Col Hahne and Nene King: two riches to rags stories

1991:FILE PICTURE OF NENE KING;EDTOR OF WOMAN'S DAY

Nene King in her heyday

When the sad decline of Australia’s former magazine publishing queen Nene King made headlines again in February, it brought back memories of a former life, when I edited a mortgage broking magazine in Sydney called Australian Broker.

It wasn’t Nene King who trigged memories of those days, but mention of the man she was suing in County Court, Colin Hahne, a friend and former housemate, whom she claimed defrauded her of $40,000 and took advantage of her generosity, and whom she had tried to sue for a far bigger amount in 2013. (In the end Hahne, 46, was cleared of all charges).

I remembered, in about 2006, the rather sensational story that broke across the mortgage  industry, and which we reported in our magazine, of the rise and fall of a ‘Col Hahne’ an award-winning mortgage broker, who founded GAL Home Loans, a service specifically tailored to servicing gay and lesbian people seeking mortgage finance.

Founded in Melbourne in 2000, and inspired by Hahne’s own experiences of homophobia growing up the country town of Wangaratta, GAL Home Loans became a massive success, spawning offices in Sydney, Geelong, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.

In 2003, Col Hahne picked up a string of industry awards at the Australian Mortgage Awards, including Best Brokerage and Sales Person of the Year, after personally writing $90m worth of home loans. He was also named Operator of the Year in 2005 by the Mortgage Industry Association of Australia (later renamed the MFAA), the peak industry body.

Col Hahne and his mortgage broking business was flying, finding a niche in a crowded industry and striking sponsorship deals with gay and lesbian orientated Sydney Mardi Gras, Midsumma Festivals and Pride March Victoria.

In a 2003 interview with The Star Observer, Sydney’s newspaper for the gay and lesbian community, Hahne said he felt overwhelmed at winning so many mortgage awards – “I didn’t think we had a hope,” he said, as he talked about his passion for giving back to the community:

“I just feel that the more you throw back at a community, the more they’ll support you and the better it is for everyone concerned,” he said.

hahne expelled photo

Col Hahne wining his MIAA award in 2005, expelled in 2006.

Then just as suddenly as his career had surged, it came to a crashing halt. In July 2006, GAL Home Loans and Col Hahne were expelled from the MFAA after an independent tribunal found GAL Home Loans had breached its code of practice.

The MFAA did not disclose the reasons for his expulsion, but it soon emerged that Hahne was being sued by the organisers of the Sydney Mardi Gras over an alleged breach of a three-year sponsorship deal.

GAL Home Loans collapsed in 2007 and a court-order to wind-up the company and appoint a liquidator was made in 2011.

So what became of Col Hahne? Was he the same Colin Hahne, who became a close friend of Nene King, whom she referred to as her ‘nephew’ and whom she lavished cars, watches and other gifts.

The answer is an unequivocal yes. They are the same person.

col hahne trial.jpg

Col Hahne leaving court in February this year

It appears that soon after his business collapsed, Col Hahne met Nene King when he began dating massage therapist Larry Sutcliffe, who smoked marijuana with King.

In her court testimony, King said Hahne told her how he had had 13 companies (the once high-flying mortgage broking businesses) which went bust and that he had no money. She agreed to let him move in with her and Mr Sutcliffe.

The couple moved into King’s Caulfied home in Melbourne South Eastern suburbs, where, according to reports she had lived as a recluse since 2003 having suffered the tragic loss of her husband Patrick Bowring to a suspected shark attack in 1996 and then battled a drug problem and depression.

The trio became a “family unit” as she showered the gay couple with expensive gifts, noting at the trial that Hahne had told her he was a “financial wizard”.

“She continued to pay all the bills for both men before her money started running out and she had to take out a mortgage on her home,” The Age reported.

“We became great friends and I trusted them totally,” King said at the 2013 trial.

Hahne was found not guilty of all 49 theft and deception-related charges, with the court accepting his explanation that he had an arrangement with Ms King to use her credit cards and always did so with her authority.

As the trial near its end, King, who was once the richest woman in publishing having turned around Woman’s Day and made Kerry Packer a small fortune yelled out at Hahne calling him a “ghastly liar”. Later, in an interview, she claimed she was broke.

As for Col Hahne, he left the courtroom after the trial making no comment disappearing into another life, with the media interest squarely focused on his much more famous former friend, the once wealthy and powerful “paper giant” (Made into an excellent ABC movie).

In the end, it was Nene King very sad riches to rags stories that got all the headlines. But  Col Hahne’s own rise and fall as a high-flying mortgage broker, is also worthy of telling, and just as intriguing.

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Conversations with Holden Caulfield

catcher_in_the_rye_penguin_2I picked up my old paperback copy of JD Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye after watching the movie ‘The Killing of John Lennon’ about Mark David Chapman, the wayward young man who killed The Beatles singer and songwriter, and remains in jail.

It seemed a bit of sinister that I should choose to re-read this cult novel after watching a movie about an infamous murderer and murder, but the connection is an obvious one. 

Chapman shot Lennon in December 1980, outside the singer’s apartment in Manhattan, and famously took his inspiration to kill from The Catcher in the Rye and its narrator, 16-year-old angst-ridden rebel, Holden Caulfield.

In the movie, Chapman calls Lennon a ‘phoney’ – as Holden Caulfield calls so many people in the novel – because Lennon preached ‘no possessions’ (famously in his hit song ‘Imagine‘) and yet owned mansions and yachts and was immensely wealthy.

At his trial, when Chapman was asked if he had anything to say, he rose and read the passage from The Catcher in the Rye, when Holden tells his little sister, Phoebe, what he wants to do with his life:

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.

Picking up and re-reading The Catcher in the Rye, the exact same lemon yellow copy which I had read as a young man, was both a joy (it’s such an engaging, hilarious, thought-provoking and sad story), and also a rather unsettling experience. 

Mostly because, I  noticed all the passages and sections I had underlined about ‘phoneys’, and people “never noticing anything” and “girls driving you crazy” and “being a madman”. I realised that back then, I like Mark Chapman, was also a rather lost, somewhat bitter young man (thought without any murderous intentions I am certain) who had made a similar emotional connection with Holden Caulfield.

Holden’s inner monologue about the world and its endless disappointments, as he traipsed around New York, mirrored many of my own inner frustrations and torments at the time.

In fact it wasn’t just underlining that I had done, but I’d also engaged in conversations with Holden, writing responses to the things he said. In short, I was a bit of a “madman” myself.

 At one point I wrote: “Really Holden, I beg to differ with you. You are talking shit,” this in response to Holden saying “You don’t always have to get sexy to know a girl.”

In another note, I wrote simply  “Alicia Silverstone” alongside a passage in which Holden describes a girl he has a crush on, Jane Gallagher. 

 Holden observes that when Jane got excited when talking “her mouth sort of went in about fifty directions, her lips and all”. It must have been around the time the movie Clueless came out which made Silverstone, who had this sexy, pouty mouth,  a star and ever young man’s fantasy. 

Clearly, I really connected with Holden Caulfield back then, and to be entirely truthful more than 20 years on, I still find a lot of wisdom in some of his observations. 

Across the generations, millions of others have made a similar connection to their own feelings of adolescent loneliness and frustration about a world of phoneys: The Catcher in the Rye has sold 65 million copies since it was published in 1951 and according to Wikipedia, continues to sell 250,000 copies every year.

There’s so many passages in the book that just knock the lights out for me, not least his awkward ncounter with a young prostitute in his hotel room where he loses his nerve, and just wants to chat.

It really must have stunned readers back in the conservative 1950s with Holden’s frank observations about sex (“I’m probably the biggest sex maniac you ever saw.”), desire (“I was feeling pretty horny, I have to admit it.”), suicide (“I almost wished I was dead.”), death and depression (“I just felt blue as hell”).

Of course, a lot of Holden’s behaviour, thoughts and opinions are those of angst-ridden, affected adolescent, too intelligent for his own good, but at the same time there is also so much truth and poignancy in what he says about people and their phoneyness, be they teachers, priests, movie stars or members of his own family (“All mothers are slightly insane”).

 It’s hard to pick out a favourite passage because their are so many. But I f I had to choose one, It would be when Holden decides to pay a visit to the Natural History Museum, which he loved visiting on school trips because “it always felt like it was raining outside, even when it wasn’t” and where he’d eat candy and chew gum and a girl would hold his hand. 

He recalls his favourite exhibits,  the Indians in a war canoe “about as long as three goddam Cadillacs in a row” and the eskimos fishing through a hole in the ice.

Holden says you could return a hundred thousand times and nothing would be different, the eskimos would still be there, except you would be different in some way. 

 He then thinks about his kid sister Phoebe, and that she would visit the museum like he did as a school kid and she too would be different every time she visited.

It didn’t exactly depress me to think about it, but it didn’t make gay as hell, either. Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that’s impossible, but it’s too bad. Anyway, I kept thinking about all that while I walked.

There’s something so brutally true about this.

Don’t we all long for some things to never change? That our parents not grow old, that those we love not pass away or disappear from our lives.

Don’t we all want to be Catchers in the Rye?

What Atticus Finch can teach parents about raising children

To_Kill_a_Mockingbird

Original cover of the book

I finally read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I was rather ashamed that at age 42, I had not read the novel, first published in 1960, given its important and revered status in American and world literature.

For anyone who has not read it, I implore you to do so. It’s a wonderful novel, very readable and with a powerful message about the importance of tolerance and the evils of bigotry that has lost none of its power in world increasingly divided into “us” vs “them”.

Set in America’s racially divided deep south in the 1930s, it’s the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the small rural town of Maycomb in the state of Alabama, who represents a clearly innocent black man, Tom Robinson, accused of the rape of a white woman.

The story is narrated by Atticus’s Tom Boyish young daughter ‘Scout’ or Jean Louise, who through her own coming-of-age, becomes a conduit for the reader’s own moral education.

To Kill a Mockingbird also includes one of modern fiction’s great minor characters, the ghost-like ‘Boo’ Arthur Radley (brilliantly portrayed by a very young  Robert Duvall in the Oscar-winning movie).

Having finished it, I wondered what I could say about a book that’s had so much said and written about it already.

What seemed obvious to me, the more I thought about it, was that you could read To Kill a Mockingbird as an excellent guide to parenting

After all, who really is Atticus Finch? Yes he’s the moral centre of the story, but he’s also just a single parent doing an amazing job raising two headstrong young children (Scout and her older brother Jem) into fair-minded, empathetic, non-judgemental and courageous human beings.

From my reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, I’ve picked out some of the special qualities that makes Atticus Finch such a iconic parent:

Atticus tries to see the world from his children’s point of view.

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

This is one of the most famous lines from the book. It happens early on in the novel in a conversation after dinner between Atticus and Scout.

Scout is upset because her teacher, Miss Caroline, has told her to stop reading with her father, because he has ‘taught her all wrong’.

Scout is in fact very advanced for her age and way ahead of her classmates, something which unhinges her teacher.

Atticus precedes this piece of advice by calling it a “simple trick” but if you learn it “you can get along with all kinds of folks”.

What an incredible thing to tell a young child (Scout is about six or seven at the time) and how different the world would be if every child grew up with the notion that they try and see things from the point of view of others.

So much unnecessary confrontation, bitterness and unhappiness could be avoided in life if our children understood this “simple trick”

Atticus has perfected the art of explaining things.

Atticus Finch is unquestionable master at being able to explain complicated concepts to Scout and Jem without dumbing them down so they become meaningless.

Instead he takes the time to make sure they really understand why people act they way they do.  Such as when Mr Cunningham, a poor local farmer, delivers fresh produce to their house. Atticus explains that this is the only way the Cunninghams can pay him for his legal services because “the [stock market] crash hit country folk the hardest”. He tells Scout:

Did you know that Dr Reynolds (the town physician) works the same way? He charges some folks a bushel of potatoes for delivery of a baby?

Atticus doesn’t answer his kids with platitudes

There is very little different in the way Atticus talks to his children and how he talks to adults. Put simply, he does not try and trick them with plausible, but distorted explanations or half-truths. This is how he explains it to his brother Jack:

Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults and evasion simply muddles ’em.”

Atticus teaches his children to fight with their heads not their fists

gregory peck

A still from the movie: Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch) and Brock Peters (Tom Robinson)

Atticus Finch forbids Scout and Jem to fight the other children in school even when they call their father a “nigger lover” for defending Tom Robinson. He tells them to fight with their “heads” meaning they should not let their anger and emotions get the better of them.

You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change…it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.

Atticus teaches his children to act according to their consciences.

Atticus explains that it is his duty to defend Tom Robinson because his conscience dictates that he must.  He expects his kids to do the same even if it means going against what the majority of the town’s white population believe is right. He tells Jem:

They’re certaintly entitled to think that [I’m wrong for defending Tom Robinson] and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

Atticus is a beacon of calmness.

Even parenting books today tell you to not lose your cool with your kids. You get upset, they get upset.

Throughout the novel, Atticus Finch is a beacon of wise calmness, thoughtfulness and quiet contemplation, especially when it comes to talking to his children.

A good example is when Tom Robinson is transferred to the Maycomb county jail in the town square, Atticus stands guard outside, but armed with only a lamp for reading and a book – not a gun.

His adventurous children head out to find him and arrive at the courthouse at the same time as a lynch mob of farmers arrive to exact their own justice.

While clearly distraught, he calmly implores Jem to take his sister and their friend Dill home. Even when Jem refuses, Atticus never loses his temper or shows his anxiety.

But, Atticus is also a man of action when he needs to be

There’s a scene in the book, also captured in the movie, where Atticus is forced to shoot a rabid old dog called Tim Johnson who is hobbling down the street passed everyone’s home. Atticus reluctantly takes the rifle from sheriff Heck Tate who doesn’t have the self-belief to do it himself. To everyone’s amazement, Atticus shoots the dog stone cold dead in the street.

Miss Maudie Atkinson (the Finch’s neighbour) grinned wickedly. “Well now, Mis Jean,” she said, “still think your father can’t do anything? Still ashamed of him?”

“No,” I said, meekly.

Atticus teaches his children not to judge others based on ignorance

This is a powerful message Atticus teaches his children again and again in the book, and is also a key theme of the novel – that we should not judge people based on the ignorance passed on by others.

This message is brought powerfully home in the trial of Tom Robinson, who we learn is clearly a kind and decent man whose only crime was to help a lonely, ignorant white woman and then reject her advances.

(To Jem): There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads – they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins…as you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life.

There are plenty more parenting tips you could pick up from Atticus Finch if you take the time to read the book, or perhaps re-read it as a parent – these are just a few that stood out for me.

harper lee and father

Harper Lee with her father

It’s worth noting too that Harper Lee, who never married or had kids, based the character of Atticus Finch on her father, Amasa Colman Lee, a lawyer and politican who defended two black men on murder charges (they were convicted and hanged) during his career.

Lee, the youngest child, would sit in her father’s lap – like Scout does in To Kill a Mockingbird – and read the newspaper with him.

However, like Atticus (who certainly has his faults, aloofness and stubborness among them) Lee’s father was a far from perfect man.

It emerged, to the horror of some fans, when Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman was published, that Amasa Colman Lee was in fact a segrationist (though he apparently softened his views later in life and was quite forward-thinking considering where and when he grew up).

It’s a point worth remembering  – no one can be a perfect parent. We can only try to be.