John Cain Junior portrait

John Cain Junior, premier 1982-90
Premier John Cain (Junior)
Artist Wes Walters
Date 1991
Medium Oil on canvas
1200 x 960 x 100 mm
Premier 8th April 1982 - 10th August 1990.

John Cain was the Premier of Victoria from 1982 to 1990. His was the first Victorian Labor government to be elected in twenty-seven 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 the then vigorously opposed but now widely accepted reform of gun laws, in-vitro fertilisation, mental health and guardianship, occupational health and safety, accident compensation and 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.

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 1950s and 60s he worked as a commercial artist in advertising, winning industry awards, before focusing on painting in the 1970s. 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 1980s-90s 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.


© Wes Walters