Gangsters in Black Coats The night Jason Moran went nuts.
As published in The Australian newspaper in 2004 All the familiar figures - dressed as always in black - were at St Therese's Church in middle class Essendon when they buried crime boss, Lewis Moran, the 23rd victim of Melbourne's latest gangland war. I live nearby and regularly share a beer at the Cornish Arms Hotel, 100 metres down Sydney Road from where Lewis was murdered. Only a couple of weeks earlier, I'd launched a book on the Brunswick Football Club at the Town Hall. Across the pages are photos and stories of the hard men of the Great Depression and wartime Brunswick. The Prince of Wales. Once a den of iniquity and haunt of the Morans. Now a trendy bar. It was a bad night in 1989. My parents are Brunswick people, so as a child I heard the stories about SP bookies, fisticuffs and smoking guns in dingy bars and cobblestone lanes. However, I never imagined that someone like Lewis Moran would get gunned down in trendy Sydney Road. Sure, standover man Brian Kane went down in a hail of bullets at the Quarry Hotel in East Brunswick in 1982, but Brunswick's different now. At the Cornish Arms the corner SP has given way to music and the machismo to polite conversation and a drag Queen, Barb Wire, who mounts the bar to take the mickey out of PM, Johnny Howard.
I'll never forget the day one of Trevor Russell's mates took to a Sandringham supporter during the 1985 VFA preliminary at the Junction Oval, St Kilda. I was captain-coach of Coburg and we were getting a hiding when the bloke wandered to the player huddle and began finishing my sentences. A little while later an excited Channel Ten boundary rider, Tony Banks, was telling viewers 'he doesn't look too good' as the cameras zoomed in on his bloodied, dazed face. Football was different then.
Occasionally I wondered what Lewis Moran did for a living. Like Trevor Russell he was a racing man. It was something he shared with our president Alan Tripp. Tripp, who recently sold his Vanuatu Betting Shop to overseas interests for a small fortune, carried the nom de plume, SP bookie. According to his tax return he was a property developer. Moran and Russell were at Coburg when Bob and Hazel Hawke graced us with their presence in the ,the 1980s. Hawkie regularly posed for photos with a number of Tripp and his SP mates. From the gunslinger to the Prime Minister; they've all stood shoulder to shoulder at the bar at Coburg.
It was said that Moran was a volatile man when crossed. It wasn't a side of him I wanted to see, and fortunately didn't. The scars on his face - acquired in a car accident, I was told years later - added a touch of menace to his demeanour. Yet funnily enough he was always exceedingly polite and friendly when we chatted at Coburg or crossed paths some years later at the supermarket in Moonee Ponds. 'Have you seen Trippy of late?' I'd ask. 'No, I haven't Phil. A thorough gentleman, great to see him doing well in Vanuatu,' he'd say, with a broad smile.
An Assumption College boy, Alan Tripp had stepped in as president in 1985 when Coburg was going through a rough time. At reunions we still laugh about the cavalcade of celebrities and blokes with dubious reputations who followed Tripp to Coburg games and social nights. It's hard to go past the night the gaming squad raided the club mid way through a profitable fundraising night organised by former Collingwood player Ian Cooper.
'See that bloke over there?' Alan had whispered, motioning towards a modestly dressed gambler alongside the card table.'Don't know him. Who is he?' I asked.'He's an undercover cop. You'll need to slip out, but the roulette wheel has to go with you,' he replied. With the wheel wrapped in a blanket, I led Cooper down an old set of stairs where the little jewel was stashed in the back of a ute and whisked to freedom. 'Have no f….idea,' said Cooper when a highly embarrassed undercover cop sauntered across the car park and politely asked, 'where's the wheel Mr Cooper?'
I never knew anything about Lewis Moran's family and had never seen his son Jason at Coburg. I met him only once. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons. In 1989 after winning the second semi final against Box Hill in dockside Port Melbourne a few of us had adjourned to the Prince of Wales Hotel in Ascot Vale. Brad Nimmo, the club's captain and star player was the publican. As with its bookend, the Laurel Hotel, situated a couple of hundred metres south down Mount Alexander Road, it was a pub with a history. Such was the demographic to the west, an area that took in the Flemington flats and the racing fraternity, contraband and seedy characters, one of whom would eventually be implicated in the Walsh Street murder of two constables, were part of the landscape.
Prior to being renovated the Prince of Wales had a small rectangle front room and a similar room on the far side of the bar. Out the back was a juke box. When we arrived on the night of the football final Lewis Moran was seated at the bar on a stool. The young bloke alongside him, I would soon learn was his son, Jason. All was travelling fine until a club official, Roly, inexplicably answered Jason Moran's mobile phone. Mobiles weren't the sleek operation they are today. Nor were they common. You can speculate why Moran went mad when he discovered someone answering his phone.
Within minutes the pub had descended into bedlam, as chairs and glasses were swept into the maelstrom. Among the dozen or so Coburg players were some of our best. A serious cut or broken hand might have spelt the end of back to back premierships. I well remember trying to force myself between Ken Ingram, our young star centre half forward, and the menacing Moran, before spotting a broken glass dangling in the air.
A big man, and at twenty-two only a year older than Moran, Ingram was capable of handling himself and showed as much. 'Don't touch me,' Moran had snarled, when I tried to separate them.'Come on Lewis, this is ridiculous,' I pleaded with his father. God only knows how long the battle raged in the back bar and around the juke box, or how we prised ourselves out of the pub. Alongside me when we crossed the road was Steve Gumley, who two weeks later would outplay Williamstown match-winner Bill Swan in the VFA grand final. Although none of us was under the weather, the non-drinker Gumley had as clear a recall as anyone on how a young Coburg player had shaped up to Lewis, before being knocked to the floor. We were scanning for cuts and abrasions and pondering the possibility that the Moran clan might yet emerge from the hotel, when a distressed Roly, his neck covered in blood, staggered across the street.
For some inexplicable reason, he'd sought to escape through an upstairs room only to find there was no such escape route. When he did make a run for the front door he was grabbed and set upon. 'Jason Moran…he bit my ear off and spat it on me,' he would eventually explain as we tried to grasp the barbarity of all that had happened. I never saw Jason Moran again. Nor did I ever speak with Lewis about what had happened that night. Some years later, Lewis Moran was 'around' when a young bloke was shot across the ear in the same bar where Roly lost a chunk of his ear. The bloke told police he couldn't identify the man responsible.
At about the same time I came across Lewis Moran at Coburg, I was introduced to the tall, dark-haired Alphonse Gangitano. It was 1985 and he was 27 years of age. Ironically, the woman who introduced me to him had been in the Quarry Hotel when the man in a balaclava blew Brian Kane away on 26 November 1983. In January 1998 Gangitano was gunned down in his home in Templestowe. At a Coburg game in April a former player said everyone knew it was Jason Moran who shot him. Six months later Coburg sponsor, John Furlan, was blown to pieces when his car exploded in Bakers Road, North Coburg. A sometimes abrasive character with a coarse manner on the phone, Furlan had once taken me out on Port Phillip Bay in his boat. Small world, I thought.
In the aftermath of Lewis Moran's murder the television cameras couldn't get enough of the place where he died. In one bulletin a TV camera captured a man craning his neck out of the upstairs window of the Brunswick Club. The man was Jack Dugdale, a well known Coburg supporter. How ironic that Jack should have been playing billiards upstairs when downstairs the bloke he'd greeted with a smile many times at the Coburg Football Club bar was running for his life from the man in the balaclava.
On the street the word is that paranoia and amphetamines are behind the mayhem. Wise heads reckon someone is pulling the strings and that a more elaborate plan, designed to do away with the wildcards is at work. Who really knows? You can shake hands or share a beer with men like Lewis Moran but it doesn't mean you understand them. One minute they're all smiles, the next they have a gun in their hand and a mortal enemy in their sights. Those in the know say Lewis was frightened of Jason and wanted nothing of the war that has claimed his life.
It's a saga that doesn't read like the stories my Dad tells about the 1940s and the hard but honourable men who staggered back from the prisoner of war camps and the battlefields of Asia and Europe. You have to wonder whether drugs have changed the landscape forever. If they have, it's pretty scary. Drugs or not, this is murder, and murder comes at a cost. Two years after I met Moran and Gangitano, my 25-year-old sister was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. In the aftermath my weapons against the violence were a pen and books. These blokes don't care much for the pen. So where these murders will end is anybody's guess.
I’m currently working in India and at present I’m at work baby sitting the Operating company after a successful start-up of the plant here. I’ve just read one of your articles on the Morans, which I came across whilst looking for articles on the Kane brothers, you see that I when I was younger lived at one time near to both Les and Pat Kane. I still have memories of Les Kane taking me to the greyhounds each week and where we lived which was on top of a factory in Abbotsford (it was like a fortress) I remember the police laying in wait downstairs waiting for someone to open the door so that they could burst in on Les Kane.
I found your article excellent and it also brought back a lot of memories for me when I was young and being raised in Richmond and then moving to Abbottsford.