Centre of controversy

Contours of cultural recognition in a desert town

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  • Published
  • ISBN: 9781925603316
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

ALICE SPRINGS TOWN centre is surrounded by three prominent hills, each of them sacred to Central Arrernte people, the traditional owners of the area known as Mparntwe. All three hills have a place in this story. If you have visited Alice Springs, you have likely climbed or driven to the top of Atnelkentyarliweke (alternatively Untyeyetwelye) – known in English as Anzac Hill for its war memorial. From there you can see in every direction, across the rooftops of the town to the valleys and ranges beyond. The view is especially beautiful to the west, into the broad Larapinta Valley and up to the ranges that rise towards a peak known as Alhekulyele (Mount Gillen in English). It too is sacred, embodying the ancestral wild dog. It too has a place in this story about cultural recognition, aspired to but frequently foundering on ignorance and short-sightedness.

Let us start at the foot of one of the three hills, Akeyulerre (Billy Goat Hill in English). Its Arrernte name has become more widely known in town following its adoption by a unique organisation operating out of a small house there. It is a gathering and healing place for Arrernte families from in and around town. Activities are as simple as coming together for dinner. Large cauldrons of curry and spaghetti bolognese are cooked up in the tiny kitchen; kangaroo tails are roasted over hot coals out in the yard, which soon fills with dozens of family members, from the elderly to infants, and notably including teenage youths kicking a footy. More logistically challenging are the trips to country, on weekends and in school holidays, during which language and culture, including ecological knowledge, are passed on to young people. Some trips are dedicated to gathering plants that are used in traditional remedies. A small but enduring social enterprise generates income from the preparation and sale of this bush medicine. Senior women also earn fees for conducting smoking ceremonies for institutions like the hospital, for events like rallies remembering the stolen generations or protesting against domestic violence, and for private individuals – for instance, the occupants of a house where a death has occurred.

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