Skip to main content

Betty Churcher

'Blockbuster Betty'

'Blockbuster Betty'
Video: 3 minutes

Betty Churcher discusses her career as the Director of the National Gallery of Australia.

Images in this video are courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia.

This video was produced with funds donated by Tim Fairfax AC.

The journey to being a director is a strange set of – I was going to say accidents, but – chances. It's always difficult, when you're the first of anything. One of the announcements of me was "58-year-old mother of four takes top job" and I thought "Blow. What has a mother of four got to do with this job?"

The whole institution had been started by James Mollison. He'd done a wonderful job, I have to say. But they'd known nothing else. For a long time they were just in a little warehouse at Fyshwick, having a marvellous time. Every time a new painting came in they'd crack a bottle of champagne. I couldn't emulate that.

I felt very strongly that the Natioal Gallery in Canberra had to be known across the land. And we would be known across the land if we put on events that attracted attention. So that's why I became known as – in a pejorative way – Betty Blockbuster. Some of the curators were wanting to just speak to other curators. I wanted to speak to the population at large. And I was thinking well what we can't buy we can borrow. We couldn't buy a whole lot of Rubens and Caravaggios and Carraccis etc... but we could borrow them. And that first exhibition we put on, 'Rubens and the Italian Renaissance', was such an outstanding success that that won a lot of them over.

So I remember standing in the galleries and some really loutish-looking lads, you know, of about 19 or 20 with, you know, with their sort of bands, and "Cor..." they said, "this is pretty good isn't it?" you know and I thought "Great." That's got those boys in. They would never set foot in a gallery otherwise.

My success in everything I've done has relied on me spotting the people that can thrive and then giving them all the assistance and support and praise that I possibly can. Their success was my success. I floated up to the top with them.

Related people