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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

PRO HART... FAREWELL TO THE "PEOPLE'S PAINTER."

Family members wept today as they farewelled Pro Hart, the former miner who swapped his jackhammer for a paintbrush and became one of Australia's best-loved artists, as well as an icon of the dusty red plains of western NSW where he lived, worked and died.

Hart's widow Raylee and his five children, all artists like himself, heard stirring tributes at a state funeral in Broken Hill for the 77-year-old who succumbed last week to the crippling motor neurone disease.

More than 1,000 mourners watched as Hart's three sons, John, Kym and David, helped bear his casket draped in an Australian flag and adorned with a miner's lamp and helmet.

Taking pride of place in the funeral procession were two of the car-loving artist's three Rolls Royces, including one he painted in a rainbow of colours featuring iconic Australian scenes.

It was not just a day of tears, however; it was also a day of faith.

Hart was remembered as a devout Christian whose generosity was legendary, a "people's painter'' who died a millionaire but gave away many more millions than he kept.

It was a day of politics, too.

Local MP Peter Black had a blunt message for the art industry "elites'' of Canberra and Sydney who shunned Hart's work.

"You're not going to get a state funeral,'' he told them, "and your artworks, after going on some of these wretched tours, are going to be consigned to some dump where they belong, while Pro Hart's are going to hang on wall after wall in Australia and internationally.

"If it's good enough for Prince Philip to buy three of them, and if it's good enough for LBJ (former US President Lyndon Johnson) to hang one in the White House, then it's good enough for Pro Hart to be hung in every gallery in Australia.''
But most of all it was a day to honour the artist
who said simply that he painted "Aussies doing things'', but did it so well that he had to attach his own DNA to his works to counter fakes.

His friend and local pastor Tim Hall said Hart was happiest in a pair of old shorts and a T-shirt covered in paint.

"I don't know if he ever owned a tie,'' he said. "He was the most generous man I ever met. "I think he was truly a genius. He deserves to be put up on the shelves of our minds with Bradman, Phar Lap and Vegemite.''

NSW Justice Minister Tony Kelly, representing Premier Morris Iemma, said there was a certain irony in a state funeral for someone who was disdainful of official pomp and solemnity.

"But the simple truth is that few Australians stood in higher popular affection,'' Mr Kelly said. "Pro Hart understood and caught the character, the spirit, the humour and humanity of Australian outback life. "His art revealed a deep love for this country and its people. His reward is a secure and lasting place in the ranks of our greatest Australians.''

Hart's service included his four favourite hymns, starting with Amazing Grace and ending with Just As I Am.

And it took place in his favourite weather, the heat and sunshine of Broken Hill he loved so much "because the paint dries quicker''.


Farewell Pro, gone but never forgotten, see you in heaven!

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