August 13, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Caution as change looms. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

It’s a week of collective holding of the political breath: no-one’s saying much before the crucial vote tomorrow, which will decide who’s going to run the Territory.
Scenarios include a minority government, Country Liberals (CL) or Labor (ALP), with the support of independents Alison Anderson and Gerry Wood; an election; or an ALP Government saved at the last minute.
CL insiders say they want an election because they don’t trust the independents, and they are confident of winning a majority in their own right.
Meanwhile it’s zip the lip for the pollies as well as – surprisingly – for some of the town’s major lobbies, despite the time being ripe for lobbying for their priorities .
Mayor Damien Ryan says he’s got too much on his plate to be drawing up a wish list right now.
Chamber of Commerce boss Julie Ross was out of town. Her deputy, Steve Shearer, didn’t want to give his views, and referred us to the the head of the NT Chamber of Commerce in Darwin.
Peter Grigg, of Tourism Central Australia (TCA), says that body would continue to lobby for the Mereenie Loop Road to be sealed.
In the case of the CL taking power “we would remind local members of promises they made previous to the last election” about that road, says Mr Grigg.
He says TCA has a good working relationship with the government’s Tourism NT, and will be fostering that relationship no matter who comes to power.
With its help the region is coping with the decline in international visitor number “consolidating our core market, domestic drive”.
This season has seen Alice receiving more domestic drive visitors than it has in a number of years.
Nature has had a hand in this more than the NT Government: Lake Eyre is full, and visitors are driving on to The Alice.
Meanwhile Mr Grigg is preoccupied by two issues over which the NT Government has also little control: the management plan for the Uluru - Kata Tjuta national park, which is in Commonwealth hands, and the sale of the Ayers Rock Resort, which is privately owned.  
The scene at last Sunday’s Todd Mall Markets was indicative of the political situation.
The ALP stall was staffed by a sole supporter. The Alice News left a request for a party heavy, for example, branch president Vince Jeisman, to get in touch.
No-one did.
Jodeen Carney said almost nothing quotable in an 11 minute interview with the Alice News.
Sample: “It would be unwise and foolish of me to report on those negotiations [with the independents] at this peculiar stage of Territory politics.”
The significant exception was that a CL government may halt the handover of national parks ownership to Aboriginal interests, agreed to by the Labor government against massive local opposition.
The policy is being implemented now, with parks east and south of Alice Springs recently handed over.
Ms Carney says whether that process can be halted “is something on a long list” of matters to be looked at by a new government.
Adam Giles, between chats with locals enjoying the mild morning, was more forthcoming although unsurprising: he hits out at the government’s abysmal failure to release or encourage the supply of residential land, with rental vacancy rates below one per cent and sale prices, along with speculators’ gains and real estate agents’ commissions, at obscene levels.
Mr Giles says land shortage is one of the main obstacles to his favoured “agenda of economic development and employment growth”.
He wants a “regional approach” to be achieved by “local solutions” with input from local companies, contractors and labour.
Alison Anderson’s plan for 20 growth towns in the bush should continue, says Mr Giles, although he claims it’s a copy of the Hub and Spokes model promoted by the CL: “We need to have a focus on towns,” he says.
And this needs to go hand in hand with “decentralisation, bringing services – state and Federal – back to Alice Springs and remote communities”.
“Things go wrong when you centralise the bureaucracy from a policy administration point of view.”
However, there should be an assessment of “who can deliver and who can’t. That’s what it’s about”.
So far as services to town camps are concerned, not Tangentyere but “the town council should run the rates, roads and rubbish right across town.
“That’s their job.”
Another one to be under Mr Giles’ scrutiny is the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs: “We’ve had an announcement from Jenny Macklin that she’s going to have demountables built on town camps within the next number of weeks.
“We’ll put a bit of a stopwatch on that to see if these things are going to happen.
“I don’t think they will happen. I think we’ll miss out on another key promise.”
The current injunction granted by the Federal Court won’t help Ms Macklin, of course.
Both Ms Carney and Mr Giles are vocal about SIHIP, the massive $672m Aboriginal housing program, Federally funded but under joint management with the NT.
It was the trigger for Ms Anderson to leave the government in disgust, with not a single house built in two years.
Why is The Centre the poor cousin, yet again, with just a handful of new homes to be built?
The need is greater in the Top End, we’re told (Alice News, April 17).
Where’s the evidence?
Nowhere to be seen, says Mr Giles: “I’ve asked for briefings and I’m still waiting for briefings.”
And, of course, law and order is never far from the political mind: “People are sent to prisons and prisons are a holiday,” says Mr Giles.
“Politics isn’t about building this or building that.
“The answer is appropriate policy and appropriate rules.”

Victim’s family call for calm in lead-up to trial. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Family members of the late Donny Ryder, over whose death five young local men face charges of murder, have called for “calm in the community over recent events and in the lead up to the trial date”.
Thomas Buzzacott, cousin of the dead man, read a prepared statement on the lawns opposite the Alice Springs Courthouse last Thursday.
“We ask for the general public to disregard any form of intimidation,” he said.
Mr Buzzacott was surrounded by family members, including the victim’s mother, “Aunty” Theresa Ryder, the respected Arrernte artist, as well as the victim’s fiancee.
They had waited all morning for the bail application hearings listed for four of the five defendants – Timothy Hird, Anton Kloeden, Joshua Spears and Glen Swain. The fifth defendant, Scott Doody, was listed for a mention or plea.
Some family and friends of the defendants were also in court, though not in as great a number as on Tuesday, when the defendants were first listed for mention. Extra seats placed in readiness for the anticipated crowd were not needed on Thursday and nobody was asked to leave. On the Tuesday unfortunately many of the connections of the victim, who had entered the court last, were required to leave.
The last application on Thursday was finally heard just before 1pm.
Bail was not sought for any of the defendants, though yet may be for some at a later date. All remain in custody.
Lawyer for Joshua Spears, Tony Whitelum, said he may make a bail application for his client on August 27.
Likewise John McBride, appearing for Timothy Hird, asked for a listing for a possible bail application on September 3.
Russell Goldflam of the NT Legal Aid Commission, acting for Glen Swain and Anton Kloeden, did not ask for bail application dates, only for “case management inquiry” (CMI) listings on September 17. A CMI is a standard administrative step for which the defendant is not required to appear in the court.
Scott Doody is represented by Murray Preston. No application for bail has been made but there will be a  CMI on August 20.
Committal dates have been set for November 16 to 25. Committals are heard in the magistrates’ court to decide whether there is enough evidence to go to trial. Murder trials are held in the Supreme Court.
Outside court last Thursday family members expressed relief that all five accused had not asked for bail and were still in custody.
Mr Buzzacott noted, in the prepared statement, that only one of the families of the defendants had offered their condolences to the bereaved family.
Sister-in-law Karen Liddle said that these were the parents of Timothy Hird.
She also said: “Aunty Theresa has said all along we don’t blame the families, the parents or the brothers and sisters.”
She referred to two among the other families as “really well known Alice Springs families” who have been “associated with the Aboriginal community over 30 years or more”.
“This is the toughest thing,” she said.
The Arrernte families’ statement also called for the “whole community to support us in helping each other to make necessary changes to current laws and practices that are clearly not working”.
It did not specify which laws and practices.
“We need to allow for better understanding of the different cultures and work towards respecting our differences and beliefs. This will certainly reduce violence in the community which has been affecting each and every one of us.
“Current laws are creating unnecessary conflict within the community.
“This is a vulnerable time when all young children and youth need our strength and courage to protect them.
“It is they who need our constant vigilance and guidance. Through our love and support as parents and families we must help them to live better lives, to allow for cultural exchange to broaden their learning in life and help them to achieve their dreams and aspirations.
“This is a crucial time for the whole community and governments to come together through compassion and understanding as human beings and as one community.”
The family also acknowledged the quick response to the death of Mr Ryder by the Alice Springs Police and “The Northern Territory Regional Team” who had combined “professionalism” and “cultural sensitivity”.
“For this we thank you,” said Mr Buzzacott.
They also thanked members of the community who had assisted police with their investigations.
Emotions rose when Mr Buzzacott recalled Mr Ryder as “a young man full of compassion and love with a vibrant energy for life” and “who always held a welcome smile with a ‘hello’ for everyone he met”.
While the mood in court among family members had been sombre, there had been no tears.
Now Mr Ryder’s mother and his fiancee wept openly, with their arms around one another.
Mr Buzzacott continued: “His working life was bound by his enthusiasm for life, connecting him with the spirituality of the land he loved whilst embracing friendship with all people within the community.
“He was a popular and proud young man who was loved by all his family and friends.
“He possessed a natural ability to share his love and in doing so maintained his personal characteristics as a true gentleman who was Arrernte, a Territorian and Australian and this is the image we share with the rest of the community.”
Tragically it is the second loss in three years of a young male member of the Ryder family: in April 2006 Ricky Ryder, nephew of Theresa, died after bleeding to death in the operating theatre of the Alice Springs Hospital where he was receiving surgery for stab wounds received in a violent assault on him.
The three young men involved in that assault – Charles Hayes, 20 at the time of the offence, his brother Benjamin, then 17, and Earl (Harry) Hayes, then also 17 – were all convicted on a range of charges, but not homicide as the Coroner found that Ricky Ryder’s death was preventable.
(The Coroner also found that the Alice Springs Hospital had since addressed in good part the contributing factors.)
Murder charges over the death of Donny Ryder join others related to killings in town going through the Alice Springs Courts at present.
Julian Williams and Graham Woods, both in their twenties, are charged with the death of 37-year-old motor sport identity Edward Charles Hargrave in April.  
Their committal hearing is set for October.
And a 44 year old man is charged with the death of a 41 year old woman in the Todd River on June 29.
[The family’s appeal and a photograph were posted on the Alice News online edition on Thursday last week.]

Detail? What detail? By KIERAN FINNANE.

Despite a well attended public forum in June ‘08, a consultancy involving broad “community consultation”, and costing $136,330.92 the deliberations of public servants and then of a steering committee formed in March this year, the so-called “details” of plans for the revitalisation of the CBD amount to little.
Indeed, last week’s announcement on the subject by Minister for Planning and Lands, Delia Lawrie, and  Minister for Central Australia, Karl Hampton, seems a classic case of “governing by media release”.
Out of a 400 word release, only 127 words cover anything that could be considered new.  Four proposed projects were announced:
• A revitalisation of Todd Mall and providing a vibrant corridor with new lighting, street furniture, shade and weather protection.
• Re-establishing open space that highlights Alice Springs’ unique culture and provides space for artistic and cultural events and markets.
• A Green Streetscapes program to enhance the streets and encourage pedestrian traffic with more shade, seating and new footpaths.
• More market and open space on Leichhardt Terrace between Gregory and Wills Terraces for community and cultural events with a strong focus on Indigenous culture and heritage.
Two of these proposals could reasonably be considered as new, the second and the fourth.
The first, the revitalisation, has long been on the agenda of the Alice Springs Town Council, with planning and work in abeyance while “Planning for the Future” with the NT Government went ahead.
The third seems to be little more than a tree-planting and landscaping program, unlikely to take effect until a carparking study is completed.
Council was to again have charge of that after expecting that it would be an outcome of the “Planning for the Future” process.
Now, however, CEO Rex Mooney says it is “on the back burner” with the “suggestion only” that it might be addressed by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.
For the second and fourth projects, the Alice News took the advice of the release and went to <> for more detail.
Trouble is, there is no more detail.
The News then asked the Minister’s media advisor what, for instance, are the “open spaces” that will be re-established?
She sent a map which we have reproduced. 
It is not enlightening about “space”.
The advisor suggested that the “open spaces” are “areas off the mall”.
The dot points for these, at this stage, unidentified areas concern bordered desert gardens, aesthetic lighting, street furniture, shade and weather shelters.
This sounds much like the first project and indeed, why aren’t the first and second projects simply put forward as one, as they would surely be vitally inter-related ?
The Leichardt Terrace idea appears to pick up on one foreshadowed during community discussions by the consultant, Material Thinking’s Paul Carter (see
There was no information in the release or on the website that takes the proposal further, except for this statement from Ms Lawrie.
She said: “Indigenous groups and leaders will be invited to make their contributions to the proposed Leichhardt Terrace project that will highlight the region’s strong links to Indigenous culture and heritage.” 
So nothing has really been “unveiled” as suggested by the media release put out in the names of Ms Lawrie and Mr Hampton.
And nothing is “for comment” as suggested by the Centralian Advocate (August 7).
How could anyone comment when there is no detail?
Even the media release says the projects will be put on display “in the coming months”.
Meanwhile, however, a summary of the report by Material Thinking has finally been released.
It is available on the “futurealice” website.
If one reads it in conjunction with the vague announcements above, some fleshed-out projects begins to take shape.
And by the way, revitalisation of the mall and its “eat-west hinge” areas is discussed as a single program.
But the good Ministers have not said anything about taking on board the ideas proposed in the report.

Anonymous slug fest is level of public debate in Darwin. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Alison Anderson, now the Independent Member for MacDonnell after quitting the NT Government and the Labor Party last week, says she is fighting “a David and Goliath battle”.
“It’s wearing me down,” she told the Alice News – referring particularly to the pounding she was getting in the NT News and from the Labor “party machine”.
She found the proportion of negative letters and text messages published in the NT News out of kilter with the support she was receiving on the street and the texts she was receiving on her own mobile after publicising its number.
She said 80% of that feedback was positive.
The remainder she said came from the “party machine”, calling her a disgrace, or else people were asking why she hadn’t stayed to deal with her issues of concern internally.
What does she say to that question?
“I tried to, but the wheels of the internal mechanism take a year to turn.
“I took my concerns about SIHIP to the government over six weeks and to the highest level, Cabinet, but I saw no urgency – what do you do, let it go or try to do something about it?”
What about Working Futures, the policy she introduced in early May this year that should see 20 of the larger remote communities becoming growth towns and supporting “hub and spoke” service delivery to smaller communities and outstations?
Has she sacrificed Working Futures for SIHIP (Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program)?
“SIHIP is moulded into Working Futures,” she said.
“If SIHIP is not right, Working Futures will never be right.”
She does expect Working Futures to get “whittled down” if Labor retains government.
Returning to the issue of feedback on her stance, she said people had told her that their supportive letters and texts were “not getting through” at the NT News.
A quick tally of the August 6 edition showed 18 letters and texts opposed to Ms Anderson’s stance, and four supportive.
On August 7, 17 were opposed, two supportive.
On Saturday the NT News promoted six pages of letters and text “to Alison and Gerry [Wood]”.
It was accompanied by another editorial highly critical of Ms Anderson.
Chief Minister Paul Henderson’s failure to respond to the paper’s editorial of the preceding Saturday – which had lumped Labor’s Indigenous MLAs together, describing them as indulging in “one-issue, self-centred politics” and acting like “spoilt children craving for attention” – was the last straw for Ms Anderson, precipitating her resignation.
The balance in the letters last Saturday was three in support, five opposed; in texts, it was seven in support, 27 opposed. 
The lead letter however was “pro-Alison” and letters critical of the NT News also ran, in which the paper was accused of witch-hunting and bias.
The weighting of “pro” versus “anti” letters would have been influenced, at least in part, by the paper’s lampooning of Ms Anderson and fellow Independent Gerry Wood.
Two unflattering photos, showing each smiling rather goofily and with crowns placed on their heads and Ms Anderson appearing to be sweating, were photoshopped together, with readers exhorted to “Tell GERRY and ALISON what YOU want”.
Editor of the NT News, Julian Ricci, told the Alice News that by Saturday the paper had published every text they had received by Friday lunchtime, bar those deemed by their lawyer as too abusive.
Had these been published, the proportion of texts critical of Ms Anderson would have been even greater, he said.
Mr Ricci said the paper checks the bona fides of texters by ringing a percentage of the numbers to verify.
Of the 200 or so texts received, they had called about 20, he said.
He said if multiple texts are received from the same number, only one is published.
A substantial number of the texts were characterised by, if not personal abuse (“dummy spitter” being the most common term), then easy shots.
None bear a full name. (The Alice News has a policy to not publish letters to the editor from people hiding behind anonymity.) 
As a way of communicating political views, the text message medium certainly scrapes the bottom of the barrel.
Some samples:
“To woods & anderson. The voters might have a surprise for you pair at the obvious upcoming election. You wet your own bed. Don’t blame others. Worried f/bay”.
“Angry Anderson and backflip scrymgour r an embarrassment 2 the nt. And theyve got the cheek 2 call on the racism issue. How dumb do we all look su, parap”.
“Alisn. No black way or white way eh. well how about you giv alf the money to your mob and the rest to pensioners. after all it’s taxpayers money .. Jmac, humpty doo”.
“Marion & alison get back to bloody work & stop wasting my bloody tax money with your little hissyfits! Fair dinkum! Do your selfs a favour & p.. off these so called advisers (leeches) & start thinking for your selfs. Marion your better than this. An old mate tiwi”.
The Alice News asked Mr Ricci if he thought their publication contributed much to the political debate.
“Absolutely,” he said, “every text and letter we published comes from a resident of the Territory.
“They have a right to an opinion.
“Alison Anderson and Gerry Wood wanted people of the Territory to tell them what to do and that’s what our texters and letter writers are doing.”
One thing is certain, the political comment game is played more roughly in Darwin.
The NT News editorials and letters and text message pages make the public debate in Alice Springs, in the print media at least, look positively genteel.

Land council and oil company lock horns. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Don’t mention money – that is the requirement from the Central Land Council (CLC) for negotiations between resource companies and Traditional Owners (TOs), according to Bob Liddle, land manager for Central Petroleum Limited (CPL).
He claims the CLC arranges for the company to make presentations to TOs about land where CPL wants to carry out exploration work, but always on the condition that the size of compensation payments is not mentioned.
The CLC, when asked for comment, pointed to provisions in the Aboriginal Land Rights Act.
It says the applicant may attend –
• so much of the first meeting at which the substantive content of the exploration program is discussed;
• and so much of the first meeting at which the terms and conditions are discussed;
as is appropriate for the purposes of presenting and explaining the exploration proposals.
The applicant can attend subsequent meetings “unless the traditional Aboriginal owners, as a group, decide” that the applicant can’t attend.
Mr Liddle says the process as he has observed it exposes TOs to manipulation, and possibly deprives them of information about the cash they may be earning by giving consent for exploration and, ultimately, mining.
CPL has extensive current or intended exploration interests right across Central Australia.
Mr Liddle this week presented a cheque for $550,000 to the CLC as compensation for exploration on Aboriginal land in The Centre, where CPL has made significant discoveries of oil and gas, and found one of Australia’s largest coal deposits.
“This coal deposit, down the track, will be used to produce gas to liquid, which would result in 140 barrels a day of clean diesel, naptha and jet fuel,” he says.
But he is concerned about the distribution of the money: “I can safely say the traditional owners have no idea of how much money goes into the CLC.
“The CLC has just been given a new office for $16m, and some traditional owners can’t even get a small generator,” says Mr Liddle.
In response, the CLC says the cost of the building was $10.8m: “The Australian Government provided $6.8 million for the building from the Aboriginals Benefit Account with the Council meeting the $4 million balance.”
Mr Liddle says TOs frequently ask the company for donations.
The role of the CLC as a distributor of funds came under the spotlight at recent Senate Estimates hearings.
CLC director David Ross and general manager Bruce Nystrom were questioned at hearings in February about mining royalties.
Senator George Brandis said: “In 2007/08 there was a distribution of only something a little short of $7.5m although there were receipts ... of some $23.5m ... I’d like to know who the payees of those sums were.” 
Senator Brandis said NT Senator Nigel Scullion had already asked the CLC for a list of recipients but had not been given it.
Mr Nystrom took Senator Brandis’ question on notice.
The CLC says: “The information has been supplied to the Secretary of the Senate Committee.”
The information consists of three lists, one for each of the financial years 2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08.
Each list has the names of about 75 Aboriginal Corporations, and between six and 40 traditional owners or firms such as Elders Ltd Merchandise and Tanami Transport.
Neither the number of people involved, nor the the amounts paid, are stated.
Senator Brandis did not ask for those details.
The lists are at
Mr Liddle, a member of a prominent Aboriginal family in Central Australia, in 2004 called – unsuccessfully – for an audit of the distribution by the CLC of royalties from the Mereenie oil and gas fields.
He says the CLC had recently rejected a CPL exploration application for land near Santa Teresa.
The CLC confirms that.
Mr Liddle says the CLC had failed to properly consult adequately with traditional owners in the Willowra area before rejecting an exploration application there.
The CLC says a consent decision had been agreed to in the Federal Court.
The CLC says it had overlooked notifying the applicants of certain meetings as required.
The company now has the right to make a fresh application.
Mr Liddle says the process of obtaining exploration or mining approvals on Aboriginal land is deeply flawed.
Meetings with traditional owners (TOs) can cost around $60,000.
Yet there are usually no interpreters present, so the TOs may not be fully informed about any impact exploration work would have on communities.
In some cases the impact is just trucks driving through a community, to remote and uninhabited areas.
“We know that a lot of people approve, and some don’t,” says Mr Liddle.
“What are the criteria for saying yes or no?
“We want to know what the numbers are, for or against.
“This is not spelled out in the Act.”
He says he is concerned that TOs are not given a full understanding of the impact of the work, and particularly the benefits, such as compensation paid during exploration.
“Months and months down the track we get a letter from the CLC saying that an application has been rejected.
“No details are given,” says Mr Liddle.
However, the CLC says “reasons have been provided to the applicant” for the rejection of CPL’s Santa Teresa application.

‘Hardening’ Rainbow Valley. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The conservation reserve at Rainbow Valley has to be “hardened up” to protect its highly erodable landforms, says Chief District Ranger for the Central, Eastern and Barkly parks, Wayne Gaskon.
The Alice News put to Mr Gaskon that the restrictions on what visitors can and can’t do at the famous site make for a very narrow experience.
The only activity allowed without a permit or without participating in a paid, pre-arranged cultural tour, is a short walk along a marked trail.
Mr Gaskon explained that people used to drive on to the claypan and camp there, which had led to environmental degradation.
He said that Noel Fullarton’s camel activities, among others, had also contributed to the erosion of the sandhill behind the bluff, the spectacular feature that makes Rainbow Valley such an alluring landscape for visitors.
“Even activities which are considered low impact can still cause damage,” he said.
“Zoning is a management tool used on most parks and reserves throughout the world to ensure [their] values are protected.”
He said that joint management with Aboriginal traditional owners has led to more of the reserve being opened up: there is now an art site at the centre of the reserve which visitors can see on a guided cultural tour.
The Alice News put to him that for the “free independent traveller”, driving in from the Stuart Highway without pre-booking, this is not an option.
Mr Gaskon said a lot of work has been done by Tourism NT in making pre-visit information available to free and independent travellers and in promoting Rainbow Valley “as an integral part of an overall experience rather than simply a destination”.  
He also said the Parks and Wildlife service is working with Ricky Orr, the traditional owner who runs the cultural tours, to make “tag-along” participation on the tours possible.
This still means that, under joint management, 90% of the reserve is off limits to the casual visitor – in contradiction to the “no fees, no permits” promise of the Northern Territory Government in relation to the handover of national parks to Aboriginal interests.
Mr Gaskon said that his service is also having discussions with traditional owners about opening up a walk along the edge of the claypan to the west.
He says the service is not receiving negative feedback about the restrictions at Rainbow Valley, and there have been increased numbers of campers there this season.
The Alice News put to him that the assumption that all visitors want to do is take a photo of the site and move on is an insult to the aspirations of many who seek much more than this in their contact with the natural environment.
Mr Gaskon says he has seen visitors not even get out of their car, take a photo and go.
He also said for many tourists Rainbow Valley is but one stop on a longer driving tour, whether via Chamber’s Pillar or through Owen Springs.
He said the site is known for its beauty at sunset; many visitors arrive at this time and then return to Alice Springs for the night.
To the Alice News’ suggestion that the signage is not informative, and especially not about cultural reasons as to why areas are off limits, Mr Gaskon said there is “potential” for more information about the site to be given.
He said under joint management some parks will have more access, rather than less, some parks being hardier than others.

Local plays short and sweet. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Ten minutes can deliver a satisfying theatrical experience, as a number of offerings on the Bite Sized menu showed.
The evening of 10  x 10-minute performances, at Araluen on August 1, was an initiative of Red Dust Theatre, “designed to foster growth, development and inspiration in Territorians and Territory theatre”.
Although Red Dust is Alice-based, its search for scripts went Territory-wide, and writers from Darwin (four) and Tennant Creek (one) were represented alongside five locals.
The playwrights were mentored by a professional dramaturge, Peter Matheson, while the directors and actors also had workshop opportunities.
Apart from its developmental role, the evening also offered an outing for some established talents.
Michael Watts deserved the rousing applause for Hot Tin Roof, which he wrote and directed, while also performing in one of the roles.
Returning to a familiar theme for him – the gulf of understanding between men and women – Watts treated it with a light, humorous touch.
The play had all the advantages too of unity of space and time – allowing for a single image set and compact action.
Watts’ own delivery of lines was slightly flat, but I did enjoy the performance of the long-legged Luke Scholes.
The whole was deft and enjoyable. 
Together with Danielle Loy’s Dead Ringer, Hot Tin Roof will be staged again during the Alice Desert Festival.
Dead Ringer was the most “out of left field” offerings of the evening, venturing away from the serious, social realist character of Loy’s previous plays into darkly humorous, surreal territory.
Imaginative direction in the hands of kerzlake and an effective performance from Jim Coad added to its impact.
kerzlake was directed in her turn by Craig Mathewson in Drew’s Seizure, written by Chris Raja, adapted from his own short story.
His subject – a carer’s response to the frightening epilepsy of her client – is unusual and reveals an eclectic breadth to Raja’s interests.
kerzlake is a skilled, obviously experienced performer, but occasionally edged towards hysteria, in contrast to the “less is more” set and the way that it was used to structure the action – trademark Mathewson.
Maryanne Butler’s The Sound of Waiting, directed by Jo Dutton, dwelt on the extraordinary transitional moments between life and death, told through the experience of two young women, one drowning, the other throwing herself from a cliff.
A challenging subject and its treatment, both in writing and direction, didn’t always avoid melodrama, but it moved me nonetheless.
I’m not mentioning every merit of the evening here but the ones that have most stayed with me. Even the weakest of the plays had something to offer, whether in subject matter, performance or direction, and would no doubt benefit from further development.
Meanwhile, Maryanne Butler has a new play, Half Way There, a co-production between Knock-Em-Down Theatre, JUTE Theatre and Darwin Theatre Company, being presented in Alice by Red Dust.
In tiny remote Half Way in the Northern Territory, Harriet and Wes run the pub cum brothel that is falling apart around them.  Wes wants to leave but Harriet is not moving. 
Enter Sabrina, the new manager, eager to turn Half Way into the ultimate luxury destination.
Described as “a story with a poetic and comic heart that explores deeply moving, human themes with a uniquely Australian sense of humour”, the play shows at Centralian College Theatrette on August 27 and 28.

The harder they try the behinder they get. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

There’s a clear relationship between overcrowding and the supply of housing.
That seems to be a no-brainer.
It isn’t, at least not in Alice.
Compelling anecdotal evidence suggests that the more houses are provided in town, the greater the problem becomes.
To put it another way, the overcrowding problem is growing in direct proportion to the number of houses supplied.
This is how it seems to work: there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people waiting to join the accelerating urban drift, quitting the stultifying boredom of life in bush settlements for the bright lights of Alice.
Many of these people have a background of living, for generations, in humpies and houses that in most developed world jurisdictions would be condemned, on a variety of grounds, and bulldozed.
Living 20 or 30 to a house is routine.
Couple that with rellies who’ve just been given, at public expense, a brand new house in The Alice, and forbidden by traditional to say “no” to demands from clan members, no matter how unreasonable, and – bingo – we have a case of the cure being worse than the disease. 
It’s likely the 85 new homes built under the $138m town camps package will not ease the “housing shortage” – they will exacerbate it.
One would imagine that the authorities, spending taxpayers’ money, would do two things.
Firstly, establish how many vacant homes there are in the bush already – all built with taxpayers’ money.
The Alice News has published several reports of homes, and sometimes whole outstations, that are quite new, empty, and sometimes vandalized.
We asked the NT government if it has an inventory of such dwellings, only to be told by a minder that he would not “dignify” our enquiry with a response.
Secondly, one would expect Territory Housing to have rules, diligently enforced, that prohibit a level of occupancy bound to result in the destruction of public property.
Alas, there are no rules limiting the number of “visitors”. This is what we do have, according to a spokesperson for the department: “All tenants in urban housing dwellings have tenancy agreements in place which allow for guests to stay for up to six weeks. 
“The agreements do not stipulate how many visitors are allowed at a dwelling.
“However, the Department of Local Government and Housing can intervene if visitors cause a disturbance that affects the tenant’s neighbours in line with the responsibilities of tenants set out under the Residential Tenancies Act.
“A framework for remote housing tenancy is currently being finalised and is expected to reflect current urban housing policy.”
Great. We’ll then have the same useless regulations in the bush that we now have in town.

Housing go-slow.

With the provision of housing  across the community a number one issue in Alice, what can explain the closure of Mt Gillen Supported Accommodation since January of this year?
At that time, the former operator, Darwin Christian Outreach Centre Ministries, withdrew from the facility – “for economic and staffing reasons”, the Alice News was told.
When it reopens it will cater for 68 temporary residents – mothers and children and “general transients”, according to Aboriginal Hostels Limited, who will be the new operators.
But that won’t be until January, 2010, says a spokesperson for the Department of Local Government and Housing.
Why, when the need is so urgent, is it taking so long? The spokesperson says major work is required to bring the facility, originally residential units, up to NT Building Act requirements.
“The work scope for the inclusion of a new commercial kitchen/dining facility and upgrading the existing office and security of the complex is currently being assessed together with a new fire service protection system,” says the spokesperson.
“A DLHG officer is on site this week to assess and determine the remaining works and organise the completion of all outstanding works.
“The Northern Territory Government has recently submitted a bid to the Commonwealth Government for funding under the stimulus package. This bid includes a number of managed accommodation projects.”

ADAM'S APPLE: More cowboy hats than in a Slim Dusty convention!

I’m pretty sure that man went to the moon. I’d like to believe that the moon landing was not staged on a set at Universal Studios in California.
I will however concede that if NASA really wanted to stage the first steps on Mars they might want to head out to Atitjere.
For a boy from the city, the landscape which forms the backdrop of the Harts Range Amateur Race Weekend is as close to the Mars orbiter pictures as he’s ever going to get.
I think I get complacent about the unique beauty of the country around here. I guess I’m too busy trying to get to K-Mart before it shuts to truly give the landscape its dues.
Harts Range is a beautiful place. Rocky slivers of hills rising from seemingly nowhere against a perfectly blue sky. A quiet which gently whispers its ancient spirit and a vastness that reminds you of your place in the universe. A perfect place to get drunk and dance with cowgirls. I thought this year I’d do my best to fully embrace the Territory experience and Harts Range is a perfect place to get my fill.
More cowboy hats than a Slim Dusty convention and more belt buckles than Wrestle Mania, I was quickly under the impression that I wasn’t in mobile coverage any longer, Toto.
I do have one suggestion from the get go. If the way out to Harts Range is a corrugated dirt road and the only way to allow a vehicle to pass you is to pull into the bush, perhaps you might want to not call that a highway.
After my internal organs settled back into their original positions, we found a spot to roll out the swags. Oh yes, swags. None of this soft bloody camper van business for us.
No generators for lights and refrigeration here, let me tell you. Nothing bloody comfortable about our sleeping arrangements. It’s all central Australian icy gales and three corner jacks to add to the experience.
Within a half-hour I found myself fully immersed in the Territory experience. There I was, drinking a can sitting on top of a Landcruiser, watching a bloke try to not fall off a very irritated bull. I’m fairly certain that’s one of the quests that make you a Territorian. I hope it is anyway. The other scenarios are quite frankly distasteful.
I have played rugby. I have participated in a demolition derby. I have on occasion stood up too quickly from a seated position. I’ve done my fair share of laughing in the face of danger. Mostly a nervous laughter but laughter none the less.
But can anyone, anyone at all, tell me why people ride bulls? Are there significant pieces of these people’s brains misfiring? These animals are genuinely huge and genuinely pissed off. I’m not sure if you’ve read the bull’s body language but I’m guessing he’s not that keen on being ridden.  
Feeling very Territory, I shimmied down from the top of the truck and went into the arena area for a closer look at the lunacy.
It was at this point that I realised I wasn’t as outback as I might have felt. Ducking under a railing in a highly masculine fashion I heard a rather loud tearing sound. Great.
The front of my jeans had torn from zip to crotch. This was particularly devastating considering that my closest change of pants was about 200 kms away.
It was while I was sitting in the stands watching the crazy people riding the bulls that I realised how glad I was that I chose not to wear the red undies. With my under garments in full view of the savage bulls, red would have been unfortunate to say the least.
So for the next 24 hours, I would be roaming the outback, intermingling with people and entering the Tug-o-War and dancing all the while feeling the icy cool breeze around my nether regions.
But that’s the great thing about Harts Range. It didn’t matter. I spoke with ringers and the blokes on night patrol and townies and tourists and station owners and had a grand old time.

LETTERS: Could the Feds do any worse?

Sir,– It must be a dire situation north of the Berrimah Line if both current ALP member Alison  Anderson and former CLP Chief Minister Paul Everingham are calling for the Feds to pink-slip the NT Government.
Maybe the fallout from the current imbroglio will see another government take office in Darwin, or maybe the ALP will hang in.  But in either case the question increasingly becomes, what use are they?
Perhaps more to the point, are State and Territory governments still relevant? 
We see bloated state bureaucracies maladministering the nation’s wealth while padding their own job security, and politicians increasingly exposed as having little to do except offer excuses on the evening news. 
Do we still want them?  Can we still afford them?
I imagine it will be a long, hard task shifting state governments out of Brisbane, Sydney and the other state capitals, but here in the NT it might be a good idea to knock our government on the head now before it gets a chance to grow any bigger. 
The thought of those clowns draping themselves in the mantle of statehood is frightening. 
Would the Feds do any better?  Could they do any worse? 
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

Amoonguna supports “no school, no service”

Sir,– The MacDonnell Shire community of Amoonguna has begun supporting and implementing the “No School, No Service” program in an effort to help deal with children who are not attending school.
Amoonguna community members approached their Shire Service Manager after they saw that shops and businesses in Alice Springs were supporting the program.
As the Shire Council manages and operates the Amoonguna Store it was an easy decision for the MacDonnell Shire Council to support the  program.
Shire Council staff then began working with the Amoonguna School, the NT Department of Education and Training Central Australia and the Alice Springs Chamber of Commerce to begin the program at Amoonguna.
From now on only children who have an official leave pass from the School will be served in the Amoonguna Store during school hours.
Posters have been displayed in the Amoonguna Store to notify young people that they will need a pass to enter during school hours if they are under 15 years of age, and the passes can only be obtained from the Amoonguna School.
Philippa Major
Acting CEO,
MacDonnell Shire

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