A tragedy looms in Adelaide as the current ALP State government appears to be pulling back on the well-developed plans of the previous Liberal government to build a nationally significant First Nations cultural institution in the city.

Once called the National Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre, it lost the National even though $85m in Federal funds were allocated to it. Excitingly, the SA Museum embraced the project, offering its largely unseen collection of Aboriginal cultural artefacts – the finest in Australia – holus bolus to the new body. It’s only 30,000 objects and art dating back to 1859! It was also carefully embraced by the local Kaurna people – who came up with a culturally appropriate site on the edge of the current Botanic Gardens and with the name ‘Tarrkarri – The Future’.

Significantly, Premier Malinauskas never uses that name, or even the original English language name in his statement today:
“In October last year, the State Government appointed three eminent Australians – the Hon Bob Carr, Ms Carolyn Hewson AO, and the Hon Ken Wyatt AM – to lead an urgent review of the Centre for First Nations Cultures planned for Adelaide’s Lot Fourteen, after receiving advice that the previous Marshall Government’s plans were already over budget (by $50m) and would fail to deliver a centre of international significance, as originally envisaged.

“The Government is of the firm view that if we proceed with the centre, we want to get it right and create something spectacular which delivers for our state for the long term, both culturally and economically.

“That’s why, the Government tasked the review panel with examining how best to deliver the centre as a place of international significance and standard, which holds a landmark position in Australian arts and cultural tourism, driving greater visitation and economic benefit, while also delivering value for money for taxpayers.

“The State Government has now received the review report and is carefully and actively considering its recommendations”.

Not mentioned there is the Premier’s hypothesis (we haven’t seen the report yet) that the $200m budget was now in danger of tripling. That emerged from an interview on the ABC in Adelaide, where Malinauskas admitted:
“What the government is turning its mind to, is can we fit that within the budget or who can we partner with to achieve that objective. Between Botanic Gardens and the Railway Station is our premier cultural precinct along North Terrace there, particularly on the northern side. There is no other parcel of land that is coming up along that boulevard in the next 100 years apart from this one. So, my firm view is whatever goes there has to be of a high enough standard to befit that precinct”.

“More than that”, he continued, “I think there should be another test that we apply, and that is it’s got to be good enough to make someone get on a plane to come to Adelaide to see it and then when they go home they tell everyone you’ve got to go and check it out”.

So, “I would much prefer a situation… where in something of that size, that we have a partnership with the federal government or indeed potentially private contributor”.

Asked if he wanted a philanthropist to donate $200m to $300m towards the centre, Malinauskas responded: “Well that’s not unprecedented, yeah”.

Indeed, much philanthropic funding was raised in Sydney for the Art Gallery of NSW’s $450m Sydney Contemporary extension – which would surely be enough money to build Tarrkarri in Adelaide. Which raises the question as to how the former government, the architects of the chosen design – NY’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) – and the builders appointed in December 2021 all got their numbers so wrong. And a further query – how expert are Messers Carr, Hewson and Wyatt in building estimation?

Of course, SA politics may supply a few answers. For the original Labor proposal was for a contemporary art gallery on the site. The Libs made the heroic jump to Tarrkarri. And now the ALP appears to be stepping back. Sad.

So it’s hardly surprising that the current Opposition spokesman for the arts, John Gardner told the local online journal InDaily, “The biggest contributor to cost blow-outs on the project has been Premier Malinauskas’ delays and postponements after the election. For weeks he’s been talking about the parklands like a real estate agent, and he still hasn’t ruled out returning to Labor’s old plan of building apartments on the site”.

To which a spokesman for Malinauskas denied that the government had caused any delays until the disparity between budget and increasing cost was discovered.

And, given her special role as Chair of the SA Museum in committing its First Nations collection to Tarrkarri, it’s not surprising that Adelaide Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith declared that it would be “unthinkable” to scrap the project.
Tarrkarri’s Aboriginal ambassador, David Rathman told InDaily that he would “devastated” if the project did not go ahead – a view with which the Aboriginal Art Directory wholeheartedly concurs.

For, as we reported earlier, Tarrkarri’s Assistant Director, Leanne Tjunipa Buckskin has poetically assessed: “The building tells a story, holding the collective memory through a building and its collection. The stories will be of the ingenuity of the Ancestors and their resilience, achieving reconciliation and truth-telling”.

Liberal Premier Steven Marshall was almost as elevated in his dreaming: “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”.

For more history, read the link below: