Motorsports & Australian Identity

Reflecting Australia’s obsession with sport, the National Portrait Gallery has many diverse portraits of Australian sportspeople. Let’s take a closer look at some of the great motorsport mavericks from our collection and their stories that have shaped our national identity.

Peter Brock (2000-2001) by Julie EdgarNational Portrait Gallery


Considering the vastness and diversity of the Australian landscape it is no surprise that motoring has become a part of the Australian identity. Competitive motor racing in Australia first took off in the 1920s after intercity attempts at record breaking saw Don Harkness become the first Australian to exceed the coveted 100 miles per an hour in 1925 at Gerringong beach. In the same decade Australia’s first Motorsport competition, the Alpine Rally of East Gippsland, was held in 1921, and the iconic Australian Grand Prix commenced in 1928. The latter event has come to be known internationally as one of the most popular and well run races in the Formula One calendar. Locally, passionate racing fans rally behind a diverse range of Motorsports, and long-standing brand rivalries have meant that saloon-based road racing and Supercars championships are particularly popular in Australia.

Jack Brabham (2004) by Julie EdgarNational Portrait Gallery

Three-time Formula One World Champion Jack Brabham is one of Australia’s most acclaimed racing car drivers. He became the first person to be knighted for services to Motorsport in 1979.

Brabham was renowned for his determination. At the 1959 World Championship, after running out of fuel on the last lap, Brabham pushed his car to the finish line to win the Championship.

Brabham’s strength and straight-forward nature is highlighted by sculptor Julie Edgar through the directness of Braham’s gaze and her choice of bronze material.

The helmet represents Australia’s national colours, green and gold.

Brabham was awarded Australian of the Year in 1966.

The bust was made in retrospect using contemporary measurements and photographs in order to represent Branham at the height of his career in 1966 after winning his third World Championship.

Speedway Royal, Bluey Wilkinson receiving his trophy (1929) by Sam HoodNational Portrait Gallery

Speedway motorcyclist Arthur 'Bluey' Wilkinson was born in 1911.

After leaving school he purchased his first motorcycle, a Douglas, for £3 10s with money saved from his job as a butcher boy.

Within a year of buying his motorcycle, he was setting records at the Bathurst sportsground. Here, he is pictured after winning the Speedway Royal trophy in 1929.

His success took him to England, where he raced with the West Ham club.

He attracted large crowds, and was nicknamed 'the red-headed miracle' for his breathtaking performances.

Wilkinson retired from riding in 1939, after a decade of record breaking and championship wins in England and Australia – including Speedway World Champion 1938 and an unbroken sequence of thirty-seven wins in Sydney.

Unfortunately, Wilkinson died in 1940 in a motorbike accident and he was buried in Bathurst.

In 1985 he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

Portrait of Kym Bonython/Portrait of Mr Bonython's speedway cap (1963/1966) by John BrackNational Portrait Gallery

Hugh Reskymer 'Kym' Bonython was a company director, art authority, jazz expert and speedway entrepreneur.

Both a competitor and promotor of racing, he was the catalyst to bringing the Formula One Grand Prix to Adelaide in 1985.

Upon viewing his commissioned portrait by John Brack, Bonython was disappointed that it didn’t include his beloved checkered racing cap.

In order to not disrupt the composition of the portrait, Brack decided to include a separate smaller canvas for Bonython’s cap.

The two canvases now come together to create a singular portrait of a man and his passion for motorsports.

Automatic for the people: Casey Stoner (2008) by Scott RedfordNational Portrait Gallery

Motocycle racer Casey Stoner, began competing at age four. By age of fourteen he had won forty-one dirt and long track titles and seventy state titles.

Stoner is a two-time MotoGP World Champion, winning in 2007 and 2011.

To celebrate his first win, Stoner was named Young Australian of the Year in 2008.

Stoner became a household name in Australia, gaining popularity for his extraordinary talent.

Artist Scott Redford has captured Stoner’s youthful vigour in this portrait through the fun, bright colours and Pop Art aesthetic.

Redford chose to use decals, stickers and graphics in his portrait as they reflect the public styling of Stoner’s bike and helmet.

The logos are eye catching and reminiscent of sticker adornments on bikes, cars and skateboards.

Stoner retired in 2012 after his sixth straight Australian motorcycle Grand Prix win.

Mark Webber: In the potting sheds at The Grove, Hertfordshire, Robin Sellick, 2006, From the collection of: National Portrait Gallery
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Slow motion @ 300kms per hour Mark ‘Sparky’ Webber, Formula 1 driver, Gino Zardo, 2016, From the collection of: National Portrait Gallery
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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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