Vale Peter Batey

By Simon Ruppert

Bald Archy creator and former local personality Peter Batey has died aged 85.

The Australian icon, who started the Bald Archy Prize in 1994 as a spoof of the well-known Archibald Prize, was involved in a car accident last week.

The sad news of his passing was announced via the Bald Archy website where a statement was issued.

‘‘We are all shocked and saddened by the passing of Peter Batey in a car accident last Friday,’’ the statement read.

Despite having moved away from the Benalla area, Peter Batey is still a name synonymous with this part of the world, specifically Swanpool, where he hosted the Bald Archies for many years.

The Bald Archy Prize has provided artists of all styles and standards with a genuine opportunity for a quarter of a century.

Entires range from the hilarious to the bizarrely vulgar, with artists creating portrait paintings using humour, dark satire, and comedy.

To his friends and family Mr Batey was a humble man who always worked hard for his community. His sister Valerie Wells said Mr Batey loved Benalla and growing up in town shaped his future working in the arts.

‘‘Peter joined the drama club in Benalla, whilst he was still a student at Benalla High,’’ Ms Wells said.

‘‘He showed an interest in drama very early and he always used to be in plays at the Town Hall.

‘‘He came up with the idea for the Bald Archies after being inspired by a comment the Art Gallery of NSW director Edmund Capon made about a particular entry in the Archibald prize.

‘‘And he thought there were so many art snobs around that the ordinary person was more or less left out of the art scene.

‘‘So he thought of twisting the Archibald to the Bald Archy prize. And the Bald Archies as we know them evolved from there.’’

The first Bald Archy Prize was held at Mr Batey’s property, but it’s popularity would see it move to larger public venues.

Mr Batey’s influence on the Australian art scene cannot be underestimated with more than 50 years as a much-loved playwright complimenting his work with the Bald Archy Prize.

Ms Wells said Mr Batey’s final wish was for his funeral to be a happy occasion.

‘‘Peter said he was adamant that he didn’t want a gloomy funeral,’’ Ms Wells said.

‘‘He lived in Coolac and held what was called the Coolac Festival of Fun, with artists, musicians and actors.

‘‘He always said he wanted to be buried in the Coolac cemetery, which is very close to his home, and he wanted it to be a ‘funeral of fun’.

‘‘A group of his friends from Gundagai are busy planning such an event.’’