Planning an Aboriginal art centre without Aboriginal people


p2049 Bungalow Furber & survivors 660

ABOVE: Harold Furber at the end of Bungalow Song, the highlight of the 2013 Mbantua Festival,  staged at the Telegraph Station, with people who had lived in there, in the Bungalow, as taken away children. BELOW: Doris Stuart.

2589 Doris Stuart OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Prominent Arrernte elders Doris Stuart and Harold Furber may have modified the salvo of criticism they unleashed upon the Town Councillors last night, if they had known that a few minutes later, the elected members would vote unanimously to reject the NT Government’s “preferred” choice of the Anzac precinct for the National Indigenous Art Gallery.
But probably that modification would have been minor.
Much of the caning Mrs Stuart and Mr Furber dished out was for the absurd failure to listen to Aboriginal people in the planning of an Aboriginal iconic facility. They made it clear that the council was no less guilty than the government.
In any case, Ministers Dale Wakefield and Lauren Moss now have a textbook for meaningful consultation with local Aborigines – should they decide to embark on it.
This is what Mrs Stuart said in question time of the council’s meeting of committees:-
I am one of those who have been here for a very, very long time. My family have always been here. They go way, way, back.
And that’s why I am very strong on sacred sites issues. That’s my role. It’s been handed down.
I don’t sit on boards that make decisions on sites.
My job is to stand up when I see sites being damaged, or used for purposes other than showing respect for them, and I will not, not lie down when [they are at risk].
Most of these sites are very important to us who belong here.
[Most have passed on. I am the only one left in the original family] which always spoke up for sites.
We’ve been in and out of courts when damage has been done, even though we have a body that is supposed to be representing us as custodians for this area.
Unfortunately they turned their back on me because it’s too hard for them.
This town is not meant for all Aboriginal people to come in.
They couldn’t just walk in and take over like they have now, with the help of governments and everybody else.
They had to wait until permission was given to allow them to come in.
Now they come and burn trees, because they don’t belong to them.
You be very careful when you walk around here. It is too important [her father told her about Anzac Hill].
And now you want to bring in other people’s stories?
If you put other stories on top of what’s already there, that’s when you’re asking for trouble, and it will happen in a way that you people won’t understand.
[There are open spaces] south of The Gap where it can go, out of my jurisdiction. I don’t care.
[The government came to Mrs Stuart and asked, is it OK to use the mountain range for the Parrtjima projections.]
Mount Gillen and the range along there, that’s very important to us. They put lights up there, disrespected the whole fabric that we grew up with.
I have a job to do. It’s unpaid for, it’s 24/7 for the rest of my life.
[When the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority] used to consult with the proper custodians of this country we all sat down as a family group and spoke.
We wouldn’t make a decision unless all the family members were there.
Now it’s just pick this one off and that one off, and here you go, here is your money, and away you go. Tick that box.
That’s not how it is meant to be. So when they say that one person can give permission to have that art gallery up there – that doesn’t work.
It has to be the proper right people not just anyone with a black face. It has to be the right person. And they have all that there.
[Mrs Stuart was involved in the Federal Courts hearing the successful native title claim over Alice Springs.]
I am the last woman left alive now who still speaks for that country, regardless of whether it’s under native title or not. I still have that right. It’s not just a show of hands, majority rules. Doesn’t work.
My name is there [in a group preparing for the gallery] unbeknown to me, so permission could be given. I wasn’t a part of any of that. I didn’t sign off on anything like that.
Mr Furber said it was the Gap Cottages population that grew this town:-
Now we’re being ignored.
We adequately stated our case [about the gallery] over, and over and over again.
Why am I standing here again, why is my grandmother [Mrs Stuart] standing here again, telling you, in English, the legal consequences of what you are talking about?
These are Western legal concepts. Please respect your own laws because they respect ours, in a way. I went through it all with you, so please respect them.
There has been no adequate permission given, in my view, by Aboriginal groups for the use of Anzac Oval for this art gallery.
My name has been bandied about like someone has spoken to us.
You can speak to me as long as you want. Did I give you permission? No. No-one asked me.
No-one has actually asked me my opinion about an Aboriginal art gallery at Anzac Oval.
I am the chair of the National Indigenous Cultural Centre’s steering committee. We’ve been working on that for 15 years. Yet no-one has asked me.
I am also the chair of the Desert Peoples Centre [the Desert Knowledge precinct south of The Gap].
We have a place and a process to build this very thing we’re talking about here.
We provided the opportunity for this town to build it. Together. We did it together.
We gave you the information. Why are you sitting around here discussing it? I don’t know. We busted our guts for 15 years to provide for you, and this town, adequate places and sites to build a national art gallery and a national Indigenous cultural centre. We’ve done all that. Please listen.
What I find most disgusting about all that’s going on here is that the lady who spoke before you, in any other place of the world, she would be on a pedestal.
A first nation woman or a white one, doesn’t matter. She went through a serious court case, the first of its kind in Australia, to adequately prove that native title exists in an urban area of Australia.
And now she is the only one left of that group. She should be on a pedestal.
Instead she is being put down, down, down. Worn down. Ignored by this group, and [you are ignoring] by implication, me and our families, by ignoring her.
I have told you before. What part of English do you people not understand?
You are ignoring, in my view, the entire Aboriginal community. That’s what you are doing … instead of working together, for this community, and Australia.
We are talking about the jewels of Australia coming to Alice, to be looked after here by, presumably, Aboriginal people.
You can’t. We have to do it. It’s our life and obligation. Our country.
We are Aboriginal. We do it on behalf of the Aboriginal people of Australia and overseas. That’s our role, our international role.
This council has serious responsibilities to do, and I suggest it gets around to doing them.
The way things are going there will be no national Indigenous art gallery in Alice Springs. That’s the way it is.


  1. What everybody seems to be avoiding here is that Doris Stuart has made a serious allegation of being misrepresented as a part of the “group preparing for the gallery” without her knowledge or approval.
    She also raises serious questions about the operation of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.
    Many years ago, when working as the storeman for Woolworths Alice Springs, I was confronted with an allegation of theft of a consignment of seafood (about $2000 worth, as I recall).
    The docket acknowledging receipt of the consignment was signed in my name – except the signature wasn’t mine.
    Whoever was responsible for the theft didn’t even bother to attempt to mimic my actual signature but the store management equally couldn’t be bothered to check that fact, too.
    I never heard another word about it despite the fact an inhouse crime had been committed.
    So I have some understanding of what Doris Stuart is complaining about, and I would consider that she is a victim of an act of corruption.
    This should be formally investigated, in my opinion.

  2. Fantastic article. Now the NT Government needs to listen to Doris and Harold. They deserve to be listened to.

  3. I have been waiting all year to hear what Doris Stuart had to say on the matter, as the senior member of the family that speaks for the site.
    Thank you to her and the Alice Springs News Online for the report.
    How shameful that it seems that neither the NT Government nor the advisory committee with an Aboriginal majority took the fundamental step of consulting with Ms Stuart.
    And if anyone doubts her goodwill towards the town, let us remember that as an act of practical reconciliation she facilitated the sacrifice of an Arrernte stone from a local sacred site, so that the one stolen from Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) and placed on Flynn’s memorial could be returned where it belonged.

  4. Sadly, Adelaide which is free of small town politics and has a much larger access to a bucket of money I suspect would have built this project while Alice and Darwin are still infighting.
    Very few people living in that city ever experience the same daily connection to Aboriginal culture that many in The Alice experience in a positive way.
    I suspect tokenistic consultation with Aboriginal Australia will occur re Adelaide project and Central Australian art will go on display at this new flash gallery.
    However this will happen with lminimised input from groups and cultures in the Alice region!
    Reality hits and amusing to watch.


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