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Show of the week: Australian Story

Monday, ABC1, 8pm

There has been no shortage of fictional Kerry Packers on our screens of late, from Lachy Hulme's portrait in Howzat! Kerry Packer's War to, at the opposite end of the gravitas scale, mirthful sketches every Wednesday night on Shaun Micallef's Mad As Hell.

No less than four recent mini-series have explored myriad chapters of Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer's life - from the alleged heresy of his World Series Cricket venture, to the seeming paradox of backing the pioneering women's magazine Cleo, to his domination of the Australian media industries - while the private life of his son James continues to be headline fodder.

Power, money, influence, fame and notoriety are the currency of the various Packer biographies that have appeared on screen and in print, but arguably it is the not-so-secret private world of Kerry Packer and his mercurial personality that has mostly captured the public's curiosity.

And it's that element of the Packer saga into which this two-part instalment of Australian Story fearlessly but ever so thoughtfully ventures.

It starts with an intriguing story ''button'', a little known event from Kerry Packer's teenage years, the significance of which is revealed in the second episode.


Piecing together the Packer story are close family and business associates. In the former category is Jodhi Meares, who as Kerry's daughter-in-law for the three years of her marriage to Kerry's son James was a frequent guest in the Packer's Bellevue Hill estate. In the latter are former politician and business associate Graham Richardson, publisher Richard Walsh and TV executive Gerald Stone.

Bridging the two is the ever-insightful broadcaster and author Phillip Adams.

What emerges from their accounts is a portrait worthy of a character from a Charles Dickens novel.

Neglected by his parents, young Kerry's childhood, despite the trappings of wealth and social respectability, was marked by deprivation, loneliness and illness, each of which would leave an indelible mark on his personality.

Overshadowed in the mind of his authoritarian and abusive father Sir Frank by first-born son Clyde, Kerry was relegated to the back line where he developed what Adams calls a Stockholm syndrome of failure, inadequacy and self-doubt.

Paradoxically, however, he defended his father to the end, a loyal hostage to the bloodline into which he was born and whose dynastic mantle he would eventually carry after his father's death, his father having fallen out with Kerry's older brother and favoured son Clyde several years earlier.

According to the popular mythology that the various dramatisations have reinforced, Kerry was a brutal man with a fierce temper, bullheaded determination and a fervent expectation of loyalty from his friends and colleagues.

What we see here manages to go beyond the more simplistic characterisations that have been made of him. His temper, Meares suggests, was akin to that of a child who knows no other way of expressing disappointment for something he can't have, while behind a severe social face lay reserves of empathy and tenderness, particularly towards his children.

But it is the testimony of Kerry Packer, be it talking to Jana Wendt, Michael Parkinson or a hapless journo at a doorstop interview, that provides the most revealing moments of this special.