Albert Namatjira (1902–59) was one Australia’s most notable artists. His work, primarily 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. He was first named Elea but then christened as Albert when his parents adopted Christianity. At 13 years of age Namatjira was initiated into the Arrernte community and taught the traditional laws and customs. At 17 he married Ilkalita (Rubina) of the Luritja community. Namatjira met Australian artist Rex Battarbee who 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. This exhibition was a success and Namatjira was encouraged to exhibit his work in Adelaide and Sydney. Other exhibitions of his work followed, especially 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 then attempted to build a house in Alice Springs, but was hampered under the terms of the Aboriginals Ordinance (NT) 1918–1947. Namatjira was granted full citizenship rights in 1957. Unlike many other Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory, Namatjira was then entitled to vote, to live where he wished and to purchase alcohol.
In 1958 the Alice Springs Police charged Namatjira 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. Albert Namatjira died in 1959.
Records relating to Albert Namatjira held by the National Archives
The National Archives holds many records relating to the life and work of Albert Namatjira. Most of these records are held in Canberra or Darwin, but scattered material may also be found in other National Archives' offices. Issues such as the questions over Namatjira’s citizenship rights and his 1958 imprisonment resulted in many personal protests to the Minister responsible for the Northern Territory. These are held in the Department of Territories’ records series A451, and can be identified on RecordSearch by searching on series 'A451’ and narrowing the result by the keyword ‘namatjira’.