Content Warning: This piece briefly describes an arrest of a young First Nations person.
On my way to the studio today I saw an Aboriginal kid getting arrested on the Alice Springs Town Council lawns. A plain clothed cop crouched in front of him, while she gently put cuffs around his wrists. He was sitting down with his back up against a tree, his wrists offered out in front of him. He seemed resigned, obliging. Across the road, four white tradies in high-vis shirts got out of a flashy white hire-car. They walked along the pavement jovial and joking. The cop escorted the kid to a van. I watched. I witnessed. It felt like it was the least I could do.
I ride my bike to the library. At the library, the code for free printing is 666. I print three of Ryan Presley's paintings onto separate A4 pages. I ride back towards Coles. I go past where the kid was arrested. It's like it never happened. Different people are around. The kid, the cops, the tradies are all gone.
It's cool inside Coles and everyone looks disoriented as usual. A woman has opened a bottle of moisturiser and is sniffing it to see if she wants to purchase it. Right as she inhales, we make eye contact. I buy some glue.
I sit in the park across from my studio, in the shadow of the large statue of explorer John McDouall Stuart. Two tourists with wide brim hats and backpacks materialise, then two more. They survey Stuart and read out the plaque quietly to each other. Then both couples disappear in opposite directions.
Stuart is a giant, made of concrete and steel. He must be 5 metres tall, along with the huge plinth he stands on. He looks south, from the direction he came. He leisurely holds a rifle. The rifle's base touches the ground, while the top points upwards at the clouds. The weather is warm and forgetful. A coach driver across the road is on the phone as he sweeps glass into the gutter with his foot.
I glue Presley's painting Crown Land (till the ends of the earth) (2016) to the plinth beneath Stuart. It shows an Aboriginal warrior on horseback attacking a four headed money breathing monarchy-dragon. Pasted on, the A4 reproduction suddenly looks tiny beneath the behemoth. A mere postcard from resistance.
From an ABC documentary I learned that Stuart was a drunk. On his long journeys up the interior he would straighten himself out. Whenever he returned to Adelaide he would spiral back into a drunken stupor. Possessed by a search for glory, he kept attempting to make it over land. The crown gave him that rifle, a military escort, and supplies when the project of a telegraph line was in sight, connecting the colony back to the motherland by wire. The military escort was given specifically for him to fight his way through 'the hostile tribes'.
A touristy family of three walk over. The man is large with a red shirt on and a cowboy hat. I watch them look at Stuart. If they noticed Presley's painting, they don't say anything. I'm not sure what I was expecting.
No one hangs out near the statue for long.
In the northern end of the Todd mall, there's a portable police CCTV trailer. It's a big box on wheels with a tall pole on top of it with multiple cameras attached. I sit down nearby and use a glue stick on the back of One Day This Will All Be Yours (2022). It depicts an Aboriginal mother using a taser on three white cops on their knees.
This trailer makes up one of 329 CCTV cameras in town. An all-seeing network of surveillance that feels like it covers every square inch of the CBD and beyond. This portable unit covers a blind spot created by a malfunctioning permanent camera, that crackles loudly. I am nervous. I'm about to be filmed vandalising police property, and then for arts sake, wait around to see what happens.
I walk up to the beast. Like Medusa, I do not want to look into its eyes or let it see mine. Someone's already graffed ‘fuckthePolice’ on it in blue texta. I glue the artwork onto it and sit back down. The police trailer continues its omnipresent vision, while its counterpart keeps crackling. Business continues below.
There are many cops in Mparntwe. In the Northern Territory, there's the highest ratio of police to civilians than any other state in the country. They're talking about trialling dogs this summer. The colour of my skin makes me largely invisible to the swarms of police. But the CBD is a melting pot for arrests; a launching pad for kids and adults from all over the central desert to jail.
Now there's a guy standing underneath the camera, smoking a cigarette and drinking a coffee. His shirt says CASH MONEY. A security guard ambles down the pathway. He's not looking for me.
I ride my bike up ANZAC Hill, also known as Untyeye-artwilye. There's a series of roadside signs as you go up the hill, commemorating Australian involvement in war.
Boer War 1899–1902
First World War 1914–1918
Second World War 1939–1945
Korean War 1950–1953
Malayan Emergency 1950–1960
Vietnam War 1962–1975
Indonesian Confrontation 1963–1966
Iraq 1st Gulf War 1990–1901
Iraq 2nd Gulf War 2003–2009
and then right up the top:
There's no mention of any frontier wars, and I guess that's the point. I live in a town so desperate for any narrative that can point away from the blood mixed into the soil. A couple of years ago, on the night before ANZAC day, someone spray painted the signs with the amount of civilian deaths under each war.
From the top of ANZAC Hill, I can see people's campsites along the river. It's a beautiful view of the town and the ranges. There are lots of people taking selfies and looking out. Too many to start gluing things to things, to start desecrating war memorials. It's a shame, Aeronautics (what goes up must come down) (2020) would look great up here. In it, an Elder and two youngfellas launch boomerangs to take down an enemy helicopter. I wait to see if I'll get my moment.
So I sit in the shade and play a game of online chess on my phone. A tiny flag image shows I'm playing someone else in so called Australia. I'm trying to get their king, while they try to get mine.
I think about a podcast I listened to recently featuring Bayo Akomolafe. When asked about power, he says “There's a kind of power that's occultic and diffractive, and yet to come. That is entangled and embodied, and is in league with rhizomatic movements and mushrooms and air and climate. That's a deep sense of power that escapes modernity. And I feel if we learn to listen, maybe we might learn to tap into those other spaces of power.”