Diary

Gadfly
Proud Mary kept her Rollers

Gadfly leaps out of bed every day embracing the credo of Lady “Mary” Fairfax: “Touch every life with good.”

Sadly, the old clothes merchant from Broken Hill won’t be leaping out of bed anymore but the good she inflicted on the mighty Fairfax media stable was touching indeed.

Getting her mousy son, Young Warwick, to buy out the family shares, load the place up with debt and send the company into the hands of receivers was one of the great corporate catastrophes of our generation. Old members of the eastern suburbs establishment say the buyout was her revenge because crusty members of the Fairfax family regarded her as a gold-digging parvenu.

Lady M once told Gadfly at a cocktail-infused knees-up that she could never understand why receivers were appointed – it seemed so unnecessary.

There are so many stories about the Dowager of Seven Shillings Beach that it’s hard to know where to start.

On one occasion she held a glittering birthday soiree at her Fairwater estate in Point Piper for footwear fancier Imelda Marcos. An enormous frosted cake was wheeled out for the Steel Butterfly, but just as she was blowing out all the candles her security goons swept upon the confection, grabbing it and hurling it over the wall into the harbour. Explosive devices inside cakes were a real concern in the 1970s.

Another vignette Gadfly is persuaded to share is of the day before the receivers were appointed to Fairfax in December 1990. The ever-canny Lady Mary arranged to have the collection of Rollers, Daimlers and other prestige marques removed from the company garage and driven to the family pile in Camden.

A bus took the drivers on the two-hour trip back to town and the gleaming motors were never seen again.

 

More Murph’s lore

While we’re in the mood for past glories, the not-so-faded memory of Lionel Murphy hovers into frame.

Lionel has been getting a poor run in the tissues because the parliamentary presiding officers, more than a year after the embargo dissolved, dumped onto a quivering public 6000 pages of documents from the Commission of Inquiry.

Ink-slingers delved for days to try to find a smoking gun or a bullet that actually hit something. Instead, there were a pile of juicy, if well-worn, allegations, including lobbying for Abe Saffron’s proposed property developments, trying to bribe Commonwealth police officers, and looking after the clients of his little mate Morgan Ryan, described by Professor Rod Tiffen as a “solicitor-cum-Mr-Fix-It to organised crime”.

All of this would have kept investigators and great legal minds entranced for decades, had not Lionel unobligingly slapped the cue in the rack.

Gadfly had his fair share of moving encounters at the time Murphy was attorney-general and later a High Court justice.

When I was working in the press gallery I asked his office for an interview and was told the AG would be available for a chat the next day at 1.30. An excellent time, I thought, until it was made clear that this meant 1.30am.

The lights were low in the senate leader’s office as he held me captive about the beauty of the Trade Practices Act and no-fault divorce. Reclining in the shadows on a chaise longue was another beauty, Junie Morosi.

He also kindly provided his Darling Point flat for the launch of a learned organ, The Federal Court Reporter. Lionel himself arrived a little late at the shindig, with two young ladies he introduced as “members of the Liberal Party I met at the Hunter’s Lodge in Double Bay – they’re very interested in politics”.

When Gadfly went to pick up the hired cocktail glasses the next morning, there they were – still discussing politics.

Murphy was also generous with important stories. He rang on the day Garfield Barwick conspired with the puce dipsomaniac Sir John Kerr to sack the Whitlam government and suggested I come around to his gaff in Red Hill.

He was in a singlet and gave me a copy of a letter he had written to Barwick, tearing strips off the evil old CJ for implying that the other judges on the High Court supported his twisted constitutional view of the sacking. At the time we didn’t know Sir Anthony Mason was a co-conspirator. We do now – thanks, Jenny Hocking.

With today’s crop of dullards, drones and bores in politics, it’s impossible to imagine that someone like Lionel existed, let alone flourished. How could we not miss him?

  

The Lucy show

The recent local council elections in New South Wales delivered a few treats, including a crushing defeat for Mayor Sally Betts’s Liberals in the municipality of Waverley, aka The Republic of Bettistan.

Hopefully this will put an end to further grotesque developments along Bondi Beach and plans to turn the glorious Bondi Pavilion over to profiteers.

One report from neighbouring Woollahra Council had an enthusiastic Residents First candidate at a pre-polling station handing one of his how-to-votes to a local matron.

“No, thanks; I vote Liberal,” she said. Our man thought that was a silly thing to do and asked why she would do that. “They’re making a right mess of things,” he informed her.

It was only later that the penny dropped and he realised he was trying to thrust his leaflets at the First Lady of Point Piper, the Chatelaine of the Harbourside Mansion, Mrs L. Trumble.

 

Methane Bolt

What’s happening with the Gold Kenny, I asked Mike Carlton, the chairman of the awards committee created to honour the work of News Corp blowhard and Sky News celebrity Dr Chris Kenny.

Carlton tells me last week’s winner by popular acclamation was the Dutch scribbler Andreas Bolt for his assertion: “Labor will pay a gay gestapo to hound you once it’s made gay marriage law, whatever the result of next month’s plebiscite.”

It was a hotly contested field. Oiled comb-over commentator Maurice Newman was a close second, with a column in The Catholic Boys Daily lamenting the arrival of “the pill, the normalisation of promiscuity and easy divorce and, unsurprisingly, a decline in traditional marriage”. Maurice attributes this collapse of Western morals largely to the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.

Gramsci’s countryman, Il Senatore Italiano Matt Canavan, weighed in with his urging of poofs, lezzos and others to “grow a spine”, and the ever reliable Maddy Devine hit her straps with a Sunday Smellograph column headlined “Fascism has a new flag, and it’s a rainbow”.

Carlton and his selection committee have had a torrid time sorting this recent crop of entries, but it’s important work. The Golden Kenny is now more coveted than a Nobel prize or the Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. The Walkleys pale into irrelevance.

 

Murdoch mysteries

The Guardian’s Marina Hyde did a sterling job pointing out that while Lord Moloch’s tissues in Blighty campaigned tirelessly for Brexit, James Murdoch has taken it upon himself to argue that his family need to take control of the 61 per cent of Sky they don’t already have in order to save the country from Brexit.

Post-Brexit Britain is going to need all the investment it can get, said James, trying hard to keep a straight face. He added: “…we look forward to moving through the regulatory review process, and this transformational transaction for the UK creative sector becoming an affirmation of that claim”.

James was running the British shop at the time of the hacking extravaganza, so he knows a thing or two about transforming the creative sector.

Meanwhile, brother Lachlan has been sent to the timeout chair while they work out what punishment to inflict on the wretched dud after he let Channel Ten slip through the firm’s fingers.

Looks like it’s back to subbing at the Bowen Hills Bugle.

 

Eye on Boris

Just as Boris Johnson is turning on his finest Bertie Wooster pflaffle as he primps to move against Theresa May, Private Eye has unkindly decided to rerun the story that he and a fellow named Darius Guppy, a chum from the Bullingdon Club, discussed how they might arrange to get one of Moloch’s hacks from the News of the Screws to be beaten up for being too inquisitive.

An IT guru named Peter Risdon secretly recorded the Guppy–Johnson plot, which fortunately was never implemented. Guppy moved to South Africa from where he is now suing Risdon’s estate for libel. Their relationship has a history. The Eye reports that in 1990 the Iranian swashbuckler recruited Risdon to act as a gunman in a fake gems robbery staged in a New York hotel to try to extract £1.8 million from Lloyd’s.

Risdon was chief prosecution witness at Guppy’s trial in 1993, when he was sent down for five years.

It’s intriguing. Boris’s hectic love life, his ranting columns, his sinister friends, his ridiculous fluffy hair. Nothing holds him back.

 

Trumpette #40

This week Trumpy was grabbing a great time for himself at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, promising to “totally destroy North Korea” if it didn’t watch out.

It was all too much for Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who fell asleep during the speech.

Later Trump hosted a lunch for African leaders who were still awake at which he enthused about his many friends who are “going to your countries, trying to get rich. I congratulate you.”

In the process, he pronounced Namibia as Nambia. Almost as good as Abbott’s “Canadia”.

Meanwhile, there are more pressing matters. Swimwear model Chrissy Teigen was on Twitter correcting ice-queen Ivanka’s use of the English language.

The First Daughter tweeted a picture of herself with Eric Trump’s newborn son. “Cuddling my little nephew Luke ... the best part of an otherwise incredible day!”

As if the world needs more Trumps. Teigen tweeted back: “ ‘Otherwise’ implies you did not like hangin with this baby.”

She suggested that “overall” is the correct word, not “otherwise”.

In July, the president blocked Teigen, who had tweeted “Lolllllll no one likes you”.

The world struggles forward.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 23, 2017 as "Gadfly: Proud Mary kept her Rollers". Subscribe here.

Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.

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