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Albert Namatjira Essay

Albert Namatjira was an Aboriginal artist well known for his watercolours of Australia’s outback. He was the first Aborigine to be given Australian citizenship. The Archibald Prize-winning portrait of Albert Namatjira by Sir William Dargie (1956) Albert Namatjira’s Early Life Albert Namatjira was born into the Arunta (also called Aranda) tribe near Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission (near Alice Springs) on 28 July 1902. Before he was christened, his name was Elea. The name Namatjira, in Aboriginal language, means “flying ant”.

Albert Namatjira was an Aboriginal artist well known for his watercolours of Australia’s outback. He was the first Aborigine to be given Australian citizenship. The Archibald Prize-winning portrait of Albert Namatjira by Sir William Dargie (1956) Albert Namatjira’s Early Life Albert Namatjira was born into the Arunta (also called Aranda) tribe near Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission (near Alice Springs) on 28 July 1902. Before he was christened, his name was Elea. The name Namatjira, in Aboriginal language, means “flying ant”.

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Not much is known about Namatjira’s early life except that the staff at the mission noted his skills as a blacksmith and a carpenter. He worked as a stockman, camel-driver and station-hand. He later made Aboriginal weapons and plaques that were sold as souvenirs. The Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission in 1923 When Namatjira was a young man he and Ilkalita (daughter of a leader of a forbidden tribe) had eloped. Later he was forgiven for marring Ilkalita. He took her back to his tribe were she was baptised as a Christian, and given the name of Rubina. They had nine children, two of who died. How He Became An Artist

Albert Namatjira became an artist after the meeting with Rex Battarbee, a well-known Melbourne artist who specialized in watercolours and was the first European to paint the beauty of the central Australian Desert. Battarbee and European artist John A. Gardner held an exhibition of their paintings of the Macdonnell Ranges at the Hermannsburg Mission Station in 1934. During the two days it was open, hundreds of Aborigines visited the exhibition. Battarbee returned in 1936, were he took Namatjira into the bush for eight weeks. Battarbee taught Namatjira watercolour techniques, and this was the only lesson he received.

Namatjira watching Battarbee paint Namatjira learned very quickly and two years after his first lesson, he exhibited in Melbourne in 1938, and he sold all of his 41 paintings. The National Gallery of South Australia bought one of his paintings in 1939. This was the first watercolour by an Aboriginal to be bought by an Australian Gallery. Watercolour paper was in short supply during the war, but Namatjira smoothed out slices of beanwood using the panels instead of paper. For the next two decades, Namatjira enjoyed huge success throughout Australia.

This painting was painted on a beanwood panel His watercolours of the desert interior, painted by using European techniques proved immensely popular, and were bought by both galleries and collectors. Albert Namatjira painting at Simpson’s Gap in 1953 Albert Namatjira’s Art Works Albert Namatjira painted scenes around Alice Springs. Some of the areas were the Macdonnell Ranges and the Finke River. He liked to include in some of his paintings, his favourite tree, the Ghost Gum. Morning at Simpson’s Gap Honeymoon Gap Hills The Hermannsburg Ranges Albert Namatjira’s Later Life

While success brought Namatjira fame and money, it also brought him into the conflict with the white society. In 1947, Namatjira started to have health problems. He had put on too much weight because he was eating “white man’s food”. The doctor advised him to get back to eating “bush tucker”. Namatjira went on a lengthy bush trip, and when he returned he was thinner and healthier. Aborigines were not then Australian citizens (nor did they become so until 1967), but this did not stop the federal government demanding it share of Namatjira’s wealth in the form of income tax.

The press made arguments, that the tax was unfair because Namatjira enjoyed none of the benefits of the European society. Attempts to buy land outside Hermannsburg Mission were also denied. In 1951, he was not given permission to buy a house in Alice Springs because Aborigines were not legally allowed in the town after dark. He was not even allowed to move out of the Northern Territory without permission from the Administrator. Namatjira being presented to the Queen in 1954 In 1953, Namatjira was awarded the Queen’s Coronation Medal and he went to Canberra in 1954 to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1957, he was made the first Aboriginal citizen of Australia with his wife but not his children, tens years before such rights were given to all Aboriginal people. As an Australian citizen, Namatjira was able to buy alcohol, and following Aboriginal cultures he shared it with his friends. In 1958, this led to him being arrested for suppling liquor to the Aboriginal people. He was found guilty on circumstantial evidence, and was sentenced to six months jail. He was released in May 1959.

By then he was a broken man, he had lost his will to live and paint. Three months later, he fell ill with a heart complaint and was sent to Alice Springs hospital, where on 8 August 1959, he died. In the Age Newspaper In the Centralian Advocate 10 October 1958 14 August 1959 Conclusion Albert Namatjira was caught between his Aboriginal culture and white society. He was the first Aboriginal to paint western style landscapes compared to the traditional Aboriginal art. Even though he was an Australian citizen he was never accepted into the white society.

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