There’s been blood on the floor of the Fairfax newsrooms this week with the announcement of nearly 2000 job losses amongst journalists and printers over the next three years, and the scaling down of the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age from broadsheets to tabloids. Many blame Fairfax’s sliding fortunes on the internet revolution and the slowness by the Fairfax board to respond to changing technology. But as David Leser writes, the rot set in during the late 1980s when young Warwick Fairfax returned from America brandishing an MBA from Harvard University and strong Christian convictions to take over John Fairfax Ltd, the company his father, Sir Warwick had run in one position or another for the better part of 50 years. Young Warwick’s ambitions were aided and abetted by his mother (Lady) Mary Fairfax in what became both tragedy and farce for the House of Fairfax.
THE TEARS HAVE DRIED AND Lady (Mary) Fairfax is leaning forward
on the sofa clutching her letters and photographs. The butler is
hovering just beyond the reception room and her PR man is looking
anxiously at the floor. ‘Now, do I seem like a person who is interested in
revenge?’ she asks in a deep whisper. The question comes tumbling out
at the end of a two-hour talk-fest brimming with gushy memories and
savage recriminations. Later, serving a lunch of braised chicken and apricot
souffle, she pursues her defence: ‘What sort of character do you think I
am? You tell me.’
What can one say? After 32 years in the public eye; after a rumoured
love affair that scandalised society; after a harrowing divorce trial, a cele-
brated remarriage; after a welter of extraordinary parties with an endless
array of famous guests; and, now, with an Australian media empire in ruin
and a family filled with bad blood, it is no simple question to answer.
Is she one of the most monstrously misunderstood Women in Australian
history, or is she as deceptive as she is clever? Is she the instigator of a
company takeover gone disastrously wrong or the victim of markets, rnale
chauvinism, banks, bad advice, bad luck-and a son, Warwick, who was
always hopelessly out of his depth?
Is she a manipulative, scheming woman, hungry for power, wealth and
status? Or a tireless worker for the arts and charity, as well as a generous,
fun-loving hostess and friend? Is she a family maker or an empire breaker?
A proud matriarch who frequently owns up to only three children or a
tormented mother of four? Is she a Jewess or a Christian? Does she sit
atop staggering wealth or horrendous losses? Is she a figure of romance or
And is it Mary or Marie?