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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.

Awesome Achievers
Touring exhibition
Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lowitja O'Donoghue, 2006 Robert Hannaford AM. © Commonwealth of Australia

This exhibition presents a representative selection of Australian of the Year recipients from diverse fields of endeavour: 29 recipients from a field of 60 are presented in eight thematic groupings. The exhibition brings to life the underlying complex and shifting notions of national identity that are exemplified or challenged in the portrait of each person. The portraits were made at different stages in the sitters’ lives, encompassing a range of artistic media and a diversity of styles, capturing unique and often emotionally powerful aspects of these distinctive individuals.

Inaugurated on Australia Day 1960, the Australian of the Year Awards recognise outstanding achievements and provide a kaleidoscopic portrait of the nation’s changing sense of identity. Achievers in sport, the arts, medical and scientific leadership and social campaigners, Aboriginal activists, soldiers, even politicians, bureaucrats and the clergy have been honoured. Yet the awards have courted controversy. Originally an initiative of the Victorian Australia Day Council, by 1975 a rival organisation in Canberra, backed by then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, presented their inaugural Australian of the Year Award. This was resolved with the establishment of the National Australia Day Council in 1979. For many Indigenous Australians, the announcement of Australian of the Year on the anniversary of the raising of the British flag, following the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, remains deeply problematic. Many regard Australia Day as ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’, a reminder that reconciliation is yet to be fully achieved. Nominations by fellow Australians and recognition as an inspirational leader in Australia unite the recipients of this national award.

The National Portrait Gallery’s purpose is to increase the understanding and appreciation of the Australian people – their identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity – through portraiture. The power of portraiture lies in its ability to evoke the ‘presence’ of a person through a conversation between artist, sitter and viewer. The Portrait Gallery collection offers a rich tapestry from which to present the many unfolding and varied stories of Australian experience.

See below for more on the eight themes in the exhibition and the classroom learning resource. Or find out more about the Australian of the Year awards.

27 portraits

1 Untitled (preparatory study for sculpture of Dr John Yu), 2003 Ah Xian. © Ah Xian. 2 Adam (Adam Goodes), 2014 Alan Jones. © Alan Jones/Copyright Agency, 2021. 3 Lee Kernaghan near Broken Hill, 2005 Ian Jennings. © Ian Jennings. 4 Pat McGorry, 2009 (printed 2010) Dave Tacon. © Dave Tacon/Copyright Agency, 2021. 5 John Farnham, 1996 Polly Borland. © Polly Borland. 6 Alan Bond Joe Greenberg. © Estate of Joe Greenberg. 7 Alexander 'Jock' Sturrock, 1962 Graham Thorley. 8 Senator Bonner, 1990 Robert Campbell Jnr. © Estate of Robert Campbell Jnr. Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

Related people

Dr Anne Sanders (curator)

Related information

Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lowitja O'Donoghue
Lowitja O'Donoghue

Awesome Achievers

A cross-curriculum learning resource

Learning resources

What makes someone awesome? And how does a portrait tell a person's story? Bring your students up close and personal with some great Australians. For upper primary school students.

Lowitja O'Donoghue and Robert Hannaford

'I'm going to wear everything red, black, and yellow'

Portrait story

Lowitja O'Donoghue discusses her life and portrait by Robert Hannaford.

Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds
Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds
Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds
Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford video: 3 minutes and 21 seconds

Tim Flannery by Robert Hannaford

'The space around'

Portrait story

Tim Flannery and artist Robert Hannaford discuss the creation of Tim's portrait.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
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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 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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