I was academically stupid and my way of surviving through school was sport. I used to play everything. I was never a great natural talent, but I worked hard at all the sports that I played and I became reasonably competent at all of them. In Canberra, where I was looked after by the nursing sister, I went to a public school but I was obviously behind in my work. Then they got me into Canberra Grammar for a while and at the end of two years I came back to Sydney, and that's really the first time that I remember living with my parents.
For the four years since I had been sent to Bowral, I had seen nothing of them, except for seeing my mother perhaps half a dozen times. It was the war and my father was working for the army and my mother worked hard in the Red Cross. It wasn't a matter of their not wanting to see me, it was a matter of getting on and doing things, which is something that I believe was right. I think they had to.
The most influential adult in the first few years of my life was my mother's sister, Mary Horden, who was a wonderful woman. After that there is a vacuum. The nurse, who was a nice woman, didn't really have a lot of influence.
That was a fairly lonely, difficult period. Then when I went back to my first school, when I returned to Sydney, I was hopelessly behind everyone else and became a bit of a laughing stock because of it. My method of fighting against that was to devote myself to sport, where I had more ability than most. Being an academic failure was very painful and this was a very tough period for a kid. It was probably the hardening of the shell, because kids are pretty unkind to kids.
After a few years at Cranbrook, where I wasn't doing very well, I went to Geelong Grammar on the recommendation of the headmaster of Cranbrook. I was 12 or 13 when I went to Geelong and I used to see my parents only at the holidays.
My mother was one of four daughters in her family and a woman of beauty and intellect. She was devoted to her husband. He came first, as is right. I don't mean by that that she neglected us — she didn't. She believed that her function in life was to look after my father and I don't disagree with that.
I had a disrupted childhood, which was nobody's fault. My father worked bloody hard to survive and I didn't see him because he paid a price for success. That price had to be paid in the Consolidated Press building in long hours. It wasn't that he didn't adore us, he did. Life's like a see-saw to me: if you get it that end, then you've got to pay for it this end, because one side goes up and one goes down. And he was a competitor; he couldn't help it. He had to get in there and fight.
How do I bring my own two children up? Well, funnily enough, I spend pretty long hours in the Consolidated Press building too. I want them to know only one thing, really — that I adore them. I'd do anything for them and they know that. They know they're loved. They're excited and happy to see me as I am to see them. That doesn't mean I don't put them over my knee — I do, but I hope fairly and never in anger. It's a belief that when you've done something wrong you've got to pay a price. Then we talk about it after it happens and say: "It's paid now, but let's learn the lesson and not do it again."
My children have been lucky in life. I have a wife who has brought the children up and she's done a fine job. They really are great kids. I'm very proud of them and I'm proud of her, because she's the one who's done it. You're very lucky in life if you've got good kids and a good wife.
The quality or characteristic which I think I have learned from my father and other people who have influenced me, which I think is important, is loyalty. You have to give loyalty in order to receive it. I believe you offer loyalty to everyone, which is not as big a strain as it sounds, because very few people pick it up. It's a two-way street. It's looking after one's friends when it is inconvenient or difficult for you to do so. Anyone can look after someone if it's no problem, but it's real loyalty when you have to choose between something which you wanted or wanted to do, and their need. Then you have to choose to serve their need. I believe that's above everything else. You kid yourself if you think you can buy loyalty. You can't. You earn it through consideration and through being there when other people need you, regardless of what other commitments you have. I believe that you've got to be true to your beliefs, loyal to your friends and be a winner.
As I said before, I know full well that I couldn't have done what my father did, build a great enterprise from nothing. I don't have those talents. I realised early that it takes a certain type of man to do what he did and I don't look at myself as a failure because I can't measure up to him. He was one of the exceptional people and I think you're damned lucky if you know one and you've seen how they operate.
Just having known such men gives you a tremendous edge, which in itself should be enough without ever trying to aspire to be what they are, because you won't be. You'll fail, and that's the thing that cuts people around — the fact that they think they could have done what their father could have done, and not realising that it is a gift which is given to very few people. Don't feel ashamed if you're not given it.
My father was a gambler. Every man who ever created anything was a gambler. I am also, but there's a difference. What I risk on World Series Cricket is not going to put this company into jeopardy. It's not going to send it broke. I could close it down and the place would not even hiccup.
What my father did was to take everything he had, all the prospects of everything he ever had and put it on one roll of the dice. And what happens with great men and creators is that they work so hard with so little. Now I might risk more than the next guy, but I've never risked the lot. I've never risked anything that's going to put Consolidated Press at risk; might knock it around for a year or two, but we don't take the sort of risks where everything depends on it going right.
I believe I was a pretty lucky child. I was born with all the advantages — all the good things that could happen to me did happen. I had a bit of sickness, but how lucky I was to be able to get the right doctor. How lucky I was to be able to get into the right hospital. How lucky I was that I wasn't left with any scars. I can't tell you the happiest memory of my childhood, but I was lucky enough to have fantastic parents.
If I have one unhappy memory of childhood, it was the loneliness. The opportunity to make friends wasn't there. Some of the holidays were lonely because of those sorts of things, but that is the luck of the draw. If I hadn't been sick and there hadn't been a war on it mightn't have worked out that way.
I've got a few mates who are very important to me, whose company I like, whose opinion I respect and whose friendship I value. Then I suppose one could say that there's maybe one or two people out there who don't approve of me, but my early existence insulated me against those people pretty well. Maybe that was the way it was meant to be.
Reproduced from As The Twig Is Bent: The Childhood Recollections of Sixteen Prominent Australians. By Terry Lane, Dove Communications.