Aboriginal-led 'from the bottom up': cultural centre


p2539 NICC Cole & Furber 400
“We think if there’s a flaw in what’s taken place with the art gallery it’s that consultation didn’t take place to the level that it should have taken place. You need to get people on side.
“We’re going to do it the right way, as far as we’re concerned – the way that people who’ve got grey hair like us have seen successful projects being formulated, not from the top, but coming from the bottom up.”
Left: Owen Cole, left, and Harold Furber addressing the Town Council last Monday. 
So said Owen Cole speaking to the Town Council last Monday night in an update on the National Indigenous Cultural Centre.
As previously reported here, the cultural centre, based in Alice Springs, will tell the stories of Australia’s Indigenous peoples, from the deep past to the present.
When discussions about such a centre began, many years ago, the concept was for a combined art and culture centre, said Harold Furber: “The Territory Government split it.”
They also promised $20m for it, accepting its independent development by Mr Cole and Mr Furber’s group, the Nganampa Development Corporation, separate from $50m for the art gallery as a government-controlled project.
“Controlled” is perhaps the wrong word, as the government lurches from one misstep to the next in its plans – plans that are without any Aboriginal person or group at the helm.
In front of the council, Mr Cole and Mr Furber reasserted the fundamental requirement of the cultural centre being Indigenous led:
“If it’s going to have credibility, if it’s going to have impact, it’s got to be led by Indigenous people.”
The steering committee, which Mr Furber chairs, already has representation from a number of Indigenous groups around the country, with more to come as the project advances.
Although it will be a national centre, operating on a hub and spoke model with rotating participation by different cultural groups, “Arrernte people will be the cornerstone”, said Mr Cole.
He said they have already consulted with a few Arrernte cultural groups about having a “welcome in traditional style” for visitors arriving at the centre.
This will be in an appropriate setting, symbolic of the traditional entrance to town, Ntaripe (Heavitree Gap), outside of which visitors had to wait before being invited in.

Doing the groundwork for national Indigenous buy-in, they invited representatives of 40 cultural organisations to come to Alice Springs last December.
They expressed unanimous support for the concept, said Mr Cole, and for the location of the centre in the  “spiritual, cultural heart” of Australia.
Right: State-of-the-art technologies will be used to tell Indigenous stories, like this “dome lab” in National Museum of Australia’s Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters exhibition. Artists experiencing the dome are Pantjiti Lewis, Rene Kulitja, and Alison Carroll. Photo by  George Serras, NMA.
Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni asked the men about “any overlap” from mooted projects in South Australia.
Mr Furber is unfazed by the prospect: an Adelaide gallery might be “bigger and brighter” but it couldn’t compete in authenticity.
“You can’t tell the Aboriginal story in a capital city. I think most people understand that.
“We’ve got the location, location, location.
“There used to be the joke, we’re the nearest to every beach in Australia. I tell people we’re the nearest to every blackfella in Australia. I can say that, but people get it.”
The men hold out a vision inspired by what they’ve seen in Indigenous and bi-cultural centres in other countries – “the best in the world”.
Visitors will be able to meet Indigenous people and experience Indigenous culture through exciting exhibits using state-of-the-art technologies – holograms, lasers, domes to tell the Dreamtime stories – developed by Indigenous creative talents from around Australia, including many from Alice Springs, trained through CAAMA.
“We want Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to walk out of that centre uplifted, feeling positive. We’re hoping that this is starting to fill the void in the Australian identity which to date really has been excluding the Indigenous part of the story,” said Mr Cole.
The next step is to undertake further national consultation, travelling to other centres, which they have asked the NT Government to fund. The government is considering their proposal.
Councillor Eli Melky asked the men what the Town Council could do. A formal letter of support will be forth-coming.
Mr Furber and Mr Cole did not discuss a particular site for the cultural centre, but their group made clear through Margaret Furber-Ross in a previous public session in the council chamber, that their centre, as well as the gallery, must be south of the Gap.
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  1. Nganampa Development Corporation and the Arrente people will be the cornerstone.Thats already a great start.

  2. A National Indigenous Cultural Centre is arguably so much more important, nationally, locally, and indigenously(?), than another art gallery. I imagine it would include an important and pertinent section on the birth and development of the Central Australian art movement. This last point alone would obviate the need for a National Indigenous Art Gallery, especially given that all major cities and most of the smaller ones already have their own collection of Indigenous art.
    As an aside, do we really imagine that the cities, both large and small, will strip out their own collections to further a gallery in Alice Springs? Will the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory be sending its rare and priceless collection south to Alice? Of course they won’t.
    And for a National Indigenous Cultural Centre to be led and directed by local Indigenous voices, in consultation with other Indigenous voices from around Australia, is only right. Their culture, their land, their choice. Hopefully Gunner and Co will, this time, listen and learn.

  3. The obvious pace is adjacent to and in conjunction with the Yirrara College with the students involved in displaying their culture and what is happening in indigenous education, and experiencing the commercial realities as part of their education in a modern word.
    It should be a major part of a new commercial province in the area involving a new visitors centre like Katherine near the welcome rock where the caravans can park instead of clogging up the CBD, the Transport Hall of fame, a display of bush food technology potential associated with the Cultural Centre, solar and water technology at Desert Knowledge, a display of sustainable housing as at Akinos in WA, and a mining centre of excellence as at Townsville, next to the Natural Resources building at ASRI, and there are many other attractions possible in that area, including student eco walks as part of outdoor education.
    The current CBD is a thing of the historical past, and should be left to the historians.
    One visitor asked me recently “where are all the verandas?” We all need to move on.
    It has escaped the notice of planners and Government that in the area of Brewer we have the intersection of three major roads N/S, E/W, and soon N/W to S/E.
    Then add rail and an internationally rated airport and we have something absolutely unique but never recognised as the future of the town, and the true inland capital of the country.

  4. Nganampa Development Corporation? Sorry Owen and Harold. Wrong language on the wrong country.


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