Northern Territory police officers charged with drug offences


Two Northern Territory police officers have been charged with drug offences and suspended from duty without pay.

A 43-year-old male officer has been charged with possession and supply of a schedule one dangerous drug and is also accused of distributing cocaine to a 28-year-old female colleague.

The officers were based in the Darwin Command and are understood to be Senior Constables.

The man is also charged with stealing and possessing a firearm whilst unlicensed.

NT Police Deputy Commissioner Murray Smalpage said the firearm offence relates to a police-issued weapon “stolen from a police facility.”

“Any property that doesn’t belong to you shouldn’t be taken, let alone firearms,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner Smalpage said the charges did not involve distributing drugs to the wider community.(ABC News: Terry McDonald)

It will be alleged at least one of the supply offences occurred while the officers were on duty.

“I wish to reassure the community it wasn’t police officers distributing drugs to the wider community. It will be alleged that the drug supply was between the two officers,” Deputy Commissioner Smalpage said.

Deputy Commissioner Smalpage did not say where the cocaine had been sourced, but did confirm it was not taken from a police facility.

NT Police officers are now facing the prospect of mandatory drug testing, with NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker to enter discussions with Police Minister Nicole Manison.

“Northern Territory Police officers are not subject to any drug testing,” Deputy Commissioner Smalpage said.

“It is one of those issues that is live at the moment that no doubt we’ll be discussing with the Government… as a measure to identify and help keep our officers safe and keep the community safe.”

Deputy Commissioner Smalpage said the charges were “extremely disappointing” for the Northern Territory Police Force.

“1585 other police officers will be watching this with a degree of frustration and disappointment, as well as I am,” he said.

“I’m extremely disappointed that two of our own engaged in that sort of activity.

“Appropriate steps will be taken, up to and including dismissal from the police force,” he said.

The 43-year-old man has been remanded in custody to appear in court next week.

The female officer has been granted bail and will face the Darwin Local Court on October 13.



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The NT Government says ‘coronavirus refugees’ are heading to the Territory. Will they fix its shrinking population?


When coronavirus was first taking hold in Australia, two paths unfolded before Melbourne-based artist Anna McDermott.

The looming pandemic had begun to play havoc with everyday life; her workplace — an inner-city bar — would soon be shuttered, and she had just moved back in with her parents, so a long period of confinement with them seemed increasingly certain.

The other path would deliver her to a sunny but much less certain future.

“Uni was going online and I had a little meltdown about it all to one of my teachers,” Ms McDermott said as she watched the sun set on Darwin’s leafy Nightcliff foreshore.

“I mentioned that a friend of mine had just moved up to Darwin and she said, ‘Go to Darwin.'”

“I got in just in the nick of time.”

Ms McDermott says she is more likely to find work in the NT during the pandemic.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Ms McDermott is what Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner has called a “coronavirus refugee”: someone who has crossed the gulf in Australia’s COVID-19 freedoms, swapping life in locked-down southern cities for the coronavirus-free NT.

Sporting organisations, nightclubs and high-risk businesses such as beauty salons reopened their doors in the NT in early June. There have been just four new diagnoses — for a total caseload of 34 — in the months since.

The jurisdiction has now reached a key milestone for a second time: the eradication of coronavirus in clinical terms.

There is no hard data to support the theory that people are fleeing north.

But a government spokeswoman said more than 220 people had listed relocation as their purpose of travel to the NT on border declaration forms since late August.

“We are the safest place in Australia, and the rest of Australia knows it,” a spokesman for Mr Gunner said.

‘We have great weather, great people and no coronavirus.

“It’s publicity you can’t buy.”

An unlikely solution to a shrinking population?

Demographers are already asking whether coronavirus freedoms will become a significant driver of population growth.

The NT’s main revenue source, its share of the GST, is relative to its population.

But the territory is also Australia’s only jurisdiction where the population is going declining. It has shrunk year-on-year every quarter since June 2018.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the largest driver of that change is net interstate migration loss — in other words, more people are relocating interstate than are coming in.

Last year, in a bid to better understand why, Charles Darwin University (CDU) demographers Fiona Shalley and Sigurd Dyrting polled more than 5,000 past and current NT residents in the largest survey of the NT’s population.

A photo of CDU researcher Fiona Shelley sitting at her desk.
Fiona Shalley oversaw the largest survey of the NT’s population.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

The Territory and Me survey found, among other things, that career opportunities lured people both in and out of the NT, but people’s intention to stay increased with age and key life events such as home ownership. Retention also increased after two years.

Then the pandemic hit.

“All of the things that we knew in the past were turned upside down as people were locked down,” Ms Shalley said.

“They couldn’t migrate, they were stuck in place.

“Other things start to influence people’s decisions, like where they’re at in their life, what they value, what amenities are going to be available to them, whether they really are going to move back to be part of their family.

A photo of researcher Fiona Shalley sitting at her desk in a university.
Ms Shalley says it is unclear if recent arrivals will translate to long-term population growth.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Ms Shalley is also aware of the growing interstate perception the NT is a coronavirus safe haven.

But she said whether that perception was boosting the jurisdiction’s stagnant population remained to be seen.

“Those perceptions are driven by anecdotes, but it’s amazing how perceptions can influence changing behaviours,” she said.

“Whether those people are actually going to stay here, we don’t know. That’s our issue.”

‘They’re unable to return’

One thing that is certain is overseas migration — which demographers say traditionally stabilises the NT’s volatile population — has dried up amid the international travel ban.

Stories of prospective migrants being blocked by the international travel ban have been filtering through Darwin’s migrant networks and landing on the desk of Edwin Joseph, who offers support and referrals as president of the Multicultural Association of the NT.

People who were approved for visas had been unable to migrate to Australia, he said, while existing holders who were overseas when the ban came in had been left in limbo.

“They have jobs, they have visas, but they’re unable to return because of this pandemic,” Dr Joseph said.

“They’re not granted exemptions.

“What they see as compassionate grounds is not seen by the Government as a compassionate ground.”

The CDU research found attachment to the NT was much stronger among migrants, who were more likely to stay across all stages of their lives.

Dr Joseph said the local economy had lost one of its engines and he was pushing for visa-holders stranded overseas to be given a path back to the NT.

A photo of Edwin Joseph sitting at his computer with a bookshelf behind him.
Edwin Joseph says many would-be residents have found themselves stranded overseas.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

“Migration is a very important population and economic driver, and to retain the population in very regional areas like this, I think temporary visa-holders are very important,” he said.

“If they’ve got work, they should be allowed to return and to work here.”

More opportunities in sunny NT capital

Ms Shalley and her colleagues have this week set out to test whether the “coronavirus refugee” theory is upheld by hard data, launching a follow-up survey focused on how the NT’s reputation may have changed during the pandemic.

When the results begin to roll in over coming months, one focus will be whether people intend to stay.

Ms McDermott said she could see the appeal.

“There’s just a lot more opportunities here,” she said.

“I work in hospitality and I do art. All of that has completely crashed at the moment in Melbourne.”

Her short trip north has stretched on for five-and-a-half months now and — despite moving with next to no possessions — she has no short-term intention to return to Victoria.

A photo of former Melbourne resident Anna McDermott at a table in Nightcliff on a sunny afternoon.
Ms McDermott says people in the NT are “generous and friendly”.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

“There’s a slower pace here, there’s a greater sense of community,” she said.

“Everyone’s generous and friendly — not that I don’t get that in Melbourne — but it’s a lot stronger here.

“So if I can make it work, I’d love to stay.”



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Northern Territory could see higher-than-average rainfall this wet season


The Top End can expect an early relief to the hot and humid build-up period, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting higher-than-average rain in October.

Senior forecaster Mosese Raico said the first 50 millimetres of rain would arrive in Darwin early in the month.

“It definitely makes it easier to deal with if we know we’re going to get the rains coming earlier,” he said.

Mr Raico said the monsoonal rain, which usually starts at the end of December to early January, would also arrive in Darwin earlier.

“Just depends exactly when, but it’s normally before that timeframe.”

Senior forecaster Mosese Raico says the outlook for the Top End reveals higher-than-average rainfall.(ABC News)

For Central Australia, the first 50 millimetres of rain usually arrived around Christmas and New Year, but Mr Raico is expecting that to arrive in places like Alice Springs earlier in December.

He said it was driven by the potential La Nina event, which brings greater potential for cyclones, heavy rain and high winds.

“We currently have that La Nina as an alert at this stage, I believe it’s at a 70 per cent chance of happening.”

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The last La Nina event in the Top End, from 2010 to 2012, saw the second and third wettest years on record in Australia.

The last two wet seasons in Australia’s Top End broke an 80-year-old record over poor rainfall, with both falling well below the average.

At Darwin’s Parap Markets, where many local farmers and growers go to sell their local produce, the news of early and more rain attracted different feelings.

A woman standing inside the Rapid Creek markets
Grower Christina Mallias says too much rain isn’t good new for her crops like cucumbers, eggplants, chilis and tomatoes.(ABC News)

For one local grower, Christina Mallias, who grows cucumbers, eggplants, chilis and tomatoes, the news was troubling.

“In the wet season everything is very hard”, she said.

“We don’t want it too wet, especially my place is really low, some times there’s a flood and we can’t even walk there,” she said.

But for Grower Edna Evans, it does bring some reliefs are two years of drier conditions.

“The fruits and vegetables grow fast and healthier,” she said.



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Northern Territory biologists ‘out fishing’ in Kakadu when they found humpback whales


Marine ecologist Jason Fowler was out fishing with friends on his boat in Kakadu’s East Alligator River when he got a whale-sized surprise.

Mr Fowler was on his yacht, the Shaguar, with a group of biologist friends when they first saw the whale, on September 2.

“I noticed a big spout a big blow on the horizon and I thought that’s a big dolphin”, he said.

He said the boatload of biologists could not believe their eyes when they first saw three humpback whales so far from home.

“We were madly arguing with each other about what we were actually seeing. After four hours of raging debate we agreed we were looking at humpback whales in a river”, he said.

That is when Mr Fowler started filming.

Jason Fowler was out yachting with friends when he first saw the humpback whales 20 kilometres up the East Alligator River.(ABC News: Nicholas Hynes)

“I thought, no one will ever believe this. So I needed evidence”, he said.

“We were completely blown away to see this, I never expected to find anything like this up a river in Kakadu. It completely floored me.”

The scientist said it was the first time he had seen humpback whales engaging in this sort of behaviour upstream in his 15-year career.

“We think the whales were spending time in the deeper section of the river gathering up fish”, he said.

A photo of a boat on murky river water in the afternoon sun.
Jason and his friends sailing down the East Alligator River in Kakadu National Park shortly before they saw a group of humpback whales.(Supplied: Jason Fowler)

“Raging tides, raging current, crocodiles along each bank, this is the last place you ever expect to find a whale.”

Kakadu National Park staff, alongside scientists from the NT Government, have monitored the whales since they started travelling through the river early last week.

Territory marine scientist Dr Carol Palmer is part of the emergency response to corral the whales back out of the river.

A black humpback whale swims away from the camera through muddy river water.
Experts believe this is the only whale remaining in the river.(Supplied.)

“It has never been recorded before in Australia, a humpback whale 20kms up a very huge tidal river,” she said.

Dr Palmer said the whales appeared to be healthy, but she was concerned crocodiles could attack them if they became stranded in the shallower parts of the river.

“If the whale strands up on a sandbar or become injured somehow, that could kick start off the crocodiles, but it’s a very big 14-metre whale,” she said.

Tasmanian whale experts have been providing advice on how to move the whales back into the ocean.

Dr Palmer said the team was looking into how other river-bound whales could be moved, such as making loud noises on boats to encourage them to swim downstream.

“Having a number of boats lined up, banging the sides of the boat, and see if we can actually just move them downstream and get them out at Van Diemen Gulf,” she said.

The team are planning to place a tracking device on the whales if they haven’t returned to the sea within a couple of days.

A woman wearing a wide brimmed hat staring at the camera.
Carol Palmer said it was the first time in recorded history that humpback whales had been sighted so far up the river system in Kakadu National Park.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Park authorities have established a 30-kilometre exclusion zone from the river mouth to protect both the whales and people alike.

Dr Palmer said the last thing authorities wanted was fishermen being thrown into the croc-infested river, or running into a whale.

“A whale can knock those boats over, very easily. They wouldn’t do it deliberately, it’s a scare thing”, she said.

Scientists are hoping after this Kakadu detour will be a just a small hump on their trip back to summer feeding grounds in Antarctica.



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Humpback whale sightings in Kakadu river stun Northern Territory experts


Whale experts are concerned a humpback whale swimming upstream in Kakadu’s crocodile-infested East Alligator River could get stuck, after two others left the waterway this week.

Kakadu National Park staff, alongside local rangers and scientists from the Northern Territory Government, have monitored the whales since they started travelling through the river early last week.

It is the first time the whales have been recorded in Kakadu, which has both thrilled and stunned experts.

Carol Palmer, a marine ecosystems scientist at the NT Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said scientists could not pinpoint the exact reason the animals had gone up the river.

“It is really unusual for this to happen. It’s just never been recorded before, a 16-metre humpback whale up a river in Kakadu National Park,” she said.

“At this time the whales are heading south to Antarctica to feed during the summer. And we are not sure why these whales took a wrong turn.”

The NT Government and federal authorities have set up a boat exclusion zone from the mouth of the river to about 30 kilometres upstream to protect the whales and unsuspecting boat owners.

Three humpbacks were sighted last week heading up the river but it is believed that two have since headed back out.

Boaties have been banned from a stretch of the East Alligator River to help keep the whale safe.(Supplied)

Crocs no match for humpback whale

Dr Palmer said that even the largest crocodiles in the river system would be no match for the whale, as long as it did not get stranded.

“The whale looks to be in good condition. As long as that remains the case it’s not something a crocodile would even be capable of attacking. It’s just way out of a crocodile’s world,” she said.

Kakadu National Park country and culture manager Feach Moyle said rangers were enforcing the exclusion zone strictly because the risks to the animal and the public were quite high, especially in narrow stretches of the river.

“It’s not something that boaties will expect heading up the river encountering something that’s probably 40 tonne and 15 metres or so,” Mr Moyle said.

“And the last thing we want is the animal being scared further upriver where it might become stranded on a bank or a sandbar, so we’ll keep the exclusion zone until hopefully, best-case scenario, the whale heads back out towards the ocean,” Mr Moyle said.

Scientists and rangers will continue to monitor the animal.

An aerial view of a river system showing an exclusion zone marked in purple.
An exclusion zone is in place on the East Alligator River.(Parks Australia)



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Northern Territory sets out plan to revoke coronavirus hotspot status for Greater Sydney


The Northern Territory will open its borders to residents from the Greater Sydney area in four weeks’ time if Sydney’s COVID-19 case numbers remain low.

Currently, people who have spent time in Greater Sydney have to undertake 14 days of mandatory quarantine on arrival in the NT.

But NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said if Sydney continued to contain its coronavirus cases, the NT would remove Greater Sydney from its hotspot list on Friday, October 9.

Mr Gunner said the Territory’s decision had been influenced by health advice related to the sustained downward trend of cases in Sydney, successful contact tracing and a high rate of testing.

“The testing being done and the links of almost all new cases, the known clusters, gives us a high degree of confidence that there are no unknown outbreaks occurring,” he said.

But Mr Gunner said the NT Government would closely monitor coronavirus cases in the region.

“If things change [and] the trend goes back up in Sydney, we will not hesitate to keep their hotspot status in place for as long as we need to,” Mr Gunner said.

The Northern Territory’s list of COVID-19 hotspots includes 32 local government areas in Greater Sydney and the state of Victoria.

Mr Gunner said while progress on containing coronavirus in Victoria was “encouraging”, the state’s hotspot status would remain and it would be some time before his Government considered removing it.

“Victoria will continue to be a hotspot for the purposes of travel to the Northern Territory,” he said.

Chief Health Officer urges caution with visitors

The Northern Territory declared Greater Sydney a hotspot in July.

NT Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie said if the region’s hotspot status was revoked as planned, Territorians needed to remember to be cautious when hosting visitors from interstate.

“Consider not being close to people you haven’t seen for a good while, in other words, kissing and hugging,” he said.

“Consider maybe not going and visiting vulnerable persons immediately.

“If you haven’t seen someone for a while, maintain your 1.5-metre distance.”

The NT Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie is urging NT residents to be cautious when hosting interstate visitors(ABC News: Felicity James)

Last month, the NT Government revoked the hotspot status of Brisbane as well as some regional areas of NSW.

New South Wales reported 10 new cases of coronavirus today.

NSW Health said six cases were returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine, while four were locally acquired cases linked to a known case or cluster.

The total number of cases recorded in NSW since the pandemic began is 3,963.

There are no active cases of COVID-19 in the NT and on Monday it will be 28 days since the NT’s last case recovered.



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The Coronavirus Put Stock Market in Uncharted Territory


What investors think the public is thinking is therefore crucial. Whether the costs of the outbreak turn out to be historically large or not, there is a risk that investors’ worries will snowball during this period of uncertainty, leading them to panic-sell and exacerbate any financial damage. “If in the next 20 years [the economy is] only going to be disrupted for three months, that suggests a very small impact on the market,” says Robert J. Shiller, a Nobel Prize–winning economist and the author of Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events. But the situation could be much worse, and when investors think in “grandiose terms,” Shiller told me, that could “trigger other worrying.”

Predicting the emotional reactions of the entire world population to coronavirus would be a bit easier if investors could turn to the market effects of previous pandemics for guidance. But history provides few indications of what might happen to the economy if the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, continue to spread. “This is kind of a new thing,” Shiller said. “It’s too much to ask for the market to get it right.”

The closest analogue is the global influenza outbreak of 1918 and ’19, which killed tens of millions of people. In 1918, the stock market actually did fine—the Dow rose a little. In the years after that, Sylla noted, “the stock market didn’t do much, and while its trend was flat, there were fluctuations within that—some ups and downs, just like we see now.”

But drawing any conclusions from 100 years ago is difficult because, among other reasons, a lot of other stuff was happening then—namely, World War I. Because of that, says John Wald, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s College of Business, “it’s really hard to say whether [the 1918 pandemic] was priced correctly or not correctly” by the market.

Perhaps a better parallel is the flu pandemic of 1957 and ’58, which originated in East Asia and killed at least 1 million people, including an estimated 116,000 in the U.S. In the second half of 1957, the Dow fell about 15 percent. “Other things happened over that time period” too, Wald notes, but “at least there was no world war.” More recent outbreaks, such as SARS and MERS, were more contained and didn’t wreak as much global economic havoc.

Although the annual flu season is quite different from a pandemic, it does provide a good amount of data for economists to analyze. When Wald, along with the researchers Brian McTier and Yiuman Tse, examined trading records from 1998 to 2006, they found that in weeks when the flu was more widespread, stock-market returns were lower. They also found that when there was a higher incidence of the flu in the greater New York City area in particular, trading volume decreased, which is usually bad for the market. Here, the idea is that more professional investors might have gotten sick and executed fewer trades—which would not bode well if COVID-19 were to make its way to New York City.



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Northern Territory Government under fire for cutting budget estimate hearings days from six to four


The Northern Territory Government is cutting the number of days Parliament will spend scrutinising the budget during estimates — a decision the CLP says will make it harder to hold the Government to account.

Parliament normally sits for budget estimate hearings at the start of every financial year.

Traditionally the hearings last for six days and provide an opportunity for Opposition and independent MLAs to grill ministers over the Government’s finances.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s newly re-elected Labor Government has slashed this year’s number of days down to four because the pandemic had affected the parliamentary sitting calendar.

“2020, I think we all agree, has not been the year we planned on, traditions have been thrown out the door,” leader of government business, Natasha Fyles, said.

Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said she was concerned the decision would make it harder to hold the Government to account over the NT’s dire economic position.

“Budget estimates is a fundamental part of our democratic process and allows the Opposition to scrutinise how the Government intends to spend Territorians’ money over the next year,” she said.

“We have a lot of questions to ask, we have had a global pandemic since the last time we met for estimates, we have had no budget.”

Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro is concerned the NT’s budget has been delayed by months due to the coronavirus pandemic.(ABC News: Callan McLaughlin)

The NT budget will be handed down in November, but a pre-election fiscal projection highlighted serious issues with the Territory’s finances.

Net debt is expected to blow out to $8.2 billion this financial year, with the deficit more than doubling to $2.3 billion.

The Government has also predicted a $649 million hit to its largest revenue source, the GST, over the next two years.

Ms Fyles said while the number of days for hearings had been reduced, the number of hours would be similar — about 60 hours over the week.

Ms Fyles said there was no need to add further sitting days when politicians could stay back late.

“Estimates has gone through to about 10:00pm in the evening — that is not unusual here in the Northern Territory for the 20-odd years that we’ve had estimates in place — and so we’ll be starting at 8:00 in the morning and going though and making sure there’s the scrutiny,” she said.

Ms Finocchiaro said she was not reassured by the idea of fewer days but longer hours.

“I don’t believe a word of it for a second,” she said.

“Estimates have always been over six days and there’s plenty of time in the sitting calendar to provide that level of scrutiny.”



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MCG goalposts head to AFL oasis in Northern Territory desert community Santa Teresa


All eyes will be on Traeger Park in Alice Springs this weekend for an AFL match between Melbourne and St Kilda.

But 80 kilometres down the road in the remote community of Santa Teresa, a remarkable project is nearing completion.

With the support of the Melbourne Football Club, the Melbourne Cricket Club and the MCG, Santa Teresa residents are transforming their once dusty football oval into a lush, green paddock.

The green oasis in the middle of the desert is a sight to behold, but it wasn’t always this way.

It used to be rocky and dusty.

Local players say when you hit the ground it was pretty hard, but now it will be much safer on the grass.

This is what the oval looked like before the grassing project.(Supplied: Melbourne Football Club)

Atyenhenge-Atherre Aboriginal Corporation CEO Susie Low said the whole town was invested in getting the job done in time for next football season.

“You’d think it would be quite boring but they’d just come and watch it. And then seeding was something people got very excited about.”

A football oval covered in grass with goalposts at the end
The new oval at Santa Teresa is greener and safer with grass.(ABC Alice Springs: Oliver Gordon)

Complex irrigation

Matthew Cavanagh is the groundskeeper in charge of the project.

He oversees a complex irrigation system that uses heavily filtered local bore water.

He also makes sure the local brumbies that roam the desert stay off the fresh green grass.

A man stands on a green grassed oval
Matthew Cavanagh is the groundskeeper trying to keep this patch of grass green.(ABC Alice Springs: Oliver Gordon)

Melbourne Football Club has been visiting Central Australia for more than a decade, and has formed a close bond with the town of Santa Teresa.

CEO Gary Pert said the idea to green the oval came from conversations with people in the community.

“About five years ago we were talking to the community leaders and we said, ‘How can we help?’, and right across the board they said we’ve got an oval that’s clay and gravel, and we have 200 kids playing on it in bare feet.

What followed was consultation with the Northern Territory Government, widespread fundraising and lots of planning.

Now the oval is 80 per cent grassed, and teams are set to start playing on it next year.

“It was a dream, and now we’ve got it, and we’re starting to see this grassed oval where the kids with their bare feet can run and jump on the oval and play the game.”

A man stands on a grassed oval
Donovan Mulladad plays for the local footy team and is excited for the season ahead.(ABC Alice Springs: Oliver Gordon)

Bright future

But greening the grass is not where this revamp ends.

Traditional owners and Santa Teresa residents have used their money to install lights as well.

The four brand new light posts illuminate the entire ground.

Donovan Mulladad, who plays centre for local club Ltyentye Apurte, said that’s making playing at night a whole lot easier.

Ms Low said the mission would be complete when a large delivery from Melbourne arrived with some key infrastructure for the oval.

“The MCG are giving us their goalposts, so we we’ll have the Melbourne goalposts here at the Santa,” she said.

“We think it’s going to be bigger than Melbourne. Watch this space.”



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