Peter Brokensha

August 13, 2014

I did my post-graduate Arts Management studies at what was the South Australian Institute of Technology (now the University of South Australia). At that point in the early 1980s it was the only course of its type in Australia. The Director of the program, based in the Elton Mayor School of Management, was Peter Brokensha. Peter passed away on 24 June and I felt the need to acknowledge the importance of his work as the Director of that early arts management program and the impact on my life in opening a range of opportunities and challenges that enabled me to become an arts manager.

Peter was a fascinating person. He had an eclectic set of interests and life experiences that contributed richly to our learning process. He’d started his career as an engineer working for Caltex first in Adelaide and then working his way to the top as Managing Director of Operations at the Head Office in Sydney. Still only in his early 40s and one of Australia’s first sea changers, he resigned from the corporate world and conceived and developed the Argyle Arts Centre in the historic Rocks area in Sydney. Peter’s life-long passion for social justice and culture then led him back to University to complete a Masters in Anthropology which involved long periods in the central desert in the NW of South Australia living with and doing research on the art and craft of the Pitjantjara people. If you’re interested in this work from 1975, the book he published as a result, The Pitjanjatjara and their Crafts,  is still available via book sellers such as 

All these experiences informed his passion for art as an integral part of life as well as the desire to produce good managers who could help in the creation of art and culture.

That passion fed through into his family life with his children all involved in the arts when I knew them. Peter had by then  Randells Mill, a 19th century abandoned butter factory in the Adelaide Hills converted into a home and art gallery that he shared with his wife Elizabeth, a  house full of paintings, pottery, sculpture, hospitality and conversations.

Peter also bought a set of intellectual and analytical skills to the work of an arts management teacher and researcher and together we created a cultural statistics framework for the Australia Council and the Australian Bureau of Statistics as well as undertaking cultural economic studies on the Adelaide Festival and the arts industry in South Australia.

Peter was a great example to his students, combining care for art and culture with worldly experience as a manager and leader. His autobiography is called Getting to Wisdom Slowly and is still available: