An Aboriginal artwork worth up to $150,000 that went missing in 1981 has been discovered – hanging in the office of the Northern Territory Tourism chief executive.

The painting, Travelling Dreaming by Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, was lent to the Northern Territory’s chief minister’s office in 1978 and disappeared in 1981.

It was only during a meeting in recent weeks that the head of arts in the Territory, Angela Hill, spotted the artwork hanging in the office of the chief executive – who said he had found it stashed in an old store room.

A team of curators along with Mr Tjapaltjarri’s widow Elizabeth are working to prepare the painting to be displayed in an exhibition along with 130 boards created in the settlement of Papunya.

Born in 1926, Mr Tjapaltjarri was one of the founding artists from the remote community of Papunya and is considered to be one of the most important painters to emerge from the Western Desert.