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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

Albert Namatjira (1902–59)

Albert Namatjira was one Australia's most notable artists. His work, watercolour landscapes of Central Australia, is represented in all Australian State art galleries.

Namatjira was born into the Arrernte community at the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, near Alice Springs, Northern Territory in 1902. He was first named Elea but then christened as Albert when his parents adopted Christianity. At 13 years of age he was initiated into the Arrernte community and taught traditional laws and customs.

Namatjira met Australian artist Rex Battarbee when the latter visited Hermannsburg in 1934. Battarbee tutored Namatjira in the western tradition of painting and helped him to organise his first exhibition in Melbourne in 1936. The exhibition was a success, and Namatjira was encouraged to exhibit his work in Adelaide and Sydney. Other exhibitions followed, particularly during the 1950s.

Success brought Namatjira money, which he used to lease a cattle station. Granted in 1949, the lease was cancelled in 1950 when it was realised that cattle grazing in the area would not be viable. Namatjira was granted full citizenship rights in 1957. Unlike many other Northern Territory Aboriginal people, Namatjira was then entitled to vote, to live where he wished and to purchase alcohol.

In 1958 Namatjira was charged with supplying alcohol to Aboriginal people. He denied the charge and fought the sentence he received in both the Supreme Court and the High Court. His appeals were unsuccessful and he was sentenced to two months in prison.

Namatjira died on 8 August 1959 and was buried in Alice Springs Memorial Cemetery.

Selected records relating to Albert Namatjira
National Archives, Darwin
Albert Namatjira – grazing licence, 1949–53 F1, 1952/496
Albert Namatjira – grazing licence, 1953–59 F1, 1955/651
Welfare Branch – Namatjira Albert – financial matters, 1956–60 F1, 1956/2691
Police proposed prosecutions – Namatjira – for supplying liquor to wards – several wards for drinking liquor, 1958 E72, D6842/2
Complaints – appeals – Namatjira, Albert, 1958–1959 E72, D6995/1
Proposed memorials to Albert Namatjira, 1959–70 F1, 1973/4835
Albert Namatjira, 1959–73 F1, 1971/6757
Copyright – Namatjira A, 1961 E72, D10139/2
Northern Territory Archives Service
Welfare files of Albert Namatjira, 1949–71 NTRS2277


Chapter 16
Territory Personalities