The crime would have been no less vile had Jill Meagher been a 40-year-old shift worker in Warrnambool or a teenage student from Frankston or any other female abducted, raped, murdered and dumped in a hastily dug grave beside a commuter shortcut. But certain facts gave her violation and death a particular, heart-sickening quality that felt personal.
Although I’d never met Jill Meagher, I could easily imagine circumstances, professional and social, when I might have done so. She worked, as I did, in the world of culture and media. She was close in age to my daughter and her friends. I knew many such young women. Clear-eyed, confident, cosmopolitan. Striding boldly into a challenging future, loved and loving back. Out for a drink with mates on a Friday night. In my neighborhood, our neighborhood, a place as familiar as the veins on the back of my hand. Where she was lethally preyed upon by a man who had entered our little universe with the express purpose of enacting violent fantasies.
On the Tuesday, three days after Jill Meagher’s disappearance, I found a woman’s dress in the grass beneath a tree in Fleming Park. By that stage, homemade flyers with her photograph had begun to appear on light poles up and down Sydney Road, a dedicated Facebook page was posting updates and ABC local radio was displaying an unseemly eagerness to inform the public that the missing woman was one of their very own, despite the fact that she no longer worked there. All that remained for the rest of us was to hope that our worst suspicions would not be confirmed.
The frock, a bit of cheap tatt, didn’t look like something Jill Meagher would wear. And Fleming Park is the best part of a kilometre from the spot where she was last seen. But the morning bulletins had reported that the homicide squad was now in charge of the case and who could say how fine a net they were casting? Might this item of minutiae constitute a clue of some kind? Feeling somewhat foolish, I called the cops and reported my discovery. They were getting, I imagined, a lot of calls.
In my mind’s eye, I could chart Jill Meagher’s journey along Sydney Road. I had travelled the route a thousand times. For the best part of four decades, I’d shopped there, worked there, partied there, eaten there. It ran though me like a thread of personal history.
Her night began with after-work drinks at the Brunswick Green. Three doors up from Phoenix Street, where the coppers and the Unemployed Workers Union slugged it out in 1933, the event memorialised by a sculpture outside the Mechanics Institute across the road, and where I’d been thrown down the stairs by the bouncers at Bombay Rock in 1979. It’s a double shopfront opening straight onto the footpath, the bar at the front, a small lounge to one side for occasional live music, and a big beer garden out the back with pine plank tables. The sort of place where people order jugs and they serve a good sausages and mash. Apparently Jill thought it might be just the spot for her upcoming thirtieth birthday.
Then, later, it was off up the road to Bar Etiquette, a ten-minute walk, tops. At that time of night the traffic would have been light but steady. A mix of shops and offices. Lunchtime takeaways, Arabic accountants, discount fabrics, all shut until the morning. The Cornish Arms, gastropub and band room. Perhaps the little group slowed briefly at the window of one of the vintage fashion boutiques or the bookshop. Then across the street for a nightcap in the snug little watering hole near the old post office where I had my fiftieth birthday party. It’s a bit raffish, Sydney Road in Brunswick. Signs from long-defunct enterprises rust on rooftops above a lattice-work of power cables and tramlines. Attempts at gentrification wash over it like waves over a rock. The hipster thing has come and gone, leaving trails of single-origin coffee grounds. Uniformed cops are rarely seen.
When I first knew it, the space occupied by Bar Etiquette was a picture-framing business, one of two small shops on either side of a short passageway leading to the Brunswick lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellows. The other shop belonged to an Italian barber named Vito. Both were supplanted in the mid 1980s when a new proprietor turned the whole building into a short-lived music venue and gave Vito the flick. After that, it was a Thai restaurant for a while.
At 1.30 a.m. the Bar Etiquette closed and Jill headed home, passing up an offer from a workmate to accompany her the five minutes up the hill and along Hope Street to the apartment where her husband was waiting. Out into the cool spring night she went, probably a bit wonky but feeling the safe familiarity of Franco Cozzo’s furniture emporium and Mediterranean Wholesalers on one side of the street, Sparta Place on the other, a repurposed alleyway with hipster knicknackeries and a bust of the legendary Leonidas, erected by the council to commemorate the Battle of Thermopylae and cement the votes of local Laconians. Past Mariana Hardwick bridal salon and Sam Mihelakos Real Estate, who sold us the house in which we have lived for the past 37 years. Past shuttered jewellery and gold shops, Iranian, they tell me, catering to the chador and niqab trade. Past more wedding outfitters. Inside one of these, a security camera caught the blurry image of a woman who might have been Jill in a brief interaction with a man in a hoodie. Home was 400 metres away, just around the Hope Street corner.
It was on the Tuesday, the day I rang with my hapless contribution to the investigation, that the Duchess wedding boutique handed its surveillance tape to the police. By the next day, all of Melbourne had seen it. On the day after that, Adrian Bayley was arrested, interrogated and led police to the place where he had concealed Jill Meagher’s body, 50 kilometres away.
Bayley was known to police, a repeat offender out on bail. They nailed him by tracking his phone.
On the Friday night, feeling mawkish and self-conscious, I lit a tea candle at the pile of flowers on the footpath outside the bridal outfitters. An anonymous photocopy taped to the window invited people to a march the following Sunday afternoon. Reclaim the Night, I wondered, an old campaign back out of mothballs? Another futile gesture. How do you march against something like this? As if Adrian Bayley gave a shit about respecting women.
But a crime was not an abstraction, any more than these streets are an abstraction, or my daughter and her friends are abstractions. A predator had violated our home. Jill Meagher was one of us in every meaningful way. Her rape and murder had hit me in the guts in ways I could articulate but not exorcise, at least not by joining the cries for brute vengeance that had immediately emanated from the usual sources.
The march was advertised to start at midday at Moreland Road, a fair hike north of the place where the attack has occurred. At one o’clock, I parked behind the supermarket on the hill beside the cop shop and went in search of what I expected would amount to a few banners and a smallish, chanting crowd. I found myself instead at the tail end of a huge mass of humanity that extended as far as the eye could see, disappearing into the distance. Families with children in strollers, head-covered women, middle-aged couples, schoolkids, everybody and anybody.
No speeches were made, no declarations declaimed. We simply walked, more than 20,000 of us, in sadness but also with quiet resolution. Goodbye neighbour, we said, and fuck you to the man who did this awful thing to you. And likewise to any other mongrel who thinks his arrogance and vanity and physical strength entitle him to rape, bash and kill a woman. And for that one afternoon, Brunswick wasn’t just a postcode. We were a community asserting its social solidarity.
No rivers of tears were shed when Brian Kane met his deserts on a Friday night 30 years earlier at the Quarry Hotel on the corner of Lygon and Weston, a kilometre east of Sydney Road.
Dating from the 1850s, the Quarry’s name is a reminder of the time when clay and bluestone quarries dotted the Brunswick landscape, supplying the bricks and dressed stone that built the Victorian metropolis known as Marvellous Melbourne and employing just about every man who lived hereabouts. But Brian Kane was no honest toiler in the clay pits. He was a standover man, a violent thug who made his living extorting other violent men for the proceeds of their crimes. Dangerous but measured, it was said. As opposed to his brother Les, a dead-set psychopath. Biting off more than they could chew, the Kanes had tried to shake down the organisers of the Great Bookie Robbery, a spectacularly successful heist that had netted millions. Les had already been gunned down and Brian knew he was a walking target. But the former boxer, forty and going to seed, hoped his reputation would keep his enemies at bay. He was wrong.
It was nine o’clock when the two men in balaclavas came through the door with snub-nosed .38 revolvers in their hands and shot him in the head and chest at point-blank range in his seat beside the juke box. He didn’t even have time to reach for his own gun, which his lady friend was keeping in her handbag for him. Nobody saw anything and, despite the diligence of the wallopers, nobody was ever charged.
Among the death notices placed in the Sun was one to Uncle Brian from ‘Your little mate, Jason Moran’. A mere 15 at the time, young Jason grew up to marry Brian Kane’s youngest daughter, Trish.
A generation later, like some episode in a blood-feud saga, the curse of Kane would return to Brunswick.
Gradually the quarries of Brunswick disappeared from sight, in-filled with municipal garbage and construction debris. Most were covered with grass and turned into parks. The last of them was filled with earth and rock from the digging of Melbourne’s underground rail loop, capped with asphalt and made into the car park for a new shopping centre, Barkly Square.
On a Monday evening, five years after the centre’s opening, robbers jumped an Armaguard van collecting cash from the Coles supermarket. One of the guards, 35-year-old Dominic Hefti, fought back. One of the robbers, Santo Mercuri, shot him through the thigh, then the chest, severing his spine, but not before Hefti got off a shot, winging Mercuri in the hand. Mercuri’s confederates sped off in the getaway car, leaving him trailing blood through the car park. Dragging a woman out of her Nissan at gunpoint, he jumped behind the wheel and made his escape.
Things went rapidly pear-shaped. Hefti died and the coppers went ballistic. Dogs were consulted and waters muddied. In short order, members of the Armed Robbery Squad shot a perfectly innocent career villain in Warrandyte. Thirteen hours later, aggreived associates of the deceased lured two rookie constables into an ambush in Walsh Street, South Yarra, and executed them at close range. Bullets flew for the best part of a decade as the cops and robbers fought it out. After five years on the run, Santo Mercuri was tracked down, apprehended with extreme vigour and ultimately died in prison.
The exact location where Dominic Hefti, husband and father, was shot while doing his job has been erased by a succession of retail refurbishments. I think it’s just outside Gangemi’s greengrocery. But Barkly Square car park remains a good place if you are looking to get gunshot. The Bandidos clubhouse is just across the street and its members occasionally trade bullets with their rivals in the centre’s car park during trading hours.
Eventually the police–crim war ran its course and the calming influence of disco biscuit and doof settled over the metropolis. But by the early 2000s the gloves were once again off.
Melbourne’s crims began bumping each other off in record numbers and you needed a genealogy chart to follow the action.
Jason Moran, by then the ex husband of Trish Kane, daughter of the sainted Brian, was blown away with a shotgun while sitting in a car with his kids. On a quiet midweek evening in March 2004, his father, Lewis Moran, was having a beer at the Brunswick Club in Sydney Road, a few doors south of the town hall.
An Edwardian era building, not without architectural and historical interest, the Brunswick Club offers little in the way of atmosphere but sells the cheapest drinks in town. It has a TAB, pokies and a world-standard billiards room. Its president, Denis Connaughton, coached the Brunswick Football Club back in the sixties and later managed the Brunswick Baths. A big, solid man of the old school, Denis gave me a job as a lifeguard on the dawn shift during the year I was writing my first novel. Unlike Denis, who was present in the bar that night, Lewis Moran was an unmitigated turd whose rapidly shrinking family was a fount of criminal greed, stupidity and violence.
Just after six-thirty, two masked men entered the club. Moran took off, climbing over a poker machine and crashing through a plate-glass window in his efforts to escape. One of the contract killers put two shots in the back of his head while the other pumped slugs into Moran’s driver, Bertie Wrout. Bertie lived to tell the tale in a memoir before being jailed for threating the life of his co-author. Lewis Moran joined his little boy Jason in hell.
A few weeks later, a body with a single gunshot to the head was found in Kelaba Grove, a quiet residential cul-de-sac not far from the Brunswick cop shop. It belonged to convicted killer and armed robber Lewis Caine. He’d been shot in Geelong by Tashkent-born dumbfuck Evangelos Goussis, who put his corpse in the boot of his car, drove back to Melbourne and cruised around looking for somewhere to dump it. It was Goussis who’d shot Lewis Moran, earning him the additional contract on Caine. Or so said the dog who lagged on him to the Purana taskforce, itself now revealed to have been playing funny buggers with the criminal justice system. In any case, Evengelos’s current address remains Port Phillip maximum security prison, where he will be cutting the grass for the foreseeable future.
Getting rubbed out in Brunswick has come a long way from its low-life origins. It now consorts with an altogether better class of person, government ministers, opposition leaders and suchlike.
It’s almost enough to make you proud.
Located on the busy restaurant strip across Lygon Street from the Quarry Hotel, the Gelobar has been selling the best gelati in town for more than 20 years. The cranky old duck who ran the place gave many local high school kids their first jobs and business thrived. The fig ice-cream was incredible. Next door at Café L’Amour, one of the last of the old-style Italian coffee shops, a languid card game was constantly in progress and non-regulars were met with the hairy eyeball. Progress being what it is, Signora Scullino eventually gave up her scoop, Café L’Amour folded, and the Gelobar expanded into a bright-lit pasticceria. On warm nights, its outside tables are crowded and a line extends out the door.
Monday 14 March recorded a mild top of 18 degrees, but a run of hot days was forecast. Just after midnight, the new owner, a criminal lawyer named Pino Acquaro, shut up shop and walked around the corner to St Phillip Street, where his black Mercedes was parked. Three hours later, a garbage truck driver found his bloodied body sprawled on the ground near his car. Police later confirmed that he died of gunshot wounds.
Described as a passionate advocate of Calabrian culture, Acquaro had a client list that included individuals reputed to be members of the ’Ndrangheta, among them Frank Madafferi. Back in 2005, federal immigration minister Amanda Vanstone had personally intervened to give Frank a visa to remain in Australia, counter to the advice of the federal police and the Attorney-General’s Department. By the sheerest coincidence, the Madafferi clan had made substantial donations to the Liberal Party. Not long after securing permanent residency, Frank was banged up for his role in the importation of 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy. More recently, Frank’s brother Tony and Pini Madafferi attended a 2013 Liberal Party fundraiser held at a $4 million Docklands venue owned by Madafferi, an event also attended by Matthew Guy, who was then planning minister for the state Coalition government.
Word has it that Pino decided to put a bit of air between himself and his clients, but attempts to jump ship are not well regarded within the Honoured Society. In November 2018, the wallopers charged a certain Vincenzo Crupi with the murder. Evidently a reticent man, 69-year-old Vinnie refused to come up from the cells for his committal. Like the other killers and alleged killers listed here, he was not a Brunswick local. They just come here for the shooting.
A few days before his wife Violet’s twenty-seventh birthday, Maurice Moran left his home in Gold Street, a row of tiny workman’s cottages, taking their two young sons with him.
Maurice had served at Gallipoli and been wounded five times on the Western Front. He’d married Violet on his return and they already had four children.
He was going to visit his mother-in-law’s lover, a Scottish ex-boxer named Joe Rae, a man not much older than her daughter Violet. There was already ill will between the two men and Joe Rae owed Maurice Moran money. Words were exchanged, voices raised and Joe sucker punched Maurice. Maurice went down hard, hit the ground and died, right there on the street, in front of his children. Joe Rae then dragged his lifeless body down a bluestone laneway and dumped it beside the Union Hotel.
Maurice’s mates were having none of it. They went to the cops and Joe Rae was duly charged with murder. But when the case came to court, the witnesses withdrew their testimony, new evidence was presented and the prosecution collapsed.
In the time between the fatal blow and Joe Rae’s arraignment, Maurice’s friends had applied their minds to the situation. As a murder victim, Moran would leave his family with nothing. But if he’d died as a result of his military service, his widow would be entitled to a war widow’s pension. And God knows she needed it, raising four children in the midst of the Depression. An Irish doctor was prepared to testify that Maurice’s fatal injuries were consistent with his having been shot full of shrapnel in the service of king and country. Violet got her pension and Joe Rae escaped the consequences of his action. He returned to the arms of Violet’s mother, where he remained for the rest of his life, a galling presence to the children whose father he had killed.
One of those children was Maurice Moran’s only daughter, Aileen. She was my wife’s mother. •
Shane Maloney is a Melbourne novelist. His gongs include a Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Australian Crime Writers Association. He has lived in Brunswick since Malcolm Fraser was prime minister.