Mr Edwards said he had been fortunate to begin collecting before Australian indigenous art was widely appreciated.
“I was introduced to it at a time when I’m sure there were lots of people who appreciated it but there was no mass appreciation that there is now,” he said.
“So as a consequence it was easier for me to collect pieces from artists who were truly great, and that formed the core of the art collection.”
He said it was never his intention to sell the art, or to profit from it in any way other than to enjoy it.
But as his collection grew, and he hung and rotated works in the offices of his Canberra law firm Maliganos Edwards Johnson, his lack of expertise and resources became overwhelming.
“It just becomes physically overwhelming for one person to be able to deal with it in a meaningful way,” he said.
“It just becomes selfish, I suppose, because what you do with it in effect is to lock it away because you don’t have the resources to display it, you don’t have the time or the energy, and if you do, you don’t do as good a job as professional curators.
For all of those reasons, I’m happy for the university to have it.”
He said the ANU was the obvious place to donate, given his connection to it, and because the public would have access to the works through the Drill Hall Gallery.
“It wasn’t given to a gallery that was going to lock it away,” he said.
ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said the gift was “an inspirational act of philanthropy” on the part of Edwards.
“Part of an education, part of the role of the university, is for our students to be immersed in all sorts of things, and art is a way of people expressing culture, ideas, of reaching out and providing an aesthetic way of looking at the world,” he said.
Drill Hall director Terence Maloon said the gift was an important addition to the ANU’s art collection, and one that would “enrich the cultural, visual and intellectual fabric of our campus as a whole.”
“We have people here within their formative years, and I think an aesthetic education is part of any well-rounded person’s education,” he said.
“These are works that all vibrate, they all fizz, they all erupt, and if you look at them you will understand that aboriginal art is all about energy.”