June 28, 2007. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

A record of denial. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The record of denial and procrastination by Chief Minister Clare Martin and her government over the abuse of Aboriginal children goes back to well before the delayed release of the Anderson-Wild report and the complete absence of a decisive action plan in response to it.
• Last week Ms Martin continued the attacks of mid last year on one of the whistle-blowers in this saga, former NT public servant Gregory Andrews. His accounts of crimes at Mutitjulu near Ayers Rock, together with revelations by Alice Prosecutor Nanette Rogers sparked off the  Anderson-Wild “Little Children are Sacred” report. Inaction on the report has now led to the Prime Minister’s extraordinary plan to take over control of Aboriginal communities in the Territory, a massive blow to the authority of Ms Martin’s government.
• Ms Martin’s government has never provided satisfactory answers to a September 2004 investigation by the Alice Springs News into lack of action and underspending on child abuse and neglect, nor the failure of her then Police Minister, Paul Henderson, to instruct police to act.
• Ms Martin ignored the invitation in May last year from Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney to have a bi-partisan approach to the issue. Ms Carney’s offer came with the outline of a plan that contained some of the elements that are now in the Howard Government’s plan. It also came with the warning that the Territory risked losing considerable control over what was happening in its jurisdiction if the Territory Government failed to act.  

Mr Andrews says Ms Martin is continuing to mislead the public.
He came to national attention last year for his statements about child abuse and neglect in Mutitjulu, statements made first in the context of a coronial inquiry (while he was still a NT Government employee) and in June last year, anonymously, on the ABC TV program Lateline (while he was an Australian Government employee).
The Lateline interview, coming in the wake of an earlier one with Central Australian Crown prosecutor Nanette Rogers, shone the national spotlight on the child abuse problems in Territory Aboriginal communities and governments’ apparent failure to deal decisively with the issue.
Following these revelations Ms Martin commissioned the Anderson-Wild report.
On October 11 last year Ms Martin and her deputy, Syd Stirling, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, savaged Mr Andrews’ professional reputation. (Alice Springs News, October 26.)
In a letter to Ms Martin, dated November 8, 2006, Mr Andrews detailed the error of their various claims about him and his actions.
Mr Andrews asked that his letter be tabled NT Legislative Assembly in order to correct the record.
He wrote: “I believe you have a responsibility to correct the record or you will be in breach of paragraph 14 of the Members’ Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards, relating to the requirement for members to act honestly and to take all reasonable steps to ensure that they do not mislead the public or the Assembly.”
He has never had a reply.
Last Monday, June 18, Ms Martin appeared on the Lateline program to discuss the Anderson-Wild report and again made, according to Mr Andrews, factually incorrect and critical statements about him and his 2006 appearance on Lateline and the work he did while employed for the Territory Government.
Ms Martin said: “Greg Andrews went on the program anonymously when at the time he was working for me, for the Northern Territory Government in Mutitjulu, because I had been so concerned about the problems there.” (See transcript on Lateline’s web archive.)
Mr Andrews has told the Alice Springs News:  “I was not working in the NT or for the NT Government when I went on the program.”
Ms Martin also said last week on Lateline: “[Mr Andrews had started work for us] a couple of years before.
“He had direct line to me, he had direct line to me in terms of his reporting ... But the first reporting I get from him is anonymously through your program. So, of course, I’m disappointed and of course I wonder about the credibility of what he’s saying when that’s how he chooses to do it.”
Says Mr Andrews: “In the course of my work at Mutitjulu, I never met, spoke to, or directly communicated with Ms Martin in any form.”
His letter of November 8, 2006 provides detail about the kind of reports he did make in the course of his employment and to whom he was reporting.
He says that he has records of reports he made and the names of police officers and government officials he spoke to who were “responsible for addressing violence and child abuse and neglect at Mutitjulu”.
He says he “was interviewed formally by Alice Springs CIB about child abuse at Mutitjulu”.
“Together with a senior officer from your [the Chief Minister’s] department, I met with the Assistant Police Commissioner in Darwin and we discussed the human rights abuses occurring at Mutitjulu.
“I also regularly reported issues concerning child abuse and neglect to the Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services.
“This department and the Northern Territory Police were both represented at senior levels on the Working Group to which I reported.
“I had an on-going dialogue about the problems occurring at Mutitjulu with Northern Territory public servants and police from these agencies. 
“I have a range of documentary evidence about my reports to the Police and other Northern Territory Government officials responsible for the protection of children during my employment on the Working Together Project [at Mutitjulu].”
Later in his letter Mr Andrews says: “My statements on Lateline in June 2006 were consistent with the evidence I gave – both in writing and verbally – to the Northern Territory Coroner during his 2005 inquest into the deaths of two petrol sniffers at Mutitjulu.
“In its own submission to the Coroner of 24 August, 2005, the Northern Territory Government submitted that, ‘the Coroner should accept as credible the evidence of Mr Gregory Andrews’ ...
“Your Government submitted to the Coroner that my ‘evidence was broadly supported by Ms Vicki Gillick [NPY Women’s Council], Mr Blair McFarland and Mr Tristan Ray [both of Tangentyere Council’s CAYLUS]’.”
Ms Martin’s latest attack on Mr Andrews prompted him to release to the Alice Springs News the major portions of the November 8, 2006 letter.
Mr Andrews told the News: “I have a deep moral conviction to stand up for the victims of abuse and to challenge the perpetrators and those who condone it.
“The humiliation, defamation and harassment that I and my family have endured since appearing on Lateline have strengthened this conviction.”
Alice Springs News editor Erwin Chlanda did a major investigation into the Territory’s record on child protection in September, 2004.
At the time the then Community Welfare Minister Marion Scrymgour had made a 7300 word statement on the government’s plans to tackle rampant abuse and neglect, which included a review and complete overhaul of the Community Welfare Act, which she said would be completed in early 2005 (it is still in draft form).
Ms Scrymgour said “we need an integrated response to families who are in strife” and described police as “front line workers” in outlying communities where Family and Children’s Services (FACS) has no permanent presence.
The Martin Government’s failure to provide staff for the police post at Mutitjulu, opened with fanfare last year, has become a matter of national note.
But the News’ investigation (see our web archive, September 1, 2004) revealed that the then Police Minister Paul Henderson (likely to become Ms Martin’s successor and now rather sooner than later) had a poor understanding of the role of police in the matter of children’s welfare.
The Community Welfare Act refers specifically to police as one of the agencies charged with taking action in child abuse and neglect matters.
Questioned by the News, Mr Henderson said the police “act upon complaints”.
The News put to him, given that police are based in remote areas while FACS staff are not, that offences against children could be something he would instruct his police to keep an eye out for.
He said “The Minister cannot direct the Police Commissioner.
“I cannot countenance an area where I would instruct the police to engage in a particular operation.
“That is fundamentally an issue under the Police Administration Act for the Police Commissioner.”
The News pointed out that it was clear that Mr Henderson was wrong. With the arrival in the Territory, over the coming days and weeks, of Australian Federal Police and police seconded from other jurisdictions to respond to the national emergency of child abuse on Territory Aboriginal communities, it will be plain for all to see just how wrong he was.
At the time the News quoted the Police Administration Act: “The Commissioner shall exercise and perform all the powers and functions of his office in accordance with the directions in writing, if any, given to him by the Minister.”
The News also pointed to overwhelming statistical and anecdotal evidence that suggested that the broad powers provided under the existing Community Welfare Act were not being used as widely as they could or should be.
Its provisions include: “The Minister, an authorised person or a member of the Police Force may, where he or she believes on reasonable grounds that a child is in need of care, and that no other action would ensure the adequate care of the child, take the child into custody.”
And: “Where a member of the Police Force believes on reasonable grounds that a child has suffered or is suffering maltreatment, he or she shall, as soon as practicable, notify the Minister” and “may investigate the circumstances to ascertain if the child has suffered or is suffering maltreatment.”
The News also pointed out, not for the first time, that the Martin Government (though they had increased funding and FACS staff numbers) and previous CLP governments had consistently been under-spending their Federal Grants Commission allocations for Family and Children’s Services.
The News also asked police for details of its work under the Community Welfare Act.
However NT Police Commissioner Paul White, in Alice for a “photo opportunity” with mounted police, declined to discuss the issues.
A local officer, Detective Superintendent Don Fry, was nominated to field the News’ questions – about statistics, numbers of reports made to police, numbers of occasions police acted on its own initiative, and what kinds of actions those were.
However, Mr Fry’s replies were general and unspecific and the News was told there would be no further comment (see our web archive, September 8, 2004).
The News wrote: “The episode is yet another example of what the Martin regime means by open and transparent government: all show and no tell.
“Of course, matters of life and death are such unpleasant things to talk about.”
Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney has reasonably pointed to the letter she wrote to the Chief Minister more than a year ago (May 19, 2006) urging her “to convene a bi-partisan meeting with the sole purpose of addressing the breakdown of social order in Aboriginal communities and then approaching the Federal Government with a plan of action”.
This was after Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough had called for a national summit on violence in Aboriginal communities, which Ms Martin had refused to attend.
Ms Carney’s letter said in part: “There is no room for political point-scoring in this matter. 
“I am aware that during the CLP’s time in Government, although much was done, achievements were disappointing.  
“Similarly, in the last five years, while the ALP has also made considerable efforts, the  results are disappointing. 
“This demonstrates that a much more comprehensive  approach, driven by delivering real and sustained outcomes, must be our collective focus.   
“It is important to note that Minister Brough’s comments have placed him on a somewhat aggressive footing in addressing this situation. 
“Basically, he has said that ... if the Territory doesn’t do something, the Commonwealth will.
“This could potentially see the Northern Territory’s self-governance, autonomy and our sovereignty compromised ...
“I am concerned that if the Territory is not at the negotiating table when it comes to action by the Federal Government, the Territory will be sidelined; and may lose control over what is happening in our jurisdiction.” 
A year later Mr Brough made good his threat.
Says Ms Carney now: “Had the Chief Minister adopted my proposal for an agreed plan of action, in full or in part, it would have been impossible for Mr Brough to ignore our collective resolve. 
“We would have been 12 months on from where we are now and still in complete charge of our destiny.”
Ms Carney’s plan of May 2006, which called for the formation of a crisis Cabinet, with Federal representation as well as bi-partisan Territory representation, included in part:
• mandatory regular health checks for all children under 16 years of age;
• tying Centrelink payments with school attendance;
• use of  Australian Federal Police;
• dismissing any local Government Councils deemed dysfunctional and appointing administrators;
• declaration of “areas of operation” to be targeted (the Federal Government’s plan refers to “prescribed communities”).
She says: “While the Prime Minister varied some of our proposals, he has adopted others.
“My  long-standing wish to see the removal of customary law as a mitigating factor in sentencing, rejected three times by the Martin Government, will finally be achieved.”
Ms Carney further accuses Ms Martin of a back-flip on “talkfests”.
Last year Ms Martin refused to go to Mr Brough’s national summit on child sex abuse.
Ms Carney quotes Ms Martin as saying, 12 months ago: “If  you  said to me : Should you stand publicly and go on about it or should  you do something, I know what I will do. I will do something. That is exactly the  reason why endless talkfests about issues of domestic violence and child abuse facing Aboriginal communities is not the way to go.”
Now, with Ms Martin supporting a national conference on child sex abuse, Ms Carney says “the irony could not be more profound”.

Two Hidden Valleys. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

When John Howard, on Thursday last week, made the historic announcement that his government would be taking over Aboriginal communities in the Territory, its Chief Minister was handing an NT flag to the driver of one of the trucks that had brought the V8 Supercars circus to Hidden Valley raceway in Darwin.
The next morning, in the other Hidden Valley, the one in Alice Springs, the scene was as far from a glamour event as one can imagine.
It was a scene Mr Howard says he wants to change, forever.
In one house of the notorious town camp, a family of about 10 was soaking up the sun after a freezing night.
They had slept on the veranda and by a wind break outside because the toilet had over flowed and sewage was flooding into the living room.
A women resident says this problem had been there for three weeks.
The house was surrounded by garbage, some in piles, some strewn about, from beer cans to rotting food and dirty disposable nappies, undoubtedly a health hazard.
One of the residents says a full garbage skip hadn’t been emptied for three weeks.
Tangentyere Council will not disclose how much public money it is getting to provide municipal services to the town’s 19 camps.
Rumor is that their total budget is $23m a year – more than the town council’s.
We reported the mess at Hidden Valley to Tangentyere.
They replied that a plumber had been sent to the house five times recently, on June 15, 18, 20, 22 and 25, to remove from the drain clothing, mechanical parts, a bottle and a coat hanger, and repaired the inspection opening lids four times.
We went back to the house on Tuesday this week and our woman informant said maybe kids were putting stuff into the toilet drain.
The skip had been taken away that morning. Tangentyere says it appears it was owned by a contractor. 
The ocean of rubbish was still there.
The responsibility for dealing with health hazards of this kind lies with the government of Ms Martin.
It’s likely to be one of the many functions of which Mr Howard will be relieving her.
Every house in the camps looks much the same – derelict, surrounded by broken cars, filthy.
This scene, repeated a dozen times in the camps around the town, is in crass contrast to a statement by Tangentyere’s Housing and Environmental Health Manager, David Donald: “Tangentyere recently completed a Fixing Houses for Better Health (FHBH) programme, run by the Family, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FACSIA)”, the people spearheading Mr Howard’s campaign to “normalize” Aboriginal life.
Says Mr Donald: “This trial surveyed each house across all Town Camp Communities and applied stringent environmental health based tests on each section of each house, including a flush toilet test.
“The flush toilet test had 15 separate test components, including testing the cistern, refill time, flush time, stop cock, pan, toilet seat, doors, door locks, walls, toilet roll holder, ventilation, shelf for toilet paper storage, floor finish, floor drainage, lights etc.
“The results of this survey found that 99% of all houses surveyed (196) had 100% of all 15 test components working.
“This was considered by the FACSIA project managers to be an extremely good result, with the two house failures the result of no shelves for toilet paper. 
“These two houses now have shelves, as a result of this survey.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has announced that it expects the Territory Government to resume all special leases over town camps in the major urban areas where “lease conditions have been breached”.
The Federal Government says it will act in this area if the the Territory Government fails to do so.

Town Council backs Mal except on dongas. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Alice Springs Town  Council on Monday strengthened its opposition to the use of dongas in the proposed short-term accommodation facilities for bush visitors.
Aldermen passed a motion supporting the establishment of such facilities, but said that they should be of “substantial construction”, that is, bricks and mortar, not dongas.
The draft motion had referred to “future” facilities, leaving the way open for the facility in Len Kittle Drive, set to go ahead, to use dongas.
However, aldermen agreed on Monday that the objection to the use of dongas should extend to the Len Kittle Drive site.
Alderman Melanie van Haaren said aldermen also wanted a “very targeted clientele” for the facilities (which so far are intended to be open to anyone) and for them not to be in “large enclaves”.
Ald Samih Habib asked if the search was on for an alternative site, now that Dalgety Road has been excluded.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff said Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough had wanted council to consider the issue but there was no mention of council finding a site.
She presumed the “original firm” (Qantec McWilliam) were still looking. 
A spokesperson from the office of Minister for Planning and Lands Delia Lawrie confirmed on Tuesday that “a project is underway assessing all possible alternative sites around Alice Springs”.
“That information will be provided to the Commonwealth when it is ready,” said the spokesperson.
Ms Lawrie was one of three Territory Ministers briefed by Mal Brough in a video linkup on Monday. The other were Police Minister Chris Burns and Minister for Local Government and Housing Elliot McAdam.
The Town Council also voted unanimously to express its strong support of the Federal Government’s plans to tackle child abuse on Indigenous communities, and resolved to offer in-kind support if required while asking to be kept informed during the implementation process.
Expecting that the moves will lead to greater migration from the bush into Alice Springs, aldermen also resolved to write to the Territory government asking for “financial and logistical support” to cope with the influx.
Defying logic, however, when Ald van Haaren later asked aldermen to discuss writing a letter to support remote communities being given access to the dongas, they declined.
Ald Van Haaren said communities she had visited last week had told her they wanted the dongas and wanted council support for their request.

Tough love made real. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

As public servants are tearing out their hair about how to cope with the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister John Howard, legendary volunteer social worker, Graham Ross, and Steve Brown, who heads up Advance Alice, are quietly getting on with a project that’s certain to help children in distress.
The two are setting up a “tough love” camp west of Alice Springs, on a Golden Mile block owned by Mr Ross’ “Auntie” Trudy Inkamala, who’s letting him use about half of her land near the Standley Chasm turn-off, ringed by the magnificent ranges of the West MacDonnells.
A 99 year lease is being applied for.
At the back of the land lies Fish Hole, which has permanent water, and beyond that, about three hours’ walk through the ranges, is the Hamilton Downs Youth Camp.
The block, apart from its views, has a small house, so accommodation for the children will be needed.
Mr Brown says he’ll seek help from the public, and from the small business owners attached to Advance Alice.
Coincidentally, the project is probably falling within Mr Howard’s strategies, and as such is likely to attract some Canberra cash.
Apart from that Mr Ross knows exactly where he’s going – he’s done it all before, in Alice, in the ‘seventies and the ‘eighties.
And what he doesn’t know or have, his extended family will provide, drawing on the resourcefulness of their English, Scottish, Alyawarra, Arrernte and Indian ancestry.
“There were lots of street kids who went on to really good things,” says Mr Ross.
“My young fellow, Loughlin, went to play league footy for West Adelaide and Essendon.
“James Swan went to box in the Olympics.
“And Aaron Pedersen, he always told me he would be somebody important.
“He ended up a film star.” 
What will he be getting the street kids to do?
“It’s to give the schools a helping hand, and the mothers, when they’re having problems, and give the poor kids a good start in life,” he says.
“We can be an extension of the schools, or get them off the streets, help the police.
“Too much blame is put on the police, you know.
“These kids shouldn’t be in the hands of the police at all, going into the police stations.
“If the town’s people really cared, well, you’d be there, doing a little bit for your community, for your society.
“We’re all Central Australians, why can’t we work together to make a better world for kids? 
“We’ll have better citizens, rather than this angry mob beating up on the street.
“If they want to fight we can put gloves on them here and teach them how to box.
“Some of us can box, you know, teach them a bit of karate, just for their own confidence and self respect.
“They don’t go out and use it on the streets.
“And they can have some brumby horses, break in some horses, or ride some quiet ones, make a few little trotting sulkies, a few quad bikes to ride around on.”
Hard work isn’t anything that ever worried Mr Ross, aged 63.
He was a ringer on Neutral Junction Station near Barrow Creek, and the “axe man” for government surveyor Barry Allwright for more than a decade.
“Later on, down the track, we’ll get these kids, like we did years ago when I was doing street work, to set up our own soup kitchen.
“We used to have a big double decker bus parked near the Youth Centre on Anzac Hill.
“We’d pick all these kids up and take them there.
“Sid Ross Hostel used to cook the curries and the stews and the soup for us.
“We’d have television upstairs, they could watch something that was going to be useful for them to see.
“We’d have the people down the bottom having their meals. We’d drive them home from there.
“We’d have a bus for the elderly people and the drunks and we’d run them home, and then we’d use the bus for the street kids.
“So after a while there was no problem on the streets in those days.
“We never had thugs beating up people, being angry, because everybody cared for them.” 
Would the kids stay with him at the Tough Love Centre?
Say Mr Ross: “Well, they wouldn’t have a choice.
“If they are referred to us through the schools, the courts or the police, you bring them here, and I can’t see why they would want to run away if you treat them right.
“Give them a lot of love. They’re missing out on a lot of love.
“A lot of these kids are looking for a father image.
“If we can get some fellas here to look after these kids, even give poor mum a helping hand, you know.
“They’re missing out on a lot of things, they’re feeling deprived, but here they wouldn’t be, this would be the place where we can help them to grow up and take their place in society.
“Remember when they had the horse breaking out at Arid Zone?
“You watch a kid getting a horse up into the float.
“How did you get the horse into that float? A little bit of kindness.
“You put some feed in there and the horse would walk up to it, and the sound of walking up the boards wouldn’t scare him then.
“They were little horses from Yambah Station [about 50 km north of Alice Springs].
“John Gorey used to give them to us.
“He was a mighty man, wonderful man.
“When he passed away it was the finish of our street work because we didn’t have a property.”
Well, now Mr Ross has a property again.
Sitting on the veranda of the small but neat house Mr Ross reminisces about the camp outs at Yambah he organized for street kids every weekend.
They would be taken there on the backs of three utes, 10 kids each, one driven by him, one by Peter Lorraine and a third by Dr Peter Fitzpatrick who now practices medicine in Tennant Creek.
They would hunt and spotlight much of the night, for ‘roos, rabbits and goannas, and gather bush foods.
Once a year Mr Ross used to take up to 50 street kids for a week to Vanderlin Island, in the Gulf of Carpenteria, and to Lake Woods, near Elliott.
The former street kids are all in their thirties now, and most have jobs, says Mr Ross, with the town council, Tangentyere or Aboriginal organizations.
Now the new generation needs a bit of tough love.

The nuts and bolts of change. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Alice Springs’ restrictions on alcohol will be widened as part of the Federal Government’s emergency plan for the Territory’s Aboriginal communities.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough says customers in Alice and other urban centres will have to provide ID if they are buying more than three cartons of heavy beer and state where the alcohol is going to.
Register of large quantity purchases will be kept and regularly checked by police with a view to preventing grog running to communities.
The total ban on alcohol in communities will also extend to non-Aboriginal residents of those communities.
Meanwhile, Mr Brough says the Territory Government will be expected to develop a comprehensive strategy to tackle the ‘rivers of grog’ across the Territory.
Mr Brough says his government’s intervention in alcohol management will remain in lace until the Territory Government has appropriate laws enacted and until they can demonstarte that they are in fact being policed.
“There is no point in having laws if people simply ignore them or [if] there is no police presence there to enact them,” says Mr Brough.
Other details to emerge:
•  The implementation taskforce will be based in Alice Springs under Operational Commander of the implementation group, Shane Castles, a career police officer with 32 years of experience, who was Commissioner for Police in the Solomon Islands.
He will have full-time staff working to assist him.
Mr Castles’ office is expected to be in place this week.
The taskforce is made up of of eminent Australians, including logistics and other specialists as well as child protection experts.
Magistrate Sue Gordon, chair of the National Indigenous Council and author of the 2002 Gordon Report into Aboriginal child abuse in Western Australia, will lead the taskforce.
Territory members of the taskforce are: John Reeves QC; Miriam Rose Baumann, principal of St Francis Xavier Catholic School, Daly River, and current member of the National indigenous Council; and Paul Tyrell, CEO of the NT Department of the Chief Minister.
• Mr Brough announced on Tuesday that “small survey teams” would start visiting communities this week. 
“The teams will consist of NORFORCE vehicles, personnel and logistic support for a small group comprising officers from Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Health, DEWR and Centrelink. There may be some AFP personnel.
“It is important that these small teams, many of whom have NT understanding and experience, have the opportunity to sit down and have a meaningful engagement with communities.
“These initial visits this week will include scoping existing facilities in communities and establishing future needs as part of the reform package.
“After these discussions, more substantive involvement in these communities will commence during next week based on the outcomes of the community survey.
“While those services are being placed in the communities, the advance teams will begin discussions with the next group of communities, with this pattern of discussions followed by implementation continuing over the coming months.”
• The permit system will continue to apply to the vast bulk of Aboriginal  land in the Northern Territory – this includes homelands.
The Territory Government will also be given the power to make laws to temporarily restrict access to areas where the permit system no longer applies to protect the privacy of a cultural event or to protect public health and safety.
The permit system will be removed for common areas, road corridors and airstrips for “prescribed communities”.
In Central Australia these are: Kaltukatjara (Docker River), Mutitjulu, Aputula (Finke), Areyonga, Hermannsburg, Wallace Rockhole, Santa Teresa, Amoonguna, Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff), Papunya, Mt Liebig, Kintore, Nyirripi, Yuendumu, Yuelamu, Nturiya, Pmara Jutunta (Ti Tree 6 mile), Ampilatwatja, Willowra and Ali Curung.
All of the communities visited in the Centre by the Anderson-Wild inquiry are on this list, but not all on the list were visited by the inquiry.
Private residences and sacred sites will continue to be protected.
People attending court hearings and performing Commonwealth or Northern Territory Government duties on Aboriginal land will not require a permit.
• Police seconded from other jurisdictions, paid for by the Australian Government, will be sworn in as Territory Police and will operate under Territory law.
• Military resources, including NORFORCE, will be used to provide logistical backup – vehicles, communication, interpreters, tents to accommodate the emergency response teams.
• A dedicated hotline has been established for people seeking information about the response and wishing to volunteer services. Call 1800 333 995.

Brough’s revolution: the good and the bad. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

When Prime Minister John Howard declared a state of emergency in Territory Aboriginal communities, I could think of no better people to ask for their opinion than Frank and Wendy Baarda.
I’ve known them for 30 years.
They have lived in Yuendumu for all that time and raised their three children there.
Wendy is a school teacher and Frank runs the locally owned Yuendumu Mining Company.
Despite its name its main business is a grocery store.
Both Frank and Wendy consider themselves independent from the bureaucracy, both government and Aboriginal, and have over the years provided me with invaluable insights into the world of the Warlpiri, quite a few of whom are also long term acquaintances and news sources of mine.
Being whites without direct Warlpiri family ties further enhances their objectivity while their close and friendly relationships with locals affords them unique knowledge of the local scene.
Our exchange about the momentous current developments began, as so often in the past, with a tongue-in-cheek Letter to the Editor from Frank. He wrote:-
Because of the polls, we have been expecting the Howard government to pull a rabbit out of the hat. 
My money was on a terrorist scare (a Muslim farmer with a load of fertiliser), but I should have realised that we have entered a “don’t mention the war” phase.
From the people that brought us the GST we were never going to have, the Tampa and the children overboard incidents, the dogs and balaclavas on the
wharves, the “we have a mandate to sell Telstra”, the “we didn’t know about the AWB bribes”, and the list goes on ... we now have the protection of indigenous children.
They certainly studied Dr. Goebbels’ methods well. They are masters at demonizing and stereotyping.
Every Muslim man a potential terrorist, every refugee a queue jumper and potential criminal, and now every Aboriginal man a drunken pervert.
(“Oh, but we never said that”).
“We should never have got into Iraq based on a lie.” ... “Aha, you must be in favor of Saddam Hussein.”
The Federal Government has pulled a political stunt that is counter-productive and in one fell swoop has wiped out years of quiet and successful efforts on Aboriginal communities at improving the social fabric.
It has even further reduced Aboriginal Society’s decision making power (virtually non-existent as is) and ability at improving from within.”
“Aha, you must be in favour of the sexual abuse of children!”
Thou doth protest too much!
“No this is not for political reasons, we are just worried about the children.”
Now pull the other one!
It was vintage Baarda cheek, but the issues of violence and sex abuse of children have been around for too long.
He had to do better than that.
It was Wendy who replied, on their joint behalf, to my follow-up questions.
Her answers were as much a robust rejection of the Howard plan, as – I think – proof it is necessary.
NEWS: Who is saying “every Aboriginal man is a drunken pervert”? Pat Anderson and Rex Wild are not saying that, but their highly disturbing report, from which John Howard and Mal Brough are taking their cue, asserts that the incidence of cild sexual abuse in Aboriginal society is at an unacceptable level and constitutes a national emergency. Most reasonable people on both sides of the political fence seem to have accepted that proposition.
WENDY: No one is actually saying that every Aboriginal man is a drunken pervert. It is implied in the same way that it is implied that Muslims support terrorists though actually many deplore terrorism. Pat Anderson and Rex Wild’s report identified over a hundred problems in Aboriginal communities which they addressed making recommendations. Why is child abuse the only one politicians have taken up? Because they see votes in it. It’s something every-one will agree on. Where did they get their figures from? I personally think that child abuse is no higher in remote communities than in the cities. Has anyone compared the figures?
It may be higher in town camps where grog is available every day. It may be higher in some communities.
I think poverty and the failure to provide jobs in communities is more of an emergency.
NEWS: In what way has the Howard plan “wiped out years of quiet and successful efforts on Aboriginal communities at improving the social fabric?”
WENDY: Mal Brough’s response puts in jeopardy many programs and restrictions already in place in the NT, to protect children and deal with alcohol abuse and family violence.
All the measures he includes in his Fact Sheet 21/6/07 have either already been introduced in the NT, would be counter productive, or have nothing to do with protecting children.
Most if not all communities on Aboriginal land already have alcohol restrictions. Men still do sometimes succeed in getting grog in. It is a challenge. It’s the only way (apart from football) to gain status and fill in the time.
Seconded police will take years to learn all the back roads into these communities.
NT communities have chosen to be dry communities. Will Mal Brough’s imposed restrictions be as stringent and will they have community support?
NEWS: What’s the social fabric in Yuendumu?
WENDY: Yuendumu people are only a few generations away from a nomadic hunting life with a really different culture which still persists in many aspects of life.
Traditional life was a lot more violent and women and children had no rights. There was no concept of individual rights.
Every thing was for the survival of the group. The rules were unchanging and old people were the only ones who could make decisions.
There are many ways in which traditional customs and values are in conflict with the demands of modern life.
It takes time to adjust to the modern world that has landed around them.
The cooperative life style persists. In Yuendumu families are working well. People look after each other very well.
Government services like health and education are not working so well mainly because there is not nearly enough community involvement.
The hurdles have been raised too high for local people to get government jobs.
Other organisations such as the Women’s Centre, Old People’s Program, Child Care Centre, Mt Theo Youth Program, Warlukurlangu Artists and Warlpiri Media are working well because they have no literacy based hurdles and have a lot of local workers.
NEWS: What is the school attendance and the level of achievement?
WENDY: School attendance and achievement are very poor. Very low. I think this has been an emergency for a long time.
It’s getting worse as the need for education becomes less. No one here has any chance of getting a job that requires education.
There have been several enquiries into Aboriginal education with excellent recommendations. None have been implemented.
The only action on the Collins report are office based administration things, nothing that relates to the effectiveness of schooling.
NEWS: How many people have jobs?
WENDY: There are 60 CDEP workers spread around the organisations. They can earn up to $450 a week if the organisation they work for can pay top up. There are 30 Aborigines in full time non-CDEP employment and about 70 casual non-CDEP workers.
As far as welfare payments go, a couple with three school age children gets $382.80 a week (Newstart) plus family assistance of $ 72.73 per week per child. That’s $218.18 for three children plus family assistance B ($43.54 per child per week). That’s $731.60 all up per week. But this doesn’t go far in Yuendumu!
NEWS: How many Yuendumu people are working in the Granites Mine which is bending over backwards to employ Aborigines, especially local ones?
WENDY: At present two. They won’t let families camp near the mine or at the outstation near there. They also need some level of literacy.
NEWS: You have a sealed all-weather airstrip suitable for small jets, and you’re within an hour’s flying time from the tourist hubs of Alice Springs and Ayers Rock whose visitors are principally interested in meaningful contact with Aboriginal people.
How many tourists a year are welcomed in Yuendumu to see traditional dancing, hunting, bush tucker gathering, story telling and Western Desert art?
WENDY: Many tourists come and buy paintings. Almost every day there are one or two cars or a plane. There is no other tourist program. This would take a white organiser and money to set up.
NEWS: Do you have fruit and vegetable gardens? You certainly have no shortage of land nor labour, and I believe there is ample water.
WENDY: There are no fruit or vegie gardens. In Native Welfare days there were. When Native Welfare closed it was suggested to keep them going to supply the shop but the council was told this was not the purpose of them and that it would not be economical.
NEWS: How is the cattle project going, complete with abattoir – or are you now transporting in these foodstuffs that could so readily be produced locally (and used to be).
WENDY: An agreement between traditional owners and the Yuendumu Mining Company as just been reached so that the cattle project can continue. This is non-literacy based, outside work for locals at mustering time.
NEWS: I am perplexed to hear that the Aboriginal society’s decision making power is “virtually non-existent”. For more than 30 years the people of Yuendumu have been the freehold owners of their land.
WENDY: Local decision-making power is non-existent. Our local council is officially powerless. It got into debt because of whitefella bungling. It’s now clear of debt but still powerless. We do have an advisory council until [the NT Government] bring in the shires.
NEWS: The Warlpiri have at their service the Central Land Council with 100 plus employees, an annual budget (I understand) of $5m. Surely there is enough cash and manpower available to put in place all the commercial initiatives outlined above. What’s the problem?
WENDY: Although Warlpiri own the Yuendumu reserve, the land is held by a land trust that they have nothing to do with. The land trust has no money to fix nor initiate anything. Government departments can build or put people here without permission. The only say over this land that people have is through the permit system which the emergency plan wants to get rid of.
Most of the council budget I suppose goes on building houses, paying outside contractors, plumbers, electricians, carpenters on big travel allowances and running the power house. I believe a new house here costs $250,000.
NEWS: The Central Land Council has a three fifths share in Centrecorp which has or controls assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
WENDY: I have never heard of Centrecorp.

Dear Clare, you’re getting it all wrong: Gergory Andrews' letter.

These are the major portions not referred to in our report of the letter of November 8, 2006 from Gregory Andrews (pictured) to Chief Minister Clare Martin, and copied to her deputy, Syd Stirling.

Dear Ms Martin,
I am writing to you in my personal capacity and not in my capacity as an Australian Public Service (APS) employee ...
It has come to my attention that on Wednesday 11 October 2006 you made a number of comments about me which were erroneous in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
Comments made about me by Syd Stirling MLA in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly on 19 October 2006 were also erroneous ...
It is incorrect to say that I was an “employee of the Federal Government working in the Territory”. Your Department would be able to advise you that I was employed by the Northern Territory Government as Manager of the Mutitjulu Working Together Project from late August 2004 until February 2006.
My position was administratively located in the Department of Community Development, Sports and Cultural Affairs, and your Department had principal oversight of me.
My chief manager in the Northern Territory Government was initially the Principal Policy Adviser, and the Executive Director, of the Office of Indigenous Policy in your Department ...
The memo that you wrote to Police Minister Henderson in November 2004 was not written by me. I understand that it was drafted by the Office of Indigenous Policy in your Department. I was consulted about it and provided input.  Your Department advised me that a range of other Northern Territory Government agencies – including the Police – were also consulted about it and provided input.
You alleged that “anything that Greg Andrews presented to us we said, ‘you report to the police straight away’ “ in relation to the reports of abuse that I made. I do recall being advised by my supervisors to report any violence and threats against myself to the Police. I cannot recall being instructed by your Department or any other Northern Territory Department to report incidents of child abuse or violence against women to the Police.
It is incorrect to allege that I “never reported anything” to the Police about the abuse and violence occurring at Mutitjulu ...
I reported to Yulara and Alice Springs Police allegations I heard and observations I made of criminal behaviour, or evidence of it in Mutitjulu.
I met regularly with the local Police and also had discussions with senior Alice Springs Police ...
I did not send an anonymous fax after I left Mutitjulu. I have never sent an anonymous fax about Mutitjulu. I have never seen the fax to which you refer. I understand that it was sent by the Australian Government’s Office of Indigenous Policy Co-ordination before I started work there. I had no knowledge that it was sent until I learnt about it in the press after the Lateline  show went on air in June 2006.
You alleged that many of the reports I made about Mutitjulu had “no substance”. Denying my statements about human rights abuses occurring at Mutitjulu repudiates the women of Central Australia whose representative forum, the NPY Women’s Council, confirmed on 7 August 2006 that “the people who spoke on Lateline did not make up those stories... [t]hey are not liars or mad” ...
My statements on Lateline in June 2006 were consistent with the evidence that I gave – both in writing and verbally – to the Northern Territory Coroner during his 2005 inquest into the deaths of two petrol sniffers in Mutitjulu.
I consulted widely in the preparation of my submission to the Coroner and shared drafts of my submission to the Coroner and shared drafts of my submission with your Department and other members of the  Working Together Project  (including the police) before I provided it to the Coroner.
This consultation included seeking input on the degree of human rights abuses and allowing reasonable critique of my submission’s content.
The Office of Indigenous Policy in your Department advised me that it supported my submission ...
I was advised by the Department of Justice that my submission was “excellent”. I have documentary evidence of this meeting.
After my appearance in the witness box during the Coronial inquest, your Department advised me that it supported the oral evidence I gave.
In its own submission to the Coroner of 24 August 2005, the Northern Territory Government submitted that, “the Coroner should accept as credible the evidence of Mr Gregory Andrews” ...
I have never used the term ‘paedophile ring’ to describe human rights abuses occurring in Central Australia. The only people on the Lateline program who discussed the question of paedophile rings were Jane Lloyd and the former community doctor, Geoff Stewart.
Your claim that my performance was “very disappointing” contradicts the submission of your own Government to the Coroner of 24 August 2005. Your Government submitted that, “the Coroner should comment and commend Mr Andrews for his apparent rapport with the community and the advances he has made steering the Working Together Project”.
It also contradicts the Corner’s own independent findings which were published on 10 October 2005. The Northern Territory Coroner said, “I have rarely met a more qualified, committed and emotionally and culturally supportive advisor in terms of Aboriginal substance abuse problems than Mr Andrews. His work is simply outstanding”.
Your claim that my performance managing the Working Together Project was “very disappointing” contradicts direct feedback I received from your Department.
At the end of my tenure, the Executive Director of the Office of Indigenous Policy in your Department wrote to me thanking me for my “tireless work in relation to the Mutitjulu Working Together Project” and acknowledging that the “significant progress” made under the project has been “in no small part due to [my] own energetic efforts to assist the community and various government agencies to identify and confront a number of issues that are critical for the future well being of all community members at Mutitjulu” ... I have kept this letter.
Reflecting your Department’s positive view of my performance managing the Working Together Project,  the Executive Director of the Officer of Indigenous Policy in your Department encouraged me to apply for and then offered me a Principal Policy Adviser position in your Department in late 2005.
In relation to Mr Stirling’s statement to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly of 19 October 2006 that I am a “staffer to Minister Brough”, you and Mr Stirling should be aware that I am an employee of the Australian Government’s Department of Families Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
I have never held a ‘political’ or staffer position with the Australian Government. Mr Stirling’s other comment that I am a “lying little grub” was infantile and distasteful. It is not what I would expect of a representative of the people. It reflects badly on Mr Stirling and on the Northern Territory Government.
In the Northern Territory, too many people are speaking in whispers about the violence against women and children. They are afraid of being overheard by those perpetrating the abuse.
They are troubled that those who should be listening are not. They live in fear of retribution from the perpetrators of abuse or those who have vested interests in maintaining the status quo and are unwilling to acknowledge and address the suffering.
During my time in the Northern Territory, I found that once I had slowly built the confidence of people, information began to flow. Everything I reported was based on what people shared with me or what I saw myself.
Denigration of those who speak out against abuse is a condemnation of the victims. It sends a message to all Australians  black and white  that if people speak out against sexual abuse, they will be punished and publicly humiliated.
A number of vested interest holders have promulgated a range of false and defamatory material about me in relation to this matter. This has diverted attention from the important issue at hand.
It is disappointing that you have contributed to that.
I note that the Assembly next sits on 28 to 30 November 2006. I look forward to hearing from you by then.
Yours sincerely,
Gregory Andrews
Canberra,  ACT

Soccer self help. By FIONA CROFT.

Local residents’ opposition to floodlights at Ross Park are but one hurdle for local soccer – oops, it’s now called football – to jump in its plans to create a permanent home for the sport.
The Territory Government’s grant of of $500,000 falls well short of what’s required for night lights and an upgrade of the club rooms, but the locals are taking a “can do” approach, says Paul Lelliot, president  of the Southern Zone of the Football Federation Northern Territory.
At the Town Council meeting on Monday night residents of Winnecke Avenue, which runs along one side of Ross Park, expressed concern over heavy traffic, intense usage of the park and the lighting proposals.
In particular they objected to use of floodlights on what they had heard would be six nights a week till 9pm and even 10pm.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff suggested that a meeting be organised with the Football Federation, the residents and council officers  to iron out the problems.
Mr Lelliot says he will attend that meeting but can meanwhile allay residents’ fears.
He says lights will be used for training from Tuesday to Thursday, but only till 8pm when they will be automatically shut off.
He says the federation are hoping to be able to stage a “fully fledged competition” at night, which would take some pressure off use of the park on the weekend.
It’s not certain whether this would be on a Friday or Saturday, however it is likely it would finish at 10pm.
He says the federation also want flexibility to stage exhibition matches but these would be only from time to time.
Meanwhile, the Territory Government grant is accumulating interest as plans proceed.
It is hoped that the upgrade of clubrooms will provide an elevated viewing area with change rooms and showers underneath.
This work and the installation of lights, expected to cost around $250,000, will go to tender, but local expertise will help to bring costs down.
A grade player and Probuild director Phil Danby says the Southern Zone committee “may become the head contractor, who subcontracts out”. 
In this way, says Mr Danby,  there would be “no builder’s profit margin in it, it would be cheaper”.
Mr Lelliot says this will enable the federation to get maximum value from their grant.
Self employed tradesman and A grade player Gio Morelli is also willing to pitch in.
He is “born and bred” Alice and has been playing soccer since he was nine.
His father and the Italian community set up of the Verdi club in the 1960s and now Mr Morelli’s three children all play.
He says, at age 41, soccer is “in the heart”.
“ I’ll keep going – I play, coach and referee seniors, and I’m involved with the juniors.” 
This is a healthy family lifestyle in the Centre’s fresh air, says Mr Morelli, far removed from playing indoor computer games.
And because he’s a plumber and a builder  he can “organise subbies or myself to have significant input” into the new club rooms. 
Talented A grade player and trades assistant Adrian McAdam has been playing since he was four.
He says he spends his time outside of the game encouraging people to get involved, and is always part of the “team effort if work needs to get done”.
Referees David Hood, an employee with Power and Water, and Rick Kinsell, from Jindalee, both volunteer outside of their referee duties if required.
With “one shower rose” in the present club change rooms, Mr Hood said he was really looking forward to the new facilities.
Mr Lelliot says Ross Park grounds to date have not been well maintained by the Town Council and the pitches need careful attention, in particular those near the school.
“This is a council responsibility,” he says.
Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the world and the Centre now has 730 registered players, overtaking sports like netball with 600 players and AFL with about 400.
There are 150 to 200 girls who play in mixed teams  – they are “fairly well protected with the rules, it’s not rough”, says Mr Lelliot.
The Centre has only produced one national soccer star to date, Charlie Perkins, the famed Aboriginal leader, who in the 1950s played professional soccer with English team Everton and in teams in Sydney and Adelaide.
But talent is starting to emerge, says Mr Lelliot, and a new development officer is being sought to help refine it.

Veggie variety or the road less travelled? By FIONA CROFT.

The vegetable you buy in the supermarket could be four to 20 weeks old and have travelled 2000 to 4000 kilometres, if it was even grown in Australia.
That doesn’t sound very appetising,  but can we in the Centre sustainably grow our own?
David de Vries, director of the Centre for Sustainable Arid Towns, says historical research has shown that tropical and temperate plants, including citrus, watermelon, table grapes and date palms, grow well in the region, but with fuel relatively cheap, the bulk of our produce gets trucked in.
For example a mango picked in the Top End, will be packed and trucked to wholesalers in Adelaide, then repacked to travel back to Territory supermarkets.
The journey means much nutrition is lost.
Mr de Vries’s advice: “For nutrition and taste grow your own.”
Apart from the burgeoning table grape industry around Ti Tree, there are a couple of successfully established market gardens right here in town.
Moe McCosker, a plumber by trade, established Territory Lettuce on Ilparpa Road 15 years ago.
Perfectly formed lettuces in various shades of green to red grow in water with a mineral mix surrounding their roots.
Mr McCosker’s niche market is for 10 different ‘fancy’ lettuces supplied to Coles supermarkets, restaurants and wholesalers in the Alice Springs region and Darwin.
It’s a seven day a week business and cost “mega dollars” to set up.
Every year Mr McCosker faces problems with winter frost, frozen pipes, and insects.
The drought three years ago brought in a plague of thrip.
Biological control agents and organics are added to keep insects and disease at bay to his 24 hour trickle fed hydroponic plants.
In the height of summer Mr McCosker uses 100,000 litres of town water a day.
The chlorination and salt content has to be removed by circulation through a desalination unit.
Important minerals are added to sustain the 90,000 plants growing at any one time. In summer they grow in three weeks, and winter it takes four to five weeks.
Lettuces are 98 percent water.
Each plant uses 20 litres. All up the business and the McCosker household use 36 million litres of water every year.
Tinh Nguyen and his wife Lan Le own the Alice Market Garden in Heffernan Rd. They are expanding their love of food to include a Vietnamese restaurant, opening in August.
The couple arrived in Alice Springs as refugees in 1994.
After five years in catering at the Alice Springs Airport, Mr Nguyen bought the market garden where his wife was working and which had been established by Dieter Winter.
Today the couple grow European and Asian vegetables, keeping insects away from the plants with night lights and a mix of garlic, oil and water, and fertilize with cow manure from the cattle yards and their own chicken manure.
Like Mr McCosker they use town water.
“We can get bore water but the town water is better for the plants,” says Mr Nguyen.
They spend $1000 a month on average on their winter water bills and $3000 a month in summer, watering for six minutes three times a day in summer and twice daily in winter.
On the basis of six months of winter and six of summer, that’s an annual bill of $24,000.
At 69 cents a kilolitre, that’s about 34,782 kilolitres or 34.7 million litres, a similar figure to Mr McCosker’s.
They grow their vegetables for locals, restaurants and hotels, and the surrounding communities.
“For people who go out bush [the vegetables] keep for a long time. Hydroponics don’t last, if grown in the ground they’re stronger,” says Lan Le.
Further out from town, another horticulture project apparently draws on the same water basin as the town’s.
In 2002 Richie Hayes from Undoolya Station diversified from the family tradition of growing cattle to plant 100 acres of table grapes. 
Grapes grown here can reach the market before grapes from other regions. 
Emerald in Queensland is now providing Mr Hayes with some competition, but he keeps an eye on the market “to determine what to plant next”. 
Mr Hayes says he works “eight days a week”.
Is it profitable?
“Yes and no.”
He and his wife, three girls and dad and brothers all have an input.
Specialist pruners and pickers come from Mildura in Victoria and several locals are employed, about 35 people over the year.
The business uses bore water “supposedly from the same basin as town water”.
“I pay for the power to get the water out,” says Mr Hayes.
He wasn’t willing to state his water usage.
He is now growing cabbages which he says are not in the ground as long as other regions.
So, with evaporation and time in the ground taken into account, “the water usage should be the same” when compared to non-arid regions.
Mr Hayes is also venturing into growing melons and pomegranates, the juice of the latter valued as a natural anti-oxidant.
It’s hard to get firm figures on the impact of water usage from growing plants in the desert.
There are no water restrictions in Alice and the town has one of the highest per capita consumption rates in the country.
It has relied on the Roe Creek borefield in the Amadeus Basin for drinkable water for over 35 years.
Each Alice Springs household uses a daily average of 1600 litres (over half a million litres a year). In 2004 the town used 10,425 megalitres of water.
Mr de Vries says gardens, including market gardens, use “enormous amounts of Territory Government water – a huge environmental cost”.
But is this better than using fuel to bring fresh produce in from the coast?
Department for Natural Resouces spokesperson John Childs says calculations weighing up water versus fuel costs and impacts have yet to be completed.
“With the focus on Solar Cities there is a whole range of scrutinizing the comparative energy costs. It could be worked out,” he says, “it could be a good student project.”
The Alice Springs Water Resource Strategy overseen by Mr Childs has yet to be released.
Scott Large, Project Manager of Desert Knowledge Australia COOL mob, says local green thumbs need to be talking and gleaning knowledge from one another: “Value the knowledge and advice sharing - what’s worked and what hasn’t.”
People are “guilt ridden” about water usage, says Mr Large, but watering can be done efficiently “to suit the seasons, and by using good soil mulch”.
Horticulture consultant Geoff Miers, formerly a lecturer in horticulture at Charles Darwin University, says locals can grow vegetables well in Alice Springs even with its high water evaporation.
There are “no dig” and purely organic gardens operating in local backyards and rural blocks. “People can lose up to 50% of their water with sprinklers”, he says, but it’s unnecessary.
“With limited drip fed watering systems, either subsurface or trenched into the ground, your plants can be watered every three days, develop deep roots and survive well into healthy nutritious food that can reach your table in minutes.”

Alice Springs News short story competition: 2nd prize winner Jennifer Mills. Sponsor: The Lane Restaurant.

One for sorrow, two for mirth, she says.
It’s an old rhyme. Three for a death and four for a birth. Any more than that, and it’s roadkill.
It’s the second thing she’s said to me after whereya headed and a nod. Superstitious, but we all are. Me, I prayed to Ned up in heaven that I’d make it out, and I’m alright so far. She drives past the carcasses of long-dead vehicles, the scrub and spinifex, kicking up a dust I see change from red to white in the mirror. Passenger side. I’ve never met this woman before, but she seems like she can take a joke. 
You a witch or something?
Maybe. She grins and there are holes where teeth should be. My mother used to say it, she explains. Back in the day. You see so many this time of year, it goes round in my head.
There are worse things to circle your brain, I think, than crows.
The upturned cars that punctuate the track have all been stripped down to their bones; they’re pretty, in the way of skeletons. There are no more hills. There are only these relics of old accidents to look at. 
What possessed you to come this road? she asks, by way of conversation. Quicker by the highway.
I tug my sleeve down over the warm steel bracelet and tell her I’ve always wanted to see this country.
Not much to it, she says. Like this for another ten hours. Her hand waves at the termite mounds that stand up out of the grass like tombstones. My eyes shake with the road’s corrugations. I wonder when I last had a decent sleep. She glances at me then, and her look takes me in. I shed the greens days ago but you can still see the shadow of prison bars against my skin.
So what do you do out here anyway, I ask her.
Oh, this and that. I ran away from a bad marriage. Bastard broke my arm twice. Would’ve killed me if I’d stayed. Been back there working on the mine but I’m over it. Headed for the coast for a bit. See what happens.
She looks about fifty, and I wonder about her, cruising around like this. I can see the hint of an old tattoo on her forearm, disappearing into the sleeve. Looks like a home job. Me, I’ve been running for years, she says. You look like you just started.
I stare straight ahead, try to fix my eyes on the horizon. It disappears into a heat haze, you can’t see where it goes.
The outside is like this. It has no edges.
You come far? 
I shrug and drop the cuffed wrist down beside the seat. 
Don’t talk about it if you don’t want to.
We drive in silence for a while. The road gets worse, whole sections of it dropping into banks of red sand. At one point there’s even a tree in the middle.
No radio out here is all, she says.
S’why I always pick you guys up. Get jack of talking to myself.
Four states, I say. Four states in a week. 
Shit, you’re caning it. Must be some trouble.
I nod and stare and pray quietly to the Kelly gang. It doesn’t work, because I feel her foot lift. The vehicle slows to a stop. She gets out of the car and I grab my plastic bag, ready for the kick, but she’s only going for a piss.
I get out and walk a way up the road to relieve myself. A tiny trickle, I’m dehydrated again. Yesterday I walked so far in the heat I nearly shat myself. I glance up at the horizon ahead.
There on the road is a fetid carcass, an old cow bursting its skin. A cluster of crows – a murder – going at the guts. I feel nauseous as I button my fly and return to the car. Sitting there strapped with jerry-cans and spare tyres, it looks ready for the end of the world.
When I open the door I do it with the wrong hand. As we drive past, the crows leap up into the air and swim around in the dust. 
You gonna tell me what you were in for, she asks quietly. I tug at my sleeve, but it’s too late.
She’s already seen. I rack my brain for an explanation. The satellite phone’s sitting in its nest on the dash, the coppers waiting at the other end. I should roll myself out of the car and onto the roadside, but those dark birds are waiting. There’s no way out.
Murder, I want to say. I want to scare her into driving me all the way.
If I had a knife I could, but something tells me she’d fight back. Stuff it, I think. You gotta trust someone sometime. 
Armed robbery, I say. Three years for aggravated.
She raises an eyebrow. What with?
Kebab skewer.
The woman laughs then. Her laugh is harsh and dry like the country and it fills the car. She bangs her wrist on the wheel and reaches for the dash.
My hand creeps up towards the doorhandle, ready to roll. She fumbles under the satphone for something. I press the seatbelt open. She hands me a bobbypin.
Can you manage with that?
Maybe. I’m not much of a burglar.
Obviously. Hands up, this is a barbeque!
I almost smile then. I almost inhale. I remember that somewhere at the end of this road is the ocean, waiting there, cool and blue; and on the other side, who knows? Another country maybe. Another shot. I’m not gonna stuff it up this time, I think, as the lock slides open in my hand.
A little later, I toss the broken cuffs out the window. As they fly through the air, a couple of crows snap at them. Two for mirth.

Alice Springs News poetry competition: 1st prize winner Leni Shilton. Sponsor: Asprint.

I go in search of mint under the kurrajong tree
between the couch grass
and the mass of brown pods
filled with tiny silken needles
I find the mint –
a few stalks of bright green remain
struggling at the pot’s edge
the rest is dead.

It is a time of famine in our backyard
with only the chickens taking delight
in the quarter acre of dust.

For their own good,
the basil and capsicums have been fenced
each with its own dripper
the rest is left
and won’t survive this desert dry.

Beyond the yard
I look for words in this wasteland
torn by my longing
for the curve of a coastline –
of colour and water.

People visit from the coast
Ah! they say, this is what it’s like!
– this landscape littered with dying trees
and a river filled with
homeless landowners.

I tell them I can’t remember –
there’s too many days of dusty haze.
I only know the world is clearer
seen from here
and when I leave
and can’t seen the desert anymore
I am afraid.

The only mint to survive
grows on my window sill
where I can tend it daily.

I water and turn the pot
and keep the pungent leaves
from gazing out the window.

LETTERS: Howard’s not right till he’s fixed the problem.

Sir,– John Howard lied to us about people throwing their kids into the sea because he could. He wasn’t right.
John Howard jumped in with Bush to go to war because he could. He wasn’t right.
John Howard connived with Bush’s rendition program because he could. He wasn’t right.
John Howard intends again to swashbuckle over people’s constitutional rights because he can. But is he right?
He intends to barge in over what people are doing now without caring to know where the struggles are and what he might smash because he can. But is he right?
And can John Howard cut down on liquor outlets, stop pornography, improve education opportunities, support community people to turn the tide against sexual abuse, create a bit of hope?
You’d better, Mr Howard, because you’d better not walk away after six months saying it’s too hard.
You’re not right until you’ve solved the problem.
Valmai McDonald
Alice Springs

Whole new ball game

Sir,– Discussing antisocial behavior is a whole new ball game after last week’s declarations of intent by the Federal Government.  But no matter what happens there, I think at least the following three measures deserve a mention.
One, traditional law would not be considered when setting jail and bail conditions for Aboriginal offenders. 
We all live on one land and need to answer to one law, without exception.
Two, any crime committed while under the influence of alcohol or any other proscribed substance would automatically generate a 100% increase in the existing penalty.  This would apply across the board from theft to manslaughter.
And three, all acts of vandalism would be paid for in full by the vandals.
 If their only source of income is welfare then 50% is not too much to take. 
If the culprits are underage kids with no income of their own, then their parents would be required to make good the damage.
These three measures would help establish a sense of personal responsibility and would involve families in straightening out delinquent feral children. 
With these measures in place we would see a reduction in antisocial behavior on the streets in Alice Springs.
Hal Duell
Alice Springs
ED– One of Mal Brough’s  requirements of the NT Government is that they legislate to  remove customary law as a mitigating factor for sentencing and bail conditions.

Sad Territory

Sir,– It’s a sad day for the Northern Territory when the Australian Government makes the first move in responding to the report into child sexual abuse in NT Aboriginal communities.
The report required strong action and strong measures but the initiative has been taken away from the NT and this reflects badly on the government as well as the parliament.
Did government members urge the Chief Minister to show leadership and react immediately to the report?  Were they comfortable with her response?
The Chief Minister now must announce that the government will co-operate fully with the Australian Government to protect these young children.
In recent years I introduced amendments to the Bail Act and the Sentencing Act to address issues relating to abuse of children and the government rejected these changes.
All members of the government need to search their consciences and ask themselves if they could have done something sooner to avert this action by the Australian Government.
Loraine Braham
Independent Member for Braitling


Sir,– The Australian Association of Social Workers – NT (AASWNT) welcomes the release of the [Anderson-Wild] Report and its recommendations.
We look forward to the Chief Minister and NT Government placing a high priority on the implementation of this Report.  We believe the protection of children from  abuse is clearly an issue of national significance. The AASWNT has long called for bipartisan support to address this issue across both the Northern Territory and Federal governments. 
The AASWNT feel strongly that  the recommendations from the Report need to be actioned and hope that this important document is not overshadowed by the recently announced Federal government ‘state of emergency’ actions . 
The desire for an urgent response must not outweigh the importance of genuine consultation with Indigenous people, which is vital for effective long-term change. Whilst we welcome the Federal government’s move to finally take some action in this area, we believe the best response would be to follow the 97 recommendations of the Report.
Gretchen Ennis
Social Justice Sub-Committee   

The world has moved on, Mr Tollner

Sir,– In response to David Tollner (leters, June 21):
In 2007 it is widely recognised that real strength in outcomes lies in diversity and partnerships, not mergers into monolithic structures.
Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education has welcomed the potential siting of the United Nations University Research Centre on Traditional Knowledge in Darwin since our discussion with the Vice-Chancellor of Charles Darwin University on their bid.
Such UN Centres forge links and create opportunities with organisations already on the ground, giving overseas students and academics a range of research perspectives and practices to work with; a much richer experience than that from the simple ‘consolidation’ into one Centre that Mr Tollner suggests.
After Mr Tollner’s foray into this area earlier this year, we had hoped that he might save himself the embarrassment of uninformed comment by visiting Batchelor Institute to see what is actually being achieved. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened, so through this publication let me bring him ‘up to speed’.
According to the Australian Universities Quality Agency report in 2006, Batchelor Institute ‘has a vital national position as the only higher educational institution solely for Indigenous students’.
Currently involving about half of our approximately 3000 students, the Institute offers 12 undergraduate Degrees, three Graduate Certificates/Diplomas and has 10 students in a Master’s by research, with a PhD available from the beginning of 2008. The other half of the students are involved in the 50 VET courses on offer. 
A $2.9m Research and e-Learning building will be completed for the start of the 2008 academic year on the Batchelor campus to house the Research Division and of course in Central Australia, construction has begun on the Desert Peoples Centre, a consortium between Batchelor and the Centre for Appropriate Technology.
The Institute has a strong and well resourced MoU with CDU and last week signed a Partnership Agreement with the NT Government in which 12 areas are nominated for particular collaboration in training, pathways to employment and research so that we can ‘work together to improve economic and social outcomes for Indigenous people in the NT’.
Mr Tollner needs a new tune – the Batchelor/CDU merger melody really is getting very old and tired – the world has moved on.
Tom Evison
Deputy Director
Batchelor Institute

Saving the Old Ghan

Sir,– In reply to Tom Lothian’s letter (June7):
The Old Ghan has found its saviour in the National Transport Hall of Fame who has taken up the challenge of getting the Old Ghan up and running.
The Hall of Fame is going to apply its own methods and techniques to sort out the issues that have been the cause of past failures in managing the museum.
From what I can see, the main problem with past efforts is the inability of people to work together towards a common goal(the enjoyment of
running old trains).
The Hall of Fame has an excellent record and over the past 12 years has grown into an fabulous exhibition of the trucking history of Australia.
If they apply only half the passion that they put into the Hall of Fame, then the Old Ghan will be an exceptional place to experience and learn about the history of one of our great icons.
In a very short time they have managed to lift the Tea Room output and variety to an all time high, including providing a  venue for mothers’ clubs to spend time relaxing over a cappuccino and scones with cream and jam.It will not be long before the trains will be running again for the locals’ and tourists’ enjoyment.
The future restoration of the Ewaninga station will also provide a possible camping and entertainment site for The Finke race goers and other tourists.
J. Mitchell
Homebush, Vic.

ADAM CONNELLY: Nanna’s nose - not her nous.

My backyard is a courtyard that separates my house from the carport.
It is a small stretch of cement with a clothesline on the wall on one side and a patch of earth on the other which has a few plants. A place for a modest garden.
But the garden that occupies the space there is strangely anything but modest.
Indeed the plants that have taken residence in my backyard have taken it upon themselves to grow at such an alarming rate that the courtyard now resembles some small part of the Amazon.
If there is more rain in the next few days I could expect to find Doctor Livingstone within the dense foliage.
Or even an as yet undiscovered mammal. In fact you can all thank me later for the extra oxygen floating around town.
The irony here is that I have contributed extraordinarily little to this ecosystem. Can’t remember the last time I took a hose to this suburban jungle.
In fact I had an uncanny ability in the past to kill plants. I am herbicide in human form. My previous attempts to cultivate a small garden could have me on war crime charges. The death rate in the “garden” was so severe even the lawn perished.
Yet here in Central Australia, a place not known for its hospitable conditions, I can do everything but kill these plants. They’re taking over and there’s nothing I can do about it. The Triffids live in my backyard and they’re ready for world domination. 
I guess I kinda thought gardening would be one of those skills that would just come to me once I got to a certain age. When I was a kid, old people were the ones good in the garden. Mum, Dad, Nan and Pop. I thought, like wisdom, a green thumb comes with age.
Well, I’m now as old as my parents were then and I still know very little about anything botanical. Oh sure, I can identify a rose and a frangipani.
I know you’re meant to wee on a lemon tree but to be perfectly honest, but that’s about it.
And I’m really jealous.
I see these amazing gardens around town. These floral miracles that front homes around the place and I wish I had the ability to create such masterpieces myself. You could say that I’m green with envy (sorry). 
I hear terms like “raised beds” and “cottage style” and I respond to them in the same fashion as hearing Aboriginal language. I hear both all the time but I have no idea what the words actually mean.
What is it that makes the understanding of something as natural as gardening so difficult to me? I am a man of decent intelligence.
I can grasp complex ideas like justice, faith and liberty, yet I don’t know how to prune. Are you even allowed to prune a frangipani? When do you prune a rose? I don’t want to kill these beautiful plants I just want to get to the clothesline from time to time.
Why? Is it my urban upbringing? Was I too long as a child in an environment devoid of the need for gardening skill that I now have no possible chance of ever learning how?  I hope not. What will I do with myself in my winter years?
My grandmother had the best garden in south-western Sydney I’m sure. Christmas bushes, ornamental chilies and these awesome pine trees.  I inherited her nose and her hair but not her gardening nous.
I guess I can count myself lucky that unlike most of the country we can water on a whim. Otherwise my backyard might just be indistinguishable from the Tanami.

Back to front page of the the Alice Springs News.