Vale: Neil Balnaves

Veteran media executive and philanthropist, who founded production company Southern Star, has died.

Veteran media executive and philanthropist Neil Balnaves, who founded production company Southern Star Group, has died aged 77.

He could not be resuscitated following a boating accident, reportedly in Tahiti.

Mark Kilmurry, artistic di­rector of Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre confirmed, “Yesterday afternoon we were informed of the shocking and terribly sad news of Neil Balnaves’ fatal boating accident while on holidays.

“Neil Balnaves, through the Balnaves Foundation, was not only a major sponsor of Ensemble Theatre but he became a great friend and supporter.

“For more than six years, Neil, with his wife Diane and son Hamish, provided the most generous financial support.”

“The Balnaves family sends their heartfelt thank for people’s kind words and wishes and kindly requests privacy at this difficult time,” the foundation also said in a statement.

He was a former managing director Hanna-Barbera Pty, Ltd. (Australia), an Australian division of the global animated production company.

He went on to run Southern Star Television and produced shows including Big Brother, Return to Eden, Water Rats, Joh’s Jury, Blue Murder, Bananas in Pyjamas, Offspring, The Secret Life of Us, Police Rescue and McLeod’s Daughters.

Southern Star went through several business acquisitions until it became Endemol Southern Star Endemol, then Endemol Shine Australia.

Through the Balnaves Foundation, he gave more than $20m to leading arts organisations, including Belvoir St, the Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery of South Australia, the Adelaide Festival, and Bangarra Dance Theatre.
The foundation also funded Indigenous and health research through Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, the Black Dog Institute and the University of NSW’s Indigenous Law Centre.

He was a Chairman of Ardent Leisure Group, Chancellor of Charles Darwin University, a Trustee Member of Bond University, Director of the Sydney Orthopaedic Research Institute, a member of the Advisory Council and Dean’s Circle of the University Of New South Wales Faculty Of Medicine, Board member of the Art Gallery of South Australia, a Director of Technicolor Australia Limited, served on numerous advisory and community organisations and was a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Screen Producers Australia:

Screen Producer Australia was saddened and shocked by Neil Balnaves tragic passing.

While lauded for his considerable philanthropic support for the arts sector in general, including Sydney’s Ensemble and Belvoir Street theatres, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, the Adelaide Festival and Bangarra Dance Theatre, Neil’s contribution to the television sector cannot be underestimated.

Neil was best known for forming the Southern Star Group (now Endemol Shine Australia), including the home video division, from a buyout of Taft-Hardie in 1988 and under his leadership Southern Star was, and continues to be under ESA, a valued member of SPA.

His support of local production and nurturing the careers of many led to a range of outstanding dramas including Blue Heelers, Water Rats and The Secret Life of Us. In addition, Neil’s vision in launching Big Brother arguable began the format period in Australian programming and Bananas in Pyjamas became a phenomenon and helped path the way for future Australian kid’s productions in the global market.

SPA members comments:

Bain Stewart & Leah Purcell | Oombarra Productions

Yesterday was a very, very sad day not only for us but for Australian Business, Arts and Culture and much, much more. On a purely personal note Neil Balnaves played a pivotal part in our careers going back as far as 1995 when he was at the helm of Southern Star Productions and Leah Purcell was cast in the biggest drama on Australian TV at the time, ABC TV’s Police Rescue. Leah was an emerging young actress at the time so to be cast as an Indigenous Australian who was the new cop in the team with dreadlocks, a nose-ring and attitude was ground-breaking back then.

“Not to mention an Indigenous actresses as key cast on Australian episodic TV in the mid-1990’s. After that Leah worked in a lot of theatre that he had supported then fast forward to 2014 and she wins the Balnaves Award for her play The Drovers Wife at Belvoir Street Theatre. Then in 2019 he came on board her debut feature film, The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson as a Platinum Investor thru the Balnaves Foundation and then as an Executive Producer. Neil Balnaves has been a friend, mentor, guiding light and a senior Elder in our lives for over 25 years and we will miss him so very, very much and will feel his loss for a long time to come.”

Dan Edwards | Producer | Roadshow/Rough Diamond

“During my time at Southern Star Sales in the early 2000’s, one of the many things that stuck with me was Neil’s unique ability to turn an almost certain failure into an enduring success.”

Lisa Scott | Producer | Highview Productions

“Vale Neil, a pioneer of television in Australia, a lover of the arts, a generous philanthropist, with a cheeky smile always happy to put his credit card on the bar when the tab ran out.”

Our thoughts are with Neil’s family and the many friends and colleagues from across the Arts and Production sectors.

Matthew Deaner

Source: The Australian, news.com.au
Photo: ABC

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