July 23, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Littering, swearing, camping, begging: Alice fights back. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Town Council rangers will no longer have to witness the act of littering in order to take action against the litterers of public places, and swearing and begging in public places will become an offence.
Camping in public places at any time will also be an offence. Currently it is only prohibited between 9pm and 6am the following day.
The measures are among the proposed new by-laws relating to the management of public places that council will vote to put on public display in its monthly meeting next week.
Under the existing by-laws, not reviewed since 1987, the act of littering – described as “deposit of offensive matter” – is prohibited.
The proposed new by-law (bl43) covers more broadly the fact of littering.
Not only will it prohibit dropping or throwing litter; it will also prohibit leaving it behind.
Likewise, putting litter in such a location that it will fall, descend, blow et cetera in or onto the public place and causing, permitting or allowing it to do so are also prohibited.
An “authorised person” – a council appointee such as a ranger or a police officer – can enforce the by-law if they observe a person moving away from litter in a public place and “reasonably believe” that the person has deposited the litter or does not intend to return and dispose of the litter.
Council clearly intends to tackle with this by-law the often observed situation where groups of people enjoy a picnic lunch on the Civic Centre or other lawn areas and then leave their food wrappings and drink containers behind them.
The by-law may be harder to enforce in more crowded situations, such as concerts and parades, where similar litter invariably gets left behind.
The kinds of unwanted public behaviour that the new by-laws identify are no doubt evidence of a change in concerns and expectations over time.
Begging and swearing in public places are not covered in the existing by-laws and neither of course is public drinking.
Drinking liquor, having an open container of liquor and displaying the effects of intoxication in public places are all prohibited by the new by-laws (48-52).
Lhere Artepe, the native title holder body, made it clear in 2005, with their move to develop cultural protocols, that begging and humbugging were among the behaviours not acceptable to them and could be tackled by by-laws (
The proposed by-law 57 prohibits begging or soliciting money or goods in a public place.
Deputy Mayor John Rawnsley asked during Monday night’s committee meeting whether the situation of people gathering around ATMs and humbugging others for money would be covered by the by-laws.
Council’s director of Corporate and Community Services, Craig Catchlove, said that situation would be covered by the begging by-law together with the proposed new powers to move people on.
Under the proposed by-law 83 an authorised person can move someone on if they are asleep in a public place or if they are engaged or likely to be engaged in conduct involving a breach of the by-laws.
A person can be directed not to return to the vicinity of the place where the offence occurred for up to six hours.However, it is specified that by-law 83 does not apply to a person picketing a place of employment, demonstrating or protesting about or publicising their views on a particular issue.
Nonetheless people engaging in all of these activities must have a permit.
This was questioned during the committee discussion by Aldermen Rawnsley, Jane Clark and Samih Habib.
Ald Rawnsley said the situation could be “problematic” for council to be the permit-issuing authority if the protest was over a matter involving the council.
He also saw the possibility of council being wrong-footed if a protest was for a good cause yet for some reason a permit had not been sought.
He wanted the terms of the by-law to be more specific or else for council not to go “down this path”.
Ald Clark, also concerned about the “freedom to protest”, wanted more “sophistication” in the wording of the by-laws. She expects that there will be “a lot of response” from the public on this issue.
Alds Sandy Taylor and Murray Stewart stressed their support for the democratic right to protest yet could not see a problem with the issuing of permits.
CEO Rex Mooney pointed out that existing by-laws require a permit for protest throughout the entire municipality.
Ald Liz Martin asked whether the by-law covered protest by single individuals “with smelly cars”.
This was clearly a reference to the perennial irritant to council of David Chewings’ placard-bearing vehicles promoting his various views.
Mr Catchlove said anyone displaying a sign in public publicising their views will require a permit.
However if the view expressed is actually in the bodypaint of the vehicle this could be a loophole, said Mr Catchlove.
Graffiti is another target of the proposed by-laws, with both perpetrator and victim caught in the net.
Aldermen on Monday supported a weakening, proposed by Ald Taylor, of the penalty for the “victim” who fails to remove the graffiti from their property. This will attract only two penalty points (one penalty point is a fine of $130) compared to 10 penalty points for perpetrators ($1300).
Ald Clark pointed out that the “victim will always be caught” while the perpetrators are “rarely caught”.
Aldermen also supported strengthening the penalty for people letting off fireworks illegally, again to 10 penalty points.
The toughest sanctions in the proposed by-laws are against dumping goods and materials containing commercial waste (500 penalty points ) and failing to remove such waste (100 penalty points per day).
Littering will attract three penalty points, begging and swearing, one.
Persistent breaches of by-laws would lead to a toughening of penalty: the same offence on at least two occasions within seven days attracts a penalty of three times the amount (dumping by-law 45 excepted).
A persistent breach of the camping by-law (26) will be proven even if a different public place is being used on succeeding days to the original breach.
Persistent parking offences (three within seven days) could result in the impoundment of a person’s vehicle.
Aldermen agreed to Mr Mooney’s suggestion that a public information meeting be held to discuss the proposed new-by-laws once they are put on display.
Ald Stewart urged his fellow elected members “to hold the ship steady” during the public comment period, commending council as “action-orientated and progressive” and the proposed by-laws as an effort to make Alice Springs a “more positive” place to live and do business in.

Centrecorp: Did CLC breach land rights act? By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Within two months of the Alice Springs News suggesting that the Central Land Council (CLC) was, as a majority shareholder in the investment company Centrecorp, in breach of the Land Rights Act, the Centrecorp trust deeds were modified to preclude that possibility.
This would appear to be an admission that for the two decades prior, during which Centrecorp amassed assets worth an estimated $100m, the CLC was indeed in breach of the law under which it operates.
During an extended investigation into the CLC’s relationship with Centrecorp by the Alice News, a key issue to emerge – apart from the question of benefit to the Aboriginal people of Central Australia from the investments –  was whether the CLC is compliant with Section 23 of the Act.
This section says a land council may carry out commercial activities only “in any manner that will not cause the Land Council to incur financial liability or enable it to receive financial benefit”.
The section does not just say land councils must not incur profits or losses. It says they must not be exposed to profit and loss.
So whether or not the CLC received benefits from Centrecorp’s activities in its first 20 years, or risked financial liability, it was outside the Act if it exposed itself to either.
In view of the CLC’s majority shareholding of Centrecorp, and CLC director David Ross’ membership or chairmanship of a string of boards associated with Centrecorp, questions clearly needed to be asked.
The CLC has been stonewalling enquiries from the Alice News about its relationship with Centrecorp for years, but our investigations have led to a string of disclosures.
And now a Senate Committee Inquiry into the relationship between the CLC and Centrecorp is underway and due to conduct hearings in Alice Springs.
Of late the Alice News has been seeking comment on CLC issues from Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, who has ultimate responsibility for the land council as a Commonwealth statutory authority.
A highly credible source has now been provided (not by the CLC) to give us advice and information, on the condition that we do not disclose the circumstances of this arrangement, nor the identity of the source.
The source told us earlier this year that stipulations included in Centrecorp’s trust deeds – it is a charitable organisation – were a guarantee that the CLC complied with Section 23.
At about the same time we obtained a copy of the deeds from NT Senator Nigel Scullion, provided to the Senate by the CLC following a request in Estimates Hearings.
Senator Scullion and Shadow Justice Minister George Brandis had been examining the CLC  about mining royalties and Centrecorp dealings (see reports in our online edition at
However, the Centrecorp deeds appeared to contain no clear restrictions on financial opportunities available to its shareholders.
We reported this on May 21 this year (<>), quoting a clause in the trust deeds.
Last week, on July 16, our source told us: “Our lawyers have pointed out that the version of [the clause] you have quoted is no longer in force.
“It was removed [in fact it is still in the text of the deeds] and replaced by a ‘Deed of Variation of Trust’ dated 31 May 2006.
“The clause 7 currently in force and ‘Additional Provisions’ added by the Variation Deed expressly preclude the CLC from benefitting in any way howsoever from the trust fund.”
The CLC, who have had every opportunity over the years of responding to our requests for comment and information but have never availed themselves of the opportunity, gleefully reported our error in their submission to the Senate Committee Inquiry.
The CLC did not of course inform the Senate that the modification to the deeds came 48 days after the Alice Springs News published a report pointing to the problem, headed “Money trails lead to 75 Hartley Street”, that address being the Centrecorp office (<>).
Meanwhile, the Alice Springs News has made a complaint to the Senate about permitting the CLC to publish on the Senate website statements containing falsehoods about the News, and attacking its integrity.
Submissions to the Senate are protected by Parliamentary privilege – no defamation action can be launched.
We told the Senate we should not have been denied a simultaneous right of reply, that the News is preparing a response, and that the CLC statement should be removed until we have had a reasonable opportunity of responding.
The News notes that the CLC statement asserts no mining royalties have been included in the seed funding for Centrecorp, as the News has reported several times as speculation, not fact.
The CLC statement says: “The CLC receives and distributes royalties from resource exploitation on Aboriginal land. None of those funds have even been distributed to Centrecorp.”
Despite repeated requests, no on-the-record statement to that effect has previously been given to the News.
We are now passing this information on to our readers.
Mr Ross, according to a recent report released by Federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, in one year received $63,528 in director’s fees on top of his salary from the CLC (
Centrecorp’s assets at present include half shares in Peter Kittle Motor Company, now operating also in South Australia, the local L J Hooker franchise, the Milner Road Food Town supermarket (with Tangentyere Council holding the remainder), Mitre 10, a 33% share in the Kings Canyon resort, and valuable commercial real estate including a 60% share in the Yeperenye Centre (Lhere Artepe has 40%).

Police reopens school sex case after victim’s parents speak out. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

A former student of the Alice Springs Highschool will be placed on Youth Diversion for aggravated assault after grabbing a girl around her stomach and trying to touch her breasts at the school in 2006.
This action follows disclosure of the events in the Alice Springs News, after receiving information from the girl’s parents earlier this month.
But police say there had been no claim two years ago of sexual assault, and none had taken place.
The boy was arrested and interviewed last week.
A police spokeswoman says the victim had told police in a statement at the time that the offender was harassing her by grabbing her around the waist and trying to touch her breasts at school.
“The complaint was given to a School Based Constable (SBC) to deal with and when told this, both mother and complainant were happy for this to occur,” says the spokeswoman.
On August 25, 2006, the victim’s mother had told police she’d seen the offender in town and wanted to take out a restraining order.
On August 31 the SCB contacted the victim and her mother and discussed the various options, such as restraining orders, and the SBC tried in vain to locate the offender.
On October 25 the SBC contacted the Home Liaison Officer at the school and she said she’d spoken to the offender’s family, and had been told he’d left the Territory and wasn’t coming back.
“The victim’s family were informed of this by the SBC,” says the spokeswoman. At this point it would have taken a warrant of arrest to involve police interstate.
“If information came to hand of the offender’s location interstate, we would seek the assistance of that jurisdiction so that the person could be interviewed,” says the spokeswoman.
On March 15, 2007 the SBC “was tasked” to add an alert on PROMIS (the police data management system) that the boy was wanted for questioning.
The spokeswoman says this is usually done in cases where no progress has been made, after “anything humanly possible” has been done, and before a case ceases to be actively pursued. However, the alert is maintained.
The resumption of the active enquiries was triggered when the parent’s distressed account was published in the Alice Springs News on July 2, under the headline “School sex offender got away with it, say victim’s parents”.
Police were “tasked” to be on the lookout for the alleged offender.
The boy was located, arrested and interviewed on July 11.

Sitzler Bros get $14.2m pool job.

Sitzler Bros have won the tender to build a “state of the art” Aquatic and Leisure Centre, the Town Council’s largest capital project of $14.2 million.
The project is jointly funded by Federal and Northern Territory Governments and the Town Council.
Mayor Damien Ryan and Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton announced the winning tender at a poolside occasion on Tuesday.
The decision to award Sitzler Bros the tender was seen as also bringing great economic benefits to Alice Springs. 
Said company principal Michael Sitzler:  “With Sitzler being a local business, employing local people and using local suppliers for the majority of works, this announcement is great news for the local economy.”
The contractors will be on site from August and hope to complete the project in 12 months’ time. 
The facility will be open to the public from next October, and in time for the 2010 Masters Games.
Pictured are: Sitzler Bros’ Trevor Jacobs (second from right) with, from left, Alds Liz Martin, Murray Stewart and Samih Habib, Mayor Damien Ryan, Ald Sandy Taylor, Minister for Sport and Recreation Karl Hampton, and Ald Brendan Heenan.

Plan for reinstatement of K-Mart wall lacks detail. By KIERAN FINNANE.

An application to reinstate the “sandstone feature wall” on the Kmart building in Railway Terrace has gone on display at the Department of Lands and Planning in Alice Springs.
There was uproar when the wall – a mural in local sandstone –  was demolished after damage during a storm in September last year. 
The display period for public comment ends on July 31.
The documents detail the reinstatement of the wall in all its technical aspects, which will overcome the structural deficiencies seen to have contributed to the wall’s failure.
They also provide an assessment of the original sandstone, salvaged during demolition, and say that for 20% of the reinstatement new sandstone will be required.
There are no details about how the original layout for the sandstone mural, depicting the profile of Heavitree Gap and the Mt Gillen range, will be achieved.
The list of works that makes up part of the application says “Refer others for details of stone colour and layout”.
There is no other reference within the documents to layout.
However the terms “full reinstatement of the wall” and the “original mural wall” are used in the documents.
The contact for the applicant, Centro Properties Group, is Mario Boscaini, state manager for the company. Unfortunately Mr Boscaini is on leave till August 10.
Mr Boscaini was reluctant last year to commit to full reinstatement, and commented that the original development permit did not specify maintenance of the mural, but only of the “sandstone wall”.
He expected “some movement” from authorities on what the reinstated wall would look like and what it would be made of (see
The Alice News asked if someone else from Centro could answer our questions. We had not heard back at the time of going to press.

Cash for container takes off with bang.

In the first five days of operation of the Town Council’s cash for containers scheme residents took 209,000 glass and aluminium drink containers to the deposit centre – at Territory Metals in Smith Street.
With the deposit of each container worth five cents, residents were able to put into their collective pocket $10,450.
Alderman Samih Habib expressed concern at Monday’s committee meeting that at this rate council will quickly run out of money for the scheme.
Council’s Director of Technical Services Greg Buxton  says the initial uptake has surpassed expectation but he is expecting deposits to slow down once the public areas of the town are cleaned up.
Ald Liz Martin reported that areas around Norris Bell Avenue (leading to the road Transport Hall of Fame and the Old Ghan), formerly littered with thousands of drink containers, are now clean.
Rangers will be reporting next week to council about drink container litter in other public areas.

The professor & the boomerang. By KIERAN FINNANE.

When Professor Steve Larkin first went to university he was asked questions like could he throw a boomerang, did he drink a lot, how come he was so fair skinned, why didn’t he speak an Aboriginal language.
This was at the University of Queensland back in the early ‘80s.
Prof Larkin (pictured) had grown up in Darwin, the son of a Kungarakany woman, from country around the township of Batchelor and Litchfield Park, and a non-Indigenous man.
The family were evacuated to Brisbane in the wake of Cyclone Tracy. It was there that Prof Larkin experienced life in a high school that had an explicit academic focus, prompting him for the first time to think about higher education.
After completing his matriculation, two years in a clerking position back in Darwin made up his mind. He wanted more of a challenge than routine clerical work could offer.
He accepted a deferred offer to study towards a Bachelor of Social Work degree at the University of Queensland.
Almost 30 years later Prof Larkin is now Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership at Charles Darwin University, making him, at the time of his appointment, the highest ranking Indigenous person in an Australian university.
Looking back on his undergraduate days he says the reaction of his fellow students to his Indigeneity was “a bit confusing”.
“My racial background was never called into question until I went to uni.
“There was a feeling of being separate from my family because of my skin colour.
“I’d never had this in Darwin, everyone knew which family I belonged to.”
Still, he got on with his studies and graduated in 1984, returning again to Darwin to take up a job in the then Department of Community Development, doing child protection and community welfare work.
As he progressed in his social work career, he decided to pursue further qualifications, and began a Masters in Social Science, through distance education at Charles Sturt University, graduating in the late ‘90s.
Before his appointment to CDU, Prof Larkin was Principal for five years at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in the ACT.
His new position at CDU, which he has held since January, is focussed in part on getting more Indigenous students enrolling in higher education.
Does that involve tackling low levels of achievement at primary and secondary school first?
“Universities are an integral part of the education continuum,” says Prof Larkin.
“It’s in all our intersts to invest in children gaining literacy and numeracy skills.
“We want them to progress through primary and secondary school to Year 12 and on to higher education.”
The challenges are still great.
“It’s a big jump to become educated in another culture.
“How do we provide an effective bridge that will enable children to master the language, conceptual thinking and world view of another culture?
“How do people from rural and remote areas get to that level? How do we find out what works, what doesn’t?”
The Alice News puts to him the common view that the grandparents of today’s Indigenous children, educated in the mission era, are generally more literate and numerate than their grandkids.
“It’s true that the mission education system had its successes, but it created other problems too,” says Prof Larkin.
“When the influence of the churches diminished in the settlements, those settlements over time became dysfunctional. There are still tensions today, in places like Wadeye and Maningrida between all the different groups compelled to cohabit in one space.
“The missionaries had a captive audience and succeeded, but but there were unintended consequences after they left, that have to do with the problems associated with transitioning from dependence to independence with little or no resources or support.
“I think the majority of rural and remote people see the value of a western education, but they are trying to find a way where they and their children don’t have to pay enormous cultural costs to acquire it.”
There are strong Indigenous enrolments in vocational (VET) courses at CDU – 40% of VET students are Indigenous, but they tend not to progress through to the higher VET levels (Certificates III and IV) or on to higher education.
Prof Larkin wants to compare Indigenous and non-Indigenous VET enrolments.
“If a greater proportion of non-Indigenous students are going further, we’ll need to investigate how we can best encourage Indigenous students to do the same.”
Some Indigenous university enrolments are coming from mature age students, people who’ve been successfully employed but are wanting to formalise their knowledge.
There are also increased Indigenous enrolments from outside the NT, which Prof Larkin puts down to the growing recognition of CDU as a centre for Indigenous learning.
“It’s a small uni but a good niche uni, well-positioned in terms of an Indigenous focus.
“Our on-line delivery is attractive, and we’re trying to make it more so, improving the quality of our materials and support.”
Another focus of Prof Larkin’s job is the recruitment of more Indigenous teaching and research staff, not only in associate and support roles but also as lead investigators.
“It is mostly non-Indigenous researchers who are generating new knowledge, and who predominantly are interpreting it, analysing it, taking it to government.
“Research starts with a question that needs to be answered. We want more Indigenous researchers to pose the questions and develop the methodologies to answer these questions with an Indigenous perspective.”
What is an Indigenous perspective?
“Indigenous people see and experience the world in different ways to non-Indigenous Australia,” says  Prof Larkin.
“ The creation and validation of knowledge also differs between the two cultures.
“Whilst Indigenous research methodologies do not outrightly reject traditional western research paradigms, they do challenge its theory and practices as the necessarily best way to obtain and form new knowledges.
“Indigenous research methodologies require research to be of positive benefit to the community, that the community must be fully engaged in  all the parts of the research process, that Indigenous researchers lead the research and become part of it themselves.
“The western academic notion of the objective, detached neutral observer becomes unsustainable in this context.”
As a consequence, Prof Larkin believes Indigenous researchers “are more likely to take a critical perspective, asking just how effective is a particular program or service because they are driven by the need for their research to contribute towards a positive transformation to the community’s quality of life.”
Professor Larkin’s appointment underlines the importance of Indigenous studies to CDU – it was the first such position in Australia at the time.
Notre Dame University in Western Australia have since appointed an Indigenous woman at the Deputy Vice-Chancellor level at their Broome campus.
“There is a feeling across the campus that we are entering an exciting new era.
“I’m impressed by the capability and commitment of the staff.
“They are prepared to be entrepreneurial, to take some risks, to think innovatively.
“And, at the same time, it’s a small, personal, warm, welcoming, supportive environment.
“The university is a leader  in post-graduate research focussed on the landscapes that make up the Territory such as deserts, tropical savannas and coastal systems.
“We’re close to Southeast Asia, we have a 30-40% Indigenous population, two-thirds of whom live in rural and remote areas, where English is not a first language.
“All these things are seen as both challenges and opportunities at CDU.”
The university MOU with the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education has already borne fruit.
A successful joint submission to the Australian Government’s Education Investment Fund will see the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Education built on CDU’s Casuarina campus.
The facility will include accommodation for students coming in for block study as well as two MALUs (Mobile Adult Learning Units – truck-mounted, fully-equipped classrooms).
Separate submissions in a first round were not successful, says Prof Larkin, but when the two institutions joined forces in the second round they got what they wanted.
“It’s a fundamental  partnership for us.
“The Batchelor model is important – as an Indigenous institution with its own way of working, teaching, doing research.
“It must be maintained, but we’re best positioned by working together.
“It can only enhance our capabilities and vice versa if we coordinate better so that we don’t duplicate and compete.
“The most important people in all this are the current and prospective Indigenous students, whom we want to see get unfettered access to the highest quality teaching and learning.
“There’s no point in us competing where we don’t have to.”
The university is committed to greater community engagement, seeking to avoid education and training for their own sake.
“It means we have to do more to engage with industry, the private sector, the public sector.
“We need to work in partnership with them to stimulate employment opportunities, to align their workforce aspirations and requirements with what we provide.
“A key part of this will involve working more closely with the new shires.”
Meanwhile Veronica Ecenarro graduated this year from Charles Darwin University with a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) – now known as a Bachelor of Teaching and Learning. Employed at Yipirinya School, Ms Ecenarro co-ordinates the Alice Springs arm of an international program that helps struggling parents to tutor their children at home.
Ms Ecenarro originally came from One Arm Point, 200 kms north of Broome in  WA, and moved to Alice Springs after “falling in love with the place” when she visited her sister in 1996. Armed with vocational education qualifications, she  took up an assistant position at Yipirinya School in 2003. It was there she decided to further her studies at CDU. Source: CDU media release.

Quest for truth in northern travels. REVIEW by KIERAN FINNANE.

There’s an unwritten book that haunts the pages of Nicolas Rothwell’s The Red Highway: it would give account of his experiences as a correspondent for The Australian in the Middle East.
Rothwell was there for a year, returning to Darwin, where he has lived now for several years, during the 2005 build-up.
He hints at the weight of his memories: days spent alone, traveling remote northern roads “in an attempt to leach away the more disquieting memories of my Middle Eastern sojourn”.
He reports being urged by his friend, Alice Springs photographer and environmental campaigner Mike Gillam, to tell the real story – “after where you’ve been, and all the things you’ve seen” – but Rothwell counters: “Some things are best untold. Or the way to tell them best is not to tell them.”
So perhaps that book is not unwritten, but wrestled with at a tangent, via this meandering journey across northern and central Australia, evoked in Rothwell’s idiosyncratically lyrical style and with a sensibility finely attuned to the enormity of human suffering and loss across the ages, the magnificent dreams of men and women and to the character of the landscapes and human communities in which he finds himself.
Threaded through the book also is his attempt to settle within himself anguish over a heightened sense of his own mortality as well as the push and pull of exile.
The desire to be ‘at home’ – in the sense of deeply connected – is overlain always with the deep knowledge that that can never be.
The Latin dedication of the book to “AA” is one part of a famous declaration of love (from The Cynthia of Propertius): “omnia tu nostrae tempora laetitiae”, meaning “you are my every moment of happiness”. Preceding this in the full quote are phrases translated as: “You alone are my home, you alone my parents…” Nothing of this experience of sheltering love is rendered in the book but the words of the dedication extend an arch of solace across a narrative that is inhabited by longing and dread.
Almost all of the people, living and dead, whom Rothwell encounters on his mythical Red Highway, are in exile like himself. This is a foundation state for all settler Australians, experienced more consciously and acutely by some than by others, and more particularly by people in remote Australia where strong Indigenous presence is a constant reminder of what recent arrivals we are and how contested that arrival remains.
One, the Czech artist and collector Karel Kupka, is a man in Rothwell’s image. When Rothwell imagines him “poised beside some red-dirt airstrip, waiting: tall, and thin, and somewhat out of place”, he could be writing of himself. They share Czech origins, deep European culture as well as their quest for transcendental truths about the world and human existence, which they intuit can be discovered in ‘the North’.
For Kupka it was in particular in the Aboriginal world of the North and its direct link to the ‘dawn’ of art.
For Rothwell the North is a realm not specific to geography or a society or a time. It is the nucleus of a vast body of coincidences, insights, visions, stories, knowledges that link and make meaningful his wide-ranging excursions across time and Earth.
“How little a life’s course comes down to”, he writes when he finds in an archive the letter from Kupka that bids farewell to “northern travels and the pursuit of art”. Kupka will remake himself as ‘a man of rigour and science” and “would be cured at last of his collecting passion, and his desire to find a home”.
Rothwell weeps over this letter, knowing the dark experience – the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia – that had prompted it. The book he goes on to write is a daring reclamation of his precursor’s original impulse.
I say daring because, for someone who commands national respect as a journalist, it is one thing to write about someone else having visions; another to give account of your own; one thing to evoke the intense emotions of someone else; another to infuse your researches and reflections with your own grief, yearnings and fears.
I found myself resisting the emotional intensity and the kind of magical realism at first. My notes for this review were initially full of questions. Can this person really be speaking like this?  Can this encounter actually have happened like this? Isn’t Rothwell projecting a lot here?
But little by little I was won over. If the book feels haunted, it is also haunting.
Its intensely personal way of thinking and feeling and speaking about experience, its quest for knowledge and understanding outside the bounds of rational inquiry, interwoven with the observations, researches and perceptions of a journalist at the height of his powers, provides compelling reading for all who feel disappointed in the plainness of settler Australian accounts of this country, for all who feel a lack of cultural permission, who fear to be derided if they speak of the unprovable, the spiritual, the visionary, the intuitive.
Recently an artist, a painter of landscapes, shyly admitted to me that she felt as if the land was answering her, taking part in a kind of conversation with her when she paints.
She said she felt embarrassed, especially as a non-Indigenous person, to write that in her artist’s statement. Thinking of The Red Highway, I urged her to write it as she feels it. We do ourselves and our culture a disservice if we don’t.
All this said, there is also much in The Red Highway for those who are hungry for concrete information. It gives fascinating accounts of places you may hope to one day also experience, from the Catholic cathedral in Darwin – Rothwell quotes Andrew McMillan’s description of it as “a temple of art and beauty” – to the Church of St Anne and the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem; from the landscapes of the remote north-west whose “scale and silence” empty all Rothwell’s thoughts to the drama of a summer storm in the desert.
For Central Australian readers of particular interest is the account Rothwell gives of a conversation with ecologist Peter Latz, whom he describes as “the Linnaeus of Central Australia”.
The pair camp in dune and outcrop country to the south-west of Alice Springs. Latz challenges Rothwell’s perception of the country as beautiful.
“And it is,” says Latz, “a beautiful landscape – beautiful, and destroyed. There’s almost nothing left; it’s a skeleton; it’s been picked bare.”
He describes a journey he had made into a belt of country at the western extremity of Lake Amadeus, devastated by rabbits who had survived the onslaught of calicivirus, leaving no marsupials, large or small, no emus.
“The country wore a forbidding aspect: it had been scoured, almost in its entirety, by savage wildfire, which had penetrated beneath the surface and carbonised the upper layers of soil.
“Where once there had been groves of coolibah and bloodwood along creek channels, bare plains now reached away.
“Beside the wells and waterholes there was not a single surviving quandong tree to be seen.”
And so the litany of destruction continues.
But Latz denies that this is “a bleak summation”.
“Biology is change: the dance goes on. There’s no one correct authorized way.”
Later Latz asks Rothwell what the bush tells him?
“How beautiful life is,” replies Rothwell, “how precious, and how quickly withdrawn. We come into consciousness from nothing, for the briefest of spells, for no reason – and then darkness once again.”
Although there are still some 80 pages and a return to coastal country to go, this captures in mood the end point of Rothwell’s journey along The Red Highway.
At the close of the book, we leave him at a cliff’s edge with the low shape of a dark vessel – surely the shape of death – drifting towards him on the tide. But it is no longer a sight full of foreboding, as it was at the start of the book. Rothwell is reconciled: “what we love is constantly being taken from us, and returned in memory, and so our longings gain their final shape”.

Let termites do your gardening.

ALEX NELSON finds that termites make a useful contribution to gardening in the Centre. The observation first occurred to him when he was monitoring new plantings, established with the McEllister Method, at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in April 2007.
For previous installments of this series, see issues of May 14 and 28, June 4 and June 25.

A month later, and the response of the new plants was very encouraging – the majority were growing vigorously and there were no losses.
It was about this time that one of the jarrah pegs toppled over – termites had completely eaten away the portion below soil level. Several other pegs displayed evidence of strong termite activity.
Yet the new plants showed no sign of being attacked or of ill health.
I was well aware that jarrah timber, despite being extremely hard, is highly favoured by termites in Central Australia but the rapidity with which some of these pegs were being devoured suggested that termite numbers in the area of the new plantings was abnormally high.
And that is when the penny dropped. I realized that my practice of incorporating dry leaf litter, sticks, dead grass clumps, and (in this case) weathered mulch, for the purpose of building up humus in the soil was actually providing a bonanza food source for the resident termite populations.
It seemed that little of this material was decaying in the soil; rather it was being consumed by termites but they were apparently not interested in the roots or living stems of the new plants in the vicinity.
Instead, the plants usually grew rapidly without showing any ill effect. I decided to test this observation further.
In the 2008 plantings of a range of species I added shredded newspaper to the back-fill soil.
The initial response was excellent. Again, there was no indication of soil nitrogen depletion and nearly every plant grew with marked vigour. While I left the OPBG later that year, in visits to the garden since it has been gratifying to note that the majority of new plants have continued to grow well. There have been a few losses but none appear attributable to termite attack.
The McEllister Method appears to provide a way to integrate gardening and horticultural practice with the environment by capitalising on the requirements and behaviour of termites – the very creatures that are at the core of a functioning ecology. This is explained as follows:
After using the McEllister Method to prepare new plant positions, the backfilled soil in each position is soft and unconsolidated but has no soil structure at all; rather, it is an amorphous mix of damp soil, fertiliser, manure and/or compost, perhaps some gypsum, and non-decayed organic matter (leaf litter, sticks, dry grass or hay, wood chip mulch, and/or shredded newspaper).
Termites are attracted to disturbed soil, especially if it is damp. Often they will respond in a matter of hours, certainly within a day or two. They encounter a most unusual situation – copious quantities of edible carbon-rich non-decayed plant matter buried well below the soil surface.
Termites normally have to forage for food at or above the soil surface, where they are vulnerable to predation; but within the backfilled holes they are presented with a smorgasbord of food that can be consumed in complete safety.
The termites respond with alacrity to this abundant food source, and the industrious insects are soon tunnelling their way through the soil creating a network of holes and pathways as they consume and remove the dead plant matter.
This is their preferred food source when there is sufficient moisture in the soil to prevent dehydration – in these circumstances they ignore plant roots and other living plant matter in the vicinity. The termites’ tunnelling activity has the effect of rapidly creating soil structure right beneath the roots of each new plant.
The termites also ignore fertilisers and much of the manure buried in the soil as they consume the non-decayed plant matter. This results in a surplus of nutrients available for the new plants to utilize, importantly including soil-borne nitrogen.
Because so much of the non-decayed plant matter in the soil is removed by the termites, there is relatively little of it to be decayed by fungi and bacteria; in turn this ensures there is no major temporary depletion of nitrogen. Consequently the new plants tend not to display any symptoms of nitrogen deficiency.
The combination of termite-constructed soil structure with ample supplies of nutrients enables the new plants to respond immediately with vigorous new growth. The roots are able to penetrate quickly deep into the soil, which is important for enhancing the long-term drought hardiness of the plants. If the plants are well cared for and maintained after establishment, they tend to respond with rapid growth, reach maturity faster, and have enhanced long-term survivability.
This broadly outlines what I believe occurs when using the McEllister Method to establish new plants. It is based on limited observations over a long period of time but it does suggest an alternative means of achieving success in gardening under Central Australian conditions that has not been given any previous consideration. It is a home-grown methodology that has evolved in response to the local environment and is complementary to it.
The McEllister Method (and the reasoning behind it) requires much more experimentation and assessment of its potential. Yet the concept and implementation of this method is not complex – it is an idea that any competent person can test and adapt for their own circumstances in similar conditions to Central Australia.

LETTERS: Climbing Rock is "a privilege, not a right".

Sir,- A particularly vexatious headline, blazed across the front page of last week’s Alice News, (16 July 2009) – Right to climb Uluru may go. 
The right to climb Uluru? 
Is that like the right to watch the full moon rise over the MacDonnell Ranges? 
I think it’s more like an honour and a privilege and, one, in the case of climbing the Rock that has gone against the wishes of the traditional owners for a very long time.
It can be difficult for those of us who don’t have sacred sites of our own to understand what it must be like. 
Hard to understand but it shouldn’t be so hard to respect? 
About that big sacred sites issue of 1992, the damming of the Todd River, the learned Hal Wooten QC wrote: “It is difficult for those of us who have grown up in Western European culture to appreciate the nature of the attachment to and concerns about such areas on the part of Aboriginals …  the issue is not whether we can understand and share the Aboriginal beliefs, but whether, knowing they are genuinely held, we can therefore respect them.”
The traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park ask visitors not to climb Uluru because of its spiritual significance.
They also feel greatly disturbed when visitors die or are hurt on their land, as happens with monotonous regularity. 
They prefer that people don’t climb.  Why isn’t that enough?
Only thirty something percent of visitors to the Rock disregard the wishes of the traditional owners and scramble on up, do their business at the top and come back down. 
Some fall down. 
Some die. 
Keeping the climb open for that thirty something percent seems to me like catering for the lowest common denominator. 
That renders our overall product cheap and tacky.  Do we have to give the tourists what they want no matter how stupid and insensitive it is / they are? 
Closing that climb at Uluru is long overdue. 
The tourism industry has shown itself to be entirely capable of marketing and promoting to suit the times and the circumstances. 
This exciting new step forward can be used as an opportunity to demonstrate an evolution of the tourist industry and of ourselves as a society. 
(Are you really sorry Mr Rudd?) 
It can also offer an opportunity to develop new products and experiences for visitors, of which there are already plenty, that are in keeping with the immense natural and cultural values of the region. 
Linda Wells
Alice Springs

Dump the
nuclear dump

Sir,– Aboriginal women from communities targeted for radioactive waste transport and storage are calling for the government to repeal federal laws facilitating the NT dump and remove the nuclear waste management portfolio from Minister Martin Ferguson.
Yesterday, July 15, marked four years since the former Howard government announced the federal dump plan for the Northern Territory, a policy the Rudd government is continuing.
Public opposition stopped the radioactive waste dump in South Australia and Kokatha women who fought the SA dump have resolved to help their family who are now being targeted. We will support any community that is targeted for a radioactive dump.
The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act (CRWMA) clearly contravenes articles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which state “no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous peoples without free, prior and informed consent”.   
It is hypocritical of the ALP Government to support the UN-DRIP and continue with Howard’s waste dump plan. The Northern Land Council, which nominated the Muckaty site for the dump, should stop disempowering Traditional Owners of Muckaty Land Trust who oppose the dump.
We are bitterly disappointed with Martin Ferguson’s recent comments that he will pick a site for the federal waste dump before he consults with the targeted community.
This is a shameful attempt to silence the majority of Territorians that oppose the nuclear waste dump. Minister Ferguson has not visited any of the affected NT sites in the time he has held office.
It is the government’s political obligation, and international best practice, to undertake proper consultation with affected communities.
Four years is an unacceptable amount of time to have this waste dump issue unresolved. The ALP promised to repeal the CRWMA, the NT dump legislation. 
Mitch, Engawala (near the Alcoota dump site)
 Donna Jackson, Larrakia Nation
 Rebecca Bear Wingfield, Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta Aboriginal Women’s Council

Youth Allowance

Sir,– I write regarding the Federal Government’s proposed changes to Youth Allowance criteria for those students pursuing tertiary education studies.
For those students who don’t live within a bus / train ride to their TAFE Colleges or Universities, there is no choice but to leave home and take up accommodation in another town / city. 
Up until and including this year such students could qualify for the Youth Allowance under the Independent Status criteria if they were 25 years old; or if they worked 18 months part-time; or if they worked for 15 months full-time after graduating from Year 12; or if their parents’ combined income was under $80,000.
The Federal Government has now changed the goal posts, mid-stream. 
There are thousands of gap year kids working this year who believed they would next year and for subsequent years at uni be entitled to the full Centrelink Youth Allowance of $375 per fortnight if they earned over $19,500 this year.
Now, for some, the only way they can qualify is under the parental income test criteria. 
This combined parental income cut-off has been raised to $137,000.
On the surface this may appease the concerns of many, but the question we need to start asking the Hon. Julia Gillard, is what is the sliding scale for qualifications for payment.
For example, if parental income is $80,000, will the student be entitled to full youth allowance payments or only partial youth allowance?  
Ms Gillard’s speech in Parliament on Thursday, June 18, carefully did not go into the details of the new criteria.
It is believed that there will be a senate inquiry into this legislation, but do any of us know the history of the efficacy of senate inquiries? Do they usually overturn legislation?
Also, the present Commonwealth Accommodation Scholarship is being replaced by the Relocation Allowance.
Under the scholarship, students were paid $4000+ per year whilst undertaking tertiary studies; but under the relocation allowance, they will receive $4000 for the first year and $1,000 each subsequent year.
We need to know which is the fairer system.   
Anne Vetter
Gympie, QLD

Indigenous language suppression and revival

Sir,– On Friday, June 26 on Radio National there was an item on the News about whether there is any evidence to support the restrictions the Northern Territory Government is imposing on bilingual education. A little later there was an item on dying Indigenous languages, featuring the teaching of a no-longer-spoken language of the Sydney area.
There is a lot of effort and money now being put into ‘reviving’ Australian Indigenous languages (to our knowledge especially in New South Wales and South Australia).
‘Reviving’ a language, in the Australian context, means trying to teach the basics of it to descendants of the speakers; there is no chance that it could return to its original status as the main medium for communication in a community.
At the same time, bilingual schools in the Northern Territory are being forced to switch from the local language to English for a large part of their teaching time.
It seems that the philosophy is that if a local language is still living – still being learnt by the children as their first language – it is to be suppressed until it eventually is no longer spoken, or perhaps has only a few old speakers left. At this stage a program is started, lavishly funded (at least in comparison to the funding put into supporting the living language), to ‘revive’ it.
Can it be that there’s a lack of logic here somewhere?
Gavan and Rosalie Breen
Alice Springs

Smell the flowers

Sir,– Members of the Central Australian tourism industry and the general public can now cast their votes for their favourite tourism operator or product, with nominations open for the 2009 Central Australian Tourism Industry Awards.
Now in its third year, the awards recognise and reward excellence in the tourism industry, as well as provide an opportunity for local tourism operators to let their hair down at the end of a demanding tourist season.
In the current economic climate our tourism industry is having to work extra hard to keep business at a sustainable level and the Awards night gives them time to smell the flowers and pat each other on the back.
We expect the event to sell out again this year. Last year over 360 guests attended including representatives from our region’s gateways – Tennant Creek and Coober Pedy.
Categories for nomination include Young Achiever, Industry Achiever, Primary Tourism Operator, Community Festivals and Events, New Tourism Innovation and the Barry Bucholtz Award for Excellence.
Funds will be raised for the local charity arm of Make-A-Wish Foundation, when prizes are drawn out of raffles and door prizes announced throughout the event.
Tourism Central Australia will be auctioning a large range of local artwork, jewellery and tourism experiences, so we encourage all Awards night guests to bring plenty of extra cash for raffles and donations.
Local entertainers, including singer song writers and music show will entertain the crowd, and a surprise celebrity will host the night. Nominations close on 31 August 2009.
Renton Kelly
Chairman, Tourism Central Australia

Scholarship for keen young reader

Sir,– The Rotary Club of Alice Springs Mbantua is providing a one year scholarship for the literacy component of the Kumon program.
Kumon is an internationally established and recognised maths and literacy program with an Alice Springs office located on Eastside (near the Mobil petrol station).
We are asking residents of Alice Springs to use their networks and help us out.
We are looking for an Aboriginal child (four years or older) with strong family support and from a background where opportunities to engage in the Kumon program would not otherwise exist (for example because of the financial position of the family or language barriers).
This scholarship and the work of families has the potential to make a profound difference to the literacy outcome of a successful applicant. If the scholarship works over the course of the year then we will do what we can to tap into other Rotary clubs to provide similar support.
John Rawnsley
Rotary Club of Alice Springs Mbantua

Drovers unite

Sir,– My name is Ken Hall, my age is 69. As a young lad of 17 I worked on droving trips in the top part of Queensland.
For the last 19 years drovers from all over this great land of ours have met at the Hall of Fame at Longreach on Labour Day (May Day weekend) for three days.
In 2010 we are celebrating our 20 years of getting together. Over the years we have found many drovers don’t know about this weekend. As it is a dying job we would like to get many of these old drovers and wives and others to our next reunion.
They should contact Hank Cosgrove, Roving Ambassador for the Australia Stockman’s Hall of Fame. Phone: 07 33974667. Address: Meteor Street, Coorparoo, 4151.
Ken Hall
Hervey Bay

More public servants

Sir,- The government has failed to issue the March quarterly report detailing the number of public servants in the Territory.
Despite the Government’s promise to bring the growth of the public service under control, numbers continue to rise substantially.
This is not an attack on public servants – they do an important job.
But continual blow outs in employee expenses budgets mean that increasing amounts of money have to go to public service wages rather than the service delivery to Territorians.
It represents poor planning by the Labor Cabinet because it shows they stick to their budgets when it comes to managing this expense.
A couple of years ago Labor blew its employee expenses budget by $120 million, which means less money was available for crucial services like schools and hospitals.
They think by hiding the numbers the problem will go away.
John Elferink
NT Shadow Minister for Public Employment


Sir,- Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education invites nominations into the 2009 Batchelor Institute’s Indigenous Education Hall of Fame wich recognises and celebrates the outstanding contributions individuals had made to Indigenous education.
We are looking for inspirational leaders committed to improving education outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
Inductees into the Hall of Fame demonstrate the highest levels of excellence as scholars, artists, educators or through demonstrated service to others while also having a high standard of personal integrity and concern for public good.
“We invite all members of the community to consider nominating people who meet these criteria.”
The inaugural inductee into the Batchelor Institute Indigenous Education Hall of Fame was Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM in 2007.
Nominations close August 7 with Batchelor Institute, Batchelor Post Office, Batchelor NT 0845 or fax to (08) 8939 7127.
Jeannie Herbert
Batchelor Institute

ADAM'S APPLE: Dyslexia through the effluxion of time.

The Samurai say that every decision should be made within seven breaths.
They believe that within that time the mind should be focused and able to digest all the information required for the right decision to be made.
That’s probably one of the reasons there aren’t that many Samurai around anymore.
Too many hastily made decisions.
Like fighting armies of cannons and guns with swords.
Probably should have taken another breath or two before giving the go ahead for that idea.
It’s probably the same  reason you never saw too many asthmatic Samurai.
I on the other hand make well thought out decisions. Most of the choices I make in life take more than the seven breath limit imposed by the ancient code of the Japanese warrior.
 Sometimes this is also a poor option.
I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent in the bookstores of Alice Springs trying to pick the next thing I want to read. I have a terrible case of biblio-selectophobia.
I literally cannot judge a book by its cover. I look at the cover.
I read the blurb on the back cover. I read a page or two. I put the book down and do the same with the next book.
I only go into book stores knowing that I can cancel my plans for the rest of the afternoon because that is how long this process can take.
The upside of such indecision is that I get to know the bookstores around town fairly well.
I can tell you where to find the dictionaries in various stores and where they keep the trendy old school life manuals like “100 things everyman should know”.
 But every time I enter a bookstore, no matter how long I spend inside, I am always dumbfounded by the amount of self help books. There are rows of them all purporting to help people in different areas of their lives.
From “How to Get Rich Without Getting Out Of Your Pyjamas” through to “24 Ways to Help Her Lose Her Baby Weight.” The shelves of bookstores everywhere seem to be able to solve every problem ever invented. I swear there is a book that tells men that women really do like it if you cheat on them, as long as you buy her pretty things.
I don’t really understand that need in the human condition to rely less on commonsense and more on the advice from a well dressed person with a degree from a University you’ve never heard of.
Now I have no objection to people writing these books.
I’m sure Dr. Phil says things that really can help some people. I’m also sure that the people who write books about financial matters are quite wealthy.
Probably from selling so many get rich quick books.
What I really don’t like about these books is that if the advice contained within these tomes doesn’t make you a multi millionaire or a better parent or more passionate lover, it isn’t the books fault.
Obviously the fault lies at the feet of the reader who quite clearly didn’t believe the advice hard enough.
If history tells us anything it is that panaceas rarely work.
You can’t solve everyone’s problems with the same solution simply because the conditions surrounding that problem are different.
History also tells us that if you really need help in some part of your life, you could probably do with real professional help. A financial consultant or a psychologist or a personal trainer.
In fact if the self help book you are reading has the authors name followed by their profession and the three words “to the stars” after it, what makes you think they know anything about the problems in your life.
If history tells us anything it’s that people that hang around celebrity often forget what real life is like.
History indeed does tell us these things. You can buy history books in bookstores too.
If you can find them.

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