Gold medallist led campaign to take down Gina Rinehart portrait

An Olympic gold medallist and one of the top officials in Australian swimming led the charge against the National Gallery hanging a portrait of mining billionaire Gina Rinehart, labelling the artwork “offensive to a great Australian”.

Gina Rinehart - Figure 1
Photo The Sydney Morning Herald

Rio Olympic gold medallist Kyle Chalmers and Swimming Queensland chief Kevin Hasemann co-ordinated a group of 20 elite Australian swimmers to campaign against the portrait of Rinehart by Archibald Prize-winning Indigenous artist Vincent Namatjira.

Australian swimmer Kyle Chalmers.Credit: Getty Images

Rinehart, who asked for the portrait to be removed, has paid more than $40 million in sponsorship to Australian swimmers through Swimming Queensland and her company’s Hancock Prospecting Swimmer Support Scheme, which helps pay their wages.

The mining mogul split from Swimming Australia last year over a funding row that included not getting a seat on the national body’s board.

Hasemann said he did not see any issue with Swimming Queensland and elite swimmers intervening on behalf of Rinehart at a national institution. On Thursday, he accused critics of “throwing rocks at her” and vowed to support Australia’s richest person if “she’s being denigrated in any way”.

Gina Rinehart - Figure 2
Photo The Sydney Morning Herald

Chalmers said he had campaigned on Rinehart’s behalf after staff at Hancock Prospecting alerted him to the portrait. The 100-metre shortcourse world record holder said the campaign came to a head at the National Championships in April.

Gina Rinehart is seen talking to swimmers Cate Campbell (second from left), Bronte Campbell and Kyle Chalmers during the 2018 Australian swimming trials.Credit: AAP

“Being on the pool deck at the national championships, it was definitely the talk of the swimming pool and everyone throwing their support behind our patron that makes everything possible for us,” Chalmers told this masthead on Thursday.

“I think she just deserves to be praised and looked upon definitely a lot better than what the portraits have made her out to be. Without her sponsorship, we would actually have nothing.”

Hasemann wrote to National Gallery director Nick Mitzevich in April and urged him to remove two portraits that had caused swimmers “deep concern” because “they are offensive to Mrs Rinehart”.

Gina Rinehart - Figure 3
Photo The Sydney Morning Herald

“We are going to stand up and speak up for someone that we see as a great Australian,” Hasemann said on Thursday.

“There’s a price to pay for speaking out. Others will duck and hide and keep out of sight. We don’t do that.”

Rinehart has frequently been seen poolside at global swimming competitions, including alongside Chalmers, who said sharing the world championships with his mother and Rinehart was “a memory I will cherish for a lifetime”.

Sprinter Shayna Jack also praised Rinehart at the world swimming championships in July.

“We couldn’t be prouder and also just to have Gina in the crowd supporting us, that’s amazing,” Jack said.

Dual Olympic gold medallist Bronte Campbell hailed Rinehart for her support last year, describing her as a truly “unique patron”.

Vincent Namatjira in front of his collection of portraits including Gina Rinehart.Credit: Rohan Thomson

“To have her and Hancock executives and partners cheering from the stands, together with her guests, was special for the swimmers,” she said.

Gina Rinehart - Figure 4
Photo The Sydney Morning Herald

The controversy has put the spotlight on Rinehart’s use of money and power across Australia’s sporting and cultural associations. Hancock Prospecting is also a major sponsor of volleyball, rowing and synchronised swimming.

The billionaire withdrew her funding of Netball Australia in 2022, plunging the sport into crisis, after players refused to wear her company’s logo on their shirts. Rinehart had refused to condemn racist comments against Indigenous Australians made by her father and Hancock Prospecting founder Lang Hancock in 1984.

Kyle Chalmers and Gina Rinehart (in a hat) at the World Championships last year.Credit: Instagram

In a statement, Namatjira said he painted the world as he saw it.

“People don’t have to like my paintings, but I hope they take the time to look and think, ‘Why has this Aboriginal bloke painted these powerful people? What is he trying to say?’ I paint people who are wealthy, powerful or significant – people who have had an influence on this country, and on me personally, whether directly or indirectly, whether for good or for bad.

Gina Rinehart - Figure 5
Photo The Sydney Morning Herald

“Some people might not like it, other people might find it funny, but I hope people look beneath the surface and see the serious side too.”

Arts Minister Tony Burke and the industry’s peak body on Thursday defended the National Gallery’s decision to reject Rinehart’s request to remove the painting, one of 21 hung in Namatjira’s exhibition at the National Gallery. The exhibition also includes satirical portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, AFL star Adam Goodes and former prime minister Julia Gillard.

Vincent Namatjira’s portrait of Gina Rinehart at the National Gallery of Australia.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

“If all portraits had to be flattering, a lot of artists and every cartoonist in the country would be out of a job,” Burke said.

The National Association of Visual Artists said the painting’s withdrawal would have “set a dangerous precedent for censorship and the stifling of creative expression”.

Hasemann said he would not like to be one of Namatjira’s subjects.


“I’ve seen the artworks there, and I wouldn’t like to be depicted that way. And probably if I were famous, I’d hope that someone would want to say, ‘Well, listen, hold on, that’s not nice’.”

Rinehart was contacted for comment through Hancock Prospecting.

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