Jacks and Jokers
By Matthew Condon
In an interview in the Courier Mail in March last year Matthew Condon said this about what at that time was a projected two volume work on police corruption in Queensland:
"I felt ...that I was in a unique position, as a storyteller, to try to get to the heart of this drama before even more people passed away and their memories were lost ..."
Unfortunately, this worthy ambition remains unfulfilled in Jacks and Jokers - now the second in a trilogy. The problem is easy to understand. Condon is dealing with about thirty years of policing history and literally hundreds of characters. Keeping track of who is who is a real challenge - all those Irish surnames - and is not assisted by Condon's episodic true crime writing style.
What Jacks and Jokers does provide is a picaresque journey through the dregs of Queensland society in the late 70s and early 80s on both sides of the thin blue line. But the "big picture" as the participants themselves refer to it, tends to get lost in a mass of sordid detail.
To illustrate the problem, a key thread in the story is the efforts of the corrupt police who are in "the Joke" to get rid of ex commissioner Whitrod's adherent and chief of the Licensing Branch, Alec Jeppesen. The elements of this fascinating tale and its consequences are scattered over at least a dozen or so short references (beginning at page 98 and not concluding until page 365). But this is not a peripheral part of the story. It was the evidence on indemnity of Dwyer and his successor Parker which really exposed how the Joke worked - the Licensing Branch enforced the laws on prostitution and illegal gambling and generated about $250,000 a year in bribes - and their evidence also sent Tom Lewis to gaol. The history of the battle for control of the Licensing Branch was crying out for its own sustained analysis and not the fragmented treatment it receives.
And this is where Condon's dependence on former Commissioner Tom Lewis as a source is problematic. Lewis served seven years for corruption but maintains his innocence. He kept detailed diaries but was ultimately convicted on the evidence of other corrupt police. Lewis clearly has an agenda: to maintain deniability and Condon does not take him on (though he stops well short of exculpating him as well).
Perhaps the great unsolved question of the Moonlight State era is the precise relationship between former Assistant Commissioner Tony Murphy - never charged but generally agreed to have been the real criminal mastermind - and Commissioner Tom Lewis. As Tony Koch wrote in The Australian at the time of Tony Murphy's death in 2010: "Obviously the only one who could fill in the gaps and put history right is Lewis, but that is an unlikely event."