Chopper Read : The Definitive Interview

CHOPPER READ : The Definitive Interview

 

One of the most notorious, feared, cloned, sensationalised and talked–about  Australian underworld figures of the past century, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read,  has seen and done it all. Spending just 13 months on the outside between the ages of 20 and 38, Read has a long string of convictions including armed robbery, assault and kidnapping. Depending on who you believe, he has been involved in somewhere between 4 and 19 killings, largely of underworld figures, and according to Read, all on the grounds of self-defence.  The Chopper story has been told, retold, Hollywood-ised, satirised for TV and stand-up, sung about, and penned by the man himself amongst his 14-odd books.

 

Life as Chopper has often been brutal, but nowadays things are a little more serene for the man who once plotted to cripple every inmate in Pentridge’s H-Division with an icepick. APOLLO caught up with Mark Brandon Read in his hometown Melbourne, for an exclusive insight into the man behind the trademark scarred ears, tattoos and sensationalism, as he reveals the truth behind some long-held Chopper myths, the roots of Eric Bana’s fame, and his thoughts on Ned Kelly’s sexuality, Underbelly, Michael Jackson and Martin Bryant…

 

APOLLO
How’s life treating you nowadays, Mark?

Chopper
It’s alright, I’m happy.  My wife Margaret and my little boy Roy live with me in Collingwood, we’re happy enough.

APOLLO
What are you doing in your spare time?

Chopper
I paint pictures, mostly of Ned Kelly.

APOLLO
Why Ned Kelly?

Chopper
I paint Ned Kelly with tits ‘cause I think he was probably a homosexual.  I think when the truth comes out they’ll find out Ned was bisexual.  I don’t think he ever had sex with a woman in his life, there’s no recorded evidence of him ever having a romantic relationship with a woman.  He was hung before all that could take place, and there is no recorded evidence of him kissing a woman apart from his mother… he never had a girlfriend, he never took a woman to a dance, there is no recorded evidence of him even taking a girl to a country dance or taking one for a picnic or anything like that , he never had any romantic interests at all. He was also too close to Aaron Sherwood for my liking.  Aaron Sherwood was definitely a homosexual. 

chopper 1

APOLLO
Do you think he was in the closet?

Chopper
I think Ned was a rectal injector.  The first CD I ever did, I recorded it over the telephone in Tasmania. I got on the phone and called up Colin Dicks in Victoria and I recorded it on his answering machine. I wanted to call it Chopper Read and the Rectal Injectors. It was a good name for a rock band, it sounds a lot better than Machine Gun Fellatio. 

APOLLO
It has a certain ring to it. To what extent are you a family man nowadays?

Chopper
I’m definitely a family man now, all is I think about now is Margaret and my little boy and their future. I see my other son Charlie as much as I can, he plays rugby now, he is 5’1” and 96kg, he’s 11 years old, he’s playing against 14/15 year olds and none of them can bring him to the ground yet.  He just runs through the lot of them. His mother wasn’t a lightweight, she was a huge big country girl, pick-handles across her shoulders and strong as an ox. She knocked me off the back of a tractor once by throwing a wet bale of hay at me. It took a lot of strength to do that. 

APOLLO
You’re obviously a talented writer, and you’ve got talent in art and poetry as well. How do you think your years in prison impacted on your knowledge base, your writing skills and your artistic ability? 

Chopper
I learnt to read and write in jail.  When I was born they diagnosed me as being one quarter ‘autistic’, and I couldn’t read and write until I was 16.  I read every book I could get my hands on in Pentridge.  I read the complete works of the Black Prince of Theoretical Psychology.  He brought his daughter up on the Pavlov’s Dogs principle. He used to ring these bells, then his daughter would get up and leave the room to play a piano in another room and then he’d ring another bell and she’d get up and run a bath, he’d ring another bell and she’d get dressed and play the piano again, he’d ring another bell and she’d walk around the house.  She did all these mad things to the sound of bells.  She became a Psychologist herself, a Dr of Psychology. She eventually committed suicide, and in the suicide letter she said that it was her father who drove her mad with the bells and she couldn’t live with herself anymore.  She’d hear bells and she knew she shouldn’t do it but she had this overwhelming urge to go and follow what the bells told her to do when she was a kid. 

 

chopper knee

APOLLO
The media focuses a great deal on the Chopper film. I don’t want to dwell on that too much but just briefly, to what extent was the film based on reality?

Chopper
80% true and 20% fiction. There was no sheila named Tania in real life. Margaret was my girlfriend and she never worked in a brothel, she worked in Telecom. Margaret never used drugs in her life and I wasn’t a police informer.  Eric Bana had a blank spot on his chest in the film. I’ve got the word “Margaret” tattooed on my chest, and they had to blank that out on Eric Bana’s tattoos. 

APOLLO
So you think they took some liberties?

Chopper
Yeah and they never paid me for the movie.  I signed a contract and I was supposed to get 1% of the gross international pie for it. They reckon the movie hasn’t made any money, but it made $380mill in America alone.  It put Eric Bana on the map. It started his whole career.  If I hadn’t picked him for that movie he’d still be a struggling comedian doing two-bob television in Australia.

APOLLO
You chose Eric Bana to play yourself?

Chopper
I picked Eric Bana out for that role.  No one had heard of him till I mentioned his name.

bana 1

APOLLO
Had you met him before that?

Chopper
No, I saw him on TV. They wanted Russell Crowe to do it, but I didn’t want Russell Crowe cause he didn’t come from Melbourne.  I said it has to be someone who comes from Melbourne.

APOLLO
What was it about Eric Bana that caught your eye?

Chopper
He did something on TV once, he had a crew-cut and he wore sunglasses.  I said “Give him a crew cut and put 40 pounds on him. He could almost get away with looking like me with a moustache.”  Sure enough, he impersonated me quite well. 

APOLLO
Did he spend some time with you?

Chopper
He spent two days with me in Tasmania.

APOLLO
Have you been in touch with him?

Chopper
No, he’s had nothing to do with me since then. 

APOLLO
What’s your take on other Chopper impersonators?

Chopper
I met Heath Franklin once in Sydney.  He started crying, he was so nervous about meeting me.  I walked up to him and said “You want to harden the fuck up, mate”, and he’s taken them words and made a million bucks using them on stage.  “You want to harden the fuck up.”

APOLLO
Talk us through the origin of your nickname?

Chopper
My Dad gave me the nickname, it came from a television Yacky Doodle cartoon, Chopper and Yacky, where a little duck called Yacky was looked after by a big dog called Chopper.  I used to get around with a kid called Laurie Whittaker and his name was Yacky and so naturally they called me Chopper.  My old man called me Chopped cause I was good on the tooth, I was a good eater. 

APOLLO
It’s been said that your childhood was quite violent, is there any truth to that? 

Chopper
Yeah.  I’ve made friends with my mother since then.  I got put into the Methodist baby’s home at 18 months.  My Mum was very frail and petite and she had high blood pressure, but my old man was a beast.  He fought in 4 wars, Korea, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam. 

chop 4

APOLLO
What were some of the more memorable incidents from your youth?

Chopper
I had a gang called the Surry Road gang. We has this rule, if you did something wrong, you had to eat a packet of lit cigarettes and skull it down with a bottle of vodka. And if you couldn’t do that you’d get bashed. Two of us would bash the other one. 

APOLLO
Who came up with that rule?

Chopper
I thought of it.  But we couldn’t beat Johnnie Harris in a fight, even with two of us together. He was 11.5 stone and a very, very good street fighter, and we couldn’t get over him.  He wouldn’t eat his cigarettes or drink his vodka, so Dave had to shoot him in the leg. That dropped him…

APOLLO
No doubt…. What were the circumstances leading up to the conviction that landed you in Pentridge?

Chopper
The first one was when I belted these 3 coppers at a dance in Melbourne. These three big guys in suits, they were bashing the crap out of another young guy. So I jumped in and attacked the bouncers and bang, bang, bang, knocked all three of them down. Then they pulled out badges and showed me they were in fact coppers. They arrested us and I got 3 months in jail.  Then I did 18 days jail for some other nonsense. 

After that I went to jail for 4 and a half years for standing over massage parlours. Inside, I met a bloke called Jimmy Loughnan and we started a gang called the Overcoat Gang. During that sentence I attacked a bloke with a tomahawk.  I actually had to pull the tomahawk out of his skull, then I went downstairs, and then much to my surprise after I got rid of the tomahawk, he’s come out of his cell looking for me. He’s got big purple globules of blood pouring out of his head like honey, and he wants to fight me. But I didn’t want to fight him… it was like fighting a dead man.  I nearly shit myself.  You hit a bloke twice with a tomahawk, you don’t want to fight him. I said, “It’s time to go to the hospital mate, you’re not in any condition to fight anyone…”  So they’ve taken him to the medics area, and the screws said, “Come on, we know Chopper Read did this”, but he said “No, I was doing me weights and me weights fell on me head.”  He didn’t dob me in for that. When I went to H-Division they told me he died and I sh#t myself.  

In another incident, Dennis Allen punched Jimmy Loughnan out, and as he’s walked passed me, I’ve gone over crack his head with a rolling pin… crack, crack, crack… and I’ve eggshell fractured  his skull. He was taken to hospital and patched up. When he came back they sent him off to Beechworth prison. His whole gang went on protection at Beechworth, then the screws heard a rumour that Chopper Read was going to Beechworth too, so Dennis Allen escaped.  He was the only bloke in Pentridge legal history to ever be acquitted of escape on the grounds of duress…. he was told that Chopper Reid was on his way up to Beechworth Prison and so he said he was clearly self defence and duress, the stress he felt that Chopper Reid was coming to Beechworth Prison and the fear he felt having to see Chopper Reid again and he was convinced Chopper Reid was going to kill him, he had to escape from Beechworth Prison.   They acquitted him, it was unbelievable. 

APOLLO
You obviously had a troubled relationship with Jimmy Loughnan.  In one scene in the Chopper film, Jimmy stabs you… was that a real incident?

Chopper
I was going to take the H-Division screws hostage. Me and Jimmy and the crew were in the yard together and we had a couple of knives. As soon as the screws came out with a cup of tea I was going to run out, grab  them hostage, take the keys off them, put them in the labour yard, then go downstairs. I was going to get a couple of match sticks and stick them in the lock in the padlock between the big wall gate that separated the outside of H Division from inside and I was going to get on the phone and ring security and tell them I’d taken H division siege.  My plan was to go through every cell in H Division and put an ice pick in the base of the spine of every prisoner, and put them all in wheelchairs, every single prisoner, because every enemy I had was in H Division at that time.

I asked Jimmy Loughnan to help me out.  There was only me, Jimmy and Bluey. Jimmy said he didn’t want to be involved and neither did Bluey. They should have just said they didn’t want to be involved, I wasn’t going to attack them.  But then Jimmy hit me in the guts with a knife, and I said, “It’s a bit early for Kung Fu, isn’t it Jim?” I had some blood in me mouth from internal bleeding and he’s gone bang again, and I said, “Listen Jimmy, if you keep doing that you’re going to kill me.  What are you doing, stabbing me like that Jim?”  He gave me a cuddle and kissed me on the cheek. Then he stabbed me five times more.  I’ve grabbed him, I had me arms around him, and he’s gone wack in the back. I grabbed him by the throat and pushed him up against the wall, and the knife fell out of his hand and I let him go. And I’ve taken me shirt off, I had blood everywhere and I’ve lost the ability to walk… when you been stabbed in the guts you can’t walk anymore, your legs go on you.  I’ve ended up  lying in his lap and the knife is right beside me. He could have picked the knife up and gutted me but he didn’t… he kept knocking on the yard door to get me to safety.  So he’s trying to get me to safety and he’s shoeing the invisible enemies in the yard, he’s shooing em, “Go on, get away, get away, get away!”  And I realised then what’s happened- if you’re going to get stabbed, get stabbed by a schizophrenic, cause he didn’t know what he was doing. 

APOLLO
Were there any other stand-out incidents in Pentridge?

Chopper
There was the time I broke out of H Division with Jimmie Loughnan and Johnny Price, and we got on the roof. As I put me head through, the screw bashed me over the head with a batten… he’s hit me 15 times and he’s broken the batten. It was the first time anyone’s ever broken a batten over a prisoner’s head. 

Anyway we managed to get up on A-Division roof but the screws were after us, and I said to Jimmy, “Carve me up, I want to go to J ward.”  So I gave him the Stanley blade and he carved me up and he did these signs on me all over. All over here. That’s how I got the scars on my back.  I also got stabbed multiple other times, I got shot, and had a screwdriver put through my chest and out the other side. 

APOLLO

What was the story behind the ears, Mark? Was it true you were trying to get out of H-Division because there was a contract out on your head?


Chopper
I was trying to get out of H-Division. I got a razor blade and told Kevin Taylor to cut me ears off. He held out the first ear, and he’s soaring through it, trying to be gentle, so he’s cutting very slowly.  I said, “What are you f%@king doing?” He said “I’m trying to be gentle, mate.” I said “Don’t f%#king do that, just hack through it, hack through it.”  So he’s hacked through it, and it sounded like when you run your fingernails down a blackboard at school.  Ever run your fingernails down a blackboard? 

APOLLO
I try to avoid it…

Chopper
I’ve heard that sound going all the way through me head right.  Anyway, it hurt like hell. But it got me out of H division.

APOLLO
Did they have a contract on your head?

Chopper
No, no. I invented that story myself.  I made it up myself.

APOLLO
So who was the reason behind it?

Chopper
I just wanted to get out of H division.  I went to the classification committee and told them I want to go to Geelong prison. But they said “no, you’re going to stay here.”  I said, “well, people are going to kill me.” They said “no one’s going to kill you, you’re the one bashing everyone else. How many people have you bashed so far? We stopped counting at 63…”   So I told them I’d be out of there by half past 2 that afternoon. They disagreed. So anyway, I gave Kevin Taylor the razor blade and he cut me ears off, and I was out of there by half past two.  I said “Look who’s leaving!” 

APOLLO
What are your thoughts about the code of honour amongst the underworld?

Chopper
There’s no more code of honour in the underworld these days.  It’s all vanished.

chop 3

APOLLO

What do you think it is about modern society that’s diluted that unspoken code of honour? 

Chopper
Drugs and the internet. Young people copy what they see on the movies, so there hasn’t been many films that hold that up. It’s sort of catch and kill your own these days. 

APOLLO
Do you think drugs has changed the face of organised crime over the last few decades?

Chopper
True.  Drugs have changed the law, they’ve changed Australia, they’ve changed the way young people look at each other, changed the way people think.  Australia is not the country it used to be.  Immigration has f#%ked it all up too.

APOLLO

When you were doing time in Tasmania you met Martin Bryant. What did you make of him?

Chopper
When I was walking up towards the grill gate to leave, Martin Bryant was at the end of the corridor behind a big iron bar gate and he had his hands through the iron bar grill, and as I walked towards him he said, ‘Hi, Mr Read’ in that effeminate poofy child-like voice. I couldn’t help myself, I said ‘Why did you do it?’ He said, “I don’t know… one minute I’m eating my cheese and the next minute the room is full of dead people.”  I thought to myself, “That’s a queer thing to say…”

APOLLO
In your experience, how would a guy like that fare in the general prison population?

Chopper
He won’t, he’ll never go into a general prison, he’ll always stay in the Psychiatric area.  They won’t put him with the main prison population ‘cause he’ll get killed.  Someone will kill him just to say, ‘I killed Martin Bryant’.

APOLLO
Just finally, Mark, can we get your brief thoughts on a few topics….

Ivan Milat?

Chopper
Ivan? Who gives a fuck about Ivan Milat?

APOLLO

There was a lot of media hype about Ivan Milat, and speculation the film Wolf Creek was loosely based on him...

Chopper
It reminds me of the story about the bloke who was walking though the bush at night, it’s drizzling rain, and he’s looking round the bush and says “Geez it’s spooky here”. And Ivan Milat says, “What are you crying about, I got to walk back alone?”

APOLLO

Michael Jackson?

Chopper
I think Michael Jackson was a paedophile, and I reckon it’s disgusting because he had a lot of money and was extremely wealthy and very famous. The parents should be horse-whipped.  What parent lets their kid go away with Michael Jackson for the weekend unaccompanied.  It’s disgusting.  The world knew about it all, but now everyone’s crying ‘cause he’s died. 

Underbelly?

Chopper
Real life crims don’t get to have sex with sheilas as good looking as that. 


Thanks for speaking to APOLLO, Mark!

APOLLO

 

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