Kaltja conference on cuts to Aboriginal arts


By John Girdham

DARWIN — Only two days after the announced budget

funding cuts to ATSIC, an indigenous cultural symposium was held

at the Northern Territory University to discuss the immediate and

long-term position of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

arts and craft industry.

The Kaltja business conference, which ran August 15-18, brought

together key figures involved in promoting indigenous art and

culture, plus many Aboriginal artists who arrived three days

earlier from remote outback communities in northern and central


A delegate body had already met both Senator Alston (minister for

the arts) and Senator Herron (Aboriginal affairs ) on August 2,

presenting them with resolutions stating the fact that the

Aboriginal arts industry returns $230 million per year to the

Australian economy and that Aboriginal arts are presented

internationally as a key component of Australian culture.

Christine Christopherson of the Association of Northern Kimberley

and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists, who spoke at the conference,

attended the August 2 meeting. She stated that the government had

been planning the cuts for months and yet not once had it entered

into any dialogue with Aboriginal arts representatives. "They

have forced us to sit on our hands and wait." She said that

in the interview with Herron, he was arrogant and patronising.

A number of the invited speakers said that the attack on

Aboriginal art and culture is an attack on the reconciliation

process. Gawirrin Gumana, from north-east Arnhem Land, spoke

fervently against the attitude of white government:

"Government don't recognise us, government didn't recognise

us as the first people on the land. We are cultural persons.

Other people try to take away our culture; you call us


Lydia Miller from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts

Board of the Australia Council stated, "Indigenous art is our

cultural expression. They are our rights, not special treatment.

Our art is an expression of how we think, live and behave, and

it's our children's heritage." She went on to say that the

Australian government had made an international commitment to

providing services and programs to the Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal art centres often have a social and communal role in

remote outback communities. In Ernabella in central Australia,

for example, the art centre provides training and employment as

well as providing a loans scheme for essential items.

In Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley of Western Australia, where

the people speak 12 different languages, the art centre often

defuses tensions within the community. Karen Dayman, a director

of Fitzroy River Arts, stated that the loss of their arts centre

could result in independent dealers moving in and creating vices

within the community for their own profit.

In Oenpelli in north-west Arnhem Land, the art centre generates a

cash flow into the community by the sale of art to southern

galleries or tourists. However, Andrew Hedley of Oenpelli Arts

says that government cuts may damage the ability of the centre to

operate effectively and so lead to a loss in revenue for the

artists and the community.