Creative citizenship takes many forms 

MLA Alison Anderson spoke at the opening of CDU's Creative Citizenship symposium in Alice Springs on 27 September

There was an irony in defining the creative citizen as it applied to one of Australia’s most famous Aboriginal artists, MLA Alison Anderson told the opening of Charles Darwin University’s Creative Citizenship symposium in Alice Springs.

Ms Anderson said that Albert Namatjira, acknowledged as one of the country’s most famous creative talents, had been granted citizenship nearly 50 years ago.

Yet it was this act of conferring citizenship that had led to his sad and untimely death.

“In January, 1957 the famous Arrernte painter was granted full Australian citizenship, but it was a peculiar kind of citizenship,” she said.

“His children were still—under the law of the day—classed as wards of the State and—in theory—permission had to be sought for them to stay with their parents.”

There was also irony in the fact that Namatjira was then unable to visit his relatives at Papunya and Hermannsburg living on reserves without permission. Along with his citizenship came the right to buy grog—but not to share it with his relatives.

In doing so, Namatjira had been jailed for two years—his sentence reduced to two months’ detention.

Namatjira had died two months after his release from prison—a broken man.

“The point I am making,” Ms Anderson said, “is that the notion of citizenship can be a very shaky thing. Despite all the best intentions it is arguable that citizenship contributed to a sad and untimely death.”

Ms Anderson was speaking as part of the official welcome to the two-day Creative Citizenship symposium in Alice Springs, in which national and international speakers debated the link between modern technology, community participation and the creative citizen.

In the opening keynote address musician and festival director Simone de Haan engaged the audience in a practical example of creativity.

He invited the audience at the Araluen Centre’s theatre auditorium to stand—eyes closed—and improvise the sounds of a tropical rainforest.

With tongue-clicks, whooshes, signs and gentle coos the audience contributed to this unique creative activity, successfully conveying the atmosphere of a forest through the power of their collective imagination.

He also engaged the audience in rhythmic musical exercises set to hand-clapping. Both were unusual, though highly effective samplers of community participation in the creative process.

Mr Haan said that community artistic festivals should not be imposed on people, but developed with the input of the communities involved so they became a shared experience that left a lasting impression and a sense of ownership.

Visit the symposium website at