Culture centre: Where is Aboriginal leadership?


p22103-Abor-Art-SA-17By ERWIN CHLANDA
Penangke: If anyone wants an Aboriginal cultural centre in Alice Springs the first thing they should do is follow cultural protocols and talk to the apmereke-artweye and kwetungurle for Mparntwe. Otherwise it’s gammin.
Elvis: The following of cultural protocols is correct, but the finding of such owner and manager of Mparntwe is unachievable in the landscape of behaviour and attitudes among Aboriginal people who have affiliation through lineage to this country.
Knowledge and understanding of who these people are is always contested and dismissed as not true.
Craig: There will never be a cultural centre here. Just the idea of one sparks arguing among various Aboriginal stake holders. It’s a nice idea though, one that could be a huge drawcard for tourists. But only in our dreams.
Aranda: The owners and caretakers of Alice Springs and the surrounding estates continue to bicker amongst themselves about land ownership protocols.
There is a lack of strong, determined leadership to negotiate such proposals that would provide huge benefits both culturally and economically for Aranda people.
Meanwhile to our children, the town and its visitors I’m afraid to say: This proposed national cultural centre will end up in Canberra, Victoria or NSW, [amongst] the people we criticise for having no knowledge or lack[ing] culture … while we continue to argue about “who comes from where”.
The fact that these well informed Aborigines, or people connected with them, consider they need to write their comments to the Alice Springs News Online under anonymity speaks volumes about the disunity and fear of retribution that is abroad in our not-so-fair town.
Lack of leadership is set to scuttle yet another project for which the town should be the perfect fit, and for which there is the most desperate economic need. These four recent commentators are not on their own with this view.
p1913brownsteveThe town is yet again about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory: That’s how Deputy Mayor and CLP candidate for Araluen Steve Brown (pictured) sees it.
He says the NT Government’s resolve to put money and effort into an Indigenous cultural centre, be it national or regional, is beyond doubt.
Chief Minister Adam Giles has gone public offering $20m for the project and has hinted there could be more money, says Cr Brown.
And there seems to be a likelihood of Federal money but “I believe there is keen competition for it from Sydney. But in Senator Scullion we have a friend in high places,” says Cr Brown.
Both governments are between the devil and the deep blue sea while there is no agreement by the local Aboriginal leaders: “Of course it wouldn’t be possible to build a cultural centre if the people whose culture it celebrates are not in agreement,” says Cr Brown.
“Local Aboriginal people have to own the project, they have to have a genuine interest in it. A minister spending $100m would have to be convinced of that.
“There is high time for Aboriginal leadership. They have to be able to come to a joint position on something like this. I am sure it can happen, and I will do anything I can to make it happen.”
Harold Furber, the founder of the ill-fated Desert Knowledge movement, and Scott McConnell, CEO of Ingkerreke, and ALP candidate for Stuart, are working in the background to advance the project.
It is not clear by whose appointment or mandate they are doing this, says Cr Brown, “but I wish them all the best with it.
“When Mr Furber and McConnell came to the Town Council we offered our full support. It would be a great start for 2016 to see a united front.”
Is it worth watching this space? At least four of our commentators don’t think so.
(We have left messages for Mr McConnell and Mr Furber and will report about any comments they provide.)
PHOTO:  The Art Gallery of South Australia (pictured) is making the most from Central Australian art.


  1. Erwin, just to restate my position – I am not opposed to the cultural centre, in fact I believe it belongs in Alice Springs.
    However, as you and Cr. Brown well point out, my fear is we will “snap defeat from the jaws of victory” because some in our community direct massive amounts of time focusing their energies on negativity and how best they can discredit another families’ claims to land or who has the right to speak for it.
    One can only wonder if this same time and energy was spent on positively influencing this project, how good the cultural centre could be here in Central Australia, all while following the direction of apemereke-artweye and kwertengwerle for Mparntwe. One of, if not the best in the world? Potentially…
    Strehlow’s archives and recordings are considered by many in the profession to be the richest and most detailed of its kind anywhere in the world. Why should Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra get to showcase that?

  2. How would Aboriginal culture(s) be displayed in Alice Springs?
    Would it be the pre-contact classic, the mid-term Mission and Reserve past or the modern Land Rights struggle?
    Would it be exclusively Arrernte or would it extend through to Kaytetye, Alyawarre, Warlpiri, Luritja, Pintubi, Pitjanjatjara and others within the region, because all of these live, work and visit Alice Springs and have done so for a very long time?
    Would it include the ravages of Terra Incognita and lately, alcohol? How would the ideal be curated?
    Who could agree?
    Would it be modern or post-modern? Would it be a sham(e)? Or a white elephant? How could it best be done?
    I put in a few thoughts six months ago when the Melanka site and its sacred trees was available, including a performance stage.
    Surely, it would have to be more than acrylic paintings on the wall? What would a whitefeller culture centre look like?

  3. Mparntwe is kngwarreye – peltharre country. These are the skin names for the apmereke artweye belonging to this place. I think Justice Olney names them in his native title decision. The older people with strong connection to culture know who they are. As do many others who may or may not want to admit it.

  4. What an exiting time, the world is watching indigenous affairs closely, waiting for change and acknowledgement of the first peoples.
    A cultural centre aims to represent all of Australia’s first people.
    It might be here or Canberra, or anywhere. Nothing to lose, everything to gain for little old Alice, why else do people come to the Red Centre?

  5. @ Penangke: Correct and well said. Peltharre-Kngwarraye is the right group for Mparntwe.
    As well as being named as such in Justice Olney’s Native Title determination, this skin group subsection is also named by Spencer and Gillen at end of the 19th / start of the 20th centuries, as well as by TGH Strehlow in his detailed genealogies and research. Only today, in 2015, do people contest this.
    Therefore the group consulted initially should be the apmereke-artweye and kwertengwerle for Mparntwe and their decision should be supported by neighbouring estates and groups, not contested.
    In theory, this sounds good – hopefully it comes into fruition as such.
    Enough said.

  6. Throw some cash at it. Great one. Want to be seen to Doing stuff for Aboriginal culture.
    We could have little Aboriginal lucky doll key rings sold at the gift shop also. Made in China.
    Meanwhile rip the guts out of sacred sites, public housing, education for our kids and defund the institutions that actually make a real difference.
    We really do not need to hear Steve Brown’s voice and the CLP cronies talk about this. They are the worst government. Why don’t they just do their job they were paid to do? If Giles and Scullion want to do this then no-one will support it.

  7. It may come as a light bulb moment for you Casino Lover but the role of a politician is to listen to the voices and to be seen to be doing something about what he hears.
    That is the whole idea, we don’t act, you kick us out. Pretty simple system really.
    Further the institutions to which you refer, all depend on a healthy economy for their funding. A cultural center has the potential to play a very important role in our community and its economy. I
    It has the potential to create many jobs for Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people alike, providing life and fulfilling careers for young people who dream of doing something worthwhile of making something of their lives.
    If we are to make this happen we need to be big enough to think beyond selfish personal grudges, agendas and petty politics.
    This project will help to bring about equality, greater community acceptance and inclusion of Aboriginal culture, history and art. People will feel a great pride for their heritage and their achievements.
    How do I know these things? Because without these things we won’t be able to create this project. It will never come to be. Think about it.
    Can the people of the Center put their differences aside and create something to be proud of, something the world will want to see?
    The opportunity exists. It’s right here. But are we big enough to take it?
    I for one believe we are!
    Let’s start by having less “Nah, it will never happen” and a whole lot more “how can we make it happen” in these comments!
    Not a bad start so far!

  8. @ Steve Brown: Yes, there is so much to say – so much to explain.
    The Centre could evolve and revolve around different aspects and exhibitions, performances, guides and talks.
    It’s a shame the NT Government didn’t step in earlier and make a bid for the Melanka site which would have been a great place for the Centre.
    Starting from the ground up, where would it be?
    So many jobs could be created and sustained, so much knowledge passed on, so much to turn around. It could be fantastic if done right and with the appropriate protocols.

  9. Russel and Steve on the same wavelength? Great to see, only needs Jimmy to get on board to prove it is indeed the season of goodwill.
    And, yes, a major cultural centre in The Alice is a great idea, and I like Russell’s proposal to locate it on the Melanka site if other proposals fall through.
    Such a centre could be a huge boost for the town, and the region. A focus for education, understanding and harmony.

  10. Why can’t the the aboriginal culture be generalized. Why does it have to be of one tribe.
    This should have been done as part of the tourist information center, just like Port Augusta have. Maybe some need to go down and have a look.
    The visitors centre in the mall is a disgrace, no parking for starters, and nothing really inviting to visitors. It should have scenes from the time of the first indigenous, to the dream time, to the Afghans in the area, cattlemen like Kidman and his stockmen, the whole story from beginning to the modern times.
    So that people from far and wide learn to understand, appreciate the indigenous and their culture and the centre of Australia. The new visitors / cultural centre should be built at the Melanka site.

  11. @ Fred the Philistine: My thoughts exactly.The Aborigines should understand the adage: “United we stand, divided we fall.”

  12. Aboriginal should be generalised? What? That’s such a bizarre idea. Like saying sorry you can’t practice your culture anymore.
    Do this instead is what us invaders have decided your culture should be.
    Like telling all those Europeans to stop talking different languages, to all speak, dress, dance, sing live the same.

  13. @ Penangke: It is not what I meant. Like in any countries around the world, there is a term to speak about the first native of a country, then terms for different regions, clans, tribes, what ever you want to call them.
    In France where I originated, we are all French, then Brittons, Normands, Poitevins, Corsicans etc…
    There is great diversity among different Indigenous communities and societies in Australia, each with its own unique mixture of cultures, customs and languages. In present-day Australia these groups are further divided into local communities
    Typically, indigenous Australian tribes are differentiated by language groups.
    Obviously a Cultural centre for each group is not feasible.
    But why not having in Alice Springs a Cultural Centre explaining what is common to all Aborigines, describing the traditional Aboriginal Life from birth to death of the first habitants of Australia, Indigenous culture and heritage including information about the land, languages, kinship, tools, the Dreaming, sacred sites explaining its nuances with sections for the different groups and cultures.
    That is what I meant by “United we stand, divided we fall”.

  14. The most effective way of communication,is through behaviour. People’s behaviour determines outcomes.
    There are so many outcomes that need certain types of behaviour to address the environment.
    The complex landscape that surrounds white and black at the moment is quite challenging, but they are there.
    The idea of a cutural centre is great and it can be achieved through people’s behaviour towards the goal of promoting the Aboriginal presence in Central Australia.
    There are so many great stories that could be in a building of this type of centre, so many factual practices that have been created around the history of Aboriginal peoples.
    Obviously, the people who are engaged to be a part of building the content of what goes in a centre of this magnitude would follow the right direction and protocol of what can and what can’t be in the centre.
    Aboriginal people were here living a life where they depended on the nomadic transient lifestyle that revolved on the dependency of food and water.
    This part of history runs adjacent in time with the Vikings, the building of the Egyptian pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the sailing of ships that were travelling around exploring the world for new surroundings.
    All this stuff was happening, and in the middle of Australia was this place where Alyawarre, Walpiri, Kaitetj, Arrente, Luritja, Pitjantjatjara, Anmatjere, Waraumungu, Pertame people all walked and lived.
    They were controlled by the Altyerre and skin names that formed governance and this governance was practiced in the form of communication that was presented in the form of behaviour.
    It is time for something to be done in this area while we still have the knowledge of our deep memory elders who are able to provide invaluable information to all so we can create a new direction in looking after business.


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