• A Widening Gap: The Intervention, 10 Years On

    8 to 29 July 2017

A Widening Gap: The Intervention, 10 Years On

8 to 29 July 2017

Artists: Anon Young Artist in Don Dale with printer Franck Gohier, Alison Alder, Nick Bland, Margaret Boko, Miriam Charlie, Jack Green, Iltja Ntjarra / Many Hands (Mervyn Rubuntja, Lenie Namatjira, Reinhold Inkamala, Vanessa Inkamala, Gloria Pannka, Betty Naparula Wheeler), Chips Mackinolty, Teena McCarthy, Sally M Mulda,  Mumu Mike Williams, Jason Wing.

Joined by Campaign Groups: STICS, Sydney (poster selection by Emily Valentine) and Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG), Alice Springs

The Intervention was quietly extended until 2022 — despite over 50 damning reports into the ‘widening gap’, most published in the last 10 years. This exhibition is in solidarity with those who continue to endure the Northern Territory ‘emergency response’ (NTER). The artists put a human face to the kinds of communities that have been vilified by their own government.

A Widening Gap, opens at a decisive moment and reflects on a third world that is remote from the privileged 'connectedness' of first world Australia. It is a world living under a disabled Racial Discrimination Act and in circumstances where many communities were forced into 99-year leases for the essential services that we take for granted. The artists in A Widening Gap come from NT and non-NT and are Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and include a young former resident of Don Dale Juvenile institution and some 60-somethings.

Ten years ago white authorities said their Northern Territory ‘emergency response’ (NTER) — on the eve of a Federal election — was an urgent response to the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ report into the neglect and abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory (April 2007, P. Anderson and R. Wild). The Government sent in the army, the Federal Police and doctors to ‘stabilize’ virtually every single Aboriginal community in the Territory. They terrorized some 77 communities to ‘close the gap’ between first and third world Australia. Eighteen new police stations were built with 50 additional police. Change of government changed only the occupation’s name to the biting irony of ‘Stronger Futures’.

Ten years later there was another media storm. The amnesia of urban Australia was disturbed when, in late 2016, the ABC aired evidence of the systemic use of force and abuse of Aboriginal children in detention in Darwin’s Don Dale institution — the use of torture techniques such as spit hoods and restraint chairs, unlawful duration of solitary confinement, strip searches at whim and gassing. It has become easier to incarcerate young people than to educate them. This exposure forced a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

The artists ask 'What now?' This is the second in a series of exhibitions that witness and discuss The Intervention and Australia’s ongoing human rights abuse. The first exhibition Ghost Citizens: Witnessing the Intervention, was presented in 2012 to coincide with the Sydney Biennale and shown in Sydney (XAP), Project Contemporary Artspace Wollongong, Counihan Gallery, Melbourne and NCCA, Darwin. (See links.) Some of the original artists have been joined by a growing band of artist activists.

Co-curators: Jo Holder and Djon Mundine OAM


Mervyn Rubuntja, I need to put a sign – no mining! 36 x 54 cm Watercolour Paper

Mervyn Rubuntja, They are ripping us off at the East MacDonnell Ranges, NT, 36 x 54 cm Watercolour Paper

Mervyn Rubuntja, Digging at Coober Pedy, 36 x 54 cm Watercolour Paper

Betty Naparula Wheeler, Working on the Mereenie Loop Road, 26 x 36 cm Watercolour Paper


Clara Inkamala’s words about the project:

We want to send strong messages through our art. We have health and housing concerns. Through our paintings we want to discuss care for country, and problems that we face daily. I am concerned about the future of our children.

First, I feel that large food companies trade on our country and sell us sugary products. This causes health problems including diabetes, kidney failures, and the need for dialysis. We feel that those companies are lying to us about the quality of their products and taking advantage of our vulnerability. We would like to see better products in our shops. This [our artworks] is telling people we’ve got bush food out there and healthy ones.

Second, mining is ruining our land and our sacred sites. It is destroying the home of the little animals, our bush tucker and the vegetation. This damage only helps big companies to get richer and richer while the traditional owners get poorer and poorer. When I see those trucks on other people’s country it makes me sad, so we have painted this in our watercolours.

Finally, we want to move back to our country, look after it and live in a good environment. This is for our kids; we’ve got to try to look after the next generation.

— Clara Inkamala about the studio studies conducted with artists in residency, Tony Albert and Timoteus Anggawan Kusno

Gloria Panka’s statement:

We had a meeting with the mining companies about this area. These mining companies might come back again.  If mining goes to that area it is going to destroy the habitat and animals. We will have no bush tucker, no Kangaroo, no Guanna. It will influence the landscape badly. Some traditional owners say NO, some say YES because of the money. I care about my country and say: No mining in my land.

Mumu Mike Williams statement:

With this painting, I’m talking about land rights, and what the Land Rights Act means for us. I’m saying: 'Nya manta? What is land rights? All the old men and women here on these lands, they’re the owners of the Tjukurpa, their law and culture, their heritage. This land belongs to them. Listen: keep the land and its stories strong! Protect it and keep it strong for us — for everybody’.


Mumu Mike Williams, Nya Manta? 2016. Tea, ink, chalk pastel on 2 sheets of paper, overall 200 x 150cm. Courtesy Mimili Maku Arts.

Chips Mackinolty, Treaty … Where, 2017. Digital print.

Anon (Don Dale artist) / printer Franck Gohier. Don Dale Juvenile Detention Facility, 2000. Silkscreen



Listen: Marion Scrymgour, Minister for Child Protection in the Northern Territory, gave the Charles Perkins Oration, 2008 at Sydney University. Scrymgour describes the Intervention in 2007 as 'the black kids Tampa'. She claims the Intervention 'has nothing to with child protection, but everything to do with taking land and silencing and controlling Aboriginal people'. Youth arrests have increased over the past decade by 1571% for Indigenous females and 224% for Indigenous males. Ten years later an urgent Royal Commission into abuse of children in juvenile detention is finally called. (Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT, NAAJA Submission, p. 9.)



The Intervention. An Anthology, eds., Rosie Scott and Anita Heiss, UNSW Press, 2nd edition 2016.

Vincent Lingiari Art Award: Our Land Our Life Our Future, exhibition catalogue, 2016. Central Land Council, Desart, Tangentyere Artists. 

Thank you

The artists and Phillip Watkins, Desart; ltja Ntjarra / Many Hands Art Centre; Mimili Maku Arts; Tangentyere Artists; and assistance from Alcaston Gallery, Black Art Projects.



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