When David Thomas arrived in Newcastle in 1965 to be the director of the city's art gallery, he quickly realised this was a town of fire and steel rather than oil on canvas.
"Ignored at the best, antagonism at the worst," Mr Thomas recalls of the general attitude towards art. "It was something that was seen as being a bit precious, or as one person said, it was the interest of the silvertails."
When the gallery bought a Fred Williams masterpiece, "Landscape in Upwey", in 1966 for about $1700, the director even had to take it across to City Hall to try and win over the councillors.
And how much is that painting worth now?
"Oh, about a million," Mr Thomas replies.
As part of opening the city's eyes to the art in its collection, David Thomas helped form the Newcastle Art Gallery Society in 1969.
"The notion of having a society was to open the doors of the gallery to the people, because it's their gallery," he says.
Half a century on, David Thomas has returned to what he created, delivering the society's annual Artspeak lecture in the gallery on Friday night. The lecture's title is "Recollections: Evolution of an Art Gallery."
Indeed, the building he has been speaking in wasn't here during his 10 years as director. The city's gallery was squeezed onto the second floor of the cultural centre next door.
But before leaving Newcastle, David Thomas was heavily involved in preparing for the new gallery.
"My last week in 75 was in September, and during that week, the contract for the building of this building was signed, so it was my parting gift," he says.
More than four decades on, he believes it is past time for the gallery to be expanded, a project that has been much debated and delayed.
"The fact that it stalled, I think, was a crying shame, a national shame," he says.
"For a city this size, for a city with its history and with its cultural achievements, it's only fair to have a gallery much, much bigger, a gallery that can service the community better."
As he looks at the exhibition of Virginia Cuppaidge paintings, David Thomas remarks, "I wouldn't mind being the director right now."
The present director, Lauretta Morton, smiles at her predecessor's comment.
"I'm just learning, I'm just gleaning from him," she says.
"When David was here as director, the works that came into the collection evolved to be icons."
Much has changed since his time, David Thomas notes, including a city's attitude towards art.
"Art in Newcastle has become something that's very important, as it should be," he says. "Newcastle's gallery has played a very, very pivotal role in pioneering that."