NATIVE TITLE OWNERS SAY: DON'T PAY BEGGARS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Tourists giving money to beggars, bush visitors burning trees in the Todd, security guards moving people on without finding out first why they are there: all of these are "inappropriate" and Alice Springs native title holders say they want them to stop.
Through their body corporate, Lhere Artepe, the native title holders are developing a set of cultural protocols, which will be promoted through a media campaign launched next March on National Community Harmony Day.
"No humbugging" will be one of the messages, addressed to both the humbuggers and those who encourage them by giving them money. Humbugging would stop, says vice-chair of Lhere Artepe, Betty Pearce, if tourists refused to give money.
"Nobody humbugs me anymore because I say, 'OK, let's go buy a sandwich'.
But 90 per cent of the time they don't want food, they want money for alcohol and that's what we don't want." Some behaviours will require behind the scenes education. Mrs Pearce says a lot of litter in the mall is dropped in anger and frustration by Aboriginal people asked to move on for no good reason.
They may be there for a perfectly good reason, like waiting for the bank to open, or just talking to one another "as anyone is entitled to".
"We want to work with security guards and police, encourage them to talk to people and if their reason for being where they are is legitimate, leave them be."
Lhere Artepe also want the Central Land Council to come on board to help with education of bush visitors about what can be done in town and what can't.
It's important that people from remote communities visiting town plan their return trip, says Mrs Pearce.
"When people from communities go down south, to a place like Port Augusta, they always know how they'll get back," she says.
"Usually it's when they get their next cheque, but on a short trip into Alice they have to plan to keep some money for the return trip."
However, certain protocols may need more than education. Burning of trees and littering in the river have got to stop and council by-laws addressing these problems need to be enforced and possibly made more effective.
Similarly, the Liquor Act needs to be enforced but not abused. Mrs Pearce says some Aboriginal people report that their unopened cans or bottles are seized by the police, opened and tipped out, simply on the suspicion that they may be about to consume the alcohol in a public place.
"That's not right and we want to work with the police so that the Act is enforced in the way that it is meant to be," says Mrs Pearce.
There is no intention that Lhere Artepe employ their own "enforcers". Ideas about the organisation having "homeland rangers" have been discussed, but their role would be more one of cultural liaison.
Esther Pearce has been employed on a short-term contract to coordinate the protocols project. Most recently Ms Pearce was regional director for the Department of Community Development, Sport and Cultural Affairs in the Barkly (2002 to 2004).
She says three research officers have been recruited, using CDEP money topped up by Lhere Artepe.
Their job will be to find out what key stakeholders as well as the general public think the problems are, what is required to remedy the problems and who is or should be responsible.
They'll receive on-the-job training as well as accredited training with a view to preparing them for longer term employment opportunities.
Recommendations from the recent public meeting on anti-social behaviour, held in conjunction with the town council, will be assessed for incorporation into the protocols, and there'll be at least one more public meeting.
CHIEF MINISTER LEAVES TOURISM INDUSTRY IN THE DARK. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
The government's apparent decision to turn the semi-autonomous NT Tourist Commission into a department, or make it part of one, is a step backwards, has been taken without consultation with the industry, the Territory's largest, and would be difficult to change.
That's the view of Lynne Peterkin, chairperson of the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association (CATIA), after talks last week with the regional tourism associations of Darwin and Katherine.
Ms Peterkin says the changes, about which very little is known, come as the industry in Alice Springs is recovering from a slump caused by September 11 and the Ansett collapse (see page 5).
Ms Peterkin says: "What Clare Martin's government has done is to declare that the Tourist Commission is no longer the semi-autonomous body that we've had since the early 'eighties, through an Act that made it a commission rather than a department.
"I think that is a retrograde step.
"There was minimal if any consultation with the industry. I certainly wasn't consulted.
"We are still desperate for real information about what the intentions are. We really haven't even had an announcement about it," says Ms Peterkin.
"We've had no communication from Clare Martin as the Tourism Minister at all.
"We're definitely trying to set up a meeting with her.
"She's been on holidays. We haven't been able to find out anything.
"We're still feeling our way to such a degree that Maree Tetlow, the managing director of the commission, was on holidays when the decision was made.
"It was done while she was away, and nobody told her."
Commission chairman Richard Ryan told the Alice News that so far as he knew, the changes were a strategy to "improve communication between departments.
"We're working on the assumption there will be no other changes, but I don't know."
Mr Ryan says he will be in Alice Springs on September 28.
Ms Peterkin says there will be a six months review of the changes but she believes they will be profound and irreversible.
"It is Labor policy all over Australia.
"Almost every other state is doing or has done the same thing, and there are some people who think that it's been a great advantage for those states.
"I'm now fairly certain that this has been government policy for some time, the opportunity for these huge changes came with the huge mandate Clare got in the last election.
"I cannot recall the changes having been mentioned by the government in the election campaign.
"I don't think there is any chance that we will go back to what it was before.
Somehow, we in the industry have to accept it and do our best to get the best outcome we can, out of a change that no-one expected and I don't think anyone really wanted."
The Alice News asked Ms Peterkin: "How strong is CATIA? If you told Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne and Clare Martin that you are really upset abut what they are doing, and you don't want them to go ahead with it, what would they say to you?"
Said Ms Peterkin: "I don't think I could say that over the phone.
"The two big regional tourism associations in Alice Springs and Darwin, CATIA and Tourism Top End, we definitely have an influence with the Tourism Commission.
"They will listen.
"Sometimes we will agree to disagree.
"My own personal feeling and that is my own feeling, not CATIA's is that Clare is in the same position now as John Howard is federally.
"If it's government policy that this is the way they want things to go, we can say all we want, if they are really keen on it, they will do it anyway."
Ms Peterkin says she doesn't think there will necessarily be a cut in funding.
"The Labor government has been really supportive of tourism, and the funding of the Tourist Commission.
"As a commission it had to go in to bat for funding, as any other department, and once it had its money, it kept it. But money for a department can be diverted or delayed. That's my biggest concern.
"At the moment we're being reassured that won't happen, but the thing is, it can happen now. That's what we have to worry about."
The previous chairman, Tony Mayell, under a CLP government, had cut the number of board members from 13 to five.
Camel tours operator Michelle Smail is the only board members from Central Australia.
Imparja and CAAMA chief Owen Cole resigned last week.
Ms Martin recently appointed Mike Burgess, the chief executive of the Department of Business as an additional member.
Ms Peterkin says if the government continues to have a board, instead of being the management of the commission it is likely to be an advisory board to the tourism department, and would have much less control and input.
VISITOR FIGURES UP AS OVERSEAS TOURISTS RETURN: PETERKIN.
CATIA chairperson Lynne Peterkin says the tourist season, which started last month, seems to be boosting industry income in Alice Springs by five to 10 per cent.
The cause may be the return of overseas visitors rather than the government's multi million dollar Share Our Story domestic campaign.
However, she says there is no clear information yet because the Tourist Commission's statistics are released quarterly, despite repeated requests from CATIA to supply figures monthly.
Ms Peterkin spoke with Alice Springs News editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
PETERKIN: The end of last year saw the signs of things starting to pick up after the big slump caused by September 11 and the Ansett collapse in 2001.
The best year we've ever had was the 2000-01 financial year.
This current year I haven't spoken to anyone who isn't doing better than they have for years.
Hotel managers who come to our meetings are saying we have 80 per cent occupancy day after day after day whereas the average in Alice Springs has been 50 to 60 per cent.
But it's all anecdotal because the figures come in late.
NEWS: Why haven't you got them?
PETERKIN: You've got to have someone to collect them, and the hotels themselves, especially the smaller ones, don't necessarily have all their figures collated.
One of the things CATIA has always pushed with the Tourist Commission is that we need timely results. Instead of getting quarterly results nearly at the end of the following quarter, we need monthly results within a month. And we need to split Alice Springs out of Central Australia [so the Ayers Rock figures don't skew the statistics] and this is starting to happen now.
RESEARCH The Tourist Commission has the research people who do that sort of stuff.
NEWS: We do regular tourism surveys and it usually takes us only a day to get sufficient data for an indication of the industry's state, and write a report. Why can't CATIA do that?
PETERKIN: It takes longer when the commission do the whole lot.
The commission has promised more timely results, scientifically collated and presented in a way that doesn't compromise anyone's confidentiality.
NEWS: What have been the results in CATIA's own experience people coming through the door of the Visitor Centre, and making bookings? PETERKIN: In each of the last three years CATIA's visitor centre had roughly the same numbers of people through the door, and bookings have increased by about five per cent corrected for inflation.
NEWS: That's hardly an indicator that the extra money from the NT Government and the Share Our Story campaign are successful.
The NT Government has put an extra $1.3m into promoting Alice Springs. It's spending $27m in addition to its normal budget, over three years, with one to go. Why aren't we seeing any results?
PETERKIN: That expenditure of $1.3m for Destination Alice was really late, which was one of our problems, and it didn't actually kick in until May.
There were so many delays with the Destination Alice campaign.
We're only now starting to see the benefits if they are in fact related to the campaign, which is domestic.
What seems to be happening is that through their own marketing by some operators, and changes in the economies overseas, we seem to be getting our internationals back.
That was the big drop for Alice.
We depend on internationals more than any other place in the Territory.
NEWS: The Tourist Commission, under the new government, has made a lot of changes. Have they worked?
PETERKIN: There was much attention to branding, colour schemes and so on, but the industry found it hard "to tap into it".
When people pick up a brochure they immediately need to think "Northern Territory".
The brochures must be similar in look.
But access to the style manual, for example, has been very slow in coming.
The brolga is still there but it's in a mono colour so it can be put on more things, but on some things it doesn't show up.
The other promotions of the commission are continuing in conjunction with the new campaign.
NEWS: CATIA, which is meant to be a watchdog, gets a lot of its money from the Tourist Commission, that means from the government.
Would being an effective lobby not mean having to bite the hand that feeds CATIA?
PETERKIN: Most of the money from the government is to run the Visitor Information Centre on a contract basis, and promotion.
VISITOR About $640,000 comes from the Commission, $300,000 for the visitor centre, and the rest for marketing, including attending travel fairs and several publications.
There is a service level agreement for functions formerly carried out by the NT Tourist Bureau, shut down about 12 years ago.
None of this affects our lobbying.
CATIA would still be functioning without funding from the commission.
BEDS FULL, SHOPS NOT. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
A survey of local tourism businesses showed that hotels and backpackers are doing well but shops are generally feeling the pinch.
Says general manager of Lasseters Hotel Casino, Michael Lucas: "Our occupancy rates are definitely up compared to last year - by about 10 per cent. Both business and tourist guests."
A spokesperson for the Alice Springs Resort puts their increase at around five per cent "compared with June, July and August last year, using actual figures and forecasting the occupancy rates for the remainder of this month."
Occupancy rates at the Elkira Motel are slightly up on last year and "we're up quite a bit in monetary terms, around 10 per cent", says owner-manager Kevin Lang.
"Overall this is a much better year compared to last year for us. Some of the outlying motels have shut down and gone into apartments and some motels in town have become long-term accommodation.
"That's where we've gained I don't think there's a greater amount of tourists compared to last year.
"Our guests are made up of 35 per cent inbound tourists, 30 per cent local tourists and the rest local people," says Mr Lang.
Crowne Plaza is doing "better than last year around 10 per cent better", says Mazen Ywadi, front office manager. Aurora Alice Springs and Red Ochre Bar and Grill are doing "really well compared to last year", says Ron Thynne, general manager.
"For the hotel, our occupancy rate is 87 per cent compared to last year's 93 per cent but the revenue will be the same.
"The Red Ochre Grill passed last year's revenue a week ago. It's now open longer hours and every day of the year which is generating a huge amount of extra business."
Mulga, manager of Annie's Place says, "Business is very good slightly up on last year but by a noticeable amount. The backpacker market is changing - there are more couples and the internet is a great tool."
The MacDonnell Range Holiday Park is also enjoying a "very good" year compared to last year. Says owner-manager Brendan Heenan, "The drive market was quiet last year. This year we've been at least 15 per cent busier.
"The biggest increase has been in domestic visitors although we are still getting a lot of international visitors."
July was "excellent" after a "very slow" May and June for Novotel, Desert Palms motel and Toddy's Backpackers.
"We're 0.2 per cent down on occupancy compared with last year for July, and August looks pretty good as well for all three of the businesses," says part-owner and manager Angie Reidy.
Lone Dingo has had a great season in its new location: "It's been phenomenally busy," says co-owner Mariann Neu. "We've never before experienced more trading our sales have doubled.
"It could be because we moved location to the Todd Mall in March but we do a customer survey on locals and tourists and we're seeing more of both types of customers."
For Kerry Noll at The Bush Store "it's just starting to pick up now".
"It's about the same as last year and last year was a pretty bad season.
"We're getting a lot of students on holidays from the US coming through."
Chris Brandso and Jane Rosalski, co-owners of The Red Dog Café are not doing much better than last year.
"It's picked up later in the season than last year," they say. Being listed in the travel books like Lonely Planet really helps us. We were going to change the name but we won't now."
The Gem Cave has been "unusually quiet compared to last year", says the manager.
Outback Bar and Grill has also been "quiet compared to other years". "Unfortunately losing another airline isn't going to help," says manager David Russell.
Kevin Boland at In the Picture thinks business is "slightly up from last year".
"Certainly there's more people around. We have closed one shop down [in the Alice Plaza] so it might seem that we're more busy.
"But we've extended our hours we'll give it a go to see if it's worthwhile."
Dysons / Cobb & Co are "a little bit busier compared to last July".
"We've got the contract for one of the Japanese charter flights coming later in August," says manager Jeff MacPherson, "and we had the Italian one in June they have given us a fair bit of money."
Pam Hooper at Don Thomas has had a "brilliant" season: It was good for us last year too, our figures are similar. We have a large local base but tourists as well.
"It's hard to tell if Share our Story is making a difference but I think it's a waste of a good opportunity to have something more punchy and attractive for people."
FALLOUT OVER NEW MINES, NUCLEAR DUMP. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Heated exchanges notwithstanding, the relationship between Darwin and Canberra about uranium mining in the Territory isn't necessarily at an end.
A staffer for Federal Minister for Mines Ian Macfarlane says the joint decision making about new mines is still available.
And NT Mines Minister Kon Vatskalis says he wants to have another meeting with Mr Macfarlane.
Mr Vatskalis concedes he told Mr Macfarlane at their recent meeting in Darwin that if anyone comes along, wanting to start a new uranium mine in the Territory, he (Mr Vatskalis) would simply give the prospective miner Mr Macfarlane's telephone number "because only Mr Macfarlane has the power of approving new uranium mining here".
Mr Vatsklais says it was only a short meeting and there are other issues to be discussed, including that Canberra hasn't got powers for the running of mines, but the Territory has.
For example, Darwin is controlling the Territory's only current uranium mine, Ranger. Does that mean the NT has Canberra over a barrel?
Not really, because with its recently acquired control over the Senate the Feds can give themselves pretty well any kind of power they want.
Confused? There's more.
NT Chief Minister Clare Martin claimed Mr Macfarlane "declared Canberra wanted to remove the Territory's control over uranium mining".
Mr Macfarlane's staffer says she listens to her master very carefully and can't remember him having said that at all.
In any case, as Ms Martin points out, "the Commonwealth has controlled the decision-making power over Territory uranium mining since Self-Government in 1978".
Canberra does have that control, but no more and no less than it would have control over the price of eggs if that were regulated by a Territory Act, because the NT isn't a state, and the Feds can overrule every single one of our laws.
None of this stopped the Alice basd Arid Lands Environment Centre from thundering: "In a staggering display of contempt for the quarter million Australian citizens of the Northern Territory, the Howard government today seized control of the right to grant uranium mining licenses, declaring that the 'Territory is open for business', regardless of what the simple locals might want to say about it."
If the NT never had the power, how could it be "seized" from it?
And why would Mr Vatskalis walk way from joint Darwin-Canberra decision making about uranium when his boss, Ms Martin, is so upset about Canberra's lack of consultation about a nuclear waste dump? Heaven knows.
Territory Labor in line with the party's national organization has a "no more uranium mines" policy.
On the face of it, there's no point in any joint decision making, because Darwin is bound to say "no".
But Mr Macfarlane's staffer says the Federal Minister would make any decision on the merits of a case, and if it's strong enough, the mine may not go ahead.
This is the established process:-
An intending miner would begin by asking the NT Department of Mines for a license.
The NT Mines Minister would seek the advice from Canberra which would look at issues of environment, impact on Aborigines and safety.
The NT Minister is bound by the advice from Canberra.
"He is simply the messenger. Not the decision maker under the Self Government Act," says Mr Vatskalis. The granting of an export permit is also in Canberra's hands.
Meanwhile Steven McIntosh, Government Liaison Officer with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, confirmed that waste from nuclear fuel bought from the USA by Australia's Lucas Heights reactor can be sent back to the USA, and doesn't need to be stored in Australia (Alice News, Aug 3).
Mr McIntosh says that under that arrangement, brokered in 1996, all fuel obtained from the USA since 1958 has gone back (one shipment so far) or will be going back.
FILM, TV CRANK UP. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Imparja TV has its eye on national and international pre-sales for a series it will produce on the history of Aboriginal art in Australia.
This will be a first for the Aboriginal-owned broadcaster, which till now, with shows like Yamba and Outback Edition, has produced programming only for broadcast within its footprint.
Says general-manager Alistair Feehan: "The series will give us a chance to showcase the relationship between land and art in remote Australia. There is a huge void in the domestic and European markets intensely interested in Aboriginal art, which this product can help fill."
Titled Artscape, the series will initially run for 13 half hour episodes, but if successful, it would be followed by a second 13-part series.
Imparja will produce it in-house, although "we will need some external expertise", says Mr Feehan.
"We also want a collaborative approach hopefully the art centre advocacy bodies, Desart and ANKAA from the Top End, will be major contributors."
Some initial seeding money has been provided by the Northern Territory Tourist Commission and "we've got some really good advice from the NT Film Office".
"Their industry knowledge in the production field is superb," he says, referring particularly to director Penelope McDonald and to Craig Mathewson, whom the Film Office employed to research the state of the industry in the Territory.
This research, expected to be released shortly, shows the industry to be "a lot bigger than we'd expected", says Ms McDonald. "There are over 500 people active in the industry and its turnover in 2003-04 was $38m." She suggests this information, combined with recent national and international successes for local practitioners and product made in the Territory, puts the industry "on the cusp of significant growth".
"For the first time it would be possible to fully produce a feature film here, a drama that could be written, acted, shot in the Territory. The only thing we haven't got here would be some high-end sound mixing and laboratory stuff.
"But the industry is fragile, it needs support.
"A lot of creative ideas never find their market. This is the same everywhere. For every Hollywood film that we see there are scores that don't get seen.
"In Australia we haven't got the volume of audience that would allow the industry to absorb this kind of ratio, that's why we need development assistance. And there are so many benefits that flow from being able to tell our stories, with tourism the most obvious one."
And Ms McDonald argues that a small amount of development assistance can go a long way. Example: the Film Office supported 11 businesses to attend the Australian International Documentary Conference held in Adelaide earlier this year. Two of these had interest in their documentaries which has since "firmed up" with broadcast pre-sales of between $50,000 and $100,000.
Government assistance in supporting attendance at the conference came to less than $20,000, while the commercial return stands to be many times this.
A similar approach was taken with the upcoming Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) conference on the Gold Coast, the most significant screen industry gathering in Australasia.
Following intensive pitching workshops conducted by the Film Office in June in Alice Springs and Darwin, multi-award winning film maker David Curl, based in Alice, will represent the Northern Territory at conference, pitching his film Shadows of Uluru in the Holding Reidlich Pitching Competition. Mr Curl is one of four finalists from around Australia, in the running to win an all-expenses paid trip to an international industry market of his choice.
Good as far as it goes, says Mr Feehan, and the government deserves acknowledgement for having established the Film Office in the first place. But now's the time for it to invest in the industry more seriously.
Mr Feehan suggests a boost to the Film Office budget of $12m over three years to allow more substantial development assistance. That's a huge increase from the initial $1.05m over three years. "That kind of increase in government investment is what's happened elsewhere, " he says, " and the return will come from the exposure given to the Territory.
"We have the most shot landscape in Australia, but it's rarely a Territorian getting to shoot it. We've got the skill set here; if the industry had the full support of government it would take off."
He says the current script development grants for $5000 should more realistically be $40,000: "That's what you'd need to give the projects some real legs, taking the industry to the next level."
He says the Film Office also needs to be properly staffed so that "Penny is not expected to work from dawn till midnight".
I put to Mr Feehan the experience of the News' managing editor Erwin Chlanda, who worked for 15 years, producing news and current affairs for national and international broadcast, gaining hundreds upon hundreds of hours of exposure for Territory landscape, events and people, without one cent of government assistance. Why wouldn't that be possible for other operators? "You're talking about one individual who had what it takes, but not an entire industry. You have practitioners highly skilled in certain areas who aren't necessarily that savvy when it comes to selling themselves. They are also disadvantaged by remoteness from the big production houses. A lot of work in the industry goes to who you know."
Ms McDonald also says not every product will be in the commercial sector yet it is still important that they are made. Nobody argues with the worth of the cultural contribution made by the great artists of the Renaissance, much of which was produced under the patronage of the Catholic Church and aristocrats like the De Medicis.
"Today government has this role of patronage," says Ms McDonald.
On the other hand, a good feature film will make money and some documentaries do: "Some of mine have," she says.
Mr Feehan says Imparja likes to be "relatively self-sufficient", although it does receive government subsidy for satellite delivery to its four million square kilometre footprint, as well as subsidy for its "social platform" Indigenous programming on Channel 31 and training of Indigenous staff.
The station has taken an innovative approach to "cross-training" of its staff:
"Some jobs in television are unbelievably boring," says Mr Feehan. "So we've taken tape operators, for example, and shown them how to operate master control, or work in the studio, or on the non-linear editing suites.
"Our production capacity has expanded by 30 per cent in 12 months and we've got a degree of flexibility which is superb."
Apart from developing the Artscape project, he says the station has doubled local content coming out of the newsroom; they will do another series of Outback Edition; and they're looking at more specials on events like the Finke Desert Race and the Mt Isa Rodeo.
Meanwhile, Mr Feehan, unlike many within the industry, thinks the government's investment in the Southern Cross television series, The Alice, was "a great idea".
"It's got a similar quirky feel to the Sea Change series, which really put Barwon Heads, where Sea Change was shot, on the map. It's become a real holiday destination. Land prices have gone silly.
"That's the power of the medium.
"Whether it's good or bad television is almost irrelevant. If the series was cancelled from tomorrow you couldn't buy what has already gone to air in terms of exposure for Alice Springs."
STILL HOPE FOR OPAL FUEL ROLL-OUT HERE.
The further roll-out of unsniffable Opal fuel across Central Australia is not as dead in the water as Health Minister Tony Abbott recently gave to believe.
Since Mr Abbott made his statements at the end of June, saying that the cost of a blanket roll-out would be prohibitive, the federal government has asked to hear more.
Manager of the Mutitjulu Working Together Project, Gregory Andrews, and a substance abuse researcher, Peter d'Abbs, were invited to Canberra to make presentations on the issues to officials from the Department of Health, The Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.
This week Mr Andrews is also among those being summonsed to appear before a coronial inquiry into the deaths of three young people who sniffed petrol, two of them from Mutitjulu.
Mr Andrews will be arguing for a comprehensive roll-out of Opal across our region: not only will it save lives and put a stop to the misery of sniffers' families and communities, it makes budgetary sense for the government: "A conservative estimate of the cost of a full roll-out is around $8m a year," he says. "The health costs of doing nothing could be as high as $80m a year. The average health costs of maintaining an ex-sniffer with acquired brain injury are $300,000 a year and there are around 600 sniffers in the region.
"The Australian government provides fuel subsidies for farmers, miners and mariners of around $3b per annum. If the farmers and miners don't get these subsidies, their children won't die.
"But if petrol sniffing is not addressed in the central deserts, around 120 young sniffers will be dead or in wheel-chairs in the next few years."
Mr Andrews talks about an "addiction epidemic", which needs to be dealt with by both supply reduction (replacement of sniffable fuel) as well as demand reduction (alternative activities) and treatment strategies. He says Mr Abbott hasn't fully grasped the reality of the problem.
Speaking on the ABC on June 29, Mr Abbott said: "In the end, if people are determined to be out of it, if they want to opt out of normal life well, it's very, very hard to stop them, and there's always a balancing act for governments to pursue."
Says Mr Andrews: "Sadly, petrol sniffing is normal on many desert communities, it's not dropping out, it's part of the culture.
"In many places if you don't drink grog, smoke marijuana or sniff petrol and share your money to do those things, you will be socially excluded."
However, the culture is not so entrenched as to not respond to relatively simple measures.
At Mutitjulu, reopening the sport and recreation hall and having a program of regular youth activities has stopped vandalism of community infrastructure in its tracks.
In the last six months of 2004, when the sport and rec hall was closed because of a lack of staff, sniffers caused over $100,000 in damage to facilities including the health clinic, school and adult education centre. But since the reopening and recommencement of programs "nothing has been trashed".
KNOW YOUR OWN WORLD FIRST, SAYS ALICE'S FANTASY AUTHOR. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
She wrote four complete novels and probably began about 40 before she felt a manuscript was ready for publication.
She sent it off and it was accepted, becoming the first book of the best-selling fantasy series, The Demon Child Trilogy.
That's how Jennifer Fallon got started and one of her messages to aspiring writers is, "You need to practise a lot before you get good just like a concert pianist."
Interestingly for a fantasy writer she also says, "Go out and live."
"If you don't understand how the real world works, you'll never build your own fantasy world."
Fallon (not her real surname) is one of Alice Springs' quiet success stories. She's sold over 200,000 books in Australia, USA, Germany and Russia.
Two series, The Hythrun Chronicles and Second Sons Trilogy, have followed her first. Her ninth book has just been published and has gone into reprint after three weeks. A fourth series is in the offing.
She gets paid in six figure advances.
It's the stuff of wild dreams for many and you might think it would go to the woman's head.
But I met a terrifically grounded person who was packing up toys used by the foster children she'd had staying overnight fostering is something she's done all her life, why should it change now?
She babysits her grandson, manages her mortgage, and continues to work part-time for Group Training, teaching Business Certificate III "It keeps me in contact with the real world, keeps me civilised," she says.
She wouldn't dream of leaving Alice Springs: "I've got real friends here, people who've known me for almost 20 years, with no agenda. Why would I change that for the contrived world of celebrity?"
Besides, "Alice is in no way a hindrance to my career people think I'm really exotic."
At the same time, Fallon's very proud of her achievements, pointing to the shelf full of the various editions of her work: "Not bad for a girl who left school in Year 10!"
At that stage she'd already decided she was going to be a best-selling author, following in the footsteps of adventure writer Wilbur Smith. Later she thought she'd try writing romance, but she discovered "if you don't love the genre, you can't write it".
She began reading fantasy in the early 'nineties, when she was married with three young children.
The genre offered a great escape from domestic life, and she discovered the escape was even better if she made the fantasy world up herself.
After doing this for a while her ex-husband suggested she quit writing to become a better housewife, which only sealed her resolve.
She was 38 and getting divorced when her first trilogy was published.
Publishing she says is "the icing on the cake".
"True writers will write whether they are published or not.
"I had a phone call from a man who said he had a great idea for a book and wanted to now how he could get it published. 'Write it!' I said.
"Well, he didn't want to do all that work if it wasn't a sure thing. 'Go to hell!' I said.
"If you've really got a story to tell you'll write regardless." But if you are sending work to a publisher, it has to be "commercially viable".
"There's no corporate conspiracy to stop people being published. If a publisher sees something that will sell, they'll publish it.
"People don't realise that it's often the tealady who gets to read the manuscript first.
"If the person on the street doesn't get the manuscript, there's no point in an editor looking at it."
Fallon says she doesn't write to a formula but she adheres to a fundamental principle that her central character should "start at one point, and finish up somewhere else, having learnt something along the way". She also fills her books with "characters other people can relate to".
She keeps to one point of view per chapter and tries to have as much action as possible happening as the narrative unfolds.
"Make it immediate," is a reminder sign on her desk.
She knows how her stories will end: "I won't start until I know the ending."
Indeed, she sells her books on synopsis and while there's some flexibility in what she does along the way, "who'll live and who'll die" doesn't change.
She says the fantasy genre gives her freedom to explore ideas: "I play the eternal game, 'what if?' What if Hitler won the war? Well, people will say he didn't, but if you make up a world built on his kind of extremist ideas, you can explore that question." In her forthcoming series, The Tide Lords, Fallon is taking on questions of immortality and genocide: "The Tide Lords are immortal, they've done everything the world has to offer, they don't want to live anymore but they can't die. They decide to destroy the planet but the mortals try to stop them."
She turns these ideas over with her friends and her three adult children: "We have the best discussion in this house we've thoroughly explored the logistics and physiology of immortality. While the ideas keep coming and the fans keep reading Fallon will keep writing but she has set the bar: "The day my next book is not better than the last, I'll quit".
VERDI LIKELY TO TOP LEAGUE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Verdi's 1-0 defeat over Vikings in A grade football at the weekend means the team looks set to win the football league for the 2005 season, with Vikings runners-up.
There is one match to go before the final league game is played.
Going into the match, both teams were on equal points and the tense, tight game proved that each wanted badly to win.
But Verdi showed itself the better side, with Alby Tilmouth deserving the single goal that decided the match.
This season has been Verdi's first big chance at winning the league, having only managed runners-up positions in past years.
The team has been the first in town to take advantage of Southern Zone's football development officer who has been working with them in training to improve their attacking flaw.
Verdi must win their match next week to secure the league title.
The other A grade match on Sunday between Scorpions and Federals wasn't nearly as exciting both were under strength, playing with just 10 a side.
The final score of 3-0 to Scorpions was indicative of Feds' loss at the weekend of Simon Danby, the side's good defender.
Feds caused an upset in the B grade competition, beating ASFA 2-1, which could cost the losing side a chance of reaching the semi-finals next week.
Made up of the town's best 14 to 18 year old players, ASFA was expected to win. Most of the game was spent in the Feds' half and out of three shots at goal, Feds scored twice (Josh Wiles first, then Noel Murtagh).
For ASFA, now fourth on the ladder, only Sergiy Dunayev scored.
Busy Bees proved again how they're the most improved side in B grade this year, losing only narrowly to Thorny Devils who pipped them by a single goal from Andy Vinter. Goalie Ben Griffith proved his metal for Bees, helped by Adrian Glover in defence.
And it was a must-win match for Scorpions v Dragons, with the 2-1 win for Scorpions moving them from fifth to third place with a good chance of getting into the semi-finals.
Paul Konlcek got the goals for Scorpions, with Mickey Smith scoring for Dragons.
Top of the table teams, Vikings and Buckleys, played another must-win match, with Vikings' two-goal win over Buckleys' nil marking them the number one team going into the final match of the league next week.
If they win the game on Sunday, Vikings will be B grade champions for 2005 a major achievement for the club, as it was uncertain if they would be able to field a side at the beginning of the competition.
FEDS LOSE AGAIN. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Federal may have cost themselves third place in the final AFL table next month after a poor performance against South at the weekend.
The final score of 16-18 (114) to South and 3-4 (22) to Feds is just another in a string of bad results the club has suffered.
Their weak performance is partly due to injuries that have plagued the team.
Although strong player Darryl Lowe came back from injury last week, he didn't play his best on Saturday. The Federal forwards were starved of opportunities as South dominated from the start, getting off to a 4-8 lead after the first quarter.
But Federals do have a chance to redeem themselves when they play bottom-of-the-table Rovers next week.
In the other A grade game, it was the top of the table against the bottom as South beat Rovers 29-25 (199) versus 0-1 (1).
Rovers continued to play well in B grade though, beating West 13-14 (92) versus 3-2 (20).
In the other B grade match, South defeated Federal 15-13 (103) versus 10-5 (65).
The most exciting matches of the weekend were in the junior and country games.
In the under 17s match, West thrilled the crowd in the last quarter to come from behind to win 12-6 (78) against Rovers 12-5 (77).
In country football, Central Anmatjere were three or four goals behind for the whole game until the last quarter when they defeated Ltyentye Apurte 11-4 (70) versus 9-13 (67). The final points were scored in the last minute of the game.
In the other under 17s game, Federal beat South 12-16 (88) to 2-3 (15).
The second country game saw Yuendumu beat MacDonnell Districts - the final score was 22-13 (145) for Yuendumu and 11-13 (69) for Macs.
The under 17 country cup game was won by Ltyentye Apurte 11-7 (73) against Central Anmatjere's 3-0 (18). Yuendumu won the second game after MacDonnell conceded a forfeit.
I just can't remember. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
I have often been disappointed that I should be able to remember what I was doing when momentous world events took place, but I never can.
My only excuses are that I must have been at a football match when Kennedy was shot and I was sleeping-in when a man first walked on the moon. I can't even say that I heard a mind-blowing record by the Beatles or the Stones the first time it was played on the radio, turning teenagers into raving animals. However, I can remember the first time I heard the word "sustainability".
I was wearing patches on the elbows of my corduroy jacket and sharing two beers between five penniless teenage mates in a pub. We were nerdy types and we spent an hour debating what sustainability meant. At the end, we were none the wiser.
For this reason, there is a special meaning for me in living in a town whose name often appears in the same sentence as sustainability and where people still wonder what it means like they did in the 'seventies. Don't worry, this is not the point at which I attempt a definition.
If you want one, look in the dictionary like I have countless times in the last 25 years. There are three popular reactions to sustainability. The first is, "I'm sure it's good but I don't I understand it".
This happens where the word has the same effect as a pink ribbon on the lapel of a pin-striped suit. It improves the whole effect, making the wearer deep and caring even if nobody knows what the ribbon means. A sustainable Alice Springs sounds a lot better than plain old Alice.
The second response is, "Can't we talk about something else?" which always seems reasonable to me given that I can't imagine people in other states spending much time pondering a sustainable Dubbo or a sustainable Sydney for that matter. Sustainable Surfers Paradise has a ring to it, though.
The third reaction is one of resignation, as though being sustainable means that we have to stop doing something that we enjoy, like sprinkling vast amounts of water on mangy patches of grass on the nature strip or driving 5000 kilometres around Australia to visit Auntie Iris. Sustainability is like pushing a whale up a beach and not just for those of us who were struggling with it since Manfred Mann was in the charts.
If only the word was less baffling, less elitist and less preachy then perhaps we could enter the mainstream with our heads held high.
Why can sustainability have the popular appeal of "make poverty history"?
So it was with relief that I learned of a trend towards gauging individual sustainability through the single measure of carbon.
Balance your personal carbon emissions and you are heading in the right direction, say a host of celebs like Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Let's face it, one day we will all need to be carbon-neutral.
But remote living does little for carbon-neutrality. In Central Australia, buy an exotic plant, purchase almost anything in the supermarket, get out of town for your holidays and you'll find that your personal contribution towards sustainability is compromised. And so we are left with small but meaningful attempts at redressing the balance, like remembering to switch off the booster.
There's a place for this subject and for once it isn't the too hard basket. Instead, I'd rather value the minor efforts at local self-reliance.
Let's give it up for Territory lettuces, the chook economy, cycling in forty-degree heat, rainwater tanks and anything else that reduces our dependence on energy-intensive supplies from down south.
Then again, in the final analysis I can't imagine my scraggy hens saving us from dwindling reserves of expensive oil.
The Alice: what others think doesn't matter. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
A lot of the arguments between my children are about what they call each- other.
"Mu-um, he called me a stinky," is a common one when my two youngest are together.
"You know you are not a stinky," I will reply, and then "Don't let it bother you, don't listen to him", but the five year old still gets upset over being called stinky by her teasing three year old brother who is quickly learning the power of words.
Why is it so important what other people think of us?
Why do we get so upset when we are ignored or misrepresented? It doesn't matter if you try the old "sticks and stones can break your bones, but words cannot hurt you".
Especially when we are young we give the opinions others have of us a lot of importance. We may not yet ourselves know who we are and are hurt or insulted. But how can someone, who is not you, know who you are?
What belongs to us is sacred to us. We love our own children best. Our mum's the superior cook, our country is the most beautiful. No one can truly appreciate our town like we can.
Nevil Shute's book A Town like Alice was not really about Alice Springs and just because a TV series is called "The Alice" we should not be offended when it doesn't get a thing right. It is the difference between fiction and reality, or mine and yours.
Most people arrive in this town with preconceived notions of this place, its people and social issues. Someone recently told me of a nurse who had come up from Melbourne to work on a community.
She thought that she knew what to expect disease, misery and substance abuse but was surprised to find positive dimensions to the experience she could never have imagined, especially relating to Aboriginal culture.
Another guy I know who came up to teach at a different community had his idealised illusions destroyed and learnt about the reality of human nature, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Living in the real Alice we know what it is really like for us, although the experiences of this place will vary greatly within our population. But commercial fiction does not aim to illustrate reality. It is more about how we feel about reality, how we interpret and dream about it.
Maybe urban Australians need TV series like Something in the Air, Sea Change, The Flying Doctors, A Country Practice, McCloud's Daughters and now The Alice to feel connected to a national identity.
The setting is not important, just the fact that it is rural and on some level gives the urban viewers a glimpse of 'real' Australia or rather the mythological Australia where people are in closer contact with the elements, closer to the stereotypical idea of what Australia is all about.
Alice Springs' historical importance for linking Australia with the rest of the world is significant for the identity of this country and in that sense also its romantic remoteness, harsh climate and Indigenous culture.
From an entertainment point of view cases like 'the missing baby' and Falconio add mystery and eeriness. Fear of being alone. Fear of the unknown, the dark, the wide open spaces.
Basic human fears, emotions buried deep inside the brain.
Often it is easier to know what we are not, than what we really are. Easier to know what we don't want, than what we want. What is it we would like the world to know about us that we are not sharing?
Are we a bit touchy because we are a little insecure or maybe ourselves feel, deep down, that we have made an inferior choice?
It is how we see ourselves that really matters, not what other people think.
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