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Southern Cross University pays tribute to Margaret Olley


Brigid Veale
26 July 2011
Southern Cross University has joined the arts community in paying a warm tribute to Margaret Olley, one of Australia’s finest artists and a strong supporter of the University and the Northern Rivers.

Dr Olley, who received an Honorary Doctorate from Southern Cross University in 2007, died in her home in Sydney today (July 26).

Margaret Olley was born in Lismore on June 24, 1923. During an Occasional Address she gave at the Lismore campus, she spoke of her life growing up in the Northern Rivers region – 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.

With a career that spanned 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 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.

She was the subject of this year's winning Archibald Prize portrait by Ben Quilty and in 1948 sat for William Dobell's prize-winner.

Dr Olley remained a strong supporter of the arts in the Northern Rivers and was an advocate for the development of a regional gallery, telling University graduates that when ‘arts are flourishing in a community that is a very healthy community’.

The University presented her with an Honorary Doctorate for outstanding contribution to the arts and her strong connection with the local region.

Southern Cross University Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Lee paid tribute to one of Australia’s greatest artists.

“Margaret Olley was one of the great characters of the Australian arts community and will be remembered not only for her talent, but also as a philanthropist and mentor,” Professor Lee said.

Photo: Margaret Olley receives her Honorary Doctorate from Southern Cross University in 2007.