A painting of a rural family heading off to a night at the movies has tied the record for the sale of a Russell Drysdale work with a hammer price of $2.4 million at auction in Melbourne – just as the city returns to cinemas after the pandemic lockdown.
Drysdale’s Going to the pictures, from 1941, had been tipped to set a new record for the influential Australian artist. But it fell just shy at the Deutscher and Hackett auction on Wednesday evening, matching the highest bid for the artist’s 1974 Grandma’s Sunday Walk which sold in 2017.
Pictures was painted as the artist developed a new visual language for his own – and Australian – art, breaking from the romantic pastoral tradition to depict the countryside with a dash of surrealism and expressionism. The work shows a rural family in a drought-stricken landscape about to leave for the cinema, and employs the artist’s typical humour and empathy.
The money — which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by an ANZ bank loan — will be used to help expand the farm’s production from around 80 tonnes of fish a week to around 200 tonnes a week in 2024.
The farm’s Dan Richards said the money would be put towards a range of projects to help the business grow.
“We are putting in a new, modern hatchery to support our barramundi breeding program in partnership with the CSIRO,” he said.
“It will also be [used to build] new nursery facilities here on the farm, additional production facilities like more ponds, and factory upgrades to be able to handle the fish as they start marching out of the ponds later on.”
Minister for Northern Australia Keith Pitt, announcing the NAIF loan on National Barramundi Day, said the loan would help create jobs in the Northern Territory.
“There will be 110 jobs as part of [the construction] and increase in infrastructure, and another 160 jobs when the new hatchery is up and running,” he said.
Mr Richards said the farm already employed around 100 people across a diverse range of positions.
“We have a really diverse team here, everything from electricians and refrigeration people, to specialist fish farmers, people in hatcheries, the team in the factory who are taking the fish from the field and packaging them up for wholesalers around the country.”
‘We believe in what we are doing’
It’s been a tough year for the barra farm, with production falling by around 70 per cent as restaurants across Australia closed during the coronavirus shutdowns and Qantas — previously a big buyer of Humpty Doo barramundi — dramatically reducing its flights.
But despite the economic uncertainty facing the country, Mr Richards said he was confident in the future of the barramundi industry.
“The fish we are harvesting now we put in the water two years ago, so with a long crop cycle like we’ve got you’ve got to take a long-term view.
“We believe in our great team and we are not afraid to back ourselves … it’s not a low-risk business we’re in, but it is the nature of business we are used to.”
Mr Richards said the extra production created by the farm’s expansion would all go into the Australian market, but the company was working with AusTrade to assess the potential of export markets.
Mr Pitt said, while the NAIF had committed $2.4 billion worth of loans out of the $5 billion fund, “we are always looking to do better”.
The Federal Government has flagged its desire to expand the scope of the facility to increase the number of businesses eligible for loans.
“I want to ensure that the remaining part can be delivered faster, I want to expand the eligibility criteria of what the NAIF can finance, we are looking to increase the risk appetite for the NAIF, and increase its governance as well,” Mr Pitt said.
“The NAIF is restricted to being a loan facility and restricted to particular types of construction, so I am looking to expand those opportunities.
“To do that I will need to get legislation through the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“That means we need support in the Senate and I like to think the Opposition will step up and support those changes.”