Title: Albert Namatjira
Author: Vincent Namatjira
Genre: Biographical picture book
Publisher: Magabala Books
Published: August 2021
Caution: Review mentions deceased First Nations person Albert Namatjira.
Albert Namatjira by Vincent Namatjira is an amazing biographical picture book – a style that I’ve never come across before – about Namatjira’s great-grandfather Albert Namatjira. All the picture books I’ve read that target a children readership usually focus on friendship, morals, or numeracy and literacy. While Albert Namatjira doesn’t come across as a traditional children-focused picture book, it shares an intimate and important story about Australian history and Albert’s contribution to Australian art.
Albert Namatjira is written and illustrated by Vincent Namatjira and details the life of Albert Namatjira – one of Australia’s most important artists. Vincent is a Western Aranda man from Ntaria and currently living in Indulkana and Albert, Vincent’s great-grandfather was a Western Aranda man from Ntaria. Told through illustrations by Vincent on the left-hand side of the page and accompanying text on the right-hand side of the page, Albert Namatjira details Albert’s life from growing up on the Lutheran mission in Ntaria to his passing in Alice Springs Hospital. I think it is amazing how Vincent is able to tell the story of his great-grandfather, Albert, and continue his legacy through storytelling and art.
Publishing narratives such as Albert Namatjira celebrates the relationships between men within a family and encourages positive and healthy expressions of masculinity. Another patrilineal story that has been published recently is Dear Son by Thomas Mayor (Hardie Grant Publishing) which also speaks to First Nations father-and-son relationships. Something I really enjoyed was how Vincent explains, using timelines, how his life mirrors his great-grandfather’s. Both men are extremely talented artists with similar successes. At the height of Albert’s fame, his portrait (titled Mr Albert Namatjira) was painted by William Dargie which won the 1956 Archibald prize; a “recognition of Dargie’s skill but also of Albert’s respected position in the art world.” Then, in 2020, Vincent won the Archibald prize making him the first Indigenous winner of the Archibald prize in its 99-year-old history.
Having grown up and studyied art, I have come across Albert Namatjira’s artwork, and his son, Ewald Namatjira’s, artwork before, albeit via the internet, and maybe at the Art Gallery of Western Australia many years ago. Albert’s watercolour paintings are stunning and capture the landscape of Australia beautifully. Although I knew of Albert’s paintings, I never knew much about his personal and professional life. Vincent details a snapshot of Albert’s great life in this picture book making it a lovingly and intimate devotion to his great-grandfather. Vincent shares how Albert created and sold traditional artefacts, learnt water-colour landscape painting from his friend Rex Battarbee, had a sell-out exhibition in Melbourne, received a Coronation Medal from Queen Elizabeth II, and how he became the first Aboriginal person to become an Australian citizen. His amazing legacy can now be shared with young children all over the country by his great-grandson.
Albert Namatjira is one of my favourite picture books ever. I enjoy how Vincent Namatjira has used the picture book form to educate young children about his renowned great-grandfather. It’s an amazing biographical work that tells the life of one of Australia’s most renowned artists.