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Torn by Chopper's inner torment

  • 23 August 2013

From the Inside: Chopper 1 and Hits & Memories: Chopper 2. Mark Brandon Read, Pan Macmillan, 2012. Website


Mark Brandon 'Chopper' Read: latter-day Ned Kelly, self-perceived Robin Hood, scourge of drug dealers. His re-released literary efforts reveal a paradox. Chopper's a racist, self-billed sociopath with acknowledged mental and physical health issues and a highly evolved if bizarre set of moral principles. A raconteur ever-ready to discuss the robbing, bashing, torture, murder and disappearance of various peers and colleagues.

Yet Chopper is also a man who recognises the damage done by the spiritual, emotional and physical abuse he took as a child. The enemy of Chopper's enemy is his friend; unless he's his enemy, too, or a 'Walter Mitty' — the author's pet term for a dreamer, or someone unbearably rude, unintelligent, amateurish in his criminality, or carrying some owed or useful cash.

Actually, that unintended association with the quixotic comic Danny Kaye, who played Mitty in the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, is apt. In a grimly self-deprecating manner that is greatly disconnected from the world of we mug citizens (non-denizens of the underworld), Chopper is outlandishly funny and, um, arresting.

Read owns up to his essential brokenness and self-declared waste of a life and, Jen, I'm coming clean: I'm torn. Saddened by the grubbiness, cruelty and loneliness, the betrayal and the betraying, yet equally fascinated by the guy's life and, moreover, actually impressed and lured by the power of the voice coming out of Read's writing.

I don't know if this is just Underbelly rubbernecking at moral roads untaken, or if tomes such as From the Inside and Hits & Memories transcend Read's dogged poetry and pub parlance the better to scratch some Dickensian itch in all of us. (Doubtless his accomplishments as a teller of partial tales is aided and abetted by the editing of Melbourne's crime reportage princes John Silvester and Andrew Rule.)

While 'Chopper' will always be a disturbed, cinematic standover merchant, immortalised by Eric Bana's breakout turn as the earless enforcer, there's more to him, Jen. His writing has a certain quality I just didn't expect. It's not pretty enough to be 'beauty', although you can appreciate the labours taken to craft his rambling tango through life. And it's too scarred, warped and dipped in pains inflicted and endured to be 'goodness'.

Yet despite the bulldust and bluster, Read touches sporadically on 'truth'. Who'd have thunk it?

Having written largely behind bars, Chopper