National Aboriginal Art Gallery: Anzac Oval off the table

COUNCIL REJECTS MOU WITH GOVERNMENT

 

p2522 Council Doris 660

Above: Custodian Doris Stuart addressing last night’s public meeting in the council chambers. To her right are Owen Cole and Harold Furber, to her left Ken Lechleitner. It was the first time local Aboriginal voices opposing the government’s plans for the location of the gallery and cultural centre had been heard in a public forum. They say the projects should go south of the Gap. 

 

By KIERAN FINNANE 

 

Government plans for the National Aboriginal Art Gallery took a pounding last night: Anzac Oval as a possible site, at least for the time being, is off the table.

 

Despite the best efforts of Mayor Damien Ryan, the Town Council rejected entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Territory Government to progress the “Anzac Hill Precinct”  as the preferred site for the gallery.

 

At the end of a protracted debate, only Councillor Matt Paterson supported the Mayor’s attempt to “stay in the room” with the government on their plans for this site.

 

The popular revolt against the gallery being sited at Anzac Oval had continued. At least 100 visitors crowded into council chambers, mostly to voice their discontent with the plans in a 40-minute session with councillors before their meeting started. The visitors included, for the first time in this forum, prominent local Aboriginal people, some of whom are involved in planning the National Indigenous Cultural Centre.

 

The government has begun to talk about the co-location of this project with the gallery, but once again has failed to consult the people that mattered – the Aboriginal initiators of the idea.

 

“No-one has asked our families about this major international project planned by the NT Government to be at Anzac Oval,” native title holder Margaret Furber-Ross told the meeting.

 

p2522 Council Mick Liddle 430She has been closely associated with the planning for a National Indigenous Cultural Centre. Her brother Harold Furber, who chairs the NICC committee, was also present last night, as was Owen Cole, a member of the NICC committee, Mparntwe apmereke-artweye (custodian) Doris Stuart, Philip Watkins, co-chair with Hetti Perkins of the snubbed gallery steering committee, Ken Lechleitner, Mick Liddle, Patricia Miller, to name a few.

 

At right: Mick Liddle on the microphone; Patricia Miller seated next to him; Councillors Cocking and Banks in the foreground (backs to camera). 

 

Failure to consult with them and their families contravenes Australia’s international obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said Ms Furber-Ross.

 

Article 31 of the declaration upholds the rights of Indigenous peoples “to maintain, protect and develop their cultural heritage” as well as “the manifestations” of their cultures, including oral traditions, literatures, visual and performing arts.

 

Ms Furber-Ross said families want the project for Alice Springs, but oppose siting it at Anzac Oval “as it has too many issues and problems associated with it”. Rather, it should be situated south of the Gap “due to obligations towards our cultural protocols”. (This of course knocks out Desert Park, the location preferred by the steering committee.)

 

She implored council to not sign any agreement that “undermines Indigenous Authority according to the Native Title Act and the UN Declaration” and that impacts on “the shared public facilities we all have at Anzac Oval”.

 

There was strong support around the room for this stance.

 

“The aim of the gallery was intended to be a place of cultural exchange,” said resident Joan Carpenter.

 

“Instead it has turned into argument that is dividing this town.”

 

Mrs Carpenter did not mince her words about the process to date, one of “deceit, collusion, misleading information and disrespect”.

 

She deplored the disrespect shown to the citizens of Alice Springs but also to the steering committee, whose report was disregarded by government, wasting “$200,000 of our taxpayers’ money”.

 

She described the public consultation on the project as “pathetic”: “one of the greatest attempts by a government in Darwin telling the people in The Centre what is best for us” and then spending even more money “trying to convince us” (a reference to its extensive advertising campaign).

 

p2522 Council Joan Carpenter 660

Above: Joan Carpenter on the microphone,  flanked by Cr Eli Melky and Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni. Councillors seated from left, Jacinta Price, Matt Paterson, Glen Auricht, Marli Banks, Jimmy Cocking and Catherine Satour.

 

The gallery was “never intended to be an argument to revitalise the town centre”, continued Mrs Carpenter.

 

“It was never intended to be at Anzac Oval, the site rejected by the committee” and “it was never intended to be a trade-off of the town’s much-loved historical oval for two football fields.”

 

Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni responded to this speech, saying “we’ve been just as frustrated as everyone by the lack of consultation – we’ve been hung out”.

 

Custodian Doris Stuart continued the devastating critique: “I speak for this country. I‘m registered in the Federal Court as a native title holder. If they think that rugby is going to go in the foothills, no, no, no. That is very important to us.”

 

This referred to the so-called greenfield site between Bradshaw Drive and the Mount Gillen range that is  being promoted by the government as an alternative home for the two rugby codes, freeing up Anzac Oval for the gallery.

 

Mrs Stuart said rugby can stay at Anzac Oval, “which also is on a sacred site and always has been”, but rejected it as a site for the gallery “if you’re following tradition”.

 

Like Ms Furber-Ross, she supported a site south of the Gap: “They talk about culture, that’s not culture, having that gallery up there. Culture is through the Gap, that’s where people had to wait before they could be invited into this country.”

 

“Why do we need to bring in [to Mparntwe] other stories that don’t belong here?” she asked, to applause.

 

Wayne Thompson, organiser with Yvonne Driscoll of the protest, spoke from a tourism industry perspective, having carried 25,000 visitors around Alice in his coaches last year.

 

“I‘m for it going south of the Gap. I’m for it being a greenfields project, I’m not for ripping something down, spending millions of dollars to rip something down, dig it up, throw it away, that’s a waste of money.

 

“I’m not for spending $20m plus to build a couple of football ovals when we’ve got a perfectly good one here!”

 

p2522 Council Anzac Oval 660

Above: Anzac Oval looking down from Anzac Hill / Untyeyetwelye. 

Hearty applause.

 

Mr Thompson urged councillors to listen to the Traditional Owners: “What I think doesn’t matter, two TOs have spoken here tonight, they’re saying respect, south of the Gap, ask to be invited in.”

 

It is safe to say that these comments reflected the view of a strong majority  in the room. But among the visitors there were also supporters of the government’s project.

 

Dave Batic spoke as general manger of Alice Springs Airport, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and of the RSL.

 

The Alice Springs economy is in decline, he said, the airport data is irrefutable evidence of this. It needs a capital injection “of anything, doesn’t matter what it is”. But an iconic project could do it, something comparable with the Stockman’s Hall of Fame which had turned around the fortunes of Longreach in Queensland.

 

He said the chamber preferred a CBD location for the project, for the flow-on benefits to other businesses. He made no reference to the gallery’s cultural purpose but did refer to the military history of Anzac Oval and government’s assurances that it would be preserved  – although he didn’t know how. This was greeted with cynical laughter.

 

He urged council to enter into the MOU with government: in this way every question raised last night could be answered.

 

This was the logic of Mayor Ryan’s motion to work with the Department of Tourism and Culture to develop a draft MOU, to progress its plans for the gallery on the Anzac Hill Precinct site.

 

Through such a process “we can control a lot of the discussion in the community”, said Mayor Ryan, who attended the meeting by phone.

 

His colleagues, though, were inclined to listen to the discussion, rather than control it. The question remains how.

 

Ms Driscoll had suggested canvassing views in the same mail-out as the rates notices. CEO Rex Mooney said that would be possible.

 

Cr Eli Melky  supported consulting ratepayers as a starting point.

 

Cr Jimmy Cocking said this was jumping the gun, when council does not even have a position on the gallery and cultural centre.

 

Later in the evening the councillors rectified this, voting unanimously for Cr Cocking’s motion supporting Alice Springs as the home for both.

 

Cr Glen Auricht noted the support of a lot of business people for the Anzac Hill site, as well as a lot of misconceptions about the project. Nonetheless when it came to voting he did not support Mayor Ryan’s motion.

 

Neither did Cr Jacinta Price, who thought council needed to “put the brakes on”; the town needs an “economic injection” but it has to “bring the whole community along”.

 

Cr Marli Banks was concerned that neither site, Anzac Hill and Desert Park, meets the cultural values identified by the native title holders who had spoken earlier. She questioned the “legality” of the project proceeding in contravention of the UN declaration. Not only had the “right people” not been consulted, there had not even been a conversation with them, she said. This was the “wrong way of doing business”. She was unwavering in her opposition to the MOU.

 

Cr Matt Paterson agreed more consultation was necessary – not only with ratepayers, but the whole community including the traditional owners –  but he was “scared” that if council didn’t sign the MOU with government, it would get “left behind”. His was the sole vote in support of Mayor Ryan’s motion.

 

Cr de Brenni reiterated that the consultation to date had been “appalling”. An MOU would have to look at all concepts for the gallery, not be limited to the Anzac Hill site.

 

However, that was not what the Chief Minister’s invitation to council said and it was not what Mayor Ryan was seeking support for.

 

Cr Catherine Satour said the town needs a much broader vision than the MOU was offering. This would be by way of a masterplan, looking at other ways of rejuvenating business, including by addressing the issues of antisocial behaviour and alcohol.

 

Cr Cocking said a masterplan (a plank of his election platform and unanimously supported by council in a motion last year) would provide the opportunity to move beyond project-driven development. If the future of Alice depended on a single project, such as the gallery, it was lost anyway, he argued.

 

Councillors later carried another motion from him, turning the tables on the government, inviting them into an MOU to develop a long-term integrated masterplan for the sustainable development of the town, including the development of a National Aboriginal Art Gallery and National Indigenous Cultural Centre.

 

They also voted for his motion, encouraging the government to “engage appropriately with a range of relevant Traditional Owners and Aboriginal stakeholders” over the two projects.

 

Without this being done “the right way”, the Alice Springs gallery would lose authenticity, it would be “the gammon gallery”, said Cr Cocking.

 

The Mayor’s final plea for support had nothing to say on the deficiencies of the consultation to date nor on the cultural purpose of the projects: his focus was on the jobs and business opportunities that they would bring. His colleagues however were not swayed.

 

 

RELATED READING: 

 

GR#60 MR 31356A4A-59AE-4A43-92C2-8334EAF39B52

 

 

“Centre of controversy: Contours of cultural recognition in a desert town” by Kieran Finnane in Griffith Review 60, First Things First.

 

This 343 page edition of the journal, released yesterday, “robustly examines what is at stake and what needs to happen for Indigenous and other Australians to come together after struggle”.

 

My essay looks at the faltering steps forward, but just as often backwards, when it comes to working with the town’s Arrernte custodians on cultural projects.  It focusses particularly on three, the proposed Arrernte Living Cultural Centre, the staging of Parrtjima, and the proposed National Indigenous Art Gallery. The journal is available for purchase (online access for the next three months is limited to buyers or subscribers).

 

 

 

 

 

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20 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. Mandy Webb
    Posted May 6, 2018 at 12:06 am

    What about Desert Knowledge Precinct as location for Indigenous Art and Culture Centre(s)? Lots of space there. South of the Gap. Government owned (?)

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  2. Alan
    Posted May 4, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    I support the project. Fantastic for the NT and Alice but the way the government and I believe the Mayor have gone about it, heads should roll. If we do not end up having this Gallery it will be entirely their fault. Ignoring the advice of the Advisory committee is not the way to implement a great project such as this. Unfortunately this looks like it is going to be a lost opportunity for Alice and I am sad about that.

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  3. Mark Wilson
    Posted May 4, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    Indeed Maya. Places and objects, even art pieces become iconic. They are not born that way. Easter Island and Stonehenge come to mind.
    It is the Court of Public Opinion, that is often heavily influenced by aspects of the aesthetic and uniqueness that determines the “iconic” nature.
    These are as much established, even legitimised, by “experts”, even self appointed media ones, who make or break an object or place’s status.
    To set out to build an iconic structure is a task fraught with problems from the outset.

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  4. Maya
    Posted May 3, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    Very good reporting. Thank you Kieran.
    Relieved that the Alice Springs Town Council did not fall into accepting an MOU which was very restrictive.
    Again and again it must be stressed that a NATIONAL Aboriginal Art Gallery (not only Museum) which allows for permanent and temporary exhibitions is not a local investment to bring relief to the small businesses of the CBD.
    It is a vision for the whole of Australia to be proud of and show the world that Australia values her Indigenous population and its culture.
    Therefore the “conversation”, “consultation”, “inclusion” of the TOs of Alice Springs in the decision making is most important. Not as a token, but as equal partners. A Mayor and a Chief Minister are only part of the process.
    If millions are to be spent, make sure that they are well spent.
    Concentrate on the best for a National Aboriginal Art Gallery (NAAG) – like the National Library of Australia or the National Gallery of Australia.
    Not on side lines like love of rugby or respect for Anzac hill or revitalization of the Mall.
    If it is the best, starting from a clean slate for best design, the benefit will naturally flow on to the town and its tourist revival. The Sydney Opera House became “iconic” after its completion, not a priori.

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  5. Posted May 3, 2018 at 11:30 am

    @ Local 1 (Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:24 pm): Interesting you mention the Stockmans’ Hall of Fame at Longreach; as did Dave Batic at the public forum.
    Again, another example of the lack of corporate memory that afflicts our town and Territory.
    In the mid 1970s Alice Springs was in the front running for hosting the Stockmans’ Hall of Fame. Several places were considered for it, including the the Old Telegraph Station and the Farm Area (Ragonesi Road) but – as I’ve mentioned in a previous comment – the decision was taken to build it in Longreach.
    Reason? It was strategic, intended to intercept tourist traffic making its way up along the eastern side of Queensland, and redirect that flow to western Queensland and on into the Centre. Concurrent with this concept was the push to seal the Plenty Highway.
    I’m not so certain about the wisdom of placing an “Arrernte Living Cultural Centre” at the Desert Knowledge Precinct. My ears pricked up with a reference to this site being of high cultural significance.
    I lived out there, at AZRI from 1967 to 1975 and then at CSIRO (now Centre for Appropriate Technology) from ’75 to 1988. I continued to work at AZRI until 1993.
    I knew all that area like the back of my hands and I can assure there was no significant sites on that area where the Desert Knowledge Precinct has been built.
    A claim to that effect was made in 2002 at a public information display for the Desert Knowledge concept which was the first I’d ever heard of such a thing.
    I checked with an old friend, a member of a strong traditional Eastern Arrernte family that was living at AZRI when we moved there in 1967, and he confirmed what I suspected, namely there are no sacred sites in that vicinity.
    However, he told me the whole vicinity is spiritually significant because ancestor beings are said to roam that area, but again emphasised there are no specific sites.
    Watch this space, I reckon.

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  6. Local 1
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    As I have said for a while now, why not the desert Knowlege Precinct.
    It’s an Aboriginal centric facility south of The Gap, plenty of land and parking.
    Across the road from Yirara College. The Longreach Hall of Fame is about the same distance out of town. It works well.

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  7. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    @ Michael Dean, I do not think we can beat Quay Branly Museum.
    It houses a collection of 3500 indigenous artifacts and artwork from around the world. But Australia’s contribution is unique: apart from 107 pieces in the permanent collection, eight works by Aboriginal artists have been engraved into the museum’s front wall, entrances and ceilings.
    Through an ingenious system of mirrors and by extending the paintings onto the exterior window frames, all bar one of the works can be seen through glass from the street. Lit up at night, they make a 24-hour exhibition of Aboriginal art in Paris.
    The Aboriginal contribution to the museum is so great that artist Judy Watson, whose work is engraved into the glass and stone of the front wall, says it is as if the artists “are swallowing the building. We are looking out on the street, we are everywhere.”
    The museum rooftop display shows Indigenous artist Lena Nyadbi’s work to the world.
    The installation is designed to be visible from several different levels of the nearby Eiffel Tower, which draws in around seven million visitors every year.
    It will even be visible from space, thanks to satellite mapping technology.

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  8. Michael Dean
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    We keep hearing about how much it will cost to build, but does that include the artwork that needs to be on display? Has that been purchased yet? And how much is it expected to cost to run this thing per year? A lot of unanswered questions but nice artist impressions in the advocate, paid by the taxpayer of course.

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  9. Mark Wilson
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:09 pm

    A couple of ironies strike me. I am not at all surprised re the lack of adequate consultation of the key stake-holders: the Indigenous custodians of this place and indeed more widely the council and people of Alice. To many white fellas art is as much about the space, the buildings and galleries in which it is displayed. The facilitators imagine the end product and want to shortcut the process. Hence the current priorities. The public flock to The Guggenheim Museum, The Met, The Tate etc with many unaware of the works displayed therein. These spaces becomes their own destination much like MONA (with emphasis) OUTSIDE Hobart. Perhaps The Louvre is an exception as the well known home of the famous Mona Lisa.
    .
    On the other hand Indigenous visual art was historically completed in caves and overhangs, on bodies, on barks, on carved stumps and as petroglyphs carved into rocks and even in the temporal sands of Central Australia. It was not hoarded into purpose built spaces. Cultural artefacts are now regarded as ‘art’. I wonder if the ancient Indigenous saw them as any more than fish traps, mats, spears and burial chambers etc. Art was as much the process, the ceremony, as the product. But white fellas tend to worship the product.
    .
    This brings me to the second irony that follows a posteriori from above. What exactly will we put in such an “iconic gallery” with the NTG acquisitions policies recently on display? Or is the building itself sufficient? Late last year the NTG I understand didn’t even bother to bid for the most significant art work by Emily Kngwarreye from Utopia that at auction sold overseas. The piece is questionably on par with Pollock’s Blue Poles, but without the controversy. I have seen Kngwarreye compared with Monet. The piece sold for a ‘mere’ $2.1m and is the record sale of an artwork by an Australian woman. Surely it is iconic works like these that will be needed in an “iconic” gallery to entice tourists to the middle of Australia, a long, expensive flight from everywhere with ho-hum equally expensive (by international standards) accommodation to greet them. Anyone who believes Alice accommodation is of world standard simply hasn’t travelled.

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  10. Jasper Jack
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    The decision by Alice Springs town councillors to vote down a direction to enter into a non-legal MoU with the NT Government is an absolute travesty of the highest order.
    The many spurious arguments made by commentators on this site and on social media have done this project a major disservice, to the point where one gets the feeling that the NT Government (plagued by their own fiscal issues) will pull the pin on the $150m project. And to be honest, I wouldn’t blame them.
    The notion that Anzac Oval is sacred purely because it’s named so, as well as its location to Anzac Hill is about far reaching as it gets.
    That the high school is a heritage building – please spare me. It’s a dilapidated, asbestos riddled shell of a building that barely anyone, except those that taught or went there would have any attachment to. And even then, its value to Alice Springs as a community is negligible at best.
    That the NT Government would even think to invest $150m in a town of this size is fantastic, and with the current economic climate this is exactly what we need.
    And we are now putting that all at risk, why? Because 10% of the voting population were so short-sighted to believe the absolute garbage that gets spouted by the vocal few.
    The apparent lack of consultation with TOs about the Anzac site was never an issue until it become one because it suited the agenda of those against the Anzac site.
    Yes, the NT Government probably could have consulted better – that’s not to say they didn’t at all.
    Who’s to say the NT Government didn’t try and consult with Lhere Artepe through this process? It’s been widely reported what a basket-case they are, and the NT Government would have been directed to deal with them as the body representing TOs.
    The return we as a community get from the project – two brand new rugby ovals, retained green space and amphitheatre (arguments against losing green space hold zero water), driving local construction and thus employment outcomes, and of course increased tourist numbers.
    The local troglodytes and naysayers should give themselves a big pat on the back when SA build what rightly should be in Alice.

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  11. Jack
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    Where is the report that was done about 15 years ago to have the art centre on the Bachelor site with a ready made access form Yirara College students for further education and career pathways in to to hospitality. Perfect opportunity for all.

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  12. Hal Duell
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:38 am

    The biggest error of the Gunner / Ryan approach to this project was to conflate a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Gallery with selling tourist trinkets to the punters on Todd Mall.
    Big mistake. Now Gunner is looking foolish, Ryan is a lame-duck mayor and the gallery will likely go to South Australia.
    The only obvious winner in this schmozzle is the Centralian Advocate who managed to sell several full page advertisements spruiking the Anzac site at, I think, $4,000 a pop.
    An avoidable own-goal if ever there was one.

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  13. Yvonne Driscoll
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:02 am

    South of the Gap would be a perfect location as everyone who comes to Alice will see it on the way in and it will encourage more people to stay in Alice. Concentrate on how the CBD can be a safer place.

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  14. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 8:45 am

    @Jones “The gallery must be viable, it must draw tourists and help local businesses.”
    Does anyone know what is going in the gallery? To draw tourists it must have art/artifacts that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world and most of all be supported by the local artists.
    “Ryan … was always going to support the Anzac Oval proposal.” If Gunner and Ryan were dead set on Anzac oval, why waste the taxpayers’ money in survey, committees,costly publicity? Especially when the NT is broke and in debts.
    “The Aboriginal group, never having to consider profitability in their lives as they are endlessly in the Government’s funding trough …”
    Some are taxes and rates payers and they are not the only ones shirking responsibility and living off the efforts of others.

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  15. Jones
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 6:50 am

    Evelyne Roullet yes there was disrespect but also the Aboriginal group just don’t get it.
    The gallery must be viable, it must draw tourists and help local businesses.
    It must be profitable.
    It must be in or near the CBD.
    Ryan, as a deeply conflicted employee of the NT Government, quite apart from being our Mayor, was always going to support the Anzac Oval proposal but he is also right on the economics.
    We can’t keep expecting the NT Government to prop up our tourist attractions as they prop up the Desert Park.
    South of the Gap is just crazy from this viewpoint.
    Of course the Aboriginal group, never having to consider profitability in their lives as they are endlessly in the Government’s funding trough, miss this entirely.
    But here’s a chance for CentreCorp, an Aboiginal owned body that ownes half the town including [half of – ED] Peter Kittle motors and the Yepenentyre Shopping Centre.
    Let’s see Aboriginal money backing up Aboriginal culture with cash.

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  16. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    Last evening was an eye opener, showing the ignorance of Aboriginal Culture by all levels of government.
    The Custodians get acknowledged at the opening of any/every meeting, but get totally put aside when it comes to making decisions about their land.
    No need to wonder why the young Aborigines are lawless when they see the luck of respect given to their elders.

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  17. Yvonne Driscoll
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    I actually want everyone in Alice Springs to be involved in the decision making. Not just the rate payers. I am so pleased that the Indigenous people are going to be involved in the consultation process. It is an Indigenous Art Gallery after all. South of the Gap would be a perfect location.

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  18. Psuedo Guru
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    An “economic injection” via cheap airfares, a “No Grog No Smokes Food Only” card, Flood Mitigation plus an Art Gallery – OR “GOODBYE ALICE SPRINGS”

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  19. Peter Bassett
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:36 am

    On behalf of all Senior Citizens of our once beautiful town called Alice, I thankyou you all for your dedicated and sensible response and result to date, Eli.
    My old mate Guido would also agree the only way our town will recover from its lost vibrant busy smiling friendly and happy CBD, will be when traditional owners find the courage to tell Ryan, Gunner and Turnbull that the disgusting anti-social violence witnessed by the entire world on social media is culled.
    Tourism and its related value-added free enterprise rewards will then immediately re-establish the vibrant Todd Street we all took for granted. Cheers.

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  20. Hal Duell
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:32 am

    I came away from last night’s meeting impressed with the depth of comments on this issue. Of particular note were Cr. Satour’s comments about priorities for Alice, questioning why an art gallery was taking precedence over social ills such as domestic violence and disaffected youth, and Cr Banks’ grasp of the larger legal issues involved.
    I hope both councillors get a chance to serve as Deputy Mayor during the term of this Council so we and they can see how they might fit into a larger role.

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