Precinct in the sand

When the literature of a university symposium begins with "The desert is a European idea', you know it means business. Especially if you come from the non-European universe. The Charles Darwin University (cdu) of Darwin in Australia is embarking into a new territory in its bid to rejuvenate itself, improve and diversify its profile. In association with the Australian National University and the government of Australia's Northern Territory, it plans to set up an ambitious desert knowledge precinct in the heart of the Australian desert in Alice Springs. To set the agenda for the precinct, the university used its annual event, the Charles Darwin Symposium Series, to talk about "the living desert'.

A compelling reason to have the precinct in Alice Springs is the growing acknowledgement in Australia of the status of the aboriginal people. Indigenous people of the continent, they have faced the brunt of European colonialism for more than two centuries. Their lands have been taken away and they have been reduced to second class citizens in their own land. They are a mere two per cent of Australia's population; compared to other indigenous peoples of the world, their leadership is quite poor in addressing their pressing survival and development concerns. It was only in the historic 1992 Mabo judgement that Australia recognised as common law the right of the aborigines to their traditional land