I’ll be adding a new chapter of Big White Lies each week.
Here’s the glossary of terms. Chapter One starts below it.
Koori – a non-derogatory term for an Australian aboriginal person
Kookaburra – native Australian bird with a call that sounds like laughter
Drongo – Australian slang for ‘fool’
Fair dinkum – Australian slang for ‘serious’
Wah di rass mun – Jamaican slang, similar to ‘what the hell, man?’
I had a Barry Crocker – rhyming slang for ‘I had a shocker…’
Two-bob crook – police slang for ‘a low-level criminal, an amateur.’
You’ve lost your marbles – slang for ‘you’re crazy’
Wider than the Nullarbor – the Nullarbor Plain covers a huge area in southern Australia
Aerial ping-pong – slang term for the sport of Australian Rules Football
Could eat the crutch out of a low-flying duck – slang for ‘very hungry’
Tell a porkpie – slang for ‘to tell a lie’
Pharlap – a champion Australian racehorse
“Porter, Nadia’s missin’ and it’s your fault.”
Liniment fumes filled the ice-box that doubled as Redfern Youth Club’s admin office and whacked Dan Porter on the nose. He stopped typing, blinked stinging eyes and peered over the computer monitor towards his accuser.
Eddy Tindall, a sleek Koori teenager, stood in the doorway. He hissed like a peeved cobra. “You hear what I said, Porter? I thought you’re different from other cops,” he shouted above the ruckus behind him. “But you aint, you’re just another useless pig who don’t give a shit.”
Porter blew hot air. Lips vibrated. He stood and stretched his back. He strolled to Eddy then looked past him to the boxing ring in the middle of the gym. Tugger Walford, wearing a faded blue singlet and white shorts, leaned against the ropes. He held a punching pad in one hand and phone against his ear in the other.
Porter frowned, guts churned. Nadia was Eddy’s younger sister, a gem of a girl who brought him homemade biscuits whenever she came to watch Eddy train. “She’s been missing since when?”
Eddy jammed boxing gloves into black, glistening thighs. “This arvo. I wanted to pick her up from school ‘cos of what’s going on.” His face flushed purple. “But couldn’t, ‘cos you pricks made me come here.”
“Okay, enough of that…Calm down and tell me wh–.”
“Nah, shove your boxin’.” He ripped the gloves off and threw them at Porter’s feet. “Don’t care if you lock me up. I’m outta here…” He turned and ran towards the exit.
Tugger climbed from the ring and watched him. “Get back ‘ere young fella.”
Porter stepped into the grey gym. Eddy shoved the exit door then slammed it shut behind him. The other boys stopped training, a flock of laughing kookaburras. Porter told them to get back to it.
He beckoned Tugger to join him then trudged into the office and fell into a chair. He rubbed a smooth jaw and stared at the biscuit jar on the desk. When Nadia had given it to him she’d blushed and giggled. Bloody hell, have the bastards taken her too?
Tugger ambled in, sat opposite and rested hairy arms on a pot belly. An ex-boxer with a mangled nose to show for it, he helped Porter run a boxing program for juvenile offenders every Tuesday afternoon. He was a dark-skinned sexagenarian with a resemblance to Danny DeVito, with tufts of white hair circling a bald crown and a comical face that made others smile. His official title was ‘ACLO Walford’, as the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer for City of Sydney police command. He’d held the position for a year but had played peace-keeper between cops and Kooris for decades.
“Sorry ‘bout that, Port,” Tugger said. “Not makin’ excuses for ‘im but Eddy’s frantic. Just spoke to ‘is mum, they’ve no idea where Nadia is.”
“No worries, been called much worse. And that tantrum just now isn’t why I’ve decided to take him off the program.”
“What? Thought you were on his side?”
“Cut that bullshit, mate, you know I am. But he’s almost eighteen and needs to start helping himself. And it’s probably out of my control now…”
“I just read the latest lab report. He’s tested positive to crystal meth again.”
“You think Juve Justice will want ‘im locked up this time?”
“Reckon so, with his record full of petty thefts then three armed robberies in a month…He was lucky to be here.”
“I told ‘im that, to pull ‘is head in. Even tried gettin’ ‘im to church.”
Porter smirked. “I bet that went down like maggots in a meat pie…”
Tugger folded arms. “Wouldn’t hurt you either, comin’ to Sunday mass now and again.”
“Reckon I’d rather be at a Justin Bieber concert, and that’s saying something…”
“A non-believer eh?”
“Nah, there’s a few things I believe in.”
“Well, Eddy weren’t real keen on the church invite either. He’s been hangin’ with that Neilsen grub just to spite me.”
“I reckon he’d be dealing too…”
“Then doin’ a bit of time might be good for ‘im? It could get ‘im off the gear and away from Neilsen.”
Porter glanced at the biscuit jar. He saw an image of Nadia’s smiling face. She seemed happy. Strange, because a stabbing pain in his chest told him she was far from it. He checked his watch. “It’s just gone five…They sure Nadia’s not with friends?”
“She always says if she aint goin’ straight home. Friends aint seen her. It’s a worry.”
“Too right…” Porter draped a navy-blue tie around his neck then buttoned cuffs of a turquoise business shirt. “I’ve got a meeting about the missing girls taskforce tonight and will be out searching for her afterwards…”
“I needed at the meetin’?”
“Nah, it’s only political bullshit…”
“I’ve got a feeling Moorecroft’s gunna pull the plug on it.”
“You’re kiddin’?” Tugger unfolded arms and leaned forward. “How many girls we up to? You’d be crazy to stop investigatin’.”
“Hope I’m wrong…”
“Bloody oath. How I tell families ‘round ‘ere that their girls are vanishin’ but coppers can’t be arsed lookin’ for ‘em?”
“I don’t reckon the Asian and African communities will be too impressed either.”
Tugger scoffed. “That supposed to make us Kooris feel better, ‘cos a few Asian and Somali girls are missin’ too? No wonder families like the Tindall’s are pissed, they know your mob aint doin’ enough.”
“Eh don’t forget, you work for the cops now. My mob’s your mob…But you’re spot on. We can’t blame ‘em for being angry.”
“They’ll show how angry if Moorecroft ends the taskforce…They’re scared, Port, ‘cos nothin’ like this has happened before.”
“Yeah, two of the girls are from Amber’s school and Jane’s beside herself.”
Tugger lowered black eyes. “I shouldn’t rant, not when you’ve got your own girl to worry about. Just frustrated…”
“I get it…But cops on this taskforce are flat out, working hours of unpaid overtime. It’s piss-weak bosses skimping on resources that let us down.”
“Yep, and I bet they’d find the overtime money if young white girls were missin’…”
Porter couldn’t disagree.
“Look, I see the good work you coppers do, what others don’t. But Kooris are talkin’ of protests and riots and they want change. And they still don’t trust you fellas, despite your bosses sayin’ different.”
“They trust you, kids through to elders. If you ask for calm they’ll listen.”
“Like you said, I’m workin’ for the cops now and trouble-makin’ Kooris don’t like it…” Tugger reached into a pocket and threw a red pamphlet on the desk. “They’re listenin’ to fellas like ‘im.”
Porter scanned the pamphlet. “Where’d this come from?”
“They’re all over the city. He’s put ads in papers too.”
“Who?” He paused to read from it. “This…Lionel Roberts?”
“Yep, he’s the new Aboriginal rights fella for Legal Aid. Based here in Sydney.”
“I didn’t know Legal Aid had human rights advocates…”
“Some judge created the positions back in ‘07 after those interventions up in the Territory. Every State’s supposed to have one. Only taken eleven years to get ours…”
“You know this Roberts bloke?”
“Yep, since he’s a pup…He grew up ‘ere in Redfern, a good Koori kid. Haven’t seen ‘im for a bit ‘cos he’s been out west.”
“Roberts?” Porter scratched a cheek. “I know most Koori families around here. But not them…”
“Lionel don’t have real family ‘round here, not that we know of. Was only days old when the nuns found ‘im dumped at Saint Francis. Father Roberts, bless ‘is soul, took ‘im in and raised him.”
Porter had attended police funerals at Saint Francis, the oldest church in South Sydney. “When was that?”
“Around ’78 I guess, ‘cos Lionel’s forty this year…”
“Same here. Reckon I’ve spent a lot less time in church though.”
Tugger chuckled. “Lionel, or Lio as we call ‘im, was always of strong faith. Takes ‘is job real serious and from what fellas tell me he’s a jet. Made a name for himself out bush and is lookin’ to do the same here.”
Porter read aloud from the pamphlet. “Police must do more to find Sydney’s missing girls. The incompetent police hierarchy has failed to protect our sisters and daughters. Trust me to save them. Any information helps. Stronger, together, let’s bring them home. Contact my office at daa, daa, daa…Confidentiality assured. Lionel Roberts, Bachelor of Law with honors, University of Sydney…”
“Like I said, he’s full of gusto with plenty of support already.”
“Incompetent police hierarchy.” Porter sniggered. “No argument there…But why Legal Aid? With honors in law he’d make squillions at a private firm.”
“Money’s never been an issue.”
“Other orphans at Saint Francis went to state schools. But Lio went to posh, private ones. He didn’t work during uni…Someone outside the church sponsored his education. No small change…”
“No-one knows. Not even Lio, I’ve asked ‘im.”
“Strange…” Porter read aloud from the pamphlet, imitating the baritone bravado of his childhood hero, Roger Ramjet. “Trust me, to save them…” He chuckled. “This bloke’s on a one-man crusade. Bit naïve isn’t he?”
“No, Port, he’s different…”
“Well, reckon I’ll come across him sooner or later. And he’s spot on, we’re not doing enough.” He waved the pamphlet. “But this breeds mistrust. It’s hard enough getting info from Kooris without sprouting paranoia…”
“Or the truth? Now you’re being naïve…Kooris are born with paranoia about your mob.”
Porter smirked and returned the pamphlet. Your mob. He swiveled in the chair to face a mirror, knotted the tie then finger-combed his dark-brown fringe to the left. He leaned towards the mirror and squinted green eyes. In the past year crows feet had crept into the skin around them. In recent months they’d become Pterodactyl claws.
He scratched the scar that ran two inches down the middle of his forehead, the permanent reminder of a knife-wielding junkie’s attempted lobotomy, and yawned as he turned from the wall. He bent to straighten trousers over polished black shoes then stood and hauled an imitation-leather briefcase from the desk.
“Get Roberts on side, Tugger, for the girls’ sake.”
“Leave it with me…”
Porter jabbed his shoulder. “Good man.”
“And you talk some sense into them politicians tonight. Tell ‘em they’ll lose the streets if they scrap your taskforce and have more blood on their hands.”
Porter turned in the doorway. “We’re fighting an uphill battle against these drongos but I’ll give it a crack…And don’t fret, Nadia will be okay.” The pain in his chest stabbed again. Why would Tugger believe him, when he didn’t believe himself?
“You said that about them other girls, months ago, and they aint come home yet.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll find ‘em,” Porter said. “If it kills me…”