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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 9171

SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER, THE HON P.J. KEATING, MP OPENING OF THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY AND INAUGURAL EXHIBITION "ABOUT FACE: ASPECTS OF AUSTRLIAN PORTRAITURE', OLD PARLIAMENT HOUSE 30 MARCH 1994

Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 30/03/1994

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 9171

SPEECH BY THE-PRIME MINISTER, THE HON P. J. KEATING, MP
OPENING OF THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY AND INAUGURALEXHIBITION
" ABOUT FACE: ASPECTS-OF AUSTRALIAN
PORTRAITURE*, OLD PARLIAMENT HOUSE
MARCH 1994
I am very pleased to be here in this hall of memories
this place where I-used to sit and try to read-the mind's.
construction in the face. The Tory's-mind in the
Liberal's face. Or was it-vice versa?
This whole place is still full of faces for me.
It is where on every sitting day I saw a-national.
portrait gallery right in front of: me. A gallery of
Australian life or-about. half of-it.
From our side the view was principally Protestant,
pastoral and legal, mixed elements of rich and rustic;
blokes they were nearly all blokes -whose faces
betrayed a. life of relative ease, and blokes whose life
on the land had furrowed their brows, narrowed their: gazeand
reddened their cheeks.
There were men like John Gorton who wore the scars of
battle; there were slightly tormented looking characters;
people whose faces showed. the strain and those who hid
it, even under pressure.
There was the odd dandy, occasional obsessives, people
trying to hide the encroachment of age or baldness.
There were conservatives of a kind you rarely see these
days. They came from another Australia. The kind who,
just by looking at them, you knew-would speak with an
accent more English than Australian.
Most of them were decent. If-by our lights they were all
wrong-headed, in the end there were not many who were
wrong-hearted.
It was a galaxy of Australians, a sort of human zoo and
down the years we watched them look upon us in triumph
and disaster. We saw them change.

And they saw us. You will have to ask one of-them what
they saw.
This is the place where Mick Young once called to Andrew
Peacock give us your angry face, Andrew.
It's . the perfect place for a ; Portrait Gallery.
It-can always be said, and often with irresistible logic
and passion, that we need one more gallery or museum
One more place to put our-heritage on show.
It-may have reached the ears of. some of you that I-have
sometimes resisted this-logic and this passion-
It-is true. I: have not-always been persuaded that-anotherhuge
and-hugely expensive building. on the: banks off Burley_
Griffin ranked high among-the things we need for a. betternational
life.
Iam well aware that the National Portrait Gallery in
London is world renowned and much loved by the British.
I: know that the Americans have their-National Portrait
Gallery in Washington.
Eknow that there are people who say that in portraits we
can see the nation's mind and I believe that issubstantially
true.
IEhave long known the reasons why a National Portrait
Gallery is desirable, but many things are desirable and
some things are essential and there is only so much-money
to go around.
And generally I have felt it-was better to spread it:
among those who are prntlycreating.
So I remained a less than passionate advocate.
I have nothing against portraits. Im all for them.
It's almost unAustralian not to be for portraits.
What other country has an. annual nationwide barney about
a. portrait contest?
Perhaps it has something to do with the perennial
question of identity in Australia the old " who are we?"
question. The question that should have been settled a
long while ago.
And I suppose that is how at: least-in-part I-came to
the conclusion that a portrait gallery was one more
gallery worth having. -Vf
7r

I thought, maybe in the last decade of the century this
National Portrait Gallery can help give us a bit of
direction on the question which really should have been
settled a long while ago the identity question. The
" who are we?" question.
I have to say that it's not a question which has ever
caused me much concern.
But I know some people remain ambivalent about it-.
Perhaps it helps to have Irish ancestors..
The answer of course is dead simple and there were
plenty in this country who knew it a century and more ago
" we are Australian-.
And that means among other things, that we are all the
nuances of attitude, feature-and expression; all the
hopeful, despairing, brave, anxious, lofty and lowly,
males and females of any and every ethnic origin whose
portraits were ever rendered by any means on this
continent. If the Portrait Gallery makes these the boundaries of its
ambition, then it will be well on the way to being truly
national and truly worthwhile.
It will be better if it-is not dominated by governors and
other eminent Victorians in heavy gilt frames. Or a
gallery with an exclusive emphasis on the great
achievers. It will be better, I think, if it is a much broader
gallery of our national life -including contemporary
life. And I think Australians will like it much more.
And that is why this first exhibition is such a good one.
It's good to see Meryl Tankard in there with Nellie Melba
and Dorothy Hewett and Germaine Greer and all those
colonial women we have never seen before.
Bill and Dallas with Zelman Cowen, Bob Menzies and Henry
Parkes and George Reid. And me with Bob and Bob with
Hazel. Bungaree with Albert Namatjira and Lois O'Donoghue and
Gulpilil and Eddie Mabo along with the Lieutenant
Colonel Nunn who was responsible for the Waterloo Creek
massacre. Not to say Stella Bowen's airmen in their fur collars who
were dying in the war before she could finish painting
them, and Percy Grainger in the same period, and also in
fur.

-If the exhibition gives us a sense of continuity, it also
offers up a measure of the extraordinary mosaic of
Australia now and in the past.
Not just in the variety of the subjects but in the way
they have been portrayed so that we get an idea of the
way the modern media paints its pictures, as well as
modern artists, or portrait artists of. other times, or
amateur-photographers.
There are all sorts of Australians here in all sorts of
contexts, and captured in all sorts of mediums.
The effect, it seems to me, is democratic in a totally
uncontrived way. Intrinsically and inescapably
democratic, like the country itself.
I think Annie Loxley has succeeded brilliantly in making
this an exhibition which is unimpeachably representative
and democratic and it has to be said, in places,
painfully nostalgic.
But she has also provided us with some great Australian
works of art.
To see this exhibition, then, is to begin to understand
what a National Portrait Gallery might do.
It might excite a wider interest in our history and
society. It might encourage us to learn the story of
Australia, and to better understand the stories of our
fellow Australians.
It might help us understand what it is to be Australian,
and what it was to be Australian. What it:. is-to be an
Aboriginal Australian. An Australian woman. An
Australian with your life hanging on a thread during the
Second World War. A child living in Australia in 1814.
Last, but not least by any means it-might induce us to
recognise the enormous contribution to Australia made by
our artists.
It might help us to remember that in the end the quality
of our national life depends upon and is measured by the
quality of our creative life.
It might lead us to the conclusion that life is what we
make of it nationally speaking, that was never so true
as it is now.
As ever much will depend upon the support and initiative
of government.
But not just government the arts and heritage of
Australia does need more private patronage than it has
been customary for them to receive.

They should~ receive more and I'm sure they willwhen
their crucial role is understood.
Perhaps the National Portrait Gallery can help that
understanding. Perhaps some wandering sponsors will come
here and see their own lives reflected in these faces and
decide to put something back into the country through the
arts. I might say that the Arts Angels, launched so
successfully in Melbourne recently, seem to be a good
example of what can be done.
It is in this context that I should take the opportunity
to thank on behalf of everyone here, Gordon and Marilyn
Darling for their resolute support of this Gallery.
You see I have become a convert to the National Portrait
Gallery. The more so because it is not-going to be left sitting in-
Canberra locked up in yet another massive mausoleum.
The works on display here are all on loan from both
public and private collections.
Their quality, and variety and the degree to which they
represent the many faces of Australia, is a fair
indication of just how much of our heritage is kept out
of the sight of the people.
And a fair indication of the role the National Portrait
Gallery can play in levering this heritage of f walls all
over the country, so that the country can see it.
Even better, these exhibitions will not be confined to
Canberra. Under the Visions of Australia program which we announced
during the last election campaign, the National Portrait
Gallery will be able to offer this and future exhibitions
to other venues in metropolitan centres and through the
network of regional galleries and museums.
The same program of course is open to other cultural
bodies across the country.
It seems to me that in a country of our size and
demography, all our collecting institutions all our
cultural institutions should be exploiting modern
transport and technology to take our heritage out to the
people. So I hope that the National Portrait Gallery prospers and
prospers along the lines we see here tonight.

' There are many people to congratulate. Warren Horton and
John Thompson and others from the National Library. Anne
Loxley, the curator, of course.
Marilyn and Gordon Darling I have already mentioned.
Those private collectors who donated their works so
willingly. The public collections who showed immense
good will towards the project and made their works
available at short notice.
My friend and former colleague, Doug McLelland, Chair of
the Old Parliament House Committee.
I am sure there are others. But they will forgive me for
passing them by, because it is now my duty and great
pleasure to officially open this exhibition and in
doing so wish every success to the Australian National
Portrait Gallery.
Thank you

Transcript 9171