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Alternative Law Journal

Alternative Law Journals (AltLJ)
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Editors --- "Bits" [2001] AltLawJl 116; (2001) 26(6) Alternative Law Journal 315


Brothers in Arms: The Inside Story of Two Bikie Gangs

by L. Simpson and S. Harvey; Allen & Unwin 2001 (originally published in 1989); $19.95 softcover.

Brothers in Arms is in interesting mix of storytelling and journalistic reporting within the one text. It is a book of fact written in a style of fiction. As a descriptive book it does not try academically to assess the behaviour or lifestyle of biker gangs. However, it does give an insight and successfully describes a subculture of some concern that exists in Australia.

Brothers in Arms contains a slice of Australian criminal history in describing the Milperra massacre. The authors using their investigative journalistic style take the reader on an excursion into a way of life that they would most likely never experience. Having said that though, the story does give evidence as to how everyday suburbanites (and even some country farmlet dwellers) can get entwined with the behaviour of neighbours who just happen to be a group of bikers.

Like any good story of fiction, the reader is introduced to the characters, and here they are mainly the male bik­ ers (who split into two groups the Bandidos and the Comancheros), their women and, in one instance, a young girl (who the authors describe as one for whom 'adulthood came early'). Sadly this teenager loses her life in a shootout.

The journalistic flavour also comes through with the inclusion of photographs in the centre pages of the book. Brothers in Arms is worthwhile as a substitute for reading fiction but it has no happy endings. This makes the book a little disturbing and you do not get quite the same feeling of escapism knowing the substance of the book is true.


Chris Symes teaches legal studies at Flinders University.

The Jerilderie Letter

Ned Kelly, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2001

The true story of the Kelly Gang is the story of Ned Kelly. And Ned Kelly told his story in early 1879, in an open letter he had dictated to Joe Byrne, and handed to a hostage when the gang held up the town of Jerilderie in February 1879. Hence, the Jerilderie Letter.

Ned may have needed a scribe, but he had no need for a speech writer. Apparently his speech to the hostage audience in the Jerilderie pub carried all the anger, charm, humour, rant and cant that is in the Letter. Those who heard the speech effectively knew what was in the Letter; now, reading the Letter, we can hear him speak.

His stream of consciousness should be read aloud, for its inflection, rhythm and careering emotions. Through the occasional obscurity of Joe Byrne's idiosyncratic punctuation, Kelly's oration is wry, challenging, sad and angry. Though the Victorian public were frightened by what seemed his callous, perhaps psychotic violence, the violence Kelly threatens in the Letter seems desperate and almost theatrical, a poetic expression of anger and frustration: I would have scattered their blood and brains like rain I would manure the Eleven Mile with their bloated carcasses.

Like Jimmy Governor only 20 years after him, Kelly was avenging past wrongs. The Letter is a justification of his campaign. He was still fighting for the Irish against the English, a deep, imported hatred which was manifest for Kelly in the oppression of impoverished tenant farmers by landowners and police.

He finishes the Letter saying, not to his gang but to the Victorian public, I am a widow’s son outlawed and my orders must be obeyed. The Letter was never published.


Simon Rice is a Sydney lawyer

The Falls

by Ian Rankin; Orion 2001; 395 pp, $27.95 softcover

Many of us are familiar with Rebus the Scots detective who has a deep and close relationship with whisky, from the television movies shown periodically on the ABC. (Remember those bleak shots of Rebus staring out his bay window at night?) Rebus is the central character in a series of books from which the movies are adapted. This book is the most recent in the series and it concerns the murder of a young female student who is the daughter of a powerful banking figure in Edinburgh. The question is: who did the deed? The plot is rich and multi layered, the characters quirky and therefore interesting, but the pace is too slow and it is rather too long. It would have benefited from editing down. But it is a good read at least partly because it remains unclear who the killer is. I will certainly read more of these stories but I have to say the movies create a more vivid sense of the sometimes bleak world of crime and policing in which Rebus broods his life away.


Francis Regan teaches legal studies at Flinders University.

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