Yet another twist in the lengthy saga of a National Aboriginal Art Gallery (NAAG) for Mparntwe/Alice Springs.

If you recall, the Territory’s Labor government in Darwin has been determined to site this important reflection of the area as a creative hub for Aboriginal art on the town’s ANZAC Oval, because it’s situated close to the CBD. A business cases has agreed. And the government is so concerned about the town’s declining economy that it’s prepared to compulsorily acquire the site, owned by Council. But the town council, the responsible Traditional Owners and the advisory committee originally established to consider the project all, for different reasons, disagreed.

Now the Northern Territory’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT), which was asked for its advice by the government, has concluded in a 47 page statement that there’s been inadequate consultation with those TOs. “Consultations by the Northern Territory Government have not, to date, been adequate. We do think it is very important that the people with the strongest connection to the land (wherever it is) that is to host the NAAG be given a significant voice in decisions affecting its conception, development and operation”.

And that’s 5 years after the NAAG was first mooted.

NTCAT President, Richard Bruxner commented that “even if the Mparntwe custodians remain opposed, further consultations will mean that the Minister’s final decision about the acquisition is made with a more complete understanding of their concerns”.

NTCAT heard that Doris Kngwarraye Stuart, a senior custodian or, as she prefers, apmereke-artweye for the site, who opposes the development, had not been consulted at the time. Now Ms Stuart said she welcomed the recommendation, but was not going to change her mind.  “To us who belong here, who are part of this place, we feel it,” she said. “I will continue to speak for these sacred sites and protect them”.

“You can’t scramble us all up as eggs”, Stuart offered a wonderful metaphor, “with everybody else’s paintings from everywhere else. If the gallery goes ahead, it would have to be south of Ntaripe (Heavitree Gap) out of Mparntwe territory, which is my job to protect”.

Reflecting on the politics of ‘scrambling’ up Arrente paintings with others, novelist Claire G Coleman, commentating on the recent Desert Mob weekend in Mparntwe noted: “Politics has always been embedded in classical renditions of Country, that show connection to Country, traditional ownership of land. They are political as long as settler colonialism is attempting to erase our connection to our homelands and culture, as long as stolen land has not been returned”.

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