Frances Abbott, Tony Abbott and Leanne Whitehouse.
When we talk about the poor little rich girl syndrome we think of the bratty Veruca Salt or Paris Hilton; kids born with silver spoons who think nothing of demanding a pony or a squirrel on whim. The poor part of the phrase is of course said with resentful irony, but also with a measure of pity, because we know that while these girls are anything but poor economically speaking, they are poor in character, honour and rectitude. On some level we feel sorry for them, even while hating and resenting them.
But of course not all rich girls are "princesses" and not all poor girls have character. Some are just victims of economic circumstance and do the best they can. Having poor parents is sometimes not any worse than having rich ones.
And privilege isn’t always about money or the lack of it. It can be about power, even on a small scale.
I was the teacher’s kid and sometimes that was seen as an unfair advantage at school. When I won an English prize, I heard the whispers that my father was the English subject master and they stung. I worked hard to achieve my awards on my own merit. It was important to me, and my father was always at pains, hyper-vigilant in fact, to make sure I was not given any unfair advantage. And then, naturally, after graduation, I was on my own because no-one gave a toss whether my father was a teacher or not. When I got into university, it was on my grades and nothing more.
I did not grow up wealthy or privileged but I do know what it looks like. For a while back in the 1990s I was the personal housekeeper for Gretel Packer, daughter, at the time, of the richest man in Australia.
But Gretel was a far cry from the princess in the gilded tower. She was lovely, down-to-earth and I adored her. In truth, though, while I envied her lifestyle, I also felt sorry for her. How did she know who were her real friends? How did she know when offered a contract, award or invitation, whether it was on her own merit or because of her father?
This week, Frances Abbott is in the news re her scholarship to Whitehouse Institute of Design. The more information that leaks, the dodgier it looks. But I don’t blame her. I blame her parents for putting the young woman in this awkward and murky spotlight. I’m sure the Abbotts are a loving and warm family who want only the best for their girls but this was a dropped ball. Politically and personally.
Because Frances indubitably did receive that scholarship because of who she is not because of her extraordinary ability, above and beyond all her fellow students. That is my solid opinion. I came to it because I know that she will have been gifted, smiled and enveloped in a swaddling of gratuitous entitlements ever since her father began climbing the political power beanstalk.
It’s human nature to suck up to the powerful. Always has been, always will be. Some of Frances’ teachers, hairdressers, doctors, cab-drivers, friends and possibly the chairman of her college board will have treated her with a deference reserved for those they deemed deserving of a little extra respect. Wherever you have the rich, famous or powerful and their children, you will have sycophants, lurking, always lurking. Even normal people can suffer from that star-struck awe. We all have. (see a gallery of Kevin Rudd selfies for proof!)
I’m sure Frances Abbott has also borne the brunt of cruel and vicious barbs due to her familial connections as well. There will have been those who have sought not to curry her favour but to fry her golden goose. And this week, her feathers are being well and truly plucked.
I’m sure young Frances will be feeling the pain that comes with public scrutiny and wrath and I feel sorry for her. She will perhaps be suffering some degree of guilt for her part in dulling the shine on her father’s crown. But I doubt she could have foreseen this. She’s the innocent here.
This scholarship does appear to have spontaneously materialised almost exclusively because of Frances’ DNA rather than her portfolio and that, to my mind, was an awful thing to do to her. If it was a gratuitous hand-out, then it was an insult to her fellow students by the Whitehouse Institute of Design.
And her father should have foreseen that this could hurt Frances as much as him and he should have declined or declared the scholarship, just to be safe. If not for himself, for his daughter’s reputation.
Poor kid. It’s one of those first-world, one percenter sort of problems that come from privilege and wealth. Not something my feral five will probably ever have to encounter. Lucky them.
Nikki McWatters is a Sydney-based freelance writer.