ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
October 22, 2009. This page contains all
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
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
“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
“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,
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Good-bye sunrise. By ERWIN
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
A spokeswoman for the Ayers Rock Resort describes the new facility as
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.
By KIERAN FINNANE.
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
“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,
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
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
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
Remember when Saturdays weren’t a day off but a day full of unexpected
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
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
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
LETTERS: Araluen shake-up
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
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?