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THE WEASEL SQUEALS
Mutton had been indicted to appear before the courts under the charge of forging and uttering (passing off) ten-dollar notes. As the court case unfolded, Francis Papworth, the artist, gave crucial evidence against Mutton and his co-conspirators and was found not guilty. Mutton pleaded guilty and unfortunately was nailed to the wall: ten years in Victoria’s French Island Prison. At least his family got off lightly, receiving only short sentences and good behaviour bonds for using the notes.
Mutton then appealed against the severity of his sentence, claiming that ten years was far too long for such an insignificant rort. During the appeal process he sent word through Roy that he wanted me to tell him where I had dumped the machine pieces and to fill up some suitcases with all the money I still had left. I was then to put them in the railway lockers in Flinders Street Station and give the ticket to his wife. Once this was done, he would try to get out of jail early by helping the police wind up the case. With this message came a warning that if I didn’t comply with his message, he would spill the beans and l would be in there with him.
I looked into Roy’s eyes. “He really said that, did he?” “My word, he did,” he replied, “and he’s obviously very foolish, as if you were in the same prison as him, you would surely make him feel very uncomfortable.”
KIDD LEFT HOLDING THE BAG
By now, I was proud of the fact that I had established myself as a professional. My time as an apprentice was truly over, and I had earned the respect of some of the country’s most experienced crooks. As a result, I started receiving tip-offs from further afield. Around mid-1965 I got word that an opal dealer was operating out of an apartment in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. He was selling some of the best stones in Australia and, consequently, held large sums of cash in his apartment. It sounded like an easy job, a fly-in-fly-out operation that I could do with ease.
I had well and truly got over my fear of flying since my very first flight from Melbourne to Tasmania. Nevertheless, every time I fly, even to this day, I still get nervous. I think it’s not so much the flight itself, but the fact that throughout any plane trip you’re surrounded by authority figures on the beat, from customs officers to Federal Police. So I was agitated as we headed to Essendon Airport.
My brother Bill accompanied me there. Being Bill, he didn’t know too much about what was going on; however, he did know I was up to something illegal and when I dropped him off and instructed him to buy the ticket in the name of J.J. Johnson — back then there was no need to show ID — he rolled his eyes.
I gave him a reassuring look and said, “It’s okay, mate. I’ll park the car and meet you inside.”
A SET-UP IN WONTHAGGI
A few weeks later Ray was given conditional bail. I left him well alone, not wanting to be associated with him in any way, and just kept my head down at the timber yard while doing odd jobs on the side. After a few months, though, I got word that Ray needed to speak to me urgently. I organised through a third party for him to meet me at the beach in St Kilda a few nights later. When we met, he was not his usual confident self. After walking far enough to know we weren’t being followed, I frisked him to see if he was carrying a gun or had a listening device. I told him in no uncertain terms that just being seen with him could put me in jeopardy.
Soon, though, he revealed why he had wanted to speak to me so urgently, and there were tears in his eyes as he pleaded with me to help him. While on bail, he’d been offered an insurance job in East Melbourne — blowing up a vacant row of terraces owned by a Polish woman. Ray had overdone it and parked too close to the property, a piece of shrapnel ended up blowing a hole in the small corner window of his brand-new station wagon. He’d purchased it after the ES&A robbery and was proud of his new vehicle. A few days later he’d gone to get the window fixed and been busted. The police had found remnants of the window and witnesses had described a station wagon leaving the scene soon after the bang. The police had impounded the car and it was in a holding yard awaiting forensic testing. I remembered reading about the job
THE HUNGRY YEARS
A storm was raging out of control and still, after four long years, the winds were as savage as when it began. The world was experiencing what would come to be known as the Great Depression. It had started on 31 October 1929, when financial markets around the globe had crashed, resulting in an international economic catastrophe. The initial impact caused thousands to go bankrupt; in turn, the ramifications of the collapse hurt millions of people. It didn’t matter where you were from or your station in life, just about everybody was affected in some way.
In England in the summer of 1933, when I was born, the consequences of this slump were as alive as if the event had just happened. The global storm had brought abject poverty. Food was now the most valuable commodity, and the country was in the grip of severe anguish.
My poor mother, Annie, must have suffered terribly during my birth. I was her fourth child and she had to endure the six-hour labour with only minimal pain relief. I came into this world on 16 July, in Islington, London, the youngest of four boys. My brothers were Ernie, then fifteen years old; Bill, seven; and Peter, who was just one year older than me.
After my birth, my parents brought me home to the Wessex Buildings in Islington, a development that housed over a thousand people.
THE MORNING STAR GOLD MINE
It wasn’t long before I saw an advertisement for a job at the Morning Star Gold Mine. This tickled my fancy, so I applied for the position as a labourer at the mine and was subsequently taken on. It was now 1956 and I was heading towards my twenty-third birthday.
Situated only seventy-five miles from Melbourne as the crow flies, the Morning Star was one of the biggest and most famous gold mines in Australia at that time. It had been discovered in 1861 by Bill Gooley, after whom the local creek was subsequently named. In 1939, the Black Friday fires had ripped through the area and if they hadn’t taken refuge in the mine many of the townsfolk would have perished. The area had recovered since then, and the trees were starting to return to their glorious best by the time I arrived.
My job involved descending two thousand feet down the mine shaft and filling up a steel mine trolley, or truck, with rubble from blasting — a task known as bogging. I worked with the explosives expert, Amigo. After he placed the gelignite in the rock face and linked it to a detonator on a two-minute fuse, we’d hide around the corner, put our fingers in our ears and hope to buggery that he’d got it right. Such work practices are unheard of today: blasting while miners are deep below ground would send OH&S into a frenzy. The earth would shake like you were in the middle of an earthquake
Life was now rosy. I was newly single and enjoying bachelor life to the fullest. My work at the timber yard was paying dividends: even though I wasn’t a shareholder, I was earning a good wage and my extra-curricular timber activities netted me fifty per cent of the extra I brought in.
I also managed to keep up my end of the bargain with Arthur Smith, and was duly giving his nemesis a pain in the arse. My friends and I would organise all sorts of pranks, ranging from midnight telephone calls to Greene’s house to loads of sand being dumped in his front garden. I even managed to arrange a visit from funeral directors wanting to measure him up for his casket. I played the game so well that soon Smith told me I was off the hit list, as Greene was now more intent on finding out who was driving him mad.
I was quick to show my gratitude to Smith in the form of a bundle of cash equal to many months of his salary. He was very appreciative of this gesture and told me he would look after me in the future should I ever be in trouble. It was the start of a great relationship that would be very fruitful for both of us.
Once things settled down with the police, I began craving excitement again. I’d loved the adrenaline rush I’d got from the small jobs with Ashley. We started doing a few small safes and then, not long after, Ashley received inside information on a large safe