Country Liberal Party: custodians ignored on gallery


Above, from left: CLP candidates Joshua Burgoyne, Damien Ryan and Bill Yan at the entrance to the Desert Park. Screen capture from a CLP Facebook video. 


Last updated 1.50pm

The Country Liberal Party’s announcement that it will build a national Aboriginal art gallery at the Desert Park might appease those townspeople who are opposed to losing Anzac Oval but it does not overcome the project’s most significant obstacle to date: obtaining the backing of local Aboriginal people.

The party’s reliance on the recommendation of the Desert Park by the original steering committee overlooks the careful wording of that recommendation, that it was “subject to the endorsement of and legal agreement with Arrernte/Aranda Apmereke artweye (Traditional Owners) and Kwertengerle (Traditional Managers)”.

At this point, we know that the NT Government has obtained a letter of endorsement for the Anzac Precinct location from the native title holder corporation, Lhere Artepe, signed by its CEO and Chairman. It is not clear what kind of process their endorsement was based on.

It is clear that it has been repudiated by a group of custodians, in a letter signed by apmereke artweye Benedict Stevens and Doris Stuart, who insist they will support the gallery only in a location south of the Gap. They say this was the unanimous view of Mparntwe custodians as a family group numbering more than 30 who met with Minister Lauren Moss in June 2019.

The Desert Park is not south of the Gap.

So the Country Liberal Party, in terms of endorsement, are in an even weaker position than the government.

Their media release on the subject makes no mention of having or seeking endorsement or agreement from Traditional Owners.

It speaks only of “Centralians” wanting certainty, and of Aboriginal artists for whom the gallery would be an opportunity.

It makes no mention of consultation.

Candidate for Araluen Damien Ryan (left) is quoted as saying:  “There was an expert panel put in place and yet again the Chief Minister and his government have chosen to ignore it despite this costing taxpayers’ money.”

In his position as Mayor, Mr Ryan also ignored that self-same expert panel, pushing for council to enter into an MOU with the NT Government’s Department of Tourism and Culture “to progress consideration of the Anzac Hill Precinct (including both the Anzac Hill High School site and Anzac Oval) as the preferred site for the National Aboriginal Art Gallery”.

He put this motion at the Town Council’s meeting of 30 April 2018, when the public gallery was full of locals vociferously opposing such an MOU, and custodians demanding to be heard as the people vitally concerned in matters of their cultural heritage.

The motion, seconded by Councillor Matt Paterson, was lost seven votes to two. (Mr Paterson is now Territory Alliance candidate for Namatjira and his party has announced it will make a decision about location of the gallery within the first 100 days of being in office.) 

I asked Mr Ryan if that previous position makes it difficult for him to criticise now.

He said “the landscape has changed a lot since then” and reiterates his point made in the release about the division the government’s process has caused in the town.

I also asked what he says now about consultation with custodians, given that condition of the  experts’ recommendation.

He said it is the CLP’s policy to work with the experts’ report, to “provide clear direction in policy”. Their “entire aim  is to take away uncertainty”.

Is it not impossible to consult when a decision has already been made? And therefore, what is his message to custodians?

“We are saying to the whole community what our policy is,” said Mr Ryan. “The clear message from the CLP is, we’ll build the national Aboriginal gallery and we will be guided by the expert panel who produced the report.”

The media release also quotes candidate for Braitling Joshua Burgoyne (right) in similar terms to Mr Ryan: “The Gunner Government has failed to listen to the experts by choosing ANZAC Oval as the site.”

I asked him if he had read the original steering committee’s report. Yes, he has. That was as far as our interview went. I had not attended the media conference called by the Country Liberal Party on Wednesday – that was the occasion to put questions, he contended.

Actually, a free press chooses when and if to put questions and what the questions are.

My next one would have been about his understanding of the condition the experts put on their recommendation and what communication he had had with custodians on the subject.

No comment from Mr Burgoyne.

Candidate for Namatjira Bill Yan, however, was willing to talk.

In the release he is not quoted on the experts’ recommendation. His emphasis rather is on the gallery’s opportunity: “We need the NAAG,” he is quoted as saying. “Art is an integral part of Aboriginal culture and for many Aboriginal Australians. It is an opportunity to showcase their talent and cultural heritage. I have been a long-time supporter of Aboriginal artists in Central Australia.”

To my question, he said he has not had a chance to read the original steering committee report “as yet”.

He said he has spoken to Aboriginal people who support having the gallery “out at Desert Park”, and who refer to that location as supported by the steering committee, which had “respected Aboriginal people” among its members.

Certainly there is “very little support” for the Anzac site, said Mr Yan (left).

He said “consultation is probably essential to the process” but “not everyone is going to agree”, as with anything you do. Resolution is also about having “the majority of the people” in agreement.

Is it possible to consult when a decision has already been made?

Discussions with “the various stakeholders and groups” around the announcement made yesterday will have to be had, said Mr Yan.

Given that it is an Aboriginal cultural project, who should be the decision-makers, where should the leadership be coming from?

“That’s a very good question,” he acknowledged. But the gallery is about representing contemporary Aboriginal art from all over Australia: “It belongs to many people, not just one group.”

Input should come from within the region, but also “far wider” than our region too.

The Country Liberal Party, however, have not had those discussions – “as yet”.

The co-chairs of the original steering committee, Hetti Perkins and Philip Watkins, in early 2018 as they called for the release of their full report, warned against the emphasis on location of the gallery. Achieving Indigenous leadership and control of the project (the “right governance model”) was far more important, they said, as was the process – “the manner in which we get there”.

The “buy-in” needed for the project had to come “first and foremost from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around the country”, and both warned that this would not be forth-coming if “fissures” were seen.

There is no sign of that warning having been heeded by any of the political parties competing at the next Territory election.


  1. Basically, whether from the Labor or Country Liberals, the debate about the National Aboriginal Art Gallery, is all about cultural appropriation of Aboriginal art to suit the ambitions of politicians, bureaucrats and the business sector.
    The entire process, subsequent to the steering committee report, has been (and continues to be) completely mishandled arse-about; surely it has to be resolved in the following manner:
    1. Do the traditional custodians and owners of this region want or support the concept of a “national” art gallery, either on its own or as part of a cultural centre?
    2. If they support this concept, where do they want it to be built?
    The answers to these two basic questions would provide the guidance on whether this project is approved or not in the first place, and then (if approved) where it can be built.
    It’s their art, their culture, so let’s allow the custodians and TOs to be the primary authority on this matter, and the rest of us to abide by their wishes accordingly.

  2. I could almost forgive Mayor Ryan for creating a conflict of interest over the gallery but only if the CLP had a clear solution to the location issue.
    But now I see they absolutely have not.
    The CLP’s Desert Park proposal must be approved by the traditional owners and traditional managers.
    Yan says input should also be “far wider” than our region. That is national input.
    So the CLP has set the bar very high.
    Mayor Ryan and the CLP have not come up with a solution to the gallery dispute at all.
    In my honest opinion his CLP support while Mayor has contributed to chaos in our town council.
    For no good purpose.

  3. @ Alex Nelson. It’s their art, their culture, so if the custodians and TOs stump up the $50m I agree they should be the primary authority on this matter.

  4. @ Jack (Posted May 29, 2020 at 2:11 pm): Whatever amount of money “we” decide to “stump up” gives us no right or authority to dictate terms to Indigenous people on how or where their art and culture may be displayed for others.
    What they decide might not cost as much as $50m; indeed, it’s the NT Government, not custodians and TOs, that “stumped up” that sum of money so it’s hypocritical to blame the latter.
    And, if custodians and TOs decide they don’t want to go down this path at all, then the money becomes a moot point, doesn’t it?

  5. A major argument from the TOs is that the gallery will bring in art and stories from elsewhere, hence it is not allowed through The Gap. But what about from the north?
    What about the people whose art will be brought here?

  6. I think with respect to the question of consultation with Aboriginal people there are some major considerations to be taken into account here that the media is just plainly ignoring or are ignorant about.
    Firstly, its extremely obvious that the local TOs are fractured, probably along family lines in the usual fashion.
    The fact that Lhere Artepe have signed off on it however suggests that under the waves of certain local TOs, detractors who want it south of The Gap, a majority of Arrernte seem to be sold on the idea, or are at least OK with it enough to not be up in arms about it, being put at ANZAC oval.
    It’s also no secret that certain local TO families might benefit more from it being south of The Gap for their own reasons. I hate to say it, but commercial settlements, and who gets what money or influence over the gallery, does come into the calculus here for some of those people. Consider that seriously.
    Secondly, with respect to the wider question, what about non Arrernte people? This is a national gallery after all and a lot of people from the surrounding regional communities up to Tennant, down to Port Augusta and across WA who come into Alice might have some different takes on it being at the Desert Park or south of The Gap. Especially considering many come into town to do their shopping, go to their appointments and to generally congregate and socialise anyway.
    Personally, I think it being in the centre of town is a good thing and I reckon a lotta community folks would agree.
    It’s easier for folks who have come in from community because the flow of traffic comes naturally into town anyway, for various things. And thinking from the whitefella perspective, it’s a lot better for local business owners who might benefit from the tourist foot traffic and the additional creation of jobs when we are otherwise losing them, never mind artists from community, who might have their artworks hanging in all the little galleries up and down the Mall.
    When a cashed up and briefly impressed tourist comes wandering out of the Gallery with pockets full of cash and a desire to take something special home with them, local businesses and artists have maybe the time it takes for them to walk the length of the mall to strike while the iron is hot and sell them a local artists work.
    Or at the very least, benefit from extra bums on seats in local resturants, cafes, bars or people visiting retail shops along the Mall.
    If the Gallery is on the edge of town, there is nothing there and likely it will be a single overpriced souvenir shop and the time it takes them to walk to their car and drive back into town for them to lose interest.
    Not likely to have a lot of local ladies just sitting on the grassy knoll like they do in the Mall selling their art directly to the buyer.
    Artists will probably be much more fiscally better off if its at ANZAC oval, let alone our really struggling business owners.
    And to be really blunt about it, just because some people in this town howl the loudest about the issue because they played footy there once upon a time at the oval back in the 80s or because they think its the only “green space” in town despite barely visiting it and most of them being grey haired folks in their 60s on the verge of retirement and therefore not considering the factors I mentioned above doesn’t mean that’s what is best for everyone else.
    This gallery will be here for another 50 years, long after those folks and their sentimentality about the oval are long dead.
    But younger people, who managed to get a job along the Todd Mall because it was kept alive by the extra foot traffic or community artists, who maybe get to put a couple hundred extra bucks in their pockets each week to support their struggling families because of the tourism dollars buying art from them directly off the grass or off the racks along the Todd in all those local galleries will also benefit.
    If we don’t want the project to end up another white elephant project at a burning cost to the town or the Territory like the Desert Park and the Desert Knowledge Centre south of The Gap already are, then we need be realistic about this.
    Never mind the fact that a $150m gallery won’t somehow have a “green space” at it. Hell, if anything it would be a much better one because it would have millions of dollars thrown at it and would act as a centrepiece for the gallery complex.
    Me thinks there’s a lotta detractors here who ain’t looking at the bigger picture here and who just don’t want blackfella’s congregating in the CBD, or have personal agendas for it being south of The Gap or their precious sentimental memories left alone at the cost of everyone else’s future.
    Time to get real, folks.

  7. Also, with respect to the CLP.
    It’s obvious given that Bill hasn’t even read the bloody report and Joshua Burgoyne’s refusal to answer questions around the report (which subtly suggests to me he’s afraid of having an in-depth conversation for “unstated” reasons) that someone in the CLP likely higher up the food chain has said: “The elections coming up, were taking the safe option and siding with the report” in an attempt to not get themselves in the muck?
    In the process of doing this however, they have pissed off half the people who don’t want it at ANZAC Oval because they wanted it south of The Gap, along with some of those TOs and a bunch of local businesses who are their own bloody voters and whom they will be throwing under the bus if they end up getting their way!
    Still, at least they had the CLP decency to take a stand on the issue and put their honest opinion forward.
    I had great hopes for Territory Alliance to do so but it looks like they are gonna just resort to political games and hope nobody notices their constant flip flopping on the issue when people around town put the question to them. What a waste.

  8. @2 Jack Nelson: Jack disagree entirely. In this capitalist society, he who pays, makes the rules.
    Like it or lump it.
    The money is never a moot point.

  9. @ Surprised! (Posted June 1, 2020 at 7:25 am): Too timid to use your own name, and too dumb to get another person’s name right. No credibility in your comment.

  10. It seems to seem that the Labor Party want to tell you what to do by compulsorily acquisition, a bit like China’s communist Party at the moment, very dictatorial. Not for me thanks.
    Territory Alliance: I was looking for Robyn Lambley’s view?
    Has anyone heard from her or the Territory Alliance on the Art Gallery Issue? In fact any issue other than the curfew which is off the boil with COVID-19 isolation happening.
    The CLP have issued a policy which at least gives us something to discuss without treating us like things as Mao Tse Tung did.
    I say run with the Desert Park, we are gong to need this project with unemployment and it may should stimulate the airport and give us better services when completed.
    Come on Robyn, what are Territory Alliances policy on the art gallery? I checked both Territory Alliance and Robyn’s web site, nothing. A bit Darwin focused for me.
    We need this art gallery, travelling just to Darwin is getting too expensive for most people.

  11. Thanks to Kieran for this article, and making the point that consultation has to happen before a decision is made, the analogous process after the event is called marketing.
    And thanks to Alex Nelson for pointing out the irony of white fellas having the respect for Aboriginal culture to think a national gallery is a good idea, while having no respect for the Aboriginal cultural processes involved in deciding where and what it should be.
    Is is such a surprise that there is no immediate consensus amongst the local Aboriginal community about the matter? The rest of us are struggling with it too!
    However a fundamental principle is that no Aboriginal person should speak on behalf of another’s country, notwithstanding that they may be a disagreement to be sorted out first about whose country it is.
    If the non-Aboriginal people try to subvert that process, they can expect to get it wrong!
    And lastly, on a point I have raised several times before, I still have not seen anyone come up with the name of the appropriate national Aboriginal body to give the “national” in the name of the proposed gallery any credibility.

  12. Jack, you hit the right tune mate.
    We, the true traditional owners have no say in this issue.
    The CEO of Lhere Artepe (LA) and the chairman have never called an AGM or a special general meeting all these years where all the estate groups could have a say on the matter.
    The chair of Ilpme, Fabian Conway, has never been notified when the LA Chair Shane Lindner, CEO Robert Campbell or Graeme Smith were nominated for these positions.
    This is about government representatives trying to win a seat and then forget us.
    In the Advocate Owen Cole and Harold Furber were meeting with government and others but no Aboriginal owners. The same crap: Leave them out of it.
    To stop all arguments let’s look at the Aboriginal land that these three people tried to sell, five lots, to the government.
    One suitable lot, 8102, and another with no lot number next door over the Eastside on the Undoolya Station Road would be ideal for BOTH galleries which should be kept together.
    Once Lhere Artepe sorts out its problems we should be running it with the help of an art director and TRUE Aboriginal cultural men and women on the board.
    All the Lhere Artepe shemozzel has been reported to the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations of the Australian Government, in charge of all Aboriginal corporations.
    It looks like it has washed its hands of what has been going on for the last four years.
    Divide and rule.

  13. @ Surprised: A moot point can be either an issue open for debate, or a matter of no practical value or importance because it’s hypothetical. Therefore it is not a mute point when you said: “He who pays, makes the rules. Like it or lump it.” Your comment is opened to debate
    • Who is “he”? In my opinion “he” is the people of this country paying taxes and a lot of Aborigines pay taxes.
    • This article is about “the custodians being ignored”.
    • It is their art their culture and yet all the discussions and debates are based on the “invaders” making money from something of which they have no knowledge and for which they have no respect.
    Let them decided what they want.

  14. @ Evelyn Roullet: What I said was that, the money is never a moot point. Moot point serves no practical value and or is hypothetical. Money does serve very practical values and is not hypothetical.
    Unsure what the exact percentage of Aboriginal people is in Australia. Say 5%, assuming they are working. So from a democratic and or financial perspective, the other people assuming they are also working are contributing 95%. Does that mean they should have 95% of the vote.
    This issue is about political point scoring and unfortunately the custodians are stuck in the middle of several factions with very differing agendas. Whilst I agree with your “Let them decided what they want” the reality is that if the custodians can’t make up their minds, a decision will be made for them.
    @ Alex Nelson: Whilst I do apologise sincerely for the typo (I was using a phone), there is a big difference between being timid and wanting ones anonymity. Anyone that doesn’t understand that in this town is naïve. But clearly I touched a nerve with you and that’s a good thing, because at least it made you think and clearly you have some literacy skills.


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