This is part of the family feud I recalled.
Wrens’ feud without glory
December 27, 2007
JOHN Wren, the infamous tote king of Collingwood in the 1890s, is one of Melbourne’s most enduring rogue-heroes. But even he would probably be stunned at the feud that is tearing apart the family’s third generation.
Two weeks ago one of Wren’s grand-daughters, Susan Wardlaw, died of cancer in Malvern’s Cabrini Hospital. Her husband, Greg Wardlaw, says Susan’s two brothers, John Wren jnr and Michael Wren, claimed the body and buried her privately without notifying him. “I am the next of kin,” he told The Age. “They had no right to do that. I still don’t know where my wife is buried.”
Mr Wardlaw, the son of the late Sir Henry Wardlaw, also has terminal cancer and has been in Calvary Healthcare Bethlehem in Caulfield for the past three weeks.
Mr Wardlaw said the Wren brothers had changed the locks on the Wren-owned house where he and Susan had lived in Hawthorn. They had sent a demand that his belongings were to be moved within 24 hours. “I am in hospital,” Mr Wardlaw said. “I told them it was not possible. They have since emptied the house. I don’t know where the stuff has gone.”
Asked about these claims yesterday, John Wren jnr said he had no comment, but another Wren grand-daughter, Jenny Kurg, said the aftermath of Susan Wardlaw’s death had been “just horrible”. Ms Kurg cut off communication with the Wren clan in 2004 after publication of the book John Wren: A Life Reconsidered, which she says was written at the behest of the Wrens to clear John Wren snr’s name.
The book made adverse comments about her mother, Nora. On page 22 it says that Jenny Kurg’s father, Anthony Wren, died in 1945 “after falling from his bedroom window onto the sandstone path below … Letters from his widow, Nora, to his brothers reveal some ‘transgression’ by her and probably him which caused his parents at least to snub her — so that the only provision in their wills for her was indirectly through her children.”
Eight years after Anthony Wren died (believed to be suicide) his son Anthony jnr, a 20-year-old poet, died after falling from a cliff near Hobart. Jenny Kurg says that also was suicide.
Ms Kurg said she had previously had a close relationship with Susan, her cousin. “I used to see a lot of her but after the publication of that book I really didn’t want anything to do with any living members of my father’s family. My mother’s reputation was damaged irrevocably and I know why and I think it is appalling. I decided there and then I did not want to see them. I have sent Greg a card and we have had quite a long talk.”
Greg Wardlaw said the friction began 18 years ago when he married Susan. "Her two brothers were against the marriage from the start. It’s all about money. They (told her) I was a scoundrel and all I wanted was the money, but all they wanted was the inheritance from their father. They had been very happy that she was in her 40s and never married.
"It was: ‘Hell, we’ve got to stop this.’ For 18 years I put up with it. My wife was afraid of them. They took her aside and told her all this rubbish. They got a private detective to follow me. He got evidence from my ex-wife and a guy I sacked.
“They were always getting her to sign things. Eventually she signed everything (over) to them. When she was in hospital over the past four years John Wren (jnr) would go and see her privately, never with me there, and she would ring me up with hysterical phone calls: ‘You’re no good, you’re a bum.’ Then it would all calm down.”
Susan and her brothers are the children of John Francis Wren, son of the original notorious John Wren who built a business empire from his illegal Collingwood tote. John Wren, who died in 1953, was parodied in the 1950 Frank Hardy novel Power without Glory for which Hardy was tried (unsuccessfully) in 1951 for criminal libel.
James Griffin’s A Life Reconsidered counters the portrayal of “John West” (aka Wren) as a racketeer, saying that “while John Wren was no saint, he was fair in his business dealings, a committed social democrat of a conservative hue, puritanical in his personal habits and relationships and a genuine philanthropist”.
Griffin’s book brands author Frank Hardy a “literary hoodlum” and — ironically, considering the current claims about the Wrens — says that the brothers of Frank Hardy’s mother, Winifred, “had opposed her marriage” to Hardy’s father, Tom.
Jenny Kurg said: "I got a very annoying letter from John Wren (jnr) early this month telling me that Sue was close to death and I owed it to her to go and visit. I wrote a reply saying I would not go because of what had happened to my mother.
“I liked Sue very much and knew how much Greg meant to her but the brothers did not care for him and had no contact. It was pretty horrible. But as Greg said, she played bridge and we are quite sure her bridge friends will get together and have a wake.”