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BLACK COMEDY


BLACK

For William Black the opportunity to become an Australian of aboriginal descent in charge of a prison presents a number of challenges; for him, and the staff he inherits, at a jail that, in the early 1990s has not seen, or desired change for decades. 

His wife looks forward to the opportunity for her independence as the owner of her own restaurant. 

Inevitably William’s efforts to make the changes he believes are necessary meet resistance, and his wife’s ambitions become intertwined with the behind the scenes’ manoeuvring of his opposition; an opposition setting out to defeat him at any cost. 

William Black’s story is not so much about the survival of the fittest as about the definition of who is the fittest for a very different environment! 

In Store Price: $AU25.95 
Online Price:   $AU24.95

 

ISBN: 978-1-921731-98-3
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 209
Genre: Fiction
 


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Author: Paul Frisby
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2011
Language: English

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Author Biography  

Paul Frisby was born the son of a doctor in 1948 at Oxford, England and emigrated to Australia in 1962. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School. Dropping out of a medical degree, he had a range of experiences in Australia and England as a television cameraman, tourist promotion officer, riding instructor, casino reception manager and advertising copywriter. 

In 1977 he joined the New South Wales public service in the Department of Consumer Affairs, working his way upwards to a senior management position with the Department of Corrective Services. From 1974 he also served as a volunteer in the NSW State Emergency Service. 

A sea change to Queensland in the early 1990s saw him again working in corrections, and picking up a tertiary qualification in Management. 

Recently Paul has worked for 10 years for his local Council. His interests include carriage driving, classic cars and baroque music.

Prologue  

This book is set some time in the late 20th century and is about jails and some of the people in them. Any resemblance of the characters to anyone living or dead is coincidental; coincidental to the fact that individual traits from people known to me, from Tumbarumba in the south to Townsville in the north, have been used to build composite characters; and coincidental to the existence of both the good, amazing and downright disgusting people portrayed herein. 

Setting the book in time is however somewhat irrelevant. Unfortunately the world described has been created many times over throughout history. At the time of writing it sadly continues in the same form into the future, both in Australia and overseas. 

However, readers unacquainted with the correctional environment should not rush to pass judgement on individual characters. Prisons are a world with their own rules, and the methods that people on both sides of the wire use to survive or escape it may at times seem to be extreme and selfish to outsiders. Policing again has its own rules. 

After experience in corrections I need to thank Joan, my doctor; for keeping me from the edge of the precipice. The work would not have been completed without the encouragement of Anne-Maree. 

Above all thank you, gentle reader, for buying and reading the thing so the effort has not been totally pointless, or without financial recompense for my courageous publisher.

CHAPTER 1 (PART SAMPLE)  

Deputy Superintendent William George Augustus (Billy) Black had every right to feel a sense of pride as he sat, facing south and somewhat untidily for him, on the retaining wall of the car park at the Long Bay Complex of Prisons. He had just said his farewells to the Regional Commander and the boys and girls in the Emergency Squad. Even the Commissioner had turned up for fifteen minutes to say goodbye.

He let his eyes drift across the cityscape; the aircraft taking off and landing at their safe and predictable intervals from Kingsford Smith Airport; the towering cranes of the Botany container port; past the main gate and the Prison Hospital; to the concrete blockhouse of the former Katingal Maximum Security Prison which had been his operational home for the last 11 years. Out of his left eye a flash from the chromium plated pips on his shoulder caught his attention. His eye followed his immaculately pressed uniform sleeve down to the crisp white edge of his shirt cuff to the black hand framed below. The seat of his trousers would be getting dirty from the brick wall he reflected – but now it didn’t matter. 

Leaving dirt behind him had been the story of his life he thought. Not a bad life for an aboriginal boy from the bush, forty one years of age, seventeen years of service, a part time university degree all leading up to his present status as a Deputy Superintendent with long service and bravery medals. Tomorrow, he and his wife would be putting this life behind them, leaving on one of those planes out of Kingsford Smith, flying north to his new job, in a new State, in a newly reformed correctional system. He was General Manager designate of the Thomastown Correctional Centre.

He was facing a challenge, he knew that. Taking over an old style prison and turning it into a modern correctional centre was not going to be easy. His new Director-General had made it clear he should expect resistance to change, but had told him he would be fully supported by senior management and the Minister in making the overdue change work.

Of course he had seen it all before in New South Wales. The introduction of Unit Management as it was called, the case management of all inmates by all staff, not just the social workers and psychologists. Moreover he had seen it work with the worst of the worst and as a convert he was ready made for his new job, the first aboriginal General Manager of a correctional centre.

Not that he had done much time in jails himself. Just a couple of months after graduation from the training college and almost straight into the Emergency Squads, with lots of slack time that made the slow remedying of his lack of education a relatively straightforward, if not an easy, task. He would miss the place. Seven jails in one complex, the camaraderie of the system, and especially the Emergency Squads. Even his uniform, once despised but now a part of his self-image as well as his public one, would now be a thing of the past. The new system he was going to had civilianised their management. He would have to invest in a new wardrobe. 

On a personal basis the move looked good. Sydney was big, noisy and dirty. His wife Maria wanted a country life again, and was looking forward to a tropical climate. She also wanted out of the public service where she was a middle ranking clerk in the Department of Works. Their substantial superannuation payouts would provide her with the wherewithal to start her own business. A magnificent cook, she had always wanted her own restaurant; and Thomastown would no doubt benefit from genuine Italian cuisine.

Why had she agreed to marry an aborigine he wondered? True, they were both brought up Catholic, himself by the missions, she in the family tradition; but it was quite a step marrying from a proud Italian migrant family into an aboriginal one. She was always devout, and he could best be described as a token believer. Perhaps if her father and mother had lived in Sydney it would have been different.

As it was her parents were in the bush and she had been staying with a family friend, a Housing Commission tenant in Malabar, who had been trying to raise three daughters on a government widow’s pension and had welcomed the help that a lodger with a regular wage, a love of kids and the ability to cook had brought. He had been a relatively well off with a good career and a low rent government supplied house. A meeting in church one Easter somehow developed, and he now had a white skinned, well olive skinned, Italian wife with a passion for everything – food, wine, and the good life. Although her inheritance of a big outgoing personality, including a propensity for shouting matches about which she obviously felt no guilt, confused and embarrassed him at times. Quiet and conservative she was not, colourful she was. She would probably make a success of a restaurant he reflected.

There were no children though. It had been a problem at first, but then they had recognised the finality of the situation. Not that they hadn’t tried. However Maria had a range of previously unidentified problems with her internals – including endometriosis and one non-functioning kidney. So they had no children and they were now too old to take advantage of the march of scientific progress, even if their careers hadn’t taken over and become their main interests.

At least, her family back in Griffith didn’t seem to mind, and William was grateful for the lack of pressure from that quarter, however at odds it was with those values he believed Maria’s Italian family would traditionally have held. Still, she had enjoyed her public service career, and now she would be able to have a business of her own. 

As he looked over the scene before him for the last time, he recalled the first time he had seen it, as a schoolboy from the top of a number 394 bus. Even then it had seemed to draw him, although it was vastly different in those days. There had been a relatively insubstantial grey painted brick wall topped by three or four token strands of ordinary barbed wire. Where the Prison Hospital now stood had been a market garden, and he recalled grey suited prisoners working in it under the supervision of blue suited officers.

That memory fascinated him now. He had always wanted to know what went on behind those grey men, behind the grey wall. It seemed almost pre-ordained. He had now found out, and it was time to move on, knowing about the grey men, who now wore green; and knowing perhaps too much about the men in blue and how problematical they could be; knowing about Long Bay and looking to the future.

There was another side to Deputy Superintendent William Black and it wasn’t so confident. Billy Black had to admit he was scared. He had given up a life of security and status to throw himself into a challenge he was afraid he couldn’t meet.

So he was an Ab that had made good. Bloody brilliant. He had made good because he had always been scared. He had been scared of his old school master at primary school in the bush. The red neck favoured the use of a stick to instil knowledge into the heads of “little black bastards”. He had been scared of the priest too who frightened the mission kids into going to school on pain of everlasting damnation; which wasn’t far from the truth when he reflected on the problems of aboriginal crims. He had been so scared that he did go to class often enough and actually studied a bit. By 10 years of age he could read and write.

He had been scared to death of coming to Sydney too, leaving town early the next morning in their ancient Holden after a couple of old men had called to see his often drunken father one evening. He had been even more frightened when his mother and two elder sisters hadn’t come with them and his father wouldn’t say why.

Then there was La Perouse. Those were the days in the sixties when La Perouse featured three things: a golf course where the southerlies blew with unmitigated foulness on bad days; the Prince Henry Hospital with the last leprosarium in the country; and the colony of Abs who lived as far south on the peninsula as they could be pushed by white civilisation without falling into the sea.

They were neatly hidden beyond the hospital and the golf course on the east, and the oil refinery and the cemetery on the western side of the peninsula. Sydney’s whites could play their exclusive games or visit their sick without troubling themselves about blacks; or, if they were having an adventurous day out, go down and see the sights of Bare Island or the snake man show at the roadside. Such an interest in the dark side of life had not seemed respectable then.

A round topped MACEM [1] fence now replaced the old brick wall and token barbed wire around the prisons. The silver barrel on the top of the fence looked like a long, sinuous and surreal snake. How things had changed!

The system had changed too, with the introduction of Unit Management. No longer were prison guards just turnkeys. They had to be social workers now, case managing small groups of inmates. They were now called Correctional Officers – or to the old screws care bears.

He knew the theory alright, but he had to admit he had been shit scared during his time in jails after induction training. They had tried him for a week in the Remand Centre, and then in the medium security jail. Both times he got the Uncle Tom treatment and both times he couldn’t take it. He had only managed a few more months in segregation where paedophiles, informers and the other lower orders of the system were sent for their own safety.

So in the finish he had done all his time in the Emergency Squads, servicing jails from outside. Doing routine searches, supervising escorts and breaking up the occasional riot. That was easy too. He was young and he was surrounded by his mates, and they just had to follow their training. Shit, he only got his bravery medal for going into a leaderless mob and pulling another officer up off the ground and out. He couldn’t even remember doing it; let alone thinking about the consequences. I probably only got away with it because the mob was too surprised and disorganised to stop me, he thought.

Perhaps courage would also come now with a lack of deliberation. How the hell was he going to be brave as the first aboriginal prison General Manager in a new State? There were too many opportunities to fail, and the worry of imagining failure was another worry in itself. At least he had Maria, he reflected. Although he had enough self understanding to recognise the extent of the mother surrogate she could become. Bloody good home cooking too, and that meant a run every morning to keep the weight down.

Hell, he thought with a surge of anxiety, why hadn’t he had the sense to stay where he was. He took in the view with one last sweep of his eyes. I am, no I was comfortable here he thought. An Ab with a steel snake totem. The modern aborigine – a bloody Uncle Tom winding wire around his brothers. 

[1] MACEM – MULAWA ANTI CLIMB EXPANDED MESH:  a wire mesh fence topped by a steel barrel along its length at least 1m round to make climbing impossible. Viewed from above such fences look like shiny snakes. Such a fence was first built in NSW at the Mulawa Women’s Prison at Silverwater. A different version of such fences are topped with one or more coils of razor wire – which cuts as it goes in, and cuts as it comes out. 

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