8. The National Book Tour

The National Book Tour for The master from Marnpi began in September in Alice Springs and finished in Melbourne in early December, 2018.

Over 800 people attended the launches, book signings and events.

Perth book launch, Janet Holmes à Court Gallery

Alec’s magic moments 

There was a moment that stopped me in my tracks early on in the tour. I had given a copy of the book to Fabrianne Peterson Nampitjinpa at her office in Alice Springs. She contributed to my research (The master from Marnpi, pages 110-111), along with her wonderful brother, Leo Peterson Tjampitjinpa (The master from Marnpi, pages 16, 86-7. The saddest day of my long research journey was attending his funeral in Mount Liebig in late 2011). Back to Fabrianne. While leafing through the pages she paid attention to the sections on Papunya and Mount Liebig, and her eyes sparkled. She looked up from the book and said, ‘Thank you for writing the history of my country.’

Fabrianne Peterson Nampitjinpa, Namarari's granddaughter

The greatest privilege was launching the book alongside Elizabeth Marks Nakamarra at the Araluen Arts Centre as part of the 2018 Desart Symposium. We introduced Namarari’s life and art to 400 national and international visitors, including Aboriginal people from Central Australia, the Western Desert and APY Lands. Elizabeth had assisted my research since we first met at Kintore in 2007 so it was such an honour to be sitting with her to let people know about her famous husband, that passed-away tjilpi from Marnpi.

Elizabeth Marks Nakamarra and Alec, national launch, Alice Springs.

Photo: (c) James Henry, courtesy Desart.


The national tour: September-December 2018

Over 800 people attended the launches, book signings and events, which resulted in about 220 book sales.

Introducing my book to people at the events was such a thrill. It is so much more enjoyable to have the book to show people, to glance through the pages of photographs, and to sign a personal copy that they take home to read and share. I am eternally grateful to all the gallery staff who helped to organise the events, welcome people, and help with book promotion and sales.

Organising the events took an inordinate amount of time. It began in early 2018, while I was still finalising the book’s design and getting last-minute image approvals. For example, securing a place on the Desart Symposium September program was arranged in May-June, and was only possible because of the very helpful staff at Desart, Papunya Tula and the Purple House.

Elizabeth and Alec on stage, Araluen Arts Centre, Desart Symposium  


Perhaps my most nervous time was waiting for the books to be delivered in Sydney in time for a courier to get them to Alice Springs for the launch – they arrived at the Araluen Arts Centre with one day to spare! The Alice Springs launch was made more special because it was the first time my whole family joined me there, and for the first time we unfurled the special book banner, which my daughter Rosie assured me would be a great addition to the book events (which it was!). Elizabeth and I sat at the book signing table after the formal launch, helped by my wife Helen and daughter’s Anna and Rosie.

Each of the book launches after Alice Springs had something special. In Sydney, the Utopia Art Sydney gallery had been representing Papunya Tula, and Namarari, for over 30 years. I’d had countless conversations with Christopher Hodges about my book project. He generously arranged a display of a dozen Namarari works for the October launch, guaranteeing a delightful atmosphere for the occasion. I knew many of the people attending because we’d shared so many conversations about Papunya Tula art at the gallery’s annual PTA exhibitions.

Perth is my ‘home town’ (I grew up in South Perth). So I was proud to see dozens of family members and friends at the November launch, when about 100 people filled the spacious Janet Homes à Court gallery in West Perth. I think some were surprised to see that Alec had finally finished that book he keeps talking about!

Janet Holmes à Court, AO, Perth book launch


Canberra is where I completed my doctoral thesis (2013) at the Australian National University. It was fitting that the launch take place on campus at the Drill Hall Gallery. In a touch of perfect timing, it coincided with a national conference on Indigenous biography, so several of my academic colleagues and friends could attend. It was doubly fitting that the gallery’s exhibition at the time showcased Western Desert art, the perfect backdrop. In Melbourne the launch was hosted by the Alcaston Gallery, one of Australia’s leading Indigenous art galleries. The Noosa book launch was a relaxed affair (Noosa is the place to relax!) as part of a national conference of biographers, at the Central Queensland University.


Terence Maloon and Alec, Canberra book launch, Drill Hall Gallery

In addition to the formal book launches I did my best to create promotional events. With events planning and travel, I was not surprised to find myself perpetually between busy and frantic from August til mid December. Before I get to the various events, I completed one extra task that had been on my ‘to do’ list for months. I was determined to get my book into as many university and major libraries as I could, to ensure it was there for the public for decades to come. I gradually made my way through the 50 or so university libraries online, emailing details to each one according to their requirements. I did the same for state and regional libraries. Hopefully, most have now obtained a copy for their collection.

Anna Kanaris and Alec in conversation, South Fremantle

Here’s my quick round-up of events for the general public on the national book tour. I did two ‘In conversation' sessions: with Anna Kanaris at her Artitija Fine Arts gallery in South Fremantle, and with Stephen Gilchrist of the University of Sydney at the Better Read Than Dead book store in Sydney. Each conversation was followed by a Q&A with the enthusiastic audiences. While in Canberra I did two book signing sessions: at the Harry Hartog book store in Woden and at the Drill Hall gallery. While all those sessions resulted in a small number of book sales, the most enjoyable aspect was talking about the book with people keen to know more about Aboriginal art.

Stephen Gilchrist and Alec in conversation, Sydney

Additionally, I did a few presentations as part of university programs. I gave a talk about my research at the mid year 2018 Australian Historical Association conference in Canberra at the Australian National University. In October I spoke about the more creative aspects of my book at the ‘Speculating on biography’ national conference at the Central Queensland University, and in November I spoke about the biographer’s journey at the ‘Re-framing Indigenous Biography’ conference, also at the Australian National University. Each of those presentations were planned ahead, about six months in advance of the event, a good reminder that a lot of effort goes into the active promotion of one’s own book when there is no publisher to lead the process.

Alec contemplating Namarari's 'Moon Dreaming' painting


The national book launch and events itinerary, 2018
Alice Springs national launch:

Araluen Arts Centre, Desart Symposium, Friday 7 September, Elizabeth and Alec.

Papunya Tula gallery, Saturday 8 September, with Paul Sweeney, Manager.

Sydney launch and events:

Utopia Art Sydney, Saturday 13 October, with Christopher Hodges, Director.

‘In conversation with’ Stephen Gilchrist, 21 November, Better Read than Dead book store.

Research seminar presentation: ‘The use of images in an artist’s biography’, the Dept. of Art History, University of Sydney: Chair, Prof. Roger Benjamin (March 2019).

Noosa launch and event:

Central Queensland University, Friday 26 October, with Dr Kiera Lindsey, UTS

Presentation: ‘Writing Namarari’s biography: overcoming distance slowly’, Speculating on Biography conference, 25-26 November, Central Queensland University.

Perth launch and event:

The Janet Holmes à Court Gallery, Wednesday 7 November, with Janet Holmes à Court, AO.

‘In conversation with’ Anna Kanaris, Director, Artitja Fine Art, 3 November.

Canberra launch and book signings:

Drill Hall Gallery, Wednesday 14 November, with Terence Maloon, Director.

Presentation: ‘The master from Marnpi’, Re-framing Indigenous Biography conference, 15-16 November, Australian National University.

Book signing, Harry Hartog book store, Woden, Saturday 17 November.

Book signing, Drill Hall Gallery, Saturday 17 November.

Melbourne launch:

Alcaston Gallery, 1 December, with Beverley Knight, Director.


Sophie, another happy reader


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