Chopper Read and other people like us


'Chopper Read and asylum seekers' by Chris Johnston. An illustrative rendering of Barat Ali Batoor’s Nikon-Walkley award winning photograph of a group of asylum seekers bound for Australia, with a smiling Chopper Read interposed in the foregroundMost people will not miss Mark 'Chopper' Read, because of his reckless attitude to human life and law and order. The 58-year-old standover man died from liver cancer last month. In his last interview, screened last night on 60 Minutes, he boasted about killing four people, speaking in a manner reminiscent of the subjects of the current film about the 1960s Indonesian genocide The Act of Killing.

Read's pride in his criminal exploits, and indeed Channel 9's giving him a platform to boast about them, stands at odds with much of what we value in a civil society. It is hard to conceive of him as anything other than a seriously negative contributor to the community. Yet at master of his own destiny, he had an ability to maintain his dignity, and in that sense it is possible to argue that he was — like Ned Kelly — a partially positive role model for today's prisoners, and indeed all human beings whose behaviour makes them an outcast and an object of scorn. 

The majority of prison inmates have come to crime through circumstances not of their own making, such as mental illness or a disadvantaged upbringing. They are further crushed by the system and objectified as 'monsters' by the media and public, even though in fact they are 'people like us'. Joe Caddy writes elsewhere in Eureka Street that labelling people as criminals denies that we have a good deal in common with them as fellow human beings. 

It is good that Read overcame this 'other-ness' but regrettable that he remained unrepentant and thoroughly evil in character. He was able to win a kind of public respect that is routinely denied to prisoners who are contrite but lack Read's celebrity. 

There are various ways of dehumanising people, and it is always wrong to do so, no matter what the circumstances are. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is doing this with his instruction that departmental and detention centre staff must publicly refer to asylum seekers as 'illegal' arrivals and as 'detainees', and not as clients.

Asylum seeker advocates work tirelessly to restore the dignity that these people have lost through being outcast in this way. The asylum seekers are being made faceless through government policy. 

The creator of the website Marg Hutton attempts to reverse this objectification of asylum seekers with her publication of names of some of those who perished in the SIEVX tragedy in 2001. 'Ghazi Alghizzy — wife Fatima Jabbar Alidawi and four children, Mohammed (age ten), Hussein (age seven), Zahraa (age eight) and Alyaa (age four) all drowned.' Her meticulous research has yielded names for many of the ''illegals, and this brings home the humanity we share with these people. Like us, they all have their own stories.

There is also the example of one asylum seeker who has been able to resist this objectification. Hazara refugee Barat Ali Batoor is a photojournalist, and his image of a group of asylum seekers emerging from a makeshift gap in the deck of a timber boat bound for Australia was last week named Photo of the Year in the 2013 Nikon-Walkley Awards for Excellence in Photojournalism. His story is in The Global Mail, which published the award winning photograph.

Batoor is no longer an unnamed asylum seeker. He is an inspiration, in that he was able to rise above his circumstances, and in that sense he has won public respect like Chopper Read. Some would say that he simply jumped a few queues in order to be accepted as a refugee by UNHCR and gain resettlement in Australia, but it's also true that allowing human beings like him to master their own destiny will bring out the best in them and us. 

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. 

Original artwork by Chris Johnston, inspired by Barat Ali Batoor's winning photograph.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Chopper Read, Barat Ali Batoor, asylum seekers, prison



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Existing comments

One has to ask if the nineteen people murdered by this ugly person were masters (and mistresses?) of their own destinies. If the human mind itself is criminal, if we all have within us the potential for crime, then this is a serious reason for not promoting criminals as celebrities in our media. Why? Because to be seen to condone and reward crime only reinforces acceptance of criminal activity and inspires others to a life of anti-social destructiveness. There are those who support crucifixion, those who do it, and all of the rest who just go along for the ride. When I think of all the great people in our society who the media could be promoting as models for our children, the Chopper cult looks like what is, a gruesome indulgence of an overfed, unquestioning and complacent society. It’s crap, really. Much more admirable are those brave people who wish to come ashore here, against all the governmental and prejudicial forces we can throw at them. They are the people I would be holding up as models to our children.

AU CONTRAIRE | 18 October 2013  

So now Mark 'Chopper' Read is actually some sort of role model? Sure he is, Micheal. Sure he is. And why not? In a culture overdosing on the squalid and the sordid, a washed-up thug seems a grimly appropriate poster boy.

DavidSt | 18 October 2013  

The final stanza of W E Henley's "Invictus" are thought-provoking words: "It matters not how strait the gate./How charged with punishments the scroll./I am the master of my fate:/I am the captain of my soul." Vale Chopper.

Pam | 19 October 2013  

Your first sentence: "Most people will not miss Mark 'Chopper' Read, because of his reckless attitude to human life and law and order." could easily have been used in a contemporary news report on the execution of Ned Kelly. I would consider the late Mr Reid a survivor-showman rather than a "master of his destiny". I think his stories were exaggerated. I think most Australians would regard asylum seekers as definitely people, not numbers. Some turn them into bogey men and women for political gain. Others see them as heroic victims of "the system", whatever the latter means. It depends on their vantage point. Australian History, since 1788, has been a discourse mainly about immigrant survival. The Indigenous Survival Story is just emerging into national consciousness. Perhaps we all, whatever our origin; however we or our ancestors got here; whether we are Indigenous or not; are all survivors clinging to the wreckage of our extremely partial understandings of what life is about? Perhaps we need a collective answer to the question? I suspect we need, together, to work on it.

Edward F | 20 October 2013  

Poor Choice of role model, Michael. Marcus Einfeld would have been a better choice. An excellent article can be found at on Sept. 4 2011. Please stop adding sentiment to the "Chopper" legend. Like so many other commentators, you appear to be providing his legacy with some sort of legitimacy. Meet with the families of Read's victims. After doing so, I wonder if you'd be able to write a similar article.

Andrew | 21 October 2013  

Nobody who murders ever gets my respect, ever.

Jane | 21 October 2013  

While the Gospel tells us that we should love the unloveable and forgive the unforgivable, it does not tell us to hold up people such as Read as "role models". I wonder, Michael, if you would be holding up Read as a role model if he had murdered your brother or your father. There are far more appropriate role models in our society to use as role models, especially for our youth.

Wallace | 21 October 2013  

Surely Michael you cannot be serious? Mark "Chopper" Read a role model? I have to say I am dismayed at such a suggestion. I dispute the idea that he overcame his "otherness". The fact that he commanded some respect based purely on his celebrity status says more about the ill-health of our society than it does about him. The ability to project 'bad" aspects of ourselves onto others, to demonise "others" is certainly anathema to Christian teaching. I am all for diminishing the "otherness". However, just because Mark Read managed through his narcissism to charm the media and create a following based on the hollowness of our culture and the shallowness of the media does not mean he is worthy of "role model" status. He captured the public eye for all the wrong reasons. He, as you said, remained defiant and unrepentant to the end. In what way is he a role model for prisoners? The man was a pathological liar. He was manipulative right to the end and showed no capacity for insight. Yes, prisoners are a product, like all of us, of upbringing, socialisation, family and cultural circumstances. In that way we are all prisoners to a point until we set ourselves free and become as you advocate, masters of our own destiny. This does not make him worthy of being a role model. Being master of one's destiny could be a good thing if it were to be used for the greater good and for personal development. It is sickening and sad that our media made a hero of him. It's not for us to judge but I just cannot see how he is a positive role model when he gloated so publicly about the crimes he had committed. I would like to see you write a follow up article engaging with your reader's comments. Perhaps you intended something different from how you were interpreted.

margieulbrick | 25 October 2013  

"The majority of prison inmates have come to crime through circumstances not of their own making..." Well perhaps, but many more have had disadvantaged upbringings and do not commit crimes. Insanity is a valid legal defence. Unless we deny free will would be foolish to invent another word to describe those who commit crimes. In this respect and in this only they are not quite 'people like us'.

von Journo | 27 October 2013  

Well I wouldn't look up to him, I don't aspire to live like he did, but I really admire/d him. The men he stood over and murdered were scum. Preying on the weak or the general public. Mark likened himself to some sort of messenger of God. I believe he was. Why? Well a "good" man could not have rid the earth of the crap he did without compromising his goodness. It's like God created a man equally hated by the world to exterminate the rats of society. Chopper was not a menace to the average Joe. He was a deep and complex person and had terrific morals. For those who think only a sicko could believe this, well, I am a young female, not involved with crime, who shies away from violence. I am studying creative writing and have a very approachable personality. I'm not some street crim hoodlum who thinks crime is cool. I am just a person who can see the bigger picture, and Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read saw the big picture too. It's societies stereotyping that makes you hate him. You probably think he is just as bad as a pedophile. Well God bless him RIP

SliceOpie | 27 March 2014  

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