Portrait of Namatjira by Alfred William Cook
Aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira was born in a time when Indigenous Australians were not recognised as Australian citizens. In 1967 a referendum asked:
DO YOU APPROVE the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled— ‘An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the People of the Aboriginal Race in any State and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the Population’?
90.77% of Australians voted for Indigenous Australians to be counted as citizens.
The law was different for Albert Namatjira. He and his wife were the first indigenous Australians to be granted full citizenship in 1957 due his artistic fame.
Exempted from the restrictions imposed on other ‘full-blooded’ Aborigines, he had access to alcohol which he shared with members of his family in accordance with Aboriginal custom. In 1958 he was charged with supplying alcohol to the artist Henoch Raberaba and sentenced to six months imprisonment with labour. Following a public outcry and two appeals, the sentence was reduced to three months. Namatjira finally served two months of ‘open’ detention at the Papunya settlement in March-May 1959. He died of hypertensive heart failure on 8 August that year at Alice Springs Hospital and was buried with Lutheran forms in the local cemetery.