Skip to main content

Robert Oatley AO


11 January 2016

The Chairman, Board, Director and all the staff of the National Portrait Gallery mourn the loss of one of our Founding Benefactors, Mr Robert Oatley AO, who died on Sunday. He was 87 years old.
Mr. Oatley’s accomplishments in business and sport were legion, and he will long be remembered for his pioneering work as a wine maker: founder in 1969 of Rosemount Estate and, later, Robert Oatley Vineyards; proprietor of Hamilton Island resorts; as a brilliantly successful competitive yachtsman - winner with Wild Oats XI of a record number of eight Sydney to Hobart yacht races; as a breeder of cattle and thoroughbred racehorses, and as a philanthropist - active in the fields of medical research, Olympic sports, and the arts. 
It was through his firm and longstanding friendship with our Founding Patron, the late L. Gordon Darling AC CMG, originally forged by common business interests in Papua New Guinea (coffee), that Mr. Oatley was brought into the circle of the fledgling National Portrait Gallery. He was one of a small number of our earliest major supporters who, in 2001, with immense generosity secured for the nation after protracted negotiations the magnificent portrait of Lieutenant James Cook, RN, by John Webber.  This multi-million-dollar acquisition went a long way toward hoisting the banner of National Portrait Gallery as a major collecting institution. He continued to support us until the day he died, for, since our formal establishment in 1998, every drop of wine that has been served to guests of the Gallery at public events, large or small, has been provided gratis by Robert Oatley Vineyards.  This is a quite remarkable record of munificence and hospitality - entirely congruent with the immensely generous character of the man.
To Bob Oatley's wife Valerie; to his three children Sandy, Ian and Ros; and to his numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the National Portrait Gallery extends our sincere condolences in their loss, a loss in which many Australians, seafarers and others, will also share. Without him, and others like him, the National Portrait Gallery would not have prospered as it has through the past eighteen years. 
We shall forever strive to remain worthy of the unfailing support and commitment of our Founding Benefactor, Mr Robert Oatley AO.
Dr Helen Nugent AO
Angus Trumble FAHA
Related people