Vale Neil Balnaves AO

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Date Published:
23 Feb 2022

Belvoir is greatly saddened by the tragic death of Neil Balnaves AO. Neil was an extraordinary person who had boundless energy and enthusiasm. Importantly he believed in the power of storytelling to Indigenous culture. Through stories we can learn and understand.

A fortuitous meeting with Neil in 2010 led to the establishment of an Indigenous playwright’s award as well as a multi-year commitment to support Indigenous-led productions at Belvoir.

In 2012 Nakkiah Lui became the inaugural winner of The Balnaves Indigenous Playwright’s Award. Subsequent winners include Leah Purcell, Ursula Yovich, Katie Beckett, Megan Wilding and Jada Alberts.  

In 2019 the Award evolved into a Fellowship and was opened up to directors or writer/directors. The Fellowship model actively engages the Fellow in the experience of being in a company structure; so important to the development of future artistic leaders. The inaugural Fellow was Kodie Bedford, whose comedy Cursed! was presented in Belvoir’s 2020 season. Subsequent Fellows include Nathan Maynard, writer of the recently acclaimed play At What Cost?, Jorjia Gillis and current fellow Thomas Weatherall.

Artistic Director Eamon Flack said of the Fellowship; “The Balnaves Fellowship is a great way to make change, to give First Nations artists more autonomy, more artistic support, and more of a voice.  It’s one small part of the big national job of truth-telling, and we see this Fellowship as a key to Belvoir’s role in that”

Neil and The Balnaves Foundation have been instrumental in ensuring Indigenous theatre is not just created but also seen. With their support, Indigenous-led productions at Belvoir have included The Drover’s Wife (now a major movie), My Urrwai, Brothers Wreck, Barbara and the Campdogs, Which Way Home and Beautiful One Day.

Chair of Belvoir, Sam Meers AO, commented that “Neil has left an enormous legacy, not only to Belvoir, but to Australia’s arts industry. His passionate advocacy for the arts, and for cultural philanthropy, was contagious and inspiring. We will miss his dynamism, passion and unflinching intelligence.”

Neil Balnaves is an integral part of the fabric of Belvoir. We are honoured to be part of his great legacy and remain committed to his vision of inclusivity in the arts.

Read more about Neil’s legacy.

Image: Leah Purcell and Will McDonald in The Drover’s Wife