Bett Gallery

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Carol Bett

Dick was a remarkable man. A passionate and enthusiastic man with huge energy and drive. Always warm, welcoming and generous with such a creative imagination and vision. You could rely on him to get the job done. He lead a full and colourful life in every sense of the word; and made our lives so much the richer.

Born in Wellington NZ, Dick was one of six, the third son of Elva and Jim Bett. His mother - artist, art critic, author and one of New Zealand’s first gallery dealers, set the direction for his life’s work.

The Bett children were immersed in the visual arts from the time they were babies - used as models for Elva’s life drawing class and taken to the regular monthly ‘salon soirees’ run by the eccentric artist Barc, who played an important role in Dick’s later life.

From his earliest days Dick displayed that fierce independence we know so well. Deciding that school could offer him no more, he got off the school bus, bought a newspaper, and secured a job in the Wyrappa as a farm hand. He announced at family dinner that evening that he was leaving the next day. Stunned, but to their credit, Elva and Jim let him go and he was off. He was 15.

He remembers an enjoyable 18 months living and working on farms where he learnt a lot and did a lot of fast growing up. Then on to travelling; first around NZ, living for 12 months on the wild and remote Stewart Island, off the south island of NZ. On to Brisbane and then Sydney where we read of him in Pat Fry’s book on BARC ( quote) “Elva was worried about her son Ric, who was living and working in Sydney and proving somewhat of a maverick with a range of jobs from truck driver to explosives expert.” She suggested he should come to Tasmania to check on the welfare of Barc now living here and so Dick arrived in Hobart in June 67, and with a few exceptions, made it his home for the rest of his life.

BARC encouraged him to draw, and go dancing and she sent him to enrol in the Art School aged 19 years, as a mature aged student. He majored in sculpture, and in 1971 ran his first exhibition - that of his own sculptures in order to finance his enrolment in the National Gallery school.

Later that year a bequest from Barc’s estate allowed him to travel overseas, hitchhiking across Canada and the United States, through Europe and onto London for several years, cooking in the first vegetarian restaurant in Convent Garden. He could by now turn his hand to anything. When I met him he was building a house for a friend at The Bay of Fires - all by hand - no power, and I was impressed with the strength of this man with the engaging eyes. He tried to impress me with his collection of Indian shirts. He was due to return to NZ to run his mother’s gallery and he left soon afterwards but kept coming back to me across the Tasman, for two years.

I was at first hesitant but eventually we married in a low key ceremony in front of Emma’s sand pit to the howling of a neighbour’s dog and Dick, Emma and I left for NZ the next day, staying for 5 years. Jack was born the following year and Dick worked as the high profile Director of the Govette Brewester, a public contemporary art gallery with a cutting edge collection. Here, with the aid of a large staff I saw him achieve some of his most exciting exhibitions, events and outreach programs. A truly amazing period.

He was essentially a private man, happiest when either at home with family or the gallery with his extended family of artists and collectors. He loved his home :– his fruit trees and the ongoing battle against curly leaf and possums; his dog Poppy, his extensive reference library.

He was a compulsive collector and collections would develop all over the house: art, sculpture and ceramics of course, but also cottage teapots, a 40 year collection of poetry, and who can forget his collection of bespoke clerical shirts. Multidenominational, they ranged from black priest, to Cardinal scarlet and papal purple; cause of much consternation and confusion in the streets of Sydney among delegates to the World Council of Churches.

We have been married for almost 32 years. He promised that while it might not be easy, our marriage would never be boring. Together we established a home, and a gallery and raised two lovely children.

He was a generous and indulgent father and in recent years, grandfather, sharing his collection of toys and music boxes from around the world. He was right. There has never been a boring minute. I have had incredible experiences and opportunities and I’m full of gratitude for my time with him.

He too had few regrets and felt he had led a fortunate life.

We loved him dearly, we miss him so much already. A loved husband, a devoted father and grandfather and friend.

go to | Tributes to Dick Bett AM