Sir – Five years ago the Alice Springs Town Council erected a four meter high statue at left) of explorer John McDouall Stuart holding a rifle in one of the town’s parks most popular with Aboriginal people.
These ‘Hospital Lawns’ are opposite the Royal Flying Doctors Service where they hold mental heath week annually. Despite Stuart’s apparently bloodless record, the rifle pulls no punches as to the real history of the frontier wars across this country.
Stuart’s role was immortalised in the naming of the highway that crosses the continent from north to south, as well as a monument erected in his honour in 1939 and the official naming of this park as “Stuart Park”.
Back in 2015 many people were opposed to yet another celebration of this figure of colonial history. Now there is an even greater aversion to the constant claiming of time and space by white culture; as well as a desire for truth-telling and to commemorate the unsung Indigenous heroes of our nation.
Indigenous historian and Arrernte woman Pat Ansell Dodds has called for a statue of an Arrernte person to be erected in Alice Springs. Two such unsung Arrernte heroes that could be celebrated are Irrapmwe and Jim Kite.
Irrapmwe Peltharre (aka King Charley) was an Arrernte leader who worked with anthropologist Francis Gillen in the late nineteenth century. The two were clearly friends and worked well together.
For a long time the Melbourne museum exhibited a dramatised film dialogue between Spencer and Irrapmwe in which Irrapmwe chastises Spencer for not appreciating his status as a professor in his own culture, for writing derogatory things about Indigenous people and for displaying sacred objects in the museum.
According to Arrernte law, large parts of the Alice Springs area were created by caterpillar ancestors. It was Irrapmwe’s direct connection to these ancestors, combined with a distinguished ritual career, which gave him the influential role as a leader amongst his people.
Jim Kite Alyelkelhayek Penangke was a talented sculptor and illustrator and the first Indigenous Australian artist to have a solo exhibition of their artwork in 1913.
Born in the early 1860s, Kite grew up hearing stories of the arrival of the first white men and later carved an image of John McDouall Stuart’s party onto one of his boomerangs.
This scene, depicting two Arrernte men crouching behind a bush, cautiously watching the expedition party as it passes by, is now regarded as a rare record of an Indigenous recollection of first contact.
Kite’s country was occupied by the Charlotte Waters Telegraph Station in the early 1870s, and as such he came into contact with a steady stream of colonial explorers and scientists who visited on their way into Central Australia.
In 1901, he joined Walter Baldwin Spencer and Francis Gillen as they embarked on cross-continental expedition and performed a key role in interpreting and translating key Aboriginal concepts.
At Barrow Creek, for example, he made his own symbolic notes with pencil and paper to capture Kaytetye ancestral stories, thus contributing to wider knowledge about Aboriginal law and songlines.
Wouldn’t it be great to see a statue of Kite or Irrapmwe in dialogue with Spencer or Gillen?
Such a monument would mark moments of profound intellectual exchange, the sharing of spaces and the achievements of Aboriginal people in our shared histories, rather than celebrate the one-sided “triumphs” of colonial exploration and annexation.
Joel Liddle Perrurle, Jason Gibson and Myfany Turpin
Today’s Advertiser newspaper in Adelaide reports: Less than 24 hours after Adelaide City Council removed graffiti from Colonel William Light’s statue on Montefiore Hill in North Adelaide, tags were scrawled over the iconic memorial overnight, including “no pride in genocide” and “death to Australia”. Picture: Mike Burton.