May 19, 2011. This page contains all major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

To our home page.

The great parks robbery? Not, says Melky. By KIERAN FINNANE and ERWIN CHLANDA.

Alderman Eli Melky says he could name parks where he thinks surplus land is available for possible subdivision and redevelopment and that his proposal is budgeted, but at present he is bound by council confidentiality.
The council newcomer, elected in a by-election in February, has drawn flak, including on Twitter, for suggesting that council could generate income from the redevelopment of some of its park assets. He tweeted yesterday that he would announce his policy on parks at the Rotary Stuart Park at lunchtime today. Only the Alice Springs News turned up to hear him. Another person might have been deflated but not Ald Melky – one thing he can't be faulted on is enthusiasm for his task.
He explained to the News that his intention is only to shave off areas of under-utilised parks. (Such a strategy – selling land that was surplus to requirement – was used by the Golf Course to develop its facilities, creating the Golf Course Estate.)
Ald Melky rejected the suggestion by resident Hal Duell, at last week's council committee meeting, that it's important to retain even under-utilised areas as open space to cater for a future larger population. Ald Melky sees such areas as a threat to neighbourhood security: "Show me the house alongside a park that has a low fence. They all have enormous high fences because of the security issues."
He argued parks in Alice should be developed with all the expected amenities – toilets, drinking water, shade, picnic tables, play equipment for all ages, even statues. In his view, a dusty bit of ground with a few straggling trees does not qualify as a park. When pushed, however, he suggested that only up to four 'parks', out the 96 so designated, would have surplus land that could be redeveloped. These do not include the Rotary Stuart Park. He said this park is one that needs some attention: it's beautifully located but has next to no facilities. "If people come down here and their little kid wants to go to the toilet, what do they do?" he asked.
He said people reacting against his proposal have misunderstood if they think all Alice parks are under threat. He said if councillors refuse to even consider the revenue-raising possibilities, they are being "complacent".
Apart from the improvement of remaining parks, funds raised by redevelopment of some parcels of land would go towards a larger ranger unit – an increase from the current eight to 20. The News asked what this figure is based on. Ald Melky said it is not a "willy-nilly" number; it is based on his understanding of the rangers' current workload and his assessment that they need to double their capacity to more comprehensively enforce by-laws.
"It would be money well spent – we'd get happier tourists, improved business in the mall, a better town."
Ald Melky is a businessman dealing in real estate, but would declare a conflict of interest as necessary.

YOUR SAY: Which 4 parks?

Has Alderman Melky conducted his own audit of our park lands? If he has, and if as a result of his private audit he has identified four of our designated 96 parks as having no value to Alice Springs as parks, would there be a breach of confidentiality in naming them? Wouldn’t he only be expressing his own opinion, something I thought Aldermen were allowed to do.
Or has he conducted an audit at Council’s behest after the full Council discussed selling off some of our park lands in the fastness of one of their confidential meetings? If that’s the case, he would be bound by Council confidentiality.
I’d like to see the names of these supposedly excess-to-requirements areas in the open so we can all know which parks might be nominated for rezoning. That was the question I asked at the last meeting of Council’s Finance Committee: “Through the Chair, will Alderman Melky please name which of our parks he plans to nominate for rezoning and subsequent property development? “
At that meeting he indicated my question was premature. Does he still think so?
I wonder what percentage of houses in Alice have high fences. I know mine does. The one along the park is for privacy, and the one along the street is for security.
Perhaps Alderman Melky would consider generating a revenue stream (and a letters-to-the-editor stream) by suggesting Council enter into a corporate sponsorship to assist with the maintenance of our major sporting venues. This year’s first State of Origin rugby match will be at Suncorp Stadium [Brisbane]. I wonder how much dough was raised when Suncorp won the naming rights to what used to be called Lang Park.
Could the Alice Springs Town Council do something similar with Traeger Park?
Hal Duell, Alice Springs

Why the numbers matter. By KIERAN FINNANE.

What is the true population of Alice Springs – more than 30,000, as the Town Council hopes, or fewer than previously thought? Reaching the 30,000 threshold is crucial to get Alice across the line in programs like the Federal Government's Building Better Regional Cities. And a more accurate count of the town's Indigenous population would help Alice make its case for a bigger share of the NT's GST windfall, as the number of Indigenous people is one of the factors taken into account for the "disadvantage weighting" under the Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation Scheme used in the distribution of the GST.
Greater efforts than ever before are going towards an accurate population count right across northern Australia in the upcoming Census (Census night is August 9). The focus is particularly on Indigenous people, who in the last Census in the NT were undercounted by an estimated 17%. The aim this year, as always, is to count everyone, but realistically if the undercount in Central Australia "can be significantly reduced, that would be fantastic", says Sue Harley, heading up the Census effort in the Centre and the Barkly.
However, a more accurate account could go either way for Alice, says Andrew Taylor, a senior population researcher at Charles Darwin University's The Northern Institute: "You might find that there's been over-counting, for instance, double-counting people from remote communities, or short-term workers with the Intervention."
He thinks it unlikely, based on the most recent official figures and projections, that the Census will reveal an existing 30,000 or more people in Alice, although this is likely to be achieved within five years or so. "The official figures show that you're not there yet and there's nothing better to base this on than the official figures."
Future growth in Alice will come from natural increase, but according to Mr Taylor, Alice will pale alongside Darwin, which is expected to enjoy 70% of all growth in the NT over the next 30 years. In both centres the key factor influencing growth will be the retention in the NT of people going into retirement, which will in turn influence the retention of younger generations: "The data shows that new mums move down south to be with their families. If the NT can retain a cohort of grandparents then young families will be more likely to stay."
Mr Taylor says this factor will be more important than changes in birth and death rates among Territorians. The next few years will be critical with a large "bubble" of people, particularly public servants, approaching retirement.
Among retirees an interesting phenomenon to observe are those who are cashed up from the growth in house values in the NT and are able to downsize their dwelling here and buy another elsewhere, living in each place for around six months of the year. Mr Taylor says this trend is growing around the world as people become richer. Unfortunately in Australia it is not the subject of data collection. A question about dual living places in this year's Census was eliminated due to budgetary constraints – each new question adds significant cost because everyone in Australia will need to answer it, and the data will need to be aggregated and analysed.
Contrary to popular opinion, Mr Taylor says Alice Springs won't get to a 50% Indigenous population over the coming decades. He says the pattern revealed by Census data over the last 30 years shows a funneling of population from small communities all over the NT to Darwin. In Central Australia, people from small communities may initially spend some time in Alice Springs before heading to the capital. The push factor comes from the education of women, who as the gap closes will typically want to better their prospects, move to a bigger place, go on to university, get a good job.
Mr Taylor says this has been the experience in countries with similar population characteristics and histories to the NT – places like Alaska, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Greenland. In Alaska, the pattern, experienced in the 1960s and '70s, was described as "female flight": the men stayed behind, fishing, working in the mines, "drinking and killing each other", while the women left, had fewer babies, and the small communities died. "Men are less capable of adapting to structural change than women," says Mr Taylor.
Even under the existing patterns, the Indigenous population is some way off reaching 50% of Alice's total. The difference between the birth-rates in the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations is not enough to offset the much lower life expectancy of Indigenous people (and as we have previously reported, the full impact of chronic diseases on Indigenous life expectancy has yet to emerge. See
Mr Taylor could not provide projection figures for Alice alone – "we were not confident enough of our data" – but says the regional projection, based on current trends in fertility, life expectancy and migration, is that a population of 46,000 will be achieved by 2021, with 43% of people being Indigenous, an increase of only 3% on the 2006 Census figure.
Again in contrast to popular opinion, the net migration of non-Indigenous people to Alice Springs has been positive in recent years, says Mr Taylor. Between 1996 and 2001, Census figures showed that Alice Springs lost population, but this turned around between 2001 and 2006, during which time fewer non-Indigenous people left the town and more arrived. A big part of the increase came from the in-migration of professional women working in the service industries, which caused the male to female ratio to flip. Mr Taylor will be interested to see what has happened with this trend in the intervening years.
Ms Harley, seconded to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) from her normal employment with the NT Government, has been working since last October as one of three Assistant Directors of the Census Management Unit in Northern Australia. The ABS received over $20m from the Council of Australian Governments to improve the quality of the count of Indigenous people. Ms Harley says the greater resources have allowed her unit to intensify its activities, particularly to recruit many more collectors.
Five remote area mobile teams are being put together in the Centre, six in the Barkly. Each team consists of two to three people, who in turn recruit on-the-ground collectors and coordinators. Each collector will be responsible for the "enumeration" of the residents of six to eight houses (the snapshot nature of the Census means that the enumeration has to be done in a short time frame). For the first time, every adult in a remote community will be offered the opportunity of an interview by collectors (previously offered selectively).
It is hoped collector and coordinator roles will be filled by Indigenous people because of their local knowledge, and Ms Harley says the response to date is encouraging. In town, an overall supervisor for the enumeration in town camps has been appointed and recruitment of collectors has begun. A special supervisor will be put in charge of the count of homeless people, to be undertaken over two mornings in Census week. This person will have specific experience in this area, know who's where and have their trust.
People with interpreting skills are being sought, not just for Indigenous languages. For example, overseas skilled workers in Alice on 457 Visas come from a diverse range of language groups, says Ms Harley.
The estimate of population undercount comes from a Post-Enumeration Survey, conducted by the ABS after every Census. 
Mr Taylor explains: Two counts are available from the Census – the count of the number of people at a place on Census night and the count of the number of people who usually live at a place. The former includes tourists and temporary workers while the latter excludes these but includes people who were away from the place at Census time. It's important people accurately answer where they consider their 'usual place of residence' to be (it's defined as where they live or intend living for six months or more) because it is this count which forms the basis of official figures for planning purposes.
After the Census the ABS does a sample survey to determine how many people were not counted or how many were counted twice. This figure is used to adjust the Census count, along with some other adjustments, to derive the Estimated Resident Population. The Estimated Resident Population determines our level of Federal political representation and the allocation of GST funds.
Mr Taylor says the Census should not be seen as a "Big Brother" exercise.
"If people in Alice Springs want to see better roads, hospitals, schools, then they need to properly fill out their Census forms. More and more, policy and funding decisions are evidence-based. Politicians want to know the numbers."

Mauled Missy. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Sometimes the people living next-door to each-other are the ones furthest apart. The story of Mary Rose Hall and her "baby," a small Jack Russell called Missy, is a case in point.
Next-door lives the owner of two medium-sized dogs, one a German Shepherd. They dug under the fence to Mrs Hall's place and the German Shepherd savagely mauled Missy's back.
Mrs Hall took her to the vet: a major patch-up job had to be done. Ongoing treatment is still necessary, costing $200 a pop.
Complication number one: the neighbor is a Town Council employee and the Town Council is in charge of controlling animals. Will they deal with the issue fairly?
Predicatbly, there are two sides to the story.
Mrs Hall lives on her own and Missy is her main companion. She says she is now scared of the neighbor's dogs when she walks out of her yard. She does not have a car. She is on a modest wage and the vet bills are leaving her short of food and cigarettes.
The neighbor has paid part of those bills but not all of them.
The council, she says, has promised to cover all the vet bills, or to ensure that the neighbor pays them, but is now reneging on their promise. To add insult to injury, the council has pocketed the $2000 it fined the neighbor.
They are making money out of our misery, she says. The money should have gone to her.
The manager of the council ranger force, Kevin Everett, puts the neighbor's case.
(The neighbor himself appears communicationally challenged, threatening the Alice Springs News, when it researched the story, with a report to the police.)
Mr Everett says senior council staff, including the CEO, spoke with both Mrs Hall and the neighbor. There was no denial that the German Shepherd mauled Missy. On the other hand, Mrs Hall made threats to the neighbor and council staff, prompting a report to the police.
(Mrs Hall replies her threats were not directed at the neighbor nor the council staff, but the neighbor's dogs.)
Mr Everett says the owner is remorseful. The council mediated between the neighbor (its employee) and Mrs Hall, with the result that he paid vet bills amounting to $1553.33. Mr Everett says no promises were made by the council beyond that.
"I would be derelict in my duties if under the circumstances I did not issue fines. All this is clearly very upsetting to Mrs Hall but I have no authority to pay the fines to her."
As – taking into account also repairs to the fence – the neighbor had now coughed up nearly $4000, including two council fines of $1000 each, for failing to contain an animal to premises, and allowing an animal to attack another animal, and considering that Missy is alive and more or less well, the council considered withdrawal from the matter was now in order.
Mr Everett suggested it was a civil issue between the two neighbors, about an unhappy event in the "animal kingdom" at its root.
Mrs Hall is taking out a small court claim. It will cost her a $80 filing fee. The vet bills are mounting up. Court action could take months to be resolved. Peace is unlikey to return any time soon to that Larapinta Drive neighborhood.

MacDonnell shire CEO resigns. By KIERAN FINNANE.

CEO of MacDonnell Shire Graham Taylor has announced his resignation, citing family obligations. Councillors were apparently informed at their special meeting last Thursday, during which they had decided to "wind up" the controversial outsourcing contract with an Indian company.
That saga, as previously reported, has cost the cash-strapped council, upwards of $50,000 for nil return and a bout of bad publicity. The result of an investigation into the circumstances of the letting of the contract by the Department of Local Government is not yet known.
In the media release making public his resignation Mr Taylor (pictured above with Shire President Sid Anderson) said he was "proud of the respectful working relationship with the President and Councillors and the working relationships with the Territory Government".
Cr Anderson is quoted as saying he and the Councillors were sad to accept the CEO’s resignation as "we have a good relationship and an understanding of what our communities need”, adding: “We have learned a lot from each other. I and the Councillors wish the CEO and his family a happy life”.
Mr Taylor also expressed pride in achievements in the shire during his time as CEO. These include:
• three new child care centres;
• 148 people receiving aged care services;
• Home help programs for 60 people;
• 1100 youth attending weekly programs;
• 10 communities with fenced and controlled waste centres;
• Asset management reducing costs by $2.3 mil and a certificate of commendation for this;
• Mobile mechanics saving $600,000 a year;
• Two community stores returned to community control;
• Women’s centre and arts centre handed back to community control;
• WELL training program with CDU for competency training across all communities;
• 14 indigenous women undertaking child care certificate training;
• Five indigenous staff undertaking construction certificate training.

Reviews of future shire finances welcomed.

Two reviews announced in the recent Federal and Territory Budgets will have a significant impact on the future of the NT's super-shires. The Federal Government made a commitment to review the Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) by 2012-13, while the NT Government promised a Review of the Financial Sustainability of the Shires.
CEO of Central Desert Shire, Roydon Robertson, says it was "particularly pleasing" to note the maintenance of the FAGS to local government across Australia:  "This untied grant is the lifeblood of core services in local government even though for Central Desert Shire it is totally inadequate for our future financial sustainability."
He says the announced review of the FAGs was a "surprise" but also "promising" as "the Australian Local Government Association has long argued that the current level of funding is inadequate".
He welcomed the NT Government's financial sustainability review as well as their guaranteed assets repair and maintenance program and increased employment under Housing Programs.
He says many of the specifics contained in both the Federal and Territory Budgets are yet to be ascertained: "This importantly includes any conditions/red tape that may go with the funding. Significant programs such as Roads to Recovery continue and local government generally welcomed the Federal Government's commitment of $4.3b to regional Australia.
"It is expected that funding will commence for the two Growth Towns in the shire – Lajamanu and Yuendumu – as proposed in both communities' Local Implementation Plans.
"In respect to the NT Government Budget, it was very pleasing that a $30m three year Indigenous Workforce Package was announced to employ up to 530 indigenous people in the delivery of core services. The pledge is $8.4m per annum for three years from the NT Government and $1.6m from the Federal Government.".

Police patrols 'saturate' CBD

Police have launched an on-going special operation to prevent night-time assaults and robberies in Alice Springs, "saturating" the CBD with both covert and highly visible police patrols last night.
Ninety-six people were spoken to. Of these, 23 were youth and police made arrangements with youth service providers for them to be taken home. Sixteen litres of alcohol were tipped out and 14 people were taken into protective custody. Police also spoke to 15 tourists and ensured they made arrangements to get back to their accommodation safely.
Police mounted the special operation after the town experienced a noticeable increase in late night attacks on people walking home alone. Commander Michael White said whilst there had been a noticeable decline in property crime in the past few months, opportunistic offences such as these had increased.
“This campaign is a pro-active move on behalf of police to ensure that  young people wandering the CBD in the early hours of the morning are not causing problems and are not putting themselves at risk either,” Commander White said.
The operation will continue "as long as necessary".
Source: Police media release.

Keeping cool at Araluen

A "proven" rather than "innovative" technology will be used for the new air-conditioning system planned for the Araluen Arts Centre. The Territory Government made $4.5m available in this year's Budget for the system. The large footprint and location of an innovative solar powered system caused a furore, causing that scheme to be abandoned last year (see
Now the centre will get a "high-efficiency magnetic-drive centrifugal pump chiller plant", advises a spokesperson for the NT Arts Department. The structure housing the equipment is subject to design approval, but it is expected to measure about 18 x 9 metres. It will be located at the rear of the complex, adjacent to the maintenance office and storage shed, the same location preferred by the Community Reference Group for the plant room of the previously proposed new system.
The Department of Construction and Infrastructure is aiming to advertise the contract in the coming weeks, with construction hopefully starting by the end of August. A spokesperson for that department says the technology to be used is similar to that of the system installed in the Art Gallery of South Australia about four years ago. It is also in use in the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

Salvos return much more to Alice than they collect.

Last year locals gave some $25,000 to the Salvation Army's Red Shield Appeal. The funds were pooled with the money collected from around the country, and in the national distribution Alice got $525,000 to support the Salvos' operations here.
"This year will be similar," Captain Elizabeth Johnson told the Alice Town Council on Monday night. "There is always more need here than the combined organisations can meet."
She had addressed the council on the Salvos' wish list for their "Food Rescue" initiative. This sees leftover perishable food collected from businesses like Brumby's, Ebony Jade's cafe and Leonard's Chicken, and distributed to the needy.
Capt Johnson said they include the "working poor", not only Centrelink recipients. She came armed with statistics: the Henderson Poverty Line in Australia is set at $809 per week to support two adults and two children; the minimum wage is $570 per week.
She said in stretched household budgets, one of the first cuts is to nutritional food. People pay their utility bills and rents before they spend money on food, she said, pointing to the problems this will cause in the longer term for  for individual health and health systems and for under-performance and truancy amongst school children.
She said in Alice Springs the Salvation Army offers 16,600 "food assists" a year, and other agencies, such as the St Vincent de Paul Society and Centacare, report similar figures. But demand need is greater than current supply, largely due to limited capacity for food storage.
Potentially there is a large volume of food available to be donated by the big supermarkets, but they stipulate that their donated products be stored in fridges and freezers. So the Salvos are on the lookout for donated fridges and freezers, a building and van to run the operation from, as well as donations or sponsorship to help cover costs and a coordinator for the whole thing!
Capt Johnson said they were not expecting the council to come up with goods but asked aldermen keep the Salvation Army in mind when communicating with their large networks.
Alderman Murray Stewart asked her whether the Salvation Army offered alcohol and financial counselling to recipients of food donations when alcohol appeared to be a problem, and whether there was follow-up for children affected. Capt Johnson said counselling is offered but the Salvation Army locally does not have a treatment program nor the resources to work intensively with people affected by alcohol misuse.
The Red Shield Appeal doorknock will happen on 28 and 29 May.

Lessons in how to keep house

From the Stuart Highway the new Percy Court "transitional housing" looks to be mostly cabin-style accommodation but, while over half of the 29 units are one-bedroom, there are also three- and four-bedroom houses for families.
The idea of the facility is to cater for residents or would-be residents of Alice Springs rather than for visitors – people eligible for public housing and either homeless or at risk of homelessness, because they’ve had difficulty maintaining a tenancy.
Mission Australia has won the tender to run it and they should start receiving their first tenants next month. 
There are substantial common areas in the facility, including meeting rooms, a playground and firepits and barbecues.
The tenants will be “supported” to learn how to live responsibly in rented accommodation. A challenge for them may well be where they go once they graduate. The current waiting list for public housing is more than three years for a one-bedroom flat, nearly five years for a three bedroom home.
New housing in the town camps may soak up some of the need: 85 are supposed to be built, 18 have been completed and 31 are underway (39 ‘rebuild and refurbishments’ have been completed and 14 are
On this subject see also KIERAN FINNANE's article published on May 18 in the online current affairs and culture journal, Inside Story.

A fine small town, quite an easy life. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The sight of women in saris is no longer unfamiliar in Alice Springs: it's clear that over the last several years South Asia has been contributing to the increasingly multi-cultural face of Alice Springs.
As part of Harmony Week activities at the Public Library on the weekend, Evana Rahman, who is employed at the library, demonstrated Bangladeshi traditions of feminine adornment and dress. Husband Saifur Rahman, son Ishraq and daughter Sarrinah were also there. Originally from Bangladesh, the family are now permanent residents of Australia.
While Evana helped women and girls try on saris and painted their hands with intricate designs in henna, Saifur and Ishraq spoke to the Alice News about their experience of settling in Alice Springs.
Saifur, who earned his PhD in an epidemiology at the Australian National University, is employed by the NT Government's Department of Health and Families as a researcher on sexually transmitted infections. He arrived in Alice with his family in June 2009, having spent the previous six years in Canberra. 
Evana, who has a Masters in English Literature, was a school teacher back in Dhaka. In Canberra she earned a Diploma in Children's Services and now she intends to qualify in library sciences.
Saifur describes Alice as a "fine small town" that offers "quite an easy life" –  "everything is close", so managing children's pick-ups and working life is not hard. The family are also enjoying visiting the region's beauty spots – Simpson's Gap, Glen Helen, Ayers Rock (where they've already been three times).
If there's a downside, it's the "very expensive" rented accommodation, and fresh food is also dear.
The family have been delighted to meet three other Bangladeshi families here, who form their inner friendship circle. The local mosque is also important to them as Muslims and through their attendance at religious festivals they have met the wider Muslim community in Alice, including people from India and Pakistan.
But they also like to meet people of different backgrounds and in Alice have enjoyed the company of colleagues and neighbours.
Ishraq is 15 years old, in Year 10 at St Philip's. He says he prefers Alice to Canberra, he finds people more welcoming, and has found settling in at school easier. He loves the smallness of the town, the fact that a five minute walk is all it takes to meet up with friends. And he appreciates the smaller classes at school compared to Canberra – "I'm learning a lot."
For Saifur the experience has been more mixed. For instance, social invitations are not always returned, and inevitably, like anywhere, some people are more welcoming than others. And sometimes he feels the isolation of Alice, its great distance from other centres – "sometimes it feels monotonous". But on the whole enjoyment overrides any negatives.
Saifur and Evana are also deeply appreciative of attitudes in the community generally and in children's services, both here and in Canberra, towards their daughter Sarrinah who was born with Down Syndrome. She is five years old now and goes to pre-school, attending both Acacia Hill special school and Teppa Hill mainstream programs. Sarrinah's better chances in Australia were the critical factor in the family's decision to apply for permanent residency.
"In Australia there is much greater acceptance and support for children like her than there is in Bangladesh," says Saifur. "When she goes out anywhere, people are so caring and loving. And the response from her teachers has been really wonderful. We are very grateful."

The wide open space of home. REVIEW by KIERAN FINNANE.

"What is your concept of home?" Artist Craig Walsh asked the question and some 40 residents of Alice Springs answered. The result was a short film, HOME, screened last Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights on the blank wall of the vacant block next to Alice's KFC. It was an interesting choice of location, on one corner of the area that last summer was attracting large numbers of young people late at night, some of them involved in anti-social behaviour and worse. The area and the goings-on there were made notorious by Action for Alice's controversial TV ads and became the focus of widespread media attention.
On Saturday night when I was there, people wandered by in small groups, some, including patrolling police, stopping to watch for a while; others sat down in the chairs provided and watched the looped film right through. The events of the summer, at that hour at least, were already a memory, the screening the only exceptional note at that hour of an otherwise ordinary autumn evening.
As I watched the film I was struck by the large sense of home that most people seemed to have. Many spoke of "belonging" to a community and of "feeling at home" in this landscape. Only one man referred to the social tensions that many outsiders believe dominate life in Alice Springs. He spoke of confusion, fractures, misinterpretations, but also of the beauty and identity of the place that many people relate to.
The over-whelming impression left by the film was that people share a great affection for this place. The features of a beloved landscape came up frequently, its colour and light in particular: for one woman it was a place where the vegetation is intact, and there are not many people; for one man it was the wide open spaces, the room to move, in his case on a motorbike; another woman recalled her sense of arriving in a foreign country; and yet others, of feeling "right" in the landscape or "familiar" with it.
A man spoke of his amazement to feel at home in Alice Springs as soon as he arrived; a woman spoke of having felt at home here for years but now experiencing a change, a desire to return to the place she comes from; a man who grew up here spoke of his desire to leave, to find home "where there is a beach".
Others spoke of the passion of the people, the welcoming attitudes, of people's willingness to commit to the place, to try to work out what it means to be here.
Being at home in this place as birthright of course came up, both for Aboriginal people – "I was born here, my grandparents were born here"; "it's where I learnt lots of stories taught by my grandmothers"  – and for non-Aboriginal people – "Is it my right to be here?"
A few people found their meaning of "home" in the saying, "home is where the heart is". A young man said his home was his body, it provided him with everything he needed, wherever he went he was home; a young woman felt similarly : "Home is me"; another young man spoke of feeling "comfortable and at home within yourself"; an older man saw this inner sense of home as the only thing that can't be taken away from you; an older woman, as the love that you carry within you.
Several spoke of home as sanctuary. A man said he finds himself at home with family and friends, wherever they may be; a woman associated home with cooking and the smells of food, as well as with being herself, without clothes if she wanted to be; a mother spoke of home as the place to where she could escape – wrestle on the floor with her boys, forget about the world outside;
In contrast, one woman spoke of the loss of home – of having had to shift house six times in three years, of the insight it had given her into the way people feel who are compelled to leave their home, and of the value of stability.
A man spoke of home as being part of something artistic.
One young woman spoke of an eventual piano that would make her feel that she was at home. For a little girl, her pets, each one named, loomed large in her sense of home. A little boy spoke of home as a place to have fun and do cooking with Mum; another spoke of it as a place where he was allowed to be.
HOME is an elegantly simple work, intensely focussed on a fundamental human experience and the many levels of understanding and emotion around it. The film – the ninth iteration of the project, part of Walsh's two-year Digital Odyssey tour, supported by Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art – shares some qualities with documentary, yet it's not documentary. It has no premise, nothing is explained, no-one is identified, nothing concluded. Its context is drawn from the place where it is made and shown. At another level, it moves beyond place and becomes a homage to the human face and voice, to their intrinsic beauty that goes beyond the physical, and to deep human culture. It is a generous-spirited work, open from the outset to what people had to offer and returning that to them and their kind.

MOZZIE BITES by RONJA MOSS: Hanging out for that cinema hit.

Last weekend I was feeling edgy and bored, wondering what I should do on my study break. All of a sudden I had that undeniable urge we’ve all connected with at some point – to leave the comfort zone of my own home, kick back a can of coke, gobble some overly buttered popcorn and enjoy the dark shadowing beneath the ‘big screen of the movies’. I was primed and pumped, but after calling the Alice Springs Cinema for program details, that exuberance soon dropped to disappointment. More crap, American recreations of British comedy, multi million blow-out-blow-up action flicks and some other drivel with Reece Witherspoon. I’m not having a dig at The Cinema; I’ve had some of my fondest times there, first cinema experience, first dates and so on. I just really wanted my kind of cinema hit. I was in need of something only the movies can nourish!
Of course I had forgotten that Araluen has their Sunday ‘art-house’ film. That week Brighton Rock, an English melodrama with 1960s hoodlum-class lovers exploring the ugliness of human nature, was featuring. The film was depressing but reasonable, and the turn out was strong. I’m fairly sure it had something to do with the film and not the venue, but the heavy flow of middle-aged viewers started me pondering the cinema venues and demographic around the place. 
For a town of around 27, 000 people Alice Springs has got an astonishing number of cinemas. There are the Alice Springs Cinemas, Araluen, Pop Cinema, Luna Cine at Olive Pink, Wanngardi black and white cinema, The Silver Bullet Backyard Cinema and other less frequent venues displaying films for our enjoyment. Sometimes it appears that there is a cine-scene for every age group and genre!
Reflecting on the range of choices, I suddenly felt naive for judging the past weekend. Today is a long way from the lone Pioneer Theatre that ran in the 1960s and 70s. As people identify with places, so they also do with their crowds sharing similar interests. What I like about visiting the different settings is the knowledge that I’m in for a whole different atmosphere for each one. There are probably people who go to ‘the cinema’ who have never been to Araluen, or even heard of Wanngardi.
Last year, when Pop Cinema was running from Witchetty’s it generated a feel I found particularly satisfying. It wasn’t that the films were always to my liking, but the whole event-style worked wonders. You’d walk through the door greeted by live music, dine through the screening and get something from the bar in intermission.
 “We had a mission to change what cinema is,” said Pop Cinema creator and enthusiast, Cameron Buckley. “When you’re a kid it’s always a really big deal to go to the movies. That feeling like it’s special, we wanted to recreate an adult version of that.”
This year the Pop Cinema guys have only had time for film festivals such as Flicker Fest and, next week’s event, The Human Right Film Festival. However, there have been other similar occasions around the place such as the Bike Film Festival in April, run by another group of film fanatics.
So why is the world of footage so important and relevant to our home? There seems to be something about this ‘big sky’ country, the colour and energy of this place that makes us love the reflective expression of film.

Back to our home page.