February 21, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Volunteers shut down in disgust. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Volunteers with energy, community spirit and some also with considerable expertise are throwing in the towel, they say, after years of frustration with the town council.
But the council says the row over neighbourhood parks is a breakdown of communication.
Technical services director Greg Buxton, in the job for seven months and who has not heard from the groups in that time, says there’s been poor communication on both sides but wants to work with them to find a way forward. (See box this page.)
The Kurrajong Area Residents Association (KARA), an incorporated body with a 10 year history, is quietly winding up its affairs, withdrawing volunteers and expertise that could have been worth tens of thousands of dollars to the cash-strapped town council and the town itself.
“People have given up,” says long-time member and spokesperson, Sunil Dhanji, who is also a professional in natural resource management with years of local experience.
“People are burnt out after running around in circles for years.
“Council has no idea how to engage the community, how to use people’s good will and volunteer time.”
And on the Northside there’s a similar story.
In Campbell Park on Saturday a small group of residents decided to take things into their own hands, after waiting nearly two years for council to implement the upgrade plan for their park: the group planted a tree, a native shade species, in the almost shadeless expanse.
Andy Vinter is their spokesperson. He’s another person willing to offer council his expertise for free. He and partner Felicity Forth are the co-authors of Native Plants for Central Australian Gardens, a Greening Australia publication. And he is an experienced landcare coordinator.
In May 2006 residents around Campbell Park came up with a simple planting plan that would have cost around $500. 
Subsequently, the town council obtained a grant from the NT Government to upgrade parks in Alice, one of which one was Campbell Park.
To take advantage of the funds ($10,000 for their park) residents developed a slightly more elaborate plan, involving reducing the irrigated lawn area (a saving in water and mowing for council), more extensive planting of native species, formalising a path, and buying some new play equipment. 
A member of the group with expert plant knowledge developed a detailed plant list and planting design.
Residents were on standby to do the initial labour and are still waiting.
“Council has been sitting on that government money now for 11 months,” says Mr Vinter.
Mr Buxton say the $10,000 for Campbell Park is for equipment only, and does not include an allocation for labour and landscaping which will involve complete refurbishment of the irrigation. He estimates parts and labour for the reticulation alone at $20,000.
He says the work has been earmarked for the 2008-09 capital works program. 
Mr Vinter says maintenance at the park consists of little more than mowing.
But often the grass is quite long before it gets mown and it is also full of burrs.
At Dixon Park on the northern edge of the Northside residential area, where Mr Vinter has also been volunteering, there is no effective control of couch and buffel, essential around the plantings for them to be able to flourish.
Such control would also be required for the eventual Campbell Park plantings. 
Spraying of couch and buffel needs to be done in the right weather conditions but council won’t do that themselves, says Mr Vinter, and won’t allow residents to do it.
Yet Mr Vinter has the appropriate nationally accredited training for handling of herbicides.
Mr Buxton says he has no problem with an appropriately trained volunteer carrying out spraying, but they would have to carry their own insurance. He says groups like Greening Australia have insurance to cover the activity of volunteers.
Mr Dhanji also has complaints about lack of maintenance beyond mowing.
Kurrajong residents chipped buffel grass out of some areas of their park, which is inside the loop formed by Bougainvilia Avenue, Cypress Cresent and Hibiscus Street, and replaced it with wildflowers.
“We got it looking really good,” says Mr Dhanji, “until the mower ran over the whole lot.”
This happened more than once.
“We’d talked to the depot people, we’d talked to the executive, we had plans drawn up, yet it seems like it was the guy who sat on the mower who was in control.”
The fate of a BMX track in the park is even more absurd.
Children had created their own BMX track at the northern end of the park, to one side of a low rocky hill that is a registered sacred site.
The track is known locally as Jump City and became controversial when children had dug quite deep holes around it, to get dirt to shape the jumps, and had also removed dirt and rocks from the sacred site.
Residents over several meetings came to an agreement with council that the main BMX jump circuit in the area would be at Frances Smith Park (on the corner of Undoolya Road and Kurrajong Drive); that Jump City would be removed; but that a junior BMX track further south in Kurrajong Park – “really just a bumpy path for little kids”, says Mr Dhanji  –  would remain.
What actually happened is the oppositie: Jump City remains to this day, but the junior track was removed.
“It just doesn’t make any sense!” says an exasperated Mr Dhanji.
Mr Buxton says, apart from one record, there is no minuted trail of what happened in relation to the jumps. He says “from this point on” there will be such minutes. 
Both Mr Vinter and Mr Dhanji complain about council’s failure to implement its own open space strategy, especially after hundreds of volunteer hours went into the meetings that helped shape it.
“The idea of it was to harness community energy and interest,” says Mr Vinter, “and to re-prioritise council’s activities: to reduce maintenance in areas where it’s not required, to increase it in areas where it is, using the public’s interest to help do that.
“The strategy has basically gone out the window except that council used it to lobby the NT Government for funds but nothing’s happening with those funds.
“Their Environmental Officer position has been vacant for most of the past two years.
“In meetings council have used that as an excuse for inaction.”
A key problem, says Mr Dhanji, is council’s lack of consistency.
“Council said they’d nominate a person who would liaise between the groups, the elected members, the executive and the depot.
“But from one contact to the next we had to deal with a new person who was never briefed about what had happened in the past.
“Council promised quarterly meetings and they never happened.”
Mr Dhanji says KARA believes that council staff with whom they were dealing were “honest and well-intentioned”.
“Unfortunately though, when they got back to their office, it seems they were enveloped by a culture that made it difficult to alter processes, to allow input from the public.
“They have never been proactive, we always had to be banging on the door.
“They’ve latched onto National Tree Day, once they saw how many people turned up, but that’s it.”
Lack of progress has often been excused by the need to finish developing policy first, says Mr Dhanji.
Under their open space strategy, which he says has never been formally adopted, an Eastside Precinct Working Group was formed.
Residents did a comprehensive survey of parks in the area and produced a detailed 85 page document identifying different levels of development and maintenance for the parks in accordance with their range of different uses and settings.
Deputy Mayor David Koch, expressing anger and surprise at the treatment KARA has apparently received from the council, says he has never been informed of the problems, neither by the association nor council staff.
He acknowledges the value of the Eastside document: “It should be used as a model.
“The council could have never afforded to pay for such a document,” says Ald Koch.
Says Mr Dhanji: “This was a huge amount of work and it has never been adopted.
“Staff changes and poor briefings are not enough of an excuse. This is an organisational failure and a lack of commitment by the executive to iron out the problems.” 
Ald Koch says council has adopted much of the Eastside document, using it as a “blueprint”.
He also “believes” that council  has adopted the Open Space Strategy as policy.
He encourages community members to contact aldermen if they feel they’re not getting action on a council matter “so we can then question why it’s not working”.
Mr Dhanji says KARA did indeed make a deputation to elected members on June 27, 2005.
They expressed concern over five key points.
The first was about seats that had been ordered for Kurrajong Park but had not been installed.
Council’s reply acknowledged lack of communication between the Environmental Officer and the works department.
KARA was told the seats would be installed by July 15, 2005. It was finally done towards the end of last year.

‘We should have talked’

Different expectations and poor communications on both sides have contributed to the “extreme frustration” of some residents over the slow pace of upgrades to their neighborhood parks.
“There’s been poor communication with these groups,” says the town council’s director of technical services, Greg Buxton.
“I apologise for it, and I will apologise to them.
“But, while I won’t use ignorance as an excuse, I’ve not heard from them in the seven months I’ve been in the job. The depot manager has not heard from them in the 12 months he has been in the job.
“So the poor communication is on both sides. I can read their total frustration in this article. But I don’t want to get into rock-throwing. We should get together, see how we can move forward, develop an action plan. I would chair that meeting, there would be formal minutes.” 
The council has endorsed the Revitalising Public Open Space Project Report and 10 Year Plan developed by a residents group for the Eastside / Sadadeen Precinct, but with the important proviso, “subject to budget allocation and the availability of council resources”.
“We are working to this plan,” says Mr Buxton, pointing to extensive works going on at Frances Smith Park.
“But the costings in it are totally undercooked, especially for prices in today’s market. “
The document suggests costs of $300,000, while Mr Buxton says real costs, including labour, would be closer to $2.5m.
The plan costs works for Kurrajong Park at $22,000, but Mr Buxton says the shade structures alone that have gone in there cost $40,000 apiece, including installation.
A five year review of the plan is due at the end of this year: “I welcome that,” says Mr Buxton.
He is surprised that his predecessors haven’t had a financial discussion with the residents groups; it’s something he intends to do “so that expectations are appropriate to actions”.
He says the council workforce is finite and their major focus at this time of the year is on the town’s sporting ovals, responding to strong public demand.

Work camps or same old? Candidates on booze war. ERWIN CHLANDA speaks with mayoral candidates about the failing Dry Town.

Lock up and put to work habitual grog offenders: Koch.

Alderman David Koch says he would lobby for alternatives to gaol.
People ordered to undergo alcohol rehabilitation and some people imprisoned for minor crimes should be confined to work camps from which a range of community services could be carried out: building the work camps themselves; collection of litter in public places in the town; eradication of buffel grass and Ruby Dock in the Desert Park and the West MacDonnell Ranges; fighting Mexican Poppy in the Todd River and Roe Creek; and extending the Larapinta Trail towards South Australia.
The work camps would be self-sufficient custodial facilities, growing their own vegetables and slaughtering cattle, taking pressure off the currently overcrowded Alice gaol.
Ald Koch says an end should be put to illegal camping by setting up transient camps, one near the Yuendumu turnoff from the North Stuart Highway, and one at Owen Springs, some 40km south of town, both linked to the town with shuttle buses.
He says council rangers should “not be put in a position of physical harm” when policing council by-laws.
Around town rangers ask people to move on, but some people in the Todd River are “too threatening”.
Asked whether authorities are capitulating to a lawless element Ald Koch says: “The rangers do attend but back off when threatened.
“They should back off. We are holding our ground but we’re not making headway. We’re no better off than six months ago, despite Dry Town.”

WMDs in a bottle

Ald Meredith Campbell wants dramatic action to restrict alcohol which she sees as a “weapon of mass destruction”.
She says:  “Extending council’s public places by-laws to prohibit camping in the Todd River 24/7 would be a futile and costly exercise.
“The council’s ranger unit is currently involved in prosecuting existing by-laws to the full extent of their regulatory powers, while having regard for their personal safety.
“To my mind, there is no jurisdictional requirement of council to pass and prosecute by-laws prohibiting consumption of alcohol in a public place.  This is the legislative purview of the NT Government, which has the regulatory powers and the designated personnel (law enforcement officers) to deal with offenders according to the law.
“Asking council to extend its personnel resource (the ranger unit) to “police” public places for camping violations 24/7 would result in a cost impost to ratepayers (a significant rate rise) with very little reduction of illegal behaviours in public places.  It would literally be a drop in the bucket.
“Let’s stop parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and start putting a fence around the top to stop people falling down.
“Buying back the Todd Tavern’s liquor licence would be significant step in returning Todd Mall to sober families and visitors by removing the grog and the grog troubles from the top end of the CBD.  This iconic building lends itself perfectly to multiple community uses.

Council must go on offensive in grog war, says van Haaren

Ald Melanie van Haaren says council has no choice but to become more resolute over public drinking.
“Commander Hofer’s comments left no question in my mind that despite wide acknowledgment that the Dry Town law is being breached on a daily basis, the local police force will not be cranking up enforcement of the legislation.
“Cdr Hofer does not even regard this policing responsibility to be core business.  This leaves no other option but for council to follow through – and introduce tough local by-laws aimed at reducing public drinking.
“However, we should learn from the Dry Town legislation experience and be prepared. 
“Being prepared would include ensuring we provide the necessary training for rangers; forming contractual arrangements with other agencies so we do not operate alone; and supporting programs that are part of the big solution like Return to Country and Day Patrol.
“I don’t see anything unusual in taking action! 
“Let’s be honest, most of the public drinkers are not criminals. They are drunk. 
“So why would we shy away from taking action and insist that it is only the police who have a role?  Secondly, a firm approach is not unprecedented.  Many other councils in Australia have tackled similar issues, albeit on a smaller scale, by using by-laws and other agencies effectively.
“Council needs to take a stand on this issue.
“We cannot rely on others to do what sits within our area of responsibility – that is maintaining a clean, tidy and ‘good feel’ town.”

We will make council by-laws work – Ryan

Damien Ryan, the only mayoral candidate so far who is not a sitting alderman, says under his leadership he would do his best to see that “the new council will have the resolve to enforce its by-laws.
“We would make sure by-laws work.”
Mr Ryan says it would be part of the council rangers’ job to enforce existing litter and camping by-laws. He says new by-laws may be considered. The tipping out of alcohol illegally consumed in public places would remain a job for police because “it requires specialist training”.
Mr Ryan says he is in favor of a plan by new Police Commander Bert Hofer to consult with indigenous women, and will encourage him to consult with men as well.
Mr Ryan says he would work closely with the shires coming into effect in July, to the north and the south of Alice Springs “to direct the problems where they belong”.

Dry Town was set to fail

Ald Jane Clark says the failures of the Dry Town legislation were predictable and she did not support its introduction.
And its enforcement is a job for police, not council rangers.
“There are six council rangers who work very hard and are not trained as police officers.  There are 150 plus police personnel in Alice Springs who are highly trained and who signed up to do policing. 
“Why should Local Government step in and take over Territory and Australian Government roles? 
“Council rangers are employed to enforce by-laws but they are not expected, nor are they trained, to enter situations where their safety may be in danger. 
“Our rangers have in the past provided vehicles and bags for garbage collection by river campers and, together with Tangentyere Night Patrol, assisted them to move on. 
“This is above and beyond their call of duty.
“Unlike the other mayoral candidates, I traveled to Port Augusta with Mayor Kilgarrif for talks about the Dry Town legislation. 
“I also had discussion with other mayors along the way. After seeing the resultant migration of people displaced by the Dry Town laws in Port Augusta, I made a considered decision to oppose their introduction, citing Alice Springs’ lack of services to help rehabilitate people with addictions.
“Mental Health Services have not improved and the Dry Town legislation has lead to a “cat and mouse” game between police and drinkers.
“Council should interact with the new shires over appropriate transport services both in and out of town to communities so people are not stuck in town.”

Stewart’s pledge to continue focus on anti-social behavior

Alderman Murray Stewart had not replied to the Alice News’ request for comment by the time we went to press but said he would make a comprehensive statement next week.
His campaign material promises that as mayor he will:
• remain the town leader in resolving criminal / anti-social behaviour; 
• convene regular meetings with all law enforcement agencies;
• request that parents and police work together to crack down on gang-related criminal activity; and,
• call on council to establish a youth council with a focus on self-respect, discipline and opportunity creation. 

Will someone who can fix The Problem please stand up? COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Now that the Dry Town experiment is clearly falling in a heap, what next?
Bert Hofer, Alice’s new top cop, last week shared a few blunt truths with the town council.
He says the new laws are widely flouted and police are merely shifting illegal drinkers around town. Town council by-laws and their enforcement are inadequate (Alice News, February 14).
This is raising fears, just as the government is spending an additional $10m on anti-social behavior in Darwin, that in Alice Springs, Dry Town is just the latest in a string of incompetent measures, again failing to deal with the town’s major problem.
As part of the futile tinkering the NT Government has set up an alcohol court. However, it can only impose an order for custodial rehabilitation on a person who has committed an offense punishable by prison.
The court should surely be allowed to order compulsory rehabilitation for people guilty of unacceptable behavior resulting from habitual drunkenness, although it is not against the law.
Should drunkenness be made an offense again? Shane Stone put this question on the agenda in 1998.
When in the ‘seventies drunkenness was an offense, people convicted were on court records, and repeat offenders could be given increasingly serious sentences.
In that era, the legendary (some would call him notorious) magistrate Godfrey “Scrubby” Hall tried and sentenced dozens of defendants in a morning, practically all black, charged with drunkenness or related offenses.
Cases would take less than a minute to be heard and decided (see story this page).
But soon there was a massive shift in public opinion about dealing with Aboriginal offenders in such a way.
This was triggered by the advent of Aboriginal Legal Aid; by decriminalizing drunkenness in 1974 (disorderly behaviour and a range of similar offences remained on the statute books); a burgeoning Aboriginal rights movement; the deaths in custody royal commission; and the coming into fashion of the view that drunkenness should be treated as an illness, and not a crime.
More recently the decline – if not collapse – of the outstation movement set in, and an accelerating urban drift to Alice Springs got under way.
Today, hundreds of people, many of them without access to a proper dwelling, are milling around town, waiting for welfare payments, drinking and engaging in anti-social behavior.
The softly-softly approach to drunkenness and public disorder has invited brazen contempt for law and order.
Cdr Hofer is no stranger to these problems in The Centre.
He was here between 1982 and 1988, relieving in bush stations, and in town attached to the Criminal Investigations Branch.
After a stint in Darwin with the CIB and the Combined Drug Enforcement Unit he came back to The Centre in 1997 for two years, as Superintendent in charge of the bush stations, followed by postings in Katherine and again Darwin.
Crd Hofer took the top job here three weeks ago.
The town will look to him and the new town council to – finally – get a handle on the grog strife that’s been tearing this community apart for a generation.
And council candidates will be judged by how resolute they are to expand the council’s role in the war on grog, instead of endlessly passing the buck, and how determined they will be in putting pressure on an uncaring government.
“That’s not our job” just isn’t going to cut it any more.

McAdam’s resignation: insult to apparent injury? COMMENT by ALEX NELSON.

Long ago, when I was a very active member of the CLP, I believed – as so many do today – that there was no reason why a political leader had to be from Darwin.
I thought it would be a very good thing for the Territory overall if there were more members of sufficient caliber to be capable of leading the government, especially if they came from the Alice!
Many people outside of Darwin, especially from Alice Springs, are offended by the deposing of Jodeen Carney as Opposition Leader by Terry Mills on the basis of residency close to Darwin – an attitude exemplified in Adam Connelly’s column last week: “The reason for Jodeen Carney’s ousting … was that the leader lived in Alice Springs and was therefore incapable of effectively running the party”.
To add insult to apparent injury, the resignation of Elliot McAdam from the governments’ ministry last week has led to the situation where there are no ministers from the southern half of the NT, and the new Minister for Central Australia comes from (gasp) the Top End!
The problem with all our outrage and umbrage is that history is against us.
Twice now I have written about the failures of all political leaders in the Northern Territory who were from outside of Darwin (see Alice News, February 7, 2008, and August 3, 2005).
However, Elliot McAdam’s resignation as minister serves to illustrate my point still further, as the track record of government ministers out of Darwin also demonstrates a troubled history.
This isn’t to say they have all failed as ministers – some have acquitted themselves well – but it invariably exacts a heavy toll on health and home.
Interestingly, the record shows that the further a minister resides from Darwin, the harder it becomes to fulfill that role.
Here are some examples:
• Jim Robertson, the Member for Gillen (later Araluen), the education minister and attorney-general in the Everingham years, and considered the closest rival in debate against Labor leader Bob Collins, was “burnt out” and resigned in 1986.
• Ray Hanrahan, Member for Flynn (in the Alice), was elected into office in 1983.
In his first term of office, Hanrahan held the portfolios of Tourism; Youth, Sport, Recreation and Ethnic Affairs; Industry and Development; and became the first Territory- and Alice-born deputy chief minister.
His meteoric rise was matched by his demise, when he “flamed out” in spectacular fashion in mid-1988.
• Roger Vale, Member for Stuart and later Braitling, was unassailable as a government backbencher but when he was eventually given portfolio responsibilities – virtually by popular demand – for Youth, Sport, Recreation and Ethnic Affairs; Central Australia; and Tourism, it was soon apparent he was not up to the task and his health gave out, forcing his retirement in 1994.
• Eric Poole (Member for Araluen 1986 to 2001) and Richard Lim (Member for Greatorex 1994 to 2007) held a variety of portfolios. Neither were outstanding performers as government ministers (Poole being demoted to the backbench at least once) but, by the same token, both left office for reasons other than workload (Lim, of course, being in opposition when he departed).
• Finally, for the ALP, we have Peter Toyne, former Member for Stuart, for whom the pressure of his considerable ministerial workload led to his resignation in 2006.
All of this begs the question why it is so difficult to be a minister or political leader outside of Darwin.
At this juncture it is worth quoting Adam Connelly again: “We only have 200,000 people in the Territory yet the argument is that the leader must live in the “capital”.
“The lesson that can be learned from all of this stupidity is simple.
“If you are a young person with a passion for politics, with a zeal for making changes for the better, don’t move to Darwin, move to Queensland.
“Their most successful politician was a peanut farmer from Kingaroy, current population 7260”.
However, this glosses over a number of important points.
Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson (the said Kingaroy peanut farmer) perfectly illustrates the difference in politics between the NT and the rest of Australia.
Sir Joh barnstormed through the Territory on behalf of the rebel conservative party, the NT Nationals, leading up to the NT elections of March 1987.
The NT Nationals were very confident of victory. Some candidates even went into CLP members’ electorate offices to check them out for changes they’d make after taking their seats.
Only the leader, Ian Tuxworth, who held the advantage of incumbency in Barkly, won his seat.
The power of Territory parochialism was demonstrated when CLP chief minister Steve Hatton claimed victory, not by exalting over Labor, but by holding aloft a toilet brush for Sir Joh to wipe the egg off his face.
Yet only months later Bjelke-Peterson’s “Joh for PM” campaign derailed Liberal leader John Howard’s tilt for prime minister, consigning the federal coalition to almost a decade longer in opposition.
The claim that Bjelke-Peterson was Queensland’s “most successful politician” also sets aside the fact that he presided over one of the most notoriously corrupt governments in Australian history.
NEXT WEEK: We have too many pollies in the over-governed Territory.

LETTERS: We need an inspirational starting point to prime visitors for The Centre.

Sir,- Your reader survey is a useful way of promoting debate and should send a strong message of community disillusionment to government. In this spirit I’d like to elaborate on the issue raised in Question 1 which urges a change of use for the civic centre.
Ironically, a report commissioned in the mid 1960’s proposed a major Central Australian Museum on the site now occupied by the Alice Town Council! Such a facility would have given visitors a real sense of arrival and helped to project our regional identity.
The concept showed a building that is remarkably similar to the council facilities eventually built on the site. I guess civic pride is always going to triumph over the practical needs of disoriented visitors criss-crossing the town looking for a focus, a place to gather their thoughts and review options.
Alice Springs does need an inspirational starting point to prime visitors for their exploration of the area. While the current CATIA building is pretty good it’s not worthy of the regional destination it represents - the scale alone resembles little more than a city travel agency!
Certainly a huge opportunity exists to lift the sense of expectation and arrival for visitors before we add further to the rich mix of under-utilised museums and attractions. Our spectacular and compact town setting offers a range of quality stand alone satellites, such as the cultural precinct at Araluen to the Desert Park in the west, the Telegraph Station Historical Reserve on the northern edge of town and the Desert Knowledge Precinct to the south.
For visitors an overview is crucial and could have a real effect on the time they spend in the town on this visit or the next.
The existing introduction to Alice Springs could be greatly improved with inspired use of interactive technology so that visitors can visually sample the complex environmental and cultural layers that exist in the spaces between the major attractions.
Imagine what could be done for raising appreciation of sacred sites, heritage, environment, the arts or solar cities with a magnified approach to google earth!
Imagine the potential for creative cross referencing between the major government sponsored facilities.
Is it too late to change course now and modify existing council buildings to serve as a multi-purpose visitor centre?
Should the town’s civic functions occupy such an important site?
The town council passed up the option to purchase commercial buildings within the CBD at much less than the cost of new construction.
I’m not sure if these options (Greatorex and Jock Nelson Buildings) are still available at the right price.
Alternatively, is there a better site for a visitor orientation facility with more room for significant basement carparking and surface lay-bys for coaches and caravans? We must think bigger!
The railway yards, shell depot and school grounds at the base of Anzac Hill offer obvious redevelopment opportunities. Compulsory acquisition of some land may be essential.
Further potential for redevelopment also exists within the council site.
The library could certainly be given a fresh lease of life and a pivotal role in the visitor orientation facility of the future - although I think choosing this site could be just another knee-jerk.
The fragmented and ad-hoc built environment of Alice Springs is not exactly a triumph of far-sighted town planning, regional identity and arid zone design that respects and protects sacred sites or historic buildings. If we want to succeed as a community we must give substantial support to our planning professionals to thoroughly explore these issues in an environment that is free of political interference and commercial interests.
In the process we might just keep the best planners and attract a new breed of developers who want to be part of a quality townscape.
In summary, I don’t think polling a closed question will provide the best option for siting key facilities of the future. I’m also not sure that visitor orientation facilities should come at the expense of urgent priorities such as hostel accommodation for indigenous workers. But that’s another story ...
Maybe we could divert some of the river of tourism marketing cash in the belief that major improvements to the visitor experience will have far-reaching benefits through word of mouth.
Alice Springs will also have something tangible to show for our investment beyond the life of an advertising campaign.
We must at least resolve where major strategic projects will be sited and how they will be linked, even if we can’t afford to implement our dreams yet.
Mike Gillam
Alice Springs

Sir,- It is not good enough! Appointing a Minister for Central Australia who does not represent the region in any shape or form is insulting.
Alice Springs needs the advocacy of a minister who through their own experience understands the issues and challenges facing the region.
In an environment of scarce and competing priorities Central Australia is bound to lose through the new arrangement.
Alderman Melanie van Haaren
Alice Springs

Sir,- We read with interest your article titled “Dry town a farce”.
If you want another photo like the one used in your article, take a look under the John Blakeman Bridge - it is also full of beer cartons, cans and bottles.
The amount of people camping and drinking in the Todd River behind the Old Timers Aged Care Facility is unbelievable.
Any one who says Alice Springs is a dry town is just kidding themselves.
Christel and Vern Ellis
Alice Springs

Sir,- The debate about the demise of Bowerbird Tip Shop continues in the community because of unfinished business that ought to be dealt with.
Apparently Bowerbird was unable to lodge a competitive tender for the recent waste management contract because of two historic weaknesses in previous contract arrangements.
First, they were only ever offered three year contracts, which made it impossible to secure a business loan to purchase equipment which would increase their recycling efforts.
Second, their access to the tip face was always subject to the whims of the company managing the tip face.
The new contractors already have enough equity to purchase equipment and they do not have to negotiate with anyone for access to the tip face.
The new arrangement will mean more recycling (an increase from 0.3% to 15%) and we need that to happen, hence I am happy that Subloos is getting on with the job.
However, what happens to the myriad of other social functions provided to the town by Bowerbird?
This needs further negotiation and engagement between council and the people involved.
Council does have a moral responsibility to address the shortfall, to say thank you for past efforts and to find a way forward.  Bowerbird-type organisations could very well help get kerbside recycling going, but only if council is prepared to talk, negotiate and work hard at getting the most out of the people who live in Alice.
Ald Jane Clark
Alice Springs

Sir,- Ted Johansen is the new caretaker and property manager of the Hamilton Downs Youth Camp on a short term contract.
He has extensive knowledge in landscaping and small business and has a particular interest in invertebrates studying a number of snakes and geckoes in Central Australia.
Now is the time to ready the camp for the start of the school camping activities.
It has had some of the facilities upgraded with work on the toilet and shower blocks, fresh paint work in the bunkhouses and some interesting new bush walks.
The camp, just 75 km from Alice Springs, has an interesting collection of historic houses and buildings from the original pioneers.
It offers a bush setting for school groups and other travellers looking to explore the real outback with the peace and quite of the bush.
The camp looks over the spectacular Chewing Ranges and is a welcome overnight stop for walkers on the Larrapinta trail.
People can book at or phone 89 568613.
Ren Kelly, Chairman
Hamilton Downs Youth Camp

Year 12: launching pad for life. By DARCY DAVIS.

It’s described as the launching pad for life, the one that really counts, the toughest year of your academic life – Year 12.
But what are the students of ‘08 making of this “life launching” year? I caught up with Year 12s from both St Philip’s and Centralian College to find out.
Students had a variety of goals:
“Well as school captain [of St Philip’s] I want to demolish bullying,” said Sam Huben.
“I just wanna be happy,” said Kelly Patrick.
“I wanna get a TER above 80.3 – ‘cos that’s what my brother got,” said Lilly Alexander. “I just want to pass and finish,” said Nathan Bald.
“I want to pass with a good enough grade to do anything I feel like doing,” said Kirsty Imms.
“I just want to get a TER, any TER,” said Stuart Thomas.
None was content about the impending hardship:
“I’m not looking forward to when you’ve got a lot of work and you don’t wanna do it and you have to make yourself do it … and exams!” grimaced Jen Montgomery.
She continued grimacing: “I’m not looking forward to the pressure from my parents either.”
“Oh yeah, that’s totally bad,” agreed Kelly.
Are there any perks and lurks?
“This year we’ve got our own fridge [in the Year 12 area at St P’s], so I’m pretty excited. Oh and I get to make noodles – you can’t go too wrong with Mi Goreng,” said Sam.
“I also get to bring my own Caesar sauce for my salads and sandwiches.
“And, if I wanted to, bring my tooth paste and brush to do my teeth at school,” continued Sam before I could stop him. In times of stress and hard work it helps to have a toothbrush handy for oral support.
There were a lot of good intentions for the final year.
Josh Johnny is more determined about his second year of Year 12: “My first year was just a warm up, this year I’m serious. I’m gonna try harder and listen to my teachers.”
“I have to knuckle down this year,” said Stuart, “‘cos I’d been slacking off a fair bit last year. I’ve only got two exams though, so my year shouldn’t be too stressful.”
I was impressed by how serious everybody was about “this year”. But Lilly’s plans go well beyond: “I’m gonna take a gap year and I’m hoping to go and work at another Round Square school for three months, one with a good outdoor ed program, like Sedbergh in Canada, and then I’ll probably work here for six months and save up. 
“And I’m gonna do a first aid course and see if I can get one of my outdoor ed certificates ... ”
Lilly was brought back to the moment with the arrival of the Assistant Senior Coordinator carrying a huge sack of ominous looking yellow, manila, school-branded envelopes. 
“Lilly – your form, where is it? Lil-ly!”
But Lilly’s daydream of a life after school could not be shattered by any Assistant Senior Coordinator.
“… then from September onwards I’m gonna go down to Tassie and work in the adventure tourism industry…”
Lilly took a small breath to remember where she was in her future before continuing: “…and then I’ll go to uni in Queensland or Victoria the year after and study Environmental Science.
“I’d like to do some work with parks and wildlife, so I’d like to study ecology or zoology to set me up for a job in conservation.” 
Wow, she’s got it all mapped out.
Some, like Melissa McLay, had heard about the poverty line beyond the Year 12 area fridge.  “My brother’s so poor at Uni that he has to eat kangaroo meat instead of normal meat ‘cos he can’t afford normal meat.”
Tom Howard, who is completing his second year of Year 12, also had some clear cut ideas – maybe it was because he had learnt to ride to the future on a bicycle.
“I’m only doing two subjects and working at Penny Farthing Bike Shop the other half of the time,” explained Tom.
“I wanna be a teacher so I’m gonna do an outdoor ed course in Bendigo.”
Stuart was not so sure.
“I was thinking about going to uni after Year 12,” he said.
“I dunno what I’ll do yet but I was just thinking about going there”.
“It’ll be worth a year of pain and hardship to have finished Year 12 and have it under your belt,” said Lilly, wrapping up. 
“I agree with that,” said Kelly, “but I don’t wear a belt.” 

Love songs and tassled nipples. By DARCY DAVIS.

Hibernating artists, performance artists and regular artists showed what they could do at the Red Hot Hearts event at The Lane last Friday, kicking off the arts and entertainment calendar for the year.
Normal people also came.
Poets were flying through the door like ammunition to enter the Public Library Valentine’s Day poetry competition.
There were a record 16 entrants in the competition this year, most of whom presented their work on the mic.
Entrants ranged from 10 year old Pearl Moffat to 70 something year old Trish Van Dijk.
Trish’s poetic homage to her husband Bill was called “The Meaning of Love” and following her reading, husband Bill came to the stage and received a red hot, heart felt hug from his wife to the applause of the crowd. 
This year local writer and tour guide Linda Wells, was the winner, with a poem describing her love of the Central Australian environment.
Following the poetry extravaganza was Valentine’s belly dance. Kael Murray, dressed in a deep red outfit, created a sensual atmosphere moving her lithe, shapely body. Kael’s dance was frank and intentionally sexually suggestive – the crowd was rapt. Possibly due to Kael’s performance, by 9pm, The Lane was declared “packed”. 
Above was a beautiful summer night’s sky with a three quarter moon and pillow-like clouds beckoning. The harp playing of Emma Trenorden with friends on saxaphone and guitar was an apt soundtrack for such a romantic setting. 
Charmaine Kik, alluringly dressed in a red fedora, fake body vest and red hot, tasselled nipples, operated the kissing booth. For a mere two dollars a shot, she activated the polaroid camera and snapped the kissing couples. Everyone from Cupid to the horny devil were caught in the act.
The next musical act was the Not Real Cowboys, who raunched through a few country love hits.
The bass player especially caught my attention, rocking out with great gusto and conviction without blocking any love.
In between live music sets, DJs Kryptelle, Mustapha and Booty Slayer distributed request forms for sexy and sappy hits of the 80s resulting in many singing along like full, footy anthems.
Showing their faces after the sappy, smash hits were the new four-piece line up, Dr. Strangeways, featuring trumpet, guitar, bass, keyboard (that’s me), melodica and drums,  with members of the band swapping their instruments at various times in the set.
Alderman Valentino, new to the music of Dr. Strangeways, said “the band’s sound was solid, earthy, grounded and gave an uncanny musical interpretation of the solidity of the desert earth and the ancient rhythms beneath – flowing, like the sub-artesian basin.”
The venue was full to overflowing with love and you got the feeling the crowd was more than ready for the summer social drought to break. There were some fresh faces at the event and some new influences on the music and arts scene.
Red Hot Hearts launched the entertainment year with flare. If it’s any indication, 2008 promises a good mix of wacky humour, crazy characters, a lively music scene and the high level of creativity we’ve come to expect – let’s keep those nipple tassels twirling.

ADAM CONNELLY: Centralian – it’s a different language.

Never let it be said that the people of Alice Springs are afraid to speak their mind.
We are a group of shout it from the roof toppers of the finest order. Even when we have very little to say, we tend to want to say it as loudly as possible.
Think back to the Alice Springs sitting of parliament last year. That first day we had plenty to say and we said it en masse. We also have a brilliant knack of saying what needs to be said in a way that leaves the sayee in no doubt as to the message being conveyed.
Some from other parts of the country might call it belligerent, I reckon it’s refreshingly direct.
In the cities that pepper the east coast of our country, this direct style of communication would be seen as rude, maybe even primitive and definitely uncultured.
You see in our major cities Australians have developed another form of communication. The urban Australian has developed a way of saying what is on his or her mind in a way that cannot possibly offend, even when trying to be offensive.
Children in the education systems of these cities learn just as many rules of grammar in Legal Studies classes as in English classes. It’s social evolution at its purest. Most of the children studying at these schools will one day work in some level of middle management, the language of which is unlike any other.  From the workplace the business speak has filtered into the everyday vernacular.
An example of the difference between Alice and the cities materialised this weekend.
I was at one of the local refreshment places in town enjoying a beverage when a person I had met maybe twice in three years sidled up beside me. I could tell by the look in their eye that I was about to witness the famous Alice Springs candour.
“You’re Adam, aren’t you?” they said, just warming up. “Yep.”
“Geez you talk a load of crap on the radio.”
There it is. In all its glory. Succinct and on topic.
Now here’s where a Central Australian upbringing and an East Coast upbringing differ. The slightly intoxicated and unsolicited heckler used 10 words. I was in no doubt as to their feelings on the topic of crap, the radio and me.
So what was my response? If I was true to the Alice Springs ethos of direct and to the point I guess the retort would have began with “Listen mate, why don’t you just ...”
But by now, good reader, you would have figured out 440 words into this column that I was raised on the East Coast. I still find it difficult to say one word when I can use 20. It’s nothing personal; it’s just the way I was raised.
Without missing a beat I can launch into a verbal essay the size of the Territory itself.
I came back with, “You’re right I do talk some crap, and I tell you what the best bit about that is … I get paid to do it. How cool am I?”
Now to the untrained that might sound like I’m full of myself , but in a similar bar full of similar people in a suburb in Sydney I wouldn’t have been gilding my own lily, I would have been telling you to back off.
The problem was that I was not in a similar pub full of similar people. I was here and so was the heckler.
“Think you’re cool, do ya? Not with that face, mate.”

Back to front page of the the Alice Springs News.