National indigenous culture centre: think big!


p2165-Guggenheim-New-YorkCOMMENT by STEVE BROWN
I recently took part in a discussion about the chances of Alice Springs becoming the home of the National Indigenous Culture Centre.
It will be a project of imagination and scale that captures the hearts and minds of Australians, becomes part of the Australian psyche, a reference to just who we are. And, of course, it would be a must for our international visitors.
The causes of national reconciliation and the mooted referendum on recognition present an enormous context for this project, as a strong and lasting symbol of culture, recognition and eventually – with the help of those – reconciliation.
The building itself must be a structure of national significance. If a tin shed is in the back of your mind, think of the Guggenheim museums in New York (top), the one in Bilbao (centre) that turned a rather mundane industrial city into a world destination, and the one planned for Abu Dhabi (bottom – yep, what looks like ants are people).
p2165-Guggenheim-BilbaoOf course we can’t match the scale of those, but given that we are the place where indigenous culture is alive and well, and makes up a third of our society, this centre should match the National Gallery of Arts, the National Library and the National Museum of Australia – all of them clustered in sterile Canberra.
Working towards or accepting anything less would be devaluing the significance of both the moment and the depth of meaning a national indigenous centre would hold for the nation.
Young Aboriginal people would find long term, life fulfilling employment for generations, as participants in living cultural presentations, and being involved in the preservation and exhibition of artworks. The whole community needs to embrace the concept with a great deal of energy, passion and enthusiasm.
Where should it be? What should be the overall concept? This project is far too big for these questions to be hived off to and dominated by an elite few. Direction must come from not only from right across our Aboriginal community, but also from across the wider community as we all will live with the success of this project – or its failure.
p2165-Guggenheim-Abu-DhabiDiscussion must be transparent. Also, it’s urgent. There are many other interests vying for this opportunity. It will take an enormous amount of clever lobbying.
It’s time to hear some noise. Come up with some concepts. Set out to capture the national imagination, the national attention, and you don’t do that with mediocrity.


  1. Err, Steve, Alice Springs has long been known as Mparntwe to some. Mparntwe is the centre for the Arrernte people – not ‘all’ indigenous peoples around this nation – they have their own country.
    Perhaps they wouldn’t like to see their country lumped into what is non-indigenous peoples idea of what constitutes ‘nationhood’.
    While indigenous people struggle with health and social issues, the latte set have decided a very big building is the way to go. We must now look like Abu Dhabi in order to look Aboriginal.
    But you can’t put country into a building – you can’t the land, the trees, the mountains and other things into a building a give it meaning.
    Another pointless and sickeningly meaningless gesture – it will therefore probably go ahead.

  2. All relevant authorities and entities knocked back an excellent proposal and location in 1992 … when reconciliation meant what it said.
    Emails went out with the crank handle on your motor car, Steve.

  3. Tax Payer (Posted November 24, 2014 at 10:37 am), you are confused. There is no National Indigenous Culture Centre in Stuart Terrace.

  4. I’m sure building this place would be great for all those people in the construction trades. Lots of government dollars going to all the local business people.
    But do we or they actually deserve it. I mean, an indigenous cultural centre, here, where there is such little respect for indigenous people and their culture. For example, a big statue of the man who began the process of dispossesion and the destruction of indigenous culture is erected. So many people in this community feel angry that the Arrernte people should feel upset about this.
    If there was some respect for indigenous culture, people would first attempt to communicate this idea with those cultured Arrernte people whose country they are planning to build it on.
    You can see some of these people pictured in this paper performing a healing / smoking ceremony near the base of the aforementioned statue.
    There is I believe a complete lack of respect for indigenous people and unless some whitefellas from the building, tourist or other industries can make money out of indigenous culture then it shouldn’t exist.

  5. There was an attempt by Aboriginal groups to establish a cultural centre in Gap Road in the early 1990s. It received no support from the NT Government and the land remains a vacant lot to this day.
    In 2011 I suggested on the ABC the vacant Melanka block would be an ideal central location for an Indigenous Cultural Centre. It’s located next to the Heritage Precinct and adjacent to the town centre, and geographically is in a direct line between Billygoat Hill and Meyers’ Hill across the Todd River at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden (both registered sacred sites).
    My suggestion attracted a number of comments in support but otherwise was completely ignored.

  6. @ Alex Nelson.
    The Melanka site would make a great place for an Indigenous Cultural Centre, with its sacred trees and low-key ambience. The trees are an after-thought to what is proposed and critical race theory proponents seem bent on demonising, rather than celebrating Indigenous culture(s) in Alice.
    At the risk of being labelled a neo-Marxist, you have to ask yourself about the vision of a future for a place that doesn’t seem to be able to get much right at present. Except, of course, for stationing police outside bottle shops.

  7. The Cultural Centre in Gap Rd was visited by a lot of people, domestic and international.
    I think a professionally presented cultural centre would be an attraction, also to many Aborigines (students) from interstate.
    At the moment with the Cultural Centre and Panorama Guth gone, we have nothing to really show the positive aspects of Aboriginal influence in the Centre.
    Propperly managed it would also supply job opportunities: management, retail, hospitality, etc.


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