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.