Two years ago almost to the day I wrote a post here about the art auction fundraiser run by Northern Territory Environmental Defender’s Office (the EDONT) in an effort to keep its doors open and free legal advice flowing. In June 2015 the EDONT—like other EDOs around the country—faced closure following a withdrawal of funding by Attorney-General George “Soapy” Brandis, a double-whammy for the EDO that had already suffered savage cutbacks from the NT government, which reckoned that the shiny-bums in its own Environment Protection Agency could do the job.
The EDONT had scored a number of significant successes, including, as I noted at the time, a recent big win against the NT government.
The EDONT gave NT Land Resource Management Minister Willem Westra van Holthe a very bloody nose when Justice Graham Hiley of the NT Supreme Court found that van Holthe erred in the way he reviewed applications for a series of massive water extraction licences. As NT EDO principal lawyer David Morris told the local ABC, “The awarding of the licenses is of great concern because it occurred outside of the nationally accepted national water initiative which sets out the correct water planning process”
The 2015 art auction saved the EDONT’s skin and the auction has grown apace over the years, providing the single biggest financial contribution to the EDONT’s operating revenue, having raised over $50,000 for the office. To put that in context, in 2014 the first auction provided approximately 25% of the offices total income and approximately 35% in 2015.
2016’s auction had one important difference from the 2014 event—participating artists and art centres benefited as well—so the annual art auction now not only benefits EDONT, but also the artists and art centres that contribute to its success. Last year approximately $55,000 was returned to artists and art centres and over $50,000 went to the EDO. Participation with local art centres has also increased this year – up to 22 from last year’s 18.
Kirsty Howey, chair of the EDONT told The Northern Myth just how far above its weight the EDONT can punch:
These figures demonstrate just how low the EDONT’s operating cost base has been, and highlight the extraordinary nature of its achievements amidst this financial pressure. Just try to find a more efficient organisation in the Northern Territory. We are immensely proud of all that our tiny office has achieved under the remarkable leadership of principal lawyer David Morris. It is extraordinary that an office with one full time employee, and such a small operating revenue, has achieved all that it has for the protection of the environment using law in the Northern Territory.
Principal lawyer David Morris—given the (dubious?) honour of being nominated as the NT’s 37th most powerful person for 2016 by the local NT News—outlined the more recent successes of the EDONT:
In October 2016, we were successful in Federal Court litigation in relation to the Port Melville oil and gas marine supply base development. In November 2016, we were again successful in NT Supreme Court proceedings relating to a refused heritage listing for the Kulaluk lease area, an area synonymous with the early struggle for land rights. More recently, we have been fighting in the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal on behalf of Jacky Green for transparency around mining rehabilitation bonds, specifically the bond held for the McArthur River Mine. Outside of litigation we have provided legal advice on a wide range of matters and made submissions about mine closure policy, the regulatory regime for hydraulic fracturing, water licensing and environmental impact assessment.
One of this year’s stand out pieces is the Bombing of Darwin, by Susan Wanji Wanji. Impressive in scale and remarkable in its detail and subject matter, the piece records Wanji Wanji’s recollection of being on the Tiwi Islands when the Bombing of Darwin occurred during the Second World War.
The 2017 auction also features tremendous pieces from some of Australia’s premier Indigenous Artists including Timothy Cook, Dhawarrwarr Marika, Nancy McDinny, Stewart Hoosan, Jack Green, Samuel Namundja and Lily Hargraves Nungarrayi.
The 2017 EDONT auction continues the strong tradition of great art from great artists that has characterised previous shows. This year’s collection is larger than previous years, with 127 pieces from art centres from all over the NT. More than 15 of the artists with pieces in the collection have been finalists at the annual Telstra Art Awards and many have works in notable collections including the National Gallery of Australia, The British Museum, the State Art Galleries of WA, NT, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, the Linden Museum in Germany and the Seattle Art Museum USA.
The auction was launched at the Outstation Gallery in Darwin on Saturday 29 April and then run online via GalaBid, which is similar to eBay. The auction will finish with cocktail functions on 22 June generously hosted in Sydney by legal firm Gilbert + Tobin and in Melbourne at the offices of Arnold Bloch Leibler.
Current bidders include Kate Worden MLA, former NT Attorney General John Elferink and heavy hitters in business and the law including Scott Perrin (former director of Billabong), Sturt Glacken QC, Les Fallick (Chair, NT Infrastructure Development Fund), Phillip Nitschke, Phillip Boulten SC and Felicity Gerry QC.
In past auctions ferocious bidding wars have broken out (many of these works will go for very good prices!) between major law firms and the independent Bars in Melbourne and Sydney and the EDONT looks forward to watching that particular bloodsport from the sidelines …
You can view (and bid for!) all of the artworks for auction at the 3rd Annual EDONT Aboriginal Art Auction Fundraiser at the dedicated GalaBid website.