November 20, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Mining: if law gets in the way, change it. By KIERAN FINNANE.

In the current Territory laws and processes for assessing the environmental impact of a mining project, the Ministers get to decide on all the important points.
So it comes down to this: can the public trust the Ministers – the Environment Minister but also the Mines (now Resource) Minister?
The Environment Minister gets to decide what level of assessment will be undertaken, what will be considered in the assessment and whether or not the assessment is made available to the public in full.
And in relation to mining, the Resources Minister, not the Environment Minister, has the final say.
Further, the Resources Minister is not specifically bound to take into account the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
In the case of uranium mining, the Commonwealth has the final say – the Commonwealth retained ownership of uranium after self-government – and the relevant Commonwealth Act has a trigger for an EIA where “nuclear action” is concerned.
But in a bilateral agreement with the Territory, the Commonwealth considers the results of the EIA carried out by the Territory; it does not initiate an independent assessment.
The Territory Government’s fact sheet about the Angela Pamela uranium prospect says when the explorer applies for a Mineral Lease  “a thorough environmental assessment process” will be triggered.
That’s not how the NT Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO) sees it.
The EDO is a community legal centre practising environmental law in the public interest, part of a national network, funded primarily from Commonwealth grants with support also from the NT Department of the Environment.
The Alice News spoke to its principal lawyer, Rachel Carey.
She says, as the law stands now, there are no mandatory triggers for an EIA and that this is one of the weaknesses in the Territory’s legislation.
It is up to the Minister to order an EIA or alternatively a lower level of scrutiny, a Public Environment Report (PER).
In the case of the McArthur River mine, for example, the Minister ordered a PER.
Ms Carey says it would be “unheard of” for a uranium mine to receive other than an EIA.
However, there is no legislated guidance about what the Minister has to consider when determining the level of assessment. And the Minister is not obliged to disclose reasons for their decision as to the level of assessment.
The content of the assessment is also at the discretion of the Minister.
Ms Carey says this is moderated in some way, with the Minister having to publicly notify what will be assessed and the public can have input at this stage.
But there is no right of appeal on the final decision – if, for instance, there is concern that important matters have been left out.
Under current procedures the results of an EIA or PER have to be publicly released.
But the project proponent can object to certain details being disclosed and it is up to the Minister to decide.
Says Ms Carey: “Until there is an external check on the Minister’s discretion throughout the process, people will always find it unsatisfactory.
“The lacks in the current legislation feed a lack of confdence in the process.”
Apart from the lack of third party appeal rights, the current Territory legislation also does not have “extended standing provisions”, as exist in several other Australian jurisdictions.
This means that the general public cannot readily avail themselves of the limited appeal rights that exist.
There is no provision for a third party merits appeal – was this a good decision or not – in mining decisions.
Judicial review – was it a legal decision, for example, did it follow correct procedures – may be available. However, whether a member of the public can bring an action in judicial review will depend in the first instance on whether they have standing to do so.
In the McArthur River case native title holders had sought a judicial review.
Generally native title holders will be more likely to satisfy the “special interest test” to prove they have standing, says Ms Carey, and this allows them to come before the court.
But, based on current case law, people with environmental concerns might find it difficult to prove standing unless they have bodies like the World Wildlife Foundation or the Australian Conservation Foundation behind them. 
Appeal rights and extended standing provisions as well provisions to reduce court costs would allow citizens “more robust participation” in the environmental assessment process, says Ms Carey.
Should the Environment Minister be given the over-riding power when it comes to mining and other high impact activities like land clearing?
Perhaps, she says, or else, the Resources Minister should be bound to take into account the decisions of the Environment Minister; be obliged to make public the reasons for their decisions; and appeal rights should be introduced.
The government’s fact sheet on the Angela Pamela exploration says: “Any approval to mine must take into account the findings of those assessments”, referring, it would seem, to plural assessments by the Territory and the Commonwealth.
However, the NT authorisation for mining, which parallels the Commonwealth involvement in the process, is done under the Territory’s Mining Management Act and this does not specify that the Minister take into account the EIA. It says instead:
“Before granting an Authorisation, the Minister must be satisfied that:
• the management system to be implemented on the mining site will promote protection of the environment; and
• the management of the mineral resources on the site will be in accordance with good mining practice.”
“This is not to say the Minister does not take the EIA into account,” says Ms Carey, “but as an environment lawyer I’m interested in what the Minister must take into account, in what the checks and balances there are in the legislation.”
The Act is also loosely worded about what must be in the mining management plan: it is to include “particulars of the implementation of the management system to address environmental issues”.
There is no specific requirement that it address the concerns identified in the EIA.

Will McArthur mine case set the uranium agenda? By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Territory’s environmental assessment legislation is up for review, but the Mining Management Act, which commenced in 2002, is not.
The way in which it allows the Mining Minister to sideline the Environment Minister was illustrated all too clearly during the controversy over the McArthur River Mine’s application to expand to an open-cut operation, requiring diversion of the river from its natural bed.
When the Minister’s authorisation to mine was ruled invalid by the Northern Territory Supreme Court, the Territory parliament quickly passed an amendment Bill to remove any limitations presented by the court’s decision, and ratified the open-cut authorisation.
The Mines Minister, Chris Natt, who went on to lose his seat at the last election, said the court’s decision was “based on a technicality and in no way has any bearing upon the extensive environmental assessment process, including consultation with the traditional  owners”.
Significantly, the Environment Minister, then Marion Scrymgour, was not in the parliament for the passage of the Bill that allowed open-cut mining to proceed. (Three Indigenous Labor MLAs, joined by two independents, crossed the floor to oppose the Bill – it still passed, 17 to 5.)
Ms Scrymgour had referred an assessment report published by the Territory’s Environment Protection Agency to the Mines Minister.  According to the Northern Land Council’s fact sheet on the issue, this report said, “there was a ‘significant risk’ that it was not possible to revegetate the diversion channel and a ‘significant risk’ that contaminated seepage from mining and milling operations will enter regional ground water”. 
According to the fact sheet, the Environment Minister stopped short of making a recommendation that the open-cut proposal be approved or otherwise. 
But she stated that there were significant environmental risks which must be addressed, which included:
• significant and long term risks of contaminants entering the river and groundwater – the proposed tailings facility would not be accepted in Queensland and Victoria;
• the approach to revegetation of the river diversion; and,
• insufficient attention to the social impact of the mine on the local region.
It is not clear that the mine management plan ultimately approved by the Mines Minister did address these risks as only the mining company and the government got to see it.
“Requests from the Northern Land Council, traditional owners and environmental groups to view the mining management plan were refused,” says the NLC fact sheet.
In an article about the case, Kirsty Ruddock, Principal Solicitor of the Environmental Defender’s Office of NSW, commented on the Territory Government’s legislative enabling: “The mine’s operation is now protected from legal scrutiny.”
(Ms Ruddock initiated proceedings in the case which were then taken over by the NLC.)
The saga, which only concluded mid this year, demonstrates that there are insufficient checks and balances in the Territory’s environmental assessment process; and that there are grounds for people to be skeptical about the protection it supposedly offers.

How ‘tiny’ can become big in the nuclear heat.

The Alice Springs News regards the likely development of a uranium mining industry in Central Australia as a major editorial subject, and is giving it extensive coverage.
One aspect has been fears that the town’s source of drinking water may be at risk should a mine, proposed by the Canadian company Cameco, go ahead within the town’s water catchment, some 20 kms south of Alice Springs.
In a letter to the editor (October 30) Hal Duell enumerated spills and other incidents involving Cameco in other parts of the world.
In our edition of November 6, Cameco geologist Jennifer Parks replied to Mr Duell, including this statement: “November 2007 (and earlier) – delayed restoration of groundwater, ‘routine’ spills, and a seriously inadequate bond to cover restoration at its wholly-owned subsidiary Power Resources in Wyoming, USA.
“This event related primarily to licensing documentation after wellfields scheduled for closure remained in production due to market changes. 
“The spills referred to are essentially water with tiny amounts of uranium ranging up to 35 parts per million.”
In our November 13 edition we reported that a professional scientist well known to the Alice Springs News, who has asked not to be named, had challenged the accuracy of part of Ms Parks’ reply to Mr Duell.
The scientist said: “This is either a misprint, or a very worrying willingness to disguise the truth: 35 parts per million is 1750 times more than the upper limit in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines! Hardly a ‘tiny amount’.”
We reported: “The Alice News put this to Ms Parks, who admitted her error.
“She said: ‘These numbers are correct – the regulatory limit for uranium in drinking water in Australia is 20 micrograms, or 0.02ppm.
‘However, as also noted in the article, the spills were contained, collected and remediated, they did not escape into the environment and did not involve drinking water.
‘Just to put the numbers into perspective, many granites in Australia and worldwide have about 35ppm uranium in them.
‘The ore at Ranger averages about 3000ppm and the ore we mine in Canada is generally +30,000ppm.’”
Ms Parks has now pointed out to the Alice Springs News that her statement was not an admission of error. She stands by her interpretation of 35ppm uranium as a “tiny amount”.
She says: “I said the numbers were correct and clarified and put in context, which your anonymous writer did not do.”

Ballooning made in Alice takes China by storm. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Local hot air ballooning pioneers, John Sanby and John Wallington, after selling their operation in Cairns, and their business in Alice Springs dropping 75% in five years, were looking for “somewhere in the world” to start another operation.
“Africa was too corrupt ,” says Mr Sanby, “South America had too many balloonists already.
“India was ruled out because of bureaucracy. 
“So China was our last option, but Austrade warned us most people failed there.
“It was too difficult for a foreign airline or balloon operator to get licenses, never mind getting Lloyds of London insurance, especially with no commercial licenses.
“We asked Austrade for help but they wanted a fee and we politely declined.”
This was followed by 18 months during which John Wallinton went backpacking.
“He found a small balloon operator in China who knew nothing about the world,” says Mr Sanby.
“When we told him about marketing to the world he thought marketing was a type of European food.
“We formed a joint venture which is the only way to go in China.
“The bureaucracy in China means you have to have a lot of patience, determination and time and to talk to the right person who has the stamp.
“Government stamps in China are a big thing.
“The government guy who stamps your application is responsible for whatever he stamps.
“The good thing is, the government wants tourism to grow,” says Mr Sanby.
His firm operates from Yangshuo which he says – quoting the Chinese government – is visited by 10 million tourists a year, 25% from overseas, mostly from Europe, USA, Asia and Russia.
“We have found over 3000 potential wholesalers travel agents that sell China.
“We have so far contacted 600, so there’s a long way to go.”
“In Alice we have 200 clients that sell us.
“Alice is minute in global tourism.
“It’s hardly ever mentioned.
“Thailand and Vietnam are huge at the moment.”
Yangshuo is possibly as much as 3000 years old, an hour’s flight northwest of Hong Kong.
“There are quaint places, walkways, cobble stones.
“It seems there have been farms there forever,” says Mr Sanby.
It’s a big valley, 50km long and 30km wide.
“We land our balloons where the farmers don’t charge us, on the fallow patches in the rice paddies. There is little wind in the valley, so we climb to 1000 feet, above the small mountains, called krasts.”
The balloon flights cost US$290 in China, more than the Alice Springs price of A$265.
Mr Sanby says red tape can be a nightmare.
He required licenses for marketing to overseas clients, to post brochures, air force approval, army approval, Yangshuo mayoral approval, tourism approval, pilots licenses, air operations manual approval, medical certificates for pilots.
The upside of all this government interest is that the local mafia gives them a wide berth.
“Too many government people are involved and it’s too complicated. They tend to chuck in jail anybody who is corrupt.
“It took a while but we are there.
“We now have 17 staff, six pilots and two office girls.  
“We also have an hour of English each day.
“We have a three story house in a rice paddy with a cook and house keeper.
“There’s not a single BBQ in Yangshuo, and so we are teaching them Aussie BBQ .”

‘I don’t want to be bad. I just get bored.’ By BEVERLEY JOHNSON.

The ‘tough love’ talk abounds – curfews, boot camps and even riot police – but what do the kids say? Why are they hanging around in the streets late at night and why do some of them turn to crime? BEVERLEY JOHNSON set out to meet a few.

It’s Wednesday, about 10pm. I’m in the carpark behind Flynn’s Church. There’s a big group of kids there, around 20 of them, all ages, almost all Indigenous.
I approach them tentatively at first, I tell them what I’m doing. I hang around for a couple of hours.
It’s hard to get them to talk but eventually some of them do.
“I don’t want to be bad, I just get bored,” says Rowan, 12. He sits on his bike, rolling back and forth. 
“I don’t care what my parents think. I want to be with my friends. It’s boring at home. They just drink all the time.”
By now it’s 11.30pm, and, I remind him, a school night.
“I don’t have a time to be in. I’ll come home at sunrise if I like.”
His parents do make him attend school most days but they don’t seem to worry about his after-school hours.
“They would rather I am not under their feet at home,” he says.
Richard takes a drag of his cigarette and gazes ahead, through a deep frown.
“We are angry, we hate our parents drinking. We don’t like going home. We have no money, so we break in.”
Strong words coming from someone who’s just 13: “We just broke into the swimming pool. We steal bikes and smash windows.”
“We break into places because it’s fun. There is nothing else to do. Then we get chased by cops and that’s exciting.”
Does he feel sorry afterwards for the damage he’s done?
“No, why should I? People hate us in town. They all think we are bad. They don’t let us in their shops, so now we just break in.”
 Colin, 15, thinks “all the time” about leaving Alice Springs.
“It ain’t never going to happen.
“What chance do I have? I ain’t going to get a good job. “This is it for me.”
He admits to drinking and smoking cannabis frequently. “The grog stops me feeling so bored. Smoking just chills me out, takes my mind off stuff.”
It’s Friday night, groups of youths are hanging out all over the CBD.
Some sit around chatting, others tease one another, and girls and boys flirt like any other teenagers. 
At around 10.30pm I find Vanessa, 8, sitting apparently alone in the shadows on Flynn Church lawns, her face lit by the flicker of three candles she has placed around herself.
“I got them from home. We haven’t had electricity for ages.”
I ask her about her life.
“I don’t see my dad, he’s in jail.
“My nanna looks after me now, my first mum didn’t want me.”
She turns and points, smiling fondly, to a woman at some distance.
“That’s my second mum over there. She’s carrying my baby sister.”
Life is unpredictable for Vanessa.
“Sometimes we sleep in the river.
“I can’t sleep. I have bad dreams. I cry a lot because my mum and auntie go to drink.
“I have to look after my sister.”
Clearly bright, Vanessa is happy to chat, seems to crave attention.
“I go to school. I like school.”
Suddenly, she jumps up, blowing out the candles and throwing them into the bush.
“Quick, hurry, the police. They’ll take me away.”
On Saturday around 8pm Natasha, 16, is sitting with friends on a bench outside the cinema. That’s not late for a girl her age but as we talk, she admits to stealing.
“Why should I feel bad for stealing stuff?” she asks. 
“They don’t give a shit about us. I know they think we’re bad. We’re not bad, we’re bored.”
Tanya, 11, would rather be out on the street than at home. “Mum and Dad let me do what I want. They are busy drinking. I don’t like being around them, they argue.”
There’s debate at the moment about whether CCTV in the mall is helping prevent criminal activity. 
Do the cameras worry these teens? 
“I’m not scared,” says Mia, 14. 
“I keep my hood up so the cameras can’t see me.”
On Wednesday night, Cameron, 13, one of the large group in the carpark, admitted he has tried “to smash the cameras with rocks”. 
Max 17, said he knows “where the cameras are, and how to duck out the way”. 
Later that night, about 10.30, a large group of youths, black and white, are bombing around on their bikes, firing stones at each other with sling shots.
A bottle smashes – within seconds they all scarper as blue lights flash in the distance, returning 10 minutes later, victorious at having avoided the police. 
For the next two hours, plants and cans are kicked about as a couple of youths tug on joints and pass around grog concealed in old soft drink bottles.
“I started drinking when I was 10. My brothers gave me grog at home and sometimes my mum did to. She thought it was funny.”
This is from Darren, 17, who has been in trouble with the police many times.
It seems he will do anything to ease his boredom and disappointment.
“We always steal grog. Sometimes we break in places to get money. We get glue or paint. Whatever we can.”
A middle aged woman, clearly intoxicated, walks over to us with her husband.
They question the youngsters about their actions. The youths quieten down, even when the man flicks a cigarette at one boy.
Not one child backchats.
Is this fear or some kind of respect? Are these adults attempting to be role models?
The woman heads over to me.
“Leave these kids alone, they are spoilt. You can’t help them. They’ll just mess with you, get you into trouble. They’re no good to nobody.”
The group is startled by a car driving up close and a woman yelling from the window: “Go home!” 
One of the kids tell me it’s an unmarked police car.
Why don’t you just stay at home, I ask one boy, instead of having to run away all the time?
He doesn’t look Indigenous. He has a baseball cap pulled down over his face, his small feet are bare and black with dirt.
“It’s boring,” he says, then, “Hurry!” he yells to the others. “But you told me you’re bored here, in town,” I reply.
“I am. It’s different though, I’m with my friends here.
“We love getting chased by the cops, it’s fun.
“We tease them, calling them names, and then they chase us.
“Come on!” he shouts again, and they scatter like mice.
From the mall I go down to the skate park. It’s about half past midnight now.
Four lads are there, busy with marker pens. I met them up town earlier in the week, so the ice is broken.
They show me some of their sketches. A naked woman with her legs spread is a recurring image.
It’s actually slightly amusing. I remember pictures like these being etched on the toilet walls when I was at school – boys will be boys.
What sparks my attention is the message “CONFINED FOR LIFE”.
“What do you mean by that?” I ask one boy.
“That’s us. Confined to this town forever. Nothing to do, no money, no way out.”
Where are their mates tonight?
“Some are in the Youth Centre. We ain’t allowed in, they don’t want us there. We’re too bad.”
Michael, 13, has a transient lifestyle.
Often travelling into Alice from a remote community, he is currently living in a town camp.
“I prefer being out bush. I don’t like coming to Alice Springs, my parents get drunk on grog, and I get in trouble. When we go bush, we go hunting. It’s fun and I don’t do bad things.”
These are just a few of the voices of youths I spoke to after dark on the streets of Alice Springs last week. They were not all unruly and many of those I spoke to were friendly and enjoyable to talk to.
Note: All names have been changed.

I come from a small town on the other side of the world.
As a youth I roamed the streets in the early hours.
We called ourselves ‘Wickford Army’, often walking around, looking for trouble to ease the boredom.
The youth centre had been closed due to vandalism.
We knew how to dodge the CCTV.
I had loving parents and a good home, money in my pocket, yet I’d tell my parents I was staying at a friend’s place and I’d hang out late with those causing trouble, because it was exciting.
At 12, I had smoked my first cigarette, at 13 we were drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis.  I had friends who broke into shops and loved being chased by the police. Are there kids like this in every town no matter where you are in the world? BEVERLEY JOHNSON.

Nuke dump: for, against. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Town Council might get the prize for brevity but not for nuance in its submission to the Senate Inquiry into the repeal of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005.
That’s the Act, notorious in the Territory, that paves the way for a radioactive waste management facility out here “in the middle of nowhere”, to use the words of former Environment Minister in the last Howard government, Brendan Nelson.
The council’s is one of 100 written submissions to the Senate Inquiry.
It says: “The Alice Springs Town Council voices its opposition to the establishment of a radioactive waste facility within the Northern Territory.”
Its Green alderman Jane Clark is also succinct: “Northern Territorians deserve the same treatment and rights as other citizens of Australia. We demand the right to be consulted on this issue.
“Sending radioactive waste to our region is an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ political tactic.
“I am an elected Alderman on the Alice Springs Town Council and have consulted with my constituents who have expressed dismay at the thought of a radioactive waste dump in the Territory.”
The Territory Government also talks about the “erosion of democratic rights of Territorians.
The government objects to the Act as having created “legal uncertainty” and as   “contrary to principles of good governance”.
The siting of the facility should be based on objective scientific advice, not political expediency, they argue. 
The Central Land Council “strongly disagrees with the need to remove normal legal checks and balances from the waste facility establishment mechanism”.
“Removing the need to comply with procedure necessarily repeals important protections contained in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976”, they argue.
In contrast, the Northern Land Council “would only support repeal of the Act if it is replaced by appropriate laws which both preserve the Ngapa clan’s rights regarding its existing nomination under the Act”.
The Ngapa are one of five clans who are traditional owners of Muckaty Station, which the NLC nominated as a site for the facility.
The dissenting traditional owners want full repeal of the Muckaty nomination and an end to negotiations between the Federal Government and the NLC about the site.
Most submissions from organisations seen primarily as environmental also talk about political and Indigenous rights, stressing the importance of community consultation and informed consensus around hosting a radioactive waste management facility.
Several of these submissions call for an independent public Inquiry into options for future management of radioactive waste and for an audit of current facilities.
However, the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS)  says the need for a properly established and managed radioactive waste facility is well overdue.
FASTS is the peak representative body for 60,000 Australian scientists and technologists in the public, university and industry sectors.
FASTS supports repeal of the Act, noting concerns about the way it came into operation, but not until:
a) a site for a Commonwealth radioactive waste facility is confirmed,
b) a construction schedule announced, and
c) suitable replacement legislation is put in place to provide for the operation of the facility including transport arrangements.
“FASTS does not have a view on where a facility should be situated other than any proposed site must be subject to stringent scientific examination, inter alia, of seismic stability, hydrological and other environmental risks, as defined by the best current world-standard in this area.
“Australia has a clear responsibility to properly look after its own radioactive waste. In
FASTS view, repealing the Act without a commitment to a viable site and construction timeline for a facility is unacceptably irresponsible.”
Senate Committee hearings were held in Alice on Monday and Tuesday this week: the Senators heard from Muckaty Traditional Owners, Central and Northern Land Councils, the Beyond Nuclear Initiative, Top End Aboriginal Conservation Alliance, Medical Association for the Prevention of War and the Northern Territory Government.
The committee is inquiring into the issue before voting on a Bill to repeal the Act, introduced by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.
Senator Ludlam said that it in light of the views of the majority of traditional owners across the Territory, it now was incumbent on Minister Martin Ferguson to overturn the legislation, thereby fulfilling a key Rudd election promise.

Change of guard at tourism lobby. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Special interests – such as ecology, Indigenous culture, solar cities and the cattle industry – will need to be developed as attractions to lure the few people still able to travel in the current world wide recession.
And we have to lift our game in the presentation of Alice Springs, give it “a facelift, and improve the general demeanor and the courtesy shown to visitors by all members of the community”.
That’s the view of Ren Kelly, vice-chairman of Tourism Central Australia for the past two years, who’s throwing his hat in the ring for the top job of the organization of which he’s been a member continuously since 1972.
The current chairman, Steve Rattray, is standing down on November 24, according to an email sighted by the Alice News.
Mr Kelly says it’s the “top and the bottom part of the market” – the rich and backpackers – who may save our bacon.
We should entice business travellers to stay on for a while.
And we need to create “specific value products” for the grey nomads who’ve been hit first by high fuel costs, and now by the stockmarket collapse.
What, for example?
“I have no idea,” says Mr Kelly.
“We need to develop a strategic marketing and business plan.
“We need to spend a lot of money, possibly $20,000, to get an expert to come in and do it for us.”
Mr Kelly is not confident that the lavishly funded Tourism NT – the NT Government’s tourist promotion instrumentality – is getting it right.
“They’re putting a great deal of faith into web-based marketing.
“This needs to be part and parcel of an overall mix, but too much store is placed on it at the moment.”
Booking online has its place, but there are still people on both ends of the market, especially the top end, who use booking or travel agents.
What’s also missing is “networking, bootleather on the pavement”.
Mr Kelly says Tourism Central Australia needs to have greater input into Tourism NT, “influence their marketing and sales ideas”.
“Sometimes I despair that the tourist commission is making a whole lot of decisions without consultation with the grass roots industry.
“They pretend to consult but then they go off and do their own thing.”
While The Centre promotes itself as having a strong presence of Aboriginal culture, the reality is that “very few tourist organisations, hotels, attractions, operators, really employ Indigenous people who meet face to face with visitors,” says Mr Kelly.

Not bad for a little place like this. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Here’s another one for a T-shirt slogan.
It should send the blood pressure of the shoot-the-messenger brigade all the way through the roof.
Road deaths statistics from 2005 show Victoria had 6.9 fatalities per 100,000 population, 0.9 per 10,000 registered vehicles, and 0.7 per 100 million vehicle kilometers.
The corresponding numbers for the NT were 27, 5 and 3.4. That’s four times as many, five times and 4.8 times, respectively.
In Holland five people in 100,000 died in traffic accidents and 15 in Greece, compared to the 27 in the NT.
All these figures were for 2005, when 54 people were killed in NT roads.
The total so far for 2008 is 70.
Read all about it at

Matriarch of the Lines and Colson families passes on.

Ellen Harriet (Nell) Lines nee Colson, arrived in Alice Springs for the Christmas of 1931.  Her introduction to Central Australia was a mighty shock.  She was a refined, naive and sheltered young woman of sixteen, who had spent most of her life in the strict confines of Catholic boarding schools in Western and Southern Australia. 
Nell’s parents, Fred and Elsie Colson, had worked their way up to Alice Springs, then known as Stuart, on the construction of the railway line from Oodnadatta during 1927/28, and were planning on settling in Alice Springs. 
The outback town was hot, dusty and sparsely populated, with only a few shops, pubs and boarding houses and a few private dwellings spread along a dry river bed surrounded by the beautiful MacDonnell Ranges.
Soon after Nell’s arrival, her mother, Elsie, took seriously ill and had to be rushed to Adelaide.  With no idea if her mother would survive, Nell was embraced by Mrs Bloomfield and her family who live on a cattle station east of Alice Springs. 
The two Bloomfield girls, Peg and Jean, were close to Nell’s age, as was their brother Harry, who introduced Nell to the realities of bush life in a protective manner.
Elsie did recover fully but did not return to life in the outback quickly, so when Fred bought Aileron Station, on the main road north of Alice Springs, Nell went with him to keep house, and operate the manual telephone exchange, in the small home built of natural stone at Ryan’s Well.  The building of the present Aileron homestead was begun at that time.
In 1937 Nell married Gordon Harold Lines, a carpenter/builder who she met when he worked on the construction of the Aileron Station homestead.  Gordon was responsible for the construction of many early day homes and businesses in the town and its surrounds.  It was he who donated the material and built the original scout hall on the side of Billy Goat Hill.
Nell moved into Alice Springs with Gordon and began their family.  Over the next nine years they had two sons, Max and Peter, and two daughters, Frances and Barbara. 
Nell had two brothers, who both worked their way up on the railway line with Fred and Elsie.  Bill and Alb Colson married two sisters, Marje and Stella Searle from Quorn, South Australia.  Bill and Marje had two daughters, Janice and Lorraine, and Alb and Stella had two sons, Fred jnr and Alb jnr. 
Tragedy struck in 1949, when Stella came down with a serious case of food poisoning which overburdened her heart and took her life.
Then in 1953, Marje contracted Encephalitis from a dying Aboriginal baby she nursed, and spent months in hospital in Adelaide, where she made a slow and painful recovery.
Nell was there for her family through these times and for the years to come.  She cared for fifteen year old Janice while Marje recovered.  She took Fred jnr in during his early school years before he went away to boarding school in Adelaide, and she took Alb jnr in for the full length of his school years and was a loving foster mother.
Nell was a gracious woman, a “true lady” in every aspect of the word.  Her strict upbringing ensured a high standard of etiquette and poise.  Nell abhorred bad manners.  She was well respected and loved in the community.
She became grandmother to eleven grandchildren and great grandmother to twenty-one great grandchildren.  She was also known as Nanna to Alb jnr’s children and grandchildren.  After the passing of her parents, her brothers, and of her husband, she became the matriarch of the Lines and Colson families in Central Australia.  She was the centre, the rod that held the family together.  A great defender, a woman of few words but words that were profound, with a dry witty sense of humour.
An accomplished pianist, Nell played classical music with passion and flare.  She excelled in needlework, crochet, dressmaking and, in the words  of younger members of the family, was an awesome cook. 
She was an avid golf player, loved her garden and cherished memories of travelling abroad and throughout the vastness of the Northern Territory with her families. 
She also loved her footy and supported her beloved Hawthorn team through thick and thin.
Nell spent her last months in the care of the wonderful staff of the Alice Springs Old Timers nursing home. 
Her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were by her side until she died early on the morning of September 8, 2008.
A service was held at the Flynn Memorial Church and she was laid to rest at the Garden Cemetery on September 12, with most of her family members and a great many friends and Alice Springs “old timers” in attendance.
Nell’s burial brought many tears, but her wake brought out many happy memories and stories which, in many ways, made it a joyous time for the family, celebrating the ninety-three year life of a very wonderful woman. 
A very brief shower of rain passed over the wake, in the parched centre of Australia that evening, and Nell’s son-in-law, a land owner, cheered loudly, “Nellie made it okay.  She’s stirring up the rain gods already.  She’s still looking after her family.”
A more comprehensive narration of Nell’s life and that of her brothers, and particularly of her parents, can be found in the publication, “Sunrise, The Fred and Elsie Colson Story”.

Late artist gets first solo show

An exhibition honouring inspirational Warlpiri elder and renowned artist Darby Jampijinpa Ross will be showing at Araluen from this Saturday.
The exhibition, Darby Jampijinpa Ross: Make it good for the people, features 52 works and celebrates the role of Darby Ross as a senior founding artist and mentor at the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Association, one of the most successful remote community art enterprises.
Darby Ross became one of the most significant and visible ambassadors for Walpiri culture in Central Australia, having contributed extensively to the introduction and acceptance of Aboriginal knowledge systems in both the scientific community and mainstream Australia.
He also became one of the first Aboriginal curators in Australia when he was given ‘visitor curator’ status at the South Australian Museum in the 1960s. 
Darby Ross passed away in late 2005, just one day after receiving a telegram from The Queen to congratulate him on turning 100.
In almost 20 years of painting on canvas Darby Ross never held a solo exhibition, preferring instead to participate in group shows, and made fewer than 200 works.
This exhibition is the first celebration of his story as an artist and features a selection of his paintings on loan from important museum and private collections including the National Gallery of Australia and National Gallery of Victoria.
Till January 25, 2009.

Was Willshire a murderer? By DICK KIMBER.

The Central Australian episode of the recent SBS series, First Australians, has generated controversy in Alice Springs about the reputation of Mounted Constable Willshire.
Alice Springs News editor ERWIN CHLANDA speaks to historian DICK KIMBER about what the record shows.
Apart from contributing to the episode in interviews, Mr Kimber has also written a chapter for the accompanying book, released this month.
He says it differs from the filmed episode in that he illustrates both the Arrernte and bushman’s senses of humour, and gives, “for want of a better description, a lighter touch”.   
“I also give some praise to the Lutheran missionaries who, despite their sometimes blinkered views, also provided the Arrernte and neighbouring peoples with a safe haven in times of stress, gave them a new Christian way forward, and more generally began to educate them in the ways of Europeans and their work ethic. 
“It is to their credit, too, that Missionary Schwarz and others brought Willshire’s reportedly murderous behaviour to the attention of the authorities.”

NEWS: Was Willshire a murderer as stated in the series?
KIMBER: He was a complex character. Although he did not do the shooting, I believe that he would be accused of murder today, as he was then.  Let me put him into a bit of context at the time of his trial.
In his earliest years in the Mounted Police he did some good deeds, as well as some that included the shooting of Aboriginal warriors who attacked homesteads, speared cattle and horses, and also attacked his patrols. 
However much these events are decried now, they were justified in the context of the era, and because he initially followed official policies in obtaining warrants and reporting the patrols, he was supported by the South Australian Government officials and the frontier people of the times.  By 1889, though, he was in deep yoghurt with his superiors. 
Among other things it was reported that he had taken a young Aboriginal woman down to Port Augusta, dressed only in a man’s shirt, the implication being that this was for immoral purposes. 
Officially he had also tracked down an Aboriginal murderer who had killed a Chinaman at Algebuckinna (northern SA) late in 1888 and fled to the Musgrave Ranges.  After handing the murderer over to the authorities in Port Augusta he had failed to write the obligatory patrol report. 
It is also clear from witnesses’ accounts that, while he legitimately had treatment for a problem finger in Adelaide, he also took a young Aboriginal woman to Adelaide and enjoyed quite a long time down there with her, instead of returning to duty at his Boggy Hole police camp on the Finke River. 
Despite repeated demands from his superior officers for a patrol report, he refused to comply.  Other events then overtook this dereliction of duty. 
NEWS: Failing to make a report is hardly a major crime, although having an extended holiday at the taxpayers’ expense would probably have got him suspended. 
KIMBER: Yes, and at about the same time a young stockman who dressed a young Aboriginal woman as a young man was arrested and, as I recall, spent six months in the Port Augusta gaol for using her for immoral purposes. 
Willshire was definitely pushing his luck, as the Aboriginal women were almost certainly teenage girls, and his own later published comment about them as having been provided “by the Almighty” as “He has placed them wherever the pioneers go” cuts across his protestations of innocence at the time. 
I suspect, though, that his superiors had also been told of some aspects to do with the actual patrol that had him in hot water.  I have investigated this very thoroughly, but while I have not been able to find any evidence of what transpired, my guess is that it was not as arduous or long a patrol as indicated, and that his senior officers had been offended by some events about which they had fairly reliably heard.
NEWS: Is there any direct evidence that Willshire was using the young woman for his sexual gratification?
KIMBER: He had a child by an Aboriginal woman, and convinced a prospector mate at Arltunga to take both the woman and child when things were looking hot for him, but it is doubtful whether this was the woman taken to either Port Augusta or Adelaide. 
Formal evidence and his own accounts indicate that he lusted after several young Aboriginal women, and probably had sexual relationships with at least a few of them, but he does not openly state that he did.  Historian Peter Vallee has suggested the names of two women, but there may be other possibilities. 
NEWS: Did his relationships with women have any bearing on why he was accused of murder and put on trial?  What events led to the trial? 
KIMBER: Well, Willshire was fortunate that in November, 1889 some warriors  from the Tempe Downs area attacked his police camp, spearing to death a man called Namia. This was Native Constable Larry’s father.  Clearly this was a shock for all at the time, and Namia’s murder was a terrible crime.  However, it was accounted for by various people as an illustration of inter-group feuding, and to a considerable extent this interpretation later helped to save Willshire’s bacon. 
Now, if we come forward to the events which led to his arrest, they begin with Missionary Schwarz’s public address in Adelaide in January, 1890.  He was condemnatory in a general way of almost every white man in Central Australia, including indirectly but very identifiably Willshire. 
This raised Willshire’s dander, and he launched a public media counter-attack on the missionaries. These claims and counter-claims led to the 1890 Commission of Enquiry, which occurred after the murders. 
They found certain of Willshire’s major accusations against the missionaries to be true.  They also correctly pointed out that some of Schwarz’s accusations had referred to events of the mid 1880s that had previously been formally investigated (however inadequately). 
Furthermore, despite the presence of children of mixed European-Aboriginal parentage throughout the Centre, the bushmen interviewed all denied any liaisons, and gave strong support for the dangerous work in which Willshire had been involved during his patrols to protect frontier stockmen and their station homesteads, cattle, horses and other stock.
NEWS: So Willshire got off without a blemish? 
KIMBER:  Not quite.  The Commissioners would have accepted any verifiable evidence of him using Aboriginal women to satisfy his lust, so he and all other white men in the Centre were effectively put under notice. 
It was also made very clear that he must comply with all regulations, which meant that he must obtain warrants for arrests of criminals from a Justice of the Peace (Frank Gillen at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station or Charles Gall, manager of Owen Springs cattle station).  Special emphasis was also given to the need for him to keep journal records of his patrols. 
NEWS: Did he? 
KIMBER: Yes, after the formal complaints from his superiors he had done so since late 1889, but I suspect, from the differences between his official patrol reports and allusions to them in his publications, that he kept two separate journals, one for official inspection (if required), and one in which were additional references for his own interests. 
Whatever the case, it was discrepancies in some of his official reports noticed by the Attorney-General in Adelaide that led to his undoing.
This was compounded by allegations by the missionaries, to do with the shooting of two cattle-spearers (Donkey and Roger) by Willshire’s Native Constables. 
The Attorney General asked some visiting Pastoral Commission members to make an independent check, and Frank Gillen to make a formal inquiry in his role as a Justice of the Peace. 
NEWS:  Given that Willshire and Gillen had both been in Central Australia for many years, they must have known one another.
Were there any tensions between them, or other problems?
KIMBER:  Most of the time they had limited direct contact with one another, because Gillen worked at Charlotte Waters while Willshire was based at Heavitree Gap and mostly patrolled in the Alice Springs, Glen Helen and Arltunga areas and further north.  Then, at about the time that Willshire moved his police camp to Boggy Hole, Gillen was appointed Post-master at Alice Springs. 
They would have known one another, but not necessarily as well as one might expect.  Frank Gillen was a friendly bloke of integrity.  I have no clear evidence of tensions prior to 1891.
Gillen and Willshire both also independently contributed to ethnographic knowledge of the Centre’s peoples, Gillen first when he was stationed at Charlotte Waters for 12 years, then Willshire on three occasions before Gillen was again encouraged by scientists to summarise some of his material.  Their publications are substantially different because their experiences and interests were different, so they are complementary (at their best). 
However Willshire denigrates Gillen’s work as a J.P, nothing else, in his publications after his trial – just as he also rails against the missionaries, South Australian Government and central Australian Aborigines, all of whom he blames for his arrest and trial. 
There is nothing in the records to indicate that personal tensions influenced Gillen at all in his questioning of Willshire, which was witnessed by his fellow Mounted Constable Robert South. 
Mounted Constable South also heard all other questions asked by Gillen of Aborigines, and all responses, and there is again nothing at all to indicate that he believed that Gillen was other than doing his job with total integrity.
MORE next week.

Summer starts with hope. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Pastoralists around Alice Springs are experiencing the most hopeful start to summer for six to seven years.
“But there’s still a lot of summer to come,” says NT Cattlemen’s Association executive officer Ian McLean.  The country will need follow-up rain during the summer to move out of the drought.
The south-eastern part of the district has been the driest, with seven to eight years of drought and “exceptional circumstances” declared by the Federal Government.
The rain they’ve had has not been enough to lift that declaration, says Mr McLean.         
Some stations have received one to two inches (25 to 50 mm).
“That’s enough to get a bit of feed growing, pick the cattle up a bit, but after it’s been so dry for so long it will be a fair while before the pasture comes back, even though they’ve managed the country well.”
Average rainfall in the district is about 10 inches; some of these properties have had less than half that for eight years.
Hundreds of thousands of cattle have been moved off the country.
If the summer does become drought-breaking, it will take a number of years for herds to breed back up and businesses to re-establish.
In most cases it is too expensive to bring animals that have been agisted back into the district, says Mr McLean.
To wait for the numbers to increase naturally has the added advantage of allowing the country to regenerate over time.
Country to the north has been quite dry too, but not for as long.
At Napperby Station, on Tuesday Janet Chisholm said they’d received some “relief rain” – but nothing like what Alice Springs has had.
“We hope our turn will come,” said Mrs Chisholm.  Some grass is growing, but the dams and waterholes are still empty.
Cattle are drinking from puddles and that will take some pressure off the waters, she said.
Station people generally are breathing a huge sigh of relief.
“It has lifted spirits incredibly,” says Mr McLean.
The region’s seasonal climate outlook for November to January has been suggesting a reasonable likelihood of above median rainfall.
However sea surface temperature patterns in the Indian Ocean are now showing a less pronounced bias, says the Bureau of Meteorology’s climate services chief, Sam Cleland.
This means that we are as likely to have drier conditions as wetter.
The good news is that there isn’t a bias towards drier conditions as the region has been experiencing over the last couple of years.
Returning to the rain that has fallen, on Tuesday almost all the real-time reporting gauges in the district had recorded rainfall of at least 20 to 30 mm, and most considerably more, over the preceding week and a half.
The highest was at Palm Valley with 116 mm, followed by Watarrka with 89, and Undoolya with 84.
On Tuesday Alice Springs had topped 100 mm for November, for only the third time since records at the airport began in 1941.
The town’s annual average is 279.9 mm and until November we had received only 36.6 mm.
The average for November is 26.7 mm, so November 08 has certainly topped that but “that’s the nature of Alice Springs”, says Mr Cleland – not much at all for a while and then a whole lot. 

LETTERS: Centre can be the new Saudi Arabia of renewable energy.

Sir,– Several issues need to be addressed regarding your response to Hal Duell’s correspondence.
It has been raised that supplying uranium will help provide a solution to the potential catastrophe of climate change.
Even if the number of nuclear power stations (to replace the electricity produced by coal-fired power stations) were doubled by 2050, the carbon emissions would be reduced by only 5%. Too little, too late.
It is so important that any contamination of local water resources with uranium, or any radionuclide, is considered significant. Even uranium levels as small as 35 parts per million are ‘1750 times more than the upper limit in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines’ (Alice News, November 13).
This is not a trifle.
Although Tim Flannery has voiced support for nuclear power in the past, his position has now changed. Flannery has been reported to have reversed his position that electricity could be generated using uranium with less risk to the environment than that posed by coal (Nuclear power a turn-off: Flannery changes stance, Sydney Morning Herald, May 23, 2007).
In the same article, Flannery is quoted: “We are, potentially, the new Saudi Arabia of renewable energy ... it is massive, unimaginable amounts of energy and we have some fantastic technology in Australia to harness that.”
This is a clear endorsement of the industry and investment potential associated with renewable energy resources. With its industrial and technological base, Alice Springs has the potential to become a national and a world leader in the development of renewable, particularly solar technologies.
The implication for local industry, jobs and pride is obvious.
Dr. Tom Keaney
Alice Springs

Fear mongering, puff mongering?

Sir,– Further to your open letter to me last week, thank you for giving me a chance to explain myself.  I will attempt to  answer your letter point by point.
Cameco is a new player on the local scene and is seeking community approval for their proposal to explore for and then to mine uranium within our water catchment area. 
To form an opinion of what this means to Alice Springs, and to form an opinion of Cameco’s corporate record and whether or not they can be trusted, it is necessary to look at Cameco’s record in other parts of the world.
You rightly assert that the current level of fossil fuel use will soon kill a vast number of people around the world, and you then suggest that nuclear energy might be an answer to this problem. 
Isn’t uranium similar to a fossil fuel in that it is a finite commodity that we extract from the earth and convert to energy?  And doesn’t uranium already have a truly horrific death count to answer for?
It is unarguable that renewable energy is falling short of meeting reasonable demand.  I wonder if the same concentration of purpose and funding that has attached to fossil and uranium fuels had been equally applied to renewables, might they not be well placed already to meet reasonable demand?
The economy of Alice Springs will never recover if uranium mining goes ahead and is then found to be not safe.  And if it is found to be not safe after contaminating our water supply, forget the economy, Alice Springs itself will never recover.
The expert evidence I rely on to question Cameco’s cleanup of their Rabbit Lake processing facility is Cameco’s own statement published in your newspaper that the spills were essentially water with only tiny amounts of uranium ranging up to 35 parts per million.
I did ask Cameco this question.  It is their answer I query. But I agree with you that this argument has no legs.  It was only the description of spills at a uranium works as being “routine” that kept me going.
If I am guilty of fear mongering, a very emotive and dismissive phrase in itself, I still find I have no option but to continue as I have started.  The alternative would seem to be to allow myself to be led up a garden path of corporate design, a fearsome prospect in itself. 
Perhaps what you see as my fear mongering is simply a counterweight to what I see as puff mongering from Cameco and the NT government.
If you would rather not be seen to endorse emotive language by publishing it, don’t publish it, or disavow it when you do. 
But how is anyone to describe environmental ravages other than by calling them what they are?  Google the combination Kumtor cyanide glacier and river for a good example of what I mean.
For an independent expert’s opinion of uranium and nuclear power,  I recommend Dr Helen Caldicott’s book, Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer To Global Warming Or Anything Else.
Perhaps an approach to her would shed some light on this issue as it applies to Central Australia.
Your statement that the silent majority, oddly, seems to remain silent implies that most approve of Cameco’s proposals.  As I have seen no indication that this is so, the question this poses for me is that while they are indeed silent, are they a majority?
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

Where the action plan?
Sir,– Wondering why it is taking so long for the NT Government to release the Future Alice Action Plan [arising out of the June 5 planning forum] and to get on with the job of governing for the entire Territory with a strong commitment to growth and economic sustainability?
We all know that the Action Plan is completed and we the citizens of the Northern Territory are awaiting some form of leadership from you all on the health and welfare of this great Territory.
If you have no interest in the Territory, resign today.  And let’s get people into government who have a strong committed dedication to the economic growth of this great place. 
Alice Springs has untapped potential for strong economic growth.  To deny our town this is also to deny the Territory millions of dollars in revenue.    So, stand up and be counted, show some leadership.
And to our representatives, Karl and Alison, now is the time to stand up, be heard and work for our Central Australia. 
Janet Brown
Alice Springs

Icy Poles for kids
Sir,– The Apex Club of Central Australia is hosting its annual Icy Pole Treat again this year, on December 7.
Every street in Alice Springs, including Camps, will be visited by the utes carrying signs saying Icy Pole Treat, with the aim that every child in Alice Springs will get an Icy Pole to combat the heat.
So keep your eyes open for the utes, and please slow down around them as there will be children around!
Mick Gallagher,
Apex Club of Central Australia

ADAM CONNELLY: Bring on the rain!

On a branch half way up a tall gum tree, two parrots devour newly sprung seeds.
The deliciousness of the freshly bloomed treats dominates their attention. They are oblivious to the presence of a pair of Galahs preening themselves just a branch below.
At the foot of a neighbouring tree magpies are scratching about with beak and talon, searching for a plump bug or two in the leaf litter.
From the eaves of the building, water drips metronomically. The soothing rhythm of each drop’s descent makes small pock marks in the sandy soil below.
A solitary wagtail, oblivious to the serenity of the garden, takes his manic flight from one shrub to the next like he’s lost something important.
A spider on the sandy brick wall behind industriously rebuilds her web. She works with expert speed and surgical precision creating her deadly artwork.
The fence looks like a modern abstract.
The pale grey of the timber slowly invaded by the wet dark green.
At the base of the fence several clumps of leaves, seeds and other detritus congregate like tinsel.
In the distance children play in a big puddle.
The novelty of such a large body of water elicits squeals of delight and laughter in equal measure. Their parents won’t be so delighted come laundry time.
A lone cyclist struggles along the roadside. Normally in a muted pastel lycra uniform, the road warrior this day is dressed in a garish Day-Glo orange spray jacket.
A wet brown stripe builds along the length of his back as the spray from his rear tyre plumes like a pin wheel.
Further away still, the clouds, which for the last couple of hours at least have been a light blue grey, the colour of a boy’s school uniform, are gathering on the horizon.
The clouds are turning gun metal, readying themselves to jettison their aqueous cargo – more rain’s coming.
For the majority of my life, I lived in a temperate, coastal region of the world. Rain would fall at least once a month and sometimes for a week at a time.
As a kid I hated the rain. It meant wet weather play at lunchtime at school. You weren’t allowed in the playground. You had to stay in class and read books like Spot the Dog or colour in pictures of Spot the bloody Dog.
I wanted to play marbles or footy cards. I did not want to colour in. Even now some twenty years later, colouring in gives me a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach.
But I love the rain in Alice Springs. I love how fresh it feels.
I love the instant green after a rain.
How do desert plants do that? One minute they are a gnarled mass of branch and thorn, the next they are a lush, verdant delight. 
I love the puddles. Is it me or did the gutters in this town get designed purely for show? Did one gutter actually work properly last week?
I love that the town’s water removal system is so inadequate.
Why should it be adequate? It only needs to work a couple of times a year.
I love the fact that after a really big rain you have to go via the Power and Water access road to get in and out of the golf course area. I love that we have a road just for rain.
I love the Todd flowing. A mighty torrent for a day and a half in all its majesty.
I love that after a day and a half, the majestic Todd becomes little more than a slightly ugly collection of muddy bits.
The occasional set of ill thought through footprints connecting the bogs.
I love that we congregate at the river to look at something many others take for granted. We take pictures and email them to relatives.
I love it all. Bring on more rain.  

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