Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Crocodile tears flow for the rich kid who dropped his lolly bag
O n the day of the Packer-book launch I came across three separate exhortations to laugh in the face of fear. Two, admittedly, were Buddhist-based but the third came as bravado. It was Simba, Lion-King-in-diapers, tossing his wannabe mane and declaring: “Danger? Huh! I laugh in the face of danger!”, just before things start to go pear-shaped. He reminded me – well, obviously – of James Packer.
Suddenly we’re all feeling sorry for wee Jamie. Maybe not all. I mean, maybe not David Leckie, after the public Packerooing that made him the main floor show at Sam Chisholm’s Opera House transplant-party last week.
But others spring gallantly to the dauphin’s defence. “It’s tough being the son of the legend,” says Greg Tingle, “even if you’re a billionaire.” Weep. Sniff. Daniel Petre says it’s sad. “Sad and wrong … to see a father want to relegate the relationship with their son to build their own self-esteem.”
What’s really sad, though, is how much attention we lavish – column inches, pixels, airwaves – on a man who’s done, well, nothing actually. Less even than the Prince of Wales, on whose life (the jackaroo year, the polo, the patent unfitness for the job) Packer jnr’s is clearly modelled. At least Windsor jnr stood for something. At least he’ll leave us some memorable quotes (carbuncles, Luftwaffe), a brand of organic jams only 25 times the normal price, a glimpse into the secret life of plants and tampons, and some truly awful buildings to remind us just how wrong good intentions can go.
Either way, most of us have done more, to less acclaim. Some of us much, much more.
Take Elizabeth Blackburn, our newest Nobel laureate whose coverage must have been a tenth of Jamie’s. Blackburn has that disengaged look, like the sweet-faced but mousey girl-nerd who always beat you into first place in class; a look that means she’s actually intensely, passionately engaged, only in something you can’t even imagine.
Blackburn also fronted George Bush on political interference in science and, more significant still, gradually uncovered the mechanism by which telomeres stave off cell senescence – a discovery with huge implications for ageing, cancer and several genetic diseases.
Or take Paul Pholeros AM, a Sydney architect who has spent decades fixing the pipes and appliances of indigenous houses throughout central Australia. Pholeros is determined that people at least have the running water and working cooktops essential for basic health but he gets none of the celebrity treatment accorded most successful architects, much less billionaires.
Jamie, by contrast, has … what? Not made money, though I sometimes think that’d be easy enough if it were your only goal. James’s prowess is in losing money, by the bucketload. But really, that doesn’t look so hard. I reckon I could do it.
Certainly, there’s the scale and speed of James’s achievement; to lose so much, so fast, and with such cliche – the jets and gin palaces, the breasty swimwear models and south-of-France weddings. I mean, a normal person might feel compelled to do something useful with the loot. Not just $X million to uh, cricket, or to the Victor Chang Institute on the basis that “research can also make money”. But a school for Zimbabwean AIDS orphans. A continent-wide array of solar cells. A writers’ colony (I picture them nesting and squabbling on some windswept headland, like gannets, but I digress…)
Scientology is a theocracy that reads like Dr Who on acid, in which the world’s evils are ascribed to herds of exiled alien souls or “thetans”, trapped in human form by evil galactic warlord Xenu and brainwashed into a false reality that includes stuff like bus timetables, polio vaccines and the Lord’s Prayer. Telomeres, for that matter.
You can understand that having a dad who looks like an Ood and acts like a Dalek could leave a kid Scientologically predisposed. But Scientology is a belief system for the epistemologically vacant, so although you might sympathise with Jamie for buying in, you have to admire him for buying out, if buy out he did.
But sorry? For a boy who dropped most of his lolly bag and still has a couple billion to go? What, he has
to shop around now for cut-price chopper fuel?
Of course, there’s the money burden. A chap predestined for Croesus-like riches must also shoulder nagging gold-digger phobia, the atavistic certainty that, in A.A. Gill’s words, “the evolutionary purpose of every woman is to find a male, steal his sperm, fleece him, skin him and throw him back, a broken and shivering pauper”? Seen through this keyhole, James has done well just to marry – once, let alone twice.
Now, though, Jamie is clearly in his hakuna matata phase – lying back, filling his tummy and telling himself “no worries”. You can see in his eyes he knows it’s a lie. Knows that, sooner or later, he must return to Pride Rock and face two brutal facts; that you can’t build significance on other people’s misery and that maybe, if he hadn’t laughed quite so hard at danger, he’d have heard the
Then he’ll find out for sure whether he’s from the deep or shallow end of the gene pool.