Alan Wearne Reviews Ross Gibson

By | 6 February 2018


In many ways Gibson’s fine book is made for the reader’s imagination, like one-off episodes from serials you stumble over, without either prequel or sequel, only plenty of room for speculation. The soul of the work is the ‘Missing Persons’ section, where after laughing along at all these daggy, loser crims, you really are hit hard, for here are entries centred on the innocent, the innocent who disappeared and who with no follow-through may never have been found. Now these indeed are like serial episodes you’ve stumbled over.

Now consider this: doubtless the New South Wales Police had a ‘Special Branch’, as elsewhere in Australia – a poor man’s ASIO keeping tabs on Commos, those who may as well have been, or at any rate ‘subversives’. So next, think of a dozen or so similar prose-poem portraits, though in this case with the added potency of ideology, of both the watchers and the watched.

Or go this step further: though it is unlikely the underworld ever kept records such as these, imagine if they had and conjure their opinions on Ray ‘Gunner’ Kelly, Freddie Krahe and, as importantly, on many lesser known to near-anonymous plods. Change names if necessary. Consider how both cops and crooks might have viewed those crossing between both of their worlds, such as John Wesley Egan of the ‘Corset Gang’, or those at apex-of-corruption – Police Commissioners Fred Hansen and Merv Wood, or Wood’s old rowing partner, the horrifying Murray Riley.

That, though, is the future. Now it’s 1957 and next year Roger Rogerson joins the New South Wales Police Force as a cadet. No doubt he read those annual volumes, upon one of which The Criminal Re-Register is based, and quite likely met some of the crew. Meanwhile, today, embedded in some New South Wales Police website, accessible only by multiple passwords, there’s doubtless an equivalent. Though one fears it’s nowhere near as ‘poetic’ and thus nowhere near as lively.

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