Find out more about famous Australian people, whose achievements are spread across categories as diverse as film, sport, music, art, science, literature, politics, invention and exploration. Following is an overview of high-achieving and famous Australians, from ‘The Don’ of Australian cricket, Sir Don Bradman, to the Aboriginal artist Queenie McKenzie. Learn about some of the Australian actors who have made it on the world stage, our acclaimed and best-selling Australian writers and the Australian scientists who are Nobel Laureates. Remember this is an introduction, but not an exhaustive list of famous Australians.
A number of Australian actors have found international success, including the Academy-winning Geoffrey Rush, star of Shine and The King's Speech. Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett have also claimed the Best Actor honour. Action hero Hugh Jackman is also a Tony Award-winning singer and dancer. Other famous Australian actors include Naomi Watts, whose cut-through role was in Mulholland Drive, and Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his performance in The Dark Knight. Australian actors of international fame include Guy Pearce, Eric Bana, Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths and Paul Hogan. Errol Flynn was famous for romantic swashbuckling roles in the 1930s and 1940s.
Sport is a huge part of Australian culture and the nation has produced many sporting greats. Our cricketing heroes include Sir Donald Bradman, Ritchie Benaud, Allan Border, the Waugh brothers, Shane Warne and Glen McGrath. Famous Australian swimmers include Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould, Kieren Perkins and Ian Thorpe. Our most famous runner is Cathy Freeman, who lit the Olympic flame and claimed gold in the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Other lauded runners include Betty Cuthbert, Herb Elliot and John Landy, famous for his sportsmanship at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Australian tennis stars include Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Pat Cash, Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
There are famous Australian singers across every musical genre. Our greatest opera singers were Dame Nellie Melba and Dame Joan Sutherland. Australian country music stars have included Smoky Dawson and Slim Dusty, and more recently John Williamson, James Blundell, Kasey Chambers, and Keith Urban. Pop princess Kylie Minogue hit the international charts many years after Grease star Olivia Newton John and icon John Farnham. Jimmy Barnes, Peter Garret, Michael Hutchence and Daniel Johns claimed fame as lead singers in rock bands. Famous Aboriginal singers include Jimmy Little, Christine Anu, Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter and Geoffrey Gurrumul. Songwriter and entertainer Peter Allen has been immortalized in a stage musical.
Our famous Australian artists include the late avant-garde painter Brett Whitely, landscape painter John Olson and photographers Bill Henson and Tracey Moffat. Ken Done has also won worldwide fame for his colourful paintings and designs. Famous Aboriginal artists of the last century include Albert Namatjira, David Malangi, Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie and Emily Kngwarreye. Painters Florence Rodway, Grace Cossington Smith and Margaret Preston were at the vanguard of the modernist movement, while painter Norman Lindsay attracted controversy for his nudes. Other famous Australian artists have included painter Pro Hart, modernist photographer Max Dupain, Heidelberg painters such as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton and surrealists Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.
Famous Australian writers include Bryce Courtenay, our top-selling novelist, and Colleen McCullough. Patrick White won the 1973 Nobel Prize for literature and the Man Booker Prize has been awarded to Thomas Keneally, Peter Carey (twice) and DBC Pierre. Other acclaimed contemporary writers include David Malouf, Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, Helen Garner, Christopher Koch, playwright David Williamson and Geraldine Brooks, who won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Australia’s notable expatriate writers include Clive James, Robert Hughes, Geoffrey Robertson and feminist writer Germaine Greer. Important names in Australia’s literary history include the bush poets Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson and novelists Henry Handel Richardson, Miles Franklin, Christina Stead and Marcus Clarke.
Sir Henry Parkes was the earliest advocate for federal government. Edmund Barton was Australia’s first Prime Minister, followed by Alfred Deakin, who presided over three governments. Billy Hughes, Australia’s seventh Prime Minister, changed parties five times over his 51-year parliamentary career. Robert Menzies was the country’s twelfth and longest-serving Prime Minister and founder of the Australian Liberal Party. Early Labor Prime Ministers include John Curtin, who led Australia through World War II, and Ben Chifley, who established Australian citizenship. Gough Whitlam is remembered for his progressive reforms and dramatic dismissal. Australia’s more recent prime ministers include Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Pharmacologist and pathologist Howard Florey shared a Nobel Prize in 1945 for his work extracting penicillin. Other Australian scientists who are Nobel Laureates include William Bragg, John Warcup Cornforth, John Eccles, Bernard Katz, Peter Doherty and Elizabeth Blackburn. Geologist Dorothy Hill was the first female professor in an Australian university. Other famous Australian scientists include immunology and virology pioneer Frank Macfarlane Burnet, magnetism specialist Robert Street, theoretical chemist David Craig and climate change expert Tim Flannery. Brian Anderson, Richard Stanton and Patricia Woolley have also made significant contributions in their various fields.
Australia’s Aboriginal people invented the aerodynamic boomerang and a spear thrower called the woomera. Famous Australian inventors include Alfred Traeger, who built a radio for the Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1929, and David Ronald de Mey Warren, who invented the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. Professor Ian Frazer 2006, Australian of the Year, invented a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Other famous Australian inventions include notepads (1902), the surf lifesaving reel (1906), aspirin (1915), the pacemaker (1926), penicillin (1940) the Hills Hoist clothesline (1946), the plastic disposable syringe (1949), the wine cask (1965), the bionic ear (1978), dual-flush toilet flush (1980)anti-counterfeiting technology for banknotes (1992) and long-wearing contact lenses (1999).
Following Captain Cook’s 1770 landing, and the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 a number of early explorers set out to discover Australia. These included the duos Bass and Flinders, who charted Tasmania, the ill-fated Burke and Wills, and Hume and Hovel, who walked from Sydney to the Victorian coastline. Ernest Giles trekked through Australia’s harsh western deserts on camelback and George Evans discovered the Lachlan River Valley region of central New South Wales. Other early famous Australian explorers include Thomas Mitchell and John Oxley. In the 20th century Sir Douglas Mawson led a series of important scientific expeditions to Antarctica.
Australia’s famous people include cardiac surgeon Victor Chang, who pioneered an artificial heart valve and ophthalmologist Fred Hollows who helped to restore eyesight in more than a million people across the world. Famous Australian businesspeople include media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the late Robert Holmes a Court, Kerry Packer and Richard Pratt. Famous Australian film directors include Bruce Beresford, Baz Lurhmann, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Phillip Noyce, Fred Schepsi and Peter Weir. Famous Australian engineers include John Bradfield and Sir John Monash. Ben Hall and folk hero Ned Kelly were both famous Australian bushrangers. Other famous Australians include aviator Charles Kingsford-Smith, performer Barry Humphries and social reformer Eddie Mabo.