ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
Couldn’t donor grants be treated as
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
“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
Winds of change for travel lobby.
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
“They’d rather spend money on their
flat screen TV than go on a holiday,” says Ms Tetlow.
“There’s lack of security and
“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
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 –
• 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
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
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
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
“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 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
They must also report the numbers of
the clients they are taking into the parks, something most operators
are failing to do.
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
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
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
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
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
RATTRAY: Can you imagine our council
becoming involved in accommodation? It would be just an absolute
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.
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
“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
“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
“You better start waking up,” Mr
West told the aldermen, “people out there have had a gutful of all of
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
“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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Darwin seems to be doing something
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
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
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
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 –
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
The new road will not attract any
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
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
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.
Back to frontpage the Alice Springs News.