Newsletter 528

Published February 12, 2024
Just in the knick of time to save us from the Carpetbaggers!

I haven’t given up on the wretched Powerhouse yet, but I was distracted this week by another recurrent topic – the dear old APY Art Centre Collective. The story so far is that we are waiting to learn what action – if any – will be taken by two bodies who have had the opportunity to study a report commissioned by the South Australian, Northern Territory and Federal governments. The first body, the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC), seems to be prevaricating; the second, the Australian Consumer & Competition Commission (ACCC), has yet to say a word.

ORIC’s tardiness has drawn an angry response from the NT’s Minister for Arts and Aboriginal Affairs, Chansey Paech, who has been one of the few politicians to address this issue in a full and frank manner. He has accused ORIC of being a “toothless tiger” and suggested this issue gives them the perfect opportunity to shake off that image. Although details of the report have not yet been released to the public, Paech has said there was substantial evidence of wrongdoing in all nine areas of investigation.

Another story in the Oz told how the Ministers responsible for the report were looking at ways of blocking all funding to the APYACC until current management was removed.

One might think things were looking pretty shaky for the APYACC, but wait, what’s that? It looks like salvation is at hand in… The Return of Nancy Drew.

You may recall that in an earlier episode, Nancy Drew, intrepid reporter, wrote a strident defence of the APYACC, telling us the report had turned up nada, niente, rien, nichts. Nancy, who goes by the pen name of Gabriella Coslovich, decisively refuted Chansey Paech’s claims, even though he’s read the report, and she hasn’t. This is power journalism at its best!

After writing two gritty pieces for The Good Weekend and The Sydney Morning Herald, lamenting the terrible sufferings of the APYACC, one might have thought Nancy had exhausted the topic. But no, here she was in The Saturday Paper, with a blockbuster tale of how the infamous “white hands” video was taken by a man named Dicky Marshall, who was paid $1,000 for it, by art dealer, Chris Simon. “Ah-ha!” we cry. “That explains it all!”

Chris Simon, for those unacquainted with the Aboriginal art world, is an independent dealer of long-standing, who is regularly accused of being a “carpetbagger”. He is a favourite target for APYACC general manager, Skye O’Meara, who has made it clear that it’s the “carpetbaggers” who are causing all the trouble in the Aboriginal art market, not her own spotless business practices. Her definition of a carpetbagger appears to include anybody perceived as an enemy. But if we assume the term refers to a dealer who works outside of the art centre system, that seems a pretty fair description of the unorthodox practices of the APYACC.

Leaving these imponderables aside, Nancy’s big “gotcha!” moment arrived when she rang Chris Simon to give him a grilling, and he replied: “I don’t give a rat’s arse about what happens to the art industry. They have ruined it themselves, all those left-wing queers running it…”

This quote was considered so devastating it was used as a break-out on the page. It’s clear we were supposed to be horrified by Simon’s vulgar, homophobic, right-wing comments. But are the readers of The Saturday Paper so delicate they can’t imagine such language? We’re talking about the NT, remember. As most folks in the art industry consider themselves “left-wing”, that’s not much of an insult. As for “queers”, well, the number of people nowadays who proudly call themselves “Queer”, rather robs the word of its nasty connotations.

Besides, Chris Simon would not be the only dealer who would happily pay a grand to help expose an enemy who has attacked him on numerous occasions. It’s not as if Skye O’Meara hasn’t been the subject of plenty of alarming accusations herself, but she gets a very sympathetic hearing in Nancy’s article.

When I sat down to ponder this amazing scoop, I wondered, first of all, why did it appear in The Saturday Paper and not the newspapers associated with NINE media. Was NINE offered the piece first, but declined to accept it? If so, it demonstrates that even the SMH is capable of realising – eventually – that they were in danger of going too far down a poorly-lit path.

Secondly, the article doesn’t address the main issue: whether the APYACC is culpable for the “white hands” business and other allegations of wrongdoing. It’s no more than a smokescreen, a distraction. It wouldn’t matter if Chris Simon paid a million dollars for the video. Its mere existence is the problem.

And so, much as I admire Nancy’s energy in the way she keeps flogging this equine carcass, I can’t really see what her Shock! Horror! story adds to the picture. It’s not brilliant journalism to ignore all the inconvenient data and rely so heavily on the good will and testimony of the accused parties. The really big question it begs is: “Why on earth is she doing this?”

The art column this week is, at long last, a review of the NGV Triennial. Fortunately, the show runs until April, and so everyone should have the opportunity to catch it. I won’t labour the point here, but it’s a remarkable exhibition that demands to be seen first-hand.

I wish I coud be as positive about the movie, Force of Nature: The Dry 2, but it’s another Aussie flick that never manages to launch. Eric Bana is back as Aaron Falk, the troubled copper from Jane Harper’s best-selling novels, but the real star of the movie is the forest, which manages to have a lot more personality than the cast. What the Australian film industry needs is a Nancy Drew to tell us it’s all fantastic, and that Hollywood, or Bollywood, or Chris Simon, is to blame for all its failures.