In October, news emerged that the rights in the work of globally recognised Indigenous watercolourist Albert Namatjira had been returned to the Namatjira family after decades of campaigning.
The ABC’s Isabel Dayman reported that the copyright controversy ended, not in a courtroom, but on the phone after the intervention of a high-profile Australian millionaire.
Dick Smith decided to offer his support to the Namatjira family’s cause, after becoming convinced that there had been a “misunderstanding” between the family and copyright owner Legend Press’s owner John Brackenreg who Smith had met previously.
“They’d reached an impasse after about 10 years of negotiation,” Mr Smith said. “In 15 minutes, we worked our way around the problems.
“I agreed to donate some money towards the Namatjira Foundation and John Brackenreg’s son Philip agreed that he’d transfer the entire copyright to the family.”
Mr Smith said copyright was then handed over to the Namatjira family for a nominal amount of $1.
Albert Namatjira’s nephew, Mervyn Rubuntja, said he was “very, very proud” to have had copyright given back to his family.
Chair of the Namatjira Legacy Trust Sophie Marinos said she was overwhelmed by the development.
“I burst into tears — I am just so happy for the Namatjira family,” she said.
“Until the final moment that it had been handed back, I never thought it would happen.
“I really do hope that, on the ground, it does see real benefits for them, and their children, and grandchildren going forward, because that is really what they dream of.”
Sadly, Kumantjai L Namatjira Lankin, who was a tireless advocate for the copyright of her grandfather to be rightfully returned to her family, passed away six days after the copyright was returned to the family.
The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra is staging Namatjira: Painting Country until 19 November. Because the copyright was not available the gallery could not use any of Namatjira’s works to promote the exhibition – a situation that will no doubt change in the future.