I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 17-24 January 2022

Sirens are Coming (ABC) This seven part series (plus a bonus episode) is written and presented by Matthew Condon, who wrote a trilogy about organized crime in Brisbane, comprising Three Crooked Kings (2013), Jacks and Jokers (2014) and All Fall Down (2015). I’ve been meaning to read these books for a while, even though I am not a great fan of true crime, because by now they almost have the status of being history (after all, they always say that journalism is the first draft of history….)

In many ways, this podcast goes over the same territory as his trilogy, but he takes a slightly different perspective. Yes, he’s talking about crooked cops and politicians but he considers them through and from the perspective of four very brave women who worked in the sex industry over a period of about 40 years. Episode 1 The Great Survivor takes us back to Brisbane in 1958 when three bent coppers- Glen Hallahan, Terry Lewis and Tony Murphy- form ‘The Rat Pack’ which extorted sex workers for protection money – a pastime they dubbed ‘the joke’. Two of their early recruits were Dorothy Edith Knight, who fell in love with Glen Hallahan, and Shirley Brifman, who did their dirty work in Queensland’s first-ever Royal Commission into police misconduct. Episode 2 From Kickbacks to Paybacks is set in the 1970s when an enquiry is called into the goings-on at the National Hotel, a favourite watering hole for the Rat Pack.. At the enquiry, Shirley Brifman lied to protect the police while Dorothy Knight was the first person in Queensland to wear a wire in a sting operation to take down her former lover, Hallahan. Episode 3 The FallOut sees Brifman dead, supposedly of a drug overdose, after appearing on This Day Tonight and admitting that she had lied to the National Hotel Enquiry. Meanwhile, Dorothy Knight was holed up in a safe house, reaping the consequences of snitching . Episode 4 Old Dogs, New Tricks moves into the mid 70s as the sex industry expands to the Gold Coast as well, and Simone Vogel moves up from Sydney and establishes herself as a power. When she wanted out, she disappeared too. By this stage, one of the Rat Pack, Terry Lewis, had been appointed Queensland Police Commissioner. The cold case has never been solved. Episode 5 Change is Coming takes us to the 1980s, as heroin hits the streets. ‘The joke’ has now transformed itself into the “new joke”. Lewis is still Commissioner, and although Murphy had retired, he still was heavily involved in extortion. A new madam emerges, Katherine James. By this time, Four Corners screened ‘The Moonlight State’ in May 1987, leading to the appointment of the Fitzgerald Enquiry. Episode 6 The Greatest Show in Town Katherine James (a pseudonym) was fundamental to the Fitzgerald Enquiry and corrupt police and politicians fell like dominoes. In the Bonus episode – Katherine want to talk she speaks publicly for the first time. Meanwhile, although the joke is at an end, police have a new form of intimidation – entrapment, described in a Episode 7 Bonus episode. Queensland lags behind the other states in its legislation regarding sex workers, and you find yourself wondering if the Rat Pack really is in the past….

Emperors of Rome Episode XXXI Enter Vespasian. Vespasian was from equestrian ranks and his father was known as an honest tax collector (which was obviously big deal). He was born in Rome in the Sabine hills in 9CE. He went with Claudius to Britannia and was rewarded with a province in Africa. But he wasn’t particularly ambitious and ended up returning to Rome broke (which shows that he wasn’t ripping people off enough) and set up a business trading in mules. In 66CE he was sent to Judea by Nero, partially to neutralize him as a competitor, and also because there were religious issues there over monotheism and taxes. He is written about by Josephus, a Romanized Jew, who depicts him as ruthless. He declared loyalty to Otho, but once Vitellius defeated him, he made his move. Episode XXXII Vespasian as Prophesised discusses the various prophesies about him e.g. a tree, a dog dropping a human hand at his feet, his supposed healing powers, and eagles seen in the sky fighting. He entered a traumatized Rome which had undergone a series of civil wars. He recognized the authority of the Senate, was generous with the senators and the people, and began rebuilding temples. He started the Flavian amphitheatre (now Colosseum) and the Temple of Peace. He finished off Claudius’ temple, to reinforce his links with Claudius. Episode XXIII Emperor Vespasian, Becoming a God reviews his 10 year rule. He was popular, approachable and modest, with high morals. He didn’t claim the title of Father of the Country (PP), and although he did raise taxes, he spent them on culture, the arts and education. He died naturally at 69 years of age, joking on his deathbed “O dear, I’m becoming a God”. He was probably one of the 5 best emperors; he ended the civil wars; he commenced the Colosseum and started a dynasty. Not bad.

London Review of Books Dorothy Thompson was known as the ‘First Lady of American Journalism’ and also as The Woman Who Interviewed Hitler. She tried to get an interview with him for seven years, and when she finally succeeded, she had to submit her three questions in advance. She wrote him off as useless, and hinted that he was homosexual, which didn’t please the Nazis one little bit so they promptly expelled her after the Night of the Long Knives.. She was born in 1893, was university educated and worked as a freelance journalist. She was involved in the suffragette movement, and was married to the writer Sinclair Lewis. It’s hard to pigeon-hole her opinions. She saw FDR as a proto-dictator but anti-isolationist, and she was a fierce advocate for American involvement in WWII (but not necessarily boots on the ground). She wrote an essay ‘Who is a Nazi?’ where she argued that Nazism attracted people holding particular social and economic views (suggesting that ‘the Jews’ might have been Nazi under different circumstances). In fact, she was quite anti-Semitic, despite wanting America to be involved in the war. She often promulgated ideas too early, before people were ready too accept them e.g. that there should be no harsh reparations against the Germans. In the podcast, Deborah Friedell argues that it is impossible to overstate her significance as a journalist early on, but that she increasingly became viewed as a crank.

Strong Songs. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody I’m not always familiar with the songs that Kirk Hamilton deconstructs, but everyone (even me) knows Bohemian Rhapsody – and how much he has to work with here! This is a replay of an earlier episode, but it’s really good. He is full of admiration for Freddie Mercury’s vocal skills and the judicious but lavish use of Brian May’s guitar. Really good. And who can resist watching the Live Aid concert.

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