HUGE HEALTH THEFT PROBE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
The alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Department of Health in Alice Springs is being investigated by police.
The Alice News has been told by a whistle blower that two employees have obtained the money over a period of time by submitting bogus receipts for accommodation, transport and meals for people travelling to and from Alice Springs, on departmental business.
Last week the department said it would neither confirm nor deny the reports.
But on Monday this week it stated that it had reported the matter to police "as soon as we became aware of it" and it is now subject to an ongoing police investigation.
The News understands the alleged offenders are two women working in the Remote Health section.
The department says further comment would not be made until the investigation is complete.
Meanwhile the new Opposition Leader, Jodeen Carney (Araluen), says a national investigation has found that the Alice Springs and Tennant Creek hospitals are among the 26 worst of 640 surveyed around the nation.
PROOF She says this is "further proof that the Territory Labor Government has been compromising the safety of patients in the Barkly and Central Australia".
Ms Carney says the Australian Council of Healthcare Standards gave the two hospitals "a high priority rating, allocated when patient and or staff care is compromised and there is no evidence of improvement in care since the previous assessment".
The council classified the hospitals as having failed to meet minimum accreditation standards, says Ms Carney.
"The assessments were based on a range of criteria which included patient safety, infection control, quality of equipment and whether there was adequate staffing.
"What guarantees does the Health Minister [Peter Toyne] intend to provide patients that these problems will be fixed within 60 days as is being prescribed?
"If people feel their safety is being put in jeopardy because of the poor rating will the Government now pay to fly these patients interstate?
"Importantly did Minister Toyne know that the two hospitals were among the worst 26 in Australia before the election?"
ELECTION SHOT IN THE ARM FOR ALICE? COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.
The Darwin fuelled Labor victory in the election may well be a blessing in disguise for Alice Springs.
The town swam against the tide no, the tsunami with swings in two seats to the CLP, the only ones in the NT which overall swung by 12 per c ent to the Government.
Alice now won't be getting any favors from Darwin: what we need and want we'll have to fight for.
This may just give the town some focus and tear it out of its lethargy. The town council and peak bodies such as CATIA, Lhere Artepe and the Chamber of Commerce will need to present a determined and united front against a government that will think it owes The Alice nothing.
Post election 2005 the Territory is more divided in at least two respects.
The Darwin vs Alice split is now huge.
And the rural (that's pronounced Aboriginal, by the way) vs urban split is massive: conservative Alice and Katherine are surrounded by Labor electorates.
And, sadly, that's not just a political split, it's a racial one.
So where to from here?
A local wit observed that the Legislative Assembly now has more Aboriginal Members than Country Liberal Party ones, five compared to four, so if the Aborigines had formed a party, they would now be the Opposition.
How can the CLP, half of whose MLAs are in Alice Springs, be a viable Opposition? Can the CLP survive? Many say no.
Two Alice Springs aldermen, Melanie van Haaren and Murray Stewart, are striving for a new "south of the Berrimah Line" party (Alice News, June 22). This week they both said they're in discussion with top CLP figures and others, including contacts in the Top End, one of whom says the new party shouldn't be confined to The Centre.
Some say a "Center Party" isn't a viable option: around half of Alice Springs is still made up of people in transit.
People coming here from "down south" for a couple of years would readily recognize the Liberal Party, if it had a branch here, and vote for it if they've done so before. But newcomers would find a Central Australian party confusing.
Shane Stone, the last successful CLP Chief Minister, and retiring national head of the Liberal Party, will be conducting review (an autopsy?) of the CLP, free of charge.
The Darwin Research Centre (DRC) is a website run by Peter Murphy, the chief minder of all CLP Chief Ministers since self-government, for a quarter of a century, beginning with Paul "Porky" Everingham.
Mr Murphy frequently quotes Mr Stone, who still lives in Darwin, and refers to him as a "research fellow" of the DRC.
Mr Murphy claims Mr Stone has never used his top position in the Liberal Party to promote it in the NT at the expense of the CLP, and is likely to support the revival of the Territory party. We'll see.
One of the fascinating questions is, where did Labor get all the money to run such an expensive campaign? It's rumored to have spent $1.5m, three times the size of the CLP war chest.
The Labor Party branch in Alice Springs is tiny and secretive, owes its time in the sun to its allies in the Top End, and seems to be headquartered in the taxpayer funded Office of Central Australia which the CLP's Richard Lim (Greatorex) calls the incubator for Labor's political hopefuls.
Despite a campaign of unprecedented vigor and expense, massive pork barreling, and Mayor-on-leave Fran Kilgariff as a candidate, Labor lost support in Alice Springs.
This must make its supporters here feel more than a bit odd.
Ms Kilgariff, who's not returning our phone calls, has till Monday to make up her mind whether she'll resume her role as Mayor and her unremarkable local government career, after a message from the majority of voters that she isn't wanted.
Pundits believe she'll get a job in the incubator, being groomed at taxpayers' expense for another shot at an Assembly seat in four years' time. In the Office for Central Australia she'd be joining Karl Hampton, ready to take over Peter Toyne's slot in Stuart maybe even in a by-election quite soon.
The print media has played an interesting role. In Darwin, where the public had the choice between Murdoch, Murdoch and Murdoch (he owns all three papers), the ALP had a landslide.
Down here, where the independent Alice Springs News is in its 12th year of publication (including eight as a robust watchdog over CLP governments), readers got more than government hype.
We debunked Labor claims about the economy; revealed serious allegations with implications for MacDonnell candidate Alison Anderson, now a member of the government, which were taken up by national media; investigated the progress or its lack of touted government projects such as the effluent scheme and the Larapinta housing developments; challenged the government's record on heritage conservation; and asked questions about Desert Knowledge.
We also published the only extensive analysis of the CLP's electricity grid scheme, pointing out not only the failings of the CLP proposal, but also Labor's failure to have an assured energy supply in five years' time when Paln Valley gas, which now drives our generators, will run out. (The Opposition claimed this week that the Martin government during the campaign hid from the voters the fact that gas from the Blacktip field would not be brought ashore.)
This story was immediately taken up by other Territory media, and by the Labor propagandists themselves. In all likelihood our report contributed to Denis Burke's demise.
Would there be any correlation between Murdoch's overt support for Labor, and the government's, as well as the ALP's, massive spending of taxpayers' and party funds with the overseas owned newspaper chain?
After all, the Martin government stands for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, responsible spending of public funds, diversification of media ownership Š all that and more.
Our advertising manager, Daniel McCormick, has raised these issues in an open letter to Ms Martin. No doubt he'll get a reply putting to rest any nasty suspicions.
So far he hasn't.
SPECULATION ABOUT A CLOSE POLL PAID OFF FOR LABOR. COMMENT by ALEX NELSON.
Ideology plays a minor role in contemporary Territory politics; the main difference between the major parties lies with management styles and techniques.
In the election just gone Labor played its cards very well and in virtually the same fashion as the CLP once used to do. Indeed the most striking feature of current NT politics is the almost complete reversal of roles of the two major political parties.
For example, it was Labor that conducted polling of voters during the campaign and tailored its message accordingly; the CLP (apparently) did not.
However, the factor that I believe tipped the balance so firmly and decisively in favour of Labor is one that appears to have been completely overlooked it was Clare Martin's insistence that the result of this campaign would be very close.
This notion put the wind up the sails of Top End and regional (mainly Aboriginal) voters, convincing many that the ALP may be in danger of losing office after merely one term.
This prospect was too much to stomach, and they reacted accordingly.
Strikingly, there is nothing new in this approach; the CLP used exactly the same ploy with devastating effect throughout the 1990s.
It is a technique designed to capture the support of "swinging voters" who only make up their minds at the last moment, and it works like a charm.
I became aware of this in the campaign of 1997, after I read the front-page story "It could be close vote warns Stone" (Centralian Advocate, August 29, 1997) just one day prior to the elections.
The story reported Chief Minister Shane Stone's warning that the election result could be close, and that Labor may pick up its first urban seat in Alice Springs.
The CLP went on to win its second-largest victory, of 18 seats.
The story intrigued me, because I felt sure I had read something similar in earlier campaigns.
I had been very heavily involved in the elections of 1990 (I was one of two CLP candidates for Stuart) and of 1994 (assisting Dr Richard Lim), and so had retained the papers published at the times of those polls.
In 1990 the front-page story "Parties cop election blast" opened with: "Voters in Central Australia go to the polls tomorrow in what is expected to be the closest Territory election since Self-Government" (Centralian Advocate, October 26, 1990); the editorial entitled "Result is vital to our future" warned of the dangers posed by a minority government and hung parliament, and backed the CLP as the best manager for the NT economy.
The warning of a close vote in that election had a good deal of credibility from a peak of 19 seats won in 1983 the CLP had been reduced over two terms to 1990 to the bare minimum of 13 seats required for an absolute majority.
The warning paid off, for the CLP (under Chief Minister Marshall Perron) achieved an eight per cent swing in its favour, wiping out the NT Nationals in the process, and was returned to office with a comfortable 14 seats in the bag.
But not comfortable enough, for the Centralian Advocate's front-page story for June 3, 1994 (the day prior to the elections) warned: "Territory poll too close to call" and quoted the head of the NT Electoral Office, David Rice.
"The way all the pundits are predicting the outcome of this election, no one is prepared to call it one way or another" (incidentally, the NT Electoral Office was then a part of the Department of Chief Minister).
To drive the point home the story went on to report Darwin sports bookmaker Bryan Clark's assessment: "His longshot is CLP taking 16 with the ALP 6 and Independents 3 at 40-1"; and it was all augmented by an editorial comment headlined "Election likely to be a close one".
The CLP (again under Marshall Perron) took 17 seats with a further swing of six per cent of the vote overall in its favour, and equalling the number of seats taken in 1974.
In the three successive elections of 1990, 1994 and 1997, the CLP promoted the story across the NT that the election results would be extremely close and, on each occasion, that party was returned with increased majorities.
Perhaps more telling was that there were no predictions published (at least locally) for a tight result for the elections of 2001. It turned out to be very close, with Labor just managing to win 13 seats and take office for the first time. In election 2005 not only did Clare Martin emphasise the closeness of the likely result but the full-length editorial of the Northern Territory News of June 17 the day before the elections entitled "No reason to change" concluded: "The sensible course would be to give Labor the benefit of a second term".
By the same token, the Centralian Advocate's editorial "Make your vote count" (June 17) clearly implied Labor was the better choice and warned against the dangers of a hung parliament. Labor, of course, placed all its local print advertising with the Advocate.
However, local factors in Alice Springs over-rode the effect of this strategy, for example, the failure on the part of Labor to implement major commitments (such as the Mereenie Loop Road) that had been key promises in the 2001 campaign.
By not keeping faith with the Alice, Labor handicapped itself in its appeal for local support in the recent polls.
There is a real danger that this situation may become entrenched in the new term of government, and this poses serious implications for the future wellbeing of the Central Australian region.
LETTERS: Road funds mess blame on Snowdon.
Sir,- I read with interest, your article about [Roads to Recovery Funding, Alice News, June 22 and] another probe into Papunya Community Council's alleged inappropriate expenditure of federal and Territory funds.
In particular, I note your comments about how Papunya has misspent its Roads to Recovery funds.
It was during the Hawke / Keating governments when the Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon initiated his social policy of funding community government councils with small amounts of money from the R2R program to give them control of local projects to improve and maintained community roads.
The Country Liberal Party government of the day argued that R2R funding should be allocated in a lump sum as a-whole-of-the-Territory project and to allow the NT Government of the day to manage community roads.
In his distorted wisdom, the Member for Lingiari convinced his political masters that funding should be split into small amounts for each community council and for them to manage their own roads.
When the R2R funding for the Territory was divided into individual amounts for each community government council, each received funding which was inadequate and did not enable them to undertake any meaningful road works.
As stated in your paper, in fact some community councils diverted the money so that none of the R2R money was spent on roads.
The Member for Lingiari has therefore contributed in part to how R2R money has been misspent.
Dr Richard Lim
MLA for Greatorex
'Lock 'em all up' not very Aussie
Sir, Law and order was a hot issue during the lection campaign. I was a bit bemused by calls for incarceration for petty offences, zero tolerance etc.
"Build more jails as many as it takes!", I heard said.
Surely we Australians, of all people, should question this. It's close to the bone!
The Georgian era in England is still often regarded as a "golden age" of elegant living but it co-existed with burgeoning crime. There was great disparity of wealth and privilege, and it was a time of big changes in land ownership, the beginnings of industrialisation, and fast-growing cities.
Exquisite new terraces and squares in some areas contrasted with overcrowded slums and ghettos in others. Unemployment was rife and gin was cheap.
To combat crime, a plethora of new statutes were enacted which imposed draconian sentences for even minor offences.
Prisons soon overflowed, so then the prisoners were crammed into the floating hulks of old troop-transport ships in the Thames and off the southern ports. Conditions were appalling.
Crime, however, did not abate. In desperation, a new plan was made. Prisoners would be transported not just offshore, but thousands of perilous miles away, possibly never to return.
And so it was done, and the prisoners kept coming and kept coming ... In other words, the argument that the threat of incarceration (or worse) is an effective deterrent to crime was thoroughly put to the test and it failed. However, the struggle for rights, for fair employment and representation was born.
And in the far-off land where so many ended up, the idea of a Fair Go took hold.
Fair Go, as in a real chance to make something of your life and have some self-esteem, and real opportunities for better things up ahead.
A Fair Go does not sit easily alongside some of the policies currently being put forward.
Snail's pace investigation
Sir,- I'm writing as the lawyer for the family of Cynthia Ching, the Canadian holiday worker who was mortally injured in a fire at Kings Creek Station, south-west of Alice Springs, more than a year ago.
We received Cynthia's medical records from Alice Springs Hospital this week.
Amongst other things, these records demonstrate that the NT police obtained these records about 29 to 30 June 2004, which was over one month after claiming first knowledge of her burning and death.
It takes 10 minutes to walk from police station to hospital in Alice.
Another interesting comparison is that Cynthia's Canadian based insurer sought the records on 7 May 2004, seven weeks before the NT police!
As well, the police made no enquiry of the hospital for a formal medical descriptive statement until 1 October 2004, over four months after obtaining the records.
Why this delay?
And the actual doctor who treated her (Ballard, a locum) did not provide the statement, for no satisfactory reason.
Why hasn't Dr Ballard been located and questioned by the police?
If this record is typical of the timing and nature of police investigation, hard questions ought to continue to be asked.
Remember, too, the Royal Flying Doctor Service has refused to provide a copy of its records to us.
And we have not seen the Kings Creek Station nursing notes, nor the paramedic's notes. And the police have not subpoenaed [the station lessee's Ian] Conway's records, nor Choppair's records, to my knowledge, despite requests that this be done.
PRIORITIES IN DEALING WITH DRUNKS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The only recommendation from the Territory's Alcohol Framework, released almost a year ago, that looks like being implemented any time soon is the introduction of an alcohol court.
This is apart from the decision taken at the time of the release to maintain existing Sunday trading arrangements "indefinitely".
The alcohol court will deal with "habitual drunks" estimated by the government as around 250 in the Territory, 75 in Alice and will send them for treatment or gaol.
Such a court would assess "suitable offenders" and refer them to treatment facilities, either before sentencing or as part of their sentence.
The initiative would obviously founder if there were no treatment options.
The Alice News has recently reported on the dysfunctional state of CAAAPU, the town's only residential rehabilitation facility (see issues of June 8 and 22).
The News asked the government, for their proposals to be meaningful, what they are intending to do about treatment in Central Australia?
A spokesperson for Police Minister, Paul Henderson, replied: "The Anti-Social Behaviour package has a strong focus on treatment and rehabilitation of habitual drunks, and will build on existing programs: "The Martin Labor Government will further increase funding to alcohol treatment and rehabilitation services by half a million dollars a year, and will introduce an Alcohol Court, at a cost of $200,000 a year.
"This is in addition to the work already carried out by the Martin Labor Government, including expanded shelter and accommodation facilities in Alice Springs and Darwin." The spokesperson was mum on what the government would do about CAAAPU, to which they contribute almost half of its $3.3m budget.
Interestingly, all the focus, both in debate and allocation of resources, is on the people who the framework document suggests are the least of our alcohol-related problems.
The document, in calling for price mechanisms to reduce consumption, reminds us "that the greater amount of harm to individuals and cost to the community is caused by occasional excessive drinking by social and regular drinkers than by the heavy drinking of problem drinkers".
People's Alcohol Action Coalition spokesperson, John Boffa, says they will be lobbying the government for "a more comprehensive response to the framework's recommendations than the coercive elements we heard about during the election campaign".
Dr Boffa particularly sets store on the development of regional alcohol management plans, as recommended by the framework, as a way of dealing with supply reduction, but he says so far it is unclear who will develop such plans and how they will be resourced and implemented.
SCHOOL ATTENDANCE: WHAT'S BEEN DONE? Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
One of Labor's strategies to deal with kids not going to school has been the appointment of seven attendance officers in major centres.
The Alice News asked Central Australian educator Paul Fitzsimons, in charge of the raft of attendance initiatives across the Territory, what they have been able to achieve.
"There's no use having an attendance officer knocking on doors and rounding up kids schools are not equipped for unskilled entry," said Mr Fitzsimons.
The approach is rather one of building up a "pro education" relationship with children who are not in school and with their families, while also developing relationships with a battery of alternative education programs as well as mainstream and special needs schools.
In 2004 the attendance officers in Darwin, Palmerston, Katherine, Gove, Groote Eylandt, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs made contact with 698 young people who were either not in school or had never been to school.
Subsequently 392 of them have enrolled and attend school; 170 began preparing for successful entry into school; 14 found employment; and 83 are defined as transient.
Mr Fitzsimons said around 100 kids have been "targeted" in Alice Springs, but "many move in and out of town for health reasons, festivities and cultural business".
However, the transition units at both Sadadeen and Gillen primary schools, which prepare young people for mainstream entry, appear to be working.
The units cater for a rolling intake of 20 students, and are staffed by Indigenous teachers and support staff.
Of the current intake at Gillen eight students have recently moved on to appropriate mainstream classes, with the continuing help of the attendance officer and support staff.
A similar outcome is being achieved at Sadadeen school, according to Mr Fitzsimons.
In Alice other students of varying ages are catered for by a range of programs:
€ Pathways at Centralian College, which combines NTCE, VET and part time apprenticeship training, established in 2000. The program won the inaugural National Group Training Partnership Award in 2004.
€ Alice Outcomes, now in its fifth year. It has two campuses and in 2005 "has already catered for the needs of 70 students".
One campus is at the Gap Youth Centre where the program networks with Reconnect and the Deadly Mob Internet Café.
A creche on site allows young mothers to further their education.
The other campus is in a house on Milner Road, where the NT Open Education Centre provides course work and a face to face teacher.
"The Milner Road site caters for those young people who generally feel that they don't fit into the standard education options, but still need to be engaged in a variety of other aspects of their personal development," said Mr Fitzsimons.
He said a number of young people from Alice Outcomes are now in apprenticeships, and some young mothers have completed certificate courses in Childcare.
But with respect to employment, he said, these young people "encounter a very conservative environment".
"The view of management is not very accommodating of, for example, language problems and different cultural considerations." € For young people in town camps, and for specific Indigenous groups, there are the Irrkerlantye Learning Centre, "delivering in an intergenerational mode" to Eastern and Central Arrernte people; the Yarrenyty Arltere Learning Centre at Larapinta Valley (see separate story, page 4); and Anzac Hill High's School to Work program for secondary aged students at the Trucking Yards camp.
Said Mr Fitzsimons: "In each of these learning environments the role of the support staff cannot be under estimated.
"The Aboriginal and Islander Education Workers, Aboriginal Resource Officers and Home Liaison Officers network with the School Attendance Officer to ensure the relationship between the school and the family is maintained and that students are retained in the education system."
A further challenge is to find solutions for remote community families who come to town and are likely to be here for a few months because of the health care needs of at least one family member.
"It would be ideal to pick up the children from these families and place them in a learning environment," said Mr Fitzsimons, but just how that will be done is still a matter of debate.
BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB REVISITED: THE SECRET OF ALMOST ETERNAL LIFE. Preview by KIERAN FINNANE.
"It's not work for them they're just big boys, having fun, playing like children all day long!
"It's as amazing for me as for anyone else."
Carlos Bustamente, MC of the Bar at Buena Vista, coming to Araluen on July 13 and 14, is blown away by the sheer staying power of his revered fellow entertainers, "especially Reynaldo [Creagh], he's the oldest at 87 he seems to have discovered the secret of life".
There's also 81 year old Maracaibo and 80 year old Maestro Rubalcaba together with original barman from the Social Club Buena Vista, Arturo Lucas, and his sweetheart diva, Siomara Valdes. The "grandfathers" of son music from pre-revolutionary Cuba have enjoyed huge international success since 1998 when American musician Ry Cooder brought them to the attention of the world, with the album, Buena Vista Social Club, and film-maker Wim Wenders followed up with a doco of the same name.
But son is also enjoying a come back in Cuba, despite the competition of popular mainstream western music.
"It will always be in the back of our minds," says Carlos.
"All these guys are icons, idols." What do they, as Cuban artists, want their audiences to think about their country and their culture?
"We want our audience to feel, not to think!" says Carlos.
"We want our music and dance to bring out all the emotions inside us humans, especially love." The lyrics of their songs are all about love "not fool love, the lyrics are very clever, very poetic, about love as joy, passion with all your senses".
The show also includes story-telling which Carlos translates for the audience.
"That's what we mean by 'bar' it's a place for drinking, music, dance and story-telling," he says. "It's very spontaneous, fresh, you can't script these guys who've been on stage for 50 to 60 years. But it's well balanced with their music and dancing.
"It's wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!
"We know Australian are fun-loving people, but even in Germany, where we spent two months, people had lots of fun."
Special guest on the tour is the eccentric singer known as the 'Cyclone', Juana Bacallao, now 89, who recorded her first album in the 'fifties and taught the late undisputed queen of salsa, Celia Cruz, how to sing.
Also returning is co-founder of the Buena Vista Social Club, Carlos Gonzales, while special guest on vocals will be the talented Leo Vera, lead singer of the world famous Afro Cuban Allstars.
And dancing legend Eric Turro, the master of all Cuban dance styles, will again mesmerise audiences with his moves.
THE FIRST GREAT RECORDED FLOGGING OF COUNTRY AT DALHOUSIE SPRINGS. Series by DICK KIMBER.
Part Four of 'The Heavens Have Turned To Bone', an historical perspective on drought in the Centre by R.G. (Dick) KIMBER. The First Drought after 1866.
(See earlier articles in Alice News issues of May 18 & 25 and June 22 and on our website.)
In last week's article we left four different parties, attempting to move mobs of cattle and horse into the Centre, stranded by drought at Dalhousie Springs. It was winter, 1875. The story continues:
Exploration by the Duncan and Treloar group, though, allowed them to move from "their" springs and take up Eringa station, named after the large Eringa Waterhole that lies between Dalhousie and the later-established Oodnadatta.
By walking their 442 head of cattle to Eringa, arriving on August 26, they eased the pressure a little on the Dalhousie Springs country. Suitable straight red-gums and coolibahs from there and on the southern portion of the Finke River now began to be carted to Dalhousie to allow more substantial dwellings and yards to be built at the Springs.
The drought now played a normal trick. While the rains were below average in Alice Springs, heavy and steady rain set in to the south at a time when Arthur Treloar, his father Francis Treloar (visiting him) and partner J.J. Duncan were camped in a sapling hut on the abandoned Macumba station. The men and stock from Macumba had travelled to Dalhousie because of the drought.
From January 7 to 13, 1876 they were confined to the bunks and table, with between half and one metre of water flowing through the hut, and the major creeks all spreading kilometres beyond their banks.
As none of them were good swimmers, they made a raft from a door, loaded it with food, clothes and whatever else they needed, and paddle-pushed it towards a large tree on a small knoll.
After 300 metres they had to abandon the raft and begin wading, each holding his clothing on his head, to keep it moderately dry. This was alright for Arthur and J.J., for they were 1.75 metres tall and the water only occasionally came to their chins. However poor old Francis, being six centimetres shorter, had to be supported by his two younger companions, and kicked under water like a duck to make it to higher ground.
There, at the foot of the big old tree, they made a fire and had a billy of tea, Francis and J.J. smoked a pipe, and J.J. offered thanks to God whereupon the rain really set in! It rose a metre, and they were forced to climb the tree, secure their tucker and think of what they could eat without cooking it, and select different large boughs on which they could "roost", as they joked.
When they wanted to sleep, they tied themselves to a bough or, in Francis's case, lay in a make-shift hammock beneath a large bough so that he was protected from the rain. All about them was an ocean of water, with only the crowns of other trees and the tips of distant sand-hills visible.
The water rose and fell, and rose and fell again, and with it their feelings of depression and feelings of hope. Crows were their only visitors and seemed to be drawing lots for them.
Finally, after roosting for five days and running out of stories and songs, but definitely not water, they were able to return to the muddy ground and, with careful preparation, get another fire going and boil another billy of tea.
Two days later, while they were still surrounded by a great lake, a mounted advance member of a Lutheran Mission party, after initially refusing to help, was persuaded, by an offer of a payment of five pounds (about a fortnight's basic pay today), to ride through the flooded country to round up the strayed horses. The offer was made through gritted teeth, and the alternative of "shooting the beast" or "savage" did occur to Arthur.
Heavy as the rains were, and flooded as the country was, they were more regional than universal. The impact was less than might be expected, for the flood-waters drained away down the creek-lines, and the land was soon dried out by the summer heat. Much as good grass grew for a time, the continuing heat began to scorch it brown and dry.
The founders of Hermannsburg Mission, with their daily prayers to a God who seemed to have abandoned them a month after indicating how remarkable the rains were, have left us a detailed account of what happened to them as they journeyed north early in 1876.
Their main starting points were Kopperamanna Mission and nearby Mundowdna, east of Lake Eyre, which meant an 1800 kilometre journey to establish Hermannsburg. They commenced in five parties with eight white people, two Aboriginal men, 37 horses, 20 head of cattle, 3100 sheep, and wagon loads of stores.
Soon they were increasingly spread out because of the different speeds possible due to the different conveyances, strength of the horses and other stock, and tasks.
One group of three had to unload a wagon to get it through the sandhills far to the south, near Lake Eyre, and the men, unaccustomed to heat, sandhills and such heavy work, "almost undid themselves" and began to despair.
By the time that the slowly moving flock of sheep had reached Peake station, well south of the yet-to-be-established Oodnadatta, 1100 sheep had died and, because of the drought conditions, the rest of the flock could travel no further.
Meanwhile missionaries A. H. Kempe and W. H. Schwarz were stuck fairly much in the middle of nowhere, their wagon horses weak, thirsty and starving, in February heat such as they had never previously experienced.
Kempe wrote to the senior people down South for help. They were "beset with privations. Each day was growing worse, offering new trials and tribulations, so that they were often at the point of losing both courage and reason. Many a times they had wept bitter tears, and in moments of anger and impatience had exchanged words at which they themselves were shocked".
"Far from their having become acclimatized, the heat of up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit [40 degrees C] was sapping their strength. It had not rained for twelve months; they could not afford to wash or bathe. With no trees in the vicinity for shade, they had to lie on the ground under the wagon for shelter from the fierce sun.
"It is dreadful, shocking, to travel here in summer. Nobody, even by imagining things to be so bad, can have the merest conception of what such a journey entails. Nor can one describe it, it has to be experienced."
The heat continued, and they were besieged by flies, mosquitoes, piss-ants and bull-ants, and received visits from lizards and snakes, so that they "often felt sick and tired of living".
They were learning slowly rather than fast, the hard way.
George Heidenreich, in support, wrote "My God, my God", and continued in his letter to say that he was "exhausted; spiritually and mentally, I am weak and overworked". He clearly thought that, in the carrying out of his duties, he might well perish.
Eventually, after severe privations, they managed to progress with the surviving stock to Dalhousie Springs. There, as with the other groups camped with their stock, they simply had to sit and wait. Insufficient rain had fallen to the north to allow further progress.
The groups spread out to the major fall-back waters of the various Aboriginal groups, burnt the large lignum clumps because they found that this promoted grass for the stock, and cut down tea-trees for the first shelters.
And so the first great recorded flogging of the Dalhousie Springs country commenced. The fires, the vegetation changes and the trampling meant that the stick-nest rats were amongst the first animals to become locally extinct. All of this was entirely acceptable under the pastoral laws and pioneering endeavours of the era.
October, 1876 found them still at Dalhousie, with "the drought Š growing worse, and the days Š getting hotter". The mob of sheep had adjusted its losses by lambing, so that the effective loss was "only" 900 head.
However the missionaries, having forgotten their shears and wool-bales, could not shear the sheep, and it appeared that they might all perish in the heat as the summer progressed. "[Every] man and beast Š will soon be engaged in a struggle of life and death," wrote Heidenreich in November.
When the rains fell they were unable to engage drovers for another three months, these men having all been engaged at higher wages than the missionaries could then afford by the owners of the other mobs that were now pushed on to the MacDonnell Ranges.
It was April, 1877 before they were able to begin their own push north again, and with gladness and thanks to the Lord chose the site for Hermannsburg Mission on June 7, 1877.
As Arthur Treloar wrote of his experiences at the time of the floods which forced him and his companions up a gum-tree, and as the missionaries said of the summer heat and the drought, no-one new to the country could have envisaged what such droughts and floods were like.
For the time being, though, the first brief central Australian drought that European-Australians had experienced was over. It had only been 18 months to two years long, but at least a handful of the early pastoralists, missionaries and telegraph station people had begun to learn about droughts in the Centre.
One thing that they knew for certain was that, in any dry or droughty season, they were going to have delays and difficulties in getting their cattle, horses or sheep to distant southern markets.
Select references: Cockburn 1925; Gillen (Ed.) 1995; Scherer 1975; Vamplew (Ed.) 1987.
HE LOVED ANYTHING ROUGH AND READY. Obituary by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Two weeks after his 60th birthday, long term Alice resident Jimmy Kells was on his way with his wife and children to a new life in Queensland after living in the Territory since he was four.
Sadly he didn't make it: James Patrick Kells known as Jimmy or Kellsy died on 14 May after suffering a severe heart attack.
His funeral at the Catholic Church in Alice was packed with friends and family from across Australia. Jimmy was laid to rest with his father at The Garden Cemetery south of the Gap.
Born in Melbourne on 28 April 1945, Jimmy the eldest of 13 children. His father was also a James Patrick Kells, an Irishman, and his mother, Ivy Lily Cuddy, came from Victoria.
Part Aboriginal, Jimmy went to school at the Bungalow and also St Mary's. He started working at age 12, after being taught skills by his father including welding and stock camp work.
"I met Kumantjayi Kells when I was 13 years old and knew him for 27 years," says his friend and relative Kenny Windley. "He was my part brother. We worked together in a stock camp in Hermannsburg.
"He was a nice person and used to tell us good stories. He was a good man and very strong he used to pull engines out of cars without a crane.
"We were bouncers at Bojangles, and then worked in Katherine together."
In the 1960s Jimmy lived in Mataranka, working on the railway line when he left the Territory.
"We were the last of old settlers on the railway line at Mataranka before it closed down," remembers his brother, Raymond.
"We saw the Territory open up from the stations. Life was hard in the Territory back in those days. It would take you a fortnight to get to Tennant Creek from Alice Springs."
In 1961 Jimmy moved to Melbourne for 12 months to be with his mother who had breast cancer.
A month after she died in 1962, Jimmy met Sue and was 19 when they married in 1964.
They had their first two children, Julie (now 40) and Rhonda (38) in Victoria, before moving to Katherine where their third and fourth daughters were born, Marie (Minnie, 36) and Jackie (36).
Jimmy worked for government contractors, fencing bores, but in 1974 the family returned back to Alice Springs.
The camel farm offered him his first job, before he started work all over the place using his wide range of skills.
"There was nothing he couldn't fix," says Raymond. "He was a jack of all trades and mastered most of them electrical, plumbing, mechanics. He worked as a troubleshooter on the stations and on the roads solving problems.
"He was a very clever man at making things up and building things, he was resourceful, a typical Territorian."
He even turned his hand to helping find the props and organise the horses when film crews came to town.
For a time, Jimmy worked in Darwin on the wharf, and also was employed at the meatworks in Katherine and Alice Springs.
Says Raymond: "When there were feral buffalo in the Top End, Jimmy helped catch them. He loved hunting and catching animals he's a bit like Steve Irwin or Crocodile Dundee but a genuine character.
"He competed in the rodeo, did bull tossing and used to pick up 44 gallon drums.
"He loved anything rough and ready and wild, any challenge. He was a legend on the knuckle bare knuckle fights that were organised in the pub. He was the boss, everyone who was brave enough to fight him knew him."
In 1980 Jimmy bought his house at 37 Mulara where he lived for 25 years. A year later he and Sue divorced but remained "very good friends" says Sue.
He remarried again in the 1980s to Julie Firth and had four children: Jamie, Sharine, James and Courtnay. "His priorities were family," says Raymond. 18 of his family and friends were with him when he died.
Last month, Jimmy sold his house to Raymond in readiness to leave Alice Springs for a life on land he'd bought in Childers, Queensland. "He retired in Alice Springs but he still couldn't slow down," remembers Raymond. "He was leaving for a new life but he didn't get to enjoy it."
A convoy of six cars and trailers carrying Jimmy and his wife and children were 600 kilometres from their destination when he suffered a heart attack.
The incident happened as Jimmy stopped at the side of the road to change the tyre on one of the trailers. The party had stopped for about half an hour when a truck went past and hit his dog, Missy.
Jimmy shouted at the truck as it drove past but at the same time, suffered a heart attack.
His daughter Minnie and his son-in-law Migsy administered CPR and first aid for half an hour until the ambulance came but Jimmy could not be saved.
The family drove back to Alice Springs. "He always said he wanted to be buried here with his dad and younger brother," explains Raymond. Tony, their brother, died four years ago from cancer.
"He'd had a few warnings with his heart and had triple bypass surgery in Adelaide three years ago," Raymond says. "But that didn't slow him down. He was a real man's man. He wouldn't do anyone a bad turn if he could do a good turn but he was a good giver and bad receiver.
He's a legend, last of the real Territorians."
Raymond has asked the News to pass on any stories or memories readers have of Jimmy.
ROVERS ROMP BACK TO FORM. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Before last Saturday, Pioneer was dominating in A-Grade runners-up.
The club had thrashed its opposition, Rovers, by over 150 points in both of the games played.
But Saturday saw a totally different Rovers team put up a gutsy fight to lose by just 15 points to their old rivals the final score was 78 to Pioneer, 63 to Rovers.
Rovers showed commitment to the ball, with the whole team putting in an even performance no one player was relied on to win the points. Travis King scored two goals, but seven other players contributed the rest of the score.
Geoff Miller junior was voted best player of the side.
Pioneer also showed depth, with Sebastian Watson scoring three goals, and Karl Hampton, Luke Ross and Craig Turner, two each.
Singles were scored by Graeme Smith, Jawoyn Cole-Manolis and Michael McDonald. Best player was Bradley Campbell.
Hopefully Saturday's result signals an exciting rest of the season if Rovers' competitive attitude continues.
At the upper end of the table, the South v West game proved less exhilarating, with South convincingly the better team, winning 97 to 51.
The first two games these old rivals played against each other this season were fairly close but this time, despite fielding close to a full team, West lacked sparkle and failed to display the run it usually shows.
For South, Gilbert Fishook proved a very damaging player, kicking five goals and playing consistently well throughout. Malcolm Kenny played a useful supporting role to score four goals. However, it was Trevor Satour who was voted best player of the match.
For Wests, the top scoring player was Francis Pepperill who made two goals, with Rory Hood, Kevin Bruce, Jason Rosenthall, Ian McAdam and Lachlan Boal gaining one apiece.
Wests chose Andrew Wesley as its top man.
In the B grade competition, South won even more easily against West thrashing them 122 points to 35.
South played its trump card of including several first grade players in the team (players can only be included in both A and B grade matches twice a season), and the likes of Darryl Ryder and Nigel Lockyer made mincemeat of the opposition.
Robin Fishook scored four goals, as did James Drover.
Harry McCormack and Darryl Ryder both scored hat tricks.
Nigel Doolan was awarded best player of the team.
West wasn't helped by being short of players, having to rely on older stalwarts of the club to make up the numbers. Only one goal each was managed by Phil Egbert, Nathan McGregor, Craig Cox, Steve Jones and Graeme Murray. Glen Hughes was voted man of the match.
In the other duel of the table, Rovers made up 69 points to beat Pioneer's score of 46.
Strongest goal scorer was Russell Stuart who got a hat trick for Rovers, with Travis King and Tommy Cliffy gaining two goals each.
Best player for the team was Wayne Scrutton junior.
Pioneer voted under 17 player Jawoyn Cole-Manolis as its favourite the second time this weekend he'd been voted as such.
In the under 17s matches, West beat South 83 points to 30. Lauckie Boal was the top scorer of the game, with four goals for his West team.
Angus Morina scored three, and Scott Taylor and Matt Paterson got two each.
A closer match saw Pioneer win against Rovers, 55 to 43. It was Alex Erlandson who scored a hat trick for the winning team, with Jawoyn Cole-Mandlis voted best player.
For Rovers, Niki Ross and Gareth Remfrey scored two goals apiece, and Wayne Scrutton was chosen as number one player for the team.
The 2005 AFL season has been disrupted over the past month, by the Town v Country game and the Finke weekend.
Spectators and players now look forward to a run of juicy matches to get their mouthguards into.
FIRST FROST CHANGES THE COURSE FOR GOLF. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Around 150 men and 30 women teed off from 7am on Saturday as they played for the annual LJ Hooker Cup and the monthly medal competition.
It was a single stroke competition played over 18 holes.
The green had its first frost of the year on Thursday morning, which made the ground harder and therefore the fairways and greens shorter for the competition.
This caused some players to play below their best, but the warmer-than-usual temperature and sunshine made for a pleasant day's play.
The combined LJ Hooker Cup and monthly medal was won by Jim Griffiths, whose nett score of 68 saw him undercut runner-up Shorty McIntosh by one stroke.
Griffiths did particularly well to win the competition, as he is a division two player (for players with a handicap of over 17), beating men with a much lower handicap.
Shorty McIntosh won in division one.
Best off the stick (best stroke score before the handicap is considered) was Jeff Sargent it took him 73 hits to get around the course.
In the women's competition (which only has one division), Jennifer Preston's form saw her take the monthly medal and LJ Hooker Cup.
Her score of 64 was seven strokes better than her nearest rival, Fay Callaghan.
Jennifer also was joint winner of the women's putting competition with Annette Jamieson. Both had scores of 32.
Best off the stick was Debbie Pepper with 94.
FOOTBALL: WISHLIST FOR ELECTION PLEDGE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Representatives from Football Federation NT, the town council and the Territory government are now looking into a suitable location for football's new home in Alice, following the government's pledge of $.5m for the facility. Ross Park, the present home, is obviously being considered.
There are around 1000 football players in Alice Springs.
Paul McGrath, local president, (pictured with some of his young protegés) said that the Football Federation has "offered all their assistance" for the project.
"They have a board of directors including builders, architects, lawyers, accountants, engineers," he explained.
"They want to develop football not just in Darwin, but also in Central Australia.
"We're growing!" said Mr McGrath.
ALL GRADES "The ideal scenario would be that we play football on one day of the weekend, starting off with under sixes in the morning and go all the way through to A-grade.
"I'd love to see all clubs represented all the way through the grades."
Mr McGrath says the presently used Ross Park area three full size fields would also need smaller junior fields, and there is possibly not enough room for them.
Coaches have complained that only the main field is in good condition, while the two others have a bumpy surface.
Mr McGrath says netball, using the adjoining area, is also growing and "looking to expand".
He says Blatherskite Park has also been mooted as a "soccer home" but "some people in town don't like moving past the Gap.
"The whole amenities area, the change rooms and canteen, I'd like to see it doubled in size, initially.
"We'd love a grandstand."
BATMAN IN ALICE. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
Could a comic book super-hero be born in this town?
It's an important question. There seems to be no end to the seventies cartoon strips being re-made as movies by ageing film directors who coveted the books in their childhood.
We've already seen Superman, Spiderman twice, that scaly bloke with the cut-off horns, Daredevil and that's just the ones I can remember.
Next up is the Fantastic Four and we can expect the return of Wonder Woman before long.
Never mind new political parties, Central Australia is missing out on staging a superhero epic. We start with a disadvantage because comic action crime movies have to be set in dark and dingy locations with water dripping from the ceiling and clouds of condensation rising out of road grilles.
Given that every single potential film location in Central Australia is swamped with bright sunshine and dry as a bone, this means that the car park under Alice Plaza would be the only real possibility.
We could try the timber shed at Home Hardware, but the people there are way too nice for a disturbing struggle between good and evil.
In any case, the wood cutting machine would interrupt the dialogue, introducing new shouting lines to the script like "Eh mate, did you say 150 by 90?" or "Where's me tape measure?"
So if the basement regions of Bi-Lo are the only plausible option, this means that Batman begins at the bottom of the escalator ramp.
His grand entry into the world would be shot as he emerges through the shopping trolleys between Liquorland and the kiosk that sells those tasty lemon muffins.
Terrified shoppers would think it was a promotion for nocturnal night at the Desert Park.
The other obstacle to overcome would be the lack of exotic ethnicity for the opening scenes.
A superhero always has to endure a rite of passage at the hands of clever and manipulative Chinese people with pigtails.
He emerges triumphant and angry, a state that sustains him through to the closing scene. Our equivalent would be walking past the sports bar after Bangladesh had defeated Australia at cricket again.
This would offer an element of danger but it doesn't compete with snowy locations in Tibet.
By far the biggest challenge for Alice Springs is creating a gothic megacity in one of the youngest towns in the world.
What should we do? Stage death-defying hand-to-hand combat on Taffy Pick Crossing and have Batman hanging over the edge for dear life until he falls two metres onto the river bed?
Have his evil tormentor point a speed gun at the Batmobile as it enters a 40km/hr zone outside Braitling Primary School? The opening scene underneath Alice Plaza was at least plausible, but a full movie is starting to look a bit hard.
If your hopes of superhero greatness are being frustrated, do not despair.
All directors of superhero movies claim that they have reinvented the franchise, presenting something new and fresh to invigorate the jaded film-goer.
It never works out that way, but at least this is ground on which Alice Springs could really compete.
Without dark locations, gothic mega-cities, evil foes and soaring action between skyscrapers, the comic book superhero becomes an average person living in a small town.
When he goes to a Telstra telephone booth, he comes back again wearing the same clothes. When he puts on a mask, people point and laugh.
Our superhero would wear a beanie, several layers of woollens and sit on his sofa watching home renovation programs with his knees knocking together. We could call him Bruce Wayne and it wouldn't sound unusual.
His sultry love interest would be Sheila.
This would be a gritty and local film epic. I wonder if we could do "War of the Worlds".
What good are we doing for planet? COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
The rain was lovely but too late for many of our native animals. My dad got a new perspective on Alice when he was here for a short visit last week and went for a walk in the hills with a local friend and avid walker. Not only did he get to take in the scenery but also the sight of 14 dead kangaroos at a waterhole. They had died just days before the rain finally fell.
We are fortunate enough to see euros most days in the hills around where we live and have watched a mother and joey for some time. The other night I saw blood in the road where my children play and the mother euro dead next to the kerb. The joey waited nearby for a couple of hours and I tried unsuccessfully to get hold of someone to catch it and look after it. Eventually, it must have decided that it was time to move on and disappeared into the night. The euros come down to the road for water that is put out for them, but have to cross the road to get to it. Our instinct may be to help and protect but often our help upsets the natural order of things or creates new problems. It is a merciless world we live in and sometimes I wonder what good the human race is doing for this planet. We charge ahead blindly killing whatever comes in our way. It seems the Humpback whales have been bought some time but countless other species face extinction without mention.
So what can we do other than feeling guilty and bad about being born human? How can we protect our wildlife from feral animals and human recreation? Sometimes the best thing we can do is to back off and give nature the space to find its own balances. Human intervention often seems to lead to unexpected and undesirable consequences however good our intentions.
A friend and wildlife lover who used to do eco-tours in Central Australia but has moved on, once told me how he killed a budgie sitting on a low branch of a tree dying of thirst. He felt really bad about it. He could have left it to die a natural albeit slow death, but felt compelled to help death along and put the poor bird out of its misery. If you have any sense of compassion it is very hard to allow someone or something to suffer when you can see a way of relieving that suffering.
I wanted to bring the joey into the house but the dog would have gone berserk and it would have been very stressful for the joey, possibly much more stressful then an icy night in the wild. I would like to believe that it was big enough to survive on its own and that it will be able to enjoy the fresh new shoots following the rain.
For me the hardest thing to cope with is how little control we have over life and death. How easily life can be snuffed out and how quickly we have to grow up. We humans may rule the planet but in death no animal is more equal than any other.
[Through the Looking Glass will be taking a break for the next two weeks.]
Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.