A 44-year-old painting by Papunya Tula pioneer Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri that was presumed missing after many years of searching has been discovered in the most unexpected of places. With an estimated value of $100,000 “ $150,000, records of the 1972 artwork, Untitled (Travelling Dreaming) show that the painting was loaned to the Chief Minister’s office sometime after 1978, but disappeared in 1981 when Paul Everingham was Chief Minister.

By chance, during a recent routine meeting, Director of Arts NT, Angela Hill, identified the artwork – one of the early Papunya Boards – hanging in the new Tourism and Culture headquarters in Darwin City.

This was later confirmed by art historian Anita Angel who identified the work as an early board painting by artist Mick Namarari. The work appears in Geoffrey Bardon’s bible of early Papunya painting, ‘Papunya : A Place Made After the Story’ which dates the work to May 1972 and describes it thus:

This story represents a long walkabout west of Papunya. The radiating lines indicate a journey and the circular forms are sit-down places. The bottom two Ceremonial Men are singing a bush-tucker song. The curved rectilinear pattern (l & r) represents bush tucker (though it’s also similar to Namarari’s representation of wind-blown sand patterns in other paintings), and bullroarers are shown (l), and the roundels are campfires in a travelling sequence. The artist’s predisposition to a convoluted patterning with an ordered design is supported here with naturalistic human figurations.

The Department of Tourism and Culture CEO, Alastair Shields said he found the artwork in an old store room and put it on display in his office. The office needed a little bit of life and colour, however, I had no idea that I was hanging a prized piece of Northern Territory art, Mr Shields said. I was shocked to learn it was a one-of-a-kind Mick Namarari painting that had been missing for 35 years, last seen in the Chief Minister’s Office in 1981.

Minister for Tourism and Culture, Lauren Moss said the discovery was a great find for the art community and the family of Mr Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri. Quite simply, this is a wonderful moment of luck that brings a terrific end to a 35-year mystery, Ms Moss said. Although a very unusual mode of discovery, I’m very pleased to hand this incredible piece of Territory history to its rightful home “ The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

The artwork, Untitled (Travelling Dreaming) will now join other magnificent artworks from that era in the exhibition Tjungungutja: Early Papunya Paintings opening in July 2017. I note that when I first wrote about this project last March, it was called ‘Tjungungutcha “ Having come together‘ (a rather more poetic name) and was scheduled for May 2017!