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Canberra Today 20°/22° | Monday, January 24, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Death of the man with three lives

Trevor Kennedy… his brilliant editorship in the ’70s and ’80s took “The Bulletin” to the peak of its popularity and influence.

“CityNews” columnist and author ROBERT MACKLIN farewells Trevor Kennedy, the subject of his just-completed authorised biography of the journalist and businessman.

THE death this week of Trevor Kennedy, journalist, businessman and philanthropist will be deeply felt by the extraordinary range of men and women who were drawn into his network of private and professional fellowship. 

Robert Macklin.

I was not only among them, I spent much of the last two years in their company – and Trevor’s – as I researched and wrote the story of his remarkable life. In fact, he often said he’d packed three lives into one, so had no right to complain if the time had come to say farewell.

It was difficult to disagree.

Born in 1942 in far off Albany to a respectable Catholic family, he had spent his early years either alone or with a mate developing a lifelong passion for fishing. A scholarship took him to Perth’s Aquinas College and on his return a chance meeting in a pub with a local journo introduced him to the profession for which he was uniquely suited. 

His trusty gillnet would accompany him when he went east on a journey that began at “The Canberra Times”, rose up the Fairfax junior executive ladder then transferred to the Packer-owned news magazine “The Bulletin”. His brilliant editorship in the ’70s and ’80s took “The Bulletin” to the peak of its popularity and influence. 

The talent he attracted to his journalistic net included two subsequent prime ministers in Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, a premier and foreign minister in Bob Carr, writers such as Robert Drewe, Ian Moffitt, David Marr, Ron Saw, Greg Sheridan and the best-read columnist of his day, David McNicoll.

He then rose to become editor-in-chief of all the Packer magazines including the “Women’s Weekly” before joining Kerry Packer at the top of the Consolidated Press pyramid as managing director. The two men developed a successful association until the attempted takeover of Fairfax with Trevor as CEO of the “Sydney Morning Herald”. 

They parted company and Trevor began a very lucrative business career, highlighted by the acquisition of Ozemail in partnership with Sean Howard and Malcolm Turnbull. This one venture netted him a multi-million dollar fortune.

He and his wife Christina developed Horse Island in Lake Tuross as a grand home away from their Sydney harbourside property. And it was to Horse Island that he retreated when his association with controversial share trader Rene Rivkin enveloped him in a financial contretemps with the ASIC regulator and the Australian Tax Office.

That was when he turned to the hobby of collecting Australiana that had rivalled only fishing as a favoured pastime. Indeed, it became a lifeline as the internet brought him access to auctions of Australiana around the world including artworks, furniture, jewellery, pokerwork and ceramics, of which more than $8 million worth were eventually purchased by the National Museum. As well, Kennedy donated thousands of items valued at some $7 million. 

His was an era shared by an Australian generation – born in World War II, raised in the carefree ’50s, liberated in the ’60s, enriched in the dizzying decades that followed until the spendthrift excesses finally caught up in the first two decades of the 21st century. 

But no one experienced its highs and lows more powerfully and more intimately that Trevor John Kennedy himself. His story fits easily into the book’s title “Casting His Net”. It’s my fond hope that I have caught the essence of the man and the era. Publication is scheduled for January.

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Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Robert Macklin

Robert Macklin

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