View from Mount Ainslie looking across Lake Burley Griffin towards the Old and New Parliament House on Capitol Hill, Canberra, ACT. Courtesy of Shutterstock (Norman Allchin), 2022.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recently announced that the federal government has committed $316.5 million to build a new national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural precinct ‘Ngurra,’ which will be “built in Commonwealth Place, on the primary axis in the Parliamentary Triangle — between Old Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial” (Morrison, 2022).
‘Ngurra’ - meaning country, camp or a place of belonging in several Aboriginal languages - aims to become a “national landmark of the highest order” for all Australians to “celebrate, educate, reflect and commemorate” our shared history. This new Indigenous cultural precinct will provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a space to tell their stories in the way that they want to educate the next generations, and to help visitors gain a greater understanding of Indigenous art, culture, traditions and history (ABC News 2022).
The Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt (2022) said in a press release:
“Ngurra will provide a new perspective on our shared history, as a significant moment for truth-telling, and a new place where the diversity of Indigenous Australia and one of the world’s oldest living cultures will be celebrated.”
In order for the precinct to encapsulate truth-telling and the diversity, beauty and world views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, Ngurra will be made up of two parts. Firstly, it will become the new home for the independent collecting, publishing and research institute, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). The Chair of AIATSIS, Craig Ritchie, told ABC Radio Canberra that the commitment to the Ngurra precinct was "extremely fulfilling" as it is a proposal that AIATSIS has been pursuing for five years now. The new home for the institution will have public engagement education, gallery and exhibitions spaces that will enable the public to interact with and learn about First Nations’ cultures and stories in a positive and culturally appropriate way (ABC News, 2022).
Secondly, after a longstanding call since the National Resting Consultation Report was presented to the Government in 2014, Ngurra will also accommodate for a national resting place to house and care for repatriated ancestral remains of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders until they are able to be returned to their communities (Architecture AU, 2022).
Map of inner Canberra highlighting the Parliamentary Triangle, in which Ngurra will be built. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, 2022.
Aunty Roslyn Brown, Chair of the United Ngunnawal Elders Council, told ABC News how she felt about the addition of the national resting place to the new cultural precinct:
"It's very emotional that we'll be able to put our ancestors in a resting place informed by their own people.
This will be a deep spiritual movement for the wholeness of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of Australia."
While Ngurra is set to be a new “world-class facility,” what it will look like remains unknown until further notice. The Morrison government will be holding an architectural design competition for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural precinct and the inner structures. The design must be "fitting for the location and [one] that reflects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' aspirations, achievements and deep connection to country.” An independent jury panel will be judging the design entries and making recommendations to the government. Morrison assures that the precinct will be “built fully in accordance with the proposal developed by AIATSIS and presented to government for approval, as a result of their consultation processes.”
The government will be publishing further details of the competition for Ngurra’s architectural designs next month. We will definitely be keeping our eyes peeled over here at Yarn on the progress and development of this phenomenal, history-making precinct. Like Minister Wyatt, we hope that Ngurra will help visitors gain a deeper appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' diversity and cultures, and that it will significantly contribute to our nation's continuing journey of reconciliation.