Francis Packer, February 2017

I read with interest the cover story on my cousin James Packer (February) and would like to clarify a few items in reference to my father, Clyde Packer (Kerry’s older brother), who died in California in 2001.

The author states that my father “in time severed ties with his father, put on a caftan and moved to California, decisions he never regretted”.

If a person can be said to determine his life by one act, then my father’s resignation from the chairmanships of Nine and ACP in 1972 was such an act.

The resignation came about after my father had insisted to his father, Sir Frank Packer, that Bob Hawke, the then president of the ACTU, be interviewed on Channel Nine’s A Current Affair. My grandfather refused to allow it: “I won’t have the f***ing communist on my channel.”

My father resigned his two leadership positions at this point. He believed that his resignation would show to his father the degree to which he believed that the public should hear what Hawke had to say. He assumed that when tempers had cooled, my grandfather would ask him back into “the firm” and matters would return to normal. This did not happen.

It is ironic that Hawke was the immediate cause of the rift. From 1964 to 1976 my father was a Liberal member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and had a deep dislike for Hawke and the union movement in general. (The interview did go to air following my father’s resignation and is generally considered to have reflected poorly on Hawke.)

My father and grandfather did reconcile on the night of my grandfather’s death in May 1974, my grandfather saying he would change the arrangements of his estate the next day. He died a few hours later before being able to do so.

After my father’s resignation, he entertained no ideas of leaving Australia. His decision to leave came more than a year after his father’s death. It resulted from the increasing shame and embarrassment in the time following his father’s death. In late 1975, he accepted a settlement of approximately 20 cents on the dollar and sold his Australian Consolidated Press shares (then a private company) to his brother.

While my father never regretted his decision to wear caftans, he certainly did have regrets.

He once told me that he wished he had not been so impulsive about resigning, and that he probably could have put up with working for another couple of years, had he known it would only be a matter of a couple of years. He would often joke, “I hope Kerry has thanked Hawkey.”

My father also expressed regret at accepting the final settlement from his father’s estate, saying, “I should have stuck it out for more money.” He would not and did not talk to his brother, Kerry, for ten years. I often had to act as a go-between for the two men.

Over the 25 years that my father lived in America, he thought of himself more as an exile than an emigrant. He loved Australia and missed it tremendously. He delighted in the company of visiting friends from home who kept him up to date with news and gossip. He received the Sydney papers and the Bulletin by airfreight, and would fly the New South Wales state flag with great pride. And his closest friends were Australians living in southern California.

As I too possess the Packer Y chromosome, I would dispute its wealth-creating powers. In the department store of life, I have spent most of it on the down escalator. And I have a net worth I estimate to be one one-hundred-thousandth of my cousin James’. A guarantee of wealth it most certainly is not.

When I last saw my father, on his deathbed in early 2001, he enjoined on me three things: first, to say nothing about the family while his stepmother still lived (she died in 2012); second, to not return to Australia until Malcolm Turnbull was PM; and third, to tell his mistress that he loved her very much. These three things I have now done.

Francis Packer

Thirroul, NSW