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Push to stop Trevor Kennedy's $26m art collection being sent overseas

Rare: A goldfields-style brooch.

Rare: A goldfields-style brooch.

The country's leading experts on Australiana have asked the government to block businessman Trevor Kennedy from exporting his $26 million art collection, which includes three early colonial portraits.

After rejecting an offer from the National Museum of Australia, Mr Kennedy's agent, John Hawkins, negotiated to sell the bulk of the collection for $20 million to a Singaporean collector.

Mr Hawkins' application to export the collection as a single entity was rejected by the government but he has won the right to appeal with a date yet to be set.

Entry to the tightly held private Kennedy collection, housed in a heritage building in The Rocks that had a $2.5 million renovation, is by invitation only.

The Australian public will get a rare glimpse of some of Mr Kennedy's gold jewellery in an exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum this year. It is understood these pieces include gold brooches in the goldfields style, which usually depicts miners and equipment such as sluice boxes, picks and shovels.

Members of the Australiana Society, which includes curators, experts and dealers, are among the few to have seen the collection.

Australiana Society president James Bertouch said there was no doubt the Kennedy collection represented the ''best privately held collection of items of Australian cultural and historical significance''.

The group's executive committee voted in December to lobby the government to keep the collection from being exported.

They said the collection rivalled and even surpassed those held in museums and institutions around the country.

It includes unique furniture, pictures, glassware, porcelain, silver and what experts describe as ''superb'' Australian gold jewellery.

''The potential loss to an overseas buyer would mean that Australians would have to travel to Singapore to view this collection and to learn more about their heritage,'' Dr Bertouch said.

''It is clearly inappropriate that such items of very significant Australian cultural and historical significance be held offshore.''

Mr Hawkins has confirmed that the collection includes three portraits, dating back to the early settlement. The most significant is the portrait of colonial surgeon John White, which was painted by Thomas Watling soon after the First Fleet arrived.

The collection also includes an early painting by an unknown artist of Jewish convict Esther Abrahams and a watercolour of her husband, Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston, who led the Rum Rebellion.

Mr Hawkins said the collection featured Lionel Rose's boxing belt for winning the 1968 world bantamweight title.

Because of the collection's significant cultural and heritage value, the government says an export licence has to be lodged for every piece in the collection.

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