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Thursday, 20 February 2020
Government House Sydney
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales

Government House Sydney honours First Nations by fostering a shared sense of belonging for all Australians. We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, who are the traditional custodians of the land on which this House stands and pay our respects to their Elders past and present, and to all Aboriginal people here today. We also acknowledge that Aboriginal art is the oldest ongoing tradition of art in the world.

Your Excellencies, I am delighted to welcome you back to the House for this very significant event - the unveiling of the portrait of the 38th Governor of New South Wales.

We are proud of the fact that Government House Sydney is the only Government House in Australia to have a portrait of each Governor, commencing with that of Governor Phillip over the fireplace in the Main Hall.  Visitors to the House observe the smaller portraits of the early career military Governors, through to the large images of aristocratic Vice Regals, projecting power and privilege.

Government House’s own collection begins with the portrait of Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane completed in 1826 by Augustus Earle, the colony’s leading artist of the time[1].

Following the charismatic portrait of Sir Hercules Robinson in 1879, photographic portraits, were commissioned for Governors Loftus, Jersey, Duff, Chelmsford and Strickland.  The portraits of Governors Loftus and Jersey[2] are ‘opalotypes’ a photographic process used in Australia particularly in the last decade of the 19th century using albumen, gelatin or carbon.[3]

The more modern portraits, starting with the portrait of a contemplative Governor Hampden by Tom Roberts, capture the inner emotion of the subject: there is the calm compassion in the eyes of Matthew Lynne’s portrait of Dame Marie Bashir, and the wistful wisdom of Gordon Samuels, who incidentally posed in the same chair as Governor Hurley.

Just as this House, coming into its 175th anniversary this year, is a living breathing part of the history of New South Wales, the art collection along with the furnishings and official memorabilia stand as a unique and continuous legacy which commemorates that history.  The management and stewardship of this legacy is taken very seriously by the Estate team here and I acknowledge their sense of responsibility, and passion, for this work.

I must also mention the legacy of the artists; their talent, skill, focus and flair.  Jude, your legacy to this House and to the history of the State of New South Wales is about to be unveiled. As an artist your work, as Michael Brand has described it “draw[s] the viewer into a deeper contemplation of the nature of perception, consciousness and being”[4].  You are only the second female artist to be featured in the portrait collection of the Governors. The first was Florence Rodway[5], a foundation member of the Society of Women Painters.

Her portrait of Governor Rawson dates from 1917, executed from “a very inadequate photograph”[6], Governor Rawson having died in 1910.   To put her achievements in context, NSW had not long legislated for women’s suffrage at State elections and it was one year before women had the right to stand for NSW Parliament or be appointed to the judiciary.   And as we know things have not always moved quickly but we are pleased that that gap of some 102 years has now been plugged. 

The word legacy first came into middle English in the 14th century.  Its latin root is legatus[7]– the position of a high-ranking military officer in the Roman army, formalized under Augustus as the officer in command of a legion.  It also has the English meaning of Ambassador.

Your Excellency, you have been and are both, a high-ranking military officer - indeed the highest-ranking military officer[8] - and an Ambassador in that role and even more so as Governor of New South Wales. 

You, together with your Excellency Mrs Hurley touched the lives of so many. Dennis and I come across its impact every day.  The legacy of a kind word, or in the case of Mrs Hurley – a song. The respect shown to overseas visitors, your fluency in Bahasa, itself a statement of the importance of our relationship with a near neighbour, the mentoring of Indigenous young people particularly through sport, the firm word calling for an organization to reform, or the soft touch of compassion for those suffering. Brush strokes subtle and profound.

These things were not happenstance but rather demonstrated an understanding of the role of Governor in 21st century Australia.

This evening, as the Hurley portrait is unveiled, we celebrate the legacy of this collection at Government House, the legacy of the artist, and the legacy of a Governor, who served the state of New South Wales with great distinction.


[1] “This collection was established in 1825 when the Civil Officers of New South Wales commissioned a portrait of Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane …” - AnnToy and Robert Griffin, Government House Sydney, Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, 2011, p. 111

[2] Conservators identified these two as opalotypes in the 1996 entries added to the Historic House Trust Data Base (Vernon)

[3] Mary Cox, Preservation of Mixed Photographic Collections, La Trobe Journal No 45 Autumn 1990

[6]Graphic of Australia, 7 December 1917, p. 8

[8] General is the highest active rank of the Australian Army. The rank of General is only held when an Army Officer is appointed as the Chief of the Defence Force.

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