‘I, A.B., swear by almighty God that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second and Her Heirs and Successors according to law in the office – Oath of Queensland Police
“He was as guilty as sin. He got what he deserved… He was given a terrible hiding. He was handcuffed to a chair and we knocked the shit out of him. We all laid into him with our fists. The bastard didn’t utter one bloody word. He just sat there and copped an almighty hiding. In the end, we said, ‘Right, fuck you, smart-arse, we’ll do it our way’. Fabrication of evidence was something we all took for granted. You know when it’s right.” – Queensland police detective describing the verballing of John Andrew Stuart for the Whiskey au Go Go fire in which 15 people died.
Step into The Storytellers and uncover the hidden histories, myths and tales of Brisbane as told by the contemporary writers of our city. – MoB
Storytellers at City Hall
I saw some of ‘The Storytellers‘ exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane today – it was really impressive. You can see it on the third floor of Brisbane City Hall. One thing that caught my eye was the “petrol barrel” used in the firebombing of the Whisky au Go Go nightclub in Fortitude Valley. In particular, I looked at the label on the exhibit and it read “petrol barrel used during the Whiskey au Go Go firebombing 1973 steel, (presumably made of steel), courtesy of Queensland police museum.“
However, if you looked closely at the drum, it had a label saying that it was Floor Finish with a big caption “poison”, followed by directions for its use. So I wonder who was responsible for the caption below the exhibit? Was it the police investigators or the officers of the police museum? I wonder also if there are any fingerprints on the drum.
There is a second inquest into the firebombing of the Whisky au Go Go which resulted in the tragic deaths of 15 people. There is a pre-hearing on the 29th and 30th of April 2021. The original Whiskey au Go Go inquest was adjourned on the 12th of March 1973, immediately after Stuart and Finch were arrested only four days after the fire.
John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch were arrested and each found guilty of murdering Jennifer Davey, one of the 15 nightclubbers who died at at the fire. Stuart and Finch famously protested their innocence from the roof of Boggo Road jail, realigning the tiles on the roof stating that they were innocent and verballed by police.
There was a lot of concern at the time of police wanting to get a quick result because of their own involvement. The arrest of Finch was quite suspicious given that he had only just arrived in Brisbane from the UK a couple of days before the firebombing. This did not give him much time to organize the largest mass murder in Queensland history (not including the massacres of Aboriginal people during colonisation).
The theory is that the Whiskey au Go Go fire was an insurance job and that Stuart was manipulated by crooked police. Department of Defense researcher, Jeff Plunkett, who spent five years researching the original investigating officers notes argued that a new inquest is needed.
This is another example of historical murders currently being investigated. In Sydney, there is an investigation into the deaths of seven people at Luna Park. amusement centre. On the 9th of June 1979 there was a fire on the Sydney ‘ghost train’ at Luna Park, which killed six children and one adult. The fire destroyed the amusement park’s ghost train and highlighted the inadequacy of firefighting equipment and low staffing at the theme park.
Nevertheless, Sydney police are claiming that there is more to it than what was determined by the original coronial inquiry. Following a recent ABC exposé, the state coroner of New South Wales, Theresa O’Sullivan, has called upon New South Wales Police to review all the evidence from the Luna Park fire of 1979.
This is because there are allegations that it was caused by arson. Police are pointing the finger at an underworld figure, Abe Saffron. Apparently there have been two independent people come forward to say Saffron had confessed to being involved in the arson. There are allegations that Abe Saffron was also involved in five other fires in Sydney. Saffron is dead so the blame can easily be sheeted home to him.
So there you have it. Two fires from the 1970s, one in Brisbane, the other in Sydney, resulting in the tragic death of at least 26 people – 15 from the Whiskey fire, 7 from the Luna Park fire and the three McCulkins. The McCulkins knew who was responsible for the Whiskey fire and were murdered by O’Dempsey and Du Bois to keep them quiet.
There is some suggestion, at least in the case of the Whiskey au Go Go fire, that there are corrupt police involved in the actual organizing of the fire.
It always struck me as passing strange that Chris Masters who investigated the Moonlight State didn’t ever make a connection between the Whiskey au Go Go fire and the illegal nightclubs only 50 to 100 meters away. Remember the famous scenes of the nightclub where Masters unveiled the corruption to an attentive audience on ABC TV show Four Corners in 1987. Masters’ ABC report identified a number of fires that appeared to have been carried out against rival massage parlours in the full knowledge of police in the 1970s yet no mention was made of the biggest fire of them all, the Whiskey with its 15 deaths. Prostitution was not only tolerated by government and police, so too was the violence against women. For example, police took bribes from the brothel at 612 Brunswick Street Fortitude Valley next to my residence at 608.
Maybe Masters did make a connection between the Whiskey, World by Night, Torinos, and other fires. Perhaps he couldn’t see exactly how it fitted in. Or simply didn’t have time. What I’m saying is that there were police involved in corruption in Fortitude Valley, they were involved in illegal gambling. They were involved in the running of brothels and prostitution by offering police protection. They were taking bribes. They’re also involved in the heroin drug trade that fed the prostitutes’ addiction. The day after the government ordered the Fitzgerald inquiry which led to its demise and the jailing of the Police Commissioner.
Image: John Andrew Stuart in custody of a detective at Fortitude Valley police station
And also, it seems likely police had knowledge of the arson that resulted in the Whiskey fire. Forty-four years later, another inquest was ordered by the then Attorney-General Yvette D’Arth.
It seems to be the trendy thing for politicians now to look back and push for historical inquiries like this. Particularly given the conviction of the murderers of the McCaulkins here in Brisbane.
The only personal comment I have is that political police were involved in the most intense murder investigations. There was always an element of police that are political, particularly because of the close connection between the police and Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Russell Hinze. These two were both ministers of police at various times in the 70s and 80s. On one occasion Bjelke-Petersen put in an affidavit in a court in Townsville refusing me permission to access my special branch file as part of a defence on drugs charges. Despite this, I was acquitted because the drugs were planted after special branch had searched my bedroom. The magistrate simply didn’t believe Detective Conrad Martens who had planted the drugs and charged me in August 1980.
We shouldn’t forget that this was a period of great social unrest as a result of the premier politicizing the police force when he banned street marches. Petersen did so in order to prevent the growing opposition to uranium mining and export in Queensland. Severe repression followed with thousands arrested and many others fearing arrest even when going on their normal business in Isles Lane, Adelaide or Albert Streets.
There were political police engaged in arresting organizers of these rallies, including Qld Senator George George’s and Tom Uren MP, both federal parliamentarians and both opposed to uranium mining and export. One of those police was Patrick Glancy, who it turns out, arrested me from a street march from Griffith University on 31 March 1978, while students and staff were challenging Peterson’s ban on street marches. Another was a Detective Ross Dickson from the drug squad who Masters relied upon to expose heroin trafficking in North Queensland. Sure enough Dickson piled in when Joh wanted street marchers arrested. Yet another was Barry Krosch who actually worked inside the Fitzgerald inquiry but had no trouble arresting women on the steps of parliament protesting against Queensland’s criminalisation of women’s reproductive rights.
On 31st March 1978, Patrick Glancy put me in a paddy wagon. And then he took me out of that paddy wagon and put me in a smaller panel van which drove me to the South Brisbane watchouse. As I recall, Glancy said a number of things to me prior to taking me upstairs at South Brisbane.
There I was verballed by two other police: Charles Murton Butler, and Barry Cornelius O’Brien. Both detectives verballed me on burning Magistrate’s lawn involving the partial destruction of a $25 garden hose.
Pat Glancy, if I my memory serves me correct, wanted to soften me up prior to my interrogation by the two detectives. Strangely, he referred to the Whiskey fire. It was a familiar technique, latch onto something horrific and then make bravado where the investigation could lead. This was the real joke.
Unfortunately for me, I was verballed by O’Brien and Butler whilst my solicitor was banging on the door downstairs asking to be present. My solicitor was Noel Nunan who later, became a magistrate; Nunan kept asking the watchhouse sergeant to see me.
Nunan’s fear was a fair assumption given the modus operandi of police was to verbal people. Anyway, Nunan was denied access, and I later went to trial for wilful damage and was acquitted by a jury. But not before being put in jail, arrested on a number of occasions, my house raided, beaten up, really knocked unconscious and mistreated in the prison. The magistrate issued a warrant against me, probably as payback.
There was one point where one of the judges, Bernie McLaughlin, decided he wanted to up the ante and suggested that the prosecution might want to consider that my involvement in the street match at Griffith University should be a criminal charge. I don’t know exactly, but he intimated that unlawful assembly or riot under the criminal code was the way to proceed.
But that never happened. However, I was charged with the burning of the magistrates lawn. That magistrate went on to be the Deputy Chief magistrate, and he had a long involvement in the prosecution of street marches. Magistrate McKay unfairly convicted a number of people and looked the other way when it was clear that police had beaten those people up.
That was his political intent, I believe, because I saw him once in the Brisbane City Mall, walking on a Friday afternoon down through the mall. And he saw someone speaking from a soapbox; it was Ian Rintoul, and McKay just went by giving Ian a solid shoulder check. He knocked Ian off the soapbox and then went off down the mall, no doubt tired and emotional. On another occasion police arrested Nunan in the mall merely for coming up and saying hello to me during a democratic rights speak out.
Anyway, that’s it, the storytellers from the Moonlight State. The year after the largest massacre caused by the Whiskey fire was all washed away by the 1974 floods. Stuart and Finch jailed. End of story, until now on the eve of the new inquest and what it reveals.
No better way to finish this story than by the lyrics to Pig City by the Parameters.
16 April 2021
Fortitude Valley – houses of gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution identified in the ABC’s Moonlight State.
Header Image: The Benjamin Law Room at the Storytellers exhibition in Museum of Brisbane, third floor, City Hall.