Root Out the Crims (AKA the Ed’s rant)

If the dogs are barking right, these people won’t stop at bombings and even murder.

Root out the crims

The week following the Guardian’s exposé on August 16 of the extent of illegal gambling in the Newtown–Marrickville area and mobsters’ stand-over tactics and violence, the Editor wrote a courageous comment piece (which Tom refers to as “the Ed’s rant”).

Subtitled ‘Root out the crims’, he wrote that the paper’s stories about illegal gambling ‘have caused some rumblings among the gambling fraternity. We have even heard of threats being issued.

‘There are some big operators operating around Newtown-Marrickville. They don’t like their activities being brought to light.

‘If the dogs are barking right, these people won’t stop at bombings and even murder.’

An Undercurrent of Corruption

Back in June, the Ed had started to discuss rumours flying around of stand-over tactics, bashings, threats of bombings and murder, and suggestions that hard drugs were part of the toxic mix. Because of quite poetic rhythms in his comment piece ‘An Undercurrent of Corruption’, I rewrote it slightly to create a prose poem.

An undercurrent of corruption runs through Newtown and occasionally surfaces.

‘Allegations have been made about stand-over tactics, bashings, hard drugs, gambling, bomb threats even.

But nobody has come forward with hard evidence.

There are believed to be two statutory declarations in existence from people claiming to have been threatened and abused.

The Voice has not seen either declaration.

When approached to vouch for the story, several people said

‘they wouldn’t touch it with a forty-foot pole’.

Allegations have been made that people are afraid of intimidation.

We’ve been told if we pursue the story we’ll likely get a bomb through the window. 

It’s hard to penetrate Newtown’s wall of silence.

Slummin it down South King Street

It’s after this article that Tom takes Harry “slummin it” down South King Street to show her “the seamier side of big city life”, checking on a milkbar-café that he suspects is a gambling den. It’s a “little Greek café in a ratty two-storey building, yiros an chiko rolls an milkshakes downstairs, an upstairs? That’s what we were gonna check out.”

They are reluctantly allowed upstairs with their coffee and baklava, and witness a card game that turns violent, a knife drawn and blood spilt. You can read the story in Tom’s words in the poem The Greeks North and South (2), and Harry’s view in Upstairs at Number 543.

Root out the crims

Getting back to ‘Root out the crims’: after indicating the extent of illegal gambling in the district and the easy access to it, the Ed makes the common-sense suggestion that brothels and gambling should be legalised.

Noting that the ‘big operators’ seem to have some kind of protection – a blind eye turned to them, even the ones ‘right opposite a police station’, while the small fry — coffee lounges and social clubs — get jumped on by quickly by police and licensing authorities, (often ‘dobbed in by businessmen who are known to own brothels or gambling premises, and talk about “wanting to clean up Newtown”), he suggested legalising both activities as the way to stop criminal activity.

‘Let’s get one thing clear. The Guardian isn’t opposed to gambling, as such, or even brothels.

As far as we’re concerned, it would be a hell of a lot better if both activities were legalised and properly regulated.

‘In fact, that’s the only way to get rid of the corruption that currently pervades the scene.

‘Why should these things be illegal in themselves?

As Tom says in Big boys an small fry,

…he made a good point about the people we saw at that milkbar.

‘For many Greeks and Yugoslavs gambling is as natural

as two-up and beer is to an Aussie.

‘Because of the insane nature of Australian gambling laws,

decent people are being turned into criminals.’

He reckons we should make gamblin an brothels legal,

so there’s no room for the big boys an their bombs.

[Brothels were legalised in NSW in 1988, but gambling legislation to deal with different forms of gambling in the State took 30 years and 14 separate Government Acts from the Registered Clubs Act in 1976 to the Unlawful Gambling Act in 1998, and Gaming and Liquor Administration Act in 2007. Source]

 

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

 

 

Gambling Terror

Gambling mobsters have cowed aldermen into silence

Gambling Terror

Just like prostitution and brothels were in the late 70s, gambling anywhere but at a TAB was illegal and incurred a jail sentence. Yet illegal gambling was widespread, and a source of corruption and heavy standover tactics from the gambling club operators, including threats of violence, and actual incidents of fire bombings and vicious murders.

One such vicious murder was a gruesome find for fireys attending a house fire in the inner west suburb of Five Dock. Thinking the house had been empty when the fire raged through, completely destroying it, they were shocked to find a body under a bed that had somehow escaped the inferno.

The person’s throat had been cut, and they had been shot and stabbed multiple times. It was believed this was an underworld deal involving gambling interests. Someone did the wrong thing and paid for it. Or it was a clear warning to someone else that they risked the same payback.

[The TAB in NSW was set up by State Government Act in 1964, the Totalizator. (Off the Course) Betting Act, 1964, following the Kinsella Royal Commission into illegal off-course betting. It was estimated there were approximately 6,000 illegal bookmakers in NSW in 1963. Source]

Fourteen years after the TAB’s establishment, illegal bookmaking and gambling were still widespread. Gambling clubs ranged from ‘coffee lounges’ and ‘cultural centres’ — often run by Greek, Polish, or Italian migrant groups — equipped with a few pool tables or poker and bingo machines, to huge premises catering to large crowds with numerous machines, and continuous broadcasting of horse and greyhound racing odds over the PA.

The smaller clubs, such as Mr H Kospeta’s coffee lounge with three poker machines in Enmore Rd — which was shut down by Marrickville Council immediately after the Guardian reported it was still operating — and two others, operating as ‘refreshment rooms’ with similar small numbers of machines, were quickly jumped on by the licensing authorities, while the ‘big boys’ seemed to operate under police sanction, or at least an official blind eye.

“It is well known that particular premises are operating as gambling joints, and that some are run by big-time competing mobsters.

“Occasionally, the rivalry breaks out into open warfare.”

Gambling mobsters have cowed aldermen into silence

Following the Five Dock murder, the Guardian spoke to several aldermen and other well-known businessmen about the threat from gambling mobsters. However, most of those questioned seemed cowed, offering up excuses like “I have a wife and family”; “I don’t know anything”; “keep me out of this”; or cryptic comments, including “I’ve heard some funny stories”; “there’s some heavyweights around.”

The Guardian commented “It was perfectly clear they knew more than they were saying— but were afraid to talk.” One clearly frightened Marrickville alderman exclaimed “You want to get me circumcised?”

A week later, The Editor wrote one of his wonderful thundering rants about gambling: “Root out the crims!” I’ll talk about that in another post.

Big Boys vs Small Fry

Around this time, Tom learns from Inspector Daly, his police contact, that the big Newtown bombing earlier in the year was not down to Ananda Marga terrorists as he suspected (and rather hoped), but was just one bunch of mobsters paying out another. This is how he puts it in Big Boys and Small Fry:

…I’ve a hunch that the King St bombin was a distraction to confuse the security people tryin to solve the Hilton Explosion
. …Told him I know where there’s a coupla Ananda Marga operatives
livin in Queen St. He wasn’t impressed.
Said they were small fry, all piss an wind,
an wouldn’t know what to do with a bomb if they fell over it.
Said the King St one was a professional job…
an organised crime job—one scum mob payin’ out another.

Police corruption: collusion or coincidence?

In the following month, the President of the Newtown Chamber of Commerce, Dr J Messel, conducted his own survey of gambling clubs in King St, Enmore Rd, and Marrickville Rd., and reported his results in a long interview with the Guardian on September 13. He had spent a whole Saturday afternoon “peak SP betting time” and said he “was astounded at the brazen nature of their operations and the ease with which he had gained entry.”

He also clearly suggested police collusion, supported by the fact that the head of the Vice Squad had categorically refused to speak to him. “Obviously these clubs must have protection,” Dr Messel said, “if they are operating so openly and close to local police stations.”

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

 

The Fitzroy Street Massage Parlour

Vice Squad acts

Another front page screamer in the weekly Guardian, this time on June 7, 1978, above a cartoon of several women of varying bust sizes lounging outside a house. A large one says to one of the others: “Stop littering! You’ll give the street a dirty name.” The cartoon refers to the story below the subhead:

Investigation into massage parlour

[‘Massage parlour’ was a euphemism for ‘brothel’, which were still illegal in the 1970s. Brothels in NSW were legalised in 1988.]

 ‘The Vice Squad is investigating the activities of a Newtown massage parlour. This follows complaints to the police and South Sydney Council about the parlour, situated in Newtown’s narrow Fitzroy St.” [Fitzroy street runs behind Alpha House apartment building in King Street.]

“Chamber of Commerce President Joe Meissner says there is heavy congestion in the street as a result of the parlour’s business activities. In addition, local residents have complained about noise and abuse in Fitzroy St.

“In fact, businessmen want the parlour closed down. They believe it is damaging the reputation of the area.

“A proprietor of a nearby business said professional men were starting to move into the area and some were undertaking restoration work on the historic buildings. But, he said, the massage parlour was detracting from the reputation of the area.

“Later he contacted the VOICE and asked us not to use his name. ‘It’s not worth the hassle,’ he said.”

No.2 Fitzroy

Three weeks later, the Fitzroy St massage parlour was closed down by the Vice Squad, but as the Guardian noted, two new ones opened up nearby.

Massage parlours were not only illegal, they were often venues for other types of crime. The Guardian repeatedly refers to allegations of stand-over tactics, bashings, hard drug pushing* and even bomb threats emanating from these premises.

These news stories are referred to in passing in a couple of Tom’s poems – eg– ‘Big Boys and Small Fry’, and in a light-hearted way in ‘Sauna Mystery’:

…But that No Standing sign is only yards from the front door

Of the famous No. 2 Fitzroy Street, well publicised recently

For ‘home comforts’ allegedly available there…

The Guardian’s editor often focused on crimes allegedly being committed in massage parlours and gambling dens around Newtown and Marrickville. There are lots of amusing now, but deadly serious then, reports of bribery, corruption, stand-over tactics and brutal murders, as well as bombings. The editor spoke out strongly, but was clearly frustrated by what he called “Newtown’s wall of silence”.

The editor’s ‘rants’, deserve several posts of their own. I’ll focus on them in later posts.

*Legalising brothels apparently didn’t stop drug pushing in brothels.

A story in this week’s Inner West Courier (Tuesday December 5, 2017) is headlined
‘Drug concerns cited in brothel raids’

“Police were granted powers to raid the brothel in the back streets of Marrickville, following alleged discoveries of illicit drugs on the premises.

“The raid, in the early hours of November 24, followed earlier raids which uncovered drugs such as cocaine, “ice”  and cannabis in unattended rooms and among employees belongings.

“There seems to be an ongoing drug supply operation being conducted in this brothel despite police surveillance and repeated searching”, a representative of the Supreme Court said.

“The Inner West Council has slapped a proposed closure on the business in Sydenham Rd.”

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me,  and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

Life wasn’t meant to be easy

PEOPLE KICKED OUT OF HOMES
While people sleep in the streets, government migrant flats have been standing empty

Kicked out of homes

Once again, a screamer headline across the front page of the weekly Guardian, this time on October 25, 1978, teamed with an incongruous photo of a Surf Rescue speedboat breasting the waves at Bondi, (a piece of advertorial)

No houses for the poor

Steep rise in rent cost

“While people sleep in the streets, government migrant flats have been standing empty for up to three years.

 “The Marrickville area has one of the highest percentages of people looking for emergency housing in the State.

 “According to a recent survey, 40 family groups, involving nearly 100 people sought emergency housing within a month.”

The Guardian estimated that “one and a half percent of the Marrickville population —a third more than the State average” was homeless. It quoted the NSW homeless organisation Shelter, that

“people are now sleeping in cars and parks —as in the 1930’s depression. Meanwhile government flats at Annandale and Marrickville are standing vacant.”

This story, and several others about poverty, homelessness and evictions— especially ones related to Sydney University’s expansion beyond its 1860s City Road site —led me to put much of this material in Buzz’s voice, in ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy.’

If you haven’t met Buzz yet, she’s a social justice warrior who lives in an anarchist squat and teaches car maintenance at WEA (Workers Education Association). She’s very outspoken about the injustices she sees around her, and frequently quotes items she‘s read in the Newtown Voice.

“Life wasn’t meant to be easy” was a famous quote in 1971 by Australian Federal Liberal Party leader (later Prime Minister)  Malcolm Fraser. A wealthy grazier and powerful politician, his quote was resented by ordinary Australians  who understood it to mean “stop complaining about your lot.”  Buzz wasn’t going to take that lying down!

Jeez, Harry, when Malcolm Fraser told us

life wasn’t meant to be easy—the smug

patronisin bastard—I didn’t think it was

gunna get this bloody tough.

… Seems like things are almost as

bad as in the Depression, specially in

Newie an Marrickville. Welfare groups say

lotsa people are sleepin in parks an cars.

An guess what? Accordin to The Voice

there’s plenty of places empty that are

owned by the government—blocksa flats

for migrants in Marrickville and Annandale,

But never been used. Jeez, Harry, I dunno,

where’s this country goin? What happened

to the lucky country? To a fair go for every

one? I reckon we need a bloody revolution!

An I mean Bloody!

Sadly, many of the issues that affected people in 1978 have come around again.

Buzz has some strong words to say about Sydney Uni’s relentless expansion beyond City Road into surrounding streets, and the added effect of students sharehousing on the shortage of affordable housing in the area. I’ll cover the Uni effect in later posts.

You can read more about Newtown Voices, about me, and where to buy the book at newtownvoices

.

The Mad Bombers!

“A new wave of bombing has hit inner Sydney, the latest in the heart of Newtown shopping centre, early on the Australia Day holiday.”

 

Horror Headlines from Daggy Old Newtown

The stories behind the poems in Newtown Voices

In May this year (2017), my verse novel Newtown Voices was published, and launched at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown (Sydney). Set in the late 1970s, it looks at life through four characters in an environment of poverty, crime, bombings, corruption, racism and homophobia – and disco dancing.

While my four characters: Tom, Buzz, Jaroslav and Harry (Harriet) are fictional, their surroundings and the crimes and social issues of the time are not. They are all taken from the headlines and news stories of the time. In these posts I show those headlines and the poems they triggered.

THE MAD BOMBERS!

 A screamer headline across the front page of the weekly Newtown Guardian newspaper on February 1, 1978, under a photo of smashed glass windows and debris.

 

 “A new wave of bombing has hit inner Sydney, the latest in the heart of Newtown shopping centre, early on the Australia Day holiday.

 “The Newtown blast demolished a jeweller’s store and florist shop, partly wrecked the local Rural Bank branch and 10 other buildings, and flattened three cars. Damage is estimated at more than $100,000.

The article continued: “Police closed King St between Erskineville and Missenden Rds for 10 hours on Monday while Disaster and Rescue Squad men cleared away wreckage and searched for casualties under tons of rubble.

“Cracked second-storey brickwork on one of the shops hung precariously over the footpath for several hours before the owner and South Sydney Council building inspector could be summoned.”

The Sydney Morning Herald ran a follow-up story on January 31, having initially covered it on the morning after the explosion.

Mad bombers damage

 

“Police were still trying to determine late yesterday the cause of the explosion that destroyed three shops and damaged other buildings, including three on the other side of the street.

“The explosion, which occurred about 12.50 am, ‘was like an earthquake’ one resident said.“Immediately afterwards, a yellow Ford Falcon car was seen speeding from the scene along King Street.”

SCOOP!

These news stories gave me the basis for journalist Tom’s poem ‘Scoop!’ Six weeks after the Newtown bombing, on February 13, 1978, Sydney’s Hilton Hotel in George St was rocked by an explosion, and two people killed. The hotel was hosting CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting), which both Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, and Indian PM, Morarji Desai were attending.

For dramatic tension, I changed the date of the Newtown bombing, putting it after the Hilton, so Tom can say:

…mine’s

a hummer of a yarn, my bomb blast

coming just three days after the Hilton

in George street copped a bomb,

with all those foreign nobs. They say

that’s down to the Ananda Marga.

Maybe mine is too. I can see the headline:

Mad bombers in Australia!!


You can read more about Newtown Voices, including Tom’s ‘Scoop!’ and where to buy the book at newtownvoices