By KIERAN FINNANE
“We think if there’s a flaw in what’s taken place with the art gallery it’s that consultation didn’t take place to the level that it should have taken place. You need to get people on side.
“We’re going to do it the right way, as far as we’re concerned – the way that people who’ve got grey hair like us have seen successful projects being formulated, not from the top, but coming from the bottom up.”
Left: Owen Cole, left, and Harold Furber addressing the Town Council last Monday.
So said Owen Cole speaking to the Town Council last Monday night in an update on the National Indigenous Cultural Centre.
As previously reported here, the cultural centre, based in Alice Springs, will tell the stories of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, from the deep past to the present.
When discussions about such a centre began, many years ago, the concept was for a combined art and culture centre, said Harold Furber: “The Territory Government split it.”
They also promised $20m for it, accepting its independent development by Mr Cole and Mr Furber’s group, the Nganampa Development Corporation, separate from $50m for the art gallery as a government-controlled project.
“Controlled” is perhaps the wrong word, as the government lurches from one misstep to the next in its plans – plans that are without any Aboriginal person or group at the helm.
In front of the council, Mr Cole and Mr Furber reasserted the fundamental requirement of the cultural centre being Indigenous led:
“If it’s going to have credibility, if it’s going to have impact, it’s got to be led by Indigenous people.”
The steering committee, which Mr Furber chairs, already has representation from a number of Indigenous groups around the country, with more to come as the project advances.
Although it will be a national centre, operating on a hub and spoke model with rotating participation by different cultural groups, “Arrernte people will be the cornerstone”, said Mr Cole.
He said they have already consulted with a few Arrernte cultural groups about having a “welcome in traditional style” for visitors arriving at the centre.
This will be in an appropriate setting, symbolic of the traditional entrance to town, Ntaripe (Heavitree Gap), outside of which visitors had to wait before being invited in.
Doing the groundwork for national Indigenous buy-in, they invited representatives of 40 cultural organisations to come to Alice Springs last December.
They expressed unanimous support for the concept, said Mr Cole, and for the location of the centre in the “spiritual, cultural heart” of Australia.
Right: State-of-the-art technologies will be used to tell Indigenous stories, like this “dome lab” in National Museum of Australia’s Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters exhibition. Artists experiencing the dome are Pantjiti Lewis, Rene Kulitja, and Alison Carroll. Photo by George Serras, NMA.
Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni asked the men about “any overlap” from mooted projects in South Australia.
Mr Furber is unfazed by the prospect: an Adelaide gallery might be “bigger and brighter” but it couldn’t compete in authenticity.
“You can’t tell the Aboriginal story in a capital city. I think most people understand that.
“We’ve got the location, location, location.
“There used to be the joke, we’re the nearest to every beach in Australia. I tell people we’re the nearest to every blackfella in Australia. I can say that, but people get it.”
The men hold out a vision inspired by what they’ve seen in Indigenous and bi-cultural centres in other countries – “the best in the world”.
Visitors will be able to meet Indigenous people and experience Indigenous culture through exciting exhibits using state-of-the-art technologies – holograms, lasers, domes to tell the Dreamtime stories – developed by Indigenous creative talents from around Australia, including many from Alice Springs, trained through CAAMA.
“We want Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to walk out of that centre uplifted, feeling positive. We’re hoping that this is starting to fill the void in the Australian identity which to date really has been excluding the Indigenous part of the story,” said Mr Cole.
The next step is to undertake further national consultation, travelling to other centres, which they have asked the NT Government to fund. The government is considering their proposal.
Councillor Eli Melky asked the men what the Town Council could do. A formal letter of support will be forth-coming.
Mr Furber and Mr Cole did not discuss a particular site for the cultural centre, but their group made clear through Margaret Furber-Ross in a previous public session in the council chamber, that their centre, as well as the gallery, must be south of the Gap.
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