August 5, 2010. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Freemasons' Stuart statue: Comic opera.

The Town Council’s attempt to accommodate the Freemasons’ wish to honour explorer and Mason John McDouall Stuart with the erection of a giant statue descended into a shambles last Friday.
In the morning aldermen agreed, via email, to move the location of the statue from the council lawns to Stuart Park (in front of the Flying Doctor Service).
An emergency meeting of the Public Art Advisory Committee was held at midday. Open to the public, it was attended by scores of interested people.
The meeting was informed quite early by committee chair and Deputy Mayor Brendan Heenan that the location had been changed.
Far from settling the issue, it later opened up a further can of worms: council appeared to have forgotten that Stuart Park, as part of the Alice Springs Heritage Precinct, is protected by heritage legislation.
Architect Susan Dugdale, who has openly opposed the way the council has handled the statue saga, reminded CEO Rex Mooney of this fact after the meeting had broken up.
Any work on a heritage property must the subject of an application to the Minister who in turn must refer the matter to the Heritage Advisory Council and cannot make a decision without considering their advice.
Work at the site, just west of the simple stone column honouring the explorer, was already underway, putting council in potential breach of heritage laws and possibly too of their own processes.
If the location had only changed in the morning, how could all the requisite approvals, which must be site-specific, have been accomplished in a matter of hours?
The fact that site preparation had begun – a large hole had been dug – also put the council in the further invidious position of not being able to respond in good faith to the vote by the Public Art Advisory Committee, supported four to one, to defer any decision on the matter while it returned to the committee for their consideration.
In the course of the afternoon, the Heritage Branch of the Department of Natural Resources, the Environment, The Arts and Sport (NRETAS) were made aware by media and local heritage campaigner, architect Domenico Pecorari, of the works council had initiated.
In the early evening a spokesperson for the department responded: “NRETAS has been advised that the Alice Springs Town Council have made a decision to place a statue within the Alice Springs Heritage Precinct.
“We understand some works have commenced and the Alice Springs Town Council have agreed to stop work and we will now commence discussions on the process involved under the Heritage Act.”
As this was unlikely to yield a quick fix, council, if they were still hoping to accommodate the Freemasons’ wishes for an unveiling tomorrow (Friday), had to come up with a new solution.
This was the subject of a media release on Sunday afternoon, put out jointly by Mayor Damien Ryan and “the Most Worshipful Brother Ray Clark, Grand Master of the Antient Free and Accepted Masons of South Australia and the Northern Territory”.
The statue will be temporarily placed on the Civic Centre lawns for the gifting to the Alice Springs community and unveiling ceremony, said the release.
It will then be removed and placed in temporary storage while “any issues pertaining to heritage requirements [for its location at Stuart Park] are worked through”.
The unveiling will take place tomorrow at 4:30pm. The ceremony will include a rendition on traditional Scottish bag pipes by Right Worshipful Brother Ron Ross and songs about Stuart composed and sung by Barry Skipsey and Ted Egan AO.
In the meantime the debate around the statue had broadened well beyond location and council processes to the more interesting but difficult terrain of how do we as a community represent our history (see separate story this issue).
While this is a desirable conversation for Alice Springs to have, and it will always generate a range of strong views, it could have taken place in a less controversial atmosphere had the Town Council handled the Freemasons’ original approach in accordance with its own policy and processes from the start.
Why it did not was the subject of frequent questioning from the floor of Friday’s public meeting.
Ald Heenan repeatedly told the meeting that it would not be allowed to happen again, an admission that the process had been less than desirable, but now that it was done, it could not be undone.
Mr Mooney described the whole situation as “very controversial” but said that there had been no direction of council to not be open and that the Public Art Advisory Committee had been informed at their June meeting about council’s decision to accept the statue (taken on March 15).
Council made its decision without going through the committee processes because of the Freemasons’ deadline, he said.
Mr Ryan was at all times unapologetic about council’s decision.
The elected members had agreed to accept the statue, he repeatedly said; the elected members had agreed (all bar one who was interstate) to move the location to Stuart Park; all advisory committees make recommendations to council but it is up to the elected members to accept those recommendations or not.
As pressure mounted from the floor and members of the committee for council to revisit its decision, Mr Ryan said that council could not go back on its process: the acceptance of the statue and its location had been ratified as a council decision.
This was challenged by Eric Sultan, who appealed for a legal view from lawyer Russell Goldflam, attending the meeting as a member of the public.
“Can you go back on this?” he asked Mr Goldflam, who said “Yes”.
Mr Ryan replied: “We’re not in Russell’s courtroom here”.
He said the issue would be addressed in future council meetings.
Mr Sultan replied that it needed to happen now.
This was towards the end of the meeting when committee member Lisa Stefanoff had asked that the committee be able to discuss in camera a new location for the statue and member Diana McMullen had urged a vote on the issue.
Mr Ryan said elected members would not be meeting (to consider the result of the vote) before August 6 (the date of the unveiling), making a vote pointless.
Ms McMullen said if there was a willingness to find a solution aldermen could communicate via email that afternoon, as they had in the morning.
The vote was then taken.
This was a formal committee meeting, but questions from the floor dominated the occasion, allowing for a wide airing of views.
Why had council accepted the deadline set by the Freemasons, as donors of the statue, when council has its own processes, asked Margaret McDonnell.
Are any councillors Masons themselves? Was there a conflict of interest?
Why rush when the deadline has nothing to do with the town nor with the person being honoured? she asked.
How often does council contravene its own processes at the request of a particular interest group, asked Dalton Dupuy.
Council had received all of its required technical approvals for the council lawns site but what about for Stuart Park, asked Ms Dugdale.
They were doing it now, said council’s director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton.
Eli Melkey, while fully in support of the Stuart statue, wanted to know when council had decided to disregard the “volunteers” on the advisory committee.
Sue Fielding wanted council, who “ought to be ashamed”, to return the issue to the table for a “proper process”.
Lutheran pastor Basil Schild asked why council had been an agent of the Freemasons on the issue and wanted council to tell the Masons that council was not happy to have Stuart’s memory brought into disrepute by the controversy.
What would happen if the Lutheran Church wanted to erect a statue of Pastor Albrecht in the middle of town, Rev Schild wanted to know.
A woman urged council to convey to the community by equivalent visual means (four metres high) their intention to not let something like this happen again.
Four months had passed since the original approach to council by Mason Les Pilton, the instigator of the project, noted Pip McManus, a former committee member. This would have been time to have a full discussion with the committee, she said.
What is the point of council having the committee when it does not respect its processes or even the spirit of its policy, she asked, urging council to recognise the value of debate and dialogue on sensitive issues to do with public representations and history.
Committee member Andrew Broffman saw the controversy as an unintended consequence of the Masons’ generosity and recommended that council take the idea of a memorial to Stuart and allow it to “run its course” through council’s public art processes. These had produced the Gathering Garden, a “very large and successful” public art project, he said. (The garden is on the north-west corner of the Civic Centre grounds.)
Committee member Peter Grigg, general manger of Tourism Central Australia, was in favour of accepting the Freemasons’ gift while also supporting a process of identifying other “really significant contributors”, black and white, to our region for further memorial projects.
Committee member Marilena Hippis, who works for Gallery Gondwana, described her experience of the gifting process with the National Gallery of Australia – it had taken three months – and said it was important for council to have a procedure for dealing with gifts (which it has but ignored on this occasion).

Aboriginal CL candidate canes NT Labor’s parks handover policies. By

The Clare Martin government was not “up front and honest” with Territorians in her handling of the parks issue, says the Country Liberal candidate for Lingiari, Leo Abbott.
He was commenting on the disclosure last week in the Alice News of the legal advice on which Ms Martin said she had based her decision to hand over all the national parks in Central Australia to Aboriginal interests.
The advice, by the Solicitor General at the time, Tom Pauling, outlined “solutions” dealing with suspected problems in the wake of a native title claim in WA, suggesting there was no need to surrender at least some of the parks.
The Territory Government had kept secret the 15 page document since 2002, but it was recently leaked to the Alice Springs News (Issue of July 29 – see our online edition).
Mr Abbott, a prominent traditional owner of Arrernte land, says all parks should have been left in “the hands of all Territorians”.
However, some parks have now been handed over, and it’s probably “too late” for them.
Mr Abbott says he doesn’t know what could be done about the parks that have not yet been handed over (such as the West MacDonnell National Park), a process that involves the Federal Government through its Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act.
Mr Abbott (pictured) says the Palm Valley land claim was decided some years ago but the land has still not been handed over.
“Traditional owners are being left in the dark,” he says.
In the meantime parks elsewhere have been handed over, such as Chamber’s Pillar: “The process is confusing,” he says.

Snowdon: Welfare projects to aid economy. By

There is little doubt that Warren Snowdon will remain the MHR for Lingiari, given his solid and long-standing support in the bush.
He’s further aided by the half-hearted campaign by Country Liberal candidate Leo Abbott who, although putting in a considerable personal effort, clearly lacks adequate campaign support from his party – at least so far. Only this week are campaign posters for him going up in Alice Springs.
According to the ABC’s election guide, Lingiari is a safe Labor seat with an 11.2% majority.
Mr Snowdon has held the seat since 2001, having previously represented the single Northern Territory electorate from 1987 to ‘96 and again from 1998 to 2001.
He is the Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Services Delivery.
Lingiari covers 1,347,849 square kilometres, or 99.98% of the Northern Territory.
The electorate includes everything in the NT except for Darwin and Palmerston.
According to the 2006 Census, 43.5% of the population is of Indigenous origin, by far the highest proportion in the country.
Also reflecting the large families and shorter life spans in outback communities, Lingiari had the highest proportion of children under five years of age (8.8%) and children aged 5-14 (18.3%), the lowest proportion aged over 65 (4.4%) and the lowest median age (29), says the ABC.
Mr Snowdon spoke with Alice News Editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
NEWS: You have 30 media releases on your website between May 12 and July 9. Of these 12 are on Aboriginal subjects, and not a single one of the 30 is dealing with economic development in Alice Springs. Is Alice Springs becoming a welfare town?
SNOWDON: Not at all. I don’t think there is any business in this town not aware of the importance of the [Federal Government’s] economic stimulus on this community. Every school has building going on or about to go on. We’re investing a huge amount of money in infrastructure in this town. There is the $150m investment for 87 houses in the town camps, plus the $20m investment in the hospital [a new facility for emergency care]. There is no question at all that Federal  Government money is underpinning the economy of Alice Springs. This is not in welfare, but in infrastructure.
NEWS: But this infrastructure is mostly for the disadvantaged portion of the community. What about development of infrastructure for tourism and other industries?
SNOWDON: The Labor Government is proposing further tax reductions and we’ve already had three successive years of tax cuts for individual people, pension increases and a proposal to reduce the company tax.
NEWS: These are national initiatives. I was looking for initiatives in Alice Springs to further industries such as tourism and horticulture. There are mining ventures but not much else in terms of new private enterprise.
SNOWDON: I don’t think that’s right at all. There is a shortage of labour in Alice Springs. All indicators are that this economy is doing very well. Martin Ferguson was here earlier this year making some significant announcements.
(On May 31 the Federal Tourism Minister announced that Uluru, Arnhem Land and Kakadu are among 12 destinations chosen by Tourism Australia “to feature in a series of print advertisements for publication globally in our major international markets, including the UK, USA and Japan”.)
During the global financial crisis the Labor Government invested heavily in the Australian economy. I don’t think it is true that businesses are missing out in Alice Springs.
NEWS: The town did miss out on being one of the 15 regional centres into which Prime Minister Julia Gillard is pumping a total of $200m for housing.
SNOWDON: We don’t have a population of 30,000. As I said before, the Commonwealth Government is investing $150m in housing on town camps.
Alice Springs is doing significantly better out of the Labor Government than any other town of this size anywhere in Australia.
NEWS: Town camp housing is no doubt important. But we do not have anywhere near enough housing for people who are in full time jobs, who want to come to Alice Springs and who are needed here to keep the economy going. One of the major problems here is the shortage and cost of housing.
SNOWDON: I understand that, but that’s a significant function for the Northern Territory, not the Commonwealth. The issues of land release and the private housing market are largely in the hands of the NT Government.
Where the Commonwealth comes into play, of course, is in interest rates, which are now two percentage points lower than when John Howard was in government.
NEWS: There are some life and death issues in Central Australia, urban drift, Indigenous unemployment, crime and ill health, but there seems to be no sense of urgency in the campaign as it is unfolding so far. It seems to be accepted that you will be re-elected while the region’s underlying problems haven’t improved in 30 years.
SNOWDON: Hang on, hang on! The investments under Labor have been the most significant in infrastructure and programs of any government since Bob Hawke. We’ve suffered from 11 years of lack of investment in Aboriginal communities by the Howard Government. The Commonwealth is investing $670m in [the Territory’s SIHIP] housing alone. We’re building three boarding colleges in the NT for kids from remote communities. We’ve funded the NT Government for 200 additional teachers. We’re spending nearly an additional $100m on Indigenous health outcomes. There have been drastic reforms to the way welfare is being administered.
NEWS: Why is there no requirement in the SIHIP scheme for prospective tenants to make a contribution – for example, to get a new house they provide some of the labour to build it?
SNOWDON: That doesn’t apply to other public housing tenants.
Why should we make Aboriginal people be dealt with any differently in terms of public housing than other Australians?
NEWS: I understand tenants under the $672m SIHIP program will pay a percentage of their welfare payments as rent. What is that percentage?
SNOWDON: I don’t know, it’s a proportion of the income. I can find out.
NEWS: The situation seems to be that people renting a four bedroom house on the open market are up for around $800 a week, while Aboriginal tenants of a SIHIP house pay perhaps a tenth of that. Is that fair?
SNOWDON: Nonsense. Let’s be clear about that: people in public housing across the country have their rents fixed as a proportion of their income, by and large.
NEWS: Trouble is, Alice Springs doesn’t have anywhere near enough public housing, and we’re missing out on the Gillard initiative for regional cities.
SNOWDON: Whether or not there is enough public housing is a separate question.

New owners pursue cheap wall solution.

Work has commenced on the restoration of the mural on the west-facing Kmart wall, using in part concrete bricks in lieu of the original sandstone.
The bricks, in three colours, can be seen on the ground on the right of our photo.
The original sandstone mural, depicting Heavitree Gap and the ranges extending to Mount Gillen, was damaged during a storm on September 22, 2008 and subsequently dismantled.
There has been a campaign, in particular by the Town Council, to have the wall restored to its original condition. This desire was supported at first by a decision of the Development Consent Authority.
However, following an appeal by former owners of the building, Centro, mediation took place before the Lands Planning and Mining Tribunal.
This resulted in a development permit being issued to the owners by the DCA allowing a compromise solution of blockwork in mixed colours to complete the upper levels of the mural.
In the meantime, the Kmart building has changed owners, acquired for almost $16m in June by local company Yeperenye Pty Ltd, made up of Aboriginal interests.
The Alice News understands that Yeperenye is owned by Aboriginal investment company Centrecorp or a trustee arm of that company (60%) and native title holder body Lhere Artepe (40%).
Centrecorp is owned by the Central Land Council (three fifths), Tangentyere Council and Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (one fifth each).
While there may have been some hope that attitudes towards the restoration would change with local ownership, with work commencing that hope has now vanished.
Mayor Damien Ryan told last week’s meeting of the Town Council that he had raised concerns about the Kmart Wall with Planning Minister Gerry McCarthy in a recent meeting, requesting his assistance for a better solution.
Now it appears that it is all too late.

Spin award for an overstated claim?

The Power and Water Corporation won this year’s top Engineering Excellence Award from Engineers Australia Northern Division for its work on the Alice Springs Waste Stabilisation Ponds.
Interestingly the award, announced on July 22,  has received no publicity, others than from Engineers Australia. PWC made no media release and there’s no mention of the award on their website.
Could this be because the claims PWC and the NT Government made in entering the awards (a self-nominating process) don’t quite stack up? 
“The project ‘Water Reuse in the Alice’ is now commissioned and working well,” says their text in the awards brochure.
However, we know that the SAT (soil aquifer treatment) ponds that are integral to the project are not yet commissioned, despite the deadline for this having passed.
A commissioning date of “no later than January 31, 2010” is stipulated in PWC’s current waste water discharge licence.
Certain equipment at the SAT ponds has yet to be even installed, with a tender going out shortly, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Resources – Primary Industry, which is collaborating on the project.
The awards brochure goes on to say: “The project’s aims were to return Ilparpa Swamp, into which the Alice Springs Waste Stabilisation Ponds overflow, to a more natural state, by means of a scheme to re-use water and reduce overflows in the area.
“The project’s aims of ceasing dry weather overflows into Ilparpa swamp have been achieved.”
However, as the Alice News reported on June 24, there were at least two dry weather overflows observed in that month when there’d been no local rain.
In response to our questions a spokesperson said the need to discharge had resulted from high rainfall earlier in the year and the discharges were authorised.
Ultimately the reused water is intended to irrigate crops.
A lot of effort was expended in the early years of the project to find an “end-user” for the water but no firm prospect has ever eventuated. (See, for example,
These days the approach to the search for an end-user issue has changed.
It will not even recommence “until the system is operational and passed testing”, says the Department of Resources spokesperson .
The project began in February 2003 and to date is said to have cost $10.4m.
Google our online edition for more.

Acacia trees from Centre combat hunger in Africa

Alice Springs man Peter Yates, who is studying the potential of Australian acacias to develop a famine-resistant food supply in sub-Saharan Africa, may extend that work into Ethiopia.
Mr Yates’ PhD research at Charles Darwin University is being sponsored by World Vision Australia.He recently returned from Niger, where the food-producing regions of the south (the north is desert) are in the grip of famine following poor rains in 2009.
The extent of land degradation, limited existing Acacia plantations – “too few to go commercial” – and the necessity to conduct formal trials of the food product he has developed mean that the momentum for change in that country is at least three to four years off.
In the immediate term the Horn of Africa nation of Ethiopia, sandwiched between Sudan and Somalia, is better positioned to respond.
In Niger Mr Yates and World Vision have been working with a Central Australian species, Acacia colei, as well  as A. torulosa and A. tumida.
In Ethiopia a Western Australian species, A. saligna, has already been planted “by the million”, says Mr Yates, to combat soil erosion on steep mountainsides that have been cleared of native timber.
At present the seed, an important traditional source of nutrition for Australian Aborigines, goes uncollected.
“It falls to the ground amid hungry people who don’t know you can eat it,” says Mr Yates.
“In any normal year seven million people in Ethiopia go hungry.
“Their farmers now can’t produce more than 25% of the country’s food needs.
“Farm plot size has been reduced due to population growth and rainfall has declined.”
Mr Yates visited Tigray, in the far north of the country, last year.
He says the local branch of World Vision responded enthusiastically to information about the nutritional benefits of acacia seed.
The necessity now is to educate local farmers about the benefits of harvesting the seed and using it in everyday food.
Mr Yates says the dynamism of World Vision Ethiopia and the demonstrated willingness by communities in Ethiopia to tackle land degradation give reason to hope that this “could go forward very quickly”.
He visited a community in Tigray whose wells had dried up after years of prolonged drought and land degradation. Their state government told them that they would  have to relocate but the people couldn’t contemplate leaving the land where they had lived for centuries.
Their deep ties to the country are reflected in the rock-hewn churches for which the region is famous, some going back to perhaps the 8th Century.
They committed themselves to land regeneration, donating 40 days’ labour, free of charge, to a communal effort.
“They dug soakage trenches, diversion channels, holding ponds, terraces,” says Mr Yates.
“Within a year and half the water table started to rise – a good thing there because there’s no salt in the soil.
“Now they’ve been able to dig shallow wells to irrigate their crops.
“The community’s thriving, people are making a good living.”
Tourists come to the area to visit the ancient churches. Mr Yates suggested to the villagers that they run tours of their earthworks with a talk about what they’re hoping  to achieve: “This would be something visitors would remember forever – the amazing capacity of the human spirit to overcome such adversity is really moving.”
In Niger some farmers are also attempting to regenerate country scalded by severe erosion, putting in “demi-lunes” (two and half metre wide half-moon shaped depressions) so that water can penetrate the hard laterite left exposed after the topsoil has been blown or washed away.
Over vast areas native timbers have been cleared to make way for farming, especially in the last 50 years.
Without trees to act as windbreaks dust storms are increasingly severe.
Mr Yates filmed one that seemed to blow up out of nowhere shortly after his arrival.
It was one o’clock in the afternoon. Within four minutes, the brightly lit day had turned to night, thick dust completely obscuring the sun.
After nine and half minutes it was all over, except that people’s eyes were streaming for hours. (Google “Duststorm Maradi Niger” to see the video on Youtube.)
It was a clear demonstration of what is happening to the country: “There were thousands of tonnes of topsoil in the air above us.”
Mr Yates says the benefits of tree-planting are clearly observable in the landscape. The farms where trees have been planted tend to be on higher ground, the farms without trees on lower, where the land has simply eroded away.
When the wind blows trees act as a barrier to the soil particles, which drop to the ground and so the soil builds up.
When the ground has eroded down to the laterite it’s no longer arable without using some recovery techniques. If water can be made to penetrate Australian acacias will grow there.
They grow at four times the rate of the best African acacia, A. senegal (which produces gum arabic), and they put on a lot more wood.
Such is the demand for firewood, in short supply throughout Africa under the pressure of growing populations, that much of the region’s native timber has been heavily pruned.
Australian acacias can take the pressure off the native trees and produce an excellent income source for farmers, estimated by one source, says Mr Yates, to be seven times as valuable to farmers as an annual crop of millet, the staple of the area.
Last year the millet crop failed because of poor rains, putting Niger 25% in deficit in grain production.
This is where the seed from Australian acacias becomes invaluable.
Child malnutrition in Niger is well beyond World Health Organisation emergency levels, says Mr Yates. The core of his work has been to develop a home-grown product to replace imported food aid.
This would deliver a degree of self-sufficiency to the region, combatting what is essentially welfare dependency, which in turn has a depressive effect on local agriculture – free imported food undermining demand for locally grown food.
“Imported food aid is one of the reasons African agriculture is such a mess,” says Mr Yates.
“This work with Australian acacias has the potential to be really transformative.”
Initially he worked on a biscuit but now his focus is on a porridge, as this is what people eat – traditionally a millet porridge, which is low in nutritional value and quite inadequate to the needs of young children in terms of energy, protein and Vitamin A, a key micro nutrient.
Babies are often weaned too soon onto the porridge. If their mother has become pregnant again, the common belief is that her breastmilk will be toxic to the existing infant and the child is weaned overnight, says Mr Yates.
So even in a good year, when the millet crop has not failed, the presence of acacia seeds in the diet would be beneficial.
His “recipe”, which together with World Vision he is working on distributing at the village level, adds acacia seed to the millet porridge together with a few other locally-sourced ingredients.
“It’s not a perfect food, in terms of complete nutrition, but it does represent a big improvement.”
As well as the porridge, Mr Yates is working on a product that would deliver complete nutrition and could be distributed in an emergency by governments and aid organisations.
That product is currently being tested in laboratories and formal trialling also needs to take place.
Such seems the potential of Australian acacias to change the haunting picture of “starving Africa” that one wonders why there hasn’t been an instant acacia revolution.
Mr Yates says there’s a default fear of invasive alien plants – with good reason – but in Niger and Ethiopia there seems little potential for the species to become weedy.
A survey in Niger over 17 years has shown very few cases of the trees self-germinating and where they did, they had been encouraged: “A plant is not a weed if it is wanted.”
The constant pruning of the trees for firewood also acts to limit any weediness.
There is documentation of some weediness of the species in southern Africa but, argues Mr Yates, those trees provide a livelihood to a lot of poor people, who sell them as firewood, and this practice directs pressure away from native trees.

Albert’s legacy lives in paint & on stage.

An exhibition of watercolors in the Namatjira tradition, some of them painted by the great man’s direct descendants, opened at Araluen last Friday, as a prelude to this coming weekend’s celebrations in the theatre of the Namatjira legacy.
The exhibition, co-curated by Araluen’s Kate Podger and manager of Ngurratjuta Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre, Anna McKenzie, brings together work by new and emerging artists as well as established painters. Artists include Lenie Namatjira, Kevin Namatjira, Gloria Pannka, Kevin Wirri, Elton Wirri and Mervyn Rubuntja.
A painting by Albert Namatjira of Standley Chasm is also being shown as part of the exhibition for the first time since its donation in 1999.
The theatrical event on the weekend is a mix of song, dance and performance extracted from a full stage work premiering in Sydney in September at the Belvoir St Theatre.
The exhibition will also tour to Sydney, at the Birrung Gallery.
The theatre work attempts to answer the question, “How did Australia’s most celebrated watercolour artist end up dying a broken man?”
Episodes from Albert Namatjira’s life will be performed by Ngapartji Ngapartji’s Trevor Jamieson.
The work has been written by Big hART’s Scott Rankin and co-directed by him and Wayne Blair.

A new life for your old tiles.

The project is  “in the same tradition as patchwork quilts”, says designer Elliat Rich of her plans for wall murals in the men’s and women’s changing rooms at the new Aquatic Centre.
She’s asking residents of Alice Springs  to contribute their tiles (commercially produced) to the project, new or old, and now up to five per household.
The deadline for delivery of tiles to reception at the Town Council has been extended to Friday, August 13.
The mural idea is a way of bringing a whole lot of local ‘stories’ together in a patchwork or mosaic, says Rich.
Pictured is a sample from selected tiles already received.

Alan Page: Volunteer extraordinaire

It seems like a lifetime ago when Alan Page was my back door neighbour back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s.
We don’t see much of each other these days but I managed to catch up with him last weekend to talk about his work behind the scenes of Speedway, Motocross and of course, the Finke Desert Race.
As spectators, we usually turn up to watch the events, have a good time and then go home. We don’t really think about such things as who puts up the signage, who marks the course and who takes it all down again. Quite often the massive contribution of behind-the-scenes volunteers is un-noticed and Alan is one of many.
A young 17 year old, Alan Page was a “bank jonnie” for the ES and A and was transferred to Alice Springs in 1971. By 1973, he’d left the bank to work with a fire extinguisher company which ultimately led him to becoming a Fire Crew member at Arunga Park Speedway. Originally the Fire Crew used to cook the barbeque at the clubrooms after the night’s racing. As Alan puts it: “We worked all night as a Fire Crew and then at the end of the night lit one up”!
He spent 10 years as a member of the Fire Crew before moving across to the start/finish line as the Assistant Starter. He still holds this position now which makes him one of the longest serving volunteers at Arunga Park – a total of 38 years.
Newcomers to speedway may not be aware that originally, the track was unfenced and Alan’s voluntary work commenced just before the wall was built. Once the wall was completed, a control tower was erected on the western side of the track, with the competitor’s exit gate in the middle of the southern corner and the entry gate where it is today.
With the pits and control tower being on opposite sides of the track, communication between the two was often difficult. At the time, it was limited to small two-way radios which were not very powerful and the batteries usually died after the first few races. For the tower officials, it became a game of “wait and see what comes onto the track” before they could make any announcements to the crowd.
Alan is also involved in Motocross. He began competing in the less-serious events such as “Hare and Hounds” and “Mexican Motocross” events (similar to today’s “Pony Express” races) in the early ‘70s  when motocross was conducted at the rear of the speedway track at Arunga Park. These days Alan has filled the position of Treasurer for the past two years and Starter for approximately five years. He also spends a great deal of time, along with others, marking the tracks for the enduro race weekends such as Deep Well and Tilmouth Well.
These are usually a four day weekend for Alan and his off-sider John Mudge. On the Friday they load all of the necessary equipment onto Alan’s trailer along with their quad bikes. This usually consists of tents, chairs, bunting, generators, signage and PA systems.
Arriving at their destination early on Saturday morning, they spend the next three to four hours marking the track. This involves riding the circuit on their quads whilst constantly stopping and starting to put up signage in sharp corners and danger points and tying ribbon markers in the trees. The track distance is usually 30 to 40 kilometres long with a 10 kilometre junior track on the inside. There are usually a couple of extra riders from the club to give a hand. 
On race day John patrols the far end of the track, while Alan stays around the pit area. John has a high powered UHF radio on his quad enabling him to stay in contact with the pit area.
The sweep riders have radios as well but at times they’re unable to contact race control. If this situation arises, they get a message to John who then relays it back to the officials.
Sunday sees Alan and John pulling all the signage down and packing all the equipment back onto the trailer before heading back to Alice Springs. They arrive home well into the night and then spend the next day returning all of the equipment to its rightful owners.
Alan has also been a volunteer for the Finke Desert Race. Although he missed the very first one he hasn’t missed one since.
He spent 26 years as the sweep between Bundooma and Finke and the past seven years calling numbers on the Bundooma check point.  He also assists with track marking and has done so for 33 years.
In the early days of the race, there were only two sweeps for the entire length of the track. Ralph Tice would sweep between the start line and Bundooma, and Alan would sweep between Bundooma and Finke.
Sometimes the sweeps would be several hours behind the riders due to having to tow a large trailer to load any broken bikes along the way.
In those days there was only one fuel stop, which was also at Bundooma, and Alan recalls carting his own gear for the three days along with 32 jerry cans of fuel for various riders and half a dozen cartons of grog for the fettler’s camp and the old Toyota was sitting very low at the back! Because there was only one fuel stop, some of the competitors had very odd-looking fuel tanks – for example, an old Victa lawnmower tank strapped on in place of the headlight, to feed extra fuel into the tank.
Over the Easter weekend, Alan and John Mudge marked three quarters of the track over a four day period on their quads.
They complete about seven or eight kilometres at a time, making sure the signs are pointing in the right direction, replacing damaged ones and putting new stickers in place of faded ones. Alan reckons there are about 5000 signs all up and it’s much easier on the quads compared to getting in and out of a car.
As well as track marking, Alan has been happy to sit on the check point with a pair of binoculars stuck to his head calling numbers at Bundooma for the past seven years. Technology has enhanced things a lot and the satellite dishes and computers don’t compare with the UHF radios of the past. These days, as the numbers are being called, someone’s typing them up and emailing them back to race control.
In between all of these interests, Alan is also currently scanning speedway and motocross negatives whenever he has a bit of spare time.
These photos were taken by the late Les Taylor who spent many years as the official speedway and motocross photographer. They are deteriorating with time but good software has counteracted some of the damage.
Alan has nine lever-arch folders containing an estimated 40,000 negatives, and has completed three folders so far over the past 18 months. He has separated them into groups of speedway, motocross and the 1976 to 1982 Finke Desert Races.
He has processed 360 negatives of the 1982 Finke Desert Race – some of them depicting past riders who now have sons riding in the same race.
Alan’s keen to record this local history before it’s too late and the finished result will be digital copies preserved for all to look back on and enjoy.
As well, Alan is still involved with the Youth Centre, coaching gymnastics four nights a week. He retired from paid work four years ago but says he’s not a good sit-down type of spectator – he’d much rather be doing something constructive!
One of Alan’s favourite sayings is, “If you want something done ask a busy person” – he sure fits the bill.

NANCARROW ARROW: Statutory declaration – letting the town down.

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Statue who?
Is statue knocking on my door?
I know the joke is bad, I wrote it, but after all these years I still remember that gag as one of the first I used on someone else. It’s timeless and classic, even if it is a bit dodgy.
I don’t know if the same thing can be said about the proposed statue being plonked on the council lawns. Mainly because I know stuff all about it, which is the way it was supposed to be according to some sources.
What’s the go here, Rex and Damo doing a deal with the Sheik from Barrow Creek and not letting us in on the drum?
I’m not going to go into the business of respect (or lack of it) for the Traditional Owners, plenty of folk seemed to have jumped on that particular band wagon without me adding to it. 
Nor will I side with the pioneer recognition people. I reckon both sides have a fair argument and I don’t have a beef with either. What I do have a problem with is the way the issue has been handled.
No matter how noble the intent, the lack of consultation with the community on a subject that was guaranteed to be controversial shows a lack of respect for all stakeholders.
I like statues and art in general. As a kid I remember taking the train into Adelaide central station and seeing the bloke on horse statue at the top of the ramp and being impressed.
A bit further along North Terrace is the war memorial statue, a giant angel with a huge sword covering its naughty bits. (I must admit the sword confused me a bit. I was yet to find out the role of angels as “smiters of people who don’t agree with us”. I thought they were tinkly and sweet, not sword-wielding mad buggers.)
In any case it was very impressive on a large scale because the space allowed it to be. It fitted in, it looked like it belonged.
As a town we are quite conservative when it comes to change. The Melanka development comes to mind. When the tallest building in the world is 828 meters high, we have a fierce debate about the aesthetics of a five storey accommodation block which is desperately needed to alleviate the pressure on the housing market. 
In my mind, no contest. Anything built there is going to be better than what was there before. But the point was there was an opportunity to comment, to be involved in the process. That’s democracy, you don’t always get your way but you do get a say. That’s why the sneakiness of this is so wrong.
A statue of that scale (five metres) does not fit in the space of a town this size, it will loom over us all and quite frankly I think it will take something away from us as a community.
It will be a point of division, should people wish to make it so, and it puts us into two groups – those who were here first and those who came later.
I have had issue with various groups espousing their opinions as valid and necessary in the past. Opinions are like bottoms, we all have one but I don’t necessarily want to hear yours.
If you want to make a difference, run for office and take all the responsibility and rubbish that goes with it, rather than shout comments from the sidelines. It’s not an easy job and I respect the juggling act that has to happen in order to have any outcomes at all.
However, by not allowing public debate on this issue I feel we have been let down by our elected officials and this baby isn’t going to go away in a hurry. Nice one guys.  

LETTERS: Statue fiasco has led to ‘confrontation, distrust’.

Sir – Like many in Alice, I was shocked at the sudden decision to erect a statue on the Town Council lawns.  Not only do I not remember ever attending a council meeting where this was discussed, but I don’t recall even seeing the idea on an agenda.
From the Alice Springs News we learn that a confidential meeting was held months ago, and the decisions taken were kept secret until it was too late to do anything about them. 
Now the CEO is reduced to defending Council’s decision to by-pass its own advisory committee by arguing the toss between ‘should’ and ‘shall’.
This whole exercise is looming as one of the more shameful episodes in the history of the Alice Springs Town Council.
Like many of those attending Council’s July meeting, I assumed the haste to get this statue up was due to an important date in our yearlong celebration of John McDouall Stuart’s original trek through the Centre. 
That excuse would have barely cut it, but now we learn that Alice Springs is to be visited by the Grand Master of a fraternal society, and his itinerary was apparently deemed more important than Council procedure. 
The tragedy is that all this confrontation, and now distrust, could have been avoided. 
A statue park is a good idea, or it would have been had it arrived through a process of open consultation.
The question that now, unfortunately, has to be asked is has there been a conflict of interest?  Were there any Masons among the aldermen and senior council officers at that confidential meeting?  If there were, did they declare an interest and excuse themselves from the debate? 
Or is there any point in asking?  When a boys’ club meets a council hiding from its own constituents, conflicts of interest are probably the last thing on anyone’s mind. 
And as long as no one blabs, who’s to know? 
Hal Duell
Alice Springs
ED – A question about conflict of interest was asked at last Friday’s public meeting. Deputy Mayor Brendan Heenan said he was not a Mason but he could not answer for other people. No other councillor, elected or official, responded to the question.

Committee of ‘anti
white extremists’?

Sir – This is a copy of a letter I sent to the Mayor and aldermen about my disgust over the statue.
I request that Council dissolve immediately the Arts committee [Public Art Advisory Committee] due to the inappropriate actions of a select few who intentionally used their positions on the committee to promote their extremist views of racial division within Alice Springs.
References made by protesters at the [public] meeting [of the committee last Friday] that offended the decent people of Alice Springs were:
• racially based insults against white Australians;
• accusations that were intended to bring about racial division within our community.
This type of politicisation of the committee process must be brought to an immediate halt. 
It depicts all the hallmarks of an organised and orchestrated coup by a political lobby group. 
The committee is guilty of the deliberate and intentional manipulation of their positions to publicly force Council to adhere to their own personal racial viewpoints.  This type of behaviour is not acceptable by the general population.
Those who would seek nomination to be on this or any other committee must at all times work within guidelines that contain what is in the best interest of public good. 
In this instance the Art Committee should have at all times addressed the issue of Arts and not promoted itself as anti-white extremists.  
It is clear that certain members of the committee have intentionally used their positions to stand on a lobbying platform to discredit Council and bring about social unrest based on race.
Committee nomination by individuals is about being part of the process and assisting elected members with information regarding community needs. 
Janet Brown
Alice Springs
ED – We offered public members of the committee right of reply:–
A wide spectrum of community members attended the meeting on Friday to receive information about the proposed John McDouall Stuart statue from the Mayor and ASTC CEO Rex Mooney.
People also came to listen to the PAAC discuss the matter further and to share with the Mayor and the PAAC their views on the proposed statue. A dossier of letters from the public expressing reservations about the statue was tabled at the meeting.
We do not share Mrs Brown’s perception of the meeting and refute her many accusations. It is not true that the PAAC has “promoted itself as anti-white extremists”, nor that any concerns about ASTC process and policy raised by the PAAC are related to any political lobby group.
What we observed in the room on Friday was a call from the community to the Council to follow its own policy, a desire for the shared and layered history of Alice Springs to be represented in public artworks and a concern to find bridges between differing points of view so that we might move forward to a non-controversial solution to the question of where the Stuart statue should best be placed.
We asked the Council to delay construction of the statue and consult with the PAAC in their efforts to find such a solution.
We take heart from council’s comment that a decision such as was made by ASTC to accept the statue from the Freemasons without taking advice from the PAAC would not be made in such a way again.
Alice Springs is uniquely placed to become a leading location for properly developed public art – art that engages the rich history of this nation and showcases the stories and remarkable art-making talents and skills of our local community. We look forward to assisting this future for the town.
Marilena Hippis, Diana Macmullin, Dr Lisa Stefanoff, Andrew Broffman
Public Members PAAC (Additional Public Members, Janey Abott and Lorraine King, were unavailable for comment on Mrs Brown’s letter on the weekend.)

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