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Authors: Matthew Condon

All Fall Down

BOOK: All Fall Down
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‘A powerful treatment of an inelegant past that still smoulders.’

Three Crooked Kings
delivers its promised “explosive true story” . . . a fabulous tale of graft, extortion, sex, drugs and mayhem.
Condon’s deft touch makes [this book] immediate, engaging and riveting.’

Three Crooked Kings
paints a compellingly dark picture.’

‘Hailed as the most explosive book of 2013 – a riveting epic and unrelenting tour-de-force which will shock a nation. And it’s all true. Compelling stuff.’


‘. . . highly readable, well-researched and multi-layered expose of police and political malfeasance in the Sunshine State.’

Jacks and Jokers
‘sprawls and appals in equal measure. Condon’s true crime series is not just a compelling read: it is compulsory.’

‘Praise is being lauded on Brisbane journalist and author Matthew Condon who is backing up his bestselling chronicle of Queensland’s underbelly.’

‘Meticulously researched.’

‘An important work of history.’

‘A fantastic fusion of Frank Moorhouse and Peter Corris,
Jacks and Jokers
is crime writing at its best.’

  Matthew Condon is a prize-winning Australian novelist and journalist. He is currently on staff with the
Courier-Mail’s Qweekend
magazine. He began his journalism career with the
Gold Coast Bulletin
in 1984 and subsequently worked for leading newspapers and journals including the
Sydney Morning Herald,
and Melbourne’s
Sunday Age
. He is also the author of ten books of fiction, most recently
The Trout Opera
(Random House, 2007) and the non-fiction books
(New South Books, 2010), as well as
Three Crooked Kings
(UQP, 2013) and
Jacks and Jokers
(UQP, 2014) - the first two books in his best-selling trilogy about Queensland crime and corruption.

For my wife, Katie Kate, and our children
Finnigan, Bridie Rose and Oliver George

AS HE SAT ALONE in a parked car, surrounded by splendid Queensland rainforest, a hose running from the vehicle exhaust pipe and into the cabin, did Sydney James Brifman think back to the day, as a young boy, when he found his mother’s dead body?

Just nine-years-old on that Saturday morning – 4 March 1972 – young Syd had gone into the small room off the foyer of the flat in Bonney Avenue, Clayfield, in Brisbane’s inner north-east, looking for his mother, prostitute and brothel madam Shirley Margaret Brifman. Sydney and his older sister, Mary Anne, 15, knew their mother liked to sleep in. As a lady of the night she kept odd hours. And if the Brifman kids – there was also sisters Sonia and Helen – made a racket, or had the morning television cartoons on too loud, she often called out from bed asking them to keep the noise down.

On this morning there was nothing but silence. So Syd, and then Mary Anne, went into the room. Upon entering, Syd witnessed his mother’s corpse, swathed in a summer nightie and propped up in bed, a hand extended and held in a claw. ‘He ran out of there like the roadrunner – with that speed,’ recalls his sister Mary Anne.

Less than a year earlier, Shirley, 35, had gone on national television and blown the whistle on corrupt police in Queensland and New South Wales whom she had been paying off for over a decade. A few short weeks before her death she was to testify in a perjury trial against legendary Queensland detective and hard man Tony Murphy. The evening before her body was discovered, she’d received a visitor who had passed her a small vial of drugs. Brifman was warned – commit suicide or say goodbye to your children. The visitor left after midnight.

Sydney, the youngest of the Brifman kids, had been born at six months and one week in 1963, courtesy of a botched abortion attempt. Shirley had travelled to the New South Wales capital especially to secure the termination, but it all went horribly wrong. Miraculously, after several blood transfusions, the boy survived. He was named after the city of his birth.

As Sydney was recuperating in hospital, Brisbane’s own detective Murphy was gathering evidence to destroy the credibility of witnesses due to appear before the National Hotel royal commission into police misconduct. On this occasion, Murphy took the time to write a letter to Brifman, his long-standing informant, who was due to appear before the commission as its star witness. Over the years the two had become close. Shirley, the former country girl from Atherton in Far North Queensland, would send the detective’s children Christmas cards with money inside.

As baby Syd fought through his first few weeks of life, Murphy typed a letter on plain paper at his office in the Woolloongabba CIB. ‘Dear Marg,’ he wrote, using one of Shirley’s many prostitute aliases, ‘Your welcome letter to hand the other day. As always I had no hesitation in accepting the information in it as being “good mail”.’

Before signing off he added: ‘As I want to get this letter in the first mail, I’ll close now hoping the young “Briffman (sic) boy” is picking up fast and will soon be out of hospital. Det. Tony Murphy.’

Sydney Brifman was the quiet boy. The good and sweet child who nobody had a bad word to say about. But nine years later, as quick as the roadrunner, Sydney’s mother was dead. He wasn’t to know that in just a few short years the Brifman curse would strike again.

Within a couple of years of Shirley’s sudden death, Sonia Brifman met a young man, got married and fell pregnant. About a month after the birth of her son, Sonia was visiting her big sister Mary Anne, who also had a young son and daughter. It was a special time for the Brifman sisters, sharing early motherhood.

‘It was early morning and we were sitting in the kitchen,’ recalls Mary Anne. ‘Sonia went to reach out to grab the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box and she dropped it. She doubled over in pain.

‘I asked her if she was okay. She was in agony for two or three minutes, then it stopped. It was the same scenario the next morning. She couldn’t stop crying. She was in agony.’

Thinking her sister may be suffering from complications following her recent birth, Mary Anne rushed her to hospital. ‘They said she was suffering from a gut obstruction. That a bit of scar tissue had lodged in the bowel and become infected. I went and saw her in hospital a few days later. I caught a glimpse of her and I had to step out of the ward to get my equilibrium. She was dying.’

Sonia Margaret Brifman developed peritonitis and died in extreme agony ten days later. It was just four years after her mother’s death. She was 18 years old.

Syd, not yet a teenager, had already lost two of the women in his family. After finishing school he was taken into the care of relatives in the city and started work at a fruit shop. He lifted crates night and day and seriously damaged his back. The injury would plague him for the rest of his life, although he later went on to marry and have two children. Despite his notorious family history, he lived his life on the straight and narrow and taught his son and daughter the difference between right and wrong. He gave them values. He worked when he could between bouts of recuperation for his bad back, but money was always tight.

When he split from his wife in his late thirties, Syd suffered depression. The torment of his injuries continued unabated. He struggled on, but life had less meaning. In 2002, he drove his car into rainforest near Noosa, a fabled holiday spot for the rich and famous on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and gassed himself. He was wearing a gold signet ring given to him by his father. It was his treasure. He never took it off.

In death, Syd joined the long list of deceased Brifmans, this Queensland family haunted by crime and crooked cops for almost half a century.


It was a miserable night for New Year’s Eve revellers in Brisbane, thanks to a low-pressure system that had developed off the south-east Queensland coast. On the last evening of 1982, a Friday, heavy rain fell across the capital, and trade was down in the city’s discotheques and bars. King George Square, at the foot of the City Hall tower, was deserted, its brass lions drenched.

Up in his old Queenslander at 12 Garfield Drive, in the shadow of the Paddington water tower, Police Commissioner Terence (Terry) Murray Lewis was taking in the first of 28 days official leave, sitting quietly at home as the rain drummed on the tin roof, reading editions of the Queensland Police journal,
. (Determined to keep up with current affairs within and beyond the force, he may have taken special interest in reports on the development, since 1980, of the state-wide police computer system, modelled on the state government’s network.)

Lewis would soon start packing for his annual pilgrimage to the Gold Coast. But the forecast – and some testy natural occurrences – heralded a gloomy opening to 1983. The
reported that a vast plague of bluebottles, aided by a strong northerly, had swept onshore at the Gold Coast, stinging swimmers. Beaches at Burleigh Heads, Nobby’s Beach, Miami and Greenmount were temporarily closed after sharks were sighted offshore.

It would not deter Lewis. Despite the poor weather, the Lewises had a booking made for their annual break at Broadbeach South Pacific Plaza – room 1504 was waiting for them. A man ruled by routine, the clock and the calendar, Lewis had friends to catch up with. Belfast Hotel proprietor Barry Maxwell and his wife Sheelagh, Deputy Commissioner Syd ‘Sippy’ Atkinson and wife Norma, Gold Coast City Council alderman Sir Jack Edgerton and former TAB chairman Sir Albert Sakzewski were all pencilled in on his social calendar.

BOOK: All Fall Down
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