How to sell bad news as though it was all tickety boo! This is how the ‘Tarrkarri Update’ from the SA Government announced unhappy developments at its promised Centre for First Nations Cultures:
“For the first time in South Australia’s history, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Strategy for South Australia is setting the direction and focussing action through the implementation of its principles of honouring, leading, listening, learning, and connecting. The Government of South Australia has announced the next steps to bring this vision (of Tarrkarri) to life; with a review to examine how best to deliver the centre as a place of international significance, to celebrate all forms of First Nations cultural life”.

On the other hand, carping journalists reporting the same decision as: “Work on the $200 million Aboriginal art and cultures centre at Adelaide’s Lot Fourteen has halted and the state government has appointed an “eminent” panel to review the project after a $50 million cost blowout”.

In fact, SA’s newish Labor Premier, Peter Malinauskas took the opportunity of a speech at the opening of the Australia Council’s Purrumpa conference in Adelaide to announce that he had suspended work on ‘Tarrkarri’ (meaning “the future” in Kaurna) describing the current plans as “sub-standard”.

Malinauskas has appointed a panel including former Liberal Indigenous Australians Minister, Ken Wyatt, former ALP NSW Premier, Bob Carr and former investment banker Carolyn Hewson to urgently review the $200 million project, with their findings due to be handed down next March.

Have any of them got any experience in assessing major building developments? Bob Carr’s appointment might well surprise those who recall that he was the State Premier who gave birth to the increasingly over-developed Barangaroo precinct in Sydney, supposedly to save it from commercial developers! Nowadays he’s an unabashed supporter of Packer’s Pecker, the Crown Casino building, while one of the original Barangaroo planners has summed up the overall result today as “a completely commercialised view of city-making. There’s no cultural dimension at all except for the so-called Cutaway, which is a compromise between a car park and a fake headland”.

Carolyn Hewson is, at least on the board of Infrastructure SA, an organisation tasked by the former Labor government with developing a 20 year infrastructure strategy for the state. She’s also a BHP director. Yamatji and Noongar man, Ken Wyatt worked in Aboriginal Health and Education in WA before entering the Federal Parliament as the first elected Indigenous MP in 2010. He progressed to the Cabinet, but failed to progress the Voice.

Their appointment to a review that will cost $200,000 comes after the project’s architects, Woods Bagot told the Government that building Tarrkarri restricted by a $200 million budget would require a “significant reduction in scope”, meaning the building would only be of a “local state-level standard”.

“I’m not interested in going down a political path where we seek to denounce the former government’s plans”, insisted Malinauskas, “but we do know that there was a curtailment of what was originally proposed because of budgetary considerations. I think the former government had the right idea about building an arts and cultural centre at Lot Fourteen – that’s a vision that we support,” he said.

The building – for which site work began last December – would span 12,500 square metres over three levels, which would make it bigger than the SA Museum and Art Gallery combined, therefore one of Australia’s largest cultural institutions. “We want to build an institution that people get on a plane to come and see,” the Premier concluded.

Meanwhile, a much more economical art gallery (not a cultural institution) has progressed in Darwin. Not to be confused with the under-funded National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs/Mparntwe, the NT Government has awarded an $88 million contract to the local Sitzler Pty Ltd to construct the Northern Territory Art Gallery and plan and design all remaining elements of the precinct for the revitalisation of Darwin’s Civic and State Square precinct.

The Northern Territory Art Gallery will move art out of the current Museum & Art Gallery of the NT (home to the Telstra NATSIAAs) and be located adjacent to the so-called Central Heart, “a shaded, flexible and active centrally located space with cafes and room for events and festivals”.

Previously known as the State Square Art Gallery, the NTAG will have a dual English and Aboriginal name when opened. Consultation will take place with local Larrakia Aboriginal groups and other stakeholders to identify suggestions and build support for an Aboriginal name for the gallery.