- Landmark trees were being considered for inclusion on heritage register
- Aboriginal community hopes trees will ‘come back to life’
PUBLISHED: 10:44 EST, 4 January 2013 | UPDATED: 12:33 EST, 4 January 2013
Two eucalyptus trees, featured in paintings by renowned Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira, have been burned to the ground by arsonists.
The trees, known as Ghost Gums lined a road 15 miles from Alice Springs, Australian, and helped Namatjira establish his place in the world-wide art world when he painted them into his Twin Ghosts painting in the 1940s.
They were burnt down on December 30, just as they were being considered for inclusion on a heritage register.
Police said they had no doubt the trees, which get their name because of their white, spooky bark were set alight by vandals.
‘This is a sad moment in our history,’ said Miss Alison Anderson, the Northern Territory’s Indigenous Advancement Minister.
‘These trees were a landmark and very special to Aboriginal people in the area.
‘In his watercolours Namatjira brought the beauty of the Central Australian landscape to the world and helped make it a symbol of Australian identity.’
The trees featured on a stamp and were also included in the song I Am Australian.
Namatjira first came to the notice of Australian art circles in the late 1930s and by the late 1950s he had won international acclaim.
He was not without controversy, however – he died in 1959 at the age of 57, three months after serving time in jail for giving alcohol to members of his Aboriginal community.
His conviction was the subject of widespread controversy, critics of his imprisonment arguing it was racial discrimination.
But his paintings inspired so many around the world that they were sought by international auction houses and galleries. A painting of ghost gums sold at an auction last year for an estimated £20,000.
Standing beside the smouldering remains of the gum trees that were such an inspiration to the artist, Malcolm Connolly, a senior heritage officer, told of his shock at the vandal attack.
He told Fairfax Media he had gone to the site to check on the gum trees, which were to soon to be included in the Heritage List.
They were regarded as a deeply significant landmark, synonymous with Namatjira’s depiction of the desert country around Alice Springs and ghost gums as living spirits, he said.
Respected art critic and author of The Encyclopaedia of Australian Art, Sue McCulloch described the destruction of the gums that appeared in so many of Namatjira’s most well-known works as ‘appalling and a tragic act of cultural vandalism’.
But the Aboriginal community refuse to believe that all is lost.
‘I think that if the root system of the burned trees is still alive there can be regrowth,’ said Aboriginal advancement minister Miss Anderson.
She hopes that after a lot of rain the trees will ‘come back to life again.’