The Australian Federal Police and Murdoch security staff hovered as hire cars and Commonwealth cars with blanked out windows delivered guests such as Prime Minister Scott Morrison (briefly) and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Like the pollies, former presenter of Seven’s recently axed Sunday Night Melissa Doyle was given the royal treatment and driven down the drive, deposited right at Sarah’s feet.
Others made the long walk down the drive themselves, as ash from the bushfires fell like northern hemisphere snow.
Sky News presenters such as chief political reporter Kieran Gilbert, Fox Sports’ Jessica Yates and Yvonne Sampson, and league presenter Matty Johns trod the path. Other sports supremos such as NRL’s Todd Greenberg, NSW Racing’s Peter V’landys and soccer boss David Gallop walked in too, as well as designer Collette Dinnigan and chef Guillaume Brahimi.
Private Sydney is not the only newshound who attempted to peek behind the walls of Fortress Murdoch this year. In April, three New York Times journalists spent six months talking to nearly 200 people worldwide for a major investigative expose on the Murdoch clan. One wonders too what all the Sky Australia execs at the Murdochs’, such as current boss Paul Whittaker and former head Angelo Frangopoulus, made of The Loudest Voice, launched in June and shown in Australia on competitor Stan.
It tells the saga of Sky’s sister TV network in the US, Fox News, but we’re intrigued how the Murdochs feel about their likenesses, played by Barry Watson (Lachlan) and Simon McBurney (Rupert), and their mangled attempts at Australian accents. The show’s standouts are the Australians playing Americans: Russell Crowe as Fox News creator Roger Ailes and Naomi Watts as Gretchen Carlson, the former Miss America who accused Ailes of sexual harassment.
The Hollywood take on the same saga, Bombshell, hits the big screen next week in the US and next month in Australia. Starring Nicole Kidman as Fox & Friends host Carlson, the film will no doubt raise more questions about sexual harassment inside Murdoch’s Fox News. Then, of course, there’s the HBO drama Succession, the plot of which centres on the Roy family media empire, said to be inspired by the Murdoch brood. If boxed sets were still a thing, its unlikely any of these three dramas would be under the Murdoch Christmas tree.
Bankers bash for Aussie John
‘Tis the season for rich-list Christmas drinks with Aussie Home Loans’ John Symond‘s slated for this Thursday, the same day as the Westpac annual general meeting. The event is expected to be suit-heavy, with bankers including Commonwealth CEO Matt Comyn (technically Aussie John’s new boss since the bank bought him out) invited.
The party, a fixture on certain Sydneysiders’ calendars, was cancelled last year because Symonds was in London. But he’s re-opening the doors of his $100-million-plus trophy home, on the same day as the Westpac annual general meeting, so there may be bankers crying into the canapes.
Symond’s heavily pregnant daughter Deborah Symonds O’Neil is expected to be there, as are other bankers – including NAB’s Mike Baird and wife Kerryn who were late arrivals for the Thursday Murdoch bash.
Phelps to man the pooch barricades again
Kerryn Phelps, the former Independent member for Wentworth whose “Medevac” legislation was thwarted by Senator Jacqui Lambie this week, has swapped her sights on Canberra for the view from beachside Bundeena.
The sleepy seaside village in the Royal National Park is abuzz with the news that two of its highest-profile residents are returning after a three-year absence.
Dr Phelps and wife Jackie Stricker-Phelps have reportedly shelled out $3.25 million for a house on much sought-after Horderns Beach.
The pair sold their beach house on nearby Gunyah Beach in 2016 for $3.3 million, 15 years after snapping it up for $900,000.
During their last stint in the isolated settlement, the pair developed a reputation as self-appointed dog wardens, regularly upbraiding locals and visitors alike for perceived infractions of the doggie beach rules. There were reports that these exchanges could on occasion get heated when it came to poo-poo pick-up.
They were also at the centre of a row over an 80-year-old sandstone boat ramp out the front of their property, which some neighbours claimed blocked beach access at high tide and should be removed.
Now locals are holding their breath to see whether the couple will resume their zealous pooch-policing at their new beachfront home. It has been pointed out the pair could have their work cut out for them as Horderns Beach is – for large parts of the year – one of the few off-leash beaches in the area and a great favourite among local dog owners in winter.
The pair are reportedly planning major renovations on their new home before moving in, although whether those plans involve another boat ramp has yet to be seen.
Taste of the finer things at gala
In 1987, the then-prime minister Bob Hawke said no Australian child would be living in poverty by 1990. It was a claim our 23rd PM would come to regret, given 32 years later one in six Australian children still lives in poverty. But in 2006 he gathered a bunch of rich mates and founded a charity to help children, known as the Bestest Foundation, which this week held it’s 10th gala dinner and the first without its founder.
The parade grounds of Government House were transformed into a working kitchen under a giant marquee where 40 of the country’s top chefs cooked for 100 well-heeled guests, at $10,000 per table.
As a board member with the former PM, Guillaume Brahimi of Bistro Guillaume managed to convince his cooking colleagues to give up their precious one day off a week for an evening that raised $750,000 for children in need.
Chefs included Joel Bickford (Aria), Colin Fassnidge (of My Kitchen Rules and Pyrmont’s Terminus Hotel), Peter Gilmore (Quay and Bennelong), Lennox Hastie (Firedoor), Dan Hong (Merivale), Josh Niland (Saint Peter), Alessandro Pavoni (Ormeggio at The Spit), and Giovanni Pilu (Pilu at Freshwater), to name a few. Under makeshift conditions, each cooked for tables of 10, with no one ending up with egg on their face – other than the Westpac Group Treasurer Curt Zuber. As founding chairman of this children’s charity he helped Hawkey set up, Zuber addressed the crowd as well as the elephant in the room: the fact his bank is alleged to have made transactions linked to child exploitation. It was a slice of humble pie alongside lavish offerings from caviar to suckling pig.
“We are deeply sorry for our failings,” Zuber said of this “difficult time” at Westpac.
The apology did not seem to leave a bad taste in the mouth of those wealthy enough to afford the $1000-per-person meal, such as Foxtel CEO Patrick Delaney, Buildcorp founder Tony Sukkar, former Seven Media Exec Maureen Kerridge and Skye Leckie, wife of former Seven boss David. Let’s see how Westpac shareholders and financial regulators digest it this week at their AGM.
A notable no-show was Blanche D’Alpuget, expected to be donning a ballgown for the occasion that paid tribute to her late husband. Instead, she found herself donning a surgical gown for some tests on her ankle after she injured it that day. The author of the just-released Bob Hawke, the complete biography is due in Queensland next week to promote her book, and later this month at Woodford Folk Festival, the first since 2008 without her beloved Bob by her side.
Cool change for Shorrock
Former Little River Band frontman Glenn Shorrock is not only appearing at the Sydney Opera House and Tamworth Country Music Festival next month, but he’s also selling his harbourside home. Just like fellow septuagenarian singer Elton John, Shorrock, 75, is hitting the road to tour, a mere 44 years after he formed the band named after a town they saw on a sign while driving to Geelong, Victoria. He put his Double Bay waterfront apartment in the Gothic Revival heritage-listed Gladswood House up for sale this week. The sandstone mansion once had a ballroom, boudoir and servants wing before it was strata-titled into separate apartments. Former Crown Casino boss Rob Rankin used to own in the building too until 2016, when he sold for a cool $5 million. Although it may be time for a sea change for singer/songwriter Shorrock, he has not revealed where he’s headed, other than Rooty Hill on Valentine’s Day 2020, where he will perform at the Coliseum Theatre.
Helen Pitt is a journalist at the The Sydney Morning Herald.