Cathy Freeman has added to the social commentary, so has Bob Hawke and a former Miss Universe Australia – all surrounding the mystery of Three Well Known Australians.
For 35 years the artist behind the abstract painting, Martin Shaw, has banked on the anonymity of his three identities for its longevity.
“A magician should never tell anyone their trick,” he said.
The painting, along with letters and “yearbooks” of guesses from the general public, are on exhibition at Wollongong City Library until the end of October.
To the former Olympian Freeman the colourful work represented someone unwise and uncaring. Hawke believed the large blue figure to be Ned Kelly – a popular choice over the decades.
“I think it’s very clearly Normie Rowe (the blue figure) having his head chopped off by Bruce Ruxton (the green figure) and Ray Martin Keeping well out of the way,” wrote singer Julie Anthony in 1994.
At the time Rowe made headlines for having a fist fight on a day-time television show hosted by Martin.
In 1999, the late Bruce Gyngell (the first person to appear on Australian television) believed the figures were legendary cricketer Don Bradman standing at the crease, opera star Joan Sutherland and Kerry Packer.
“It’s most interesting how it all changes, how people see different things and have different ideas on who the three Australians are,” Shaw said.
Aside from our nation’s most renowned bushranger, politicians of the day gain the most nominations written in the binder books Shaw calls yearbooks.
Another constant over the decades has been for people to foist their own experiences onto the mystery.
Take the guesses of Michael Chamberlain, the father of baby Azaria, who was snatched by a dingo. He noticed a fourth figure in the painting rarely acknowledged by others – the black creature in the corner.
"This might be symbolic of the dingo, the killer of our daughter Azaria," he wrote.
In truth, Shaw included the black and white dog as a memorial to Pea, a friend's pet. But he doesn't mind people finding their own meanings.
To the artist, the yearbooks – which chronicle the occupations, addresses and the guesses of generations of Australians – are the real work of art.
“The portrait is in the pages of the yearbooks,” Shaw said. “The portrait is Australia.”
And so, he hasn’t picked up a paint brush since. Instead Shaw has made this traveling exhibition his life’s work – not for money, but to document a snapshot of Australia.
- with Yuko Narushima