A Winning Streak
The year 2001 brought mixed blessings for seventy-year-old media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. On the one hand, he was back to his usual rude health with his prostate cancer in remission and his beloved new wife Wendi gave birth to his fifth child, and her first - a dark-haired baby girl, Grace Helen. On the other hand, he had ultimately failed in his biggest business deal that aimed to combine his satellite television operations with the largest United states satellite broadcaster, DirecTV. If it had succeeded, Murdoch would have created the world's first satellite service covering Asia, the Americas and Europe. It was a bitter loss.
This business setback came hot on the heels of a more personal problem. In August Rupert's ex-wife Anna went to the press to declare him, in effect, a liar and an adulterer. Her public allegations about her ex-husband's infidelity revealed cracks in a family that has always been proud of its unity and discretion. For more than thirty years the coolly blonde Anna Murdoch and her craggy-powerful husband appeared perfectly suited, both immersed in the sober corporate existence of Rupert's making. She supported his every move as he skillfully built his business empire, News Corporation. Although this corporation is a public company, the family has a controlling interest of 30 per cent, and Rupert has made it a dynastic organisation with the strategic placement of his sons, a daughter and a son-in-law. While her husband was building his kingdom Anna had enjoyed a sumptuous lifestyle, the price for which was loneliness.
Former Murdoch butler Philip Townsend recalls Anna spending many evenings sitting alone in the study at their London Home, eating dinner off a tray while Rupert held a business meeting-cum dinner upstairs. When she tried to launch a separate life for herself as a novelist, her husband offered no support and would roundly criticise her admittedly rather florid prose. But she continued her career and always defended her husband in public. In early 1998 Anna opened a new movie lot at twentieth Century-Fox headquarters in Los Angeles. The entrance 5to this lot was dominated by a wood-and-metal sculpture featuring Rupert's thumbprint.
Anna had grown used to Rupert's fingerprints over her life. Loyal but not subservient, she implored her husband to spend more time with her. But Rupert wouldn't oblige. The couple's domestic and dynastic uncertainties emerged in April 1998 when Rupert and Anna Murdoch officially separated. Friends and family were stunned by the split, which was considered a bolt from the blue. The official News corporation line was that they had merely grown apart. The word was that Anna had tired of her peripatetic husband refusing to countenance retirement. Investors were also perturbed and News corporation's share price fell; apparently the markets had approved of the media king's stable marriage. In the eyes of the traders, domestic uncertainty morphed into corporate weakness. Their 'amicable' split turned more acrimonious when Anna was removed from the News corporation board by Rupert six months later. Divorce proceedings dragged on as their lawyers wrangled over the detail of the settlement, including the inheritance for their children, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James, and Prudence, Rupert's daughter by his first marriage. In June 1999, seventeen days after his second marriage came to a sorry end, Rupert Murdoch married Wendi Deng, a woman less than half his age, aboard his luxurious yacht Morning glory in New York harbour. Anna quickly married another billionaire, William Mann and moved to a $5 million mansion in the Hamptons, America's aristocratic heartland on Long Island.
For three years afterwards she said nothing, but Anna finally broke her silence via a Kerry Packer publication. She claimed that the marriage had failed because of Rupert's infidelity with Wendi. She told the Australian Women's Weekly: 'I think that Rupert's affair with Wendi Deng - it's not an original plot - was the end of the marriage. His determination to continue with that. I thought we had a wonderfully happy marriage. Obviously we didn't.' When Anna dropped her bombshell, her ex-husband did what he always does when faced with bad publicity - ignored it. Rupert Murdoch has spent fifty years glossing over unpleasantness of any kind, preferring to attribute criticism to people's 'jealousy'.
Rupert Murdoch would never get into a public slanging match with his ex-wife. He might have made millions from his sensationalist tabloids, but has no desire to appear in salacious headlines himself. When asked about Anna going public with these allegations, Rupert replied, 'Yeah, right, well, these things happen,' and denied he was seeing Wendi before the end of his marriage to Anna, claiming, 'that really developed later'. Rupert revealed no animosity towards his ex-wife. In 2001 he and his third wife Wendi looked forward to the birth of their child. The couple already knew it would be a girl and were determined that she would grow up bilingual, speaking both her mother's tongue, Mandarin, and English.
When news of Wendi's pregnancy was first revealed, Murdoch observers were astonished. Aside from the fact that Rupert was in his seventies and just recovering from radiation treatment for prostate cancer, the birth of this fifth child increased dynastic speculation even further. After all, the patriarch had spent years grooming his children to succeed him. Adding another child from a new relationship to this dynastic mix transformed Murdoch's once stable personal life into something of a B-grade soap opera. Anna claims the divorce agreement with her ex-husband stipulates that the future successor to the company cannot be Wendi or her children. She remains bleak about the inevitable succession problems. 'I'd like none of them to (succeed Rupert). I think they're all so good that they could do whatever they wanted, really. But I thin there's going to be a lot of pressure that they needn't have had at their age.' Rupert's business acumen has guaranteed that each of his five children will be extraordinarily wealthy.
According to Anna, her children have financial trusts that cannot be broken. But the ultimate prize is not the money' it's the corporation. Who will be the chosen one, the successor to a family enterprise begun by grandfather Sir Keith Murdoch and built by father Rupert? Two of Rupert's grown children, sons James and Lachlan, are already competing for pride of place in the family firm. Rupert has said, 'They are running against each other and I'm too weak to say it's you and not you. In fact they are enormously close.' For several years eldest son Lachlan was regarded by his father as 'first among equals', but to date Lachlan has failed to impress the markets as the rightful prince regent to his father's throne. When Lachlan was appointed deputy chief operating officer, placing him in the inner circle of Rupert's executive team, News corporation's share price fell.
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But the uncertainty surrounding this succession rests with Rupert. For fifty years he has been at the corporation's apex, making all the crucial business decisions. News Corporation is a global media giant because in business Rupert is both an astute gambler and a visionary. He can take full credit for the remarkable expansion of news corporation, but this growth has weakened the Murdochs' shareholding in the company. Rupert has also had to forge business alliances outside the family. As he enters his eighth decade he won't put down the chips and leave the roulette table. He has become both the best and worst of patriarchs. Rupert may be betting that, as in the past, difficulties will eventually disappear. Throughout his life, his determined gambles have paid off, and generally the Murdochs have been blessed with a long-term winning streak. For three generations Lady Luck has smiled on the dynasty, placing them in the position they enjoy today. From the family's provincial roots in the Melbourne gentility, the Murdoch dynasty is now amongst the world's most powerful families. Bo other Australian dynasty has come so far. Why should that change?
On any given day you will find Rupert's indomitable mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, sitting by an enormous fireplace checking her busy schedule. Dame Elisabeth is the grande dame of Melbourne society, well known for her generous financial gifts to art galleries, medical research and hospitals. Much of this charitable money is from her News corporation dividends. Dame Elisabeth is in her nineties, a tiny, delicate woman with a warm smile and a bright conversational tone. She is almost universally admired and loved. But underneath the chirpy demeanour Rupert Murdoch's mother is of firm character. For a woman of more than ninety, she is certainly physically tough.
The flickering blaze in her fireplace produces the only heat in her coolly formal 1930s residence at Cruden Farm, her commodious home and 36-hectare farm that gives refuge from the gland red-brick suburbia of Langwarrin-southeast of Melbourne. Dame Elisabeth continues to be endearingly frugal despite her extraordinary wealth. She has refused to put heating in her chilly home and the windows are still framed by seventy-year-old fraying curtains. She eschews taxis and is known for hopping onto London double-decker buses when she visits the United Kingdom. She continues to drive an old Peugeot. Frugality is a trait shared by her son Rupert. He doesn't spend money on fleets of luxurious cars and is reported to have expensive items of clothing replicated by the dozen, using cheaper fabrics and sewn by Hong Kong tailors.
Dame Elisabeth knows she has lived a fortunate life, thanks to a combination of her determined optimism and luck. She says in recent years two events have cast a shadow over her life. One was the untimely and terrible death of a grandson; the other, Rupert and Anna's divorce. She, like everyone else, was taken completely by surprise when her son and his second wife separated. But regardless of her personal opinions she has long given up offering any advice to her strong-willed son - like him, she doesn't dwell on the unfortunate, but moves on. Seated in a comfortable armchair by the fire Dame Elisabeth speaks with gratitude of her good fortune. Born in 1909, the daughter of an improvident gambler, she has taken few chances herself, but has nevertheless been dealt a hand of aces. She recalls two events that laid the foundations for her long and lucky life: her meeting with newspaper baron Keith Murdoch and her father's escape from a pecuniary disaster in 1914.
As Australia stood on the brink of World War I, Elisabeth's suburban Melbourne family found itself under a more immediate siege. Her father, Rupert Greene, a compulsive gambler and chronic drinker, had once again lost the family's money betting on the horses and at the card table. It was far from the first time this had happened. The Greene family's wealth had always been precariously placed, but this time the debts were more serious and the creditors less inclined to be patient. For years Rupert Greene, an all-round sportsman, had been regarded by Edwardian Melbourne society as debonair and charming. He held a senior position as a wool expert for the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency, which supported his wife Bairnie, three young children and domestic staff in a modest Toorak villa. In the Collins Street gentlemen's clubs - the sedate Melbourne and the more raucous boomerang - the pipe-smoking Rupert was regularly seen drinking, playing cards and having a wager on the horses.
At the boomerang enormous wages of 100 pounds on the result of a horse race were not uncommon. Rupert's port-filled gambling evenings often stretched into the wee small hours. Occasionally his youngest and favourite daughter Elisabeth would call the head porter to see if her father was still there. Once he received the message, Rupert would go home. His belated homecomings were occasionally difficult. A drinker and gambler at the clubs, Rupert was a disciplinarian at home and in the office. At his workplace he was known as 'the martinet'. At home with the port wearing off, his affability could disappear rapidly. Behind closed doors the head of the house could be heard raging at his dignified and stoic wife Bairnie. These rages could erupt even when he was sober. Rupert once told Elisabeth that he would chop up her mother and place her in a black box in the garden. Despite these vicious verbal attacks, his wife had little choice but to stay with him - divorce was almost impossible. So Bairnie did her best to maintain at least the semblance of gentility and decorum.
In 1914, when his world was ready to crumble beneath the weight of his debt, Rupert Greene's friends came to his rescue. They didn't give him money but used their influence to secure him a position as official starter for the Victorian racing club. The starter was forbidden to bet on the horses he flagged away - imposing on Rupert a degree of restraint. The squandering of the family earnings was thus significantly reduced and Greene could pay his irate creditors. Remarkably, he continued to display responsibility and diligence in the job, which he held for thirty years, saving the family from disaster. Elisabeth bears no grudges towards her father; rather she is his great3est apologist. She likes to chuckle over his erratic behaviour and remember the good times-such as his demanding that she perform gymnastic tricks for admiring visitors - rather than speak of his shortcomings. In the same year that Elisabeth Greene's father was brought back from the brink, another Melbourne man was putting his own plans into action. Keith Murdoch was twenty-eight years old and suffering from a stutter. In 1914 his life was being shaped by two opposing traits - shyness and ambition. Despite his debilitating reserve, Keith Murdoch had set out relentlessly in pursuit of his media aspirations, once writing to his parents that he hoped '... with health (to become) a power in Australia'. At first disappointed when their son informed them that journalism and not the Church was his calling, his Scottish Presbyterian parents watched with some amazement as their son's ambition bore fruit. His aspirations were realised thanks to World War I.
When the war broke out, Keith Murdoch applied for the position of Australia's official war correspondent. He was pipped at the post by the respected journalist CEW Bean. Nonetheless the tenacious Murdoch found his way into the ar. After losing out to bean, he was appointed London editor to a minor news agency. Using this appointment, Keith then approached the prime minister, family friend Andrew Fisher, for permission to stop in Cairo en route to London. He told fisher he wanted to investigate complaints made by Australian troops in Egypt about delays in receiving their mail. Keith Murdoch arrived in Egypt in August 1915, four months after two divisions of Australian and New Zealand soldiers had landed on the treacherous shores of Gallipoli. When Keith arrived in Cairo he wrote to the British commander-in-chief of the Dardanelles campaign. General Sir Ian Hamilton, asking permission to visit what Keith referred to as 'the sacred shores of Gallipoli'. Hamilton agreed on the proviso that Murdoch observe the usual censorship regulations. During his week-long stay on the peninsula Keith spent most of his waking hours in the press camp. In between penning his dispatches he befriended an alcoholic war correspondence from the British Telegraph, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett. His stories, highly critical of the conduct of the Dardanelles campaign, influenced Keith who agreed to take an uncensored letter from Ashmead-Bartlett and deliver it to the British prime minister, Herbert Asquith.
On his journey to London, Keith was caught with Ashmead-Bartlett's letter by a British intelligence officer who confiscated it. In his anger Keith then wrote an 8000-word tirade to the Australian prime minister. In it he describe in highly coloured language the daily dangers befalling the gallant Anzac troops. It is stirring to see them, magnificent manhood, swinging their fine limbs as they walk about. They have the noble faces of men who have endured.' In contrast he depicted the British troops as '... without strength to endure or brains to improve their condition'. His most vicious phrases were reserved for the British command, including Hamilton whom he accused of 'murder through incapacity'. The letter dramatically overstated casualties by around 40 per cent and stated without proof that the upper-class British officers shot injured men who were lagging behind. The dispatch was seized by censors but eventually reached Prime Minister fisher. Under pressure from the British Cabinet, Murdoch then sent a copy of the letter to Prime Minister Asquith. Despite, or because of, the misleading hyperbole, his correspondence had an extraordinary impact6 and General Hamilton was recalled from the Dardanelles. Three months later, when the allies realised invasion was impossible, the Australian troops were withdrawn altogether. The controversy proved to be the most significant piece of luck for the progenitor of the Murdoch fortunes, Keith Murdoch had witnessed the power of sensational prose and bold assertions. It was a lesson he would later teach his son Rupert. Many years later his son financed the highly romanticised and successful film Gallipoli.
In Britain, Keith's correspondence gained a notoriety that he used adroitly to promote his career. He spent the remainder of the war in London, establishing himself at the centre of imperial power. He became the de facto representative of the new Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, and a close friend of fleet Street media baron Lord Northcliffe. The latter, who had long opposed the Dardanelles campaign, took Keith under his wing and set about promoting the enterprising young colonial. With the end of the war Keith reluctantly returned to parochial Melbourne. The board of the media group the Melbourne Herald and Weekly Times (HWT) couldn't fail to notice the return of Lord Northcliffe's protege. They offered him the position of editor of their evening paper, the Herald. Northcliffe urged him to take the position.
In his first few months at the helm, Murdoch turned the tired paper around. His 'bible' was the written advice of Lord Northcliffe. He would send copies of the papers to the UK publisher, seeking counsel about ways to grab readers and boost circulation. Northcliffe's directives ere to improve layout, increase pictures (especially those showing action), to 'exploit' sport and run a women's page every day. Keith was lampooned for being so closely tied to lord Northcliffe's vision of a paper and was dubbed 'Lord Southcliffe'. But Northcliffe's advice was sound, and the fusty Herald was transformed into a populist and popular publication with its circulation skyrocketing. While he took a tabloid approach to newspapers, Keith was a stickler for staff keeping up appearances. He insisted on journalists wearing business dress, and was apparently suspicious of men sporting beards. To some colleagues Murdoch's mission was no more than the 'acquisition of money, possessions, position and power'. To others he was generous and genial. By 1926 Keith was on the board of directors and worked as editor and empire builder. The management of the HWT were impressed by Keith's radical vision for the company. He advocated the fiscal benefits of a national chain of newspapers and magazines and steadily sought out publications for the HWT to purchase in all Australian states. In 1928 he was appointed the company's managing director and the following year became the first newspaper publisher to enter broadcasting. Under his management the HWT could claim to be the most important media organisation in the country and Keith Murdoch its most influential newspaperman. He was a king-maker and confidant to leaders in both Australia and Britain. He also made many enemies, with the Labor paper Smith's Weekly referring to him as the 'would-be press and radio dictator'.
In his twenties, Keith had enjoyed friendships on both sides of politics; however, in his middle age he had solidified into a trenchant conservative. Many in the Labor party despised his politics and roundly accused him of using his papers to proselytise for dry conservatism. Years later the same charge would be routinely levelled at his son. Both father and son would dismiss such criticisms. The forty-two-year-old Murdoch was still shy, sombre and thickset - his demeanour more avuncular than dashing. In his staid South Yarra mansion he was surrounded by antique furniture, fine art and silver and tended to by his household staff. Nevertheless, this successful arriviste wanted a family and an heir for his successes. He had been engaged once, but this relationship had recently ended. It was then he saw a photograph of debutante Elisabeth Greene.
By now Elisabeth was a petite eighteen-year-old. While Keith Murdoch was establishing himself as a 'power in Australia' young Elisabeth had been growing up. Despite her father's 1914 rescue, the family lived on a limited budget and were regularly forced to let their Toorak villa and rent in down-market accommodation. However, Elisabeth's mother Bairnie refused to slide down Melbourne's social ladder. Elisabeth's father grumbled, but her mother was adamant her youngest daughter should at least go to an elite secondary school. Once again Lady Luck played her part when Elisabeth's godfather secured this education by offering to pay her fees. So at the age of twelve the tomboyish Elisabeth attended one of Victoria's best and most unconventional boarding schools, Clyde. Set in the foothills of Mt Macedon, this spartan school - there was little heating and often no warm water - gave its girls some education and the prerequisite amount of social skills. Elisabeth never matriculated. By her own admission she had no academic ambitions but had a great many friends and 'went to parties, played hockey ...' She adds with insouciant glee, 'It sounds terribly useless.' The Clyde education provided all that the aspiring Bairnie had wanted for her daughter. Elisabeth was equipped with the necessary social requirements for a 'good' marriage.
In 1927, eighteen-year-old Elisabeth Greene 'came out' at a Melbourne society party attended by the duchess of York (later to become queen Mother and a friend of Dame Elisabeth's). A rather severe photograph of the young Elisabeth was published in Table Talk, a gossipy paper managed by newspaper baron Keith Murdoch. It was this rather chaste image that the middle-aged bachelor noticed. Keith was struck by Miss Greene's looks and sought an opportunity to meet the young woman. He called one of Melbourne's society matrons to inform her that he could, after all, attend a Red Cross charity ball-and could she then please introduce him to Miss Elisabeth Greene.
At the ball, Elisabeth Greene was enchanted by her new admirer. To this teenager fresh out of school, Keith was urbane and charming, although too shy to ask her to dance. The following day he telephoned, and Elisabeth risked her parents' wrath when she sped off with Keith in his expensive sunbeam sports car to the Victorian coastal town of Portsea. Elisabeth's mother Bairnie was horrified - no respectable girl should be out with a man unchaperoned. But despite Bairnie's initial reservations, the relationship blossomed. In the straitlaced upper reaches of Melbourne society, their engagement made tongues wag. The couple were snubbed by some long-time acquaintances, including the overbearing Dame Nellie Melba, who didn't approve of Keith's youthful choice. Elisabeth's friends worried that she was seeing a man old enough to be her father. Her godfather even threatened to cut her out of his will if she continued with the relationship. Her father's reaction was perhaps the most sanguine: when Keith asked Rupert Greene for the hand of his favourite daughter, Greene's reply was: 'Well, Murdoch, I suppose you can keep her.' With the match provoking obvious disapproval from some quarters, Elisabeth insisted on a simple and small wedding; she wore her sister's dress. On the appointed day in June 1928 the couple's happiness was toasted over afternoon tea at her parents' Toorak home. The most extravagant gift for the newlyweds was from Keith himself. He presented Elisabeth with Cruden Farm - named after Cruden Bay in Scotland near where Keith's father had been the Presbyterian minister.
Elisabeth never regretted her marriage; in her words it was 'quite wonderful'. Keith enjoyed living on the grandest scale and introduced his adaptable young wife to his sumptuous lifestyle. She enjoyed the position this wealth accorded but never adopted Keith's more lavish extravagances. Nevertheless their country seat was quickly transformed from a simple villa to an Alabama-style mansion, and the South Yarra town house was later replaced by Heathfield, a palatial home in Toorak. With what she calls 'the arrogance of youth', Elisabeth took immediate charge of the houses, sacking one male staff member as early as her honeymoon. To her ten or so house staff 'Milady' was firm, even stern. Today Elisabeth muses on the feudal quality to these arrangements, but believes the staff were content, pointing out that many stayed for years. In Toorak and at Cruden Farm the Murdochs formally entertained a vast array of business and political leaders. Keith and Elisabeth, in their grand homes and with their well-disciplined staff, sat comfortably within the high walls of Victoria's moneyed class.
In 1929 Elisabeth gave birth to their first daughter, Helen. Two years later on 11 March 1931 the son and heir, Keith Rupert, entered the world. Two more daughters, Anne and Janet, completed the family. Janet now jokes that the was meant to be the second boy in the family, but 'there wasn't room for two' because Rupert would always 'have won'.
Their mother was a commanding figure in her children's lives and when both parents were with them, an air of formality prevailed. As friend and neighbour Joan Lindsay once observed: 'The Murdochs out riding on Sunday mornings made an unforgettable spectacle - a sort of medieval cavalcade of children, servants, outriders, horses and dogs ... At the head rides Keith, mounted on a massive charger, an upright rather heavily built figure immaculate in English tweed and riding boots. Elisabeth says she was the loving disciplinarian to her four children. 'I think children must know what your thoughts are and what the rules are and they must obey them.' The children were expected to carry out household chores and earn pocket money. She had inherited her father's martinet approach to child rearing. She once threw her five-year old son into the pool on board a luxury liner. No one was allowed to rescue him and the screaming Rupert was forced to dogpaddle to the other side. All the while the pool water moved up and down as the liner pitched. At least the lad had learned to swim. Rupert was a gregarious little boy, all smiles and blond curls. From a young age he cheerfully displayed an irreverent disregard for authority. His nanny, governess and sisters were regular targets for pranks - dead snakes in the bed being one favourite. Sir Keith worried that his young heir had inherited a little too much from his maternal grandfather. The regular visits by the ageing Rupert Greene were a reminder of the family's apprehensions. 'Pop' Greene was adored by his grandchildren, and perhaps sensing Keith's disapproval, he would encourage their disobedience. He would let them puff on his pipe or drive his car despite their feet not reaching the pedals. Helen once drove through a neighbour's fence as she tried to steer Pop's car.
Elisabeth still feels that her son was rather an ordinary little boy. To her, little Rupert's most outstanding characteristic was a lack of imagination. 'He only liked things that worked and I think that is something that is perhaps quite significant: he is motivated by this desire to make things work.' A house guest once remarked to Elisabeth that her then four-year-old son had something tremendous in him and would go on to be more successful than his father. Elisabeth was not amused at such impertinence, but nonetheless both parents hoped he would be a worthy heir. As she says now, 'We only had one possibility'--- Rupert. The four children lived a sheltered existence, enjoying the freedom to play in their lavish Toorak gardens or to roam the fields at Cruden farm or their grazing property near Gundagai in New south Wales. They would ride thoroughbred horse, play tennis and cricket and hunt the rabbits that burrowed under the Gundagai farm. Janet remembers a childhood of pure happiness surrounded by indulgent grandparents, ponies, beach holidays, picnics and games. From childhood Rupert Murdock was eager to grab entrepreneurial opportunities. The oft-told family stories involve Rupert railroading his sisters into either collecting manure to sell, or catching rabbits. Older sister Helen was given the unpleasant task of skinning them. Rupert would pay her one penny a skin, then sell them for sixpence each. The profit thus gained would then be spent gambling when he got back to boarding school. According to Janet, her brother always knew the value of money. 'I can remember he could not resist telling people how much their Christmas presents had cost him and would tease us and put it in such a way as to not quite tell us but let us know that he had been very generous and spent two-and-sixpence.'
Although sometimes slow to show affection sir Keith drew great support from his young family. Despite his position sir Keith still felt some insecurities. Early in his career, before World War I, he believed he was snubbed by the British media establishment. In Melbourne Keith was only too aware that the snobbish Victorian squattocracy regarded him as a tedious arriviste. He also distrusted the motives of some of his HWT colleagues. In his own mind he would turn this disadvantage into an advantage. Sir Keith argued to his son that social networks compromised your newspaper business, and impressed upon Rupert the importance of a media scion to stand apart from any elite. Rupert took his father's words to heart. The young Rupert wanted to please his father, but it was difficult. Sir Keith could be indulgent but was quick to criticise and slow to praise his son. Some of Sir Keith's associates thought the boy feared his father. By nature Rupert was a loner who favoured rebelliousness over conformity. He spent eight years at Geelong Grammar. His mother insisted he attend this establishment boarding school perched on Corio By with the Antarctic wind whistling along its corridors. Geelong spelt the end of Rupert's golden childhood. He made few friends and was a target for bullying. Some pupils from pastoral dynasties made it known that their families considered sir Keith a parvenu whose business of media was rather less than savoury. The angelic-looking boy with the wide smile was lampooned as being both a bullshit artist (Bullo Murdoch) and a communist (Commo Murdoch).
At Geelong not even sport could save him. Never a team player, Rupert delighted in winning but had no wish to share the glory. His mother recalls him doing acrobatics while supposedly fielding for the school cricket team. On a Saturday, he would frequently disappear for a flutter at the Geelong races. Rupert was not an academic and he bided his time, waiting for the day when he could enter the world his father was carving out for him. Rupert had inherited his maternal grandfather's gambling streak, but also his father's media ambitions. Sir Keith would sometimes take his heir apparent around the Herald offices. The boy enjoyed the buzz in the office, the noise of the printing presses, the smell of the ink, the power it accorded his father. At home Sir Keith would take any opportunity to talk earnestly to his son about the business, newspapers and Rupert's future. Elisabeth herself sometimes wondered if her husband expected too much too soon from Rupert. To his wife, Keith explained his anxious belief that he was living on borrowed time, and had only a short while left to mentor his son. Unfortunately Sir Keith's bleakness was well founded. He had suffered from ill-health for many years. In 1934 his position at the HWT group was jeopardised first by a heart attack and then by an attempt by its board to move him aside. He survived both events - the boardroom coup by a single vote - but more than a decade later and now in his sixties, he suffered from a litany of ailments, most seriously heart complaints and bowel cancer.
Sir Keith's other concern was the family inheritance. By the late 1940s he was still the most influential newspaperman in Australia - but he had spent his life as a manger, not a working proprietor. He was chair of the HWT group but was not a major shareholder. Over the years Keith had become dissatisfied and faintly bitter at the remuneration from the group. He knew he needed to increase his shareholdings in newspaper companies. In a series of swift and slick moves Sir Keith bought a 48 per cent share in News Limited (an Adelaide company) for what some regard as a fraction of its real worth and placed this in the family firm, Cruden Investments. Along with building up the family media shares, sir Keith put his energies into getting his 'wild' son to shape up. In 1950 as spring beckoned, he travelled with Rupert to help him settle in at Worcester College, Oxford. In the United Kingdom, Sir Keith introduced the nineteen-year-old to the Herald's London correspondent, Rohan Rivett. The Rivetts looked after Rupert, trying to hide his fondness for racing and gambling from his parents. Rohan was impressed by the Murdoch heir, writing to Sir Keith in praise of his son's abilities. Sir Keith wasn't impressed, responding by telling Rohan not to 'inflate' Rupert.
Thousands of kilometres from his powerful and demanding parents Rupert was free to be a wealthy dilettante. At Oxford he became the Worcester College secretary of the Labour Party (he was later expelled) and displayed a bust of Lenin in his room. The fact that the young media scion also occupied one of the best rooms (De Quincey) and was one of the very few students to have a car (a beige Austin A-40) somewhat undermining his anti-elitist gestures. At Oxford Rupert's interests were politics, horseracing and drinking beer. Some of his peers regarded him as spoilt and shrewd. he'd always had a rebellious sense of humour: his one claim to fame at university was as co-founder of the bogus Voltaire society. This 'society' claimed a general opposition to organised religion; it claimed eleven elected officials, including the office of gardener (as Voltaire was a keen horticulturist); and its patron was listed as Bertrand Russel. This larrikin association was basically a dining club. During his three years at Oxford, one of Rupert's closest friends was Robin Farquharson, a flamboyantly gay South African regarded as one of the most brilliant students at the university. Farquharson was an ingenious conversationalist and a mathematician who expounded to all who would listen a revolutionary idea called 'game theory'. It was an abstruse mathematical thesis, but when simplified and applied to business or political life suggested that when individuals break unwritten rules and ignore conventions they are more likely to succeed than those who 'play by the book'. It was an idea that the iconoclastic Rupert Murdoch later applied to his media business with remarkable success. After he left Oxford, Rupert lost touch with the eccentric and showy Farquharson, who later died a pauper.
Australia - Dynasties - The Murdochs - Part 2
Australian Aboriginal Sites in Temperate Australia
Australian Aboriginal Anthropology
Australian Aboriginal Music