Mervyn was born at the Telegraph Station in Alice Springs. His mother Cynthia (Kamara) Obitja was a Western Arrernte woman. His father was the late Mr Wenten Rubuntja Pengarte a famous painter. His father was an important role model for Mervyn. He was a senior lawman and a respected member of his community. He fought for Aboriginal rights and protection of the land working alongside the Central Land Council and assisted in the Mabo agreement. Mervyn has followed in his father’s footsteps painting in the watercolour style that his father taught him. When Mervyn was 13 years old his family moved to Hermannsburg this is where he first saw watercolour paintings as he watched his uncles Maurice, Oscar and Keith Namatjira painting like their father Albert. Arnulf Ebatarinja another uncle kindled Mervyn’s painting talent when he gave him some watercolour paperboard and taught him to paint. Mervyn’s family moved back to Alice Springs in 1975 and he began to paint with Basil Rantji who taught him how to mix colours. In 2006 Mervyn was invited to submit a painting for the “Mornington Peninsular Works on Paper” Exhibition. Mervyn was a finalist at the 2008 NATSIA Awards in Darwin and in 2013 he was invited to participate at the seminar “Presences in the Art of Rex Battarbee and Albert Namatjira” at the State Library of NSW.
Mervyn Penangka Rubuntja is passionate about sharing the story of his family. “My Father’s country is northwest. It’s Arrernte, northwest Arrernte, but near Anmatyerre side. That country is around Hamilton Downs, Urubunjta, Fire Dreaming. My Mother’s country is west, near Haasts Bluff, but around other side” he says.
“I’ve been to that place. My Grandfather showed me around. Mereenie. That’s the English name. It’s a hard name, Arrernte way. Luritja, Pintupi, Ngatatjara, my Mother. North of Docker River, that lake, it’s my Grandfather’s – my Mother’s Father’s – place.
“Back in those days, though, everybody was brought in and put together at Charles Creek. Central and Western Arrernte, put together. They moved people around, off their proper country.”
“What I do now is try to follow in my elder’s footsteps. I try to look after the place. I try to look after the stories that were given to me. I paint.
“And I talk to government, to stand up and talk about looking after this place, so younger generation can see it. They need to keep on following the footsteps, follow the tribal law, so we can keep this country strong, so it doesn’t get sick from mining. We need to stop it getting poisoned.
“When I paint, I show the colours of the country, so young people can see it, how it is. If we do fracking, those colours will change. These places are sacred. We got to look after them. We got to teach our younger generation that.”
See Mervyn’s artwork at Iltja Ntjarra/Many Hands Art Centre