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