Songline Show Cancelled

This article first appeared in The Australian 28 March 2014

Sarah Martin and Verity Edwards, ‘Songline show canned over threat’

A CONTROVERSIAL exhibition depicting an ancient Aboriginal songline has been indefinitely postponed by the South Australian Museum after a group of trad­itional owners threatened to take legal action.

Meanwhile, more than 50 Anangu people from South Australia’s remote northern Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands gathered on the lawns of the museum in Adelaide last night, “devastated” by the cancellation of the show, which had been due to open tonight.

The group of Anangu, led by Yami Lester and George Kenmore, wrote to the South Australian Museum through their lawyer Shaun Berg on Tuesday threatening a Federal Court injunc­tion if the exhibition opened.

Mr Lester, who has raised concerns about the sharing of secret men’s stories, has accused the participants of “selling their culture”.

“We feel happy our voice has been heard,” he said yesterday.

Traditional law man Hector Burton told The Weekend Australian last Saturday he and others were opposed to the exhibition revealing the men’s songline to public view. “Don’t interfere and take what’s ours,’’ he said.

It is believed that the concerns of the senior men focused on the use of early archival materials in the exhibition and on the lack of consultation.

But organisers say there have been 25 representative regional and community meetings since 2009 for the show, and the use of the songline was first approved by the APY Council in 1996.

The chairman of Ananguku Arts and Culture Aboriginal Corporation, David Miller, said most traditional owners supported the exhibition. “We are the cultural elders,” Mr Miller said. “We are all sitting around now asking each other, ‘How come this one’s going to be closed?’ ”

Former chairman of the community of Amata Frank Young said some of those opposed to the exhibition were not “law men”.

“These people here, they are the traditional owners of the country,’’ he said.

“People are feeling bad now because here a lot of people want it to happen.’’ The museum confirmed last night that the exhibition would be postponed indefinitely in response to claims some trad­itional owners might not have been consulted.

The project has received $1 million in government funding from the Australian Research Council; Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts; and the National Museum.

The exhibition tells the story of Ngintaka — a giant perentie lizard — tracing its journey across the Western Desert area from north of Mount Woodroffe, past Mimili in the southeast of the APY lands, and winding back to the West Australian border.

The region’s women’s council, which strongly supports the project, said it was inevitable that some people would be opposed to the sharing of the Ngintaka story.