July 27, 2005.


Alice Springs' two main Aboriginal organisations, after decades of intermittent rivalry, are negotiating a memorandum of understanding.
Donna Ah Chee, the deputy director of the health service Congress, says it is having talks with Tangentyere Council, whose main focus is municipal type services to the town camps.
Says Ms Ah Chee: "We are covering all aspects of our relationship including health service delivery on the town camps, environmental health and alcohol and other drugs.
"We will develop an MOU outlining the respective roles of our organisations in these and other areas."
Meanwhile the first sittings of the government controlled Senate is just two weeks away and judging by the saber rattling before the elections last year sparks should have been flying by now as reforms of Aboriginal affairs were unleashed.
However, there's deathly silence.
Is John Howard, up to his eyeballs in the workplace relations brawl, keen to pick just one fight at a time?
Trouble is, workplace agreements don't compare to matters of life and death, which as the latest statistics show yet again is the case with Aboriginal health (Alice News, July 20).
Flashback to September 22 last year when John Anderson, then Deputy PM, was in town campaigning for the Federal Poll. The Alice Springs News asked him about any plans for changing such things as the rort-prone and dead end jobs for the dole scheme, CDEP, and the land rights laws.
Mr Anderson: "I would love to do something about it but you'd never get it through the Senate."
Who would block it?
"Almost certainly the Labor Party, and the independents and the Democrats."
That was then. In June this year, Mr Howard's victory firmly in the bag, and control of the Senate assured as of July 1, it was a different story.
Asked which aspects of the Land Rights Act would require improvement, Mr Anderson said: "I think I prefer to wait there until the Government has had more time to consider how we might streamline it.
"I don't want to get hares running."
He said the "shared responsibility models are a very good idea."
That, of course, includes health.
"We're getting them up and running now," said Mr Anderson. "We're headed in the right direction and I'm not certain we have to do anything more in terms of seeking approval from the Senate."
And "mainstreaming" of services through departments, "to the extent that we think that's desirable", is working well, he said.
The new Indigenous Council, chaired by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone, has "tremendous representation" from Indigenous leaders.
"I think we are witnessing a big turning point."
Would that be turning away from the problems?
This month yet another report about Aboriginal disadvantage coincided with a visit to The Centre by Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott whose department has been funding Congress for three decades.
So cozy is the political climate in matters Aboriginal that MHR Warren Snowdon quotes a Congress report launched by Mr Abbott in support of an assertion that there have been great leaps forward.
Mr Snowdon talked with the Alice News on July 1 about Aboriginal organisations: "Aboriginal people, at the grass roots level, combined to address what they believed to be a need.
"By most criteria they have been most successful in achieving what has been set out in their charters."
How would you measure that success?
Mr Snowdon: "I wasn't here but there was a report given to [Health Minister Tony] Abbott the other day here which demonstrated the improvement of Aboriginal health here in Central Australia, directly attributable to the primary health care delivered by Congress. No question."
In fact, dealing with proposed early childhood services, the Congress report's executive summary says it offers "more of a starting point broad possibilities" and "the need for time and resources to develop and maintain coordination strategies".
In other words, it could be seen to be raising the question why Congress hasn't tackled more comprehensively these issues over the past 30 years, and is signaling demands for more public money.
We sought further comment from Mr Snowdon no reply.
Mr Abbott told the Alice News that "Congress is one of the largest, oldest and most respected Aboriginal Medical Services in the county and I congratulate them on this initiative."
How come then that the key health indicators in Aboriginal health are still alarming?
An aide to Mr Abbott replied by detailing the large number of programs run by the Congress, its employment of 92 people including 12 doctors, eight nurses and 28 allied health and health promotion professionals, the number (7700) of individual clients in 2003-04.
Ms Ah Chee added some impressive health statistics to underscore the achievements of Congress.
All Aboriginal children under five who live in the Alice Springs health service area (the town, surrounding outstations, excluding Amoonguna), some 600 of them, and around 300 visitors from outside, come to Congress for immunisations.
Only a very small percentage of the 600 local kids are immunised through the government's community health service.
BENCHMARK The coverage rate of 92.7 per cent is above the national benchmark of 90 per cent, says Ms Ah Chee.
She says the Congress birth centre Alukura provides antenatal care to more than 95 per cent of all pregnant Aboriginal women about 110 a year from the health service area, according to an independent review.
People in remote areas see a GP on average 2.7 times a year, and the average for Australia as a whole is five.
Through Congress Aboriginal people in Alice Springs have much higher access rates than that.
On the one hand this is because of more sickness, but on the other it is because Congress is a highly accessible service, makes no charge at the point of service, and has adequate staff and infrastructure including transport, cultural and gender awareness.
Ms Ah Chee also responded with unusual candor to a question asked by the Alice News several times previously about Congress' budget.
She says in 2003-04 the total income was $10.6m from all sources, including Medicare.
This is made up of $ 8.2m for the Alice Springs health service area, about 6000 resident clients.
In addition Congress provides more than three consultations a year to each of more than 1500 visitors.
Congress also auspices health services for a number of remote communities, costing $2.4m.
The 2003-04 budget included $1.6m for specific purposes.
Most of this funding is non-recurrent. Ms Ah Chee says Congress receives about $1037 per person for primary health care and the benchmark figure for a remote centre based on equity of access to health care compared with other Australians is $1726 per person, not including Medicare income.
"There is no justification for any suggestion that Congress is over-resourced," she says.
Meanwhile, CLP Senator Nigel Scullion is unavailable for comment.
According to an aide he had his hands full explaining Mr Howard's decision to plonk a nuclear waster dump into the NT, while the Senator had vowed, in a statement to the Alice News on June 15, "it won't happen on my watch".
The week after Senator Scullion was "fully immersed" in a military exercise for Parliamentarians.
This week he is still mum.


The town pool will open on the expected date of September 11 but may have to be closed next year earlier than usual to allow deepening works to go ahead in time for the 2006 Masters Games.
Aldermen expressed a lot of frustration about the issue at Monday night's council meeting, none more so than Ald Melanie Van Haaren, the only one not to support the September opening.
She suggested that recreational users of the pool would be able to find alternatives around town but that competitive swimmers would not, as it is the only 50 metre pool available. She favoured the works being undertaken at the earliest possible date.
However, Mayor Fran Kilgariff said that the Swimming Club and the Triathlon Club had told council that they supported the opening as usual, not wanting to inconvenience other users of the pool.
The clubs will be able to use movable diving blocks use of blocks sparked off the current problems because the pool isn't deep enough if they can demonstrate adequate insurance cover and indemnity of council.
CEO Rex Mooney said council would assist the clubs in any way possible to obtain the appropriate cover. Mr Mooney said that the delays in carrying out works at the pool had been caused by factors outside of council's control. He said consultants had uncovered unexpected problems.


Matthew Lelliott, 11, is a talented young athlete. Over the past 12 months he's been selected to represent the NT in AFL, soccer and track and field.
This week he travels to Canberra to play in the state championships his third trip interstate this year.
His parents have shelled out over $6000 in the last 12 months to support their son's travel expenses to competitions, and they say they can't afford to do it much longer.
"Matthew (pictured) is the only non-Indigenous child going [to Canberra] the three others are Aboriginal who can only afford to go because they are paid for by a subsidy," says Paul Lelliott, Matthew's father.
"They aren't getting the best representation from Alice Springs most families won't even look at it because of the cost.
"Matthew is very lucky to be chosen, but as much as we, and other parents, want their children to go away, everyone complains at how expensive the trips are."
Says Matthew: "Last year, my friend was the fastest in Braitling School in track and field and he made it into the NT team, but he couldn't go because it was too expensive.
"He was bummed." Matthew travelled to Adelaide last September to represent the NT in track and field, which cost $1500. His trip to Canberra for AFL this week will cost the same, as will travelling to the capital again in September for soccer.
To reach this representative level, Matthew has already had to travel to Darwin to qualify and has done so twice this year, once for soccer and again for AFL, costing $600 each time.
If he qualifies for the Pacific Games in track and field in November, that will cost a further $2500.
Mr Lelliott and his wife Robyn asked School Sports NT if they were eligible for any funding, but the organisation said no and suggested fundraising.
"You can't fundraise that sort of money," says Mr Lelliott.
"Indigenous sports programs are terrific, and I don't begrudge that funding at all.
"What I want to know is are there any funds available for other children? I want to push for a universal program."
Currently, under the federally-funded Elite Indigenous Travel and Accommodation Assistance Program, Aboriginal children representing their state in sport are given up to $1500 per financial year to pay for accommodation and travel. A limit of $70 per night of accommodation is specified.
Up to $4000 per financial year is given to an Indigenous athlete for international competitions.
Sports kits are not covered in the subsidy, but these are "usually provided by the sport", said a spokesperson for the funding program.
Mr Lelliott went on to say: "I'd like to find out how NT School Sport arrived at that $2500 cost [for the Pacific Games]? Between the 200 students that are expected to be selected, that's half a million dollars.
"They are also recommending $500 spending money for a 12-day trip.
"We want some assistance from the government. This is allegedly a school event. I'd like to see them match us dollar for dollar in helping to fund it, or make it tax deductible.
"If the government is serious about sport for kids, we need a Territory solution." Just before the election, Mrs Lelliott put the issue to the office of the Chief Minister, Claire Martin. "They said they knew nothing about the situation," she said.
"I think it's a big issue in Alice Springs. It would be good to see a bi-partisan solution.
"It shouldn't be like this. It's an honour to be chosen. Some parents might say they'd pay anything for their child to go.
"But we've never been on a trip with Matthew to see him compete. He would love us to be there but we can't afford it.
"And this is just child number one," she says. "My other two [Geordie, 10, and James, 7] all play soccer, athletics and footy but if they both qualified as well, we just couldn't afford to do it. It could happen $6000 times three is off the planet."
Linda Robertson is the president of Alice Springs Gymnastics Club and says children at her club are suffering from having to spend so much on their sport.
The Department of Sport and Recreation give parents a $1000 subsidy per family if their child reaches the state championships but that's only after the age of 13, the age when most gymnastics have finished in the sport.
"We have kids who can't afford to go to away to competitions," says Mrs Robertson.
"The NT Championships are held every year in Darwin because Darwin people won't come to Alice Springs. We get a little bit of a travel subsidy which is included in the cost of competition.
"But usually we take 25 to 30 kids, and this year we only had 14 because their parents couldn't afford it.
"Because numbers were down, we couldn't afford to hire a minibus so every kid had to fly it cost around $1000 for the airfare, transport to get to and from the stadium, three nights' accommodation, leotards and all the rest of the stuff.
"Five girls from Alice Springs are going to Sydney for the Australian Championships in September and half a dozen are going to a rhythmic competition in Melbourne at the same time.
"Three went to the Arafura Games.
"It's a lot of money for the parents to fork out. If your kid's got potential, of course you'll do it my daughter [Kirsty, 13] went to Darwin and is going to Sydney.
"Our kids are involved in fundraising but there's only so many raffle tickets you can sell.
"Every year until this year we've given $100 per kid per competition. But this year we can't afford to do that.
"The town is a great support and the service clubs are as well, but it would be nice to get something from the government.
"I know junior soccer and volleyball are in the same boat."
A spokesperson from School Sport NT (SSNT) responded to the Lelliotts' campaign: "SSNT provides funding assistance to support students and team officials travel to NT and interstate events.
"The dollar amount of travel support to all students is based on the distance travelled. Each student can receive up to a maximum of $50 per trip. There is no SSNT restriction on the number of trips, however, some schools place a limit on the number of trips per student per year.
"In addition, SSNT have a policy that no student is required to pay more than $1500 of the total cost per trip. This amount includes travel, sports insurance and uniforms.
"SSNT also provides support to teachers and other team officials through funding for travel, teacher relief and some accommodation costs. Hence, subsidies to students are not large.
"Teacher relief is the cost of paying a temporary replacement for a teacher who accompanies students travelling to sporting events.
"SSNT provides subsidies to individual students and there is no additional funding available for sporting teams.
"School Sport NT is expecting to send a team of more than 200 students to the December Pacific School Games in Melbourne and has applied to the NT government for a special grant.
"There are no other relevant subsidies available from the NT Government."
Mrs Lelliott responded: "I'm astounded to hear about this. Everyone should know about it. When we have asked School Sport NT before if we were entitled to anything, we weren't advised of this.
"That $50 a trip could add up over a two year period. It would be spending money at least.
"We've been told that the Pacific School Games will cost $2500 so I don't know where the balance would be coming from if the limit we have to pay is $1500."
When the Alice News asked the new minister for sport, Delia Lawrie, why a sponsorship program isn't currently available for non-Indigenous athletes, she said she wasn't able to comment as it was a federal funding issue.
When the News put the same question to senator Nigel Scullion, he claimed it was a Territory issue: "The primary responsibility for funding community sport rests with states and territories.
"The Australian Government does allocate some financial assistance to state and territories through its Sport Development Service Agreements, to assist in the delivery of community sport programs.
However, it is a matter for the states and territories to determine their priorities for the distribution of this funding."


Rangers at Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon) are reassessing their weed control strategy, abandoning some sites where the battle against buffel grass has been lost, but adding some new sites where it was not previously known there were infestations.
The new sites include chenopod (bluebush) communities, which are poorly represented in Territory parks, and highly vulnerable to buffel grass invasion.
These decisions have been based on the results of research by Parks and Wildlife scientist Helen Puckey, one strand of a Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (DK CRC) project looking at the dispersal, impact and management of buffel grass in Central Australia.
Ms Puckey says there is more buffel grass on Watarrka than can be controlled with current resources.
So the challenge is to identify and carry out control at select locations that are of maximum benefit to native plants and animals.
Watarrka covers 720 square kilometres, with many areas difficult to access. In the first part of her research, Ms Puckey conducted a trial aerial survey to map buffel grass by flying helicopter transects across the whole of the park. Observers on either side of the helicopter used a GPS and entered data about the buffel grass cover straight onto computers.
"We were well able to map from that height and at that speed and able to see areas of the park which are not possible to access in vehicles," she says. "We found infestations that we previously didn't know about because they were so remote from areas we access regularly in usual park duties." The distribution information was then combined with other information that could explain the presence of the grass, such as soil PH, soil type, distance of the plants from tracks and streams, tree cover, and grass cover. Each variable was given a value and the modelling done mathematically to come up with a "predictive probability surface", in other words, an indication of which areas are most likely to be invaded by buffel grass.
The most predictive factors were:
Distance from tracks and streams. The closer an area is to a track or stream the more susceptible to infestation it is.
Ruggedness. The more rugged the terrain, the less susceptible. Hummock grass (spinifex) cover. The more spinifex, the less susceptible. (This is related to soil type, as spinifex thrives in sandy soils, while buffel prefers clay soils.)
Native grass cover. The stronger the native cover, the less buffel.
All this information allowed a "probability surface map" of the park to be drawn, showing where buffel would be likely to occur now or in the future.
This map was then used in conjunction with existing vegetation maps to assess the areas of the greatest concern for conservation.
Not surprisingly, buffel has infested or is likely to infest the areas of high native plant species diversity as well as areas that host many rare plant species.
"Ground truthing showed the model to be relatively strong and accurate," says Ms Puckey.
"Not all sites with a high probability score have been infested, hich is to be expected when you are studying an invasive species that hasn't yet occupied its full niche.
"Now resources can be spent on making sure that buffel doesn't take hold in these areas, rather than starting behind the eight ball and spraying areas with a high infestation."
Ms Puckey says the work could be replicated in other parks, especially those with existing vegetation mapping.
"Aerial survey is more expensive than any ground-based survey tools but you get a lot more information.
"We got 3000 records for Watarrka in three days, doing just under 1000 kms of flight transects.
"It's the only option if you want that scale of information.
"And in the long run the benefits, both financial and environmental, derived from the wise use of limited resources outweigh the initial cost of the survey."
Early results from another strand of the DK CRC project look like they'll also have conservation implications.
This research, carried out by Michelle Waycott of James Cook University, is looking at how buffel grass reproduces.
The original varieties of buffel grass brought into Australia have always been supposed to be apomictic, that is to reproduce asexually, which means that they would breed true.
The other possibility is sexual reproduction, which allows genetic mixing, leading to plants adapting to local conditions. Ms Waycott's research is testing the characteristic genetic markers for the different original varieties and then applying the same test to varieties in Central Australia.
She hasn't yet been able to test every single variety but those tested so far are showing completely different genetic markers.
This means either all the original varieties are out there and have yet to be found, or that they've adapted.
If the latter is the case, it has implications for park management, especially for parks bordering pastoral leases.
CSIRO scientist Margaret Friedel, the project leader, explains: "It would no longer be possible to say, This is a palatable variety which we'll sow here and it will stay where we want it to, it won't be invasive'."
The third research strand, being conducted by Colleen O'Malley of the Threatened Species Network, is looking at the impact of buffel on biodiversity.
This is being done by establishing study plots in a fairly uniform environment but showing varying densities of buffel. The plots, all in the Telegraph Station Reserve and on surrounding crown land, will then be visited and sampled regularly over a period of time for the presence of other plants, ants, reptiles and birds.
Recent winter rains stimulating growth should allow sampling to begin in September, providing conditions stay reasonably mild.
Says Dr Friedel: "We'll see what conclusions can be drawn about sites with a little buffel and sites with a lot.
"Most of the information we have to date is anecdotal. The observation is that dense buffel reduces biodiversity, but no one has actually measured this.
"We have to be careful we don't leap to conclusions without data.
"This work is not about showing buffel is good or bad. It's about providing information for land managers to use in making decisions about what they do."


A peace garden in the Alice Springs General Cemetery on Memorial Drive will honour 46 deceased children only one of whom lies in a marked grave thanks to a project being carried out by the Rotary Club of Alice Springs.
The children died between 1947 and 1963. They were all babies, 40 of them, stillborn. It's not fully understood why the graves are unmarked.
The children include Trudy Foster who was stillborn on October 25, 1949, and Jacqueline Corby who was also stillborn, and died on January 17, 1952.
Many of the other children are just known by their surname including Quee (who died on 25 March 1955) and Fly who lived for just six hours on 28 August 1956.
David Mortimer of the Rotary Club had the idea of planting the peace garden: "The children's graves are located in a sort of add-on area of the cemetery and so have really been forgotten about.
"Unfortunately cars drive over them because they don't realise they are graves.
"Because of the other works we've done in the cemetery, I happened to stumble over this section and thought this should become my next project."
Before submitting his idea to the town council for approval, Mr Mortimer approached the parents of the child who has the only marked grave in the section to ask what they thought of his idea. They now live in Victoria. "They were totally in support of it and later sent a donation of $300," says Mr Mortimer.
Chris Bird, a local landscape architect, has drawn up plans for the garden free of charge, and has volunteered to oversee the project.
The peace garden is estimated to cost $47,000.
Sandstone stones will mark the grave of each child and a centrepiece will list their names.
A rusted maypole will be erected in their honour. Native Central Australian trees will also be planted, to replace the dying non-native foliage currently there.
The Rotary Club will begin fundraising immediately the focus of which is to be a radio appeal through the station 8HA, at a date to be announced.
The Alice Springs Cemetery currently has 2,720 known people buried there but only 500 graves are marked.

LETTERS: Canberra think again about nuclear dump!

Sir, Thirty people attended a meeting in Alice Springs last week at short notice to launch a community campaign against the federal government's plan to dump radioactive waste in the Territory.
In coming months the community-based "AliceAction" environment and social justice group will be organising a range of public events to activate other Alice Springs residents to stand up for a Nuclear-Free Alice and against the bully tactics of the federal government. We want a solar city not a nuclear city.
Alice Springs is already a leader in creative energy solutions, and we will not go back to the dark ages. There is no future in nuclear and our town has nothing to gain from this dump.
Minister Nelson calls our home "the middle of nowhere". We may be a long way from Canberra, but when a whole region unites on an issue, the federal government would be foolish to ignore us.
We will not roll over and take the federal government imposing their nuclear waste problems on Alice Springs. They lied during the last election when they gave their "absolute categorical assurance" that the dump would not be located in the NT.
They have clearly broken their word, so we clearly can't trust anything else they are saying about transport, containment, or public health risks.
We are concerned that this dump will become an international radioactive waste depot, and could divert Australia down the dangerous road of nuclear power.
This is just the beginning. We're ready for a long and colourful campaign. Saturday 6 August, the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, will see hundreds of activists and concerned community members gathering in the Todd Mall to reject a nuclear future for our Territory.
Sarah Hoyal

Water worry

Sir, I am wondering if you could do some muck raking about the proposed nuclear dump site at Harts Range.
This is big local news and since our water supply is ground water why isn't the whole of Alice Springs up in arms over this?
Obviously we get it dumped on us because we have the least votes nation wide.
J. Gale
Alice Springs

Sir, The Commonwealth Government should have a re-think before advancing any further on the three proposed sites [for radioactive waste] in the Northern Territory.
From the available evidence the three sites have been chosen because they are easy sites for the Commonwealth Government to implement, not because they are the best sites technically, environmentally or from a transport and security standpoint.
For example the Katherine Town Council is very concerned about the Fishers Ridge site, which is 42 kms south of Katherine and, from what I have been told, it sits on top of unstable laterite directly above an aquifer that supplies water to a number of Aboriginal communities in the area.
The Local Government Association of the NT (LGANT) supports a national approach to minimise risks associated with the production, storage, transport and disposal of scheduled wastes, but I believe the decision to select the three sites have been made in a rush for political convenience.
Before making any decision on proposed sites the Commonwealth Government should consult with the Northern Territory Government and respect the views of local communities. If the best site from a technical and environmental aspect is outside of the Northern Territory then that's where it should be, not just dumped on the Northern Territory.
It should be noted that this is primarily a dump for the Commonwealth to locate the waste coming back from the UK and France and from Lucas Heights.
The Commonwealth needs to find a site before it will be issued with a licence to build a new reactor at Lucas Heights.
Not only could the overseas waste enter the Territory through Darwin Harbour, Lucas Heights waste would come through rural NSW and if states and territories decide to co-locate the waste currently stored in their state or territory with the Commonwealth facility, the NT could have waste entering its borders from the four corners of Australia!
The people of Australia and the NT in particular should understand that the NT has a right to expect to be consulted and properly informed of the Commonwealth plans and their implications.
Ald Kerry Moir
President, LGANT

Scared of Government

Sir, We are the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta Senior Aboriginal Women's Council of Coober Pedy. We have already fought the waste dump here in South Australia. The government wanted to put the dump in our country and we won the fight last year.
We've heard the government is saying they will put the dump in the Northern Territory next. We just wanted to say to everyone don't give up, just keep on going. We did and won.
Lotta people live up north and we have got family, many grandchildren, living in Alice Springs. One place is only 20 kms from Alice, that's too close. And what about the rivers and creeks? And all the floods? And don't forget about the underground water.
We say keep the poison in Sydney at Lucas Heights where they make it. We have been saying that all along. We don't want the poison in trucks, driving along any road.
Manta winki the whole country has the Tjukur the Dreaming. One Australia, it was whitefellas who cut it up on a map, made the borders. No difference between Coober Pedy and Alice Springs. Northern Territory and South Australia. It's all the same country and we gotta look after it.
We are making a book that will be ready soon about our fight to stop the dump.
We were fighting for a long time but it was worth it to look after our beautiful desert country. We are making the book for all our kids to learn how to fight for the country. You fellas in the Northern Territory can read the book and learn too. And your kids.
Be strong like us. Don't be scared of the government. We weren't scared and we are elderly ladies!
Eileen Kampakuta Brown, Emily Munyungka Austin, Ivy Makinti Stewart, Tjunmutja Myra Watson.
Irati Wanti
Coober Pedy

No shops on trail

Sir, I read the story on the Larapinta trail (last week's issue)with great interest and pride right up to the paragraph saying, "Other irritations were the lack of shopping facilities, garbage disposal and when it rained of ways to get clothes and sleeping gear dry".
You have got to be kidding! Let's put a Woolies at every overnight stop and a garbage dump midway on each section and when it rains, bloody well celebrate! These are exactly the best parts of the Larapinta trail no rip off bullshit like at the Rock.
Steve Darling
Alice Springs

Mouths of babes

Sir, I am a 10 year old concerned about the way that the council can give David Chewings a fine.
It is not right, it's wrong. The council should pull their socks up.
David Chewings picks up other people's rubbish that the council should take care of and good on David if he does not pay the fine.
It's people like David Chewings that should be rewarded and yet the council want to build a big office, while there is still not a pathway in every street.
I know a boy who has been in a wheelchair all his life and he has to struggle to get any place in his street.
R. Prudham
Alice Springs


"He made everyone feel that they were part of this country," said Mervyn Rubuntja, speaking to the gathering of more than a thousand people at his father's state funeral last Thursday.
He described him as a "great old feller" who "with a few words ... was more powerful than most people could be".
He said he would "miss the news of his many trips", all the "stories of the good old girls and the good old boys" (Mr W. Rubuntja's white advisers).
"He was a funny old man too. He always made us laugh.
"The old man was a great teacher for everyone."
The son then stated, with a quiet sense of being ready, the challenge that passes to his own generation: "It's now for us to be a leader and make the old man proud."
Justice Geoff Eames QC, who in 1975 was seconded from Aboriginal Legal Aid to become the first lawyer for the then new Central Land Council, gave the gathering an insight into the Mr Rubuntja's eloquence and determination as a leader:
"After the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975 pressure was put on the incoming prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, to abandon the weakened land rights legislation which Mr Whitlam had introduced into parliament but which had not been passed into law.
"The Northern Territory Government strongly argued that if there was to be land rights legislation then it should be under the control of the Territory parliament, not the Commonwealth.
"Strong views were sincerely held by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and debate raged within those communities over many months.
"Mr Rubuntja conducted many meetings. He argued that the Commonwealth should control the legislation and for the retention of strong land councils.
"As is well known the meetings culminated in a very large demonstration in Alice Springs following which a deputation was sent to Canberra to meet the prime minister and argue the case for Commonwealth control of land rights
"In the course of that meeting at a critical moment Mr Rubuntja produced a very important sacred object which Arrernte traditional owners had authorised him to take to the meeting.
"It had been carefully wrapped in toweling. It had never before left Central Australia.
"He explained what it was and why it reflected his entitlement to speak at the meeting. He explained why land rights were so important.
"He spoke of the exhaustive process of consultation that had taken place throughout Central Australia on the issues.
"Mr Fraser was clearly deeply impressed by the sincerity of Mr Rubuntja and his fellow Aboriginal delegates.
"He said: You have my assurance. The law will stay in Canberra.'
"Mr Fraser was involved in many historic events in his time in government. I'm confident he would regard that moment as one of the most significant even though it is little known to the broader Australian community.
"The importance of what had occurred was not lost on the Territory Government.
"The next day 17 members of the then Northern Territory Legislative Council flew to Canberra to meet Mr Fraser and to urge him to abandon his undertaking, which he refused to do although he made some minor concessions.
"The Aboriginal Land Rights Northern Territory Act of 1976 soon became law.
"That moment in Mr Fraser's office ranks with the Yirrkala Bark petition, with the Wave Hill strike by the Gurindji, and with the later grant of title to the Gurindji in Daguragu by Gough Whitlam, as one of the most significant events in the history of the struggle for Aboriginal land rights.
"It was a moment of importance for all Australians."
This account helps to clarify Mr Rubuntja's much-cited vision for reconciliation.
If he wanted people to feel "they were part of this country" it was a graciousness on his part, not an acceptance of defeat.
He saw his people as "a sovereign people", as Tracker Tilmouth said in his eulogy, whose interests if necessary could be distinguished from those of mainstream Australia.
Hence, his suspicion of the republican movement: he didn't want to hand the country "to the convicts".
He saw Aborigines as having more in common with the Queen.
This was a funny story but also underlined Mr Rubuntja's tremendous belief in himself and his culture and justice that overcame disadvantages such as poverty and lack of formal education.
"He died a poor man with no assets," said Justice Eames, " but with enormous and justified pride in what he'd achieved, especially for the town campers of Alice Springs.
"It was his wisdom and negotiating skills which inspired the Alice Springs town land claim before Justice Ward, which in turn lead to title being granted to land for the first time in Alice Springs for the hundreds who lived without shelter in terrible conditions in the town camps.
"He never spoke with hatred for any persons, but always looked for common ground.
"He always thought people who were ignorant and hostile to Aboriginal people simply did not understand.
"He thought such people might respond to a friendly approach and be educated to understand and enjoy the company of Aboriginal people and to respect their culture as he respected all other people's cultures."
In this regard it is timely to acknowledge the continuation of Mr Rubuntja's work, as well as that of the late Thomas Stevens among others, in a recent project by Mervyn Rubuntja and other Arrernte artists and story-tellers, on display at the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct.
The project, coordinated by Dan Murphy, consists of paintings and stories of the important Arrernte sites of Mparntwe (Alice Springs).
Reproductions of the paintings are on view inside the Yeperenye caterpillar sculpture in the gardens of the precinct and the original canvasses are hanging in the foyer of the arts centre.
Our photo shows Mervyn Rubuntja's painting of the Yeperenye Dreaming.
"I been told by my father about this story.
"It belong to old Peter Ross, Sid Ross. The eldest of them is old Bob Rubuntja. Mparntwe is the centre for Yeperenye Dreaming.
"The three main circles represent Emily and Jessie Gap and Heavitree Gap. Those outside represent Middle Park, Larapinta, Morris Soak, Trucking Yard, Ilpye Ilpye, Hidden Valley and White Gate.
"Round golf area too. These are the main place where the caterpillar been travel round.
"When you go to Emily Gap there look at that cave. You can see paintings and stories, all still there, ceremony place there."
In his notes for another painting, of Heavitree Gap, Mervyn describes his and his family's responsibilities: "This place really belong to Ross family.
"But this is main place here.
"We're living longside the range [in Larapinta Valley], we keep it, grow up here, look after him.
"Something might, whitefella might do wrong. That's why I watch him."
The state funeral for W. Rubuntja, the first for an Aboriginal leader in the Territory, was, as his son said, "an honour he deserved".
The challenge for all people of Alice Springs now is to keep alive the great man's spirit of "dignity and hope".


Accurate scoring and dramatic tackles meant Federals and Pioneer were well-matched in the AFL A grade game on Saturday afternoon.
The final score was 18-15 (123) to Feds; 14-15 (99) to Pioneer.
As the match opened it looked like Feds would easily take it, scoring 6-6 in the first quarter, with Pioneer trailing 4-2.
But a twisted leg after a dramatic tackle meant Feds' coach-player, Jason Willshire, had to sit out.
And in the second quarter, the green and gold Pioneers gained confidence and possession of the ball to bring their score to 8-7, nearly matching Feds' 8-9.
Willshire had some stern words for his players at half-time and although Pioneer scored immediately after the opening whistle, Feds' 15-12 score at three-quarter time was better than their opponent's 11-11.
The red and white team then managed to stay ahead throughout.
Pioneer's number 23 player, Graeme Smith, worked particularly hard on the pitch and deserved to win best player for his team.
Man of the match for Federals was Aaron Hogan.
The other A grade contest was a walkover for South, who got an easy win 31-24 (210) over Rovers 3-2 (20).
Sherman Spencer scored a fantastic 10 goals for South and was named best player at the end of the match.
For Rovers, it was only Darren Porter (two goals) and Kasper Penhall (one goal) who managed to score.
In the reserve match, Pioneers were disappointed with their 7-6 (48) loss against Feds' 22-9 (141). Pioneers' were relying on older players like Paul Ross, Graham Hampton and Eric Walker to come out of retirement to make up the numbers.
But with Feds fielding players like Adrian Dixon, who consistently played well to score a goal in the first quarter, two in the second, three in the third and another two in the final quarter, Pioneer didn't stand a chance, despite pulling their socks up in the last stages of the game.
In the other B grade game, South and Rovers had a good tussle with Souths narrowly coming out on top getting a 9-13 (67) win over Rovers' 9-1 (55).
Playing some of their former A grade players, Rovers proved their consistent competitiveness in reserve AFL, with Travis King (who scored three goals), Richie Morton (one goal) and Glenn Swain showing their value to the club.
Souths' most valuable players proved to be Robin Fishook, who was named best man of the match, with Jeremy Scrutton also working hard on the pitch.
In the country games, Southern AP showed their strength again to win 16-13 (109) over Western Aranda 13-7 (85).
Ti Tree 23-11 (149) had an easy game against Plenty Highway 9-7 (61). South's Robin Fishook played well again after his Saturday match to score three goals for Ti Tree.
In the under 17s match the scores were different but the result was the same with Southern AP winning again 12-6 (78) against Western Aranda's 3-6 (24).
The other under 17s game was a walkover for Plenty Highway, 17-10 (112) thrashing Ti Tree's 4-3 (27).


An 11th-minute goal for Vikings was all the team could manage against Scorpions' strong defence in A grade football on Sunday.
The final score was 1-0, the single goal scored by Troy Cox.
Scorpions played hard and well to keep the Vikings in check, with mid-fielder Conan Robinson shining as a particularly valuable player for the team.
He was matched by good defence from Jhana Chowham for Vikings.
In the other A grade seniors match, Verdi won easily against Federals, 5-0. But Feds played hard to cope with only 10 players after Simon Danby was sent off for dissent.
And Busy Bees nearly caused the upset of the tournament in B grade after narrowly losing to ASFA, 4-5. Bottom-placed Bees buzzed with goals by Matt Wilson, Ryan Eason and Steve France, but ASFA's last goal of the match by Jamie Toyne was enough to take the game.
Also in B grade, Joel Goldring played an exciting match for Vikings, scoring two goals but hitting the post an incredible four times.
The final score was 4-0 to Vikings, but Scorpions were down to 10 players after Urf Manzohl was sent off due to a late tackle in the penalty box.
Vikings' performance at the weekend has brought them closer to stealing the number one league position from Buckleys.
The top-placed team only narrowly won against Federals with a single goal, obviously lacking the sparkle they showed earlier in the season.
The game of the round next week promises to be the face-off between Buckleys and Vikings, one match before the semi-finals.


I love the smell and the feel of clean sheets. We have a story in our family about some relatives who would not let visitors, not even family, go upstairs in their house because they never cleaned their sheets.
I find it hard to believe but very amusing that the rejected members would come up with it as a reason.
This same lot also patched a broken window with newspaper as a permanent solution, to save money, but unlike the poorer rellies they could also afford to build two new houses. We do some strange things in our own lives and in society as a whole. It is more difficult to see the humour in a nuclear waste dump next to the Centre for Desert Knowledge, where renewable sustainable energy sources are supposed to be promoted. One could be forgiven for thinking it was a joke. But it isn't unfortunately. It is typical for the way we operate as human beings. We don't think. We just want. It is nice to have clean sheets and a computer to work at.
While I try not to be wasteful I have no idea how much energy I'm using daily to make my life comfortable and enjoyable. I'm happy to pay the power bill but I don't give it much thought. I don't know how much of what I presently enjoy I would give up for the greater good, or how much I would be prepared to pay to keep it.
Our politicians and government representatives are not brave enough to test our resilience. They are like most of us, too worried about their own comforts to risk their jobs on radical and possibly hugely expensive reforms that would benefit our grandchildren. Despite our advanced technologies and scientific breakthroughs we are as reluctant as ever to commit to long term' strategies at a global level.
The world out there is also right here. Sydney's waste disposal problems are also ours. As much as we dislike to we have to play a part in the solution. We cannot hide. But there should be a dialogue, not a legal war.
Just because we haven't got state status or a large population our opinions should not be shunned. We should spend our collective energy on working to achieve environmentally safe and sustainable energy production. Management of hazardous waste should not be an after thought nor should consultation with the community. We need to stay up to date with the environmental challenges our country and our world face. We need to question our ever increasing demand for more energy and bring issues like uranium mining, medical and other radioactive waste problems out from under the carpet.
Democracy has always been more of a dream than a reality. While we engage in wars, supposedly to protect that dream, it seems we are sacrificing a lot of our principles in the process.
The greater good of the planet and its peoples is seldom the focus of the great democracies of the world. As individuals we have to put the pressure on our governments and insist on being heard. A great Alice Springs man has just passed away. He did many things and was many different things to many people. But to me it was his inclusiveness, his willingness to share and work together for a better shared future that stood out.
He could see how we are all part of the same picture. How we all belong and have a place. He pursued his vision and got results. We should not lose sight of the individual's ability to help shape our future.

Geographically challenged. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

I like asking for advice from other people.
It's a way of having a conversation and it usually produces an outcome.
The trouble is that I struggle with the natural tendency of all blokes of a certain age to think that they know everything and so don't need any advice.
I thought about this while watching a commercial on television that featured a blonde woman explaining how she knows nothing about tyres but is confident in the service provided by her local tyrefitters. Can you imagine the woman being replaced by a man?
We'd all think his upbringing was faulty.
What kind of man admits to ignorance about blokey stuff like tyres?
In the spirit of being open to the advice of others, I asked a few people directions from Alice Springs to Bateman's Bay, a town on the coast of New South Wales near Canberra. In each case, I set aside a few minutes knowing that a full response would require the directions to be repeated three times, a mud map to be drawn on the back of a placemat and general waving of arms towards the south.
After all, this is the way that most of us give directions. Generally, the advice seemed perfectly good and the people providing it clearly knew what they were talking about.
But in other cases, confusion reigned. In fact, I had to steer the focus away from Adelaide and towards Sydney before people could start to make sense.
Even I know that Canberra isn't in South Australia. This demonstrates that the Adelaide-fixation of the population of Alice Springs shows no sign of declining.
We love Adelaide more than we love our own mothers and for reasons still not clear to me but probably connected to doctors, Myers and the spurious delights of Glenelg.
In these conversations, it took a while to establish that you head down the highway for a long time and you turn left somewhere near Adelaide, providing that you can resist the fairy floss at Magic Mountain (what is the matter with people?).
The next challenge for my travel advisors was to describe the rough locations of towns on the map facing the nervous driver as he leaves the Flinders Ranges behind.
The truth is that distinguishing your Waggas from your Oranges is a lot more difficult than it seems.
Throw in less recognisable places like Nyngan and Wellington and before you know it, most folk have expressions like the blonde woman from the Beaurepaires ads.
Strangely, geographical cluelessness also extends to those who were born and raised in NSW, which tells us something else; you can live in a place for years and manage quite happily by knowing only the next town on the highway in either direction.
Faced with dodgy directions, wouldn't it be satisfying to give your hapless helpers a blindfold and then gently nudge them towards a map of Australia with a thumb tack in their hand.
The answer to the question, "Can you direct me to Canberra, please?" would be more accurate this way than if they waved their arms about all day with their eyes open and drew endless mud maps. Look, I'm pretty vacant as well but if none of us can reliably locate the capital of the country it's the fault of the people who invent capital cities. Settlements need to grow up for a better reason than the whimsies of a few men with hard hats, clipboards and those little clicky pencils with the infuriating graphites.
Put a city by a harbour or a river and it helps the geographically-challenged to find the place.
Stick it in a paddock beyond barely distinguishable country towns and we stand more chance of pinning a tail on a donkey.

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