Review - Waterfront, Duncan McNab
Of course, now it makes perfect sense that a society arriving on fleets of ships, initially supported by ships full of cargo, and later by exporting via those same docking points would end up with a congregation of illicit interests and activity within those very docks. The idea that the troubles of modern day waterfronts being linked back to earliest white arrival after reading WATERFRONT by Duncan McNab now not only makes perfect sense but has a historical grounding that had simply never occurred to this reader before.
Billed as true crime, this is also obviously also very much about the history of Australia since white arrival. As the cover of the book puts it - "Graft, Corruption and violence - Australia's crime frontier from 1788 to now" all of which combine to create a fascinating story. The prologue commences with Queensland Supreme Court Justice Lukin thundering "Crime is rife" in reference to the Brisbane wharves, although it's not so obvious until pointed out that the quote comes from the 1920's. Still in the prologue, in 2009 the Sydney Morning Herald declared 'Australia's docks are still fertile territory for crime networks'. In the book proper, McNab draws an extensive and well documented line through the years, and the activities that never seem to change all that much when it comes to chicanery on the docks.
Using a combination of individual's stories, from the formation of the docks, combined with general events and well known episodes from history, and then placing much of that activity into the suburbs that sprang up to house the workers the similarities in development, and criminality between the major ports in Australia becomes apparent. The way that the rot set in from day one, and became entrenched for hundreds of years is built into the lifestyles of the people who engaged and/or benefited from what went on.
McNab uses timely references to support the assertions made, but it's not really a dry historical accounting. Because of the true crime aspects there's a brutality to the outcomes that adds to the reality, that draws history into the current day experience of organised crime and corruption. It really is a fascinating book about a part of our collective backgrounds, that this reader has never really thought that much about.
Ever since the First Fleet dropped anchor, Australia's ports have been a breeding ground for many of Australia's most notorious criminals, and a magnet for local and overseas crime syndicates.
From the rum trade of colonial times to modern-day drug smuggling and alongside the rise and dominance of waterfront unions, a criminal element has always found ways to survive and thrive. After a century of Royal Commissions, reports, denials and crackdowns, crime and wrongdoing in Australia's ports remain organised, entrenched and incredibly profitable.
In Waterfront, investigative journalist and former police detective Duncan McNab chronicles the larger-than-life characters who have populated Australia's docks, wharves and ports - and lifts the lid on the crime, politics, violence and corruption that has always been present on Australia's waterfront.