May 20, 2010. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

5000 beds, 8000 guests. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Some 8000 people have registered their interest in attending ReUnion 2010, a fest in August for people who have ever loved, driven, owned, serviced or even looked at a truck.
And if you’re part of that vanishing minority which hasn’t done any of the above, apply the same conditions to taxis, hire cars, fire engines and steam rollers.
It’s bigger than Ben Hur and it’s “already giving me a headache,” says the indefatigable Liz Martin (pictured), manager of the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, the principal venue for the week-long bash of dinners, talks, demos, yarns, tours and conferences.
The main headache is accommodation: the town has just 5000 hotel beds (all booked out), and Ms Martin is now exploring a number of other options:-
• Caravan parks (all booked out).
• A tent city for 1000 motor home travelers who under the Leave No Trace program, have self contained vehicles storing, for later disposal, their black and grey water, have solar panels and their own generators.
• As is done in Tamworth for the country music festival, Ms Martin will seek to enroll the help of home owners to allow one or two caravans to be parked in their yards.
• More camping or parking may be available at the Seven Mile, the old airport complex.
• And any spare bedroom will come in handy, says Ms Martin: “We have lots of offers already.”  
Four years in the planning, the event’s highlight – a parade of trucks on Sunday, August 29 – is expected to have 1000 vehicles in it, likely to make the Guinness Book of Records.
The biggest dinner already has 5000 bookings.
The previous biggest was 3000, says Ms Martin: “We had to fly in cooks from Adelaide, cutlery from Darwin and table cloths from Perth.”
An 80-year-old lady, Delsa Bury, will drive an 80-year-old truck all the way from Trafalgar in WA.
A 75-year-old man will drive a 75-year-old truck followed by 75 friends in two coaches.
The inventor in 1934 of the AEC government road train, Tony Duffin, son of the original engineer, will come from London with a gaggle of grandchildren.
Kenworth Trucks will hold their annual conference at the Hall. 
The Army-sponsored Military Vehicle Club will send 60 vehicles, there will be 200 names added to the Wall of Fame and extra beer is on order for the Cummins Cup and Truckies Race at Pioneer Park.
At the last big reunion in 2005 they ran out of the amber fluid and had to call in emergency supplies.
Ms Martin says the annual event next year will be likely to have a special attraction: trips on the Old Ghan.
A seven kilometer loop track, on concrete sleepers, is planned for new land the Hall is hoping to get from the NT Government, adjacent to the existing complex, west and north of the airport road and north of the Adelaide road.
This means the track won’t need to cross a major highway.
The diesel engine and the running gear of the historic carriages have recently been overhauled.
Getting the train running again will breathe new life into the “Stuart” railway station.
Ms Martin says the estimated cost of the train venture is $500,000, in cash and kind.
It’s unlikely that the steam engine will be used.
It is not from the historic Ghan, but from WA.
The original Ghan steam locomotive was sold to Queensland interests by the former Ghan committee when it was strapped for cash.
The Hall tried to buy it back, but the price was $500,000, after considerable renovations: “Too much for us,” says Ms Martin.

50 km/h in Alice?

The Town Council has been asked by the Public Health Association of Australia to reconsider its stance on the default speed limit in Alice Springs.
The association says Alice is one of the few urban areas in Australia where the speed limit is above 50 km/h.
On Monday council heard from local spokesperson, Dr Rosalie Schultz.
She told council 11 people had died as a result of car crashes on town roads between 2006-09 and 128 people have been injured requiring admission to hospital.
Dr Schultz said the likelihood of fatal injury jumps dramatically as speed increases from 40 km/h (20%) to 50km/h (86%).
At 60 km/h there is a 95% likelihood that a person will die.
Alderman Murray Stewart, who voted to maintain the 60 km/h default speed during the term of the last council, queried whether speed had been the decisive factor in the fatal crashes.

Abbott a Snowdon look-alike?

Are the Country Liberals trying to out-Snowdon Snowdon with their preselection of Leo Abbott? If so it will be a tall order.
The incumbent Member for Lingiari has had a single minded devotion to spending on Aboriginal issues for some two decades.
It’s mostly in the form of passive, unconditional welfare, to use Noel Pearson’s concepts, and this is again reflected in the 2010/11 Federal Budget.
As the Minister for Indigenous Health Warren Snowdon can be expected to be preoccupied with Aboriginal issues. But as the Federal Member one could expect him to have a broader perspective.
Yet judging by his website, of the 16 media releases he made in April and May as Lingiari’s voice in Canberra, 12 were on Aboriginal issues.
Not a single one dealt with broad issues of the local economy and the commercial development of the region, stagnant for years, unless one counts three railway crossing boom gates installed “under the Rudd Government’s Economic Stimulus Package”.
Curiously, in Mr Abbott the Country Liberals are fielding a candidate promoting much the same agenda as Mr Snowdon, but clearly lacking the political savvy acquired by Mr Snowdon over the years.
Party media releases describe Mr Abbott as an alcohol and drugs campaigner, a reference to Mr Abbott’s long-time work with his father, Barry Abbott, who founded Ilpurla, the highly successful treatment facility for petrol sniffers, in the Tempe Downs area.
Alice News editor ERWIN CHLANDA spoke with Mr Abbott this week:-
NEWS: If you were in the Government, what would you have spent money on in Lingiari?
ABBOTT: SIHIP [the $672m Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program] needs to be fixed up and money spent on town camps.
How much more do we have to go over and over the projects, checking on the projects, without doing things on the ground?
Governments have spent lots of money on training Aboriginal people, so the work crews are already there.
Why do we have to bring in people from interstate to do work on houses – plumbing, electrical? These are normal jobs, not work for the dole, and making them available would go a long way towards addressing the social issues we’re facing now.
In the week before this interview there was a meeting of 150 Aboriginal males at Ross River, calling for an end to violence within Aboriginal communities and making, among eight key recommendations, one similar demand: “We need real jobs. When males are unemployed we are disempowered, bored, angry and frustrated. This leads to substance misuse and violence. In a job we are happier, healthier and better members of our communities and leaders of our families. Put us to work so we can take personal responsibility for our lives.”
Yet there is a huge demand for skilled and even unskilled workers in Central Australia. The News asked Mr Abbott why these people are not taking up those jobs.
ABBOTT: I haven’t been right through school but it hasn’t stopped me from getting a job. It’s all about getting people’s confidence up.
NEWS: As a way of accelerating this, would you advocate stopping the dole for people who are offered jobs?
ABBOTT: I think that’s what we need to do but we need the training and the support base behind that, in areas where the job seekers are down a bit – reading, riting, ‘rithmatic.
NEWS: What do you mean by support base?
ABBOTT: Non-indigenous people talk to counsellors because they understand the issues. They can come out more openly with any problems. Indigenous people bottle things up. You need to have people who understand the issues, and the background of Aboriginal people.
NEWS: What does that mean in practical terms? I know a bricky in Alice Springs who can’t get a bricky’s labourer. It’s a very simple job. It pays $40 an hour. What kind of support is necessary?
ABBOTT: You can make a job more enjoyable. I know a lot of jobs are boring, but then there are some jobs you’d be happy to go to every day. We’ve got group training, job shops, job skills developers, employment agencies. We should get these people to address the needs.
NEWS: So, should the dole be stopped for people who are offered jobs?
ABBOTT: It is up to Centrelink to talk and workshop this particular issue, to address it and how to go about it.
NEWS: The Budget, in Lingiari, has a heavy focus on Aboriginal welfare. Would you have directed more money to stimulate business and economic growth?
ABBOTT: We need to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights Act to allow our people to look at economic development out in the communities, such as joint ventures in tourism and farming. We need to free up the negotiation process so potential investors or partners can negotiate directly with the traditional owners of the land concerned.
We need to be talking to the people who are living there, who were born in that particular area, they should be the ones making the decisions.
The land councils over the years have put a stop to a lot of ventures – too many people getting involved.
NEWS: Our town’s population has been stagnant for years, tourism is in decline, and horticultural opportunities have not been taken up. What would you do to get new industry into Alice Springs?
ABBOTT: We need to start addressing the social issues first. We have a representative body, Lhere Artepe [the town’s native title body].
They should go to outlying communities and say to people, if you’re coming to Alice Springs, this is how you need to behave.
Alice Springs was a most welcoming town when I was only a young feller.
That’s not happening now. The Four Corners Council was a positive thing in the ‘80s. We need that kind of forum where relationships between Alice and its surrounding communities are resolved.
Asked whether a more buoyant economy could be the driver of positive social change, Mr Abbott insisted that a new Aboriginal consultative body is the most pressing local issue.
NEWS: What is your comment on the effects of mostly passive, unconditional welfare, to use the terms of North Queensland leader Noel Pearson?
ABBOTT: Job agencies and networks have been set up to work with people and do that. They are working with individuals and know their strengths and weaknesses.
And I’d like to say this, Noel Pearson doesn’t know what the real issues are here in the Territory.
He should be focussing on addressing the needs in is own back yard before he can make a comment over this way.
NEWS: Should the Country Liberals not have preselected someone with a strong business background, who can stimulate the economy and through creating jobs, assist Aboriginal people indirectly? Instead you seem to favour expanding and refining the support organizations, of which we have many, and none of them seem to be making a substantial difference.
ABBOTT: I’ve worked in a lot of areas, I am a hands on person. Look at what’s happened at Wallace Rockhole over the years, the way the community is, the education system. A lot of the kids go to that school and, more or less, step straight into mainstream education in Alice Springs.
I have background in the pastoral industry, worked on roads. As a NT Government employee I’ve trained a lot of people in Parks and Wildlife jobs and helped out with the indigenous employment strategy.
We’ve got more and more indigenous people working in Parks and Wildlife now.
NEWS: How many Wallace Rockhole kids gained mainstream employment – not in Aboriginal organizations –  in the last 10 years?
ABBOTT: I would say about six including my son. He’s doing his boilermaker apprenticeship in Victoria.
NEWS: What will be the bottom line in the election?
ABBOTT: Go back to basics, consult with the people so we can have informed participation, consent and decision making. Warren’s been here too long. He’s become complacent.

Big camel meat project launched as new aerial slaughter starts with funding from Garrett. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

[The Alice Springs News online edition broke this story last Thursday.]

A second aerial slaughter of camels, letting the carcasses rot in the desert, started last week as a major project to harvest the animals for food and hides was also getting under way.
Alice Springs identity Bob Liddle (pictured), the national land manager of Central Petroleum, has announced plans for an abattoir at Port Pirie which will process 100,000 camels a year. He says a site for the works has already been chosen and the investment is likely to be in the order of $19m.
However, another culling by shooters from helicopters is being funded by the Federal Government and organised by Ninti One Pty Ltd, an offshoot of the soon to be defunct Desert Knowledge CRC in Alice Springs.
A spokesman for Peter Garrett, Federal Minister for Environment Protection, says an application was made by Ninti One under the Caring for Country initiative for a four year program to control feral camels, an “important issue”.
The application had been assessed “at arm’s length” and $19m had been allocated. The spokesman said any further comment would need to come from Ninti One, but that organisation does not respond to requests for information.
A prominent spokesman for the camel industry, Ian Conway, of King’s Creek Station, is familiar with Mr Liddle’s project, and is due to have a visit from a representative of the Middle Eastern investors next month.
Mr Conway says aerial culling, which last year triggered world-wide revulsion, and is now reported to be targeting 20,000 beasts, is sending the wrong message to the investors.
“We have to stop this bullshit,” he says.
“The only benefit these shoot-ups have is keeping up the flow of public money into the coffers of Ninti One.
“They are top heavy with academics and weekend camel operators, who have a couple in their garden.
“Ninti One is out of touch with the main players in this growing industry.
“Peter Garrett has been responsible for one major stuff-up, and this could well be his second one.”
Mr Liddle says his project, once operations start, will create 200 to 400 jobs.
“The export company already operates out of Africa through its Egyptian base.”
Discussions are underway about funding the mustering of camels and creating “a vehicle through which Aboriginal land owners can be involved in the industry at all levels”.
Mr Liddle says he’s been trying for 18 months to find a market for camel products, and has found it in Egypt, where 20% of the population of 85 million is eating camel meat. 
Mr Liddle says Central Petroleum has oil leases in the Central Australian Amadeus Basin, all Aboriginal land, and “we’re trying to get financial benefits from camels for the local people we work with”.

Racial divide no surprise. COMMENT b

Almost as soon as the Alice Springs News was in the streets last Thursday I took a phone call from a reader expressing disappointment that we should publish a letter to the editor from a reader in Bundaberg questioning the severity of the sentences handed down to four of the five young men convicted of Kwementyaye Ryder’s manslaughter.
The caller especially did not like the letter being published on the same page as MLA Alison Anderson’s tribute to Mr Ryder and his mother, Therese. 
The caller praised Mrs Ryder’s peace-making. She said Mrs Ryder had shown the way forward for us all to live together. I agree – Mrs Ryder and her relative Karen Liddle have shown great leadership.
About herself, the caller said she had lived in Alice Springs for a long time, had raised sons here, who in their adolescent years had experienced “gang stuff, racist in origin on both sides”.
She believed there was, in the events around Mr Ryder’s death, a “very strong racial element” and a “very menacing air”  – much stronger language than Chief Justice Brian Martin’s on these points. She spoke particularly about the firing of the imitation pistol and said she knew of Aboriginal people out bush whose camps had been shot at by someone seeking to terrorise them.
She felt that the town “had been sitting on a precipice” and had “come through an extremely frightening time”. She joined Mr Ryder’s death to that of Ed Hargrave, for whose murder two Aboriginal men are accused. The two deaths had “upped the ante” in terms of race relations in Alice Springs, she contended.
Her objection to D. Wood’s letter itself was that it came from someone outside the community and that it might stir up a sense of injustice which in turn might have consequences that we in town would have to live with.
She also felt that the letter did not properly appreciate the seriousness of the convicted men’s actions and objected to Ms Wood’s use of the term “boys” to describe them.
I encouraged the caller to write her own letter to the editor but she didn’t want to do that for fear of provoking unwanted reactions.
In reproducing the caller’s views here I risk disappointing her further but I do it as a way of answering the points she raised which I didn’t do over the phone.
Should we have public debate about this case?
My answer is yes, because the community has some responsibility for the young men involved – the deceased victim and the imprisoned offenders – and to all the other young men who could be in their shoes but for chance.
I say some responsibility, not all – there always remains a burden of individual responsibility.
Our collective responsibility is for the complacent society that produces such a gulf of experience between black and white that it is scarcely a wonder that attitudes of mutual antagonism develop. This is the racial division that we can do something about, and if we did, a change in attitudes would flow. 
The contrast between black and white lives in this particular case is not stark. All six young men, to the extent that we know about them, were leading, in the main, positive lives and had family and friends who cared deeply about them.
But there is stark evidence constantly before the Alice Springs courts of terrible, tragic lives led by young Aboriginal men who in turn inflict terrible violence on those close to them. (Of course, there are exceptions, good lives led by Aboriginal men, terrible lives led, terrible things done by white men.)
In the week of the sentencing of the five offenders there were news reports of a 21 year old Aboriginal man coming before the magistrates court, accused of aggravated assault: he was alleged to have punched his 18 year old partner, 20 weeks pregnant, kicked her in the stomach while wearing steel capped boots, whipped her with a hose and to have tried to choke her. Reports of this kind are standard fare for local media and audiences – we may shake our heads for a moment but then we move on, while all around us the devastation continues. 
In a case to which the Alice News gave some attention earlier this year (“A short history of violence”, March 11), a 25 year old man was convicted of causing serious harm to his estranged partner, mother of his son. He had stabbed her 11 times, but with him missing bone and vital organs, she did not die. He received the same sentence as three out of the five offenders in the Ryder case – six years with a non-parole period of four years.
The court heard that this man had been convicted of four previous assaults on his partner as well as other offences. He had started drinking at age 11 or 12, his father had died a violent death, and his father had inflicted violence on his mother.
He had a reasonable level of education, a good command of English, a trade certificate and work experience, yet he had been unemployed since 2006 (the offence took place in April, 2009). He was a chronic and severe alcoholic.
His prospects of rehabilitation were regarded as “very problematic indeed” though not “without any hope at all”. 
On the point of our collective responsibility, is it coincidental that in the same issue as this disturbing story, our page one report was about the neglect of a local facility addressing alcoholism in the young?
Another case has some arresting parallels to the Ryder case and some tragic differences.
It also concerned young men on a protracted drinking binge and driving around in a car, five of them, later six. Two of them, brothers, deliberately set out to do harm, though not to kill (just to “put in hospital”) – a senseless act of revenge rooted on some old inter-family animosity – and a third joined in. Tragically, one of their victims, shockingly also a member of the Ryder family, did die as a result of a series of preventable medical mishaps while being operated on to repair his injuries.
In the course of this drunken evening another man had been sought out and also assaulted – stabbed five times causing superficial wounds, struck with a metal pipe and left unconscious. This man did not die.
Because the ultimate death of the second victim was preventable, the young men were not held responsible for it.
His injuries, inflicted by them, were: a fractured left hand, a deep stab wound to the left forearm, a superficial stab wound to the left clavicle, a laceration to the left scapula and four stab wounds to the left thigh.
The deceased was 28 years old, unemployed. He also had been drinking that day and had made verbal threats of stabbing and smashing the brothers. At the inquest into his death the court heard that he had previously presented at the hospital on multiple occasions with stab wounds.
The perpetrator of the stabbing on this occasion, the older brother, was convicted of aggravated unlawful entry, intent to cause grievous harm and causing grievous harm, and aggravated unlawful assault. He was sentenced to a total of six years, with a non-parole period of three years.
The wielder of the metal pipe was 17 at the time of this offence and had a prior conviction of assault.
He was convicted of the same offences as his brother and sentenced to four years, suspended after 15 months, on the condition of good behaviour and accepting supervision by Correctional Services.
What struck me in reading the sentencing remarks for this case were the woeful histories of the offenders.
The first, aged 20 at the time, had had three convictions for assault while still a juvenile. He had left school at Year 9, had done some CDEP work, and some carpentry. The court heard that he lived in overcrowded housing on a town camp, was surrounded by people who were drinking heavily and was caught up in a spiral of drinking himself.
The lawyer for the second offender described the family as “awash with alcohol”.
Nobody could be found in a fit state to sit with this young man through his record of interview with police. A social worker had to perform the office of “prisoner’s friend”.
The court heard that the environment he grew up in had not supported his potential talent.
Contrast, first of all, these instances of intentional and sustained violence with the “relatively minor assault” that was accepted to have caused the death of Mr Ryder and bear it in mind when thinking about the penalties for the five offenders in the Ryder case.
And secondly, contrast these histories with the histories of the five offenders.
One is a fully qualified tradesman, three were well on their way to trade qualifications and had good work records. The fifth, the youngest, was still finding his way, but he was working. There was no history of unemployment. There was evidence of strong family support for all of them, as well as support from the adult world of training and employment (as there also was, I am not forgetting, for their victim – he was a trainee ranger, had done stock work, fencing, spoke English and Arrernte well and had some knowledge of other Aboriginal languages, had never been in trouble with police).
In every instance, the court heard, the employers of the five at the time of their arrest were prepared to have these young men back in their employ at the end of their sentences. The Chief Justice considered their prospects for rehabilitation “excellent”.
Some may consider that these circumstances only heighten the moral culpability of the five. But what is more useful for the community to think about is the racial divide in the messages and experiences that our young men are growing up with: on the one hand, lives and expectations structured by school, work and ultimate independence as an adult and a culture, whatever its limitations, that holds together around these structures; on the other hand, lives characterised by low expectations (from their own and the broader society), dependency, aimlessness, poverty and violence that have all seriously eroded their cultural and familial structures.
What do we think then that the children of these two worlds, even if they play together in their early years, will think of one another as they grow up? Are we surprised that there is contempt on the one hand, resentment on the other, anger on both?
Anyone who has anything to do with boys as they grow up in this town knows that at least to some degree these attitudes set in and begin to be played out by early adolescence.
Most white boys I know, like the sons of our caller, have been the subject of random attacks by their Aboriginal peers, including being pelted by stones, at times by children half their age. And I’m sure plenty of Aboriginal boys have their own stories to tell of aggression by white boys towards them, although often they have the advantage of numbers.
Add excessive drinking to the mix, on both sides, and it was only a matter of time before more serious violence erupted.
At present there is an intense focus by governments on Aboriginal disadvantage in the Northern Territory and in particular in Alice Springs. Too much of it is around the provision of goods and services, and too little, too slowly around a more rigorous confrontation of welfare dependency and low educational achievement. And nowhere it seems, from within the local Aboriginal leadership, do we hear a critique of welfarism. Indeed the most vocal local agitation, by the Intervention Rollback Action Group, is in defence of welfare “rights”.
Essential too is cultural reform around violence and revenge, as the Chief Justice has said. The two areas for action are in part related. The opportunity for violence, especially alcohol-fuelled violence, would be reduced by having Aboriginal people well occupied in sustaining themselves and their families, and going further, making a contribution to society.
In this regard I acknowledge the statement from the Stop the Violence meeting by 150 Aboriginal males at Inteyerrkwe (Ross River), near Alice Springs, last Friday.
The meeting made eight key recommendations, of which number six reads as follows: “We need real jobs. When males are unemployed we are disempowered, bored, angry and frustrated. This leads to substance misuse and violence. In a job we are happier, healthier and better members of our communities and leaders of our families. Put us to work so we can take personal responsibility for our lives.”
I can’t help noting though the way this last sentence is expressed – “put us to work” asks someone else to take the first step.
And all the other recommendations from this meeting take the form of demand for funding of programs and organisational support.
However, instigator of the meeting, John Liddle, has also spoken abut individual action: “If we see something happening, we have to stop it. We have to be man enough to step in, even it means challenging family members.”

Alice’s green machine.
Part Two of an article
y KIERAN FINNANE looking at the Arid Lands Environment Centre.

At the turn of the millennium ALEC had 20 years of community-based environmental advocacy and at times protest behind them.
There had also been an ALEC shop, but with Glenn Marshall taking over as coordinator in 2000 came a new emphasis on developing environmentally friendly services with a focus on sustainability for Alice as a desert town.
This has resonated well with local residents, with some 900 households now members of ALEC’s off-shoot, DesertSMART COOLmob (ALEC itself has around 200 paid up members).
The “DesertSMART” brand was developed by ALEC for activities that target improved energy and water use, waste management and building performance, while COOLmob conducts free energy and water audits to help householders move towards more sustainable urban living. Funded to do this work by the Territory Government and the Power and Water Corporation, COOLmob is a good example of the way ALEC has positioned itself as environmental issues have moved to the fore for governments.
“Governments and their agencies don’t have the capacity and trust to do this kind of on the ground work with the grass roots community,” says Mr Marshall.
While it did not last, a much-loved and still regretted “grass roots” undertaking by ALEC was the Bowerbird Tip Shop, which opened its doors in February 2001, stocked by a month’s worth of scavenging from the landfill. 
Given the commitment by staff and volunteers over seven years and the vibrancy of activities that grew up around Bowerbird, it would probably still be going had the Town Council’s contracts for managing the landfill not been  restructured in 2007 (the tip shop had been subsidised by profits from the weighbridge which Bowerbird also operated).
Another ALEC-initiated enterprise that has been and gone, leaving a significant niche to fill, was the Centre for Sustainable Arid Towns (CSAT). It operated between 2003 and 2007 as a fee-for-service, not-for-profit enterprise doing consulting and research on sustainability issues.
Mr Marshall, who was its first director, says the income earned was not commensurate with the effort put in, but having learnt that lesson, it is an operation that ALEC will look at restarting in some form.
Among other contributions, CSAT helped develop the “green” aspects of the design for the Civic Centre, undertook numerous consultancies in remote communities on effluent re-use, and was a major contractor to Alice Springs’ ultimately successful  Solar City bids.
In May 2001 the energetic Mr Marshall had published a comment piece in the Alice News, asking our readers to imagine “driving into Alice Springs [and] as you come up the south highway, a colourful sign says “Welcome to Alice Springs – The World’s Premier Solar City”.
We’re not there yet, but we’re a lot closer than then and ALEC can rightly claim to have played a key role.
At that stage, ALEC had got together with CATIA (now TCA, Tourism Central Australia) and Brendan Meney Architects to present a Solar City vision paper to the Desert Knowledge project (this was before the CRC was formed). The initial reaction was positive, and the Desert Knowledge group were intending to further explore some of the opportunities.
We know now that Alice Solar City eventuated (launched in March 2008), with ALEC as one of the seven consortium members, sitting alongside the Town Council, the Territory Government, the Power and Water Corporation, Desert Knowledge CRC, Tangentyere Council, and the NT Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“We’ve been a voice for the town on this stuff,” says Mr Marshall.  “We’re only a small environment centre yet we are one of the key members of the consortium. We were too small to do it ourselves but we networked effectively.”
But ALEC doesn’t intend to leave it at that. Every state government, including the Territory Government, is now committed to sourcing 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The Territory Government could conceivably achieve this goal without contribution from Alice Springs, by using tidal power, for example, in the Top End. Alice would be left behind, substantially reliant on gas, a fossil fuel, pumped here from 2500 kms away.
ALEC is lobbying the government to also commit to sourcing 20% of Alice’s energy from a renewable source.
Solar is the only renewable energy viable on a significant scale here, says Mr Marshall, and with Alice Solar City there is already significant momentum.
“If the 20% target is applied to Alice, it will be beholden on Power and Water to find the most economic way to deliver that.
“Solar power prices are already plummeting, approaching viability. Now $999 buys you a 1.5 kW PV rooftop system.
“We are well placed to achieve the target.”
Combating climate change is a message that resonates across the community and as the issue has moved into the mainstream so has ALEC.
But this has not seen it shirking more controversial or divisive issues.
The campaign against a possible uranium mine in the town’s water catchment is the most obvious example.
Current ALEC coordinator Jimmy Cocking claims success in raising awareness and challenging the nuclear industry with this campaign, run by the Beyond Nuclear Initiative, a separately funded ALEC project. He points to the numerous “no u-mine” stickers and fence signs as you drive around Alice as well as the spawning of an independent anti-nuclear group, Families for a Nuclear Free Future.
“This all demonstrates the resilience of the community,” he says.
When Mr Cocking took up his position in 2008 ALEC was in one of its troughs – it didn’t have much money, there were no grant applications, “things were not looking that healthy”.
“I sought to re-engage the membership and boost our profile,” he says.
The anti-nuclear campaign is balanced by pushes on ‘softer’ or more broadly appealing issues such as the community garden. The Town Council has agreed to lease a section of Frances Smith Park for this purpose.
This isn’t just a feel good project, it’s about water and energy efficiency and local food security, and comes together with other issues under the ALEC banner, “Healthy futures for arid lands and people”.
With his blond dreadlocks and relaxed manner, Mr Cocking fits the “left greeny” stereotype but intelligence, conviction and sheer force of pleasant personality get him through all the necessary doors around town. His push for people to eat camel meat is a good example.
“We’re opposed to the widespread cull of camels, we should be eating them, generating a market, jobs and training,”  he says.
He has worked on this with pastoralist Gary Dann’s Territory Camels operation and at the recent Wide Open Space Festival ALEC’s camel burger stall raised over $4000.
“It’s not often you get an environment centre and abattoir working together,” says Mr Cocking.
He is also at the national table, putting forward arid lands issues at six-monthly meetings with Environment Minister Peter Garret, and continues ALEC’s working relationships with Territory Government departments and the Power and Water Corporation.
“ALEC will always be there to challenge powerful groups and governments if necessary,” says Mr Cocking, “but we are also growing up, moving towards more professional ways of going about our business.”
He says the move to new premises at 18 Warburton Street will support ALEC’s survival into the future: “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t still be here in another 30 years.”

Shires poor cousins of municipal councils.

Local government in the bush underwent a major overhaul in 2008 but in many ways its underlying disadvantage, contrasted with the Territory’s municipal councils, has not changed.
Thomas Michel, a PhD student working with Charles Darwin University’s Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government, recently presented a preliminary study on local government sustainability at the CDU campus in Alice.
Before the reform vast parts of the Territory were “unincorporated”, that is they were not covered by local government.
There were half a dozen municipal councils; a few regional councils, such as the Tiwi and Anmatjere Councils, many single settlement community government councils and association councils, and a hodge podge of other arrangements for towns like Yulara, Nhulunbuy and Jabiru.
“An oddly complex patchwork” is how Mr Michel describes it.
It was seen as unsustainable as it was, but the picture post-reform – the amalgamation of a myriad small councils and associations to create eight regional shires – still presents sharp disparities between the municipalities and the bush.
The municipal councils in the Territory are more or less like local government in other jurisdictions.
Mr Michel gave a snapshot overview for 2006-07.
Their per capita expenditure was on average $790; they covered about 75% of the NT population, while 14% of their population was Indigenous.
They had their own diversities but by and large were similar to the rest of Australia.
Average annual income was similar. Mr Michel cited the figure in Katherine as $32,000.
Grants revenue made up 21% of their budgets, while rates revenue contributed 57%.
Employee costs were around 24% of total expenditure.
In the bush councils at that time per capita expenditure was close to 10 times as much, on average $7050.
80% of the population was Indigenous.
The councils played a much larger role proportionately in  local economies.
Average income was dramatically lower than in the municipalities; he cited the figure for Kalkarinji as $11,500.
Grants revenue accounted for 67% of the total – more than three times as much as for the municipals.
On a per capita basis this accounted for about $5000 of grants funding per person, 30 times more than the average per capita figure of $166 in the municipals.
Employee costs made up for 41% of expenditure, with the councils playing a larger role in providing local employment than their municipal counterparts.
Post-reform, all these “bi-modal factors” are still there, said Mr Michel, though there is now more mixing of interests within shires. For example, the towns of Pine Creek, Tennant Creek and Jabiru have now been pulled into the shire structures, even though their old councils were more similar to mainstream municipal councils.
The “oddballs” are still there – Yulara, Alyangula, Nhulunbuy. And one pocket, what was to have become the Top End Shire, remains unincorporated
But is the new model any more sustainable?
It’s a question that Mr Michel hopes his three year PhD research will begin to answer.
His focus, and indeed the focus of the reform, goes beyond costs. 
The amalgamations were also meant to achieve greater “economies of scope”, meaning greater capacities for improved administration and service delivery.
The idea was that the shires would be able to produce “a wider range of outputs” by cooperating on “inputs”, for example pooling resources to employ a grants officer, which would enhance capacity to expend grants and provide the service for which the grant was made.
There is some evidence of this happening. For example, in West Arnhem unexpended grants in 2008-09 were down to 3.1% from a much higher figure.
Increased retention of staff and improved administrative capacity were among the big justifications of reform.
There’s been a big spike in employment – 40% up, from early 2008 to 2009 650 new positions, about 75% of which are held by Indigenous people, though mostly not at management level.
The shires are now the largest employer of Indigenous people in the Territory.
Some of these new jobs arose from CDEP positions being converted into “real jobs”; some came with the expansion of night patrol services; and others with the establishment of shire headquarters.
However, the continued high dependency of shires on program grants, whose continuation often depends on factors often independent of the shires, may continue to have an impact on staff retention and administrative capacity.
It was commented from the floor that the high dependency on grants funding means little discretionary funding and Mr Michel was asked how councils feel, given this, about their real ability to decide anything.
It was the same before the reform, said Mr Michel, acknowledging examples of disempowerment arising from this situation.
Another argument for the reform was the achievement of economies of scale, in other words, costs savings.
Mr Michel said his research so far shows no statistical evidence of economies of scale within the local government sector in the Territory.
Although the range of financial performance was wider for bush councils than municipal councils, municipal councils with larger population bases were on average no more likely to achieve budget surpluses than rural and remote councils.
He said it is “totally misleading and unrealistic to expect economies of scale to take hold in the shires”.
NEXT WEEK: It’s not easy to save money.

Natural history display will stay at Museum of Central Australia.

The existing natural history collection at the Museum of Central Australia will not be moved, but a complementary display will be developed at the Desert Park.
The Alice News had it wrong in our article “Revised Araluen plan responds to concerns” (May 6) when we wrote that the future focus of the Strehlow Research Centre (SRC) building will be social and cultural history and that the existing display would be moved.
Director of the Araluen Cultural Precinct Tim Rollason says the Digital Story Centre, which will focus on social and cultural history, will most probably be on the first floor of the SRC, while the natural history display will stay where it is, downstairs.
We were right though that the permanent display of Aboriginal art, Origins to Innovations, in Gallery Three will not resume.
Gallery Three will be used to exhibit works from all the collections housed at Araluen, of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal art.
The Albert Namatjira Gallery (Gallery Two) will continue to have a primary emphasis on the Hermannsburg watercolour school but may also include work from the broader Central Australian Aboriginal art movement.
The precious early Papunya boards, on long-term loan from the Papunya community, are currently on display in the Albert Namatjira Gallery.
Mr Rollason says curatorial links across all periods of the Aboriginal art movement can be readily made back to Albert Namatjira who was the first Aboriginal person to define himself as an artist, with many artists coming later taking their cue from him.
Across the foyer space and the four galleries there will be enough room to have a range of work by Aboriginal artists always on display for visitors to Central Australia and around which the regularly scheduled Aboriginal art tours can be run.
At the same time there will be flexibility to program, drawing on the permanent collection, touring shows, feature shows like the Alice Prize, the Craft Acquisition, and Desert Mob, as well as one-off local exhibitions, “with the overall story of arts development in Central Australia being told through a range of exhibitions and displays at any one time”, says Mr Rollason.
After the last community meeting over the draft precinct development plan, he says these programming changes were further discussed in a meeting with user groups – the Art Foundation, the Art Society, Central Craft and Friends of Araluen – with no objections made to the expanded use of the Albert Namatjira Gallery.
The revised plan is open for public comment until May 31. – Kieran Finnane

A hypothetical species. By ALEX NELSON.

“Gossypium” is the genus name of a small group of native shrubs that produce attractive blooms, usually with lilac petals surrounding mauve centres.
There are four species in Central Australia, the best known being Gossypium sturtianum – Sturt’s Desert Rose – the floral emblem of the NT.
Two other species, G. australe and G. bickii, are often seen in bloom on roadsides. The first grows tall and spindly, up to two metres; the latter forms a low compact bush. The fourth species, Gossypium nelsonii, is also widespread but is barely known – its discovery is a most unusual story in science.
Gossypiums are members of the large plant family Malvaceae, which includes Hibiscus and also cotton, one of the world’s most important crop species, so they are often subjects of scientific research.
In July 1966, George Chippendale, the first government botanist in the NT, departed the Alice for Canberra. His former assistant, Des Nelson (my father), managed the NT Herbarium until the arrival of botanist John Maconochie in April 1967.
It was during this period that a letter arrived from Paul A Fryxell of the US Department of Agriculture, based at Texas A & M University, and a world-leading authority on Malvaceae. Fryxell was especially interested in Gossypiums – he had specimens and seeds of the three known species in Central Australia and had grown them, but he was certain there must be a fourth species, intermediate between G. australe and bickii.
Fryxell described a hypothetical species, providing details of height and appearance; he requested information about this species’ appearance, habitat, locality, and insect activity – especially ants, as Gossypiums produce nectaries that attract them – should it be found.
My father undertook to search for the unknown Gossypium, keeping an eye out in his travels in the region.
In July 1967 he collected a Gossypium specimen at Painta Spring, on Bond Springs Station. It had no flowers and was tentatively described as G. australe although it seemed different. More specimens and seeds were collected from four plants at the same site on 16 April 1968 – the plants were described as “funny” (odd) and “queer”; again there were no flowers.
The seeds were sent to Fryxell in Texas, who raised the plants under cultivation, observing that they readily set fruit and seed without flowering – a process called cleistogamy. The closely related G. australe and bickii are sometimes cleistogamous, too, but usually they flower before producing seeds (which is called chasmogamous – try these terms in Scrabble!).
As expected, the unknown specimens were intermediate between G. australe and bickii, but attempts to hybridize these two species failed – it was clear a new species had been found, in a manner virtually unheard of in science.
Des Nelson collected more specimens for Fryxell from Painta Spring in January 1973, and this time there were two flowers. One of these became the “type specimen” used to formally describe the new species.
In the Australian Journal of Botany 1974, Fryxell wrote: “It is a pleasure to name this new species for DJ Nelson of Alice Springs, who has collected the material on which the description is based”. He noted, “Evidently the balance is tipped strongly in favour of cleistogamous flowering in G. nelsonii, which may account for the fact the species has not previously been recognized”.
This proved accurate – the explorer William H Tietkins had collected a specimen at Glen Helen in 1889, and G. nelsonii is now known to occur from Ormiston Gorge over a distance of 1100 km to near Richmond in Queensland.
However, doubts arose in Australia about the status of this species. In the seminal book Flora of Central Australia, published in 1981, local botanist and co-writer Andrew Mitchell listed Gossypium nelsonii as synonymous (the same) with G. australe but provided no reasons for this change.
The doubts remained until Paul Fryxell visited the Centre in 1987, together with J. McD. Stewart of the University of Arkansas and L. A. Craven of the CSIRO’s Australian National Herbarium in Canberra. After studying collected specimens and live plants at various sites in Central Australia, they unequivocally re-asserted the status of Gossypium nelsonii as a separate species in November 1987.

Under cover of darkness. By CHRISANNE WALSH.

You don’t need a fat wallet to take part in the no frills dirt racing organised by the Central Australian Rally Sports Club.
Most of the cars in its rallies have been purchased for about five or six hundred dollars.
The club is a remnant of the original Central Australian Sporting Car Club, formed in the 1970s, officially re-launched about five years ago.
Competitors race against the clock on short, smooth, dirt circuits at monthly meetings usually on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.
Most of the events are held during the day over circuits of four runs, two to five kilometres in length. At the end of the four runs, the times are accumulated and the quickest time wins.
Night rallies are held a couple of times a year. They’re usually slower, with longer circuits and a navigator to assist the driver. Daylight racing, with the driver able to see the circuit and its surrounds, enables a faster end-time.
Last Saturday I went to one of their night race meetings.
Competitors are encouraged to fit their cars with a roll cage. They must also install standard safety equipment – a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher.
By avoiding the more expensive 4WD rally-type vehicles, cost is kept to a minimum, and depending on the individual’s budget, they can participate in either the Production Class, which allows minimal modifications, or the Modified Class which has no limitations at all.
This weekend’s night rally consisted of a 40 kilometre circuit.
The Competitive Class winner was Paul Heinzel in a Nissan Skyline with an overall time of 33 minutes and 19 seconds. He had a three second winning margin over Chris McCormack’s Galant and Dave Kentwell’s Holden Commodore ute.
The Production Class saw Steve Ariston’s Nissan Skyline in first place, followed by Jamie Smith in a Subaru Leone wagon, and Peter Williams in his Datsun 180B.
The Ladies Class was taken out by Debra McCormack in a Galant followed by Deb Heinzel in her Nissan Skyline.
The main aim of the club is to promote good driving skills in a safe and controlled environment while having a ton of fun. Participants as young as 13 can have a go, providing their parents agree and are present.
The club has its own public liability insurance and provides a fully fitted out car for youngsters (13 to 16 years) to learn in. Sixteen to eighteen year olds may also participate, providing they have written parental consent.
Destinations, rules and regulations are released to each competitor a fortnight prior to the event and the club keeps a points score for each class, awarding perpetual trophies at the year’s end.
For enquiries, call club President Chris McCormack on 0417 886 495. The next event will be held on either Saturday June 26 or Sunday June 27.

Planning for future Alice.

Mayor Damien Ryan, a member of the Alice Springs Planning for the Future Steering Committee, says the issue of more communication from this committee to the public was discussed at its meeting last week.
He says the possibility of publishing on the “futurealice” website the meeting’s agenda and a summary of its deliberations was discussed at the meeting.
But it is up to the Minister to decide, says Mr Ryan.
There’s been a change of Minister since the committee’s inception. Originally Delia Lawrie, it is now Gerry McCarthy as Minister for Lands and Planning.
Other members of the committee are Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton; Darryl Pearce for Lhere Artepe; Julie Ross, Brendan Meney and David Forrest representing business and industry; Manager of Regional Development, Fran Kilgariff, and Acting Director Regions, Ann Jacobs, representing government services.
As the News went to press the most recent update on was dated November 2009.
We had not received a reply from the Minister to our question on this issue.

LETTERS: Support talent, don’t persecute Mall hawkers of paintings.

Sir – Michael Hollow is not the only voice in the Mall (Alice News, May 13).
In 2008 I interviewed the eight businesses then selling Aboriginal Art in the Todd Mall, for their opinion of what I term “lawn artists’”, those artists who sell their work from the Uniting Church lawns in the Mall.
Five said they were extremely supportive of this practice, and keen to add their businesses to the consortium of Uniting Church, Aboriginal Employment Strategy, Peppered Black, Watch This Space Gallery and Art in the Heart who were applying to Town Council for a permit to host lawn artists “legitimately” on the Uniting Church site for the six week period of the public art programme, Imagine Alice.
These five Mall galleries said that the lawn artists were a great source of new talent for them, traded in quite a different product than the galleries themselves, and were a terrific promotion of Aboriginal Art in Central Australia for tourists.
One Mall gallery had no opinion.
Two Mall galleries were opposed. Mr Hollow’s gallery was one of these, claiming it would drastically affect its sales. 
The Town Council granted the permit, and the consortium managed the six week “open air” gallery in Sept-Oct 2008.  
Mr Hollow’s business clearly survived, and I believe the experiment demonstrated both support for lawn artists, and the public benefit they bring.
In my current work in an alcohol treatment programme, this cottage industry provides a constructive activity and economic outcomes displacing addictive lifestyles.
When I was involved in tourism, relationships built with lawn artists were often the most positive and personal interactions  tourists could have with Aboriginal Australians in Alice Springs.
When I was the Ngarte (Minister) at the Flynn Church, lawn artists told me how council rangers confiscated their art, didn’t explain how to get permits, and how they waited until after hours to bring out their art.
The 2007 Senate Inquiry into Indigenous Art noted the large number of sales made by Indigenous artists in Alice Springs independent of galleries (inquiry report, 2.30).
The lawn artist industry is a part of our landscape: Central Australia’s got talent, so let’s find innovative ways to support it and not persecute it!
Rev Tracy Spencer
Alice Springs
ED – In the May 13 issue the Alice News also published a comment piece by Paul Sweeney, manager of Papunya Tula Artists in the mall, expressing his personal view at odds with Mr Hollow’s. 

Strangled population growth

Sir – Having read various articles and listened to the live interviews with Dean Carson, demographer at Charles Darwin Uni, and others commenting on the new development of Kilgariff, I can only  wonder why anyone would turn to this kind of so called expertise. 
Dr Carson’s “guess” about the population growth of Alice is a demonstration of the kind of reasoning that the NT Government has used to deny all regional centres, outside the Berrimah line, their fair share of funding for many years.
Dr Carson’s suggestion that Alice Springs has had no pressure on population growth for the past 30 years is patently, and probably deliberately, wrong! Population growth in Alice came to a standstill as a result of the town being strangled by Native Title, and government’s lack of will to deal with that.
More recently the strangulation has been deliberate, to further inflate already inflated property prices. If there were no growth in the market, as Dr Carson claims, property prices would simply have stagnated, then spiralled downwards, as there would have been no demand.
One of the oldest rules of marketing states that for property prices to inflate, demand has to outstrip supply. If the instigators of this anti-growth propaganda, for one reason or another are correct, then why all the propaganda? The market will take care of it for them!  AZRI-Kilgariff simply won’t sell! It will sit there idle forever!
The population of Alice has been attempting to expand for the past 30 years; its maintenance around the 27,000 mark has simply been because of no land, forcing up the cost of living so high that many newcomers soon realise, particularly if they are in the lower income brackets, that they cannot afford to live here.
When you put that alongside the cyclical nature of much of the employment here – Pine Gap, many government positions, tourist industry employees – we end up with a highly mobile population.
This has nothing at all to do with our surrounding hinterland. Communities, who make use of the town’s services, have always been here. The town is used to their comings and goings and many already have accommodation within the town.
I have seen Alice go from having a vibrant horticultural and pastoral industry, one of the most vigorous and exciting tourist industries in the country, Australia’s fifth busiest airport, being recognised by the World Bank as one of Australia’s Top Ten Growth Centres!
Slowly in the last 30 years due to blind selfishness and ineptitude we have dwindled to a welfare driven society that produces little of interest to any one!  It’s called development by bureaucracy and we allowed it to happen. All that, however, is about to change. For the first time in some 35 years the town has somewhere to grow! In our town and in our surrounds there are literally thousands of people and in particular thousands of children who in the next few years have to be educated and put into employment so that we don’t end up continuing for another generation the misery and indignity of a life on welfare.  These children are our own! The children of Alice!
They have a right to expect that we will create an economy that will allow them to live a meaningful, contributing and happy life in their own homeland. To employ these people we need jobs. To create jobs we need growth. Land release, tourism developments, agricultural enterprises, business developments, mines, and most of all vigour, imagination, drive and belief!
Steve Brown
Alice Springs

We offered Dr Carson a right of reply:–
Sounds like a point of view worth airing. In the end, there is no disagreement with what I said – limited growth and limited projected growth – except that Mr Brown thinks that is because of a deliberate approach by government and I don’t have that view. I think there has been limited growth because of limited economic diversification. This could be because of a government conspiracy, but I do not know that.
With regard to housing demand, the economics here are a little bit wrong. Demand for houses can increase without population increase for a number of reasons (many of which apply in Alice Springs):
• people living in smaller (fewer people) households;
• children growing up to be adults demanding their own housing;
• temporary residents putting pressure particularly on the rental market (creating a short term rental market out of stuff that may otherwise have been long term rental), and so on.
Finally, the upward pressure on prices is in (large?) part a function of the temporary nature of much residence in Alice Springs (and Darwin). People envisage that they will leave the place, and they want to take a profit with them when they do (even if they don’t leave until retirement).
Profit on the house is the best investment. Chief Minister Henderson has publicly said he will do nothing that puts people at risk of ‘negative equity’. This means, of course, being very cautious with land releases and trying to control ‘affordable housing’. All this I have said in various interviews.
I agree with Mr Brown that a ‘healthy’ city would have excess capacity (unemployed people, land and houses for sale that are not immediately bought etc) that would enable it to respond better to changing circumstances. This has proven very difficult to achieve in the NT – again largely because of high population turnover.
Now it becomes very difficult to engineer because people have so much invested (and such a high expectation of profit) in their jobs and houses. Which politician will be the first to tell middle class home owners that their house value is going to decline?
Regarding AZRI, I am not at all suggesting we should knock it on the head. I am suggesting (as with Weddell in the north) we should plan a community not just a bunch of houses. This means social and community spaces, jobs in situ, transport connections etc. Otherwise we will create a ‘fringe’ which on the one hand houses commuters who don’t really live there (but take advantage of the housing availability to get their exit profits ready) and on the other, houses the economically deprived who will find they are priced out of downtown housing. This happened with Palmerston, and has been shown to happen with these sorts of developments all around the world unless they are specifically planned to avoid that.
It’s great that people around town are taking an active interest in the future of their community.
Dean Carson
Charles Darwin University

Lurking near the frozen peas.

You would think that a man with decent access to a good education, with a stable and loving home life, a man, who by all outward appearances at least has his faculties about him, might not make monumental mistakes.
I pride myself on making the right decision most of the time. I’m not a risk taker. I weigh the potential results of my actions against one another and generally choose the course most beneficial. For the most part I am not a rash man and I am theoretically aware of the consequences of flippant behaviours.
So why then did I find myself behind a shopping trolley, down aisle six on a Saturday morning?
There was no need for me to choose Saturday morning of all mornings to restock the barren pantry, so why did I choose that time?
A time when every one who has no other time to shop but Saturday morning has to shop. A time when those who find it relaxing to wander aimlessly through aisles shop. A time when those that feel a sense of achievement in leaving their trolleys in the middle of those aisles shops.
And I was among them. Among them all.
Regardless of your faith, it is difficult to argue that there are rules that govern the universe. Gravity is one of those rules. The speed of light is another. Yet another is the rule, which states that if you make a poor decision, the universe bites you in the arse.
This particular Saturday, the universe was in a bitchy mood. For the universe decided to punish me in an insidious and obviously premeditated fashion.
This Saturday, the universe decided that I would shop not just with the families of six, not just with the meanderers and the mental, but also with every person in town I’d rather not see again. In a town like Alice we all have these people awkwardly in our lives. The people we’d wish, if honest with ourselves, would move to Kyrgyzstan.
It started before I had even managed to get out of the car park. A friend’s mother, a woman with whom I have never been able to make a connection, decided she needed to move beyond the obligatory pleasantries and tell me that she thought that my radio show was not sounding particularly good. This sort of comment is normally water off a duck’s back but I found myself fighting the urge to inform this woman that the Great Depression was over and the practice of cutting her own hair was as dead as the ration packs they produced.
Not a great start.
It was only seconds later I saw another woman, once a good friend who suddenly some time ago had cut me out of her social circle. I still don’t know why. I assume I did something stupid. I can be stupid from time to time and it was becoming all too clear that this Saturday was one such occasion. 
She did the mercifully noble thing and pretended to not see me just two metres from her. I appreciated that.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that in order of appearance I saw every single one of those people. I saw an ex-girlfriend. We haven’t really spoken since I made quite a scene in her living room the day of the break up. I saw a woman I didn’t ever call after a brief encounter. She was waiting near the mushrooms.
At the delicatessen, I saw the woman who never called me after a brief encounter. The universe was making a poignant, yet cruel point.
Turning into aisle three I had to make strained pleasantries with the bloke I called all manner of names after he once cut me off, only to find that he lived just a couple of units down from my front door. Aisle four was clear, an oasis.
Aisle five however saw the forced, overly pleasant conversation with a lady who to this day believes I am responsible for many of the world’s woes.
Oh look! By the frozen peas, another ex-girlfriend.
It appeared that I would be mercifully spared having to see the woman who, due to her reading of this column each week, feels we have a certain “spiritual connection”. No, there she is at the checkout.
If it seemed to the lovely and polite girl at the checkout that I was dissatisfied with the speed that she processed my groceries, I humbly apologize. I just had other places to be. Like perhaps Saturn.
Looking back on this awkward assembly perhaps there have been more irrational decisions made in my life than I would have myself believe. Maybe I’m not as considered in my actions as I would like to think. Otherwise, why on earth would I shop on a Saturday?

POP VULTURE with CAMERON BUCKLEYspends two minutes with Dracula, Night Creature.

What line of work are you in?
Night fill! The aggressive abundance of the sun keeps me restricted in terms of gainful employment. So it’s stacking shelves at the supermarkets and emptying ash trays at the casino for me.
The casino has had a bit of a hand at putting on shows recently,  caught any?
You mean amidst the jungle of diabolically clichéd them parties, aimed squarely at the generationally confused?
Not a fan?
It’s a daymare.  It’s like trying to find a stick of hay in a massive stack of needles. A recurring daymare. Recently there was this Hip Hop night, local aficionados Dan, Dee and Sassy J shared the stage with Last Kinnection. The former having steadily improved, both on the relationships between their own voices and their overall  stage presence. It was a letdown to see them not perform with an engineer at hand.
I flapped out to see them play at the Wide Open Space festival last moon. Their show was a leap forward, putting them on the larger platform and exposing them to a broader audience. Their sound fitted with the larger platform, so to see the flow turn to ebb at the casino was disappointing – it was a well attended performance with a vacant sound engineer and two front of house speakers aimed at completely random points of the room in what is already a very acoustically challenged venue. 
A little overhaul of sound and space? 
They get the numbers, even if a significant portion is accidental. Attention given to accommodating these blue moon events could pay off three fold – move it outside maybe.
As I’m not of this world and therefore not restricted by physical manifestations such as pillars and punters, but the average flesh inhabiting Hip Hop audiences may find the venue a little Feng Shui-corrupt .
What’s about in the world of celluloid?
Kick Ass, probably the freshest film released since District 9, made a quiet exit stage left.  Sometimes I feel that in the art house world, voyeurs become so focused on the movements and behaviour of the undercurrents that they often miss what is swimming in the mainstream.  Kick Ass was a brilliantly adapted take on what has become the festering saturated market of the superhero genre. But people that were born on the cusp of generation x and y are the contemporary filmmakers, and that was generally the genre parents baby-sat their offspring to (with the help of the VCR).
So there is no harm in the cultural savant seeing their own reflection in something big and glossy?
I’ve seen people’s reflections and I’m not really missing out on much not being able to see mine …
Beer or wine?
O negative … rare but acquired.  Preferably low glucose.
What do you like most about this town? 
The availability of glutton free vessels.
What do you like least about this town?
Apparently the racism, but having been around for over 500 years give or take, I can tell you that things have been worse. 

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