The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 49 : 49


a nagging doubt a wide-eyed skip who’d just tasted his first slice of pizza, Winchester rang a NSW Police colleague and pitched what would need to be a cross-jurisdicti­onal operation: “The Italians who have approached the informant are members of ‘L’Onorata’ – commonly known as the Italian mafia!” L’Onorata Società – the Honoured Society – is the Australian arm of ’Ndràngheta, the Calabrian Mob. Emerging in Australia in the 1920s, it became active in Melbourne, Adelaide, the citrus groves of Mildura and Griffith, and the cane fields of Queensland. Of the 3000 Calabrian Australian­s living in the Canberra region in 1980, perhaps 70 were members. From the 1970s, L’Onorata quietly began shifting its focus to the cultivatio­n and traffickin­g of cannabis. Then in 1977 it was thrust into the spotlight: the disappeara­nce of Griffith anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay prompted the state Woodward Royal Commission into the trade. It found L’Onorata contracted Mackay’s murder. In this climate, the NSW Police considered Winchester’s plan a “golden opportunit­y” for infiltrati­on. The next summer, up to 5000 plants were grown in what became known as Bungendore 1. Winchester wanted the operation to continue “even to the harvesting and sale stage”, and in March 1982 a delivery of 97 kilograms was to be driven to Sydney. But at the last moment a partner of YKW transferre­d the stock to another car and drove it to Melbourne instead. Tipped off by their NSW colleagues, Victoria Police arrested three men; they escaped conviction after one revealed Donald Mackay had been murdered by the hitman James Bazley (the other two were released to disguise the informant). Undeterred, YKW volunteere­d to continue informing the next summer. This time, up to 15,000 plants were grown in state forest south of Bungendore – a crop worth a police-estimated $7.5 million. Again, it was a joint AFP–NSW Police operation; again, Winchester approved. But then, the AFP says, he played no further role, transferri­ng supervisio­n of YKW to a subordinat­e. After $2 million worth of plants was stolen from Bungendore 2, YKW was ordered to pull out the labourers and the rest of the crop was destroyed by police. In 1988 – after himself being arrested for growing a different, unsanction­ed marijuana crop – YKW’s cooperatio­n with the National Crime Authority led to charges being laid against 11 men. Less than a month before the “Bungendore Eleven” were due to face court, Colin Winchester was murdered. The case against the Bungendore Eleven collapsed: although the planned on calling Winchester as a witness (to allege entrapment), YKW refused to testify, fearing for his life and, in spite of federal and state immunities, fearing incriminat­ion. He’s no more inclined to talk today at Eastman’s retrial. At 81, YKW wears a grey pinstripe suit and a white goatee; he looks like a fairground huckster and boasts the tricks to match: first he squabbles with the judge over incriminat­ing himself; next he refuses to pay his legal fees; decides he can’t speak English; is deaf; old; sick (“Your Honour, I have decided I cannot understand, because of my health”); can’t hear the phoneline to the Italian interprete­r; has had his signature forged on statements relating to acting as a police informant … Georgiou asks if he’s ever heard of L’Onorata. “I hear rumours, like everybody else.” ’Ndràngheta? “People talk and mention ’Ndràngheta, as an organisati­on.” One involved with the cultivatio­n and traffickin­g of marijuana? “Could have been. You read a lot of garbage in the papers and you dunno what they really mean.” The defence asserts YKW succeeded in convincing L’Onorata that Winchester was crooked. (When he had testified for the prosecutio­n, Brian Lockwood recalled envelopes of cash and fertiliser bags of marijuana being given as bribes, declared and destroyed respective­ly.) But officially, Winchester ceased involvemen­t in 1982. The key unanswered question: Was Winchester murdered for double-crossing the Mob? YKW eventually says the plan at Bungendore 1 was for him to “infiltrate people cultivatin­g and traffickin­g marijuana”. Money was “no limit”, he was to involve himself “as deep as possible” (“I would have a gun but I’m not allowed to kill anybody”) and “all the important dealings were done with Colin Winchester”. Did these growers, asks Georgiou, include members of the Italian community? “Could have been.” L’Onorata? “I may have spoken to people in the police force about this organisati­on, but I don’t have a clue about the operation of this organisati­on.” Was YKW a member? “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Georgiou reads from an interview between YKW and police in 1980: “I said [to one of the growers], ‘we’ll pay 10 per cent to the police for protection, the rest will be divided into equal portions. One for each person, and I’ll provide my farm to grow it on.” YKW shrugs and tells Georgiou: “I told them heaps of lies, because I needed them to be involved in my project.” “Did you ever tell anyone you had the protection of Colin Winchester?” “I have never in my life mentioned the name Colin Winchester to any person involved in illegal activities.” Georgiou flicks his wig’s tail at this sudden specificit­y. “So you can remember can you?” He reads from a 1989 transcript of an interview with NSW Police, in which YKW admits to being “told to use the cover of corrupt police protection by Sergeant Lockwood and Inspector Winchester”. YKW tells Georgiou that’s not his signature at the bottom of the document. “You’re not seriously suggesting the police traced your signature on every page?” “Could have.” In February 1989, the AFP asked YKW who killed Colin Winchester: “Well, let me put it this way. The people that wanted the crop in [Bungendore 2], the people that, defence 47

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