Mparntwe custodians: Lhere Artepe does not speak for us


As they grieve the loss of family members, Mparntwe custodians accuse the Northern Territory Government of showing them “utter disrespect”  with their latest move to advance the proposed national Aboriginal art gallery.

This undoubtedly references the formal notice that the government will move to compulsorily acquire Anzac Oval for its gallery project.

In a letter signed by apmereke artweye for Mparntwe Benedict Stevens (left, ABC photo) and Doris Stuart (below right), the custodians say they would support the gallery only if it is located south of the Gap.

This unanimous view was communicated to Tourism and Culture Minister Lauren Moss in June 2019 by a meeting of the custodians as a family group, with more than 30 attending, the first such meeting.

They say further that Lhere Artepe, the Native Title corporate body which has lent its support to the government, has no jurisdiction over the Anzac Oval precinct, where Native Title has been extinguished.

This is the full text of the letter released today:-

This is a sad time for us as we grieve the loss of our family members.

In an extremely sensitive time of hurt and sorrow, the Northern Territory Government have chosen to advance the conversation around the proposed National Aboriginal Art Gallery. The timing of the recent developments demonstrates the utter disrespect the NTG and Lhere Artepe have chosen to show Mparntwe custodians.

The Mparntwe custodian family group invited Minister Lauren Moss in good faith to a meeting in June 2019, in an attempt to start a more respectful discussion around the NAAG. This meeting was facilitated by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority in accordance with AAPA policies around custodian consultation. Over 30 family members attended.

At the conclusion of the meeting, a clear and unanimous decision was delivered to Minister Moss that we would support the National Aboriginal Art Gallery, on the very important condition that it is located South of the Gap.

Minister Moss acknowledged in the meeting that this decision was received loud and clear. This was the FIRST meeting that gave Mparntwe custodians as a family group an opportunity to speak directly with Government to discuss the gallery. No Minister or NTG representative has chosen to meet with Mparntwe custodians since the June 2019 meeting.

Lhere Artepe does not speak on behalf of Mparntwe custodians. Decision-making authority over Mparntwe rests with our apmereke artweye through birth rights written in their skin, not a body corporate operating under majority rules.

Lhere Artepe has no jurisdiction over the ANZAC Oval precinct, as Native Title has been extinguished.

Further, Lhere Artepe has chosen not to consult all of the affected Native Title Holders in relation to ILUA [Indigenous Land Use Agreement] negotiations in the Mparntwe estate. Extinguishment of Native Title rights cannot be made without all affected Mparntwe Native Title Holders’ consent.

We have been forced by the NTG and Lhere Artepe in our sensitive time of sorrow to address these issues, as well as reiterate that the Mparntwe custodians DO NOT consent to the NAAG being built on the ANZAC Oval precinct.

Our position has not wavered since our letter to the Alice Springs Town Council in January 2019, or our meeting with Minister Moss in June 2019.

Mparntwe custodians made multiple requests after the June meeting to work with the NTG in good faith on designing a more direct and respectful consultation process, and the NTG chose to circumvent those requests.

We now respectfully ask that we are left to grieve the loss of our family members.

 On behalf of Mparntwe custodians,

Benedict Stevens [and] Doris Stuart

Apmereke artweye 

Date: 23/05/2020

UPDATE 25May 2010, 4.05pm:

The Alice Springs News asked Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture, Lauren Moss, to comment on the following points raised in the Mparntwe custodians letter:-

• that  the government’s latest move on the national Aboriginal art gallery shows the custodians “utter disrespect” at a time when they are grieving deaths in their family.


• that no Minister or NTG representative has chosen to meet with Mparntwe custodians since the June 2019 meeting conveyed the unanimous view that they would support the gallery only if it were located south of the Gap .

• that custodians have made multiple requests since the June meeting to work with the NTG in good faith on designing a more direct and respectful consultation process, and the NTG chose to circumvent those requests.


• that Lhere Artepe does not speak on behalf of Mparntwe custodians.


• that Lhere Artepe has no jurisdiction over the ANZAC Oval precinct, as Native Title has been extinguished.


Minister Moss replied via a spokesperson as follows:-


We acknowledge that some Traditional Custodians have expressed opposition to the building of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery at the Anzac Precinct.


We respect their views. 


The Northern Territory Government has been in ongoing conversations with Traditional Custodians.


We have consistently said that there is not a consensus opinion amongst Aboriginal people just as there is not amongst other sectors of the population.


We are not going to be drawn into commenting about individual custodians. [ED– We did not ask for comment on individual custodians.]


We know that enormous pressure can be and has been put on people who have made public statements over the past couple of years. 


We have always been aware that there are custodians who, for very deep reasons, oppose any development north of the Gap. 


We have also heard concern from some about building at the Desert Park or south of the Gap. 


Clearly no site will get consensus.


However, we have also received many expressions of support for the use of the Anzac Oval site from those who are looking for something that not only gives their children and grandchildren skills and jobs, but can give this and future generations something right in the centre of Alice Springs that they can be proud of. 


We have received Sacred Sites Clearance for the Anzac site. 


This informs us all of the sacred sites that must be cared for – and can be better cared for than in the current situation. 


But there are more conversations to be had.


Having one owner for the whole precinct means that we will be able to conduct conversations and negotiations quietly, respectfully and privately.   




  1. Native title has been extinguished over the Anzac Precinct so the opinion of the Mparntwe custodian family group is no more relevant than that of any other residents.
    The precinct is the property of the Town Council and the NT Government is entitled to acquire it.

  2. I simply do not accept that one group’s grief is any different or more important than mine?
    Most of us still have to continue on, run our businesses, look after our children, send our children to school, go to work – even when we have lost loved ones.
    I for one am more than sick of “sorry business” being the reason for some to completely ignore or disregard their other responsibilities. As a white person I am not allowed this luxury – so why are you?
    I am also sick to death of the bickering about this art gallery.
    Again, one very small part of the community does NOT have the right to hold everyone else to ransom.
    Alice Springs needs to have varied ongoing business development in the region, so we can run our businesses, pay our taxes and in turn so we can continue to provide the ongoing handouts to so many unproductive members of the community.
    Stop biting the hand that feeds you!

  3. If the NT government wants to do something with Anzac oval fine, but not an Aboriginal art gallery there, no way.
    Discussion about an Aboriginal art gallery have been going for 10 years.
    There will always be disagreements between Lhere Artepe and TOs.
    Preserving what is left of older Aboriginal art, language and photos should be put in the culturally safe environment of Desert Knowledge precinct.
    The art gallery needs to be put there so it will be supported by many Aboriginal people. Everyone will never agree, some will say there should be no art gallery at all because they don’t want tourists looking at private stuff.
    Everything can be preserved in a respectful way for future generations and at the same time be a classy art gallery to attract tourists but for it to work it needs to be put in Desert Knowledge precinct.

  4. @ Perrule: We already have the Strehlow Centre for secret sacred Aboriginal cultural material.
    That is where the private stuff should go.
    The gallery will showcase world-class Aboriginal art, almost all of which is commercial and not considered culturally sensitive.
    Aboriginal art is a massive industry that sustains incomes for hundreds of Aboriginal people and is a major tourist drawcard.
    Aboriginal artists will support the gallery wherever it is located and be proud if their art is on display.
    Remember that the free houses and other benefits that Aboriginal people get have to be paid for and it is the responsibility of all Territorians to support business.
    Time to stop the bickering and get on with building the gallery.

  5. We Aboriginals respect our dead (sorry business). All I see with you people and the two ministers it’s all about money. Let’s build at the Desert Knowledge. The cultural centre and art gallery together.

  6. To WP and others who keep saying “let’s stop the bickering and get on with building the gallery,” I totally agree!
    So to move forward let’s get the NT government to listen to the recommendation of their steering committee and the wishes of the people of Alice Springs and build the gallery at Desert Park, not at Anzac oval!

  7. Every place I have been as a tourist I have used taxis and busses, why is Alice Springs different?
    The art gallery will be a place of great art, most Aboriginal artists paint their stories, that is why Aboriginal art will always be cultural, each Aboriginal artwork usually has unique traits to where the artist came from.
    The art gallery will make money and employ local people, it can be a place that brings people together for all sorts of things like exhibition openings and conferences etc.
    The art gallery needs to be put in Desert Knowledge precinct for it to work, it’s the right proper place. Always was and still is.
    Everyone needs to stop talking and start organising, when the right decision is made and people start planning to put the art gallery in Desert Knowledge precinct things will fall into place nicely because that is the right place for it.

  8. @ Jack, @ WB: Aren’t you both missing the point here?
    If we were talking about a generic structure maybe you might be right.But a national ABORIGINAL art gallery?
    Surely it has to have the support of the traditional owners to have any credibility?
    What is it about NT governments?
    The CLP used to divide and rule and bribe selected Aboriginal people and groups to further their political ends.
    Now Labor seems to be pulling the same tricks, find a group and persuade them to support the party line, irrespective of their standing in traditional culture.
    For example, I call on Alex Nelson to remind us of the story behind the Aboriginal housing between the Ilpeye Ilpeye town camp and Undoolya Rd.
    I forget the details but I’m sure there was shenanigans involved.
    And as I have asked before, who has the authority to put “national” next to “Aboriginal” in the name of this gallery?
    Not the NT government, that’s for sure.

  9. @ Alex Hope (Posted May 25, 2020 at 3:44 pm): I’ve provided a small reminder of previous shenanigans in my recent comment piece.
    The NT Government is simply digging itself into an ever deeper hole; the problem it now has is that it precipitately and unnecessarily spent over $2m of taxpayers’ money to demolish a perfectly good public asset – the former Anzac Hill High School.
    The NTG has committed itself to a course of action on this site that it can’t simply abandon, having already gone as far as it has with the expense and actions already taken.
    If the Gunner Labor Government was to abandon the Anzac Oval Precinct now, it then faces huge criticism for all the damage it has now caused and for no justification at all.
    Whatever criticisms might be directed at the old CLP regime (two decades plus ago), I think it was never on such a scale of bungling incompetence to what we’re now witnessing with the current hapless Labor Government on the home stretch to the imminent polls.
    No wonder they’re putting all their hopes in Darwin.

  10. I am saddened by the lack of legal and cultural awareness by some of your correspondents.
    @ Jack: Native title is a whitefella legal construct. It does not in any way diminish sacred site or traditional attachment to country.
    @ WB: The proposal is for an Aboriginal Art Gallery. Aboriginal Art has contributed millions to the Alice community. The Aboriginal Gallery would do likewise. Don’t you think they are entitled to say where it should go?
    @ Perrule: Private stuff doesn’t come into it. The Desert Knowledge precinct is the location that no Aboriginal people disagree with as far as I can determine. It is strongly supported by the most relevant custodians.
    @ Peter: Again, Don’t you think they are entitled to say where it should go?
    @ Arunta Man: Spot on.

  11. @ Charlie Carter: You are saddened by the lack of legal and cultural awareness by some of your correspondents including myself.
    Have you missed something else here, a missing ingredient?
    When you look at the backflips and finally the big push to have the gallery at the Desert Knowledge Precinct (DKP) you may suspect another motivation.
    Many of the people who are against the Anzac location and pushing for the DKP have a vested interest in the DKP.
    This debate is not just about legal and cultural awareness.
    It is also driven by self interest.
    But is the self interest also in the interests of our town?

  12. The chairman, the CEO and the spokesman for Lhere Artepe have made a decision that needed good leadership from this very disappointing organisation representing TOs of the Arrente.
    Based on the three men’s decision that they have made it highlights to all that the three of them are still on L plates when it comes to understanding and following Aboriginal cultural protocols.

  13. @ Charlie Carter: You are saddened by the lack of legal and cultural awareness by some of correspondents including myself.
    This debate is not just about legal and cultural awareness.
    It is also driven by self interest.
    Many Aboriginal interests are now lining up behind the Desert Knowledge Precinct (DKP).
    In 2018-19 the DKP received grants to the tune of about $3.3m.
    Employees and consultants got about $1.6m.
    Rent from leasing space in the precinct is the primary non taxpayer funded income.
    The precinct is rather deserted these days and the rental income was just $169,000
    These figures tell a familiar story.
    The NT Government is broke and the Feds will also be cutting back on grants.
    The DKP and its many mostly Aboriginal employees and consultants would be desperate to get more non grant funding, ie from rent.
    The gallery would solve all their financial problems.
    Do the desperate finances of the DKP help to explain the cultural inappropriateness of the Anzac location?

  14. @ Jack (Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:19 am): Change the scale of your figures (upwards, on a massive scale), widen the scope of your scenario, and you’ve got a perfect description of the Northern Territory for the entire period of “responsible” self-government.

  15. Had no idea the DKP was such a millstone around the necks of Territorians.
    The minister makes a good point about the advantages of having sole ownership to the Anzac Oval.
    Imagine how messy things could get at the DKP.


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