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Budget's arts flagship is, well, a flagship

  • 09 May 2018


The flagship cultural measure in this year's federal budget is, rather strangely, a flagship: it's the Endeavour. Well, a replica of it.

The government has announced '$48.7 million over four years from 2017-18 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of James Cook's first voyage to Australia and the Pacific.'

It's the only arts initiative in the entire budget — and it's not even news; it was already announced a couple of weeks ago in a joint media statement by the Prime Minister, the NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage, the NSW Attorney-General, and the Treasurer. Not by Mitch Fifield as Arts Minister, but Scott Morrison as Treasurer. After all, the project will be presented in his electorate.

Let's put this announcement in some perspective.

In April 1770, James Cook landed in Kurnell and stayed for eight days. The Endeavour's crew was met by the Gweagal people of the Dharawal Nation, and as Sir Joseph Banks recorded in his journal, it took only 15 minutes for the unannounced visitors to pull out their muskets and open fire on locals, whom he described as 'threatening and menacing with their pikes and swords'. A Gweagal man was shot. The visitors were not harmed.

There was no communication, no negotiation. Dharawal sovereignty was never ceded. It would take over two centuries for terra nullius to be exposed as legal fiction even in coloniser law. In the meantime, the two-century mark was commemorated as a national celebration that repeated the erasure of a local culture that had pre-existed Cook by 60 thousand years and likely more.

Today, First Nations sovereignty remains unrecognised. The treaty documents Corroboree 2000: Towards Reconciliation and a Roadmap for Reconciliation — developed by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in the years following the botched Bicentennial and presented to John Howard in one of the most moving ceremonies the nation had ever seen — were ignored.


"What's at stake when a nation's budget fails to address culture?"


The Uluru Statement from the Heart — developed by the Referendum Council with hundreds of Elders at the 2017 First Nations National Constitutional Convention, and presented to Malcolm Turnbull last June — was also ignored.

Instead, our government persists in identifying dates, sites and monuments with no conscience for how they erase the world's oldest continuing culture.

So were the Gweagal community involved in this decision?

The media release says that 'A panel will be appointed, comprising local community and indigenous representatives to oversee commissioning, consultation and installation of the new