Alice Springs

Eleanor Hogan

NewSouth Publishing 2012
A book review by Danny Yee © 2013
Written by an outsider who lived and worked there for six years, Alice Springs captures something of the strangeness of a city which is far more foreign to most Australians than Auckland or London or San Francisco. It consists of largely independent stories that mix travel writing and reportage, loosely structured around the seasonal cycle of the year and focusing on Alice Spring's social geography and its indigenous Aboriginal population.

It is drug and crime and health problems that most often make the news here, and those are central to Hogan's account too. Her experience left her "fairly disenchanted with left-wing politics, particularly its current capacity to deliver to Aboriginal people"; her stories highlight the complexities of the problems and the absence of any easy solutions. (She is up front about her own position, as a middle-aged white woman working for an Indigenous policy organisation, and always makes her own connection to her subject material clear, but she refrains from inflicting details of her life on us.)

A broad range of topics is treated. Alcohol, alcohol selling restrictions, and their effects on both communities and businesses. How the legal system works in addressing Aboriginal domestic violence, illustrated by its operation in a specific court case. How the preponderance of professional women working in the government and NGO sector, unmatched by a similar male demographic, has produced a hot-bed of lesbianism. Sport as a unifying force, and attempts to use it to improve school retention rates and results. The world of Aboriginal art, in its high-end galleries, in its seedier, often exploitative workshops, and in a community art centre. And more.

This is all easy to read, informative without ever becoming didactic and provoking without ever approaching polemic. The immediacy of first-hand observation is maintained throughout, with general background only provided occasionally.

One drawback of Alice Springs is that it has no illustrations: the attractive photo on the dust-jacket is of the MacDonnell Ranges just to the south. While Hogan's descriptions and an outline map give something of a feel for the geography of the town, occasional attempts at picture-painting are less successful in conveying its appearance.

Disclaimer: Eleanor Hogan's brother was a close friend.

April 2013

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%T Alice Springs
%A Hogan, Eleanor
%I NewSouth Publishing
%D 2012
%O hardcover
%G ISBN-13 9781742233253
%P 325pp