No joke in rampant corruption
All Fall Down
University of Queensland Press, $32.95. Buy now on Booktopia
‘All Fall Down’ is an exquisite finale to Matthew Condon’s epic analysis of crime and corruption in mid-to-late-20th-century Queensland. This fascinating, clearly written, final volume of Condon’s true-crime trilogy, ‘The Three Crooked Kings’, is buttressed by an enormous amount of research, including face-to-face interviews with leading players at that critical time in Queensland’s political and criminal history.
This book features diary entries and a score of interviews with the police commissioner, Terence (Terry) Lewis, who despite having been found guilty on numerous counts of official corruption and having been stripped of his knighthood, still protests his innocence. To me, this protestation is inexplicable.
Condon also turns a spotlight on other members of the so-called Rat Pack who ran a complicated system of lucrative graft payments known as The Joke. This vast and intricate network of police corruption included Lewis and other serving and former Queensland police officers , including the Rat Pack’s London-born “bagman” and former licensing branch officer, Jack Reginald Herbert, and the Rat Pack’s deeply feared “Godfather”, former assistant commissioner (crime), Tony Murphy. Condon interviewed Murphy for half an hour in October 2010. The notorious former Queensland detective died two months later.
As well as detailing evidence of police corruption and the resistance of a few brave and honest police compadres, Condon deals fearlessly and forensically with flawed members of the Queensland judiciary and of Queensland’s one-house parliament.
The latter includes the state’s long-serving premier, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, whose autocratic and vicious regime blighted the lives of many Queenslanders, including trade unionists, Indigenous peoples, civil libertarians, as well as some writers and academics who suffered considerable personal and professional costs in standing up to Sir Joh and his powerful National Party ministers and supporters. The influential Sir Edward (“Top Level Ted”) Lyons was a close friend of Sir Joh and of Lewis, who had left school aged 12.
‘All Fall Down’ also exposes in detail the corrupt activities of the former Special Branch police officer and Liberal Party turncoat Don “Shady” Lane, who had defected to the Queensland Nationals and who Sir Joh made Minister for Transport.
I was somewhat surprised to find I am mentioned. Condon spends three pages discussing how, in 1984, volume two of my history of Queensland, from 1915 to the early 1980s, was pulped and the University of Queensland Press and myself were threatened with criminal libel by the Bjelke-Petersen regime. This meant I could have gone to prison and my wife and I could have lost our home.
Although I did not speak to Condon about these sensitive matters, the author has done his homework in detailing this harrowing time, at least partly through a lengthy interview with the estimable Laurie Muller who had headed UQP. Condon’s documentation includes the remarkable fact that, after receiving a series of threatening letters, most journalists, especially from Queensland, were cowed into returning their review copies to be pulped. Fortunately, as Condon explains, later in 1984 a “revised” and expurgated edition was let loose on the reading public.
Reading Condon’s trilogy as a whole, it seems to me amazing that Tony Murphy, whose persona haunts all three books, was never found guilty of any criminal offence and that his possible connection with the death of ex-prostitute and brothel madam Shirley Margaret Brifman, supposedly as a result of committing suicide by a drug overdose shortly before she was due to give evidence against Murphy in a perjury trial, has never properly seen the light of day.
Remarkably, no coronial inquest was ever held into Brifman’s death.
Emeritus Professor of History & Politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 38 books.
The Sydney Morning Herald, October 10-11, 2015, Spectrum, Books, p 30.