This place was madness: streetlights whizzed past, car horns blared. I sat between my mother and her best friend Toni in the back of a tuktuk as it jockeyed for position in the chaotic back streets of Bangkok. A questionable place for a two and a half year old at night. Women hung provocatively out of bars, flagging down potential customers from all parts of the world. My mother Jan and Toni squeezed me tight. I could feel their love protecting me from such a manic place.
We arrived at the Meridian hotel in a central part of the city. Her face covered by oversize sunglasses and a large hat, my mother whipped me up onto her hip and carried me straight through the foyer while Toni checked us in. As quick as flicking a switch we were up in the elevator and I was asleep.
The next morning the three of us went out shopping. I didn’t know why we were in Thailand. My mother didn’t want me there, but she had no choice, this was to be the last time. To me it was like an adventure, but it was an adventure stained with pain. Jan and Toni had been around the block more than once, but even these street-smart women were scared by the men who followed us around every corner — into the hotel, into restaurants, in the street in their cars. They weren’t letting us out of their sight.
We tried to blend in with the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and acted like we didn’t have a bullseye on our backs. As we manoeuvred through the crowds I spotted the pig. A technicolour papier-mache pig. I had to have it. I tugged on Toni’s dress, pleading with her to buy it for me. She succumbed to my boyish pout and purchased us matching pigs.
‘How do you plan on carrying that, little man? It’s twice your size,’ Toni asked.
Jan was thinking, Shit, how am I going to get that through two sets of Customs?
Later we rested and ate lunch in a beautiful garden, the sun beaming down on us. Toni picked a branch of orchids for me. This place could be mistaken for a tropical paradise.
At 2 p.m. the three of us got out of a taxi out in front of a dirty cement compound, its walls topped with razor wire. We all embraced, and Jan and I left Toni watching our backs. I could feel the tension in my mother’s grip. We slowly approached the hugest gate I’d ever seen.
We stood waiting for what felt like hours among a crowd of Asian faces. The humidity was stifling, the flies and the smell even worse. Eventually, after what seemed an eternity, the monstrous gate swung open and Jan and I passed through. Men grinned down at the white girl and her boy. Guns hung from their shoulders. We were led through a series of doors and corridors, guards present at every turn. All around us were the thundering sounds of metal on metal, of steel doors slamming, keys clanging. The guards seemed to enjoy pushing and pulling at my mother, taking the opportunity to grope a Western woman. Finally, we were shut inside a room full of dripping humidity and biting insects, and told to wait. All we could do was sit and stare at the door, willing it to open. I had no idea what lay behind it. I wish I never had to find out.
An hour passed. Restless and crying by now, I needed feeding and sleep. Suddenly the door opened and two men appeared, waving at us to come, no questions. On the other side of the door was horror: steel bars separated the room into four parts, and behind each set of bars were coils of barbed wire.
In the middle of the room was gangway for the guards to pace up and down. The other side of the divide had the same set-up of steel and wire. I could hear men shouting in a language I couldn’t understand. The head guard held his hand out, waiting for it to be filled with cash. That’s how it worked: you pay, you gain — otherwise you leave. Jan stuffed notes into his sweaty hands. He then opened the first gate, then more hands were out, more money was paid. Three times this happened until we had gone as far as we could and no amount of cash or cigarettes could get us any further.
‘You wait,’ the guard said sharply in broken English.
Then I saw the silhouette of a man through the all the bars and wire. A familiar outline. He came into view, partially shadowed. It was my father, my daddy. Instinctively my arms stretched out to him, and I fought to be released from Jan’s grip. But she couldn’t let me go, I would have been cut to shreds on the razor wire, if not beaten back by firm hands. My father also had his arms out, desperately wanting to hold his son. Father and son had been inseparable; now corrupt prison guards and tonnes of steel and wire stood between us.
Despite my blubbering cries, we could get no closer than three feet from each other. Our hearts were separated by rusty bars. Was this a bad dream?
Warren paced the corridors nervously, excited and hoping for a boy. Jan was prepped for the C-section. Warren called out to his wife through the door, telling her he loved her, encouraging the doctors and nurses. They all laughed at his cockiness, not used to this kind of behaviour. For my mother and father, this was the biggest moment of their young lives.
I arrived at 8.30 a.m. on 10 March 1977 at the hospital in Manly, a beachside suburb in Sydney’s north. It was a sunny autumn day and to my parents’ delight, I was a boy. Jan had already named me while I was still in her stomach: Adrian Simon Fellows. Now it was written officially on my birth certificate. Jan’s parents Colin and Alma joined Warren in the waiting room. There were cigars and they were the happiest people alive. Colin was beside himself with joy. I was his first grandson. As he didn’t have a son of his own, I was the next best thing.
Finally Warren could hold his son. Jan’s stomach was black and blue from the surgery, but the two of them shared a powerful moment as Warren cradled me while holding Mum’s hand.
‘A boy!’ everyone said again and again.
‘He’s going to be a prince. That’s my boy,’ Warren announced proudly.
Even the nurses laughed.
Jan stayed in hospital for a week. I was kept in a separate ward with all the other newborns. Warren was desperate to hold me, but for the most part could only look at me through the glass of the viewing room. He instructed the nurses how to lay me in my cot to ensure that I was breathing correctly, zealous that I receive the best attention.
Hospitals had different rules about babies back then. To his displeasure, Warren was only allowed to visit during family visiting hours. So he would stand on a box outside Jan’s window and talk to her for hours on end until he was shooed away. When he wasn’t at the hospital, he was celebrating with his mates, happy as punch.
When the week was up, we were all together at our family home: a penthouse apartment in one of the white tower blocks perched on top of the hill overlooking both Sydney Harbour and Manly beach.
Becoming a mother was fantastic for Jan. She had wanted a love child, to settle down and raise a family. Her precious Adrian was to be the first, with hopefully more on the horizon. She and Warren had plenty of money, now it was time to create the future. Theirs was a dream lifestyle not many 24 year olds could reach. The flash young couple with their baby boy. What could be better? They were young and healthy and had the world at their feet.
Warren was in his element as a new father. He literally took me everywhere and did everything with me; he bathed me, we fell asleep together. If he ate an olive, I would — to Jan’s disapproval. Jan couldn’t get me out of his arms. They would playfully argue about whose turn it was to hold me. He was proving to be an incredible father; he adored his wife and child.
Warren wasn’t far from his business, working out of a pub under the majestic Sydney Harbour Bridge owned by my godfather, at the time a successful SP bookmaker. Warren worked closely with him. Bookmaking was a natural progression for Warren, having grown up trackside with his father. It was second nature to him and didn’t even feel like work. A fast track to fat stacks of cash. When it came to punting, picking a winner and knowing the field, there was none better than my father. He could turn ten dollars into ten thousand without breaking a sweat. Jan loved it when he came home tossing his winnings in the air. Cool as you like, he knew he was good, no — great. I would crawl around in the money.
Warren’s favourite story about me growing up was that I used to collect coins and notes of all denominations and wander off down the hallway with them. One day Warren, curious, watched my daily collection and followed me into the second bathroom.
‘Princess, come look at what your son is doing,’ Warren called to Jan.
I’d been stashing the money in the toilet bowl. My parents laughed.
‘That’s not a bank, my darling, it doesn’t go down there. You don’t want to flush your savings away,’ Jan smiled.
Never a harsh word or angry vibe was expressed towards me. I received nothing but love, protection and joy from my parents.
My grandparents Alma and Colin were regular visitors, wanting to take me on outings and smothering me with love. They instantly became my second parents, and when I was a little older Jan and Warren would leave me with them so they could go out for a dance and a party. Though my parents would rather not be parted from me and preferred dinner parties at home.
Ruby, Warren’s mother, came by on weekends. She would hold me and point out all the boats bobbing on the harbour that we could see from our penthouse balcony. The world was looking good. What a joyful time.
Warren would take me to my godfather’s pub and show me off and ask me to pick out a number on the form. This I did and one day won us over fifteen thousand bucks.
‘Look, the boy has the gift! A prodigy! What’s your hot tip for race six, Adrian?’ Warren’s buddies shouted jovially. Warren would simply smile and nod and raise his beer. As if he was genetically superior and had passed this on to his child.
Meanwhile Jan became quite the bookkeeper for Warren. He was earning ridiculous cash bookmaking and betting with the bookies at the racecourse. He wanted to expand into buying horses to race.
Race day at Randwick, the iconic racecourse in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Kids back then weren’t allowed in the Members’ Stand, so Warren would run around like a madman darting back and forth between the Members and the Ladies section, where Mum, dressed to the nines and looking drop dead gorgeous, hung out with me and the other wives. Jan bought all Warren’s clothes for him, his suits, ties, linen jackets. She was one of the best-dressed women in Sydney and wouldn’t have been out of place on a movie set or in a magazine. There was never less than a thousand dollars in her purse — a lot of cash for the Seventies.
To an outsider we looked the business: young, dapper, cashed-up, fun and in the know. And in the racing business, everyone wants to be in the know.
Warren had a t-shirt printed for me that said ‘Look out, here comes trouble’, and all the girls thought I was the cutest. Warren loved the attention from the sexy girls who doted on me, especially when we were in Hawaii. I was his chick magnet.
Jan’s new favourite destination was Hawaii. We went to Queensland often, but Hawaii was it. Qantas first class was the only way to travel, upstairs in the jumbo lounge. My parents sipped on drinks while I played or slept. In the late Seventies the Royal Hawaiian was the most exclusive hotel in the Hawaiian Islands. Jan would book the plushest suites in advance, only the best.
Hiring cars was always a fun adventure for my parents, driving on the other side of the road provided many laughs. I sat in the back gurgling and giggling. I was told I enjoyed travelling. I loved the helicopter flights and small planes that flew us over the many incredible islands. Hawaii was paradise on earth, and Jan wanted to make it our home. She encouraged Warren to look into the racing industry there and in America. Warren loved the idea. He could train horses anywhere. Why not move? While Jan set about searching for properties to buy, Warren followed up on his industry connections. Whenever I was babysat, I always had two hotel babysitters, my parents couldn’t trust just one. Jan found an apartment to die for, overlooking a picturesque tropical beach. She didn’t hesitate to put a chunky deposit down.
We travelled to and from Hawaii several times in the following months, sorting it all out. The vision was to spend half the year in Sydney and the other half in Hawaii and the States. It seemed an achievable dream for Warren, who was in his element.
Jan and I came in from shopping one day when Warren bounded through the front door like he owned the world.
‘Come with me, my princess and my little prince,’ he said with a cheeky smile.
We followed him into the lift and down to the apartment’s garage where, wrapped up in a big pink ribbon, a brand new shiny red MG sports car was waiting for us.
‘This is all yours, babe,’ he said proudly to Jan. ‘I know you love MGs. I had it converted to automatic, just for you.’
He was all class, flashy. What woman wouldn’t love this gesture? To top it off, he pointed out another car next to it, a brand new Holden Statesmen, top-shelf driving.
Jan, being such a mum, said, ‘How’s the baby seat going to fit in?’ They shared a ‘didn’t think of that’ look, then laughed and hugged.
‘Red,’ I half gurgled out, pointing at the sports car.
Warren’s racing career was taking off to another level. Jan was still doing the books, but we’d started to outgrow the penthouse. We all went looking for another home. Jan had her eye on a massive house on a block in Mosman, a ritzy suburb on the north shore of Sydney. Warren purchased a huge block of land in Davidson with views overlooking the northern beaches. An architect was commissioned, and both Jan and Warren were free to create a three-level mansion overlooking the glorious Sydney coastline.
Warren was making plans for me. Colin was adamant that I have the best education, mindful that the best schools led to the best jobs; with all the right contacts, success would be mine. Warren wouldn’t have anything less for his boy. He wanted a father and son business, for us to become racing royalty in this country and overseas.
Looks perfect, doesn’t it?