Australian Biography

Margaret Fulton - full interview transcript

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Having had the experience of a really good relationship like that, it must have been very hard for you to lose it. What happened after he died, to your every day life?

When you lose something like that, I ... I think when Michael died, I had my sister, who I'd always been close to and she heard me say the same things day after day and she would listen with interest. And I think it was wonderful that I had someone to talk to and then I began to feel at least I had Michael for the eight years. And just before he died, my accountant had got me to sign something that I shouldn't have signed. It was giving me ... letting my house go as part of an assurance for a big project he had in mind. Michael was terribly against this, and I said rather cheekily, 'Mind your own business', and I'm terribly sorry I said this, because it ended me in an awful, awful lot of trouble because the thing went broke and then the banks wanted their money and they wanted my house, they wanted my everything. And I hate to say it, but I was sort of saying, 'Oh, I'm glad Mike's not here to tell me I told you so'. Or I'm glad ... I began to live the days thinking, 'Oh, I'm glad Michael isn't here to see the mess I'm in', because it became a dreadful mess. And he really didn't want ... he didn't want this to happen, you know, what had been happening to me. And so it's a funny thing, you know, I was sort of glad that he was around at that ...

...I think we are going to have to put it in the public arena, and anything that's been in the public arena, it's very important for you to give your account of it, because it could be misconstrued. And now we've got your story, you know. So what was it that you'd actually signed with the accountant?

My accountant had this brilliant idea of a nursing ... a retirement village and it seemed ... it seemed a good idea. He kept saying, 'It's a growth industry, Margaret', you know, 'and you don't need income now. You need income later on', but what had happened, he'd been borrowing money, and he was ... he brought me papers which he sort of showed rather briefly to me. 'Just sign here, sign here. I'll explain later', sort of thing and I signed. I didn't know that I was actually signing for, you know, him to borrow ... I forget, it started off three million and then it went to six million, and then it went to fifteen million. But you see, he got greedy and he wanted my house as well because I owned my own house, which was right on the foreshores of Balmain. And I ... that was when Michael had said to me, 'You can't do this', and I said well instead of giving ... putting the whole house up as assurance, I would limit it to two hundred and fifty thousand. I thought that ... I could manage that. And however, I signed this, and then ... it's ... it's awful the way these things happen.

I signed it really for two years. Or I thought. He said, 'Look, in two years, you'll have the money back. In the meantime, I'll pay you interest for your home', and I said, 'Yes', and then I realised I should see a solicitor and he had said, 'Look this solicitor's very good. He ... he knows all about it', and I saw the solicitor and he told me, 'Look, you know, things can go wrong, but you're ... it will be all right'. But what had been happening, he had been doing the ... my ... my old accountant ... my accountant who got me to sign had said to ... he was borrowing quite a large amount of money, and it was the NZI bank that were doing it. And apparently the question had arisen, why is Margaret Fulton putting up her property and another doctor was putting up his property, when nobody else is and yet she doesn't have a very big interest? I hadn't invested very much in this. It was a very, very small. I think it was two per cent of the money involved was my money. But I was putting up my house, and this question had been raised by the banks. But I think it was a time when the banks were ... you know, they were lending money. It was 1987 and they'd been lending money right, left and centre and although it had been raised, they didn't do anything about it. They didn't say, 'Has Margaret Fulton got separate advice or proper advice?' However, the ... the crash actually came and I got a letter from NZI to say that they wanted my property, or the $250,000 and it was awful, because one of the partners who had borrowed ... you know, been in this business, jumped out of his twelfth floor window in George Street, and ...

Killed himself?

Killed himself. Oh, yes. That's what you do when you jump ... when you jump twelve floors, you don't survive. But it was just ... it was just a terrible period, and it went on for eight or nine years. I was ... about eight years. And it actually came to court. There were a lot of court proceedings during that time. But my case ... by this time the bank, the NZI bank were wanting not only the $250,000, but the interest. It grows. You know, it had got to be double that and it went to court, and it was a very, very trying time for me. But there was a very good Justice Beaumont had sat through the ... these reams and reams of paper. The solicitor that I'd employed had done such a good job of really uncovering the ... the awful situation that I had been exposed to and the judgement came that I would have to pay twenty-five thousand. He said that it was unconscionable behaviour on behalf of the banks ... the bank and that I would pay two hundred and fifty thousand, and I would get from the ...

Twenty-five thousand.

Twenty-five thousand, yes. Twenty-five thousand. And I would get also ninety per cent of my legal costs because they were mounting and mounting and mounting by the day. He said that, 'I feel that Miss Fulton is an honest and a fair minded person and would want to give them twenty-five thousand for that'. And then you know, as part of my ... as part of my involvement. And he felt ... there was a big judgement on it, which really is probably too intense to go into, but also the solicitor who advised me. We were ... we have a case against him. But the awful thing is that NZI bank now have said, 'We are appealing, even though it was unconscionable behaviour. We feel it was a wrong judgement'. And now they want two hundred and fifty thousand and another two hundred and fifty thousand, and also interest on that and they want my whole house. And they want me to pay all of their legal expenses, which now it's amounting up to something like, oh, gosh, it's getting close to three million.

Margaret, what about all the other money that you invested in this scheme? What happened to that?

The money's gone.

So you lost millions in this scheme. I mean you've worked really hard all your life, and developed, you know, a nest egg for your old age. Has it ... has that all gone?

Well we ... if I keep ... I'm going to keep fighting. Because I feel that the judge ... I've got very good people with me. Mind you, it's costing a lot of money but I've got a very good solicitor, I've had a very good barrister. I've had very good silk they call, you know. I feel that ... I'm hoping that the right, as I see it, is going to come through.

But you're fighting now for your house.

I'm fighting for everything.

The millions that you invested ...

Well, I didn't invest millions. The cash ... see, it was a small amount of money that I invested. It was only, I think a hundred and seventy thousand. But then other people were investing a lot. This was a very, very big project. So I was actually quite a small investor. But on the other hand the judge very nicely sort of put it, that he realised that that was my - what would you call it - superannuation. That was what I was going to have for my old age. Heaven's above, old age, when you're seventy-three it's kind of old age, you know. You mightn't believe it, but it is. Paul Newman said that marvellous thing, 'How do you keep so young and sexy?' and he says, 'With great difficulty', and then he added, "Let me tell you, old age sure ain't for sissies'. Well, I feel as if I ... I'm like Paul Newman. I can ... I can say, 'Old age sure ain't for sissies'.

During your life, you've really had what looks like an easy run. Is this really the first really big trouble that you've had, and has it come from putting too much trust in other people?

I think for the first time in my life, I have the feeling that I'm beginning to find it difficult to smile. I'm finding it difficult to be carefree. I'm finding it difficult to think, you know, why, why does, why me? But then I have to think of the little kittens I saw in Cairo. You know, one went unscathed and one ... somebody drove over one's back. I know that things are not fair, and yet I don't ... I don't want it to happen to me. I suppose it's a little bit like saying, 'Yes it does happen, but please not in my backyard'. But it is very difficult to keep buoyant. Now my solicitor says, 'Margaret, go to the children's hospital and see how people are suffering'. And I feel oh yes, I've listened to, you know, 'Eat up your peas because the starving children in Biafra'. When something happens to you, it happens to you. You can't ... it's silly to say, you know, I thought I was all right until I saw my man who couldn't see. I mean there are things you can tell yourself. But basically, happiness is happiness. It hits you. Tragedy is tragedy. It hits you. Whatever is hitting you is hitting you.

But you've been in a state of anxiety and uncertainty for a long time and that may be one of the hardest things that there is to live with. When will the uncertainty about whether or not you're going to keep your home, be finally ended?

I'm going to court again on the end of ... on the end of November, when the ... apparently under the appeal, it goes before three judges. They may say there's no appeal. So I might know on the 26 November. On the other hand, Justice Beaumont, who did feel that I'd gone on long enough because it is eight or nine years - it's a long time to be in suspension - he said it has to be expedited. And I'm assuming, if it is expedited, I think my case was brought forward a bit, probably in the early part of next year I'll know ... I'll know what it's about. I really do feel that the banks could have ... this could have been settled. But they didn't want to settle. They wanted my house. They wanted me. For some reason, because they've let other people ... they've let some of the bad guys off very, very lightly. But this is what I can't understand. Why me? You know, why are they going at me? But they are. And that's ... I suppose that's my lesson in life, that even although you've been, you know, everybody's darling in a way, all your life, suddenly somebody ... somebody thinks, oh, I've had enough of these people. Give her a knock on the head, and they're sure doing it.

Through your life, you've obviously had at least small troubles. You've had problems with your marriages, you've had difficulties. How do you deal with your distress? If you're confronted with ... with difficulties in your life, how do you deal with it?

I think ... I think dealing with life you've got to be honest about a thing. If a thing's not working, yes. You ... you ... you can't say a thing's not working without giving it a proper try. But when things have gone really wrong, I think you've got to be honest and come and face up to it, and say, 'Look, I'm not having this. This is not right', and I think that's why I took on the banks ... the bank. I felt they were wrong. And I felt that I ... I ... I had to. You can't let the bad guys win. You've got to ... you've got to put a fight in life, whether it's with a ... a husband that's doing something, or whether it's ...

You've told us how happy your life has been. What have been the troubles that you've had in your life?

Oh, my husbands. I wasn't a good picker, I suppose, of husbands. And I've had a time, you know, I've had a few little things like one time when the imprimatur thing that I put on books ... that people ... somebody tried to say I was using their recipes but it was a different scheme. That was rather nasty. I think I've had the biggest trouble in my life just ... well, when I say recently, it's recently gone to court but it started over ten years ago, when I signed something quite ... that I shouldn't have signed. And it's gone on for ten years. They want to take ... they wanted to take my home. They wanted to take everything. The judges advice would have been to me, 'Don't sign'. He ... you know, and I'd like to say don't sign until you're sure what you're signing away. So yes ... and that's been an enormous blight in my life.

Because there is a chance from it that you might lose your home?

You see, I could lose my home. They're now claiming that they want this property. They want my property. They want more money than I've got, which means that at my age ... my stage in life, it's awful to think that you've been successful and people say what ... success is good. But you know, when it gets all ... when there is the threat that it's going to be taken away from you, what are you left with? It's very disillusioning.

So you were misled into signing something ...

Yes, I was totally misled. People think ... you ... yes, I signed really against my better judgement, against the better judgement of my family and my friends. I was misled. So were other people. But I was ... what's happening to me, I was misled and yes, I shouldn't have signed it. But I got myself into an awful pickle.

Now through your life, when you've encountered difficulties and troubles, how do you deal with them?

I ... a lot of times I've been very pleased to get into the kitchen, and think right, chop away, slice, stir. I find it enormously soothing to get into the kitchen. When things seem really black, I mean when things are happening to other people, because in today's news we're always hearing about what's happening on the other side of the world, or on the other side of the fence, if it comes to that, and I find it very soothing to get into the kitchen and cook, knowing that my family are going to come and share this with me and things are going to be good again. I suppose, if you were to ask a gardener what they do, they'd say get out into the garden and tend the weeds or the flowers but what I find is enormously rewarding and soothing, and it's just wonderful, when you get into the kitchen and do something and then you can produce a lovely scone, a lovely pikelet, a lovely roast dinner, whatever it is you're doing. It's a ... it's a wonderful back-up we've got in our lives. Everybody wants to cook, everybody wants to eat so it's something that's not really going to go out of fashion.

You say that you feel distressed by what you see on the news. What kinds of things are you talking about, that really distress you?

It's so painful to see children starving, to see mothers holding children that they can't feed. The look on the child's eyes of trust, and the look of despair and love in a mother's eyes, that's awful. It's terrible when you see little baby seals being clubbed, you know, and you look at their eyes. And it's see terrible when you see so many things: when you see what is happening in our world and you can't escape it. It's terrible to think that people in Sarajevo are doing what they're doing to each other. It's terrible to think what's happening in Ireland. You know, Sean O'Casey wrote that thing, a lovely short story, and the ... he was saying, 'Look mother, I gave my right arm for freedom', and the mother says, 'Your right arm was your freedom'. I want to bring a bit of ... I'd love to bring a bit of sanity, the way mothers feel. If the rest of the world could feel the way mothers feel, I think it would explain a lot of things that we do. Why have a brave son that gives his arm for Ireland, when the mother knows your right arm is your freedom?

Your warm heart also goes out to animals, doesn't it? And you're involved in various ways with defending animals.

I've taken a tremendous interest in our Australian native dog. I think that it is the purest dog in the world. It goes back ... it's been untouched. Nobody's wanted to make its snout smaller, its leg longer. They've left the dingo alone. It is a pure dog and pure in the very, very finest way. And it's got all of the qualities that I admire in a person. They mate for life. They're loyal to ... to their ... to each other. They bring up their children. They teach ... the mother is with her ... its little litter. And it feeds them for as long as it can. It's not very long, because in the wild, the mother is usually in pretty bad shape. So she passes over to the dog, the father of the litter and he takes over. He teaches them manners, how to be nice to each other, and how to fight up for your own rights and he teaches them everything that we all ought to be taught: how to be, how to be polite. You don't walk into someone else's territory and sort of take an apple off of it ... you know, take over. You respect other people's territory. All of the qualities that we should be learning. If people learnt to watch a ... or could watch ... a dingo litter, and little dingo pups through their life, they would be learning as much as they learn when they go to school or to university because the dingo dog does teach its litter what life is about. It knows that life's going to be hard once they leave the litter, once they're kicked out of the ... you know, of that life and have to fend for themselves. But those little dingoes do go out prepared. I want the rest of the world to know just what ... what a treasure we've got in Australia, with our dingoes. Other people look after the koalas and the whales and the seals, and all of these things are ... are worthy. But my love is the dingo because it ... I do want to get the dingo a better name. I do want people to know what they have, what special thing they've got in their life, that can enrich their life.

How did you get involved with them?

Well, Michael, the love of my life from London, he'd come out to film. He was English and had come out to Australia to film Boney, you know, that Bonaparte series that was the Aboriginal tracker who became a policeman and he was in the centre of Australia, and he saw these beautiful dogs in the centre, and he fell in love with them. And I think he ... he sponsored the first dingo at the zoo. And then one day he saw in the paper, 'Come and walk a dingo', and he said, 'Oh Margaret, we've got to go and walk a dingo', and we went up to the dingo sanctuary that is now, and I was introduced to the dingo and it was love at first sight. The marvellous thing of the dingoes ... you know, I sponsor a couple of dingoes up there. And if I go walking with it, say there's a little puddle or something, it goes over the puddle, but it turns around to see if I'm going to make it because it knows that I'm getting a bit older, you know. Some of the early pictures of dingoes, of when the Aboriginals were being shot, and they'd all been killed, and there's little ... it's in the Mitchell Library - a little baby sitting at the campfire. But there's a dingo staying with the little baby because the dingo realised that the rest of the people had been shot. I could go on forever telling you what an elegant, what a beautiful, what an admirable dog, the dingo is, and I just want to tell everybody about how wonderful the dingoes are.

Why do you think it's the dog with a bad name?

Because people ... when they don't know something, when they don't know a person, a race or anything, what they don't know, what ignorance ... the greatest shield for ignorance is kick it, you know. Or give it to ... don't ... don't ... don't find out, don't want to know. It's got a bad name. It kills our sheep. It does ... The dingo, mind you, is a predator, but not the way it's been given the name of. It's just been given a bad name because people don't understand it. That's why we want to educate people to realise what a wonderful thing the dingo is, so that they don't keep on giving it a bad name. They've ... dogs ... animals ... I wouldn't be an animal in anyone's home except mine because people are either loving and caring about animals, but often they're dreadful to them. And the dingo is no different. But with the Aboriginals, the dingoes move with them, they slept with them, you know. If it was a cold night, it was a one dingo, two dingo night, or if it was a very cold night, it was a four ... they slept with the dingoes. And you see early pictures of the dingoes around Aboriginals' shoulders. And they were companion dogs. They're not pets to be left at home or to be, you know, thrown a bit of meat when you feel like it. A dingo is part of the family. It's part of the community. And when it is treated like that, of course, it is a ... it is a ... it brings the community together. I'm talking about the Aboriginals as they ... they had it.

The underdog does have a general appeal for you, though, in a broader sense too, doesn't it, Margaret? What ... what has been your attitude to society and politics throughout your life?

Well, for example, you don't have to feel sorry for somebody that's walking around with diamond rings and driving a Rolls Royce or being driven. They look as though they've got the whole thing solved. But there are people that haven't got the whole thing solved. If, when you read ... I've just read that McCourt's book, who wrote about his Irish childhood. You can't read ... you can't have read Dickens, you can't have read anything, or how people suffered in the Inquisition, or ... I mean whether you're a historical reader or a autobiography reader, you can't read and not know that terrible ... that life is terrible. So you know that you don't really have to be too worried about what's going to be happening to people who are at the top of the pile. But it does hit you that some people don't know what it is, how to survive. When you've been brought up in a happy home, that's had sort of the ups and downs and not ... not always a lot of money, I mean you realise that that wonderful happy home life that you had, other people have had home lives where the mother wanted to make a happy home life, but hasn't been able to do it. I just feel they're the people that ... that pluck at my heartstrings, because you do want to make a better life. We tried it with communist: people who joined the Communist Party felt that by sharing it was going to be good and we want everybody to be equal. When Whitlam said to us, 'The haves should share with the have nots', it was how I feel. Why is it that we can't share? Why is it that it can't be equitable? I suppose people are greedy and want more. And when you have ... when one person has more, somebody has less. It's just ... it works out that way. I haven't been conscious that I've ... I've always been for the underdog, but as I get older, as I read more, I realise I don't have to be sorry for, you know, Christopher Skase in Spain, living the life of Riley. I don't really have to be sorry for him at all, even if he limps around and puts on an act, like, you know, the way sometimes crows do it, they pretend they've got a bad leg or something. I don't have to ... to waste my time being sorry for the likes of him. But it is horrid, horrid to think of the people who don't have things, the animals that don't have environments and, you know.

Was it a feeling for the equality of people that made you so interested in making sure that your ideas about cooking reached a very wide audience, and not just the elite?

I think when it comes to what you can do, one of the things I ... I felt very strongly, that the home ... I do think the home is the core of our living. I do think that if I can give a recipe to a woman who is going to make that, and it's going to turn out, you know. I say put it in the oven for ten to twelve minutes, and she does that and it comes out perfect in ten to twelve minutes, if she's followed all of the steps ... I still get amazed when I am following one of my recipes, say for biscuits, and it says, you know, do this and do that and then do this. And it works, you know. I never get over the pleasure of a thing working.

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