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James Packer dust-up a family tradition

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 9/05/2014 Max Presnell
Like grandfather, like grandson: Sir Frank Packer pictured in 1944. © Fairfax Archives Like grandfather, like grandson: Sir Frank Packer pictured in 1944.

More London prize ring than a grappler like his grandson James, Frank Packer was annoyed more than stung when king hit by Ezra Norton in the Members' Stand at Randwick racecourse.
Certainly Kerry Packer, father of James, and another heavyweight, fared worse against Frank “Buzz” Browne at the Battle of the Anglican Press in 1960.
Alas James lacked the style of his forebears and the quality of opponent when he clashed recently with David Gyngell at Bondi Beach.
Folklore has played a significant role in the Packer-Norton bout during World War II but my version of the Anglican Press fracas came from Browne, who possibly wielded the truth with less accuracy than his right cross, particularly when it came well into a good session at Joe Taylor’s speakeasy, the Corinthian Room, near Central station.
In his prime Browne had fists as fast and damaging as his words, which was no mean feat.
''Browne spent a year as a cadet journalist on Smith’s Weekly, then made his way as a ship’s stoker to the USA, where he worked part-time on the Chicago Tribune and boxed professionally as the featherweight 'Buzz Brown','' Gavin Souter wrote in the Australian Dictionary Of Biographies.
''According to his own account, 'Buzz' fought 20 times for 19 wins, losing only to Henry Armstrong, who later became world champion in three divisions simultaneously.''
Back in Australia in 1946 Browne launched a scandal sheet, Things I Hear, tagged by Sir John Gorton as ''Things I Smear''.
Browne upset politicians to the degree he was found in ''breach of parliamentary privilege'' over a story in a suburban newspaper and was jailed for three months after giving a right royal performance in the Federal Parliament.
Sir Robert Menzies described Browne’s speech as ''an exhibition of unparalleled arrogance and impertinence'', while the deputy leader of the Opposition, Arthur Calwell (usually referred to in Things I Hear as ''Awful Arthur''), called Browne ''an arrogant rat''.
So you can see he was a not a man to be questioned in full flight at the Corinthian Room.
Browne had become the racing columnist for Rupert Murdoch at the Daily Mirror and suggested in one piece that champion jockey George Moore should ''walk around the block'' instead of having a needle for weight reduction.
Moore countered that Browne, judging by his girth, hadn’t done much walking and if he wanted a fitness test he was only too happy to take him on in any athletic pursuit, bar the knuckle.
''Young Rupert called and asked me to sort out the occupancy of Anglican Press,'' Browne told the captive audience at the Corinthian Room. ''I didn’t know the strength of the Packer gang so I got a couple of the boys from Thommos [two-up school].

''It didn’t take long but the Packer brothers (Kerry and Clyde) were valiant, took their punishment like men, unlike David McNicoll (a Packer editor) who disappeared in a mist of exhaust fumes at the first sign of hostilities.''

Francis James, then proprietor of the Anglican Press, who was set upon by the Packers and sought assistance from Murdoch, later elaborated on the scene.
''The most incredible sight of the night was Frank Browne’s encounter with Kerry Packer,'' James later told The Sydney Morning Herald.
''Kerry advanced and Brown just went whack and hit him in the solar plexus with the most devastating punch I’ve ever seen. Packer was knocked out and dragged off to the Telegraph car.''
Obviously father Frank, later Sir Frank, fared better against Norton, only a flyweight, but with a secret weapon.
After the initial blow Packer fixed a beady eye on Norton. To say the least there was bad blood between the two newspaper tycoons.
However, before Packer could seek retribution Norton called to an assistant: ''Give him a good hiding, 'Wokko'.''
And looming up from behind a nearby pylon lumbered ''Wokko'' Britt, a heavyweight contender. Norton felt he would make short work of Packer.
But Packer was an amateur heavyweight of ability and gave as much as he received before the pair was separated.
Sir Frank Packer later became an Australian Jockey Club committeeman, while Norton exerted enormous influence on the turf, emphasised with the campaign by the Daily Mirror and Truth to prevent the champion three-year-old Tulloch from starting in the 1957 Melbourne Cup. Headlines such as ''Don’t Kill Our Champ'' put tremendous pressure on trainer Tommy Smith and the colt was scratched.
Thus Straight Draw, owned by Norton, scored. Straight Draw wouldn’t have got within a bull’s roar of Tulloch over the Flemington two miles.
Norton sold the Daily Mirror which ended with Murdoch.
Browne figured he was sweet with “Young Rupert” but became too enthusiastic in support of SP bookmakers over the mooted TAB and fell out with the great Daily Mirror editor Zell Rabin. It was  Browne versus Rabin. ''Buzz'' Browne was KO’d.

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