Skip to main content

Ian Kiernan
, 1996

by Kate Gollings

gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned (sheet: 60.5 cm x 50.3 cm, image: 47.9 cm x 47.8 cm)

Ian Kiernan AO (1940-2018) was Chairman of Clean Up Australia and Clean Up the World. He started work as a labourer and became a builder, in due course making a fortune in property investments. His business empire collapsed in 1974; divorce and years of legal battles ensued. In 1986-7 he participated in a nine-month yacht race, and was sickened by the amount of rubbish he saw drifting on the fabled Sargasso Sea. In 1989 Kiernan and his friend Kim McKay AO instigated the first clean-up event, around Sydney Harbour. In 1990 the idea was expanded across the country with the first Clean Up Australia Day, in which nearly 300 000 people participated; soon, there were clean-ups across the globe. In 1993 Kiernan won the United Nations Global 500 award for the environment; he was Australian of the Year in 1994; and in 1998 he won the UN Environment Program’s Sasakawa Environment Award. Kiernan defended the simplicity of his environmental activism, saying that it was better than sitting in a ‘dusty office in a tie-dyed t-shirt . . . thinking that the world is going to collapse tomorrow’. Over twenty-five years, the organisation estimates that Australians have collected more than 288 650 tonnes of rubbish on Clean Up days.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by Marilyn Darling AC 2001
Accession number: 2001.31