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CONTENTS

Title Page

Introduction

Part One: Building the Empire

Chapter 1      Park Street

Chapter 2      Kerryvision

Chapter 3      Bush Yarns

Chapter 4      The Deals

Chapter 5      Packer Under Fire

Part Two: Packer at Play

Chapter 6      Toss You For It

Chapter 7      The Turf

Chapter 8      Sporting Ambitions

Chapter 9      Packer’s Toys

Part Three: Fanta & Finger Buns

Chapter 10    The Health Report

Chapter 11    Smoking and Fuming

Part Four: Larger than Life

Chapter 12    Picking up the Bill

Chapter 13    On Deadline

References

Acknowledgements

Copyright Page

INTRODUCTION

It is possible that no individual has been more influential in shaping Australia’s culture than Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer, AC. For 30 years, via his Consolidated Press Holdings, Kerry Packer controlled television’s perennial ratings leader Channel Nine and as much as 60 per cent of the nation’s magazine market.

The majority of what Australians actually watched, read and believed in the latter part of the 20th century came through the prism of Packer.

The average Australian might reasonably question the qualifications of a jet-owning, polo-playing, globe-trotting billionaire to determine the relevance of Seinfeld or sewing patterns to their daily lives.

But beneath all the billionaire clutter, Kerry Packer had quite a bit in common with large sections of Australian society: a cheeky humour, a competitive drive, love for his kids, a passion for sports and movies. No-one would more begrudgingly don a dinner suit than the billionaire eating burgers in front of the television.

Packer was a paradox: known to all, known by few.

Born into great wealth, the younger of two sons had a childhood punctuated by a life-threatening case of polio, stints in boarding schools and apparently little attention from his strict and detached parents. He was sent to some of Australia’s most exclusive and academically admired schools, but was notable mainly for his efforts in sports. This included boxing, both sanctioned and spontaneous.

The baron of publishing was dyslexic. He bulldozed right through it: ‘I don’t read much, but I spend a lot of time talking to people who do.’ The son dismissed by his father as ‘boofhead’ inherited a business in 1974 valued at perhaps $100 million. When he died 31 years later on Boxing Day 2005, he handed his own son James control of a media, property, agriculture and gambling empire worth $6.9 billion.

Kerry Packer made the bulk of his fortune from the media, but he vigorously shunned its intrusion into his own or his family’s life. Adventurous journalists were very quickly met with legal and even physical threats. He gave interviews sparingly and only, it seemed, when it suited a particular political or business ambition.

Privately, Packer was known to enjoy one-on-one lunches and telephone conversations with trusted friends and staff that would last for hours. He would natter about weather, sports, anything. ‘He would sit with smart people and just suck their brains out’, is how one former executive put it.

Those who knew him understood Packer’s empathy for the man in the street. In the days after Packer’s passing, Garry Linnell, the then editor in chief of the flagship The Bulletin, remembered this advice from his boss:

‘Out there, 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.’

This book seeks not to glorify Kerry Packer, but to expose more of his humour and humanity; qualities that were strategically kept close.

I’m grateful to say I never formally met Kerry Packer. To a mere deputy editor on two of his successful motoring magazines between 1983–90, a summoning to the chairman’s office on the third floor would have been highly unusual and possibly terminal.

Among the young employees of my ilk, Mr Packer was a mysterious force that pervaded the building. Actual sightings were rare. Yet our cheeky nickname ‘Uncle Kerry’ (whispered, after a shoulder-check) conveyed the respect and affection felt for the proprietor who empowered us to produce the best magazines we could. They carried our reputations, as well as his.

Only twice in my six years at Park Street did I see Mr Packer in person. Both occasions were close encounters; both involved elevators.

I was waiting in the foyer to meet a colleague. There was a sudden flurry of activity, with three or four security staff erupting through a side entrance. One mouthed hurriedly into his walkie-talkie: ‘Visitor has arrived, visitor has arrived.’

In the next instant, the quite breathtakingly tall figure of the chairman swept through the door, surging past me towards the lifts. The burly security guards looked like tugboats flitting around a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

About a year later, I would have a much closer encounter, riding wordlessly in the lift in the exclusive company of Kerry Packer AC. (I’m thankful it wasn’t the lift car in which someone had scratched “Packer can’t play baccarat” into the stainless steel panel).

Recalling the experience now, I’m in awe of the quick wit and opportunist instinct of one well-known, knockabout writer with The Picture magazine, who often told the story of being alone in an elevator with the chairman—when the lift lurched to a halt between floors.

Packer jabbed at the lift buttons. Then grabbed the emergency phone. It’s not known who answered, but the lift’s other occupant was able to imagine a telephone receiver being held 10 centimetres from a smoking column of cervical vertebrae.

Packer slammed the phone back onto its hook. The elevator became a cosmic sinkhole of silence.

The writer chirped: ‘Gee, I hope they fix this soon. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got work to do.’

When it was my turn, I was too dumbstruck by Packer’s presence to say anything.

The elevator had arrived at my floor and the doors opened. It had one occupant. My eyes climbed slowly up the man-mountain in front of me. Not only was Kerry Packer 15 centimetres taller than me, and more than half as heavy again; facing him, he seemed to taper upwards to infinity.

In a millisecond,

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