Gaol birds

The 1920s was a particularly fascinating period in the criminal history of Sydney.  Sarah was imprisoned in Long Bay Women’s Gaol with some of the most notorious women criminals of the early twentieth century Australia.  While their stories undeniably offer opportunities for true crime voyeurism, they are also complex and intriguing.  While accused, and ultimately sentenced to serve time for dark and cruel acts of violence, each story presents a vignette on the complexities and diversity of female criminality.

Dorothy Mort was the wife of wealthy and prominent business identity Harold Mort when she shot her lover, Claude Tozer  – a dashing young doctor and talented cricketer.  It is believed that when Tozer came to break off the affair, Dorothy shot him in the sitting room of her very fashionably decorated middle class Lindfield home.    Dorothy’s story is explored with great skill by Suzanne Falkiner in Mrs Mort’s Madness.

dorothy mort

Matilda Devine was many things – a prostitute, a survivor of domestic violence, and a mother.  She was involved in a range of criminal activities including vagrancy, soliciting and illegal grog trading.   Matilda would go on to become a matriarch of crime in Sydney by leading an organised crime gang during the infamous ‘razor gang’ period of the city’s history.  It is this persona – Tilly Devine – with whom most people are familiar.  Many accounts have been written of both Tilly, and the razor gang wars, however Kay Saunder’s account is comprehensive and beautifully written.

tilly2

Eugenia Falleni (aka Harry) was one of 22 children, a survivor of rape, a mother and a step-father.  Arriving in Australia as a desperately poor Italian migrant with very low levels of literacy in both English and Italian, Eugenia was also a transgender man – Harry.  While married to Annie Birkett, and for reasons not entirely clear, Harry murdered Annie and attempted to destroy the evidence by setting fire to the body.  Two wonderful, and very different accounts of Falleni’s story are provided by Suzanne Falkiner and Mark Tedeschi.  A brilliantly poignant fictionalized account of Harry’s life was also produced by Sydney’s Siren Theatre Company called ‘The Trouble with Harry’ in 2017.

cropped-eugenia.jpg

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close