They camped outside his house and fired water pistols at his face. Heath Ledger despised the Australian paparazzi with such a passion that he sold his beloved beachside pad and moved back to America. More than most of his hounded showbiz peers, the young film star fiercely resented the destruction of privacy that goes hand in hand with burgeoning Hollywood fame. Yet, two months after his tragic demise, Ledger's personal life is being subjected to more unwelcome scrutiny than ever. A simmering feud that had split his family for more than two decades burst into the open following the 28-year-old's sudden death from an accidental overdose of prescription medication in January. At its core was Heath's dad Kim Ledger, and Kim's estranged brothers Mike and Haydn, who were among 17 relatives not invited to the funeral in their hometown of Perth. The public fallout has been explosive. The uncles' allegations that Kim squandered their grandfather's A$2 million (HK$14.35 million) fortune were followed by the revelation that his famous son might have fathered a secret love-child. Fuelling the fire, Haydn Ledger told one journalist: 'That's actually been a rumour for years.' To another, he described it as 'a real possibility'. The speculation centred on an affair 17-year-old Heath had with a 25-year-old woman when he was still attending the city's Guildford Grammar school. She became pregnant, and friends assumed the father was her live-in partner. 'She had the baby,' a family 'source' told another paper. 'Everyone lived under the assumption that she was the daughter of the mother's boyfriend, and that is how she has been brought up.' Last week the woman - now remarried and expecting another child - has found herself under the spotlight. Only her 11-year-old daughter's apparent unawareness of the fuss has prevented the family from being publicly identified. 'I'm not answering anything,' said her mother. 'I think it's very, very rude that I'm being [asked about] all of this. I really do. You have no proof, there's no background, there's no grounds, there's no nothing.' The schoolboy she had the relationship with would have empathised with her resentment at the abrupt media intrusion. As Heath Ledger's fame soared with acclaimed performances in movies like Brokeback Mountain, so did his discomfort over the paparazzi. Four years ago he bought a three-floor house in Sydney's exclusive Bronte Beach, hoping it would become a sanctuary for him and his pregnant partner, actress Michelle Williams. That was a forlorn hope. The A$4.45 million home was easily viewed from the street, and whenever the couple stepped out ono one of its decks they were an easy target for the ever-present zoom lenses. Less than a year after Williams gave birth to their daughter, Matilda Rose, the family packed their bags and headed for a new life in New York. Ledger's loathing of the photographers had become all too clear when he allegedly spat at one on a film shoot in Sydney. The paparazzi responded by splashing the couple with water pistols at Brokeback's Australian premiere. Ledger later confided that he and Williams were being 'pursued like aliens'. 'I feel like the paparazzi are going to kick me out of that city,' he said. Following his death, Ledger's co-star on the Australian movie Candy, Noni Hazlehurst, said: 'He was uncomfortable with celebrity, which made him a target for fools, preferring to focus on being the best actor he could be.' There is a bitter irony that Ledger appeared to have found a new level of professional and personal satisfaction in the weeks before he died. While filming the upcoming Batman movie and Terry Gilliam's latest fantasy epic - The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus - he escaped for the Christmas holiday back to his native Perth. In a phone message to The West Australian newspaper's film editor, Mark Naglazas, Ledger expressed heartfelt gratitude to local media. 'I don't know whether it's a conscious thing or an unconscious thing, giving me space and respecting my privacy,' he said. 'It's been just awesome. And I've had the most beautiful time back here and being able to see all my friends and family, let alone the press and the people within the community of Perth. It's been so lovely. 'It's really enabled me to be a boy again from home and feel like I'd never left. It's truly been an incredibly therapeutic and a much-needed trip home, and just that little touch has made it all that more special to me.' Unfortunately, the next time he returned - to be laid to rest - fractured relations among his family had come to the fore. The mourners at his funeral in February included fellow Australian stars like Cate Blanchett and Bryan Brown, local politicians and a car dealer thought to have met Ledger on only one occasion. Around half of his family - including his godparents - were absent. It was after the actor's will was lodged in a Manhattan court last month that the family rift became public. Mike and Haydn Ledger, who run a firm that supplies equipment to the mining, construction and farming sectors, say they intended to keep quiet. But after discovering that Williams - who split from the actor last year - had disagreed with Kim Ledger on aspects of his son's estate, they decided to speak out. Drawn up in 2003, before Ledger became close to Williams, the beneficiaries of the will are Ledger's parents, his sister Kate and half sisters Olivia and Ashleigh. Although the star's assets were then listed as totalling only US$145,000, film industry insiders estimate he was worth between US$10 million and US$60 million when he died. The uncles say Williams' father, Larry Williams, phoned last month to ask if Kim Ledger was 'capable' of overseeing his son's estate. 'We said, 'we don't think so, considering what happened with our grandfather's estate',' Mike told one newspaper. He was referring to the events of the late 1980s and early 90s, after control of ailing 87-year-old Frank Ledger's A$2 million estate was handed to Kim, his grandson. In 1994, other family members successfully went to court to have Heath's dad removed as executor, arguing that his borrowing and management had 'placed the assets at risk'. Mike Ledger's allegation that the patriarch's estate was left in 'enormous debt' and 'total tatters' has been described as 'rubbish' by Kim's long-time financial adviser and business associate, Robert Collins. Mr Collins is now an executor of Ledger's will, a decision that has infuriated the uncles, who say an independent expert should be appointed. 'Our only vested interest is to ensure that Matilda is well looked after,' said Mike. Kim responded with statements hitting out at his siblings. 'Matilda is our absolute priority, and Michelle is an integral part of the family,' he said. 'They will be taken care of and that's how Heath would want it to be. 'It is sad at this extremely difficult time in our lives, while we are grieving the loss of our beloved son, that estranged family members publicly discuss matters they have not been privy to in the past or now. 'We hope for Matilda's sake they remain dignified.' Someone else hoping to retain dignity is the Perth woman now the subject of widespread speculation that she gave birth to Ledger's child. According to local media, the expectant mother has refused to say if the actor is the father, and has scoffed at suggestions of a DNA test. If the rumours are true it would open the way for another claim on Ledger's estate. But the woman's husband insists their family are not interested. 'We want nothing to do with any of it,' he told the Sydney Morning Herald, adding that his 11-year-old step-daughter could be 'incredibly hurt' if identified. 'I don't need anything or want anything. I'm just very protective of my children.' By the end of a tumultuous week, the uncles who instigated the public speculation were also playing down the claims. 'All my brother Haydn said was that anything is possible, and from there, it just went absolutely berserk,' Mike Ledger told an American website. 'At the end of the day, our thoughts are with the little girl in question, and we're not prepared to make any more comments at all.'