Steve Brown’s assertion: “I’m an environmentalist, of the common sense …

Comment on Brown’s “blow-in Enviro-Nazi” blast draws formal complaint by Mike Gillam.

Steve Brown’s assertion: “I’m an environmentalist, of the common sense kind” sits uneasily with his biased promotion of exotic plants and apparent indifference to their potential as environmental weeds. His latest offering continues in the same vein as his letter “Blow in enviro Nazis – hands off our water!” (I’ve mostly quoted from this earlier letter). Almost lost in the name-calling and dogma he does make some valid points concerning the importance of water recycling and cost recovery from consumers. But he also promotes the planting of exotic trees over natives (claiming water efficiency as his justification) while making special mention of the “olive from Spain…” despite its recognition as an environmental weed in this country. His views are concerning because he is Chair of the Alice Springs Town Council’s Environment Committee and as such he may be voicing something more than a private opinion.

Promoting the merits of exotic trees over natives, Steve observes, “we’ve filled our town with ugly, …. water guzzling WA gums” I’m grateful to Steve for raising this historical tragedy but I’m shocked if he thinks this helps to prove his point “…the sacrifice of our town to the blindly naive beliefs of a few Loopy Left Environmentalists …” Surely no student of Alice Springs Town Council history could ever believe that lefty/environmentalist/do-gooders have EVER held sway in the chamber? It is however a reality that the Town Council (before Steve’s time) made a huge public investment in “popular” Australian natives in preference to endemic (Central Australian natives) for street tree plantings.
These included some species with relatively high water needs. Many failed to thrive and I can’t begin to imagine the waste of water or the collateral “marketing” damage to the reputation of local / endemic species. Instead of helping to drive demand and increase availability to the general public, local natives were often studiously avoided by the Town Council. For many years most trees planted in the streets of Alice Springs were Australian natives but not actually Central Australian! Advanced stock was often favoured over smaller fresher plants and “fast growing” was another attribute that didn’t necessarily translate into a sound local investment. Some trees were planted in soils that guaranteed their failure and planting schemes tended to be ad hoc and rarely determined by a landscaping plan – a huge lost opportunity for local government to improve the amenity of public places, highlight local responses to this amazing region and lead by example. Unless public officials can rise to the challenges of leadership and draw upon this community’s enviable breadth of skills, Town Council’s stewardship of public places including the beleaguered Todd River are unlikely to improve. On a positive note, endemic trees have increased greatly in Town Council plantings in recent years and it would be a shame if Steve’s comments encouraged Council to retreat from this position. Trees are a long term investment for our community and it would be good therefore to see experienced streetscape designers making better use of our rich botanical heritage. The Town Council might also seek help from a wide array of local environmental scientists, ecologists, botanists, including experienced CDU lecturers, to run courses on environmental awareness for relevant staff and committee members.

Mike Gillam Also Commented

Brown’s “blow-in Enviro-Nazi” blast draws formal complaint
The notion that our society might sit on its hands and even actively assist the next wave of species extinctions by failing to protect regional biodiversity could only be described as NOT “dealing with it”.
While the actions of 19th century acclimatisation societies who introduced various pests including English songbirds, rabbits etc can be excused in large part by ignorance how do we explain studied indifference to the loss of biodiversity today?
I’m not totally sure about the relevance of Hal’s whitefellas and yet another enviro-bogey man thrown in for good measure. I was referring to the historical choice of trees for amenity planting. Sustainable and “prolific” shade was probably a core objective at the time but inexplicably the Town Council’s choice of Eucalypt species included some from south-west WA, a temperate zone.
The climatic contrasts are great. Alice Springs lies in a semi arid zone with many more days of high summer temperatures and much higher maximums.
Equivalent “local” species were largely ignored and the town received a less than optimal return on its investment. Fair enough, we all make mistakes and hopefully we learn.
Councillor Brown takes the lesson in a peculiar direction: “More Furphies: native plants use less water! … while there are few suitably attractive species native to this area that give value for money / water, there are many exotics that do far better…”
Exploiting the failure of some temperate zone Eucalypts to justify promoting exotics (potentially harmful to the surrounding natural environment) is irresponsible. Brushing over an array of local native plants that could help to transform this town’s public places simply beggars belief.


Recent Comments by Mike Gillam

Melanka building would obscure unequalled backdrop
While I broadly support the views of the writer, I’d like to correct what is clearly a typo.
The building height limit in the CBD is 14 m. not 8.5m, and for the record, I won’t be making a submission to the NT Planning Commission, a Statutory Authority advising the NT Government on planning matters including building heights in Alice Springs because I don’t regard the public consultation process as genuine.
Recent calls by the Chief Minister for expressions of interest in the development of land at Whittaker Street, just outside the western boundary of the CBD and in an area with a LOWER height limit, makes a mockery of this public consultation.
The artist’s impression shows a building that dramatically exceeds the stated limit for this area, from memory, not even 14 m but currently 8.5m.
Of course, the nature of legislation, regulations and town plans may be subject to the extraordinary powers granted to the responsible Minister who can always find some justification.
In closing I would give credit to the NT Planning Commission for its recognition of the value of protecting some critical east west sight-lines across the CBD.
However the town’s future shape and collective massing of buildings will be determined to a large extent by the uncoordinated actions of individual developers and politicians in the decades ahead.
Ultimately this is a game of chance and DESIGN, that elusive collective vision for Alice Springs, appears to be taking a back seat in the process. As a struggling tourist town we can and should do much better.


Festival broadens ambitions of Alice Cinema
At a time when the town’s commercial centre is under great stress we are very fortunate to have such dynamic and progressive people directing the cinema complex.


A funny thing happened to me on the way to the tip …
Delightfully zany, elegant, rigorously conceived and resolved, an asset to the landfill and the town. Congratulations to the artist for her uncompromising effort and those on the Town Council who placed their faith in her and dared to make this happen. I hope the obvious quality of this public art has raised the confidence of decision makers and they feel vindicated to do it again with equal rigour. Perhaps in time, as the town’s artistic side is further highlighted and revealed we may regain some of our reputation as a tourist mecca.


Dancers take over after dark
Not denying there is an equivalent need for the hard core stories but surely this is the Alice Springs News at its very best.I’m kicking myself for missing the event.


Residency is at risk, says heritage group
Hal, where to start…If you peddle misinformation some readers might hyperventilate. But I think you’re ignoring the elephant in the room here…no-one likes their time being wasted and that’s how I feel trying to unravel your torrent of opinion and innuendo. Time prevents me from responding to more of your posts. It’s not simply that you distort reality by describing The Residency as “…current inactive state…” or that it’s preposterous and insulting to say, “Have you considered that Heritage Alice Springs’ dogmatic approach to these matters contributed to the Old Riverside not being given Heritage listing?” What an outrageous example of shoot the messenger by some-one who has not seen the nomination by HAS. But wait there’s more, “…I often think the heritage crowd exceed their brief…” Really? They’re the main reason you can cite the example of the Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame at its fantastic heritage location. And again, “…We don’t have very many buildings worth listing. Too many tin sheds, and who really cares…” Your regard for vernacular architecture including sheds is out of step with rising national interest and ignores much of the development history of Alice Springs.
PS Re. leasing the Residency for use as a cafe, I reiterate the issue of onsite car-parking. From memory, 6 parks are required for every 100m2 of net floor area and any alfresco dining areas – so I’m guessing this site would have to at least double the existing parks – this reasonable condition may be waived by the Minister BUT it’s in the best commercial interests of cafe owners to provide viable parking to lessen the impact on the street during periods of peak trade. And no, the idea that a new venture would be allowed to free-load on existing public car-parking is unlikely to win much support. The RFDS has it all, why try to replicate that experience with less at the Residency?


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