The Worst Woman in Syd­ney

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - BOOKS - KE

by Leigh Straw, New South.

She prided her­self on not drink­ing or smok­ing, yet at the peak of her dom­i­na­tion of the eastern Syd­ney un­der­world, Kate Leigh was mak­ing a for­tune out of sly (un­li­censed) grog, co­caine and pros­ti­tu­tion. Leigh Straw’s bi­og­ra­phy ducks and dives from Dubbo, where Kath­leen Bea­han was born in 1881 (num­ber eight of 10), through the life of this no­to­ri­ous crime boss/lo­cal hero. She was sent to a re­for­ma­tory at 16 for keep­ing com­pany with “well known” women and the author points to a re­cent Royal Com­mis­sion re­veal­ing hor­rific abuse of in­mates by su­per­in­ten­dents at the Par­ra­matta In­dus­trial School for Girls. Re­leased at 18, Kate set off for the city, where she rose to leg­endary celebrity sta­tus, win­ning the hearts of the poor. Dubbed the “Sly Grog Queen”, Kate’s “ho­tels” – her homes – were kit­ted out with good fur­ni­ture and high-qual­ity booze. In­deed, ev­ery­one in the vicin­ity loved “Mum” and de­spite her flash cars and di­a­monds, she re­mained part of the or­di­nary com­mu­nity. Leigh died in 1964 at 82, her crime-boss ca­reer in a male-dom­i­nated world hav­ing lasted 50 years.

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