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Sydney Noir: The Golden Years

Sydney, What a place. What a history. It does not matter which way you look at it, the history is certainly colourful. The beginning of settlement in the new place to be eventually known as Australia was built on convicts, free settlers, and the men and women who were sent by the ‘mother country’ Britain to maintain law and order. They lay the foundations for what is now a huge, thriving metropolis, and in doing so established the parameters for what could be considered as societies double standards. Then known as Sydney Town, now simply Sydney!

Crime, greed and corruption was the order of the day which went on to become a refined art in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, known almost colloquially as the ‘Golden Years’ in the underbelly of life in Sydney.

Corruption was at it peak, with trails leading straight to the then Premier Robert Askin, although this is still open to conjecture, and the police force under the direction, or possibly control, of what was then termed as Sydney’s top cop, Ray Kelly, a man considered widely as the most powerful, corrupt policeman of his time. His protégées later became major figures in the underworld, carrying on and refining where their former boss had left off on his retirement. It is also considered that although he had retired from the police force, Kelly still remained a major player in the dark side of life in Sydney.

It is very clear that in Australia, there were two sets of rules, that of the straight and narrow society dictated and then there was the other version; that well it might not be quite right but it’s always been like this, relating in particular to what is and was known as SP betting, or starting price betting on the horses; illegal but openly indulged in by a wide cross-section of the community, from the lowliest paid workers, to high flyers, pillars of the establishment and the ordinary working bloke.

Prostitution is and always was a major player in corruption and crime and in the mix that was Sydney “noir’ often walking hand in glove with the police force, which was also the case in Sydney during this particular period. Shirley Brifman, a Madame of infamous repute joined forces with a man considered by many the epitome of pure evil, policeman Fred Krahe. As she had been an excellent intermediary for Ray Kelly with the Queensland Police, Krahe preferred to keep her on his side to ‘deal with criminals and collect bribes on his behalf’.

Kings Cross was coming into its own and rapidly rising to the top of the heap as the most corrupt place to enjoy a night out in Australia, thanks to the influx of thousands of American Soldiers on R&R leave from the Vietnam War. Whilst they added to the background with plenty of money to spend in a short period of time, simply lubricated what was already there, laying themselves wide open to a short lived but lucrative scheme known as ‘Take a Yank’.

Michael Duffy and Nick Horden, have by dragging this period out of the dark into the light, shown a side of Australian life that is not  lovely but fascinating in the depths of depravation that can be ‘hidden in clear view’ , accepted by the people of Sydney as not normal, but that’s life!

The tale reads like a very bad saga full of the most deadly, colourful characters, high fliers and men and women on the make or take, in any way possible, who often admitted to what they were doing and why, which if it were not so terribly true, would leave you wondering on the plausibility of this time in the ‘colourful’ history of Sydney.

The final debate put forward by Duffy and Horden is that there is a possibility that Robert Askin was not as corrupt as is lead to be believed, which, based on in various documents located in the archives, indicate that while he may, or may not have been complicit with what was going on in Sydney at that time, and that he may have possibly profited one way or another from these dealings, perhaps he was indeed the sacrificial lamb, when it became time to clean up the streets!

Well worth the read if you are a history student, enjoy the darker side of life, are intrigued with crime and cover-ups or possibly interested in discovering, as are Duffy and Horden, whether Robert Askin is as guilty as is recorded.

Author Michael Duffy, Nick Hordern
Publisher New South Publications
ISBN 9781742235448
Distributor New South Books
Released May 2017