From the Archives, 1997: Australia’s 100 living treasures named

From the Archives, 1997: Australia’s 100 living treasures named

December 11, 2022

First published in The Age on December 13, 1992

Australian treasures named

Australia’s 100 living national treasures will not necessarily get along but they make a fascinating gathering.

Cathy Freeman celebrates her Sydney 2000 Olympic gold medal win with the Aboriginal and Australian flags. Credit:AP

Ruth Cracknell and Sir Don Bradman, Sir Arthur Boyd and Raelene Boyle, Dame Joan Sutherland and Ernie Dingo, Sir Roden Cutler and Judy Davis, Gai Waterhouse and Reverend Tim Costello, Judith Wright and R.M.Williams, Cathy Freeman and Malcolm Fraser, Margaret Whitlam and Barry Humphries, Mick Dodson and Cheryl Kernot and John Howard and Paul Keating.

The National Trust will release a list today of 100 Australians who have made outstanding and lasting contributions in any field of human endeavour. More than 10,000 Australians voted, nominating more than 1200 people. The trust hopes most of the 100 will attend a dinner at the Sydney Town Hall on 18 February.

Mr Michael Ball, of the National Trust, said yesterday: “No two people in Australia will agree exactly on the 100 but I think there will be widespread agreement that it’s as good a list as you could get. It covets the spectrum of Australian society.”

Sir Donald Bradman during the 1936-37 Ashes summer.Credit:Fairfax Photographic

Ted Matthews, who landed on Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 and died on Tuesday after the list was finalised, will remain on the list. Nugget Coombs, who was director-general of post-war reconstruction, Reserve Bank governor, advised seven prime ministers and shaped policy and community attitudes on education, the arts and Aboriginal affairs, would have been among the 100.

Some names were entirely predictable. No one sportsperson, according to the figures, has so dominated any sport anywhere as Bradman dominated cricket. Sutherland became one of the leading sopranos of the century, known worldwide as La Stupenda. Boyd is one of Australia’s greatest painters. Humphries has made Australians, and others, look at themselves and laugh. Scientists Gus Nossal and Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty are household names.

Other names are less well known, such as violinist Richard Tognetti and mother Shirl Smith, who was born on the Frambie Aboriginal reserve, Cowra, began welfare work visiting jailed Aborigines, helped establish Aboriginal medical and legal services, raised more than 60 children whose parents couldn’t manage and accepted the 1979 Parent of the Year award “on behalf of all the children I’ve buried”.

Star performer of the Opera Dame Joan Sutherland sings as her husband Richard Bonynge conducts behind her.Credit:Anthony Lewis

Twelve indigenous people are on the list, including Pat and Mick Dodson as the only siblings.

Treasures, taking time to acquire, tend to be of mature age. Kieren Perkins and Cathy Freeman, Olympic and world champions, defy the age rule.

Walter Mikac, neither hero nor celebrity, is young, too. He lost his wife and both daughters in the Port Arthur massacre yet he said later: “Remember that the power of love and creation will always triumph over the power of destruction and revenge.” Those words eased the national pain.

What they said

“I’m very honoured by the people’s vote. It means a lot more coming from the people than from other sources. It’s very heartening that people of Australia care about the arts to that extent. I understand there are quite a few arts people who have been nominated and that’s very encouraging because sometimes the arts get a bit left behind.”

John Bell, artistic director. Bell Shakespeare Company

Australia’s 100 Living Treasures announced in 1997.Credit:The Age Archives

“It’s a huge honour. It’s wonderful. I’m surprised. I’m very grateful to all those people who voted for me… I love that it’s the audience voting. It’s got to be special in that it’s the people speaking. It’s overwhelming. I really am thrilled.”

Ruth Cracknell, actor

“I didn’t know about this… I’m absolutely amazed, having not even heard of it. It’s not April Fool’s Day today, is it?

“Without knowing what it quite means I’m very deeply honoured and absolutely surprised, because off the top of my head I could think of 100 more worthy people immediately.

“I hope (my inclusion) reflects those issues that I do feel passionately committed to.”

Reverend Tim Costello

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