EXCLUSIVE by ERWIN CHLANDA
Two of the town’s most senior traditional owners, Felicity Hayes and Peter “Coco” Wallace, have joined the heated debate about the location for the proposed national Aboriginal art gallery.
They say it should be on land traditionally owned by the Ellis and Ross families (Penangkes and Pengartes of the caterpillar dreaming), from Amoonguna.
Under Australian law the block is owned freehold by local business identity Ron Sterry who last week invited the two elders to inspect it. He says he would consider a sale but would first need to get a valuation.
It is about a square kilometre between the southern flank of the Heavitree Range east of The Gap, and Ragonesi Road. The block was mooted as the location for the gallery in July 2018 when the Alice Springs News sought wide-ranging comment on its suitability for the gallery project.
The site would appear to answer the demand from many senior Arrernte people that the gallery be built south of the Gap, while it would also satisfy the requirement for the gallery to be in “an iconic location” – offering a much stronger experience of Country that is at the heart of Aboriginal culture than the Anzac site does.
The NT Government continues to insist on the Anzac location without clearing the air on Aboriginal opposition (apart from Lhere Artepe’s letter of support). This situation prompted the Alice Springs News to make a direct approach to Ms Hayes and Mr Wallace (pictured at top).
They say: “The Ellis and Ross families are the people who can speak about this country. That land is important because of the caterpillar dreaming, as well as the green beetle lore.
“The beetles cut off the heads of the Yeperenye caterpillar, creating the gaps in the region, including Emily Gap and Jessie Gap.
“That’s where the caterpillar went under the ground.
“The Anzac precinct is a women’s sacred site and its use for the gallery would be a violation. It would cause harm. People will get sick. You can hear women crying. That’s why you never go on other people’s country.”
Ms Hayes is the apmereke-artweye for the area west of the Todd south of the range, including Pine Gap, and both sides of the Todd north of the range.
Mr Wallace is the kwertengerkle (caretaker) for Ms Hayes.
They now want to show that land to Lhere Artepe, the native title organisation which currently is supporting the government’s plans to build in the Anzac Hill precinct. The government has set aside $50m for the project.
The issue is likely to be a major agenda item for the Lhere Artepe AGM understood to be held on February 27.
Mr Sterry’s land would fulfil the major requirement by many Aboriginal people, namely that the gallery site should be south of The Gap.
In addition the land is much bigger than the one proposed now, potentially providing room also for the National Aboriginal Cultural Centre, for which $20m has been set aside; it would save a further $20m needed to acquire and relocate the rugby oval. It is closer to the tourist accommodation precinct than Anzac Hill. And it has room for a string of tourism facilities such as hotels.
Above all the site, featuring several hills, has superb views to the East and West MacDonnells, and the seemingly endless expanse to the south.
Main photo: Behind Ms Hayes and Mr Wallace is the spectacular view to the East MacDonnells. Above is the view to the west.
UPDATED at 5.40pm on February 18. Additional information, paragraphs 3 to 5.