The elephant in the room
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