National Indigenous gallery process hijacked?


p2499g NIAG Lauren Moss 430COMMENT by
Is the national Indigenous art gallery process being hijacked? Or is the current consultation about a possible site for a project we know so little about simply designed to stem growing angst about the declining population and stagnant economy of our town?
Left: Tourism and Culture Minister Lauren Moss at Desert Mob in September; no sign of her nor of the committee co-chairs  in the recent announcement. 
When the announcement came last Thursday of two purportedly recommended sites for the gallery (see image at bottom), it was not from Tourism and Culture Minister Lauren Moss nor from either of the co-chairs of steering committee, Hetti Perkins and Philip Watkins.
Instead it came from committee member and departmental CEO, Alastair Shields.
In seeming catch-up mode, on Friday a media release was put out by Chief Minister Michael Gunner.
The release is noteworthy for making no mention of the cultures the gallery is intended to celebrate, indeed no mention of Aboriginal people at all.
p2499g NIAG $90mThis is in contrast to the way Mr Gunner spoke of the project in his 2017 The Year Ahead speech earlier in the year, when the focus was strongly on the gallery’s cultural role and what this could mean for Aboriginal people in Central Australia:  “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,” Mr Gunner said then.
That speech also put the gallery forward as “the centrepiece of an Alice Springs revitalisation”, but now revitalisation is the sole message.
The spiel is rolling the gallery’s promised budget allocation of $50m, as well as the $20m for the Nganampa Anwernekenhe cultural centre, into a $90m figure “to revitalise the CBD, attract tourists and create jobs in Alice Springs”. (The remaining $20m was put on the table specifically for CBD revitalisation.)
A video on the government’s Have Your Say web page outlines the government’s so-called “vision”.
Again, no mention of Aboriginal people, only non-specific  “diversity and culture”.
p2499g NIAG Cree GalleryThe emphasis of the video is strongly on the Anzac oval site, with the expense of providing an alternative stadium and sports ground with two ovals seemingly no barrier. There is also distracting discussion of connecting the Anzac site with the mall by a driverless bus, when it is a matter of a few minutes’ walk at the most.
There is no mention of a transport plan for the Desert Park option, where it would indeed be necessary and could also be a selling point: the drive west opens up vistas towards Alhekulyele / Mt Gillen and once you turn into the Desert Park, suburban Alice Springs gives way to a quite different environment and ambience.
Although Mr Shields in his announcement to Alice Springs News Online last week referred to “cultural considerations” for the Indigenous gallery site, there is no mention of these in the video, nor in Mr Gunner’s release, let alone discussion of what they might be.
A so-called factsheet on the gallery, which you are urged to download from the Have Your Say page, provides only aerial views of the two proposed sites and not so much as a single sentence overview of the project. However, there is such a sentence in the page’s online survey. This is what it says: “The Iconic National Indigenous Art Gallery will hold a globally significant Australia-wide art collection from the world’s oldest continuous culture under one roof in Alice Springs.”
p2499g NIAG driverless busThat sentence points to the ambition and complexity of this project yet there has never been so much as a public information session or discussion paper about it that would allow locals to make any kind of informed comment about a site.
Critically, while I understand that the steering committee has met with key local Aboriginal groups and individuals, formal consultations with Arrernte custodians about hosting such an institution on their country have not yet taken place. Having Arrernte people on board will be fundamental to the integrity of the project.
All of this amounts to a very flimsy basis on which to seek public comment and it is therefore hard to imagine that the community’s views, whatever they might be, will have much relevance in the long run.
Images: screen captures from the government’s video on the Have Your say page.
National Indigenous gallery: what should come first?
Culture: Alice sells itself short

Below: In the government’s ‘factsheet’ we are told the size of the two locations but nothing at all about the relevant cultural considerations. 

p2499g NIAG aerials 660


  1. Personally, i believe the ANZAC oval site is the better option. It will bring people into the township rather then taking them out of town where there are less facilities and less visibility. People, including locals, will be encouraged to visit the gallery more frequently as it is simply a short walk from the CBD. The project was about revitalising Alice Springs. Locals and businesses have been complaining about the lack of activity in the CBD. But now an option comes up to do exactly that and you want to push it out of town again…

  2. Quite apart from the obvious implications of disruption for sports, Masters Games, concerts and the like at Anzac Oval, are also the heritage aspects of this area which (except for the Totem Theatre) have been completely ignored but are substantial.
    I won’t go into great detail here but the whole area of Anzac Oval and associated nearby buildings might best be summed up as a youth precinct in the history of Alice Springs; for example, the Alice Springs Youth Centre and the former Anzac Hill High School are obvious, also the Senior Citizens Club which was previously the Natalie Gorey Preschool, the first purpose-built facility of its kind in the Northern Territory.
    The former Anzac Hill High School began as the Alice Springs Upper Primary School built in the early 1950s which morphed into the original Alice Springs High School. One of its students, David J Tacey, was dux of the school in 1969 and studied in the first matriculation class of 1970 – he has become one of Australia’s foremost intellectuals of international stature but in Alice Springs we have no idea about that record. Ironically he could tell us a great deal about the depth psychology that lies behind all the arts.
    That school also hosted annual pet shows in the 1950s – these events inspired the first Alice Springs Annual Show which was held at Anzac Oval in 1960.
    That old high school building is every bit as important to the town’s history as the old Hartley Street School, which it ought to be recalled was hard fought for its preservation in the early 1980s against “visionaries” that wanted to bulldoze it in favour of redeveloping the town centre.
    It might also be recalled that in the early 1980s the Alice Springs Town Council sought to have Anzac Oval repurposed as a “village green” with its associated sports codes required to look elsewhere for their bases.
    Here we go again – the “visionaries” charging in with scant regard for heritage because they think their concepts will enrich our local economy, notwithstanding they have no evidence and certainly no track record of success from all their previous development disasters.

  3. Short memories. Art centers were built on the need to supply tourism. Art centers didn’t bring tourism and most likely won’t attract them in great numbers in the future.
    Have we all forgotten the complaints of past years of the overbearing presence of galleries in the Mall? If you have look it up, there was a large number of them.
    Now it seems the solution to the CBD dilemma is what? A larger art gallery and shop that would most likely be based on a major commercial presence to dwarf the smaller local shops and remote art businesses?
    What has happened ever since the cultural centre idea is being pushed to the background?
    This would attract visitors as other centres have done in the past and has numbers to show this.
    Or is this project more about commercial control of the art industry than it is about tourism and revitalising?
    Would removing all the open grassed areas in CBD that most social events utilise be in the best interest of all?

  4. We have seen so much money wasted “revitalising” the centre of Alice Springs over the years.
    Just look at how many goes they have had at the mall.
    Nothing is going to stem the downturn in the economy or the departure of residents until something is done about the law and order problems in this town.
    Also the unpleasantness … having to step around phlegm spat on the pavement every where, drunks shoving us out of their way, people abusing and yelling at each other etc etc.
    Visitors being greeted by the these sights are not conducive to encouraging them to encourage others to vist the centre.
    Fixing these long term problems would do much more to enhance Alice Springs than a one off, big dollars being spend on dumping a cultural centre in the middle of town.
    Overseas visitors are being warned to stay away because of the law and order issues and yet we have to just put up with it?
    Time to get priorities sorted out!

  5. I agree with Ginnia plus the area around Anzac Oval is historical, with the Totom Theatre, the Old PreSchool, (50 + Centre) one of the first buildings built by local town residents, the Youth Centre and the oval.
    Army tents were stationed here during the war. The area is named after the soldiers and the Anzac history is here at this place.
    The oval is used continuously for all sorts of events, and so should remain so for all Alice Springs to continue to enjoy.
    Do not destroy this place by building large centres on it, and ignoring the significance of this area.
    Also parking would be even harder to find in this part of town.

  6. Undoolya Road site, vacant land, no floods, lots of parking, short walk from town centre – too easy!

  7. Why do we always need to knock down perfectly good infrastructure to just rebuild it elsewhere? Such a waste of money.
    There’s a very large area of land owned by NTG on Stevens Road with views of the ranges and hills around the golf course. The site has sat unused and is much larger than the proposed Anzac site with no added costs of relocating infrastructure.
    No point trying to “revitalise the CBD”, as pointed out above it’s been tried to death. The reality is that with the rise of online shopping people don’t use CBDs like they used to, they’re now no more than a work precinct. This can be seen in towns and cities across Australia.

  8. So how is this going to be funded? Tax payers moneys again. Or increase council rates? The Melanka site would be the obvious choice.

  9. There are some good options mentioned below. And some not.
    Why destroy Anzac Oval and the old high school when both could be used to good effect as and where they are?
    The Melanka site looks to be too small.
    Both Desert Park and the Desert Knowledge precincts are well out of town, and Undoolya Road and Stevens Road would also require busses.
    Railway yards? Keep the Ghan with a new passenger terminal but relocate the goods handling to the Brewer Estate, or somewhere south of The Gap.

  10. @ David Nixon (Posted November 6, 2017 at 8:47 pm) and others: Calls for relocating the railyards out of the town centre area have a long pedigree.
    In July 1973 the Member for Alice Springs, Bernie Kilgariff, was quoted: “The Commonwealth Railways seem willing to look at the idea of having the Alice Springs marshalling yards south of the Gap.”
    His comment was in reaction to the news of a meeting earlier that year between the Alice Springs Town Council, Chamber of Commerce, Commonwealth Railways and the Department of the NT which “resolved that the Railways examine alternatives to the marshalling yards in their present location.”
    This was followed up in November 1973 with a motion by Mayor Jock Nelson and passed by the ASTC calling for the relocation of the railway marshalling yards to south of the town; Nelson observed that in the long term there was considerable scope for the CBD and housing to expand westwards into that land.
    This issue was debated at length in 1975 but ultimately Commonwealth Railways refused to budge.
    The issue was revived by the Lands Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Ray Hanrahan in May 1987 when he told the NT Legislative Assembly: “Moving the railway yards would solve expansion problems in the Alice Springs central business district for the next 30 to 50 years; however, the chances of moving the yards were small because Australian National Railways was a law unto itself.” Hanrahan expressed regret about the failure to resolve this issue in the 1970s.
    In December 1991 then local architect David Keeler also weighed into the issue: “The Alice Springs railway station, yards and corridor should be moved away from town to make way for priority medium-density housing” with the freed up land able to “provide accommodation for up to 10,000 people.” Keeler was critical of the then draft Alice Springs town plan, blasting the “disastrous ad-hoc style of development that had created an urban sprawl in Alice Springs.”
    There have been other calls to free up the railway land in the middle of Alice Springs but the only substantial change is the development of some of that area for light industry that proceeded from the late 1990s.
    Given this history, it seems unlikely that this option will be given any consideration at all.

  11. @ Alex Nelson: In the early seventies, when I was chief reporter for the Centralian Advocate, I recall us publishing a glossy insert from the railways soliciting public comment on the possibilities of relocating the freight rail yards.
    The options were leaving them where they are, shifting them to the Old Ghan terminal where the Transport Hall of Fame is now, or to Bond Springs north of the town.
    My recollection is that the community response was a deafening silence.
    Once the deadline had passed the railways, said OK, we’ll stay where we are.
    All hell broke loose – but by then it was too late.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor

  12. It is worth pointing out that the Anzac oval site is in the high risk flood zone.
    Just another very good reason the cultural centre should not be built there.
    I remember a NASA scientist, Mary Burke (?) telling the people of Alice Springs that it is only a couple of hundred years since there was a flood here that was well over roof height.
    Perhaps we should be relocating the CBD rather than trying to revitalise the area.
    I remember an old timer telling a story about coming through the Gap in a horse and buggy and looking up into the old gum trees that are no longer there.
    “Look at all the eagle nests dad!”
    His dad informed him that it was flood debris in the top of the trees, not eagle nests!

  13. Who has seen the massive floods? That will wash away Alice Springs CBD and Aboriginal artwork displays. Visionary planners, beware: Do insurance premiums include this flood risk?

  14. Some excellent comments aired here. Pity a similar debate is not taking place in other media. And now that the Chief Minister has done a letter drop urging householders to visit the art website and provide comment, let’s hope they do. I did.
    I took the pastry cook’s view and suggested there was a lot of pie in the sky.

  15. The ultimate choice of site seems to me to be a textbook example of a decision best left to local Indigenous folk. That said, I’ll throw in my two-bob, as a non-resident whitefella.
    The inner west of the Alice is indeed an unloved area at present. But it has a storied jewel at the end of a potential pedestrian path running west out of town (including a bridge over the rail yards / tracks) – Morris Soak.
    And talking of contested sites from apartheid-era Alice Springs, the site of the Memorial Club seems a location ripe for some affectionate – if initially bracing – inter-cultural re-purposing.

  16. My comments on the ‘Have your Say’ public consultation process, specifically in relation to the proposed Indigenous Art Gallery:
    The accompanying flyer the Iconic National Indigenous Art Gallery factsheet is totally inadequate as an information source – it is almost devoid of facts, clearly a hurried attempt by a graphic designer, with almost zero substantive content. It and the fly-through video convey the impression that the Gallery is to be plonked down on one or the other of two sites without any public airing of why these were chosen, or what the comparative benefits of these or any alternatives are.
    Fundamentally, what is the vision for the Gallery itself in the context of the town culture and geography, and the desires of the local Indigenous people, other town residents, and visitors? And also how does it fit with / complement the functions of the existing Araluen Precinct? None of that is stated.
    As others have said already, both proposed sites have significant disadvantages:
    – Anzac Hill East is a well-established venue for a range of community and sporting events – disrupting those is clearly a disadvantage.
    – Desert Park is a long way from the CBD and has an essentially different function
    No information has been provided about any other sites that may have been examined, either their locations or their advantages and disadvantages.
    Consider for example how Anzac Hill West could be presented:
    – Procure the Hungry Jacks site and provide the owner with an alternative site.
    – Procure the derelict Shell fuel depot site
    – Combined site area 24,000 square metres.
    – Demolish both sets of existing buildings to make space for the Indigenous Art Gallery
    – Complement this area if necessary, e.g. for parking space, by procurement of the current built spaces on the northern corner of Anzac Hill Rd / Schwarz Crescent (a further 6000 square metres) and/or the Beaurepaire site and open space behind it across Schwarz Crescent (a further 26,000 square metres).
    – Combined area comparable to the (apparently preferred) Anzac Hill East site.
    – Offers the Stuart Highway / Telegraph Terrace a spectacular visual profile
    – Removes a visual blight on the townscape in one of the most conspicuous of all Alice Springs frontages
    – Close to where a significant number of Aboriginal people live (Charles Creek Camp) – could provide linkage through a treed / shaded open space across Charles Creek
    – Places the Gallery right next to the CBD and on the Stuart Highway where it will have maximum tourist impact.
    – No disruption to existing sporting / entertainment activities and traditions.
    – Relocation costs for existing commercial operations
    Special considerations:
    – Sacred sites
    How can there be meaningful consultation without the sharing of much more information??

  17. South Australia plans to build the National Aboriginal Art Gallery. It might be a more sober thought without all the pre-election froth and bubbles to now acknowledge Araluen Art Centre. Worth way more than $50 million with its existing staff, collections and established culture it sits right under our upturned noses.


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