December 7, 2005. This page contains all major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.


The Federal Government may consider changing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, plugging a loophole that could permit the hearing of land claims lodged over most Central Australian national parks 10 years ago.
This was revealed after talks between Alice Town Council alderman Melanie van Haaren and senior policy advisers in the office of Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone in Canberra last week.
But Ald van Haaren says the request to close the loophole would need to come from the NT Government, which is currently embarked on a strategy, closely overseen by Chief Minister Clare Martin, of transferring ownership of the parks to Aborigines, followed by a 99-year lease-back.
This would also require a change to the Federal Act.
Ald van Haaren is spearheading a council campaign to halt the process until more information has been made available by the NT Government. The council has written to Sen Vanstone, saying there has been no or only grossly inadequate consultation on the issues by the NT Government.
Ald van Haaren says Sen Vanstone's senior staff have now said there needs to be a resolution by March or April next year.
She says she was told the Federal government is constrained by convention to making decisions about land use only in accordance with the wishes of the relevant state government.
Ald van Haaren, who is interstate, was hoping to attend Monday's community services committee meeting via a telephone hook-up but despite equipment having been installed in the make-shift meeting room, no contact was made.
Ald Murray Stewart said he had spoken to Ald van Haaren and she had indicated to him a legal opinion on the options should be prepared.
This is now likely to be discussed at the council meeting later this month.
Problems with the parks, including the West MacDonnells, Emily and Jessie Gaps, Arltunga, N'dhala, Trephina and Finke Gorge ­ the crown jewels of Central Australia's tourism industry ­ surfaced in 2002 when the Ward High Court decision held that they may have been declared illegally.
This may allow the activation of Aboriginal land claims lodged just days before the Land Rights Act's 1996 sunset clause: These claims were at the time considered by many as a hostile land grab attempt with little chance of success. The Ward decision changed all that.


It's a sacred site desecration with a twist: a work team from the Arrernte Council, engaged by the Alice Town Council, allegedly damaged an Arrernte sacred site.
The site is just up the road from Barrett Drive, where government workers some years ago chopped off the end of a hill which is part of the caterpillar dreaming.
The new case, currently under investigation by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA), is on the outskirts of the Olive Pink Reserve, where a row of rocks runs down the hill into the Todd River.
A new bike path is being built along the eastern bank of the Todd, and the alleged damage is where it crosses these rocks.
Work was halted in August.
AAPA Regional Manager Andrew Allan says a certificate may be issued to the council for the work to be resumed.
Mr Allen could not say whether anyone would be prosecuted for the alleged offence ­ usually carrying heavy penalties.
A meeting with custodians last week reached agreement in principle to continue the work with some variations, says a council spokesman.


The Irrkerlantye Learning Centre, determined to fight to the last its closure at the end of this week, may be asking Centrecorp Aboriginal Investment Corporation for financial support.
The centre's governing body, Ngkarte Mikwekenhe Community Inc (NMC), is looking for ways for the centre to become an independent school. It has approached a number of charitable organizations, and manager Deborah Maidment was to outline its case to a meeting yesterday of the Combined Aboriginal Organisations of Alice Springs.
"We'll be looking for ways to get them to work for us," said Ms Maidment.
"The business community in town has done a lot for us [sponsoring a full-page advertisement in the NT News last week], the organizations have to help too."
The centre, which operates on an inter-generational model catering for Eastern Arrernte families (from infants in crèche, through primary school, to adults in CDEP projects and an art centre), has been using premises owned by the Catholic Church.
The poor quality of the infrastructure and facilities has been cited by Education Minister Syd Stirling as often as poor learning outcomes as a reason for the closure.
On Monday Ms Maidment told the Minister's emissary Mike Bowden, charged with overseeing the children's transition to mainstream schools, that he could no longer remain on the premises to enrol children. "He is not listening to the families. He's simply collecting enrolments for mainstream schools, and this is in conflict with our efforts to try to find ways to keep the kids here at school," said Ms Maidment. If funding is one of the ways, Centrecorp could have the answer.
Owned by the Central Land Council (three fifth), as well as Congress and Tangentyere (one fifth each), the corporation has substantial property and business investments in Alice Springs.
The company's income is understood to be mainly from oil, gas and mining royalties paid to Aboriginal people under Federal legislation.
Centrecorp was recently given by Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) 60 per cent of the shares of Yeperenye Pty Ltd; the other 40 went to the native title holder corporate body, Lhere Artepe.
The shares were formerly owned by ATSIC.
Apart from the $30m dollar Yeperenye Shopping Centre, Yeperenye Pty Ltd, according to IBA, owns two other shopping centres in Alice, a bank property, a retail petrol outlet and several commercial buildings including the local Centrelink offices.
Owen Cole, a director of Centrecorp, says he couldn't pre-empt a decision of the board but "if there was a request [from NMC] the board would need to consider it.
"We'd have to get the full picture."
He said Centrecorp has supported numerous projects with social outcomes for Aboriginal people, too many to name, but "we wouldn't normally be involved in building schools.
"The government should be doing that.
"We'd have to get the government to spell out why they are closing the school down and ask is that acceptable."
Education Minister Syd Stirling, while initially citing poor performance in national literacy benchmark tests as a reason for closing the learning centre, has since been just as concerned about poor infrastructure.
In Parliament last week he said: "The students at Irrkerlantye, it seems to me, ought to have access to Š the best facilities available, and [in quality primary schools] is where these facilities exist.
"They do not exist at Irrkerlantye.
"For these students, disadvantaged as they are, attempting to learn in an inferior learning environment, to me, is just not acceptable."
An option of improved facilities could put the Minister under pressure to reconsider.


Alice's biggest car dealership, Peter Kittle Motor Company, is expanding into South Australia after buying Salisbury Toyota in the northern Adelaide suburb of Para Hill.
The business will be renamed Peter Kittle Toyota and initially Mr Kittle himself will manage it.
While he and his family will relocate to Adelaide for two years, he says he is not leaving town and will be visiting Alice every month.
There are still a number of large projects in Alice Springs which Mr Kittle is heavily involved with. These include the introduction of a car carrying and tyre business. General manager in Alice, Tom Kelly, says the company thinks they can double its business in Adelaide over two years.
At present turnover is not as great as the company's Territory turnover (in Alice and Tennant Creek) but it has the potential to be bigger, says Mr Kelly.
The secret to the company's growth to date is Peter Kittle's "passion for the automotive industry" and his "commitment to customer service" which brings repeat business and respect in the market, says Mr Kelly. He also cites the strong relationship with the community built by the company.
"Peter Kittle's philosophy has always been to support the community that supports you.
"This is seen by the 200 plus Central Australian sporting and community organisations and people the company supports every year," says Mr Kelly.
These factors have already made the dealership not only Alice's biggest but one of the biggest in Australia, recognised by the Business Review Weekly in 2004 as among the top 500 private companies in Australia. Paspaley Pearls is the only other Territory company to have received such recognition.
When Peter Kittle took over the Alice dealership in 1988 it had 24 employees; now it has 110.
They were moving 1150 cars, new and used, a year. Now they move 2500.
Their premises have expanded from 6000 to 35,000 square metres.
At present the Adelaide dealership has 45 employees, and moves 1600 cars a year.
Staff in the Adelaide dealership will be kept on ­ "they're a good crew", says Mr Kelly ­ but some former employees in Alice who have relocated to Adelaide are also "keen to come on board", which is "very pleasing".

Salt. By PETA MILLER. 2nd place in the Alice Springs News short story competition, sponsored by The Lane.

Peta Miller is an aspiring writer who has lived in Alice since 2003. Always an avid reader, she has been writing for the last few years across a number of genres. She has had short articles published in magazines and is working on a novel for children. Peta has worked in the book trade ­ retail and publishing ­ for the last 15 years and is employed at a local bookshop although she first came to do another job. "I just can't stay away from books!" she says.

As I struggled with the stiff gate hinge I started to think that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. The night before in the comfort of the pub, the shortcut had seemed easy. "Will cut more than an hour off your time. Just drop the key off at the roadhouse when you hit the highway at the other end." The friendly station owner had been relaxed and confident. I supposed they might come looking for me if his gate key didn't show up.
In fact, the whole bloody exercise, from the idea of coming to Central Australia, looking to help out on communities, to that day, had brought me as low as I could ever remember.
Maybe I'd be better off back east, I thought as I swung the gate. It stuck fast, and I swore as I lifted it and dragged it open. I tried to calm myself by going over my instructions. "Only about half a dozen gates, all unlocked except the first and last. Set your trip for about sixty-five ks and that will bring you out on the Tanami, then it's a left turn and the roadhouse is half an hour away, with Yuendumu another hundred past that."
Okay, so I'd only done about ten kilometres and had a way to go. The sun roasted my bare head, my hat sitting on the passenger seat. It was only early spring and already too hot for my city sensibilities. I had yet to see a summer out. As I drove through, then shut the gate behind me, I was feeling the weight of my thoughts and mood. I mean, was I really useful? I felt clumsy and stupid in this new world. The raw violence and ingrained grief were more crushing than the desperate pleas from urban junkies and outcasts. Could I call this alien world home or should I call it quits?
I drove slowly over a corrugated track which took me across rusty dunes dotted with spinifex and clumps of desert grass, the swathes of sand unmarked aside from meandering prints of animal tracks and the tides of wind. I'd noticed the difference as soon as I drove on to private land, turning off the dusty track that was the main road out of the community and led toward Alice Springs. No longer was the side of the road littered with the wrecks of car bodies, upturned like the skeletons of dead beetles with gaping holes for eyes, or the false cheer of twinkling glass and bottles, drunk fast then lobbed before reaching the 'dry' communities. I didn't realise it before, but I was obviously oddly comforted by these sights as I'd driven around out bush, reassured that if I got stuck someone would be along eventually.
Now I was alone ­ really alone. In between the distant gates the track was the only sign of any human imprint on the country. I spotted the spire of a windmill in the distance. I drank in the sight, craning my head around as I passed, nearly running off the track and into a corkwood tree squatting stiffly like an old man rising out of his chair at the very edge of the road.
My heart rocketed as I grasped how close I'd come to an accident. Idiot! I put the 4WD in neutral and leant my head on the wheel as I breathed in deeply. The drama and noise of the last few days flickered through my mind and I tried to shut the images out. I fumbled in the glovebox for my smokes and lit one. The acrid smoke tore my throat and I coughed, still getting used to the first hit of nicotine after five years of abstinence. All my good will had washed out the window when I'd arrived in Alice and I'd taken it up again with a vengeance. I turned off the engine, got out and gazed around. Recent rain had rinsed the landscape in a pale green wash and sweeps of tiny yellow flowers carpeted open areas in between stands of bloodwood and desert oak. The late morning sun was lifted by a breeze and a pair of parrots swooped emerald between trees. I stood in the shade finishing my cigarette, carefully stubbing it out and taking the butt back to the car with me.
The cigarette had done its job and I felt more settled as I drove on. I reached on the seat beside me and upset a pile of CDs which slid to the floor with a clatter. I was looking for my 'Field Guide to Central Australia'. I pulled up to look in the back seat, unwilling to risk another near miss.
Beneath the jumble of clothes, water bottles and maps I finally found it on the floor, under a pair of thongs. I'd bought it when I arrived but it still looked brand new, the cover cracking as I opened it. I'd had every intention of spending long idle days exploring but had yet to do it, caught up in the whirlwind of worries that was my new job.
Riffling through the book, I scanned for the name of the clusters of yellow flowers I was seeing everywhere. Oh boy, who would have known there were so many tiny yellow flowers in this part of the world? A type of daisy maybe? I pulled up a sample, pressing it carefully between the pages of the book.
As I travelled further I noticed more wildflowers in purples, whites, reds and yellows, patchy stick nests in trees, and dunes glowing in red hues I'd never noticed before. I stopped to pick more flowers and pressed them alongside the others, determined to look them up that night.
Two wild camels glared at me before swinging away on stilt-like legs and taking cover at a safe distance. From the car, I watched them disappear into the scrub and noticed how my mood had lifted.
I slipped in a CD and was soon singing along to the resonant notes of Paul Kelly. I crested a sharp rise and before me lay an enormous salt lake stretching in a bleached shimmer as far as the horizon on either side of the track. I braked suddenly at the sight and the engine stalled.
It hurt to look at it, so bright was the surface ­ but I couldn't drag my eyes way. I jumped out. The surface of the pan was layered thickly with salt which glittered and crunched like dead leaves beneath my Blundstones as I started to walk out onto the lake. The faint waft of brine reminded me of the docks in Melbourne.
I stooped and pinched some salt between my fingers, tasting it with the tip of my tongue. As I got closer to the centre the surface softened and broke through to the caramel mud below as I slipped and skittered along. I spotted a set of roo prints dug an inch into the surface. They headed towards the middle of the lake, as though also taking a shortcut.
Off to the right and just ahead of me I saw another disruption in the crust.
Curious, I walked towards it and saw footprints ­ human barefoot prints. They were large, broad, at least a size eleven. Close by another set of prints broke the salt skin, slimmer and smaller than the first.
The two sets of prints also pointed towards the centre of the lake.
It was only a short distance before the two humans, I could see a man and a boy in my mind, began to merge closely to the first set of tracks I'd seen ­ those of the kangaroo. Closer and closer, until the tracks ran alongside each other. My vision narrowed until I saw only the tracks in the salt.
The kangaroo kept a steady pace, tired but not yet frightened by its pursuers. It could hear their breath as they jogged slowly behind it.
It caught their scent as the wind suddenly shifted; smelled their sweat. It picked up the pace now, powerful hind legs levering into the salt for purchase.
The man and the boy started to run, their strides lengthening and digging into the mud.
They could see the panic in the kangaroo as it raced ahead of its stalkers, clods of mud flying as the ground churned beneath running feet. Faster! Faster! The smell of fear and the white of an eye.
The man's prints were now over six feet apart in length and sank down inches, past his ankles. The mud sucked at him as he urged the boy, lighter and quicker, to run. Run! The boy ran, three steps to his father's one as he raced towards the tiring animal.
His feet burned. His lungs ached as he dragged in each breath. He could hear the pants and grunts of kere aherre, could see it jumping raggedly just ahead. It dodged sideways, veering off east then west as it tried to throw them off. The big man doubled back, blocking. The boy ran in a wide arc and the two closed in, pincer-like. They ran in smaller and smaller circles around the quarry until they were so close that two more strides and the man would be on top of his prey.
Kere aherre stopped suddenly and raised itself on legs that shook. It snorted bloody flecks of foam as it stared with eyes owl-wide and black with terror.
It made a leap for the closing gap but its last graceful move was cut short mid-stride as the spear pierced its side and brought the animal down in a slump.
Red on white. Smell of sea and copper. Two walked away.

Aaah! Salt stinging a cut on my hand brings me back to now. I am kneeling, my hands splayed in the surface of the lake. Panting.
Uncertain whether it's elation or exhaustion. Footprints ring me, the ground pockmarked like that of a cattle yard after rain. A faint smear, the soft indent of a body, lies in the middle of the melee. The air is still and the lake floats like a mirage in my sun-blinded eyes. My hat lies in the churned mud a few metres away.
Rising slowly, I see I've followed the tracks for nearly a kilometre, my government-issue truck a watery blot in the distance. I don't know how much time has passed but the sun sits directly overhead.
I don't move as a breeze begins. It lifts the sweaty hair off my forehead. I notice a goshawk hung up in the middle distance, as the wind stiffens, shirring around me with the sound of trees blown back and forth, yet the closest ones are also in the distance.
As I head back to the car, flapping my arms in the breeze, I shiver. Something happened when the elemental coursed through me. I feel rinsed clean. Weightless. Primal.
I can barely wait to get back to Alice. I start to jog slowly, grinning like a fool. The desert witnesses my madness and joy in silence as I leap into the air.

Utopia by LENI SHILTON. Winner of the Alice Springs News poetry competition, sponsored by Dymocks Booksellers.

When it's night
and the sink
is stacked with dishes
when sirens whine through town
I think of the bush­

dirt under my nails
& charcoal blackened hands

the orange sand
dotted with a bounty
of bush tomatoes

the shooting star at dusk
a wild streak of red across
the bruised horizon

bush yams­
roasted until tender
such sweet reward from deep holes

and the echidna
cooked in hot sand
cut up and shared between
twenty of us

soft gospel singing
in Language­
late at night
I listen to the women
& drift in the tunes
of my childhood.

The cold­
like a thick blanket
on my swag
and a glaring half moon
the last light left on

waking in the chilled
silent dawn
all of us huddled
into the earth
a powdered grey sky.

When it's night
and the clothes need folding
when the phone rings & rings
I think of the bush­

Taking a boat into the long break. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

I'll try not to take the boat analogy too far. At any rate, I prefer analogies that feature public transport.
You know; missing the bus, getting a ticket to ride, standing on the kerb, seeing the locomotive coming towards you in the tunnel, that sort of thing.
But if the year is a boat, it always seems rockier at sea in the second half of the year than the first.
And more turbulent and stressful at the end of that half than it was at the beginning.
By the time mid-December arrives, the waves are so big that you hang on for dear life.
Then you step off the boat on to the dry land of the new year and all is well again. In fact, it's so becalmed that you have to paddle like crazy to get moving forward again. That's how it is. I wish it wasn't this way. Maybe it's just me and my problems. I need to get some control over my life.
As December chaos approaches, it is only a matter of time before I leave the house in the morning wearing no trousers and no contact lenses and then ask a tree for directions.
But what I would really like to know is whether this phenomenon is any different in Central Australia compared to anywhere else in the country.
After all, we live in the Land of the Long Break to Anywhere but Here. Given the time and the money, people get out for as many days or weeks as possible. I don't know any other place in Australia, but I can't believe that those hard-working folk in Victoria and New South Wales start the psychological wind-down of 2005 as early as we do.
Aren't they the ones who are supposed to be making the economy great? Except that when you call any office down there, they're always at lunch, not a problem I face because there's no way I'm going out in this heat in the middle of the day.
At a certain point in late November, it's as if a collective mental buzzer rings and everyone in the Alice pretends that the year is over already.
To give an example, on the first day of December I was asked by a acquaintance whether I was geared up for Christmas.
Look, I'm not geared up for whatever is happening at two-thirty this afternoon. I need someone to remind me at two o'clock.
Relatively speaking, Christmas is as distant as Ballarat.
Let's get back to the boat. Eventually, you've sailed through the rapids of the year end and you arrive at the new year.
But when you turn around to look back at the old year, it has already receded into the distance. Step off the quayside and the quay has gone.
The only bit that remains vivid is that section between Christmas and new year.
Our memories auto-erase the big days and leave us with a vague recollection of walks in the park or fish and chips in the rain on St Kilda Pier on December 29.
Which is not such a bad place to be, but shouldn't the festive season leave you with more significant family memories than wobbly pictures of your gran trying to eat a duty-free Toblerone?
I always enter December with less anticipation of the festive season than fear of what it'll be like getting to the point where it's reasonable to be festive.
What's more, I am about to step off this particular boat because A Fish out of Water will finish with the last newspaper of the year [ before the summer editions] on December 21.
I'll say my goodbyes then, but in the meantime, please keep paddling.

Trust, tricks and daring acts. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.

A friend of mine emailed me the other day with some bad news. She is about to lose her job due to a restructuring of the company she works for.
I met her in Alice when she was here for work. Another, mutual, friend gave me her number and suggested I give her a call. I eventually did and invited her over for tea and our friendship began.
She symbolises the positive change that has happened or evolved in me from living in this town.
In my former life I would wait and see if I liked someone or had enough in common with them to make a move and suggest a drink or a meal together. I now know not to waste time. All we have is now and we have to take the risk of rejection or we might miss out all together.
Shakespeare wrote, "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many partsŠ"
I often think of my life as a circus where I have to perform different tricks and daring acts, playing different roles while the music keeps playing and the expectations of the entertainment value of the performance are high. There are comings and goings, tight ropes and trapeze-artists flying through the air. There are the bright colours, the fluttering flags, the spotlights and the silly clowns, but also the falls, the tragedy, poverty, depression and loneliness behind the painted faces.
To me the glitter and the cheerful tunes of the festive season sometimes seem to highlight the superficial and the hollow, reminding us what is lacking in our everyday lives. Many of us in Alice are far away from family and I often hear people expressing the sentiment that it is good not to live too close to close family.
Being far away at Christmas can reduce stress, conflict and pain. The family is a problem, something to avoid and sweep under the carpet along with the emotions associated with the relationships. As adults we can choose our own family of friends that we feel really close to, but with a close relationship also comes the shared pain. I wish there was something I could do for my friend more than expressing my sympathy.
Despite the feeling of frustration and pain I cherish the thought that I have a friend who makes me feel that way. A friend who encouraged me to reach out for my own family far away and reconnect with them despite the distance in kilometres and time.
She reminded me that our time is limited and echoed something a teacher once told me and a friend when she thought we had had a falling out: "Life is too short for enemies". We don't have time for being estranged.
There are the seasonal parties to attend. The various roles to play in the many contexts in which we take part, work, clubs, associations, church.
We mix with different people for different reasons and put different hats on. We are good at excluding those wearing hats dissimilar to ours. We want to feel that we belong and have a right to belong.
A farmer once pointed out to me that he had observed that the black cows and the brown cows did not mix in the field.Inclusiveness can be difficult. But we don't all have to be, think, or look the same to get along and we can still maintain our individuality while belonging to a group or a family. It might seem easiest choosing your own kind of people and avoiding risks in relationships, but you are on now. It is your turn to step out onto the tight-rope and bridge the gap. Trust that it's going to work out.

LETTERS: Irrkerlantye - horses for courses.

Sir,­ Listeners to the Health Report on Radio National on November 7 heard the story of how a concentrated program of testing and preventive treatment resulted in a spectacular improvement in one of the unhealthiest communities in Australia, and how when the NT government health service took it over there was an equally spectacular return to the previous disastrous situation, or worse.
The program was initially supervised by a medical academic based in Darwin, and run by a nurse who visited several days a week and worked with a team of liaison people in the community.
The nurse tested community people for high blood pressure and kidney disease and put those sick or at risk of sickness onto programs of medication.
The death rate fell by half and the number of people starting dialysis for kidney failure fell by two thirds. Then the government health service took over the supervision of the program, and formed a community health board to manage it.
From this time on the intensity of the program was relaxed, regular testing for early signs of disease fell off, and many people stopped taking their medicines.
Within a year or two death rates and kidney failure rates were as bad as ever. People who want to read the full report can see it on , find Health Report in the list of programs, and read it or print it out.
Health and education are two very different things, of course, but there is a parallel between this story and the situation of the Irrkerlantye Learning Centre, whose closure the Minister for Education has announced.
The focussed group who are dedicated to their homogeneous group of students will lose control, parents will lose their input ‹ they won't feel comfortable in the children's new schools, and the children will by taught by people, no doubt conscientious and capable, but without the local knowledge and contacts that the present staff has. The good work that the learning centre has done will be lost.
Gavan Breen
Alice Springs

Talking rubbish

Sir,­ Among the incoherent babblings of some of our councillors (Alice News, Nov 23) are some real gems.
"There is concern about the Uluru Scenario ..."
The fact is that the 'Uluru Scenario' is a tourism industry that is the envy of Alice Springs, due in no small part to its World Heritage listing, which relies heavily on Aboriginal culture and ownership. The Mutijtulu problems may or may not be related to the ownership of the park. "We'll be paying to get into our own Parks, and that's just not on."
This, despite the repeated assurance that there will be no fees.
"You remove the bush from Alice Springs, who will come here ?"
Er, where are you going to take it to? And the 'bush' around Alice is already pastoral lease and national park.
Businesses, governments and indeed town councils have professional staff, and no doubt seek legal advice. They would be failing their duty if they didn't.
But of course Aboriginal people get "fat white lawyers" according to Alderman Stewart.
This is one of the ugliest forms of racism.
You're supposed to be getting rid of the rubbish, councillors, not talking it.
Charlie Carter
Alice Springs

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