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The Worst Woman in Sydney: The Life and Crimes of Kate Leigh

Hero or villain, Kate Leigh, this is the question. How does a rebellious, recalcitrant teenager who was sent away to a reformatory become the wealthy ‘Sly Grog Queen’ in eastern Sydney’s male dominated world of petty crime? Read Leigh Straw’s book. She has written the first comprehensive biography of Kate Leigh, who was not only referred to as ‘The Worst Woman in Sydney’ by the police and newspapers of the time, but by others considered the benefactor of the poor. Local hero to some, scoundrel, brothel owner and cocaine dealer to others.

Avid true crime readers will rejoice at the arrival of ‘The Worst Woman in Sydney: The Life and Crimes of Kate Leigh’ in the bookshops. Here is an informed account of a criminal, her exploits and her celebrity status – her home is now a popular café in Surry Hills.

The author explores and dissects Kate’s complex life (personality and attributes) in the 1920’s and 1930’s Surry Hills environment. Kate Leigh’s criminal history (over 100 convictions) is put in context of existing laws and regulations, while anecdotal evidence is used to make the protagonist come alive. Including scenes from Kate’s life, which are told from her perspective, allow the reader to gain greater insight to the questions of ‘hero or villain’, ‘notorious crime boss or benevolent matriarch’, or ‘ruthless rogue or kindly patron of the poor’?    

This engaging book is also a thoroughly researched social and criminal history of aspects of early twentieth century working class Sydney. It is comprehensively referenced and well documented without becoming overly academic and tedious. The reader is carried along the highways and byways of Kate’s life and times by the lively, highly readable text.

It is a relaxing read for not only ‘true crime’ fans but also for readers interested in the seedy life of those in Sydney’s ‘underbelly’ in the early twentieth century.

Author Leigh Straw
Publisher New South Publishers
ISBN 9781742234793
Distributor New South Books
Released July 2016