Voice row is getting louder


Senator Price is trying to mislead us, by misrepresenting the nature and origin of the proposed Voice.

This time in the form of a glossy leaflet in the letterbox.

In the leaflet she alleges that it is the Prime Minister who has put forward the referendum question, but it comes directly from the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

It specifically says: “We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.”

Albanese is responding directly to that request.

She says that the Voice is “constitutionally controversial”.

Constitutional legal experts from the Australian Solicitor General on down have categorically rejected this claim.

She says: “The Parliament can’t change the Voice.”

This is wrong. The Parliament will determine the nature and functioning of the Voice.

Which is, of course the origin of her completely contradictory claim that the Voice is “poorly defined”.

She says: “It embeds race in our constitution and will divide the nation.”

Race is already in our constitution. Section 51. Legislative powers of the Parliament: The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to … (xxvi) the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.

She says: “Indigenous Australians are already consulted and have a say.”

Yes, they have been.

The Referendum Council appointed by then Prime Minister Turnbull and leader of the opposition Shorten travelled around the country and met with over 1,200 Aboriginal people. 250 delegates attended the National First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru.

And they said: “We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.”

IMAGE: Government promotion for Voice referendum.

Red meat 10% of greenhouse gas emissions

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from red meat production in Australia – cattle, sheep and goats – dropped 65% between 2005 and 2020, according to a CSIRO report.

The scope includes livestock production as well as processing that occurred within Australia.

These emissions represented 10.3% of national GHG emissions in 2020.

More than 90% of red meat industry emissions were associated with grazing and land management.

Feedlot production contributed 5.8% and processing another 2.1%.

The production and processing of beef cattle contributed most of the emissions (88.2%).

Sheep and goats contributed 11.6% and 0.15% respectively.

Jason Strong, managing director of Meat & Livestock Australia which co-released the report, says the drop in 2020 compared to 2019 was partly explained by reductions in livestock numbers following the years of drought leading into 2020.

PHOTO: Cattle auction in Alice Springs. This year’s Show Sale will be held from 9am on Thursday at the Bohning Stock Yards.

UPDATE July 4: The sale has been postponed till August because rain has made roads partly impassible.

As nuke subs scare, Henley on Todd boats are a hoot


One of The Alice’s premier annual events, the dry river regatta Henley on Todd (HOT), needs the town’s locals and growing immigrant populations to make up for the expected drop in tourist numbers this year.

“We are targeting all types of social, cultural and sporting groups for the BYO races,” says Dominic Miller, a spokesman for Rotary which runs the spectacle.

“We are particularly encouraging the Indians as they are the biggest ethnic migrant group.”

BYO races are for entrants who bring their own boats, none of which have bottoms so the legs can stick out and provide the propulsion up and down the Todd River – in its sand, not water.

Mr Mlller says another large ethnic group are the South Sudanese: “At the HOT beach cricket event we will have the international debut of the South Sudan Saints. We have interest from the Filipino community too.”

This year the event, staged by hundreds of volunteers, is making a foray into corporate motivating: “It’s also a great team building activity,” says Mr Miller.

HOT, to be launched on August 19, is claimed to be the only dry river boating Regatta in the world.

And with nuclear powered submarines causing widespread distress, the battle boats of HOT (pictured) represent the opposite end of nautical technology.

Last year HOT won the nationally televised Australia’s Best Competition Competition.

The only thing that could stop the event in its 60 year history, apart from Covid, was – you’ll never guess it – water: The Todd flowed in 1993.




Edward Neal is astonished to witness the levitating vehicle, resurrected as it were, from amongst the abandoned wrecks.

The absence of ready cash and spare-parts retailers in remote Australia results in abandoned cars soon being stripped of working parts. Dysfunctional cars were gathering number at Whitegate. Some needed only a battery to be recharged, a wheel, a starter motor or carburettor.

Young guys, many pre-driving age, treated them as Dodgem cars, hooning the dirt tracks outside of town, or when charged up, venturing through town risking police apprehension.

Stealing cars is popular and hulks littering roadsides tell tales of risky misadventure, be it skylarking or an aborted attempt to return to a remote community. Expressing anger or settling disputes by smashing windscreens and tyre slashing is commonplace. Frequently cars are incinerated to reduce incriminating evidence.

Frequent question: Is it safe to go to Alice Springs?



The current drop in crime in Alice Springs coincides with a decrease in tourism of around 40% in several sectors, triggered largely by the nation-wide reporting of crime in Alice Springs.

Mayor Matt Paterson (pictured)wanted the army and the Australian Federal Police to intervene” the Guardian reported, quoting him on January 19: “We’re seeing domestic violence through the roof. We’re seeing drunken behaviour in the street. We’ve seen crime go up. We’ve seeing more kids out on the street. It’s been a disaster.”

Mayor Paterson said today it was his obligation to inform the public about “what we have to live through every day.

“Alice Springs needed help.”

It would be a “long bow” to blame him for the drop in visitation and for talking down the region: The “complete opposite” is true.

He says following his speaking out the Stronger Futures was brought back and a $48.8m grant came from Canberra, partly to be used for more police.

Claims by self-appointed defender of the town, blogger Darren Clark, described as a businessman, were eagerly snapped up by Murdoch’s Sky News, seriously harming the town’s one major industry that isn’t welfare – tourism. (Mr Clark declines to discuss his activities with the Alice Springs News.)

Restrictions to alcohol availability by the Liquor Commission, a Territory not a national instrumentality, and not army boots on the ground, are likely to have led to the drop in crime.

The town is clearly not out of the woods. Today’s police news is about the theft of two vehicles yesterday at 5.30pm, from an organisation on Percy Court.

The vehicles were observed driving dangerously throughout the CBD and surrounding suburbs, intentionally swerving into the path of police vehicles,” says the media release.

Four and a half hours later tyre “deflation devices were successfully deployed” and 13 youths, aged between eight and 18, were arrested.

Tourism Central Australia CEO Danial Rochford says the lobby group met on June 7 when “talking up the town” was discussed in general terms, with no specific references to Mayor Paterson nor Mr Clark’s blog.

Mr Rochford says the region is having a “two speed tourism season” at the moment.

The “pressure point” is the drive market, the grey nomads, and the caravan parks in town and its attractions. A 40% drop is a variable figure.

Roadhouses out of town are doing well.

Mr Rochford says because of the Fitzroy River crossing seasonal flooding some road travellers are changing the normal routine of going ‘round Australia anti-clockwise  – Alice first and from there to Katherine and WA.

These will arrive in The Centre later this year, on their clockwise itinerary.

Brendan Heenan, owner of the multi-award winning MacDonnell Range Caravan Park in Alice Springs, says in June and July his park is usually at capacity. This year on some days it is 50% below the corresponding time last year.

Mr Heenan says the media “made a thing” of crime here which, he says, is no worse than in other places around Australia.

“It went on for too long.”

Potential customers frequently ask: “Is it safe to go to Alice Springs?”

Crime here is getting more attention because The Alice is an iconic town.

Mr Heenan says it is unclear what is happening with the $250m promised by Prime Minister Albanese and he blames alcohol abuse for crime and neglect of children.

He says offenders should undergo “mandatory rehabilitation. They need help”.

Current government crime statistics show drops in some categories but not in all. It is clear that the town council, after an election campaign dominated by law-and-order issues, has contributed little to bring relief.

The new town council was declared elected on September 13, 2021, with offending at levels close to now.

In the following four months little was done to temper the crime wave unfolding in the early part of 2022, not much different to the way it had been doing for decades.

Using the first four months of the year (all our figures relate to this period) as a basis for an apples-with-apples exercise indicates that the euphoria about the current statistics is not entirely justified.

In the January to April periods the tally of all crimes hasn’t changed a lot in the past three years (check our table).

The 2023 number is almost exactly the same as the one for 2021, namely 3554 and 3764, respectively.

Assaults during the survey period in 2022 was 800. This year, when it’s claimed all is better than it has been for years, the number is 791. It was 583 in 2021.

However, the assault figures this year dropped from 264 in January to 171, 185 and 171 respectively for the next three months.

There was an even sharper drop in house break-ins in February, March and April 2023 (from 213 in January to 65, 82 and 52), and in commercial break-ins (from 130 to 79, 99 and 75).

Excluding January it’s very similar for house break-ins: 2021 (73, 60 and 71), 2022 (95, 112 and 97).

For commercial break-ins the pattern is similar, always with January the worst month.

Car thefts peaked in 2022. This year is marginally worse than 2021.

Property damage this year is level with last year and substantially higher than 2021. The figures are a staggering 1063 (2023), 1088 (2022) and 866 (2021).

“Senseless and destructive behaviour” was a continual problem in Alice Springs, Mayor Paterson told the Nine Network.

“The flavour of the month right now is edged weapons, but before that it was ram-raids of buildings.

“There will be no Alice Springs left” if the Federal government does not step in to address the town’s crime crisis, he told Today on January 24, the very day Territory authorities stepped in with alcohol restrictions and when people ponder their holiday plans.

PHOTO at top: Alice Springs terminal yesterday. An airport spokesperson says the Airport Development Group can confirm that passenger numbers through Alice Springs are significantly down on pre-Covid levels. There are a number of reasons for this including a reduction in the number of flights into Alice Springs and an increase in direct flights – they are not transiting through Alice.

UPDATE June 30:

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade announced that domestic drive tourists in the Top End region for the year ending December 2022 exceeded pre-pandemic levels but gives no details about the Centre region except to say it “showed positive signs of recovery following the impacts of COVID-19 on holiday source markets”.

About the Fitzroy River crossing the department said today that a new two-lane low-level crossing is now open on the road to WA. The sealed crossing is part of a temporary detour of the Great Northern Highway around the site where a new bridge is being constructed.

It is the Fitzroy River, not the Victoria River that influences the clock-wise or anti-clockwise choice for ’round Australia travellers by road.

UPDATE June 30:

Robyn Lambley, independent Member for Araluen, this afternoon launched a blistering attack on NT Deputy Police Commissioner, Murray Smalpage.

In a media statement she says his comparing 2023 data to 2019 is “at the very least, incorrect.

“In fact crime statistics show an almost doubling of the incidents of crime in Alice Springs, both in terms of property crimes and crimes against the person.

“Earlier this month … we saw this deceitful narrative of Government systematically denying crime take shape,” says Mrs Lambley.

“The next NT Election is just 14 months away. This Labor propaganda on crime is obviously a key part of their campaign strategy to attempt to minimise the perception of crime in the NT.

“Moreover, big changes to the Police Media Unit have resulted in tighter controls on information being disseminating to the public.

“The NT Labor Government have employed a marketing manager in the Department of Chief Minister and Cabinet, who is working directly with the NT Police executive to produce a more favourable spin on crime.

“This is political interference. This is political propaganda.”

CORRECTION: We corrected in the table above the TOTAL line for 2022.

ERROR: The restrictions on alcohol availability were taken by the Minister for Alcohol Policy and the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, and not by the Northern Territory Liquor Commission.

Valuable paintings stolen from outback gallery


Artworks worth thousands of dollars were stolen last Friday from Ali Curung, 380 km north of Alice Springs.

Police say the paintings (pictured) were taken at 1pm from outside the Arlpwe Art and Culture Centre.

They are two works by Maria Dickenson, both called miyikampi and measuring 91cm by 91cm.

Both feature a series of predominately white dots on a black background. One has blue and yellow shapes, the other red and yellow / orange lines.

Warrick Miller’s painting ngapa jukupur measures 180cm by 120cm and shows a series of white squiggly lines surrounding three dotted circles with a bold white circle in the centre.

An unnamed painted by Sonya Murphy, also 91cm by 91cm, has red and white circles.

Ali Curung police say they are working closely with the victims and the art gallery to locate the paintings and return them to the rightful owner.

Voice ‘not based upon any overseas precedent’


Are there any democratic countries where the constitution requires the parliament and executive to listen to a race-defined minority while there is no such obligation with respect to the other part of the population?

And if there are such countries, how do they manage their obligations?

These are questions the News put to Rachel Perkins, celebrated film maker, impassioned Yes advocate in the Voice debate, Alice Springs born and bred – a daughter of Charlie Perkins.

She forwarded the questions to Anne Twomey, Australian academic and lawyer specialising in Australian constitutional law.

She is currently the Professor of Constitutional Law and Director of the Constitutional Reform Unit at Sydney Law School at the University of Sydney.

Prof Twomey (pictured) replied:

The Voice referendum proposal was developed here in Australia to deal with our own Constitution and circumstances. 

It was not based upon any overseas precedent, so it is hard to find something closely comparable from another country.

I’m not aware of any country that has the same type of system as is proposed for Australia.

Each country has its own particular history and Constitution, and its own relationship with its Indigenous peoples – such as treaties, or a form of recognition of self-determination in its Constitution, or dedicated seats in Parliament, or a legislated representative body (which for various reasons may have greater stability and longevity than legislated bodies have had in Australia).

If you are looking for something more detailed and scholarly, this book contains comparative analysis:

(Conflict of interest alert – I am a part owner of Federation Press, which is why I know about this book. But there are probably other books out there that also address the issue.)

This book contains comparative analysis: Concepts and Context; Theories, Critique and Alternatives and Comparative Perspectives.

It includes work by well-regarded constitutional law scholars and legal historians, as well as analysis built from and framed by Indigenous world views and knowledges.

It also features the voices of a number of comparative scholars – examining relevant developments in the United States, Canada, the South Pacific, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and South America.

The combined authorship represents 10 universities from across Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

RELATED READING: Voice to Parliament: Scandinavia can do it, why not Australia?

Art gallery leap forward – in Darwin



Of the two budding NT government art galleries, one is making news: The one in Darwin, because construction is under way.

At the opposite end of the Territory, and of government attention, there is no news about the Alice Springs “national” Aboriginal gallery because its senior director, Tracy Puklowski, is not able, not willing, not permitted, not whatever to answer media questions.

The latest news about the $130m Alice project was an exclusive by the Alice Springs News about fundraising and the delay of the project till 2028.

In Darwin the excavation for the Northern Territory Art Gallery (pictured) is now complete and sub-structure works will start this month on the $88m project, employing 192 workers to date.

When asked what stage the so-called National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs has reached Ms Puklowski said: “Put your question in an email.”

And so we emailed at 11.58am yesterday: “Hi Tracy, what stage has the development of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs reached?”

At 3:34pm we received a text from Ms Puklowski: “Please contact TFHC media.”

We did and got a reply from Corporate Communications, Territory Families, Housing and Communities at 8:15am today: “We will get back to you before end of day tomorrow.”

That’s tomorrow, Wednesday, two full days after we asked Ms Puklowski a pretty simple question.

The inconclusive website of the Alice Springs project was of little help while NT Government gushed about the Darwin one: “The Territory Labor Government is transforming our CBD into a green, welcoming and interactive destination for locals and visitors to enjoy and explore,” Eva Lawler, Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, announced breathlessly.

“Local Territory company Sitzler is leading the entire $145m project to deliver the Civic and State Square precinct. This includes the Art Gallery, Central Heart, public art and water features.

“The construction of the Northern Territory Art Gallery will be complete in 2025 – three years before the Alice one, by the government’s own admission.

“Other projects within the Civic and State Square development are progressing well with the design tender to redevelop Liberty Square to be awarded in the coming weeks,” says Minister Lawler.

“The Northern Territory Art Gallery will be a state-of-the-art piece of infrastructure featuring large galleries with high ceilings, a grand foyer, dedicated community spaces and so much more.”

A statement about the “national” gallery in Alice Springs by Gerard Vaughan, co-chairman of the “forthcoming” institution’s reference group, is contained in a two minute seven second online video, bereft of detail: “From day one (what day is that going to be?) we can have the greatest masterpieces brought together (which ones and from where?) in one place and have some of the best displays that could ever be put together anywhere right here in Alice Springs.” Louvre, move over!

The “full design services to enable the construction” of the Alice gallery is still a work in progress, at a cost of $7.2m, by the Brisbane office of the international firm BVN Architecture in collaboration with the local firm Susan Dugdale & Associates.

Right now would be a good time to be giving a glimpse of where the project design stands to the people paying for it – the public – before it is locked in, especially since the mishandling of the development so far has become legend.

In fact the tender details process tells part of the story of woe: The tender was started in April 2021, closed in June 2021, and was accepted in March 2022, almost a year later.

(Google our extensive coverage over the six years the project has been in development.)

UPDATE June 21:

A Territory Families, Housing and Communities spokesperson provided the statement below which does not include a completion date. The News reported it as 2028.

The National Aboriginal Art Gallery is in the development design phase of the project.

Key project updates include:

• The Northern Territory Government acquisition of the Anzac Oval site and initial consultation with Traditional Owners, community members and key stakeholders is complete.

• Re-zoning of the site is underway, with written submissions about the proposed planning scheme amendment due to close on July 7.

• Design of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery is at 15% completion, with 100% of the design projected by May 2024.

• Geotech investigations of the site will commence shortly.

• A four-week public consultation period on the gallery’s future operations (programs and exhibitions) is also planned.

The total committed funds for the gallery is $149m – $69m from the Northern Territory Government and $80m from the Australian Government.

The National Aboriginal Art Gallery will draw on the wealth of collections of First Nations Art held nationwide and internationally. In addition, the gallery will feature touring exhibitions and exhibitions created in partnership with other galleries, artists, art centres, and communities.

 As the project progresses, an exhibition program will be developed that includes a regularly changing program that balances local, regional, and national First Nations stories.

The Anzac Oval site, which was acquired from the Alice Springs Town Council in March 2022, remains the site of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery.

The site will be transformed into an open, family-friendly, community green space with the gallery as the centrepiece. The gallery’s landscaping will also feature Kwatye (water) Play. The development of the gallery is part of a broader plan for the Anzac Hill precinct, which includes a new visitor information centre and purpose-built home for Tourism Central Australia as well as the realignment of Schwarz Crescent.

Bushfire in Desert Springs


There is a heightened level of threat from a bushfire in Hillside Garden Street, Desert Springs

Fire authorities in Alice Springs have issues a “watch and act” alert late this afternoon:

“Conditions are changing. Start taking action now to protect your family and your property.

“The fire is spreading on one or more fronts. Effective containment strategies are not in place for the entire perimeter.

“Smoke from this fire may affect visibility. Active fire may occur close to the roadside.

“Leave immediately if your property is not safe, if it is safe to leave. Monitor conditions as they are changing.

“For the safety of firefighting crews and other vehicles, drivers in the area are urged to slow down, turn on headlights and drive safely for the conditions.

“For further information regarding bushfires, visit the Fire Incident Map.”

Gap closing: Sisyphus had the same problem



The Closing the Gap initiative, implemented in 2021, targets Indigenous disadvantage with regards to the birthweight of babies, general health, housing, pre-school enrolments, school readiness, out-of-home care, incarceration, suicides amongst them.

The design and delivery of policies, programs and services hope to achieve greater efficacy through genuine collaboration between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Straight people. But the expression had circulated for years.

Ntaripe / Heavitree Gap, southern gateway to Alice Springs is the setting.

When the Closing the Gap expression first circulated an old Arrernte gent expressed his concerns: “What for they do that? How blackfella gonna get in and outta town?”

Before settlement passage through Ntaripe had been restricted to initiated men. According to Arrernte confidants, subsequent violation of this protocol had caused several nearby fatalities.

Given the mixed results of hitherto gap closing gestures (eg. Rudd’s Apology, Sorry Books, Reconciliation Walks, The Intervention, the Uluru Statement and impending referendum for a Voice to Parliament), the old man’s words sparked an idea.

Like Sisyphus straining against the odds and with the likely prospect of having to repeat his effort over and over, Lachie Purvis pits his strength against the boulder on Todd River’s hot dry sands.

How to avoid burnout and be with the kids


Seven months ago we sold our home in Queensland and moved into a motorhome to explore, get closer to nature and our intuition. So far we have traveled over 8500 km including Alice Springs this week.

I had been trying to do it all as a mum, struggling to keep it together. I was working long hours as a teacher, running a healing business, and trying to be the best mum I could be. I was stressed, exhausted and disconnected.

Until one day my body made the choice for me. I became ill with a rare form of cancer and was forced to stop.

I learned to tune in to my intuition and instead of feeling controlled by expectations of perfect parenting my life became about present parenting.

Here are three ways you can tap into your intuition.

Recognise where society’s conditioning keeps you busy. We are programmed to do-do-do all the time, so instead start to prioritise what is important to you. Not what everyone else or the outside world thinks, but what your truth is. Make time  for your family and the things that you really want to do.

Presence is about finding stillness and calibrating towards your inner truth and these new priorities. Pause and come back to yourself in stillness.

This can be super uncomfortable because it means you have to feel; something we’ve been conditioned to avoid by numbing out and scrolling on Social Media, binge watching Netflix or eating that bar of chocolate in the fridge!

Presence is your way back to feeling connected, listening to your inner truth and trusting your intuition.

Then you have to participate – take action and make a choice. If you want to be more in tune with your intuition, your kids and your family and create the life you dream about, you have to take action and participate in a way that is present and prioritises your desires and this new way of showing up in life.

I know you can do it!

Emily Robinson. On the road.

Community based justice program starts



The Federal Government has announced funding for community-led justice reinvestment projects in two priority sites, Alice Springs and Halls Creek.

It is one of four projects started under the $250m Federal emergency fund granted to Central Australia, according to a spokesman for NT Senator Marion Scrymgour.

Justice reinvestment involves “community-led and holistic approaches to programs and initiatives aimed at keeping at risk youths and adults out of the criminal justice system and improving community safety,” according to a media release from Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus today.

A consortium of three organisations – Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation, Desert Knowledge Australia and Anglicare NT – will drive the program in Alice Springs.

The October 2022-23 Budget included $69m to support the initiative in 30 places across Australia, “the largest commitment to justice reinvestment ever delivered by the Commonwealth,” says Mr Dreyfus.

“This announcement comes after significant engagement with Aboriginal leaders, local service-providers and the Northern Territory Government to ensure justice reinvestment in Alice Springs is community-led.”

The News is seeking comment from the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (which includes Alice Springs).

Senator Scrymgour is pointing to three other projects under the emergency grant getting underway but NT Shadow Minister for Territory Families Joshua Burgoyne claims today no funding had been received.

Senator Scrymgour says all 46 schools in the Central Australia region will be included in the $40.4m spend for on-country Learning to improve school engagement: “Schools will work with their local communities to develop tailored solutions to better engage children and young people in school and provide them with the wrap-around support they need to succeed,” says the statement from her.

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress is getting $23.5m from the fund to support the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, including $18.4m to expand the organisation’s existing Children and Youth Assessment and Treatment Services (CYATS).

This is enhancing early detection and intervention services for neurodevelopmental conditions, including Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

A further $5m will support the development of a health hub in Alice Springs, combining the four current health services into one single centre.

And an additional $10m will go to “enhancing digital connectivity” for First Australians with service providers already able to apply, until July 12, for flexible grants covering costs including satellite use, additional digital infrastructure and wifi installation.

IMAGE from the “juvie” – the juvenile detention centre in Alice Springs.

UPDATED at 4.30pm.

The clout of the Voice



Promotors of the Voice like to emphasise its benign nature: “We just want to be listened to. We have no veto rights.”

A more robust approach has emerged at last week’s writers festival in Alice Springs:


That’s the voice of Kerry O’Brien*, the former top ABC journalist and presenter, now teaming up as a Yes advocate with Thomas Mayo, who has devoted his past six years to tour the nation with the canvas that became know as the Statement from the Heart.

Mr Mayo made it clear that the Voice not only expected to be heard, but that advice given would be carried out by the Parliament and the Executive. If the advice is ignored “we would organise, our Voice in itself would say that they have done the wrong thing. It’s the political way of the Voice that will ensure that what it says will eventually be implemented”.

Both appeared on each day of the festival attracting a gathering of several hundred people at the Olive Pink Reserve, first to launch their handbook about the Voice – more accurately a handbook about why people should vote Yes in the referendum later this year – and then in a panel discussion about media.

Asked whether he liked the media Mr Mayo said: “In a word, no” but later focussed his dislike on the Murdoch media, to the evident majority approval from the audience.

There was a good dose of humour, in the panel on the handbook, under moderation by Josie Douglas, herself a Yes advocate, however.

There was some tough talk, with impunity, as there weren’t any No persons in evidence. The way was clear for preaching to the converted, a common event in this divided town.

“If the mischief makers were to get out of the way [we would be] able to engage in a real debate” said Mr O’Brien. He got his way but the absence of No persons hardly made for a real debate.

It has since been revealed that the “No” side has overtaken the “Yes” side, 53% to 49% (Sydney Morning Herald).

Ms Douglas invited the panel to comment on a statement by noted local activist Pat Anderson: “The national conversation has deteriorated into violence and tribalism, rather than a sophisticated and mature debate we had hoped for.”

Mr O’Brien answered**:


The panel of two focussed on the horrendous events early in Australia’s invasion from the north, suggesting it’s continuing to the present day with successive governments breaking promises, initiatives “dismissed and ignored” while First Nations “all of them silenced, all of them ignored” and being “so marginalised, for so long, which it is in regional and remote communities”.

Had a No faction been present, at this point it may have drawn attention to the recent decades when Aborigines acquired half the Northern Territory’s landmass as their freehold property; that every square millimetre of it is prime land for solar power generation, making the million-odd square kilometres an immense, world standard asset; that this puts the lid on the assertion that under landrights just marginal country in production terms has been handed back.

The current Federal Budget is averaging $4.2 billion per year over the forward estimates for Aboriginal people on top of what the general population is getting, including the Aboriginal people. Similar additional annual spending has been occurring for half a century. 

Mr O’Brien looked back at the Royal Commission on Deaths in Custody and its 338 recommendations, most of which “have never seen the light of day” and which was designed to “lead to better policy outcomes, that would lead to closing the gap, that might lead, once and for all, to seeing justice done and injustice rolled back right through our justice system around Australia, with all the incarceration”.

Incarceration was a recurring theme for the duo, including in Mr Mayo’s rendition of the Uluru Statement, delivered sermon-like with focus on belief.


This comes as a major enquiry is getting under way into heinous domestic violence crimes, and the town’s tourism is on its knees because of youth crime, rampant over decades but simply continuing and temporarily of interest to national media.

Neither Mr Mayo nor Mr O’Brien offered any analysis of the justice or law enforcement reasons for the record incarceration of Indigenous people.

PHOTO AT TOP, video below: Dot Circle and Frame: The Making of Papunya Tula Art by John Kean, a richly illustrated book tracking the beginnings and the innovation of the Papunya Tula art movement, was launched at the festival.

It is a celebration of Kaapa Tjampitjinpa, Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and Johnny Warangula Tjupurrula were central to the formulation of a radical new form of desert art.

Arrernte and Anmatyerr traditional dancers gave a sunset performance to mark the occasion.



* When we resoundingly vote Yes around Australia for this referendum we together,  indigenous and non-indigenous, will be delivering a moral and political authority to the Voice that will become harder and harder for governments to ignore.

** It’s a reflection of past attempts to divide the community for political gain, and I’m not saying that this is the matter for all those involved. It is part of the modus of the political voices that are being raised in Opposition. I remember back to the Howard years, which were years in many ways of deep division, it was the culture wars, so called, the history walls, so called, the black armband of history, so called, all these attempts to retard and deny the true story of this country. With all the richness that came before white people, and with all the sadness and tragedy, and massacres, and the deep injustices and the dispossession, and the death from disease and all the rest of it, and yet to hear politicians talk about how the referendum will re-racialise Australia … this referendum has the great capacity to get Australians together in a way we have never been together before. The re-racialising, if it happens, is coming from those who have expressed that view. It’s an invitation to the uglies of the social media, the hidden racists of this country, to come out and express their hatred, incite those divisions.


Crime: What’s new?



Well, here we go, yet again, another inquiry into crime and violence in the NT.

Not that it shouldn’t happen, of course, but I can pick any year for several decades and I can guarantee finding similar reports.

Just so happens yesterday I stumbled across a four-page spread on the topic of alcohol abuse, rampant crime, and inadequate response from the NT’s justice system – in particular affecting indigenous people – published nearly four decades ago. 

I’m intrigued the coroner’s office is using the turn of the century as a cut-off date for women killed through domestic violence in the NT. It’s really an arbitrary limit. What about all the women killed in similar circumstances prior to the turn of the century?

Anyway, the article I found was published in the Centralian Advocate in October 1984.

I was 21 years old … now I’m 60. At the time of printing, it was the month before I first signed up as a CLP branch member. Paul Everingham had just resigned as CM to stand for Federal Parliament, and Ian Tuxworth was chosen to replace him.

The article also makes plain just how deeply entrenched these issues already were at the time.

Much of it focused on the community of Papunya; and it’s interesting to note the phenomenal level of violence in that community a few years earlier when 14 people were killed in car crashes or homicides between 1977 and ’79.

Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser (pictured with Nosepeg Tjupurrula) happened to visit Papunya smack bang in the middle of that period (late April 1978 – just before NT self-government began) and was horrified by what he observed.

Today we often hear claims that crime is out of control and the worst it’s ever been – well, the fact is that’s simply untrue. The reality is that this situation has been unrelenting for almost my entire life.

Twenty years before that 1984 article was published, the Social Welfare Act came into effect in the NT which (amongst many reforms) permitted all Aboriginal people the legal right to purchase and consume alcohol.

Few people back then had any illusions of what was in store for the NT, including indigenous communities (they were all consulted); and from that time on all hell broke loose.

ED – I wrote that story and remember it well, partly because I upset Fraser’s minders. They had sent several white Commonwealth cars all the way to Papunya to ferry the PM and entourage a few hundred metres around the settlement and take him from and to his VIP plane at the airstrip, as I can recall. I briefly commandeered one of the cars to get photos and upset the time schedule. All in a day’s work. ERWIN CHLANDA.

NT at bottom of social progress index – again


The Northern Territory ranked eighth – last – in Australia for a seventh consecutive year with an overall score of 44.43 in the Social Progress Index report card, which was a decline from the previous year (46.75).

The report was released today by the Centre for Social Impact which, it says, is Australia’s only practical tool to track community wellbeing over time.

An outlier from other states and territories, NT rates highest for Shelter (70.75 – a decline from 76.87 the previous year) and lowest for Personal Freedom & Choice (30.23).

Established in 2008, the centre is a national research and education collaboration built on the foundation of four of Australia’s leading universities: UNSW, The University of Western Australia, Swinburne University of Technology and Flinders University.

The state-by-state results show housing was already the biggest concern across Australia, before the recent rise in inflation and interest rates, according to the media release.

Personal Freedom & Choice is calculated using the rate ratio of Indigenous to non-Indigenous children in out of home care and subjects of abuse investigations, perceptions of safety on public transport at night, and the rate of women seeking homelessness services due to family and domestic violence.

The NT ranked sixth in Access to Advanced Knowledge but last in Personal Safety, Health and Wellness and Access to Basic Knowledge.

View the interactive states map and the state rankings.

Hallo! Can you hear me?


Telstra’s grossly inadequate mobile phone service at the Finke Desert Race has been an irritation for decades, and this year the company has managed to go even a step further.

Kidding, surely?

It scheduled across the race weekend work on its installations in Alice Springs that inevitably causes disruptions.

Finke president Antony Yoffa says the mobile reception is “pretty average” at the start-finish line, adjacent to the airport, where thousands of spectators, competitors and crews congregate for the four days of the event.

He says mobile calls are intermittent. People including journalists covering the national event have trouble getting online via the hotspots on their ‘phones or uploading images to their social media.

The race organisers were forced to engage an alternate service for its communications, Vocus, to obtain the necessary reliability. This solution is expensive, says Mr Yoffa.

Telstra declined to give the Alice Springs News written answers why no temporary facilities have been provided for the annual event that has been scheduled on the Queen’s Birthday – now the King’s – for 47 years, nor would they say why Telstra is not carrying out its repairs or upgrading work before or after the fixture.

It was a “no comment” from Telstra. Given the conduct of the spokesman I had good reason for not accepting a verbal comment.

Telstra is bound by an Universal Service Guarantee (USG), enforced by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts.

The department says on its website that “mobile services are provided commercially and are not included in the USG because of the difficulty of providing mobile service ‘universally’, that is, everywhere in Australia, no matter how remote, sparsely populated or untravelled”.

The Finke start-finish line is hardly “remote, sparsely populated or untravelled” and the race’s date has been fixed well in advance, year after year, for nearly half a century. 

Did Telstra not know it was happening? Or did they not care?

UPDATE June 16:

We received the following statement which also dealt with background. It did not contain any specific response to the issues raised in this report.

“Telstra received funding under the Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program to build a new macrocell mobile base station at Finke.

“The remote location presented a number of complex challenges in building new mobile infrastructure.

“However, the base station was complete and went live in March this year, and will provide a significant boost in supporting the annual Finke Desert Race and ongoing mobile connectivity for the local community and surrounding area.”


Give a Frock to be creative and save the world


The sins against the environment by people chucking away clothes are just hitting the headlines while Sustainable Couture has been providing an answer since 2009.

The annual function in Alice Springs, except for Covid, staged by volunteers, not only has displayed stunning dress creations, it has also struck a blow for the world: The average Australian buys 27 kilos of clothes per year and a third of them finish up on the landfill.

It’s time we gave a frock, say the organisers.

Textile artists have been re-using fabrics and textiles by rethinking, reimagining, reviving, redesigning and remaking gear we wear for young and old, from brooches to wedding gowns, strutted in this one of a kind eco fashion event.

This year’s message is to buy less, wear preloved, wear it longer, swap and share clothing, repair and restore what we have, building the profile of Alice Springs as a creative, eco-savvy desert town and flourishing centre of innovation in recycling. “

“We support the Town Council’s strategic pillar of developing ways to become a more sustainable community, minimising our impact on our desert environment and reducing textile in our landfill,”  says Margaret Johnson, network member.

The network is committed to community development through an annual program of collaborative, educational workshops and community engagement activities with individuals and existing arts and craft organisations that reach deeply into Alice Springs community.

Looking for some guilt-free buying? Swap instead of shop, repair your loved item, say the promoters.

The Clothes Swap and Repair Café will open from 9 to 11am on Saturday June 17 at the Eastside Community Garden.

“Give a Frock” will happen at 4pm on Saturday June 24 at Yeperenye Sculpture, Araluen Cultural Precinct.

DECLARATION OF INTEREST: The writer is one of the event’s organisers.

The inland see came in a green box


Alcohol is the most destructive recreational drug in Central Australia.

At the time of this painting, beer apart, the most maligned variant was the “little green box” of casked Coolibah white wine; cheap and nasty. Empty boxes littered the Todd River after card-playing parties. The dry riverbed was awash with them.

With incidental irony the packaging wore a kitschy Impressionist image of some rowers nonchalantly skiffing along: the promise of untroubled waters far removed from the Todd.

The title linked the mythological Inland Sea motivating early explorers with the prevailing scene, and deployed the casks in the commonly used motif for sitting evident in Aboriginal painting.

Once the Blue Mountains had been crossed in 1813, encounters with the westward flowing Darling, Macquarie, Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers led to speculations that they fed a great interior waterway.

In 1844, Charles Sturt’s party, lugging a sizeable boat, followed various water courses north of the Darling. His disappointing efforts extinguished the myth.

The view is to the south where the footbridge broaches the width of the painting.

The kneeling, white-capped Edward Neal was the sole collaborator. Ricky Ryder stands at his side. The others, save shirtless Xavier and Joe Cleary near right, were Johnsons, collated from my photo stock.

Voice to respect ‘my country’ rules

The Voice will respect the tradition prohibiting people speaking for other people’s country, according to Thomas Mayo, one of the leading figures in the Yes campaign for the referendum this year.

He and fellow campaigner Kerry O’Brien, a former prominent ABC journalist, appeared on the weekend in two well attended sessions at the NT Writers Festival in Alice Springs where they launched their Voice to Parliament Handbook.

Mr Mayo says current Indigenous Members of Parliament are not adequate as representative of First Nations interests because they represent their electorates, not only First Nations, they may not be re-elected and they are obliged to do the bidding of the political parties that nominate them.

And despite the Voice campaigners’ reservations about the Parliamentary process they agree with all key decisions about the Voice – should the referendum ratify its inclusion in the Constitution – being made by the two Federal Houses, including questions of representation and consultation with the 881,600 Aboriginal people (ABS 2021) in Australia, 3.8% of the nation’s population.

Mr Mayo spoke with editor ERWIN CHLANDA who had also interviewed him in May 2018.

NEWS: “My country” is an expression likely to crop up in most conversations with Aboriginal people. The relationship to land is fundamental to the structure of their society. In the old days talking for someone else’s country could be punished by death.

MAYO: In the old days. It is no different to other nations in Europe, for example, where a citizen of a nation shared classified information, there would have been a form of capital punishment. Indigenous culture, law and lores were no more violent for the times than European culture and law. 

NEWS: How many pieces of land referred to by someone as “my country” are there – say – in a 500 kilometre radius from Alice Springs? There are three in Alice Springs alone.

MAYO: I don’t know how many there are in this area. I am not from here.

NEWS: How will the Aboriginal people making up the Voice in Canberra, 24 or 46 of them, as has been suggested, avoid talking about someone else’s country without authority?

MAYO: The Voice won’t speak for people’s country. Only those traditional owners can speak for their country. But there are issues that are across all our communities. Matters of housing, for example, how programs are funded, how efficient they are, infrastructure, the justice system as well. They Voice would take up those things that are common. Local issues and how things are done on country are still up to that community and to that nation, that traditional owner group.

NEWS: There are many examples of Indigenous people broadly ignoring the voices to Parliament they have now. For example in Gwoja, a predominantly Indigenous seat in the NT, which has an Indigenous Member, only half the people turn up to vote. Three of the four current Territory Federal members are black.

MAYO: Indigenous Members of Parliament represent their electorates and their political party, which are always mostly non-Indigenous. The Voice will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders chosen by their communities, who can be held to account for what they say on our behalf by our communities and will be informed by our communities. It also guarantees that there will be a voice even if no Indigenous Members of Parliament are elected.

NEWS: Past representative bodies have a poor record. That does not encourage us to have faith in the Voice.

MAYO: It’s a flawed argument to say that Indigenous people cannot have a representative body that’s going to be successful. You could point to representatives that have failed, whether they are Indigenous of non-Indigenous organisations. All organisations will have problems from time to time. We’ve never had the opportunity … to evolve and improve and to learn from mistakes and have a voice that gets stronger and more effective and gets better outcomes. Every time in the past they have been defunded, or been repealed, basically silenced.    

NEWS: In the past when something didn’t work we had the opportunity of shutting it down. With the Voice in the Constitution we’d be stuck with it forever, whether it works or not.

MAYO: Why would we not make it the norm that people who have decisions made for them all the time, with the race power in the Constitution? It should be a guaranteed thing. It should be a permanent part of our democracy because Indigenous peoples are distinctive peoples. We are recognised as that more and more in our society. We are not going away, we’ve been here for 60,000 years. It’s not only about addressing problems. It’s also about Indigenous knowledge informing the decisions Parliament makes.

Mr Mayo refers to Section 51/26 in the Constitution, regulating 39 legislative powers of the Parliament, which says in part: The Parliament shall … have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to … the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.

MAYO: The Parliament has control over how the Voice model works. There is a flexibility for it to always improve.

NEWS: How many Indigenous people were consulted in the formulation of the Voice proposal?

MAYO: If the question is about all Indigenous people, all clans, all moieties who were consulted in the development of the Voice, well that would take a massive amount of resources. We are spread across this vast continent. The normal way of doing things is to do it in a formulated way where you ensure that all the different perspectives and experiences are represented. The whole point of what we’re doing here is establishing the means for our people to be heard in the first place.

NEWS: And then you get the Parliament consisting mostly of whitefellas deciding how you should be heard.

MAYO: We’ll have a structured, informed, regulated ability to reach consent, representatives whom we choose, not a political party, and hold them to account through democratic processes.

NEWS: How many Aboriginal people are having a say directly in the formulation of the Voice?

MAYO: That’s to come. The referendum is not about the model. It is about establishing the guarantee, the principle that Aboriginal people should have a Voice on matters that relate to them. 

AT TOP (from left): Moderator Josie Douglas, Mr Mayo and Mr O’Brien.


UPDATE June 8:

A meeting of the Northern and Central Land Councils has passed a resolution with overwhelming support endorsing a call to all Australians to support a Voice to Parliament, according to a media statement.

“It is expected a declaration will be signed by more than 200 representatives of the four Northern Territory Aboriginal land councils at a gathering this week on the traditional lands of the Bagala (Jawoyn) group at Barunga, south-west of Katherine,” says the statement.

“Together, the land council members speak with the authority as the elected representatives of tens of thousands of grass roots residents of remote communities, town camps and towns across the Territory.

“The text of a declaration will be released after it has been formally presented to the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Linda Burney MP, following the Minister’s address to the gathering tomorrow morning.”

UPDATE June 9:

The four Northern Territory Aboriginal land councils today signed the Barunga Voice Declaration that addresses all Australians and urges them to support a “Voice to the Parliament and executive government, never to be rendered silent with the stroke of a pen again,” according to a media release.

More than 200 representatives of the Northern, Central, Tiwi and Anindilyakwa land council are gathered on the traditional lands of the Bagala (Jawoyn) group at Barunga, south-east of Katherine.

Land council members signed the declaration and a copy was presented to the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney.

It invites all Australians to “right the wrongs of the past and deal with the serious issues impacting First Nations peoples … and unite our country”.

The release says: “Together, the land council members speak with the authority as the elected representatives of tens of thousands of grass roots residents of remote communities, town camps and towns across the Territory.”

When pioneers were flying high


No region in Australia was more dependent for its development on aeroplanes and the people flying them than The Centre.

And now this spirit of self-help is carried on in the Aviation Museum, run entirely by volunteers, just 20 of them, proof of the old adage that if you want things done properly you have to do them yourself.

Christine Davy, now in her 80s, flew her Tiger Moth from the ATC to Alice to start her career with Connellan Airways in the 1960s. She became Australia’s first woman airline check and training captain.

About half of them have direct links with aviation or with people associated with it.

They are headed up by president Franca Frederiksen, herself a former “hostie” and married to “Freddo”, a former pilot of the Territory’s own airline, Connair, closed down in 1980 but firmly embedded in our history.

The museum’s two hangars, in the Araluen Cultural Precinct, are jammed full with planes, some big, such as the DC3 (at top), and small, such as the yellow Kookaburra glider (pictured at bottom) made from wood and fabric.

Most displays are inevitably linked to a yarn.

One is about Kurt Johannsen’s propeller (pictured by Ken Johnson). This is the story.

Kurt was hired by two prospectors for a top-secret mission: Looking for Lasseter’s gold reef.

They told no-one, drove to the edge of Lake Mackay, made camp and Kurt brought his Tiger Moth biplane. 

With one or the other prospector on board Kurt flew grid patterns looking for the fabled reef – non-existent as it has turned out to be.

Landing on a dry salt lake to refuel he hit a soft spot and one tip of the prop broke off.

You can’t fly a plane whose prop isn’t balanced, but all Kurt had to deal with the problem was an axe which he used it to shorten the opposite wooden blade correspondingly. 

The modified prop, of course, provided less propulsion. So to give himself the best chance to take off everything that wasn’t essential had to be left behind – including the prospector.

Kurt, quite uncertain whether the plane would fly or crash, fabricated a still from three empty jerrycans to convert brine to drinking water for his companion while waiting to be rescued.

Kurt took off, staggering into the air and looking for lift – rising air – to circle in and gain height.

He made it, and lived a full life in this country of adventure and opportunity, including developing the self-tracking road train.

How does a significant volunteer operation work?

With young and old members, explains Franca, with people from all backgrounds and a common fascination with the task at hand.

Quite a few of the people running the museum have either known the aviation pioneers or have a story or two to tell about their own aerial exploits, being “exhibits” themselves, bringing to life for visitors the flying history around The Alice region.

With minimal government assistance (ongoing funding for a “sitter” has been stopped but there are grants available for displays and improvements) Franca says the volunteers are either rostered on in the hangars or occasional helpers.

They open the museum from 11am to 3pm daily except Mondays and Tuesdays.

As Franca tells it, St Philip’s Community Service Year 9 students come fortnightly. Caleb Nicol and Ethan Seneca have been doing “a terrific job cleaning planes inside and out”.

Kevin Roberts is soon to repair the damaged fabric of the Blanik glider.

Eugene Blom produced an image (at left) showing runways of the “town site” aerodrome placed over current suburbs.

Experienced pilot Jim Thomas is a founding member and the treasurer, with wife Alison “the power behind the throne” doing the books.

Chris Connellan, son of the airline’s founder Eddie, was Franca’s predecessor as president, helped by partner Julie Sutherland. Tragically Chris died suddenly earlier this year.

Heather Robinson is one of the mainstays as the secretary and is on the roster three times a week, with sister Lesley forming a twosome.

Helen Miller, Connair pilot Damien Miller’s daughter, is another foundation member and on the committee.

Here’s another yarn: Damien flew Connair’s Heron aircraft, old planes which had been “re-lifed” with new wing spars and four modern Lycoming engines. The work was done in the airline’s highly sophisticated engineering section in Alice Springs. It had employed about 100 people but regrettably, no longer exists, shut down when the government decided to favour Ansett for the Darwin to Alice “milk run”.

Damien’s plane was on the ground on the dirt strip alongside Ayers Rock (Uluru). It was around 40 degrees. The plane was full of American tourists, waiting. No air conditioning. Damien, in shorts and T-shirt, was sitting in the back seat, reading a newspaper.

After what seemed a very long time he jumped up, saying: “I’m sick of this. Where is the pilot?”

He walked to cockpit, got into the captain’s seat, started the engines and took off.

Behind him was a plane load of very shaken Americans.

David Hewitt, who has in interest in the museum as a heritage activist, is “a hands-on person, super practical. I can do that,” is how Franca describes him.

Daughter of a former Connellan pilot Maxine Cook is rostered on twice a week. Private pilot and skydiver (ret) Brian Eather is the public officer.

Frankie So, the youngest volunteer, is a “techy sort of guy”.

Sherie Barnes, also a former Connair hostie, helps with social media and is often there at working bees.

Diane Bramich is chipping away at cataloguing and Gae Constable is helping develop and install displays.

Gavin Connaughton and Sirimon Pruanguiriya are on the weekly roster.

As vice president, Alex Nelson gives advice on heritage matters as well as being on the weekly roster. 

Edward Connellan, grandson of the founder of Connellan Airways, is also a committee member.

Retirees Peter Bannister and Gary Bentley are all-rounders and both on the weekly roster.

The Rotary Club of Mbantua is coordinating the development of a display for Blue Streak Rocket pieces that have fallen from the sky.

A Rolls Royce, owned by Eddie (at right), previously displayed at the airport, has no wings but a link with aviation nevertheless: Bernie Kilgariff, who later became one of the two NT Senators, when he was 16 drove the Roller towing a drag, building bush airstrips for the expanding Connellan Airways network of destinations, transporting people, the Flying Doctor Service, mail and freight.

Covid reduced the annual visitor numbers from about 6500 to 2000, but Franca says the Aviation Museum is resolved to see them take off again.


Christine Davy will be inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame on 21st October this year.

Man stabbed to death in town centre and broad daylight: CLP wants action


Yesterday afternoon in broad daylight a man lost his life, stabbed to death outside the Todd Tavern in Alice Springs.

The Opposition along with Territorians fuelled by fear, anger and sadness are calling for Natasha Fyles to finally front up and outline what immediate actions will be taken to stop the recurring violent offending causing loss of lives.

When Territorians hear of these horrific deaths they want action, they want answers and they want change. Natasha Fyles must front the media today and do her job.

How many more lives have to be lost on her watch? How many more thousands have to rally desperate for change to keep going unheard? Enough is enough.

Weeks ago the Fyles Government announced they would stamp out knife crime, since then we have had more stabbing in shopping centres, in our streets and at our workplaces.

Every Territorian can see this hasn’t worked, but can Natasha Fyles?

We recently heard from the Prime Minister that she has not even requested AFP support!

Natasha Fyles and Kate Worden, stop your excuses about complexities and long term change, we need action now.

Bill Yan, Shadow Treasurer and MLA for Namatjira, and  Gerard Maley, Deputy Opposition Leader and MLA for Nelson, both pictured at top.

The News has asked Mr Yan and Mr Maley what exactly the action is that they want Ms Fyles and Ms Worden to take.

UPDATE June 13

Mr Yan and Mr Maley provided the following answer:

The Labor Government needs to work with the CLP to send a strong message to offenders by imposing serious consequences.

We need strong bail reform for all violent and repeat offenders, not the tinkering seen by Labor.

We need an immediate public inquiry into police to see they are properly resourced to do their jobs.

We need to strengthen laws that give police the powers they need to tackle crime, including alcohol related crimes. And we need to tackle youth offending to stop the cycle of crime.

We’re asking the Labor Government to work with us to tackle crime but just like we saw on Bail, all they want to do is score political points.

Aboriginal law firm to update ‘organisational policies and procedures’


North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency CEO Priscilla Atkins (pictured), who says she is currently on leave, discloses she was “excluded from the beginning” from an investigation by KPMG, a world-wide professional services firm which produced a scathing report about law firm, the Territory’s biggest.

The investigation was commissioned by NAAJA.

Says Ms Atkins, a staff member for 15 years: “Unfortunately, KPMG only met with me once and even though I provided them with detailed information with documentation this was not taken into account in the report.”

Ms Atkins says she nevertheless provided comprehensive information to KPMG about the running of NAAJA which has a budget of $23m, is almost exclusively funded by public money and employs some 70 lawyers.

Acting CEO John Paterson, in a comment on our story yesterday, says: “It is disappointing to note that you have selectively reported on key findings of the report.

“The KPMG Review was initiated by the Board prior to the departure of the former CEO.  The Board has accepted the review findings and recommendations in full.

“The Board has developed an Implementation Plan and is moving to implement the recommendations including further reviews of key functional areas (HR, Finance, IT, Maintenance) together with a comprehensive review and updating of all organisational policies and procedures.

“These are significant pieces of work that will be undertaken over the next few months.”

Ms Atkins today replied to comments made by KPMG, providing substantiation in a string of documents.

The report stated: The role of the CEO is not clearly defined, and the CEO’s performance is not adequately managed.

Says Ms Atkins: “I had a clear job description and role. I had a performance review conducted every six months by three NAAJA directors.”

KPMG: A lack of appropriate delegations, processes and procedures, and support staff results the CEO workload being unsustainably large and compromises the achievement of NAAJA’s priorities.

Atkins: “We had a clear delegation register which was provided to KPMG. NAAJA has policy and procedures uploaded on the NAAJA staff portal and NAAJA Board portal. The NAAJA policy and procedures were updated by an external consultant in September 2021, but the NAAJA Board would not read them.

My workload was too much but I made significant achievements. I would meet with the NAAJA Board and managers once a year to set priority services for the year.

“I would meet with NAAJA managers monthly to confirm we were on target with our priorities. Once a month an update of the NAAJA reforms would be sent to all NAAJA staff and Board directors.”

KPMG: The operation of the Board has not evolved in response to the growth in the size and complexity.

Atkins: “The NAAJA Board do not follow good governance. I organised for all NAAJA Directors to attend the Australian Institute of Directors Courses, but they would not do the assignments.”

KPMG: The Board should receive training and ongoing support on their role, responsibility and authority: Following an initial period of intensive capability uplift the Board should receive regular governance training, and new Board members should undertake induction training, including introduction to NAAJA and general governance training.

Atkins: All new board directors are sent the induction manual and offered training but would not take up the offer.

KPMG: The report describes as “moderate” the following problem: “Internal communication between the Board, management and staff is ad-hoc, irregular and inconsistent, and does not support the flow of important organisational and strategic information throughout the organisation.

Atkins: I would organise quarterly board meetings, each board meeting includes reports from each department of NAAJA. I would meet with the Chairperson every fortnight, so she was up to date on any NAAJA business.

“Board papers are sent out two weeks prior to the board meeting but the board would not read the papers. I would hold monthly meetings with all staff and individual managers.

“I [provided] all my stakeholder engagement and community engagement. Monthly emails are sent to staff on reforms NAAJA is working on.”

KPMG: External communication is also ad-hoc, irregular and inconsistent and does not support strategic and quality communication with external stakeholders.

Atkins: I would organise for the board and managers to meet every three years and develop our strategic plan. Each year every section of NAAJA does an annual action plan on how they will meet the goals of the organisation. 

“Each year I provide an operational plan to the NAAJA board to endorse. I [received] attached support letters for the work I did.

Ms Atkins says her achievements included “leading NAAJA to be considered the leading Aboriginal legal service in Australia; increasing the annual budget from $4m to $23m, and staffing from 40 to 180, merging the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) with NAAJA from January 1, 2018 and buying properties in Darwin, Katherine and Groote Eylandt.” 

The News requested answers from NAAJA on May 16, 24 and 31. These are the questions. Mr Paterson’s communication today did not deal with them.

How many NAAJA employees have been sacked in the past two years and for what reason? 

How many NAAJA employees have left the organisation in the past two years?

How many staff meetings have been held over the past 12 months and what kind of issues were discussed?

Has the Australian Services Union asked to meet with the NAAJA executive team and has that request been granted?

Is it true that all or some of the executive positions including the Deputy CEO, HR Manager, Governance officer, Company Secretary were not advertised and family members of the chairperson, NAAJA Board and NAAJA members were appointed? (Mr Paterson said today that these positions are subject to “comprehensive review and updating”.)

Are these people doing the job the suspended CEO did on her own?

Is the Board making decisions on a restructure without any involvement of the NAAJA managers?

What is the contribution by NAAJA to finding solutions for crime in the Northern Territory?

IMAGE at top the KPMG report.

Legal firm blasted as crime skyrockets


As crime in the Territory continues to skyrocket KPMG, a world-wide professional services firm, is scathing about the NT’s biggest law firm, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA).

It has an office and board members in Alice Springs, and is an Aboriginal controlled organisation almost entirely funded from the public purse.

The report describes as “critical” that the structure of the executive team and their team of supporting staff has not evolved in response to the growth in the size and complexity of NAAJA over the past 15 years.

“The role of the CEO is not clearly defined and the CEO’s performance is not adequately managed.

“A lack of appropriate delegations, processes and procedures, and support staff results the CEO workload being unsustainably large, and compromises the achievement of NAAJA’s priorities.”

There should be a “review [of] the membership of the Executive Team to ensure adequate coverage and representation of Throughcare and Law and Justice Programs.

The operation of the Board has not evolved in response to the growth in the size and complexity.”

The board should receive training and ongoing support on their role, responsibility and authority: “Following an initial period of intensive capability uplift the Board should receive regular governance training, and new Board members should undertake induction training, including introduction to NAAJA and general governance training,” says the report dated January 2023 but released only today, and only to the staff.

The Alice Springs News has exclusively obtained a copy.

According to police reports there have been double-digit increases in Territory crime in the year ending March 31 this year, compared to the corresponding year before: Assault up 19%, domestic violence related assault 23%, alcohol related assault 21%, sexual assault 15%, house break-ins 11%, commercial premises break-ins 31%, motor vehicle theft 19% and property damage 28%.

Gaols are at breaking point and some 90% of the inmates are Aboriginal.

The report describes as “moderate” the following problem: “Internal communication between the Board, management and staff is ad-hoc, irregular and inconsistent, and does not support the flow of important organisational and strategic information throughout the organisation.

“This promotes mistrust, misinformation, and undermines quality decision making.

“External communication is also ad-hoc, irregular and inconsistent and does not support strategic and quality communication with external stakeholders.”

NAAJA has some 200 employees and a budget of $23.2m, operating in centres including Alice Springs, Darwin, Katherine and Tennant Creek. The money comes from Canberra, under the National Legal Assistance Program.

The 70 lawyers are “constantly under the pump,” according to a well informed source speaking with the News on the condition of not being named.

The lawyers each take on some 250 cases a year.

The News has put several questions to the NAAJA leadership on May 16 and 24 and we have requested the answers by tomorrow.

From little things horrendous things can grow

“For over a year a group of five to six Indigenous children, aged between 10 and 12, have allegedly terrorised, abused, vandalised and intimidated the 200 men, women and children who worship at the Alice Springs Mosque, Australia’s oldest.

“Despite constant pleas by leaders of the Muslim community for action from the NT Police and the NT Child Protection authority, Territory Families, the assaults have continued unabated, according to Muslim leaders,” reports Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley.

She describes the attacks as racially targeted.

“The former Imam of the Mosque left Alice Springs after his wife was struck by a rock in the face, allegedly thrown by one of these child perpetrators,” Ms Lambley says.

The new Imam, Abdul Mutalib, has been reluctant to bring his family to Alice Springs from Pakistan because of safety concerns.

It can’t happen here? Let’s hope, not. But in Broken Hill, behaviour such as this led to a horrendous event in 1915.

Alice Springs musician and writer JON ROSE based a dramatic composition on this tragedy.


Unlike the book and film Picnic at Hanging Rock, Picnic at Broken Hill is a true story – except that the picnic didn’t happen there either.

On New Year’s Day 1915 at 10 am in Broken Hill, 1200 miners and families scrambled on board 40 open Iron ore carriages fitted with benches and set off to Silverton for what was supposed to be a picnic.

About three miles out of town, parallel with a grave yard, the picnic train was attacked by two former cameleers (“Afghans”) from the North East “Ghan town” of Broken Hill.
Their names were Mullah Abdullah and Badsha Mahommed Gool.

The week before, Abdullah had been convicted for slaughtering sheep by the traditional halal method in an unlicensed building. He saw this as continuing racial and religious based harassment.

Previously he had been on the receiving end of racist name calling and stone throwing by local children.

Mahommed Gool was well known as the local ice-cream man, and the idea of shooting up some of his opposing British imperial customers, under the auspices of the Sultan of The Ottoman Empire, appealed.

The two men, flying a home-made Turkish flag (neither of them were Turkish), used the horse-drawn ice-cream cart from which to launch their offensive.

Australia was rife with pro-British war fever and anti Turkish and German sentiment; the two ex-cameleers clearly felt they were in the wrong place and on the wrong side, so they joined together to start their own war.

Knowing how it would end they both wrote suicide letters. My composition Picnic at Broken Hill is a musical transcription of those suicide letters.

The attack ended in a shoot out at White Rocks to the north of Broken Hill. Three people were killed (two while sitting in the train), seven wounded, before armed police and citizens were able to overcome the Afghans’ position; Abdullah was already dead, Gool Mahomed was still alive despite having been shot 16 times. He was taken to a hospital and died there.

A 69 year old resident, living in a house behind the local pub was hit by a stray bullet while the 90 minute gun battle lasted, and died.

Some town’s people viewed the proceedings from a polite distance; others grabbed a gun and joined in. The dead “Turks” were buried at night by the police in unmarked graves. No one knows to this day where the last resting place of these two men is.

This is a bizarre and unlikely story. But I would argue that sending 60,000 young men (8,000 of whom would die) to the other side of the world to invade a country (Turkey) that had never done any harm to any Australian state, and then to turn the resulting defeat and fiasco into an annual “nation building” celebration (Anzac Day), is not just bizarre, it’s hideous.

The exact location of the ditch from where the attack took place is now overgrown and used by local boys as a route for their track bikes.

Recent acknowledgement of the value of tourism has encouraged an official commemoration. It is placed a few hundred meters from the actual location where the opening shots were fired, and takes the form of one of the ore wagons which may or may not have been used in the actual picnic train of January 1915.

A glaring white replica of the ice cream cart, on which the “Afghans” ran up a hurriedly stitched Turkish flag, can now be found situated three miles away at White Rocks on the northern outskirts of Broken Hill where the final shoot out took place.

It is assumed Mullah Abdullah and Gool were intending to get back to the “Ghan Town” or camel camp, their place of abode on the north-eastern side of town.

On this site today stands a modest tin shed Mosque, the last remaining artefact of Moslem and cameleer culture in Broken Hill.

As with most unlikely stories, the “Battle of Broken Hill” has had conspiracy theories added to it from anybody with an axe to grind. One has the “Turks” drugged out of their heads.
Others at the time blamed the Germans (who else?) and the fateful day ended with the burning down of the Broken Hill German Club.

As Jean Cocteau put it: History is facts that become lies in the end; legends are lies which become history in the end.

NT Government dupes Alice on new outpatient unit


In 2019 the Federal Government announced $25.7m for a new Ambulatory Care Centre at the Alice Springs hospital, essentially an outpatient department.

In 2021 the NT Government announced that the centre will deliver a broad range of services including renal dialysis, oncology, obstetrics and gynaecology clinical services and midwifery, to meet the growing demand of the region.

It turns out the NT Government is now allocating the whole $25.7m to build a new renal dialysis unit at the hospital. There will be no other services provided in this new centre. There will be no “broad range of services”.

Instead, the NT Government will move 90% of the renal dialysis service from the Flynn Drive Community Health Centre, which has been the hub for renal dialysis in Alice Springs for more than 30 years. The Government intends to retain one “pod” of 16 renal dialysis chairs at the Flynn Drive Community Health Centre, as a “back up” for the new hospital unit.

The Flynn Drive unit has been in need of a complete upgrade for many years. The NT Government has chosen to use this Federal funding for a new hospital renal dialysis unit, rather than pay for an upgrade of the Flynn Drive Renal Dialysis facility.

Alice Springs has been duped again.

“This centralising of renal dialysis into an acute hospital setting demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the value of community based health services.

It will mean that literally hundreds of patients, their families and support staff will now have to commute to and from the hospital for renal dialysis every day, creating exponentially more congestion in an already over-burdened, confined, extremely busy hospital campus.

This is a huge change to health service delivery in Alice Springs and it is clear the Government has not thought through the massive implications for the entire town.

It is an excellent example of why centralising NT Health Services back to Darwin, which occurred in 2021, is bad for regional areas, such as Alice Springs. Clearly bureaucrats and politicians who do not live in the town or care about the town are making bad decisions for regional centres such as Alice Springs.

I am appalled by the lack of community consultation and the lack of consideration given to how this decision will adversely impact the lives of patients and their families who are dependent on renal dialysis.

“The new unit will include 48 renal dialysis chairs. The design is currently being finalised. Construction is due to commence in 2024. This additional pressure on an already strained hospital is senseless. The only positive appears be that locating the renal unit at the hospital may take pressure off chronic staffing issues, with the renal unit accessing hospital staff when needed.

Robyn Lambley, Independent Member for Araluen.

Minister Paech needs to face the music


The chamber music ensembles in Alice Springs and Darwin are at risk of closing because the NT Government has reduced or cut funding.

The groups are almost entirely run by volunteers: The one in The Centre, tongue-in-cheek called the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra (ASWCO), was enticed to go through the cumbersome incorporation process last year only to be told that there’s no money for them.

They performed to a full house last week but will be struggling to stage performances in August and October.

Says Public Officer Maya Cifali: “We cannot survive. We don’t know where we are standing.”

A small grant received from the Alice Springs Town Council will allow to hire Witchetty’s at Araluen for the remaining concerts this year.

“We don’t know what we will be doing” after that, she says.

The government funding process is convoluted and not transparent.

Arts Minister Chansey Paech, the only NT Government front bencher in The Centre, is the obvious go-to but he is passing the buck.

He “does not consider grant applications,” his minder tells us.

While he is the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage he “has no input into the allocation of grants.

“These are questions for the Department. I can forward your email to the TFHC media unit now.”

That’s the Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities

“Just looking at this, and on advice from TFHC, I’m thinking it might have been a CBF grant in which case it is best to contact media [at] DITT.”

That’s the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.

The Alice Orchestra is hardly asking for much, $60,000 a year, reduced from $75,000, to pay its artistic director Markus Kuchenbuch who’s been doing the as a consultant for minimal pay for nearly the past five years.

Ms Cifali says she confronted Treasurer Eva Lawler during a small, exclusive Budget launch in Alice Springs about millions of dollars being spent on roads serving gas fracking companies in Beetaloo.

Would there not be a “small pocket somewhere” from which the measly grant could be funded? Ms Lawler promised to look into it.

Ms Cifali says she will soon be writing to the Treasurer to enquire how her deliberations are progressing.

The creative director of the Arafura Music Collective in the Top End, Claire Kilgariff, a flautist, also says funding has been reduced by reducing the number of funding rounds available each year.

Other “small organisation” are in the same position, she says.

Two funding rounds a year have been cut to one, and the word on the street is that the funding has been redirected within the Department of TFHC to “non arts portfolios” causing “major impact on organisations and innovative arts performances across NT”.

With the ASWCO, the bulk of the work is done by volunteers. The musicians in the ASWCO are not paid. They have to hold other jobs to pay the bills.

Some money comes from private donations, including one for $2000 in Alice Springs. Admission charges help. There is income from merchandise. 

Some 120 people were at the ASWCO concert on May 20, which turned out to be the last for its director, with visiting composer Romano Crovici from NSW.

Ms Kilgariff says the Arafura performances – around six a year – are generally sold out, with up to 230 people at the larger performances. But revenue from ticket sales is simply not enough.

The positive impact of the local chamber orchestra on the image of the town is substantial, says Ms Cifali, vital at a time when Alice Springs needs “new positiveness as a counterpart to the negativity”.

The WCO provides a focus for the towns people to be proud of the achievement of their artists, she says.

All this makes a farce of government hype about its Arts and Culture Grants Program which “offers various grants for projects that explore, develop and profile arts and culture in the Northern Territory. These grants are important to the health and wellbeing of our communities.

“They also support economic recovery of the NT by providing opportunities to grow the creative and cultural sector, encourage artistic excellence and achievement and promote community participation in arts and culture.”

The ASWCO dates back some sic years, in its early days playing on the Mall lawns and in the Anglican Church.

Mr Kuchenbuch led the group from 2018. Now he is leaving town.

PHOTO at top: Mr Kuchenbuch at left during the concert last week, and in the video, inviting the audience to show appreciation for the musicians. 


UPDATE May 29:

A spokesperson from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade provided the following statement:

 The Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra Inc. lodged an application under the Community Benefit Fund seeking $253,727 over three years.

Community Benefit Fund grant programs receive significant interest from community groups seeking funding.

Applications are assessed by the Community Benefit Fund Committee and recommendations are made based on the strength of all applications lodged and the available budget. It is not possible to fund all applications to the Community Benefit Fund.

The Community Benefit Fund team provides assistance to organisations in addressing program guidelines as best they can. This opportunity is available to all organisations including the Alice Springs World Chamber Orchestra Inc. should they decide to apply again in the next major grant funding round, which opens on 1, July 2023.

The Arafura Wind Ensemble received $12,092 under the Community Benefit Fund in 2020 to take part in the Australian National Band Championships. However due to the COVID-19 pandemic the event was cancelled and the grant was repurposed to a regional tour of the NT.

The Arafura Wind Ensemble has not received any further Community Benefit Fund grants since then.

Lambley: Alcohol restrictions give us some peace, not a solution


The two day per week complete ban on take-away alcohol sales in Alice Springs gives us two days of relative peace. It is by no means a solution to our enormous alcohol-related problems.

These latest alcohol restrictions were introduced at the beginning of the year after the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, was forced to detour into Alice Springs at the height of our “crime crisis”.

Last year the NT Chief Minister sanctioned the lifting of Stronger Future alcohol bans across more than 400 Aboriginal living areas and town camps, which resulted in complete chaos including a dramatic increase in alcohol fuelled violence particularly against women and children.

Albanese instructed the Chief Minister to reinstate the Stronger Future alcohol bans, with additional grog bans imposed on the town of Alice Springs.

This has been a long journey for Alice Springs, with extreme alcohol restrictions being a part of our lives for decades. They are inconvenient and impact on our tourism and hospitality industries but nothing impacts on the town more than alcohol.

And we now know that while restricting access to alcohol is not “the solution” it is one of the few strategies that makes a difference in the short to medium term.

I am advocating three things.

One, the two day per week complete ban on take-away alcohol sales continues into the foreseeable future.

Two, that Sunday take-away alcohol sales be restricted to a few hours, rather than the current nine hours.

And three, that alcohol be permanently banned on the Town Camps of Alice Springs.

Unfortunately the Town Camps remain a focus of extreme alcohol fuelled violence. The Town Camps have been dry for over 15 years under the Stronger Futures legislation. They must continue to be dry for the safety of residents.

In Alice Springs we must be pragmatic about strategies that will give us short to medium relief from alcohol fuelled violence and crime.

The NT Crime Statistics to March 2023 revealed that Alice Springs had almost 20% more incidents of crime than Darwin, which has a population more than double that of Alice Springs.

We have a very long way to go in addressing our “crime crisis”.

Robyn Lambley, Independent Member for Araluen

Strong woman’s answer to youth crime


There are three things we need to solve the juvenile crime problem: It’s not $250m, not more cops, not more talk.

It’s families, families and more families – functioning ones.

The film Audrey Napanangka playing in Alice Springs this week is about a woman in her seventies who demonstrates this, and doesn’t take no for an answer.

She combines that with lots of charm and generous warmth and humour.

She had two children in her teens and lost them in tragic and mysterious circumstances.

One died and she thinks the other was stolen. It took her decades to find what she believes might be their graves, in the Memorial Cemetery.

A car accident had killed her husband and made her unable to have more children.

From then on she devoted her life to growing up lots of other children. She loved them no less than she would have loved her own.

Santo, Audrey and Penny fielding Q&As.

Yes, growing them up is what she did. It’s how many people say it up here in The Centre. The term is so much more intense than “raising”.

Santo, Audrey’s Sicilian partner of decades, sings to her Italian love songs and collects empty cans to supplement their income which is in part from selling Audrey’s traditional paintings.

These empties led to the painful taking away by authorities of two children, assuming that their carers – parents, really – were drunks.

Neither drink.

Audrey tells us in the movie, shot over 10 years by local film maker Penny McDonald, that no legal service would help her getting the children back.

So she got her own lawyer and got her kids back.

Audrey one, Welfare nil.

Although it’s worth pointing out that in this time the two children were separated and placed in the care of three different foster families; and for the boy, the younger of them, this came after he had been orphaned at two.

Audrey specifically ties his emotional and behavioural difficulties to these traumas, and especially to the later completely unnecessary removal.

When as a young teenager he starts to go out at night, it’s not a big leap to recognise the fallout of “well-intentioned” interventions by the state.

In later years she would fly to Canberra with other Aboriginal grandmothers, to campaign against child removal at Parliament House.

The documentary starts with her in a laundromat. She and Santo live in an Alice suburb. Their front yard features a Hills Hoist with lots of blankets. The bedding is needed for the kids living there – it seems to be up to eight of them at a time. Or visitors who come for a day or two or 30, as Santo explains.

It’s a fairly unusual and crowded household but in a way sufficiently organised for the kids to be well dressed and fed and ready for school in the morning.

Trees planted by Santo in the yard are bearing fruit.

Some of the children are children of children the couple had taken in years ago. The film isn’t overly troubled about chronologies and who was whose kid and when: Traditional customs which make uncles fathers and aunties mothers come in handy.

Santo, regarding himself as a father, calmly tends to an angry, troubled boy.

Traditions become powerfully present when the family heads bush. That is to the Yuendumu area, particularly to Mount Theo, Audrey’s Warlpiri homeland, and a place for kids in trouble but at present just minimally used.

Crowd at sold out Alice premiere on Tuesday.

Audrey and Santo want it to be a bustling centre where young Aboriginal people can connect with their culture and have fun, digging for witchetti grubs and reptiles, shooting ‘roos and gathering seeds.

The film provides wonderful inserts of the couple’s early days through footage shot by Santo on his amateur video camera, including their visit to Sicily where Audrey was warmly welcomed by his family.

In one scene she is sitting on a city footpath, with a canvas in front of here, painting an exquisite bush tucker scene, to the total amazement of elegantly dresses Italian women stopping to watch.

The style of this old footage is used for scenes that recreate aspects of the couple’s pasts, enriching the textures of this important film.

PHOTO at top: Audrey teaching Tjukurrpa and how to catch and cook a goanna to Mahlia and Leanorah. (Supplied by the film’s producer.)

A Long Weekend that has lasted 10 years

It’s a typical ‘it could only happen here’ story: A Long Weekend that started in 2013 and is still going strong.

It’s a comic book, with words by Craig San Roque and drawings by Joshua Santospirito and won the 2013 NT Literary Award.

Red Kangaroo Books in Alice Springs is the only place in the world where you can buy it. Three thousand copies have already been sold.

The fifth print run will hopefully get sorted, as Josh puts it.

A podcast radio play version with Christopher Brocklebank’s Italk Studios is due for a first hearing on 8CCC soon.

What’s the book all about? Ah well, that would be giving things away, wouldn’t it, but  this review by KIERAN FINNANE back in the day will give you a pretty good idea.

As things are quite frequently back-to-front in The Alice, we can give you a brand new ending written by Craig (below) and a brand new drawing by Josh (at top)

The dog trots thru the gap … another fight is brewing.

It’s Monday night the long weekend is over. The lizards have been eaten, the Warlpiri have all left, the ashes are cold, there is no food in the house.

We believe we are individuals but we have already been swallowed by stomachs bigger than ourselves – these are the cultural complexes.

Another fight is brewing.

And I say – is this how the story goes, over and over again?

What if – the great What If – what if I step out of the cycle that puts the girl in the hospital, the dying sniffer in the abandoned car, the traveller’s dog, dead on the backseat?

Some people say Alice / Mparntwe is the belly button / the navel of the country.  And I remember the Mother Dog in the story. I remember the day an Arrernte work mate  and I went to see old man Rubuntja – the man who made the book,  The Town Grew Up Dancing. We are standing on a corner exchanging  news, then Mr Rubuntja says to me: “What do you want to know, sonny boy ?” (He always called us ‘sonny boy’).

I say: “Is that dog fight all there is – the guts across Larapinta, the death on the hill?”

He looks northeast – he says: “There are more stories around here.  Over that way  n the Coolabah trees – Ankerre Ankerre – the Coolabah women are dancing – they bring  out the Caterpillar babies. And over that way the Dog Mothers are dancing. Nobody told you that, boy. The women danced that ceremony here in Alice Springs before the white people.  Why are they dancing, boy? I tell you. They are dancing  to bring on more milk. They are dancing together to feed the puppies.The women carried that dance in the old days.

“You got to feed the puppies, boy – you  and all your families now. That’s your job now, boy. Feed the puppies. Feed the puppies.”


In our Long Weekend story a man outside the Todd Tavern tells his mate  that the Dog Fight is part of Mparntwe / Alice Springs.  The rape of the mother dog, the intruder  ripping the puppies, the fight – that action will always be here: “We can’t get away from it,” he says.

So OK,  maybe the Dog Fight and the grieving is always part of the life of here, under the shadow of the Dog.  Maybe the story sites do have a life of their own, holding Altjerre always – even if people forget.  However, the  Dog Story also lives in the minds of people.  People can change their minds around, people can imagine different endings – if only we can get out of the grip of the same old story, over and over again. So OK,  puppies need feeding – with real food, real care, real challenge to help kids grow.  I never knew a puppy that grew up strong by being underfed – by being chained – by  fear – by whipping and turning a blind eye to them. So Mr Rubuntja, I might have asked back then: “How do we feed these puppies ?“

CSR.  21 May 2023

Nationally acclaimed artist records initiation


 Each summer I’d been urged to go through “bush business”.

“Opens your mind, Rod.”

Though curious, I vacillated considering the painful incision to my penis and my absence for weeks from family responsibilities.

The nightly song and dancing had all the power of Sufi ceremonies I’d participated in during travels in Turkey in the 1970s.

I’d had repeated requests to document it from guys my age. Despite hesitating about something I regarded as intrusive, eventually I agreed when Arranye asked me.

It wasn’t the sacred secret aspect anyway.

But how to condense these hours pictorially?

I reconstructed, in graphite, the final morning of “making men” ceremony showing successive stanzas of a young man re-entering his community after weeks of instruction in the bush.

Four elders sit at left, Bernard Neal, Arranye, Bruce Purvis with initiated Joey Hayes on his lap, and Edward Neal. Blanketed Joey has been led from the bush by Jude Johnson.

The two pass the chanting trio, Jamesy, David and Jude Johnson. Petrina Johnson touches him, welcoming to his new status within the families.

Then Benita Oliver taps the stick he holds prior to Jude escorting him to the sitting men. Song drives the process.

Bernard took me aside.

“What you see today, [is] like old people do. Same way we do today. We don’t know what you do with your young men. Maybe rock n’ roll? Then fence ‘em in house. Our young men do Law then free to go.”

I brought Arranye and Bernard home in Alice Sprigs to see the finished drawing on the lounge wall. They looked and looked in silence and teared up, Arranye saying: “You got it right, Sonny boy.”

In matters art, I’ve never been more gratified.