Sun, Oct 15, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Copyright restored to family of native Australian artist

Reuters, SYDNEY

Australian Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira paints in an undated photograph.

Photo: Reuters / Pastor S.O. Gross

The impoverished family of Australia’s most famous Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira, has been given copyright to his works after years of fruitless campaigning triggered the intervention of a philanthropist.

Namatjira’s vibrant watercolors are internationally celebrated for the way he captured the hues of the Western Desert in the center of the country.

One of his paintings was given to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1947 on her 21st birthday and he met the queen during her 1954 coronation tour in Canberra.

Dick Smith, the Australian businessman whose intervention secured the agreement, said it was the most satisfying philanthropic thing he had done.

“It’s a just cause,” Smith told reporters yesterday in a telephone call.

Born in 1902 in Hermannsburg, a remote Aboriginal community in central Australia’s West MacDonnell ranges, Albert Namatjira rose to prominence as the first Aboriginal artist to master a Western tradition.

In 1957, he sold partial copyright for his works to a friend, John Brackenreg.

Two years later, Namatjira died and his will passed the copyright remainder to his widow, Robina, and their children. This gave his family a source of royalty income when reproductions of the images were used.

However, his estate executors gave the administration of his will to the public trustee of the state of the Northern Territory, which sold the copyright to Brackenreg’s company, Legend Press, in 1983 without consulting the family, ABC News reported.

All royalty payments to Namatjira’s descendents ceased and when Brackenreg died, he passed the copyright to his children.

Eight years ago, arts organization Big hART began campaigning for the return of the copyright.

It put together a theater show called “Namatjira” that toured Australia for three years before traveling to London where in 2013, Queen Elizabeth met two of Namatjira’s grandchildren.

News reports caught the eye of Smith, whose father once worked for Brackenreg.

Smith on Friday persuaded Brackenreg’s children to give the copyright to the Namatjira Legacy Trust, which represents the family, for A$1 (US$0.79).

Smith also donated A$250,000 to the trust.

It is the latest in Smith’s long list of charitable acts that included contributing to the ransom that freed Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, taken hostage in Somalia in 2008.

Sophia Marinos, chair of the legacy trust, said the money would benefit the whole Aboriginal community with funds for language and cultural programs.

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