We catch and kill our own.”
- Jack “Putty Nose” Nicholls
Secretary of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union
The above quotation came to mind yesterday when the Comanchero bikie shot in South Australia refused to provide information or to talk to the police, notwithstanding that his son has been killed in the same shooting.
For those not familiar with local events, a number of outlaw motorcycle gangs have been involved in turf wars and power struggles, resulting in killings, woundings and bombings. There have been numerous Sydney shootings and drive bys.
The Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union had been formed in 1900. By the 1960’s and 1970’s it had a reputation for both militancy and criminality.
In 1980 Malcolm Fraser’s Federal Government appointed Frank Costigan QC to look into the union’s activities.
During the Royal Commission’s investigations and before such investigation was complete, the union was linked to at least 15 murders, 23 suspected murders and numerous other acts of violence. Costigan reported that the union had assumed a position outside the law, maintained through violence, intimidation and fear.
The Nicholls quote about catching and killing their own summed up in six words not only the way in which the Painters and Dockers dealt with problems but also the Melbourne underworld generally in that period. If you remember the first season of Underbelly you’ll know the scenario,
Nicholls’ body was discovered in 1981 in his car after he had fled to Brisbane with the union membership roll. He had been due to give evidence at the Costigan Royal Commission and was en route when he either decided to take his own life or had that decision made for him. His purported suicide note read:
“To my members and executive, I tried very hard but the rotten Fraser government did not want me to survive. Do not think I have taken the easy way out but the rotten system has cut me life short. I had big ideas for advancement but these were chopped short. Farewell Comrades. Jack Nicholls XX.”
The union was deregistered in 1993.