Private support

Voluntary guides


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Voluntary guides at the Gallery work under the same conditions as paid staff and have always been an integral part of the Gallery's services-the first guides were trained in 1981, the year before the Gallery opened. The Education and Public Programs section is responsible for the selection, training, evaluation and registration of volunteer guides.

View Guided tour schedule

The Gallery provides volunteer guides with:

  • Free membership
  • Free access to exhibitions
  • A guide's room furnished with a computer, printer, video player, slide projector, photocopier and a small library
  • Access to the research library
  • A 15% discount at the Gallery shop and restaurants
  • An ongoing education program
  • Additional training for major visiting exhibitions
  • A light lunch following the monthly meeting of the Voluntary Guides Association to foster discussion and esprit de corps.

The National Gallery of Australia Voluntary Guides Association provides:

  • An infrastructure which gives support to the guides and the services they provide to the Gallery
  • A forum for guides and a communication channel between the guides, the Education and Public Programs section and the Director of the Gallery.

The Gallery holds a training program for guides every two or three years and there is always a waiting list of applicants. Trainee guides are selected by interview. They are required to commit themselves to the year-long education program and, upon graduation, to guiding once a week for at least three years.

The training year is only the beginning, continuing education is extremely important. At any one time there are more than 2,000 works on display from the Gallery's permanent collection of over 100,000 artworks. Apart from a core of about 40 major works, those 2,000 are changed on a rotating basis. Every couple of months, one of the gallery areas will change its display. Also, there is a constant flow of special and major exhibitions. Guides attend regular fortnightly lectures and workshops, plus education programs specific to major exhibitions and carry out independent research.

Each year guides sign a registration form stating which category of guiding they will undertake.

  • Category A guides may be rostered for any of the tours provided by the Gallery
  • Category B guides may be rostered for any of the tours provided except school tours
  • Category C is only open to Emeritus guides – guides with over 5 years service.

Emeritus guides may choose to continue to guide in their previous category or limit their guiding to major exhibitions and providing other services such as giving outreach slide talks, preparing research papers or providing clerical support.

The Gallery offers a range of tours designed to meet the needs of the visitor. For example, every day except Christmas Day, guides are rostered to conduct hour-long tours of Australian and International art at 11.00am and 2.00pm. These daily tours are augmented by hour-long tours of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art each Thursday and Sunday at 11.00am. Highlight tours of major works for pre-booked coach groups are currently conducted daily. Guides also provide daily guided tours of major exhibitions.

Many guides particularly enjoy taking primary schools on discovery tours. Guides are trained to interact with the children and to ask them questions that link the artwork with their own experience. The children respond readily and enjoy the process of learning to look at works of art. During the school year, the Gallery can have over 1,500 schoolchildren in the Gallery on any one day.

Pre-booked guided tours for Gallery Members are included in the calendar and may be arranged for special interest groups, corporate events, private celebrations and VIPs.

Guides also give public lectures in the Gallery, slide talks to community groups in an outreach program and, by arrangement, conduct tours in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Norwegian and Dutch.

The training program

The course has been designed to balance the needs of the volunteer with the needs of the Gallery. The Gallery requires dedicated, hard working, out going, well informed volunteers, who enjoy interacting with the public and promoting the role of the Gallery and its collection.

In return we offer an interesting course, which balances training in communication skills with information about art history and appreciation, the techniques used by artists and many insights into the workings of the Gallery.

The initial training to become a Voluntary guide at the Gallery takes one year, about 44 weeks. The training sessions take place on Wednesdays of each week during school term, beginning at 9.15 and finishing around 4.00 pm. One other day should be available per week for research. Each training day combines slide lectures by educators, curators, artists and the trainees themselves, tours, workshops, films, excursions, and demonstrations.

The course is divided into three modules.

MODULE 1 Introduces the trainees to the layout and collections of the Gallery and the role of the Education and Public Programs section.

MODULE 2 Develops skills in communication and equips the trainees to deliver 20 minute guided tours to bus groups. Trainees will be placed on the roster and will be expected to take bus groups on short tours during the training year. Trainees are introduced to information retrieval methods in the Research Library.

MODULE 3 Develops communication skills with school children and covers the art history content of the course.

  • Training for discovery tours (mostly year 6 students) Includes lectures, workshops, demonstration tours and supervised feedback tours followed by rostered tours when deemed ready
  • Art History in depth with one area covered each week. Trainees each deliver two slide tutorials during the course and hand in approx 75 cards on different artists and their work.

Each training day consists of:

  • An Art History slide lecture delivered by Education or curatorial staff or visiting lecturer
  • Workshops in the gallery with small groups delivering talks to the whole group in front of works of art
  • Trainee delivered slide tutorials on an important artist from the period
  • An appropriate film.

Other activities organised for the trainees during the course:

  • Trip to Bundanon
  • Trip to the Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • Visit to the Canberra School of Art and artist's studios
  • Practical printmaking experience at the Art School


  • Each trainee delivers at least two 20–30 minute slide tutorials on specific artists
  • Twice during the course trainees are expected to hand in their cards so that the accuracy of information can be monitored.
  • During the Discovery Tour training each trainee observes at least three tours and delivers a feedback tour to a member of staff who evaluates the tour and gives constructive feedback to the trainee
  • Contributions in workshops in front of works of art.

This course is just the beginning. The Gallery has about 20 changeovers of works of art a year, each requiring new knowledge. There is an ongoing twice monthly training program for working guides to help keep their information up to date.

The outreach program

Over the years, the Guides' outreach program has successfully 'taken the Gallery' to many groups who are unable to visit in person. These slide talks have also resulted in visits to the gallery by the more mobile of these special groups. The program is being extended to encompass a wider range of potential visitor.

To book a visit by voluntary guides who can deliver an illustrated presentation based on the collection of the Gallery please ring +61 2 6240 6519.

Becoming a voluntary guide

Download voluntary guide application form 7KB

The information you are asked to provide to the Gallery is personal information and is protected by the Privacy Act 1988. The Gallery collects your personal information to assess your application and if you become a Voluntary Guide to manage your role as a Voluntary Guide. The Gallery will not disclose this information to other parties other than in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988.

For further information please contact: