By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Desert Song concert in Ormiston Gorge on the weekend was a powerful example of what an Aboriginal art gallery could do for Alice Springs, as long as it “gets people out on the road and connected to place,” says MLA for Stuart, Scott McConnell.
He describes the Ormiston a cappella as “one of the best entertainment experiences I have ever been to”.
Asked whether he thinks some tourists will pay a lightning visit to the gallery on their way to the Ayers Rock Resort or Darwin, he says that is “a possibility”.
For example, the north-bound Ghan arrives from Adelaide at 1.45pm and leaves for Darwin at 6.50pm, enough time for an “off train excursion” to the Desert Park, the town or the gallery, once built.
Of course, such a five-hour visit would result in practically no significant economic benefit to the town.
Mr McConnell says he is “absolutely committed” to a gallery in Alice Springs.
“But this place is special because of the landscape it is set in – the environmental as well as the cultural landscape.
“We need a lot more small projects across this landscape.”
He says the NT Government’s Arts Trail should go into “every corner of the Territory”.
Currently its major focus is the Aboriginal galley in Alice Springs, upgrades to the Nyinkka Nyunyu Aboriginal Art & Culture Centre in Tenant Creek and the Northern Rivers Gallery in Katherine, plus perhaps another gallery there as well, plus spending on galleries in Arnhemland.
These are the “key bits of the Stuart Highway spine” running north-south.
An east-west element needs to be added if the Alice Springs gallery is to make sense, along the East and West MacDonnell Ranges.
This needs to go beyond the “small amounts of art money” for Ikuntji Artists (Haasts Bluff) and Papunya Tjupi Artists.
The historic precinct in Hermannsburg and numerous other art centres in Central Australia need development support, and also such ventures as Kathy Buzzacott’s gallery near the Simpsons Gap turnoff and the Hermannsburg potters.
A business in Hermannsburg has started offering “side-by-side” off-road self-drive vehicle hire for trips into Palm Valley (similar vehicle pictured).
Much of that track is serious 4WD country but Hermannsburg can be reached from Alice Springs in a small and cheap 2WD vehicle.
A traditional owner is planning a small scale camp ground and cultural experience at Palm Valley.
A gallery would be a key attraction but is unlikely to be the economic saviour of the region “unless all these other little things are done” to connect people to staying here longer, travelling in the region, says Mr McConnell.
His resolute opposition to using Anzac Oval as the site for the gallery (providing its green space) is based on the massive expenditure for new rugby fields.
“We are proposing to plough existing sporting infrastructure into the ground and we have to rebuild it somewhere else.
“This is not a very good environmental, social and economic move.”
He says his constituents in the bush want him to take the position that “if we have $30m for new sporting infrastructure we should equitably spread that across the region and not spend it on one project in Alice Springs”.