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HomeIssue 1Indigenous art gallery centrepiece of Gunner's plans for Alice

Indigenous art gallery centrepiece of Gunner's plans for Alice

p2406 NIAG Maori InstituteBy KIERAN FINNANE
Chief Minister Michael Gunner, in his speech today outlining “The Year Ahead” has put dates on the next steps to be taken in preparing to build a national Indigenous art gallery in Alice Springs, which we reported on  last week.

Left: Artwork at the entrance of Te Puia, the Maori arts and crafts institute at Rotorua, NZ. Choice of illustration is ours. Mr Gunner made no reference to it. 

He said a consultation group of Aboriginal and other experts will be formed next month.

And  a design competition “to realise more than a building, but an architectural symbol of remote Australia” will be launched this year.
Given that the government’s commitment of $50m to the project will not flow until 2020-21, the Alice Springs News Online put questions on Monday to Tourism and Culture Minister Lauren Moss about budget allocations for both these steps, as neither comes cost-free.
In our report Minister Assisting Chansey Paech also spoke of curation starting this year. Again, we asked Minister Moss about a budget allocation for this.

We will report the answers when they come to hand.
Mr Paech aslo referred to a shortlist of government-owned land being made public for community consultation before the end of the financial year. A number of our readers have had suggestions to make (among them the former Melanka’s block although is is not government owned and has a $10m price tag on it). Mr Gunner did not refer to the shortlist.
Following is the text of the Alice Springs section of Mr Gunner’s speech:-

Alice Springs is the beating heart of outback and indigenous Australia.
What a special place, where to step onto the street is to hear half a dozen ancient languages. Where ancient songlines begin, traverse and connect.
I see Alice Springs as Australia’s inland capital, a cultural nucleus, a place every international tourist and every school group from Hobart to Broome must visit to better understand our rich and living Indigenous histories.
This town may be iconic, but growth is stagnant.
The removal of the electorate of Greatorex prior to the election was one of the more obvious consequences of a population not keeping pace.
Less visible is the worry of contractors and tradies at a drying pool of jobs.
Beginning this year our Government will invest in Alice Springs in a way not seen for decades.
The nationally-significant iconic Indigenous art gallery will be the centrepiece of an Alice Springs revitalisation.
This is about venerating the tens of thousands of years of continuous cultures that came before any white man ever considered a great southern continent.
This is about celebrating the resilience of these cultures.
This is about saying to Aboriginal kids in Alice Springs, and indeed Aboriginal kids across the nation, that what and where you come from is special.
That you are special.
Sydney talked about a such a gallery, Brisbane talked about it, Perth talked about it, the former Territory Government talked about it … We will build it.
The work begins next month when we form a consultation group of Aboriginal and other experts.
This year we will launch a design competition to realise more than a building, but an architectural symbol of remote Australia.
This building will eventually be the beginning of an arts trail linking upgraded or new galleries in Tennant Creek, East Arnhem and Katherine all the way to Darwin and a new CBD museum.
Like in Darwin, the Alice Springs CBD can be so much more.
We must make it more appealing to locals, prospective locals and tourists.
We have begun hearing ideas around creating a central, attractive and welcoming meeting place, where locals and tourists can gather to grab a coffee, a meal, shop and find all the information they need about the region’s tourism offerings.
This may mean creation of more open spaces in the CBD and road re-design. It may mean a park or water and rock features. It will certainly mean showcasing the unique art and cultures of Central Australia.


  1. Let’s just hope that the design competition is not held under the jurisdiction of the Institute of Architects who limit entries to registered architects only. This project is too significant to limit entries. The government should start as it means to end – hopefully that is to be inclusive.

  2. I agree Ted and if the designer comes from interstate or overseas, he/she should demonstrate his/her knowledge of Aboriginal culture and the design should be based on the songlines which underpin the whole Aboriginal culture and tie all Aboriginal Australia together.

  3. Good concept, but get the popcorn ready. This seems to be suggesting that Aboriginal people are all united, and all see Alice Springs as their cultural home. All the teachings I have had and my understanding is that Australia is made up of 200 to 300 skin or language groups.
    I would have thought Mr Paech would be all over this.
    Maybe a centre that celebrates Central Australian Aboriginal people, but one that tries to incorporate all skin groups all over the country seems to completely ignore everything cultural awareness lessons have ever taught whitefellas here.
    How do you give the same level of representation to the Arrernte and those from the Torres Strait in the one limited building? Surely all the schoolkids from Hobart would be best studying the land, culture, songlines and traditions of Tasmanian Aboriginies, and those from Broome would be better placed to learn about their saltwater people instead.
    Take a leaf from places that are successful. In New Zealand, cultural centres concentrate on the Maori, not every inhabitant of the Pacific Islands.
    We had a fantastic cultural centre here in the Panorama Guth, until it burnt down, and that concentrated on the desert peoples of Central Australia.
    Look at the Desert Park, they concentrate on our part of Australia, and do a fantastic job.
    We are a meeting place for Arrernte, Warlpiri, Pit land tribes, Alyawarre and others. Why not keep it at that?
    Sections dedicated to these language groups would surely provide plenty of information for tourists who have come all this way to learn about Central Australian Aborigines.
    If they want to learn about Yolngu, they will go up north. This current plan seems a bit like designing a centre for European culture, featuring French, Russian, English, Spanish, Greek and Italian cultures. But hey, these Europeans are all white, so they must be they same, Eh?
    Maybe the design could be the “Big Caterpillar”.

  4. I’m sorry but is Mr Gunner taking us for fools? He has apparently made this 50 mil commitment that won’t happen until 2020-2021… Well that’s funny as there will be another election around then and the project will most likely be scrapped (if the opposition win) or be a big part of campaign for the election. Sounds to me he is campaigning already for the next election. I can just hear the motto – if you don’t vote for us it won’t get done… How about you start it now or and have it finished by next election mate! Then we will know you’re a man of your word and not just all talk and promises.
    P.S The whole Araluen site needs to be bulldozed and re-planned, there is plenty of space there!
    and 50 mil sounds like an awful lot of money… but good idea.
    Now just to stop tourist/people getting robbed, stabbed, assaulted etc. Our perceived image is a lot more valuable than some future building that may never come about… (sad face)

  5. @ Ray you make a very good point about referring to Aboriginal people all in the one basket. Just as in Europe Aboriginal people come from many different groups referred to as language or skin groups, there are in fact as many and as varied groupings of Aboriginal peoples on this continent as there are throughout Europe.
    Also, just as in Europe, in many cases there is no commonality at all between the groups, there was often full scale conflict between them, they were in fact deadly enemies, yep, just like in Europe, oddly enough, people are people wherever they are!
    We need to move our language and our thinking past the condescending paternalism” towards Aboriginal people. I’m sure to some, it gives a nice warm inner glow to refer to Aboriginal peoples all under a single banner, imagining everyone in a nice cooperative huddle of common belief and intention, however that belief is hurtful and paternalistic, as such deeply racist, denying peoples their history and their individuality.
    I do however applaud much of what the Chief Minister has to say. I like the Inland Capital concept and will be very interested to hear how he envisions progressing the idea.
    As for the National Indigenous Art Gallery….commonality or not there are apparently Federal funds intended to bring about such a project, so what better place than right here, the spiritual and geographical heart of the Continent. A fantastic Art Gallery that adds to the amenity of our community, bringing in many new visitors intent on purchasing Aboriginal Art, it has got to be good for both Artists and of course the local economy, so let’s not lose the opportunity!
    As for the placement and the design, how about we give those whose Culture it intends to represent, the opportunity to put forward their own thoughts on the subject before we stifle the process.

  6. What a total waste of money this is going to be. NT Govt is already $875M deficit in the budget. By the way, who is going to run the so called cultural centre?
    If it is going to be built on the Melankas site, what about the sacred trees, or aren’t they sacred anymore?

  7. We cannot compare Indigenous of Australia with the inhabitants of Europe.
    Songlines trace the journeys of ancestral spirits as they created the land, animals and lore.
    Integral to Aboriginal spirituality, songlines are deeply tied to the Australian landscape and provide important knowledge, cultural values and wisdom to Indigenous people.
    “They can be about creation stories, and they can be contemporary stories as well.
    “It’s quite complex, but those land markers are very, very important, hence the importance of land claims and acknowledgement of traditional owners.”
    Using songlines, Indigenous Australians have acquired an encyclopedic memory of the thousands of species of plants and animals across Australia.
    “They wouldn’t have survived if they didn’t have all this practical knowledge and handed down generation after generation,” says Monash University researcher Lynne Kelly.
    Europe has no songlines.
    Songlines criss-cross not only the remotest parts of the continent as well as our seas, but also the cities and suburbs.

  8. I suggest that the shortlisted designs are presented as scale models for the community to see and respond too before a final decision is made.
    3D models that show how the building and other elements will sit within the chosen site and relate to the immediate environment.
    This was how it used to be done so that anyone could see the proposed development at the local shopping center before giving their feedback.
    Computer generated images such as “artist’s impressions” can be distorted and are not accessible to everyone.
    If a 3D scale model had been presented for the new supreme court building, the community could have responded to the design before it was actually built. It’s too late now.
    I also agree with Steve Thorne’s comment.

  9. Mmmm, Evelyne. An unambiguously unblushing example of unquestioning academic superiority of the kind that sees Aboriginal people being lectured by academics about their own culture, history the way they lived, or the way they are supposed to have lived according to academia, all backed up of course by unquestionable fact, the writings of some uni student doing their thesis.
    Referred to locally as “out-Aboriginaling the Aboriginals”. I guess you simply don’t comprehend how aggravatingly disrespectful such comments are to those they seek to portray, just like a green kid walking into a room full of adults and delivering a gushing unquestioning speech that every adult in the room knows to be wrong but are too polite to say.
    As a third generation 62-year-old who was born and raised in this place I am absolutely sick of hearing the disrespectful paternalistic bullshit that seeks to portray Aboriginal people as if they lived an idealistic warm and cuddly lifestyle running around patting animals and cuddling trees.
    As a bloke who grew up surrounded by these people I can tell you they are practical, hard-nosed and tough as hell people of enormous endurance who did whatever it took to survive in a very harsh environment.
    They loved each other, and they fought wars with each other, they took each other’s lands and each other’s lives!
    They are in fact people just like you and me Evelyn, genetics clearly show we are related to one another!
    So yes, they are just like the peoples of Europe, Evelyne.
    We are in fact all of the same big family, and it’s about bloody time we accepted that fact stopped patronising them and got out of their way and their lives allowing them to make their own way in the world, just like the rest of us!

  10. Evelyne, please read my comments again. You may have missed my entire point.
    Yes, I understand what song lines are and what they mean, but was commenting that we cannot talk about a national Aboriginal centre in the light it is being presented in the story, as the Aboriginal nations are as different as the European nations are.
    Despite the fact they live on the same continent, each country is vastly different, although they do share similarities, and have interacted over the centuries.
    Song lines occasionally do cross “cultural country boundaries” and protocols exist for members of one tribe crossing into the country of others, and that is where there are indeed some similarities.
    All nations and cultures share myths, legends and lore.
    My point was, that we need to concentrate on the Central Desert Aboriginal people, as they are the ones that are here, and have the most influence, and are the ones we can consult with.
    Saying it is a national Aboriginal centre demonstrates we still don’t get it.
    The entrance to this centre should be the first point to explain to visitors that although Aboriginal people inhabit the entire continent, it is made up of hundreds of “countries” and this particular centre celebrates and explains to visitors the uniqueness of the TOs, their descendants and visitors that make up this “region”.
    Steve makes a great point to.
    I would love top see an indigenous café, staffed by original staff, featuring food using bush tucker, a forecourt with two or three ceremonial dance displays and culture talks, art galleries, basket weaving workshops and maybe tour guides that can on-sell tours to regions that the visitors want to see more of.
    Then again, that’s just my vision, and really means nothing until the views and visions of the TOs are invited.

  11. @ Ray: “Saying it is a national Aboriginal centre demonstrates we still don’t get it.”
    I put myself in the shoes of an oversea tourist, who wishing to learn, to understand this country. Australia is vaste and demands time and money if you want to visit all the “many countries” you speak off. Alice Springs could be the perfect centre for a unique experience.
    Your statement:”The entrance to this centre should be the first point to explain to visitors that although Aboriginal people inhabit the entire continent, it is made up of hundreds of ‘countries’ and this particular centre celebrates and explains to visitors the uniqueness of the TOs, their descendants and visitors that make up this region.” This describes exactly my thoughts on the subject.
    @ Steve: I do not speak like an academic, but as a longtime resident with many Aborigine friends sharing their feelings and knowledge. As a politician Steve, may be you should learn to refrain to debase people who have different point of view that yours, this is the first advice that an academic give to students learning how to debate.
    I can debate with Ray, but not with you if you insult.


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