December 5, 1939 — Albert Namitjira’s first solo show opens

One of the greatest of Australian painters, Albert Namitjira was 36 when his first solo show opened. It ran for about a week, at a gallery in Melbourne – far away from the rugged landscapes of the Flinders Ranges that Namitjira loved to paint. It was the first solo show by a painter of indigenous origin in Australian history, and it was a harbinger of bigger and better things to come.

Namitjira’s work blended European painting styles with the artistic traditions of his people, in a harmonious blend that showed Australians of all kinds a new way to look at their country. (And its gum trees. Namitjira loved to paint gum trees.) He died in 1959, mourned by a nation and after a too-short career that changed Australian art like no painter before or since has done.

Albert Namatjira portrait

As mentioned in:

Native Born — Paul Kelly

April 29, 1770 — Captain James Cook is the first European to make contact with Australian Natives

It was on his first voyage of discovery that Captain James Cook’s ship the Endeavour, sighted the eastern coast of Australia. A man aloft in the crows nest, one Lieutenant Zachary Hickes, made the first sighting, which Cook repaid by naming Point Hicks (spelling was not, apparently, one of Cook’s many talents). But although they saw evidence of the natives of this new land – the smoke of numerous campfires, mostly – it was not until four days later that first contact was made between the Englishmen and Australian Natives. (Specifically, members of the Gweagal people, who dwelt on the shores of Botany Bay around modern Kurnell.)

Perhaps setting a template for future interactions between blacks and whites in Australia, the contact was hostile, although no one was killed. The scientists on the crew, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, gathered specimens, primarily botanical (hence the name given to the bay where they landed), to take back to England. Cook and his crew continued on their way after spending a week or so in Botany Bay, taking home news that would eventually spell the doom of the Gweagal and a great many of their relatives.