X Media Lab founder Brendan Harkin has died, his wife and business partner Megan Elliott tells GXpress.
The “weaver of networks and possibilities”, he died suddenly on March 15, “after living the largest of lives”.
We came across him as an organiser of tech events, including the one the then-Fairfax Media used to hold at the start of the millennium to introduce its advertisers and business partners to a changing digital age. Later – after the couple had moved to the US in 2017, where she became the first director of the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln – we ran his newsletters as he kept in touch with “the latest dose of luxury reading for smart, data-driven, augmented, creative people.” Each would implore readers to “change the world”.
X Media Lab, which they founded together, spread to events in 14 countries and 22 cities around the world, and “brought hundreds of outstanding international mentors to work with local creative project teams and start-ups on their digital media projects and ideas”.
Founder of electronic music groups including Human League and Heaven 17 Martyn Ware said Harkin’s “effervescent, humanitarian and proactive spirit always inspired me. In him, I could see the best the world could offer – an agile, inventive and positive soul, whose animus will continue to be recognised in the works he created and helped others to share.”
He set up the inaugural Asia Pacific Multimedia Festival in Melbourne when ideas about computing and digital platforms were still largely confined to corporate and government realms, and was Australia’s first general manager for information economy public awareness at the National Office for the Information Economy. After leading the ‘Online Australia’ programme in 1999, building seven community portals and staging more than 140 events, he was awarded an Australia Day Gold Medal for his efforts.
“Always an early adopter – with email long before most people – he was an advisor to the Kennett government in Victoria, suffering frustrations that ultimately led to the establishment of X Media Lab as an independent platform”.
Joanna Brent who worked with him in government, wrote of Harken’s “frustrations as a twenty-something working for the computer company Prime, installing what were basically mainframe computers into government departments at precisely the time that personal computing was about to explode into the mainstream.
“The absurdity of the situation drove Brendan nuts, as all he could see were hundreds of thousands of government dollars being spent on clunky computers that were shortly going to be replaced by smaller, faster and cheaper machines.”
Activities in China between 2009-2014 saw him acknowledged at the Fifth China Creative Industry Awards, and by the China Guanghua Foundation, where he received a prestigious International Contribution Award. Other honours included acting as an international jury member for the Interactive Emmy Awards at MIPTV in Cannes, a role as ‘Foreign Expert Advisor’ to the Beijing municipal government on the digital media industry development, Visiting Professor to Beijing Culture and Language University, and consultant to the Suzhou Industrial Park on Animation industry development.
Back home he was named one of the ‘Top Ten Most Influential People’ in the Australian digital media industries, and one of the ‘50 Most Influential Australians in Asia’. He also consulted to UNCTAD, the European Union’s EUROPRIX initiative, and many of Australia’s creative industries and media agencies, also serving on the advisory boards of a number of digital media, cultural and technology events throughout Asia and Australia.
Born in Melbourne in 1958, he is survived by his wife, sister Colleen Harkin, and daughter Astrid.
A virtual celebration of his life – see http://www.brendanharkinxml.com– is being held on April 23/24 (depending on time-zone); and a scholarship, the Brendan Harkin X Media Lab Scholarship Fund has been set up to benefit students at the Johnny Carson Center.
Pictured (right): at the Berlinale in 2019 with Megan Elliot; and (centre) with Slack and Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield and Nick DeMartino (AFI) at XML Melbourne in 2008. (Photos: Megan Elliot)