Lemonade Ley

Thomas John Ley (1880 — 1947) was an Australian politician who was convicted of murder in England. It is highly likely that he was also involved in the deaths of a number of people in Australia.

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The Australian Minister for Justice became known as the Hanging Minister because of his enthusiasm for the death penalty. In fact, the evidence suggests that he was a serial killer.

Ley was a millionaire in his 60s. He had a mistress and owned properties across fashionable London. As a young man, he lied about his age, raising it so that he could marry a wealthy older woman named Lewie Vernon. When it came to social status, Ley was unstoppable.

Fashionable London 1920s found here

Not only did he lie about his age but he lied his way into the NSW Parliament. In 1917, he campaigned against the evils of alcohol and called himself ‘Lemonade Ley‘, as if he were the scourge of the publicans. And the voters fell for it. But once he got inside he sold them out. In fact, ‘Lemonade Ley’ was in the pay of a brewing company.

Lemonade Pie found here

By the mid-1920s, Ley was riding high, revelling in the privileges of a conservative politician. Appointed Minister for Justice, he earned hatred from both sides of politics with his brutal enthusiasm for capital punishment. State Labor leader Jack Lang wrote of Ley, “There were many times in the NSW Parliament when we believed he was not only mad, but bad.

Hanging coffins found here

By 1925, Ley had his ambitions trained on the prime ministership of Australia and targeted the Federal seat of Barton. Ley’s campaign was to have deadly consequences for the man who held the seat, Labor’s Fred McDonald. He tried to bribe McDonald so that McDonald would effectively run dead in the election.

Fred McDonald found here

A defeated McDonald pursued Ley with allegations of bribery. But the wealthy Ley retaliated by threatening to ruin him with a defamation suit. McDonald backed down, he apologised and even, it was claimed, signed a document exonerating Ley. Then McDonald changed his mind. He would charge Ley with bribery after all. This placed Ley in a very sticky situation. But on 15 April 1926, his problem – Fred McDonald – simply disappeared.

Fred McDonald’s body was never found. Another politician, Hyman Goldstein,  fell prey to T.J. Ley some months later. Ley had set up a company to rid Australia of prickly pear, the weed that threatened the nation’s farmers and graziers. Goldstein had invested heavily in a business scheme of Ley’s to manufacture poison but he didn’t realise just how poisonous the scheme – or scam – would become.

Read how Australia eradicated prickly pear here

The Prickly Pear company went bust. Ley had stolen the funds and spent the shareholders’ money on a holiday with his mistress. Shortly after, Hyman Goldstein left his Coogee home at twilight for a stroll up on the cliffs. But he never came home. He was found later at the bottom of Coogee cliffs, stone dead.

Coogee cliffs found here

Under pressure to disappear, Ley beat a hasty retreat to England. Stanley Bruce, the Prime Minister of Australia, assisted by writing letters of introduction for Ley to take with him. He left behind his long-suffering wife Lewie and took along his mistress Maggie Brook instead.

As the years passed, Ley grew fat and rich. But then, sexual jealousy brought him unstuck. Ley became so delusional that he accused Maggie of having an affair with John Mudie, a barman half her age. Mad with jealousy, he paid to have Mudie kidnapped and killed.

When Mudie’s body was discovered in a chalk pit, the media went into a frenzy, with eager journalists digging up every last detail of Ley’s public life back in Australia. It had the sex angle: he had wealth, he had a mistress, he had a wife, he’d been a politician and he was a murderer. Front-page news right through the trial.

Ley denied the charges to the end. At the last minute, his death sentence was commuted on the grounds that he was insane. A petition from Australia probably helped his cause. The ‘Hanging Minister’ escaped the gallows.

Roof of the Gallows by Laszlo Baranyai found here

patience please for the prince

Evangelist Glenn Wilbur Voliva was a disciple of John Alexander Dowie who, in the late 19th century, set up the township of Zion City on the shores of Lake Michigan. Dowie, who had denounced sex, oysters and life assurance, became the victim of a power struggle with Voliva who took over as Chief Administrator in 1905.

more erotic nature to be found here

He gained nationwide notoriety by his vigorous advocacy of flat earth doctrine. He offered a widely publicized $5000 challenge for anyone to disprove flat earth theory. Voliva also frequently predicted the end of the world: his predictions that the end would come in 1923, 1927, 1930, and 1935 were incorrect.

Still from Encounters at the End of the World found here

Lipstick, scanty clothes, high heels and swimming costumes were all strictly forbidden, as were cigarettes and alcohol. There were no theatres or cinemas and no butcher, chemist or doctor was allowed to practice within the city precincts. Nobody was allowed to whistle or sing or drive a vehicle in excess of 5 mph.

Angie Dickinson in scanty clothes and high heels found here

Transgressors were subject to arrest by Voliva’s Praetorian Guard, a regime whose helmets were inscribed with the word ‘Patience’ and who carried miniature bibles instead of truncheons. Punishment included a one hour lecture on sin.

World’s smallest Bible found here

Here in Australia we have our own independent sovereign state ruled by His Majesty Prince Leonard of Hutt.

The Principality of Hutt River was created in 1969 as a province in response to a dispute with the government over what the Casley family considered draconian wheat production quotas.

Prince Leonard found here

In correspondence with the governor-general’s office, Casley was inadvertently addressed as the “Administrator of the Hutt River Province” which, under the application of Royal Prerogative, makes this recognition binding on all courts. After the government threatened him with prosecution, Casley styled himself His Majesty Prince Leonard I of Hutt to take advantage of a law that a monarch could not only not be charged, but that anyone who interfered with his duties could be charged with treason.

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n 1976, Australia Post refused to handle Hutt River mail, forcing mail to be redirected via Canada. Following repeated demands by the Australian Taxation Office for the payment of taxes, on 2 December 1977 the province officially declared war on Australia. Prince Leonard notified authorities of the cessation of hostilities several days later. The mail service was restored and tax requests ceased.

Canada Mail found here

The Principality of Hutt River is situated 517 km north of Perth. Exports include wildflowers, agricultural produce, stamps and coins. Tourism is also important to its economy with 40,000 tourists visiting the principality every year.

Order your Hutt River stamps here

Although actual residents are very few, the principality claims a world-wide citizenry of 13,000. The Principality has no standing army, but a number of its citizens have been awarded military commissions. Honorary guardsmen attend the prince on formal occasions, and despite being completely landlocked, naval commissions have been conferred on supporters of the principality.

Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley found here

Prince Leonard is married to Her Royal Highness Princess Shirley, by whom he has seven adult children. His son, Crown Prince Ian, who is the Prime Minister of the Principality, has been designated as Prince Leonard’s eventual successor as “heir presumptive”.

the pyjama girl mystery

We love an unsolved mystery here at the Gimcrack, and Australia has plenty of them. In 1934 there was the famous case of the Dead Girl in the Silk Pyjamas. Her partially burnt body was discovered lying beside a culvert in the road.

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The dead woman was in her 20s, she was about 5’1″ and she had bluish eyes. An X-ray revealed that she had been shot below the right eye. But the most probable cause of her death were around eight really horrific blows to her face. It was very hard to work out who she was; a problem the police had to solve first.

Artists drew their impressions, police made masks. Photographs of each were published but without result. The police then took an unusual step and had her body preserved in a formalin bath at Sydney University. She would remain there for 10 years.

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In the 1930s, pyjamas were exotic, the sort of thing worn by young flappers. These so-called ‘new women’ dressed in skimpy clothes, they smoked, they drank, they partied and they laughed at convention. The straitlaced moral guardians of the day held up the Pyjama Girl as an example, a warning of what happens to young women who go astray.

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The press leapt on this bandwagon and began to use the unsolved Pyjama Girl case to put pressure on the police commissioner, Bill Mackay. The police had a list of young women who had disappeared at the time. High on their list was Linda Agostini. She was a young English woman who’d married an Italian with fascist leanings named Antonio Agostini. Police questioned Agostini; he claimed that Linda had deserted him and that he had no idea of her whereabouts. They suspected Agostini but were faced with the fact that his wife Linda physically looked very different from the Pyjama Girl. Linda Agostini was full-breasted and she had brown eyes but the Pyjama Girl had small breasts and blue eyes. And the dental records didn’t match. Linda’s dentist had given her two porcelain fillings and these were not found in the corpse of the Pyjama Girl. So she was crossed off the list, which makes what happened 10 years later all the more incredible.

Not this Linda

Commissioner Bill Mackay was a regular at a posh Sydney restaurant called Romanos. Antonio Agostini just happened to be a waiter there. One day in the restaurant, so the story goes, Mackay noticed that Agostini seemed unusually sad. The commissioner asked him why and Agostini explained that he was a widower, indeed, widowed by his own hand. He confessed that 10 years before he had killed his wife, Linda. Suddenly, the police commissioner himself, Bill Mackay, single-handedly had identified the Pyjama Girl and had solved Australia’s greatest murder mystery.

Richard Evans, who wrote a book about this mystery thinks that the official explanation, the one police put forward at the inquest in 1944 and at the trial of Antonio Agostini later that year was fabricated and false.

What previously undiscovered documents appear to reveal is that Mackay, driven to solve a case that just wouldn’t go away, may actually have set up Agostini as the Pyjama Girl murderer. First, there is the question of the teeth. In February 1944, Mackay arranged for leading Sydney dentist Professor Everett Magnus to re-examine the corpse’s teeth, to look once again for the missing porcelain fillings that by now three experts had failed to find. Astonishingly, he found them and the evidence of the other experts was ignored.

Oops, wrong Linda again

And then there was the question of the eyes. Linda Agostini had brown eyes. An autopsy performed by Professor Arthur Burkitt showed that the Pyjama Girl had blue eyes. But at the coronial inquest, police called two expert witnesses who both gave evidence that the colour of the eyes must have changed from brown to blue after death. Medically, this is highly improbable but the coroner accepted it.

learn how to permanently change your eye colour here

And then there’s the matter of the confession. Agostini’s story was that Linda had become neurotic and an alcoholic. He said one morning he woke to find her holding a gun to his head. There was a struggle, the gun went off and Linda died. Panic-stricken, he put her in his car and drove off, finally dumping her body in a culvert and setting it alight with spare petrol he kept in a can. And, this is crucial, he used the rest of the petrol to fill the tank to get back to Melbourne. Yet Police Sergeant Kelly, the first policeman on the crime scene 10 years before, was very clear indeed – he smelled kerosene, not petrol.

By the time of the coronial inquest, Kelly had changed his story to say it was either kerosene or petrol, which smell nothing alike. And in Agostini’s confession there is no mention of the extensive injuries to the head. Eventually, he makes a ridiculous story of the body having fallen down a flight of stairs and hitting a flowerpot.

flower pot ring found here

Agostini said later that Mackay gave him whiskey and helped him to confess. Evans suspects that the confession is a fabrication – an attempt to make the events of one crime fit another. Agostini confessed to killing his wife, but she was not the Pyjama Girl. Evens also thinks Mackay had made a threat and a promise. The threat was that “If you don’t confess, you’ll be convicted anyway and you’ll be convicted of murder.”

At his trial, Agostini did get off with only manslaughter. He was sentenced to six years jail, but served just three years and nine months before being deported back to Italy.

Puglia, Italy

There’s a postscript to this. A suitcase of police evidence has turned up which contains a microscope slide with a tiny slither of the iris from the eye of the Pyjama Girl. A DNA test matched against one of Linda Agostini’s relatives might just solve the mystery. We’ve asked the police if they’re prepared to do it. But the situation is an historian’s nightmare, because the test would probably destroy the iris, which is the evidence.

pawpaw for the passionate

Born in Liverpool England in 1852, Edmund James Banfield came to Australia as a boy with his journalist father. The young E.J. also grew up to be a journalist but suffered a breakdown in 1897 and was given 6 months to live.

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It was then that he and his wife Bertha obtained a lease on Dunk Island off the coast of Queensland. Originally named Coonanglebah by the Aborigines, it had been renamed Dunk by Captain Cook in honour of Montagu Dunk, the Earl of Sandwich.

(image caricatured Lord Sandwich slipping money into the pocket of an attractive carrot-seller, said to be one of his usual amusements)

Bertha and E.J arrived with very little apart from camping and gardening equipment and a small boat. But their new home had plenty of coconuts, avocados, oysters and fish and it didn’t take long for them to create an enviable paradise. In 1908, E.J. published “Confessions of a Beachcomber” which prompted hundreds of people to write asking him how to find their own tropical island.

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The profits from this book enabled the Banfields to invite a former servant, Essie, to move in with them as a companion for Bertha. In subsequent books he theorised that the human race could thrive on a diet composed entirely of bananas. He was also devoted to the pawpaw and assured readers that it made a woman more beautiful and a man more virile.

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Dunk Island was the location used in filming “Age of Consent” starring James Mason and a 22 year old Helen Mirren. It was on this film set that Mason met his second wife, Clarissa Kaye who played his ex girlfriend. Their bedroom scene was cut by the censors who deemed it too hot. Nothing to do with the 103 degree temperature she was suffering at the time

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Published in: on July 7, 2010 at 8:45 am  Comments (51)  
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dainty dulcie and donald duck

In the 30s, 40s and 50s Dulcie Markham was the prettiest and most notorious woman in Australia’s underworld. Nearly all of her criminal lovers died violently after jousting with the jinx.

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In 1934 she married hoodlum Frank Bowen. The marriage only lasted a couple of years but they remained friends until he was shot dead in Kings Cross in 1940. She left Bowen to move in with underworld figure Alfred Dillon but was soon having an affair with 21 year old Scotty McCormack. Dillon stabbed him to death and was sentenced to 13 years for manslaughter. As he was led from the dock he shouted out to Dulcie that he would always love her.

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Her next lover, Arthur Taplin was shot dead at the Cosmopolitan in 1937. After that she took up with mobster Guido Calleti who was shot at a Kings Cross party in 1939. No one was ever convicted and he was given the most spectacular gangster funeral in Sydney’s history. Dulcie did not attend although she had been there to weep over the body as it lay in a Darlinghurst funeral parlour.

Calleti

In 1940 she took up with Melbourne criminal John Abrahams who was shot dead outside a twoup school that same year. She promptly moved in with another well known gangster who was arrested a month later for Abraham’s murder.

twoup

The war years meant big earnings for prostitutes and Dulcie was no exception. Unlike others in her trade, her name was well known to the public as she was constantly in trouble such as the time she was arrested on a Melbourne Street clad only in panties and brandishing an axe at a client who argued about her fee.

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Her reputation grew through the 1940s when two of her former admirers Donald “the Duck” Day and Leslie “Scotland Yard” Walkerden were murdered.

In 1951 she was drinking with friends when gunmen burst through the door and shot dead one of her companions and left Dulcie with a bullet in her hip. Below is an excerpt from an article by Brian Matthews detailing what happened next

Fawkner Street 1909

The most famous resident of Fawkner Street was ‘Pretty Dulcie’ Markham, a gangster’s moll who married one Leonard ‘Redda’ Lewis in her Fawkner Street house. This was a doubly significant date for ‘Redda’. Not only was it the day of his delight, it was also the last of the seven days the local police had given him to get out of St Kilda. The occasion was attended by numbers of uniformed and plain-clothes state functionaries who, sensitive to the holiness of the proceedings, remained shadowy in their cars while thoughtfully blocking off both ends of the road.

About a month earlier, Pretty Dulcie’s Fawkner Street residence had been the scene of a very different ceremony during which ex-boxer, Gavan Walsh, was shot dead, his brother, Desmond, was injured and Pretty Dulcie herself copped a bullet in the hip. The matrimonial legacy of this was that the bride was able to set off her outfit with a white cast on one leg. She and ‘Redda’ were married in the very room where Gavan Walsh got his, which prompted a Truth reporter to ask, with the refined punctilio for which that paper was known, if she had any qualms about mixing marriage and violent death.

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‘Not a fuckin’ one,’ said the bride.

Pretty Dulcie was not one for the niceties either of language or behaviour. My Aunt Tilly, walking out behind Dulcie from the ladies’ toilet of the Middle Park Hotel one afternoon and having no idea at the time who she was dealing with, noticed that Dulcie’s dress was accidentally hooked up at the back. Helpfully, my aunt flicked the offending bit down for her, whereupon, before a word of explanation could be offered, Pretty Dulcie turned and intimated her gratitude by saying, ‘You lay a finger on me again and I’ll have the boys break your fuckin’ arms.’ To which she added a number of other recommendations very difficult to carry out, even if Tilly had had the slightest idea what they meant.”

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Yet again the union didn’t last, her new husband was shot on two different occasions by unknown assailants and they split up after 18 months. In 1955, after an argument with a visitor, Dulcie was thrown from the top floor of a block of flats in Bondi. Hospitalised with fractured ribs and internal injuries, she maintained she had ‘fallen down some stairs’.

Eventually Dulcie married again, living happily with her third husband until she died in 1976 in a fire caused by smoking in bed. Her husband told reporters “I loved her deeply, she was a wonderful housewife”.

housewife tarot

Julia smashes windows

For nearly 30 years three generations of Sorells shocked respectable Tasmanians with their scandalous misbehaviour.

Tasmanian Tiger

Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell arrived in Tasmania in 1817 with his mistress, pretending she was his wife. He had already acquired seven illegitimate children before marrying their mother Harriet but he left all of them behind when he began an adulterous liaison with Mrs Louisa Kent.

Governor Sorell’s grandson, also William, known as Quacker

Louisa and William set up house in Hobart, living in “a state of open concubinage” according to his political enemy Anthony Kemp who promptly arranged for his recall to England. Before he left however, William Junior, one of his sons by Harriet, followed his father to Australia and took up with Kemp’s 17 year old daughter Julia.

Julia set fractals found here

Julia was described by one Hobart diarist  as “the most beautiful woman you ever saw but also the very devil incarnate”.  Julia bore William Junior a daughter before marrying him in 1925, then a second daughter a few years later. Not long afterwards she ran off to England with another officer and the family never saw her again.

“Nurse Julia” found here

The elder of these two girls was also named Julia. In August 1843 she shocked society by sleeping with the new governor of Tasmania as well as every officer in the garrison. Shortly after spending a wanton weekend with the 60 year old governor she became briefly engaged to his son.

Nevertheless she declined to marry until 1850 when she made a very surprising choice of husband, the deeply religious Thomas Arnold. Thomas had constant crises of faith and alternated between Catholicism and Anglican doctrines. Julia was frustrated with her husband’s indecision and once broke all the windows in a local Catholic church to teach him a lesson.

Tasmanian cemetery found here

Together they had 8 children, the four boys were brought up strictly in the faith while the four girls were free to choose. One daughter, Mary, grew up to be the most widely read English author of the 1890s. Another daughter, named Julia for her mother and grandmother, married scientist Leonard Huxley and bore him two sons, biologist Sir Julian Sorell Huxley and author Aldous Huxley.

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley, celebrity writer and LSD proponent, taught French to George Orwell when he attended Eton. Orwell went on to write cult classic 1984, with a sexually promiscuous protagonist named Julia……

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Published in: on June 2, 2010 at 8:18 am  Comments (35)  
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from harry rickards to the end of the pier

Harry Rickards ran away from home when he was 16, and started a career as a comic singer in music halls. In 1878 he divorced his first wife who was English and married Australian acrobat and trapeze artist Katie Angel.

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At the turn of the century, Rickards had a virtual monopoly on variety theatre in Australia. He had driven out his smaller rivals and had a chain of theatres around the country. They included the Tivoli Theatres in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide Tivoli and the Palace Gardens in Perth.

He brought the cream of variety artists to Australia: acrobats, ventriloquists, instrumentalists, impersonators, singers and animal acts, including the legendary Marie Lloyd, Little Tich, Houdini, the quasi-Chinese conjuror Chung Ling Soo and Paul Cinquevalli, the unrivalled juggler.

Tivoli performer

He had a keen sense of humour, which must have helped him in both his career as an artist and as a manager. A story was told of how Harry and a friend got into a ‘rough up’ with two cabbies who took them to court over the incident.

Were you the worse for liquor?” asked the magistrate “Your worship ” answered Harry Rickards “throughout a long, and if I may say it, successful career, I have never let drink interfere with business. We had a drink after we had finished with these men.”

The Tivoli Theatres were still going strong in the 1950s.

The main attractions were an amazing array of old comics, jugglers and fire-eaters, plus the Tivoli Lovelies. The shows would open with a rather raucous overture from the orchestra. The curtain would go up and there would be the dancing girls, the Tivoli Lovelies, in a fantastic line-up.

Beryl, one of the Tivoli dancers

GEORGIA NELLIN: I joined the Tivoli Ballet in 1944 and ended up leaving in 1947 to get married.

WOMAN 1: I started in pantomime and then I went into the Ballet in 1948.

WOMAN 2: I started about ’44 and I left in ’47 to get married.

WOMAN 3: I joined the Tivoli in 1949 in the show, ‘Starry Nights’.

WOMAN 4: I stayed there until 1947 and, much to my sorrow, got married twice and had a dozen children.

One of the Tivoli dancers was Judith Lingard who married into the Kerby family, owners of the famous St Kilda Pier kiosk.

The scientist and the Tivoli dancer

Colin Kerby was a strong swimmer in his day, a lucky thing for the more than 200 people he plucked from the waters surrounding St Kilda Pier over 53 years. As Kerby would dive into the sea to retrieve its almost-victims, his wife Judy would dash into the kiosk for a bottle of Pine-o-cleen; a quick gargle was Colin’s preferred method of disinfecting his mouth after performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Colin’s father Noble Kerby had acquired the lease for the kiosk from the Victorian government in 1939.

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“There was a tough local cop called Geiger who came out onto the pier and had an issue to take up with Noble about some yachts that were tied up at an area of the pier, which Noble felt was his territory.

“Colin was listening to them this day and heard a voice shouting, ‘You’re under arrest!’ Only it was his father speaking to the cop. Noble continued with, ‘And I hope to Christ you resist arrest so I can take you to the police station and give you a hiding on the way!’

As his son recalled it, Noble then led the police officer down the pier to the officer’s own paddy wagon, and drove him to the police station. There, he marched the officer to the front desk and announced that he was charging him with disrupting the peace and resisting arrest.

Two weeks later a formidable looking policeman came marching up the pier and apologised to Noble saying, ‘As you can imagine, it’s not very good for our image if a citizen arrests a policeman. We’re going to have him disciplined’. The officer was duly sent to the bush, never to return to St Kilda police station.

During World War II an outdoor dance floor on the northern side of the pavilion became a drawcard for American GIs staying in the area, as well as many locals. Dances were held on Sunday nights with a live band performing.

The ladies would sew button eyes on their panties so that when they spun around their frocks would come up and they’d have these eyes returning the gaze of the GIs,” Colin recalled. “They would dance the jitterbug until all hours.”

He caused a scandal in 1951 when he sold homemade beer containing more than the regulation 2 per cent alcohol – 7.4 per cent to be exact. “It was in the headlines for a week,” Mr Kerby said. “There were drunks on the pier on a Sunday and the Salvation Army was upset.”

Sadly, the 99 year old kiosk burned down in 2003. A faithful reproduction has since been built upon the site, but no beer is served on the premises.

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Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 8:04 am  Comments (35)  
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Simmo on the run

Back in 1959, one man had the attention of most Australians.

A marathon manhunt was underway for daring Long Bay Gaol escapees Kevin John Simmonds and Leslie Alan Newcombe. Newcombe was soon recaptured, but Simmonds, aged 24, remained on the run for five weeks before being found near Kurri Kurri.

Kurri Kurri

By that time, the grimy, shoeless, starving and exhausted young criminal had achieved folk hero status as a will o’ the wisp, eluding the most costly pursuit in the state’s history by hiding out in swamps and leech and tick-infested country.

Simmo had a penchant for fast cars and a reputation as a sharp dresser, crocodile skin shoes and black satin shirts were a big part of his pre prison wardrobe, plus he had a ‘lethal haircut’,  guaranteed to make women weak at the knees.

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He and Newcombe escaped through a chapel ventilator shaft, scaled a wall and hot wired a car parked outside Prince Henry Hospital. They spent their first free night crouched in a freshly dug grave at Botany Cemetery then hid for a week in the pig pavilion at the Sydney Showground.

Cemetery at Prince Henry Hospital

An anti-establishment group known as the Libertarians printed a poster of the odds facing Simmonds “One man versus 500 fearless coppers and 300 righteous civilians armed with submachine guns, pistols and teargas.”

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Schoolgirls confessed he had replaced Elvis as the subject of their teenage dreams, housewives left bottles of milk on their doorsteps after it was reported to be his favourite drink. Sydney eccentric Bea Miles claimed to be arranging a passport for him.

Bea Miles

When he was finally captured, fans bearing gifts and chocolates mobbed the courthouse at Wyong chanting “We Want Kevin”. The judge was unimpressed and convicted him of the manslaughter of a prison guard who had been killed during the escape. Thousands of cards and letters were sent to his parents after his sentencing, several of these included offers of marriage.

Sadly, Simmo did not fare well in prison and hung himself in 1966. His sister Jan wrote a book about him and 14 years later, in a strange coincidence, married Darcy Ezekiel Dugan, Sydney’s most notorious prison escape artist who spent more than 40 years behind bars.

On 4 March 1946, Darcy Dugan escaped from a prison tram which was transporting him between Darlinghurst Courthouse and Long Bay Gaol. As the tram passed the Sydney Cricket Ground, Dugan used a kitchen knife to saw a hole through the roof, through which he escaped. The tram is still kept today at the Sydney Tramway Museum.

Darcy Dugan


Published in: on April 29, 2010 at 8:37 am  Comments (42)  
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our musical melbournites

Dame Nellie Melba was Australia’s first superstar. Her father did not want her to become a singer but his friend John Grainger, father of the composer Percy, actively encouraged her to pursue her dream.

image of Nellie found here

There’s a story about Melba being onboard ship with John Grainger. They’re having dinner. And they have the first course and the second course and the pudding arrives. And the pudding’s a wonderful green jelly, but because the fridges on the ship are down a little bit it’s spread around the plate. And Melba looked at it and said, “There are two things I like stiff and one of them’s jelly.”

Comb Jelly found here

Nellie died under somewhat mysterious circumstances in Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital in 1931. ABC’s Rewind program revealed why when it was aired in 2004

Historians have long puzzled over her death certificate. It says she died from septicaemia, but how did she contract this fatal infection? For 70 years, the nuns at St Vincent’s kept the cause of Melba’s death a secret. NURSING SISTER’S MEDICAL REPORT: “While in Europe, Dame Nellie Melba had a facelift, possibly in Switzerland. But an infection developed, so that by the time her homeward voyage had progressed as far as the Red Sea, she had erysipelas and was seriously ill. Not only was Dame Nellie in great pain from the incision on each side of her face, but she had a heart condition. She was specialised by a Sister of Charity and so strict were the rules of confidentiality that scarcely any other member of the nursing staff knew the nature of the complaint, even to this day.”

Percy Grainger, like Dame Nellie was also from Melbourne. As well as being an extremely talented composer and pianist he was fluent in 11 languages.

image of Percy found here

Grainger’s energy was legendary. In London, he was known as “the jogging pianist” for his habit of racing through the streets to a concert, where he would bound on stage at the last minute because he preferred to be in a state of utter exhaustion when playing. After finishing a concert while touring in South Africa, he then walked 105 km to the next, arriving just in time to perform.

image found here

In 1910, Grainger began designing and making his own clothing, ranging from jackets to shorts, togas, muumuus and leggings, all made from towels and also intricate grass and beaded skirts. The clothing was not just for private use but he often wore it in public.

jacket inspired by Grainger found here

A sado-masochist, with a particular enthusiasm for flagellation, Grainger extensively documented and photographed everything he and his wife did. His walls and ceilings were covered in mirrors so that after sessions of self-flagellation he could take pictures of himself from all angles, documenting each image with details such as date, time, location, whip used, and camera settings.

He gave most of his earnings from 1934–1935 to the University of Melbourne for the creation and maintenance of a museum dedicated to himself. Along with his manuscript scores and musical instruments, he donated photos, 83 whips, and a pair of his blood-soaked shorts.


go ahead and bite me

We have the occasional shark attack in Australia. If you’re planning a trip here perhaps you should invest in one of these first

The Neptunic C Suit made from steel mesh, high-tech fibre, titanium and hybrid laminates can withstand shark bites — but will make a $23,000 hole in your wallet.

Back in 1986 Sydney shark expert, Valerie Taylor, tested a $2000 version her husband made from the steel mesh used for butchers’ gloves. She has this advice if you forget your $23,000 suit and get attacked.

I learnt a lot about how sharks attack, how they bite, and how they feed, just by wearing the chain mail suit with all different species of sharks and letting them chew away,” she recently told the ABC. “The most difficult thing was to get the sharks to bite. I had to put tuna fillets under the mesh.”

She said going for the gills was more effective than the common advice to poke a shark’s eyes. “But push or punch them anywhere if they are that close, don’t be passive. You’ve heard of tennis elbow? I’ve been in the water with so many of them and had to push them away so often I got shark arm,”

In May 1989, Nelson and Rosette Fox filed this patent for a Shark Protector Suit

The suit and helmet have a plurality of spikes extending outward therefrom to prevent a shark from clamping its jaws over the wearer. Figs 1 & 2 show a plurality of zip fasteners, figs 3 & 4 show an alternative arrangement of zips. Other means of watertight fastenings and arrangement of fasteners will be apparent to one skilled in the art

An alternative is to tickle them. According to Mike Rutzen, you can induce a state of “tonic immobility” by turning a shark on its head and massaging its snout.

The effects last for around 15 minutes and has proved a useful tool for scientists wanting to study shark behaviour. Being able to get so close to the Great White, Mike discovered that they do not have beady black eyes, as previously thought, but they are actually a startling blue.

blue eyed koala found here

Published in: on February 8, 2010 at 7:22 am  Comments (51)  
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