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Former National Gallery of Australia director Betty Churcher isn't scared of death

Former National Gallery of Australia director Betty Churcher is not scared of dying.

If anything, she hopes her inevitable end to metastasized ocular melanoma doesn't take too long. 

Betty Churcher on her property in Wamboin in 2014.
Betty Churcher on her property in Wamboin in 2014. Photo: Melissa Adams

"I have no fear of death, in fact, I'd like to hurry this last bit on," the 84-year-old said on ABC 7.30 Wednesday night.

"The doctors were originally talking weeks - obviously, they're wrong on that. We might be talking months. I hope we're not talking years." 

Churcher, who lives north of Canberra, was director of the National Gallery of Australia from 1990 to 1997.

As her cancer becomes uncomfortable she says she is grateful for a long and fulfilling life pulled primarily by her passion for art.

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"It's something that has energised me and kept me moving and kept me going. It's only because it was my passion and that obsession has just jerked me through life to this point," she said.

"That's why I say I don't want this end section to go too long because it can no longer direct me, the obsession has to take second place."

Seemingly as switched on as ever, Churcher says she's becoming "a bit ropey" as the cancer takes hold.

"I was warned this particular cancer makes you a bit soft in the head as well as soft in the liver...I notice I lose a word every now and then," she said.

"It's uncomfortable. I can't walk properly, I've got what I call my watermelon which is this great swollen thing in my abdomen which is just the liver, but you need a liver. Eventually my liver will just pack up and that will be it."

But with the assistance of her daughter-in-law, Andrea May Churcher, she is finishing one last book based on a long-forgotten sketchbook of hers. 

"She offered to do it with me and she's been an absolute blessing," she said.

"I'd written most of the entries regarding the paintings I'd drawn but I now needed to edit the whole thing...and I found I couldn't do it, I just didn't have the mental grit to keep doing it."

Now, Churcher reflects on a "very busy but fulfilling life". If anything, death intrigues her.

"You've got to sort of make huge sacrifices to grab what you know you should be grabbing and it's just very, very hard but I have no regrets, none at all," she said.

"I have been thinking about it, I will be very interested in that moment of passover. I just don't know what's going to happen.

"I do know I've had a very long and fruitful life. A whole lot of people die in their 20s and 30s and 40s - now, they're the ones to feel sorry for, not 84-year-olds."