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Introduction

Hermannsburg or Ntaria, as it is known locally, lies west of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) in the Central Desert region of Australia. Ntaria is on Western Arrernte country and in 1877 it became home to the Lutheran Hermannsburg Mission, the first Aboriginal mission in the Northern Territory.

Ntaria is also the birthplace of the Hermannsburg school – a landscape painting movement pioneered by Albert Namatjira, one of Australia’s most celebrated artists. Namatjira was introduced to watercolour painting by the artists Rex Battarbee and John Gardner in 1934 and he was soon joined by many of his peers, including Walter Ebatarinja, Otto Pareroultja, Edwin Pareroultja, Claude Pannka, Benjamin Landara and Richard Moketarinja, resulting in a distinctive regional style.

These artists painted detailed images of their country, capturing the intimate changes in the landscape that came with different seasons or times of the day – documenting their artistic, cultural and proprietorial claims on the land.

This intimate connection to country continues to be explored by the Hermannsburg artists’ descendants. The movement has also encouraged artists from neighbouring language groups to depict representational views of the landscape, as seen in the gestural paintings of the late Billy Benn Perrurle and the prints of Alison Walbungara, Vanessa Splinter and Tristam Malbunka, whose work offers alternate interpretations of the hills of Arrernte country.

Questions and activities

  • Find a map of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia that shows language groups – such as the one on the ABC website – and locate Arrernte country and Ntaria. Source images of the landscape and features such as Tywerentye (the Western MacDonnell ranges), rocky bluffs and gorges, trees and waterholes. Notice light and space. Think of words that describe the colours, textures and shapes found in this country.
  • Make a case study of the Hermannsburg landscape painting movement. Investigate the movement’s evolution, generational continuity and contemporary manifestation in media including ceramics and printmaking.