The Great Ingester

2020  80 x 120 cms  

Maggie Diaz’s 1960 photo of St Kilda’s Luna Park entrance was given generous exposure in the superbly produced Dura magazine.1 It brought to mind Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Child. A little research revealed Mr Moon’s visage had been transformed over the years. Clearly, aesthetics had dramatically shifted since his glowering 1912 visage. That old leering papier mache and chickenwire man currently wears a plastcised cheesy, customer-friendly grin.

 

Diaz’s image captures him as I knew it as a teenager and retains some of the menace that summoned the Goya. If, as claimed, the entrance artwork was inspired by popular illustrations of Olde King Cole, links to that merry music lover in the nursery rhyme were strained. The raking patterned paving, suggested by a photo found during my research, sucks the children onwards. The rictus smile grimaces, a foreboding of the thrills to be had on crossing beneath his gaping jaw.

 

What to make of the Goya’s devouring monster’s connection with Lunar Park and the kids from Whitegate? As with Jason Webb re-enacting Caravaggio’s Narcissus in the Deep Water painting, the monstrous mouth is a metaphor for the precarious challenges confronting the children. So often I’ve witnessed their spontaneity snuffed when entering mainstream schools and meeting the challenges of a curriculum at odds, or even denying their culture.

 

I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of ambitious educational efforts to address cross-cultural challenges peculiar to Central Australia. The Children’s Ground’s contribution in this respect is hugely significant. It has a tewenty-five year vision to inculcate a change of approach and redress systemic disadvantage with Arrernte parents teaching bi-lingually on their homelands. Staff hope to build respect by prioritising their culture, histories and aspirations and by so doing be seen as central to the nation’s identity.

 

Alice Springs is built on traditional Arrernte country, Mparntwe. I try imagining how I’d adapt to a foreign power taking control of my finances, having to learn its language, operate under its laws, and told where to live. I watch newly arrived immigrants, Sudanese, Thais, Iranians, and Indians, join the workforce with comparative ease. Struggles with cross-cultural communication have been amplified by increasing numbers of Alywarr, Anmatyerr, Pintubi, Pitjantjatjara, Walpiri, and Kaiditch people gravitating to town from remote communities consequential to the Intervention. The protocols these visitors to Mparntwe once observed no longer exist.

 

I’ve seen too many men and women my age die, many, in their thirties and forties, felt the bitterness at gravesites as we lowered their casks and tossed our handfuls of dirt on their lids. Some were good friends. And there are the early deaths of a dozen or so who’d grown up with my children. All these occasions were hard to bear and the direct result of conditions mainstream Australians would find intolerable. Catastrophic conditions.