Namatjira’s descendants meet the Queen

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Almost 60 years after Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira met the Queen in Canberra two of his grandchildren have had a rare audience with Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace.


Kevin and Lenie Namatjira, both established watercolour artists in their own right, used the occasion to call for a better deal for indigenous Australia.

They said that while they were treated like royalty in London it was a different story back in the Northern Territory.

The cousins met the Queen and Prince Philip for 15 minutes on Wednesday.

They both presented the monarch with one of their own paintings and also a postcard made by schoolchildren from their community in Hermannsburg west of Alice Springs.

One of Albert Namatjira’s paintings was gifted to the Queen back in 1947 on her 21st birthday.

Seven years later the first indigenous artist to receive international acclaim met Her Majesty in Canberra during her 1954 coronation tour and presented her with another work. Albert died in 1959.

Kevin and Lenie Namatjira are in the UK for the international premier of the play Namatjira which tells their grandfather’s story.

During the London performance the cousins paint a large desert landscape on stage.

Albert’s grandchildren on Wednesday said they were proud to visit the palace but they also wanted people to know they were currently homeless.

Kevin Namatjira, who bought a new suit to visit Her Majesty, said he was being treated like royalty “but at home I’m not royalty”.

“After I come home from seeing the Queen I’ve got no house, no car,” the 54-year-old said in a statement.

“We need a car to get out to see the kids in Hermannsburg and teach them to paint. We need to drive around to do good painting.”

Lenie Namatjira said she was surprised how “wonderful” the palace was.

“We are feeling right to show the story of our grandfather,” the 62-year-old told reporters.

“We came from Australia to bring this story to everybody so all the nations can see what’s happened.

“We are battling to get a new arts centre back in Australia so our children can come and we all work together. We would like government funding to help us.”

Namatjira producer Sophia Marinos said backing arts centres in Alice Springs would help the painters support their wider families.

“They are living in very difficult circumstances and yet they’ve been invited to meet the Queen and to tell this story on an international stage,” Ms Marinos told reporters.

“There’s a real discrepancy between how they are honoured and their actual living circumstances.”

When the cousins met the Queen and Prince Philip an Albert Namatjira painting owned by the royals was on display.

So too were two artworks by his son Oscar Namatjira (Lenie’s father) and one by Rex Battarbee who taught Albert to paint.

The Queen spent time looking at the paintings and talking about their history.

Works by Kevin and Lenie Namatjira are being shown in London this week as part of the Living Watercolours exhibition which is running alongside Big hART’s production of Namatjira.

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