October 21, 2010. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

To our home page.

Ayers Rock Resort: Lots of jobs for locals. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Jobs and training, new economic opportunities for the residents of Mutitjulu, Imanpa and Kaltukatjara (Docker River), as well as the promotion of Anangu culture, are the aim of the communities’ involvement in the acquisition of the Ayers Rock Resort.
Through their company, Wana Unkunytja, the communities gained a 7% stake in the resort following its purchase last week by the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC).
They are unlikely to earn dividends from their share for another 10 years – the time it will take for ILC to recoup its $300m investment – but the employment and training opportunities can start immediately.
Chair of the Wana Unkunytja board, Margaret Smith, and four other board members went with CEO Matthew Ellem to Sydney last Friday for the final signing off on the deal between ILC and former resort owners, General Property Trust.
In her speech on the occasion Mrs Smith emphasised the focus on employment and enterprise: “When the resort was put up for sale we wanted to work with an organisation that shares our vision of Indigenous employment and enterprise generation.
“We know that jobs for Anangu and all Indigenous Australians is why the ILC has made this investment.”
There are more jobs at the resort than the populations of the three communities can fill (and in any case some residents work in other roles, on their communities and in the national park).
Numbers are a little fluid, but Kaltukatjara has around 300 residents, Mutitjulu around 200, and Imanpa, 150 – 650 all up, with around half under the age of 20.
At present the resort employs 670 staff and and in the past has employed up to 1000.
The partnership of Wana Unkunytja and the ILC has set a target of 200 Indigenous employees by 2015, growing to 340  by 2018 – more than 50%. At present Indigenous employees make up 1% of the resort workforce, with none coming from the three nearby Anangu communities.
Training will be delivered through the National Indigenous Tourism Academy, which ILC will establish at Yulara through their Sydney-based National Centre for Indigenous Excellence.
It is intended that 200 Indigenous people will be in training at the academy each year from 2013.
CEO of Wana Unkunytja, Matthew Ellem, is enthusiastic about the ILC’s employment and training strategy as the kind of structured approach necessary to make a breakthrough.
But he says Wana Unkunytja will be looking at setting up contracts that could be operated by community residents in the immediate future. 
Landscaping for the resort grounds is one such possibility.
Another is for Anangu Tours to offer visitor experiences at the resort, such as campfire tours, painting workshops, inma performance.
Maraku Arts and Crafts and Walkatjara Art, which both operate at the Cultural Centre in the national park, could expand to the resort as well.
“A couple of years ago kids from Nyangatjatjara College were painting in the market square at the resort every Wednesday – there’s no reason why things like that can’t happen again.
“The atmosphere at the resort will change, there’ll be a different vibe,” says Mr Ellem.
Further down the track, it might be possible to set up a commercial laundry at Mutitjulu, using the same type of work pool arrangements that have been successful for Anangu Tours.
The 15 year old Aboriginal tourism company, based at The Rock, employs a pool of 20 local guides, who between them conduct four tours a day, 28 a week.
Only in exceptional circumstances have guides not been available for scheduled tours, says Mr Ellem.
Programs at Nyangatjatjara College will be integrated with the Tourism Academy, says Mr Ellem.
In recent years the college, which has been operating on campuses in the three communities, has not had a high enough attendance to attract funding for programs at the boarding facility.
The facility has been used by Anangu Jobs, in partnership with CDU, for training adults, as well as by other Aboriginal organisations for staff training and in-services.
Mr Ellem says next year it is intended to get some of the college students involved in inter-generational learning, alongside their adult relatives, doing Certificate I in tourism, for example.
He also hopes that attendance will build to allow the boarding facility to function as it was originally intended.
The Alice News asked Mr Ellem about the record of the college in getting work experience and traineeships for students.
As Mrs Smith said in her speech: “We want our young ones to be able to walk both ways – to know their own language and culture and to be able to understand and participate in whitefella ways.”
The hopes have long been there but how will the new regime manage to have any greater success? 
He said a member of staff at the Outback Pioneer Inn in 2002-03 had been very committed to training local people; four trainees had started and were making good progress but when the member of staff left, the program foundered.
He says Indigenous employment was a secondary goal for Voyages, whereas it will be a primary goal for ILC and Wana Unkunytja.
The News asked Mr Ellem about Wana Unkunytja’s own record of employment of Anangu in their various businesses.
He responded as follows:
• Anangu Tours – predominantly Anangu staff;
• Triple A Accounting – no Anangu employed at present, some have been in the past, a trainee will be put on next year;
• Uluru Autos – none, though the dream was to have apprenticeships for Anangu and perhaps these will come about through the academy;
• the community store at Kaltukatjara – three permanent casual staff are Anangu working regular hours, and one school student is doing two hours each afternoon with a view to starting a school-based apprenticeship next year.
This situation at the store is an improvement on last year when Anangu were only doing jobs like shelf-stacking on a very casual basis. This is because the new store manager is “better at working with Anangu,” says Mr Ellem.
It’s the perfect example of why he so welcomes the creation of the training academy – “so that progress won’t depend on the good will of one or two managers”.
Anangu Jobs, also one of the Wana Unkunytja group, employs three Anangu staff, two Arrernte and three non-Indigenous. It has the job services provider contract for each of the three communities.  Its star ratings – a national scheme measuring the relative success of the providers in achieving employment and education for their job seekers – show it to be competitive or better than other providers here.
It earned three stars at Kaltukatjara and four at Mutitjulu.
Imanpa top scored with five stars. Residents are employed at the Mount Ebenezer roadhouse (six artists paint on site), at Angas Downs in land management jobs (the community is also developing a tourism plan for the property), in the store (operated by Outback Stores), in shire jobs, and health and aged care jobs.This year over 100 people have been through training, including business and construction.
The last was to prepare people for work with SIHIP. Mr Ellem is disappointed that SIHIP is so focussed on speed that none of the trainees have been engaged, but it is hoped that they may be employed to do  maintenance in future and certainly they have the skills now to do maintenance on their own houses.

Land council deputy: no record or penalty. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Gina Smith, Deputy Chair of the Central Land Council, has pleaded guilty to an aggravated assault charge, but no conviction was recorded, nor penalty applied.
Two other charges against Mrs Smith were withdrawn. Magistrate John Neill said that the assault was at “the very lowest end of the scale”, but he would not find that the offence was trivial.
He said: “You behaved badly, publicly and struck out at your husband whose only offence as near as I can tell ... was to seek to protect you from yourself.”
Mrs Smith’s husband was in court to support her. The case was brought to a conclusion in the Tennant Creek Magistrates Court on October 8.
The offence occurred in Tennant Creek on December 30 last year.  Mrs Smith was intoxicated and got into an argument with a patron at the Memorial Club. Her husband grabbed her around her body and escorted her from the premises. Police went to their home where the couple were arguing.  Mrs Smith told police to leave the property, pointing her finger in their faces. Her husband again grabbed her by the arms, urging her to calm down.
She raised her knee and struck him in the nose, causing it to bleed. After this she was placed in protective custody and told that she would be summonsed. The prosecution accepted that it was “one quick blow that caused a slight injury”.
They also accepted that Mrs Smith is of good character. The lawyer representing her had said she was “of excellent character”: “She’s a contributing member in society both here, in Tennant Creek, Barkly region, and also Central Australia” and she had “a consistent work history”.
Mr Neill said: “It’s one of the drawbacks of having a high profile and being a successful public figure that people in many ways are less forgiving if you have a fall from grace than if you are somebody who doesn’t have a good character.
“So I simply urge you to be aware of how easily this relatively minor piece of offending could have been more major if you had hurt your husband more seriously. Alcohol makes fools of us all. Learn that lesson too.”

Child protection fiasco tortures most vulnerable. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

In a litany of heart-wrenching misery the report into the NT child protection system says Territory children “are more likely to be exposed to various forms of harm such as family violence, alcohol and drug abuse, physical and sexual abuse and neglect ... to alcohol in utero, to contract otitis media with the resulting hearing loss, to be anaemic, and to experience the impact of developmental trauma.
“Alarming numbers of children in remote areas do not attend school or only do so episodically, and their achievement levels are far below minimum acceptable standards.
“In many areas, children wander aimlessly around communities and become involved in dangerous or illegal activities.
“As one paediatrician commented, in the Northern Territory we see ‘the normalisation of the abnormal’.”
The NT Government commissioned report says children in remote areas are more likely to have health and addiction problems, to be living in crowded and unhygienic housing conditions, and to be reliant on welfare benefits.
“Compared to the rest of Australia, the number of young, single women having children without the skills or resources to provide for their safety and wellbeing is alarmingly high.
“Older women are being asked to assume the child rearing tasks that usually fall to parents as so many of the latter are affected by alcohol and other drugs.
“Many parents told us that they need help with parenting skills, and are losing the ability to appropriately discipline their children.”
The inquiry says statutory child protection system is overwhelmed by the demand on its services, understaffed and under-resourced, plagued by very high turnover rates, defensive after having been subject to numerous public complaints, audits and investigations, in conflict with key stakeholders, uncertain about its role, beset by internal stresses, and struggling to meet even the most basic expectations.
“For example, the public would naturally expect that when they believe a child is being harmed and report this to the agency, the matter will be investigated speedily and effectively.
“This has not been the case for some time in many service delivery areas.
“At the end of June there were over 870 children who had been reported to be ‘at-risk’ who were awaiting a formal investigation by Northern Territory Families and Children (NTFC).”
The report confirms the importance of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle and makes a string of recommendations to improve the system dealing with children needing to be removed from their immediate families.
“Many gaps and limits in care provision and support systems for foster carers were identified.
“In the absence of a strong family support sector, child protection services have been expected to respond to a range of concerns and reports about child wellbeing, family difficulties and entrenched community problems rather than responding to reports of harm and injuries to children.
“The result is that these services struggle to do both tasks and have not been able to do either very well.”
Aboriginal children constitute 43.3% of the children in the Northern Territory but make up 74% of the population of children in care.
NTFC relies heavily on foster care with the majority (64%) of children placed in this type of care, while another 22% are placed with kin and relatives.
“The Inquiry heard again and again the now ‘common knowledge’ that children in remote Aboriginal communities live with inadequate housing, nutrition, education and safety.
“It is not surprising then that children subject to child protection concerns in the NT are more likely to live in families with poor diets, in overcrowded and substandard housing, engage inadequately with schooling and live in communities where poor health, violence, alcoholism and drug abuse is common and where basic safety needs are not met.”
So far as the department’s staff is concerned, “the examples and stories about commitment, burden, burnout, stress, bullying and exhaustion provided unqualified evidence of a non viable system.”
The Inquiry proposes radical alterations to the way the current system of out-of-home-care operates in the Northern Territory “and the recommendations capture this imperative for change, including recruitment and training of further workers, in order to address serious staffing shortages and workload concerns”.
The inquiry is making 147 recommendations.
Chief Minister Paul Henderson this week announced that “major reform and restructuring” will begin immediately in six key reform areas, backed by a $130 million additional funding injection over five years, overseen by a cross-agency Child Protection Reform Steering Committee.
The Department of Health and Families will be divided into two agencies, with a new department dedicated to child safety and wellbeing, reporting directly to the Minister through its own Chief Executive.
Ten interstate and overseas experienced child protection workers will begin immediately.
Mr Henderson says an additional 42 professional child protection workers will also be recruited on top of the 76 frontline and support workers announced earlier this year in the “$14.7 million child protection worker drive”.
New Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley, and CL spokesperson on children and families issues, says NT Minister Kon Vatskalis is “peddling the same untruths and denials that have contributed to the breakdown of the system under a decade of Labor rule.
“The Minister’s assertion that the Government spends $135million a year on child protection services is as deceptive as it is cruel.
“The Territory budget clearly shows, the Government spends $31.1million a year on child protection services.”
Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says while “state and territory governments are responsible for statutory child protection” her government will:-
• spend an additional $34 million to protect children from neglect and abuse;
• implement a system where NT child protection authorities recommend to Centrelink that a family’s welfare payments can be income managed if that’s in the interest of the child. Up to 70% of a parents’ welfare payments can be income managed.
• an extra $25 million to improve support for families recommended for child protection income management;
• around 100 additional community-based family support workers;
• five Children and Family Centres by 2012.
• an extra $7.6 million over two years for a new mobile child protection team and additional remote workers;
• $1.5m to expand the ID card technology to ensure alcohol restrictions can be enforced.
Ms Macklin says the latest six-monthly report on the Emergency Response – the Intervention – “demonstrates improved services to children and families, particularly in remote parts of the NT.
“Over the last couple of years, we have committed an additional $1.2 billion to the Emergency Response and during that time we’ve delivered an extra 62 police, 80 night patrols in remote communities, for children who are at school every day there are around 7000 meals delivered to them each school day, there are now 22 safe houses in communities, child health checks have been conducted and just as importantly there have been 19,000 follow-up specialist services for children after they’ve had their initial health checks”.
The NT Law Society’s Matthew Storey says the inquiry seems to have focused on the form rather than the substance of decision making.
Children must have an “articulate and independent voice in decisions about their welfare.
“This is what an independent child representative does.”

Driving offences skyrocket: Bad drivers or more police? By KIERAN FINNANE.

In the six years from 2003 to 2009 driving offences in the NT jumped by 250%.
The big hike in numbers came in 2006-07, going from 10,249 to 18,843, then steadily rising to 25,279 in 2008-09, compared to 10,308 in 2003-04.
Are Territorians becoming ever worse behind the wheel or is it that driving offences are being more stringently policed?
It appears the latter is the case, according to Thalia Anthony from the University of Technology in Sydney, who spoke recently at a criminology conference in Alice Springs.
And she argues that that Indigenous communities in the areas prescribed by the Federal Intervention are bearing the brunt.
She says while child sexual abuse triggered the Intervention in the NT, crime statistics show that sexual offences flatlined in the six years 2003-09, while aggregate driving offences skyrocketed.
The Intervention put more police into remote communities but their activities have resulted in more prosecutions in the public rather than in the private realm, says Dr Anthony.
Police do not back away from their attempts to make roads in the Territory safer for everyone, says Acting Superintendent Travis Wurst, at present in charge of policing in remote communities in the Southern region.
He says fatalities on Territory roads are much higher than the national average, reaching a shocking high in 2008, with 75 deaths, but dropping to 31 in 2009, and to date this year, 37.
With the Intervention starting in mid-2007, the peak and then the drop, which looks like being sustained this year, has occurred within the period of the Intervention.
The decline can probably be attributed to the increased presence of police in remote communities and their determination to bring people to account while the road toll is so high, says A/Supt Wurst.
He says the Southern region unfortunately contributes a disproportionate 50% of the Territory’s road fatalities and police will therefore continue to focus on roads, especially drink-driving, with alcohol a factor in 48% of fatalities.
Dr Anthony says many of the prosecuted driving offences concern victimless crime – driving unlicensed, uninsured and unregistered.
There are also regulatory offences (such as driving on the wrong side of the road, not wearing a seatbelt, failing to stop or give way) and, in comparison to all of these, few dangerous driving offences.
A/Supt Wurst says while police have a certain level of discretion in relation to minor driving offences, they do take, as with drink-driving, a “zero tolerance” attitude towards not wearing a seatbelt because it too is an important factor contributing to road deaths.
He also says that the majority of drivers on remote communities have licences, register their cars and are compliant with road rules.
Dr Anthony says it is easy to detect and prosecute the less serious driving offences. With no requirement for witnesses, most go straight to plea, conviction and sentencing.
Almost a quarter of the offenders in Northern Territory prisons over the course of the year are there for driving-related offences. Their terms of imprisonment are two to three months.
Dr Anthony reports this against the backdrop of the NT prison rate increasing faster than any other state or territory since the Intervention, rising 23% between 2006 and 2009 –16% above the Australian average over the same period –  with 82% of the prison population being Indigenous.
A/Supt Wurst says it is unlikely that people are in prison for minor driving offences; the sentences would be for drink driving or more serious offending.
Dr Anthony points out that while incarceration rates have been high and increasing for Indigenous people in the NT, there has not been an increase in the proportion of Indigenous people in prison.
“Despite special measures to increase policing in Northern Territory Indigenous communities, there was no evidence to show more Indigenous offending resulting in imprisonment compared to non-Indigenous offending resulting in imprisonment.”
Dr Anthony questions the fairness of increased policing without a corresponding provision of increased services on remote communities for driving instruction, awarding licences, registering and inspecting vehicles.
A/Supt Wurst says police stations allocate one full eight-hour day per fortnight to providing driving-related services to community residents and make “every effort” to travel regularly to the smaller communities within their service areas.
The Alice News asked Dr Anthony whether rigorous policing of minor offending could help prevent more serious offending.
She doubts it.
She says when she talks to Indigenous people about driving offences, they express confusion over regulations and penalties.
In this regard, they need better legal services, to explain more effectively how the law and its penalties work, she says.
The News asked her whether she had a breakdown of figures, showing where offending occurred – how much of it was occurring on major roads leading into urban centres.
She said a lot was occurring on highways, which have been patrolled since 2006, and in town.
She suggested that the prohibition of drinking in prescribed areas, some of which are very large, has led to more driving on major roads.
A/Supt Wurst says: “The police focus on highways is to ensure all road users adhere to the Territory road rules and drive within their means in the Territory conditions. 
“This is particularly the case when considering the large number of tourists that use our remote highways. 
“Unfortunately, two recent accidents on the Lasseters Highway highlight the need for this ongoing commitment by police to ensuring safety, particularly of tourists, on our roads.”
With regard to the prohibition on drinking, A/Supt Wurst notes that alcohol was banned in remote communities prior to the Intervention. He acknowledges that in some cases the prescribed areas have increased the alcohol restricted areas.
For example at Ntaria people who choose to drink, instead of going about five kms from the community, now go about 30 kms to the boundary of the prescribed area.
But he says this “has not necessarily increased the number of cars on the road”.
He says roads are getting better which means vehicles are lasting longer in remote areas and more people may have access to these vehicles: “This has little to do with the Intervention.”

Booze litter deadlock. By KIERAN FINNANE.

A confidential mediation between the Town Council and Yeperenye Pty Ltd as well as a number of other owners of takeaway liquor premises was held last Thursday before the Registrar of the Supreme Court in Alice Springs.
Lawyer acting for Yeperenye and others, Peer Schroter, said the purpose of the mediation was to explore possible settlement of the court proceedings in which his clients are contesting charges by the council for cleaning up litter in public places, about half of it takeaway liquor containers.
The council is not proceeding with the charge in this financial year, now that the NT Government has promised a Territory-wide container deposit scheme by late next year.
However, the council has refused to rescind the charge imposed last financial year.
Of the mediation Mr Schroter said that “unfortunately the parties were unable to reach an agreement and accordingly it appears that the matter will proceed to trial”.
Council CEO Rex Mooney said the mediation was convened “by court order” but declined to comment further.
A trial date has been set for 16 December in Darwin before Chief Justice Trevor Riley.

They’re keen and they’re mean.

Keen, mean and ready to roll are, from left, Donna Matrix, BethWish, Raging Ruby, Isla Tack, Axle Sparx, Erin Blockerbitch, Ram Bam, Bulldosie, Little Miss Sew&Sew, and A & S.
Roller Derby is the name of their game. It’s a full contact women’s sport played on quad roller skates, the fastest growing women’s sport in Australia, according to Ms Sparx. It’s just starting in Alice, but the rollergirls are taking it seriously, training three times a week, working towards their first “White Star Assessment” – the minimum skills test. They’re hoping to have their first public games mid next year.
Ms Sparx says a league is also starting in Darwin, with the Alice girls planning to take them on in some intra-NT games.
Getting into the spirit they’ve planned a Rockabilly Rolla Round Up this Saturday at Monte’s Bar.
Says Ms Sparx: “All you greasers and molls should set yr heels on fire ‘n’ git on down to Monte’s bar ‘n’ diner for a Saturday night of roller derby inspired good times!
“Get yr hair curlers out and yr brill cream in, bobby socks on and yr tight-arse off and come throw some dollars around at the Malice Springs Roller Derby League cash-raiser number two!”
There’ll be top-class roller derby flicks, hula-hooping, whip cracking, tricks on skates, a raffle, DJs and dancing, chilli dogs, popcorn, sundaes and spiders available at the diner, soda pop and cherry vodka cocktails flowing at the bar.
They’ll have their glad rags and skates on – what about you?
On the serious side, the girls are looking for a new practice venue. At present they’re using the rink at the Alice Springs Youth Centre but the surface is rough unpolished concrete – and  they’ve got the skin off to prove it.

Nature inspires in Miss Pink’s garden. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The infinite variety of form and pattern in Nature has provided inspiration for a group of local artists and craftspeople whose work is showing in the exhibition room at  Olive Pink Botanic Garden.
There’s everything from woollen socks in wonderful colours and textures, to finely wrought silver jewellery, passing by delicate papier mache, deftly turned wood, richly coloured felting, and well-observed drawings and prints.
Some have taken their cues from the images in two books by Rob Kessler and Wolfgang Stuppy, Seeds – Time Capsules of Life, and  Fruit –  Edible, Inedible, Incredible, copies of which are available for reference. 
Others have been prompted by the natural objects and creatures more immediately around them.
With 16 people involved –  “an informal network of craftspeople, from the old Bent and Twisted mob and market stallholders” – there should possibly have been more exhibits, but there’s enough here to charm and you can extend your visit outside, with Nature’s own show.  – Kieran Finnane

Desert trip of a lifetime. By DICK KIMBER.

The entire country was burgeoning with life in all of its forms and colours when, with long-term friend Joc’ Schmiechen (a gourmet bush cook!), his brother Tom and four SA wilderness scientists we crossed the Simpson Desert in early September. 
We travelled south of the Alice to Dalhousie Springs (northern SA), then across the French Line (named for a French oil exploration company’s uncapped road of the 1960s over hundreds of sandhills) and, when four days into the journey, turned south to the Kallakoopah Creek country.  (The Kallakoopah links with the Macumba and Warburton and flows into northern Lake Eyre). 
I doubt that any living person other than ourselves and others who are travelling the Simpson this year has traversed the heart of the Desert in a more remarkable season, and had there been a little more rain after the considerable falls of this year in general and the first two days in particular we would not have made it. 
(As it was, one of the vehicles became bogged several times in claypan country and had to be snatched out by the others). 
There was water in the western gibber country, great shallow lakes and gilgais full where last year everything was bone dry; claypans full to overflowing and further great shallow lakes in the sandhill swales, and a flowing Kallakoopah Creek, with swans and ducks, stilts and dotterals, and in the fringing low bushes large numbers of handsome little Orange Chats. 
A pair of pelicans flew overhead, indicating that there were no fish where we stopped. 
Throughout the sandhill country, which gradually changes in colour from red to pink to white (the latter along the brackish Kallakoopah), there were plants of all desert kinds flourishing, covering the sandhills and all of the land that wasn’t under water. 
Almost waist-high green Ptilotus grew in remarkable masses for hundreds of kilometres, nearly “drowning” the cane-grass, so much so that we had to push hard to get through it while walking.  There were other vividly coloured wild-flowers as far as the eye could see along many of the sandhills – vastnesses of yellow, huge masses of poached-egg daisies, immense swathes of white, purples and golds. 
Trees and bushes that were dying last year included some that were dead, but the majority were remarkably recovering, and there was an “electric” nature in the vivid intensity of some of the greens. 
Even the normally sedate grey gidgee was park-like and almost dancing, and long-dead branches lying on the ground provided us with the best firewood one can ever have in the Centre. 
Every day, right out in the sandhill country – where an acquaintance who worked “out there” in 40-60 degrees heat in the mid 1960s only recalled seeing one small bird in months – there were flights of budgerigars flashing by, flocks of Zebra Finches, the regular flash of red of Crimson Chats, flocks of Cockatiels and Peaceful Doves, Brown Songlarks ever and again soaring and singing, and at every camp a Willie Wagtail. 
Other birds such as Masked Wood-swallows and Fairy Martins were less common, but still often seen and there were others fleetingly seen, or less common still, like Black Kites, Brown Falcons, Crows and Crested Bell-birds. 
At the Kallakoopah I found a Wedge-tailed Eagle’s nest only two metres off the ground in a relatively rare coolabah (it is too salty for them along most of the Kallakoopah) with two eggs and a freshly killed native Long Haired rat, also known as the Plague rat because it has been known to reach plague proportions. 
I would not be surprised if there is a plague of them before the year is out, for I saw plentiful tracks in the nearby sandhill country, but this was the first one caught by the Wedgie in a long time; all about the base of the tree, an adjoining tree and a fallen dead roosting tree were rabbit skulls and rabbit bones. 
We saw fresh dingo tracks every day but they were not common, and surprisingly to me, in almost 800 kms of travel all told in the desert, I only noticed two fresh camel tracks along with a few old ones, and only a few old emu tracks and no bush turkey tracks (though Joc and I had seen one bustard near Mount Dare). 
Grasshoppers were present in small numbers compared with the millions in the period March-June, the flies were noticeable by their nearly total absence, and there were no mossies. 
And though I had seen stone tools in the vicinity of waters in the early gibber country between Dalhousie Springs and Purnie Bore, and knew that archaeologist Mike Smith had observed plentiful Aboriginal stone tools at another part of the Kallakoopah and Joc had also seen some last year, I only observed a solitary stone flake near the Kallakoopah. 
Presumably our two stops near this creek were at places too salty for human use. 
The vastness of land and sky was a constant, as was the dew on our swags each morning and the sense of revelation as we crested each sandhill.  The seeds must lie dormant in zillions and zillions for such an astounding transformation to occur. 
Although I have been privileged to witness both the withering droughts and these occasional giant paint-brush strokes in the desert landscapes since 1970, I have never before seen the sandhill country so dramatically springing and singing with life and a brilliance of colours.  
Tom Schmiechen, who first led a tourist group across the same route in the very wet 1981 season, and who with his brother Joc had crossed it last year when it was the driest year on record,  had also never seen the desert in such a vastness of plant growth and vivid colours.  
We left the white sand Kallakoopah country, via the salt lake country about a replica of Poeppel’s mid-1880s surveyor marker peg. 
Red sandhills again dominated as we entered the eastern Simpson, with park-like gidgee stands in swale after swale, and flashes of wild-flowers now, rather than immensities of them.  A large swamp prevented the usual direct route to the sandhill known as Big Red, but soon we crested it in 2WD, so compacted by recent rain was the sand. 
The view was breath-taking. 
From Big Red to the next sandhill was a huge coffee coloured lake, the largest in the memory of one of the oldest Birdsville residents’ memories. 
NEXT WEEK: What a birdlife bonanza!

Oopsy, I have upset someone.

My column drew its first letter from an angry reader last week (October 14).
It included, let me see, I’ve got a copy here, ah yes, “as misleading a heap of emotional scaremongering garbage as I’ve ever read”. Wow!
I knew the bit about dog waste in a toddler’s drinking water would shock, that was the point and yes I am distrustful of statistics as I am currently studying the subject at university.
The maths don’t lie but depending on the information gathered and the parameters applied all sorts of answers can be drummed up. I’m not going to bang on about this, I don’t mind being pulled up if I am wrong but in this case, old mate has missed the point.
The mining of uranium requires water.
That water becomes radioactive as a result.
This water has to be stored somewhere, usually a dam.
If the dam bursts or leaks it goes into the aquifer and, all assurances aside, could end up in our drinking water.
Straightforward, yes?
Speaking of uni, I’m nearly done. Three years of hard graft and I only have one exam left (the nefarious statistics) before I re-enter the working world. I don’t have to get too worried just yet though; there is a two month trip to Europe to struggle through first.
There will be a wonderful reunion with absent wife in Adelaide before we (and number one son) travel through at least five countries where we don’t speak the language fluently. 
So we are going to be like some of our international guests here in Alice, peering at phrase books, pointing at things we want and looking hopeful, and eating things that we are sure we didn’t order.
Being somewhere you don’t understand the language is a bit like having a television that only picks up late night SBS, without the subtitles.
You can start to feel a bit isolated and listen in vain for a familiar accent – or even language. It lets you know that you’re well out of your comfort zone.
On the whole I have been very kindly treated by the people that I have almost certainly annoyed due to the fact that I am unable to communicate.
I also had my thigh slapped in Spain once, hard, by a big barman who wanted me out of the way so he could roll his keg past me – much to the amusement of the locals. Poor man had probably been asking me to get out the way for ages, and I didn’t understand him so he resorted to a universal language and I got the message.
I have since taken Spanish lessons in order to avoid a repeat experience. That still leaves a lot of languages to be slapped in though.
And pity the poor fool (me) that chooses to drive a car on the wrong side of the road in a country where you can’t understand the street signs (Spain again). Plus someone broke our side mirror, probably because I had parked in somebody’s place or broken some unknown rule.
Don’t think I don’t like Spain though, I love it! But I won’t be driving and I know what “salir del camino de mi barril, tonto” means (“get out of the way of my barrel, fool”).
So if you see someone in sandals and socks looking lost, be nice and go up and try to be helpful.
These folk want to enjoy themselves and will almost certainly be relieved if you can point them in the direction of Anzac Hill or wherever they may wish to go. This is the best tourism campaign we can have, friendly, helpful locals.
And the person you help here may be the one who rescues me when I’m lost in Germany …

LETTERS: No monitoring of uranium drilling?

Sir – I’m not arguing for or against any uranium mine, but those who do (for or against) would do well to check the facts before diving in.  Then we wouldn’t have the naive comments I read in last week’s letters in the Alice News, where it was suggested we could safely rely on the “scientists and engineers” to make sure nothing goes wrong.
The fact is that under the granting of an Exploration Licence, at which point all the exploratory drilling takes place, the explorers are under next to no scrutiny, certainly in the NT.
Anyone else in the NT needs to get a permit and a licensed driller to drill for water.  A licensed driller has to provide drill logs to the NT Government, and amongst other things, has to take steps to ensure the integrity of any aquifers encountered.
If you are drilling for minerals, no such obligations exists – you do not need to be licensed, drill logs need not be submitted, and no steps need be taken to protect the integrity of aquifers.  And nobody in authority is watching. 
I’m aware of at least one stock production bore, now surrounded by many hundreds of such holes, where the integrity of the water aquifer has been compromised, and the water from the bore is now similar in colour to the contents of a certain well publicised burst tailings dam in Europe.
So don’t rely on the NT Authorities to look after our interests, and don’t kid yourself that the problems might start once extraction of an ore body starts, as by then it may all be far too late.
Rod Cramer
Alice Springs
ED – The Alice News requested a response from the Department of Resources which issues Exploration Licences and sets the approval processes for such licences. None was to hand at the time of going  to press.

Same song sheet

G’Day Erwin – Breen and Brown (letters, October 14) seem to be singing from the same song sheet.
The similarity in wording is remarkable. Breen” ... not to put stuff in the ground, but to take it out...”; and Brown: “... a mine doesn’t put it in it takes it out...”.
Whose song sheet, I wonder? Cameco/Paladin’s maybe?
Regardless of the origin, the argument is a complete red herring.
Radioactive material in situ is relatively (and I emphasise relatively) innocuous.
When it is dug up the radon gas is released, the concentrated uranium handled, stored and transported, and the tailings exposed to the environment.
It cannot be “demonstrably safe”. It has not yet been demonstrated.
Geological formations may be stable at the moment, but when you dig a bloody great hole in the middle, accompanied by lots of blasting, it is not scientifically possible to forecast the outcome with complete certainty.
I accept that the probability of a fracture opening up and contaminating the Alice water supply is low.
However, even at 1000:1, I don’t want to bet the Alice to a uranium mine.
The radon gas release is inevitable, and the exposure of the people of Alice highly likely.
Very problematic is the management of the ‘tailings’, the left-over rubbish that still contain radioactive material that it is not profitable to extract.
They should be managed safely for thousands of years. This is going to happen? Pull this one, it plays Waltzing Matilda.
Everyone should now be aware of the dangers of tailings dams from the catastrophe in Hungary that has been on the news all week.
It couldn’t happen here? Oh yes it could !
Congratulations to Chief Minister Henderson for listening to the people of the Alice.
The swing to the government in a by-election is validation of the decision.
The suggestion that the Chamber of Commerce “represents” the Alice is laughable.
The “big end of (a small) town” is more likely. AKA CLP central.
Charlie Carter
Alice Springs

Rock business

Sir – The purchase of Yulara resort by the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) is a turning point for Territory tourism.  
This is big business and there are big risks. 
There will be plenty of detractors, mostly from those who have absolutely no idea what Uluru is all about.
Our tourism image has suffered terribly over the Howard/Bingle years and the sad thing is that Martin Ferguson’s latest effort is probably not enough to reverse the damage.
The Lara Bingle strategy was launched in 2006 and cost us $180 million.  It went hand in hand with such a downturn in visitors that former PM Rudd called it an absolute rolled gold disaster.  The image portrayed to many was that we were a nation of ockers, yobs and racists with no respect for history or culture.
We must do better than this.
On  ABC radio  last Sunday night, Charlie King was talking music and travel with Warren H. Williams.  Charlie said that Warren’s version of the anthemic song, Great Southern Land, was so moving it could be used to our tourism industry’s advantage. 
My thoughts exactly Mr King! 
I do think that it is a risk worth investing in firstly on the Territory level. 
A good campaign would be worth a couple of Angela Pamelas, if you get my drift.
We in the Territory recognize our unique genius loci or spirit of place.  Just look at the potential that our culture and environment gives us.
The ILC has promised a National Indigenous Tourism Academy at Yulara to be functional from 2013.
 I would like to see this development to not necessarily exclude non-indigenous people.
David Chewings.

Desert trip of a lifetime

Sir –  Your headline story of September 16 quoted me as saying, “In white man’s time this is ... the best season ever”, but the story was strongly edited from my discussion with Kieran Finnane to give understandable focus to speakers at the Lake Eyre Basin Conference. 
This led to two errors in the article and friend Des Nelson writing a letter suggesting, as your title to his letter indicates, that “‘68 was Flower Power season!” 
I do not at all dispute Des’s comments about the wonderful 1968 season, but hope that you may see fit to publish the corrections and my original account.   
The main purpose of it was to encourage people to get out bush and enjoy the season.
There are wonderful patches of wildflowers everywhere, and huge kilometres long-swathes out in parts of the Simpson. 
And as a complementary time to getting out bush, I commend the Desert Park, which has dazzling brilliances of golds, blues and other colours, and  a constant cheerful chirruping of birds.
Far more importantly I had indicated that it was the centre of the Simpson Desert to which I was referring, not the cattle station country about the edges of the desert. 
I also mentioned that, on the basis of my reading  of all known explorers’ accounts and many other references there had almost certainly been similar seasons in much of central Australia in 1869-72, 1876-77, 1886-7, 1908, 1916, 1920-22, 1948, and 1966-68 as well as on three or four occasions from 1972-2002. 
Dick Kimber
Alice Springs
ED – See Mr Kimber’s account of his exceptional journey starting page 12.

Fastest thing
on two wheels

Sir – In regard to your motorsport story on your website (October 7), good to see.  
But wasn’t there a couple of top fuel nitro Harleys out there as well, being the fastest thing on two wheels on the planet and so in Alice Springs?
That’s a huge wrap for your local drag racing and worthy of a mention .
I love racing out at Alice Springs and would like to see it more often as they need all the promotion they can get.
Wayne (Camel) Barrett
Rockingham WA

300 pre-loved bras

Sir – Thank you so much for the article you wrote on the bra collection that  Gondwana was doing (September 9 issue). We had a really strong response and have collected over 300 bras!!!!!
Marilena Hippis
Gallery Gondwana
Alice Springs

Turn off the sprinklers!

Sir – If we cannot get it right for the small, how can we get it right for the large?
I often observe sprinklers irrigating a new patch of lawn on the corner of Leichhardt Terrace and the Wills Terrace causeway, opposite the Todd Tavern.
They come on every day, it seems, from about 4.30 pm.
Large chunks of this lawn are gutted each time there is a moderate flow of the river, and every time hapless council workers go to substantial lengths to reinforce and repair the damage. They use red soil to repair the damage; consequently the sand of the riverbed downstream from this site now has a distinct reddish tinge from all the red silt mixed in with it.
But it’s the mindless sprinkler irrigation regime that really bemuses me.
It is already one of our wettest years on record, and there is an artificially-induced waterhole next to this lawn.
There is a constant supply of moisture percolating upwards through the soil of the riverbanks due to capillary action, resulting in healthy vigorous green vegetation that can be plainly observed along the entire river.
Even if it were not to rain again for the coming summer, there is so much moisture in the soil there is unlikely to be any requirement to irrigate the lawn for most of the period.
Alex Nelson
Alice Springs

Back to our home page.