How did you get to where you are today?
It’s interesting, my father was an Australian born Scot and served in WWI and when he was on leave he went to Edinburgh where his father’s family were, and in the course of being there he met my mother, who lived next door. They obviously fell in love, he returned to Australia and he applied for her to join him in Australia, which she did. They were married and my father then had what was called a soldier’s settlement, a block in Yea, a small farm. And they went to live there on the banks of the Goulburn in a tent while he built the farmhouse.
My mother was an academic and my father was a farmer. My mother spent so much time teaching my brother and I all about Scotland, so much so that my brother was known as big Scotchie and I was known as Little Scotchie, and consequently when I went to school I was always dreaming about Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden Moor and Edinburgh Castle and … I’d be looking out the window while everybody else was studying.
Finally it got too much for the teachers and they said “look you’re hopeless, you’re out, go” so I walked home and my mother said to me “what are you doing at home at this time” and I said “school’s over” and she said “it’s not it’s only 12 o’clock” and I said “they sacked me, that’s it”. Well the next day she had me delivering letters for an estate agent in the city, November 1941.
So all of a sudden I had the feel for the city, I just loved it and I came under the influence of the star salesman, who was quite a famous man in his own time, he’d been an Olympic games athlete back in 1926. He and his wife had two daughters, no sons, so he treated me like a son and straight away he said “listen you’re going to go back to school” and that was it. And then anything this guy did, I copied. Consequently I had a flair for everything in selling because of his guidance and eventually I became an auctioneer.
I was always in the city. I conducted the first auction in the city on the footpath – it was unheard of in those days, and that created a theatre and then we became the agent that everybody wanted to do business with at that time.
Years later we [Alexander and a business partner] bought the Lower Plenty Hotel, we knew nothing about hotels but we soon learnt. And then the poker machines came into being. We had a knock on the door one day and … the fellow said: “I’m from the TAB”. “Oh yeah, we’re not gamblers,” I said. He said: “Poker machines are coming and we’ve decided we think this is a good location for poker machines.” So we had to go and find out how it all worked. From there we had the Bundoora Hotel and then The Welcome Stranger in Bourke Street and then Epping [Plaza] and then Watergardens.
Does anyone or anything inspire you?
The man that I originally started with in real estate, the late Charles Lane. He inspired me all the time and even today at my age now, if I have a problem and I’m a bit concerned I’ll sit and reflect and say to myself ‘what would Charlie do’? And I notice my son, one son in particular, he quotes everything I say, and all he’s doing is quoting Charlie, because I worshipped the bloke. He was just an unforgettable character.
Sometimes if there’s a new bloke washing dishes, I’ll say “this is where I started” and if I walk past dirty dishes I’ll pick them up, it doesn’t worry me. I just love life, I love people. I think to myself, why do people go through life being bastards to other people.
What are your passions?
I just think life is so good, everything in life is so good. Music, art, literature, reading, I just enjoy everything. I enjoy food and wine.
And your family?
I’ve been married twice, I had three sons in my first marriage and one in my second marriage. So four [sons], and unfortunately two of them have subsequently passed away.
What does the future hold for you?
Just to be content. Provide opportunities for people, I’m very interested in young people, as most older people are. I found my parents, who lived to be 97 and 94, they were fascinated by young kids, especially on television programs. Older people love watching little kids, I do. Today to me, there’s too much violence in the world, how many times can you go and see a movie these days and you leave the theatre feeling happy?
And finally, you own some of the highest grossing poker machine venues, how do you feel about the potential harm they cause?
You can’t come in here unless you’re 18 and over. But I can be sitting at home watching all these betting ads, I can be 15, or 12, and have my father’s credit card and I can get a bet on straight away because nobody meets me, nobody sees me. I didn’t realise how easy it was until my PA in the real estate business showed me. She had us playing poker from one phone call and all we had to do was give them our credit card. I said “I can’t believe this”, and all these ads. We’re not allowed to advertise anywhere, the only thing we can do is put a sign outside saying pokies, that’s all we can do.