Budget's arts flagship is, well, a flagship

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

HMS EndeavourThe 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 monument.' (And yes, that's 'indigenous' with a lower-case I.)

The release does not say that the idea has been guided all the way by Gweagal Elders. It does not say that the permission of Elders was sought or secured.

The Budget papers say that there will be 'cultural engagement and consultation with Indigenous communities, including specialised training for Indigenous cultural heritage professionals in regional areas'.

The papers do not say that any First Nations engagement or consultation has preceded this announcement. They do not say that non-Indigenous cultural heritage professionals will be trained by Indigenous Elders.

The budget papers do offer a small handful of other arts news. There's some money for SBS to focus on local production, as well as other location incentives. There's unexpected cuts to the ABC. And, astoundingly, given the damaged wreaked by successive budgets, there's no new funding for the Australia Council. In welcome news from the capital investment measures, the National Gallery of Australia will receive a much-needed $16.6 million over three years.

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

A permanent presence on the first site of local trauma is not a vision for a nation.

Brazenly, the Treasurer began his Budget speech with three provocations: 'What have you achieved? What are you going to do now? What does it mean for me?' Such questions can have no meaningful answer if you're posing them only to yourself.

Let's listen to our nation's Elders. Let's listen to the Referendum Council. Let's embrace the Uluru Statement and commit to overcoming 'the torment of our powerlessness' and enshrine a First Nations voice — not only in the constitution, but in key decisions such as this one.

 

 

Esther AnatolitisEsther Anatolitis is Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts.

Topic tags: Esther Anatolitis, Budget 2018, arts, colonisation, Uluru Statement

 

 

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Existing comments

This has certainly been kept under the radar. I had no idea and cannot believe such a waste by the Government in the face of so much injustice
Narelle MULLINS | 10 May 2018


Thank you Esther. When this announcement was made I was horrified. Last year marked the beginning of people acting upon the affrontery (?spelling) of the mass of monuments in celebration of invaders in this Land: the imposition of a one-sided portrayal of what was, as you make clear, from the very beginning, an aggressive invasion of a Land well lived in & cared for. To think that this government can conceive of this as an appropriate use of the public purse shows how out of touch they are with community sentiment. That this travesty will be billed to First Nations funding simply adds fuel to an already crackling fire. Buffoonery on show.
Bev henwood | 10 May 2018


The proposed $48.7m monument in honour of Captain Cook seems to me a terrible waste of money, given all the cuts announced in Tuesday's Budget. Cook was a great navigator, honoured by statues and many place names - but he did not lead the founding of a British colony in NSW. Arthur Phillip did. With extra money to splash around this year, the Government should have increased the Newstart allowance for one thing. I agree that the Government's ignoring of the Uluru Statement from the Heart was bad, and will have regrettable consequences.
Rodney Wetherell | 10 May 2018


Like the ridiculous expenses to commemorate the history of World War 1 in France , once again we are seeing unjustified expense on an event that happened 250 years ago and has very little relevance to modern Australia. I do not support the reinterpretation of history, as seems to be the case these days .To accept the current concept of 'invasion', means all invasions over the history of human kind have to be re evaluated . That is plainly incorrect . I am of Irish ancestry. I have a very strong connection with my ancestral homeland, having being back twice to trace my family history. I am well aware of the history of English subjugation of my people and the fact that as a result, my great grandfather was transported without trial to the colony of New South Wales for daring to oppose English occupation. I do not hold that against today's English people ; nor do most Irish people. That was an unfortunate aspect of history. I agree with Esther that the expenditure of such scarce funds can not be justified.
Gavin | 10 May 2018


I can't believe that our government would waste money on commemorating a ship, and take money away from the people on Newstart and other Centrelink payments (or rather, leave them stagnant), and ignore yet again the impact of the Indigenous people of our country. we need the Uluru statement to be put into practice, and no doubt the money from the ship project could go a small way to putting that in place.
Helen Kane | 10 May 2018


When did the word 'colonisation' become incorrect? Why is the beginning of the British presence on this continent now called 'invasion'? I know that the meanings of words change over time. Is the changing interpretation of the facts the cause of the change in meaning, or is a changed meaning the cause of the reinterpretation? In any case, Cook was a great navigator and a decent, though very narrowly educated, human being. He knew more about celestial navigation than 'terra nullius' for example. Why has he become a symbol of murderous evil? He was a man of his time, acting on what he knew. Let's not use him as a symbol of anything. If we must celebrate with a permanent memorial, can't we do it with symbols of European and indigenous cultures? And why isn't it OK to use the lowercase 'i'in 'indigenous'? So many questions...
Joan Seymour | 10 May 2018


Surely, rather than seeing this commemoration in the totally negative terms of this article and in most of the comments, one should take a serious big-picture historic view of the reality and inevitability of what happened 250 years ago. There was the inevitable meeting between a stone age people, who themselves had come out of Africa perhaps 100 thousand years ago or less and arrived in waves (after a pretty long and I expect action-packed treck) in this continent somewhere round 40-50 thousand years ago, and a rapidly industrialising and culturally much more advanced people from Europe. Had it not been the British it would have been some other national group in the next 20-odd years. This really was inevitable, as was the social and personal trauma and indeed decimation of the highly vulnerable indigenous people(s). It was also pretty tough, though on a very different scale, for the European arrivals, given their still relatively low state of technological development and distance form "home". But from this literal first "confrontation" a new nation has been created in which all the protagonists are now potentially equal citizens. This is what needs celebrating, albeit with realism about the huge human costs and the journey still to be made. There is also the vital issue emphasised by Eddie Mabo: that this first meeting also inevitably led to the first peoples being introduced to the story of Jesus Christ, and His life, death and resurrection, which was also for them. As Mr Mabo pointed out, the coming of this single message was the greatest event ever to have occurred to our Aboriginal peoples.
Eugene | 10 May 2018


Yes Cook was an extraordinarily capable navigator and commander. But material abounds that documents his achievements. He has whole towns and a university named for him. Spending $48.7 million on a rehash for the political benefit of Morrison and his colleagues is grossly wasteful when people on Newstart are living in penury. The gratuitous insult to the Gweagal descendants is also well brought out in Esther's piece.
Llewellyn Davies | 12 May 2018


Thank you. This information needs to be shouted from the rooftops of Australia. When will we learn?
Margaret lamb | 16 May 2018


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