Aboriginal businessman OWEN COLE vigorously attacked Chief Minister Michael Gunner and Central Australian front bencher Chansey Paech over their choice of the Anzac precinct as the site for the proposed Aboriginal art centre.
In a talk to the Rotary Club of Alice Springs on December 8 Mr Cole, who had been working closely with his life-time friend and respected Arrernte leader, Harold Furber who sadly passed away this month, said the only location that should be considered is the Desert Knowledge Precinct south of The Gap.
Sites north of The Gap, at either the Desert Park or Anzac Hill are not in line with custodians’ wishes, Mr Cole said:-
The government’s preference is Anzac Oval to prop up businesses in the northern Todd Street Mall which should not determine the location.
South of The Gap – preferably the Desert Knowledge Precinct – should be the location, for commercial as well as cultural reasons, as this historically was where other tribal groups gathered before being welcomed by Arrernte leaders into Mbantua.
This principle determined the location of the 2001 Yeperenye Federation Festival, managed by CAAMA, on Blatherskite Part, south of The Gap.
The cultural festival attracted 30,000 people and 1500 performers from outside Alice Springs. 300 school children created a giant caterpillar, illuminated by candles carried inside transparent sections, representing the bodies of the caterpillars, some hundreds of metres long. They told the story of the Yeperenye Caterpillar.
That was the start of the connection in the public’s eye between Aboriginal traditions and where and how cultural stories should be performed.
When the NT Government became involved they decided as “the experts” to split art and culture centre, leaving the latter with the people who organised the Yeperenye cultural festival and taking care themselves of the art gallery centre.
The NTG had no right to pinch the art gallery component nor had the expertise to set up and manage the gallery.
The next shock was when the NTG decided Anzac Oval should be the location for the art gallery which was in direct conflict with the government’s own expert panel which favoured Desert Park. The expert panel resigned and criticised the NT Government for the Anzac Oval decision.
The push by Mbantua custodians and the majority of Alice Springs residents who opposed Anzac Oval for the gallery became stronger. Arts Minister Lauren Moss formally acknowledged custodians call for the gallery to be located south of The Gap but was shunted sideways.
Front bencher Dale Wakefield lost her Braitling seat over escalating anti-social problems combined with her being the main driver of the compulsory acquisition of Anzac Oval.
Mr Owen said Minister Chansey Paech initially informed him he would take over the project and relocate the gallery on the Desert Knowledge precinct as it faced too much community and custodian opposition.
But the party apparatus lead by Chief Minister Gunner came down on him and Chansey instead championed the acquisition of Anzac Oval for the national gallery.
We alongside the custodians opposed Anzac Oval from day one.
Despite being very ill, Harold dragged himself all over the country to promote the site south of The Gap. Speaking to hundreds of people even as his health deteriorated, including climbing the side of Anzac Hill so national media could take photos in support of oppositional stories that had now become national.
Politicians and bureaucrats have no part in making cultural decisions. This is a lesson we learned overseas including in Albuquerque at the Puebla Cultural Centre and elsewhere.
Demolishing the Anzac Oval infrastructure and the historic high school are financially irresponsible acts. Moving the oval and building a new stadium at great cost (estimated $30m) at the base of the ranges opposite Francis Street would bathe these homes in more reflected light and amplified noise compared to Albrecht Oval.
Ignoring cultural protocols and realities cannot be justified. It is a cruel policy.
Chansey Paech, an Arrernte person himself, “should know better,” and we will continue to put pressure on him.
The NT Government is obliged to list to Aboriginal decisions. The Native Title Act requires that custodians must be listened to.
Lhere Artepe, which supports the Government, is required to seek custodians’ consent but has not obtained it.
Instead it is opposing custodians by doing underhanded deals with the NT Government which should be investigated by the independent Commission Against Corruption, ICAC. We will push for an ICAC investigation.
There may also be a case for the United Nations to become involved as the government’s dealings contravene the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights.
Mr Cole said he has no time for Mr Gunner who is driving the Anzac Oval agenda: “He is acting against the foundation principles of Labor.”
Last updated 7 January 2022