After visiting Hermansberg on our Honeymoon in central Australia, I have a greater understanding for the life this man must have lived. Not a ‘good’ understanding, just a better one than I had before. I saw much of his art and I would say you have too, even if you didn’t know it. At least you would have seen his influence.
Albert Namatjira’s landscape paintings of his country taught urban Australians to see the Red Centre as a living, rather than a dead heart. The first Aboriginal artist to exhibit professionally, Namatjira was one of Australia’s most prodigious and successful mainstream artists in the 1940s and ’50s. He was a traditional Arrernte man who worked as a stockman and lived at the Hermannsburg mission, where he learnt to paint with watercolours under the mentorship of Melbourne painter Rex Batterbee. His first solo exhibition, held in Melbourne in 1938, sold out. Over the next two decades, he produced more than 2000 paintings and founded a painting school. He was as famous as a symbol of the government policy of assimilation for Aborigines as he was for his art. But his high profile served to underline the lack of legal status for Aboriginal Australians when, despite having the funds, he was not allowed to lease a cattle station or buy a house in Alice Springs. Public outrage at his predicament pushed the government into awarding him and his wife citizenship in 1957. “He was definitely the beginning of recognition of Aboriginal people by white Australia,” according to activist Charles Perkins. (Photo: ACP Library)