ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
November 20, 2008. This page contains all
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
Mining: if law gets in the way, change it.
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
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
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
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
The content of the assessment is also at the discretion of the
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
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
“The lacks in the current legislation feed a lack of confdence in the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
“India was ruled out because of bureaucracy.
“So China was our last option, but Austrade warned us most people
“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
This was followed by 18 months during which John Wallinton went
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
He admits to drinking and smoking cannabis frequently. “The grog stops
me feeling so bored. Smoking just chills me out, takes my mind off
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
MORE next week.
Summer starts with hope. By
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
And to our representatives, Karl and Alison, now is the time to stand
up, be heard and work for our Central Australia.
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!
Apex Club of Central Australia
ADAM CONNELLY: Bring on the
On a branch half way up a tall gum tree, two parrots devour newly
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
A spider on the sandy brick wall behind industriously rebuilds her web.
She works with expert speed and surgical precision creating her deadly
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.