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On Albert Namatjira’s Plains

by Pamela Nathan

‘On Albert Namatjira’s plains, appreciation for a familiar landscape reborn’, by Amos Aikman, The Weekend Australian, 4-5 January 2013.

A wonderful photo shows Lena Namatjira standing on the ochre plains of Central Australia of Ntaria – the country of Namatjira and his paintings. The article describes the visit of two grandchildren of Namatjira and their visit to meet the Queen and see the paintings their grandfather gave her. It describes the revival of Namatjira and the popularity of other Hermannsburg artists. It mentions that there will be an exhibition at the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs of five generations of artists from Hermannsburg, which is indeed impressive in terms of cultural continuity and identity and I imagine of interest to see the development, sameness and difference, over the generations.

Namatjira grew up on a mission. In 1957 was granted citizenship and exemption that prohibited “full-blood” Aborigines from drinking. In 1958 he supplied alcohol to another Aboriginal artist, for which he received a prison sentence of six months. This was reduced to three following a public outcry. He was criminalized for doing what a white man could legally do – share alcohol. He died the year after – in some ways, it seems, a broken man. Now we celebrate Namatjira, whom we once condemned to prison; albeit his artwork was celebrated and coveted then as it is today.