The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Greatest Game of All – When Will We Ever Walk Back Through the Gates of the Track?


Each of the bookies named in the Fitzgerald thirty-two years ago were on the police payroll, according to Jack ‘The Bagman’ Herbert, who kept the books and thus would know.

If you were paying off the coppers you were SP booking, which was a crime punishable by many years of imprisonment, both for breaking the gaming laws, and for tax fraud because SP’s dealt in cash and didn’t declare it to the ATO.

Those who paid the cops, did what the cops said.

What other choice did they have? If they ever said no to their protectors they might suddenly find themselves unprotected, or tied up in a ditch with a bloke standing above them shoveling dirt.

So when Herbert, or Terry Lewis, or one of their minions came along and said “Hey bookie boy, you’re washing 20 grand through the book for me today, and make sure my drug bribe money comes out real clean”, the bookies boys said “Yes Sir officer, would you like those fifties bleach blonde or platinum white?”

There was blood on those pineapples.

The blood of junkies, the blood of young whores, the blood of men and women, and the blood of little kids.

Shirley Brifman, Margaret Grace Ward, Norman Ford, Gary Venamore, Simone Vogel, Thomas Hamilton, Barbara McCulkin, Vicki McCulkin, Leanne McCulkin and more … the list of the dead due to police corruption goes on.

And the 52 bookies on the list washed clean the money that killed them.

One of the men on the list – Dr Col Claxton – was my doctor down at the Geebung Medical Centre as a kid, and was a great mate of my Uncle Bert’s.

I learnt later in life that Uncle Bert – who back in the day held the Queensland welterweight title, and lived a nice life without ever working – was a strongman for the SP’s, with a top class record of collecting, so I guess that was no surprise.

I knew a few of the others too.

Back in the 50’s Ken Grimley was one of the first Queenslanders to crack a top grade spot in the AFL.

In just his second game in the big league for the Fitzroy Gorillas – the ancestor of today’s Brisbane Lions – Grimley kicked 6 goals against Geelong at Kardinia Park.

Jason Dunstall eat your heart out.

Lenny Dittmar was a world class boxer who won the Australian Welter title in the 50’s. He once fought the great Dave Sands, and made a fair go of it too.

Stan Saunders ran the book down at the Gold Coast and smoked a lot of dope.

Bobby Bax was Mum’s mate from Nundah. He was a rugby league legend who was adored from Deagon to Toombul and all along Sandgate Road, and the respect good people held for him in the neighbourhood was justified when he stayed staunch.

Jack Meekin was Tommy Raudonikis mate.

Doug James co-managed the great Queensland indigenous boxer Hector Thompson, who was only stopped from winning a World Title by Roberto Duran’s hands of stone.

I was a huge fan of Hector’s when I was a kid going to the fights at Festival Hall with my Pop, and was shocked to see him a homeless wreck twenty years later when I was working on the front counter of the dole office in Fortitude Valley, and a DT shaking Hec came in begging for an advance cheque.

Someone told me Hector’s pulled it together these days and is doing good.

I hope so.

Brian Ogilve was Doug James’s partner in Hector’s management. He was a real close mate of Kenny Callendar, and Big Richie used to occasionally spend school holidays at Ogilvie’s place when he was a kid. One of Brian’s daughter’s that he spent them with later went on to become one of inner-city Brisbane’s white line suppliers to the Vegas glitterazi, and a leading Brisbane race caller who used to share a joint at New Farm with her was for a time one of her biggest clients.

Joe Cerutti’s real name was Frank, and he’d been the SP in the Camp Hill area since the late forties. The former King of the Brisbane Rails Ring’s manor is just around the corner from where Joe used to live.

Margaret Otto is still alive and playing the ukelele.

Senator Ron McCauliffe (dec) claimed in Parliament that Kevin Kent threatened to have him knocked if he didn’t stop calling him an SP King under parliamentary privilege. Shooters don’t talk, and talkers don’t shoot. Kent obviously wasn’t anywhere near as heavy as he liked people to think.

Bruce Bowd ran the Toowoomba end of the racket, and was jailed for perjury after lying to Commissioner Fitzgerald in the inquiry. The cops offered him an indemnity deal but he told them to stick it up their arse, and did his time with his head held high.

There are a million stories among them, and most will never be told.

God I love racing.

When will they open the bloody gates at the track?

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