Walking in Margaret Olley’s philanthropic footsteps

Jun 19, 2022

Walking in Margaret Olley’s philanthropic footsteps
Linda Drummond, Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation Ambassador

“Newcastle is a city of muscle,” said Margaret Olley – and in few places is this as obvious as in the ongoing determination of the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation and supporters in the quest for a Gallery extension.

On Sunday 19 June, Gallery Foundation members, supporters and friends gathered for “An Ode To Olley Luncheon” at The Newcastle Club to celebrate the commitment to the Newcastle Art Gallery Expansion and to look forward to a much longed-for world-class Gallery.

For those who’ve been lucky enough to hear stories of Margaret Olley and her verve, generosity and spirit – it will come as no surprise to hear that the event was filled with vivacious tales of Olley, her deep connection to Newcastle and her ongoing commitment to art.

The event kicked off with Ron Ramsey, former Director of Newcastle Art Gallery and now a Governor of the Foundation, sharing an uproarious poem about Olley written by Barry Humphries that neatly encapsulated her spirit and sass. The day continued with her friend and Gallerist Philip Bacon AO sharing tales of her bold confrontations with politicians to convince them to invest in the arts – which moved on to Edmond Capon who was determined to buy a Cy Twomby for the Art Gallery of NSW, but was usurped by Olley’s commitment that if he bought a Cezanne, she’d donate a million dollars to the AGNSW.

Olley’s philanthropy is legendary, and in conversation with Brian Ladd OAM and Christine France OAM it was suggested that this was partly sparked when she attended international Galleries and noted that the art-works she viewed had been donated by others. “If it hadn’t been for those people, I wouldn’t have had that experience,” Olley related.

Olley donated 48 works of art to Newcastle Art Gallery, and the $500 000 donation to the Gallery redevelopment by the Margaret Olley Art Trust cements her love of the city and her commitment to art. At the luncheon, Foundation Chair Suzie Galwey, shared the news that Robert and Lindy Henderson, whose commitment to the Gallery is extensive and long-standing – would generously match this $500 000 donation – taking the amount of private funding committed to the Gallery expansion to over $11 million.

As a Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation Ambassador, I’ve made a commitment to ensuring that as many of us walk in Olley’s philanthropic footsteps as possible to see the Foundation raise the final $2.5 million to see the vision of the expanded Gallery brought to life.

This ongoing gift to the city of Newcastle will ensure that, to quote Bill Henson “If you don’t have law you don’t have a society, and if you don’t have art, you won’t have a civilisation.”

Let’s build the Gallery this city not only needs – but deserves.

L–>R: Philip Bacon AO,  Guests with Margaret Olley paintings, Robert and Lindy Henderson
COVER IMAGE- Margaret Olley sketching in Newcastle 1965.  Newcastle Herald.