Skip to main content

The National Portrait Gallery is temporarily closed to the public until further notice.

Menu

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.

Bill Northam

1964 (printed 2004)
Robin Smith

gelatin silver photograph on paper (sheet: 40.5 cm x 30.5 cm, image: 38.0 cm x 27.9 cm)

Sir William Northam CBE (1905-1988), yachtsman, won the gold medal in the 5.5 m class event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Having taken up yachting in 1951, when he was 46, he sailed on Sir Frank Packer's boat Gretel in the Americas Cup challenge of 1962. The following year he commissioned the 5.5 m Barrenjoey, the boat in which he was to sail in Tokyo. There with crewmen Dick Sargeant and Pod O'Connell Northam won the first, fourth and fifth races and in a notable act of good sportsmanship disqualified himself in the sixth. At the end of the final race the 59 year old grandfather of five had won the gold by almost 700 points, becoming the oldest Australian Olympic gold medallist and the first Australian to win in yachting. (Northam is sometimes named as the oldest Olympic gold medallist, but Sweden's Oscar Swahn won a gold medal for shooting in 1912 at the age of 64.) He celebrated by downing a good deal of vodka and later admitted he had difficulty standing on the dais to collect his medal. Following his victory he became a celebrity in Japan where he was called Ogesan ('old man'); in Australia he was promptly and predictably dubbed 'the old man of the sea' and named Australian Yachtsman of the Year for 1964/5. In 1965, when he finished his nine-year term as Alderman of the City of Sydney, he was named Father of the Year. Northam was a company director for FJ Walker and Penfolds Wines and chaired and served on a number of charitable and sporting committees and councils, notably the Olympic Games Funds Committee. He was knighted in 1976. A model of Barrenjoey sails in a pond in the grounds of Sydney University, and a street in Sydney's Olympic Village was named after Northam.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2004
© Robin Smith

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Robin Smith (age 37 in 1964)

Sir William Northam CBE (age 59 in 1964)

Subject professions

Sports and recreation

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.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

The Gallery

Visit us, learn with us, support us or work with us! Here’s a range of information about planning your visit, our history and more!

The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night

Support your Portrait Gallery

We depend on your support to keep creating our programs, exhibitions, publications and building the amazing portrait collection!

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency