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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

Accession number: 2015.25

Currently not on display

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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 both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.