GOING FOR GOLD
Perth in the 1980s was the perfect scene for a heist of spectacular proportions — and a bit of ‘noble cause corruption’ from the police in response first watch
SINCE the Underbelly saga began several years ago, having been commissioned by a brave Nine network, we’ve grown to love our mordant fables of avarice, violence and death. We enjoy the idea of a story being lifted from the raw material of life that will hopefully shape experience and deliver some wisdom.
And Nine, a network in disarray, nevertheless still seems committed to the task of examining untidy truths about slices of our past cultural history, encouraging producers to nudge them into a pleasing shapeliness that continues to be highly addictive for many of us.
The latest is from the Cordell Jigsaw company that last year gave us the SBS observational series Go Back to Where You Came From, which dealt with the politics of asylum, and the ABC’S On Trial, the riveting five-part show featuring unprecedented access to several trials in Australian courts.
Both were rare, unvarnished television — as is The Great Mint Swindle, a telemovie about the sometimes upsetting ambiguity between institutional law enforcement and true justice. A compulsive true story about Perth’s Mickelberg brothers and the way they became embroiled in the most famous — still unsolved — gold heist in our history, the movie is partisan and designed to elicit outrage at injustice. It’s a terrific example of TV’S burgeoning true crime genre where it’s not enough to just present a good story. It has to be authentic, with characters that take you by the hand and lead you deep into the argument and adventure while disclosing interesting secrets.
Swindle is a 20-year saga of greed, corruption and personal tragedy. And, strikingly condensed into 11/ hours, it’s about three knockabout blokes with a taste for adventure and their feud with Perth’s sinister brotherhood of cops, in a city where until quite recently the police ran wild.
In 1982 Ray (Grant Bowler), Peter (Todd Lasance) and Brian (Josh Quong Tart) Mickelberg are implicated in a notorious caper straight out of an Elmore Leonard novel: a brilliant heist of gold bars worth $650,000. Carried out with military precision and ingenuity, there is no violence, no victims and few clues. There are only mysteries that righteous cop Detective Donald Leslie Hancock (Shane Bourne) and his loyal No 2, Detective Tony ‘‘ Lewi’’ Lewandowski (John Batchelor) are determined to solve. If they can’t, they’ll simply pin it on the cocksure boys, using their fists, fabricating confessions and planting evidence. This policing is known in the west as ‘‘ noble cause corruption’’.
Hancock is the hard-boiled detective who must decide for himself just what kind of justice can be accomplished in the ambiguous urban world of increasingly wealthy and corrupt Perth. As the story begins narrator Peter Mickelberg, who will spend most of his 20s behind the imposing walls of Fremantle Prison, tells us that WA is ‘‘ a big state full of big men with big dreams and big stomachs; greed was good’’.
He and his brothers are no match for a new monied establishment embarrassed by
Shane Bourne, centre, is up against the Mickelberg brothers in The Great Mint Swindle