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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.

Mum Shirl (Mrs Shirley Smith), 1988

Juno Gemes

gelatin silver photograph on paper (sheet: 60.8 cm x 51.0 cm, image: 44.0 cm x 31.8 cm)

Shirley 'Mum Shirl' Smith AO OBE (1921–1998), humanitarian, was a Wiradjuri woman. She was born near Cowra, NSW and brought up by her grandfather, who taught her to 'first love yourself, then spread it around'. Severely epileptic, she never went to school, or learned to read or write, although by the end of her life she spoke many Aboriginal languages. In the mid-1930s her family moved to Sydney, and one of her brothers was jailed. She began to visit him in prison, and when he came out she continued to visit others, encouraging them, finding their families and helping them to regain health. Soon she began acting as support for Aboriginal people in court, and assumed responsibility for countless children who were often placed in her care by the courts. Living in Redfern, where she cared for hundreds of alcoholics and vagrants, she was one of the founders of the Aboriginal Medical Service and the Aboriginal Legal Service in the early 1970s, and over time she was involved in the establishment of the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, the Aboriginal Children's Service, the Aboriginal Housing Company and the continuing struggle for land rights. Sir William Deane said 'We Australians are prone to use the words "great" and "hero" too lightly and too readily. There are, however, a few people – a mere handful – for whom they really are the only appropriate words. Mum Shirl was one of them.'

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the artist 2004
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Juno Gemes/Copyright Agency, 2020

Accession number: 2004.153

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Juno Gemes (age 44 in 1988)

Shirley Smith AM MBE (age 67 in 1988)

Subject professions

Activism

Government and leadership

Donated by

Juno Gemes (19 portraits)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner
Portrait of Professor Graeme Clark, 2000 Peter Wegner

Portraits for Posterity

Previous exhibition, 2006

Drawn from some of the many donations made to the Gallery's collection, the exhibition Portraits for Posterity pays homage both to the remarkable (and varied) group of Australians who are portrayed in the portraits and the generosity of the many donors who have presented them to the Gallery.

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The National Portrait Gallery
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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.