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'Dear Dad': John Hemmes' son from affair reached out, now court awards $1.75m

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In September 2010, Edward Cameron began a letter, addressed, "Dear Dad, John, Father, Mr Hemmes …"

He was writing to John Hemmes, the patriarch of the Merivale hospitality empire that owns some of Sydney's most well-known bars.

Edward Cameron has been awarded $1.75 million from the estate of John Hemmes.
Edward Cameron has been awarded $1.75 million from the estate of John Hemmes. Photo: Steven Siewert

On Friday, the NSW Supreme Court awarded the 27-year-old $1.75 million after a case that exposed details of Swiss bank account transactions and the threat of an apprehended violence order.

Fiona Cameron, mother of Edward Cameron, had a six-and-a-half-year relationship with John Hemmes.
Fiona Cameron, mother of Edward Cameron, had a six-and-a-half-year relationship with John Hemmes. Photo: Nick Moir

The family's private affairs came into the public domain on Thursday after Mr Cameron took action against Mr Hemmes' executor David Mead, seeking $4.1 million of the estate.

Mr Hemmes had been a shrewd businessman. With his wife Merivale, the milliner he met in 1954 on the gangplank of a cruise ship, he had created fashion companies that dressed Marlene Dietrich and Mick Jagger, before moving into hospitality.

The family company Merivale, in which they were later joined by their children Bettina and Justin, was worth an estimated $500 million at the time of his death.

But while married, Mr Hemmes began a six-and-a-half-year relationship with Fiona Cameron in 1983 when she was 26.

Ms Cameron told the Supreme Court on Thursday she had visited all of Mr Hemmes' properties at the time, rattling them off.

There was The Hermitage mansion on Vaucluse Road, Australia's first million-dollar home, the Angel Hotel in the city, another couple on Little Pitt Street, the Merivale factory on Elizabeth Street and another couple in Randwick.

The Home of John & Merivale Hemmes. May 13, 1980.

The Hermitage, the Hemmes' family mansion in Vaucluse. Photo: Fairfax Media

Sometimes, Ms Cameron helped advise her lover on purchases and redevelopments, she told the court.

The relationship ended after she fell pregnant in 1989 and it was not until the mid 1990s, after a series of court cases, that Mr Hemmes began paying child support.

A DNA analysis suggested he was the father to a probability of 99.6 per cent and the Family Court declared him so.

kristie lau - SOCIALS: Inception 2 Completion, Cocktail Party, The Ivy. Justin Hemmes with his Mother, Father and Sister- L-R, Merivale Hemmes, Mr John ( Hemmes father preferred name), Justin and Amber L'Estrange (blonde under Justin's arm SHD S SECTION PIC BY LEE BESFORD. Wednesday 2nd July 2008. BEST HUSBAND SHOPPING PARTY Ivy cocktail party The Ivy Room, city

Merivale and John Hemmes with their son, Justin, in 2008. Photo: Lee Besford

But even as he paid child support, Mr Hemmes would not acknowledge his son and did not regard the analysis as a genuine paternity test.

"John Hemmes had serious doubts as to the legitimacy of Edward Cameron being his biological son," a Merivale spokeswoman said on Friday.

The court was read parts of a letter a laboratory analyst had sent to Ms Cameron saying the DNA report expressed an "opinion", one which should not be relied upon in court.

When he grew up, Mr Cameron moved to Germany. It was there the young designer began the handwritten letters to his father, copying them into emails.

Edward Cameron is challenging the estate of John Hemmes , he claims to be a biological son . Supreme Court Sydney Pic Nick Moir 8 feb 2018

Edward Cameron leaving court on Thursday with a supporter. Photo: Nick Moir

"I would love to hear from you soon," he wrote in the first.

Ms Boylett, the administration manager, replied: "Please do not under any circumstances contact Mr Hemmes at his private address."

At one point, after Mr Cameron did try to visit his father at an old address, she wrote to threaten him with an apprehended violence order. 

Any meeting with Mr Hemmes, who was then suffering from cancer, was predicated on Mr Cameron undergoing more DNA analysis. At first he agreed, then decided he would not.

The Rag trade's a hard, tough business? but John Hemmes thought it a bit much when he discovered a rival going through the garbage hoping for a clue to the latest fashions. Still, it was a compliment to the design reputation of Merivale, John's wife. Between them they have created a multi-million dollar empire, the phenomenon of the clothing industry. Read their fascinating story in our series on The Young Tycoons. September 16, 1974.

John and Merivale Hemmes in September 1974. Photo: Fairfax Media

"My client did all he could," Mr Cameron's barrister Lindsay Ellison, SC, said. "The deceased had the wherewithal - he could have done anything to take it further but he didn't."

The defence cast the absence differently.

"It was well within the plaintiff's power to commence a relationship (in circumstances where he knew Mr Hemmes to be terminally ill)," they argued, pointing to Mr Cameron's decision not to go undergo more DNA analysis.

Justice Geoffrey Lindsay said he would not assign fault.

"It's tragic from both points of view," he said.

SOCIALS , 29.8.07 Hemmesphere 7th birthday, Sydney Merivale and John Hemmes SHD Pic JENNY EVANS

John and Merivale Hemmes in 2007. Photo: Jenny Evans

Over the course of 13 years, Mr Hemmes paid about $290,000 in child support, lawyers for Mr Cameron said.

"Surprisingly, the deceased regularly disputed the relatively modest annual assessments made by the Child Support Agency," they submitted

And by way of comparison, Mr Hemmes' Aston Martin was worth $150,000 at the time of his death, they said.

According to the executor for the estate, the man who had created a multimillion-dollar conglomerate actually did not have a cent to his name and owed $200,000 - a claim that was not disputed in court.

But there was money around. Mr Hemmes left Ms Boylett $2 million as a legacy.

john hemmes, edward cameron

Edward Cameron on Thursday and (inset) Justin and John Hemmes.  Photo: Nick Moir

A week before his death, his two acknowledged children received $5.7 million in a transfer from a Credit Suisse Bank account in Zurich in Mr Hemmes' name.

Then there was the $4.1 million sitting in a superannuation fund, the same pot of money from which Mr Hemmes had paid child support.

When it became clear on Thursday Justice Lindsay would grant at least something, talk turned to the amount.

Mr Cameron's lawyers said Mr Hemmes' other children had enjoyed "very substantial benefits". They had grown up "with a strongly involved and supportive father in a waterfront mansion in Vaucluse complete with swimming pool and tennis court".

John and Merivale Hemmes and their 18-year-old daughter, Bettina, outside the Hermitage, their home in Vaucluse. August 20, 1982.

John and Merivale Hemmes and their daughter, Bettina, outside The Hermitage in August 1982. Photo: Fairfax Media

Lawyers for the estate executor warned against granting a "wish list".

Justice Lindsay announced the figure of $1.75 million late on Friday afternoon, and ordered legal costs be paid out of the estate.

In 2010, the same year Mr Cameron wrote to his father, Mr Hemmes said: "The lack of love from my father has given me the drive to give all my love to my family, my children."

His third child walked out of the Hospital Road courts on Friday afternoon and passed the cameras silently, some rolled up papers in one hand.

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