Tasmania’s Stories

Hadley's raises landscape ante

Edition 186_Don Neil congratulates Peter Mungkuri

Hobart's 175-year-old Hadley's Orient Hotel became the home in July of the world's richest landscape art prize thanks to the generosity of tourism entrepreneur Don Neil and a little flow-on MONA Effect.

Mr Neil, 77, initiated and funded the inaugural $100,000 Hadley’s Art Prize which attracted 380 entries and was won by Aboriginal artist Peter Mungkuri from South Australia.

The winning painting, Ngura Wiru (good country), tells a story about Mungkuri's birthplace in central Australia.

The painting will take its place in a permanent exhibition in the historic Murray Street hotel.

The acquisitive Hadley’s Art Prize has overtaken South Australia's Fleurieu Art Prize ($65,000) as the world’s most lucrative award for landscape painters.

Hadley's $100,000 winner's purse puts it on a par with Australia's previously richest art awards, the Archibald Prize for portraiture and the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.

It is well clear of Tasmania's previously richest landscape award, the John Glover Prize, which was increased from $40,000 to $50,000 in July.

Mr Neil first visited Hadley's as a 20-year-old travelling shoe salesman from country Victoria and bought the hotel more than 50 years later.

"Little did I know I'd come to live in Hobart later on and – far be it – did I think we'd end up buying Hadley's," he said.

"I've always had very fond memories of Hadley's and Hobart has been very good to our family, in all that time."

While he makes no claim to art expertise, Mr Neil was able to attract an expert judging panel, featuring Tasmanian artist and curator, Julie Gough, the National Gallery of Australia’s Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, Roger Butler and Art Gallery of South Australia's Artistic Director, Lisa Slade.

Mr Neil said he had wanted to give something back to Tasmania and was inspired by millionaire philanthropist David Walsh and the transformative MONA Effect he has generated.

Mr Neil hopes the new prize will contribute to Hobart's burgeoning Arts scene and he is already thinking through the details of a second major award.

"I've been told [the Hadley's Prize] is a really dreadful investment by my financial advisers, and from a financial point of view they're probably right," he told the ABC.

"But you're also investing in Tasmanian tourism; you're investing in Tasmanian artists; you're investing in Tasmanian youth; who can come and view these wonderful works in Hobart, free.

"So as an investment, it's not the worst one. It's probably the best one."

Mr Neil has shown exceptionally sharp financial judgment over the years.

He acquired Hobart's disused and dilapidated wool store on Macquarie Street in the 1990s and completed the first stage of its transformation into Australia’s largest serviced apartment hotel in 1997.

The union superannuation fund, CBus, was a major equity partner and the project was considered within the industry to have been "thinly capitalised".

Nevertheless, The Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel turned out to be outstandingly profitable.

A second stage, adding 124 apartments, was completed in 2001 and the operation was soon winning awards, including a prestigious Qantas Australian Tourism Award in 2008 for best deluxe accommodation in the nation in the 4 to 4.5 star category.

This year, the hotel won the latest in series of gold medals at the Australian Tourism Awards and was named in the Australian Tourism Hall of Fame.

Mr Neil was able to fully repay CBus and assume 100 per cent ownership.

Occupancy, profit per room and return on investment at The Old Woolstore all substantially exceed industry standards.

Cash flow enabled Mr Neil to expand his Hobart property portfolio.

In 2013, he acquired Hadley's which had been in receivership for a year with about $5 million in unsecured debt.

An apartment accommodation complex built behind the original hotel was sold to the RACT in a separate deal.

Mr Neil initiated an investment program to restore the historic hotel to its colonial era grandeur and – inspired by the MONA owner – he began to think about a different kind of investment that required extensive works to create an art gallery without permanently affecting the hotel's heritage interior.

Judges chose 41 finalists from the large number of entries for the inaugural Hadley's Art Prize and said they had been impressed by the diversity of the paintings.

"They represented every possible perspective on landscape," judge Lisa Slade said.

She added that a $100,000 award amounted to a game changer for most artists.

Mr Neil is considering a second award inspired by the fact that Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, who led the first expedition to reach the South Pole, was staying at Hadley's in 1911 when he telegraphed news of his achievement from Hobart to Oslo.

"He stayed here and he's a legend in Scandinavia," Mr Neil said.

"Now, with the agreement of the Amundsen family, or society, we could run the Amundsen Prize next year and have it focused on [the] Antarctic and tie it in with the Mawson's Hut people and Hobart's general focus on Antarctica.

"It doesn't have to be at the same time as the Hadley's Art Prize and it'll be an international prize.

"So it's as good as a certainty that we're going to be doing that."

Mr Neil said he wanted to see Hadley's grow as an art venue – and he's in a hurry.

"At my age, you don't buy green bananas," he said.

Image courtesy of Jessica King & Hadley's Hotel

Footnote: Leading artist Philip Wolfhagen has produced a stunning landscape Transitory Light to win the $20,000 Lloyd Rees Arts Prize. “I don’t win prizes very often so I’m very chuffed and honoured,” Wolfhagen said. “I didn’t meet (Lloyd Rees) to say hello, but he did do lectures at the University of Tasmania when I was there in the 1980s. He was already in his 90s and he was an amazing man who I thought was wonderful, and this is a prize in his honour and memory, so I’m very pleased to have this award.” Painted with oil and beeswax on linen, Transitory Light depicts a twilight view of Norfolk Plains behind the artist’s Longford home. Ten years ago, Wolfhagen won the prestigious Wynne Prize.

1 August 2017, Edition 186

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012-13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island's land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named 'Best Temperate Island in the World' by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of Mt Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania's highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania's predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world's biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the state's gross product in 2010-11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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