A recent trip to the Adelaide Festival sparked a number of stories around the confusing issue of Indigenous cultural centers across Australia. That’s one of the benefits of cultural gatherings like the Festival – there should be more of them across this vast, often uncommunicative nation.
Of course, the first port of call in Adelaide was Tarrkarri – once known as the Center for Aboriginal Arts and Cultures. “Tarrkarri – Center of First Nations Cultures” means “the future” in the local Kaurna language. But, of all the many plans announced for institutions in the First Nations field, this is in fact the only one that exists “in the present”. The money is there, the site is there, the design is largely there and Lend Lease begins construction on the former site of the Royal Hospital at Lot 14 on the North City Terrace.
The astonishing collection of artifacts built up over 150 years by the SA Museum and a director of conservation is also joined to begin thinking about displaying them in the person of the Kaurna woman, Lee-Ann Buckskin. What is not there is a board of directors. Which is odd because it looks like it will be South African government bureaucrats appointing an administrative director soon this year. It will be in aboriginal nomination. It seems that a Board of Directors cannot precede the creation by law of a statutory body for the Centre.
Similarly, an indigenous agency is being sought for brand development. The Tarrkarri name has, so far, limited recognition.
And it all comes as SA faces a state election, which may well throw out the man who has been such an enthusiastic promoter of Tarrkarri – Liberal Prime Minister Steven Marshall. It’s Saturday. The consensus is that it’s too late to lose Tarrkarri if the ALP is returned – although they originally hung their hats on a contemporary art museum rather than an Indigenous institution, and they had great support from the Art Gallery of SA of course.
Meanwhile, even more federal money – $315 million – is being invested in ‘Ngurra: The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Precinct’. I wrote about this in January, but First Nations voices in Adelaide – who may, of course, have a hometown bias – suggest that this total transformation of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and TSI (AIATSIS) has some flaws in its logic. Its joint rationale is that it provides a national resting place to house and care for repatriated ancestral remains of uncertain origin and any associated cultural material on their return journeys to their own country; and a cultural and knowledge hub where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people tell their own stories and celebrate this nation’s 65,000-year history.
But would Aboriginal people really want to visit a building where repatriated ancestral remains share the space? And AIATSIS to date has primarily been a place where First Nations people have come to research their stories. So what exactly will be the appeal to the general public of the magnificent collection of documents, photographs and films of AIATSIS. It doesn’t quite compare to the 30,000 artifacts and works of art dating back to 1859 that the SA Museum donates to Tarrkarri. And AIATSIS Director Craig Ritchie would certainly know that since he is part of the Tarrkarri Aboriginal Reference Group.
And then there are small moves in Mparntwe, NT, where a National Aboriginal Art Gallery has been promised for at least 5 years. Last year, there was the courageous appointment of a director for the planned institution in the person of Tracy Puklowski. A design competition was also announced for a museum which, at this stage, did not have a site. Well, it looks like Alice Springs Town Council has finally given in to its resistance to handing over Anzac Hill, which has always been the site staunchly chosen by the NT Government – despite continued opposition from the appropriate Traditional Owners for this part of town. And the Darwin government would also have realized that it also had to make concessions. An Indigenous co-director will join Puklowski at the helm.
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Adelaide Festival, AIATSIS, Craig Ritchie, Jeremy Eccles, Lee-Ann Buckskin, National Gallery of Aboriginal Art, Ngurra, Steven Marshall, Tarrkarri, Tracy Puklowski,