JANET CALVERT-JONES: fol­low­ing in Dame Elis­a­beth’s foot­steps.

Janet Calvert-Jones, the self­pro­claimed “spoilt” youngest of Dame Elis­a­beth Mur­doch’s chil­dren, talks to Juliet Rieden about grow­ing up in an Aussie dy­nasty, in­tro­duc­ing Jerry Hall to brother Ru­pert, and why now she is proud to fol­low in Mum’s foot­steps.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents - AWW

Janet Calvert-Jones is gen­tle, shy and rarely gives in­ter­views. It’s hard to be­lieve she’s the sis­ter of rum­bus­tious me­dia mogul Ru­pert, and for close to 25 years worked as his Aussie lieu­tenant as chair­man of Mel­bourne’s Her­ald and Weekly Times, the com­pany her fa­ther Sir Keith Mur­doch ran be­fore them.

But I sus­pect Janet, who turns 80 next year, is far stee­l­ier than she looks. Much of her adult life has also been de­voted to char­ity work, some­thing she learned from her mother, Dame Elis­a­beth Mur­doch, the in­spi­ra­tional ma­tri­arch who she says be­came her great friend as well as a men­tor.

“It was just fol­low­ing in her foot­steps,” says Janet. “Her phi­lan­thropy – I hate the word – her giv­ing was

more than giv­ing money – it was be­ing in­ter­ested in things, and that’s the dif­fer­ence, I think. Peo­ple give money, lots of money, but ac­tu­ally to fol­low it up and to help peo­ple get more do­na­tions, to give them ad­vice on how to pro­ceed – she was in­cred­i­ble.” Janet and Dame Elis­a­beth made a for­mi­da­ble team at the Mur­doch Chil­dren’s Re­search In­sti­tute, an in­no­va­tive or­gan­i­sa­tion which, in just 32 years, has grown from am­bi­tious idea to a worldlead­ing cen­tre of ex­cel­lence, nur­tur­ing sci­enti c stud­ies that are al­ready sav­ing lives. “Mum was al­ways far more in­ter­ested in pre­ven­tion than cure and it was orig­i­nally called the Mur­doch In­sti­tute, fund­ing re­search into birth de­fects. She thought it was a fan­tas­tic idea.”

To­day Direc­tor Kathryn North’s stem cell work is creat­ing new hearts, kid­neys and prod­ucts for the treat­ment of leukaemia and blood dis­or­ders. It’s like some­thing from a sci­ence ction novel, only thanks to the MCRI, these break­throughs are very much sci­ence fact. “It’s de­vel­oped way be­yond my wildest dreams,” beams Janet, who a cou­ple of times a year joins a very special get to­gether of the char­ity’s coun­cil of am­bas­sadors – Dame Quentin Bryce, Paula Fox, Jean Miller, Lady Prim­rose Pot­ter, Jeanne Pratt and Frances Un­der­wood. They’re all grand­moth­ers and rep­re­sent the largest phil­an­thropic fam­i­lies and foun­da­tions in Aus­tralia. “They’re a re­mark­able group of women and gen­er­ous to a tee. I love be­ing a part of that,” she says smil­ing.

We are sit­ting in Janet’s Mel­bourne home, where she and hus­band John raised their own three sons and a daugh­ter, and now wel­come their grand­chil­dren. Even though they are spread far and wide, fam­ily and chil­dren are the heart of the Mur­doch fam­ily, some­thing en­gen­dered from what Janet de­scribes as an “old­fash­ioned” but “won­der­ful” child­hood.

“I was born just be­fore the war when we moved down to Cru­den Farm [the 133-acre coun­try Vic­to­ria prop­erty given to Dame Elis­a­beth as a wed­ding present by Sir Keith in 1928]. I was the spoilt youngest child and I had a won­der­ful fa­ther who would al­ways be there to play with me when he wasn’t at work. I was clos­est to my sis­ter Anne be­cause we were more that age, whereas Ru­pert and He­len were a bit older. But we were all very close and I had a fan­tas­tic, happy child­hood. Fan­tas­tic. It was old­fash­ioned, you know. We had a gov­erness and a nanny.”

As the only son, I won­der if Ru­pert was spoilt but Janet says, if any­thing, it was the op­po­site. “They were very strict with Ru­pert; they made him sleep out­doors in a ‘sleep­out’ to toughen him up. It was just one room, made of wood, with open win­dows so the air and the rain and ev­ery­thing came in ... Well, he didn’t need any tough­en­ing up re­ally, but I sup­pose my fa­ther was very much hop­ing he’d fol­low in his foot­steps.

“Dame Elis­a­beth was a very lov­ing mother but she was strict, too. You would never lie to her and there were cer­tain stan­dards. We had a care­free life – Mum al­lowed us to go to par­ties and things – but she de nitely led by ex­am­ple and taught us to be con­sid­er­ate of oth­ers.

“I was very close to Mum and as she got older, very, very close to her, and saw a lot of her. We were great friends. She was de nitely a role model and I would love to be a quar­ter as good as her in all she did.”

Dame Elis­a­beth re­port­edly wor­ried that the fam­ily’s wealth might have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on es­pe­cially her grand­chil­dren, and she loathed gra­tu­itous spend­ing. “She didn’t need to worry be­cause each of us has been

very care­ful to in­stil in our chil­dren that, if you have money, you must make sure other peo­ple have the bene t of it,” says Janet.

“She was very gen­er­ous, but she never spent money on her­self. She would think any­thing ex­pen­sive was a ter­ri­ble waste. I re­mem­ber my brother [Ru­pert] giv­ing her a bot­tle of Grange Her­mitage, some­thing like $100 a bot­tle, and she could hardly bear to drink it.” Nev­er­the­less, Janet says, Dame Elis­a­beth was “ter­ri­bly proud” of Ru­pert, adding “they got on like a house on re”. I won­der what Dame Elis­a­beth would have made of her son’s fourth wife, the model and ac­tress Jerry Hall. But I’m ob­vi­ously way off beam, for it was ac­tu­ally Janet’s daugh­ter, Penny, who played match­maker be­tween the cou­ple. “We knew Jerry be­fore Ru­pert did,” Janet re­veals. “She came out here with The Grad­u­ate, years and years ago, and we be­came friendly with her then. It was Penny who in­tro­duced Jerry and Ru­pert. We were ab­so­lutely thrilled [when they got to­gether]. We were wait­ing and wait­ing for it to hap­pen be­cause she’s so gor­geous and they’re just so happy, it’s a joy to see.”

Janet rst met her hus­band, John, then a stock­bro­ker, in Lon­don, but it was a while be­fore ro­mance de­vel­oped. Dame Elis­a­beth played chap­er­one to the pair in Sin­ga­pore and they wed in 1962. “We’ve been mar­ried 56 years now, so we’ve been ex­tremely for­tu­nate. Much luck­ier than Mum. She only had 23 years. But she al­ways said she’d much rather be mar­ried to some­body she loved for a short time than for a long time to some­one she didn’t love. Even when she was 100, she used to wake up some­times think­ing, ‘I must tell Keith that’. Won­der­ful. It’s re­mark­able she had 60 years af­ter he died by her­self and never looked at any­body else.”

Janet says Sir Keith’s death, at 66 years old, hit the fam­ily hard. “I was only 13 and I was dev­as­tated, I adored my fa­ther. My mother of course was in grief, but she never let it show to any­body.”

Dame Elis­a­beth threw her­self into her work and her fam­ily. “She wasn’t a hug­ging, kiss­ing grand­mother but she was to­tally non-judge­men­tal, so the grand­chil­dren could go to her, whether they were in trou­ble or what­ever, and she would care for them and ad­vise them.”

Janet needed that sup­port her­self when she and John dis­cov­ered their son, James, was deaf. “He was a very quiet baby and be­cause he was num­ber three, all very close to­gether I sup­pose, we didn’t no­tice it at all. It was my mother-in-law and my mum who got to­gether and said,

‘We don’t think this child is hear­ing; it seems to be a bit strange that he’s not re­act­ing to things’. So we took him off to a hear­ing doc­tor and we dis­cov­ered that I had had rubella. We were ex­tremely lucky in a way – if you can call it good luck – be­cause when you have rubella the child can be blind, deaf or men­tally im­paired. So James got away lightly with it, although of course it didn’t seem like it at the time.”

James’ con­di­tion cer­tainly had an im­pact on the fam­ily but “be­cause the kids were young they took James for granted – that was the se­cret of his suc­cess in a way,” says Janet. “He was treated as though he was nor­mally hear­ing, so he just had to muck in.”

True to fam­ily form, Janet used her ex­pe­ri­ence to help oth­ers and set up Tar­a­lye, one of the world’s lead­ing early in­ter­ven­tion cen­tres for chil­dren with hear­ing loss. “It’s 50 years old now. It’s the thing I’m proud­est about of all, I think,” she says.

I ask Janet how it feels be­ing a part of one of our most fa­mous dy­nas­ties. “I never think of it be­ing that, but I think for me it’s about try­ing to up­hold the val­ues and live up to the ex­pec­ta­tions of my mum. I think good old-fash­ioned val­ues of fam­ily life still hold true and fam­ily comes rst.”

To make a do­na­tion to the Mur­doch Chil­dren’s Re­search In­sti­tute, visit mcri.edu.au

“I think good old­fash­ioned val­ues of fam­ily life still hold true.”

Be­low: Janet (right) with her mother, Dame Elis­a­beth.

Janet (seated) with the Mur­doch Chil­dren’s Re­search In­sti­tute Coun­cil of Am­bas­sadors.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.