August 14, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Labor’s loss more than Libs’ gain, except in Alice. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Country Liberals can be “very happy” with their result in Alice Springs but elsewhere their performance relied more on the Labor vote declining, than on their own vote increasing, says political commentator Rolf Gerritsen (pictured).
The professor and research leader in Central Australia for Charles Darwin University says the Labor vote declined dramatically, while the Country Liberals held their vote, giving the “illusion” of a swing against Labor, says Prof Gerritsen.
“The Country Liberals can be very cheerful about the result but if I were their political advisor, I would not be telling them that the next election is a lay down misere,” he says.
The most interesting feature of the election, he says, has been the way the Territory electorate is increasingly “less stable” in its allegiances.
The 2001 election which brought Labor to power was the first since self-government in which the opposition had won seats from the government, other than in by-elections.
In 2005 the government went on to win seats off the opposition.
Now the opposition has again won seats off government. This makes the Territory electorate more like electorates elsewhere in Australia, says Prof Gerritsen. 
He sees increased support for the Greens as having a minor element of people on both sides of politics becoming disgruntled with the major parties and a larger element of people who see themselves as progressive no longer seeing Labor as progressive.
Prof Gerristen also says the results, through the much commented upon low turnout, reflect a “huge degree “ of Indigenous disillusion with Labor.
He says the message about the government’s spending priorities from “ratbags” like himself is getting through to Indigenous people.

Wages up 4%, rents 20%. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Rents in Alice Springs are soaring, availability of properties to rent is next to nil, and wages are lagging.
Not surprisingly the demand for public housing is jumping and the wait times are lengthening.
The median weekly commercial rent of a two bedroom house has risen by 22.2% in the last 12 months, taking it to $330 a week for the June quarter, according to Real Estate Institute of the NT figures (REINT).
This rise comes on top of a 20% increase the year before.
For a three bedroom house the hike in 2007-08 was 16.2%, taking it to $395 a week, and again, that came on top of a 15.6% rise the year before.
One bedroom units have seen the steepest rises: 29.4% in the last 12 months, taking the median cost to $220 a week.
In the preceding 12 months the hike was 26.7%.
The median rents for two and three bedroom units in the June quarter were $300 and $370 a week respectively; 15.4% and 12.1% up respectively over the last 12 months.
Compare these rises to the movement in wages.
The NT Wage Cost index (a measure of wage rates) shows increases of 3.9% in 2006-07; and 3.8% in the 12 months to December 2007, the most recent figure available.
That means rent is eating up a much bigger proportion of income.
There are now very few properties to rent in Alice Springs.
REINT puts vacancy rates for rental houses at 0.4%; units, 0.5%.
These have plummeted from 7.2% for houses and 7% for units at the end of 2006.
Percentage increases for rental houses are much higher than percentage  increases in purchase price.
The median house price rose by 8.9% in 2007-08, roughly half the rent increase.
For units the median price rose by 11.9%, close to the rise in median rent for three bedroom units.
Sales of houses in Alice Springs dropped in the June quarter, by 3.7%, and have declined by 16.9% over the year.
Simultaneously sales of units have jumped: 112% over the June quarter, 49.3% over the year.
The squeeze does not look like being eased anytime soon, with government housing funding primarily focussed on relieving Indigenous housing shortage in remote communities. 
NT Treasury reports decreasing private investment in dwellings.
The dwelling investment graph for the Territory (shown in the budget papers) has been a fairly flat line since the start of the millennium, with a slight rise from 2004 but falling by 3.1% in 07-08.
A similar fall is forecast for 2008-09, “reflecting the higher interest rate environment and affordability issues around house and land prices”.
There has been a 32% increase in demand for public housing in Alice Springs, according Fiona Chamberlain, General Manager of Territory Housing.
Ms Chamberlain puts this down to reduced housing affordability, low vacancy rates in the private rental market and an increased number of applicants who have moved into Alice Springs from remote areas.
As of June there were 629 clients on the local waiting list compared to 477 in 2007 and 558 in 2006.
Those hoping for a three bedroom house could expect to wait for 41 months – almost three and a half years –  compared to 29 months in 2007 and 27 months in 2006.
There are currently 900 public housing dwellings, a “slight” decrease on last year’s stock, says Ms Chamberlain.
There were 1043 in 2001, so 900 represents a drop of 143 since then.  
Last year’s decrease is due to a number of dwellings being sold to tenants, and a number auctioned because they were “beyond economic repair”.
Proceeds are reinvested back into the provision of housing services, says Ms Chamberlain.
She said Territory Housing is working to address the increasing demand for housing through a number of initiatives: 
• Ongoing support for Stuart Lodge, at a cost of $1.13 million in 2007-08, to provide short-term managed accommodation for people visiting Alice Springs from remote areas.
Over the last 12 months, Stuart Lodge has assisted a total of 20,929 clients, with an average occupancy rate of 87%.
• Introducing new HomeNorth Xtra income and asset threshold limits to improve access to affordable home ownership for first home buyers. Of the HomeNorth loans funded during 2007-08, 22% were for Alice Springs clients.
• Continually upgrading housing stock that has become untenantable due to property damage, including the total reconstruction of a firedamaged dwelling in Larapinta.
• Incorporating six affordable house and land packages for first home buyers and a public housing seniors’ village within the Larapinta Stage 4 residential subdivision.
Territory Housing houses those most in need first, says Ms Chambelain.
During 2007-08, 38% of clients housed in Alice Springs have been allocated housing in less than 12 months, compared to 34 per cent across the Territory.
There is also a bond assistance scheme to help people into the private rental market.

Housing waste?

As the local housing crisis escalates there seems to be plenty of excess capacity in parts of the Golden Mile – the Aboriginal land trust area between Alice Springs and Standley Chasm. According to a reliable source, this house [pictured in the hard copy edition] is a sporadically used as a “weekender” by a woman who has a second house in town, also funded by the public purse.
The Iwupataka  Land Trust, administered by the Central Land Counncil (CLC), communally owns the 30-odd houses but steadfastly refuses to answer questions about how they are allocated. There is anecdotal evidence that some occupants have homes in town or by virtue of their income would not be eligible for public housing. The CLC is an instrmentality of the Commonwealth Government, a reponsibility of Indigneous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin. She, too, has failed to provide answers to questions from the Alice News.

Sleeping rough in Alice

As Central Australian night time temperatures drop to below zero, people sleeping rough in the river are being moved on ... to sleep rough somewhere else.
If they “belong in town”, Return to Country is not an option.
And there is simply nowhere for them to go.
So says team leader of Tangentyere Council’s Day Patrol, Christina Jack.
Together with Jonathan Pilbrow, policy officer for NT Shelter in Central Australia and chair of the Accommodation Action Group, Ms Jack spoke to the Town Council on Monday night about the problems of homelessness in Alice Springs.
Mr Pilbrow gave the council an overview of the current housing shortage (see report page 1) and of public housing as well emergency, short-term and specific purpose accommodation options being stretched to capacity.
Speaking later to the Alice Springs News he called on the Territory Government to position itself to maximise assistance under the Australian Government’s National Rental Affordability Scheme, given that the Territory has the nation’s highest rate of homelessness.
But he said it will be years before this scheme and other initiatives, such as the boost to Indigenous housing in the Territory, trickle down to relieve the current crisis.
Meanwhile, he asked, how can the community pull together to help the most vulnerable – the homeless.
Ms Jack demanded that they be treated with more respect.
This includes making some provision for the storage of their belongings (these are often taken or destroyed, she says) and making increased provision for accommodation of the sick and the frail.
She says there is an elderly female renal patient sleeping rough at present.
She says many of the homeless she deals with on a daily basis are, “sadly”, elderly.
She comes across few children.
Not all people sleeping rough are drunks, she says. Some sleep in the river in order to to get away from the grog and violence.
Mr Pilbrow said a lot of resources go into moving people on when there are extremely limited options to accommodate them.
It would make more sense, he said, for resources to be put into helping them cope with their very difficult situations.

Giles a "hands on pollie". By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Parliamentary rookie Adam Giles is set to re-write the book on being a Member of Parliament – government or opposition: “I’m elected to serve everyone in Braitling, not just the people who voted for me.”
And that, says Mr Giles, is doing things, not just telling others to do things.
The CLP have been “lucky” to have Mr Giles in their ranks, says political commentator Rolf Gerritsen, professor and research leader in Central Australia for Charles Darwin University.
With Mr Giles, the CLP will bring some “real talent into the Assembly”, says Prof Gerritsen.
Mr Giles says he will research solutions to problems, muster supporters, develop strategies, solicit support for them and put them forward to the government.
For example, Mr Giles says  “we need to get involved” in the planned sale of the Ayers Rock, King’s Canyon and Alice Springs Resorts and the aborted redevelopment of Melanka by an international backpackers company: “Firstly, why not ring up these companies and say, why are you selling?
“You’d ask, what would we need to do to keep you here?
“If that fails you’d try to attract someone else to take over.”
Will he come up with propositions about how to fix social problems?
What, for example, will he do about the flooding into town of people both unable and unwilling to become employed?
“I don’t think people are unemployable.
“I’ve worked in employment services for a while.
“We’ve got to make sure we remove the welfare disincentives for people not to work.
“People will need a sense of purpose and hope.”
Will he have a precise strategy?
“Getting people into jobs was what I’ve been doing before the election was called.
“It’s the biggest thing that we can do,” together with improvement of housing and health, says Mr Giles.
He says there is a lack of infrastructure in town to cope with that many people, but here, too, he vows to think outside the square: “Government isn’t the only answer.
“The private sector is the answer in many different cases.
“Through Labor neglect the public housing stock has decreased by more than 600 dwellings since they came to power seven years ago.
“Why can’t we invite the private sector in to invest in low-cost housing?”
Mr Giles also wants to stem the exodus of qualified people.
He says chances are the factors making them leave range from law and order issues “because of Labor neglect” to classroom overcrowding and inadequacies in the health system.
“We’ve go to reverse that.
“We’ve got to get a handle on all these things.
“We’ve got to improve the image of our town to potential interstate visitors and workers.
“If you want to crank up the economy you’ve got to show leadership, extra leadership: how do we interact interstate?
“Do we invite interstate investors, do we speak with the Federal Treasurer about tax breaks to turn Alice Springs into the economic hub for the region?
“We need to investigate all those things, and that’s what I’ll be doing.”
There’s been some advocacy, making speeches about issues. But can this be taken further?
“It can be,” says Mr Giles.
“It’s not just about screaming and shouting about Darwin’s and Labor’s neglect of Alice Springs.”
He says he’ll work behind the scenes.
“I’m a great networker, communicator and listener.
“There are a number of strong and supportive people in this town.
“I’ll be extremely proactive. That’s where vision and leadership come into play.”

COMMENT: Alice out in front!

Outside Alice Springs the election result is a sharp kick up the government’s rear.  In The Alice it signals Labor’s slide into oblivion and cemented the town’s record as the bastion of conservative politics.
By deserting the Labor Government in droves, voters have expressed their growing disapproval of what it does – or does not do.
This is seen clearest in the vote for Labor’s Araluen candidate, the face of the government in Alice, John Gaynor. His vote dropped by almost  two thirds from his tally in 2005.
A second message was sent by all people who didn’t vote: they were telling Mr Henderson and his team, “You’re irrelevant”.
And so, in many ways, they are, having – by their incompetence – ceded control over half the Territory to Canberra, including 13 of the Centre’s national parks, Alice Springs’ lifeblood, and focussing what powers have been left to them so strongly on Darwin.
And even there they are getting it wrong.
Despite all the lavish spending and the courting of big business, they got a hammering in the capital as well and have hung onto government by the skin of their teeth.
In Alice, Mayor Damien Ryan sees the result as a winner for the town.
He says Alice Springs will be “back on the agenda” and, given the strong performance of the Country Liberals, he expects the government to honour the full suite of promises from both sides of politics, naming Stage 2 of Traeger Park and the CBD revitalisation project in particular.
He also says that a Minister for Central Australia based in Alice Springs “would be the best outcome for our community”.
“There are plenty to choose from,” says Mr Ryan, apparently expecting the government to consider choosing from outside party ranks.
The Greens are claiming to be the only credible alternative to the CLP in Alice Springs, with their vote having more than doubled across the three town seats, beating Labor in four booths and coming close in the other two.
However their central campaign platform, opposition to the exploration and  eventual mining of the Angela Pamela uranium deposit, was not the “election turner” that national leader Bob Brown predicted.
Having won almost 16% of the local vote, they can only claim minority support for their stance on this issue.
The advent of Adam Giles, the third Country Liberal Member in town, taking over from conservative independent Loraine Braham, will be significant.
Alice Springs tends to get overlooked no matter which party is in power, but if he does what he says he will (see report), we will benefit from an energetic local MLA with an expanded view of his role.
Giles’ vow of a hands-on approach to fixing the town’s woes may energize his colleagues, Jodeen Carney and Matt Conlan: Where were they when the Henderson government’s give-away of our national parks entered its endgame in Canberra, exhaustively documented by the Alice Springs News? Did they hit the phones to muster support from their supposed mates in the Federal Opposition? No. They were nowhere to be seen.
And Giles’ out-of-Parliament strategies may well find partnership from a new and resolute town council.
Giles, who identifies himself as an “Australian Aboriginal”, will help give the CLP some depth on Indigenous issues as well, and it will be an advantage that he is familiar with sections of the Federal Government bureaucracy.
Go Adam!

COMMENT: Work best cure for violence.
By Sara Hudson, Centre for Independent Studies.

At the Male Health Summit on July 3 over three hundred Aboriginal men from across Australia got together to discuss ways to be better male role models.
They issued a historic apology to their women for the “pain, hurt and suffering” that Aboriginal men had caused. According to one participant at the event, he walked away “a proud Aborigine”.
The issue of men’s lack of pride is at the heart of the community dysfunction facing many Indigenous communities today. Of course, it is important to remember that not all Aboriginal men hit their wives and partners, and they are not the only ones to do so. But statistics paint a bleak picture of Aboriginal domestic violence: Indigenous females are thirty-five times more likely to be hospitalised due to family-violence-related assaults than other Australian females.
What has happened to Aboriginal men? Some commentators argue that it all went downhill for Aboriginal men in 1967, when the decision on equal pay for Aboriginal stockmen saw many lose their jobs and take up the unemployment benefit.
Others, like Louis Nowra say that historically, Indigenous men have always had a propensity for violence towards women.
The reduction in domestic violence offences since alcohol restrictions were imposed in the Northern Territory lends support to the “drunken bum theory of wife beating,” which is based on the premise that alcohol combined with low socioeconomic status is the principal cause of domestic violence.
But although research has showed that excessive drinking is associated with higher wife-abuse rates, the issue is more complex.
In most families, alcohol use is not an immediate precursor to violence – rather, it is the combination of unemployment, drinking, and cultural approval of violence that is associated with the highest rate of domestic violence. Arguably, all three of these factors play a significant part in the community dysfunction that plagues many Indigenous communities today.
To date, most responses to this problem have focused on the symptoms rather than the causes of domestic violence and community dysfunction.
Hence, the government’s response to appalling child abuse in the Northern Territory was to increase the numbers of police and safe houses, and restrict alcohol consumption.
But one of the biggest problems facing men in many Indigenous communities is that they are unemployed.
When asked what the factors were behind alcohol abuse in their community, two Indigenous men pointed to the lack of meaningful employment: “People go onto CDEP and it kills their motivation. They scratch the dirt for 1½ hours and get paid for four.” And “a lot of people just haven’t got the jobs, and they just sit around waiting, doing nothing and being bored.”
People who are employed are less likely to commit crimes.
Over a five-year period, only 8.41% of employed Indigenous men and women were arrested by police, compared to 24.8% of Indigenous men and women on CDEP and 34.8% who were unemployed.
One of the nine Aurukun men convicted of raping a ten-year-old girl had limited English and was unable to read or write.
According to the pre-sentence report, his signature uses only his first name.
The court said: “WY left school at 16 years of age after completing grade 10.
“He has been employed in the CDEP scheme, but is currently without a job. The psychological report ... refers to a ‘poor work history’.”
Andrew Forrest’s plan to create 50,000 private-sector jobs for Indigenous people has been criticised as being far-fetched, unrealistic, and too ambitious.
While it is true that many Indigenous people will need intensive training even to become “training ready”, there is nothing wrong in having this goal.
For far too long, Indigenous affairs has been plagued by people with low expectations of Indigenous people’s abilities and little regard for their aspirations. But it is vital that the employment scheme is used to provide work for the most disadvantaged job-seekers – not for people who would have found employment anyway, as is currently the case with the Job Network.
Forrest’s idea of on-the–job training is also more likely to appeal to Aboriginal men than other forms of tertiary training.
Indigenous women are twice as likely to go onto tertiary education and gain a bachelor’s degree as Indigenous men.
One Indigenous woman told me her husband would not go to university or TAFE, as he saw these as places for women.
Employment may seem like a simple solution to a complex problem, but having a job is more likely to make men feel better about themselves, and to lower the instances of domestic violence, than any number of anti-family-violence programs will.

Leaving town: The brain drain we can ill afford. By LAURA PACKHAM.

High school leavers are a minority market for Charles Darwin University, says Higher Education Project Leader Don Zoellner, but losing so many young people to interstate universities is, at least initially, “a drain the town can’t afford to have”, says Career and Transition Adviser at Centralian Senior Secondary College, Judy Hoban.
However, Ms Hoban says lately more students seem to be coming back to town after university.
And, with more Indigenous students completing their NTCE, those who go on to university, are tending to stay in town and study at CDU.
Says Mr Zoellner: “While the 400 to 500 students we get straight from school [each year] are very important to us, the reality is that they’re not the majority of our market.
“Seventy per cent of our market is over 25 years.”
But that market is changing: the number of students studying at the university in the external mode has increased from 10% to just over 50% in the last decade.
“Once you get the stuff online it doesn’t make much difference which university you enroll with,” says Mr Zoellner.
Alice’s “Gen Y” students don’t seem to agree. Ms Hoban says despite the online revolution, the college’s student tracker program has found school-leavers still shift to other states for university.
The program has followed 550 former students and shows a strong  mobility trend.
“Generally they have to leave town for the university course they want to do. That’s probably the bottom line,” says Ms Hoban.
Nationally the picture isn’t that different: Mr Zoellner says about 25% of school leavers will enrol at an interstate university and the figure for the NT is just under 26%, according to a market analysis completed on behalf of CDU.
Simply needing to stretch their wings is part of what motivates the Alice Gen Ys.
Says Ms Hoban: “Some students say ‘Yeah, I’m over this town, I want to go somewhere else’. 
“They’ve never lived in a big city and they just want to have an adventure.”
For St Philip’s student, Ethan Barden, 18, both reasons are at play.
You can’t live forever “in your parent’s basement”, he says, but a good university catering to his interests is also a big pull.
“As geeky as it sounds I want to be a physicist,” says Ethan.
“The theoretical stuff is interesting but there are also lots of real world applications.
“I might even go into engineering.
“There are jobs for unskilled young workers right now, it’s a great town for that, but as far as getting a degree, career stuff, it seems to be a bit rare here, especially for what I am interested in.”
It’s not only the “geeks” heading off.
Apprentice linesman and former OLSH student, Leigh Measures, 22, says all his friends have moved to areas along the east coast in search of employment. 
“You can’t really advance in work here unless you know the people,” says Leigh. 
“It’s who you know, not what you know.
“There’s heaps of jobs, but the quality of jobs isn’t good.
“It’s mainly trades and supermarket jobs and that sort of stuff.”
St Philip’s student Karyna Jansons, 17, will leave town for study and probably also for the longer-term.  
“There’s lots of opportunity [here] for people with apprenticeships or government jobs, but I think this town is too small for what I want to do,” she says.
She’s looking at two study options – a Bachelor of Arts and Curatorship at ANU (Canberra) or a double degree in Chinese Medicine and Human Biology.
“Alice Springs is huge for arts,” she says, “ but it’s all for Aboriginal art.
“I’m working in an Aboriginal art gallery at the moment, but it’s not somewhere I want to stay forever.
“As for Chinese medicine, there are two practices here, and three practices make it far too competitive in a small town,” she laughs.
She says Alice’s only university doesn’t have the best reputation and studying in major cities means greater prestige and future possibilities.
This appears to be reinforced at school: “We’ve got this table in the Year 12 area and it’s just filled with all these university guides and applications,” says Karyna.
“There’s a lot more focus on the major city universities.
“None of the teachers have really said to go to CDU.”
Ethan has a similar story.
“Pretty much all my teachers are saying, ‘Nah, you’ll want to get out if you can’.
“Apparently the other universities are a lot better, I mean the rankings for CDU are somewhere along the bottom,” says Ethan.
In 2007, Charles Darwin University was tied as the lowest ranked university in Australia, a status that Mr Zoellner is “not happy about”.
Geography, population size and limited funding are all challenges for CDU.
“Generally the entire sector is really hurting financially so the university needs a boost of funding,” says Mr Zoellner.
“I mean we could want to open up a medical school but the Commonwealth won’t pay for it.
“So we could broaden our offerings but it’s too expensive.”
Ms Hoban says a “carrot”, in the form of government incentives, needs to be dangled to attract young students and draw others back to town.
“It would be a fantastic opportunity for the government to come up with some bursary scholarship with a tied link to the town,” she says.
Meanwhile, Mr Zoellner says round-the-clock, online learning for Alice Springs may become big business.
The traditional route is for face-to-face teaching with lectures and tutorials, but “for many people that’s not the reality they can live, so online is important”, he says.
“In fact, 24/7 in this town makes a lot of sense because of so many shift workers  – police, nurses, Pine Gap people, firemen – there’s lots of people who are working outside traditional hours, so there’s a compelling case that more should be delivered online.”

Songs of love and struggle launched Alice Desert fest.

The Asante Sana Choir epitomise the Alice Desert Festival theme – “Many roads, one voice”.
An ever growing group of individuals who love singing, of all ages, from children to grandmothers, men and women, come together for a few months of each year under the direction of Morris Stuart.
It started when Melbourne-based Stuart came to Alice to spend the winter months with his wife, artist Barbara Stuart, who has been visiting the Centre most years since the mid-nineties.
He has no professional background as a musician but his 25 years as a pastor in a non-denominational church working with street people in Melbourne taught him how important singing could be as a tool for bringing people together.
He put out the word that forming a choir to sing an African repertoire was something he’d like to do in Alice.
The response was immediate and he was able to field a 50 strong group in the 2006 Alice Desert Festival.
They were an attraction again last year and numbers this year have grown to over 90.
And now there’s a healthy sprinkling of deeper voices – about 20 men providing the bass and tenor registers.
They sing “message music” – songs that came out of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, whose rhythms and beautiful harmonies “lifted people up, brought them a sense of hope and joy”, said Stuart.
He suggested also that the music is relevant to “some of the issues familiar to us as Australians”.
At the festival launch we heard “Tula mama”, a love song composed by  men in the migratory labour system in South Africa, addressed to their womenfolk, telling them to “be at peace, that everything will be alright”.
The men would sing it in their hostels, where they were forcibly away from their families for up to a year at a time, working in the mines. There were hundreds, if not thousands singing together in four part harmonies – “You can imagine the emotional power”, said Stuart.
A second song performed at the launch was “Vuma”, a gospel song –  the lyrics mean “agree with me, we’re going to heaven”, a message of hope.
The choir will sing, as they have in previous years, at Trephina Gorge on Sunday, September 21 (2.30pm).
Stuart describes the acoustic at the gorge as “fantastic”  and promises a wonderful experience of “the power of the voice”.
The choir name, Asante Sana, is Swahili for “thank you very much” – “We’re anticipating applause”, laughed Stuart.
The choir will also take part in the “Many roads, one voice” event on Saturday, September 13. It will bring together seven local and remote community choirs, with all of them uniting for the choral grand finale.
This event will also feature special guests Shellie Morris, Rachel Hore and Kavisha Mazzella.
– K. Finnane

Don’t dip your pen into company ink.
Pop Vulture with CAMERON BUCKLEY

One of this season’s new fuzzy stoner teen comedies is Pineapple Express.  A waiter and patron review it with a conversation about seasonal produce.
Waiter: Would patron care to sample any of the production crew’s previous harvests?
Patron: I’ve already had the film Superbad, which I understand was produced by the same farmers. So can I expect a few belly laughs, chased by a touch of receding drama,  leaving me entertained but beginning to forget it prematurely?
Waiter: Yeah, but the Pineapple Express is all about feeling light hearted. And I’m certain that many teenagers will still think that it is some sort of cinematic breakthrough. And indeed some of the humour does blossom into original ideas.
Patron: How about the cast?
Waiter: Seth Rogen, (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) and that guy from Spiderman (Spiderman) are the two peas in the hallucinogenic pod. 
Patron: No hint of a cameo? Cheech ... Chong ...?
Waiter: No, I’m happy to announce that cliché has been successfully avoided. It is always             an accomplishment to move on from yesterday’s flavours.
Patron: And the music?
Waiter: Yeah, ripe!
Patron: How has the plot taken to this year’s drought? Have the writers’ restrictions affected the intellectual yield required for audience captivation?
Waiter: Sadly, it’s about what we can cultivate this year, rather than what we could. The writer shortage has been a grim reaper of this season’s harvest, but you need to focus on what is hand-picked and bottled. And what is left dying on the vine. It’s the slapstick, stoner philosophies and cast adapting to their parts like stomped bong water stains in a carpet. That makes these predictable pictures entertaining and funny.
Patron: Well, I do like to waste a waiter’s time with this pointless celluloid degustation, so I think I’ll eat here.
Pop Vulture rating 623/1000.

Opening floodgate on unknown talent

Meawnhile, a couple of Fridays ago a full house at Centralian College were witness to the birth of Alice Springs’ first ever short play festival, or “bite sized theatre” as Red Dust Theatre billed it.
No matter how big or small, few other than those involved can appreciate a theatre production’s inner workings – the moving, changing, writing, reading, setting, lighting, ringing, buying, teaching, telling, preaching, selling, fixing, stopping, going, sleeping, waking, hoping, wishing, loving, hating, dictating, begging, pulsing, pacing, pushing, pulling, cringing, burrowing, breaking, drawing, drinking, talking, sounding, acting, hyping, taking, giving, seeing, waiting, pasting, cutting, opening, shutting. And other bigger and smaller things.

The only catch for anyone with the balls to contribute to “bite sized”: you had to be local.
The uncovered talent was nothing short of magnificent – a floodgate had opened.
That this event isn’t already an annual one is something that needs to be remedied.
Acting talents like Natasha Hopkins and Isabelle Dupuy have remained embryos in our town’s belly too long.
The convincing chemistry between Mitch Jones and Don Mallard in the final act was enough to net the pair a people’s choice.
The third play in the set of five was strictly a student affair. This should be compulsory in any other short performance festival conducted in Alice Springs. Anywhere for that matter.
Play four let the audience witness a different approach. Director Adrian Mattiske used a spotlight affect that gave a soft and dark feel to the midpoint of the evening.
Lee Frank’s writing was on show twice that night, with Natasha’s gifted solo effort an enthralling combination of monologue and performance.
Further employment in this field knocks for all those involved, as the desert rose of our artistic community turns over a new leaf.  

Crossing the Simpson from east to west: 24 days of ‘absolute madness’. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Walking across the Simpson Desert is a feat, right? It’s not everyone who feels that they’d be up to it.
So what does it matter what direction it’s done in?
Alice resident Michael Giacometti recently completed a solo crossing on foot, east-west, the first to have done so.
Starting out from Bedourie in Queensland he trekked 450 kms to Old Andado Homestead in 24 days.
The special difficulty of the east-west direction is that the walker must go up the steep faces of the one thousand plus sand ridges.
Coming from the west, the walker ascends the gentler slopes and descends the steeper ones.
Giacometti did the arduous east-west route unsupported, hauling all water, food and equipment with him in a cart.
What was the appeal?
“It had never been done before,” he says.
And other adventurers doubted that it could be done. He quotes Lucas Trihey, who completed a solo unsupported west-east crossing in 2006, as saying that effort had taken him to the limits of his endurance.
“If we’re not challenging ourselves, we are not moving ourselves forwards,” says Giacometti.
The walk was meticulously planned, and “on paper seemed possible”, but many things could have gone wrong.
If Giacometti had badly sprained an ankle he would have been in trouble, although he was carrying a satellite phone and an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radiobeacon).
If his cart had broken, “which it could have done quite easily”, he would have had to abandon the trek and walk out to the nearest road or station – 100 kms or more.
If this were going to happen, it would have been best early in the trek, when his food and water supply was still relatively plentiful.
He says he sometimes prayed that the cart would break so that he could escape “this absolute madness”.
“I’m not even sure why I kept going.”
The biggest challenge was the “day after day slog”, but there was some reward with the weight of the cart – 165 kilos at its heaviest – going down. Every day he would drink five litres of water and eat a kilo of food.
“In the last week I was hauling only my body weight or less. I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to haul 160, even 120 kilos.”
Going up some of the bigger sand ridges in the east, he knew he couldn’t haul the fully loaded cart.
He took off his water drums and carried them up separately.
“For about four or five days I had to do that for about half of the ridges.”
Not surprisingly he was absolutely exhausted at the end of each day.
“On a couple of days my progress was so slow that I was wondering if it was possible to finish.”
He had to stop short of his planned distance because he’d already drunk his ration of water for the day.
Raising awareness of water conservation was one of the aims of the venture: he used only 100 litres of water for the whole 24 days, or four litres per day, the equivalent of “one half-flush” of a toilet.
In three weeks he used about half of what the average Australian uses in just one day.
And did he enjoy it?
There were “moments” that he enjoyed – especially the quietness and stillness of the desert.
“There was just no noise out there that was foreign to the natural environment” – other than his own voice, talking to himself, and the slight rattle of one of the wheels on the cart.
“If a sound was made I would be instantly drawn to it.
“It made me realise how much we filter out in order to not overload our senses.”
This experience has made him enjoy quietness much more; he’s stopped putting on music so much, and instead appreciates silence “as much as possible”.
But on the whole Giacometti describes the trek as “an exercise in sheer bloody mindedness”.
Was he lonely?
At times he sensed his isolation but says he didn’t miss human company, although he was calling in his position every couple of days.
Back home, a weight has lifted.
“I’ve realised how much time and energy has gone into planning and preparation over the last nine months.
“It’s a big freeing to have it over.
“I’ve got a lot more time to do other things.”

LETTERS: Kill the speed limit!

Sir,- KeepNTLimitFree was formed in 2006 and to date we have received over 35000 new hits to our web site. Also we have a petition to repeal the 130 limit and have over 10,000 signatures so far.
We are not part of any political party and we will support any candidate who will support our cause.
The imposition of the 130kmh speed limit after one and a half years has not helped reduce the road toll.
Tragically it is 43 compared to 26 at the same time last year, and was 57 in 2007 the highest this decade compared to 44 in 2006 before limits were introduced.
Fatigue, not speed, is the leading cause of car crashes proven by Mercedes Benz and backed by The American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
We need to urgently target the root causes of the road toll, being fatigue, alcohol, not wearing seatbelts and overloading of vehicles .
The government needs to repeal its speed limit legislation immediately and develop better driver education policies if the road toll is to be significantly reduced.
The average Territorian covers more kilometres per annum than any other road user in Australia which is not surprising given the NT is the third largest state / territory yet has the smallest population.
Speed restrictions just keep Territorians driving into the night when they are most likely to succumb to micro sleeps or collide with animals.
It takes twice as long now to pass road trains. Often there are 20 cars banked up at a time it’s just so dangerous. 
Now there are moves to enforce a 100kmh limit, further compounding the problem.
Safety, not tax, should be our primary concern. Our police are now diverted from priority areas to police large expanses of open roads in the pursuit of raising revenue.
It suits the Labor Government now to use speed to apportion blame in accidents because they raise so much money from speeding fines.
They also know people will fall into the penalty trap of speeding to cover large distances quickly.
In 2007 they received an extra $1 million in traffic infringement revenues.
The NT Road Safety Taskforce Report 200 6 contained no evidence
 hat driving at more than 110kmh or 130kmh has been the cause of any acciden ts on Territory highways in fact on page 8 of the report it even admits that no such evidence exists.
Also, the Territory has the lowest speed related fatalities in Australia.
Robert Atkinson

Sir,- Congratulations are in order to the organisers and participants of the CAAMA Music and Dance for Life Concert as reported on by Darcy Davis.
It seems unfair however that his report focussed on the sexy dancing (only one young  woman demonstrated this style of dancing) while the bands performing throughout the day only received  a perfunctionary listing.
I was most impressed by a number of the bands, particularly the Simpson Desert Band whom your reporter omitted to mention. Maybe he had gone to lunch by then?
Bert Fine

Sir,- Stride for Health is a three kilometre jog, stroll, run and walk, starting near the rear of Town Council near the Stott Terrace roundabout at 7am on Sunday, September 28.
This is the first time that Bosom Buddies (BB’s) and Prostate Pals (PP’s) are staging a combined activity to support both men and woman and families who have been affected by cancer.
Prostate Pals (Men helping Men) is a new initiative of a group of men in Alice Springs which started in May this year and have monthly meetings on the second Thursday of every month.
Currently there is approximately 400 more men die of prostate cancer each year than women die of breast cancer in Australia alone.
Now is the time for men to get over their egos and have regular check ups as women have positively led the way so far in not waiting until it is too late to have regular checks.
Noel Harris
0428 523 491
Alice Springs

Sir,- As I read your paper it strikes me how much alike human debate is throughout the world.
You are arguing about uranium and Aboriginal land, we are debating sewer treatment and property values.
My wife and I fell in love with northeast Queensland on a trip to Cairns and I had a chance to learn about Alice Springs from a lovely lady who has a habit of going to Hindu retreats and was coming back from one in San Francisco.
Her husband was a geologist who, I take it, has gone close to native.
Didn’t catch her name but if you publish this letter  perhaps she’ll respond to it. Our coral are getting ready to spawn – always a beauiful event.
Charles Shaffer
Florida Keys

Sir,- I smiled when I read your Public Notice about the Labor boycott of your paper.
So what did you expect? It reminded me of the prediction by my close friend Les that you wouldn’t last six weeks. And look, you’ve been going for almost 15 years.
Another feather in your cap is your on-line edition, religiously read by me every weekend. The Advocate can’t or won’t match this. Good on you.
Hermann Weber

ADAM CONNELLY: The colic of social fevers.

Have we all recovered from the fever? You know, the fever that has been gripping the town for a few weeks now.
What kind of crappy fever is “election fever”? Surely it has to be the colic of social fevers. The sniffle of the common social cold.
Society tends to exaggerate somewhat. We are very liberal with our use of words like hero and champion. We have events that are called spectacular more often than ones that aren’t, and how many songs / films / weddings of the century can you have in the just eight years of this century?
People with degrees in sociology say that we do it because life is moving at such a rapid rate, that we have no time to do anything meaningful and that the hyperbole is compensation for that fact.
I blame advertising. “New and Improved” can only go so far before it becomes farcical. 
So we’ve had iPhone fever. We are still suffering from Olympic Fever (ironically that one could end up being an actual disease) and we’ve just recovered from a nasty case of Election Fever.
For those of you unaware, Election Fever presents itself as a large rash of rhetoric, followed by verbal diarrhoea and ends up in shallow promises. Luckily this most recent outbreak lasted less than three weeks.
With Election Fever now gone, the good people of Central Australia can now focus their attention on the real issues. The things that are important to the lives of each and every one of us. Like nudist resorts.
Has everyone you know mentioned it? The story that Tourism Central Australia was approached by a Melbourne business owner thinking to set up a nudist retreat in Central Australia has sent tongues wagging.
It’s like we have all caught a case of nudist fever. Everyone has an opinion.
My opinion is that if people want to disrobe in a safe and out of the way environment, then more power to them. It’s just not for me (a collective sigh of relief from the readership). 
I see it like this. I’ve had some pretty graphic jobs in my time. Jobs that have been less than savory for those with a queasy stomach. There’s not many things that can visually assault me and a naked person is certainly not one of those.
However I have some concerns. There are some people in the community very excited about the potential new venture. I’m sorry to say but I think these exuberant folk might have the wrong idea about the nudist lifestyle.
From the research I have undertaken (on the work computer, so don’t tell the boss), most people who attend such places aren’t from Sweden or Brazil. Nor do they work out a lot. Nor are they in their early twenties.
No, most of your nudist tend to be called Clem and Joan and are regular people with regular bodies. So if you are expecting the Playboy Mansion, you might feel a little disappointed.
Also I’m a little concerned about the welfare of those coming to Central Australia to take part in the retreat. While not one to regularly nude up in nature, I do know that even fully clothed the Central Australian climate can be pretty brutal. If it’s winter it’s two degrees and in summer it’s 50!
Have you ever been sunburned on the back of your leg? Behind your knee? That’s painful enough. I’d hate to think of the amount of pain endured by those who spend too much time out in the Central Australian sun on a “nature walk”.  It’s almost beyond thought.
So to the interested parties I say “all the best”. Let’s tap into the pasty pink dollar. Just don’t expect me to catch Nude Fever any time soon.

Back to our home page.