Portrait Of Victoria Premier John Cain Jr.

Portrait Of Victoria Premier John Cain Jr.

Parliament Of Victoria

John Cain Jr. Portrait

Victor P Taffa

John Cain was the Premier of Victoria from 1982-90. His was the first Victorian Labor government to be elected in 27 years, since 1955, when his father John Cain Sr. had been Premier. Cain brought a strong leadership to Labor that had hitherto been absent.

Cain was born in Melbourne, 26th April 1931, and educated at Northcote High School, Scotch College and the University of Melbourne, where he graduated in Law. He was President of the Law Institute of Victoria (1972-1973) and served on the Law Reform Commission Australia (1975-77).

He entered State politics in 1976, when he won the seat of Bundoora, and was elected leader of the Victorian Labor Party in 1981.


After almost three decades of Liberal leadership, and disenchanted with the Liberals’ failure to address the economic recession, the voting public was eager for change, and Cain was duly elected Premier in a landslide victory for Labor in the following year.

John Cain led Labor to election victories in 1982, 1985 and 1988, becoming the only Labor Premier to hold office for consecutive terms. Cain pursued social justice through administrative reform.

During his Premiership aboriginal land rights were recognised and the notoriously political Police Special Branch was abolished.

Under Labor, Victoria achieved the lowest unemployment rates and strongest economic growth indicators in Australia.

Groundbreaking legislation was introduced in several areas, including

  • Then vigorously opposed but now widely accepted reform of gun laws,
  • In-vitro fertilisation,
  • Mental health and guardianship,
  • Occupational health and safety, accident compensation,
  • Environmental policies that established an Alpine National Park.

During John Cain’s Premiership, the first woman (Pauline Toner) was appointed to the Cabinet.

In August 1990, public support for Labor having waned dramatically, Cain resigned in the interests of the party’s re-election.


History Of The Premiers Portraits

The Hon. Frederick Grimwade, President of the Legislative Council 1979-1985, initiated the idea of a portrait gallery for former Premiers of Victoria. He arranged for paintings to be commissioned from photographs of former non-living Premiers and life studies of living former Premiers.

Every Premier since 1933 (with the exception of Ian MacFarlan, who was Premier for 51 days) is represented in the portrait collection. Prior to this date there are portraits of only 4 former Premiers.

The portraits were originally displayed in the corridor leading to the Members Dining Room, appropriately named the ‘Premiers’ Corridor’.

Grimwade’s initiative was a success and eventually the collection of portraits grew so large that another space in the building had to be considered for their display.

In 2001, the year of the Centenary of Federation and Sesquicentenary of the Legislative Council, the portraits were moved to Queen’s Hall. In the Roman Revival style architecture of the lofty Hall, the group of portraits are positioned around a centrally placed marble statue of Queen Victoria.

There are currently 18 Premiers portraits in this collection. The 17 most recent are on display in Queen’s Hall, while the 1893 portrait of Premier James Paterson, the largest in the collection, hangs in Premiers’ Corridor.


Title                Premier John Cain Jr.

Artist              Wes Walters

Date                1991

Medium          Oil on canvas

Dimensions     1200 x 960 x 100 mm

Description     Premier 8th April 1982 – 10th August 1990.

The Artist and the Portrait:

Wes Walters 1928-2014

Wes Walters came to prominence after his portrait of the journalist and art connoisseur, Phillip Adams, was awarded the Archibald Prize in 1979.

The award caused some controversy at the time due to Walters’ unconventional background in commercial art.

Walters was born in Mildura studied art at the Ballarat School of Mines. During the 1950’s and 60’s he worked as a commercial artist in advertising, winning industry awards, before focusing on painting in the 1970’s.

It is interesting, given his technical facility, that Walters did not formally study art. Walters received a number of commissions for the Federal Parliament including a portrait of Neville Bonner, Australia’s first aboriginal senator.

Walters’ depiction of a tanned John Cain in his smart business executive’s suit is representative of the increasingly popular ‘corporate image’ of the 1980’s-90’s Politicians.

Walters has rendered a good likeness of the craggy features for which Cain was well known. Although a relatively informal portrait, the artist has effectively captured a serene John Cain between his two worlds, the navy-blue-suited solicitor and the relaxed yet business-like Premier, hands clasped, legs crossed, seated in a nineteenth century elbow chair.