My story begins with afternoon tea on the back verandah at our property ‘Condarra’ in the Samaria Valley, 25km south of Benalla. Our mail usually arrived mid-afternoon, and on Wednesdays the delivery also included the Weekly Times and the Benalla Ensign. This particular Wednesday afternoon, in late October 2012, we opened the Benalla Ensign to the headline, ’Benalla Rejects the Bald Archy’. Both my wife and I looked at each other and then contacted some key people including local decision makes and the Director of the Bald Archy Prize, Mr. Peter Batey. The background to the story was that the exhibition had been offered to Benalla exhibition fee free, as Peter Batey had his early education in Benalla. The key factor was that the Benalla Art Gallery had already committed to exhibitions for 2013.
In an effort to retain the exhibition within Benalla Rural City, key Swanpool people were contacted, included some committee members of the Swanpool Community Cinema, which would be in recess during July and August 2013. A general consensus on lodging an ‘expression of interest’ was achieved and a meeting was held with Peter Batey at the Swanpool Memorial Hall in November 2012. He did express some concern about the lack of hanging space and exhibition lighting, however he was assured that all would be in order, if we were to be awarded dates for 2013 which coincided with the cinema winter break. Two weeks later we received confirmation that we would have sixteen days in the July/August period.
Next came to process of recruiting volunteers, researching the lighting and securing additional wall space. The recruitment of the volunteers entailed visiting with representatives of all seventeen community groups, including our three local fire brigades. Whilst some community members thought that we were ‘off with the fairies’, there were 66 members who stepped up to support the concept.
The event ran for sixteen days from 10th to 25th August and attracted a crowd of 3,378 over the sixteen days, a record for the Bald Archy Prize exhibition. At the end of the exhibition a function was held to thank those volunteers who had supported the event, and over $22,000 was distributed to their nominated local community groups.
Given the enthusiasm and commitment of the Swanpool and district community members, an extraordinary result was achieved, and the members were left in no doubt that for a combined effort of a positive and enthusiastic group of people, ‘The Sky is the Limit’.
23rd October 2022.