May 6, 2010. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Carey Builders shot a blank. By ERWIN CHLANDA and COMMENT by Prof ROLF GERRITSEN.

Braitling MLA Adam Giles orchestrated the defeat of the Government last week in a Parliamentary vote on measures to assist people stung by the Carey Builders and Framptons New Homes scandal.
But because of Parliamentary convention, the Government is free to ignore that vote. In fact it would not have been carried if it had put the Government under any obligation: MLA Gerry Wood would have abstained. All this makes the manoeuvre little more than an empty gesture (see box this page).
Mr Giles secured the support of independents Alison Anderson and Mr Wood to push through a motion to “establish a fund to cover the cost of works for people whose homes were left unfinished, with that money to be paid back after the sale of the property – whenever that is”.
Mr Giles says: “The motion sends out a clear signal that it’s time for Government to implement its long-awaited home warranty insurance scheme to avoid a similar occurrence.”
The NT is the only state jurisdiction in Australia without such a scheme.
The vote is a sign that the Government cannot rely at all times on Mr Wood’s support – but this is unlikely to be a threat to its survival.
Both the Minister for Central Australia, Karl Hampton, and Lands Minister Gerald McCarthy voted with the Government against the motion.
Mr Hampton would not answer a question from the Alice Springs News, put to him at the launch of the Alice Springs Cup Carnival on Friday, where he represented Racing Minister Delia Lawrie, who was absent.
All Mr Hampton would say was: “I’m happy to make a comment next week.”
Mr McCarthy recently met with two members of the group formed by the affected home buyers.
One of the members, Ald Murray Stewart, said Mr McCarthy had told them “the Government cannot provide taxpayer money to assist in this case”.
According to Ald Stewart, as Mr McCarthy left he said, “I wish you guys all the best”.
Mr Giles says the vote was a major slap in the Government’s face, but it is under no obligation to take the actions demanded.
Mr Giles puts the majority of the blame for the fiasco on the Government’s failure to adequately regulate builders and the building industry, issuing Randall Carey, an undischarged bankrupt of some six years’ standing, a builder’s licence.
And when the authorities declined to renew that licence they failed to advise Mr Carey’s clients that he was no longer licensed.
Nor did the authorities stop Mr Carey from acting as a builder, says Mr Giles, despite a string of complaints against him.
The Government’s authorities also failed to test an arrangement claimed to have been made by Mr Carey to operate under another builder’s supervision.
That builder, Damien Golding, has told the Alice News: “I am not responsible nor liable for Mr [Randall] Carey whatsoever.”
As the News reported in its April 8 edition, Territory legislation prevents litigation against government staff, and private building certifiers, even if they acted improperly.
It now appears unlikely that the home buyers’ losses, said to be running into several million dollars, can be recovered from Mr Carey.
In view of that we asked Mr Giles why the taxpayer should shoulder the debts while there is one other player under what would seem to be a clear obligation to provide compensation: Framptons New Homes, a division of the local real estate franchise Framptons First National, which had provided assurances to the clients of Carey Builders (see Alice Springs News online edition).
Mr Giles says: “A guarantee goes so far, but [in this case the] real estate agent is relying on dodgy government advice in relation to the suitability of a builder who is an undischarged bankrupt.
“I don’t know if that gets [Framptons] off the hook.”
Framptons declined to respond to questions from the News about their undertakings to their clients.
Mr McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Giles says “in the Carey Builders matter there were many factors that led to the situation but the overriding one is that of the registration of an undischarged bankrupt.
“While not blaming anyone individually I think the Government could have done a better job to avoid this whole issue in the first place.
“Even more importantly the Government should have advised everyone who had a contract with Randall Carey what this situation actually is.
“This victory in Parliament is a win for the victims of the NT Government in the Carey Builders matter – we now just have to get Government to follow through, something that will be difficult given that Ministers Hampton and McCarthy voted against supporting these victims.”

Just an empty gesture

The defeat of the Government in last week’s Parliamentary vote to provide assistance for the victims of the Carey Builders collapse does not have grave consequences – so long as it remains an isolated incident.
CDU research leader in Central Australia, Professor Rolf Gerritsen, says if independent MLA Gerry Wood would make a habit of “picking and choosing what he supports and what he doesn’t,” this would indicate that the Chief Minister does not have control over the House.
That could cause the Administrator to intervene, “have a talk to the Chief Minister or Mr Wood”, says Prof Gerritsen, and possibly order an election.
Last week’s vote was not about bringing in or changing legislation, in which case a defeat could have toppled the Government. However, the vote was about spending money.
Mr Wood’s deal with Chief Minister Paul Henderson was to not vote against “money Bills”.
Prof Gerritsen says if the Opposition finds issues that Mr Wood can’t disagree with, but that cost money, instability in the House could ensue and the Administrator may need to intervene.
So far as last week’s motion passed in Parliament is concerned, the Government is free to ignore it because it was not a Bill.
If the Opposition had brought in a Private Member’s Bill, and if it had been passed, it would have had more serious implications.
Mr Wood, when asked by the Alice Springs News, said if the matter had been raised in a Private Members’ Bill he would have abstained from voting.
He said his undertaking to the Government was not to interfere in its governing.
“It’s up to them to govern,” he says.
“The motion was not a money Bill – it was a motion.
“Motions are not binding on the Government – they can decide to act on them, amend them or they can leave them.
“Even if this had been a Bill it would not have toppled the Government
“I have said I won’t force the Government to accept Opposition Bills as this would make governing very difficult or impossible,” says Mr Wood.
“It is the government’s role to make the laws – it is the opposition’s job to scrutinise the laws, not become a de facto government by passing laws from the opposition benches.
“The Government must have some stability.
“I can vote how I like but my agreement is to support the Budget when it is introduced.
“The administrator would not intervene unless the Chief Minister lost a vote of no confidence, not a motion.
“I am independent but have said that I will allow the Government to go its elected full term and then people can make their judgement over the four years past at the polls.”
But Mr Wood said last week’s motion made it clear that the Carey Builders matter is a serious issue, and put pressure on the Government to take responsible action.

NT Budget: $560m in Budget for public works in The Centre.

“More than $560 million” has been allocated in this year’s budget to improve “schools, hospitals, housing and infrastructure” in our region, according to Minister for Central Australia, Karl Hampton.
This compares with $750 million for Darwin’s northern suburbs; $300 million for Palmerston and Litchfield; and $253.3 million in the Katherine region.
Specifically in The Centre there will be:-
•  $38 million to upgrade Alice Springs Hospital and $19.6 million for a new emergency department;
• $8.27 million to upgrade schools –$6.42 million for Centralian Middle School and the Youth Hub at Anzac Hill, $2.8 million for Acacia School and $1.25 million for Ntaria School;
• $10 million to fast-track headworks for housing at the AZRI site;
• $5.6 million to construct the Larapinta Seniors Village;
•  $32 million to upgrade key roads, including $2 million to seal seven kms of the Sandover Highway and $2 million to seal a further four kms of the Tanami Road.
The lifting of the HomeStart NT price cap in Alice Springs is replicated in the other urban centres of the Territory. In Alice the cap has been lifted by $85,000 (going from $300,000 to $385,000). Elsewhere it has been lifted by $55,000 in Darwin and Palmerston; $18,000 in Katherine; and $5000 in Tennant Creek, no doubt reflecting real estate price increases in each market. 
Tax cuts will save first home buyers up to $26,730 (stamp duty exemption), senior Territorians $8500 (stamp duty reduction) and principal place of residence buyers $3500 (rebate, up from $2500).
Stage Two of the Alice Springs Youth Action Plan gets  $3.47 million, including $1.5 million to run two supported group homes for 12 young people; $1.1 million to operate the Youth Hub and provide an alternative education program for youth with extreme behaviour; $625,000 to provide an after hours response to youth on the street; and $250,000 to boost resources in schools to tackle disengaged students.
The Alice Springs Transformation Plan continues with $17.5 million allocated, including $2.7 million to operate the Percy Village Transitional Village (housing up to 70 people), Bath Street Lodge (up to 40 visiting renal dialysis patients); eight single units in Goyder Street; and Alice Springs Accommodation Park (up to 150 people short-term).
“Land servicing and essential service infrastructure” in The Centre’s  “Growth Towns” gets $32.2 million, and $9.4 million is provided for a new multi-purpose police station and office accommodation in Imanpa.
 As Environment Minister Mr Hampton announced $625,000 to establish the NT Container Deposit Scheme by 2011 as well as planned legislation, to be introduced this calendar year, to ban the sale of lightweight plastic shopping bags.

Second coming. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

When Father Dwyer was planning the Catholic Church in 1969 he wanted to include a large stained glass window in the baptistry, but the quote that came back was well over the available budget.
Lindsay Johannsen (pictured), son of the noted road train pioneer Kurt Johannsen, offered to do the job for the cost of the materials.  Ultimately applying his family’s legendary bush can-do to the task, Lindsay saved Father Dwyer’s plan.
But it took a while to come together. Initial design attempts with pen, paper and water color wash were unsatisfactory as draft presentations to put to Father Dwyer.
Then one day Lindsay was in Iris Harvey’s book shop and spotted some colored cellophane: “I bought every last bit,” he recalls – and he was on his way.
Soon a timber frame mounted scale mockup was ready for presentation, an abstract picture of Jesus’ Christening by John the Baptist, under harsh sunlight by the river Jordan; green fields, the dove of the holy spirit, the sky bursting asunder and a foreboding of the coming Cross.
Fast forward to today: the window and Lindsay are 40 years older.
It seems he’s coped better with the desert climate than the window:  the French-made panes – exposed to summer sun temperature buildup of 50 to 60 plus degrees countless times – have delaminated their bonding with the resin, causing the window’s bottom sections to weaken and slump.
The top section spanning the arch is sound as it does not get the direct sunlight, but the doors at the bottom had to be removed and boarded in – as Lindsay noticed one day a couple of years ago while passing the church. He stopped to take a closer look and was soon in deep conversation with Father Knight, who was scratching his head about what to do.
The Catholic power of persuasion prevailed again, and Lindsay, now retired to a motor home on the mining lease pegged by his father at the northern edge of town, is back on the job.
And yes, it’s again a labour of love.

Uproar over ‘secure facility’. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

A “secure facility” housing people who – according to the Department of Health – “exhibit high risk behaviours that may threaten the safety of themselves or the community” is being planned by the NT Government in a rural residential area.
Last week 86 people from the area immediately affected, Cotterill Road, off the Ross River Highway, as well as other areas south of The Gap, and the town itself, met to mount a campaign against the facility.
It is being planned without any consultation with the neighbours, says a spokesman for the group, Rick Hall.
The father of five young children is fearing for their safety, and says the lifestyle of the area is threatened by prison-style structures including high fences and lights.
One of his neighbors had a slab for his new house put down recently but has halted work when plans for the facility came to light – by a neighbor noticing a pink sign on the fence of the block in question.
Mr Hall says the land has obviously been bought by the health department without any advice to residents nearby, and in clear contravention of planning regulations.
It is expected that dozens of residents will lodge objections with the Development Consent Authority.
The deadline for these is tomorrow, just two weeks and two days after the plans were announced by the government via media release.
People at the meeting recalled the knife killing of a woman in Gap Road by a brain damaged petrol sniffer.
Mr Hall says the department is dealing with the issue by spin.
Jenny Cleary, Executive Director Health Services, announcing the $13.9 million “Secure Care initiative”, says the facilities (there is one in Darwin as well) “will provide a safe, controlled environment for clients”.
There will be “state-of-the-art security measures to ensure both the safety and comfort of the clients being treated” and the aim was “to preserve the aesthetics of the area and provide a tranquil environment for clients and staff.”
What about security and a tranquil environment for the neighbors, asks Mr Hall.
Says Ms Cleary: “The locations ... were selected because of the proximity to the metropolitan areas and infrastructure”.
But Mr Hall says the Alice Springs gaol on the South Stuart Highway can be reached from town in 14 minutes, while it takes 20 minutes to get to the Ross Highway location.
He says the group considers putting the facility near the gaol would keep it away from residential areas, and in events of emergencies it could get help from another government facility nearby.
Mr Hall says it seems likely that the facility, initially for 16 patients, would be expanded in the future.
The land is big enough.
The group is also investigating reports that the local branch of the Department of Lands, Planning and Infrastructure made an eight-page submission arguing against the location, but this was overruled.

Uranium drilling enters new phase. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

The uranium miner Cameco has resumed diamond drilling exploration at its 50/50 joint venture with Paladin at the Angela Pamela deposit south of Alice Springs.
The work is being done by six men from local firm Gorey & Cole Drillers operating a diamond drill rig, a unit recycling and cleaning water (at left in the photo above) used during the drilling, and a water tanker.
Following the drilling, sensing equipment is inserted down the hole to measure the amount and grade of uranium found.
This is a unique process, because most other mineral exploration relies on drill core samples essaying to determine grades, which can take up to a fortnight.
With this method the results are available instantly: a probe is lowered into the drill hole and readings at various depths can be taken immediately, checking for gamma radiation and resistivity, which is the ability of the rock to conduct an electric current. This is used to correlate sedimentary beds.
Some core samples are also evaluated but only as a way of double-checking the probing results.
The eastern tip of the Angela 1 deposit is just west of the Finke Desert Race track, about 25 kms south of the town centre, and extends at least five kms to the west, descending at an angle of nine degrees to a depth of at least 800 metres.
Cameco’s local manager Stephan Stander says about 60 holes will be drilled in this phase of the exploration, about 50 metres apart and covering an area about 200 metres wide at Angela 1.
There is also testing for mineralisation towards the north of Angela 1, including the Pamela area.
The diamond drill holes, containing steel casing for the top 12 metres, are capped about half a meter below ground on completion and the surface is rehabilitated.
Mr Stander says exploration will take another two to three months, after which the data will be used to update the geological model, which will be used for mine planning purposes and economic studies.
Cameco has only an exploration license at the moment.
If the deposit is considered viable an environmental impact statement will be drawn up ahead of applying for a mining licence.
Currently the Joint Venture is conducting a series of environmental studies including water, dust, and fauna and flora as part of the process of building up a set of baseline data which can be used if in future an Environmental impact Statement is drawn up.

Working in remote areas: good money is not enough.

Financial incentives to attract skilled staff into rural and remote areas have to be coupled with positive attractions in terms of lifestyle.
A large dollar amount is not enough for most people to offset months or years in poor living conditions – in unattractive or uncomfortable housing, lonely and bored, a long way from their previous home, family and friends.
And financial incentives should not be prescriptive – people will want to apply them to different purposes, perhaps to send their children away for school, perhaps on better accommodation, or on their recreation.
These were among the points made in a cross border meeting hosted by Desert Knowledge Australia in Alice Springs last week.
Most of the 35 people at the meeting were not in the room – they were scattered around the country at 15 different sites, linked by telephone and the web (a Wiki page so that all participants could follow powerpoint-style presentations).
It’s not the technology that made the occasion noteworthy, but the regular use of it for  meaningful exchange. It was the 56th meeting of its kind.
They’ve been occurring every six weeks since March 2003, sponsored by Telstra, and it’s clear that now a genuine network exists for exchanging information and points of view on important issues.
Last week everyone taking part was across the technology, there were only a couple of hiccups, the conversation flowed, including jokes. 
They were talking about how to counter coastal drift of their populations, how to turn around local skills shortages and attract new residents.
The meeting heard that Port Augusta has a “meet and greet” program carried out by trained volunteers.
They take the new arrivals to their accommodation, show them where to find services, where to shop, where the local schools are.
They hold a coffee morning every Wednesday, sometimes with a guest speaker, but mostly pitched at people getting to know one another.
Most of those coming along are the partners of migrant skilled workers and the volunteers are organising an international food night as another way of making them feel welcome.
There’s also a free career development service, aimed at helping the partners find work, and a mentoring program is planned to help their children make a successful transition to school.
This work is coordinated by Mandy Hansen in a new position created by Regional Development Australia, Far North together with the SA Department of Trade and Economic Development.
Speaking from Perth, Fiona Haslam McKenzie from the Curtin Graduate School of Business, then told the meeting about the research she conducted for the Desert Knowledge CRC four years ago on the attraction and retention theme.
The research itself was a challenge because of the “churn” of people through remote places – “the issues were writ large”, she said.
She found that a lot of skilled workers, including police, nurses and teachers, were “dumped” in remote communities without any “cultural awareness and language skills”.
In some cases it had been like “sending lambs to the slaughter”, she said.
In other communities there would be an effort at welcome and orienting people to local mores, including the local idiom.
For women, especially the young, a sense of safety was very important, said Ms McKenzie.
A seemingly silent community at night could be “scarey” for young women used to city life.
They needed to be made aware of how to  be safe – for example, by travelling with a companion, always having fresh water in their vehicle, knowing the local emergency numbers, knowing whether it was important to lock up at night.
She said women found it very reassuring when communities took steps to make this knowledge available to them. Other types of welcome and local orientation, such as Port Augusta’s program, were important as was mentoring.
Sometimes a useful mentor can be someone familiar with the new arrival’s professional role as well as the community even if they are no longer present. In fact, if the mentor is at arm’s length that can help the newcomer to feel at ease in being frank with their concerns, said Ms McKenzie.
It’s important for the functionality and live-ability of communities to have the full range of people living in them – from children to the elderly.
In this regard, authorities need to make clear what the long-term planning commitments are for communities that grow rapidly around industry opportunities, such as those in the Pilbara region.
For example, people need to know whether schools are going to be built, neighbourhoods developed.
And it’s better if the planning is done at the beginning, rather than tacked on at the end.
By way of example, Ms McKenzie spoke of a woman in Port Hedland who left because after some time she could no longer stand living in a house that was identical to every other house in the street. It didn’t feel like “her home”.
Other measures that could help are:
• taxation relief, especially as remote living can be so much more expensive than capital city living;
• adequate remuneration for the same reason;
• HECS discounts and scholarships for university students from remote areas;
• enhanced communication – the research found that it was often inconsistent or poor between head office and the local office;
• recognition and reward of remote area professional experience.
In a third presentation to the meeting, Linda Nadge spoke from Broken Hill, where she is CEO of Regional Development Australia, Far West.
She was responding to a Federal Government Parliamentary Inquiry into skills shortages in regional Australia, in particular focusing on opportunities to support the relocation of unemployed workers from areas of high unemployment to areas experiencing skills shortages.
She queried the inquiry’s terms of reference, saying she didn’t know of any regional area where there was not high unemployment coupled with skills shortages.
In her area, unemployment is at 12% (compared to the national average of 5.3%), there are  a lot of school dropouts, high recruitment costs, an aging population and disengaged youth.
She pointed to the government’s efforts to attract doctors into regional areas but asked, why stop at doctors.
Why not do the same for other health professionals as well as plumbers, electricians and so on?
She also pushed for zonal taxation rebates and policies to encourage decentralisation, saying that economic development in a particular place is often “an accident of history” rather than as a result of more specific reasons.
In discussion, other points came from:
• Laverton – leave arrangements need to be flexible, it needs to be easy to get away;
• Tennant Creek, where nine people took part in the meeting – a DVD about the town and its services has been made for use by the hospital and school in their recruitment drives;
• Brisbane – Telstra’s John Lister reported similar issues experienced in Cairns, where he had lived for 38 years; he also reported on the Federal Government’s Digital Regions Initiatives, which can assist in remote delivery of education;
• Pilbara region – a revitalisation program is underway but the Pilbara communities do suffer from decision-making taking place far away.

Where Alice plays pokies.

All Alice Springs households would have received by now a survey in their letter-box asking questions about how they use gambling venues (if they do).
This is the first step in a three year research project.
Dr Martin Young, from Charles Darwin University, said the project is about “ground truthing” the current assumptions about “the catchment of pokie venues” and their impact.
He said authorities work on the figure of 1.1% of adult Territorians experiencing problems with gambling. In Alice, the figure in a 2005 survey was 1.6%, the highest in the NT areas studied and equating to more than 15% of gamblers.
The new detailed research should ascertain whether these are accurate figures.
As well as the usual questions to determine demographic and economic characteristics,  the survey will ask who goes to what venue and what kind of gambling they engage in. 
It will be looking at which venues are associated with certain types of risk or harms.
Are there, for instance, an over-supply of EGMs (electronic gaming machines or ‘pokies’) and if so, where?
This will be information useful to licensing authorities, says Dr Young.
It will also help the venues, identifying which ones need, for example, Amity to do training for management and staff in responsible service of gambling facilities.
And it will tell the researchers where to focus their investigative efforts.
Dr Young recognises the limits of mailed-out surveys – they won’t reach, for instance, residents of town camps – but the survey will be followed up by on-the-ground research in July and August of this year.
Getting information from Indigenous people is the biggest challenge for good sociological research in the Territory, says Dr Young.
Mail-outs typically get a response rate of 10%; thus from Alice’s 10,400 residences the researchers should receive around 1000 responses, although they are hoping for more.
The mail-out should tell them who is not responding and the next phase will see an effort to contact those people, says Dr Young.

Revised Araluen plan responds to concerns.

The revised draft Araluen Cultural Precinct Development Plan has responded to many of the concerns expressed in the controversy over last year’s version.
Its vision is more inclusive of the whole community, acknowledging the “deeply embedded sense of community ownership, pride and partnership at [the] core” of the precinct.
While the plan still emphasises the role of the precinct as “a keeping place of stories”, an evolution since its inception, the primacy of Aboriginal art and social history in this regard has been de-emphasised.
There is no reference in the revised plan to a permanent display of Aboriginal art in Gallery Three.
Achieving goals around the display of Aboriginal art is now discussed in terms of “appropriate facilities” to be developed in the longer term, possibly within the precinct grounds but possibly elsewhere.
The focus of exhibition development will be on “the display and interpretation of [Araluen] collection material”, which comprises both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal art.
The solar air-conditioning project for the arts centre has been given more comprehensive treatment in the plan, and the issue of its location remains open for the time being. The community reference group for the project is considering four possible locations: the initially proposed area between Central Craft and the Museum of Central Australia, the Circus Lawns, the corner of Larapinta Drive and Memorial Avenue, and the area adjacent to the Memorial Cemetery.
The natural history display of the Museum of Central Australia is still intended to be moved to the Desert Park.
The future focus of the Strehlow Research Centre building will be social and cultural history.
“A feature component could be the interpretation of Arrernte stories and history as this relates specifically to Mparntwe (Alice Springs) township and its land forms” but there will also be stories about non-Aboriginal history.
The displays will be developed in liaison with the precinct’s Arrernte Custodians Reference Group and local historians.
A welcome addition to the plan is the development of a Digital Story Centre at the Museum of Central Australia “to enable people within the local community to create multi media digital stories”.
The plan is open for public comment until May 31.
At present it is accessible on the department’s website but printed copies should be available shortly.

Desert dominates the Alice Prize.

Never has the Alice Prize, in my experience, had such a desert feel.
The winning work, Carcass by Alison Alder, and the three honourable mentions – by Tobias Richardson, Yinarupa Nangala and Mary Ross –  all have strong inland or outback content.
Joining these among the 10 or so to be seriously considered by judge Alan Dodge were another two – by Johnny Yungut Tjupurrula and Alex Kershaw.
And in the exhibition as a whole, out of 51 works, in addition to the above-mentioned six, at least another 15 are concerned in one way or another with inland, outback or desert themes.
Among them are a number of works – I counted four or five – by artists from interstate who have travelled to Central Australia and are exhibiting works responding to this experience.
Though the prize conditions do not limit entries to any theme or genre, it seems that a fairly strong selection process is taking place, whether unconsciously by the selection panel or else by artists themselves.  Is this a good or bad thing?
Together with many in Alice Springs, I am always interested in looking at and thinking about work that connects with the inland, its natural environment and its cultural spaces.
But, also like many, I crave the fresh winds that arrive from afar. Sometimes these are brought in by artists who live in our midst, like the 2008 winner, Pip McManus, whose work had a universal reach.
In other years of the prize that sense of being taken elsewhere has been an overall impression – experienced on entering the gallery where images and forms of startling contrast asserted themselves. The contrast was between the works as well as with what was more or less culturally familiar to us.
Something that might contribute to this not being the case this year is the lack of large three-dimensional work. There’s really only one – The Unconcise Oxford Dictionary by Mandy Gunn.
Kershaw’s DVD work, One of Several Centres, is part of an installation but the spatial experience of it is slight relative to the experience of its screen images.
But the major factor contributing to this sense of being in charted territory is the dominance of inland or desert themes worked with in more or less conventional ways (I admired and enjoyed much of this work but I didn’t feel challenged or surprised by it). 
This is something for the hard-working Alice Springs Art Foundation committee to think about. The prize is billed as a national contemporary art award. What strategies can be used to ensure the participation in it of a broad selection of reputed national artists working with a range of concerns?
The purse has been increased to $20,000. Mr Dodge suggests that it may need to go up by another $5000 to $10,000 to stay competitive.
The winner is also given a four-week residency in Alice Springs. This could be contributing to artists choosing whether to enter or not; they may not all be interested in spending that kind of time here. It might be worth reviewing the benefit to artists and art audiences of the residency. From memory, only one artist, Merilyn Fairskye, the 2001 winner, has used the residency to really make a deep connection with this place, out of which arose new work. 
It may be possible to make the residency in Alice optional, with an equivalent (in dollar terms) professional development opportunity elsewhere offered as an alternative.
The committee may also need to do some promotional work to lift the profile of the prize amongst artists of national reputation.
In conversation with other viewers on the weekend, the possibility of nominating themes for the prize was also canvassed.
These matters aside, the 2010 Alice Prize is well worth the visit.
It breathes beautifully in the space allocated to it by Araluen – Galleries One and Three – and with the much remarked upon hang by Stephen Williamson, which allowed each work to claim its own space.
At times the hang also achieved enriching juxtapositions, as with the works Demountable Churches by Tobias Richardson and Untitled by Yinarupa Nangala.
Between them they speak eloquently about the cultural space in bush communities – the deep rootedness of Aboriginal belief and ways of seeing on the one hand, the struggle of external belief and ways of seeing to take root on the other.
Nangala’s ground is densely imbued with spirit and life; Richardson’s churches float in a void.
Mr Dodge singled out the aesthetic achievements of both works, commending Nangala for her “beautiful, accomplished work of high sophistication”, her “assured touch in paint application” and “compositional rigour”.
He praised Richardson’s “smart use of the colour and textured surface of the back of masonite” as his “first right decision”; “the repetition with variations of the same basic form” as the second; and “the alternation of thin, thick and dripped paint” to provide “an interesting visual variation for what becomes a series of symbols”.
The winning work, Alison Alder’s Carcass, is a striking rendition on a theme often explored by artists both on its own terms and for its symbolic resonance – the devastating impact of humankind on the animal world.
It is precisely the theme of another work in the prize, Pamela Lofts’ Stuffed, and bears relation to the more complex work by Lofts which co-won the Alice Prize in 1995 and was recently shown at Araluen in the Paper Cuts exhibition – Landscape (On the Road Again).
Alder lets us know in her artist’s statement that her piece reworks “Sidney Nolan’s grotesquely beautiful carcasses painted in the early 1950s” and refers to Nolan’s despair about “the negative impact of post-war white settlement on northern Australia”.
Alder distills his images “to make each carcass read almost like an ideogram”, as Mr Dodge noted, commending her decision to make a triptych, together with the scale and medium (screen-printed gouache on paper), all working “in favour of a powerful result”.
For me the association of Alder’s three carcasses with roadkill was immediate and their distillation had me in sympathy with her intention to achieve broad symbolic resonance, but the work did not take me quite as far as she intended.
She writes: “During the current Interventionist times the carcass motif is redrawn to visually represent disquiet regarding the influence of government policy on both the people and environment in the outback.”
I do not think references to the Intervention or government policy are made out in the work.  
The third honorable mention by Mr Dodge is a photographic work, Camus and Adam, by Mary Ross.
Mr Dodge found the artist’s use of light “cinematically perfect” – “whether by design or chance”.
He was struck by the poignant contrast and tension between the driver’s and child’s psychological states.
“She nailed it,” he said, though he thought the entry would have been strengthened if a series of photographs had  been presented.
We learn from her statement that this young artist does have a body of work around car themes developed as part of The Mutikur Project, an initiative of Warlayirti Artists’ multimedia program. A talent to watch.
Other works to “stay with” Mr Dodge in his quest for a winner were Johnny Yungut’s Untitled for its “wonderful surface tension”; Therese Ritchie’s Dreamin for “pulling together” her fantastical landscape as well as she does; the video work Tag by Workman Jones, although Mr Dodge wanted some irony to take it to another level; Mostyn Bramley-Moore’s Best of all Lookout for “its wonderful calligraphic stroking”; and Kershaw’s “magnum opus”.
Alice Springs viewers might feel more patient with the latter than Mr Dodge, because of our heightened interest in ways of working with local landscape and urban spaces as well as people. But beyond the readily acceptable proposition of its title, it is hard to get Kershaw’s drift. It feels like the piece could go on forever, adding sequence after sequence, but then could you not look at the multiple if not infinite possibilities of virtually any chosen subject? 
Mr Dodge admired Kershaw’s “absolutely beautiful” cinematography and some sequences – a favourite was the chair-stacking sequence –  but felt irritated by the piece’s length and at times obscurity. He wanted some tautness, seeing in the work the potential for “a beautiful documentary”.
Overall, though Mr Dodge would have liked to see more Indigenous work, he found the prize entries of a “very high level” .
“The fact that I could find a short list of 10 and by the time I got down to six, it was getting tough, speaks very well for the prize,” he said.

More than a cinema.

Films that otherwise wouldn’t make it to Alice will have more of a chance from next Thursday when a new outlet will launched.
Pop Cinema will screen around 24 films over the coming year, at Witchetty’s.
The screenings will be events, complete with food, bar facilities, art shows rotating monthly and live acoustic music.
An initiative of Pop Vulture’s Cam Buckley and Cy Starkman, Pop Cinema will also hold club nights after the show in the main theatre at Araluen.
Buckley and Starkman have scored a coup for their opening night film – Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen, which opened last year’s Filmfest Hamburg.
Akin is German-born of Turkish parentage and lives in Hamburg.
His film was hailed as a “declaration of love” for that city and its sub-cultures.
What happens in the film, the revitalisation of a flagging restaurant, is something of a model for what Pop Cinema wants to achieve, says Buckley.
Doors open 6pm, screening starts 7.30.

Soundburnt at Ross River. By POP VULTURE with CAMERON BUCKLEY.

Around two years ago, I heard a certain person say that they were going to sit down with another certain person and create a new festival. Wide Open Space was born and the rest is history, or maybe the present.
A sensory banquet this year’s festival was a thicker, undulating version of the first.
There were visual art installations like this giant floating eyeball morphing in and out of a drunk kaleidoscope. And sound! Walls and waves, the entire weekend had your brain being kicked in by sound.
Sound particles out numbered sun particles, and come Sunday afternoon your skin after being out in the sound so long was … soundburnt.
This festival has stretched and grown, an audio-visual rhythmic bliss octopus spreading its tentacles. With all hands on deck, tiny little worker ant contributors muscled about the nest, homage to the vibrant cultures that make Alice their home. Wide Open Space has done so much more than just ‘worked’ – it has become a station for healing.
Many punters who don’t really ‘turn on’ to contemporary pop cultural acts were confused about what acts were actually considered a headline or drawcard,  tuning in to pretty much everything they set their eyes on. It made you beam.
And hearing word that the gates ushered through curious campers from the nearby resort, who had just heard the noise and trekked out to see made you wish you could quake a base line all the way back into town to draw more moths to the flame.
The conservative attendance was up on last season also, and exposing the general population to the counter cultures they usually only receive regurgitated via the rumour mill and press definitely doesn’t arrest the development of the festival.
A truly noticeable addition this year was the abundance of activities for children. Circus acts and workshops gave the daytime much more of a carnival atmosphere, and the kids ran loose with their own weekend liberties.
The line up this year was as diverse as it was colourful – electro in droves, hip hop from the political to the preacher, with our own Dr Strangeways playing the best set I’ve seen them put together, with many goers asking “Are these guys from Melbourne?’  This stirred things up for the interstate travellers.
But the highlight for me was Friday night’s set by The Barons Of Tang.
They played to a big draw, with the nosebleed section turning into a dusty maelstrom of limbs and bodies. Notes played like surgeons with tommy guns for tools, fuelled by strings and horns, the amphetamine gypsy sound was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever heard. Assault after glorious assault.
Double bass, piano accordion and percussion are the new rock and roll! The only regret taken away was there was no theatre seats to rip up.

LETTERS: What consultation?

Sir – One of the outcomes of the Planning Forum in 2008 was to set up a steering committee of mostly local people.
The terms of reference stated: “The Minister shall approve and authorise the public release of the appropriate record of meetings of the Steering Committee within 28 days days of the meeting by way of the website”
On December 5, 2009, we discovered that neither the minutes nor terms of reference were on the website.
On December 6 we emailed the co-chairs of the committee, and on the 9th we received copies of the minutes and posted them on but they are still not on the NTG website.
Sometime before February 7, 2010, the “blind” link to them was removed from the NTG website.
At their inaugural meeting, Co-chair Minister Karl Hampton said: “The formation of the steering committee ... is an exciting opportunity for the members and the community to shape the future Alice Springs.”
Co-chair Mayor Damien Ryan said: “This is a very exciting time for Alice Springs and the formation of this steering committee is a first and extraordinary opportunity for Alice Springs to define and model its future.”
Member Brendan Meney said: “Achieving these outcomes will require extensive consultation ...”
And yet at the next meeting, without involving the community, the committee discussed “the responsibility ... to secure the Northern Territory Government support to proceed with the Arid Zone Research Institute (AZRI) land and the provision of suitable and affordable land for housing.”
In the July 7, 2009 meeting the committee noted “the need for broad, regular and continuous communications ... to ensure the community and key stakeholders are kept fully informed and to ensure the Northern Territory Government and Committee has the opportunity to respond to any information generated.”
At the August 7, 2009 meeting the Alice Springs Rural Area Association (ASRAA) was flagged as a key stakeholder by the Steering Committee, but no contact for that purpose has ever been made.
At the November meeting the Steering Committee received the documents for the proposed AZRI development.  
They recorded that “the Steering Committee must express concern that insufficient time has been made available to formally evaluate and consider the documents to ensure the information will effectively and efficiently satisfy the possible and probable future demands of Alice Springs”.
The Steering Committee determined to “undertake a full and complete evaluation of the above mentioned documents with the intention of providing a response to the Minister for Lands and Planning as a result of a special Steering Committee meeting to be held in Alice Springs on November 23, 2009, and that a response be conveyed during a meeting with the Minister” between November 24 and 26.
While the documents before them were in confidence, they still could have discussed the issue with ASRAA. No contact was made.
They met on November 23 and stated “there is no apparent reason to inhibit the commencement of public consultation for the development of land south of the Gap for residential housing” although “an initial review ... has found many anomalies and ... a full and complete evaluation has not been undertaken”.
So, while no “full and complete evaluation” took place, no contact with ASRAA had been made, the next day the Minister released this proposed Planning Scheme Amendment.
We asked the department on December 6 (before we had access to the minutes) for a meeting with the committee. It was pointed out that they were not meeting again until February, after the initial closing date for submissions!
So much for the “extensive consultation”, or any form of transparency.  This process is an insult to the people of Alice Springs.
Furthermore, at its August 2003 meeting I believe the Town Council passed a motion that it would activate its own policy of public consultation, and consult with the ASRAA about planning issues south of the Gap.
The council has NEVER implemented that decision.
Rod Cramer, Chair
Alice Springs Rural Area Association Inc.

Back in the best bush town.

In true Australian tradition, our capital city was created to settle an argument. Canberra was invented because Melbourne didn’t want Sydney to be the capital.
Before 1927 the parliament of Australia sat in Melbourne. Sydney always knew this would be a temporary situation and wanted the capital for itself. Clever Melbournians passed a law to ban Sydney from ever being the capital of Australia. It’s amazing that with all this bickering about whose city was more prestigious anything got done at all. Good to see some things never change.
Our forefathers loved a competition too. Our flag was designed through a competition, as was our capital and our national anthem was the subject of several competitions and polls.
Canberra is a very pretty place. Poplar trees and rolling hills blend seamlessly with the avenues and circuses that make up the majority of the CBD. It doesn’t take too much imagination to remember that this city, our country’s capital was, less than 100 years ago, plonked on top of a paddock.
But despite its rural outlook, Canberra is a thriving city. In fact, there are some similarities between the “biggest bush town”, as Australian Capital Territorians like to call it and “the best bush town” as Northern Territorians call the Alice.
Like Alice Springs, Canberra has a higher than natural population of public servants. In fact, apart from being the national capital, it could well be argued that Canberra is also the lanyard capital of the world. You’re no one unless you have a small card emblazoned with your face and name hanging from a neck loop.
While many government workers here in Alice Springs jump into the troopy and drive hundreds of kilometres, the other Territorians jump into the Range Rover and weekend in Batemans Bay. Like Alice, Canberra enjoys the perks of a high public service. Relative affluence for much of the population is a common theme.
Ridiculous rental and housing prices are also shared by the two places. Like Alice Springs, the powers that be feel that releasing land for housing is a chore done only under enormous sufferance.
The military are present in great numbers too. However while the military here in Alice Springs like to do their business out of public view, in Canberra the trappings of military might are displayed for all to see. Royal Military College is as impressive a campus as any in the world.
While spending a week in the “other Territory”, I enjoyed all that a small but impressive city had to offer. I ate multicultural food in metropolitan cafés. I shopped at stores with outrageously chic shop attendants. I went to plays and a megaplex cinema. And I went to shopping centres with chain stores.
It was in such a store that I realized just how lucky we are to live in Alice Springs.
I was indulging my brief stint in a city by seeking out the big chain stores. Computing stores, clothing stores and finally, a large and relatively new book supermarket. This book supermarket is Nirvana for book lovers. Its warm coloured walls and acres of bookshelves seductively invite the consumer to enter. The leather chairs and the globally franchised coffee shop keep you in the store adding to your booty of books.
I was standing in this Shangri-La when a strange feeling came upon me. I was looking through these wonderful books and, for just a moment, I forgot that I was in Canberra. In fact for a small period of time, I could not have told you where it was that I was.
I could have been anywhere, in Canberra or in any of the 45 other franchises dotted around the country.
These mega chains are wonderful and seductive and we yearn for them here in Alice Springs. But every single one of them looks exactly like each other. There is no room for individuality. No local identity.
There is a reason we live in Alice Springs. It is a unique place and just as seductive as the megaplexes without compromising its identity.

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