• Monday, July 14th, 2014

14 July, 2014 9:24AM ACST

Explorer statue to be erected

By Emma Sleath (Cross Media Reporter)   ABC Alice Springs.

After four years in the ‘long grass’, a statue of John McDouall Stuart will be erected this week in Stuart Park

It was unveiled to the public four years ago, and then it was gone.

But today, a statue that caused fierce community debate back in 2010, is back for good.

Council have confirmed the statue of John McDouall Stuart will be erected this week in Stuart Park, and this time it’s here to stay.

(Plans to put the statue up this morning have been cancelled due to the rain…)

It’s been well over a year since approval was given by the Northern Territory Heritage Council for the statue to be placed in the park.

Consent was given subject to the location being at the western end, although the reason for this has not been made public.

For sculptor Mark Egan, who was commissioned by one of the local Freemasons lodges to create the statue back in 2010, it’s been a long road.

Out at his rural property, just south of Alice Springs, Mr Egan carefully painting the statue with an anti graffiti coating – a big job given the statue is around four metres high.

“Well, the whole thing made me a little bit disappointed because I put all that effort into it…a lot of it pretty much for nothing,” he says.

“And then when the statue wasn’t even really looked at, and then just shelved for who knows what reason, yeah, it was fairly disappointing.”

The statue was gifted to council by the Freemasons as part of the town’s 150th anniversary celebrations for McDouall Stuart’s first expedition to Central Australia.

Although bound for a permanent home on the civic centre lawns, council changed the location to nearby Stuart Park following pressure from its Public Art Advisory Committee, who argued that it had not been consulted.

Other concerns emerged during a public meeting in the council chambers, including comments from some of the town’s Indigenous population that they did not want to be reminded about a history involving white men with guns.

However, council had seemingly failed to consider that the less prominent location of Stuart Park was subject to conditions under the Northern Territory Heritage Act.

And so, following a brief unveiling on the council lawns, the statue has resided at Mark’s rural property, just outside of Alice Springs, for the last four years.

“We all thought he was going to be staying here forever,” says Mr Egan.

“[So] I’m a little bit excited that he’s actually finally going up…I just hope he gets treated kindly in town.”

“It’s a good statue, I hope people like it and I think they will, once they forget about all the dramas.”

But given that the Heritage Council approved the location back in March last year, why the delay in its installation?

One can only assume negotiations between the Alice Springs Town Council and the Freemasons have broken down – and the original arrangement that the Lodge cover the costs of installation and maintenance no longer applies.

Council CEO Rex Mooney says the decision was made to take on these costs in the interest of expediency.

“The Freemasons indicated that they didn’t have any funds to support these expenses, and the council felt that it was going on too long, there had to be a decision made to erect the statue, it was gifted to the council, to the community, so the council took that proactive action and accepted those costs,” he says.

The then Worshipful Master Les Pilton, who instigated the idea, is no longer at the helm of the McDouall Stuart lodge.

And it’s been reported by the Alice Springs News that at a council meeting this year, the executive suggested that the statue be given back.

But council have clearly decided to press on, a local building company was commissioned to construct the base, and the statue of John McDouall Stuart will be erected on top of it this week.

(As such, depending on which way McDouall Stuart is facing, the explorer credited with opening up Central Australia could be left with a permanent view of a somewhat questionable ‘massage’ centre.)

It’s not the location that Mark Egan would have preferred, but the sculptor is happy his work will finally be going up.

“When all is said and done, more is said then done,” he laughs.

“I don’t know, it’s just damn annoying, you know, something so simple just make a statue…I think that’s typical of the world today isn’t it?

“Too much complication, too many rules and regulations…it makes you wonder whether it’s all worth while in the end you know, like you’d think it would be so easy, it’s just a bit of artwork and it’s not easy.”

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