March 26, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Town plan on the never never. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Ten months after the well-attended Planning for the Future forum on June 5 last year, Planning Minister Delia Lawrie has released an Outcomes Report and Action Plan.
If you were looking forward to an announcement of a program of events or works to transform the character of Alice Springs, you’ll be disappointed.
If you imagined that there would be budgeted projects with start dates, think again.
The “actions” are reviews, audits, studies, modelling, and developing frameworks, with the exception of subdivision construction at Larapinta (due for completion this financial year), and headworks at Mt John’s Valley Stage 1 (already complete).
A major report into the revitalisation of the CBD, developed by Material Thinking’s Paul Carter following extensive community consultations last year, has not been released.
Aspects of some ideas foreshadowed in Paul Carter’s community consultations are contained in a two-page summary.
A “framework plan” will be developed by the second half of 2010 following further community consultations.
Asked why, when consultations had already been extensive, Ms Lawrie said, “Not about height limits”.
This would suggest that height limits are not a focus within the Paul Carter report although they were brought up, as one point and not a major theme, in the June 5 forum. (See
At a time of economic downturn and when several CBD blocks have languished for years for want of any kind of development, the call for a height limits debate is surely a red herring.
Ms Lawrie says some developers are asking for buildings to go to five storeys, although “people may say no” and “the wishes of the community will be respected”.
She said upper storeys could be used for residential purposes, again a point raised in the June forum.
The other aspect of possible change in the CBD emphasised by Ms Lawrie is to “turn the town around” so that it looks out on the “beautiful Todd River”.
There is no mention in the two-page summary of developing the area around the Uniting Church and possibly the Hartley Street carpark as community public space.
Nor is there mention of improving the links between approaches to the three sacred hills at the edges of the CBD (Anzac, Billygoat, Annie Meyer, to give their European names).
These were important parts of the community discussions with Paul Carter.
Queried about them Ms Lawrie said they’re “all in the document”; she has provided a “high level synopsis”.
It is not clear what document she was referring to.
In the synopsis most points regarding the CBD are introduced with words like promote, encourage, develop, consider although there are some “provides” and “improves”.
Over the last several months the Town Council Director of Technical Services Greg Buxton has repeatedly told aldermen he was awaiting the CBD “masterplan” to guide council in matters of carparking in the CBD.
He need wait no longer: the action plan handballs it back to the council to review the current strategy and “to provide appropriate levels of car parking to address demand”.
Questioned about the release of the Paul Carter report, Ms Lawrie said she understood it is still in draft form, she had not received it and had been asking for it.
The Alice News understands that the report, including a summary, was finalised weeks ago.
The News put this to Ms Lawrie.
She repeated “categorically” that she had not received the report and had been asking for it.
The News has conducted an interview with a senior public servant on the contents of the report.
And we have it from an extremely reliable source that the report is on the desk of departmental CEO Richard Hancock.
So if Ms Lawrie is asking for it, why does Mr Hancock not give it to her?
Something here is not right.
Readers will remember too that a promise of $5m to support projects in the CBD was made during the last Territory election.
Asked about this, Ms Lawrie said the money is still “sitting there against” the CBD plan. 
The good news, says Mayor Damien Ryan, is that the action plan has been placed in the hands of a local steering committee.
“We have never had a steering committee involved in planning in this town,” he said, describing it as a “great leap forward”.
The committee will be co-chaired by Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton and Mr Ryan.
Its members are: Lhere Artepe CEO Darryl Pearce, Chamber of Commerce head Julie Ross, architect Brendan Meney, real estate agent David Forrest, and senior public servants, Fran Kilgariff, now heading up regional development in the Centre, and Tony Renshaw, regional director of planning.
Ms Lawrie announced that the next residential subdivision will take place south of the Gap, on Arid Zone Research Institute land. This received mixed support at last year’s forum, as the cheapest subdivision option. 
It is a “significant departure from existing plans”, said Ms Lawrie, but she welcomed it as “innovative and new thinking” from Alice Springs residents. 
The subdivision would ultimately yield 1400 blocks, depending on density.
Headworks are estimated to cost $30m.
Blocks would be turned off for an estimated $23,500 each.
In the meantime the 80 lots to be turned off at Mt John’s Valley, together with medium density developments in town permitted by spot re-zonings, will go towards answering immediate needs.
Lhere Artepe is developing the first 40 blocks at Mt John’s in return for waiving native title rights over the land; they also have first option on the remaining 40, which they would buy from the government as undeveloped freehold at a price set by the Valuer-General.
Ms Lawrie said the government has emphasised to Lhere Artepe the need for some affordable blocks within the subdivision “even though it is prime real estate”.
Mr Hampton said a population of 35,000 is being planned for (and not the Country Liberals’ target of 50,000).
Ms Lawrie said the Town Council’s suggestion of an annual release of 100 blocks is “right on the mark”, rejecting the Country Liberals recent proposal of 200 blocks per annum as “way too much”.
“You don’t want to devalue the family asset,” she said.
A turn-off of 100 would more than triple the current turn-off of 30 lots.

Alice on uranium mine: ‘56 to 44 in favour’. By KIERAN FINNANE and ERWIN CHLANDA.

A survey of community perception of uranium exploration in Alice Springs, commissioned by Cameco and conducted by Synovate Adelaide, shows a slight majority – 52% – in favour of exploration, with 46% against, and 2% without opinion.
Strangely, it shows more people (56%) support future uranium mining, with 44% against.
Another curiosity is that half of respondents believe the majority of the population is opposed, while only 20% believe there is majority support. The remainder don’t know.
Synovate is described as an independent market researcher.
The company interviewed 750 randomly selected residents over the age of 18, with the sample weighted by age and gender to the 2006 Census population statistics.
Synovate notes that the results are similar to the 2007 survey conducted by market pollster ANOP for the Australian Uranium Association. They report that this survey found 50% of Australians support uranium mining, with 39% opposed and 11% unsure.
The company also notes that Alice residents (it does not say what proportion) are concerned with environmental, health and safety impacts.
Asked if the industry could do anything to increase their support, 60% of respondents said yes. Of these, 13% wanted more information and 12% wanted industry to address their fears regarding health, safety and the environment.
Two thirds of respondents agreed that Cameco was providing positive benefits to the community. Of these, 75% said uranium mining would create more jobs; 61% said it would have a positive impact on local business.
There was a high level (84%) of awareness of uranium exploration in the region; 61% were aware of Cameco; 74% were aware of the Angela project.
Cameco renewed its education campaign earlier this week, with events organised around the visits of Canadian company executives, Gary Merasty, Vice President Corporate Social Responsibility (see separate story), and Roger Lemaitre, Director, Worldwide Exploration Projects.
In response to global concern about carbon-emitting energy, the company is positioning itself on the “green” side of the fence: the verso of these executives’ business cards bears the slogan, “Nuclear. The Clean Air Energy”; a small tree symbol and the word “Recycled” denotes that the card itself is made from recycled paper.
Mr Lemaitre, speaking to a small gathering of locals – including Viv and Craig Oldfield, principals of Gorey and Cole who have just been awarded the drilling contract for the Angela project, Liz Martin representing the Old Ghan Preservation Society, the Chamber of Commerce’s Julie Ross, and Ross Engineering’s Neil Ross – said profitability of uranium is tied to the demand for electricity.
A 53% worldwide increase in demand by 2030 is forecast, with 70% of that in the developing world.
And nuclear power, he said, is the lowest cost non-hydro energy able to provide baseload power to meet that demand.
Asked by the Alice News whether the costing includes the price of decommissioning nuclear power plants, Mr Lemaitre said he thought not.
However he made the point that decommissioning would also have to be factored into hydro and other energy forms to make a fair comparison.
(The British Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has put the UK’s nuclear waste clean-up bill at 70 billion pounds, according to the BBC, March 30, 2006.)
Mr Lemaitre also argued that with Australia relying on coal for 75% of its electricity generation (the world figure is 45%), nuclear power has an important place.
The News asked about how much carbon-emitting energy is used in uranium exploration and mining activities.
Cameco’s Jennifer Parks said the figure is less than for solar; only hydro is lower.
Mr Lemaitre said Cameco has done a detailed study of its carbon footprint which will be released soon.
He said the industry is on a learning curve, coming out of the “lost generation”, between 1982 and 2003, when there was little exploration.
In that time the price of uranium rose from $10 a pound to $135, prompting intensified activity.
The price is currently around $40 a pound.
Despite the global financial crisis, Cameco raised $490m two weeks ago, and now has an exploration budget of $55m.
They’ll be spending $21m in Australia this year, including $9m in the NT.
Mr Lemaitre said the NT “has a regulatory system that’s easy to understand and is a friendly place to do business”, commending  the government for its NT Geological Survey.
“I wish we could have that in Canada.”
He reported that the CLC is “close to” signing off on the project.
An Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority  certificate is “due any day” and approval of a mining management plan, that deals mainly with environmental issues, is due “in a month”.
He said the company’s engagement of the community is not happening “quite as quickly as we wanted to”.
A Community Reference Group will be put together to assist with this, following workshops in April.

IAD row: don’t mess with the ladies! By ERWIN CHLANDA.

When it comes to red blooded Aboriginal politics, they get no fiercer than when the two factions are facing off for the control of the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD).
Some 70 people, eying each other suspiciously, between them apparently armed with hundreds of proxy votes, are filing into the spacious meeting room of the almost new $3m complex in South Terrace.
Aside from this publicly funded building, not a lot of “development” has occurred in the institute of late.
Its library and language centre are closed, and the organisation is reeling under allegations of graft, waste of public funds, incompetence and breaches of the constitution.
The business of the special general meeting today: “To dismiss the current Committee and to approve a proper election of a valid new Committee to be conducted by the NT Electoral Office forthwith.”
The start of the meeting is delayed as people in the next room are, apparently, dealing  with issues of who’s a member and who’s not, and whose proxy votes will be approved.
Later Neville Perkins, who says he is IAD’s longest serving member, tells me he submitted 48 proxy votes but only 18 were approved.
No explanation was given.
Mr Perkins OAM was there when the recently deceased Rev “Tjilpi” Downing founded the institute 40 years ago.
Mr Perkins has a distinguished career in NT politics, as the Member for MacDonnell (Labor), and in the management of several local Aboriginal organisations, including IAD, as well as the national multi-million dollar operation, Aboriginal Hostels.
But today, soon after the meeting finally gets under way, Mr Perkins is on the brink of getting thrown out by the chairperson, Janice Harris, who stands to get the chop if the business of the meeting is resolved in the affirmative.
The sticking point is yours truly, invited as a reporter for the Alice Springs News by the Perkins camp, but clearly not welcome by Ms Harris.
Without having a direct shot at me she enumerates the non-members allowed at the meeting, with advance notice, by the committee that’s facing the sack: they include an adviser to the meeting and former local government identity, Bruce McRae, a sign language interpreter for the deaf, a scrutineer, two resolute-looking security guards – but no members of the Fourth Estate (I’m sitting not far from the exit – just in case).
Mr Perkins challenges Ms Harris with a point of order, saying it should be up to the meeting, not the committee, to decide who can attend, and that matter should be put to a vote.
Eileen Hoosan, who also has a long association with IAD, supports Mr Perkins and says to me: “You stay right here.”
Ms Harris – her hand holding the microphone is trembling – decrees the matter is “not open to discussion” and gives Mr Perkins his first warning, saying he’ll have to leave the meeting if a second warning is issued.
When Mr Perkins fails to be impressed, Ms Harris threatens to “abandon” the meeting, presumably with the result that the motion, that could spell her and her committee’s doom, could not be moved.
Minutes later she declares “the meeting is over” and storms out, followed by roughly half of the crowd.
Not so, say the Perkins-Hoosan crowd which by now has the room to itself (almost).
There are some prominent figures of The Centre’s Aboriginal society: Harry Nelson and Rex Granites from Yuendumu, Russell Bray, Eric Sultan.
Mr Perkins says later “our campaign to clean up IAD” includes also members of the Turner, Abbott, Shaw, Rabuntja, Hayes, Kunoth, Martin, Ross, Tilmouth, Presley, Stewart, Taylor, Swan, Doolan, Ferguson, Rontji, Ingkamala and Malbunka families.
Some 30 people are still left in the room, reportedly holding 175 proxy votes. It’s well over the 20 votes required for a quorum.
Betty Pearce is appointed chairperson, and Krystal Perkins as the minute taker.
Ms Pearce wastes little time in telling Mr Perkins that if he becomes too long-winded, it will  be her who’ll throw him out of the room.
Mr Perkins’ instant deference to Ms Pearce leaves little doubt that when it comes to “whitefeller” style meetings, Aboriginal ladies run the show.
Highly respected Arrernte elder and artist, Margaret Kemarre Turner OAM, hands me a note, saying, “We continue this meeting as per constitution and with [my] blessing. Welcome to Country.”
At that point it isn’t clear whether Ms Harris had closed the meeting or not.
Someone suggests this would have had to be done by a vote from the floor.
Ms Pearce, just in case, re-openes the meeting, saying it’s been properly called and convened, and is now going to transact its business.
As it turns out, Mr Perkins has circulated a comprehensive dossier of IAD’s recent woes.
It claims:-
• September 2008: The board is replaced by a statutory manager. (Ms Hoosan tells me the fee for this management was $161,934, paid to a firm of accountants.)
• Contrary to the constitution, a board member receives payment for work from IAD.
• People not qualifying are registered as members.
• A student not completing a course is given a completion certificate, jeopardising IAD’s status as a Registered Training Organisation. This is described by Ms Pearce as a criminal offence.
• There is “misuse of public funds and non-compliance with Government funding contracts”. The list goes on.
• Sacked board members take the matter of their dismissal to court and reach a confidential settlement.
• The annual general meeting on December 23 last year elects a management committee but fails to do so “properly and validly”. A main sticking point is that the election is not conducted by the NT Electoral Commission – a matter the meeting seeks to rectify.
Back to the meeting: Ms Pearce chairs discussion about the fact that yet again, the Electoral Commission isn’t present, as two police officers walk into the room.
One says to Ms Pearce that the matter of the meeting continuing in Ms Harris’ absence has to be “sorted out or everyone has to leave”.
No way, Ms Pearce tells the Law, this is a special general meeting and it is continuing.
The officer, apparently no more prepared to argue with Ms Pearce than was Mr Perkins earlier, leaves the room, followed by his partner.  
Not surprisingly, the motion of the day is carried with no votes against.
But there are two abstentions, from a man and a woman.
The man, who wouldn’t give his name to the the Alice Springs News, takes the floor.
He says he is a new member of the current board, and he is “very disgusted” with the “bickering” in which “IAD is losing out”.
He asks: “Is this about two people or IAD?”
The man is listened to in silence after which he and the woman leave the room.
The police officers come back, saying it’s all OK, the meeting can continue, and they both take their leave.
The meeting is adjourned for one week, resuming tomorrow, Friday.
The rebel crowd will insist that the new board is elected under the strict auspices of the NT Electoral Commission.
The members adjourn to the IAD canteen for lunch, only to find that their opponents, who’d walked out of the meeting early, have eaten most of the food.
The rebels agree it’s a minor setback in a pretty good day.
Ms Harris could not be contacted for a comment.

CDU: No more lagging behind. By BEVERLEY JOHNSON.

BStrengthening already existing partnerships between Charles Darwin University and three interstate universities could encourage more students from interstate to spend time studying in the Centre and vice versa.
Newly appointed vice-chancellor at Charles Darwin University, Professor Barney Glover, says he is “well aware” that Alice Springs has a “leakage” of students to interstate universities.
CDU plans to build on their relationships with the James Cook University in northern Queensland, the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra and Flinders University in South Australia in order to give Territory students greater choices.
Flinders University already has a long standing partnership with CDU’s remote health educational programs in Alice Springs.  The ANU has students using CDU research facilities, and James Cook uses the Darwin campus for its coastal management and marine science programs.  
CDU is looking to increase its numbers.
Students physically moving to the Territory is an option but not the only way to do it. Delivering a good product at a distance is another and online courses are attracting enrolments.
The notion that all 18 year olds will remain in their hometown and attend the local university is an “ancient view”, says Prof Glover.
CDU, together with four other regional universities, is at the bottom of the pile for its proportion of school leavers, according to the Good Universities Guide. 
Instead their students tend to be in a higher age bracket, over 24, who have some “work experience and life experience”, says Prof Glover.
Courses are designed “to open pathways to specialist interests”.
“The age of students at CDU also reflects the modern situation in Alice Springs,” says Don Zoellner, CDU’s Pro-Vice Chancellor Community and Access.
The town’s workforce of public servants, shift workers, education and health professionals, provides a large proportion of CDU’s local students, he says.
“Many people want to do extra courses but on a part time basis.”
CDU is waiting for a response on an application for $17m under the Commonwealth’s economic stimulus package. The funds would be put towards further developing the technological resources at both the Alice Springs and Darwin campuses.
A new clinical teaching facility on the Alice campus will be fully operational by May.
Some 300, including around 40 from Alice Springs, nurses have signed up to undertake a variety of two-week courses, as part of their student nurse’s vocational learning program. And it is possible that some of these will decide to continue their studies here.
The state-of-the-art replica hospital ward includes high tech beds, real clinical dummies and is capable of facilitating 20 students at a time.
The clinical teaching facility should create a nursing education hub in Central Australia, says Prof Glover.
The facilities are being tested presently by some of the staff working in local age care services.
For some time now students in Alice and Darwin have been using video technology in the classroom.
Teaching through interactive web cam facilities is becoming increasingly popular. In this way, for example, one student has been taught how to play the cello.
Some 300 students at CDU currently have an Alice Springs postcode, five times as many as six years ago. 
They study predominantly Law, Education, IT, Business and Tertiary Enabling (getting students’ literacy and numeracy up to speed for further education).
There has been an increase in the number of applicants for Law since the course became fully available online.
There has also been an increase in VET apprenticeship applications, says Prof  Glover.
The applications have held up in the face of the economic downturn, in comparison to universities in Western Australia and Queensland, according to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.
“This could be an indication that the NT economy is holding up better,” says Prof Glover.
Ready to defend CDU’s poor reputation in the national ranking tables, Prof Glover says the university is achieving positive scores in research.
The Good Universities Guide ranks both undergraduate and postgraduate research intensivity as relatively high, (four stars out of five), comparable with Flinders University and Queensland University of Technology. The proportion of research students at CDU is also ranked as very high. However, graduate rating of overall satisfaction with the educational experience earns CDU just one star out of five.
But it is not alone: Central Queensland, Flinders, Macquarie, Queensland University of Technology, Adelaide, Canberra and Newcastle universities all earn only one star.
CDU also gets just one star for teaching quality, sharing this ranking with seven others, including one “old sandstone”, the University of Melbourne.
CDU does a little better with the “positive graduate outcomes”, earning two stars.
The rankings do show some “lagging” results, but CDU will be investing more resources into improving the university’s reputation and lifting its profile, says Prof Glover.

Tragedy to triumph. By BEVERLEY JOHNSON.

Local lad Isaac Elliot, a paraplegic after a a serious motorbike accident in 2007, is not letting his disability disable his life.
As captain of his destiny, he has set up Zackerfilms, an independent production company, and has produced his first multi-camera film, 30 Minutes, 40 Riders, 50 Degrees.
The film will be premiered this evening, 6.30pm at Centralian Senior Secondary College, where Isaac was formerly a student.
“Before the accident my focus was solely on motocross racing.
Now I can’t be a super national motocross star, I’ll have to be a super national motocross filming hero instead,” he says.
Fortunately the dirt bike enthusiast has been able to continue enjoying his original passion on a specially modified bike but he obviously can’t  compete at a professional level.
Combining his love of motocross with a fairly recent love of film-making has not been easy.
Technical issues caused a multitude of dramas throughout the production process.
“I’ve been working some crazy hours to get the film finished. Recently I was editing until 3.30am, then I had to get up at 6am to go to work at my regular job.”
He taught himself how to use his filming and editing equipment and developed his filming techniques by viewing hours of You Tube footage.
He decided to use multiple cameras to capture simultaneously a variety of different angles throughout the race featured in the film.
The camera attached to a rider’s crash helmet allows the viewer an authentic taste of what it feels like to be the rider bombing down the track, says Isaac.
The film brings to light the trials and tribulations of life on the motocross racetrack, following local riders as they tackle the track under the scorching heat of the Central Australian desert.
Orchestral music is juxtaposed with heavy impact racing footage.
Isaac says he decided against using music with lyrics, as he felt it might take away from the power of the footage.
Dust to Glory, a film about the Baja desert motorcycle race, has been a major influence –  “an awesome movie”.
“I wanted to produce a film that takes a different approach to the regular motocross films, make it more like a movie.
“My film includes narration that gives more detail about riders, and explains their stories.”
The usual motocross video has a commentator covering the events within the race, rather than a story, he says.
The film stars a number of riders from the Alice Springs Motocross Club, all of whom have or do race in the Finke.
Isaac does not have any immediate family living in Alice Springs.
Brother Troy however is visiting from Adelaide and arrived just in time to help Isaac with his final preparations.
Obviously proud of what Isaac is doing he says, “As his brother I don’t think the accident has changed Isaac at all.
“If it was me, I would still be sitting around in rehab, but Isaac is so motivated he just deals with everything in such a chilled out way.”
The preview tonight is only the beginning for Zackerfilms, Isaac is in the final negotiations to film the Australia Motocross Series, eight national events.
At this stage he plans to specialize on motocross, but his aim is to eventually produce an all time epic movie about the Finke Desert Race.

Passion, place and history in ambitious debut novel. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Diamond Anchor
By Jennifer Mills.
University of Queensland Press, 314 pp.

A novel set in a fictive town on the Illawarra coast in New South Wales wouldn’t normally come across my desk, but The Diamond Anchor, to be released next week, is by Jennifer Mills who gives her address as Alice Springs and is increasingly coming to notice with publication and awards around the country.
To name a few: the Marian Eldridge Award for Emerging Women Writers in 2008; the NT Literary Award for best short story, 2008; winner of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Competition (Pacific region) 2008; a highly commended in the prestigious Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2007; a highly commended in The Age short story competition, 2007; inclusion in the Best Australian Stories 2007, published by Black Inc.
And readers of the Alice Springs News will remember her for taking out both first and second prizes the last time we ran a short story competition, in 2007.
This flush of success has been hard earned: Mills dedicates herself to her art more single-mindedly than most, forgoing comfort and security to buy the time and experience that feeds it. She lives and works in a small shed, and travels widely, well off the beaten path and on the smell of an oily rag.
She first came to my notice with her story that gave the title to the locally-produced Ptilotus Press anthology, The milk in the sky. The story is an erotically and lyrically charged account, tightly written, of a sexual encounter between two young women at a bush dance.
In the same volume she wrote movingly in ‘Roadhouse’ about the loneliness of a trucky who is caring for his dying father, once a driver like himself. In just a few pages several characters, the span of a lifetime and a whole social milieu is evoked.
In the stories that won the Alice News competition prizes – ‘Reason’ and ‘Crow Season’, again deftly written and balancing wry humour with darker elements – her characters are a public servant and the government Minister she works for, in negotiation with an Aboriginal community; a prisoner on the run and the woman who picks him up on an Outback road.
I mention these as examples of Mills’ observational, imaginative and emotional range.
They also set up expectations of the kind of reading experience I would have with her intriguingly titled first novel.
The title, The Diamond Anchor, made for a good start: the immediate reference is mysterious but holds the promise of something hard, glittering, alluring and deep-rooted.
I soon learnt that it is the name of a pub (shortened to Danker) in Coal, Mills’ fictive town on the cliffs of that magical stretch of coast between Sydney and Wollongong.
But it is employed for its metaphoric weight too: Mills moves her story over 300 pages towards the unearthing of an allegorical diamond alluded to on page 10, the one in the pocket of the person who then spends a lifetime looking for it.
This bright, hard thing turns out to be acknowledgement of – and I’m not giving anything away that we don’t suspect from the first page and know for sure by page 49 – the love that grows to a sexual passion between the narrator, May, and her best friend, Grace, and that is betrayed and abandoned before it even knows its name.
The story is told almost entirely from May’s point of view – there are a couple of passages from Grace – as a seventy year old, looking back over a life that has been haunted by her early passion but has also gone on to include a happy marriage, two children, something of a vocation as a publican, and deep commitment to Coal and the Danker, her home.
Around the love story Mills brings to life May’s family – in particular her reckless, hard-drinking but loveable father and her long-suffering mother – as well as the small town of Coal whose fortunes rise and fall with the coal industry and later with the encroachment of a rapacious real estate industry fuelled by Sydney money. 
Mills says about writing that it offers her the opportunity to be “interested in everything”, and this novel demonstrates her eclecticism. She bites off a chunk of Australian history that takes in colonisation, migration, the rise of heavy industry along with unionism and communism, the depression, war, and the growth of a small town around these forces.
She also writes very effectively of place – not one she was born and raised in, but one that she has obviously gotten to know – from its sunrises over the vast expanse of the Pacific to the east, and its rockholes, beaches and cliffs, to its half-sky and afternoons foreshortened by the shadowy escarpment, covered in dense bush, that rises steeply behind it.
You close the book left with a rich sense of the place.
From what I’ve described here you can see the challenges and ambitious scope of the novel, and overall it provides an engrossing read. 
However I struggled a bit with its sustained elegiac tone and the relatively limited emotional ground covered. May is smitten by Grace almost from the beginning – they’re just little girls when they meet – and the relationship isn’t shown to develop much beyond that, even after it becomes a sexual one.
Their sexual contact is tentative, as far as we know, except on one occasion, the significance of which is ambiguously treated. 
The writing about their sexual encounters is restrained, at times even clinical, lacking the charge that Mills is capable of.
The story is set in an era when love between women was a far greater taboo than it is now, and it could be argued that its restraint is in keeping with narrator May’s reserved, even secretive character. But I needed to know more, in order to be convinced that what happened between the two women could have so haunted them across a lifetime spent apart.
And this after all is May’s mission in writing the story (as a long letter to Grace, which she may or may not send) – to uncover for herself what their subterranean relationship has meant for her life and to know what to do in the little time left to them.
I also needed to know how May deals with the physical relationship with her husband.
She goes into the marriage still very much in the thrall of Grace, but apart from sporadic guilt about disloyalty, appears to slip with ease into happily wedded life, which I found left questions begging.
I missed the tighter writing and control of material that Mills demonstrates in short form, both the stories and her poetry. It’s probably a tall ask in a first novel, and I’m confident we’ll be in for treats in the long form too as she gains experience with it.
I missed too her tough forthrightness, her contemporaneity, but of course no writer wants to be boxed into doing one thing, and in appreciating her impressive range, I see that The Diamond Anchor certainly adds to it.
In bookshops from April 4.

I’ll sleep on the couch. By BEVERLEY JOHNSON.

In these times of economic crisis “couchsurfing” is coming to the rescue of the intrepid traveller.
It’s a worldwide movement offering those with a thirst for local knowledge, culture and custom the choice of hosts across the globe, who advertise themselves online.
The hosts welcome the travelers into their homes, willing to share everyday life experiences with them.
No money changes hands. All the guests need to do in return is to agree that one day their home will be open for other travelers.
Says local couchsurfing host Sebastian Hall, aka Swinging Safari: “By staying with local people, travelers get to see and experience the town from a different perspective. It’s a great way to get a feel for a person’s culture.” 
Sebastian’s online blog states that his current mission is “to meet as many groovy people as possible”.
He wants to “build a muso and artist based commune in the middle of the central Australian bush”. 
A keen musician, he was introduced to the website about a year ago by a friend.
He has a big personality and passion for the local area and travelers from all over the world are eager for him to be their authentic guide to the Australian bush.
His one bedroom unit is not exactly spacious, but he makes the effort to ensure his guests feel welcome and at home, no matter how many of them there are.
“The great thing about couchsurfing is that people begin to let down their barriers, a bit more than they would in, say a backpackers, there seems to be less ego involved,” says Sebastian.
Giving his guests a home cooked meal is something Sebastian feels is an important part of the couchsurfing experience.
A keen traveler himself, he knows only too well what it is like to have a good feed when you’re on the road. So he regularly stokes up the BBQ for his guests and appreciates the couchsurfing philosophy about breaking cultural barriers through a friendly conversation over a good meal.
He makes sure guests meet his friends and get a real taste of Alice Springs living.
 The experiences are always varied, and some surprising, although unfortunately not always in a good way.
“I had a guy from Israel who couldn’t go out on the Saturday because of his religion – we had to stay indoors all day.
“I had four German girls stay, who didn’t talk, except to each other in German.”
“There was a French guy who ended up staying for a month and all he left was a soiled mattress and a dirty sleeping bag.”
Hearing stories like this could turn a person off, but Sebastian says everyone should give hosting a try – he has made great friends and each have brought some interesting ideas and experiences to his own life that otherwise he would never have had.
“I had an American Jewish couple stay with me, they told me how they met at summer camp when they were 12. We discussed everyday life in our countries.
“I have had random jamming sessions late into the night with different musicians from around the world.”
Having recently received its millionth member worldwide, the website has 35 members listed in Alice Springs.
Local resident and registered host Isle Mahieu says she has always been open to new experiences.
Couchsurfing has brought many interesting people to her door. She’s had fascinating conversations with them and learnt what it is like to live in other parts of the world. 
“I really like living in Alice Springs and I get excited about showing people the place I have chosen to live,” says Isle.
“You learn to be more open minded, you learn not to pass judgment so quickly and categorize people.”
She is very selective about who she lets surf her couch and when (the website allows for this). 
“Having people to stay definitely depends on my mood,” she says.
She finds the website is easy to use and it is monitored regularly by the website providers. “I usually rely on my instincts when deciding who to invite.
“Hanging out with a variety of people makes life more interesting.
“I had an extremely religious guy come stay with me, I was a bit apprehensive but his profile sounded interesting.
“We ended up having heaps of fun together. He even left me a bible when he moved on – I haven’t read it but the thought was nice.”
She’s also had a few mishaps: “One guy was really cool, but he insisted that I eat an icecream he had bought me.
“The thing is I don’t really like ice cream, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer and practically forced the thing down my throat.
“And I was put off by one guy that stayed, he was trying to make a pass at me.
“I nearly had the shock of my life, when I walked into the front room to find him strumming his guitar, naked on my couch.”
As it turned out, she was so taken aback by her guest’s bare chest, that she didn’t look below the guitar to see that he was still wearing his jeans.

Murray bowing out.

After 12 months as Deputy Mayor, Alderman Murray Stewart reflects on the role:
In accepting last year’s nomination for this privileged office, I stated that it would only be for 12 months.  I intend honouring that commitment and will not be standing again. 
There have been many highlights over this past year.
The most fulfilling was representing our town in the Mayor’s absence at the Prime Ministerial Local Government conference in Canberra. 
I would like to think that my pride and bright and beaming disposition greatly assisted in bringing home some essential funding and affirmational Federal support for our town.
Our Mayor Damien Ryan, as captain of the crew, has not only been supportive but has also kept me constantly informed about matters of crucial Alice Springs importance. 
I firmly believe that our character differential has served Alice Springs. Our Council CEO deserves a special mention as even when I have burnt his ears off with seemingly millions of phone calls, he has been patient and diligent in following through the many matters that I have brought to his attention.
Financial downturns have generally resulted in great towns like ours seizing upon the moment to become prosperous and even greater.

LETTERS: Liquor litter move: where is the ‘fair factor’?

Sir,– Alice Springs Town Council are enforcing a Liquor Litter Levy on to 12 take-away liquor outlets to compensate for $350,000 shortfall in council’s budget.
What this means is council are forcing a price rise to the public based on the fact that 60% of town litter is liquor-related.
This may be right, but we are being rail-roaded to pay to pick up the cans of grog littering our streets in a DRY TOWN ZONE. 
Dry camp and dry town laws are forcing drinkers back to our streets to drink and leave their rubbish for us!
Take away the 5 litre casks to cut back violence in town camps; buy a glass street sweeper for how many thousands of dollars – our rate-payers dollars; then take away the long necks; bring in an ID system to buy take-away alcohol, and a limit of one 2 litre cask per person; but let drinkers buy as many 24 or 30-packs of beer as they like (more litter) and drink more spirits.
The message is clear:
Drink your beer cans in our Dry Town Zone and don’t pick up your rubbish, because council will come along and pick up after you – when they get more money from us! What a joke. 
Just on principle alone, where is the fair factor in this?
It has become clearer that Alice Springs needs a Cash for Cans system now and not in two years’ time when the Government says so. 
The majority of Alice Springs residents do not contribute to litter on our streets and pay rates and taxes. 
Alice Springs Town Council is using our rate money, government using our taxes and 2 CPI tax increases a year and what are we getting back – irresponsible drinkers and people trashing our town!
If Town Council do not push the Territory or Federal Government for this $350,000 shortfall for this litter issue, we as a town can kiss goodbye funding from Government for any unforeseen circumstances not budgeted in Alice Springs Town Council budget for now and the future.
I cannot do this alone.
Alice Springs as a whole has to make a stand on this issue or we, who pay rates and taxes already, will continue to pay for all shortfalls.
Why are 12 take-away liquor outlets being TOLD to pay?
Briony  McCarthy
Hoppy’s Cash Store
Alice Springs

Go for Cameco,
not Centrecorp

Sir,– I commend Alice Springs News on its attempt to ensure open and transparent dealings between Centrecorp, the Australian Government and the general public. 
But upon reading the  November 2008 Performance Audit of Centrecorp Aboriginal Investment Corporation Pty Ltd from the Office of Evaluation and Audit (Indigenous Programs), I noticed, among others, the following two comments:
On page 38, item 4.7, under the heading Management of conflict of interest, OEA was not provided with access to the Centrecorp Board Minutes and supporting papers as Management indicated that they are likely to include commercially sensitive matters that do not relate to business line supported by Government funding.
It was not therefore possible to confirm how instances of conflicts of interest are currently managed in practice.
And on page 39, Centrecorp’s response to Recommendation No 3 in the audit’s Findings and Conclusions reads, Centrecorp refused to provide OEA with minutes of meetings of the Boards of entities in which Centrecorp holds equity with other commercial shareholders owing to their ‘Commercial-in-Confidence’ nature.
As a result it was impossible to judge the processes Centrecorp claim to have in place. OEA makes no comment or allegation that Director’s family members sought or obtained any benefit. This recommendation seeks to have Centrecorp be transparent about conflicts of interest.
Please note that the report states ‘it was not therefore possible’ and  ‘it was impossible’, and the impossibilities were excused on grounds of ‘commercially sensitive’ and  ‘commercial in confidence’. 
I expect Centrecorp will now simply rewrite its corporate structure to accommodate the recommendations and to further avoid unwanted public scrutiny. I offer no criticism of Centrecorp for doing this. It’s what corporations do.
For that matter, it’s what we all do. We apply existing rules to our own greatest advantage.
But as long as any corporation can avoid full public scrutiny on the grounds that it is making money, especially if the money it is making depends on government-issued licenses and government grants and loans, the pursuit of that organisation to be open, transparent and accountable will always remain a trivial pursuit. 
We can chip around the edges as much as we like, but the heart of the beast will remain out of reach.
While I admit I have no great interest in the pursuit of Centrecorp, whether trivial or otherwise, I am interested in seeing Cameco pursued back to its place of origin. 
Cameco, not Centrecorp, is the corporation positioning itself to threaten our lifestyle. 
But if Centrecorp can excuse itself from full public scrutiny on grounds of commercial in confidence, with how much more effect will a multinational mining corporation use that same get-out-of-jail-free card?
Perhaps you can show us.  Alice Springs News has shown its doggedness, determination and zeal in attempting to get Centrecorp to open itself to public gaze.  Will you now please use that same skill set to go after the Canadian uranium miners?
Hal Duell
Alice Springs
Broken promise

Sir,– I am extremely concerned at the Federal Government’s refusal to follow through with commitments to abandon the controversial radioactive waste dump proposed for the NT.
A motion introduced last week to the Senate by the Australian Greens, calling for repeal of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA), was voted down by the Government.
It is national ALP platform to repeal this legislation.
It was an election commitment to repeal this legislation, yet the Government is blatantly flouting its commitments and ignoring deep community concern over its inaction on this issue.
The vote shows clear disrespect for the communities targeted for the radioactive dump, who been waiting over a year for the Government to come good on its promise.
Mitch, an Arrernte/Luritja woman who has family living near the Harts Range proposed site says, “This is not the first time the NT waste dump affected communities and the Greens Party have tried using parliamentary means to ask the government to fulfill its election promise.
“The government thinks the NT communities, The Greens and the average Australian citizen will be treated as ignorant puppets.
“But it is well known that uranium dumping and mining is genocide to the sovereign owners of the nation it occurs on.
“Examples can be seen on the Navajo nation in the USA, the Toureg nation in Niger and elsewhere.”
Natalie Wasley
Beyond Nuclear Initiative, Alice Springs

ALP committed

Sir,– On the matter of repealing the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, the ALP remains committed to achieving this and will respond accordingly once a comprehensive assessment has been concluded.
NT Senator Trish Crossin

ADAM'S APPLE: I'm going R rated.

A friend of mine once took me to Sydney’s Coogee beach. For a kid from the suburbs, the beach is a day trip.
We from the outer western suburbs were more comfortable in parks with barbecue areas or shopping complexes than we were at the beach.
Even now that I’m thousands of miles from the nearest beach the whole idea is a bit ho-hum.
The thought of all that sun and sand and salt water in my eyes … I’d rather burn my bum on a slippery dip.
But every now and then despite our lack of enthusiasm for the beach we fool ourselves into thinking we should go. Perhaps it’s a feeling of guilt.
We Australians are beachy people – Surf Lifesavers and Golden Gaytimes from the tuck shop.
So with the need to be a little less un-Australian I accepted the offer from my friend to go to Coogee beach.
For reasons unknown my friend was hell bent on teaching me how to body surf. Now once you’ve stopped laughing and picked yourself off the floor, for reasons even more unknown I was keen for him to teach me.
After watching this obvious body surfing expert a couple of times, I assessed that it was in fact quite easy to body surf. I was wrong.
As I paddled like a mad man onto a wave I vaguely remember my friend yelling something about wave selection. Unfazed I powered on.
If you’ve ever been dumped by a wave you will know that it isn’t the most dignified method of ending a body surf.
Many things were going through my head while being dumped. The strongest thought, however, as my legs were flailing about above my head, a position unnatural to all mammals but bats, was a wonder.
I was wondering quite intently about the whereabouts of my board shorts. While I was hurtling towards the shore and possible spinal injury, my pants were heading to New Zealand.
On a packed beach, full of families and Japanese tourists, I pushed through the pain and ran faster than perhaps thought possible for a man of my carriage to my towel on the sand to cover my toilet bits from the exposure of a busy Sydney beach.
Somewhere, either in Sydney or perhaps Tokyo, I am sure there is a photograph of a large pasty-white bearded man dressed only in a sun protection t-shirt running up a beach with a look of shock in his eyes, genitals flopping about in a mild panic.
The thought of this picture being somewhere out there has affected some of the decisions made during my life.
I will never participate in what appears to be the new trend of producing a home-made boudoir video. If you make a bedroom movie you are always one argument away from some harmless fun with a lover becoming internet pornography.
How many celebrity sex tapes are out there on the information super highway? Just google the term and see the amount of sites dedicated to the practice.
I’m unsure of the right word to explain my initial viewing of the alleged Pauline Hanson nudes. Having met the woman both here in Alice Springs and after being roughed up by her security guards in Sydney I feel confused about the woman to begin with.
But now I may or may not have seen her in all her somewhat off-putting glory.
Maybe Pauline Hanson made the mistake when she was 20. Maybe she didn’t.
Maybe it cost her the seat of Beaudesert in last weekend’s Queensland election. Maybe it didn’t. 
All I know is that nude pictures of politicians is about as unsexy as I can imagine.  Except for perhaps the aforementioned fat guy on the beach.
Here in Alice Springs the problem in compounded by the fact that many of us know our elected representatives personally. We’ve seen the Mayor buying petrol, we’ve seen our local MLA drinking coffee at the local cafe.
We don’t want to see them and I’m sure they don’t want to see us after racey pics have been splashed over the internet.
There is a certain publisher of a popular magazine offering millions of dollars for smutty nude photos of American politicians.
Here’s the Adam’s Apple pledge.
If you have smutty nude photos of any Australian politicians I will pay you, cold hard cash, not to show me.

Pop Vulture: That central feeling.

The morning light is inviting like an appreciative audience, the evening rays, harsh and testing, grappling like an old world lynch mob.
Intermittent breezes are smooth kisses.
Gravel pathways are a shiatsu under foot; three corner jacks, ruthless policemen, reminding you where to tread.
The market place lawns are an auditorium of Sunday intellect, the grass an infinity of tiny hands, branding and tattooing uncovered skin.
Morning beverages swim through your system, a velvety caffeine serpent in your brain, shunting to and fro like a steam engine.
The bass line caused by a dozen Friday night liberties quakes like an external heartbeat, a thriving pulse given life by the drunken beehives of bars and parties.
The last drinks call is the cold relenting hand of reality’s authority.
Flies are mobile freckles, they land and feel like microscopic feathers.
Tourists’ fly-nets make them look like toxic hillbilly swamp people.
The cooking concrete causeways turn into simmering hot plates for walked dogs to do a jig upon.
At night they are cool chalky catwalk runways for the inebriated casino low rollers.
The spinifex-stung land urchins migrate through the river bed.
The red rocks, like reflectors in a solarium, microwave the stream of travellers.
The crickets and cicadas chirp, cheer and jeer at the shape-shifting days of Central Australia.
As the Alice refrigerator winter hangs in the wings, textile sensory begins its metamorphosis into a new season.
Rating: 721/1000

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