Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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HomeIssue 25Stuart statue should have King Charley as opposite

Stuart statue should have King Charley as opposite


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


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UPDATE 12.20pm


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.





  1. “Wouldn’t it be great to see a statue of Kite or Irrapmwe in dialogue with Spencer or Gillen?”
    Terrific idea, would love to see it!

  2. Great idea. Go ahead and get another couple of statues made and placed there, plenty of room.
    They would complement Stuart and each other with relevant tourist signs and information.
    It would give a real lift to the historic precinct area, the Flying Doctor, Women’s museum and the reptile display.
    The defaced signs on the information stand there could also be renewed and updated, telling the complete story of the area. I look forward to seeing it completed.

  3. A great idea, statues of our great ancestors representing our people.
    Joel, while in the process of getting backing to build these wonderful statues let’s look at your grandfather Charles Perkins who fought for the rights of all Aboriginal people Australia wide.
    Being a cultural man bred and born at the Bungalow Telegraph Station, maybe all these so called Aboriginal Corporations should come together and organise to pay for and build a statue at the old Bungalow.
    This man, if not for him, these black corporations would not exist.
    Let all black Australians show that we appreciate what this man did for the future of all our children and grandchildren.

  4. Great idea. It should be South of the town at the welcome rock and a part of a brand new tourism precinct based around the cultural /art center at or near Yirara with the student involvement, and a brand new up to speed visitors center at the Transport Hall of Fame as has happened at Winton and elsewhere.
    The “Big” feature should also recognise the contribution made by the Afghan cameleers, making it a three way thing. We need to recognise the past but not live in it to the neglect of what lies ahead.
    I note that buried under the sand in coastal Victoria, appears to be the wreck of an ancient Chinese vessel.
    Perhaps we had a near miss well before the arrival of the Europeans and even be grateful for small mercies.

  5. Yes, I like this idea of adding the additional statues in recognition. Let’s do it. Any of the suggested sites would be suitable.

  6. This is a very well measured article that makes valid comment.
    Some prominent Aboriginal people who come to mind for consideration to be acknowledged with a statue are Albert Namatjira, Charlie Perkins, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, John Moriarty.
    A group statue of children from The Bungalow with Topsy Smith would also be a worthy consideration.
    I am not so in favour of a statue even, in a group, of Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer given that he was the person who recommended in 1911 to the Commonwealth Government that Aboriginal children be forcibly removed from their families.


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