An enduring art tradition: The Hermannsburg School


The Hermannsburg School is an art movement that began at the Lutheran mission of Hermannsburg in Central Australia in the 1930s, inspired by Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira who was born there. Following Namatjira’s early sell-out exhibitions, members of his extended family and his community – most of whom were already making art in some form – became interested in painting. A dynamic group of Arrernte painters emerged to become the first generation of the Hermannsburg School of landscape painting.

Irene Entata, Arrernte/Luritja people, Australia 1946-2014 / Albert and Rex painting 2003 / Synthetic polymer paint on linen / 90 x 120.5cm / Purchased 2003. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

First generation of the Hermannsburg School

Albert Namatjira’s first student was Walter Ebatarinja, an owner of the country around Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and husband of Namatjira’s niece – this kinship to country and family meant he would be taught first. Soon after, Namatjira’s sons Enos, Oscar, Ewald, Keith and Maurice, and son-in-law Benjamin Landara, would join him on painting trips. By 1950, community members including Otto, Edwin and Reuben Pareroultja; Henoch and Herbert Raberaba; Claude Pannka; Gustav Malbunka; Adolf Inkamala; and Richard Moketarinja joined the movement. Cordula Ebatarinja, Namatjira’s niece and wife of Walter Ebatarinja, also joined in 1950, becoming one of the first Aboriginal women artists recognised by the art world.

When Namatjira moved from the mission to Alice Springs, many of his family and painting mates followed, looking for greater access to economic markets and essential services, outside of the control of the mission. Unable to access accommodation and other basic services, they lived at Morris Soak, a fringe camp outside of the town, which still exists. The unique styles developed by many of these first-generation artists have been retained as a family style by their descendants.

Following years of exploitation, the artists formed Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands Art Centre), a place for the children and grandchildren of Namatjira and his contemporaries to continue this important Aboriginal and Australian art tradition.

Clara Inkamala, Arrernte people, Australia b.1954 / (Emu and chicks) 2002 / Synthetic polymer paint on Belgian linen / 51.1 x 70.5cm / Purchased 2003 with funds from Margaret Mittelheuser AM through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

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Installation view of ‘Indigenous Australian Collection: Namatjira Story’, QAG 2018

Bruce McLean is Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA

Feature image detail: Clara Inkamala’s (Emu and chicks) 2002