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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Announcing.... In their own words

24 November 2020

Inspiring Australians tell their own stories in a unique new gallery audio tour, developed in collaboration with the National Library of Australia.

In their own words has been drawn predominantly from Hazel de Berg’s phenomenal oral history recordings, a vast collection of interviews with prominent Australians now held in the National Library of Australia’s Oral History and Folklore Collection.

Over 27 years, Hazel de Berg recorded more than a thousand interviews with notable Australians born between 1865 and 1953 - many of whom are the subject of, or created a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery collection.

Following a three-year collaboration between the NPG and the NLA, a series of over sixty short audio stories, taken directly from the subjects and artists themselves, has been developed into a ground-breaking new audio gallery trail.

Featured are many of Australia’s leadings actors, playwrights, historians, scientists, authors, architects and of course, artists - from Tom Keneally, Margaret Olley, John Perceval, Russell Drysdale and Martin Sharp to Thea Proctor, Colleen McCulloch and Helen Garner - and each share anecdotes, personal insights or career highlights.

Further stories from those who lived at a time before voices could be recorded, for example William Barak, Ned Kelly and Lola Montes, were drawn from journals and other written materials and recorded by actors.

Highlights include

  • A young John Bell (b. 1940) discussing his love for Shakespeare and his desire to one day establish a permanent Shakespearean company.
  • Colleen McCullough (1937-2015), speaking in the year her bestselling novel The Thorn Birds was published, on how her scientific training helped develop her “first class brain and absolutely phenomenal memory.”
  • Wurundjeri elder William Barak (1824-1903) on meeting explorer and coloniser John Batman and escaped convict William Buckley, drawn from an oral history transcribed in the 1880s, now kept at the State Library of Victoria. 
  • David Williamson (b.1942) discussing his writing process in 1976 and his interest in how people use language as an instrument of power, and as a way of relating to each other. 
  • Howard Florey (1898-1968) on the development of antibiotics.  Recorded the year before his passing, Florey explains that his work was propelled by curiosity rather than a mission to serve humankind.
  • Poet, journalist and social activist Mary Gilmore (1865-1962) who, at the age of 95, recorded her reflections on the many changes she witnessed in her long and productive life. 
  • Barry Humphries (b. 1934) on moving from painting to a theatrical means of self-expression in his university years.  “Within, I was merely a frustrated youth, not at all knowing how best to please my parents, what profession indeed I would ever follow and when was it all going to end?”

National Portrait Gallery Director, Karen Quinlan AM said In their own words is a “precious and intimate insight into some of the people who have shaped Australia’s cultural history.”

“Audio guides are often the domain of art historians or curators, but In their own words allows visitors to hear directly from the subject of the portrait themselves, or the artist who created the work.   Some were interviewed early in their careers before they’d realised their full potential, and others at the end of their lives, but all of these voices add an additional layer to the gallery experience.”

“We were so pleased to be able to work with the National Library to give voice to many of the portraits we have in our collection – and to highlight Hazel de Berg’s incredible collection of oral histories.   We intend to continue the oral-history tradition forged by Hazel de Berg, by adding more stories to the trail as we move forward, in time developing an extensive series that can capture moments in time, our more recent history, and the people who shape and reflect Australia’s rich and diverse culture.”

In their Own Words will be available from December 10, via an easily downloadable application developed by the National Portrait Gallery’s Digital Partner, Stripy Sock. The application is for use within the gallery and at home.

This project has been made possible by the Sidney Myer Fund.

MEDIA PREVIEW: 11am Thursday 10th December 2020 at the National Portrait Gallery.

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King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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