December 10, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Camel cull world shame. By  ERWIN CHLANDA.

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 remote Australia.
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 warming.
“Drought-adapted camels are highly resistant to disease, and produce lean milk and meat loaded with vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting compounds.
“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 impact.
“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 values’.
“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 industry.”
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 camel numbers”.
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 population.
“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 body.
“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 herd.
“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 FINNANE.

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 proposed development.
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 Stuart Highway).
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 landscaped buffer.
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 mooted.
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 FINNANE.

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 Armstrong.
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 Co-ordinator”.
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
Last week both contacts told the News that current contentious issues include:-
• 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;
• bullying;
• a person entitled under the EBA to 10 days’ grievance leave getting only two.
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 school.

Margaret Friedel: Seeing science changes from Alice perspective. By KIERAN FINNANE.

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 country.
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 repair.
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 pastoral industry.
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 landscapes.
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 recognition.
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 situation”.
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 conservation perspective.
“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 examined.
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 invasive potential.
“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 trade-offs are.
“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 stuff off.
“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 Rajasthan, India.
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 a minority.
“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 involved.
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 pretty well.
“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 or worse.
“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 diamonds”.
These are all powerful lures for the adventurous, the dreamer or the fool.
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 Coolibah swamp”.
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 their home?
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 sky.
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 Centre.
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 CAMERON BUCKLEY.

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 burgundy sunsets.
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 skin. 
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.

Desert Tsunami
By Peter Thorley
Central Queensland University Press

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 people’s minds. 
We recall the recent dramatic televised images of devastating tsunamis that wiped out entire coastal towns and cities to Australia’s near north. 
Peter Thorley’s title is thus challenging and thought-provoking at the same time.  Could we possibly have a tsunami here in the Alice? 
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 Kiwirrkura. 
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 remarkable. 
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 home-towns. 
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 accurate. 
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 it. 

Country Liberals are going green.

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 2012.
• 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 attend.
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 of violence.
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.
Dave Price
Alice Springs

Judicial spearing different from payback

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 panel. 
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 “payback.” 
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
Alice Springs
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 them. 
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 individual rights?
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.
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

Could new ways be found to repair crime?

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 thinking.
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 chaos. 
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
Alice Springs

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 anti-social behaviour.
The emaciated prisoners of Nazi concentration camps and Soviet gulags were covered in their own shit, piss and vomit because they had no choice.
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 self-government rule?
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 history.
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 $99 million.
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 the NT.
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.
Alex Nelson
Alice Springs

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 apartments.
Ann Borelli
Alice Springs

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 terminal.
I sent letters and faxes to every parliamentarian from Alice Springs, Darwin and Canberra especially to all Australian Labor Party members (in power).
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!
Erwin Pulver
Alice Springs

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 pop interviewer.
Denton seems to effortlessly waft through the intellectual, comical and the emotional.
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 nose.
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.

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