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Namarari (Mick) Tjapaltjarri (c. 1923–1998)

by Alec B. O'Halloran

This article was published:

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, by Paul Sweeney, 1997

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, by Paul Sweeney, 1997

photo supplied by Alec O'Halloran

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri (c. 1923–1998), Pintupi man and artist, also known as Kalipapu, was born at Marnpi, about 520 kilometres west of Alice Springs, son of Takantjukurupa and Meiyenu. Namarari had four older sisters: Aniljuru, Ingangka, Kandindangu, and Ikungka. As a child, he travelled with his family through the desert, living at various ngurra (traditional camps, ‘home’ places) in the Marnpi-Ilpilli-Muruntji-Putarti-Iranytji-Mount Liebig region. During this time he learned the skills for desert living from his kinship network. Around 1931 or 1932, the family travelled to Alalya in the Cleland Hills area, where his father was killed by warrmala (‘revenge party’). On that traumatic day he lost two significant relatives (father and grandmother).

Namarari and his mother then went to Putarti, a permanent spring, near Watiyawanu (Mount Liebig). They met his classificatory father, Kamutu Tjungurrayi (Mintunmintun), who took Meiyenu as his fourth wife. There Namarari encountered Lutheran missionaries and Arrernte evangelists from Ntaria (Hermannsburg) for the first time. During the 1930s he travelled with family between the western Putarti-Iranytji region and the eastern Hermannsburg-Haasts Bluff region, spending time at the mission and the water places Ngaankirritji and Alalpi, near Haasts Bluff.

In the mid to late 1930s Namarari left his mother to join other boys for important cultural education, returning as a wati (initiated man) after initiation into manhood at Untantita, west of Ntaria. Soon after, he and his relative, Charlie Watuma (Wartuma)(Tjararu) Tjungurrayi, walked to Tempe Downs cattle station and began working as stockmen. In the early to mid-1940s he moved between the station and Haasts Bluff. He continued travelling in the region, participating in cultural education as a wati under the guidance of senior Aboriginal men. His responsibilities increased in the late 1940s when, at Haasts Bluff, he married Wingulya Nakamarra, who had two children, Melva and Oswald, from a previous marriage. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s he provided for his family by hunting and working as a labourer and stockman around the Haasts Bluff–Tempe Downs–Bowsons Hole–Areyonga region.

As part of the assimilation policy, in 1959 the Commonwealth relocated most of the Aboriginal community at Haasts Bluff, including Namarari and his family, to the new Papunya Aboriginal Reserve approximately 31 miles (50 km) away. There he continued labouring and maintaining his cultural practices while adjusting to living in a supervised government settlement. After a long illness, Wingulya passed away in 1962. As an older man living at the settlement, Namarari took responsibility for ‘growing up’ young relatives (O’Halloran 2018, 70). Taking on further senior responsibilities, he served on the Papunya Village Council from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.

The early 1970s marked a change for the Papunya community and Namarari. New economic opportunities through participation in the nascent art market offered benefits outside the station economy, and presented a means to express cultural knowledge. Namarari and other senior men began making paintings for sale in 1971. His beginnings as a commercial artist built on his familiarity with painted images (on rocks or ceremonial objects) and the act of ritual painting (for bodies and ceremonies). Using dotting, linework, and figuration in his art, he drew upon his deep cultural knowledge, having the authority and rights to paint these subjects from tjukurrpa (Dreaming or Law ceremony and ritual) through his wati status. In late 1972 he was involved in establishing the Aboriginal-owned artists’ painting company Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd (PTA) and was a founding shareholder.

Under the Commonwealth’s self-determination policy in the early to mid-1970s, outstations were established in the Papunya region in an Aboriginal-led movement, reflecting a widespread desire to live on traditional Country away from Papunya. During this time Namarari moved with family between Papunya and various outstations, including Blackwater, Browns Bore, Alumbra, and Mount Liebig. In the mid-1970s he married Elizabeth Marks Nakamarra.

A new Pintupi settlement was founded on traditional Country at Kintore (Walangurru) in the early 1980s. Namarari and his family moved there around 1982 but continued travelling between there and Mount Liebig for family reasons. When the time came to establish his outstation, he situated it near his important places, Nyunmanu, a site of the Dingo Dreaming, and Marnpi, a site of the Kangaroo Dreaming. He described the locality as ‘ngayuku ngurra’ or ‘my country.’ During the 1980s his significant painting subjects included the Malu Tjukurrpa (Kangaroo Dreaming) and Malu Kutjarra Tjukurrpa (Two Kangaroo Dreaming), the Papa Tjukurrpa (Dingo Dreaming) and Tingarri, or Men’s Law.

Between the late 1980s to early 1990s the construction of his outstation was completed. By then Namarari and his wife had three young children, Angelina, Peter, and Farren. He regularly visited countrymen on the nearby outstations of Yuwalki (Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula’s family) and Ngutjul (George Maxwell Tjangala’s family), and at Kintore. His long journey, from his early 1930s departure from familiar homelands into an unfamiliar cross-cultural world, and the eventual return to his traditional lands in the 1980s, mirrored that of other Pintupi people born in the early to mid-twentieth century.

Widely regarded as a family man with a deep fondness for children, Namarari was dedicated to his duty to provide for his kinship network. Known to be generous and appreciative of assistance, he expected reciprocity from others. A softly spoken man, he was quiet and observant. He preferred to paint in solitude, needing quiet to focus, describing his process as painting ‘real slow, no rush, just slow, big ones, little ones, just slow, every time’ (O’Halloran 2018, 152). Fluent in Pintupi and Luritja, he was familiar with the Pitjantjatjarra, Aranda, and Warlpiri languages, and had basic skills in English.

His reputation as an artist grew as PTA mounted four solo exhibitions from 1991 to 1994 in Sydney and Melbourne. Namarari won first prize of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art Award in 1991 (Darwin) and shared the Alice prize in 1994 (Alice Springs). That same year he received the prestigious Red Ochre award from the Australia Council for the Arts for his outstanding lifetime achievement and contribution to Aboriginal art. He and Elizabeth travelled to Canberra to receive the award, where he met the prime minister, Paul Keating.

Namarari never stopped travelling, frequently visiting Alice Springs in the 1990s and spending time at Papunya, Mount Liebig, and Kintore. His health declined in the mid-1990s, requiring hospitalisation in Alice Springs. Worried, he encouraged Elizabeth to paint to provide for their children. She became a noted artist with her own style. Namarari passed away in Alice Springs at the Hetti Perkins Hostel on 16 August 1998 and was buried at Kintore. He was survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren.

As an artist, Namarari’s legacy includes some 600 paintings for PTA (1973–98) and over 100 works during Papunya’s formative phase (1971–72) (O’Halloran 2018, 207).  The art he produced was across a range of styles in a variety of indoor and outdoor settlement and bush studio settings. Remarkably, in terms of subject matter, he referenced over seventy sites in his paintings and over thirty documented tjukurrpa (O’Halloran 2018, 208–9). He also painted for individuals and private dealers. His art is held in over twenty major national and international institutions and in numerous private collections. Though he appreciated recognition for his efforts, he did not dwell on praise and resisted the limelight associated with artistic success. He is widely admired as a masterful, innovative, and dedicated artist.

The public recognition Namarari achieved as an artist complements the less visible role he played as a cross-cultural educator, particularly with Papunya Tula’s staff. He featured in several films including Mick and the Moon (1977) and Benny and the Dreamers (1992). Through his relationships, art, and oral histories, he contributed to an understanding of his life and culture, consistently emphasising the importance of tjukurrpa, ngurra, and walytja (family).


Alec O'Halloran is of Irish descent and was born in Fremantle, Western Australia, in Noongar Country. Alec consulted with Pintupi and Luritja speakers in the researching and writing of the authorised biography of Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri: The Master from Marnpi. Alec received approval to publish this biography from Namarari's widow, Elizabeth Marks Nakamarra, a Luritja/Pintupi/Warlpiri/English speaker.

Research edited by Kiera Donnelly

Select Bibliography

  • Batty, Philip. ‘The Extraordinary Life and Times of Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri: Warrior, Stockman, Artist.’ In Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert, edited by Vivien Johnson, 17–28. Canberra: National Museum of Australia Press, 2007
  • Johnson, Vivien. Lives of Papunya Tula Artists. Alice Springs, NT: IAD Press, 2008
  • Kean, John. ‘Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri.’ In Origins of Western Desert art Tjukurrtjanu, edited by Judith Ryan and Phillip Batty, 160–61. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2011
  • Nakamarra, Elizabeth Marks. Personal communication with Alec O’Halloran
  • O’Halloran, Alec B. The Master from Marnpi, Sydney: LifeDesign Australia, 2018

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alec B. O'Halloran, 'Tjapaltjarri, Namarari (Mick) (c. 1923–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2023, accessed online 17 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, by Paul Sweeney, 1997

Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, by Paul Sweeney, 1997

photo supplied by Alec O'Halloran

More images

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Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kalipapu

c. 1923
Marnpi, Northern Territory, Australia


16 August, 1998 (aged ~ 75)
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

Cause of Death


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