Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

SA Tarrkarri Centre for First Nations

An artist’s impression of the stalled Tarrkarri project on Adelaide’s North Terrace.(Supplied: Woods Bagot).

Rory McClaren & Stephanie Richards, Why Tarrkarri, a ‘jewel in the crown’ in Adelaide’s east, is still just a hole in the ground, ABC News, 16 May 2023

It was supposed to be a “globally significant” cultural institution drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.

But five years after it was first promised, the site earmarked for South Australia’s dedicated Aboriginal art gallery is just a hole in the ground.

The Tarrkarri project on Adelaide’s North Terrace is on hold after the government ordered a review of the plan, and another cost blowout has cast even more doubt over whether the museum will go ahead.

So, what’s going on?

What is Tarrkarri?

“Sharing 60,000 years of stories and songlines with the entire world” was how then South Australian premier Steven Marshall pitched the project when construction got underway in late 2021.

By that point, the project was already years in the making, having been pitched by the Liberals in opposition as the “jewel of the crown” of the party’s plan to redevelop the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site on North Terrace.

A centre bigger than the South Australian Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia combined, Tarrkarri was designed to showcase Aboriginal art, history and culture.

It would also allow tens of thousands of artefacts, which have sat in storage for decades, to be put on display.

The name Tarrkarri, which means “the future” in Kaurna language, was announced in 2021.

So, what happened?

In some ways, not much.

Some site work was done, but the North Terrace land is still largely just a dirt hole 18 months later.

That is because the newly elected Labor government put the project under review after its managing contractor warned of a $50 million budget blowout.

The government was told sticking to the project’s original $200 million budget would result in a centre that would only be of “local, state-level standard”, rather than the internationally significant project that had been envisaged.

concept designs of a new indigenous art centre located on north terrace

Some site work has been done, but the North Terrace land is still largely just a dirt hole. (Supplied: Woods Bagot).

Premier Peter Malinauskas then appointed former federal Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt, former New South Wales premier Bob Carr and businesswoman Carolyn Hewson to conduct what he called an “urgent” project review costing taxpayers about $60,000.

The trio was tasked with finding out how much extra funding was needed to make Tarrkarri a globally recognisable centre capable of drawing in overseas tourists.

What did that review say?

We don’t know that yet.

It was handed to the government last month, but it has not yet been publicly released, and the government is still being tight-lipped about when that will happen.

In the meantime, the government has cast significant doubt over the future of Tarrkarri.

Grilled in parliament earlier this month, Mr Malinauskas said the government was considering how it could fund the centre “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.

How much would it cost?

According to the latest estimates, much more than the original $200 million budget.

The premier told ABC Radio Adelaide on Monday that it could cost as much as $600 million – triple the amount originally budgeted — to build.

The Premier looking stern

Premier Peter Malinauskas says the cost of the project could blow out to $600 million if it goes ahead. (ABC News: Che Chorley).

“What the government is turning its mind to is, can we fit that within the budget or who can we partner with to achieve that objective,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“My firm view is, whatever goes, [it] has to be of a high-enough standard to benefit the precinct.”

So, what happens now?

For now, the wait for a final answer on the future of the project continues.

We might find out more next month when the Malinauskas government hands down its state budget.

With the premier making no secret of the need to find more cash for Tarrkarri, the budget provides him with the prime opportunity to pour extra money into it.

More money could also come by getting the federal government to up its $85 million contribution to the project. Mr Malinauskas has even opened the door to philanthropic or private investment to bring Tarrkarri to life.

“Any way that we can mitigate the expense to the state government so we can continue to focus on other priorities that we’ve got, whether it be hydrogen or three-year-old pre-school or unprecedented investments in health, that’s a good thing,” he said.

The other possibility is the government walks away from the project and goes back to the drawing board.

But one thing that is increasingly certain is that it will not open in 2025, as originally planned, with time quickly running out.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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