October 22, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Highrise debate cranks up. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Opposition to the five storey development – mostly residential – on the old Melanka site, on the grounds that it exceeds the three storey height limit, is gathering momentum.
The proposal includes 116 apartments, for short and long term rental and for sale, as the sustained critical shortage of housing in Alice Springs continues to drive prices through the roof and people out of town.
The developers say their project “provides safe and affordable housing close to the CBD”.
Also on the drawing board are a family tavern and restaurant, retail shops, commercial space, a coffee shop, apartments for owner occupiers and serviced apartments for letting both short and long term.
Heritage architect Domenico Pecorari welcomes this mix among the proposal’s good features, but vigorously opposes the height of the proposed buildings. 
“Terms like ‘5-storey’ and ‘18 metres’ just roll off the tongue and seem pretty harmless, I guess, until you compare them to buildings we know in town.  
“The new buildings will be twice as high as the Todd Mall / Parsons street corner of the Alice Plaza, well over twice the height of Flynn’s Memorial Church and four times the height of the rooftops of the heritage-listed houses in the Heritage Precinct and the shops on the other side of Gap Road,” he says.  
“In my opinion, 18 metres is well and truly over the already generous 14-metre height limit under the NT Planning Scheme and breaking through this limit will be setting a precedent for even higher buildings in the future.   
“Is this what we really want for our town?” asks Mr Pecorari.
Another well-known heritage campaigner, Jose Petrick OAM, is organising a letter-writing campaign this Sunday at her home at 7 Tietkens Avenue, 2-5pm.
“I will have small writing pads, envelopes and biros and ask people to come and write short letters of protest about the proposed five storey highrise building at Melanka.
“I will take the letters to the DCA on the Monday morning.
“We did this at Pitchi Richi when all else had failed – 35 people wrote letters to [Planning Minister] Delia Laurie there.
“The next thing we knew was Delia had arranged for Pitchi to be heritage listed.”
Unfortunately key figures behind the project, including the owner of the land, are refusing to provide first-hand information.
There is evidence they are the same people who were promoting a backpackers’ hostel on the site.
Despite great fanfare the project faded away.
The Alice News was told for its August 17, 2006 edition by Ian Loan, of Gilligan’s backpackers, that there will be “a five star super backpackers resort with up to 600 beds with ensuite bathrooms, plasma televisions, state of the art kitchens, a giant swimming pool, beach and landscaped waterfall, expected to be finished by June 2008”.
“It’s all on the drawing board at the moment but it’s going to be the jewel in our crown,” said Mr Loan at the time.
“At first we didn’t think Alice Springs was big enough but on the numbers coming here we think it will be even more successful than our backpacker hotel in Cairns.” 
The owner of the former Melanka land is Christian Ainsworth of 58 Lae Drive, Runaway Bay, Q 4216.
The applicant is CJHA Pty Ltd of 606 Stanley Street, Woolloongabba, Q 4102.
That’s the same address as Blueprint Architects, who drew up the plans for the current proposal.
Blueprint’s manager, James Forbes, on Monday agreed to be interviewed by the Alice Springs News, at 8am on Tuesday, but then could not be reached, and he did not return a telephone message left with his office.
The home page of Gilligan’s Backpackers Hotel and Resort Cairns (motto: “the ultimate experience in backpackers hotel accommodation and leisure that will forever change your view of budget travel”) carries this line: “Domain licensed from Christian John Hasting Ainsworth” – for whom the initials would be CJHA.
The local agents for the project, L J Hooker, refuse to disclose details of the people behind the project.
When the Alice News explained to manager Doug Fraser that both our operating procedures, and the Journalistic Code of Ethics, require us to talk to the sources, and not rely on hearsay, he terminated the conversation.
We take the view that undertakings from the principals are meaningful, those of intermediaries are not.
It’s not a good look for a project that relies on the Minister to grant an exemption from the current town plan, who in turn is obliged to take into account the wishes of the public.

Can we afford to say no? COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Alice Springs has fought – and mostly lost – many battles to preserve its “built heritage”.
Turner House, Marron’s Newsagency, the Rieff Building, Lizzy Milnes’ homestead-like house that had withstood Kmart’s onslaught – the list goes on – have been bulldozed with the consent of governments – CLP as well as Labor.
But the Melanka proposal, on display for public comment, is different.
Firstly, nothing needs to be demolished to make place for the new structure (that’s already done).
And secondly, times have changed.
In the days of boundless optimism and a growing economy, Alice Springs could afford rejecting a project in favor of keeping old, sentimental treasures, values.
The argument that old buildings are good for business in a tourist town, a no brainer in countless cities around the world, has never managed to find traction in Alice Springs.
The question is, can the town afford today to turn its back on a multi million dollar project, after 10 years of virtually no population growth, when many people contributing to the town’s commerce have departed, and urban migrants, unable or unwilling to work, have arrived.
If the money walks because building height restriction campaigners succeed, the effect on the community’s faith in its future would be devastating.
This town, right now, needs a powerful symbol, something that’s screaming from the rooftops that business, tourism, horticulture, mining, private enterprise have a future here.
It’s nice to get a $35m power station at Pine Gap, $130m worth of welfare housing in town camps, and accommodation for transients on the dole.
But none of those will produce anything valuable for the broader community, other than the money for construction.
The argument of the building height campaigners would be far more credible if they came up with a viable alternative to supply in the immediate future the privately-financed residential developments that are so desperately needed. 
An interesting exercise is to look at the proposed building not from the side, but the top.
The buildings are five storeys high but between them are gardens, walkways, a pool.
Ever had a look at the ghettos dotted around town passed off as flats and units, tiny, cramped together, wall to wall concrete.
Compared to those, at least on paper, the Melanka proposal looks a treat.

Good-bye sunrise. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

People at the new so-called sunrise viewing area, during winter months, the height of the tourism season, will not be able to see sunlight striking Uluru as the sun rises above the horizon.
The position of the viewing area was apparently decided by the traditional owners, against the express wishes of the tourism industry, and will bring to an end one of the Territory’s prime visitor attractions.
The new viewing area is south-east of The Rock.
In winter the sun rises well to the north of east.
As it comes over the horizon, the rays of the sun strike mainly the north-eastern flank of The Rock, a magnificent natural spectacle seen by thousands every year from the current viewing area, north-east of The Rock, due to be decommissioned.
That flank is not visible from the new viewing area, named Talinguru Nyakunyjaku, built at a cost of $21m and opened by Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon with great fanfare on October 8.
Says Craig Catchlove, CEO of the lobby Tourism Central Australia (TCA) when the negotiations with the Federal Government’s Parks Australia about a new site were under way: “The preferred placement was hit on head.
“The sacred sites people knocked it on the head.
“There is no denying that for about two months of the year the sun doesn’t get [to the part of The Rock seen from the new area] at sunrise.”
Mr Catchlove says there has been a “stack of consultation” about a variety of issues concerning the new area.
However, on the crucial issue of position the blunt message of the parks service was: “That is not going to happen.”
Said Mr Garrett in a media release: “The traditional owners chose the site and were closely involved in every stage of the development.”
He made no mention of having consulted the tourism industry.
Says Margot Marshall, Director Public Affairs, Parks Australia : “The new viewing area provides stunning views at all times of the day, not just at sunrise.
“The site was selected by the traditional owners to offer a landscape view of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta and to be the springboard for the development of new tourism experiences.
“For closer views of Uluru, we suggest that visitors take the magnificent walk around the base.”
TCA has, for years, urged the constructions of a new viewing area near the one to be decommissioned, with the same excellent views, on a higher sand dune.
Ironically, this could have been done at vastly lower price, and approximately where the Year 2000 parks master plan located the facility.
The “Traffic and Parking Study” by Sinclair Knight Merz in 2005 proposed seven options, the most expensive of which was estimated att $5.9m, including $5.35m for a new road.
That option proposed “a full stage implementation of the Visitor Infrastructure Plan for the Sunrise Viewing Area.
“It avoids expenditure of capital on future redundant works and impact on the Park habitat.
“It will effectively eliminate the current problems associated with tourist control and pedestrian / interaction by separating the viewing area from the car park,” says the report.
“The carpark will be designed to integrate safer parking arrangements and pedestrian movements for traffic arriving, parking and departing.
“For safety reasons, there will still need to be some lighting at major pedestrian crossings.”
The cheapest option proposed by Sinclair Knight Merz was $181,960, less than one hundredth of what the Federal Government has just spent on a location that, it appears, will fall well short of visitor expectations.
One option could have been constructed for $1,630,000 – just a short spur of road to a parking area, and viewing areas set back further from Uluru, enabling visitors to see a fully sunlit Uluru throughout the winter months when the sun tracks north in the sky.
That’s less than one tenth of the current expenditure.
Operators at The Rock put a brave face on what they must regard as a done deal.
A spokeswoman for the Ayers Rock Resort describes the new facility as wonderful.
Says Pat Oldfield, who runs the Harley motorcycle tours at The Rock and has lived there for 30 years: “It’s done – let’s just enjoy it.
“They are not going to shift it. It’s a lot safer, elevated, there are no trees in the way. You can can see the Olgas.”
(They are also visible from the old site.)
Mr Oldfield suggests the consultation process was a sham.
“They showed us the new site. They didn’t ask us.
“They were going to do it anyway.
“This was not driven by a tourism body.
“It had not a lot to do with us.
“It was driven by Canberra.”

Big plans for baby ‘roos.

His “baby kangaroo rescue” vehicle is a familiar sight around Alice Springs; now Chris “Brolga” Barns is taking his mission further, creating a kangaroo sanctuary on the outskirts of town.
A bequest of $100,000 – from “a supporter who sees the challenge of trying to do what we do” –  has made possible initial lease payments and investment in infrastructure on a 36 hectare plot in the “airport paddock” off Colonel Rose Drive.
His own toil and the regular wage of his partner, Emma Dover, are doing the rest.
The goal is to have the sanctuary housing animals by late November and from early next year to have guided tours financing the operation.
“I intend to make this a great tourist attraction,” says Chris.
He is racing against the coming summer to complete the dog-proof fence around a 20 hectare free-range enclosure and to build a small visitor centre, doing most of the work himself.
When he’s not swinging a shovel and mixing concrete he’s at home – a converted tin shed about a kilometre away – caring for kangaroos.
Three young joeys are nestled together in a bag beside his bed.
“I’d planned not to take on any joeys while I’m building,” he says, “but I find I can’t say ‘no’.”
He says it’s important for the joeys to hear and feel each other’s breathing and warmth, especially after the ordeal that they have often been through.
Some of them have survived the impact of the car that killed their mother – Chris urges motorists to check dead ‘roos for joeys that may be still in the pouch and uninjured.
Others are given to him by Aboriginal people who have killed the mother in a hunt.
Chris eats meat, including ‘roo meat, and has no objection to hunting.
But he strongly objects to joeys being given to children “as a toy” – whether intentionally or not, the animals are often cruelly treated, he says.
Outside, in the yard around the shed, are a number of young ‘roos, dozing in the shade, or scratching in the dirt and playing with one another.
Chris, who worked for 10 years in private animal sanctuaries before coming to Alice, keeps his contact with the ‘roos to a minimum; the idea is to get them strong and independent for release back into the bush.
Not all of them will make it. They may have lost an eye or have an injury which will prevent them being able to outrun a dingo.
These animals get professional veterinary care – Chris sees this as a must, despite the expense – and become long-term residents.
At the moment they are in a large yard out the back of the shed.
Among them is a big “alpha male”, Roger, still in his “adolescent years”, who is very edgy about human visitors, even Chris who rescued him as a joey.
Chris is careful to keep his distance; he has no illusions about the damage an angry ‘roo can do.
He’s looking forward to moving them all to the sanctuary, where they’ll be able to live a more natural lifestyle.
He says Parks and Wildlife have “authorised” the sanctuary, and a ranger inspects his animals prior to release.
He has submitted an environment management plan, which includes a commitment to get rid of buffel grass over time.
The animals will be able to graze and browse as they do in the wild, but they’ll also be given supplementary food.
The maximum carrying capacity is two animals per hectare.
Why is his focus on ‘roos rather than other animals?
He feels they get a “raw deal” from many Australians – they’re often considered a pest and too many of them die on the roads.
Chris would like to educate people, especially tourists, to avoid driving on unlit roads in the Outback at night, when ‘roos, especially in dry times, are on the move.
As the sanctuary begins to earn an income he hopes to train and employ Aboriginal guides.
He sees improving prospects for Aboriginal people, for example through employment, as a way of improving conditions in their communities, including for their animals.
Chris receives no government funding.
It’s a matter of pride for him to achieve what he does independently.
“There’s an attitude in this town that you can’t do anything without government funding.
“If you don’t get it, everything comes to a grinding halt.
“I think you’ve got to work out how to fund yourself because that then is sustainable.
“It’s not easy and there’s a certain amount of luck involved.”
Chris sees as “lucky” the international interest in kangaroos – “I must have done 20 international media interviews in the last three years”.
These have sometimes led to donations that have helped keep him and the animals going.

Shire shirks questions.

The Alice News published a report on October 8, quoting allegations concerning the conduct of shire business by present and former senior staff employed by MacDonnell Shire.
The sources spoke to the News on the condition that they and the communities where they served were not named. Their identities are, of course, known to the News.
Right of reply was offered to the shire.
A spokeswoman said a reply would be likely to be provided for the next edition of the News. It was not to hand in time but has now been received.
New CEO Graham Taylor says the article “contains errors and unsubstantiated statements” but he does not specify.
He says “these errors and generalisations do not warrant the public promotion generated” and offers “a reminder that the CEO is the only authorised spokesperson for the organization”.
He says the “unsubstantiated statements appear to be from one or two former employees and a current employee”, noting that “Council has more than 360 staff”. 
He says he has found Council “to be a capable and strong unit, supported by committed and achieving staff” and is upset that “any employee would place themselves above their fellow employees and go to the media about their own personal employment issues”.
He does not give specific information in relation to any of the issues raised in the article.
He repeated the performance this week when we put questions to him concerning allegations relating to former community council property not being fully accounted for in the transition to the shires. We asked if there had been an audit, before and after, of machinery and plant.
We also asked whether the shire had placed a two month embargo on employment of staff, and asked specifically whether some communities are without any shire employees and whether night patrol in some communities is down to just one driver.
Mr Taylor replied in part: “It is unfortunate that someone has once again chosen to bring the MacDonnell Shire Council’s good work into disrepute with the use of more inaccuracies and hearsay, and again I remind you that the CEO is the only official spokesperson for the organisation.” (What about the elected members?)
“As such I respectfully request that you disregard any further comments made by anyone but me on matters that are clearly of an internal nature.”
On the employment embargo, he said: “It is not uncommon for workplaces of our size to have vacant positions for a variety of reasons, and we are currently advertising any vacant positions and attempting to recruit ... I am not aware of any embargo on employment within the MacDonnell Shire Council.”
He provided no response regarding an audit of machinery and plant.

New chief sought for Territory collections. By KIERAN FINNANE.

As angst over changes to the Araluen Cultural Precinct mounts, in particular in relation to the display of its permanent collections, the Territory Government is recruiting an Executive Director, Cultural Institutions and Collections.
This position would have over-arching responsibilities for Araluen and the Desert Park as well as the NT Library, Museums and Art galleries of the NT, Darwin Botanical Gardens, the Herbarium and NT Archives.
The advertisement says in part: “This unique, high profile role will be critical to the future of Northern Territory remote communities.”
“The [Executive Director] will lead a strategic approach to the use of the collections to ensure that as many people as possible are engaged and educated by them.
“These Collections are to be integrated with other activities to engage local communities in the realisation and interpretation of their culture.
“To this end it will be important to create a culture of visitor focus and community involvement that will ensure the development and use of the Collections as knowledge centres.”
Meanwhile, a wide range of concerns about the “draft” Araluen development plan were expressed at a meeting convened by the Friends of Araluen last Saturday.
Several speakers commented that the word “draft” had been added as a sticker to the full-colour glossy document.
The web version is not labelled “draft”.
The document’s identification of all the major goals of the precinct development as focussed on Indigenous art and tourism was challenged.
Its lack of an account of the history of the arts centre was described as a significant short-coming.
Its lack of a visual representation of a site plan, showing changes, was criticised.
The planned linking of all venues across town to the Red Centre Way was warned against – apart from anything it ignores all country to the east of Alice Springs.
The lack of  “a genuine consultation process” from the outset and the lack of a means of engaging and representing the whole of the community through a board were stressed.
There was concern about the lack of detail about the future of Central Craft.
It was pointed out that the document makes no mention of the role of the Friends of Araluen, who, among other contributions to the centre, sourced the Centenary of Federation funds that built Gallery 3, now the subject of controversy.
There was anger about the apparent intention to dismantle the Museum of Central Australia.
And there was concern about location of the solar collectors for the new air-conditioning system  between the Museum of Central Australia and Central Craft (the caterpillar sculpture will apparently not be affected).

ADAM'S APPLE: Saturday.

You know the feeling you get when you wake up in the morning, dreading another day at the grindstone. Another day of working with people you’d rather not see, doing things you’d rather not do.
 But just before you pull your protesting soul from under the covers you realise the most glorious thing you’ve ever realised in your entire life. A near narcotic buzz momentarily sweeps through you and a small smile breaks across your pillow-ravaged face.
You delight in the realisation that today is Saturday.
You never had that feeling as a child. We knew instinctively when we woke up that it was Saturday – it was quiet.
There was no weekday hustle. No Mum coming in your room to open the curtains. No sound of Dad shaving in the bathroom. No sound but the birds outside your window and the electric noise of the fridge in the kitchen.
Remember when Saturdays weren’t a day off but a day full of unexpected possibilities?
Saturdays started with cartoons. Back when Hey Hey It’s Saturday was a morning show. Thunderbirds followed by Masters of the Universe, Voltron and M.A.S.K. In later years my sister would demand the Care Bears. Bloody Care Bears.
Halfway through Master of the Universe, Mum and Dad would surface. Mum would start breakfast. Weekend breakfasts were the best. No bowls of hot Weet-Bix on a Saturday. On Saturdays Mum would make toast with honey or Vegemite, or baked beans.
Dad would take the opportunity to acquaint himself with the toilet for quite a considerable length of time.
It wasn’t until later in life that I came to know the joy of a lengthy moment of quiet contemplation on the loo.
After breakfast, Mum and Dad would shower and dress and I would go into my room to plan a morning of awesomeness. Would I play with the Matchbox cars? Would I take the footy outside? Would I play with the dog or would Stephen Gabler come over? Such decisions needed only the scantest of planning. Who really cared what I did that morning? It was Saturday!
Saturdays had everything. Many spring and summer Saturdays were spent in the backyard playing cricket.
I used to wear my Dennis Lillee t-shirt when I played backyard cricket and Dad would occasionally spoon me a catch so I could bat.
Winter, it was soccer or a game of kicks until the ball went into Uncle Ray’s backyard. Dad would go over and fetch it and spend an hour or two chatting. I didn’t mind. I was already on my bike anyway.
Most Saturday afternoons were spent at my Grandmother’s house. We’d pile into the Kingswood and play car games along the way. Nan’s house was a step back to another time. Bakelite and Masonite and an outdoor dunny with a choko vine growing over the roof.
There were two undisputablely outstanding things about Nan’s place. The first was near the back fence. Pop’s shed. It was full to bursting with old tools and bits and pieces. I never went into Pop’s shed without finding another curiosity.
Dad would take a great dose of fatherly pride in telling me what each of the strange objects were used for.
The second was Saturday night dinner. Nan would cook for us and the other of Mum’s brothers who happened to drop in. We would all sit around the big Masonite covered table on the old diner-style chairs laughing and telling stories and eating old school potato salad and roast chook, buttered chokos and greens cooked to within an inch of their lives. After dinner I’d be showered and put to bed in the spare room.
Only to wake up for just a moment in the back seat of the Kingswood on the way home with jukebox Saturday night on the radio.
Every so often, when I wake up on a Saturday, I wish I felt like that again.

LETTERS: Araluen shake-up needed.

Sir,– I have worked as assistant curator at Araluen in recent years and have familiarised myself with the Araluen collection, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. In my own opinion the collection could do with some improvement.
The many art centres across the Central Desert can only exhibit together once a year through Desert Mob and/or through non-Indigenous owned galleries within Alice Springs. Perhaps a new or expanded Cultural Centre / Museum / Gallery is the answer to the issue raised by those who object to the dominance of Indigenous art at Araluen. Until then, however, Araluen is all we have.
I support local non-Indigenous artists in this unique and artistic community of ours but more strongly support Indigenous artists who are part of my Warlpiri heritage. Their work is the most successful and positive means of income generation for Indigenous people of all ages in remote communities.
Tourists come for this art and culture. Our whole community benefits incredibly from tourism. The Indigenous Art industry is bigger than the cattle industry and certainly contributes a lot more to the local economy than non-Indigenous art does.
Perhaps this is the kind of shake-up local artists need to lift their game. I find it interesting that the Gathering Garden public art piece on our council lawns was created in collaboration between Julie Squires (an artist from Melbourne and my non-Indigenous cousin) and local Indigenous Artists who are also family members of mine. Why didn’t the local non-Indigenous artists make the cut?
Jacinta Price
Alice Springs

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