Woman Churcher, Elizabeth (Betty) (1931 - )


Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Arts administrator and Educator
Alternative Names
  • Cameron (Maiden)

Written by Monica Raszewski, The University of Melbourne

Betty Churcher (nee Cameron) was born in Brisbane in 1931. She was one of two children and the only daughter in a household where most of the attention was focused on her brother. Churcher has always had a passion for art and practised as an artist before her career in art education and administration. At the age of 13 she won The Sunday Mail Child Art Contest. In 1948 she began to exhibit with the Younger Artists Group (YAG) of the Royal Queensland Art Society (RQAS) and later became Chair of the group. In 1951 she won a travelling art scholarship which allowed her to study in London at the South West Essex Technical School and later at the Royal College of Art, London where she was awarded the Princess of Wales Scholarship for the best female student. During this time Churcher met and married the painter Roy Churcher. The couple moved to Brisbane in 1957 where they set up a studio and gave art classes.

Churcher gave up painting to look after her first son. When her fourth and youngest son began school, she returned to work as a secondary school teacher. She wrote a school textbook, Understanding Art, which was published by Rigby in Australia in 1973 and by Holmes McDougall in the UK where it won the London Times award for an Information Book. In 1975 she returned to London and completed an MA in Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London University.

Betty Churcher has been a role model for women in art education and art administration for many years. She became the first female head of a tertiary institution in 1982 when she took up the position of Dean of the School of Art and Design at Phillip Institute of Technology in Melbourne. In 1987 she became the first female director of a state art gallery when she became Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

In February 1990 Churcher took up the Directorship of the National Gallery of Australia and remained in the post until 1997. During these years she presided over 12 twelve international blockbuster exhibitions and a growth in attendance numbers and revenue.

Since her retirement, Churcher has been Adjunct Professor for the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at the Australian National University. She was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1990 and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1996. She has been active on a number of boards and committees including the Visual Arts Board, the Australia Council, the Council of Australia Art Museum Directors, National Committee, UNESCO, Art Exhibitions Australia, the National Cultural Heritage Committee, the ANU Institute of the Arts Board, the ACT Centenary of Federation Committee and the National Council for the Centenary of Federation.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Betty Churcher interviewed by Sheridan Palmer in the Australian art from 1950 to the present oral history project, 8 November 2010 - 2 March 2011, ORAL TRC 6111/4; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources


  • Churcher, Betty, Notebooks, Miegunyah Press, Carlton, Victoria, 2011. Details

Journal Articles

  • Grishin, Sasha, 'The rise and rise of the National Gallery of Australia', Art and Australia, vol. 41, no. 2, 2003, pp. 256 - 271. Details


  • Churcher, Betty, Betty Churcher, Hughes, Robin; Freedman, Rod; Hamlyn, Mark; and Film Australia, Film Australia, Lindfield, New South Wales, 1931. Details

Resource Sections

Online Resources

Digital Resources

Betty Churcher interviewed by Sheridan Palmer in the Australian art from 1950 to the present oral history project
8 November 2010 - 2 March 2011
National Library of Australia
National Library of Australia Oral History Collection