May 5, 2011. This page contains all major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

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Units up, houses down

Prices for units are on their way up in Alice Springs, and down for houses.
According to, the median price of units – any property that is strata titled including townhouses, duplexes and apartments – went from $325,000 to just under $390,000 between April 30, 2010 and March 31, 2011.
That's an increase of 20% in 11 months.
Houses, on the other hand, in the same period dropped from $485,000 to $422,000, down 13%.
Across the board the price of dwellings decreased 7%.

Tourism 'clawing back'

Tourism is "clawing back" business, getting ahead of 2010 which, however, was an exceedingly poor year.
Aurora Alice Springs' Ron Thynne says it will be a battle to match the boom of 2009 – the year the Federal Intervention into Aboriginal affairs was in full swing and the people running it were flooding accommodation houses.
And the manager of Haven Backpackers Resort, Amanda Anderson, says 2011 is markedly better than 2010, with April some 20% up on last year – which she agrees was very poor. She says Germans and French are the main customers. 

Aussies are thin on the ground: "We're lucky to get 10 in a month," says Ms Anderson.
Guests are staying longer this year – 2.1 nights compared to 1.7 last year.
Haven gets much of its business from travel agents and tour operators throughout Australia, and the number of "walk-in" guests has increased. Advance bookings are rare. Room rates are $26 a head for a four-share dormitory and $23 for an eight-share.
The overseas visitors enjoying the kangaroo show by Chris “Brolga” Barns in the Haven garden on Wednesday this week – cuddling a joey – seemed to be fairly well-heeled Europeans and Asians, yet looking for bargain accommodation at a time of a massively strong Aussie dollar.
Mr Thynne says the industry is battling a double whammy: the exchange rate is a disincentive for overseas visitors to come to Australia, while Aussies are more likely to spend their holidays overseas. He says the occupancy rate of his hotel, in its prime Todd Mall location, is up on last year – which was a "disaster" – but down 5.5% on "financial year to date" compared to 2009. This year so far he had 1822 fewer room nights than in 2009.
He says how this year will shape up is still anybody's guess: forward bookings for May and June are not strong. He allots 75% of his 109 rooms to tour operators but these are not confirmed bookings. If the bookings don't come through, then it's a battle to fill the rooms through internet bookings.
Another worry are the exorbitant fares for flights not booked well in advance: some $3000 return for two people from Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney over the Easter period.
Mr Thynne says he fully supports the objectives of Action for Alice, reducing anti-social behavior and crime, but he takes issue with the group's TV advertisements, showing alleged offenders in the streets at night. He says the adverts clearly have little impact on the NT government's attitude – the supposed target of the adverts. While the audience of Imparja is limited, the spots have attracted interstate journalists to Alice Springs, and their focus on crime, often beat-ups, is doing the domestic industry immeasurable damage.
And the Town Council, too, could do more for the industry. One recent night the lights went out in the mall.
Mr Thynne called the after hours council number which diverted to a security firm that contacted an after-hours electrician only to receive a recorded message “I am away for the weekend”.
Clearly no back-up arrangements were in place.
Mr Thynne then rang Mayor Damien Ryan, only to be told that like everyone else, the contractor had the right to go away for the weekend.
And the council had failed to consult with Mr Thynne about the plasma screen to be erected directly in front of the Red Ochre and Adelaide House.
He says the patrons of the Red Ochre Grill restaurant and courtyard – 60,000 for the financial year to date – could have their view spoilt of the town's most interesting historic building.
The council says there is no basis to Mr Thynne's concerns
(see council budget report this edition).

NT Budget for Alice: nothing to write home about. By KIERAN FINNANE.
(Modified May 19, 2011)

The Territory Government Budget looks lack lustre for Alice Springs – perhaps they think that the Feds are doing enough for the town with the Transformation Plan spending.
Still Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton needed something to talk about. Of the initiatives he singled out for particular mention, the $5m for the CBD was the most desperate. This far from extravagant amount has been in the wind since the last Territory election – promised back then, re-announced in August 2009, brought forward from the original 2012-13 to 2011-12 last year, and now re-announced yet again by Mr Hampton.
While we wait for Todd Mall to be transformed into a "vibrant corridor " and for its links to the river to be strengthened, the announcement nonetheless served its purpose, entering the news cycle and, for those with a short memory, raising hopes that our sad town centre will be imminently rescued from further decline.
Interestingly, Mr Hampton's release mentioned "removal of visual obstructions" as part of the revitalisation works. The longer we wait for those works to get underway, the more they'll have to do in this regard as our photo of the location of the Town Council's new LED sign shows.
Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley called Mr Hampton on this bogus announcement, with a media release headed "Groundhog Karl": "This Government treats the residents of Alice Springs like fools. The CBD is a symbol of the Labor Government’s continual failure to deliver on its promises to the town. What the community sees is Labor politicians flapping their gums, making promises and nothing being achieved."
She went on to criticise Mr Hampton for failing to include a start-up date for the project. It has in fact started: the contracting of a design team was announced at last November's public planning information session and the leading consultants, Steve Thorne of the Melbourne-based Design Urban Pty Ltd and Material Thinking's Paul Carter, were here in late February for a poorly-publicised visit. The Alice News understands that they will be returning imminently. While here they'll launch the Connecting Alice website, which will give some idea of the direction in which the revitalisation works will go. None of the $5m has been spent on this activity, which has been paid for by the NT Government. The $5m and the project will be managed by the Town Council.
The Budget's "infrastructure highlight" of $4.5m for installation of a chilled water air-conditioner at Araluen Arts Centre – for which Arts Minister Gerry McCarthy got to take the credit – does not fall into the same category as the CBD's $5m. Last year the project was put on hold after tenders for the system came in at much more than was budgeted. The Alice News understood the cost was originally expected to be around $1m and tenders came in at more than $3m. Now the government has come to the party with the full amount.
Mr McCarthy and Mr Hampton announced jointly the $3.5m to be spent on the new subdivision of Kilgariff –  to provide water pipes, road works and drainage. This is on top of the $4.3 million already allocated for sewer pipes and power infrastructure, being installed at present. (Mr Hampton is happy to share in the spending kudos even if he's reluctant to get involved in the subdivision issues, such as affordability, as they fall outside his portfolio – see our previous interview
Mr Hampton also announced $1.1m for the Youth Hub, which will provide for a range of relatively minor works, including a skate ramp (not a skatepark as reported elsewhere) and a commercial kitchen; and $2.4m for improving roads. Of this, $2.2m will give us an upgrade of a whole new four kilometres on the Tanami Road, and the expenditure looks minimal alongside the $30m for East Arnhem Roads, $32m for roads across the rural Top End, $38m for roads and transport across Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield, and $26m for roads in Katherine.
On the major preoccupation for Alice residents – law and order – the Minister's release promises "Safer Communities". It's impossible to tell from the release where allocations are for new initiatives and where they are simply reporting on the operational costs of various government services. It's also not possible to tell when the amounts will get spent. There's $3.6m for boarding accommodation for middle years and senior college students under the Youth Action Plan – a welcome move –  but will this be actioned and the money spent in this financial year? We've asked the Minister and will let you know.

New public order focus in Town Council budget

After the year Alice Springs has had, it's not surprising to see "Public Order and Safety" move into the Town Council's "strategic focus areas" outlined in its draft Municipal Plan for 2011-2015. The 2011/12 draft budget contained in it, proposes a total expenditure of nearly $34m, down from last year's $49m plus. The difference is partly explained by the major Aquatic Centre construction project coming to a conclusion.
The current Municipal Plan is out for public comment until May 25, as required by the Local Government Act. Last year no written submissions were received from the public and the draft plan was adopted largely unchanged.
In the 2010-2014 plan there were five strategic focus areas and "Public Order and Safety" didn't figure; this year its addition – aiming to achieve "a community with a perception of high public safety" – takes these areas to six.
And in further signs of the times, the focus areas of "Community" and "Culture and Heritage" are renamed as "Social Infrastructure and Programs" and "Development", although there appear to be no major new initiatives under either heading.
In terms of budgeted expenditure, the main Public Order and Safety initiative is an increased budget for the ranger unit, up on last year's expenditure by $174,211 to a total of $781,364. Rangers are tasked with the enforcement of council's by-laws and, as previously reported, have been getting tough on breaches. For instance, 200 infringement notices were issued in March this year, compared to none in January and only 13 in February. The majority of the notices (141) were for drinking liquor in public, with a further 41 issued for camping without a permit.
The increase funding this year will allow for the employment of two more rangers, taking the unit to eight – not enough in the estimation of newcomer alderman, Eli Melky, who this week said he would like to see a unit of 20. Ald Melky made this comment following controversy over Mayor Damien Ryan ignoring public drinkers during his recent riverside walk with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. However at last month's council committee meeting, Ald Melky congratulated the existing ranger unit for the effectiveness of their work in the river.
The other significant expenditure under the Public Order and Safety heading is on animal control, budgeted at $137,404, about $7000 more than last year, with a further $191,447 for the town camps dog control strategy. This is down on last year's expenditure of $228,363 and is funded by the Commonwealth.
Relevant to a perception of safety and listed under the heading "New Initiatives" is $100,000 budgeted for maintaining CCTV cameras in the CBD, and $30,000 for maintaining safety and security lighting. Over $350,000 was spent last year on the installation of this lighting, with the bulk of the money provided by the Commonwealth under the Alice Springs Transformation Plan.
Maintaining the Town Council as an organisation is the "strategic focus area" requiring the bulk of expenditure – $19m, up from $18.5m. Operational costs (employment) come to $10.5m, up by nearly $600,000 on last year's.
A noticeable increase is the cost of Depot operations, up from $429,688 to $1,214,742 (a question about this had not been answered at the time of posting).
The second largest budget area is Social Infrastructure and Programs, requiring expenditure of some $5m, with library operations the single largest item. 
Expenditure in this area is down significantly from last year's $14m. The bulk of the difference is explained by the completion of the Aquatic Centre – funded by the NT and Federal Governments and the Aboriginal Benefit Account.
Rates provide the major contribution to council's revenue, up from nearly $18m in 2010-11, to $19,153, 412.
To meet the rise council is proposing a minimum rate increase for residents of 5.8%.
$32,000 was spent last financial year and $17,100 more will be spent this financial year on acquiring and installing an LED screen to promote council messages in the mall. Whatever ratepayers may think of the expenditure, quite a few are sure to be upset by the location of the sign, smack bang in front of our most beautiful and interesting heritage building, Adelaide House. Apparently the location was not objected to by the NT Government's Heritage Unit – what can they have been thinking? There are plenty of alternative locations for this sign and its unsightly powerbox. Why not, for instance, on or near the wall formerly used for projections by the StoryWall?
However, the council's Craig Catchlove says the structure – 2.5m high and 1.2m wide – will face down the mall so only its narrow aspect will be between Adelaide House and people opposite it in the Mall. The 46" screen will display information about things to do, events, restaurants and other information useful to tourists and locals. The audio will not be intrusive – people will need to stand close to hear it. There will be no movies. The bottom of the structure will house a computer, speakers and climate control.

Transformation of an 'eyesore'. COMMENT by KIERAN FINNANE.

No doubt, some thought of this site – the ruins of a 19th century water reservoir in the inner Sydney suburb of Paddington – as an 'eyesore'. And Sydney City councillors might have been tempted by the fortune they could have earned by making the land available for private residential development in the fashionable location.
But they had the integrity to respect the reservoir's state heritage listing and reserve the site for public use. The visionary flair of architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer did the rest. Instead of capping off the site – as it had been during the 20th century, until part of the capping collapsed – they created these delightful sunken gardens, conserving and repairing the original building materials, including the wonderful grey ironbark columns. In 19th century Britain cast-iron would have been used for the columns, but Australians had discovered the water- and fire-resistant qualities of this native hard wood. Leftover bricks from parts of the ruins not re-instated have been used in an interesting paving treatment. Graffiti from another time in the site's history has been allowed to remain.
With the gardens the architects have created a place of beauty and refuge right alongside a busy city street and preserved intriguing aspects of the city's memory.
I visited the award-winning site for the first time last week, not long after the cynical media release arrived in my email in box, announcing the de-listing of the heritage-protected elements of the Pioneer Drive-In. I say "cynical" because the release, made by Heritage Minister Karl Hampton, was headed "Site Approved for News Residential Development in Alice Springs", disguising its true subject. The approval for residential development had been made public weeks earlier by Planning Minister Gerry McCarthy. Following this, few doubted that Mr Hampton would fall in with the developers' wishes to delist the screen and projection box on the site – accepting their description of the structures as an "eyesore" – and so allow Alice to make its own contribution to the destruction of cinema heritage around the country. Similarly few would have expected either our politicians or developers to approach a heritage site with imagination and come up with ideas about how its 'adaptive reuse' could enliven our increasingly banal urban environment.

Mayor pretends problems don't exist. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

New alderman Eli Melky says the Mayor's action is typical of his style to side-step resolute action.
"He should have said to Mr Abbott, sorry, there's a problem, excused himself, and should have phoned the police and ensured the law-breaking drinkers are dealt with there and then," Ald Melky says. "The Mayor prefers to pretend the problems don't exist."
Ald Melky says the council, while talking tough, is steering away from meaningful action. The new Budget provides for an increase in the ranger force from six to eight, plus three private security guards will get ranger-like powers. But that's nowhere near enough, says Ald Melky: "We need up to 20 rangers. In three Budgets the council has not seen fit to adequately increase funding for by-law enforcement."
The council has released for public inspection the draft Municipal Plan for 2010 to 2014 which includes Budget estimates for the 2010/2011 financial year. However, when you click on the council website link the message popping up is "document not found".

Hell is a place on earth.

I must have been a really bad, bad boy. I have spent too much time in my own personal hell recently to think otherwise. It’s hard to clarify hell as a place, I see it as more of a mindset.
Traditionally, hell has been a place that vindictive people wish upon others who disagree with them, usually upon matters that cannot be proven and should really have no relevance on how you treat another being, human or otherwise. Still, any excuse hey?
My hell is packing up a house full of stuff, intensified by having to do it alone (with a helping hand granted, thanks Colin). This is where I have been for the last couple of weeks, opening cupboards that have been stuffed full of things that seemed necessary to a happy life at the time of purchase, but in retrospect, only exist to gather dust and occupy space.
Then there is the emotional aspect of packing, which I have to admit, I am hopeless with. Each childish picture, every teeny booty number one son wore requires a huge “do I throw/do I keep” internal debate. Garish dragons that I thought were the height of good taste 20 years ago peep mournfully out from torn paper and mouse droppings. “Please don’t throw me away,” they plead.
Needless to say I blub terribly during the Toy Story movies, in fact I had a moment of clarity during the second movie. Sarah McLachlan sings “When somebody loved me” as absent wife showered and prepared to move overseas (she was “Smokin’ Hot Girlfriend” at this point). I sat by myself on the couch and realised the depth of my loss, crying along with a computer-generated wooden doll and admittedly, a beautiful song. See what I mean. Good news is we played that song on Sydney harbour surrounded by family and friends after we got married, ahh sweet love.
So, why then am I in the family home on my own at 5.30 in the morning frantically cleaning the floors after the last of our things got moved out earlier in the day? Not because the sweet love has faded, thank (insert your deity here), no it's because Kirsty has been based in Cairns and I am going to join her there, leaving the Centre for the time being.
When I came back from our European jaunt I not only had to deal with the heat (-16 Austria to 43+ centigrade Alice) but a town under siege from people who didn’t care for the community I embraced and was embraced by all those years ago. It works both ways, I don’t care for them or their destructive attitude – I need to get away. Perception improves with distance, perhaps we will return, maybe not.
Either way, it has been a heck of a trip. Unfortunately I am unable to continue with the column as part of the brief is to write from an Alice perspective, which I respect (and quietly resent – I like doing this!). There may be an occasional peep from time to time but otherwise, this is goodbye. To everyone who has ever said how much they liked or didn’t like what I wrote, thank you from the bottom of my heart. The fact that you took the time to say what you thought gave me permission to try again. For the record, almost everything I wrote about was true. Really. Specially the stuff about the hair bands, spandex and boots.
Till we meet again Alice,
much love
Shaun. X
PS I’m still suffering. I write this in a donga outside Mt Isa. One word – stark. Bring on Las Vegas …

MOZZIE BITES by RONJA MOSS: The ultimate modern meets long forgotten ages.

The sun was setting peacefully, the birds and insects were humming a lullaby to gently rock the beasts asleep, but none of this could be heard over the raucously engrossing party of Wide Open Space. Below, feet pounded the dust and above, the sound system roared loud enough to blow the clouds away.
The whole festival was a clash of the ultimate modern meets long forgotten ages. On first entry punters were welcomed by big holographic faces projected into the tops of trees, occasionally winking and making you question your own state of mind. This project was set up by Craig Walsh, a digital artist who is currently working on an exhibition called home & who’s average in the Watch This Space Gallery.
Then, once you stepped into the market space, it was as if you had been whirled into another era, one where hippies really did exist, and peace and love were not idealistic, but principles. Wicker decorations, children playing on tightropes, a teepee hosted by a woman called Spiral who provided hot South American tea to whoever lay by her feet, and people selling goodies from rugs on the ground.
One man in his fifties said to me with a smile from beneath his broad-brim hat, “I feel like I’ve been taken back in time.” I assume he meant this in the best of ways, but as he went off laughing before I could ask, I’ll never know.
Reflecting the blend of styles was Alice’s Dr. Strangeways followed by Melbourne’s Bewilderbeast on Friday evening. I felt torn between wanting to mosh with the metal heads or groove with the reggae devotees as a mix of hip hop, rock, funk and some out of space genres I’ve never heard of, met the ear. Though slightly confused and exhausted by the time Catch The Fly, an all hip hop local group, arrived on stage I couldn’t help but beam with pride. With internationally acclaimed acts like Mista Savona and Tinpan Orange on board, I honestly had expected the difference of professionalism to show between the interstate and central bands, but everywhere I went the desert mob were rocking it!
Matt Hill’s MCing had to be one of the highlights of the weekend with lines like, “If you’re off your face when walking up a hill and think you can turn into an eagle and fly away …  then just turn into an eagle!”
During the days those of us who had slept, and so were able to still function, enjoyed inspecting the installations strewn throughout the grounds, listening to the children hunt for Easter eggs, or adventuring down to the creek for revival.
On Sunday morning I asked a group of visitors how they were finding the event. “Best festival ever…” one young girl groaned from beneath her darkened sanctuary of a swag (she’d obviously had a good time.) “Yeah, but there needs to be more art,” her boyfriend added. I had to agree. Though the pieces presented were astoundingly good, the interactive aspect lacked and there was no clarity of where to find the pieces. Well, I guess it’s always good to have goals to work toward! Apart from that, a couple of bruised toes and one fallen log on the last day, Wide Open Space was an absolute triumph!

LETTERS: It's a long way ...

Sir – It was tremendous to see all the people who turned out for the ANZAC Mid-Morning Service again at ANZAC Hill.
Terrific to see all the diggers, families and young children make the climb up the hill.
However it was disappointing to see the Mayor of Alice Springs being driven up the hill in a vehicle.
Maybe he had an illness or injury which prevented him walking, failing that it seems pretty poor.
Ray Rowe
Alice Springs

Loves Oz

Sir – I live in Mason, Texas. It is what they call the Hill Country of the State.
I try to read the Alice News each week.
You are in my other favourite country I have always wanted to visit but never have had the money to do so.
Keep up the good work on the paper.
Bonroe Buntyn
Mason, Texas

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