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With their faces etched with their history and a quiet demeanour that suited the solemnity of an occasion where their history and inheritance was to be brought to the attention of gathered media at the National Museum of Australia, Lenie Namatjira and Gloria Pannka as granddaughters of the late great artist Albert Namatjira, came to tell us a story.
Behind these two ladies was an exhibition in the Landmarks gallery of their work and that of their grandfather drawn from the collection of the museum representing 125 years of the history of the Finke River Mission and the Hermannsburg settlement now Aboriginal owned and continuing the watercolour tradition of Namatjira.
Hermannsburg is called Ntaria by the local people and was originally established in 1877 by two Lutheran missionaries and Namatjira was born there in 1902. His paintings are part of formidable tradition of the Central Desert watercolour movement but the issue of copyright and benefit to his descendants is one that Big hART, a company that has launched the Namatjira Legacy Trust to return the copyright of his work to the family and the community, is the intent of this trust.
The complications of that copyright goes back to 1957 when Albert Namatjira entered into a copyright agreement with Legend Press for the exclusive rights to reproduce his paintings. When Namatjira died the Public Trustee administered his estate with Legend Press paying 12.5% royalty to the family but then the government sold the copyright to Legend Press and the income for the family ceased. The copyright expires in 2029 and since 1983 the family has not had any benefit.
That for us all seems unconscionable. And the trust if successful in buying back the copyright will endeavour to have it granted in perpetuity.
Namatjira’s legacy continues, his descendants deserve this and as now that unique style of painting continues to the fifth generation of his family it is incumbent on all the stakeholders to see this trust’s success and the rightful benefit of the copyright be in the hands of his family.
Big hART ‘s Namatjira Project has been operating since 2009. As an arts and social change organisation their successes include the memorable theatre production of Namatjira and Ngapartji Ngapartji featuring the incomparable Trevor Jamieson where an insight into the life of Albert Namatjira reminds us that he was the first Aboriginal to be offered citizenship. Of course that meant he would be taxed on the earnings of his paintings. It’s time for us to right this wrong and help the trust.
More information at www.namatjira.bighart.org