May 14, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Row over subdivision. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Allegations are being made that a builder of nine homes in the North Edge development is defaulting on subcontractors’ payments totalling up to $300,000, although none of the alleged debtors will go on the record.
The builder, Randall Carey of Carey Builders, says “substantially less” than $300,000 is owed to the contractors.
The promoter of the North Edge “land and home” development, the prominent real estate agency Frampton First National, is non-commital on the matter.
One of its principals, Andrew Doyle, says any agreements with Carey Builders, are a matter for the parties.
Mr Doyle says Framptons have “no financial interest in Carey Builders”.
He says his agency put the construction work out to tender, and the Carey quote was passed on to “third parties” who then entered into agreements in their own right.
However, the News has learned that several of the agreements with Carey were signed in the Framptons office.
“It was convenient to go there,” says Mr Carey. “That’s where all the land buyers went.”
The buyer of one of the homes, outspoken alderman Murray Stewart, says Framptons has an obligation – moral if not legal – to play a role in the mediation of any dispute: “They can’t just now say, shutters down, we are not talking,” says Mr Stewart.
He says any wrangle between the builder and sub-contractors is “ultimately going to spread a lot further, affecting people providing the cash, the buyers of the homes”.
“It’s not going to spread,” says Mr Carey. “There are only a couple of contractors I’m unhappy with.”
Mr Stewart says he had entered into the deal with Mr Carey because of a recommendation from Framptons: “I regard them as being reputable.
“I had no reason to question their selection of a builder, and I didn’t,” says Mr Stewart.
He says he has had “many discussions” with Mr Carey, who manages the work.
“He has always been very good to us, and assured us it’s business as usual,” says Mr Stewart.
He says his house is nearly completed, more or less on schedule.
The Alice Springs News was urged by two “subbies” – a plumber and an electrician – to report the allegations of outstanding debts, under the condition that they and their firms were not named.
The News agreed to that, but demanded a signed statement from the informants, setting out the allegations.
Those statements would be used only in the event of litigation, as evidence of the fair and diligent dealing with the story by the Alice Springs News.
However, neither of the informants would supply such a statement. One of them withdrew information he had given earlier.
The row is playing out against a background of desperate demand for housing, high prices, and a culture in the local building industry of handshake deals between builders and “subbies”.
There is clearly a great deal of hostility towards outside competition that could reduce the cost of construction here.
“Isn’t that very good for the town?” asks Mr Carey.
He says he came to Alice Springs from Darwin to build the Bath Street daycare centre early in 2007, and stayed in town.
“When I came down here to build the day care centre they couldn’t even get a quote from local builders.”
Sources say the conflict between “subbies” and Carey Building has been festering for some time, with tradesmen holding meetings, some walking off the job.
Mr Carey says: “We terminated some subcontractors.
“They had a lot of work on.
“They would come and go as they pleased and not finish their work with us.
“None walked off the job.”
Mr Carey says he has employed two contractors from interstate, plus many from Alice Springs.
Certification of work may become an issue, according to one source, because new subbies may be disinclined to vouch for work started by others.
Mr Carey says: “This is not an issue.
“We now have a plumber from NSW and he has obtained registration here – his fourth state to be registered in.
“He has no problems certifying the work.”

Sport carnival is more important than school. By KIERAN FINNANE.

A sports weekend at Lajamanu last weekend led to a high level of school absenteeism throughout the area just as children were supposed to be sitting for their National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests, says Indigenous Affairs Minister Alison Anderson.
She says seven to eight schools were affected.
She spoke to Papunya School on Monday morning and was told only one third of students were at school.
The annual test for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 was conducted on Tuesday.
It measures writing, reading and numeracy levels of all Australian students, identifying how individual students are progressing, and how they compare with other students locally and nationally.
The Alice News called the local government office in Lajamanu on Tuesday. Sports activities were still in progress, we were told.
Schools in the western desert area around Lajamanu would have to expect “really bad results” in the test, says Ms Anderson.
She says communities must bear the school calendar in mind when they are organising events.
She says there should be no publicly-funded support with transport if such events are going to impact on school attendance.
“This is about the future of our children – their education,” says Ms Anderson.

Sharp rise of river dwellers spoken to.

The numbers of people camping in the river and other public areas is climbing, according to the Town Council’s Ranger Unit.
The unit reports each month on the number of people spoken to over the preceding month in the course of their “river runs”.
In January they had spoke to 76 men, 41 women, and 16 children .
In February the figures were 134, 111, and four.
In March: 312, 257 and nine, with litter, fire and alcohol found at most sites.
And this week they reported for figures for April: 431 men, 337 women and 15 children had been encountered on the runs.
Litter, fire and alcohol were found at all sites, they say.
The amount of litter has necessitated three times as many runs between Schwarz Crescent and Taffy Pick Crossing, according to Works manager Craig Pankhurst.
Crews from Correctional Services together with council staff “are continually cleaning up these areas”, says his report, with the main area of concern immediately upstream of Wills Terrace.

Are we getting public dunnies right? By KIERAN FINNANE.

The last two issues of the Alice News have run letters to the editor from tourists, complaining in particular about seeing Aboriginal people urinate and defecate in public.
In the two preceding issues defecation in public areas was also a subject – this time in relation to the front garden at Teppa Hill pre-school.
In our photo – taken on April 28 as we waited to speak to liquor retailers about their meeting with the Town Council – the woman holding the stubby of beer had minutes before urinated in full view of anyone outside the Civic Centre meeting rooms.
She was clearly drunk but nonetheless aware of what she was doing.
Before she squatted, she turned around to say sorry.
I suggested that she use the toilet.
“No,” she said.
“Sorry,” she said for the second time. 
Although the woman didn’t say that the 50 cent fee to use the nearby public toilet was a barrier, she would surely have been more likely to use it had access had been free.
In light of all this I asked Mayor Damien Ryan if the Town Council has got its public toilet provision right, fees at the Civic Centre facility being one issue.
The cost to council of running the public toilets at the Civic Centre is $69,736.
Council collects fees from users – 50 cents for use of the toilets, $3.50 for a shower, $5.50 for shower including towel and soap.
The amount raised offsets the cost of operating the toilet by $6000.
I put it to Mr Ryan that perhaps waiving the toilet fee, the return from which is minimal in terms of the overall cost, might be worthwhile.
He does not think the 50 cent fee is a barrier.
“I don’t think the person you saw would have bothered to walk around the corner to the public toilets.
“Other people have no trouble paying the fee.
“The toilets haven’t been open on the weekends but the elected members are committed to re-opening them and council has started a three month trial.”
This will come at considerable expense, due to penalty rates for weekend staff (who collect fees and clean). The budget for 2009-10 is $111,976 ($105,976 once fees are subtracted).
Mr Ryan says public urination and defecation is “so disappointing” to him as Mayor and to the traditional owners.
He emphasises that it is not only Indigenous people who cause the problem. He recently saw a non-Indigenous man urinating in public in the Civic Centre grounds.
He says council is working with the resources available to it to address the issue.
Are there enough public toilets? Mr Ryan pointed to the free access block on Leichardt Tce and the Exeloo in the Hartley Street carpark.
“We’d love to have the money to do more,” he says.
Council also hopes to respond to the issue in its revamped public places by-laws.
These are the subject of council’s forum next week (not open to the public).
Mr Ryan says four elected members in particular, including himself, are working hard on pushing the by-laws forward.
He hopes they will be discussed in open council meetings In June.

CDU, Batchelor may collaborate.

Charles Darwin University and Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education are in the early stages of talks around collaboration.
This would not come at a cost to the separate identity of the two institutions, says recently appointed Vice-Chancellor of CDU, Barney Glover, but would result in “a more efficient and effective” use of resources.
CDU is the Territory’s largest training provider, delivering 85% of the VET effort.
Indigenous students make up 25% of current VET enrolments (5% of enrolments in Higher Education) and about 28% of those live in remote communities, making up 5% of the  total CDU student cohort.
Prof Glover has recently called for a new funding model for regional and remote education and says that face-to-face learning for Aboriginal communities is still critical (see Letters, last week).
The Alice News put it to him that Batchelor Institute is reviewing their remote delivery model, which involves a combination of on-campus block study and remote face-to-face.
What kind of model does he think would work?
It’s a debate that has to be had, says Prof Glover, and now is the right time to have it, given the “strong statements” by the Federal Government, as a result of the Bradley Review last year, about rural and remote area education.
It’s important to “move away from training for training’s sake”, he says.
Training has to be be linked to clear employment opportunities.
To that end training approaches have to go hand in hand with efforts to build employment opportunities and to nurture “fragile Indigenous enterprises”.
A challenge for CDU, as for other services, is the accommodation of staff on remote communities.
Another challenge is how to deal with transient populations, which can result in teachers arriving for face-to-face sessions and finding no-one present.
Prof Glover suggests this problem would be resolved, at least to some extent, by training being linked to jobs, presumably because there would be greater motivation to be present.
The News asked Prof Glover about the problem that the Territory’s low levels of achievement in primary and secondary education, in particular amongst its remote Indigenous population, presents for a tertiary institution like CDU.
He says CDU is doing what they can to contribute to improved primary and secondary education, by training the next generation of teachers in their Bachelor of Teaching and Learning Program.
They are also working with the Catholic Education Office in the NT to train Indigenous teachers assistants as teachers.
Adult literacy and numeracy are also critical and CDU adopts “evidence-based” approaches to teaching accelerated acquisition of these skills.
The recently released draft Territory 2030 strategy put education as the number one priority in the next two decades.
The main initiative discussed in the document is the creation of an Institute for Education and Child Development.
The News asked Prof Glover whether such an institute could be expected to have an immediate impact on the ground in relation to goals such as achieving by 2030 enrollment and academic results comparable to national levels.
He welcomes the setting of ambitious targets and says high quality research can help influence positive government policy and responses.
A specialised institute could give a greater focus and higher profile to the issues of education and child development, and possibly attract attention from international institutions and scholars.
However, he notes the draft strategy does not give any detail on implementation or funding.
If such an institute were to be created, it could not operate in isolation, he says. Collaboration with other research institutions would be essential.
There also could be other models, he suggests, that would be “equally valuable and not as costly” to establish, such as providing more support to CDU’s Institute of Advanced Studies and to the Menzies School of Health Research.
Whatever is ultimately done will depend on the capacity of the Commonwealth and Territory Governments to resource it.
Prof Glover notes the Commonwealth’s own ambitious targets for raising education levels across the population.
By 2020, they want 20% of higher education enrolments at undergraduate level to be from low socio-economic backgrounds.
And by 2025, they want 40% of Australian 25-34 year olds to have a bachelor level or above qualification.
The Commonwealth has also said it will work closely with the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council (IHEAC) to improve higher education access and outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
Prof Glover is interested to see what this week’s Federal Budget holds to allow the first steps to be taken towards these goals.
“The resourcing issue is fundamental,” he says.

Gardening in the Centre beyond trial and error – it’s the McEllister legacy.

ALEX NELSON is revising for publication the late Frank McEllister’s draft book about successful gardening in Central Australia, updated, as Mr McEllister hoped it would be, where information has been superseded.  Here he introduces us to the man who made the single greatest contribution to the development of horticulture and gardening in Central Australia.

“Every successful garden in Alice Springs is 90% failure.”
This daunting statement was a favourite quote of the late Frank McEllister, a former senior technical officer for horticulture research in Central Australia.
Spoken in jest or irony, it nonetheless succinctly summarized the intrinsic difficulties of gardening and farming in this region. Central Australia is not a garden-friendly environment.
Despite this (or perhaps because of it), there has never been any shortage of people since European settlement here willing “to have a go” at modifying tiny patches of semi-arid land by intensive activity to grow gardens, orchards and farms, for pleasure and production.
Most of the horticultural knowledge accumulated for just over a century has been by non-systematised trial and error, and its historical record is fragmentary and anecdotal.
But it has evolved two key characteristics which seem paradoxical.
First, the record clearly shows that horticulture, including gardening, in Central Australia is predominantly non-sustainable (not the same as “unsustainable”).
The region, including Alice Springs, is riddled with the remnants of previous attempts to get gardens growing and farms to flourish. This fact is reflected in the paucity of data and the historical record itself, despite all the publicity that accompanied every prospective development over the decades.
Yet there have also been numerous successes over the years, right to the present day. From both memory and experience, it has been shown that the cultivation of plants in our semi-arid environment is possible, and this is enough to tantalise the enthusiasts among us that there is so much more potential for horticulture and gardening in Central Australia on a scale yet to be realized.
The history of gardening and farming in the Centre very much reflects the erratic nature of the environment in which it is practiced, but more importantly it also reflects our ignorance of this environment, too. For such endeavours to be sustainable, we need to come to terms with the natural ecology of this region.
If we continue to behave as strangers seeking to impose our will on unfamiliar territory, the long-term prospects for success will always be problematic.
Adaptability, based on sound knowledge and principles, is the key to our survival. We have much to learn before achieving this goal but eventually it should be possible to achieve gardening success with only a minimum of loss, both to ourselves and the land in which we live.
Frank (Francis Vivien Patrick) McEllister made the single greatest contribution to the development of horticulture and gardening in Central Australia.
He was born at Bairnsdale, Victoria, on October 10, 1938. His father was in the Australian Army, and the family moved frequently before eventually settling at Mt Martha on the Mornington Peninsula.
Frank was dux at his high school before going on to obtain a Diploma of Agriculture at Longerenong Agricultural College in January 1960. He then worked for three years at the Werribee Research Farm as a Cereal Field Officer before transferring to the Katherine Experimental Farm in the Northern Territory in April 1963.
Frank was to spend his entire career in the public service, most of it in the Territory.
The Katherine Experimental Farm was a property of the Animal Industry Branch of the then NT Administration. Frank spent two years there as a Technical Officer Grade 1 participating in activities of land clearing; development of improved pastures; annual cropping of grain sorghum, pearl millet and cowpeas; and beef grazing trials on native and improved pastures and fodder crops.
This research effort typified the government and primary industry priorities of that time.
The AIB had begun in 1946 and under the indefatigable leadership of Chief Veterinary Officer, Colonel Lionel Rose, expanded rapidly, primarily focussed on servicing the beef cattle industry. This period culminated in the achievement of economic sustainability for the pastoral industry for the first time (and the first industry sector to achieve this) in the Northern Territory.
When Frank arrived in the early 1960s, the role of primary industry research and extension services was expanding, reflected in the name change of the organisation to the Animal Industry and Agriculture Branch.
Serious and sustained formal research into agriculture began, with Frank to become an integral part of that effort when he moved to Alice Springs in November 1965.
It was a fortuitous move – two months later heavy rains across Central Australia broke the drought that had ravaged the district for the previous seven years.
The drought had impacted heavily on all farming and gardening pursuits in Alice Springs, which were dependent on the seriously depleted water reserves of the Todd River Basin.
With a population of only about 4000, Alice Springs had endured several years of severe water restrictions.
But the drought had also prompted an extensive survey program searching for alternative underground water reservoirs – this was the time when the substantial Mereenie Aquifer was discovered (ironically by an oil exploration syndicate). The future of Alice Springs was assured, and it was believed to be so for horticulture, too.
Employed as a government agronomist (and still a Technical Officer Grade 1), Frank gained a scholarship to the University of New England in 1967 but, lacking confidence in tackling some of the courses on offer, returned to Alice Springs after six months to avoid further unjustifiable public expenditure on him, as he perceived it.
This humility was typical of Frank but the lack of higher qualifications than his Diploma in Agriculture effectively curtailed his promotional opportunities for the rest of his life.
Nevertheless, his colleagues (several with higher academic qualifications) were under no illusions about his superior expertise and local knowledge. He was involved with research and demonstration projects for soil conservation (especially on Bond Springs Station, north of Alice Springs), pasture species evaluation, irrigated fodder crops and horticulture.
Much of that work on irrigated fodder crops and horticulture commenced at Willowra Station, was transferred to a lease on Ti Tree Station in 1969 and carried on for several years. This experimental lease later became the first commercial table grape farm in Central Australia.
Frank was simultaneously engaged in similar trial work utilizing sewerage effluent on the Alice Springs Commonage. It was the first attempt to deal with this vexed issue that persists to this day.
As a result of this project, Frank remained dubious about the use of sewerage effluent for horticultural purposes on account of aggravating soil salinity levels.
Frank had become widely known and appreciated for going out of his way to help commercial growers and home gardeners alike with advice and practical assistance.
He gave enormously of his time, far beyond the call of duty. His one venture into a private enterprise, a nursery set up at his home in 1970, failed because of his generous nature – he took a personal interest in everybody’s gardening problems and frequently gave away his stock rather than sell it.
He was a public servant to the letter.
In February 1974 Frank, accompanied by his wife Raelene and sons Daniel and Bruce, was seconded to the Department of Foreign Affairs as a Colombo Plan Expert in Irrigation and Dryland Agronomy at the Indo-Australian Cattle (Dairy) Breeding Project based at Hissar, Haryana State, in India.
He was obliged to return to Australia in May 1978 due to the impending grant of self-government of the Northern Territory, and was compulsorily transferred to the Department of Primary Production on 1 July 1978.
Initially his office was based in Alice Springs but in 1983 it was relocated to the Arid Zone Research Institute (AZRI, formerly the AIB Farm), where Frank worked until his death.
The two major foci of Frank’s work from 1978 was the Horticulture Research Block at AZRI and the emerging table grape industry located at Ti Tree and (later) Pine Hill Station. He was, however, involved in some capacity with virtually every horticulture venture in Central Australia.
His enthusiasm was boundless, and he often worked at all hours of the day and night, even living on the job in a campervan at the “Hort. Block” (as it was known) at one stage. He preferred outdoor practical work to being confined to the office, often undertaking tasks (such as agricultural labouring) that were outside his formal job description (he attained the position of Senior Technical Officer).
Always with too much to do and not enough time to do it, Frank was notoriously impatient with bureaucratic processes. Occasionally he vented his frustration about the apparent lack of understanding displayed by senior departmental officials, frequently couched in colourful terminology. File records show more tempered use of language but no less forthright expression of his opinions.
By the same token, Frank was scrupulously honest and rarely (if ever) claimed overtime or other benefits, and was on occasion obliged to take accumulated leave entitlements or risk losing them. Conversely he ensured all staff working under him were paid their full entitlements.
His official workload broadly encompassed horticulture, fodder crops and weed control; specifically he was heavily involved with work on table grapes, citrus, stone fruits, olives, dates, pistachios, a range of vegetable crops, and lucerne fodder, but he also maintained a watching brief on a much wider range of potential horticulture and crops species.
In 1986 Frank travelled overseas to study date cultivation in Israel and the US states of Arizona and California. He returned convinced of the potential of a date horticulture industry in Central Australia that could be worth $40 million or more annually.
To move this vision towards reality he arranged the importation of tissue-cultured date cultivars through quarantine and eventual establishment in an experimental plantation at AZRI by 1990. It became his last major project.
All through the years Frank maintained a steady output of advisory leaflets and publications for gardening and horticulture in Alice Springs.
His booklet “Citrus Growing in the Alice Springs District”, published in October 1978, became one of the most successful and widespread publications produced by the Territory primary industry department.
He wrote a regular gardening column for some time, was the regular host of the Garden Talkback program each Saturday morning on the local ABC radio, and gave public pruning demonstrations each year.
NEXT: Frank had long expressed a desire to compile his knowledge of gardening in a book for the benefit of residents in Alice Springs but pressure on his time precluded his being able to do so.

Happy birthday to a giant of our road transport industry.

This massive 130hp AEC eight wheeler tractor with two self-tracking trailers – Australia’s first road train in today’s sense of the word – is the machine that replaced the Afghan camel trains which had served the transportation needs of outback Australia so well for so long.
It arrived in Alice Springs, on its maiden voyage into the Centre from Adelaide, on May 19, 1935 and the 75th anniversary of that day will be celebrated at the National Road Transport Hall of Fame on Tuesday night next week.
The roadtrain was one of four manufactured by the Associated Equipment Company of England under instruction from the British Army. It was  designed for the specific purpose of opening up underdeveloped countries of the Commonwealth, although Australia was the only country to take up the concept following World War Two.
This unusual six cylinder indirect injection diesel giant is reminiscent of the earlier clumsy steam-powered road trains but far more practical in the bush.
It had high ground clearance, a high mounted radiator located at the rear of the cab to prevent clogging by grass seeds, and two Dyson self-tracking trailers designed to follow in the tracks of the prime-mover.
Its first trip to the Centre, following a few months of trials in the South Australian desert, was made under the supervision of Captain (later Brigadier) Dollery of the Australian Army’s Motor Transport Division.
He was accompanied by an English Captain of the same rank, two soldiers who had accompanied the truck on its long sea journey from London and a “bush cook”.
Territory truck driver Ewen Clough became its first official driver.
The 1100 miles from Adelaide took 19 long and arduous days, with planks and matting used to get across the shifting sand dunes. 
The trailers had to be unhooked and winched across the twisting and winding beds of the Finke and Hugh rivers some 11 times in 20 miles, each time, using a different tactical approach.
In spite of the amazement (and amusement) the roadtrain initially created, it soon became a much welcomed site to the pioneers who lived and worked in what was then considered to be the trackless deserts and scrub wastelands of the Northern Territory.
The roadtrain was to travel an incredible 1,280,000 miles before it was sold off to a timber dealer in Pine Creek in 1946.
Its top speed was 28 mph so they were slow miles. It averaged around half of that most of the time.
The roadtrain’s first real job was to take supplies and building materials from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek for the construction of Joe Kilgariff’s new hotel. There was no road to speak of in those days, only a rough two-wheeled track that followed the Overland Telegraph Line.
At the end of its transport career it sat deteriorating in a scrapyard in Winnellie for many years until renowned Central Australian camel breeder, racer and tour operator, Noel Fullarton, recognised it in 1973 and later purchased it, with the assistance of Territory roadtrain legend Jim Cooper of Gulf Transport.
Noel took it back to Alice Springs for a few years and in 1980 sold it to the Northern Territory Government on condition that, once restored, it would be displayed in Alice Springs.
Its home now is in the Hall of Fame but this Sunday it can be seen on the Town Council lawns, where there’ll be free giveaways and $2000 worth of raffles prizes to celebrate the 75th anniversary.
Source: An edited version of the AEC story published in the Road Transport Historical Society Journal.

CBD dollar dribble.

Mayor Damien Ryan says he was pleased to learn at a Treasury budget briefing that the $5m for the Alice CBD revitalisation, promised at the last Territory election, will be allocated next financial year.
He says he has asked on numerous occasions about the promised funds and had his first firm response during the briefing.
$400,000 as a portion of the total was allocated this year.
Mr Ryan could not say at this stage what that money will be spent on.
Revitalisation plans are now in the hands of a steering committee, headed by Mr Ryan and Minister for Central Australia, Karl Hampton.
As part of his work on that committee Mr Ryan met with Planning Minister Delia Lawrie on Monday and said he was happy with their discussion. He could not disclose any detail.
Meanwhile, the Town Council is reviewing $300,000 for a Leichhardt Terrace upgrade that has been languishing in the coffers for years.
Plans for a linear park along the riverbank, for which the money was originally allocated, have never been pursued.
Mr Ryan says Leichhardt Tce will be considered in the overall plans for the CBD.
He hopes the $300,000 will be put towards the CBD revitalisation.

Many seniors’ income halved

Alice seniors are invited to attend a free discussion of the challenges and issues facing them in this global financial crisis.
Consultations are being organised by National Seniors around the country, with the Alice meeting scheduled for May 19, 3-5pm, Andy McNeill Room, Civic Centre.
Says National Seniors Northern Territory Policy Group chair, Margaret Gaff: “The global financial crisis is having a dramatic impact on the lives of all Australians and we want to hear from people aged over 50 how it’s actually affecting them.
“There is disturbing evidence that the crisis is especially targeting older men and women.
“Self-funded retirees have seen their investments decline by 50%  or more in the last year and those on fixed incomes are cutting back on everyday household expenses.
“For those still working, an immediate issue is security of employment.’’
Ms Gaff said feedback from the consultations will assist policy staff to guide its dealings with the Federal Government.
The meeting will be facilitated by Eileen Boocock, and Jonathan Kennedy the Senior Policy Officer for National Seniors will particpate.

Lost traditions, lost possibilities. REVIEW by KIERAN FINNANE.

Requiem for Another
Pamela Lofts
Araluen Arts Centre
May 1 – June 14

The desert evoked in Pamela Lofts’s exhibition, Requiem for Another, is a place fundamentally resistant to the desire to domesticate, whether by gaze or by more forceful structuring processes.
It is as implacable as the burnished steel of Lofts’s sculptured tables, as the shimmering horizon line across the lake, as the slowly corrosive forces of wind and sun that little by little will reduce to dust the abandoned outstation the artist has photographed.
In this place has passed ‘Another’ who is mourned by the work, and whom I see as both the people who once knew how to move across the desert lightly, how to live with its unpredictable rhythms, and as the people who could have come into this country and responded differently to what they found. Lost ways of life; lost possibilities.
This is an exciting exhibition to walk into: exciting because of the coherence of Lofts’s vision, which commands the space; because of its aesthetic excellence, particularly in the photographic and sculptural work; because of its hard-edged contemporaneity, both in its concerns and its realization.
There are three strands – the photographs, the sculpture, and the DVD – linked by the imaginative space between them as well as by a fourth element, the music.
This sparse and haunting piano score (using ‘expanded’ notes from Beethoven’s Fur Elise) was composed by Alistair Noble, actually in response to the photographs and the sculpture when they were shown at Helen Maxwell Gallery in Canberra.
Lofts in turn responded to it with the DVD work and united the three strands under her title, Requiem for Another. The Araluen show has provided her the first opportunity to present the work in this way.
The music establishes, in line with the title and Lofts’s intentions, an elegiac mood which strongly directs our response to the work; the initial excitement gives way to a necessary quieter contemplation about what is going on here artistically, what has gone on here in this desert where the artist has placed herself, where she takes us, fleetingly.
The photographs, 11 in all, are diptychs, with the series titled “Threshold (mightbe somewhere)”.
In each diptych there is on one side a more closed space, often a foreground surface – a wall, a door – and almost always bearing the mark of someone, a name, a drawing, a splash of paint, the grime of use, the hole from some kind of blow; and on the other side, a more open space – we see through a window, beyond a wall, into a room, across a fence and again, traces left behind, some large (a car wreck, what looks like a static Hills Hoist), some small (a sewing machine, a baby’s jumpsuit).
Look and look again, the artist seems to be telling us: these spaces have their own riches of story. We can even name some who were once here or who were thought about here; we can have an idea of how they might have spent some of their time; we can perhaps read some of their emotions – boredom, frustration, anger, but perhaps also moments of tenderness, of trying to make something work.
The two-sided treatment also emphasises the encounter that these abandoned spaces represent, an encounter between cultures, between types of economy, between people, that here has failed on both sides.
The duality is echoed in the sculptural work, titled “Turning the Tables”.
The form of the table is well chosen for its metaphoric weight: tables are such a place of encounter in Western civilization. But here they rest precariously on supports from another world. Lofts exaggerates their otherness to make her point – the extreme elongation of the claws, their tiny unstable tip. 
One is seemingly blank, speaking eloquently both of the pre-settlement terra incognita and the formless land traveled by the Indigenous ancestor spirits who then created its features. But look closely into its lustrous dark surface and the marks of burnishing which could be read as a reference to Indigenous burning practices, a sign of prior occupation of what was claimed as a terra nullius. On this table rests a sculptured object, a hybrid of native animal (parrot) and plant forms – again what was here before.
Into the surface of the other has been cut a Latinate word, Dystoposthesia. We don’t need to know its meaning (“the incompatibility of bodies to the space they inhabit”) to understand that this is the coloniser’s table, bearing the stamp of its imported knowledge system, seemingly tight and closed to the encounter with Another.
The work grieves for the lost past and the history, the other lives that might have been.
The DVD, “Ripple Affect”, is like a return to source, an invitation to go into the desert afresh, attune ourselves to its rhythms.
However, I’m not quite sure that the timing of this 40 minute meditative piece is right. The lake filmed is an ephemeral one yet we are one third through before we begin to see the transition to a dry lake, with its many changes of surface, each no doubt holding its own story. This duration is both a bit testing for the viewer and a bit unlike the desert.
Nonetheless, it’s worth going with it and Noble’s mesmerising music for the kind of mental space that they open up for thinking about Lofts’s complex of ideas, emotions and associations.

POP VULTRE: Caution – artwork ahead.

The smiling success of the Wide Open Spaces music and cultural festival has all but ensured the festival’s annual continuation – the reward for those not afraid to tackle the burden of organization involved when creating an event of this magnitude.
Friday evening, May 1, the festival begins as an Adagio, the sauntering pace of the Areyonga Desert Reggae. That’s how you begin, slowly.
Then we are jettisoned into a world of political angst and humour, as Combat Wombat steps into the arena.
In what becomes a lacerating attack on the senses, I can’t help but think that in the right environment this could boil to the point of “happy rioting”. This is brilliant but short lived, I want and need more.
Then Central Australia’s own Tjupi Band takes us back to the realm of Reggae and we are swooned back to swaying and sitting as we watch the fellas perform.
To many southern state dwellers this feels almost as if from another world.
The clock ticks close to midnight. Melbourne’s Mista Savona drips in through the roof, feeling a new type of cold. The crowd begins to heat up to the heavyweight Jamaican dancehall as it begins its musical resonation around the Eastern ranges.
Midnight rungs in to the tune of “Dub the Fire”.
Now in the early hours of “not quite” Saturday morning Urthboy has landed, arguably the major drawcard for a lot of the town’s festival enthusiasts. They flock around the main stage like swarming ants to honey.
Urthboy’s set punches life in and out of the crowd. The mass moves to and fro, mimicking the towering gum trees in the wind.
Saturday, the warming sun wakes up and stretches, the markets and firesides begin to stir.
In the afternoon things get acoustic, live and local.
Mei Lai Swan brings back new sounds and different variations of old tunes and the local music begins to pour out of the lounge bar.
Los Banderleros Perdidos, a rhythmic Latin ensemble new to the scene, seems to be performing with gathering tightness as it moves from musical tree branch to tree branch, like a revolutionary freedom ape.
And then as the day is slowly fading we are taken on this trip, a strange blend of the nostalgic and the contemporary, as DJ Rocklishus meshes his sounds with the cocktail ambience. And the Super Raelene Bros appear right at home with the barnyard feel of the lounge area.
The evening settles in, and things begin to turn electronic, with DJ Dakini and Mustaphaa gathering the masses and then opening the gates for – the set I’ve been waiting to see the most – DJ Spoonbill.
This piece made the tree roots glow red and move with the quaking baseline, as clefs of treble and bass tear into us like unsheathed orchestral swords.
The night then dances into the nothingness of something, as tunes see-saw until sunrise.
Music gives birth to your ears, the notes floating through the air are like invisible scalpels giving you a c-section, and discovering life thriving inside.
End artwork.

LETTERS: "No surprise Desert Knowledge CRC bombed out."

Sir,–  Like a lot of others here I am not surprised at the withdrawal of funding to parts of Desert Knowledge.
As with CAT, in the public mind its purpose has never been clearly defined and it is seen as a feel good organization not driven by commercial imperatives.
It was a fettish – a token offering from Darwin. It needed a harder line cost / benefit, more economic approach, and to be seen to be tangible. 
This is currently a massive debate in scientific academic circles – on the role of pure science and who should bear the costs.
Some sections of the scientific community have become industries within themselves with little apparent economic benefit, even given that the products of much research takes many years to become evident. The feral camels, for example, must be tired of being reported on. Soon they will demand appearance fees!
The social costs and benefits of all this may be intangible, but the supplying organizations should not rely entirely on government handouts to sustain them. Commercial interests must drive the actions, although this will no doubt go against the grain with the purists.
In the early 1990s when the airport was sold to Infratril, they called for submissions as to what to do with the land adjacent. I submitted to them that the land should be made into a high technology research facility, associated with an International Airport hub to service the facility, with emphasis on what was then a budding solar industry.
I proposed that it have custom-made facilities leased out to research institutions who were commercially orientated, with the  government (or who ever owned the facility) entering into licensing agreements for the commercialisation of the technology developed there.
This submission went to the consulting engineers in Darwin and then to Government  and I suspect was the genesis of the  concept of Desert Knowledge here.
However it seems to have moved a long way away from that concept (a concept that has been very successful in other areas). 
Since then we have had numerous Australian enterprises that have moved offshore for want of suitable facilities and encouragement here. One of the most prominent of these has been a solar company which evolved from one of the Sydney universities, and which moved to China for want of support in Australia. It is now a $6 billion enterprise supplying the country it evolved from with solar technology.
Soon that same company will be exporting hydrogen technology to us based on solar electrolysis of water.  
A few years ago, CAT had a man with a PhD in Physics working as an electrician on abandoned remote communities. No wonder he left. Whether we like it or not, we live in a fiercely competitive commercial environment and there is little room for entities that demonstrate a lack of commercial reality.  
There were areas that DK could and should have gone into headfirst, rather than the feel good social areas that have dominated their programs.
One of these was obviously the treatment of human waste without the use of water in an arid environment. We should never be treating water as a waste product. There is a glaring market both here and overseas for advanced technology associated with efficient disposal and re-use of human waste without the use of a scarce and expensive commodity – water. 
Yet I am told reliably that there is not one rainwater storage facility in a complex that is supposed to look at desert technology and its sustainability.
There is a glaring need also to look commercially at the camel problem, with a huge market overseas that does not want feral meat. 
So why are we not creating and upgrading a commercial herd, and investigating their genetics, food utilisation and so on, just as the cattle stud industry does?
What about alternative products in that industry? I believe there has been a massive duplication of  services in that area that have been  operating at far too mundane a level. What did we get? Another report!
At the moment we are proposing to send our best breeding camels to the slaughter yard!  Would that happen in any other animal industry?
Their outback 4WD project did not even bother to ask the existing operators of their experiences!  It was an academic exercise.
The current situation was totally predictable. It has been a topic of discussion outside of the NT for some time.
Trevor Shiell 
Alice Springs   

Desert research
institute call

Sir,– Australia needs a national desert research institute to address opportunities and challenges facing three quarters of the continent – and the people, industries and communities of the Outback.
At its meeting in Alice Springs last week, the Board of the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre noted with dismay that the decision of the Commonwealth Government not to renew the centre from next year would leave most of the world’s driest continent without a specialised and co-ordinated research capability.
The deserts generate $90 billion of Australia’s export wealth, are home to more than half a million people, hundreds of communities large and small, the world’s oldest living culture, rare and beautiful landscapes and have more enterprises per head than the rest of Australia. The natural and cultural treasures of desert Australia require excellent long-term, strategic research to ensure their sustainability.
The deserts and Outback are at the heart of our self-image and prosperity as Australians. Having a coordinated research effort to support development in this area is clearly in the national interest. Consequently, the DK CRC Board has resolved to take urgent action with its partners to explore establishment of a desert research institute when the DK CRC term ends in June 2010.
We [at the DK CRC] already have an outstanding national collaboration of leading universities, scientific agencies, government bodies, industry, small business and community groups working on desert issues and challenges.
It would be an enormous blow to the commercial aspirations of many desert people if all that impetus, skill, commitment and promise were lost.
An important feature of the DK CRC program was to provide evidence based data directed towards the efforts to close the gap of Aboriginal disadvantage. Often the research in this area involved the direct employment of Aboriginal researchers in order to gain accurate results.
The virtue of the CRC program lay in its ability to bring together these large research alliances. However once the value of a particular alliance was clearly established, there had to be a way to continue its good work beyond the seven year limit of the life of a CRC.
The proposed desert institute – a partnership of government, the research sector, industry and the community – would work in areas such as education, population and demographics, pastoralism, mining, sustainable energy, remote area enterprises, remote communities, service delivery, the environment and Aboriginal culture.
The detail of its research agenda would be decided by the composition of its stakeholders.
Paul Wand, chairman, DK CRC
Jan Ferguson, Managing Director, DK CRC

‘Tangentyere, don’t hold
Alice Springs to ransom’

Sir,– The problems associated with the disgraceful state of living conditions and services provided to Alice Springs town camps needs to be fixed now. 
The Australian and Northern Territory Governments have written to Tangentyere Council with a significantly expanded offer of more than $125 million that will seriously tackle the problems and the squalor inherent to these camps and spilling into the community.
Only the Tangentyere Council stand in the way of a better life for town camp residents and Alice Springs residents in general. 
Any further delays by Tangentyere Council will smack of self interest at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve and be answerable to. 
Accept the offer or get out of the way. 
There are no more excuses. 
The future of Alice Springs must not be held to ransom by individuals on Tangentyere Council.
Terry Lillis
Alice Springs

ED – Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has given Tangentyere Council until May 21 to accept her final offer.

Every town
has its problems

Sir,– In response to last week’s news stories [unspecified]: I live permanently in Alice Springs but I am a visitor to Central Australia (ie, I don’t belong here).  I come from New Zealand. 
As a visitor I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the beauty, the spirit and the magic that is Alice Springs. 
Since arriving 10 years ago, I have experienced nothing but love, friendship and acceptance from the Tangata Whenua (people of the land). 
It is a privilege to live here among the magnificence of this environment and the ancient and special heritage of the Aboriginal people. 
You tell me what town/city doesn’t have its problems. 
Alice Springs’ population is concentrated and so social issues are apparent, but we have them on every corner of the globe. 
You see what you want to see.  I see what is special. 
I am thankful for my experiences that one day I will tell my grandchildren about.
Arama Mataira
Alice Springs

Govt fees and
charges slug

Sir,– Not satisfied with promising to slug Territorians extra for using government services, Treasurer Delia Lawrie has refused to outline by how much Labor plans to increase fees and charges and where the increases will be applied.
In an act of unbelievable arrogance, the Treasurer refused to outline which fees and charges it plans to “update” and by how much prices will climb before the introduction of a new indexation mechanism.
There was no mention of an increase in Government fees leading up to last year’s election, now the Government tells Territorians about its plan in the context of [last week’s] horror budget.
The very least the Treasurer can do is tell Territorians what government services will cost Territorians more.
During Question Time [last Tuesday] she simply refused to answer my question – totally trivialising the potential impact of the revised charges on Territory families.
I’m also worried by the weasel words she used in her budget speech.
She says she plans to update fee and charge levels AND introduce an indexation mechanism from January 1, 2010.
I’m anxious that the fees and charges will balloon before indexation kicks in, further hitting the hip pocket of Territory families on top of the 25% power surge, 70% water tax and the Government imposed petrol pump price slug.
John Elferink
Shadow Treasurer

Govt’s $6b debt

Sir,– The Henderson Government’s economic mismanagement has lumped more debt on Territorians – debt that future generations will have to pay for years to come.
At the end of the Forward Estimates period, the budget will be groaning with debt in excess of $6billion – that’s about $100,000 worth of debt per Territory family.
The Government’s deficit predictions also make disturbing reading.
Next year, the budget deficit is predicted to be $201million, coming in at $180millon, $98million and $30million in subsequent years.
Then there’s the debt to income ratio. In 2001, when Labor came to power, it sat at 131% and was described by Labor as “unsustainable and economic vandalism”.  
The budget is now predicting a DTIR of 130% during the Forward Estimates period – but Labor is claiming it’s now a sign of good management.
I think it’s fascinating that Delia Lawrie devotes just four lines in her budget speech to the section headed ‘Vision for the Territory’s Future’.
This Government’s trying so hard to patch up the mistakes of the past, it has no time to look into the future.
Terry Mills
Opposition Leader

Boys and girls,
want a pen-friend?

Sir,– I am 9 years old French girl.
I learn English, German and Polish; my hobbies are: sailing, golf, skiing, swimming, skating, riding a horse, playing flute. I like gymnastics very much.
I like to correspond with girls and boys of my age from Australia.
That’s why I’m kindly asking you to announce my name and address in your newspaper, then I hope to get some letters to make some Australian friends.
Thanking you in advance,
Ines Rossato-Rotarski
Route d’Arrokatea – Quartier Paxkoenia
64240 – Hasparren

ADAM'S APPLE: Optimistic Alice.

You’ve got to love Alice Springs for its optimism. Never have I lived in a place where the great Aussie “She’ll be right” was practised with such laconic belief. It is a philosophy many of those living in Canberra and Darwin would do well to adopt from time to time.
 An example of this happened this week. A colleague was worried that our workplace had visitors from Sydney. Perhaps swine flu might have been contracted at the airport. Instead of panic or an elaborate mask and gown outfit, my concerned colleague simply got out a can of Glen20. It kills influenza you see.
I’m over the doom and gloom being spun concerning the global financial crisis at the moment.
I liken the dire warnings of impending global calamity to the way schools taught us about the dangers of drugs when I was a kid.
Illicit narcotics are, as we all know, really quite bad for you. There’s no denying the detrimental effects that drugs have on a person’s mental and physical state. Nor is there any doubt about the social impact these substances produce.
This is the message that educators and social workers tried to impart on the young and impressionable when I was young and impressionable. It’s not the message I have a problem with, rather the mode of delivery.
The “educational films” and pamphlets talking about the dangers of drug taking were more graphic than any Hollywood film I would have been allowed to see at the cinema.
The message was so incredibly negative and abhorrent that after a while we all just turned off. For many of my schoolmates the message never got through.
The same seems to be going on at the moment with the Global Financial Crisis. Economists pop up on the television every time I turn it on telling me that the current crisis is another Great Depression. Well, while things aren’t great, if this is the same as the Great Depression I want to know what my Nan was bitching about.
The government is trying to prepare us for the worst while the opposition is trying to tell us that the government is going to take us into a new realm of worst if they keep stimulating us.
For crying out loud, would you all just let me gather my thoughts?
In this world of naysaying and bleak forecasting Alice Springs shines as an oasis of positivity. What recession we say, chests puffed?
And on the surface of it we have a right to be a bit cocky. The government isn’t going to leave anytime soon. Neither will the Americans and in times of economic downturn, Sydneysiders aren’t going to go to Paris, they’ll come here instead. Right?
Well we hope so. But with the Desert Knowledge CRC losing funding and a less than gung-ho US President in the White House, are we really that secure?
I’d hate for things to go pear-shaped here in the Alice. So I thought I’d formulate a plan. A plan in keeping with the Alice Springs disaster vibe.
There are certain industries that do very well in a recession. When belts are tightened, people stop buying plasma televisions and Aston Martin cars and go for inexpensive luxuries.
Chocolate, sex and pillows. These are commodities that sell like hotcakes in a recession. So let’s get into them.
Surely before they shut up shop, the Desert Knowledge mob could figure out a way to turn a clay pan or a salt lake into prime cocoa growing farms.
I’m sick of people placing orders for chocolate bars when their friends head to Adelaide. Why not make “The Alice” bars? Rich milk chocolate succulently caressing a red centre of Bundy-flavoured goodness.
Sex generally takes care of itself but the by-product of a less than cautious tryst can be expensive.
Kids are not only time consuming but a real hit on the hip pocket. Surely we have some swag maker or alternative culture hat weaver with the skills to produce an outback prophylactic.
And as for pillows, nothing would cradle the tired and aching head, neck and back of the working two job parent on the east coast quite like a camel fat pillow.
Covered in a traditional outback camel hide the camel fat pillow will have you waking up refreshed and ready to take on the day.
So come on Alice, let’s turn the nation’s frown upside down. If anyone can, Alice can.

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