September 14, 2005.


The Opposition is making a last ditch effort to rally public disapproval of the Government's plans to hand over national parks to Aboriginal ownership.
The move is now before Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone who would need to seek a change in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act for the policies to be implemented.
NT Senator Nigel Scullion says he understands Senator Vanstone has been asked by the NT Government to initiate the amendments which would need to go before both Houses of Federal Parliament.
Senator Vanstone is currently "considering her options", says Senator Scullion.
The Opposition has always opposed the surrender of parks ownership, albeit with little vigor during the recent election campaign.
Now the CLP is saying it will "take every step possible within the law to reverse this [hand over] policy.
"Parks are for all people."
The party says it will "will assist and encourage indigenous people to participate in the management of our parks" but not as owners, leasing the parks back to the public.
CLP sources are now saying former Leader Denis Burke would have done much better giving emphasis to the parks issue during the elections, which ended in a rout of his party. Opposition Whip Richard Lim says the issue did not have sufficient prominence in election.
"It is too complex to come to terms with," he says.
However, his party, if it gains power again, will "explore every legal means available to salvage all we can for all Territorians".
Dr Lim says this week's call for public comment on the NT Parks and Conservation Master Plan is an opportunity for Territorians to express their views on the park issues. He says Senator Vanstone is a "straight shooter" and will allow a "fair and democratic process" to unfold.
[See our special coverage starting on page 3 of a summary of the issues.]


Clare Martin faced crunch time over Aboriginal affairs much sooner than expected in her new position as Chief Minister. According to the Opposition she rolled over in the face of demands from the Northern and Central Land Councils over native title rights in national parks, deciding to transfer them to Aboriginal ownership. She says she wants to avoid divisive and expensive litigation such as was pursued, over land rights, by her CLP predecessors.


The trigger was this: A year after Ms Martin's government came to power the High Court handed down the Ward Decision, dealing with native title issues in northern WA and, peripherally, in the Northern Territory.
The court had found flaws in the declaration of Territory national parks: the NT's own laws say parks can be declared only on land in which the NT Government has an interest, and no-one else.
From Mabo, the first native title decision, flowed that native title holders ­ in several instances ­ may have had an interest in land before it was declared a park.
The Wik (Queensland), Ward (WA) ­ both High Court ­ and Davenport Murchison (Federal Court) decisions have set many of the ground rules.
Significantly, previously granted pastoral leases extinguished, forever, some key native title rights, including controlling access to the land and controlling the use of the land.
Those rights, once extinguished, cannot be revived. (Extinguishment can be ignored in some cases, for example pastoral leases held by native title holders, land held for the benefits of Aboriginal people and vacant crown land where, for the last two categories, the Aboriginal people occupy the area.)
All or most of the Territory's parks were previously pastoral leases.
However, court decisions held that surviving native title rights can coexist with pastoral leases, and parks, but the operational requirements of the pastoralists always prevail over native title rights.
Native title rights don't mean ownership of land, but the right to do certain things on it, although a native title right to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment to the exclusion of all others pretty much equates with ownership.
Significantly, on the NT Parks web site the terms "native title holder" or claimant seems to be used interchangeably with "traditional owner".
Any Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) following a "template" obtained by the Alice Springs News would, in effect, convert native title rights into an entitlement to Aboriginal freehold ownership that is "inalienable" ­ it can't be sold or mortgaged, a condition often blamed for the current parlous state of Aboriginal economic activity.
The template, apparently drafted by the government and the land councils, says the ILUA would "deal with the native title issues of the Park as Aboriginal land under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act".
Native title rights were also converted into land ownership in the Larapinta residential subdivision deal struck by the government in Alice Springs.
So, with regards to the parks, Ms Martin seems to be giving native title holders a lot more than they could possibly obtain by negotiating or going to court under the Native Title Act.
Giving up public ownership of parks to avoid native title negotiations and ­ perhaps ­ litigation, seems like trying to cut back on health spending by applying euthanasia to anyone coming down with more than the common cold.
Remaining rights on most of the parks previously under pastoral lease may include entering the land, hunting, gathering, conducting ceremonies, and some residential privileges.
Ordinarily, the entitlement to those rights would need to be proven by the claimants: They would need to demonstrate an ongoing link with the land, and that they have previously exercised, held and still hold the rights now being claimed under the traditional law and custom of a society which has its roots in the society existing at the time Europeans asserted sovereignty over the area.
Court rulings are still patchy on how that can be proven.
But in any case, many of those rights can be fully exercised by native title holders as members of the public, entitled to enjoy parks like everyone else.
Any further rights can be granted through ILUAs.
It's not clear why any of this necessitates the transfer of ownership.
Maybe the Native Title Tribunal could have cast some light on all of this: However, the tribunal was not party to the agreements between the NT Government and the Land Councils.
The tribunal has registered the ILUAs resulting from them.


The parks handover policy, as enshrined in the Parks and Reserves (Framework for the Future) Act, provides for relinquishment of ownership to Aborigines; a 99 years lease-back, a lease payment to the new Aboriginal owners of apparently $1m a year; and no fees nor permits for visitors.
Interestingly, the government's spin claims the arrangement has a string of benefits for everybody, ignoring that the same advantages could just as well be achieved by ILUAs granting certain rights ­ without surrendering ownership.
Aboriginal involvement in parks management is universally seen as a bonus. There are already quite a few parks rangers.
Tourism promoters are constantly ­ and mostly in vain ­ clamoring for more Aboriginal participation.
So why does the government spin suggest Aboriginal participation can be achieved only by surrendering ownership?
Sample: "Joint management aims to ensure ... an enhanced parks system through recognition of Aboriginal cultural values ... enhanced tourism and recreational opportunities."
Given that all of this is achievable through negotiation and agreements, provided there is good will from the Aborigines, how come ownership of the parks is even an issue?
On the other hand, if there is no good will from the native title claimants ­ and the land councils ­ does government not have an obligation to protect public property?
The other part of the spin is the dire ­ if unspecified ­ consequences of any litigation.
Sample: "The costs of resolving all these issues through the courts would be prohibitively expensive for Territory taxpayers, not to mention the potential compensation costs, which would take many years to settle.
"The uncertainty arising from the High Court's Ward decision extended to a large part of the NT Parks estate. The [deal] resolves and removes that uncertainty.
"The compulsory acquisition approach would be likely to result in considerable litigation in the Federal Court.
"Compulsory acquisition would also take a long time to conclude ... at least five years.
"However, a realistic estimate is that the determinations for the 17 Parks would not be likely to be concluded for many more years."
Omitted is the fact that having to go to court would be the result entirely of a bloody-minded attitude by native title claimants, demanding ownership of the land rather than certain rights on it.
Says the spiel: "Clearly, such an option [litigation] is not one which Traditional Owners would prefer and pursuing this option would be likely to jeopardize the success of Aboriginal involvement in the management of Parks and the incorporation of Aboriginal culture into the Parks experience."
Hello? If the native title claimants don't want to go to court, surely they won't!
While the spin seeks to play down the role of the land councils, clearly they will have a substantial role in determining who is a legitimate claimant and who gets the money: "The relevant Land Councils will be providing warranties to the Territory with respect to each ILUA that they have consulted with and had regard to the interests of persons who hold or who may hold native title in the Park," says the parks web site.
"All decisions relating to NT Parks and Reserves will be made by the joint management partners ­ that is the traditional Aboriginal owners and the Government. "In order to assist with this, the Government proposes to confer some functions on Land Councils relating to joint management of the Parks, in particular, the identification of the correct Traditional Owners and the distribution of income."
So, while in the land rights process claimants had to prove their rights before an independent tribunal, the Land Commissioner, conducting hearings mostly open to the public, in Ms Martin's parks deal the land councils are deciding the claimants' bona fides, and who should be getting the royalties.
No doubt the land councils will also pocket a good slice of the annual lease payments for administration.
Says the ILUA template: "Any act ... permitted to be done by the Land Trust [the proposed owners of the parks] ... in relation to this lease may be done by the Land Council.
"The Land Trust hereby irrevocably appoints the Land Council to act on its behalf and in its name [and] as its agent."
The rent to be paid by the NT Government to the Aboriginal owners, starting July 1, 2010, would be set by the Australian Valuation Office in line with the "annual current market rent".
This rent as well as the "provisions of this lease" will be reviewed each 10 years; in the intervening years the current CPI will be applied to the rent.
In addition to the rent payments the government must pay to the Land Trust half of all income "excluding any reasonable administrative charges".
The ILUA template also has the following provisions:
€ Native title would not be extinguished by granting the lease.
€ "Aboriginal communal living areas" are permitted.
€ The government must not "transfer, assign, sublet or part with the possession" of the park, or part of it, "without consent in writing of the Land Trust".
€ The government carries all insurance risks and pays all rates and taxes.
€ The government must "consult and have regard to the views of the Joint Management Partners before exercising any powers over liquor distribution or consumption in the Park".
€ Aborigines' rights include "establishing and maintaining living areas, hunting and the use of resources in accordance with the Plan of Management ... and ancillary and related uses".


"Labor will bring new openness to Territory Government with measures to ensure public access to information, accountability of Ministers.
"After 26 years in the halls of power, the CLP is allergic to scrutiny.
"This secrecy makes people cynical about their politicians."
This was pronounced by Clare Martin in a statement grandiosely titled "New Directions For Good Government In The Territory", on June 19, 2000, the year before the ALP won its first election.
Five short years later the ALP is not just allergic to scrutiny. It doesn't allow it.
It doesn't answer questions it doesn't like. It doesn't give access to government files if it doesn't want to.
This is illustrated powerfully by the Martin government's process in surrendering, under a cloak of secrecy, public ownership of the Territory's national parks.
Only scant details have been made public about the deal so far and answers are refused on vital matters.
When Alice News chief reporter Kieran Finnane interviewed Ms Martin in mid-2002 the notion of "inclusive" government was still in vogue: Ms Martin raised it three times.
And about Aboriginal affairs Ms Martin told Ms Finnane: "The other major issues here are around how we manage in the whole Indigenous area and particularly on the issues of land rights and native title.
"I believed Labor had a much better fundamental approach to resolving those issues, taking the ideology and the confrontation out of them."
Today, three years later, Ms Martin's alleged desire to avoid confrontation has reached new heights with the way she's dealing with the parks issue.
Or else Ms Martin feels she has special obligations to the land councils.
In March this year we asked her to comment about the Central Land Council (CLC) summarily sacking white store managers on Aboriginal land, Anna and John Machado, from Willowra, and arts advisor Narian Kozeluh, from Ampilatwatja.
We asked Ms Martin how she thought potential investors in Aboriginal enterprises would view the actions by her negotiating partner in matters of park ownership.
"I'm not going to make any comment about that issue," she said.
"The CLC was acting in its appropriate role.
"You're not going to get me to bag the CLC on something. That's not my job.
"My job is to look at the overall development of the Northern Territory."
By that time Ms Martin's style had become pretty obvious. She would attach her name to anything promoting her image while be nowhere to be seen when things go pear shaped.
An early example was a kafuffle a year ago when park managers closed the summit of West Mac-Donnells icon Mount Sonder, ostensibly because traditional owners had requested it.
As it turned out they hadn't, and the ban was lifted. The Alice Springs News broke the story, raising the question whether this confusion was an early indicator of things to come when the parks had become Aboriginal property.
On July 21, 2004 we reported:-
This is the third week in which Chief Minister Clare Martin ­ the chief negotiator of the handover ­ is dodging questions on the Mt Sonder issue, saying, via a spokesman, it is for [Minister for Parks] Dr Burns to respond.
Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Lim has accused Ms Martin of "deliberately refusing to deal with the issue.
"She is the Minister with the responsibility to negotiate the handover and lease back conditions under the Parks Masterplan," says Dr Lim.
"Clare Martin is either incapable of understanding the issue and thus not prepared to speak about the matter, or she is staying [away] from the issue so that her image is not tarnished by the errors of her government in giving Territory parks away to a chosen few."
Soon after this story, in the lead-up to the elections this year, a moribund Opposition failed to breathe life into the parks issue, which is now generating growing frustration and disapproval as the implications emerge.
But the government was following a by now tried and proven strategy:-
A limited number of points are released to the public; no further debate is entered into and no questions exploring further details are given.
The chosen tidbits are repeated at nauseam, while information on other aspects is simply withheld.
And this straightjacket approach goes right to the top: early in the first Martin term Peter Toyne, a man of high integrity, was a reliable and articulate source of detailed information and background.
Since then he's been silenced and brought into line.
It's a pity that as Minister for Central Australia he didn't have the backbone to reject such a demeaning role.
A million miles from Ms Martin's early protestations about transparency, this is how the government is now dealing with the public: the Alice News, having covered the highly complex parks issue from the beginning, started working on an update on August 18.
After several phone calls and emails we sent, ahead of publication, a story draft to both Ms Martin's senior minder, Fred McCue, and to the media section of the CLC.
The draft contained an error (which we corrected in last week's edition).
Neither the CLC nor Mr McCue bothered pointing out to us that error.
The story ran on August 24.
Granted, the CLC has no obligation to co-operate with the Alice News (it gave us some information); the CLC's charter is to get the best deal for its members.
However, Ms Martin's government certainly does have such an obligation.
Mr McCue spent a good half hour on the phone with the Alice News on August 20, explaining how busy he and everyone else was, and how he would do his best to get the information, and so on, but didn't respond to the draft.
We still have no answers from him to questions raised in the August 24 report.
We emailed 21 questions to Mr McCue on August 25: you guessed it, no answer.


Native title claims seem to have taken a new twist with demands made from a resource exploration company in Central Australia.
The firm, which did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, yielded to demands for compensation payments although there are no known native title holders in the area of the company's operation.
The company was told by the NT Department of Mines that it would be advantageous to do a deal in case native title claimants came forward at some future time.
The deal included a secrecy clause, and the Alice Springs News was unable to find out how much was paid to extinguish native title that may not even exist.


Buffel grass could colonise up to half of the continent ­ replacing native vegetation and changing the balance of wildlife species that depend on it, warn researchers from the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre.
Buffel grass is not a declared noxious weed or one of the WONS (Weeds of National Significance) because of its value as a pasture in the grazing system. This status as both friend and foe poses the dilemma for those trying to work out how to manage it. "Just about the only thing that keeps it in check is grazing," says Dr Margaret Friedel, who has studied the vegetation of inland Australia for over 30 years.
"The time may come when we have to consider this as one strategy for protecting parts of National Parks and nature reserves which have been invaded by buffel."


No over-grazing and turning erosion around: that's what won Dick and Ann Cadzow of Mount Riddock Station near Alice Springs, the Rural Press Landcare Primary Producer Award at the 2005 Northern Territory Landcare Awards.
The Cadzows have been managing the 2500 square kilometer station for 20 years using landcare techniques without any assistance from the government or other organisations.
The judges said: "Careful planning and execution of their on-ground activities, in conjunction with sustainable grazing management, has resulted in dramatic improvements of inland condition and pastoral productivity on their property."
Brian Scarsbrick, the chief executive of Landcare Australia commended "landcare achievers" as "Australia's land and water resources are in serious trouble".
"We are losing a piece of land to salinity every day due to poor management practices," said Mr Scarsbrick. "Seventy per cent of Australia's native vegetation has gone. The whole point of the National Landcare Awards is to salute amazing people who perform extraordinary acts to help our environment."
Mr Cadzow was on holiday when he found out he'd won the competition. He says his landcare practices have taken time and labour to implement ­ but have meant his land is now twice as productive.
"It took a couple of years to see the benefit and a lot of work has gone into it ­ but it was worthwhile. If we didn't do it we would have gone backwards."
Mr Cadzow grazes 5000 cows, calves, steers and bulls, which are sold for meat in South Australia and Queensland.
The main landcare practices the Cadzows have followed are avoiding overgrazing and reclaiming all eroded land using ponding banks and getting rid of rabbits.
Ponding banks stop water from eroding topsoil and allow grass to grow back, increasing fertility by keeping the nutrients in the ground rather than losing them to run-off.
A bank is put in where the land has eroded to hold back up to eight inches of water, stopping gutters and gullies from forming.
"It's not new, it was pioneered on Wood Green about 150 km away, by Bob Purvis," explains Mr Cadzow. "We picked out the worst areas to start with, that took two or three years. It was a family effort, three of us doing a bit every year. There's a lot country to cover. I don't think I'll live long enough to finish!"
Mr Cadzow rid the station of rabbits by destroying warrens with a bulldozer: "We saw the difference the following season, the land just grew."
Mr Cadzow says he was delighted to hear he'd won the competition: "We're pretty pleased about that. You get better carrying capacity ­ even in the dry years you get more productivity using landcare practices than in the wet years if you don't use them.
"We're about to fence up in smaller paddocks and try rotational grazing. The work will be done over the summer months and it's on the program for next year."
The national winners will be announced in October next year.


Alice Springs grandmother Yvonne Payne was among those recognised at Batchelor Institute's recent annual graduation ceremony.
Yvonne, who's lived in Alice for 24 years, received a Certificate IV in Business Management (Community Management) as well as the Department of Community Development, Sport and Cultural Affairs Award as the most outstanding student completing the Certificate IV in Business.
Yvonne began the 12-month course late last year.
"I wanted to consolidate the knowledge I gained from previous workplaces," Yvonne said, "and hope my desire for learning will rub off on my grandchildren who were all up front clapping during the ceremony.
"I've worked at Batchelor for the past six years and just completed a diploma in Social Sciences last week.
"The journey has been six years long and I would not have been able to do it without the encouragement of Batchelor staff members. "And it has been an interesting journey; I've met different people from all over including different countries.
"Batchelor's two-way learning enables you to get mainstream yet culturally appropriate learning."
Robyn Heckenberg from Thurgoona, NSW, who received a Graduate Diploma in Business Management and Administration, said Batchelor's supportive atmosphere was unique among tertiary learning institutions.
"There is a strong sense of attachment between lecturer and student at Batchelor," Robyn said. "Students want to do well to please their lecturers and their lecturers want to help as much as possible.
"There is also a sense of peer support.
"The atmosphere is not competitive; there is a lot of collaboration and team work such as helping one another use the various computers or even making sure one another is up on time.
"From the moment you arrive at Batchelor campus you get the sense of community and family; you get a sense of self-esteem and being capable of taking your place in the community.
"Now I'm looking forward to the next step in my journey of learning."
Gwen Schrieber from Woree, Queensland, received a Graduate Certificate in Business Management and Administration.
"I flew in from Cairns to attend the graduation ceremony and attend a workshop here in human resource and management," Gwen said. "I've really enjoyed full-time study, you never stop learning, you can always learn something new. Twelve months after retirement I decided there was more to life and read about Batchelor and decided to give it a go. I'm ready to go to the next level." Chairperson Rose Kunoth-Monks, said 39 different courses were represented at the ceremony, which saw 118 students recognised for a range of achievements, from certificates to degrees and post-graduate attainments.


The Alice Festival has truly had something for everyone, and the crowd of several hundred spectators from around the world, of whom I was one, were thrilled with the display of traditional Aboriginal dancing and singing on the grounds of Araluen on Saturday.
A sort of recreated HUB-space hosted the event, with a red dust stage for the performers.
The first dance was by an older woman and a young girl, both Arrernte. The contrast between their movements was lovely to watch, and their dancing together was significant in showing that traditional Aboriginal dancing isn't only enjoyed by the older generation. They were accompanied by an older man beating two boomerangs together.
The second dance was performed by women from Papunya, displaying their interpretation of the honey ant dreaming story. With their bodies painted in yellow and white with matching yellow headbands, it was a privilege to witness something which has its roots in a culture 40,000 years old.
The women began their dance on the right-hand side of the stage, gently jumping with their backs to the audience, and then gradually turning to face them.
They danced towards a small group of singers and rhythm-beaters, and when they finished, became part of them.
This was the pattern for the performance: the dancers becoming the singers as the dancing group got smaller and the singing group larger. They beat out the rhythms using traditional rhythm sticks, their hands and even plastic bottles.
The third group of dancers came from Haasts Bluff, Mount Liebig and Docker River. They performed several dances, including a snake dance by three men. With snakes painted across their chests and red headbands across their brows, they danced in a different way from the women.
Moving across the stage diagonally rather than from right to left, they used their feet to kick up the red dust, and their wrists and arms to flick slim gum tree branches in time to the singing.
Another performance was by two women painted in orange and red, dancing with scarves of the same colour. The vibrancy of the colours was enhanced with the red and orange flags decked around the stage.
As the sun began to set behind Mount Gillen, the dancing closed with a group performance by six elder women, painted up in red and white, who danced with strips of red wool, twisting it with their hands in time to the rhythm.
It was incredible to watch this ancient connection to the land still carried out in 2005.
The evening continued with Imparja Desert Song, a collection of choirs from across Central Australia.
The one I enjoyed most was the Western Desert Renal Choir, which has been formed by a nurse, Sarah Brown, to help her patients cope with life on a dialysis machine.
"The renal patients and their families are forced to locate to Alice Springs to receive dialysis and the choir was formed to promote wellbeing," said Sarah. "It represents an opportunity for people to get together, to forget their problems for a little while and to give something back to the community."
The singers, dressed in bright orange t-shirts, were a mixture of older and younger people, and sang pieces from the Tulku Yinkapayitjarra (Pintupi-Luritja Hymn Book).
Accompanied by a guitar, the music was gentle and lilting, sort of like a lullaby. Quite a contrast to the Bass in the Dust concert which was held at the same time!
The choir is part of the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, a registered charity ­ for more information or to help support it, contact 89 530002.


Bass in the Dust 05 was great : compared to last year's event it looked and felt classy and professional. I had an absolute ball dancing the day, then the night away to some really fantastic acts.
Unfortunately there was very little support for the musicians who played before 5pm. Would the reason for this be that they started selling booze at 5?
Tashka Urban played to an audience of no more than 60 at about 1pm, an hour after gates opened. By the end of the night it was 1600 people.
Small numbers early might not have been only about alcohol: 11 hours is a long time and between sets there was a DJ playing pop songs, which was not so thrilling.
But by the time The Super Raelene Brothers came on there was a much more sizeable audience ­ and they deserve it. The local duo are completely dynamic and have engaging, gutsy songs. I think they must have been my favourite act of the night.
But the crowd was there for the big names, of course . The Screaming Jets summoned the masses as it began to get cold.
Dallas Crane were electric, they did not stop for their full 50 minute set of full on rock music.
I have to say though, Frenzal Rhomb seemed to be the highlight. Jay (lead singer) leapt off the stage several times, pushing himself into the audience and inviting fans to sing along. People reached out of the mosh pit to touch his face, back, arms and trademark dreadlocks.
Then he cut bass player Tom's hair onstage after he complained about it blowing in his face. All this while they were playing music. Afterwards they went and hung out at the merch tent and met the crowd.
Spiderbait were headlining and got a call back from a thrilled audience.
It was such a fun night, but even so I have issues with Bass in the Dust. The main one is its cost. I'm happy to fork $45 for a concert like that. But the reality is that not everyone can afford it.
Lined up around the fence of ANZAC oval were literally hundreds of Aboriginal kids listening to the music. I didn't see any inside the venue. This is a Territory Government sponsored event for the youth and as such needs to be accessible to every one.


I doubt that there was a person present in the darkened Totem Theatre on the afternoon of September 5 who will ever forget the experience of listening to a story about the undoing of a young man's life.
It was written and spoken by Simon Smith, a prisoner at the Alice Springs Correctional Centre, a first time storyteller who swept the audience away in a harrowing, intimate account of violence visited on him because he was young, black and getting 'above his station'.
The facts of the account, titled 'I lost it all', would always have been moving, distressing ­ nobody should have to live through what Smith apparently did. But what earned him the spellbound attention of his listeners was his art, not flawless but powerfully ­ with voice, word, image, narrative unfolding ­ taking us right to the terrible heart of the matter.
Smith has been studying writing for performance in the education unit at the correctional centre. His was the most riveting of the pieces presented in The Voice Inside, as part of the Alice Desert Festival program, but the entire bracket was worthwhile, with 'My grandmother's footsteps' by Alfie Campbell and 'Blue Wren' by Tony Wade particularly worth mention. Their dedicated, creative teachers also deserve a big pat on the back.
This modestly billed event in a tiny venue was the festival highlight for me. Smith's work in particular had that quality that I always hope for from a cultural encounter: it grabbed hold of me, commanded my absolute attention.
In a gentler way so did another aspect of the festival ­ the integration of the Todd River. The HUB-space was a key innovation in this year's program. The artistic team responsible for its creation, led by Allan Bethune, did just enough to beautifully announce a festive human presence; the gentle early warmth, the trees, the stretches of sand, pale in the moonlight, small fires, groups of people dotted here and there in the riverbed did the rest. It was memorable.
De Quincey Co were right to recognize the river as the natural theatre of Alice Springs for their performance of Dictionary of Atmospheres. There was a fitting sense of ancient ceremony (that universal need to enact something about our presence on the planet) as people gathered in the river near Schwarz Crescent looking north. Your eye roved the landscape ­ there was music somewhere, who was playing? There was a tiny group of performers in the distance, what were they doing? Where was this whole event going to take you?
The company struggled though, as the performance unfolded, with the sheer scale of their stage. I found my attention only intermittently captured rather than engrossed, though this was also partly to do with the dispersed focus of the whole project ­ it tried to draw together too many threads.
The multiple uses of the river in the festival, including for the screening of film and video, point the way forward, I feel.
The natural world has laid down a great drama for us, and when art interacts with it, it gets truly exciting.
Interestingly though, another 'hub' developed on the festival's second weekend, at Araluen, and actually took an event previously held in the river away from it. But the integration of Aboriginal dance, song and contemporary music with Desert Mob, which has already established a national reach, has a compelling logic.
The Desert Mob Marketplace ­ held for the first time last year for the sale of works under $200 ­ was a runaway success, with sales worth more than $78,000 (an increase on last year's first day of nearly 80 per cent in dollar value).
Desert Mob proper, also a selling show, is hailed as the premier Central Desert art show, and sales, numbers of works and numbers of participating art centres tend to get mentioned in the same breath.
There's always an exciting mood in the air but it's a bit reminiscent of post-Christmas sales and while you see some fine work, you don't tend to see the pieces that take your breath away.
Perhaps it's worth thinking about taking Desert Mob to the next level, with a curated exhibition of Central Desert work which acknowledges the place of this art on the national and international stage.
The inclusive exhibition, representing the wide range of activity in the art centres could still take place, but the addition of a curated show would earn Desert Mob the reputation that it has to a certain extent by default.


Fans of native Australian tastes took over The Lane restaurant on Monday for the judging of the festival's Wild Foods Recipe Competition.
Over 50 entries had narrowed to 14 finalists and I was one of 11 lucky judges to sit down to lunch. Eleven entrants were home cooks and three were professional chefs. Each dish was to be rated for four criteria: presentation, innovation, presence of bush food flavour, and overall taste. We delighted in three starters, four mains, a drink, and six desserts!
I had real trouble not licking the plate clean with a couple of dishes, including that of the best domestic chef, Jo Maloney, who made the poetically dubbed Winter Rain Soup. The key flavour came from a plant that flourishes after winter rain, epidium. The taste of this light fresh herb was quite unfamiliar yet subtle and pleasing in a wonderful cream of vegetable (mainly potato, I think) base.
Andrew Murdoch won best commercial chef for his Desert Bar, probably the most adventurous culinary experience on offer with its main flavour coming from wattleseed.


It took ten minutes of extra time for the 2005 Ngurratjuta Country Cup to be decided ­ eventually Yuendumu won by 16-10 (106) to 14-15 (99) from Central Anmatjere.
It was a surprise when underdogs Centrals looked to be the stronger team for most of the energetic and quick game, with the score at quarter time 4-0 versus Yuendumu's 3-3 ­ thanks to Central's first points scored by Martin Hagan, then two goals by Ceaser Tilmouth, and another goal sneaked in just after the siren by Adrian Stafford.
Yuendumu's usually strong defence was well-matched in the second quarter by Centrals, and the ball remained in their half for much of the time.
Junior player Simon Fisher for the Magpies caught some excellent balls, and utility player Sherman Spencer set up a number of goals.
But still Central pushed ahead, with an impressive kick by Neil White towards the end of the second quarter to bring their score to 6-4.
As the final minutes before half time ticked away, Yuendumu began to answer back, with a goal and then a behind, to catch up to 6-7.
But Centrals wouldn't concede, and the score remained in their favour 11-5 versus 8-10 at three-quarter time.
However, the Magpies went into the remainder of the game determined and it was only a few minutes into the final quarter when they brought the score to 12 goals apiece.
The match started to get heated as Centrals ran out of legs and Yuendumu edged ahead by just two points, 14-10 compared to Central's 14-8. But a behind in the final minutes levelled the scores to 14-10 at the end of regular time.
It was the call for 10 minutes extra time that worked in the fitter Yuendumu's favour, answering Central's almost immediate two behinds after four minutes with an incredibly exciting goal by Herman Sampson ­ which caused the crowd to leap over the spectator barrier and dance on the pitch.
The teams changed ends and it was Yuendumu again who scored the final goal, thanks to Steven Brown, to bring the end total to 16-10 (106) versus Central's 14-15 (99).
Traeger Park was filled with horns, shouts, screams, banners, water and laughing faces as Yuendumu celebrated their win.
Shaun Cusack, who limped off the pitch after also playing for Souths yesterday, said of his team: "It is a good feeling.
"I think we had to work hard, really get into it.
"We put in everything we had.
"Centrals didn't give up, we had to work even harder for it."
Adrian Dixon, the captain of Centrals, had tears in his eyes as he confirmed it was possibly his last game in the competition.
It was the first time he had played in a losing side after being part of four grand finals: "We came really close. Everybody just got tired. I'm really proud of my team.
"I'm still deciding but I will probably be a coach next season, maybe a player-coach."
Other AFL results show that Souths will go through to next week's grand final, after beating Federals a convincing 13-10 (88) versus 5-6 (36).
And in the under 15s grand final, Saints beat Bulldogs 10-12 (72) over 3-7 (25).


It took a penalty shoot-out to separate Vikings from Verdi in football's grand final on Sunday, with Vikings' Richard Farrell eventually scoring the deciding goal.
It was hailed the most exciting grand final for eight years.
Verdi scored first, despite being a man down after Gavin Munoz was sent off for striking ­ Rossi Arezzolo got the goal in the 47th minute.
It was another half an hour before Vikings managed to penetrate their defence, Harvard Ravlo scoring after 76 minutes.
Twenty minutes of extra time was played but still neither team could score the golden goal.
Ross Park bit its nails as Eddie Alexander took the first penalty for Verdi ­ and goalie Kenny Braun saved it.
It was Adam Taylor for Vikings who scored the first goal.
Then Verdi answered back immediately with a goal by Martin Yeaman.
Dwayne Hughes saved the point attempt by Troy Cox for Vikings, and then Mark von Blanckensee for Verdi also missed.
Richard Farrell scored for Vikings and only had to wait for Alby Tilmouth's attempt to hit the post before the match was decided.
On a day of close matches, B grade's Ashley Duddington's two goals for Buckleys was enough to beat Scorpions; C grade saw Desert Spinach beat Storm Birds 1-0; Memo won the Colts competition 3-2 beating Vikings; and the under 14s was won by Scorpions who defeated Memo Red 1-0. The under 12s was won by Memo who beat Vikings 1-0.
The weekend also saw the announcement of the players of the year: Tom Dutton won for A grade, Ben Griffiths for B grade, and Tyson Mann for C grade.
Football in the Centre continues to strengthen as Alice Springs will play host to 50 teams from across the country next June. The town has been chosen to host the South Australia Youth Championships in 2006.


Many people disappoint themselves in some way. It's a fact of life and the sooner we devise sensible work, sporting, academic and other aspirations, the better.
The most contented people tend to be those who have reassessed their over-inflated expectations of themselves and come up with something more realistic. My father is one such man, happily messing around in boats and hanging around in fish and chip shops, accompanied by his elderly and eccentric associates.
Coming to terms with your own limitations is easier said than done, which is why we cringe over the spectacle of senior politicians arguing about who is the best leader and who is in charge of which part of the government machinery like they're fighting over a box of Lego in the playpen.
Meanwhile, people in remote towns feel just a bit more contented that Canberra is so far away.
One way in which your own failings creep up on you is when somebody unwittingly serves a reminder of the better person that you once were. This happens frequently to people in entertainment and the arts once the phone stops ringing and they have plenty of time to reflect on past glories. But for the rest of us, the same sensation can catch us unawares.
For example, I recently met an old friend of mine. I don't have many friends and even fewer longstanding ones.
I never saw the point of prolonging friendships past their sell-by date and, to be honest, neither did anyone that I used to know.
I have declining networks of people who heard that I went to Australia and have written me off as a materialistic, sun-loving clown. This may well be an accurate description.
My old friend is a Sri Lankan and he rushed me home to meet his wife, whom I hadn't met before. When he introduced us, she remarked that she had heard that I was an admirable man with a social conscience who rode a pushbike everywhere and strived for a sustainable lifestyle.
At this point I had to glance over my shoulder to see if somebody else had arrived. She took my vacant expression as a cue to set out the issues on which she believed we had common ground.
These are what my children describe as 'hippy stuff' and include greywater systems, C grade soccer, compost, Cuba, green housing design and coffee table books featuring impoverished but smiling rickshaw pullers.
Her passion was inspiring but when we arrived at the consumer society I knew it would be a long night. I listened politely as my friend's wife regaled me with her views on the perils of greed and consumerism that were truly appalling but also seemed a pretty good summary of my own character.
By the time she had finished, it was also time for me to come clean. At weekends, I explained, I no longer man the moral barricades. Instead, I watch television. When I saw pictures of the anti-nuclear protest in the Alice, I thought it was a training course in pest control. What's more, when I come home for the weekend, I reach for my carpet slippers and something nourishing from the fridge. This helps me overcome any remaining earnest worries about the state of the planet. I should also explain that my house takes up a lot of space and has two air-conditioners and I use an asthma inhaler that owes nothing to homeopathic medicine.
To sum up; that bloke you heard about, well he left some time ago.
One way to deal with the vagaries of life and the mellowing of convictions is to treat disappointment like a welcome friend. Come in, mate, and I'll explain where it all started to change.


I'm either suffering from severe hay fever for the first time in my life or I've got a bad cold with symptoms identical to those of pollen allergy. Between tissues and sneezes I'm doing my best to appreciate the lovely scents of blossoms wafting through the air and the sight of new green growth.
This is my favourite time of year in Alice. The sweeter because it is so brief and followed by a long hot summer. Despite my streaming nose and itchy eyes I want to enjoy every minute of it. If I blink or get momentarily distracted it might all be over, and I will have missed it.
I've been planting seedlings and tried to do some weeding. I wonder if we will see genetically engineered garden plants with the characteristics of weeds any time soon. Plant that would grow in ground with few nutrients and without water.
I know, lots of native species will do just that but the 'bad' weeds still seem to grow so much better than the 'good' plants, just like 'bad' feelings and moods seem to stay with you much longer than positive ones do. And if you don't keep weeding the weeds tend to take over and it may all seem too much.
I cannot help admiring the weeds. Their strength and stamina. Their deep tap roots and big green, often prickly leaves and stems. They are built to survive, and some are quite pretty too, if you look closely. I would like to think that we can learn from both the uninvited garden guests as well as the feelings that tend to drag us down without changing the DNA.
A friend who came over for a cuppa the other day pointed out how I often try to look at the bright side in my writing. I think I get pretty gloomy at times.
I have to hold on to the good things in my personal life and in the world to stay in the game.
There is so much suffering and tragedy. So much death, disease, violence and misery and I think many of us would give up if it were not for the glimmers of hope, the sprinkles of love, the beauty in a leaf or in a smile.
To my mum beauty is essential yet she prefers wildflowers to roses and doesn't chase a youthful appearance. I enjoy growing roses but will never spend a fraction of the time she has spent on ironing.
My mum wants to live each day as if it was her last and to do the things she enjoys now rather than putting them off. I find the 'all we've got is now philosophy' stressful and want to believe in tomorrow as well as in today.
I once read that because we have a pattern in our lives of going to sleep at night and waking up in the morning the idea of life after death seems logical to many. The idea of an absolute end, is a complete break with an established pattern. But I believe it is the threat of nothing, of a definite end to life as we know it that makes us appreciate it.
I cannot say I'm enjoying having sore eyes and a streaming nose but it is good to be alive and here to enjoy another Spring.

LETTERS: We know WHO did not make the world.

Sir,­ Will Roberts (Alice News, Sept 7) is doing science a favour by openly critically analysing the pros and cons of the corpse of Darwinian evolution.
Evolution is not some icon of religious dogma. Or is it? The way that some in the scientific establishment kowtow to the ever changing, mercurial 'theory', you would think their salaries depended on it!
Yes, the Intelligent Design movement has brought some light to bear on the absolute improbability of the macro evolution worldview.
For example, Michael Behe's 'Darwin's Black Box' shows that molecular biology can not overcome the irreducible complexity required by even the smallest of cells, let alone complex organs, systems, or species.
Irreducible complexity means that a system cannot have spontaneously appeared or 'evolved' without having been specifically and completely designed for its particular purpose.
This I.D. movement, which includes many atheists, has only concurred with what has been the long-held biblical worldview ­ one that holds to an intelligent designer (God the creator) who created complete, complex, and fully-formed creatures and systems.
Science and religion can debate ontological issues, but both rely purely on faith in their respective a priori worldviews to interpret the same set of data.
The biblical worldview has not shifted its set of beliefs, and has been copping a hiding for being 'fundamentalist.'
I have never yet read of an evolutionist being called a 'religious fundamentalist', yet that is what they are. They unshakably hold to and believe that "once upon a time, x billion years ago the universe started from something we know nothing about, that we never saw, that science can't repeat in any form, yet it has given us all the laws of nature upon which observable science is based.
"We don't know why it happened, or how it happened, or what caused it to happen, but we know WHO did not cause it to happen. Because we are rationalists, we will deny all intuitive and deductive reasoning, particularly if it infers or leads to the conclusion that there is even a possibility of a God."
The reason for this illogical set of beliefs is that if you accept that there could have been a creator, then you are subject to him. It's not even rocket science.
An excellent website on this topic is
Michael Evans
Alice Springs

Environmental racism?

Sir,­ I am an environmental engineer, specialising in water and sanitation.
The proposal to dump nuclear waste in the remote areas of Central Australia appears to constitute environmental racism and to violate the internationally-recognised principles of environmental justice.
In May 1992, the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal came into force.
Australia has signified its accession to this international treaty, which seeks to prevent developed industrialised countries from dumping their toxic wastes on poor countries such as Bangladesh or Zambia.
These countries did not produce the toxic waste, and have no infrastructure or capacity to enable them to deal with it.
Australia is also affected by the Waigani convention, which came into effect in September 1995, banning the import of radioactive waste to countries within the South Pacific region.
According to the recent proposals, it would appear that a facility in the well-resourced industrialised city of Sydney, with the capacity to deal with toxic waste, is proposing to dump such waste in a remote area of the Territory.
This remote area, one of the three sites proposed, would have limited infrastructure, limited capacity to deal with such waste, and would be mainly populated by Indigenous people who may not have even had enough education to be able to understand the consequences of the disposal, storage and management of radioactive waste.
Some of the nearby residents of these sites may not speak much English, and are less likely to have studied nuclear physics than the average resident of Sydney.
Most certainly the average employee of the facility at Lucas Heights would be better equipped to deal with radioactive waste than the residents of Hart's Range.
Of course, I could be mistaken. Nevertheless I fail to see how the current proposal differs substantially from dumping toxic waste on citizens of Somaliland, Mozambique or Honduras.
How will the international community view Australia, and how would our reputation for human rights be impacted by this waste facility, especially if an unforeseen accident occurs?
Is this a case of environmental racism? 
Keep up the good work you are doing informing the public about this important issue affecting the Alice Springs community.
Trish Morrow
Maumeta village
Liquica, Timor-Leste

Calling Ted & Madge

Sir,­ I'm looking for some friends who went to Alice Springs from Elizabeth.
Their names are Ted and Madge Johnson.
We came to Australia in 1962 on the same ship. We lived in Euston, NSW but moved to Mackay in 1994 and would like to get in touch again. Our telephone number is 07 4951 0996 and our email address is Margaret Main
Mackay, Qld

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