In 1987, I met Delcie Schipp. She was a piano and violin teacher, but her real love was singing. We got together to play trios: Delcie as soprano voice, me on clarinet and Alice Fitzsummons on piano. We were brought together by Wayne Dixon, conductor of the Wollongong Symphony Orchestra, who suggested we might make a good combination.
Once a week, Delcie would pick me up from home and drive us to Alice’s home in southern Wollongong, where we would rehearse a range of pieces for an hour or so. The most famous piece for soprano, clarinet and piano is “Shepherd on the rock” by Schubert. We practised and performed it but soon became tired of it. I tracked down many additional pieces for the combination, plus Delcie sang solos with piano, Alice and I played clarinet and piano pieces, and we even had a couple of pieces for soprano and clarinet.
Over the following decade, we enjoyed playing music together, and performed occasionally at music club concerts and other events. We organised several performances at Delcie’s unit in downtown Wollongong. We would invite friends to attend, charging a small amount that we donated to a good cause. Delcie had an excellent grand piano and a large main room. She had some chairs and we encouraged guests to bring pillows to sit on the floor. These were delightful occasions.
During those years, Delcie and I had plenty of opportunities to talk during the 10-minute drives to and from Alice’s place. After a few years, Delcie started telling me about a business matter. She had been involved with a property deal that somehow involved lawyer George Harrison, a prominent figure around Wollongong. The deal had gone wrong in some way, and Delcie — or rather her lawyers — were pursuing Harrison for money. Harrison defended vigorously and the costs kept rising.
She was obviously distressed by the events but, from what she told me, I could never make sense of what had happened. She believed she had been at the mercy of some devious dealing but it seemed the details were beyond her comprehension.
It was only years later, when I read about the matters in the Illawarra Mercury, that I finally understood the sequence of events. In the late 1980s, Delcie had been involved in a property deal with Don Cameron, a real estate developer, and George Harrison, a solicitor. Delcie put up the money and the three of them planned to develop the property together. However, the development never went ahead. Delcie sold the property and was pleased that its value had increased. But she wasn’t happy that Cameron and Harrison each claimed $40,000 from the sale, because they hadn’t proceeded with the planned development.
Delcie’s lawyers pursued the two men for the $80,000. Some ten years later, in 1998, a judge ruled in Delcie’s favour, saying that Harrison had willingly lied under oath. Cameron and Harrison claimed that Delcie was financially shrewd, knowing what was happening the whole time. Delcie said she had been duped. Given that Delcie had never been able to explain to me what had happened, I thought she was telling the truth. The judge, like me, believed her and he thought Harrison was a liar.
Harrison was active in the Labor Party, and in 1999, despite the recent court ruling against him, was elected Lord Mayor of Wollongong.
Cameron bowed out of the court case and Harrison took over the legal defence. Senior Labor Party figures told Harrison to pay up, because the ongoing publicity about the case was bad for the party. But Harrison decided instead to appeal the judge’s decision. In February 2001 the appeal court ruled against him, and he declared that he would pay. But then he didn’t. He went to a higher court.
Due to legal costs and interest, the amount at stake grew, eventually exceeding a million dollars. A newspaper article at the time reported on Harrison’s many properties; he seemed to have the means to pay.
Meanwhile, due to some complex matters to do with legal insurance, it turned out that Delcie owed $700,000 to Harrison’s wife Vania. Delcie couldn’t pay. She had no income. She sold her grand piano. Then she declared bankruptcy.
In 2002, the court of appeals ruled against Harrison. The Law Society struck him off the register of solicitors and he was kicked out of the Labor Party. There were numerous newspaper stories about whether he would pay up, including stories about Delcie pleading with him to do so.
Then Harrison declared bankruptcy. This meant he had to step down as lord mayor, because bankrupts are not allowed to hold public office. It was amazing. Rather than pay Delcie, Harrison preferred to declare bankruptcy and step away from the most prestigious public office in Wollongong.
During this time, Delcie changed her name. Rather than Delcie Schipp, she became Kathryn Chaffey. She told me she had never liked the name Delcie. It took a while to get used to calling her Kathryn, especially because newspaper stories about her stoush with Harrison still referred to her as Delcie.
Even after both parties had declared bankruptcy, the legal cases continued, but I never heard what happened in the end.
Harrison’s failure to pay was hard on Delcie, and her lawyers were left out of pocket too. She was reported as saying Harrison had destroyed her life. She contracted cancer and died in 2006, aged 70. Years later, in December 2020, Harrison died, also of cancer.
Are there lessons from this story? I can’t think of any obvious ones, except perhaps that amateur music is more likely to give pleasure than property deals.
Selected Illawarra Mercury stories
Lisa Carty, “‘Naive woman held to ransom’: judge’s ruling damns solicitor, real estate agent,” 22 July 1998, pp. 1, 3.
Lisa Carty, “Labor heavies tell Lord Mayor: pay up, George,” 5 January 2000, pp. 1–2.
Lisa Carty, “‘I’ll pay’: Harrison loses court appeal,” 21 February 2001, pp. 1, 3.
Lisa Carty and Paul McInerney, “‘Poor’ mayor has a range of rich assets,” 10 March 2001, p. 6.
Lisa Carty, “Bizarre twist: now Schipp owes Vania,” 29 November 2001, p. 9.
Louise Turk, Paul McInerney and Jodie Duffy, “Struck off! Lord Mayor unfit: Law Society,” 29–30 June 2002, pp. 1, 3.
Lisa Carty, “He’s gone: Harrison quits as mayor,” 26 July 2002, pp. 1, 4.
Lisa Carty, “The letter that could have saved George Harrison’s job: Schipp asked for $20,000, the mayor chose bankruptcy,” 27 July 2002, p. 5
Greg Ellis, “George Harrison dies after long cancer fight,” 17 December 2020, p. 6