Handling portraits by Rembrandt was one of the highlights of Stephen West’s career as a technical photographer with the National Gallery of Victoria.
Stephen specialised in fine art photography, and he worked for the gallery for 17 years. He photographed their extensive collection, including portraits by famous artists, for books and marketing collateral. It was a labour of love for someone with a passion for the arts.
'These hands held Rembrandt’s!', he exclaims.
Born in 1944, Stephen spent most of his childhood in North Balwyn, where his dad was an architect.
'North Balwyn in those days was bush,' Stephen says.
"There was no electricity. The baker used to come around on his horse and you'd buy your bread from him. The milk was delivered the same way. You had to go down to local post office at the milk bar to collect your mail. The roads weren't made. It was early days.'
Stephen was one of six children with his youngest sister, Belinda, born when he was about 15.
'She was a bit of a surprise to my mother,' he laughs. 'Belinda was my favourite and still is. I changed her nappies and all the rest of it, and we became just so close because of that.'
He is pleased that Belinda went on to give her first son 'Stephen' as a middle name.
Stephen was still in high school when the family moved to Britain for three years. They travelled to Europe by ship via Singapore, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India and up through the Suez Canal to Italy.
'It took two months, and we went from there to London. It was fun. There was probably 30 Australians on it, roughing it over to Britain.'
Stephen was 30 when he met Beryl at a party. 'She invited me to her place, and we got engaged the next day.'
How did he know she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with?
'Well, you just know these things,' he says.
Life in Malmsbury
The couple ended up buying a Victorian home on three acres in Malmsbury and became involved in the community, including St John’s Church.
The couple also travelled extensively to places including China, Russia and the UK, with tasting local food and wine being a priority - even if snakes or insects were on the menu.
'I always eat what the locals eat. I don't care what it is - whether it's cooked or not.'
When the city commute became too much, Stephen resigned from the gallery but was soon headhunted by the Kyneton Shire Council for a position as Arts Director. He leapt at the opportunity … by that stage, his personal art collection filled the walls and cabinets of their home.
'We had 36 or 37 paintings just in the bedroom.'
In 1988, Stephen was elected as Daffodil King for Kyneton’s Daffodil festival. 'Betty McClure was my Queen. We drove down the street wearing crowns and all that sort of stuff. Everyone knew who I was after the Daff Festival … It was great fun.'
Reviewed 25 July 2023