ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
July 14, 2011. This page contains all
major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
To our home page.
Ultra clean diesel from Simpson Desert coal? By
Four people strolling around the Show this week, getting locals
interested in a big idea they have, may hold the key for halting Alice
Springs' seemingly inexorable slide towards becoming a welfare town. On
our doorstep is a coal deposit they control, so vast that its size and
value are expressed in numbers followed by nine zeros. It can produce
all the transport fuel needed by Australia for decades – and then some,
the four say.
How's this for magnitude: the "exploration target" from current
drilling – yet to be "proven up" – is thousands of billions of tonnes
of coal, the world's largest deposit held by a single company.
The project would need 3000 people to build infrastructure and 1500 to
run it. Alice would be the service hub, turning around the town's
decline in private enterprise investment and its growing dependency on
the public purse.
Central Petroleum Limited, in association with Allied Resource Partners
Pty Ltd (ARP), are now on a global hunt for $7.5b to build stage one,
producing 60,000 barrels of high-grade diesel a day. The partners are
hoping stage one will be up and running in five to seven years.
Ultimately the venture could produce three million barrels a day, or
more than 1000 million barrels a year, roughly 10 times as much as
Australia is importing at present, says John Heugh, managing director
of Central Petroleum.
And no, this isn't a plan for producing coal that will belch CO2 into
the air. Nor is it about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which in
Queensland is under vehement attack. (Fracking is a process using
water, sand and chemicals to drill deep into the ground and blast apart
rock formations to release natural gases.)
Each tonne of coal can be converted to 1.5 barrels of "ultra clean"
diesel, says ARP's David Shearwood.
The production process is simple and its environmental impact is small
initially, shrinking to tiny very quickly, says Mr Heugh.
This is how it will work: a small portion of a slab of coal is heated
underground and that turns the rest of the slab of coal to gas. That
gas is brought to the surface where in one plant impurities are
removed, and in a second one the gas is liquefied as high-grade, low
emission diesel plus some valuable by-products.
At the start there will be some CO2 emissions. But when processing
starts on the second slab of coal, the CO2 being created is pumped back
into the first hole and sealed.
The CO2 from the third hole is stored and sealed in the second one –
and so on, a continuing process of CO2 sequestration.
This method, called Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) to Gas to
Liquids (GTL), is already in use in Chinchilla, Queensland, and in
Mr Heugh says rather than having a mainly fly-in, fly-out operation the
company would want to settle most of its workforce in Central Australia.
The plant will be near the deposit in the Pedirka Basin, north-east of
Old Andado, in the Simpson Desert, some 200 km south-east of Alice
Some staff would live in The Alice. Building a new town in the desert
may be an option, says Mr Heugh.
The mining process needs very little water and the artesian basin there
is likely to provide enough for a small town.
Mr Shearwood says interest from governments – Territory and Federal –
As the project could fit under either the extraction (coal) or
petroleum (gas) legislations the company has registered the Pedirka
Basin Clean Fuel Production Project under both types of laws.
Mr Shearwood says the sheer size of the project is a challenge for
fundraising. Local fund managers prefer "thus far" to put pension money
they administer into the top-100 companies, and Central Petroleum isn't
one of them – yet. Only about half the fund managers have a mining
"We want the best players around the globe to look at this," says Mr
These are likely to include the world's big oil and mining companies,
Sir – Glad to
see your story on Central Petroleum. I've been a fan and
shareholder for some six years and have visited their well sites. Very
few people here realise the scope of the project and I don’t think any
of the town planners realise the implications, mainly for the areas
south of The Gap, for example, Brewer Estate.
This further illustrates that the planning is well behind developments
and extremely short sighted.
I attended the general meeting in Perth last year and spoke to John
Heugh at length. I didn’t know he was at the Show or I would have loved
to talk to him.
I have just got from Robyn Lambley the AS traffic study 2010 to 2025,
which does not anticipate any traffic problems through The Gap in that
time. Let's wait and see. Also it makes looking at rail diversion for
freight trains around the town an even more likely and obviously
pressing issue, with freight and ore trains going each way. I also
heard on Saturday that Palm Valley gas will not be economic by early
I will be going to Perth again this year for the Central Petroleum
I have also circulated to all the Members of the Assembly a document
from Australian Science regarding the need for agricultural research
into food production which makes the AZRI thing even more ridiculous.
Let's have more 'art' in public art. KIERAN FINNANE comments.
As welcome as they are, the recent public art projects in Alice Springs
– at the front of the airport terminal and at the new indoor pool –
have in the main been conceived as architectural decoration. As a
result they tend to disappear into the fabric of the buildings and the
works' ability to claim space for themselves as art – work that can
inspire an emotional response, that can prompt reflection, new ideas,
that can change perceptions, change the experience of a space –
This is very much the case at the airport for the Aboriginal-designed
elements of the project – the pillar sheaths, the canopy, awning
appliques and bollards. I did not even recognise at first that the
pillar sheaths are based on designs by Aboriginal artists, so
mass-produced is their character. The only work that is stand-alone art
is the sculpture in the entry courtyard by non-Aboriginal artists
Pamela Lofts and Pip McManus. This work is allowed to simply express
itself as art, serving no other function, and so manages to be much
more transformative of the space in which it sits than any of the other
elements of the project.
At the pool all of the art is applied as architectural decoration:
there's a mosaic pathway; rows of tiles around the splash pool seats
and walls; the giant mural on the external wall to the facility; the
'wallpaper' on the far internal wall; and the patchwork tiles in the
The giant external mural, developed by Alison Hittman from the drawings
of schoolchildren, has the potential to get people to stop and look at
its many charming little narratives. But its presentation in two large
parallelograms, used symmetrically to break down the expanse of the
facade, dilutes its impact.
The exquisitely conceived and produced Claypan Wallpaper by Elliat Rich
misses the opportunity this work could have had, because of twin
problems of placement and scale. Positioned well above eye level and in
a space made busy by the nature of its use, the wallpaper risks not
being noticed at all. And the scale of its visual detail – inspired by
the fauna and flora of the claypans which in wet years hold naturally
existing bodies of water – is too small to have the impact it
Rich's patchwork of tiles in the change rooms are appropriately and
elegantly decorative and are a perfect expression of their idea of
bringing the domestic into this more intimate part of the public space.
I am obviously not arguing against the involvement of artists and
designers in the developing unique enhancements of architectural
surfaces, but I'd like to see more priority in our public art projects
for stand-alone works of art.
There's also a need to have a coherent vision of the whole space and of
the way in which a work of art will relate to it, and where multiple
artists are involved, the way in which different works will relate to
one another. The airport entrance and pool projects are all over the
place in this regard.
At the pool there is an incredible clash of aesthetics in the work in
the outdoor area. In particular, the muted colours and dull base of the
tiles around the splash pool, again drawing on designs by children,
look wrong and old-fashioned in contrast to the clean, bright colours
in use in the mural and pathway.
And the effect at the airport is busy and trivialising, especially when
you consider what an impact Aboriginal art from this region has had
around the world.
After six months at a truck stop – oasis
Alice! By ESTELLE ROBERTS
(MOZZIE BITES is on holidays)
Having spent six months at a truck stop in the
Top End my taste buds were juicing up at the culinary delights I was
sure Alice Springs would have on offer. Supermarkets, cafes,
restaurants, fast food, Indian and Thai – I couldn't wait to transcend
the flavor of beef, bacon and cheese pies.
I spent my first week in Alice participating in an earth bag dome
building work shop and our hosts had organised an excursion to see some
interesting builds – mud brick, bottle walls and paper creations were
all happening but what caught my attention as we went from home to home
were the amazing gardens. There were orchards and chook pens, succulent
veggies and herbs, so crispy, leafy and fresh! A wonderland away from
the deep fried and frozen foods at the truck stop.
To be completely honest the food at the truck stop wasn't at all bad –
I got a taste for the pies, but there were plenty of trucked in
vegetables too. What was incredible though was unpacking the weekly
delivery and noting carrots from Queensland, tomatoes from SA, rocket
from NSW, potatoes from America! All wilting slightly from their
harrowing trip over thousands of kilometers on the back of a road
The vegie garden in Alice that blew me away was an insane oasis. In the
middle of a hot 'n' dry day I could hear water tinkling through an
aquapondic system (pictured above).
It uses only 10% of the water a regular garden might, with fish housed
in the garden beds or old bath tubs on one level, and on the other, fed
by the fish poo, a mass of blooming, sprouting goodness.
The initial excitement I felt for the smells and tastes in Alice waned
as steadily as my bank balance. $14 a kilo for mushrooms, 9 bucks for
capsicums, $3 for a little unripe avocado from the ‘fresh food people’,
quickly soured my first sweet impressions. The task of buying fresh
fruit 'n' veg became a wild goose chase for expiring cheap items at the
independent grocers. I worry about food security in densely
populated urban areas, but in remote areas the worry is just as
tenacious. And I hate buying things from supermarkets anyway –
they confuse me, I must look ridiculous stumbling about under the
I took a walk with a friend the other day who told me about the curious
sensation she had felt as the only one up in the early hours of a
bright morning. Thinking about all the other comatose residents so
crazily different in their waking lives who were at once the same in
their human need to sleep ... and to eat.
I like that there are so many food stories in Alice. One of the first
things I did was look for a community garden and am excited to find
that one is on the grow. There is a woman who brings rocket from her
garden to the café I work at – I can tell that we're going to be
friends. One of the cooks at the cafe in down time home delivers
mandarins, coriander and horse poo! A woman conducts a lively trade in
seedlings both at the markets and from her home on yard sale mornings.
And perhaps the cherry on top, my boss gives me all the Portobello
mushroom stems that would other wise go to the chooks!
I’m not exactly sure what it was that brought me to Alice Springs but
what’s going on between the ground and the people here is one of the
things tempting me to put down a few roots.
LETTERS: Love, sadness for The
Red Centre and Aussie arts and crafts
Dear Sirs (a very British greeting but that's what I am) – I have just
read your article
about Renate Schenk, along with reports in other papers of alcohol
related crime, with sadness.
My husband and I first visited Alice Springs in 1994 when we drove from
Uluru to Ross River and finished with a few days in Alice.
We fell in love with The Red Centre and the Outback. The whole
experience was everything we hoped for and although, even then, we were
advised to avoid the Todd River area in the evenings, we enjoyed our
few days exploring the main tourist areas.
In Alice we bought three wall hangings of the type shown in your
picture – they were all proudly "Made in Australia" and we have them
Between 1986 and 2006 we have visited Australia six times and each time
we were determined to explore a different corner of your fabulous
country. Grant you, the impetus for our visits was having family out
there but after the first holiday in 1986 we needed no ulterior motive
to keep returning – just the funds!
Each trip gave us some magical moments and wonderful memories. There
are too many to recount.
We returned to the Red Centre in 2001, hiring a small campervan out of
Alice and spending a week exploring Uluru (again), Kings Canyon and the
McDonnell Ranges, including the Mereenie Loop Road.
Our only slight disappointments came with the inevitable "progress" and
the increase in tourists.
The base walk around Uluru became discreetly cordoned; it made no
difference, those who wanted to take the 1000th photo simply stepped
over the rope and ignored the signs to respect the sacred areas.
Port Campbell National Park and the 12 Apostles went from a wild and
wonderful natural experience in 1986 to fully commercial, Visitor's
Centre with coach parks and boardwalks by the time we returned in 2003.
By 2006 we noticed a marked increase in accommodation and car hire
costs (and the UK pound wasn't as weak then as it is now!); everything
seemed much more commercial, whether it was Sydney, Noosa, Gold Coast
and so on.
Our biggest disappointment was the amount of cheap souvenirs. Trying to
buy anything of decent quality made in Australia became a challenge
almost as tough as Outback driving!
My favourite store in Sydney has gone to the wall – Weiss Art. We did
find a small family business with a stall at The Rocks Market in Sydney
where I spent a small fortune.
And in Queensland we bought two watercolour prints by a local artist.
They now are proudly hung in our lounge. But I guess that we are of the
few who would rather buy one genuine Australia-made article than ten
made in China.
It must be even more difficult now that the infamous Global Downturn
has affected most of us.
We are now retired and know that with the current exchange rates
between our two countries my husband and I cannot afford to do the kind
of independent trips we used to enjoy and the organised tours all tread
a well worn route, moving on after just a day or two in each place.
They miss so much.
We hope to get back to Australia one day and when we do we'll do our
best to support local arts and crafts – if there are any.
Good luck and best wishes
Isobel and Dave Smith
Lifting of live export ban
Sir – The Federal Government's decision to lift the suspension on
live cattle exports to Indonesia is a relief to the industry and
pastoralists who have faced almost a month of uncertainty about the
future of their industry and the trade to Indonesia.
Now our efforts and focus must shift to immediately hammering out the
logistics around the practicality of how the resumption will take place
on the ground.
Primary Industry Minister Kon Vatskalis will be talking with officials
and industry about:
• assisting the transition back to exports;
• supporting Territory families affected to understand how the
resumption will work;
• identifying after-effects including managing oversupply of cattle;
• exploring new potential markets in Asia.
We estimate there will be an extra 100,000 head of cattle left on
country that would otherwise have been exported to Indonesia. As the
cattle trade resumes it is important that the necessary assistance is
provided to Territory pastoralists to help manage their excess cattle.
The NT Government will also provide funding to host and train
Indonesians involved in the industry so that animal welfare standards
are adhered to.
Paul Henderson, Chief Minister
Kon Vatskalis, Primary Industry Minister
Sir – I cautiously welcome the Federal Government’s decision to lift
the blanket ban on live beef exports to Indonesia.
While details are sketchy, I welcome Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig’s
announcement that live cattle exports will resume with Indonesia and
hope the decision breathes life back into an industry that has been on
The decision to slap a six-month blanket ban on live exports to
Indonesia showed the Federal Government was woefully out of touch with
northern Australia. Its knee-jerk reaction has damaged northern
Australia’s economy as well as our relationship with Indonesia.
Senator Ludwig’s back-flip was necessary and overdue. I look forward to
seeing the details, although it appears the Commonwealth has put the
industry back on the same footing it was immediately after the Four
Corners program went to air.
In the weeks since the blanket ban was announced, the livelihoods of
thousands of Territorians have been under threat as income streams
dried up. I hope the Commonwealth honours its commitment to compensate
pastoralists and workers affected by the ban.
The blanket ban has highlighted the importance of the Northern
Territory re-establishing a permanent presence in Indonesia to
capitalise on our strategic relationship to mutual benefit.
Work needed in Indonesian industry
Sir – The NT Cattlemen’s Association applauds Minister Ludwig’s
decision to lift the live cattle trade suspension but cautions that the
cash flow crisis facing northern producers may take more than a year to
While the news is a great relief, the reality is that there is a great
deal of work that needs to be done in Indonesia before the trade
returns to some kind of normality.
I have just returned from Indonesia as part of a joint NT Government
and industry delegation. There are about 25 abattoirs that are being
upgraded to meet the new standards required for us to export cattle,
which is about a third of the facilities that normally take cattle. We
call on both the federal and state governments to assist MLA in
upgrading the rest of the facilities and train the Indonesian abattoir
We also need to be mindful that the cattle that are shipped into
Indonesia will spend 90 days or more in a feedlot before they go to the
abattoir, so during that period we must ramp up our investment and
human effort into the upgrades and training.
Cattle numbers leaving northern ports for Indonesia will be restricted
for some time, which translates to continuing financial stress for
producers waiting for cattle sales. There is no financial quick fix.
Our best hope is for a strong and determined focus by industry and
Government on getting the work done in Indonesia.