Where to now for council and Stuart statue?

 

p2138-Stuart-statue-smoking

A recent smoking ceremony  held at the base of the Stuart statue by people from Akeyulerre Inc, an Arrernte healing centre on the opposite side of Stuart Terrace. This photo and below courtesy Blake Paul Kendall. 

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

In amongst the Town Council’s Technical Services updates last week was some brief information about the controversial statue of explorer John McDouall Stuart, installed in Stuart Park in July after a delay of four years.

 

The information included reference to the statue having been graffitied on “numerous occasions” – “refer attached open letter forwarded to the Mayor and Councillors”.

 

The open letter (full text below) is from Arrernte people – penned at Akeyulerre Inc, an Arrernte healing centre on Stuart Terrace on the occasion of a recent smoking ceremony people from the centre held at the site.

 

It is addressed to “Mr John McDouall Stuart”. It asserts, among its many points, acts of aggression by the explorer which it terms “murder” – an issue of contention as to the historical evidence. (See local historian Dick Kimber’s discussion of this issue – scroll down to find the article.)

 

More importantly, surely – from council’s point of view as a body supposedly representative of the whole community – is the expression of how these Arrernte people feel today about living in close proximity with the statue:

 

p2138-Stuart-smoking-2“Mr Stuart, we do not want to continue to live under the shadow of your statue and your gun. To white people you may be a heroic explorer who crossed the country from south to north.

 

“But we watch our children play around the base of your big statue with deep sadness.

 

“Your statue has been erected in a place where many Aboriginal families gather. Your statue is a bad influence on our children, on the next generation of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

 

“We do not want our children to play around guns at all. And we certainly do not want them to play under the shadow of your big gun – a gun that reminds us every single day of the killing and dispossession of our people.

 

“We respectfully ask that your statue be removed.

 

“We cannot change the past. But we can try to build a more peaceful, respectful, fair and truthful future. A future for all of us, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living together in this country.”

 

It was not surprising therefore to hear at last week’s meeting at least one question from a councillor – Jade Kudrenko – on whether council had replied to the letter.

 

No, said CEO Rex Mooney, officers were awaiting direction from the chamber.

 

Cr Kudrenko then said she would follow up in private conversation.

 

That was that. No-one else said anything.

 

A representative of Akeyulerre Inc, its current acting manager Penny Drysdale, was in the public gallery. Ms Drysdale later told the Alice Springs News Online that Akeyulerre Inc does indeed hope for a response from council: “We want to have a very respectful discussion.”

 

Why, the News asked Cr Kudrenko, did she not pursue the issue in the meeting, open to the public?

 

p2046-Jade-Kudrenko-smrShe says she spoke briefly about the matter with the CEO after the open meeting. They agreed to meet after the Masters Games (which ended last Saturday) to discuss it further, but haven’t yet.

 

Does she think council should respond to this letter? If so, shouldn’t it be discussed by councillors?

 

She says: “The letter was not addressed to council so I don’t think it is critical that we directly reply. Although I’ve been approached by a number of people who are distressed by the statue, and this letter is one example.

 

“I am conscious that ultimately it was a council decision to erect it in a public place. I feel a sense of responsibility to address the disharmony within the community, which the statue has brought to the surface.

 

“My intent in meeting with [the CEO] is to gain a deeper understanding of all the recent issues from a strictly council point of view. I am hopeful that we can look at constructive ways in which council can move forward on this issue. I am cautious not to contribute to further division in the community by jumping to loud opposition and only creating a further divide.

 

“I’ve participated in open discussions about the Freemasons’ JMS statute over the last few years. I opposed the installation of the statue although the democratic process lead to a decision contrary to my position. I’m now trying to find constructive ways forward.

 

“Some interesting ideas have been broached at the recent ASTC LAAC Partnership Committee meetings. I also am very keen to seek out any other opportunities for Alice Springs to acknowledge and respect the history of our first peoples and their ongoing contributions to our community.”

 

Could this letter really be considered “graffiti” as seemed to be suggested in the papers? The News put this question to council’s Director of Technical Services Greg Buxton.

 

“I personally wouldn’t call it graffiti,” he said.

 

On the question of a response to the letter he said, similarly to the CEO, that officers were awaiting direction from council as the letter was “addressed to the Mayor and elected members” – in that it had been forwarded to them in the mail.

 

He said the statue has been graffitied “four times so far”, twice with the word “sorry” and twice with “‘murderer’ and those sort of silly names”. The graffiti obviously expresses a negative view of the statue but he doesn’t think that “reflects the majority view”.

 

On what does he base that opinion?

 

On the many positive views expressed directly to council, he said, adding that “even” on the Alice News site “people have defended the statue”.

 

He said he doesn’t know why there’s a problem with the gun (even though a reason is clearly stated in the open letter).

 

“Everyone in those days had a spear or a gun for food,” said Mr Buxton, adding that there is “no evidence” that John McDouall Stuart “killed anyone”. There may be clear evidence throughout Australia of other murderous acts, he said, but in the case of Stuart it is only “hearsay”.

 

FULL TEXT of the “Open letter to Mr John McDouall Stuart from Arrernte people”:

 

Dear Mr Stuart,

 

We are writing to you on behalf of the Arrernte people of Central Australia.

 

You came to our country. You did not have our permission.

 

Your people were thirsty here in the desert and we showed you where there was water.

 

Your people were hungry and we brought you meat. We bought you big meat – kangaroo meat.

 

In return, you, Mr Stuart, brought cattle to ruin our water supply and our land. It has been destroyed where the animals have trampled it. There are no springs we can drink from anymore.

 

You came into our home. We have been living on this country for thousands and thousands of years. We have a strong culture but you never learnt about our culture. You never met and talked with the elders. You never took time to learn about our law, our culture, our society. You never showed us any respect in our own country.

 

Now we are writing you this letter with respect. We are not angry people. But we want to tell you how much your actions have harmed our country and our people, our people whose spirits are deeply connected to this country.

 

You came to Mount Hay and you killed our mob. You went to Attack Creek and you killed more of our mob. This is murder and we can’t forget it.

 

We heard you went back to England a sick man. Perhaps that is because you didn’t talk to our people in the proper way. You didn’t respect us on our country. Even though some of our people helped you survive along the way.

 

Mr Stuart, we do not want to continue to live under the shadow of your statue and your gun. To white people you may be a heroic explorer who crossed the country from south to north.

 

But we watch our children play around the base of your big statue with deep sadness.

 

Your statue has been erected in a place where many Aboriginal families gather. Your statue is a bad influence on our children, on the next generation of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

 

We do not want our children to play around guns at all. And we certainly do not want them to play under the shadow of your big gun – a gun that reminds us every single day of the killing and dispossession of our people.

 

We respectfully ask that your statue be removed.

 

We cannot change the past. But we can try to build a more peaceful, respectful, fair and truthful future. A future for all of us, as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living together in this country.

 

In this future we hope that public monuments will reflect Aboriginal perspectives on history and not just one side of the story.

 

Think about how you would feel if you were in our position …. if you were here first …. if your people had been here for 40,000 or 50,000 years? How would you feel if it was us who came from another country and killed your people? How would you feel if this murder of your relatives happened only 150 years ago? How would you feel if we erected a big statue right where your families gather to glorify this act?

 

Perhaps you would feel like society didn’t really respect you at all. Perhaps you would feel deeply sad and deeply offended.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Arrernte people

 

 

 

 

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21 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Colin Richardson
    Posted December 23, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    I think most of us should start listening to First Nation people because a lot of what they are saying makes a lot sense.

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  2. Penangke
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    A couple of simple questions.
    Do (some at least) landowners have no trespassing signs? Would they try to enforce that message or is it OK to ignore the sign and set up camp?
    The land that was available for sale was originally made available by the Crown, who did the Crown purchase it from? Do they have a bill of sale?
    The really tricky question is when does the past become too far back in time for it to be relevant today?
    I would really like an answer to that question. Is it one day, a week, a year? What I mean is, if I steal something from you today, and I still have it tomorrow, does that mean its fair, that its mine now?
    After all its in the past now. Time for you to get over it. Personally, after all the hard work I do trying to pay my mortgage, I would be very upset if someone came along and said sorry piss off that’s mine now.
    Can anyone answer these questions for me?
    Also I think looking back over the past is a good idea, it allows you to see some of the mistakes that we all inevitably make, we can take action to correct those mistakes or at least learn from them and start to build a stronger more equitable future.
    We won’t learn anything if we take no time to look back over our actions, review them, recognise and accept our mistakes and look for ways to do things better.
    I think today, the world we live in, our society and its wealth and also many of its social problems are a product of the past.
    I don’t think they just miraculously appeared here this morning.

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  3. Janet Brown
    Posted November 22, 2014 at 11:25 am

    @ Penangke: It was you who entered into this discussion with abuse and anger, it was you who responded in a disrespectful manner, it is you who should be feeling shamed and guilty.
    I do not actually identify with the argument as it is based on racism and racism is a disease and as it spreads hate and anger grow. There is a difference between racism and people feeling disempowered or government policy that incites division.
    You say: “I think particularly landowners fit this scenario. I’ve seen the no trespassing signs.
    “I expect they are prepared to back those signs up with whatever means are at their disposal. And your following comment about land owners: “Should someone come along with more firepower, and force them off that piece of country, I know that they would feel pretty much the same as the old people did when this happened to them.
    “Their children would probably carry that pain and anger too. So really we are all on the same page, we all bleed red.”
    Our land owners purchased their lands through working and with money. land that was available to purchase. You compare today with history. There is no comparison. We fly planes they walked. Again, what is it that you want us all to understand about your lack of empathy for the world today?
    If you want to live in the past, sorry, that can never happen. You are a product of today. Do you want to force us to confront history? Again, we cannot.
    Why? None of us were alive back then. You want us to accept responsibility for our ancestors. Sorry, we accept responsibility for our own actions not those of others. We may not approve of history but I am sorry, we cannot change it.
    And it does not define who we are. Today we are a changing population with changing values and change will continue to happen.
    If you want to feel angry and violent because of the past that is your right. What you do not have the right to do is blame everyone else because you are stuck in the past.
    And if you really want to do something, do something about those kicked out of their homes in communities by others of the community, in other words, clean up your own back yard before you look over the fence and see that you are your own worst enemy. Nearly all of us have moved on, making a future for our families and friends. Looking back can only stop you moving forward to a brighter tomorrow.

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  4. Janet Brown
    Posted November 22, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Bobby, if you say I take the high moral ground that is because apologist like yourself are very happy to keep people downtrodden. Racism is when you divide based on race. I on the other hand, on my high moral ground, believe people are equal.
    It is their choice as to where they are comfortable. Free will.
    I do not participate in the apologetic racist fraternity. I believe if you expect everyone else to do things for you, you will never want to do anything for yourself.
    Teach a man to fish and he will feed himself and his family for a life time. Give a man a fish and he eats for a day.

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  5. Penangke
    Posted November 22, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Often I think that when people respond to a discussion with abuse and anger, when they can’t respond in a respectful manner, it is because they are feeling shamed or guilty, or actually identify with the argument but don’t want to admit it.
    I think particularly landowners fit this scenario. I’ve seen the no trespassing signs. I expect they are prepared to back those signs up with whatever means are at their disposal.
    Should someone come along with more firepower, and force them off that piece of country, I know that they would feel pretty much the same as the old people did when this happened to them.
    Their children would probably carry that pain and anger too. So really we are all on the same page, we all bleed red.
    It’s heartening to know this really, and I have empathy for them, I understand the fear and worry they may have.

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  6. Bob Durnan
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Penangke (Posted November 20, 2014 at 7:25 am), some advice: don’t bite.
    Some people are incapable of taking part in reasoned debate or discussion on certain topics in a rational or respectful manner. They don’t get irony or metaphor or systematic historical analysis.
    Instead they seek to position themselves on some imagined moral high ground, where they declare that racism and much else no longer exist, except in the form of those who remember or perceive them to be continuing realities.
    It is a bit like the people who declare their farm or island to be an independent republic, in defiance of the perceived reality of the rest of society.
    It is a waste of time trying to engage with them on these matters, without risking it degenerating into personal abuse of you, as you can see here.

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  7. Janet Brown
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 9:24 am

    You need to re-read your first comment and your rant re comparing our soldiers slaughtered in war.
    And then you say that Australians are saying, hey, get over it, all we did was steal your land, kill your people, took your children, raped your women, that’s alright isn’t it.
    Hey, if we didn’t do it someone else might have. You should feel happy that it was us nice people that completely trashed your lives and committed all these atrocities against your relatives.
    And you then go to say people need to be able to feel safe about expressing their viewpoint and be able to discuss it in a calm, respectful and honest manner. What planet are you on?
    There was nothing calm and respectful and honest in your verbal abuse and vicious attack on decent people.
    Racism is alive and well with people like you in our midst.
    I find it amazing that persons like yourself hide behind funny names, too scared to put your real identity out there in fear of public humiliation.

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  8. Penangke
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 7:25 am

    Blah, blah, blah. Each of us has the right to free speech, and people who wish to live in and help make a democracy work, will respect that and listen carefully to the views of others. Try to understand those views and look for a way to work together.
    To disrespect and disregard or not consider the views of others is not the way to build a healthy and successful democracy. We have to share our future and to do that, I believe we have to share our past.
    We need to look carefully at our history, from all angles. The colonisation of Central Australia brought a lot of good but also a lot of pain to the people who once owned this country.
    If we want to walk together and build a strong and healthy future for all the community, we need to respect the feelings and viewpoints of all in that community. People need to be able to feel safe about expressing their viewpoint and be able to discuss it in a calm, respectful and honest manner.

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  9. Janet Brown
    Posted November 19, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    @ Penangke. All I read was blah blah blah. Racism drips from from your fingers as you type. The statue is about our history. Democracy has us recognised as individuals sharing this land. Each has his right to free speech.

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  10. Penangke
    Posted November 19, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Get over it some people say, tell the whingers where to go say others. Clearly people feel threatened by the fact that indigenous people have feelings, and feel,justifiably, that they have been wronged. There’s also a lot said about education being the solution to all the problems. well maybe it is, but its not just indigenous kids that need an education, perhaps some whitefellas might want to open their eyes and learn something.
    We could learn a lot from the Turks perhaps. About a hundred years ago they kicked our arse as we were trying to land at gallipoli. We haven’t gotten over it yet, every year we all wake up early and get involved in all sorts of activities all over the country,remembering those terrible times. Do the Turks tell us to get over it? Do they stand at the top of the ridges around Gallipoli and abuse us, call us losers etc? No. In fact they have allowed us to build a memorial on their land, they respect the feelings we have for our dead, they welcome us into their country with respect and allow us to grieve and remember and celebrate our ancestors who fought and died and tried to kill the turks.
    Get over it white australia.
    For new australians, australia day commemorates the arrival of the british to this island. to blackfellas it was the start of the struggle against an invader that stole all the land and did not respect us as people until 1967, stole the land treated indigenous people as less than citizens, stole the children, no one can deny that massacres occurred. For blackfellas australia day is a bit like the turks celebrating “we kicked your arse day”. All us whiteys would really cope with that well, imagine if they said sorry none of that carry on at anzac cove any more. pull that memorial down. GET OVER IT?
    Some say it could have been worse, what if someone else had discovered the country. The indonesians discovered australia long before captain cook, and they engaged in peaceful trade for many years. So i guess it could have been better too. How bad does it have to get before blackfellas are allowed to feel bad about it? “hey get over it, all we did was steal your land, kill your people, took your children, raped your women, thats alright isn’t it, hey if we didn’t do it someone else might have. you should feel happy that it was us nice people that completely trashed your lives and committed all these atrocities against your relatives.
    Get over it.
    Wake up people. Take off that white blindfold. Face the facts and accept the truth, learn about respect, then perhaps we will all be able to get over it and move forward together.

    .

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  11. Tracey
    Posted November 3, 2014 at 10:36 am

    I can’t believe some of the BS that is spewed out of the hysterical Greens supporters.
    Stuart was a progressive for his time and all the historical evidence points to this.
    The tripe that I have read and what came out of the mouth of the Greens candidate Shaw is beyond belief.
    The whole outrage has been orchestrated by the Greens as part of their anti establishment mentality.
    Well too bad, history shows us that Stuart was an honourable man of great belief and perseverance and who also had great respect for the indigensous people that he came across.
    The attempt of the left to re-create history for their own sick and demented ends has only shown them up for what they are!

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  12. Kieran Finnane
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    @Mark W: I’ve replaced the link to Dick Kimber’s discussion of the historical evidence on whether Stuart shot anyone. Mr Kimber says it is “inconceivable” that he did not. The article can be found in our foundation archive. This link will take you to the issue, scroll down to find the article:
    http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/1709.html

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  13. Janice Knappstein
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    JK
    It’s beyond ridiculous, any wonder THEY can’t move on. We cannot change history and Australia was always going to be discovered! Perhaps lucky it was the English and not the Spanish or Dutch. Anyway they love the White Mans money.

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  14. Mark W
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Erin, not seeing Dick Kimber’s response. Has it been moved? I’d like to read before I have my 2c worth.

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  15. Hal Duell
    Posted October 30, 2014 at 12:54 am

    As regards the talk of respect, how many times has the Reptile Centre across the road from the statue been vandalised?
    And hasn’t this vandalising been by youth doing whatever on Akeyulerre, or Billy Goat Hill, a site of acknowledged traditional importance?
    Not much respect there.
    And as for kids playing on the statue while their parents sit and talk, and sometimes argue and drink, on the public lawns, so what? A bit of play has to be more exciting than listening to the oldies carry on like pork chops.

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  16. dr wrongo
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    I found myself outside the Masonic Temple the other day. Quite a dull looking building and a bare and barren yard. It could do with some tarting up. I reckon a giant garden gnome would look good. Maybe they should take the statue from stuart tce
    I think it was commissioned to commemorate the first freemason in central oz. I wonder if the mayor or any of those other blokes at council are masons? They should look into it.

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  17. what
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Yea tell the whingers where to go. Back to their own countries perhaps?

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  18. Pagan
    Posted October 29, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    I have read the above comments.
    Putting up a statue of Hitler: He had nothing to do with the opening up of the inland of Australia.
    Respect: What about our respect for an important man coming into a strange land for his country for people to come and settle.
    The Gun he carries: All explorers carried guns as do station owners when they go on their bore runs (checking the water for the cattle). If there is a animal in stress due to some misadventure, the gun is there and used.
    As one of the above mentioned, the fighting, rubbish and language in the park every single day is enough to make everyone ashamed to call Alice Springs home.
    There is no respect there for the people to love Alice.

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  19. Yeah But
    Posted October 28, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Yea but, how happy would you be if council decided to whack up a big statue of Hitler or Tojo.
    Read the article. People aren’t saying they hate whitefellas, they’re just looking for a bit of respect and understanding.

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  20. JB
    Posted October 26, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    This is a joke surely. The council should tell the whingers where to go. I would think the alcohol abuse, domestic violence and gambling that happens on a daily basis at the location would be more of a bad influence on the children.

    It really is time to move on.

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  21. Ray
    Posted October 25, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    “How would you feel if it was us who came from another country and killed your people? How would you feel if this murder of your relatives happened only 150 years ago?”
    Well actually my people lived in England for many years, and only 60 years ago, invaders came and murdered them, but do I hate Germans? Remembering that this was only about 60 years ago. No I don’t.
    It was the way of the world at the time. Other relations of mine were killed by attempted invaders, but do I hate the Japanese? No. Bacause that was also the way of the world back then.
    Whom did he murder? Where is the proof? Of course he carried a rifle, in the same way that the statue at Aileron shows an Aboriginie carrying a spear, for hunting and protection. Bad influence on kids? Wow.

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