April 2006


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Malcolm Turnbull & Conrad Black

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

The meeting had been in progress for five hours when Conrad Black strode into Kerry Packer’s sumptuous suite at the Savoy.

It was June 1991 and Packer was in England to play polo. Between chukkas, he was assembling a consortium to bid for the John Fairfax company, which was in receivership. Black, the flamboyant Canadian media tycoon, wanted a piece of the action. So, too, did Malcolm Turnbull, lawyer turned investment banker.

Packer needed partners to get around Australia’s media ownership laws; Black had global ambitions and a bulging war chest; and Turnbull had dealt himself a hand at the big boys’ table as the champion of Fairfax’s principal creditors, US bondholders, whose litigation could tie up any takeover indefinitely. A snug syndicate would be in everybody’s interest.

Black found Turnbull, ten years his junior, to be affable, well scrubbed and persuasively articulate, despite having “considerable difficulty maintaining his self-control against an onslaught of unimaginable compulsive inner tensions and ineluctable ambitions”. He quickly assessed Turnbull’s nuisance value, rating it high.

Numbers were crunched, jobs allocated and Tourang was up and running. Packer went back to his ponies and Black returned to Canada for the summer.

In the months that followed, the fight for Fairfax became Australia’s premier three-ring circus. Alternative bidders came and went; journalists railed; Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam joined hands to lead the fight against greater media concentration.

But behind the scenes, the Tourang coalition was fraying. Black’s lieutenants thought Turnbull wore too many hats. Turnbull, a protégé of Packer, was keen to signal his independence. The knives were out.

“I explained to Black that if you want to be an assassin, you have to be prepared to have a little blood on your hands,” Turnbull recalled. But when the blow came, he blamed Packer: “I was turfed because Kerry Packer knew I was my own man.”

Minus Malcolm, then Kerry, Conrad won the bid. At the first AGM, he accused Turnbull of gouging $6.3 million out of the deal “for minimal services”. Four years later, he sold up and shot through.

He is now Baron Black of Crossharbour, his Canadian citizenship ditched for a seat in the House of Lords, and is facing US warrants for racketeering, money laundering and fraud. The FBI raided his New York apartment. Sotheby’s is suing him.

Turnbull’s fortunes are flourishing, despite the setback of the republic referendum. Richly rich, a Liberal MP, he’s an odds-on bet as a future prime minister. Even the old sores have healed. At Kerry Packer’s funeral, he led the crowd singalong of ‘C’mon Aussie, C’mon’.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Letter from Dunkley

As a byelection draws the nation’s focus to the scrappy suburb of the author’s childhood, a visit reveals the damage wrought by the housing crisis

Kim Williams seen through window with arms half-raised

The interesting Mr Williams

At a time when the ABC faces more pressure than ever before, is its new chair the right person for the job?

Andrew Tate in dark sunglasses flanked by two men, attending his trial in Bucharest, Romania, July 2023

The Tate race

Online misogyny touted by the likes of Andrew Tate (awaiting trial for human trafficking and rape) is radicalising Australian schoolboys

Exterior of the Department of Treasury, Canberra

Tax to grind

Tax reform should not be centred on what we want, but on who we want to be

In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.


The horror inside

David Cronenberg’s ‘A History of Violence’
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Winning slowly

The exford dregs

Augie March’s ‘Moo, You Bloody Choir’

More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller

Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality