Dying at the age of 68, Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer lived only a few months longer than his famous father, Sir Frank Packer. Packer men don’t live to a great age: the founder of the media dynasty, Robert Clyde Packer, was just 54 when he died. Sensing he might not be around to celebrate his sixtieth birthday, Frank Packer had lived life to the fullest, publishing newspapers and magazines, launching Australia’s first television station, winning boxing and polo titles, and spearheading two challenges for the America’s Cup.
Kerry Packer defied the adage that family dynasties collapse in the third generation. His grandfather, RC Packer, had begun life as a journalist and risen through the ranks of newspapers in Hobart and provincial NSW and Queensland before taking Sydney by storm. In 1921 his innovative editorial work at Smith’s Weekly had been rewarded with a remarkable act of generosity: a one-third share in the company that published Smith’s Weekly and the Daily Guardian.
His son, Frank, worked as a cadet reporter and photographer, but his spell as a journalist was brief and inglorious. His most notable exploits were buying cocaine to expose a corrupt pharmacist and accompanying the first Miss Australia on a promotional tour of the US. Frank Packer’s strengths lay in advertising and marketing; he was adept at recognising both the talents of others and what was likely to succeed in the mass market. At times controversial share deals added to the family’s wealth during the Depression, and in 1933 one of his father’s proteges presented 26-year-old Frank with a dummy for the Australian Women’s Weekly, which would long remain the jewel in the dynasty’s crown.
Sir Frank was determined that both of his sons would join him at Australian Consolidated Press, but it was always assumed that the older and more intellectual Clyde Packer would take over the reins of the family firm. Leaving Geelong Grammar School in 1956, Kerry was, as he put it, “put to work in the factories.” He unloaded newsprint, stacked newspapers, worked in the machine room, operated cameras and shifted scenery. The young, dyslexic Kerry was viewed as somewhat lazy, with a penchant for gambling, drinking and fast cars, and his father decreed that he was to be shown no favouritism. Kerry Packer later joked: “I got fired so many times I lost count.”
Clyde Packer stunned observers by walking away from ACP in 1972, and their father died two years later. Nearing 40, and married with two children, Kerry Packer emerged from the shadow of his famous forebears by revamping the Australian Women’s Weekly and transforming the world of cricket and sports broadcasting rights. He was more politically opportunistic than Sir Frank and, although intensely loyal, more capable of unsentimental profiteering. But although brutalised by his father, the pair also had much in common; the late Clyde Packer, by contrast, was more like his namesake and the family patriarch, Robert Clyde Packer. Kerry Packer had a reliable intuition for what would succeed in the mass entertainment industry, and many of his business interests and achievements were outside the media industry.