Kangaroo Gang

The infamous Kangaroo Gang which I wrote about in my latest book King of Thieves: The Adventures of Arthur Delaney etc has lost two of its prominent members.

George William Gardener, one of the best and little known of the crew, died in Sydney a few weeks back of throat cancer. He was the scourge of Scotland Yard, hoisting millions in forex and travellers cheques from English banks between 1966-70. And he never did a day’s jail, despite being nicked twice by the bobbies. Read more about him in the book. I called him Georgie G in the book, still he wasn’t happy and there was a little drama that other old timers may have given up his secrets to me.

For the record, I got heaps of information on him from former Scotland Yard detectives who had compiled the Australian Index of the UK police gazette which featured all the best Aussie thieves operating in Blighty from 1969-75. None of the old crew was prepared to spill the beans on George to me. There’s still honour amongst thieves.

The second sign-off was Brian Leslie O’Callaghan, who was the best mate of the dashing Raymond Patrick “Chuck” Bennett.  Prior to my book, Bennett and O’Callaghan were the only Google entries for the Kangaroo Gang. O’Callaghan was a bona fide shoppie, but Chuck was a stick-up man and bust man. Hoisting is a very specialised art practised without weaponry that few gunnies can master. O’Callaghan and Bennett knocked over a few country homes in England but Bennett was never a hoister. On the other hand, O’Callaghan was a compulsive thief until he was no longer capable. I never met him but heard he was a decent sort of bloke.

(My source on all matters mortal The Grim Rimmer called me with the news on the weekend. He was a little premature with Dennis William “Fatty” Smith who died in August. When I got to the hospital Fatty was still breathing, though the family had already laid the floral tribute across his chest. I had to resist the urge to apply cardiac massage as Fatty had so much to tell me still. So, if you’re reading this Brian, sorry. At least you will have an alibi for the time being.)

Despite his reputation, O’Callaghan was not on the radar at Scotland Yard. He never made the Australian Index and therefore I was loathe to put him up with the likes of Arthur William Delaney and Jack Patrick “the Fibber” Warren. Not to say, he wasn’t a pro, but you have to make Wisden to be regarded as a great cricketer and so it is for hoisters and the Australian Index. I have been using it as my yard stick for thieves. You may have other ideas, so please feel free to share them.

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24 thoughts on “Kangaroo Gang

  1. Great website Adam and before too long I see you with a huge audience. Tell me, did Greedy still have all his rings on when he passed over?
    Cheers

    • Thanks Ma. Looking forward to that. Greedy was a much reduced figure by the time he died. All that remained to distinguish him were the jailhouse tatts “LOVE” and “HATE” on his knuckles. The gold jewellery was long gone. I don’t think he had two beans when he died. Word was that he had signed over a lot of his wealth to family members when he went to jail for the last time and they kept it. That’s only fair because it was his family that looked after him at the end. All those big tough knockabouts had moved on (or died)it’s a familiar story.
      On the day, he had been moved from his shared room to a private one to die with dignity. I first went to the old room to be told he had been moved. As I left I asked the taciturn old bloke there if he knew who Dennis was and he harumphed and snorted and said just another old bloke. When I told him of his criminal pedigree, the old bloke’s face lit up, he slapped his thighs and exclaimed, “well I be damned” You could see he would have given Greedy no rest at all had he known.
      Anyway, it’s a lesson to me, get people down on tape, because when information ceases to be evidence, it becomes history. To that end, I spent a beautiful afternoon with an old hoister yesterday who has written his life story in wonderful copper plate script in 20 exercise books. Oh,I wish that all old cops and robbers were as thoughtful. Thanks again Ma, you’re the first bona fide blogger (who wasn’t one of my mates putting shit on me)
      Yours
      Adam

      • I agree with you Adam about getting people down on tape. Maybe us journos with interviewing skills should regard collecting oral history as an important community service. I had a wonderful hour-long phone chat/interview recently with a very lucid 95yo lady about her memories and family connections to a famous and much-disputed historical tale. It doesn’t fit it into any particular piece of journalism I am working on right now, but UQ’s Fryer Library was delighted to take the tape and a short written summary of the conversation. Fryer has an amazing archive of papers and manuscripts, some completely unplundered. Such a treasure trove for current and future researchers and writers! Check out the index here: http://www.library.uq.edu.au/fryer/ms/msindex.html
        Congratulations on the website Adam and all your wonderful work. Regards, Fiona

      • Thanks Adam. My apologies, I’ve just realised I reverted to calling Dennis ‘Greedy’ instead of ‘Fatty’ it was necessary in the West to distinguish between Fat Albert (Steve Collins) and Fatty Smith, they couldn’t both be Fat’s with similar figures and the same taste in jewellery. Very interesting character Dennis was and in the end we are all reduced to dust or ash but he will be remembered.
        I don’t suppose there’s much chance of you telling who your obliging old hoister is …. is there?
        Cheers

      • Fat Albert was a regular at a notorious venue in Northcote, one night after a brawl, he lost a huge gold chain he was famous for.

  2. Adam,

    Audience of four now! And totally agree with you and Fiona – despite all the wonderful technology we have at hand the world is moving at too fast a pace to capture the stories that are fast disappearing with the oldies. Out here in the country you can imagine the folklore… not criminal nor particularly colourful, but certainly historic, certainly classic, that people bemoan losing each time a hearse pulls out.
    Good on you for doing your bit in inspiring the rest of us to get out there and start gathering history in all its incarnations.
    Edwina

  3. Hi Fiona, Edwina, thanks for coming on-board day one. You get to take me out for dinner!
    I think what we lose is character, when these old timers pass away unrecorded.
    It’s my dream to write the screenplay of King of Thieves which we begin next month and I find the gems I get from speaking with blokes like my hoister/thief are invaluable. If you were looking for a lead paragraph to a newspaper yarn you wouldn’t speak to him. You’d get bored and impatient. But if you want to get at deeper truths,which the movie world deals in, then you can listen for hours. Writing King of Thieves as a true crime book (a piece of journalism essentially, there was so much character, but I had to get the factual elements in first and foremost with a little polish and gloss. But in a screenplay all these bits and pieces, words, images, phrases that have been lying on the edit room floor suddenly take on a life of their own. Thinking about story rather than newsworthiness/impact has been a revelation for me.
    Cheers for the support.
    Adam

  4. To Adam, Edwina and Fiona,
    Well, the three of you are journos clearly, I’m not but I agree with you alland what you do is a very important community service, get as much as you can before it’s lost, go beyond the headlines.
    Cheers.

  5. Hey Adam,

    Thanks for your blog. Do you think you sell Brian and to a lesser extent Ray short in terms of the Kangeroo Gang 2nd XI. Ray spent time on the Isle Of Wight for a Jewelry heist and Brian escaped from a Bristol jail and legged it all the way back to Oz, as far as I know the only Aussie to successfully escape from a UK prison. Even W.C Grace would raise his bat to that

    • Thanks Ben,
      I appreciate your feedback. My qualification criteria is quite rigorous for membership of the Kangaroo Gang! I dispute whether Ray Bennett ever participated in the Gang as he was an armed robber first and foremost, though he did go to UK as you rightly pointed out. Scotland Yard’s C11 certainly never regarded him as a hoister because he did not make their list which was very comprehensive, even including warnings regarding Aussie thieves who never actually made it to the UK.
      Moreover the hoist is a different trade altogether to the bust, being a burglary. The blue that saw Ray jailed on Isle of Wight was a bust on a house, not a hoist, as I understand.
      Brian certainly was a bona fide member of the teams in England, and I suspect Ray came along for the ride with his good mate. The fact that Ray came back to Oz for the Bookie Robbery shows where his skills and efforts were directed. Anyway, it’s a fun debate to have. I was talking with a producer for a crime series yesterday who said they are portraying Ray as a KG member. I guess it will be harder to argue once it’s on TV, but I am yet to be shown proof that it was actually the case.
      Cheers
      Adam

      • Hey Adam, thanks for the reply, yeah tv sadly does impact on peoples perception of certain events, I think if they are using real characters and names they should try to at least portray events as close to reality as they can. Somehow I don’t think Ray Chuck would have had Trimbole wandering around his backyard as he put the team through the paces as in Underbelly. Laughable,doubt they had even met, but in most peoples mind through that tv show there must of been a link, which was wrong.

        Sorry to hijack your blog on the KG, yeah sounds like you have a good point. True I would say ray would of seen it as a adventure and a holiday so not to get mixed up too much in the Dockers election and war at that time. In his story though a pivotal moment I believe, like a study tour, where he got to see and research the big firms and robbery gangs in the UK at that time that we hadn’t had and how they targeted and pulled off big jobs like the Wembley Gang.

        Thanks again for this blog and your replys.

    • Wow just reading your comment… brought back memories blurred over time, some thirty odd years ago… it was Brian not Ray as I mentioned below who needed a quick exit… while on remand he walked out pretending to be his cell-mate and via help got back to Ozzy. Brian was a colorful character, generous also vulnerable in many ways, he often stayed with my family, was my sisters boyfriend and part of the landscape of my adolescence, I always believed Id bump into him again one day and was sad to hear of his passing. Much respect…

  6. Thanks Adam,

    It was quite a delight to read your book.
    Due to years of being told to keep it hush hush in our family, i was glad to finally hear someone talking about my uncle. Yes, he was a very charming man, and he knew how to ‘work it’. He had great pride with the fact that he only ever stole from the very rich, as this was in line with his working class values.
    His childhood was far from ideal and so from a very young age learnt how to become an opportunistic criminal.
    I know that his sister (my mum) is very grateful for the references to him in your book, as they were kind.
    I also thank you for acknowledging his passing recently, as it was a big loss for all the family.
    May your adventure and learnings with the movie be fruitful and honest.

    Regards,
    J

    • I meet Brian, Ray, Gale and Danny in England in 1970’s. My sister Sue traveled from Oz to England over land via India with Brian who was more of a hippy than a gangster. Ray was in a league of his own however he was arrested for a jewelers job on Bond St, I remember them all well – in fact we provided Ray with a ……., he went home to bigger trouble – shame what happened was an interesting bunch!

  7. I will always remember seeing Fatty Smith one day in Bendigo. The rings were unforgettable. BTW did he at one stage in the late 70s or early 80s bankroll the Kensington Football Club? I had a mate who played for them who told me that one of their supporters had a lot of money and spent a lot of time in the Phillipines.

  8. Pingback: The Famous & Infamous | The GARDENER Family in Australia

    • Hi Rat,
      its been many years since Brian and co were in England…
      As a complexed character Brian was all good and loads of fun – a mixture of bouffant hair styles along with his infamous vw camper van!
      He was my sisters boyfriend and I was just a kid so he didn’t take much notice of me, however I found him hysterical – respect to his well lived life!

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