A Widening Gap: The Intervention, 10 Years On — 8 July to 5 August 2017
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.
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 witnesses a world that is remote from the essential services that the rest of Australia takes for granted. The tenth anniversary of the introduction of “the Intervention” — the Northern Territory National Emergency Response — has come and gone. Unlike the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum and the 25th anniversary of the Mabo High Court decision, it has not been celebrated. It was observed with significant protests and actions around the country.
A report into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, Little Children are Sacred (Patricia Anderson and Rex Wild, 2007) was hijacked by John Howard’s Government on the eve of a Federal election. The occupation was based on a disabled Racial Discrimination Act at odds with international human rights conventions. They sent in the army, the Federal Police and doctors to ‘stabilize’ virtually every single Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. In Central Australia, Prime Minister Howard and Minister Brough posed for photographs with troops as communities were terrorized to ‘close the gap’. They forced many communities into 99-year leases to access essential services.
The Intervention was quietly extended until 2022 despite only two of the ninety-seven recommendations in the Northern Territory government’s Report. Ten years on Pat Turner an Arrente woman currently CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Heath Organisation, said of the Intervention, “nothing has changed for the better” and the Intervention is “a complete violation of the human rights of Aboriginal people”. (ABC Radio, The Drum, Interview, 19 June 2017.) The Intervention 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.
The Intervention has everything to do with taking land and silencing and controlling Aboriginal people. Instead of schools, new police stations were built in community 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 ‘Stronger Futures’.
Ten years later the Don Dale Royal Commission into the abuse of children in juvenile detention in the Northern Territory was called. They found that youth arrests have increased over the past decade by 1571% for Indigenous females and 224% for Indigenous males. (Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT, NAAJA Submission, p. 9. Final Report November 2017.)
We are at a decisive moment. The Uluru Statement from the Heart (June 2017) presents just three recommendations as a way forward: a Voice to Parliament, treaties or the ritualised ceremony of Makaratta and constitutional reform to recognise First Nations rights and a truth commission.
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 the subject of the Royal Commission. Their works proclaim the Intervention as a thinly disguised land grab to benefit the mining and resources industry. ‘Stronger Futures’ has delivered a future that has impoverished and removed agency from Aboriginal people and their organisations, while communities struggle to sustain valued ways of life, art and culture. This independent research project tracks the brutal history of intervention into Aboriginal Sovereignty on behalf of pastoral and now mining interests.
The exhibition includes a splendid suite of watercolours by Arrente artists from Hermannsburg / Ntaria and Alice Springs carrying the legacy of Albert Namitjira. Their communities were the first occupied by Australian Army and police. The artists voice the indignities of the Intervention and their concerns relating to land rights and mining.
Mervyn Rubuntja responds to Prime Minister John Howard and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Mal Brough attempting to take control of Aboriginal land under the guise of their ‘Northern Territory emergency intervention. On his home video Mervyn Rubuntja speaks about his traditional land Ntyelkeme, about 150km northwest of Alice Springs in the Central Australian desert. “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.”
His colleague at Iltja Ntjarra / Many Hands Arts Centre Clara Inkamala says, “We want to send strong messages through our art. 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. (Source: Clara Inkamala artists in residency with Tony Albert and Timoteus Anggawan Kusno.)
Posters by Alison Alder, Chips Mackinolty, Fiona MacDonald and Jason Wing, reflect the vibrant connections between politics and printmaking. Alison Alder hones her fine wit on the BasicsCard as “the only card for when you have no choice” targeted social security payments are a ruthless form of racial targeting. Chips Mackinolty’s preposterous road sign proclaims a ‘National Emergency Next 1,347,525km’, over the vast area of the Northern Territory. He mocks the giant ‘Proscribed Area’ signs that now host great graffiti. Mackinolty’s other wicked faux road sign ‘and there’ll be NO dancing’, debunks the absurdity of centralised diktats.
The victory of the outstation and Land Rights movements of the 1970s, celebrated in Brenda L. Croft’s exhibition Still in my mind (UNSW Gallery, Sydney 2017), was trampled. Photographs by Brenda L. Croft, selected from her near-iconic series ‘Signs of the Times’, capture the wry subversion as communities react to vilification – including nationally significant places such as Daguragu where the Gurindji sought the return of their traditional lands.
Miriam Charlie photographs her family’s temporary housing (temporary since a cyclone in 1983). As Miriam Charlie says, ‘I am a Yanyuwa/Garrwa woman. I call it “My country, no home” because we have a Country but no home, people are living in tin shacks, in matchbox-sized houses. Even traditional owners here don’t own houses. I wanted to take these photos to show the world how my people are living. The project is not to shame them.’
Also included are several rare works arising out of the trauma of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin. The brutalising of children in detention disturbed Australian amnesia 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. Torture techniques shown included the image of a young man hooded and tied to a restraining chair. Spit hoods and restraint chairs, unlawful duration of solitary confinement, gassing and strip searches at whim (including of young girls), proved that governments were torturing young people in condemned adult prisons rather than educating. National outcry forced a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children.
Little children and scared, sick and Aboriginal young people are being removed from family and incarcerated at appalling rates. It is time to consider implementing the simple recommendations made by the extensive process that resulted in the ‘Statement from the Heart’. For the ‘proscribed communities’ (there are about 75 in the NT) 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 Uluru Statement presents a way forward: treaties or the ritualised ceremony of Makaratta and constitutional reform to recognise First Nations rights. As Australia’s presence at the Venice Biennial proves again and again, a strong Indigenous cultural base is Australia’s greatest resource.
Arena Magazine, ‘Ten Years of Intervention’, No 148, 2017. See Jon Altman, ‘The Destruction of Homelander Life-ways’.
Elisabeth Baehr, Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp, eds., ’And there’ll be NO dancing’. Perspectives on Policies Impacting Indigenous Australia since 2007, Cambridge Scholars, May 2017. Cover by Chips Mackinolty.
Mervyn Rubuntja, 2007, Youtube > https://youtu.be/F9oKtIauZ3o
Land Rights News, Northern Edition July 2017, On the 10 Year Intervention (includes articles by Pat Dodson, Jon Altman, Thalia Anthony).
CLC Newsletter, July 2017 on Uluru statement.
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.
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’.
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, 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 Art Centre, installation view The Cross Art Projects, July 2017. Country: Tjuritja (MacDonnell ranges) is 120 km of ranges west of Alice Springs. This is the country that belongs to the artists, all the way to Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and Glen Helen Gorge. Language: Arrernte or Western Arrarnta. Artists left to right: Mervyn Rubuntja, Digging at Coober Pedy, 2015. Mervyn Rubuntja, I need to put a sign – no mining! 2016. Mervyn Rubuntja, They are ripping us off at the East MacDonnell Ranges, NT, 2016. Vanessa Inkamala, Heavitree Gap (Climate Change), 2017. Reinhold Inkamala, UFOs near Mt Sonder, NT, (Climate Change), 2017. Gloria Pannka, Iwapathaka (Jay Creek, NT), 2017. Gloria Pannka, Climate Change- Dust Storms in the country, 2017. Lenie Namatjira Lankin, White man is coming, 2016.Gloria Pannka, Jay Creek between Fish hole and Ias hole Gap (flash flood), 2017. Betty Wheeler Naparula, Working on the Mereenie Loop Road, 2016. Mervyn Rubuntja, 2007: speaks about his traditional land — Ntyelkeme, about 150km northwest of Alice Springs in the Central Australian Desert. He responds to attempts by Prime Minister John Howard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough to take control of Aboriginal land under the guise of the ‘Northern Territory emergency intervention. View on Youtube > https://youtu.be/F9oKtIauZ3o
Brenda L. Croft, installation view: from ‘Signs of the Times’ series: Fight Racism, NT Intervention sign, Top Grid, Buntine Highway, 17 May 2011, 2014, pigment print 42 x 59.5 cm; NT Intervention sign, customized by John Leeman, Daguragu, 29 August 2011, 2014, pigment print, 42 x 59.5 cm. NT Intervention sign, customised by John Leeman, Daguragu, 29 August 2011, from ‘Signs of the Times’ series. Pigment print, 42 x 59.5cm. Courtesy Niagra Galleries, Melbourne.
Margaret Nampitjinpa Boko, Central Land Council Meeting, M’Bunghara, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 770 x 1220. (#07493-16). Artist’s statement: This painting is about a Central Land Council meeting at M’Bunghara Outstation about Native Title. There’s lots of people – families – kids playing basketball. All the papa [dogs], hanging round, playing. They listening to the white people talking about the Native Title we got over all of Glen Helen Station. That’s where M’Bunghara is. Family all got Native Title. This is all my family. Courtesy Tangentyere Artists.
Anon (Don Dale artist) / printer Franck Gohier. All your freedom gone. Don Dale Juvenile Detention Facility, Darwin, 2000. Silkscreen. Courtesy Red Hand Archive, Darwin.
Nick Bland, Don v Dale, 2017. Drawing. Courtesy the artist and Land Rights News and The Cross Art Projects.
Fiona MacDonald, Treaty Ma, 2017. Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 38 x 48cm. Edition of 3. Courtesy The Cross Art Projects.
Fiona MacDonald, Witness Statement 1 (Veronica and Pamela Lynch), 2017. inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 38 x 52cm. Edition of 3. Source images and texts courtesy Jeff Tan Photographer and Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG) Alice Springs. Smoking ceremony – Akeluyere. Courtesy The Cross Art Projects. Nick Bland, Don v Dale, 2017. Drawing. Courtesy the artist and Land Rights News and The Cross Art Projects.
Fiona MacDonald, Witness Statement 2 (Djiyinni Gondarra), 2017. Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 38 x 52cm. Courtesy The Cross Art Projects.
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. Courtesy The Cross Art Projects.
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. Courtesy The Cross Art Projects.
Jason Wing, Black Label (Restricted), 2016-17. Display stand, school books.
Jason Wing, Artist’s Statement
Black Label stems from a story I heard activist and artist Chips Mackinolty recounting on radio. At the time he had a friend who was living in Katherine when the intervention was first enforced. She had gone to the newsagent to buy her granddaughter exercise books, pens and newspapers for school, but her Basics Card purchase was rejected because the store also sold pornography and lottery tickets. After hearing Chips’ story I discovered many other incidences that were alarmingly similar; stories where Aboriginal people had been refused access to essential products and services since the intervention was first enacted. This pernicious censorship disempowers communities, and further demonises Indigenous people.
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.
Intervention resource and analysis including time lines at https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/northern-territory-emergency-response-intervention#toc6
Arena Magazine, ‘Ten Years of Intervention’, No 148, 2017.
Jon Altman, ‘The Destruction of Homelander Life-ways’, Arena Magazine, The Intervention Feature, no 148, July 2017. > Download as pdf
Elisabeth Baehr, Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp, eds., ’And there’ll be NO dancing’. Perspectives on Policies Impacting Indigenous Australia since 2007, Cambridge Scholars, May 2017. Description: Fourteen essays by scholars from Australia and Germany examine (historical) contexts and discourses of the Intervention and subsequent policies impacting Indigenous Australia since 2007.
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/
Mervyn Rubuntja, 2007: speaks about his traditional land- Ntyelkeme, about 150km northwest of Alice Springs in the Central Australian desert. He responds to Prime Minister John Howard and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Mal Brough attempting to take control of Aboriginal land under the guise of their so called ‘Northern Territory emergency intervention. Youtube > https://youtu.be/F9oKtIauZ3o
Publication: Land Rights News, Northern Edition July 2017, On the 10 Year Intervention (includes articles by Pat Dodson, Jon Altman, Thalia Anthony). > Download as pdf
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 > Download as pdf
Australian Museum on Social Justice including on Deaths in Custody RC https://australianmuseum.net.au/indigenous-australia-social-justice
On Ten Years of the NT Intervention
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.
Bibliography of Exhibitions on The Intervention and considering the 50th Anniversary of the Referendum granting Indigenous peoples the right to be counted as Australian.
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 https://www.crossart.com.au/exhibition-archive/ghost-citizens-witnessing-the-intervention-counihan-gallery-melbourne-17-may-to-16-june-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. UNSW Gallery, Sydney. Artist and curator Brenda L. Croft.
2017: Living in their Times, UTS Art, Sydney. Curator Djon Mundine.
2017, Anniversary of 1967 Referendum: The Dust Never Settles. Works from University of Queensland Art Collection, UQ Art Museum to 30 July 2017. Curator Michele Helmrich.
2017: Defying Empire: 3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial, Australian National Gallery, Canberra until 10 September 2017. Curator Tina Baum.
Reviews: A Widening Gap: The Intervention, 10 Years On
Unravelling Our Past: Four Exhibitions to See in July. Probing history to pose important questions about Australia’s future by Sammy Preston > Download as pdf
Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Metro’, Saturday 22 July 2017.
Chips Mackinolty, Treaty … Where, 2017. Digital print.
Chips Mackinolty’s banner, “Treaty…Where?” outside The Cross Art Projects heralding Saturday’s talk (2 pm) on Constitutional Recognition by Gemma McKinnon.
Installation view The Cross Art Projects from left to right: Alison Alder, Brenda L. Croft (detail), Fiona MacDonald, Nick Bland.