24 October 2017


“In any civilised community the arts and associated amenities must occupy a central place. Their enjoyment should not be seen as something remote from everyday life.”

So said the Great Man, Gough Whitlam.

And so it is that we are here today to honour the life and legacy of another great champion of the arts, Leo Kelly.

However, I believe that Leo Kelly took the Gospel of Gough an important step further.

For Gough asserted:

“…all the other objectives of a Labor Government - social reform, justice and equity in the provision of welfare services and educational opportunities - have as their goal the creation of a society in which the arts and the appreciation of spiritual and intellectual values can flourish. Our other objectives are all means to an end; the enjoyment of the arts is an end in itself.”

But to Leo Kelly, the promotion and stature of the arts in Blacktown, and in Western Sydney generally, was so much more.  It was a statement about the calibre and creativity of our people; it was a direct and indirect economic driver; and it set a new level of aspiration in the civic narrative about the type of community we wanted to be.

Leo was a great admirer of the local indigenous artist and elder, Danny Eastwood.  He delighted in recounting how the stunning piece, “Billabong” by Warwick Fuller, came to be hanging in Council’s Porirua Room, having been acquired though the 1997 Blacktown City Art Exhibition. 

Of all the events in the Council calendar, my observation is that this Art Prize, this annual exhibition, this arts centre, was the one Leo held in the highest regard.  Leo was an engaging commentator.  He savoured the aesthetics of the works, his breadth of knowledge of the individual artists was astounding, but – most of all – I believe his joy in the journey that led to this space and this initiative was due to the passion he felt for it with the love of his life, Janet. 

Janet, the honour the City of Blacktown bestows upon Leo today is equally conferred on you. 

Leo was an ardent admirer of another great champion of both Western Sydney and the arts, Neville Wran.  There is a charming serendipity today in one of Wran’s many epic putdowns of his opponents.  During the 1981 election campaign, Wran ridiculed the Conservatives’ economic agenda saying: 

“Man does not live by bread alone. I suppose we should pull down the Art Gallery and convert it into a carpark!” 

For of course, a carpark is exactly where we would be standing if not for the fortitude and expertise of Leo Kelly. 

The Emperor Augustus inscribed his accomplishments for eternity in the Res Gestae Divi Augusti – The Achievements of the Divine Augustus, a political and public relations masterstroke about all his works in and for Rome that cemented his legacy for the ages. 

The naming of the Blacktown Arts Centre in honour of Leo Kelly will have the same effect, but for precisely the opposite reasons.  It is a statement about how a humble man of vision and fervour pursued a course he thought was right, against what must have sometimes seemed like insurmountable opposition – for the love of the arts, the betterment of staff of the Council, the people of Blacktown, and everyone that would follow him.

Thank you, Leo Kelly.