The founder of indigenous arts hub Gallery Kaiela was farewelled on Friday, and will be remembered for his passion for Aboriginal culture and local artists.
Shepparton elder Les ‘‘Lally’’ Saunders was one of the drivers behind establishing the gallery in 2006, and he worked tirelessly to maintain its success.
Hundreds of family, friends and supporters packed the Sir Ian McLennan Centre in Mooroopna to farewell the proud Yorta Yorta and Dja-Dja Wurrung elder who had a huge heart and an even bigger love for his family.
Uncle Les, who spent much of his later life with the Kaiela Institute and Gallery, grew up in Mooroopna and undertook back-breaking work in potato and fruit picking.
He worked in a shoe shop before a stint in the army and then he moved to Melbourne to undertake work at The Herald Sun as a dispatcher.
Uncle Les’ brother Uncle Leon Saunders said his brother had a great love for his family, particularly his children Jason, Caine, Damien and Nicole.
‘‘He was a man who had a great passion for Aboriginal art, fishing and sitting around a campfire telling yarns,’’ Uncle Leon said.
‘‘Les became unwell a couple of years ago, and he has now started his new journey into The Dreamtime, where he is flying high like an eagle, free from all pain and worries.
‘‘We love and we are going to miss you so much, my brother.’’
Former chief executive of Kaiela Institute and longtime friend of Uncle Les, Felicia Dean, said she had admired his work ethic, passion for Indigenous art and the ability to sell a painting.
Ms Dean said Uncle Les had been recruited with a number of others by the Kaiela Institute to undertake community research.
He interviewed hundreds of people and found that one thing was connecting them all — art.
‘‘He came back to the institute and said we need to set up a gallery. He identified this need in the community, and they hung some pictures up and that’s where it all started,’’ Ms Dean said.
Ms Dean said Uncle Les worked hard to establish the gallery and encouraged the display of artwork across the community, which he then took out to markets, artists camps and exhibitions.
‘‘Les felt strongly about the future of the gallery and his deep love for his community and its artists, and his will to succeed has left us with a strong legacy that the gallery will work hard to continue,’’ Ms Dean said.
‘‘We will truly miss him.’’
Uncle Les’s son Damien Saunders remembered his dad as a proud Yorta Yorta and Dja-Dja Wurrung elder, who taught him to keep his spirit alive and his culture close to his heart.
‘‘My dad was a warrior, a hunter, a storyteller, a healer, a punisher, a leader, an adviser and a listener. He was a man full of all walks of life put into one,’’ a heartbroken Damien said.
‘‘I’m sad you’re gone, but happy inside that your journey continues like we always talked about. I’m going to miss you so much Dad, you’ve not just been my father, but my best mate.
‘‘It’s not goodbye, it’s catch you soon in The Dreamtime. I love you.’’