Alice Springs News, December 14, 2006
ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
December 14, 2006. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
THIRD CANDIDATE FOR MAYOR: ORDER TOPS AGENDA . By ERWIN CHLANDA.
Bojangles Saloon publican Chris Vaughan says he's been asked to seek election as mayor - and he's thinking about it.
He gained prominence recently as an advocate for CCTV cameras in the mall, an issue that put him head-on with Mayor Fran Kilgariff.
"She wants to nitpick over a $200,000 initiative," says Mr Vaughan.
"She had no trouble spending $11m on that Taj Mahal of council offices, or probably more, once all the bugs are ironed out," says Mr Vaughan (pictured).
He says the final cost could well be close to $15m.
Last week, during the council's Christmas party, guests were sweltering in one of the two function areas as the air conditioning system malfunctioned. People had their shirts stuck to their backs and had to seek relief from the heat in the outside courtyard.
CEO Rex Mooney says there is "an issue" with the chiller.
It may require calibrating.
"It is acknowledged that there is a problem," says Mr Mooney.
"It is an innovative system."
He says the cost of the air conditioning system was $1.165m.
Although the next council elections are more than a year away, in March 2008, two other prominent locals have already signaled their interest in the top council job: Aldermen Murray Stewart and David Koch.
Ms Kilgariff stood as a Labor Party candidate in the last Territory election, in the seat of Greatorex, held by Richard Lim for the CLP.
When asked recently by the Alice News whether she still had ambitions to enter the Legislative Assembly, she said she had not made up her mind.
The next NT election must be held between June 28, 2008 and June 27, 2009.
Dr Lim won't comment on whether or not he will see out his term or seek re-election.
"It's too far away," he says.
Mr Vaughan says he won't be campaigning for the mayor's job: "If people like what I do, they can vote for me.
"I like the community, I work for the community.
"I love the town. It needs fresh blood.
"Individuals can make a difference - why not take it further?"
Mr Vaughan says he's been asked to stand by a prominent business person and - "I hate to say" - a sitting council member.
He says: "There is inactivity, a lack of decision-making capacity.
"The council is a business. We need it to be run as a business, then do the business."
MASS BRAWL: NO CHARGES . By ERWIN CHLANDA.
No charges were laid nor arrests made after a brawl involving a crowd estimated by police at 50 people in Parsons Street at 10am on Monday.
"No-one was arrested becasuse they obeyed police directions to move on," says a police spokeswoman.
The fight is understood to be an escalation of a feud between families from Willowra.
The spokeswoman says Tangentyere Council has been asked to mediate between the factions.
Meanwhile police are neither confirming nor denying Opposition claims that far from increasing, the numbers of cops "on the beat, on the street" are actually falling in Alice Springs.
A spokesman for Jodeen Carney says the establishment numbers for constable and above in the general duty section has dropped from 101 in 2001 to 93 now.
And positions actually filled dropped from 87 to 83 in Alice Springs during that period.
The spokesman says the information comes from a leaked document.
Ms Carney says: "Despite all the distraction and fury in Parliament ... the Government failed to refute the veracity of the figures presented.
"The Government had seven hours to prepare a fact sheet detailing police ‘on the beat' in the Territory now, compared to five years ago.
"They did not."
Meanwhile the spokesman says 3491 drunks were locked up in Alice Springs in 1999-2000.
By 2005-2006 that figure had more than doubled to 7698.
YIPIRINYA TEACHER ACCUSED OF BULLYING HIS COLLEAGUES . By KIERAN FINNANE.
The Independent Education Union is calling for stronger government support in the running of Yipirinya School in Alice Springs, following the failure of the principal and school council to act on claims by a number of staff members of harassment and bullying at the hands of a fellow employee.
The union in particular wants professional development support of the chairman and school council members in areas of governance, accountability and their legislative responsibilities as employers.
"Yipirinya is a significant school," says Lynne Rolley, the IEU's Federal Secretary.
"This breakdown of relationship between the school council and staff keeps happening, with the consequence that the school falls into dire straits."
At present, the dispute is before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, which earlier this year saw a Board of Reference investigate the claims.
The union, represented on the board, recently distributed the board's report to the media.
School principal Ken Langford-Smith, whose management of certain matters is criticised in the report, says the union should not have released the report.
Mr Langford-Smith says he is "unable to answer media questions while the matter is still confidential and in process".
"The [Industrial Relations] commissioner has told us we must not speak to the media."
He mentioned the existence of a second report, not released by the union.
Ms Rolley says the second report was written by the school's representative on the board and expresses a minority view: "It denies that there has been bullying," she says.
The Board of Reference received oral submissions at two hearings in Alice Springs in September and also received written submissions, in all hearing from 15 union members employed at the school.
Says the board's report: "Each person who provided statements to the board stated that they were doing so in fear of retribution by either or both the council and the principal ... for their actions, citing specific situations which supported their fears."
The report says the "main thread of all statements" was that "their treatment by, and unprofessional behaviour from one of the other employees at the school ... was almost solely the basis of the problems they were experiencing".
"Added to this were their allegations that the principal, when informed of such behaviour, and as required by school policy and the EBA, did nothing to resolve the matters, but invariably made excuses for his son's actions and behaviour.
"This indicated that the principal may not understand the conflict of interest he must deal with as a manager, in addressing complaints raised about his son, an employee at the school."
Members of the school council attended in number at the board's first hearing, with noticeably fewer attending the second time.
Says the report of the second hearing: "There was noticeable agitation amongst council members in attendance ... All allegations of bullying or harassment were met with absolute denial, and a call for the union members to follow the [school's internal] process, as if that would resolve all issues."
The report also says: "From the initial lodgement of the claim by the union, the position of the council and the principal has stridently been that the union and its members have failed to follow proper procedures.
"During the hearing on September 28, the chairman [Davie Inkamala] advised the board that all this (action) should not be taking place, and that the school should be able to sort things out according to the terms of the [Enterprise Bargaining] Agreement, and if that failed to settle the matters, then they should be able to sort things out ‘the Aboriginal way'.
"Whilst this may be satisfactory to the council, there remains doubt whether matters that are legitimately raised with the principal and the council are acted upon in accordance with the Agreement, as stated before, so that teaching staff do not believe that their complaints and allegations are treated with appropriate action."
There are currently two members of Yipirinya's staff on workers compensation "as a result of difficulties experienced at the school".
The report says the teaching qualifications of the person accused of bullying have been the subject of "recurring complaints raised by most who gave evidence".
He was given interim registration by the NT Teacher Registration Board "but failed to gain the requirements of full registration, and has had his registration withdrawn".
"The principal, when questioned about the allegation regarding his son's qualifications, responded that in his opinion, dedication to the job and being able to get on with the students was of more importance than professional qualifications. A piece of paper is meaningless - it's experience that counts."
Says Ms Rolley: "Kids at Yipirinya are entitled to have properly qualified, registered teachers.
"I understand that [the unregistered teacher] is still working at the school, presumably not in a teaching position."
One of the teachers on workers compensation was on a return to work program at the Alice Springs campus of Batchelor Institute.
According to the report, the principal of Yipirinya telephoned the teacher's manager and indicated that if she were to lead a workshop on which three Yipirinya teacher assistants were booked to attend, he would prevent them from attending because he believed that the teacher would speak to them against Yipirinya.
Says the report: "It is noted that this certainly indicates harassment, which is not acknowledged by the principal nor the council, and is arguably unlawful, breaching NT Worksafe legislation, Industrial Relations legislation, and also the Yipirinya Certified Agreement."
The board recommended that the school council commit to resolving all current issues "including all allegations of bullying and harassment", commit to a review of the school's policies relating to grievances with and between staff, and commit to implement a return to work program for the two teachers on workers compensation leave.
The board's recommendations are now with the commission for its consideration.
Says Ms Rolley: "It is a very skilled job running a school and a lot of accountability is required.
"The chairman and school council need more support, more professional development around governance issues, employment relations, and compliance with legislation."
Ms Rolley says, following the last industrial dispute at Yipirinya in 2002, a reference group was set up to offer guidance to the school council. It consisted of a representative from DEST, the principal of Yirara College and Beth Mildred from the Chamber of Commerce.
Ms Rolley says she understands the group has not been able to work with the council for over a year.
"We think there should be a rejuvenation of that body or something like it and that it should have regular contact with the council.
"We have no confidence at all in this principal giving wise advice and leadership to the council."
Ms Rolley also criticises NT Worksafe.
She says when Worksafe staff visited the school they spoke only to the principal.
She said only when the Ombudsman got involved did one union member receive a reply from Worksafe to her letter of several months earlier.
"That's not good enough," says Ms Rolley.
Worksafe director Neil Watson says staff in the Alice Springs office met with teachers on a number of occasions and subsequently with the principal and school council.
They decided the matters were primarily industrial relations matters. Mr Watson says the then director of Worksafe also met with the union and advised them of their findings at that time.
[The photo on this page is from our archive because the school did not allow us to take photos this week.]
NEW FREIGHT DEALS MAY BRIGHTEN RAIL FORTUNES. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
FreightLink, the cargo carriers on the Adelaide to Darwin railway line, has not yet paid back any of the investment in it but is confident of being able to restructure its debt in the future.
CEO John Fullerton says he "expects" that operating profits will double from $10m in 2005-06 to $20m in 2006-07, in part due to hauling manganese to Darwin this year from the Bootu Creek mine on Banka Banka Station, north of Tennant Creek and 50 km east of the line.
Other factors will be the continuing growth of the container business, and carriage of bulk fuels, he says.
Mr Fullerton says these profit figures are before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization.
He says the current debt figure of about $400m includes "a whole lot of internal charges between various companies of our business, and they don't reflect the operation".
The company's debt has remained unchanged since the start of the operations in January 2004, and results from the way the railway construction was financed.
FreightLink is the operating arm of the Asia Pacific Transport Consortium, which built the line from Alice to Darwin, and which includes the British group Barclay Mowlem, Australia's John Holland and the US defense contractor, Halliburton.
The consortium paid more than half of the cost. The remainder came from the Territory, SA and Federal governments.
FreightLink recently failed to sell a majority shareholding for $360m and Mr Fullerton says it is now "finalizing funding arrangements which will enable the company to continue its business ramp up over the next few years, an alternative strategy involving the existing shareholders and debt financiers".
In April 2003, Trevor Tennant, managing director of Bootu Creek Resources, said his mining project would not be feasible without the railway.
By road the tonne per kilometer cost would be seven to eight cents, while rail freight would be one third to one quarter of that, "depending on final discussions".
Mr Fullerton says a five year contract with Bootu Creek is in place for the haulage of about 500,000 tonnes a year.
The cost is "commercial in confidence".
The manganese is for ferro alloy production to be used in the steel industry in East Asia, including China.
Mr Tennant said in 2003 that a conservative estimate of production is 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes a year, with a 20 year life expectancy for the mine.
And Mr Fullerton says FreightLink will commence haulage for Territory Iron at Frances Creek in mid 2007, as well as other mining ventures. He says in the year ending June 2006 FreightLink carried 663,000 tonnes and has carried over 1.7 million tonnes since services commenced in January 2004.
"It is expected that the tonnes carried by the railway for financial year ending June 2007 will be nearly double the tonnes carried the previous year," says Mr Fullerton.
He would not say when FreightLink would restructure its debt except "it is likely that after a couple of years of ramping up the business we'll refinance under more traditional debt arrangements".
ANSWERS SOON ON LOCAL GOVT. REFORM AND SECOND AIRLINE .
More will be known soon about local government amalgamations and the prospect of a second airline for Alice Springs, Alderman Samih Habib reported to council on Monday, following his recent trip to Darwin to attend meetings on both issues.
He said the Department of Local Government was inundated with 172 questions from representatives of local governments from around the Territory, with answers expected later this week.
He said the amalgamation will happen "whether we like it or not" and advised council to start "doing our homework", including deciding on "which communities we want to take".
On the airline issue, Ald Habib said "it looks good - very positive". He said Virgin Blue is under new management and the government is "pushing hard to get it back to the Centre".
Other regional airlines are also "sniffing around".
"By the end of January we will know," said Ald Habib.
TANAMI HIGHWAY WORK .
Contractors have started works to repair and re-gravel sections of the Tanami Highway as part of a $3 million package being spent this year on the road link.
Minister for Transport, Delia Lawrie, said the recent awarding of another road works contract for the Tanami builds on a number of other maintenance projects underway.
"Local company, Gilbert Earthmoving Pty Ltd, has just commenced work to deliver a $640,000 repair contract to upgrade identified problem areas including pavement lifting and re-gravelling," said Ms Lawrie.
The section is north west of Tilmouth Well from the 170 km mark to the 218 km mark.
Ms Lawrie said work will also commence shortly on a $260,000 project to re-seal a section of the Tanami.
Additionally, flood damage repairs to the value of $1.09 million between the Lajamanu and the Western Australian border that commenced in March are almost complete.
As part of the Tanami works package, almost $1.08 million has also been spent so far this year on general grading maintenance and road shoulder repairs.
Ms Lawrie said the Territory Government is also talking with the mining industry and the Commonwealth about a long-term approach for the Tanami Highway.
CENTRE SEEDS DEALS IN GLOBAL MARKETS . By KIERAN FINNANE.
"Selling a product in Europe that no one's ever heard of, from a country in Africa no one's ever heard of, and orchestrating this from a small town in the middle of Australia - it's a tall ask.
"It will be a niche product but it might just go better than people think."
The product is seed from Australian acacia trees, part of the traditional diet of Australian Aborigines. The trees are now growing prolifically in parts of Africa, planted to rehabilate eroded landscapes but also, because of their highly nutritious seed, to help guard against famine.
The business plan is to sell the seed harvested by poor farmers in the Maradi district of southern Niger and it's the brainchild of tireless bushfoods promoter, Peter Yates.
It's well known that Mr Yates has been working energetically in Central Australia to promote the wild harvest of wattleseed and bush tomatoes by Aboriginal people in communities to the north of Alice Springs and to on-sell it to food processors.
At the same time he has also been developing value-added products like wattleseed dukkah and the wattleseed dessert syrup now manufactured by the Sydney-based dessert manufacturer Serendipity.
His African connection is less well known.
At an acacia symposium in Western Australia in 2002 Mr Yates met World Vision's Anthony Rinaudo who had outlined both the potential of Australian acacias in combating hunger in semi-arid lands and the resistance to them he was encountering in Niger.
When Mr Rinaudo arrived in the Maradi district more than two decades ago there were very few trees of any sort left.
Most of the local people depended on the land for their livelihood. Not only was the land degraded but the climate was and is extremely difficult: an eight month dry season, and a four month wet season during which it may or may not rain.
All economic activity was focussed on farmers getting their millet crop in, cultivating and harvesting it in a climate that was not totally suitable for that crop.
Even if they received the right amount of rainfall they might not get it in the right distribution, risking losing everything and going hungry.
In 1988 farmers had to replant their millet crops five to eight times due to drought, windstorms (exacerbated by deforestation) and pests.
Cash crops such as cotton and peanuts had been introduced over the decades, but it was difficult to maintain distant markets from the landlocked West African country.
It was also more and more difficult to grow those crops, as the climate seemed to be changing.
Mr Rinaudo's approach was to "start with the environment they had and to match crops to the environment", rather than the other way round.
"We tried to diversify as much as possible," Mr Rinaudo told the Alice News at the recent Desert Knowledge Symposium.
"We put in annuals as well as perennials, cash crops as well as food crops, so that in any one year, whatever the shock to the system - locusts, drought - the farmers wouldn't lose everything."
The project pushed forward on two main fronts: the regeneration of native vegetation and the promotion of Australian acacias as a food source.
Revegetation would prevent crops from getting sand blasted and buried by extremely strong winds. The trees also provided people with something to fall back on if the crop failed: firewood to sell, and a habitat for wildlife which could be hunted to feed their families.
It was known that Australian Aborigines had traditionally eaten Acacia seeds.
"We were looking for a perennial crop to compliment millet; a crop that was drought hardy and produced storable seed that was extremely nutritious.
"Acacias fit all those requirements.
"They also stand up to savage pruning to produce mulch, which has doubled the millet crop yield.
"And they produce seed in the height of the dry season when nothing else is producing."
Originally seed was imported from Central Australia but as the trees are such prolific seeders, there is no longer a need to import.
Despite the propagation success, Maradi farmers have been slow to commit to them.
There are a number of reasons why, including the relatively short life span (5 to 10 years) of the species that is the most successful in the district, Acacia colei, necessitating replanting every five to seven years.
Another blockage in the minds of some Nigeriens is that acacia seeds are not part of the mainstream diet in Australia.
This is where the Australian bush foods industry could contribute to a change of perceptions, but that could take time.
So Mr Yates suggested rather that if the Nigerien farmers could sell the seeds as a cash crop that might give them the impetus to grow them. They could use the money to buy the food they wanted to eat.
Says Mr Yates: "Famine in Africa is mostly not because of a shortage of food but because of a shortage of cash to buy food.
"With each millet harvest in Maradi trucks from Nigeria come across the border and buy all the millet they can get their hands on. Farmers keen to make money sell more than they should.
"Then when supplies run short the trucks return to sell to the starving farmers the millet they grew, for three times the price they sold it for."
Mr Yates' idea, building on the growing success in Australia of wattleseed products, was to try to develop international markets for acacia seed grown in Africa, as an ingredient to add flavour and nutrition to bread.
Together with Jock Morse, Penny Worland, Geoff Harris and later Don Blesing, he set up Kalkardi as a business which would buy the seed from African farmers and market it into Europe and North America.
From the outset, there was no intention to import into Australia because Aboriginal livelihoods could be affected.
"Instead we are trying to open up new markets.
"The plan is to produce a Fair Trade brand by getting someone in Europe to produce a bread containing 5 to 8% wattle seed.
"There are Fair Trade lines of coffee and chocolate, but with bread people could make a ‘daily difference'.
"We've been working away at that for about three years now, trying to find a partner in the UK, Europe or North America with the vision and ability to make things happen.
With or without the backing of institutions, this is desert knowledge at work.
Says Mr Yates: "There are half a dozen people in Australia who could have come up with this idea.
"It depends on knowing the acacia species and what can be done with the seed and knowing what has been done with the species in Africa.
"So few people could have lined up all these ducks.
"It's specialist Australian desert knowledge that we are trying to apply."
Mr Yates has also looked at the possibility of adding carbon sequestration to the income streams of farmers growing acacias in Africa.
The constraints come from farm size and having to deal with multiple stakeholders, not only farmers but people who have customary rights to the land for seasonal grazing and firewood collection, for example.
Dealing with a high number of stakeholders makes the transaction costs high.
Economic viability would depend on dealing with a single stakeholder per 60,000 hectares, whereas in Maradi across 60,000 ha there would be in the order of 10,000 stakeholders.
Another problem is lack of security for the investment.
Says Mr Yates: "If you buy a tree from me, you have to know it won't get chopped down. Achieving that in Africa is not easy."
He also says the complexity of the World Bank's Clean Development Mechansim is an obstacle.
"And in principle they were supposed to fund carbon trading projects in developing countries, like forestry, land use change, fuel switching from fossil to renewables.
"But in practice they have concentrated on emission reduction through improved technology in India and China."
What about the potential of carbon trading for Australian semi-arid lands?
Mr Yates says there is almost no hope of forestry projects in central and northern Australia being able to participate in carbon trading, mainly because the agreements have to apply to land cleared prior to 1990. And another major obstacle is Australia's failure to sign the Kyoto Protocol.
But he suggests there may be possibilities of negotiating carbon trading agreements with landholders who control fire on their land.
"We assume mulgas are big storers of carbon.
"Research needs to be done on whether the traditional fire management of land in the Centre through mosaic burning would have significantly lower emissions of carbon compared to the periodic wildfires that we see burning across our vast landscapes.
"If so, that could provide livelihoods for a lot of Aboriginal people."
The News also asked Mr Rinaudo if drought-stricken Australia is ignoring the lessons of its own backyard while they're being applied in Africa?
He agreed that Australian farmers are often growing crops not suitable for the marginal environments they are in, while there is "a cornucopia of indigenous species with high protein and high carbohydrate that thrive under those conditions".
He said that until very recently in Australia, just as in the developing world, drought was widely considered an unusual "natural disaster", and Australian farmers and pastoralists routinely expected the government to provide them with subsidies to tide them over exceptional drought periods.
He said this view of drought has now been displaced in official policy by the much more realistic idea that drought in Australia is not exceptional, but normal, and farmers are being encouraged to work with the environment, not against it.
VAN HAAREN SEES RED OVER INTERFERENCE BY OFFICERS . By KIERAN FINNANE.
Alderman Melanie van Haaren expressed her anger at Monday's council meeting that the decision to close the Laver Court laneway had apparently been overturned without any consultation with aldermen.
The first she and other aldermen knew of the closure not proceeding was when constituents told them or they read of it in last Friday's Advocate.
CEO Rex Mooney says the closure has been deferred until February "in view of technical advice from DIPE [Department of Infrastructure]".
This advice concerns the role the laneway may or may not have in stormwater drainage.
Ald van Haaren described this advice as "highly convenient", coming when council had been exposed to strong lobbying.
She said she had a "strong objection" to council being "left out of the loop": "It makes a mockery of the process."
She said aldermen should have been consulted by email or asked to attend an extraordinary meeting.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff explained that Minister for Local Government Elliott McAdam had pointed out last Thursday that the council may not have followed the right process in its decision on the closure.
"All the more reason to get together," replied Ald van Haaren.
She moved that a report be made on the decision to close the Laver Court Laneway and on its implications.The motion was carried.
Earlier the council had heard a number of questions from residents in the Laver Court area.
One concerned the number of residents reported as agreeing with the closure: 15 as opposed to seven objecting.
Did those figures represent households or individuals? asked the resident.
Individuals, advised council's Paul Barreau. In other words, in some cases more than one from the same household.
Other questions were taken on notice.
ALDERMEN SAY NO TO MUZZLE, TACKLE HARD TASKS TOGETHER . By ERWIN CHLANDA
Aldermen on Monday night stuck to their guns of speaking to the media whenever they want to, regardless of any council "media policy".
But according to an insider, far from launching into bunfight during the confidential section of the council meeting, aldermen agreed that openness is better than secrecy.
There were no new attempts to muzzle the elected members, says the insider.
"Increasingly, differences and our fairly diverse ideological backgrounds are being respected," says the insider.
"This creates tension as well as a powerful nexus.
"A lot of decisions lately are landmark decisions, the dry town package, for example, CCTV in the mall, closure of Laver Court, law and order, reduction of substance abuse, despite hesitancy in the take-up of [non-sniffable] Opal fuel."
Although tension between aldermen may at times bubble over into the media, "we are getting more generous in our diversity of opinion, and regard it as strength not weakness.
"This will have long term implications for Alice Springs."
Past attempts to enforce rules about statements to the media have fallen flat.
"Aldermen can speak in their own right.
"Each one of us will state our own opinion, regardless of any media policy.
"Far from fracturing the council, it's become dynamic, buoyant, action oriented.
"Important issues are driving consensus."
The insider says votes have shifted from the early 50-50 trend to eight to two, "and the two are usually different people.
"We have respect for each other. We capitalize on diversity.
"We have the runs on the board.
"The debate about the media policy has brought out the best and the worst in us.
"There is no push for silence and secrecy," says the insider.
"We're rebellious in our communication with the media.
"You need to get your opinion out there or you are swamped."
YOUNG (MOSTLY) FILM MAKERS GOING APE . By KIERAN FINNANE.
A bunch of student films, even the best of - an endurance test, right? Actually, it was a mostly entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking program and, in a couple of instances, I imagine the foundations of future careers in film-making have been laid.
The evening, Ape TV's Golden Gorilla Awards, was presented on the rooftop at The Lane last Wednesday.
The choice of venue was a good sign: the name of the game was engaging an audience, not only signing off on the scholastic year.
The films came from Year 12 students at Centralian College and Certificate III students at Charles Darwin University, trained by Ronny Reinhard and Ashley Hall.
Both men cropped up in roles on and off camera and the credit rolls on the different films testified to the highly cooperative endeavour by all involved in the courses.
Year 12 students James Flattum and Ronja Moss were singled out for their efforts in this regard, sharing the best media student award, with Flattum excelling in special effects on a number of films (of the boom-boom, rat-a-tat-tat kind) and Moss in acting.
Moss was awarded best film and best screenplay (Year 12) for her confronting short drama about incest, The Beast . In just under 10 minutes she painted a quite subtle picture of a family traumatised by the father's abuse of first his older daughter and then the younger, the narrator of the film.
Moss and Biddy O'Loughlin, playing the sisters, were both excellent and Moss' script and direction throughout were sophisticated beyond her years.
The longest film of the program and the one that yielded the most laughs came from O'Loughlin (Cert III), earning her a mini gorilla - a Monkey of Merit. Titled Thespians , it was an engaging, well-observed satirical look at a youth drama group in the hands of a failed actor suffering from delusions of grandeur and an adult committee more concerned with cleaning than creativity.
Certificate III student Kay Hartley made a black comedy, Daphne's Family , about a monster in the mask of a sweet old lady. This film, which won best screenplay (Cert III), had an aesthetic coherence, paying attention to colour, light, set and costume, that some of the other films lacked.
Coherence was also a strength of Reflections of Life  by David Drummond. His story idea, about a man's self-deception, was matched by his treatment of the image - the subject always seen in reflection, whether in other people's reactions to him or in actual reflective surfaces.
Drummond's character experiences rejection, which he tries to cover with bravado. Drummond's actor Eben Edwards plays a similar character in his own film, Love Hurts, but the rejection has more dire consequences.
In his promo film for Ape TV, Edwards again has this young man on the outer of social expectations - running a mile from his own wedding - while in Karma by Adhi Wisatabuja a young man discovers that he can't run away from his mistakes. This ensemble of vulnerable male characters was in interesting contrast to the hooded terrorists that blast their way through Whiskey Tango Foxtrot  by James Flattum and The Final Terrorist by David Delsar, with no apparent rhyme nor reason.
A more nuanced treatment of masculine recklessness and violence was found in Rowan Pullen's Rollover , which won best film and best editing (Cert III) and the people's choice award.
A well-paced dramatic story told in just over 12 mintutes, Pullen's film had the added appeal of working with the photogenic Central Australian landscape and telling a story around black / white as well as male/female tensions.
I will be surprised if both Pullen and Moss don't pursue further cinematic ventures.
Meanwhile, it seems that Centralian College/CDU's media department is a very good place for aspiring filmmakers to start.
FIDDLE FEST . By DARCY DAVIS.
"Yeah, it was pretty good, there was some pretty good violin playing, no it was very good, actually no, it was awesome and fantastic!"
Caleb Pannel quite accurately summed up last Sunday afternoon's event.
The ‘Magical Christmas, Baroque and Celtic String Music' concert consisted very much of the ‘pretty good', ‘awesome and fantastic' and everything in between.
The children performed a variety of Christmas carols and classical tunes on their stringed instruments for a solid two and a half hours. The afternoon started with collaboration from all of teacher Jane Coleman's students performing ‘Silent Night'.
"When the curtain came up at the beginning of the performance with over 50 people on stage and they started to play Silent Night, it was absolutely wonderful.
After the midsummer madness, it was finally silent afternoon," said master of gap-filling, Christopher Brocklebank.
Christopher had a different take on the role of MC for the event. He filled gaps between sets, but only gaps long enough to warrant a gap-fill: "The only trouble is that by the time you realise there's a long gap, it's normally over."
This revolutionary approach sparked a series of ‘gap' names by the audience. Some suggestions were ‘Dentist Gap', ‘Fill in the Gap', ‘Honeymoon Gap', ‘Katherine Gap' (?) and ‘Medicare Gap'
"We did get Pine Gap but it was censored," said Christopher. The feedback from the crowd on the music was also varied.
"It was alright, it wasn't fun, I was the worst.
"I didn't like anybody but my favourite song was ‘Christmas around the world'," said viola player Monty Nixon.
For a children's concert, it was obvious that the children in the audience were not so entertained.
As far as the teenage audience went, "good" was a very popular adjective: "It was really good, a lot of talent, it was all good, I didn't get bored and I didn't yawn. I didn't have a favourite performer, they were all good," said Oscar James-Hassel.
Not surprisingly, the most positive response came from parents.
"It was excellent, I enjoyed it very much. Liam was the best, I liked Liam the most, he's an absolute talent.
Even when he wasn't playing he was the star of the show, he's really got a presence that boy," said proud father and strings enthusiast Chris Shilton. In my opinion, the ‘children's strings concert' was more of a recital than a concert. It was a real showcase of these children's abilities and is more proof that music and arts in the Alice are ever-growing and non-stopping, beginning from a new generation every year.
PICTURED: Front row: Jeremy Gillen, Ned Hassell, Marli Mathewson.
Middle row: Anna Lloyd, Lauren Reval, Elsie Lange, Liam Shilton, Harry Watts.
Back row: Zoe Bradley-Roberts, Louisa Braun, Skyla Stewart, Jacilyn Lindner, Bella Pechy.
ADAM CONNELLY: One man's cult is another man's cringe .
For those of you who have been hibernating, summer is no longer knocking on our door.
Summer has made itself at home. It has drunk all our beer and is starting in on the pantry.
It's got the remote and is sleeping on our lounge.
We are all getting used to the fact that in the next few months the beanies will make way for the straw hats, sunscreen and sweat.
In fact our life seems to change dramatically once the mercury camps out at the top of the scale.
There are the little things like the choir of swampies that in harmony hum us to sleep of an evening.
A sound that for the sensitive sleeper takes a bit of getting used to.
And the larger things like the fact that in summer we seem to readily accept that television is going to be awful.
Throughout the year we complain about the relative standards of the networks' flagships.
Is Big Brother morally bankrupt? Is Survivor destroying the intelligence of our children?
Can you improve you children's grades by making them watch Dr. Phil?
I hope the answer is no to that one.
But during summer reruns of shows we didn't watch the first time seem to be perfectly acceptable.
Then there's the best ofs. The best of 2006.
The best of American sit-coms. The best of the best of the British period serial. Yawn!
But we don't seem to complain too loudly.
So in keeping with this trend here's my best of the best for 2006.
The Best Sporting Moment of 2006 - Sure the Master's Games were on this year but for me the highlight was the Camel Cup. Never before would I have imagined riding such a beast.
Never before would I have imagined the joy on a woman's face as she stood up, dirt from head to toe after falling from the top of a three meter tall camel.
This moment stood out as summing up sport in the Alice: it may not be pretty but we will have some fun.
The Best Political Moment of 2006 - By far the finest piece of political television since the microphone choking incident back in the day happened on the ABC this year.
Kerry O'Brien's interview of Clare Martin will go down in history as the Chief Minister's worst ever public performance.
In fact if Clare decides to invite the cameras along to the staff Christmas karaoke do, the Kerry O'Brien interview will still be the worst performance ever.
Finally Territory politicians figured out that they aren't as media savvy as their national counterparts and therefore can't dodge the issues like they can in Canberra.
Sadly however this hasn't lead to the honest answering of questions.
The Best Quintessentially Territory Moment of 2006 - I have put more Central Australian dirt in swags, clothes and cars than I thought possible, but the most Territory moment would have to be the conversation I had with some bloke at the Firkin and Hound when I used the words "true" and "too easy" in the same sentence.
All of a sudden the flies didn't bother me anymore, the heat didn't burn as fiercely and I appreciated the taste of XXXX gold.
The Territory welcomed me.
No doubt those responsible for these best ofs would have, in true awards ceremony style, thanked God and their mother and rabbited on ad nauseum about the merits of their art.
But it's summer, we don't have the energy for that.
LETTERS: Opal is safe, says Minister.
Sir,- The Territory Government will bring together key health organisations to look at ways of maximising the Commonwealth's roll out of the non-sniffable Opal fuel.
It has been suggested that one of the hurdles in the roll out of Opal is the community's concern that it will harm motor vehicles.
The government has been talking to BP, the provider of Opal, about what they are already doing to let the public know that Opal is safe.
I hope by bringing together groups that provide front line services we will make sure that there is a co-ordinated approach to prevention and rehabilitation.
Organisations such as CAAPS (Council For Aboriginal Alcohol Program Services Inc) and Amity Community Services are funded for substance abuse programs and will be able to provide us with advice on what are the obstacles.
Anything we can identify will be brought to the attention of the Federal Health Minister.
With the tragic death of two young Territorians last week, obviously more needs to be done in the fight against this terrible scourge in some of our communities.
Central Australia has many success stories with communities such as Mutijulu and Papunya now reporting that sniffing has been almost wiped out.
That is partly due to the work of organisations like Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS).
Their work is backed up by the Territory Government's new Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA) legislation which has banned petrol sniffing and provides for rehabilitation.
The strategies that have been put in place in Central Australia are working and prove that the fight against petrol sniffing is not a lost cause.
We now need a coordinated approach in the Top End.
Minister for Family and Community Services
Thank you, Alice
Sir,- I have been in Alice Springs on exchange from the island of Ambon Indonesia for approximately six months. I would like to
say a big thank you to everyone in Alice Springs. To my teachers at
Centralian College and to my friends at school.
I loved my experience here. Everyone made me feel so at home.
To my host family a big thank you and I will miss you.
I would especially like to thank the staff at the Alice Springs Language Centre who were so very kind to me.
It is really great to have had teachers here who could speak Indonesian.
Alice Springs is a very special place and I will remember it always. Thank you everyone who made my stay here so very, very special.
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