Push for national Indigenous centre

A constituent recently dropped by Patrick Gorman’s office to show him mid-90s plans for an Aboriginal cultural centre.

WITH successive state government plans for an Aboriginal cultural centre having come and gone without a brick being laid, federal Labor MP Patrick Gorman says it’s time for the Commonwealth to fund a national centre in WA. 

First the Dowding government’s 1989 plan for a centre at the old Swan Brewery site, then the Court government’s 1994 plans for a “National Institute of Aboriginal Culture” at Beaufort Street’s Swan Barracks, the Barnett government’s plan for an Elizabeth Quay centre, then the McGowan government flagging something at the East Perth Power Station: All have come to nought. The lot at Elizabeth Quay is still just water even as the hotel and apartment developments have sprung up. 

Optimistic

Mr Gorman says after the lapsed plans: “I’m really optimistic we will get some movement by the end of the year. [It’s] been a good idea for a long time, but I believe the time has well and truly come”. 

The federal advisory body Infrastructure Australia has listed a national Indigenous art and cultural centre as one of the near-term needs in its 2020 infrastructure priority list, but didn’t suggest a location.

“Infrastructure Australia, which are pretty serious bean counters in terms of what infrastructure will be good for the national economy, say this is a national priority to have a series of such centres across the country,” Mr Gorman says.

He says Perth should get a national centre featuring Indigenous culture from across Australia, including modern stories and contributions to art, film and music. 

New South Wales, the Northern Territory and South Australia also want to host the national centre (SA almost got the title for its upcoming cultural centre, before quietly dropping the “National” bit after closed-door discussions with the federal government). 

Mr Gorman says there’s “huge appeal” for international tourists. “There’s survey after survey that shows authentic and accessibl e Indigenous cultural experiences is one of the key priorities for tourists, and one of their disappointments that they don’t access such experiences in their time in Australia.”

Perth’s bicentenary is coming up in 2029, which Mr Gorman previously described as a difficult milestone given the date marks the beginning of appalling treatment of Aboriginal people. But he says a national Indigenous centre would be an opportunity to make it a date of recognition, plus the federal government is known for splashing out cash to states in the lead-up to bicentenaries ($470 million in today’s money was spent on Sydney’s 1988 bicentenary). He recently ran a survey asking how to celebrate 200 years, and an Indigenous centre was the most popular result. 

Nonprofit city advocate group Committee for Perth are dead keen for a centre, having called for one for a decade now, and their June report said a world centre for Indigenous culture could be the “one big thing” to put Perth on the global map.

Perth city council chair commissioner Andrew Hammond endorsed their report and said an ideal location is in the heart of the city close to significant cultural sites.

“With a strong Whadjuk Nyoongar history and due to its location on the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River), Perth is a place of cultural significance in Western Australia,” his statement on the CfP report said.

“It would be a powerful message of reconciliation to have a cultural centre built in a place of such significance, with many suitable and iconic locations available throughout the City of Perth.”

Mr Gorman wouldn’t name a location, saying that’d have to be consulted on with traditional owners, but he has one stipulation: “Rather than a height limit, I’m putting a height requirement: It needs to be 67.5m tall so it’s bigger than the Opera House.” 

by DAVID BELL

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