The Life & Times of Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell
After briefly living behind the police station in the working-classÃ‚Â Sydney suburb of Redfern, Francis Michael Farrell, born in 1916, wasÃ‚Â brought up in the ethnic melting pot that was Marrickville.
Named after St Francis of Assisi, Farrell was a devout Roman Catholic ofÃ‚Â distinctly Irish heritage. The future infamous Sydney policeman andÃ‚Â legendary captain of the Newtown rugby league team gained his nicknameÃ‚Â from his habit, as a teenager who often walked barefoot, of picking up discarded cigarette butts, or bumpers, which he broke open, using theÃ‚Â tobacco to make his own cigarettes. Indeed, throughout his eventful life Farrell was a chain-smoker and a staunch imbiber of the booze.
As a hardline copper who didn’t mind bending the rules, Farrell’s heydayÃ‚Â covered the latter half of the razor gang years in the late 1930s, KingsÃ‚Â Cross and inner-city Sydney during World War II and the ferocious 1950sÃ‚Â and 1960s in places such as Darlinghurst, where he became head of theÃ‚Â Vice Squad.
Larry Writer writes evocatively about the fights between Sydney brothelÃ‚Â keepers Kate Leigh, who was Farrell’s most valued informant, and Tilly Devine, who loathed Farrell with a passion and who, at her 50th birthdayÃ‚Â party while carving the roast pork and plunging in a knife, remarked, “I wish this ‘ere pig was Bumper Farrell.”
Strong as an ox, with gnarled nose and cauliflower ears, Farrell’s beatÃ‚Â from 1938 to 1976 involved dealing with such infamous gangsters asÃ‚Â Lennie McPherson, Abe Saffron, and John (“Chow”) Hayes.
As a rugby league player, he captained Newtown to the premiership inÃ‚Â 1943 and represented Australia against England and New Zealand. HisÃ‚Â football career began at Marist Brothers Kogarah, where he developedÃ‚Â into a tough front-row forward playing against the likes of theÃ‚Â legendary Frank Hyde. Yet for all of Farrell’s sporting achievements, heÃ‚Â was best known for biting off the ear of a St George rival, BillÃ‚Â McRitchie, in an infamous match in July 1945.
On completing an apprenticeship as a boilermaker at Garden Island navalÃ‚Â dockyards, Farrell joined the NSW Police Force in 1938. Soon he was atÃ‚Â home in Darlinghurst and the Cross, which along with Surry Hills andÃ‚Â Woolloomooloo became his domain for decades.
Throughout Farrell’s police career, it was accepted that the owners ofÃ‚Â gambling dens and sly grog houses who paid substantial bribes wereÃ‚Â rarely raided, and almost never without a tip-off. As Writer explains,Ã‚Â either the proprietor paid a senior politician or policeman directly orÃ‚Â police “bag men” were sent to the clubs, brothels and gaming houses andÃ‚Â “collected their superiors’ money in proverbial brown paper bags”. ByÃ‚Â the 1960s, this system was “ratcheted up to a streamlined and vastlyÃ‚Â more profitable level by Premier Robert Askin and a succession ofÃ‚Â corrupt police commissioners and senior officers”.
Yet when he was allowed to organise surprise raids, Farrell did so withÃ‚Â considerable physical verve and gusto. Like many of his generation,Ã‚Â Farrell loved a fight.
One of the most fascinating sections of Bumper deals with his yearsÃ‚Â working at News Ltd in Surry Hills after he retired from the force.
When Ita Buttrose was editor-in-chief of The Sunday Telegraph in theÃ‚Â early 1980s, she was experiencing considerable problems with a stalker. Farrell soon fixed this problem by contacting the notorious RogerÃ‚Â Rogerson, then in charge of detectives at Darlinghurst police station. Predictably, the stalker was quickly dealt with and thereafter leftÃ‚Â Buttrose alone.
Buttrose has fond memories of Farrell. “He had a huge reputation as theÃ‚Â toughest cop ever, yet he was the most courteous man in that veryÃ‚Â policeman-like way,” she says. “His courtesy and friendship made itÃ‚Â easier for me to be a woman executive at News Limited, a place where you could smell the testosterone when you walked in the front door.”
In this fine biography, perhaps not enough is made of Farrell’s love forÃ‚Â his children and of his undying affection for his artistic wife,Ã‚Â Phyllis, an Anglican who converted to Catholicism and who in marryingÃ‚Â him sacrificed her career. Certainly Phyllis’s death left FarrellÃ‚Â bereft.
To the end of his days, as he had done as a child, each morning onÃ‚Â waking and each evening before he slept the plain-spoken Bumper said hisÃ‚Â prayers while bending on his knees.
In April 1985, Farrell died in his bed, at home alone. In his right handÃ‚Â he held his rosary beads. As Writer evocatively concludes: “His left armÃ‚Â was raised, reaching back, the hand clutching a slat in the bed head, asÃ‚Â if he had suffered a painful spasm and grabbed something solid forÃ‚Â support.”
The Life & Times of Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell by Larry Writer , Hachette, 402pp, $35