Artwork – Mrs Kelly
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Original Artwork by Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Acrylic on Canvas. Measures H60cm x W60cm. “Mrs Kelly with a bit of boob or one titted Kelly on a bad day, call it what you will.”
When Chopper was released he travelled Australia with his own stage show, a series of talks on his notorious career. He had to have his own security team everywhere he went, fearing reprisals. At each show he used to sell one or two of the paintings that he’d created & sometimes, when one appealed to Chopper’s head of security, he’d buy it. These are the artworks featured in the exhibition.
Many of the paintings have a provenance on the back written by Chopper – who or what inspired him. 41 paintings, a coffin turned into a coffee table & memorabilia, will be on display and for sale at Morpeth Gallery over two weeks. It’s your chance to own a piece of Australian criminal lore.
Read was born on 17 November 1954 to a former army and World War II veteran father Keith Read of Irish descent and a mother who was a devout Seventh Day Adventist. He was placed in a children’s home for the first five years of his life. He grew up in the Melbourne suburbs of Collingwood and Fitzroy. When he was still young, Read was already an accomplished street fighter and the leader of the Surrey Road gang, a hardened street gang with notorious reputation for violence.
He began his criminal career by robbing drug dealers, based in massage parlors in the Prahran area. He later graduated to kidnapping and torturing members of the criminal underworld, often using a blowtorch or bolt cutters to remove the toes of his victims as an incentive for them to produce enough money so Read would leave them alive.
Read spent only 13 months outside prison between the ages of 20 and 38, having been convicted of crimes including armed robbery, firearm offences, assult, arson, impersonating a police officer and kidnapping. While in Pentridge Prison’s H division in the late 1970s, Read launched a prison war. His gang, dubbed The Overcoat Gang because they wore long coats all year round to conceal their weapons, were involved in several hundred acts of violence against a larger opposing gang during this period.
Around this time, Read had a fellow inmate cut both of his ears off in order to be able to leave H division temporarily. In his biography, Read claimed this was to avoid an ambush by other inmates by being transferred to the mental health wing. His later works state that he did so to “win a bet”. The nickname Chopper was given to him long before this, from a childhood cartoon character.
Read was stabbed by members of his own gang in a sneak attack when they felt that his plan to cripple every other inmate in the entire division and win the gang war in one fell swoop was going too far. Another theory is that James “Jimmy” Loughnan, a long-time friend of Read, with Patrick “Blue” Barnes, wished to benefit from a contract put on Read’s head by the Painters’ and Dockers’ Union. Read lost several feet of intestine in the attack. At the time Read was serving a 161⁄2-year sentence after attacking a judge in an effort to get Loughnan released from prison. Loughnan later died in the Jika Jika fire at Pentridge in 1987.
In 1992, Read was convicted of shooting Sidney Michael Edward Collins in the chest. The incident took place in Read’s car, which was in the driveway of Collins’ residence at Evandale, Tasmania. The bullet was recovered from the back seat of the vehicle, and Collins named Read as the shooter. Pleading not guilty, Read was found guilty of committing an unlawful act intended to cause bodily harm. An appeal against the conviction was rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal on 24 August 1993.
Read was granted parole early in 1998 and regained his freedom. In 2002, Read was again questioned over the disappearance of Sidney Collins, who is still on the Australian Missing Person list after going missing in suspicious circumstances. Read admitted to having murdered Collins in his last broadcast interview before death on the 60 Minutes program aired on 20 October 2013. Read expressed no remorse for killing Collins, alleging he was “stupid” for allowing Read to shoot on two separate occasions with his own gun.
In the 60 Minutes interview, he also discussed the 1971 shooting of union boss Desmond Costello, the 1974 ‘suicide’ of paedophile Reginald Isaacs, and the 1987 shooting of Siam Ozerkam (Sammy the Turk). Overall, Read variously claimed to have been involved in the killing of 19 people and the attempted murder of 11 others.
In 2001, Read was featured in an advertisement on behalf of the Pedestrian Council of Australia warning of the dangers of drunk driving.
In 2005, Read embarked on a tour of Australia performing a series of shows titled I’m Innocent with Mark ‘Jacko’ Jackson (Read’s then manager) and later toured Sydney in a stage show with a new co-star, former detective Roger ‘The Dodger’ Rogerson and throughout Australia with comedian and friend Doug Chappel. Read even made regular guest appearance on Doug Chappel’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival show in 2008 called Comics Live in your Lounge where the two of them told stories on stage together.
In 2006, Read appeared in another commercial speaking out against domestic violence. On 13 March 2006, he released a rap album titled Interview with a Madman and lent his name to a red wine & a beer.
Read was an author of crime novels, selling more than 500,000 copies of his works. His first book, Chopper: From the Inside, was collected from letters he sent while incarcerated in Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison and published in 1991. It contains tales and anecdotes of his criminal and prison exploits. Further biographical releases followed in a similar vein. With the advent of Chopper 5: Pulp Faction, Read began writing fictional tales based on his experiences of criminal life. Attempts were made to ban a children’s book written by Read titled Hooky the Cripple. In later years he made recordings of voice narratives which also sold well.
The 2000 film Chopper, starring Eric Bana as Read, was based on stories from Read’s books and independent research. Read was featured twice in the Australian true-crime series Underbelly. He first appeared in the fifth episode of the show’s second series, Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities, where he was played by Renato Fabretti.
Read later appeared as the lead character in the show’s seventh season, Underbelly Files: Chopper. The two-part miniseries focused on Read’s attempts at going straight after his stint in Pentridge Prison, as well as the beginning of his writing career and his feud with Syd Collins and underworld figure Alphonse Gangitano. The cast featured Aaron Jeffery as Read, Vince Colosimo as Alphonse Gangitano, Michael Caton as Read’s father Keith, Todd Lasance as Syd Collins, Zoe Ventoura as Read’s first wife Mary-Ann Hodge, and Ella Scott Lynch as Read’s lifelong friend and eventual second-wife Margaret Cassar.
Read married Australian Taxation Office employee Mary-Ann Hodge in 1995 while imprisoned in Risdon Prison in Tasmania for the shooting of Sidney Collins. The couple had one son, Charlie, and divorced in 2001. On 19 January 2003, he married long-time friend Margaret Cassar, and they had one son, Roy Brandon.
Read contracted hepatitis C during his time in prison, possibly as a result of using shared razor blades. In March 2008 he revealed he only had two to five years to live and required a liver transplant. However, he refused to agree to the procedure, stating that while a transplant would save him, he did not want one when an organ could be provided to someone else. In April 2012, Read was diagnosed with liver cancer. He underwent surgery. Read died of the illness on 9 October 2013, aged 58, in Parkville, Victoria at Royal Melbourne Hospital. His legend lives on!
Memorabilia, books & merchandise will also be for sale during the exhibition.
For more information contact:
Morpeth Gallery, 5 Green Street, Morpeth NSW 2321. P: +61 2 4933 1407 E: email@example.com