Peter FitzSimons on walking away from the house he had to have


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Peter FitzSimons is a journalist, columnist, radio and television presenter.

He is also a prolific author with more than 30 published books, all centred on very Australian subjects.

His latest title, Breaker Morant, portrays the soldier whose story rivals Ned Kelly as an archetypal Australian folk hero. 

peter fitzsimons breaker morant
Peter FitzSimon's new book, Breaker Morant, is out now. Photo: Peter Morris.

What was your first job?

Picking oranges for my father, from the age of five, at two cents for every two-gallon (8-litre) bucket. I could do 50 on a good day and earn a dollar!

What's the best money advice you've received?

Twenty years ago, my wife and I were obsessing over a house we wanted to buy up the road, having convinced ourselves that this was the only house for us, and we had to have it.

The problem was, if we sold the house we were in at top dollar, hocked the cars, sold the shares and stood on tippy-toes we were still $100,000 shy of the asking price.

So I went to see Jim Miller of Miller Storage fame (an old Wallaby from 30 years before my time), and asked: "Jim, isn't there some business thing you business people do, where you put money in one end of some financial mechanisms involving bonds or debentures or sumfink - you know, that kind of shit? - and out the other end comes another $100,000 more than you started with? We need it, to buy a house."

Jim looked at me and said, "Son, there'll be other houses."

Bingo! It was great advice. From the moment you convince yourself you must have something, the price goes up and moves you into ludicrous territory. We calmed down, the fever passed, and six weeks later we found the house we are living in now - and have lived happily ever after in.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

See immediately above. We have made a few bad investment decisions over the years - chiefly due to inattention on our part, and assuming that those we thought of as experts truly had only our best interests at heart. But the decision to buy the house we bought in 1998 outweighs all the bad decisions as its value has increased so much. The only problem is, we so love living in it, that we never want to sell it!

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

I don't trade much in shares. But a few years ago, I got one tech stock when it was at $1 and was so thrilled when it got to $2 that I invested more. Then it went to $4 and I knew it was going to quickly double again. So I put a big chunk of change on it ... only to see it quickly crash to 50 cents! Bugger.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

My Tesla. I know it's a bit of a luxury, but every day I drive it, I love it!

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it? 

Anything to do with renewable energy. It is obvious to me that this next decade is the transition period from belching fossil fuels to renewables.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

Go to a cafe, have a big breakfast, and a think about things.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

Yes, but not too much. I think it was Warren Buffett who said, "I want to leave my kids with enough money that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing." Obviously, we are not remotely in his league but I like the principle and if all goes our way, I would like to spend a lot of the kids' inheritance in our 70s and 80s!

What has been the best money-making career move for you?

Writing books, like my current one on Breaker Morant. My breakthrough book was Kokoda, which has now sold 320,000 copies, and that was certainly an unexpected windfall. But I love doing them and the fact they sell well is a great bonus.

Which of your books has made you proudest? Which made you the most money?

As I said above, Kokoda has given the biggest financial return. But I will always think my book on the shipwreck of the Batavia is the best pure story, closely followed by the Catalpa rescue.

But I am bloody proud of my current book on Breaker Morant, and will be interested to see how the public reacts to it. I think they will be surprised by the conclusion I have come to.

Finish this sentence: money makes ...

... my head hurt. The esoterica of dealing with money bores me rigid. I am pretty good at making it, but managing it is so dull I can't bear it.

Fortunately, we now have a very good financial bloke I went to school with and trust - David Sharp of William Buck, if anyone cares - and he takes most of the pain out of it, even if he does regularly pin a bill to our foreheads for his trouble.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
Lynn Clark
October 31, 2020 1.15pm

LOVED Batavia!