May 22, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Town planning: "I’ll listen," says Delia.

Planning Minister Delia Lawrie is giving clear signals to Alice Springs that the June 5 public planning forum will shape the town’s future, and that the NT Government will do everything reasonable to bring to fruition proposals from the town’s people.
But the minister seems at odds with her government’s own bureaucracy about long term plans for water supply, and the current lull in the provision of $700m worth of new Aboriginal housing and repairs.
Ms Lawrie says locals will choose where the town’s new residential, rural and industrial developments will take place.
Is she going to be guided by what the forum says?
“Of course,” says Ms Lawrie in an interview with the Alice Springs News.
Commenting on the housing shortage she says headworks are under way, at a cost of several thousand dollars, in Mt Johns Valley, between the golf course and the MacDonnell Ranges: “We’re looking at about 70 lots as the first stage.
“I don’t think it’s far off.”
Mt Johns Valley is tipped to yield a total of 600 blocks, over time.
One issue yet to be decided, according to a spokesperson, is what kind of deal there will be with the local native title body, Lhere Artepe.
At Larapinta Lhere Artepe got about half the undeveloped land, which it sold to a developer for $1m.
Most of that land has been re-sold to either “spec builders” or end buyers, and most blocks are built on.
The agreement contains a clause that specifically rules out for that deal to be used as a precedent for future native title agreements, and so – at least on paper – it will have no influence on the Mt Johns agreement currently being thrashed out.
There are no court decisions which have put a money value on native title, nor its variety of forms and entitlement, and so cash deals are the product of guesswork and good will.
There has been a four year delay with the second Larapinta stage, also around 40 blocks, the land the government retained for development.
One obstacle was a requirement to have welfare housing scattered amongst privately owned blocks.
The land was finally sold at auction for more than $1m in November last year after the removal of that requirement, although six blocks will be reserved for people eligible for a Home North first home buyer’s loan, and there will be a “managed complex” for seniors.
Says Ms Lawrie: “I’ll be interested what [Larapinta Stage Two] is turning off, because what you don’t want to do is flood the market.
“They are separate markets.
“Larapinta is one end of the market and Mt Johns is obviously the top end of the market in terms of its magnificent location.”
Ms Lawrie says in-fill development in existing suburbs – allowing higher density dwellings such as duplexes and flats – don’t require new government headworks.
“Flats are more an issue around medium density, and what people will accept.”
Again, where such developments should occur will be an issue for the forum.
She says such decisions go through a process of public consultation: “In which areas do the residents of Alice Springs say that’s the sort of housing developments that are OK?”
The public process culminates in recommendations to the Minister.
Ms Lawrie says she won’t be doing any “crystal ball gazing but I expect I’ll accept [the recommendations] because it’s a pretty thorough process”.
She is less clear about how much money will be available for the implementation of what the public demands.
“It’s a 10 years and plus program,” she says.
“The dollars change over the years.
“What you have to do is make an agreement [with the public about] the planning of the city.
“The next step is setting priorities.
“You have at least a decade of planning what you turn off and when.”
How much money can she forecast the town will get for new developments, in the next couple of budgets, for example, given that the town has been stagnating for 10 years?
“I don’t know that you’ve been stagnating.
“You’ve had land releases in the last four years that you haven’t seen for a long time before that.
“Alice Springs is going ahead. I don’t think this is a town that’s stagnating.
“I’ve been coming here since the ‘seventies. I’ve seen the town grow, and it’s continuing to grow.
“I think it’s at a really exciting stage of its development.
“You’ve got interesting and innovative tourism products springing up in and around Alice Springs, and an increased understanding of Alice Springs as a major service centre to the entire region, and the funding that this is attracting from both Federal and Territory governments.”
The current budget allocated $26m in “new dollars” to upgrade the electricity supply: “a significant part, without a doubt” would be to start moving the noisy power station out of town.
“We will always, where the need requires it, put the big bucks into the infrastructure spend,” says Ms Lawrie.
Good government is to “get the planning right, get – importantly – the people involved in the planning, to understand what the real costs are of delivering those outcomes, and for government to make sure it’s financially capable of delivering.”
If the propositions from the public “stack up” they will be resourced.
“We now know the water capacity underlying the sustainable development of Alice Springs ... for the next 100 years.
“There is significant capacity for safe water culture growth.”
However, Ms Lawrie expressd surprise about criticism of the government consultation process last year about the future water supply.
The public was represented by a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Donald McDonald, and Town Council Alderman Murray Stewart (Alice News, Nov 22, 2007).
They said a pre-condition of the water inquiry was that they could ask for whatever they wanted, so long as it didn’t require expenditure beyond the present level.
Ald Stewart said whenever spending money on new developments was mentioned in the strategy planning group, there were “gentle indications that this is not our charter.
“We would have been shown the door.
“We can really only base this plan on the current trends,” Ald Stewart said the committee was told, although trends “were not all that healthy, the trend was zero growth”.
And Mr McDonald said: “They have gone for the cheapest solution.”
Had that condition been imposed by the government?
“Absolutely not,” says Ms Lawrie.
“It goes against everything I knew about the process.
“It would be ridiculous in terms of planning the future of Alice Springs to say it’s ground zero in terms of resourcing.
“This surprises me because I came down and launched the water allocation plan, and I launched the new water allocation committee” which is being resourced from Ms Lawrie’s portfolio on an ongoing basis.
Ms Lawrie says the current lull in the construction of new homes for Aborigines (Alice News, April 17) wasn’t the NT Government’s fault, but the lack of Federal money until the new financial year.
As “bush housing” is an important factor in Central Australia’s economy, builders in Alice Springs have been complaining that the normal stream of orders had been interrupted, and they were not expecting new work to resume before the end of 2008.
And the Alice News revealed that only two communities in Central Australia, out of a total of 16 throughout the Territory, will be benefitting from a $420m program to build 1000 new houses for Aborigines.
However, Ms Lawrie says the NT Government was ready to go with the project at the time Labor took power in Canberra last year, with designs for houses, and with the locations where they should be put.
“We’ve done all that,” says Ms Lawrie.
“Why do you think they’ve signed off on in excess of $700m [for new houses and repairs] out of Canberra if we didn’t have those plans and designs, and a recognition of exactly which communities needed it and how they needed it.
“All of the information we’ve given to the Commonwealth Government, and they have agreed with our proposals.
“We will start the construction program in October.”
Why hasn’t it started already?
“Because money flows through from the Federal Government on July 1.”
Did Mal Brough, the Indigenous Affairs Minister of the defeated Howard Government, not have the money last year?
“He didn’t,” says Ms Lawrie. “Not one cent came through from Brough. That man was all talk and no action.
“We did not get funding from him. If we had we would have started the construction program last year.”
But Ms Lawrie’s account differs from statements made by the director of the housing scheme, the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP), Rick Harris, from Territory Housing.
He told the Alice News in April: “The scope of the program is still being finalized” – and without the customary preference for NT firms.
Mr Harris said SIHIP will be inviting tenders nationally on an “equal opportunity” and “value for money” basis.
“We will work with all construction participants in the NT,” says Mr Harris, “but we’ll go interstate as well because the project will require significant resources.”
He said expressions of interest would be invited on May 1 for “Alliance Partners” – the primary contractors.
And Mr Harris said there is no decision yet on what type of housing will be built, and individual consultations will be carried out with each community.
“We are looking into what worked and what hasn’t.
“We are pulling together information from the past.”
Ms Lawrie is tight-lipped about progress with the proposed two camps for bush visitors  – the “dongas” which acquired notoriety last year.
She says these are a matter for the Federal Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) which answers to Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin.
“I’m a Territory Minister. I can’t direct FaHCSIA what to do,” says Ms Lawrie.
What is she saying to Ms Macklin?
“I am saying a lot of things to her.”
What things?
“I’m not going to jeopardize anything by having some random discussions publicly about their job.”
As the Planning Minister, has Ms Lawrie found a location for the second temporary camp (the Tyeweretye Club near the showground being the first one)?
“We’ve given plenty of information to FaHCSIA about locations. “We’ve got sites we’ve identified to them, now it’s up to FaHCSIA.”

Power & Water Corporation keeps bungling. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Power and Water Corporation (P&W) should be playing a major part in planning the town’s future, but for some years has been outstanding only in its sustained incompetence.
It installed two gas turbines in its power station, inexcusably still located in the middle of the town, driving residents to leave their homes because of the screeching noise and oppressive fumes.
For decades P&W has been wasting billions of litres of water, in the driest part of the driest continent, through the town’s evaporative sewerage system.
Also for decades P&W has discharged only partially treated sewage into public land, in close vicinity of a children’s home and a medical facility south of the Gap.
Public pressure – including from the Alice Springs News – finally moved P&W to terminate this practice, which would be tolerated nowhere else in any developed country, and is continuing under special permission from the government which owns P&W.
It embarked on a partial recycling scheme that is currently about 100% over budget, has so far taken about twice as long as scheduled, and still has no end-user for the recycled water.
The ponds pictured above, part of the scheme, according to the P&W web site, were ready one year ago.
Last weekend, when the Alice News took this photo, there was still no evidence of the ponds’ use.
P&W reaction to the sustained chronicling by the Alice News of the P&W’s efforts: to impose an information ban on us, without giving any reason.

Planning: Thinking aloud.

Given ruling land prices some of the lessees of town camps seem to be sitting on a fortune in potential residential real estate. They are all independent housing associations, perfectly entitled to make decisions about their own leases. Larapinta town camp, for example, is roughly the size of Gillen but has only a handful of houses on it. Hidden Valley is perhaps the town’s most picturesque “location, location, location” so far as scenic beauty is concerned. As the 18 leases are for Aboriginal benevolent purposes, the lessees would need to get the Minister’s approval for re-zoning, and pay the government for the increased value. But then those who are native title holders may (would?) get half of that back. 
• • •
We’ve said it before: Power and Water owns freehold land, not encumbered by native title or anything else, about two square kilometers of it, between two gorgeous ranges and five minutes drive from the CBD. It could be prime residential land. Absurdly that’s where currently the sewage ponds are located. A case of the lights being on, but nobody’s home?
• • •
There is at least one constant in our town plans, drawn up always in the years ending with a “9” (1989, 1999, the next one due in 2009): it’s the Undoolya option, expanding the town in an easterly direction. This would be triggered when we reach a population of 35,000. That’s along the extension of Undoolya Road, into pretty, hilly country. Problem is, head works there (water, power, sewerage, roads) would be more expensive than, for example, south of the Gap. When the time comes, will the government go with a lifestyle option, or a cheap one. Or, will there be people happy to pay the extra money as the developer also may find difficulties with the terrain.
• • •
Other expansion options under consideration are in Sadadeen (also heading east, across the Kilgariff Crescent drain), as well as land at the Arid Zone Research Institute on South Stuart Highway (maybe splitting headworks costs with the airport), and Owen Springs.
• • •
A pundit well plugged into the real estate scene says concerns over shortage of housing for sale are ill founded.
He says the shortage of rental accommodation (we have a one per cent vacancy rate) is a national malaise triggered by the flight of capital from investment units and flats to superannuation and a previously booming share market.
The pundit does agree that with all the infilling and chopping up of previously generously sized blocks we’ve created little boxes no-one wants to live in, or at least not make a long-term home in them.
He says there is still sufficient land or built dwellings, either available right now or due to come on stream soon: at the North Edge (the former Red Centre Resort); Larapinta Stage Two; a further extension that may create a total of 300 blocks at Larapinta; the Waterslide (adjacent to the YMCA); Shanahan Close (near the Vista Hotel); Ron Sterry’s land in Ragonesi Road; Emily Valley a little further east; and a few large rural blocks north and south of the Todd; and proposed rural blocks (two hectares) on airport land, and 70 blocks in Mt Johns Valley – quite soon. All up that’s around 1000 parcels of land, big and small. If you want to “grade up”, just have a look around.
• • •
The pundit also says the whingeing about stagnation is ill-informed, citing as recent major projects the Yeperenye extensions, Plaza Shopping Centre refurbishment including the new Target store, Civic Centre, Aurora Hotel, Imparja, Rivers store, Gilligan’s to replace Melanka, and Quest. Three of them have a direct impact on our tourism industry which, considering our potential, is still in its embryonic state.                    ERWIN CHLANDA

Alice lobbies gear up for planning forum.

The town’s major lobbies are gearing up for the planning forum on June 5.
The Town Council is formulating the details of its position in a special council forum on June 2, but Mayor Damien Ryan says the council will be tell the June 5 forum that council wants a strong involvement in planning.
On Mr Ryan’s personal wish list is removal of the BP and Shell fuel storage sites from the town centre to Brewer Estate.
He says the Shell site at the base of Anzac Hill would make a good tourism information bay, catering particularly for self-drive tourists in caravans and mobile homes.
Peter Grigg, from Tourism Central Australia, says it will raise planning issues at a board meeting this week and at a second one later in the month.
Issues are likely to include relocating of the visitor information centre, getting the Mereenie Loop Road – now called Red Centre Way – “back on the agenda” and ensuring that “the future Alice Springs picture will meet the needs of the tourism industry”.
Says Mr Grigg: “What will the town be like in 50 year’s time?” is a question to which the board members are likely to be seeking an answer.
The Chamber of Commerce, too, will be discussing the planning forum, according to the new CEO, Diana MacMullin.

Camels out of control: efforts are inadequate & sporadic, says report. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Too little investment and sporadic effort: that’s what has characterised efforts to control camels and other “vertebrate invasives” in the Territory, a parliamentary report has found.
Large-scale actions to reduce numbers have been successful but have been followed by “periods of neglect” when the pest populations recover.
“Over a longer time-frame this represents poor value for money for the Territory,” says the report, tabled at the recent Legislative Assembly sittings.
The report recommends that the NT Government put more resources into controlling “large herbivores such as camels to prevent further steep rises in populations”.
These resources should have continuity and follow-up “to maximise benefit from such programs”.
The committee also wants to see measures for “ecosystem recovery”.
The recommendations are no doubt welcome for those grappling with our exploding camel population, from landholders to the tiny camel industry and researchers.
Marauding camels were relatively quiet this summer compared to last, likely due to widespread rains in the western deserts where they are in their greatest number.
But meanwhile their population has continued to grow.
Population surveys done in South Australia show similar results to the NT’s: “We now have consensus that we are dealing with at least one million camels nationally and the population is doubling at least every eight years,” says Glenn Edwards, the Territory Government’s principal scientist for biodiversity conservation in Alice Springs, and leader of the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre’s feral camels project.
This project is working towards having a national plan for the management of feral camels, with their final report due at the end of September. 
There’s no question that the numbers must be reduced, but lots of questions about how best to do this.
There’s not one way but probably many, says Dr Edwards, and small-scale operations all add up.
Thus a pet meater in the Warburton area, taking about 3000 camels a year, is making a welcome contribution.
As is Territory Camel, putting 10 to 20 camels a week through its abattoirs at Wamboden, just to the north of Alice on the Tanami Road.
The animals are sourced from the APY lands, through the land management arm of the APY Land Council.
Territory Camel is focussing on value-added camel meat products, produced for them by a company owned by the Alice-based Charbray Meats.
Territory Camel’s Sarah Debney – acting also for the Centralian Gold beef brand, both brands owned by Gary Dann of Aileron Station – has moved to Darwin to spearhead the development of the market there, doing trade shows and retail trials.
A Territory Camel direct-to-public outlet and two retail outlets have been successfully selling camel products – from sausages through mettwurst to prime cuts – for over 12 months now, says Ms Debney.
Another outlet has recently approached the company to come on board and sales are increasing, she says.
Territory Camel has also asked Charles Darwin University to do an “opportunity analysis” of the market in five overseas countries.
The traditional markets for camel mostly want a “wet” product, says Ms Debney, which is very costly for Australian producers as live animal export infrastructure is geared to smaller animals.  Territory Camel wants to find a market for “boxed meat” and is hoping the CDU research will point to opportunities in new markets, such as the European Union countries.
Ms Debney is a passionate advocate of treating feral camels as an opportunity, rather than a threat, saying there is no hope of eradicating them, “they have to be managed”.
But the tiny industry needs help, she says – help to attenuate the risk involved in channeling resources into an undeveloped market.
That’s where an idea being pursued in South Australia might come into play.
It involves Rural Solutions SA, a commercial environmental management arm of the South Australian Government, the SA Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation and two Natural Resource Management boards (Alinytjara Wilurara and SA Arid Lands).
They are looking to press ahead with a trial of what they call a “market-based instrument approach” (MBI).
There is a strong demand for the meat internationally, says Rural Solutions’s John Pitt, but the price is not high enough to drive Australian producers to cater for the market.
He describes this as a “market failure”.
This is where government could assist to “meet the aspirations” of those landholders who want to use the animals as a resource, he says, while at the same time achieving management of the animals’ environmental impact.
This would ultimately result in a cost-saving to government.
If the MBI were implemented, the government would advise landholders, meat producers and so on that money is available to remove a certain number of animals from the wild populations and call for tenders.
It would be up to the tenderer how to achieve this – whether through a simple cull, or through harvest for meat production, for example. 
The approach is based on the assumption that the people who tender would have the best idea of the costs involved and that competition between the tenderers would keep costs to a minimum.
While Rural Solutions SA want to conduct a small scale trial initially, Mr Pitt says a national approach will be essential.
“With the recent development of the Australian Pest Animal Strategy the Federal Government has a framework to begin addressing the issues of feral camels and other pests which threaten our ecosystems and the industries and communities that depend of them,” says Mr Pitt.
It’s not viable for one jurisdiction to invest in control only to have the population re-establish itself through movement across borders.
Given the increase in the population – Mr Pitt puts it at 12% annually, which means another 120,000 by the end of this year – the numbers are massive and escalating exponentially.
This should mean a very attentive reception for the Desert Knowledge CRC’s final report as well as the results of the MBI trial by Rural Solutions SA.

Alice the "murder capital" no more? By KIERAN FINNANE.

There has not been a murder or manslaughter in Alice Springs since September 22 last year.
This could see Alice live down its unenviable reputation as the “murder capital of Australia”, a tag that produced a lot of angst in town last year.
In the September quarter last year there was one murder and since then none. This compares to a 2007 total of six murders; four in 2006; seven in ‘05; two each in ‘04 and ‘03; four  in ‘02; and six in 2001.
There were no manslaughters in 2007 and 2006; six in ‘05; four in ‘04; two in ‘03; none in ‘02; and two in 2001.
Police Superintendent Sean Parnell, touching wood as he speaks, says a combination of factors are contributing to the good news: increased police numbers, more effective policing, including making arrests for domestic violence before it gets worse; the Intervention; and alcohol restrictions.

Soon: bilingual storytime. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Stories in two languages, English and a local Indigenous language, will feature at future school holiday storytimes at the Public Library.
A new collection, including large format storybooks in local languages has been provided to the library from sources such as Yipirinya School, Tangentyere Landcare, Yuendumu’s Bilingual Resource Development Unit and Batchelor Institute.
The books are among items deposited with the library for the new Local Languages Collection, established with an allocation of $8000 from the Town Council this financial year.
The first of these materials are now being catalogued and will be ready for readers within a month or two.
They add to the materials already available in the library’s  Akaltye Antheme Collection – from the picture dictionaries produced by IAD Press to multiple websites of special Indigenous interest, available via a bank of Indigilink PCs.
A favourite resource accessed through Indigilink are the Yirara College Yearbooks, with people looking back at times when they were at the college or looking at college photos of their friends and relatives.
There’s no “weeding” required in this section of the library, says library manager Denise Senior: “It wears out from constant use before weeding is necessary.”
The Northern Territory Library provided the initial funds to establish the Akaltye Antheme Collection to cater for the 30% of Indigenous library users identified in a 2002 survey.
Since then both the government and the council have supported development of the section and the council has employed a full-time Indigenous Services Officer – at present, Sylvia Neale. 
Work is also done to make the general collection more accessible to Indigenous users: marking with an Aboriginal flag the spine of books of particular interest; relating the colour coding used in the Akaltye Antheme section for subject areas such as bush tucker, to Dewey catalogue numbers.
Controversy around increased Indigenous usage of the library (see Alice News, March 10, 2004) was relatively short-lived: “All users know we have a code of conduct,” says Mrs Senior, who has been in her post for three years.
The security services once mooted have not been used.
The library has a full-time cleaner but this is not “related to issues”, says Mrs Senior.
She also says the sign warning that children under the age of six left alone at the library will be reported to Family and Children’s Services is “standard operating procedure” at libraries in all parts of Australia.
In her three years at the Alice Springs Public Library, Mrs Senior says only one such report has been made.

East coast gardeners more water savvy than dwellers of the desert. By KIERAN FINNANE.

A handsome new book, Backyard, on householder attitudes towards backyards, shows Alice Springs residents as not having a very different attitude to water in their gardens than their east coast counterparts.
The book, published by the University of Wollongong, looks at backyards in Alice Springs, Sydney and Wollongong.
Its authors, Lesley Head and Pat Muir, conducted interviews about 265 backyards in 2002-03 when drought was beginning to bite “down south”, and Alice too was experiencing below average rainfall although after two years of exceptionally high rainfall.
The authors found people on the east coast started taking action to reduce water consumption in their gardens before the authorities mandated it through water restrictions.
Water restrictions are still absent in Alice.
“We’d expected gardens in Alice Springs to be more adapted to arid conditions,” says Professor Head of the University of Wollongong.
Instead they found attitudes split, between those very attuned to arid conditions, and others who felt they deserved to be able to use water more abundantly in their garden to create an oasis to retreat to.
They found people in Alice had a clear consciousness of where their water came from: “Even those justifying high levels of usage stated knowledge of borefields and their expected life span, whether or not this knowledge was accurate.
“Their belief was that the water was there and it was a matter of knowing how to extract it.
“Others wanted to forget about what was available in the aquifer and to have gardeners adapt to available rainfall.”
The authors found more evidence on the east coast than in Alice of informal water-saving inside the house – the “bucket in the shower” idea.
“People developed a greater consciousness about what they could do through their experience of drought,” says Prof Head.
At the time of the study there were not many rainwater tanks installed, neither on the east coast nor in Alice.
Prof Head says they found not many houses in Alice had roof gutters, the absence of which would hinder the installation of water tanks.
A key backyard theme for Alice residents was the provision of shade, while shade was, unsurprisingly, not as significant on the east coast.
A section of the book dealing with weeds and pests demonstrated how a plant valued in one context is a pest in another.
Gardeners in Alice had strong negative feelings about white cedar trees, while in Wollongong they are a species gardeners choose to plant if they want to encourage a local rainforest-style garden.
A distinctive feature across the whole sample was the willingness of some people to “extend their stewardship over the fence”.
In Alice various individuals living at the edge of town or adjacent to public space took it upon themselves to clear out buffel grass; and in Wollongong and Sydney there were similar examples with local weeds.
Prof Head says the book argues that these activities are an “important social resource that doesn’t get documented”.
Why did the authors undertake this research? Prof Head says the conventional wisdom is that Australians, as a mainly urban-dwelling people, are alienated from nature.
This assumption had not been investigated and didn’t match what she had observed.
The authors took the backyard as a window through which to look at this relationship, because the backyard is “highly valued” and because for children it is often their first experience of the outdoor environment.
“In a way the study is not about backyards but about how Australians interact with nature,” says Prof Head.

Start of 2008 3rd driest on record. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The start to this year in Alice has been the third driest on record, 13mm of rain in the four months to the end of April.
And this comes on top of the second hottest January on record.
The dry has been unexpected, says the Bureau of Meteorology’s Sam Cleland, as much of northern Australia experienced increase rainfall in this La Nina summer.
There’s no obvious reason why Alice, and Central Australia generally, missed out: the lows simply went elsewhere.
There were no tropical cyclones in the Gulf of Carpentaria heading in this direction; and none off the coast of WA coming through the Pilbara and onwards to Alice. 
Rainfall records, which began at the Alice Springs Airport in 1941, show an increasing long-term trend for Alice, but it is unclear whether this is a climate change signal, says Mr Cleland.
A trend up would be consistent with observed increases in summer monsoons, but some climate modelling for Central Australia suggests a long-term decrease.
“This is an area of active research,” says Mr Cleland.
Rainfall records show a greater degree of variability than temperature records: the rainfall regime in Alice consists of many low rainfall months with the occasional heavy event. As a result, most years actually receive less than “avergae” rainfall. The big rainfall years of the 1970s and ‘90s contribute to the rising trend line of long-term rainfall records.
Temperatures present a clearer long-term picture, says Mr Cleland: the national trend since 1950 shows a mean temperature increase of 0.16 degrees Celsius per decade – adding up to almost one degree to date.
Over the same period Alice Springs has experienced a rise of .2 degrees Celsius per decade – more than one degree to date.
This is a background signal of climate change – “it is very clear, in Australia and around the world”, says Mr Cleland.
To quote the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it shows an “unequivocal warming trend”.
But there’s always exceptions: the north-western corner of Australia shows some signs of cooling, due to summers with more rainy days, more cloudy days and heavier monsoons.
The long term average maximum temperature for Alice Springs is 28.7 degrees.
It has exceeded that for the past six years.
Last year, the average maximum was 29.6 degrees: 0.9 degrees above the long term figure.
In terms of what people think they can bear, they often look to the hottest month, January.
Last January broke the record for the number of hot days over 40 degrees for any month: there were 18. The previous record belonged to January, 2006, with 16 days over 40.
2006 still holds the record for the number of consecutive days over 40 and for the hottest January on record.
January 2007 was a cool break relatively speaking, with an average maximum of 34 degrees; this year the average maximum was 39.8.
If you’ve struggled to get your garden through this and are just hoping for some rain sometime soon to freshen everything up, don’t hold your breath, but neither should you despair: with the La Nina effect breaking down, there is no outlook to suggest a greater than average winter rainfall, but neither is there any climate system that would suppress rain.
Central Australia’s big averages come from summer rains; the average winter rainfall is 38.3mm.
We can expect a “normal” autumn / winter but remember, normal in the Centre can be no rain.

The joker in the pack. By ALEX NELSON.

It is 45 years ago that I “arrived” in Alice Springs.
My birth unexpectedly developed into a major medical emergency, and it was only through the outstanding skill of hospital surgeon Dr John Hawkins that my mother and I survived.
My mother and I were nursed back to health in (what is now) the old maternity ward at the Alice Springs Hospital. Again we were the fortunate recipients of skilful care tendered by the Charge Sister, Rona Glynn (pictured).
Rona Glynn was a truly noteworthy woman – she was born at Woodgreen Station before the Second World War, was evacuated to NSW with her mother and younger sister during the war, and then lived at the newly established St Mary’s Church of England Hostel – on the Stuart Highway, south of the Gap – to finish her education.
Being a boarder at St Mary’s tells us something significant about Rona Glynn – she was a young Aboriginal woman (of mixed descent).
She became a qualified primary school teacher, and taught at the old school in Hartley Street. Later she switched careers by going to Melbourne in 1954 to train as a nurse, where she stayed for several years – shortly after returning to Alice Springs she was appointed as Charge Sister of the maternity ward in January 1962, and was highly regarded in that role.
Yes, you are reading right – when I was born in 1963, deep in the ‘bad old days’ of Commonwealth control, the person in charge of the maternity ward at the hospital was a young local Aboriginal woman, who was also a qualified teacher taught by missionaries.
In 1963 Rona Glynn managed a ward; but it was also the last full year that “full blood” Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory were officially “wards of the state” under Commonwealth control, without the rights of citizenship, ownership of property and land, marriage or cohabitation with white people, and – the joker in the pack – legal access to alcohol.
This increasingly posed a moral dilemma, and debate raged in the early 1960s about the status of Aboriginal people in society. The federal government under Liberal leader Bob Menzies moved to redress the inequities of the old paternalism through the introduction of a series of Welfare bills in 1964, giving Aboriginal people “full Commonwealth citizenship” in the Northern Territory.
While politicians of all persuasions accepted the intent and inevitability of these long overdue measures, there were also many who expressed anxiety about their implementation.
In Canberra it was the late Labor icon, Kim Beazley senior, who noted that the restrictions about to be overturned had originally been implemented for the protection of Aboriginal people, and that their removal without adequate preparation could lead to more harm than good.
Exactly the same fears were expressed in the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory; notably by a “non-official member” Bernie Kilgariff, and by the formidable elected Member for Alice Springs, Colonel Lionel Rose.
Rose had been elected into office with a big majority in November 1962 and, such was his authority and expertise, in August 1963 he became the leader of the elected members for the remainder of that term.
It was in March 1963 that Rose made headlines around the world at a reception for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip held at the Stuart Arms Hotel in Alice Springs. The NT Administrator, Roger Nott, had attempted to propose a toast to the Queen but was unable to attract the attention of the crowd.
Colonel Rose roared out at the top of his voice “Shut Up!” then turned to the Queen and matter-of-factly explained, “This is the only language they know”. He was right – there was instant silence.
Unhappily Rose’s record has long suffered from the recollection of colourful anecdotes that obscure his vast achievements – today he is barely remembered by the general public.
But the Hansard of the Legislative Council in 1964 clearly records Rose’s concern about the impact of the Commonwealth’s impending Social Welfare bills: “I believe, with the member Mr Kilgariff and quite a number of others, that the legislation will react most unfavourably upon the people themselves [Aboriginal people] unless they are prepared, and they cannot and will not be prepared without adequate and prolonged thought and planning”.
Further: “Now my ideas of planning are just these – that it be compulsory for all children in the Northern Territory to attend schools from the age of five to the age of fifteen and that it be a Government obligation to provide accommodation facilities where necessary and also provide the teaching staff.
“The committee [Rose was referring to the Elected Members Select Committee] saw not only once but … on dozens of occasions that these things are absolutely necessary if the children are to become citizens of the Commonwealth”.
Rose may well have been considered a hypocrite about his concerns, especially of any in regard to the rights of Aboriginal people to drink alcohol, as he was a notorious boozer and well able to drink young men less than half his age under the table.
However, Rose was unusual in having a phenomenal capacity to imbibe large quantities of alcohol (especially rum) without apparent ill effect; and he was not an alcoholic, as he could go without whenever he chose. Moreover, he (along with many others) was well aware from personal experience of the effects of excessive alcohol consumption, and consequently was well-placed to warn of its dangers.
However, it is an ill wind that blows no good, and the winds of change were howling – the Commonwealth passed the Welfare Bills into law during 1964.
In the same year Rona Glynn married Bill Schaber, a pastoralist, but her new chapter in life was abruptly cut short – in January 1965 she died after complications from childbirth, which came as an immense shock to the Alice and of the whole Central Australian region.
Her untimely passing was much mourned but, with the benefit of hindsight, there is a dreadful poignancy to her loss, for this shining example of Aboriginal achievement died within the first year of Aboriginal people obtaining “full citizenship rights”, including the “right” to drink alcohol.
The right to drink alcohol, included among the Commonwealth’s reforms in 1964, is clearly the cause of the greatest destruction inflicted on Aboriginal people since the inadvertent contagion of smallpox that arrived with the First Fleet in 1788.
Today we have legions of tertiary educated professionals in all walks of life, at monumental ongoing cost to the nation, attempting to remedy the misery and despair that is the hallmark of Aboriginal affairs; but Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall when I was an infant 44 years ago, and to this day all the kings horses and all the kings men – try as they might – have never succeeded in putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.
I survived my infancy no problem but many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Central Australian infants have not.
Many others, of course, have survived but live – generation after generation – in appalling squalor and hopelessness.
The wheel is turning full circle – last year the Commonwealth (under former Liberal leader John Howard) felt obliged to commence the Intervention on account of the circumstances afflicting Aboriginal children that had been brought to national attention; and two months ago there was widespread support for calls by Galarrwuy Yunupingu and Professor Marcia Langton to re-establish dormitory-style education and housing for Aboriginal children as it once used to be done by the missions.
At age 45 I have reached the approximate halfway point of a normal long lifespan but I wonder if my life will be long enough to witness the end of the disgrace and destruction of Aboriginal people that started in earnest when I was so young, to see these people enjoying the rights and privileges of “citizenship” that the rest of us take for granted.
I have my doubts.
Sources: The History of Alice Springs through Landmarks and Street Names, by Jose Petrick, 2005; Colonel Lionel Rose, Chief Veterinary Officer of the Northern Territory 1946 - 1958, by Patricia Lonsdale (CQU Press, 2006); and A Short History of the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory, by F. Walker, 1984. See also the Alice Springs News Summer Edition 2005 / 2006 “Rona Glynn: a woman with a big heart in the heart of Australia” by Elisabeth Attwood.

Movie made in Alice. By DARCY DAVIS.

Alice-made film, Curious Mr Keys, by Nicolas Ned and Rowan Pulley, has been nominated for “Best Production Design” in this year’s 15/15 Film Festival.
The festival is an annual multi-location event based in Australia but coordinated to run simultaneously across 27 international locations.
At the start of the day each group is given an object – in this case, keys – and a phrase – “it is quite common” – and have to write, direct, produce and edit a 15 minute (or less) movie in 15 hours.
For Curious Mr Keys a cast and crew the likes of Callum Wilkinson, Curtis Marriot, Ronja Moss, Kael Murray, Rebecca McClean, Tully Lowson and Sean Chalice, all pulled together to make the movie happen.
The story involves a mysterious box that is brought to Mr Keys in his second hand shop.
Mr Keys sends his slaves, Rabbit and Wolf, to find the right key.
What is in the box?
Where did the box come from?
Who will have the right key for the box? What is so common?
Go to the screening at Araluen on Saturday, June 14, to find out. 

What’s for dinner at 21? Pop Vulture with CAMERON BUCKLEY.

Welcome to hotel 21, let me give you a seat ...
Aperitif: A simple plot. College student Ben Campbell discovers gambling as a shortcut to a $300,000 Harvard education.
Based on a true story of a group of people that changed the way Blackjack is played globally. Very much garlic bread here, no twists, little trimmings.
Soup of the day: Soundtrack. Delectable! Today’s new seasonings go well with yesterday’s leftovers. Not an original score, but complements the former and latter parts of the menu.
Entree: Casting. Some old favourites here. Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Spacey as usual have fun playing with an old palate. Relative newcomers Jim Burgess and Kate Bosworth look refreshing – something to look forward to later this season.
Mains: Direction and dialogue. Head chef, filmmaker Australian Robert Luketic (previous failures include Legally Blonde) makes a clever shift of genres.
Sometimes really bad films can still possess great direction. He is cracked pepper drawing flavor from his cast. Cameras become punters as they play around the table.
Dessert: Production. At this end of the meal you really don’t have to think. It’s a scoop of chocolate ice cream, followed by a scoop of vanilla. The audience has just chased a menu that left them feeling both hungry and full.
Nightcap: Resonance and cinematic feel. This offers a lingering aftertaste, a reminder that: “Tomorrow is mystery, yesterday was history, live in the moment.”
Pop Vulture rating:  621/1022.

LETTERS: Government "complacent" over debt.

Sir,- The Treasurer Delia Lawrie is dangerously complacent about the level of government debt hanging over the heads of all Territorians.
In response to a sustained grilling from the CLP regarding debt levels in the Territory she said the Opposition was conducting a scare campaign inspired by the Victorian Opposition.
The Treasurer makes a telling comparison when she compares government debt levels in the Territory with those in Victoria – Victoria has a net debt of $2.3 billion dollars and the Territory’s is a little more than $1 billion.
The critical point is that Victoria’s debt is shared amongst five million people whilst in the Territory just 210,000 carry the burden – each Victorian owes just $460 whilst every man, woman and child in the Territory owes $4761.
Nor do Territory households have a greater capacity to service the debt than those in Victoria – in 2005/06 the Gross Household Disposable Income was $30,008 and $30,458 in the Territory.
The Treasurer was also particularly unwise to compare her budget surplus with that of Victoria; whereas she could manage just a $5m surplus despite a $330m windfall, the Victorian Treasurer, John Lenders, banked an $828m surplus and forecast an average of $907m over the subsequent three years.
He claimed this would give Victoria a buffer against  “harder global times” caused by rising interest rates and inflation in Australia, an economic downturn in the United States, and turmoil on the world’s sharemarkets.
Terry Mills
Leader of the Opposition

Sir,- The failure of the Territory Government to allocate any of the budget’s 35 extra police to Alice Springs is the latest slap in the face to the people of The Alice.
To only provide extra police for Darwin is a shabby, cynical political act by the Chief Minister.
The sole motivation behind this decision is to shore up electoral support in Darwin ahead of the Territory election.
The Chief Minister obviously has no intention of ruling on behalf of all Territorians; his sole concern is saving the political skin of ALP members in Darwin.
The Chief Minister should spend some time in Alice Springs getting a genuine understanding of the situation confronting the town – he would quickly understand the need for additional police in the town.
The Chief Minister’s attempt to hide behind the Police Commissioner regarding who is responsible for the decision to deny Alice Springs additional police is pitiful.
Whatever happened to Ministerial responsibility?
Only last month the Minister for Central Australia, Rob Knight, expressed the opinion that Alice Springs could use all the additional police.
Now the Chief Minister has decided The Alice won’t get any; it’s disgraceful.
Jodeen Carney
Shadow Minister for Justice

Sir,- For those who are intending to donate money to assist the Burmese people affected by the cyclone tragedy and who are looking to give support directly to those suffering on the ground, there is a fund that has been set up by Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi that you might like to consider.
Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi, a Burmese Australian, has been able to make contact with the monks and nuns at the Nyetpyawgyun monastery in the Irrawaddy delta, the devastated area.
She has an association with this group and has organised to send money direct, to be used to buy rice, water purification units and clothing for the people.
The monastery  is on the edge of the affected area, on slightly higher ground, and is sheltering many who have had to flee from their homes. They are desperately in need of help.
Any donations sent through this means will reach the local people in their entirety; there will be no administration costs taken out.
Mar has also been able to contact others in the country who have offered voluntary support to the monastery.
Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi is Secretary of the Australian Burmese Association of the ACT and a mature age student at ANU – a courageous woman with great integrity.
She is the only Burmese PhD student in Australia and has a long history of working for Burmese human rights, particularly for women.
She spends much time on the Thai-Burmese border working to support the many “illegal” Burmese women refugees who suffer from the most horrendous of circumstances.
She recently returned to Australia after three months in Thailand setting up a school / orphanage for numerous girls whom she found living in rubbish bins. Mar has single-handedly raised the funds to pay for this project.
Donations can be made through a deposit to any ANZ bank to the Australian Burmese Association of ACT (BSB No: 012-955; Account No. 4940-34744); alternatively, for those who require a receipt for tax deductions, cheques can be sent to the Australian Burmese Association of ACT, 5/ 8 Northbourne Flats, TURNER, ACT 2612; and a receipt will be forwarded to you.
For inquiries please contact the secretary on 0401742608.
We encourage all to give generously as even the smallest amounts, collectively, will make a big difference.
Ma Mar
Australian Burmese Association of ACT

ADAM CONNELLY: My very own inconvenient truth.

This may come as a shock to you but I was never the popular kid at school.
That title went to a kid named Allan Johnston.
It’s not that I was ever without friends or that I had a bad time of it at school; it’s just that Allan had the “popular kid” title sewn up, despite the less than cool name. 
For the majority of junior high school, Allan was constantly surrounded by an assortment of hangers on and school hotties. He had Johnny Depp hair and Bon Jovi clothes. He had cheekbones and blue eyes. He smoked Marlboro cigarettes at the shops across the road from the school at lunchtime. He was aloof, quiet and a bit rebellious. Like he’d watched James Dean movies and decided to live his life according to their doctrine.
We all thought that Allan’s manly silence was cool stoicism. Turns out though Allan was just a bit slow. We all thought his grades were poor on purpose. A stick it to the man style protest. In reality Allan moved his lips when he read.
Allan had a bad week. His English teacher had threatened to suspend him due to his complete lack of work. To show the teacher that the cool kid was not to be messed with Allan thought it appropriate to bring a bullet to school and put it on the teacher’s desk before class.
The repercussions for this act were severe. Police, school counsellors and parents were called in that order. Allan was expelled from the only place in his life where he was cool.
The one lesson learned from Allan’s story is that popularity, unlike the ability to read, is temporary.
Take popular music for example. When I was in school with Allan the big names were New Kids on the Block, Skid Row and Martika. Not only do we not hear of these performers any more, they have become terms of parody for the early ‘nineties. Just like flares and wide collars in the ‘seventies or New Romantics in the ‘eighties.
Thoughts and philosophies are also subject to the fleeting nature of popularity. It wasn’t that long ago that we thought electrocuting the mentally ill was a perfectly decent treatment. Not too long ago we thought it proper to remove Indigenous children from their families and raise them in good English homes. In revolutionary France the guillotine was seen not as a device of unimaginable inhumanity but as a progressive, humanitarian way of killing criminals.
The problem is that in order to change public opinion, sometimes it takes an unpopular idea. Sometimes we need someone willing to think outside the realm of popular thought, to stand up and voice an opinion.
The Westminster system is set up in order that the minority opinion is heard. The opposition has the ability to voice an opinion for which the majority of voters didn’t vote.
The problem is that in the modern day, in a world where the cult of celebrity has become a fully-fledged religion, the good unpopular idea is too uncool to voice. 
Well, thankfully I work for a paper that doesn’t mind voicing the occasional unpopular idea. More and more as I get older I find myself thinking things that are in opposition to the common view.
Case in point. Last week we found out that of the new police officers catered for in the Territory budget none will be coming this financial year to Alice Springs. Not one. The CLP have been foaming at the mouth. The public, with their confrontation with Clare Martin still fresh in their minds, is bewildered.
In a town where crime and public disorder threaten its fabric, we have once again been placed behind the northern suburbs of Darwin in the mind of the Labor government.
Here’s the unpopular view. We don’t need more police. I know, I know. That isn’t the popular view but I don’t think we need more police. In a town of less than 30,000 we have more than our fair share of men and women in khaki. We could have one police officer for every three people and still there would be crime on our streets.
What Alice Springs needs isn’t more cops, it needs less criminals. Unpopular because fixing the problem from that angle isn’t easy but when I look at our crime statistics I can’t help but think that an awful lot of crime happens in this town. In my mind we need more English teachers and less Allan Johnstons.

Scary caterpillars. Our Backyard Bush by MEG MOONEY.

My heart is never prepared for a pile of itchy grubs. When I saw them snuggled up for the night, a bundle of grey furry wool in a damp patch next to the garden, I almost reached out to pat them, like the cat – then realised.
Again this morning, when they were unravelling across the back verandah, their quivering rope made my heart start. I’m afraid that even stepping barefoot on their trail one of those itchy hairs will get me. The hairs can cause a nasty rash.
Each grub weaves a trail of silk from the spinneret near its mouth. The next caterpillar follows this trail, at very close quarters. Being part of a long hairy chain means they don’t lose each other, and it’s safer.
Someone in Queensland apparently counted 138 grubs in one procession. These could be a different species, it’s not certain how many species of processionary caterpillars there are.
A friend tells me there are strings of these caterpillars coming out of the Coolibah Swamp at this time of year. They make bivouacs in cool, dark places in the heat of the afternoon, and come out again to feed on trees and bushes at night.
When they find a good spot, they put up a tent, a semi-transparent lean-to, made of the caterpillars’ silk. This can be at the base of a bush or up on a branch, maybe indicating different species. The shelters soon fill with old skins and droppings.
When the caterpillars are mature, they head off in their final conga line, looking for somewhere to pupate. They burrow into the ground, make hairy, silk cocoons and turn into pupae.
They reappear, in spring, as bag-shelter moths, which also have nasty hairs. These are grey-brown moths with orange-banded abdomens ending in white tufts of hairs. Sometimes they’re called bunny-tailed moths.
The female moths lay hundreds of eggs in one mass at the base of a food tree. These moths don’t have mouths, so they die after a few days.
On a trip with one of the schools I work with, an Aboriginal teacher took the children to collect itchy grub bags. Particular ones, in senna bushes.
Back in the classroom the teacher showed the children how to open up the bag, clean it out and rinse it to get rid of the hairs. She said that if you put that rinsed bag on a burn it heals up, nothing there after, hardly a scar even. But no-one uses it these days.
Still the itchy grubs move across the countryside, roads and verandahs. This is a good thing, despite my heart jumping.

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