November 2010

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch was 27 when he met Kandiah Kamalesvaran, a sensitive young Tamil on the dodge from the immigration authorities. Born in Malaya, Kamalesvaran had arrived in Adelaide in 1953, five years earlier, to complete his matriculation. He was now enrolled at university, jumping from course to course to maintain his visa status. A poor scholar with black skin, his days in White Australia were numbered.

Although Kamalesvaran’s academic talents were meagre, his vocal credentials were evident. Determined to become a professional entertainer, he adopted the stage name ‘Kamahl’ and pursued every opportunity to perform.

Summoned from England on the death of his father, Rupert was managing his meagre patrimony, the Adelaide News. Just before Christmas 1958, the young newspaper proprietor went to a party at the Lido nightclub. The singer, an Asian with a deep baritone voice, did four Nat King Cole songs and some carols.

Murdoch’s wife, Pat, a former shop assistant and air hostess, recognised the singer as the conspicuously dark schoolboy who had bought his uniform at Myers. She introduced him to her husband, “a man with a cigar in his hand”, who asked if he would sing at his staff Christmas party that night.

Kamahl agreed, not expecting to be paid. He did a couple of numbers, they went down well and Murdoch gave him a ten pound note. “It was like a thousand dollars then. I’d never been paid so much for so little work.”

The following year, Murdoch put Adelaide’s first TV channel to air. Kamahl was booked for the opening night of its new variety show. He was petrified and thought he’d made a botch of it. Adelaide loved him. The head of the Conservatorium of Music enrolled him, providing a pretext for him to remain in Australia, at least in the short term.

Murdoch, meanwhile, had gained a foothold in Sydney. Without consulting Kamahl, he arranged a six-week booking at the Sapphire Room of the prestigious Hotel Australia. For Sydney high society, it was the place to be. Pat and Rupert went most Friday and Saturday nights. At the end of his booking, they convinced Kamahl to move into their Darling Point house. He lived there for nearly two years, Murdoch fending off threats of deportation with periodic official assurances that his lodger was a bona fide student.

In 1966, Immigration finally caught up with Kamahl. He was dressed down, then informed he had been granted permanent residency. In 1985, his old friend Rupert became an American citizen.

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.

Cover: November 2010
View Edition

From the front page

Image of ‘Bewilderment’

‘Bewilderment’ by Richard Powers

The Pulitzer winner’s open-hearted reworking of Flowers for Algernon, updated for modern times

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Images via ABC News

Morrison’s mandate

Barnaby Joyce acknowledges that a net-zero target is cabinet’s call. But what exactly is their mandate?

Image of ‘Scary Monsters’

‘Scary Monsters’ by Michelle de Kretser

Two satirical stories about fitting in, from the two-time Miles Franklin–winner

Image of Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in HBO’s Succession season 3. Photograph by David Russell/HBO

Ties that bind: ‘Succession’ season three

Jeremy Strong’s performance in the HBO drama’s third season is masterful


In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The price of parenthood

Elizabeth Morris plays her uke. © Niklas Vestberg

Too smart to run back

Allo Darlin’s debut album

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The Defence Minister

Artemisia Gentileschi, 'Judith and Holofernes', circa 1612. Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 centimetres. Courtesy of the Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy and the Bridgeman Art Library.

Shadow play

Peter Robb’s ‘Street Fight in Naples: A Book of Art and Insurrection’


More in Arts & Letters

Photo: “Breakfast at Heide” (from left: Sidney Nolan, Max Harris, Sunday Reed and John Reed), circa 1945

Artful lodgers: The Heide Museum of Modern Art

The story of John and Sunday Reed’s influence on Sidney Nolan and other live-in protégés

Still from ‘The French Dispatch’

The life solipsistic: ‘The French Dispatch’

Wes Anderson’s film about a New Yorker–style magazine is simultaneously trivial and exhausting

Still from ‘Nitram’

An eye on the outlier: ‘Nitram’

Justin Kurzel’s biopic of the Port Arthur killer is a warning on suburban neglect and gun control

Detail from ‘Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 2, Childhood’ by Hilma af Klint (1907)

A shock of renewal: ‘Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings’

The transcendent works of the modernist who regarded herself not an artist but a medium


More in Encounters

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller

Chips Rafferty & The Monkees


Read on

Image of Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy in HBO’s Succession season 3. Photograph by David Russell/HBO

Ties that bind: ‘Succession’ season three

Jeremy Strong’s performance in the HBO drama’s third season is masterful

Image of a tampon and a sanitary pad viewed from above

A bloody shame: Paid period leave should be law

Australia’s workplace laws must better accommodate the reproductive body

Image of Gladys Berejiklian appearing before an ICAC hearing in October 2020. Image via ABC News

The cult of Gladys Berejiklian

What explains the hero-worship of the former NSW premier?

Cover image of ‘Bodies of Light’

‘Bodies of Light’ by Jennifer Down

The Australian author’s latest novel, dissecting trauma, fails to realise its epic ambitions