Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl
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.