High­life PRISON

FROM TO TO HAP­PILY EVER AF­TER “Judges and silks turned on him be­cause they’d so­cialised with him”

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Q&A - Words by AN­DREW RULE

Not long be­fore the sky crashed on An­drew Fraser’s world, the then con­tro­ver­sial crim­i­nal lawyer was rush­ing along the foot­path in Mel­bourne’s le­gal precinct when he saw some­one he knew across the street.

The friend had some­times at­tended what Fraser and his mates called the “Ne­groni Com­mis­sion”, a float­ing group that lunched monthly over ne­groni cock­tails, fine wine and (in Fraser’s case, although not ex­clu­sively) co­caine of the grade that some of his clients re­served for their own use.

The friend waved and sug­gested a cof­fee. He was amazed when Fraser replied, “some­thing like, ‘No, no – gotta go and get a big bag of the white stuff!”’

This dis­play was, the wit­ness re­calls, “so bizarre” for its lack of pru­dence that he later called a mu­tual ac­quain­tance and pre­dicted Fraser was “go­ing to fall and fall hard”.

“It would have been bad enough any­where but it was in Lons­dale Street out­side the courts, with lawyers and po­lice ev­ery­where. He had been get­ting more and more er­ratic. It was al­most as if he wanted to get caught.”

Fraser can­not even re­call that in­ci­dent now. But a dis­tin­guished “silk” who still rates him a close friend saw the same self-de­struc­tive bent at close range.

One evening, the bar­ris­ter saw Fraser ar­rive at their favourite haunt, the Botan­i­cal ho­tel in South Yarra, in a flashy Amer­i­can mus­cle car full of peo­ple who had ob­vi­ously al­ready been par­ty­ing hard. A box­ing champ and his en­tourage cel­e­brat­ing af­ter a ti­tle fight would have made a qui­eter en­trance.

Back then, Fraser’s shrink­ing group of friends and length­en­ing list of en­e­mies agreed on some points: that he was con­fi­dent to the de­gree of cocky and he loved be­ing cen­tres­tage. But his friends saw off­hand gen­eros­ity where oth­ers saw only faults. He was the last to leave a party – and first to pick up the bill.

That’s the sort of reck­less be­hav­iour that might be shrugged off in Syd­ney’s more rak­ish cir­cles, but raises hack­les in the Mel­bourne le­gal pro­fes­sion.

To the Mel­bourne es­tab­lish­ment, the rock­star lawyer was like Bon Scott in a church choir: im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore and headed for a bad end. Abus­ing co­caine was a symp­tom of a com­pul­sive per­son­al­ity al­ready hooked on the most ad­dic­tive drugs of all, adren­a­line and ap­plause. Con­niv­ing with his sup­plier to im­port the drug showed he had lost touch with re­al­ity.

The fact that one of the “Ne­groni Com­mis­sion” reg­u­lars was a judge, and an­other was des­tined to be, didn’t help. It prob­a­bly made it worse: Fraser was not only trash­ing his rep­u­ta­tion but taint­ing theirs. He got too hot to han­dle.

“It was all a bit out­ra­geous,” says the Queen’s Coun­sel, one of the hand­ful of le­gal col­leagues who didn’t shun Fraser af­ter his ar­rest on Septem­ber 13, 1999. “Judges and silks turned on him then be­cause they had so­cialised with him – and that jeop­ar­dised them.”

But, he says, Fraser showed he was made of tougher stuff than most of his clients and many of his de­trac­tors.

“Crooks nearly al­ways give each other up,” the bar­ris­ter says. “But Fraser did not take one per­son down with him. He took the rap for all of them.”

TIME WOUNDS ALL heels, the say­ing goes. This is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. A decade af­ter get­ting out of jail, the man the me­dia still calls “Dis­graced For­mer Lawyer An­drew Fraser” is a changed per­son.

On a Mon­day night last month, he col­lected his 91-year-old mother from her nurs­ing home in the staid Mel­bourne sub­urb of Cam­ber­well and took her to din­ner at a mod­est Chi­nese restau­rant nearby.

Fried rice with Mum was a long way from long lunches with gang­land bosses like the late Lewis Mo­ran in the ex­pen­sive Flower Drum in Chi­na­town; fur­ther still from par­ty­ing with bil­lion­aire Alan Bond or drug dealer Den­nis “Mr Death” Allen.

Fraser had good news for his mother, a ded­i­cated church­goer who has en­dured plenty of bad bit news about the son whose name has been tinged with scan­dal for more than 20 years. Ear­lier that day, he had driven to Mel­bourne from the moun­tain prop­erty he shares with his part­ner in north-east Vic­to­ria. He had an ap­point­ment to mon­i­tor treat­ment of the bone mar­row dis­ease threat­en­ing to kill him. The good news was he’d been cleared for an­other three months. For now, he’s off death row. It is five years since Fraser was told he had maybe five to seven years left. He wise­cracked then that when he was sen­tenced to jail in 2001 he got seven years with a min­i­mum of five… but now he’d be happy to re­verse the num­bers, thanks. And more. The ex­tra time was pre­cious. Not just be­cause he wanted to re­pair his re­la­tion­ship with his two chil­dren – teenagers by then – but be­cause he had started a new life with Lindy Allen, the wo­man his friends sus­pect has saved him from him­self. From the high life to prison to hap­pily ever af­ter: it’s quite a story arc, now with a third act to round off the saga that has al­ready spawned books and a tele­vi­sion drama, Killing Time, in which David Wen­ham played Fraser as a charis­matic but flawed char­ac­ter. The hardy, head­strong at­ti­tude helps him to sur­vive

now that he’s thrown him­self into healthy liv­ing the way he used to throw him­self into his self-de­struc­tive ways. Fraser has re­sponded so well to stem-cell treat­ment that he has passed the five-year mark. He’s back­ing him­self to be around long enough to see out his mother, maybe see in some grand­chil­dren.

His spine has crum­bled (“col­lapsed like the Twin Tow­ers”, he says), rob­bing him of the ath­letic abil­ity he once had, but he still skis. He used to go to Aspen or Switzer­land ev­ery year in his rich days and skied so com­pet­i­tively he reached in­struc­tor level. Now, he’s back on the be­gin­ner slopes but it’s bet­ter than the al­ter­na­tive – “the see-ya later stakes” – he jokes with char­ac­ter­is­tic gal­lows hu­mour.

The drive that made Fraser a star lawyer also made him crash and burn. As big a fall, in its way, as that of his wealth­i­est client, Alan Bond, who also went to prison.

Un­like Bond, who had mil­lions stashed away, Fraser went to jail al­most broke and came out com­pletely so. His trendy St Kilda West house, his MercedesBenz coupé and fine wine col­lec­tion were gone. His mar­riage ended.

It’s been 10 years since pris­oner num­ber 160822 walked from Ful­ham Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre, near Sale, af­ter all but two months of his five-year min­i­mum. The tiny re­mis­sion was be­cause, 10 months ear­lier, he had made a de­tailed state­ment to homi­cide de­tec­tives keen to see jus­tice done over the mur­der of Mersina Hal­vagis, stabbed to death in Fawkner Ceme­tery in late 1997 while tend­ing her grand­mother’s grave.

The po­lice had one prime sus­pect – im­pris­oned sex killer Peter Du­pas – but

Fraser was not an es­cape risk or vi­o­lent. Af­ter more than a year at the Sir­ius East unit of Port Phillip Prison with the “mon­sters”, where he once fought off con­victed mur­derer Camil­leri with a chair, he en­tered the main­stream of the high-se­cu­rity jail. He got to Ful­ham for only the last 20 months of his time.

On his last night in­side, of­fi­cers hid Fraser in the prison hospi­tal to avoid him bump­ing into other pris­on­ers who had heard on the grapevine that he was help­ing po­lice nail Du­pas for the Hal­vagis mur­der. At 3am on Septem­ber

The farm was a life­saver. Work­ing on it let him de­com­press af­ter the pres­sure-cooker of prison. No one ex­cept fam­ily and close friends knew he was there. By day he worked out­side for $20 an hour; at night he wrote the first of sev­eral books. At week­ends he vis­ited his chil­dren.

Two months later he met Lindy Allen through a mu­tual ac­quain­tance. Phys­i­cally, he was as fit as he had been in years, but men­tally he had the “fight or flight” edgi­ness that lingers af­ter pris­on­ers leave jail. Op­po­sites at­tract: Allen, a mu­si­cian and per­former turned arts ad­min­is­tra­tor, was as calm as Fraser never had been – oil on trou­bled wa­ters.

By the time Fraser was di­ag­nosed with mul­ti­ple myeloma in late 2011, they were a well-estab­lished cou­ple – plan­ning a house, since fin­ished, in the high coun­try near Myrtle­ford.

These days the man who once used to party all night be­fore rolling up to court is con­tent fetch­ing fire­wood, cook­ing, and dab­bling in side-pro­jects.

He has sworn off drugs but the ef­fects linger. When he was rushed to hospi­tal in agony with his crum­bling spine five years ago, nor­mal amounts of painkiller had no ef­fect: he still had such a tol­er­ance to opi­ates he needed a dou­ble dose to get re­lief. He laughs about that but isn’t proud.

PETER FARIS, BAR­RIS­TER of long stand­ing, has seen a lot of crooks and lawyers since he started work in the 1960s, and a few who fit both cat­e­gories.

Of all of them, says Faris, he thinks only one has come out of jail a bet­ter per­son: Fraser. It’s an un­ex­pected com­pli­ment from a man who spent years as a prose­cu­tor, pro­fes­sional en­emy of crim­i­nal lawyers.

Faris skew­ers the le­gal es­tab­lish­ment for the way he says it skew­ered Fraser. “He shouldn’t have got five years,” he says. “He was a scape­goat for all the lawyers who did coke.”

When Fraser was on bail await­ing trial in 2001, Faris ran into him. They shook hands for the first time in many years. Faris was moved to of­fer to help his old en­emy. “I’d heard a few things,” he re­calls enig­mat­i­cally. “I thought he was be­ing rail­roaded. I would have said, ‘Don’t plead guilty – fight them.’”

But Fraser, the for­mer at­tack dog, was a mess. He ac­cepted ad­vice he would never have given any­one else. And it didn’t work. “He got belted – hit over the fence. He ap­pealed and [the

ap­peal court] was mer­ci­less,” says Faris. “Af­ter all that, the poor bug­ger gets can­cer. He’s got more guts than any­one else I know.”

One day late last April, Fraser and Allen mar­ried qui­etly at Café Di Sta­sio in St Kilda. Their adult chil­dren – two each – wit­nessed the sim­ple cer­e­mony and a few friends gath­ered

They camped in a car­a­van, then a shed, while they built their hill­side house, mostly with tim­ber milled from wind­fall trees. If Fraser isn’t writ­ing or cut­ting fire­wood, he is bird-watch­ing. The res­i­dent mob of black cock­a­toos watch him in re­turn, unim­pressed he knows their Latin name among many oth­ers.

BACK TO BA­SICS Fraser now lives the sim­ple life with new wife Lindy Allen.

LE­GAL EA­GLE An­drew Fraser at the Supreme Court of Western Aus­tralia in 1996.

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