Monday, March 9, 2009

A hidden treasure

Artist: Albert Namatjira

Title: GHOST GUM, Central Australia c. 1945, watercolour over pencil

Cleaning. Tidying. Purging. All activities we cannot deny every once in a while. And, once completed we are left feeling a sense of achievement, outcome and thrill at being able to utilise the new space in ways we had only been dreaming about.

One of the wonderful benefits of a tidy-up (particularly one's study!) is finding a photo, a notepad or an earring, long ago misplaced. During my recent purge I came across a yellowing, stained and dog-earred book titled Joseph's Coat by Peter Skrsynecki. This is a collection of mulitcultural writings published in 1985. As I opened it the year 1989 came gushing back to me. This was the year I had sat my final year high school exams. Familiar short-stories that had amused me and others that had baffled me. The highlight was finding a poem that I had forgotten all these years, but had once known word for word, emotion for emotion. This wonderful poem, so poignant is written by a poet named Kath Walker. Please let me share it with you.


Aboriginal man, you walked with pride,

And painted with joy the countryside.

Original man, your fame grew fast,

Men pointed you out as you went past.

But vain the honour and tributes paid,

For you strangled in rules the white men made;

You broke no law of your own wild clan

Which says "Share all with your fellow-man".

What did their loud acclaim avail

Who gave you honour, then gave you jail?

Namatjira, they boomed your art,

They called you genius, then broke your heart.

by Kath Walker

Albert Namatjira (1902–1959) was an Indigenous Australian artist and is perhaps the best known Aboriginal painter. Namatjira's artworks were colourful and varied depictions of the Australian landscape. He subsequently became a wealthy man, and being from the Nomadic Arrernte Aboriginal tribe, he was expected to "share all with your fellow-man".

In 1957 the government exempted Namatjira and his wife from the restrictive legislation that applied to Aborigines in the Northern Territory meaning they were now entitled to vote, own land, build a house and buy alcohol. Although Albert and his wife were legally allowed to drink alcohol, his Aboriginal family and friends were not. However, he was expected to share everything he owned, a contradiction that brought Namatjira into conflict with the law. He was subsequently held responsible for leaving a bottle of liquor (on a car seat) where an Aboriginal woman took hold of it. He was imprisoned for two months of a six months sentence, being released on humanitarian grounds. After his incarceration he became despondent, he suffered a heart attack and later died as a result of pneumonia.

Today his artworks hang in the Australian Art Gallery after initially being rejected by the then director Hal Missingham whose comment was: "We'll consider his work when it comes up to scratch".

What have you unearthed lately?


Lisa said...

wonderful post- namajeera was indeed a special and yet undervalued man in the art world xx

see you there! said...

Both the painting and the poem are beautiful. I haven't unearthed anything lately but I've lost one half of three different pairs of earrings over the last month. (What's THAT about???) I sure would like to "unearth" some of the missing ones.


Mervat said...

Lisa: You are so right.

Darla: I am so glad you liked the painting and poem. As for the earrings, I go through bouts like that. The worst was losing one of a pair of amber earrings (my absolute favourites) overseas! No chance of finding that unfortunately.


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