The man who will be king of the AFL

The story of how Gillon McLachlan made his first dollar does nothing for the perception that he has led a silver-spoon existence.

As a young boy, he and brother Hamish were told by their father, Angus, that under no circumstances would pocket money be handed out in the household.

That they would work almost every daylight hour while growing up on the family cattle and sheep farm, at Mount Pleasant in South Australia, was an expectation. If the boys wanted fiscal rewards, they would have to find their own means. This led the inseparable pair to the old woolshed on the property. More specifically, to 100 years’ worth of accumulated sheep manure. In the heap of dung, Gill and Hamish spotted opportunity. Soon enough, this saw the enterprising duo take to hands and knees in order to prepare chaff bags full of the stuff for local ladies willing to pay for garden fertiliser.

The McLachlan who, at age 40, would go on to win the most powerful and high-earning job in Australian sport, did not stop there.

‘‘With his share of the money we earned, Gill bought a pig,’’ Hamish, 38, recalled on Wednesday after watching his older brother speak for the first time officially as the AFL’s next top dog.

‘‘Then he bred pigs.’’

Unsophisticated as all this may have been, it marked an early commercial success.

While Gillon, as an AFL executive who was earmarked early for big things, went on to cut a record broadcast rights deal, Hamish, working in television and radio, became one of the band who broadcasts the nation’s richest and most popular football code. Their younger brothers, Banjo, 35, and Will, 30, have pursued contrasting occupations, one in the law and the other taking a recent step into the arts.

From the moment he landed on the AFL beat 14 years ago, the eldest of the McLachlan boys – with his smooth and supremely confident presentation, private school upbringing, Melbourne University qualifications, penchant for polo and connections in high places to match – has been easy to box.

Hamish, who considers Gillon his best friend, acknowledges his brother’s intellect, fierce competitiveness and relatively rapid rise, but presents a richer picture from what he terms a ‘‘solid grounding’’. The Gillon he knows ‘‘disappears’’ whenever he gets the chance to the Otways hinterland near the small Victorian township of Birregurra, where their mother, Sylvia – who separated more than a decade ago from her former husband – now lives.

‘‘Any weekend he can, Gill goes to mum’s, drenches the cattle and plants trees with the kids. They’re in charge of watering the trees so they can learn how to grow and create,’’ Hamish said.

‘‘I can’t keep up with him. He rarely sleeps. On a long weekend he could drive up to mum’s farm, fix fences, drive home, see the footy and then get back to the farm in six hours.’’

With wife Laura, the daughter of former Spotless chairman Brian Blythe, Gillon has three children – two girls, Edie and Cleo, and a son, Sidney. ‘‘His primary concern in his life is his family and his friends,’’ Hamish said. ‘‘That’s what he gets out of bed for and that’s why he goes to work. To be able to provide.

‘‘And while it’s perhaps hard to imagine when you see him being bombarded by press, the best days that Gill and I have had have been watching amateur footy with the races in one ear, footy in the other, and trying to get the quaddie.’’

As for how his big brother will negotiate the most high-profile job in Australian sport, Hamish says: ‘‘I don’t know how he will be different, but I’m sure he will be different. Gillon is really conscious of his strengths and weaknesses and, as a result, I think he will try to get a great team around him.’’

‘‘I’m nervous for him. But I’ve got an enormous faith in his ability. He has always been an extraordinary achiever.’’

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