Virginia Spate

Virginia Spate, 1937- , art historian and Pyrmont activist, was born in the United Kingdom, lived in Burma until evacuated during the War in the Pacific, and settled in Australia in 1951. After studies at Melbourne University and Cambridge, she took her PhD at Bryn Mawr College, USA. She lectured there and in Cambridge, and became Power Professor of Fine Art at the University of Sydney in 1978.

She published on the artists John Olsen, Tom Roberts, Monet and Degas, among others. She retired in 2004 and, in that year, was made Chevalier
des Arts et des Lettres. She received the Mitchell Prize in 1992 and a Centenary Medal in 2001 for service to Australian society and the humanities in the study of art history. She is now professor emeritus at the Power Institute, University of Sydney.

Virginia bought a house in Mount Street, Pyrmont, within easy reach of the University, and became aware of disturbing changes. The population declined through the 1980s and 1990s; the Department of Main Roads demolished houses with more zeal than purpose; and the State government began planning “urban renewal”. Like many others she grew exasperated with “consultation” which felt more like hectoring. She became Culture Secretary in the three-member cabinet of the Pyrmont Republic, wrote their powerful manifesto, and was their eloquent public voice. In retirement she studied singing and is a soprano in Pyrmont Sings!

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