The Book Review

Twenty years ago I began researching a book on police whistleblower and former Sydney prostitute Sallie-Anne Huckstepp who was strangled and drowned in Centennial Park in February, 1986. Little did I know that this book would take six years to complete with over 90 interviews as well as a filing-case of original documents that I discovered during the research. When I finished writing Huckstepp, the book was almost not published in New South Wales due to the large number of legal objections. I was advised to publish in all other states with a Banned in New South Wales sticker on the cover. I received a 25-page fax from the publisher’s lawyers and spent hours arguing for the retention of names and details. But the majority of people I approached for this book gave of their time willingly and generously — either because it was their job or because, as the American writer Janet Malcolm once observed — most people like to be interviewed.

The research took me to jails, courtrooms and morgues. I witnessed an autopsy at the Glebe Morgue and spoke to criminals in pubs. I sat behind Neddy Smith for months in court while poring through transcripts of Smith confessing in graphic detail to strangling Huckstepp and describing it as the best thing he’d ever done. The Lanfranchi shooting was the turning point in NSW police history. After Lanfranchi’s death, corrupt detectives began to attract intense media scrutiny and their activities were raised in State Parliament. In 1986, the year that Huckstepp was murdered, Roger Rogerson was dismissed from the NSW Police Force and later jailed on another matter for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. In May 1994, the independent MP, John Hatton, manipulated the balance of power in State Parliament and won the support of the Opposition to move for a royal commission into allegations of police corruption. Despite claims by Commissioner Lauer that the inquiry would be a waste of time, Justice James Wood in November 1994 commenced the massive inquiry uncovering evidence of systematic and widespread corruption throughout New South Wales. The importance of what a 26-year-old single mother had first revealed 13 years earlier was now being recognised. Just when the Royal Commission began holding its hearings into corrupt police, the convicted murderer, Neddy Smith, was secretly taped in Long Bay Gaol by his cellmate, boasting of how he had strangled and drowned Huckstepp in Centennial Park.

For the third time in a decade, Sallie-Anne’s face was splashed across the front pages of the major city newspapers. At Smith’s trial both prosecutor and defence counsel referred to Huckstepp as the most important whistle-blower in New South Wales police history. She alerted the public to the fact that New South Wales police were involved in murder and the drug trade. She told the media that for speaking out she would be killed, and she was. Her story came to epitomize the state of affairs that existed in the NSW criminal justice system during the nineteen seventies and eighties. For it was Huckstepp who shone a light on those squads which had operated with impunity. Apart from her murder, this book investigates why a young woman from a privileged Jewish background was so attracted to the Sydney underworld.

Huckstepp cover front small

Buy the book


"The Australian"

'A significant, original work that challenges as much as it reveals.'

"The Age"

'Dale nails the treachery, corruption and decadence of a part of Sydney society that traces its origins to the Rum Corps.'

"The Australian"

'A brilliantly constructed record of one of Kings Cross’ most infamous characters. A great city story.'


Buy Some of John Dale previous books

 

Huckstepp bu John DalePlenty
'An authentic voice telling a compelling story for our times' Peter Corris

Huckstepp by John Dale

LEAVING SUZIE PYE
'Brimming with energy and good humour as it shows us so much of Australian society as it is and soon will be. Peter Pierce' The Sydney Morning Herald

 

Wildlife by John Dale

WILD LIFE
'Part true crime, part memoir and part fiction, this is an outstanding book … the quality of the writing is seamless.' The Sydney Morning Herald

The Dogs are barking by John Dale

THE DOGS ARE BARKING
'Dale's credentials as one of the best latter-day hard-boiled writers are further enhanced by this tough and pungent thriller.' Crime Time

Dark Angels by John Dale

DARK ANGEL
Winner, Ned Kelly award for Best First Crime Novel
'A mightily impressive debut. A vibrant thriller in the guise of a quest for redemption, Dale's novel is incandescent.' Time Out
'Great energy, dynamic storytelling… intense entertainment.'


John Dale Portrait

About the Author

 

John Dale is the author of six books including the best-selling Huckstepp and Dark Angel which won a Ned Kelly Award. His other books are The Dogs are Barking, a novel about police corruption in Sydney, and a memoir, Wild Life.

 

He has edited two collections of short fiction, Out West, Car Lovers, and co-edited a third, Best on Ground.

His novel, Leaving Suzie Pye, was published in 2010 and translated into Turkish. His novella Plenty was published in 2013 and he is currently researching a novel based on an unsolved Sydney murder.