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What happened to Albert Namatjira ought to be general knowledge in our collective memory. Martin Edmond has revisited this tragedy by way of a dual biography, his engrossing account of Namatjira’s life, his progression as an artist, and his partnership with Rex Battarbee, in life and painting. This is a powerful rendering of an extraordinary relationship, a story that touches on many themes – first contact, the conflicts of religion and tradition, art, friendship, and persistence in the face of adversities. From the Arrernte prehistory and the Lutheran pioneering years we proceed into the embrace of this unusual alliance, their travels and work together, and Rex’s role as teacher, patron, manager, companion and mediator – over decades; and conversely, the role played by Albert in educating Rex in the ways of an unfamiliar culture. This leads onto the better known story of Namatjira’s rise to fame at the height of the assimilation era, of the ‘privileges’ that come with this fame and the flipside – the stresses this placed on Albert’s traditional ties and obligations and his tragic demise as a result. Battarbee and Namatjira is a captivating exercise in dual biography and art history.
About the Author
Martin Edmond’s works of memoir and biography about art and artists include Dark Night: Walking with McCahon, The Supply Party (on artist Ludwig Becker), Chronicle of the Unsung, winner of the 2005 Montana Book Award for Biography, and The Resurrection of Philip Clairmont. His other books are Luca Antara, Waimarino County and The Autobiography of My Father. In 2013 he received the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Non-Fiction, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to literature.