Submitted by David Whish-Wilson on Mon, 16/05/2011 – 19:47

A couple of months ago I finished reading a true crime account of a notorious Melbourne Painters & Dockers ‘gunnie’, Billy ‘The Texan’ Longley. It’s written by Rochelle Jackson, who also wrote ‘Inside Their Minds: Australian Criminals’ , and which I also thoroughly recommend (both published by ABC books, or see

Billy Longley grew up hard in Melbourne during the depression years, was a streetfighter and knockabout kind of bloke who drifted into work on the waterfront, as a member firstly of the WWF and after a stint in Pentridge, the Federated Ship Painters & Dockers Union. Here he was caught up in the leadership wars of the 1970’s, when many blokes were murdered, and so it was that Billy Longley ended up serving 13 years in Pentridge for a murder he may not have committed. Rochelle Jackson shows Longley the respect of letting him tell much of the story , and it’s a great read.

But reading it also reminded me of a very similar story, published in WA in 1979 – the incredible story of George Stewart , published in the book – The Leveller: The Story of a Violent Australian. Just like Billy Longley, George Stewart grew up in tough times. As a kid with undiagnosed dyslexia in a Christian Brothers school, he suffered constant ridicule as a result, and so George ended up letting his fists do the talking. He was a talented boxer who fought both in the ring and bare-knuckles in the street, for a stake. He was barely out of his teens when he was working security and standover for card games in the various gold diggings around in the bush. He too, ended up drifting down to the waterfront, where he worked on merchant ships around Australia, and where his capacities as a fighter were recognised and put to use (in this case by the Maritime Union – mainly protecting union leaders from attacks by the police and rivals).

Back in WA, George operated a successful marine salvage operation, and ended up running the George Stewart boxing troupe, which toured around the country towns, and featured some of WA’s most renowned Noongar fighters. Later, in Perth and semi-retired, he began to write his life story, with the help of Avon Lovell (author of the Mickelburg Stitch, a banned book that accused the WA Police service of framing the Mickelburg brothers, so that at one point every policeman and woman in WA contributed money from their weekly paychecks towards ongoing litigation against Lovell – essentially to keep his book off the shelves. As it turns out, however, due to the evidence of police whistle-blower Tony Lewandowski, it is now acknowledged that everything in the book was true.)

What is little known, however, is that George Stewart was also a good friend of Shirley Finn’s. When Shirley was murdered, George wrote what is probably the first (of many unpublished manuscripts) story about the murder, trying to use thinly disguised fiction to get at the truth – a story called – ‘The Life and Death of Pearly Sin.’

Now, he wrote this at a time when all of the ‘players’ involved in Shirley’s murder were still very much in play. And word somehow got around that he had written it. One day, George was drinking in the Great Western pub in Northbridge (now known as the Brass Monkey) when he was invited for a drink by a certain person who was also quite close to Shirley Finn. Apparently, George refused the offer of a drink from this person, believing that this person was not a true friend of Shirley’s, to put it mildly, and a confrontation ensued. As the story was told to me, by someone very close to George, the subject of his manuscript came up during this confrontation.

Now, it is important to remember that George Stewart was one of the toughest men around, even at that age. If even half of the stories in The Leveller are true – this is borne out by his exploits. He was no shrinking violet, and was not one to take a backward step. He also had a penchant for firearms. But having been threatened by this ‘friend’ of Shirley Finn, a man who was not a member of the WA Police service, a man not known in any way for his physical toughness, whatever was said to him resulted in George Stewart retreating to his home in the South-Eastern foothills. Here he apparently set up an ‘early warning’ system of cans attached to fishing line around the perimeter of his fenceline, and sat up all night in his kitchen with a loaded .303 rifle in his lap, bayonet attached.

It is a telling image, and explains a lot about the fear that certain persons involved in the Shirley Finn murder engender in others. Alas, George Stewart passed away a few years ago, and his manuscript it would seem has gone missing.

A pity…

 The Leveller: The Story of a Violent Australian, Perth, Australia: Creative Research, 1979. 243pages. “This is the story of a lonely hurt child, teenage standover man, hard rock miner, gambler, professional boxer, street fighter, seaman, showman, socialist, diver and salvage operator. Above all it is a story about violence told by a sensitive intelligent human being who was rejected by the system, and fought back.” From the dustjacket.