May 18, 2005.

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello talked tough on "job avoiders" in his budget speech last week, but the word on the ground in Central Australia is that change will be a long time coming.
Chris O'Brien, local manager of ITEC Employment, the biggest player in Job Network for Indigenous Australians, says most communities "have never been touched by the Job Network" and suggests it will be "10 years at least before we even start to see changes in communities".
Peter Strachan, manager for Tangentyere Job Shop, also part of Job Network and specialising in finding jobs for Indigenous people in Alice, says, "18 times out of 20 the skills for the jobs advertised aren't in line with the skills, experience and qualifications unemployed people have".
So, what affect will Mr Costello's "get a job or get lost" have?Mr Costello said full-time work will be mandatory for people termed as having a "pattern of job avoidance". They will have to work 25 hours a week for 10 months of the year or risk having their benefits suspended for two months.
"Those who are working deserve to know that others capable of work are at least looking for work in return for their income support," said Mr Costello.
In February 2005, 473 unemployed people in Alice Springs were receiving the dole – these days known as Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance. For remote areas, this figure was 372.
However, at present people living in remote areas are "temporarily exempt" from carrying out an Activity Test to justify their payment Newstart or Youth Allowance.
Remote areas are defined as "90 minutes or more from a regional centre" – that is, by car from Alice Springs. All communities are more than this distance away, leaving only Amoonguna within the catchment area.
But the government promises this exemption will change. A spokesperson for Kevin Andrews, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, told the Alice Springs News: "There are plans to alter the remote area exemption for those receiving Newstart because at the moment there is no incentive to go onto CDEP.
"There will also be stricter no work, no pay tests for those on CDEP. There will be an obligation to do some sort of work if a person is receiving it.
"Both of these changes will be progressively implemented. It's hard to pin down an exact date but we're due to carry out the final consultation phase with communities."
Officially, Activity Tests must be carried out from day one of signing on and every week until a person finds a job, and the person must meet all the requirements otherwise their payment will be subject to penalties.
The requirements include demonstrating you're actively looking for suitable paid work, accepting suitable job offers, attending all job interviews, agreeing to attend approved training courses or programs, never leaving a job, training course or program without a good reason, giving accurate details about any income earned, as well as entering into and carrying out a Preparing for Work Agreement if asked.
For those receiving CDEP, the nature of Activity Tests "depend on the provider of CDEP" says the government. In Alice Springs, it is widely accepted that this is code for being exempt.
The Alice News asked the Department for Employment and Workplace Relations (both the NT office and the Federal one in Canberra) for the number of people exempt from the Activity Test but the figure was "not available".
The department was able to explain that total job placements in Alice Springs for those on Newstart or Youth Allowance from March 2004 to March 2005 was 951, 453 being for Indigenous people.
This was double the number from the previous year and a 36 per cent increase in the Indigenous share of jobs found.
The number of long-term (known as 13 weeks) jobs for Indigenous job seekers in the last 12 months was 117, also more than double last year's figure.
According to the department "there are no significant variations in the treatment of Indigenous and non-Indigenous job seekers for the Activity Test".
Unemployed who live within 90 minutes of a regional centre are supposedly required to move to that centre if there are jobs available. In Central Australia this is only relevant for residents of Amoonguna.
The agency responsible for finding jobs for people in Amoonguna, Centrecare, would not comment when the News asked why there is an estimated 90 per cent unemployment rate in that community, when 20 minutes away businesses in town are complaining that they can't get enough staff.Will Mr Costello's promised reforms have an impact in Amoonguna? We'll have to wait and see.
Mr Costello is also targeting the long-term unemployed, and aims to get 15,000 of them back into the workforce through a new wage subsidy initiative, Wage Assist.
About $360m will be spent over four years on the wage assistance program which begins in July next year. A wage subsidy of $350 a fortnight will be given to employers to encourage them to offer jobs to the long-term unemployed. The subsidy will be given for between three and six months.
Before being eligible for the wage subsidy, people will have had to prove they've been making a "genuine effort" for three years to find work.ITEC Employment is the largest Job Network agency in Alice Springs with approximately 50 per cent of the market and responsible for, apart from Alice itself, all remote communities except Amoonguna, Yulara and Docker River. Ninety per cent of its clients are Indigenous.
Manager Chris O'Brien told the Alice News: "The contract we've just been awarded means that we're bringing Job Network to communities who've never been subjected to it before. We're seriously moving away from passive welfare.
"Alice Springs is an unusual market – there's an abundance of jobs in town but not enough suitable jobseekers.
"Out in the communities, the practicality is that most communities have never been touched by the Job Network. Taking part has been voluntary.
"There isn't enough employment opportunities for the number of people looking for work. We're slowing battling away and place two or three people every month in small projects.
"The system is trying its best but it doesn't make business sense for big businesses to move out to remote areas.
"For us, it's a matter of training and preparing people for a position if it comes up, or if they want to move to Alice Springs."But others don't believe these new government initiatives will make a difference to the unemployment problem in Alice Springs.
Tangentyere Job Shop's Peter Strachan says everyone on JobShop's books is actively looking for a job, through accepting referrals or undergoing training, but their skills "18 times out of 20" aren't in line with those required.
The jobs in a recent paper included an alarms technician, two receptionists, a coordinator for a health program, an anthropologist, armed forces, a hairdresser, a worker for Pizza Hut, a manual traineeship and a casual cleaner.
"The last three might be suitable for the unemployed people we've got on our books but the others aren't," says Mr Strachan.
"In the short term there's not really a solution to the problem. In the long term, employers need to review their requirements for jobs – do they really need a qualified person?
"They also need to be convinced that Indigenous people will stay in Alice Springs all their lives – a lot of non-Indigenous people only stay for a few years, and it's expensive to have to continually recruit new people."
Mr Strachan also makes the point that the educational and training outcomes for Indigenous people need to be improved – and John Elferink, member for MacDonnell, agrees. "There's no problem getting a job in Alice Springs, especially for people from down south who are used to the working culture.
"But most jobs in the offing require a standard of education, and the educational outcomes for Aboriginal people here have been so poor that basic jobs are beyond them. They're missing the boat as they don't take advantage of educational opportunities.
"That's a sweeping generalisation and it doesn't apply to everyone – a hotel in Yulara is an example of somewhere that has employed four or five Aboriginal people by getting them work-ready."
Mr Costello also announced he wants to encourage disabled and single parents back to work too.
He says the numbers of people receiving Disability Pensions and Parenting Payments has increased by 39 per cent over past five years – now those people make up 10 per cent of the Australian workforce.
"From July 1 2006 those on Parenting Payment will be expected to look for at least part-time work when their youngest child turns six and is ready of school.
"A massive increase in outside school hours childcare will assist those parents."
Mr Costello said single parents who already receive Parenting Payment will keep it.

Sandover Art is in business again after its directors reinstated their preferred manager, Narayan Kozeluh.
In the end, the strategy was so simple that it was beautiful: according to Mr Kozeluh, the directors, Graham Kngwarrey Long and Eileen Bonney, simply rewrote the letter that Central Land Council lawyer Michael Prowse had used on February 2 to sack Mr Kozeluh (see Alice News, Feb 23), to reinstate him.
To be a legal representation of the company's wishes, the letter required the signatures of the two directors, Mr Long representing 50 per cent shareholder Urapuntja Artists, and Mrs Bonney representing the other shareholder, Artists of Ampilatwatja.
Once that duly signed letter was to hand, those who had taken control of Sandover had no choice but to make available to Mr Kozeluh the keys to the company's Gregory Terrace gallery and to its red troop-carrier.
The letter instructs Mr Kozeluh to take any steps necessary to investigate current and past affairs of Sandover Art.
It gives him authority to have access to all books and accounts, to terminate the employment of any staff, to protect the company's assets and to take whatever legal action necessary to protect those assets and the interests of Sandover Art.
Allegations concerning Mr Prowse's method of obtaining one of the directors' signatures for the February letter are at the heart of a court case set down to be heard in the Supreme Court in Alice Springs on May 23.
In an affidavit before the court Eileen Bonney says in part:
"[Wilma Ross, chairperson of Artists of Ampilatwatja] told me that … Michael Prowse wanted me to sign the [faxed] letter because I was a director of Sandover.
"I could see that Graham Long had already signed the letter … I was worried that if Mr Prowse became the boss because of that letter, he would sack Narayan Kozeluh, who … has done a good job for us artists.
"Wilma said she didn't think it was a good idea for me to sign. I didn't want to sign and told her I would not sign the letter from Michael Prowse …
"I think it was the next day when Michael Prowse came to my house at Ampilatwatja Community.
"He was showing me that letter which he faxed the other day.
"I said, ‘No I'm sorry. I'm not signing the paper, I don't want to. I want to see Wilma.' …
"I told him I didn't want to make any mistake if I sign it. He said, ‘You'll be alright.'
"I then said to Mr Prowse that we should get the artists together at the community art centre. I told them at that meeting what the paper was for but I don't know if they could understand.
"I told them in language that he was pushing me to sign to finish up Narayan.
"Like me, they were a bit frightened by Mr Prowse. They wouldn't make any decision. They were worried for Narayan.
"After the meeting Michael Prowse again asked me to sign the paper. I was not happy and also worried for my husband who had earlier that day had two epileptic fits.
"The worry was too much for me and I became angry and upset. When he pushed that paper in front of me again I took it and signed it and gave it back to him.
"I said to some of the other artists, ‘He better not bring it back or I'll tear it up.'
"A bit later I went to see Wilma at her house and told her what I had done. I was upset and I said to her I should not have signed that paper.
"I did wrong way for Narayan. I could not sleep that night because I was so worried.
"The next morning I went straight to the clinic. I rang Michael Prowse in his office at Land Council in Alice Springs.
"I said ‘I'm very sorry for letting you make me sign that paper. I'm upset. I want my name taken off from that paper.'
"He said, ‘No, you've done the right thing.'"
Subsequently, with the help of John Oster at Desart (an advocacy body for Aboriginal art centres), Mrs Bonney wrote a second letter, saying that she didn't want her name on Mr Prowse's letter.
This left Mr Prowse without authority to act in relation to Sandover Art from February 18 onwards, although apparently Mrs Bonney and Artists of Ampilatwatja did not realise the implications of this.
On May 6 Artists of Ampilatwatja sought an injunction to restrain the Central Land Council and Mr Prowse "from selling, transferring, disposing or otherwise dealing with the assets of Sandover Art".
The application failed for want of evidence other than hearsay that the defendants were indeed eroding the company's standing in the industry, its financial viability and putting at risk its remaining assets.
In fact there was no evidence before the court as to who exactly had been in control of affairs at Sandover.
Mr Prowse was not represented in the hearing, though his employer was, by its own senior lawyer David Avery.
It was he who suggested that Artists of Ampilatwatja's "remedies lay elsewhere", that is within the authority of the directors of Sandover.Three days later those remedies were successfully applied.
Mr Avery failed, however, in a bid to have the substantive claim – concerning the allegations of "unconscionable conduct" used in obtaining Eileen Bonney's signature – struck out with respect to the Central Land Council.
Judge Sally Thomas said she was "not prepared" to do that "at this time".
The CLC itself is not mentioned in the statement of claim.
Lawyer for Artists of Ampilatwatja, Edward Sinoch, suggested the CLC's role was "vicariously" associated with Mr Prowse's actions because the CLC is his employer.
"I presume he was directed by his employer," said Mr Sinoch."I've heard nothing to suggest this was not the case."To which Mr Avery replied, "It was not the case, if we are having evidence from the bar table."
The Central Land Council did not take up the Alice News' offer to comment on these developments.

The NT health department is muzzling nurses prepared to speak about petrol sniffing.
The Alice News, doing research for a report about the effect of the Territory's new substance abuse legislation, rang a nurse working for the department in a bush community where sniffing is currently endemic.
She said she would talk to us but first needed to obtain permission from her manager.
The News rang her, Michelle Evison-Rose, who said we would need to talk to Carrie Barlow.
Her answering service announced that she was unavailable and suggested to ring Tim Pigot, the department's media spokesman.
We left two messages for Mr Pigot on Friday last week but he did not return our calls, and no permission to speak could be obtained on behalf of the nurse.
Director of the Council for Remote Area Nursing (CRANA), Rod Wyber-Hughes, when asked for a comment, said the nurses had a clause in their contract prohibiting them from talking to the media without permission.
Mr Wyber-Hughes says on the one hand, ill-considered comment could harm efforts to combat sniffing.
But on the other "it is incredibly important that remote area nurses have an avenue to tell their story, in a constructive way.
"The government wants to control information, manage the profile of the problem.
"But we have a right to a view, so that we can put forward real proposals, rather than a guarded approach."
Mr Wyber-Hughes says nurses are in a prime position to talk about the "horrendous effects of sniffing.
"They can tell the story in a factual and constructive manner."
Aboriginal communities are generally safe, but when sniffing takes hold it is dangerous to "venture out at night on your own". For that reason CRANA no longer supports single nurse posts.

"Mooting" is not debating, it's making legal argument on a hypothetical case.And mooting is what three Year 12 Legal Studies students from Alice Springs are jolly good at, according to law professors from Queensland's Bond University.
Megan Bobos, Alex Willick and Asta Hill (pictured), all from St Philip's College, trumped their South Australian opponents in the regional round of Bond University's mooting competition.
The competing schools in Adelaide were Emmanuel College, Prince Alfred College, Glenunga International High School, St Peters College, Walford Anglican School for Girls and Blackwood High. Ironically, SA will now be represented by the Alice girls in the national round in July.
The case they argued concerned a woman, victim of sex abuse in a government-run orphanage, who had disrupted parliament, and obstructed and assaulted police. Among their arguments they referred to freedom of political comment provided by our constitution, which gave the woman lawful justification to disrupt parliament.
The girls say they were judged on their ability to refer to facts in the law, the logical presentation of their case and their ability to answer questions on their feet. They could be interrupted and questioned at any time during their presentations.
Teacher Leslie Tilbrook and Alice solicitor Tony Whitelum, of the firm Morgan Buckley, helped prepare the girls for their win.
Alex Willick was named Outstanding Advocate for the region overall.
Victory at the national round – to be held at the Gold Coast, all expenses paid – would gain all three students a half scholarship to Bond University.

Ararrtye is an Arrernte word for drought. It is a time when all is not just dry, but excessively so. All of the land but for the springs and longest-lasting deep soakages, and deep shade-protected rock-hole waters, is dry. Hot winds blow, and dust-storms come.
Any dry time can become a drought, and Aborigines appear to have had similar perceptions to all Australians who have come to have a love and some understanding of the land.
A dry spell was nothing unusual, and could be for several months of any year. A drought required about two years of well below average rains; a bad drought some three to five years; a severe drought perhaps five to ten years; and an extreme drought longer still. No-one living in Australia today, and doubtfully anyone in the last 230 years, has experienced an extreme drought.
Throughout Australia all of the different Indigenous groups had words for drought. The Diari of the eastern flank of Lake Eyre had as evocative an expression as anyone – Pariwilpa mokarina warai, "The heavens have turned to bone". They also had a term pitaru tiri, a "severe drought", when many people died.
The first record of a severe drought in central Australia is a brief record by Frank Gillen, a famous early postal official who lived in Alice Springs and Charlotte Waters from 1875-1901.
He was told by the oldest people that, when they were children, the only water for everyone living in a radius of 15 kilometres from Alice Springs was a "little soakage" at Simpson's Gap. On the basis of the estimated age of his oldest Arrernte friends, and on circumstantial evidence from elsewhere, the year was probably 1839.
An extreme drought may last have occurred in about the 1770s. T. G. H. Strehlow was told of one which had occurred long before the birth, in about1856, of his Northern Arrernte friend, Old Gurra.
The time was dry and bitterly cold, with many mornings of frost, and many of the old people were suffering from arthritis. The oldest custodian of the great Sun Totem Centre, who was himself greatly suffering, decided to do something about it. He and other custodians paid respect by correctly approaching the site, then he rubbed the sacred sun stones. The severe frosts ceased, and the warm weather came. However, it became hotter and hotter, and thereafter, although there were days of rain in every year, the years passed without real relief.
At the commencement of the drought the water-birds which could sense the changes had flown away to permanent waters far beyond Central Australia. Those birds which had remained had stopped breeding, and concentrated about the waterholes where, because they simply had to drink every day, they were easy prey.
The grasses and shrubs withered, yellowed and blackened. There were no bush bananas, yelka bulbs or other vegetable and fruits.
Witchetty bushes became dormant and many died, so that witchetty grubs became rarities where once they had been plentiful. The cicadas stopped singing, and a generation of children grew to be teenagers without ever having heard them.
Trees became brittle, and with every gust of wind, showers of leaves fell. Great dust-storms became a regular occurrence, so that the people with access to deep, cool rock-shelters retreated to them.
Those who relied on deep soakages at run-off points from the sloping stony hill-sides had to daily keep scooping the sand out to get to water, then daily covering them over to stop evaporation. So exhausting was the work that it could only be done once in the early morning, sufficient water being carried back to the shaded family camps to last the day.
All people constantly tightened hair-string belts, not only because they were losing condition, but because a tightened belt eased hunger-pangs. Mingulpa native tobacco leaves, which helped keep the mouth moist, were no longer available to mix with soft white ashes and ease feelings of thirst.
There came a time when, with the shade temperatures 45-50 degrees in the ranges, and 60 degrees in the Simpson Desert and about Lake Eyre, many of the remaining birds simply fell dead from their shaded roosting places. Skinny emus staggered in the mirages and fell like feather dusters. Kangaroos and euros became weaker and weaker and died in thousands.
Almost all other animals stopped breeding and died too, even the reptiles. The prized echidnas, plentiful in the range country retreats when first the people arrived, were almost hunted out.
Nearly all old people and nearly all children, and anyone who sickened, died. Surviving family members made shallow sorry cuts, the death-wails were thin and short-lived, and the graves were shallow.
Whole groups who had stayed at long-lasting "never fail" waters that now did fail, perished. A few of the strongest people from other groups who were similarly caught out, survived by having a last drink at the last of the failing water, then walking great distances in the moonlight.
Those who dropped during the walk accepted that they could not be assisted, and died alone. Only the scavenging crows and ribbed dingoes dined well, and even their numbers were constantly falling.
Now the people rested in the shade as long as possible to conserve energy. Surviving children were buried in cool hollows dug beneath the large horizontal roots of red-gum trees and coolibahs. The women's reproductive potential shut down under the stress.
The rain-makers watched for signs of rain, like puffs of cloud or changed activities by ants, but their songs remained unsung.
Everyone, even those whose feet had been toughened by 60 years and more of walking bare-footed, required bark sandals if they needed, for any reason at all, to walk on the burning sand after mid-morning.
At such times they also used coolamons, the hollowed wooden containers normally used for water or food carrying, and sheets of bark, as head protection to prevent sun-stroke.
The knowledge of the oldest people who had previously experienced droughts now became important for the survival of all. They had determined the timing of departure from failing rock-holes, and led the way through the dry whirliwind lands to the last great permanent drought refuge waters, such as Simpson's Gap, Ellery Gorge, Glen Helen (which totally dried on the surface, but retained soakage water), Running Waters on the Finke, the springs of the George Gill Range out Watarrka (Kings Canyon) way, and Dalhousie Springs.
The truly great waters, like Dalhousie Springs, were the last great fall-back waters for people from as far west as the Musgrave Ranges, south of Uluru, and for 150 kilometres in every direction.
All of the country in the vicinity of these great waters also acted as food reserves, for no-one hunted or gathered in their vicinity in conventional years. And at the slightest rain-fall, visible as a flicker of lightning and a distant narrow sky curtain, the old men and women read where it had occurred, and knew which claypans and rock-holes would have been replenished.
They chose two of the fittest young men, gave them a large drink of water, and sent them out to check the situation. If, after three days, no signal came, the death-wail quavered in the brittle air.
Mostly, though, at least one of the young men "made it" to a water, drank sparingly, fired a large area of dry spinifex to provide an instant smoke signal, and then carried water back to his exhausted companion.
The smoke, visible over 60 kilometres and more, affirmed the old peoples' perception, and everyone moved out to places such as the Ooraminna Rock-hole and Rainbow Valley. There they survived for a time, but the drought was relentless, and soon they had to fall back to the main ranges and their permanent waters again.
Normally some rain would have fallen there too, allowing a brief replenishment of the great waters and some of the more peripheral ones, prompting many of the dormant plants to reinvigorate, and the vast seed-banks to provide a greening of the land.Caterpillars, tadpoles and frogs in thousands provided nutritious food, then the remaining birds, lizards and snakes which had fed upon them and instantly bred, provided more food.
Bustards arrived to feed on the Solanum bushes grape-like fruits, and for a brief time there were these "bush turkeys" to eat, and the now relatively rare breeding kangaroos, euros, rock wallabies, emus and other game animals. There was again the strength to dig for yams and honey-ants, and there were "greens" such as bush banana flowers and fruit to savour.
And then the heavens turned to bone again. Hot winds blew and the recently fired country, prepared by deliberate and substantially controlled burning to receive the next rains, lifted as dust.
To the Diari the distant Simpson Desert, home of the Wangkanguru, became Miljiwoldra again, the end of their known world, from which woldra "hot" winds blew and milji "red" dust-storms came.
Most of the Wangankuru had retreated from the heart of the desert to the surrounding country, their affiliations through the Dreaming lines and inter-marriage allowing them access to places like Dalhousie Springs, to which Arabana from the south, Southern Arrernte from the north, and Antekarinya and Yankantjatjarra from the west also came.
The numerous springs there allowed separate camps, and spread the load on the waters and the land.
All people ranged to the limits out from the waters early in the drought, but gradually even the strongest long-striders ranged less and less. They "vacuumed" the country of conventional food supplies, and were reduced to true starvation foods – the occasional hoarded seed-storages in caves or pits; seeds that ants had gathered or which birds had left in their droppings about rock-holes; termites in their rock-hard homes; the hard last-choice seeds that required greater preparation, and therefore greater energy expended, than other seeds to be made into small dampers; totally dessicated bush raisins that could be ground to dust and mixed with water to make a paste; the pounded inner bark of kurrajongs and certain other trees; processional caterpillars that, if not singed of their hair, caused a swelling of the throat and death through choking suffocation; and the occasional crevice-dwelling lizard. Flies in their thousands were a constant pest.
While the women did most of this work, the men resurrected their childhood and intermittently used skills at seed-grinding and complemented the women's work, and caught even the smallest birds such as wrens.
These birds were not generally hunted because they were so very small and relatively few in number that they never provided more than a very tiny snack.
Men and boys alike hunted the flocks of Zebra Finches, though, for their numbers were, at first, considerable.
Mountain Devil lizards, normally regarded as friends, became edible morsels.
However, the important times for the men were the bright moonlit nights when lean and wary rock wallabies and possums came out to feed. The hunters, lying in wait at the animals' feeding places, were able to see the animals well enough to accurately throw clubs and spears.
Any animal not instantly killed was tracked early the next morning, when there was still a semblance of coolness. After cooking them and eating all flesh and edible internal organs, bones were cracked open to extract the smallest amounts of marrow; and skin and bony cartilage was pounded until it was edible.
It may well have been at this time that Darana, the great leader of the Diari, led large numbers of starving people, many of whom died, from drying waterhole to drying waterhole. It was his exhortations, and rain-making ability when all seemed doomed, which led to him being called the Drought-Breaker.
When the Extreme Drought finally broke in about 1780, the parched earth drank it in, and because there was virtually no grass to hold any water, it sluiced off the rocky hill-sides and rocky ground of the catchment areas.
All of the rivers instantly ran bankers, then overflowed their banks. The rushing waters, for days unable to escape through the gaps and gorges as in normal floods, backed up and flooded vast areas of land.
All of present-day Alice Springs, as high as Larapinta Drive at Araluen, was inundated. The local people, now all reed-thin from living for so long on starvation rations, or pot-bellied in the case of the starving children, sought safety on the high ridges of the MacDonnell Ranges. They built waterproof shelters of branches and spinifex tussocks, and though they kept fires burning, had to cluster together to stop shivering.
They still suffered from the limited food, even after they were able to return to the valleys and plains, for it takes time for the plant-foods to burgeon again, and for birds and other animals to breed. However, floods are a different story.
The old custodians of the Sun Centre never again rubbed the sacred sun stones. Their power was too great.

Select References: Gillen in Mulvaney, Morphy and Petch, 1997; Reuther 1981; Spencer and Gillen, 1899; Strehlow, 1970, 1971; Tindale 1974.

NEXT: Between that extreme drought of the postulated 1770s and the severe drought of about 1837-1840s, with 1839 an unusually hot, dry year, it can reasonably be assumed that there were several other dry years. There was also, almost certainly, one further bad or severe drought in about 1810.
What evidence do we have of droughts since European-descent Australians came to the Centre?

The town council's controversial Civic Centre, now 25 per cent complete, is progressing on time and on budget, according to CEO Rex Mooney.
Payments from its total budget of $10.2m, of which $5m has been borrowed, correspond to its progress.
"There are no overruns," says Mr Mooney.
The budget includes a contingency figure of $321,000, of which to date the project has called on only $55,839.
"Ground works are normally where overruns could occur," says Mr Mooney, "and we are past that point."
The expenditure is having "no impact" on "any council project".
Council has done a three-year projection on rates and forecasts rises only in line with CPI.
The Civic Centre is due for completion in April 2006.
Interested residents were taken on tours of the site last Friday.
The new works have doubled the footprint of buildings, from 1350 to 2700 square metres.
This raises an interesting question: Given that only half the building is new, and the projected cost is $10m, the cost per square metre is $7407.
That is more than seven times the normal housing construction cost of $1000 per square metre.
One third of the total space is for community use, says council engineer Henry Szczypiorski – a 400 square metre gain.
This is largely accounted for by greater capacity in both the new Garden Room and the new ablution block.
The site will have 101 sealed carparks
However, only 40 of these will be for the public (including the existing five at the library). That will leave 61 car parks for staff.
On paper the building design earned a "green star rating of five – an Australian excellence level" for energy efficiency, says Mr Szczypiorski.
Going against the trend, there will be no refrigerated air-conditioning, except in the computer area.
Untreated bore water will be used for irrigation and toilet flushing as well as cooling and heating.
The 25 degree all year round temperature of the bore water makes it three times more efficient for this purpose than the town water supply.
It will be drawn from the northern end of the site, used as a heating or cooling medium through a conventional piped chiller system, and returned to the aquifer at the southern end of the site, at a temperature of approximately 10 degrees in summer and 30 degrees in winter.VENTILATIONThe administration building will utilise a secondary underfloor ventilation system supplemented by a moisture barrier to increase the cooling effect.
This underfloor labyrinth cooling system is activated through the creation of a high temperature ceiling void that will generate the convection currents necessary to draw cooler air upwards from the floor vents connecting into the underfloor labyrinth.
On hotter days the powered chiller system will cut in.
All sorts of inbuilt monitors and sensors will assist in maximum energy conservation, says Mr Szczypiorski.
Data will be collected about the building's water and power usage as well as its functionality and will be made available to a "green star committee", which will include a cross section of staff.
The committee will monitor the building's operational issues, allowing for adjustment if necessary, and report regularly to council on the effectiveness of the design features.
What will be done (and who will pay) if the design isn't effective is not something council is articulating.

Nothing has changed in 17 years. The same décor, the same menu, the same people – a little older, maybe, just as friendly.
In an age of make-overs of every kind, La Casalinga goes against the flow.
Proprietors Michael and Anna-Lisa Geppa would love to renovate but "the customers wouldn't stand for it".
"This is an institution.
"It's where many of our customers had their first date or met their wife. They want it to stay just as it is."
The key to its success is consistency, Michael (pictured at right) says, in atmosphere and food.
He describes his mother-in-law as the best cook in the universe, yet she's never read a cookbook in her life.
"It's just good basic Italian food.
"One day I found a note on a table from a lady who lived in Melbourne. That's the capital of Australia for Italians.
"It said, ‘I can't get Italian food like this in Melbourne'. That was the best compliment.
"Personality comes into it too.
"It's not plastic here, it's personal, and Alice Springs is still a personal town.
"It's nice to go into a shop and be greeted personally."
It's a winning recipe. Two thirds of La Casalinga's customers are regulars. When Michael's parents-in-law, Ferdinando and Teresa Ozimo, first bought the business it was the reverse.
The regulars range "from one of Alice Springs' top lawyers to the river blackfeller".
"They come in and say ‘the usual'. We know what they eat. It makes them feel special.
"The blackfellers are no trouble. We treat them like human beings, we don't rip them off.
"They think I'm crazy but they know I'll look after them."
There are interstate regulars too: the Adelaide 37 Baseball Club, Holden test drivers – before the old ones leave, they bring in the new ones to introduce them.
There's a lady from Darwin who comes down three days a week. She stays next door at the Diplomat and eats at La Casalinga every night.
Some regulars sit at the same table every time they come, and there are some for whom that's every night of the week.
"Half of my job is PR," says Michael, who started at La Casalinga waiting on tables. His father-in-law then taught him to make pizzas but, says Michael, "I don't just give people pizzas, I give them an experience".
That goes a long way. Michael tells the story of a German businessman, who'd been told by a friend, "If you go to Australia, you've got to go to Alice Springs to eat pizza".
"He came, just for one night and ate my pizza. Didn't even go to Ayers Rock!"
Michael knows he's got a good product. Fridays are "mayhem": "I tell them there's a one hour wait, they say, ‘No worries, see you in an hour'.
"If it was me, I'd go home and make a toasted sandwich.
"I can't remember a quiet Friday. Either it's busy or busier.
"But there's been a culture change – 15 years ago we'd be open till 1am. People would get on the turps and then go for pizza.
"Now people eat first, and we close around 11.30, 12.
"That's good, I'm too old now to put up with drunk idiots."He did in his time, though.
"Pizza bars attract trouble simply because they're open late. We've had our fair share of incidents, 95 per cent of them fuelled by grog. That always makes people bigger and stronger.
"But I don't put up with dickheads, they can go elsewhere.
"I've earnt people's respect, and word gets around."
Until two and a half years ago, La Casalinga was open seven days a week.
"I guess the kids are restaurant kids," says Michael of his daughter, Bianca, and two sons, Anthony and Daniel.
"I can remember my daughter at three years of age, standing on a milk crate, rolling out pizzas. The boys have done it too.
"It'll give them some work ethic when they get older."
Now the family close the restaurant on Sundays and public holidays.
"It's a huge thing for us," says Michael, "we have dinner at home, like real families do."

4,000 calories a day, six litres of water in a training session and 27 hours of running, swimming and cycling a week. Meet Alice Springs' very own Ironman!
To become an Ironman you have to complete a sort of super triathlon – a 3.8km open water swim (no heated pools for these tough guys), a 180.2km bike ride – often over hilly terrain, and finish off with a Marathon-length run of 42.2km.
There are competitions held across Australia and the world, and in Alice Springs there are currently eight men who have achieved this ultimate challenge – probably the highest number in Australia for a place of this size.
Rob Manning is 47 and has done three Ironmen competitions. He's lived in Alice Springs for 33 years. "I joined the triathlon club here after I gave up being a judo instructor and a friend suggested I try triathlon. I did one in 2003 in Katherine Gorge and qualified for the Ironman in Foster Tuncurry in New South Wales for the following year."
Since then, Rob has competed in another Ironman in Bussleton, Western Australia, and returned to Foster three weeks ago to take part in his third race. His best time is 12 hours and 23 minutes.
To even enter into this ultimate endurance event, Rob has to complete a long course triathlon of a 2km open water swim, a 60km bike ride and then a 16km run!
Rob trains with six other Ironmen in Alice Springs, Tavis Johansen, Dean Nankivell, Tim Pearson, Tony McCutchins, Terry Nichols and Matt Sampson. They usually start training at 4.30am (doing an 80km bike ride before breakfast) to beat the heat – and fit in around their full-time jobs (Rob is an area manager for an insurance company).
"Leading up to an Ironman we train up to 27 hours a week, alternating between swimming, running and cycling. In a swim week I'll do four or five swimming sessions, that's around 12km. In a run week I'll run 50 to 70km and still cycle around 280km, and in a bike week I'll cycle up to 350km. I also do a weights session each week and lots of stretching.
"By 8.30pm I'm ready for bed!
"Each fortnight I'll try to organise a day off but it doesn't always happen."
Training for an endurance event like Ironman, which on average takes 12 and a half hours to complete, demands mental as well as physical training. "You have to be surrounded by positive people when you're training so hard. Without my wife's support I couldn't do it. Every so often she flips her wig over how much training I do and that's justified. I have to make sure we always spend quality time together. She helps me so much.
"In the race it's the bike part that's the hardest time to keep your mental state – if you let your mind drift your speed starts to drop off. You have to be so aware of your pace and how you're doing – your speed, how many pedal revolutions you're doing per minute, the total time elapsed for the race and your heart rate.
"The first time I experienced mental difficulties was in Foster this year when I didn't eat enough in the bike section – I didn't take extra salt tablets, and I bombed in the run. I could see a bridge ahead of me that I had to cross and it was only 2km away but I thought I wouldn't make it."
But Rob kept going and did make it – and he says the situation is something he can learn from.
It's hard to imagine after burning off all that energy, but Rob says eating enough food is a problem for many Ironmen. "When I'm in full training mode I can eat anything I like but you get to a point where you don't want to eat and have to force yourself to. I program my watch so it beeps every 15 minutes so I know have to drink or eat something!"
Rob takes to work with him bananas, fruit bars, fruit cake, special sports carbohydrate gels, peanut butter sandwiches and sports powerbars of a carbohydrate and sugar mix – as well as his normal lunchtime sandwich! He also drinks over three litres of fluids a day.
In a training session he gets through seven powerbars plus water, sports drinks (known as isotonic drinks) and flat cola. "Being able to drink enough is a big issue – on a seven hour bike ride when you're working at 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate it's impossible to get enough fluids, especially in the summer when it's so hot."The Ironmen athletes also have to eat during the actual race. "Just before the start of the swimming race, I'll eat a packet of what we call goo – it's a concentrated carbohydrate liquid," explains Manning.
"When it's time for the bike race, we call it a six-hour lunch break because that's the time when you put as much food into your body as you can – it's hard to eat on the swim or run parts of the race. I would eat 2,000 calories – enough food a normal person would need for a whole day.
"I eat a sludge mix which is seven goos, three bananas, honey, protein powder and soya milk. That's enough food for five hours." What does it taste like? "Very sweet, it gets to the stage when it's too sweet – by the end of the day you're looking for something that isn't sugar-based.
"In the race they give out ‘special needs bags' for people who want something other than sugary carbohydrates. I've heard of people who ask for McDonald's hamburgers and packets of chips! At the end of the race, the food tent is full of pasta dishes – a totally different taste from the food we've been eating for the rest of the day. Still, most people go for the fruit salad and ice cream!"
So after a long, hard training session, can an Ironman relax with a couple of beers? "Why would you do all this exercise if you can't have the fun things?" laughs Rob.
"A couple of men I train with don't drink alcohol, but I still like to enjoy the better things in life. In the last few weeks before a race I do cut it out completely though."
Apart from the huge weekly food shopping bills, being an Ironman is an expensive business. Rob's bike costs a whopping $8,000 (and his is ‘only' mid-range – they can cost up to $15,000), a helmet costs up to $500, plus bike shoes are $500 a pair, trousers $75 and a jersey is $75. His bike is also fitted with a state-of-the-art computer. Rob's wetsuit for the swim part of the race cost him $600 – and he gets through three pairs of $300 runners every year.
"I wrecked my bike this year by falling off it at the velodrome. I was devastated about the bike! I threw my neck out and had to go to the chiropractor for three or four visits. But I don't get many injuries, even though I'm older than a lot of the guys I train with.
"Because I've been involved in sport for my whole life, my body is used to being put under pressure. I have massages for my knees every so often and I had to visit the chiropractor last year with a jarred back to get it realigned."
So how does Alice Springs produce such a high number of Ironmen – especially when athletes are limited by facilities, such as the town pool which is closed for four months?
"The triathlon club here bends over backwards to help you achieve what you want to achieve," says Rob."For my cycling, Kim Hansen, an Australian champion who lives here, takes time out for me to suggest new techniques.
"It's the same with running – people share so much knowledge with you.
"For a triathlon club of our size, we have more Ironmen than any other club in Australia I reckon. I think our enthusiasm rubs off on others.
"You come back from an event and you start talking to people and you're so excited about what you've achieved. There's a new fellow in town who is going to do an Ironman now after talking to us about it!
"Doing an Ironman is one of the greatest things you can do in your life and in Australia probably only 15,000 people have had that feeling.
"You do all this training and on the day of the race you know you can do it.
"You start in the semi dark and finish when the sun has gone down but all day you're having a great time.
"When you're running down the last 200m of the race and thousands of people are yelling and calling your name you get the biggest rush of your life. It's truly amazing.
"I'm doing another Ironman in New South Wales next year and my ultimate aim is to qualify for Hawaii, the biggest Ironman in the world."

Greatorex candidates Fran Kilgariff and Richard Lim are locking horns over trees in the Eastside and over Aboriginal town camps.
Dr Lim, the sitting Member, says the Mayor and his Labor opponent is "misguided, offensive and divisive" in her attempt to scrap the camps.
He is backed by Tangentyere Council, a support NGO for the camps, which says it will continue its "strong partnership" with the town council and "abolition of town camps is not on the agenda".
Dr Lim says while much needs to be improved in the living areas, they should be reformed rather than abolished.
He says the camps should provide "safe, lawful and hygienic conditions" for bush people coming to town, and provide a transition to town living.
"What the Mayor is saying is that she wants to have the residents of all the town camps in Alice Springs transferred to homes in the suburbs or be sent out of town.
"Neither option makes any sense.
"Land titles to these town camps were handed over to Tangentyere Council, whose role has evolved over the years as the manager of services for all town camps.
"The Country Liberal Party (CLP) stands proudly by the decision to create living areas where people are provided with an environment that is mid-way between their bush homes and mainstream urban living."
Dr Lim is also accusing Ms Kilgariff of being ill informed about the fate of trees in the Old Eastside, in the event of power cables being undergrounded.
Ms Kilgariff says in a flier that she will "never stand by and allow our trees to be removed" and claims the CLP had misleadingly suggested that PowerWater would be cutting down 1400 trees.
She says the CLP had "refused" to underground power liners for 27 years and their current plans were "unfunded and unbelievable".
Ms Kilgariff says rather than "scaremongering" she supports "an affordable plan to underground our power lines".
Dr Lim, quoting from a town council report, counters it was Ms Kilgariff's own town council that dealt with the question of cutting down trees in May 2002, and under what circumstances that should occur, including risk to the public from sick trees.
Most of the trees were saved by public pressure – including his own initiatives, says Dr Lim.
And he had asked PowerWater for a costing in May 2003 of the undergrounding in the Old Eastside, and Essential Services Minister Chris Burns had requested PowerWater to find the money.
Dr Lim says PowerWater gave him a figure which he will release when the election is called. In any case the cost is reasonable and the project will proceed if the CLP wins the election.

A local man has asked Amoonguna community to pay for $1300 worth of damage to his ute after it was found abandoned there two weeks ago.
Paul Simmons, 58, had his Ford Falcon XS, a 1990 model, stolen on the night of Friday 15 April. It was parked in Aneura Place between 11.30pm and 8am while he was visiting a friend.
After reporting the incident to the police he offered a $500 reward for information on the whereabouts of his car.
"I've been here [in Alice Springs] for close onto 40 years and know most of the people here so I asked around and did all the groundwork.
"I spoke to the president of Amoonguna community and the fella there told me where it was. I borrowed a friend's car and drove to White Gate – there's a back road to Amoonguna and they had been tearing backwards and forwards on that road.
"When I got to Amoonguna my ute was sitting in those old army sheds there, east of the oval.
"All the windows were broken and there was only one wheel. The tailgate was smashed and underneath the boot the area for the spare wheel was all jacked open.
"Through hearsay I know the names of the chaps who took it – it was young fellas from Amoonguna who came in for the football carnival that weekend."
Mr Simmons says he had to borrow $120 for the car to be brought back into town, and another $120 for it to be towed to Territory Wrecking.
He has requested that Amoonguna contribute to the estimated $1300 cost of having his ute fixed.
"I'd like them to accept some responsibility and chip in to get it fixed. They knew the car was there in the community. This sort of thing is happening too often.
"I'm absolutely devastated.
"I'm only on a carer's pension – my son has got schizophrenia – and the car is the only way to get to the hospital."
The Alice News contacted Amoonguna Council and a spokesperson said they won't compensate Mr Simmons: "The council can't be held responsible for the theft of any vehicle or the actions of individuals [living on the community].
"The council went out of its way to find and recover his vehicle."
Mr Simmons says he would like to thank Territory Wreckers for helping him through the ordeal: "I thought I would be three or four weeks without a car but Territory Wrecking has fixed it in a week.
"It was a bloody wreck when I took it in to be fixed but it's marvellous they've worked on it so quickly."

When a team leads by 37 points at three quarter time and a draw is the result, then it can be assumed that the crowd got their money's worth.
On Saturday night, however, the clash between West and Federal had the comeback factor and plenty more in the 20.6 (126) to 19.12 (126) spectacle.
Earlier the standard was set when South accounted for Pioneer 14.19 (103) to 11.15 (81)in a typical Roos versus Eagles encounter where not an inch was given and entwined in the clash came a count of players. South survived the protest from Pioneer and went on to claim the day.
The Federal side took to reigning premiers like a slick machine from the first bounce and to their credit, West were able to match every strategy employed. In the goal scoring zone the Feds had Martin Patrick in electric form and with the advantage of winning the rucks, they were able to engage their running players to have him boot three goals for the term.Dave Atkinson also proved his worth early with two goals and Ryan Thomson made up the six scored for the quarter.In the Westies camp the drive came as expected from Mark Bramley and Kevin Bruce who shared responsibilities in the forward zone with Bruce producing three goals and singles going to Bramley, Danny Measures and Scott Taylor. At the break the Bloods held sway by a mere two points, and with 12 goals registered for the term it was no place for the faint hearted.The game continued in nip and tuck fashion in the second term, with West taking a three point lead in to the change rooms at half time, 9.7 to 9.4.
The premiership quarter however was seized and exploited by Federal. Out of the centre bounce Sheldon Palmer drove his side deep into attack where Atkinson and Reece Kernan made every post a winner, booting four goals and three respectively.
The lightning fast Ralph Turner came down from the wing to post a six pointer and Brenton Forrester sealed the nine goal session with a major.
West only managed to respond through Kevin Bruce and Ben Hux with a goal a piece. At oranges the score sat at 18.4 to 11.9.
The game to all intents and purposes was declared over by even diehard West supporters.From the first bounce of the last term, however, the momentum flowed West's way.
Hux, who had battled all day, came into his own across half forward. Bramley and Bruce reasserted their authority and the goals flowed.While Federal were left wondering what had happened to their insurmountable lead, West scored eight goals, three coming from the boot of Hux.In the dying minutes both sides had the chance to secure victory, but the final result was a fair outcome for a game that was fast, intense and skilful.West had the fleet of foot Zac Neck and Zac Taylor Smith; the never say die Michael Gurney and Mick Hauser; and the big boys Bruce and Bramley prominent all game.For Federal, Dale Coret, Aaron Hogan and Andrew Turrell were dominant. Atkinson (seven goals) and Patrick were invaluable, and Sheldon Palmer played a pearler.
The early game may not have had the close finish, but certainly was a game to enthral the purist. The first half proved to be a battle of wits with both sides having 14 scoring shots prior to the big break, Pioneer more accurate with 7.7 as opposed to 6.8.
South's 6.6 in the third term was telling as Pioneer only responded with 3.3. Furthermore, by kicking 2.5 as opposed to 1.7 both teams' accuracy played a part in the result.
Gilbert Fishook was again an inspiration in front of goals.
He booted four, while Daryl Ryder continued to show form with three goals. Shaun Cusack again played the key role as the dominating big man, and impressive performances came from Andrew Cox, Curtis Haines and Clayton Cruse.In the Pioneer camp the youngsters stood up to be counted. Donald Mallard, David Gavin, and Bradley Campbell were impressive. Graeme Smith and Karl Hampton again steadied the ship, and provided the leadership qualities of wise old men, while the name Warren Beaton appeared on the team sheet, and the spirited sprinter put in a solid performance.
This weekend the now traditional City versus Country game will be staged, with club football having a week's break.

From youngsters barely out of their nappies through to balding diehards, fans of the round ball game invade Ross Park on Saturdays and Sundays.
Some of the best football on the weekend was played at Under 14 level. The three all draw played between Vikings and Memo White was a game to remember. Vikings had the McGrath lads, Nathan and Peter, in full stride and sharing prominence with Daniel Spick and Damon Jarrett. In opposition Cory Mostran, Tom Clake and Ben Fisher were putting in for Memo, while goals went the way of Taylor Tilbrook, Sandor Guggisburg and Victor Fisher.
In the other match in this division Celtic went down to Scorpions, 2-5. Chris Dos Santos was best for Celtic, while he and Tilman Lowe scored. In the Scorpions camp, it was Elliott McBride with a hat trick and Lachlan Farquharson with two, who put the score on the board. Down field Rainer Chlanda was the most valuable player, with Ben Barry and Ethan Scobie assisting in the win.
While the juniors are showing the benefit of a class development officer, Willy Devlin, the A Graders should be taking notice of the way the juniors behave.
For the Scorpions it was a dark Sunday as they received a minimum of four red cards in their 1-1 draw with Vikings. James Goreman and Gess Gollotta each netted goals, but the game sank to low levels thanks to players simply not able to face up to role model responsibilities when they pull on a jersey.
In the other A Grade fixture Verdi ran away with the game, downing Federal 4-0. Gavin Mundz slotted two goals, and singles went to Ben Adami and Grant Allen.
In B Grade Buckleys staged a display of controlled football to enjoy a 5-1 win over Thorny Devils. In other games Federals prevailed over Busy bees 3-0, with Chris Clements scoring a double and Clancy Scollay a single. Scorpions defeated ASFA, 2-0, and Dragons had a 2-2 draw with Vikings.
The skill of Kathy Fethers and Tania Beattie came to the fore when in C Grade they overcame the Vikings 2-1, with Col Petit putting the score on the board for Vikings.
At Colts level Vikings and Celtic fought out a 2-2 draw. Players of note were Shaun Reilly, Gerry Shadforth, Joel Goldring and Daniel Erickson.
The Under 12 competition has The Tigers as a team of naturals with endless pace skill and an ability to meld as a team. They featured in their division with a 4-0 win over Scorpions.
Dion Neal and Gary Turner each netted two goals, while Bevan Meal for Tigers and Daniel McCormick for Scorpions caught the eye.
In the other Under Age games scores are not kept but several players had a great game. Jayden Dick, Mark Robertson, Bodhi White, Angus Tuckwell, James Harback, Tiegan Lyman, Nicholas Smull, David Crowe, Paul Roberts, James Lelliott, Jackson Corona, Jacob Porto, Drew Howard, Poppy Dutton Waterford, Peter Lowley, and Evan Crawford enjoyed their run on the park.

The winter racing season in Alice is a time for horses who have not enjoyed the laurels of the carnival to pay their way, with Saturday's four event card illustrating the point.
In the 1600 metre Paul Denton Handicap, Chigwidden was able to claim victory. Back on Cup Day the four year old gelding carted 58 kilograms to pick up a third place cheque. This week was a different story as it had the benefit of a handicapped weight of 53 kg plus the two kg claim for apprentice Matt Hart.
Chigwidden jumped and led without pressure as the other horses, bred for staying, remained back and off the pace. On the turn Chigwidden kicked and established a three to four length lead before going to the post a winner by two and a half lengths. Not Abandoned and Solario both raced well back in the field and so made the job just too difficult for themselves in the run home.
The Sacred Shields Handicap over 1000 metres went to the Norm Bracken trained Tennant Creek galloper, Funtegic. Japanese rider Maki Morita again impressed with a fine display in the saddle. He led on the five year old mare and made every post a winner, going to the line by a length and a half from Conkers and Lyscene. Both minor place getters showed improvement and will no doubt have their chance to score over the coming months.
The Terry Gillett stable then celebrated, with Arouser taking out the Shrewd Ace Class B Handicap over 1200 metres. Arouser sat behind the early leaders Gaelic Dancer and Fiery prospector. By the 500 metre mark Gaelic dancer found the going tough and, while Hot Chilli Woman challenged Fiery Prospector along the rail, Arouser opted for an outside run. The pair swamped Fiery Prospector at the 100 metre mark, with Arouser claiming victory by a nose. Hot Chilli Woman collected the money for second while Fiery Prospector held on for third.
The last of the day, the Terry Gillett Class 4 Handicap over 1200 metres, saw Classic Rainbow rewarded. Ben Cornell settled the five year old mare in third position, while favourite Barry piloted the field. In the straight Classic Rainbow had no trouble claiming Barry and drew away to win by four and a half lengths. Spicy Sound and Celtic Dane each came from midfield to pick up the minor placings.

Sun beats down on humdrum towns. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
Few people in Alice Springs have bad things to say about other towns. Places that seem to me to be mediocre and dull, people describe enthusiastically as attractive locations, sadly just out of reach of our grasping hands.
I reckon they watch too many television travel programs that make every place look glossy and inviting. They could feature my chook pen and have viewers calling up for holiday deals.
There are many examples of this distorted Centralian view of the rest of the country. Coffs Harbour, which is surely named after a throat complaint, is apparently one step short of paradise.
Any satellite town of Perth is supposed to be the epitome of pastures green and sea views blue.
Never-ending corrugated roads in the Kimberley supposedly lead to nature's playground.
If Coffs Harbour was renamed Chokes Armpit, would we feel the same way? Probably yes, given that anywhere else is supposed to be better than here. Most of us would take a day trip to Tennant Creek if we won it in the Dymocks draw.
So while people in the Alice view other towns through rose-tinted wine bottle bottoms, the feeling is not mutual. I have lost count of conversations with folk from other places who do that thing where they check out whether you like Alice Springs before they voice an opinion.
Having established that it is not safe to comment because you're actually fond of the place, they swiftly change the subject to AFL or house prices or they wander back to the barbecue looking for someone with whom they can safely bag the Alice.
Look, my expectations of the place where I live are not high. Once upon a time, on holiday at the seaside, I was caught in a downpour and so ducked into a bookshop for shelter.
Drip-drying while pretending to be a customer, I picked up a guidebook of English places and turned to the entry for my then home town, Rugby.
The first line was, "This is a drab town with no redeeming features". From that high point, the description only worsened.
All experience is relative, so it's not surprising that I have reacted well to Alice Springs. Look around; it has manageable mountains, permanent sunshine, a respite from eight-lane highways, curiosities like rivers in which you can walk and an infectious can-do attitude except on all those days when you can't get anything done. Relative to Drabsville, this was always a big step up for me.
I admit that sometimes it feels like the sun is beating down on a humdrum town, but we have some way to go before we sink to the level of other places I could name. I know towns in which natural light never illuminates the pavements in the main drag and where the shop staff have lost their grip on reality, treating customers like visitors to a zoo.
I have friends from towns that appear to have been levelled by a nuclear device and where finding a bag of hot chips abandoned on a wall is the highest culinary aspiration of most of the population.It is the same everywhere.
I have often gone to sleep dreaming of cycling across the southern states of the USA in search of culture and history, but I know that the experience would be a huge anti-climax.
Instead of blues guitarists sitting on verandahs of rickety small-town houses and waving me by, every place would be a fast food nightmare, its entire history represented by a plaque behind Wal-Mart and a fake historical building resurrected from the building site for a gleaming new mall.
So I console myself in the knowledge that there's no chance of Alice Springs ever ending up that way.
Then I realise that it's already happening.

Why Australians like ostriches. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
This is our five year old's first year at school and she is beginning to learn the National anthem.
The other day while playing outside we heard her singing at the top of her voice, "Australians are all ostriches…for we are young and free…"
She was not making a joke. She is just learning to read and has only learnt bits of the anthem by listening to the other children singing it at assembly and that is what it sounds like to her. That and the fact that she doesn't know what rejoice means yet.
We had a good chuckle about it though, picturing ourselves with our heads in the sand. Politically that does seem to me to be the approach we often go for collectively, although the ‘Australians' I meet in this town are far from stereotypes easily pigeon-holed. I never cease to be positively surprised at how diverse we are in our interests, pursuits and experiences. Alice is like a box of chocolates full of surprises.
A violin teacher who umpires AFL football, a psychiatric nurse and stay-at-home mum planning to tour Australia on a Harley, an electrician who is learning to fly. All real people with normal lives yet everyone is unique and interesting.
This town is full of Australian stories. It gives us opportunities to discover much more about our fellow human beings than we might first imagine. In life, there are no cardboard cut-outs, just rounded characters.
I find that children help me to look at things differently and to discover new worlds as they are discovering the world around them. One of my son's friends noticed an insect he had never seen before while standing outside their class room and it was new to the rest of us as well.Sometimes our existence may seem dull and boring. When you have a bout of flu or are swamped with work commitments, it is difficult to look around and enjoy the discoveries that are to be made everywhere.
But it is often after such a period of self-focus that the mind is starving for stimulation and suddenly sees what was hidden before.Too often we judge ourselves and others on our achievements. We make direct connections between self-worth and what we have achieved financially or in other ways.
Every time we attempt something we may feel that our self-worth is on the line and that it may be easier and less painful to do very little or take less emotional risks by avoiding failure.
But if we look closely at our lives we may well come to realise and appreciate that life's riches consist of experiences and connections we have made with others and not figures on the bank balance. That the silver lining is people.My dad says that there are greater differences between individuals than between men and women. I don't totally agree with that but I think it is important to recognise that we are all different. He also reminds me that it is impossible to totally understand another human being. That may be the case but it is surely worth trying.

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.