Elderly residents at an Alice Springs retirement village are now protected behind “prison” style fencing and razor wire, as locals warn the violence and chaos gripping the troubled outback town has not died down after a flurry of headlines earlier this year.
The Old Timers retirement facility — which includes Old Timers Village and Flynn Lodge as well as the resident-run Old Timers Museum, a popular tourist attraction — has been forced to erect the new fencing after a spate of incidents including break-ins, car thefts and ram-raids.
Photos of the “full compound style” security were shared by local bakery owner Darren Clark on his Action for Alice Facebook page last week.
“They’ve been broken into a few times, they get into the rooms and steal possessions from residents,” Mr Clark told news.com.au. “One guy, his mum … they were in her room. They’ve stolen staff cars. They were breaking in, getting cars and ramraiding out.”
One person replied on Facebook, “No respect for elders and so sad for the residents. They deserve to feel safe and be safe.”
Another said it “looks like a jail, so sad that our elderly need to be protected”, while a third said when she drove past it “broke my heart but what else can you do”.
A spokeswoman for Australian Regional and Remote Community Services (ARRCS), which runs Old Timers, confirmed the new “security measures” but would not comment on any specific incidents.
“ARRCS provides care and support to people in regional and urban communities, throughout the Northern Territory, from Nhulunbuy, Darwin, Katherine and Kaltukatjara,” she said.
“We pride ourselves on delivering a high level of cultural appropriateness and infrastructure that responds to the environment we operate in. The security measures ARRCS takes are made to ensure that our ageing First Nations peoples can continue to access and reside in high-quality and culturally safe aged care within their local community.”
Alice Springs attracted national media attention at the start of the year amid an out-of-control wave of youth crime and alcohol-fuelled violence.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese flew in for crisis talks with NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles in January, and the following month the NT government caved to pressure, announcing the reintroduction of alcohol bans in Indigenous communities.
Alice Springs Mayor Matt Paterson had blamed the lapsing of the Stronger Futures Act alcohol bans in July 2022 as the root of the latest “chaos”.
According to Mr Clark, however, “it didn’t ease up” after the restrictions were reintroduced. “The break-ins haven’t stopped, the stolen cars haven’t stopped, it’s crazy,” he said. “I reckon it’s worse than before.”
His popular page, which has 71,000 followers, shares reports of local crime incidents sent in by residents, “so many I can’t post all that I get”.
But Mr Clark estimated he was “getting about 10 per cent now” compared with 30 per cent previously because of “gag orders” on public servants and others.
“They’re scared to talk,” he said. “Shopping centres have been told not to talk, tourism people have been told not to talk.”
Last month, NT Police said plans were underway to tackle a predicted surge in summer crime following last summer’s record-breaking levels of violence.
Acting Commander James Gray-Spence told ABC Radio there had been “lessons learnt” from the ordeal. “For police, Operation Drina will continue, so that will be the high-visibility police … dedicated to being out there to reduce especially anti-social behaviour which we saw really peak in incidents over summer,” he said.
“That’s that in-your-face stuff that really affects your perception of safety when you’re moving in and around those high public-use spaces.”
Mr Gray-Spence told the broadcaster a multi-agency approach would be taken to tackle disorderly behaviour and youth crime.
“The broader planning for summer at the moment is co-ordination of government services,” he said.
“That’s where we sit down as directors and regional directors to make sure that it’s not just police out there — that we’ve got the referrals in place for other agencies for diversionary activities.”
The return of the Stronger Futures alcohol bans and reduced bottle shop trading hours would also have an impact, he predicted.
“It will be markedly different with the operating environment in which we are now, with alcohol restrictions, with what we’ve learned from Operation Drina from doing it from last year,” he said.
Alice Springs saw a 22 per cent increase in assaults, 28 per cent increase in domestic violence-related assaults, 28 per cent in alcohol-related assaults, 23 per cent increase in sexual assaults in the 12 months to August, according to the latest figures from NT Police.
Commercial break-ins rose 12 per cent and property damage was up 9 per cent, while house breaks were down slightly by 4 per cent to 998, and motor vehicle thefts fell 28 per cent to 342.
The Alice Springs local government area has a population of just 28,000.
According to the ABC, crime typically surges across the region over the summer as school holidays commence and houses are left empty.
Mr Clark said the town “just always goes nuts in summer, it always has”.
“Just because it’s hot — the nights are warmer so they just stay out all night,” he said. “Obviously if you’re drinking in 42 degrees, it knocks you around a bit quicker.”
Mr Clark was sceptical of statements by police.
“It’s bulls**t,” he said.
“They’re not ready for summer. They haven’t got enough police. They can’t do it. They’re not ready. They can’t keep up now. If you ring police you’re lucky if they turn up. We just know nothing’s going to happen, there’s no ramifications — it’ll ignite.