At the end of the 1980s two men made an unexpected visit to the offices of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. They were on a mission to convince the building industry superannuation fund formed in 1984 to invest in Australian art. Their concern was that in the then economic climate, Australian art was under-valued, with the result that overseas collectors were buying major works which they believed should stay in Australia. The visitors were Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, and Professor Bernard Smith, both major figures in the Australian art world.
After lengthy discussion and consideration of art as a long-term investment, in particular after the study of the experiences of the British Rail Pension Fund which had long invested in art, the trustee board of BUS (Building Unions Superannuation), now Cbus, the Superannuation Fund for the Construction and Building Industries, decided in 1990 to invest up to $2 million in Aboriginal, colonial and representative art of the twentieth century. The trustees agreed that Dr Brown would advise, acquire and sell art for the collection, and that he would be the sole advisor.
Dr Brown recommended that the Trustees agree to loan paintings to regional galleries, making them accessible to members of the Fund and the general public. This policy continues.
The Cbus Art Collection was closed to new acquisitions in 2007. At that time the value of the collection of 310 works had increased five-fold.