To some people this may look just like any other ordinary satellite antenna. But when you look closer, this Alice Springs antenna depicts the colours of the land and the stories of its people.
The artwork painted on its surface recognises the Arrernte people as traditional owners of the land.The Arrernte people are the original Idigenous inhabitants of Arrernte lands, the land occupied by the township of Alice Springs (Mparntwe) at its centre, the land to the east as far as Wallace Rock Hole and, to the west to Watarrka (Kings Canyon) and as far as the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park.
Geoscience Australia’s CEO, Dr Chris Pigram, hosted the ceremony on Wednesday in Canberra’s Parliament House where he was joined by Arrernte artist Roseanne Kemarre Ellis and representatives from the Centre for Appropriate Technology Ltd (CAT) and the Desert Peoples Centre.
Dr Pigram says the antenna’s key role in the United States Landsat program makes it one of a kind.
“In 1979 Alice Springs was chosen to host the Landsat Ground Station because of its position in the centre of Australia. Some 37 years on, the antenna is still receiving critical data from international satellites, and with this $4 million upgrade it can now send commands to US Landsat satellites, making it one of only three in the world with this capability,” he said.
"Aboriginal art is like a depiction of the land and Aboriginal people do have an aerial view when they paint their art... So there is a connection to the art and the satellite imagery."
“The size of the continent means Australian communities rely on satellite imagery for a range of critical tasks; it is used to respond to natural disasters, monitor land use, develop agriculture and ensure our water security.”
Aboriginal not for profit company, CAT, project managed the antenna’s upgrade, which according to CAT’s Chairman, Peter Renehan, was a natural transition.
“What this project can show to the rest of Australia is that professional, locally-based Aboriginal organisations are capable and you can get these outcomes.”
CAT worked with the Desert Peoples Centre and Arrernte artist, Roseanne Kemarre Ellis, to commission the artwork and adapt it to apply to the antenna.
“Having the artwork on the antenna means a lot to Aboriginal people here in Alice, particularly our Board and the Council of Batchelor Institute and the other like-minded organisations on the site. It's a stamp for us to say this is Aboriginal country.”
The antenna was formally commissioned by Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan, who recognised the important role of the facility in supporting international satellite programs since its construction.