Little Fish Are Sweet

Little Fish Are Sweet

by Matthew Condon

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780702254109
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Publication date: 05/01/2017
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 6.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Matthew Condon is a prize-winning Australian novelist and journalist. He is currently on staff with the Courier-Mail’s Qweekend magazine. He began his journalism career with the Gold Coast Bulletin in 1984 and subsequently worked for leading newspapers and journals including the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun-Herald and Melbourne’s Sunday Age. He has written ten books of fiction, most recently The Trout Opera (Random House, 2007) and is the author of the best-selling true-crime trilogy about Queensland crime and corruption–Three Crooked Kings (2013), Jacks and Jokers (2014) and All Fall Down (2015).

Read an Excerpt

Little Fish Are Sweet


By Matthew Condon

University of Queensland Press

Copyright © 2016 Matthew Condon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7022-5736-0


CHAPTER 1

Did You Ever Take a Penny?


One of the first things that became immediately obvious during my early meetings with Terry Lewis, was that he seemed to genuinely believe that a miscarriage of justice had taken place following the state's most publicised and controversial royal commission. Despite the volume of evidence against him during the Fitzgerald Inquiry into organised crime and police corruption, Lewis was adamant that he was a scapegoat. He insisted he was a wronged man. He repeatedly spoke of his desire to appeal his conviction of corruption – over 20 years later he still believed he could be exonerated – and bemoaned a lack of money to mount any sort of legal challenge.

The Fitzgerald Inquiry had commenced its public hearings in July 1987 and exposed corrupt former commissioner Frank Bischof and the so-called Rat Pack of officers he favoured. His alleged 'bagmen' – Terry Lewis, Tony Murphy and Glendon (Glen) Patrick Hallahan – had consolidated 'The Joke' with Licensing Branch officer Jack Herbert as early as the 1960s. The Joke was an elaborate system of graft and protection payments from illegal gambling, SP bookmakers, brothels and escort services that over time yielded hundreds of thousands of dollars to corrupt police. In testifying at the hearing, Herbert had been granted an indemnity from prosecution and walked away a free man. Murphy and Hallahan had by this time retired from the force and evaded prosecution. Lewis was one of a handful of police and prominent politicians to do gaol time.

The royal commission's terms of reference, twice expanded, had only reached back to 1 January 1977, at which point Lewis had been Commissioner for just over a month. But Tony Fitzgerald, QC, clearly had an interest in the pre-history of corruption in Queensland. He was given carte blanche to explore 'any other matter or thing' in the public interest. Barrister Andrew Philp and others working for the commission were instructed to interview police officers, politicians and public servants who were pivotal figures as far back as the 1950s and 60s. Yet in Fitzgerald's findings, just 16 pages of his 630-page report were devoted to events that occurred prior to 1977.

In the beginning, a big part of my motivation to interview Lewis was to explore this pre-history. In essence, I wanted to know how the culture of corruption began, how it was perpetuated and who was responsible. But I faced a few hurdles, perhaps the biggest being that time was not on my side. When I first sat down to interview Lewis, Hallahan was dead. Herbert was dead. So, too, many prominent police of the era. Tony Murphy was alive on the Gold Coast but suffering poor health. Lewis, in effect, was one of the last men standing.

It was Lewis himself who offered some of the most invaluable documentary resources for my research. 'Would these be of any use?' he asked, offering the complete set of his police diaries, which he had kept from as far back as the late 1940s. At one of our early meetings, he escorted me to the garage behind his granny flat. It was full of cardboard boxes, stacked to the roof. The boxes contained an extraordinary volume of records and documents from that time. They quite literally spanned his entire career.

As our interviews progressed he would give me various items to review – he had drawn up a list of where everything was located – and I would find useful the many notes, letters, confidential police reports, criminal case files, Christmas cards, photographs, personal ephemera, annual reports and items pertaining to almost every major event in his career. That suburban garage held millions of words, many of them written by the compulsive Lewis himself.

It was a gift for me to have access to this material but I couldn't help wonder, beyond this wall of paperwork and rusting paperclips, would I be able to get to the honest heart of this story? Within these personal archives would I find an insight into the great drama of crime and corruption that changed Queensland history? After all this time, would Terence Murray Lewis tell me the truth?

It was Lewis's obsession with notating every small or large incident in his life that contributed to his downfall at both the inquiry and at his trial. I had never kept a diary, but during our first interview I decided to scribble some notes. Perhaps I instinctively knew he would be taking notes on me (which he did) if I went ahead with the book project and that my own fresh observations would act as a counterbalance or foil if required.

We would ultimately meet about once every few weeks, and in Lewis's crowded study adjoining his narrow bedroom under the house in north Brisbane we would travel back in time. These visits would soon follow a predictable pattern. I would arrive at his house early and we would engage in the usual welcome banter before the formal interview would begin. The old copper often couldn't help himself, and would proceed to interrogate me first, often asking a number of questions. Initially he wanted to know: What was my religion? My politics? My background? My wife's name?

Later, his questions ranged from the politics of the day, newspaper and magazine articles he'd clipped and saved, to the progress of our interviews. He enquired about who I'd been in touch with for quotes for the book, and talked about the people he'd spoken to since we last met. (Through his network of contacts, he often knew who I'd talked to before I informed him myself.)

He was polite, pleasant and often good-humoured about a life he would describe in one of his diaries as 'this whole macabre tragedy'. He hinted there was 'a single figure' behind 'all the corruption' but wanted to wait and see if over time I drew the same conclusion.

As the project progressed and I began to study the interview transcripts, a pattern began to emerge. With orthodox questions Lewis's answers were crystal clear, his recall phenomenal. When I raised contentious issues, such as the real reason for the shutting of the brothels in 1959 – a pivotal event that led to the National Hotel inquiry of 1963–64 – Lewis's responses would became slightly indistinct, like he had moved to the shadowy edges of the firelight. Often, with difficult subject matter, he would give an answer he had heard 'second hand', distancing himself as an eye witness or participant. He was adamant that he did not wish to deal in scuttlebutt and unsubstantiated allegations.

As I continued to interview many people outside of Lewis's ambit, I would bring back information or allegations to that meeting room and seek his reaction. I will never forget speaking with a former police officer in his late eighties who shared his recollections on the condition of strict anonymity. He begged me never to reveal his identity because he still feared, a half century after witnessing certain events, that he would be killed by corrupt police. It was only then that I started to understand how powerful and alive this story still was.

As I wrote and gathered my research I repeatedly told Lewis that as a major figure in this drama, right or wrong, he could finally set the record straight – if, indeed, there was anything left to straighten out. I reiterated that this would probably be the last chance to tell the world what he knew. He replied, sometimes testily, that he had nothing of substance to offer off the record.

At one point I asked Lewis straight out: 'Did you ever, at any moment in your long career, take a single penny of corrupt monies?'

He replied swiftly and with a single word: 'No.'


Meet with Lewis in Winton Street at 8.50 a.m. As I approach the gate I can hear a dog barking from inside. Lewis answers the door in a polo shirt, socks and leather sandals.

I go to sit in a chair closer to his usual chair (I'm told later it was his 'wife's chair' that his dog, Prince, now regularly occupies) but he suggests I sit on the couch opposite. He has some sheets of paper ready and a notebook. He says he has questions he needs to ask me before we get going. 'I'll write up the answers in this notebook tonight,' he says.

'I know where you live because it's in the phone book,' he says, brandishing a pen. He adds he tried to phone me a couple of times on my home number; something to do with concern regarding the flash floods in Brisbane.

He starts talking about his childhood in Ipswich and Brisbane and moves around to sit in the spare seat on the couch beside me. He drops down and shows me some hand-written documents he started writing when he was in prison. 'I was going to write a book,' he says.

I have to twist awkwardly to look at him as he speaks. There is nowhere to safely secure the tape recorder, and it keeps slipping down the couch cushion. I wonder if he has decided to sit beside me so I can't look at his face or in his eyes as he answers my questions.

Close up, it's possible to see the old-fashioned barber's cut with the kick of hair at the back, a style from the 1940s and 50s.

The room is a museum to his wife. It's how she left it after her death in 2009. The framed photographs of family on a low table near the television set. On a shelf under the table a crowd of creamy coloured seashells. The plastic flowers. The antimacassars on the backs of the lounge chairs. The ridiculous and obstructive cluster of albums from his police years held upright and together by two house bricks wrapped in plastic.

He tells me of his quiet father, and his mother who sought the bright lights of the city and the glamour of the racetrack. He has no fond memories of his mother. He tells me something 'I've never told anyone' – that he finds it 'difficult to love people'. He talks of no friends when he was growing up, no girlfriends before his wife. Says he's a loner and seeks out being alone.

He tells me he has had little contact with his sister but then, near the end of our conversation, she literally rings the house. He talks convivially with her.

What is the truth here?

Before I leave we talk briefly of his former boss, Commissioner Frank Bischof. Lewis continues to call him 'Mr Bischof', although he's been dead for years and left the force in 1969. He calls former Labor premier Ned Hanlon, 'Mr Hanlon', and former Country Party premier Frank Nicklin, 'Mr Nicklin'.

Lewis sees me to the front gate. He has let out his dog, a nine-year-old black and white terrier with a gunmetal-grey muzzle. He tells me the dog used to kiss his wife, Hazel, goodnight in the last years of her life. As I bid him goodbye and walk to my car he says, 'It gets very lonely talking to yourself.'

CHAPTER 2

A Tangled Matrimonial Skein


When I first sat down to talk with Terry Lewis in early 2010 in his cream brick house at Winton Street, Stafford Heights, the loose plan was to begin with his birth and early childhood in Ipswich, and move forward through the chronology of his life. He had essentially been a Depression child, and I was looking forward to hearing about his earliest memories. About his mother, Mona Ellen Lewis, nee Hanlon, and his father George Murry Lewis, a storeman at the local railway workshop.

Immediately, Lewis painted a dour picture of formative years affected by the times – little money, the struggle to put food on the table, no toys, the long walk to and from school. It was no different from the experience of many thousands of other Australians during the 1930s, although Lewis's history had its own unique colour.

He said his mother – born and raised in a horseracing family, and always close to the track – found Ipswich too parochial. According to Lewis she had agitated for George and their two children, Terry and Lanna, to move closer to Brisbane. The Hanlon family were littered with horse owners, trainers and jockeys, and Mona loved nothing more than going to the races.

Ultimately, the Lewises settled in Corinda, in the city's south-west. George Lewis was forced to commute daily to work in Ipswich. Lewis claimed that when he was about ten years old, he came home from school one day to find that his mother and only sister had packed up and left the humble family home. He proceeded to offer a story that cast his mother as the architect of this family upheaval, and his father as a gentle parent who seemed unable to provide the marital excitement to keep Mona at home. In essence, Lewis had been abandoned as a child by his own mother.

'When we moved to Corinda it was a real burden on my father because they were ... well nearly everyone had to work really early in those days, he had to catch the train from Corinda to Ipswich and then over to the workshop and the same back,' Lewis told me. He said that his mother could have jumped on a train to 'visit her folks and go to the races much easier'.

'I can't remember any arguments; I think she [Mona] just did her thing and he was pretty accepting.'

'So, when did they separate?' I asked Lewis.

'1938.'

'Who was the disciplinarian in the home, was it your mother?'

'Yeah, it would have been my mother ... our father was more kindly disposed, if that's the word, more kindly, well not kindly ... was much more gentle a person than my mother.'

'Do you remember those as happy years?' I asked him in the first hour of our formal interviews.

'Not really, no,' Lewis said. 'My mother left one day, she took my sister with her and I don't even remember her saying ... I think I was at school and when I came home she was not there, and ah ... I don't think my father probably would have known either. It was very, very hurried, I know that. I'm sure at ten years of age I would have remembered if she had come and said I'm going ...'

'So you went to school one morning and got home and ...'

'She wasn't there,' said Lewis.

'How did your father explain what was happening, do you remember that?'

'No. I think he was just terribly shocked and no I don't remember him trying to explain that.'

'Was it not a glamorous enough life, do you think, for your mother?' I asked.

'I think the bright lights of Brisbane were much more attractive,' Lewis said. 'I think over the years, I felt that we were ... that I was sort of abandoned. Not abandoned, that might be too strong a word.'

'Rejected?'

'Yeah, well that's a better word ... my dad was a very caring sort of a bloke.'

Lewis said after his mother left the family home his father returned to Ipswich and took his son with him. They lived in George's mother's house with four of Lewis's uncles.

'One of them was a fella called Jimmy and he was a very, very hard man. He had a bicycle and nobody could touch the bike, but of course being a boy I thought I could and I got a real good belting off him,' Lewis said. 'I never got one off my father but I used to get it from Jimmy.'

Lewis soon decided he didn't like his new living arrangements. 'Not long after, I can't tell you exactly, I decided I didn't like it there so I packed a suitcase and got on a train and came down to Brisbane,' Lewis recalled. 'I knew where my grandparents were so I went to them and they must have put me in touch with my mother. At that stage she had met a fella, he was of Jewish decent, [Maurice] Cronenberg, and I'd say she, well, obviously moved in with him. So whether she knew him when she left Corinda or not I'd never know. I must have been 11.'

Lewis said he was given a cot on the verandah. 'I don't ever recall a warm welcome,' he said. 'I think it was a tolerance and she never in any way disabused my thought of going to work.'

By 12, Lewis had found himself a job working as a shop assistant at the Greer and Jamieson men's clothing store in Queen Street.

What's astonishing about this story – the abandonment by his mother, the gentle and heartbroken father, the abusive uncle, and the monumental decision as a child to light off on his own and find his mother in Brisbane, despite the fact that she had turned her back on him – was that it was hugely at odds with another version of the tragic Lewis marriage that played out in Brisbane's Supreme Court in January 1951.

The sad story of Mona and George was reported in local newspapers. By this time, Lewis had been in the police force for two years, having been inducted at the Petrie Terrace Barracks on 17 January 1949.

The Brisbane Truth told its readers that the case of Mona Ellen Lewis, of Lytton Road, Morningside, petitioning for a divorce from husband, George, was one whose 'tangled matrimonial skein may pose some difficult knots for legal fingers'.

Mona had tried to divorce George before, in 1944. That was within the ambit of the statutory requirement of five years to prove desertion. In that earlier hearing, she claimed that she was first deserted by her husband in January 1939. The petition failed, so it seemed, because George had been 'involuntarily confined in a mental hospital' from 1939 to 1942.

The Truth continued: 'A person so confined, says the Law, in effect, cannot be said to be a deserting party for such period as he is deprived of his normal freedom of movement.'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Little Fish Are Sweet by Matthew Condon. Copyright © 2016 Matthew Condon. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
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