I totally agree that there has been a serious injustice …

Comment on Namatjira family: Getting listeners ‘through our art’ by Paul Watson.

I totally agree that there has been a serious injustice here. Hopefully, my setting out some of the facts here will help, and not hinder, a satisfactory remedy for this injustice.
Focusing only on the NT Public Trustee – as the last government agency to have held the goods in this game of pass the (steaming) parcel – tends to obscure the roles played by earlier players.
Similarly, it is perhaps unhelpful to emphasize the money currently being made by the Brackenreg family out of its ill-gotten copyright. My understanding is that the usual reproduction fee in recent years is $250 (but I may be wrong here).
While in the 1950s and 1960s, the volume of Namatjira prints would have meant a copyright goldmine, I would be surprised if the Brackenreg family makes more than a four-figure annual income out of this currently.
It is still an ongoing injustice, of course, but personally I think it is more sad than bad that the Brackenreg family still clings onto the Namatjira copyright, just for what is some small change, from a Sydney North Shore perspective.
Finally, a clarification / correction to my previous post.
In my reference to shifting the focus more to Namatjira’s executors, I meant his original executors, Vic Carrington (who saliently was Acting Administrator of the NT – and NOT “a retired Alice Springs public servant”, as I previously described him – when Albert Namatjira made his will in 1945) and Pastor FW Albrecht. They are both now deceased, of course, but the Commonwealth government, which was Carrington’s employer in 1945 and was also intimately involved in the 1957 copyright deal, is still a going concern, I believe.

Paul Watson Also Commented

Namatjira family: Getting listeners ‘through our art’
There is a basic mistake in this article, in positing the 1983 Public Trustee contract as the big rip-off. In fact, it was the contract that Albert Namatjira signed in his lifetime with Legend Press (John Brackenreg’s company) that stitched up the Namatjira family.
At the risk of going on like Olive Pink (although she seems never to have gone into battle against this particular injustice), here are the key facts:
• On 8 June 1957, Albert Namatjira signed away a seven-eighth (87.5%) interest in his copyright. In return, he was paid £10. Based on known early royalty flows, John Brackenreg recouped his £10 investment on the first day of what was then a life-plus-50 year contract (copyright terms were extended to life-plus-70 years in 2004).
• Shortly after Albert Namatjira’s death on 8 August 1959, his two executors (who had been nominated in a will that Dick Ward had prepared for Albert way back in 1945) renounced their roles. These were Pastor F W Albrecht and Vic Carrington (a retired Alice Springs public servant). Pastor Albrecht – who, unlike Vic Carrington, knew Albert well – offered no explanation for his move, nor apparently attempted to find a replacement executor. As a result, the estate of Albert Namatjira ended up with the Public Trustee.
• When he died, Albert Namatjira had very few assets other than that his residual 12.5% interest in his copyright. The Northern Territory Public Trustee was responsible, at the very least, for seeing that this went to the nominated beneficiaries in the Namatjira family. Whether the Public Trustee properly acquitted this role over the next 24 years seems an open question.
• The 1983 Public Trustee contract is the least dubious aspect of the whole affair. Under this contract, Legend Press simply bought-out its minority partner, the Namatjira beneficiaries. In 1983, $8,500 was probably about right for the fair market value of a residual 12.5% interest in the Albert Namatjira copyright, which was then due to expire in 2009. The 1984 Araluen-opening show, which was to revive the artistic stocks of Albert Namatjira, was yet to happen (although it was, of course, just around the corner).
• While the Public Trustee’s apparent lack of consultation with the Namatjira family in 1983 was abject, bigger probity issues seem to exist over the Public Trustee’s handling of the estate over the previous 24 years. My rough calculation is that $1 million (2016 dollars; or £33,333 in 1959 pounds) were – or should have been* – disbursed to the Namatjira family over the 1960s, when Albert Namatjira reproductions were still strong sellers (BTW, so necessarily meaning that Legend Press raked in $7 million (2016 dollars) over the same period). Between about 1970 and 1983, royalty receipts would have been a comparative trickle (and while since 1984, they would have ticked up, Legend Press’s 100% interest until 2029 probably only currently brings it a few thousand dollars a year).
* My pre-1983 calculations here do not include Public Trustee administration charges, which may have been substantial.
• The Northern Territory Public Trustee would seem to owe the Namatjira family and descendants a frank account, at least, of its role between 1959 and 1983. But in its defence, it involuntarily inherited a legal and administrative imbroglio. This mess was created in the first place by John Brackenreg’s demonstrably exploitative 8 June 1957 contract, and then compounded by Albert Namatjira’s executors abandoning their posts, at an hour of most need. Any diligent executor would have commenced legal action to set aside the 8 June 1957 contract, as a priority. Thus, I believe that it is the families and descendants of John Brackenreg and Albert Namatjira’s executors, and not the Public Trustee, who owe the main account here.

Recent Comments by Paul Watson

Three killed in road crash
My condolences to the families concerned (even though I probably never exchanged more than eye contact with any of them, in the times that I’ve lived in Alice and visited the (inner) west.
As a side-note to “Liberal”, I think that your timing and tone could even be considered somewhat unbecoming (as Prince Andrew famously and recently put it, albeit in a rather different context).
I’m cutting you some slack here, because I know that Alice Springs has been a perma-sauna for at least a month now – but where I live (in northern Victoria, in a rented house without air-con), has not been far behind, temperature-wise.
So please, please retract what you recently said, “Liberal” – or I’ll then have to take it as scientific fact that an extra two degrees is the tipping point between mere intermittent, too-hot grumpiness, and the completely breakdown of civil society.

And now, your friendly neighbourhood prison
As Alex Nelson points out, in the (not so) long term, things can go around in one big circle. Going back another generation before Whitlam’s optimism – but still within living memory – Kempe St in The Gap was the site of another epic planning battle, but this time one which the neighbourhood nay-sayers [“neigh-sayers?”] won.
Albert Namatjira purchased about five acres of then farmland from Len “Snowy” Kenna in early 1951. This land was along the entire north side of Kempe St, with the exclusion of a farmhouse at 7 Kempe St, which Kenna had previously excised and then sold-off (to an Italian immigrant) in 1947.
It thus ran all the way east-west from Gap Rd to the Todd (well before South Terrace existed), and as far north as the present-day boundary between Mpwetyerre [Abbott’s camp] and the former Bowling Club.
Famously – except for the actual location of his block, which is little-known – Albert Namatjira was denied official permission to build a house and then live on his block. This was for a host of enunciated reasons, including (of course) that such a move would lower property values in the area.
What happened next should be a salient reminder of the potential blowback of NIMBY-ism over the longer term.
First, consider that in 1951, Albert Namatjira had not exactly set his sights on moving to a choicer part (or indeed any built-up part) of Alice Springs – although had he chosen to make such a provocation, he could have afforded it.
Thus, when the big guns came out to kill off his attempt at a modest toehold in Alice Springs real-estate and to invest money that was otherwise lying idle in government bonds, the next move was instinctive: He moved, but not far (about 3 km NW to Morris Soak) – and left Kempe St for the whitefellas, with himself in a spectator seat of sorts (which is the best real-estate of all, if you ask me).
To his credit, he seems to have correctly wagered that his eviction would leave a bad taste in and on the disputed land.
Subsequent developments on this land, and its immediate area, to the present-day amply show that the Battle of Kempe St in 1951 – when it was won by and for white-men without a glimmer of what would happen next – was a hollow war-spoil indeed.

National Indigenous gallery process hijacked?
The ultimate choice of site seems to me to be a textbook example of a decision best left to local Indigenous folk. That said, I’ll throw in my two-bob, as a non-resident whitefella.
The inner west of the Alice is indeed an unloved area at present. But it has a storied jewel at the end of a potential pedestrian path running west out of town (including a bridge over the rail yards / tracks) – Morris Soak.
And talking of contested sites from apartheid-era Alice Springs, the site of the Memorial Club seems a location ripe for some affectionate – if initially bracing – inter-cultural re-purposing.

Be Sociable, Share!

A new way to support our journalism

We do not have a paywall. If you support our independent journalism you can make a financial contribution by clicking the red button below. This will help us cover expenses and sustain the news service we’ve been providing since 1994, in a locally owned and operated medium.

Erwin Chlanda, Editor