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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Albert Namatjira - Artist, Northern Territory

Albert Namatjira was a man caught between two worlds, the Christian world of the whites and the Aboriginal culture he was born into. Born at Hermannsburgh Lutheran Mission near Alice Springs in 1902, Namatijr was baptised after his parents converted to Christianity. When he was 16 he went back to the bush for initiation by his people from the Arrernte community. He was later banished for several years because his wife Rubina was the wrong 'skin' group and he became a camel driver and roamed the desert that he loved.

In 1936 a painter from Melbourne, Rex Battarbee came to the area to paint landscape and Namatjira was his guide, showing him where all the scenic places were. That's when he was taught how to use water colours and his natural talent became clear. In 1938 his first exhibition was held in Melbourne. Subsequent exhibitions in Sydney and Adelaide also sold out. Queen Elizabeth II became a fan of his work and she asked him to meet her in Canberra in 1954. A painting of Namatjira by William Dargie won the Archibald Prize in 1956. His fame continued to grow but he was always happy to get back to Alice Springs.

He became very wealthy and being a member of the Arrernte tribe, he was expected to share everything equally with his extended family and at one time, he was providing for over six hundred people. Namatjira and his family finally took up residence in a squalid shanty in a dry creek bed at Morris Soak.

When an Aboriginal woman Fay Iowa was killed at Morris Soak, Namatjira was held responsible for bringing alcohol into the camp. He was sentenced to six months gaol but was released after two months on compassionate grounds. Soon after he suffered a heart attack, believing that relatives of Fay Iowa's family had pointed the bone at him and they were 'singing him to death'. After being transferred to Alice Springs hospital, he died soon after of heart disease complicated by pneumonia on August 8, 1959.

This talented man painted the country he loved so well and produced approximately two thousand pictures and founded a school of painting that still continues today. He and his wife had eight children.