Monday, November 30, 2009

The Melbourne Gangland Murders

Like no other city in Australia, Melbourne has been blessed by a fascinating gangland culture, which has helped inspire TV shows, books and feature films - you can get the gist of the whole story on Wikipedia here. I reviewed a couple of memoirs by two of the major players in Saturday's Melbourne Age: ex boxer Mick Gatto and mob wife Roberta Williams (right). I liked both books as you can see below:
...
My Life by Roberta Williams; I, Mick Gatto by Mick Gatto and Tom Noble

Apart from a dispiriting lack of basic competence, what distinguishes Melbourne’s criminal underclass from their counterparts in say, the New York mafia, is their enthusiasm for publicity. Where La Cosa Nostra embraces omertà - the code of silence - Melbourne’s underworld clans act rather more like the village chiacchierone: the local gossip who airs everyone’s dirty laundry in public. Recently Mick Gatto and Roberta Williams have been attacking each other in the tabloids with such ferocity that if this were a 1930's film, the third act would finish with one of them saying “kiss me you fool,” accompanied by a soaring musical score.
...
Mick Gatto’s account of his life in gambling, boxing and crime I, Mick Gatto is published by an imprint of Melbourne University Press and was co-written by former Age journalist Tom Noble. It is fast paced, lively and unpretentious, and the story of Gatto’s South Melbourne childhood is particularly affecting. Gatto offers no angst ridden self justification for his later actions but says that he was a happy kid surrounded by friends and family. Born in 1955, Gatto’s parents were first generation immigrants from Calabria who, really, must have known all about omertà.
...
After a run in with local hoods Gatto decides to learn boxing as a method of self defence and quickly finds that he has talent and, he says, with a little more discipline and some luck he could have been, like Terry Molloy, “a contender”. Instead he became a bouncer and petty crook and ended up in Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison for burglary. Post prison life took Gatto into illegal gambling clubs, but his biggest win was surely marrying his formidable wife Cheryle who has ridden the Gatto rollercoaster for more than thirty years. The meat of I, Mick Gatto, of course, is his sensational 2005 murder trial, when he was accused of assassinating underworld hitman Andrew Veniamin. Gatto’s story is gripping: he and Veniamin (a former friend who had attended his birthday party) got into an argument in the back room of La Porcella restaurant in Carlton over the recent killing of a gangland associate. Veniamin apparently pulled out a .38 calibre revolver and with his boxer’s reflexes, Gatto says that he managed to turn Veniamin’s gun on himself. The jury bought the defence argument that because the .38 misfired it must have meant that the two men were struggling over the weapon, and Gatto was acquitted. Gatto is fortunate that this incident happened in Melbourne where the average jury panelist would not have experienced the fairly common instance of a misfiring .38 at the local gun range, and he’s also lucky the jury never got to hear about the fact that he had a body bag waiting in the boot of his car.
...
Gatto’s book is charming and engaging, probably like the man himself, and near the end there is an interesting scene where he meets Roberta Williams after Underbelly has begun showing on Channel 9. He describes her affectionately as having a “lot of dash, more than her husband Carl ever had,” which is nice when both claim the other tried to have them killed.
...
You can see this dash and flintiness throughout Williams’s own book My Life - The Untold Story of an Underworld Survivor. Her childhood in Seaford and Frankston was grim: her father died when she was still a baby and her mother could not cope in the slightest. She got pregnant at seventeen, moved to the city and later was horrifically beaten up by her partner Dean Stephens, a friend of rising criminal stars, the Moran brothers.
...
In 1994 her life changed when she met chubby, baby faced gangster Carl Williams. They fell in love, married and Carl raised her kids like they were his own. The war with the Morans began when they tried to kill Carl over a money feud and as Williams cold bloodedly points out “luckily for us the Morans were stupid because they let Carl live and he knew he would never make the same mistake they did. Underbelly made Carl out to be the dumb one. . .but think of this, they are dead and he is alive. Who is the dumb one?”
...
Roberta denies that Carl ordered the killing of Mark Moran, but she agrees that Carl was behind Jason Moran’s murder on June 21 2003. Indeed she relishes the fact and admits her joy upon hearing of Moran’s death (although she denies foreknowledge of the hit). This part of the book is rather chilly. Williams sees herself as a victim persecuted by the media and the criminal justice system and she portrays Carl as a gun toting loveable rogue. She shows no sign of remorse that Jason Moran and Pasquale Barbaro were shot in their car in front of five young children, including Moran’s twins. Indeed, she mocks the family members who appeared shocked and grief stricken that night on the TV news.
...
There’s no denying Williams’s charisma or her toughness or her love for her own children but a kinder editor might have made her temper such sociopathic statements. I also think Harper Collins could have spent a few dollars compiling an index that would assist the general reader in keeping track of all the diverse characters in Williams’s absorbing story.
...
Reading these memoirs together is a little like viewing Rashomon: people and actions are either good or evil depending on whom you believe; however truth isn’t necessarily why people are going to buy these books. If you enjoyed Underbelly by John Silvester and Andrew Rule or the first TV series then these volumes should be right up your alley.