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Mparntwe Sacred Sites (2004)

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clip 'A big book' education content clip 1

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Sweeping aerial views show Mparntwe (Alice Springs). Voice-over narration tells us that the landscape of Mparntwe was created by ancestral beings as they travelled through the country. Elder Max Stuart explains the principles of the Dreaming, and that it is like ‘a big book’.

Curator’s notes

The custodians of Mparntwe have to contend with developers when they attempt to maintain the sacred sites. The township of Alice Springs is built over Arrernte sacred sites, and Arrernte elder Max Stuart tells us that, despite the presence of the township, the Dreaming is still happening. In this clip we are introduced to the concept that, although the western township of Alice Springs was built over important Arrernte cultural sites which interrupts the Arrernte people’s cultural practice, the Dreaming itself is still happening.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip presents an Indigenous view of Mparntwe (Alice Springs). It includes Indigenous music and aerial views accompanied by a voice-over explaining how the landscape of Mparntwe was created by ancestral beings as they travelled through the country. Arrernte Elder Max Stuart explains that the traditions are alive despite the town buildings and some loss of culture. Peter Renehan, an Aboriginal man from Alice Springs, explains that Indigenous people are not against development but want some consideration of their traditions. The clip includes subtitles.

Educational value points

  • This clip uses the words of Elder Max Stuart to present the land of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) as ‘a big book’ for Arrernte people. He explains the Dreaming and tells viewers that without ink or pen, ‘We just kept it in our mind. Keep it in our head’. The features of the landscape were created by ancestral beings and Elder Max Stuart explains that while development has interrupted this landscape, the Dreaming remains present for the Arrernte people.
  • The clip asserts Arrernte culture and Dreaming as a living tradition through singing, the music of the clapping sticks and the subtitled commentary. The use of Arrernte language highlights the strength of the Arrernte culture. Elder Max Stuart says, ‘… underneath these houses … still there dancing … I can go walkabout and camp out on me own out bush. I can hear them mob talking to me. Under my pillow, they’re singing’.
  • The clip illustrates the difficult position of the Arrernte people in Alice Springs caught between maintaining their culture and the existence of some of their sacred and cultural sites beneath the town buildings and infrastructure. The commentary refers to a culture clash: the conflict between the duty to maintain sacred sites, care for the land and pass on spiritual knowledge to the next generation and participation in a modern town that continues ‘to damage their Dreaming land’.
  • The clip concludes with spokesperson Peter Renehan explaining that the Arrernte custodians are not against development but want more compromise and respect from the developers. He refers to custodians allowing roads to proceed because they are useful but also criticises the developers as ‘disbelieving’. While there is conflict between non-Indigenous developers and Indigenous people who want less development, the issue is presented as complex.
  • The clip reflects the contemporary situation of native title holders who have a say in future development in the area. The film was made in 2004, just four years after the recognition of native title in Alice Springs, which was the first recognition of native title in an urban area in Australia. Native title includes recognition of the Arrernte as traditional Indigenous owners who have rights to protect places of importance and to make decisions about the use of land.
  • This clip presents the development to date of the ‘big town’ of Alice Springs from an Indigenous perspective. The pale grid of streets appears insubstantial compared to the rich colours of the earth without buildings. The Arrernte name of Mparntwe is provided alongside the name given to the town that was renamed Alice Springs in 1933. Greatly expanded, today it includes a diverse Indigenous population as well as many non-Indigenous Australians.

This clip starts approximately 1 minute into the documentary.

A title card reads ‘Mparntwe Sacred Sites.’

Indigenous music plays over footage of the landscape around Alice Springs.
Narrator Alice Springs has always been known to the Arrernte people as Mparntwe. Each hill, creek and peak has an association with ancestral beings who’ve travelled through the area, creating features that make up its natural landscapes. Custodians continue to struggle to maintain their spiritual life against almost overwhelming odds while disbelieving developers continue to damage their Dreaming land.

Max Stuart, an Arrernte elder, is being interviewed outside.
Max Stuart (speaks in a mixture of an Indigenous language and English) The dreamtime is in this place here. The ground we’re holding is like a big book. All this one here, this is all the dreamtime. We got no ink and pen. We got no ink and pen here, nothing. We just kept it in our mind, keep it in our head. Arrernte people we are losing half of our culture. The white fella in town here, they made a big town. Big town they made. But inside underneath those houses, little house still walks around our dreamtime, still there dancing. The whole thing’s still going. I can go walkabout and camp on me own out bush. I can hear them mob talking to me. Under my pillow, they’re singing. ‘Where did you put the corroboree song? Where did it go? Should be like this.’

Indigenous music plays over footage of the township of Alice Springs.
Narrator Many sacred sites still exist within the town and are evidence of the cultural clash that is a part of life in Alice Springs.

Peter Renehan is being interviewed outside.
Peter Renehan We’re in an unfortunate situation that our land is here on where a town was built. But I don’t think custodians have ever been antidevelopment. Custodians are having to compromise most of the time to see development go ahead in Alice Springs. There’s been plenty of good stories around where roads and things have gone ahead because, you know, custodians could see a real need for it. It’s still happening. We’ve got native title in now, which is another layer of protection, but we have to keep compromising all the time. Sometimes I’d like to see compromise on the other side too.

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