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


The recent flurry of stabbings in Central Australia are part of a steadily increasing trend, earning the region the tragic distinction of having "the highest reported incidence of stab injuries in the world".
Dr Abraham Jacob, in a study presented to the recent Provincial Surgeons of Australia conference in Kalgoorlie, described the average incidence - 390 per 100,000 population per year- as "staggering" and "an epidemic".
Dr Jacob analysed the 1550 stab injury admissions to Alice Springs Hospital in a seven year period (July 1998 to June 2005).
He found that 99.99% of victims were Aboriginal, 53% were females, and victims were most commonly injured in town camps and homes.
31% (481) of the victims were under the influence of alcohol. 20% (311) presented with repeat stabbings in the period of study.
Generally, Dr Jacob's study found the demographic features in the Centre "quite different from other published Australasian and overseas experiences".
Specifically, he compared the incidence in the population served by the Alice Springs Hospital - 50,000 people - with the incidence in the population served by the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) in Sydney - 500,000.
RPAH treated 395 stab injuries over 11 years, compared to ASH's 1500 over seven years.
This makes the Central Australian rate 60 times worse than the RPAH rate.
The mean age of the victims in both centres was roughly comparable: 34 years at RPAH, 31 years at ASH.
Victims at RPAH were 94% male (just 6% female) compared to ASH's shocking 53% female victims.
Most stabbings treated at RPAH had occurred in streets, bars and night clubs in contrast to the mainly domestic settings in Central Australia.
More stabbings in the RPAH population were fatal: 15 compared with the three fatalities at ASH. At RPAH the fatal stabbings were most commonly to the head, chest and abdomen; at ASH they were to the thigh, chest and neck.
The most common site of all stab injuries presented at ASH was the thigh (38% or 605).
Stab injuries to the abdomen were "significantly low", less than 1% or 68.
Says Dr Jacob: "Traditional punishment is still practised in Central Australia and thus explains the high number thigh injuries.
"A particular pattern of traditional stab injuries was also noted; medial thigh to kill, posterior thigh to permanently disable, and lateral thigh to punish.
"Rampant alcoholism and social and family breakdown are thought to be significant contributors to the high incidence of violence in Alice Springs."
In Alice Springs last Friday a 37-year-old man was arrested after he allegedly stabbed his ex-wife in the back a number of times at Old Timers Camp. As she walked towards the ambulance that had been called, he allegedly hit her over the head with a wheel brace.Ê
The man was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault and one of failing to comply with a restraining order.
In a separate incident a 22-year-old woman was taken to the Alice Springs Hospital after her ex-partner allegedly hit her over the head numerous times with a socket wrench.Ê
This occurred in a unit in Tilmouth Court.Ê
The woman's head wound later required 25 staples. As the News went to Press the offender was still being sought by police. Ê
The last weekend of November saw seven people stabbed in the Centre: five in Tennant Creek (all on a Friday night) and two in Kiwirrkurra (in WA, just over the border with the NT), one a seven-year-old boy who died from the injury.
One of the Tennant Creek victims was airlifted to Alice Springs Hospital, while both Kiwirrkurra victims were brought in to Alice.
A 16-year-old boy was charged over three of the stabbings in Tennant Creek.


Only our very own Fiona O'Loughlin could assert that "old semen" and a near-menopause pregnancy produced her co-host, Natalie Gruzlewski, from Channel Nine's Getaway, and get away with it.
No doubt the plucky Alice comedienne saved the 20th Brolga dinner guests from crushing boredom driven by relentless self-congratulation.
I mean how often can you hear the words "and the winner is" and still care?
And yet there was plenty of scope for cheeky reality checking.
There are nearly as many categories as there are entrants.
The evening could have featured a multiple choice quiz why only 59 of the 1000 NT tourism businesses, or 6%, enter the awards:-
[1] Irrelevant.
[2] Always the same.
[3] Don't mean a thing because the consumer doesn't get a say.
The Convention Centre's big hall was bathed in spooky black light and intermittently immersed in nausea inducing - especially when you've had a few - colored light beams crawling across the walls and ceiling.
Bets could have been laid as to how many people in the room were daredevil entrepreneurs, and how many were public servants?
Or have a test closely related to the above: who paid the $160 a head for dinner out of their own, or their company's, pocket and who didn't?
You got chook or steak.
End of story.
The chook was on the dry side and the steak was, well, it was just the way it was: you might have thought you were in the rarefied domain of international hospitality, but the choice of rare, medium and well done wasn't available.
And if you had been at the St Philip's Year 12 formal the night before, your choice - or non-choice - of the main course would have been exactly the same, except for the trimmings.
Journalists, including me, got in free to the Brolgas but we were corralled at media tables, easy prey for government minders bent on keeping us "on message".
We asked in vain to be seated with people from the coalface of the industry so we could pick up a yarn or two.
Notable exception: at our table, Tourism NT's Jeanette Button was most charming.
Fiona kept things moving.
In the inevitable housekeeping section she explained that there would be no break in the award announcements during the main course.
Last year proceedings had dragged on for so long that winners in sections 23 to 32 were almost too pissed to make it to the stage, she explained.
Fiona hinted at a dalliance with the Minister for Tourism Paul Henderson - who is sooo much taller!
And she brought Natalie down to earth when she suggested all people in the room were winners.
Except, of course, those who don't win a Brolga, chirped Fiona.
And at least one of those isn't a happy camper at all.
He says he might seek legal advice, not to contest the judges' right to make a choice, but because an enterprise was lumped into his category that didn't belong there.
Charlie Carter runs Trek Larapinta which takes small groups walking on the 200 km Larapinta Trail, camping in the bush. In the world of adventure it's the real thing.
Charlie, and fellow small operator Gecko Canoeing - Nature-based Tours, missed out on the Ecotourism Brolga awarded "to recognise ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that foster environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation."
Says Charlie in an email to chief judge Bob Woodward: "Please explain how the Alice Springs Desert Park [which won] complies with the criteria.
"Quite clearly it doesn't have Ôa primary focus on experiencing natural areas'.
"Despite the best efforts of the staff, the Ôhabitats' are, and will remain, manmade.
"The aviaries, the nocturnal house and the bird display are not Ônatural areas'."
And that, says Charlie, doesn't even touch on the issue of a Brolga going to a government owned attraction with access to huge lots of public money, competing against a small battler in a contest supposedly designed to encourage private enterprise.
Mr Woodward's personal assistant, who declined to give her name, said he is not available for comment due to a "confidentiality agreement".
Meanwhile Tourism NT, which had provided us with Mr Woodward's telephone number, made no mention of any such agreement.
Another puzzle only partly resolved was why there would be awards in categories with only one entrant. There were nine such categories.
Mr Woodward said on the night there is a point system and entrants must reach a certain total.
One seasoned Brolga goer observed that some businesses win every year and therefore no-one else enters into that category.
This, of course, knocks the rationale of the awards on the head, which is for businesses to submit to the scoring of the various aspects of their operations by an experienced peer, and so pick up hints about how to improve.
But the winds of change - hopefully not sweeping away Fiona - are going to touch the crusty Brolgas.
Some states are campaigning for the Australian Tourism Awards, also submission based, to be changed to another judging system, yet undecided.
And that would mean the state awards would need to fall in line.
The Brolgas are "owned" by Tourism NT, formerly the Tourist Commission.
They used to pay the NT chamber of commerce $75,000 to run the event.
This year it was brought back "in house" to Tourism NT and cost $100,000.
However, according to a spokesman, that included workshops for the industry to help with the submission process, judging costs for the 16 judges and Mr Woodward, and "costs of Tourism NT attending Australian Tourism Awards, seeking changes".
Would an email to the national awards have sufficed and saved the taxpayer a few Ks?
Wash your mouth out with soap!


"There is a very high level of anger in the community that needs a focus. "We'll give it one," says Steve Brown who's spearheading a group now called Advance
Alice, seeking to drag the town out of its current slump. Mr Brown is a member of the pioneering family at White Gums which makes up about a third of the
current membership of 25. He says the main objective of the non-political group will be putting to the Federal, NT and local governments demands formulated at
frequent public meetings. Mr Brown says there isn't enough time to call a public meeting before Christmas but the first one will be held early in the new year.
He is the president of Advance Alice, Alderman Murray Stewart, who has mayoral ambitions, is the vice-president. Ald Stewart says given his outspoken advocacy
of Alice Springs, "it would be churlish to walk away from the challenge. If the election were tomorrow the people of Alice Springs would want me to stand." Mr
Brown says a constitution is being drawn up for the group which is likely to be fielding or supporting candidates in the next town council election. Issues
under consideration by the group already are:-
¥ CCTV cameras in the mall and a youth curfew: members supported these moves from the council public gallery.
¥ Disagreement with the new speed limits, in part because they would end car testing in the NT, worth millions of dollars to the local economy. The group says unlimited speeds should continue to be permitted on the Stuart and Barkly Highways, outside towns.
¥ The location in the northern industrial area of one of the two proposed camps for itinerants: the NT Government or the Alice Springs Town Council should find a new location for the Federally financed facility. Mr Brown says the current heated debate should not overlook the fact that several Aboriginal hostels and accommodation places are running smoothly and without disturbances throughout the town.
¥ Opposition to the proposed hand over to Aborigines of ownership to national parks: "We'll be making this very well known, in the NT and around the country," says Mr Brown. ¥ The council should fix the basketball courts. Mr Brown says the group doesn't see itself as a "defacto Opposition" nor as a continuous knocker.
"We'll pat the government on the back when deserved," says Mr Brown. We're a positive group, offering alternatives to governments that will help the town advance." When people "have something to say, they have to say it." As suggested by Ald. Stewart the group is now working on a web site, and seeking suggestions for a town flag, "so we can hold the banner up high and promote the town," says Mr Brown.


Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough apparently sent his regards to Alice Springs through public servant Brian Stacey but he also apparently sent the repeat warning: that if there's a "bunfight" over the proposed short term itinerant accommodation sites, the Commonwealth will take their money elsewhere.
It was salt to the wounds of many who attended a public information meeting on Tuesday morning, already feeling that they haven't been consulted on the issues.
One speaker pointed out that it's not the Commonwealth's money to take, it's taxpayers' money.
Loraine Braham was applauded when she described the "threat" as "disgraceful": "Everyone is entitled to have a say."
Speaker after speaker expressed their objection to the implied threat - despite Mr Stacey's denial of any intention to threaten.
Melanie van Haaren, a town council alderman, said the Commonwealth's attitude certainly didn't make people feel comfortable in putting forward a view.
She said the broader community has never had the opportunity to have input to the proposals, which have been the work of "select groups behind closed doors". Like several other speakers, Ms van Haaren nonetheless acknowledged the "enormous" need for more accommodation in town.
Her concern was that the maximum three month stay would not be enough to cater for those who need to stay longer, in particular renal patients, whose disease "does not go away".
How temporary or permanent the arrangements would be emerged as a key concern for many speakers, with a lot of suspicion that both facilities would ultimately become permanent town camps.
Until some progress is made with the "normalisation" process in the town camps - described by Barry Chambers, chair of the meeting and of the town camps taskforce implementation committee - people would appear to have difficulty in imagining any other possibility, even though there are in town of a number of other facilities catering for Indigenous visitors.
And the vagueness of many details of the current proposals is not reassuring: in answer to a number of questions from Mrs Braham, the meeting learnt that the facility is planned as a short term solution, possibly five, possibly 10 years, depending in part on "the life of the demountables"; the land is "likely" to be leased as a term lease from the NT Government; there was no figure given for the value of the land; Indigenous Business Australia is "likely" to own the facilities "in the short term".
Tony Connole of Centralian Motors wanted to know how many of the dongas would be kept in Alice Springs, and how many would go to bush communities.
Mr Stacey said that hadn't been sorted out yet.
Mr Connole said he'd been told by Senator Nigel Scullion that there "may be bricks and mortar" going into the facilities.
Adrian White of consultants Qantec McWilliam, on the panel, responded that if there's a shortfall, more transportable buildings will be bought.
Concern about management not only inside the walls of the facilities but in the surrounding area was expressed by several speakers.
"Would you like to live close by?" the panel was asked by Dallas Spears, who has a business on Dalgety Road and lives in Cliffside Court, 300 metres away.
Mr White said the site was presented to the consultants by the NT Government: "Our report did highlight its location."
Mal Crowley reported that the Steiner School had previously enquired about the availability of the Dalgety Road site for its school. It had been denied, he said, because of petro-chemical contamination of the site during World War II.
Mr White said Qantec has identified some contamination; the Development Consent Authority will investigate and if necessary have it removed.
Old Timers resident Margaret Baker described the problems she and fellow residents have when bush visitors come to town for festivals, particularly in relation to abandoned dogs.
Indeed, no thought appears to have been given to the accommodation of dogs in the facilities, a point made by Rod Cramer, chair of Alice Springs Rural Areas Association.
Director of Nursing at Old Timers, Mary Miles, spoke of the problems the aged care facility experienced when the Tyeweretye Club was in operation, not from within the club, but from people who were not admitted to it.
She said Old Timers reduced their security costs by $30,000 once the club closed down eight years ago.
She said anti-social behaviour in the environs of Old Timers is the biggest problem they have to deal with.
Where would staff to manage the facilities be recruited from? asked more than one speaker, pointing to the difficulties in hiring staff that so many businesses are experiencing.
This also appeared to give the panel food for thought: after hesitation, Mr Stacey said "we'll have to think about that - we'll have to tender nationally".
As for policing of the areas surrounding the facilities: "Our police can't control the 2km law as it is," said Tanya of Dixon Road. "Are we getting more police?"
Mr Chambers couldn't "respond directly" but assured her that the police "are fully aware of the issues".
"When security is not available, will you bring the army in?" asked another speaker.
"Highly unlikely," said Mr Chambers.
One of the most surprising details to emerge, however, was the loose criteria for eligibility to use the facilities. They were being described as for "low income earners", Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
Would people be means tested?
No. All a person will have to do is walk through the gate.
So, as Richard Lim said, the term should really be "low-cost" facilities.
Eric Sultan stated his worry that, given the shortage also of low cost tourist accommodation, the facilities will end up being used by back-packers.

LETTERS: Dongas - Are we so used to complaining that we can't just say, thank goodness!

Sir,- I am convinced that the new Managed Accommodation for short term visitors to Alice Springs has the potential to revolutionise the town.
We have been screaming out for housing for years and now the Australian Government has offered us the solution on a platter - paid, organised and immediate. So why are people nitpicking about the location? Is it that we are so used to complaining that we can't simply say - thank goodness!
Both locations are isolated from neighbouring housing yet close enough to town to be convenient. Residents will be able to get their children to school and will be able to access shopping, the hospital and more.
Imagine if you were a responsible Aboriginal resident of an outlying community.
You will at times need to go to Alice Springs and know that when you get there, you won't be welcome at many accommodation houses or you could stay at overcrowded unsafe houses with family.
It is very difficult knowing that you could be exposing your kids to antisocial behaviour, danger, sickness and humbug.
It is not easy.
We have a duty to provide for our visitors a safe environment where the user pays, police and other services have free access and the whole environment supports good, clean behaviour.
Why on earth are the Aboriginal organisations and service groups not jumping for joy and putting in submissions of support?
Visitors from outlying areas and communities spend huge amounts of money in Alice Springs and we need to value their vital economic input.
We also need to provide good services and a warm welcome for those who are responsible law abiding citizens.
Jane Clark,
Alice Springs
ED- Jane Clark is an alderman on the Alice Town Council.

Save our laneways

Sir,- Readers may have recently read or heard about the closure of the Laver Court laneway in Sadadeen. I strongly object to its closure, mainly because I use it regularly and live very close to the park that it adjoins.
In the seven years I've lived in the area, I haven't experienced any anti-social behaviour in the park or in the 13 laneways in the area.
But I also object to the manner in which it is being closed. I heard the Council CEO, Rex Mooney, saying on radio that council have a laneway policy and due procedure has been followed. He said there had been community consultation and that claims of anti-social behaviour had been investigated. I strongly disagree with his claims.
I'm concerned that the Laver Crt laneway and other laneways can be prematurely closed before there is adequate consultation with local laneway users, and an investigation of the anti-social behavioural claims, and ultimately before there is a discussion of alternative strategies.
I assumed these kinds of measures would be taken, perhaps as a part of the council's Policy No 147 for laneway closures, quoted by Rex Mooney and mentioned in council report No 67/06ts.
I have tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to see the policy. Council's Technical Services have indicated that it is unavailable to the public because it is currently being created.
Other than a single letter drop to 100 in an area of 147 households affected by the closure, and three planning type notices in the local newspaper (which I missed) there has been no notification of the progress of the closure application.
Council's Community Consultation Framework states that during consultation "participants will receive feedback about inputs received".
I responded to what I thought was an informal "invitation to comment". I rang council to see whom to address the letter to. During this phone call, I was told there was plenty of time to respond if the application to close the laneway proceeded.
The next time I heard about the closure proposal, was in an article in the Centralian Advocate (Oct 20), which reported council's planned motion to close it, despite a recommendation from its own staff, Technical Services, to keep the laneway open due to a high level of objection to its closure.
But, it seems, aldermen made a Ôknee-jerk' decision upon hearing what has been described as a "highly emotional presentation" from the laneway closure applicant. The following week in a Technical Services Committee sitting, aldermen acknowledged that there was a need for an appropriate policy after the Darwin City laneway policy was sighted, but said they couldn't alter their decision.
This is not true, aldermen thankfully can rescind poor decisions (where would we be if they couldn't!).
I call upon aldermen to give a fair and balanced hearing to both sides of this laneway closure [debate], and to open dialogue about alternative strategies, such as erecting signs in parks and laneways, reminding people about noise levels, or investigating temporary closure.
The properties adjoining the laneway also adjoin the park. Maybe noise from normal park behaviour, like children kicking balls, kids laughing on playground equipment, is being mistaken for anti-social behaviour.
Council also needs to safeguard against the potential for false claims being made by closure applicants in pursuit of increasing the value and size of their property for financial gain. Though I am not implying that this has occurred in the Laver Crt application.
Finally, some recognition needs to made of the role of laneways in the original town planning, that is, providing pedestrian access in road locked suburbs. In Sadadeen, of the 13 laneways, six directly access parks. It's also been said they are a part of a one in 100 year flood drainage plan.
Let's look at as many alternatives as possible before we lose our lanes to the community forever. After all they are public land and are not council's to give away.
Natalie Clarke
Alice Springs
ED - The town council has agreed to review its laneway closure policy but, so far, have not rescinded their decision on the Laver Crt laneway closure.

Mixed message

Sir,- The ALP have adopted the CLP's approach to native title claims in spite of their policy of negotiation rather than litigation.
In the past 12 months the ALP has litigated in five cases challenging native title claims or the expansion of native title in the Territory.
The cases were:
¥ The Territory v Alyawarr, Kaytetye, Warumungu Wakaya Native Title Claim Group & Anor. This claim was an attempt to seek leave to appeal to the High Court to review conclusions of the Federal Court regarding the interpretation of native title.
¥ The ÔNewcastle Waters Matters', actually six separate matters. These (with one exception) represent the Ôpolygon claims'. These matters remain on foot.
¥ Griffith & Gulwin v NT. This matter reflects the three separate claims over the township of Timber Creek.
¥ The Larrakia People & Ors v NT of Australia and Ors. This is the native title claim over Darwin and the appeal will be contested by the Territory as well as the Federal Government.
¥ Johnny Jango v NT. This was the compensation claim lodged for loss of title at Yulara. The applicants have filed an appeal and the Territory is fighting the claim.
The Territory Government is demanding that people prove their claims against the Territory.
The CLP has always said this is good policy.
These matters must be discussed in Cabinet and it would be very interesting to know if the Aboriginal members in Cabinet, Marion Scrymgour and Elliot McAdam, agree with the decision to fight native title claims so vigorously.
It is distinctly possible that this approach is part of the reason there is so much internal discontent with the Chief Minister.
Jodeen Carney
Leader of the Opposition

Tired old stereotypes

Sir,- I wore a red ribbon on World Aids Day, Friday, December 1. Wearing a red ribbon is a sign that as a community, if we remain vigilant, we can stop the spread of HIV and end prejudice.
Around 22,000 Australians have been infected with HIV. People must be accepted on their merits and not discriminated against because of a medical condition.
The NT Anti-Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to treat people unfairly because of any impairment - including HIV/AIDS.
It is also against the law to ask people for information about their medical records that is irrelevant and intrusive.
On Monday, December 3 the commission celebrated the abilities of all Territorians on this International Day of Disabled Persons.
All Territorians have the right to full participation in their community, regardless of whether they experience a disability.
Approximately one in five Australians live with a disability. In the NT, this proportion is even higher, with more than one in three indigenous persons living with a disability.
As a community, we need to shift our focus onto a person's abilities and what people can do, and refrain from assumptions about what people can't do based on tired old disability stereotypes.
We know that there are times when people with a disability may need extra assistance in order to achieve full participation and to enjoy the same benefits and quality of life as everyone else.
For this reason the NT Anti Discrimination Act requires that we accommodate the special needs of people who are disadvantaged.
The Act also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person in the areas of work, accommodation, education, goods and services, clubs and insurance and superannuation on the basis of disability.
The NT Anti-Discrimination Commission offers t training packages. Territorians are invited to contact the expert and friendly staff at the commission for general information about discrimination issues, to confidentially discuss a complaint, or to obtain more information about training which can be tailor-made to suit all requirements.
FREECALL 1800 813 846.
Tony Fitzgerald
NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner

ADAM CONNELLY: One man's cult is another man's cringe.

Picture if you will the navy blue sky of a Saturday pre-dawn.
The stars and the moon still visible and prominent in the sky. Yet to the east, the horizon is stained with green and orange, foretelling the sunrise. It's cooler but not that cool. The birds' calls are yet to be drowned out by the noise of the everyday and the air is at its freshest.
A Saturday, pre-dawn in Alice Springs is a beautiful thing and something many of us don't see too often. In fact, on the odd occasion that we do see it, it generally means we are coming home from a far too large night and aren't really in the frame of mind to appreciate its pleasantness. Thoughts of sleep and kebabs rise highly in our appreciation rather than the vistas before us.
There are those people for whom the early hours of Saturday are a regular sight. Those who take Germans and Japanese on large busses need to wake early. Those who serve us the Friday night food and drinks make their way home at this time too.
But there are a small group of people who are just waking from a good night sleep at this time. In fact if you listen carefully you can hear them in the quiet. The shower running, the kettle boiling. You can hear this small group of people doing very everyday things. But these people are far from everyday.
They are about to leave their homes and wander the streets of our town. The streets where you live and raise your children. They wander for hours getting their fix. Welcome to the world of the lawn sale junkie.
The lawn sale seems perfectly innocuous. A family wanting to move, or thin out the junk room, figure they can make a buck or two by getting rid of some old mattresses and some daggy seventies crockery. They advertise in the appropriate media - a newspaper or the lawn saler's favourite, a light pole. Early on the Saturday morning these mum and dad operations place their wares across the lawn and then they sit behind the card table and wait.
With newspaper clippings in hand they come. Out of the shadows, from sedan and wagon sometimes with trailer in tow. These people who live off the bargain.
Buying other people's old stuff at a haggled price is the same as a gambler's high when the jackpot bells ring on the pokies. The same high as an adrenaline junkie who has just thrown themselves off a cliff or a bridge.
Woe betide anyone who stands between a person and their addiction.
I've never really understood the appeal to be perfectly honest. From a purely definitive point of view I find it difficult to get worked up about something called a lawn sale in a town so bereft of lawn.
The idea of waking up on a Saturday before I have to seems a bit wrong.
Dragging myself from Flynn Drive to Dalgetty Road via The Fairway to look at the crap other people have accumulated doesn't really get my heart pumping.
But I have been to lawn sales and they are fascinating viewing. People are so incredibly passionate about the bargain. They will elbow others out of the way in order to have a look at the old strip heater or more worryingly, the ÔLet's Swing Ô66' vinyl record.
The Alice's fascination with lawn sales is intense and unlike anything I've seen outside this postcode. Neighbours held a lawn sale recently and told me that in the first hour, between six and seven, they had sold over eight hundred dollars worth of crap. Eight hundred!
I relayed this information to another friend at a party and she told me that "the best ones are the American ones". The theory being that Americans don't want to ship anything back home with them so, as the annoying man in the TV commercial says, "it's all gotta go!".
I can't believe regular everyday folk have theories on lawn sale strategy. To me the idea of rifling through other people's stuff and then debating its worth, does not a pleasant Saturday morning make. But it's not like I'm going to tell people to stop. I've seen them throw small children by the wayside to get to a bargain, there's no way I'm getting in the way.


"You're 60 years old and you've never handled quail eggs!"
That could only be a chef talking. In fact it was Beat Keller (Keller's Swiss and Indian Restaurant) having a joke at Alfred Kastner's expense.
Alfred (the Austrian-born head chef at Bojangles) is a man of imposing size and moustache: he was gently and with utmost concentration sliding the eggs in their tiny dishes into the poaching stock and then retrieving them.
Beat, equally imposing in size and with a voice to match, joined him and silence fell. There were 75 eggs, not much bigger than their thumbnails, to be poached in double quick time.
Behind them Lynne Peterkin, former chairman of CATIA, multiple Brolga winner for her bed and breakfast establishment and freshly graduated chef, was scooping the eggs onto a Chinese soup spoon, lined with a mustard leaf. Jason Slink (first year apprentice at Bojangles) then drizzled the egg with truffle oil.
As each tray was completed, it was delivered to Hanuman's Jimmy Shu and assistants, who added the quail eggs to the entree plate, already adorned with three other delicacies, including Jimmy's delectable oyster in a lightly spiced custard.
The wait staff (Keller's and Hanuman's), under the guidance of maitre d' Helen Dixon (Keller's), then marched the entrees out the door.
Meanwhile, Kinman Lee (Keller's) was preparing potatoes for the marvelous mash that accompanied the main course of saddle of beef, itself slowly roasting in the giant oven.
Alex Brown, pastry chef for the occasion, had worked through the night on her desserts and petits fours, snatching just one hour's sleep at 2.30am. But still she managed a smile and a joke as she busily assisted wherever she was needed.
Outside in Hanuman's elegant dinning room 75 patrons of the Central Australian Food Group's gourmet Christmas luncheon completed the fine food experience, savouring flavours, enjoying good wine and each other's company.
They had parted with $150 a head to do so, an expensive meal, as Jimmy acknowledged, inviting them all in recompense "to gatecrash" Hanuman's own Christmas party the next day.
The money the food group raised will be used to fund their industry lobbying activities. And lobby they must to avert a future where fine food, cooked from fresh ingredients by someone who knows and loves what they are doing, will be a thing of the past.
Beat told patrons that a whole industry of pre-packaged food is waiting in the sidelines for this day; restaurants will become mere plating facilities.
The critical missing ingredient in the current industry is young people joining the ranks. With the apprentice chef dropout rate in the Territory at 73%, existing restaurants struggle to get staff and, if it is not turned around, restaurants as we know them will cease to exist in anything like their current number and range.
This looming threat has galvanised the food group into action. All of them gave their talents and labour freely to make this fund raiser happen, supported by their generous wait staff and sponsors.
Each of the senior chefs is the other's competitor in business and professionally, yet on Sunday an atmosphere of cooperation, mutual respect and good cheer reigned in Hanuman's kitchen.
While Jimmy had been maestro of the entrees, Beat took over for the plating of the main course.
The full complement of chefs lined up in front of the large trays containing each of the ingredients, kept warm over gas burners.
"You have four minutes," Helen announced, working off the running sheet that had been developed the night before, along with the table allocations, the duty roster and the kitchen plan.
Beat called for a sample plate. This was for the chefs to see what was to go where and for Helen to show to the wait staff, so that they in turn could answer patrons' questions.
Swiftly a sample plate was made to Beat's satisfaction and then the production line swung into action.
Alex served the mash, Jimmy the meat, Jackie Kerr the carrot, Lynne the beetroot and so on.
Beat served the wild mushroom sauce before it was topped it off with a sprig of fresh rosemary.
"Tell that Austrian to cut the meat properly!" he roared, again a joke at Alfred's expense. "We are in Aust-ral- ia, not Austria!"
The banter served mostly to keep the tempo up. Occasionally one person would have tongs in the air, waiting for the next, but it didn't last for more than a few seconds.
The whole 75 meals were served in 19 minutes (Jimmy watched the clock).
This was a human precision instrument at work, with professional training at a premium - these chefs don't normally work together but they know exactly how to do it when required.
A rare pleasure to watch and a proud tradition to belong to.


When Clifford Rankin entered prison at 18 years of age, six years ago, he couldn't read.
Last Thursday at the Alice Springs Correctional Centre he stood in front of a crowd of 50 or so, including in the front row Minister for Justice Syd Stirling, and in a calm, clear voice read a statement about petrol sniffing, his "personal view".
"I couldn't believe I could read in front of everyone I didn't know," Clifford told the Alice News.
He left high school, in Katherine, at age 17. He remembers school as a time when he was angry: "You all better than me."
He didn't sniff himself but did get into serious trouble which landed him in gaol.
He decided to change, and one part of that was to prove to himself that he could read and write.
"Leni [Shilton] helped me. She's a lovely teacher. She told me I could do it. She believed in me and I believed in myself.
"A couple of years later and I could read and write."
Clifford is up for parole in the middle of next year.
"I'm planning what I'm going to do, where I'm going to stay. I'll try to get a job on a cattle station.
"I'm looking forward to supporting myself, I need money, I need a house.
"I'll see my daughter. She's 11 now. I've been in gaol most of her life."
He writes with a message: "I believe Aboriginal people can live for a very long time if they get rid of the petrol problem because it is destroying our culture ...
"I know and understand the government is trying to help but I feel they need to do more than just talk."
Mr Stirling said he got the message. He said he would make sure the government would do more than just talk.
Clifford told the News he wants young people to make sure they do "a lot of education, sport, something with their life".
"Don't go on the wrong track.
"Stay out of grog and petrol sniffing.
"And love each other, love the persons around you, people will love you if you change. If you don't, you're stuffed, you will drown in sorrow."
The occasion was the launch of a booklet titled Behind These Walls, authored by students of the creative writing course run at the prison. Under the guidance of teacher Leni Shilton, through publishing and broadcast opportunities, audio presentations and competition entries, the students are getting their stories, poems and plays out there - "beyond these walls", as Leni said.
Simon Smith has already come to the attention of a wider audience with his story ÔI lost it all', a harrowing account of violence done to him because he was young, black and getting Ôabove his station'. The vicious assault sent him spiralling down into a desperate decade of drugs and crime.
The story was presented as an audio performance during the 2005 Alice Desert festival; was published in the Alice News in January this year, and has since been broadcast on ABC Radio National.
ÔGrandpop's lighter', included in Behind These Walls, shows Simon's story-telling skill in a lighter vein: it's colourful, crass, funny, with a strong voice. Little wonder that his talent has been recognised by the NT Writers Centre, who have offered him a mentorship with novelist Philip McLaren.
Meanwhile, Simon has been out of gaol on parole which he breached by "smoking some ganja".
"I was naive enough to think it wouldn't matter," he told the News.
Now he must serve his full term.
"I didn't expect six years but I deserved it," he said.
"I needed this time, it was the only option other than to die by all the drugs."
He's relieved that while he was on parole he got to see "the oldies" - "the grandparents who raised me up".
The News asked him about support he received while on parole.
He said his parole officer was on holidays.
His parole conditions placed him in Tennant Creek where he couldn't get work other than CDEP. There was work available out bush - road maintenance, fencing - but he wasn't allowed to leave town.
He did CDEP four hours a day and then was confronted by the drinking culture, something his parole conditions obviously forbade.
"The only thing to do in Tennant was to drink. Everywhere I turned - mates, family - that was all everyone was doing."
He suffered anxiety attacks: "It was all too much after being inside."
There was some help available from the Aboriginal health service, Anyinginyi Congress, but, Simon said, they were always busy and he didn't want to "make a nuisance" of himself.
Back inside with 11 months to go he's got a pretty full program: working towards a collection of short stories, working on a novel titled The White Butterfly Curse. It's "a mix of old and new" drawing on Aboriginal and Islander traditions which he learnt as a kid moving around Queensland.
He's also studying a certificate course in business, knowing that "it's hard to get a job when you come out from prison".
Having done his full term, there will be no conditions when he is next released. He'll be free to choose where to live.
He also feels that "being Aboriginal" there's a lot of help in larger centres: "I'm going to use this advantage," he said.
He'd written a few songs before prison, but "it took the cells" to discover how much he liked writing.
"I got to know myself, there are no masks in a cell. I had to face reality. It took me one and a half years."
He also pays tribute to Leni: "She fine tuned that writing, she's always positive.
"There's a whole new world in writing, nothing can hold you back, no barriers unless you are trying to write the truth. But with fiction you're absolutely free."
All of the prisoners the News spoke to had stories of transformation to tell.
Frenchman David [Surname removed on request] said he felt prison had made him a better man: "It's made me more patient with myself and given me a sense of community.
"You have no choice, you have to share a dormitory, which was a challenge for me because I like to be by myself.
"I had to learn to mix with everyone.
"I learnt a bit about Aboriginal culture."
David came to Australia as a tourist. He thought he might he might get a glimpse of Aboriginal people "in the bush with spears - a tourist thing". He was certainly not counting on a spell in prison as a way of developing his awareness.
How did it happen? A "stupid mistake" made when he was very drunk. It cost him two years of his young life, six months on bail, and 18 months inside. He has three left to serve.
"This is one of the best prisons," he said. "There are no gangs. It could have been a lot worse."
But on the whole life in gaol is "very boring, frustrating and hard when you think about the outside, but you try to make the best of it".
David has taken the opportunity to improve his English, to draw, read (he was not a reader before his time on bail), learn to play the guitar, learn to weld.
And he feels fit - from eating a balanced diet, not smoking, not drinking.
On his release he will be deported immediately: "I want to get on with my life, earn some money, travel some more. I won't forget this experience but I want to put it aside."
He's learnt the importance of one day: as he writes in his poem of that title, "One day can be one life / One day carries one's hope / One day to make it through / One day was already too much / One day to judge a man".
East Timor-born Nelio Serra, who together with Leni is credited with the editing and production of Behind These Walls, has completed Certificate III in creative writing and is about to start Certificate IV, which will qualify him to tutor the course himself.
He's also completed 20 other modules of study since he's been inside, serving a seven and a half year sentence.
He's got 10 months to go and said he's determined to keep going with Certificate Four, a two year course, once he's released.
He told the News his son, born after he was gaoled, has given him inspiration, "a different outlook on life".
He's written three "poetry novels" under the title The Thought of a Ruffian for his son. They explain "this six year period of my life and his life". Together with a CD titled The Ruffian's Gospel, Nelio wants to enclose the books in a glass frame, that his son can open up when he's older, "if he wants to".
Behind These Walls includes a play jointly written by Nelio and Simon Smith. Called Conscience, it shows a prisoner wrestling the devil (of blaming everyone else) and the angel (of accepting the consequences of your choices).
It is transparently autobiographical and Nelio is clearly still engaged in the fight: he told the News that he found his sentence "pretty excessive, not justice".
His alter ego in the play, Julius, similarly is baffled by his "fate": "Now who would have thought after so many years / That the chapter of my life would end up like this / from a child with dreams to the man with the criminal career ... The world to me still seems a mysterious place/ walk the road of uncertainty and follow my destiny".
The end of the play prefigures Julius' demise on an unsettling note: "Let me depart with defiance and glory / Unforgiven or not / Hated or loved / It was my life ... my choices ... my story".
Launching Behind These Walls, Trish van Dijk, an official visitor at the prison and a former teacher there, spoke of the value of creative expression in understanding one another's experience. The experiences of the prisoners are hard and complex. Their writing shows a number of the men grappling with prison life and what has led them there. But there are also flights of imagination that make a bid for, as one of them, Anthony Jarc, puts it, "a certain kind of freedom".
Interested readers will be able to find a copy of Behind These Walls at the town library.


Sausages and condomsÉ sounds like a romantic evening with the missus, right?
Well no, in fact, they were part of the Youth Outloud for World Aids Day festival last Friday night on the Uniting Church lawns, Todd Mall.
And there was quite a turn out, despite the freak storm that afternoon.
Because the event was aimed particularly at Indigenous youth, it was appropriate for young Indigenous performance group Drum Atweme to kick off the night with their energetic drum beats.
To follow up their successful gig alongside Hilltop Hoods, local hip hop act Groove Cartel (formerly known as Crossfader Crusaders) set the mood with rhymes relevant to issues faced by Central Australian youth - "as old mates I led astray / we're still waiting for better days".
As the sky grew darker and the barbeque got frying, the inflated condoms draped around the place took on an eerie glow, and if the message was not yet clear, it was soon to be when Condom-Woman made her entry.
Dressed in a purple condom ring top-hat and a multi-coloured/flavoured condom-made frock with a drooping condom frill - combining wearable art and HIV Aids awareness - Condom-Woman far surpassed Condom-Man in condom-fashion sophistication.
Between acts, quiz questions were asked for giveaway show bags, but with questions such as "Can wearing a condom stop you from getting pregnant?" they weren't mind benders.
"We just wanted to have a big youth event to get the kids down and have some fun," said event coordinator, Nick Butera.
"I think we've given away lots of prizes, had lots of fun and raised plenty of awareness."
There was generally a positive reaction by the youth to the event. Whether it was the free food and giveaways or a genuine interest in the event I don't know, but there seemed to be real understanding and enthusiasm for the gathering and questions such as "True or false, STI stands for sexually transmitted infection?" were answered with easeÉ
It was particularly good to see Imparja news host Ryan Liddle go down to the church lawns to draw the raffle and support this awareness campaign. Being an Indigenous man himself, it was great for youth to have someone to look up to in that situation and in a small town like Alice Springs, awareness and understanding is best taught by example.


The ochre coloured coping tiles at the town pool's water level (pictured at right) are not rounded on the edge beneath the water and are causing people to cut themselves.
"There have been heaps of cuts," says Kim Donovan, president of the Alice Springs Swimming Club. "The tiler was meant to fix it before the Masters Games."
Mrs Donovan said there are also "huge sections" of broken tiles that "could cut a little kid's finger off". She says pool management and the town council are completely aware of the problems.
"We have been trying to go through the right channels," says Mrs Donovan, "but we've got our big carnival this weekend, with 50 kids from all over the Territory coming in. It's scary. Everyone knows about it and nothing is getting done."
Mrs Donovan also says the brand new lane ropes have been breaking.
"Two have snapped and the others are causing lots of cuts. Everything seems to have been done on the cheap."
Responding to enquiries from the Alice News Mayor Fran Kilgariff said: "All sharp edges as far as we know were fixed and tiles replaced before the Masters. There is one tile that has fallen off in the last three days and we have got the contractor onto it.
"New poolropes were provided to the YMCA before the Masters and the pool manager has confirmed that all of them are operational."
However Sam Dalby, parent of swimming club members and vice-president of Swimming NT, told the News on Tuesday that the sharp tiles have definitely not been fixed and that last week one of the club members had cut her foot on one of the edges. She also said that "certainly last week one of the ropes had snapped and bits were fraying off others causing cuts".

Back to frontpage the Alice Springs News.