The ele­phant in the room

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Viewpoint -

The Packer home was, as you might ex­pect, very large. It was also very gloomy. So Kerry spent much of his time in a small room with a cheery open fire. On one side of it, the first large­screen telly I’d ever seen. On the other a glass case full of the largest guns I’d ever seen – de­signed for one of his favourite pas­times. Killing ele­phants.

As proof of Kerry’s prow­ess in this ap­palling pur­suit there was an ele­phant’s foot con­tain­ing the fire irons, and a pair of enor­mous tusks. Among the many things we ar­gued about: shoot­ing ele­phants.

There was some­thing of the pachy­derm about Packer. Large, lum­ber­ing, he was the ele­phant in ev­ery room. And he iden­ti­fied with The Ele­phant Man. Af­ter see­ing the film he told me “that’s how I feel”, voic­ing an ob­ses­sion that he was mon­strously ugly. He was cer­tainly as close to a bull ele­phant as any hu­man can get – and had been lum­bered with the mid­dle name of Bull­more.

So he should have been kin­der to the most awe­some of land mam­mals. In­stead, he’d go to Africa and kill them. And un­til one mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion, when he fi­nally changed his mind, he dis­missed my dis­ap­proval.

Uganda was un­der the rule of an­other ele­phant-size bully, Idi Amin, and Kerry boasted of an in­vi­ta­tion he found flat­ter­ing: “I’ve just had a call from Amin.” I told him I wasn’t sur­prised – “you two had to find each other”. But why had he called? “To in­vite me to Uganda to shoot ele­phants.” “And will you ac­cept?” “Not sure. What do you think it would do my rep­u­ta­tion?” Sit­ting be­side the huge curved tusks and the hol­lowed-out ele­phant’s foot, I was quite proud of my re­ply: “I don’t know about yours – but it’d f..k Idi’s.”

Quickly drained of any ves­tige of hu­mour, the con­ver­sa­tion be­came one of the big­gest rows we ever had. By its end Kerry had changed his mind – and come up with a plan to save the African ele­phant from tro­phy hun­ters, ivory poach­ers and the farm­ers who killed them be­cause they marched through their crops and veg­etable gar­dens. “That’s be­cause they have their farms on the ele­phants’ tra­di­tional mi­gra­tion paths,” pro­nounced the sud­den con­vert to con­ser­va­tion. His so­lu­tion was sim­ple. Wasn’t the Kim­ber­ley on the same lat­i­tude? Very sim­i­lar coun­try to Africa! And no farms there! Aus­tralia’s rich­est man would talk to the despotic Idi and get him to do­nate a dozen breed­ing pairs. Kerry would im­port them to WA, let them loose in the Kim­ber­ley and Bob’s your un­cle.

He didn’t be­gin to un­der­stand why this wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily a great idea – and why it might be seen as men­tal by our en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. The sud­den ar­rival of free-range ele­phants in Aus­tralia might, just might, have un­fore­seen con­se­quences. Such as an un­ex­pected im­pact on lo­cal flora and fauna, in­clud­ing hu­mans. And add feral ele­phants to the mil­lions of ex­ist­ing fer­als (camels, don­keys, horses, buf­falo and other re­cent ar­rivals) up north… What if Kerry’s ele­phants bred like rab­bits? Or cane toads? I en­vis­aged the scenes of tur­moil as hun­dreds of Packer’s pachy­derms tramped, trumped and trum­peted all over Perth. Bathing in the Swan. Tak­ing over Kings Park. Was I wrong to talk him out of it? At least I saved a few of Idi’s ele­phants.

Not long after­wards, Packer was be­ing hunted him­self – by a royal com­mis­sion. And I, like Trevor Kennedy and Mal­colm Turn­bull, would talk him out of shoot­ing him­self. But that’s an­other story.

BY phillip adams

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