I am publishing Namarari’s biography for three main reasons. One, make his life story public and acknowledge his roles in family, community and art spheres, recognising him as an unassuming generous leader whose contribution remains under-appreciated. Two, explore for the first time the relationship between an individual artist and the Papunya Tula Artists organisation over three decades. Three, contribute to an important movement in Australia to promote Indigenous voices in our understandings of shared history by bringing Namarari’s interviews (largely unpublished) to the fore, in combination with contributions from his relatives and associates. Also, to fulfil a promise made at Kintore (Northern Territory) to Namarari’s widow, Elizabeth Marks Nakamarra: I would write a book about her husband for everyone to see.
I began a journey of discovery in the mid 1990s. My attraction to Aboriginal art morphed into a wider interest in Aboriginal culture and history. The wide-eyed beginner became the enthusiastic student, then a travelling researcher and a writer. My life is significantly enriched.
Researching and writing Namarari’s biography led to me to three wonderful adventures.
First, meeting members of his extended family in Alice Springs, Haasts Bluff, Papunya, Mt Liebig and Kintore. These included his widow Elizabeth Marks Nakamarra and their children Angelina, Peter and Farren, and adopted son Keith Butler Tjungurrayi; his grandchildren Fabrianne Peterson Nampitjinpa and her brother Leo Peterson Tjampitjinpa, and Tommy Conway Tjapangati; and close relatives Hilary Tjapaltjarri and Murphy Roberts Tjupurrula. Their stories and fond memories are in the The master from Marnpi.
Second, visiting the Western Desert region and seeing places and sites of importance to Namarari, some of which are the subject of his paintings. You can see these places in the book’s map (The master from Marnpi, pages 8-9). These include Hermannsburg and nearby Untantita and Kulpitarra, plus Glen Helen; Haasts Bluff and Ngankarritji; Papunya; Mt Liebig, Iranytji, Putarti, Browns Bore and Muruntji; Kintore, Ngutjul, Putja, Yuwalki, Marnpi and Nyunmanu.
Thirdly, another privilege was to meet and interview Papunya Tula staff who worked with Namarari from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. Their stories, insights and informed observations grace many pages of the book (The master from Marnpi, chs. 6-11). It was their contributions that enabled me to narrate Namarari’s relationship with PTA over the 28 years of his career. After interviewing Geoff Bardon many years ago, I interviewed (usually on multiple occasions) Peter Fannin, Dick Kimber, Janet Holt, John Kean, Daphne Williams, Faye Bell, Paul Walsh, Jenny Taylor, Paul Sweeney and Wayne Eager.
The orientation to Country, the study of paintings, the reading of anthropology and history gradually came together, with oral histories as a cornerstone. I have learned through people’s generosity, through mistakes, through looking and listening, reading, writing and thinking, and travelling. Sadly, I never met Namarari.My interest in Papunya Tula blossomed in the late 1990s, drawn to the lives of the old men. My idea to ‘do Namarari’s biography’ received PTA’s support and I slowly worked my way forward with access to their archives and introductions to their staff and relatives of Namarari. Namarari’s widow, Elizabeth Marks Nakamarra, has authorised my project to publish Namarari’s biography. I travelled to Western Desert communities to see where he had lived, and to interview people and to learn. Everything was new.