Gallery consultation confusion



Claims by the planners of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery that they are guided by the native title organisation Lhere Artepe are categorically denied by its CEO, Graeme Smith.

Sera Bray, senior director of the project, addressing a poorly advertised “public” meeting of about 60 people on Tuesday, mentioned Lhere Artepe about half a dozen times when people in the audience raised issues of inadequate consultation with Aboriginal people.

But Mr Smith says he has made it clear to Ms Bray’s predecessor, Tracy Puklowski, and to Ms Bray about two weeks ago, that Lhere Artepe does “not want to be dragged into consultation”.

He told the Alice Springs News today: “It is not our project. I’ve made our position clear, the gallery has nothing to do with native title, zero. It’s a government project, nothing to do with us.”

Mr Smith says Lhere Artepe’s participation is limited to holding two of the 11 positions on the project’s National Reference Group, occupied by Benedict Stevens and Vicky Lindner.

(The other members are from Darwin, Canberra, Tasmania, two from Sydney, the Kimberley and North Queensland, another two from Alice Springs. The Reference Group’s website also appears to name Muriel Williams as representing Lhere Artepe but this is not correct, says Mr Smith.)

Sacred sites issues in relation to the gallery’s Untyeyetwelye / Anzac Hill location were in the hands of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) – also mentioned by Ms Bray several times.

Mr Smith said the land does not have native title. It was owned by the Town Council and now belongs to the NT Government.

Ms Bray’s assertions about Lhere Artepe were also drawn into serious doubt when Shane Franey, a board member early in the gallery planning phase, took to the floor at the end of Tuesday’s meeting.

He said: “We were not happy about what was going to happen. We were given the opportunity of talking to the traditional owners. The ladies came forward. They were spoken to about that women’s site [and] they said no.” A location south of The Gap was preferred.

Then compulsory acquisition came up: “Hello, they are going to take it away from us anyway. Your native title ran out. You don’t have any claim to it,” said Mr Franey.

“The government took the land.”

This was followed by an “if you can’t beat them, join them” phase.

“As Lhere Artepe we thought let’s get in on the action. This is where we can help our people. Employment. Have a say on what’s going to be built. Some of us didn’t agree with us, but that’s what is now going to be put in place.

“Inside this building we get to have what we want. Let’s make our own businesses. Art studios. A bit of culture. A place for ceremonies. People from overseas can see what we’ve got. A showcase of our culture, in beautiful Alice Springs.”

If the purpose of the gallery is to bump up the sale of cappuccinos in Todd Mall cafés then its $149m will be spent badly: The Gallery will have a coffee shop of its own.

It will also have a posh top floor restaurant. Those unable to afford five star priced meals need not worry: Mall market style food vans will be “encouraged” to operate on the grounds.

The upstairs-downstairs character of the “box design” is significant: The galleries will be from the second floor up because the ground floor is expected to flood.

“We had to get these galleries off the ground” to protect artwork worth “perhaps millions of dollars,” Ms Bray told the meeting, held at Witchetty’s in the Araluen Centre – feared to become a loser in the ranking as the premier local arts destination, now 40 years old, built with massive local support.

Much of Tuesday’s crowd looked like they had something they wanted to get off their chests, and come question time, they did.

Sculptor Dan Murphy leapt to his feet, asking if the gallery’s planners had spoken with senior women custodians (apmereke artweyes and their kwerterngerles) after the controversial choice to plonk the gallery next to Untyeyetwelye / Anzac Hill – their sacred site.

Mr Murphy recalled a lengthy meeting when these custodians and Mparntwe families “gave a unanimous and emphatic no” to the site. Has there been a meeting again with that family, Mr Murphy asked.

Big applause from the audience but, sorry, wrong question.

Tuesday’s meeting clearly was meant to be a gathering such as the recent members-only AGM of Tourism Central Australia, attended by 130, at which it was Ms Bray who got the accolades, according to CEO Danial Rochford.

Ms Bray stressed that she’d been on board only since November. She has previously worked in construction in Australia and overseas – no project mentioned – as well as at the Central Land Council with “economic aspirations” of TOs. 

As a newcomer to the project although an Alice local, she says: “I can’t talk about what’s happened in the past.”

That was a repeated theme of the meeting: The people deeply involved in the scandalous early development of the project were not present to answer questions.

“What I can speak to is that those traditional owners have voluntarily put themselves forward to be part of this project.

“We all know projects cause divisions.”

All’s good with race relations, Ms Bray insisted repeatedly: Lhere Artepe is fully on board, she claimed, and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) has cleared the site.

“My focus is now to restore and put back and protect those sacred sites that have been damaged through loose agreements back in the day when culture existed in that site.”

The meeting had got off to a bad start when the audio volume of a visual presentation could not be turned up.

Was it on purpose? Official silence in answer to any hard questions has been a character of the project since it got cracking in earnest in 2017.

There was much discussion about the size of the building relative to Anzac Hill: “It doesn’t block out Anzac Hill,” stressed Ms Bray.

That was yet another example of the absurd secrecy engulfing the project. A drawing was put on the screen at the meeting showing the outline of the gallery building in front of Anzac Hill. “It doesn’t block out anything” is clear fabrication – it blocks out about half.

That drawing is presumably shown at all presentations but it was denied to the Alice Springs News. Why? “Unfortunately, we can’t share the image … as it is an architectural drawing not for public distribution.”

The project has been about 10 years under discussion but really hit the road in 2017 and now, six years later, has reached just 15% of completion with “more work ahead of us”: Working on initial scoping reports, initial strategies, gross regional product, visitation, can the gallery attract people to stay longer. Crunching data. Economic boost … and so on without any lucid detail.

“In 20/21 there were reports to consider, there was a business case to consider. We started to see the vehicle getting into first gear.”

The report from “Auntie Hetti [Perkins] and Brother Phillip [Watkins]” was a diligent work, causing major uproar when it was first not released, then sidelined. It proposed putting the gallery in the Desert Park. Ms Bray recorded it as having Anzac “identified by the NT Government and legally and formally acquired from the Alice Springs Town Council”.

SPEAKER IN THE AUDIENCE complaining about “this monstrosity” at one of the town’s most beautiful sites.

BRAY: “I appreciate your opinion … The site has been acquired by the NT Government legally and now I’m telling you the project is going forward.”

FROM THE AUDIENCE: The present cultural precinct, 40 years old and the result of community pressure to have it built, Desert Mob, the Namatjira collection – what will be happening to them? (Applause.)

BRAY: Working in partnership with the gallery, encouraging visits to art groups in regional centres out bush. Not working in isolation. “It’s not about taking away any art and putting it into the gallery.” It’s another place for Desert Mob to help. “Why can’t we have one Desert Mob at Araluen and one over there. In town.” Desert Mob can be better and bigger.

FROM THE AUDIENCE: What conversation is there between Araluen and the gallery?

BRAY: Sharing expert art staff, exchanging programs, joint up-skilling people. “Both ways. Absolutely.”

“Materials” including the outside skin of the building are still a work in progress: “I can’t talk about materials yet.” The outside “skin” material, which may be transparent, will need to cope with heat.

FROM THE AUDIENCE: Why was the location changed from south of The Gap?

BRAY: Led by the NT Government, mainly to reactivate the CBD. “I wasn’t around when the decision had been made.”

FROM THE AUDIENCE: Let’s scrap this site and start again.

BRAY: “I’ll take that on notice.” 

Is this not the final design? According to the official time line, construction will start in April or May next year and “gallery construction complete March 2027”. But this is a “forecast project schedule subject to change”.

FROM THE AUDIENCE: “It just seems crazy” to build the gallery where it is exposed to flooding.

BRAY: “Thank you for your comment.”

That’s about when Ms Bray remembered she had a flight to catch.

IMAGE AT TOP: Sara Bray and Shane Franey at Tuesday’s information meeting.

Movie buffs in reversed ute, beneath a star-filled sky



The Hayes and my son, Raffi, are pictured at Alice Spring’s Starline drive-in on the highway immediately south of the Ilparpa Range.

Video technology heralded the demise of the Starline in 1988. Pity.

For all the convenience of lounge room comforts, they pale in comparison to cuddling in my reversed ute in front of the big screen, beneath a star-filled sky. Distractions aplenty.

Patrick Hayes Snr implores grandchildren Stephan, Adrian and Darren to look at the movie, Mad Dog Morgan on the big screen. They’re engrossed in their own Western theatrics.

Patrick insisted on having a photo of himself wearing the head dress. Not that this fitted my intents, but we took a snap anyway. He looked superb; a chieftain as in his favoured Western movies.

Dennis Hopper as bushranger Dan Morgan and David Gulpilil as offsider, Billy, are the leads in Phillip Mora’s film. Morgan, killed by police in 1860, exemplified C19th frontier brutality.

It’s no coincidence that Mora’s statement emerged during the cinematic revisionism of the frontier saga in 1970s.

IMAGE: Movies is Magic, 1996.

Town blows $14m on pokies, not counting Alice’s biggest gambling place



Gamblers playing the pokies in Alice Springs clubs and pubs lost almost $14m in 2022-23.

This doesn’t include the poker machines in Lasseters Casino whose data “cannot be provided due to commercial-in-confidence,” according to the Department of
Industry, Tourism and Trade.

That is clearly a huge multiple of the disclosed figure.

Meanwhile Indigenous punters are more than five times as likely to have a gambling problem when compared to non-Indigenous gamers.

At 2pm yesterday the News visited the casino. It was Friday, a working day. I saw about 100 people in the gaming room, some 80% of them Aboriginal.

Venues can have up to 55 machines if they have a club liquor licence.

Pubs, namely Gapview Hotel and Todd Tavern in Alice Springs, holding a hotel liquor licence, can now have 20 pokies – a number doubled on June 21, a decision now under appeal by the No Pokies in Mparntwe group.

Since purchasing Lasseters Casino in Alice Springs in 2021, Iris Capital has added almost 150 pokies to the venue, bringing the total number of machines there to 400 (Google Search, June 6). 

The government is setting no limits on the number of the pokies the casinos here can install: “Gaming machines in the NT’s two casinos are not included in the cap limit,” says the department

That means the casino now has 10 times as many machines as the two pubs put together yet the losses of Lasseter’s clientele are a secret.

What’s the point of telling the public, to the accuracy of one, the losses outside the casino – $13,887,055 last financial year – while hiding the losses in by the vastly biggest gambling place of the town? That is something that Minister Chancey Paech may like to explain.

Aboriginal gamblers were significantly more likely to experience problem gambling, with 5.3% classified as experiencing a problem, compared with 0.9% for non-Indigenous gamblers, according to Philip Timney, Director of Gaming Machines.

The Alice Springs News is seeking comment from Iris Capital.

AT TOP: Image from an unauthorised video taken about 10 years ago in the Alice Springs Casino and published in the Alice Springs News.

Offers of jobs, not jail for young joy riders


Young car joyriders likened the adrenalin rush from car theft to the effects of drug or alcohol use.

Some noted, yet often disregarded, fears of death or injury as the result of a car accident.

And the prospect of gaining, or losing, a job is a stronger motivator than incarceration for joyriders.

These are some of the findings by the Australian Catholic University in a study of north Queensland teenagers who engaged, or were considered at risk of engaging, in car theft. 

The resulting report is delving more deeply into suggested remedies that in Alice Springs are often limited to curfew or lock’em up and throw away the key.

ACU criminology lecturer Shannon Dodd was one of the architects of the six-week course in Townsville designed for people aged 13-17 and with a specific focus on at-risk First Nations youth, according to a media release.

Is says giving young offenders something to lose – such as a job – can be a more effective than jail time.

Dr Dodd says participants dismissed the spectre of police charges as a deterrent and instead were motivated to change unlawful and unsocial behaviour by the prospect of paid employment.

“Rehabilitation also encourages young people to see their potential for the future,” she says.

Participants attended weekly sessions beginning with educational talks from experts in medicine, policing, or psychology, together with talks delivered by crime victims.

There were additional hands-on recreational activities, such as panel beating workshops, designed to channel participants’ interest in cars in a positive, safe, and legal manner.

Participants typically reported they were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol while joyriding. 

It can increase a young person’s perceived social status and provide an opportunity to “show off” to their peers.

Participants were “mostly dismissive” of the idea that the thought of getting in trouble with their parents or police would deter young people from joyriding.

Although de-identified for ethical and privacy reasons, participants’ interview responses were recorded in the report.

When asked if having a job would make a difference to the likelihood of re-offending, one participant said: “If I had a job, then that’s something for me to look up to as well. I can be my own role model.

“If I keep doing [joyriding] then I won’t be my own role model.”

Dr Dodd says youth crime is a “complex and acrimonious topic but calls to get tough on offenders failed to address the root causes.

“These young people are often not engaged in education, come from volatile environments, have had negative experiences with police and they feel powerless.

“Do we want to help them towards a safer, happier life? Or are we intent on throwing the book and entrenching them further into the criminal justice system?”

PHOTO from the report: Car damaged through joyriding awaiting repair.

Understanding this No, voting Yes



Two prominent Aboriginal men from the Centre, one speaking to a deeply felt No on the Voice, based on his utter distrust of government, the other speaking to a passionate Yes, based on his faith in the possibility of shaping, with other Australians, “a better nation”.

Together, and with responses from other Aboriginal people in the room, they teased out a central Australian perspective on the question: “Do all First Nations people support the Voice?”

This is one of the four questions preoccupying most people in the “town hall” gatherings that the Yes 23 campaign has been organising around the country. It dominated the exchange of views from the floor in the Alice Springs Town Hall, held at the Convention Centre last week.

Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves made a searing case for No, speaking from the front of the room, alongside the Yes 23 panel members.

Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves (file photo)

Rachel Perkins, co-chair of the campaign, knowing his stand, had invited him to take his place there. She set the tone for accepting a diversity of views at the outset: “It is reasonable that people don’t know what this is about, people have got other things to worry about in their lives … Everyone’s views should be respected in this conversation, we’re happy to have conversations about No, Yes or undecided, whatever, we are all here to have a respectful discussion.”

Jampijinpa’s distrust is not just of the government of the day, but of the whole system and the record of its relationship with First Nations.

His face and voice and articulate rage became known to Australians around the country during the trial and acquittal of Constable Zachary Rolfe for the killing 19-year-old Kumunjayi Walker.

The shooting happened in Jampijinpa’s home community of Yuendumu, where, as he said after the acquittal, “the police and government rule over us and treat us as enemies on our own land.”

Justice was not served by the trial and its outcome, he argued: “Justice means getting back yapa control of our community” – yapa meaning Aboriginal person in Warlpiri.

Yet for him the Voice could not deliver that.

For one: “The government will dismiss it. It’s the same thing as ATSIC,” he told the audience of mostly ardent Yes supporters.

He was referring to the Howard Government’s 2005 controversial disbanding of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, one of successive Indigenous ‘voice’ bodies, the most powerful and longest-lasting, to be dissolved by governments over the years.

No, no, interjected facilitator Jon Faine. Unlike ATSIC, this Voice will be in the Constitution, “so it’s there forever, that’s the whole idea.”

This was echoed by Ken Lechleitner, a senior man of Western Aranda and Anmatyerre descent, fluent in those languages as well as Warlpiri and English. He had risen to his feet earlier, speaking in Warlpiri, to counter Jampijinpa’s deep suspicions, saying: “I’m here as well and I represent my people too.”

Ken Lechleitner (file photo)

He had urged Jampijinpa to accept the good faith of supporters of Yes, the majority of whom, of necessity, are non-Indigenous: “They want to support our culture, this is why they are here, this is why they are saying Yes, we want to recognise yapa as the longtime people living in this country.

“They want to work with us, they don’t want to rubbish us, they want to look after us, they want us to also lead the charge. So, this is our journey, this is our once in a lifetime opportunity to get it right, to set a whole new direction with us driving the bus, not being prescribed what to do, we’re being part of the future.”

Jampijinpa was unpersuaded: “We don’t need to go into the Constitution, because we have our own … you know that.”

He was referring to his Jukurrpa – Warlpiri law and custom.

“We don’t want to lose that,” he said. This risk was making him really “really really uncomfortable” about supporting the Voice.

His fear is not unfounded: It reflects not only Aboriginal experience in the long history of colonisation but in the NT Intervention, initiated in 2007 and in many ways ongoing. Among its many impositions of mainstream supremacy, it forced the NT judiciary to turn its back on accommodations with Aboriginal customary law even for the purposes of sentencing and bail applications. This remains the case.

Mr Lechleitner understood exactly where Jampijinpa was coming from: “In 2007, our culture was being wiped out, with the package of laws that were introduced.”

But he sees the present moment differently: “This is an opportunity to have representation in the Constitution, so we can say, hey look, let’s make the two laws work. There’s no chance of having it any other way.”

Jampijinpa just doesn’t believe it: “It’s not going to change because it’s still going be the same, we are talking about the people that are going to be on the Voice. I don’t want that person, I don’t want this person here (pointing to a member of the audience) to tell me my Jukurrpa … because he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know! Right?

“I feel real, real worried about that, really confused, because it’s not the way.”

John Faine at the lectern, Jampijinpa on the microphone, Pat Ansell Dodds, Rachel Perkins.

As the discussion moved on from the exchange between Jampijinpa and Mr Lechleitner, each of them speaking in Warlpiri to one another and shifting almost seamlessly to English for the benefit of most of the audience, Ms Perkins underlined the importance of what had just occurred.

“That’s why Ned’s up here too, because he’s got a different view … So I wanted to make sure that he felt respected to be up here as well and that you can hear the discussion, because these are discussions that are happening in the Aboriginal community, you know. And they’re good respectful discussions as you saw then from two significant men talking about this issue. That’s what it’s all about.”

Without wanting to discount what Jampijinpa had said, she went on to put the case contra, referring to the unanimous support for Yes from the Northern Territory’s land councils, which represent communities across the NT, as well as the support from numerous other land councils interstate.

She also referred to the surveys done by Reconciliation Australia, in their Australian Reconciliation Barometer reports, showing “an overwhelming consensus of support” for a Voice amongst First Nations people. (See the 2022 Barometer here; support for the Voice covered on p 26.)

But “there will always be divergent views,” she said.

Facilitator Faine asked Pat Ansell Dodds for her thoughts. A senior woman of Central Arrernte and Anmatyerre descent, she has been a strong local Yes campaigner.

“I can understand what Ned’s saying,” she said. “We all have different areas and different cultures and to us that’s most important that we never lose that … And when you look around the Country, it’s a voice to us, of our Old People, to tell us that’s our Country, hey Ned?”

He murmured his assent.

“They talk to us, you [non-Indigenous people] don’t understand that, but we feel it, that’s our culture, that’s our Country and it’s never going to change. We learn this from our Old People and we’re not stopping …

Pat Ansell Dodds (file photo)

“Because I can remember living in the bush, out Undoolya where I come from as well. I lived part time there and part time in town with my father, my mother, because I had to go to school. This is back in the ‘50s, but in my head even today I am still out there.

“I went ‘round the world on different conferences but in my head it’s still red dirt, that’s who I am and I know what this man is saying.”

Mr Faine suggested the meeting move on, but Ms Perkins wanted to stay with this exchange a little longer. She asked Owen Cole if he wanted to say anything. He’s a prominent local businessman of Warramungu and Luritja descent.

“Look,” he said, “I appreciate and respect Ned and Pat and Kenny, what you are saying is absolutely correct. Law, culture has got to be protected. But the view I’ll put is that I’ll place my faith in the Voice giving advice to the government to ensure that law and culture is protected rather than in the hands of the bureaucrats and the politicians like it currently is.

“They will need to listen because it’s enshrined in the Constitution. I agree wholeheartedly but will back the Voice, the Aboriginal Voice, above all the other structures that are in place that are delivering the really poor outcomes that we currently face with Indigenous Australia.”

After some commentary by Kerry O’Brien, the veteran broadcaster, about the way divergent views are part and parcel of our democratic system, and asking why we would expect Indigenous people to not also have differing views, a woman standing at the back of the room, raised her hand.

Mr Faine asked her to introduce herself: “I understand you’re a TO.”

“I’m not a TO,” Elaine Peckham said firmly. “I’m a custodian of Mparntwe Alice Springs, there’s a difference in that.”

She went on: “Mr Lechleitner … he was right in what he had to say. Owen, I support Owen wholly on what he said, and Jampijinpa, yes, I’m with you all the way because of the struggle we have been through, with the Intervention …

“ATSIC was taken away and John Howard brought the Intervention in 2007 and that’s where we are today. That’s why a lot of people are confused of whether to vote Yes or No in this referendum.

“We’ve still got our voices out there with the Intervention, we’ve actually put out a book of 16 years of the Intervention, it has not stopped our voices being out there, and I’m one of them.

Elaine Peckham with her sister Doris Stuart, Mparntwe custodians (file photo)

“I’ve lived in Alice, born in Alice, I lived in the days when we were assimilated and still survived and to go back on my mother’s Country and live out there when the land rights came into power.

“Yes, we thought we had a good life going back on our land, and then the Intervention stepped in, so here I am back in Alice, still speaking up on basic human rights, and that’s what I’d like to say.”

So, a powerfully expressed No had been countered by four eloquent Yes’s. On October 14, referendum day, a tally will be what it’s all about, but in that room that night it wasn’t the numbers that mattered. The Aboriginal No and Yes were on the common ground of the Aboriginal relationship with non-Aboriginal Australia, its often bitter history and the need to set that right.

The Voice proposes one way of working towards that. If the referendum fails, that work will remain.

Photo at top: Rachel Perkins addressing the ‘town hall’ gathering, Pat Ansell Dodds to her right, Lawson Broad, Kerry O’Brien to her left • Below: Audience as Ken Lechleitner stands to speak.

Voice campaigner cut her teeth in the Alice



On the day the Prime Minister has announced the date of the referendum, in Alice Springs it’s fitting to consider the thoughts of Professor Marcia Langton who honed her incisive activism in part when she lived in this town during the late seventies.

Her inaugural NAIDOC Week keynote lecture at the University of Queensland on July 7 is a snapshot of her views as a leading Yes campaigner and a shaper of the Uluru Statement.

Prof Langton (pictured), associate provost, University of Melbourne, was preaching to the converted. They required little encouragement from MC Lisa Jackson Pulver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sydney, to embrace Prof Langton like a cult figure.

UQ Vice Chancellor Mark Scott provided balance by encouraging the audience, in his thank-you speech, to “welcome the debate, welcome the divergent voices, seek out the truth through all the rhetoric and all the noise and come to a place where we make an informed gracious response to the gracious overtures that’s been made to us”.

Prof Langton focussed on the injustices and brutalities Aboriginal people suffered at the hands of the invaders, suggesting they are continuing to the present day, perpetuating an “existential risk”.

We need to “end colonial exclusion of Indigenous people from the fabric of the nation”.

She said the Constitution formulated by whites can “cause us detriment” and relegates Indigenous people to being “ghostly figures”.

She mentions three Sections, urging people to read them. 

• Section 51 (xxvi) was amended by the Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) 1967, and previously referred to making special laws for “people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.

Post the 1967 referendum it now reads “the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.

• Section 25:  “If by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.”

This is considered to no longer have any significant legal effect, as the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) would prevent the States from discriminating against people on grounds of race. Nevertheless, section 25 ‘recognises that people might constitutionally be denied the franchise on the ground of race’.

• Section 127: “In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.” This was removed in 1967.

Prof Langton in her speech provides no analysis of the massive financial effort in the recent past to assist Indigenous people, the benefits of native title and land rights, especially in the Northern Territory, half of whose landmass is now Aboriginal freehold owned.

Prof Langton does not, in this speech, look at commercial opportunities – except in an oblique way.

She quotes US President Lyndon Johnson’s concept of “racism of low expectations”.

Yet she offers no answer to the “loss of languages, ceremonies, rules of approaching places, closing the gap reports,” including the one commissioned by former PM Julia Gillard.

Prof Langton calls for “enterprises in communities”.

She gives “health, housing, education and lowering the incarceration rates” the standard mention, but without exploring self-help opportunities.

Protocols visitors to Mparntwe once observed no longer exist



Mr Moon’s grimacing mouth at Luna Park is a metaphor for the challenges confronting the children.

Born as many Arrernte are, into extreme disadvantage and enduring daily racism in the form of snobbery or strident hostility, I’ve witnessed their spontaneity snuffed when entering mainstream schools and meeting the challenges of a curriculum at odds, or even denying their history, culture and place in the town.

Hence the importance of The Children’s Ground’s programme.

How would I adapt to a foreign power taking control of my finances, learn its language, operate under its laws, and told where to live.

Struggles with cross-cultural communication have been amplified by numbers of Alywarr, Anmatyerr, Pintubi, Pitjantjatjara, Walpiri, and Kaiditch gravitating to town from remote communities consequential to the Intervention.

Protocols these visitors to Mparntwe once observed no longer exist.

I’ve seen too many men and women die, many, in their thirties and forties, felt the bitterness at grave sites as we lowered their casks and tossed dirt on their lids.

Some were good friends, a dozen or so who’d been my children’s playmates. All were hard to bear and the direct result of conditions mainstream Australians would find intolerable.

Catastrophic conditions.

At top: The Great Ingester, 2018

St Mary’s news just for a few



The NT Government is still silent about its intentions with the former children’s home St Mary’s – at least so far as the public is concerned.

Treasurer Eva Lawler is applying selectively her government’s much touted transparency: A lucky few were taken into her confidence at a Chamber of Commerce function in Alice Springs last Friday.

She told the 30-odd guests that her government will buy the land south of The Gap from the present owner, the Anglican Church.

The News spoke to three people who were at the gathering and confirmed this.

Ms Lawler would not deny nor confirm it.

When the home came on the market last year former residents expressed concern and distress that the history of the facility – where they had spent some of their childhood – may be forgotten. And they asked that some parts of the complex be preserved.


A Voice for everybody



The debate about a Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal people is reaching its crescendo. This may be a good time for the rest of the population to join them on the barricades.

Marion Scrymgour and Malarndirri McCarthy (at right) are representing the Northern Territory in the Canberra halls of power, in the House of Representatives (the seat of Lingiari) and the Senate, respectively. Both are Indigenous and committed Yes campaigners.

The Alice Springs News sent the following email to them 50 hours ago: “According to media reports two Australian warships are in the contested South China Sea for a joint exercise with the armed forces of the Philippines from August 14 to 31.

“Why has your government sent these ships?

“What has been the process of decision making for this action?

“Is the ships’ presence in that area likely to increase the risk to people in the NT given the build-up of foreign military forces in the Top End and Pine Gap continuing to be a first strike target, in the view of experts?”

When after 48 hours neither had replied we followed up with phone calls.

Ms Scrymgour (at left) did not respond but a minder did. This is what he had to say: “Your request is best put to the Minister for Defence. Marion as a local member is not involved in decision making of the Australian Defence Force.”

A staff for Senator McCarthy, in response to our follow-up call today, said: “It would be worth going to Defence for this enquiry.”

So now, 52 hours after our initial request, we’re still no wiser what these two representatives of the people in the Northern Territory know about or were doing about an issue of life or death.

Yet they are members of the Parliament which is expected to listen to the Voice, if it becomes a reality.

IMAGE AT TOP: A Philippine military resupply vessel being hit with a water canon from a Chinese Coast Guard cutter. AFP Photo. The US Naval Institute publication, where the photo appeared, yesterday reported that growing tension with China requires more surveillance off the Philippines. The United States, Japan, Australia and India, operating as “the Quad,” an informal economic and security arrangement, announced the maritime domain awareness program in May 2022.

Tourism: Need to turn figures from target to real



It’s enough to make your heart beat faster: Dollars and visitor numbers graphs shooting skywards, heading for $5.3 billion (yes – with a “b”) in earnings from 2.7 million visitors. Wow.

Before your blood pressure too goes through the roof, note that the numbers are demand targets, as operators were told by the Department of Tourism last week, in an update of what’s snappily called the T2030 Strategy.

How those targets will be achieved isn’t very clear. Alice Springs and MacDonnell, which includes The Rock, in 2022 had 303,000 visitors spending $340m.

Adele Labine-Romain, from Deloitte, told the 30-odd people attending the briefing in The Alice, that at the end of 2030 “we could be” at 919,000 visitors forking out $967m.

Both figures are a three-fold increase over the next seven years. Wow.

Interstate tourism is about half our business. Intrastate tourism (within the NT) is substantial, about half as many as interstate.

If we judge the importance of tourism by the amount of money it attracts from outside the NT, taking out the intrastate tourism business would leave quite a big hole.

Tourism Central Australia CEO Danial Rochford said he is fond of optimistic predictions. The National Aboriginal Art Gallery (NAAG) is tipped to increase visitation by 50,000 – “product development is critical” – but where will the rest come from?

A few things “would have to align” for this to happen, he said.

The industry has returned roughly to the levels before the pandemic during which the focus was intra-Territory marketing, including a voucher program to support local businesses.

The following were the other T2030 “key achievements” since 2019. Mr Rochford is commenting to the Alice Springs News.

These initiatives are slotted to carry on in one way or another but detail is sparse: If you’re looking for three new wilderness lodges in the West MacDonnells and two in the East, don’t hold your breath.

• Launch of the “Different in every sense” brand platform. Mr Rochford: “We’ve seen an increase in visitation in 2022. That is very positive.”

• Secured funding for the sealing of the Mereenie Loop Road to link Alice Springs to Kings Canyon: “132km are to be sealed. The Outer Mereenie Road has not yet been worked on, but that project is now fully funded. It is a Project of Regional Significance. We’re in the government’s hands on the timeline but we’re hopeful it will start next year and finish later in the decade. The corridor between Uluru and Alice Springs via Watarrka (King’s Canyon) is critical to the industry, the opportunity to re-connect to Alice Springs, like it used to be.”

• A Qantas Embraer 190 Qantaslink staff base in Darwin: “Narrow body jets give us fewer seats but more frequency. We need to encourage greater competition and look for carriers in addition to Qantas.”

• Engagement with local councils and government officials: “We need to hunt as a pack. We are collaborating but still need to do more.”

• The Aboriginal Tourism Committee (ATC) was established: A woman from Parks NT, who declined to answer questions from the News, told the meeting that negotiations were still under way between the land council and traditional owners about the Red Centre Mountain Bike Trail.

• A business events bid fund: “Business events have been impacted by Covid. This is a marathon not a 100 metre sprint.”

Steve Shearer said “skinny aeroplanes” fill up quicker, yet it costs you more to fly in them: “That’s great for airlines but not so good when you’re on the ground,” he said.

“However, we should encourage more and more of it because aside of two flights to Darwin and two flights to Adelaide a day during summer you just go down to one.”

He said it is extremely expensive “if you want to get out of town quickly”.

What would the NT need if the T2030 Update target figures are achieved?

• Aviation: 1,825,905 inbound seats or 340,205 additional interstate seats will be required from 2019 levels, this translates to 5.2 additional narrow body interstate flights per day.

• 10,290 tourism jobs will need to be filled or 3,390 additional tourism jobs compared to 2021-22, taking into account productivity gains.

• Over the next seven years to 2030, the equivalent of five new 250 room hotels at 75% average occupancy.

PHOTO at top: Uluru Field of Light, for people thinking the Rock sunset just isn’t good enough. Graph above: T2030.


A woman of culture, a leader who saw and honoured everyone, warmed hearts, lifted spirits


Dr M K Turner OAM, a woman with profound influence in the complex society of Central Australia, and respected and loved by it, was laid to rest in a state funeral this week.

More than 1000 mourners were at the Old Telegraph Station, Atherreyurre by its Arrernte name, to hear the eulogy presented by family members Jenny Kroker and Janet Turner. 

It was once site of the Bungalow, where many Aboriginal children grew up away from their families. 

Others who spoke in her honour were Children’s Ground chair William Tilmouth, film-maker Rachel Perkins, linguist Jenny Green, Bishop Charles Gauci, Josie Douglas for the Central Land Council, Eva Lawler for the Territory Government, and Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price.

The following is the full text of the family’s eulogy.

“Language comes from the land, I am from the land, and I am part of the land, Kemarre Country.”

MK. She was our Akngerrepate – our Elder. She was an Elder for us all. An Elder for Arrernte people, First Nations people across Australia and, for non-First Nations people.

She was our Queen – the Queen of the desert.

Dr MK Turner OAM held a power that came from her deep cultural knowledge and connection that was felt by all who knew her – a power of Country, culture and language. She was an Arrernte professor, artist, author, linguist, teacher, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend, loved and known by all in Central Australia.

She walked across worlds, through cultures and languages, bringing people together through the force of love. MK was an Akarre woman, born in the Atyelpe region of Harts Range, at Spotted Tiger Bore (Pwetyalaneme), Mt Riddock Station.

Her father, Sambo Akerte-arenye and her mother Jesse Penangke had 11 children. MK said her parents grew them all up in “a very strong and true way”. She was also Akerte-arenye, connected to her father’s country.

She grew up on her traditional lands with her parents and brothers and sisters. She said her knowledge came through Country and her sacred Akarre language.

Ayengearle akaltyele-antheke, ane akaltye-irrintyeke, ane anintyeke.

“That is how I learned throughout life, how I have always seen the world, how I understood it and how and what life has always been.”

She learnt from the land – the laws, Country, the songs, the language. She listened to the old people singing – singing Country, anthepe, healing songs. They ate from the land and as a child she said, no one used to pass away young, people were healthy and strong. She talked about how strict her old people’s law was – that she was raised with the strict rules of respect.

She remembered the happiness of her childhood with her cousin, Nyetye They would help their grandparents and parents hunt – they would tell them: “You two run up the hill and chuck apurte at the kangaroo, chase them down.”

Her parents and Elders made sure she knew who she was, her responsibility, her people, her law and her land – Altyerre.

When she was about 12 or 13 her parents sent her to school at Arltunga Mission and here, she learnt to speak Arrernte.

She remembered when the children were stolen from Arltunga. They were told that they were going for shopping, they washed them and cleaned them – she said the children were happy. But they did not come back.

She and her brother wanted to see their parents. They walked from Arltunga back to Mt Riddock Station

“We headed off on foot … We travelled on and on and on by foot … Mum and Dad had heard that we were coming. The two of them, poor things, came to meet us. We were all really happy to be together … all crying with joy. Then we went back to Mt Riddock to live.”

MK worked at the station as a domestic and a nanny, washing, ironing, cleaning. “I never used to get any money, you know.“

She moved to Little Flower Mission – Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) Mission School. She remembered being punished if they spoke language in class, and how they would wait until after school, when the kids could speak language together. The Church did not want them to follow culture, but the families kept their culture, language and anthepe strong away from the Mission and at holiday times.

She grew up strongly, as a Catholic person and a cultural law person.

She met her husband and got married and in 1957, Amelia was born. They lived at old village in the stone house that her husband had built. She had nine children; Amelia, Raphael (deceased), Gabriel, Veronica, Mary Jane (dec), Bernadette (dec), Cathy, Douglas (dec), Shirley; and she also grew up Maureen and Loretta, Kumalie, Charlie, Sabella and Maureen J, Dominic, Michael, and L. Gorey, and many nieces and nephews.

There could be up to 60 people in her house, and she fed and loved them all. Her husband worked at Allambi Station and other stations in Central Australia as a stockman with MK doing gardening and domestic work.

They lived and worked at Allambi Station in the 60s and raised their family there before moving back to the Mission. The kids went to school, and she worked at the hospital laundry washing clothes and looking after the kids and later, at the store. She was the manager for the store. She was the coordinator for the sewing mob and a board member on the community council. She worked across the community in many roles.

Her mum’s two mums came back from Atitjere – Harts Range and stayed at Santa Teresa. Every Sunday was picnic day, and all families would go out bush.

Shirley, her youngest was born at Santa Teresa in 1971.

Soon after, Amelia, Veronica, Raphael, and Gabriel went to school interstate. MK moved to Alice Springs and lived at the mission house, Ngkarte Mikwekenhe down at The Gap, and Gillen. She looked after so many children – her house was a home for all the kids in town. It was always full, from the days in The Gap to Poeppel Gardens and Nicker Crescent in Gillen.

She started working at Warburton Street in the Homemakers program – supporting young mothers dealing with family violence and working in the Safe House. She also worked in Aged Care looking after the Elders.

Her first grandson, Nookie, was born in 1979 and he was followed by many, many more. She loved them all. Amelia moved to Maningrida and her siblings followed. Soon MK had grannies from the desert to the salt water. Her family was everything. Throughout her life she loved and worried for all of her children and grandchildren.

Life could be very hard at times, but what she loved more than anything was being around family.

She said everything changed after alcohol came. People started dying and fighting. She hated alcohol and was deeply saddened by violence. Over the years MK experienced many hardships. During her lifetime she lost four children and a grandchild. Through ill-health, suicide, and violence. She felt these losses very deeply.

MK was a strong Catholic woman. She was integral to Ngkarte Mikwekenhe, the Arrernte Catholic community in Central Australia working closely with the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish. She was a woman of deep faith. She lived through her faith and her deep cultural law and both gave her strength.

She was a human rights champion. She experienced and fought racism and discrimination her whole life. She spoke out against laws and legislation that unfairly targeted Aboriginal people. She watched her family being locked up, dying, and living with serious health issues. She felt the pain and sorry deeply. But she always found an inner strength and carried the pain for others so they could stay strong. She used her songs and the teachings of her old people to heal.

She fought hard against domestic violence. She helped people get out of jail and get bail, she helped people get jobs, back in a Ɵme when it was hard to get any support. She would go down to the police station any Ɵme of the day or night if her grannies needed her. If there was someone in trouble, they knew Nanna would speak for them.

She worried always for young people. She saw they were lost. She wanted them to know their language and to feel the land and to know their culture would hold their spirit and identity and would look after them. She wanted them to know how loved they are.

During the 1980’s and early 90’s MK stood with other women to fight for, and protect, women’s sacred site Werlatye Atherre north of Mparntwe (Alice Springs). The government wanted to dam this site. Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara women fought together. They put their bodies on the line to make sure it was not destroyed. Members of Parliament used terrible language to insult our Elders and it brought great shame and pain. MK lost her daughter during this time.

In May 1992, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, stopped the Northern Territory government from building the dam under the federal Heritage Protection Act. It was the first time the Federal Government had used the powers under this Act. And still today, this important site is protected.


Altyerre anwernekenhe atnyenetyeke (keeping culture alive).

MK never stopped working.

She worked with everyone and anyone. If somebody wanted to do something, she would always say yes. That was her culture. To give. To be responsible to, and for, others.

She worked for them, and she made them work for her!! She asked for help with food, transport, banking, bedding, housing. She loved people. She had so many non-Aboriginal friends, she knew everyone in town.

We will always remember the cars that would line up to pick her up in the morning and it was first in best dressed – she would get in the first car and off she would go…

MK spoke four languages fluently and understood many more. Her first language was Akarre, from her father’s country. She also spoke Alyawarr (her mother’s language), Central/Eastern Arrernte and English.

“Anwerne-kenhe angkentye lyete atyeperre anthurre aneme. Angkentye tyerrtye arrpenhe mape-kenhe atyeperre aneme. Angkentye anwerne-kenhe anwerne apmere-le anyernetyeke re aneme atyeperre. Our language is sacred to us. Every Aboriginal language is sacred for those who speak it. Words are given to us by the land and these words are sacred.”

Her greatest worry was the loss of language and culture. She knew that it was her responsibility to pass this on. She dedicated her life’s work to making sure that it would survive for future generations. She was a visionary and she knew what it would take to protect her language, her culture, and her people.

She was revered as one of the leading linguists and interpreters in the region. Over many years she worked with many Elders and Arrernte language and cultural specialists including Veronica Perrurle Dobson, Therese Ryder, Rosie Ferber, Mrs Wallace, Mrs Palmer, Basil Stevens, Rosalie Riley, Carmel Ryan, Mrs. Heffernan, Lena Turner, Minnie Madrill, and many others to protect Arrernte language and knowledge.

In the 1980s and 90s, MK worked with the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD). It was here she trained and worked as an interpreter and a cross-cultural educator. She was a pioneer at Australia’s first Aboriginal Interpreter Service established in 1983. She learnt to read and write in Arrernte. She interpreted for the government, the police, the hospital, and the Centre Land Council working on the Anmatyerr and Arrernte land claims.

She was a strict law woman and carefully upheld the cultural ethics of her role as an interpreter. She was proud of her work.

‘It felt good helping my people understand what lawyers, doctors and police were saying and giving my old people a voice to tell their story back to the professionals. I worked with the Central Land Council and interpreted for Anmatyerr people for their land claim. I learned a lot through their stories. These things that I learned while interpreting, I did not take them, I did not keep them or use them. That is their knowledge.”

MK was one of the main Arrernte contributors to the Eastern and Central Arrernte Dictionary first published in 1994 and updated in 2020. It was during this time, that MK, Veronica Perrurle Dobson and others, became trail blazers in cross-cultural work and developing ways of teaching Arrernte.

She was a lifelong teacher and professor. MK taught language and cross-cultural courses at IAD over many years. She taught many people coming to live and work in Alice Springs as well as Arrernte people who wanted to strengthen their knowledge or who had lost their language.

She was instrumental in the development of key learning institutions including the Ntyalke Unit at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School, Yipirinya School, Ltyentye Apurte School, Batchelor Institute, and the establishment of Irrkerlantye Learning Centre. She worked with Arrernte educators to create the first written Arrernte curriculum called the Intelyape-lyape Akaltye Project. She continued to contribute to Arrernte curriculum throughout her life.

MK worked closely and built deep friendships with many people over the years including linguists, researchers and educators, John Henderson and Gavan Breen, Jenny Green, Barry McDonald Perrurle, Myf Turpin, Mary Flynn, Fiona Walsh, Margaret Carew, Beth Sometimes and film makers, Maya Newell and Rachel Perkins and many others.

MK was involved in many research projects and publications. Over the years she supported many people across many professional fields, enabling them to reach their goals in research, doctorates, film, curriculum, and organisational development.

Around 1990, MK started recording short descriptions of bush foods with her late daughter. In 1994, ‘Arrernte Foods Foods from Central Australia: Nhenhe-areye anwerne-arle arlkweme’ was published by IAD.

MK collaborated on many other publications including posters, books, language and cultural resources and websites. Her research work on songs with Myf Turpin resulted in 60 hours of recordings which have been transcribed and archived at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). She worked with the Batchelor Institute, she contributed to Aboriginal sign languages, the Sand Stories Project, the beautiful Central Land Council publication, ‘Every Hill Got A Story,’ the Arrernte Angkentye Online and the 50 Words Project.

The publication that MK was most proud of was ‘Iwenhe Tyerrtye, What it Means to Be an Aboriginal person’. She worked on this with book with Barry Purrule Mc Donald. She spoke of writing this book for future generations, for those who had been stolen, for Arrernte and other Aboriginal people to be able to turn to, to know who they are, to know their lore and their identity and their strength as Aboriginal people.

MK translated for many organisations. She worked closely with the Alice Springs Desert Park – as she said: “Bringing back all of our plants and animals and giving them back their Arrernte names through stories and signage.” She taught staff about the plants, animals, and habitats through the Arrernte language so that they could share these stories with tourists and locals.

She worked with Akeyulerre – the Arrernte Healing Centre, over many years to share and record knowledge, songs and healing and traditional medicine practices and to teach on Country.

She worked to keep anthepe and traditional singing and dance alive and worked with projects through the Central Land Council and Rachel Perkins to record ceremony and with festivals such as Parrtjima.

MK supported, and was part of, the leadership of many organisations to protect her culture and her people also working with: Ngkarte Mikwekenhe, Tangentyere Council, Sacred Sites, CAAAPU (Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Program Unit), Legal Aid, Alukura Women’s Health Service, ASYASS – Alice Springs Youth Accommodation and Support Services, Congress, AMSANT – Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory and more. She was a key advisor on the film, In My Blood it Runs.

She was also a talented artist.

MK worked against the force of genocide to prevent the loss of her culture and language. Every single day of her life. She would teach people about the culture of Arrernte people, about kinship and the land through language.

She shared the respect and responsibility of Arrernte law and life. She upheld the strict rules and explained the importance of law in the preservation of language and culture.

In 1997, she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her services to the First Nations community of Central Australia; particularly in relation to preserving language and culture and her work as an interpreter.

Her many years of work culminated in her great passion, Ampe kenhe Ahelhe – Children’s Ground. Here she brought her vision to life – to stop the slow death that she was witnessing and to revitalise and strengthen her language, law and culture.

“We’ve been following government nearly all our lives – this is a new beginning. We are following a new path, our own path as First Nations people for the future of our children. At Children’s Ground, the community are taking the lead. We are very proud of that. We are the government of ourselves.”

MK was a founding Elder, cultural authority, and board member of Children’s Ground. It was here she reimagined First Nations education and re-established the right for our future generaƟons to learn through our culture – to be able to live, speak and grow as Arrernte people, following First Nations languages, law and culture.

With Mrs Palmer, Therese Ryder, Mrs Abbott and other Elders she set the direction, strategy and laid the foundation. She was angry about the politics and lack of government support. But she was clear about what needed to happen and that she could not wait. She said she needed to get Children’s Ground going before she passed away and that is what she did.

She was at Children’s Ground whenever she was not at dialysis. Felicity Hayes, her daughter Veronica Turner, L. Gorey, Mel Kean, Leonie Sheedy, Jane Vadiveloo and William Tilmouth followed her direction and they brought to life the vision of the old people.

From the oldest systems of knowledge and education in the world, giving children the right to learn through their own language and culture, giving adults the right to be employed through their cultural expertise, giving hope to young people, and surrounding everyone with love.

Every day – creating books, resources, celebrating culture and language, teaching, healing, singing and being – she was at the heart of learning on country. Always with a spring in her step across Country, on the ground with the kids or in later years, pushing her walker – nothing would stop her, speaking in language and bringing the land to life.

Setting cultural standards and KPI’s for First Nations staff and guiding people in their cultural responsibilities. She was worried for her first language, Akarre, with only a few speakers left, and so she started the Akarre/Akityarre language revitalisation project in 2021. Children’s Ground created recordings and resources and worked in partnership with the Batchelor Institute, Bonya School and Jenny Green to bring Akarre to a new generation of children.

At Children’s Ground she created a place for us to come home. She was there for all of us – connecting us back to our culture, our law, our language, and our family. And now. our children have their place. Their culture and language and identity are at the heart of learning. She reminded us about the power of our culture and that we have to hold onto it and protect it – because without it, who are we as Aboriginal people?

Children’s Ground is a place for our families to heal our pain. Where we can be Aboriginal people. Where our voices are at the heart. Where our families can stand tall and feel proud and we feel hope – we can see it in our children. This is MK’s legacy, and we will continue her vision long into the future, and our children and their children will conƟnue to forge the path of our ancestors.

JENNY Closing Remarks.

We want to finish with some important moments.

Meeting the Queen and the Pope was something she spoke of throughout her life with pride. On both occasions she represented our people, officially, speaking about our culture, faith and our rights. As a Catholic woman, meeting the Pope was deeply important to her.

Later in life she shared moments that she loved with Pat Cash, Martin Luther King III and most recently, global Elder Dame Graca Machel. They revered her.

We were all so proud last year when she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Batchelor Institute for her lifelong commitment to cultural maintenance and preserving the languages of Aboriginal peoples, particularly in Central Australia. She was proud. She was also awarded Elder of the Year at the Mparntwe/Alice Springs NAIDOC celebrations in 2022.

It took a long time to recognise her amazing contribution. Like too many of our Elders her importance has been overlooked. We want to recognise all of the Elders here today for all that you give. We are nothing without you. We thank you for everything.

In closing, we want to remember MK’s spirit. She was joyous, full of life, singing unƟl the end. She could be bossy and cranky and had a great sense of humour and we loved all of this about her. She always made us smile. She was generous and gave everything she had to others.

Like no one else, she brought people together. She lived reconciliation before it was a national movement. She never placed herself above or below.

She was gracious. She was a great thinker and a great leader. She knew where she wanted to go, and she would lead you there without you even knowing. She was always 10 steps ahead, but she never showed it. She saw and honoured everyone. She was always present. She made you feel like you were the most important person in her life. She laughed and joked and lifted people’s spirit. She loved everybody. Especially her families.

Fire paints the country black



Centralia’s topography is an instant hit on the eye favoured by its rich colour spectrum and pellucidity. So intoxicating is it that we easily overlook fundamental changes we’ve introduced. Buffel grass for instance.

Bushfire intensity has magnified its rapid advance. Environmentally-concerned citizens and research scientists have called in vain for more government funding to implement effective control of invasive species.

Aboriginals have voiced concerns at the loss of totemic species, sacred sites and native plants due to buffel.

The threat to  bio-diversity was sheeted home in 2019 when virtually uncontrollable fires devastated 661 square kilometres of the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park just outside Alice Springs.

Despite controlled winter burn-offs smaller fires happen around town. Good rains promote buffel. Our prolonged dry spells present the perfect primer.

The title came from three year-old daughter, Anjou, as we drove through nearby hills after a bushfires had scarred the country. She’d be strapped up back in her capsule as we took to the dirt tracks after lunch. Nap time.

The gentle rocking was guaranteed to lull her to sleep. Before that she’d managed with a last murmur: “Daddy, fire paints the country black.” Loved that poetry issuing from her innocent mind.

To amplify the observation, a few weeks later I placed her in a similar setting, booted up and clasping her Snoopy dog. Our ever vigilant Jack Russell accompanies her. Looking on, without sharing her anxiety, is barefooted Kaston Hayes.

A Voice for On Country and one for the city



There is barely an Indigenous murmur in The Centre about the Voice from the Heart.

I spoke with 36 people in Alice Springs. Only five were aware of the intricacies of the referendum. All five were white tourists from Canberra or Sydney. The remaining 31 were all Indigenous. None of them had even heard of The Voice.

“You mean the TV show?” an Aboriginal man remarks.

Statistics say just a fifth of the town’s 25,000 people are Indigenous. Walking the streets tells a very different story.

Aboriginals seem to dominate the small regional city nestled within the red cliff faces of the Outback. They congregate in the Coles car park, on the library lawn, under bridges, and around a game of cards in the shade of the eucalyptus trees lining the dry riverbed.

It’s lunchtime at Melbourne University. Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” blares from someone’s speaker, a brief distraction from the finger-numbing cold.

A gang of beanies and coats makes its way to class. The raspy clickety-clack of a skateboard appears and disappears in the distance.

In the centre of it all, is a large noticeboard wrapped head-to-toe in bright yellow posters, urging people to “listen to the good in your heart!” and “vote YES to the voice to parliament!”

It should come as no surprise that political activism is thriving on a university campus, but posters on a noticeboard are far from the extent to which the Indigenous Voice to Parliament has taken over political debate in urban centres.

Two blocks away lies Melbourne’s flagship Readings bookstore on the city’s world-famous strip of Italy: Lygon Street. Thomas Mayo and Kerry O’Brien’s The Voice to Parliament Handbook features prominently in the front window. A full stand of these books greets you at the door, and if you decide you already know enough about The Voice, they patiently await you at the checkout counter, pleading you to reconsider.

Venture down the gentrified alleys of Carlton and you will find walls turned into canvases, proclaiming the message “The Voice is divisive. It is racist” in red spray paint, underneath black spray paint, in different handwriting: “No. U are racist.”

A few of these alleys hide small metal tables and a smattering of suited professionals who have taken the short stroll from the city for their afternoon coffee break.

They gesture wildly over the latest op-ed on The Voice, intermittently sipping their oat milk lattes.

The debate on The Voice in the city is ubiquitous and passionate, as if everyone has finalised their stance, set it in concrete, and is on the way to the ballot box to cast their vote. What is feeding inner-city voices?

A key aspect of the debate is whether it is fair that The Voice will grant Indigenous Australians privileges that other Australians don’t have. For many, this is a matter of principle, a theoretical question of whether a constitution should have certain provisions for one group of Australians that are not applicable to everyone.

Do Dutton’s words resonate, that The Voice “will have an Orwellian effect where all Australians are equal, but some Australians are more equal than others?” or do people side with the Labor government in thinking that affirmative action has a role to play in our current society?

Moving past the theory and beliefs surrounding affirmative action, the debate rapidly descends on practicalities.

Drag a yes voter from their oat milk latte, ask them why they are voting yes, and they will cite Australia’s history of failed government policy for the Indigenous community.

Take, for example, the recent violence in Alice Springs on the back of flawed alcohol policy, poor performance on Closing the Gap targets, and the multitude of ways in which the Indigenous community suffers as the country’s most disadvantaged group. Indigenous people must be given a more direct say in policies that affect them, the Yes voter will argue, as this will lead to a direct improvement in Aboriginal welfare.

No voters, on the other hand, would highlight The Voice as an inefficient bureaucracy, just another Indigenous advisory board that will fail to achieve meaningful change, and won’t accurately represent the plethora of communities it is designed to benefit.

Urbanites, whether they be on the Yes or No side, also readily draw on the latest commentary from Indigenous politicians. But do the clashing opinions of Warren Mundine, Jacinta Price, Linda Burney, and Noel Pearson truly represent those that The Voice would most directly benefit?

The 90 Indigenous leaders of the Central Land Council, an organisation representing 24,000 Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, certainly weren’t thinking Jacinta Price was fairly representing their views when they issued a statement earlier this year saying she “needs to stop pretending we are her people”.

One gets the strong feeling that what is missing from the noisy inner-city debate is a direct, unfiltered, and truly representative voice from Indigenous people.

When it comes to understanding whether The Voice would make a real difference, is it not the voices direct from Australia’s Indigenous communities, that we should be listening to?

After all, it is in these communities where suicide rates and youth incarceration are the highest, educational attainment is the lowest, and general living conditions are the worst nationally. These are the people who stand to benefit from the referendum and surely the people whose views hold the greatest weight.

A middle-aged Indigenous woman steps off a tram in Preston, a Northeastern suburb of Melbourne. She waits outside the doors of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) building, the shiny new headquarters for the welfare organisation that helps Victoria’s Indigenous population with all matters from housing and education to youth justice and family violence.

She rummages around in her tattered Woolies shopping bag, extracts a comb, and swiftly restores order to her dishevelled hair before the receptionist opens the door at exactly 9 am.

“I have an appointment with…” “Take a seat,” the receptionist gestures.

Ten minutes later, every seat in the waiting room is filled with an Indigenous person. Fidgeting nervously, they await their turn, hoping they will leave with a little peace of mind.

At VACCA I meet with Jaden and Violet, two Indigenous employees in their 20s. Does The Voice ever come up in conversation with the people you help?

They exchange glances. Jaden chuckles in disbelief: “Imagine you’re a single mother of two, trying to make sure that your children don’t have to sleep in a tent under a bridge tonight. The Voice would be the last thing on your mind.”

I ask about the Indigenous population in the remote areas of Australia, and how they might be different from Indigenous people in the cities.

“The Aboriginals up North, they’re more strongly connected to land, to culture,” Violet replied. “You should ask them about The Voice, they’d have something to say.”

As I approach people sitting outside Alice Plaza, and ask them for their views on the referendum, one thing becomes surprisingly clear: It is near impossible to find an Indigenous Australian on the streets of Alice Springs who can contribute to the conversation.

Alice was just scratching the surface. My main goal for the trip was to venture into more remote towns hidden away in the vast expanse of the Outback.

Violet from VACCA had lifted my hopes for a more robust dialogue in these communities. It is here, after all, where graphs and statistics on deteriorating Aboriginal welfare come to life.

Floyd, a single father in the community of Engawala, 180 km northeast of Alice, receives $400 every fortnight from the government.

The lack of employment opportunities in his hometown of 160 people has left him jobless for years.

“Heard of The Voice, Floyd? The referendum?”

“Nup. Never,” he replied.

This very same interaction occurred several more times with several different Engawala residents. Could it be that the residents of Engawala were simply reluctant to communicate about anything?

Not if their ebullient views on the footy were an indicator, or the complaints about the several hours it takes for police to respond to incidents and the difficulties in accessing quality medical care.

The drive to Hermannsburg, a historic town 130 km west of Alice, requires minimal dexterity with the steering wheel. The drive along a dead straight road leads to a tranquil outpost of 600 people, easy to spot against the boundless stretch of rusty-red desert.

Of the 11 people I spoke to in Hermannsburg, only 2 had heard of The Voice: The MacDonnell Regional Council president, Roxanne Kenny, and her brother, Casey.

Roxanne has 17 people living in her 3-bedroom house. When in need of groceries, she drives to Alice where a carton of milk is a quarter the price.

During heavy rains, the roads flood, leaving Roxanne and the rest of Hermannsburg marooned, unreachable by emergency services.

Roxanne’s desk features a picture of her and the Prime Minister. As president of a local government body governing 13 remote Indigenous communities, Roxanne flies throughout the Northern Territory and sometimes to Canberra for meetings on Indigenous welfare.

She may be very involved with politics, but educating people on The Voice to Parliament is not yet on the agenda; there are more pressing issues at hand.

For The Voice to become enshrined in the constitution, a national majority and majority of states must be in favour. The Indigenous population residing in remote areas makes up just 0.6% of Australia. Will their vote even make a difference?

“Absolutely,” says Georgia Stewart, coordinator of the Central Land Council’s Voice information campaign.

“This 0.6% may not be the difference between a yes or a no, but a large chunk of Australia will vote depending on what the Indigenous community thinks.”

The Central Land Council has embarked on an extensive outreach, journeying to remote communities to educate about the parliamentary process and what The Voice is, while also countering the long tentacles of disinformation creeping into the outback.

Although commendable, there is a degree of scepticism about how much can be achieved given the looming referendum date.

“I don’t see how the Council is going to be able to drive to all these communities and properly educate them in time for the referendum,” says Graeme Smith, CEO of Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation, a representative body for native title holders in Alice Springs: “What these communities need is better internet connectivity, they need direct access to information on the referendum. Right now, they don’t have that.

“This is a problem that the Commonwealth created, and a problem that the Commonwealth has to solve.”

It might be better internet connectivity, or it might be physical outreach. Maybe it’s both. It’s clear remote Indigenous communities first need to be educated about the Voice and be given the opportunity to form a view.

Then maybe, just maybe, inner-city café conversations, where the bulk of the referendum vote resides, will be informed by a much louder, more relevant voice, the voice from the heart of Australia.

Fire: Bombers, buffel and planned burning



Water bombing, which is on stand-by around the clock in the Adelaide Hills during summer, “could have a role” in protecting Alice suburbs. Planned burning should be extended in The Centre’s national parks. And controlling buffel is critical for reducing the risk of fire around Alice Springs.

That’s the view of Dr Rohan Fisher, CDU’s Northern Institute fire researcher.

Last weekend’s fire moving towards the Stuart Highway. Photo Dr Fisher.

Instead what Alice Springs had over the weekend was a planned burn that got out of hand, started possibly at the wrong time, causing an inferno that destroyed 25,000 hectares, in and near the West MacDonnells National Park, and threatening the edge of the town.

“It’s good to see Parks to use fire actively,” says Dr Fisher.

“It is really unfortunate that this fire had to get away from them. It’s easy to blame people for doing the wrong thing. But I’m sure lessons will be learned.

“The one consolation is that if the same fire had sparked up in December or January it would have been 10 times worse in terms of the biodiversity impact.”

Bushfires NT did not reply to a question about the time the fire was lit, but Dr Fisher says management of fire at night can be easier “because it’s cooler and less windy and you’re able to see where the flames are.

“The key is burning at the right time and with the right conditions to make sure your fires are small.”

There is going to be some head scratching about what needs to be done, says Dr Fisher.

”I hope the lesson is not that we shouldn’t bring fire back into parks.

Dr Fisher says South Australia has permanent fire bombing airstrip in the Adelaide Hills which is manned 24 hours a day through their summers.

“As soon as they hear of a fire they have somebody in the air within minutes.”

Fire bombing is expensive: “The real issue what you resource and what you have on stand-by.

“I think in the example [Alice Springs] had in the last few days, [water bombers] close to built infrastructure have a role.”

The task now is not having a repeat of fire events in 2010 and 2011 when most of Central Australia burned out in a few months, in post La Niña wet years.

“We’re in the same situation now. The risks are high.”

PHOTO at top: Arid Lands Environment Centre.

Winds could have trashed the town



Homes in the western suburbs of Alice Springs, Larapinta and Braitling, were under acute fire threat in the past few days, saved only by lucky wind conditions.

PHOTO Arid Lands Environment Centre. Looking west from Anzac Hill.

“The only reason Alice Springs didn’t suffer a similar fate to Lahaina in Hawaii this weekend was that there’s been no wind here,” says Alex Nelson, local historian and fighter for decades of imported buffel grass – the region’s most destructive bushfire fuel.

“That’s all that saved a large part of our town – especially the western side – from disaster.

“If there had been a strong northerly wind behind the escaped fuel reduction burn-off in Tjoritja National Park, nothing would have prevented that bushfire crashing into our suburbs.

“The Lahaina wildfires were fuelled by dry exotic grasses.

“One day our luck will run out.”

This is a running commentary by the police about the inferno – yet again – in Tjoritja known by most people as the West MacDonnell Ranges, the town’s world famous national attraction and the tourism industry’s lifeblood.

Saturday, 3pm

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

Smoke from this fire may affect visibility. Active fire may occur close to the roadside. Firefighting crews may be working close to the roadside.

Conditions may change, monitor conditions in your area.

The West Side mountain bike tracks are all currently closed, and people are advised to avoid the area. For the safety of firefighting crews and other vehicles, drivers in the area are urged to slow down, turn on headlights and drive safely for the conditions.

Saturday, 6pm

Tjoritja, Larapinta, Ciccone, Araluen and Braitling. [The fire is] spreading on one or more fronts. Effective containment strategies are not in place for the entire perimeter.

Saturday, 7pm

Larapinta, Alice Springs. Murray Street, Patterson Crescent, Morehead Street, Grant Road, Saltwell Street and Lander Court are all now under the Watch and Act.

There is a heightened level of threat. Conditions are changing. Start taking action now to protect your family and your property.

Sunday, 1am

There is a reduced level of threat. You can resume normal activities. Effective containment strategies are not in place for the entire perimeter.

Sunday, 10am:

Tjoritja, Simpsons North.

Heavy smoke is affecting the Alice Springs Township and surrounding areas and those suffering from asthma or breathing ailments are advised to take precautions.

Effective containment strategies are not in place for the entire perimeter.

Smoke from this fire may affect visibility.

Conditions may change, monitor conditions in your area.

Crews are still employing defensive tactics in order to control the fire.

Government image burnt area 24 hours till 7am today.

We are seeking comment from NT Government authorities.


Police, Fire & Emergency did not provide a spokesperson to answer questions from the Alice Springs News.



36,000 hectares scorched in winter buffel grass fuelled wildfire: Statement from Alex Vaughan, Policy Officer, Arid Lands Environment Centre.

A controlled burn on Friday north of Simpson’s Gap, became out of control, burning huge parts of Tjoritja / West MacDonnell Ranges NP, then approaching Mparntwe Alice Springs. Ash fell from the sky and the town has been consumed in grassfire smoke.

This fire sends an ominous warning for the months ahead across Central Australia. Mark it in the diary, August 2023, winter, was when the 2023/24 wildfire season started.

Decades of NT Government neglect have put Mparntwe, remote communities and huge areas of the arid lands at risk. The events of the last few days are not a one-off, but are the culmination of decades of inaction.

“Remember that whenever buffel burns it is the first thing to come back, spreading further, putting more ecosystems at risk. It is a fire-promoting exotic species. Each rain and each fire is another chapter in the demise of Central Australia’s diverse and cherished ecosystems”

We urgently need Federal Government coordination and funding for buffel management. List buffel as a Weed of National Significance. It is already found in every mainland state and the Northern Territory. It has the potential to spread to 70% of this continent.

The Federal Government must implement its own 2014 Buffel Grass Threat Abatement Advice, with funding. This advice is scientifically based and comprehensive.

The NT Government needs to declare buffel grass a weed and transform its approach to conserving and restoring the arid lands. A fire promoting buffel grass monocrop is not in the public interest, nor does it support culture, environment or economy.

Learn from South Australia where buffel grass was declared a weed in 2015.

Thanks in large part to the great efforts over the weekend from firefighters, the fires appear to have been diverted from town.

UPDATE 8.55am

In light of the current fire management stuff-up by Parks & Wildlife burning out the WestMacs park adjacent to town, this item may be of interest.

It’s an article reviewing the successful progress of the dust control project during the 1970s, published in the NT Rural Review of Nov-Dec 1978, i.e., a few months after commencement of NT self-government.

It’s the earliest published mention of the fire risk posed by buffel grass that I’ve come across. It’s ironic, given that the current uncontrolled wildfire was started by a controlled burn attempting to reduce the fuel load of buffel grass in Tjorita / West MacDonnells National Park.

Sovereignty, two ways



“It is a total irony, when Indigenous Australians are talking about reclaiming their sovereignty while the rest of us are giving it away.”

It was a bullseye for guest speaker Alison Broinowski at the local Hiroshima Day annual commemoration, with its focus this year almost entirely on Australia’s relationship with the USA.

Peace group “actions” here in Pine Gap land, over the decades, have frequently been entertaining rather than bitter political demonstrations: Overweight Federal police officers trying to catch lithe hippies vaulting the “base” fence and after a chase gluing their hands to light poles.

Robin Laidlaw (photo at top) riding his emu blocked by a phalanx of cops.

More cops giving Captain Starlight dressed in drag a biffing inside a wagon fort of police cars.

And black clad Death with scythe standing on an upturned oil drum.

When the staff transports couldn’t be seen (they took the back-route via Ilarpa) a Yank wit explained they were using stealth busses that day.

Monday’s dinner in honour of Yami Lester OAM, a prominent Yankunytjatjara activist said to have been blinded by the atomic tests in Maralinga and Emu Field south of Alice Springs in 1953, was a lot more sedate and thoughtful.

Local politicians were invited but none turned up. Some had good excuses, says Mr Pilbrow.

The 55 people attending engaged in well-informed exchanges with Dr Broinowski and husband Richard, who between them have an impressive record as diplomats, academics, journalists and authors (22 books between them, and many articles on Australia’s interface with the world, particularly Asia).

Mr Broinowski was Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Central American Republics and Cuba and in the early 1990s, general manager of Radio Australia.

The dinner crowd – teachers, lawyers, nurses, First Nations organisations staff – was gender balanced and seemed aged between 30 and 86 (stalwart Maya Cifali).

Alice Springs Peace Action Think Tank convener Johnathan Pilbrow says the group has a core of 10, and 30 are on the distribution list.

The locals’ preoccupations became clear in their questions during the Q&A, and their unfailing approval of what the guests had to say.

Rachel Shields raised the question whether the Government had already decided secretly to create nuclear waste dumping grounds.

Dr Broinowski: We don’t hear about it because nobody is allowed to talk about it, and our media have given up asking about it or have become uninterested in asking. Wars take years to generate. Anyone who tells you wars happen suddenly is lying. It has been built up and planned over a very long time. And that’s precisely the process that we’re in at the moment. The nuclear waste issue is only one aspect of that planning.

Mr Broinowski said the public is by no means helpless. Traditional owners prevailed against the Federal government in a court case against a nuclear dump in the grain growing country near Kimba on SA’s Eyre Peninsula – this week’s news.

FROM LEFT: Alison and Richard Broinowski with MC Kieran Finnane and her book Peace Crimes presented to them as thank-you gift by the organisers.

Now Port Kembla locals are “very indignant” about the possibility that their town should become the home base for of nuclear subs.

Dr Broinowski said another example of war planning was Dick Cheney’s role in the Adelaide to Darwin railway – as the head of the company Halliburton and as advisor to American presidents, “a dead set war hawk”.

The rail was a project that flipped from too expensive, too hard “and suddenly it all became possible: American troops, who they were anticipating stationing in the north of Australia, would be able to have a back exit, together with their equipment, if they needed it.

“These are speculations, but don’t discount forward planning and don’t discount the implication of both sides of politics in this.

“Governments in Australia have never been forced to explain their actions or report on the consequences of wars. Never.”

Instead opponents of war are simply ignored.

Mr Broinowski: After the Iraq war “we [critics of the war] just got shoved aside until the issue died which is what they want. They want any controversial question to go away and die by being ignored.”

Dr Broinowski: “The mainstream media are killing it. It’s censorship by omission. The question is not even raised. The idea doesn’t even get floated. And that’s why organisations like yours are so important.”

Mr Broinowski: The wisdom always comes after the fact – with Vietnam, Iraq and now, questions are being raised about Afghanistan.

“What we’ve got now is the sense that China is an enemy, the United States is our friend, we need nuclear powered submarines. This could lead to nuclear weapons but we won’t talk about that now. We are mesmerised by this fear of China.”

To have “quite secretly” formed AUKUS (the military alliance between Australia, United Kingdom and United States set up in September 2021), in part to manage Australia’s acquisitions of nuclear submarines, “is a disgrace”.

“The US has something like 800 bases around the world. China has one, in Djibouti, and it was put in at the request of the United States to help control piracy in the Horn of Africa.

“China suggested a 10 point agreement as a way to solve the war in Ukraine and also brokered peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“[China’s] Belts and Road thing is not about taking over the world. They don’t have the hegemonic ideas of control that the United States has.

“The Chinese have a peaceful way of doing it – long may that last.”

We should not “provoke them into a war between us and the United States.”

Ms Cifali suggested the acquisition of nuclear submarines was in conflict with nonproliferation as they are “an instrument of war”.

Mr Broinowski pointed to an exemption: Uranium can be taken out from the safeguards of the international Atomic Agency and used in nuclear propulsion of a military vehicle. Australia is the first non-nuclear weapons country to have availed itself of this provision.

It is there because the United States had put on pressure when the non proliferation treaty was developed, and this may be encouraging other countries to make use of that opportunity.

Australia was at the forefront of developing the non-proliferation treaty, “under Gareth Evans particularly” but now “our reputation as a responsible international citizen is diminishing rapidly”.

Is there a way to get concerns through the system “which is so resistant to them?”

Dr Broinowski says Australia should consider the option of non-alignment: “That is at the heart of what we’re talking about.

“Our foreign policy and defence policy have been handed over to the United States. We don’t make it any more. It’s made in Washington. We just find out what it is and do it.

“The only way to turn that around is for Australians to rise up and say … if we want defensive weapons what we should have is armed neutrality.

“That has been proposed many times in Australia.

“Because it’s [now] new, because it’s something [about which] the media won’t say, been there, done that, that’s not a story.

“It is a story and could take off in the context of the dangerous situation which we are now facing. Keep your eye out for that.”

Brian Jeffries asked: Can America be trusted?

Dr Broinowski: “Unfortunately, no … the country seems to be disintegrating. The American government simply has not faced up to the fact that China, already since 2015, on many economic measures, is ahead of the United States.

“They won’t recognise that. America still wants to be the hegemon. China, Australia [and others] have to accept that. We all have our fingers crossed they all will do so.

Dr Broinowski: The present situation started with the Defence Strategic Review drafted in 2014 between Australia and the United States and turned into a report in 2015, “when the United States said, in effect, we are going to be able to do whatever we want to do in Australia and put whatever forces we want to put in Australia and they would be under American command.

“And they will do whatever we want them to do whether or not the Australian government know or approves. And that is the basis of everything that since followed right up to now.

“And that went through as if the Australian electorate’s eyes were closed.”

Mr Broinowski: “And that means that the United States can store nuclear weapons in Australia without telling Australians. They can park B52 bombers carrying those weapons without having to consult Australians.

“The United States is building a new base right now in the Northern Territory for storage of fuel for these aircraft. We have no territorial sovereignty over any of this.”

Will it change? Not likely – not since what happened to Gough Whitlam.

Dr Broinowski: “They knew. They got rid of him. They made sure he didn’t do it [close the US bases]. There is no Australian government that has dared to go there again. One thing governments care about more than anything else is staying in power. We have a Federal Government now that will not do anything that stands up to the United States. Not a thing.”

The combined intelligence base in Darwin is the latest example: “They will decide what sort of intelligence reaches Austraia, thereby conditioning the decisions that are made in Canberra if they are not conditioned enough already.”

Chansey Paech silent on what he told the ALP about St Mary’s



NT Minister Chansey Paech has not responded to a question, put to him three times yesterday by the Alice Springs News, whether his government is buying the land of the former St Mary’s Children’s Village just south of The Gap.

The land is up for sale by the Anglican Church. This has caused distress to some former residents as well as concern over the future of the chapel on the site.

Anglican Bishop Greg Anderson, when asked to comment, told the News this morning: “We have not received an offer from the NT Government for the St Mary’s site.

“I have heard reports on the grapevine (as you no doubt have also) that Chansey Paech announced at an ALP branch meeting in Alice Springs well over a month ago that we had sold the site to the NTG.

“I heard this from an acquaintance of an acquaintance of a friend, so that is a long way short of reliable. A number of parties remain interested in the site,” Bishop Anderson told the News by email.

“I’m sure that if the NT Government wants to buy the site they will let us know. They may well make a media statement to go along with that.”

The News emailed Mr Paech yesterday at 3.54pm, 5.13pm and 7.36pm, asking: “Is the government buying the St Mary’s block? If so, for what purpose and at what cost?”

He did not reply.

PHOTO at top taken in January.

A place that both attracts and scares


“SUB blends the body, sound, objects and lighting to imagine a future world where humans have burrowed underground to live.

“It is an incredible work for incredible times, speculating on the future of a world transforming before our eyes.”

That’s the take by Frankie Snowdon, celebrated local dancer, co-artistic director and performer of GUTS Dance, on a work created in Alice Springs, premiered here last night, and being performed again today and tomorrow at Araluen.

“It’s about escaping a surface world littered with crises,” says Ms Snowdon.

“We burrow into soil and stone to seek shelter.

“SUB cracks through our resistance to hope, a soft defiance in the enduring relationship of bodies and materials. 

In this place that both attracts and scares us, this wet, restless and difficult place, we engage with the terror and volatility of the living natural world.”

The performance, three years in the making, will tour to Queenstown in Tasmania in October.

Local bodies supporting the creation of the work included Red Hot Arts.

Movie clip and image by IVAN TRIGO.

Head south, young man



The Aboriginal Art Gallery? Interesting times we live in: Here is my vision of how south of The Gap could give a run for its money to all of the town north of the ranges.

What are tourists interested in? Just spend time at the Welcome Rock (2 on the Google Earth image) and ask them!

There’s a lot more than readily meets the eye.

1 The Transport Hall of Fame: What a waste of all that history at the back of a great display, when you go to Ilford, east of Longreach (pictured at top), and see what is possible. Also McLaren Vale is showing how far behind we are.

3 A giant image like at Aileron could go there, of an indigenous family, an Afghan cameleer, with camel, an European settler. This is the attention grabber for the whole of the NT, not just Alice.

4 Arid Zone Research Industry (AZRI). Desert research as in other desert countries – water usage and desert food research. Camelicious as in Dubai. Centre of excellence as per Townsville / Mega central in geology research, featuring the history of the ranges. Bush foods display.

5 & 6 Yirara  in conjunction with the planned cultural centre, with the students as “demonstrators of their cultures and a training area in commerce. 

7 Desert Knowledge with Indigenous training and education.

8 The strip of land between the highway and Kilgariff as a bush food heaven maintained by the jail workers as a demonstration of the emerging industry and Indigenous pride.

9 Bird watching.

10 I would also like to see a walkway at the Old Timers, with background signage about the history of some of the landmarks. I’ve just read Bryan Bowmans book.

11 Pitchi Richi now with historian Alex Nelson in residence, looking forward to new glory.

I was once told by a family lawyer that I was a dreamer. True enough, but it’s easy to be complacent.

[TREVOR SHIELL is a veteran tourism operator in The Centre.]

Anger over $7.17m gallery design but Paech mum


Arts Minister Chansey Paech will not answer questions dealing with consultation about the design and construction of the so-called National Aboriginal Art Gallery.

We asked him this morning for names (not for publication) of the respondents to the consultation and what – in summary – each of them had said.

The answer from an NTG spokesperson was: “Consultations carried out to date are for the consideration of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery Project Working Group.

“A public information campaign is set to rollout during August and September.”

Interstate BVN Architecture, in collaboration with Alice firm Susan Dugdale & Associates, was awarded a $7.17m tender to design the NAAG in March 2022. The concept design unveiled last Friday is part of the design process, according to the spokesperson.

Our questions were prompted by a statement from Graeme Smith, CEO of the local native title organisation, that Ms Dugdale, was in charge of gauging opinions of Aboriginal people. He said he did not know so far what the result of this process had been.

Ms Dugdale referred us to the Department of Infrastructure, Planning & Logistics.

Meanwhile the News received 11 comments from readers – all of them negative towards the project.

Its proximity to Anzac Hill (arrow in illustration) has sparked angry responses.

The News disclosed on May 15 a government tender for a “Consultancy – Development and Implementation of a Fundraising Development Strategy” which revealed that the gallery is due to open in 2028.

Gallery spin continues


The government spin around the so-called “flagship National Aboriginal Art Gallery” in Alice Springs, now with Minister Chansey Paech at the helm, is continuing.

After years of controversy and conflict, richly documented by the Alice Springs News, the Darwin based and overseas owned and controlled NT News published a concept design with drawings, a video and statement from Mr Paech at 7:02 this morning.

It claims as an “exclusive” the story reporting, in the past tense, that the minister “revealed the plans for the four-level gallery on Friday”.

Today is Friday. So when did they do the story?

Mr Paech (pictured) and his government’s handling of the gallery project all along may have been a dog’s breakfast, but time travel is clearly a new string to their bow: The photo of Mr Paech in the NT News, unveiling a picture of the planned gallery, was taken in bright daylight, yet apparently made its way into the Darwin tabloid after being snapped, laid out in the paper and printed all before the sun rose. Wow.

Asked about the gallery’s location Mr Paech “emphasised”, according to the NT News, that “the government had heavily consulted with local community groups and organisations including Lhere Artepe”.

The CEO of the native title organisation, Graeme Smith, may well wonder if discussing location with him is the next stop in the Minister’s time travel.

The News saw today’s significant event as a reason for asking major organisations: “What consultation by the NT Government has taken place with you or your organisation about the proposed design for the so-called National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs announced today?”

Mr Smith said the concept design process of the Aboriginal project released today is “none of my concern.

“That’s a concern for the NT Government. It’s their project. I have not seen a concept design after consultation.”

He says he has not seen the concept design released today.

Lhere Artepe’s advice to local architect Sue Dugdale had been to consult with the traditional owners, and he does not know whether she has or has not, nor what the results have been.

The News will ask Ms Dugdale, a prominent local professional, about her survey.

The results of her consultation did not get a mention in the NT News story nor in Mr Paech’s handout that the rest of us journos finally got at 1:22 pm.

It is likely we would have asked questions about results of Ms Dugdale’s general consultation had Mr Paech held a media conference rather than giving the Murdoch paper a free kick.

Mr Smith says the native title body’s board had expressed the view that the building should fit within the landscape: “That was our consultation, but Lhere Artepe is not putting any resources into this consultation process. We did not.

“I was not going to use one staff member, or one vehicle, or one second of my resources, to [conduct] consultation about concept design for the art gallery. That was nothing I was prepared to get into.”

The Central Land Council said: “Sera Bray gave our executive committee a presentation of the gallery design and concept this week.”

Central Australian Aboriginal Congress said it did not wish to comment.

The Town Council said: “Council was not involved in the design of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery that was released today.”

We’re still waiting for a reply from Tangentyere whose media person was away.

So here we’re stuck with Mr Paech’s blather and numbers: Territory Government $69m. Australian Government $80m.

“The gallery will showcase the stories and artwork of one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures, brought together under one roof in the spiritual heart of the nation and the birthplace of contemporary Aboriginal art.

“Features of the gallery include a cultural welcoming circle, top floor event space with spectacular views, healing gardens, ground floor cafe, Kwatye (water) Play and an impressive four-level atrium.”

And so on.

IMAGE: Present plans put the gallery next to Anzac Hill (Untyeyetwelye, arrow), an important Arrernte sacred site which caused significant controversy.

Government fiddles while buffel burns



Fire is one of the terrible consequences of buffel, the invasive grass many call a weed, and which is declared as such in neighbouring South Australia.

Buffel grass has an extremely high fuel load and increases the frequency and intensity of fires.

Furthermore, buffel grass responds well to fire. Research suggests it creates a positive feedback loop which promotes further buffel regeneration at the expense of local ecosystems.

Science Direct pulls no punches about the weed that threatens to turn our magnificent landscape into a monoculture:

“Buffel grass is often first to remerge on ash beds, hence forming a positive feedback loop which favours its own regeneration, and modifies the invaded system irreversibly.

“There is some evidence to suggest that the more severe the fire, the more rapid the post-fire recovery of above ground biomass, with one study suggesting that Buffel grass cover doubles after fire.

“Fire immediately reduces competition with surrounding vegetation, and hinders recruitment of juvenile woody vegetation, preventing future recovery of the landscape and making it more vulnerable to rapid colonisation by fast growing species such as Buffel grass.

“Fire also temporarily increases available phosphorus in the soil which Buffel grass may be able to rapidly exploit.”

Yet the NT Government seems to be responding to this emergency without great strategy, judging by answers given to Araluen’s independent MLA Robyn Lambley, who put questions in Parliament suggested by the Alice Springs News.

Ms Lambley asked: “How many hectares of land were subject to preventative aerial incendiary and ground burns across the Northern Territory in the last 12 months?”

The answer indicates that in the Alice Springs Fire Management zone 3,377,000 ha were subject to burning.

The answer then breaks down the burning by district. In the Tanami and Lasseter districts it is reported that 246,000 ha and 180,000 ha, respectively, were burnt via aerial incendiary program.

It is reported less than 13,500 hectares was subject to programmed burns on pastoral properties, 13,000 hectares on Central Australian parks and 5,000 hectares on “Curtain Springs” (the correct name is Curtin Springs).

The amount of land reported to have been subject to preventative burns contrasts starkly to maps of fire scars for 2022 and 2023 from the Northern Australia Fire Information website which shows that very large areas of Central Australia burned in those years.

We do not know nearly enough about how to manage and mitigate buffel grass fires.  What we do know suggests fires, both planned or unplanned, without follow up buffel control, risks accelerating buffel invasion and ecosystem transformation.

I have tried to make sense of the NT government buffel grass fire management strategy by reviewing the Alice Springs Regional Bushfire Management Plan.

Unfortunately this document does not state where or how much country will be burnt, or the resources to be expended.  Instead it lists the types of categories of land which may be burnt, with no locations or performance measures. Furthermore it does not address the environmental acceptability of burning buffel grass, map buffel grass itself or describe what follow up is required.

Ms Lambley’s question 3 queried how many hectares underwent buffel eradication programs. In response the NT Government provided vague descriptions of the types of places where “mitigation” might occur.

In summary, buffel grass invasion promotes fire and the answers provided offer no assurance that the NT Government cares whether fire regimes are exacerbating the buffel grass invasion or the fire risk it poses.

I suggest the following additional questions should be posed:

• How much of this area burnt was invaded with buffel?

• How much burning was followed up with herbicide treatment or other follow up forms of management?

• How were assets (sacred sites including trees, areas of ecological and cultural significance) protected from the fires?

• Is burning in fact just accelerating the buffel fire feedback loop?

• How much is the NT government investing in research that will increase our ability to respond appropriately to buffel grass fires? Do you consider this level that matches the urgency and magnitude of this threat?

Adrian Tomlinson is the Chief Executive Officer of the Arid Lands Environment Centre in Alice Springs.

PHOTOS by ERWIN CHLANDA: About a square kilometre of mostly buffel burned on March 24 this year on the south-eastern edge of the Alice Springs municipality, destroying three dwellings and burning countless trees. Today buffel – and little else – is growing vigorously, stretching down to the Todd River, a nature playground for nearby residents, where big gumtrees were destroyed.

Police to detect, seize and destroy weapons, ban people


Amendments to the Police Administration Act will authorise police to use handheld scanners to detect, seize and destroy weapons being carried by individuals – also known as wanding, according to a statement from Chief Minister Natasha Fyles this afternoon.

She also announced additional high risk areas where police have the power to use new wanding powers and issue banning notices.

“These locations correlate with high risk alcohol areas which we know fuel alcohol related crime,” she says.

All CBD districts across the Territory are already high risk areas and the Alice Springs precinct has been updated.

“Persons who are caught engaging in crime, anti-social behaviour, alcohol-fuelled violence or those who refuse to leave a premises can be banned from entering high-risk areas for up to 14 days.

“Along with high risk areas, public transport facilities, public transport vehicles and a suspected offence area, will be areas where wanding can take place.

“Carrying a knife in our community will not be tolerated – and there is no excuse.

“Identifying high risk areas where we know alcohol fuelled crime occurs will allow police to use their wanding powers and take any weapons off the street.

“People caught engaging in crime, alcohol-fuelled violence or anti-social behaviour will also be banned from entering these high risk areas.

“High risk areas are decided upon through monitoring and data, and is something that we will constantly review,” says the Chief Minister.


UPDATE July 26

Letter to the Editor:

Will it be illegal for me to carry my Swiss army knife in my pocket”

Dave Oakes, Alice Springs

Broad solar use gets closer, but what about red tape?



Working with real customers and the variety of their solar equipment, and integrating it into the power grid, is a key task of the Virtual Power Plant research now coming to an end in Alice Springs.

The scheme, one of five elements of the broader Alice Springs Future Grid program, also got a look at what it takes for the erstwhile Solar City to live up to its former name: The nuts and bolts are the easy part. Government regulation is not.

Lyndon Frearson, head of the Future Grid $12m program under the auspices of Desert Knowledge, says while there are similar VPPs around Australia, some of them several times larger, the local effort is examining the aggregate impact of multiple trials concurrently on the “messiness” of the market.

“We didn’t operate on the basis of only working with new systems. Some VPP trials started out with using the same size of batteries and clients with the same systems installed.

“We worked with a range of system sizes, older and newer ones, and a range of different battery manufacturers.

“That’s the nature of customers. They’re all different.”

Forecasting methodologies, linking in with larger producers such as Uterne on the South Stuart Highway, pricing structures, battery systems and looking at how they are reacting with each other are all part of the experiments.

The big question is to manage the progressive change from fossil to renewable power when customers are all at different stages with respect to equipment, spending money and aspirations, while also ensuring the delicate balance of supply matching demand each and every second.

“It can be a lot messier than what advocates suggest,” says Mr Frearson.

Many more organisations are now involved in the power generation system. Sometimes words have different meanings depending on the technologies people are coming from: “Developing a new lexicon for the future power system is actually critical.”

There are seven to 10 full-time, and the same number of part-time staff as well as local installers working on the Future Grid program along with around 60 residential participants.

A string of reports are scheduled to be written by the end of the year, “for government, business and the community”.

Meanwhile people and their neighbours in Alice Springs seeking to become independent from government and from commercial electricity generators will find two lots of obstacles: Technology is the lesser.

Regulation is the big one, and governments are poised to keep control.

On the technical side there will be central control systems which govern charging and discharging.

There are already examples of that in Central Australian outstations.

Connecting rooftop gear and batteries between several dwellings via poles and wires or underground is no big deal.

The regulations side is a lot more tricky. Our current subdivision and planning requirements require that all properties have stand-alone access to electricity.

They don’t have to use it (but they still have to pay Power Water Corporation for the presence of that equipment).

“You could seek to develop a generator licence for a power system on your property, and seek to procure a licence for generating electricity to a neighbour,” says Mr Frearson.

“The process, for an individual, would be complex. The mechanism would require the groups to come together to develop the infrastructure, the poles and wires, which would require easements, so that at all times there is a right for those wires to be passing through.”

Difficulties may arise when – for example – three householders agree to share power and later the middle one sells his home and says I don’t want this infrastructure on my property. I’m pulling out.

In Alice Springs the easements are largely for poles and wires owned by the Power Water Corporation which private producers can use – for a fee, of course.

Private producers on a larger scale would be required to guarantee uninterrupted supply.

Further, you’ll need a network licence.

To use the PWC wires you’d need a network access agreement, and possibly a retail licence to allow you to enter into a commercial agreement with your neighbours and a generator licence to generate electricity in the first place.

“These licences impose obligations around what you are allowed to do, [even] your creditworthiness.

“Are you a fit and proper person to run a power system because as soon as other people are relying on that they need to know you’re [the right person] to do that.”

The licences are provided by the Utilities Commission, a Territory instrumentality, also in charge of approving pricing.

Concurrent with that is the Australian Energy Regulator, the national body determining the amount that network bodies are allowed to charge for use of their infrastructure.

“The commercial and regulatory hurdles are high,” says Mr Frearson.

There are locations into which bureaucracies can’t stick their nose: “Properties within certain municipal areas will have access to common use infrastructure. And that provides a benefit to everyone but it also limits third parties from providing those services.

“If true independence is what you’re seeking you’ll have to look at a location where that planning and common use infrastructure are not already present. In Alice Springs they are present.”

Mr Frearson says there are new urban subdivisions in Australia where energy can be shared.

“It’s easer when you’re doing it in a greenfield environment where you can build the infrastructure and you can mandate that everybody participates.

“You can put solar on everyone’s roof, batteries are there and you can only buy a property if you agree to the terms of this process.”

There are only few of these because it has proved difficult to manage the trade-offs between that broader community benefit of common use infrastructure and the constraints that are in place.

PHOTO: Our report $75m power station the wrong decision: WA experts, on July 20, 2016 was part of our coverage of the local solar debate, fired up by the government’s decision to buy for Alice Springs 10 gas fuelled generators worth $75m that later was reported to have ballooned to $100.

Alcohol measures extended despite disappointing results



The alcohol control measures introduced in January have had little impact on the crime figures in Alice Springs yet the Chief Minister has extended the restrictions indefinitely.

With the May figures released yesterday now in hand the total number of crimes reported to the police in Alice Springs was 4144 for the period, marginally less (4615) for the corresponding period in 2022 and 4622 for 2021 (see table below).

Ms Fyles, to justify her decision, says in a media release that domestic violence has halved since the restrictions were introduced.

She is clearly taking no account of the difference between the impact on the society of DV – which is horrendous but usually happens in a private space, and needs targeted measures – and the crime that happens mostly in public locations, much of it committed by children: its reporting in national media – factual and fabricated – has led to a drop in the town’s vital tourism business by about 50%.

The farcical restrictions of times and quantities for alcohol selling have added more frustrations for visitors and locals alike.

The Chief Minister’s decision was apparently made without adequate information: The wholesale alcohol supply figures published by the NT Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade are available only up to the quarter ending March 31, 2023, not the June quarter, which would have indicated any difference in the amount of consumption, allowing Ms Fyles and the public to make informed judgment.

These are January to May 2023 crime figures compared to that period the year before and in 2021: assault 978 (1018, 793); house break-ins 458 (525, 370); commercial break-ins 412 (390, 255); property damage 1244 (1350, 182).

The Chief Minister makes no secret that alcohol abuse management has been a string of failures.

She says in her release: “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 do more than any previous government to tackle this problem. But we know we’ve still got more work to do.

“I know that some retailers may not like this approach. It’s a difficult decision, but it’s the right decision. It has to be done.”

PHOTO: The location where last Saturday a woman was fatally injured with a blunt object. A man as been charged with murder. The site, an informal camp amidst a field of saltbush, is near the busy Sadadeen Connector Road, within metres of a residential homes cluster, close to a tourist hotel and on the edge of the town’s CBD.

UPDATE JULY 23: Letter to the Editor

The latest NT crime statistics released on Friday clearly show the NT Government lied about Alice Springs crime rates in statements they made in late June, then tried to cover it up.

On June 27 the NT Deputy Police Commissioner, Murray Smalpage, made an astounding statement about crime in Alice Springs, in a Darwin Press Conference, that “Alice Springs recorded its lowest recorded numbers and incidents in four years of crime”.

This 100% false and misleading statement was subsequently backed up by the Minister for Police, Kate Worden, who came up with an extraordinarily explanation that included “criminal” and “non- criminal” crime data.

The Alice Springs crime figures they were referring to was May 2023 compared to May 2019. With the latest crime statistics to the year ending on 31 May 2023, now publicly available, their allegations can now be examined.

The way in which data was defined and collected in May 2019 is very different to how it is collected now.

For example in 2019 there was no specific category of crime for domestic violence or alcohol related assaults. But what is potently evident is that crime in Alice Springs has increased across the board, month on month, year on year, consistently and incrementally, from May 2019 to May 2023.

Property crime in Alice Springs during the year ending May 31, 2019 saw 7311 incidents, compared to the year ending in 31st May 2023, there were 7751 incidents.

“Whatever way you spin it (and contrary to what the NT Government tells us), crime was significantly lower in Alice Springs in May 2019 compared to May 2023” said Mrs Lambley.

“However, it has now transpired that instead of Minister Worden and Deputy Police Commissioner Smalpage apologising (or even resigning!) for misleading Territorians for this serious breach of trust, the NT Police director of communications Margaret McKeown was allegedly sacked a few weeks ago, presumably for her part in this debacle.

And the Chief Minister has since installed a “marketing strategist” in the police media unit to ensure more politically favourable police messaging.

Despite the small reduction in crime in Alice Springs over recent months primarily due to the reinstatement of widespread alcohol bans, we still have a “crime crisis” with significantly higher levels of crime than what we experienced before Labor came to Government in 2016.

Lying to Territorians is a sure sign this Fyles Labor Government has not only lost control of crime but has lost their integrity along the way.

Robyn Lambley, Independent MLA for Araluen.

On a roll in the Todd



John Wallace, Michael from Uluru, Donella and Lawrence Hayes sit on a blanket playing cards. Adrian Hayes snr sits astride the inverted milk crate.

At slight remove from the game are Dorrie Campbell, Michael Hayes and Denise Doolan. Joey Hayes approaches the group.

I recall concentrated games in Todd River when a player looked to be on a roll and friends and family hovered at their back, waiting for a share in the winnings.

I’d been amongst them once for the same reason, hoping Bernard Neal’s streak would continue as he’d promised to “square up” the $50 he’d borrowed some weeks earlier. Thursdays were his “money days” and he’d invited me to the river where a sizeable group gathered in the shade of a large river gum.

“Not now,” he’d said. Closing his eyes, he added. “I’m thinking cards.”

His thinking was right on track. His attention lapsed a minute as he turned to settle with a fistful of notes.

More than once I heard of someone allowed to withdraw from such circles with their shared knowledge that the winnings were required for a significant purchase of fridge, car, or TV, or repaying a debt.

But the big games seem to be a thing of the past. Not only in camp but the river and hospital lawn (Stuart Park), as well. Perhaps the gambling itch is now satisfied at Lasseter’s Casino.

The stick and pebble games kids played in the sand have also disappeared. Discarded plastic toys now lie amongst ground litter.

Card game at Whitegate, 1999

Crowd big, trade a little slow: Alice show



Preliminary crowd figures for the Alice Springs Show were 19,000 over the two days.

“We’re very pleased,” says event manager Holly Russell.

Brendan Fogarty (above), a trade exhibitor over several years, says it was quieter than usually but better than last year.

His Spitwater stall (pressure cleaners, heaters, vacuum and industrial cleaners) was one of only two commercial stalls in the outdoor business display area, amidst itinerant traders, food seller and government displays.

“A few enquiries, a few sales, not a bad weekend,” says Mr Fogarty (pictured). “There’s always someone to have a talk to.”

The commercial exception was the cattle section with a high-price bull sale.

It was the eighth Alice show for Ron and Elisabeth Hill hailing from Mildura and owning a store in Broken Hill, manufacturing and selling leather goods.

They attend 10 field days and agricultural shows a year, also including Katherine, Kununurra and Wentworth.

Mr Hill describes the Alice show as “fairly consistent” although this year his trade was down by 20% on last year which was “extraordinary”.

That bull is worth a lot of money


Wally Klein, of Orange Creek cattle station, paid $19,000 at this morning’s Show Sale, well over double the average price for the day.

“We never paid that much for a bull before. We bought a lot of bulls for $10,000,” he says.

“The bull is just the cheapest investment in your cattle.”

He says beef prices have been very high.

Mr Klein with grand-daughter Annabelle Nelson and his son Jacob.

“They slipped a little bit but I think that’s only short term. Obviously we sold a lot of cattle last year for really high prices so we put a bit back into our herd.”

Orange Creek’s green circular lucerne patches (Google Earth photo below), on the Stuart Highway 91 km south of Alice Springs, are a surprising sight for airline passengers flying between Singapore and Sydney.

Mr Klein has 100 hectares under the perennial flowering plant, also called alfalfa.

He says it is now irrigated entirely with solar powered bores, pumping 40 litres a second “with the sun.

“It’s really fantastic,” he says.

The bull, a Poll Hereford, also judged the Bull of the Show, came from Tom Honner’s Minlacowie stud of JJ Honner & Sons in Minlaton, SA.

The second bull entered by the stud was judged the second champion of the show.

The average price for the sale of the 13 head was $8576.

There were seven Poll Herefords, including five from Days Whiteface in Bordertown SA, and six Droughtmasters from Hale River Homestead east of Alice Springs.

The Poll Herefords averaged $11,571 and the Droughtmasters $5083.

Councillor tops Sponge Challenge


Four eggs, 3/4 of a tablespoon of caster sugar, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, half a teaspoon of bicarb soda, 3/4 of a tablespoon of corn flour and just two teaspoons of flour and – Eureka – here was the creation earning Councillor Marli Banks the blue ribbon for the Sponge Challenge at the Alice Springs Show this morning.

The criteria were taste, texture, presentation, fitting the category and looking good.

Since 1960 the annual show has been known as the function where you see everybody you haven’t seen since the previous show. The crowd is 20,000 (give or take) of the town’s population of 25,912 (August 2021).

The rides are immensely popular, especially for Aboriginal show goers.

The cattle industry, which was instrumental in getting the Show under way, was represented by exactly 100 beasts from as far away as De Rose Hill in SA, 300 km to the south, and Tennant Creek, 500 km to the north, from where high school students brought nine head which are part of a pastoral school course.

Missed the Show? Don’t worry, tomorrow is Day Two, ending with a spectacular fireworks.


Kids matter

“When our children come to us, and we’re available, we are there, and we’re listening, and it could just be just 30 seconds, it could be something very important they want to tell us, then stop and listen, send that message that we are available.”

These thoughts come to a town that spends a great deal of time talking about a cohort of children, different ones from year to year but always around 50 to 120 of them, out in the streets at night, breaking into homes and businesses, trashing, stealing cars, torching some.

People are leaving town because of them, or are not coming. Authorities are at a loss about what to do.

The thoughts are from Michell Forster, from Triple P, short for Positive Parenting Program, well represented in the NT, an international organisation which in Australia is funded by the Federal Government.

Its broad range of programs delivered in person or on-line are for parents and “practitioners”, putting kids first, and on the opposite end of the usual responses of curfew and lock ‘em up.

The trouble is, some parents here are not available, they may be drunk or in gaol. Should Aboriginal organisations which are receiving generous public funding step in?

Ms Forster spoke with editor ERWIN CHLANDA.

NEWS: The majority of the parents here are doing exactly what you describe. The problem are those who don’t. What do we do about the parents who couldn’t care less for their kids?

FORSTER: Don’t they? We don’t know that. I think they do love their children. I don’t think we can say they don’t. I think maybe they lost a bit of control. Maybe children are bouncing off social media. What we have to start thinking about is spending quality time with our children. Just let them come to us, stopping what we’re doing, paying them attention, listening to them and talking to them. Having conversations. Talking about our cultural values. Our dreamtime stories. And also being good role models as well.

NEWS: Some parents, tragically, are not good role models.

This, Ms Forster insists, is where the programs of Triple P can come in. It has services for individual parents, for practitioners, jurisdictions, governments, agencies and organisations.

In Alice Springs that would include Congress (operating income 2022 $64.8m), Tangentyere (operating income 2021 $33.8m) and the Central Land Council, shareholder in Centrecorp Aboriginal Investment Corporation Pty Ltd whose principal investments are Peter Kittle Motor Company, Yeperenye Shopping Centre and other properties, LJ Hooker Alice Springs, Milner Road Foodtown, Mercure Alice Springs Resort, Alice Springs Memorial Club property, properties at 75 and 82 Hartley Street, Alice Springs and Hertz Commercial Vehicle franchises in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

NEWS: How could these major organisations, Congress and Tangentyere mostly government funded, mesh into initiatives dealing with what has been the town’s most pressing problem for decades?

FORSTER: They could come and chat with us. We could talk about training, and what would best suit those practitioners and how they deliver, and what would suit the parents.

NEWS: If these organisations became Triple P practitioners, what would they tell the parents?

FORSTER: We never tell the parents what to do. If we did it would more than likely fail. We offer lots of tips and strategies and support parents and practitioners we are training, and the parents will take what they need. One strategy that is easy is to spend time with your children. Having two-way conversations with them. They learn to communicate. Spending quality time. 

Ms Forster says not engaging with children, sending them away, is likely to lead to boredom and then trouble.

FORSTER: Bringing our kids in, not pushing them away. Praising our children, taking notice of the good things they do. We often take notice of the bad things. We’re always growling at them, especially when you have a really challenging child. Not focussing on the negative stuff. Positive stuff, such as when they say thank-you. Thanks for using your manners. Or they make grandma a cup of tea. When we praise them for good behaviour they are more likely to continue with good behaviour.

When we focus on negative behaviour they get attention for negative behaviour.

NEWS: More detention is what the public mostly wants.

FORSTER: We need to be building positive, healthy relationships before we start looking at managing bad behaviour. Putting some rules in place. We have a small number of rules, one or two so we are able to back them up. And when we back them up we want to act straight away so that children know when we put something in place. It’s going to happen. It’s consistent. This starts building respect. Mum has said no swearing. Our rule is that we are speaking nicely. If they break a rule we put a consequence in place straight away, such as not being allowed to go outside and play. Even if it’s just for five to 10 minutes minutes. We’re not grounding our kids for two weeks.

Ms Forster says the programs are not just for parents but also for grandparents, aunties even older siblings.

She says if the local organisations have capacity to deliver programs “we could talk with them about what program would best suit them, and what would suit their parents.”

Ms Forster says Triple P has implementation consultants, some of them Indigenous, and arranges consultations ranging from one-on-one to seminars.

Providers in the NT include organisations such as Anglicare, Centacare, Relationships Australia, Department of Employment and Training, Autism NT, Department of Education and the Police Domestic Violence Unit.

This is the aim, says Ms Forster: “To create socially, emotionally, physically, mentally happy adults. And help parents enjoy parenting.”

IMAGE from a promotional online clip for Triple P.