The Australian for April 4, 2006 carried a long and moving obituary–perhaps “homage” would be a better word–for Colin Jack-Hinton, who passed away on March 22 in Masterton, New Zealand at the age of seventy-three. I won’t rehearse his story here; Rothwell’s prose deserves to be read in its own right.
Jack-Hinton’s legacy for lovers of Aboriginal art is at least three fold. He was the founding director of the Northern Territory’s Museum of Arts and Sciences, today of course, with a different name and a modified mission, the home each year of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. He arrived in Darwin in 1969,
…where he became the founding director of the Northern Territory’s Museum of Arts and Sciences. In this position, during a tenure of 23 years, Jack-Hinton introduced whole fields of inquiry, inspired a legion of expert followers and developed a new conception of the north, which was embodied in his revolutionary museum.
The ghost of this vision survives today in the dramatic building of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, which stands on Bullocky Point, overlooking the Arafura Sea, but the measure of his impact rests in his influence. The modern idea of environmental history as the key to the tropics, the sense that art and science inform each other, the serious appreciation of northern indigenous cultures, the understanding of northern Australia as a component of an entire maritime region, these are all legacies of Jack-Hinton’s life.
His second legacy, closely related to his belief in the complementary nature of art and science, was the exploration of the extensive rock art of Arnhem Land, largely through the research conducted by George Chaloupka, who worked under Hinton-Jack’s direction. Chaloupka’s published works include the popular Journey in Time: the world’s longer continuing art tradition: the 50,000 year story of the Australian Aboriginal rock art of Arnhem Land; Burrunguy: Nourlangie Rock; and From Palaeoart to Casual Paintings: the chronological sequence of Arnhem Land Plateau rock art.
The third legacy was the acquisition of a substantial collection of early boards from Papunya, which are now housed in Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. I had the extraordinary good fortune, thanks to Stephen Williamson and Margie West, to see a substantial selection of these works in the storage racks of the Museum back in 2001. At the time my enthusiasm for these early works had been stoked by the reproductions in the catalog for the Genesis and Genius show at AGNSW, but I wasn’t prepared for the richness and variety of the works at MAGNT. Many of the works are smallish–if you’ve seen the paintings from the Papunya School that were on display at the Araluen Center last year, you have some idea of the scale I’m talking about–and to see row upon row of them stacked together was probably the most overwhelming experience of art I’ve had in Australia.