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Squizzy was no hero

Jared Daperis plays Squizzy Taylor in the TV series Underbelly Squizzy.
Jared Daperis plays Squizzy Taylor in the TV series Underbelly Squizzy. Greg Noakes - Contributed by Channel 9/WIN

IN THE early 1920s, my grandfather Norman Robertson packed up his wife and two young sons and headed from cosmopolitan Melbourne to the then-backwaters of rural Queensland.

He left behind a promising career in the Victorian Police Force - and the constant unease that, as a law enforcer, he and his family were a target for one of the most feared criminals in Melbourne at the time.

My siblings and I grew up hearing how gangster and suspected cop killer Leslie "Squizzy" Taylor changed the direction of our grandparents' lives.

More recently, I've seen the new Underbelly previews portraying a charismatic Squizzy charming his way through the Melbourne underworld in dapper '20's style.

But take away the pinstriped suit and what you had was a crime boss who reigned supreme over a city my grandfather no longer considered safe enough for his young family.

Though small in stature, Taylor was no midget when it came to treachery and violence, his crimes ranging from sly grog selling, illegal bookmaking, witness bashing, drug dealing and prostitution to armed robbery and murder.

Happily, my grandparents' life after they left Melbourne was a good one - albeit a hard one - but, when he resigned his post as a Collingwood cop and boarded the train for Queensland and the great unknown in 1924, there was no way my Pop didn't curse the name "Squizzy" Taylor.

Arriving in Rockhampton after a week-long rail journey, Pop and Nana and their sons Douglas and Colin made their way to Thangool in the newly opened Callide Valley where they bought a property they would eventually turn into a thriving dairy farm near what would later become the town of Biloela.

In the meantime, this city-born and bred family of four, lived in a flimsy tent while hand-clearing the property they now called home.

All the more remarkable because she stood five feet tall in her stockings, my grandmother Naide did her fair share of hacking her way through thick brigalow scrub to forge a new, safer life for her family.

Years later, she would tell the tale of a raging storm swamping the tent and ruining the only beautiful possession she had brought interstate with her - a hat she loved and was devastated to lose.

My grandfather, a gentle giant of a man who towered a foot and a half over her, would have spared her the loss of her comfortable city life if he had dared, but never once did I hear that either of them thought they'd made the wrong decision in removing themselves from the dangers of life as a police family in "Squizzy" Taylor's Melbourne.

Three years after their move to Queensland - and a year after Taylor's death in a revolver duel with Sydney gangster John "Snowy" Cutmore - my father Bruce was born, by which time my grandparents had established their dairy herd and proved themselves worthy pioneers of the Thangool area.

Both are now buried in the Biloela cemetery and we visit their graves when we can. Their headstones record their names and life spans, but give no hint of the remarkable sacrifice they made to ensure their sons grew up far from the deadly reach of the gangster "Squizzy" Taylor.

I'll tune in with the rest of the nation to watch "Squizzy", the latest in the Underbelly series, but I'll be seeing the man they're portraying as Australia's most colourful crime figure of the early 20th century as nothing but a vicious criminal who changed my family forever.

Topics:  melbourne underbelly

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