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Victor Barry Paul (1938–1994)

by Lyndon Megarrity

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Victor Barry John Paul (1938–1994), businessman, was born on 11 October 1938 at Marrickville, Sydney, son of Joseph Victor Paul, carrier, and his wife Emily Millicent Lillian, née Bullow. Barry was educated at Trinity Grammar School (1949–53) and West Sydney Technical College. He began his working life as a cadet with the Electricity Commission of New South Wales, where he remained for six years. During this period he became a qualified accountant, and on 7 February 1959 at Trinity Grammar’s chapel he married Sydney-born Yvonne Kaye Alexander, a clerk; they later divorced. He found work as an accountant for the building firm Paynter and Dixon Industries Ltd (1960–69). During his time at Paynter and Dixon he met Darrell Heather Alford, who became his de facto wife; they would separate in 1981. After a brief period as a commercial manager for Concrete Industries (Monier) Ltd (1970–72), he moved to Townsville, Queensland, in 1973 to take up a role as company secretary and then general manager for Kern Bros Ltd.

By the time Paul began work there, Kern Bros was a well-established Queensland construction company, concentrating on developing land and building houses in several areas of the State. As a result of the illness and subsequent death of the company’s founder, Ronald Kern, Paul was appointed chairman and managing director of the Kern enterprise, a position he held from 1976 to 1991. Under his leadership, Kern Corporation Ltd (as it became known) grew from a profitable Queensland firm building a large number of houses to a national company that constructed a string of costly shopping complexes and office buildings in the cities and towns of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. Among the corporation’s achievements was the construction of Grosvenor Place in Sydney, which in 1989 was ‘Australia’s largest commercial building’ (Abbott 1989, 8).

Brisbane became the headquarters of Kern Corporation in 1979, and Paul developed a high profile within the city’s business and political community. He helped to raise funds for the State Library of Queensland and the St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, and was involved with the civic promotion of Brisbane as chair of Tourism Brisbane, as well as through committee work on Brisbane’s unsuccessful bid to host the 1992 Olympics. On 24 July 1982 at Pullenvale, Brisbane, he married Stephanie Phillips, a public relations consultant. In 1986 he was appointed OBE.

Although not a financial member, Paul was a supporter of the National Party and vocal admirer of the Queensland premier, (Sir) Joh Bjelke-Petersen. He chaired a fund-raising dinner for the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation in 1980, but was angered by Australian Labor Party allegations that Kern Corporation was given special treatment because it donated money to the foundation. Although he helped to organise a series of business dinners in September-November 1986 which provided the catalyst for the ‘Joh for PM’ campaign, he played no further role in Bjelke-Petersen’s unsuccessful bid for Canberra. He subsequently threw his support behind Mike Ahern as replacement for Bjelke-Petersen in 1987.

One of Paul’s unfulfilled dreams was his plan to construct a ‘massive Chicago-style glass and granite office tower’ (Wilson 2003, 41), following a design by the American architect John Burgee. Between 1987 and 1990, Kern Corporation purchased a large parcel of property in the Brisbane central business district to realise this vision, attracting condemnation from some residents because heritage buildings were demolished in the process.

Ultimately the tower was not built because, in September 1991, Kern Corporation went into receivership. While the company held more than $1.15 billion in assets as late as 1989, it had accumulated large debts. With the property boom of the 1980s now over, the corporation’s main creditor, the Commonwealth Bank, effectively withdrew its support and the company could not continue operating. Whether Paul could have saved the corporation from collapse by better anticipating the end of the boom and preparing more thoroughly for the economic downturn is a matter for speculation. It is noteworthy, however, that he was not condemned in the media as a reckless, ruthless businessman as other contemporary high-flyers who fell victim to the boom-bust cycle had been portrayed.

Paul described Kern Corporation’s collapse as the worst day ‘in his business life’ (Lehmann 16 October 1991, 1). Soon afterwards, he filed for bankruptcy, but in February 1992 his creditors agreed to release him. This allowed him to continue his business career in Brisbane, primarily as a director and deputy chairman of Palmer Tube Mills Ltd, a steel fabrication company. Calm in negotiation and ever tenacious, he was fond of saying ‘the only thing you get from looking back is a sore neck’ (Scott 1994, 3). He died of cancer on 18 August 1994 at Anstead and was cremated. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons of his first marriage, two daughters of his second, and one son of his third.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Abbott, Greg. ‘Corporate Whiz Wants to be MP.’ Sunday Sun (Brisbane), 25 June 1989, Sun Magazine 8
  • Canberra Times. ‘Kern’s Chief’s Bankruptcy Dropped.’ 13 February 1992, 19
  • Daily Mercury (Mackay). ‘Businessman Dies After Illness.’ 24 August 1994, 4
  • Lehmann, John. ‘Kern Boss Lists Debts of $7.6mil.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 16 October 1991, 1
  • Lehmann, John. ‘No High-Flyer, But Fall Just as Harsh for Paul.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 21 October 1991, 21
  • Lunn, Jack. ‘Up North, Kern Bros Expand with Tenacity.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 30 September 1980, 26
  • Scott, Leisa. ‘Brisbane Farewells a Battler.’ Australian, 27 August 1994, Property 3
  • Stewart, Andrew. ‘Joh Comes Back to Haunt Jane, Mike.’ Sun-Herald (Sydney), 28 February 1988, 3
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘At No Time Have I Ever Asked For …’ 4 April 1981, 5
  • Wilson, Bob. ‘Pie in the Sky.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 8 August 2003, 41

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Citation details

Lyndon Megarrity, 'Paul, Victor Barry (1938–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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