Friday, January 29, 2010

Rich pickings on the Golden Mile

          Underbelly ,The Golden Mile is almost upon us. The third in the series of hugely successful mini-series about the real life Australian underworld brings us up to the present day. Where the original Underbelly dealt with a 10 year crime spree in Melbourne in the late 1990's when around 30 gangland murders took place, including 2 rival gangsters being blasted to death with shotguns as they sat watching their kids play football. The Golden Mile takes us into the heart of Sydney's Kings Cross.
         But what is this "golden mile'  business?. One newspaper writer has picked up on the theme (conveniently after the Shuttle mentioned it ) as often stated by tSS-the Golden Mile has always referred to Darlinghurst's Oxford Street gay strip replete with pubs, drag bars, sex clubs, heavy leather bars, saunas, male peep shows, adult book stores and everything in between.
          Walk a half a kilometer to the north, via the infamous underage male hustler hangout The Wall and one enters Kings Cross which has had an extraordinary revival in the past 5 years with numerous smart nightclubs popping up all over the place. But this area has never been referred to as the golden mile.
         Adverts are running thick and fast for the new series, shot in a downtown suburban Crows Nest shopping center which was turned, for a few short weeks into a garish neon lit Kings Cross of the 1990's . Bewildered pensioners thought they had stumbled into an alternative reality as they encountered yelling barkers outside The Pink Pussy Cat and the odd baseball bat wielding rival gangs in pitched battles.
         However a phone call to Underbelly's publicist brings a 'no comment' on whether series 3 will actually incorporate the real Golden Mile. The 2 areas have always been intricately linked with no qualms over sexual preferences when a quick buck was to be made or a bent copper to be nobbled.
        Indeed the history of gay Oxford Street has been as bizarre and dangerous of that of the Cross at times with murders, mysterious nightclub fires and stand over merchants threatening rival disco owners.
        And no mention has been sighted in the advertising for Underbelly ,The Golden Mile of whether the legendary Mr Sin, Abe Saffron is featured . Saffron, who died in 2006 was considered one of the most powerful organized crime figures in the country. The tiny 5'2" 'property developer' had a controlling interest in just about every strip joint, bordello and nightclub in Kings Cross. He left an estate of over $20 million dollars although experts estimate plenty more was squirreled away abroad. Saffron even successfully saw off the US Mafia when they tried to muscle in on the action in the 1970's.
       Kings Cross had a bohemian atmosphere from the 1920's on but it was in the 60's and the Vietnam War era when it blossomed into a full time chaotic nightclub and disco center. The influx of R&R (rest and recreation) US army personnel in their thousands saw the suburb bloom overnight into a land of nightclubs, strip joints, live sex shows (inviting audience participation) brothels and lots of illicit drugs. Amsterdam by comparison looked quite tame. And the local cop shop overlooking the area seemed oblivious to then illegal activities happening right at it's front door. 2 Royal Commissions later found dozens of corrupted policemen had become very rich by turning a blind eye.
      Along with the Yanks came some mysterious characters like Bernie Houghton of no fixed background who opened the Bourbon and Beefsteak that still operates for 22 hours of the day. Hougton was thought to be an ex-CIA agent involved with the infamous Air America. Bernie arrived with a suitcase stuffed with cash.
       Abe Saffron's Les Girls transvestite cabaret show was another runaway success as busloads of suburban mums and an occasional husband came night after night to watch the extravagant drag shows.

          And then there was the crossover to Oxford Street. Saffron become the backing partner for the lesbian entrepreneur Dawn O'Donnell who died in 2007.  O'Donnell's first career was as an ice-skating star. She settled down to run a butcher's shop before discovering there was more money to be made under the table by operating a gay drinking spot, the Trolley Bar.
     Followed by a lesbian sauna, Dawn was soon in her stride with a string of nightspots and sex bookshops on Oxford Street. always with Saffron in the background.
Jools, Patches, Flo's Palace, The Exchange Hotel, Ruby Reds, Capricos were all owned by Dawn and packed to the rafters night after night and when business got slow, there was always a mysterious fire and an insurance policy to collect. Or as Saffron  would put it, "time for a fire-sale !"
      Both Saffron and O'Donnell were at times in partnership with  Roger Claude Teyssedre who amassed a fortune in property from the proceeds of a number of gay saunas before he expired under strange circumstances from the effects of an Aid's related illness while being cared for by his newest lover Ludwig Gertsch who had kept friends from visiting the dying Frenchman in his last days. Low and behold, a new will appeared ,written 17 days before his death leaving all of his multi-million dollar fortune to Gertsch, cutting out previous beneficiaries.
         The cream of Kings Cross and Darlinghurst nightlife figures including Saffron and O'Donnell , a few dozen favored weeping Greek lads and dozens of drag queens made up Teyssedre's funeral cortege.
      In the family pew at the crematorium sat Gertsch with four of Teyssedre's ex-lovers. As for Gertsch, whatever the circumstances surrounding the will, Roger's fortune did him little good.
           An increasingly paranoid Gertsch said he was receiving death threats and fortressed the Paddington mansion left to him by Teyssedre.
           Less than 2 years later his trussed up body was found in bush land in the Blue Mountains. Gertsch had been strangled. Stories abound of spurned Teyssedre lovers hiring Italian hit men to do away with Ludwig. When police broke into his wall safe a week after his body was found, the million dollars in cash that had supposedly lain there since Teyssedre's death was missing. In it's place was a $5 note wrapped in a black cloth.
       If Underbelly 3 doesn't include some of these events it's really missing the plot. So far we know from advertisements that the likeable 'Teflon' John Ibrahim  (left with Paris Hilton ) features heavily. Ibrahim started out as the gangster George Freeman's bodyguard before becoming a nightclub entrepreneur who seems to have a share in most of the Kings Cross nightclubs and a few in Oxford street to boot.
             Police say he's an "organized crime figure". Word around town is that Ibrahim is shopping around for a publicity firm to help him cash in on the certain fame that will spread country-wide with the screening of the series but hasn't found a taker yet. Unlike Melbourne's Mick Gatto who featured in the first Underbelly series who has just published his life story. Gatto was charged with murdering the hit man Andrew "Benji" Benjamin , admitted shooting Benji dead but successfully claimed self defense. Publicist Max Markson looks after Gatto but apparently he declined Ibrahim's approach.
           And what of the department store heiress Juanita Neilson who went missing when she was running an activist newspaper and agitating to prevent rows of beautiful Victorian terraced mansions in Kings Cross from being razed to the ground by property developers ?. She disappeared after visiting a Saffron nightspot supposedly lured there by an advertising order. Everyone who lives in the Cross (including tSS) can point out a a different tall building where Neilson's body is supposed to lie, buried in concrete.
        tSS lives a few stories above the Cross in one of the lovely art deco buildings just a few meters from the El Alemain fountain that signals the beginning of this new 'golden mile'. Far enough away from the hullabaloo but close enough to hear the odd scream, bullet shot and police siren,. We'll be a fierce critic of this new series.
Current state of play :
Underbelly 1 :. Crime family matriarch Judy Moran  (right) whose family featured in the series (shooting others dead or being murdered themselves) has just been charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact, in connection with her brother-in-law's death.
 Mick Gatto is now an "employment and building consultant" and operates a crane hire business and is constantly perplexed why people think he's a criminal.
Drug lord Carl Williams serving 25 years to life for murder. (he was murdered in jail in 2010).
Underbelly 2 A Tale of 2 Cities : Abe Saffron-dead, gangster George Freeman-dead, drug baron Robert Trimbole-dead.
Underbelly 3 The Golden Mile: no-one has been charged over Ludwig Gertsch's murder. Dawn O'Donnell leaves $3M out of $16M to her widow Aneik Baten while a Lucien Freud painting listed in the estate is found to be a fake.

Underbelly3 The Golden Mile will begin screening in April on the Nine network.