I’ve just finished this excellent book – much of which tells the story of Rex Battarbee and his love of “Centralia” as well as his influence on Albert Namatjira. The beginning traces the rise of the Lutheran missions – Hermannsburg in particular but also, in passing, Papuyna. There is a background to Albert Namatjira and Arrernte custom and perception. Namatjira’s relationship to his tribal customs is revealed as the book progresses. These backgrounds are a useful setting for some of the events that Edmond describes later in the book and we can’t help but wonder about the difficulties of two world views meeting. Three or four world views actually: Battarbee, the Lutherans, the government and Territory governors and officials, a lone Arrernte man who becomes frustrated with restrictions imposed on him, his family and his people.
The pictures are described in enlightening detail making me want to see them again. Edmond shares his perceptions and insights so that I begin to understand more about the paintings of both men and the probable insertion of Arrernte references into European style landscape paintings.
Reading this book stirred memories including an exhibition at the Araluen Cultural Centre of paintings from Hermannsburg. I liked them and liked being told by a young girl that her brother had done one of the paintings – but at the time I knew very little about the mission. We did try to visit but the distance was great and we were seduced by an inviting bushy valley (a Gap?). Papunya was more part of my world view.
Alice Springs is a startling place: dry country and tough people on the way to Uluru; herds of camels and silly road-unaware kangaroos; dead cars, spent tyres and never-ending brown. The town itself – utes, cafes, art galleries and wide streets, Aboriginal people living in the Todd River, my drinking in pubs with Kiwis and one or two Aboriginal men and groups of Aboriginal people sitting under a tree that I gather is significant. Whites and blacks walking past each other
As well as remembering a place I learned a great deal about Namatjira’s art his world view and the relationship between these two men. I also learned more than I wish I knew about the tricky and difficult race relations in Australia.