There’s no doubt that the creation of the Namatjira Legacy Trust in 2017 has inspired artists from the Hermannsburg family to think differently. Credit must go to philanthropist Dick Smith, who bought the copyright in Albert Namatjira’s art back from the dealer’s family who’d obtained it from Albert all those years ago.

At Adelaide’s last Tarnanthi Festival in 2021, sixteen artists with surnames such as Namatjira, Pereroultja and Inkamala created a rich exhibition around the history of the water supply to Hermannsburg. A pipeline from the springs at Kuprilya saved the mission from closure in the 1930s; and today Kuprilya Day is still widely celebrated with a mass gathering at the site and related art.

Now the Southern Highlands regional gallery, Ngununggula has commissioned a suite of works from the Hermannsburgm family’s Iltja Ntjarra art centre in Mparntwe/Alice Springs to celebrate the Western Aranda people’s Country along the 222 kilometres of the West Macdonnell range. Stretching from Alice to the sacred Mt Sonder, there are many traditional sites in places like Glen Helen, Ormiston Gorge, Standly Chasm and, of course, the great pregnant woman rising out of the ancient Finke River – Rutjupma or Mt Sonder.

Appropriatey, Tjoritjarinja, the name of the exhibition, means ‘belonging to the Western MacDonnell Ranges’, and Ngununggula, the name of the gallery, means ‘belonging’ in the traditional language of the Gundungurra First Nations people.

About 60 works will celebrate the Aranda Country by the following artists : Dellina Inkamala, Ivy Pareroultja, Reinhold Inkamala, Marcus Wheeler, Selma Nunay Coulthard, Betty Naparula Namatjira Wheeler, Vanessa Inkamala, Kathy Inkamala, Mervyn Rubuntja, Ada Lechleitner, Russell Inkamala, Kathleen France, Mandy Nakamarra Malbunka, Hubert Pareroultja, Dianne Inkamala, Delray Inkamala and Stanley Ebatarinja.

The important factor for Marisa Maher, co-curator of the exhibition for Iltja Ntjarra was bringing the elders like Mervyn Rubuntja, Betty Wheeler and Selma Coulthard together with emerging artists through their appropriate family groups. That way stories and painting techniques could be passed on to new generations. This also brought in innovations, like the use of recycled road signs instead of paper or canvas to paint on.

This is a trend that’s spread like wildfire from Yolngu Country in NE Arnhemland, where there’s hardly a Stop sign left standing. But Iltja Ntjarra also brought in inspiration from an urban artist like Tony Albert, who encouraged artists to mildly politicise their work by adding mentions of fracking and fast food to their traditional Namatjira landscapes.

Unnamed in the list above are the young men at Hermannsburg who were sent out to cut wood and shape it as shields and boomerangs for elder men like Rubuntja and Hubert Pareroultja to paint. This is something that hasn’t been done recently, but it was how Albert started his creative life before the non-Indigenous Rex Battarbee came along to introduce him to water-colour. The mission was grateful for the income derived from such exotic sales.

A final delight in Tjoritjarinja will be the loan of three early paintings by Albert himself to both the art centre and the exhibition. Younger artists in Alice were encouraged to study them and the sites where Albert painted them, then update each scene in their own styles. One interesting development is the increasing inclusion of people in the paintings – something Albert never thought of doing. Indeed, Benita Clements is now regularly painting full-scale portraits.

The packed exhibition catalogue has just been uploaded, and is linked below.

This wealth of colourful art from the Red Centre will be accompanied in Bowral by a suite of new works by the Southern Highlands Printmakers. Like their Aranda cousins, they are responding to places and landscapes Belonging to them.