With the current surge of audiobooks here are two unlikely bedfellows in popular writing. Both books are set in Brisbane during the bad years of the Bjelke-Petersen government. I know both the authors Bernie Dowling and Domenico Cacciola. We lived in the same district of Fortitude Valley and New Farm during some of that time.
The protagonists in the books are on opposite sides of the law. Both had fascinations for horse racing, illegal gambling, corruption, political police, sex, drugs, and prostitution. Iraqi Icicle is neo noir and The Second Father is a memoir. Step aside Andrew McGahan’s Last Drinks – they say Queensland is another country; if so, these authors help redefine the streets of your town.
The Second Father portrays a contest for control over illegal gambling in South East Queensland. Brisbane has often been compared to a big country town however that does not take into account the sleazy Fortitude Valley/New Farm area nor the tinsel town debauchery of Surfers Paradise. On the surface the Gold Coast is a high rise tourist mecca, but with an underbelly of illegal gambling, alcohol, drugs and prostitution. It is where police sent Qld police officer Sgt Chris Hurley to conventy. It was Hurley who murdered Mulrunji, an aboriginal man from Palm Island.
Cacciola’s account is full of examples of corruption at all levels of the police force and of their political masters. Cacciola himself is a contradiction, on one level the renegade copper fighting racist and bent police and on the other a no nonsense gun totting thug ready to mix it with the worst murderers using ‘dogs’ (informants ). There is a lot of interesting slang in both The Second Father and Iraqi Icicle. The author of the latter even provides a glossary of Australian slang for his international audience.
Domenico Cacciola was not part of the “Joke” – the corrupt protection system run by Queensland police including Commissioner Lewis, Det Sgt Jack Herbert and Inspector Tony Murphy.
Lets start with the the Southport SP Betting Case. Cacciola portrays this case as a contest between the goodies and badies with himself as Brisbane’s Serpico. The goodies are tough but fair: man mountain inspector Arthur Pitts, police prosecutor Alec Jeppersen and himself, Domenico Cacciola innocent victims of the Joke. The badies are led by mastermind bagman, Det Sgt Jack Reginald Herbert and the head of CIB, Inspector Tony Murphy. Murphy and Herbert get off charges laid against them by prominent gun-for-hire, catholic barrister Des Sturgess, the same lawyer who prosecuted Lindy Chamberlain for the murder of her daughter when the poor child was taken by a dingo at Uluru.
At the bidding of Herbert, Cnst Davey taped senior officer Pitts, Jeppersen and Cacciola fabricating evidence against ‘Mr Big’, SP bookmaker Stanley Derwent Saunders. This was pay-back because the goodies wouldn’t accept bribes from Herbert to go easy on illegal gambling, alcohol, drugs and prostitution – the Joke.
In the Southport case there were no successful prosecutions of any of the protagonists because both prosecution and defence were lying.
In disgrace, Cacciola was transferred to the Special Branch where, on his own account, he thrived. There was always a connection between corrupt police and political repression. Corrupt cops often did the bidding of right-wing Queensland governments, be they National or Labor Party. As Cacciola points out, it was the Hanlon Labor government that introduced the Special Branch in Queensland in 1949 to combat the ‘communist menace’.
Had political activists known more of the internal struggles Domenico Cacciola had inside the police force, would they have been more successful in bringing down the government? Cacciola as a Special Branch officer was spying on us in the late 70s and early 80s. It may have helped, but our failure was lack of organisation rather than lack of information about the apparatus of repression.
Cacciola’s insights for the book were gained with years of experience of police corruption. A Sicilian immigrant who was victim of racist attitudes in Fortitude Valley and New Farm areas in the 1950s and 60s, Cacciola was anti-union and anti-communist, an easy foil for political populists like Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Don ‘Shady’ Lane and Russ Hinze.
In many ways this is a strangely honest memoir, within the limits of Cacciola’s political understanding, that is.
The Lanky Yank
Cacciola mentions one anti-uranium activist whom he dubs in the book as ‘The Lanky Yank’. Cacciola arrested the American outside the South Brisbane Magistrates Courts on 24 October 1977 after the largest act of mass civil disobedience in Australian history. At the behest of government, police arrested 418 people for opposing the mining and export of uranium and fighting for democratic rights.
The diminutive Cacciola portrayed the encounter as a provocation by the Lanky Yank whom he said called him ‘Mr Goebbels‘. Improbable as it may seem, Cacciola says that he politely identified himself and then arrested the Lanky Yank for ‘insulting language‘. [***Language warning*** this audiobook is full of swearing by police and crims. Not the hand-on-the-bible kind of swearing.]
Joh Must Go!
Cacciola says that the arrest placed him in the media spotlight bringing with it more pressure on him. Cacciola writes that he was assaulted by demonstrators on at least two occasions. Curiously Cacciola claims that “on most occasions the illegal street marchers were more about acts of defiance than about a cause.”
This is strange coming from a special branch officer whose job it was to confiscate leaflets and books related to the reason for demonstrations.
The main issue was opposition to the mining and export of uranium, and the political objective was to bring down the government as depicted in the banner Joh Must Go Cacciola would have seen on many occasions. The author would’ve known that, perhaps he is uncomfortable with the nuclear disasters that followed Australia’s entry into the nuclear fuel cycle that we opposed so vehemently. If he was there is little to see any conscious regard of the political issues of the day, his concern is police corruption, a popular theme from that period owing mainly to the Fitzgerald Inquiry.
Domenico describes another demonstration when he was at the Hamilton wharf over a union dispute about live meats exports and claims that he was king hit by a seaman by the name of Geoff Wills. Wills and his partner Nancy were members of the communist arts group in Brisbane. Jeff and Nancy spent a lot of time explaining the nature of the struggle through song, popular theatre and art.
Therein lies a contradiction.
Cacciola is now billed by his publisher of this book and its follow up publication, Who’s Who in the Zoo. His publisher, University of Queensland Press claims Cacciola is a bestselling author, even though in the 1970s he was employed in the special branch as a thug.
Cacciola writes on one occasion “the Communist party members discussed how they would burn the grass outside the Cleveland Magistrate’s Court. We were impressed at how well organised they were. Every illegal demonstration or act of vandalism was planned with precision.”
Cacciola portrays Communists as violent when real violence came from state repression. There was not a fire outside the Cleveland magistrates court, however a disgruntled demonstrator burnt a $25 garden hose outside a magistrate’s house at Beenleigh. He was charged with conspiracy to commit wilful damage in the night time but was acquitted of wilful damage by a jury because the only evidence against him was a police verbal. I know because that defendant was me (I was never a member of the Communist party) and that was only one of 30 arrests at the hands of political police in the years from 1977-1985.
The ‘convoy of clowns’
In 1971, as a country copper from Innisfail, Cacciola sped to Brisbane to participate in the infamous police charge against protestors outside the Tower Mill Motel. Ambassadors for apartheid, the Springboks Rugby Union team were staying at the motel after winning a test against Australia at the Brisbane Exhibition grounds. Cacciola said he did not have an opinion on apartheid claiming not to know what it was. This may be true but is unlikely given the racist taunts he endured every day on the job as a Queensland police officer.
On game day Saturday 24th July 1971, Cacciola testifies that he was ‘just doing a job‘. He implied that police Commissioner Whitrod was aloof from the operation, claiming incorrectly that Whitrod ‘spent his time on the top floor of the Tower Mill‘. Instead, Whitrod was on the ground in Wickham Terrace giving orders to clear the street when the charge commenced.
Windmill of your mind
Whitrod commanded his forces to hold their ground near the Tower Mill and ordered that the roadway be kept clear, but when the lines of police moved forward to clear the street, both country and metropolitan police broke ranks and charged the demonstrators (as they had done two nights before).
Cacciola further claimed that the demonstrators were throwing rocks and that he spent his time dodging them. There is no evidence of rock throwing at police in the film footage of the incident. However there is some evidence that stones and bottle tops were thrown at vehicles namely paddy wagons and Channel 7 truck.
At the demonstrations police commissioner Whitrod was wearing a grey suit and a black pork pie hat and, contrary to Cacciola’s recollection, is very much involved in negotiations on the street with the demonstrators’ spokesperson, George Georges.
Whitrod claims he was clearing the street to provide access to a private hospital nearby at the behest of one of the sisters when men in his charge broke ranks.
Mr Monza, Mr Monza … we’re gonna get ya
Here is a story not published in “The Second Father”.
In August 1977, anti-uranium demonstrators were down at Hamilton Number 4 wharf in Brisbane trying to stop a shipment of uranium from getting onto the docks. It was 9 pm at night. We had assembled on the railway track in a small group as the Uranium shipment approached. There would have been about 100 or so uniformed police in attendance. Someone was holding up a transistor radio. The ABC National 9 o’clock news came on. They announced that we had already been cleared off the track by the Queensland police in attendance.
The uranium train approached. Cops charged us from the darkness. We were shoved in a heap beside the railway as the yellow cake containers went through. We were literally piled on top of one another with the coppers holding us down until the shipment was on the wharf.
From the shadows stepped Domenico Cacciola of the Queensland Special Branch. Cacciola had been set-up to verbal an SP bookmaker in the Southport Betting Case and sent to the police stables in disgrace but later was promoted to the Special Branch. The branch was run by the ‘Green Mafia’ because it was run by a catholic, inspector Les Hogan, and had a number of other catholics in it. A short man, Cacciola crouched down beside us and began to speak to a person at the bottom of the pile: “Mr. Monza, Mr. Monza, we’re going to get ya”. He had mispronounced a common Lebanese name.
Three people were arrested that night, a seaman, Geoff Wills, his wife, Nancy, and a printer.
Cacciola has slandered Geoff and Nancy Wills, probably in the knowledge that they are both dead.
The following week, in answer to a Dorothy Dix question in parliament, a National Party minister said that the anti-uranium demonstration on Hamilton No. 4 Wharf was ‘the work of communists and an Arab sympathiser’ (presumably the person Domenico had threatened the week before) .
Soon after, Joh Bjelke Peterson announced “the day of the political street march is over”.
Special Branch lived up to Domenico’s promise, for the next 18 months they pointed out the leaders of the street marches so that we could be arrested time after time.
They arrested a lot of people themselves.
For example on 30 October 1978 Domenico and his fellow special branch officers arrested many in the street and in King George Square and the footpath nearby.
When they did not perform the arrests they would get units like Task force to do the job for them.
One person was attacked by police in the square thrown in a paddy wagon, taken out, strangled and knocked out in the middle of the street, handcuffed in such a way that he lost feeling in part of his hand for three months, driven to police headquarters, stripped and assaulted, paraded in front senior police, and finally taken out and imprisoned in Boggo Road jail under a falsely executed warrant issued by acting Magistrate McKay.
Similar arrests were made throughout that period until 1979.
In the end, exhausted by repression and internal division, the street marches ended in defeat. It was perhaps the longest sustained period of organised protest in Australian history. Of course, Aboriginal people have sustained their resistance to colonisation over a much longer period and at a far greater cost. My point is the special branch had done its work.
Nevertheless I do accept that Cacciola was not part of the joke and that he was under a lot of pressure, not so much because of his spectacular arrests in the street marches but because of the corrupt police around him. I remember during the street marches visiting police headquarters in Herschel Street. I was at the front counter picking up some documents when I was approached by Domenico Cacciola in plain clothes. Without any warning he grabbed hold of my throat and push me up against the front counter claiming that I had ‘dobed’ him in to other police. “I don’t know what you’re talking about I said, I don’t mix in your circles.” Police in the foyer look startled. Cacciola let me go. These were the actions of a paranoid stressed individual with few friends.
This is a neo-noir novel. Where did neo-noir come from? Well it is a reference to film noir which came from German expressionist film makers who made their way in exile from Nazi Germany to Hollywood in the post war period. They began making “B” grade low budget movies. Many were Jewish. Post war America was both anti-communist and anti-semitic. The Hollywood moguls were no different. Film noir makers realised that they could produce quite artistic cinema with black and white film and innovative techniques like close-ups and shadows with stripes.
Film noir soon took on in the US. Examples are: John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon 1941 and Christopher Nolan’s Memento 2000. Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, a study of the perfect crime gone horribly wrong. Then Billy Wilder’s quintessential film noir classic, Double Indemnity took up the crime thriller genre, attracting large audiences.
The characters were odd balls and outcasts. It didn’t take long for McCarthyism to begin the attack on these film makers on the basis of communist sympathy. Many were blacklisted.
Like the eastern european exponents of film noir, Domenico Cacciola understood post war migration because his parents and grandparents had to do it twice, after both WWI and WWII. Domenico understood exile and fitting in.
In a weird way Cacciola was an outcast like the street marchers he used to arrest, an outlaw. Only he chose family over community, police over his father’s fruit and vege shop in New Farm. Like us, he rejects religion preferring family over the pope even though he did guard the pope on a visit to North Queensland. Cacciola was not a regular church goer. In his lexicon, family honour stood above religion.
When Cacciola was demoted from Special Branch to uniform in the early 1980s he confided in me that his fellow special branch officer, Det Snr Const Venardos was as thick as a brick. Not in so many words. The conversation went something like this. I was standing in Russell Street West End, Brisbane. It was about 1982.
“What’s the story about Vernados, he keeps telling me his name is Oppenheimer” I say. I was wondering if this pseudonym was a reference to the scientist who headed up the Manhattan Project in the US before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Was Vernados having a go at us?
Cacciola put me straight: “No Venardos has had 33 goes at his Sergeants exam and has still not passed!”
By contrast Steele Hill in Iraqi Icicle manages to keep his cool and throw off at the cops. Plus he’s funny. Iraqi icicle is a homage to 1980s Indie rock band, The Go Betweens. The drummer Lindy Morrison was no stranger to political demonstrations. With art imitating real life Dowling describes how Morrison was arrested during an illegal street march. Lindy was the most political of the band members, something reflected in the lyrics of their signature tune, Street of Your Town:
“Don’t the sun look good today?
But the rain is on its way
Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives”
But that’s about it. Political filmmakers looking for a sound track to go with their footage of demonstrations in the late 1970s had no help from local musos; the rock scene had simply not kept pace with the politics. When we came to make the doco ‘If You Don’t Fight You Lose‘ we had to look to American folk music for a sound track.
Nevertheless, Saints guitarist Ed Keuper and Grant McLennan of the Go Betweens were busted with Ciaron O’Reilly were among the 418 arrested on 22 Oct 1978 protesting the loss of democratic rights and mining and export of uranium.
“It was way back in 1978, before Lindy Morrison was even in the band, as far as I know. You remember, the Premier at the time, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, banned street marches as a form of civil protest.’‘Vaguely, I was only thirteen or fourteen at the time. The nuns in the orphanage weren’t big on breakfast-table discussions of the political news of the day.’‘I wasn’t much older myself, but the old coppers tell me the uni students and their crackpot mates would call a demonstration at the drop of a hat. After a scuffle at one demo, Mooney charged Morrison with stealing his watch.’‘And did she?’‘ From what I gather, his watch came off in a melee and Morrison held the watch in the air as if to say, “Who owns the watch?” And Mooney pinched her. Anyway, she got off at the pre-trial committal stage.”
Author Bernie Dowling even manages to get Panamanian dictator Manuel Nowiega into his book … but you will have to listen to it to find out how.
I thoroughly recommend you listen to both audiobooks but remember former special branch officer, Cacciola, never lets the facts get in the way of a good story.
Iraqi Icicle (third edition) is available from https://awesound.com/audiobook/iraqiicicle
And The Second Father is available from UQP.
9 Dec 2018
2009, English, Book, Illustrated edition: The second father : an insider’s story of cops, crime and corruption / Domenico Cacciola with Carmelo Cacciola and Ben Robertson. Cacciola, Domenico.
Physical Description 218 p.,  p.of plates : ill., ports. ; 23 cm. St Lucia, Qld. : University of Queensland Press, 2009.