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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.

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Neilma Gantner

c. 1990
William Kelly OAM

charcoal on paper (sheet: 69.5 cm x 75.5 cm)
Image not available (NC)

Neilma Baillieu Gantner (1922–2015), writer and philanthropist, was the second child of Melbourne retailer Sidney Myer and his wife Merlyn (née Baillieu). She was born in San Francisco and was seven years old when the family returned to live in Melbourne. In August 1941, aged eighteen, she set aside her studies at the University of Melbourne to marry garment manufacturer Vallejo Gantner, a business associate of her late father's. 'The bridegroom hails from California, where 5 generations of his family have been known in the business world', reported one Melbourne paper of the 'wedding of the week'. 'Bride and groom made a handsome couple, both tall, dark and striking looking'. They settled in San Francisco, where Neilma gave birth to two sons, Vallejo junior and Carrillo in 1942 and 1944.

In 1949, Neilma was granted a divorce on the grounds of her husband's cruelty, but was prevented from returning with her sons, of whom she had custody, to Australia. So she returned to study instead, undertaking an Arts degree at Stanford University and majoring in creative writing. Her first book – a collection of short stories titled Saturday Afternoon and other stories – was published under the pen name Neilma Sidney in 1959, four years after she'd returned permanently to Melbourne. The novel Beyond the Bay was published in 1966; and a second volume of short stories, The Eye of the Needle, appeared in 1970. Subsequent works include Journey to Mourilyan: a coastal pilgrimage (1986); Sunday Evening: Stories (1988); and a second novel The sweet cool south wind (1993).

Gantner's contribution to her family's long association with community service and philanthropy commenced in earnest in 1962, when her eldest son Vallejo died in a shooting accident, aged nineteen. Gantner thereafter sought permission to construct a hut in Victoria's high country as a memorial to Vallejo, who’d become involved in outdoor activities as a student at Melbourne Grammar. Now within the boundaries of the Alpine National Park near Mount Howitt, the Vallejo Gantner Hut opened in 1971 and continues to provide shelter for bushwalkers and alpine skiers. With Carrillo and her brother Baillieu Myer, during the 1990s she established the Gantner Myer Collection of Australian Aboriginal Art. Containing fine examples of works by artists from Arnhem Land, the Central Desert, the Kimberley and other areas, the collection toured internationally before being donated to Museum Victoria and the De Young Museum, San Francisco.

Gantner served with the Sidney Myer Fund and the Myer Foundation, as an executive of the refugee and adoption agency International Social Service, and for many years was associated with the philanthropy program at Johns Hopkins University. A keen sailor and lover of music and the outdoors, from the 1980s she lived near Bermagui on the south coast of New South Wales. There, she founded the Four Winds Festival, a program of musical performances held annually since 1991. On her death in 2015, Carrillo Ganter AC described his mother as 'an independent woman before feminism became a movement'. He considers the Four Winds Festival her 'greatest living legacy to the place and people she loved so much.'

Purchased 2022

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

William Kelly OAM (age 47 in 1990)

Neilma B. Gantner (age 68 in 1990)

Related portraits

1. Paul Kelly, c. 1983. All William Kelly OAM.
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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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