When talk turns to Australia, after the usual chestnuts regarding kangaroos being chased down the main street of Sydney by spear-wielding Aborigines, the consensus is one of a balmy life in a beautiful country which has the world’s best beaches. Crime never rates a mention. However, the book Smack Express by Clive Small and Tom Gilling (ISBN 978-1-74175-636-4, Allen and Unwin, 2009) provides a different view. With heroin representing a 10 billion dollar industry in Australia, criminal control of drugs is naturally very hotly contested.
The co-authors have credibility in the field, with Clive Small who was one of New South Wales most successful detectives and an Assistant Commissioner of Police before becoming the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC’s) chief investigator and Tom Gillings, a noted author with acclaimed novels, The Sooterkin, Miles McGinty and Dreamland, have all been published in Australia, as well as in London and New York. He also co-wrote The Bagman: Final Confessions of Jack Herbert, an infamous Queensland policeman on the take, whose evidence led to the imprisonment of his police commissioner.
The book begins with précis of the main characters, most of whom have turned in their drug runners license, and the sheer number of them is quite revealing. For the nice clean, well ordered nation of Australia, the amount of graft and corruption soon puts the “clean” image away. Flagrantly corrupt police who are protected by the system. Politicians who are involved in crime up to their armpits and on the wrong side of the law, and known criminals whose court cases are delayed for years while they continue with their drug running “business”. If you said that this behavior was part of SE Asia (all of it, and not just Thailand) then it would be credible – but Australia? With its open, democratic and Westminster justice system? Surely not – but it as equally surely is.
Many of the characters requires the reader to have some knowledge of Australian politics, such as the Commissioner for Ethnic Affairs Al Grassby, a career politician kept in the parliament house because of his strong connections with the Calabrian Mafia.
Some ‘stars’ which are also known outside of Australia are people such as Warren Fellows, author of the book, The Damage Done, detailing his involvement in the illicit drug running business.
While the police force and the Australian judicial system do not come up smelling like roses, with notably poor results in apprehending and putting the criminals away, the drug barons themselves put more of their own ilk away with American-style liquidations by contract killers.
At B. 430 on the Bookazine shelves, it is not an expensive read, but one that will change some pre-conceived notions about the world’s largest island continent. The New York mobsters may have caught the public imagination, but the New South Wales mobsters are just as ruthless. The center photo plates of people no longer around reads like any book on the Mafia, be that in Sicily, or the USA and now Australia. The photographs of assassinated criminals only lack the pointed finger seen in the photographs of the felons in Thailand.