Two years after the debacle over the erection of a giant statue depicting explorer John McDouall Stuart, the Alice Springs Town Council and McDouall-Stuart Lodge no.219 announced this morning that they have agreed to locate the statue “which was gifted to Council by the Lodge” at the western end of Stuart Park on Stuart Terrace.
Further, council has made an an application to the Heritage Committee for approval of the placement, required because Stuart Park is part of the town’s Heritage Precinct. That committee will next meet in October.
In August 2010 Stuart Park was chosen as an alternative location to the Civic Centre lawns following controversy over the statue – its size and character and the fact that the explorer is depicted carrying a gun. Its creator, folk sculptor Mark Egan, is perhaps best known for his giant Anmatjere man, woman and child located at the Aileron Roadhouse.
The Stuart statue’s placement in Stuart Park was deferred when council realised it needed heritage approval for the site. The statue has been stored at an undisclosed location ever since.
Pictured: Masonic Grand Master for SA and NT, Brother Ray Clark together with Mayor Damien Ryan at the statue’s unveiling in August 2010. From the Alice Springs News archive.
From our archive:
Volume 17, Issue 28. August 12, 2010.
Stuart statue comes and goes
By KIERAN FINNANE.
The veiled statue of John McDouall Stuart, explorer and Mason, was last Friday afternoon lowered by a crane into a temporary pedestal on the Town Council lawns, speeches were made, the statue duly unveiled and then it was taken away again.
A cheerful atmosphere prevailed even if the controversy over this gift to the community of Alice Springs occasionally rose to the surface.
Everyone played their part.
A phalanx of local Freemasons, in dark suits and Masonic regalia, stood at the edge of the gathering.
Brother Les Pilton, of the McDouall Stuart Lodge Number 219, introduced Mrs Betty Pearce, with an elevated reference as “the senior native title member of the Arrernte people”, who had “graciously offered to present a ‘welcome to country’”. (Mr Pilton is pictured below left, with Mrs Pearce standing behind him, together with Mayor Ryan and Mr Clark. From the Alice Springs News archive.)
Mrs Pearce spoke of the “pioneer spirit, the spirit of Alice Springs and how we need to be looking at our future … in the spirit of being together, advancing together”.
Her ideas in that direction were to have dual street names – “Central Arrernte names as well as white man, non-Aboriginal names so we can have an absolutely unique town”.
She also wanted to see an “Alice Springs Garden of History” created at Stuart Park with “busts and statues of all the other pioneers, the Aboriginal ones, the cameleers, the miners”.
“It would be our history and McDouall Stuart would be the first one to start that history off,” said Mrs Pearce, before she accompanied Mr Pilton to touch the still veiled statue with her walking stick.
Mrs Pearce also commented on the concerns expressed over the statue carrying a gun: “Well let’s face it, back in the old days and even in today’s days when people want to go out bush, hunting or looking for food, they carry guns.
And I know lots of Aboriginal people with licenses to go shooting and they get kangaroo and stuff like that. So really speaking, let’s forget about that gun and let it die.”
Brother Ron Ross played a Robbie Burns song on the bag pipes, “A man’s a man for all that”.
Mr Pilton described the gifting of the statue as “a risk taken by members of McDouall Stuart Lodge … just a group of people holding a belief that this explorer should be recognised. We got support in our belief by the townspeople we spoke to”.
He warned anyone considering building a statue that “the road is long and tough”.
“It seemed that the only opportunity to keep fit these last few weeks was to continually jump hurdles placed in the way.”
He thanked Mayor Damien Ryan and the council for the opportunity of presenting the statue, suppliers who had supported the cause, the SA and NT Grand Master who was here to do the unveiling and finally “our sculptor Mark Egan, a local lad, Territory born and bred”.
“To work with and alongside his creative genius is awe-inspiring. He has done us proud to have come this far and stick to the task when it appeared alas our labour was lost.”
Barry Skipsey sang a song composed by himself and Dave Evans about Stuart, called “What drives a man”.
“What a wonderful day, a beautiful day,” he said as he thanked the crowd for their applause.
Mayor Damien Ryan acknowledged, as he always does, “the Central Arrernte people who are the traditional owners and custodians of Alice Springs”.
He said the statue and ceremony will “help us mark the 150th anniversary of Stuart’s expedition through the Centre of Australia”.
He commented on a replica of “a stunning 19th century oil painting of John McDouall Stuart [that] was presented to the people of Alice Springs fittingly by Australia’s very first local government which was the City of Adelaide”, seeming to make a link between this uncontroversial gift and the one “being presented to our town by the Freemasons”, which he accepted “on behalf of the Alice Springs community”.
He spoke of the reasons why we remember Stuart – “his sense of determination and his explorer spirit … his commitment to Central Australia … I mean this is part of our heritage here in Central Australia”.
Ted Egan sang his song about Stuart, “Rider in the mirage” which will feature on his forthcoming album, but spoke first about Stuart and about his son, Mark, who had borne the brunt of some of the criticism of the statue.
He said Mark had researched his subject and would not have undertaken the commission had there been evidence of aggression by Stuart towards Aboriginals.
“On the contrary,” said Mr Egan, “when confronted by the Waramungu at Attack Creek, he graciousy turned around and went back to Adelaide.
He did not want any confrontation.
“So the gun does not represent invasion, people who are using ‘invasion’ are using it very ill-advisedly.
“The gun represents the man who is struggling against the harsh interior and living off the land to try to cross this country.”
(For a different reading of what happened at Attack Creek, see Dick Kimber in Issue 1709 – search our foundation archive.)
It was almost time for the unveiling, done jointly by the Masonic Grand Master for SA and NT, Brother Ray Clark, together with the Mayor.
Mr Clark made his thankyous including to “the community of Alice Springs for allowing Freemasons to be involved in celebrations”.
He expressed pride in the fact “that many of our early pioneers such as Sir Charles Todd and John McDouall Stuart and other leading citizens of Alice Springs … were all Freemasons” and talked about the work in the community that Freemasonry does today.
He noted that it took Stuart, this “go-getter explorer”, five attempts to cross the continent and made a light-hearted reference to the controversy around the statue: “It will take a few attempts too for this statue to find its final destination.”
Until the actual unveiling all reference to the controversy came from those officially taking part in the ceremony.
Several people who had expressed concern over council’s processes around the gifting observed the ceremony without making their presence felt.
Another small group had held up a banner throughout the proceedings, reading “No room for racism”. Some of them, if not all, are associated with the Intervention Rollback Action Group, including activist Barbara Shaw who is standing for the Greens in Lingiari.
As the statue was unveiled to cheers and applause from the crowd there was some booing from this group and cries of “Shame on you!”.
As this persisted, Barry Skipsey urged the assembly to give three cheers for McDouall Stuart, which many did.
Proceedings over and a cold breeze blowing, the crowd soon dispersed and the crane moved back into place to take the statue away until the issues around its final location are resolved.
Below: Local Freemasons at the unveiling in August 2010. From the Alice Springs News archive.
Volume 17, Issue 28. August 12, 2010.
Stuart statue: Where to from here?
How confident can we be that the fiasco surrounding the yet-to-be-finalised erection of the statue of John McDouall Stuart will not be repeated?
There will be a review of the public art policy.
CEO Rex Mooney says this has been called for for some time by the Public Art Advisory Committee.
It will become a priority once the committee has finished dealing with the public art that is to be installed in the Aquatic and Leisure Centre, says Mr Mooney.
He mentions as an area of concern the clause relevant to the current controversy, dealing with gifting, saying that the intention behind the clause was to deal with gifting to the Public Art Collection and that statues are not mentioned.
He says statues are clearly public art, but there is a grey area in the policy concerning dealing with them.
Is council intending to remove this area from the purview of the committee or is it approaching the review with an open mind?
Mayor Damien Ryan says the intention is “trying to get something that everyone’s happy with”, commenting that council has reviewed a lot of things, such as the public places by-laws, and the subdivision and development guidelines.
Who’ll be contributing to the review?
The advisory committee and council, says Mr Mooney.
“If you’re asking if there are going to be any parameters set at the outset, there won’t be.”
It is both the council’s and the Freemasons’ intention that the Stuart statue finds its final home at the heritage-protected Stuart Park.
The Freemasons will be making the requisite application to the Heritage Minister, Gerry McCarthy, as part of the gifting process.
Once they have heritage approval “we’ll have to sign off on it as controllers of the land”, says Mr Ryan.
And what if they don’t gain approval?
“I’m not going down that track,” says Mr Ryan.
If there were any doubt, it became absolutely clear last Friday that the statue is not only in honour of Stuart the explorer, who was a Mason, but honours Freemasonry itself.
Three out of the four plaques to be affixed to the pedestal refer in some way to Freemasonry.
One understandably acknowledges the gift of the McDouall Stuart Lodge and the unveiling if it by the SA and NT Grand Master, Brother Ray Clark.
The one that gives Stuart’s life dates – 7th September 1815 to 5th June 1866 – does so under a Masonic symbol, even though Stuart was only inducted into Freemasonry a year before the 1860 expedition, as the crowd were informed by Brother Les Pilton last Friday.
A further plaque lists past members of the McDouall Stuart Lodge, 146 of them, many well-known names.
A question to Mr Ryan about whether council is concerned about this earns a lecture on Australian civic values.
“I find it really interesting that maybe some people who are born Australian don’t actually understand what [this] is about,” he says.
He then reads from information he refers to during citizenship ceremonies: “All Australians have a commitment to various values and institutions and these include parliamentary democracy, equality before the law, freedom of the individual, freedom of speech and religion, equality between men and women, equality of opportunity for all.”
“People who become citizens have to look into that before they do it,” says Mr Ryan.
“It seems that there are others out there who may not really understand that’s really a part of life. We live in a multi-cultural town. A gift was made by somebody this year in relation to the 150th Anniversary.”
So how would council respond to a request to construct a monument from other groups?
Mr Ryan retorts: “I thought you were here to report the news, not to make the news. And when that happens, let’s discuss that issue.”
Mr Ryan clearly mistakes concerns about perceived special treatment by council for a particular interest group for an attack on freedom of speech and religion.
The Alice News attempts to move on to a question about potential conflict of interest.
Mr Ryan heads off any elaboration about the legitimacy of this question:
“That is what is so disappointing to me by the people reporting on this issue.
“There was no conflict of interest stated by any member of council.
“Now we do things in council every month and I accept that the people in there understand conflict of interest.
“That there’s been this driving point by certain journalists actually undermines the integrity of all the elected members.
“You’re saying they don’t understand conflict of interest and that is a disappointment to me.”
Actually not saying it, asking a question. Again he cuts the News off.
“No, no. They’d never ask that question on rubbish or something else.
“It’s been a driven point and I’ve not answered it up to this point because I’ve been so disillusioned that people who report on council wouldn’t actually see the integrity of the elected members who have the opportunity to issue their conflict of interest on any issue that goes to council. That’s the most disappointing fact.”