April 13, 2005.

After starving the town of capital works spending for nearly four years the NT Government was always expected to open the floodgates in the lead-up to the 2005 elections.
But although there's been a rash of project announcements in the past couple of weeks the flood so far has amounted to little more than a trickle.
Speculation of an early election is intensifying, fuelled in part by an apparent slip, by Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne, on Monday.
Announcing the refurbishment, worth $650,000, of eight hospital staff units, plus $1m for wages, Dr Toyne was asked by a journalist if he was doing this to get votes.
He replied he was making the announcement "in the context of the election".
He's unlikely to have said that if the election were to be held late in the year, because all spending will be made public during the Budget process in May.
Opposition Leader Denis Burke has slammed Chief Minister Clare Martin over what he calls her refusal "to give Territory tax-payers a black and white commitment to hold the estimates hearings before the next Territory election".
Meanwhile the government seems to be stonewalling inquiries about anything it doesn't want to get out, except its upbeat propaganda.
Recent announcements of capital works projects in Central Australia, dribbled out in bits and pieces with the greatest possible fanfare, have been:-
• A drag strip at the Finke start-finish line, costing $800,000.
• "Further enhancing the attraction of the Todd River in Alice Springs", $350,000.
• Sealing 14 kms of the Mereenie Loop Road, starting from the King's Canyon end. The entire seal of 196 kms is estimated to cost $38m, which would suggest the first next section would be worth $2.7m.
• The $650,000 for refurbishing the hospital staff quarters.
• About $5m for the start of the Desert Knowledge Precinct, ultimately to cost about $25m.
That means no money will have been spent on the substantial works on the precinct, and the loop road, in the current term of government.
Only the intention to call tenders has been announced so far.
This is although planning for at least the precinct was well advanced when the government changed in August 2001.
So far the election promises amount to $9.5m – or one third of one per cent of the NT's total budget.
Ms Martin told the Alice Springs News (March 30) the building of the precinct was "slow. There is no doubt about it.
"But unless we can get agreement about the shape of the Desert People's Centre [DPC], and what in fact is needed, as those two organisations talk, then we can't actually get the final design done."
But those two organisations, the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) and Batchelor College, reject they are to blame for the delays, and say the DPC consortium "is well advanced in its planning.
"It completed a feasibility study in August 2002 and a detailed costed business case in November 2003.
"This project is dependent on Government support and our progress is dictated by matters that are beyond our control." (See Letters to the Editor in this edition.)
In fact Dr Toyne turned the first sod for the precinct, in February last year and Ms Martin announced the loop road project in April last year.
Meanwhile Ms Martin and the NT Tourist Commission, for which she is the Minister, despite inquiries by the Alice Springs News for four weeks, have still not provided information about commission spending.
We asked the commission to disclose the five biggest items included in the $5.7m spent on "Marketing – other" during 2004 – no reply.
We also reported on March 30 Ms Martin's claim that 75 per cent of the NTTC budget is spent on marketing – including "creative" (producing the advertising).
In the calendar year 2004 the commission had available a total of $41m.
By Ms Martin's 75 per cent formula, $30.8m was spent on marketing.
According to the NTTC in that year $18.5m was spent on purchasing space or air time on a variety of media, mainly print.
That would mean an amazing $12.3m was spent on "creative".
That's clearly a story she should share, we urged Ms Martin, inspired by the theme of the NTTC's new campaign.
She still hasn't.

A parking inspector is usually one person you don't want to meet. But Kevin Everett, senior ranger at the Alice Springs Town Council, has none of the officious notebook aura about him that you'd expect.
Verbal abuse, being bitten by dogs, even physical violence are part of the job he's been doing for 17 years, four of which have been in Alice.
"It's a hard job and it's stressful. People laugh when you tell them that but it is," says Everett. "There's a very high turnover of officers Australia-wide because of stress related to all the confrontation. You're always the bad news giver – ‘You've got a fine', ‘We've had to impound your dog'."The four rangers working for the council make some 40 bookings a month for traffic offences. "We're a lot more laid-back here than in the cities. When I worked in Melbourne if the pen was to paper, that was it. Here we give the driver the benefit of the doubt and ask him to move on.
"People get angry all the time and it's pretty nasty – it's the skill of the officer to diffuse the situation. I've never had a problem that can't be handled – inside or outside work. You have to stay in control of the situation.
"In the past, officers have had to put up with personal assaults."
Thankfully, sometimes funny things also happen
"We've nearly had to book camels that are tied up illegally," chuckles Kevin, "and people are forever locking their keys in the car – we have to help them break into the car so they can move it.
"It's never happened to me but I know people who've gone to book a car and don't have a pen in their pocket. By the time they've gone to buy one, the car's driven off."
Has Kevin ever been caught with a ticket himself? "Oh yes, several times. But not in Alice Springs."
But he says dealing with traffic is only a small part of his job – most of the time he and his team are controlling the animals in town.
"This morning there was a kangaroo bouncing around in Sadadeen that we had to catch and we've been trying to get a peacock that's been around Hartley Street for weeks.
"I've caught wallabies, horses, seen snakes, goannas and lizards around. Animals on the roads like that can do a lot of damage so we have to control them."
Kevin and his team work closely with the RSPCA in caring for animals which are being mistreated or abandoned.
"One Saturday patrol around Christmas we found three or four horses running around with nothing to eat. They were all starving.
One died of sand colic because it was just eating dirt.
"We took them up here to the RSPCA and put them on a paddock with grass to eat. They're healthy now."
AFFECTIONThe affection that he has for the creatures he catches is obvious as he shows me around the dog and cat pounds.
"This morning we picked up this puppy in a drain on the North Stuart Highway. He's probably only about eight weeks old. He's covered in mange but he was too cute to put down so I brought him here."
Kevin has adopted several dogs himself from the pound after seeing them in distress. His current dog is called Jack, a Boarder Collie and Labrador cross who he's had for three years.
As we drive back into town I ask Kevin how he copes with doing a job that most people love to hate. "You have to enjoy it. You can either do it or you can't. There's no in between.
"But it's unique – I'm dealing with people from all over the world, the cultural challenge of the Aboriginal way of life and the diversity of the animals here. There's never a dull moment.
"I love it."

Earlier this year a ranger from the Alice Springs Town Council was punched in the face after giving out a parking ticket.
The officer, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told us: "I was outside the Commonwealth Bank when I saw a car parked in a loading area outside the Alice Plaza. I walked over and said ‘Excuse me mate, you can't park here'.
The man told me to F off. I told him again he wasn't allowed to park in this area and as I walked away, he hit me several times. I was bruised everywhere and had to have a week off work. He's been charged by the police.
"My first day back, I gave out a ticket and the bloke threw it on the ground. He came up [swearing] but he didn't hit me, he walked away."

Plans for how the Territory Government's pledge of $42m to improve secondary schools will be spent are still embryonic, but will they make a difference where many parents and students in Alice want it most – improved Tertiary Entrance Ranks?
TERs are what counts when it comes to entering the university course a student wants to do. Calculated by University Admission Centres across Australia, this score, out of 100, compares students in different jurisdictions.
For the Territory, TERs are calculated by the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australian (SSABSA).
The Alice News has obtained the average TER scores for last year's crop of students from each of Alice's three high schools: Centralian College tops the list with 75.46; St Philip's follows with 70.63; and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is third, with 65.53.
In 2004, St Philip's was in front with 69.37; Centralian followed with 67.5; and OLSH was again third, with 56.32.
All three schools showed improved TER averages this year.
Neither the NT Education Department nor SSASBA could supply the average TER scores for the Territory.
The bulk of the $42m will be spent in two broad areas.
REMOTEOne is "students and learning" ($15.37m) and includes the provision of dedicated careers advisors and qualified counsellors to all secondary schools across the Territory. This means that all schools, including in remote areas, will have access to these staff, although how that access will be delivered is still being finalised.
More funds will be available for vocational education and training (VET) to expand the number of practical skills classes.
The other big chunk of spending, $15.84m, will go to Indigenous secondary education.
In Central Australia remote schools with secondary programs, such as Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) and Yuendumu, will benefit, as will Alice's high schools .
Specialist teachers will support face-to-face teaching, developing links with schools and the community and encourage mentorship programs for Indigenous students.
Other initiatives in this program include a better balance of staffing between bush and urban schools, more support from the department to community schools, rolling out secondary education in communities which don't currently offer it, working to improve housing and transport for teachers in remote communities, and assisting schools to develop programs for teachers and parents to work together.
Other areas of Territory-wide expenditure are:• professional development of teachers, developing a new staffing formula and initiatives to encourage teachers to work together to develop and share good teaching practices ($5.41m).
• programs for teachers and parents to work together, for more leadership opportunities for students and "support to build stronger school communities" ($3.19m).
• "a new leading edge distance education service" ($1.87m). A distance education expert will work with Alice Springs' and Katherine's Schools of the Air and the NT Open Education Centre.
Figures specific to Alice Springs or the Centre were not available but there will be "an equitable distribution of funds across the Territory", according to a spokesperson for the Building Better Schools project.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Desert Knowledge: Who caused delay?
Sir,– Chief Minister Clare Martin rightly points to the complexity and potential of the exciting Desert Knowledge project. (Alice News, March 30).
Recent reporting of progress at the DKP suggests delays in capital works are a result of the merger of BIITE and CAT in the Desert Peoples Centre. The DPC consortium is well advanced in its planning. It completed a feasibility study in August 2002 and a detailed costed business case in November 2003.
The DPC received approval to proceed in February 2004 and has since then worked in good faith with Government to meet every timeline and milestone associated with the project, including a comprehensive briefing of architects and project managers.
This project is dependent on Government support and our progress is dictated by matters that are beyond our control.
The changed focus of CAT and the restructure of Batchelor are a result of both organizations preparing to provide access to a greater number of training and service opportunities through the DPC.
As Aboriginal people we've had a leading role in catalysing change for all people in central Australia.
Harold Furber, Chair DPC
Rose Kunoth Monks, Chair Batchelor Institute
Jim Bray, Chair CAT

Education before mortgages

Sir,– The Central Land Council believes that the most impoverished sector of the Australia society – Central Australia's remote communities – simply cannot afford home ownership.
While the CLC is not opposed to private home ownership, the issue is currently being hailed as the end of disadvantage for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. To continue with a simplistic debate along these lines will only cause chaos to communities already handicapped by extreme disadvantage.
The first assumption that is being made is that land rights are a cause of poverty and an impediment to individual home ownership. This is patently not the case as is graphically and tragically illustrated in the Northern Territory. While nearly half of the NT is Aboriginal land, the other half is not. Aboriginal communities on non-Aboriginal land suffer just as extreme cases of disadvantage and poverty as those on Aboriginal land.
Secondly, inalienable Aboriginal freehold title does not exclude private home ownership. Like Canberra - where people are on long leases rather than freehold title – people can obtain leases on land that is owned by Land Trusts. There are many cases of these leases negotiated by the CLC for commercial interests.
Thirdly, the reality is that many Aboriginal people in our region are simply not in a position to consider a mortgage. The average income of Aboriginal people living in the central remote region is $9,133, or 25 per cent of the average annual income of a non-Indigenous person in the region.
The way out of poverty is education and health, not crippling debt. As the case of Wadeye shows, for every dollar spent on a kid's education in Darwin, only 26 cents (26 per cent) gets spent on a kid in Wadeye. There is a direct correlation between how much is spent on a child's education and their subsequent adult income levels.
Not surprisingly, the issue of individual home ownership is not raised as an aspiration of traditional land owners living on Aboriginal land. Perhaps if living standards and income levels were to rise it may become an aspiration for future generations.
Solutions to the systematic exclusion of Aboriginal people from the social, political and economic mainstream are multi-layered and complex, but it is ludicrous and simplistic to lay the blame on land tenure.
The real and crippling barriers to economic development include poor education, poor health, a lack of housing, roads and communications infrastructure and extreme remoteness.
The CLC s has proposed reforms to the Land Rights Act which include simplifying leasing arrangements, improving access to public housing on Aboriginal land through housing leases, and further expediting mining procedures and governance issues.
The CLC is strongly of the view that the key to increasing economic development does not lie in abolishing the customary tenure system; it lies in adapting this system to resolve any specific and genuine problems, with the consent of title-holders.
It would seem that the original rationale for land rights, the recognition of Aboriginal peoples' perpetual spiritual ties to their land and restitution for past injustices, has been deliberately swept under the carpet. Suddenly, land rights are blamed for entrenched poverty, alienation from the real economy and extreme social dysfunction in most Aboriginal communities.
David Ross
Director, Central Land Council

Magic bullet?

Sir,– I read in the Alice News of March 9 (letters) that Charlie Carter has the answer to Alice Springs' diminishing water supply and Denis Burke hasn't.
I'm doubtful if anyone has a total single answer or magic bullet to this diminishing supply. But there are a few things that can be done that everyone and the environment would benefit from.
One of these to have the biggest effect would certainly be the storage of rain or surface water, which currently runs away down the rivers and streams each and every time it rains.
Would using this water to supplement the Mereenie supply or recharge the aquifers, to replace the water we take with water of better quality, be such a stupid idea?
I congratulate Denis Burke for suggesting we deserve a better water supply and a better environment. Perhaps it is time to change the current politicians who are either unable or not interested in making long term decisions for the people of Alice Springs.
Russell Lynch
Alice Springs

Outback kindness

Sir,– On the 15th of March we had an accident with a campervan on Lasseter Highway. To caution tourists about observing road conditions and to remember them: be careful and fasten your safety-belts!
We'd also like to thank all the fantastic people who helped us in such an extraordinary way.
Especially we want to thank the first helpers at the road, who stopped immediately and helped us to climb out of the overturned van. I think it was the owner of "Outback Vehicle Recovery", Alice Springs, who did this great job and he also took care about the car and our belongings for many hours, until they could be recovered to Alice Springs.
Past all belief was the further help we received by the wonderful Mrs Jean AhChee. She brought our family to the next roadhouse and accompanied my, fortunately not injured, husband and son for more than seven hours with her car, until eleven o'clock at night. She refused any payment and we are deeply impressed of her great and selfless way of acting!
At Curtin Springs Ashley and Peter Severin placed their house and even their private bedroom at our disposal, not thinking about dirt, blood or other inconveniences. The German-speaking nurse Nicole, who was coincidentally present, took care about my daughter, who had injured her knee, and me in a very competent, helpful and kind way. And so did the ambulance-team that arrived soon after.
Our further attendance at the Ayers Rock Medical Centre of Yulara was extraordinary too.Our special thanks to the doctor, born on the 20th of July, like me, and to the nurse born on the 25th of June, like my daughter! Thank you to wonderful Dr. Christopher Waite and his team and the whole staff of the Royal Flying Doctor Service! They all did a real great job!
We also want to say thank you to the management of the Desert Gardens Hotel, Ayers Rock Resort, who enabled my husband and son to spend the night in a wonderful room without any payment.
And last but not least we thank all the doctors, nurses and helpers of the Alice Springs Hospital, surgical and emergency ward, weęll never forget you: Dr. Jacob, Dr. Pancha, Dr. Farida Khawaja, Dr. Thumm, the Medical Officer, John, Jenny, Gayle, Pam, Brenda, Debbie and Peter, who let the sun rise up for us, and all the others!
Each of them was excellent and their help was so precious for our family at this moment "down under"!
They helped me to keep my arm, and they helped my daughter to go on working and travelling around Australia, the continent we learned to love very much! Knee and arm are well healing!
With great thankfulness.
Gabrielle, Susi, Klaus and Philipp Schoettler
Steinen, Germany


Sir,– On Thursday morning, March 31, my wife fell on Kings Canyon, suffering head and should injuries. This necessitated the services of, among others, the Watarrka national park rangers and staff from Kings Canyon Resort, the Flying Doctors Service and Alice Hospital.
Throughout the day the professionalism and friendship of all concerned was truly magnificent, and a great credit to your community. We would like to express our sincere thanks.
Veronica and John Morris
Visitors to Alice Springs


Sir,– I just wanted to say hello – my name is Todd Black.
If I ever visit Australia some day I want to visit Alice Springs. I live in Kentucky in the United States, here it is our first full week of Spring and I'm sick of snow.
You all have a great Fall and take care now.
Todd Black

ED – In last week's issue we published a letter from Kent Moore of Dallas, Texas. Mr Moore is searching for information about Glenna Orton and her family who were in Alice in the early ‘seventies and tragically died in a plane crash on their return to the USA in January 1974. We omitted to supply Mr Moore's email address. It is as follows:

A service held under a big tree at the back of the Alice Springs Lutheran Church saw Pastor Basil Schild installed as a Town Camp Support Pastor."Church services used to be held under this tree regularly," one of the participating pastors said, "so it is a fitting place for this installation service to be held."Church is about being among people, caring about them and looking after them, not about buildings."Each of the participating pastors and evangelists spoke for a few minutes or read from scripture; Evangelist Marcus Wheeler played his guitar and sang, all in support of Pastor Basil and his work with Aboriginal pastors and evangelists as they visit people in town camps, the hospital and prison.
Pastor Basil said he has been a Lutheran all his life and has served as a Minister in Alice for the past eight years."Some people believe religion is about life after death but for me religion is about life before death," he said.
"Religion for me is about health, education, politics and social justice; everything to do with compassion and care, about human love and care."

Some of Alice's senior citizens have achieved a small personal miracle – thanks to a woman called Gerda Vel.
The magic happens every week at the town pool where Gerda is teaching them to overcome a lifetime of fear and learn to swim.
A swimming teacher for 32 years, Gerda volunteered last year to help people learn to swim as part of the University of the Third Age. "I knew quite a few older people who couldn't swim and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to help them learn," Gerda says. "But I didn't expect the response I've had.
"At the end of the first University of the Third Age meeting I had five people surrounding me asking when were we going to start! It was very encouraging.
"I thought they might not come to the classes but nearly every single one of them has. All of them are over 60 and we've just got one man.
"At the first lesson three of the people who came were not real beginners, but I could help them too. Some of the others were even frightened to step into the water and lots wouldn't put their faces into it. I get into the water with them to give them a bit more security.
"Now they've been coming every week since January and they've made tremendous progress. All of them can swim 12m now and some are stroking very well.
"They've all got their feet off the ground and have learnt to propel themselves forward.
"It's so encouraging for me and for them too – they're very proud of themselves. They want to learn to swim and they're very determined.
"I had taught adults before but only younger adults and I wasn't sure how this would work. But everything I used to teach children, they find interesting. So I get them blowing bubbles under water and fetching things from the bottom of the pool! We drew the line at ring-a-roses though.
"Their progress is amazing. They say I con them all the time! But I told them from the start that if there's anything they don't want to do, they should tell me and they don't have to do it. That gave them confidence I think.
"We discussed going into deep water with whatever aid they wanted to. Three accepted the challenge and they achieved swimming in deep water. This week, all of them have.
"Because they're in a group, I think it helps. They're all the same age and they all watch each other's progress and enjoy it."
Gerda's style is gentle and encouraging and it's clear why she gets results. Watching all of the women in the class overcome their fear and swim in the deep water was humbling. Afterwards I spoke to them about their achievement:
"I've always just panicked in water as soon as I couldn't stand," says Maureen Fuss. "It's taken a while but I've got here now. I feel confident and don't have that terrible feeling of panic. I'll be able to swim on holiday which I've never been able to do before.
"Gerda has been wonderful."
"Her patience and gentle confidence is unbelievable. She's king pin!" says Barbara Ward.Fellow swimmer Halcyon Lucas is also grateful to her teacher: "What she's done is quite incredible, helping me do things I've never done before. She's an incredible woman."
Gerda has been teaching swimming for 32 years, beginning as a teacher for a swimming club in Adelaide when her children were younger. She taught disabled children and in schools there before coming to Alice Springs 21 years ago.
She quickly got involved with swimming here.
"There was a time when I couldn't walk into Coles or Woolies without seeing so many children I was teaching!"
She has competed in the Masters Games, winning a gold medal in the 50m breastroke, and also winning medals for freestyle.
"It sounds crazy but I don't think of myself as a swimmer.
"I enjoyed the Masters Games but I found it a bit too competitive for me.
"I love teaching swimming. I guess it's the fact that people come and want to learn but they're scared stiff.
"It's the challenge of helping them overcome their fears and convincing them that they can do it – and there's a lot of convincing to do.
"I think the people in the class are very brave because they're overcoming their fears of the water that some have had for 60 years.
"The University of the Third Age is so amazing. If this is an example of what can be achieved, then I think it's the tops. It's been such a joy teaching them and they've enjoyed it as well."

A European-style bistro with an extensive international wine list – there aren't too many small country towns in Australia where you could do it, but Alice is one.
That's partly because a high percentage of people who live here have travelled widely, says Vin Lange, co-owner of The Lane with Chris O'Loughlin.
And it's partly because of the tourist market, which means that Alice is exceptionally well served with restaurants compared to any town of its size.
Vin brings to the business almost nine years of experience in France, both in running a restaurant and in wine, beer and food distribution. And there's something of the French, or perhaps more broadly of the Mediterraneans, in his passion for what he does.
"The years there broadened my wine and food horizons," he says.
"It took quite some time, at least a year, for my palate to adjust to their subtle and elegant tastes. It sounds cliched but their food and wine is a mirror image for their national personality, in contrast to our big, brassy, in you face style."Vin learnt to love the search for the perfect match between food and wine, no matter how simple. He'd never cared much for olives, for example, until they were offered him once in a little bar in Spain, served with a glass of fino sherry.
"It was the perfect thing at the end of a working day," says Vin, recalling the occasion with relish.
In France he didn't try to beat the Europeans at their own game. The restaurant he ran with friend Brigid Kennedy was called Woolloomooloo (the iconically Aussie name of an inner Sydney suburb). Located on a busy boulevard in Paris, not far from Place de la Bastille, it served "fusion" food – the blended cuisines so popular in Australia – and "big fat" Australian wines.
It went like a bomb, as did the wine and beer business ... but then Vin became a dad.
Australia, and particularly Alice Springs – "the cultural heart" – was going to be a better place to bring up his kids than "an apartment in bourgeois Paris".
"I wanted them to grow up in a rural setting, like I did in South Australia, where life is less complicated, less sophisticated, although quite sophisticated in its own way."
Brother-in-law Chris urged Vin to explore the possibility of a restaurant in Alice. There seemed to be a niche for a place with an emphasis on wine.
"I love gastronomy in its entirety," says Vin, " but I'm most interested in wine and the sensations it offers."
His belief that Mediterranean-style food is best-suited to marriage with wines dictated the bistro approach: a simple menu, with good specials, and tapas (entree-sized delicacies, Spanish-style), allowing people to mix and match flavours to their liking.
That goes with having some 25 wines – on a list of almost 300 – that can be served by the glass.
Chris came up with the name – as the restaurant is situated on Reg Harris Lane – and reflected it in a series of photos of the laneways of Alice that have adorned the walls since the bistro opened in November 2003.
There's no doubt The Lane has created a vibrancy at the southern end of the mall. The al fresco area, perfect for Alice's climate much of the year, is very popular, but there are some who don't like it, says Vin.
"There are no barriers, it's Alice Springs, with all its colour, atmosphere and action – you either love it or you hate it, and if you hate it you go elsewhere.
"But I think it's healthy that we are open, not exclusive."
An alternative is the more formal dining room inside, with more than a hint of France in its dark wood, white linen, coloured glass lightshades, and full-length windows.
And from this week its rooftop terrace will be available in the evening for events and private functions, opening on Friday with a Latin Dance Party featuring Kirsty Nancarrow's Strictly Salsa.
"Our philosophy is to break ground," says manager James Nolan.
"We've been doing live music with dining and it's been really successful. This new venue allows us to do more – things like theatre sports, film screenings, dancing, for people to enjoy with tapas and wine."Innovation is part of our concept, but it's a constant balancing act with consistency," says James. "Consistency – in food, wine, service – has to be priority number one."

I used to think that mobile phones were pointless until I was standing in a clothes shop, choosing a shirt.
Next to me was a man who used his mobile to call his wife to ask her his shirt size.
Incidents like this make you wonder how we managed to survive before the onset of all this technology. Men had to remember their own sizes or write them down before they went out.
Even worse, they had to go to the changing room to take off the shirt they were wearing, read the label and then put it back on again before they could make the purchase.
I try not to listen to other people's mobile phone calls, but sometimes it's impossible because they shout into the mouthpiece as if they are trying to get a non-English speaker to understand. Recently I was trying to buy some peaches in Woolworths when a man took a call while he was standing in front of the peach display. He was oblivious to me because he was having a domestic with his spouse.
This left me with limited choices. I could either lean over him to reach the peaches or walk around Woolworths while waiting for the end of their heated discussion about whose job it was to feed the cockatiel.
The starving cockie listening to this at the other end must have been even more livid than I was.
I thought all these behavioural problems would have been sorted out when people made their New Year's resolutions. ‘Next year I will consider other people when using my mobile' should have been the one that everyone signed up to. But they didn't, of course, leading to the catalogue of anti-social behaviour that we see before us now.
Next year, my New Year's resolution will be for everyone else to make the right ones. Come on, do it for the good of society.
Take another facet of the digital world in which we live. When was the last time you texted someone a photo? Any photo will do.
A shot of your mum admiring the dust storms from ANZAC Hill during her visit from Warnambool. A picture of the Ghan.
A blurry snap of your child missing a penalty kick at junior soccer.
The truth is that you haven't sent a photo to anyone recently, have you? I didn't think so. This means that we've all been victims of a confidence trick that convinced us that cameras in mobile phones were the digital equivalent of automatic washing machines, labour-saving and never missing their mark. Now we know that they're not.
This may be the age of the information explosion but living in a remote place can cause you to react to digital choice in one of two ways; you either try extra hard to be connected to the rest of the world or you're thankful for an excuse not to be. In my case, it's a mixture.
The opportunity to phone someone to find out my trouser size doesn't exactly float my boat and I don't want anyone calling me for the same reason when I am doing important things on a Saturday like squirting ants with orange detergent.
On the other hand, give me a few kilobits per second more of broadband width and I enter digital heaven.
Non-grainy images of goals being scored on the other side of the world and movie trailers for films that will arrive in Alice Springs sometime in the next millennium are just too enticing.
Not to mention the news footage of world events just in case you missed them on Imparja.
And so we reach the essence of my digital dismay.
Choice is good, but I just wish that everyone would make the same choices as me.

Out at Ilparpa for a get together the other night we were fortunate enough to see the spectacular entry of a Russian satellite as it broke up into pieces and burnt in oranges, yellows, reds, greens and blues on its return to earth.
We did not know that it was space junk until the next day and speculated about comets, meteor showers and high quality defence force sponsored fireworks.
At least one person thought for a few seconds that it might be the end of the world and others waited for a crash and shockwaves. As we drove back into town that night, someone wondered what it might be a sign of and I responded flippantly that it was a sign of how little we know.
By reading our environment we interpret the world around us and relate to it according to our experiences and our knowledge. It is an essential survival skill. We are trying to make sense of the world and make sure we stay safe.
When we come across something new, like space junk, we don't know what to think and have to relate it to similar things we have some knowledge or experience of. The less we know the more mysterious and possibly symbolic the occurrence. If something dramatic or tragic happens not too long after such an event we may say it was a warning sign of what seemed to follow.
Misinterpretation of the signs around us is common. When looking up the word sign in the Macquarie Dictionary the first explanation was "anything that shows that something exists or is likely to happen: Clouds are a sign of rain". Well, our experience of living in Central Australia will tell us, even if we haven't got a science degree, that clouds do not always equal rain!
Sometimes ‘signs' are created or manipulated to achieve particular ends.
It may for example be convenient to focus on interpreting signs pointing towards threats of terrorism and difficult economic times rather than environmental and social issues. The less understood a ‘sign' is, the easier it is to use to create fear and feelings of insecurity.
Things are not always what they seem. The white ‘smoke' turned out to be dust. Trying to interpret our lives we constantly come across the unknown and are challenged to learn new things and see new perspectives.
When I took my children to Simpson's Gap for a picnic during the school holidays, we found two flowers far away from the now tiny waterhole. Signs maybe of neither rain nor Spring but of resilience and adaptation to a very harsh environment.
The problem is that the real world is complicated and we sometimes need the comforts of simplicity and may prefer the mysticism of an omen to a failed man made satellite.
Rather than seeing the unknown as a threat we can view it as an opportunity for new discoveries. Instead of circling around what we already know, like a satellite around our planet, we can take off like a space probe and explore the universe.

The rematch of last year's grand finals will set the stage for the 2005 season when the first round of CAFL and Ngurratjuta matches are played on the weekend.In scheduling football for the CAFL teams, the Saturday "pilot" is continuing in an effort to bring back the crowds and better cater for the needs and wishes of the players. However the scheduling of matches to finish sometime after seven on a Saturday night, seems questionable if the needs of all (and potential) football devotees are considered.
The replay of the West versus South grand final this week should provide an indicator of just where CAFL support is at for 2005.
West have appointed a new coach in Wayne Campbell who played at the elite level for North Melbourne. In continuing their policy of recruiting high profile coaches and players, the Bloods will no doubt run on as a fit unit with plenty of depth.
Kevin Bruce will again be a focal point at centre half forward or in the ruck. Michael Gurney, Mick Hauser, Keith Durban and Andrew Crispe will be heads down and going for the hard ball, and it would be expected that the services of young players, spearheaded by Danny Measures, would do the Bloods proud this season.
A hallmark of West has been the ability to maintain a core of "died in the wool" operators who, through experience, will be able to predict many of the plays instigated by Souths.
The Super Roos, in opposition, have had a low profile as usual during the summer. Again this year Shaun Cusack has put his hand up to coach. In doing so he must still have memories of the times gone by when he cut a lone figure on the boundary, servicing the medical and hydration needs of his players as well as "calling the shots".
On field he should be ably supported by the contribution of the brothers Maher, Charlie and Kelvin, the ever-present Darren Talbot, and communities' stars Gilbert Fishook, and Kasmin and Sherman Spencer.
At their first encounter of 2004, South proved too strong for West winning 18.15 (123) to 15.2 (92). In the second round however it was a different story with West claiming a 58 point victory.
The victories were then shared in the final two rounds with West recording a five point win, before South turned the tables with a nine point win.
On grand final day West won by three points in a game that proved to be a true corker.The curtain raiser, between Rover and Pioneer, will also be a game of intrigue, albeit without the flair of the West and South encounter.
After tireless winters at Traeger Park, Roy Arbon has stepped aside as the Pioneer coach, handing the reigns over to Paul Ross.
Ross, in returning to his home club, comes in as a coach with glowing references. His father Graham was a champion player and a successful coach. In a like manner Paul has played his football with several CAFL clubs and has done so with distinction. The input of his brother Lachlan could well be an asset to Paul as he rebuilds the Eagles. And the input of mother Ronda Ross to the administration of the Pioneer Club cannot be understated.
Pioneer's running players will be a key to the attempt to rise again to the top of the ladder. It will be the McCormacks, Mallards and Campbells taking advantage of winning opportunities often set up by Graeme Smith, who will presumably pull on the boots again and is arguably the best player to have given of his services at Traeger Park.
In the Rover camp there has been plenty of hype over the summer months. A son of the Pioneer tradition, Geoffrey Miller has been appointed coach of a side against whom he has waged many a battle. Miller and new president Jeremy Watkins have been busy moulding together a side that may lift the ailing club out of the cellar in terms of the premiership ladder.
The Blues found some 2004 success in the Under17 competition where they ran on in the preliminary final, and it is from the core of players in that game that the seniors team has been built this year.
Miller has experienced the rare pleasure of playing in the same side as his son, and this season Geoffrey junior will be a key on-field component.
Adding some tradition will be the presence of Ben McDonald, son of Rovers life member Dominic.
Given that the Blues have been able to attract a range of experienced recruits to their ranks, a competitive game may be played. On the statistics of recent years however the result should be in the firm keeping of the Eagles.
On Sunday the state of play will be much different for the Yuendumu Magpies who last weekend fielded a side missing several stars, drawn to the development squad and to homelands teams solely represented at the Lightning Carnival.
Last year the physically bigger Yuendumu side controlled the grand final in the first half but were then severely challenged by the running Ltyentye Apurte team, who could almost have taken the flag in the dying minutes of play. The replay of that match is the feature of Sunday.

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.