The Sell Dinner

The Sell Dinner
Harold Mitchell AC and Alex Sloan
Talks / Lecture

Image: Don and Jessie Bradman Seated at a Dinner Table, c.1934, nla.cat-vn3258101
Recording date: 
10 March 2017

Old friends Harold Mitchell AC and Alex Sloan share stories of their careers in advertising and the media, reflecting on the history of Australian advertising and how it has shaped Australian society.

Transcript
Speakers: Marie-Louise Ayres (M), Alex Sloan (S), Harold Mitchell (H)
Audience: (A)
Location: National Library of Australia
Date: 10/03/2017
Typist’s notes: inaudibles caused by distance from mic/diction
 
 
M: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman welcome to the National Library of Australia I’m Marie-Louise Ayres and it’s been my privilege for just over a week to be the Director general to be the Director General of the National Library of Australia. I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land on which we meet and which we are now privilege to call home. I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and connection to country and extend this respect to aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples here with us tonight.
 
Now our exhibition, The Sell, Australian Advertising, 1790s to 1990s celebrates the colourful, humorous and often provocative history of Australian advertising and the products and ideas it promoted from wanted posters to ads for underwear and chocolates, from Vegemite to Victa Mowers and Lord help us, the Charger, the Chrysler Charger, to Life. Be In It, to Do The Right Thing. The Sell showcases the National Library’s enormous collections of posters, pamphlets, magazines and original artwork that document brands, names and campaigns, some remembered, some long forgotten and some like two really striking 1930s posters for Pelaco and tourism that make us pause as they use or represent Aboriginal people and cultures in ways that we would not think of as respectful today. Ephemeral by nature, often lasting in impact, advertising reflects the ways in which Australian society has and has not changed over the centuries. 
 
Now although this material wasn’t meant to last, it has. Thanks to the dedicated work of colleagues here at the National Library and of those who help us to develop our collections we’ve unearthed a wealth of material from the National Library’s archives to tell Australia's advertising story shedding light on 200 years of Australian life. 
 
Now a name that is synonymous with advertising and media and who can scatter his papers with aplomb and get them back again in Australia is Harold Mitchell, AC. Harold is the founder of Mitchell and Partners which has evolved into the largest media and communications group in Australia today. He serves as Chairman of a number of organisations including Free TV Australia, the Australia Indonesia Centre and TVS which is the University of Western Sydney’s television service for greater Sydney. 
 
In 2000 he launched the Harold Mitchell Foundation to promote health and the arts in the community. The organisation has since provided more than $6m in grant funding to more than 100 different organisations including this one. 
 
Applause
 
Thank you. Harold was appointed Companion of the Order of Australia in 2010 for eminent service to the community through his leadership and philanthropic endeavours in the fields of art, health and education and as a supporter of humanitarian aid in Timor-Leste and indigenous communities. We’re just delighted that Harold was able to open The Sell for us and thrilled to have him here with us again this evening. 
 
Now joining Harold tonight is a very dear friend of the National Library, Alex Sloan. Alex has been a journalist and broadcaster with the ABC for 25 years, working with ABC Rural, Radio National and of course ABC Triple 6 here in Canberra. Known for her warm and engaging presence on our radios we were all surprised when she announced her retirement from Triple 6 ABC Canberra last year. However while we miss her voice on air we’re delighted she has not entirely retired from microphones and I’m sure we were not surprised that she was today made ACT’s Citizen of the Year so congratulations, Alex.
 
Applause
 
S: Thank you.
 
M: Now this pair have shared an on air conversation for many years and in fact many of you told me that’s what drew you here tonight, you’d heard them talking over the years and tonight they’re continuing that conversation for us, sharing stories of their careers and the media, reflecting on the history of Australian advertising and how it has shaped our society. So please join me in welcoming Harold and Alex.
 
Applause
 
S: Thanks so much. Thanks so much, Marie-Louise, and congratulations on this fantastic role, just great to see three women directors in a row, I think it’s just wonderful and an inner north tragic such as myself so <inaudible> 5:29, just wonderful. Look, I – my job is to not get in the way of Harold and it’s just a kind of just –
 
H: No, surely not.
 
S: It’s like going on a speed boat and just steering him just away from the rocks occasionally because he’s got so many fantastic stories. Harold as you know, we’ve been talking for how long?
 
H: I can’t remember. We met – I was Chairman of the National Gallery, I was 70 kilos heavier and you were sitting on a windswept little beach. We were opening something up at the Gallery, doing what’s called an OB and that was - and it was good, we got a –
 
S: And he took pity on me –
 
H: - we’ve been mates ever – no, no, no, we’ve been mates ever since.
 
S: We have been and I think the conversations that we’ve had over the years have ranged on all kinds of topics but I think we know from Harold that he’s a proud Australian and he’s the former country boy with the pretty fabulous rags to riches story. It hasn’t all been easy and he worked like crazy to achieve the things he has, he’s – keep working and he’s giving it all back which is –
 
H: Am I allowed to speak? Later.
 
S: Yeah.
 
H: Okay.
 
S: In a minute.
 
H: Okay, alright.
 
S: This is what I mean, I just want to – just a little bit of a tribute to you. Just hear it for a minute.
 
H: They did the really long –
 
S: I’ve got my pen in my hand.
 
H: They did the really long introduction, that’s true or they should have said the short one. Alex has a real problem on the radio. Interestingly we’re never in the same studio but we – it sounds as if we are and I noticed the times – sometimes I would come to Canberra. Alex is hopeless without the pen, have you noticed the pen? And one day I leant over and took it off her. Fell apart completely on air and – because – did you write much down or not?
 
S: It’s just a –
 
H: You got it, yeah.
 
S: I think it’s you know well we all grew up watching Kerry O’Brien with the green pen –
 
H: So I bought a pen so I have a pen and I’ve got a lot of prepared notes. I grabbed a whole lot of notes about another subject actually so just so that you’d know I’ve prepared so – which I’ve done –
 
S: Every now and then Harold will throw out a fact or a figure and I’ll just write it down and then I’ll bring you back to it. It’s kind of a crucial device.
 
H: ‘Cause I’ve forgotten it by then because – could I open – I very proudly open this – the exhibition here maybe two months ago or whatever it was and apparently it was a very good speech and they told me that. It is so frustrating, I can’t remember what I said and I never write them down so I got no idea, no idea <inaudible> 8:04.
 
S: That’s the beauty of you, Harold.
 
H: I know.
 
S: Because The Sell which Harold opened which I’ve just had a really quick – Susannah, thank you so much, it’s just a beautiful exhibition so if you haven’t got to see that please go and see the exhibition and – was advertising the perfect job for you, Harold? Was it –
 
H: No, no, it was interesting, I – some would know because we didn’t talk about this much on the radio but I had the great disadvantage of never finishing high school and an even bigger disadvantage of never going to university so I can tell you that is the best thing that you can ever have in life so I started in a little country town sawmilling, had the sort of background that people would have had at the time and it wasn’t good, I didn’t know it wasn’t good, it was just life you know my mother ran away many times. Finally at 15 she did, just missed going to an orphanage so I went to work in the sawmill and that was me at 15, I think. And I thought this is not good because you can lose fingers and it’s noisy and all that but noble and things. My dad, wonderful, he worked in sawmills and that had been his life and I thought I’m going to do something different.
 
It was in a country town in Victoria and in 1958, 9, only AM radio so that would only go about the curvature of the earth so about 60 miles in those days and then it would run out of signal and that’s all you could hear. But at night-time the signal would bounce off the clouds so this little town way in the middle of Victoria, I could hear radio stations in Melbourne and Sydney and I’d never been to Melbourne or Sydney, you just didn’t do stuff like that, I can tell you. And I listened to 2UE in Sydney, 2GB and radio stations in Melbourne. I thought that’s it, I’ll get into radio and I wrote off to lots of – applications. All came back no, no, no, no and you know kids today worry about not getting a job, that’s just the way that it was so I – and this is another good story about the kids because I saw an ad in a paper, The Age as it was, got to this little country town on the Saturday, for an office boy in an advertising agency which is what this was all about and I thought that’s it, I’ll get that job and then I’ll stay six months then I’ll get into radio. I was 15, what did I know?
 
So I did, I rang long distance on the Sunday night, that impressed the heck out of them. Can you be here on Monday morning, the man said, Mr Cheel. You always remember – everyone remembers their first job and how it happened. And I said to Mr Cheel yes, I can be at there at 9:00 in the morning. The train from Adelaide stopped in Stawell, my little town at 5:15 and that went on to Melbourne and so I was there. I didn’t have a suit as I recall but that didn’t matter, I was going to be an office boy and I got there at 9:00. Now I got the job because I came the furthest, I could tell a lie because I’ve alwa – if you ever tell lies you know unless you’re a natural liar like Trump or something but you – I just lived with this my whole life because the man said had I had my matriculation? Yes, of course. Well of course I finished Intermediate and that was it. I was terrified for the whole - I think I was there for seven years in that job ‘cause I didn’t know you were allowed to leave any job you know when you got the job you had to stay and so I was terrified they’d find out I didn’t have my matriculation but what a great, great thing that happened because the office boy before me had been a man called Philip Adams and before him was another – went and become a great film producer.
 
Philip, smartarse that he is, he taught me everything like he was – he told me about these people in the world who were Communists. I’d never heard of a Communist, we didn’t have one in our country town, our little Stawell. He was the Communist actually as it turns out and he had all the black gear and everything like that. I always look around at the crowd at this stage because upstairs, he said, one of the art directors, very clever, wonderful, wonderful people that I just worked with, just incredible. Fred Schepisi had been the office boy before Philip so just imagine. Upstairs one of the very gifted art directors was a lesbian. I said what? We didn’t have lesbians in Stawell either and I just had this incredible, incredible education I could never have got anywhere else because advertising and advertising agencies, that’s where people work who had great talent, advertising was only a phenomena of about the last 70 or so years in the western world, it was American, differentiation between products but just gifted, gifted people. Got into advertising, artists, writers before they went back to being all the things they really wanted to be and so –
 
S: What do you think the key attributes are of being a really smart advertising person? What is it?
 
H: Well and I think I picked it up, it was good, having a very open mind and it’s a good thing about life generally, just not having preconceived ideas, we were that and the other thing, surprising enough for me, is being a great listener, just understanding people out there, all different, what is it they were? And then finally being able to just sum it up and that’s what sold products, it sold politicians and it was what these incredible people were – it’s all gone, it’s all changed, I mean –
 
S: Do you remember a sort of key early moment when you backed yourself, when you knew – you kind of went out there on a limb and backed yourself? What are those –
 
H: Do you reckon lying about matriculation wasn’t out there?
 
S: It’s pretty good.
 
H: Yeah, I did, I did. There was another one, oh so embarrassing, Alex, goodness.
 
S: That’s why we’re here, Harold. Harold –
 
H: Well firstly I arrived in Melbourne to start the job and I had one pair of shoes, one set of clothes, I think, that was about it and I lived at the YMCA for two weeks, then a boarding house – boarding house, there’s another story in itself. Anyone ever lived in a boarding house? No.
 
S: Canberra is a place of hostels, actually -
 
H: Whole thing is a boarding house.
 
S: - so there’s a great big history there.
 
H: But then finally I was very proud to have got a flat where I lived by myself. It was a converted bathroom at the back of a pie shop in Richmond. Here’s the embarrassment. The lady who was the boss of the area that I was in, lovely lady, she wanted to invite me somewhere, did I have a telephone? Well I didn’t have a telephone but I knew the pie shop had the telephone and I - so I got the number and I gave it to her and I told her I was living – one of the posh shops suburbs, wherever it was, I was a bit vague about that, anyway. But I didn’t know that the old telephone numbers in fact gave you the area of where you were and that was in 1961 and so I died of embarrassment again but she covered for it all because I was obviously lying about my education and where I lived, not good, not good. So I was okay with all that.
 
S: But you did continue education, though, ‘cause you went to RMIT –
 
H: I did, yeah, yeah, yes. Education should never stop. I – in fact I went to great tech college as it turns out, we don’t have enough of them, silly government’s cut the funding for them, stupid. I went to a thing called RMIT and they had a little fledgling class in communications and things like that and so I did that, I felt I should but then I gave it up when the teacher who was part-time advertising man, happened to work where I work, and was a dreadful drunk, he needed the money and I knew I had to give up when – I used to write his notes for his classes and I thought I think I’m catching up here and so I left after that. But I don’t you know, Alex, I don’t think you ever stop learning and if I – I’m 75 this year and I don’t want to stop being amazed by something new all the time. Someone kindly mentioned that I write for the Fairfax press – it’s dying underneath me unfortunately but anyway we keep writing and I do that because it just keeps your mind going. Like today I wrote one for next Friday ‘cause I won’t be around during the week and – about all sorts of things and I actually – I wrote about the fertility rate where I don’t know what we’re doing to our families, our kids, our country. The fertility rate – you know you remember the famous Costello which is one for Mum, one for Dad, one for the country which was three? And if you do that you continue to expand the Australian population, without expansion you go backwards. And it’s dropped from 2.1 to 1.8 because kids now are frightened about everything, they can’t afford a house, their job you know how secure is it? And so they’re not having kids. It’s a terrible thing to do so back to education, if you stop learning you give up.
 
My dad - one little story about my dad – I know I’m going to live okay now because my mum sadly, alcoholic that died at 82, not a bad effort, they actually didn’t have to cremate her, she was pickled already so I can laugh about it. She was a wonderful lady, sad story. And my dad, I went to Israel, first time I’d been there, I was <inaudible> 17:34 last November. I went to see my dad a week before his 96th birthday and I felt I should do that and he was always good, he lived up in the country, wonderful place and he’s - always shake hands, sawmiller, great big hands, sawmiller and strong. So before he shook hands with you I’d always sort of muscle up, shake hands, and he’d say strong handshake, son. Well a minute later it wasn’t, I can tell you but we had a wonderful chat for an hour and then I went to Israel. I arrived in Dubai, almost to Tel Aviv, the morning of his birthday and I got a phone call, wonderful story. He woke up on the morning of his birthday at 6:30am and 96, just tremendous. His wife, third wife – they hated each other, hated each other but they put up with it for 30 years – and she said good morning, darling. She told me the story so I don’t know about the darling. Anyway good morning, darling, happy birthday, you made it – and this is the most amazing thing – he looked at her and died. Gone. Gone. What a way to go.
 
S: It’s a brilliant way to go.
 
H: If you – 96, they tell me whilst about 0.3% of people should die on their birthday, that’s the way it works out, 5% of people die on their birthday, they sort of hang on to get there or something and he was terrific, he was fine, that works fine so I’m going on my 96th birthday, that’s it, Alex. Very –
 
S: Now is everyone hearing? Just checking on the sound. Is everyone hearing okay? Yeah? Yeah?
 
H: We never do that on the radio, do we? We just do it.
 
S: You’re all getting your dinners –
 
H: I once said to Alex, do you think there’s anybody out there? I didn’t know you know we – the other thing we used to do is we found out there’s a computer up in the parliament which listens to everything. Nobody there, just a computer but if you say somebody’s name three times it kicks in and it puts all of what we just said on that person’s desk. So every now and then I would say Senator Conroy, Senator Conroy –
 
S: He used me appallingly. I knew exactly what he was doing. He’d get it in there three times.
 
H: Yeah and then I’d say it all, away we go. No, life has been good. How will you miss all of this, Alex? I mean you love –
 
S: I miss talking to you, Harold but you know there comes a time.
 
H: No, no, no, no, what are you going to do? We all want to know what you’re going to do? What are you going to do? Travel?
 
S: Be hap – just be happy. Yeah, we’re going to travel, we’re going to travel next –
 
H: See the other thing is we’re all going to live 20 years longer than we thought. This has buggered up everything.
 
S: Well that’s what you hope but you don’t know that, that’s not guaranteed.
 
H: I will, I’m not going <inaudible> 20:04. If the weight hadn’t killed me, I don’t smoke, don’t drink, I should be right. My dad, it’s a good thing. But see it was easy one time, you left school whenever you did, you got a job, you stayed at that job ‘til you retired when you were 65 and two years later you died, it was easy, easy. Now, now you’ve got another 30 years, what are you going to do?
 
S: Well there’s plenty to keep interested, isn’t there?
 
H: Yeah.
 
S: It amuses that people think oh when you leave a job – in fact I might write something for Her Canberra on this on the R word, on retirement but people are so resistant –
 
H: Don’t do it, no.
 
S: People are so resistant about retiring and I actually so far are finding it marvellous, brain-clearing, thinking of the next thing. I haven’t even got to read any books, Harold, so –
 
H: Papua New Guinea, we go back and do that?
 
S: What?
 
H: Papua New Guinea.
 
S: I’d love to go up to Papua New Guinea. Harold does a lot of work in Papua New Guinea. Tell us what you do in Papua New Guinea.
 
H: Well Papua New Guinea, I first went there in 1976, they were one year into their own independence which we gave them and it was a – advertising job, I went there, they were wonderful people. One Sunday morning I remember, it was about Air New Guinea advertising the – that airline and I can remember this wonderful, friendly, just tremendous people. I went back there about eight years ago maybe, eight or something with Stephanie Copus-Campbell, I think many of you will know Stephanie, good mate, worked with me and for me and things like that and Stephanie was the AusAID Commissioner there. I was appalled, I was totally appalled that how did we allow this to happen? The place is corrupt, it’s got the highest level of everything you could ever imagine, most women are being used and abused in every way.
 
Stephanie was just telling me this week that the birth rate has now gone to eight which is terrible. It’s appalling and terrible and it’s a failed state and it’s our fault, it’s our fault so that’s my message for a while, I think, that where we can make a difference we do. It’s what I did with Xanana Gusmao. I got to know Xanana one year out of prison in Indonesia where as a terrorist he’d been there – but really he was just a nationalist for East Timor and I got to know him through his wife who was a Melbourne person and so I went to East Timor to see and their birth rate was at eight too and it was terrible but they’re trying to get through it all. And I just think that Australia is such a good place that we – and we owe it to ourselves just to look after where we can our near neighbours and so that’s what I want to do.
 
S: Well people will remind us what both the East Timorese and Papua New Guineans did for us.
 
H: Yeah, yeah –
 
S: And they’re part of our region and yeah. Harold, what –
 
H: I think our government is hopeless, they just don’t get it. I’ve told the Foreign Minister this and you know she knows. She’s a good person but they get caught up in – and we’ll probably go to another war in the next three years. It’s dopey, isn’t it? Dopey.
 
S: Do you want to continue that theme and scare the whatever out of us?
 
H: The war? Yeah, I do. Yeah, yeah, I do. I went to a – I never go to conferences. Even the big company that I built, I sold it to a lot of English people and God, did we clean up there? They’re dopey, I can tell you, we made a lot of money but I didn’t trust them so I was on the board. I was the second-biggest shareholder of this company and I went to London every four weeks and I felt like Humphrey Bogart because I left my clothes there, had the same hotel room and everything like that. But I stayed for two years to make sure they just didn’t bugger it up and they didn’t. But the young managing director fellow said you’ll come to the conference in Boston or something. I said oh I don’t go to conferences, never done it, no. He said we’d like you to be a speaker. He said I’m there, I’m there, I’ll be there. Okay so I went to that one. I didn’t go to the next one and the one after that but I did go to one on my own accord in America to a Google conference and I remember sitting – two things I remember about that. They had a band there playing called the Black-eyed Peas. You ever hear this?
 
S: Yeah –
 
H: Not my era.
 
S: Apparently I’ve just got to adjust your –
 
H: Not happy?
 
S: Is that better, Gregor?
 
H: How’s that Greg?
 
S: Just pull it out around near your mouth.
 
H: Oh right, well done. How’s that? No?
 
S: Just adjust, just tuck in, tuck in while we adjust.
 
H: Whatever happened to the old microphones? They’re gone. I remember this conference still – man called Ted Turner sitting on a stage like this and we were in the middle of the Iraq war which you know it’s just a disaster. I’m practical about life, people have been fighting with each for two, 3,000 years, they’re not going to stop but he said one – Ted Turner said one thing about war, he said war is stupid, why kill your customers? And I thought about that, that that’s just dopey. So we’ll stumble into one. I don’t know quite where it’ll be. I mean if they’re rebuilding NATO along the Russian border and Putin’s doing all that, it goes into Ukraine, who knows? World war one started with just a single shot and that happens. Back into the Middle East again you know the South China Sea, these things start by accident and then they’re there and it’s terrible. I have a brother –
 
S: But that trade and business connection now between China and the US in that Silicon Valley provides all the –
 
H: I know, I know.
 
S: And China does all the hardware so there’s a really – there’s a very big relationship there that perhaps is a disincentive to war, isn’t it?
 
H: Oh yeah, massive but wars are started by generals and other people like that you know they don’t worry about Silicon Valley, they – off they go, they do.
 
S: So you’re pretty gloomy, are you?
 
H: No, no, no, I’m the –
 
S: In terms of –
 
H: I’m the biggest optimist in the world, I’m just practical about life and where and how and what. I do worry about one thing in the west and it’s just because I’ve been able to adjust in my business, I beat every big company in the world, I started a digital business one year after Google so I sort of worked all that out, we pushed into Asia ‘cause it’s the Asian century so I’m okay about all of that. But I was sitting on a panel with the former Canadian Prime Minister Harper last week, the biggest rating thing and he said you know governments aren’t keeping up with economies and there’s something about that because Brexit happened, Trump happened and here the government which should have been in for two or three terms just scraped by. What happened? They forgot about the people, they started to look inwards and they didn’t look out so there’s no doubt that Australia – there is two things that we are, one, we don’t have enough population – that doesn’t mean we have to overpopulate but we are a nation of immigrants and that’s happened and that’s built us.
 
We together with Canada are the two biggest multicultural nations in the world and if you look at the history of just everywhere it was immigrants who built the country. Israel, look at Israel you know just amazing, eight-and-a-half million people, they got 10% for just – from 70 years of existence. They got 10% of the world’s cybersecurity industry, they got more start-up businesses than all of Europe put together. Immigrants, all immigrants. Australia, all immigrants. America, immigrants. Silicon Valley, immigration so we – and we – it’s true that we should have our borders protected, I’m okay with that but you don’t overdo that to the point where we need to keep our nation alive. I was with a wonderful man yesterday who’s got one of the biggest private companies in Spain. I love saying this because try and get your head around this name. I’ve known him for about a dozen years through the arts, I might say. Jose Manuel Entricanarvis. You like that?
 
S: Yeah, beautiful.
 
H: Lovely. He’s just a tremendous man. Spain, an economy the size of Australia, population 60 million, they have six million illegal immigrants and it works, and it works. Their economy’s okay, it’s growing at a better rate than ours. Israel, economy is growing at 50% that of ours. We need to open our minds and our borders ‘though I know how governments get in about stop the boats and all that and I’m not against that in every way but –
 
S: Are you – in terms of the cruelty that’s going on in our name?
 
H: It’s terrible. What do you mean by that?
 
S: Well what’s going on on Manus Island or –
 
H: Oh it’s terrible, stupid, terrible, terrible.
 
S: - in detention centres and just putting people in there and saying that’s –
 
H: We’re better than that, we’re better than that. I mean it costs us half a million dollars per person on Manus. That’s stupid too, it’s stupid. Anyone up on the hill listening to us? We gave them plenty of advice didn’t we over the years? Yeah what about the ABC? Now –
 
S: Now he’s going to turn on me.
 
H: No, no, no, it’s no longer your ABC, of course.
 
S: It is my ABC as a taxpayer.
 
H: I know, I know, I know, I know –
 
S: I still – paying tax on my superannuation so –
 
H: How are they going? What do you think?
 
S: The ABC?
 
H: Yeah.,
 
S: Look, I –
 
H: Be the big picture.
 
S: I want an emphasis on – and I said this in my speech today – an emphasis on – I just want to hear the word journalism said a bit more often than digital clicks.
 
H: Rubbish.
 
S: I just – the public broadcaster, it is our job, we are publicly funded to hold people to account, talk truth to power.
 
H: How are they going to find people like you?
 
S: There’s plenty of people like me but you just – you need leadership.
 
H: ‘Cause you used to push the barrier, didn’t you?
 
S: No. I was very tame, tame person.
 
H: No, no. Everyone knew what you were saying.
 
S: No but I think public broadcasters and that’s you know there’s been research that has found that democracies that have really strong and mainstream public broadcasters are the strongest democracies.
 
H: They are, they are.
 
S: So I think - I just hope the ABC continues to embrace the really strong journalism that we always have.
 
H: And be brave and take things on.
 
S: Sorry?
 
H: Be brave and take things on.
 
S: Absolutely, yeah.
 
H: Because it’s all over if we just close everything up.
 
S: Yeah and look I know the digital revolution is you know throwing things – all things up in the air but there’s still some core principles there and that’s about speaking truth to power, holding people to account and holding them to account. Let’s talk about Malcolm Turnbull.
 
H: Oh yeah, good. Let me have a look. 
 
S: That’s a – just a classic deflector –
 
H: I’m looking around this room. It’s not good, it’s not good, it’s not good.
 
S: So what are you making? What’s going on, Harold? What –
 
H: Nothing, that’s the trouble.
 
S: Yeah.
 
H: Nothing. Oh I think –
 
S: Is he in a bind because he’s there with –
 
H: Yeah, the reason – I’ve known Malcolm for 30 years, he hates me, just hates me, hates me, that I know. He foolishly told other people but I don’t care, I’m – just in every way. This’ll get back somehow, Alex. This won’t be good.
 
S: There’s no one listening, it’s just us.
 
H: No, no, I’m alright with that. Keating – like when I used to go to London I took one little bag and I read a lot, flick through books, do all those things. Start at the back. I wrote a book, sold out, it was very good but I know that when you’re writing a book you’re usually the la – use the last three pages to sum up everything you’ve said so I just start at the last three pages and sometimes that’d be it. But Keating’s book especially was a wonderful book that I took to London, I couldn’t fit in my bag to bring home so I tore out just two pages, one was about Asia 1997, we must engage with Asia, it’s at our peril if we don’t. I remember that, he was so right. The other one was a speech he gave about leadership. You just think of this, the story of Malcolm about leadership. He said there are many things about leadership, I was lucky enough to lead our business, many other things and I’ve always thought of this, leadership. One, it’s about imagination. What does that mean? Where are we going? What can we do? This is a great example here, this library and the things that it is, it’s brilliant. All of Canberra is fantastic. I was Chairman of the National Gallery here which was to be the 100 great pictures that we should own. It’s now got 30,000 pictures. The walls still only hold a 100 but it was a wonderful thing to do. The High Court so someone had the imagination that these things could happen.
 
But the second point of leadership is courage and in fact if you don’t have courage it just – nothing else works there. Every day – ‘cause I led our business for 40 years – every day you have to make decisions and some will be a bit tough about all sorts of things. Someone will get upset but nevertheless you have to make the decision. You could probably put it off. You could, they’re the two choices, put it off or make the decision. Sometimes you get it wrong and I’ve done that in my life. One of the problems about current leadership is do people really have the courage? Now you need to believe in things and then prosecute them. Maybe the current PM is missing some of that.
 
S: Do you think that –
 
H: Maybe not.
 
S: ‘Cause you had the long Howard era and do you think the kind of rot set in with our changing Prime Ministers when Kevin Rudd who said climate change was the greatest moral challenge of our time refused to go to a double dissolution? Was that the start of this –
 
H: Exactly, yeah, yeah.
 
S: - tumbling situation we now have.
 
H: Yeah, yeah –
 
S: And that’s the example of courage or not –
 
H: Yeah. And the other use, you can’t say well if we do that we might lose. That’s the other part of being a loser – a leader, make sure that you don’t. You got to take people along with you, you got to tell them it’s – I chair a body corporate. I only do that because it’s in the building I live in and I don’t trust anybody else and I’ve been doing it for 27 years. And it was the best experience I ever had about leadership. Seventy-two people in this great big building and when I got into it I bought a little apartment. It belonged to Billy Sneddon and no one knew about it. I know, I know. Mirrors on the wall, ceiling, everything. But it was going broke and it’s awful but see the magic place in – next to the – where we have breakfast in Spring Street in Melbourne. And I found out about how you lead – I tell you, anyone who’s in a body corporate, you’ll know – you have to take the people along with you. And – because it’s their money and it’s the biggest investment they ever had so – and I had another one in Sydney, the Astor which is a wonderful old building there.
 
Interesting story, these two, both of them had lifts, two lifts. One was very old, the Astor, built in 1927, wonderful building and the other one, 1976 and the lifts have to be replaced every now and then. Body corporate fees, you all know those and they hurt and they’re hard but they’re necessary you know you have to keep refurbishing. And the Astor had a whole lot of rich snobby people who didn’t talk to each other. Suddenly the lifts had to be rebuilt, 800,000, everybody got a massive, massive levy you know 50, 70 grand. One third of the building sold out, that was it, just gone. My building, I’d been telling people – I give a little speech at every annual general meeting of the need for a couple of things, one, the lifts will have to be replaced, we’re putting money aside and five years into that little speech they were we done those lifts yet? And then finally they were there and it didn’t cost them anything, we saved it all up. The other one, this is life, sadly, I’ve been staying there, is about security, we’ll need to keep increasing the security of the cameras and all the things like that.
 
So John Howard took the people along with him, Bob Hawke took the people along with him. Malcolm wouldn’t know where the people are. There you go.
 
You know who knew ordinary people? Kerry Packer. I had a lot to do with Kerry but I didn’t spend much time with him, he was too in your face and I can tell you that. He would talk, he loved to talk, all those - Rupert’s the same, Rupert loves to talk. Rupert’s a terrible gossip so I was their biggest customer, that was fine, I made it work because I would see Kerry once or so a year, twice maybe, was his biggest customer, trusted each other, didn’t write anything down, it just worked. And Kerry ran this very successful Channel 9, took over the Women’s Weekly, ran all of that. Those two organisations were completely of the people. Kerry understood ordinary people and I’m damned if I know how he ever did because I don’t think he knew any but you would – Kerry would – he would just – his wonderful surgeon, doctor, he was there when he died, John told me that Kerry was pretty crook in the last six months and John said well you know the kidneys, all that but you can have a second opinion. Kerry said okay so got into his tracksuit, they go out, they hire a Boeing 737 which is what Kerry travelled in and they went to New York in a tracksuit and got there, stayed in the tracksuit, got out of the plane. We’re going into John Hopkins and Kerry says stop, stop. There was a bigger-type person sitting there and he said to John you got any money? So John had all the spending money for New York you know about 10 grand. Give to me, oh. And so with that he got out of the car, stumbled, walked over, gave the beggar 10 grand. He would just – he had a sympathy with people, just the way he was. He was an amazing fellow, just incredible.
 
Tough – the other thing is about don’t get rich., I don’t know a rich family that’s happy. 
 
S: Yeah well that’s –
 
H: No, there you go.
 
S: You –
 
H: Here’s a good story, we didn’t tell this one earlier.
 
S: See what I mean? 
 
H: So what –
 
S: I just um and ah occasionally and –
 
H: So – like – so I started with nothing and all those things then arrived and that didn’t matter, I didn’t know you were supposed to have money so – or two pairs of shoes even so I was fine. But I started this business because I just had the drive to do it, in 1976, it was, it was a new type of business. The world wanted to crush me, all that but fought on and got through it all and I always said you can’t beat people like me ‘cause I had the best of background you know like just missed an orphanage, working in a sawmill at 15, married a bit young ‘cause I thought you had to, alcoholic at 23 – did we ever do that one? I was an alcoholic at 23 so how can you beat anybody like that you know like you’ve been there and done it all so it’s all over so I got our business, got it started, ups and downs, that always happens, it’s not just all the way up. Nearly went broke once, signed four personal guarantees – never sign a personal guarantee, very bad. The other fellow was bad and I copped 33 – I suddenly woke up and $33m in debt and no money so fixed that, got through that.
 
Wonderful working class family life, daughter of a wharfie and how life can change over a period of time. Got to the top, always a struggle because if you’re building your own business, it’s hard. I used to get up at 5:15, work seven days a week, do all those sort of things. Got to the 50th anniversary of it. My wife walked in and wanted a divorce, wanted 100 million and that was the end of it, it’s all over so it’s okay, I had the hundred but it’s okay, she’s got it now and I don’t know that it makes her any happier I’d have to say. All the big families I know – and I’ve been visiting a couple of them recently about a little fundraiser we’ve got at the Florie, none are happy, none are happy. They’re worried about oh what to do about the will, how to divide it up, where it’ll go. I said to one why are you worried? You'll be dead. It’ll all be over. He said oh got to get it right. I don’t think you can.
 
S: But –
 
H: My plan is to spend it all as long as I know when I’m going to die.
 
S: But this – I mean that’s a really sad story for you and I know –
 
H: I’m okay, I’m through it all, it’s alright, it’s alright.
 
S: I know but it was a very hard –
 
H: I only tell it here because anyone that’s coming up to their 50th wedding anniversary just take it easy, take it – 
 
S: But –
 
H: How are you going with Rob, are you okay? Rob okay? It’s best if you have nothing to fight over.
 
S: Exactly you know retired early, there’s nothing there so –
 
H: Yeah, being humble is okay, it’s okay.
 
S: But I suppose the philanthropy – I mean that’s a big issue with your family, isn’t it? I mean tell me about your –
 
H: You know when – my mother kept running away. It was terr – four kids, the middle two came back pregnant to different men – this is how amazing my father was so of the four kids, kept that family together, that was an incredible thing. So we would in my case be sent off somewhere and this wonderful auntie and uncle, my father’s brother and five children, five children. And they were just tremendous. I think I would have just lost it without the support of all of that and just – they’re just down to earth sort of people. I remember one Sunday one of them brought back another friend and lunch had started – the way lunch used to be of a Sunday, lamb, big deal. All the vegies, you all remember all that and you’d use up all the food on all the plates and it would all be gone. And this day one of them came with the other friend so they find two more chairs, sit down, they find two more spare plates and we all gave a little bit off each of our plates onto those other two and that stuck with me ever since, you know? That that ought to be life, that ought to be life so I help people – I think it’s what gave my wife the willies, I’d have to say, she thought I might give it away and I might, I might, I might, it’s just – haven’t found a way to take it with me. I’ve still got the problem of my mother’s ashes, we lost them.
 
S: Oh –
 
H: It’s okay, it’s all over. I think my sister knows where they are. I don’t know, I’m watching my father’s very carefully. I’m going to handle it okay, it’ll be alright. I’m pretty okay. I was with a Muslim man this morning, wonderful, someone we’re employing for the Indonesian centre and his mother – he’s about 50 – his mother who’s older said that as you get a bit older and a bit closer to it all you become religious again. You religious?
 
S: No, I’m not.
 
H: Do you want to be?
 
S: No.
 
H: You’re going to die.
 
S: Well I know that.
 
H: Where are you going?
 
S: I’m going into the ground with the worms. So I’m – I’m okay with that.
 
H: I can’t, I’m claustrophobic. Funny story about dying, I found that our little cemetery – doesn’t matter anymore, we moved – I found we own seven homes, can you believe that? How can you lose track? And – I was very busy. You might laugh but I was busy. And clearly my – it was my wife’s idea ‘cause we divided everything up and she took five of them. She did so I finished up with two. Anyway I found out the little local Eltham Cemetery was going to be – this was five years ago – was going to be filled within – just underneath Montsalvat, wonderful – was going to be filled within seven years. I’d lost all the weight and I realised I was going to live longer than seven years so I went and bought – this is stupid – I went and bought a family plot then my family fell apart. I’ve now got this plot with 10 – for 10 people and it’s up on the hill –
 
S: It’s the same as the plane.
 
H: I got the plane.
 
S: Plane for 10 and the plot for 10.
 
H: I have, I got that, yeah, yeah so I’ve got this plot and it’s up on the – the best spot underneath the little Montsalvat Church and all of that, looks down on everything, terrific. Then I thought this is going to be really bad because I’ll die and there’ll be an argument about what to do with the plot, I better work it out so there’s a wonderful sculpture out in Eltham, Brian Wilson and he’s done beautiful work in the Matcham Skipper era which was - great artists that were out there – and I said I want you to design what’s going to be on my plot. He said when do you want it? I said well when are you going to die ‘cause I’m not? So it’s up to you. So he designed it and then we realised that no one any good could build it so I said well you better build it so it’s this beautiful thing of a kurrajong which is a wonderful bird that lives out there and it’s modern and it’s got little gold leaf – a bit flashy but anyway it’s there and it looks sort of the alphamartists touch of it all.
 
So then he built it and it’s in his garage. What are we going to do with the new garage? So we decided what we should do now is build the whole – see this 10 person plot – build the whole thing and put it all up and put it there waiting for me. Then we thought when I die who the hell’s going to open it? So I opened it so we’ve already had this great big ceremony of the whole thing and it’s going to be there, it’s – I can’t change my mind now, it’s all just too far down the track you know I just got to go there. And I’ve moved away from that area and there’s no parking for visitors and the whole funeral thing wouldn’t work, it just –
 
S: You knew this was going to be life, death and everything, didn’t you?
 
H: No, no, no, no, no, no, no and I took someone out there to show them and she burst into tears and I thought well that’s the end of even visiting the damn thing so it’ll win an award, it’ll be wonderful. The only thing I’m thinking is about this religious thing, Alex, that you’ve got to finally work out where the hell you’re going. I’m going to the Eltham Cemetery so I know and you don’t.
 
S: No.
 
H: Which cemetery? Which cemetery? Where?
 
S: Well actually they’re a bit tight in Canberra so I’ll probably be cremated. The cemeteries are a little bit full here so you’ve got either – yes, my mother says vertically under a tree.
 
H: Can you do that? Yeah?
 
S: But anyway Harold, I guess we’ve talked a lot about the divide between rich and poor –
 
H: Yeah, terrible, yeah.
 
S: And it’s galloped away.
 
H: I know.
 
S: Is that where we’ve got to? Is that – when we look around, across America, Australia –
 
H: You’re right about that –
 
S: - you know what Pauline Hansen’s talking about is –
 
H: It’s probably –
 
S: - Brexit. Is that where we’re at?
 
H: Yeah. Well there’s that Stiglitz fellow I keep talking about, we had him out here, he won a Nobel Prize for Economics. His latest book is exactly on that and it’s no clearer than – you know the story of the top eight people got more than – as much as the other 50% of the world, that one? The boss used to get – 25 years ago the boss used to get anywhere – used to get about 25 to 30 times the worker, that’s what it was. It is now 300 times, 300 times. It is just stupid, just stupid what people – I said something in public the other day about the bloke at Australia Post. I quite like him but it is ridiculous that he gets paid that much. The –
 
S: And that was the board’s decision, though, isn’t it? I mean that’s –
 
H: Ridiculous for them, ridic – I – in the business that I ran I paid myself a modest amount ‘cause I reckon people should have shares and so many people - the story of Janet was amazing – that when our company finally wound out, we had a public company, went fine, did that and find it’s worth 650 million. No-one ever made this much money in Australia, I made a lot but I should tell you I was very proud of the final day when a lady called Janet who’d been our number three employee in 1976 came along, she’d followed us, she was now much older obviously, lived with her plumber husband up in Shepparton in Victoria. I said why is Janet coming along? Well she’d bought shares and she followed us as they all did. Janet’s now worth 1.7 million because of the shares in our business and that’s what I think. I mean if we’re all going to do well that’s really good.
 
S: Let’s hope it doesn’t cause her trouble.
 
H: Trouble?
 
S: The money.
 
H: That’s okay, 1.7 you can handle. Yeah, yeah –
 
S: When are we going to get it, that it doesn’t –
 
H: It won’t happen.
 
S: That terrible divide between rich and poor –
 
H: Won’t happen.
 
S: - that just continues. Is that – I mean does it go to the heart – and to cut money from education to –
 
H: I know. I was just reading about what Trump wants to do, he wants to increase defence and take it out of the aid program and everything else. Yeah, just ridiculous. Building another 100 ships. Why do that? Why do that? I don’t know. I tell you one thing I say to people now, that I’ve given up on this lot, I can tell you, you probably gathered that. A lot of business people have. A lot of people – I ran into big time executive yesterday – won’t say who he was – he’d just been up here talking to them all and no-one’s game to actually do anything. The only thing that can really push it along is people, all of us and you. I speak out and I hope I’m proper about it in every way but it’s got to a point now where the government people and bureaucrats who are good, good, good, good people and been totally politicised and they’re not able to give the right advice to what to do.
 
But if you get the pressure of the people it’ll go through a couple of phases. I mean the crazies will get in there and get in their ear, Pauline Hansen. Xenophon not entirely crazy, clever but those, they’ll get in their ear. That’ll fall over and out of it’ll emerge, that will be the next generation of younger leaders, whoever they are, who’ll be brave to do it. And then – we can’t get away in the world by keeping it all in one place, just doesn’t work, just doesn’t work. I come from Melbourne, the inequality in Melbourne – they’re rich, unbelievably rich people but the inequality is just terrible. You’ve seen people sleeping on the streets, the drugs, the young kids out in one of our suburbs who was from North Africa, it’s very bad. I suspect you don’t have it here too much –
 
S: Oh no, we’ve got a really high homeless rate here.
 
H: Really?
 
S: Yeah, per capita we’re <inaudible> 51:44, they know about this and –
 
H: Really?
 
S: Yeah, we’re not you know the divide between rich and poor –
 
H: So my message is the people, just push back, get in their ear, get in their ear and you did it, you do it, you do it. I you know it was wonderful, the other day there was a little thing with the Leader of the Opposition and he’s a hard man to get to and all that and I sent him a text, Bill, if you have a minute, could you call me? One minute later he rang me. They’re all pretty nervous out there, I can tell you that. Malcolm wouldn’t do it but anyway push back because if – and age doesn’t make a difference, age is wisdom in every way. I mean this group here, as influential as anyone should be because don’t let them run us ‘cause they’re no good at it. That’s the story of it.
 
S: I think the time has come when you’ve probably got some questions and –
 
H: Was that boring by the way? How did we go? You never know.
 
S: How’s the dinner? How’s the food?
 
H: Someone want to leave?
 
S: Yes, here.
 
H: Hello.
 
A: Hello, I thought Alex was going to talk about her career in the media –
 
H: That’s what I want, I wanted all that.
 
S: Oh no, that’s boring.
 
H: I got her started. Much better, yeah, yeah, yeah.
 
S: No, no, Harold’s – Harold’s –
 
H: Alex, what are you going to do? Career in the – what you been doing for this 24 years?
 
S: Twenty-seven, 27.
 
H: Twenty-seven. There, we got to talk about it a little bit. Did you enjoy it?
 
S: I did, I had the time of my life, it was fantastic.
 
H: Will you miss it?
 
S: Look, I’m okay at this stage. I do rant and rave at the tele a bit, I throw things occasionally but you know I did that anyway –
 
H: Did you enjoy talking to people?
 
S: Yeah, I always enjoy talking to people –
 
H: Yeah, you were good at it too.
 
S: - but sometimes you just know when you're done and I knew when I was done and I was ha – and you know I was happy to move you know been on ABC local radio in Canberra for a long time and it was time for some new voices there and so yes, I was able to call it my –
 
H: You won’t stop talking to people, though?
 
S: No.
 
H: In all sorts of forums?
 
S: No.
 
H: Nor should you.
 
S: I’m booked here in June with Hugh McKay, I think so you know – you know I’ll continue to do some little things like that but I’ve got – Rob and I have got a daughter in Year 12 this year, she’s 17 –
 
H: Fabulous.
 
S: - she’s my only one and I just want to pour as much as I can into her, speaking of education and speaking of –
 
H: And you moved from the morning ‘til lunch just so you could be with her more? You once told me that.
 
S: She, just – I’ve always tried – and I was really lucky at the ABC being able to have my – mould my job around so that’s why I did gardening with Mark Carmody which was one of the best experiences of my life. Everyone you know a lot of people said why would you have done 10 years of journalism to go and do gardening? Well in fact probably Mark is one of the most natural and gifted communicators you’re likely to meet and he taught me about putting tools down and just going with it. He taught me about taking my straitjacket off, about tapping into people – he is a people person, there’s just no doubt about it and so that was a risk that I took but it meant that Zoe – because I worked on the weekends she only had three days of day-care, I had Monday, Tuesday with her so perfect –
 
H: There you go, we got her talking about her. How good is that?
 
S: And then of course –
 
H: How about Rob? How important was Rob in all this?
 
S: Rob was very important.
 
H: I’d mention him on air every now and then.
 
S: Well he got to look after her of course on the weekends when I was working so very strong – they would go out to the bush together, he’d sit up a little desk and send me photos of her writing books in the forest, our little girl so –
 
H: What’s she going to do after Year 12?
 
S: I don’t know but she’s an astounding young girl and –
 
H: Yeah, good for you.
 
S: - it’s just marvellous. She’s about to shave her head off for Shave for a Cure. She has the most fantastic hair down to here and she’s donating the hair for wigs as well so I’d love you all to sponsor her. She’s on the Shave for a Cure website, Zoe Thorman, but she’s you know how much do we all love our kids? And that’s – that to me is the mo – I only had one, I had her very late, I just want to pour as much as I can into her. Yeah.
 
H: You’ll miss her when she goes? She’ll go.
 
S: No. Send her off to the world you know she’s had a gutful of us you know the old parents ‘cause we’re quite old –
 
H: Who’s been to Alex’s house? Anyone? No?
 
S: There’s Rob over there.
 
H: A couple over there?
 
S: Because we had her quite late –
 
H: Isn’t it the messiest house you’ve ever seen? What do you think, Rob? Stuff everywhere. Robbers – my wife was the – was – oh God, if I took my shirt off when I got home I’d walk around and it’s in the washing machine. It – she was the neatest, neatest person of all time –
 
S: We’re not like that.
 
H: You know like – no, you’re not like that. A great <inaudible> 56:39 is Margaret Ollie. I don’t know if any of you ever knew Margaret Ollie and you know Margaret Ollie, she used to paint her house? Messy but wonderful and that’s what I used to describe Alex and Rob’s house as, messy but wonderful.
 
S: I tidied up for the day he came too.
 
H: I know, I know, that’s why –
 
S: Spent hours, Harold, and he still describes it as the messiest house. But look, you’ve got some questions for Harold there -
 
H: No, no, no, I did my bit, no, no. I brought all these –
 
S: While your pudding’s coming around –
 
H: - extravagant notes just to talk to you about it – about you, about you.
 
S: Have some questions? Come on, I’d love you to ask him some questions and –
 
H: People never ask me questions, I’m okay with all that. That lady wants to. You? No? You’re just smiling, are you?
 
A: <inaudible> 57:22
 
H: Oh really? Yeah, I like that. A mike over there.
 
S: Yeah, here we go. Lovely, a Melbourne –
 
A: It sounds like you’re both big readers. Tell us what’s the most influential book you’ve read.
 
H: Oh very well done.
 
S: So –
 
H: No, I heard the question, we’re right.
 
A: Both of you, that you’re both big readers.
 
H: Hell.
 
A: Could you tell us the most influential book you’ve read? And why.
 
H: That’s good, you go first while I’m thinking. I used to tell Alex the three books I’d been reading on air sort of and it was only the one I just grabbed – I was always influenced enormously by whatever’s the last one I read and I saw this appalling rich man today, came in to see me, his father was rich and so he just finished up being rich and he spends his whole time trying to work out where he’s going to go to next and travel. And he reads books mostly about rock’n’roll singers or something and he says I just like to read them and then I throw them away so he leaves them in hotel rooms. Could you leave a book? You couldn’t, surely.
 
S: Yeah, I can. I put in our guest bedroom in our very ordered house –
 
H: Yeah, yeah – oh that’s not quite leaving.
 
S: Very ordered house, I always leave paperbacks and people start reading and I say just take them because I think that’s putting them - but my daughter asked me this actually –
 
H: Hell, what a question.
 
S: She spent a summer of reading, she spent a summer of reading and she said what are your – could you list your favourite books? So I’ve actually just thought about this exercise –
 
H: And?
 
S: And I said to her well the one that made me want to be a journalist is Josephine Tey's, The Daughter of Time. It’s about Richard III. If you can get hold of it –
 
A: <inaudible> 58:57.
 
S: It is a fantastic book and it turns out that Richard III, the little prince has outlived him. It was actually a story of discrimination because he had a disability so -
 
H: Wonderful.
 
S: - Shakespeare took his version from Sir Thomas More who hated Richard III so it was a story of bias, it was a story of who wrote it down, it was a story of how tho – and so for a journalist, and I was about – bit younger than Zoe when I first read that – I went always see who’s written these things down and ask questions so a fantastic little book called – and Zoe lo – she went this is a great – in a really old, old Penguin yellowing page –
 
H: When you were young you read it?
 
S: Yeah, read that, yeah, as a 15-year-old. I credit my mother who’s here tonight with – she’d go to Melbourne and bring back to the farm books and that – I mean I just rode horses and read books and so it was fantastic.
 
H: It was the salvation of my life too because I did read a lot but I was very shy, believe it or not like you know if I walked into a shop and I had to order something and someone else there, I’d wait ‘til they left you know I just couldn’t handle the pressure of speaking in front of someone else. And so I got over that and I think I got my education I’d have to say and that happened, across a whole range, just I read and read and read, just everything, as eclectic as I possibly could be. And the only one that was nothing – wonderful answer, I can’t even match that so – but in a business sense which changed so much of what I did there was a wonderful story, a man called J P Morgan who really built America and what he did like that and he was the number 40 Wall Street, he was one of the famous merchant bankers and he – there are many things he did, it’s a great story and I actually built my business around what he did. 
 
But in the middle of it all, there was one thing about J P Morgan, everybody from Presidents to big businessmen to just the man in the street trusted him and he had all the secrets, he had all the secrets and so he - when they were building the railroads, three railroads out to the middle west, his firm was funding all three, knew all the secrets of all three. That was the beginning of the Chinese walls, they wouldn’t tell each other and they made it all work. And I think I built much of my latter life in business on the fact that people need to trust you and in fact that’s a great story of life that you know if you can trust each other it’s a real basis and you know I don’t trust him, that’s a terrible thing, it’s a terrible thing. I think that was mine. Bad answer, yours was the best, I like yours.
 
S: And Harold, it just made me think, do you think democracy in the form that we’ve got it is buggered?
 
H: Yeah.
 
S: Is the party system –
 
H: ‘Course it is. Just –
 
S: - is it time –
 
H: As they say it’s just better than everything else but then I think – I go to Asia a lot. It’s only vaguely democratic. Indonesia is but it’s you know run by family despots for a long time. Our Australian government, I don’t think they quite believe that they’re democratic as the way they should be in Indonesia. China, I mean you can talk about all the terrible things they do to their people but they have brought half a billion people out of poverty since Tianenmen Square. Never been democracy and so democracy is a wonderful thing but just has to be – should not be taken for granted and just have to be very carefully handled. I don’t like – I got a document the other day redacted – you ever heard redacted? So the officials leave out the stuff they don’t want to tell you. That’s not democracy, that’s rubbish so it has to be handled carefully but we’ve got it and we’re good because of it and over the whole of the period, I mean like 24 million people here, we’ve done okay, we’ve been very lucky, we’ve had – we dug up things or we grew things and this last 15 years we’ve had one of the great booms that got us through it all. We mucked up half of it but we’re still there with it. We need to haul people back in what to do. We had – my city of Melbourne in 1901 had the highest per capita income of the world because of the 50 years of the gold. We had in the ‘50s in the country - I can remember this – so much of the war boom and the Korean war and things like that, we have been a very lucky country.
 
But George Megalogenis who – you’ve talked to George – wrote a great book that said this is our last chance, we better get this thing right now because you just can’t expect a mining or a gold or a war boom to come along too often, now it’s up to what we got in our head. We got highly educated people, we are not well led, we are not well led. We all know that. We try to tiptoe ‘round the people, they’re all good people, they’re all good people but these people, they look inwards and you shouldn’t do that, you need to look out to the world in every way. I’m opening a thing that one of the think tanks did and I was just reading on the plane coming up which is we better learn to embrace Asia and we better realise that we’re a trading nation with them and we can’t close up, we can’t do the Pauline Hansen stuff, that’s all pathetic, we can’t do that in any way. And we’ve done it before and we need to do it again and then we’ll be a great country. Otherwise – I gave the Olle Lecture, you know the Andrew Olle Lecture in 2003, okay? So go back and look at it. And I said then that this will most likely – unless we change it – be the last generation where every generation wanted their kids – your mama’s here – wanted their kids to be wealthier and better off and live longer than they did. And they – mums went to work you know that happened just so their kids to go to a better school and have a better life in every way like that. We are the last generation where that will happen, our kids will now be poorer and we need to do something about it.
 
S: Well they can’t buy houses, they can’t get in –
 
H: That’s right, they can’t do that. Year 9 education, a quarter of the kids are not being educated well enough to one, get a job or two, go on to Year 10 and you know it’s ridiculous, we should be able to, like that. We need to be a society that understands ourselves much better, to be less selfish. I’m not saying anyone is selfish of their own accord, we’ve just got used to the way it was. We’ve had 15 years of just incredible wealth rolling in. It’s stopped, it is stopped. All that balancing the budget stuff, can’t happen, can’t happen so – so that’s what it is. Australian people, as good people, as good as you could ever get. 
 
S: I think our Director General –
 
H: Oh sorry.
 
S: - is coming to deal with us.
 
H: Time to go home? Okay. I’m going home to my – I’m seeing my little dogs in a moment.
 
M: I’m not sure whether to be incredibly optimistic or incredibly pessimistic after listening to Harold tonight. I’m going to go with optimism because some – and I have decided that he could actually sell us death as a good deal given that he’s told us about his –
 
S: Included art.
 
M: - you know yeah including with art so look, I think I’d like you to thank a few people for tonight while you're tucking into dessert because it’s looking mighty good there and our guests haven’t eaten tonight yet –
 
H: Oh no, I’m fine, I don’t need to, I can tell you that.
 
M: - I have to say but – so we have run out of time for this part of the evening but I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I encourage you of course to visit our wonderful exhibition and of course so many of the things that have come through tonight’s talk about our society, about how we feel about wealth you know advertising is all about helping us all to feel more wealthy and we’ve just heard that probably our children won’t be. I’d encourage you to reminisce about the brands and campaigns that are part of our personal histories and to feel perhaps just a little bit older than you wish when you have a look at the ads. Firstly though I’d like to thank our event partners, Eden Road Wines and Bookplate who’ve been slipping in and out feeding you good nosh for tonight and your ongoing support for our public programs is greatly appreciated. 
 
Now I’m sure that this pair are going to be happy to keep conversing with you once they’re unmiked but I’d like you to – ask us to – ask you all to thank them very much for their chat this evening. Thank you.
 
Applause
 
S: Thanks.
 
End of recording
 
Download transcript 257.47 KB

Recent audio All recent audio