The stories of the legendary prankster Sir James Killen continue to arrive but don’t expect some of the more lively ones to get a mention at Friday’s state funeral in Brisbane.

For instance, when Killen was Defence Minister under Fraser, he used to stay at the Lakeside Hotel when Parliament was sitting. However, he was also staying, for some of the time, at the Red Hill house of a senior female Liberal colleague.

In a coordinated military operation he would drive a Mini from the Lakeside over to Red Hill, shoot up the driveway into the garage which had been opened for that purpose. In the morning, the reverse would happen, he’d zoom down the driveway, back to the Lakeside and wait for his ministerial car to arrive.

All went well, until a then young journalist from The Age, Simon Balderstone, who went on to be a senior Labor staffer, got wind of this and parked his own battered ute across the bottom of the driveway, leading to much consternation and considerable hilarity from a few of the journalists who were in on the plan.

Killen was a great performer in Parliament, but his love of the high life – the full wine, women and song trifecta – meant he won’t be remembered as a great Minister, despite being bestowed with almost every possible honour by his Liberal colleagues.

As Mungo McCallum pointed out, his main achievement was setting up ADFA, but that wasn’t even his idea. He was liked by the military top brass, who were also – at that time – all old school. However, he would be unlikely to cut the mustard nowadays in a much more complex defence structure.

Peter Fray

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