ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
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
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
In the end the NT Government had to make a special grant of $700,000 to
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
He’s been in the Territory for 49 years, 20 of them working in the
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
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
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,
• 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
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
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
“The matter is in the hands of lawyers and I will make no further
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
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
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
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 Voyages position was vacant between March and May this year.
This disrupted the regular meetings of an Indigenous employment
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
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
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
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
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 &
He expects that it will take some years for comprehensive change to be
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
“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
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
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
“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
“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
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.”
NEXT WEEK: A NEW ERA FOR ALI CURUNG.
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
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
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
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
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”
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
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
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.
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
Shopping for salvation: ‘People
arrive in town and look around for a church they feel comfortable in’.
Part Two in a series by ELISABETH
“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
“People arrive in town and look around for a church they feel
comfortable in. We have people from a lot of different traditions who
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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.
MORE NEXT WEEK.
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