The Worst Woman in Sydney
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.