By David Rathman, AM
Ambassador, Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre
Australia’s First Nations peoples belong to the oldest living cultures in the world and have much to teach us about the challenges facing Australia and many other countries. For more than 65,000 years, they have survived and thrived in diverse and harsh environments, overcoming challenges such as climate change, catastrophic droughts, rising sea levels and the threat of bushfires.
This week, we celebrate NAIDOC Week 2020 with the theme, Always Was, Always Will Be, recognising that First Nations peoples have occupied and cared for this continent as its first explorers, engineers, farmers, botanists, scientists, astronomers, artists and more. They worked in harmony with the riches of the lands, creating a sustainable living for their families. By handing down this knowledge and visual expression, the communities provided a respectful connection to Country.
Ambassador for the Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre, David Rathman, AM.
There is growing interest from fire management authorities in the use of Indigenous cultural burning techniques to help reduce the severity of bushfires, particularly in the wake of the devastating summer of 2019-20. Cultural burning generally uses small, controlled fires in the cooler times of the year to prevent fire risks, rejuvenate local flora and protect native animal habitat, based on local knowledge from traditional custodians to guide the size, shape, direction and duration of the burn.
There is also interest in traditional healing by medical professionals, which has led to Aboriginal healers becoming engaged in the delivery of some health services, and our native foods are becoming part of the national cuisine.
Here in South Australia, we are working to bring the many stories of Indigenous ingenuity, courage and resilience alive. The Aboriginal Art and Cultures Centre (the Centre), to be built at Lot Fourteen, will offer extraordinary, immersive experiences combining traditional storytelling with the latest technology, while respecting and connecting to the Kaurna as the traditional owners of the Country on which it will stand.
The Centre will help visitors to appreciate Aboriginal connection to Country as a cultural and spiritual journey over many thousands of years and to focus on their own cultural journeys. It will play an important role in reconciliation and healing by confronting the truth of European settlement of Australia to foster greater understanding.
The Centre is being developed in partnership with Aboriginal people and is supported with $150m from the Australian and state governments through the Adelaide City Deal. It will create new business and employment opportunities for Aboriginal people and a global cultural attraction that all Australians can be proud of.
To open in 2025, the Centre will showcase the South Australian Museum’s collection of more than 30,000 items from around Australia - the most comprehensive collection of Australian Aboriginal cultural material in the world. In addition, the Centre will feature artefacts and works of art in all forms from other institutions and organisations within SA and nationally, including Tandanya and the Art Gallery of SA.
Digitisation and other technologies will make the Centre accessible to people of all generations, revealing the richness of Indigenous cultures and sharing our respect for Country. This is our opportunity to use First Nations stories as a foundation to merge with contemporary life for our shared future.