There
are only 300 lawyers in the whole of the Northern Territory, but almost
10% of them turned up at the brand new Alice Springs Convention Centre
yesterday to hear a free-wheeling rave about Crikey, defamation and the
internet.

Qantas stuffed us around as usual, cancelling the
direct 9am flight from Melbourne, so the alarm went off at 5am as we
had to get a 7.10am flight to Adelaide and then hang around for 90
minutes waiting for another flight to the Alice. Guests were already
tucking in to their first drinks by the time we arrived and we were
honoured to be joined by the visiting judge from Darwin and one of the
three local magistrates.

Aboriginal Affairs is the biggest
industry in Alice and crime is what keeps the legal profession flat
out. But it ain’t just the Indigenous Australians who like a drink. The
Magistrate had dealt efficiently with a relatively short list of
matters in the morning and was enjoying a couple of glasses of red over
lunch, which was only rudely interrupted at about 3pm when a call came
through saying that three fellas had been arrested and were seeking
bail.

When the reporter from the twice weekly Centralian Advocate
turned up, he and the photographer snapped a picture of Crikey relaxing
over a glass of wine. What else would you do in the Alice? The
photographer was Chloe Kilgariff, daughter of Alice Springs mayor Fran
Kilgariff who last week announced she was running for Labor in the
forthcoming Territory election.

The reporter was Gavin King, whose last editorial gig was editing music industry street mag Revolver
in Sydney. Talk about a change of pace! Without wishing to cruel
Gavin’s career in one of the more remote parts of Rupert Murdoch’s
empire, the lad appears to be quite a fan of Crikey as this is what
appeared in his “Election 05” column in last Friday’s edition of the
paper:

“Even the big guns believe the election is close.
ABC TV political analyst and poll guru Antony Green has launched his
online guide to the 2005 NT Legislative Assembly election. And
much-revered political, media and business website crikey.com.au
featured an NT election piece last week.”

There you go
– we’re “much-revered” in the red centre of the Murdoch empire. No
wonder Rupert never moved the News Corp AGM to Alice Springs as he
joked over tea and bikkies after the first showdown with Crikey in 1999.

Anyway,
back to the lunch. Plenty of beer and wine was consumed and about 25%
of the guests were still going at 4.15pm when the luncheon room had to
be vacated. A hard core then retreated to Lasseters Casino next door,
at this point Crikey thought it was sensible to check in to the
backpackers and get some sleep before dinner.

Alas, the call
from the lawyer supposedly taking me out to dinner never came, so one
can only presume it was a very solid session at the casino and hope he
didn’t need to get bailed later in the evening. That probably worked
out well in the end as I booked a ballooning trip for the morning which
started with a pick-up at 5am.

It was also a big night in the
Alice because of the State of Origin game. We took in the first half at
Bojangles, an expensive but captivating tourist trap in the mall which
has guns and bullets built into the bar and life size displays of human
skeletons on stripped-back motorbikes.

Ballooning was a real
buzz, although the driver of the van asked “are you off to court mate”
when Crikey turned up wearing a blue blazer. Suffice to say, it will
need to be dry-cleaned as ballooning in the desert is a dusty
experience.