Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, MONA in Hobart has a big vision for a National Truth and Reconciliation Art Park that acknowledges the truth of Australia’s history and its frontier wars with Aboriginal peoples.
Palawa man Greg Lehman worked on the development of the project providing advice into its acknowledgement of Indigenous Australians and, in particular, Tasmania's 'Black War. ' He says MONA’s vision could be a valuable disruption to the way Indigenous affairs has been conducted since the 70s.
“MONA is all about being confronting, challenging and critical. This project is something that could be a really valuable disruptor to the way we talk about Aboriginal Affairs, our issues and challenges,” said Lehman.
"We’ve ended up being drawn into arguments on other peoples terms, and not setting our own agendas. We’ve been progressively marginalised. We can disrupt that process and make other opportunities. This project does that.”
Hobart’s Lord Mayor Sue Hickey was quoted in the Mercury saying that a focus on Tasmania’s Aboriginal history would be “guilt-ridden” and that, “Whatever happened 200 years ago is really, really sad, but lots of atrocities have happened,” and, “I didn’t kill the Aborigines, and nor would I; it was a different era.”
She has since said her comments were taken out of context. However they managed to enrage many Indigenous people, including Palawa man Nathan Maynard who spoke to NITV from the rehearsals of his latest play The Season.
"Pretty stupid comment hey! Absolutely pathetic, that's just Tassie for you. You know when it comes to history and heritage in Tasmania it's a one way street and it's called White St. They don't like to acknowledge our fellas were even there.” he said.
Tammy Anderson is starring in Maynard’s latest play and invites the Lord Mayor to see the show to learn about the beauty of Palawa culture and maybe sit down to have a property yarn and cup of coffee afterwards.
“We’ve got a history and we need to face the past and recognise the truth to be able to move forward. Tasmanian [Aboriginal] people suffered and we continue to suffer today because of that invasion. It’s an inter-generational trauma that continues on. So her comments are very insulting and hurtful.” said Anderson.
Professor Mick Dodson says that the issues of the frontier wars have been ignored for too long.
“There has been a whitewashing of this in history - we ought to as a nation face up to the fact that there was 130 years of wars fought across this continent. This is a matter for our hearts. If we own up to this, it frees our hearts from this dark past. That’s when we will be mature as a nation,” said Professor Dodson.
Lehman said it’s a discussion we need to have and is impressed by MONA’s vision to create an internationally significant cultural precinct out of the former industrial site at Macquarie Point. He said rather than a bronze statue of a dead person or a granite obelisk, MONA’s vision is about dedicating the whole precinct to recognizing Indigenous Australians in the contemporary context.
“This is a vision for living country where we can have events, installations, performances and bringing together up to 30,000 people. It’s about practicing and our living cultures despite all attempted to obliterate Indigenous culture. It can also be a place of mourning for people to pay their respects, much like the Australian War Memorial does that. Our cultures celebrate all aspects of life, stories told by old people and our songs were about our struggle and survival,” said Greg.
MONA owner David Walsh agrees saying this vision is a starting point not a final destination.
"The project will evolve and new ideas will emerge, but we feel confident enough that the concepts proposed will allow the project to progress, and provide Hobart with a chance for the outcome it deserves," said Walsh.
Lehman’s involvement and relationship with owner David Walsh to include Aboriginal perspectives has developed over the six-years since MONA opened.
“I initially talked with David Walsh and it was a massive learning curve. I didn’t know what MONA could do or whether it could deliver," he said. "I focused on the frontier wars as the great silence in Australia’s history. It’s covering up something that in the international context is one of the most atrocious things that has happened anywhere in the world. David’s interested in getting out there on the edge and he listened,” said Lehman.
MONA’s Creative Director Leigh Carmichael said it’s the most important project he’s worked on to date.
“We want to create a space in which both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists and community members can connect, share and honour the past, and where everyone – including visitors to Tasmania – can celebrate the vitality of Aboriginal culture as an essential part of contemporary Tasmania," he said.
“We think the Park can provide a canvas for reconciliation and healing like nothing else Australia has ever seen.”
MONA’S Macquarie Point Vision is projected to take 30 years and include:
• A reconciliation Art Park
• Nine major fire and light installations - representing each of the first Tasmanian nations
• Tasmanian Aboriginal history centre, living culture centre, library and education facilities
• Light rail (three stations including options for a heritage rail station)
• Eden Project
• Contemporary Gallery & Art space
• Antarctic science & research precinct
• Six-star 500 room hotel (or three hotels)
• Conference and exhibition centre (2500 pax)
• Produce market (day and night, operating regularly)
• Hobart Music Bowl (7000+ capacity)
• Upgraded Antarctic gateway
• Upgraded cruise terminal facilities, additional warehousing and allied commercial offices and retail
• Residential retail marina with ferry terminals
Funding will be from government, philanthropy and other fund raising. More details of the vision will be released in early 2017.