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Evan Whitton
2 November, 2005  
Colonel Wainer's 1969 summer offensive

Journalism is the last of the fun industries. Evan Whitton remembers the escapades at The Whore of La Trobe Street and the campaign to show that bad law makes bad cops


If journalism is the last of the fun industries, there was heaps for a prentice reptile at The Whore of La Trobe Street, aka Melbourne Truth (K. Rupert Murdoch Esq, prop.) 35 years ago.

Notably hilarious was Dr (formerly Colonel) Bertram Barney Wainer’s campaign to persuade the sodden and sinister Sir Arthur Rylah (LLB. Melb) to civilise abort law. Or, failing that, to shove down his neck the truism that bad law makes bad cops.

Both are again distressinlgy relevant; the Hon A. John Abbott is hatching plans to restrict termination of pregnancy.

imageCorrupt functionaries will applaud The Mad Monk. In 1969, for example, it was understood that Sydney cops extorted a GST of 10 percent of the $300 ($3,500 at today’s rates) doctors charged to terminate, and whacked it up with such deserving types as Supt Don Fergusson, Police Commissioner Norm Allan (seen here) and Premier Bob Askin.

Supt. Fergusson’s ethics were as finely calibrated as a trial lawyer’s, if not more so. He didn’t mind taking “the clean quid” from working girls etc, but fatally drew the line at “the dirty quid” from drugs, then becoming a big earner for the corrupt. He was shot dead in the lavatory at police headquarters in February 1970.

In July 1969, Commisioner Allan drolly challenged Bert Wainer to tell him about the abortion racket. To frustrate assassination, we chugged up to Sydney in an elderly Piper Aztec, Tango Gulf Quebec, hired by my dear and future wife, then a dashing executive on Mr Murdoch’s Australian Fashion News.

When Bert declined to risk going to headquarters, Allan sent round a couple of frighteners, Fergusson (!) and Roger Rogerson (!!). Bert insisted on witnesses, i.e. your correspodnent and a muscular pal, Bruce Hanford. Fergusson refused to accept information in their presence. Stalemate.

“This is like Kafka,” Bert said.

Fergusson said he hadn’t read Kafka.

“You could write it,” Bert said.

Colonel Wainer’s 1969 summer offensive opened at 9.40 pm on Wednesday, November 25, with a bit of shock and awe which Charlie Wyatt laid on Supt. Jack Matthews, a Melbourne abort-extorter and chum of the sodden and sinister.

Charlie was a cop who had progressed first to illegal bookmaking and then to backyard aborting, and defected to Bert’s army when he wrongly got the impression that Matthews had double-crossed him.

His first missiles were a police car he sent to investigate an alleged gassing at Matthews’ home, 287 Gillies Road, Fairfield, and a fire engine to assist. Getting into the spirit, Bert despatched an ambulance to take care of an alleged coronary case, and a hearse to remove the alleged corpse.

These frankly criminal activities raise a question which applies to many US reporters today, not to mention lawyers: was my role that of unbiased observer or unindicted co-conspirator?

Over the phone, Bert played Jack Matthews a tape of Dr Jim Troup detailing Homicide Squad extortions, and Charlie Wyatt told him: “And what’s more, Evan Whitton of the Truth is coming out to 36 Langs Road [Ascot Vale, where Charlie lived] tomorrow to hear some tapes I’ve got.”

Jack told Bert: “Tell Wyatt and Whitton that I wear a bulletproof vest, and they don’t.”

Threatened men live long; Charlie dictated a 1,200-word statement, and within a week Bert had a few more prepared to speak. Truth hired lawyers to take sworn affidavits from two abort doctors, a backyarder, and two abort workers. The splash was:

WE PAID OFF THE COPS

When The Age finally took an interest, Rylah had to hold an “inquiry”, but earlier in 1969 cops had tactfully handled Lady Rylah’s mysterious death and abrupt cremation, and he craftily limited the damage by effectively making it a committal.

The hands of the “inquisitors”, Bill Kaye QC and Jack Winneke, were thus tied by adversarial rules for concealing evidence. They found “credible evidence” against four and three went to prison, including Matthews.

My guess is that an inquiry into the truth could have named at least a dozen, including the then Homicide skipper, Frank (The Dutchman) Holland.

imageIt might be noted that the US Congress used the same technique after independent counsel discovered rather too much of the truth about Ronnie Reagan and Billy Clinton. In 1999, Congress changed the job from inquisitor to special prosecutor.

That explains Mr Patrick Fitzgerald’s (pic) pathetic 22-page report of his two-year investigation into the Bush people’s machinations to shore up their lies for going into an unlawful war. Almost nothing of the truth appears in the document.

SBS has in the can a documentary on Bert’s abort campaign, but they apparently take the view that The Mad Monk’s efforts will not liven up any time soon; it is scheduled for August 17, 2006.

It only remains to add that the people at The Whore of La Trobe Street happily retained their sense of fun. After Supt. Jack Matthews got out, they gave him a job on the paper, and insisted that he sit in the cubbyhole vacated by your correspondent.