CRACKDOWN ON CAMPING, LITTER. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
The town council has instructed its new rangers manager Kevin Everett to select two areas in the town with the view of setting up camping areas for Aboriginal people who have been streaming into Alice Springs since last October.
Mr Everett says they are camping illegally, pushing anti social behaviour to new heights, and stretching the council's critically short-staffed ranger force to its limits.
Meanwhile the council is looking at comprehensive proposals for changes to its bylaws, drawn up by Mr Everett and his predecessor, Clem Wheatley, in September last year. The proposals seek more appropriate powers to deal with the "urban drift" which has turned into a flood, people coming from remote communities who have no proper accommodation in town but have no intention of going back.
Illegal camping and littering are rampant, and trees in the Todd River are damaged as campers are harvesting firewood.
Unregistered and unsafe cars are in abundance and are a threat to public safety: more than 50 have been impounded by the council in the past seven months.
Mr Everett says the proposed two regulated camping areas are planned to be at the northern and southern entrances to the town, about five to eight hectares, with a fence, lights, ablution blocks, shelters and fire places.
"Somebody would need to oversee these camps to ensure they are used only for temporary camping," says Mr Everett.
He says: "There has been a huge increase in itinerant people over the Christmas period, and it's still increasing.
"A lot of the bush communities are struggling.
"I don't think maintenance is happening as it should.
"And the attraction of alcohol and city life is dragging more and more people into town.
"We now have to do five river runs a week, when possible" moving on illegal campers in the Todd and Charles rivers.
"We talk to 80 to 100 people in a two to three hour period.
"There's just carloads of them at the moment. We start at five or five thirty."
This is to catch people breaking the law as public camping is illegal only between 9pm and 6am.
Mr Everett says it should be banned at all times except with a permit.
"Tangentyere Council and ourselves are dealing with itinerants for the camping, the fires, for the destruction of the foliage and trees they keep ripping down, and for the copious amounts of litter.
"The police attend with us on Fridays with regards to alcohol and other things.
"Very few of them are licensed [to drive].
"Maybe one out of five cars might be registered and five out of the five cars are total death traps."
He says common problems are tires run down to the canvas, and seat beats cut out and tied together for use as tow ropes.
Motor Registry officers work in conjunction with the council rangers placing yellow "lift & tow" stickers on defective vehicles, at which time they become a council responsibility.
They are impounded, and if within 14 days the owner doesn't come forward, are tendered (the last tender raised $5000) or scrapped.
There are currently 57 cars in the council pound. The rate of confiscation has more than doubled in recent months.
Dealing with the litter problem is more difficult.
"It's probably the worst thing tourists see, apart from the drunks lying in the streets, which is another issue again."
During the almost daily "river runs" council rangers give illegal campers litter bags and ask them to clean up and "95 per cent of the time they do," says Mr Everett.
But there isn't much that can be done about those who don't.
A $50 fine notice can be issued but that can be enforced only if the offender's name is known - they almost never carry ID - as well as the birth date - usually unknown even to the offender.
Mr Everett, whose ranger force of five is currently two below strength, says: "It's a huge problem, but we're limited in what we can do.
"So many people say to me, you need to go up there and move them on.
"I don't have any authority to move somebody on unless they are littering, camping, lighting fires or pulling down trees.
"There is no law against having fun.
"I have no authority over drunkenness. That's a police matter.
"Domestic violence, the two kilometre law, as weak as it is, threats of violence, fighting, these are police issues.
"And the police seem to be flat out with rapes and murders.
"You ring them up and say there are people drinking. "Obviously, they need to prioritise. They don't have the resources.
"Just like us, they are stretched to the limit."
Meanwhile, aldermen during a recent debate about alcohol and anti-social behaviour expressed extreme frustration over lack of enforcement of the two kilometre law. Ald David Koch described enforcement as the law's "biggest problem": "The police say it works, we suggest it's not working."
Ald Samih Habib said police are "not interested in law enforcement".
Ald Melanie Van Haaren said the law "had died a death" and that something "far more assertive" is needed.
Ald Marguerite Baptiste-Rooke said the council needed to put pressure on the NT Government to have the law properly enforced, while council considers calls for alternative, more effective measures along the lines of Port Augusta's "dry town".
Ald Geoff Bell asked, "If you can't enforce the two kilometre law, how could you how enforce a dry town?"
Mayor Fran Kilgariff also said the two kilometre law "does need rejuvenation".
ADMINISTRATOR OR BLACK BUSINESSES. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The Office of the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations (ORAC) issued a notice to the governing committee of the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation (NAC) after an examination by Canberra based firm, Walter Turnbull, in December.
NAC had until February 3 to respond to the notice.
The CEO of the corporation, Clive Scollay, declined to comment.
Apart from the college, NAC runs a number of enterprises including Anangu Tours, Uluru Autos, AAA Accounting, Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse and Docker River Store.
The Mutitjulu Community Health Service (Aboriginal Corporation), a separate organisation, was also examined and must also now show cause why an administrator should not be appointed.
Peter Armstrong, director of ORAC's regulation section, says the examinations test whether governing committees are "conducting the corporation's affairs in accordance with the ACA Act and its Rules (Constitution)" relating to corporate governance and financial management.
The ORAC website explains that the appointment of an administrator is a measure of "last resort, usually to avoid imminent corporate collapse or to ensure proper management of serious breaches of legislation".
The appointment of an administrator does not necessarily lead to the winding up of the corporation.
Says the website: "The actions of the administrator could lead to various outcomes, but if the administrator is successful and the corporation again runs properly, elections may be held to elect a new governing committee / board."
The Alice News reported last year (October 26) on a prolonged period of instability at Nyangatjatjara College, the only one owned and controlled by Aboriginal communities.
The communities involved are Mutitjulu (at the foot of Uluru / Ayers Rock), Imanpa to the east, and Docker River to the west.
Questions about the ability of NAC's Aboriginal board to govern the school were raised in our article.
Sources had suggested that the board was effectively run by Mr Scollay.
He said the Anangu board could and had made decisions differing from his own judgment on matters.
He also said the capacity of the board to govern the school had been looked at by a Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training review.
He said he had been told that the review had found no problems with governance, finances and educational standards at the college.
On the ORAC exam and subsequent noticeMr Scollay says: "I am instructed not to engage with the media on this issue." The News had asked whether NAC would argue that it could continue to run its own affairs or was it happy to accept an administrator.
We also asked how this intervention by ORAC was affecting the running of the college and NAC's other enterprises.
ALICE COUNCIL BUDGET DROP. Report by KIERAN FINNANE..
This was no politician or activist talking, but rather chairman of the Northern Territory Grants Commission, Bob Beadman, telling the town council on Monday night the unpalatable news that their Commonwealth government allocation is set to drop. The NTGC is an independent authority in charge of distributing financial assistance from the Commonwealth to local governing bodies.
The Commonwealth has told the NTGC it must calculate how the funds are distributed in the same way other states are doing it.
In the past no council in the Territory, not even Darwin City Council, was receiving minimum levels of assistance.
Mr Beadman contrasted this with Western Australia where 28 councils are receiving the minimum grant.
Commonwealth assistance to local governing bodies is allocated in three pools: minimum per capita assistance; relative needs; and a component for local road maintenance.
In the Territory, town councils have been receiving more than their share at the expense of the bush councils.
The changes have yet to be applied to the local roads "pool".
In future, Alice Springs will only be entitled to a per capita grant, meaning a drop potentially of $50,000 to $100,000 from the $26m current annual budget, according to CEO Rex Mooney.
"This is a worry because that's a lot of money to pick up," said Mr Mooney. "$100,000 is the equivalent of a one per cent rate increase."
The commission uses a three year average for its population calculation, a figure in Alice of around 28,000.
Tourists are no longer being included because the commission has "no data on tourism impact", said the commission's executive officer, Ted Clark.
Alderman Murray Stewart expressed concern on this point, quoting annual visitation figures and arguing that they represent an undeniable impact of council-provided services.
However, Mr Clark was adamant: "There are no reliable tourism figures in the Territory. There's been no proper data collection."
(This is an astonishing situation given the 25 year existence of the Northern Territory Tourist Commission.)
The only way the town council could change the exclusion of tourist figures would be to "do the study", said Mr Clark, and then make a submission to the commission.
In other business before council on Monday, the decibel level was turned up on whether or not reports on differential rates modelling and a proposed rating strategy should be heard behind closed doors.
Ald Stewart drew first Ald David Koch's fury when he talked over him and then Ald Geoff Bell's when he ignored his orders from the chair.
The shouting match continued for some minutes before being calmed by Mayor Fran Kilgariff who described the display as "unseemly".
Ald Stewart accused those in support of the confidential session of being "in a club".
"You've forgotten who you're here for."
The matter was put to a vote and a majority supported keeping the reports confidential.
Members of the public later asked to address council on the issue did not appear to object to this, but one did ask that comprehensive information about the rates modelling be presented to the public in a timely fashion, so that informed feedback could be given.
The issue at stake is not a rate hike but an attempt at spreading the rate burden more equitably, according to finance director Ian McLay.
OPTIONS One of the options under consideration is replacing the current differential system, with takes into account land zoning, with a system based only on unimproved capital value (UCV).
For example, under the current system rural land owners pay a lower rate than their urban counterparts.
The members of the public who spoke - Rod Cramer, chair of the Rural Areas Residents Association; rural resident Roger Thomson; and Eastside resident and former alderman, Geoff Miers - all argued for maintaining a differential rating system, as being one that allows greater flexibility in arriving at an equitable system.
Mr Cramer suggested that relying only on UCV would mean that rates amounted to a tax on lifestyle choice.
He also argued for a greater range of differentials to be employed, rather than be limited to the three or four being proposed by council.
OLD TRAIN AT FULL STEAM. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
One way is as a hobby for private enthusiasts who pay for it out of their own pockets, and keep the public at a safe distance.
The other is making it a public attraction and running it as a business, managed mainly by paid professionals, with some volunteer help.
The second option was chosen, with spectacular success, by the West Coast Wilderness Railway, traversing country of breathtaking beauty between Strahan and Queenstown in Western Tasmania.
Fired up again in 2003, the railway built in the 1880s, and shut down in 1963, is proof that thinking big is the way to go.
The Wilderness Railway now runs two trains every day, carries 60,000 passengers a year, turns over more than $7m a year, employs 58 people and lays claim to providing a third of the incentive - together with bush walking and Gordon River Cruises - for people to visit Strahan, the booming resort-style town on Tassie's West Coast.
By contrast Alice Springs' Old Ghan, started in 1980, last year ran only on Sundays from August to October, all up carrying about 300 passengers, according to a committee member of the Ghan Society, Tom Lothian.
This year it will run once a week starting in March, plus special events in association with the convention centre.
Much of Strahan is owned by Federal Resorts, best known for its casinos in Hobart and Launceston, and as the first owners of the Alice Springs casino.
Federal are also the "operating company" of the railway whose general manager, Eamonn Seddon, was head hunted from the Ffestiniog Railway in Northern Wales, UK.
His first job was to raise money, lots of it.
Mr Seddon, then acting as a consultant, did this by convincing the Federal Government that the West Coast Wilderness Railway should be Tasmania's principal Centenary of Federation project.
The Feds kicked in $20m and the state, a further $10m.
That's a lot of money - or is it?
The Old Ghan in 1988 got $800,000 as a Bicentennial grant, mostly used to build a replica railway station, now used only as a tea room and museum.
The Wilderness Railway's $30m seed money is no more than the NT Government (total Budget around $3b) will be spending on rectifying shoddy workmanship in the poorly supervised refurbishment of the Alice Springs Hospital.
Money is one thing, purpose is another.
Says Mr Seddon: "I tell people I work for a very large tourist attraction.
"Oh, by the way, it's a railway.
"With the greatest respect, there are many heritage railways that say, oh, by the way, we're a tourist attraction.
"While we enjoy playing trains - we have our steam engines and our coaches - we also have a very commercial outlook on what we do.
"We're very much about giving the tourists an experience.
"This is reflected in everything, starting with the coach designs.
"The original coaches were built in Victorian times, they were wooden and slightly uncomfortable.
"We re-designed a brand new coach, that is relatively low maintenance, and 330 mm wider because we're all a little bit bigger than our Victorian counterparts.
"We've made them a little bit longer and took the balconies off at either end so we can get more seating."
The Wilderness Railway experience is not about the train but about the country it traverses, and its people.
"We were going to create something that's far more than just a railway trip," says Mr Seddon.
How? Enter Enter professor Sam Ham from the University of Colorado who developed "thematic interpretation".
Says Mr Seddon: "And that is actually giving the railway meaning. We were looking at the endeavour of the area's pioneers, their strength, the character of the West Coast.
"Our guides on the train tell that story in their own way.
"It's not scripted, but it has a structure."
Along the way the passengers see rain forests, and a range of business activities from bee keeping to forestry work.
And the guides are not old timers.
"That's one of the things I was very wary of at the time.
"Many of us involved in heritage railways are railway people.
"In the old railway days we were run by rule books, time tables, process.
"Those people bring to heritage railways a lot of old ideas which were very company driven.
"The tourists to them are secondary.
"We'll all play trains and bugger the tourists.
"So what we deliberately did here, our guides have no previous railway experience whatsoever."
And the stories they tell go well beyond the railway.
"They are about the people on the West Coast, life here over the past 120 years.
"Why was the area settled? What were the struggles people had?
"It's very much a people's story."
It's a laid-back experience, says Mr Seddon.
"We have a working time table like all other railways, but everybody is on holiday, nobody's in a rush.
"If the train has to leave five minutes late, so be it, let's not worry about it too much."
That doesn't mean the railway fails to be a professional operation.
In fact two years ago, just three years into its rebirth, it won the national regional tourism attraction award.
Mr Seddon says being a professional operation means "we have a management structure and people do as they are told.
"With the Ffestiniog Railway in North Wales we had 5000 volunteer members, working something like 11,500 volunteer hours a year.
"So I'm fully aware of what's described as the politics of volunteer railway organisations.
"The staff here still have input and we make sure that they get a sense of ownership.
"But as in any other business, management staff have a right to make decisions on their own.
"If you have a marketing guy he doesn't need to go to the committee to spend two dollars on putting a poster in a shop.
"He's given a budget, he manages that budget and is judged on the results he gets."
Mr Seddon says legal and regulatory requirements are now too complex for pure volunteer organizations.
"As soon as you open the doors to passengers you've got all the insurance, liability, all the risk assessments, and so on.
"Quite frankly, it can grind the volunteer down.
"It grinds our full time staff down, let alone the amount of time it takes up.
"We're successful because we've made the decision to go very much commercial."
The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a spectacular accomplishment not only in terms of management: the engineering threw up formidable challenges.
The distance is just 34 km but it includes 40 bridges, all of which had to be rebuilt, including one known as the quarter mile bridge.
All the project had at the beginning was a "track bed, very heavily overgrown".
Second-hand sleepers and 63 lb tracks were obtained from around Australia.
As with the rolling stock, construction of the stations was driven by the needs of the modern-day passengers, not historic authenticity.
"Not at all," says Mr Seddon. "For the Queenstown station we were moving back to our Victorian forebears, pinching designs from Manchester's Piccadilly Station in the UK."
It turned out to be a 60m train shed with a high curved roof, fully enclosed, handy given the high rainfall in the area.
Likewise, the steam engine has been modified to burn diesel instead of coal, eliminating risks from flying sparks in the heavily timbered area.
To get the 75 tonnes of train up the rugged and steep terrain, some of the track has a middle rail with teeth in which a pinion wheel under the locomotive engages.
Given the gradients, conventional drive wheels would slip.
It was revolutionary technology in the 1880s, introduced by a Swiss called Abt.
Until 1937 the train provided the only access to Queenstown, transporting supplies ranging from milk to wood for firing the copper smelters whose sulphur emissions ultimately turned the hills around the mining town into a moonscape.
IT'S (ALMOST) ALL GOOD IN FRIENDLY TASMANIA.
We met dozens of friendly people in Tasmania, displaying not the kind "have a good day, Sir" artificial courtesy, but showing genuine interest in a visitor's request, and taking the time to do it well. Here are a few examples of it - and rare exceptions mentioned only to encourage Tassie to move even closer to perfection.
We asked the lady on duty at the highway service station at Triabunna, on the island's magnificent east coast, on the morning of January 22 if we could fill up the water tank of our mobile home, about 100 litres. She said the community has water restrictions but nevertheless rang the boss at home. He said OK, 2 cents a litre. The next problem was that someone had "souvenired" the handle for the water tap. The lady then rang the town council, found out the location of a public tap, and directed us there. That's service!
The Bronte Park Highland Village is a sprawling, low-key complex with chalets, motel rooms, a restaurant and a spacious, laid back caravan park. Normal rates for mobile homes in Tassie are $34 a night. The Highland Village charged us $14. Within a stone's throw is a trout lake. As it's common on the Apple Isle operators went the extra mile of us: The manager wouldn't rest until he'd arranged a dial-up line for my laptop. The charge for the line: $1. Brilliant!
Not so good was our experience at the Cosy Cabins at the entrance to the Cradle Mountain National Park. We bought high energy food and bottled water at the store and asked for half a dozen plastic shopping bags (for rubbish disposal). The shop keeper said, now you're stretching the friendship, and he gave us three. Thanks, mate!
The magnificent Cradle Mountain has a minibus shuttle service, every ten minutes, free of charge, running the 10 odd kilometres from the park entrance, with a few stops along the way, to the Dove Lake car park which tends to fill up very quickly. There's one problem: Despite daylight stretching until well after 9pm in summer, after 6pm the shuttle runs only once an hour. On January 16 we were among a lot of trekkers returning to the pick-up point in the late afternoon, in our case after a seven hour walk to (almost) the top of Cradle Mountain. We were well in time for the 7.20 shuttle but, together with about 10 others, were not allowed on board because all seats had been filled. We asked the driver, working for a contractor to the parks service, to send another vehicle for us. After all, we had followed the park management's request to leave our cars at the main parking facility. But the driver said we would have to wait an hour for the 8.20pm bus, the last for the day. We asked the driver to channel a complaint from us to his superiors. He declined our request. But we could write to the parks service, he explained helpfully.
Do we pay taxes for the Federal Police to protect us from terrorism, or to involve itself, in a bully-like fashion, in the most minor matters of car parking at airports, and in negotiations between passengers and airline clerks about excess baggage?
The conduct of Federal Police officer James Hoffmann at the Hobart airport at around 2pm on January 22 suggests the latter.
Without being a witness to any of the events he was referring to, officer Hoffmann accused me - falsely - of leaving a vehicle unattended, and - falsely again - of having been rude to an airport worker apparently in charge of overseeing car parking.
Officer Hoffmann then delivered a sermon that conduct such as he was accusing me of could see me in jail, given our "difficult times". Yes, in jail!
A little later, again ignorant of the facts, he accosted me inside the terminal, during a discussion with Jetstar personnel about the airline's exorbitant charges. Without prior notice they demand $7 per kilo for excess luggage. And with Jetstar excess luggage is more than 20 kilos - not 32 as is the case with its parent company, Qantas. (We got the money back.) But this is hardly an issue for the Federal Police to involve itself with.
Officer Hoffman suggested my conduct at the Jetstar counter was a "continuation" of my earlier one, presumably the kind he thought might land me in jail. The Alice News asked the Federal Police for an explanation on February 2. A day later a spokeswoman promised one. We still don't have it.
Tassie is renowned for seafood, largely with good reason. An exception was Coles Bay, on the east coat. One of the coffee shops touts its oysters for $9 and we thought, you beauty, until we realized the price was for six. A dozen was $17.50. Used to buying a dozen, never frozen, from Milner Meats in Alice - more than 1500 km from the ocean - for $11, we thought that was a bit rude. On the way out we saw a grower advertising his shellfish. They turned out to be $12 a dozen oysters. We were seduced by the promise they would be the best we've ever had. They were not.
ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER LICENCE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE..
The corporation's waste discharge licence had required the elimination of overflows by the end of 2005.
But residents and others attending a briefing session by the corporation last week heard that the necessary infrastructure would not be completed until December of this year.
And horticulture by "the foundation client" - designed to make use of the treated effluent pumped away from the ponds and stored below ground at the Arid Zone Research Institute - should begin as "a staged development within 12 months" of the end of 2006.
Although an agreement with this client, John Biggs, of Matilda Maid, a fruit and wine producer in NSW and Queensland, was expected "before Christmas" , it has still not been made.
Work to do before it can be made includes drawing up a master plan for the whole site.
This is "scheduled to start immediately".
The Alice News asked Power and Water project manager Mark Skinner if the corporation's licence has been automatically extended for 12 months, or was it the case that even if licence requirements weren't met, licence renewal was still possible.
Said Mr Skinner: "Power and Water has been granted a new waste discharge licence which has set out new terms and conditions which include increased monitoring and reporting requirements, as well as ceasing dry weather overflows by the end of December 2006.
"In granting the new licence and conditions, the Controller of Water Resources took into account that Power and Water's project achievements to date had demonstrated a firm commitment to ending dry weather overflows.
"Power and Water have also had to undertake a range of statutory processes, such as the Public Environment Report, in a thorough and comprehensive manner, which was also taken into account in their new licence."
There have been no dry weather overflows since the end of 2005.
Among concerns of residents in the rural area neighbouring the planned horticulture site, was the management of noise, dust and spray drift (Alice News, June 8, 2005).
The Department of Primary Industry's Phil Anning said this will be to "best practice guidelines", with work on these due for completion later this year.
There will be a 50 metre buffer between the site and the eastern boundary of the Arid Zone Research Institute, which is also the western boundary of some rural properties.
"This is part of the best management approach to managing impacts on neighbouring properties," said Mr Anning.
"Existing trees and shrubs in this buffer area will be augmented with others propagated from seed collected in the area."
DESERT KNOWLEDGE AIDS BUSINESS: VIAILITY, MORE THAN ECONOMICS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The useful question is, says Dr James, what are the factors that influence viability? How can the factors be treated to make for sustainable, even vibrant communities?
The debate around viability of remote communities, put at the heart of federal government policy discussions by former Indigenous Affairs minister Amanda Vanstone, "weighs heavily on our heads", says Dr James, "but we don't believe that this debate is currently based on comprehensive research".
"The city of Goulburn ran out of water and they've been trucking in water. Nobody asks whether Goulburn is viable.
"We all accept that Alice Springs offers services that are partially subsidised.
"We need to change the perception of viability and non-viability from strictly an economic issue to being one of multiple benefits, and reframe the way in which services are received.
"For example, gaps in the national wind erosion monitoring network occur where there are many remote settlements. The Desert Knowledge CRC through it's DustWatch program is preparing to work with remote Indigenous schools on collecting wind erosion observations that will allow us to make better predictions about dust storms
"Other benefits include land management for biodiversity and a safety mantle for 4WD tourists - two projects that would not be possible without the active participation of people from remote settlements."
Dr James says two of the DK-CRC's eight core projects go to these issues, whether the settlement is a town like Alice Springs or a much smaller community like Titjikala.
Of particular relevance to small remote communities is the CRC's research into telecommunications. Dr James says the CRC is on track to "commercialise", together with a private industry partner, innovations in wireless terrestrial broadband delivery, "a solution that doesn't currently exist anywhere in the world".
This will allow improved information delivery by, for instance, state departments of health and education and should represent significant savings for government.
Dr James says all of the CRC's research is "applied": "It has to have outputs that are actively used by someone.
"A piece of research could be the cleverest in the world but if can't be put to practical use, to bring about some sort of change, then we will have failed as a CRC," he says.
An example revealed at last week's conference, which brought together the CRC's partners from around the country, related to the way bush tomatoes reproduce.
The bush tomato together with wattle seed "are the biggest value creators in the growing bush foods market", according to Maarten Ryder, bush produce project leader for the CRC.
Researchers have discovered that the bush tomato reproduces more commonly from its extensive underground root system, than from seed, throwing out suckers, similar to couch grass.
This revelation will help the native foods horticultural industry to design production systems that take into account how the plants reproduce.
(Horticultural plots in Outback South Australia are delivering to markets, although in Central Australia wild harvest still accounts for most of the output.)
Says Dr Ryder: "The simplest and most successful way to propagate clones of good bush tomatoes may be to let them do their own thing through forming the underground stems, rather than take cuttings." The discovery will also help to develop more efficient irrigation systems and might prompt producers to change their weed control techniques. "The weed mats that are used around bush tomato plantings could be discouraging the plant's suckering habit and may have to make way for better technology," he says.
Another example with relevance to Alice's major industry as well as opening up new opportunities in the bush is a new study into 4WD drive desert tourism, lead by Dean Carson, of Charles Darwin University's Tourism Research Group.
Dr Carson says desert 4WD tourism remains unexplored territory even though the demand for off-road experiences is soaring.
A recent report by map makers Gregory places seven of Australia's ten "must do" 4WD experiences in the desert, among them the Canning Stock Route, the Oodnadatta Track and the Tanami Track.
"Concerns about the impact and safety of increasing numbers of self-drive adventurers on the one hand and the desire of desert communities to benefit from this growing market on the other means we urgently need to build our collective knowledge about this form of tourism."
Called On Track, the study will work as closely with those who stand to benefit from this market as with those who bear the cost of servicing it.
It will also look at the issues affecting access, such as the permit system on Aboriginal lands, and trespass notices on pastoral leases.
Investigating "the ideal 4WD experience" it will use people's travel diaries, web logs (blogs), and popular literature to identify the most important elements of 4WD desert tourism. It has already built a network of over 50 organisations, ranging from Aboriginal community councils and land councils, pastoralists, local governments, roads and emergency services, national parks people to the tourism industry.
Anyone can join by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Network members will receive regular updates and can contribute their own knowledge to the project.
"While tourism is an increasingly significant economic factor for the desert the rate of growth here has lagged behind the rest of Australia", says Dr Carson. "This project will help build a more competitive and sustainable industry."
The News asked Dr James why this kind of research isn't carried out by industry, rather than by the CRC?
He says the CRC will produce the base data to guide enterprise development of the kind usually produced by state government entities or industry bodies, but which don't exist currently for the self-drive market in desert Australia
BUGGET HOPES FOR ARALUEN: UNINSPIRING.
The Sunday hours are now 10am to 3pm, and the number of production in the theatre season has also been cut, from 12 last year to eight this year, and art exhibitions have dwindled from 20 shows four years ago to13 for 2006.
The productions this year also appear low-key - not without interest but the program doesn't include the likes of Bell Shakespeare, Oz Opera or the Australian Ballet.
The Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts is declining to commit on whether it will unfreeze its budget for Araluen which has remained static for four years. Spokesperson for minister Marion Scrymgour said: "A decision was made by Araluen to close on Sundays, however late last year Marion Scrymgour intervened - now Araluen will not be closed on Sundays.
"The Centre will instead close on Tuesdays. An analysis of visitor statistics informed the closure decision, and there was consultation with users. Tuesday was the day of lowest visitor numbers. "Many such institutions have similar opening hour arrangements."
Friends of Araluen president, Morag McGrath, said she was pleased that representations from the Friends group to Ms Scrymgour had made a difference to the day of closing but says it shouldn't be a permanent solution: "It's better for local people, Sunday is the day they would usually access the centre. "However, looking at it as a tourist attraction, it will be affected. The Desert Park is open seven days for example." Ms McGrath says the closure is part of a bigger picture. "The building is tired and there are not enough resources. We would be certainly hoping the closure is a very temporary measure until the next budget. It demonstrates a need for greater commitment to the arts in Alice Springs over the next financial year."
LEAVING TOWN: MORE GOING THAN COMING. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Reasons given for the migration drift include families feeling unsafe.
Real estate figures recorded the highest number house sales ever in Alice Springs in December.
Trevor Espeland of Raine & Horne reported "record sales" and property transaction figures provided by the NT government showed 144 transactions for the month.
In December 2004, the figure was 125 transactions.
Grace Brothers, the removals group, says it has experienced a nine per cent increase in moving people from town.
An employee of the company, who declined to be named, says that when he arrived in Alice in 1986, he would help move around eight families a week into town and two out.
REVERSAL Today he says the figure is the other way around.
He's noticed mostly families leaving: "They say there is too much trouble in town.
"These are people who've grown up here. December and half of November was crazy for people leaving, it always is.
"Usually February is the month when we move people back into town, but it's not as busy this year as other years.
"The other day we had four containers to be delivered in town but the people just rang us to say don't bother unpacking them, we're not living here."
The employee, who lives in the Diarama area, says his family now feels unsafe in Alice. Their house and car have been broken into twice a year for the past three years.
"And that's not including petrol sniffers trying to get petrol," he says.
"My wife will not go up town with the kids, she will only go there when I'm with her.
"We don't go out at night because it's too dangerous, we're worried about our house getting broken into."
LETTER: I'LL NEVER GO TO ALICE AGAIN.
Sir,- Recently while on a visit to Darwin I made the acquaintance of a lady on tour. When she learned that I was from Alice Springs, she asked, "Do you like living there?"
Having replied, "Yes", I wanted to know why she had made the query. She told me that she had visited Alice Springs in 1985 and had been most impressed. However, having returned in 2006, she told me, "I'll never go back there again!"
She had been accosted by a large group of drunken Aborigines near the caravan park at which she was staying, the experience being described as "terrifying".
I assured her that the majority of Aboriginal people were peaceful and kindly people, but unfortunately some that are not have left the lady with a bad impression which no doubt she will share with others.
Endless meetings and suggestions seem helpless to solve the problems involving some of our unfortunate Indigenous citizens. Material methods have failed. I was fortunate enough to have had an association with tribal Aborigines some 50 years ago. They were very spiritual people. There may be a spiritual answer to the current problems. Something like good old fashioned prayer. Remember Martin Luther King's prayer - "I have a dream!" He lost his life for his cause but achieved a great deal.
Des Nelson Alice Springs
Aboriginal culture a major factor in our visit
Sir,- My wife and I visited Uluru and Alice Springs in July of 2005, and in reply to a recent letter writer, the Aboriginal culture of Uluru was a major factor in our visit, in addition to the natural beauty of this region of Australia.
We subsequently purchased some Aboriginal art and books, along with other books and tourist items from the Red Centre. We enjoyed ourselves very much and are looking forward to a return visit.
Iowa City, Iowa, USA
This time next year in Alice
Sir,- I came to Australia last month with a group of French people. We landed first in Melbourne, and stayed at Bayside, a twin city of our home town. From there we flew to Sydney, but it was quite a shock for me to discover the Red Centre.
First of all the climate seemed to me almost unbearable: the heat, the dryness, the flies. But the magic of the place took me and I forgot all this when we arrived at the foot of Uluru.
Then we drove to Alice Springs along the Stuart Highway, kilometres of nothingness!
I was impressed by the colour of the earth but sad to see plenty of dead animals along the road, especially kangaroos.
Alice Springs came as a good rest to us. We visited a few surroundings before leaving for Cairns.
Suddenly I realized I was going to miss something, I had met a few very nice people there, notably a girl who had studied at the same university as I had in Montpellier.
Then I decided that I had to go back there by any means. My dearest wish is to be in Alice again next year and I try to convince the people around me of the beauty of the scenery and of the kindness of the inhabitants.
So farewell Alice, hope to be back soon. As someone wrote in an article of your paper, au revoir !
Sir,- Just a line to let you know your news webpage is read all over the world. I enjoyed it very much.
DOES ALICE AGREE WITH YOUR HAIR? COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
After a haircut at the beginning of the week I felt refreshed and ready to meet the challenges of my life.
It is funny how your hair can make you feel so good or bad about yourself. There should be more to how we feel about ourselves than our hair, and of course there is, but still it matters, whether you've got some or not. How we have our hair is curiously linked to our identity and how we feel about ourselves, and says something about how we would like to be seen, or not seen at all.
I recently met a woman who is prepared to move to Alice if it agrees with her hair. I'm sure that is only one of the things she is looking for, but it is something that she is taking into account before making up her mind about coming to live here.
I had a guy tell me once that the only reason he would consider returning to where I was living at the time was to see me with long hair.
I have a friend who is finding Brisbane a huge challenge to her mental well being because of the high humidity and what it does to her hair. If it were not for family and work commitments she would definitely relocate to Central Australia.
Then there are those who complain about the dust and the dryness ruining their hair or making it limp and lifeless. One of the things my mother really dislikes about Alice is that she can never get her hair to look nice here.
Why are we so worried about something as superficial as a hair? How come so much of our identity is caught up in the remnants of fur on our heads? Why do people with curly hair long for straight hair and people with straight hair wish theirs was curly?
While we may have an aversion to the concept of judging or being judged, we are constantly assessing the world and everything in it. First impressions matter, both when it comes to getting along and getting on in life. Luckily we don't need passport photos for CV's or many of us would never get job interviews.
People do take notice of your hair but in my experience don't worry about it anywhere near as much as we worry about it ourselves. Maybe what we are really trying to sense is how people relate to themselves and to the world rather than whether the curls sit perfectly. There is definitely more to it than how other people see you. My two youngest children seem to be the most preoccupied with hair in our family and they don't read fashion magazines! The three year old has a thing for spiky hair and the six year old wants to look pretty and has very strong views on the subject. They want the identity they are forming on the inside to be reflected on the outside. Your hair gives you something to manipulate, something concrete to work with. If you feel like a redhead on the inside you can always show your true colours as it were, by dyeing your hair red.
Hair plays a strange part in our lives. It can be a fashion statement, a political protest or just protection against the elements. But ultimately it is personal and about finding a balance between the inside and the outside. It is about being happy in your skin and your hair!
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