game and it had nothing to do with large margins or anti-social behaviour.
It was simply cold and wet and in 2004 people have other options other than to brave the elements.
In the curtain-raiser West showed their undeniable strength when they accounted for South 17.15 (117) to 9.5 (59).
In the late game Federal gained fourth place in the competition by scoring a 14.11 (95) to 3.3 (21) win over Rovers.
West have been able to regroup after what may have been a hangover year from the 2002 Premiership win and now place a formidable side on the oval.
Souths in opposition fielded an almost full strength side with the only real disappointment being the absence of Malcolm Kenny who broke down earlier on the weekend.
The combination of Kevin Bruce, Keith Durham and Ben Whelan enabled the Bloods to steal an early ascendancy and lead 3.5 to 1.1 at the first break.
In the second term the Roos found their feet somewhat and were competitive.
Both Sherman and Kasmin Spencer and Calvin Chong along with Darren Talbot posted six pointers for them with input from Curtis Haines, Clayton Cruze and Lloyd Stockman.
In response Westies contained themselves finding Stephen Squires twice and able to match their opposition with four goals apiece for the quarter.
The last half however belonged to the Bloods as they scored 10 goals to four, inviting the whole offensive line in on the scoring.
Squires ended the day with four goals, while Bruce was responsible for three off his own boot, and both Henry Labastida and Craig James secured two goals each.
In the run home two last quarter goals from former Bloods player, Haines kept the Roos' score respectable.
West have now gone to the top of the Premiership table and in winning by 58 points have done their percentage no harm.
Bruce again showed he is deserving of early season favouritism for the Minahan Medal.
Whelan showed he has the potential to turn a game and dominate and was Wests' best.
He was well supported by Labastida, Andrew Wesley and Nick Kerber.In the South camp, Cruze emerged as a player to watch.
Haines, Stockman and Ali Satour were prominent and both Charlie Lynch and Shaun Cummings were contributors.
Federal's 74-point win placed them well for the run into the finals.
They have now played two consecutive games whereby they applied themselves for the full 100 minutes.
In the wind and rain of Saturday night it was a big ask to keep up the momentum.
Federal jumped out of the blocks with a 3.4 to 0.2 first quarter and capitalised from there on.
They held a 38-point lead at half time and extended it to 52 points at the three-quarter break.
In the run home Feds kept Rovers scoreless and put on a further 3.4.
Patrick Ah Kitt bagged three goals for the game as did Sheldon Palmer, with Cameron Briscoe and Darryl Ryder posting two goals each.
For Rovers the scoring was split up between Brendan Smith, Hamish McDonald and Martin Patrick.
In terms of best players Palmer teamed well with Darryl Lowe, Jason Wilshire and Nigel Spratt to lead the Feds assault.
For Rovers Patrick, Mark Manuell and Karl Hampton contributed well.
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