September 7, 2006. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

New Aboriginal housing row. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

A former employee of the Yuendumu Community Government Council claims the NT Office of Local Government (OLG) stood by idly as the council made still unexplained losses of up to $800,000 on a housing maintenance contract.
The allegations come as Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough is asking questions about the way in which the NT Government is spending grants money for Aboriginal housing.
Rodney Ingram (pictured), the Yuendumu council’s building supervisor for five years from 1999, says he told the council CEO about the problems several times, but nothing was done.
He says the local government office receives, or should receive, financial reports from the councils every three months, yet no action was taken.
In the end the NT Government had to make a special grant of $700,000 to pay contractors.
No legal action has been taken against the council’s CEO at the time, who was in charge of the housing scheme funded with Territory and Federal money, nor have there been any serious investigations aimed at recouping the missing money.
Meanwhile Mr Ingram, 56, is still fighting for $50,000 in legal entitlements, including wages for 28 weeks and stolen personal possessions.
He’s been in the Territory for 49 years, 20 of them working in the bush.
He had a leg amputated, and spent a year in hospital and rehabilitation, after suffering an injury while working for the council, which sacked him while he was in hospital.
Mr Ingram is now taking legal action over unfair dismissal.
He has gone through most of his savings and survives on an invalid pension of $440 a fortnight.
“In six months I will be forced out of my house in Alice Springs,” he says.
Mr Ingram says endless delays in having the issues resolved by the OLG, which had sacked the Yuendumu Council staff and members, and is now running the council, coupled with his serious health problems, are putting him under enormous stress.
“I’m lying in theatre with an epidural in my back, because I’m too sick to have a general anaesthetic, and I’m watching people I don’t know cutting my leg off.
“I’m in a hospital bed, so sick I don’t know I’m going to wake up in the morning,” says Mr Ingram.
“Deliberately, over a year and a half, bureaucrats and politicians have made false promises, and still nothing is resolved.”
He says Ted Clark, the current OLG appointed manager of the council, promised payment in January for stolen tools, equipment and furniture and other personal belongings, an amount of about $7500.
Mr Ingram still does not have the money.
“The plane carrying the cheque broke down,” was Mr Clark’s explanation, according to Mr Ingram.
Mr Clark is denying the allegations.
Says Mr Ingram: “You’re sick, you’re pretty broke, and someone says, you’ll have your money on Monday.
“And then it doesn’t come. It’s a deliberate attempt to delay, in the hope that I will give up under the stress.”
Mr Ingram says Acting Minister for Local Government Paul Henderson had told him, in writing, late last year: “I am advised that you have a further meeting planned with Mr Clark on 19 January 2006.
“Mr Clark will then be able to advise whether he will accept your claim in full or in part, or to reject it, on behalf of the Yuendumu Community Government Council.”
None of this happened, says Mr Ingram.
In June this year the Minister for Local Government, Elliott McAdam, apparently washed his hands of the issue, telling Mr Ingram that “Mr Clark’s appointment as Manager of the Council does not confer the responsibilities of that role onto my Department.
“The matter is one of a private nature.”
Mr Ingram says he didn’t fare much better with Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney.
He claims she told him “she was not prepared to go up against McAdam or Ms Martin because there was no value in any of this ... her words,” says Mr Ingram.
But Ms Carney says: “None of the comments attributed to me are true.
“The comments are offensive in the extreme and defamatory.
“I gave [Mr Ingram] a range of advices, and it was up to him which one he would take.”
He says independent MLA for Braitling Loraine Braham had now offered to take up his case, and the Deputy Ombudsman had advised he will be making “preliminary enquiries” on some of Mr Ingram’s allegations, including –
• that Mr Clark had been illegally paying council debts before paying Mr Ingram’s wages;
• that Mr Clark had  failed to properly investigate Mr Ingram’s claim for unpaid wages;
• the inaccurate claim by Mr Clark that he couldn’t investigate Mr Ingram’s claims because council records had been destroyed.
In fact, says Mr Ingram, wages records are in the possession of an accounting agency.
Apart from that the Ombudman is of little use: Senior Investigation Officer Jane Hartwig told Mr Ingram that the Ombudsman is prohibited from investigating the actions and decisions of government Ministers, and employment and industrial relations issues.
She said the Ombudsman cannot deal with “an action taken by a person or body with respect to a person employed in the service of a department or authority” such as the council.
She referred Mr Ingram to put the bulk of his case to a variety of other agencies, including the Work Choices Info Line.
NT Housing Minister Elliott McAdam did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Clark provided no details but made the following statement: “I believe the article is misconceived and inaccurate, but I do not intend to take this matter up in the media.
“There are appropriate forums to resolve any grievances Mr Ingram may feel he has.
“I object to and deny all allegations and inferences made about me in this article.
“The matter is in the hands of lawyers and I will make no further comment.”
Mr Clark signed the statement “Manager, Monitoring & Grants Administration, Department of Local Government, Housing and Sport; Executive Officer, Northern Territory Grants Commission”.

Fence to stop suicide bombers. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

A fence designed in part to keep out vehicle bombs is being built to protect the seismic station run by the United States Air Force in Schwarz Crescent, opposite the RSL.
The facility, colloquially known as “Det 421”, records and measures the intensity of tremors caused by earthquakes and underground nuclear explosions in Australia and Asia.
The two meter high fence has massive RHS steel uprights, 200 mm by 200 mm by 5 mm wall thickness, concreted into the ground about 1.5 meters apart.
USAF Technical Sergeant Frank Kane says the fence is a “standard solution to protect US forces world wide. It will also serve to stop break-ins we’ve had in the last few years”.
Although Det 421 is officially called the Joint Australian US Geological & Geophysical Research Station, and is run in partnership with Geoscience in Canberra, the $120,000 for the new fence will be born entirely by the US.
Sgt Kane says the heavy fence will be only along the road. The land already has a two meter high mesh fence.

Tourism promoters need to get backpackers back. By ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

The latest marketing campaign from Tourism NT is long overdue with backpacker numbers halved in the last four years, says Alan Major, general manager of the YHA in the Northern Territory.
Backpackers spent 2.1 million nights in the Territory in 2000, down to 1.05 million in 2005.
Backpacker market share has dropped from 34% to 22% in the same period.
The trend is reflected in Alice Springs, says Mr Major who is also president of the Northern Territory Backpackers Operators Association. “
Looking at figures in July 2006, the decline would appear not to have reached the bottom of the trough.
“There has been no sustained growth or sustainable investment of the backpacker market in Alice Springs, Darwin, Tennant Creek or Katherine for five years,” says Mr Major.
“Alice Springs is directly affected by the lack of air access to Central Australia and bookings have been soft since Virgin Blue cancelled services in 2005.
“Tourism NT says international travellers are an important component in the market but they have largely focused on the domestic market up until five months ago.
“As an industry we are overjoyed that investment has been committed but there will be a lead in time before we see any affects.
“We’re in a holding pattern at the moment to see if the marketing campaign works internationally. Generally, it takes 12 to 18 months so we should see results by mid 2007.”
Although backpackers don’t spend very much when they visit Alice Springs, Mr Major says they are important for the economy.
“The backpacker market is a reflection of the overall market. When you lose 50 per cent of your international visitors, you lose investment, growth in employment and the industry goes into stagnation.” 
One of the initiatives organised by Tourism NT is a competition to live and work in Alice Springs supported by the YHA, the Desert Park and the Frontier Camel Farm.
The competition ran in May and the winner arrived in June, a 19 year old German boy who writes a daily blog and does regular radio interviews, telling people in Germany about his experiences.
“The competition is a novel way to attract young people interested in a working holiday to the NT and encouraging them away from the East Coast areas into regions where they can find a real Australian experience,” says Mr Major.

Aborigines in jobs at Rock Resort but still none from Mutitjulu. By KIERAN FINNANE.

There are now 17 Indigenous employees across Voyages’ Red Centre properties – Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon, and Alice Springs resorts – says a company spokesperson.
This amounts to 1.7 per cent of their workforce of around 1000, less at peak season when they employ some 1200 people.
Two to three of the 17 are STEP (Structured Training and Employment Projects) employees, but the rest are independently employed. 
The spokesperson confirmed that no people from Mutitjulu are employed at the Ayers Rock Resort, but there are some Indigenous employees there, four to six. He could not say where they come from.
Voyages has an Indigenous Employment Strategy and a person to coordinate it based at the Rock. 
This position was funded for its first 12 months by the Department of Employment and Workplace relations (DEWR). Voyages is now funding the position.
In the past the company worked collaboratively with a “transition to work” coordinator employed by Nyangatjatjara College, an Indigenous secondary college based at Yulara, and the company provided accommodation for the person in this position. 
Initial achievements of the program in providing work experience and on the job training for students at the college earnt it the Prime Minister’s award for Excellence in Community Business Partnerships in the NT in 2005.
Voyages spokesperson says due to a housing shortage at the resort, the college has expressed support for the Voyages indigenous employment coordinator to manage their transition to work program.
The program’s momentum has been affected by lack of continuity, says the spokesperson.
The Voyages position was vacant between March and May this year.
This disrupted the regular meetings of an Indigenous employment committee.
The meetings were also impacted on by upheaval at Mutitjulu including departure of the community council CEO and appointment of an administrator, says the spokesperson. 
In a written statement Ralph Folds, principal of Nyangatjatjara College, gives a somewhat different picture.
He says a successful submission to the Commonwealth saw the college offered $55,000 to employ a coordinator to run a range of work-oriented programs as a sub-contractor to NT Group Training.
Says Mr Folds: “These are substantial programs with significant long-term benefits to the three communities, especially Mutitjulu community which suffers a very high unemployment rate in an area where there are numerous job opportunities …
“The college has no housing of its own and sources its housing from Voyages. Due to a shortage of Voyages housing stock the coordinator could not be accommodated and we were unable to take up the government offer.”
He says the college is running “a transition to work program with Parks, aimed at providing work experience for our students and which may lead to Ranger positions in the future”.

Bush ready for work change. By KIERAN FINNANE.

There is now widespread acceptance in the bush that unconditional dole payments are coming to an end.
Bob Beadman, the chairman of the NT Grants Commission, says Aboriginal communities are broadly supporting the Federal Government’s reform agenda in the area of work and welfare.
Mr Beadman says: “There is uniform agreement that things have to change.”
He and other members of the commission, including Alice Springs Mayor Fran Kilgariff, travel regularly to remote communities, visiting each community government at least once every three years.
Mr Beadman, a veteran public servant in Indigenous affairs for 43 years, now retired, says he is surprised at “how far the reform agenda has bitten in the bush” and at how little negativity there is, despite some “scare-mongering” by the “hand-wringers”.
Ms Kilgariff also expresses surprise that “the acceptance of the changes and the encouragement of people to ‘get off their bums’, as Bob puts it, is almost unanimous.
“The older people remember the time when most of them had jobs, when the communities had their own bakeries and market gardens.”
This goes for communities in the Centre the commission has recently visited, such as Docker River (Kaltukatjara) and Yuendumu, as much as for communities in the Top End.
However, Mr Beadman is observing some contradiction in the approaches of government agencies, giving the example of housing programs that want to see bricks and mortar as quickly as possible, rather than using the program to also achieve employment goals.
These will never be achieved without maximizing local opportunities, he says, from building houses and maintaining roads to mowing the school lawns and setting up small businesses, such as a hairdressing salon or a take-away chicken shop.
On a recent visit to Oenpelli (Gunbalanya), the council CEO expressed concern to Mr Beadman over the high target set by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) for getting people off CDEP into unsubsidized employment.
“I reminded him that he’d been quite successful with his target last year, and better high than too low or no target at all.
“And he won’t be flogged in Smith Street Mall if he doesn’t achieve it.”
Mr Beadman is “comfortable” with the government’s policy settings – shared responsibility agreements, welfare to work, mutual obligation, the lifting of the remote area exemption for the activity test and the push to move people out of CDEP into unsubsidized employment – even if the package does mean “some stretch”.
He sees in the package many of the ingredients of the reforms he promoted in his 2004 paper for the Menzies Research Centre, Do Indigenous Youth Have a Dream? (See Alice News, June 1, 15 & 22.) 
He expects that it will take some years for comprehensive change to be felt. 
He says communities in the Top End are a bit ahead in embracing the changes. On Bathurst Island, for instance, “they are quite proud of the way their people are moving into forestry”.
He says: “The environment in the Top End is more conducive to a range of opportunities” but people in the Centre remember the times when their communities were “pretty self-sufficient”.
“There’s no reason why they won’t succeed. The only real limit to the opportunities is your imagination.”
Mr Beadman is unaware of any instance of people being “breached” – having welfare benefits suspended for failing to take a job – although it is still “early days”.
He also has not got a sense of people migrating from their home communities to look for work.
 Urban drift is real and occurring because of the lure of all sorts of things but “especially grog”.
He says it is too early to say whether sterner measures in the bush will contribute further to urban drift but speculates on a case to the contrary: “The sterner measures will bite in town too.
“Unskilled people might find that they are worse off in town, in terms of looking for work, than back home.
“In any case, once they are no longer receiving free money for grog the lure of town may well diminish.”
Ms Kilgariff says the issue of unintended increases in urban drift as a result of government policies was raised in the first meeting last Friday of the town camps taskforce implementation committee. She says people in DEWR and the Territory government are looking at the issue and have promised a detailed discussion for the next committee meeting on September 29.
Other issues raised in the meeting were:
• the need for negotiation about the delivery of municipal services to the town camps, how the services will be funded, and what the level of the services will be;
• how land tenure will work on the “normalized” town camps;
• who would be the target users of the short-term accommodation facility.
“Once we know who’ll be using the facility – families, mothers and children – it will be easier to choose the location. “
There will be nothing done about a site until that’s decided.”
She also says it was agreed that law and order and other social and infrastructure issues on the camps, such as transport, as well as mobility (between town and the bush) will be considered: “There’s no point spending all that money on fixing everything without addressing those issues.”
Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon (Labor) did not respond an invitation by the Alice Springs News to comment on the government’s policies referred to in this article.

Canteen Creek is on the job as work test makes the difference. By ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

Two Aboriginal communities that had their remote area exemptions lifted on July 1 say despite early resistance and fears of an urban drift, the system is working.
Canteen Creek, a community of 200 people some 290 kms south-east of Tennant Creek and a 600 km drive from Alice, has seen double the number of people regularly taking part in CDEP programs since the remote area exemption rule lifted, says Dennis Gers, a council advisor who has been at the community for three years.
Since July 1 the number of people signed on has gone from 43 to 61 but there are now 50 of them regularly working a 20 hour week rather than the 25 people before July 1.
“Before, a lot of people were shying away from work, sitting down and watching others work,” says Mr Gers.
“They would drop off CDEP and go back to Newstart Allowance [the dole].
“On July 1 everyone had to re-sign onto CDEP and if they’re not here to sign their timesheet each week, they don’t get paid and they have to manage until the next pay day.
“They’re seeing that if they put in the effort, they get the pay. It’s just like a normal job.”
Mr Gers says there are around six people a week who don’t get paid after failing to turn up to work.
“There are problems, like those who have been receiving money for years, who aren’t participating. They’ve been given threats and promises from the government all their lives but they’re slowly starting to realise they won’t get paid if they don’t work.
“Overall the community is better now. The feeling around the community is better between those who are working and those who before were watching but are now working.” 
There are currently 61 people in the community on CDEP, out of a population of 140; 10 have been removed from the program because of failing to participate; 90 are children under 16; 30 are a parent with children under six (one parent is not required to work if their children are under six); six people are pensioners over 60 years of age.
The remaining 24 people are those who drift in and out of the community, says Mr Gers.
“There are people slipping through the system, but many people who live here move between communities and also live on outstations.” 
He praises the program because of its flexibility as well as its tough approach. 
“People can do their 20 hours on two days if they want to, although they normally work 8am until 12noon. It means they’ve got 20 hours a week they can do their cultural activities like attend men and women’s ceremonies.
“CDEP needs to be flexible because of their culture.”
He maintains that although the no pay rule seems harsh, the community makes sure people aren’t going without.
“We don’t let anyone starve out here. They’re all family, if one doesn’t have enough one week, they will lend them some money until the next week.” 
The work being done includes duties in the council office, collecting rubbish, doing housing repairs, fencing, working in the women’s centre, in the store and at the school.
Four men are taking part in a Certificate III in welding and construction course held at the community and run by Charles Darwin University. Those men have since made shelving for the community store.
Eight men are working towards a Certificate I in above ground plumbing, run by the Department of Employment, Education and Training.
“They are doing plumbing jobs within their capabilities in the community, like repairing taps and shower roses,” says Mr Gers.
“We have other courses planned for next year like in plant machinery and computer literacy, and will apply for funding for these.”

ADAM CONNELLY: Leave my head space alone, please!

I like living in a certain headspace. We all do. Nothing can screw up your day like seeing something that challenges the way you think the world works. Suddenly up becomes down. West becomes east.
This week one such event happened to me. I like to think that most Australians have been able to access the education system paid for by our hard earned tax dollars. I also like to think that those people from my hometown of Sydney are cosmopolitan, world savvy folk.
This week I’m not so sure. I had the misfortune of having to ring a call centre based in Sydney. Now I’m not patient with call centre operators at the best of times.
We began talking after several minutes of “for general enquiries press six, etc etc” about the way to get what I wanted delivered to my house. The product had to come from Sydney and I thought freighting it was probably the best option. 
Everything was going fine until the lady on the other end of the phone said, “Why don’t you pick it up from our shop in Palmerston?”
“Excuse me?” I was taken somewhat aback.
“Yes we have a location in Palmerston, if you want to pop down there we can have it ready for you by Friday” Sure lady. That’s a great idea. I’ll pop down to Palmerston, but I’ll send my payment to Rockhampton. Just pop down from Sydney and pick it up.
I’ve related this story to friends and ended it with, “Is she the dumbest woman ever?” To my surprise a good half dozen people have had the same experience.
Prior to this event I would have bet London to a brick that if I was to give a sixth grade kid from Sydney a map of Australia and asked them to point out Alice Springs they would have had no trouble whatsoever. Now I’m not so sure.
What is happening to my world? My birth city, crumbling under the pressure of intelligence. Or am I being harsh on Sydney? Is this problem pandemic?
Am I surrounded by stupid people everywhere I go? Perhaps this isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to my neck of the woods. Sometimes I wonder if we really know where we are. Maybe that’s why we have to be constantly reminded of our geography.
Maybe it’s an educational service the businesses of Alice Springs provide. Why else would every other shop be called “Red Centre Whatsits”, or “Centralian Thingies”?
Is it a council-sponsored initiative? I don’t mind. Anything that educates people is good in my book.
But perhaps this initiative has to be expanded nation wide.
In cities across the country we should have businesses with names like “Alice Springs is nowhere near Darwin” Supermarkets and “The Capital of New Zealand isn’t Auckland but Wellington” Shoe Shop.  Hey, why stop at geography, why not the “Crazy Colin’s house of Pythagorean bargains”?
This would work. Go with me on this one. If all of this information is in our face all the time, then there wouldn’t be any excuse for people to just stuff up your day by being idiots. In fact we could pass laws banning the public use of stupidity.
Let’s forget the clever computer geeks who have thought about an ingenious way to take half a cent out of every bank account in the country. That took some thinking. Well done I say.
No, let’s legislate against the man who says without a hint of sarcasm, “Hot enough for ya?” in February. Let’s ban the woman at the checkout who talks to you in baby talk.
After all the public should know better now that everywhere they turn there is information to ingest, shouldn’t they?
I wouldn’t make myself immune to this law either. If I go shopping without my debit card or enough cash, that should be a weekend home detention.
If I do that thing where two people try to pass each other in a corridor but both shimmy the same way and make that silly embarrassed laugh, I would expect a fifty dollar on the spot fine. In fact here is my solemn promise, in print and in perpetuity.
I, Adam Connelly, solemnly swear that if at any time I use the words “supposebly” or “anythink”, you have my permission to give me a clip behind the ears. 

ABA Brough’s ‘personal slush fund’?

Sir,– Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and his Department should stop using the  Aboriginals Benefit Account  (ABA) to finance schemes of his own that should properly be funded from within the Government’s own resources.
If the Minister truly believed in process and accountability, he should let the ABA Advisory Committee determine its own priorities for the use of ABA funds, rather than being humbugged by the Minister to fund “his” projects.
There is increasing concern at the Minister’s tendency to treat the ABA as a cash cow for his personal slush fund.
He’s already used the ABA to bankroll, among other things, the housing initiative in Alice Springs and I understand he’s now pushing for it to fund placements for Aboriginal people in the tourism and hospitality industry.
But I also understand the jobs will be in hotels and tourism operations on the Gold Coast, so they won’t be putting young Aboriginal Territorians into Territory tourism – where they’re most needed.
Funding what is essentially a labour market program should not be the ABA’s job; it is the direct responsibility of the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.
That aside, ABA funds, which is revenue derived from royalty equivalents arising from mining and other development on Aboriginal land in the Territory, are supposed to be paid to or used for the benefit of Aboriginal people in the Territory.
But this tourism scheme could well see the funds being spent on Aboriginal people from other States and it will clearly directly benefit non-Indigenous businesses in other States.
This isn’t just policy-making on the run, it’s a ram raid on money earned from economic activity on Aboriginal land.
The ABA has an  Advisory Committee and it should be allowed to meet and do its job without the Minister pilfering the funds on a whim to disguise his own inability to source funds from existing Government programmes.
Warren Snowdon
Member for Lingiari

The Alice News asked Mr Brough to respond. A spokesperson provided the following: The ABA is funded by the Federal Government. 
It is the Federal Minister that approves expenditure and the ABA Advisory committee provides the Minister with advice. 
The advisory committee was consulted about using $10 million of ABA funds for housing in Central Australia.  Similarly, the Minister is seeking the Advisory committee’s view on the Tourism Project.
This pilot project is outside the scope of DEWR and will greatly benefit Indigenous Territorians.
Mr Snowdon does not know what he is talking about as usual.

Sleeping easier?

Sir,– Now that that Thomas fellow is being prevented from contacting Osama Bin Laden we can all sleep easier! (“Hello, Osama, any chance of organising a plane to fly into the Opera House?”)
When I obtained an Australian passport, a little booklet was included with a personal message from Alexander Downer: “I believe strongly that the Australian Government has a responsibility to assist – to the extent we can – Australians in trouble overseas.” Great news for David Hicks!!!
Frank Baarda

Shopping for salvation: ‘People arrive in town and look around for a church they feel comfortable in’.
Part Two in a series by ELISABETH ATTWOOD

“We live in a consumerist society and people approach spirituality today with a consumer mindset,” says Reverend Mike Mills of the Alice Springs Baptist Church, describing the age as “almost post-denomination”.
“People arrive in town and look around for a church they feel comfortable in. We have people from a lot of different traditions who join us.”
The Baptist Church in Alice Springs has grown so large it moved out of its premises in Lindsay Avenue to a huge shed in the industrial area a week before Christmas.
Around 300 people attend the Sunday morning service and around 120 worship on Sunday evenings: when the church began in the 1960s it had just a handful of families.
“It’s been a steady growth,” says Reverend Mike Mills.
“Alice Springs has a very transient population: since March we’ve said farewell to around 15 families.
“But more families arrive all the time.
“Why has the church grown so much? The obvious reply to that is God has been at work.
“The church has sought to be faithful to what it means to be followers of Jesus.” 
The majority of growth of the Baptist congregation has been from people arriving in town looking for a church, with a smaller percentage discovering Christianity at the church.
“We’re a church with a significant children and youth ministry. A lot of people come looking for somewhere with their kids and they feel comfortable with us in a church. The demographic of Alice Springs is young families and we attract a lot of people through youth. There are up to 60 kids at the Sunday school and at our youth group on Friday night we can get anything from 50 to 80 kids. We employ a half time person who looks after children’s ministry and a full time youth pastor.” 
The Baptists hold a Church under the Stars on a Sunday evening once a month, and Rev Mills says that moving into the industrial area is not as unusual as it sounds.
“Around the world we hear of people discontented with having churches in residential areas.
“In a number of the big cities, churches are relocating into light industrial areas: there is no problem with parking and no residents are inconvenienced: sometimes neighbours get disgruntled with the use of contemporary music in church.
“In Alice Springs we had been looking for a long time to find somewhere to relocate: finding land here can be difficult.
“The site came up and was in reach for us. It’s centrally-located and we’ve built a 500 seat auditorium, a church hall, a kitchen, seminar rooms, a creche and office rooms all inside the shed.”
Rev Mills says across Australia it is the evangelical church that is the growth sector.
“The vibrant congregations tend to be evangelical.
“There is a danger of people stereotyping the word evangelical: [a church] too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.
“But today evangelical churches are more balanced on social issues, compassion and involvement in the community.”
Rev Mills says the strength of the ministers working together in Alice Springs is “a unique context”.
“There is a sense of camaraderie, not the sense of competitiveness which I’ve encountered in other places.
“All the churches in town are very concerned about [the issues surrounding] Indigenous people and how best to respond to that.
“We are all responding in the ways they feel are right for us.”
Rev Mills says a societal trend reflected in Alice Springs is an increase of spiritual awareness.
“When I was growing up you didn’t talk about spiritual things. Spirituality tended to be a personal thing. Now it’s something that is openly talked about.
“People are finding a dissatisfaction with a world which was about our own comfort and material things and a reliance on science. 
“People are realising there is another dimension to life and what that means. People are often on a journey of discovering their own spirituality and it can take them to all sorts of religions but Christianity is equally in the marketplace.”
Rev Mills says these spiritual journeys can include Eastern and new age religions.
“There is some evidence of people trying those sorts of religions and then returning back to orthodox faiths although I’m not sure if there’s a trend.
“People are looking for truth and fulfilment. And a number of those people will explore a whole bunch of different faiths. A number of people come away still dissatisfied but find what they’re looking for in the Christian faith.”
Rev Mills says “confusion” about the modern church has given Christianity a bad name.
“There’s a lot of confusion about church and it has had a lot of bad press in Australia with issues such paedophilia and abuse. There has been awful abuse which means the church has a bad name in the popular media. If you look at the representation of the Christian church in the soapies, who’d want to explore it on the basis of that?
“But it’s when people begin to discover Jesus that it hits a chord. Church is not about an institution or about a religion really. It’s about Jesus and that’s when the commitment from people to Christianity happens.” 
Participation by the local community in the Alice Springs Uniting Church has reduced over past decades, reflecting the national trend for mainstream churches,” says Reverend Tracy Spencer (Deacon).
We once thought of ourselves as a cathedral church but the church has recently consolidated its three Sunday services into one, and there are about 120 people in the congregations directory,” she says. 
But Rev Spencer says there has been a shift in what it means to belong to a church.
“People continue to have a wider sense of belonging than attending church on a Sunday. They still see the Uniting Church as their church, for weddings, and baptisms and funerals. In fact about 2000 people in Alice Springs list themselves as belonging to the Uniting Church in the Census,” she says. 
“It doesn’t worry me that they don’t all attend Sunday worship.
“Today Australians look for spirituality in ways not represented in the traditional church activities, such as through the landscape or mateship. Community is still important, but so is the freedom to discover and express faith in individual and personal ways.
“Our role is how we might help people in their journey, in ways that engage where they are.”  
Popular culture is engaging with religious themes, says Rev Spencer.
“They are emerging in literature, film and art but they’re not being dressed up in churchy language. 
“It’s part of the cultural change and a recognition that Australia is not just an Anglo society.
“Christian churches were originally married to British colonialism.
“Multiculturalism means there’s not one dominant religion any more, but an openness to see God working through all cultures and all religions.”
Rev Spencer says the Uniting Church sees its function as continuing to look outwards: being open to other denominations and faiths, developing Indigenous ministry and being involved in the op shop, running the church hall and running St Philip’s College.
“Particularly in outback  it doesn’t matter what denomination you are, people recognise we represent the same basic things: Faith, hope and love.”
She says although ministers in other small towns also cooperate with each other, the Alice Springs Ministers Fellowship has a particularly strong ethos of supporting each other.
“It’s impressive in getting such a large number of ministers together, and it has an openness to make public comment as a group of Christian churches, and to engage as Christians in public issues.
“It’s quite a hard thing to do. It’s not unique in Australia but Alice Springs does it better than other places.”
The Uniting Church has a tradition of promoting thought and debate, with a strong heritage here for its advocacy work with Indigenous people and its commitment to “practical Christianity” exemplified by the work of Reverend John Flynn.
Elements of this heritage are displayed in the Adelaide House Museum, which also offers hospitality to locals and tourists. Rev Spencer says the Uniting Church has adopted three pillars to its vision, making its property a welcoming sanctuary for all visitors, developing relationships that foster reconciliation, caring for people in its community and particularly around the mall where it is situated.

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