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Reviews:

 

" I thoroughly recommend this book, and believe

it is as deserving of recognition as Patterson, Laurence,

Lawson, and Hardy."


 

Ray Mooney (award winning novelist, and screenwriter)

 

 

" If you have an idea, the chances are extremely high

someone else has already had it. But in relation to

your wonderful stories, Eugene: the way you have

written most, to my knowledge, has definitely not

been done before."

 

 

Chester Eagle (Australian Literary Critic, Essayist, Novelist,

and Composer.  (10 Oct. 1933 – 6 May 2021).

                

                                                                                                                     

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Background to the Stories

        

       The main character in these stories is Joey Donarty, my alter ego, which translated from Latin means “the other me”. Or in this case I would say, "the earlier me." Many writers have created their works by having them star their alter egos. Agatha Christie for example in Parker Pyne Investigates or Letters on the Table. The other main characters who appear in these stories, whose names I have changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty, are also depictions of real people, many of whom were my friends, and occasionally, my enemies. Most of the anecdotes that animate this anthology, are drawn from real events, whilst I have used poetic licence to fill the memory gaps, and here and there, to spice up the mix. The history within which these stories occur, whilst not their primary focus, is extremely important, because not only is it integral to their telling, but because it has been overlooked by cultural historians and others.

 

Collingwood and Fitzroy of the 60s were once very different suburbs from what they are today, with their effete little bourgeois cafes, their Asian Bric-à-brac shops spilling out over the footpaths, their drug dealers peddling from arcades and street corners, the monotonous rap graffiti sprayed on nearly every vacant wall, the health food bars, art galleries, designer boutiques and bookshops, catering to an affluent new class at exhorbitant prices. But once, these suburbs were inseparable - divided only by the Smith Street shopping complex - and chock-a-block with working-class people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Most of whom were employed in the factories, warehouses and mills, who lived between them with their families in rundown rows of little brick and weatherboard dwellings, that today have been renovated beyond their former glory, with split-levels, solar panels, bidets and heated toilet seats.

 

The Collingwood of the 60s was their turf, the soil from which the gang grew and attracted others into their ranks. For a while, they had quite a reputation and were feared and admired even by older criminals, for their sense of solidarity and a no-holds-barred propensity for extreme violence when cornered, betrayed or challenged. The Collingwood Boys were, arguably, the most original and unique youth culture urban Australia has ever produced, yet one that has been almost completely forgotten. Why did this happen? There are several reasons, the main one being that an inseparable part of the gang's culture, its raison d'être, embraced the code of the outlaw as a way of life.

 

How else could they afford such expensive clothes? In fact, they wore their outlaw status like a badge of honour. Nor was it the kind of status that bullied, threatened or victimized, but one based on your capacity to pull off daring, clever, lucrative jobs, to keep fit, defend yourself, never give anyone up to the police and to stick by your mates. The Collingwood Boys lived their own fully developed culture, with its unique rituals and codes.

 

Nietzsche once wrote that

 

To be a rebel in view of contemporary society does not in itself lower the value of a man. There are even cases in which one might have to honour a rebel, because he finds something in our society against which war ought to be waged - he awakens us from our slumber. (Nietzsche, Friedrich. der Wille zur Macht. Vintage. New York. 1968. p. 391).

 

The criminal thus appears to Nietzsche as someone whom society should potentially value, instead of looking upon all criminals with derision. The criminal points out something about society that may be in need of change, helping to jolt the rest of us from our complacency. I'm reminded of the story of the Australian bushranger and folk hero, Ned Kelly, which, in part, reflected the injustice of the colonial administration.

 

The concept of punishment - as Nietzsche concluded - for criminals, simply amounts to the suppression of a revolt, in that it becomes nothing more than an attempt to maintain the mediocre status of the herd by imprisoning (or killing) those who deviate from it. These observations, I realize, maybe pushing the envelope a little, but such observations nevertheless have some relevance in the greater scheme of things, and certainly in the context of the following stories.

 

A unique part of the gang's code was the aversion it had to selling or taking drugs, or living off the earnings of prostitutes, all of which they considered to be the absolute pits. Junkies were not to be trusted and were the scum of the earth, who would do anything and betray anyone for their next hit. Whilst dealers and "hoons" (men who lived off women) were considered with even less regard, as "lower than snake shit." The gang had a saying, that such people were "too lazy to work and too weak to steal." But after 1970, when it finally fragmented and dissolved, its code and culture dissolved with it. Many of its former members went on to become powerful figures in the underworld, with business interests in prostitution and illicit drugs.

 

The gang's original lumpen qualities were not, obviously, the sort cultural historians were interested in promoting to the kids and the industries that profited from such promotions. This may explain why, after the demise of the gang, the relatively harmless "disrespectful kid" Sharpie culture of the 70s gained such publicity and traction. What is not so well known, (perhaps only to myself and a few old Sharpies) is that the early Sharpies modeled themselves on the Collingwood Boys - to a limited degree - adopting elements of their dress code and modus operandi. For example, some wore banlons and Conti cardigans; some even bought their shoes in Collingwood. But the Sharpies were almost exclusively Anglo, inherently racist, and their dress sense and "style" generally ugly, crass and tasteless, more blunt than sharp. Their fundamental trademarks, unlike the Collingwood Boys, being a yobbo attitude to women and a cowardly wolf-pack mentality. As Lucinda Strahan wrote in her essay Sharpies – An Australian Sub-Culture (ABC Arts on Line): "A lot of the time, violence and bullying was the defining experience of being a Sharp."

 

During the 60s and 70s, as anyone who lived through those periods would know, there wasn't much that was original about the prevailing youth cultures (Jazzers, Rockers, and Hippies) that occupied centre stage: their clothes, music, dance styles, and attitudes were all based on English and American imports. Whilst these groups were considered rebellious, in a cute sort of way, they took care not to cross certain lines. The media, fashion, and music industries, as well as the burgeoning drug trade, grew fat and prosperous by first promoting, then catering to their tastes. In real terms, these youth cultures were groomed by and were part of the System.

 

Let's look now, in some detail, at what exactly set the Collingwood Boys apart from those other cultures. The most obvious being the way they dressed. The Boys wore a variety of expensive formal clothes, mostly made by old Boris the Jew, who worked out of a suite of rooms above Gail's Haberdashery in Smith Street. Their casual wear included loose-fitting pants or jeans. It was the Boys who first pioneered the faded look in denim jeans, which, after being bleached evenly all over, were carefully pressed and worn with slick Roman-style sandals or knitted Italian leather shoes. They bought their footwear from Cosmardo Shoes in Smith Street. They also wore a variety of expensive, well-made sports and T-shirts, which they complemented with cardigans and jumpers, made from alpaca, silk, or good quality wool, often purchased from what, at the time, was one of Australia's most exclusive clothing stores, Georges on Collins. Their hairstyle was called the CCC, the Collingwood College Cut: square back and sides parted to one side with a little fringe at the front. Tattoos were another accessory. Some Boys chose to cover their arms and hands completely, others, just above their elbow.

 

The Collingwood Girls dressed mostly in well-cut pleated skirts or jeans. Most selected not to wear stockings, wearing instead a variety of long socks, which they pulled up to just below their knees. Their shoes, like the Boys, were handmade and often purchased from Cosmardos, and were generally flat-heeled, attractive to look at, and comfortable to wear. High heels were seldom if ever worn, even on formal occasions. They wore loose-fitting pullovers and cardigans, made mostly from fluffy wool or silk materials, often embroidered with tasteful floral designs. Their hair was cut short, but not as short as the Boys, and sometimes tinted at the front with a streak of colour to complement their complexion. Pearl necklaces were very popular, along with a variety of pendants and bangles. Little or no make-up was worn, apart from a touch of eye shadow and pale pink lipstick. None of the girls had tattoos.

 

The gang was the only Australian youth culture to invent its own dance styles: The Break and The Collingwood Swing Step. The Break was a symbolic kind of tribal dance, which involved a line of couples holding hands as they took one step forward and one step back in time with the music. The Swing Step was a dance for couples, having some similarities to jive, but less erratic, with a unique, more creative and quite a complex variation of moves. There were two main dance venues attended by the gang: the Collingwood Town Hall on Saturday night and the Preston Circle on Sunday. It's hard to say what gave rise to this unique youth culture, which, unlike other youth cultures of the time, wasn't simply a copy of overseas trends. The late Sharpies culture, to a great degree, emulated the British skinhead movement, from whom they also borrowed their ape-like solo dance routines.

 

The Collingwood Boys were more than a gang associated with a particular suburb. They embodied an attitude, a sense of unity, a purpose, and a code, that were unique and attractive to other like minds. Recruits were drawn not only from the streets of Collingwood and Fitzroy, but from Richmond, Brunswick, and North Melbourne.

 

The gang was also the cradle out of which many of today and yesterday's most notorious gangsters and criminal dynasties grew. Raymond "Chuck" Bennett, Sonny Booth, Bobby Lovett, "Little" Louie Stagities, Laurie Prendergast, Brian O'Callaghan, Chris Flannery, Frankie "Franny" Bayless, Lance Chee, Laurie and Pat Chammings, Ray Beck, Normie "Chops" Lee, Graham Kinniburgh and Ian Carroll were all, during their younger days, associated with the Collingwood Boys.

 

Bennett was suspected of being the mastermind behind what was possibly the biggest armed robbery in the history of Western Civilization, known as The Great Bookie Robbery. This occurred on 21 April 1976, when six armed men held up the prestigious Victoria Club in Melbourne and escaped with an untraceable amount of unmarked bills, estimated at between 6 and 25 million dollars - a crime for which no one has ever been convicted. So clever and daring was the raid, that it earned the compliments of the victims (Melbourne's wealthy bookmaking fraternity), law-abiding citizens and the detectives in charge of the investigation.

 

The Collingwood Boys lasted a decade or so, from about 1960 to 1970, by which time its members had grown up and gone their separate ways. Some plunged deeper into organized crime, some gave it away, got day jobs and lived ordinary lives, and others, like myself, did lengthy prison sentences, which in my case (in 1971) was 10 years for armed bank robbery.

 

I have perhaps been a little over-generous with my praise for The Collingwood Boys, and some may think not as critical as I should be. I have no excuses. I have fond memories of the period. But I also have sad, dark and bitter ones. What I have described are mere externalities, the icing on the cake, the outer shell, the gift-wrapping. Below these, are the deeper, more perilous layers of the human psyche - a region no clothes or attitudes can cover. The gang members, many of whom were my closest friends, were (like myself) far from perfect, and often the products of childhood abuse or a disadvantaged upbringing. Sometimes victims, sometimes perpetrators. Sometimes both. But that's another story...

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