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mona had made contingency plans for protests, picketing, bomb threats, and police raids. For a time, it troubled Walsh that none of the hate and contempt he had expected had eventuated. As the praise began to mount, though, as Tasmanians took to calling it “our mona,” as visitors sought him out to thank him, Walsh came to see that gratitude and respect are also emotions not without virtue.

 

And then national news bulletins reported that mona might have to close. Sitting in a restaurant he owns in Moorilla, overlooking the Derwent River, David Walsh talked about his tax problems over lunch last August. The Australian Tax Office had ramped up an aggressive campaign against Walsh and Ranogajec. With two hundred and fifty staff members working on the case, it was now seeking payment of, according to the Australian Financial Review, an estimated five hundred and forty-one million dollars in back taxes.

 

In Australia, gambling winnings are tax free. The tax office nonetheless made a claim for back taxes based on complex legalities. Walsh said that he was happy to pay tax on his winnings from 2010, the date of the claim, but he attacked what he saw as the injustice of the tax office’s retrospective demand for the taxes on the years before 2010, and argued that if it was successful he would have to close mona.

 

This was no hollow threat. At various times, Walsh has publicly declared that he has spent all his fortune on mona. In addition to the eighty million dollars he owes Ranogajec, he owes an undisclosed sum to his bankers. mona costs approximately twelve million dollars a year to run but makes only four million, with Walsh putting up the difference. In essence, Walsh has some minor assets, very large debts, an enormous tax bill, and a loss-making avant-garde museum at the end of the world.

 

The tax case was finally resolved in a confidential agreement in October, but it demonstrated the fundamental fragility of mona—its dependence on Walsh in all things. In his memoir, Walsh writes of Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” and there is more than a little of the vainglorious “king of kings” in him. In the restaurant, he told me he had plans drawn up to make sure that mona continues after his death, but his conviction suggests a belief that he could pay for mona in the first place. A senseless risk yesterday, it remains a wild gamble tomorrow. “If I cared about longevity, I wouldn’t have built a museum a couple of meters above the sea level,” Walsh told a newspaper in 2010. “The Derwent is a tidal river. In fifty years, there’s going to be a lot of money spent on mona, or it’s going to be underwater.”

Ricardo Gomes, Planning for Protest, Berlin

Photo: Ana Kovač

Ricardo Gomes, Planning for Protest, Berlin

Photo: Ana Kovač

Ricardo Gomes, Planning for Protest, Berlin

Photo: Ana Kovač

Ricardo Gomes, Planning for Protest, Berlin

Photo: Ana Kovač