Bernie pic

Bernie pic

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Queensland political activist relives the 1970-80s

Tales of corrupt times past

Book Review: Iraqi Icicle and The Second Father
Guest post by Ian Curr

WITH the current surge of audiobooks here are two unlikely bedfellows in popular writing. Both books are set in Brisbane during the bad years of the Bjelke-Petersen government. I know both the authors Bernie Dowling and Domenico Cacciola. We lived in the same district of Fortitude Valley and New Farm during some of that time.
The protagonists in the books are on opposite sides of the law. Both had fascinations for horse racing, illegal gambling, corruption, political police, sex, drugs, and prostitution. Iraqi Icicle is neo-noir fiction and The Second Father is a memoir. Step aside Andrew McGahan’s Last Drinks – they say Queensland is another country; if so, these authors help redefine the streets of your town.

The Second Father portrays a contest for control over illegal gambling in south-east Queensland. Brisbane has often been compared to a big country town however that does not take into account the sleazy Fortitude Valley/New Farm area nor the tinsel town debauchery of Surfers Paradise. On the surface the Gold Coast is a high rise tourist mecca, but with an underbelly of illegal gambling, alcohol, drugs, and prostitution.
Cacciola's account is full of examples of corruption at all levels of the police force and of their political masters. 
Cacciola himself is a contradiction, on one level the renegade copper fighting racist and bent police and on the other a no-nonsense gun-totting thug, ready to mix it with the worst murderers using ‘dogs’ (informants ). 

Police Task Force Snr Const John Watt jumping from the back of a Ford Falcon to baton a meatworker during secondary-boycott-of-live-cattle-1978 at Hamilton No 4 Wharf in Brisbane. Ambulance Officers refused to attend the injured worker’s wound. Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen went on the news that night commending police intervention. Photo: Meatworkers Union Journal 

Cacciola was a member of the infamous police Special Branch which for a decade between 1970 and 1980 bashed and arrested students and trade unionists.
There is a lot of interesting slang in both The Second Father and Iraqi Icicle. The author of the latter even provides a glossary of Australian slang for his international audience. 

The joke
DOMENICO CACCIOLA was not part of the “Joke” – the corrupt protection system run by Queensland police including Commissioner Lewis, Det Sgt Jack Herbert and Inspector Tony Murphy. Cacciola portrays the Southport SP Betting Case as a contest between the goodies and baddies with himself as Brisbane’s Serpico.

The goodies are tough but fair: man mountain inspector Arthur Pitts, police prosecutor Alec Jeppersen and himself, Domenico Cacciola innocent victims of the Joke. The baddies are led by Mastermind Bagman, Det Sgt Jack Reginald Herbert and the head of CIB, Inspector Tony Murphy. Murphy and Herbert get off charges laid against them by prominent gun-for-hire, catholic barrister Des Sturgess, the same lawyer who prosecuted Lindy Chamberlain for the murder of her daughter when the poor child was taken by a dingo at Uluru.
 At the bidding of Herbert, Cnst Davey taped senior officer Pitts, Jeppersen and Cacciola fabricating evidence against ‘Mr Big’, SP bookmaker Stanley Derwent Saunders. This was pay-back because the goodies wouldn’t accept bribes from Herbert to go easy on illegal gambling, alcohol, drugs, and prostitution – the Joke.
 In the Southport case, there were no successful prosecutions of any of the protagonists because both prosecution and defence were lying.
  Cacciola’s insights for the book were gained with years of experience of police corruption. A Sicilian immigrant who was a victim of racist attitudes in Fortitude Valley and New Farm areas in the 1950s and 60s, Cacciola was anti-union and anti-communist, an easy foil for political populists like Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Don ‘Shady’ Lane and Russ Hinze.
I do accept that Cacciola was not part of the Joke and that he was under a lot of pressure, not so much because of his spectacular arrests in the street marches but because of the corrupt police around him.
I remember during the street marches visiting police headquarters in Herschel Street. I was at the front counter picking up some documents when I was approached by Domenico Cacciola in plain clothes. Without any warning he grabbed hold of my throat and push me up against the front counter claiming that I had ‘dobbed’ him into other police. “I don’t know what you’re talking about I said, "I don’t mix in your circles.”
Police in the foyer look startled. Cacciola let me go. These were the actions of a paranoid stressed individual with few friends.

CACCIOLA’S PUBLISHER, University of Queensland Press claims he is a bestselling author, even though in the 1970s he was employed in the special branch as a thug. 

[***Language warning*** this audiobook is full of swearing by police and crims. Not the hand-on-the-bible kind of swearing.]

Iraqi Icicle
This is a neo-noir novel.
Where did neo-noir come from? Well, it is a reference to film noir which came from German expressionist filmmakers who made their way in exile from Nazi Germany to Hollywood in the inter-war period between Wirld Wars I and II.  They began making “B” grade low-budget movies. Many were Jewish. Post-war America was both anti-communist and anti-Semitic. Many of the Hollywood moguls were no different. 
Film noir makers realised that they could produce quite artistic cinema with black and white film and innovative techniques like close-ups and shadows with stripes.
Film noir soon took off in the US. Examples are John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon 1941 and Christopher Nolan’s Memento 2000. Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train is a study of the perfect crime gone horribly wrong. Billy Wilder’s quintessential film noir classic, Double Indemnity took up the crime thriller genre, attracting large audiences.
The characters were oddballs and outcasts.
It didn’t take long for McCarthyism to begin the attack on these filmmakers on the basis of communist sympathy. Many were blacklisted.
Like the eastern European exponents of film noir, Domenico Cacciola understood post-war migration because his parents and grandparents had to do it twice, after both WWI and WWII. Domenico understood exile and fitting in. In a weird way, Cacciola was an outcast like the street marchers he used to arrest, an outlaw.
 By contrast, Steele Hill in Iraqi Icicle manages to keep his cool and throw off at the cops. Plus he’s funny. 
 Iraqi Icicle is in part a homage to 1980s Indie rock band, The Go-Betweens. The drummer Lindy Morrison was no stranger to political demonstrations. With art imitating real life Dowling describes how Morrison was arrested during an illegal street march. Lindy was the most political of the band members, something reflected in the lyrics of their signature tune, Streets of Your Town

Don’t the sun look good today?
But the rain is on its way.
Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives.

But that’s about it. Political filmmakers looking for a soundtrack to go with their footage of demonstrations in the late 1970s had no help from local musos; the rock scene had simply not kept pace with the politics. When we came to make the doco If You Don’t Fight You Lose we had to look to American folk music for a soundtrack.
Nevertheless, Saints guitarist Ed Keuper and Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens were busted among the 418 arrested on 22 Oct 1978 protesting the loss of democratic rights and mining and export of uranium.

Lindy Morrison, later The G0-Betweens' drummer. tries to help friends escape from the South Brisbane watch house after 418 people were arrested on 22 Oct 1977.

“It was way back in 1978, before Lindy Morrison was even in the band, as far as I know. You remember, the Premier at the time, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, banned street marches as a form of civil protest.’‘
“Vaguely, I was only thirteen or fourteen at the time. The nuns in the orphanage weren’t big on breakfast-table discussions of the political news of the day.’‘
“I wasn’t much older myself, but the old coppers tell me the uni students and their crackpot mates would call a demonstration at the drop of a hat. After a scuffle at one demo, Mooney charged Morrison with stealing his watch.’‘
“And did she?’‘ 
“From what I gather, his watch came off in a melee and Morrison held the watch in the air as if to say, ‘Who owns the watch?’ And Mooney pinched her. Anyway, she got off at the pre-trial committal stage.”
-          Extract from Iraqi Icicle

Author Bernie Dowling even manages to get Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega into his book … but you will have to listen to it to find out how.
I thoroughly recommend you listen to both audiobooks but remember former Special Branch officer, Cacciola, never lets the facts get in the way of a good story.

Iraqi Icicle (third edition) is available from
And The Second Father is available from UQP.
- Ian Curr

This is an edited review. Read the full version HERE 

We have two videos. In the first at 15:11 Domenico Cacciola arrests the protestor he calls the Lanky Yank. The second vid is self-explanatory.


  1. Good man Bernie, rock on, and Merry Christmas to Bent Banana

    1. Merry Christmas to you, Eoin. May your musical, dramatic, and literary pursuits flourish in the New Year as I am sure they will.