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Margaret Olley gains an Honorary Doctorate


Zoe Satherley
27 April 2007
One of Australia’s finest artists, Dr Margaret Olley, has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to the arts with an Honorary Doctorate from Southern Cross University.

Dr Olley, who was born in Lismore and grew up in the Northern Rivers region, was presented with the Honorary award at the Faculty of Arts graduation ceremony in Lismore today (April 27).

“I only wish my mother was here, she would be astonished,” Dr Olley quipped and went on to tell how her mother had wanted her to become a nurse ‘that was a lucky escape!’

Dr Olley gave the Occasional Address after her conferral and had the audience spellbound with her tales of growing up in the local area – travelling all day on dirt roads in a car without any glass windows to visit Byron Bay, meeting in the Lismore town square on Friday night when it was the buzzing hub of community life and growing up on a farm at Horseshoe Creek, near Kyogle.

She lamented that Lismore still did not have an adequate regional art gallery but said she was excited by the prospect of work commencing on a new gallery soon. “It will help bring back the heart of Lismore,” she said. “I was down on the site today and I had to ask where all the people were. It was almost deserted. I was told they were all at the shopping centres and I thought that was a great shame,” Dr Olley said.

“I am a passionate supporter of regional art galleries. When arts are flourishing in a community, that is a very healthy community.”

She extolled graduates to: “Do whatever you do with vigour. Go forth with great passion. If you have no passion for what you are doing, change it and do something else because there are so many wonderful things to do.”

Margaret Olley’s Honorary Doctorate recognises her outstanding contribution to the arts and her strong connection with the local region.

Dr Olley has had a long and distinguished career as an artist. She started art classes at Brisbane Technical College in 1941 and graduated from the East Sydney Technical College in 1945 with first class honours.

With a career spanning more than 50 years and a critically acclaimed body of works, she is regarded as Australia’s most important 20th century interior and still life painter.

Dr Olley has exhibited extensively throughout Australia and in London and Paris and her works are included in collections at the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Queensland Art Gallery and the Tasmanian Museum.

She has received numerous art prizes including the prestigious Helena Rubinstein Portrait Prize, awarded to her in 1962. In 1991 she was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia and in 1992 Life Governor of the Art Gallery of NSW. In 1997 she was declared an Australian National Treasure.

In 2006 she was appointed Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for service as one of Australia’s most distinguished artists, for support and philanthropy to the visual and performing arts, and for encouragement of young and emerging artists.

Caption: Dr Margaret Olley adjusts her hat just before the conferral of her Honorary Doctorate from Southern Cross University.