‘Inheriting My Father’s Enemies’: Is it a blessing or a curse to have a famous parent?

When Georgina Downer walked into a pub just outside Adelaide in 2018, she was ready for a campaign event.

Ms. Downer ran as the Liberal candidate in the Mayo City election, believing she was across all the issues important to her potential voters.

“But the first question I was asked … was about the war crimes that my father had committed in the Iraq war and what should I do about them,” she said. tells ABC RN’s Sunday Extra.

Georgina Downer ran as the Liberal candidate for the South Australian seat in Mayo in 2018 and 2019.(ABC News: Isabel Dayman)

Mrs Downer is the daughter of the liberal heavyweight Alexander Downer, who held the South Australian seat in Mayo for 24 years and was Secretary of State in the Howard Government for 11 years.

For Mrs. Downer, having a famous (or infamous, according to some pub guests) parent provides both opportunities and challenges, especially when trying to follow in their footsteps.


Politics runs in Mrs. Downer’s blood.

She is not only the daughter of a foreign minister, but also the granddaughter of an immigration minister and great-granddaughter of a South Australian prime minister.

But she says people misunderstand what it means to come from a family like this.

“When you have a famous parent, they can have a brilliant, brilliant career, but there are many very low moments that the family has to share,” she says.

Mrs Downer inherited her father’s passion for international affairs and worked around Asia and the Pacific for the Australian Government, the International Republican Institute and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Alexander Downer talks to journalists.
Alexander Downer served as Australia’s Foreign Secretary for 11 years.(Getty Images: Greg Wood)

But her father’s shadow towered.

“Every time it succeeds, you almost have to succeed twice as well as your parent, just to prove that you were able to do it yourself. There’s always the criticism, ‘oh, you only got there because of your father ‘, “she says.

For some Australians, such as The Mayo pub patrons, Mr Downer’s legacy is forever linked to his support for the country’s participation in the Iraq war.

Mrs Downers’ tilt for Mayo failed in the 2018 midterm elections and again in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

She now continues the family’s liberal legacy as Acting Executive Director of the Robert Menzies Institute at the University of Melbourne.

But being the child of a prominent politician can sometimes lead to a far more troubled life.

The Fall from Grace

Andrew Hughes from the Australian National University’s College of Business and Economics has researched the history of personal identities and personal brands.

He says having a famous parent can be either a blessing or a curse.

“[For some people], it’s good because you can achieve a lot more in life if you want to, because you’ve already got a head start. A name can carry a lot of weight in some areas of society and life, ”he says.

“But the downside is that we see some of the people fall from grace.”

Dr. Hughes points to Harriet Wran, daughter of former NSW Premier Neville Wran, as someone who “has had many problems in her life and cites her father’s fame and popularity as a reason for it.”

Wran spent two years in prison for his role in the robbery and murder of a drug dealer in Sydney and suffered from a crystal methamphetamine addiction.

“There would have been a lot of pressure on her to live up to the standard that her father was in public life.”

“We see that some people just can not cope in the same way as their parents that society expects of them.”

The climber

Peter Hillary’s father was not only the most famous person in his native New Zealand, but among the most famous in the world.

Edmund Hillary and other mountaineers Tenzing Norgay were the first people to be confirmed as having reached the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.

A family of five trunk bags in a parking lot at the airport in a black and mens photo from the 1960s.
A young Peter Hillary (center) with his father Edmund and family in London in 1962.(Getty Images: FPG)

Peter also decided to become a mountaineer and literally followed in his father’s footsteps, reaching the summit of Everest twice.

He has also conducted the ‘seven summits’ – climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents – and hiking across Antarctica to the South Pole.

But it took him many years to reach this conclusion.

“It seems to me that we are hardwired to see people as being in the shadows [of a parent],” he says.

“And I’ve actually come to the conclusion that I’d rather see myself as being in my father’s light. There’s amazing benefits and opportunities that have come through being the son of Ed Hillary.”

Peter Hillary keeps a magazine up with his father Edmund Hillary.
Peter Hillary says finding his place in the world has been a journey through many years.(Reuters: Gopal Chitrakar)

In addition to being a successful mountaineer, Peter is also a writer and philanthropist, and he spends much of his time working with his father’s humanitarian organization Himalayan Trust.

“It’s been a journey … I do not know why it is that we feel we have to be on an equal footing with a parent or even surpass them,” he says.

It’s something other kids of famous people have struggled with.

The gallery owner

Tim Olsen’s father was not like other fathers.

“With his beret and his wonderful eccentric attire … he was definitely a different father than the other fathers at my school,” he says.

An elderly father and middle-aged son at an art gallery wearing jackets and matching red pockets.
John Olsen and his son Tim Olsen on show in 2016.(ABC News: Margaret Burin)

Tim’s father John Olsen is one of the country’s most famous living artists with a career that spans more than 60 years and topped with an Archibald Award in 2005.

Tim is a prominent gallery owner and recently wrote a memoir entitled “Son of the Brush” in which he unpacked his complex relationship with his famous father.

“Intellectually, I felt like I could never become as good as him … I turned him into a kind of demigod, and I became so overwhelmed, which put me into such a ‘less than’ kind of mentality,” he says.

“I will never forget anyone once saying to me, ‘In 200 years, they will talk about your father, but they will not talk about you.’ It really hit me sideways. “

After growing up immersed in the art world, Tim continued to work in and lead many leading Australian galleries.

“Nepotism can only get you this far. What people are not aware of is actually that I have had to work probably twice as hard because of the critical nature of our society.”

Tim points to her mother Valerie Strong as a grounding, as she “taught me the important values ​​of humility, the power of silence, and that sensitivity is strength.”

“What’s really important in life is knowing yourself and never judging yourself by society … Find your own compass.”

Mr Bradsen

Dr. Hughes from the Australian National University points out that many children of famous people try to differentiate themselves from the family name.

The son of cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman, for example, changed his famous surname from Bradman to Bradsen in 1972, until he recaptured it in 2008.

“He wanted away from fame, he had enough of what he wanted people to see him as an equal,” says Dr. Hughes about John Bradman.

At the end of the day, Dr. says. Hughes that he is happy not to come from a famous lineage.

“We know that everything we achieve, we have done it ourselves. And that sense of accomplishment, I think, is very, very strong.”

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