Vale Dr Edelsten

I think, when I was younger, I had a rather blindly Manichaen view of the world (ie good versus evil and all that). Hopefully, I have outgrown such simplistic views as I have accumulated life experience.

Perhaps a remnant of that puerile Manichaenism is my love for villains. I greatly enjoy the Shakespearean villains (Iago, Richard III and Macbeth are my favourites) and of course the Bond super villains. You probably get that from reading my blog for long enough.

As your typical Victorian in the early 1980s, I was very resistant to the growth of the Victorian Football League into other cities and states. I wanted it to stay at the 12 Victorian teams that it had been since 1925. That the hugely mismanaged South Melbourne Football Club had been strong armed into moving to Sydney in order to survive was not something I or other Melbournians were prepared to accept.

And then the cash strapped Sydney Swans, as they now were, could no longer survive as a public club, but were to be sold off to a private owner. To me, this appeared to be an awful act of villainy by the VFL.

And the biggest villain of the whole sorry saga to the teenage version of yours truly was the fellow who was so ostentatious as to offer to buy the Sydney Swans, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, who was some sort of medical entrepreneur (ie he figured out a way to get very rich very quickly on the newly introduced medicare bulk billing).

The ‘pink doctor’ as he was then called, lived a highly flamboyant life. He had a pink limo, a pink helicopter, and a trophy wife 20 years younger than himself. Myself and my teenage friends suspected that the wife was what we would now call a ‘beard’ to cover up for a gay lifestyle. [His subsequent history with two further and more showy wives has shown me to be probably wrong in this suspicion – he was a sleazy straight man in early middle age who moved onto be a sleazy straight man in his senior years, one with probably very shallow judgment in his choice of life partners.]

But it did seem very sinister to me the way that he went and bulldozed through the sentiments of the remaining Swans supporters and took control of the club. I wonder if he would have behaved that way if someone similar did likewise to Carlton, the club he really barracked for?

He did however, during his brief tenure of the ownership of the Sydney Swans, do some good for the promotion of Australian rules Football in Sydney. He injected money into attracting some stars and a decent coach and even got a cheerleader squad of pom-pom girls (sadly only for home games).

But then it all fell apart as his links to various crime figures came out, and he ended up spending some time in gaol for something or other nefarious.

So, by 1990, you might think that the comet of self-promotion that was Geoffrey Edelsten had disappeared into the void, never to appear again.


He was to reappear, unchastened, with a new fortune (which he lost yet again) and with a couple of colourful new wives, perhaps to match the colourful suits he would wear at high society events.

Whilst we in Australia have never had a show like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, I believe that Brynne, Mrs Edelsten number 2, did have some sort of show for quite some time on pay TV here.

I have occasionally reflected on this blog about how crassness is when rich people behave badly (probably vulgarly is a better description). And there always was something fascinatingly crass and vulgar about the conspicuous consumption on display when Dr Edelston was around, wife in tow.

For a very clever man who had both medicine and law degrees, and who had been able to make several fortunes, I do something wonder at how he was able to lose those fortunes on appallingly bad investments, to the point where he brazenly claimed that he had to rely on his elderly mother in a nursing home to fund his lifestyle (now that was a bit of what New Yorkers would call Chutzpah), as she did not want him to be sad (I think he had been smart enough to make sure he bankrupt proofed himself with a trust fund in mum’s name).

I suppose that the Achilles Heal to Dr Edelsten was not his cleverness, but his lack of a sense of shame and an urgent wish to be loved, and how he confused love with the attention of some beautiful women and regular appearances in the society pages. To achieve all that attention and those headlines, he was prepared to make some appallingly bad investments, starting with the Sydney Swans in 1985 and then continuing a long time later with at least one local film company – appearing at a movie premiere would be a very costly ticket.

I no longer think that Dr Edelsten was a villain. I think, a bit like Timon of Athens in the Shakespeare tragedy, he was a more tragic figure than that, more Quixotic clown than hero, and apparently abandoned Timon-like by his supposed friends when the money mostly ran out. And I will miss him and his public quest to party hard for as long as he could.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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