July 15, 2010. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Pool opened with big fanfare may be closed

It was opened with great fanfare; now will it be allowed to close without a word?
On October 27, 2008 Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin and Territory Minister for Sport and Recreation Karl Hampton, together with their entourages and a posse of national and local media, joined the residents of Yuendumu to celebrate the opening of their swimming pool.
Construction had been funded by the Federal and Territory Governments, as well as Yuendumu Community members, the Poola Foundation, the Ian Potter Foundation, Warlukurlangu Artists, Yuendumu Mining Store and private donors.
Newmont Mining, operators of the Granites gold mine, provided $150,000 in start up funding to operate the pool over the next 12 months.
Although not part of their brief the Mt Theo Program, an Aboriginal corporation dedicated to youth development and famously credited for beating petrol sniffing in the desert community, took on the operation of the pool.
Their management of the facility has been praised by Executive Director of  the Royal Life Saving Society NT Branch, Floss Roberts: “Mt Theo is to be commended for their high standard of operations, commitment to safety and growing a sustained community swimming pool through a trained workforce. You really are NT best practice in Remote Pools.”
Mt Theo CEO Susie Low says the pool has had community-wide benefits: a “yes school, yes pool” policy has boosted school attendance; there’s strong anecdotal evidence of health improvements, especially of ear, eye and skin infections; employment opportunities have been created, with a dozen young people obtaining their lifeguard qualifications and another young woman being trained as a manager.
The smaller communities of Mount Allan and Nyirripi also make use of the pool.
All this, however, is in jeopardy.
Money has run out to operate the pool and no government instrumentality seems willing to give them any more.
The planned re-opening on September 1, after the three month winter break, may not be able to go ahead.
Pools are notoriously expensive to run.
The Alice Springs Town Pool, for example, runs at a substantial loss: entrance fees in 2009-2010 brought in $6240, while the operation cost the Town Council $347,388.
Ms Low says following the first 12 months, Mt Theo began patching operational funds together.
Ms Macklin’s department made available “emergency funding for six months” but made it clear that this was to be a one-off.
Some money has also come through GMAAC (the organisation administering the Granites gold mine royalties) and Ms Low has made submissions to private donors, although she feels bad going back to them after they already made generous donations for the construction.
Entrance fees were part of the pool’s business plan but they have never been collected as there’s been no money to pay a staff member to collect them: “All staff are busy looking after the children,” says Ms Low.
In any case, fees would only make a small contribution.
Ironically, Mt Theo has received funding from the Aboriginal Benefits Account to build a house for the pool manager.
“Building is about to start but we can’t recruit anyone until we know we’ve got operational funding.”
Pools in suburban Australia are mostly the province of local government.
However, Ms Low says she understands clearly from Central Desert Shire that they have not got the funds to operate the pool and if they took it on, they would probably have to close it.
CEO of the shire, Roydon Robertson says no formal approaches to the shire have been made, but in any case the shire “would not be keen” to take over the operation of the pool.
“If someone wants us to run it, they would need to fund us to do so,” says Mr Robertson.
“The shire is pretty poor. We rely heavily on grants funding to survive.
“We can’t run things at a loss.
“We need to protect the rest of the shire and can’t afford to have assets transferred to us that would incur losses.”
Ms Low says she has had discussions with the NT Government, speaking to a number of Ministers and senior public servants.
She says Mr Hampton is “very supportive” but thus far this has not translated into funding.
Mr Hampton had not replied to a request for comment from the Alice News at the time of going to press.
The Alice News asked Minister Macklin, through a spokesperson, if she would stand by and let this pool close.
A statement was issued by her department:
“The Yuendumu swimming pool was established through the Pools in Indigenous Remote Areas (PIRA) program, a joint Federal and State Government initiative.
“Operational funding wasn’t part of the agreement, and the auspicing bodies were advised to seek ongoing funding through another source such as local government, the corporate or philanthropic sector or Traditional Owner royalties.
“The emergency funding of $146,101 was provided as one-off assistance and did not represent an on-going commitment to the pool’s operational costs.”

String of conditions proposed for mall art sellers.

Only artists selling their own paintings may do so from the lawns of the Uniting Church, fronting Todd Mall, according to draft conditions for permitting the activity discussed by the Town Council on Monday night.
Further, it is proposed that the paintings must be “wholly” produced by the permit-holder and if “in the opinion of an authorised officer” they are not, “the painting must be removed from sight and not offered again for sale”.
The draft does not give account of the expertise an authorised officer would be drawing on to make such a judgment.
The divergence of views around the issue were apparent during the council meeting, with on the one hand comments by Alderman Liz Martin who saw the activity, albeit controlled by adaptable conditions, as part of what would make Alice Springs seen as a hub for Indigenous art, an attraction for the tourist industry, and on the other hand comments by Director of Corporate and Community Services, Craig Catchlove, whose emphasis was on reduction of the number of people involved through more rigorous conditions and enforcement.
His suggestion that some sellers could achieve thousands of dollars worth of sales in a week attracted sniggers from the public gallery, while Ald Martin’s statement drew surreptitious claps.
Mr Catchlove argued that the draft conditions represented the wishes of the Uniting Church, owner of a substantial part of the lawn areas, “in order that the area be viewed as a place of reconciliation”.
However the conditions are almost entirely expressed in the negative and cover areas of behaviour in a public place otherwise addressed in by-laws, as argued by Ald Melanie van Haaren.
She found it “presumptuous, almost offensive” to assume that the people selling paintings would be inclined to act in a certain way, as implied by the some of the conditions. She objected specifically to condition which in draft reads: “No area within the entire precinct, except for purpose-built toilet facilities, may be used as a toilet.”
Ald Martin interpreted this condition differently, suggesting that it could offer protection to the painting sellers from the undesirable behaviour of others, saying that she had observed three men urinating in public in the vicinity of the sellers, one of them a seller himself.
Mr Catchlove said the explicit nature of a lot of the conditions came at the request of the Uniting Church.
A group from the church, welcoming being able to work with the Town Council on the issues, were to “workshop” the draft conditions on Tuesday night (after the Alice News went to press).
However, Reverend Kate Fraser told the News that “public toileting” is one of the biggest challenges the church faces in having their land unfenced and open to use by the community.
The other main challenge comes from vandalism. Damage to Adelaide House, one of the town’s most important built heritage sites, has led the church to withdraw “hospitality” previously offered to artists wanting to paint or sell their work from under the shelter of the verandahs.
Alongside these challenges, says Rev Fraser, is the more profound and “not necessarily comfortable” one of “holding open a space to the other, and making it available gladly, generously, intentionally”.
“We see this as an expression of reconciliation and as encouraging positive interaction between tourists and Indigenous artists,” she says.
“For many visitors it is their one opportunity for a positive interchange, and making that possible is what the church can offer.”
The permit conditions as drafted do not reflect the tone of these statements, even if they do reflect some of the church’s concerns around having “clearly defined, healthy boundaries” in order to make the relationship “sustainable”.
Some of the draft permit conditions give authorised officers powers that go beyond current public place by-laws (the proposed new by-laws are yet to come into force). An officer can request a permit holder to clean the immediate area of litter and the permit holder “must comply”.
The officer would also have discretion to decide what is “inappropriate behaviour”, over and above gambling and consumption of alcohol which are specifically prohibited.
Other draft conditions include:
• no touting or solicitation;
• no reserving of an area – first come, first served; 
• area occupied by the seller not greater than 2m x 2m;
• permit-holder to carry permit, bearing an ID photo, at all times and produce it for inspection by an authorised officer;
• activity only permitted between 9am and 7pm.
It is proposed that the area can be closed to the selling of paintings with no notice for any purpose of council or at the request of the Uniting Church.
Breaches of the conditions may result in the permit being immediately and permanently revoked with no refund.
On the question of permit fee, a $200 per calendar year fee is proposed.
Deputy Mayor Brendan Heenan suggested an anniversary fee, covering the 12 months from the date of issue, as more appropriate.
Mr Catchlove argued against this for administrative reasons and says other permits issued by council are for the calendar year.
Ald Heenan also wanted the permit and market stall licence rolled into one, which Mr Catchlove said is now a preferred option.
Public liability insurance will now be covered by the council, which Mr Catchlove says is limiting the permit to sale of paintings only.
Under direction from previous councils, although a permit fee and structure was in place for selling of goods in the mall, no permits had ever been issued, owing to the desire to protect rate-paying businesses from competition.
Selling paintings from the lawns was sanctioned during the 2008 Regional Arts Conference, an activity not objected to by nine out of 11 Todd Mall gallery owners who were canvassed.
However, according to Mr Catchlove’s report to aldermen, the permit for this activity was revoked after “anti-social behaviour from sellers or their associates became excessive”.
Ald Samih Habib Bitar argued for a blanket permit covering the activity being issued to Tangentyere Council, an organisation, he suggested, representing all Aboriginal people in Alice Springs.
CEO Rex Mooney rejected this, saying that Tangentyere represents town camp residents, that council has a partnership agreement with Lhere Artepe as the peak Aboriginal body, but this is not a regulatory role for Lhere Artepe.
Mr Catchlove said a blanket permit would not achieve council’s goals of controlling “who, how and why” and it could lead to an “uncontrollable” situation.
Ald John Rawnsley questioned council’s capacity for enforcing the permit conditions.
Mr Catchlove said he and the ranger unit are committed to making this work, with enforcement the key, and some rangers will be rostered to work evening shifts. Council would also be advising night-time security that no painting selling is to take place after 7pm.
The draft permit conditions, possibly redrafted, will be discussed further, and may be voted on at the Ordinary Council meeting on July 26.

Were signatures on Carey, Framptons documents forged? By

Signatures appear to have been forged in documents relating to home constructions for some  or all of of the 13 families affected by the collapse of Carey Builders.
Acting on behalf of the Framptons New Homes Broken Promises Group, one of the victims, Blythe Stafford, has lodged an Application for Disciplinary Action with the Agents Licensing Board (ALB) against Framptons Real Estate which promoted the ill fated land-and-home packages scheme under the banner “Framptons New Homes”.
Mrs Stafford showed the Alice Springs News documents relating to several of the homes, most of them uncompleted.
Evidence of Building Contract documents certify the existence of a Building Contract and were given to the certifier, David Cantwell, and NT Government authorities.  This was done with the view, in due course, of obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy.
However, it appears the signature of the nominated builder, Damien Golding, was forged on several of these documents, making them invalid.
In any case, as the name of the builder on the Building Contract (Randal Carey) differed from the one on the Evidence of Building Contract (Mr Golding), the documents are invalid.
The documents shown to the News are photocopies. They show several signatures of Mr Golding that appear to be precisely identical, even to the detail of a small dot at the top right-hand side.
Faint lines and varying angling of the signature suggest it has been cut out and pasted, together with the box in which it was placed.
Other documents shown to the News include:
• HIA Building Contracts nominating Carey Builders as the builder and signed by the purchaser and the firm’s principal, Randal Carey.
It later transpired that Mr Carey did not have a builder’s licence.
• Applications for Building Permits were filled in and signed by a Framptons employee, which makes the real estate agency the applicant, acting on their customers’ behalf, part of the service they offered.
However, the builder nominated on those forms was not Mr Carey, but the Darwin based Mr Golding.  Mrs Stafford says home buyers were not made aware of the substitution at the time.
On April 8 Mr Golding told the News: “I am not responsible nor liable for Mr Carey whatsoever.”
And on June 17 the News reported on that we understood Mr Golding had signed off only on one house. As reported also on June 17, police have confirmed they are conducting a fraud investigation.
The victims group made its complaint to the ALB under the Agents Licencing Act on grounds including the following:-
A licensed agent who ... fails to perform his duties to his principal or to carry out the lawful instructions of his principal; fails to exercise due skill, care or diligence in carrying out his duties on behalf of his principal; fails to exercise due skill, care or diligence when dealing with any person whomsoever in the course of conducting business as an agent; [and] fails to make to his principal a full disclosure of all material facts and circumstances and of everything known to the licensed agent regarding the matter in respect of which he is authorised to act as agent ... is guilty of a breach of the rules of conduct for agents.
Mrs Stafford says it appears Framptons neglected its duty of care and due diligence.
Framptons has declined to comment further on these issues and Mr Cantwell says it would not be appropriate for him to comment.

Rents keep going up? Let’s not stifle private enterprise, says Opposition. By

In a town where the cost of housing has spiralled to dizzying heights, are there laws that protect you from “excessive” rents?
The NT Commissioner of Tenancies says yes, tenants are protected under Section 42 of the NT Residential Tenancies Act (Alice News, July 1, “Killing the goose that lays the golden egg?”).
But does the commissioner use that power to protect tenants?
The Department of Justice won’t comment and the Shadow Minister for Justice and MLA for Araluen Jodeen Carney isn’t sure: “I don’t have evidence that the commissioner is not doing his or her job,” she says.
“I am troubled by stories I heard about spiralling rentals but that is the nature of the market forces in Alice Springs at present.”
And market forces are clearly the bottom line for the Opposition.
“We are not a party which might seek to stifle private enterprise and market forces.
“The issue of fairness is somewhat skewed in this market at the moment. The fault lies squarely with the Labor Government for not releasing enough land.”

‘Commendable record’ for 48 years helps service station to keep take-away licence. By

The NT Government's Licensing Commission granted the BP The Gap service station permission to rebuild its premises, including the store which has one of Alice Springs’ oldest liquor licenses.
Yet only days later (after the deadline for the Alice News print edition) the govermnent announced it would compulsorily acquire the licence, together with two others in town, in a bid to reduce excessive drinking.
In an embarrassing case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing, the take-away store is being shut down although, as the commission puts it, "this particular licence has been in existence since 1962 during which time there have been no reported breaches of the Act or the licence conditions.
“This is an enviable and commendable record by any standards and more so in the current situation in a community such as Alice Springs where Licensees are under close public and regulatory scrutiny.” ERWIN CHLANDA reports. Above: Owners of the business, Mihail and Sandra Hatzimihail.

The Licensing Commission is permitting the BP The Gap service station to rebuild its premises, including the store which has one of Alice Springs’ oldest liquor licenses.
This is despite opposition from social workers and anti grog campaigners, and the government’s plans to buy back licenses from some small traders.
“At this stage the Commission is unaware as to whether those negotiations are likely to be successful or when they are likely to be concluded,” says commission chairman, Richard O’Sullivan.
“Were it not the holder of a liquor licence, the owners of the land ... would be entitled to renovate the premises as they saw fit, subject only to building and planning constraints.
“The Commission does not consider it appropriate to defer its decision indefinitely or until such time as negotiations in respect of a possible buy back of the liquor licence are commenced or concluded.”
The “application for material alterations” was approved, but the sale of cask wine – voluntary withdrawn from sale by the owners – was formally prohibited.
The decision published by the commission summarizes the arguments of the objectors:-
Rodney Edwards is a nearby resident concerned about public safety issues.
Pastor Allen Steel, on behalf of Christian Family Centre, raised concerns about the impact of alcohol abuse on the Alice Springs community.
Jonathan Pilbrow set out concerns of the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition about the sale of alcohol from a petrol station.
According to the commission, the consumption of alcohol in the Northern Territory is greater than any other Australian jurisdiction and there is a concerted effort to reduce consumption levels to at least the national average.
One way to achieve that aim is to reduce the number of liquor licences.
Michael Harries, on behalf of Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyanjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, said that BP The Gap was in close proximity to the renal dialysis centre and had the potential to cause issues for clients of the centre.
He noted, according to the decision, that there were a number of licenses in the area in close proximity which brought with them alcohol related anti-social behaviour and that night time disturbances of this nature resulted in poor health outcomes for patients of the renal centre.
Associate Professor Sabina Knight of the Centre for Remote Health also voiced objections about liquor being sold from a petrol station and argued for the benefit of this liquor outlet being closed completely.
Julie Weber, on behalf of Lutheran Community Care, made submissions about the impact of alcohol abuse “on the health and well being of Alice Springs residents and particularly Abbotts Town Camp residents and the detrimental impact of an increase in liquor sales from the premises, particularly from a petrol station”.
The commission members, Richard O’Sullivan (chairman), Philip Timney (legal member) and Paul Fitzsimons took the view that the objections related to Alice Springs in general and not especially to the activities of BP The Gap, owned by Mihail and Sandra Hatzimihail (pictured).
John Youde is the Nominee for the licence and has managed the business for the past six years. 
He told the commission that the current breakdown of business was made up of 82% shop only purchases (the decision did not provide a break-up of that figure into liquor and non-liquor purchases), 14% fuel only and 4% shop and fuel.
The decision says: “This particular licence has been in existence since 1962 during which time there have been no reported breaches of the Act or the licence conditions.
“This is an enviable and commendable record by any standards and more so in the current situation in a community such as Alice Springs where Licensees are under close public and regulatory scrutiny.”

Abbott is angry over jobs procrastination. By

Country Party challenger in Lingiari Leo Abbott says his party’s economic development plan for the NT is still in draft form, but his frustration with a string of issues is an indicator of what’s in it.
While the buck passing about who should be looking after the largely dysfunctional community of Mutitjulu at the foot of Uluru is in full swing, Mr Abbott (pictured) is venting his anger over the endless making of excuses for people being idle.
“A lot of people say it’s about education, about English not being their first language,” he says.
“And then there is the generational cycle that governments have been looking into and trying to tackle – and so on.
“In fact it’s all about individuals having some get up and go, with a bit of support behind them.
“It doesn’t matter what sort of job it is,” says Mr Abbott.
“How many local people are working in the [Mutitjulu]community?
“How many years have they been talking and writing about strategies for Indigenous employment?
“There is the multi-million dollar Ayers Rock Resort.
“How many people have they got there from the community?
“Why get people from interstate just because they are Indigenous and then employ them here?”
Mr Abbott was asked why people themselves were not making efforts to get work there, given the resort has made it clear it wants to employ Aborigines. How many people work there now?
Says Mr Abbott: “I would say, none. Last time I went to Mutitjulu I never saw any local people [at the Ayers Rock Resort].
“The dance group they had there was imported from Queensland.
“Here in Alice Springs you’ve got people wanting to sell paintings, and there is a big kerfuffle going on because of that.
“Tourists coming to Alice Springs want to meet Aboriginal people.
“At the end of the day, they’re one of the biggest drawcards for Australia.”
Should the shire be withdrawing from Mutitjulu?
“Why do we have so many bureaucracies there?” asks Mr Abbott.
“People are getting shunted from pillar to post. I thought this is what these supershires were going to do, looking after areas such as Mutitjulu.”

Women at the centre of birthing decisions. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Mothers-to-be are queuing up to have their babies under the care of the Alice Springs Midwifery Group Practice (MGP).
Opening its doors in March 2009 with just one client, the practice – in the hands of six midwives –  is now at capacity with around 200 women in their care and a waiting list of six to 11 per month.
There’s a high rate of self-referral – the word has gone around.
“Women are calling us as soon as they think they are pregnant,” says coordinator Liz Wickham.
MGP, set up following the recommendations from a national maternity services review, is a Department of Health and Families service and operates in collaboration with the Alice Springs Hospital, but if all goes well in a woman’s pregnancy and a home birth is what she wants, MGP are able to support that.
“Our practice is all about putting the woman at the centre of the care, empowering her in the decision-making around the birth of her child,” says Ms Wickham.
There are around 800 births a year in Alice.
In their 15 months of operation MGP have cared for 167 women, with 161 birthing with the service, most of them in the care of a primary midwife who has got to know them personally over the course of their pregnancy.
The women also meet other midwives within the practice so that in the event that their primary midwife is unavailable, they will know the midwife who attends them.
This is one of the practice’s principles: “It is well recgnised that continuity of midwifery care brings benefits to women such as fewer interventions in labour, reduced need for caesarean sections and better preparation for birth,” says practice manager Raelene Carroll.
Building a trusting relationship with the woman from the early stages of her pregnancy reduces “her fear of the unknown”, which is a recognised factor contributing to birthing complications. 
The practice has a lower rate of caesarian sections and assisted deliveries, and a higher rate of home births, compared to national figures. 
The caesarean section rate nationally is 30%, says Ms Carroll.
The World Health Organisation’s recommended goal is 15% and MGP has an average rate of 11.8% – better than the practice expected to achieve.
The rate for Indigenous women choosing to birth with the practice is even lower, at 10.3%, while the non-Indigenous rate is 12.9%.
MGP’s statistics are included in the numbers for the whole of Alice, which has an overall caesarian rate of 20-25%.
Well over a third of MGP’s clients are Indigenous women, mostly from remote communities.
The service operates out of a renovated house in Stuart Terrace, opposite Stuart Lodge where many of the remote women stay when they come to town in the 38th week of pregnancy to wait for their babies to arrive.
“They love this house,” says Ms Wickham, “because it’s not the hospital and it’s just across the road.”
Their babies are mostly born in the hospital, however, as one criteria for home birth is having a safe place to birth, and lodges and hostels are not set up for that.
Six per cent of women using the practice are having their babies at home – considerably higher than the Australian average homebirth rate of 0.3%.
“The demand for home birth has always been high in Alice Springs,” says MGP midwife Carolyn Casserley, “but it’s higher now.”
Some 20% of the practice’s clients plan a home birth, but if any complications arise and/or if pain relief is chosen, they have to use the hospital’s birthing facilities.
Care by MGP extends for six weeks after the birth.
The practice has someone on call around the clock.
If a woman or child needs to stay in hospital, they are cared for by the midwives on the ward, with an MGP midwife visiting daily.
If they go home within 24 hours of the birth, there’ll be a home visit the next day, while if a baby has been born at home, the first visit will be within 12 to 24 hours: “We work out the schedule in advance with the woman, depending on their needs,” says Ms Wickham.
Scheduling though has to be flexible, as a woman in labour always has top priority.
Women know and accept that some of their ante-natal and post-natal visits will be postponed.
A lot of ante-natal visits are done at home.
“That’s of benefit both to the woman and to us,” says Ms Wickham.
“It gives us a bit of insight into the woman’s life, makes the relationship more personal.”
“In a woman’s home, she is in control,” says Ms Carroll, “here, inevitably we are in control. We like to take our lead from the woman.”
As empowering as all this is for the mother-to-be, it also is for the midwife.
“It’s great to be able to work autonomously,” says Ms Carroll.
“You’re able to watch the woman grow into her pregnancy, then make the transition into motherhood and grow as a mother caring for her baby,” says Ms Wickham.
They find the work satisfaction incomparable.
“Its hard for a midwife to not know a woman at all, to meet her for the first time on the maternity ward, “ says Ms Wickham.
“If you already know her, you’ve got more of an idea of how you can work with her through the process.”
Husbands and partners are an important part of the picture in this model of “holistic care”.
“Partners who have previously been at a birth will tell us that they didn’t know what to do, that they just ended up sitting on the sidelines,” says Ms Wickham.
“We educate them in how they can help, in the jobs they can do.
“It’s hard for a lot of partners to see the woman in pain – they want to be able to fix it.
“We teach them that they can’t fix it, but have to work with it.
“We find they’re a lot calmer because they know what to expect.”

Exceptional wildflowers – beyond the buffel. By ALEX NELSON.

As I write this, it’s raining again for the third time this month of July. By the end of the first week, 68.4 mm of rain was recorded at the Bureau of Meteorology weather station at the Alice Springs Airport.
The grand total for all of last year was 76.8 mm.
According to the weather bureau, any year in the Alice which records in excess of 350 mm total rainfall is regarded as exceptionally wet. By the end of June, halfway through the year, 418.8 mm was recorded; and by July 8 the total had climbed to 487 mm.
The Centre is on track to experience its wettest year, hot on the heels of 2009, our driest year. Weather records are tumbling, not just here in the Centre but currently world-wide.
As the final week of 2009 progressed it was obvious the new record of our driest year was no longer endangered. One week earlier a cyclone from WA had threatened to ruin this statistic – it was still a Category One storm at the NT border directly west of the Alice (the furthest a cyclone has traveled inland that I recall) but it bypassed us on the SA border.
I wrote a letter that week about 2009, our new driest year and drawing comparison to the 1960s: “The previous record was set in 1965 and I was here for that one too, although I don’t remember it – I was two years old.
“It was the final year of the notorious drought that started in 1958. Thick dust storms were a regular occurrence and Alice Springs (with about 4000 residents) was on severe water restrictions.
“Ironically ... in January 1966 heavy rains broke the drought and caused widespread flooding across Central Australia. I wonder if we will see a repeat of this in 2010? Time will soon tell”.
My letter was published in the Centralian Advocate on January 5.
Right on cue, the clouds rolled in, and the next edition featured photos of the Todd River in flow on the front page.
When the drought ended in January 1966 the region erupted into a kaleidoscope of colour – an enormous display of wildflowers. It was a measure of just how severe the drought had been, for it was entirely the opposite time of year for such a display to occur.
It was Nature at its most opportunistic, with many plant species responding to unexpected wet conditions to replenish reserves of deteriorating and dwindling seed stocks in the soil.
Most wildflower species in Central Australia respond to rainfall in the winter months. However, this region receives most of its rainfall in the warmer period – which for us is about eight months of the year – and this promotes growth of grasses. Big widespread wildflower displays are comparatively infrequent.
This year we seem to be getting the best of both worlds. This month is already our wettest July since 1986. We’ve also experienced our coolest day on record, and three consecutive days when the maximum temperature didn’t reach 10º C – not seen since August 1966, the year the drought broke.
Current conditions seem perfect for promoting the most exceptional wildflower display in Central Australia for many years, possibly decades. However, to see them at their best it will be necessary to travel to areas where buffel grass (a legacy of the 1960s drought) does not dominate the countryside.
Wildflowers respond poorly in areas where buffel grass grows, although the grasses may be dormant. Wildflowers are intolerant even of dead buffel grass if it is left standing (after being sprayed, for example) – the grass must be slashed or uprooted if the wildflowers are to be seen growing at their best.

Nicki looms large. By KIERAN FINNANE.

A “manky old blanket full of moth holes”: it doesn’t sound very promising, does it?
But this is the kind of challenge that the creators behind Sustainable Couture like.
It’s all about making great things to wear from materials that most people would throw out.
Weaver and textile artist Nicky Schonkala (pictured) is joining fellow designers Philomena Hali, Franca Frederiksen, Kathy Frank, Carmel Ryan, Julie Millerick, Sarah Hill and Rebecca Griffiths to present their creations next Sunday, 3pm in the courtyard alongside Central Craft’s studio in the Araluen Cultural Precinct.
There’ll be a “fashion” parade and an “afternoon high tea” in exchange for a gold coin donation. There’ll also be an opportunity to buy.
Schonkala got a lot out of that blanket: a swing coat, for one, embroidering over the moth holes with little black insect- or flower-like motifs. 
She also made a vest, clamping the shuttles from her loom to the cloth and dying it, and then creating a pattern with over-stitching.
A collection of old cotton doilies have found new life dyed in a range of earthy hues and embellishing a skirt.
From the left-over dyes, she raided Central Craft’s rag bag, finding a number of old Bonds singlets. She dyed them, cut them up and recreated a number of layered singlet tops.
A brilliant black and red old mohair travel rug has been combined with a baby’s blanket to make a poncho, for which there’s a matching toque.
Schonkala says she loves the spontaneity of creating in this way, in contrast to weaving, which is her premier art but involves a lot of detailed planning.
Finding the possibilities from recycled materials is full of surprises.

‘If you’re in my way, you’ll know I’m there’. By CHRISANNE WALSH.

At the tender age of 21, Shorty Maclean arrived in Alice Springs to work on the new hospital site for Barclay Brothers.
Always full of fun and tongue-in-cheek, Shorty tells me how a few of the Barclay boys got together and competed in the Henley-On-Todd that year, wearing T shirts which read “Specialists in Erections”!
It was 1975 and being single, he took up residence at Todd House – a men’s hostel on the corner of Todd Street and Stott Terrace where the council chambers now stand.
The 50 or so boarders shared rooms on the site but had their meals across the road at the recently completed Melanka Hostel complex.
Around this time Shorty met Brian Sice, a fellow Barclay Brothers worker, who also rode a solo at the speedway.
Because he was raised on the land, Shorty had never heard of speedway, let alone solos and outfits.
Brian (known to everyone as Sicey) explained how he rode this bike sideways around the track without any brakes or gears, and all the while Shorty was thinking, “This sounds like me”! And so pit-crewing for Sicey began his speedway career.
By ‘76 Shorty was swinging for Sicey on an outfit as well as racing his own Stockbike.
This was very different to the style of today’s motocross riders who ride at Arunga Park every now and then.
In the ‘70s, the brakes were disconnected and the headlights and tail lights removed to avoid any glass or hard plastics being left on the track.
The bikes were allowed to race on the actual track (not the infield) and a few of the local business houses would put up prizes such as a new helmet or a pair of jeans.
Quite often there were elimination races, which were always popular, and Shorty won quite a few of them.
Sicey was about 13 years olderand would always look out for Shorty.
He sometimes felt that Sicey was a bit too cautious and would often look up at the throttle from his precarious position and think how he’d just love to grab it and give it some!
Shorty loved going fast and back then he didn’t realize that it was no use going fast if you couldn’t get around the corners first.
That came later and by the time they called it quits, he had swung for Sicey for two seasons, they’d came third in the overall points score in ‘76-’77 and they’d competed in a couple of NT Titles.
Sicey moved on after racing solos for a couple of years, and then returned home to New Zealand.
In the meantime, Shorty ventured back onto the track as a B Grade solo rider. Everyone had high expectations and he says it was a lot of fun. But he was used to riding stockbikes which had plenty of suspension. He just didn’t have what it takes – simple as that.
In 1981 he met Mo McCosker, who was the then NT Formula 500 Champion, Shorty got into the sport in ‘83, with Mo doing the set-up and Shorty doing the driving.
It was at this point that he “burst onto the scene in a big hurry” and has had a great old time ever since.
After about three months of racing, Shorty won his first NT Title in an event against drivers from Queensland, South Australia, Darwin and a few local hot-shots like Garry Butterfield and a few other blokes. It seems that Shorty had now found his forte!
The first Formula 500 he drove belonged to Des Rogers and he swapped it for his solo.
He won the 10 lap handicap after being told to keep it straight and hold his line. He thought he was pretty good when nobody passed him, totally unaware that his fellow drivers had sat back and allowed him to!
After a few weeks, Des decided he didn’t like the solo, so they swapped again.
The first Formula 500 Shorty actually owned was a Jawa 2 valve. It went like a shot dog and cost him $1100. In contrast, his most recent car was purchased for around $27,000.
These days the cars have overhead wings to create better stability and make them a lot safer and faster. Gone are the days when you could wear an old pair of overalls and some runners – nowadays it’s compulsory to have the fire resistant gloves, socks, underwear and suits.
The professionalism of the Fire Crews has gone ahead as well.
In the ‘70s there was a big social side to speedway –  progressive dinners, dance nights and fund raisers, as well as the racing every fortnight.
The only real competition was the drive-in, whereas now there are so many other activities and motorsports to compete with.
“These days people can sit at home and watch a movie for five bucks but it’s nothing like speedway,” says Shorty.
“I’d rather get covered in dirt and get the adrenalin going and have a bit of fun. And sometimes if you get lucky and win a race, then that finishes it off well.”
Shorty has raced in eight or 10 Australian Formula 500 Titles.
These include his first one in ‘85 at Murray Bridge and the ‘86, ‘94 and 2000 Titles held in the Alice. He won the Australian Short Circuit Formula 500 Title in Alice Springs in 1994 after chasing it for a few years.
Shorty says that Arunga Park would have to be one of the easiest tracks in Australia to race on and it has a good reputation.
He says some of the other tracks around Australia are pretty basic but if drivers aren’t prepared to travel and try them out they will never learn.
He’s always happy to pass on any knowledge that might be helpful to those who want to listen but has found that while some people do listen, others think they know it all, even if they’ve never won a race. 
Shorty feels the young drivers of today tend to be a bit “soft” compared to years ago and don’t want to scratch their cars.
He believes that if a driver just wants to “poke” around, he might as well pack up and go home.
“You have to go out there to win” he says.
“You don’t have to put someone into the fence but you can still be aggressive. The crowd doesn’t go out to the speedway to watch a person dawdle around the track - they want action.
“I have sponsors that put dollars into my vehicle, so if you’re in my way, there’s a fair chance you’re going to know I’m there!”

Show creates impetus to work

For an artist an exhibition is often more than an opportunity to show work – it can create the impetus to take work to a new level or down a different path, and certainly to be productive.
Ron Talbot (pictured above with Iain Campbell, at right), whose first solo show at Araluen will close on Sunday, decided to switch medium in the lead-up.
Risky, but it led him into quicker, more spontaneous painting, a way of expressing himself which he found exciting.
He had been painting mostly in oils but changed to acrylics.
“They dried frighteningly fast but in the end it suited me, the way I wanted to put the paint down, not to linger on particular aspects, but to flick the paint on, work up a shadow or highlight or quick impression of a rock or tree.
“I liked the thrill and I think some of the more successful pieces reflect that.”
He also used other approaches, where the paint has gone on lightly, with longer, more fluid strokes, and although he’s favouring the “messy” approach, where he uses a palette knife, that won’t stop him trying other things.
“I haven’t developed a particular style.
“I’m still very much a learner, ready to experiment.
“Having the show has given me confidence, boosted my energy.”
It’s not even over and he’s off on a painting trip.
While the MacDonnell Ranges were the inspiration of the Araluen show, East to West, this latest trip has been in hilly country west of Goulburn, painting out of doors with a group of fellow artists by day, returning to a bush hut with an open fire and good company at night.
He’s been trying his hand with gouaches, as well as painting with the more familiar water-based oils and sketching, balancing his materials on a milk crate or working on the ground, while eying enviously his friend’s “lovely French easel”.
“I think I’ll get one.”
His companions are from the same group of artists who exhibited at Watch This Space last winter in show called Marking New Territory. 
Now they’re deciding where to stage their next gathering.
Talbot may have come to painting relatively late in life but he’s making up for it with commitment.
“I’ve lived lots of varied experiences in my life, including travel and family, but I have to rate painting as high up there in the scheme of things.” 
– Kieran Finnane


Let’s take a look, from outside the square, at Strategic Indigenous Housing Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) spending.
More than $100m (that’s nearly 15%) of the allocated $672m is set aside for “project management” and “contingency” – the latter possibly a euphemism for stuff-ups.
SIHIP will be dealing with 750 new houses, 230 “rebuilds” and 2500 refurbishments, 3480 dwellings in all.
If you apportion evenly the $100m (that’s $28,994 per dwelling), each new house will not cost $450,000 as announced, but $478,994.
Rebuilds will cost $228,994 each, not $200,000 as announced.
And refurbishments will come to $103,994 each, not $75,000 as pretended by SIHIP.
• • •
A bush builder with decades of local experience tells me that houses on remote communities were initially about 90 square metres in size but have now been increased to 150 squm.
In town top dollar for building a house is now $2000 per squm. In the bush, make it $2500, says the builder.
(The writer, as an owner-builder, had a house in Alice Springs built for $760/squm, including built-ins, in 2005.)
Under SIHIP the per-squm rate, assuming houses will average 150 squm, is $3193. Nice work if you can get it.
• • •
What precisely is the need for the $100m spend on project management and stuff-ups?
The bush builder says big national companies, churning out some 3000 homes a year, would happily take on SIHIP’s task as a design-build project.
That means they would get instructions from the prospective tenants (sticking within the budget), build, “rebuild” or refurbish, and get paid when the jobs are finished satisfactorily (a certifier has signed them off). The saving: $100m.
• • •
The builder estimates that the labour content of housing construction costs is 35%, including 15% for unskilled labour.
We’re constantly bombarded with unemployment figures, especially in the bush. There’s also much talk about the destructive influence of unconditional welfare.
Here’s a nice opportunity for a win-win situation, saving the taxpayer money (15% of $478,994 is $71,847): You get a house only if you provide – free of charge – all the unskilled labour needed to build it. A useful lesson for those who think getting a house is an automatic right.
• • •
SIHIP has recently had a review followed by a “Post Review Assessment” (PRA).
The PRA is euphoric about the benchmark for local Indigenous employment on housing construction having been exceeded.
It is set at 20% of contractors’ workforce but reached 36% in February, “so far as the PRA consultants are aware, [an] unprecedented success”.
These, of course, are paid workers, not future occupants making a contribution.
However, say the PRA writers, “all stakeholders are acutely aware that longer term employment outcomes are more challenging and a variety of measures are being developed and implemented to maximise the extent and duration of SIHIP related employment opportunities.
“The early gains in employment and workforce development were occurring in communities with very substantial works spread over a considerable period of time.
“It will be more difficult to achieve this in smaller communities where little or no investment in new housing is occurring.”
• • •
At this point the contribution to the Indigenous housing initiatives by the prospective tenants is not by way of cash nor elbow grease. This is how the PRA puts it: “Each SIHIP community has established a Housing Reference Group (HRG) specifically for the purpose of giving and receiving advice on matters relevant to the effectiveness and appropriateness of priorities and approaches in the provision and management of remote Indigenous housing.
“The HRGs are pivotal mechanisms in achieving the broader objectives of SIHIP, particularly the longer term social outcomes.
“Sincere consultation and engagement with HRGs is likely to be the point at which local communities begin to develop ownership of SIHIP housing outputs.
“The Australian and NT Governments support the resourcing of these groups.
“HRG members comprise traditional owners and Indigenous elders and generally represent each kinship group within the local area.”
We’ll be keeping a interested eye on the developing ownership of SIHIP “housing outputs”.

NANCARROW ARROW: Sick of the rain yet? I am.

I’m fed up. It’s winter time and it’s raining, what is that all about?
In Alice it rains in the summertime, big storms, everyone goes outside and stands in puddles or goes to watch the river come down. It’s a welcome change to the heat, and even though the humidity is punishing for the next few days, it’s seen as a good thing.
Then there is the one-off allowance for rain during Finke weekend, regular as clock work. Its primary function is to make Stones Green Ginger Wine at 8am seem like a good idea when you’re standing, shivering, around a camp fire. It has a purpose.
Now I’m not a hydrophobe, I like the rain – for a day or two. Then I get grumpy, the washing piles up and the dog goes mental because she’s housebound. Or she goes outside, gets filthy and soaked and wants to come inside, smelling of wet dog and muddy paws. Another irritant to add to the list is the tourists, grumping about how they came North to escape the wet and what are we going to do about it?
I know what they mean; winter on the south coast of South Australia is a very damp affair. Childhood memories bob up darkly of standing on the football field, steam rising up as the rain from the earlier shower evaporated, taking precious body heat away.
There was one occasion when a game was abandoned because of huge hailstones –  everyone just legged it for the shelter of the grandstand, with no regard for the interchange zone and the game was called a draw.
Which was excellent as we were copping a flogging and had no chance of winning.
So rain in its place is allowed but this incessant drizzle in un-Centralian. Even the allure of the river flowing is losing its shine, due to the fact that it’s flowing all the bloody time.
One of my fondest memories of Leon (number one son) is taking him down to the Patawillunga River to show him some of the places I used to play as a kid. He was three and a bit and spoke in that direct and frank fashion that is endearing and terrifying at the same time (Leon: “Dad, why is that lady so fat?” Me: “Shush mate, she can hear you.”) I showed him the river mouth and he said, “Look Dad, how funny – a river with water in it”. 
And quite rightly so, he is a desert baby and the idea of rivers filled with water was absurd. Rivers are made of sand and decorated with shiny green cans and blankets, not wet and slushy. The rain is going to deprive Alice Springs kids of their cultural identity, the concept of watery rivers will infiltrate their tiny minds and their world view will be distorted. This cannot be allowed to happen.
Perhaps the proposed dam on the Todd needs to be revisited, not to protect against a hundred year flood but to preserve the environment for our kiddies.
And finally, the rain has to stop to preserve my sanity. I don’t do grey skies, I need sunshine to lift me up and make each day wonderful.
It can be cold and even windy, but not grey and wet. So, please God, no more.
 As a footnote, Leon insists that I tell you I got hit by a bus as a kid. I don’t know why he wants me to tell you this but he is quite insistent.  When I was 13 a bus mounted the footpath and I got smashed in the head with its side mirror. See you next week.

LETTERS: The truth about Panorama Guth.

Sir – Having been involved with Panorama Guth from the day our family arrived in Alice Springs in 1971, I am appalled at the callous racist lies tour-operators tell our tourist about what happened to the Panorama when it burned down on October 30, 2005.
My friend from Melbourne who was here for the Beanie Festival was told at Henk Guth’s graveside, at the turnoff to Ormiston Gorge, that “Henk had died of a broken heart as an Aboriginal had set fire to his panorama”.
The truth is that in 2003 Mr Guth wanted to sell the Panorama due to ill health.
Together with June Noble, I ran a petition to lobby the NT Government to do whatever they could to save the panorama painting and the many sacred Aboriginal artifacts that were in the building.
However it soon became clear that help from the NT Government could not be expected.
Fortunately on April 15, 2003 Terry Leigh and a business associate rescued Panorama Guth for our town and its many visitors to enjoy.
Henk died on July 20, three months after his beloved panorama was saved.
Please erect a sign at his graveside that informs visitors that: “Panorama Guth burned down on October 30 2005 due to an electrical fault in one of the many air-conditioners to keep the painting at a constant temperature.” 
Mien Blom
Alice Springs

Warm feelings

Sir – This paper never ceases to amaze me with the home town stories by the thoughtful staff. It just gives you a warm feeling all over.
I wish all home town papers could make you feel this way.
E. Mitchell
Winnipeg, Canada

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