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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.

Sir John Gorton

c. 1968-1971
Louis Kahan

fibre-tipped pen on paper on cardboard (sheet: 51.5 cm x 31.5 cm)

The Rt Hon Sir John Gorton GCMG AC CH (1911–2002) was the nineteenth prime minister of Australia and the only senator yet to have served in the office. Educated at Shore, Geelong Grammar and at Brasenose College, Oxford, before entering politics he had worked as an orchardist and been a fighter pilot with the RAAF, serving during the Second World War in Singapore, Darwin and Papua. After unsuccessfully seeking election to the Victorian state parliament, he stood on a joint Country and Liberal Party ticket for a federal senate seat and was elected in the Menzies landslide of 1949. Retaining his seat through the next four senate elections, he was Minister for the Navy from 1958 to 1963 and during the 1960s held several other portfolios including Works and Education, and was Leader of the Government in the senate during 1968–1969. Candid, brusque and irreverent, with cigarette perpetually in hand, he won the leadership of the Liberal Party after the death of Harold Holt and was elected Liberal prime minister of Australia in 1968. Considering himself ‘Australian to the boot heels’, he initiated the withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam and restricted opportunities for overseas control of Australia’s natural resources. It was hoped that he would be able to stand up to the aggressive new Labor leader, Gough Whitlam, but, with his support for issues such as abortion law reform and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, his most damaging opponents were to be conservatives from within his own party. Gorton resigned as prime minister in 1971 after a party motion of confidence resulted in a tied vote (Gorton had in fact voted against himself in the ballot). He resigned from the Liberal Party after Malcolm Fraser won the leadership in 1975, and ended his career as an Independent. Though he courted controversy as prime minister, Gorton was well liked by voters and is remembered for his individual, ‘ordinary bloke’ approach. He died at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, in September 2002, a few months after a 90th birthday dinner at which he received messages from the likes of the Queen, Sir Edward Heath and Henry Kissinger, and three former Labor prime ministers.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2015
© Louis Kahan/Copyright Agency, 2021

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

Louis Kahan (age 63 in 1968)

Sir John Gorton GCMG AC CH (age 57 in 1968)

Subject professions

Government and leadership

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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 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.

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