John Gorton Portrait #2008-0190
Portrait of John Gorton by David Naseby
Sir John Grey Gorton (1911 2002) was Australia’s 19th Prime Minister, serving from 1968 until 1971. He was one of the generation of Liberal activists known as the ‘49ers’. Gorton was elected to the Senate in the Liberal landslide that defeated Chifley, and served in the Menzies and Holt ministries before unexpectedly becoming prime minister after the death of Harold Holt. He is the only prime minister to have come from the Senate, but won a seat in the House of Representatives after being elected Liberal Leader. Prime minister for 38 months, he served for longer than his contemporaries Holt, McMahon and Whitlam. His government initiated changes in social and foreign policy with momentous results, for example moving to end the ban on homosexual acts between consenting adults.
Gorton’s leadership ended after a highly public brawl with Malcolm Fraser, later to also serve as prime minister, and he was succeeded by William McMahon after, in effect, voting himself out of the leadership in a party room meeting at Parliament House. In later years he was to stand for the Senate as an independent, and he was for some time persona non grata with many members of the Liberal Party. He was readmitted to the Liberal Party in 1999 after a 24 year breach, and the refurbished Administration building was named after him by the Howard government.
Gorton cultivated a casual, almost a larrikin image, but was complex and multi faceted. The portrait engages with his personality, reflecting on his past in old age. The artist, David Naseby was a finalist in the Archibald in 1995, 1998 and 1999 and is represented in the National Portrait Gallery with a portrait of poet Les Murray.