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Namatjira Park in Springs Road, Clayton South was named, as it suggests, for Albert Namatjira. It was named in the 1960s along with a rash of name changes for streets, mostly in the Clayton area, to indigenous names. However, none of the names in a fast-developing Clayton appear to be indigenous to the traditional First Nations’ owners, the Eastern Kulin.

Albert (Elea) Namatjira [1902–1959]
The career of Albert Namatjira as an artist in the western tradition of painting is well known, earning him national and international recognition. He remains the most celebrated First Nations painter in Australian history. With fame came pressure from the public that he be granted full citizenship. In 1957 Namatjira and his wife Ilkalita (Rubina) became the first Aboriginal Australian citizens entitled to vote. This meant Albert Namatjira was exempted from the restrictions imposed on other ‘full-blooded’ Aborigines. This included access to alcohol which in accordance with Aboriginal custom he shared with members of his family. In 1958 he was charged with supplying alcohol to the artist Henoch Raberaba and sentenced to six months imprisonment with labour. Following a public outcry and two appeals, the sentence was reduced to three months. Namatjira ultimately served two months of open detention at the Papunya settlement in March-May 1959. He died of heart failure on 8 August 1959.

Namatjira’s sentencing, the public outcry and his death focused interest on First Nations people, their conditions, and culture. His treatment highlighted the inequalities of Australian society and helped pave the way towards voting rights for Aboriginal people in 1962. It was not until the 1967 Referendum on the alteration of the Constitution that Aborigines were counted in the Australian nation.

The referendum put the following question to the Australian people:
Do you approve the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled ‘An Act to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the people of the Aboriginal race in any state and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the population’?

Namatjira Park was named in the year following the artist’s death. It is located on what was once the Clayton Reserve [Springs Road] temporarily reserved for recreation in 1923 and permanently reserved by Order in Council in 1964. In the colonial era it was used as a watering hole for stock, farmers leading their animals there for water. Part of the Reserve became the site of Clayton Bowls Club, opened in 1961. Bowlers from the Clayton club in fact considered that the springs waters to be more than suitable for watering its greens. Notwithstanding that local government drained them in the 1970s, the bowling club still draws water up from them.

While Namatjira Park had an ‘opening’ in 1980 it was an event held in celebration of some redevelopment by the City of Oakleigh at that time. By the 1990s fifty percent of the 12-hectare Park alongside a retarding basin was used for recreation with a sports oval, bowling greens and tennis court.

In a more enlightened time, a Friends’ Group was formed, aiming to rehabilitate the park and its wetlands. Thousands of trees were planted under the lead of Andrew Stevenson who gave a long commitment to the project.

According to its current managers, the City of Kingston:
‘Namatjira Wetlands sit adjacent to Namatjira Park and provide a home to a wide variety of water birds and wildlife which can be enjoyed by raised boardwalks and bird lookouts. It also helps treat stormwater and provides a retarding water basin that provides flood protection of local properties.’

Helen G. Gobbi ©

Namatjira Park Chain of Parks
Photo courtesy City of Kingston