Tony and Amanda Larkins and daughter Charlotte.

13-05-2012

Whichever way you want to look at it, as far as the Australian government of the time, the media and creditors were concerned, Christopher Skase was one of the most wanted Australians of all time. It is 15 years ago this week since he passed away from lung cancer at his home here in Majorca.

For ten years Skase, 53 when he died, evaded intensive efforts by Australia to have him extradited from Majorca. At the time of the extradition trial, he was already seriously ill. For the first time in the history of Spain, the Spanish High Court moved from Madrid and came to Palma for the hearing, along with scores of Australia’s finest journalists. However, in the end, the only two journalists he ever spoke to and allowed into his house during the following ten years were myself and Jason Moore. I was with the family the day after he died, and we were the only journalists allowed into the funeral.

The family trusted us because we "provided balanced and fair" reporting, his son-in law Tony Larkins told me this week. Skase fled Australia in 1991 facing criminal charges over the collapse of his A$1.5 billion Qintex empire, which he had built up during the 1980s. He was the quintessential 1980s high-roller, funding a lavish lifestyle and acquiring all the trappings of corporate success, including a yacht, a private jet, mansions, a fleet of luxury cars and a collection of fine art.

Skase became known for his displays of wealth, with a lavish 40th birthday party in 1988 and a company Christmas party that cost $450,000. In one particular incident he had his private jet fly from Port Douglas to Melbourne to pick up a dress for his wife, Pixie, who now lives in a rented apartment in Melbourne.

To his business associates he will be remembered as an audacious entrepreneur and a man of vision who was unfairly victimised by successive governments. But to his many detractors he was a scoundrel, a thief and a liar. But despite the infamous "chase for Skase" lasting the best part of a decade, if it had not been for the Skase story I doubt I would be in Majorca today. The Australian authorities neither got him nor the millions he allegedly stole. The "Chase for Skase" exploded into a media circus, one of the largest in Australia’s history with the likes of TV host Andrew Denton organising a fundraiser to get Skase back.

Money was also raised to apparently pay a group of mercenaries to come to Majorca and kidnap him. Another TV frontman was accused of faking a car chase involving Skase, and so it went on. But in the middle of all this was his ‘fall guy’, or rather right hand man who, against all odds, took on the might of the Australian government and its media to not only defend and look after Skase but the rest of the family as well.

And Tony Larkins, or rather Harold Antony Larkins, a former film grip who worked on movies like Crocodile Dundee, and who had married Skase’s step-daughter Amanda, soon became the hunted instead of the hunter. In the end, the whole Skase ordeal took a massive toll on the entire family and following Skase’s death, they upped sticks with their daughter Charlotte and disappeared to the virgin beaches of Thailand.

"We just thought we’d get away from it all until the money ran out," Tony told me before they left.

Eventually, broke and also concerned about their daughter’s education, Tony decided to face the music. The authorities still wanted to interview him and also knew that he had in his possession items which could prove crucial to their investigation - albeit a little bit too late. Tony returned to Australia, handed over all he had to the authorities, answered their questions and was given the green light to get on with his life, or rather start from scratch at building a new one, and filling in the holes which had splintered the Skase family at large.

However, as he reminded me this week, he has got "broad shoulders". "We’re good, poor but happy," he said from his Melbourne home.

Now, to mark 15 years of Skase’s death, he has written a book, Skase, Spain and Me, telling his side of the story, which has never been heard before: the truth, although not everyone will agree with that and he knows it.

"I decided a long time ago that I was not going to die without having tried to balance out what was said by the Australian government, certain sections of the public and more importantly, the Australian media. They demonised him and it became such a frenzy that the government was feeding the press and the press were feeding the government. I’m not saying Chris was always the good guy, but he always got the rough end of the pineapple from the press, but I guess that this is not the only place in the world where that happens.

"But my main concern is trying to tell my, our side of the story, the story that never got told. When I eventually got back to Australia, I was shown video footage of some of the news reports at the time. Obviously we didn’t see them because were living in Andratx. They were atrocious, we had the media prompting Spanish doctors to claim that the images of Skase’s lung operation were fake and that blood had been sprayed onto his chest for extra effect. The press and the government refused to believe he was seriously ill, despite what the Spanish High Court ruled.

"Professionals were being conned into doing the dirty on their own colleagues. I mean, what’s that all about? They were all slandering each other, never mind what they were saying and writing about Chris, me and the family. If you thought you knew the Skase story, then think again. This is the story you were not told. The truth. And I don’t care about the repercussions, no one can sue me, because I'm broke.

"My book also gives you an insider’s perspective on the resorts, the plans, the dreams, the parties, the yacht, the jet and the Qintex collapse. But most of all, it tells you all about Christopher and Pixie’s flight to Majorca, what we got up to over there, and his ultimate death.

"There were times when I thought I was totally mad. I had given up my happy and successful lifestyle and livelihood in Sydney as a film technician to pack everything up, cut all ties and move my family to Majorca at the Skase family’s request to help them re-build their life. The next decade was an amazing time, almost surreal, at times hilarious, regularly stressful, often disastrous, and so I want to correct the mis-truths and lies that were published and re-published in the media during the infamous ‘Chase for Skase’ to the point where they were accepted as gospel.

"I want to tell people about Christopher Skase, the man, the businessman, the ordinary bloke who came out of Melbourne with the passion, determination and energy to make his vision come true At times, while we were all cracking under the pressure, Christopher just kept it all together, I don’t know how he did it. Maybe the key was that he was not a crook. If he had been, I would have bailed out years before, I wouldn’t have stuck with him if what he was accused of was true.

"I’m not expecting people who read the book to be sympathetic towards Christopher, but perhaps a bit more compassionate with regards to what he achieved as a businessman and a father. Much of his tourism legacy still stands today along the Gold Coast and, for good or for worse, he is still talked about in Australia, but rarely in a positive way. There are still people who hate him.

"But, as I’ve said, they never found any money. I still get a bit of abuse when I’m out and about, people asking what I’ve done with all the millions or where we’ve stashed them, but it goes in one ear and comes of the other. I’m not rising to it any more, I haven't done for the past 15 years.

"Charlotte gets the odd nasty comment from trolls on the internet, but she can handle herself. We’ve all learnt the hard way. So, the book will come out on 18 September, it would have been his birthday, but we have a website up and running, which we will be expanding, and people can go online to register their interest and we’ll keep them posted on all developments.

"I’ve had to be careful with what I’ve written in the book about various people, I’ve had to be advised on defamation of character and all that, but what’s in it is either public knowledge or the truth, so I’m not bothered what people think. I just feel it’s time someone set the record straight. If people like it, fine, if they don’t so be it, nobody has to read it. But I think it makes a good read and may make some people think about the diet of media trash and government propaganda they were fed at the time."

It’s an also extremely and amusing insight into Tony’s life as a single man on the road in the film industry and how he met Amanda and was eventually persuaded to wear tailored suits and fancy hats to the races, not to mention the road to Majorca.

Comments

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Rory Draper / Hace over 3 years

This article is the greatest load of BS I have ever read. A paid for advertisement by the Larkin's family who see it as a way of washing their hands of the fact they helped a criminal who couldn't even face up to his peers back in Australia.

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Will / Hace over 3 years

I don't believe that Christopher Skase was a crook. I think he made a mistake by over extending his company, Quintex, but had a plan in place to correct it. Unfortunately, one Bank did not agree to help him and therefore his company collapsed. If that one single bank had agreed to help like all of the other banks, he would’ve been the most successful businessman in Australia.

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Harold Antony Larkins / Hace over 5 years

Hey Humphrey and Jason, fantastic article. Great to talk to you after so long.

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Amanda Larkins / Hace over 5 years

A great editorial from a man who hears with both ears!

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