Return of ‘Blue Murder’ evokes my dad’s book on police corruption.

I’m currently immersed in the history of Sydney in the late seventies as I work on my current novel The Impeccables, which touches on police corruption. What a treat, then, to get a second chance to see the 1995 ABC production Blue Murder last week (SBS OnDemand). Set in the 1970s and 1980s, the two-part mini-series follows the grisly careers of criminal Neddy Smith and corrupt cop Roger Rogerson, and the swag of gangsters who ran Sydney’s underworld. It’s totally gripping TV, delivered with a grittiness that we rarely see in the high-gloss era of Netflix.

Watching Blue Murder triggered a confluence of memories. My late father, detective-turned-barrister Donald Campbell, had a lifelong aversion to police corruption, dating back to his days as a young constable in London when stealing lead from roofs was in fashion. He was (like me) addicted to writing, and authored a three-part book on police corruption in the UK, New York, and New South Wales. The book Police Corruption, now out of print, was published by Barry Rose Law Publishers in 2002 about a year after his death, with the final editing tasks being shared by some of his sons.

I recall him writing to me in around 1998 to obtain a copy of the Wood Royal Commission report, which provided much of the background on the NSW section. I bought the CD of the report in a government office in George Street, and mailed it him in London. On a visit to my old family home not long after, I was woken by the fax machine in the early hours of the morning; it was from a very senior source in Sydney answering some point of detail.

I dipped into Police Corruption after watching Blue Murder to fill in the background to the mini-series, much of which I had forgotten. I hadn’t looked at my dad’s book for a few years, but the writing was as crisp and readable as I remembered it. In fact, I’m keen to make the book available to the public again, and I have the outline of a plan in mind.

So, back to The Impeccables, with a much sharper feel for my setting and a reminder of how rotten the state of NSW was in those days.

You can find out more about my novels here.

Review of ‘Anxiety’ by Dr Mark Cross

Given the ubiquity of anxiety in our society, it’s hard to think of someone who wouldn’t benefit from this book by consultant psychiatrist Dr Mark Cross. Have a close friend who’s not coping? A close relative on medication? Or perhaps you’re slipping into a bad place yourself?

This book demystifies and strives to destigmatise a condition that the author tells us affects eleven percent of Australians and eighteen percent of Americans. In the new world of COVID-19, those figures are surely higher.

It’s a difficult book to classify. Self-help manual? Popular science manual? Personal revelation? It’s all of these and more, but the fact is that it’s a damn good read, with the author laying out the facts about anxiety while inviting you into his personal struggle with the condition.

I found valuable content in all nine chapters, but several stood out. I suspect that every reader will find their own landmarks according to their needs and interests.

Here are the standouts for me:

Medications: I know next to zilch about pharmacology, and I really valued Dr Cross’s carefully set out account of the categories and purposes of medications for treating anxiety. I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew there were pills called tranquillisers and anti-depressants, and that was about it. I can remember the names of the drugs taken by anxious and depressed members of my mother’s family but I haven’t a clue what they actually did.

Types of treatments: A fascinating historical procession through the treatment models from the couches of Freud and Jung through to the wide array of contemporary talking therapies that can be used to address specific anxiety conditions. This is the kind of information I could have done with when I sought help some years ago for an anxiety condition that hit me out of the blue (and was thankfully resolved with the help of a great therapist). Any of us are likely to face in our lifetime a relative or friend who needs treatment; this chapter could cut out a lot of legwork.

I got a lot out of the chapter on the anxious employee. My blockbuster introduction to employee mental health was a couple of decades ago when, on my first morning deputising for my boss, an employee took a hostage in his office. Around the same time I had to confront a student who thought it was a good idea to hand in an essay about shooting someone. There was no gun, as it turned out, just a sad and confused kid. Dr Cross’s chapter is essential reading for anybody with WHS responsibilities, more than ever at the moment when COVID-19 is triggering workplace anxiety in an unprecedented way. Don’t try learning on the job!

I was struck overall by the quality of the writing, and Dr Cross’s courage in blending his own story with the factual content. The case study vignettes were compelling and effective in bolstering the arguments.

On our legally sanctioned morning walk today, swerving to avoid potentially virus-shedding joggers, my companion and I were anxiously discussing the central thesis of Anxiety. Beneath the factual content, the book has an underlying theme of compassion and humanity, best summed up by the quote by Robin Williams on the last page: You never know what someone is going through, so be kind, always.

Stuart Campbell is a former Pro Vice Chancellor and Professor of Linguistics, and author of several novels.

Walking back to 1978 in Manly’s back lanes

If you look hard enough, lockdown has its upsides. Here in Manly, my daily exercise walk takes me around quaint back streets I’d never normally go to. The glorious beachfront is too crowded for safety, even if the walkers are in singles or pairs as prescribed by the Public Health (COVID-19) Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020.

The other upside of being locked down is the extra time I have for writing. After completing my socially isolated morning schedule (news, balcony exercises, daily deep cleaning project, family and work Zoom sessions, walk) I get to spend a fair chunk of the afternoon working on my next novel.

Now, here’s a nice confluence of things: This novel (working title The Impeccables) is set in Manly in 1978, and when I walk the quiet back streets my town looks pretty much as it did in the late seventies when I first lived here.

I have a habit of ‘prewriting’ a lot of my work while I’m walking, so I stroll around the empty lanes immersed in the story, and recalling fragments of life in 1978 Manly that I can weave into the setting. These are some of the things that came back to me yesterday:

  • water beds
  • rented black and white TVs
  • improvised car aerials made from coat hangers bent into the outline of Australia
  • joss sticks
  • KB beer

Yesterday I discovered this ingenious mural* on the back wall of the Salvation Army premises in Kangaroo Lane, and I returned this afternoon to take more photographs of this forgotten corner of my town. I’ve printed the picture in monochrome in sympathy with the fact there were still plenty of black and white TVs in the late seventies. It’ll feature somewhere in the new novel.

Here’s the draft opening of The Impeccables:

Pierre Farag was woken by a thump and a clatter. He took his hand out of the sheets to touch the wall of the tiny ground-floor flat. Their rented home was in a muddle of walk-up brick apartment buildings and the backs of dry cleaners and TV rental shops, four streets away from Manly Beach. The bedroom wall was still warm. It would be this way until March, when autumn released Sydney from the ravaging summer heat. 

He padded out to the front yard. The Sun Herald – the New Year’s Day 1978 edition – lay on the doormat where it had bounced off the flyscreen. The paper van slewed around to serve the other side of Rialto Close, the driver steering with his left arm and lobbing the rolled-up papers into the front yards with his right.

Just give me a year and you’ll be able to read the whole thing!

Last thing: Thanks for all the wonderful feedback I’ve had for Bury me in Valletta. It makes the labour of writing into a pleasure.

*Update: A closer look at the mural shows that is signed by Manly artist Mark Budd and dated 09.