Although less well known than some criminals, Anderson – known as “Paddles” because of his big feet – was the closest Sydney had to a criminal boss of bosses. Born in 1915, he maintained a low public profile but informed observers say he was the first among equals from the 1950s to his death in 1985.
“Not much happened unless it went through Fred,” according to former colourful character Karl Bonnette: “Fred was the man; he was the smartest of all of them. You could go and get advice off him about anything. He had connections everywhere: judges, politicians; he was accepted in a lot of different circles and he had a bit of class. Fred could pick up the phone and get anything done like that [clicks his fingers]. I’d often go to his house for dinner and that’s where I first met Lennie McPherson.”
In 1940 Anderson was charged with murder in Victoria and smuggled a pistol into court, determined to shoot his way out if found guilty. Acquitted, he returned to Sydney and began to build a reputation as a standover man, accepting money from criminal enterprises such as casinos and brothels in return for not attacking them himself and protecting them from the attacks of others. Naturally such enterprises could not approach the police for help.
Providing “protection” is the most lucrative form of crime over time. Like banking in the legitimate economy, it takes a small cut from almost every other business activity, and all those small cuts soon add up. Protection is also, along with the police, the provider of organisation in the underworld, because the standover men determine which businesses are allowed to exist.
However, the scale of organised crime in Sydney was relatively modest until the 1970s. Before that, a lot of crime was widespread but unorganised, for instance safe-breaking, warehouse robberies, car thefts, shop-lifting, suburban gambling and – especially from the mid-1960s – armed robbery. Things started to become more organised from the late 1960s. A key event occurred in 1967, when the first of what would be 300,000 American soldiers from Vietnam, many addicted to drugs, came to Sydney on R&R. Over the next decade the drug trade boomed, elaborate casinos and brothels emerged, and SP bookmaking became more centralised by taking more advantage than before of telephones. The opportunities to profit from these and other activities were seized by a group including Lennie McPherson, George Freeman, and Stanley Smith, who had been to America and studied organised crime there. Among these younger crime bosses, Fred Anderson was the first among equals.
An example of his influence at work was captured by an illegal police phone tap in 1979. In one case, Anderson was laying down the law about some Chinese who were setting up a casino in Sydney’s Chinatown without paying protection. “They’ve done the wrong f—ing thing down that place,” Anderson told an associate. “Oh I wouldn’t be in their f—ing shoes. … they’ve started a f—ing joint without discussing it with the other people, and pinched the game off the other bloke where somebody was getting a f—ing quid there, and they haven’t discussed it with the people that’s getting the quid there. … They are not businessmen.” Apparently the Chinese had also asked if an existing club with police protection could be closed down, and Anderson expostulated, “You can’t interfere if the coppers are giving him a go. You can’t interfere with them. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the mob [us] … the mob is worse than the f—ing coppers.”
Alfred McCoy in his book Drug Traffic describes the qualities of an ideal standover man such as Anderson, who must demonstrate “a certain style of personal courage”: “the man of respect must communicate through taciturn demeanour and subtle gesture a certain calm, reflective courage mingled with a suffused aggression that is clearly distinguished from that of the ‘psycho’ – the emotionally unstable criminal who uses violence, not as business demands, but simply because he enjoys it.”
Not the least benefit of possessing such a character is that police will be prepared to do business with you, which is essential to success. In Anderson’s case that man was the most powerful of corrupt police, Ray Kelly. The two men specialised in the protection of brothels and abortionists, and their relationship was so close it has been described as a partnership. Anderson was well connected among Labor politicians, whereas Kelly – as we have seen – dealt with the Liberals.
Anderson had a relationship with corrupt Labor MP (minister and later premier) Bill McKell that extended to unwelcome partying at his house. It was an odd situation. Often McKell sat alone at night in a park across the road from his house, while Anderson and associates such as the abortionist Dr Reginald Stuart-Jones, plus their womenfolk, caroused within. McKell eventually asked the police to have them removed.
Fred Anderson attended a very important series of summit meetings of top Sydney gangsters in 1972 at the Double Bay home of Karl Bonnette. Others there included Lennie McPherson, George Freeman, Stan “the Man” Smith, and Labor state MP Albie Sloss. NSW police seemed unaware of the meetings, which were observed from outside by Federal police. Karl Bonnette claims the meetings never took place, but if they had, their purpose almost certainly would have been to negotiate spheres of influence for those involved.
When Anderson died in January 1985, his funeral was attended by a number of those from the Double Bay meeting. Over the next few months there was a series of gangland murders as the underworld re-established power arrangements. Another summit meeting in the eastern suburbs in April appointed Lennie McPherson as the new “first among equals” and arranged to have yet another troublemaker, an ambitious hitman and “psycho” named Christopher Flannery, removed from the scene. Flannery disappeared the next month.
MAIN SOURCES: The Godfather in Australia and Connections by Bob Bottom; Can of Worms II by Evan Whitton; interview with Karl Bonnette by Michael Duffy in Sydney Morning Herald.