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Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon John Howard MP: address at the unveiling of the Captain Cook Portrait, Old Parliament House.

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16 August 2000




Thank you very much, Peter McGauran, to Mr and Mrs Gordon Darling, I think to be fairly described as the great moving spirit and promoters in many general ways cultural patrons and financial patrons of this gallery, Duncan Kerr, the Shadow Minister, Richard Alston, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a special pleasure for Janette and I to be here today. The Portrait Gallery has been a great success and the famous acquisition that will be unveiled in a few moments brings together the efforts and the financial support, not only of the commonwealth government, but also of two people whose presence I wish to especially acknowledge and that is Robert Oatley, the founder of Rosemount Estate and John Schaeffer, one of Australia’s leading collectors. Their generosity represents the largest cash gift ever given to an Australian national cultural institution for the purchase of a single work of art and I think it is important that I acknowledge up front their great generosity. And in doing so, remark on the partnership, dare I say it, even the social coalition that is represented by the commonwealth government and those two Australians who’ve given so much to bring home to Australia a very important work of art.

John Webber’s portrait of Captain Cook will add a very special significance to this National Portrait Gallery. Since the gallery was opened in March of last year, it has been an astonishing success. It’s worked to embellish our understanding of Australia across the breadth of the Australian experience. And without the help, of Gordon and Marilyn Darling and of Andrew and so many others, it wouldn’t have been the great success and the great draw card it’s undoubtedly been. In the short period it’s been open, the gallery has developed a reputation for excellence and has attracted many tens of thousands of visitors.

The Webber Portrait of James Cook, painted in 1782, is of course the most significant and impressive addition yet to the gallery’s collection. The portrait was the only remaining 18th

century portrait of Cook in private hands until it was acquired by the gallery. Of the other 18th century portraits of Cook, one hangs in Britain’s National Portrait Gallery, one in the New Zealand National Gallery and two in Britain’s National Maritime Museum. That an Australian gallery is now home to this portrait is not before time.

The place of Cook and his epic voyages in Australian history is not only well known, but very impressively documented. Webber accompanied Cook on his third and final voyage to the Pacific, during which the Captain was killed. It was three years later in 1782 that Webber painted his portrait.

In many ways the journey of this portrait will become just as renowned as those of the 18th century navigator it characterises. And the partnership that has made it possible for the portrait to come here and to be unveiled today is a mark of the growing determination of Australians at a government level and also at a private level, to not only reclaim, but also to proclaim in a very proud and defiant way, the culture and the history of this country.

I have said before that there is a place for both the government and the private sector in the patronage and the support of the arts in this country. The government cannot do it alone but the government has an ongoing role. It is not possible to have a credible support for the arts in this country without having a strong and continuing stream of government support and I want to record my thanks to both Richard Alston and Peter McGauran for the persistent advocacy within the government of the importance of the arts in the national life of Australia.

It is now I believe a bi-partisan given that an important part of Australia’s identity and existence as a nation is continuing source and pride in the achievements of all aspects of the arts in this country. But just as there is an ongoing role for the government, there is also a very significant and important role for the private sector. We need enthusiasts, we need experts, we need people with a sensitive understanding of the history of the arts and the contribution it can make to our way of life and we also need people who are willing to make a financial contribution. And we have seen in many different ways over the past several years the greater willingness on the part of people to work with us and to make the realisation of so many of the dreams that we have in relation to the arts possible. And that is why I’m just so delighted that both Robert and John are with us today, that I can acknowledge on behalf of the government the debt we owe to them and also we collectively can acknowledge the importance of the coalition between the government and the private sector which has made this possible.

So ladies and gentlemen, this is a tremendously exciting moment, it really is and I would like when I’m invited, which I think I will be in a moment, to unveil the portrait, I would like Robert and John to join me on the stage when that takes place as a very, very significant mark of our gratitude to them and as a symbol of the partnership between the government and generous benefactors in the Australian community who’ve made this wonderful acquisition to the National Portrait Gallery possible.

Thank you very much.


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