L to R: Julie Squires, Marie Ellis, Roseanne Ellis.
The Alice Springs Town Council’s Gathering Garden is the inaugural public art project developed by Council since it adopted its Public Art Policy in 2006 and formed the Public Art Advisory Committee in 2007.
The Gathering Garden is an environmental art installation that was inspired by the Civic Centre’s rich history and was created to pay homage to its past and present. In its story is the cultural diversity of the Afghan and Indian cameleers who opened up the desert through their camel trains; the first mosque; early European settlers and pioneers such as the late horticulturalist and anthropologist, Miss Muriel Olive Pink and the Arrernte people on whose land Alice Springs is situated.
Cultural and linguistic ties are present in the Dari language of the cameleers, botanical words for Olive Pink and the words “come, sit, be”, which have been translated into different Indigenous languages.
Artist and Project Director, Julie Squires, created the concept of The Gathering Garden. Its form is based on a painting by Arrernte/ Walpiri artists and sisters Marie Elena Ellis and Roseanne Ellis, whose painting was created specifically for the Civic Centre site. (Photo below)
Julie created bronze coolamons for seating and for the centrally placed water feature. Traditionally the coolamon is used to carry babies, food and water; in the gathering garden it is a metaphor for the collection of different cultures and stories.
The central coolamon and water feature typifies the centrality of Alice Springs as a meeting place and symbolically represents the springs that continue to provide replenishment in the heart of the central desert. Its Mparntwe motif design acknowledges the central role and significance of the Arrernte land, its people and ancestory.
Leading authority and local horticulturalist, Geoff Miers, designed a desert native garden with species of plants, shrubs, trees and locally quarried sandstone, river rubble and granite. These works were coordinated by Council staff. The Garden comprising native plants will use little water and recycled water is used for the water coolamon.
The garden is a collaborative art project and includes Indigenous artists from nine communities surrounding Alice Springs. The Indigenous artists involved are Marcia Alice, April Campbell, Emma Daniels, Marie Elena Ellis, Roseanne Ellis, Tina Malbunka, Michael Nelsen, Thomas Rice, June Smith and M K Turner, who all produced paintings, which were transformed into their sculptural forms.
The Gathering Garden footpaths are made from a concrete mixture of sand and recycled glass. The aim is to demonstrate to the community how the Alice Springs Town Council plans to use recycled glass in future non load bearing concrete works around town.
The Gathering Garden is a jointly funded project between Alice Springs Town Council and the Northern Territory Government through its 2008 Public Arts Grant Major Works Program. The NT Government grant matched the Alice Springs Town Council’s expenditure of $150,000, totalling $300,000.