In December 2009, Wesley Aird, a member of the Gold Coast Native Title Group and board member of the Bennelong Society, wrote in The Australian that there was a culture of fabrication associated with Indigenous affairs in Australia that preyed on unquestioning mainstream Australians.
According to Aird, this culture of fabrication thrived “because of mainstream Australia's inability to spot a cultural fraud even when it is staring it in the face”.
“It is often shrouded in the mystical and unchallenged by the naïve for fear of giving offence,” he wrote. ”It is handsomely rewarded with grants by unwitting government officials. This false culture is abetted by a broad willingness to be hoodwinked.”
Aird said that in his own Indigenous community in south-east Queensland he had seen blatant cultural fraud and the fabrication of history. Elsewhere, the Hindmarsh Island affair in South Australia proved, he argued - in the courts, parliament and even through a royal commission - that “not every indigenous story should be taken at face value”.
“Chances are the underlying themes of that affair are being played out right now in any number of negotiations across the country,” he added.
I have just returned from another visit to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the natural heartbeat of our nation. And it is here that I would suggest that the underlying themes of the Hindmarsh Island affair - of cultural fraud - are still being played out.
I went to Uluru to see the new Talinguru Nyakunytjaku Viewing Area, which is located on the south-east side of the Rock. Built at a staggering cost of $21 million and completed in October 2009, the TN Viewing Area is supposedly a great boon to tourism in Australia’s best known national park.
But has it been?
While the usual suspects (Parks Australia and the industry body, Tourism Central Australia) made the expected positive statements, when I spoke to people on the ground - the coach drivers, the tour guides and the average tourist - there was much disquiet about this new viewing area.
On the very first evening I was there, I overheard a conversation between a shuttle service driver and one of her friends, in which the driver was quick to point out that the Talinguru view was not good at this time of the year and that there were shadows all across the Rock as the sun rose after a chilly dawn.
The next morning I drove to the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku Viewing Area in company with an Alice Springs-based cameraman, Chris Tangey. As somebody who has had a long and often unsatisfactory relationship with the park service, Tangey was less than impressed.
“It’s been designed with contempt,” he told me. “They spent $21 million on this viewing area but $21,000 spent on a consultant’s report would have told them that it was in the wrong place to see the sunrise.
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