Today we are going to explore and sketch at Arltunga an old abandoned mining town. Born out of a gold rush in 1887, Arltunga was officially Central Australia’s first town and once supported up to 400 people.
But on the way we stopped to photograph the ghost gum trees that the Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira painted.
Born 115 years ago in Hermannsburg, Northern Territory, Albert (Elea) Namatjira remains one of Australia’s most famous artists, for his landscape paintings that celebrated the country through a unique lens of reds, ochres and purples. His story is a tragic one: the Western Arrarnta man became the first Aboriginal to be granted Australian citizenship in 1957. He was then exempted from laws that denied Indigenous Australians the right to vote, own property and drink alcohol, but was arrested for introducing liquor into his community – a charge which he denied. He was released from prison after two months but never recovered, and died of a heart attack in 1959, aged 57. (follow this link to see some of his inspiring paintings)
Copies of his paintings lined the walls of the dining room at Glen Helen and I found them so inspiring. This is Namitjira country and though we were not far from Hermannsburg it could not be squeezed into our full itinerary. A reason to come back for another visit…
We were now heading into true outback country on unsealed roads. The red dust swirls around us and I was pleased Sharon was driving when this huge road train appeared from the dust straight ahead of us.After an hours drive we arrive at Arltunga. I try to visualise how it would be in 1888 when a gold bearing quartz site was discovered. The trudge of 600 kilometres from Oodnadata, the nearest rail head, often on foot. The heat, the dust, possibly flies tormenting them, lack of water, only the thought of probable riches driving them on. Then to arrive here to nothing. All goods had to be brought in by camel. Drought was the norm and water is needed to work their claims and to survive. No water for washing the dust off after a hard day digging and hoping and praying the next shovel would produce the sparkle of gold. Despite these hardships by 1903 a township of approximately 300- 400 people had grown here. Living conditions were extremely rough, in a tent or a small bark hut. By 1918 mining activity had tailed off. leaving behind a ghost town. Owing to the harshness of the climate and the fact that local stone was used in the construction of buildings, the town is well-preserved and in 1975 Arltunga Historical Reserve was established and it became an interesting tourist destination.
So here we are looking around and absorbing the atmosphere and again, with the help of Leonie Norton, our teacher and tutor and a very experienced water colour artist, to help and guide us, we try to capture the scenes around us. ( do go here to see her web site she is a very talented artist )
Sketching takes a lot of concentration and so the 3 hours we were there just flew by and I didn’t have time to fully explore the rest of the area. It would’ve been fascinating, but our priority was art, so I promise myself I will be back…
Getting back to Glen Helen by 4pm gives us time for another sketching session. As we sit outside our cabins watching the sun set.
This is the Glen Helen Homestead and along the veranda there are some interesting relics.
This dear old dog was wandering around hopefully eyeing up the food on people’s tables. But written on the rag around his neck was “don’t feed me, I’m on a diet” He was very tubby…
This was my final sketch of the day. Looking at it next to the photo I think I need a bit more definition in the rock face.
So ends another full and satisfying day. Tomorrow it is Ormiston Gorge and Sharon tells us to be prepared to be blown away… (to be continued)