December 15, 2004.

Aboriginal policies need to be changed from the ground up, with Prime Minister John Howard's concept of "mutual obligation" and "integration" as the central concepts, says NT Opposition Leader Terry Mills. And as a senior politician in the Territory which has by far the highest per capita black population, he wants to have a major say in developing the new national Indigenous policy agenda. He claims it needs to go back to the very basics, and makes no denials of his party's earlier - failed - policies. "My only interest is, what lies in front of us," he says. "The way welfare is delivered is going to have to change if we are going to make any progress with mutual obligation. "The way ahead is integration. "If you are going to be integrated into an urban environment you've got to be also integrated into a meaningful connection with the economy. "This is going to take us all the way back even to ownership of land. "If you actually own your land and own your home in a remote community, at least you have got a basic concept which allows you to be integrated into an urban environment, where people around you own their homes and have responsibility for their homes. "It's a whole new concept. "That concept is not even permitted to exist in remote communities because people there don't own their homes. "There is no sense of ownership, and out of ownership comes pride and responsibility. "We're finally going back to the Land Rights Act, we're going back to welfare reform, to basic concepts of land ownership, who owns what. "It's all connected. "I'm really pleased to see what's happened in the last couple of weeks, with [Noel] Pearson and [Mick] Dodson, and the gesture of Michael Long" meeting with the Prime Minister. Mr Mills says if education opportunities are offered right across the Territory, "at great expense to all of us taxpayers, then there has to be the mutual obligation that you actually send your child to school". Mr Mills says family allowance benefits should be stopped for people who don't send their children to school. "You can't receive a benefit to assist you in raising your child if you don't discharge your side of the obligation. "If we are serious about this then there is an answer to this problem." He says there is "capacity to measure" the degree of commitment by the parents. The public housing crisis in Alice Springs is a clear example of the concept of mutual obligation. "The state has a responsibility to provide public housing for those in need," he says. "But the beneficiaries need to behave in a way which is appropriate to an urban environment. "You can't compromise that standard, or we'll have confusion, chaos, disorder." He says "transitionary measures" need to be put in place for someone moving from a remote community into an urban environment. "Are there home making skills being taught in the communities? "You cannot just have someone who's fallen out with their own community, a dysfunctional community, who is then relocated into the midst of an operating urban environment. "It doesn't do them a service, and it certainly offends. "People coming into an urban environment must qualify, and demonstrate a capacity to live in this environment." Should they be tested? "They'd have to be. Some [of these people] are not equipped to live in an urban environment." How would they be tested? "That's a detail." Would you keep them out of town? "Until they are qualified to move in. "There are places in the Top End, intermediary community centres, not out in the remote areas yet not in the urban area. They are half way between. It's like a staging post. "Once you're qualified, demonstrate you're able to care for housing, and you have some meaningful connection to the new environment, they you're qualified to go [into town]." Mr Mills says he's found his observations of petrol sniffing "deeply distressing". The CLP's push to criminalize sniffing isn't designed to lock up large numbers of young people, but to highlight the seriousness, and motivate police to act. Asked whether he agreed with Police Minister Paul Henderson's claim that because of the separation of powers he could not instruct the Police Commissioner to act more decisively on petrol sniffing, Mr Mills said: "The Minister may be saying he is unable to do it when he's actually saying he's unwilling to do it. "I think the mums and the dads and the kids who're falling prey to this require nothing less." Mr Mills says there have been three policy phases: Firstly, "protected separation", from the first fleet onwards. Secondly, from about the 1930s, "regimented assimilation" implemented by mission schools, and on pastoral leases, and from which emanated the stolen generations. "The policy direction was to assimilate. "There was a racial equality but there wasn't an understanding of racial identity." That grew into "self determination" with land rights and welfare as its fruits. Mr Mills says now is "the time in history when we will describe what the fourth phase is - integration. "It has been a dirty word because it's believed the disadvantaged will lose all. "But with Pearson and Dodson we're talking about working it out together. "I find it deeply offensive hearing the phrase, Œmy people'. "You have just cut me out. "You're telling me that your concerns about your people are not my concerns. "And [for instance] I'm as concerned about petrol sniffing, the poison that's resulted from welfare, the health problems, the education outcomes, I'm just as concerned as you are. "That's enough of that talk. We've got to sort this out together. "You're going to have to drop some of your baggage, and I have to drop some of mine. "Let's find a way together because right now there's too much bullshit. "This talk of separateness, which is apartheid in another language, has come to an end." Mr Mills says about the "work for the dole" CDEP scheme: "Don't play games with it. "We have a real problem here but there is growing will on both sides of the fence to sort it out. "And I want to be a part of that." On other issues, Mr Mills says there should be "meaningful" departmental decentralisation, with Alice playing a greater role, and "a portion" of the Tourist Commission's budget should be administered in Central Australia.

Report by ERWIN CHLANDA. The eviction by the Central Land Council (CLC) of Country Liberal Party candidate for Stuart, Anna Machado, from her home and her job with less than seven hours' notice, has thrown into sharp focus that in one half of Central Australia people have far fewer rights than in the other. The half in which Ms Machado - and her husband and two children - lived until last week is controlled by the CLC because it is inalienable Aboriginal freehold land under the Federal Land Rights Act (NT) 1976. She was thrown off that land by using permit provisions in the Territory's Aboriginal Land Act - although clearly in contravention of its spirit. This puts into the hot seat the sitting MLA for Stuart, the ALP's Peter Toyne. As the Minister for Justice and Attorney General he is the obvious person to initiate the urgently needed legislative changes. While Ms Machado is his political opponent she is also a constituent deserving of his protection against an act more reminiscent of Nazi Germany than of a liberal democracy. The CLC may take the view Dr Toyne has a debt to them because of the support it has provided to the ALP for decades. He has also been a consultant to the CLC. Dr Toyne provided detailed comment on the sacking of the Machados (see break-out page 6) but made no comment on the need or otherwise of legislative amendments. Section 5 of the Act says apart from the CLC, "the traditional Aboriginal owners SÇ may issue a permit to a person to enter onto and remain on that Aboriginal land." But the Act also says that "a land council SÇ may revoke a permit issued by it, under its authority, by the traditional Aboriginal owners or under the authority of the traditional Aboriginal owners". Ms Machado claims she had a permit issued by traditional owners by virtue of her store management contract. The CLC, through its letter signed by lawyer David Avery, seems to be taking its right to revoke permits a step further. In his letter to Ms Machado Mr Avery says: "You do not have a permit to enter Aboriginal land in the CLC's region and therefore you must not enter any other Aboriginal land. "The CLC has been instructed not to issue you with a permit to enter and remain at Willowra." Mr Avery seems to be indicating that a permit issued by a traditional owner is not valid, that it had been revoked by the CLC or that any permits issued to Ms Machado by traditional owners "to enter and remain at Willowra" would be revoked by the CLC. This, clearly, would extinguish the traditional owners' right under the law to issue permits, at least to Ms Machado. As traditional owners are the land councils' bosses, this would be one of the more virulent cases of the tail wagging the dog. Opposition Leader Terry Mills says Willowra has a "record of significant long-term conflict that pre-dates the Machados who are being made a scapegoat. "There are political games being played, quite clearly, and there is an issue of fairness, rightness." Mr Mills says: "Removing a political candidate was a step in the wrong direction" and didn't fix the community's problems. He says the use of the permit legislation appeared to be "an abuse of power". If legislation is used for actions such as this "then legislation has got to be changed. "I'm not leaving this arena until we've moved to a better place where the people who are meant to be served by [the CLC] have their best interests served, not the best interest of a political agenda. "I am certainly standing by Anna Machado. "She's carrying the name of the CLP so we have certain obligations to standing by her. "We're looking at legal options here. [Ms Machado, with assistance from the CLP, will be asking the Supreme Court to declare invalid the decision of Mr Avery and the CLC, requiring her to leave the Willowra, because the decision denies her procedural fairness and / or was made for improper purposes.] Says Mr Mills: "You can't allow a machinery to be wheeled into place that just summarily executes someone out there, saying to them, you're Œoutta' here. "If she was there for two years without a permit and now it's a real issue, then the only thing that's changed is that she is a candidate. "That's wrong." Ms Machado had been running the store at Willowra, for more than two years, under a contract with the local - Aboriginal - store committee. She says she built up the business and the community was satisfied with her work. Party colleague and MLA for the adjoining MacDonnell electorate John Elferink says he has spoken to auditors who had found the business to be in good shape. There is no known evidence to the contrary. Ms Machado taught her two girls, aged 14 and 11, born and bred Central Australians, with the help of the School of the Air. As she would be likely to in her role as a political candidate, she became embroiled in the long running feud at Willowra that has split the community for a long time, well pre-dating her and her husband John's arrival. Both had worked in remote Central Australian Aboriginal community stores for more than 10 years, and Mr Machado, for longer. In the hurly burly of settlement politics Ms Machado fell foul of CLC chairman Duncan Brown, who lives at Willowra, and who is currently under police investigation for allegedly discharging a firearm in a public place. Ms Machado says the friction was mainly caused by her enforcing the store's policy - set by the Aboriginal management committee - of not granting credit. She says Mr Avery, who handed her the eviction notice, told her he was under no obligation to give her reasons for the heavy handed action. Mr Elferink and the CLC disagree over the land council's involvement in politics. BI-PARTISAN CLC director David Ross says: "The CLC has never been involved in any election campaigns at all and it is a policy of the CLC, as a Commonwealth statutory authority to be bi-partisan at all times. "The CLC has never supported candidates of any party. "We do, and we will, comment on the impact on Aboriginal people's lives of all party policies and we do not fear or favour any party. "Staff at the CLC may choose if they wish to campaign for any particular party. "If they do, then they must take leave or if they are a candidate, resign. "They cannot use the resources of the CLC or campaign at its expense in any way." Mr Elferink, whose predominantly Aboriginal seat is 232,294 square kilometres in size and has a population of just 9909, made Territory history when he won the erstwhile safe Labor seat of MacDonnell two elections ago. In fact he is an oddity in the Territory where the rural seats are generally held by Labor and the urban ones by the Country Liberal Party. He says during both his exhausting campaigns in the huge seat - 10 times the size of Israel - his opponents had CLC support. In 2001 he saw at Areyonga a CLC vehicle with the "old LC number plates". It later turned up at Mutitjulu (Ayers Rock) where CLC committee members were handing out how to vote cards in Mutitjulu, "telling people which way to vote". Mr Elferink's opponent, Harold Furber, had been a CLC employee. But Mr Elferink became living proof that Labor had no monopoly on the black vote when he won the first election on preferences and the second outright. "The CLC have never indicated any support for me. Aboriginal people have." He says in the 2000 Federal election CLC staff were "certainly out in force" supporting Warren Snowdon - also a former CLC staff member. "Senior lawyer David Avery was one the persons manning a booth," says Mr Elferink. Has he ever seen people employed by the CLC supporting the CLP? "No." Mr Elferink says an unfair dismissal case in Darwin brought to light that Mr Snowdon had received electioneering support "in kind" from the Northern Land Council, support that Mr Snowdon had failed to declare. "You're constantly hearing from Aboriginal people who go to CLC meetings that they certainly feel pushed to vote [for the ALP]. "Yet it's paternalistic to suggest that Aboriginal people are automatically going to do it. "I'm proof that they don't. "I don't have anything against the idea of having a land council. But I would like them to stick to their job." Why is electioneering not their job? "It's not in the Land Rights Act. You have a statutory authority going far beyond the parameters of its role. "The land council is meant to operate as a parliament. The executive arm is meant to operate as a public service. "I speak to any number of councillors quite regularly who feel quite disempowered in their own organization." Mr Elferink says he will raise these issues with Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone in Adelaide on December 23."

There has been much media speculation regarding the treatment of Anna Machado under the Land Rights Act. However, as the Member for Stuart and local member, I wish to point out that other more critical interests are involved - those of the residents of the community of Willowra. The family feuds which have engulfed the community over the past 18 months have placed several people in hospital, have made the delivery of services difficult if not impossible, and destroyed both private and public property. I have personal knowledge of children and old people going hungry as a result of the trouble, and of nurses and teachers finding the going too difficult to continue. It is clear that the future of Willowra as a viable place to live is on the line. Given this dire situation, I fully support the right of the Willowra community members to remove the Machados, or any other individual, if they judge this action to be part of the solution. The decision was made at a substantial public meeting attended, by all accounts, by well over 100 residents. Earlier meetings had also asked the key community members who had been fuelling the fighting to also leave the community. The ability to make such decisions, and to make them stick with the help of the CLC, is probably the only way out of the current situation. An opportunity has now been created to broker a peace between the families - one which includes the Longs, the Martins, the Williams', the Kitsons, the Presleys - all of them equally. Perhaps then we can rebuild services and restore the infrastructure at the community. While I believe that the Machados were legitimately removed from Willowra, I am uncomfortable with a situation where my opponent cannot put their case to the voters of Stuart. I believe that the people of Stuart deserve a choice under our democracy. If the CLC has made the judgement that a person who is unacceptable to one community, is deemed unacceptable to all then they should substantiate this. If they do so, then the CLP may have to come up with a candidate who is able to go around the electorate freely.

With the Rieff Building in Alice Springs under threat of demolition, following Heritage Minister Marion Scrymgour's refusal to list them, many people are asking who was Simon Rieff? The first I heard of him was this anecdote told me by Bill Petrick who later became my father-in-law. In 1921-22 torrential rains fell in Central Australia. Camel trains were unable to bring loading as their large plate-like feet slipped in the wet sand. Hatches Creek, a ride of some 450 kilometres to the north of Alice, was isolated for three months. Miners survived on goat meat and milk, and watermelons and pumpkins which they grew. Bill, later a Member of the Legislative Council but then a miner, broke his hip. There were no two-way radio communications or Royal Flying Doctor Service then. Fellow miner Simon Rieff - a Russian migrant, and formerly a member of the famous Cossack cavalry of the Czar's Army - kindly fashioned a horn shape on to a riding saddle so that when the camel track dried out, he and Bill could ride by horseback to Alice Springs. Bill said he hooked his injured hip over the horn, which took some of his leg weight. When the men reached Barrow Creek Telegraph Station the staff had little food left. Simon and Bill's first good meal didn't come till Ryan's Well, south of Aileron where Sam and Lizzie Nicker lived, growing a vegetable garden as well as keeping goats. After treatment in Alice Springs, Bill's hip healed but he always walked with a marked limp. He used to speak highly of his Russian friend's practicality and help. Simon was a great improviser. As he travelled around the bush he helped many bush people by making them tools, for instance to lift hot, heavy billycans and boilers off open fires. Simon had been forced to leave Russia following the revolution of March 1917 and the Czar's abdication. It's understood he travelled overland through China to the coast. With a Russian friend, he arrived in Bundaberg, Queensland in 1919. They intended to take camels to Western Australia but when they found this was impossible due to their inexperience, the friend returned to Russia. Simon had little money and at first couldn't speak English. He explored and prospected his way to Tennant Creek where he worked in the mines. He later worked the Harts Range mica field, the Arltunga gold field and the Hatches Creek wolfram field, where he met my father-in-law. Simon built a large house in a picturesque valley at Hatches Creek for his Australian born wife, Dorothy and their six children. The house had a separate schoolroom, a meat house and a vegetable garden. The home was still in good repair in the early 1960s but later the roof was removed and the furniture vanished. In 1927 Simon was guide to noted geologist Dr Cecil Madigan and the famous Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson on a trip to inspect a nitrate deposit in the Western MacDonnell Ranges (it turned out that the deposit was not large enough to be of commercial value). Interested in geology, Simon explored and prospected in the Simpson Desert and later accompanied Dr Madigan on his camel crossing of that desert. In his book Central Australia Dr Madigan frequently refers to Simon, highly commending him. Simon was one of the first, in 1932, to peg leases at the Granites, about 600 kilometres north west of Alice Spring. This was the beginning of gold fever at a supposedly wonderful new gold field. A group of Sydney newspapers commissioned Dr Madigan to go to the Granites to make a report that would be published throughout the Commonwealth for public benefit. Simon was in Adelaide selling options on his shares and arranged to again be Dr Madigan's guide. Dr Madigan travelled to Alice Springs by train. Its excited passengers included newly appointed managers to take charge of leases, men promised contract work and miners, prospectors and adventurers all prey to the lure of gold. When the train arrived in Alice Springs heavy rains had fallen. A sheet of water covered the plain between Heavitree Gap and the small township of Alice Springs, The Todd River was running a banker. A week or so later when they hoped the track had dried out, the party set off. Simon and Dr Madigan travelled in Simon's light buckboard, a type of early model utility. George Underdown took his truck with passenger E.R.Baume, the journalist who later wrote Tragedy Track, a vivid story of the ill-fated gold rush. The vehicles had to carry enough water and fuel for the 1200 kilometre return journey. After six days of examining, sampling, dollying and panning the gold, the results were disappointing. The good results had come from a narrow vein that soon gave out. Baume returned to Alice Springs with his own adventure stories and Dr Madigan's pessimistic report to authorities in Sydney that the small amount of gold would be uneconomical to mine. Dr Madigan and Simon continued to the Tanami Gold field where the former found "geologically the Tanami was precisely the same as the Granites". When they returned to the Granites the bottom had fallen out of the market. Dejected prospectors packed up and went back to Alice Springs, some travelling south on the train with Dr Madigan. In 1936 Simon bought land in Hartley Street, where the southern part of Yeperenye Centre's car park stands today. He built a large gracious home for his wife with a fine garden of fruit trees, vines and vegetables. He planted a native vine Tinospora smilacina against a wall, which still flourishes against the northern wall of Bill Robinson's Optometrist shop, festooning over the side gate. Alice Springs resident Alex Nelson successfully nominated the vine to be included in the Register of Significant Trees in 1996. On the Hartley Street-Gregory Terrace corner Simon built a small house, which he rented to Rex Hall. Rex lived there with his wife Margaret and two young children Judy (later Mrs Robbie Robinson) and son, R.E. (Punch). Punch recalled they had a windmill, tank and a small iron hand pump for their own water supply. Rex had a garage near Chapman's swimming pool in Railway Terrace. He bought a Buick in Adelaide which he drove back to Alice Springs in order to take tourists to Palm Valley or where they wished travel. In 1948, Simon built his first two shops which were to become known as the Rieff Building, re-using two ex-army Sidney Williams huts. These earliest shops, leased by Frank King Furnishers, were extended in 1956 to a design by famed architect Beni Burnett about whom a film is planned to be made next year (see Alice News, December 1). In more recent years, the shops were bought by current owners Yeperenye Pty Ltd. Simon died in 1962. He was survived by his wife Dorothy and their children, Barbara (Mrs Hanno Weisert), Simon Jnr (decd.), Sonia (Mrs Ron Thomas), Tanya (Mrs Joe Wohlgemuth), Ivan and Elkan. In Simon's memory his family built a sundial mounted on a stone block at the Central Australian Pioneer Memorial, Wills Terrace. Sadly the sundial disappeared but the block and plaque are still there. A street in Sadadeen, Rieff Court, perpetuates Simon's memory and his long association with Central Australia. However, it would be wonderful if also the Rieff Building remained to perpetuate Simon's memory. There is still time for Heritage Minister Marion Scrymgour to change her mind. Now that she knows the concern of Alice Springs residents - many wrote her letters and hundreds signed the petition - perhaps she will.

The Labor Party branch in Alice Springs wants the Rieff Building to be heritage listed but won't ask the Labor Minister to change her mind about allowing it to be bulldozed. Heritage Minister Marion Scrymgour rejected the listing, despite advice from her own consultative body, thus condemning the building corner Hartley Street and Gregory Terrace to demolition. "We've put the view to the Minister but understand she has made a decision," says Karl Hampton, the new president of the branch. "We're not pushing it. "We respect the decision. We have no influence over it." This restrained form of democratic action sprang into life when ALP members - Mr Hampton estimated the numbers at between 15 and 20 - gathered for the annual general meeting. He says the motion was carried "with a comfortable majority" but would not disclose the mover. Neither would heritage campaigner Domenico Pecorari who claimed he'd been told by an insider the the vote was unanimous. The motion, according to the campaigner, was "supporting the listing of the Rieff Building in the Heritage List and the incorporation of the old building in any future development of the site." Vice president of Heritage Alice Springs, Mike Gillam, says an aide to Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne had told him she'd conducted a straw poll some four months ago, and claimed most people didn't know about the Rieff Building or were ambivalent about its future. Mr Gillam says he asked the aide whether the ALP had first enlightened the respondents to the poll about the significance of the building, but didn't get an answer. Opposition Leader Terry Mills says the old building should be incorporated in any new structure. He said last week a government headed by him would not hesitate to list the building. "I'm certainly pro-development but not at any cost," he said. "This is a sacred site. This is something important to us." When the Alice News put to him that his CLP predecessors, over a quarter of a century, had presided over the destruction of several historic building in Alice Springs, he said: "This is Terry Mills speaking to you."

Racial discrimination is alive and well and in its eighth year in a bush pub near Ayers Rock. But don't run off to your Member of Parliament: The arrangement, straddling three state boundaries, has the approval of the Human Rights Commission and the Liquor Commission, and is in because of an agreement between the people "discriminated" against, and the pub. It will not sell liquor, in the bar nor from the bottle shop, to Aboriginal people from a string of communities in the NT, SA and WA, nor to people traveling there. Curtin Springs roadhouse is one of the oldest tourism businesses in the Territory, 80 km east of The Rock and on the Lasseter Highway leading to it. The arrangement has led to a dramatic drop in violent crime and road accidents in the region's Aboriginal communities. Publican and veteran cattleman Peter Severin won't comment but traffic to his establishment indicates business is just fine. He's held a liquor license for nearly 50 years. The present boom follows a long period of acrimonious conflict with Aboriginal organizations, mainly the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunyatjatjara Women's Council Aboriginal Corporation (NPY), accusing him of profiteering from alcohol sales to Aborigines that fuelled the booze-related mayhem in the region. The Human Rights Commission and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) isn't a party to the agreement, but its "special measures" certificate allows it to operate on behalf of the communities at Docker River, Mutitjulu (Ayers Rock), Imanpa and Finke in the NT, the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands in South Australia and the Ngaanyatjarra Lands in WA. This is how it works. The Federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975 says, on the one hand, that it is unlawful to refuse access to a place that the public is entitled or allowed to enter or use, or to impose less favorable conditions on access, because of a person's race, color, descent, ethnic origin or national origin. And it's equally unlawful to refuse to provide goods or services to those people, or to provide them on less favorable terms. On the other hand, the law says an act which is indirectly discriminatory will not be unlawful if it is reasonable in the circumstances of the case. For "special measures" to be declared they must ensure that:- ¬ they advance the enjoyment of human rights on equal terms of a racial or ethnic group or its members; ¬ that purpose is the sole purpose of the measure; ¬ the measure is necessary to achieve that purpose; ¬ the measure must not be continued after its objectives have been achieved or lead to the maintenance of separate rights for different racial groups. Race Discrimination Commissioner, Zita Antonios, in her 1995 Alcohol Report, said "the benefit which the special measure is intended to confer must be sought by the people who will be affected by it". In other words, the initiative to bring in the measures must come from the communities they are targeting. It's not made clear by the HREOC how it can be certain that such a consensus exists for the Curtin Springs arrangement in an area as big as a European country. It would seem little short of a miracle that all Aborigines in the area are happy with the restrictions imposed on them. But as Ms Antonios' successor Bill Jonas explained recently, short of a legal challenge the measure will stay in place: "To date, there have been no complaints lodged with the Human Rights Commission about these issues, and no Federal court cases that have considered the specific issue." This is likely to be a consequence of Aborigines' poor access to "whitefeller" ways such as using court challenges, and acceptance of what their organizations put in place, rather than universal agreement with the measures. However, alcohol problems of the black consumers are unlikely to have been resolved by the measures, and may just have been transferred to other locations. The Federal Attorney-General's 2001 Report on Violence in Indigenous Communities suggests that alcohol restrictions implemented in isolation of measures to address why people abuse alcohol will only exacerbate the consequences that restrictions were designed to prevent, in particular, Indigenous family violence. Restrictions may encourage a defection of community members from their home communities to places where alcohol is available and restrictions can lead to binge-drinking and drink driving in places where alcohol can be readily obtained by those community members. Similar research has shown a rise in other forms of more dangerous substance abuse where alcohol is not available. Said Dr Jonas about a non-government review of alcohol measures in a Queensland community, which suggests one community's gain can swiftly bring about another's loss: "While there was a decrease in alcohol-related injuries presenting to the clinic, many of the violent offenders were found to be displaced elsewhere, to areas where alcohol is readily available. "Some places say there has been an increase in homeless people in towns when community members from dry areas have left in search of a place with alcohol available. "Certain areas which have never dealt with a sustained petrol sniffing problem are saying that they now have a sudden epidemic of petrol sniffing as people look for an alternate substance by which to self-medicate. "Research around community courts has also suggested an increase in drink driving offences and drink driving related offences as people travel long distances on dirt roads to obtain alcohol at another location, drink as much as they can while it is readily available and then realize that it's not their country to sleep on - so they travel back to their country drunk." I'm dreaming of a bland Christmas.

It's no exaggeration to say that writing Christmas cards is the most stressful activity of the year. The stress comes from the process of working down a long list of people you used to know but have lost track of. Then scrawling on cards for the few with whom you still have contact and wishing that greetings cards could be typed because you've forgotten how to write properly by hand. The experience is confusing and demoralizing when this is supposed to be a time of warmth and goodwill. These are not the only conflicting emotions in the run-up to Christmas. On the one hand, we experience a growing sense of relief. On the other, the tension escalates as tasks that were supposed to be completed fall by the wayside and formerly placid colleagues become cranky. If only all the tension could be filtered out like a fluff catcher in a washing machine. Then we could all cruise with serenity towards the holidays and that special moment when those who can afford a holiday leave town in a huge cloud of dust. But then again, tension breeds creativity and without creativity the world is bland. Take music, for example. I recently learned a basic lesson about music. It was that the exciting parts of guitar music usually occur when the strings are bent. Yes, I know, it's not exactly mind-blowing. The principle is that the distortion of the notes brought about by extending the strings gives the music a special edge. Without it, songs have all the inspiration of a musical limerick, plodding along in the same old predictable way. Message; tension produces distortion. We shouldn't be scared of a little distortion in life's mix. If that's the case, then Christmas itself could do with some creative tension. Ask most of us to describe the essence of Christmas and we would talk about staggering around K-Mart, buying unsatisfactory gifts and making travel plans to get out of town. Or we'd go on about duplicate end-of-season cop show finales set in New York, an experience of mine recently as I lurched from one finale to the next during an evening with Imparja. As the country becomes multi-faith and diverse, so the Christmas experience becomes less openly Christian and more secular. A Christmas card with a religious theme is rare these days. Each year, the festive shebang blands out for fear of excluding religious minorities and to avoid people getting toey if they like Christmas but not the story of Jesus. Diversity is fine by me. But the safe approach to Christmas only steers us towards the one cultural experience that we can all share; retail transactions followed by arguments with the rellies. So let's have some creative tension before our individual Christmases become as challenging as a beige trouser suit. This is not to whinge on about commercialism. Celebrate it however you want, I say. Shopping is a central part of life. It's slightly more wholesome in a town like the Alice than the ŒOpen till midnight' crush of the city CBDs. I know a few shop staff in Alice Springs now and they recognize me as a regular customer. Jeepers, I even know some of their names! It makes the purchase of gifts a more personal experience. I wouldn't swap it for the elbows and the escalators of a nameless mall in Collins St. The bottom line is that I'm not dreaming of a bland Christmas. I'd like a meaningful one. So I'll try to appreciate the cranky workmates and missed deadlines. I'll stop worrying about people missing from my greeting card list. I'll make sure the dust of departing townsfolk doesn't get in my eyes. Out there somewhere I'll find some creative Christmas tension. Wrapped up and ready to go.
I had a Christmas card from friends in England, or rather a Happy Solstice card, the other day, and a note saying they could not imagine what it would be like having a hot Christmas. Most of us around here could not imagine what it would be like to have a cold and dark Christmas. Often when I tell people that I'm from the far north of Europe they wonder if I miss Christmas. With so much European ancestry it is hardly surprising that many think of the ideal Christmas as being cold and snowy. Christmas carols like ŒJingle bells' don't help and seem slightly absurd when it is hot and sunny. Not that the children seem to notice or worry. Christmas in Alice is not the same as it was back home but after many years of living here I have created new traditions and associations to do with Christmas. Going out in the car after dark to look at all the Christmas light decorations with the children all excited is a must as is Carols by Candlelight. Cherries are now one of my favourite Christmas foods together with pavlova. I no longer dream of a white Christmas but of one when it is not too hot, anything below 35 degrees C is great. It is not only a time of celebration, school concerts and parties but of farewellsand departures. It reminds me of the Christmas tree plunder parties we would have a couple of weeks after Christmas when the live fir tree, a spruce, that had been brought in on Christmas Eve, would have started dropping a lot of needles. The sweets that had been part of the tree decorations would be divided up and the other decorations taken off while a song was sung for the tree before it was thrown outside. The party, Christmas, was over and it was time to say goodbye. We party for weeks before Christmas and when it finally arrives a lot of our friends take off on holiday or for greener pastures. Maybe Christmas just isn't the same after you've grown up, no matter where you live. It is much more work and a whole lot more expensive than when you were a kid. Being tired and broke does tarnish the magic a bit. We used to polish all the brass and copper ornaments and old pots and kettles for Christmas when I was little but now I think it is Christmas itself that I need to take down from the shelf and give a good rub. How do I bring the shine and glow back into it for myself? My children love it as it is. Christmas for them is here and now, not bittersweet memories from the past. Getting the plastic tree out of its cardboard box is not the same as getting up early on a frosty December morning to go with my dad to the spruce tree plantation to cut down our very own Christmas tree. But the wonder and excitement in their eyes as they decorate the tree is the same. Through them I can experience the magic of Christmas, all it takes is a bit of Brasso and some elbow grease.

Yet another captain's knock from Michael Smith, and an impressive 15 run last over by Allan Owe and Shane Dean were the highlights of Federal's convincing win over Rovers on Sunday. Meanwhile Jeremy Big struck another purple patch in West's win over RSL. The fixture between the Bloods and RSL was expected to be a tight encounter as both sides vie for second place on the cricket premiership ladder. West batted first and compiled 6/239 off 45 overs. The 88 not out from Big proved to be the backbone of the team's performance. Both Rory Hood and Peter Ryan provided support with 27 runs each. The score looked enough to test the RSL Works side with Jason Chanson taking 2/19 off five overs and Matt Salzburg bowling nine overs for the figures of 2/52. In reply RSL fell well shy of the mark, being bowled out by West for 147 off a mere 32 overs. RSL's cause was not helped when at the start of play only nine players were fully prepared for the mission. Once again they were missing the services of Matt Frostier in their bowling attack, and while not a word has been leaked, it would not surprise if there were internal rumblings within the RSL Works camp. The best of their batsmen were Wayne Egglington and Hansen with 22 each. Knocking the wind out of the RSL innings was Big who from nine overs produced 5/35. There is one game to be played this coming weekend, prior to the Christmas break. This may give RSL an opportunity to regather and focus on improved performances in the new year sector of the season. West on the other hand had suffered a loss the week before when chasing a modest tally against Federal. The win restored faith in the side and at this stage places them well to maintain second position on the ladder. At the top of the table, however, are Federal who are enjoying their best run into the festive season in years. They are now three games clear, and while a loss of players due to work transfer is anticipated, they seem to have enough points under their belt already to expect finals action. Michael Smith opened with Brendan Martin, with Martin falling when on 10, caught off a Gavin Flanagan delivery. Rick Sheill then came to the crease and produced 26 before suffering a similar fate to Martin. With the score at 2/53 BJ O'Dwyer and Smith then teamed up for a partnership of 86. By the time O'Dwyer was dismissed for 51 the damage had been inflicted and Feds completed their batting allocation of 45 overs, scoring 217, with 59 coming off the bat of Smith. Best with the ball was Nick Clapp who delivered nine overs for 3/32, while Flannagan completed his nine over spell with 2/32. Rovers launched their reply with a sense of confidence. Nick Clapp and Jason Dowson took the score to 73 without loss. Clapp slapped up a sure fire half century while Dowson held the fort, making 22, until Jason Bremner and Matt Pyle kept the middle order together for a time with 17 apiece. Once Pyle departed the scene stumped, with the score at 6/125, the Blues could offer little resistance. In total they were dismissed for 148 off 35 overs. Should Santa come to Alice cricket surely he'll have a couple of talent packages to leave with Rovers, for the good of the local competition. Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.