Saturday, August 27, 2011

Places, Crims and Spin . . .

We haven't had old Sydney pics for some time so started posting the pics below of the wool stores at Circular Quay, Sydney, in bygone days.  The first photograph dates from 1870, the date of the two photographs which follow is unknown.  I would estimate near the turn of the century.  Note that the second two are of the same location from opposite ends of the street.

 (Click on the images to enlarge).

Looking at the photographs started me thinking about the process of gentrification - the upgrading of areas as wealthier people move in – and the equivalent process for commercial areas.  The above woolstores of the 1800’s are now exclusive restaurants and boutiques.  This, in turn, made me think of the areas depicted in Underbelly Razor, which started screening last Sunday.  In the 1920’s the locales of Underbelly Razor were slums that frequently had streets running in blood.  Today the same streets in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Wolloomooloo are expensive and exclusive, with high priced homes located alongside cafes, restaurants, bars, boutiques and fancy retail outlets.

It’s not only the locations which have, over time, become sanitised, upmarket and trendy, the same thing has happened to the principal characters depicted in Underbelly Razor.  Figures that were once nasty, callous and terrifying have been glamourised and beautified for TV entertainment. 

Before comparing some pics of the Underbelly Razor characters with the originals, it is handy to know some of the background.

In the 1920’s there was an upsurge of organised crime in Sydney, caused by:
·       the prohibition of sale of cocaine by chemists (under the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 1927);
·       the prohibition of street prostitution (under the Vagrancy Act NSW 1905);
·       the criminalisation of off-course race track betting (under the Betting and Gaming Act 1906); and
·       the introduction of six o’clock closing for public bars after passage of the Licensing Act 1927 (NSW).

The weapon of choice became the cut throat razor after the Pistol Licensing Act (NSW) 1927 imposed severe penalties for carrying concealed firearms.  Razors were cheap to buy, easy to conceal and effective as a means of intimidation.  During the peak period of razor gang criminal activity, there were over 500 razor slashings.  Darlinghurst became known locally as Razorhurst.

The two major razor gangs were associated with crime queens Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine.  These gangs ended up in open warfare in 1929.

By 1927 Razorhurst was controlled by four crime bosses:
·       Kate Leigh, who controlled the sly grog shops in Surry Hills and dealt in cocaine and stolen goods.  At the height she ran 26 sly grog outlets and was one of Sydney’s wealthiest women.
·       Tilly Devine, who controlled the brothels in Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo.  The legislation made it illegal for a man to run a brothel, hence she operated them with immunity.
·       Phil “The Jew” Jeffs, who looked after drugs, gambling and sly grog in Kings Cross and Wolloomooloo.
·       Norman Bruhn, who had a stable of freelance prostitutes, drug peddlers and low-rent two-up schools and sly-groggers who were not part of the networks of the others.

Following is a comparison of the above persons as depicted in Underbelly Razor and how they looked in real life:

Danielle Cormack as Kate Leigh in Underbelly Razor

The real Kate Leigh (1881 – 1964), police mug shot 1930

Chelsea Preston-Clayford as Tilly Devine, Underbelly Razor

Tilly Devine (1900 – 1970), police mug shot 1925, charged for having slashed a man’s face with a razor

A rare meeting between Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine, 1948.  Kate met with Tilly in an attempt to improve their public image with a view to cashing in on their notoriety.

Jeremy Lindsay Taylor as Norman Bruhn, Underbelly Razor

Norman Bruhn (1894-1927)

Felix Williamson as Phil “The Jew” Jeffs

Phil “The Jew” Jeffs  ( 1898 - 1945)

A group of criminals, Central Police Station, 1921

(Definitely click on this image to enlarge to look at the persons and faces.  Once you have clicked on the image and enlarged it, click on it again to further enlarge it).

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