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‘Heart and Soul’, a spectacular photographic portrait exhibition, was a highlight of 2018 at Lismore Regional Gallery. Between them, locals Peter Derrett OAM and Jacklyn Wagner have documented life in the Northern Rivers for almost 80 years.
Always an aficionado of theatre, Peter Derrett kicked off his photographic career by documenting the legendary 1973 Aquarius Festival in Nimbin. In his ‘day job’ he was a highly regarded drama and English teacher at Trinity Catholic College for 36 years, establishing the Theatre North company with his wife Dr Ros Derrett OAM in 1981.


Gallery director Brett Adlington calls Peter a “fixture in the region ever since”, perhaps making him sound like a plumbing item or a static installation. In fact he has long been a tireless creator of technically superb and conceptually unique images.
Peter’s work has been published in numerous publications, and exhibited nationally and internationally, with his participation in this two-person show being an undoubted highlight.
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Personal disclosure: Jacklyn Wagner was our lowly-paid snapper when, with Jennie Dell, I edited the Lismore Echo decades ago. With an impressive portfolio of work, she was later snapped up by The Northern Star, becoming their first female photojournalist. As we expected, she went from strength to strength. People were always her forte - she could persuade anyone to pose, and to look as if they weren’t posing.
Jacklyn’s half of this show builds on her 2001 ‘Southies’ project, which documented inhabitants of South Lismore. This work now resides in the Gallery’s permanent collection, as will Heart and Soul, which concluded in late November.
“My deep thanks goes to both Jacklyn and Peter for sharing their vision with us, and also to our curator, Fiona Fraser who has worked closely with them to realise this project,” wrote Brett Adlington in his catalogue notes.
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Wearing his ‘gardening scrubs’ for this superb photograph, Dr Curtin recalled fancying himself as an aeronautical engineer but knowing he wasn’t adventurous enough. So he decided to look down, rather than up, and went for medicine. Now it’s impossible to imagine his doing anything else.

Jacklyn Wagner’s portrait of surgeon Austin Curtin


At USyd he helped support himself doing odd jobs like removing rubbish, pub work, and, best of all, being a hand at the flower sellers at Paddy’s Markets in Haymarket. In his second year he met Annie and in 1975 they married. They now have five children and seven grandchildren. Graduating in 1976 Austin became an intern then registrar at Royal North Shore Hospital. In 1982 the family of four moved to Belfast, Austin took up a surgical trainee position, and their third child was born.
In the early 80’s Austin did a locum for Dr Bill Buddee in Lismore, setting the scene for a career as a respected and much-loved and admired Lismore surgeon. He has now cut back on his work load considerably. In 2014 and 2015 Austin worked in Afghanistan and Iraq as an army surgeon. He is a lieutenant colonel in the Australian Army.