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HomeIssue 7Why aren’t people listening to us? 

Why aren’t people listening to us? 

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Above: Part of the crowd gathered in the chamber last night.

Last updated 1.03pm, 26 September 2018.

The mood in the packed council chamber on Monday night was overwhelmingly against any change of use for Anzac Oval. It was also strongly supportive of the many Aboriginal speakers who asked for respect to be shown to them in consideration of the site for an institution celebrating Aboriginal culture. The culturally appropriate site is south of the Gap, specifically at the Desert Knowledge Australia precinct.

The issues were covered in summary in my report last night on the defeat of Cr Eli Melky’s motion. The following provides, in the interest of a better informed community debate, a more comprehensive record of the questions and comments that came from the floor during public question time, at the start of the meeting.

Yvonne Driscoll was applauded as she walked to the microphone, in acknowledgement of her persistent campaigning to save Anzac Oval from the government’s proposed development.

She noted that council had not answered her public questions a fortnight ago and expected answers now.

Was council going to listen to the poll and “support us in what we want”? she asked, referring to the 58% of respondents against a change of use for the oval.

p2566 ASTC Driscoll 430And could council help in letting the NT Government know “we are serious – we do not want Anzac Oval to be used as a site for gallery.”

Left: Yvonne Driscoll going to the microphone. Crs Satour, Cocking, Paterson at right. 

Veronica Hagan followed, wanting to know why the Mayor’s motion moved a fortnight ago had not mentioned the words Anzac Oval.

Mayor Damien Ryan answered: The motion was very clear, they supported the gallery and called on the NT Government to work with them in an implementation working group.

Ms Hagan couldn’t agree: It was “unclear” and the whole process had been “very confusing”. The Mayor’s reply had clarified that Anzac Oval was still on the table, so what figures are being used to decide council’s position?

Ruth Furber asked why the council wasn’t listening to native title holders when they asked not to have a gallery on Anzac Oval, but instead had asked specifically for it to go out at the Desert Knowledge precinct.

Mayor Ryan said the council’s only question was around the use of Anzac Oval, “we have no control over the location otherwise”.

Ms Furber continued: It was [originally] an Aboriginal initiative, it’s called an Aboriginal art gallery, why is it being taken away from Aboriginal people?

Alison Furber read out a message from her “big sister”, Margaret Furber, that she and her families support the establishment of a gallery and cultural centre but they do not want it to happen at Anzac Oval, which needs to remain a community facility for all the community to access and enjoy.

Margaret Furber had told Dale Wakefield [MLA for Braitling], who asked to have a discussion with her over a cup of coffee, that the oval is an “unsuitable location for such an institution”.

Alison Furber works in in tourism and with art. She said the “protocols of this town” require that the gallery be in a culturally appropriate place.

“Art is our culture, we should have a part in the decision-making where this gallery should go,” she said, talking as an Arrernte woman and grandmother.

Her comments were greeted with cheers and clapping.

Barbara Satour-Liddle introduced herself as a traditional owner of Alice Springs, “fully against” the gallery being on Anzac Oval, not for cultural as much as for heritage reasons: “We used it as our playground as kids.”

Why is council considering the gallery proposal, demolishing the schools and rugby grounds rather than maintaining the oval for the whole of the community to use? she asked.

Mayor Ryan said there is no discussion about building the gallery on Anzac Oval.

“Don’t you believe that!” interjected someone from the floor amid other murmurs of dissent.

[The government to date has said that the oval will provide the project’s green space and carpark, with the existing carpark on Wills Terrace converted to green space; the building will be confined to the former high school site; the Totem Theatre, the seniors’ centre and the youth centre will all be retained.]


Sylvia Neale  is a local Arrernte woman, born and raised in Alice. Anzac Oval has been part of her life: “So many things have been destroyed, you who have been here and grew up with us know how many things have been destroyed.” This was directed at Mayor Ryan, also a born and raised local man.

Whether or not the gallery is built on the oval, Ms Neale continued, the oval will be “greatly affected” by having it there.

She recalled significant events that have taken place on the oval – the Queen’s visit in 1953, when all the schools got together to form an enormous crown, a historical event; the old Bangtail Musters.

“Yes, yes!” people chimed in from the floor.

“That’s right!”

“The community was a community then, people were so involved,” said Ms Neale. “These sort of things [the gallery debate] are slowly cutting down the connection between the people and those who hold official power.”

Specifically she asked, why council wouldn’t consider heritage listing the whole of the high school and Anzac Oval, why demolish a community facility with high heritage value?

Mayor Ryan said that would be part of council’s later discussion.

Ms Neale was applauded.

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Above: Mayor Damien Ryan, white shirt, CEO Rex Mooney on his right. 

Sandra MacLean was born and bred in Alice Springs, a member of the Cole family. She doesn’t live here anymore but visits and stays in touch. She had hoped to bring her father to the meeting but at 93 years old he wasn’t quite up to it. He asked her to speak for him.

“We grew up watching our dad play football on that oval,” she said, before asking the councillors who were born and bred in Alice their views of the issue. She went to school with Mayor Ryan, she knew Cr Catherine Satour, she understood Cr Jacinta Price had grown up in town, Cr Jamie de Brenni too.

Mayor Ryan said he is “very supportive” of the high school site as the location of the gallery, and went on to make his comments, reported last night, about the positive message the gallery could give to young people.

Cr Marli Banks said she wanted to make clear that no decision had been made by council, [support for the Anzac precinct] was the Mayor’s “personal opinion”.

Cr de Brenni said Anzac had never been his preferred site “from day one” but he believed if it were taken “completely off the table … we won’t get the gallery”.

“My dad played footy with your family,” he said to Ms MacLean. The oval “means a lot to me”, but he also noted that the rugby codes are “telling us they want to move”.

Cr Satour was seconding Cr Melky’s motion to take the oval off the table.  She thanked everyone for coming to the meeting and expressing their many connections to the oval.

Cr Price said she understood the significance of having gallery in town, it was “long overdue” as Central Australia was where the Indigenous art movement started.

She said she would like to see other options on the table: “It is important for rest of community to understand what can be available to us.”

She also wanted to see the evidence for proposed sites for the gallery in relation to them being economically viable, contributing to [other benefits in] the community; and she wanted to see the community as part of the decision-making.

She expressed her preference for a CBD location for a project “of this significance”.


Doris Kngwarraye Stuart was waiting patiently at the microphone, having decided to speak when Mayor Ryan contributed his thoughts on the gallery as the answer to the antisocial behaviour of young people.

Some of her comments were reported earlier. Mrs Stuart does not like the term traditional owner, implying that she “owns” the land. On the contrary, the land “owns” her. She is apmerke artweye for Mparntwe; an approximate translation is custodian. It is a job she has inherited from her father’s fathers’ side. In that job she is not alone but she is senior. Before the meeting other mature Aboriginal women explained it this way: they had been made brief comments about the Anzac precinct being culturally inappropriate for a gallery; I asked them if they could say more and they told me to go speak to Mrs Stuart who had just arrived; she is “the big boss lady”.

She asked council to consider why she would agree to have someone else’s art work on her traditional ground.

“Other tribes have their specific areas where they belong,” she continued. “We have boundaries here but no one respects them.”

People come in, “burn our trees”, “even put stupid lights on our hills” [referring to the Parrtjima Festival in Light].

“Where is the respect due to the people who belong here?

“I can connect with other people but I don’t go to their country …

“You want to put other stories that don’t belong here … people got killed for that … You couldn’t come through that gap [Ntaripe / Heavitree Gap].”

She said she had “no other purpose in life but to look after this place” and she would not be “selling out cheaply”.

She was warmly applauded as she returned to her chair (pictured below).

p2566 ASTC Doris Stuart 660

The next contribution came from Simon Cheers. He had “seen river flow six times”, couldn’t speak to the “myriad cultural issues” but wanted to know, given that “we keep hearing about boom in CBD” if a gallery is built there,  had council undertaken a cost benefit analysis, or at least seen a business case for the proposal.

Demolishing a perfectly good venue for rugby, having a new one built on a conservation area, are these fiscally responsible decisions? he asked.

Council hasn’t done a cost-benefit analysis as it is “not a council project”, said Mayor Ryan.

Owen Cole, prominent business man, closely involved with the National Indigenous Cultural Centre (NICC)project, introduced himself as “a newcomer”: he came here when he was three months old. He doesn’t claim to be an Arrernte person, but council should be listening to what are Arrente people are saying about the project.

Could councillors remember the Yeperenye Festival? he asked. It attracted 1500 Indigenous performers from all over Australia; 30,000 people attended.

It was held at Blatherskite Park, not on the oval or at Traeger Park, because “that’s the culturally appropriate place”.

The cultural centre was always seen as incorporating a gallery; it was the NT Government who “in its wisdom” split the project in two. It was also always intended to be put out at the Desert Knowledge precinct, south of the Gap, because that’s where the traditional owners “want us to put it”.

“Cut the crap,” he urged. He had never seen “such a stuff up”. Instead of uniting, it had completely divided the community. And if a gallery eventually does go there at the Anzac site, he knows who will be “getting blamed for it – Aboriginal people”.

Harold Furber, Arrernte man with “family connected right through here” and the chair of the  NICC steering committee, reiterated what Mr Cole and his family members had said.

The “rest of world seems to understand” Indigenous rights but not here apparently: “Terra nullius is dead, white Australia is finished.”

Aboriginal people had established the Desert People’s Centre and the Desert Knowledge precinct through the Gap “for precisely what we are talking about”, he said. The precinct was deliberately located opposite Yirara College so that the kids there could “feel part of a bigger plan”.

He had a copy of the long-term Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA ) negotiated for the site and signed off in 2006, by a “whole heap” of people on behalf of Lhere Artepe, “when it was functioning”, and others on behalf of the NT, Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA), and the Central Land Council.

The document is full of “Western legal terminology, which you need to understand and respect”, he said. It spelled out that DKA would consult with Lhere Artepe over design of a cultural centre within the precinct, “which would include obviously art”.

There were cheers and claps.

He spoke of visiting MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, “a cold trip”, 20 minutes on a ferry up the Derwent River. “It’s out there, not in the CBD, and it has transformed the economy of southern Tasmania”, if not the whole state.

He spoke of his visits to Indigenous cultural centres overseas, funded by Aboriginal organisations, to see how other Indigenous people ave developed their institutions.

“Why aren’t people listening to us?  Why aren’t we being simply respected for the work we’ve done?”

Mayor Ryan asked him if the DK precinct was the only site he would support.

“That is the place people came up with,” said Mr Furber. “That is the place. You can ignore us if you want. You will not get this thing built. You’ve ignored us right through.”

Arrernte man Mick Liddle spoke of Anzac Oval’s long history over 70 years. He couldn’t see how people had come up with the idea of “destroying the whole lot”. He went to school at Anzac Hill High in 1966: “There was no colour bar then, everyone was friends. Even now, I’ve still got white friends who are like brothers to me.”

On this note Alex Nelson came forward, to ask whether all members of council had received information about his nomination of Anzac Oval for heritage listing.

For the oval and the high school? Mayor Ryan asked.

The oval, as a courtesy, it being council property, replied Mr Nelson. He would be sending the school’s nomination today.

The Mayor then thanked everyone for the discussion: it had been “very helpful for all members”.

As reported last night, he went on to join four of his colleagues to vote down Cr Melky’s motion.

In my many years of covering Town Council and other community meetings, there have never been as many Aboriginal people participating in the discussion. Their strong representations last night are a measure of the depth of local Aboriginal opposition to the NT Government’s proposals, for which the government is nonetheless claiming Aboriginal support. Something is not right.


  1. I attended the public rally held on the lawn outside the Civic Centre but initially wasn’t going to stay for the council meeting. I changed my mind and am glad I did, for a good deal of what I heard last night was a revelation to me.
    My position on this issue is obvious but it was most reassuring to hear the strong opinions voiced by many people who made it clear and unequivocal that the NT Government – and whoever it is that has persuaded the government – has got this issue well and truly wrong.
    This is the third attempt in four decades to repurpose the use of Anzac Oval as a “village green” cum open space, and relocate rugby to another oval.
    Both previous attempts were made by the Alice Springs Town Council.
    In 1979-81, rugby league was going to be moved to the new Head Street (Rhonda Diano) Oval; and in 1994-96 there was a protracted struggle between the town council and the Eastside Residents Association (of which I was a member) over relocating rugby league to Ross Park Oval.
    On both occasions there was overwhelming public opposition to the town council’s plans, and the council lost.
    Now it’s the turn of the NT Government attempting the same arrogant approach – well, all that the government has succeeded in doing is to stir up the hornets’ nest once more.
    History convincingly shows how this struggle will end.

  2. Sounds to me like Anzac Oval has been a bone of contention for many years.
    The limited size of the park has restricted the growth potential of rugby all because of a few residents who clearly just don’t want anything to change for no other reason then they don’t want it to change.
    About time for a change, I think.
    Anzac Oval is not a public space.
    It has a large fence around it and I can’t access it when I want. Only when there is an event on and only if I pay the entry fee.

  3. Something is not right.
    CM Gunner is acting Trumpian, and Mayor Ryan is playing footsie with us.
    Council asked a specific question and received a specific answer.
    Whichever way the Mayor and the four Counsellors spin it, Monday night was a breach of trust.

  4. @ Kevin (Posted September 25, 2018 at 9:58 pm): It was the local rugby league that fought to stay at Anzac Oval in 1979-81 – in fact, it even attracted the support of national sports publication Rugby League Week which came in swinging against the Alice Springs Town Council.
    The local ALP also fought to keep rugby league at Anzac Oval, especially John Reeves which enabled him to win a town council by-election and subsequently the federal election campaign as Member for the Northern Territory.
    In the mid 1990s, rugby league agreed to move to Ross Park Oval where rugby union was based, too. However, after the town council elections of 1996 when two sitting aldermen lost their seats over this issue, the decision was swiftly reversed by the new council and rugby union went to Anzac Oval.
    The Eastside Residents Association had strong support from local CLP members Richard Lim and Eric Poole. Lim organised a large public rally against the town council; and Poole, the Minister for Central Australian Affairs, declared that no funds from the NT Government would be made available to assist the town council’s plans.
    The ALP Opposition Leader, Brian Ede, also supported the Eastside Residents Association in its dispute with the town council.


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