Mr Asia

Obscured from the Royal Commission by the stubborn silence of the Double Bay mob, the exceptional violence of its heroin enterprise was revealed in a series of brutal murders involving its New Zealand affiliates in 1978-9. Requiring a permanent drug buyer based in Southeast Asia, the ‘Double Bay mob’ seems to have developed a regular trading relationship with a New Zealand import and distribution group led by a twenty-seven-year-old Auckland sales clerk cum petty thief, Christopher Martin Johnstone, known in the media as ‘Mr Asia’. While Johstone was based in Singapore where he lived the life of a tycoon, two fellow New Zealanders, Gregory Ollard and Terrence Clark (pictured above), handled the Australian contacts from Sydney. The core members of the Double Bay group, led by one of Sydney’s top six organized crime figures, met only rarely with ‘Mr Asia’, but the two organizations developed a de facto partnership that successfully moved large bulk shipments of cannabis and heroin from Southeast Asia across to Australia.

The ‘Mr Asia’ network remained in operation for at least three years, from mid-1976 to mid-1979, and its history is therefore an apt illustration of Australia’s changing drug trade. The ring’s operations have three distinguishing characteristics which have caused considerable comment in the press: (1) almost all of its visible operatives were New Zealanders; (2) it used sophisticated logistics to handle large drug shipments; and, (3) it executed at least six of its members, including Johnstone himself, in less than two years.

As the ‘Mr Asia’ drug ring illustrates, young New Zealand migrants became heavily involved in several Australian vice trades during the 1970s. Escaping from a dying island economy cut off from its traditional markets in England, a flood of young New Zealand school leavers, perhaps numbering some 100,000, crossed the Tasman Strait in the 1970s to seek their fortunes in Sydney. Unskilled and unconnected, the New Zealanders have formed a ghetto of unemployed youth in the Bondi area of the city’s Eastern Suburbs. Transformed instantaneously upon arrival from rural yeomen into low-life habitues with no savings and little hope of a permanent job, many young New Zealand migrants have turned to prostitution, petty theft and heroin pushing.

Unlike the Moylan smuggling ring which suffered from a fatal over-reliance on passenger aircraft couriers, Johnstone used a variety of methods to bring drugs into Australia from Southeast Asia. Moving about from Auckland to Sydney to Southeast Asia in the guise of a wealthy company director, Johnstone organized a series of trading companies to provide a front and facilitate cash transfers. Initially dealing in cannabis, Johnstone purchased a fourteen-metre yacht in late 1975 and used it to smuggle a cargo of Buddha sticks worth $4 million into Australia. Attempting another major cannabis shipment a year later, Johnstone dispatched the thirteen-metre yacht Lai Ling from Southeast Asia loaded again with Thai Buddha sticks. In January 1977 agents of the Australian Bureau of Narcotics discovered the yacht lying off the coast near Carnarvon in Western Australia, seized 160 kilograms of cannabis buried in the nearby sand dunes and arrested the crew — all New Zealanders aged twenty-five, thirty, and thirty-two. Released on $20,000 bail each, the three absconded but were arrested six months later, two in Bangkok and one in Sydney.

Following the trends in the Australian market, ‘Mr Asia’ diversified into heroin trafficking in 1976, at about the same time the Eastern Suburbs network made a parallel transition. Working through about a dozen New Zealand operatives, ‘Mr Asia’s’ network began distributing large quantities of heroin in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney. While Johnstone himself spent most of his time in motion between Bangkok and Singapore arranging shipments, three regional Australasian managers controlled distribution: an Auckland solicitor had responsibility for New Zealand, a young New Zealand migrant for Melbourne, and one Gregory Paul Ollard, then in his mid-twenties, for Sydney and Brisbane. Based in Sydney with overall responsibility for coordinating shipments between Bangkok and Australasia was another young New Zealand migrant, Terrence John Clark.

During its early phases in 1976-7, the network’s distribution operations in Australia revolved around Greg Ollard, his de-facto wife Julie Theilman, a former Auckland masseuse, and Terrence Clark. Using what one New Zealand migrant dealer who knew them called a ‘nice guy, bad guy’ routine, Ollard and Clark maintained a successful partnership for about four years. They first met while serving terms on theft charges in New Zealand in 1973-4. Upon release they became involved in cannabis smuggling through Chinese crewmen serving on a freighter which called regularly at Auckland. The two soon formed a partnership with Johnstone and an Auckland solicitor who remained to manage the New Zealand operations after Johnstone left for Singapore and the Ollard-Clark team came to Sydney. Living in the Peninsula section of Sydney’s northern beaches suburbs, Ollard, Clark and Julie Theilman moved about together in the network of dealers and pushers who made that area their home and cultivated friends in the city’s growing New Zealand community. Clark, an uneducated man of lower-class background, lived for some months in a rented unit on Scotland Island in the Pittwater just behind Palm Beach and spent his spare time playing squash. Ollard, a former university student with a strong interest in rock music, moved constantly from unit to unit around the northern beaches suburbs, often abandoning costly furniture and furnishings in a rush to avoid possible police surveillance.

An affable sort with a wide circle of friends, Ollard handled most of the network’s relations with dealers and managed a number of investments, including a $40,000 equipment loan to the popular New Zealand rock group, Dragon. Relishing the toys of affluence such as hire cars and Dupont lighters, Ollard was in the drug business for the money. ‘I’ve got $400,000 in cash now’, Ollard once said to a Palm Beach friend, ‘and when I get to a million I’m going to quit’.

An altogether different sort, Terry Clark very much enjoyed his responsibilities as ‘the heavy’ in the operation. A nearly perfect predator, Clark cultivated a calculated image as a sadist to maintain discipline among his network of dealers. According to a New Zealand migrant pushers who knew him, Clark was ‘the spanner in the works, a vicious heavy who enjoyed the role and played it out’. Once, angry with a dealer who he thought was holding out, Clark drove him out into the country one night at gun point and ordered him out of the car. Pressing the butt of a magnum pistol into the dealer’s ear, Clark supposedly said: ‘I’m going to take out what you owe me in flesh. If you cop it you will live, but if you don’t I will kill you’. With an evident pleasure, Clark proceeded to maul the dealer with a baseball bat, leaving him bruised but alive, rather like a domestic cat playing with an injured bird.

When the inevitable ‘rip offs’ and disputes began after two years of operations, Clark used his skills as an enforcer to maintain discipline. Reportedly tired of the endless tensions and precautions required by the business, Ollard decided to quit and cash in his share of the several million dollars in debts and heroin stocks still in their distribution system. After a ‘fiery meeting’ with several of ‘Mr Asia’s’ operatives at a Melbourne hotel-motel in November 1977, Greg Ollard and Julie Theilman ‘vanished off the face of the earth’. Almost two years after their disappearance, The Australian newspaper reported that police believed the couple ‘were killed and their bodies dumped underneath sand at a docking apron area of the international terminal’ at Sydney airport.

While Ollard’s death is unconfirmed, police discovered at least partial proof of the execution of another of ‘Mr Asia’s’ employees, Harry Lewis, when a skeleton was recovered in the Port Macquarie area along the New South Wales north coast on 15 March 1979. Although the hands had been severed and teeth pulled to make identification more difficult, police investigations uncovered evidence indicating that they were in fact the remains of Lewis, a ‘middle-ranking’ courier with some shares in one of Johnstone’s companies. Arrested at Sydney airport with two women couriers in May 1978 for cannabis importation, Lewis had absconded on bail and fled north where he soon disappeared. In a later interview with Queensland police, two members of the network claimed that Clark boasted of killing Lewis when he ‘tried to get a greater share of the profits to compensate for the risks he was taking’.

Although Clark is thought by police to be implicated in a number of executions, by far the most significant involved a young New Zealand couple, Douglas and Isobel Wilson, who replaced Greg Ollard as Sydney managers of the distribution network after his disappearance in late 1977. Arrested by Queensland police in June 1978 while they were in Brisbane waiting to pick up a drug consignment from a passing ship, the Wilsons, then residing at Rose Bay in Sydney, were interrogated for three days, 9 to 12 June, and decided to co-operate. In long and detailed statements to both State police and Federal narcotics agents, the Wilsons described the syndicate’s operations, and alleged that Clark was responsible for a number of executions. Most importantly, the Wilsons alleged that the ring had hired an ‘inside man’ at the Australian Bureau of Narcotics for an annual retainer of $25,000, plus charges of $1,000 for computer information and $4,000 for the removal of a file. Regarded by police as overly-imaginative drug addicts, the Wilsons were released and nothing was done about their allegations.

On 18 May 1979, less than a year after the Wilsons’ interview by Federal agents, a local resident discovered a shallow grave at Rye-back beach eighty kilometres south of Melbourne. Later in the day Victoria Police recovered the bodies of Douglas and Isobel Wilson, shot at close range with a .22 calibre weapon.

The discovery of the Wilsons’ bodies and subsequent revelations in the press about their allegations to police created a major controversy in Federal law enforcement circles. In the weeks following the exhuming of their bodies, the press reported that the couple had warned the Narcotics Bureau of computer leaks during their 1978 interview, but agents had failed to act on their information. By their very deaths the Wilsons seemed to have confirmed the accuracy of their allegations. In the midst of a media firestorm over the issue, the Federal Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr Walter Fife, announced an inquiry into the Narcotics Bureau by officers from the New South Wales, Victorian, Queensland and Commonwealth police forces. Opposed to an inquiry by Commonwealth police, long-time bureaucratic rivals, Narcotics Bureau Commissioner Harvey Bates resigned in early June. Supported by mass meetings of narcotics agents across Australia and pressure from the Canberra public service, where he was highly regarded, Bates met with the Minister and was invited to resume his post, an offer he accepted.

The controversy cast little light on the Wilsons’ allegations about computer leaks. There are, however, a number of indications that corruption of both State and Federal enforcement agencies was a routine business practice for the ‘Mr Asia’ network. A New Zealand migrant pusher associated with the network claims that Greg Ollard paid the N.S.W. police $500 monthly for each dealer in his direct employ to secure their immunity to arrest. National Times journalist Marian Wilkinson, who published the most thorough account of the ring’s operations, reported that a senior Narcotics Bureau officer assigned to Melbourne, Ian Brown, ‘made strenuous attempts to contact syndicate member Greg Ollard’ after absconding on bail in August 1977. Facing drug trafficking charges that eventually won him a twelve year prison term, Brown was reportedly eager to flee the country and was seeking Ollard in hopes of financial assistance.

The penultimate act in the sordid ‘Mr Asia’ drama was played out in October 1979. British police divers recovered the body of Christopher Johnstone, ‘Mr Asia’ himself, from the waters of a Lancashire quarry — stripped naked, stabbed, shot and hands severed. Among the twenty people arrested in connection with the killing was Terrence Clark, subsequently indicted for conspiring to murder Johnstone.

The press treated the New Zealand group as an independent operation and failed to probe their links to Australian organized crime. Victorian detectives investigating the Wilsons’ murder have confirmed direct links between them and several core operatives of the ‘Double Bay mob’. By tracing shared rental accommodation, travel movements between Sydney and New Zealand, and associations, the Victorian police established a pattern of constant interaction between members of the two networks. Although ‘Mr Asia’s’ Australasian import network consisted exclusively of New Zealanders, it was linked through its de-facto partnership with the ‘Double Bay mob’ to Australian organized crime. Spectacular in their violence and obvious in their drug dealing though they may have been, the New Zealanders were not in control of Australia’s heroin traffic any more than Griffith’s Calabresi dominated its cannabis trade. Through their links to the ‘Double Bay mob’, they won a sub-contract for a share of the import and distribution of narcotics, playing an assigned role in a larger enterprise directed by Sydney syndicate leaders.

The head of the ‘Double Bay mob’ had major investments in many of the illicit cargoes entering Australia from Southeast Asia — Murray Riley’s $46 million cannabis shipment on the yacht Anoa, ‘Mr Asia’s’ many consignments and his network’s own ventures. But unlike Riley or Ollard who made direct contact with drugs, the head of the ‘Double Bay mob’ remained insulated from the traffic and confined his role to providing finance and protection from police interference.


from Drug Traffic by Alfred McCoy