Bald Archy founder dies in car smash

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Peter Batey pictured earlier this year at the hanging of the Bald Archy Prize entrants at the Watson Arts Centre. He is pictured in from to Mark Tippett “Unveilling”. Photo: Helen Musa

Arts editor HELEN MUSA remembers Peter Batey, founder of the Bald Archy Prize, who has died in a car accident. 

THE founder of the Bald Archy Prize, Peter Batey, has died in a car accident. He was 86.

He is believed to have been driving back to his home in Coolac, NSW, from Cootamundra yesterday (June 14) when he suffered a seizure and ran into a tree.

Batey, one of the most colourful personalities in the Australian arts, known for his sharp tongue and acerbic wit, was an actor, director, playwright, arts administrator, set and lighting designer, festival director and self-publicist.

Equally well-known in the theatre in the visual arts, Batey was born in Benalla, Victoria, in 1933 and educated at Benalla East Primary and Benalla High School, but went on to train in the Melbourne Conservatorium Drama School, later undertaking national service, then joining the Union Repertory Company under director John Sumner in time to play the role of Barney in an early iteration of “The Summer Of The 17th Doll”. Barry Humphries, also a member of the company, has publicly acknowledged Batey’s contribution to the creation of Edna Everage,

In December, 1963, he joined the Canberra Rep as its full-time manager, overseeing its move into the then-new Playhouse in 1965, where his production of the play “Romanoff and Juliet” was the first show.

He was the inaugural artistic director of the SA Theatre Company, then in the 1970s collaborated with and directed Reg Livermore in “Betty Blokk Buster Follies”, “Wonderwoman”, “Sacred Cow”, “Son of Betty” and “Firing Squad”, for which he was also executive producer, lighting designer and promotions manager.

After breaking up with Livermore, Batey bought a restaurant in Coolac, near Gundagai, then purchased the old schoolhouse in the village, where in 1994 he founded the Coolac Festival of Fun and the Bald Archy Prize, conceived as the antidote to the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW. The judge was the white cockatoo of Coolac, Maude, and they quickly attracted leading news cartoonists and satirical artists to  the competition from around the country.

Over the next 12 years he presented an extraordinary line-up of performers in Coolac, including Don Burrows, Slava Grigoryan, Toni Lamond, Jane Rutter, The Idea Of North, Pardon Me Boys, The Goldner String Quartet, Coco’s Lunch, Galapagos Duck, Riley Lee and Marshal Maguire, Bob Barnard, Nancye Hayes, and the Canberra Youth Orchestra.

Now a regular event on the “artistic calendar” the Bald Archy Prize has debuted annually in Canberra in recent years, at the Watson Arts Centre.

During its 25th year in 2018, The Museum of the Riverina in Wagga Wagga ran a retrospective called “Best of the Bald Archy” and in the same year Batey secured substantial funding from millionaire plastic surgeon and hotelier Jerry Schwartz, once the subject of a Bald Archy entry, who also opened the doors to new exhibition venues in Melbourne, Newcastle, Leura and notably, the Sofitel Darling Harbour Hotel.

Popular Bald Archy subjects over the years were the late media mogul Kerry Packer, Pauline Hanson, Julian Assange, Jacqui Lambie, many prime ministers, cricketers, and TV personalities, as the prize became a barometer of public opinion.

In 2015 Batey and long-time collaborator Fran Henke published an illustrated book called “In Yer Face”. It was his proud boast that the irreverent art prize was critic-proof and he often told ”CityNews” that the day it was taken seriously would be a sad one indeed.

In recent years, ”CityNews” understands, Batey had negotiated unsuccessfully with several institutions for a permanent home for the prizewinning portraits, which under the conditions of entry, became the property of the Bald Archy Prize. With his death, the important of the entries as social history will increase.

Outside the arts, Batey contributed a weekly page in “The Wagga Daily Advertiser” and two pages a month in “The Land”. He was awarded an OAM in 1999, was a director on the Board of Riverina Regional Tourism, a patron of the HOPE Foundation, councillor of Gundagai Shire Council and chairman of the Friends of Old Gundagai Gaol, the 150 year-old heritage site that originally held Captain Moonlight in custody.

The last time we spoke to Batey, he told us: “The whole country is getting political indigestion.”




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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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