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Wenten Rubuntja
, 1998

by Greg Weight

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 50.4 cm x 40.4 cm, image: 43.2 cm x 35.5 cm)

Wenten Rubuntja AM (1923-2005) was an Arrernte law man, committee and board member, artist, historian, storyteller and intermediary. He worked across a great variety of pastoral jobs and was renowned as a sharp-dressing, daring cowboy and jockey at the Hermannsburg Races before he began painting and became involved in advocacy. Summarising the trajectory of his life, he said that when he saw the great artist Albert Namatjira at work, ‘Me been forget about stock work – I been sit down with the painting now, till I get to now. For reconciliation and all the organisations, Land Council, Congress, Legal Aid and all that one.’ In 1975, Charles Perkins and Wenten Rubuntja became chair and deputy chair respectively of the new Central Aboriginal Land Council. Rubuntja was its subsequent chair, and in 1988 he and Galarrwuy Yunupingu presented Prime Minister Bob Hawke with the Barunga Statement, calling for a treaty. (Hawke promised a treaty by 1990.) Rubuntja’s life story is told in the strikingly original co-written autobiographical history The town grew up dancing: The life and art of Wenten Rubuntja. His paintings - in both ‘Namatjira style’ and Papunya dot style, depending on their themes - are held in the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory and many other collections.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Patrick Corrigan AM 2004
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2004.54