Tasmanian Aboriginal
writer Greg Lehman stormed out. The President of the Senate, Tasmanian
Liberal Senator Paul Calvert was oblivious. But many of those who heard
his blunder looked stunned.

The scene was the Tasmanian Museum
and Art Gallery in Hobart last night, where hundreds of people had
gathered for the official opening of “National Treasures”, a travelling
exhibition drawn from the nation’s public libraries, curated by the
National Library of Australia in Canberra.

China could celebrate
thousands of years of national treasures, Calvert said, England could
celebrate hundreds of years, but Australia could only celebrate 200
years.

It was too much for Lehman, who charged out. He was
furious: “‘National treasures’ defines a nation. But it’s only about
200 years. It’s only about Australia post European invasion, there’s
nothing that pre-dates the colonial domain. Calvert’s representing the
Arts minister, Rod Kemp, at an official launch and his speech very,
very clearly represents the Government’s attitude to Aboriginal
Australia. We don’t exist.”

I missed the speech by TMAG Trustees
chairman Sir Guy Green – a former Tasmanian Governor and Chief Justice,
who adopted two Aboriginal sons and has several Aboriginal
grandchildren. Asked if he tried to rectify Calvert’s gaffe, Crikey was
told he let it pass.

In her foreword in the catalogue, Jan
Fullerton, director-general of the National Library, says the
exhibition covers “the period from pre-European settlement to the
present.” What? Well … it does include charts and journals by early
European navigators.

Crikey expects Kemp will bask in reflected
glory at the grand opening in Paris next month of Musee du Quai
Branley, in which vast works by eight Aboriginal artists have been
embedded in its walls, ceiling and glass frontages. But that’s a
different story.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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