Tuesday, November 21, 1995 - 11:00
The struggle for the Musgrave Park Aboriginal Cultural Centre By Anthony Brown BRISBANE — Just a stone's throw from the new convention centre is one of the city's most famous public parks — Musgrave Park. Besides being a favourite site for major public events, it is a place of special importance to the Aboriginal community.
For 10 years the community has lobbied National and Labor state governments and Liberal and Labor council administrations for a lease for a cultural centre. Both levels of government claim to support a centre, but beyond the rhetoric and the promises, there has been no sign of a lease. In 1993, both Brisbane Lord Mayor Jim Soorley and local Councillor and Brisbane City Council (BCC) planning development chair Tim Quinn announced that a lease would be forthcoming before the end of the year. That did not happen. Since 1989, the BCC has, in principal, approved of the centre in Musgrave Park. In June 1990, the council's chief-of-staff Joe Cosgrove wrote to the Musgrave Park Aboriginal Corporation saying that the cultural centre would be included in its South Bank Complementary Area plan. Councillor Quinn later reiterated the same position. After 10 years of lobbying, waiting and negotiating Brisbane's Aborigines have had enough. In October they gathered to discuss what to do next. This time, determined to be taken seriously, they talked of gaining freehold title for the entire park under native title legislation. In his 1991 report, Housing Needs of the Murri People of Kurilpa, Sarath Matara-Arachchi said that Musgrave Park was of immense cultural and social significance to the city's Aboriginal people. In 1985 the Musgrave Park Aboriginal Corporation (MPAC) began to lobby for a cultural centre. The corporation's preferred site is just off the park, on two tennis courts under annual lease to Brisbane State High School. MPAC founder Pat Murdoch, who is also on the Musgrave Park Culture Centre Committee, believes that the cultural centre is more than just a place to display local Aboriginal art. It will also: teach young Aborigines about their history, help emerging artists, help Aborigines living in the city, and encourage the wider community to interact with indigenous people. Local architect Clive Gunton has produced a design which includes facilities for a shop and cafe, work areas for artists and a display hall. Murdoch said once MPAC was built it would be self-funding. In 1993, following Soorley and Quinn's public support for the centre, about 800 people signed a petition, organised by George Balandinos, opposing it. Balandinos, who stood unsuccessfully in 1994 as a Liberal council candidate, claimed that the Greek community and some local residents opposed the park being "owned" by any one group. He also said that Aboriginal artists were already well catered for by the state's Art Gallery. Balandinos' stand, which contradicted earlier Liberal Party policy, did force the cultural centre onto the election agenda. In response, the BCC appeared to change tack arguing that as the site was on crown land held in trust, the state government had the final say. However, the state government didn't want deal with what was fast becoming a controversial issue. In 1994, then Minister for Lands Geoff Smith criticised the council for not considering existing lease conditions for the site. Quinn later admitted that had forgotten to lodge re-zoning papers with the lands department. The council then established a $10,000 heritage study to determine if Musgrave Park was a suitable site for an Aboriginal cultural centre. The results are due out in mid-November. Quinn now believes the council made a mistake in proposing to offer a lease in 1993 and says that more "public consultation" is necessary. Yet, while drafting up its South Brisbane Development Control Plan in the early 1990s, the BCC held a number of public meetings at which there was overwhelming public support for a centre. State member for South Brisbane Anna Bligh said government support for a cultural centre in the park depended on the council's latest study and public consultation. Bligh said that the limited inner city green space was a legitimate concern. "Musgrave Park and Orleigh Park are the only two green spaces left in the area and people are concerned that green public space is preserved. It's not an anti-Aboriginal sentiment, but do we want to continue building things in what's very limited green space in an inner city area?" Lizabeth Johnson Bond, who has worked with the Aboriginal community for 29 years, said that for 20 of those, it has talked about establishing its own economic base in Brisbane. "To do that we'd have to have our own centre to conduct our own business and our own affairs." For her the issue is no longer just about gaining a lease for a cultural centre. She and others are now demanding freehold title of the entire park. "When we first started to hit the ball around Musgrave Park, there was no native title legislation .. now it's our final fall-back position." Andrew Dunstan, a non-Aboriginal resident of south Brisbane and an outspoken advocate of the cultural centre, is not very optimistic about the campaign's success. He believes the government has a hidden agenda. "They would really like to push Aboriginal people out of the central city, and they're scared that the community might push for a native title claim or some sort of permanent title to the whole park." Gentrification and rising rents are driving Aboriginal people out of the area. Since 1986 the area's Aboriginal population has declined due to rising rental costs associated with EXPO '88, and the South Bank redevelopment.
From GLW issue 212