PUSHING THE ALICE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Two and a half million hits and some 9000 requests for its free passport in the 12 months since its creation: thealice.com.au website is working, says its creator Neil Aitken.
This compares to 105,986 hits to the Territory Discoveries website, described by Minister for Tourism Clare Martin as an "outstanding result" after an increase from 45,949 in 2003-04.
Mr Aitken built the site after local business people, including the Amazing Alice marketing group, identified the need for a single "information platform" promoting Alice Springs as a tourist destination in its own right.
"The idea is to get people to stay for seven days," says Mr Aitken, "to see and experience all the great things in and around Alice, using the town as a base."
Mr Aitken, who came to Alice in 1991 with a film and television background, started his multi-media business Redback Productions 10 years ago.
He says Alice is a great place to experiment with new ways of communicating with the rest of the world.
For instance, he installed Bojangles' live website, which now gets one million hits a month.
"I've searched the web," he says, "and I haven't been able to find anything as integrated as what we're doing there anywhere in the world."
Its four live webcams allow friends on either side of the planet to buy each other a drink and take part in the same music request show, broadcast from the bar live by SunFM.
"People love it and it's brilliant exposure for Alice," he says.
It's a lesson to the town in a self-help approach to our future. The technology is there to reach a huge audience: it's a matter of taking advantage of it.
He says off-beat ideas or events in Alice get an immediate response of increased traffic on thealice.com.au website.
"When Ernie Nicholls suggested having a bucks' party for Prince Charles at Bo's, we got a lot of hits from UK and NZ.
"It was the same when Bo's organised a Harley ride-through or when Wayne Kraft, as an honorary ambassador for Alice, talked about the town on Qantas's Q Radio. Over the next 48 to 72 hours we got a surge in traffic."
The structure of the website allows Redback to see where the interest is coming from: there are hits from places as diverse as Estonia and Samoa, but the top 10 are Australia (40 per cent), followed by USA, New Zealand, Germany, Netherlands, UK, France, Switzerland, Canada and Italy.
Using search engines for Alice Springs is still the main way that people access the site, but feedback shows that word of mouth is a growing factor.
The requests for the passport, which gives discounts at various businesses around town, is one way of measuring the conversion of this interest to actual visits.
And an on-line booking service and "Hot Deal" promotions have recently been added to the site.
Feedback from the businesses involved in both is very good, says Mr Aitken.
Frequently Asked Questions is another new feature. The questions go direct to CATIA for response.
The site is easy to use and attractive, with a lot of information (courtesy the Territory Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment, the NT Tourist Commission, and Parks and Wildlife) and photos (by John Henshall Photography), although locals can easily identify gaps.
There is no information, for instance, about the wealth of Indigenous art to be found in town. Only one gallery is listed under "Shopping".
And if you look under "Entertainment", you'd think there's only one night spot Melanka's.
Mr Aitken says it's up to businesses to come on board.
"I'm the webmaster, I create and manage the site, but I've always said everyone's input is welcome.
"The site provides a lot of free listings. I try to have every business in town listed, and a comprehensive events calendar, but if people want to expand information about their business or event then they have to join the site. There's a cost involved with a number of options available."
These start at $165 a year which gets your contact details listed, including email link, scaling up to $495 which links as well to your website and booking form and runs up to 150 words and four photos related to your product.
Support for the site is expanding. The town council cross-links with the site; the NT Convention Bureau uses it to promote conventions in town; travel agents around the country use it; and it is also cross-linked with Gabrielle Reilly's US-based website (www.gabriellereillyweekly.com) which has a 1,000,000 visitors a month. The former resident of Alice refers to this town as her Outback Home.
Mr Aitken says when the whole town gets on board he may actually earn some revenue from thealice site, but to date it's been a labour of love. Why do it? The answer's simple because he thinks Alice is a great place to live and he wants to see it prosper.
Meanwhile, according to a media release by Chief Minister and Tourism Minister Clare Martin, sales of Territory Discoveries holiday packages through the Alice Springs Call Centre have increased by 44.6 per cent over the past 12 months. The end of the financial year figures showed a gross revenue of $16.2m, exceeding budget estimates by $1m.
Territory Discoveries is the wholesale business division of the Northern Territory Tourist Commission (NTTC) that packages, promotes and sells holidays to the Northern Territory.
Said Ms Martin: "These results show a good return on the marketing investment made by my Government in 2003 when it increased tourism funding by an additional $27.5 million over three years.
"The NTTC has developed targeted campaigns to stimulate demand and interest in travel to the Territory.
"This activity, combined with Territory Discoveries own promotions, has clearly hit a positive note with domestic travellers.
"Average revenue per booking has also increased to $1,300 compared to $1,100 last year which is very encouraging as our goal has been to increase yield as well as numbers."
LAND AND SKY: HOW TO MAKE THEM WORK FOR A DESERT ECONOMY. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Self-drive tourism in the desert is one of the key business opportunities to be investigated by the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre.
"This is the fastest growing part of the tourism market," says out-going CEO Mark Stafford-Smith, "but there has been little attention paid to its cultural and environmental implications, nor to the enterprise opportunities for remote communities." Jan Ferguson (pictured), taking over as managing director from Dr Stafford-Smith during a three-month handover period from late September, has a keen interest in tourism, having spent some eight years involved in a family-owned tourist enterprise in the North Flinders Ranges in South Australia.
"There's a large future in Aboriginal-sponsored tourism as well as in general desert tourism that Australia hasn't tapped into yet," says Ms Ferguson.
"Most travellers look to Asia for a unique cultural experience.
"It is equally available here but we have to find ways to make it accessible.
"And it's one way in which Aboriginal communities can develop greater economic viability."
She cites Iga Warta (meaning native orange in Adnyamathanka) in the North Flinders Ranges as a successful example of an Aboriginal tourism enterprise, "maintaining a balance between people's commitment to their community and to their business".
She says its success has been based on starting from a relatively high skill base, which the people involved brought to the enterprise from other roles, and continued culturally sensitive training.
The business is fully owned and staffed by a small homeland-based group.
Its website promotes a simple but appealing product: "the rugged mountains, the ever changing flora of the area, especially after rain, the moss rocks with their contrasting colours, the sounds of the birdlife stirring in the morning, the millions of bright stars at night".
Visitors can tour painting and story sites and learn of their significance, taste bushtucker (seasons permitting), experience a traditional campfire, listen to stories, hear the silence of the bush.
There may be lessons in the Iga Warta experience for other homeland areas, says Ms Ferguson.
"I see my role in Desert Knowledge as primarily to ensure the practical elements of its program, to make sure the rubber hits the road and we actually make a difference to how people live.
"My personal passion has always been tourism but I'm equally interested in other areas of desert knowledge how communities work, how to keep services efficient and sustainable, what are the best solutions for each community."
Says Dr Stafford-Smith, who'll be returning to research work, based in Canberra at CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems: "We've got some strategic direction established.
"The incoming managing director will need to look to the future how to deliver value beyond the five years left of the CRC and to develop more partnerships, so that the information flows to policy-makers and decision-makers in government and in business, and back from them to influence our work."
Fran's back. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff returned to council on Monday, to be rewarded by a pay rise.
Aldermen carried a motion to increase her remuneration to $50,000 per annum, with a review next year.
Nobody dissented from the view that the mayoral position is now a full time job and there was broad agreement that remuneration should be paid at around $60,000.
Ald David Koch suggested that could be achieved incrementally by the end of this council's term. The mayor also receives the use of a fully maintained car and a credit card.
The deputy mayor's allowance, fixed at 10 per cent of the mayor's, was increased to $5000, paid on top of the aldermanic allowance. This was increased to $9000.
The mayor had wasted no time since her defeat as Labor candidate for Greatorex in the Territory Legislative Assembly elections, attending last week the 6th National Local Roads and Transport Congress in Launceston.
(This was her only travel paid for by council in the last 12 months. Trips made in her role as LGANT president were paid for by LGANT.)
The trip to Launceston cost ratepayers $1974, but the return to the town will be considerable, said Ms Kilgariff.
Next year's congress will be held in Alice, a decision made by LGANT last February, and her job, during a 15 minute presentation last week, was to "induce" delegates to come.
She said some 440 delegates were in Launceston but she expects over 500 to come to Alice. (The Australian Local Government Association conference, held here in 2001, had around 900 delegates.)
The congress wants Canberra to give more roads funding to local governments, which have responsibility for 85 per cent of all Australian roads. The shortfall between what they need and what they get is calculated at nearly $350m.
Good news for the Territory, announced at the congress, was the allocation of $16.5m for roads in unincorporated areas (that is, outside of any local government areas).
BIG FOCUS ON A LITTLE WATER. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The World Health Organisation as well as nations from the Asia and Pacific regions, Canada, Ghana, UK and Peru will be represented at an international conference on water supply in small systems like our own, to be held in Alice Springs this month. Drinking clean water is obviously essential for good health and Australian authorities are playing a leading role in finding risk management solutions for small water supplies.
Contamination is the most obvious risk but there are also more subtle ones, says one of the speakers at the conference, David Cunliffe, principal water quality adviser for South Australia's Department of Health.
Taste perceived as unpleasant can be mistakenly associated with poor quality and can lead to people drinking less fluid or substituting a less desirable form of fluid, both problematic for health.
Salinity, for example does not in itself cause health problems but if people refuse to drink such water, that can be a problem, says Dr Cunliffe.
With respect to both quantity and quality, rural and remote Australia has been greatly assisted by the availability of ground water, says Dr Cunliffe, in contrast to many parts of the world drawing supplies from above ground catchments, much more prone to contamination.
Aged ground water, like the supply for Alice Springs, is particularly advantageous. The water has been purified by a natural filtering process, and in any case harmful micro-organisms don't survive long in the underground environment.
The main problem for an aged ground water supply is one of sustainability, says Dr Cunliffe, but that is an issue for other forums.
The problems faced by small systems are influenced by their remoteness, size and resources, the latter usually being linked, but basic risk management principles are the same.
Rural and remote systems in the Northern Territory have some advantages, says Dr Cunliffe, in that the principle supplies are governed by a single authority, the Power and Water Corporation. That means if something goes wrong the resources of the whole organisation can be called upon to fix it.
In Queensland and New South Wales many small systems are stand-alone, run for instance by local councils whose resources can be quite stretched when problems arise.
In the Territory there are about 600 outstations not covered by the Power and Water Corporation, nearly all of them with populations of less than 100 people. The Australian Government's Department of Family and Community Services funds Outstation Resource Centres to provide their essential services.
These systems will be included in discussions at the conference, says Dr Cunliffe, and are also included within the scope of software he has developed together with the National Health and Medical Research Council.
The software tool helps small systems apply the same risk management principles as large systems. Its usefulness will be one of the main items of interest at the conference, although Dr Cunliffe recognises that a barrier to its application in some countries is computer literacy in rural areas.
The tool is focussed on preventing outbreaks or events like the infamous cryptosporidium outbreak in Sydney in 1998, during which the population was notified three times to boil their drinking water. This led to loss of confidence in the water supply of Australia's largest city.
The principles the tool will help apply are those enshrined in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines, a document that runs to over 500 pages, with 100 pages devoted to management. A lot of the detail relates to infrastructure delivering water to a city like Sydney, while the tool allows managers of small systems to extract information relevant to the scale of their supply.
What about the do-it-yourself approach of rainwater tanks?
Rainwater tanks have proliferated in Adelaide partly because of issues of water taste. Dr Cunliffe says studies conducted by his department reveal that, providing the tank is properly maintained, rainwater represents a low risk to health. Indeed, a large study showed that there was no difference in the illness rates of people drinking from a reticulated supply and people drinking from rainwater tanks.
Looking after the catchment' of a rainwater tank is quite similar to looking after a larger catchment: the collecting area needs to be kept reasonably clean, the tank sealed and protected from mosquitoes and small animals, and it needs to be periodically desludged.
Dr Cunliffe says irregular rainfall is not a problem other than with respect to quantity. Stagnation may affect taste and odour but is not hasardous to health.
The one-day conference, Managing for Safe Drinking Water, will be at the Convention Centre on July 18.
ONE HUMP OR TWO? Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Before this weekend I always reckoned camel racing was a bit like darts a sort of lazy man's sport. A minimal amount of physical effort required, simply get on and hang on.
But after seeing the skills the camel jockeys displayed this weekend, my attitude has changed.
I've learnt that riding a camel is an incredibly tactical exercise: it was essential on race day to have carefully thought out a game plan for every eventuality those beasts might throw at the rider.
Haughty at best, downright stubborn if they're in a bad mood, handling a camel is like "handling a woman" (so one rider confided to me).
At the start line, coaxing the camels to even stand up required a serious working knowledge of diplomacy not surprising then, that one of the races featured the ambassador for Afghanistan, Mahmoud Saikal.
Other important skills required: strong biceps and a grip (and bottom) of steel. The time taken for the winners to complete a lap of the course was around 44 seconds and on the bumpy soil track, that's a long time to be clenching muscles in delicate places.
I was impressed by the demonstrations of this technique by strapping Australian, Jules (Getaway) Lund who just missed out on second place in the Honeymoon Cup.
Finally, aspiring camel jockeys must possess a sort of relaxed competitiveness. Obviously the idea is to be the first one to cross the finish line, but camel racing must be the only competition when the animal and rider coming in last look more proud than the winner.
Viewers around the world will be able to enjoy the action, after crews from Korean television and the US-based Discovery Channel captured the action on Saturday. Australians across the country will see the race when Getaway's program is aired in August.
DYNAMISM vs CONTAINMENT. Review by KIERAN FINNANE.
Two exhibitions in town, Divas of the Desert at Gallery Gondwana and Strata at Araluen, are presenting Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists under the one banner.
The concepts behind both shows are quite different but comparing them prompts a few questions.
Divas has been a signature exhibition for Gallery Gondwana over the last few years, promoting work by women, and this year is including non-Aboriginal artists. Gender, location and talent are the basis for selection and the whole makes for an eclectic yet vibrant showing.
Works leave the walls as they are sold, so what was there on opening night isn't necessarily there still. Last week the strongest work in the gallery for me was Swamps at Nyrripi by Ngoia Napaltjarri who made her mark locally last year when she won the Advocate Art Award with a fine but relatively modest work compared to the Swamps painting.
The artist has taken confidently to a much larger format. Using a simple black, white and red colour scheme, with shifting densities in the white underpainting and a myriad of small ovals representing the swamps and lakes of this Water Snake area, she has created a captivatingly dynamic work.
A more tranquil work but one with great resonance is Pip McManus' ceramic piece, Vessel with two figures (pictured). The figures look into the water the boat-shaped vessel contains. Leaking boats filling with water have become central in the narrative of Australia's reception of asylum seekers.
McManus's piece has the feeling of a delicately-conceived memorial to the many victims of this ongoing saga. (Unfortunately seepage has occurred and the absence of water detracts from the concept of the piece.)
The divas range widely in their subject matter and approaches with a number of strong personal visions coming to the fore, something that I find strangely lacking in Strata, despite its drawing together of individual artists of great calibre.
The show seems to be contained by its project, which was to explore ways of seeing and knowing a significant Australian place, Puritjarra, a rock shelter in the Cleland Hills of western central Australia. To be fair the project was originally conceived as a publication and a website, not as an exhibition.
Nonetheless a series of paintings, by Mandy Martin, a highly regarded non-Aboriginal landscape painter, and artists from Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff), including such names as Daisy Jugadai and Anmanari Napanagka Nolan, was a primary activity of the project.
The works are not unappealing but neither do they take off with that resistance to definition or put more simply, magic that is the mark of good art.
Another problem I have with the show is that only Martin has been allowed to work on a large scale, thus able to represent panoramic views, while the Ikuntji artists, well versed in larger format works, were limited to 76cm x 76cm squares.
Apart from the restriction of individual visions, this also feels uncomfortable in terms of an inter-cultural collaboration, as it privileges Martin's work.
AURICHT TAKES FOUR TITLES. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Caleb Auricht, sponsored by Race Motorcycles, took home four trophies this weekend at the NT motocross titles.
Central Australia's motocross hero proved the most impressive competitor of the event, winning both the Pro Open and Pro Lite classes in Natural Terrain and Motocross.
Negotiating the foggy conditions on his Yamaha, Auricht's success should help to boost his confidence after his chances at Finke this year were ruined after breaking down.
DEAD HEAT FOR SOUTH AND FEDS. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Nothing could split the 63 points apiece for South and Federals in the exciting AFL A grade match on Saturday afternoon.
Federal confidence will be boosted by the tie with the AFL giants, currently top of the table compared with Feds' fourth place. Feds top player was Liam Patrick with a three-point score for the club, and he was voted best and fairest player for the game.
Shaun Cusack was chosen as best player for South.
In the weekend's other A grade match, Wests comfortably beat Rovers 182 points to 43.
Although improved, Rovers couldn't answer Wests' commanding possession of the ball. Kevin Bruce and Andrew Wesley scored 12 points between them, with stalwart Rory Hood being named best and fairest player for the winning side.
Rovers voted Brendan Smith as their best man.
But Rovers got its own back in B grade, pipping Wests 62 to 48 points. Coach Dave Sanders would have been delighted with his men's performance, naming three-point scorer Cliffy Tommy as man of the match.
In the other B grade tussle, South beat Federals 72 points to 53, with Robin Fishook the highest scorer of the game.
Nervous breakdowns at home. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
I am glad that Alice Springs has a snake hotline.
I haven't needed it but I am reassured that it exists in case I have reason to call a person with a curly stick to encourage a snake out of the bag where I keep my footballs.
We need hotlines for other suburban dramas that somehow seem more important at the time than they should do. Like when my coffee plunger decides to separate into its component parts while I am pouring the coffee.
I'd like to be able to call a hotline so that someone will come and put it back together. Then they would reheat the coffee in the microwave while I go to a private room and suffer a minor breakdown.
I would also appreciate a special number to call when the doorbell disconnects itself from the wall and falls to the floor, breaking into several plastic pieces and requiring resoldering. I discovered mine seven days after I started wondering why I hadn't received any visitors for a week.
Then there's whipper-snippers. Why does the nylon line break every ten seconds? Whipper-snippers should come with a warning label that says "Public health advice; this machine will cause you to attack innocent plants by wielding it like a sledgehammer".
Being a closet environmentalist, I have always steered well away from weed killers, but whipper-snippers have driven me into the arms of the garden chemical manufacturers.
Why trim something with a machine that drives you mad when you can spray the sucker, I say. Then the other day I became a little too enthusiastic, sprayed my couch grass and the wind drift took some droplets on to some native plants, putting paid to them as well.
After yet more hapless native gardening efforts, what I needed most at that precise moment was a native gardening disaster helpline with a sympathetic woman on the other end. She would have told me that its okay, millions of native plants might grow on their own in the bush, but don't feel bad if you can't make even one survive under controlled growing conditions in your backyard.
Look around: my raised beds are sunken, my sunken garden is swollen and there are only stakes where luxuriant snowpeas are supposed to be.
While I'm on the subject, let's touch on garden hose timers.
On second thoughts, don't touch them as they might malfunction. It may be true that they operate in the garden, they time, but that's about it. I have to check mine every day to make sure it is still alive and breathing.
By the time I have checked the garden hose timers, I could have watered the plants myself, which is a fine irony and raises the question of what all this technology actually achieves.
It might sometimes save us labour, but it causes stress meaning that I feel a regular and overwhelming need for stress-relieving technology.
All the melodramas described above and more besides have happened to me recently.
I despair over whether anything in my house will stay fully functional for a whole month. Humankind might be able to crash a probe into a comet a hundred thousand kilometres away, but the technological white heat of the new millennium is underwhelming when your tin opener doesn't work.
What I would give for a telephone number designed for people without real problems but who need to speak with someone when their gadgets don't work.
The basic service would be free but soothing words and a rub down with a steaming towel would incur an extra charge. I would call the number every night and the Alice News wouldn't even have to print the advert upside down to attract me.
Gaps, gaps and more gaps. COLUMN by MANDY WEBB.
"Mind the Gap! Mind the Gap! Mind the Gap!" I remember this automated warning at an underground station I used to frequent. But I'm thinking of different gaps just now and not Heavitree Gap either!
The Shell Report 2004 states: "By 2030, energy demand could be 60 per cent higher than today and by 2050 more than double, as the population grows and developing countries expand their economies.
"Meeting this demand and avoiding the environmental threat posed by climate change is a serious energy and sustainability challenge. Energy technology and use will have to evolve. The foundations for change have to be laid now and urgently."1
So what will fill the energy gap in the years ahead?
Friends who live in a remote spot in the Kimberley and have solar (photovoltaic) power impressed me, and I thought of doing something similar. In Alice, I could hook up to the town grid, and avoid the cost of battery back up.
"Forget it. $1000 worth of pv panel will run a couple of light bulbs," came one response.
"Well, that can't be right", I thought. I'd be about 190 before I recouped my outlay! Sad to say, it's true there is a huge gap between outlay and recovery of costs.
Then another big gap jumped off the pages of the NT Budget 2005 Newsletter the figure of $40 million to subsidise power prices. Serious money.
How would it affect the economy if we had to pay the real cost of power? I don't know.
It seems logical at one level to divert this $40 million to infrastructure for renewable energy. People say that companies like Shell are sitting on all sorts of patents; once there's a big enough demand, they'll produce the goods, and then competition will get prices tumbling.
I've no idea if this is true, but if economy-of-scale is a factor, government projects could start kickstart the process. Tennant Creek came very close in the 1990s to installing a solar dish as a source of substantial supplementary power. Apparently bureaucratic complexities stymied the plan. So that's another gap between what is technologically possible and the political will to enact it.
Final gap in the same Shell report mentioned earlier, the Director of the Energy Research Institute in China says, "The current model in developed countries of high energy use is not a sustainable or desirable option for China ... We urgently need a new model of development with dramatically lower energy consumption and lower pollution." This reminds me of times I've seen bar-heaters on in offices that were air-conditioned to freezing point!
So how many gaps is that? I've lost count BUT there's a glimmer of hope! I speak of Alice Springs' bid to become a Solar City. I'm sure it is a very complex process, but if it succeeds I think becoming a Solar City will close a lot of gaps.
Well, not close perhaps, but certainly squeeze the edges closer together.
The submission is due in Canberra soon, and the short list will be announced in September. Keep your fingers crossed!
1 The Shell Report 2004 "Meeting the energy challenge our progress in contributing to sustainable development"
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