The Eagle 26/8/35 – 4/3/87


4th March 1987

It is almost impossible to believe that my father has been gone from this world for thirty years today.  This is pretty much how I recall that day…

At about 4.30pm, 4th March 1987, the news reached me that our father was no longer with us in the traditional ‘with us’ sense.

In 1987 I was sharing a house with my mother and sister.  My brother was floating between both dad’s place and our place.  Getting the family together at this time of shock and grief was not as complicated as if it were to have happened today.

Ancestry pic, files and documents
Dad not long before his death.  The toll his job and lifestyle took on him shows – but he was still healthy internally.  Pic by former Sunday Sun photographer Mike Larder

Mum worked full-time with Ticketworld, which was based at the Brisbane’s Entertainment Centre, Boondall.

My sister was attending high school – All Hallows, Fortitude Valley in Brisbane.  A Catholic school for goodness sake – rather unusual considering we are a Church of England family – and not at all practicing.  Then or now.

Steve, my brother had not long moved back to Brisbane following a few years in Melbourne.  He was a crime reporter with the the Herald Sun newspaper.

Ancestry pic, files and documents
Christmas 1987 at the Johnston’s.  Hats were mandatory.

I was working (“working” might fairly be debated by some) as a music programmer with Brisbane radio station 4BK.  However, I didn’t go to work on March 4 1987 – it was for me a quiet day at home.  Well, to be honest, by ‘quiet day’ I mean feeling extremely sleep deprived whilst nursing a huge hangover. The night before was the launch of U2’s Joshua Tree album.  This was a time when we thought Bono was a good man.

As is my thing, even today – when a huge night ruins my following day, dinner time is a full on meal with loads and loads of fresh vegetables.  Stir-fries or stews to help fix quickly the damage done so I can regain my best form to re-do the damage.

Still as clear in my memory today as thirty years ago, I was in the kitchen preparing the vegetables.  I was dicing the celery when my brother entered through the back door.  He was in tears.  Following Steve was John Novak, or better known as Turkey John due to his amazing turkey calls.

Turkey John ran a specialised record shop located in the nearby suburb of Albion. Music Memorabilia was a popular hangout and trading place for people who love music.  The mid to late 80’s was a period of time when vinyl was, for some strange reason being keenly replaced by cd’s.

We were sucked into a silly idea – cd’s instead of our albums?  What on earth were we thinking?  Or not thinking?  It is with great regret that I am one of those who keenly helped Turkey John amass his fortune.  Yes, my rather large album collection went to Turkey John for a small penny.

Steve was between newspaper jobs and spent a lot of time at Music Memorabilia.  It is here that the Clayfield Police located Steve to tell him that dad is deceased; they needed him to make the identity official.  Turkey John was with Steve and drove him home.  He made sure Steve wasn’t alone, and that he wasn’t left alone.  Good people step up and Turkey John stood up.

As I wrote above, when he came through the back door, Steve was in tears and I asked what was wrong?  He kept walking.  It was obvious something was not good because Turkey John was looking down to the floor, and appeared to be very uncomfortable.

With no answer coming from Steve, and me still completely unaware of the gravity of whatever was wrong, I asked Turkey John what is going on?  He knew he could not say anything to me – and to be honest, I’m not sure Turkey John could find the words even if he felt he could tell me.  He too looked a shattered man.

A few seconds later Steve came back and said, “dad is dead.”  The knife dropped from my hand and that meal was never completed.

It is fair to admit I went into shock, though it immediately dawned on me that I had to ring mum.  She needed to hear from one of us – not through the media.  For some reason practicalities were at the forefront of my mind…possibly as a way to avoid believing what I’d just heard?  Maybe.

As I walked to the phone located in the hallway, I saw my sister laying on the couch.  She was watching TV.  It was obvious Steve had not told her.  For the same reason as why mum needed to be told asap, Melissa needed to know asap.  What if dad’s death was announced during a news-break on TV?  What a crap way to find out!

That moment sucked big time and I knew then and there how difficult it was for Steve to say those words to me.

Unfortunately, calling mum was a lot harder.  Both physically and – how the hell does one break this sort of news over the phone?  I’d never had to do this before.  Well other than breaking the news to my sister a few seconds earlier.

When I write that calling mum was not easy physically, this is because my hands were shaking so much that I had to ask Turkey John to dial the number.  It was one of those push button phones and my hands could not stay steady long enough to hit the correct numbers.

It must have been an extremely difficult drive home for mum.  I now wonder what she was thinking as she drove – and what she might have been expecting when she got home.  Plus how to react to us – her children who have just lost their dad.

What too of her feelings?  Despite their estrangement mum loved dad.  She still loves him.

In the meantime, word must have got around.  Some parts are a blur.  I’m unsure if dad’s death was by then being reported in the media.  Maybe the news of his death was still just through word of mouth.  Steve had by now positively identified dad – and every media outlet would have quickly learnt of dad’s death so by then there was no embargo as far as I’m aware.

Regardless of how/when, all of a sudden people just began showing up.  It’s weird how that happens – but a nice weird.  Nah, it’s a desperately needed weird.

Amongst those who arrived were Ron and May Fussell.  It was still daylight, and they lived on the other side of the river.  They must have been one of the first to arrive.

I saw Ron and May pull up outside the house.  I’m pretty sure this is the very moment I knew with total certainty – it’s real…dad is dead.

Ron and May brought with them more than moral support.  What they brought was so very kind and thoughtful – a memory that brings a tear to my eyes every time.  What they brought with them was a very large platter (or platters – can’t remember) of sandwiches.

Ron and May must have heard the news and just kicked in and prepared us food.

Although blown away by their kindness, little did I understand at the time just how important this gesture became to our survival over the following days.  If it were not for those sandwiches I’m pretty sure none of us would have thought to eat.  Food is vital all of the time but especially at times such as these.

One could travel the world for decades and still never come across a more kind and decent bunch of people such as the Fussell’s.  I shall never, ever forget Ron and May Fussell so long as I live…and after.

Finish Line ahead!  Hey, where’d it go?

Chris Masters. ABC File

Many surprises were to come over the following months of 1987.  

At exactly the same time we were farewelling dad, Chris Masters and the 4 Corners team began filming The Moonlight State, which was the catalyst for the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

During and following the Fitzgerald Inquiry, an end came to the corrupted;

Or rather the end of the organised corrupt police within Joh’s police.  It must never be forgotten that there were so many honest Queensland Police who busted their guts to do their jobs with integrity for Queenslander’s.  It’s true that one bad apple don’t don’t spoil the whole bunch..but enough bad apples at the top leaves us to think those below are spoiled.

Dad missed by just a few short steps the finishing line of, for him, a nearly twenty year marathon.  Then, in true Queensland style, the finishing line was covered up.  We’re still looking for that finishing line – and we’ll continue to look until it’s found.  

Cause of Death?

So, how did The Eagle die?  The official story is suicide – a story until recently I’d settled on as the cause of his death.  Now though?  Due to some information that recently has come to our attention, maybe he was murdered and his death was made to look like a suicide?

Was dad’s death suicide? – and the attending police took this opportunity to remove any incriminating evidence dad may have had within his belongings?  Such as information supplied to him by John Ryan that has mysteriously vanished?  Like so many other incriminating documents that have vanished over the years?  Or was dad murdered and the police used normal police presence surrounding any death to double check that no incriminating evidence to his murder had been left behind?

Steve has always been suspicious from the moment he identified dad – the behaviour of the attending police was unusual to say the least according to Steve.  It’s not like his understanding of police procedure under these circumstances was foreign to him.

That dad’s death might be murder is now not beyond possible!

This sort of criminal deception happened a lot in Queensland during those times, and I mean a LOT.  Behind these murders were Queensland’s very corrupt police.

It must also be pointed out over and over again that these corrupt police controlled Gambling, Vice and Drugs importation and distribution.  There was so very much at stake for these people.  A few lives here and there for them was simply the cost of doing business.  The power brokers within the Bjelke Petersen Government must have been blind as bats if they didn’t know.  The Annexe had 20/20 vision!

The late and dangerous former Detective Tony Murphy. Five years ago mum told me that Murphy rang her during the Fitzgerald Inquiry to ask if dad had ever told her anything of dad’s work?  Mum told the truth, and that is no. Five years ago when mum shared this with me, I told her that her answer saved her life.  Mum laughed. She no longer laughs because she now knows that a different answer might possibly have been one of her last answers.

Ordinary Queenslander’s did not matter to this government, and despite the tons of evidence available, it remains difficult for people to accept that Joh Bjelke Petersen was an extremely dishonest and self-serving man.

Joh is no hero.  He may have built this modern state but its foundations are supported by an untold amount of corpses.  Metaphorically and literally speaking.

Joh Bjelke Petersen – former Premier of Queensland

Alas the media, including my father failed the community by either turning blinded eyes because they;

  • (a) believed some good ‘ends’ are justified despite ‘dodgy means’
  • (b) they too enjoyed the fruits.  (I don’t include my father here).
  • (c’s, d’s, f’s and so on?  Who knows?)

When I write that I don’t include my father as one of those who personally benefited from corruption, it’s not me being naive or living in denial.  I know because I checked for myself.  I wanted the truth whatever that truth may have revealed.  The truth is out there, in fact it’s everywhere – and it’s not hard to find.

It is true dad sometimes failed to do his job properly.  Maybe he was one of those people who felt that politician’s and police pushed the boundaries for the greater good of Queenslander’s.  It’s possible he naively accepted the police versions whilst ignoring the people who were telling him what was really happening.

Or is it possible dad knew the truth but didn’t wish to arrive home one night to discover his wife and kids had vanished?  Never to be seen again.  It was not unusual for people to vanish in this state.

Maybe he didn’t wish to arrive home to find his wife and kids murdered – leaving some poor slob to take the rap because he was verballed.  It was not unusual for innocent people to have been verballed in this state – like John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch were over the Whisky Au Go Go firebombing.  They DID NOT firebomb The Whisky Au Go Go!

Ancestry pic, files and documents
Whiskey Au Go Go Committal hearings. Dad leaving Holland Park Magistrates Court

Speaking of mysterious deaths, ironic that fifteen years to the day prior to dad’s death in his Clayfield residence, Shirley Brifman, a whistleblower who was to give evidence against Tony Murphy, died in her Clayfield ‘safe’ house.

Despite the absurd ruling that there was nothing suspicious about Shirley’s death; following years of lobbying by Shirley Brifman’s daughter, earlier this year Queensland Attorney General, Yvette D’Ath, requested the coroner looks into Shirley Brifman’s death.

I use above the word ‘Ironic’ – and the irony is more than the fact that both Shirley and dad died on the same date in March, in the same suburb – and possibly by the same people – but also the number fifteen.  It is fifteen years to the day between Shirley’s and dad’s suspicious deaths – fifteen people died in the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing on March 8, 1973.  I’d love to know what a numerologist would think.  Where are you Henry Conlan?

In Memory of: Darcy Thomas Day, 22; Colin William Folster, 19; William David Nolan, 22; Ernest John Peters, 50; Desmond John Peters, 31; Carol Ann Green, 27; Wendy Leonne Drew, 24; Brian William Watson, 32; Peter Marcus, 23; Fay Ellen Will, 19; Jennifer Denise Davie, 17; Decima Selma Carroll, 29; Leslie Gordon Palethorpe, 20; David John Western Green, 19; Paul Ferdinand Zoller.

Remembering The Eagle – or just Dad to us

Caricature by Frants Kantor for a 1982 Playboy article written by Frank Robson. Frank pretty well captures dad.  Click on the image if you’d like to read the article (PDF will open in a new tab).  WARNING…there is a promo image of a woman baring her breasts on the last page.  It is after all Playboy.

Wrapping up then – remembering The Eagle – or ‘dad’ as we kids called him.

So dad, it’s regrettable that I now know more about the real you because of your thirty years in death.  There were many sides to you;

  • the investigative newspaper crime reporter who became the newspaper Crime Crusader, (wanky title gifted to you I believe from the Peter Luck Australian’s TV series).  Thank you Gerry for the linked video
  • You were a sober gentle man – but on the grog you became an out of control drunken and abusive bastard
  • You were as soft as butter when the spotlight was off but you became the never-give-an-inch tough guy character when the spotlight was on

Part of you was real and the other part was a part you played in a Bogart movie.  Both of those parts were 100% and not 50/50.  Not a bad effort to defy the numbers like that.

And yet another irony – ironic then that I am now being published – though your reading audience reached over a hundred thousand a week.  I’m unsure if anyone will read this – well other than you maybe.

Hopefully where ever you are, your internet is better than Australia’s.

And I know that you’ll be shitty as all hell with some of the things I’ve just written about you.  Such as;

  • ‘soft as butter’
  • ‘sober gentle man’
  • boring and plain old ‘crime reporter’ tag.

Well man, suck it up because this is MY column.

Oh, and I remember how much you loved me calling you “man” haha.

So it’s hard to believe it’s thirty years.  Hope you are taking care of yourself.

One more thing.  Please protect Maggie and Tess for me.  Oh and another thing — Tess will drink even YOU, FROG and SOAPY combined under the table every time.  You guys will never win so stop trying!  You’ve worked it out for yourselves by now I’m sure.

Here’s cheers, “man” – oh another irony – a really nice irony – later today the Bolton’s will be joining the Johnston’s to celebrate a birthday.  No doubt a drink will be had for you.




6 thoughts on “The Eagle 26/8/35 – 4/3/87

  1. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was watching some mindless re-runs of Happy Days and still in my purple skirt and top with the huge shoulder pads – hey it was the eighties! I was actually working for the Australian Newspaper. I took a call from Dad the night before. He told me he was going to do it. I said go on then, just do it, as years of resentment of drunken violence reverberated in my only 17 year old brain. After many years, I forgave myself. I learned Dad was ill. To this day I believe he was an undiagnosed manic depressive or bipolar as it is known now. Mum sent away for his medical records when I too launched into a deep depression. They were destroyed just 2 years earlier – we will never know for sure. After so many years, my one regret is that I didn’t get to know him as an adult. I’ll be having a drink for him today – and today I can say I understand him. ❤


  2. Mark, fascinating and beautifully written. A similar thing happened to an uncle of mine who was a jockey in Mewcastle on my fifth birthday. He had a ritual of spending the night before a race in the stable and slept with his horse. His 7 year old son and daughter found his lifeless hanged body the following morning in the stables – seemed he’d stumbled on a horse doping ring that allegedly contained some BIG racing names. It’s still an open cold case. Things didn’t add up then but coppers at the time suddenly stopped investigating – even though the dumb bastards who hanged him turned the light off on their way out. Call me stupid but it’s a bit hard to swing from the rafters to turn off the light to save power.

    In any case, I hope one day your truth comes out. Much love mate.


    1. Thanks Jodhi for your thoughts. It means a lot to us all.

      As for the ‘official story’ concerning your uncle….I’m lost for words. Holy shit! But then again, no surprises 😦


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