April 6, 2006. This page contains all major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.


"There will be no free land outside the boundaries of the township of Alice Springs where anyone can go.
"The town is threatened to be made into an island, and there will be no way off that island."
That's the bleak view of Ian Builder, long-time local and retired businessman.
He has teamed up with outspoken businessman and alderman Murray Stewart in a bid to block Chief Minister Clare Martin's plan of handing over to Aboriginal interests the ownership of national parks, now in public hands.
Mr Builder says Aboriginal or pastoral lands "are not available for tourists and people of the town".
"If our parks are being shut down I'm going to tell people, get out of the place while you can because we're imprisoned," he says.
Ms Martin says she wants to surrender ownership because she doesn't want to spend money on fighting native title claims that may be lodged over the parks, mainly around Alice Springs.
But her government fought - and last Friday won - a compensation case in the Federal Court brought by Aborigines asserting that the construction of Ayers Rock Resort, formerly Yulara, had extinguished their native rights.
The CLP's Member for Greatorex Richard Lim is providing support for Mr Builder and Ald Stewart.
Time is running out: as the final act in the handover process, Ms Martin has asked Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough to schedule the parks as Aboriginal land, and he's likely to do so in May.
Mr Builder and Ald Stewart say they will now go all out to mobilize public opinion against the transfer.
They have no hopes of changing Ms Martin's mind, and will rely on Mr Brough to at least delay the transfer of ownership - or knock it on the head altogether.
Ald Stewart says he suspects Ms Martin is motivated less by saving money, than by repaying the Aboriginal land councils for decades of election support in the bush for the ALP.
"The land councils are calling in some IOUs," says Ald Stewart.He and Mr Builder, are distributing pamphlets, canvassing a petition at functions such as the Todd Mall Market on Sunday, and calling a public meeting (at the Memo club at 5.15pm on Tuesday next week, April 11).
Mr Builder is unconvinced by assurances from Ms Martin that there will be "no fees and no permits" under her planned 99 year lease-back of the parks following their handover to Aboriginal ownership.
He says the key issue is what visitors would be allowed to do once they are inside the parks: at Aboriginal-owned Ayers Rock - Uluru, for example, there are significant restrictions on movements, photography and other activities.
Mr Builder, supported by his partner Francoise, says on the vital issue of allocating concessions inside the parks - from shops to hotels to tours - Ms Martin had agreed in secret negotiations with the Aboriginal land councils to give Aborigines priority.
HELP Last week a pamphlet authored by Mr Builder and Ald Stewart was distributed through local print media.
The pamphlet was produced with help from Dr Lim who says he'd been approached, as a local Member, for assistance and he'd agreed to make available, as much as he can, the resources of his office.
Mr Builder came to Alice Springs in 1955 for two years, returned in 1969, and is now the patriarch of a family spanning three generations.
He has three sons and six grandchildren.
One of his brothers lives here with his wife.
One son, Scott, is interstate training to become a Qantas captain, crowning a flying career that began in The Alice under aero club legend Ossie Watts: "Scott's probably going to come back to Alice Springs when he retires," says Mr Builder.
"That was their plan. They all love the Territory and they all want to come back to Alice Springs.
"It's a great town but we have lost quite a few freedoms. We don't want to lose any more."
Mr Builder, a former real estate agent and auctioneer, says typical comments for his initiative are like these: "We're all in favour of what you're doing.
DONATION "Can you give us more information.
"One of them said, here's a $100 donation.
"He's with the Walking Club.
"What about all the other clubs [losing full parks usage]?
"This is no time to walk away from this without a thorough debate by the whole community in Alice Springs."
Ald Stewart says some supporters of the Martin strategies are the same people who would vehemently oppose the privatisation of public assets in other circumstances.
"Why do they think that privatisation of our parks, into the hands of organisations, not people, would benefit the rank and file of the average Indigenous person?" asks Ald Stewart.
"You only have to look at Mutitjulu [the Aboriginal community at Ayers Rock] as an example of that.
"It's one of the most dysfunctional communities on earth."
He says far from being the prime example of benefits of the handover of parks, the Rock hand-over "hasn't worked for those Indigenous people."
NO BENEFIT The Martin parks strategy would result in "a take-over virtually by company structures, so you might find three or four people might benefit, but the average Indigenous person doesn't benefit at all, and to be frank, probably couldn't care less."
The Federal Court last Friday rejected an application for compensation by Yankunytjatjara people over the establishment of the Ayers Rock Resort, formerly called Yulara.
In his conclusion, rejecting the application, Mr Justice Sackville said, in part: "First, the applicants have not shown, on the evidence, that the Indigenous witnesses, or members of the compensation claim group, acknowledged and observed at the relevant times the laws and customs of the Western Desert bloc as pleaded in the Points of Claim.
"Secondly, I am not satisfied that any laws and customs relating to rights and interests in land that may have been acknowledged and observed by the Aboriginal witnesses are the traditional laws and customs of the Western Desert bloc."


The strength of opposition to the government' s proposed models for middle schooling in Alice Springs appears to be making Education Minister Syd Stirling think twice.
At a press conference on Tuesday, after he had visited both local junior high schools and had had a meeting with Anzac Hill High school council, he asked: "How much meaningful and positive change can you bring to a situation if there are not at least some elements of good will to see it carry across the line?
"It's a concern I will take away with me. I don't have an answer to it.
"There's strong opposition from the quarters I've been hearing from and I haven't picked up the level of support thus far that I thought would be necessary to bring about positive change.
"If there's not a will at least in some quarters to move to another model and not a view that we could improve and we need to change to improve, then I think it would be very difficult to bring about that change when there would be so many elements seeking to undermine it."
Mr Stirling said he had been given "a very clear picture of what is and what works" but there didn't seem to be "a willingness to see that some positive changes could be made to overcome some of the anxieties being expressed at the moment".
In particular he had encountered "very strong views" that Year 10 students are not ready "to go into a Centralian style of learning albeit that there could well be changes made to Centralian for that to occur". He said the decision on middle schooling (which will ultimately be made by Cabinet) was "not a closed book" and he would "take away and digest" the new ideas that had been put to him.
Mr Stirling appeared frustrated by the "brick wall" facing "discussion of anything other than what is".
He said: "It's important that I try to share with the community what's possible, what might work" and listed all the benefits, including "heavy resourcing" and greater attention to pastoral care, that might be brought to a middle schools model.
Couldn't those benefits still take place without disruption to the existing high school structures, that is two separate middle schools, with Year 10s transitioning to Centralian College while still based at their home schools, and Years 11 and 12 fulltime at the college?
Mr Stirling steered clear of answering this question, instead talking about existing improved support to specialist needs in the system, including to the 100 plus students not attached to particular schools.
He said he did not dismiss the concerns raised by Anzac and ASHS school councils about the potential for conflict if all Indigenous students were to find themselves in the one school.
However, he said there were different views about how the education system should respond to such a situation; that some believed that it would be the role of education to teach those students how "to work and play together", and about "strong teamwork".
He acknowledged that there was a "strong view" about the state system providing a choice of schools.
He also said that numbers of students were not a concern for sustainability of a middle school, that is Years Seven to Nine. Numbers become a concern in a comprehensive school, where there is a need to engage specialist teachers.
"This is something to work through with the community.
"We have some very small schools in the Northern Territory," said Mr Stirling.
School council chair at Anzac Hill High, Stephanie Mackie-Schneider, said she hoped that Mr Stirling, after his visit to the school, would be able to acknowledge that Anzac is offering a "great middle school model" and to offer the school "the support we are seeking".
ASHS school council was to meet Mr Stirling on Tuesday evening, as the Alice News went to press. Chair Trish Holman said: "All we can do is to keep reiterating the good we are doing. Hopefully we can sway him.
"If there was a valid reason for Years 10s to go over [to Centralian College], we would listen, but so far we haven't been given any reason that seems valid."


"I think he's already made his mind up. He's just doing this to make himself popular.
"He might have said a lot but he didn't really answer our questions."
That's the view of Emily McAllister, a student in Year Seven at Anzac Hill High School.
Emily met with the Minister of Education, Syd Stirling, on Tuesday morning to discuss the potential merger of her school with Alice Springs High, along with four other student leaders.
"He said the same things over and over. And, for about two or three questions, he said ŚI'm sorry, I don't know'.
"I think there will be a half a chance it will [happen] and half it won't."
If the merger goes ahead Emily said she will be sent to St Philip's.
Sonny Daye and Acacia Lewis (both in Year Eight) would both move to ASHS.
Acacia said: "I don't like OLSH because it's too religious, and St Philip's is too expensive. If Anzac goes, there won't be much choice."
Acacia explained why she wasn't already at ASHS: "Sometimes when you're Aboriginal, you might have family feuds. Family A and family B can't be together.
"There needs to be a choice of schools, somewhere for both families to go."
Sonny offered a different explanation: "There's too much violence. There'd be big gang fights, and if you mix the ASHS gang with the Anzac gang, then there's going to be even bigger fights.
"[Even worse] the blacks and the whites are going to fight."
The students said it was easier to get to know the teachers at Anzac as the school is smaller than Alice Springs High.
"We really like the teachers here," said Emily. "They're really nice. If we go to ASHS, we'll lose that, because there are already too many students."
"Big schools aren't good," said Acacia.
"And the buses are already heaps full."
All four students I interviewed believed going to Centralian College would be too much for Year 10s to handle.
"Dale Caust is currently in Year 10. "If I had gone straight from Year Nine to [Centralian], I wouldn't have coped.
"I couldn't write a 500 word essay without the teacher over my back, telling me what to do. It would have been too hard for me. But now I can. I can write one by myself, which I wouldn't have learnt at CDU. They expect you to already be prepared for that kind of thing."
Sonny said the opposite could happen at St Philip's: "At a private school, you're fed the information.
"They feed it to you, without helping it go down. At a public school, like Anzac, you're taught it, you become more resilient because you've learnt it, rather then being forced to eat it all at once."
Sonny also said: "Most people [used to say] Anzac sucks. But now [it might be closing down], most people don't want it to. They think it's good."
(Sinead Cook is a Year 10 work experience student from St Philip's College.)


The row over transferring ownership of Territory parks to Aborigines may get a national focus, according to Alderman Melanie van Haaren.
She says a Senate enquiry looking at the management of national parks in all states, including the NT, may liberate the NT from its usual fate of being a venue for Aboriginal policy initiatives which are rejected by other states.
Senator Judith Adams (WA, Lib) is the deputy chairperson of the "Inquiry into Australia's national parks, conservation reserves and marine protected areas".
She says she has received a submission from the Alice Springs Town Council and the inquiry will "certainly be looking at" the Territory parks issues.
"I am very interested in it," she says.
Ald van Haaren says it would be sensible for Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough to delay scheduling the parks under land rights, as he's been requested to do by Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin, until the enquiry reports on November 30.
"This has been the most important life line we've had on the parks issue to date," says Ald van Haaren. She was instrumental in the Alice Town Council resolution demanding a halt to NT Government plans for the hand over of national parks to Aboriginal interests until, at least, more has been made public about the scheme.
Ald van Haaren says she fully supports a current push by businessmen Ian Builder, and Murray Stewart, also an alderman, and Greatorex MLA Richard Lim to delay a decision on the parks until the public has had its say on the matter (see report this issue).
Ald van Haaren says there is no doubt the Australian public would be at one with the Territory in seeking to keep national parks in public hands.
AT RIGHT: Serpentine Gorge in the West MacDonnell Ranges.


The Territory Government "is working quickly to introduce a local area alcohol management plan in Alice Springs", according to Minister for Racing, Gaming and Licensing, Syd Stirling, but no date for its introduction is in sight yet. Mr Stirling will join a delegation led by Mayor Fran Kilgariff investigating dry area legislation in Port Augusta on April 19, and a council forum to discuss the issues is set for April 26.
Only after this date will a coordinating body and time frame for the project be decided.
Mr Stirling says he has been told there are "greater numbers [of drinkers] in Alice Springs" but he doesn't have "the evidence for that".
He recently described rumours that "thousands of people are moving into town" as "absolute rubbish", but he says "I don't have a figure and don't know of anyone in government who does".
He says "some informative material will drop out of [the Town Camps Taskforce] process".
He believes there are "far too many licensed outlets" in Alice Springs (there are 96), "but we are not about to offer to buy them out, which is the only way we could reduce the number directly".
He says he is "beginning to engage with major suppliers at a national level" and wants them to show "willingness Što work on particular products, but we would need some proposals to put to them".
Meanwhile, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress says that Alice Springs could cut consumption by 20 per cent if alcohol were made more expensive.
"It is the fact that it is so cheap and therefore the heaviest drinkers get so much more alcohol for their dollar that causes the harm," says Congress director, Stephanie Bell.
CHEAP BOOZE "The heaviest drinkers tend to purchase the cheapest form of alcohol.
"The problem can be readily addressed with the introduction of a price-based trial."
Congress suggests trialling 90 cents as the cheapest price of a standard drink. Currently, the least expensive drink is cask wine, at 26 cents per standard serving.
Such a trial "would remove all cheap bulk grog from the market and lead the heaviest drinkers to switch to beer or another beverage at the 90 cent benchmark.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff says the town council doesn't yet have a view on whether pricing will make a difference, but aldermen will consider Congress' point of view at the forum.
Whatever council decides, the Commonwealth government is the only body that has the power to affect the price of alcohol.
Other issues that will be raised include the re-introduction of Tangentyere Day Patrol. "We have been lobbying on funding for that for some time now, and it will be part of the plan," says Ms Kilgariff.


Aspen started life as Ute City, a sliver mining boom town named after the local Ute Indian tribe. The boom went bust (see last week's installment) and the bust was followed by what today is referred to as "the quiet years" - more like the dead decades. The town almost vanished until the 1940s.
Remember, that was the era when distant bureaucracies - South Australian, until 1922, and then Federal - ran Central Australia, with public servants answering first to Adelaide and later to Canberra.
"Canberra Control" lasted until 1978 when the Territory attained self-government.
The first Chief Minister, Paul Everingham, built what's now the Ayers Rock Resort, pretty well on time and on budget, only for it to be mismanaged by a string of public servants.
It got so bad that in 1997 the government sold the resort for a pittance, along with more than 100 square kilometres of taxpayers' land, to the General Property Trust, which almost instantly turned the place into a roaring success, but sending its profits out of the Territory.
Aspen in the 1940s wasn't placing its future in the hands of government officials and distant politicians.
In fact events at that time put the town on its journey of spectacular successes, still going strong after more than half a century.
A Chicago woman called Elisabeth Paepcke had a husband, Walter, who was making a packet with the Container Corporation of America.
Elisabeth had been a few times to tiny, sleepy Aspen, had fallen in love with the historic town and its magnificent surroundings, and was now pestering Walter to pay a visit as well.
He did, and forthwith bought Elisabeth a Victorian-style house dating back to the town's mining boom.
She wasn't happy about that initially because she feared extensive housework, but learned to live with it.
Walter meanwhile set about to turn Aspen, in his own words, into "a community of peace with opportunities for man's complete life where he can earn a living, profit by healthy physical recreation, with facilities at hand for his enjoyment of art, music, and education".
What followed was proof that it's not money that counts (governments had begun to waste billions in Central Australia), but who does the spending and how.
JOINED Partly by coincidence and partly upon his invitation, Walter was joined by people as diverse as an Olympic bobsledder, Billy Fiske; a Swiss alpinist and engineer, André Roch; a German Bauhaus artist, Herbert Bayer; and an Austrian ski school director, Friedel Pfeifer.
They began to turn Aspen into a cultural as well as skiing paradise, bringing to reality Walter's dream of "an American Salzburg in a near ghost town".
Walter established the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies in 1950, the International Design Conference of Aspen, the Aspen Music Festival and School in order to fulfill his dream of the "Aspen Idea".
Walter's vision not only survives: all his intellectual and artistic initiatives have developed into American institutions, providing a counterpoint to the town's more outrageous manifestations of wealth.
As an example of the latter, the "Aspen Sojourner" magazine (Holiday 2005/2006) reports about a "premier Mountain Village property that's currently on the market for [US]$14m [that's 18 million Oz dollars].
"It has 17,623 square feet of living space [about 1760 square metres], including a bowling alley, massive home theatre, elevator with leopard print walls, seven car garage and little extras like pilot's quarters and dog spa.
"Ornate decor, like the ostrich skin wrapped staircase, pony fur walls and massive cast iron grating on all of the home's 13 fireplaces reflects the owner's (to put it kindly) distinctive tastes."
Some successful men get a trophy wife. Others get a trophy home - in Aspen: the dearer they get the more desired they are. The locals joke about it.
In 1979 the Aspen Magazine reported: "The Shah of Iran allegedly planned to buy a [US]$1m palatial estate in Aspen.
"Someone must have clued him in by now that a million might put him in a fairly nice two bedroom condo with a partial view."
Today, not even that - not by a long shot, as interest from around the globe continues to grow.
Says Mayor Helen Klanderud: "We're not talking about second home owners any more, we have people who have three or four homes around the world."
We went to an open inspection of an apartment with a medium size living room, smallish kitchen, three small bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms (the half one is a dunny), two car garage.
Asking price: $4m.
Nowhere is the real estate adage "location, location, location" more applicable. Interested in a time share? It's called fractional ownership residences in Aspen.
The super posh Residences at Little Nell offers four bedrooms, 400 square metres, adjacent to the gondola, one-eighth share, including two prime weeks in both summer and winter.
The price: $2.275m (ie, the total cost of that unit is $18m).
Going down-market? At the Innsbruck you can get a two bedroom unit, one-twelfth share, 130 square metres, four weeks a year including three weeks in prime season.
Price: $220,000 (i. e. the total cost of one unit is $2.6m).
Hotel style accommodation, a total of 11,000 beds (that's more than double Alice Springs' inventory), ranges from $850 a room a night at the Little Nell, down to $50 in a St Moritz Lodge hostel-style room.
On the other hand the town council, called here the City of Aspen, in its extremely broad scope of activities when compared to the Alice Town Council, runs an "affordable housing program" to assist people who work here to also live here.
It does so in association with the county which is, when compared to Oz, another jurisdiction between local and state governments.
The program has so far created 2500 dwellings ranging in price from $44,000 (for a 40 square metre studio) to $400,000 (190 square metre single-family detached home).
The scheme also offers vacant land with facilities for between $56,000 and $201,000.
However, a buyer's eligibility is determined by an income and an assets test.
The objective is to create housing for people working, not playing, in Aspen.
The scheme has the same problem as any developer there - lack of land. Around 80 per cent of the Pitkin County that surrounds the town is public land, mostly as the property of the US Forest Service.
(A refreshing by-product of this is that no advertising billboards are permitted along the ski lifts and run. These are, according to an experienced skier I met, a blight on many other US ski resorts.)
Aspen City and Pitkin County are developing a further 236 dwellings but after that they're not sure where further land will come from.
The affordable housing program has its hiccups, according to Cameron Burns, staff editor at the Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy and resources think tank.
FLAWS He says in the eighties, when he was a reporter for the Aspen Times, he observed flaws in the program: "You had guys who have millions in assets but if they were slumming it in Aspen and earning [US]$35,000 a year, and they could bring in their pay cheque and prove it, they'd qualify for worker housing.
"Some of these so-called working class people earning $35,000 could pay cash for a $300,000 'worker' unit.
"I knew one guy whose dad is worth $32m. The dad sends his son a cheque every month.
"And yet the way the rules were set up, he could take that unit away from the people who really need it, like the working Latino.
"Is that a success? "It's a success for the millionaire buying worker housing, but is it a success for the genuine working class person who doesn't have the backstop of a wealthy family?
"There's too many Aspen folks who don't look at these things."
What drives the spending frenzy in mainstream real estate, apart from prestige, of course, are the brilliant skiing opportunities during the winter.
Aspen has four skiing mountains, all with a network of lifts and gondolas, and runs ranging from easy to reasonably difficult.
The user friendliness is outstanding: excellent surface preparation and sign posting, facilities for snowboarders including a giant half pipe and ramps for aerial displays, fast lifts, hardly any waiting.
The lift tickets are nearly double the cost when compared to the glitzy European resorts of Kitzbuehel (Austria) and Chamonix (France).
A day ticket is $100, valid on all of the 22 lifts, between 9am and 4pm.
You can't buy individual tickets, and you get back only $23 if you turn in the ticket before 12 noon. (There are minor discounts if you buy four, five or six day tickets.)
But the Aspen Skiing Company is more than a lift company: it also leases the land (mostly) from the US Forest Service, grooms the runs, provides a free bus service to all the four skiing mountains, and does the bulk of the winter sport promotion, domestic and international, that makes the town tick.
According to a spokeswoman, the company owns the lifts on all four mountains, the ski and snowboard schools of Aspen, sports locations at all four mountains, many of the on-mountain restaurants, the Little Nell Hotel and the Snowmass Club.
The spokeswoman says the value of the company and its turnover are not being made public, but it is by far the town's biggest employer, "probably" followed by the St Regis Resort.
The Skiing Company has 3400 employees, more than half the permanent residents of the town.
Colorado has a population of 4.2 million. Its Tourism Office, the equivalent of the NT Tourist Commission, has an annual budget of $7.4m. That's $1.76 per head of population.
The NT has a population of 200,000. The NT Tourist Commission has an annual budget of $40m. That's $200 per head of population, or 114 times the Colorado figure.
What does the Colorado Tourism Office do for Aspen?
Not much. Its charter is to promote the state, not individual destinations.
What does the NT Tourist Commission do for Alice Springs?
Not much, judging by the flat numbers in general tourism and the decline in backbackers.
Yet the Territory commission's charter is to promote the state as well as individual destinations.
Central Australia relies on the tourist commission which, like a supertanker, takes a long time to change course.
In fact the stillborn "Share our Story" campaign is merrily steaming straight ahead in the wrong direction.
Decisions about promoting Aspen are made fast, locally and by people with a stake in the industry, not public servants.
"Aspen does it all by itself," says Mayor Klanderud, of Norwegian extraction, who moved to Aspen in 1971, a time when "you'd ski all day, and party all night".
She was elected in 2001.
GRANT Aspen City Council pays an annual grant of $650,000 to the Chamber of Resort Association which does the bulk of the spring, summer and autumn promotion.
That's half of what the City raises from a one per cent lodging tax.
With the other half the council provides an excellent free city bus, with a service at least every 20 minutes.
The lion's share of promotion cash is spent by the Skiing Company which, true to form, won't say how much that is.
The chamber's Lisa Weiss doesn't know either but says it is "many millions". Why the secrecy?
"We choose not to have our competitors understand our marketing plans or marketing budgets," says Kris McKinnon, the Skiing Company's Director of World Wide Sales.
"We're a privately held company so we don't have to release that sort of information."
Their effort is impressive: they have a team of 11, headed by Ms McKinnon, four domestic sales managers with two support staff, and three international sales managers with one support staff.
And while Territory operators are still blaming the Ansett collapse for their woes, the Aspen Skiing Company has all but regained ground lost through the Trade Towers terror attack.
Says Ms McKinnon: "We've been very successful because we've been very consistent.
"Unlike many after 9/11 we didn't pull back on either domestic or international promotions.
"We realised to be successful you have to stay the course.
"We've now had three years of growth and we're almost back to the high water mark of 1997-98.
"We're all out there in our market places all the time trying to see what people are doing."
NEXT: Bringing back the youth.


Five years ago a third of all visitors to Alice were backpackers; today it's just a quarter.
And although they're notoriously thrifty, getting them back here is vital to our economy, say local operators and the NT Tourist Commission.
The tourist commission argues that backpackers have the potential to become great ambassadors for the NT through positive word of mouth and are likely to become repeat visitors later in life. But Angie Reidy, proprietor of Toddy's backpackers, the Desert Palms motel and Novotel, says they fulfill a more immediate practical function.
"If it wasn't for backpackers working here, I don't know how a lot of local businesses would survive," says Ms Reidy.
A third of the housekeeping staff at Toddy's and the Desert Palms are backpackers.
"We put an ad in the paper but if we get one or two local applicants, we're pretty lucky," she says.
"We could do with more backpackers coming here for our economy, and it's difficult because they can only work for one employer for three months on their working holiday visa."
The federal government is currently debating whether to extend this to six months.
It has recently allowed backpackers to extend their working holiday visa from one to two years if they complete three months of harvesting work, something which could help bring more backpackers back to Central Australia, suggests the tourist commission.
A record number of working holiday visas were issued last year: over 100,000.
Ms Reidy pays her backpacker staff the award wage and says that they'll spend a percentage of their wages in town, but are usually working to save for their next destination.
"They are a lot more careful with their money and their spend is nowhere near as high compared to other visitors.
"They'll shop around for the cheapest dorm bed and will pay $8 for a meal and buy a beer but that's about it.
"A lot go on tours but they will still pick the cheapest."
Ms Reidy says the average price of a dorm bed in Alice Springs is the same as it was in 1991: $18. "The market is more competitive now so the beds haven't gone up," she says.
The tourist commission doesn't have any statistics on how much backpackers spend in Central Australia, but Craig Catchlove of the Central Australian Tourist Industry Association (CATIA) estimates it's a third less than other travellers.
"They have a lower spend on food and accommodation but their average daily spend is offset by the fact that they spend longer in Alice Springs.
"They are very well worth trying to attract and a core part of our visitation. We've got to be broad in our tourism market."
Should Alice Springs be putting its efforts into marketing itself to more high spending visitors?
"Personally I think Alice Springs is a three or three and a half star town," says Ms Reidy.
"We don't have a big corporate market and people are not wanting to pay four or five star rates.
"The upmarket hotels are putting rates out of $90 a night: in the city you'd pay $200 a night.
"To me it proves we don't have a market here willing to pay that rate.
"We've got to cater for both backpackers and middle of the road travellers."
Mr Catchlove says: "We need to convince those backpackers who are staying in Sydney that there's more to Australia than working in a pub and going to Bondi.
"We're focusing on the icons and the country we have here and reiterating to people that they can't go home and say they've seen Australia unless they've come here.
"And we're educating self-drive backpackers that there are sealed roads here, you don't need to have your vehicle loaded with tyres and supplies. It's not an onerous task to make it over here."
STUCK The Alice News spoke to some backpackers who've made it to understand why the others are staying away.
They say many backpackers are fitting more into their big year of travel rather than spending it all in Australia; many also get "stuck" in Sydney or on the east coast; and for those on a tight budget, Alice is expensive to get to. Lisa Sheridan and Daniel Moreno from Ireland are on a gap year from work. "Asia is getting very popular, you can see much more for your money," says Lisa.
Daniel says: "A lot of people tend to do the east coast, the younger ones. I think older travellers with more money come to Central Australia.
"Maybe if you go to Sydney first you'd get stuck there. I've met people in Asia and they spent four or five months in Sydney alone. Lisa says: "It is very expensive to come here. Backpackers [hostels] and restaurants aren't [expensive] in Alice Springs but there aren't as many options to get here, you have to fly or take tours.
"The Greyhound Bus between Melbourne and Sydney is $65, between here and The Rock it's $75.
"With rental cars, in other places like Cairns they give you unlimited kilometres or 400 kms included in the price. Here it's only 100 kms.
"And the backpacker hostel at Ayers Rock is twice the price."
Mira Essig from Germany completed an internship with a hotel in Sydney.
"I study economics so there are more opportunities in cities to work than here but I wanted very much to visit here."
Tim Sanday from Britain says he flew into Darwin to avoid the Sydney trap. "I don't think people are coming to Australia for a year anymore. They might come for three or six months and do everything else like Asia or South America as well." Sarah Meyer from Germany works as a cleaner and kitchen hand at Annie's Place. "I like the people here, they are more friendly than they are on the east coast. "Here I have met more Australians."


The Alice Springs Airport is being given a facelift, with stunning new carpet, based on a painting by Aboriginal artist June Smith, already installed. Ms Smith, who has had an 18 year career painting for Keringke Artists, collaborated with an interior colour designer and a carpet manufacturer to interpret the painting.
The work culminated in a two day workshop at the art centre in Ltentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), with Ms Smith painting and responding to input from the designers. Says Judy Lovell, co-manager at Keringke, who helped negotiate Ms Smith's commission, "They had things to say about the size of the motifs, the tempo of the design, but the colour choice and the iconography were down to June.
"It was done with great good will and professionalism on all sides - a wonderful experience."
The end result is large swathes of black carpet overlaid with iconic Indigenous motifs in brilliant colours, merging into areas of desert red carpet with a scattering of smaller motifs across it.
The more intense black sections have been laid in the through-traffic areas, while the quieter red sections are in the waiting areas.
The carpet makes a bold statement of Aboriginal culture and creativity associated with Alice Springs as a destination.
The airport is also being repainted, re-tiled around the check-in counters and the counters themselves will eventually be rebuilt. Airport general-manager Donald McDonald says the unlikely return of a second airline "for a long time to come" will allow his company, NT Airports, to optimise the area vacated by first Ansett, then Virgin, for international activity.
One end will be used for check-in and the other for arrivals, with the car rental and tour desks moving from their corridor position into the front area, and possibly joined by small coffee bar.
Five charter flights from Japan are expected at the end of April. Once again the airport will have to import customs, quarantine and immigration staff and hire equipment to deal with the international arrivals, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars.
There is no news as yet of a grant from the Commonwealth Government to match one from the Territory, applied for by CATIA and the town council to buy the equipment. This would reduce costs and so make international charters into Alice a more attractive proposition.
CATIA's Craig Catchlove says if there is no news by the end of this week, he'll start talking to the Territory Government about making use of the $191,000 they have already promised: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."


Sir,- I refer to the confusion by the Mayor of Alice Springs Town Council over the parks handover (Alice News, March 30/31).
It has to be either an ingenious way for the Mayor to delay a formal submission by the Council to the Senate Inquiry and to Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, or else a blissful ignorance on her part of one of the most serious Martin Labor Government decisions to affect our community. Either which way, it shows that the Mayor has lost her focus on her duty, that is to represent the community of Alice Springs and to fight for the things dear to Alice Springs. At the time when there is a community action group highlighting the impending disastrous parks handover, the Mayor appears to be confused about the matter and how she, on behalf of the Town Council and its ratepayers, needs to act without any delay to prevent the parks being given away. It looks suspiciously like a delaying tactic so that the deadline for submissions will be well and truly passed before any limp-wristed action will be taken by the Mayor.
The next full Council meeting will be on the last Monday of April, which I suggest will be too late for any submission to have an affect. Is this delaying tactic a deliberate act of the Mayor, a Labor candidate for the Martin Labor Government, to play into the hands of Clare Martin, who wants to give the 11 parks away for all eternity? One can only hope that that is not so. If it were, what hope will Alice Springs have for its Mayor to represent its needs and aspirations?

Richard Lim Shadow Minister for Central Australia

The Alice News offered Mayor Fran Kilgariff a right of reply. She writes:- The Council recently resolved, at the instigation of the Alderman Melanie van Haaren, that I write to all 70 Senators regarding the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill 2005.
As it turned out this legislation, as I was advised by several Senators, will not have any impact on the ownership of national parks in the NT. The changes to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Act 1984, which are currently before the Parliament relate primarily to national parks in Victoria.
I do not intend to now expose this Council to derision because of ignorance relating to the terms of the appropriate legislation.
At the March Ordinary meeting, Council moved to make a submission to the Senate Committee on the Environment, Communication, Information Technology and the Arts which is currently conducting an Australia-wide Inquiry into Australia's national parks. [See report on page 7.]
Nothing is or has been lost in relation to Council's ability to make representations to this current Senate Inquiry into Australia's national parks, conservation reserves and marine protected areas.
This Committee is due to report back to the Senate by the 30 November 2006 and I have been invited to make a submission, which is being done.
Dr Richard Lim himself, is obviously confused about the terms of reference of these two pieces of legislation and one Inquiry and is attempting to score cheap political points, while at the same time creating more confusion.
The Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976 is the only issue of direct relevance to the NT and this is not a Senate Inquiry, but proposed amendments to the Act.
I have already written the Hon. Amanda Vanstone MP and the Chief Minister raising Council's concerns.
I would like to help Dr. Lim and his confusion by informing him that the proposed amendments regarding national parks in the NT and others, is currently proposed to go to the Federal Parliament in the autumn sitting. Perhaps you would like to make your own submission, Richard?
Council is making all necessary representations and I, as always, will devote my full energies to representing the citizens of Alice Springs, but not at the expense of mis-information or lack of clarity about the legislation or inquiry in question.

CDL sellout

Sir,- When will Territorians have access to a sensible container deposit scheme?
The answer appears to depend on the deposits that the beverage industry made on Tuesday with the Territory's Environment Minister. Last time the representatives of the Beverage Industry Environment Council (BIEC) met, a $250,000 cheque fell out of the BIEC's warchest and suddenly the whole issue of container deposit schemes went off the agenda for three years. We don't want to see the BIEC to determine public policy like that again.
The BIEC funding has been applied to a variety of anti-litter activities across the Territory, including a handful of small projects that ALEC has managed.
We fully support the BIEC's concern for the litter that their containers help cause. However, the piecemeal approach is really a smokescreen to hide behind.
The BIEC has ensured that no real strategic thinking or action has occurred on container deposit solutions in the past three years.
WA announced its commitment to a container deposit scheme last year.
The majority of Territorians want container deposit legislation. They understand how government action can encourage industry to do the right thing. There's no practical reason we can't have a container deposit scheme suited to the Territory.
In her discussions with the BIEC on Tuesday we hope the minister, Marion Scrymgour, let the industry know that their lazy days are over and container deposit legislation is on the agenda.
John Brisbin,
Coordinator , Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC)


Driving home the other night I nearly hit a rabbit. It hopped out into the middle of the road, stopped, looked up and ran back the way it had come, narrowly escaping my left front tyre.
I often see dead rabbits on that same stretch of road and kites and crows enjoying the spoils. I know rabbits are a major pest and that a lot of money and effort has been spent trying to rid this country of them, yet they seem to be able to hang in there, and I cannot help feeling that there is an element of good in that.
Some of my favourite stories, especially from my childhood, are about rabbits like Peter Rabbit, The Whispering Rabbit, and Watership Down.
And then there is of course the White Rabbit that Alice follows into a rabbit hole in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I sometimes wonder if I too have not fallen down a rabbit hole into a place where my sense of reality is continuously challenged.
Where I grew up there was a family who farmed rabbits. I begged my parents to let me get one as a pet but they did not give in to my pleading.
The lady rabbit farmer used to carry in her bra 'kittens' who had lost their mother and bottle feed them in her kitchen. They were very cute. I don't know who they sold the rabbits to. I never ate rabbit meat or wore rabbit skin. Maybe they all ended up as pet food.
The hare or rabbit, considered to be the same animal in symbolic contexts, has featured in ancient stories from peoples all over the world for thousands of years. Most of these stories, unlike that of "The hare and the tortoise", attribute lots of positive symbolic value to this animal. In Ancient China, where there was a connection between the moon and the hare because the dark areas of the face of the moon could be seen to resemble a hare, it was believed that the moon hare symbolised long life.
The Ancient Greeks saw something god-like in the hare's speed and watchfulness and according to their legends Aphrodite's favourite animal was the hare.
There is a legend about how Buddha was saved by a hare that sacrificed itself by throwing itself into the fire so that Buddha could eat and not starve to death. The hare thereby became a symbol for self-sacrifice.
In North American Indian myths the hare is a hero who outsmarts bigger animals like bears and buffalo. An important part of the celebration of Spring, new life and fertility in ancient central Europe was the rabbit with the eggs which became the Easter rabbit of more recent times.
Although the rabbit has caused major destruction in this country I believe that trying to turn a creature whose symbolic value for thousands of years has been positive, into something evil, is a futile exercise. It was human error and thoughtlessness that created the rabbit problem. The rabbits just kept doing what rabbits do best. We feel guilty about the mess we've made and take it out on the Easter Bunny.
Awareness of how to look after and protect the natural environment, its flora and fauna is essential. Protection of the bilby is something we should invest in. But we have to distinguish between the real and the imaginary and not underestimate the value of fiction.
Symbolism runs deep in human nature. The last thing we want to do is encourage self-destruction by vilifying our positive symbols.
In the Christian tradition the human condition has been linked to that of rabbits, our vulnerability but also our tenacity and our ability to survive harsh conditions and persecution.
During the Second World the song, "Run Rabbit Run" by Noel Gay, was a huge hit. It is still out there in many versions as music, literature and film. Maybe we are more like rabbits than we would like to admit. We either run, hide or procreate. Now I wonder if that might be a rabbit hole in my back yard?

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