February 11, 2010. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Boxed in council supports rezoning south of the Gap. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The message is “loud and clear” that the Town Council supports “development anywhere” in order to get more accommodation into town.
This was the frustrated comment of Deputy Mayor John Rawnsley after a protracted debate around amendments to the planning scheme that would allow for urban-style development south of the Gap.
Ald Rawnsley had wanted council to refrain from making a decision on the AZRI subdivision option as a protest over council’s lack of information on the proposal, such as an existing traffic management study.
His motion, which called for elected members to instead make individual submissions on the AZRI proposal but also for increased control and decision-making authority for council on planning issues, was carried, with only Ald Murray Stewart opposing (he supports planning powers for council but wanted aldermen to take a collective position on AZRI).
A later motion, endorsing “in principle” rezoning south of the Gap, as is being proposed by the NT Government, was also carried, with only Ald Jane Clark opposing.
This position, which will be taken formally to the Development Consent Authority, will give council “standing” in the process.
The public gallery was packed, mainly with rural area residents, and at least one real estate agent, David Forrest, was present. 
In public question time aldermen heard from both sides of the debate.
Chair of the Chamber of Commerce, Julie Ross, asked whether council was aware “that economic development is stifled in Alice Springs”?
“There is no land available for industrial greenfield development, and no affordable land available for residential development,” said Mrs Ross, deploring the “chronic skills shortage” that has arisen because of lack of accommodation.
“Consider this – if we do nothing about land development south of the Gap, and businesses fail to grow, or worse still, close because of lack of staff, it could take two to three times longer to get a plumber out to fix your blocked toilet (at an exorbitant price), buildings will fall further into disrepair because of neglect due to lack of trades people, tourism ventures will close because there is not sufficient staff and the list goes on!”
Architect Domenico Pecorari asked the council to request the Minister for Planning to defer any decision on the planing scheme amendments until “a more comprehensive professional analysis” of the consequences could be made, one which would investigate “alternative, more viable, sustainable solutions” to better accommodate the town’s growth.
In the debate Aldermen Brendan Heenan, Liz Martin, Samih Habib and Murray Stewart all expressed strong support for the AZRI subdivision, though in the context of having”no option”, given the housing crisis.
Ald Clark, concerned about the way the AZRI option might isolate people in a satellite development and make them car-dependent, wanted a big picture analysis by a “qualified town planner”.
Ald Sandy Taylor could see some merit on both sides of the debate, but was worried that the AZRI option is “a knee-jerk reaction” to the housing crisis.
She said the town needs a debate on whether we “go up or go out” –  high-rise or sprawl.

Ragonesi Road workers’ camp on the fast track. By  ERWIN CHLANDA.

Alice Springs developers Graeme and Carol Bernie, and Tony Smith, seem to be in the front running for a multi million dollar “short stay workers village” in Alice Springs – and possibly one in Darwin.
In conflict with the recent practice of not putting up for public comment major development proposals during Christmas and January, for obvious reasons, and despite the NT Government usually taking its time when it comes to land use decisions, this one positively leapt off the drawing board.
The government’s requirements were first advertised in newspapers just one week before Christmas.
On January 18, Mr and Mrs Bernie signed an authorization for Darwin consultants Master Plan to act as the applicant for a “Development Permit at Lot 288 Ross Highway”, and Mr Smith did so the following day, on behalf of the Green Ant Property Trust.
Two days later Master Plan had a 34 page submission ready for the government to put on public display for a fortnight.
It was taken off display – ending the opportunity for public comment – on February 5, as locals were still trickling back into town from their rellie rally or elsewhere, hardly of a mind to immediately deal with serious matters of public interest.
There was much concern in the past that sharp operators pushed unpopular development projects through over the summer break, and so the government quarantined that period from seeking comment.
The minder for Lands Minister Gerry McCarthy said this when The News asked her why this useful convention was dispensed with on this occasion: “The Department of Lands and Planning chooses not to exhibit applications over the Christmas and New Year period to ensure people have the opportunity to comment.
“This application went on display on 22 January after the holiday period.”
Master Plan doesn’t actually mention “Short Stay - Workers Village” in its report, but alludes to “Request for Proposals Documentation” from the NT Government, and then goes all out to demonstrate how well its clients’ plans fit the government’s requirements, to wit: “The Short Stay Accommodation Village should provide good quality flexible accommodation choices for between 200 to 250 people at its peak in Darwin, and for up to 100 people at its peak in Alice Springs.
“The Northern Territory Government has identified a parcel of Crown land in Darwin which can be made available for lease, or proponents can use their own land.
“In Alice Springs, proponents will need to utilise their own land as no government site has been earmarked.”
As it turns out, Mr and Mrs Bernie and Mr Smith, between them, have both land (between Ross Highway and Ragonesi Road) and apparently lots of dongas: Mr Smith had a contract to provide accommodation for workers building the Alice to Darwin railway line.
There are no details other than what’s contained in the application, Master Plan manager Brad Cunnington told the News.
The value of works – “caravan park and short-stay accommodation” – not including the land (four hectares zoned Tourist Commercial), is quoted as $2.335m.
The plan is for “single persons accommodation” in 88 beds placed in 22 buildings (apparently dongas and not self contained); six self contained cabins (12 beds) and 10 powered caravan sites.
There will be an office and shop, communal cooking and dining facility seating 60, recreation room “complete with television”, two laundries, an ablution block and pool, and initially a 92-place car park.
This seems to be a long shot from the description announced by Chief Minister Paul Henderson in December, saying the facilities in Darwin and Alice Springs would be “for workers needing accommodation for up to six months”.
He said: “It’s envisaged they will be true mini villages and include amenities such as ensuite accommodation, eating facilities, a store/newsagent and banking facilities. Different sorts of workers will be able to stay at the villages – such as teachers, nurses, construction workers and tradies.”
Future stages of the Alice proposal provide for an additional “150 to 500 rooms”.
A spokeswoman for Mr Henderson said this week: “In making a submission for these workers villages, developers are required to provide details including how the villages will be developed and operated.
“The Government does not have a commitment or agreement with any party related to the workers village in either Alice Springs or Darwin.
“Submissions related to the two workers villages will be reviewed after the submission period closes tomorrow.
Proposals for these closed on Tuesday (after the deadline for this edition, but The News will endeavor to report on further developments as breaking news in its online edition).

Housing crisis: on the bottom of the heap. By  ERWIN CHLANDA.

In the town’s housing fiasco Kathleen Kahane and Stephanie Mammana are at the very bottom of the heap.
For months they have been living in a tiny caravan, made available to them upon resolute intervention from Alderman Murray Stewart and a few of his friends.
Kathleen has a string of disabilities. Stephanie is her carer and partner.
The lack of space and the ongoing frustrations have taken their toll: both are on edge, quarrel a lot.
They have no income other than welfare. They qualify for welfare housing.
For months last year they fought in vain to get onto the priority housing list.
Now they are on it – but there are no houses.
On December 3 Housing Minister Rob Knight wrote to them: “I am advised that on the 18 November 2009 the Priority Housing Panel deferred your application and have requested that you provide additional supporting information ...”
The Minister gave them advice instead of a house: “Territory Housing will be able to provide you with a list of services that provide emergency and/or crisis accommodation given your urgent need to relocate.”
All the while, there is lots of anecdotal evidence that public houses are subjected to wanton vandalism, and stand empty for long periods – with no-one being brought to book.
Empty words are the government’s way of dealing with the housing drama. The News chased the two women’s story for our last 2009 edition, clearly explaining our deadlines to spokeswoman Christa Murphy.
She blew the deadline.
We emailed her on December 16:
“I’m most disappointed, yet again, that I was let down with a request for information, this time about Kathleen Kahane and Stephanie Mammana.
“You supplied none of the information promised for yesterday. Nothing of what I needed was on the website you nominated.
“Our final edition for 2009 is now printed, but be sure that the story will be in our line-up for the first 2010 edition on February 4.
“The questions, for now, will be:-
“Why have they been rejected twice?
“How does that tally with your statement that ‘their application has not been denied’? (After all, the Minister himself said they had been rejected.)
“Are they on the priority list or not?
“How many people are on that list?
“What is the waiting time?
“What is the average time for dwellings that have been damaged to be repaired?”
Ms Murphy responded: “I will make sure you have a response to these questions for your February 2010 edition.”
Our February 4 edition appeared a week ago. We still don’t have Ms Murphy’s answers.

Housing crisis in the vastness of Alice: What is the problem? COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Are we a democracy? Of course.
That means the government must do what we tell it to?
Naturally. Well then, let’s do some telling.
The southern half of the Alice Springs municipality – that’s the part south of The Gap –  is about 100 square kilometers.
Fewer than 2000 people live there, a population density most administrations around the world can only dream of.
The NT Government gets nearly five times as much money (per head of population) as the average of the other Australian states. Nearly five times. 500%.
We have oodles of space and an ocean of money.
So, when it comes to providing residential land, what is the problem?
Why do people feel powerless and fearful rather than bullish and optimistic about the AZRI issue?
Why does the town not put democracy to the test and instruct the government as follows:
• We need cheap land and we need it now. We want you to develop the AZRI land, which we the people own, and sell the blocks for the cost of developing them.
That is what Canberra did before we embarked on our hapless experiment of self government.
A block would then go for around $60,000 – not $300,000.
Should there be a government land bank?
The Town Council’s Manager Developments Mark Pierson has floated the idea.
The trigger for land release would not be the interests of parasitic speculators, but first home buyers, young people, people wanting to move to our beautiful town, workers taking jobs with the businesses driven to the edge of extinction by the housing crisis, housing for the people who can and want to make this town grow.
• Public housing at AZRI: Don’t even think abut it.
First your bureaucracy must demonstrate, over a substantial time span, and beyond any doubt, that it can manage public housing; stop over crowding of homes; stamp out vandalism; recover from tenants every cent spent on damage beyond reasonable wear and tear; and that a rigorous test is in place that prospective tenants must pass, proving they are capable of caring for houses owned by the public.
• Ensure the integrity of the rural living enclaves including Heffernan Road, Rangeview Estate, Ilparpa, Ross Highway. People there have, from their own resources, carved out a lifestyle on two hectare blocks or bigger. They must be afforded the peace of mind that none of that is under threat. For example, there is now a 1.5 kilometer buffer between AZRI and the western edge of the Heffernan Road rural subdivision.
There is no reason why that shouldn’t stay.
We should make provisions for more such areas in case there is demand for them.
There’s plenty of land on the airport block. We’ve got the space, and we’ve got the money.
• To the well meaning souls, mostly comfortably housed and employed, who urge another eternity of consultation, reporting, planning, examination and deliberation, we should say that Blind Freddy could see, after the planning forum nearly two years ago, that AZRI was going to be the next cab off the rank. If there are problems with the AZRI locality, there has been plenty of time to raise them.
Now we’ve reached tipping point. Chamber of Commerce head Julie Ross says we’re poised to become a welfare town. Do we want that?
Ring your local politician.  Tell him or her to get on with it – now.

Green street blocks for $150,000? By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Small, green-street style housing blocks, around 400 square metres, would go on the market for $140,000 to $150,000 from the Coolibah Estate.
Its owner, Ron Sterry, says this would happen if the government permits small, urban style residential land south of The Gap.
A planning scheme amendment that would allow the rezoning is before the Development Consent Authority.
Mr Sterry (pictured in Kempeana Estate) says he would sell blocks of around 800 square metres for about $200,000 to $250,000.
There would be no public housing on his land, and blocks would be turned off in six to eight months’ time, “depending on finance”.
Mr Sterry has endured ups and downs in his decade-long quest to open up the 150 hectare property between the range and Ragonesi Road.  His battle with the Town Council over drainage is ongoing.
He now has sewerage on a large part of the land, “about $1m worth”, and water and power “can be easily installed”.
Mr Sterry says his sale prices to first home buyers would be subject to covenants – most likely with re-selling subject to a two year moratorium, and the requirement of building a house on the land.
At present the town plan limits him to an average block size of 4000 square metres – 250 blocks on 250 acres of the land suitable for residential development – “out of the way and very scenic”.
Mr Sterry says: “The first stage will include an over-50 lifestyle village.
“It can go ahead quicker than the AZRI site because the infrastructure – sewer, power and water – are available, with upgrades.
“The NT Government don’t have to pay a cent, whereas the AZRI site will cost the taxpayer $31m to $60m.”

Better than committee-driven quick fixes. By KIERAN FINNANE.


After 22 years in business in Alice Springs and, with husband Bryan Gill, seeing two children through school and on their way into adult life, veterinarian Debbie Osborne has put her hand up to be a mentor, one of 28, in the Alice Springs Desert Leadership Program, an initiative of Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA).
An energetic, practical woman who runs her veterinary practice with a staff of 25, she sees the program as offering a real alternative to the typical “quick fix” of committee-style responses to the town’s issues.
The 18 participants will likely be in their late twenties to late thirties, will have already demonstrated some leadership capability and half of them will come from Aboriginal backgrounds.
The program will give them the opportunity to get to know one another in “an inter-cultural environment” over an 18 month period and get some structured leadership development training and experience.
In this way it is hoped they will build a genuine network based on trust and understanding and the experience of working together.
The program will also expose them to how “the wider world works” through its links to the National Australia Bank leadership program in Melbourne. (NAB executives do some of their leadership training in Central Australia, through DKA.)
“I think that’s important rather than trying to manage problems in an isolated environment and, when that doesn’t work, having decisions imposed from Canberra or Darwin by people with little understanding of this town,” says Dr Osborne.
Her scientific training has led her to look for facts and analyse them before jumping to conclusions.
Over the years in thinking about Alice Springs’ problems – “we can all name them, alcohol, violence, unemployment, illiteracy, boredom, idleness” – she says she has often felt hampered by a lack of understanding of Aboriginal people and what their perspective on the issues might be.
“There’s been no obvious way I could gather facts from outside a white person’s perspective.
“Often our problem solving is done by white people sitting down in committees and coming up with solutions from a white perspective.
“And, even with the best intentions, they don’t often work.
“A lot of people in town have done cross-cultural training, but from what I can gather it is usually presented by one person who is speaking on behalf of a very diverse group of people.
“Being part of an inter-cultural network is quite different. As people get to know and trust one another they’ll start to talk openly.
“I see it as filling an empty space in town.”
This network-building is the core of the program, while the mentors, matched with individual participants, sit outside that circle, there as a sounding board for the younger person, “asking questions to help them think things through, to make their ideas more concrete, to look at all aspects of a situation”.
“It’s a listening and questioning role,” says Dr Osborne, who’s had plenty of practice in training and mentoring veterinary nurses into supervisory and management roles and in overseeing graduate vets who need guidance at the start of their career.
She is also on the national executive of her professional body, the Australian Small Animal Veterinary Association.
While all too aware of the limits of her inter-cultural experience, since 1993 she has been involved in animal management programs in town camps and on Aboriginal communities.
She is also registered with the Aboriginal Employment Strategy: “We’re now big enough and have the systems in place to employ someone who needs mentoring in the workplace.”
Like the other mentors involved with the program, Dr Osborne is on the lookout for suitable candidates (applications close March 1): “When you start thinking about it, it’s amazing how many younger people are out there doing significant things in small areas.
“We’re hoping to find people with a long-term commitment to the town, but even if some of them move away, it’s valuable to have people interstate who have insight into the situation here.
“We hope they’ll be able to add common sense to the debate among policy-makers.”
The Alice News asked DKA’s CEO, John Huigen, about how the program will avoid creating a self-serving elite.
“The program is not value-free,” he says.
 “Leadership for us is about serving the community, not about self-aggrandisement.
“The program’s focus is on developing a new way of working together for a shared future, one where we build harmony, sustainability and wealth in the desert.
“Unless civic society is working well we won’t get all those things, so the program is about contributing to a more effective civic society for the future.”
Why do we need a program to develop leaders? Don’t they emerge anyway, in response to the pressures on their communities?
Program manager John Rawnsley, who at 28 became Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs, says that may be true, but “ask any of our present leaders, if they had had the opportunity to go through this kind of program, I think they’d say they would have grasped it.”
As a young leader himself he acknowledges “some great opportunities he has had to work closely with a number of people and learn from their leadership example”.
The News asks him what kind of a town he wants to see Alice become and have this program contribute to: “One where everyone has opportunities and everyone meets their responsibilities,” he says.

Solar plant blot on Araluen? By KIERAN FINNANE.


Site plans for a solar air-conditioning plant in the Araluen precinct have only now gone on display at the arts centre despite their significant impact on the precinct grounds and facilities.
Their display comes well after the deadline (December 1 last year) for public submissions on the already controversial development plan for the precinct.
Even Central Craft, whose studio will be severely impacted upon by the plant, was only shown the site plans on December 11.
Araluen precinct director Tim Rollason says the site plans were available at the November 19 public meeting to discuss the development plan. He says he told the meeting that the plans were there and suggested that people attending should ask questions if they had any. 
“No-one did,” says Mr Rollason.
He says the feedback at the meeting was that people supported the use of solar energy at the precinct.
However, chair of Central Craft Faye Alexander says the plans were not addressed by those attending the November 19 meeting “because it was about long-term vision, not a question and answer forum”.
“We were gob-smacked to see the sheer size of the plant,” says Ms Alexander.
Members were also appalled to see that the western wall of the plant would be just six metres from the studio’s main entrance and that an eight metre high tower would form part of the plant, both significant blockages to the view and to natural light entering the studio and impacting on access by vehicles and users of the studio, including people with disabilities.
The pleasant gardens to the east of the studio, through which visitors move when they leave Araluen Galleries and make their way to Central Craft, the Museum of Central Australia and the aviation museum, will go.
They’ll be replaced by 10 rows of parabolic troughs, enclosed by a security fence (the plans on display do not include an elevation to show, for instance, how high the troughs will be or what the security fence will look like).
At this stage, Mr Rollason says the caterpillar sculpture will not have to be moved.
However, the troughs and plant will block the view to the sacred hill rising immediately behind the studio and the main Araluen building – “not greatly”, says Mr Rollason.
They also will be sited on either side of a sacred tree.
The sun-powered air-conditioning system, which will reduce electricity use at Araluen by about 50% and gas usage by about 70%, is billed as an “iconic project” for Alice Springs Solar City.
A media release put out by the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport (NRETAS) would have it as “a visitor experience for the 21st century”.
But is it the kind of icon suitable for an arts and culture precinct?
And is it the kind of visitor experience Araluen would want to promote, particularly at a time when the centre is repositioning itself, attempting to provide a richer entree into Indigenous art and culture in the region?
Should the cultural landscape and identity of the precinct be allowed to be so thoroughly transformed?
And how does the display now of the plans not undermine the community consultation over the precinct development plan?
Mr Rollason says the plant is “an appropriate icon for a solar city”.
He says custodians have been consulted about the project, directly and through the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, and have given their consent.
Ms Alexander says it appears that work on the project has been done “backwards”.
“When they applied for funding for the system they did not know what it would look like or where it would go.
“We wrote to them way back in July or August of last year asking for the site plans.
“How could we comment on the development plan without knowing what this plant would look like?”
In the public debate around the development plan for the precinct Central Craft has been fairly supportive of the general thrust of the changes. Their position has improved: they received a 10 year lease on their facility and their rent was waived to bring them into line with long standing arrangements for Territory Craft in Darwin.
It now looks like these moves could have been a sweetener before the bitter pill of the solar plant was delivered.
“No-one had ever mentioned an eight-metre tower,” says Ms Alexander. 
“We wanted to know why we hadn’t been told.”
At a meeting with precinct director Tim Rollason and an engineer, Ms Alexander was told that the plant could possibly be moved two to three metres to the north, possibly even more, pending clearance by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.
While this would relieve some of the immediate impact on the studio, it changes little in relation to the impact on the whole eastern side of the precinct – “our beautiful precinct!” as Ms Alexander puts it.
She points out the discrepancy between the solar project and the vision for the eastern area of the precinct as expressed in the development plan:
“Sensitive development of the eastern area and the possible construction of a new, additional gallery would create a living precinct. The view of the ranges, the sacred nature of the area nearby and the links provided by the Two Sisters story would make this a very special place where visitors and locals would be able to gain an insight into the true nature of Alice Springs and its people.”
Central Craft put out a media release about the plans on January 29, calling for a community forum and suspension of the tender process, currently underway, until “proper consideration” had been given to the project by the community.
Mr Rollason says “at this stage” the tender has not been recalled.
He says a new draft development plan for the precinct will be put out this month and the public will be able to comment on it.
Will there be any scope though for influencing the outcome of the siting of the troughs and plant?
He says: “The public have told us they want to reduce carbon emissions and use solar technology and that’s what we’re doing.
“In order to maintain the 24/7 climate controls required to house its collections and display exhibitions, the arts centre is  a high electricity consumer, so there’s an obligation, on behalf of the planet, to reduce our carbon emissions.”
Says Ms Alexander: “It had become apparent to us that no-one knew the details of these plans and we felt we needed to let the public know.
“It’s not just about Central Craft.
“I’m so disappointed that we have not had an open and transparent process about this.”

Strong man Frank. By KIERAN FINNANE.

“Often they haven’t got a strong male figure in their lives,” says Aboriginal Community Police Officer Frank Curtis about the young men he works with in a juvenile diversion program.
He knows what it’s like to be without such a figure: he and his twin brother Danny were taken by “Welfare” when they were 13 years old and virtually homeless in Tennant Creek.
They were sent to Yirara College, the very first ones through the doors at the transitional school for Aboriginal students. That was in 1973.
Today they both work helping young men, Frank with the Territory police force, which he joined in 1992, and Danny with the South Australian disability service, in a program for petrol sniffers in the AP Lands.
Frank had been one of the founders of Tangentyere Council’s night patrol.
On a trip to Papua New Guinea to talk about this work he saw “dark-skinned officers in uniform”.
“I thought if they can do it, I can do it.”
He has found the work challenging and rewarding, particularly now with the young men’s diversion program.
“I try to to show them the right way and the wrong way.
“I knock their baseball caps off their heads and say ‘This is mine now’.
“They get wild and I say, ‘See, that’s how your victim feels’.
“I turn it around so they can understand a bit more.
“I warn them, ‘When you’re 18 I won’t be here any more to help, you’ll have to go the Big House then.”
He sounds stern but the lads appear more than happy to be with him, vying for his attention: “Uncle Frank! Uncle Frank!”
It’s Thursday afternoon. Frank’s picked them up after school and taken them out  to Simpson’s Gap for the evening until 8pm. With him are a few volunteers, young Aboriginal men, some of whom have been through the program in the past and say they want to lend a hand now.
There’s a pool of around 10 volunteers with four or five coming along on any occasion.
There are a couple of new chums but most of the participants began the program last year and have come back after the Christmas break.
Frank says none of them got into trouble during the holidays.
They like “getting out of town, having fun, swimming, cooking”, they tell the Alice News.
They don’t speak about the talking in a circle that they do, but this is a big part of what these evenings over six to eight weeks are about, says Frank – when he asks them how they’ve been feeling, about any trouble that they might have been in, how they’re doing at school, how they’re getting on with their mum, whether they’re showing her respect, whether they’re being shown love, getting a hug sometimes.
On Friday he’ll take the young men further afield – for a swim at Ellery Big Hole and a meal around the campfire, getting them home by 10pm.
“I tell them to look after one another, like brothers. When you’re on the program you’re like a family, “ says Frank.
“I encourage them to stay on at school longer – that’s very important.”
Frank himself stayed at school till Year 11.  
“I tell them we’re not American, we’ve got our own culture, we don’t have to take someone else’s culture.” 
He outlaws hoodies and rap-style gestures from the young men’s program.
He’d like to see the program grow “like a spark” right through the Territory: “Night patrol and police on remote communities can do the same – take the young men out hunting, have a cultural night where the old people talk, teach  respect.” 
He hopes some of the young men will choose a career in the police force.
His own daughter, the first born of six children, has followed in his footsteps, currently serving in Tennant Creek.

Naturally with ALEX NELSON.

Big W is
in town

Now that I have caught the attention of hapless shopaholics, sorry to disappoint but I’m really referring to all those noisy cicadas, so-called due to the prominent W markings on their backs.
They are properly called Golden Drummers (Thopha colorata) but, as a lifetime local, I’m yet to hear this name in common usage – usually we call these insects “Big Ws” or just plain “cicadas”.
There are numerous species of cicadas around the world. In general they spend most of their lives underground for years as nymphs (juveniles), surviving on sap they suck from plants’ roots; eventually they emerge from the soil to moult their exoskeletons (“shells”) and spend a final time as fully winged adults.
As adults they live briefly, only a week or two at most, sufficient to court, mate and breed a new generation.
However, it is during their adult phase that these insects impose their existence upon our attention – big, blundering, colourful and loud, they are hard to ignore.
The shrill of the male cicadas in the treetops (yes, it’s the blokes who make all the racket) is a fundamentally characteristic sound of a dinkum Aussie summer. They are showing off to the sheilas, you see – the loudest and longest decibel-busters get the girls.
Big W cicadas are associated with river red gums, and are not normally found on other local plant species. Interestingly, river gums are widely distributed across mainland Australia but the Big W cicadas are exclusively Central Australian.
Cicadas always emerge as the heat of summer sets in, normally in December and January. This summer they appeared quite late, after the heavy rains in January. Almost none appeared before this event so it’s clear cicada nymphs also respond to soil moisture levels (and plant sap flow, I guess) as well as high temperatures. This timing is crucial to maximizing their chances of survival long enough to breed.
Presumably if this summer there had been no rain the cicadas would have suspended their emergence until the next.
Cicadas often frighten people new to town but they are inoffensive creatures – they cannot bite or sting. Their defenses lie in bluff, disguise, flight and numbers.
A frightened male cicada will “sing” (actually vibrating drum-like organs called “tymbals” on his abdomen) and both genders can pee streams of fluid in a bid to frighten predators but these are largely ineffectual defense tactics.
Cicadas are good tucker for many predators, especially larger birds. Big and juicy (and obviously not distasteful), many cicadas end up as meals for other wildlife; their sheer numbers satiate the appetite of predators so that the sacrifice of some ensures the remainder will breed again.
There is an intimate relationship between Big Ws and river red gums – these trees provide cover and camouflage for the adult insects. By contrast, cicadas avoid Ghost Gums, for example, as they stand out in stark contrast against the brilliant white bark and are quickly picked off by birds. (The same observation applies to juvenile river gums, too).
I suspect there is a symbiotic (cooperative) relationship between cicadas and mature river red gums – there are generations of these insects on the trees’ roots yet the river gums never appear to be stressed by them.
But the balance of nature for Big Ws has changed in the Alice, and to their apparent benefit – they are more numerous than would normally occur.
In part this is due to widespread planting of river red gums but also to the introduction of other plant species (especially eucalypts and some bottlebrushes) as street and garden trees that don’t exist naturally in Central Australia.
Some of these are highly favoured by cicadas; literally thousands of them smother the limbs of these plants. The burden of cicada nymphs on these trees’ roots must be enormous, and is the probable reason why many supposed drought-hardy Australian (but non-local) trees and shrubs inexplicably die suddenly during extended dry periods.
Cicada nymphs can also transfer to the roots of other trees if their normal host tree dies or is cut down.
I observed this from September 2009 when a towering river red gum just over my neighbours’ fence was removed. Like any self-respecting river gum, this tree hosted a resident population of cicadas. Growing under this tree were a number of citrus; and also two mulberries, a mature tree and a sapling. After the river gum’s removal, the nymphs attached themselved to the mature mulberry tree, nearly killing it.
Sure enough, after the rains in January many cicadas emerged from the soil around its roots. The mulberry has now fully recovered.

Aboriginal group leaves Alice. By KIERAN FINNANE.

“A week ago I thought I was going to buy a racehorse,” says Dean Slattery, manager of Freight Solutions (SA) Pty Ltd, based in Adelaide.
“Then we happened to walk past the newsagency in the mall and saw it was closed and took it from there,” said Mr Slattery.
“We made an offer to the administrators and it was accepted.”
In fact the company bought both newsagencies, in the Mall and in Alice Paza, after owner Wangkapai Pty Ltd went into voluntary administration.
Says Mr Slattery: “The thing that helped us along was that the staff were willing to step up and take responsibility for the day to day running of the business.  If we’d had to learn how to run a newsagency from scratch we wouldn’t have been able to do it.
“We’re keeping on all the employees – though not the former management – as they’re passionate about their work and they’ll have the opportunity to build the business for us.”
The Alice Springs Newsagency on Todd Mall reopened on Tuesday and it is expected that the Alice Plaza business will follow next Monday.
Mr Slattery told the Alice News that the company is always on the lookout for new opportunities.
That spirt brought them to Alice nine months ago to operate the Toll Priority Air Freight contract here.
Meanwhile, Wana Ungkunykja, the umbrella company for a string of Aboriginal enterprises, including Wangkapai, is withdrawing from Alice Springs.
The beneficiaries of Wana Ungkunykja are the people of Mutitjulu, Imanpa and Docker River communities and Nyangatjatjara College, the boarding school based at Yulara.
Other Alice interests bought by the Wana Ungkunykja group in 2006 – the Frontier Camel Farm on Ross Highway and Spirit of the Night Sky (formerly Chateau Hornsby) on Petrick Road –  have also closed their doors, though they have been sold as residential properties and have no unpaid creditors.
Both were on the market “for considerable periods” as tourism businesses but “no one is willing to go into tourism business in Alice Springs in the present climate”, says CEO of Wana Ungkunykja since January 2009, Matthew Ellem.
Mr Ellem says Wana Ungkunykja (WU) is re-focussing on working in Aboriginal communities.
However it will continue to own and manage Anangu House on Gregory Terrace.
Triple A Accounting, based there with some 15 staff, continues to do “very well”, says Mr Ellem.
WU’s tourism marketing company, Anangu Waai, also has two call centre operators based in Alice, although this is only because of an accommodation shortage at The Rock.
Mr Ellem says the two newsagencies depended on tourist trade and had suffered in the downturn caused by the global finacial crisis.
He said the Alice Plaza newsagency had also been impacted by decreased trafffic through the shopping centre, commenting that that the centre was without an anchor tenant for 18 months and that the new anchor tenant,Target, is not attracting the same numbers as the Bi-Lo supermarket did (a claim vigorously refuted by property manager Tony Bruno).
Mr Ellem says newsagencies are a hard business, contracting elsewhere as people’s reading habits change. Another newsagency in Alice, Freckletons at Hearne Place, closed 12 months ago.
He says Wangkapai tried hard to make the two shops work, introducing souvenir lines, Darrell Lea chocolates, giftware.
“The manager did a good job but in the end couldn’t fight the tide of decreasing customers through the door.
“The directors were worried that trading was becoming insolvent” so they went into voluntary administration.
There was a creditors’ meeting on Tuesday as the Alice News went to press.
Anangu Tours, offering Aboriginal-guided tours at The Rock, is Wana Ungkunykja’s brightest star. It was declared an Indigenous Tourism Champion in 2009 by Tourism Australia and Mr Ellem says they are working with the Central Land Council and other communities to develop similar businesses.
Anangu Jobs, active in the three beneficiary communities, has had its contract with Job Futures renewed to 2012.
One of its initiatives is the Under the Rock cafe at Mutitjulu, established to provide hospitality training to residents. It is not yet on a commercial footing but may be one day. Meanwhile, residents and visitors (mainly public servants) are able for the first time to get a decent cup of coffee at Mutitjulu, says Mr Ellem.
Nyangatjatjara College, the boarding school at Yulara, with campuses on the three communities, is also back on its feet, says Mr Ellem, after the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation moved out of adminsitration in September 2008.

LETTERS: Politically correct Dr Stotz.

Sir,– I write in response to Dr Stotz (Letters, Feb 4).
My wife, daughter and in-laws are equally proud to be blackfellas. I hope my grandsons are proud of the cultural inheritance that I give them as well that from their grandmother and other two grandparents.
None of my Aboriginal loved ones have a problem, as Dr Stotz seems to have, with me being a whitefella. I have not spoken out for many years because I did actually believe that ‘Indigenous’ people only had the right to speak on ‘Indigenous affairs’. Then I noticed that many of those speaking out, waving the banners, shouting slogans, burning flags, were as white as I am or had a very tenuous connection to the Indigenous heritage they claimed and knew literally nothing about the situation that my loved ones find themselves in.
A significant majority of Australians who identify as Indigenous now produce children with Australians who don’t. Most of their kids identify as Indigenous.
Are we, who are now producing these children, along with our Indigenous spouses, to be denied a voice on the issues that affect them because we can’t point to one Aboriginal ancestor among those we are descended from or because we don’t have a degree in anthropology?
Does Dr Stotz know what is in my family’s best interest better than I do because she is an anthropologist and I’m only a whitefella. I don’t think so.
Ethnic pigeon holes will hopefully disappear soon and we will all be Australians proud of all of our cultural inheritances, citizens of the world. Dr Stotz, I find your letter offensive, deeply racist and a disgrace to the discipline you claim to belong to.
Dave Price
Alice Springs

Sir,– As the child fathered by David Price to an ‘Indigenous woman’, as Dr G. Stotz so clinically put it (Letters, Feb 4), I am angered at the sad attempt Dr Stotz has made at trying to pigeon hole my father and deny him the right to fight for the plight of those he loves.
Do you have children yourself, Dr Stotz? Do you understand the concept of family? Have you seen the blood of your loved ones spilled right before your eyes and the destruction that plagues their lives on a daily basis?
I doubt this much but I’m sure you’ve studied hard in the whitefella way to learn of such issues that impact the lives of Aboriginal people (my people). My father has lived these issues along with myself, my mother who has a name (Bess Nungarrayi Price) and my family.
Study as much as you want but you have not lived it. My people are not simply a subject you can learn about and consider yourself an authority on; we are human beings just like my father.
Jacinta Yangapi Nampijinpa Price
Alice Springs

Pernicious paternalism

Sir,– It is with a great sense of frustration and disgust that I find myself once again reading a series of articles (Alice News, Dec 3 & 17, 2009) on the supposed pros of Aboriginal law, and even suggestions that we allow “payback”! 
Since the early part of the last century we have seen a continual degradation of customary law – the gradual handing in and selling off of tribal tjuringas, the old people refusing to pass on the stories; an ever increasing disrespect of the young towards the council of elders, who were the enforcers of customary law – until we have arrived at a moment when the structures of customary law no longer exist, or exist in a much weakened state.
Customary law has given way in most places to the rule of the strong over the weak, the rule in fact of the “thug”! The old, the young, the women, and those too weak to care for themselves, are left totally at the mercy of those who have no pity.
“Payback” has descended into drunken mob bashings, multiple spearings, stabbings and a continuing line of murders.  
Yet we have so called intellectuals, cherry picking tribal customs, actually calling for “the reinstatement of customary law”! 
How do we as a nation deal with this? The answer is really simple: we enforce the law that allows us to live together, as one nation. 
A law that is not culturally sensitive, a law that is compelled to treat us all as “equals”, the Australian Law! 
So why  have we run into so much trouble with the law and Aboriginal people? The answer is pretty easy to observe. A horrible disease runs right through the very core of our government, legal and academic communities – paternalism. The most insidious, vile and destructive form that racism takes.
Paternalism takes away the right to individuality, the right to act, the right to decide, the  very right to life itself, by taking away everything that makes human life worthwhile. How are we committing this horrible offence in relation to Aboriginal Australians?? We do it by saying “you’re equal BUT”! 
One example was an incident a few weeks ago when three young boys were rushed to emergency in Tennant Creek Hospital, suffering from wounds inflicted during a customary circumcision ceremony. When the Territory’s acting Chief Minister Delia Lawrie was asked if she would prosecute, her was reply was that circumcision was “a deeply imbedded practice” in Aboriginal society.
Yet how would you feel if I, or your neighbour or anybody at all, bar an Aboriginal person, was to do that to their children? You couldn’t and you wouldn’t accept it. So why was this incident deemed acceptable?  It’s because Ms Lawrie said “you’re equal BUT”.
In so doing, she has once again denied an equal citizen, a child of this nation their most basic right, that of protection as an equal citizen under the law. She has clearly demonstrated to all Aboriginal people that they are not equal under the law. And if they are not equal under the law how can we possibly expect Aboriginal people in general, or these children as they grow, to have any respect for the institutions of this nation? No wonder the constant murmuring about the need for two laws.
Steve Brown
Alice Springs

Camel industry: matter of life or death

Sir,– In response to the Jeff Perz letter on the feral camel situation ( Alice News, Dec 17, 2009) I wonder if he has any trouble sleeping with the knowledge that hundreds of tons of camel meat of good nutritional quality feeds the wild dogs, crows and eagles in the Western Desert, while the poor earthquake-devastated  people of Haiti and recently Samoa, the Phillipines and Indonesia are desperate for food.
Regarding the contraceptive debate, the Centre for Feral Animal Control have been working on this for years, along with similar research on pigs, rabbits et al but the problem has beaten them so far. 
Regarding Mr Perz’s strategic water proposition, after a request to the WA water resources people in support of a commercial camel trek through the eastern WA region. I was supplied with 40 foolscap pages of detailed description on watering points between Balgo and the Docker River region.
I actually went with a friend, looking for some of these points and found hand pumps, solar powered bores with overhead tanks and many camels surrounding them.  They constitute a camel heaven, and camels could easily be managed, even farmed and harvested in a sustainable way, using the watering points as a lure. 
Charlie Carter’s letter (also Dec 17) makes some of his comments equally as “stupid and short-sighted” as those he attributes to others.  They were his own words, not mine. I hope he didn’t speak like that to his clients. No one has an exclusive  right to either opinion or  knowledge  to the exclusion of other lines of thought and he should know that, and to talk like that does not further the debate, but hardens lines.
The statement that the Camel Industry Association has been trying for 20 years to find a market does not mean that one does not exist, and the first body to be appointed to the management committee at Ninti should have been from the Meat and Livestock corporation to legitimise the operation in the eyes of the industry. 
I wonder why tenders were not called for the removal of the offending animals at Docker River.  Isn’t that the way government and NGO operations work? They do it for roads and  civil construction and aspects of environmental  wildlife management,  why not camel control?
Certainly the Egyptian interests that were trying to build a $14m facility near Whyalla last year think there is a market which should be investigated again.
There is an industry-based solution and part of the problem with Desert Knowledge thinking is that they think it wrong to try to turn “problem” into an industry, not simply based on making a dollar, but also to help others not as fortunate as we are.
There are numerous examples of how this has been done in many different parts of the world, and one needs look no further than the sea weed industry in Tasmania, the crocodile industry in the Top End, the jellyfish industry in Italy (these animals were causing havoc in their tourist industry and are now being harvested and sold like everything else to the Chinese) and the squid industry in Chilli, which started because squid were interfering with the pilchard industry. 
These things do not happen in a day but we must make a start somewhere and not let it drag on for 20 years as the camel programs have. 
I suggest that Dr Carter look at May 2009 edition of Time magazine to see the immense market potential in the Islamic world. Others have picked this up and are acting on it, with or without the aid of Ninti, and good for them. In Adelaide recently I had an enquiry from a provodore seeking camel meat. I also had a request for 20 camel skulls for the tourist trade!
The reference to the $1b market for racing camels is anything but irrelevant  because, as Dr Carter should know, knowledge is transferrable and in pure scientific terms not to be hogged.  What research they do into the genetics of racing camels will most certainly be transferred to an emerging meat industry, as is happening with the rabbit enterprises, as has happened in so many other areas of primary production.
On a recent trip to the eastern States I  met a contract musterer from Broken Hill, very familiar with NT conditions, who was very keen to get to Docker River to harvest camels and pay for them, but was denied access through Ninti. Reasons were not given.  
We taxpayers then paid around $100 a  head to shoot them!
I also heard of an operator of a mobile abattoirs on the NSW North Coast  who wanted to do the same thing but was denied access also.
I then met a property owner in Cobar who is also a professional kangaroo shooter and was also keen to be involved.
He had his own refrigerated transport contact via Pt Augusta, and was all set to go, but could not get access.
I was heartened to see a herd of very handsome camels grazing contentedly and commercially on the south side of the Finke river and passed a road train of camels heading South.
I was less heartened to think that at some time in the future, the know how on how to upgrade these animals  to meet a huge and growing  overseas market will have to be imported from the UAR, via Murdoch University.
It should have been done here, by picking the genetic eyes out of the feral herd. 
Trevor Shiell 
Alice Springs

ADAM'S APPLE: It’s all go until Gerry says no.

With 2010 barely beginning to find full stride, we have just started to get our first real politics of the new decade from Darwin.
After all the extraordinary events of 2009, you’d be forgiven for wondering how Territory politics could get more outrageous. Rest assured it will.
For those of you new to the Territory: here is a summary of the last few years of Territory politics.
After 27 years of CLP rule, Labor and Clare Martin were elected to government in 2001.
In 2005 Opposition Leader, Denis Burke fought a strong campaign based on a policy so complicated that even he didn’t really understand it. I think it had something to do with electricity.
His lack of understanding lead to Labor winning 19 of the 25 seats in the Territory parliament, including Burke’s seat. Only now do we think that even an electricity grid so “out there” it would have sent us broke might just be preferable to our current energy situation.
Local MLA Jodeen Carney was elected opposition leader to a party of four parliamentary members. No matter how awesome the MLAs, leading an opposition of four is like being a president of the chess club… for the School of the Air. It looks good on paper but where’s the fun in it?
Clare Martin came to Alice Springs and tried to be nice. We didn’t let her and she cried.
Then the Federal Government introduced the Intervention. This really got Clare Martin annoyed because she preferred “don’t do a lot” approaches to Indigenous disadvantage.
It was either the Intervention or the rather large salary at ACOSS that made Clare Martin resign.
Paul Henderson was sworn in as Chief Minister therefore becoming the most successful Tasmanian since David Boon.
“Hendo”, as the memo said to call him, is a nice man. Like Clare Martin, Hendo does a lot of assuring the voter. In fact he has all the policy wiles of Clare Martin but lacks the sex appeal.
On the other side of the chamber (in a small corner of it anyway) the CLP announced that Jodeen Carney would not be leader of the party. In a statement so encrypted that it took the residents of Alice Springs a whole four seconds to decode it, the powers that be decided that a member from Alice Springs could never lead the party that was created in Alice Springs.
Although he looks a bit like a principal of a Christian school, because he was once, Terry Mills became the leader of the “gang of four”.
So once when we thought there might be an all-female led election, it soon became clear that we would have an all-accountant led one instead.”Hendo versus Mills! An all out, knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out and show ‘em how to maximise their tax return of a battle! “
Somewhere in amongst all this Kon Vatskalis said something incomprehensible. The incomprehensibility of what he said has nothing to do with his fairly thick Greek accent but everything to do with the fact that he is a Cabinet Minister of the Territory Government.
It turns out that a swing of 10% doesn’t need that many people in Territory electorates. The swings of the 2008 election against Labor however did take a fair few people. They almost lost government and promised to do more to win back the voters they lost. They haven’t.
In Labor’s defence, they have been a bit busy trying not to implode of late.
When Marion Scrymgour left the party because she was unhappy with the party’s handling of Indigenous issues, the margin of government was one. When Alison Anderson left for a similar reason, Marion came back saying that her reasons were different to Alison’s. Everyone except Gerry Wood was confused. Which is really saying something. Gerry is the Independent Member for Nelson. “Independent Member” can often be code for “slightly loopy”. He believes in aliens and may just talk to animals too.
But he now has the balance of power and struck a deal with the Henderson government that allows them to govern until Gerry says no. So, in a nutshell, instead of being ruled by people who don’t really care, we are now ruled by a bloke who cares about caravan parks.
Did you follow all that? And to think New South Wales’ politics makes ours look sedentary.
What will happen in 2010? I’m not sure but you can rest assured that it will probably be so tragically awful, you’ll have to laugh.

Ayers what? By ERWIN CHLANDA.

The politically correct brigade which scuttled the fruits of billions of dollars worth of advertising, over decades, and re-named Ayers Rock as Uluru, is still far from achieving its august objective.
In January, after some 20 years of pontificating and indoctrinating the public, 123,857 people in Australia googled Uluru but 86,260 were still looking for Ayers Rock.
The global figures are similar: 389,921 people were reformed and typed in Uluru, but 290,249 still stuck to Ayers Rock.
These searches were done to find tours, food, accommodation, entertainment and so on.

Back to our home page.