OLD FRIEND

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature - Tom Gilling

Cross stand­ing there with no tops on, the fu­ri­ous rain. Every­thing gets washed away, then the dirt and the crime come back.”

The au­thor of two crime nov­els as well as the best­selling non­fic­tion book Huck­stepp: A Dan­ger­ous Life, Dale is the son of a Syd­ney po­lice­man. His fa­ther was a mem­ber of the vice squad in an era when the squad prac­tised vice as much as they po­liced it. In the years af­ter World War II he worked along­side the no­to­ri­ous Frank “Bumper” Far­rell, whose job, ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian Larry Writer, was to “po­lice the broth­els, gam­bling clubs and SP bookie dens in the area, in­ves­ti­gate homi­cides, break-ins and as­saults, and rid the streets of brawlers, drunks and punks and the pub­lic toi­lets of sex­ual preda­tors”.

Far­rell, a for­mer New­town Jets rugby league player who rose to the rank of in­spec­tor, was a devo­tee of what Writer calls the “Darlo way”. In his rol­lick­ing bi­og­ra­phy Bumper: The Life and Times of Frank ‘Bumper’ Far­rell, Writer re­ports that “Bumper once pro­duced a gun as ev­i­dence against a de­fen­dant. The mag­is­trate ex­am­ined it, noted its se­rial num­ber, and wryly re­marked that un­less he was mis­taken, this was the same gun Bumper had pro­duced in a case a month or two be­fore.”

Dale’s ver­sion of the Bumper leg­end is more bru­tal and more con­vinc­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Dale, Far­rell was a “cor­rupt heavy cop, hand­son. He would bash crims half to death — not like (Roger) Roger­son, who wouldn’t go one on one. Bumper would go one on one.”

Far­rell died in 1985 but Syd­ney does not for­get its vil­lains, in or out of uni­form, and in 2008 he was named as cap­tain of the New­town Jets’ team of the cen­tury.

Vi­o­lent and morally com­pro­mised, Far­rell is the kind of char­ac­ter you can pic­ture lurk­ing around the ragged edges of a noir story. Dale sug­gests in his in­tro­duc­tion to Syd­ney Noir that the pro­tag­o­nists in noir fic­tion “are not pri­vate eyes and im­plau­si­ble po­lice de­tec­tives from cen­tral cast­ing, but or­di­nary peo­ple caught up in crime and vi­o­lence, the kind of peo­ple you pass in the street or sit next to on over­crowded buses and trains”.

Noir fic­tion, he says, is rooted in the city; its con­cerns are “the prob­lems in the city, peo­ple strug­gling, bat­tlers, low eco­nomic sur­vivors who get caught up in things beyond their con­trol”. While it “builds on” the char­ac­ter­is­tics of “film noir” movies of the 1940s and 50s, Dale sees noir fic­tion as con­tem­po­rary and demo­cratic. “Some­times I think it’s the only form of writ­ing that’s not pre­ten­tious,” he says. “It’s straight­for­ward, about real peo­ple. Too of­ten in lit­er­ary fic­tion the writ­ing gets in the way. In noir sto­ries the em­pha­sis is on the city and the peo­ple in­volved.”

Among the writ­ers who have con­trib­uted to Syd­ney Noir, there is one strik­ing omis­sion: Pe­ter Cor­ris, who died in Au­gust this year at the age of 76. Cor­ris’s most fa­mous cre­ation, Cliff Hardy, knew the mean streets and rub­bish-strewn al­leys of Syd­ney, as well as its con­crete tow­ers and beaches. “Cor­ris is an im­por­tant writer,” says Dale. “He re­ally led the way in writ­ing about your own city, but his work is not clas­sic noir be­cause he al­ways has a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor. The PI just is not a be­liev­able fig­ure in noir.” Dale re­calls vis­it­ing US writer James Ell­roy telling an au­di­ence, “When was the last time a PI in­ves­ti­gated a mur­der? The last time was never.”

Dale would love to have in­cluded Cor­ris and asked him for a story, but the au­thor’s fail­ing eye­sight — af­ter 60 years as a di­a­betic — had forced him to stop writ­ing.

Cliff Hardy’s old haunt of Glebe is miss­ing from the lo­ca­tions in Syd­ney Noir, although the va­ri­ety of set­tings bears out Dale’s as­ser­tion that, “If you scratch be­neath the sur­face any­where from Mos­man to Par­ra­matta, there’s crime, there’s al­ways crime.”

There is no sign of Akashic’s Noir jug­ger­naut slow­ing down. Next year brings the pub­li­ca­tion of Am­s­ter­dam Noir, Ber­lin Noir and Mil­wau­kee Noir. Tem­ple says he will “cer­tainly pub­lish Mel­bourne Noir” although the “ground­work is not yet laid”. It would be a crime to rush it. Noir. is one of the con­trib­u­tors to Syd­ney

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