Please note: Some of the content on this page was published prior to the launch of Creative Australia and references the Australia Council. Read more.

Bringing it Forward: The journey towards a national body for First Nations arts and culture

Oct 05, 2022


In 2018 and 2019, the Australia Council for the Arts travelled around the country talking to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people about a national body for First Nations arts and culture, with the working title of ‘National Indigenous Arts and Cultural Authority (NIACA)’.

The discussion about a national body has been going on for a long time, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been calling for cultural rights for even longer. The idea of a national body for First Nations arts and culture is part of a continuum of First Nations-led cultural rights advocacy, and investment in First Nations arts, that stretches back five decades to the first national summit of First Nations artists in 1973 (see Timeline).

The Bringing it Forward report tells these important stories.

The Australia Council is publishing the findings of the NIACA consultation, and its history and context, so that the First Nations arts and cultural sector can continue the discussion and self-determine the next steps on this journey.

Listen to project overview:

A consultation on a national body or ‘NIACA’

The consultation in 2018 and 2019 involved:

  • a discussion paper
  • over 40 consultation forums across Australia attended by more than 500 First Nations people
    • Locations included Brisbane, Cairns, Thursday Island, Port Augusta, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin, Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney, Broome, Kalgoorlie, Albany, Perth, Canberra, Launceston, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Rockhampton, Mt Isa, Dubbo, Moree, Barkly, Coffs Harbour, Armidale, the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, Mildura, Shepparton, Gippsland, the Torres Strait Islands, and Alice Springs
  • an online survey which received 270 completed responses, including 95 from First Nations people or organisations (35%) whose responses have been prioritised in the analysis
  • 15 written submissions, including 11 from organisations
  • regional summits
  • expert roundtables for young people and industry.

Key findings

Click on the headings below to expand the findings.

All submissions, the overwhelming majority of consultation forums and 88% of First Nations survey respondents told us, yes, there should be a NIACA.

Recurring themes of the consultation included needs for:

  • a First Nations-led body for First Nations arts and culture at the national level
  • greater ICIP protection
  • action to address fake art and cultural appropriation
  • a national body to develop or oversee protocols that set standards for consent processes
  • a platform for First Nations artists’ and cultural practitioners’ voices at a national level
  • a model that coordinates, supports and champions local and regional decision making and existing regional and art form-based bodies
  • a non-hierarchical structure that reflects First Nations cultures, such as an ‘assembly of nations’.

While most consultation participants supported a national body in principle, they also had concerns about:

  • its ambition
  • its need for funding sustainability in an already oversubscribed sector
  • duplicating the work of existing peak bodies and services
  • reflecting the diversity of First Nations people
  • how power and authority would be gained and delegated.

There were conflicting views on:

  • whether it should have ‘teeth’
    • ‘Authority’ was a trigger word for some, who suggested alternative terms such as ‘forum’, ‘national body’, ‘alliance’, ‘portal’ and ‘agency’.
  • the scope of cultural material it would cover
    • While nearly all participants thought it should cover the arts, some within the First Nations arts and cultural sector felt a NIACA should use a holistic approach by including other areas such as languages and cultural property.

Despite these views and concerns, there was substantial agreement that a national body for First Nations arts and culture is needed to fill a gap in national infrastructure, and could be formed via a network or alliance of existing organisations across art forms and regions.

Many participants spoke of the national body as an agile ‘facilitator’, ‘coordinator’, ‘connector’ or ‘go to’ referral agency which could work both-ways: acting as a portal to First Nations arts and culture for industry and government; and helping First Nations artists to navigate existing networks and services and have their voices heard nationally.

And while there were some different ideas about specific priorities and the tools it would use (which could change over time), there was consensus about the core values of a national body:

  • self-determination
  • empowering, connecting and amplifying existing strengths
  • growing opportunities
  • protecting cultural and creative rights for future generations.

Some immediate priorities participants identified include forming a body that is First Nations-led with a clearly defined purpose; mapping existing organisations, services and gaps; and creating a space for conversation between all art forms, communities and networks.

There is substantial opportunity for such a body to support intersecting areas of policy development underway. This includes the Closing the Gap commitment to shared decision-making through structures such as national peak bodies; proposed cultural rights legislation and referral pathways for artists; investment in the cultural determinants of First Nations health; and national cultural policy that respects and celebrates First Nations cultures.

As intersecting policy discussions continue, this opportunity and knowledge must not be lost – we must continue to build on the discussions, learnings and collective efforts of the journey towards a national body for First Nations arts and culture.

Continuing the conversation

The conversation is continuing, and it is not pre-determined that a national body will go ahead.

Purrumpa, a First Nations arts and culture national gathering, took place on Kaurna Yerta from 31 October – 4 November 2022, with dedicated sessions exploring and discussing the findings and what the First Nations arts and culture sector wants the next steps to be.

Discussions at Purrumpa highlighted the need for further conversations, and for work to map the First Nations arts and culture sector’s existing organisations, gaps and needs.

They also highlighted a desire among many who were present to continue to build on the momentum of decades of work, and in a way that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel safety, trust and self-determination.

You can email with your comments on the Bringing it Forward report.


Warning: Readers should be aware that the following contains the names of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The discussion about a national body for First Nations arts and culture is part of a long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander thought leadership, cultural rights advocacy and investment at the Australia Council. The Australia Council’s First Nations Arts and Culture Strategy Panel acknowledges those who have come before us.

We also acknowledge the many more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and cultural practitioners who have served on the Australia Council’s First Nations art form sub-committees and peer assessment panels over previous decades, which ensure the Australia Council’s dedicated funding to First Nations people, groups and organisations through our grants program is assessed wholly by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peer assessors.

The Australia Council recognises the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ self-determination, cultural authority and leadership to our collective prosperity.

The many people who have contributed to this work include (but are not limited to) those who served:

Dick Roughsey (1973–76)
Wandjuk Marika (1976–80)
Larry Lanley (1980–81)
John ‘Sandy’ Atkinson (1981–83)
Chicka Dixon (1983–86)
Robert Merritt (1986–89)
Lin Onus (1989–1992)
Richard Walley (1992–1996, 2000–04)
John Moriarty (1997–2000)
Chris Sarra (2005–08)
Mark Bin Bakar (2009–12)
Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin (2012–14)
Wesley Enoch (2014–21)
Larissa Behrendt (2022–)

Gary Foley (1984–87)
Gavin Andrews (1987–88)
Chicka Dixon (acting 1988)
Peter Brown (acting 1989)
Lesley Bangama Fogarty (1989–94)
Lydia Miller (1994–1997, 2005–2021)
Fay Nelson (1997–2000)
Cathy Craigie (2001–05)
Franchesca Cubillo (2021–)

Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin (2013–2016, Deputy Chair 2016–21)
Philip Watkins (2022–)

Albert Barunga (1973–75)
Mudrooroo Narogin (1989–90)
Harold Blair (1973–75)
Justine Saunders (1989)
Ken Colbung (1973–76)
Fiona Foley (1990–92)
Kitty Dick (1973–76)
Cliff Watego (1990)
Wandjuk Marika (1973–75)
Maureen Watson (1990)
Chicka Dixon (1973)
Eve Fesl (1991–92)
Ruby Hammond (1973)
Stephen Page (1991)
Eric Koo’oila (1973)
Charles Perkins (1991)
Tim Leura Tjabaljari (1973)
Debra Pilot (1991–93)
Albert Lennon (1973–74)
Djon Mundine (1991–92)
Raphael Apuatimi (1973)
Roslyn Watson (1991)
Mick Miller (1973–75)
Lafe Charlton (1992–95, 2002–06)
Vai Stanton (1973–76)
Banduk Marika (1992, 95–99)
Terry Widders (1973–75)
Kaye Mundine (1992–95)
Samuel Ganaraj (1974)
Deborah Rose (1992–95)
Edward Koiko Mabo (1974–76)
Sonya Arnold (1993)
Bobby Nganjmirra (1974–77)
Ron Hurley (1993–96)
Jack Phillipus (1974–75)
Lydia Miller (1993–94)
Leila Rankine (1974–76)
George Milpurru (1993–94)
Walter Pukutiwara (1975–77)
Kaye Mundine (1994–95)
William Reid (1975–76)
Brenda Croft (1995–96, 2004–08)
Billy Stockman (1975–77)
Robyn Forester (1996–98)
Larry Lanley (1976–80)
Vicki maikutena Matson-Green (1996–97)
Wendy Feifar Nannup (1976–80)
Ellen Jose (1997–98, 99)
David Mowaljarlai (1976–78)
Napau Pedro Stephen (1996–98)
Mary Duroux (1977–80)
Terrence Coulthard (1996–99)
Val Power (1978–80)
Mark Bin Bakar (1997–2003)
John ‘Sandy’ Atkinson (1978–79)
Deborah Mailman (1997–2000)
Jimmy Stewart (1978–80)
John Kundereri Moriarty (1997–99)
Jack Wunuwun (1978–80)
Leo Akee (1999–2001, 2009–12)
Larry Jakamarra Nelson (1979–82)
Alana Garwood-Houng (1999–2001)
Betty Colbung (1981–82)
Yvonne Kopper (1999–2001)
George Kaddy (1981–82)
Peter Pungkai Bertani (2000–03)
Maurice Luther (1981–82)
Lenore Dembski (2000–03)
Claude Narjic (1981–82)
Margaret Valadian (1981–82)
Peter Woods (1981–82)
Ephraim Bani (1983–87, 93–95)
Colin Cook (1983–88)
Jack Davis (1983–87)
James Everett (1983–87, 89–90)
Charles Godjuwa (1983–85)
Albert Mullett (1983–86)
Thancoupie (1983–85)
Oodgeroo Nonnuccal (1983–85)
Peter Yu (1983–87)
Lin Onus (1985–86, 88, 90–91)
Nola James (1986–88)
Paul Martin (1987–88)
James Wilson-Miller (1987–88)
Geoff Narkle (1987–88)
Jo Willmot (1987–89)
Nora Bindal (1988)
Kevin Cook (1989)
Joseph Geia (1989–90)
Januarrie (1989–91)
Jonathan Brown Kumunjara (1989–90)
Sally Morgan (1989)
Ray Kelly (2000–04)
Sandra Phillips (2001)
Julie Gough (2002–03)
Janina Harding (2002–06)
Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello (2002–06)
Djambawa Marawili (2004)
Anita Maynard (2004–06)
Gina Rings (2004–08)
Terry Djambawa Marawili (2005–08)
Chris Sarra (2005–08)
Rosie Barkus (2007–08)
Richard Frankland (2007–10)
Tara June Winch (2007–10)
Jeanette James (2007–13)
Lynette Narkle (2009–11)
Desmond ‘Kootji’ Raymond (2009–12)
Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin (2010–11)
Melissa Lucashenko (2011–13)
Rachel Maza (2011–13)
Monica Stevens (2011–13)
Lydia George (2013)
Ben Graetz (2013)
Charmaine Green (2013)

Angela Hill
Clothilde Bullen
Darryl Danton Murgha
Diat Alferink
Ebony Williams
Elizabeth Cavanagh
Frederick Gesha
Murrumu Walubara Yidindji
Kylie Belling
Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin
Leo Brian Akee
Lisa Michl
Liza-Mare Syron
Lydia George
Mitch Torres
Nancy Bamaga
Nici Cumpston
Robynne Quiggin
Tessa Rose
Tracey-Lea Smith
Trevor James
Walter Saunders

Franchesca Cubillo (2014–17)
Patrick Mau (2018–20)
Michael Leslie (2014)
Major Moogy Sumner (2018–20)
Jeanette James (2014–17)
Christian Thompson (2020)
Tristan Shultz (2014–17)
Jared Thomas (2018–21)
Peter White (2014–17)
Marlene Chisholm (2020–22)
Terri Janke (2015–16)
Wayne Barker (2020–)
Nancy Bamaga (2017–2020)
Janina Harding (2020–)
Hetti Perkins (2017–19)
Nardi Simpson (2020–)
Sonia Smallacombe (2017–20)
Vicki West (2020)
Jason Eades (2017–21)
Sienna Stubbs (2021–22)
Stephen Page (2018)
Troy Casey (2022–)
Jody Broun (2018–19)
Nathan Maynard (2022–)

Joanne Brown, Manager First Nations Arts and Culture (2018–21), Director First Nations Arts and Culture (2022-)

Patricia Adjei, Manager First Nations Strategic Development (2016–18), Head of First Nations Arts and Culture (2018–)