Snitch, as told to Jimmy Thomson

I’ve been on first name terms with some of the most notorious criminals in this country and some of the most famous policemen. I have collected money from pimps and gamblers and delivered bribes to corrupt cops. I have been shaken down by dirty cops and I have sat down with others who wouldn’t take a bribe if you offered it to them. I have seen violence you wouldn’t believe but I’ve never so much as slapped anyone myself…The Royal Commission gave me a codename. My friends called me The Inspector.

Few Aussie television shows of recent years have attracted the same kind of following as Underbelly. Based on true events in Australia’s gang underworld, it as been followed avidly, discussed over breakfast, at work, on the street. Snitch is not part of the Underbelly franchise, but will appeal to its fans. It is the first hand account of life in Kings Cross by someone who claims to have been intimately involved in the events depicted in the most recent series of the show.

”The Inspector” recounts the events to author Jimmy Thomson, giving his own perspective of what did and didn’t happen, and his own role in them. An accessible and intriguing text.

Snitch: Crooked Cops and Kings Cross Crims by the Man Who Saw it All

Snitch: Crooked Cops and Kings Cross Crims by the Man Who Saw it All, as told to Jimmy Thomson
Allen & Unwin, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Layne Beachley – Beneath the Waves

Neil Beachley was in New Zealand on business when he received the phone call from his wife, Val, at home in Balgowlah Height, Sydney. ‘I’ve got to go and pick up my baby tomorrow,’ she informed him, her tone matter-of-fact. ‘Two things: what are we going to call it and how do I get there?’ It had been just ten months since the couple had applied to the child welfare authorities in New South Wales to adopt a baby girl, and both were pleasantly surprised, but unfazed, by the simplicity and speed of the process.,br> ‘Buggered if I know,’ came Neil’s characteristic response to the question of the child’s name. ‘You think of something.’

Layne Beachley: Beneath the Waves is a biography of one of the biggest names in women’s surfing. It documents her story from birth through to the present, acknowledging that there will be more to come. Layne Beachley was born in 1972, six weeks early, and relinquished by her seventeen year-old birth mother after being told by her father that unless she did so she would be cast out of the family. She was adopted by Neil and Val Beachley. She began surfing at age four and according to all who knew her was characterised by her determination and will to win. Her journey to become a world champion is a long one, and full of twists and turns in both her professional and private life. Along the way, she attracted her share of detractors with her outspoken enthusiasm and self-promotion. There were also many, many and supporters as she competed her way into the record books and fought for recognition of the sport she loved.

Everyone has a story and how that story is told is dependent on who tells it and why. Michael Gordon interviewed extensively for this biography and often uses direct quotes from sources in building a picture of the life of champion surfer. There are accounts from Beachley’s family, friends and supporters but also from competitors, sponsors and commentators.

Elite athletes are viewed as public figures, in much the way that movie stars are. It’s difficult for them to maintain a private life or to control how they are perceived in the media. Their training for this public life is seldom as complete as the training for their sport. For example, the meeting of 26 year-old Layne Beachley with her birth mother was coloured by the media as well as by the personalities involved. Beachley’s diary entries bring the reader close to her emotions as she travels the professional surfing circuit, while others give perspective to her sometimes harsh self-assessments. There is much here for the aspiring professional surfer, or any other athlete, as well as for the reader wanting to understand more about one of Australia’s best known surfers.

Layne Beachley: Beneath the Waves, Michael Gordon
Ebury Press 2008
ISBN: 9781741667288

Hello Darling! by Siobhan O'Brien

I just walked on and screamed out ‘Hello darling’ in my usual way and when the host yelled ‘Hello darling’ straight back at me, I thought, goodness me, isn’t Mike Walsh camp?

From her first appearance on the Mike Walsh show (the host that day was not Walsh, but John-Michael Howson) in September 1974, Jeanne Little has both captivated and polarised audiences across Australia. Whether they love her or are annoyed by her chainsaw voice, viewers take note of Little, her outrageous outfits and her flamboyant personality.

Born in Sydney in 1938, Little grew up with a voice which was the result of a childhood illness and a lack of confidence which resulted in a chronic stutter. Her first foray into television was almost by chance. She had recently opened a dress shop to sell her designs, and was called in by the Mike Walsh show to fill a gap when some guests pulled out. Since that day, however, she has rarely been out of the public eye – having appeared first on that show as a regular and then on a range of other television shows, as well as on stage in a variety of roles.

Hello Darling is a look at both the public and private life of the woman who is Jeanne Little. Filled with quotes from Little, as well as her numerous supporters and some of her detractors, the book provides an intimate insight into the woman an, her life and her influences. You don’t have to be a huge fan of Little’s work to be intrigued by this offering. What is likely, however, is that you will finish this read with a lot more understanding and admiration for this Aussie phenomenon.

Hello Darling!: The Jeanne Little Story

Hello Darling! The Jeanne Little Story, by Siobhan O’Brien
Allen & Unwin, 2006

This book is available for online purchase at Fishpond

The Usual Suspect, by Duncan McNab

Over a busy 60-year career, Australia came to know him as a rogue with a dismal reputation, an alleged corrupter of police, politicians and perhaps even the very moral fabric of Australian society. Well, that’s one side of the story.
The other is that he was one of the most successful self-made men in Australia…A man whose work in Sydney’s King’s Cross saw him celebrated by the areas long-term residents, and respected by his friends, business associates and visiting entertainers, and even by a handful of cynical old senior police.

Abe Saffron has been given all kinds of labels and titles, most of them unflattering – including ‘Mr Sin’ and ‘Gomorrah himself’, a moniker given using parliamentary privilege. But amongst those who know him, he has also been seen as a successful businessman, family man, and supporter of charity. In this detailed look at the life and career of Saffron, journalist and former policeman Duncan McNab explores the man who has attracted so much attention in spite of his attempts to stay out of the limelight.

McNab draws on a range of material, from the records of court appearances and Royal Commissions, to newspapers and personal recollections of people from Saffron’s past to create a detailed and insightful account.

The Usual Suspect: The Life of Abe Saffron, by Duncan McNab
Macmillan, 2005

The Literary Larrikin, by Michael Crouch

T. A. G. Hungerford has long been one of Western Australia’s foremost authors of novels and short stories. His works include The Ridge and the River, a novel based on his experiences in World World II, and more recently the autobiographical short story collection Stories from Suburban Road. But these signify just a small portion of the work of a man for whom writing has been a life passion .

In The Literary Larrikin, author Michael Crouch explores the life and works of this great man, recounting the events of his life, from his childhood in South Perth to his (current) retirement in Bentley. He discusses the writing, publishing history and reception of each of Hungerford’s major works and details his working life, which often centred around writing or editing, including being a publicist for successive Western Australian premiers, and the editor of Australian War Museum publications. The biography also looks at the person who is Tom Hungerford.

This is a title which will interest all with a love of Australian literature and history, particularly those who have read Hungerford’s works.

The Literary Larrikin: A Critical Biography of T. A. G. Hungerford, by Michael Crouch
UWA Press, 2005

I'm Not That Kind of Girl – Carlotta, as told to Prue MacSween

Born Richard Byron and growing up to become one of Australia’s best-known entertainers, Carlotta is a person who has attracted a great deal of interest over the sixty years she has been alive.

Tracing Carlotta’s evolution from the little boy who had to fight to be loved to the transexual showgirl who earned a place in Australian folklore, I’m Not That Kind of Girl is also the story of Les Girls, the famous drag cabaret in Sydney’s Kings Cross.

A story of courage, of love and laughter, and also of tears and struggle, I’m Not That Kind of girl is both entertaining and enlightening.

Carlotta: I’m Not That Kind of Girl, as told to Prue MacSween
Pan Macmillan, 2003

Life Without Limits, by Helen O'Neill

David Pescud had a difficult childhood. He struggled through school, always in trouble and unable to cope with schoolwork. Then, when he was fourteen, he watched his father drown trying to save him from a river.

David could have been excused for wanting to give up on life, but he survived and at seventeen was diagnosed with profound dyslexia. This diagnosis was a turning point for Pescud.

By the age of 23 Pescud was a succesful businessman and by 45 he had earned enough money to retire and indulge his lifelong passion for sailing.

While helping a freind work on a yacht, David heard a radio interview with a paraplegic man who wanted to participate in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. This interview was the catalyst for Pescud to begin Sailors with disAbilities. Not only has David skippered disabled crews in the big race, but his organisation continues to enable thousands of diabled people to experience sailing.

David Pescud’s story is inspirational. It shows not just one man’s struggle to overcome his own disability but the way this has driven him to help others. Author Helen O’Neill has worked closely with Pescud to put his story on paper. It is a remarkable tale.

Life Without Limits, by Helen O’Neill
Bantam, 2003

Rose, by Robert Wainwright

When Lang Hancock married Rose Lacson in 1985 it was a fairly quiet wedding – held in Sydney, away from the glare of the media and with only a few carefully selected guests. It is unlikely that Hancock could forsee that this was the beginning, however, of an increasingly public life. The marriage would send the previously private man into the public eye, a situation which would endure even long past his death.

Since that wedding, Rose Hancock Porteous has become one of Australia’s most recognisable and talked-about women. Known for her lavish parties, expensive tastes and outlandish behaviour, Rose continues to attract media attention. In Rose, Western Australian writer and journalist, Robert Wainwright provides a gripping account of this flamboyant woman.

From her childhood in the Philippines, to her first and second marriages and on to her third – with Lang – and fourth, with Willie Porteous, Wainwright provides insight into Rose’s life and motivations. Wainwright uses his own lengthy media association with Rose, as well as detailed research and interviews, to present an account which is as insightful as it is balanced.

A compelling read.

Rose, by Robert Wainwright
Allen & Unwin, 2002

Snake Dreaming – Autobiography of a Black Woman, by Roberta Sykes

Roberta Sykes is one of Australia’s best-known black activists. The story of her life’s journey was first presented in Snake Cradle in 1997, and followed by Snake Dancing (1998) and Snake Circle (2000). Snake Dreaming brings together these three books in one complete volume.

In Snake Cradle we meet Sykes, growing up in Northern Queensland in the 1940s, the daughter of a white mother and an unknown father. Sykes grows up aware that her dark skin marks her as different than other children, an awareness that is proven correct by many of the events she recalls. Probably the major formative event is a harrowing and horrific rape when Sykes is a teenager living away from home. Snake Cradle was the winner of the Age Book of the Year award and Nita Kibble prize.

In the second book, Snake Dancing, Syke’s experiences lead her into the political arena. Sykes works to fight for justice and equality for all black people, among other things playing a formative role in the setting up of the Tent Embassy outside Parliament House, and becoming the first Aboriginal columnist for Nation Review.

In the third and final book, Snake Circle, Sykes embarks on a more personal journey. She fights for, and wins, funding to attend Harvard University, where she overcomes personal doubts, feelings of isolation, and other obstacles, to complete a Doctorate. At the same time, she works to ensure that this is not a one off achievement for herself, but an ongoing opportunity for others.

Snake Dreaming is an incredible journey. Readers are swept into the struggles, the highs and the lows, learning not just about Sykes, but about the struggles of Australia’s black community. An essential read for every Australian.

Snake Dreaming: Autobiography of a Black Woman, by Roberta Sykes
Allen &Unwin, 2001.