Gap closing: Sisyphus had the same problem



The Closing the Gap initiative, implemented in 2021, targets Indigenous disadvantage with regards to the birthweight of babies, general health, housing, pre-school enrolments, school readiness, out-of-home care, incarceration, suicides amongst them.

The design and delivery of policies, programs and services hope to achieve greater efficacy through genuine collaboration between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Straight people. But the expression had circulated for years.

Ntaripe / Heavitree Gap, southern gateway to Alice Springs is the setting.

When the Closing the Gap expression first circulated an old Arrernte gent expressed his concerns: “What for they do that? How blackfella gonna get in and outta town?”

Before settlement passage through Ntaripe had been restricted to initiated men. According to Arrernte confidants, subsequent violation of this protocol had caused several nearby fatalities.

Given the mixed results of hitherto gap closing gestures (eg. Rudd’s Apology, Sorry Books, Reconciliation Walks, The Intervention, the Uluru Statement and impending referendum for a Voice to Parliament), the old man’s words sparked an idea.

Like Sisyphus straining against the odds and with the likely prospect of having to repeat his effort over and over, Lachie Purvis pits his strength against the boulder on Todd River’s hot dry sands.


  1. Rod, as you know, I have used your Sisyphus painting (with your permission) in my attempt at a book. It hits many nails on the head. Closing the Gap to my mind is a well intentioned but flawed ethnocentric construct of mainstream society.
    In regard to the Voice the same scare tactics are used as for Native Title when we were told that Indigenous Australians would take over our backyards.
    So let’s look at the 1967 referendum. The vast majority of Australians recognised the existence of Aborigines and no longer subscribed to the dying pillow trope. They are here to stay, are a part of us and a quarter of a million people walked across the bridge in support of the new mutual respect.
    But the 1967 referendum also gave the Federal government the power to pull the in hindsight bipartisan Intervention on the NT. That mean spirited political stunt has yet to run its course.
    So what can we expect from the Voice referendum? It won’t force the government to listen. History tells us they rarely listen. What a resounding YES vote would tell the authorities is that listening might be a good idea. Better than what we have now.
    It would also tell the world that we are better than we are seen as. I hope we are.

  2. “Come, listen to us, we will tell you our culture. Learn from us. That way we can all survive. We share this country. We need to work together and learn from each other.”
    This is the VOICE of Katleen Kemarre Wallace, Eastern Arrernte Elder.
    Kathleen also tell us: “I hope you listen deeply and let the stories in. They … are for all time, for the old days, to help remember the old people, but also or the future and for young people now.”


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