A Handbook of Contemporary Research
Edited by Matthew Rimmer
Chapter 5: Government man, government painting? David Malangi and the 1966 one-dollar note
On 5 February 1966, the Adelaide Advertiser published a troubling preview of one of the notes forming part of Australia’s new decimal currency, to be introduced on ‘C-Day’, 14 February 1966. The article alleged that one of the artists whose work had ‘contributed to the handsome look of the new Australian $1 note’ had ‘so far received no personal recognition’ for his work. The artist concerned was ‘the 39-year old Australian aborigine Malangi, who lives on Milingimbi, one of the crocodile islands off the Arnhem Land coast’. According to the article, the note’s designer, Gordon Andrews, had copied the left-hand section of the back of the note from a photograph of a bark painting by Malangi which had been acquired by Czech collector Karel Kupka in 1963 and donated to the Museum of Arts of Africa and Oceania, in Paris. Bureaucratic reaction to the Advertiser’s revelation was swift, if not immediately effective. Inquiries into the embarrassing oversight revealed that the Reserve Bank was most likely aware in 1963, but by 1966 had somehow forgotten, that the design upon which a significant part of its dollar note was based was the work of a living artist. Meanwhile, official concern focused upon the more practical problem of public relations. A flurry of correspondence ensued throughout 1966 and early 1967 between all the officially interested parties – the Reserve Bank, the Methodist Church at Milingimbi, the Department of Territories, the Northern Territory Administration, the French museum in Paris, and Karel Kupka. Malangi himself, needless to say, was not involved.
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