By ERWIN CHLANDA
Updated, 11.42 am 16 December, 2018.
It is almost impossible to be certain about the Aboriginal balance of power in a town of three major native title moieties in perpetual conflict, but one thing is clear: Benedict Stevens is out there making his point.
As the front man for Parrtjima (a show costing the taxpayer $2m plus a year for a week’s free-of-charge entertainment), Mr Stevens is now making a case for the NT Government’s hotly challenged Anzac Oval precinct for the proposed $50m (at least) “national” Aboriginal art gallery.
No longer making his case behind closed doors, today he fronted local media at the Totem Theatre (picture above, by EDAN BAXTER), next-door to the Anzac Oval, which plays a major role in the project smitten by unending controversy.
He chose to conduct the “doorstop” in his Arrernte language, with Ken Lechleitner doing the interpreting, which we are quoting here.
“We all need to come together to do this,” says Mr Stevens.
To a media question about the demands from prominent Aboriginal people that the gallery should be south of The Gap, he said: “That area down south is unsafe. It would be culturally very problematic.
“When there is [ceremonial] business it will be unfolding south of The Gap whereas the middle of the town is understood to be for everyone.
“There would be a lot of pressure from men from surrounding communities. When ceremonies are taking place here the area needs to be clear.
“We don’t want to block that area. We want to keep it open for other men to come through.”
To have the gallery in the middle of town “would make it safe not only for Arrernte men but also for women and children,” says Mr Stevens.
He is open to having discussions.
“Family know where I live, people can come and see me and can talk to me at my place.”
Asked about the World War II army history of the oval, Mr Stevens said: “I am still thinking about it. We will work it out. It is in the forefront of our thinking. We have not forgotten it. We are taking into our consideration all the people in the past.”
Asked about objections, by people like Doris Stuart, to the government’s preferred site in the Anzac precinct Mr Stevens said: “We are welcoming all other people to come and talk. We are not hunting anyone away from this conversation. We need to come together to talk as one.
“There is a lot of support for this location from surrounding family members, other tribal groups surrounding Alice Springs.
“They say to me: You are the right person to say this stuff, so we support you.
“And then we can talk amongst ourselves and sort it out. People will see that we are talking together, with everyone.
“The government and the council should get together and talk.”
Mr Stevens said he had a meeting with the Town Council this week (not open to the public; 32 “Arrernte elders” were reported to have attended by the Centralian Advocate, 14 December).
“When we talk together people will listen, to all of us, working together.”
He said children will have a lot to gain from the gallery knowing “these are the things our old people have left for us. They will say, we left our cultural stuff behind for our children, I can’t take it with me, I may die tomorrow. This is a good chance for this galley to do that, to leave our cultural stuff behind for them.
“It will uplift the Aboriginal people, like walking on air.
“We will be part of the economy, people will get on top, be involved in the economy, like people selling art in Todd Mall.
“It will elevate them as well, make us all part of the economy, not beggars.
“This is for all people, for our white people as well as our black people, we all have an interest in this town.”