• Lenie Namatjira and Gloria Pannka, granddaughters of Albert Namatjira, still fighting strong for their grandfather's legacy (NITV)Source: NITV
The granddaughters of one of Australia's most revered artists, Albert Namatjira, have launched a new trust to honour his legacy and to reclaim the copyright of the painter's famous watercolour artworks.
5 Mar 2017 - 11:08 AM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2017 - 2:57 PM

Albert Namatjira remains one of the most revered icons of Australia's art scene, his famous watercolour paintings made him one of the first Indigenous Australian artists. 

His artworks still hang in some of the most prestigious galleries across the country and around the world, and by 2012 national earnings of his works was over $10 million. 

However, since the 1980s, the Namatjira family have not earned anything from copyright or royalties from reproductions of his works. He died in 1959. 

The copyright was in the hands of the trustee for the Northern Territory Government, who sold the rights in 1983 for $8500 to a Sydney family who run an art dealership business. The family claim they were not aware at the time this had occurred.

Today, Albert Namatjira's granddaughters have continued the fight to reclaim his copyright by launching a new trust in his name. 

The Namatjira Legacy Trust, launched at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, is the centrepiece of the campaign to secure the future for the Namatjira family and community. 

Albert Namatjira's granddaughter, Gloria Pannka, says the family had no understanding that they were not receiving royalties. 

"We want the copyright returned back to the family, so the family can be proud of it, because no-one knew, no-one in the family knew about that copyright," she told NITV.   

"When we found out our family had never inherited Albert's estate when he passed away, we were really angry and sad. We knew it would be too hard for us to get it back without help." 

Ms Pannka says the family were at a loss at what to do. But in 2009, they met Creative Producer, Sophia Marinos, from Big hART, Australia's leading arts and social change company. 

Together, they intiated the Trust with the aim of restoring justice to the family and community by returning the copyright to Namatjira's descendents. And by supporting the health, welfare, education and sustainbility of their families and community in Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory.

The Trust will ensure the traditions of the Western Desert watercolour movement thrive into the future.

Ms Marinos, Namatjira Project Producer, says the Trust will provide a multitude of benefits.  

"It's very symbolic for the family and community to have a trust that has been established in their name and aiming to support the future of their community and family. This family and their name is absolutely iconic in this country's history and, indeed today. And so it is only fitting that something like this, that bears their name and supports the community, can attract support around the country and internationally. It [also] serves a purpose of restoring justice to that family and writing that wrong, and then it serves a really pratical purpose which is a financial one which is about the trust being able to receive money, its a charitable trust, to support really grassroots initiatives for that family and that community," she told NITV.

Namatjira's work also caught the eye of Queen Elizabeth when his works were recognised in a private meeting with her and Prince Philip when Big hART's Namatjira theatre production toured London in 2013. His other granddaughter Lenie Namatjira was there to meet the Royals. 

"I shook her hand and she showed me paintings from Albert, my father Oscar, Rex Battarbee (his teacher), a postcard from students in Ntaria, and now she (the Queen) has all of their artworks," she told NITV. 

National Museum of Australia Curator, Jennifer Wilson, has been working with the Namatjira family for the last few years to bring the latest exhibition of Albert Namatjira and the community of Ntaria to life.

"The work of Albert Namatjira still stands out to collectors today because it illustrates so beautifully the landscape that he loved, that he lived in, that he was responsible for as part of his community. So that great passion that he had for that landscape comes through in his work in a way that not a lot of other artists were able to achieve in his generation," she told NITV.

"He really was the first famous Indigenous artist in Australia, to have the confidence and the courage to share his work and his story with a wider audience, and he really set that example that others are still following today. He was a teacher to his children and grandchildren, and they're continuing that legacy to their grandchildren today."

Gloria Pannka says the family has never given up. 

"I want people to know how we struggled, how long we've been fighting for this to be returned to the family. We've been fighting for a long time, and we've never give up until this day." 

More information; http://bighart.org/project/namatjira-legacy-trust/