July 16, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Right to climb Uluru may go. By ERWIN CHLANDA.


A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has denied a report in The Australian that he has “forced” Environment Minister Peter Garrett to “retreat from a plan to shut down the climb to the top of Uluru”.
She says a comment made by Mr Rudd on Radio 3AW – that “it would be very sad [if people] weren’t able to enjoy that experience” – was “not a disagreement” between the politicians, but intending to encourage “good debate.
“Everyone can have an opinion,” she says.
“Some people thought [closing the climb] was a foregone conclusion.”
Meanwhile, both the NT Government (Minister Chris Burns), and the local lobby group Tourism Central Australia (chairman Ren Kelly), have opposed the proposal, included in a park draft management plan, now open for public comment until September 4.
Both Dr Burns and Mr Kelly say it should be up to each individual to make a decision about climbing or not.
Mr Kelly says Tourism CA is working with the NT Government and Tourism NT “to develop some new strategies to keep the climb open for all visitors”.
That strategy will be put to the review committee of the draft plan.
CLP Senator Nigel Scullion says: “We are now seeing a confused response from the Federal Government as they sense the level of public backlash to the plan.
“If the climb is closed it will deal a serious blow to the Red Centre’s tourism industry and cut off further opportunities for Indigenous benefit.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Garrett says because of “privacy restrictions” the comments made during the consultation process would not be made public but would be “described”.
Making the submissions public would lessen the chances for getting a “very wide range of submissions”.
It seems yet again a decision about national parks, crucial to The Centre’s economy, will be made behind closed doors.
The Alice Springs News put the following questions to Margot Marshall, Director Public Affairs, Parks Australia:-
NEWS: How is it decided who has authority to speak on behalf of the Aboriginal Community?
PARKS: This is a question for the Central Land Council (CLC).
NEWS: What is the annual amount of gate takings paid to the Aboriginal Community?
PARKS: 25 per cent of gate takings goes to the traditional owners under park lease agreements.  $1.7 million in 2007-2008 was passed to the CLC.
NEWS: Who gets it?
PARKS: This is a question for the CLC.
True to form, the CLC did not answer those questions.
And Mr Rudd’s man in the NT, MHR for Lingiari Warren Snowdon, asserted on the ABC on Monday that 90% of people wouldn’t care if the climb was closed.
After all, it’s Aboriginal land, he said.
We asked Mr Snowdon on what survey he was relying, quoting that figure.
We received no reply.
The current avalanche of media comment and reporting was triggered when National Parks Director Peter Cochrane announced: “The Uluru climb continues to be a contentious issue with traditional owners and many park visitors.”
The most vocal Aboriginal spokesman is Mutitjulu Community Aboriginal Corporation CEO Vince Forrester, described as an elder.
He claims that the Aborigines of the region, who have a majority on the parks management board, are broadly opposed to climbing the Rock.
Mr Forrester denies allegations – made widely to the Alice News but on the condition of anonymity – that Mr Forrester has no right in traditional Aboriginal terms to speak on the issues.
But Mr Forrester says his grandmother, Tjintjatjwarra, was born at Kata Juta (the Olgas), and her father and his wife were also born near The Rock.
“I’m talking about my great-grandparents now, before the white man came,” says Mr Forrester.
What does he say to people who claim he is not an initiated man?
“I put scorn upon them. I’ve never seen them in the ceremony, at business times.
“I am challenging them to prove to my family, and the mob I belong to out here, that I am not an initiated man.”
Was he not told by senior men in the Hermannsburg region to keep out of a dispute, some 20 years ago, about tjuringas given to the anthropologist Ted Strehlow?
Says Mr Forrester: “The Hermannsburg mob at that time, most of them are dead now, told me, you can look after your own [sacred objects] and we can look after our own.
“There were objects all over the country.
“I was with 13 elders at that time, covering all the Central Desert areas,” in a national campaign to have objects returned.
“I was a go-between.
“There were Aranda people there, Luritja, Pintupi, Warlpiri people.”
Did Hermannsburg people say, ‘Keep your nose out of this’?
“Yes, but we said there were some other [objects], too.”
Mr Forrester says a sign was put up at the base of the climb in 1985, “in five different languages, saying please do not climb Uluru.
“That sign still stands today.
“We’re asking nicely, Erwin. We’re asking nicely.”
Mr Forrester says his supporters include Reggie and Cassidy Uluru, the sons of the late Kumantjai Uluru, undisputed custodian of The Rock; Harry Wilson and Malya Teamay.
“When [the Federal Government] suspended the Racial Discrimination Act I was going to protest at the base of Uluru, with flags and placards,” says Mr Forrester.
“You know what I am like, Erwin, I do these sorts of things.”
Google throws up dozens of media statements by Mr Forrester, and judging by them he was a great deal more robust in his comments.
Far from basing his objections to climbing Uluru on cultural grounds, he threatened a ban as a means to a political end.
In an interview about the Federal Intervention he told the ABC on June 26, 2007: “I mean, it’s freaking everybody out because it’s bringing the military in ... why is there a military operation against the most poverty-stricken community members of Australia?
“If I had my way, I’d close the bloody climb. That tourist industry brings a lot of dollars into the Territory, and tourists all come to Uluru.”
The Green Left Weekly issue of April 23, 2008 reports Mr Forrester as telling a meeting attended by 130 in Redfern that the Intervention is “a social experiment: they’re going to take this right across Australia ... We can close the climb. We can open professional tour services, charge professional rates, and we get the money.”
And the UK Guardian on June 22 last year reported Mr Forrester, “an elder from the Mutitjulu people who are Uluru’s traditional owners and have the power to ban climbing on it” as saying: “We’ve got to take some affirmative action to stop this racist piece of legislation.
“We’re going to throw a big rock on top of the tourist industry ... we will close the climb and no one will climb Uluru ever again.”
Mr Forrester admits that at that time he made a connection between climbing and the Intervention, but the current issue, the draft management plan, “is a different matter”.
Meanwhile, far from rejecting the notion of a climbing ban, Mr Rudd seems to be having two bob each way.
This was his conversation with Neil Mitchell of 3AW on July 10, when Mr Rudd was in Italy:
PM: I am on the other side of the world. As a matter of general principle my view has always been that people should be able to have, you know, appropriate access to Uluru.
Obviously it’s a question I suppose of public safety and managing important natural parts of our landscape, it’s a bit like managing the Great Barrier Reef in some respects. And there have to be appropriate management plans.
I think it would be very sad if we got to a stage though where Australians and frankly our guests from abroad weren’t able to enjoy that experience.
MITCHELL: What, to climb it?
PM: Yeah. To climb it.
MITCHELL: So you’d think it’d probably be a good thing if they could climb it. I’ve never done it myself but a lot of people say it’s very impressive to climb.
PM: Yeah, I’ve not done it either but I’ve run into people from abroad who’ve climbed it and have had a great experience. I’ve also run into people from abroad who have fallen over and done themselves great damage. I’ve run into them all. So management plans are necessary to both preserve sites like this and I suppose that’s the basis of some of these studies which have been undertaken. But management studies are also necessary in terms of properly regulating access in terms of public safety as well. But it’s a wonderful part of Australia out there, and I look forward to getting out there myself at some stage.
Whether that was to climb The Rock or not Mr Rudd did not say.

Spin vs truth.

“No land is being locked up. Let’s be very clear about that. You know it. I know it. No land is being locked up.”
That was Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon on June 12 talking about the handover to Aborigines of NT parks.
It's a long way from the facts: Try and enjoy the Rainbow Valley rock formation and claypan from the campground, delineated by the black plastic bollards now in vogue with Parks and Wildlife.
The information kiosk proposes the only activity, apart from limited camping, allowed them in the reserve: a walk along a “marked track to the arch-shaped formation known as Mushroom Rock”.
The sign suggests allowing one hour for the return walk. To reach Mushroom Rock takes about 10 minutes.
The sign goes on to say: “Access to other areas of the reserve is by permit only. Contact Parks and Wildlife Service on 89518250 for more information.”
From the site, such a call could only be made on a satellite phone.
Circumnavigation of the rock formation even at its base is out of bounds, though it is clear that some visitors go further than the end of the official track.
Some visitors are also walking on the claypan: not everyone dutifully reads signs first.  Campsites are equipped with firepits and there is a single composting toilet.
There is no provision of shade at the campground.
In the wake of joint management of the reserve with Aboriginal people, some 90% of land accessible previously has indeed been "locked up".

NT media producers win some, lose some. By KIERAN FINNANE.

In a now familiar refrain from the Territory’s small but vibrant film and television industry, the awarding to a ‘southern’ company of a $300,000 government tender for the construction of an online visitors’ centre for the West MacDonnell National Park is being protested.
The Film and Television Association of the Northern Territory (FATANT) says at least two well-qualified Territory companies tendered for the project but lost out to a Sydney-based company, Wanted Digital.
The Alice News understands that one of them was Neil Aitken’s Redback Productions, which has independently built and maintained an informative website about Alice Springs as a holiday destination since at least 2005.
We asked Mr Aitken to comment but he declined “at this stage”.
A FATANT media release says: “At numerous meetings with senior public servants, ministerial advisors and members of cabinet, FATANT has been assured NT Government policy is to support local jobs and to put the home grown industry first.”
The government could well counter that the tender for the website content – at $885,000, worth more than twice as much – went to a Territory company, Captovate, and FATANT indeed welcomes this.
However, it says the award of the tender for the website construction to Wanted Digital “is a missed opportunity to develop our IP [intellectual property] based home grown industry and means lost jobs for the local sector. “
The Alice Springs News asked FATANT president Gary Haslett how he thought the government should weigh up “local versus the best” in awarding tenders.
(The terms, of course, are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as the low budget Central Australian film, Samson and Delilah, demonstrated in May, trumping competition from around the world to win the Cannes Film Festival’s prize for best first feature.)
Mr Haslett said the creation of the online visitor centre is venturing into “a whole new area” – offering visitors to the website an “experience as if they were there” and also on-site delivery of interpretive content via a mobile device.
“I don’t think Wanted Digital are already doing this,” he says, arguing that government money would be better invested in a local company to develop this kind of IP.
The News asked Wanted Digital if they are in fact already building websites which produce an experience for the viewer “as if they were there” and are already delivering content on a mobile device.
Cora Spear, Strategy Director for Wanted Digital, said she was not “in a position to comment” as the company’s tender is “commercial in confidence”, noting that “this seems to be an issue between NTG and FATANT”.
In a media release announcing the tender results, Chief Executive of the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, Jim Grant, said Wanted Digital’s “experience and outline of using innovative technology in producing the website was critical to their tender.
“The use of augmented reality and the development of a unique mobile application will be cutting edge and was an example of the technologies presented by Wanted Digital that was very exciting to see.”
Interestingly, in the week before the announcement of the tender, Alice Springs-based media producer David Curl, celebrating his 20 years in the Centre, gave invited guests a preview of an online visitors’ centre he has created with his own resources.
Mayor Damien Ryan and Tourism Central Australia’s Peter Grigg both spoke at the occasion, applauding Mr Curl’s achievements.
Mr Curl said he hopes to go live with the website in a couple of months’ time, which would certainly preempt the launch of the government’s site.
Mr Curl’s site, the Red Centre Channel, contains a massive amount of video content on a wide range of topics – historical and contemporary, social and environmental – and employs or will employ mobile device delivery.
For instance, Mr Curl told guests that they will be able to use their mobile device to record the sound of a birdcall they hear in the bush and use that recording to identify and learn more about the bird from the website.
The News understands Mr Curl did not put in a tender. He declined to comment for this report.
Meanwhile, Captovate’s Michael Hawkes says the major creative direction for the the West MacDonnell Visitors’ Centre website will come from “people in Alice”, while Captovate will do the project management.
Project manager Karen Hawkes says they will use a variety of Alice Springs-based content providers, juniors as well as seniors, building local “capacity”.
She says the vision for the site is the department’s: “They are very clear about what they are trying to do.”
Says the department’s Mr Grant: “The deliverables of this project will highlight the beauty, attraction and rich environmental assets of not only the West MacDonnell National Park, but all parks and reserves in the Territory in an online format.
“The creation of this online, or virtual visitor centre, is a component of a $3m Northern Territory Government election commitment to create a West MacDonnell National Park Visitors’ Centre.”

Liquor litter charge legally invalid, says Hotels Association. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Australia Hotels Association NT branch have asked the Town Council to withdraw the declaration of the Liquor Litter Charge to be imposed on the owners of premises where takeaweay liquor is sold.
The association's Executive Director Amy Williamson says that the charge is "invalidly made under Section 157 of the Local Government Act", basing this on advice received from Senior Legal Counsel.
Lawyer Peer Schroter, acting on behalf of a number of the affected property owners, is liaising with the association.
He says "at this stage [we] have not formally resolved action pending receipt and consideration of Counsel's advice".
Town Council CEO Rex Mooney declined to comment "because of legal implications".
The association's letter and a full report will be presented to aldermen with this month's papers, says Mr Mooney.
Ms Williamson says the association's legal advice "indicates that the declaration of the charge is beyond power of the council".
"Section 157 permits the imposition of a charge on land for work or services carried out for the benefit of that land or occupiers of that land. 
"In this case, the service that the charge has been imposed [for] (being litter collection), is not limited to litter collection [on the land] upon which takeaway liquor outlets are situated but is in fact a service intended to benefit all the land within the Municipality of Alice Springs," says Ms Williamson.
She says she has expressed in her letter to council "considerable disappointment" that they have taken "this approach to liquor litter reduction without full consultation with all stakeholders".
She also suggests that "industry" is "happy to work with council to reduce the amount of litter in Alice Springs" and has undertaken steps in that direction.
Says Ms Williamson: "Industry, through the Packaging Stewardship Forum of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, was working on a number of potential litter-reduction and recycling projects with council prior to the declaration of the charge. 
"These projects were focused on a lot more than bottle and can recovery." 
Council's Director of Technical Services Greg Buxton says the Packaging Stewardship Forum withdrew from negotiations with council when the Northern Territory Government announced in mid-March their commitment "in principle" to introduce a cash for container scheme by 2011.
"It had nothing to do with our liquor litter charge," says Mr Buxton.
He says the forum, which supports recycling efforts only when voluntarily undertaken, had written to the Territory Environment Minister Alison Anderson to express their disagreement with the government's intended scheme.
He says it was only after they had heard back from Ms Anderson, that the forum then wrote to council "using our liquor litter charge as a reason for why they wouldn't pursue a joint venture with council".
Up till then negotiations with Mr Buxton and his staff were quite advanced. Among other possible initatives, the forum had agreed to put $35,000 into a demonstration project using crushed glass as a substitute for sand in non-load bearing concrete.
The idea was to use this project to convince the NT Government to assist council to buy a glass crusher.
The need for this has since been superseded with the government granting council $850,000 for the purchase before the demonstration project was even completed.
Mr Buxton says he would be pleased to enter into negotiations afresh with the forum over plastic recycling, but "the tone of their letter appears to have slammed the door shut", he says.
However Chief Executive of the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), Kate Carnell, says if council were interested in resuming partnership discussions, "we would be more than happy to oblige".
She says council decided "to go down a different path" from the discussions the AFGC's Packaging Stewardship Forum held with them about six months ago "to establish a possible partnership on a number of projects to increase recycling of beverage containers".
Ms Carnell acknowledged council's "every right" to do so.
Mr Buxton remains adamant  that the AFGC Packaging Stewardship Forum "withdrew from the agreement/partnership, without notice or discussion with council".
He says council "has always been willing to proceed, however the PSF decided council's actions in other areas of recycling and environmental concerns didn't suit their ideals".
Meanwhile, council has announced the location of its container deposit centre – at Territory Metals on Smith Street (next to Origin Energy).
Local residents will be able to drop off their glass and aluminium drink containers (up to 500 at a time) at the deposit centre and collect five cents per item.
A driver's licence will establish proof of local residence, but Mr Buxton says an "honesty policy" will apply for those people who do not have a driver's licence, including children.
Council does not want the deposit centre to be "inundated" with containers from outside of Alice Springs, he says.
Nonetheless he expects that council will have discussions with the shires about how they can participate in and contribute to the scheme, which would assist with clean-up in bush communities.

1000 households now with Alice Solar City.

One thousand households or 10% of all homes in Alice Springs are now committed to being more energy efficient though the Alice Solar City Project.
There were celebrations in the Smart Living Centre this week when Melinda Hassall became the 1000th customer to register her home.
“This is a major milestone for our town,” says  Sam Latz, Acting General Manager for Alice Solar City, “especially considering our goal was to reach 1500 by 2013.
“We have been overwhelmed by residents’ interest to implement energy efficient activities in their homes and congratulate all those who have become involved since our launch in March last year.
“Almost $2.5 million has been spent by households on solar and energy efficient measures in the home, which will put a large dent in our town’s greenhouse gas emissions, and we are about to embark on a major monitoring and evaluation project which will tell us just how well we are doing.
“By far the biggest interest has been in solar hot water systems – we have supported the installation of 175 systems in 15 months. 
“Fifty eight homes now have solar photovoltaic systems on their rooftops, which is fantastic considering there were only two in Alice Springs before we started the project.”
Also popular is the 10:10/20:20 incentive, where households get a 10-20% credit on their power bill if they reduce their electricity consumption by 10-20% after their energy survey – 59 people have claimed a total of $4,090 in credits.
Other very popular measures include painting the roof white, replacing high energy use lighting with energy efficient lighting, installing or upgrading insulation and servicing existing solar hot water systems.
Businesses in Alice Springs are getting on board as well, with 60 businesses now participating.
“Businesses are lining up to follow the lead of Zone A, who were the first small business to install a solar PV system on their roof through Alice Solar City”, says Mr Latz.
Melinda Hassall says she was very keen to discover ways that she was able to make her new home more energy efficient.
“I have already made some small changes to reduce my energy and water use, but I‘m keen to learn what more I can do.   
“Alice Springs is the perfect place to harness as much energy from the sun as we can.”
Alice Solar City is part of the Australian Government’s $94 million Solar Cities initiative designed to test integrated approaches to urban energy management.

Enriching Maths makes learning fun. By JUSTIN ZAMMIT.

Challenging, fun and useful! That’s the verdict from students who attended the recent Alice Springs Maths Enrichment Camp at the Ross River Homestead.
Thirty students from Yirara College, OLSH College, Anzac Hill and Alice Springs High Schools, Braitling, Bradshaw and Larapinta Primary Schools attended the three-day camp to compete in a variety of problem solving activities based on three major themes – graphs, robotics, and numbers.
Organised by a number of teachers, schools and academics from across the NT, the camp was designed to bring together a diverse range of students who were divided into different groups with the aim of mixing people from different year levels and schools.
Matt Skoss, President of the Mathematics Teachers’ Association of the NT, was delighted with the success of the camp and wants to see it become an annual event. 
“It’s been really exciting to see the kids engaged with the activities that really stretched their mathematical thinking,” he said.
“The nature of many of the activities required students to be largely self directed.”
Students worked together to solve problems without too much teacher input. The aim was to encourage independent thinking and social interaction between different age groups and Maths levels. 
“You don’t have help from the teachers. It’s good to think differently,” said Megan, a Year 9 student.
Jamie, a Year 6 student found this process interesting. “I’ve learnt a little bit about numbers,” she admitted.
Mark, a Year 7 student found some of the activities challenging but admitted it made him think about what he was actually doing. Other students agreed with this. “Different people brought in ideas and worked together,” said Sarah, a Year 9 student. 
“You can learn heaps of stuff ‘cos you’re with your friends and working in different groups,” said Grace, also in Year 9.
One of the most popular activities dealt with robotics. Thanks to a successful application for funding from the Australian Government Quality Teaching Programme, John Bermingham has been able to bring together teachers who are interested in using robotic technology in the classroom.
At the camp he encouraged students to program robotics to respond to commands and move around the room.  Ethan, a Year 7 student says learning about robots will help him getting involved in engineering.
“I’m a nerd when it comes to computers,” he admitted. “It should help improve my Maths understanding and problem solving.”
Mr Bermingham believes robotics are being increasingly used in schools across Australia. He is pleased to see the impact this is having on students’ education.
“It gives students an opportunity to learn key concepts in Science or Maths,” he said.
Student Hanna found the robotics both enjoyable and stimulating. “They teach you a lot about Maths and how to use it in the real world,” she said.
Justin Zammit teaches at Yirara College.

t’s better than fishing. By KIERAN FINNANE.

For some people it’s going fishing, for Dean Griffiths (pictured) it’s helping others – that’s what he finds most satisfying.
And to amplify his efforts, he’s thrown himself into building up the local branch of the service club, Apex.
They started the year with six members and now have 23, largely the result of Dean’s efforts, says Apex Club of Central Australia secretary and in-coming president, Mister Shaun.
Dean is a past president, current treasurer and vice-president and has roles at a state level.
This week he is representing SA/NT in the National Apexian of the Year Awards being held in Perth, having been awarded State Apexian of the Year out of 200 SA/NT contenders.
He was nominated for the state award by his club for having been a key driving force behind its fundraising and membership successes.
Over the last 12 months, the club has been involved in projects totaling over 2150 service hours.
“A large proportion of these would not have gone ahead without Dean’s commitment,” says Mister, who prepared Dean’s nomination.
The club has also raised some $40,000, with three-quarters of that coming from profits from the Master’s Games Bar – again Dean was instrumental, says Mister.
Among the club’s service activities has been the annual Christmas Icy-Pole Treat – 14,000 icy-poles get distributed to local kids in every street and town camp in Alice Springs by Santas on the back of utes.
“It’s keeping up a 30 year tradition,” says Dean.
Working bees in aid of worthy causes are another tradition.
This year Apex members built a playground for kids on a remote Aboriginal outstation and held a weekend long working bee out at Hamilton Downs Youth Camp. This involved “an almost complete facelift of the ablution blocks, historic buildings and installation of a new weather station”, says Mister.
Dean is an active member on the Hamilton Downs Youth Camp Inc. committee (which is independent from Apex), where he has served for over three years. Specifically he worked to acquire and install a state-of-the-art fire detection system which permitted the camp to meet its regulatory safety requirements.
A member too of the Australia Day Committee in Alice Springs (does this man ever sleep?), he has worked to bring on board a number of large sponsors for the annual Australia Day Ball. 
A new Apex project for which he’s enthusiastic is the establishment of a scholarship for local students, “to help them follow their dreams” but also to build skills in public speaking and presentation.
The scholarship winner would be required to make presentations to the club about their endeavours.
“Hopefully it will act as a feeder to the club, get new members involved and keep it strong and viable,” says Dean. Originally from Mittagong in NSW, Dean has lived in Alice for 11 years. He is Electrical Systems Manager for Alice and Darwin with Chubb Fire Safety.

NAIDOC caterpillar dreaming.

Eastern Arrernte men danced the Yipirinya (caterpillar) dreaming for Mparntwe to wrap up NAIDOC celebrations held at Araluen last week.
The dreaming tells of the journey and battles of the caterpillar ancestors who formed “these hills” (the MacDonnell Ranges around Alice Springs), explained senior man Chris Wallace.
The striking head-dress worn by the men represents the Yipirinya moth emerging from the caterpillar – “I can see it now”, said senior woman Sabella Turner.
The design, including the fringe over the dancers’ eyes, is based on the distinctive  patterns of the moth wings.
The downy feathers on the men’s torsos represent the silken hairs of the caterpillars.
The leaves strapped to their legs is a tradition “used all the time” in dancing – contributing to the rhythmic sounds of the dance, explained Craig Ryder. – K. Finnane

Public art soon for Civic Centre corner. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The nine large bronze coolamons for the Town Council’s public art project, called The Gathering Garden, are nearing completion, with delivery and installation expected early next month.
Eight of the coolamons will be installed in their upturned form and will serve as seating in a garden on the corner of the Civic Centre block, facing Todd Mall.
Paths in the garden converge on a central meeting place, where the ninth coolamon, designed by Central Arrernte / Warlpiri artists Marie Elena Ellis and Roseanne Ellis (daughters of the renowned Michael Jagamarra Nelson), will also serve as a water feature.
In all 10 Aboriginal artists from nine art centres have been involved in the project. 
Council is hoping to launch the project in late August.

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