The Governor General presided over a charity whose sole purpose appears to have been producing a trophy and medals for the King’s Cup rowing regatta, made from the melted down artefacts gifted by eight different nations. But where is the King’s Cup now? Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt with the investigation.
Earlier this month, MWM highlighted the bizarre tale of man-about-town, Chris Hartley, a close associate Governor General David Hurley. Mr Hartley had managed to parlay his seemingly never-ending military and rowing connections to source significant artefacts from eight separate nations, including the Australian War Memorial (AWM). The artefacts were melted down to create a new trophy and medals for the eight nations competing in the 2019 King’s Cup regatta in the UK.
The illustrious shebang was overseen by a not-for-profit organisation, the King’s Cup Organising Committee (KCOC), which Mr Hartley himself formed in February 2019.
The KCOC did not register its governing documents with the Australian charity’s regulator until March 2019 – a month after Mr Hartley had received the Australian War Memorial’s artefacts and a full year after he first sounded out the then director of the AWM, Brendan Nelson.
Charity begins at home … a very large home
The charity lasted four years, but it now no longer exists. It voluntarily revoked its charity status – effective from 30 June 2022 – and according to the companies’ regulator, ASIC, it was deregistered as a company in February this year.
Mr Hartley, together with Julie and Andrew Overton, were the KCOC’s directors. Both Mr Hartley and Julie Overton were also Commonwealth Study Conferences (CSC) alumni.
The trio would later serve as directors of another Mr Hartley established charity – the Australian Future Leaders Foundation.
This particular Foundation was granted $18 million in funding after Mr Hartley managed to convince the Governor-General, David Hurley, and his chief bureaucrat, Paul Singer, as well as former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, to part with the public cash for reasons which never became entire clear.
Paul Singer is also a CSC alumni. The Albanese government rescinded the grant before any public monies went out the door.
The not-for-profit with the GG’s address
Most unusual for a charity, the KCOC advised the Australian charities’ regulator, ACNC, the King’s Cup commemoration was to be classified as “assisting national defence.”
When the charity was first registered, according to the Annual Information Statement 2020, it listed the location of its program as Government House, Dunrossil Drive, Yarralumla – the home of the Governor-General. Mr Hartley had previously kept the Governor-General updated of his efforts to obtain the artefacts from the AWM.
MWM lodged an FOI application with the Office of the Governor-General regarding the King’s Cup but our application was rejected. The FOI Act only applies to “matters of an administrative nature” and does not apply to the Governor-General’s “substantive powers and functions”.
The following year, the reference to Government House had been removed to be replaced by the generic descriptor of Canberra ACT.
The KCOC boldly proclaimed in its last statement to the charities’ regulator that it continued to work with the eight nation’s defence forces and created and commissioned trophies in 2021 – some two years after the Cup had been run.
What is the value of the King’s Cup?
In Mr Hartley’s own words, “gifts of national significance were successfully requested from the Heads of State of each competing nation. And then melted down”.
The molten artefacts were then incorporated into a new King’s Cup. Medals, pins, swords and daggers “encased in gold” were also produced.
The AWM actually contributed some sample bronze plates associated with the revered AWM Roll of Honour, as well as historic original door fittings.
The military mentality was that the other competing nations also thought it was a cracker of an idea to contribute artefacts as significant as those supplied by the AWM.
The Cup incorporated symbolic gifts from each nation and the Queen:
- Canada: material from the highest point of their first Parliament building
- France: four Croix de Guerre medals awarded each year of WW1
- Germany: brass from the historic Gorch Fock sail training vessel
- Netherlands: shell cases from the King’s coronation
- New Zealand: copper fittings from their 1919 original King’s Cup boat
- UK: contribution from Her Majesty The Queen – original copper roofing from the Royal Mausoleum at the Frogmore Estate on the River Thames
- USA: original fitting from the George Washington commissioned 1797 USS Constitution.
MWM has seen documentation which prices a replica production of the Hartley-designed King’s Cup trophy at approximately $43,000.
The pricing comes from the silversmith that manufactured the trophy.
Australian gold producers Newmont and Newcrest donated gold for the trophy. Newmont declared it had given 4 ounces of Australian gold. The KCOC also gave a shout-out to BHP Olympic Dam for providing copper for the trophy.
The Cup allegedly received a special viewing by Queen Elizabeth II ahead of the Henley Royal Regatta. Mr Hartley after commissioning the new King’s Cup Trophy, was eager to get the Royal tick-of-approval and traipsed to Buckingham Palace with the Cup in tow in late June 2019.
Photos on social media confirm Harley was accompanied to Buckingham Palace by an Australian military attaché. It is unclear who gave the order for the attaché to attend.
The cup runneth over and away?
The King’s Cup was contested in early July 2019 as part of the famous Henley Royal Regatta. It appeared to be a week-long event of athletic endeavour, much pomp and ceremony and at times ordinary fashion sense.
Then Defence minister, Linda Reynolds, made an appearance at the event, squeezing in the visit as part of an official overseas trip that took in the UK, Belgium, France and the UAE. The visit to Henley to attend the King’s Cup was not listed as part of the travel summary she submitted to the parliamentary expenses watchdog (IPEA) – unless “undertake site visits” is a euphemism for a day out at the Henley regatta.
Reynolds strutted her stuff with a rowing guard of honour walk through ahead of some serious spectating that included watching the rowing finals and the presentation of the Cup.
Wall-to-wall senior military brass from the represented nations were present, including Australian Air Marshall Warren McDonald.
The various military attaches would later band together and in their enthusiasm, produce a unique blazer for Mr Hartley. The blazer was a gift from the Australian Defence Attaché, Guy Holthouse, “in appreciation”.
Mr Hartley even engaged a public relations firm to assist with the King’s Cup promotion and do extensive media. The head of the PR company, John Thompson, who is also associated with CSC, was asked by Mr Hartley six months ahead of the event to take on the media director role.
The US beat the Germans again
The race was run and won by the US Navy crew who beat the Germans.
According to a statement Mr Hartley gave to The Field magazine – a UK publication founded for those “who loved shooting, fishing, hunting and could sniff out a decent claret at 1,000 paces” – unlike the original 1919 trophy prize, the 2019 winners (the US Navy crew) were “not permitted to keep their trophy forever”.
Instead, the US Navy crew received an engraved sword, inscribed with the crew’s names, to hang from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.
The King’s Cup made a fleeting appearance in Annapolis, Maryland, USA in May 2020, before being last sighted on social media with Mr Hartley preciously cradling the elusive silverware in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge a month later.
As the KCOC is now defunct, MWM has been unable to ascertain the current location of the trophy although questions were put to Mr Hartley on the cup’s current whereabouts.
It was no mean feat to organise the military rowing extravaganza and obtain the artefacts to form part of the trophy. It required multiple trips by Mr Hartley over an 18-month period to secure his symbolic “treasure” from the respective nations.
During its two year life, according to financial statements submitted with the charity regulator, the KCOC only ever received income of $47,500 – nearly all of it from undisclosed government sources and all of it in FY2019-20.
The financial statements for two years are no longer publicly available as the charity voluntarily revoked its charity status. The revocation of the status almost meant that a statement for the FY2021-22 was not required to be lodged.
The KCOC paid out $6,120, essentially on employee expenses, in FY2019-20 – despite commissioning, fashioning and displaying the King’s Cup trophy at the Henley Royal Regatta. A trophy that cost at least $43,000 to produce.
In its last set of financial statements in 2020-21, the KCOC expended $40,900 on “other expenses” leaving only $383 in the bank.
Based on the financial statements submitted to the charities’ regulator, the KCOC would not have had sufficient funds to procure a trophy, medals, medallions, let alone “sword and daggers encased with gold”.
It is possible that Mr Hartley himself worked on the project on a pro bono basis and self-funded the associated travel, media and PR, and production of all the livery.
No word from our sponsors
Some corporates did support the event – M&C Saatchi, ESS Support Services Worldwide, the Compass Group, rowing suppliers Kanghua and Concept2, and gold miners Newmont Australia and Newcrest Mining – but no corporate donations were listed in the financial statements. The support could have been in-kind.
Another possible explanation for the $40,900 expenditure in the year after the event, is the medals were delivered and commissioned post the King’s Cup event. The event’s website states the “2023 national presentation items en route”.
Archived web pages show that statement appeared on the website after MWM started making inquiries.
The KCOC took an innovative approach to fundraising, seeking a direct line to CEOs from tips via its website.
The official website sought high level corporate backing, generously proclaiming:
“The King’s Cup Organising Committee and our Australian friends identify those corporates and CEOs who can be respectfully approached to support our campaign with generous or modest contributions starting at less than one return airfare to the next aviation exhibition or military symposium”.
The website goes on, “Post suggestions for the ‘hopeful list’ including direct CEO or Chairman contact emails to … ”, then goes on to include a specific email address established for the purpose.
It is unclear whether any prospective names of CEOs and their contact details were forthcoming from the tipster’s page.
Despite the corporate sponsorship, gold and in-kind support of boats and oars, the submitted financial statements indicate no donations were obtained from the private sector.
A short life, though vivid
Prior to the 2019 event, when Mr Hartley was interviewed by The Field magazine he was asked about the longevity of the King’s Cup regatta event.
Mr Hartley responded: “It depends, bluntly, on whether the defence industry can support it”.
The magazine stated, “his goal is to raise sponsorship to buy each crew a boat, which would form a legacy for future military events at HRR [Henley Royal Regatta]”.
Mr Hartley’s media director, John Thompson, also commented post event that the media generated was such it “resulted in a new push for the Kings Cup to be held on a regular basis”.
There have been no further incarnations of the King’s Cup since 2019, and the KCOC shut its doors after a four-year shelf life.
The KCOC’s final hurrah appears to have been honouring a commitment to deliver the last of national presentation items, albeit some four years after the event.
MWM sought written comment from Chris Hartley, the PR company he engaged, and Department of Defence on aspects of this story – none of the parties have responded.
Editor’s Note: if anybody knows of the whereabouts of the King’s Cup, please contact Jommy Tee and Ronni Salt via Twitter or Michael West at the email address listed on this website, or Yarralumla, or The King. A nation awaits in gratitude.