ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
December 10, 2009. This page contains all
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
Camel cull world shame. By ERWIN
The camel cull near Docker River, where the animals are
being shot and left to rot in the bush, “is looming as one of the worst
horror shows in Australia’s history”, says camel expert Paddy McHugh.
After a segment on the American TV channel CNBC (see box this page) he
says he was interviewed on at least 50 media world wide, “from Al
Jazeera to the BBC”.
Paddy McHugh has been in the camel industry for 35 years: this year
he’s mustered and sold about 1000 camels in the Pitjantajatjara lands
in the Top End of South Australia, and has conducted many camel tours
through the deserts of The Centre.
He has close connections with veterinarian Alex Tinson, a major figure
in Middle Eastern camel racing.
That industry alone is worth $1b, says Mr McHugh.
Says Mr Tinson: “A $38m cull of this resource will result in these
remote communities losing at least $100m in direct income.
“It will be a missed opportunity, an opportunity to create another
great rural industry and a business that suits the way of life in
Mr Tinson is director of the Scientific Centre for Racing Camels in the
United Arab Emirates.
“The camel is an incredible resource for the planet,” he says.
“Camels are ideally placed to become the new livestock animal as
countries such as Australia become hotter and drier with global
“Drought-adapted camels are highly resistant to disease, and produce
lean milk and meat loaded with vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting
“This cull is a huge drain on tax payers’ money, completely wasted and
with the added tag of a very large negative social and environmental
“There is absolutely no need to do this cull; there is a logical
commercial industry answer.”
Says Mr McHugh: “The main organisation pushing for this cull is Desert
Knowledge CRC, an organisation based in Alice Springs.
“They have now produced the ‘ultimate bible’ – a very one sided view of
what they believe should be seen as a rural problem: the camel.
“This publication is called the ‘Cross-jurisdictional management of
feral camels to protect natural resource management (NRM) and cultural
“Over a period of time some $1m was spent producing this publication.
“It is littered with mistakes, inaccuracies, unproven assumptions and a
whole lot of double talk, pages of irrelevant information which has no
bearing whatsoever on the camel.
“The report is totally focused on justifying the cull, barely giving
lip service to any alternatives such as the development of a commercial
Mr McHugh says DK-CRC “showed their hand when they seriously discussed
the use of the camel pox – a slow death – as a possible way of reducing
He says the organisation, which has been refused funding for a second
six-year term and is due to shut down mid-2010, “is now asking for $19
million equally matched by the states to start a major $38 million cull
control program to stop these alleged problem animals.
“That’s a few million dollars for the shooters burning up fuel flying
around the desert.
“Yes, they will spend a few dollars and have a wonderful time and yes
they will kill a few animals, but they won’t really make a dint on the
“Quite simply, if $38m was spent on just flying around in helicopters
shooting camels, you would definitely not reduce the herd by half, so
in eight years’ time we’d need to spend $38m again ... and again!
“So what this is really about is getting money to prop up an
institution that produces paper work and a lot of hot air.
“Is that what we want, or do we want employment and industry with
vision and leadership?
“That would be a lot better than the result of a bullet in the head and
disease seeping across the lands from rotting carcasses.
“This will also cause wild dog numbers to get out of control, and
release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”
The chairman of the Carbon Sense Coalition, Mr Viv Forbes, quoted by Mr
McHugh, claimed that the plan approved by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to
cull one million camels may have unexpected carbon tax consequences.
“A big camel probably weighs about a tonne, so Mr Rudd is going to let
a million tonnes of valuable meat rot under the Centralian sun.
“Each camel probably has about 190 kg of carbon sequestered in its
“As it rots and absorbs oxygen, this carbon will increase into about
700 kg of carbon dioxide which will then dissipate into the atmosphere.”
Mr McHugh says each camel has an export value “free on board” of at
least $1,200 – live or in a box.
“DK-CRC say there are 50,000 camels in the Simpson Desert.
“I have travelled extensively in this area, having walked across the
desert six times and driven around the region for over 30 years.
“This figure is absolutely wrong ... and that is only the start of
their mis-truths and blatant lies.”
Mr McHugh says there may be a million camels in Australia “if we’re
lucky,” but there are 23 million cattle and 90 million sheep and we
live with them and they earn a lot of people a lot of money.
“We can live with the camel, we can harvest and farm them as a great
rural animal, it is an animal well suited for the 22nd century and the
dry vast continent of Australia.”
NT Primary Industries Minister Kon Vatskalis, who is responsible for
the management of feral animals, did not respond to a request for
comment this week.
In response to an earlier request his office told us to contact DK-CRC.
He declined an interview when he was in town for the Parliamentary
sittings last week.
Torrent of revulsion ...
This is what the American public was told by CNBC, unleashing a torrent
of revulsion: “Australia has more wild camels than anywhere else. And
that can mean money. United Nations estimates that the camel milk
market alone is about 10 billion dollars, and they have been called the
new cow, even bison.
“But Australians are not too sure they like camels.
“Today this picture went around the world with the headline quote, town
lives in fear of marauding camels. Apparently thirsty camels are
holding people quotes – hostage, people are afraid and suffer
psychological damage – their words, not ours.
“People want to cull 6000 camels by shooting them from the air and
letting the bodies rot.
“Photos of that were too disturbing to actually put on this show.
Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd is apparently putting his $19m
camel action plan which would authorize aerial strafing of the entire
“Australia will find out if there is another more humane way of dealing
with the camel population, including making money.
Rural residents unhappy with
mooted urban sprawl south of Heavitree Gap. By KIERAN
The new residential area being mooted for south of the Gap came under
fire at an Alice Springs Rural Area Association (ASRAA) meeting last
Sunday, attended by over 40 people.
And in a show of hands only four indicated that they were for the
At this stage, for the proposal to get any further it requires a
Planning Scheme Amendment (PSA) and there would be further planning
processes down the track.
The amendment would allow for urban development south of the Gap and
introduce Planning Principles and Area Plans for the Arid Zone Research
Institute (AZRI) site and for “Blatherskite Valley” (the recently named
Arumbera, west of the railway line, between Ilparpa Road and the South
The NT Government is taking public submissions on the proposed
amendment until January 22.
A motion from the ASRAA meeting called for an extension of the public
comment period to February 19, an extra 28 days, and chairman Rod
Cramer has written to the Minister (Gerry McCarthy following the
Cabinet reshuffle on December 4) with this request. There was cynicism
expressed over the intentions behind setting a January deadline, a time
when many Alice residents are away.
However, senior public servant Ray Smith said this should be
interpreted as “a stuff up” rather than “a conspiracy”.
Together with Peter Somerville, Mr Smith took questions on the proposal
for over an hour.
Apart from concerns about process, people wanted to know about costing,
whether the Undoolya option for a satellite development is still being
considered, when an upgrade for traffic through the Gap will be needed,
what the mix of public and private housing would be.
This last the public servants either could not or would not answer,
says Mr Cramer. He says the meeting was assured that the AZRI land – a
corner portion of it fronting the Stuart Highway and Colonel Rose
Drive, with a potential 1200 lots – will not be the only land to become
available in the coming years. The other examples mentioned were Ron
Sterry’s and John McEwen’s developments in the Stegar Road area as well
as in-fill north of the Gap.
There was concern expressed about the impact of the development on the
character of the rural area south of the Gap.
“A couple of people said, if it goes ahead it will be the beginning of
the end of the rural area,” says Mr Cramer.
“Every planning instrument as far back as you can go has kept urban
development north of the Gap. This would be a massive change.”
Mr Cramer pointed out that the area plans that are part of the PSA show
a reasonably large residential area in addition to the AZRI one. It is
located in Arumbera south of Karnte Road and would be separated from
the proposed new industrial area extending further west by a slim
The industrial area is being proposed in conjunction with the
residential areas in order to provide for local employment
opportunities. Mr Cramer says the meeting heard that the area plans
were fairly broad brush, an indication of what may happen but not
necessarily of what would happen.
Some of these broad brush ideas include improved local road
connections, for example between Ilparpa Road and the Stuart Highway,
connecting the Ilparpa area to the new industrial area, and from the
Ross Highway to the Stuart Highway, through the AZRI subdivision. A
possible railway spur to support major industrial development is also
Ideas for the subdivision itself inclde enhancing St Mary’s Creek and
lesser drainage features with native tree planting, and underpinning
the subdivision design with cycleways and pedestrian corridors.
Detailed plans would only come later in the process.
Don’t shoot horses, says
traditional owner. By KIERAN
These horses and cattle on the Iwupataka Land Trust died as a result of
drinking “dirty water”, says traditional owner Ernest Armstrong.
He thinks the water in the single permanent spring on the trust, Merle
Atwatye just west of Standley Chasm, has been contaminated by the
faeces and urine of animals drinking there, including camels.
Mr Armstrong says he has been asking for help to muster the horses and
cattle following “a couple of accidents with tourists”.
But the kind of help he wanted has not been forthcoming.
He says he asked the Central Land Council and Ingkerreke Outstation
Resource Centre for assistance to do a helicopter muster and to obtain
a rainwater tank and trough so that he could provide clean water for
the animals. Some help was given, through the Iwupataka Working on
Country ranger trainee program, to excavate a waterhole at the Jay
Creek settlement, with the plan being to draw the animals into the area
and trap them using portable yards.
About a month ago, when this photo was taken, about 40 live animals
were in the area, in poor condition.
A suggestion that they be “euthanased” – shot – is not welcomed by Mr
What does he want to do with the animals?
He spoke of his grandfather obtaining the land for his grandsons and
granddaughters to live on and create businesses.
For the animals “it’s too late now”, he says.
“Half the animals have already gone.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know when we’re going to get rain.”
Bullying allegations in
Yipirinya School. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
The Aborignal owned and taxpayer funded Yipirinya School is in turmoil
with alleged bullying of staff by the principal, Ken Langford-Smith,
and his son, Nigel.
Two staff members say although Nigel Langford Smith is inadequately
qualified he holds the highly paid position of “Co-Curricular
Both of the staff members who spoke to the Alice Springs News last week
were dismissed without notice on Monday this week.
The News has obtained tape recordings which corroborate allegations.
The principal did not respond to a request for comment, but a
solicitor, John McBride, rang on his behalf, telling the Alice News to
be “very careful”.
We asked Mr McBride to convey to Mr Langford-Smith that we are always
very careful, but that an examination of the allegations made against
him is in the public interest because he is dealing with members of the
public and spending public money.
In the conversation with Mr McBride the News reiterated the invitation
to Mr Langford-Smith to exercise a right of reply.
One of the staff members spoke to the News on the condition that his
name is not mentioned. The other is Christopher Tomlins, a student
liaison officer, who says he was instrumental in increasing enrollment
from 49 mid-year to 104 now.
He says 40% of the children are from town camps; 25% from outstations
(such as the “Golden Mile” and Yamba), and 35% urban.
Mr Tomlins has a four-year old daughter at the school which gives him
voting rights on the school council.
He and the other staff member told the News the principal had put in
place a protocol for complaints: they need to go to Mr Langford-Smith
first, and he then passes them on to the school council.
However, they say many of the complaints were not passed on.
This led to a council meeting to which the complaints were referred
directly, and discussed.
This resulted in the dismissal of the principal on November 27, a
Friday, but he was re-instated the following Tuesdsay, having
apparently convinced some council members that government funding would
be cut if he didn’t get his job back.
This is the second time the News has reported on matters at the school
under Mr Langford-Smith’s leadership, with similar allegations being
made in late 2006 about complaints procedures and apparent nepotism
(see our web archive www.alicespringsnews.com.au/1350.html).
Last week both contacts told the News that current contentious issues
• Non-compliance with the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement;
• Nigel Langford-Smith, apparently being paid $65,000 a year – nearly
twice what teachers get – was allowed to do overtime while this was
denied to other staff;
• a granddaughter of Mr Langford-Smith without any teaching
qualifications being paid although she was supposedly a volunteer;
• massive red tape to obtain simple teaching aids;
• the principal withholding complaints from the council;
• a person entitled under the EBA to 10 days’ grievance leave getting
Mr Tomlins says there have been an unusually high number of
resignations and a string of legal actions in the past few years,
including unfair dismissal actions.
He says tourists visiting the school were making substantial donations
– he guessed around $50,000 a year – but “no-one knows what’s happening
to that money”. He says it appears the school is charging Centrelink
under the nutrition program for five or six children who are not at the
Margaret Friedel: Seeing
science changes from Alice perspective. By KIERAN
Adding to a body of knowledge that helps people get a better
understanding of the environment they are living and working in is what
has motivated ecologist Margaret Friedel, yet she is modest about her
achievements in this area.
“That was quite a long time ago,” she says about her
ground-breaking research into assessing the condition of rangeland
It was published in the world’s leading rangeland journal, an American
publication, in 1991 and in 1996 earned her the US Society for Range
Management’s Outstanding Achievement award.
It challenged the dominant view that grazing impact on rangeland health
was a one-way street towards degradation and once grazing pressure was
reduced there was a one-way street back to recovery.
Dr Friedel developed a new understanding that recognised the complex
interactions between soil, climate, fire, grazing and vegetation
processes, so that within a single paddock multiple states of rangeland
health can occur.
She recognised that there are thresholds of change between one state
and another, and once those thresholds are crossed it can be very
difficult to reverse the changes.
These processes can see change as dramatic as grasslands becoming
shrublands and vice versa – landscape scale changes resistant to
This work, which was completed halfway through her 35 years at the
CSIRO lab in Alice Springs, was among the achievements leading to Dr
Friedel being conferred the Desert Knowledge Research Award in the 2007
NT Innovation Awards.
Another was her contribution to participatory regional planning in
desert Australia. From 1995 to 2000 Dr Friedel was a key contriibutor
to the Rangeways project in the Western Australian goldfields.
The challenge was to identify and reconcile opportunities for different
land uses while protecting biologically sensitive areas. What was
innovative was that the project worked with the diverse and remote
community to develop processes for land use planning, rather than
coming up with ‘The Plan’.
These two areas of achievement encapsulate the shift in focus of
research at the CSIRO lab over the span of Dr Friedel’s career.
When she arrived in the Centre in 1974 the focus was very much on the
Her first job was to look at nutrients in different kinds of country
subject to different kinds of grazing, to see if there was any nutrient
change with the way the country was managed.
This enlarged into a study of the productivity of different kinds of
With the growing availability in the late ‘70s of satellite imagery, or
“remote sensing”, the lab was able to look at really broad landscapes.
But satellite observations still need to be tested on the ground, which
is where Dr Friedel’s focus remained, working with soil scientists and
modellers to develop a suite of tools to do ground-based assessments of
the conditions of country – the research that gained her international
She then moved on to doing other kinds of work, with improved rangeland
management always in her sights.
With colleague Graham Griffin she looked at fire ecology. In the wake
of the major rains of the ‘70s, a lot of woody plants had germinated
prompting concern about fire risk and discussion about the use fire as
a management tool.
Together with people like Col Stanton, Scott Wauchope and economist
Brian Cann she also looked at land rehabilitation techniques, such as
pitting, tyning and ponding.
“By the time that work was written up people had gone away from pitting
and tyning to using much more susbtantial structures, ponding banks
that hold back water for a longer time and create recovered patches of
vegetation that are so large they are self-sustaining.”
While there was potential for pastoralists to mistrust scientists, Dr
Friedel says that over time the relationship changed from “friendly,
tolerant, interested in some cases” to now “very much a partnership
People on both sides “appreciate the opportunity that they might not
necessarily have otherwise of engaging in conversations with people, we
listen to each other’s perspectives, there’s a real sharing and
acknowledgement of where we need to get to”.
From the 1950s CSIRO research had focussed on mulga country and
spinifex grasslands, with a view to improving pastoral productivity.
“Scientists eventually came to an understanding that you would be not
be able to improve things greatly on those land types.
“From a productivity perspective you had to concentrate on richer parts
of country and learn how to manage them well.”
Understanding on a broad scale the conservation issues was something
that developed later with the appointment in the 1980s of conservation
biologist Steve Moreton and subsequently more people with a
“Also because of the interests of one of our staff, Graham Griffin,
there were some of the very early attempts at developing research with
Aboriginal people, work on mapping Aboriginal country, small projects.”
With Aboriginal people owning such a significant portion of the land
mass in the Territory, it was inevitable to a point, but it was also
difficult for the scientists to know how to engage with them.
“We didn’t see an obvious role for formal Western science. We were
coming at the situation from our perspectives as conservation
biologists, ecologists or whatever we were, but until you engage with
people, their values, their entire setting you don’t start to
understand what the real problems are.”
The way research was being funded also had influence on what was being
When Dr Friedel first joined CSIRO it was funded largely by government
allocation to the whole organisation, which allowed the perspectives of
the scientists to largely drive the direction of their research.
But from the ‘80s a lot of funding was tied to organisations with
specific funding priorities.
“What you then did was make proposals to those bodies.
“You had to have the skills and interests, to come up with ideas.
“More and more it involved dealing with all sorts of industries – you
learn an enormous amount as you discover what your niche is in that
particular industry and how you can make a contribution.”
Sometimes researchers were responding to advertised opportunities;
sometimes they would be approached by the funding agency on the basis
of work they had done in the past.
Definition of the research task would be “to some extent a mutual
thing” – “in some situations I’ve been able to say, ‘I don’t think
you’re covering some of the important issues in the questions you want
answered’ and I’ve made alternative suggestions”.
An example of this was research funded by Land and Water Australia
under a program called “Defeating the Weeds Menace”.
As the program name suggests, its focus was on the cost of invasive
plants but Dr Friedel, who never used the program name when talking to
land users, argued that the benefits as well as the costs of the plants
had to be addressed from both pastoral production and environmental
points of view.
Buffel grass is a case in point. Its usefulness as pasture and in
holding the soil together has to be as much part of the debate as its
competition with native vegetation and its contribution to the fuel
load which increases impact from wildfires.
Also, Dr Friedel points out, “the potential to control a lot of
invasive plants is pretty limited so the best solutions may be in
learning how to live with them”.
“A lot of these issues are far more complex than we may think and
governments need to have the courage to have a go at the complexity.
“Land and Water Australia supported us to do this work and took it a
step further to see what implications might be for policy.”
Dr Friedel’s focus was on buffel grass, taking as broad a framework as
possible, working in different parts of Australia, with various
organisations and a range of pastoralists, from the Fitzroy region
around Rockhampton, to north-east of Port Augusta as well as in the
Centre and in the Pilbara, to get regional variations and a diversity
of views on the different economic potential as well as the different
“What happens over time when you’ve done some of the basic ecology is
that you realise it’s all very well to have information about the
environment, what’s good for the country in an environmental sense, but
if you simply go out saying people ought to do this, ought to do that
on the basis of this environmental research you’re not taking into
account the entire setting in which people make decisions – the
economic implications, but also individual differences in what their
goals might be.
“If you don’t take those things into account and you’re interested in
doing science that has an application in a practical sense, you can
really fail to deliver.”
These realisations came about in part as a personal evolution, but
there was also a change in culture at the CSIRO.
“I still remember a chief of a division years ago saying about this
need to involve value systems, ‘CSIRO doesn’t do social research’ in a
very final sort of way, and I thought, ‘Oh really?’.
“But it has very much changed now, we’ve got whole streams of work on
economic and social systems.
“We’ve got people embedded in our divisions who are social scientists
and human geographers.
“Very little of the type of science we do is done on your own. If you
want to tackle bigger problems, you have to have a raft of skills and
one individual doesn’t have all of them.”
Under the direction of Mark Stafford Smith the lab focussed on
developing community engagement and research partnerships.
“The perspectives that Mark had were very broad, much more encompassing
regional development – all the different industries, how they might
interact, thinking about whole systems, understanding what the
“Eventually he began to think with others about the principles
underlying desert knowledge.
“He was particularly taken with thinking about sparse populations which
are very mobile, little concentrations of resources in seas of fairly
low quality land from a production point of view – a big arid interior
in relation to which all policy is developed on the coast and markets
are a long way away.
“You can’t necessarily have big businesses in this context, rather a
whole lot of networked businesses.
“A lot of this thinking grew through the ‘90s and into this decade.”
More than ever, working with multi-disciplinary teams was the way to
go, with learning curves for all involved.
“I’ve said to social scientists, ‘I feel a bit uncomfortable about this
role that I’m in, I don’t have the theory, the framework to hang this
“They’ve been very encouraging.
“I think it’s possible to work in that interface provided you’ve got
other people in the team who do have that expertise.
“In the last 15 years I’ve started to move into that complex area, like
in the WA goldfields, trying to get people to think about complicated
land use trade-offs and working with people with social science
backgrounds who could help shape the questions we might ask.”
It was experience that helped her feel at ease as manager of a project
using remote sensing technology for assessing desertification in
This came about following an approach from an Indian colleague,
ecologist Suresh Kumar, whom Dr Friedel had met at an International
Rangeland Congress in 1988.
Gary Bastin, also from the CSIRO lab in Alice and an expert in remote
sensing, was involved, while on the Indian side there was a livestock
expert and an economist as well as Dr Kumar.
“It was my job to try and draw all of this together and make sure we
delivered on time.
“It was enormous fun, as well as challenging – you had to work your way
through the Indian hierarchies and the way things are done there.
“Dr Kumar was a very forward thinking man, very innovative, including
in having female scientists on his staff, which I appreciated.”
When Dr Friedel entered the profession, women scientists were very much
“I imagined I’d be in the vanguard of a big shift, but it didn’t really
happen – this lab is quite unusual in that regard.”
Dr Friedel headed up the Alice lab for seven years and in that time by
far the majority of staff, including scientists, were women, but that
is not a common situation within CSIRO.
“We certainly did not go out and choose people on the basis of gender,
it just so happened that women were the people who were keen to come
here to work.
“But CSIRO broadly speaking, despite Dr Megan Clark being its Chief
Executive, only has a very small percentage of women in senior roles.”
Dr Friedel is not aware of specific barriers but wonders why it is so.
She says there is “quite an attempt” within the organisation to
encourage gender diversity as well as diversity of cultural and
language background, including an effort to get Indigenous people
In her three and a half decades in Alice Dr Friedel has also married
and raised two children. She say husband Dick Kimber has been
incredibly supportive of her working in the way she has, including of
the necessity to travel for work.
She took only six months off following the birth of each child.
“More recently, as head of the lab, I’ve worked some ridiculous hours
and Dick has been concerned.
“In the end I’ve been happy to step back and take a back seat role.”
Officially Dr Friedel will retire next year, but retirement will be
merely a matter of financial arrangements – she has no intention of
stopping her work as a scientist.
She’ll slow down a bit perhaps, have some time to spend with an
expected grandchild, and on community work, such as the Alice Springs
Desert Leadership Program, which has put out a call for mentors for the
next generation of leaders.
She’s coming to the end of a year of doing a lot of writing and
thinking – “I’ve got lots of papers in various stages of being written
and when they’re done I will start writing some new ones” – and
she is working on a new short project, drawing together people working
on contentious plants – commercially valued invasive plants like buffel
grass – to come up with recommendations on best practice for
making decisions about them at a strategic level.
She was recently appointed to the NT Weeds Advisory Committee, she
continues to sit on the NT Research and Innovation Board, and she is
supervising a PhD student undertaking research in Mongolia.
After her 35 years with CSIRO, does she feel optimistic about the state
of the broad Central Australian region – are we getting a bit better at
understanding it and living with it?
“From an environmental point of view, people have a much better
understanding of what its tolerances are, people manage the country
“There are always going to be good and bad managers and I’ve never seen
a real drought and maybe I won’t see the worst impacts because buffel
grass might hold the country together.
“That’s a change I’ve seen – you can argue whether it’s for the better
“When you come to broader issues like Aboriginal livelihoods, there are
massive challenges. Some of them are being addressed by CSIRO
colleagues like Jocelyn Davies in collaboration with Indigenous
organisations. The problems can seem dauntingly complex, but it’s
essential we address them. I feel positive that we can make progress
together as a community.
“Overall, it’s a great place to live, and you have to be optimistic.
Alice Springs has some problems, but it’s also got some really
innovative and creative people in the arts, local government, sport.
“It’s a place where people can achieve if people have a mind to do it
and the opportunity.”
Harsh, but it will not let you
go. REVIEW by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Life in the desert is backbreaking, heartbreaking.
“This country can take away everything you love, just like that, can
kill you in just a couple of hours,” says Morgan.
“This country dries you out, spits you out and then turns around and
kills you,” says Molly.
Why be there?
Alice playwright Michael Watts’ latest work, the engrossing “Morgan and
Molly”, raises the questions and gives some answers.
Freedom, space, sunsets, the star sky, a first kiss at night outside an
outback fete, the touch of a young woman’s skin (“and you best take
your fill of it, because in ths country, who knows how long it will
last”) and – somewhere – an “Eldorado of gold, garnets, rubies and
These are all powerful lures for the adventurous, the dreamer or the
The play begins when the couple’s adventure has come to an end.
Children were born and had died or were lost to a big and distant city.
Apart from three good seasons, when there was laughter and happiness
around the laden dinner table, a merciless drought overshadowed life
and death on the cattle station.
A flashback shows the meeting of the two, and then, Molly following
Morgan, who’s pushing his wheelbarrow, over hundreds of sandhills,
through the desert to their new home, “our shack nestled in that little
A relentless routine sets in: building a homestead, births, burials,
ringers who need to be fed, a son, too young for the task set by his
father, riding to his death in search of water, children killed by the
cough, running off with tricksters from a city.
All the while, the big questions have been left unanswered.
What happened to the tenderness of being in love?
Why must she keep sweeping out the sand, so the desert doesn’t reclaim
Why is his wheelbarrow still empty?
Now that the big tasks are finished, will the pair stay where their
memories are, or will the quest for Eldorado continue?
Watts likes symbolism. It works particularly well in this play, not
turning the characters into caricatures.
This is largely an accomplishment of the actors: Luke Scholes (Morgan)
did very well in his full length acting debut.
Kerzlake’s Molly was sad, passionate, sometimes exuberant, always with
a clear mind about her fate and her future.
A huge tribute must be paid to the creators of the set, designed by
Watts, built by Trent Hardy and Matt Day, and especially to lighting
designer and operator, Greg Thompson.
It was magic how he created the glaring midday desert heat, the red and
golden sunsets, and night scenes with The Centre’s famous star-filled
The producer of the Red Dust Theatre, the unstoppable Danielle Loy, has
presented a drama that will strike a strong chord with many in The
And because The Centre is one of those magical places in the minds of
people around the world, “Morgan and Molly” may well get a run beyond
the edges of the desert.
An ambient journey into the
persistence of solitude. By POP VULTURE with
Life in the sometimes unforgiving Centre is seldom portrayed with such
beautiful insight as in the play I saw over the weekend which kept me
slack jawed and almost floating with the feeling it sent resonating
about the auditorium of Araluen.
Alone and together, an unknown mission with an unknown goal, imprisoned
in a world with harsh unrelenting beauty and the drive of your own
destiny and dreams.
This cocktail of stirring feelings is what I took from Morgan and Molly
– the production a true paradigm of how a small crew can magnify a
story onto the stage.
Playwright Michael Watts’ story, directed by himself and Karen
Hethey, tells of a desert-dwelling couple seemingly lost between a
physical realm and something of a dreamscape existence.
The two leading roles were performed by locals Kerzlake and Luke
Scholes, both displaying a multilayered performance with a gusto
usually reserved for those accustomed to creaking boards.
Both delivered a poignancy of heartbreaking loneliness and yet a vigour
of life in portraying what is that embracing honeymoon period of
courtship of a single minded love and destiny, often strewn with
lengthy bouts of deafening silence. The prowess of performance was
boarded by set designs simple yet strong, red dunes amidst golden and
Kudos to the stage hands as each scene snapped and morphed into each
other with little to no squeak in the wheels. This show was
long but in no way drawn out, a feature length presentation, a more
than welcome tidal change as most locally produced plays this year have
run under the 10 minute short, sharp punch to the senses category.
The music was a free flowing haunt!
The ukulele (Matt Hill) almost speaking in a one syllable language of
its own, like some invisible third role.
All the while a cello (Isabelle Kirkbride) saws and sways its way, in
giant slow lacerating waves, a truly majestic sound, a soulful musical
magnet that draws feeling out through the pores of a listener’s
A musical score that filled the voids of silence and movement, a time
where you can imagine your own similarities being played out.
How well can you swim? REVIEW
by DICK KIMBER.
By Peter Thorley
Have you ever been hit by a wall of water? Desert Tsunami gives
us the opportunity to think about that possibility.
Although we live in Australia’s best-known desert town, surrounded by
deserts, the image of a tsunami is also shockingly clear in most
We recall the recent dramatic televised images of devastating tsunamis
that wiped out entire coastal towns and cities to Australia’s near
Peter Thorley’s title is thus challenging and thought-provoking at the
same time. Could we possibly have a tsunami here in the
Peter, a friendly archaeologist whom many will recall lived here in
recent years with his wife Joy (Hardman) and daughter Giselle, and also
taught out at Kintore, states that many of us who live here in the
Alice have already lived through a number of them.
The cover photograph of the Todd River in flood is one with which most
townspeople can identify. Other photographs, whether historical
or contemporary, and whether of floods or bogged vehicles and
equipment, will also resonate with readers.
In a well-written, compelling Part Two chapter, he records his own
experiences of the 2000 flood to give substance to his ideas. In
addition, though, because the flooding was so widespread, he has
written of the even more dramatic events at various Aboriginal
communities, most memorably way out west in the Pintupi homeland at
Here, at Australia’s most remote community, the people sheltered in
their homes as the rain beat down for hours upon hours, then days upon
days. Unknown to all it not only filled the large claypans to the
north, beyond the great natural retaining wall of a red sandhill, but
spread vastly out east and west and even further north beyond it.
Here lay the route of the Great Snake ancestor who had fled a Dreamtime
fire at Wilkinkarra, Lake Mackay, west to Jupiter Well.
It was as though he had been disturbed from his ancestral home, and
becoming angry had thrashed around.
In the middle of the night, according to Pintupi friends with whom I
spoke after they had been air-lifted to safety, the sandhill had given
way, and the water had engulfed them.
The people living in the houses closest to the sandhill had awoken to
the feel of water rushing through their homes, had snatched up babies
and half-sodden blankets, and calling to one another had begun wading
to the higher ground.
Those few who delayed in their homes, climbing onto anything that got
them clear of the initial rush of water, had later been forced to wade
through fast-flowing water over a metre deep, sometimes at chest
height, to get to the comparative safety of the one building where the
veranda remained just clear of the waters.
Here, a white acquaintance had floated leaves on the flowing water and
timed them down the length of the veranda, estimating that the
flow-rate was15 kmph.
Having first visited white salt-encrusted Lake Mackay in the drought
year 1970, then Kiwirrkura locality with Pintupi men in 1974 before the
community was built, and several times thereafter, I could not really
believe what had happened until I saw the first photographs. To
view a great sea to the north in photographs, and later when it was all
dried out to drive up by the breach in the sandhill, was
The closest I had come to seeing a similar event was when the 1956
River Murray flood required huge levies to stop it flooding the
entirety of Renmark, Barmera and Cobdogla, my childhood
That great red sandhill immediately north of Kiwirrkura must have been
tens of thousands of years old, and I could not see any signs of it
having previously given way and later reformed. Since then, but
without the author’s training in archaeology, I have wondered whether
this desert tsunami was equivalent to some of the immense floods that
he discusses going back to 30,000 and more years ago.
Peter ranges over time, discussing his perceptions of climate changes
from the deep past to the present, and giving us an idea of the likely
future. In so doing he also briefly explains in easy-to-read
English certain terms used in meteorology, archaeology and
geomorphology and how he knows that dates for ancient super-floods are
He also considers great floods in the Australian Deserts from the Great
Sandy to our distant west to Sturt’s Stony Desert and the Darling River
to our distant east.
There is also little doubt that he will create animated discussions
among people who have the slightest interest in archaeology.
Peter has hung his hat on his own careful excavations of a rock-shelter
near Tempe Downs and what they have revealed to him of the last 30,000
years of human history. (This both complements and greatly varies
from Mike Smith’s slightly earlier archaeological work, which resulted
in both similar and very different ancient dated deposits from a large
cave further west.)
Most other sections of his book, such as the idea of “boom and bust”
cycles in the rainfall and its impact, will create less debate, but
nonetheless I expect some lively discussions to occur.
Whatever his inter-related topics, the author’s two great strengths are
his local knowledge and his ability to write in easily comprehensible
English rather than academic jargon. He readily spins brief
illustrative discussions out into other Australian desert areas, but
always brings readers back to the Alice.
Thinking further on the book I wonder whether a second edition might be
subtitled, “How Well Can You Swim?”
I recommend this book to anyone of senior secondary school age and
older who has an interest in Alice Springs, the history of desert
super-floods and their aftermaths Australia-wide, or simply enjoys an
interesting, thought-provoking read.
The National Museum in Canberra, for whom Peter works, is to be
congratulated on their hosting of the very successful recent launch of
the book, as are the Central Queensland University Press for publishing
Country Liberals are going
The Country Liberals, in a climate change policy announcement
coinciding with this week’s Copenhagen Climate conference, say they
will increase investment in renewable power to achieve a 100MW output
by 2025 and commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60% across
the Territory by 2050.
They will also:
• establish a five year, $5 millon Renewables Fund to promote
development of renewable energy sources.
• set a 25% renewable energy target for 2025.
• achieve 50% emissions reduction in Government leased buildings by
• have an 8 Star energy rating on all new Territory Government
buildings by 2017,
• have an energy efficiency audit of all public housing by 2015.
• make a 50% cut in NT Fleet emissions.
• have solar capacity at all Territory schools by 2015.
• give a procurement weighting to green focussed businesses tendering
for Government work.
LETTERS: Bush law based on
fear and favour.
Sir,– My wife Bess and I were invited by Danielle Loy to sit on the
expert panel following the screening at Araluen of her new film, Bush
Law. We agreed, though we didn’t really have much of an idea of what it
was about and who was going to be involved. When the time came we were
exhausted after several weeks mourning the death of a loved one,
traveling for both work and recreation and the usual flood of family
issues that greets us when we get back to Alice Springs. So we didn’t
It is pretty obvious to us now that, if we had attended we would have
been on our own, as usual, at such an event. We would have been the
only serious dissenters in a room full of mostly whitefellas cheering
loudly for the recognition of customary law in our courts.
We do feel a great deal of sympathy for the old Warlpiri men present
and we understand their point of view. My father in law was one of
their generation with a very similar attitude to the culture and law
he’d been brought up in and a profound regret for its passing. I have
great respect for the particular gentlemen on the stage that evening.
But still I can’t agree with them.
I don’t have the same respect for the views of those Aboriginal people
whose whitefella education, mastery of English and social position
means that they can live free of the strictures of customary law and
aren’t likely to be mutilated, beaten to a pulp or executed as a result
of its application.
I am downright disgusted by the views of white officers of our courts
who are pledged to uphold our law but are happy to denigrate it
publicly when I spend a lot of my time trying to encourage respect for
it amongst my Aboriginal kin, many of whom are regularly amongst the
incarcerated Glen Dooley [principal lawyer, North Australian Aboriginal
Justice Agency] is so worried about.
Lawyers seem interested in promoting the acceptance of customary law
only in support of the mitigation of the sentencing of their clients.
They are concerned only with keeping violent criminals, whose victims
are inevitably among the most vulnerable and powerless in their
communities, out of jail. There is never any sympathy expressed for
these victims. We are much more concerned for the victims.
Mr Dooley’s other great bug bear is the building of police stations.
Once again there is no mention of the fact that they are at last being
built after decades of requests from the most vulnerable in these
communities, mostly women, and their families. As somebody who has had
to call the police to my own home on several occasions to prevent
violent assaults from escalating, I am ashamed and disgusted by his
lawyer-centric arguments. It literally turns my stomach.
I agree to some extent with the genuinely liberal minded magistrate
[Michael Ward] who has seen customary law apparently work in some
situations. I have as well. But I have also seen it go very badly
indeed. It simply doesn’t work the way it used to.
Even when it works it is based on principles repugnant to the
mainstream legal system and to my personal philosophy. It is based
squarely on ‘fear and favour’, not on fairness and objective judgment.
The object is to terrorize the opposition and to support kin regardless
of their crimes. It is about revenge as much as restoring balance. It
is not applied rationally.
Many of the demands for payback I have heard expressed relate to
charges of homicide or grievous injury caused by sorcery. Do we accept
that as well? I don’t.
The belief in sorcery as the cause of premature death and
life-threatening illness is at the heart of traditional culture. It is
still at the heart of the belief system of all of the Aboriginal people
I have regular dealings with, including the Christians amongst them. It
is a major cause of inter-family conflict.
My Aboriginal kin know my views on this subject – I don’t blindly
accept all they tell me nor they what I tell them.
There is also the little matter of the status of women in all this. The
current interest in customary law was at least partly kicked off in
reaction to the invasion of the men’s ceremonial ground at Lajamanu by
a female police officer. The chairman of the CLC, Lindsay Bookie, had
this to say on ABC TV in response to that incident:
“It’s against our law for people like that breaking the law, they
shouldn’t be there. Aboriginal ladies, they’re not allowed to go
anywhere near that. If they had been caught, a woman, Aboriginal lady
got caught she [would] be killed. Simple as that.”
I would have liked to have heard the panel’s views on this statement,
particularly Mr Dooley’s. I know the Warlpiri attitude already.
My problem is that, although I respect tradition, I want my Warlpiri
wife and all my descendants to enjoy exactly the same rights and
protections under the law as any other citizen. Wasn’t that what the
long struggle for citizenship rights for Indigenous Australians was all
about? Mr Dooley’s arguments threaten those rights.
I would like to hear the views of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Social Justice Commissioner on this issue as well. He is a
self-described Kungarakan and Iwaidja elder as well as a White Ribbon
Ambassador, I’m not sure how he can be loyal to both positions if what
Mr Bookie says is true – and we all know it is.
What we need is a real and frank debate. The old men need to be
challenged on these issues. I believe that they simply do not have the
right to threaten women, or anybody else with execution, and I’m happy
to tell them so.
We need to discuss principles with some sort of depth and honesty. We
can do that on the basis of mutual respect. We can do it
compassionately, but we must do it. The time for blind acceptance of
any statement made by anybody labeled ‘elder’ by our media, or legal
aid lawyers, is over.
The time for sloganising is over. If we had been at the forum we would
have tried to get a real debate going but I feel that we would have
been shouted down by the whitefellas in the audience whose rights and
protections are guaranteed and never brought into question and those
Aboriginal people present who also live their lives free of the threat
We could have made those old men listen and respond wisely and
honestly. We could have had a decent conversation with them without
their self-righteous minders. Maybe next time.
Judicial spearing different from
Sir,– The opening statement of your review (December 3) of the film,
Bush Law, misrepresents what was actually said in the film, and by the
The panel’s comments are available on the internet at Youtube (Google:
Bush Law Documentary Forum), and copies of the DVD of the film are
available from Danielle Loy.
Over and again, the elders of Lajamanu stated that their process of due
justice, resulting in a judicial spearing, has never in their living
memory resulted in a “fatality”.
Fatalities occur when justice is taken by family members of the victim
of serious crime into their own hands. This leads to cycles of
revenge punishment; cycles that could be properly called
Judicial spearing is seen by many Indigenous people as true justice,
the right consequence for a serious violation of Law.
Incarceration causes serious psychological, social, health and physical
injury to many people closely related to a perpetrator of a serious
crime. A judicial spearing inflicts a serious injury upon one
person only – the criminal.
Incarceration costs many millions of dollars to pay for the building of
bigger and bigger gaols, and pay for the ever expanding penal support
services that are associated with the gaols.
It also requires the payment of medical expenses of sometimes up to 30
or more close family members who are hurt or killed because the
perpetrator has not properly faced the aggrieved family. A judicial
spearing results in medical treatment for one person, and that is then
the end of the matter.
Which process makes sense?
I regularly visit my Indigenous friends in gaol, and sit with their
grieving family members in community. I have witnessed a judicial
spearing process, and I know which process makes sense to me.
Lance A Box
Solution must be found
Sir,– It is a fact that Indigenous Territorians occupy the beds in the
NT prison system in a highly disproportionate number. Anything
that can be done to redress this situation needs to be done, and if
that includes finding a way to use traditional law in conjunction with
Australian law, then let’s find it.
Danielle Loy’s film, Bush Law, was informative and thought provoking,
as was the forum held afterwards. I left Araluen with two
apparent contradictions and no clear thought on how to resolve
I agree that if the term “payback” is dropped by the media, it will be
dropped by the community.
To me payback has a wholly negative connotation of violent retribution,
and I associate it with schoolyard bullying or urban gang
warfare. At the same time, there seems to be no denying that
traditional law utilises corporal punishment in ways that Australian
law no longer does. How do we talk about that?
My other concern is more of a question. Can a legal system based on
communal rights ever be compatible with a legal system based on
Consider the case of the woman in the film whose life had become, in
her own words, a nightmare. Her sister was in gaol for breaking
Australian law. In committing her crime, she had also breached
traditional law. Because her sister was unavailable to face
traditional punishment, the punishment fell on the woman whose life
subsequently became a nightmare.
It would seem that in traditional law a community’s need for closure
takes precedence over the rights of an individual who had themselves
done no wrong.
In Australian law this would not happen, and anyone administering such
devolved punishment would themselves be guilty of an offence.
Could new ways be found to repair
Sir,– There is long history to NT collaborations on intercultural
law and justice. During 1993-96, for instance, in Eric Poole’s period
as Minister for Correctional Services. This will be remembered by
Ken Lechleitner [moderator of the forum that followed the screening of
Bush Law], and many people from Yuendumu who worked with
Magistrate Deland, and Aboriginal Community Police officers, including
Andrew Spencer Japaljarri.
Many thorny issues came up around the ‘Two Law’ debates,
including questions about the origins of the Western and Aboriginal
systems and the justifications for the way judgment, sentence and
reparations are carried out and understood.
The term “payback” implies revenge, or violent criminal ‘mafia’ style
reprisal, as in [the TV series] Underbelly. But excitement about
the violence obscures the social and emotional value of seriously
conducted Customary Law procedures as repair.
After the Bush Law film, Rosalie Kunoth Monks raised this problem of
family strife after a crime (victim impact) and especially ‘grief
resolution’ in closely knit communities.
Rosalie Monks and the Lajamanu men were mindful of fateful situations,
their interest was not merely abstract or some kind of cultural wishful
They referred to the value of (all) people following their cultural
forms and customary procedures of trauma resolution, rather than
leaving resolution to the court system alone – which may have other
priorities. This is a practical humane problem which has to be solved
every time there is a violent crime.
Magistrate [Michael] Ward, Rosalie and the younger Warlpiri man
approached the ‘payback’ matter with intelligent and diplomatic
recognition that managed bi-cultural response to crime impact is
possible and necessary in maintaining social integrity –
especially following a death.
They placed the matter into the field of community social health,
making the case that if the Indigenous justice system is perverted in
its process (from within) or obliterated by the Western system (from
outside), then the result, in fact, is not the desired order and social
peace but an insidious kind of repetitive disorder and complicating
The failure to sort out victim / perpetrator relationships after a
crime creates a culture of anxiety in the region, requiring more
and more policing.
Careful ceremonial inter-family reparation can settle everyone down.
Due settlement is at the heart of the customary law system.
Whether grievous bodily harm is used or not is a vexed question. The
Rabbi Jesus introduced a form of forgiveness into the old Judaic law.
Contemporary Aboriginal law people might find new ways to carry out
the repair and break this deadlock.
Craig San Roque
Comparison with Nazi Germany wrong
Sir,– I take issue with Rosalie Kunoth Monks’ assertion that “there are
similarities between the Australian Government’s treatment of
Aborigines, and what Nazi Germany did to Jews” (Alice News, December 3).
I can assure any person inclined to make comparisons between the plight
of Aborigines today and the Jews (and millions of others) that perished
under Nazi or Soviet rule, that the latter did not suffer from
self-inflicted lifestyle choice diseases of obesity, hypertension,
diabetes, chronic alcohol / inhalant /drug abuse, violence and
The emaciated prisoners of Nazi concentration camps and Soviet gulags
were covered in their own shit, piss and vomit because they had no
By contrast our prisoners (mostly Aborigines) get the opportunity to
stay out of squalor. It is folklore for decades now that many
Aboriginal people breach the law in order to go to gaol, so they can
get decent meals, clothing, shelter and safety.
Who remembers the first major capital works project under NT
It was the Berrimah Gaol, replacing Fannie Bay Gaol in Darwin,
officially opened in 1979.
For all the long years of CLP domination the ALP was a fierce critic of
the NT government’s policies and decisions concerning Aboriginal issues.
Today it’s Labor that holds office, and there are more Aboriginal
politicians in the NT than has occurred anywhere else in Australia in
So what does the NT Labor government propose to do? Why, build a big
new gaol in Darwin, of course – to replace the Berrimah Gaol, and at a
cost of $300 million.
To put that in perspective, the State Square Project (the NT
Legislative Assembly and Supreme Court) cost $163 million to build, and
that cost had blown out by more than 50% – the original price tag was
If there is anything we can be accused of, it’s being generous to a
fault. Nationally we spend $3 billion annually on Aboriginal affairs –
that is, on about 1% of our population.
Since the creation of Aboriginal affairs as a national Commonwealth
responsibility and the rise of Aboriginal self-determination in the
1970s, I estimate about $40 billion has been spent on Aboriginal
interests in that time, a very large ongoing slice of it being spent in
Is there any other country expending so much money on such a tiny
minority, and with so miniscule a positive result to show for it?
It’s not hatred of racial or cultural differences that is the problem
in our country, rather it is indifference.
How else do we explain the turning of our blind eyes and deaf ears to
all the distress and corruption afflicting Aboriginal affairs for the
past quarter century or more?
The flip side to this coin is the failure of so many Aboriginal people
to take responsibility for managing their own lives. Unlike inmates in
concentration camps, our society does not force any Aboriginal person
to endure unspeakable deprivation and suffering against their will.
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks and her supporters should stop seeking to cast
blame on governments, bureaucracy or society at large for the
self-inflicted damage suffered by many Aboriginal people.
In the end we can only assist those who choose to help themselves.
Terror in NT Housing
Sir,– Bravo to the Alice News for their article about the terror that
is faced by elderly people in NT Housing accommodation (December 3).
This is far from an isolated case. I hear these stories weekly from my
customers. They are exhausted from lack of sleep and constant fear for
their lives. This is no way to treat the people who helped build our
town and indeed the Territory.
I challenge Rob Knight and Paul Henderson to come to Alice and NOT stay
at the Casino. Leave behind your entourages and stay in NT Housing
Answers, not lunches
Sir,– You have the ‘decency’ to invite me for lunch with the Ministers
Dr Chris Burns, Delia Lawrie and Karl Hampton after I send faxes and
letters about all the break-ins I had at the train terminal Alice
Springs, and the restaurant at Ross Highway early this year.
It cost me many thousands of dollars out of my pocket and on top of
that Insurance Damage of more than $50,000.
I had 50 break-ins over a few years –11 at the restaurant and 48 at the
I sent letters and faxes to every parliamentarian from Alice Springs,
Darwin and Canberra especially to all Australian Labor Party members
And to you, Mr Hampton, you had not the guts to respond to all the
faxes and letters I forwarded to your office, to do something about all
the anti-social shit problem we have in Alice Springs due to special
number of people in the river and camps.
The only parliamentarian who contacted and had time to talk to me was
Adam Giles MLA. I respect that very much. He is also one of a few who
had the guts to say what he thinks.
For the rest of you, resting like a bird on a fence when your hear a
shot, you all disappear and sit on another fence.
The Australian Labor Party, Country Liberal Party and other parties
have brilliant people to do the job but you all bullshit around
arguing, and each party wants to be better than the other.
Fix the bloody problem and do something about it. Stick the lunch
invitation up yours!
ADAM'S APPLE: Wisdom of elders.
Andrew Denton has time and time again shown himself to be Australia’s
most watchable interviewer. From the edgy Blah Blah Blah, to Enough
Rope and a plethora of programmes in between, Denton may well have
surpassed Ray Martin, Mike Willesee and the like as Australia’s premier
Denton seems to effortlessly waft through the intellectual, comical and
His questions are pointed without being offensive, they are intelligent
without being unpopular.
I guess I like the way Denton conducts an interview because he asks the
questions I would like to ask a subject, if only I had thought of them.
His new series, Elders with Andrew Denton, is an example of a great
interviewer and great interviewees coming together.
I was excited to see on the promotional that Denton would be
interviewing 70 year old Clive James.
I have been a fan of Clive James since the day when as a kid I would
watch his show on ABC1. (It was known as Channel 2 back then, but that
was a name appropriate for an analogue age.)
My mother remembers Clive as an arts critic on television in the 1960s
but I remember this odd looking man with an Aussie accent underlined by
a nasal whir caused by a tight pair of glasses sitting atop a roman
I remember he was incredibly funny. I remember wondering how I too
could get paid to live in London and make fun of Margaret Thatcher and
the Ayatollah Khomeni all while wearing a suit and sitting behind a
desk in a television studio.
It was later on in life that I realised the depth of the body of work
attributable to Clive James. He is an author, playwright, poet,
television producer, documentary filmmaker and internet pioneer. He is
one of those deep thinkers who is, like Denton, able to explain his
musings to a wide range of people.
So I had booked a night in front of the television to watch this great
man talk to a great interviewer.
I was far from disappointed. In the interview, the two men spoke about
marriage and their childhood.
They touched on relationships, art and science and they chewed the fat
about the state of the world.
They defined happiness and they spoke about loss. Denton engineered
this interview exceptionally well, never staying too long on one
subject lest we the audience felt bogged down. In fact the two men left
us always wanting just a little more.
But it wasn’t just the structure of the interview that made this show
hit home with me. While watching it I realised that Clive James’ take
on the world was similar to mine. He was saying things that from time
to time I think.
His battle with the notion of happiness mirrors my own. I found myself
agreeing with his ideas on justice and on marriage and relationships
and I realised that the reason I have liked Clive James work for so
long is that he thinks the way I like to think.
Clive’s advantage is that he has had another lifetime in order to find
the right way of saying what he thinks.
That’s why Elders is a fantastic series. It gives a voice to those so
often overlooked in popular culture. Those with life experience, the
true experts in living.
In our youth-obsessed lives we tend to view our elders as the
ditherers, behind the times and out of date.
What we fail to remember is that if we strip away the iPods and the
Facebook and the Skype, living, with all its joys and pitfalls, doesn’t
really change. We still face the same dilemmas of love and dying and
man versus women that our elders did years ago.
Aboriginal society has a built-in respect for elders. Western society
constantly says that we can learn a great deal from the history lived
by our elders.
Yet at times I wonder if any of us give up enough time to listen.
Perhaps, as a new year approaches, my resolution might be to take some
time and listen to the elders.