November 16, 2006. This page contains all major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Indigenous tourism booms - in Namibia. By KIERAN FINNANE

Namibia’s indigenous tourism industry has a powerful driver, the almost complete absence of welfare payments, helping to put the West African travel entrepreneurs about 10 years ahead of their Aboriginal counterparts in Central Australia.
Namibian delegates to the Desert Knowledge Symposium in Alice this month were glad to share their knowledge with a string of bush communities they visited.
Their visit to Hermannsburg coincided with a Tourism NT workshop on the community’s tourism plan.
Said Maxi Pia Louis: “It was a good workshop, very participative.
“Then we gave our presentation: they were very impressed, they wanted to learn from us.
“They could see we are also a desert country and that many of the challenges are the same.
“One of the questions we were asked was, would it be possible for them to do what we had done.
“Our answer was you need to work hard, you need to compete. If you feel you want to be mothered, then don’t do it.”
Ms Louis pointed out that in Namibia there is no welfare system, although there are pensions for the elderly.
Mr Usiel Ndjavera noted the absence of young people involved in the enterprises they visited: “In Namibia it is mostly young people who are working in tourism.” 
Conservation roles involve all age groups but it is young people, in the 17 to 35 year age bracket “who transmit information to tourists, who manage the campsites”.
The craft groups are led by older women with young girls learning from them.
Another observable difference was in standards of education.
Said Ms Louis: “Most of our people have gone through formal education and they see tourism as an opportunity for them.
“Jobs in tourism are an important way for them to put food on the table.
“We were quite shocked when we heard that there are people who are not working at all, when we saw people wake up in the morning, drag their mattresses into the shade and sleep a few hours more.
“In our communities you get up and you go into the fields and you work.
“And in the towns, a young person is never going to stay at home. Their mother gets them up and tells them to go and find a job.
“You constantly see young people looking for jobs, and if they can’t find work then they are selling, they’ll sell anything, an apple, a newspaper.
“We don’t understand the double standards here.
“We heard different stories about the approaches to education. We heard that some people don’t trust the education system because it pulls their children away from them. When their children get educated they become different people and go off to do their own thing.
“We heard some people see education as a white man’s thing and they’re not interested in it. 
“But other people are trying to do both, to have cultural learning and send their kids to school.
“This is what we have done in Namibia. There is ony a small minority who do not send their children to school. But then they see other families and communities whose children are educated and see them moving forward.
“An educated person is highly regarded in our society. There’s a lot of competition. Our parents are mostly illiterate but they push us to become educated.”
The pair felt that Hermannsburg, as indeed all the communities they visited, had very good products, a market for the asking but still needed a lot of development – training for tour guides, development of camping sites and accommodation.
They also felt that communities need to get together to package their products cooperatively.
Said Ms Louis: “People travel in a loop. They don’t want to get the same experience at each place. At the end of their trip they will be bored.”
“So one place can do dreamtime stories,” suggested Mr Ndjavera, “the next place can do a kangaroo hunt and so on.”
Ms Louis suggested that people on communities interested in tourism ventures “need to become tourists themselves first” to understand what it is that tourists enjoy and how products are provided to them.
“It was the first thing we did in Namibia. The people we were working with were pastoralists and crop growers. Tourism was a cultural shift for them.
“There weren’t enough examples in Namibia for people to look at so we went into South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and then came back and tried to do things a little bit better.”
Ms Louis said a change of strategy is needed for a number of the enterprises they visited: they need to focus on using business principles, if possible involving private enterprise joint venturers from the outset.
And long term on-the-ground mentoring needs to be built into the contracts with their private partners, so that eventually local people become their own managers.
This is a slow process, taking as long as 10 years, but it is reaping fruits now in Namibia.
She said short-term consultancies are of little value in “capacity building” on communities.
The pair appreciated the “product” that has been developed at Titjikala, involving a joint venture partner, commenting that a similar product in Namibia is now locally managed.
“The private sector partners are still involved in sending clients to them but local people do everything on the ground,” said Mr Ndjavera.
“It took 10 years of mentoring there to create a good manager,” said Ms Louis.
DK CRC’s Joc Schmiechen spent a week in Namibia last year, visiting community-based tourist enterprises.
Some of them reminded him of what is developing at Titjikala but he describes the differences as “huge” with respect to “how the venture was put together, the nature of the partnership, the selection of the site, the presentation of the product, the attention to detail”.
He says the Namibian product is presented not just as an experience with Indigenous people, but as “a total experience for the visitor in a landscape in which Indigenous people live, an experience which will enhance that person”.
He says the Namibians have real ownership of what they are doing: “For instance, when I went into the tents, there were these beautiful dried arrangements of desert plants that the guys themselves had done.
“It gave the accommodation a personal character, they had infused themselves into it.”
Mr Schmiechen hopes that some Indigenous tourism operators from the Centre will visit Namibia: “We can tell people ad nauseum to do this, and do that.
“There’s nothing like direct experience. Aborigines are well grounded in that model of learning.
“I think such a visit would be a good investment.”
Tourism in Namibia has its roots in conservation. It was the obvious choice when it came to generating income to “look after the land and wildlife resource”, said Mr Ndjavera.
Some 60% of Namibia’s 2.1 million people live in rural areas. The output value of wildlife tourism (N$2.7m) now exceeds the total output value of agriculture (N$1.8m).
Donor grants were used to provide capital for small to medium enterprise development. The products were initially low key: campsites, tour guiding, home stays, crafts. Later joint ventures with private partners led to the development of lodges.
Said Ms Louis: “We never wanted to use donor aid for business development, but as the land on which these communities live is state owned, they cannot raise capital through financial institutions. There’s no security against which they can borrow.” 
The land tenure issue, with 41% of the total land mass communally owned, as well as the sparsely populated arid environment is what makes the Namibian experience so relevant for the Centre.
Couldn’t donor grants be treated as loans?
Mr Ndjavera said they tried that: “But people aren’t stupid; they know the donors won’t take measures to recover the money.”
Over a 15 year period Ms Louis estimates 80% success in meeting conservation goals, with the vast majority of conservation work being undertaken by communities.
Enterprise development has been more challenging: she estimates a 50% success rate.
There were also some ideas from Central Australia that they felt could be useful in Namibia.
One was joint management of heritage sites, such as at Uluru-Kata Tjuta. This seemed to them a good model although they were not there long enough to examine it in detail.
Another was the interpretive material available.
“It’s very  good in Australia,” said Mr  Ndjavera. “In Namibia we lack that.”
[Ms Louis works for the Namibian Association of Community-based Natural Resource Management Support Organisations (NACSO), a Namibian-wide network of NGOs. 
Mr Ndjavera is head of the Joint Venture Unit of the Namibia Community-Based Tourism Association (NACOBTA), a member of NACSO.
Mr Schmiechen manages the joint Desert Knowledge CRC/Sustainable Tourism CRC/Tropical Savannas CRC research project called Indigenous Tourism Research Strategies.]

Winds of change for travel lobby. By ERWIN CHLANDA

It was a bloodless coup, but CATIA members at their annual meeting last Thursday left no doubt that things needed to change. 
Speakers made it clear that significant sections of the tourism industry are doing it tough, that the promotion of the region, chiefly by the NT Government, is inadequate, and that CATIA needs to be a lot more assertive.
Chairperson for three years Lynne Peterkin did not stand for re-election.
Steve Rattray took the top job unopposed (see box this page). He was a CATIA executive member “off and on” for some 20 years, formerly in the car rental industry and now the regional sales manager for Imparja TV.
New members of the executive are recent arrival Scott Lovett (Lasseters, Convention Centre); Aboriginal tour operator and chef with international experience, Robert Taylor; and Grant Whan (RFDS Visitor Centre manager).
The addition to the executive with the most experience is Ren Kelly, who had a prominent role over more than three decades in local tourism (mainly at Ayers Rock, as an independent motel, hire car, restaurant and airline operator), and in media (Radio 8-HA).
In his pitch Mr Kelly left no doubt that he will be a new broom, saying small operators are the backbone of any vibrant, exciting industry.
But what little good news there is right now in the trade, it isn’t doing much for the erstwhile large, diverse number of those small operators.
The recent upswing (visitor nights up 16% in Alice Springs) may be caused mainly by the convention market, good for the government subsidised Convention Centre, and several hotels, but few others.
For example, the occupancy of hostel beds, chiefly by backpackers, has slipped from 69% in 2002 to 42%.
Retiring executive member Chris Chambers (Alice News, Oct 26) gave his presentation of statistics, mostly government supplied, showing a decline in significant aspects of the industry, and its general stagnation over 20 years. Diversity of “product” had suffered, he said.
Jan Heaslip, who established an award winning homestay at her family’s historic Bond Springs cattle station north of the town (now run by her son Ben Heaslip and his partner Laura Hunter), commended Mr Chambers on his research and said strong marketing for Central Australia was “all important”: the “huge dollars” needed for promotion had not been spent for a long time.
Tourism NT (TNT), formerly the NT Tourist Commission, quoted slightly more encouraging numbers, but without making a big deal of it.
By the time chief executive Maree Tetlow gave her keynote address it was clear that the audience wasn’t in any mood to hear nitpicking whether the average length of stay was 3.6 days (Mr Chambers) or 4.6 (Ms Tetlow).
In fact she presented several graphs with very flat lines, some with a small recent increase.
“You can virtually say it’s pretty static,” said Ms Tetlow.
Even with slight improvements in the last year, unreliable “unless we’re getting a swing of plus or minus 10%”, the numbers remain below the Olympic Games peak in 2000, “a good target for trying to achieve”, as Ms Tetlow put it.
But the 90 people attending the meeting, an unusually large crowd, wanted to know how the trade could get back to the halcyon days of the 1980s, when visitors stayed a fortnight and enjoyed a rich variety of experiences offered by a diversity of operators.
There was little reassurance that this would happen.
Balloon operator John Sanby says he’s one of the few enterprises to benefit from the current style of tourism: people arrive at 5pm, stay the night, go for a balloon flight in the early morning and are gone by 12 noon.
“Other countries are stealing our clients,” says Mr Sanby. “What we need is sell, sell, sell.”
Paul Ah Chee said the trend is downwards but this could be reversed with help from TNT.
Ms Peterkin explained that CATIA’s membership fees are much lower than those of other organisations, and “we have to live within our means.
“We’ve done a great job, despite what some people think. 
“A lot of these people aren’t even members” of CATIA and if they complain about not having had any approach from CATIA then “I don’t want to be bothered with them”.
Says Ms Tetlow, 18 months after the “Share Our Story” campaign was launched: “Sometimes there is a lot of paddling going on underneath the water.”
There is “stalling in the domestic market.
“They’d rather spend money on their flat screen TV than go on a holiday,” says Ms Tetlow.
“There’s lack of security and confidence.
“People are staying at home.”
In Sydney, flights to Hawaii are available for “something like $300,” and there are  cheap flights to Rockhampton or Harvey Bay.
“I mean, what are you going to do?” asks Ms Tetlow.
“There are a lot of things we need to do to counter that.”
And just what these things might was what the crowd at the AGM had come to hear from the lady who spends $40m a year.
With “Share Our Story” looking like a dud, most initiatives are in the future, and – given Tourism NT’s mammoth budget – look like pretty small beer:-
• March to mid-April 2007: “This campaign will highlight the unique experiences of both Alice Springs and Uluru and also elevate the branded journey that links them together – the Red Centre Way.” By early next year the Red Centre Way will have gone nowhere because of the Central Land Council’s refusal to give access the gravel and water for the sealing work.
• “Planned campaign elements include a strong presence in motoring, drive and travel magazines, online marketing, a major industry trade familiarisation and the direct mail distribution of Alice Springs booklets.”
• 4x4 Tourism Trail Development: “A Territory-wide steering committee has been formed to review and progress the ‘Explorer Territory 4x4 Route Development Strategy’. 
A Central Australian Project Group made up of regional government representatives is also meeting regularly to discuss 4x4 trail development in the southern region and improve visitation to the East Macs.”
• Walking Trails: new photos were taken of the Larapinta Trail.
• Railway Discovery Walkway (this leads from the railway station, following the rail track, to the Larapinta intersection.
It’s unclear what the traveller will do when he or she gets to the intersection.)
• Welcome to Country signage (Aboriginal motifs at the airport).
• Tourism Development Plan – Hermansburg.
• Share Our Story’ Domestic Campaign Activity: “March 2007 – Destination Alice Springs (new imagery).
Uluru integrated as part of Alice Springs and Red Centre Way / whole of NT Campaigns.” 
CATIA, the Alice Town Council and Tourism NT need to work together to strengthen Alice Springs as a tourist destination, says Ms Tetlow.
An example are the night markets, started recently by the council: “That’s the sort of invigoration and excitement we want to see out there.”
A much less encouraging example of collaboration concerns the impact on tourism of anti-social behaviour, “not just the actual but also the perceived”, as Ms Tetlow put it.
CATIA had been asked to give its views about a proposed system to combat alcohol-fuelled public conduct, which a great many members would readily identify as the town’s number one problem.
The system requires purchasers of liquor to present a photo ID, and the purchase would be entered into a computer accessible to all outlets.
Once a buyer had obtained a certain daily limit he or she would be refused any more.
The system would also serve to identify would-be under-age drinkers, people under some kind of prohibition order, and so on.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff told the meeting most kinds of photo IDs would be acceptable as the proposed “swipe card”.
For example, almost everyone, including tourists, has a driver’s licence or a passport.
Hardly anyone in town, except apparently Ms Peterkin, would regard the issue as anything other than urgent.
But Ms Peterkin, on her last day in the chair, rather than obtaining a decision from the membership one way or the other, decided to defer the issue “for general discussion” until February next year.
That happens to be when the Alcohol Reference Group wants to make a decision.
It seems it will now have to be made without input from the lobby of the town’s most important industry.
Asked how he would have handled this issue, Mr Rattray said: “I would certainly have pushed more debate.
“Next general meeting half the people may not be there. We had a good forum to be discussing it.”
Would he have had a decision that night?
“Yes,” said Mr Rattray.
• The Federal Government is lagging behind in its financial commitment to the $800,000 partnership for charter flights from Japan to Alice Springs: the NT Government, Territory Airports and Japanese Airlines have paid up $200,000 each – Canberra hasn’t yet.
The CATIA annual meeting was told last week that the partnership has to starting spending money on quarantine and X-ray equipment.
According to Ms Tetlow the 11 Japan Airlines operated charter flights based on three-night packages brought 2268 Japanese to Central Australia, injecting around $1.7 million into the economy.
• The Ayers Rock Resort has put on hold its plans for upgrading the Connellan Airport runway for larger jets. The project will be “reconsidered” in 2008.
• Tour operators in Territory national parks are now obliged to have permits, which isn’t causing any great upheaval.
They must also report the numbers of the clients they are taking into the parks, something most operators are failing to do.

‘Town council should strike promotion levy’.

After much of the past 20 years on the CATIA executive Steve Rattray now has the lobby’s top job. He wants to involve the town in his bid to restore the tourism industry to its former glory, starting with a promotion levy collected by the town council. Mr Rattray (pictured) spoke with Alice News editor ERWIN CHLANDA. 
NEWS: Early this year the Alice News published a series of articles about Aspen, Colorado, one of the best managed tourist towns in the world. What sort of town is Alice Springs?
RATTRAY: Alice Springs is a desert town in the middle of Australia with its own issues, social and economic.
I don’t think we’ll ever be an Aspen. We’re not that sort of town.
NEWS: What relationship does CATIA have with Tourism NT (TNT), the former Tourist Commission?
RATTRAY: Rocky at times. I see CATIA’s role as the watchdog, making sure that what the commission is doing is benefitting Alice Springs and our tourist industry.
NEWS: Is it beneficial that part of your budget comes from TNT?
RATTRAY: We get $640,000 from them for two specific purposes: $300,000 for running the visitor information centre, and $340,000 is for marketing explicitly defined in our partnership agreement. We do both things under contract because we do them well. These payments do not impinge on our core role of serving our members.
NEWS: What do you expect from TNT?
RATTRAY: Visitors need to be shown a great vision, great concepts. I was very critical of the “Share Our Story” campaign to start with, wow, this is a bit different, left field. But having seen some really mediocre campaigns over the years, I think this one’s working, and if I didn’t think so you’d hear me shouting from the rafters.
NEWS: How do you know it’s working?
RATTRAY: The people who are working very hard on their business, the little guys, are doing well. Half of our industry is made up of small operators.
A few of them are struggling, and you can find that anywhere in Australia, but a good percentage of them are doing well. The big ones are struggling to get drivers and staff accommodation.
NEWS: What could the town council do for you? In Aspen, for example, the council, which incidentally operates from a very modest office, runs an “affordable housing” program encompassing 2500 dwellings, exclusively for workers in the town.
RATTRAY: Can you imagine our council becoming involved in accommodation? It would be just an absolute nightmare.
NEWS: So what can they do?
RATTRAY: They should keep our town pristine. We should have security cameras up and down the mall. The council should be more involved in CATIA.
NEWS: How?
RATTRAY: Turning up to meetings would be handy. I believe we should have a marketing levy on every ratepayer in town, maybe one per cent of your rate, which CATIA can use to market Alice Springs, only Alice Springs, not Ayers Rock. [Darwin has a similar scheme.] Say your rates are $1000.
That would mean an extra $10 a year. CATIA has the staff and infrastructure in place to administer such a fund. It would have to be accountable to the ratepayers.

Second "no" to White Gums development. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Lands Minister Delia Lawrie has rejected an application from the Brown family at White Gums to develop a 170-block rural subdivision.
Steve Brown says that his brother Patrick met with Ms Lawrie on Monday and was told bluntly that she had rejected the proposal.
Ms Lawrie would not comment (despite repeated phone calls to her office), but Mr Brown says she expressed disapproval about the proposed block sizes – one to five hectares – as being in conflict with the current zoning of 40 hectares.
Mr Brown says Ms Lawrie said she wanted to review all zoning in Alice Springs, which would take 18 months, and “then look at things again”.
Mr Brown says his family had spent $200,000 on drawing up the plans and worked in close collaboration with the planning authorities.
He claims the government seems to care little about how many people had “their hearts set on this project.
“We have a lot of land in a town where new building land is urgently needed.
“This is the second application that has been refused.
“The Brown family will be here forever. We’ll fight on.”
Mr Brown says another Minister, Kon Vatskalis, told a local business figure that “they were going to can the White Gums project because it was going to cost too much providing power and water.
“A rather curious statement when it has already been proposed, and in fact demanded, that the developer would meet those costs.
“Perhaps, what we have here is a slip of the tongue, giving away the true motives behind this decision.”
Mr Brown says this may be an indication that services in Alice Springs are stretched to their limit, having been neglected for 20 years, and the NT Government is not prepared to spend the necessary money.
“The very thought of having to dole out funds from the Darwin recreational pool has been enough to make bureaucrats of the north, with their snouts firmly buried in the revenue trough, to glance up and react in horror,” says Mr Brown.
“So they’ve come up with trying to stop, or at the very least, slow any growth in Alice.”
Mr Brown says 90 per cent of government spending in Alice is on refurbishing old buildings, not on growing the town, “not on any new projects which might contribute to the overall load on infrastructure.
“They are the Keith Lawrie Flats, Stuart Lodge, Arrente House, hospital staffing quarters – all old buildings that should have been flattened, but instead kept on, and refurbished in an effort to quieten the murmurings in the south.”
Mr Brown says rumors that Chief Minister Clare Martin was looking for projects in Alice Springs may have been misunderstood: “Maybe Clare really meant she wanted to flatten Alice Springs.”

Council gets ultimatum over CCTV in the Mall. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Get on board or we’ll do it without you: a group of business people delivered an ultimatum to the town council on Monday night to install security cameras in the town centre, from the northern end of Todd Mall  to Melanka’s, or to be seen as out of touch with the town.
Chris Vaughan from Bojangles and Steve West from Principal Paving together had raised pledges of $28,000 to put towards CCTV coverage.
“We’ve had enough” of the unsafe environment in town, Mr Vaughan told aldermen, calling for “zero tolerance of the way we are being hunted”.
He illustrated this point by referring to, among others, an 11-year-old committing several offences in the one night.
CCTV would allow offenders to be identified and dealt with in the justice system. It would not be constantly monitored but would be there if evidence were required.
“We want to give them other options in life,” said Mr Vaughan, mentioning programs with elders, and work options.
“But we have to grab them first.
“We will install cameras at our own expense within three months if the council is not on board.”
Supporters packed the public gallery, punctuating the debate with clapping, cheering and interjections: “Wake up to yourselves!” “Listen up people!”
Mr West took the floor with an emotional outburst, calling for the immediate resignation of Mayor Fran Kilgariff, accusing her of incompetence. 
Ms Kilgariff was not at the meeting, being on annual leave.
Mr West complained of having his ute broken into and a bag stolen at the start of the Masters Games and then of the “sickening incident”  of the bashing of a Masters competitor.
“You better start waking up,” Mr West told the aldermen, “people out there have had a gutful of all of you.”
Alderman Jane Clark, who was chairing the meeting, ruled him out of order.
Ald Murray Stewart had already given notice of a motion that council urgently reallocate funds from its tree planting program to support the business community’s initiative.
Debate saw this amended to simply an urgent reallocation of funds, so that not only the tree planting program (in truth a tree replacement program) will suffer.
Possible external funding will also be looked into.
The aldermen were applauded for their decision as well as for their calls for stronger, more visible policing.
Meanwhile, aldermen also resolved to write to the Territory Government, requesting implementation of a Night Time Youth Strategy, which would see taken into protective care unsupervised children 15 years and under on the streets between 10pm and 5am.
The model being proposed by Ald Robyn Lambley is similar to the one in operation in Northbridge, Perth which has an emphasis on accompanying support services for the young people and their families.

The education you didn't know we were getting. By JACQUIE CHLANDA.

This is a fictionalised story based on my experiences of catching a school bus over 13 years. Students on the bus came from all schools in Alice Springs, public and private.

1. Hierarchy

On the school bus Jake sits up the back, right in the middle, with his legs wide spread and arms resting on the back of the seat. Where you sit in relation to Jake is determined by how cool you are.
Cool kids wear runners and jeans and caps. They walk with a swing, left leg and right shoulder, then right leg and left shoulder. They never smile but jut their jaw out so that their bottom teeth are further forward than their top ones.
As they walk down the bus most of them glare at the losers and sometimes push them or call them “faggot”. If you sit more than four rows in front of Jake, then you’re not cool.
Everyone in those four rows sits at an angle, turned towards the back of the bus, even though it makes most of us feel sick. But we have to hear what Jake and the others say. 
The further forward you sit the less cool you are, so most of the middle seats are empty as the losers crowd around the bus driver for protection.
Jake is thirteen. He replaced the last ruler and he will be replaced when he moves into town or drops out of school or gets his licence in about three years’ time.
When you’re on the bus you answer to Jake and usually answer “yes”, especially if he wants your food. I’m eight and I get to sit in the third row in front of Jake because I’m friends with Tegan, and her sister is Sally who sits next to Jake. Sally has bleached blonde hair and is Jake’s “bus bitch”, but he has other bitches at school too.

2. Apartheid

Being Jake’s bus bitch gives Sally lots of power. Me and Tegan had to sit up the front for a whole week because we stole her poster of Jesse Carter. We were going to put it back and all, but she was really angry.
About half way along the bus trip heaps of Aboriginal kids get on. Sally and Jake call them “smelly black cunts”. Tegan and I don’t understand why they don’t like them because they wear cool clothes, jeans, runners and caps. Two of them even have Wu-Tang Clan jumpers, just like the one Jake wears.
Sally makes them all sit up the front because they are “niggers”.
She and Jake tell the bus driver that they want all the white kids to sit up the back and all the “blackies” to sit up the front. When I get home I tell Mum about my day.
“On the bus Sally made all the Aboriginals sit up the front because she said they smell, so now all the white kids sit at the back because Sally said we don’t want to sit next to those black cunts.”
Mum is really angry, as angry as if I’d hit my brother, and tells me to never use those words again. She tells me that my friends Tom and Belinda are Aboriginal too, that what Sally did is very naughty, that I shouldn’t judge people because of their skin colour. The next morning I feel bad sitting up the back of the bus and even worse when I next go to play with Tom and Belinda.

3. Sex Education

Jake moves to another town and other kids move into his house. They’re boys, two brothers, older than me. Will becomes the new boss of the bus and sits on the backseat throne next to Sally. He is older than Jake and even cooler. He has a girlfriend who he kisses at the bus stop. She wears basketball shorts and tight singlets and has two thin bits of hair pulled out of the front of a really tight ponytail.
When I get home I brush my hair back as tight as I can and pull out the two front bits. I wear my hair like this for about a year, no matter where I go or for what.
Will has had sex with her and all. “Yeah, I fucked her on the weekend and she even sucked my dick.”
Tegan told me that sex is when a boy puts his dick in the girl’s private part and they jump around lying down. She made an O with her thumb and forefinger and then put another finger inside to show what it looks like.
I think there must be something is wrong with me because my private part isn’t nearly that big, I can’t even see the hole. I worry that I’ll never get to be fucked because the boy won’t be able to put his dick in.
The next day Will and Sally blow up condoms and bounce them around the bus, Tegan tells me that they are used for sex too and I get even more worried. But then I figure that Will and his girlfriend are in year nine and I’m in year four so my hole will grow bigger by the time I get to year nine.

4. Violence

I get bored of the back and I’m surer of myself and begin to sit in the middle of the bus with a boy called Peter. We don’t really talk to each other; we just kind of use each other so that we don’t look like idiots sitting by ourselves. By now I know more about sexism and racism and the kids that sit up the back make me angry.
Will and Sally don’t go to school anymore, so Will’s brother, Tate, is the new leader and Tegan sits beside him with a new girl, Jenny. She’s in the grade above me and Tegan but looks about twenty-five.
One day on the way home the driver has to brake when an Aboriginal man steps onto the road. Tate calls him a “fucking coon”.
“Tate makes me sick,” I tell Peter.
“Me too,” he says. 
When Tate gets up to get off the bus I tell him that he’s a racist and a dickhead. He calls me a “dumb slut loser” and says I should “just go fuck a nigger” if I love them so much. I’m so embarrassed and angry as he walks off laughing.
On an impulse I jump up and run after him and punch him between the shoulders. He turns around and slaps me on the face, and I punch him again even harder in the arm. I know that he’s going to hit me again so I say that my dad will call his dad and tell him.
This gets him because his dad’s a psycho. I once went over there to sell raffle tickets on a Saturday morning and his dad was already drinking beer and smoking. Tegan once told me that Tate was grounded for a month because he back chatted his dad.
The next week Jenny comes up to me at the bus stop and calls me a bitch. I tell her spell it because I know she can’t.
She’s heaps bigger than me, so she grabs me around the throat and lifts me in the air. No one helps me and I start to lose my breath.
Then my little brother, who is seven, jumps on her back. She can’t shake him off and he has her in a headlock, squashing her nose into her face. She releases me and I run off.
My brother follows me but then turns back, jumps up and knocks her cap off her head.
We both sit right behind the bus driver that day. In the morning my neck is bruised and chaffed where she held me.
My dad takes me to her house and shows her parents. They live in demountables and have no garden. I hear on the bus that she’s grounded for six months and doesn’t get presents for her birthday the next week. From then on we ignore each other.

5. Separation and Reunion

When I’m about to turn fifteen our house burns down and we have to move into town while we build a new one. I don’t think about the kids on the bus. Sometimes I talk to Peter on the phone. If I see some of the others up town, we ignore each other.
I hear that Tate dropped out of school and then got kicked out of a plumbing apprenticeship, so now he works full time at Coles. Jenny had a baby when she was fifteen. Apparently her parents kicked her out so now she lives in South Australia with her grandparents. I don’t know what happened to Tegan but her family don’t live here anymore.  For nearly two years we live in rented houses and I ride my bike to school. By the time we move into our new house I have my learner’s permit.
I catch the bus for the first time in years and it’s different. Brother and sister pair, Carl and Gemma, have grown at least two feet each and wobble as they walk. Though Gemma is still in primary school she’s bigger than most students in my grade.
There are two new additions, brothers who swear as if they don’t know any other words. “Oi, you fucking cunt face bitch prick mother-fucker! You fucking give me back my fucking hat or I’ll fucking kill you, you, you shitface!”
The elder of the two is about twelve and their voices are so high and they talk so fast that they sound like chipmunks. I have an iPod now so don’t have to listen to the trash talk or the driver’s tinny radio. I read and sometimes do homework; in those hours to and from school I exist in a world aside from the school bus and bide the days until I get my licence.

6. The Last Time

I get my Ps after about two more months, along with a bottle green 1979 Ford Escort. Sometimes it breaks down and my brother and I have to catch the bus for about a week – an experience that truly enhances our appreciation of not having to the rest of the time.
In the last few weeks of year 12 the clutch gives out and I’m without my car for three days.
The trip home from school on the third day, a Friday, is my last ever on the bus. The chipmunk brothers are bringing friends home and they all swing from the bars, trying to out-swear each other.
I am sitting towards the front which I guess makes me a loser. Gemma is getting off at another girl’s house, probably the same age as her but a fraction of the size. As the bus slows down she swings around, sending a ripple over her stomach and legs, and yells down the length of the bus, “Carl F loves Kirra M and they sex every night.” I laugh right out loud.
Gemma has made an O with her thumb and forefinger and is thrusting the forefinger of the other hand inside it, the same way Tegan did some ten years before to explain to me the fearsome act of sex. And with that very clear illustration of Carl and Kirra’s love for each other I get off the bus.

Columnist ADAM CONNELLEY has heard that Darwin is taking over Alice Springs as the gay capital of Australia.

I was at the airport saying goodbye to a good friend who was in town this week. While waiting for the plane to Melbourne, an incoming plane landed full of weary travelers.
The plane had come from Darwin. After a couple of hours on a plane from anywhere, sitting in a pleasant climate controlled environment, the Alice Springs runway on a 40 degree day hits you like a full-blooded cover drive from Adam Gilchrist.
I was watching these hundred or so passengers experience the first real summer heat when I realised that you can tell where people come from by looking at how they react.
I observed two types of people who got off that plane: Darwinites and locals returning home.
The Darwinites were stunned. Sure they deal with 34 degrees day in day out, but 40 just hurt them. They were either rushing to get out of the heat or too stunned to walk at any type of pace.
Those from Central Australia either bore the face of resignation that summer was upon us or were trying to tell their friend that this heat isn’t so bad because “it’s a dry heat”.
I’m sorry but I don’t think the humid-loving Darwinian is going to care about the drop in humidity when it’s 40 degrees. They seem to be more preoccupied with the fact that it so freakishly hot!
We have a strange relationship with Darwin here in the Alice.
I saw the Darwin paper had a story claiming that Darwin was taking over Alice Springs as the unofficial gay capital of Australia.
I’m not all that sure what the people of Sydney have to say about that, but the reaction to the story was quite strange.
Even the most homophobic Centralian was outraged by the fact that the northern capital would have the gall to take another claim off her southern sister.
On this particular issue one can see the difference between the Darwin and Alice Springs mindset.
In Darwin there are nightclubs and venues that encourage gays and lesbians to attend.
In Sydney many places in the inner city popped up a few years back calling themselves a “gay club”.
Incidentally one such place which I had frequented for years earlier refused to let me in one week because I “wasn’t of that persuasion”.
I don’t think that establishment got the idea. But regardless of that little gripe, the term in Sydney for a club opening like that is, to chase the pink dollar.
Many businesses saw that there was money to be made off couples who generally had well paying jobs and no children.
Darwin seems to be doing something similar.
Actively seeking a new market to inject funds into the tourist sector.
In today’s modern world there is nothing wrong with that.
But in Alice we do things a little differently. A gay mechanic sits having a beer in a pub with a woman who hosts tours and her partner who works at the Base.
On the whole we don’t care who you sleep with or what job you have or where you are from or how big your house is ... as long as you are a good laugh.
I have come to the conclusion that the Berrimah line is real.
Perhaps it is not so stark and so dire as many people paint it but it is real.
I don’t know what makes it exist but you can tell the difference between those from Darwin and the locals.
So next time the big brothers from Darwin start pulling your hair and talking down the place, don’t get angry.
They’re just different.
The next time a Darwinite talks about their lovely beaches and their beautiful harbour, just say, “Gee that does sound nice … if only you could swim in them.
Now let me buy you a beer.”

LETTERS: Ross Pollock argues that Mreenie Loop Road funding would be better spent on upgrading roads in the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Sir,- I am submitting to the government the following suggestions for improving tourism infrastructure.
The National Parks & Wildlife Service has done an excellent job in providing amenities, paths, walking tracks and lookouts at all its facilities that include most of the popular tourist destinations.
The problem is that it is almost impossible to get to them by road, especially when wet, because there is no sealed road access.
West MacDonnells / Namatjira Drive:
Ellery Creek Big Hole – 1 km unsealed, dangerously rough.
Glen Helen Gorge – 400 metres unsealed.
Finke Gorge / Larapinta Drive. Gosse Bluff – 14km 4WD.
Palm Valley – 21km 4WD.
Wallace Rockhole – 23km unsealed.
East MacDonnells / Ross Hwy:
Arltunga – 36km unsealed. Ruby Gap – 38km 4WD.
Stuart Hwy South:
Rainbow Valley – 24km unsealed.  Owen Springs – 12km 4WD.
I note that $70m has been “gifted” to the $10b GPT Property Group for the Mereenie Loop Road, that can only benefit Kings Canyon Resort which is already accessible by sealed road.
The new road will not attract any more tourists.
Apart from the first 43km from Glen Helen Gorge, the rest of these funds should be diverted to open up those popular tourist destinations above that don’t have sealed roads.
How $70m was justified being spent on the Mereenie Loop suggests some very persuasive lobbying by the GPT group, one of the 30 largest companies in Australia (by market capitalisation), on a very naïve and gullible tourism lobby in Alice Springs.
Voyages would need an extra 10,000 beds in Uluru, Kings Canyon and Alice Springs to soak up the 453,000 passengers per year reduction in tourist numbers over the last 10 years.
GPT itself states that it specialises in “high quality hotel assets” and resorts, a sector that precludes the low-cost budget VFR, FIT and backpacker markets that comprise the majority of tourists and accounts for most of the loss in tourist numbers to Central Australia.
An urgent review of the Loop Road project is therefore recommended to determine how and where the funds are allocated and prioritised, before it is too late to avoid a massive waste of public money.
Ross Pollock
Alice Springs

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