Ghost Train

How many people recall the rumour, which was going around about twenty years ago now, when Howard was still PM, that Little Johnny’s father had been a member of the New Guard, the fascist org that flourished in Australia, and especially in Sydney, between the wars? So far as I remember it was neither confirmed nor denied. I was thinking about this the other day after I came across a thread about Scott Morrison’s father John who, as everybody knows, was a NSW cop: from 1954 until his retirement in 1992, rising through the ranks to become a Chief Inspector.

John Morrison was among police who investigated the fire in the ghost train at Luna Park in June, 1979 which killed seven people. He was in the fingerprint division then. The fire is thought to have been started by a group of bikies in the pay of crime boss Abe Saffron, who wanted the lease on the land; which he did in fact get, through proxies, a few years later when the park re-opened. He was aided in this endeavour by notoriously corrupt policeman Doug Knight, the chief investigating officer, who had the site bulldozed the day after the fire, thereby making sure that no forensic evidence – like fingerprints – survived. John Morrison was apparently on site himself early on the morning after the fire but that’s all I know.

He was a politician as well as a policeman. There was a rule change in NSW in 1964 that allowed serving policeman to stand in local body elections. John Morrison did so in 1968 and was elected to Waverley Council; and returned, over two decades, as an alderman, as deputy mayor and (for one term) as Mayor. He was an Independent, albeit one who always voted with the Liberals which, by 1983, through a faction known as the Uglies, controlled the Council.

His term as Mayor, in the mid 1980s, coincided with his promotion to Chief Inspector of District 10, which included Waverley. Asked whether there was a conflict of interest between his two roles, Morrison (sounding very like his son) said: ‘The Police have always worked in close co-operation with Waverley Council.’ However his appointment to Chief Inspector was sent by some of his senior colleagues to the Police Appeals Tribunal, which overturned it. He had to wait until after his mayoral term finished to be again promoted to Chief Inspector, this time for Division 15, at Maroubra.

Morrison’s Wikipedia page, from which some (not all) of this information comes, has been carefully edited. It does not, of course, mention his involvement in the Luna Park ‘investigation’; and puts ‘saving many of the free-standing homes in Bronte’ from developers at the centre of his political legacy. But there’s another story here. Morrison’s era as Mayor coincided with the period during which husband and wife team, Jim and Carolyn Markham, were trying to redevelop the beach frontage at Bondi under a plan they called ‘Camelot by the Sea’.

It would have turned Bondi into something resembling Surfers Paradise (where the Markhams also owned property); and included the gutting of Bondi Pavilion. Jim Markham was a solicitor who became a developer; he had been Mayor of Waverley one term before John Morrison; he was succeeded by his business partner, Ray Collins, a lawyer who had acted for Abe Saffron. After John Morrison, Carolyn Markham also had a term as Mayor. The succession went: Jim Markham, Ray Collins, John Morrison, Carolyn Markham.

The plan was defeated and by the end of the 1980s Waverley Council had escaped from the control of the Markhams. What’s curious about John Morrison claiming a victory over developers as his legacy, is that he may in fact have been hand in glove with the Markhams all along; one of their enablers in their attempts to bulldoze the beachfront and throw up high rise hotels, apartment blocks and the rest. Needless to say, Camelot by the Sea isn’t mentioned on his Wikipedia page either.

John Morrison might have been a plucky independent fighting for the rights of residents against greedy developers; or he might not. I don’t know. But this history, partial as it is, does cast a light on, for instance, Scott Morrison’s friendship with his Cronulla neighbour, former NSW Police Commissioner (and crooked race horse owner) Mick Fuller; and makes you wonder how far the current PM might also be involved with other police, including Federal police, who work ‘in close co-operation’ with municipal authorities; and, indeed, with governments too. Up to his eyeballs, probably.  

image: ABC

Lyall Howard and the New Guard: https://labourhistorycanberra.org/2018/06/the-new-guard/

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