“I’LL ALWAYS LOVE HER”
PRU GOWARD IS ONE OF THE MOST ACCOMPLISHED WOMEN IN THE COUNTRY – BUT IT IS HER FRACTURED RELATIONSHIP WITH DAUGHTER KATE FISCHER THAT MAKES THE HEADLINES
Politician Pru Goward opens up about being estranged from her daughter, former model and It girl Kate Fischer.
Pru Goward tries not to cry when asked about her fractured relationship with eldest daughter Kate Fischer – the one-time It girl of the ’90s, ex-fiancé of billionaire James Packer, former homeless shelter resident and, most recently, a contestant in the reality-tv show, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out
Of Here! “I love her and I always will love her,” Goward tells Stellar, and her eyes well with tears.
Mother and daughter are long estranged, and Fischer, 43, who has converted to Orthodox Judaism and legally changed her name to Tziporah Malkah, has been busy airing dirty laundry on TV and on the covers of women’s magazines.
A lot of it. About her mum. About James Packer. But mostly her mum, whose shining career she has eclipsed with extraordinary beauty and boundless self-pity. “It has always been quite a difficult relationship,” Malkah told Network Ten earlier this year, “I respect my mother and I understand my mother… that she is not motherly.”
Her mother’s political career, she added, is “where all [her] love has gone”.
GOWARD, THE NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, Minister for Social Housing, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, is one of the most accomplished women in the country. A twice-married economist, she launched a successful career as an ABC political reporter in Canberra in the ’80s, was appointed by John Howard to run the Federal Office of the Status of Women in the ’90s, and later became the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
But for all her professional success, Goward, 64, has been a mother since the age of 21, and resents the public exposure of an adult daughter still settling scores from her childhood.
Goward couldn’t bring herself to watch Malkah on I’m A Celebrity, even though millions of Australians couldn’t take their eyes off her as she bared her soul. Malkah disclosed that she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from unspecified events in her childhood, that she developed bulimia at the age of eight when her parents split, and that she was pleased she’d lost 14kg in the jungle, though her figure is still a far cry from her modelling days.
“She’s 43 years old, she can make her own decisions,” Goward says curtly. “I know that she’s very able, a very clever girl. She was always very good at maths, good instincts, good with people.”
And she was gorgeous. “Yes, she was really something,” her mother agrees.
At 14, the leggy brunette who towered over her mother, but had the same big brown eyes and exquisite features, won the Dolly magazine cover girl competition and a contract with a prestigious modelling agency.
Against her mother’s wishes, she dropped out of school and went to live in Sydney with her agent, Ursula Hufnagl. She was modelling in New York at 16, on the cover of Vogue Australia, and starring topless with Elle Macpherson in Sirens.
Goward worried constantly. “I was very concerned about her going into modelling so young. I thought she should wait, but it wasn’t to be. For many years it gave her access to a wonderful world, but today there are quite different rules around underage children modelling. Back then it was a bit freer, and for parents it probably made it more difficult.”
Malkah’s high-profile, five-year relationship and engagement to James Packer, then-heir to Australia’s largest fortune, ended in tears when she was 25. Fearing she had become a laughing stock, she fled to LA, where she stayed for almost two decades. “I like James,” Goward says. “These very high-profile relationships are tough on young people. They were so young… how can they possibly have [had] the space to develop a relationship with the scrutiny?”
Goward was herself just 20 when she met Malkah’s father, Dr Alastair Fischer, at The University of Adelaide. He was her economics professor and nine years her senior. Goward completed her honours degree, and Malkah was born when she was barely 21; sister Penny came along two years later.
“Mums do the best that they can do and I just loved her to bits,” Goward says of Malkah during her interview with Stellar in her harbourside office in Sydney’s CBD. “When I was pregnant with Penny, we were moving into a new house and I couldn’t bear to think of Katie just being at home with Alastair or a babysitter. [So] I used to put her in a backpack and go over there and paint the house. I was probably overprotective… Being a mother, it’s a wonderful devotion.”
Goward’s friend of 35 years, journalist and TV host Ita Buttrose, describes her as a “trailblazer” for women and says “she has packed a lot into her career”. But, like most working mothers, balancing it all has also meant “juggling madly”.
“She had a short spell of being superwoman – something most women embraced in the ’70s and ’80s (we must have been nuts) – and then realised the importance of trying to lead a life with some attempt at balance,” Buttrose tells Stellar.
Goward was a stay-at-home mum until Malkah was four. “That was my choice and I understand women who want to stay home, absolutely, but I also understand a lot of women not only can’t afford not to work, they can’t afford not to work for professional purposes… But when I went back to work when Katie was four, one of my relatives said, ‘Well, why bother having children?’”
She began her journalism career in Adelaide as a researcher for ABC TV’S This Day Tonight in 1978, and then moved to Nationwide, a nightly current affairs show, as a reporter.
In 1983 Goward transferred to Sydney, leaving her husband to take care of their young daughters.
“Katie is 43 years old, she can make her own decisions. I know that she’s very able”
She told a newspaper at the time that she had “run Adelaide dry… I knew Adelaide backwards, I knew everybody and everything that was happening. It wasn’t much of a challenge.”
Goward won a Walkley Award that year for her acclaimed TV interview with notorious Sydney criminal George Freeman. But while her career took off, back home Fischer was complaining about being a house-husband.
The marriage broke up, and Malkah and Penny joined their mother in Canberra, where she became the first female political correspondent for ABC TV’S The 7.30 Report, and ABC Radio’s AM, PM, and The World Today shows.
In 1986, Goward married journalist David Barnett, 20 years her senior, a former press secretary to Malcolm Fraser, and a friend of John Howard’s.
Barnett always supported her career, says Goward. “It was wonderful to be married to a journalist who knew so much about the world affairs.”
The couple moved to a farm near Yass and had a daughter, Alice, now 28. But by then, Goward says, attitudes to working mothers had softened.
“No one’s sitting there wagging their finger being disapproving,” she says. “But it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s a huge struggle for a conscientious mother. When I had Alice, I had my own radio show on the ABC in Canberra. If I’d taken my whole maternity leave entitlement, I wouldn’t have got my slot back, because you can’t have a radio slot empty for 12 months. It’s very competitive, so I went back to work at four months with Alice.
“I used to feed her in the morning before I started work at 6am to be on air at 8.30am. I’d feed her, get to work and then express before I went on air, freeze the milk and give it to my mother… and she would feed her the expressed milk. It was so hard and I felt for Alice, too.”
Before Alice was born, Goward’s job was even more hectic, and she tried to be supermum. “We lived quite close to Parliament House, so I’d get off air at 8.30am, rush home and take [the kids] to school,” she recalls. “I’d occasionally do tuckshop duty and then I’d have to get back to work for the next show at midday... Then I’d take Katie and Penny to music classes, which meant rushing them to the music teacher, hoping they didn’t get delayed so I could get back to Parliament House to interview the Prime Minister or something for PM.”
She feels guilty now that she rushed her daughters: “We are hard on ourselves as mothers.”
In an interview Malkah did in her 20s, she remembered her mother as, “this sexy, glam, bunny-fur-coat wearing figure. All the other mums would come to netball in their tracksuits or their nice, neat, ironed jeans, and Mum would appear, going, ‘Oh! I’m such a bad mother. Oh! You must read some Germaine Greer. Oh! I must work in the tuckshop.’”
But Malkah and Penny enjoyed Parliament House. “They grew up there,” Goward says. “Some days they caught the bus from school and I’d take them to afternoon tea. The attendants spoiled them. [Bob Hawke’s advisor] Col Parks always let them sit in Hawke’s chair. They were a big part of my life.
“I recall Katie picking up the phone when Paul Keating called to rouse on me. He said: ‘It’s Paul Keating here,’ and she said, ‘Yeah, and I’m Father Christmas. Mu-uu-um, there’s this guy who says he’s Paul Keating on the phone!’”
Goward was axed from The 7.30 Report in 1987, soon after new ABC managing director David Hill arrived, because she was seen as too conservative. She went on to host a show on Canberra radio. But in the late ’90s, she left journalism. As Sex Discrimination Commissioner, she developed Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme. It was rejected, but she’s proud of having started the debate.
In 2007 Goward embarked on her third career, as the Liberal MP for Goulburn in NSW. She now spends her time trying to work out “why the 13th largest economy in the world can have intergenerational poverty and family dysfunction like we do. Why have we spent billions and billions for so long and still have kids whose great-grandparents didn’t work and every generation is growing up in public housing? I see these poor little faces, disruptive kids, exhausted kids, kids who go on the school excursion and don’t have any money.”
Goward is an advocate for using adoption to rescue children from harmful environments, and late last month announced a range of reforms being implemented by the NSW Government designed to provide permanent homes for vulnerable children, including a means-tested adoption allowance to enable more foster families to consider adoption. “If parents can’t address their parenting problems, such as drugs and alcohol, you have no choice really: you’ve got to give the child a stable home.”
Is she still ambitious? “I think everyone has a baton in their knapsack… I think if I’d gone into parliament 10 years earlier I might have had different ambitions, but I had the huge responsibilities of managing teenage daughters, so that wouldn’t have been great.”
These days, she spends as much time as possible with her three young grandchildren – Penny’s daughters, Adelaide, Mathilda and Cecelia – who live a couple of hours from the family farm at Yass, where Goward shows them how to collect fresh-laid eggs from her three chooks and cook with them. “It’s great being a grandmother,” she says, “because you don’t have that overwhelming sense of being responsible for everything every day.”
As for Malkah, who now lives in Melbourne, Goward hopes they will reconcile one day. “We’ll see. We have quite a few years to go.”
“It’s great being a grandmother because you don’t have that sense of being responsible for everything”