From the remote Australian desert to the opulence of Buckingham Palace, the iconic story of the Namatjira family traces their quest to regain the copyright to their grandfather’s artwork.
Albert Namatjira was the first Indigenous person to be made a citizen by the Australian Government. The founder of the Indigenous art movement in Australia, he was exhibited globally, and introduced to Queen Elizabeth II.
However, Namatjira was caught between cultures. He was wrongfully imprisoned and in 1959 he died a broken man. In 1983 the Government sold his copyright to an art dealer.
This is one of Australia’s most potent stories, illuminating the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians today.
The Namatjira Project was the creation of arts and social change organisation Big hART, in collaboration with members of the Namatjira family and many community, government and business partners. Multilayered and long-term, it included a creative community development project, an original theatre work, watercolour exhibitions, a documentary film and a couple of recordings. It was also a celebration of the acclaimed watercolour artist Albert Namatjira’s life and legacy.
Sera Davies' documentary film Namatjira premiered in 2017. Seven years in the making, it charts the extraordinary stories of Albert Namatjira and multiple generations of his painting family. Remarkably, the release of the film helped achieve the long-held dream of buying Namatjira's copyright back for his family.
I was commissioned by Scott Rankin and Big hART to create the music for the theatrical work Namatjira, which premiered at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, then toured Australia, winning a couple of Sydney Theatre and a Helpmann Award along the way, before premiering in London. Throughout these years, tracing the project's many stages, the documentary film was in progress. I also composed the music for the film, using material from the stage play, as well as new material, created collaboratively with Jim Atkins, John Rodgers, Andrea Keller and Phil Slater.
Working on this project was a gift. It left me with an altogether different perspective on life and music.
The music for Namatjira came out of the experience of listening. Listening to the Namatjira and Batterbee families who generously invited us into their lives, to the unique sounds of their country, to the expressive voices of Trevor, Derik and the Ntaria Ladies, and to the rich text of Scott’s play.
Within the world of the play, music created a sonic architecture, parallel to the story. It created resting points, moments for an audience to reflect and feel deeply. It became a duo partner for Trevor’s beautiful movement, gave space for Derik’s comic brilliance, and was a vehicle for the exquisite singing of the Ntaria Ladies, Derik and Trevor. It existed in several forms, for different musicians. Nicole Forsyth and Rhia Parker’s sounds are not on the recording, but their contribution to the project was invaluable.