Drinking problems among Aborigines and part-Aboriginal people in Alice Springs were steadily worsening, following the lifting of alcohol restrictions on part Aboriginal people. One centre of drinking and fighting was Albert Namatjira’s camp at Morris Soak on the outskirts of Alice Springs. Albert Namatjira was granted Australian citizenship in 1957 after a vigorous public campaign was waged on his behalf because he was restricted in his rights and was yet levied for income tax. He had not sought citizenship. (Henson 232-33) Albert was refused a permit to build a house in the Alice Springs town. After a young Aboriginal woman was killed at Morris Soak, Albert received a court warning that he would face a gaol sentence if he was caught supplying liquor to wards. (Henson 233).
Many of the artists were camping near Alice Springs and contributing little or nothing to the maintenance of their families living in Hermannsburg and the Mission seemed powerless to prevent it. There was plenty of money but no responsibility in using it, according to Henson. (234). Art earnings brought mobility and independence beyond their experience. Sudden access to alcohol destabilised the Mission community after access was granted to part Aboriginals, who then in turn supplied full blood Aboriginals.
On 28 August 1958 Allbert was charged with supplying liquor to members if his tribe who were wards of the state. On 7 October he was convicted of supplying liquor to Henoch Raberaba by leaving a bottle of rum where he could get it. The Magistrate imposed the least sentence he could of six months imprisonment. A storm of protest broke out across the nation. (Batty 126 – 131)
On 7 October 1958 Albert Namatjira was convicted of supplying liquor to Henoch Raberaba (by leaving a bottle of rum where he could get it) and sentenced to the minimum of six months imprisonment. A nationwide protest broke out. Henson pp234-5) The Minister for Territories Mr Paul Hasluck assured the public that in view of the public concern, if the final outcome should be that Albert Namatjira passes into the custody of the Northern Territory Administration, any sentence passed on him will be served in the open, in his own country and in conditions most likely to help him regain his own grip on life. (Batty pp 132-33)
Albert’s solicitor lodged an appeal against both conviction and sentence and the appeal was set for hearing in the Supreme Court in Darwin, probably in November. Albert was released from Alice Springs Gaol and driven to Morris Soak. Albert’s appeal hearing began on 15 December. Albert told the court that although Henoch Raberaba was his tribal brother and not his blood brother, he was still obliged to share with him. (Batty p 135). Albert failed in the appeal against the conviction, but the sentence was reduced to three months. Albert would spend the prison term at Papunya Native Reserve in Arrernte country. Mr. E.L. Fietz, Superintendent of the Reserve was specially appointed an officer within the Prison Ordinance and became Albert’s custodian. Albert spent the days of the appeal process in Alice Springs gaol, where the medical examination found him to have high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. Gaol officials ensured that Albert performed light duties including preparing vegetables for meals and sweeping garden paths. The failure of the appeal against the conviction was a bitter blow for Albert, who hoped for a complete remission of the sentence.
RESURGENCE 1960s and 1970s
The drama and tragedy of Albert Namatjira in 1958/59 intensified an unstable situation. Positively and empathetically, a resurgence of the art movement began as more often younger tribal relatives were inspired to start to paint seriously about their country: Clem Abbott from 1958, Keith Namatjira (Albert’s fourth son), Maurice Namatjira (Albert’s fifth son) and Gabriel Namatjira (Albert’s grandson, son of Enos Namatjira) from 1959; and from 1960 Arnulf Ebatarinja (nephew of Walter and Cordula Ebatarinja).
The early 1960s then brought the start of the careers of relatives Basel Rantji, Norman Ratara, Athanasius Renkaraka, Ivan Pannka, Joshua Ebatarinja, Lindberg Inkamala and Wenten Rubuntja (who was from the Alice Springs area and was independent of the Mission and western Arrernte elders). Wenten was a distant relative of Albert. Perhaps self-employment in painting was a constructive focus. The movement was at its height until around 1970. Some already established artists were inspired to resume their painting career afresh.
This was a period when artists’ lives changed as they experienced more of the town of Alice Springs and less of the influence of elders and missionaries. They spent increasing time in artists’ camps in the area around Morris Soak, on the western outskirts of town, often while their wives and children remained in the Hermannsburg environment, as confirmed with details of the 1966 Census of Wards in Alice Springs.
Sudden social changes and challenges followed the granting of drinking rights for all Aborigines in the Northern Territory in 1964. For example, drinking rights were accompanied with associated problems when traditional Aboriginal law was unable to deal with repercussions of drinking alcohol, such as which kin tribesmen were obliged or entitled to break up fights driven by alcohol.
Aboriginal people were not counted as citizens until after the Constitutional referendum of 1967.
With changing life-styles, the paintings of the 1960s tended to show increasing consciousness and appreciation of aboriginality, with more obvious assertive traditional patterning such as bands of dotting or diamond infill patterns being applied decoratively or for emphasis.
Wenten Rubuntja, born about 1926, was an established Hermannsburg style watercolour painter when he began painting in ‘two ways’ from the mid 1970s with his version of symbolic Western Desert inspired symbolic and dot art. Wenten was an important leader of the land rights movement. An Arrernte man from the Alice Springs area, he was independent of Mission culture.
Kaapa Tjampitjinpa in Papunya was painting pictorial Hermannsburg style landscapes from the early 1960s and in early 1971 created some traditional paintings in Papunya.
The land rights movement gripped the emotions of people in Central Australia. Some artists became more impassioned in their visual expression, including Keith Namatjira, Ewald Namatjira, Clem Abbott, Wenten Rubuntja, Jillian Namatjira.
The decade of the 1970s was a time of reflection, regeneration and transition. By the late 1970s the Hermannsburg School had lost momentum as most of the original artists were either dead or no longer painting. There was no longer a significant supply of new art works such as dealers needed for their expensive city galleries and there were limited financial incentives to deal in the Hermannsburg School.
As stated, only one of the career painters in watercolour movement was a woman: Cordula Ebatarinja, wife of artist Walter Ebatarinja. Another talented Arrernte woman, Gloria Moketarinja, wife of Richard Moketarinja, had a limited career, creating only a few paintings. Albert Namatjira’s granddaughter Jillian Namatjira, daughter of Enos Namatjira and his wife Ruby Moida, was born in 1949 and started to paint seriously around 1975. Women were not encouraged to go out and paint for both traditional cultural reasons and also as the Missionaries encouraged them in mission-based activities such as embroidery and rug-making.
Women were effectively deterred from pursuing careers in art.