September 8, 2004.


The Greatorex option was "part of an overall solution for the development of the Central Business District".
But buying the government office block opposite the police station was just one aspect of a visionary plan to turn the needed upgrade of the civic centre into "a catalyst for the further development of the CBD.
"The NT Government and the town council were trying to work out a solution that was best for the community."
This is how Roger Bottrall, the town council's acting CEO at the time, sees the controversial events brought to light by the Alice Springs News.
He now works in a senior position with Ausaid in Papua New Guinea.
Mr Bottrall makes no judgment about the council's ultimate decision of refurbishing the old council offices, at a cost of more than $10m.
He says staff are unhappy about the condition of the present office.
Contacted by the Alice News last week he recounted the events two years ago from the perspective of the council's then most senior employee, carrying out instructions from his masters in whose court it was to make the political decisions.
In 2002 Mr Bottrall's brief was to develop a concept with his opposite numbers in the government, which would have seen sale of the present Civic Centre site – not including the library – to the government for approved private development, promoting "significant financial, social, environmental and public relations benefits", according to the report leaked to the News.There were snags, says Mr Bottrall: "Senior departmental people did not seem to be enthusiastic.
"I don't think they understood the concept we were talking about."
However, clearly that is an issue the politicians in the council should have taken up with the politicians in government who were keen on the idea.
In his report Mr Bottrall says the Chief Minister had "expressed enthusiasm" for the scheme.
It's not difficult to conclude from what Mr Bottrall says now, and what he wrote in his still secret report in December 2002, that the council has displayed an abysmal lack of leadership, blew what might have been an outstanding opportunity for improving the town, and ignored the government's overt willingness to be extremely generous to the council.
All the while the ratepayers were kept in the dark about a project that would have saved them $5m, by the estimate of Mr Bottrall and the co-author of his report, Eric Petersen, then director corporate services and now director of infrastructure.
It is a hallmark of the council's absurd secrecy that it will make public the report only after it is too late for it to make any difference.
(The leaking of this report to the Alice News recently; as well as other leaks, is now apparently the subject of a police investigation.)
Meanwhile the government has said as recently as last week that it had invited the council to make a formal proposition, but the council had failed to do so.
There was every indication that the Cabinet was still willing to look at the idea when the council turned its back on it for good.
This is the sequence of the events:-
• Ald Dave Koch raises the proposal to buy the Greatorex Building at a committee meeting on September 16, 2002. He said last week it was his preferred option.
• A recommendation to "explore further options for the Civic Centre that may be of benefit to both Council and the NT Government" is accepted by the council meeting on September 30, 2002.
This recommendation is typical for the sneaky way the council conducts its affairs: Although this item was in an open meeting, it was worded so vaguely as to give no hint of the complex negotiations the motion was authorising.
Not surprisingly, the public showed no interest in the issue about which it knew nothing. The wheeling and dealing proceeded behind closed doors, for two years.
• Mayor Fran Kilgariff speaks to Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne about the issues. (Last week she denied having briefed the Cabinet.)
• Later in 2002 Mr Bottrall makes a presentation to the NT Cabinet and is told the Chief Minister "looked forward to receiving an offer from the Council".
• The council gives Mr Bottrall three months to come up with a deal, an absurdly inadequate time frame given the complexity of the task.
• Mr Bottrall keeps the council informed about the obstructions from some of the NT public servants but the council does nothing about that, an amazing omission given that the NT Government's politicians are keen to see the project advance.
Mr Bottrall says he told the council "we have a window of opportunity but we have to move on it.
"Unfortunately senior people didn't move on it.
"They kept on passing things back. We were going nowhere."
• After three months the council pulls the pin on Mr Bottrall's efforts, and embarks on a course of action that will cost the ratepayers many millions of dollars.
"I had not been able to secure any deal," says Mr Bottrall, "and they decided to move on the original concept [refurbishing the existing council office]."
• Last week the new aldermen were, by some accounts, bullied into making a decision about the civic centre without the benefit of knowing what was in the 2002 report, nor any of the background.
• All Mayor Kilgariff will say about the complex proposal her council scuttled in early 2003 is that it "didn't come to anything …it got bogged down" and that it "lapsed".


Works may be "rescheduled", discretionary spending may be "tightened" and there may be unspecified "changes to rating" – but no "rate rises" – to pay for the Civic Centre redevelopment.This is how council will achieve the "savings" of $446,000 per annum over three financial years to make up the additional funding of $1.34m required for the $9.15m project.
Or should that be the $10.14m project, the council's figure supplied late last week? That figure includes the following:
• construction contract amount following acceptance of a tender (the $9.26m referred to by Alderman Murray Stewart last week);
• construction contingencies equal to four per cent of the contract amount, as a reasonable provision for unforseen matters;
• a reduction in contingencies related to electrical supply matters (what does that mean?);• the net savings accepted at time of acceptance of the contract;
• statutory charges, furnishings and fittings;
• outstanding consultant fees ($174,171), related to future costs to be incurred during construction; and,• provision for other non-contract items ($660,921 – that's well over half a million dollars for unspecified items).
[We didn't seek further clarification from Mayor Kilgariff on those items because last time we asked her questions she supplied the answers also to the Advocate newspaper, in an extraordinary breach of trust.]
Or should it in fact be the $10.7m project, not including the blowouts predicted by Alds Ernie Nicholls and Samih Habib?
That $10.7m figure includes the consultants' fees paid to date of just under half a million dollars (100 per cent of design costs); $55,000 for the purchase of demountables (one to be sold after completion) for temporary staff accommodation; and, $11,000 for a three dimensional model of the redevelopment (not available at the time of the public consultation on the design, when it would have been useful).
This escalation of costs from a project originally discussed as a $3m refurbishment (according to former alderman Michael Jones) and as late as March this year estimated at $6m – a figure which continued to have currency at least in the Advocate as late as last week – takes the redevelopment close to the $12.5m "Taj Mahal", four years ago scrapped by the council as too expensive.
That project, however, had the advantage of incorporating "all that the community wanted", to quote Mayor Fran Kilgariff (Alice News, March 10), after taking into account public consultations that amounted to a bit more than looking at schematic design drawings.
The plans in 2000 included a hall that could serve as a convention area and accommodation for a number of community groups, particularly those servicing parents and children.
At the time former alderman Geoff Miers vehemently opposed council going into debt for 20 years and won the day.
At least 20 years' debt now looks guaranteed if construction of the sorely needed new public library goes ahead, estimated to cost $12 million in two years time.
And what about the $10m soon to be needed to shift the rubbish dump – currently a smelly affair greeting visitors entering the town from the south?
Council made a submission to the Territory Government on June 10 for financial support for construction of the library.
Council claims it could reasonably fund additional loan repayments for part cost, whilst limiting repayments (including existing Civic Centre loans) to less that 10 per cent of rate revenue.
Both loans would be largely concurrent, and the total period of loan commitment to both projects would be approximately 20 years, claims the Mayor.
"It represents a conservative level of commitment to debt servicing, when compared to municipal councils in the eastern states," she says, without specifying which councils and more importantly the size of their rate-paying base.


A split council after just three months may be a cost not accounted for in the Civic Centre redevelopment plans.
New alderman Des Rogers says he is thoroughly disillusioned after last week's "appalling" meeting that voted six to four to accept Sitzler Brothers' tender for the redevelopment.
He said "sarcastic" and "derogatory" comments were unchecked by the Mayor, during a debate driven by old guard aldermen David Koch and Geoff Bell.
With aldermen in a five to five deadlock over the bid, Ald Rogers put a motion, seconded by Jane Mure, for a "cooling off" period of 15 days, to allow time for more information to become available on the Greatorex Building option.
The availability of the building, he understood, was to be discussed the very next day by the Territory Cabinet.
None of the new aldermen, to his knowledge, had been made aware of the Greatorex option, other than by the Alice Springs News.
Ald Rogers accepted an amendment by Ald Mure to limit the cooling off period to just three days.
But in an atmosphere of "bullying tactics" he withdrew the motion, after which Samih Habib immediately broke the deadlock by voting to accept the bid.
"I sit on a lot of boards and committees," says Ald Rogers.
"The behaviour of the old aldermen and the chairing of the meeting leaves a lot to be desired.
"And I now believe aldermen are in an untenable situation of division created by the old school."
So what made Ald Habib jump?
He went into the meeting believing that the $10m project was "unaffordable".
He now says that was because he thought the $5m loan was to be repaid over 10 years. However, a longer repayment period of 15 years has been negotiated.
He says he continued to raise alternative options in the meeting, such as an entirely new Civic Centre on land in the Western Precinct, and the merging of the town library with the university library, thus making available the present town library premises.
But his ideas "fell on deaf ears".
He believes the Greatorex Building option would have returned council to square one, because it would also have required refurbishment, putting the total cost at $8m to $10m.
These are Ald Habib's own ballpark figures.
Finally, without anything he considered as a viable alternative that would attract support, he decided to vote to accept the tender.
He describes the redevelopment as a "medium term" solution and "not the best one", but it has the advantage of stimulating the local building industry.
"If council or government can't get it moving, who can?" asks Ald Habib, also a businessman.
He does not agree that the council is divided, but acknowledges some aldermen are "not happy".
On allegations of bullying, he says: "We are all adults.
"It was a hot debate, no one agreed with anyone, but it was handled very well," says Ald Habib.
Ald Mure also went into the meeting last Monday with concerns that the redevelopment was too expensive (see last week's issue).
She changed her mind sooner than Ald Habib.
She was persuaded that the financing of the project was using "an appropriate economic model that was sustainable and was of value to the Alice Springs community".
She was also of the view that council was "legally responsible to havereasons for not accepting a tender beyond a simple change of mind"."It's a business principle," says Ald Mure.
She says the Greatorex option did not "address the issue of public toilets", which the redevelopment does.
She also says the Greatorex option was not presented properly.
Did she ask for it to be presented properly?
"Why would I ask for that? "If someone wants to put an alternative case, they need to present it properly.
"I wasn't presented in writing with this alternative case."
A seven page report prepared by council staff existed, as was revealed in the August 25 edition of the Alice News.
"I've come into council to follow through on what has been decided," says Ald Mure.
"The proposal that is before me now is what I have to make a decision on."I don't have to make a decision on something done several years ago."
Ald Mure would not be drawn to make comments about the meeting, saying only that it was a confidential meeting.


NT Police Commissioner Paul White spent much of last Friday chasing publicity for a new mounted patrol – two men, two horses – in Alice Springs, but refused to spend 10 minutes talking about children dying under his officers' noses.
It was the second time in a fortnight that Mr White refused the Alice News answers to questions we asked when Community Welfare Minister Marion Scrymgour, announcing a review of the Community Welfare Act, described police as being in the "front line" of the fight against child abuse and neglect.
When I spoke to Police Minister Paul Henderson about that he urged me to speak to speak to Mr White: he himself, as the Minister, couldn't possibly talk about it, because of the separation of powers.
That assertion didn't stand up to scrutiny (Alice News, Sept 1), so suddenly we had a lot more questions than answers.
But on that sunny day on the council lawns last week Mr White had weightier things on his mind.
The few neat rows of chairs were occupied mainly by police officers. Puzzled passers-by were stepping around the droppings from the creatures at the centre of attention.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff was there, doing what she does best, going to official functions.
Chief Minister Clare Martin, trademark smile fixed in place, wondered whether a police patrol could be "launched", resolved it could be and proceeded to do so.
An ever obliging portion of the Alice media was there in force, asking the Commissioner questions that would make Dorothy Dix blush. One reporter wondered how you could make a horse neigh, because a sound grab of that would greatly enhance the story.
I asked Andrew Cummins, the police Media and Corporate Communications Manager, who'd also come all the way from Darwin for the momentous occasion, to arrange a 10 minute "one on one" interview with Mr White.
Mr Cummins said I might get five minutes and he would ask the Commissioner.
He did and the answer was no – again.
On Monday last week Mr Cummins had suggested a local officer should be fielding my questions.
Detective Superintendent Don Fry was nominated and – predictably – declined to speak about issues of separation of powers.
We spoke about the rampant abuse and neglect of children in our community, many of them killed by petrol sniffing, or turned into human vegetables.
I raised the obligations police have under the current Community Welfare Act, including taking children into custody when they are "in need of care" and there is no other way the child could be expected to get it.
We spoke about the functions of Family and Community Services (FACS), which has no officers based in the bush communities, only a team visiting from time to time, and what kind of obligations that put on the police stationed in those communities.
Mr Fry's replies were general and unspecific. I asked about statistics, numbers of reports made to police, numbers of occasions police acted of its own initiative, and what kinds of actions those were. No doubt answers would have prompted further questions.
But Mr Fry didn't have the details and so I broke off the interview, suggesting we should resume it later in the week, giving him a chance to get the details.
We added a footnote to last week's 1350 word report, saying we've asked "police for details of its work under the Community Welfare Act. We intend publishing the reply next week."
But lo and behold, the local police media officer, Theresa Kuilboer, told me on Friday that there would be no further details from Mr Fry.
The episode is yet another example of what the Martin regime means by open and transparent government: all show and no tell.
Of course, matters of life and death are such unpleasant things to talk about on a sunny day on the council lawns.
Horses, especially when presented in a strictly controlled environment, are so much nicer.


"Six young sniffers died in the region in the last six or seven months.
"One at Willowra, two at Kiwirrkurra.
"A guy from Mt Liebig hanged himself at Lajamanu, and two died at Mutitjulu.
"One a month.
"Mt Liebig had a death every year for the last five years."
The grim tally comes from Blair McFarland, coordinator of Tangentyere Council's Central Australian Youth Link-up Service (CAYLUS) program whose main focus is the prevention of petrol and glue sniffing.
"People die from hanging themselves, or from falling asleep with a can on their face.
"There have been people burned to death, one in Mutitjulu three years ago.
"People go back to sniffing after being seriously burned, it doesn't stop them, despite the fact that they are badly scarred and disfigured.
"Some communities educate their younger kids about brain damage.
"It gives them an understanding of why their older brothers and sisters are acting erratically: ‘Look, Jakamarra can't find the door.'
"The teacher is trying to give the kids an understanding of why Jakamarra can't find the door.
"He's not just being a crazy, goofy guy.
"He's got brain damage.
"He can't find the door because he can't remember where it is.
"And he can't remember anything much from moment to moment."
Death isn't the only tragic result of sniffing, says Mr McFarland.
"There is a cohort of about 100 people out in the Pitjantjatjara lands who are brain damaged from long term sniffing and who aren't in institutions.
"They wander around, incapable of learning or doing anything much, they just get looked after by their families.
"The first thing that happens is that their legs start to go.
"They start walking really strangely.
"It's like a puppet with really loose strings."
Mr McFarland says at least eight sniffers are waiting for a rehabilitation program "but there isn't one".
This is just one of the absurdities in a scenario of neglect and buck passing, with police, welfare (namely FACS, the Family and Community Services branch of the Department of Health and Community Services) and the courts running a cruel and futile merry-go-round.
Says Mr McFarland: "Welfare themselves are often saying that there is very little they can do.
"They assess whether they can help with the resources they have got.
"If they can't they don't take the kids into care, so they have no direct responsibility for doing anything with the kids they feel they can't help.
"Recently a 10-year-old boy was brought in by the police from an outstation out west.
"He was reported by the local council as being in danger.
"It's not a community where there is a lot of sniffing and he stood out, and so the police brought him in.
"The welfare mob just couldn't do anything with him.
"They just haven't got anywhere to put him.
"There is a shortage of placements. That's primarily it.
"There aren't placements for kids who are still using, too few resources on the ground."DASA will take people over 18 but DASA is currently closed for renovations.
"Mt Theo outstation will take you if you have a Warlpiri family who'll come and sit down with you.
"Ipolera has quite a few kids at the moment but they are mainly Hermannsburg kids.
"Intajrtnama has a couple of kids.
"Barry Abbott at Ilpurla has as many kids as he can currently deal with.
"He can't really take any more.
"The funding doesn't go far enough.
"It's creating potentially dangerous situations for the outstations, particularly if people have behavioural problems or are disturbed.
"The outstations are remote places and potentially quite dangerous.
"But because they are the only game in town everyone refers sniffers to them.
"There are just four outstations, that's it."
Mr McFarland says it's surprisingly rare for police to take sniffers into custody.
"Often families are already trying to do something and they wouldn't mind if the police took the sniffers into town.
"But that's a fairly infrequent thing to happen, considering the number of kids out there sniffing petrol.
"It's surprising it's not used more, but possibly it isn't used more because it doesn't actually result in anything happening.
"Welfare say they can't help these kids and it becomes a fruitless exercise.
"The kid goes before the court, welfare do an assessment of him and they say they can't help him and so he's released again.
"It's just out the door.
"Those kids are incredibly mobile, they might be released in Alice Springs or taken back to Papunya or wherever they came from.
"Who knows where they'll end up?"
Mr McFarland says when sniffing grips a community it is done overtly and is readily copied.
"If they're from a community where there is a lot of sniffing [young kids] just see that everybody is sniffing and they just sniff, as everyone else is."
Some are as young as 10 or 11.
"It's a monkey see, monkey do kind of thing."
Mr McFarland says peer pressure is often strong: "When Papunya stopped selling petrol kids were walking around with water in their cans, pretending it was petrol, just to be part of the group. Sniffers share the petrol.
"One person steals some petrol and shares it with all his mates.
"There is a sharing, caring element.
"The sniffing mob become a little family group, look after each other, hang out in deserted houses and sniff petrol."
Fear of illness and an early death is unlikely to keep children off petrol.
"There is such a general level of sickness around them," says Mr McFarland.
"They live short, fast and furious lives.
"These kids are more realistic about the health issues than a lot of the whitefellers who talk to them in glowing terms. ‘It's going to be bad for your health if you sniff petrol' doesn't work.
"They've seen their relations dropping dead at age 30 from heart attacks and diabetes."
Mr McFarland says parents are generally disinclined or incapable of applying discipline.
"Sometimes families are strong enough to stop the kids, but sometimes they are not, because kids are very autonomous, and families are often shredded in terms of the leverage they can bring to bear on the kids.
"Culturally discipline in the family was never anything that had to be thought about. All the discipline in the world came from their environment.
"The kids had to stick with the family and they had to do what people were doing because if they didn't, [without the support the nomadic group could provide] it was just a fairly quick death."
[FOOTNOTE: Community Welfare Minister Marion Scrymgour has been unavailable for 10 days. In 2002/03 the NT Government received from the Federal Grants Commission $67.6m for "homeless and general welfare" but spent only $30.1m on that purpose.
It received $98.4m for "family and children's services" but spent only $30.1m on that purpose.
Ms Scrymgour has announced a review of the Community Welfare Act including the seeking of public comment, a process unlikely to bear much fruit before the end of first Labor Government's four year term.]


The first guest arrived in his private jet, paid $900 a night, stayed two days and – according to the establishment's manager, Mark Provost – described the experience as "the best I've ever had".
Says Mr Provost: "For someone who'd travelled the world extensively he was just totally blown away.
"It by far exceeded his expectations."
No. It's not some new five star palace in The Alice or Yulara.
It's the beginning of a super exclusive resort in a humble Aboriginal community, Titjikala, 140 km south of Alice Springs.
What's more, the locals have a 50 per cent slice of the action, in a joint venture partnership with Sydney based company, Gunya Tourism.
Mr Provost says there are now two "deluxe safari tents" on an excision from the Maryvale cattle station lease, near Titjikala.
It's planned to have five tents by February next year, worth a total of $500,000, but depending on "demand and community support".
Forget backpackers – this is a top-dollar treat for the high fliers.
Mr Provost says the market will be corporate clients, including meetings, incentives and special interest groups.
"Instead of flying off to Hawaii to have their executive committee meetings they can go to Titjikala for two days," says Mr Provost.
The second market will be high yielding visitors from UK, Germany and USA; and thirdly, the "fully independent traveller".
The land is not part of the large estate of inalienable freehold land granted under the NT Land Rights Act, so the community and the joint venture partners could make the deal without involvement of the Central Land Council.
Gunya Tourism is planning five "exclusive destinations around Australia" with beach, river and reef "experiences" yet to come.
Mr Provost says the Titjikala mini resort is a true joint venture, with his company and the Aboriginal community having an equal profit share, directorship and committee membership.
"Half of all profits go into the Titjikala Foundation which focuses on education, health and school retention," says Mr Provost.
All staff except two full time project managers from Gunya Tourism are locals, providing "the land, the people and the culture".
Gunya Tourism supplies accounting, sales and marketing, reservations, marketing and business planning, all from the head office in Sydney, says Mr Provost.
The $900 per night per tent includes "experiences and tours" as well as "three gourmet meals such as damper in a broth with a witchetti grub followed by braised kangaroo tail in a spicy tomato sauce with rice."


Aboriginal art practice in Central Australia continues to sustain the vital interest of its creators and its fans.
The former is confirmed by the works of excellence that made their appearance at the annual Desert Mob show, which opened to a crowd of more than 500 people at Araluen on the weekend.
The latter, by the escalating sales on its first day: 121 works valued at over $184,000 (an increase of nearly 70 per cent in dollar value from last year's first day).
This year's initiative of the Desert Mob Marketplace, selling art and craft pieces for under $200, was also a great success, with an estimated 800 people visiting and more than $43,000 earnt.
At Desert Mob proper, the work coming out of the longer established art centres, like Papunya Tula, Ernabella, Maruku (NPY lands), Keringke (Santa Teresa) and Warlukurlangku (Yuendumu) jostles for pride of place with the stars of more recent years, such as Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) and Warlayirti (Balgo).
Something that all these art centres share is a discriminating selection of work.
That is not always the case at Desert Mob, which makes for a very mixed exhibition.I love seeing fresh work in which you sense the artist's humble pleasure in medium and subject, like the two train paintings in the Julalikari showing.
I'm less keen on seeing underdeveloped painting at inflated prices, such as the pair of Hermannsburg Potters' acrylics, acquired for the Araluen Collection at $8040 each.
The Hermannsburg Potters are rightly renowned for their ceramics and there's the usual strong showing of these in Desert Mob.
The transfer of the aesthetic to paint on canvas (or linen) is not automatic. The flat colour is harsh, the composition without the depth or rhythm it strives for. It simply doesn't take off, something that the subject, birds in flight, surely requires.
There's always a degree of subjectivity in aesthetic responses, of course, but I think the market's appetite for anything new and the low level of critical response does not serve these artists well.
Colour on the whole sings at Desert Mob: the high keyed colour of work from Keringke, Warlukurlangku, Ikuntji and Warlayirti stamps itself on your retina; it tends to be what you carry away with you as the dominant impression.
But restrained palettes hold their own, as work from Papunya Tula, Ernabella and Maruku demonstrates year after year.
I also found the muted tone of work from the newly established Kayili Artists (from the Gibson Desert) successful.
Less successful in my view are the "grey day" pall that hangs over the work of Sandover Artists and the garish colour juxtapositions of Irunytju Arts. The market of course does not agree, but I would love to see these determined artists – both groups having weathered periods of floundering support – given the stimulus to explore new ways with colour.


Mousy brown pigtails, a mouth full of great teeth, little silver ring in her right eyebrow and an accent with just the slightest hint of something else – Amira Pyliotis is Tecoma. Stripped down to the bare essentials.
Before making the journey to the Centre from Melbourne where Tecoma was born, Amira was part of a dynamic four-piece ensemble, which has certainly struck a chord with audiences of many and varied tastes across Australia.
Tecoma draws as much from jazz, roots and contemporary street music cultures as it does from the rich Arabic and European folk heritage belonging to the singer-song writer at its heart.
Armed only with her voice, guitar, and strength of her self-penned songs, Amira is using Alice's notorious energy to write Tecoma's debut album, Home Brew. But for now she is playing a myriad of shows throughout the Festival.Over soy chai at Bar Dops on a lazy Sunday morning, Amira spoke so powerfully that it was like I was at one of her gigs; the stories she told and the memories she shared were pure music.
"I wanted to get away from the winter in Melbourne, I needed to get the juices flowing.
"You know when you're only ever doing the same thing and you're just stagnating? That's what I was doing. I knew what I wanted to do, but I just couldn't do it. Travel's the best thing."As a four-piece, Tecoma have just released their debut EP City Folk.
Amira wrote most of its songs during a short stint in Alice last year. It is music born in the desert and raised in the city, combining an Arabic rhythm with a Latin chord progression, played on a steel string country acoustic.It is a rich and indulgent sound, finding inspiration in the stuff of everyday life; the stresses of modern living, fights between lovers and countries, and family and the ties that bind.
City Folk's songs are for dancing, passing time in peak hour anything, cooking up a storm in your kitchen to, or simply on that lazy Sunday morning.Tecoma is folk in the truest sense of the word.
It is music that knows its history but is at the same time elbow-deep engaged and enamoured with life unfolding all around it. It's City Folk because it's life playing out in the pokey jazz dives, sky-rise office blocks, suburban streets and acoustic cafes that make Melbourne, Tecoma's home, what it is.Amira makes the transition to the stage seamlessly, although when she started fronting audiences she was completely attuned to the response of her crowd – good or bad.
" The first solo gig I played was at a mate's café in the middle of nowhere. I'd worked really hard to get this bunch of stuff together but about 20 minutes into it I was bored. After half an hour I stopped, because I thought if I'm finding this boring everyone else is going to.
"I had to go back to the drawing board. That process grows you and it sharpens your skills, I feel as a musician you're going to have tough crowds but if you're good enough, you've just got to develop those skills of being able to draw them in, get their attention, command it and keep it. I'm still not there, but that's what I'm hoping to do."Playing at this year's Bass In The Dust concert is the highlight of Amira's Alice Festival performances.
But even though folk music is something that the Bass audience will probably not be expecting, Amira believes that "if it's good, on the merits of the music alone, it'll get out to people".
"I'm not a capitalist in any sense but market forces determine the masses… if you're not doing something that people like, then that's the way the cookie crumbles.
"Ultimately whatever way you approach it, if you love music enough, you want to make it your bread and butter, and you'll do whatever you have to. I don't necessarily mean selling your soul, but good music is good music and people respond to that."Amira plays good music. The first time I listened to City Folk I was snuggled up with friends by a potbelly stove after a rather eventful Saturday night. Our faces were warm and glowing, the music was alive and sonorously rich, like a Bar Dops soy chai.
Remember Sunday afternoon jazz at Chateau Hornsby? Kids running around like crazy things and nothing decent to eat except a flaky meat pie? But overall that wonderful, incredible, amazing feeling of "this is Alice, this is life"? Amira Pyliotis is a Chateau Hornsby girl. She's made the journey that so many seem to make, and she's here to play.
"It's this funny thing you do as a musician," Amira explains, "you spend hour upon solitary hour in your room practising and honing your craft over many years ‘cos you love it so much and so, if you're successful, for the short time you're on stage it looks absolutely effortless.
"There's only the joy of the act itself and no one except you has any idea of the work and the time and the tears that went into making that performance what it was."Pick up a copy of the Alice Festival Guide for details of Amira's performances at Sean's Bar, The Lane, Bluegrass, the Alice Vista Social Club and Club Diva, and of course, Bass in the Dust, when real life, the life Amira captures in her music, will play out in full colour.
Other local acts to feature at Bass in the Dust are Blacktide, Cinco Locos and C-Kaliberation.
Blacktide, working throughout 2003 under the name Plan B, have steadily built their hard rock profile in Alice, recognized now for the powerful control and constrained aggression of each hard hitting and ever evolving set.
Cinco Locos, who performed at the recent Bass in the Grass in Darwin, are a five member band with eclectic vocals; ranging from latino harmonies to rhythmical rapping to dub chorus, known to stimulate ferocious dancing after such a barrage of beat driven bombs.C-Kaliberation is made up of three different artists drawing on styles ranging from Prince to heavy metal.
All this in prelude to the headlining the Superjesus, Hilltop Hoods, Resin Dogs and Tzu in nine hours of continuous entertainment, a highlight of the Alice Festival this Saturday.

Plain ignorance or pure arrogance? COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.

Someone once said that one person's right to swing their arms ends where the next person's nose begins.
Where I was born everyone enjoys the right to access private or Crown land as long as you follow some basic rules like closing gates, asking for permission if you camp within sight of a house, and not lighting fires after a certain date or picking protected plants.
It is called "The Everyman's right", or Allemansrätten. Here though most pastoral properties are protected by "No Trespassing" notices.
I am just starting to appreciate some of the problems that the property owners face. The other day I saw a different side to the Territory. I was fortunate enough to take part in a pre-school picnic at a station close to Alice.
We stopped to pat and feed the children's pony and I asked if they had more horses. I was shocked to hear that trespassers had recently shot their other three.
Another problem with people coming onto the property is land degradation from motorbikes and four-wheel-drives.
I now see the station owners' point of view.
If people go as far as killing your live stock just for the fun of it, who wouldn't put up signs and advertise no trespassing and that trespassers will be prosecuted.
It is not just lack of respect for other people's property but lack of respect for life.
If someone took aim at and shot your dog over the back fence there would be an outcry, but if it is outside suburbia it is "life".
The outback is not just a big sandpit where we can play any games we like. Sure there is a lot of land around here but that doesn't mean we need to trash it.
I can understand that some people really enjoy motor-sports and shooting, but this is not the 18th Century or the Wild West.
We need to push for designated areas for these activities.
It is also a bit of a worry that there are people out there with guns who obviously cannot discriminate between when it is right and when it is wrong to use your gun. You would hope that anyone with a gun licence knows where the rules apply.
Culling is one thing and might be necessary at times but that is not what we are talking about here.
When some people complain about land rights are they really only worried about the fact that their "rights" may be restricted?
Our right to wreck the environment, shoot anything that moves and turn it all into a big theme park?
Is that what is referred to as "our Territory lifestyle"?
By abusing the environment or turning a blind eye or a deaf ear when we witness or hear about abuse, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
If we showed respect for landowners by taking care not to damage land, livestock or property they might eventually be in favour of a right to access for all Australians.
In the meantime we will have to make do with parks, which isn't enough. All our land should be respected and protected, because there is no more where it came from.

Going the way of the Italians. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

I have recently learned that Italians no longer wear vests.
The Statistical Bureau of Italy has stopped including the vest as an item in the shopping basket that is used to calculate changes in the cost of living.
The official explanation is that this symbol of the Italian working class has fallen out of fashion in recent years.
Men have become embarrassed by it. They consider the humble vest or "canottiera" as a sign of poverty unbecoming a person who likes foreign holidays and satellite television.
I only wish that my wife would become embarrassed by her leg warmers, but that's a vain hope.
The relegation of Italian vests shouldn't trouble me. Italy is a long way from here and nothing else there worries me.
But somehow the vest story gets under my skin. You see, the everyday stuff of life has a significance that is easy to dismiss.
Take it away and we all start to become a little more indistinguishable. How we speak or act and what we wear come from generations of tradition and culture.
They shouldn't be swept aside like some kind of cheap fad.
I'll give you an example. Long ago, a friend of mine visited a remote town in the Amazon. She expected the people to be exotic. She wanted to jump into the cultural deep end, encountering all manner of bewildering customs and practices.
Instead, she was disappointed to meet lots of people just like those from the city she had left and was severely let-down that all mod cons were available there, including camera film, batteries for her torch, rubber gloves and a variety of extra strong mints.
I don't know why she wanted this stuff, but I didn't ask. The point was that it was all available and (bangs desk) it shouldn't have been.
A town in the Amazon is supposed to be remote, for crying out loud.
One thing my friend noticed was that everyone was barking into a mobile phone. It was exactly the same way that people shout into phones at the Coles Complex to tell their spouse that they're at the supermarket and what flavour jam would they like.
I wanted to ask her if anyone was standing under a tree shouting "I'm in the Amazon" but she's a serious person and wouldn't have understood.
Sometimes I wonder how far you have to get away from everything to actually be away from everything.
The short answer could be "a tiny outstation in the Great Sandy Desert" but then you go there and everyone is wearing Eminem gear.
Maybe I just need to lighten up a little. You can't preserve individual culture, or even vests, in some kind of pickle.
I pay for European soccer to be transmitted to my door by satellite, so why shouldn't Detroit rap come along as well.
Whenever I see a visitor to Alice Springs, I wonder what they were expecting before they arrived.
One time, I was on a flight descending into our airport and I heard the person in the seat behind me exclaim "It's green!" as they peered down at the ground from the window.
Yes, it is green, I thought. What did they think the landscape would look like? Pale yellow sand dunes? Flat red unbroken earth?
Maybe they wanted their money back.
Preconceived ideas are never a good idea. They only lead to disappointment.
Come to think of it, it's a while since I saw a blue singlet being worn in the Alice.
I thought the singlet was supposed to be an Outback icon.
Don't tell me that the Territory is going the same way as Italy.
Look, it doesn't really matter. So long as we don't lose sight of what really makes one place distinctive from another, we can wear what we like.
And so can the Italians.

LETTERS: Sneaky decision exposed.

Sir,– The Alice Springs News deserves a large vote of thanks for exposing yet another sneaky decision by the Alice Springs Town Council.
Mayor Kilgariff ran on a platform of ‘continuity'. Well, we've got that in more of the same:
Surreptitious, behind closed-door decisions and grandiose plans for buildings, which only council employees will see the inside of, and while many parts of town have no footpaths.
It used to be called "fur coat and no knickers". Forget wasting police time searching for "leaks" on matters which, had they have been above board, would not have needed leaking.
What we need is a ratepayers' association to get a bridle on the use of ratepayers' moneys.
Gerry Baddock
Alice Springs

Sir,– I am writing in regards to one of the most important services in Alice Springs: aviation.
I have recently returned from Canberra where I met with the Federal Minister for Transport, John Anderson, to advocate Central Australia's case for the up-grading of the Alice Springs Airport to international airport status.
In addition, I have also argued for the removal of cabotage restrictions (the ability to transport domestic passengers from Alice Springs to interstate) to foreign airlines that travel specifically through Alice Springs, to further assist in the development of the region.
Whilst there are a number of hurdles that must be addressed, such as the provision of customs facilities and quarantine, Mr Anderson received my representations very favorably and expressed his commitment to encourage and facilitate tourism in regional areas such as Alice Springs.
I firmly believe that this would provide an important boost for the tourism industry in the region, and provide ongoing certainty to the local economy.
Alice Springs has much to offer as a destination in its own right - not just as an adjunct to surrounding attractions - and an increase in international flights is a necessary step to reflect this.
I will continue to put this case to Mr Anderson and I will keep you updated on any developments.
It was also of great concern to me to learn that services to Alice Springs by Virgin have been reduced, making the case for an international airport even more urgent.
It defies belief that the Chief Minister would now attempt to put a positive spin on this withdrawal, when she recently described the decision as "mixed news", suggesting that the reduced services that have been offered as a replacement for this cutback is a bonus to Alice Springs!
The fact is that the Labor Government has been caught out on this issue.
The government neither saw it coming and acted to try and stop it, nor has it gone into action to see that the people and businesses of Alice Springs are not unduly disadvantaged.
Whilst this is not good news, I will continue to work to serve the interests of Centralians on this matter.
Terry Mills
Opposition Leader

Sir,– I'm trying to find an old mate by the name of Bob Morrison, who I last heard of living in Alice Springs.
He was married and working somewhere in the area after moving to Australia about 25 years ago from Hornchurch near London.
I haven't heard from him for a number of years and have lost his email address.
I'd like to establish contact again.
My email address is should anybody be able to help.
David Lewis

Sir,- The Prime Minister confirmed on the weekend that he will sell the rest of Telstra if the Coalition wins the coming federal election.John Howard told the Sunday Sunrise program that "we remain committed to the sale of Telstra", saying telecommunications services in the bush are "up to scratch".The Prime Minister was wrong.I receive constant representations to my office about the inadequacy of communications services across the electorate.Selling Telstra will make sure that the bush never gets the services it needs and deserves.The people living in bush communities know that a fully privatised Telstra would be a disaster for their communications needs.Labor will keep the majority of Telstra in public hands and make sure that it delivers services to all Australians, regardless of where they live.
Warren Snowdon
Member for Lingiari


Wests Rugby Club notched up a premiership win at Anzac Oval on Saturday afternoon.
They defeated the Vikings who were chasing their fourth successive flag by scoring 38 to 34, and will be recognised in the history books as the superior siide of 2004.
Alas however, over the four decades of Rugby League in town, the season just past has not produced one of its vintage crops.
In terms of administration the League has just not been able to get back to full strength since the demise of Super League.
Again this year, it was Warren Colletts who almost single handedly looked after junior development. He did build up a band of helpers of a Saturday morning, but in essence it was "Wazza" who ran the show for the kids.
Then to step up a notch it was Colletts again who saw to it that our juniors had the opportunity to travel to the various schools or under age championships.
And on top of this load the same man coached the Dragons A Graders to their premiership.
So dire, however, is the situation at club level that prior to the finals the Premiers were given a reprieve to play in the "games that matter", after having not come forward with monies owing to the League (over $5, 000) in registration fees. Interestingly in this "pay before you play" age, this was also allowed in a climate when the league and other clubs are "on their knees".
What will happen in 2005 if all four clubs find themselves not in a position to pay their dues?To add to the league's worries, the reigning Vikings had to forfeit in their last minor round game due to injury and unavailability of players. This problem no doubt made itself felt again on grand final day when Vikings went from leading 22-6 with eight minutes to go in the first half, to take oranges at 22-20.
They then battled it out in the second half to go down 38-34.On ground throughout the season the worry of game control and safety must have nagged in the minds of followers.
The battle to field full benches, low standard of play, and the often confusing lines of interpretation and communication between referees and participants makes one wonder why there is not, for safety sake, at least an ambulance service at every game.
With no slur in any way on the sports medicos in attendance, again it all comes down to lack of funds.
In the semi final a player was "decked", and eventually "carted off" with no penalty being considered, or etiquette being observed by opposition players. Had his injuries been severe, the insurance ramifications could have been serious.Congratulations go to West on their premiership and Warren Colletts on doing his best to keep the game alive.
Let's all hope that in 2005, inroads can be made on reinvigorating the league, and returning it to the status of being the "greatest game of all".


West and South used semi-final day at Traeger Park to their advantage when each won their respective final convincingly.
The result means that Federal have completed their season in fourth position while Pioneer have the benefit of the double chance to soldier on for yet another week.In the elimination final the reigning premiers South accounted for Federal 23.15 (153) to 4.11 (35). Later the second semi-final resulted in West running out winners 16.10 (106) to Pioneer (59).
Federal entered the arena against the odds with Adrian McAdam sidelined through injury. Despite the loss brother Gilbert McAdam did not resort to pulling the boots on, preferring to apply his expertise from the coaches' box.
For Federal the experience of playing in finals was an invaluable lesson despite the fact that they went down by their greatest losing margin for the year, 118 points.
They have uncovered real talent in the likes of Kelvin Neal, Nigel Spratt and Travis Alice. With the talent of Dave Atkinson, Darryl Rider and the McAdams, there to assist a team that made marked improvement this year, Federal can go into the summer recess confident of even better things in 2005.
South on the other hand could not be happier with their situation, unleashing the very talent across the forward line that gave them a premiership last year. They kept Federal goalless in the first term while scoring three majors themselves. Come the second quarter they improved by adding five goals while Feds could only muster a single.
Then in the last half the Roos found their touch and scored eight goals followed by seven goals, in a stream lined exhibition that restricted Federal to two goals a quarter.
As with the grand final of last year Gilbert Fishook rose to the occasion, booting 10 goals and setting up opportunities for those around him. Sherman Spencer was responsible for six goals and a further seven players recorded a goal each in the onslaught.
No doubt a motivating reason for the victory was the celebration of Darren Talbot's 200th game for the Roos.
Talbot was again prominent in the best players and had his name against one of the team's goals.
In looking at the finals, South should be able to take heart from the fact that in facing Pioneer this week they have Kelvin Maher running into form, and a stoic defence led by Ali Satour. Up forward, Fishook will be able to focus even more keenly on the game as his community side was eliminated from the competition on Sunday.
It will however be interesting to see how the Spencer brothers position themselves, with their home side Yuendumu set to play Ltyente Apurte in the Country grand final on Sunday.Pioneer were beaten by West in their first final and will have their hands full against South this Saturday.
They jumped out of the blocks in fine style against the Bloods, with Willy Foster and Shane Hayes taking command up forward and seeing three straight goals on the board. In response West found the value of big men on Traeger Park as they saw Ben Whelan, Kenrick Tyrell and Scott Bird reply during the term and have the game wide open at the first break.
The second term, however, was a different matter. West glowed with the renewed enthusiasm they had shown the week before against Federal, and plundered the goal zone.
Kevin Bruce added an extra dimension to the aerial strength, and with a five goal to nil second term, West went to the change rooms in front by 34 points.
After the big break the Eagles responded to a degree, being able to score evenly with West but still lacking in the big man department.The Bloods then fired off a real salvo in the run home, scoring five goals to three and so stitching the match up by 47 points. With Whelan finishing the day with three goals and Scott Bird, Michael Gurney, Chris Bettinescki and Tyrell with two each, West celebrated an automatic entry into the grand final.
In preparing for the event they have a balanced side, with Adam Taylor and Mick Hauser able to pick up plenty of kicks around the ground, and Danny Measures proving to have real potential for his age.
Added to that the Bloods can depend on Mark Bramley, Henry Labastida and Andrew Wesley along with a string of other above average players to give the side depth and versatility.
The Pioneer side is one that can never be written off. While they went down to Wests and seemingly have a challenge on their hands against South, theirs is an unsurpassed tradition. They have a fleet of young players headed up by Wayne and Daniel McCormack who will run off the experience of Graeme Smith, David Kerrin, Craig Turner, and Willy Foster.Besides the Pioneer versus South preliminary final on Saturday, huge interest will be at Traeger Park on Sunday when Yuendumu play Ltyente Apurte. The Santa Teresa community really celebrated on the weekend when besides winning entry to the grand final they scooped the pool in the medal count.
Liam Patrick who has played exceptionally well within his age group, and also in A Grade on both Saturdays and Sundays, won the Under 17 Award.
Then it was Derek Ronson who was voted Best and Fairest in the A Grade of the Country Competition.
On Sunday Yuendumu will start hot favourites, but the team from the south are on fire and believe they can win.


The Federal Prime Cut Strikers booked themselves a second finals appearance against S&R Vikings, this time in the grand final, thanks to a 2-0 win over Verdi on Sunday.
Despite the importance of the occasion Verdi were hampered by the presence of only 11 players on their side. As a consequence they always looked as though they were doing it hard, having no reserves.
Federals played a consistent game, holding out Verdi more than once early and then hitting the bar and post themselves within the first 15 minutes. A scoreless first half was played out and then Federal pressed home their advantage, scoring goals in the 49th and then the 69th minutes, through the agency of Chris Hatzimihail.
The 2-0 win puts Federal back into contention for premiership honours, with the possibility of Adrian McAdam making a reappearance against the Vikings.
Federal's success however did not run through the ranks as in B Grade Buckleys were able to forge a 4-3 win over Federal Scorers, to enter next week's grand final against Neata Glass Scorpions.
Buckleys started with only nine players and picked up an extra at the 10 minute mark. This allowed Federal plenty of chances early but they could not capitalise. Buckleys countered through an in form Tom Clements to score in the 37th and 45th minutes and establish a 2-0 half time lead.
Fatigue took over in the Buckleys camp in the second half, which allowed Chris Clements to open Federal's scoring through the agency of a great header.
Nat McGill then added to the situation with a goal from a free kick just outside the box. Minutes later Federal took the score to 3-2 thanks to a Chris Clements success story.
Tom Clements then tied the game up and forced the golden goal at the 73rd minute.
With the score at 3-3 in the play off, Nick Marshall Hayes made a great run down the left flank and unselfishly passed to Tom Clements for his fourth goal and victory to Buckleys.
In C Grade Scorpions had a 3-2 win over Stormbirds. Stormbirds looked impressive in the first half and at the 15th minute opened the scoring through a penalty to Greg Harris.
They continued to attack without further score and then late in the half Rhys Constable was able to equalise for the Scorpions.
In the second half Stormbirds faded a little to allow Scorpions in with two chances, scoring from one.
Marcus Becker capitalised on a penalty to take the score to 2-1 and thus gain entry to the grand final. On Sunday Scorpions will face Gunnaz.

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