When then-Labor premier Neville Wran, aged 50, married Jill Hickson, then just 27, at his Woollahra home in August 1976, the couple were at pains to keep the ceremony low key and private.
One of the dozen guests, Senator Jim McClelland, read from a Shakespearean sonnet – ‘‘ Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments’’ – and Sydney hailed the nuptials as a golden match.
But the couple would go on to face impediments aplenty as the 20-year age gap between them began to expose the fault lines in the marriage.
‘‘She wanted the father figure and Neville wanted the trophy wife,’’ says a source who knew them well, and later witnessed the bitter tussles between rival camps of advisers and intimates over his affairs. "They both stuffed up.’’
Harriet Wran, the couple’s 26-year old daughter, now sits inside Silverwater jail on charges of murder and attempted murder. She was picked up on Wednesday afternoon by police at Liverpool railway station after a violent melee inside a Redfern housing commission flat on Sunday that left one man dead and another severely injured. Charged with her are her alleged boyfriend, Michael Lee, 35, also known as ‘‘Asia’’, and another man, Lloyd Haines, 29.
Ms Wran's legal team has indicated she will fight the charges. She has told police she only went to the flat to score, and "froze" when the fight broke out, terrified of what her alleged accomplices would do. A confessed ice addict, she had been sleeping rough for weeks, her circle shrunk to the desperate men with her last Sunday night, one of whom was allegedly armed with a mason’s hammer, the other with a knife as long as his forearm.
Friends are asking how this child of privilege, daughter of a Labor icon, heiress to at least part of her father’s $40 million fortune, a girl who went to Sydney’s best private schools, holidayed at the best resorts and had access to Sydney’s most influential social networks, has fallen so far. Vastly different accounts have emerged this week of who to blame for the recurrent dysfunction inside the Wran household.
There is only one thing both sides agree on: both Harriet and her younger brother Hugo presented challenges from an early age.
Jill Wran longed for children. Harriet and Hugo were IVF babies, conceived after a long struggle by Mrs Wran to get pregnant, friends say. Mr Wran was 61 when Harriet was born. Mrs Wran’s supporters say she was determined to try to be the ‘‘ perfect mother’’, to the point of selling her successful literary agency Hickson and Associates in 1999 – when Harriet was 11– to focus more on the children.
‘‘Harriet had eating disorders from very early on,’’ says one source. ‘‘It went on and moved into cocaine, as far as I know. Jill was always getting her from one rehab clinic to the next, she was beside herself trying to save this daughter. Now she is tormented by watching her self-destruct.’’
Another friend of Mrs Wran’s claims Mr Wran would ‘‘pose for photos with the children ... but he was just old, and beyond it’’.
It's a view vehemently rejected by his close friends, who say he adored the children and did his best to provide for them.
One long-time aide recalls Mr Wran, who in his later years didn’t drive, used his government car and driver to ferry Hugo around sporting commitments and to drop Harriet at school in the mornings on his way into the office.
Others say few boundaries were imposed on the children and ‘‘whatever they wanted, they got’’. The children were often in the care of housekeepers, another source claims.
Mr Wran’s inner circle have been critical of what they claim were shortcomings in her response to his increasing frailty. The couple had periodic separations in the years leading up to his death.
Mrs Wran could not be contacted for a response on Friday.
The tensions erupted in 2011 in a bitter brawl between Mrs Wran and her advisers and Mr Wran’s older daughter from his first marriage Kim Sheftell and close business associates Albert Wong and Malcolm Turnbull who were appointed his guardians.
The rival camps were in dispute about Mr Wran’s medical treatment and the supervision of his business affairs. Mr Wran moved out of the family home for several months but returned at the end of 2011, having agreed to put Mrs Wran back in charge of his affairs. In 2012 he moved to the Lulworth nursing home in Elizabeth Bay, and died earlier this year.