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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.

Eric McIllree, 1971

Clifton Pugh

oil on masonite (frame: 140.0 cm x 109.0 cm, support: 121.5 cm x 90.5 cm)

Eric McIllree (1914-1973) was the founder, chairman and managing director of the Australian arm of Avis Rent-A-Car, and for twelve years the owner and developer of Dunk Island. McIllree’s business skills were honed as a schoolboy at Shore, where he dealt in budgerigars, but his chief interests were cars and planes. In his early twenties, having worked as a car salesman, he opened a used-car business, the profits from which he used to establish a car rental firm, hitherto unknown in Australia. The Second World War put an end to the venture. While working as a pilot, on 19 December 1948 he was shot down by the Vietminh near Saigon, ‘the only casualty’ a pair of suede shoes he had bought the previous day in Hong Kong; the following year, again on 19 December, he crashed ‘in the shadow of the Taj Mahal’. In the postwar years he purchased 55 Avro Anson bombers, which he flew to England to sell. Other RAAF disposals aircraft he bought, including all the available Supermarine Walruses, were pressed into service with his venture Amphibious Airways, carrying native labour between plantations in New Guinea and New Britain. After several Walrus accidents, Amphibious Airways went into liquidation. In the early 1950s, again bent on establishing airport car rental facilities, he approached the Department of Civil Aviation and gained the required approval of TAA, Ansett and ANA for the establishment of Airport Car Rentals. With an eye to the international traveller, however, and finding that neither Avis nor Hertz had registered their names in Australia, he laid claim to these names himself, only afterwards negotiating a deal with Avis to the ongoing rights to the name in Australia and New Guinea in perpetuity. Avis was not established in the UK until 1960, or Europe, Africa and the Middle East until the 1960s and 1970s; meanwhile, McIllree started Avis Australia in 1955 with FJ Holdens stationed at six Australian airports and by 1971 he had rented out his millionth car. McIllree is credited as the pioneer of the ‘Fly/Drive’ concept and the first ‘International Fly/Drive’ holiday schemes. He continued to lobby government for further approval of concessions until he prevailed; at least until 1967, Avis held the sole rental concession at Australian airports. Meanwhile, in 1964 he bought Dunk Island with four associates, who soon retreated. Although he intended initially to keep the island as a personal retreat, building a vessel for big game fishing, and entertaining friends such as Harold Holt, Sean Connery and Ron and Valerie Taylor there, he oversaw the construction of limited tourist facilities.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Janice McIllree 2012
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2012.141

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Clifton Pugh (age 47 in 1971)

Eric McIllree (age 57 in 1971)

Subject professions

Business, trades and industry

Donated by

Janice McIllree (5 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.

Janice Wakely, 1959 Helmut Newton
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Generous Janice

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Dr Sarah Engledow puts four gifts to the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection in context.

Clifton Pugh painting in the studio, 1974 Fred Williams
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Clifton Pugh painting in the studio, 1974 Fred Williams
Clifton Pugh painting in the studio, 1974 Fred Williams

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Michael Desmond discusses Fred Williams' portraits of friends, artist Clifton Pugh, David Aspden and writer Stephen Murray-Smith, and the stylistic connections between his portraits and landscapes.

Self portrait, 1954
Self portrait, 1954
Self portrait, 1954
Self portrait, 1954

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Magazine article by Judith Pugh, 2005

Judith Pugh reflects on Clifton Pugh's approach to portrait making.

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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.