Cloud and questions over CBD Aboriginal cultural centre

The ambassador for the suspended $200 million Aboriginal cultural centre on North Terrace says he would be “devastated” if it was scrapped and wants information after the Premier cast doubt over the project’s future.

May 03, 2023, updated May 03, 2023
Tarrkarri ambassador David Rathman. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily. Render: Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Woods Bagot

Tarrkarri ambassador David Rathman. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily. Render: Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Woods Bagot

The state government is currently considering the findings of a high-level review into the state and federal-funded Tarrkarri Centre for First Nations Cultures, slated to be built next to the Botanic Garden at Lot Fourteen to display the state’s Aboriginal cultural artefacts collection.

Construction was put on hold in October, after the project’s managing contractor advised the government of a $50 million cost blow-out and warned that the building would only be of “local state-level standard”.

Asked in parliament yesterday if the government had sought to redistribute funding for the project, Malinauskas said Cabinet would be “turning its mind to any opportunities to attract other revenue in the event that the project goes ahead at all”.

“As it currently stands, the government’s policy is to pursue the project, but we now have to contemplate that in the context of the full suite of recommendations from the expert review panel, then in due course we can also turn our mind to other opportunities around funding,” he said.

Tarrkarri Centre for First Nations Cultures ambassador David Rathman told InDaily he would speak to Lot Fourteen leaders today to “find out where things sit” with the project.

He said he hadn’t been informed of “any decisions or even any doubts” about the centre during discussions about its future.

“I will follow it up with (Lot Fourteen state project lead) Di Dixon just to check with her the lie of the land and what it’s looking like in terms of potential outcomes,” he said.

“I’d be devastated if it didn’t go ahead because some of us worked on this for donkey’s ages now and the historical importance of that (Aboriginal cultural) collection can’t be underestimated by South Australians – it’s just invaluable and irreplaceable.”

Rathman said he hadn’t received a copy of the review, but he understood it considered how much extra funding was required to make the centre internationally-significant.

“It was just a matter of the scale of the project that probably there was some discussion about and my understanding was the Premier still wanted something that was of international standing,” he said.

A summary report of the review, which cost taxpayers in the order of $60,000, is expected to be made public by the middle of this year.

Malinauskas told parliament yesterday that the future of Tarrkarri represented a “significant decision that the government will have to make in the months ahead”.

“What amounts to a firm view within the government is that this parcel of land, which is rare and therefore precious in its nature, must be best utilised for the long-term interests of the state,” he said.

“There isn’t a parcel of land coming up between the Botanic Gardens and the Railway Station really in any of our lifetimes again.

“This is the only one and we want to get it right.”

Malinauskas said the future of the project would be “under active consideration by the government and will be for weeks ahead”.

Former Premier Steven Marshall revealed plans to build an “Australian National Aboriginal Art and Culture Gallery” at Lot Fourteen ahead of the 2018 state election, at the time saying it would be “the jewel in the crown” of the Liberals’ plan for the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

Funding for the project was secured under a “city deal” signed between the Marshall and Morrison governments in 2019, with the Commonwealth chipping in $85 million and state taxpayers funding the rest.

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It would be an extraordinary slap to Australian First Nations people

Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith, who previously chaired the SA Museum board, told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that it would be “unthinkable” to scrap Tarrkarri and she didn’t believe Malinauskas had suggested that could occur.

“I think that clearly the costs were insufficient to build a structure of sufficient austerity, of magnificence and glory because this has to be an iconic building and clearly $200 million is insufficient for that to occur,” she said.

“Frankly, I don’t believe that our Prime Minister and our Premier would can something, disappoint Aboriginal communities and do it overall in the very year that we’re asked to vote on the Voice (to parliament).

“It would be an extraordinary slap to Australian First Nations people to say: ‘We’ve consulted you for six years and now we can’t afford it’.”

Lomax-Smith said Tarrkarri would promote reconciliation, provide employment opportunities for Aboriginal people and serve as a culturally-appropriate space to display the SA Museum’s collection of First Nations artefacts.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity and I think that $200 million was always going to be too little,” she said.

The panel appointed to review Tarrkarri – comprising former NSW Premier Bob Carr, former Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt and former investment banker Carolyn Hewson – told InDaily in January that the state government would need to invest a “big capital cost” to create an internationally-significant Aboriginal cultural centre.

They said they were not contemplating scaling back the centre; rather, they would tell the government how much it would cost to make the institution “the best in the world”.

Asked if they would recommend that additional taxpayer money be spent on the Tarrkarri project, Wyatt said: “If it leads to that, yes we will, because if you’re going to do this right and have the people of South Australia proud of a facility that no other state or territory will have, then that will require investment”.

– with additional reporting by Thomas Kelsall

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