HOLMES A COURT, (MICHAEL) ROBERT HAMILTON (1937-90)
Robert Holmes à Court is a name synonymous with the economic boom in Western Australia in the 1980s. His entrepreneurial flair took him to within a whisker of controlling BHP. He also emerged as a significant player in the media industry through the 1980s.
Born in South Africa, Holmes à Court moved to Perth in 1962 to study law at the University of Western Australia. His first business deal, in 1970, was refinancing the Albany-based Worsted & Woollen Mills Ltd. It marked the start of a career in spotting cheap assets and conducting debt-backed corporate raids. Taking a controlling interest in the Bell Brothers earthmoving and transport group in 1974 began his corporate ascent.
From what became Bell Group Ltd, other deals flowed. The profits from the sale of his stake in Ansett—to Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited—allowed him to finance the launch in 1980 of a Perth weekly newspaper. Holmes à Court bankrolled the Western Mail for seven years, challenging established interests, namely the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT) which owned the West Australian. Among some genuine scoops the Western Mail also had some ignominious moments, including a front-page file photo of a space shuttle launch—a launch that was postponed after deadline.
Holmes à Court made an unsuccessful bid for the London Times in 1980 and the HWT in 1982. In 1987, after Murdoch took over the HWT, the West Australian was sold to Holmes à Court. Another Western Australian tycoon, Alan Bond, took control of the Bell Group, and thus the newspaper, the following year.
Holmes à Court held other media interests, including TVW7, which ended up in the hands of Christopher Skase, radio stations and the UK-based Associated Communications Corporation, which had stakes in Central Independent Television and ATV Music.
His ownership of Western Australia’s first television station offered some fascinating moments in the cultural and popular zeitgeist, including a visit to Perth by the popular icon Michael Jackson in 1984 as part of a deal that saw Holmes à Court sell to Jackson a valuable catalogue of Beatles songs for about $48 million.
Holmes à Court was famed for his long hours, little interest in fitness and a passion for cigars. His life ended suddenly when he died of a heart attack on 2 September 1990 in Perth. He died intestate and was survived by his wife, Janet, and four children.
REF: G. Elliott, The Other Brother (2005).