Tasmanian Arts Identity Walter Eastman and ‘True Gentleman’ Remembered as ‘Champion of the Arts’

Tasmanian arts identity Walter Eastman OAM is being remembered for his unstinting kindness and his support for the state’s arts industry.

Wal Eastman and wife Berenice on their wedding day.

Tributes on social media have described Mr Eastman as a “true gentleman”, a “champion of the arts” and a “brilliant mind”.

Mr Eastman was born in Sydney in 1928 and started his career as a railway signalman before a Christmas job with the ABC led to a 38-year career at the national broadcaster, including as assistant manager of the ABC in Tasmania.

Mr Eastman was also The Mercury newspaper’s theatre critic for more than 20 years.

Long-time friend and Hobart actor Gillian Unicomb said Mr Eastman always tried to focus on the positive aspects of the performances he reviewed.

“Wal was such a kind and charming man,” she said.

“He went to see everything. It didn’t matter what it was, what little group put it on, he’d go and see it and he would write a very kind review.”

Stage actor and broadcaster John X said Mr Eastman would have critiqued at least 50 of his shows.

Walter and Berenice Eastman.

“He was such a great advocate for the local industry, and such a great supporter of people like myself, young teenagers who showed some kind of talent,” he said.

X said one of Mr Eastman’s most famous reviews concerned a performance by an amateur theatre group made up of elderly residents of Hobart’s Eastern Shore.

“He wrote ‘There’s professional theatre, and there’s amateur theatre, and then there’s the Riverside Arts Club’, and that was his opening, which was hilarious and we talked about it for many, many years.”

Mr Eastman’s actress daughter, Merridy Eastman, said her father strongly influenced her own career.

“Dad was a great actor, he really could have been a professional actor if he had so chosen, so the three of us kids were very influenced by Dad,” she said.

“We even got to act on stage with him in various productions, starting in Rockhampton in the 1970s when Virginia and myself were playing fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Dad was playing Bottom.”

Ms Eastman said she and her family had heard from many people who had fond memories of her father.

“We are inundated with lovely messages and phone calls from friends and family all over Australia, some even from other parts of the world,” she said.

“‘Kind’ keeps coming up. Kind, kind, kind, and gentle, are the two words that come up all the time.”

Wal Eastman, family supplied photo.

Mr Eastman was also an author, a patron of the Fellowship of Australian Writers Tasmania, and had a long involvement with the Salamanca Theatre Company.

He was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to the performing arts and the community in 2010.

ABC News presenter Peter Gee said Mr Eastman and his wife Berenice had shared a passion for Egyptology, and offered support to young broadcasters.

“To see Wal and Berenice even quite recently walking down the street hand in hand, well it choked you up a little bit really. They were such a loving couple.”

Mr Eastman is survived by his wife Berenice, children Virginia, Merridy and John and his grandchildren.