Last Friday, Albert Namatjira would have turned 115 years old. To celebrate the birthday for one of Australia’s most famous Indigenous icons, Google created a special tribute that was visible to all Australians on July 28.
Albert Namatjira (Birth name Elea) was born on the Hermannsburg Aboriginal mission near Alice Springs back in 1902. He was an Arrernte man who wasn’t introduced to painting until the age of 32. He got his break when a Melbourne artist named Rex Baterbee asked Albert to be his guide around the Hermannsburg area and in return for his services, Rex introduced Albert to the art of water-colour painting. It didn’t take long for Albert to perfect the skill and for his reputation to spread across the country. Namatjira was the biggest Aboriginal name of his generation and there is a good chance that if you have an old water-colour painting gathering dust somewhere, it might just be one of his more than 2000 artworks.
Namatjira was also a pioneer for Indigenous rights, he was the first Indigenous person from the N.T to have his restriction lifted which allowed him to move outside from his mission home and into the white urban towns and cities (namely Alice Springs). He fame also helped to shine a spotlight on to many of the other restrictions that still applied to his close family and friends. At the age of 56 he was sentenced to 3 months jail (later transferred to confinement in a reserve) for accidentally supplying alcohol to an Aboriginal person when he left it in a car. Namatjira fought the case in the Supreme & High court however he was unsuccessful on both occasions. Albert died the following year of heart disease which was complicated at the time by pneumonia.
Since his death Albert Namatjira’s legacy has been honoured in songs, film, postage stamps, community development projects and the Government even named an electoral division after him near Alice Springs. Sadly, even though Albert left the copyright of his work to his family, it was not honoured after his death. His copyright was sold to the public trustee of Australia and has never been returned to his descendants to this day. His grandchildren and great grand children can still be found living rather poorly around the Alice Springs area. They have also inherited Albert’s artistic talents and often paint at Iltja Ntjarra – Many Hands art centre in Alice Springs.
Have you seen one of Namatjira’s paintings in person? Did you know that a portrait of Namatjira was the first portrait of an Aboriginal person to be named the winner of the famed Archibald art prize? If you would like to have your very own article like this one published on our website, feel free to contact us via our Facebook Page or by email.