Above: People in the council public gallery. Doris Kngwarraye Stuart, centre, in the white cardigan. Below: Division called. People in the gallery stand too.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Cr Eli Melky’s motion, that council does not support Anzac Oval as the preferred location to build a national Aboriginal art gallery, has failed.
Mayor Damien Ryan, Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson, Councillors Jamie de Brenni, Glen Auricht and Jacinta Price opposed the motion.
It was supported by Crs Melky, his seconder Catherine Satour, Jimmy Cocking and Marli Banks.
There were angry shouts from the public gallery, in particular from Yvonne Driscoll who has been prominent in the campaign to save the oval.
“How disgusting!” she cried out. “58% said leave the oval alone!”
Many Aboriginal people had got to their feet during public question time, all opposing a change of use for the oval. Among them was Alison Furber. She had spoken on behalf of her sister Margaret Furber and then on her own account, saying that the gallery needs to be in a culturally appropriate place.
When the motion was defeated, as she left the chamber she angrily called out: “You are so disrespectful!”
Councillors opposing the motion did so for different reasons. Those put forward by Cr de Brenni would give the government cold comfort.
He said the government “cannot be trusted”, “they don’t consult”, “they divide and conquer”.
But council needed to stay in the room, he argued, and get everyone in there with them, with all options on the table, naming “Mr Furber and Mr Cole” – Harold Furber and Owen Cole both of whom had spoken strongly earlier in the meeting against the use of the Anzac precinct for the gallery project.
Councillors Price, Auricht and de Brenni voting.
Cr Price also wanted to remain in dialogue with the government but to “consider the other options […] available to us”.
“If we were totally for having it built at Anzac we would have already ticked that box,” she said.
Crs Auricht and Paterson were more positively in favour of the Anzac precinct for the gallery. Cr Auricht emphasised the government’s intention to retain the oval as open green space for the community and saw the potential for it being enhanced by the development.
Deputy Mayor Paterson claimed there have been discussions with traditional owners.
“Not all of us!” Doris Kngwarraye Stuart interjected from the floor.
He also referred to a traditional owner publicly supporting the government’s project. This is presumably Benedict Kngwarraye Stevens, who has been announced as a member of the gallery’s national reference group.
DM Paterson argued that the gallery could be a great step towards reconciliation.
This was greeted with derisive laughter, as there were many senior Arrernte people in the room, who had spoken decisively against the project.
Mayor Ryan had earlier advanced a similar argument, that the gallery built on the old Anzac high school site would send a great message to young people involved in antisocial behaviour, make them feel wanted, and build connections in the community.
“You are not our saviour!” interjected Mr Furber as Mrs Stuart came to the microphone.
She gave an impassioned address about what it means to her to belong to this country: “It owns me, I have a job to do, my job is to make sure we don’t have an art gallery, ever.” She meant, as she has previously stated in the council chamber, not ever on Mparntwe, north of the Gap. She is not opposed to the site for a cultural centre, in the Desert Knowledge Precinct, the subject of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement signed in 2006, as pointed out to the meeting by Harold Furber.
“Where is the respect due to people who belong here?” asked Mrs Stuart.
She reiterated her belonging to the land: “That gives me the right to say no, to having something plonked down on top of it.”
The spectre of Mrs Stuart and her family standing outside an eventual gallery with placards opposing its existence, is something that the government and councillors may want to consider.
People are standing as seats are running out in the public gallery as the Town Council will tonight vote on a motion crucial to the future of the Aboriginal art gallery: Will the council’s Anzac Oval be ceded to the NT Government?
KIERAN FINNANE will bring you updates during the evening. Stand by.