Family members of world-renowned water colourist Albert Namatjira have welcomed an undisclosed landmark compensation sum from the Northern Territory government over the “unjust” sale of copyright to Namatjira’s works of art in 1983.
The Public Trustee sold the copyright for $8500 to Legend Press, relinquishing all royalties and rights to the family, without consulting the family.
In October the copyright was returned to the Namatjira Legacy Trust after decades of negotiation and campaigning from the family.
Namatjira Legacy Trust chairwoman Sophia Marinos said the “unjust” sale of copyright had had a ripple effect, ultimately limiting the level of exposure Namatjira’s works of art should have had.
“It is both about income, but also about where those works are reproduced and seen, whether it be in catalogues or on websites or in various places,” she said.
“The Namatjira family had no control over that and Legend Press were essentially restricting reproduction.
“All the major institutions in Australia, galleries and so forth, were restricted from reproducing those works which made it very hard to market.”
Ms Marinos said the trust would control the copyright, while the compensation would be paid directly to family members.
“This compensation is direct settlement with the families that have lost income over those many years,” Ms Marinos said.
“It’s a very challenging and very difficult thing to value copyright because so much depends on how it’s marketed … so it’s very speculative.
“We worked with copyright agencies who currently manage licences with us to come to a kind of calculation on what the copyright might have been valued (at), and from that point we negotiated with the Northern Territory government.”
Ms Marinos said the next step was to protect Namatjira’s legacy into the future, given that copyright on his works would expire in 2029.
“We now are going to embark on the third phase of our campaign, which is to lobby to have Namatjira’s copyright granted in perpetuity,” she said.
“[This is] because of the unique case and unique stature of Albert Namatjira in the Australian art world, and because of the extent of the losses by the family that there is a case to be made.
“Especially given that it’s managed by the Namatjira Legacy Trust, which is a charitable trust, and so any proceeds and benefits go back into the community. It’s not for personal gain by the family.”
Concern legacy is being forgotten
Gloria Pannka, who is an artist in her own right, was only five years old when Namatjira, her grandfather, died.
“I used to hear stories from uncles, aunties telling he was a very important man. He [would] feed the whole family and the extended tribe,” she said.
“They used to tell us that we used to go out with his truck and go to the spot he used to sit and do painting.”
Ms Pannka applauded the decision by the Northern Territory government to award her and her family compensation.
“Feeling proud but also I’m feeling sad. My friend and my cousin, we both campaigned for a long time and she was in hospital and she died before we got the copyright back, and it’s very sad for the family,” she said.
“We are happy to get it back because my mother’s uncle never saw the money. It’s the generations getting the compensation back and I’m very glad.”
Despite winning back the rights to compensation and the copyright, Ms Pannka is concerned that Namatjira’s legacy is being forgotten by the younger generations.
“We would talk about teaching the young generation to carry on his legacy. But that’s not happening. I feel sad,” she said.
“I keep telling my little family group, the Namatjira mob and my cousins, to get off the grog and start doing painting.
“That’s where you and your generation will want to carry on this legacy for so many years. We’re trying hard, but I don’t think no one is listening to me.”
Future of the watercolour movement
Ms Marinos said work could also be done to increase the exposure of not only Namatjira’s work, but of the whole of the Hermannsburg watercolour movement and bring it into the 21st century.
“The Namatjira Legacy Trust [wants to] generate new avenues for art-making, whether that be digitally or multimedia, to work with young people in Hermannsburg connecting them with elders and that old tradition, but to look at new mediums to express that tradition,” she said.
“The trust with the proceeds of the copyright and other funds, we recently received the Federal Government grants … to continue to work with young people in Hermannsburg to develop the movement and increase its exposure nationally and internationally.”