“Now how many times in those books have I got to tell you that in certain areas I’m pulling your leg. I’ll let you be the judge … They can either believe it or disbelieve it I couldn’t give a s***”
From a man who claims to have been shot, stabbed, run over, had slices of his ear cut – you have to take much of what he says with a pinch of salt.
Chopper Read died on Wednesday at age 58 of liver failure and tributes flowed for the man described as a “national legend”.
It seems Australia has some interesting standards when it comes to “legends”; after all, infamous highwayman Ned Kelly is seen as a hero, with museums in his honour and locations such as his “last stand” popular tourist destinations. It is often forgotten Kelly held up hundreds of people at gunpoint and killed three policemen. Perhaps it’s the charming homemade armour that tugs on the heartstrings of Australians – the underdog ill-prepared against the police armour
But what of Chopper Read?
Public perception is altered by movies such as Chopper, starring Eric Bana, which practically glorifies criminals. Books such as Paul Kelly’s True History of the Kelly Gang have similarly questioned Ned Kelly’s guilt. Chopper Read has been linked to 19 murders, though he claimed the number was “probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it”.
“Notorious criminal and bestselling author” may seem an unlikely combination, but it was common in Read’s obituaries. After his release from prison Mark “Chopper” Read released a confessional that sold over 200,000 copies. He continued his confessionals under the “Chopper” title and released one book a year from 1991 to 2001, including children’s books and crime novels.
In conversation over the past few days, someone mentioned with a hint of admiration the fact Read refused a liver because he felt others deserved it more… Of course he didn’t deserve a healthy liver! He killed people!
Read, destined to join the ranks of Australian “legends” such as Squizzy Taylor (a Melbourne-based gangster from the 20s), was able to live out his infamy, unlike Taylor and Kelly. It must be said he certainly had a hard childhood, living in a children’s home until the age of five, being made a ward of the state at 14 and undergoing over 60 shock therapy treatments while in psychiatric institutions. After spending only 13 months out of prison between the ages of 20 and 38, he turned his life around after he left prison, donating all profits from Chopper to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, selling over 300 000 books and performing comedy to sold-out venues.
Regardless, as another “Australian Legend” passes, it’s a time to reflect on what makes a national hero, a true legend. Courage, loyalty and camaraderie, of course – but let’s keep the crime out of our legends.
Sydney hit scorching temperatures this week; thankfully we were not afflicted by the sunlight and heat in the Newsroom. Fleet Week also came to an end week and we were out on the streets of Sydney every step of the way. With so many incredible features this week it’s hard to suggest one or two – just make sure you check our features page with features on “How to: Festivals”, fashion for the dead and latest album reviews.
Have a fantastic week from everyone here at The Newsroom and be sure to keep checking back for the latest in news and features.
Top image: detail from Sidney Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly, 1946, now housed in the National Gallery’s Ned Kelly Series room in Canberra.