Bid to raise more funds for giant Christian cross in Central Australia
The Christian organisation behind plans to build a giant illuminated cross atop a hill in remote Central Australia wants to raise a further $1 million for the project.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner has ruled out contributing money to the project, but added his Government had not been approached formally by the group.
The campaign for the 22-metre high LED illuminated Christian cross near the Indigenous community of Haasts Bluff or Ikuntji, 230 kilometres west of Alice Springs, is being driven by well-known landscape photographer Ken Duncan.
He said his organisation — the Walk-a-While Foundation — had already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from private donors and was lobbying local MLA Scott McConnell and Tourism NT, in a bid to raise an additional million for surrounding infrastructure.
"We've raised a lot of money to start building the cross," Mr Duncan said.
The organisation did not specify the exact amount of money that had been raised, but Mr Duncan said more money was needed for facilities like water and toilets at the site where the cross would be built.
Mr Gunner said his priority lay firmly with housing.
"We've got a $1.1 billion investment plan around housing. If we get an extra dollar really we've got a massive issue when it comes to housing out bush and that's our priority, not building a cross," Mr Gunner said.
Actor Mel Gibson linked to project
Actor Mel Gibson is school friends with Mr Duncan and has toured the proposed build site.
According to the Walk-A-While website, people who donate large amounts of money will be given an archival print from Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ signed by the actor, or props from the movie signed by Gibson.
Mr Duncan said a number of businesses wanted to help — including Microsoft, which has donated computers to the project — but that he would welcome government support, with the project likely to create local jobs.
"We're doing it very environmentally friendly and that's costing us a lot to do it that way," he said.
He compared the proposed cross to tourism icon Uluru.
"We're going to come up with a product that people all around the world are going to want to come and try," he said.
'It's something the community wanted'
Tim Morris-Smith, a former chief financial officer of Mission Australia, recently became involved in the project to help steer its financial and governance structure.
"This is what attracted me to it, it was something that the community wanted," Mr Morris-Smith, who is the director of the Walk-a-While Foundation, said.
"Seventy per cent of people who come to the Territory want an authentic experience of meeting with and understanding Aboriginal culture and only 3 per cent actually get that."
Haasts Bluff traditional owner and community leader Alison Multa said the project rose out of a collective vision during an Easter Service sing along several years ago.
"God gave vision for kids and old ladies, old people and they saw stairs and God was talking to them," Ms Multa said.
"We're all trying to get together and support [the cross] as one."
Pastor opposed to project
However, not everyone has given the project their blessing.
Lutheran Pastor Paul Traeger, a field officer with the Finke River Mission who worked locally for 16 years, was stunned the foundation had sought more money.
"Because of the huge amount of money involved [the cross is] more like a medieval cathedral which takes money away from the poor or the needy," Mr Traeger said.
Mr Traeger said he would be disturbed if the NT Government supported the cross.
"Why build a cross? Why not just have a caravan park? It's beautiful scenery."