Family Confidential featured in Sunday Times, Perth

19 Feb 2012

 

Inside House of Heytesbury
Family find peace after tragic loss
by Maria Noakes

PETER Holmes a Court, the son of the late WA billionaire Robert, has revealed the torment he suffered at the hands of schoolyard bullies. Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mr Holmes a Court said he became a target of "unwanted attention" because of his father's reputation as one of Australia's most feared and respected businessmen.

"It did have a strange magnetic effect on every schoolyard bully," he said. In ABC's documentary series Family Confidential, the oldest son of Robert and Janet Holmes a Court said he had endued "some pretty systemic bullying" because of his father's fame and fortune.

"You haven't got attention because you kicked a goal on the weekend for the football team, you've got attention because your dad's done something none of the kids really understand," he said. But it was a small price to pay for the privileged upbringing his parents provided for him and his three siblings, Paul, Simon and Catherine, he said.

"I had such a blessed childhood. The media spotlight was a cost of benefits on the other side of the ledger. Media was not like it is today, by the way. There were no celebrity magazines taking photos of kids on the way to school.” The new documentary, which airs on Thursday, lifts the lid on the Holmes a Court family and the private struggles and heartaches of one of WA's wealthiest dynasties. Mrs Holmes a Court reflects on the tragic and sudden death of her husband.
Peter, who is based in Switzerland and owns part of the rugby league team South Sydney Rabbitohs with actor Russell Crowe, told The Sunday Times Robert was a "wonderful friend, father and mentor" who was "amazingly intelligent, thoughtful and often bloody funny".

He also revealed he was considering moving back to Perth. "Over Christmas my brother Paul invited me to Perth. My first reaction was that WA is really different from the rest of Australia," Peter said. "My second thought was I would love to live in WA again. I felt really good being there.”

The warts-and-all film paints a picture of a family who have only just come to terms with Robert's legacy. A shrewd businessman, he was one of Australia's richest men but he died of a heart attack aged just 53 in 1990. He left no will, forcing his wife and the children to untangle a complex web of debt and assets. In the days, months and years after the patriarch’s death, dividing the assets and determining who would ultimately take control of the family business, Heytesbury Holdings, proved problematic. In the documentary, Peter describes the financial power struggle within the family as divisive.

"Any chance of us being connected emotionally was blown up by other priorities always getting in the way," he
said. His mother said: "That was hell because it was like war with your own family.” But more than 20 years after Robert's death, the film paints a poignant picture. With the blessing of his mother and siblings, Paul now has sole ownership of Heytesbury Holdings.

"My father had been a lawyer who made wills for other people. I believe he knew what he was doing as he knew the law would divide things equitably," Peter told The Sunday Times. "He gave us flexibility to go our own ways at the appropriate time. I am thankful for that and have enjoyed the entrepreneurial pursuits I have been able to take on. "I've also been able to enjoy watching my brother (Paul) take over the family company and watch him do a great job. This to me is a very satisfactory outcome. It took some time, but perhaps that has actually helped.”