The May 1885 depiction of an Aboriginal performance mimicking drunkenness …

Comment on ‘Proper’ drinking: elusive goal but how hard have we tried? by Alex Nelson.

The May 1885 depiction of an Aboriginal performance mimicking drunkenness as “a little satire on civilisation” was echoed in the Bangtail Muster of May 1, 1966, when a float entered by the Amoonguna community attracted comments from two publications reporting on the parade.
The Inland Review noted: “And Aborigines from Amoonguna had their own subtle snipe at the color question and their over-publicised drinking habits on an appropriately decorated float.”
The Centralian Advocate reported: “Amoonguna Aboriginal settlement gave an enlightening enactment of “the old and the new”. Myall, old-style Aborigines preceded the float while, at the rear, the “modern type” sat down with beer and plonk.”
Their float had a sign declaring “Fruit Pickers Unite and Save the South,” a reference to the widespread scheme then operating of despatching Aboriginal workers from remote communities to orchards and farms across Australia to provide labour for harvesting crops.
This send-up of themselves was a sad reflection of how quickly circumstances deteriorated for Aboriginal people in the NT, as it was just two years after the passing of the Social Welfare Bill that gave them equal rights to alcohol. In previous parades featuring floats (the Jubilee Parade of 1951, the Coronation Parade of 1953, and the Bangtail Muster from 1959 onwards, Aboriginal people had pride of place as traditional warriors and performers, staging corroborees on Anzac Oval after the march up Todd Street was completed).
Two months later, in early July 1966, NT Supreme Court judge Alan Bridge made headlines in Alice Springs when he launched a forceful, dignified commentary on the alarming deterioration of behaviour of “wasters” in society leading to “an increasingly disturbing pattern of local crime” and “an acute and growing social problem.”
Justice Bridge asked “that his comments be passed on to the appropriate authorities.” Sadly, momentum on this issue was lost when he died suddenly about two weeks later.
A year later residents at Amoonguna were fleeing to Alice Springs to avoid the mayhem caused by alcohol abuse at that community; but this was just the beginning of a searing period of crime and disruption on many Aboriginal communities and settlements during the 1970s which finally led to many becoming declared “dry” in attempts to reduce the harm.
I’ve become interested in the fate of the Jay Creek settlement west of Alice Springs. A new sign erected there last year states the community was abandoned in the late 1960s when Amoonguna opened – this is completely false.
Amoonguna opened in late 1960 but Jay Creek remained a prominent community right into the 1980s. However, unlike other nearby communities, Jay Creek did not seek to be declared a dry community in the late 1970s so almost certainly it was a haven for drinkers.
Interestingly, there is a small cell block at Jay Creek for which there is no known documentation. It’s assumed that it was built by the white authorities that ran the settlement for many years but there is no evidence for it.
What is overlooked is that many Aboriginal men in the 1950s and 60s were trained, competent builders on the missions and settlements, and examples of their work survive in many places. My suspicion is that little jail at Jay Creek was an attempt by Aboriginal residents to impose control on trouble-makers at that community.
In the end it was too much and by the end of the 1980s Jay Creek was abandoned.

Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Country Liberal Party: custodians ignored on gallery
@ Jack (Posted May 29, 2020 at 2:11 pm): Whatever amount of money “we” decide to “stump up” gives us no right or authority to dictate terms to Indigenous people on how or where their art and culture may be displayed for others.
What they decide might not cost as much as $50m; indeed, it’s the NT Government, not custodians and TOs, that “stumped up” that sum of money so it’s hypocritical to blame the latter.
And, if custodians and TOs decide they don’t want to go down this path at all, then the money becomes a moot point, doesn’t it?


Country Liberal Party: custodians ignored on gallery
Basically, whether from the Labor or Country Liberals, the debate about the National Aboriginal Art Gallery, is all about cultural appropriation of Aboriginal art to suit the ambitions of politicians, bureaucrats and the business sector.
The entire process, subsequent to the steering committee report, has been (and continues to be) completely mishandled arse-about; surely it has to be resolved in the following manner:
1. Do the traditional custodians and owners of this region want or support the concept of a “national” art gallery, either on its own or as part of a cultural centre?
2. If they support this concept, where do they want it to be built?
The answers to these two basic questions would provide the guidance on whether this project is approved or not in the first place, and then (if approved) where it can be built.
It’s their art, their culture, so let’s allow the custodians and TOs to be the primary authority on this matter, and the rest of us to abide by their wishes accordingly.


CLP would build gallery at Desert Park, not Anzac precinct
@ Ray (Posted May 28, 2020 at 6:19 pm): The irony of your comment is that the Alice Springs Desert Park, when it was a concept promoted by the NT Government nearly 30 years ago, was touted as a major new attraction for Alice Springs that would attract and / or divert tourists from Uluru – yes, it was going to be the economic game-changer for Central Australia!
As was the casino at the beginning of NT self-government _ who remembers all those high-rollers from Asia it was going to attract to our fair town?
And then the Desert Knowledge Precinct, which would put Central Australia at the forefront of research and development for a billion customers in similar environments around the world! Hallelujah!
Not to mention the very original economic nirvana dreaming, the transcontinental railway from south to north that would open up access to the teeming markets of southeast Asia (that one dates from the 19th century colonial period of South Australia’s control of the Northern Territory).
And now we’ve got the National Aboriginal Art Gallery, just the latest mirage on the desert horizon that self-interested politicians and bureaucrats are urging upon us as the oasis of our economic salvation.


CLP would build gallery at Desert Park, not Anzac precinct
To me the obvious question to ask is this: Assuming the gallery is built at the Alice Springs Desert Park or south of the Gap, or even not at all, who then is going to be held to account for the unnecessary destruction of a perfectly good public asset, the former Anzac Hill High School, at a cost to taxpayers over $2m and for no good reason at all?
By rights this whole issue should be a major political scandal.


Mparntwe custodians: Lhere Artepe does not speak for us
@ Jack (Posted May 26, 2020 at 1:19 am): Change the scale of your figures (upwards, on a massive scale), widen the scope of your scenario, and you’ve got a perfect description of the Northern Territory for the entire period of “responsible” self-government.


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