ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
September 3, 2009. This page contains all
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
Gerry! says Alice. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
Jenny Macklin and Gerry Wood, who has the balance of power in the
Territory Parliament, are on the same wavelength about the scandal
ridden Aboriginal housing program SIHIP, supposedly run jointly by the
NT and Commonwealth governments.
But Paul Henderson’s Territory Government gets a caning from Ms
Macklin, the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister.
She announced this week that “a senior Commonwealth officer [will be]
embedded in the SIHIP program management team and Commonwealth officers
directly involved in each Alliance Leadership Team” providing “strong
oversight at the day to day operational level”.
The words – statements of action rather than recommendations – were in
a Federal review released on Monday by Ms Macklin and she clearly
indicated in a doorstop that she endorsed it entirely.
The slap in the face for the Territory Government, whose own review of
SIHIP – absurdly – isn’t due out until February, coincided with the
first visit to Alice Springs by Mr Wood, the independent Member for
Nelson, since he became the co-Chief Minister two weeks ago with Alison
Anderson’s defection from the government.
Mr Wood’s message was the same as Ms Macklin’s although his language
was more earthy: “How much money is going to consultancies, engineers,
and so on?
“I don’t know who invented the alliance method but I really think it’s
somebody who’s not in touch with reality,” he told the Alice Springs
“There have been unresolved leadership and capacity issues in the
delivery of the program,” echoes the Federal report.
“These led to key elements of SIHIP such as community engagement and
employment and workforce development being devolved by the Northern
Territory Government to external consultants when they should more
properly be the direct responsibility of Government.”
Mr Wood brings decades of on-the-ground knowledge to the subject.
He came to the NT in 1970 as a lay missionary paid $10 a month plus
food and lodgings, and his life ever since has been largely in the
service of the public – at Daly River and Bathurst Island, later in
local government and since 2001 in the NT Parliament.
For much of the time he also grew lots of food and kept chooks.
Ms Macklin said on Monday she continues to be determined under SIHIP to
build 750 new homes, rebuild 230 and deliver 2500 refurbished homes
“for Indigenous people in remote parts of the Northern Territory” for
Trouble is, $46m has already been spent without a single house being
Says the report she commissioned: “The estimated unit cost target set
at the start of the program was an ambitious target. Northern Territory
Government officials estimating the cost did so against the backdrop of
a volatile housing market from which estimates were difficult to draw
and relied on the expected efficiencies arising from greater economies
Translation: the Territory Government got it wrong. Mr Wood’s take on
the situation is down to earth: “Did anyone actually go out and ask
anyone in the Territory how much it costs, on average, to build a house
before they made up this figure?
“That’s the problem we’ve got: the NT Government saying we’re still
going to build this number of houses.
“That’s fine, but that’s got to be matched by the Commonwealth. There
is not enough money.”
Mr Wood says the cost of a house in Groote Eyelant includes 40% for
transport, mostly on barges, and 15% for “general paperwork”.
“So 55% is tied up before you even start building.”
What’s more, yet again planners are embarking on re-inventing the
wheel, gridlocked in eternal consultations.
The report: “Elements such as design and community engagement were
elevated to the detriment of the unit cost required to achieve program
targets, thereby skewing program outcomes.
“The fact that this imbalance occurred points to a lack of effective
oversight at the delivery level and a need to restructure the program
governance and management arrangements. “
Mr Wood: “We should have been in touch with people who have past or
present experience with building houses in outback communities.
“Those people can give you an idea what you can build a house for.
“We need a basic design.
“They are going out asking people what sort of design they want.
“We’ve been building Aboriginal houses for 30 years.
“You can go out to various places and see which ones work.
“Most places I have seen want outdoor cooking, [the tenants] don’t want
some fancy kitchen.
“The government shouldn’t be building replicas of suburban homes.
“It should be building basic shelters.
“They need to be made of materials that can be easily cleaned,
refurbished if necessary.
“We know what basically works. Now, let’s go out and build those.
“Don’t keep going back re-inventing the wheel.
“Some of these people from the alliance come from south.
“They think they’re doing the right thing.
“The government has told them to go out and consult.
“The consultation has been going for 30 years.”
With respect to homelands and outstations, some of them abandoned,
“there needs to be a total audit of all those places”, says Mr Wood.
“I think there are about 1050 Aboriginal communities in the NT ...
there’s a lot of outstations, probably 800 to 900.”
Parks and Wildlife some years ago published a book on basic pole
structure houses, corrugated iron and natural timber.
He says: “To some extent that puts some of the responsibility back on
people – if you really want to live here at least try and build some of
“If you build something you’re less likely to abandon it rather than
something just given to you. It’s a matter of finding a balance between
Mr Wood says there have to be strict rules about the management of the
houses, education programs to help people look after them.
“If you wreck the house you either pay for the damage or you’ll be
asked to leave.
“There will be other people waiting for those houses.”
But there are real “on-ground issues”, especially in small communities
and when family obligations come into play, and there needs to be
“support from further up the line”.
The Macklin report demands that “governments direct appropriate
resources to ensuring robust and effective property and tenancy
management to underpin the investment and achieve sustainable housing
outcomes for Indigenous people”.
And during the construction phase, Mr Wood says “there is no way that
people should be getting unemployment benefits when you have to bring
in laborers from outside”.
This quest for savings is also mirrored in the Macklin report:
administration costs will be trimmed from 11.4% to 8%; the average cost
of a new house will be $450,000 and “layers of management should be
reduced from six to three”.
There has been no response from the Territory Government to the Alice
News enquiries on SIHIP over two weeks.
exploration deal. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
If all goes to plan for local prospector Uwe Barfuss there will soon be
mines near Harts Range, 200 kms from Alice Springs, employing thousands
of people, and including an open cut pit covering 17 square kilometres.
He says he’s recently made a giant leap forward by clinching a $13m
deal with South Korean interests.
He says they have very deep pockets, and will fund drilling, geological
work and aerial surveys over 720 square kilometres to prove up deposits
ranging from uranium to rare metals and earths.
But first there needs to be an extension from the NT Government by one
year of the exploration licences due to run out in three year’s time,
says German born Mr Barfuss.
While eight years ago hardly anyone had shown an interest in the area
because of shortage of water and rough terrain, following his
discoveries the “dirt” is now hotly contested.
“We’re surrounded by 150 companies trying to get the area,” says Mr
He’s been in the NT since 1992 after a career in Victoria in
prospecting, exploration, mining opals and gem stones, and running his
own business since he was 18.
Mr Barfuss says in the past 15 years his companies have spent $7m on
exploration in the Harts Range region.
He’s especially excited about traces of Thorium at Harts Range, “the
next stage futuristic nuclear fuel” which can be used for electricity
generation like uranium, but has a half life of 100 not thousands of
years, its residue can’t be made into bombs and Thorium reactors can
not have a melt down.
Mr Barfuss says there are also:-
• High grade uranium.
• Vermiculite used in insulation, applied to the superstructure of high
rise buildings to fortify them against fire. This material would be
processed in Alice Springs by “exfoliating it” with heat, expanding it
10 or 20 times like popcorn, thus creating jobs.
• Abrasive garnet sands to polish things such as jet engines.
• Rare earths used in electric motors and plasma TVs.
• Potentially large copper, gold, platinum, nickel and chromium
platinum deposits suggested by a “metallurgy and geology similar to
Coronation Hill” 250 kms south-east of Darwin.
Mr Barfuss’ companies signed an agreement recently with the South
Korean Sein Co Ltd which, according to its website, had a turnover of
A$39.4m in 2008.
Mr Barfuss says Sein’s chairman, Uh-Choon Park, is “the second most
powerful person in South Korea”.
Mr Barfuss says the intensified exploration work will be through
drilling and a spectrometer / magnetometer survey from a low flying
helicopter, much more precise than when fixed-wing aircraft are used.
He says rising costs of drilling has made the accurate pinpointing of
by consultation." By
For the Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG), led by Mount Nancy
town camp resident Barbara Shaw, it must have seemed like a coup: here
supposedly was a joint statement from MLA Alison Anderson, well known
supporter of the Intervention, and Richard Downs and Rosalie
Kunoth-Monks, well-known opponents.
It was calling for Aboriginal nations “to stand up against the absolute
racist oppression, forced assimilation and attempts to destroy
Aboriginal people being caused by the intervention measures”.
Ms Anderson has rocked a few boats lately – was this another one?
She was still on the road back from Ampilatwatja where she had met with
Mr Downs and Mrs Kunoth-Monks when she told the Alice News: “Those are
Richard’s and Rosie’s words.
“I’m not going against the Intervention, but they are because they
haven’t seen any good come out of it.”
She says the joint statement was put together by a white woman on the
community and she had not checked it before leaving to return to Alice
“At no stage did I say that I didn’t support the Intervention, but we
can’t have a continuous Intervention – we need human and social
“At Ampilatwatja they’ve seen nothing come out of the Intervention
except for a police presence at Alpara.
“They’ve sat there for two years thinking something will happen and
nothing has. I’d rather live in the bulldust than in the houses out
What about Income Management, one of the strongest initiatives of the
Intervention – does that not also apply at Ampilatwatja?
Says Ms Anderson: “I still think Income Management is a good thing –
when I’m travelling around I can see the faces of the kids shining
because they’re getting enough to eat.
“But some people at Ampilatwatja don’t like it, they want to be able to
manage their own money.”
She says the Eastern Plenty has been failed by government policy,
including the Working Futures policy which she launched while still
Minister for Indigenous Policy with the Territory Government.
Of the 20 “growth towns” envisioned by the policy to deliver services
on a “hub and spoke” model, in the southern region there are only four
and none is east of the Stuart Highway.
She had charge of the policy, did she not?
“When I was Minister I spoke about the importance of equity.
“They say the need is greater in the Top End. But we went to
seven communities in the Top End – the need is exactly the same.”
Returning to the problems with the Intervention, Ms Anderson is joined
by Bess Nungarrayi Price, chair of NT’s Indigenous Affairs Advisory
Council, in saying that it has “lost its bite, its urgency”, making it
an easy target for the likes of the UN Special Rapporteur, Professor
James Anaya (see separate story this page).
“There’s too much consultation, it’s death by consultation,” says Ms
“It would have been good if Macklin had implemented a development
strategy following on from Howard’s and Brough’s Intervention.
“It was the once in a lifetime opportunity to make things right but at
the moment people aren’t seeing the change they expected to see.
“They are going to stand up to politcians and say we’re not going to
sell off our land just for services.
“And they are tired of meetings, tired of seeing bureaucrats come in
and out in white Toyotas.
“Now it’s time to move towards a development process.”
The pair dismiss the comments of the Special Rapporteur, at least
insofar as they apply to the Centre: “You can’t identify the need in
such a short period of time,” says Ms Anderson.
“He hasn’t been to places like Mutitjulu, Papunya, Hermannsburg
where the Intervention has made a difference – no more drunks waking
everyone up at two and three in the morning, school attendance at
Hermannsburg up to over 90% [in the primary years].”
Says Mrs Price: “He only went to Alice Springs where he was hosted by
IRAG, and to Yuendumu.
“He didn’t have enough time to talk to our people on the ground to find
out exactly how they feel.
“Our people wouldn’t know what the Racial Discrimination Act is all
about, it wouldn’t bother them.”
Ms Anderson accepts that certain laws apply to certain groups of
people: “They identify that this group of people has a problem.”
She also rejects Human Rights Commissioner Tom Calma’s proposal for a
national Indigenous representative body (see separate article this
page): the taxpayer can’t be expected to pay for yet another Indigenous
organisation and it would also be surplus to requirements.
“Here in the Territory the shires have duly elected language-speaking
“They don’t want other people sitting in on top of them, telling the
Minister what is good for them.
“Why can’t Macklin get her policy advice from them, the real people?”
Rapporteur dumps on Oz, Alice. By
As he left Australia the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of
human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous people, James
Anaya, commended the Australian Government for “taking significant
steps to improve the human rights and socio-economic conditions of the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia”.
But he also sharply labelled the government’s Intervention in the
Northern Territory as “discriminatory”, saying in part:
“In my opinion, as currently configured and carried out, the Emergency
Response is incompatible with Australia’s obligations under the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, treaties to
which Australia is a party, as well as incompatible with the
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia has
affirmed its support.
“I note with satisfaction that a process to reform the Emergency
Response is currently underway and that the Government has initiated
consultations with indigenous groups in the Northern Territory in this
connection. I hope that amendments to the Emergency Response will
diminish or remove its discriminatory aspects and adequately take into
account the rights of aboriginal peoples to self determination and
culture integrity, in order to bring this Government initiative in line
with Australia’s international obligations.
“Furthermore, I urge the Government to act swiftly to reinstate the
protections of the Racial Discrimination Act in regard to the
indigenous peoples of the Northern Territory.”
Speaking to media in Melbourne, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny
Macklin responded in part:
“I know that issues like income management in the Northern Territory
and alcohol controls are controversial.
“But, for me, when it comes to human rights, the most important human
right that I feel as Minister I have to confront, is the need to
protect the lives of the most vulnerable, particularly children, and
for them to have a safe and happy life, and a safe and happy family to
grow up in. These are the rights that I think need to be balanced
against other human rights.”
Asked whether she would be making changes, she said: “As a Government,
we have commenced some months ago on a major process of consultation
with people living in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory
on the shape of the emergency responses as we go forward.
“So we’re engaged in those consultations still. They are around
issues like the alcohol controls, income management, and pornography
controls. And of course what we’re hearing from people on the
ground, is that there’s a wide range of different views.
“Some people recognise the very strong value of alcohol controls, the
very strong value of income management to their families. So many
of these families, the women tell me it’s putting food on the table for
their kids that used to be spent on grog. I don’t think anyone
could disagree that that isn’t a good thing.
“But we’re in a process of those detailed consultations.
“We’ve indicated that we do intend to put legislation into the
Parliament later this year to make sure that the suspension of the
Racial Discrimination Act is ended but we’re in the process of
consultation right now.”
Prof Anaya’s itinerary in Alice Springs was established by
anti-Intervention activists, the Intervention Rollback Action Group.
He gave media less than nine minutes for questions and they were not
permitted to attend any of the meetings.
In response to a question from the Alice News, Prof Anaya said he would
be corroborating “in some way” information received from individuals,
but it is not clear how he went about this or if indeed he did before
his August 27 statement.
battle looming over Town Council’s liquor litter charge. By
Legal action on the Town Council’s liquor litter charge will be taken.
Council CEO Rex Mooney confirms that council has received a letter from
lawyers Povey Stirk, asking for certain information and indicating that
action is proposed to be taken.
“Council will be responding appropriately,” says Mr Mooney, declining
to comment further.
The council discussed the matterwith Indepenedent MLA Gerry Wood, in a
Lawyer Director Peer Schroter confirms Povey Stirk have “instructions
to commence proceedings against the Alice Springs Town Council, seeking
a declaration from the Supreme Court that the purported liquor litter
charge is invalid”.
“At this stage we are still compiling all necessary matters that are
required to be put in place, noting that we act for a number of
parties, prior to the issue of proceedings,” says Mr Schroter.
Licensee of Gapview Hotel, Diane Loechel, a vocal opponent of the
charge, says only “a group of people affected” are behind the action.
wall D-day near.
With the conclusion of the public display period, the application to
reinstate Kmart’s “sandstone feature wall” will now be discussed at the
next Development Consent Authority meeting in Alice Springs on
September 9, says DCA chairman, Peter McQueen.
Town Council CEO Rex Mooney says council has emphasised to the DCA that
any approval they give the application would need to comply with the
conditions specified in council’s original permission to build the
“Mayor Damien Ryan has been steadfast in his insistence that the
original structural and visual integrity of the wall must be restored,”
says Mr Mooney.
“No compromises will be entertained.”
The wall, a sandstone mural, depicting the profile of Heavitree Gap and
the Mt Gillen range, was demolished after it sustained damage in
the fierce storm of September 22 last year.
Owners of the Kmart building are Centro Properties Group.
weeds on the menu. By
It’s a plant typically growing in the cracks between paving that you’ve
overlooked a hundred times or else pulled up and thrown away.
But for Derek and Florence Goh, who run the popular vegetarian eatery
The Tea Shrine, amaranthe is a “free gift from God” – a wild vegetable
that springs up after rain and is good to eat.
Such wild vegetables are becoming more and more popular in Asia, says
Florence (pictured with her mother Gek Soo): “We are going back
to the old ways.”
The leafy green is best when young so the Gohs are hoping for more rain
to get enough of it to put on the menu at The Tea Shrine, where it will
be among the special ingredients of their offerings for the Alice
Desert Festival’s bushfoods / wildfoods challenge, Alice on the menu.
The challenge lasts for the whole of this month, with restaurants and
eateries across town creating special dishes to showcase unique
As we talked Florence picked a bunch of amaranthe in the carpark (top
right) just outside the kitchen door. The plants had already gone to
seed which makes them courser in texture than she would like and ever
so slightly bitter.
Florence washed and chopped the leaves and in no time used them in a
delicious dumpling soup (bottom right) as well as an Asian pancake and
The flavour of the leaf was most distinct in the soup – it was a little
like spinach but with a nutty taste.
Derek says the plant is known for its medicinal properties – it’s good
for rheumatism as well as purifying the blood and eliminating
It’s not the only local produce the Gohs are experimenting with:
they’ll be serving a wattleseed green tea and a sticky date and ginger
They regularly use local dates to give sweetness to their dumpling
They may also use the small black fruits of the solanum nigram plant in
a soup or rice congee.
The Gohs, originally from Singapore, came to Alice Springs in
They sensed the opportunity for a business like theirs but also wanted
to promote vegetarianism.
Derek sees vegetarianism as “ultimately the way to resolve the world’s
“It involves no killing, it’s non-violent and creates a harmonious
“This is what we believe in,” he says.
Meanwhile, J9 Stanton, an old hand at the bushfoods recipe competition,
and newcomer Martin Oostermeyer are throwing around ideas for a mains
and a dessert.
They’ve ordered in a quantity of native limes – not only desert limes,
but also sunset and finger limes from the coast – and they’re
experimenting with mixing them, for instance, with blanched old man
Could this be the foundation for a pie, along the lines of spinach pie?
And saltbush as a leafy green would go well with fish.
The limes would also make a sensational pickle – what could they serve
How could they capture the aroma of applebush? It’s a native plant with
purple pincushion-shaped flowers that smell of apples. But first they
have to find out whether the flowers are edible.
If quandongs ripen in time, they’d like to use them fresh, perhaps with
“Most people seem to cook them, but I love eating them uncooked –
they’ve got a very refreshing taste,” says J9.
In past years, the recipe competition has had heats and a final. This
year it will be held as two one-off events, the first on Sunday
September 13 at the Alice Desert Festival Pod (Anzac Oval), the second
on Saturday September 19 as part of the Sustainability Fair at the
Olive Pink Botanic Garden. J9 and Martin should have their
entries sorted for the second gig.
at its joyous best. By
Among the most memorable images from this year’s Wearable Arts Awards
was that of a small chubby man in black, playing air guitar.
He was Martin Armstead, a man with Down’s Syndrome, accompanying Alison
James as she modeled the CASA Artists’ creation, “Shine”.
The audience were wild about Martin – they loved his humour and his
plucky exuberance. On the people meter, he stole the show.
This reflects the importance of performance in the awards but also
people’s willingness to respond, at least in this context, to
liberating visions of the human body.
Sometimes this vision is expressed through the bodies themselves – on
this catwalk there are older people, smaller people, people with plenty
of flesh on their bones, and men (never enough) as well as leggy young
women. At other times the vision is to do with the way the creation
transforms the body wearing it. For my money the standout work in this
vein was “Moustafa” by Erin Mearns-Tonkins.
Her daydream about a camel in a dress became a living sculpture – the
bleached camel bones, so evocative of the desert, arranged in classic
feminine form (referencing, whether consciously or not, the tradition
of structuring bodice and skirt with stiffening materials such as
The work also had the merit of being aesthetically coherent from all
angles. A weakness in some entries was the focus on the front view,
with little of interest developed for the rear view.
Pert bottoms and plenty of leg ensured that this was not the case for
“Birds on a wire” by Colleen Byrnes, which was judged the overall
winner and thus acquired for the Alice Desert Festival collection.
But the judges were clearly not distracted and rightly so, for Byrnes
did achieve a genuine birdlike quality – evoking not so much birds in
flight as long-legged birds, picking their feet up as they strut along,
Byrnes is among a group of designers with high level aesthetic and
technical skills who continue to shine at the awards – others include
Carmel Ryan, Philomena Hali (who both picked up awards) and Franca
Frederiksen (who did not, but probably deserved to for the classy
“Attyred”). Simone Killian also deserves acknowledgement for the
finesse of her several entries.
An unexpected rival this year for immaculate execution was the
Larapinta Valley Learning Centre, with an alluring creation called
“Kwarra kulai”, meaning “living doll”.
Over the past few years the artists from this learning centre, situated
in the Larapinta Valley town camp, under the guidance of their teacher
J9 Stanton, have developed dying techniques using local native plants
and found objects such as car parts, producing many subtle shades of
brown and grey.
The fabrics for “Kwarra kulai”, wool and silk, were dyed in this way.
With the input of visiting artist Christy Van Der Heyden, they were
then stitched into a superbly detailed, hooded costume, including a
breastplate featuring red ininti beads, that would not have been astray
on the set of Lord of the Rings. The creation was worn by the
delightfully natural Michelle Kelf, accompanied on the catwalk by
little Lekita Malbunka – it was debatable who was more the “living
Alice is at its joyous best at the Wearable Art Awards – they are the
perfect event to lead into festival season.
A taste of what to come was also given by the support acts.
The Local B Boys (Adam and Marcus Harding and Salesi Taumalolo) opened
the show with high energy and humour. They’ll be performing again in
the Cat’s Meow Cabaret (September 18 & 19) as well as in Face Up, a
youth dance off at the Pod (Anzac Oval) on September 13.
After interval Rick Everett and Lil Tulloch worked their magic in Out
of Reach, A Circus Story. While their skill on stilts and in the air
wowed the audience, this was also a very moving performance, expressing
without words our desires to connect with each other and also to push
against our limits. They too will perform in the Cat’s Meow, as well as
in High Moon Saloon at the Festival Club, September 19. And they’ll be
giving an acro workshop at The Magic Garden Kids Day on September 13.
Drought proofing with camels.
Sir,– It sounds like there isn’t much real information out there
regarding camels, information that would help some entrepreneur or
government official to wipe them out easier.
I have had a ‘stud’ herd for over 30 years which kept many people alive
with meat and racing animals as well. Some of my animals won the Alice
I had camels before they were trendy, camels for milk before they were
shot to pieces for fun.
Camels are smarter than horses and cattle, easier to train and control,
will live on a fraction of the water and feed, and in drought will keep
condition (this is what people eat dry time).
Why bring in (at big cost) different cattle breeds to get more mileage,
when camels are already here. The Asian market is big, those who get in
first, will be the winners, in the pet market as well as human
But to do so thinking must change if we are to survive hard economic
times along with climate change. We hear talk of going green, save
energy, save water, but still many live like their European cousins,
which is driving markets away from common sense just to fill this
When we do have another drought, will we have camels to survive on? If
climate predictions are to be as BAD as they say, what then do
Europeans eat? Sheep and cattle will die off first.
Everyone knows the history of famine in Europe, what they ate, maybe
this is something to think about before we slaughter the lot.
Alison Anderson commented (Australian August 15, 2009), “Labor Let Down
My People”. The government is worried now about the impact camels are
having on Aboriginal land, while at the same time Indigenous people
living on these communities are dying of preventable disease and living
And this will continue until all their land is handed over (under 40
year lease) to a government who is so worried about them. The question
here is will things change for the better with a lease?
People can always feed themselves out bush; take land and people
starve. But again private enterprise can’t make money from independent
people, so keeping people illiterate, below poverty line, easy to
Sir,– Pop Vulture has displayed his true knack of sniffing out the
rotten stuff with his throw-away line about Madame Butterfly. Cameron,
stop and smell the roses, and stop chucking out those more malodorous
metaphors about grubs and bored audiences.
The production is the work of a creative ensemble of around 60, many of
whom hopped into their packed pantechnicon to take Butterfly to
far-flung and appreciative audiences for this current tour.
I was privileged to attend the Territory premiere at the Tennant Creek
The local newspaper reported that the performance was attended by “170
glamorous theatre patrons”; I can report in these pages that this
audience responded with delight, rapt attention, tears, and a fitting
Territorian send-off for the cad, Pinkerton.
Bored we were not, just engrossed, on our plastic chairs on the
Cameron, you might just get it, One Fine Day.
In year seven I was asked by my teacher to become part of the English
Even though I attended a pretty rough public school, the debating team
actually had some social status. The one thing the thugs liked more
than smashing other school’s football teams on the field was
embarrassing posh schools on their own turf at their own game.
By that rather basic logic, even the geeks amongst us could garner a
certain level of cool. Believe it or not, back in year seven, I was a
shy, studious kid. Why I was asked to join a debating team was beyond
me. Even more astonishing was that I agreed to join. Upon reflection it
might have had something to do with the fact that I was the only boy on
We prepared at lunchtimes and after school for a week and then this big
day came. Debate day. Although we were a state school, seeing as
how we were debating expensive private schools, the powers that be
decided we needed blazers.
While the expensive private school had woolen, lined, well fitting
blazers with crests oozing tradition and education, our school bought
plum-coloured real estate jackets with a school logo designed in the
Looking like a contestant from an episode of Perfect Match, I stood in
front of the school ready to deliver my section of the debate.
I lost it. I completely froze. Cotton mouth would have been a welcome
relief from the sweating, stuttering and voice breaking which
constituted the 30 seconds I stood in front of the audience. I ran off
stage embarrassed and humiliated with a ruddiness of face to match the
colour of the cheap jacket I almost fitted into. As I sat in the
cubicle of the toilet, a realisation swept over me. Nervousness is such
a waste of energy. From that moment on I swore I would never get
nervous in front of a crowd again.
Since then I have performed in front of thousands and I have never been
nervous. Never. I wish the same could be said for me concerning
the opposite sex. I am absolutely pathetic when it comes to talking to
women. I’m like that kid in the plum jacket all those years ago.
I am seriously oblivious to “signals” and all wit and social skill
flies out the window faster than Superman. Which makes the great
Aussie tradition of the nightclub hookup all the more amazing to me.
With the lights and the thumping music and the crowds and the
beverages, how could you possibly know if someone is interested?
This thought came to me last week while meeting a friend’s wife. I
asked how the lovely couple met and they replied. “We’re a Melankas
Melankas, Legends, the SGB, all venues of infamy. All places of a
happier time. An Alice Springs of days gone by.
A place where fun and beverages were both had by the bucketful. A time
when one could afford the required amount of lubrication over the bar
to talk to a girl without feeling socially irresponsible.
The strange thing about all these places is that even the people who
attended on a regular basis spoke in sometimes less than glowing terms
about them. Melankas was a concrete basement of a place with sticky
floors, poor lighting and overpriced beverages from plastic cups.
Legends and the SGB served tacky cocktails full of cream in bowls
bigger than your head and the Gapview’s club was decorated like a scene
from an gaudy adult film.
But they were loved. I wonder what my Melankas couple thinks of the
rubble, trees and cyclone fencing that remains where the big blue and
grey building once stood.
I wonder if those people sitting in the offices on the first floor of
the Alice Plaza ever think that they are sitting in the same spot where
they could have potentially been conceived.
I wonder if the young bell hop at the Crown knows that Mum once had a
couple too many and flashed the young bell hop at the SGB back in the
day. I hope not.
I wonder if the accessible, friendly and slick nightspots in town today
might just lack a certain bacchanalian element. I wonder if the ban on
shots and big cocktails prevents me from talking to girls.