Keene Ballangarry painting passed on to fitting new owner

John Keene and Uncle Martin Ballangarry with the artwork.

DIVESTING her treasures as she downsizes in home, Sister Yvonne Channells has celebrated the handing over of a specially valued item.

The piece is a painting created by the late Keene Ballangarry, son of Uncle Martin Ballangarry, and is now the proud possession of Martin’s lifelong friend, John Keene, Sister Yvonne’s cousin.

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Sister Yvonne has named the painting ‘The Cycle of Life’ as a tribute to Keene.

“I’m now preparing to relocate to Marian Grove so decided, while I’m still able, to give treasured items to treasured family and friends to enjoy the pleasure,” Sister Yvonne told News Of The Area.

Thinking of her cousin John Keene, Sister Yvonne texted him a photo of the painting and asked if he was interested in having it.

He texted back promptly and said he would be honoured to accept and would travel up from Gosford to collect it.

“So, we had a little ‘handing over ceremony’ here at the Sisters of Mercy Place where we acknowledged Keene’s incredible talent not only as an artist but as a musician and singer as is his father.”

Martin’s partner Sue, Brother Steve Morelli and Sister Yvonne shared together a beautiful celebration of life and friendship with Martin and John.

“It’s an endearing and heart-warming story of an enduring friendship between two young lads from very diverse backgrounds,” said Sister Yvonne.

The story began at St Mary’s, a small Catholic school at Bowraville, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Two youngsters, Martin Ballangarry and John Keene, went to school together there, beginning a friendship that is still strong after all these years.

“Martin was a lively little Gumbaynggirr kid surrounded by loving parents, many siblings and innumerable other relatives.

“Martin’s dad, Ivon, worked on the railway so was away during the week and home for weekends.

“You can imagine how it was for his incredible mother Hilda taking care of her brood of lively young children.

“When home, Ivon was fond of playing his beautiful music on the gum leaves.”

In contrast, young John was an only child of equally loving but older parents.

His father, Michael John Keene, was the Shire Clerk and from Bowraville.

His mother, Mamie McGrath, came from Karangi.

Mamie was nursing at the Mater Hospital in Sydney where she met Michael.

“Besides his father’s bachelor brother, John was rather short on kin in Bowraville.

“He did have lots of family around the Orara and Coffs area though.

“So this was a remarkable friendship that developed between John and Martin, a true friendship that is a pure gift and can’t be explained,” said Sister Yvonne.

The story moves on to Martin’s first-born son, whom he named Keene after his friend.

Sister Yvonne worked in the Nambucca area between 1994-98.

“During this time Keene was having a spate of trouble so I asked if he would be able to do a painting for me if I provided him with whatever equipment was necessary.

“He did, and his marvellous painting has followed me ever since and I treasure it greatly,” she said.

Sadly, this gifted young man died tragically in December 2022 and Martin and the family mourn him greatly.


Keene Ballangarry’s painting, ‘The Cycle of Life’.

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