Kennedy collection to ‘speak to every Australian’

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NMA curator Sophie Jensen with collector Trevor Kennedy.

THE Trevor Kennedy collection, the biggest ever to be acquired by the National Museum of Australia, has been officially handed over by the Sydney businessman and collector himself.

While the museum has outlaid $8 million to purchase items, Kennedy is also donating other objects worth $7 million.

The objects, numbering more than 5000, include artworks, furniture, jewellery and ceramics which explore Australia’s history, culture and identity.

A small part of the collection in The Rocks.

Collected by Kennedy over a period of 40 years, they were housed in a private museum in The Rocks, Sydney, and augmented in 2005 with his purchase of the Ruth Simon collection of Australian decorative arts.

Highlights of the collection are a ceremonial gold trowel used by Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, Lionel Rose’s 1968 World Championship Bantam Weight boxing trophy, portraits painted of early European settlers, occasional tables made for naturalist John Gould and more than 50 mounted eggs.

Yawning koala lidded jar, John Castle-Harris, about 1940, slip cast, hand-finished and glazed earthenware.

Australiana features prominently – a yawning koala lidded jar, ceramic ashtrays in the shape of an ocean wave decorated with a surfer on a surfboard, a tea set hand-painted with an image of a kookaburra in a wattle tree and a brooch in the shape of a snake with its body spelling “Cooee”.

Kennedy is better known in business and political circles than in the collecting world. The subject of a coming biography by “CityNews” writer Robert Macklin, he has been a journalist, the founding editor of “The National Times”, the editor of “The Bulletin” and chief confidant of the late media magnate Kerry Packer. He has served on the board of directors of companies including Consolidated Press Holdings and Qantas and was a business associate of former PM, Malcolm Turnbull.

Trevor Kennedy with a rare 1922 Robert Prenzel longcase clock.

Since 2013 it has been reported that he was attempting to deaccession his collection, first to the National Museum, which responded with an unacceptable offer, then to museums in NSW and even to Singapore, although his known preference was to keep it in Australia.

But negotiations with the NMA continued and he now says, “The fact that it’s going to the National Museum of Australia is a great joy to me”.

NMA director Mathew Trinca said, “The combination of this acquisition and donation made by Mr Kennedy will become a cornerstone of the National Historical Collection and a rich new resource for Australians to explore and interpret our nation’s history.”

Museum staff, he said, had worked with Kennedy for two years to identify objects for purchase and continued to research, document and digitise the collection.

NMA curator Sophie Jensen said the objects in the collection would “speak to every Australian”.

Brooch, Priora Brothers, made in Sydney around 1900, oval gold set with a plaque of Boulder opal depicting a lake fishing scene.

She described Kennedy as “someone who has the foresight to really think how Australia is represented in material culture… the thing that has made it [the collection] like no other is the collector”.

Kennedy said, “I’m pleased that my collection has finally found a new home at the National Museum of Australia and that such a large portion of my collection can largely stay together, retaining its character and integrity”.

“It was a passion I guess, a bit like a love story.”

Highlights from the Trevor Kennedy collection will be exhibited at the National Museum of Australia in 2021.

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