Cultural centre – think big!


p2301-Hal-DuellCOMMENT by HAL DUELL
One of last year’s closing debates in our town centered on the possibility of building a national Indigenous cultural center here.
Almost immediately the questions being raised had to do with location and input, and none of the answers sounded like Alice was serious about claiming this prize.
Why, for instance, narrow the location to the CBD? If the city carpark between Todd Mall and Hartley Street is chosen, the proposed center will always be smaller than it could have been. Within such a static and circumscribed space, any encompassing national storyline will have to be either edited to the point that it becomes superficial or jettisoned in favor of the regional.
If a truly national center is to be built, why not go out to the Desert Park and think big? The money to start such a project seems to be available, or so some pollies seem to be indicating. Why not grasp this chance to do something remarkable?
MONA in Hobart is as good an example of a local museum / cultural center successfully pitched to a national and international audience as any I can think of.
And then there’s input. If the object is to go nationwide, some local voices will have to take their seats at the table as one voice among many.
As for what is to be done with the city carpark, why not close the middle section and turn that into a continuation of the mall and open gardens now surrounding Flynn Church?
Incorporate the Hartley Street School and take down that ugly fence. Make the area a shady and safe public space, and use some imagination when deciding what to do with the cars now parking there.


  1. Hal: The really big thinking concerns the audience you are hoping to attract so that the economy and society of Alice Springs as a whole is revitalised.
    While Desert Knowledge precinct is a big site, it would be out of the reach of most visitors staying in short stay accommodation in and around the town centre.
    You would also be removing spin off effects for other businesses and cultural organisations in the town centre. Hobart is very different as it has population and scale to allow MONA to operate more remotely without removing social and economic energy from the city centre.
    As to the design, you may have missed presentations and designs of just such a cultural centre on the Hartley Street car park with gardens, meeting place and all the rest.
    This was presented publicly in 2012 by Sue Dugdale, Paul Carter and myself. Since then the ASTC and the Uniting church have attempted to obtain funding to support a further iteration of the plan.
    Whatever happens, the project should be one which empowers Centralians to express themselves and showcase their creativity.
    This process should be as inclusive as possible.
    I hope it happens one day, as it has been talked about for a long time.

  2. @ Steve Thorne,Posted January 11, 2016 at 8:35 am
    In reply to two points made in your comment, it’s Desert Park, not Desert Knowledge, that I suggest would be a better venue. I am sure buses would be scheduled to take those staying in budget accommodation.
    And you say: “Whatever happens, the project should be one which empowers Centralians to express themselves and showcase their creativity.”
    This is exactly my point about jettisoning the national in favor of the regional. A truly national centre would be showcasing the national indigenous storyline, as opposed to allowing Centralians to express themselves.
    So I ask this: If big-buck funding is needed to get this cultural centre up and running, will it be founded to allow Centralians to express themselves, or will it be founded to tell a national story?

  3. @ Hal: Who is going to fund all of this? If the Indigenous people are going to run this, it is likely that it will go belly up. Just like CAAAPU.
    In the Parliament house in Canberra, they have pictures of Indigenous life styles and dot paintings and nobody takes an interest.

  4. @ Steve and Fred: If it’s already been built then I guess all the recent yadda yadda about a new national centre here in Alice is just that, yadda yadda.

  5. @ Hal: If you look closely as some of those questions to do with input and location mentioned in your article, not all refer to a “National” Indigenous cultural centre.
    I’ve always seen it as a local / regional centre, with spaces for interstate input (the current exhibition of central Australian Aboriginal art at the Art Gallery of NSW is one example), but not just paintings – it could feature all the arts and cultural aspirations, historical, modern and beyond limitations placed upon it by Western cultural imperatives.
    There is more synthesis in regional attractions, e.g., the budding aviation museums, featuring Australia’s significant contribution to flight.
    Location, to reiterate from more than one source of input, has favoured the Melanka site for reasons of existing culturally-based sacred trees and CBD proximity. That part of town is significant for many reasons. Serendipity is a powerful ally.
    It doesn’t have to be a behemoth, just something manageable, affordable and if a lesson to be learned from the Western Desert Art movement can be incorporated, sustainable.
    It’s my hope that someone, somewhere, in Alice, Canberra and/or Darwin is interested in convening a meeting with stakeholders, feasibility study consultants and other carriages on the train out of the shunting yard towards a form and shape that is culturally appropriate for the town, in employment opportunity and therefore economically stimulating.
    Thanks for your continued interest in the issue. Just my two bobs worth.

  6. @ Russell Guy, Posted January 13, 2016 at 11:26am.
    Thanks for the input.
    If we are looking at a local / regional cultural centre as opposed to a national one, then I still suggest the city carpark between Hartley St and Todd Mall is not the place for it. I would much prefer to see the middle section opened up as a continuation of the mall, as stated in my article.
    And what part will Araluen play in any new development? Don’t we already have a local / regional centre right there? Perhaps it would make more sense to work with what we have, especially as any new development will cost big bucks, and this year the Feds didn’t even include the NT in their distribution of trees.
    The Melanka site? Is that still even possible? I agree that it could adequately house a regional centre, but is it available?
    My understanding is that this area is privately owned and will eventually be developed as the Melanka Towers.
    I do, however, note that we have been around that particular block more than a few times in recent years, so far with no result.

  7. In 2011, as I recall, I put forward the suggestion of the Melanka block as a site for an indigenous cultural centre.
    My thoughts were that it is located exactly in line between Billygoat Hill and Meyers’ Hill at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, both locations long recognised as significant / sacred sites to the local Arrernte people.
    It’s also immediately adjacent to the town centre and on a major route (Gap Road – Todd Street) into town. (Incidentally, there was an attempt in the late 1980s to establish a local indigenous cultural centre on Gap Road).
    I’ve been dubious from the start about the prospect of the “Melanka Towers” (and other previous high-rise proposals) being a viable development option for Alice Springs.
    As I’ve mentioned several times previously, proposals for high-rise developments in Alice Springs always coincide with the onset of economic downturns, and I’ve no reason to believe that’s going to change now.
    (Incidentally, last year I read with interest the recommendation of the 1969 HKF Report into future tourism development in Alice Springs and Central Australia that the proposed redevelopment of the old Stott House site into a much larger hostel accommodation complex should be relocated to another site. That recommendation was ignored, and construction of the new Melanka Hostel commenced in 1971).
    However, while we wait for something to happen, it’s interesting to observe that two of the large Eucalypts (non-local species) on the Melanka site have perished, and others are in serious decline.
    So whatever development may eventually occur there, it’s unlikely that most of the existing trees will be in a condition to be incorporated within the design and landscaping of that site.
    I had a long conversation yesterday with a senior TO in Alice Springs, and she favours the Desert Knowledge precinct for the location of an indigenous cultural centre.
    Her reasoning is that in the past (pre-European settlement) it wasn’t possible for people to enter Mparntwe (Alice Springs) through Heavitree Gap without first gaining the consent of the local Arrernte custodians.
    Locating the cultural centre south of town would be an acknowledgement of that old custom.

  8. @ Hal: It should be built in with the tourist information centre, just like Pt Augusta. As for the funding, it appears that the Indigenous can invest in property such as the Yeperenye shopping centre and Peter Kittle, so why can’t they invest in the cultural centre?

  9. @ Fred the Hoax: It’s not for whitefellers to say where any proposed Aboriginal Cultural Centre “should” be built. And it’s certainly not an addendum to the Yellow Pages at the Info Centre.
    Let’s face it, whitefellers stole the land and Terra Nullius is history, but the psychological scars remain.
    @ Hal: The Araluen Centre is hardly an Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Whitefellers have the keys for a start. Groundhog Day is an apt metaphor for the town that as Tracker Tilmouth once said, farms blackfellas.

  10. @ Russel: I don’t care if you build a cultural centre or not, cause I’m not interested. I am just giving some advice.
    As you say, the blackfellas have been here first. What have you built in this country? Without the whitefellas the Indigenous would be struggling.

  11. @ Russell Guy: Do you recall the Aboriginal community chairman who demanded royalties for the use of community land for his own house?
    How about the demand and payment for use of land to bring fibre optic cable to communities?
    Or huge payment for leaseholder arrangements so the Feds can supply more free housing?
    Or large payments for land that government services are located on in communities.
    Schools need to pay rent to teach Aboriginal kids.
    So any Aboriginal involvement in the Cultural Centre is going to lead to demands for payment.
    For everything and anything.
    No matter that a Centre would benefit Aboriginal people and the town.
    It will be a very long and expensive process.


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