• A Widening Gap: The Intervention, 10 Years On

    8 July to 5 August 2017

A Widening Gap: The Intervention, 10 Years On

8 July to 5 August 2017

Conversation on constitutional & cultural reform

Saturday 29 July at 2 pm: Gemma McKinnon, Barkindji woman and UNSW Law Aboriginal Fellow at the University of New South Wales and technical adviser for the Referendum Council regional dialogues, with Aboriginal (Bandjalung) art curator Djon Mundine OAM who has curated the exhibition with Jo Holder. Everyone is welcome.

Artists: Anon (Young Artist in Don Dale Juvenile Detention Facility) with printer Franck Gohier, Alison Alder, Nick Bland, Margaret Boko, Miriam Charlie, Brenda L. Croft, David Frank,  Iltja Ntjarra / Many Hands Art Centre (Mervyn Rubuntja, Lenie Namatjira, Reinhold Inkamala, Vanessa Inkamala, Gloria Pannka, Betty Naparula Wheeler), Fiona MacDonald with Intervention Rollback Action Group, Chips Mackinolty, Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney, Teena McCarthy, Sally M. Mulda, Mumu Mike Williams and Jason Wing. Co-curators Jo Holder and Djon Mundine OAM

A Widening Gap: The Intervention, 10 Years On marks the tenth anniversary of the introduction of “the Intervention” (the Northern Territory National Emergency Response). The Intervention has now quietly been extended until 2022 despite only two of the ninety-seven recommendations in the NT Government’s Little Children are Sacred Report being implemented. The Intervention is based on a disabled Racial Discrimination Act which is at odds with international human rights conventions. The exhibition reflects a world that is remote from the essential services that the rest of Australia takes for granted.

The Intervention (the Northern Territory ‘emergency response’) has failed yet it continues with its key measures in place: despite over 50 damning reports into the ‘widening gap', most published in the last 10 years. A Widening Gap, opens at a decisive moment after the Uluru 'Statement from the Heart' and the Don Dale Royal Commission into Juvenile Detention. (Whose final report is due September 2017.)

The artists in the exhibition come from the Northern Territory as well as from across Australia; are Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal; and include a young former resident of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre which has recently been the subject of a Royal Commission. These artists give voice to the indignities of the Intervention and express their concerns relating to land rights and mining. As Mumu Mike William's painting states, "I’m talking about land rights, and what the Land Rights Act means for us. I’m saying: 'Nya manta? What is land rights?"

The exhibition includes a suite of watercolours by artists from Hermannsburg carrying on the legacy of Albert Namitjira supported by Many Hands Arts Centre (Ngurratjura Iltja Ntjarra); Alison Alder, Chips Mackinolty, Fiona MacDonald and Jason Wing’s posters which reflect the vibrant connections between politics and printmaking; photographs by Brenda L. Croft and Miriam Charlie which capture the wry subversion as communities react to vilification and several rare works arising out of the trauma of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin. For the 77 'proscribed communities' living under the Intervention it has been a hard ten-years with no benefit. The poster selection by Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney attests to the dedication needed to keep the subject of human rights on the national political radar. 

The artists ask 'What now?' The recent Uluru 'Statement from the Heart' has presented a way forward: cultural and constitutional reform and the claiming of First Nations rights. A strong Indigenous cultural base is Australia's greatest resource.

Mumu Mike Williams, Nya Manta? 2016. Tea, ink, chalk pastel on 2 sheets of paper, overall 200 x 150cm. Courtesy Mimili Maku Arts.

Mumu Mike Williams' statement:

With this painting, I’m talking about land rights, and what the Land Rights Act means for us. I’m saying: 'Nya manta? What is land rights? All the old men and women here on these lands, they’re the owners of the Tjukurpa, their law and culture, their heritage. This land belongs to them. Listen: keep the land and its stories strong! Protect it and keep it strong for us — for everybody'.

Ten years ago white politicians said their Northern Territory ‘emergency response’ (NTER) — on the eve of a Federal election — was an urgent response to the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report into the neglect and abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory (April 2007, P. Anderson and R. Wild). The government sent in the army, the Federal Police and doctors to ‘stabilize’ virtually every single Aboriginal community in the Territory. Prime Minister Howard and Minister Brough posed for photographs as communities were terrorized to ‘close the gap’. The Intervention forced many communities into 99-year leases with the government for the essential services that we take for granted. The victory of the outstation and Land Rights movements, celebrated in Brenda L. Croft's concurrent exhibition Still in my mind  (UNSW Gallery, Sydney), was trampled. The Intervention is a thinly disguised land grab to benefit the mining and resources industry.

Instead of schools, eighteen new police stations were built and police search and arrest powers extended leading to a surge of people in remand. Change of government changed only the occupation’s name to the savage irony of ‘Stronger Futures’. A future under white occupation has impoverished and removed agency from Aboriginal people and their organisations, while communities struggle to sustain valued ways of life, art and culture. 

Ten years later, the amnesia of urban Australia was disturbed when, in August 2016, the ABC TV's Four Corners investigated CCTV evidence of the systemic use of force and abuse of Aboriginal children in detention in juvenile detention institutions in Darwin and Alice Springs and showed the now infamous photo of young Dylan Voller, hooded and tied to a restraining chair. The use of torture techniques such as spit hoods and restraint chairs, unlawful duration of solitary confinement, gassing and strip searches at whim (including of young girls), finally proved Federal and Territory governments were torturing young people in condemned adult prisons rather than educating them. This exposure forced a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

This is the second in a series of exhibitions at The Cross Art Projects that witness and discuss The Intervention and Australia’s ongoing human rights abuse. The first exhibition Ghost Citizens: Witnessing the Intervention, was presented in 2012 to coincide with the Sydney Biennale. (See links and Exhibitions Bibliography below.) Some of the original artists have been joined by a growing band of artist activists.

Mervyn Rubuntja, I need to put a sign – no mining! Watercolour on paper, 36 x 54 cm. Statement: “We need to stop that mining at Pine Hill station [North West MacDonnell Ranges, NT]. The wrong people are benefiting from this. We don’t want this mining there. This is a main sacred place for us not far from where they are mining, it is our Honey Ants Dreaming.” 

Mervyn Rubuntja, They are ripping us off at the East MacDonnell Ranges, NT, Watercolour on paper, 36 x 54 cm. Statement: Some outsiders are talking about mining at the East MacDonnell Ranges between Jessie Gap and Emily Gap. But I talked to my family and we decided: no mining there! Traditional owners in this area are not benefiting financially from mining, only the government and mining companies get the money. Custodians don’t get nothing, they get just enough for a biscuit…”

Mervyn Rubuntja, Digging at Coober Pedy, 2017. Watercolour on paper, 36 x 54 cm.

Betty Naparula Wheeler, Working on the Mereenie Loop Road, 2017. Watercolour on paper, 26 x 36 cm.

Iltja Ntjarra / Many Hands – install



Artist Statements

Clara Inkamala’s statement:

We want to send strong messages through our art. We have health and housing concerns. Through our paintings we want to discuss care for country, and problems that we face daily. I am concerned about the future of our children.

First, I feel that large food companies trade on our country and sell us sugary products. This causes health problems including diabetes, kidney failures, and the need for dialysis. We feel that those companies are lying to us about the quality of their products and taking advantage of our vulnerability. We would like to see better products in our shops. This [our artworks] is telling people we’ve got bush food out there and healthy ones.

Second, mining is ruining our land and our sacred sites. It is destroying the home of the little animals, our bush tucker and the vegetation. This damage only helps big companies to get richer and richer while the traditional owners get poorer and poorer. When I see those trucks on other people’s country it makes me sad, so we have painted this in our watercolours.

Finally, we want to move back to our country, look after it and live in a good environment. This is for our kids; we’ve got to try to look after the next generation.

Clara Inkamala about the studio studies conducted with artists in residency, Tony Albert and Timoteus Anggawan Kusno

Gloria Panka’s statement:

We had a meeting with the mining companies about this area. These mining companies might come back again.  If mining goes to that area it is going to destroy the habitat and animals. We will have no bush tucker, no Kangaroo, no Guanna. It will influence the landscape badly. Some traditional owners say NO, some say YES because of the money. I care about my country and say: No mining in my land.

Dust storm painting:  I feel that fire may destroy our country, that’s why I thought it was important to paint this story. I also painted the dust storms not far from where I am living, it’s a problem for our lungs, for sick people like me, you know….

Fiona MacDonald, Witness Statement 2 (Djiyinni Gondarra), 2017. Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 38 x 52cm.

Fiona MacDonald, Witness Statement 3 (Ngarla and Rosalie Kunoth Monks), 2017. Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 38 x 52cm. Source images and texts courtesy Jeff Tan Photographer and Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG) Alice Springs. Smoking ceremony - Akeluyere 

Anon (Don Dale artist) / printer Franck Gohier. Don Dale Juvenile Detention Facility, Darwin, 2000. Silkscreen

Nick Bland, Don v Dale, 2017. Drawing.

Chips Mackinolty, Treaty … Where, 2017. Digital print.

Alison Alder, Australian Political Disasters, 2017, installation comprising 10 prints. Edition of 2.

Alison Alder, The only card for when you have no choice, 2017. (detail) Unframed silkscreen print.

Jason Wing, Black Label


Thank you

Grateful thanks to the artists and Murray Mclaughlin, editor Land Rights News, published by the Northern Land Council, for the title. Art centres: Desart (Phillip Watkins), ltja Ntjarra / Many Hands Art Centre (Iris Bender); Mimili Maku Arts (Heath Aarons); Tangentyere Artists (Sue O'Connor). Kind assistance from Alcaston Gallery, Black Art Projects (Andrea Candiani), Phillip Boulten, Chloe Gibbon, Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, UTS (Paddy Gibson), Tony McAvoy SC, Damian Minton, Red Hand Press Archive (Franck Gohier), UNSW Gallery (Lucy Ainsworth) and UNSW Law (Gemma McKinnon). Collectives: Intervention Rollback Action Group (Meret McDonald, Barbara Shaw) and Stop the Intervention Collective (Cathy Gill, Sabine Kacha, Hans Marwe, Emily Valentine).

We acknowledge and respect all Traditional Owners & Custodians on whose Lands we live, work and travel through, in Australia and overseas.

Partner Links

Desart - Desart:Home / ltja Ntjarra / Many Hands Art Centre - https://manyhandsart.com.au/  / Mimili Maku Arts - www.mimilimaku.com/  / Tangentyere Artists - http://www.tangentyereartists.org.au/

References & Resources

Concerned Australians on the NT intervention - http://www.concernedaustralians.com.au/

An Intervention resource and analysis including time lines at https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/northern-territory-emergency-response-intervention#toc6

Jon Altman, 'The Destruction of Homelander Life-Ways. Genocide and Intervention in Contemporary Australia', in Arena Magazine, 'Ten Years of Intervention', No 148, 2017.

Michael Brull, ‘A Decade On, The Fraud Of The NT Intervention Is Exposed’, New Matilda, 28 June 2017 - https://newmatilda.com/2017/06/28/a-decade-on-the-fraud-of-the-nt-intervention-is-exposed/

Rosie Scott and Anita Heiss, eds., The Intervention. An Anthology, UNSW Press, 2nd edition 2016.

Referendum Council Media Release Uluru 'Statement from the Heart' > Download as pdf

Referendum Council Final Report, July 2017 - https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au/final-report

PDF Version, Referendum Council Final Report, July 2017 > Download as pdf

Social Justice

Australian Museum on Social Justice including on Deaths in Custody RC https://australianmuseum.net.au/indigenous-australia-social-justice

Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Child the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT. See https://childdetentionnt.royalcommission.gov.au/about-us/Documents/RCNT-Interim-report.pdf

Indigenous Law Centre UNSW - publisher Indigenous Law Bulletin & Aust Indigenous Law Review / UNSW Law website - http://www.ilc.unsw.edu.au/

On Ten Years of the NT Intervention

Also at http://stoptheintervention.org/10-years-of-intervention 

NITV News, The Point, June 19 2017: On 10th Anniversary of the NT interview with Rex Wild QC-co-author of the 2007 Little Children Are Sacred Report - https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/960649795842/the-point

ABC Radio, The Drum, Interview, 19 June 2017: Pat Turner, NT Intervention – “nothing has changed for the better”; the Intervention is “a complete violation of the human rights of Aboriginal people”: at ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2016/s4687879.htm  Related: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jun/19/child-protection-cases-more-than-doubled-after-nt-intervention-inquiry-told

SBS, NITV, 18 June 2017: 'Ten years of the NT Intervention - Voices from the Frontline'. On June 21 2007, the Racial Discrimination Act was suspended to allow the Northern Territory Response Act 2007 a controversial move that still effects communities in the Northern Territory. At http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2017/06/18/ten-years-nt-intervention-ten-testimonies-grass-roots 

Marion Scrymgour, Minister for Child Protection in the Northern Territory, gave the Charles Perkins Oration, 2008 at Sydney University. Scrymgour describes the Intervention in 2007 as 'the black kids Tampa'. She says the Intervention 'has nothing to with child protection, but everything to do with taking land and silencing and controlling Aboriginal  people'. Youth arrests have increased over the past decade by 1571% for Indigenous females and 224% for Indigenous males. Ten years later an urgent Royal Commission into abuse of children in juvenile detention is finally called. (Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT, NAAJA Submission, p. 9.)

Listen: http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2007/10/aye_20071027_1800.mp3


Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG), Alice Springs at https://rollbacktheintervention.wordpress.com/ and Shut Youth Prisons at on ShutYouthPrisons AS @ShutYouthPrison
Respect and Listen at http://www.respectandlisten.org/

Twitter: Indigenous Law UNSW - https://twitter.com/ILC_UNSW; #standup2017;  #NTIntervention

Working Group for Aboriginal Rights (Australia)publishes WGAR News which monitors the media focusing on the Australian Federal government intervention into Northern Territory (NT) with other Aboriginal rights issues. The newsletter is published about twice a week. To subscribe, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and include the words “subscribe WGAR News” in the message header.

Bibliography of Exhibitions on The Intervention

2012: Ghost Citizens: Witnessing The Intervention (The NTER 2007). Co-curators Jo Holder and Djon Mundine. At The Cross Art Projects then Project Contemporary Artspace, Wollongong, Counihan Gallery, Melbourne and NCCA, Darwin. Exhibition catalogue Counihan Gallery. At http://crossart.com.au/archive/98-2013-exhibitions-projects/190-witnessing-the-intervention-counihan-gallery-melbourne-17-may-to-16-june-2013 and- http://crossart.com.au/archive/99-2012-exhibitions-projects/167-ghost-citizens-witnessing-the-intervention

2013: 2013: Treaty, yeah?, Chan Contemporary Art Space, Darwin. Exhibition catalogue Northern Centre of Contemporary Art and Chan Contemporary Art Space. Curator Maurice O'Riordan.

2014: Wave Hill 50th Anniversary, Yijarni: True stories from Gurindji Country (2016) a project bringing together custodians, rangers, artists, linguists, oral historians, with Brenda L. Croft as project photographer.

2015: CCP Declares: On the Social Contract (with work by Miriam Charlie), Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne. Curator Pippa Milne.

2015: Tarnanthi, Art Gallery of South Australia and multiple venues in Adelaide. Co-ordinating curator Nici Cumston.

2016: Our Land, Our Life, Our Future. Vincent Lingiari Art Award, exhibition catalogue. Central Land Council, Desart, Tangentyere Artists. 

2016: Sovereignty, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne. Co-curators Paola Balla and Max Delany.

2017: Still in my mind: Gurindji location, experience and visuality. Artist and curator Brenda L. Croft, UNSW Gallery, Sydney.

2017: Living in their Times, UTS Art, Sydney. Curator Djon Mundine.

2017: National Indigenous Triennial, Australian National Gallery.