Smoking ceremony held at controversial explorer statue

Aboriginal elders have conducted a smoking ceremony to protest a statue of explorer John McDouall Stuart in Alice Springs


Arrernte elders Irene Davis, MK Turner and Leonie Palmer conducted a smoking ceremony at the statue
(Emma Sleath - ABC Online)

Emma Sleath ABC Online 3 October 2014

Around 80 people attended a rally in Alice Springs calling for the removal of a four metre high statue of explorer John McDouall Stuart, the first European to traverse the continent from south to north in 1862.

An explorer who had at least two conflicts with First Nations people in the nineteenth century was commemorated with a statue of him holding a gun on a Masonic symbol platform right in the centre of Alice Springs in 2014.

The statue has been hounded by controversy since it was gifted to the Alice Springs Town Council in 2010, with some saying the work is culturally insensitive.

The rally, organised by Arrernte elders from the Akeyulerre Healing Centre, involved speeches and a smoking ceremony.

A letter was also distributed, written by the elders directly to John McDouall Stuart, accusing him of not asking permission to enter the land and of killing Arrernte people.
"You came to Mount Hay and you killed our mob," it stated.

"You went to Attack Creek and you killed more of our mob. This is murder and we can't forget it."

Arrernte elder Margaret Kemarre (MK) Turner was amongst these who wrote the letter calling for the statue's removal.


Arabuna and Arrernte man Kevin Buzzacott says McDouall Stuart is not a hero to Aboriginal people.
(Emma Sleath - ABC Online)

"We wanted to write the letter to talk to him as a person...so we can get people to understand it," she said.

"I think it's really disgusting, they've got no shame, they don't see how it is effecting all the Aboriginal people."

Fellow Arrernte elder Leonie Kngwarreye Palmer invited people to come forward and immerse themselves in the smoke.

"Smoking is really good for healing," she said.

"For what happened in the past, we're just going to smoke it away and live for our future."
Singer Warren H Williams also spoke at the rally, mocking the size of the gun and calling for the statue to be removed.

"This fella has destroyed both Arrernte and Warramungu [people] ... look at the statue, it's a big gun," he said.


Arrernte elder Leonie Palmer (on left) holds the open letter written to McDouall Stuart.
(Emma Sleath - ABC Online)

"They put a statue up of him, but never asked anybody, even the white people in this town if they can put it up..."

Deputy Chair of native title body Lhere Artepe, Michael Liddle, says he has approached the Alice Springs Town Council about placing another statue in Stuart Park.

"I'd like to see a push from Alice Springs Town Council to put a central Arrernte figure at that park," he said.

"So there's acknowledgement for the exploration that took place opening up this country, but there's also acknowledgment of the first Australians of this country."

Council responds

CEO of Alice Springs Town Council Rex Mooney says council had no formal notification of the rally until this afternoon.

Mr Mooney said some discussions have occurred within council of a Reconciliation Park being created at Stuart Park which would incorporate other statues.

"That's a comment that's coming from members of the public to council, it was discussed at a recent meeting with Lhere Artepe and at this stage it is a concept...and council is inviting a conversation generally about the merits or otherwise of such an idea."

The installation of the stature

Statue of White man holding a gun installed in Alice Springs

An explorer who had at least two conflicts with First Nations people in the nineteenth century was commemorated with a statue of him holding a gun on a Masonic symbol platform right in the centre of Alice Springs

The statue is of John McDouall Stuart, a Scottish explorer who had at least two conflicts with First Nations people during his explorations moving northerly from Adelaide, in the 19th Century.     READ MORE