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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.

My Favourite Australian

Previous exhibition from Thursday 4 December 2008 until Sunday 1 March 2009

My Favourite Australian is a project developed in collaboration with ABC TV and the people of Australia. Presented in the Marilyn Darling Introductory Gallery, it is the first exhibition to be encountered by visitors to the new National Portrait Gallery - a screen-based contemporary engagement with portraiture.

As a unique multi-platform collaboration between the National Portrait Gallery and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it follows the success of the Broadcaster's ongoing series of 'My Favourite' projects.

My Favourite Australian called on the public to vote for their favourite Australian in two categories, Popular and Unsung Heroes. It was fundamental to the project that the Australian people were actively involved in the initial selection of subjects as the basis for the development of the exhibition. For the favourite Popular Australian the public could vote for anyone from the public sphere and from any walk of life. The Unsung Hero category enabled little known and inspirational figures from communities across Australia to be nominated.

From these categories the top ten Popular Australians and twenty Unsung Heroes were selected. Leading Australian artists and filmmakers were then commissioned to create short duration, moving image portraits of each subject.

Who do Australians consider as worthy, when asked to vote for their all-time Favourite Australians? In the Popular category, people from public and political life had by far the largest representation; Sir William Deane, Gough Whitlam, John Howard and Senator Bob Brown. There is also the country's favourite gardener Peter Cundall, much-loved entertainers Olivia Newton-John and John Farnham, and well known public identities Reverend Tim Costello and the late Fred Hollows. Former Socceroo and passionate football advocate Johnny Warren was the only sporting figure to make the top ten.

When reflecting on the Unsung Heroes in My Favourite Australian it is their diversity - their varied driving passions, ethnic backgrounds, ages and life stories - which is immediately obvious. This multiplicity shows that there isn't a distinct notion of what constitutes a local hero and aptly demonstrates the wide range of everyday but inspirational Australians who we admire and applaud. People from around Australia and all walks of life nominated their Unsung Heroes; some knew them well - patients, students, colleagues, friends and family - while others only knew of and admired their Heroes' achievements from afar.

Characteristically, all the Unsung Heroes have had a significant impact on the lives of others, with many of them unstintingly dedicating their lives to specific causes. There are teaching and medical professionals, Indigenous leaders and individuals who work tirelessly to help others in their local town and region, and in remote locations overseas, as well as those whose passion is the environment, animal welfare or their own family.

Subjects and artists were paired with the careful consideration of individual creative styles and interests, and their geographic location. Artists were given complete independence to develop their creative concepts working closely with the various subjects, their families and supporters, and also drawing on significant archival footage. This approach has created a wonderfully engaging and diverse juxtaposition of portraits.

Aside from being an exhibition of remarkable Australians and their achievements, My Favourite Australian has provided the opportunity for the National Portrait Gallery and ABC TV to present the work of twenty-three artists and filmmakers, many of whom were new to the subject of portraiture. This was made possible through a new strategic partnership formed between ABC TV and the Australia Council for the Arts, and the support of the Nelson Meers Foundation.

2 portraits

1Sir William Deane 2008 Merilyn Fairskye. 2Johnny Warren OAM MBE, 2008 Natasha Gadd and Rhys Graham.

Related people

Andrew Sayers AM (curator)

Christine Clark (curator)

Related information

Tim Bonyhady, 2015 Andrew Sayers AM
Tim Bonyhady, 2015 Andrew Sayers AM
Tim Bonyhady, 2015 Andrew Sayers AM
Tim Bonyhady, 2015 Andrew Sayers AM

At easel

Magazine article by Tim Bonyhady, 2016

Tim Bonyhady recalls his experience as sitter for his close friend and former National Portrait Gallery Director, the late Andrew Sayers.

Interview with Andrew Sayers video: 2 minutes
Interview with Andrew Sayers video: 2 minutes
Interview with Andrew Sayers video: 2 minutes
Interview with Andrew Sayers video: 2 minutes

Sir Henry Barkly

Portrait story

An interview with former National Portrait Gallery Director, Andrew Sayers, who describes the portrait of Sir Henry Barkly by Thomas Clark.

Interview with Andrew Sayers video: 2 minutes
Interview with Andrew Sayers video: 2 minutes
Interview with Andrew Sayers video: 2 minutes
Interview with Andrew Sayers video: 2 minutes

Kym Bonython

'The man and his cap'

Portrait story

Former National Portrait Gallery Director, Andrew Sayers, describes John Brack's portrait of Kym Bonython.

Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi
Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi
Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi
Ma Khin Mar Mar Kyi

My Favourite Australian

Magazine article by Christine Clark, 2009

The Australian public was invited in 2008 to vote for their favourite Australian.  After the votes were tallied an exhibition of the top-ten Popular Australians and the top-twenty unsung heroes was displayed at the National Portrait Gallery.

We would like to thank our partners.
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Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia


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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.