Arranye teaching the Headband Dreaming


Charles Loo-Hayes, Jacquita Palmer, Sylvester Webb, and Ronja and Raffi [Moss] sit in the Bitter Springs creekbed near Alice Springs as Arranye describes the fundamental aspects of the Headband Dreaming, visible in the high cliff of the distant range. At his back, but out of frame, is an important cleft in the cliff marking urltampe, a bush honey site.

Arranye led me here in the early ’90s, the first of many trips that would take place in subsequent years. From here we travelled to the abandoned Arltunga goldfields where, with other Arrernte, he’d been shifted from the Anthelke Ulpaye / Charles Creek town camp during WW2. The Catholics established a mission there.

When residual cyanide toxins in Paddys Waterhole from gold mining were recognised as the cause of the alarming death rate, Arltunga mission shifted to the 1250km2 of Crown Land adjacent to Alambi Station and rebranded as Santa Teresa. In 1977 the mission handed control over to the Arrernte and the name changed to Ltyentye Apurte.

Arranye guided me to atnarpe, close to Arltunga, where he’d been initiated.

He also showed the overgrown cemetery of unmarked Arrernte graves dating from the failed mission days.

The Johnsons were connected to old Walter Smith, subject of master historian, Dick Kimber’s Man From Arltunga, which brings to life the times, the region and its people.

Heavy drinkers don’t feature in booze study


A report states it is “debunking” alcohol industry claims that the minimum price for alcohol is penalising all drinkers, saying moderate tipplers are spending just $3.07 more a year, a “less than one percent increase”.

But the report by the Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute is silent about any decrease of consumption by the problem drinkers, who are causing much of the current social mayhem in Alice Springs.

Information about that would be a useful gauge of the increasingly irritating restrictions of alcohol trading hours, and amounts that can be bought per person per day, and of the spending of public money by the government for protecting the alcohol merchants’ property and stock and the government’s other numerous initiatives.

These included the “Alcohol Secure and Safety program”, providing financial assistance to liquor licensees “for worker safety and securing their products”, according to Chief Minister Natasha Fyles, with the government paying three-quarters of the cost under the $9m program.

Under the program products include “CCTV, security screens, roller shutters, lighting and smoke cloak distraction systems”.

Eligible businesses can access a maximum of $15,000 on a 25:75 co-contribution basis.

“This means businesses only have to contribute 25% of the total cost of approved works,” says Ms Fyles.

Meanwhile, under the “floor price” mandated in October 2018 the standard drink (10g of pure alcohol) must cost no less than $1.30.

Nic Taylor, who headed up the research, says the study regards two standard drinks a day and not more than 10 a week as the recommended guideline.

That’s 520 standard drinks in 12 months. Dr Taylor came across a few revellers who put away 7300 standard drinks in that period.

The study is likely to be a bit skewed “because heavy drinkers are hard to get hold of on the phone”.

A 15-minute phone survey was conducted by Roy Morgan Research using a combination of Random Digit Dialling methods (for landline telephones) and random selection of mobile phone numbers from existing lists of NT numbers kept by Roy Morgan.

The study contacted 1000 people. Participants who preferred cask wine were excluded from the study “as the MUP [Minimum Unit Price] directly targeted cask wine consumption and the aim of the study was to examine individuals not directly targeted by the MUP,” according to the study’s website.

(Alcohol in containers larger than two litres has been banned from sale in central Australia. That of course has taken care of much of the cheap plonk. One person can now only buy one of the following each day: spirits, two litre cask wine or one bottle of fortified wine. It’s worth noting that government information pages are unhelpfully incomplete about the restrictions on purchases, including pages linked from tourism sites.)

Says Dr Taylor: “Within Australia, alcohol use and related harms are disproportionately experienced in the NT, with social costs in the NT estimated to be $1.4 billion annually.”

Excluding people targeted by the MUP of course means the study does not deal with the cohort that is likely to be responsible for most of the crime and anti-social behaviour in town. The research tells us nothing about them.

The study also eliminated teetotallers resulting in a final sample of 766 respondents, 62% consuming less than the 520 standard drinks a year.

The impact of MUP on that cohort was the aim of the study although they don’t rate a mention in the public and hysterical national media debate about Alice Springs.

Chief Minister Fyles says her government is seeking to curb alcohol-related harm “from risk-based licensing to the Banned Drinkers Register, from the minimum floor price to our Police Auxiliary Liquor Inspectors, and with record funding for alcohol treatment services and domestic, family and sexual violence, we continue to invest heavily in this space.”

Minister for Business Paul Kirby says Alcohol Secure will help licensed premises to “secure their liquor stock against theft and damage”.

PHOTO provided by the NT Government to promote the Alcohol Secure and Safety program. The graph is part of the report which is published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

Road User Charge hike unlikely to drive customers to rail


The Road User Charge (RUC), a Federal Government tax, will rise by 18.9% over the next two years, according to Steve Shearer, EO of the SA Road Transport Association.

“The trucking industry cannot absorb these increases and will have to pass them on to customers,” he says.

The RUC recovers the assessed cost of the impact of heavy vehicles on the roads, across the country.

However, Mr Shearer says the hike is unlikely to cause a migration of customers to rail: “I don’t see freight shifting to rail as a result.

“Rail excels at bulk long distance freight that is not time-sensitive.

“Rail is no good for certain freight as it’s too hard a ride compared to the softer ride in trucks.”

He says customers make the decisions on road versus rail based on their specific needs; whether their freight starts and/or finishes at or near a rail head; timelines and cost.

“You miss a train you have to wait for the next one but there’s always another truck,” he says.

“Typically 85% of land freight is moved by truck, not rail, and probably always will be.”

The decision to increase the tax was made by a meeting of infrastructure and transport ministers from the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria, Queensland, SA, Tasmania and the ACT.

WA and NT apparently missed out but it is understood the charges will apply there as well.

“This level of increase is considered by ministers to strike the right balance between the need to move back towards cost-recovery of the heavy vehicle share of road expenditure and the need to minimise impacts on this vital industry,” according to a communique from the meeting.

Says Mr Shearer: “The customers will no doubt pass the increases on to their customers, to end up with consumers in supermarkets and so on.

“The amount of the increase in the price of those good is up to the vendor but whatever it is, it will add to the cost of living pressures on the community.”

PHOTO: Cattle carrying road train operator Grant Petrick checks the tyres travelling on the Stuart Highway south of Alice Springs as his dog “Rabbit” removes a prickle from his paw.

Alice national Aboriginal art gallery: Don’t hold your breath


The proposed National Aboriginal Art Gallery is still five years away, and elements of its funding appear to be unclear despite a $130m commitment from the NT and Federal governments.

This was disclosed this morning when a government tender document stated the gallery “is currently in development and due to open in 2028”.

The tender is for a “Consultancy – Development and Implementation of a Fundraising Development Strategy”.

The Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities says it is seeking a “specialist consultant to advice and work with National Aboriginal Art Gallery staff and the fundraising committee to:-

• Develop a Fundraising Strategy and Action Plan.

• Advise on ongoing staffing needs to support operational funds development.

• Development of collateral in support of the strategy; and

• Ensure financial sustainability into the future through a comprehensive approach to fundraising, including leveraging public and private philanthropic avenues of support (both cash and in-kind).

The document says the consultant will need experience in working with First Nations organisations and an appreciation of the “unique nature of the gallery, including its commitment to First Nations principles”.

The News asked Arts Minister Chansey Paech why a consultant is needed given the still non-existent gallery already has a Senior Director, Tracy Puklowski and there is a National Aboriginal Art Gallery Reference Group.

PHOTO at top: Dr Gerard Vaughan, co-chair of the National Reference Group for the National Aboriginal Art Gallery, in a promotional online video for the gallery.

UPDATE 4:20pm

SA Premier Peter Malinauskas says it will cost up to half a billion dollars or more to build an “internationally significant” Tarrkarri Aboriginal cultural centre (below) in Adelaide – up to triple the $200m budgeted, according to InDaily.

School counsellors must be based in schools


I am responding to a decision by the Department of Education to remove current School-Based Counsellors from their schools.

These counsellors were based in their schools and provided ongoing, one-on-one services to students at their school.

School Counsellors operated broadly across prevention, early and complex intervention levels, including referrals.

Early identification of risks in children offers a great potential for improving health, and social outcomes. Schools need to be effective gateways for students and their families to access help.

The core function of a school counselling service is to promote social and emotional wellbeing, with a strong focus on prevention. This is critical for student engagement in schooling.

The Department of Education has implemented a new model, a ‘triage model ‘- where schools are required to consult with a contact person in the Mitchell Centre, with their request for a counselling service for a student.

The contact person will then confirm if the student is eligible for counselling support and advise what the next steps are for the school in requesting support.

NTCOGSO does not accept that a prevention model, which includes identifying risks to children, should be taken out of schools and centralised.

The NSW Suicide Prevention Strategy 2010-2015 highlighted schools as a critical location in identifying risks to children and providing pathways to care and support.

Our students are deeply concerned at this decision and implore the Department of Education to consider the rising level of youth mental health issues and suicides.

Over the years the department has recruited and been unable to retain many school-based counsellors. We need to ask why; why are so many counsellors moving to non-government schools or other departments?

Why isn’t the NT Department of Education an employer of choice for counsellors?

The few counsellors that remain, now rotate through several schools and only on certain days. On days they are not visiting, there is no trusted counsellor for our children to confide in and seek support from.

Tabby Fudge, president of the Northern Territory Council of Government School Organisations (NTCOGSO).

IMAGE at top from the NTCOGSO 2021/22 annual report.

Buffel waffle


“It is just waffle” is how Independent MLA for Araluen Robyn Lambley describes the response she got from the Department of Environment to questions about buffel grass and wildfires.

This is despite yet again a massive bushfire earlier this year in the West MacDonnells park, affecting 20% of it, similar to the blaze in 2019.

However, when Mrs Lambley (pictured during a hearing in 2016) resorted to “Legislative Assembly Written Questions” which must be responded to within 30 days the answers were more revealing but raise serious questions.

Meanwhile Environment Minister Lauren Moss today announced an aerial firefighting program including “firebombing – the dropping of water on or in front of the fire to reduce or halt the spread”.

The budget, under the National Aerial Firefighting Centre Agreement, is $2.5m over five years, she said in a media release.

This, by the Alice Springs News’ calculation, would buy four sorties and three flying hours a year from Very Large Aircraft Tankers (VLAT). That would leave no money for  the rest of the measures promised by Ms Moss – “rapid delivery of firefighters and equipment to remote areas, fire detection, investigation and mapping, command, communications and control and aerial ignition to ignite planned fuel reduction backburns” which Ms Moss is including in the measures “ensuring we have the best resources available to combat” wildfires.

Meanwhile Mrs Lambley says in her earlier query, based on a report in the News, she asked in how many hectares did precautionary burning take place in the East and West MacDonnells during the last 12 months? And where?

The answer was: “Multiple aerial incendiary and ground burns were conducted at strategic locations across the Central Australian parks estate during 2022, several of which are proving to be very valuable in minimising the impact of the currently active fires.”

Mrs Lambley also asked: “In how many hectares did buffel eradication take place in the last 12 months? Where?”

The reply: “Parks and Wildlife implements an annual program of strategic pest plant and animal control and fire management which seeks to protect the highest value natural and cultural assets on the parks estate. Buffel control forms a significant component of this program in Central Australia.”

Now the Parliamentary Written Questions reveal that fire prevention activities covered only 2.3% of  Central Australian parks land, which would be just 0.3% if the MacDonnell Ranges are included in their entirety.

The Finke George, Watarrka and West MacDonnell national parks and the Owen Springs Reserve together have 564,341 hectares.

The department disclosed that “aerial prescribed burns” – strategic burning of fire breaks to forestall huge infernos – only covered 13,000 hectares in ground burn and aerial incendiary program during 2022.

Details about buffel grass control elicited by Ms Lambley from the department reveal that it is mostly infrastructure that will be protected from the highly inflammable buffel plant declared a weed in SA.

This raises a question: What point is there in protecting infrastructure when people will stay away from a devastated landscape?

The department says: “NT Parks and Wildlife … undertakes mitigation of buffel grass aimed at asset protection.

“This includes reducing fuel loads around built infrastructure such a camp grounds and day use areas, housing and workshops.

“It also includes areas where we have known high biodiversity sites that will be adversely impacted from either competition from buffel grass or the increased risk of higher intensity and higher frequency fires.

“This also includes protection of heritage and cultural sites. Management of buffel grass is currently not measured in hectares.”

In other words, we have no idea how much land was involved in the combat of buffel, currently the subject of an enquiry that will report “later this year”.

PHOTO at top supplied by Minister Moss shows a single-engined propeller aircraft, hardly the kind of Very Large Aircraft Tanker needed for our infernos made worse by buffel grass.

New Alice film: Kindness triumphs over misery


Two friends, one white, one black. Two film makers, one white, one black. A couple more than 30 years together, one white, one black.

Audrey Napanangka and Santo Giardina

Signs of hope for Alice Springs at a time when there isn’t much.

The film maker is Penny McDonald and her co-producer is Audrey Napanangka, who also gives the new movie her name.

She is its star and one of the town’s outstanding Good Samaritans: She and partner Santo Giardina “grew up” nine children, none of them theirs.

How did the Warlpiri woman meet the Sicilian man?

“You’ll have to watch the movie,” says Ms McDonald. The premiere will be in Alice Springs on May 23.

Several of the children the couple cared for were from terrible backgrounds.

A horrendous example was the fate of Jenny (not her real name), as the Alice Springs News reported in its edition of November 20, 1996. The headline was “Girl, 2, a grog ticket”.

Born to a 13-year-old she was used by her mother as a way of getting welfare money which she spent on alcohol while the child went hungry and got sick.

Jason (Audrey’s nephew), Santo, Audrey and Juliette (her niece) in the 1980s. The couple cared for the children from ages four and seven, respectively.

On several occasions Ms Napanangka, an internationally known artist, and Mr Giardina took the infant to their home in Gillen, or to the hospital, restored her health, only for the mother’s family to claim her again. Authorities failed to act.

“We grew her up,” Ms Napanangka recalls now. “Really skinny one. Her mother was drinking all the time.”

The full 1996 story, which drew fire from Media Watch, typical for the national media response to troubles in The Centre, is republished at the end of this report.

The program’s then host, Stuart Littlemore, snidely asserted this sort of reporting is clearly “de rigueur” in the Northern Territory. We made no apologies for drawing public attention to the little girl’s tragic conditions, and to the kindness of her two carers.

Ms Napanangka’s heart is still with young people although as a group some are currently more in the spotlight than she is – for all the wrong reasons.

Society should “take them to bush and teach them. On country,” she says.

“They can use the Mt Theo programs [near Yuendumu – her home country].

Above: A scene from the documentary (screen capture).

“They’ve got a house, dormitories for boys and girls.

“They take them separately, women for the girls, with the ladies, and men with the boys. They take them around [in the country],” says Ms Napanangka.

“They cook damper with them, meat, and they get happy.

“They hear stories about early days, when the people were staying in the bush. They drink a lot of water from the soaks.

“In the olden days they were taking the little kids in coolamons. That’s a way to learn [teach] them kids, to learn more about the old ways.”

Ms Napanangka says this would make their minds strong. They were kept at Mt Theo for seven weeks or more.

Her family cares for kids in similar ways: “We take the kids and work with them. We tell them about bush tucker, bush medicine, and you’ve got to keep them in mind.

“In the film, I was teaching my granddaughter Leanorah. I told her this is a story about your grandfathers and grandmothers. We take them to the place of their great-grandfather.”

Mr Giardina’s views are more robust: “The town is getting ruined by kids, running around till three or four o’clock in the morning, smashing windows from the banks, from the shops, smashing windows, one after the other.

“I was walking into a bank one day, and a big rock – bang – went through the office window.

“They should go to court, some of these young kids, and they should be locked up for so long, and then they learn the lesson.”

Ms Napanangka had two children before meeting Mr Giardina. One died and the other one “was stolen, a long time ago. Disappeared from the hospital,” she recounts with great sadness, having never seen the child again.

The movie is a product of 10 years of the friendship between Ms McDonald and Ms Napanangka, during which Ms McDonald often carried her camera with her, “a small one that would fit in my handbag,” ready to record her mate’s rich life.

Will Sheridan (sound), Ms McDonald and Dylan River (camera).

She describes Audrey as someone who likes to laugh and to act, “to perform for the camera. She is not frightened of the camera.”

This confidence has resulted in Ms Napanangka getting a lot of small roles in Australian films such as Rabbit Proof Fence, Samson and Delila, Nulla Nulla, Greenbush and Kings in Grass Castles.

Ms McDonald has an extensive film making record over 40 years. Her first, in 1985, Kamira: Pina Yanirlipa Ngurrarakurra, was made in collaboration with another Warlpiri family from Lajamanu, to the north of the Tanami Desert. Lajamanu is where she and Ms Napanangka first met, 40 years ago.


Here is the full Alice Springs News report of November 20, 1996:

This two-year old girl is worth seven wine casks or five cartons of beer a fortnight.

The $128.60 social security payment she attracts every two weeks has turned Jenny (not her real name) into an asset for her alcoholic family: She’s little more than a grog ticket.

This is the claim of her sometime foster parents, Santo Giardina and his wife, Audrey, an internationally known painter. Santo says Jenny was born to a 13-year-old girl living mainly in “the river” with her booze ravaged family.

In August last year the child was “given” to Santo and Audrey, they say, and she spent some weeks in hospital.

Audrey and Santo say they took turns assisting medical staff with her treatment for malnutrition and scabies, including washing her several times a day with saline solution.

When she was discharged she looked well nourished and the sores that had covered her body were cleared up.

This is when her immediate family, including her teenage mother, demanded the child back.

This included an incident in Todd Street when the grandmothers allegedly threatened to stab Audrey.

Santos says he thought he and Audrey had been given legal custody – but an enquiry by the Alice Springs News with an NT Health official revealed that this had not taken place.

Jenny was taken back to the drinking camps, including one near The Gap, between the Bloomfield flats complex and the Telegraph Terrace drain, amidst piles of rubbish: The camp, with barely any shade, consists of soiled blankets, and is strewn with empty beer cans and wine casks.

“They took the baby away,” Audrey said.

“She is dirty and hungry. Her mother gives her wine in a milk bottle.”

Audrey and Santo have a house in Gillen and apart from looking after a child of their own they foster a 10-year-old slightly retarded boy.

[This was followed by “Jenny” and her family going to a dry outstation, but returning to town and getting back on the grog, and a spokeswoman for then Health Minister Denis Burke telling the Alice Springs News that “a full and thorough investigation” into the child’s condition is under way.]

Communities get role in court sentencing


Parliament has last night passed amendments to the Sentencing Act 1995 and the Youth Justice Act 2005 to establish a legislative framework for a community courts sentencing procedure.

The Sentencing Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 paves the way for Community Courts across the NT and delivers on a key commitment under the Aboriginal Justice Agreement, which aims to:

  • Reduce offending and imprisonment of Aboriginal Territorians;
  • Engage and support Aboriginal leadership; and
  • Improve justice responses and services for Aboriginal Territorians.

Community Courts will help address and reduce the high rates of imprisonment and recidivism in the Territory by engaging and supporting Aboriginal community leadership and cultural authority, through the active participation of Law and Justice Groups in the criminal justice sentencing process.

Budget 2023 provides for the operation of Community Courts and Law and Justice Groups, with six sites to be supported over the next two years.

Community Courts support local community involvement and Aboriginal leadership by holding offenders accountable for their behaviour and helping them to understand the impacts of their behaviour.

They are part of our plan to improve justice outcomes and services for Aboriginal Territorians and support our Local Decision Making strategy.

The legislative changes we have made further our Government’s commitment to delivering better justice outcomes for Aboriginal Territorians, and creating safer, stronger communities.

Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Chansey Paech.

PHOTO at top: Mr Paech in October 2019 in Alice Springs.

Turf Club secret: What’s in that box?


The Alice Springs Turf Club is hosting Chinese satellite navigation equipment with potential military use and apparently without the knowledge of the Federal Government.

This is alleged by a source, formerly linked to the company that supplied it, speaking with the Alice Springs News on the condition of not being named.

The source says the site inside the Pioneer Park racecourse is part of a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) which can pinpoint latitude and longitude of locations similar to most smartphones, except far more precisely.

It is accurate to 30 centimetres instead of 10 to 15 metres.

Most critically, the Australian GNSS systems can be turned off in the evert of war when they could be useful to an enemy.

But the Chinese system, operating from just the other side of the Alice Springs Turf Club’s finish line (photo at top), could be kept going, because the government doesn’t know it’s there, or does not know what happens inside that metal box, claims the source.

It is about a metre and a half high and less than a metre wide and long, with two soccer ball size antennae on poles a few metres away.

Our source claims the link to China of this “course correction” Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) became obvious to them by tracing the site’s VPN (Virtual Private Network) internet connection.

There are similar installations in other locations, says our source, all handled by the same company, Av-Comm.

“These sites can be used for commercial, science, military or clandestine activities but without proper registration the intent is unknown,” says the source. 

“It has even been suggested the sites are so sensitive they can detect changes in the ionosphere as a means of detecting nuclear explosions.

“Could it be for jamming our new SBAS Satellite Based Augmentation System reference signals?”

We asked Geoscience Australia (GA) whether the Alice Springs site is on its National Positioning Infrastructure Capability (NPIC) register.

Richard Tanter, Senior Research Associate, Nautilus Institute, and Honorary Professor in the School of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Melbourne, says GA “registers all GNSS facilities in Australia”.

But GA replied the Alice Springs site “is not part of NPIC and as such, is not a matter for GA”.

On its website NPIC says: “Positioning Australia offers precise positioning of 3-5 cm accuracy through our network of continuously operating Global Navigation Satellite Systems ground reference stations. The network spans all of Australia and its external territories.”

The Alice Springs site was installed in 2020 by local firm Central Communications. The owner of the company, Sandra Hill, says the client was Av-Comm and the work was done with permission from the Alice Springs Turf Club.

Ms Hill says under customary supplier-client relationships she is not at liberty to give further details.

The News contacted Av-Comm and we received this unsigned reply: “GNSS reference sites are installed all around the world, by a large number of commercial navigation and land survey suppliers.

“This is how modern survey work is achieved. Av-Comm has installed many GNSS sites and for a range of commercial suppliers.

“Each and every installation having been prior advised to the required Australian authorities and having received all of the necessary Government approvals before installation.”

We received no response to our question on whether the facility on the Alice Springs Turf Club was also Av-Comm’s work, nor whether it is a Chinese GNSS Reference station nor where the navigation data is being sent to.

Our source says US Federal Communications Commission rules require licensing of non-federal receive-only equipment operating with foreign satellite systems, including receive-only earth stations operating with non-US licensed radio navigation satellite service (RNSS) satellites.

Our source asks: “Why is this not happening here?”

The News drew blanks from several Australian Government institutions we sent questions to:-

Australian Communications and Media Authority (which licenses the Australian spectrum for users such as TV and radio): A reply was promised but not received.

Australian Signals Directorate: “The ASD has received an enquiry from you through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The following is attributable to an ASD spokesperson. The Australian Government does not comment on matters of national security and intelligence, in accordance with longstanding practice.”

It’s a national security and intelligence device then, just off the end of the final straight?

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation: “ASIO has no comment on this matter.”

Says Prof Tanter: “You’ve probably already seen that GA [Geoscience Australia] cooperates with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as well as NASA etc.

“Av-Comm is a big fish in the Australian space comms pond, working with Defence and NASA and Lockheed Martin. So I doubt they are doing anything sinister with the Chinese Beidou system.

“On the other hand, I hope we still do some cooperation with non-US GNSS systems – Chinese, Russian, EU, Indian.

“All of them are dual civil/military, and it’s better to cooperate while we still can.

“Of course, I’ve always been interested in the facility next door at the Alice Springs Data Acquisition Facility in Heath Road.

“Also GA? Ex-NASA?”

Turf Club CEO Mark Summers says the arrival of the mysterious box on the infield predates his appointment.

The club receives a “nominal payment” as rent and he thought it was for a weather station.

Stoneslingers, 1994


There are several versions of this event, the first in 1987 with Shawn Johnson, Ricky Ryder and half-brother, Dennis as protagonists. At the time of its occurrence I was living in a near apartment.

Alarmed at the sound of rattling on tin, I’d run upstairs to see kids slinging stones at my neighbour’s roof, an American employee at the Defence Facility. I doubted the kids knew that or were expressing little more than the hijinks my brother and I indulged at their age.

Was it an isolated case?

As the years passed, friends and media reported the frequency of similar incidents. Not just rooves either. House and shop windows were smashed. Rocks had been heaved at drivers through car windscreens.

“Broken glass addiction” was one explanation doing the rounds. No longer could these be excused as the carefree antics that inspired versions of my paintings.

I restaged the event in this instance with Adrian Hayes junior trying to break the shackles of his sister, Shirleen. Patrick junior and Malcolm Hayes are busy targeting the roof.

I didn’t know the actual kids who lived in the nearby Ilpeye Ilpeye /  needlebush town camp to which they beat a hasty retreat when the disturbed gent soon started protesting from his side the fence.

Government builds renal clinic

The NT Government is building a two-storey renal clinic in the hospital car park, corner Gap Road and Traeger Avenue.

The new facility (shown above as an architect’s sketch), is described as a “medical clinic (ambulatory care facility – renal health)” and is understood to have 48 dialysis chairs.

Starting and completion dates are not available, nor are costs.

Remote Indigenous people in Central Australia are up to 30 times more likely to suffer from kidney disease than other Australians, according to a report by Purple House, a well-established dialysis facility focussing on Aboriginal patients in several parts of The Centre.


‘New water plan is a disgrace’


The twice-rejected Western Davenport water allocation plan unmasks the Northern Territory government’s disregard for Aboriginal rights and sites and lacks social licence.

The plan follows pretend-consultations with traditional owners, disrespects their concerns about site protection, their rights and interests in water and is opposed by the government’s own water advisory committee for the region.

The so-called consultation process consisted of two misleading presentations by government water planners who spruiked out-of-date information. Traditional owners may as well have stayed away.

Alekarenge community leader Graham Beasley (pictured) says: “That’s our country. We should be involved. What’s going to happen to our sacred trees?”

Mr Beasley says traditional owners “will get sick” if they can’t protect their water sites. “That’s our culture – we can’t give it away. They have already taken everything. What more do they want?”

The NT’s latest water allocation plan ignores sacred site protection while the government pretends on the international stage to respect their cultural and ecological knowledge.

The address by Minister Lauren Moss to the United Nations General Assembly last month was at odds with the government’s continued and complete contempt for Aboriginal cultural and environmental values when it comes to water planning.

The draft Western Davenport water allocation plan it has released for public comment offers no protection for our sites and the environment.

Traditional owners might as well have stayed away since the plan only pays lip service to the concerns they raised.

The government has failed to seek their prior informed consent and share decision-making – principles it promised to uphold under the Closing the Gap reforms and in the international arena.

Water advisory committees, such as the committee for the Western Davenport region north-east of Alice Springs, are the main avenue for the public to try to influence water governance in the NT.

The CLC, along with most of the committee members, rejected two earlier iterations of the plan, but continued to work with the government in good faith.

Committee members include Andrew Johnson, Paul Burke, Roy Chisholm, Annette D’Emden, Jade Kudrenko, Paul McLaughlin, Steve Morton, Barbara Shaw, Michael Liddle and Nicholas Ashburner.

The committee unanimously advised the government that its estimate of how much water can be sustainably extracted is too high.

Traditional owners fear the draft plan puts their sites, plants and animals at great risk.

One of the objectives of the old plan was to protect Aboriginal cultural values.

Under the new draft they merely need to be “considered” as one set of values amongst many others when issuing water licences.

This is unacceptable because many sacred sites and practices in the region depend on groundwater and the ecosystems it sustains.

Any drop in the water table risks irreversible damage to sacred springs, soakages and trees. Our country and culture will be sacrificed if water extraction is not carefully managed and limited.

“The plan has now been rejected for the second time. The government has released it because its process of box-ticking has finally hit a brick wall.

The water plan for the Western Davenport region also ignores land rights and sacred site protection laws.

Les Turner, Central Land Council chief executive.

PHOTOS at top: Davenport Ranges National Park promotion by the NT Government.

Yipirinya boarding facility: Questions remain


Key details about the proposed $12m Yipirinya boarding facility remain unclear while the Federal Opposition has further assured its support for the project in a meeting with the school’s board of Aboriginal elders.

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, and Shadow Minister for Education, Senator Sarah Henderson, said the school is “like a family” when they visited the campus yesterday.

Senator Price said it is “for the most vulnerable children within our community.

“A lot of very serious issues they are confronted with in our streets. Those kids need a better start in life.”

But in a statement on Saturday Lingiari Federal Member Marion Scrymgour said she had not been able to get clear answers about the project and she favoured a facility accessible to all schools in town.

However, Principal Gavin Morris said the school council opposed sharing with other schools, open to “a range of different students that are coming from different backgrounds and schools, cultures and language groups. Won’t work.

Senators Henderson and Price and Dr Morris.

“That’s not the model that’s being proposed here. A boarding school model at Yipirinya is what we are asking for.”

Ironically, despite this statement’s rejection of a what could be a multi-group or multi-cultural facility, Dr Morris touts Yipirinya as Australia’s only school teaching in four Aboriginal languages: “We are the only school, of type, in Australia. This has come from our elders.”

Senator Henderson referred to aid for dysfunctional families as well as some children “who travel up to 280 km a day, about three hours on a bus.” This is not tenable for proper learning.

She said more than 300 students are “attending” this community school.

However, Principal Gavin Morris said yesterday the attendance is only 50% of enrolment.

“You need to be very careful how you analyse enrolment and attendance in Aboriginal context,” he said.

“Active enrolment is a student who has been to school one day in the last 20. And that’s true in any school around the country. At this point we have more than 300 active enrolments.”

According to its website the school employs 90 staff of whom 65% are Aboriginal, a staff to student enrolment ratio of 3.3 to 1 or 1.7 children to 1 staff attendance ratio.

By how much the staff numbers will rise at Yipirinya if a boarding facility is created remains unclear.

MORRIS: We need to staff the accommodation, naturally. A lot of the staff members who will get those positions are likely to be family members of those children. Which is why the model will work. The students will feel safe. They will feel they belong.

NEWS: Does the $12m cost include accommodation for the parents who are also staff members?

MORRIS: The project has a “focus on the kids” but there will be accommodation for the staff.

HENDERSON: Every boarding school in the country makes provision for adults [who] are required to stay in the boarding school to supervise the children.

MORRIS: All the logistics we need to work out in the next little bit. The logistics around numbers and staff ratios and parent ratios is detail that will come out as it comes to hand.

NEWS: How many dwellings will there be for parents and how much will they cost?

MORRIS: All the detail is coming to hand now as this project comes to life.

HENDERSON: It is an integrated facility. The adults who are here supervising the children are here, in the school. That’s what every boarding school requires – adult supervision. And the school makes the determination about the best adults that should be working at the school as well.

NEWS: Would the parents acting as supervisors be staff and would paid be paid?

MORRIS: I’ve got parents and staff in emergency accommodation all around Alice Springs. [This reply does not answer the question.]

The number of students in the facility also remain equally unclear.

In a question from the Alice Springs News Dr Morris said there would be between 40 and 50.

JOURNALIST at a doorstop yesterday says previously it was stated there would be accommodation for 24 students and now you are saying there would be 40 or 50 students.

MORRIS: Certainly the first concept plan was for around sort of the 15 to 30 sort of numbers but there is flexibility in that number.

Senator Price responded to a question from the News on Saturday whether she had declared an interest as her mother, Bess, was an assistant principal at the school.

PRICE: I made that very clear from the outset when my mother was first involved as part time employed here that the focus has been about the children in the community.

She pointed out that in any project in the Northern Territory “there is probably a family member involved. Because that’s just the nature of being an Indigenous person in the Territory [who has] family and kin right across the Northern Territory”.

Senator Price said Ms Scrimgour, MLA Chansey Paech and ALP Senator Malarndirri McCarthy are likely to be “in the same boat”.

MORRIS: Bess is not a deputy principal of the school. She is a cultural leader. Bess does not have a teacher registration so she can’t be an assistant principal.

The school newsletter for Term 1 this year states there are three assistant principals, Bess Price being one.

Senator Henderson said: “We’ve not seen any expenditure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the education portfolio since the Albanese Government was elected.”

Asked whether the boarding project funding should come out of the recent $250m special Federal grant for Alice Springs, both Senators said no, it should not come out of that amount but should be funded separately.

PHOTO at top: Gavin Morris, Yepirinya staff member to be named in update, Jacinta Price, Shanona Stevens, Brenda Inkamala, Jennifer Inkamala, Patrick Nandy, Sarah Mangaraka and Christine Davis.

$12m school row: hostel or boarding facility?



A row is brewing over plans for a $12m boarding facility planned to be added to the Aboriginal-run Yipirinya School.

NT Senator Jacinta Price, who sits with the Coalition, is pushing for the project, with the support of Shadow Education Minister Sarah Henderson.

But now ALP Member of Lingiari Marion Scrymgour has pointed out that Senator Price’s mother, Bess, a former CLP Member in the Territory Parliament, is the school’s assistant principal.

The school newsletter for Term 1 this year shows there are three assistant principals, Bess Price being one, specifically the Upper Primary Hub Coordinator, Language and Culture.

The Alice Springs News has asked Senator Price whether she has declared an interest. There was no mention of her mother’s position in a media release on the matter, issued this morning (28 April).

This point aside, Ms Scrymgour says: “I support a safe schooling facility for young people to live in and to keep them safe and off the streets.”

Yipirinya School

She says she does not disagree with Yipirinya principal Gavin Morris who wants the boarding facility attached to the school.

Dr Morris says the school has a strategy to expand for children “from birth to Year 12” and as a place where parents become employees and also stay at the school.

He says late last year the school had 23 students listed in Operation Lunar at the school. They were unsupervised, had come to the attention of authorities or were red flagged by authorities of being at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system.

“We have six students with locked-on anklets so their movements can be monitored by authorities.”

Ms Scrymgour says she doesn’t oppose a boarding facility but there “needs to be a broader community discussion.

“I have heard from others in the community that they would like it out of town, and on country.

“I also think it’s important this facility be accessible by a broad range of people – not just one school.

“At the moment I haven’t received a business case or feasibility study for the Yipirinya proposal – I’m happy to keep talking to Yipirinya about their project.”

Says Dr Morris: “Marion has had the proposal for more than six months. I’ve written to her in the last 24 hours. I want to work collaboratively.

“I spoke to Marion in person, prior to the election. [Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister] Linda Burney supports the idea. We have strong support from both sides of politics.

“We are not supporting a youth hostel where everyone can come and stay. That’s different to a boarding school” where students live, learn and play together.

Senators Price and Henderson are calling for “urgently needed funding” in the Federal Budget.

Senator Henderson, when asked by the News said: “This money must be provided in addition to the $250m Alice Springs funding package to combat youth crime.”

That funding is currently dealt with by “Regional Controller” Dorrelle Anderson (pictured) who will not answer this question the News put her: “What have been [your] major initiatives as the Regional Controller so far?”

A minder from the Department of Chief Minister and Cabinet told us: “The Central Australian Regional Controller is not accepting interview requests.”

The News has asked Ms Scrymgour to comment on Ms Anderson’s lack of transparency.

Senator Price says in a media release: “I am also deeply concerned by reports that [Ms Scrymgour] wants to unravel the school’s boarding school proposal and establish some sort of youth hostel in the centre of Alice Springs.

“Not only does Ms Scrymgour’s thought bubble fly in the face of the school’s evidence-based proposal, it has the potential to undermine the safety and security of students attending the school.”

Dr Morris, who took the job 18 months ago, says in that time the enrolment grew from 100 to 300.

Attendance is about 50%.

Yipirinya is one of the best equipped schools in Alice Springs, featuring an Olympic size swimming pool and an indoor sport stadium. Part of this was paid by philanthropists.

The purpose of Mr Albanese’s quarter of a billion dollars subsidy – in addition to the Feds’ massive ongoing expenditure in the region – was to fix the juvenile crime problem in Alice Springs.

When asked, Dr Morris said his “guesstimate” of the number of unsupervised kids is in the town is 60. That would make the Prime Minister’s handout $4.1m per child.

PHOTO AT TOP: Yipirinya School website.

UPDATE May 3 – Yipirinya sent the following message: We actually have a 25-metre swimming pool and a multi-purpose hall that is used for indoor sports as well as assemblies and drumming classes.

Unbogging the law before taken to cells



The river was an Arrernte recreational and residential location long before settlement.

Apart from the weekend of the annual Henley on Todd in August the river was by and large left to Aboriginals. Big gatherings, camps and ceremonies recorded at the Telegraph Station in the 1890s had been happening for centuries, if not millenia.

When Johnsons were obliged to quit Whitegate, Lhenpe Artnwe/Middle Park, upriver of Schwarz crescent, was an option. A huge rivergum’s claw-like root system mid river earned its emu tree status and was an excellent campsite.

Kwekatje / unitiated boys, travelling north, were represented in such trees. Janet Johnson had been born in its shade. Her husband, Gregory would later lose his glass eye there.

Drinking parties and card games continued as did the inevitable disputes and squabbling, often exacerbated by grog. This was theatre for tourist cameras trained from the safe distance of the footbridge. It was also the focus of Town and Tangentyere Councils, police and Night Patrols.

In one of the many attempts over the decades to curb indigenous public drinking, a law prohibiting consumption within two kilometres of a liquor outlet resulted in a daily round up of drinking parties in the riverbed. Opened grog would be tipped into the sand. Unsealed cans and cartons would be confiscated.

It was a common to see, most likely novice police drivers inexperienced in negotiating deep sand, bogging. Hence the ludicrous situation of having to release recently apprehended culprits to help free the 4WD paddy wagon before returning to the cage and proceeding to either the sobering up shelter or a police cell.

Joe Cleary, Edward Neal and Gregory Johnson, who are re-enacting this farce, felt such labours entitled potential charges to be dropped.

PAINTING: Pushing Upriver, 1993

We need ‘critical minerals’



If the Northern Territory wants to achieve a 50% renewable energy target by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050, as it says it does, it seems we will need to make a choice between two types of mineral extraction: Good Mining and Bad Mining.

“Good Mines” would get out of the ground the dozen-plus materials needed to make batteries and solar panels, known as critical minerals, needed for clean energy technologies, including copper, nickel, manganese, cobalt, chromium, molybdenum and zinc.

On the map (pictured) round dots represent operating mines for “critical minerals” by the end of last year – just two in the NT – for helium and titanium. A lithium mine, Tivan Core Lithium, can now be added. All three are in the Top End.

The triangles show mines “under development / care and maintenance” and the squares show mineral deposits.

Also included would be rare earths just up the road at Aileron, expected to employ 600 people in construction, 400 in operations and with a 38 year mine life.

Trouble is, while Arafura has buyers lined up across the globe, “financial closure” has yet to be achieved. That means money is still short.

“Bad Mines” are those we need to shut down or seriously scale down would be oil and gas. Pushing the Beetaloo gas development, about half way between Alice and Darwin, is doing the opposite.

Says Mines Minister Nicole Manison: “The fuel of transition is gas. It’s going to take some time before we’re fully powered in this world by renewables. We want to see that future but we need to get there.

“We don’t want to push people around the globe towards consuming more coal.”

The Territory also has coal, in the Simpson Desert, but digging it up isn’t a likely option, says Ian Scrimgeour, from the Department of Mines, because the deposit is a long way away and anyway, coal is on the nose.

In 2011 we reported about this coal to gas project causing distress to local environmentalists although it was described as being “ultra clean”.

Mr Scrimgeour is the driving force behind AGES, the Annual Geoscience Exploration Seminar, which brought more than 300 mining persons into town this week from all over Australia.

One of them, a seasoned convention goer, told the News: “There is a difference between other states and the NT: At AGES the department will tell you what you want to know and you need to know.”

Minister Manison’s enthusiasm for making the NT “a world class destination for mining investment” seems boundless. In her 12 minute speech opening AGES on Tuesday she used the word “exciting” at least a dozen times.

She is now travelling to Japan and South Korea to spread the message. (See update below.)

She wants the NT to be the “new Western Australia when it comes to mining”.

We’re still a long way off, but it’s not for want of trying: Ms Manison said thinly populated NT is spending $9.5m on “annual investment in exploration” – a subsidy for the mining companies which spent $197m dollars for exploration last year – compared to subsidies in Tasmania ($500,000), SA $3.5m, Queensland $5m, Victoria $7.5m and NSW $8.6m. WA doesn’t get a mention from Ms Manison – it spends $15m.

The NT has lots of projects in the pipeline, she says, 19 of them, with over $8.3 billion potential to create almost 6000 jobs in construction plus 4000 ongoing jobs.

“It’s something to be proud of.”

The current numbers are a lot smaller: The value in dollars is $4.8 billion. Employment totals 3500 people.

But it doesn’t get much bigger than the Newmont gold mine in the Tanami, north-west of Alice Springs, spending $2 billion on expansion, including a vertical shaft to a depth of 1.4 kilometres.

Tennant Creek is “buzzing” with a resurgence of Peko and Warrego reprocessing tailings.

But Minister Manison referred to climate change only in connection with mining critical minerals.

The big picture was missing at the convention: What are we going to do about the “Bad Mines”?

With the NT’s 2030 deadline getting close, right now seems to be a good time to get a clear picture of impending job losses and stranded assets – pipelines, drilling rigs, gas fields, generators.

And making concrete plans diverting superfluous mining staff to the “renewables” that we had better got cracking with.

Is the industry blocking its ears to what’s around the corner: Getting unlimited energy from the sun and having it delivered to our homes, all free of charge? What a competition!

Do the miners believe Ms Manison’s $40 billion NT economy by 2030 is a pipe dream?

And what if we don’t reach 50% renewables by 2030, and net zero by 2050, and warming exceeds 1.5 degrees, what will be the consequences?

Saul Griffith in the current Quarterly Essay puts his mind to this in a report The Wires That Bind.

In short, he says it all needs to start in our homes. We need to electrify everything including our cars. It is possible. He makes it sound easy. Once installed, the solar investment cost at 4% remains at $2000 a year for two decades instead power costs of $6000 now and climbing to $9000 by 2050 (page 11).

The massive gas reserves in the Beetaloo Basin about half-way between Alice Springs and Darwin is the subject of heated debate about fracking, speculation as the public struggles to get a handle on the complex issues or is simply left in the too-hard basket.

Some of the questions and issues:

Unfinished business resulting from the Pepper Report into fracking will be resolved, says the Minister.

At this point Tamboran Resources and Empire Energy, with US billionaire Bryan Sheffield as the biggest shareholder, have exploration permits in Beetaloo but no production licence yet.

So how come Sheffield is spending lots of money on a massive drilling rig when – on the face of it – the production licence is not a certainty? Is it?

Tamboran drilling in Beetaloo. ASX report.

Does he know more than we do?

Ms Manison, when asked by the News if there is a time limit for Beetaloo’s operation, she said: “Beetaloo will continue to operate for as long as it is commercially viable.” 

This month the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications released its report Oil and Gas Exploration and Production in the Beetaloo Basin”.

It contains 14 recommendations including that “consistent with Pepper Inquiry” the Australian Government bring forward legislation to expand the water trigger to include all forms of unconventional gas, to be in operation by 31 December 2023.

The possibility of water contamination by fracking has been a major concern for Aboriginal spokespeople and environmentalists.

In view of the Senate report the environmental organisation Lock the Gate Alliance wants an immediate halt on exploration and production.

“Traditional Owners … have been recognised with important recommendations about protection of sacred sites and proper cultural impact assessments,” says the alliance’s national coordinator Carmel Flint.

“The NT Fyles Government has demonstrated it is not up to the task of regulating the multi-billion dollar, predatory fracking industry.”

On the question of carbon sinks and reducing CO2 pollution Mr Scrimgeour steers clear of making political statements but says natural gas could be blended with hydrogen.

Gas will be needed until 2050, but carbon capture and storage under ground will work towards the target. So will growing trees.

How much storage? How many trees?

Is the vast amount of our gas going to Japan taken into account in the NT’s net zero calculation?

We asked the Minister’s office. No answer yet.

According to the London based medium Finbold more than one million passenger Electric vehicle registered in Europe in the first quarter of 2023.

In EV sales as a percentage of overall car sales in 2021 Norway leads with 86%, followed by many other countries with a fraction of our sunshine. The US is on 5%, New Zealand on 4%. Australia isn’t even on the Canary Media list of 20.

Over lunch I put to two conference goers this question, asked by Alice Springs electricity guru Lyndon Frearson: Draw a line west from Alice Springs to the WA border. From there go south to the three states corner. Then go east to the Stuart Highway and follow it north back to The Alice.

If you covered that area with readily available, normal solar panels, what percentage of the world’s electricity demand do you think would they produce?

One and a half percent, ventured one of my fellow lunchers.

Mmmmh, I’ll go for one per cent, said the other.

The correct answer is 100 per cent – the whole world.

PHOTO at top: Resourcing the Territory.


UPDATE April 23:

A media release for Minister Manison says:-

Japan is already the Territory’s largest trading partner, and South Korea the fourth.

The tour includes contact with Japan’s INPEX and South Korea’s Posco Future M and Hyundai.

The demand for critical minerals is expected to keep growing to support renewable energy, battery storage and high-technology industries.

The Deputy Chief Minister will also host a focused tourism event in Tokyo, with a strong focus on Central Australia “to ensure that we bring Japanese tourists back to the Territory by their thousands”.

Central Land Council says Senator Price ‘does not speak for us’


NT Senator Jacinta Price “does not speak for us or most Aboriginal people,” according to a media release today by the Central Land Council, on behalf of its 90 members, describing them as community leaders and senior cultural men and women who speak for the communities that elected them. 

Alice Springs based Senator Price (at right) was this week promoted to shadow minister for Indigenous Australians in Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s cabinet.

She is a prominent spokesperson for the “No” side in the campaign leading up to the referendum about the Voice.

“She needs to stop pretending we are her people,” CLC deputy chair Warren Williams, from Yuendumu, is quoted in the release.

“Our kids are the apples of our eyes.

“We are not abusers. We love our children. We’d like to know where she got her information from. It is mandatory to report such evidence to the authorities.

“We can do without self-appointed lone crusaders who are unable to bring people of good will together.”

There are many better qualified Aboriginal people, with decades of experience, who have been putting forward solutions for the care, protection and education of children who need a strong voice in Canberra, the release says.

It also quotes Lajamanu community leader Valerie Patterson saying Senator Price was misrepresenting the support for the Voice in remote communities.

“I am a Warlpiri woman and I will vote yes because I believe that having the right to be heard by the parliament and the government will open a door for our children.

“Senator Price should support us, not tell lies about us.”

The release from a meeting at Spotted Tiger, near Atitjere (Harts Range), says council members are sick of Senator Price’s continued attacks on land councils and other peak Aboriginal organisations in the Northern Territory.

“We are tired of her playing politics with the grass roots organisations our old people have built to advocate for our rights and interests,” Mr Williams is quoted.

“Her people are the non-Aboriginal conservatives and the Canberra elite to which she wants to belong.

“She should tell us what her grievances with the CLC are, and if she can really and truly listen to us she is welcome to attend our next council meeting.”

The release says the council is well aware of the scale of the challenges its members and their families face and welcomes anyone who is willing and able to work with them.

“We have many good men and women who are trying hard to make our communities better places, who are desperate to be heard, and Senator Price’s divisive approach isn’t helping,” Mr Williams is quoted, and that by generalising about Aboriginal people without any evidence and authority, Senator Price is hurting Aboriginal people.

“The Voice comes from the people. It’s a big opportunity for us. It opens everything up for us.

“There’s a lot of people who think the same thing. We want to go ahead with it. We will probably never have that chance again.”

Mr Williams is quoted as saying Senator Price needs to educate herself about the views of Yapa [Warlpiri for Aboriginal people].

“We’ve never seen her on communities. She needs to get down to the grass roots and find out the truth, not just speak with to the few people who will talk to her.”

The Alice Springs News has invited Senator Price to respond.

PHOTO: Voice Delegate Group “Yes” at the council meeting. Courtesy CLC.

UPDATE April 21: A spokesperson for Senator Price emailed that she would not comment.


NT the place to be for mining: Minister at Alice conference



“A clear message to the mining industry – the Northern Territory is the place to be.”

Mining Minister Nicole Manison was addressing more than 300 industry people attending the Annual Geoscience Exploration Seminar (AGES) in Alice Springs this morning.

She said the NT has 15 of the critical minerals the world needs, “and we have lots of copper as well, and 13 prospective critical minerals”.

She said there is a huge growth of exploration for critical minerals needed to tackle climate change. They are used in the electrical machinery and help replacing non-renewable fuels.

Minister Manison said the government will change the royalty system to ad valorem, including petroleum.

The means royalties will be based on value instead of the wellhead price.

When asked whether this will result in more money for the government Minister Manison said this is not yet clear because there are many different ad valorem models: “There will be a 12 months consultation.

“We want the best deal for the Northern Territory when it comes to the amount of royalties but also when it comes to the economic gains that mining generates throughout the Territory, especially in our regional and remote parts.”

Some big mines are due to shut down in the next few years, including Nhulunbuy and Groote Island.

Will the new royalty system mean more or less royalties for the NT?

“I’m hoping the extra economic activity and more successful mines getting out of the ground will lead to a stronger royalties base in the future. Royalties are the biggest source of revenue for the NT.”

Minster Manison (pictured at a doorstop at AGES this morning) says the NT has the nation’s best exploration program, increased from $6.5m to $9.5m a year. 2022 was the second-highest year for exploration expenditure – $200m.

“This is about helping those 19 mining projects in different stages that will help deliver 6000 construction jobs and 4000 ongoing jobs to get them out of the ground because we’re finding the hardest part is getting to financial close.”

Arafura Rare Earth north of Alice Springs is among the “great prospects” to deliver the materials the world needs for electric vehicles. Major agreements with electric car and wind turbine manufacturers in Germany are already in place, says the Minister.

The gas field in the Beetaloo Basin is a “really important” development for energy security. A fuel of transition to renewables is needed “and that is gas”. It is a cleaner fuel than coal which is still used extensively on the east coast.

The government has seen “some fantastic exploration results” in Beetaloo.

“We are working towards finalising the Pepper (fracking) inquiry [after which] we can look forward to production,” Minister Manison said in reply to a question from the Alice Springs News.

Given the urgent need to phase in renewable energy resources, how long will Beetaloo be working for?

“Beetaloo will continue to operate for as long as it is commercially viable. [The companies] work towards making sure they are viable and profitable. While demand is there they will continue to operate.”

What is the government income from mining compared to the support mining gets from the government?

Minister Manison says between $350m and $400m is generated from royalties and grants for exploration, for example, are just $9.5m a year.

What about infrastructure used by mining?

“I don’t think you can count single projects. There are multiple benefits. For example we’re working with the Federal Government sealing the Tanami Road (where the rich Newmont goldmine is located).

“That’s going to benefit the communities that live out there, tourism, the pastoral sector, the mining sector.”

IMAGE: Exploration activity in the Beetaloo Basin, from a presentation this morning by Ian Scrimgeour · Senior Executive Director, NT Geological Survey at NT Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade.

5000 words and 250,000,000 dollars



A Cuban cigar is the prize: Be the first to spot any clearly defined initiative proposed by the Federal Opposition Leader and the Territory’s CLP Senator, for stopping the misconduct of a few dozen children.

The pair jointly called two doorstops in Alice Springs this week at which some 5000 words were spoken. You can find 3359 of them here – if you can bear it.

Worth a lesson in Australian politics?

Peter Dutton and Jacinta Price were doing a follow-up on the Prime Minister who did something very similar in this town in February, and flicked a quarter billion of taxpayers’ dollars at the problem to boot.

In touching bi-partisanship none of the three troubled themselves with an analysis of programs for young offenders that may be working elsewhere in Australia or overseas, inform the public about precise costing, and Key Performance Indicators on whose commitment the responsible minister is betting his or her job.

Not that they said so.

The exception is that Senator Price wants accommodation for staff and students at the Yipirinya School (see transcript).

To earn the Havana you’ll have to also plough through the utterances of local person Darren Clark. He is described as a business owner, mostly by Sky which clearly can’t get enough of his horror stories about Alice Springs. And he keeps supplying them.

These broadcasts are surely key to the plummeting tourism business and the challenge in getting health workers from interstate, and so on.

When we asked Mr Clark today what businesses he is in, although we know he has a bakery, we got a “no comment” answer amidst a torrent of foulmouthed abuse.

But he got to welcome Mr Dutton to Alice Springs, “on behalf of the people of Alice Springs and the Northern Territory”.

Which of those people appointed the unelected Mr Clark to deliver this welcome is not clear.

Back to the cigar: Have a good read.

The Voice not an issue in the big bush



The Voice is not on the agenda of two of the three local governments in the Central Australian bush, and it is understood that this is also the case with the MacDonnell Regional Council.

Its President, Roxanne Kenny, via a minder, and in response to a personal contact sent to her via text, declined requests for an interview. The News could not find any reference to the Voice on the website of the Council over which Ms Kenny presides.

Adrian Dixon (at right), President of the Central Desert Regional Council, said the Voice had not been spoken about in the council and there had been no consultation about the Voice.

“We don’t know the people who are pushing it,” he said today. “The people on the ground don’t know who they are.”

And Barkly Mayor Jeffrey McLaughlin says: “We don’t need a Voice, we want an Ear first.”

His council looks after an area quite a lot bigger than Victoria, is eight times the size of Switzerland but has just 8000 people, many with English as their second or third language, and “14 nations,” as he puts it.

The Voice has not made it onto the Barkly council’s agenda: No-one has brought it up.

In fact the people of the Barkly Regional Council, whose major centre is Tennant Creek, already have their own voice and their local government has an ear.

The Cultural Awareness Committee, representing the region’s Indigenous people who make up 65% of the population, workshops on the day before every council meeting, and gives it advice.

Mayor McLaughlin (at left) says the Council is adamantly a-political. It appears he is cautious lest the national Voice haggle should contaminate that policy.

He says the “14 nations” are setting the council’s agenda while – on the present uncertain indications – the Constitution embedded Voice will merely need to be listened to.

Mayor McLaughlin makes it clear that what his constituents say are instructions to the council, not suggestions.

It’s a delicate job: The “14 nations,” defined by language and tribal traditions, are keenly protective of their respective parts of the country.

In Aboriginal lore and law no outsider is permitted to talk about someone else’s country. This makes council service provision a delicate task, says Mayor McLaughlin.

In that context the formation by the NT Government of the current super shires in 2007/08 was the “worst thing,” amalgamating smaller councils.

“Elliott used to be a town with its own council. Utopia, Ampilatwatja had their own councils.”

Mayor McLaughlin comes to his job from an unusual background: Managing, producing or working with bands such as young Warrumpi, Tjupi and Midnight Oil’s Makarrata Project.

In between he had a taste of Canberra projects, “throwing money at things”.

Rocks thrown in the Mall, staff barricade intruders


Notes from a security firm:

Entered Todd Mall from Gregory Terrace at ay 6am today. Up to a dozen Aboriginal juveniles were right out front of Reg Harris Lane.

Juveniles threw rocks at the patrol car. Some juveniles were tooled up with weapons. Called police.

Unable to identify which juveniles proceeded to throw rocks. Very quick response from police.

Report from the police:

Three youths were arrested after an unlawful entry, during the early hours of yesterday, at a nursing village in Alice Springs.

Police received information that staff at the location had barricaded the intruders in the administration office after allegedly stealing money and other items.

Police recovered the stolen money and further suspected stolen property from another location.

The three males, aged 14, 16 and 16, have been charged with multiple property offences and will appear in court at a later date.

Death followed by ritual body cutting: Biceps, thighs or chest



When news broke about the death of Harold “Wheelchair” Ross’s daughter the camp soon filled with relatives and the air with the voices of wailing women. Through sobs,”Wheelchair” confided he’d have to go to Mt Isa where she’d lived and burn her belongings.

There followed ritual body cutting; biceps, thighs or chest. Women cropped their hair short and dressed in black. Even Xavier’s “gecko” blaster was mute.

Increasingly, deaths and their rituals were part of my life. We see Gregory exchanging the customary soft touching of hands with Eileen, former partner of “Wheelchair”. Theodora Johnson stands behind “Wheelchair”. Nearby stands Melita Johnson. Janet and Joany MacCormack sit on the ground.

At their side is Patrick Hayes senior with hand to mouth. On the distant ground, mid composition, sits Arranye. Joseph “Malde” Johnson and Bernard Neal are propped on chairs. Peter “Yungi” Johnson has his back to the viewer. Earl Hayes, Narissa Presley and Patrick junior lean against “Wheelchair’s” shed.

Following custom, the shed in which the deceased had once visited, was smoked and dismantled, the materials recycled to another campsite.

The smoking entailed the families forming a line and passing through the shed waving smoking arrethe / native fuchsia over its contents in order to release her “spirit”.

PAINTING: The Sorry Business of Wheelchair Ross, 1993

Long way ’round to stop dumping



The Town Council relies on the app NeatStreets to deal with the extensive illegal dumping of rubbish in the municipality but the online tool has its problems.

Warber Court resident Neil Woolcock is among the many locals disgusted with the repulsive behaviour of some fellow citizens but he does more than complain.

Last year, between May 30 and July 20, he exchanged eight emails with the Senior Project Officer, Crown Land Estate, Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics (DIPL) in Alice Springs and made about 10 phone call to her until the problem was fixed – partly.

He estimates about one-quarter of the rubbish was left to blow around in the wind.

The officer made one dumper clean up when an envelope with name and address was found in the pile, says Mr Woolcock.

He spots dumped rubbish on Crown Land when he walks his dog in the Albrecht Drive area.

And now the dumpers are back – see photos taken by Mr Woolcock this week.

His efforts are running into red tape, not the least being that during his extensive dealings with the bureaucracy to keep his neighbourhood clean, no-one has bothered to tell him about NeatStreets.

The first he heard of it was when he spoke with the News this morning. Neither did he know that the first port of call needs to be the council, via NeatStreets.

The official management of illegal dumping starts with downloading NeatStreets to your mobile.

On that you can enter the type of rubbish, its location plus a photo and this is forwarded to the council.

The reports range from dangerous trees, graffiti, holes in the footpath, missing signs and –most seriously – dumped rubbish: “Intersection becoming dumping ground. Businesses need to dispose of their refuse properly, like the rest of us.”

The council then either fixes the problems or apportions the fixing-up jobs to the responsible authorities.

In the case of Crown Land that is the Crown, aka DIPL.

That’s where the problem appears to sit. For example, rubbish about two kilometres west of the Road Transport Hall of Fame, reported (via NeatStreets by the News) on June 12, 2021, is still there. That’s on Crown Land.

The council, according to the report to its February meeting, referred to DIPL six reports in October last year, four in November and 13 in December.

DIPL has not responded to a question from the News of what has been done about these reports.

According to NeatStreets, since October last year there were 28 reports from Alice Springs in the category “Closed. Fixed By Authority” and 16 in “Acknowledged, Authority Notified”.

Minor categories include Misdirected, Other Authority Applies, Closed, Private Property.

The majority of NeatStreet cases in the second quarter of 2022/23, in the council report, is under “Depot” meaning the council needs to fix them.

There were 96 of these in October (41 completed), 135 in November (51) and 167 in December (75). Most of the outstanding ones are currently being attended to, says a council spokesman.

It’s not going to happen


It is dark. Several figures move stealthily around a multi-story building. They smash a window and make their way inside. They fan out around the offices, searching. They find what they are looking for: Car keys.

Not one set. Five.

They leave the building, find the cars in the carpark and make off at high speed.

No. It’s not the opening of a crime drama. The location isn’t in the big smoke. It’s Alice Springs.

The burglars are not hard-faced career criminals but children.

And they are not on the screen, they are real.

The cars are also real, owned by the government which, yes, is funded by the taxpayer.

What happens then is described in a police media report on Saturday (never mind that it was April 1 – this, too, is real): “The public reported multiple incidents relating to vehicles driving erratically around the CBD. Police CCTV continued to monitor and capture the happenings.

“The vehicles all contained several youths, sometimes hanging out of the car and attempting to swerve at police vehicles before driving away at speed.

“Police could not pursue the vehicles due to the weather conditions and the inherent risks to public safety and officers.

“All five vehicles [were] later recovered. Strike Force Viper is investigating.” [See also update at the bottom of this report.]

It was just one scene in a comic opera starring the government, NGOs – some of them lavishly funded, industry lobbies and the public.

At the moment we have vigorous back-patting about the decrease in domestic violence hospital admissions from 246 in December (usually a bad month for DV) to 97 in February.

Let’s put that number into perspective. 

In Australia each year, there are around 6,500 hospitalisations for injuries known to be related to family and domestic violence, or 540 a month. 

On those numbers the Alice Springs figure is an eye watering 180 times the national one. Nothing to be gleeful about.

Given though that our DV rate is obviously susceptible to alcohol control, why not go all the way?

As the News has proposed several time over the years, let’s have take-aways on one day of the week, the day before all welfare payments are received (get the Feds to legislate to return to that payment system).

That means all the preceding week’s money has been spent on food, rent and clothing, etc. All responsible drinkers can stock up on the one day of the week. For those who are irresponsible – too bad.

For tourists a 24/7 bottlo facility should be available, on presentation of proof that their usual domicile is outside a 1000km radius from Alice.

Our alcohol problem would be fixed in a week. The alternative is the crime rate continuing to escalate.

Meanwhile the hospital is in an existential crisis. The Nurses Union’s Cath Hatcher told SBS in February: “Nurses and midwives alone are 130 full-time equivalent down in all the rosters, not including doctors and allied health workers.”

Anecdotal evidence is that health staff simply don’t want to come to The Alice because they don’t feel safe.

DV is horrendous but it is done behind closed doors. As such it is not linked to the rest of the crime except in the long term – parental neglect, foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).

And so, as the kids running amok throughout the night are so convincingly demonstrating, the government has stuffed up again: Temporary alcohol restrictions will not reduce shuttered businesses, smashed and torched cars, record property offences, assaults. Kids don’t drink.

What is exacerbating the problem enormously is the nation-wide news reporting about the crime rate, especially by Sky. Its main source seems to be “business owner Darren Clark“.

More of a worry still has been Mayor Matt Paterson’s national campaign which clearly is having the effect of keeping visitors away from Alice Springs and from its vital tourism industry, without presenting any clear idea for fixing the problem.

Mayor Paterson is now adding to his disinvitation program people from the bush normally coming into town for football, using the council’s oval.

Mayor Paterson co-authored a statement titled “Community Football in Communities” together with the native title organisation Lhere Artepe and the Combined Aboriginal Organisations (CAO) of Central Australia, with prominent Aboriginal businessman Owen Cole the signatory.

CAO, established in the early 1980s, is a bit of a mystery. It has no presence on the web other than a submission to the Senate Inquiry into the IAS tendering process in May 2015 when it described itself as “a collective voice on issues being faced by the Central Australian Aboriginal community”.

It is not registered with the ORIC (the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations) as most Aboriginal organisations are. The News has contacted Mr Cole for information.

The statement is treading on dangerous ground, suggesting the lure of football in Alice Springs is “pulling young leaders away from communities” and would lead “to a lack of connection with country.

“Remote based football programs allow people to play their sport of preference on country of significance,” the statement says.

Talking about someone else’s country and its significance is a serious no-no in Aboriginal culture.

Coming from the Mayor it falls into the category of “we know what’s best for you”.

It would be hard to gauge what traditional senior people would make of CAO in the tribally diverse region around Alice Springs.

Lhere Artepe CEO Graeme Smith, speaking for Arrernte native title holders, is currently formulating a type of permit system and code of conduct for non-Arrernte visitors. (At right.)

He blames some of them for the crime wave in Alice Springs: “It’s not Arrernte kids who break in, jump on the roof of taxis, trash the town, run amok.”

At the height of the media frenzy over the continuing crime wave Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised $250m – that’s more than five times the town council’s $47.3m budget, for example – to go towards fixing the problems.

Dorelle Anderson, as his appointed “Regional Controller” (a job title seeming to have been resurrected from another era) is in charge of this money. As yet, there is no expenditure plan known to the public, no key performance indicators.

Ms Anderson heads up the region’s Territory Families, the department responsible for kids at risk and on whose watch the trashing of Alice has escalated.

For instance, we’ve had a variety of facilities where young people can come and go. This has made no difference to the crime in the street.

We hear talk about a new stolen generation, kidnapping. We need to hear more about a generation that will be lost in the Big House.

We also constantly hear education is the answer. Time it was defined what this means.

It takes a lot of resourcefulness, energy and skill to pull off the heist we described at the top of this piece.

How about education that turns these considerable personal assets towards endeavours that makes the kids and their community a success?

If the parents won’t do it the state must.

It’s not going to happen, I hear you say.

PHOTO: The “rust building” containing NT Government offices in Bath Street where the car theft took place.


UPDATE 1.50pm:

From the logbook of a local security firm. None of these offences were reported in police media releases. It’s notable that these have become less informative, and are often just requests for information from the public.

April 3, 23:39:18

United Heavitree Gap store
Southern cross. Unlawfully entry. Key holder [person having access outside trading hours] on site. Three to four Aboriginal juveniles armed with axes smashed the front roller door to gain entry. Key holder awaiting police attendance to be further followed up with police and the key holder.

April 3, 04:32:54

Property Damage
External four cars at Congress stolen while patrols on site at ABC. Ram raided through the gates then sped past patrols at speed joining business Congress.

April 3, 05:48:32

Railway Tce out of control juveniles
Property Damage

At approx 0440 patrols were in Railway Tce when two of the stolen vehicles pulled up in behind Coles side by side one on the wrong side of the road. Proceeded to drag race at extreme speed and in a extremely and out of control manner. Both stolen vehicles did not stop at the Maccas crossing [where the is a stop sign] doing at least 100 ks. Patrols called police. Patrols also advised police due to the dangerous manner these juveniles were driving stolen vehicles. Patrols were getting out of the CBD area.

Delay is not an option: NT Government must do more on buffel grass



In response to public pressure the NT Environment Minister Lauren Moss’ public acknowledgement that buffel grass is a serious problem is welcome. The recently announced buffel grass technical working group, however, must not be used as a delay tactic. 

The Minister has said that the working group will assess buffel grass impacts, as well as consider management opportunities, including weed declaration. 

It is damning that in 2023, more than 60 years after buffel grass was deliberately sown at scale, the NT Government still doesn’t know what the impacts of buffel grass are.

This is despite the fact that the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife stopped planting buffel across the Parks estate in the 1970s due to a recognition of the threat it posed to ecological values.

The environmental impacts of buffel are nothing but catastrophic. We know that buffel grass fires are hotter, larger and more frequent than native grass fires. Buffel is changing the patterns of fire across Central Australia.

Buffel is transforming mulga woodlands and native grasslands into frequently-burnt monocultures, and 500 year old river red gums into blackened posts. Buffel grass suppresses Central Australia’s wildflowers. Habitats across many different vegetation types, destroyed.

It is a key threatening process for dozens of threatened species, and puts places like the MacDonnell Ranges, nationally recognised for their conservation significance, at risk. 

Indigenous custodians and land managers in Central Australia have also identified buffel as an enormous threat to the health of their Country and recognise the spread of buffel across their lands as an enormous injustice.

The Desert Indigenous Protected Areas Rangers Statement on Buffel Grass (the Umuwa Statement) opens with the sentence:”We the First Nations people of the desert did not bring buffel grass to this land. But it is here, and it is killing our country and threatening our communities and culture’ (p.8-9).

The Umuwa Statement and many other First Nations statements and testimonies call on governments to take steps to remedy the tremendous cultural and ecological harms directly caused by buffel. 

Buffel grass wildfires are a major public safety threat.

In the last few weeks a home was destroyed by buffel grass fires in the Alice Springs rural area.  The partially buffel grass fuelled wildfires in Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges in 2019 and 2023, the Watarrka fires in 2021, and the overgrown Larapinta Trail in 2022, all negatively impact the tourism industry. 

Athel pine, gamba grass and mission grass were once perceived to have benefits and were deliberately planted. Gamba grass and mission grass were both planted as pasture grasses.

However, it was eventually realised that their impacts were disproportionately negative due to the risks they posed to the environment, culture and/or public safety. Today, they are all declared weeds in the Northern Territory. 

In 2014, the Federal Government received Threat Abatement Advice for buffel grass.

Even a controlled burn of buffel grass in good weather conditions can result in significant damage to very old river red gums.

It is comprehensive and provides a framework for the Federal Government, as well as States and Territories, to act on the buffel grass threat. Amongst many opportunities, it recommends that all states and territories declare buffel grass a weed. 

Another decade has been wasted since this advice was made publicly available. The decades the Northern Territory government has squandered in not declaring buffel grass a weed has set a dangerous precedent whereby key threatening processes are not identified nor subjected to adequate control measures. 

A Class (B) weed declaration is the obvious path forward for most buffel impacted areas. A Class (B) weed declaration under the Weeds Management Act recognises that buffel spread and growth needs to be prevented. This is clearly the case.

A weed declaration is the only path to developing a statutory weed management plan. Further, weed declaration enables all sorts of opportunities. 

For the NT, the key steps forward are clear: declare it a weed, limit its spread, comprehensively map its distribution, identify priority areas for management, work towards a landscape scale solution and collaborate with the Federal Government on a biological control.

The NT Government has the added benefit of being able to learn from management measures in South Australia, where buffel grass was declared a weed in 2015 and where coordinated, reasonably resourced management measures are producing gains.

To date, the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) has not been invited to participate in the government’s working group. Last week ALEC sent a letter to the Minister requesting to be part of the working group. The Minister has not yet provided a response. 

Speaking on ABC’s NT Country Hour, the Executive Director of Rangelands within the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security stated that pastoralists will “definitely be” included in the working group.

The optics of including pastoral representatives, whilst excluding the peak environmental organisation for Central Australia, are bad. ALEC’s exclusion would undermine public trust in the process.

ALEC represents hundreds of people who entrust it to advocate and act on regional environmental issues and has knowledge and skills that will positively contribute to the Working Group.

Indeed, ALEC is currently developing a discussion paper on buffel grass that includes extensive focus on its impacts, as well as management opportunities. ALEC also takes part in regional and national weed management committees, and has close relationships with buffel stakeholders in South Australia. 

For decades, the Northern Territory Government has delayed, ignored, mismanaged and obfuscated responsibility for the threats posed by buffel grass.

This announcement should be cause for cautious celebration, but for now all the Northern Territory Government has announced is that it will receive advice on a problem that it has spent decades ignoring. This opportunity to finally address the buffel grass threat must not be wasted. Please Minister, the time for action is now.   


Alex Vaughan is the Policy Officer at the Arid Lands Environment Centre. He is also a member of the Alice Springs Regional Weed Reference Group and an interim steering committee member of the National Established Weed Priorities Framework. 

Grief spread among the community’s 650 people



Though Gregory was the most garrulous at Whitegate, older brother, Edward Arranye Pengarte Johnson was his senior. Several months elapsed after Elizabeth Johnson’s death before asking her father, Arranye, if it was okay to take photographs for a painting of her funeral, Funeral at Santa Teresa.  It was the first of scores of Arrernte funerals I’d attend, though most were in town.

As I drove the poorly cambered dirt road Jude Johnson voiced concerns that, as at other funerals, it might be an occasion to settle differences; a fight perhaps that might topple someone into the grave on top of the casket. Despite zipped windows dust invaded the car as many others were making the 85 kilometre trip.

At Santa Teresa / Ltyentye Apurte (beefwood trees) grief spread among the community’s 650. The subdued atmosphere was palpable. Unctuous sermonising and howling dogs apart, all was respectfully quiet.

Until then I’d not realised the extent of the family and the time required to gather people from far and wide, in some cases, the breadth of the continent. This, in addition to raising the revenue to cover Centre Funeral Service’s costs from Alice Springs.

I needed to set the scene in the appropriate tableau and drove back to Santa Teresa with eldest daughter, Ronja, to photograph the graveyard with the flat tableland to the northwest. With dramatic instinct, she grabbed a bunch of plastic flowers from a grave inside the gate to place on Lizzie’s actual grave. You see her holding these in the painting.

Lenny Drover looks on from the left while Joany McCormack despairs. Arranye removed his shirt and donned a red headband to mark the gravity of the occasion. Jude Johnson accompanies Ronja with Robbie Hayes and Michael Stewart on the shovels.

PAINTING: Funeral at Santa Teresa, 1993.

Heavy Metal better than the streets



What’s the difference between Rap and Hip Hop?

An unlikely place to find this out was the Yipirinya School yesterday afternoon, scene of a Heavy Metal concert for the young (and the not so young – me, pictured with J-Milla).

The answer came from the Emcee Jahdai Vigona: Rap is poetry put to music and Hip Hop is how you dance to it.

The youth concert organised by the town council was a focus on the possibilities in life as opposed to anti social behaviour.

The starring band was Mulga Bore Hard Rock (photo at top) – you guessed it – from Mulga Bore, north-east of Alice Springs.

The crowd wasn’t huge, 200 estimated by the council (I thought it was more like 150), despite free admission, casks of water and paper cups, free sausage sandwiches and ice cream, and the stage set for a Hip Hop and Heavy Metal crusade.

The weather was inclement so the concert was held indoors. A live stream on indigiTUBE was available for those who couldn’t make it.

Jahdai got us underway introducing the first act, a duo from Alice Springs “Karnage N Darknis” aka Tristrum Watkins and Corinna Hall who set the tempo alight with a lively and bouncy set to get the audience in the groove.

All the performers where aware of the reason for the concert and there was no holding back.

Next to take the stage was the family connected Hard Rock band Mulga Bore. Avid fans of Kiss whom they had supported at the Gold Coast and with face paint to prove it, they launched into an extremely entertaining set with all the antics of glitz and glamour.

It was clear to see that they were enjoying themselves and the audience appreciated the showbiz flare.

The drummer Aiden was a prime example of what you can make of your life. He is 15 and had that back-beat throbbing. He started playing drums when he was seven.

We can only be grateful his family approved.

Their latest song, Fame not Shame, was indicative of the significance of the concert. They where also excellent musicians who knew their instruments well particularly when laying on some thunderous thrash.

Kirklen Bird of Mulga Bore Hard Rock.

And so to the headline act, a very charismatic young man from the Northern Territory, J-MILLA.

He jumped off the stage and engaged the crowd with a very professional and competent set including his song Unlock the System with all proceeds of its sale going to assist the family of Kumanjayi Walker from Yuendumu.

His energetic Rap was well received, he charmed everyone.

Let’s see more of this type of showcase and hope it can have an influence on the lives of those it was aimed at.

Government moves on buffel grass – at last



Declaring buffel grass a weed, as it is in South Australia, will be considered by a technical working group assessing the impacts of, and approaches to, the introduced plant that is causing extensive damage to native flora and providing fuel for massive bushfires.

Environment Minister Lauren Moss this morning announced the formation of the group which will report to the government “later this year”.

We have asked when, and how much money the government has set aside for the campaign against what is widely already recognised as a weed, even if not declared.

The announcement follows a major fire in the West MacDonnell national park and a blaze at south-eastern edge of the Alice Springs municipality, where three dwellings were destroyed, last Friday (photo below).

Minister Moss says: “While buffel grass has provided valuable fodder as well as dust suppression and erosion control in desert areas since the 1960s, there is increasing concern about its role in heightening wildfire intensity, and associated impacts on biodiversity.”

The initiatives to be examined by the group will include strategic fuel reduction programs undertaken by Bushfires NT and Parks and Wildlife and firebreak and road verge management programs.

Meanwhile a Bushfires NT spokeswoman, in response to questions from the Alice Springs News, said yesterday that the Tjoritja / West MacDonnell blaze has burned about 2000 square kilometres.

An extensive blaze occurred in the park in early 2019, destroying vegetation across a half of its area.

The spokeswoman says in a written reply that the fires “are now contained after a concerted effort by Parks and Wildlife and Bushfires NT staff and volunteers over the weekend, with support from NTFRS.

“Park Rangers and Bushfires NT staff will continue to monitor the fire grounds over the next few days to ensure they are fully secured.

“The vast majority of the Larapinta Trail was unaffected by the fires.

“Sections 1 to 3 and Sections 10 to 12 have been re-opened as of Sunday, March 26.

“Rangers are currently assessing Sections 4 to 9 to confirm they are safe for public access.

“While it is expected that some parts of Section 4 and Section 7 were fire-affected, it is expected that the entire trail will be open for public use from Saturday April 1 as planned. Some minor maintenance work may continue after that date.”

Bushfires NT did not provide the requested details about the number of hectares where precautionary burning had taken place in the West and East MacDonnells in the last 12 months: “Multiple aerial incendiary and ground burns were conducted at strategic locations across the Central Australian parks estate during 2022, several of which are proving to be very valuable in minimising the impact of the currently active fires.”

Details were also missing in the reply to this question: In how many hectares did buffel eradication take place in the last 12 months?

Bushfires NT replied: “Parks and Wildlife implements an annual program of strategic pest plant and animal control and fire management which seeks to protect the highest value natural and cultural assets on the parks estate.

“Buffel control forms a significant component of this program in Central Australia.”

PHOTO at top by Tahnee Passmore-Barns: Ancient gumtree in the Todd River this morning, brought down by fire. In the background, the riverbank choked with tinder-dry buffel grass. This is the area where the blaze in the south-eastern corner of the municipality is believed to have started last week.

TOs hammer fracking deal governments sought to hide


“The cultural impacts associated with the development of any onshore shale gas industry must be fully explained prior to the development of that industry and that a plan be developed to manage those impacts on Aboriginal people and their communities.

“Aboriginal people and their representatives must be involved in the design and implementation of any such plan.”

That was a recommendation by the Independent Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the NT, set up by Chief Minister Michael Gunner and headed up by Justice Rachel Pepper. Her report was released in March 2018.

The Beetaloo Sub-basin, which is estimated to have 500 trillion cubic feet of gas – about one-sixth of the nation’s reserve – gets a special mention. (See details below.)

Today, five years later, an elder of the area, Samuel Janama Sandy (pictured), deputy chairman of Nurrdalinji Aboriginal Corporation, says in a media release about the planned gas development: “In terms of benefits and support from the fracking industry, it’s all talk, talk, talk and no action.

“We are getting a peanut, while the white man is packing up his pocket with cash. We should own land, buy businesses, but we got nothing.

“I live in Katherine in a housing commission flat, on a wheelchair, and haven’t got a car or any of the benefits they say will come from fracking.

“Our people want jobs on country, but not jobs that involve drilling into our country.”

Justice Pepper was reported as promising 32,000 jobs.

Mr Sandy: “We want to protect our underground water, the environment, the animals and birdlife, from fracking.

“We don’t want fracking, at any cost. The gas should be kept in the ground.”

Under former Prime Minister Scott Morrison the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) commissioned a report about the gas project.

The NIAA is an Australian Government agency and hence spending public money.

Liberal Mr Morrison did not release the report, and neither did his Labor successor, Anthony Albanese.

Nurrdalinji had to resort to a freedom of information process to get the report, called a Blueprint, which is mostly about the Aboriginal people affected by the gas project. Nurrdalinji’s action put the document into the public arena.

Who is the author, paid from public funds? We’re not told their name which is redacted and replaced with “s22(1)” – a section of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

It permits the release of documents so long as they “would not disclose any information that would reasonably be regarded as irrelevant to the request” for disclosure, in the opinion of the agency.

The executive summary of the Blueprint makes it clear that maximising regional benefits from private investment in onshore gas projects in the Beetaloo Sub-basin “is a core objective of the Australian and NT governments”.

Little wonder both were keen to keep a lid on the document which has little good to say with respect to the way traditional owners figure in the exploitation of this huge Territory asset.

These are issues the News has signalled we will be raising with NT parliamentary representatives Marion Scrymgour MHR and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy.

The Blueprint says resource development agreements have “burgeoned over the past 30 years, particularly following the enactment of the Native Title Act 1993 (NTA) [although] it does not require informed consent or provide native title holders with a power of veto over resource development,” as is the case under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (ALRA).

Most of the land within the sub-basin is held pursuant to native title, not ALRA.

“Almost always, traditional owners and native title holders are at a disadvantage to the companies with which they are negotiating,” says the Blueprint.

“This report outlines the four factors – political / strategic power, legal rights, ethos of the companies involved, economics of the project – that are most often associated with strong benefit-sharing agreements, the most influential of which is the political / strategic power of Traditional Owners and native title holders.

“Research shows that even where strong agreements are negotiated, the benefits for resident Indigenous populations can still be decidedly mixed.

“We find that the current conditions are not conducive to strong agreements being negotiated.”

Traditional Owners and native title holders have limited political and strategic capacity: The population is sparse; there is limited community information about the impact of resource development; the legislative framework does not favour Aboriginal interests.

“The economic benefit of the project is uncertain and variable,” says the Blueprint.

“Reports suggest the development is a globally significant economic development opportunity, while the Senate Inquiry found that the economic case for gas exploration appears to be based on overly optimistic assumptions and unrealistic modelling.”

Agreement-making processes should be strengthened and there should be better resourcing of “Prescribed Body Corporates, Native Title Representative Bodies and Land Councils to be able to perform their functions and meet their obligations.

“Governments can actively require free, prior and informed consent,” says the executive summary.

“The Blueprint recommends that governments require that all agreements with Traditional Owners and native title claimants and holders for the Beetaloo Sub-basin meet the standard of being strong or very strong … and that an independent panel should be established to undertake verification of agreements.”

These are clearly issues Mr Gunner could have included in the Pepper inquiry’s terms of reference.

But then, conveniently as some would say, the inquiry was “scientific,” an adjective never convincingly defined, but Aboriginal interests were a side issue.


UPDATE 7.30am March 30: The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade, upon request from the News, has provided the following information.

The terms “proven gas reserves” and “gas-in-place resource” are both ways of reporting resource volumes at different levels of certainty.

“Proven gas reserves” have a higher level of certainty based on evidence collected through exploration and appraisal activities.  “Gas-in-place resources” are those resources estimated to exist with a higher level of uncertainty.

Therefore, “proven gas reserves” tend to be a lower number than the “gas-in-place resources”.

The Beetaloo Sub-Basin does not have any resources classified as “proven gas reserves”, as the evidence through exploration and appraisal activities that is needed to establish “proven gas reserves” is still being collected.

Therefore comparing the “proven reserves” and “gas-in-place resources” is not a uniform (or meaningful) process.

A uniform comparison of Australia’s and the Beetaloo Sub-basin’s resources is “contingent resources (2C)”.

In 2020 Australia had 130.14 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of 2C resources and the latest reported 2C resource for the Beetaloo Sub-Basin is  8.96 Tcf or 6.9% of Australia’s contingent resource.

Contingent Resources are petroleum resources which are technically recoverable but not proven to be commercially recoverable at that time.

When rare water in the Todd turns it into a paradise



Good rains recharged Lhere Mparntwe (Todd River) drawing crowds to its banks for the infrequent spectacle.

When its rushing subsided waterholes became an unparalleled recreational attraction. In full rage it is perilous as friends, Johnathan Rodd and Rowley Hill, would discover, drowning near Wigleys Gorge.

In the 1980s and early 90s Atherreyurre (the Telegraph Station, euro dreaming) waterhole was full. Easily accessed from town, it was popular with families. Toilets and BBQ facilities dotted well kept lawns beneath generous shade. Like the C19 settlers operating the repeater station, I assumed the waterhole was permanent.

When it dried up Lyalthe (Wigleys, blowfly dreaming), five kilometres upstream in the headwaters, became our family’s favourite swimming hole.

The bitumen scabs of Stuart Highway built to quicken the journey of military convoys to Darwin in the 1940s was the shortest route despite the rocky crossing at Charles Creek. Well before the end of WW2 it had succumbed to the pounding of heavy army vehicles.

In the early 2000s the army opened its property north of the Geoff Moss bridge and the track passing its abandoned munition dump gave smoother access. Signage to Wigleys on the upgraded highway and a tempting 30 metre strip of bitumen invite revellers.

Foregrounded are Malcolm Hayes and my son, Raffi. Waist-deep Joseph Johnson is arguing with someone while fully clothed Ricky Ryder leaps from the bank. And Adrian Hayes senior is about to hurl Noelly Johnson’s hat into the drink.

PAINTING: Malcolm Hayes and Raffi at Wigleys Waterhole, 1994