February 4, 2010. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Housing woes: will Alice Springs become a welfare town? By  ERWIN CHLANDA.

“We’ll become a welfare town. Businesses will shut up shop and move from Alice Springs because it’s just too hard to find accommodation for workers.”
Julie Ross, is the head of the Chamber of Commerce, and with husband Neil runs a major business, Ross Engineering.
She paints this grim picture if a proposal for a large residential subdivision south of the Gap is blocked.
And Peter Grigg, CEO of Tourism Central Australia (TCA), says reasonably priced housing is so limited that a major tour company had to accommodate staff in swags and tents.
The housing crisis is “crippling Alice,” says Mr Grigg.
The Town Council will decide on Monday whether to give its support to a change of the town plan, allowing urban-style residential subdivisions south of The Gap.
At present this most needed form of subdivision is barred from about half of the municipality.
A major planning forum in 2008 discussd a subdivision of about 1200 blocks on Arid Zone Research Institute (AZRI) land, on the corner of South Stuart Highway and Colonel Rose Drive, which leads to the Rangeview Estate rural residential subdivision of mostly two-hectare allotments.
The AZRI site is not encumbered by native title which, in two other locations, has been valued at 50% of freehold cost.
The NT Government agreed to this, although it was under no obligation to do so, in exchange for the extinguishing of native title at Stirling Heights, on the western fringe of the town, and then again in the Mt Johns Valley.
Other factors in favour of AZRI is that construction of a suburb there is relatively cheap because the land is flat, and services – power, water and sewage – are close by.
There is no other large-scale low-cost residential development in the pipeline anywhere else in town.
According to the Centralian Advocate, the AZRI proposal is opposed by the small but vocal Alice Springs Rural Area Association (ASRAA).
It has “about 100 members” – chairman Rod Cramer did not provide an exact figure.
The newspaper says ASRAA wants the town to be extended towards the east along Undoolya Road.
But Mr Cramer says: “I stated [in our deputation to the Town Council] that it was not our role to promote or not the Undoolya option.”
Mr Cramer says the point he was making, in opposing the AZRI option, was that it would endanger “that one thing, variously called the amenity, or character, or unique values” that rural area residents hold dear. 
“It is something that can manifest itself differently to each of us [residents in the rural area], but each of us values it greatly.”
It is expected ASRAA will make further submissions on Monday to the council which is dealing with the issue in a committee meeting open to the public.
As usual, members of the public will have the opportunity to ask questions about issues on the agenda – and the AZRI subdivision promises to be the most lively one.
Ms Ross and Mr Grigg, who have indicated they will also be making submissions to the council, say they are not interested in arguing about the site.
But they will leave no doubt about their vigourous demands for new residential land somewhere in the town, in the immediate future, and that the council needs to promote this.
TCA (380 members) and the Chamber of Commerce (247 members) are also likely to be responding to a government invitation for comment – closing on February 19 – on the “change to the Alice Springs Land Use Framework Plan and Principles in the NT Planning Scheme”.
The view of the town’s third major lobby – the Town Council – is likely to carry a lot of weight, although all planning decisions in the NT are in the hands of the government.
Says Mayor Damien Ryan: “We need to get land and the AZRI site seems a good option.”
A change to the plan would also allow modifications to the two subdivisions under construction by Ron Sterry and John McEwen, respectively, off Ragonesi Road, currently limited to larger and consequently more expensive blocks (see also the report in this edition on flood mitigation).
A government source says costs for headworks at Undoolya are “15 to 20 times” greater than at the AZRI site.
Consultants to the NT Government, Opus Qantec McWilliam, in the 2008 planning forum  described the airport land and AZRI as “overall the most cost effective option” for land development (see “Huge development costs differences: will they determine where Alice grows?” Alice News online edition, July 3, 2008).
The headworks costs for the AZRI-airport option were put at $14,000 per block, compared to around $56,000 per block at Undoolya, where an estimated $210m all up, including $26m for new sewage ponds, $137m for a water supply from Rocky Hill, and $40m for roads, would need to be spent by the government.
Undoolya would ultimately cater for 15,000 people, but most of the headworks for the entire development would need to be done up front.
With the AZRI-airport option, Rocky Hill water is closer, the lines from the power station being built at Owen Springs are running past the front door, and sewage can be pumped up to the existing ponds.
The huge area of airport land is also not affected by native title, as it is owned under freehold.
The Commonwealth has leased the land for 99 years to Alice Springs Airport Pty Ltd.
Plans are being drawn up for residential developments (potentially by far exceeding the number of lots at AZRI), tourism, agriculture, horticulture, commercial activities, general industry and heritage uses.
It is not clear whether the Commonwealth will split off sections of that land and sell it as freehold, or whether Alice Springs Airport Pty Ltd will seek to sell off subleases for its remaining lease period (87 years).
The company says in its master plan that “the potential to diversify airport income by expanding the property portfolio” is on the radar but would require the consent of the Federal Minister of Transport.
Some of the airport land considered for residential use is immediately adjacent to present rural residential land – just across Colonel Rose Drive – which appears to make it a more logical concern for ASRAA.
There is a 1.5 km buffer between the AZRI block and the Rangeview Estate /  Heffernan Road subdivisions.
Other rural subdivisions are about 10 km distant.
ASRAA fought a resolute battle against property developer Denis Hornsby, who gained permission from the CLP government at the time, and Lands Minister Max Ortmann, to develop blocks smaller than two hectares in the Rangeview Estate area.
The group lost that battle but won the war, because no government has since exposed itself to the public wrath the issue ignited.
It affected residents at close range – over the fence, in some cases, and unlike with AZRI, there was no public interest at stake.
If the proposed change to the town plan gets the nod, as yet “nothing is presumed”, according to a government source, with respect to when and how the AZRI land, the property of the NT Government, will be developed.
Among the unresolved issues is whether or not there will be public housing at the subdivision.
This may be a good opportunity for the NT Government to create the subdivision in its own right, and sell the blocks at cost: this is the way Alice Springs was being developed before self-government, when the Territory was administered by Canberra, and enjoyed its fastest growth.
Now the town’s population has been stagnant for at least 10 years.
[The author of this report is a long time member of ASRAA.]

Hopeful locals caught in red tape. By KIERAN FINNANE.

They’re young, fit, experienced professionals and they love Alice Springs.
They’ve bought a home here and they’re soon to have their third child, a first little Aussie for this Swiss family.
But despite Alice’s much talked-about skill shortage the Schmids are having trouble getting work.
Cabot Schmid came here as a sponsored migrant but through no fault of his own his job hasn’t worked out.
The sponsoring company, providing travel services and guides to Swiss and German tourists, has not done as well as it had hoped and there hasn’t been full-time employment for Cabot to use his office management and IT skills.
He’s now looking for another job.
Under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme he requires the offer of a job in office management with a two year contract and a minimum salary of $45,200 in order to keep his visa.
Cabot estimates he’s spent at least $1500 on assessment and document translation fees and many long hours at night on researching visa and skill registration requirements as well as job hunting. He’s made some 25 job applications to date.
Meanwhile, Dina Schmid-Hiestand, in Switzerland a qualified and experienced nurse, has been trying to get nursing registration here.
This depends on passing an English language test.
To the lay person, Dina speaks good, slightly accented English and understands a normal conversation without hesitation.
However, more than this is required at a professional level.
There are two language tests acceptable.
One is the academic test by the International English language Testing System (IELTS), overseen by the British Council, IELTS Australia and the University of Cambridge.
This one can be sat in Alice Springs at the CDU campus.
The Nursing and Midwifery Board of the Northern Territory requires a score of seven or above.
Dina has sat the test twice.
In both instances she scored eight in the speaking section but lower marks in other sections, giving her an overall score of 6.5.
A fee of more than $400 was charged for each test.
Dina had also spent money on a private tutor, having been unable to find any formal instruction at a high enough level to prepare her for this test.
She found the writing task in particular very challenging, though each time she scored six. In one instance it was required to write about financial management, a topic she says she would find difficult in her native German, let alone in English, and she queries its relevance for her field of employment.
She also says she is not academically trained. In Switzerland nursing is not a degree course; the four year training is done in hospital and clinic settings.
Since completing her training in 2001 she has worked in surgery (two and a half years), internal medicine (three years) and intermediate care (two and a half years).
After her IELTS experience, Dina turned to an occupation-specific test offered by the OET (Occupational English Test) Centre.
This required travel to Melbourne or Adelaide and a $525 fee.
She gained an A in Speaking, indicating a “very high level of performance”, Bs in Listening and Writing – “high level performance; ie, able to use English with fluency and accuracy adequate for professional needs”, but only a C in Reading.
OET equates C with a “good level of performance; however, not acceptable to a range of health and medical councils”. 
Dina entirely accepts that the board has to set standards.
What she is finding hard is that there is no teaching assistance available in Alice Springs to help prepare her for the test. 
“In the big cities there are options to get training and preparation, but not in Central Australia.
“How can the skill shortage then be reduced?” asks Dina.
The lack of this kind of assistance is a problem in both Alice and Darwin acknowledged by the Territory’s Health Professionals Licensing Authority, says director Jill Huck.
Dina also points out that, between April and October 2009, over three tests she passed at least on one occasion each of the four sections of the tests to the level required, in all three excelling in spoken English, the underpinning of improvement surely for the rest.
Could there be some flexibility to take this into account, she asks.
Ms Huck says there is no way around passing all sections of the language tests in one sitting: that’s a standard set by the board to help ensure safe and professional practice.
“If people can’t pass all fields at the same time, then their practical application of English in what is often a stressful work situation may not be good enough,” says Ms Huck.
The standards adopted by the board reflect the national standard recommended Australian Nursing and Midwifery Council, she says.
“Patient groups in particular have lobbied hard for improved English language standards. 
“The board is satisfied that the current standard, applied equally to nurses and midwives, regardless of country of origin, provides for the protection of the public and more positive nurse patient relationships.”
She says there is a very consistent approach to requirements for evidence of English Language Proficiency across the health professions in the various Australian jurisdictions.
A bridging course to prepare internationally qualified nurses for work in Australian health care settings is offered jointly by Charles Darwin University and the NT Department of Health and Families. To gain entry candidates must still pass the English language test, with no less than 6.5 in all fields. It is assumed that over the 12 week course they will get to the required standard of 7 for registration.
However when the Schmids made enquiries about the bridging course last September they were told by the business manager of the Graduate School for Health Practice that “at this point” the program was “only approved for delivery to nurses from India”.
Says Cabot: “It’s just a shame that no other options are available, like trial periods or provisional employment to gain the language proficiency. And another strange things is, that you are not even allowed to work for a blood testing institute or aged care home when you are not registered as nurse.”
Meanwhile, the event of Dina’s pregnancy has taken over. The baby is due on March 26. Whether or not Cabot is able to find suitable employment, Dina wants to return to work in July.
The couple have given themselves the baby’s due date to make a decision: if the various impasses are not resolved by then, they will have to return to Switzerland.
That would be the end of a dream and the loss of many things they have come to love in Alice Springs: their home, their new friends, the country, and when Dina’s not pregnant, even the heat.

Council mum on flood safety. By  ERWIN CHLANDA.

By The Alice Springs Town Council does not have a policy for preventing catastrophic damage and major loss of human life as a result of flooding although there is compelling evidence that climate change is making flooding increasingly likely.
Mayor Damien Ryan says “I don’t have an answer yet” about the council’s position on a flood mitigation wall across the Todd, some five kilometers north of the Telegraph station, the only measure able to protect the town in the event of a large flood.
On January 9 police urged Alice Springs people “to make contingency plans to move to higher ground or go to relatives’ or friends’ homes which are not in the flood prone area if possible” when the Todd flowed a banker.
Any more rain and sections of the town would have been under water, although it was just a minor flow, one that is likely to occur every five to 10 years – labelled as Q5 to Q10.
In the region so far this year, three people have lost their lives in floods.
And on January 13 a woman and a boy “had a lucky escape after they were rescued from the fast flowing Charles Creek,” according to a police report.
The authoritative report by the Power and Water Corporation (“Alice Flood Mitigation Dam,” October 1990), which is still the bible on flood mitigation, says there may be less than an hour’s notice of a Q100 – the kind of downpour likely once in 100 years –  “and if it occurs at night, an efficient evacuation would not be possible”.
The Alice News provided a copy of the report to Mr Ryan before Christmas, with a request for a comprehensive comment for this edition.
But all he would say about a time line for the council’s decision making process was: “I can’t give you any numbers” but it would be “this year”.
The council is requiring land developers to provide – at great expense – drainage able to cope with a Q100 event.
Work on two residential subdivisions between Ragonesi Road and the Heavitree Range is delayed because of the massive additional costs.
Yet for now the council remains clearly reluctant to put pressure on the governments – Federal and NT – to build a flood retardation wall.
Flood control is a responsibility of the NT Government, but the Commonwealth put in place a 20 year moratorium until 2012 on a mitigation project, work on which had already started, in order to protect Aboriginal sacred sites.
Both the NT (through Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton), and the Commonwealth (through MHR for Lingiari Warren Snowdon) claim “effective flood mitigation measures are already in place.
“This includes the use of modern technology by flood forecasters to better predict the height of flowing water in the Todd River within Alice Springs.”
Both Mr Hampton and Mr Snowdon say a dam “would result in changes to groundwater levels and biodiversity that cannot be accurately predicted.”
The Alice News asked: “Can you please point to the scientific reports or studies on which you are basing your assertions?”
Neither politician responded.
The News put to Mr Hampton and Mr Snowdon that there are two options:-
One is to build a dam which permanently – or at least for long periods – would create a lake, submerging sacred sites.
The other is a wall with a sluice gate, regulating the flow so it is kept between the river banks at all times, keeping the town safe.
In this case inundation upstream would be brief, perhaps just a few hours, covering an area that would be under water anyway in a major flow.
Neither Mr Hampton nor Mr Snowdon would comment on these options.

MySchool: minimal info on Year 12 results, more useful at lower levels. By KIERAN FINNANE.

There’s not much scope for creating a local ‘league table’ based on Year 12 results using the Australian Government’s MySchool website.
The site only discloses the number of senior secondary certificates awarded and the number of students who have completed senior secondary school at each school.
It does not, as yet at least, give qualitative measures, such as the average score, or the number of students achieving a tertiary entrance ranking, nor the top score or number of scores over 90, all things that parents are interested in knowing (though not of course the only things).
What is interesting is the picture created by the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA).
This measure includes the socio-economic characteristics of the areas where students live, as well as whether a school is in a regional or remote area, and the proportion of Indigenous students enrolled at the school.
It  is reported as a percentage value in the bottom quarter, middle quarters and top quarter.
All the Alice schools are classified as remote.
The percentage of Indigenous students enrolled varies widely: 8% and 10% respectively for St Philip’s and OLSH as against 48% at Centralian Senior Secondary College.
Yet the percentage of students in the ICSEA bottom quarter does not vary as widely: 40% for St Philip’s, 50% for OLSH and 61% for Centralian.
In the top quarter the measure is 9% at St Philip’s and 5% each at OLSH and Centralian.
In the combined middle quarters the measures are 51% for St Philips’, 45% for OLSH and 34% for Centralian.
What this would seem to indicate is that socio-educational disadvantage does not equate narrowly with indigeneity.
Qualitative results are available for comparison between schools at lower year levels.
The site shows how each school fared in the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), which all students in the country participate in in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.
In the Year 7 results for reading and numeracy St Philip’s average is a fair away ahead, not only of that of the Alice schools but also of statistically similar schools and all Australian schools.
All the local schools improve their results in Year 9.
The St Philip’s average remains quite well ahead in both reading and numeracy. 
The OLSH average moves quite well ahead of statistically similar schools and ahead of all Australian schools.
The average at Anzac and ASHS moves ahead of statistically similar schools but lags well behind the all Australian schools average.

Pensioners, renal patients still in makeshift camps.

KIERAN FINNANE encountered hope at Hidden Valley, a humble request at Hoppy’s, historic change at Ilpiye Ilpiye and generally a long way to go on the road to normalisation for Alice’s town campers.

Cleaner but for how long?

“I’ll be happy with a tin shed, small one, with a lock,” says Michael Gorey (pictured).
He is in his seventies now, a pensioner, formerly on the “hygiene squad” at Papunya.
He came into town five years ago, having lost his wife and son. He doesn’t want to return to Papunya.
He camps with other relatives on a patch of land between Charles Creek and Hoppy’s camps. He wants to be able to stay near these family members.
Among them are two renal patients, amputees.
Morris Gibson has an electric wheelchair, bought for him by his mother, a “famous artist”.
He charges it at a house in Hoppy’s and enjoys the independence it gives him.
David Winjinana has only a manual wheelchair, which leaves him dependent on others.
The camp consists of a concrete slab, a bit of shade from two trees, a piece of polytarp and sheet of corrugated iron, mattresses, blankets and some cooking equipment.
Down in the creek there’s another sheet of polytarp where some of the group sleep.
There’s plenty of litter around although a clean-up crew has apparently been through recently.
Further along at Hoppy’s the litter is once again building up, including plenty of grog litter.
A white woman and her child were picking up cans on Monday to earn a few dollars from the recycling centre, while residents were sitting in their yards nearby.

Why did it take so long?

The sea of plastic bags and green cans has gone, for now, and so has the old sign forbidding entry without permission: Hidden Valley town camp, its natural setting one of the prettiest parts of Alice Springs, seems to have moved a step closer to ‘normalisation’ with the recent clean-up, renovations to some houses, and on-going planning for other improvements under the $100m SIHIP investment in the town camps.
“Why couldn’t it all have been done before?” is the refrain from those who talk to me outside the first cluster of houses.
Clem Abbott, in his thirties now, grew up in the camp.
As a child he lived in an army tent, given to his family by army personnel, he says, pointing to a clump of cactus where an army encampment once existed.
“The changes are all good,” he says.
His house has been renovated – there’s been work on the kitchen, repairs to the back door, a verandah has been enclosed with fly-screens to create a bigger living area and it’s been painted.
He says he’s looking after the place: “I work around the yard every weekend.”
Mark Lockyer, who has been a vocal critic of conditions and lifestyles on the camps, is in the house across the road, where he’s caring for his mother, May, a dialysis patient.
“People’s attitude has changed,” he says, “this has given them hope.
“The old ways weren’t working, we had to change it to live a better life.”
He brings out a Google Earth photo of the camp and maps distributed at a recent meeting and together he and Clem talk about what else is to be done.
“We want street lights and a good road and a speed hump here to slow cars down as they come into camp,” says Clem.
Almost on cue two cars tear by, tyres screeching.
Clem points to where a sacred tree is growing, to where new houses might be built: “They’ve told us about two so far.”
They agree that there’s plenty of room for more housing, but they don’t want it to be for visitors. They blame visitors for much of the mess and trouble that can still plague the camp.
At the back of May’s house is a corrugated iron shed and humpies.
“Are they going to leave that there?” asks Mark. “We don’t know.”
May says a number of old people live there, with no toilet or shower – “We feel real sorry for them”. The old people have trouble controlling who visits them and the noise and rubbish from their visitors are a constant irritation.
She says police will only come to the camp for domestic violence incidents; they won’t respond to complaints about noise.
Clem points out on the map the three distinct housing clusters in the camp, and says he wants each one to control their own affairs.
He says he doesn’t want houses to be built too close together – that can lead to trouble.
“How do you think it will be in 20 years’ time – back where it was or better?” Mark asks Clem.
Clem, father of five though the children don’t live with him, thinks the young people growing up now will be different, things will be better.
Mark, despite his earlier statement about hope, says, “I think it will be back where it was. Tangentyere [Council] will say they won’t get involved, they’ll do nothing.”
“They’ll be kicked out soon,” says Clem.
Mark is also gloomy about his ability to influence anything.
“We can go to a community meeting but are they going to listen to us?
“We don’t know who the people on the transformation committee are, or what they are saying about us who’ve been affected by alcohol in our lives.”
May’s partner, George Johan, joins the conversation. He points out the different houses around the camp where he and May have lived: numbers 10, 13, 12, 14, 2 and now 3.
“I can talk about Hidden Valley because I’ve lived here a long time,” he says, “I’ve watched these fellas grow up.
“The improvements started when the Territory Government took over.
“Tangentyere didn’t do a good job.”
May agrees. She says there would be action on repairs to blocked sewers and leaking water but not on anything else.
People would move in and out of houses without any clean-up or repairs talking place as the tenancy changed, she says.
“The housing commission cleans up and repairs everything before you move in,” she says.
George credits Mark with having got the ball rolling by speaking up. 
Are lifestyles starting to change in response to the better living environment? Are people getting jobs, drinking less?
They think about it: a couple of men have got jobs, they say. 
Clem says his job is to look after his house and yard.
As for drinking, George says it is people’s “prerogative”.
Clem also argues that residents should be free to drink in moderation in their own yards, like anyone else can.
“The drinking comes in waves,” says Mark.
There’s still a blue sign at the entry of the camp, smaller than the earlier generation of Intervention sign, but prohibiting grog just the same.
The word “pornography” has gone from the large print, replaced by “prohibited material”.
May repeats what many have said, that the sign regarding pornography makes her feel shamed; she says Aboriginal people have learnt about pornography from white people, from “looking at movies”.
As I’m leaving the camp a man brandishing a thick stick is chasing a woman round and round one of the newly renovated houses.
She takes refuge inside and he can be heard battering the door. She has called out repeatedly for people to phone the police; he has called out for them not to – “it’s our business”, he says.
Both appear to be under the influence of alcohol.

Ilpiye Ilpiye housing association still in charge

Individual home ownership is the ultimate goal of the government and families at Ilpiye Ilpiye town camp, but it will be like no other kind of home ownership: the housing association will remain in charge of who can live there.
If someone wants to sell, they will have to get the go ahead from the association, which will also control who buys.
These are constraints no other home owner in Australia would face.
But in this way the camp will remain a “family place”, which is what residents told the Alice News they want.
Ilpiye Ilpiye is the sole town camp in Alice Springs to have opted for acquisition by the Commonwealth, as an alternative to the 40 year sub-lease arrangements affecting other camps where underlying title remains in the hands of the various housing associations.
In the case of Ilpiye Ilpiye underlying title has changed from community lease to freehold held by the Commonwealth which will, in three years’ time, proceed to subdivide into individual housing blocks which residents will one day be able to buy.
The government has been able to acquire the land under the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007.
Native title is not affected by the acquisition.
The government will pay residents just terms compensation.
How much that is worth will be determined by the Valuer-General – “a constitutional right, not an Aboriginal right”, says Darryl Pearce, executive officer of the native title body Lhere Artepe, who has played an important role in the negotiations over the arrangements. 
The compensation money will be in addition to a portion of the $100m SIHIP investment in the town camps.  So in the immediate term the residents appear to have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Work by SIHIP crews began at Ilpiye Ilpiye on Monday morning, while residents gathered with Mr Pearce, Brian Stirling, chairman of Lhere Artepe, and government representatives to take the process further.  A housing reference group was to be set up at the meeting.
There are currently 10 houses at 11 hectare Ilpiye Ilpiye and between 60 and 100 residents, including many children, according to a media release by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.


The twists of
a lizard’s tale

After an intensely dry year in 2009 it is not surprising to observe a strong response by the vegetation and wildlife to the heavy rains across Central Australia in early January this year.
As usual at this time of year I was caretaking two rural blocks south of town, which meant frequent traveling along the Stuart Highway and Colonel Rose Drive, on the south and west boundaries of the Arid Zone Research Institute.
Sadly there was an upsurge of flattened flesh and battered little bodies as so many native animals, stimulated by the life-giving rains instead met instant demise under the wheels of speeding rural residents.
How odd, it seems to me, that so many people, who choose to live on large rural blocks, enjoying the peace and tranquility of getting close to nature, invariably are in such a tearing hurry traveling on the roads. Slow down, all you nature lovers, we like our lizards fat, not flat!
Still, one can take a detached view of this carnage. I noted, for example, that the majority of road victims were Central Bearded Dragons. This was re-assuring, in a sense, because there has been a noticeable decline in their numbers near town in recent years.
Of particular interest, however, were the Centralian Blue Tongue lizards, the world’s largest skinks  – I saw three in this neighbourhood in less than a week, all at night. Two were road victims but one scuttled surprisingly fast across the road in the beam of headlights of my oncoming vehicle.
Even when zooming at high speed on Colonel Rose Drive or the Stuart Highway, one can easily see the boundary fence of AZRI, comprised of distinctive concrete fence posts.
This fence is one of the earliest physical manifestations of Colonel Lionel Rose’s vision proposed in March 1948 to establish an “Ultimate Research Institute” based in Central Australia, intended specifically to cater for research requirements of remote areas in the NT rather than rely on services provided interstate. (Hands up all you new chums who thought “Desert Knowledge” was a fresh contemporary concept?)
The AZRI boundary fence was erected in 1951 by George Summers – who apparently made all the posts, too – and he was assisted by a Swedish immigrant, Jimmy Bergengren. (Long term Alice residents might remember Jimmy Bergengren as the owner of the eclectic House of Goodies gift shop in Todd Street-Mall for many years).
While the roads along AZRI often prove lethal to wildlife, George Summers’ long-lasting concrete fence posts are a real boon to birds and reptiles that favour them as perches and sentry stations. It’s not unusual to catch a glimpse of a reptilian head surmounting a fence post peering over its territory.
At night, if you were to slow down and cast a spotlight on the fence, you would be delighted but not so surprised at finding owls, mopokes (tawny frogmouths), or owlet-nightjars surveying their nocturnal realms.
Of great personal interest to me in recent months has been the re-appearance of Central Netted Dragons peering from the posts. When I was a boy living at AZRI in the 1960s and 70s, these endearing little lizards were ubiquitous across the country.
They were still present in this corner of AZRI by 1980/81 where I was involved with a CSIRO field research project. By about the mid 1980s, to my recollection, these lizards had largely vanished in and around Alice Springs. I had not confirmed any sighting of them this close to town until late last year.
What has been the cause of their conspicuous decline?
The answer may lie with the fate of a species of skink discovered in the early 1960s by biologist Ken Slater – Slater’s Skink (Egernia slaterii). Yet at the very time of their discovery the seeds of their demise were quite literally being sown at AZRI, too – buffel grass introduced by the CSIRO to help stabilize Central Australia’s eroding soils.
The impact of buffel grass on much of the native flora and fauna has been drastic. A wildlife survey of AZRI in the late 1990s conducted by Steve McAlpin illustrates this point clearly – Slater’s Skink had vanished and it was initially feared had become extinct.
But now there comes a twist in this lizards’ tale.
The late – and last – leaseholder of the former Owen Springs Station, the redoubtable Lizzy Milnes, steadfastly refused permission for the establishment of buffel grass on her property. Mrs Milnes was not popular at all amongst the NT’s conservation authorities (for a variety of reasons).
Upon her passing, the NT Government acquired the Owen Springs lease, part of which now comprises the West MacDonnells National Park. Another section of the old lease is called the Old Man Plains Research Station, an adjunct to AZRI.
Wildlife surveys have been conducted on the former Owen Springs Station – and there are no prizes for guessing which rare species of skink has been re-discovered on that land.
Such are the twists and turns of the Fates in God’s own country.

Humour, sensuality, exuberance. REVIEW by KIERAN FINNANE.

Rachel Perkins’ film, Bran Nue Dae, is a delightful antidote to the litany of woes and complaint that mostly dominates the representation of Aboriginal people.
This is not to deny any specific woe or complaint but to welcome rather the humour, sensuality, exuberance, colour, movement and melody of the film and the way it helps restore some balance to the general picture.
It’s been a long time since the original stage musical, by Broome’s Jimmy Chi, thrilled local audiences.
But many of the qualities of Bran Nue Dae were present, in different ways, in the Black Arm Band concert of last year’s Alice Desert Festival.
The leading talents of that concert were mostly, like Chi, of an earlier generation.
But their legacy is being renewed now by sparkling young performers such as Darwin-born Jessica Mauboy who charms utterly in her role as Rose in Bran Nue Dae.
Dan Sultan, who featured in the Black Arm Band, plays the romantic rival for the film’s central character, Willie, and with Mauboy and Missy Higgins (as a delightful if dippy hippie) gives the film its musical strength.
Young Rocky McKenzie who plays Willie, is a little underwhelming in the main role, probably due to inexperience, and is disadvantaged in contrast with the natural charisma of Mauboy, Sultan and Higgins as well as old hands Deborah Mailman (one smile from her sets the screen on fire) and Ernie Dingo.
Alice-born  Perkins, handles the transition from dramatic scenes to singing and dancing very well. If anything, I felt a little hungry in relation to the singing and dancing. The scenes were a little too tightly edited and I felt that I hadn’t seen enough of how people really moved. This was particularly so in the scenes with the wonderful Chooky Dancers from Elcho Island, cast as a footy team on tour. 
Some of the uncomfortable realities of contemporary Aboriginal life, such as excessive drinking, are present in the film: Deborah Mailman plays an exuberant alcoholic who moves from man to man; Ernie Dingo plays a pretty keen drinker who has not exactly fulfilled his responsibilities as a father.
Perkins and the team move over this ground lightly, as they do other painful episodes such as children growing up removed from their natural parents – in the end all pain is dissolved in the joy of reunion and the pleasure of being alive.

Freshly spanked. By POP VULTURE with CAMERON BUCKLEY.

If all things pop cultural were a fruit tree, it would appear that the heavy rain that ushered in the new year has set us all up for an abundant harvest.  More than enough to share amongst the ravenous townspeople. 
With moths flick, flick, flickering around the Flickerfest short film festival flame, this was the trumpet call for the beginning of the entertainment calendar.
Riding the slipstream of the eclectic selection of short films is the Sydney Travelling Film Festival. Over the years this has become the starting point for the seasonal race to the program launches and beyond. So when a footnote appears, creating a divide between the two celluloid juggernauts, it could easily be mistaken for a “mule” – a term coined by geologists for a rock that’s out of place (imagine a volcanic rock found near Uluru, that’s what you would call a “mule”).
But upon closer examination, any interruption of the general flow of things, is really the affect caused by the rise of free enterprises in Alice Springs, new ideas and venue spaces being pushed through the birth canals of the entrepreneurial  mind space. 
Tomorrow night’s event at the KI Warehouse is one such screaming, freshly spanked fruit of such an enduring labour. Within a time frame of less than 24 hours DJ’s “Tipper” and “Spoonbill” will arrive and depart in Central Australia. The artists’ real names are for you, the reader, at this juncture irrelevant –  you have little to no time to learn them. The only time you should reserve is for the learning of their craft.
Tipper is perched on the cutting edge of dance music. Deep Dub Step baselines are woven intricately with high end classical signatures. Simplicity and confusion are wed well here.
Spoonbill, like Tipper, is also a music producer, and one of the more unique engineers of sound. Trying to categorise this into any genre is a task better set for an anthropologist than a reviewer.  Spoonbill’s multi-layered music is a culture within itself.
To say the town folk of old Alice town are lucky to survey the fine musical offerings of these two groove aficionados would have to be one of the greatest pop cultural understatements  currently in print.

ADAM'S APPLE: All the things I never want to do.

There are 13 countries in the world that have smaller populations than Alice Springs.
All of those 13, with the exception of the Vatican City, are tiny rocks made into small islands by an incredible amount of albatross poo jutting inexplicably out from a vast blue ocean.
The tiny island of St Helena was once a port for the colonial East India Company. The port closed because the company couldn’t find workers willing to live in what could be described as a pimple on the arse of the middle of nowhere. If you were to sail south west from South Africa heading to the very bottom of South America, somewhere near half way, you might just be able to catch a glimpse of St Helena.
The place is so remote the British made Napoleon live there as punishment. In the 1820s the only people living on the island were the military, slaves, freed slaves who couldn’t afford a trip to some place closer and Napoleon Bonaparte.
There is no airport on the island. The only ways to travel to and from is to jump aboard the RMS St Helena. A mail ship. It comes once a fortnight. I like to think of the 4500 inhabitants of St Helena every now and then. I think of their mail ship when I pay a week’s wages for a flight to Sydney. I like to think of St Helena when I see the prices of items and know what they’re going for in Adelaide.
And I like to think of St Helena when I look at my girlfriend and know with unflappable certainty that there is no way on earth we could possibly be related.
From time to time regardless of how much you love Alice Springs, our remote location can be ironically claustrophobic. For me, knowing that we are closer to the world than many other places keeps the pangs of isolation at bay.
There are some people in Alice Springs for whom the idea of being so alone is a thrill. They are the folk who get a sense of satisfaction out of roughing it.
They love the taste of Spam, they love the feel of canvas swags and they get a thrill from packing a Landcruiser properly. They are the outdoorsy types. The campers. And they have a new king.
If Steve Irwin took the crown from the Bush Tucker Man then a British lad named Bear Grylls is wearing the crown now. For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Mr Grylls, he is the host of the cult television programme Man vs Wild, screened on SBS.
Edward Grylls was born 35 years ago and has done everything I never want to. By the time he was 23 he had climbed Everest, joined the SAS, achieved a black belt in a couple of martial arts and had his back broken from a 500 metre fall from an aeroplane. The parachute he was wearing at the time turned out to be more of a bundle of cloth than a parachute. Did his parents not have a television?
By the time I was 23 the most dangerous thing I had undertaken was catching the last train home from the city. My mother gave me a right telling off.
Bear Grylls is a survivalist. His television show teaches people how to survive in the harshest environments around.
Where Steve Irwin chased deadly snakes across the Kalahari, Grylls ate snakes to cross the Kalahari.
While I would never be envious of the lifestyle he leads I must admit that I do on occasion feel a little inadequate. There is no way I could survive a day lost in the Sahara. It would take me that long to pitch a tent.  His television show makes me feel, that in order to count myself among men, I should know how to catch a fish with a sharp stick or carve a canoe out of a ghost gum.
But just like when I’m feeling a bit isolated and think of St Helena, I tend to comfort myself with a thought that makes all my inadequacies fade away.
When women swoon at the mention of Bear, when men feel less than men at the thought of Bear, I think to myself that although I’m not as attractive or macho, at least I’ve never had to drink my own wee.

LETTERS: Whose people?

Sir,– I am astonished that you give in your paper so much space to one letter from a reader so that one can assume that so many other voices could not be heard.
I refer to Dave Price’s letter “Bush law based on fear and favour”  (Alice News, Dec 10, 2009).
As an anthropologist I will not comment on Mr Price’s ‘film review’, for it seems to me either the film was not able to provide an understanding of the Indigenous Law or Mr Price has totally missed the point and lacks understanding.
However, I will comment on his repeated use of the term “MY PEOPLE”. Mr Price ought to know it is fraudulent to portray himself as if he were an Australian First Nation Person, which we all know he is not. He is what is called a WHITEFELLA, not more and not less.
He distorts the meaning of “my people”, which means that you are of them, not that you might have fathered a child with an Indigenous person. That child is ‘your’ child, but you are not of the people to which its mother belongs. In this sense they are not ‘your people’.
Dr. G. Stotz
ED – Mr Price did not use the expression “my people”; he referred to “my Aboriginal kin”.
Also, we often run long letters which we deem interesting, on a whole range of subjects.
All letters on this particular subject have been published – Mr Price’s letter was not run at the cost of any other.

Who’s to blame?

Sir,– We hear many theories about just what is causing the anger and anti-social behaviour that is experienced on a daily basis in Alice Springs.  Most of these theories put the blame on the dominant national culture. 
Somehow everything that is wrong with the life of Indigenous Australians today is supposed to be the whitefellas’ fault.
While that has been arguably true in the past, I don’t think it is any longer.  Australia has evolved into a truly tolerant and inclusive nation that shows a willingness to embrace a myriad of cultures on a fully equal basis. 
Occasional outbursts of intolerance are the exception, not the norm.  
I have come to think that these mostly young, angry, frustrated and self-destructive men and women are engaging in various degrees of criminal behaviour because the self-appointed guardians of their own culture have failed them so badly. 
Central to this failure is a school of thought that has fostered assumptions of cultural exceptionalism. 
There is little or no awareness that Indigenous culture is but one among many in the mosaic of cultures that make up today’s Australia. 
The ideal of a reciprocating cultural equality within the sovereign unity of the Commonwealth of Australia seems to play no part in that school. 
When these ill-taught Australian citizens finally do come to town, they are woefully ill-prepared to partake in today’s urban life.  When they see what they are missing, what they have been given almost no hope of achieving, they lash out.
The tragedy is that they lash out in the wrong direction. It’s not the dominant culture that is holding them back. 
It’s their misguided own who have short-changed them. 
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

Well done on the
real Xmas tree!

Sir,– [Regarding the Town Council’s Christmas Tree photographed on your website] here in the US we also have the custom of decorating trees in celebration of the Christmas season. 
However, the devotees of political correctness have unilaterally decreed that this season is the winter holiday season, and that the trees are holiday trees, or perhaps trees decorated in celebration of the winter solstice.  It was refreshing to see an official action – by a town council, no less -– that actually designated a Christmas tree as a Christmas tree!
Harry Akers
Anchorage, Alaska
Ps.: I spent a few days in Alice Springs in April 1986, drove through Heavitree Gap five times and climbed Ayers Rock twice.

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