The Bulletin closed for the year a week or so ago, but re-opened in the wake of owner Kerry Packer’s death. Some staff flew back to Sydney from holidays interstate; others cancelled planned trips. (Get this: nobody complained.) We had about 72 hours to produce a 96-page tribute edition. Any later and we’d have been beaten by the weekend newspapers.
And—mostly thanks to the incredible work of creative director Jeff Young and chief sub-editor Andrew Forbes—we did it. The magazine is on sale today. A few highlights:
It was not initially expected that he would do well in the realms of commerce, not simply because he was the third generation of the powerful Packer family to serve in the role. Kerry’s ascension, in May 1974, to the twin posts of chairman and managing director of Consolidated Press was noted by The Australian newspaper under the modest headline: “K. Packer takes reins”. The article was a mere 47 words in length …
He hated governments telling him what to do and what to think.
“Tell you what should happen, son. These governments are always passing these new laws, right? Every day there’s some new law. Now I’ll tell you the law I’d like to see passed. Goes like this: every time the government passes a new law, it has to repeal an old law. Be good, wouldn’t it?”
Editor Garry Linnell quotes the boss:
“Tell me this, son. Out there [he gestures and you know he’s pointing to the suburbs] there are many of them earning – what’s the average wage? About 50k? They’re earning that, and some a lot less. How do they get by on that? How do you raise a family and pay a mortgage and just do what you have to do? Don’t forget ’em. You journos always do.”
The main course arrived and the meat wasn’t to his liking. He pushed the plate away arguing: “I own more cattle than anyone else in the world. I own more land than any man in Australia. Why can’t I get a decent ****** steak in my own house?”
As head of sport, David Hill remembers being on duty late one night during a nightmarish broadcast in which the satellite kept dropping out, spoiling coverage of a major British golf tournament. At 2.30am, a great hulk suddenly loomed up behind him in the gloom of studio control.
“Kerry, what are you doing here?” Hill asked in alarm.
“I think this might arguably be the greatest disaster in the history of television,” Packer chided. “I just wanted to watch it up close.”
We stepped on to the footpath with Packer casting an eye around for his driver, who was nowhere. Seeing Packer’s frustration and feeling faintly ridiculous, stranded in a darkened street with Australia’s richest man, I suggested we catch a cab. “OK,” Packer replied, feeling his empty pockets. “Have you got five bucks?”
Packer is in Bermuda at some joint where they teach you to stop smoking. His horse is running in the Derby at Randwick on Easter Monday. So he calls in and gets Darrell Eastlake, who wouldn’t know a horse from a cow.
“Kerry Packer here – how’d Easter go?”
“Oh, good thanks, Mr Packer. I had a surf and took the kids …”
“Not that bloody Easter, you idiot, my horse Easter. The Derby.”
Big Dazza’s flying around the cottage searching for the results – Easter, sadly, flopped. Before hanging up, a gruff Packer says: “Who am I talking to?”
“Ian Maurice,” Eastlake says, and hangs up.
Jockey Greg Hall was feeling chipper. He’d just won the 1987 Sydney Cup on Major Drive, his first big win for owner Kerry Packer. That night he sat in Packer’s Sydney home, wide-eyed with delight – kids who left school at 13 don’t often grow up to dine in mansions. Packer led Hall to his office, which was littered with race trophies dating back decades. He told Hall how proud his deceased father, Sir Frank, would have been and Hall, warming to the flattery, started to relax. Then, seemingly as an afterthought, Packer said: “Even though I had $7m on the second horse, you little bastard.”
At one dinner, he asked the table what they thought about John Howard’s new gun laws. (A gun lover, Kerry didn’t approve.)
Treasurer Peter Costello, sitting at his side, remarked that after the horror of Port Arthur the government had to do “something”.
“Well, you know nothing,” said the media mogul to the man who would be prime minister.
“What about you, Mr Martin?”
I told him I thought the gun laws should be much tougher.
“Well, you’re also a dope.”
Kerry Packer was a great Australian. There’s much more in the print edition; also, check this picture gallery.
UPDATE. Tubs Grogan, Australia’s leading investigative drunk, recalls a bizarre meeting with Packer.
UPDATE II. An excellent article by Nick Cater.
In 1975, the ACB coffers were overflowing, they had banked a massive A$78,000 from the 1975 England tour and even bigger takings from the 1975/76 Windies tour of Oz. From this players earned something that amounted to between A$180 to $240 a week. Barely enough, in some cases, to cover expenses.
UPDATE IV. Packer was a friend of the rhino.
UPDATE V. Thoughtful analysis from the Currency Lad.
UPDATE VI. Packer was also a friend of the shoeless.
UPDATE VII. Rural folk loved him.