Australia: Sport and Identity

By National Portrait Gallery

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences are warned that the following exhibit may contain images and voices of people who have died.


Australians are known to love their sports. We find many of our heroes and shared values on the sporting field – notions of being a good sport,
having dignity in defeat, being socially inclusive and playing fair. This exhibit is the first in a series that explores the collection
of the National Portrait Gallery and looks into our sporting culture and the Australian identity throughout history. 

Peace, the Man and Hope (2005) by Brook Andrew and Larry RawlingNational Portrait Gallery

Sport and the Australian Identity

Sport is widely believed to be integral in defining the Australian identity. Australians have a remarkable and enduring affection for sport - loving to both play and watch. 

Australia v England (1887) by Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples, George Barrable and Goupil & Cie (engraver)National Portrait Gallery

Australians are avid spectators of many games and codes, both in large numbers at the grounds and via broadcasts.

Betty Cuthbert (2002) by Andrew DalyNational Portrait Gallery

In 1956, television broadcasting was introduced, so as many Australians as possible, could watch the Melbourne Olympic Games.

Sir Donald Bradman (1990) by Bill LeakNational Portrait Gallery

Many of our most cherished names and stories, ‘The Don’...

Dawn Fraser (1998 (printed 2001))National Portrait Gallery

...'Our Dawn’...

Ian Thorpe (2002) by James HoustonNational Portrait Gallery

...and ‘Thorpedo’ are cast as role models, the mythology around which speaks not only of our sporting history, but also of our values.

Shane Warne (2006) by Robin SellickNational Portrait Gallery

At times, our sporting stars have also been cast as figures that are controversial, dividing public opinion.

Greg Chappell (1985 (printed 2010)) by Bruce PostleNational Portrait Gallery

The Collection

Reflecting Australia’s obsession with sport, the National Portrait Gallery has many diverse portraits of Australian sportspeople. 

Stuart O'Grady (2008) by Matthys GerberNational Portrait Gallery

Dive into the National Portrait Gallery's collection of Australia's great sporting heroes in our Sport and Identity series:

Tennis aces
Swimming superstars
Football legends
Motorsports mavericks
Cricketing greats
Athletics achievers
Surfing legends
Horse Racing heroes

Boxing champions
Credits: Story

This exhibit was written by:
- Annette Twyman, Learning Facilitator, National Portrait Gallery
- Sally Adair, Learning Facilitator, National Portrait Gallery
- Sally Dawson, Learning Facilitator, National Portrait Gallery
- Kirstin Gunether, Learning Facilitator, National Portrait Gallery
- Emily Casey, Program Coordinator, National Portrait Gallery
- Alana Sivell, Digital Learning Coordinator, National Portrait Gallery
- Johanna McMahon, Art History intern, Australian National University.

This exhibit was edited and produced by Alana Sivell, Digital Learning Coordinator, National Portrait Gallery.

We would like to acknowledge the generous support from all artists and organisations for letting us include these works.

Thank you to Robin Sellick for enabling us to investigate Australia's sporting culture through the inclusion of his photographic portraits.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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