Dick Hamer portrait

Rupert (Dick) Hamer, premier 1972-81
Title Premier Rupert (Dick) Hamer
Artist William Dargie
Date 1982
Medium Oil on canvas
1240 x 970 x 95 mm
Premier 23rd August 1972 - 5th June 1981.

Sir Rupert James 'Dick' Hamer served as Premier of Victoria from 1972 to 1981. He was groomed for the Premiership, having served as Bolte's Deputy Premier from April 1971. He also served as Treasurer and Minister for the Arts for seven of his nine years as Premier - from 1972 to 1979 - and indeed his term of office was marked by his support for the Victorian Arts Centre and for heritage and culture generally, including the promotion of Victoria as the 'Garden State'.

Hamer was a cultured man of the Melbourne middle classes and his emphasis on a 'caring government' markedly differed from Sir Henry Bolte's autocratic style of leadership. Hamer was born in Kew, the son of a solicitor. He was educated at Melbourne Grammar and Geelong Grammar and graduated with a Master of Law from the University of Melbourne. For  the duration of the Second World War he served with the AIF in many of the major fields of  battle, including the Middle East, New Guinea and Europe; he was one of the famed Rats of Tobruk and helped plan the Rhine Crossing. On his return he was an active partner in the law firm, Smith and Emmerton, until 1968.

Hamer entered politics in 1958 as the MLC for East Yarra. He resigned in 1971 to become the MLA for Kew and took up the Premiership in the following year, on Bolte's retirement. The many achievements of his government include the creation of the ombudsman's office (1973), the setting up of the Historic Buildings Preservation Council (1974), the abolition of capital punishment (1975) and the creation of the Equal Opportunity Board (l978). He is said to have helped invent the Liberal Party's modern image and was a popular leader who maintained broad electoral support for the Liberals during most of the 1970s. He was knighted in 1982.

The Artist and the Portrait

Sir William Alexander Dargie (b. 1912 d. 2003)

It was Rupert Hamer himself who suggested that the multiple Archibald Prize- winning artist, William Dargie, be selected to paint his portrait for the Premier's corridor. On the strength of Dargie's successful portrait of Hamer's predecessor, Sir Henry Bolte, and his long experience at capturing both the likeness and personal traits of eminent Australians, Parliament readily agreed.

As was the case with Bolte, Dargie was the right choice; artist and sitter had things in common. Both, for example, had served in the Second World War, Hamer with distinction in the AIF, and Dargie as a war artist. Dargie portrays Hamer as a gentleman, a cultivated man, looking steadily out at the world with an expression of intelligent interest. This is a portrait of a man who is actively involved with the world, as Hamer indeed still was.

His public profile did not wane after his Premiership as he was active in community-benefit organisations and continued to be highly supportive of culture and the urban and natural environment. In 1982, the year he sat for the portrait, he was, among other things, the Chair of the Victorian State Opera Board, the Vice Chair of Werribee Park, President of the Victorian College for the Arts and a trustee of Yarra Bend National Park.

Against a neutral background of brown tones, Dargie poses Hamer in rich blues with crisp areas of white and enlivening touches of red. The overall impression is of a man comfortable with tradition, but not bound by it.


© William Dargie