One of the first things that Mary Anne Brifman mentions when I sit down to talk with her is how much Brisbane has changed. Mary Anne is the daughter of Shirley Brifman, a former prostitute and the main whistle blower on the senior corrupt police in Queensland. Mary Anne talks mostly about the aesthetics of inner city suburbs like West End, but it is clear that she doesn’t think the change is purely based on appearances. She is referring, of course, to the tough times that Matthew Condon has written about in his new novel, Three Crooked Kings.
Condon spent three years interviewing and reading through the diaries of former Police Commissioner Terry Lewis, and interviewing other key stakeholders involved in the years of Queensland’s police corruption. Condon’s research has culminated in an investigative book that draws some light on Queensland’s corrupt history and the dealings of Terry Lewis, detectives Glen Hallahan and Tony Murphy, and Commissioner Frank Bischof. Three Crooked Kings is the first instalment of a two part series: the second book will be called All Fall Down.
The evening of the book launch begins with drinks and canapés on the terrace at the State Library of Queensland. The State Library is a fitting place to hold the launch of Condon’s new book because it is located not 500metres from where a notorious brothel used to stand. The brothel is mentioned in Condon’s book as one of the places that Frank Bischof used to visit to check up on the prostitutes and collect a percentage of the brothel’s takings.
We are ushered into an auditorium where Madonna Duffy, the Publisher at University of Queensland Press, begins the official launch of the book. During his address, Former Premier of Queensland Peter Beattie is candid in his praise for Condon and the book. He is grateful that Condon has brought to life the history of Queensland for a new generation, so that it is never repeated again.
Beattie says, ‘the book reminds us that the major players got away with it. [It] reminds us how bad those days were.’ Beattie goes on to express his admiration of Condon’s ability to write a heavily detailed book that is also incredibly engaging.
Condon’s opener, ‘Peter, we miss your contribution to the arts and writing in this state,’ gets a hearty applause from the audience. Matthew Condon comes across as a modest person with many merits and achievements. He says that he loves a great story and the events on which he has based Three Crooked Kings is ‘not just a great story, it’s our story.’
The panel discussing the book includes Michael Crutch (Editor of the Courier Mail and panel moderator for the evening), former Queensland Premier Mike Ahern, former constable Nigel Powell, Matthew Condon, and surprise guest Mary Anne Brifman. The panel discusses what it was like to be alive during the time the ‘Rat Pack’ (Frank Bischof, Terry Lewis, Glen Hallahan, and Tony Murphy) was in power. Mary Anne describes her mother Shirley as a naïve country girl who was the youngest of thirteen children. Mary Anne describes a symbiotic relationship when she talks about her mother’s involvement with Glen Hallahan and Tony Murphy. Shirley didn’t question their behaviour and perhaps that led to her downfall (I’m sure the book will shed more light on this).
The stories of lives lost and families destroyed took their toll on Condon during his writing and research process. He said that on one occasion last year he sat down with Terry Lewis and just lost it. He said to Terry, ‘I can’t wait til’ this is over and I can take a very long shower and wash the crap off myself.’
The panel discussion was an eye opening experience for someone who was not even a twinkle in her dad’s eye at the time of the police corruption in Queensland. The horrible things that people in positions of authority and power got away with at that time astounded me. Immediately after the panel discussion ended I made a beeline for the bookstall and purchased a signed copy of Three Crooked Kings. If the first few pages are anything to go by, I don’t think I’ll be getting much else done this week.
Words and photos by Georgia Lejeune