October 13, 2004.


The native title organisation Lhere Artepe is worried that inside information has been used in a bid from a land developer who is in partnership with prominent Aboriginal businessman Bob Liddle.
But Mr Liddle says he had no idea what the other bids were when the company, Kwikcon, more than doubled its offer.
"If we had known the bids we would have topped them – but we didn't," he said.
A meeting minute obtained by the Alice Springs News says Kwikcon increased its bid from $440,000 to $1m six days after Lhere Artepe considered a short list of expressions of interest to develop land in Larapinta.
These included the ultimately chosen bidder, Hannon Group, which submitted $1.1m.
Mr Liddle and his brother Micky, an executive member of Lhere Artepe, have since attacked Lhere Artepe's decision to award the development to Hannons and have suggested legal action my be taken.
The Lhere Artepe minute says: "It would seem the confidentiality of our organisation has been breached and should this become public, it does not show a professional approach by our organization.
"Secondly this offer is more than a 127 per cent increase on the original offer.
"Should we accept this offer we will be seen to be favouring one organization above all others and furthermore an organization which has a direct relationship with our group.
"This will do irreparable damage to Lhere Artepe's reputation as a professional business organization.
"It would mean that should Lhere Artepe have the opportunity to be involved in further land subdivisions [land along Stephens Road is likely to be the next project], developers would feel that dealing with Lhere Artepe would be a waste of time, because they would feel that all Lhere Artepe wants to do is find out what the going rate is, and then give the contract to [someone] within Lhere Artepe.
"Not only does this send out the wrong message to potential developers, but to the NT Government as well."
The minute says that to be respected the organisation must be "transparent and ethical" in its dealings.
It rejected the offer from Mr Liddle's group on those grounds.
Meanwhile Mr Micky Liddle says the decision not to award the tender to Kwikcon was unconstitutional because it was against the interests of the "affected" native title holders, the Mbantua, one of the three Lhere Artepe estate groups.
The Liddle family is part of the Mbantua group.
Also, Mr Micky Liddle alleges executive member Betty Pearce chaired the meeting when the decision was made, the vote had been tied three all, and Mrs Pearce used her casting vote to push through the decision.
Mrs Pearce says she was not in the chair when the vote was taken.
The vote had been three for, two against and one abstention. There was no need for a casting vote.
Mr Micky Liddle says the constitution requires native title decisions to be "with the consent and direction of Affected Native Title Holders".
However, Mrs Pearce says the Mbantua group, with the support of the Liddle family, had previously voted in favour of the extinction of native title over the development land.
(This led to a landmark deal with the NT Government earlier this year, after two years of sometimes bitter disputes.)
Mrs Pearce says with native title over that land no longer in existence, subsequent decisions by Lhere Artepe, including the one to award the development tender, were no longer a "native title decision".
Meanwhile Mr Bob Liddle says because of the jealousies in the process, it would be preferable for the government to compulsorily acquire native title.
"In that case we, as an Aboriginal company, would have a better chance of getting the work, in line with government policies of promoting Aboriginal enterprises," he says.


"At best, inconsistent and, at worst, unacceptable", but not "unlawful or grossly inappropriate": that is how consultant Marli Wallace has described some "human resource management practices" in the Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET), both in Central Australia and Darwin, and in the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment.
Ms Wallace was commissioned in December last year to review in particular the operations of the Central Australian Office of DEET, following a series of articles that appeared in the Alice Springs News.
Her review, which as handed to government in June, was tabled in the Legislative Assembly yesterday.
She writes: "There is little doubt that senior managers, at least in the past three years, have demonstrated a narrow understanding of human resource management practices and favoured a climate of minimal compliance, rather than improvement.
"The review is satisfied that most of the examples of grievances analysed illustrate complexity of issues and, sometimes, a range of poor practices and behaviours, rather than unlawful or grossly inappropriate actions by specific staff. "An item of great interest to the review, however, is the impact that some of these practices in relation to grievances have had on the self-esteem and career aspirations of some of the persons so aggrieved.
"There is, however, no quantitative answer as a result of the review, rather, a series of qualitative comments and recommendations for remedial action."
Specifically about the Central Australian Office, Ms Wallace says, "There must be a rapid and rigorous strategy to transform the culture, leadership and the ways in which 'business' is done, especially service provision, rather than any 'tinkering at the edges'.
"These strategies should, of course, be congruent with a total DEET approach, led by the CEO and executive team."The review points to DEET offices in both Central Australia and Darwin consistently taking excessive time to respond to complaints and queries.
It reveals a number of examples of very poor human resource management practice across DEET, from the CEO and principals to a range of more junior administrative staff, especially in the area of industrial relations, entitlements, worker's compensation and rehabilitation matters.
To address these shortcomings, the review recommends that DEET develops "appropriate mechanisms for management of complaints and grievances, including sound data bases and effective means of 'tracking' complaints and grievances".
It also recommends that DEET brings the "people part" of the department into sharper focus, adjusting the present culture in the Central Australian Office "from a budget-driven, learning outcomes and "ministerial" minimization attitude to one that allows people to be valued, as well as reach specific targets".
The review says: "There was certainly sufficient evidence that 'all was not well' in human resource management matters in the region.
"The review was unable to discern consistent, timely and effective interventions in protracted grievances, for example, or in performance management and issues of poor public perception of the CAO."
It recommends "that the role, responsibilities and accountabilities of the position General Manager Central Australia be reconfigured", saying it had been "unable to find evidence to suggest that the senior positions had effective influence over the culture of schools to ensure that all principals and staff, especially those in leadership roles, adhere to the Public Sector Principles and Code of Conduct".
Says the review: "Much of the work undertaken to provide information on circumstances regarding complaints from teachers in the Central Australian Region is doubtful of meeting the requirements outlined [in the principles and the code], not by intent so much as a result of the closed and defensive style of senior management in the Central Australian Office."
The review also finds that, "in 2001 and 2002, it was highly likely that the Commissioner, Public Sector Employment, had not consistently ensured the level of rigour of investigation of grievances necessary to test DEET's adherence to general Public Sector Principles and Code of Conduct and DEET senior management behaviours against DEET's corporate governance principles".
(The present CPE John Kirwan replaced David Hawkes as commissioner in July 2002, after the key events of 2001 reported on by the Alice News and prompting the review, but nonetheless while several grievances were ongoing.)
Among measures to address these issues, the review recommends that the role, responsibilities and accountabilities of the position General Manager Schools be reconfigured, as it does the position of Assistant Director Human Resource Services.
By way of general comment on these senior positions within the Central Australian Office , the review found that "the two General Managers were perceived as being absent from the CAO together, especially to attend executive meetings in Darwin and on other occasions such that adequate senior managerial coverage was not in always place in the CAO."It was also suggested that on some occasions at least three of the senior managers were absent at the same time, including the Assistant Director Human Resource Services." vCoverage of business was one of the areas of greatest weakness within the office, says the review. Another gap identified by the review relates to the lack of any clear procedure for persons or organizations outside DEET, such as School Councils or Community Councils, to raise grievances about school principals or other staff or senior managers in DEET.
"The Review finds that there is a policy and procedural gap in DEET in relation to complaints about staff by outside persons or organizations that requires urgent attention, especially in the light of several examples identified in the file review."
DEET CEO Peter Plummer says his "system initiatives" in his department "are already working to address concerns raised".
The structure of the Central Australian Office has been reviewed and the roles of the two senior positions have been substantially changed.
The General Manager of Central Australia has been upgraded and now carries significant seniority in DEET and the NT Public Sector. This position is to report directly to the Chief Executive.
Commissioner Kirwan says OCPE has also initiated reforms aimed at improving human resource practices across the NT Public Sector.
He says the critical comments in the report about the OCPE's case management of grievances have been accepted on face value and that OCPE is putting in place a range of procedural and policy reforms to improve the outcomes from both staff and the agencies.


The problem with the Central Land Council's 30th birthday last week was that it hasn't had much to celebrate since about its 10th.

The organization's high point – albeit foregone conclusions – was a string of successful land claims that resulted in half of Central Australia becoming Aboriginal freehold land.
Gough Whitlam, regarded by some as the father of land rights, said in a message to Friday night's birthday celebration: "We must all remain vigilant if we are to win the struggle that will ensure that Indigenous Australians can at last claim their rightful place in modern Australia."
Vigilant? Struggle? Rightful place? That was the jargon of the 60s and 70s and should be a fond but distant memory by now.
Last week's bash should have celebrated the harvest, through clever black-white cooperation, of Central Australia's ample riches, pride in our social and cultural diversity, and the steady improvement of Aboriginal living conditions resulting from genuine effort and self-help.
Regrettably, there were few white faces at the evening of celebrations on Anzac Oval. Most of those who were there belonged to people working in the "Aboriginal industry", front line workers in the often desperate effort to combat endless misery.
In the last 30 years people in the bush have added chroming, petrol sniffing and ganja to their weapons of self destruction, complementing alcohol and motorcars.
Many remain firmly locked into welfare dependency.
To the minority of Central Australians who were pushing for its introduction, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976 was supposed to be the panacea for plentiful woes.
So what good has the CLC since achieved?
Not a lot – if you leave out the purely symbolic.
Because of its almost total control over economic activities on Aboriginal land the CLC, an obsessively secretive organization in our experience, must shoulder at least some of the blame for the ongoing misery.
Whilst constantly bemoaning the lack of employment and economic independence, the CLC is the prime block to the initiatives that could bring about change.
The CLC says it's just carrying out instructions from its clients.
Because of the clandestine manner in which the organization is run, it's impossible to verify that.
But it would be hard to imagine that traditional owners do not want their organization to be the conduit to a slice of the region's ample riches.
The major black success story – Aboriginal art – has unfolded independent of the CLC.
When last Friday the land council showcased its accomplishments with a collection of images on Anzac Oval in Alice Springs, the sole industry featured was mining.
But in fact the contribution by Aborigines is meagre.
They don't prospect, explore, finance or gouge out the ore by the sweat of their brow.
A mere handful are actually working in mining (Alice News, May 19).
What they supply is a signature: for a 10 per cent royalty (or a bit more) traditional owners sign over permission for mining on Aboriginal land, an exclusive privilege, not available to whites, created for them by the Federal Government.
In effect those royalties are no different to the other handouts: just more sit down money.
Part of the money goes into the investment company, Centrecorp, three-fifths owned by the CLC, and one fifth each by Congress and Tangentyere Council.
I have asked many times for details about Centrecorp.
No answers. It's an example of the clandestine manner in which the CLC works.
I asked a recent CLC chairman about the operations of Centrecorp. He said, "What'sCentrecorp?" I believe he was genuinely in the dark.
For two decades suggestions to change the Land Rights Act have usually evoked the same response: "I would love to do something about it but you'd never get it through the Senate," Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson told the Alice News on September 18.
Last Saturday's election may have solved that problem for Mr Anderson.
If the fourth Howard Government gets control over the Senate, it will have the chance to dispatch the CLC as swiftly as it did ATSIC.
Historian Dick Kimber, who came to the region as a school teacher in 1970, observes with dismay the deterioration in education leading to job opportunities.
Says Mr Kimber: "As Rex Granites, who's about 55 years old, commented on Friday, he and many of his generation did learn to read and write well.
"On the basis of the Collins Report, people are not as well educated as they were 30 years ago in terms of being able to deal with the wider society."
He says Central Australians have for a long time viewed with suspicion and dislike the imposing from afar of measures to help Aborigines.
From 1836 the South Australian governments, and from 1911, the Federal Government, ran Central Australia and established big reserves, all of which became Aboriginal freehold under Land Rights.
In the 1960s, when the NT was run by Canberra, the discussion about Aboriginal land rights started, initially a concept that would cover all of Australia.
It quickly became clear that it would be a classic vote loser, and the Federal Government restricted the land rights proposal just to the NT.
The social experiment could proceed here with relative impunity.
With only two representatives in the Canberra controlled Legislative Council, Bernie Kilgariff and Jock Nelson, the NT "could not withstand a tidal wave coming out of the Federal Government," says Mr Kimber.
"The reaction by the population at large in the NT was initially opposition to land rights."
As attempts failed to transfer to the Territory government all responsibility for Aboriginal land rights, the tensions continued, through 26 years of CLP rule, to the present day.
Says Mr Kimber: "The CLP government stance was opposition to the Act.
"There was a fear of the back yards going.
"Both land councils took a stand against the NT governments.
"Both the CLP Government and the land councils painted themselves into opposite corners.
"There were simply no negotiations, no contact between the land councils and the government organizations.
"And from what I hear that still prevails far too much", although he says relationships with the NT's first Labor government are much better, especially in regard to mining and town development.
In 1972 Mr Whitlam commissioned Justice Woodward to prepare a report about how land rights could be implemented.
Mr Kimber says the judge travelled to North America including Canada, as well as to New Zealand, looking at international precedents.
That Australia had no treaty with its Indigenous peoples complicated the issue.
Mr Whitlam said in his special message last Friday: "It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the success of the [CLC], which is an enduring reminder of my government's role in addressing the dispossession of Aboriginal people's land.
"When my government won its great victory in 1972, I had a number of priorities forAustralia.
"One of the most important of these was to see your right to country recognized and accepted by the Australian people.
"In my policy speech of November 1972 I said we will legislate to give Aborigines land rights — not just because their case is beyond argument, but because all of us Australians are diminished while the Aborigines are denied their rightful place in this nation."
But Mr Whitlam's government was sacked by the Governor General before the legislation could be introduced.
Says Mr Kimber: "The intriguing thing was that Labor's draft legislation was taken up by Malcolm Fraser.
"I believe that if you had a different Prime Minister than Fraser you may well have actually quashed land rights at that time.
"Fraser is a 19th century liberal humanitarian in an unusual way, as well as being an ultra conservative."
Mr Kimber says there were strong objections from Central Australia because the legislation was not driven from here, "Canberra control" at its worst.
"I think had you had a referendum it would have been defeated by 60 per cent in the Northern Territory.
"You can disagree on the basis of the number of the Aboriginal people – they would have surely all voted for it.
"Yet there is no evidence they would have, on the basis of election results.
"Land rights was imposed, or seen to be imposed, by a Federal Government in 1976, granting inalienable freehold title to people who could prove primary spiritual responsibility."
That was a task well within the powers of the custodians of the world's oldest living culture.
Another measure of these traditions' comprehensive survival here was the failure of practically all court challenges to land claims, brought by the Territory's CLP governments at exorbitant cost to the taxpayer.
Says Mr Kimber: "No Aboriginal culture is static. It's always a continuum of a dynamic.
"They were adjusting constantly.
"However, what they had was strong language, and therefore strong cultural links in all ways.
"And they had the evidence of sacred sites and objects, from both the men and the women.
"The evidence was overwhelmingly informed and had integrity.
"There was no doubt that the Act had its best chance of overall success in the NT."
After the successful land claims, the question was what to do with the land.
Time had come to prove the assertion that land ownership would give Aborigines a better life. Tragically, black and white are still waiting for this to happen.
On Aboriginal land, individuals or small groups cannot embark on an enterprise without the consent of the CLC which, in turn, says it must first get consent from the relevant land trust.
For example, to start just a small tourism business operating in one location can mean negotiating with thousands of people spread over hundreds of square kilometres.
A few kilometres from the burgeoning grape and citrus plantations of Ti Tree there are large numbers of unemployed Aborigines with lots of land and good bore water.
But after years of planning by the CLC of a horticultural venture at Utopia, the venture still hasn't gotten off the ground. The examples of such failure are endless. Success stories are sparse.
Says Mr Kimber: "The Central Land Council, like all government and Aboriginal bodies, has many good people, people with good will and good intent, working for it.
"But there are also problematic issues with individuals and the way the Act has worked.
"Secondly, the land council has expanded from its original role, which was simply to prove that Aboriginal people had rights to land.
"After that you had to work out plans of management for it and that's still an ongoing process, right through to the native title claim on Alice Springs.
"The CLC has worked hard to attempt, through their own staff and people they've hired, to get an interest in the table grape industry and other developments near Ti Tree.
"But the Aboriginal people have not wished to take it up, for whatever reason.
"Sometimes there have been peripheral bits of work, intermittent work, but they have not taken it up in a broad way."
Mr Kimber says the prime example of potential in tourism "has clearly been Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).
"You can argue that people have been employed there through the cultural centre.
"There are not many locals, I must admit.
"There was a group of Lower Murray people, the dance group.
"When no-one else was available, there was an African man who was the person playing the didgeridoo associated with the star gazing tours."
There are Anangu rangers and people making artefacts, but other opportunities are not taken up, especially in the Ayers Rock Resort that employs about 1000 people from the world over.
"The resort has publicly stated they want Aboriginal people to work there," says Mr Kimber.
"They have clearly tried [to get Aboriginal staff] and the have clearly failed – and so has the CLC. They can state what they like on issues of rhetoric about it, but they have been unsuccessful in encouraging any Aborigines to be employed at the resort."
A manifesto about the future released by the CLC last week is thin on self help initiatives and rich on demands for more government help – including hints that the CLC should take over the role of the defunct ATSIC and the NT Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.
The statement calls for "legislative solutions which protect and strengthen land rights, native title and cultural heritage, benchmark service delivery and create an Aboriginal regional authority to take over the work of ATSIC".
CLC director David Ross is quoted: "We want Australia to start seeing the positives rather than concentrating on the failures. We want our children to be attaining the same types of levels of education as non-Aboriginal kids and not left to waste away.
"We want our communities run along democratic principles and not founded on corruption.
"We don't want our people dying young and all too frequently. We want to be included as valuable Australian citizens."
Mr Kimber says there have been many rumblings about smaller land councils. The report by former Labor politician John Reeves QC has identified about 20 groups having gripes about the present system. But break-away contenders are facing a Catch 22.
The only people from whom they can get the administrative savvy required to set up a new land council is the CLC in whose interest it is to block competition.


Historian Dick Kimber came to town as a school teacher in 1970. Although not employed by the CLC in the 1970s, he prepared his own submission on the draft Land Rights Acts and did voluntary work with Wenten Rubuntja, the first Central Land Council chairman.
They assisted the CLC with regard to Aboriginal town living areas which had not been considered in the initial proposed legislation.
Mr Kimber also prepared private submissions in the late 1970s for the first Warlpiri land claim, at the request of "senior Warlpiri friends", and the Pitjantjatjara – Yankantatjara claim around Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Katatjuta (The Olgas).
He has established very close relationships with Aboriginal people, mainly Warlpiri and Pintupi, in the Western Desert. Mr Kimber writes:-I understood that Friday night was to be a celebratory function, open to all people.
As a result I had encouraged some 25 American tourists to attend, if they wished to see traditional dancing and generally appreciate the gathering.
Before going to the event at Anzac Oval I had thought that the strongest sense of celebration would be felt by the Aborigines of Central Australia who had been assisted for over 30 years by the Land Rights Act.
I did not expect many other Central Australian citizens to be present because the limited advertising of which I was aware, understandably seemed to me to encourage Aboriginal participation as a priority.
Upon arrival I saw many friends and acquaintances of various Aboriginal communities, including Lhere Artepe, Alice Springs' native title organisation; Yuendumu, Papunya – indeed almost all communities of Central Australia.
Brian Stirling of Lhere Artepe kindly welcomed me, and soon I was wandering towards the dancing area.
The greetings were friendly between everyone there, and upon arrival I was in time to see all of the men's and women's dancing.
I think we are extremely fortunate to have such public opportunities to witness these enactments of the tjukurrpa (Dreamtime) history stories.
During this time I also yarned with an anthropologist and two linguist friends; the latter had travelled down from Tennant Creek to be present at the celebrations.
After the dancing I ambled up towards the food-stalls, yarning to Aborigines and other Australians alike along the way, had a brief catch-up with Beat Keller at his busy stall, then gave my attention to the photographic exhibition.
It was a wonderful selection of people on their lands, and while appreciating images such as Mike Gillam's wonderful Yeperenye butterfly and caterpillar photographs, I also enjoyed recognising people I had known over the thirty years of Land Rights.
There was a wonderfully all-encompassing quotation from one of Wenten Rubuntja's early speeches, stating that all people, from all of the central Australian Aboriginal groups as well as other residents, needed to work together to ensure that the Land Rights worked to the benefit of all.
I had only intended a quick browse on the photographs, but found myself reflecting so much that I spent half an hour enjoying the memories.
Many other people, mostly visitors to the town, I thought, did the same.
Up on the stage I could see Vince Forrester as Master of Ceremonies, and old friends
such as Harry Nelson, Wenten Rubuntja, Max Stuart, Bruce Breaden, Geoffrey Shaw and Rex Granites, and the next generation, which included Stan Scrutton, Tracker Tilmouth, Sid Anderson and David Ross.
I had wondered if there might be special guests, and was pleased to see Clare Martin, representing the NT Government, Ian Viner (Federal Minister at the time of the passing of the Land Rights Act), John Dow, Managing Director of Newmont Australia, which mines gold in the Tanami; and Warren Snowdon, Member of the House of Representatives for Lingiari and spokesman for Gough Whitlam.
However much it was primarily a time of celebration for the Aboriginal peoples of central Australia, it was also inclusive of everyone.
Although there were as many speeches as there were people, a number of points remain prominently in my mind almost a week after the event.
Many remarked that it had been a long struggle to achieve the successful legal recognition of ownership since time immemorial.
Rex Granites especially acknowledged the women, and commented on the need for good education.
CLC director David Ross emphasised the achievements, but acknowledged that errors had been made and that not everyone had always been pleased with outcomes. He also made the valid point that the next 30 years would see different developments on Aboriginal lands.
Vince Forrester said the original intention of the Land Rights debate had been to ensure that all Aboriginal peoples in all States had their traditional rights in land-ownership recognised. He emphasised that these other Aboriginal peoples needed to be supported by NT Aborigines as they continued their struggles to obtain land.
Harry Nelson referred to the new organization, CANCA (Combined Aboriginal Nations of Central Australia), of which he is the first chairman.
A very nice gesture was the gifting of pairs of boomerangs to Ms Martin, Mr Dow and Mr Viner.
Max Stuart concluded the major speeches by drinking some water to wet his throat and emphasised that it was better than some other "poisons".
He then sang the songs of the country, north, east, south and west, and thanked everyone for attending.
I caught up with other friends over a bit more tucker, and after listening to some of the rock band music, decided to leave.
Pat Ansell and Betty Pearce, two of the long-term strongest Arrernte women speakers, had a brief and friendly "Hullo" as they too departed.
I have no doubt that not everyone has agreed with how the Land Rights Act has worked in the Centre, or indeed the Territory as a whole.
Certainly I have my reservations about some issues. Nonetheless, for me it was a chance to appreciate an historical event. I enjoyed the evening. It was a privilege and a pleasure to be there.

The Bridge. PENNY WHILEY wins the second prize, donated by the Alice Springs Resort, in the Alice News Short Story Competition.

Old John McHenry felt a twinge as he walked up the incline and onto the footbridge that cut the town in half. The town was Alice Springs and the bridge spanned the famous 'dry' Todd river bed; curiosity of central Australia.
There was a distinct nip in the dry air and McHenry's old leg told him that it would soon be time to light up the fire for the sub zero temperatures ahead; the hallmark of a desert winter.
Apart from the war, the old man had spent most of his life in the Northern Territory, but Alice and its surrounding areas were his passion; the crisp blue skies of winter with a light so stark it was blinding, followed by the shimmering heat of the long summer which bounced off rock and bitumen, challenging all things living.
John McHenry saw things with an artist's eye – not that he would ever call himself a painter; he just 'dabbled a bit' as Vera said.
The sudden changes between summer and winter never failed to inspire the old man; sizzling days to bitingly cold nights in just a few short weeks.
McHenry paused halfway across the bridge to take in the surrounding canvas. The late afternoon sun was low but still vibrant as it reflected off the gums that ached for rain in the riverbed below. Already the Blackfellas were gathering in groups for the chilly night ahead and McHenry's mind drifted back to the times on the stations; long legged, lean young men, fit and strong who could ride like the wind and work all day until the boss said enough. Like the transition between the Territory seasons, McHenry had observed a change in these people; a transition from pride and a sense of purpose, to a meandering bunch destined to live in the dry gritty riverbed with a fire, handouts, their women and underfed kids, emaciated dogs and a cask of Tawny Port for warmth. All the tourist brochures coined the phrase 'Territory Spirit' but McHenry sometimes questioned whether it was still alive and kicking or whether, like himself, it was silently fading away. In some ways however, the old man envied these poor souls in their riverbed; home after all was where the family was.
His family was in his passionate memories and the paintings that would preserve his love for the light and colours of Central Australia, before his old eyes finally gave in.
McHenry's thoughts were violently interrupted as his walking stick was knocked from under him, causing a stabbing pain which travelled up his right leg and earthed itself into his lower back.
"Fuck! ... Sorry mate!"
A teenage boy of about fifteen blurted out an apology in the midst of his guffawing mates who pushed and wrestled each other from one side of the railing to the other.
The boy was as shocked as McHenry and he yelled at one of his mates, eager to shift the blame.
"You stupid dickhead Wayne, you nearly made me kill that old fart!"
"Ah shut ya head Matty, since when did you care?!" came the reply.
Although not physically hurt, McHenry felt slightly injured by the term 'old fart'. Wayne, the beefier of the two boys, continued to taunt and shadow box Matty, and the bridge shook with testosterone like a minor earthquake.
"Look out youse mob," yelled Wayne, "the ol' grandpa'll getcha!"
There was a blast of laughter as they all turned in McHenry's direction, perhaps hoping that the old codger would chase after them, wielding his walking stick in classic comic book fashion. A wry smile flickered on McHenry's face, shaded by his well worn Akubra.
"Ah c'mon guys, let's cruise!" yelled one of the boys, obviously bored that the game was at an end.
Wayne and the others raced off still punching one another, leaving Matty to pick up the contents of his school bag which had spilled out onto the bridge.
The boy frantically gathered up his crumpled papers all dog-eared and graffitied. He looked startled as McHenry's shadow fell across him.
"Er … would you like a helping hand from … an 'old fart' son?"
The boy shouted pleadingly to his mates who were now on the other side of the river.
"Hey! ... Wait up youse mob, 'til I get all this shit cleaned up!"
"Well son?" insisted McHenry.
"She's right mate," answered the fifteen year old curtly.
Matty fumbled with his papers, stuffing them into his bag regardless of their importance, if any.
In a desperate but clumsy attempt to escape, Matty stood up and hoisted his overflowing schoolbag onto his shoulder. It swayed out of control for a second then caught the old man's cheek, knocking and dislodging his spectacles which then fell in a twisted mass onto the ground and under the guard rail into the sandy bed below.
"Oh Jeez man!... Oh man ... I'm real sorry ok?!"
The acne on the boy's face visibly darkened and he threw his bag down in acute anger and excruciating embarrassment. The contents tumbled out all over again and he uncontrollably began to kick the bag and thump the railings of the footbridge. The teenage hormones had finally triumphed.
Although slightly shocked, McHenry suddenly began to appreciate the slapstick humour of it all and began to laugh. He had the advantage of seventy two years' life experience to Matty's fifteen.
"It's OK son," he reassured Matty, "I'm not laughing at you, it's just that the two of us would be better off in a Buster Keaton Film, don't you reckon?"
Puzzled Matty made a brief attempt to smile, understanding only that this old bloke wasn't going to do him for assault or anything.
"Now," announced the older man, suddenly assuming the lead role, "I can't see where my specs have landed and the light seems to be fading, so if you wouldn't mind walking with me as far as Warburton Street I'd be real grateful lad ... you see, I've got a spare pair at home but my eyesight's not so good these days and I've got this bad leg so I wouldn't like to fall over anything on the way home and the Missus'll be getting cranky with me …"
Matty was trapped, he knew that. All he could do was nod as this old man gave him a thousand reasons why he should walk him home.
Man and boy repacked the bag and headed toward the other side of the bridge. Mc Henry, for all his failing eyesight had managed to make out something that was scrawled on the boy's bag: 'Life Sux'.
They walked in silence for a while until the boy suddenly blurted out, "The only thing is ...if anyone asks, could you pretend to be my ... um, you know … my kind of... Grandpa?"
McHenry was quick to understand this game. He understood that it would be beneath the boy to be seen nursing a half blind old codger but if they were in some way related, then that would be fine.
"OK, that's fine by me … man!" teased McHenry, trying to conceal a strange sense of pride.
After a while the pair turned into Warburton Street and the old man finally slowed in front of his own home.
It was an 'old Territorian', a mixture of fibro cement sheeting, louvre windows and a raised verandah, adorned with wind chimes and hanging baskets of asparagus fern. There were also a number of citrus trees already in fruit.
For once, McHenry was the awkward one, unsure of how to end this encounter with the boy. Matty, given his age, stood waiting for the old man to take charge again.
"C'mon son," said McHenry cheerfully, "you must be thirsty … let's see what Mrs Mac's got in the way of lolly water or something shall we?"
Matty followed the old man through the front yard, not really understanding why he should suddenly want to do so.
Regardless of the chill wind that played with the chimes and blew the last of the lemon blossom off the trees, there was a sense of peace. An old woody smell evoked the past ... natural, not like his own two bedroom unit with security screens on all the doors and windows with a tiny patch of lawn struggling to grow.
Once inside, a thin but jolly woman came to greet them. She fussed with her faded apron and patted her hair, unable to control the wisps that were as free and as natural as her garden.
McHenry introduced the boy.
"Vera love… this is young Matty, and Matty … this happens to be my better half!"
Vera giggled like a young girl then motioned the boy to sit down at her kitchen table.
"I was telling the lad that you just might have some lolly water hidden in that pantry of yours, dear."
The old woman smiled knowingly then scuttled off into her domain, re-emerging triumphant.
"Will Coca-Cola do you, son?" she asked, proud of the bottle she was holding. Matty was horrified that anyone would keep a bottle of Coke in a cupboard but then, these were Eastsiders, or 'Farsiders' as they called them at school.
"Er yeah … cool ... thanks."
Matty was certainly thirsty and he knew that for the time being he was trapped.
McHenry rummaged in his pockets then he carefully placed a crumpled handkerchief, a few receipts and his black leather wallet on the table. He then removed his jacket and stiffly sat down opposite Matty.
"So lad… ," he announced finally, "you think life' sucks' eh?"" What?" The boy was suddenly defensive until he realised what the old guy was on about.
"Oh... yeah ... well it does, doesn't it?"
"Well, I guess it's all relative son … all relative…" McHenry's voice trailed off and he sounded distant and tired.
The boy watched curiously as the old man's eyes wandered over to the photographs on the wooden dresser.
One was obviously very old and it showed three men in army uniform with their arms around one another's shoulders. Alongside the yellowing photograph was a modern snapshot of a young couple with two children of around six to eight years old.
Vera appeared with the Coke in a glass and Matty reached up to take it from her. His shirt sleeves were too short for his growing arms and McHenry had no trouble identifying the nature of the deep scars that criss-crossed the boy's left wrist.
"War wounds, son?" McHenry whispered as Vera retreated into the kitchen.
"You what?!" came Matty's reply as he realised that McHenry had invaded his privacy.
He tugged at his shirt and like a child frantically tried to hide the self inflicted wounds, even changing drinking hands so that he could keep the offending one hidden from view under the table.
What right did this stupid old fool have to stick his nose in anyway? This town was a shit hole, school was a shit hole and there was nothing for teenagers to do at weekends but drink, smoke dope and spray paint fences! Everyone waited for the day when they could get on the bus and escape to the city … anywhere but here!
Life sucked alright! …He hadn't seen his Dad for nearly a year since his folks had split. Dad had gone to live in Queensland … a 'real' place with a beach, surfing and stuff to do at the weekends!
"I'll send for ya mate!" he'd told Matty. Yeah right, not even a fucking postcard!
Life sucked alright, to the point where one night he had decided to put an end to it once and for all!
The boy's face coloured and burned once more. He felt sick and angry with a passion that he could not control.
McHenry understood the boy's pain very well. He leaned towards Matty and spoke in a low voice.
"It's too easy lad … too easy to top yerself like you tried to do … now livin' ... that's the hard part!"
Matty fell silent as the old man carefully rolled up his right trouser leg to reveal a thin withered thing that looked like it should have been part of an archeological dig rather than on a live human being. It was as if something had feasted on it.
"Ulcers, lad … Japanese POW camp 1942. It would have been easier to just lay down and die, son, but we all figured we'd piss the Japs off more by stayin' alive. We made the most of it see ... we even built 'em a ruddy bridge! … Best damn bridge that ever there was! Then, we came to the Territory ... new life, new struggles and new reasons for stayin' alive son. It's what makes a man!"
Matty couldn't help himself; he smiled at this tough old bugger, a real textbook Territorian, afraid of nothing, always moving forward and always looking for the funny side of life.
His Dad had never been like this ... he was always looking for a place that maybe didn't actually exist? Perhaps he had given up too easily.
Vera startled them both by appearing with the bottle of Coke.
McHenry whispered, "She's opened the bottle now son, so you'd better have the rest ... bought it for the grand kids … just in case."
There was more than a hint of sarcasm in McHenry's voice.
The old man wasn't about to bore the lad with his own troubles but he felt angry when he thought of his son who had moved to the Gold Coast eighteen months before.
Alice just couldn't compete with Queensland it seemed; all the theme parks, the beaches, 'good schools', 'better job opportunities', 'excellent
shopping' … and the lifestyle apparently, was much better for the kids than things like camping out bush with Poppa and Nanna Mac on a crisp, star filled Territory night.
McHenry shook his old head. His son had promised to 'call in' on their way to Bali last year but McHenry wasn't stupid; he knew that Alice wasn't exactly 'en route'!
One thing was certain, he was furious with his son for depriving Vera of her grandchildren, but the Territory tended to that somehow … it was a place where, once you left, you quickly forgot its existence; a Never Never Land which some people were reluctant to return to once they grew up.
Time passed more quickly in the cities, leaving those in the Territory waiting … for news, photographs, a cheap airfare or an invitation to come and spend Christmas …often out of duty. Those with roots in the Territory waited for those who didn't, like the gums in the riverbed waiting for rain, often at their own cost. Split families wrenched apart by divorce waited for each other to undertake journeys halfway across a continent so that links could be maintained between children and parents. Meanwhile, Vera McHenry continued to stock up her pantry … just in case.
"What does yer Dad do, son?" asked McHenry, sensing the boy's sadness.
"He's ... in Queensland," came the short reply. The old man understood.
The boy was hurting and in need. McHenry's mind drifted back to 1942; had it not been for the chaps he would have been a goner. There was a strength that came from people working together, he'd seen it in the mines around Tennant Creek and on the stations where people laughed and cried together, shared their stories and took care of each other when the chips were down. Cities were not like this.
His army mates were his family, just as the Territory had taken him in and nurtured him like a child, making him strong again after the war.
"Here lad … I'll show you somethin'," said McHenry.
He got up unsteadily and moved towards a box full of photographs … Bad move. Matty had decided that it was time to go and before the old man could say anything the boy was up and out of the door.
"I gotta cruise man, OK?" His parting words were cold.
The old lady stood in the shadows with her bottle of Coke, looking across at her husband clutching his yellowing photographs, as the screen door slammed.
It was an hour or so before McHenry realised that his wallet was missing.

A week later Matty knocked on the screen door. A man in his thirties appeared and the boy was ushered into the kitchen. Mrs Mac was sitting, surrounded by people who patted her hands and generally fussed about her. Matty sensed that he was intruding and an empty feeling began to invade his body."Mrs Mac, I … um … just came to give Mr Mac's wallet back," he announced hesitantly.
The man who seemed to be in charge nodded in appreciation as he took the wallet from Matty.
"I'm afraid son, that my father won't be needing it any more … he passed away last Monday evening."
Shocked, the boy looked toward Mrs Mac sitting in her armchair.
"Matty dear," said Vera urgently, "Grandpa Mac wanted you to have those things over there …"
Tearfully she pointed to a painting still on its easel in the lounge room.
Matty had vaguely noticed it when he had visited, only now, it was completely finished.
An old man's passion for Central Australia oozed from the iron red earth colours like a heartbeat. Then there was the photograph of the three old soldiers, whose friendship was as solid as the Ranges that surrounded the town.
Matty suddenly felt choked. He ran all the way down to the riverbed and desperately searched until finally, he had Mr Mac's glasses in his grasp.
He ached for things lost and for things found and for once in his short life he felt alive and whole.
Like a child's tears, large spots of rain were slowly released from the sky, cleansing and healing wounds that were raw. Matty bathed in the fresh woody smell that made him feel ready to take on whatever life would throw at him.
He vowed that he would return Mr Mac's specs to 'Nanna' Mac the following day.


The YMCA swimming pool in Alice Springs has failed for some time to provide the council with an audit report or monthly financial reports, the town council was told.
The management of the pool is now being investigated.
"A lot of people are unhappy with the YMCA's management of the pool and this could jeopardise plans for the indoor heated pool," said Alderman Murray Stewart on Monday night.
Exactly what management issues the council is investigating is not known as the public meeting was closed and the matter classed as confidential.
At Monday's meeting the council also reaffirmed its policy on the Pine Gap defence facility, stating the American population was "a major contributor to the social and economic fabric of Alice Springs.
"Their presence and enthusiastic participation in many aspects of the local sporting, art and recreational pursuits greatly enriched the town's social and cultural character," the 1997 policy statement, now reaffirmed, says.
The council confirmed its support for creating an international airport in Alice Springs, saying it "strongly supported achievement" of the facility.
Discussions were divided over a sister cities project for Alice. The council had been approached by a city in Afghanistan.
Aldermen Melanie Van Haaren said she gave the proposal "100 per cent support", and that "encouragement and support from an Australian city would be beneficial to Afghanistan".
Ald Mure could see the potential for mutual benefit in exchange of desert knowledge.
However, Ald Murray Stewart said, "The last thing we want is to be lumbered with a city under war. It would be like having a relationship with a post-Tiananmen Square."
Alderman David Koch said such a project would have to have "financial benefits" for Alice Springs and "a partnership with Afghanistan wouldn't necessarily be mutually beneficial".

LETTERS: Rural blocks alert.

Sir,– In July 2003 the Development Authority made a conditional decision to approve a proposed development over lots 1729 and 2406 Ragonesi Road, provided the applicants produced further and more comprehensive information, such as lot sizes which allow to judge whether the proposal meets the requirements specific to Emily Hills.
Although they still have not provided this information the proposal was approved by the DCA last month and is currently before the minister.
Much of the previous proposed open space now being developed. The proposal contravenes the current zoning, the Land Use Structure Plan and the Land Use Objectives – not once but several times.
Surely this should be reviewed, with broad community consultation, before approval of up to 143 urban sized blocks are approved.
A proposed NT Planning Scheme Amendment went on public exhibition from September 24, eight days after this DCA decision, and signed by Minister Burns on September 10, six days before this submission was approved. This is "an interim measure ... to impose a limit on the discretionary powers of the consent authority for sub-division approvals" because "the extent of some variations requested in the past have triggered considerable public objections".
I encourage everyone who has concerns about this approach to planning issues to write to Minister Burns immediately, requesting him to rectify the situation by refusing consent.
This would remain consistent with previous ministerial decisions, to uphold the integrity of both the land use objectives and the town plan of Alice Springs.
Rod Cramer
Alice Springs Rural Areas Association Inc.

Sir,– I am going to put my cards on the table:I wanted Mark Latham to win on Saturday. I am not aligned to any party – I vote on issues, and whilst I was not 100 per cent confident that every i was dotted and t crossed, I was 100 per cent sure his solutions to the problems we are facing in health and education (and I work in both) were a step in the right direction.
Now that he is defeated we rely on the coalition to develop a social conscience and come up with the answers.
More of the same won't work. We need the government to be innovative and think outside the square.
I wonder if they will adopt Labor's suggestions once the dust has settled and they think no-one will remember who drafted the blueprint?
Melanie van Haaren
Alice Springs

Journey to the centre of the patio. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

Sometimes you have to ask yourself what the world is coming to. Spurred on by the need to finance the latest consumer item that we didn't know about until last week but then found that we couldn't do without, we flex our credit cards and service our lay-bys like there's no tomorrow.
"Seize the day" was once an inspiring call to seek out new experiences. Now it has become another reason why we accumulate debt. Seize a new mobile. Seize an MP3 player, flat panel television, digital camera, portable DVD player, broadband plan, satellite television plan, investment plan, holiday plan.
These days everything has to be a plan. Yes, let's all be spontaneous, but only in a planned way.
The ultimate irony is the television advert enticing the already debt-laden consumer with the freedom of the road in the latest compact four-wheel drive.
Liberation may be on offer but the free air, bull bars and the rest only apply under certain conditions and between certain dates.
By the time you read the small print, the idea of roaring across changing landscapes in your latest hire purchase has lost all its romance.
Which is a good thing, I say. Stick to hatchbacks and treadlies. Much better for your health.
Another feature of four-wheel drive commercials are the many representations of outback people.
For example, there's the grizzled working professional bitten by a snake and heroically getting back to base, half-dead, thanks to his vehicle. Reaching the clinic just before being overwhelmed by the venom, he still finds the energy for a quick Toyota leap in the air.
Look, I know this is only marketing, but can we waste our time on something more believable, please.
Then there's the eccentric pastoral type who doesn't understand modern motor jargon ("intercooled?") but instinctively knows a good vehicle when he sees one. Complete with funny accent and even funnier facial hair, he's a salt-of-the-earth bloke with no-nonsense common sense. So you can trust his taste in vehicles.
And let's not forget the farmer with a ute bearing enough power under the bonnet to light 20 Indonesian villages who then uses it to drag rocks out of the way of his fence line.
The reason that motor companies persist with these perverse campaigns is that they are proven to sell vehicles when aimed at harassed suburbanites wanting a car for short trips to Melbourne malls.
Apart from the sales figures, only one thing is certain; the world of marketing is endlessly fascinating.
Under this bombardment of outback stereotypes, people in southern cities must think that the population of towns like ours owns an endless supply of lumberjack shirts, the men shave in fairground mirrors and the women walk around wearing pinnies with their hands permanently fixed to their hips.
When overlanders eventually reach Central Australia, it's a shock for them to meet an accountant wearing a tie, someone speaking Arrernte or a Vietnamese market gardener.
If you travel a long way, having planned your spontaneity down to the last toilet stop, you might expect some major differences compared to the place that you left.
But everyone packs their itinerary with new experiences. You arrive at a far-off town and already you start to think about the next destination. A quick look around, buy some mints and a postcard and you're off again.
The essence of a new place lies deeper than can be discovered in a couple of days.
You find it by listening to the locals talk. You see it in the way that they spend their spare time and what makes them get up in the morning. Real insight is below the surface.
This is why seizing the day never made much sense in the first place. It's better to stick around a while.

Alice skies with silver linings. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.

What a difference a cool change makes!
An overcast day with temperatures in the low twenties is a lifesaver for someone like me who finds the increasingly hot weather very daunting at this time of the year.
I walked across the CBD without getting hot and met lots of friendly faces on the way.
I was out having some retail therapy under the false pretences of looking for a new mop.
The thing I enjoy most about going shopping in Alice is that I bump into people I know. There may not be a great variety in goods to buy but the friendly chats make up for it.
I needed those chats and the cool south easterly. Having just had family for a visit I felt a bit blue and the heat did not help. It hurts to be left behind, or as the French say, "to part is to die a little". I could see my life draining away and how I was getting weaker with each goodbye.
Fortunate are those who were born in Alice and whose family members still all live here. But many of us are from somewhere else.
It doesn't matter how much a place means to you if you have a past elsewhere. It tugs at you and tries to pull you back especially when you've had a visitor from home in the form of a close family member or old friend.
I always find October a challenging month when the heat returns and the big cumulus clouds march in and raise the humidity in the afternoon.
I ask myself what I'm doing here. I'm sure people in other parts of the country and the world don't constantly ask existential questions like that about where they live. For them it is more to do with why we here on the planet earth.
Living in Alice Springs is a choice that many of us have made for a good reason. At times that reason doesn't seem as sensible and good, and the emotional sacrifices can feel as high as the temperature.
Few people choose to retire here. The average age of a person living in Alice Springs is only around 35, so not only are many of us far from home, the population turnover is high and friends keep leaving us as well.
Home is supposed to be where the heart is but what if your heart is divided? Is it possible to feel whole or truly at home in a place far away from your birth-country, where people come and go like travellers at a railway station?
I sometimes mourn and long for what I once had and I miss my friends who have chosen to move on, but then I try to remember that they are still part of me. Like a red river gum tree I may loose branches but new shoots will grow and the essence of the tree which is me will remain.
Maybe to part is to die a little and to meet again is to be re-born a little.
And maybe every cumulus cloud truly has a silver lining.


It took West a mere 26 overs to claim victory over RSL Works at Albrecht Oval on Saturday – despite the unexpected presence of some respected veterans.
RSL was hit hard by players being unavailable, and skipper Matt Forster had to dig deep into resources to name a twelve.
And there snuggled into the middle order was the name Tim Jennings. Halleluiah, the man who tamed the West in his younger days was back in the action and prepared to strap on the pads.
With Tim's selection in itself being a mild surprise, the eyes opened even more when none other than Grant Butler was named lower down the order.
With veterans of such credentials prepared to take to a day in the sun, the match was one of intrigue from the outset. Alas it was the master, Jennings himself, who was the helmsman of the batting order when he compiled a tidy 29, while assisting Jamie Smith to a 60 not out in an RSL tally of 154.
Matt Sulzberger lost his wicket when the score was a mere seven, being caught by Peter Tabart off Rory Hood for 4.
With fellow opener Graeme Schmidt following for 16 when he bowled Hood, the Works needed something from the upper order. Hopes were dashed even further when last week's centurion Scott Robertson succumbed to a Hood delivery for 13.
Hood later found a partner in Peter Tabart who knocked over the late order, finishing the innings off with 3/12 off a mere 7.1 overs. Hood celebrated with 4/32 off 9 overs.
Making a paltry 154, RSL also failed to bat through their allotted number of overs being dismissed in the 41st over.
It took Westies 26 overs to claim the game. Matt Forster fell to a Peter Tabart delivery for 1, in facing his second ball. Forster broke back claiming "Tabbsie" for a duck off his first delivery. Forster then claimed the wicket of Kevin Mezzone when the score was 38, and Mazzone on 7.
However from there the bells tolled for Wests. Hood compiled a solid 43 before giving Forster his third scalp, LBW.
With Damien Cook and Jeremy Bigg at the crease, Westies then didn't lose a wicket before victory was claimed.
Cook ended his innings not out on 68 while Bigg was still there at stumps not out on 38.
The win leaves West on top of the ladder undefeated.
At Traeger Park, Federal bounced back after a first game defeat to put icing on the cake of their reunion weekend. Rovers were dismissed for 88. Nick Clapp, dropping into the middle order this week, top scored for Rovers with 25. Otherwise the resistance was minimal with Glen Holberton's late order 17 as the next best of the Blues' score.
With the ball it was Tom Clements who paved the way taking three consecutive wickets for 12 off 4.3 overs, followed by a run out. Supporting Clements were Richard Lavercombe with 2/17 and Jarrad Wapper 2/18.
Federal were then able to cruise to victory in 24 overs. Michael Smith led the charge with an unbeaten 55, despite being dropped some four times. Tom Clements assisted with 12 before being given LBW, and Blain Cornford remained undefeated on 11, when the winning score of 3/90 was achieved.


Punters at Pioneer Park were rewarded this week, as the bookmakers' favourites didn't fail to disappoint.
The local money machine over 1000 metres, Scotro, once again blitzed his opposition but unfortunately even the connections avoided a plunge in the ring with the winners price showing a mere $1.10.
In the Danny Usher Memorial Open, the Terry "Razor" Gillett-trained sprinter took advantage of apprentice Matt Hart's 3kg claim and dashed to the front from the jump. He led by four to five lengths in the running and dictated terms to the finish line where he recorded a five-length win.
In the Centre Racing Special Conditions Handicap over 1400 metres, the two equal favourites fought the event out. Bold Politician led early with Crown Pacific and Trailer tracking him. Apiary settled into fourth spot off the pace. By the 600 metre mark both Crown Pacific and Trailer were calling for air, and left it to Apiary to mount the challenge on the leader. Apiary in turn strode up to Bold Politician and took over the running in the straight to go on and record a two and a half length win.
The 1400 metre Brokers Class 1 Handicap, Play Again Sam registered his second consecutive win. With Terry Huish onboard as the favourite, they led Melissa Star early with Shovanist in third place but three wide. The outside running caught up with Shovanist by the 600 metre mark, but up front Play Again Sam grew another leg and took control of the race.
The Coca Cola Class 3 Handicap over 1100 metres returned a dividend for the connections of Geiger Blue for the second week in a row. Gary Lefoe took the class performer to the lead and controlled proceedings. In the straight the jockey gave the horse the opportunity to show his ability and that he did.
Valinch is a horse who came to the Centre with a huge reputation. In the XXXX Gold Maiden over the 1000 metres, the now former maiden showed that the dash is his go. Valinch led and commanded from the start to record a two and three quarter length victory. However, in coming second Allspent ran a top race.

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