The Great Bookie Robbery: Ray “Chuck” Bennett, Les Kane and the fall of the Painters and Dockers Union
In April 1976, around $15 million was stolen from the bookmakers at Melbourne’s Victoria Club. Soon known as the “Great Bookie Robbery”, the heist is believed to have been masterminded by Raymond “Chuck” Bennett, who had been associated with the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union (FSPDU) in the 1960s. Since then, he had left the country to join a ring of Australian shoplifters operating in Europe. Known as the “Kangaroo Gang” for their Australian background, the group had dissolved in the 1970s, with several members entering the international drug trade.
For his part, Bennett returned to Australia, making waves with both the Great Bookie Robbery and his subsequent refusal to pay tribute to Melbourne’s Kane brothers. Like Bennett, they were closely associated with the Painters and Dockers, allegedly using their power in the union to levy a tax on criminal activity in Melbourne. Then, in 1978, Les Kane was gunned down in his home in an attack which is believed to have been led by Bennett, who was acquitted in the resulting trial. One year later however, Bennett was shot dead while appearing in court on an unrelated charge.
Despite the police presence, Bennett’s shooter escaped, with their identity generally believed to be Brian Kane. By 1982 he too was dead, murdered in a Melbourne hotel. At his funeral, several figures who would go on to achieve their own notoriety in the Melbourne underworld would pay their respects:
After Kane was murdered on November 26, 1982 there were more than 100 death notices from friends, family, and some men who would fill the void left by the series of murders. Mick Gatto and Alphonse Gangitano were to pay their respects while one notice to “Uncle Brian” was signed by “Your little mate, Jason Moran”.
Jason, who went on to marry Les Kane’s daughter, would himself go on to be a prominent Melbourne criminal, benefitting from close contacts with former Painters and Dockers after the union was deregistered in the 1990s.