May 28, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Big plans for drive-in site. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Accommodation problems account for around 90% of the difficulty that Aboriginal people have in holding down a job, and the Arrernte Council want to do something about it.
So says the council’s chairman and businessman in his own right, Paul Ah Chee.
Ambitious plans for developing a housing estate on the site of the old drive-in south of The Gap combined with workers’ hostel-type accommodation and rental units at other sites around town are being driven forward.
Arrernte Council has a purchase contract over the drive-in site, including construction plans drawn up by a previous developer.
These provide for 260 one and two-bedroom units on the site – which will be for private sale and short-term rent.
Government-owned public housing is not part of the plan.
Arrernte Council hope to see a mix of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people buying the units at market prices, producing “a mixed cultural environment”, says Mr Ah Chee.
The balance of Aboriginal to non-Aboriginal residents will not be prescribed: it will sort itself out by normal social processes, he says.
The estate will be “inclusive, not exclusive”, says CEO Geoffrey Doyle.
The site could include commercial facilities such as a supermarket and a service station, and possibly a small convention centre, a health clinic.
As well, some of the units would be managed by a commercial operator as short-term accommodation for tourists, with training and employment opportunities for Aboriginal people.
“We want sustainable wealth-creation combined with capacity building and measurable outcomes,” says Mr Ah Chee.
The plans are part of Arrernte Council’s economic strategy which sees safe, affordable accommodation as intrinsically linked to people’s capacity to take up education, training and employment.
Mr Doyle says the scheme is trying to provide capacity-building around all the steps along the way to home ownership, which starts with having a job and living in hostel-type or cheap rental accommodation before upgrading, paying higher rents and ultimately buying a home.
Non-Aboriginal people are usually well aware of this process – it’s what they see going on around them.
But for many Aboriginal people it is unfamiliar.
Mr Ah Chee says some young Aboriginal people he has spoken to have never even thought about owning their own home; their focus is on “just surviving”.
But the fact that Arrernte Council, an Aboriginal organization of almost 20 years’ standing, is embarking on a project that has private home ownership as one of its goals might plant the seed in their minds, he says.
A requirement for access to the hostel and rental units will be having a job or being involved in education or training. 
“This is not about making people conform,” says Mr Ah Chee, “it’s about offering a choice.”
The community development aspects of the plans mean that government would have a role in funding the scheme, but the council is also looking for private investors.
“We’ve engaged with a good cross-section of the community, government and non-government, and people have been quite positive, but no-one is putting their hand in their pocket yet,” says Mr Doyle.
Mr Ah Chee says it’s difficult to feel confident about the prospect of success, not only because of the economic downturn, but “because there are a lot of things happening that will take away the focus from this project” – not least of them, the Australian Government’s massive financial commitment to upgrading the town camps.
“We don’t want to be seen to be interfering in that process,” says Mr Ah Chee.
“We’re offering a different approach.”
And it’s important not to duplicate services.
“We want to add value to what already exists,” he says, “so partnerships with organizations such as Aboriginal Hostels are a big part of what we are trying to do.
“And we don’t necessarily want to be the owner of this project, we want to play a facilitating role.”
If present plans come to fruition, 100 jobs could be created and “Alice Springs could be left with a major Aboriginal construction company,” says Mr Ah Chee.

Boy from The Gap to make  a difference. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Reversing the urban drift from bush communities into Alice Springs could be just one of the benefits delivered by the NT Government’s policies for the bush announced last week, says Karl Hampton (MLA for Stuart).
He says better facilities in remote areas would make it possible to get tough on bad public behavior and misuse of public housing in Alice Springs.
With the development of remote schools, parents who let their kids wag could be taken to task, by, amongst the options, the withdrawal of welfare services.
And some towns, if residents want it, and the Federal Intervention rules get changed, may get canteens where alcohol is available: “Kalkaringi, which will become a growth town, has a licensed club.”
As the Minister for Regional Development it will be down to Mr Hampton to put meat on the bones of the policy announcement by MLA for MacDonnell Alison Anderson.
His focus will be on the 20 growth towns, including four in Central Australia.
Mr Hampton, who sees himself as a boy from The Gap, and who’s proud of his three children’s school attendance record, isn’t short of ideas – nor urgency.
“We cannot continue going down the path we are,” he says.
“This is one way we can reverse urban drift, give people a choice back home, give them optimism that there are jobs, that their kids get a good education, that there is going to be law and order in their home community.
“This could really reverse a trend we are seeing.”
The growth towns – Hermannsburg, Papunya, Yuendumu and Ali Curung in The Centre – should “not only become economic hubs but normal big towns: “Services, shopping, things we take for granted.
“It’s not just a passive involvement,” says Mr Hampton, “but Aboriginal people now have a chance to step up and say I’m taking control, I make a better future for my children.”
He says he has seen changes in the Top End, in Yirrkala, Ngukurr and Maningrida, even before the “Working Future” initiative kicked off.
“I was talking to some of the young blokes at Ngukurr.
“They’ve got something like 60 young fellas and girls working with the shire now.
“Before the shire came along they had five or maybe 10 jobs.”
They are employed in youth work, sport and recreation, municipal services, work on the new softball court and fooball oval.
“They have three swimming pools there.
“It’s an example of a positive turn-around.
“Why can’t every community be like that?
“I was blown away by the level of private investment in Nhulunbuy.
“They’ve got a Woolworths, a newsagent, two or three cafes.
“It’s a bustling, vibrant little town of two and a half thousand.
“And they have a choice.
“I want to encourage competition.
“Yuendumu has three supermarkets now.
“I get good feedback. People are happy with the choice,” says Mr Hampton.
He says the growth towns – linked to the outstations by a new public transport network – would have a public service precinct including a Centrelink agent, post office, NT Government office – facilities in Central Australia now only available in Alice Springs.
“We need to work closely with the Federal Government,” says Mr Hampton.
He says Working Future will provide an opportunity of winding back anti-social behavior in Alice Springs, of late a source of growing anger and frustration.
“I don’t like seeing people doing that sort of stuff.
“We need to ask questions why they are doing it, why they are caught up in that sort of lifestyle.
“A lot of it is, maybe, that people have no hope.
“Or they have been drawn into Alice Springs and they stay here longer.
“Working Future may just be the platform to reverse that.”
Better access to schools should go hand in hand with making parents more responsible.
“Governments can play a role in that to a certain degree,” says Mr Hampton.
“We provide the money for teachers, the buildings.
“But we need to get back to parents being more accountable, more responsible.
“I have three kids myself. They’ve all gone to school.
“Discipline has fallen down” in remote areas where traditional culture has come under pressure.
Says Mr Hampton: “We have to take stronger steps, making sure that kids do go to school.
“The Youth Action Plan for Alice Springs is one way of showing that we are.
“We’ve invested over $15m in that.
“It’s unique. It combines Alice High and Anzac High under the one umbrella of a middle school.”
Should there be penalties, such as docking welfare payments, for parents not sending their kids to school?
“Originally I was skeptical about the [Federal] Intervention reform, but we do need to act.
“It is the governments’ responsibility.
“I’ve heard some positive things about the trial at Hermannsburg linking school attendance to welfare payments.
“We need to do whatever we can to get our kids to school, and if that means introducing that type of intervention, then so be it.”
He says other Intervention initiatives that have made a positive difference include increased police presence, “especially for women and children”, and income management, “to some degree”.
“People seem to be buying the right stuff in the stores.”
Mr Hampton says pressure on public housing is “enormous”: more people are coming into Alice Springs, staying longer, and often overcrowding dwellings. Should this be allowed?
“We need to go back a step,” says Mr Hampton.
“We need to know why people are coming in.
“Working Future in the medium to long term, will be addressing some of these issues.
“Crisis accommodation is a big issue.
“Stuart Lodge seems to be working well. I think we need to look at more of that type of accommodation.”
Mr Hampton says Stuart Lodge “is managed well and it made very clear to residents what the purpose of the facility is – such as giving accommodation to people seeking medical treatment.”

Community spirit in spades. By KIERAN FINNANE.

A baby is diagnosed with cancer; his parents want to be able to feed him fresh, organically grown vegetables but are stretched to capacity caring for him and his two siblings.
Step in the Special Souls Support Group, horticulturist Geoff Miers, Apex Central Australia and a healthy dose of Alice Springs community spirit.
In no time at all local companies donate all the supplies needed, a date is set to create the garden, a working party volunteers its labour, and $1000 is raised for the family.
On Saturday it all came together.
Geoff laid out the low-maintenance garden and had seedlings for the first crop of winter vegetables at the ready – cabbage, broccoli, mini-cauliflower, onions, lettuce, silverbeet, spinach and some flowers for good cheer.
A few of his friends and some members of Apex arrived with wheelbarrows and shovels.
Besser blocks, bags of cement, and soil had already been delivered by local businesses.
“It’s about community,” Geoff said.
Sharon Gwynne and Jill Montgomery of Special Souls prepared morning tea for the garden diggers.
The Saturday before the pair had set up a hotdog stand as a fundraiser. When people heard about the cause, the money flowed.
“Some people paid a lot of money for a hotdog that day!” said Jill.
They raised $500; Apex will chip in another $500. 
Special Souls is a local group set up to support children with special needs and their families.
They meet on the last Saturday of each month at the Toy Library and try to respond to anyone who asks for their help, whether it’s with friendship or practical help.
Following the death of a local child, for example, the group cooked for the grieving family for a week until interstate relatives arrived and then again for a few days after the relatives left.
“Little things can make a big difference,” said Jill.
Apex Central Australia president Gerard Coffey said club members like being able to do things for other people.
As a father of four himself when he heard about the little boy’s suffering, he wanted to do anything he could to “make life a bit easier for the young feller”.
“This is the sort of work we do,” he said.
There are annual commitments to community events like securing the gates at the Alice Springs Show and manning the carpark at the Old Timers fete, but members have also done things like putting in a bike path at Acacia Hill Primary School and helping out at Riding for the Disabled.
Once there were three Apex clubs in Alice Springs; now there’s just the one.
When Gerard joined there were four members; now there are 20, including three women.
The club’s ideals are around community involvement, community spirit and participation – things that can never be in over-supply.

Desert Knowledge in bunker: What do we get for $93m? By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Desert Knowledge CRC chief Jan Ferguson is refusing to answer questions from the Alice Springs News which is seeking to cast light on the organisation’s failure to obtain government funding for a second seven year term (Alice News, May 7).
Ms Ferguson first agreed to an interview, postponed it for a week to May 22, and then cancelled it, claiming “our plan to meet has been overtaken by events.
“I and my staff are now urgently engaged on developing the concept for a permanent Desert Research Institute to replace DK CRC when it winds up in mid-2010.”
The News had given ample notice of its request, with me writing to Ms Ferguson on May 13: “I thought it might be useful for both of us to have a clear agenda for our conversation later this week.
“I’m approaching the story in relation to the commercial objectives articulated by [DK CRC chairman] Paul Wand in your 2003-04 annual report: ‘The Board invested much intellectual energy in the philosophies that underpin the DK-CRC’s research. 
‘An emphasis on commercial outcomes and engagement with the end users of research within projects are systemic and begin at the point of project proposal.
‘This CRC has the potential to deliver huge benefits to desert Australians, and to export those benefits to a global desert market.’”
Mr Wand has not been the only one to tout a clear focus on selling product for the organisation.
The News, which for a decade has given extensive coverage to the DK movement, quoted leading light Bruce Walker on November 17, 1999.
We were reporting on the launch of the DK prospectus by Liz Davies, of the Chamber of Commerce, who claimed the initiative could earn the region “a billion customers world-wide”.
“We need to evaluate where we are at and then look at the needs of people in similar circumstances around the world and see what we can offer them,” Mr Walker said at the time.
“I can’t imagine that it would be different to the process that people have used in the past to develop a whole range of export industries.”
I said to Ms Ferguson: “From that perspective, six years into the development of the DK CRC, I’m asking for a resume about each of the six core projects which were described as having a total budget of $90m.
“What has been achieved so far?
“How much did it cost?
“Who’s buying it?
“How much are they paying for it?”
Although now – 10 years later – there is still much confusion in the community about what DK is actually all about and what – six years later – the DK CRC actually does, Ms Ferguson did not deign to give the public an update on six of the “core projects” last covered by the News about a year ago.
“Information about the outcomes of each of the six core projects will be available as those projects are completed over the coming year, and I will see you are advised of it,” she said, making it clear that she would be choosing the time when she would inform the public about how she was spending its money.
What she did volunteer was a lecture on research generally: “I wish to draw to your attention the long time scales involved in research and its ultimate adoption. 
“The CRC Association estimates that, on average, it takes nine years for a new piece of knowledge generated by a CRC to move from discovery to full adoption.
“In science generally it can take 20 years or more – for example the laser was discovered in the early 1960s but only became incorporated in consumer CD and DVD players in the 1990s.
“The real economic and social benefits from the work of DK CRC will continue to flow long after the Centre itself ceases and many of them will be fully realised a decade or more from now.
“It is misleading to judge the impact and value of research while it is still under way.”
So there!
Ms Ferguson also suggested the answers I, and another Alice News reporter previously, were seeking could be found on the net.
Neither of us have been able to.
What I could find – in the 2007/08 annual report – was this: Between 2003/04 and 2007/08 DK CRC received in-kind services (presumably mostly publicly funded ones) worth $41m, as well as $26m in cash.
The projected totals for the seven years would be $58m and $34m, respectively, a total of a staggering $93m.
I wanted to ask Ms Ferguson some important questions about that, all of them in the public interest.
I told her I would like access to the net during our interview “so I can mark URLs [on the organization’s website] as you point them out”.
She didn’t point out anything. It was a “no comment” on the matters I was – or would have been – raising.
And so the expenditure of millions of dollars, much from the public purse, remains largely unexplained.
A year out from scheduled completion, all the public has access to is hyped prose on the net, still outlining what DK CRC intends to do, not what it has done.
Sample No 1: “Livelihoods inLand ... Desert people want recognition for the role they play in looking after country, and more effective, longer-term allocations of resources for this work.
“They want livelihoods that motivate young people, provide income, recognise local and cultural priorities and build on their existing skills and aptitudes.”
Sounds a lot like the soft options for chronically unemployed broadly canvassed at the moment.
Sample No 2: On Track – 4WD Tourism ... examines the potential economic and social benefits of 4WD tourism, as well as understanding the pressures on the environment, culture and infrastructure of the desert. It looks at safe and responsible four-wheel driving, land access, economic opportunities for Aboriginal communities, changes in travel technologies, changes in holiday travel patterns, and protection of natural and cultural values.
The environmental impacts of 4WD tourism were being raised in these pages over 10 year ago, by local identity Jol Fleming reporting on the national organisation, Tread Lightly! Australia Limited (Nov 25, 1998). 
And a media release this time last year from DK CRC  reported on “research” findings that four-wheel drivers in the desert “like to rough it in style” – they want better food, better coffee, better accommodation along the way.
My question: Is this the stuff of science?
Sample No 3: Desert Biz ... an exchange between two Aboriginal tourism operators, Iga Warta and Titjikala, proved to be very successful. Both groups shared information on how to operate a business from an Aboriginal perspective and compared ways to link business and the community.
The facts are that the luxury tent operation, Gunya Titjikala, closed down nearly a year ago and there are no current plans to re-open it, according to Joe Rawson, the Titjikala community member in charge of the project.
One DK CRC researcher found out that the governmental decision making process in Aboriginal communities is a dog’s breakfast, arranged to suit the bureaucracy rather than the client.
Another discovered that people living on outstations, away from the mayhem of booze and violence in the creeks of Alice Springs and the gutters of Darwin, are having a healthier lifestyle.
Are we going to sell this Blind Freddy stuff to Kazakhstan or the nations ringing the Sahara? Hardly.
Of course it isn’t all bleak: The Sparse Ad hoc Networks for Deserts (SAND) sounds a winner. See box this page.
But then there is the fire trailer.
I saw it at an Alice Springs annual show.
I am not making this up: The trailer consists of two axles, four wheels, a platform, a water tank and a pump.
Did that need the nation’s best brains?
There are thousands of these around Australia.
There are no doubt half a dozen workshops in Alice which can put one together.
The DK trailers sell for $25,300. One local dealer said he could do it for between $10,000 and $15,000.
I wanted to have another look last Friday and rang DK CRC to find out where I could find one of these astonishing DK CRC creations.
The lady answering the phone couldn’t ask anyone because everyone was in a meeting.
Several calls later I was still none the wiser.
No-one called back.
I tracked one trailer down at the DK partner Centre for Appropriate Technology, which is building the trailers. See the photo this page.
And then, for the cattle industry, there is the project of “telemetry and automated systems to allow remote monitoring and management of infrastructure (e.g. water pumps) and stock (e.g. automatic drafting gates)”.
An Australian company, Practical Systems Limited in Armidale NSW, has been selling since 1993 software that does all of that, and governs hardware, such as “auto drafting systems” produced by several other companies.
Is DK CRC re-inventing the wheel?
A question we would have liked to ask Ms Ferguson.
She says in a written statement: “Alice Springs is to lose its only national research facility. 
“The three quarters of the Australian continent which are desert will lose their only dedicated research capability specialising in desert industries and issues.
“From mid-2010 Australia will be pouring more science into Antarctica than into a region on its mainland that is home to over 550,000 people, 41,275 enterprises and with an economy producing $90 billion in output a year.”
The government hasn’t yet said why it has refused further funding.
It will no doubt wonder whether a Desert Research Institute, run by the same people as the DK CRC, will have similar “outcomes” – that ghastly word.
Cynics may ask, what’s the point of replacing one sheltered workshop with another?

Hang on, it’s not all bad!

The Sparse Ad hoc Networks for Deserts (SAND) may be the way to go so the bush doesn’t miss out on the fruits and pleasures of the communication age.
The DK CRC fully owns the Intellectual Property from the SAND project.
This article is reprinted from the DK CRC website.

Ad hoc telecommunications nodes are designed so that people without specialist telecommunications skills can deploy, extend and maintain these extensions to existing fixed telecommunications infrastructure such as cables, fibre, and satellite connections.
A telecommunications network can be created by simply turning on as many nodes as are wanted. The nodes automatically configure and detect nearby nodes, thus establishing  an ‘alert’ network.
Data (at broadband speeds of >10 Mbps) and voice communication  is simply a matter of calling another node.
The software in each node determines the minimum routing distance and therefore minimum number of hops between the initiation and end-point nodes. Every node in the network is a transmitter, receiver, and router (repeater).
Nodes can be run from mains or remote power sources such as solar panels with batteries.
The benefits of this type of telecommunications are:
• Cost effective and easy-to-maintain access to services such as voice and internet
• Networks can be deployed in an unplanned manner, with no new cabling required, and they can be easily extended by adding nodes
• Networks integrate with existing technology and can be coupled with relatively cheap radio technology.
SAND provides inexpensive and reliable access to communication in remote areas.
SAND’s advantages over UHF and HF radio communications are that voice and data security are assured, band width is vastly greater, and each node is a repeater.

Misleading or worse? Surely not, madam!

Some media publish “handouts” disseminated by politicians, interest groups, businesses and so on as their own work, often putting them under the by-line of a reporter.
The Alice Springs News hardly ever does that, although we often use handouts as a trigger to our own, independent research.
At times we judge a handout to contain important information. If we don’t have time or manpower to follow it up we run it as a letter to the editor.
This is generally welcomed by the authors: They can promote their causes while it is clear to the reader that the statements are not tested by journalistic enquiry.
We dealt in this way with a recent handout from Desert Knowledge CRC Managing Director Jan Ferguson and the organization’s chairman, Paul Wand.
We published their letter together with one from Trevor Shiell who said “like a lot of others here I am not surprised at the withdrawal of funding to parts of Desert Knowledge”. On the same page we gave Ms Ferguson and Mr Wand a chance to make their point.
Now Ms Ferguson asserts that our use of her press release as a letter to the editor was “at best for you, misleading”.
We don’t think so.
Ms Ferguson also asserts that DK CRC have “on two occasions met with your paper in regard to this matter and on two occasions the paper lost the material”.
That is untrue. We have the material but choose not to use it.
The junior reporter, despite a thorough briefing, did not produce a story in keeping with our standards.
We have sincerely apologized to Ms Ferguson for this and thought our apology had been accepted.
It seems Ms Ferguson changed her mind when we put to her, in advance, the questions raised in the report on this page.
Ms Ferguson claims “it would be a misrepresentation to state or imply that the CRC has made ‘no comment’ on the issues”.
The facts are that Ms Ferguson provided no comment nor replies to the questions we raised in the report on this page, so to say there was “no comment” from her is fair comment, and we’re standing by it.
We have not been unreasonable in our requests for Ms Ferguson’s time, and have at all times acted with absolute propriety.
We had about two hours with her a year ago, and produced a series of stories about DK CRC and Desert Knowledge.
We even provided Ms Ferguson a story draft ahead of publication as we did with our recent breaking story (May 1 on-line, May 7 in print) on the failure of the DK CRC bid for second term funding. This is a privilege very few journalists afford their sources.

Some winners, some losers in student income support.

The “gap year” commonly taken by Alice school-leavers who intend going on to university may become less standard practice following changes to the independence test for youth allowance.
Till now one test of independence, which would entitle a student to youth allowance, has been earning a certain amount of money in the 18 months after leaving school. Currently the amount is pegged at $19,532.
Many young locals choose to defer their enrolment for their gap year, work for as long as it takes to earn at least the required amount, and start their studies the following year, with the youth allowance kicking in by May.
This test of independence has been eliminated in a move by the Federal Government to improve targeting of student income support to those who need it most. Thus this reason for taking a gap year will disappear.
NT Senator Nigel Scullion (Country Liberals) says Territory school leavers who are forced to travel to Darwin or down south to undertake tertiary studies will be hit hard by the change.
“This measure was clearly aimed at city students who can live at home,” says Senator Scullion.
“Unfortunately many Territory students must leave home in order to continue their studies and now thanks to Labor they will be paying a heavy price.
“Territory families know the costs involved when their children commence tertiary study, with accommodation and living expenses often being prohibitive and effectively denying some Territory students the opportunity to study in Darwin or interstate.”
However, NT Senator Trish Crossin (Labor) says the Australian Government acknowledges the difficulties faced by rural and regional families because of the extra cost with moving away from home to study or train.
She says changes to the Parental Income Test will benefit rural students.
For instance, a family with two children aged 17 and 21 who are living away from home will receive support up to a cut off in parents’ income of $139,388, up from the old threshold of $75,324.
There will be a higher “away-from-home” rate of payment as well as Rent Assistance, Remote Area Allowance, Fares Allowance for up to two return trips home per year and other benefits such as the low-income Health Care Card and Pharmaceutical Allowance, says Sen Crossin.
Thousands of university students living away from home will be helped by a Relocation Scholarship of $4000 in the first year and $1000 in later years, and all students getting income support will receive the new Student Start-Up Scholarship worth $2254 per year.  
She acknowledges that some regional students, whose parents have  incomes above the cut-off points, may not receive support under the new system.  
Nationally, it is estimated that 30,700 students will not be eligible for student income support in 2010 as a result of the changes, but they will allow 67,800 new students to receive payment and 34,600 current recipients to receive a higher payment.
Lingiari MHR Warren Snowdon (Labor) says: “I am certainly aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the impact of the changes on Territorians who have to leave home to study, and will be discussing the matter with Julia Gillard, but this policy is designed to provide support to those students most in need.”
For more info:
Search “student income support” and select “Transforming Australia’s Higher Education System”.

Kmart wall to be restored. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The owners of the Kmart building in Alice Springs will re-build the wall “to a design faithful to the original concept”.
This is according to chairman of the Development Consent Authority, Peter McQueen, who said the owners, Centro Properties Group, have written to him, stating this intention after consulting with their architects and others. 
“An application for approval will be lodged with the DCA once the owners are ready to proceed and I am informed that is likley to occur in the not too distant future,” says Mr McQueen.
The outer skin of the wall – a sandstone mural showing the profile of the ranges from The Gap to Mount Gillen – was dismantled late last year after suffering damage in the September 22 storm.
It had been assessed by  building certifier Duncan Cook, working for the owners, as “a significant hazard to public safety in its weakened state”.
Its demolition caused a public outcry and prompted assertive moves by the Town Council to stay the demolition.
 The original Development Permit for the wall stated that it “will at all times be maintained to the satisfaction of the Town Engineer, Alice Springs Town Council”.
Mayor Damien Ryan has repeatedly said he will settle for “nothing less than full replacement of the stone mural”.

Community spirit in spades. By KIERAN FINNANE.

A baby is diagnosed with cancer; his parents want to be able to feed him fresh, organically grown vegetables but are stretched to capacity caring for him and his two siblings.
Step in the Special Souls Support Group, horticulturist Geoff Miers, Apex Central Australia and a healthy dose of Alice Springs community spirit.
In no time at all local companies donate all the supplies needed, a date is set to create the garden, a working party volunteers its labour, and $1000 is raised for the family.
On Saturday it all came together.
Geoff laid out the low-maintenance garden and had seedlings for the first crop of winter vegetables at the ready – cabbage, broccoli, mini-cauliflower, onions, lettuce, silverbeet, spinach and some flowers for good cheer.
A few of his friends and some members of Apex arrived with wheelbarrows and shovels.
Besser blocks, bags of cement, and soil had already been delivered by local businesses.
“It’s about community,” Geoff said.
Sharon Gwynne and Jill Montgomery of Special Souls prepared morning tea for the garden diggers.
The Saturday before the pair had set up a hotdog stand as a fundraiser. When people heard about the cause, the money flowed.
“Some people paid a lot of money for a hotdog that day!” said Jill.
They raised $500; Apex will chip in another $500. 
Special Souls is a local group set up to support children with special needs and their families.
They meet on the last Saturday of each month at the Toy Library and try to respond to anyone who asks for their help, whether it’s with friendship or practical help.
Following the death of a local child, for example, the group cooked for the grieving family for a week until interstate relatives arrived and then again for a few days after the relatives left.
“Little things can make a big difference,” said Jill.
Apex Central Australia president Gerard Coffey said club members like being able to do things for other people.
As a father of four himself when he heard about the little boy’s suffering, he wanted to do anything he could to “make life a bit easier for the young feller”.
“This is the sort of work we do,” he said.
There are annual commitments to community events like securing the gates at the Alice Springs Show and manning the carpark at the Old Timers fete, but members have also done things like putting in a bike path at Acacia Hill Primary School and helping out at Riding for the Disabled.
Once there were three Apex clubs in Alice Springs; now there’s just the one.
When Gerard joined there were four members; now there are 20, including three women.
The club’s ideals are around community involvement, community spirit and participation – things that can never be in over-supply.

Yuendumu art a hit in New Delhi. By NEELIMA CHOAHAN.

On his maiden trip to India, Aboriginal artist Otto Jungarrayi Sims was often mistaken for a Jamaican.
But the Yuendumu resident enjoyed educating Indian people about his rich heritage. 
“People did not know there were Indigenous people in Australia,” Sims said.
Sims, along with his wife Ormay Nangala Gallagher, was in New Delhi as part of a recent first-ever Indigenous Australian art exhibition in India.
Organised by Warlukurlangu Artists, the show featured 85 paintings including Sims’ Yanjirlpirri Jukurrpa or Star Dreaming which sold for AUS$6700.
Titled Desert Dreamings, the show was a mix of new and established painters, 43 in all, and included such well-known names as Judy Watson and Paddy Japalijarri Sims.
Prices started at AUS$200, with the most expensive, Shorty Jangala Robertson’s Water Dreaming, the first one to sell at AUS$16,558.
Warlukurlangu Artists manager Cecilia Alfonso said the response to the show, which took two years in the making, exceeded their expectations.
“We sold about 30 paintings for more than AUS$45,000,” Alfonso said. It is a completely new market and everyone is affected by the economic downturn.
“But we are very pleased with the results.”
The unsold paintings are to remain in India and to be exhibited at an art gallery near New Delhi.
The exhibition, according to Alfonso, attracted a lot of attention from curious punters: “One of the things we strive to do is to help raise awareness of Indigenous culture,” she said.
“Just being here has been nice because we have been able to engage with a large number of people.”
Indian student Pratik Sharma (picured) said at first he found the swirls and dots of Robertson’s Water Dreaming just a confusing blur. However, after a careful look the 21-year-old budding photographer said he began to see some meaning in the intricate motifs.

Nine more sleeps – Finke organisers competitors & devotees count down. By LINDSAY WRIGHT.

Most Central Australians love ‘Finke’. It doesn’t matter whether they are competitors, crew, officials or spectators. The common thread is total commitment and determination to enjoy it.
Alice Springs Mayor, Damien Ryan, eats and breathes the race. He’s a life member of the Finke Desert Race along with Judi Hoare. And having driven in the event four times means he’s a legitimate commentator.  
Damien believes he’ll always be passionate about Finke. He loves the fact that kids are following in their fathers’ footsteps.
“Barry Taylor’s son Jeremy is now part of the action, and there are plenty of examples like this which gives that great sense of continuity,” he says.
He reels off one fact after another and is intrigued that most winners repeat the achievement.
“It must be a psychological thing that once you have won it, you have the confidence and smarts to win it again, and again.”
He appreciates how much money it brings to town too, with 2000 visitors pumping money into the local economy.
As a member of the organising committee, Kelsey Rodda expects another spectacular event. Kelsey is a permanent ‘toiler’ and is now in her sixth year as secretary.
She loves meeting participants and renewing acquaintances year by year.
“I really do it to meet the people; it’s so rewarding to catch up with them.
“It also gives me a buzz when people greet us at interstate bike shows or wherever because they know us.
“I say to them, oh that’s right, you are number so and so.
“I generally remember because I have dealt with them so many times.”
She also loves seeing Finke jackets interstate.
“That makes me really proud,” she says.
Local travel consultant Amy Anderson (pictured) can’t believe her luck to be one of this year’s six grid girls. Amy, who’s lived here for nearly a decade, became interested in the race a couple of years ago but says involvement this year will be totally different.
She views her selection as a dream come true and intends to enjoy all aspects of the experience. 
“I really hope it opens up a lot of doors,” she comments.
Graeme and June McGown have changed from ‘local’ viewers to a less common species, spectators coming from interstate. They’ve attended the race for 10 years but in 2009 have driven half way across Australia from their new permanent residence in Lake Tyers in East Gippsland, Victoria.
“We planned a working holiday back to Alice to coincide with Finke; we both knew we couldn’t miss it,” says Graeme.
June and Graeme’s party normally consists of 12 to 20 and they’re expecting similar numbers at their site about 60 kilometres down the track where terrain lends itself to a visual spectacle with plenty of action.
Graeme says, “Coming back from Victoria is small beer compared with an ex-colleague of June’s who returned here after going back home to Ireland and missing two Finkes. “Withdrawal symptoms, forced her back last year and she plans to return again.”
Graeme has only had one bad experience with long-distance Finke fans, when a friend who came to compete died of a heart attack before the race.
“I’d seen him in great spirits the night before so it was a real shock,” says Graeme.
Otherwise, the McGowns have shared the race with scores of interstate visitors including relatives, who love it so much they repeat the experience on a regular basis, or certainly leave with the intention of doing so. 

Tattersall’s Finke: A boom, not bust! By LINDSAY WRIGHT.

“Recession, what recession?” asks president of the Finke committee Antony Yoffa when summing up his thoughts pre-race.  
He’s thrilled that car numbers have reversed the trend – up by nine to 75 this year with bike entries at 500, the maximum number accepted. And all this against a backdrop of tough economic conditions and a change in rules for off road racing. 
In the past competitors in the championship could exclude their worst result, which Antony thinks may have lead to a concentration of competitors at races in the south-east corner of Australia and less at Finke.
He says competitors can now nominate their best results from just three races of a full season which he hopes may give them more time and incentive to come here.
“Part of our problem is that competitors need to set aside two weeks to come here, set up, practice, compete and go home, so it always surprises me just how many interstate enthusiasts we get, proving the real pull of Finke.”
Antony again expects the cars to outgun the bikes this year, although the cars are really hand built and a 50 cent part can stop their race.
“The bikes are commercial developments and only released onto the market when they have travelled hundreds of thousands of kilometres under trying conditions.
“While the cars are largely “one-offs”, the bikes have proven reliability,” he says.
Antony reckons, like all Finkes, it’s hard to pick an actual winner. However with the cars, it’s hard to go past proven drivers like Dave Fellows, Mark Burrows, and Shannon Rentsch.
He believes the bikes will see tough competition as well with riders such as Ryan Branford and Ben Grabham expected to figure well.
However he concedes that anything could and does happen and it’s possible that winners will come out of no-where.
ABOVE RIGHT: With this painting, Mayor Damian Ryan is never far from the Finke – even at home!

Pete’s last ride. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Pete Healy made his final journey on a truck he had worked on, the Road Transport Hall of Fame’s B Model Mack prime mover, which took him to his grave on Monday.
It was fitting tribute to the town’s most acclaimed diesel mechanic.
People who travelled millions of kilometers in The Centre, including its most remote regions, in cars and trucks maintained by Pete, enjoyed the peace of mind his professionalism provided.
But Pete had many other outstanding qualities.
He was a gentleman, and to my family a great friend for decades.
The large number of people at the funeral included many followers – and founders – of the Finke Desert Race.
I remember him well in the inaugural Finke: a shotgun blast set off the Le Mans style start.
Riders ran to their machines, kicked them into life and disappeared in a massive cloud of dust.
Pete waited for it to settle, put on his gloves, and headed off, following the pack at a discreet distance.
He finished that race, and seven more.
Pete is survived by his wife Catherine, sons Steve and Andrew and their wives Alison and Natasha, and six grand children, Courtney, Kylie and Shane, and Jessica, Patrick and Michael.
This town is the poorer for his passing at age 73.

POP VULTRE: Playing to the largest audience in town.

When three young fellas decide to take their musical talents to the street, the Todd Mall Sunday markets is an obvious stage – it hosts the largest audience in town.
Local musicians Damon (ukelele), Stefan (trumpet) and Emrys (double bass) all share love affairs with various bands about town (Dr Strangeways and Los Bandoleros Perdidos).
Setting up shop in the mall for the day was probably purely impulsive but the trio offered up a whimsical soundtrack on a cloudy market day.
Their weapons of choice included a double bass, ukulele, tin whistle, trumpet and melodica (that’s a tiny plastic keyboard with a hose you blow in that resembles a child’s toy and sounds like a midget piano accordion).
The sound expelled was a cool mutation of jazz, folk and Dixieland. You could imagine tiny blue cartoon notes dancing about amongst the flowing river of punters who flock to the fortnightly markets.
Although this may well be the last time these three play together in Alice (as Emrys is preparing for a trip overseas), perhaps their performance could germinate an open instrument and mic feature to regularly coincide with the markets.
Regular buskers, appearing every second Sunday, by no means void of musical or entertainment merit, can become quite monotonous for local ears.
It will always be refreshing to see something different and original. About two months ago weekenders watched on as concert pianist and didgeridoo teacher, Sebastian Hall, teamed up with a travelling French cellist, to create a magnificent fusion of didge and cello. I think they jointly made about $300 for the four hour effort – that cuts a tie and buys a few drinks.
One of the most successful buskers I have ever seen was a middle aged fella learning scales on a cheap violin, having donned an equally cheap suit, deliberately scuffed and soiled. The man had only picked up the instrument less than a week earlier and by the end of his first public appearance in Rundle Mall, he had netted over $400 in loose change, having cunningly worked the sympathetic “please end it” angle on passers by.
Watching him grate his way through eight note scales, wearing a filthy suit with matching bow tie, was a storytelling event, and the fact that he earned more than a fair day’s pay could also be recognised as a masterful stroke for the guerrilla entrepreneur.
In months to come the marketplace could be awash with different musicians and performers.
Alice has more than enough enthusiasts in this field to make this happen, and for the less experienced there can also be an “earn why you learn” situation right there at your fingertips and blowing lips.

Digging deeper.

In our May 14 issue ALEX NELSON began his overview of the career of Frank McEllister, the man who made the single greatest contribution to horticulture and gardening in the Centre. This week he recalls his personal introduction to the McEllister Method for establishing young shrubs and trees in our harsh local conditions.

Going into Frank McEllister’s office at the Arid Zone Research Institute (AZRI) was like walking into an Aladdin’s Cave full of all things related to horticulture and gardening, amassed during his 27 years in Alice Springs.
His lack of seniority in public service ranks belied his authority based on the longest continuous formal service to horticulture development in the Centre.
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.
He also had a long-standing desire to conduct horticultural pursuits on his own property, free of the constraints of formal programs in the public service. He acquired a rural block for this purpose but this ambition also waited for the day when he could take early retirement at age 55. He never made it.
In July 1991 Frank McEllister was diagnosed with a malignant tumour which defied treatment and became terminal. Frank devoted the time he had left while on sick leave attempting to write his garden manual for Alice Springs.
He continued other related activities (such as the Garden Talkback program on ABC Radio) until early May 1992, passing away not long after, on June 6, 1992.
His untimely passing was keenly felt. Frank was eulogised by the government and opposition of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly; the Alice Springs Town Council (at the behest of the newly elected mayor Andy McNeill) named a popular new park adjacent to the Araluen Art Centre in his memory; the NT Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries likewise named the Horticulture Block at AZRI after him; and the ABC established the Frank McEllister Garden of the Year prize as its top award in the annual garden competition held in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.
Sadly, Frank McEllister’s book was never completed; and with the passing of time some of the knowledge he had is now superseded. Frank, in his usual self-effacing manner, acknowledged as much in the foreword of his draft work.
But he straddled a period between that era of early settled history when gardening and farming practices were implemented on an ad hoc basis and the modern era of a more environmentally aware ethos – indeed, he was at the forefront of promoting much of the new awareness.
For those who knew him, and especially enjoyed the privilege to work with and learn from him, his record and reputation remain undiminished.
The McEllister Method is a technique for establishing plants, especially shrubs and trees, under Central Australian conditions. What follows is a personal account that traces the evolution of the technique during four decades, and provides an explanation of why it seems to work so well in this environment.

In April 1982 I started work with the NT Department of Primary Production as a quarantine fruit-fly inspector. My principal task was to watch out for the presence of Mediterranean Fruit-Fly in Alice Springs and surrounding districts, especially at Ti Tree north of town, where the department’s Horticulture Section was conducting numerous tests and trials at Ti Tree Farm.
This led to my employment with the Horticulture Section later that year, where I worked as an agricultural labourer at the Horticulture Research Block at AZRI, mostly under the direction of Frank McEllister. Although I was in that position for only one and a half years, it was one of the most instructive periods of my life.
Amongst the many tasks with which I was involved was the planting of new fruit trees.
Frank believed it was necessary to “go the extra mile” for establishing young shrubs and trees, and the direction for it was down!
Large deep holes were dug for the positions of each new plant, generally half a metre deep and about as wide. These were filled with water to soak the surrounding soil.
The bottoms and sides of the holes were perforated by shovel blades or crowbars – this practice helped plants’ roots to grow into the surrounding soil, otherwise there was a risk (especially in harder soils) that the roots would simply go around within the volume of soil that had originally been excavated, as if they were pot-bound.
The backfilled soil was then returned with measured doses of fertiliser and superphosphate, and a quantity of partially decayed straw was also included. The straw was intended to provide organic matter (humus) in the soil, which is valuable for the health of plants; however, as organic matter decays in the soil it temporarily depletes the nitrogen available to the plants, and can cause deficiencies adversely affecting the plants’ health. This was an important reason for including either artificial or blood-and-bone fertiliser into the backfilled soil, to compensate for the short term lack of nitrogen. This is standard wisdom in gardening and horticulture.
The backfilling was done in two or three steps, the soil, fertiliser and straw being mixed at each level. When the backfilled soil was almost at the same level as the ground around it, the position was soaked with water and allowed to drain naturally. This causes the refilled soil to slump down, and the remaining excavated earth would then be replaced.
At this stage the soil in each new position is very soggy so it was necessary to allow some time for the moisture to soak away naturally into the surrounding ground. Usually a day would be allowed for this process to work, after which it was safe to put the new plants into their final positions.
NEXT: Evidence of the long-term advantage of the method.

ADAM'S APPLE: Numbers stacked against us? Get over it.

Having a holiday is like having Chinese food. At the time you get your fill but straight after you feel like more.
Holidays are always too short but from here in Alice Springs they are more valuable to one’s mental health than meditation, medication or moments of reflection.
As all of us know, Alice Springs has a way of getting into your head sometimes. Without the ability to take a day trip to another place or to go to the beach to clear your head, The Alice can sometimes be a little overwhelming.
For me a toe dipped into the hustle and bustle of the big smoke is a perfect way to recharge and to appreciate what Alice Springs has to offer. Like relatives, the rat race is fun in small doses.
We tell friends and even tourists that we are the best small town in the outback and I have no qualms at all with that.
But spending some time in a major city does remind me just how small we are. In order to see all the friends and family I needed to see in a week, I travelled 1300 kilometres.
Almost two months’ worth of driving in Alice Springs.
For a town of 28,000, we are a demanding lot. In the time I have called Alice Springs home, members of the community have demanded million dollar prize fights and state of the art swimming pools and a lake and an AFL match and an ACDC concert and a V8 Supercar round and a visit from the President of the United States and a myriad of other delights.
I find the temerity of the Centralian wonderful. The suburb in which I was raised has more people than Alice Springs yet no local community group would ever have been so bold as to demand the things we demand here.
I say dream the dream, Alice Springs.
Go for Gold!But I also see the shock and disbelief on people’s faces when we don’t get what we ask for.
If Alice Springs doesn’t get the Soccer World Cup, there will be people in Alice Springs who will consider it an outrage. “What do you mean they gave it to Brazil? Idiots!”
I sometimes think it prudent to remember that in the scale of global importance, Alice Springs, all 28,000 of us, don’t rate as highly as we might wish.
I was reading the other day about a phenomenon known as the Hubble Constant. Basically the Hubble telescope found a galaxy millions of light years away.
The boffins who run the Hubble program then found out how far that galaxy is from earth. That number is the Hubble Constant.
Using that number, scientists have worked out how old they reckon the universe might be.
They came up with 13 billion and 700 million years, plus or minus 200 million years.  Earth itself is a mere teenager at 4.3 billion years of age.  
Upon learning this fact, I felt a little stupid being irate at having to wait four minutes longer than I thought necessary in the bank queue.
There’s little more humbling than big numbers. Nothing quite puts you into place quicker than realizing just how insignificant your life could be in the overall picture.
Here are some more big numbers moments; more people will die in the next 60 years than have ever died in the entire history of human existence.
The capacity of the human intelligence is 28 billion terabytes.
And finally, two thirds of the world exists on $2 a day or less.
These facts have two points. Firstly they prove my capacity to remember fairly useless facts but secondly they are there to remind us that whatever we want for the place we live, whatever dream and ambition we have for the place we love, someone else probably wants the same thing for their place.
At the end of the day you are one in 28 thousand in 21 million in 6.5 billion and each of those billions of people from time to time thinks their problem is the biggest problem in the world.
I mention this not to bring you down but to make you think of your successes in a world designed with the numbers stacked against you.
When the big musical acts don’t come here we think we have been overlooked. We have. But when you consider the sheer mathematics of it all, each defeat is dwarfed by each win.
We do amazingly well here in Alice Springs.
There is no other town close to our small size with the facilities and opportunities that we have. And occasionally I think we should remind ourselves of that fact.  

Town camps – the time to act is now! COMMENT by MARK LOCKYER.

My family are residents of Hidden Valley camp. I have first hand experience of town camp life, its challenges, tragedies and potentialities.
Should the Federal and Territory governments take over the town camps to see results from their plans?
Tangentyere has been incapable of keeping those camps clean and safe, of picking up of rubbish, giving people in tin sheds a hygienic place to live, making sure people have access to toilets and water.
People don’t know what to expect from a better life on the camps because they haven’t experienced anything else. They are nervous, scared, overwhelmed about change.  People are telling them that housing, rights, kids will be taken away, but government is not going to take the houses away. They will be there for Aboriginal people.
We need to help other people around us. We need to change the environment these children live in. Houses must be kept clean and children must go to school.
I get angry when people don’t care to address the issue. People who don’t know what it is like to live in poverty and despair, speaking for us mob.
We are the ones that live here.
Some town campers don’t feel safe, they are scared and camp in the river at night.
In my opinion there has been poor decision-making within Tangentyere Council.
There needs to be temporary accommodation built for housing visitors who come and go from the camps. 
Health outcomes and community safety need to be improved.
The safety of our children is paramount. They need to be protected from issues such as alcohol misuse, domestic and family violence and child abuse and neglect.
There is a time to talk and a time to act. 
We can still talk but we have to start acting now.  Tangentyere must come to an agreement with the governments or step aside so we can get results for a better future.

LETTERS: Where are Tangentyere supporters?

Sir,– The silence over the [Federal Indigenous Affairs] Minister’s decision on town camps is deafening.
Where is the support of the people who know the history of the struggle by the many Aboriginal people who fought for perpetual leases within the town boundary to secure access to water, shelter and other essential services?
The Tangentyere Council, Central Land Council, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Institute for Aboriginal Development were all established during the same period by many of the same individuals and families as self-determining organisations.
No longer were the welfare agencies and ‘citizens of civilized living’ able to control all aspects of Aboriginal people’s lives. Aboriginal people living in and visiting town for the first time had a ‘place’ to reside, services available and a roof over their head. They struggled and have continued to struggle every day since, but they secured land tenure and the right to live in Alice Springs.
It was the traditional owners of Alice Springs who worked out the best way for all the different language groups to live in Alice Springs. The memory of their generosity, vision and inclusiveness is also being forgotten – as the traditional owners, they made the decisions to allocate parcels of land to their brothers and sisters from other countries.
What saddens and angers me is the lack of acknowledgement and support that the many people who know this history choose to forget.
We have watched organisations grow, attract large budgets and provide employment for many, and this is important and to be commended, but one organisation continues to be the scapegoat, the focus for the media and the shame of all that is ‘the Aboriginal problem’.
Tangentyere cops the flack, wears it and keeps going, providing everything, bar medical services, to an annual population of approximately 2300 people. It is one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in Australia – oh – and they only have four housing officers funded by the government to deal with all of the housing management issues – what sort of resources do Territory Housing have?
I believe in primary health care, that people have the right to self-determination, the right to equity and equality, and the right to live without discrimination.
I also believe that the true power and strength of the individual rests with their place within their family, community and recognition of the value that others see in them. I support town campers and commend their stand against what appears to be the entire universe!
The recent announcement by the Minister to take control of the ‘perpetual’ town camp leases is shameful. Perhaps she believes that this will solve the problems of violence, alcohol misuse and squalor. I think not. The evidence tells us otherwise. Employment, education, access to services, housing, transport and security of tenure are better places to start.
We must acknowledge of the strength and commitment by the people who fought while government ignored their responsibilities. Offers of more money for the services they have neglected to provide is no offer at all. The government want the land and the votes that will come out of this position. Simple.
I ask those who know and those who dare to listen to support town campers in their struggle. Those Aboriginal organisations, individuals and any one of us who is here but for the grace of the ‘Aboriginal industry’, stand up and be counted.
Jane Ulrik
Alice Springs

Sir,– Alice Springs Landlords have engaged the services of Peer Schroter to prepare a submission on their behalf to inform Council of their objections to the Council’s proposed introduction of a Liquor Litter Charge.
All rate payers had until May 22 to comment on the proposed budget before Council voted to accept the budget.
It is of vital importance that Council understand that ratepayers and small business will not tolerate these proposed changes.
Council must seek dialogue with Government to find alternative solutions to the litter problem in Central Australia.
Small business is the backbone of our community and cannot continue to be forced to shoulder the burdens being placed on it by a Council who has failed to seek other alternatives.
If Council are allowed to introduce these charges with no consultation, what guarantee do Alice Springs residents have that other small business will not find themselves in the same situation, fighting the same charges?
We cannot continue to penalise the people of Alice Springs with increased charges and possible job losses in these uncertain economic times.
Diane Loechel
Gap View Hotel

Sir,– Since 2005 documents relating to a Town Council meeting agenda have been available to anyone sitting in the gallery during the meeting.  A few hard copies are provided to be shared around, and the documents are also posted on the council’s website a few days prior to each meeting. 
These postings are currently available back to February 2007. The previous council deserves full credit for beginning this transparency, as does the current council for continuing it. 
But where are the minutes for council’s committee meetings?
Council resolutions first pass through a system of committee meetings where issues are raised and often keenly debated. Recommendations are then sent to the next Ordinary Meeting for formal approval.   
Minutes are kept and after a public debate at the following month’s committee meeting, the minutes are approved.  And then they disappear. 
When asked about this, a concern was that committee decisions could be mistaken for more than the recommendations they are. It seems the public might get the wrong idea. 
So instead of cautioning with a simple line in bold text across the top of the page, a very interesting and important record of Town Council deliberations disappears from public view.
How can a public document get debated in a public meeting and yet no one but elected members be allowed to look at it? 
And why have the minutes to one of the two public meetings held each month by the Alice Springs Town Council become a matter for the Freedom of Information Act? 
Except for issues debated in the confidential section of each meeting, everything is done in public and is supposedly a matter of public record. Perhaps this question could be taken on notice, especially in light of the statement found on the opening page of the Alice Springs Town Council website:  “Council Minutes are available for inspection by the Wednesday after the meetings.” 
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

Sir,– [Regarding God, Man and the Universe by Jim Brown, advertisement, May 14]. 
Sorry, Jim, but I will take the combined knowledge and experience of the universities of the world of thousands of years over 84 years any day.
Peter Madden
Alice Springs

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