Maybe art kept him young. Hale and hearty until an accident finally brought
him down, Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, the engineering magnate and art patron who
founded the Sydney Biennale, has died at 91.

Belgiorno-Nettis suffered a fall while gardening at his holiday villa near
Genoa in his native Italy. He never regained consciousness and died on the
weekend. According to The AustralianBelgiorno-Nettis was dashing around the Sydney Biennale only two weeks ago.

Aside from founding the biennial art event back in the 1970s, he was also
the driving force behind the construction of the Sydney Harbour tunnel, and his
company got to build it without having to engage in a competitive tender
process. He saw himself as something of a modern day Medici, even going as far
as displaying a portrait of himself as a Medici prince in his office.

Back in the early 80s, before he settled for the idea of a harbour
tunnel, he showed me his original idea for a second harbour crossing – a bridge
that would have required levelling a lot of homes on the uber-trendy Birchgrove
Peninsula and extending across the water to the Greenwich foreshore, where a lot
of bushland would have had to have been bulldozed to make way for Franco’s

Belgiorno-Nettis was a man of vision. Thankfully not all of that vision was

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey