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    David Thomas AM

    Founder, The Thomas Foundation

David and Barbara Thomas

David Thomas with his late-wife Barbara who passed away in August 2015

Brief history

In 1998 David and Barbara Thomas established The Thomas Foundation to pursue their long-time philanthropic interests.

Initially the Foundation supported projects in Education, the Arts and Conservation.

Barbara passed away in August 2015 after a long illness

Initial Projects Supported by the Foundation


  • Australian Bush Heritage (Anchors in the Landscape campaign; Melbourne relocation assistance; ecologists salaries; CEO professional development; Rick Farley scholarship; Cravens Peak; Bon Bon station)
  • Australian Wildlife Conservancy (various projects including Kalamurina, Mornington and Wongalara)
  • The Nature Conservancy (establishment of an Australian presence and program; Barbara Thomas Fellowships; scientific mentoring program)
  • Australian Landscape Trust (support for Bookmark biosphere reserve program)
  • Birds Australia (Great Western Woodlands study)
  • Trust for Nature (Ned’s Corner; Land Trust Alliance)
  • Greening Australia (fencing parts of the Katherine, Roper and Victoria Rivers catchments; Bunya Biolink)


  • The Smith Family (tertiary scholarship schemes)
  • Barossa Regional Community Foundation (tertiary scholarships)- renewed 2013
  • Australian Catholic University (scholarship support for Sudanese refugees)
  • The Asylum Seekers’ Centre (supporting education and medical expenses for children of refugees) – support renewed 2013
  • Victorian College for the Arts – founded the Barbara Manning Fellowship
  • Pathways to Manhood
  • National Gallery of Australia (support ‘Keeping Culture’ exhibition tour)

Glass and jewellery

  • National Gallery of Australia (donation of Nekovar glass sculpture)
  • Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (Kaneko glass acquisition)
  • Queensland Art Gallery (regional exhibition tour)
  • Ausglass (administrative support)
  • Dowse Art Museum (biennial Gold Award for Jewellery)
  • Numerous artists’ fellowship awards and project support
  • National Gallery of Australia (supported the Dale Chihuly exhibition and education program)
  • Wagga Wagga Regional Gallery (supported acquisitions for its National Glass Collection leading to the opening of this centre, and exhibitions)
  • Supported four leading glass artists exhibiting at GAS, Tampa, Florida

Music and festivals

  • Victorian College for the Arts (purchase of instruments and scholarships)
  • Musica Viva (younger audience projects)
  • Australian Chamber Orchestra (Capital Challenge Fund support for emerging artists)
  • Melb. International Chamber Music Competition (commissioning new works by Peter Sculpthorpe and Ross Edwards)
  • Noosa Longweekend (administrative support for its inaugural event, and for the festival’s initial jazz program)

In 2002 the Foundation encouraged the world’s largest conservation organisation, the US-based The Nature Conservancy, to establish in Australia ( It went on to fund large-scale land acquisitions for biodiversity conservation by TNC’s Australian partners (click here for map). It established educational programs (click here for Barbara Thomas Fellowships and Ecological Science Program).

And in 2007 it raised a further $21m for conservation through an innovative matching-funds program the David Thomas Challenge.

In 2013 the Foundation’s focus shifted to marine issues “Shifting our Focus”. While this is now its main interest, the Foundation also supports projects in the health,arts and education sectors.  Click here for non-conservation projects.

For the 15 years to 2012-13, the Foundation met high standards of financial control. Its grants annually average 15% of assets, with costs averaging a low 6% of assets Annual Reports in Brief.

Birth of the Thomas Foundation

While living in London, David and Barbara Thomas bought wine from The Sunday Times Wine Club. They saw the opportunity for a similar business in Australia and started Cellarmaster Wines in 1982. Over 14 years they launched 12 more wine clubs in Australia and New Zealand.
In 1996 they sold the business to Fosters for $160 million, providing the capital to endow The Thomas Foundation.



The Thomas Foundation’s history is short yet already recognised for its generosity.
In 2013 the David Thomas Challenge was included in Australia’s ‘Top 50’ philanthropic gifts.
The Foundation is also recognised for its creativity and efficiency, and for its growing list of legacies.


‘Third sector’

The Thomas Foundation’s strategic objectives are based on the USA’s ‘third sector’ experience.

In the US philanthropic foundations have been funding dynamos for the arts, sciences and social change since the beginning of the last century. Today these Foundations pour $40bn a year into the US economy, in what is known as the ‘third sector’. They are changing the world.

David and Barbara Thomas hope to encourage similar generosity by Australians through our Strategies  and by Encouraging Private Philanthropy.