A recent trip to the Adelaide Festival has thrown up a number of stories around the muddled issue of Indigenous Cultural Centres across Australia. That’s one of the advantages 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 Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre. ‘Tarrkarri – Centre for 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 actually the only one existing ‘in the present’. The money’s there, the site’s there, the design is mostly there and Lend Lease are beginning a build on the old Royal Hospital site at Lot 14 on the city’s North Terrace.

Also attached is the amazing collection of artefacts built up over 150 years by the SA Museum and a curatorial director to begin thinking about displaying them in the person of Kaurna woman, Lee-Ann Buckskin. What’s not there is a Board. Which is odd because it looks as though it’ll be SA Government bureaucrats appointing an administrative Director sometime soon this year. It’ll be in Indigenous appointment. It seems a Board can’t precede the law creation of a statutory body for the Centre.

Similarly, an Indigenous agency is being sought regarding brand development. The name Tarrkarri has, as yet, limited name recognition.

And all this is happening as SA undergoes a State election, which just might throw out the man who’s been such a keen promoter of Tarrkarri – Liberal Premier Steven Marshall. That’s on Saturday. Consensus is that it’s too late to lose Tarrkarri if the ALP is returned – though they hung their hats originally on a contemporary art museum rather than an Indigenous institution, and had great support from the Art Gallery of SA of course.

Let’s hope that the ALP can at least hang on to the vision that Marshall has so clearly evinced in a recent conversation at the SA Arts Industry Council: “What we’d like to do with Tarrkarri is to be able to not just to display the fantastic collections that we’ve got, but really to celebrate the stories exposed in a truthful way. I think we’ve got to go back to make it very clear that this is not going to be a place that papers over some of the atrocities which have occurred in the past. It will be a place which respectfully deals with the issues which have come from Australia since colonisation. But I think will also be a wonderful celebration of one of the oldest civilisations on earth. So I’m pretty excited about how that that can operate”.

Meanwhile, even more Federal money – $315m – 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 – which may, of course, have a home-town bias – are suggesting that this total transformation of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal & TSI Studies (AIATSIS) has a couple of flaws in its rationale. Its joint justification is that it offers A National Resting Place to house and care for repatriated ancestral remains of uncertain origin and any associated cultural material on their journeys back to their proper Countries; and A Culture and Knowledge Centre where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia tells its own stories and celebrates the 65,000-year history of this nation.

But would Indigenous 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 histories. So what exactly will be the appeal to the general public of AIATSIS’ magnificent collection of documents, photographs and films. It is not really comparable to the 30,000 artefacts and art dating back to 1859 that the SA Museum is handing over to Tarrkarri. And AIATSIS Director, Craig Ritchie would certainly know that as he’s on the Aboriginal Reference Group for Tarrkarri.

And then there are tiny movements in Mparntwe, NT, where a National Aboriginal Art Gallery has been promised for 5 years at least. Last year there was the brave appointment of a Director for the planned institution in the person of Tracy Puklowski. There was also a design competition announced for a museum that at that stage had no site. Well, it seems that the Alice Springs Town Council has finally buckled on its resistance to handing over Anzac Oval, which has always been the NT Government’s determinedly chosen site – despite continuing opposition by the proper Traditional Owners for that part of the town. And the Darwin Government has reportedly also realised that it needed to make some concession too. An Aboriginal co-Director will join Puklowski at the helm.

A 2025 opening???

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