December 2012 – January 2013

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Richard Neville & Charles Sobhraj

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Long, lean and languid-limbed with Mick Jagger lips and hair to his shoulders, Richard Neville was the very picture of a bell-bottomed hippie. A pioneer of the war on deference, the one-time UNSW student newspaper editor was convicted and sentenced to prison for publishing a rude satirical magazine called OZ. That was 1964.

In 1966, aged 25, Neville upped stumps to London, went fluorescent and co-founded a psychedelic version of OZ. All too soon, he found himself at the centre of the longest obscenity trial in British legal history, charged with conspiring to corrupt public morals by publishing an offensive depiction of Rupert the Bear. The case was a sensation, a free speech milestone. John and Yoko protested the guilty verdict. Between court appearances and spliffs, Neville knocked out Playpower, a gleefully chaotic insiders’ guide to the counter-culture from the barricades of Paris to the Istanbul–Kathmandu trail. But the hash cookie had begun to crumble. All too soon, the hippy hippy shake was all shook out. Worse, there was a serpent in the garden.

Since 1970, Charles Sobhraj, a burglar, con man and smuggler, had been robbing satori-seeking Western stoners from Turkey to Thailand. The Paris-raised son of a Vietnamese mother and an Indian father started out by drugging and swindling his marks. Before long, he was killing them. Continually on the move, he eventually murdered at least 12 people.

In July 1977, commissioned to co-write a book on the serial killer, Richard Neville flew to Delhi, where Sobhraj was facing trial, arriving with a “crude theory of Charles as a child of colonialism revenging himself on the counter-culture”. Instead, he found himself being courted by a psychopath.

Over the next four months, Neville interviewed the charming, urbane and self-assured killer in a stifling courtroom cell. Eventually, on condition that Neville never testify against him, Sobhraj confessed to five known murders in Thailand and two in Nepal. He called them “the cleanings”.

Neville published the confessions in The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj and eventually returned to Australia and a brief attempt at a television career. Sobhraj was sentenced to 20 years’ jail, broke out, duchessed the system and was deported to France a free man in 1997. Six years later, he was recognised in the street in Kathmandu and arrested in the casino of the Yak and Yeti hotel. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and there he remains, a privileged inmate.

Richard Neville describes himself as a practising futurist. Charles Sobhraj is on Facebook.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

Cover: December 2012 – January 2013

December 2012 – January 2013

From the front page

The NBN-ding story

New developments in the interminable debate over broadband in Australia

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age

Penthouse magazine cover Aug 1993

Tasteful sexuality

An oral history of the Warwick & Joanne Capper ‘Penthouse’ shoot

Rhetoric vs reality

The government has no agenda for addressing the worsening economy


In This Issue

Image from ‘The Last Diggers’ by Ross Coulthart. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Lest We Inflate

Why do Australians lust for heroic war stories?

Ballarat–Colac Road

John McTernan, Parliament House, Canberra, 20 April 2012. © Penny Bradfield/Fairfax Syndication

The Strategist

Julia Gillard’s hard-nosed director of communications

‘Love Story’ by Florian Habicht (director), In limited release

‘Love Story’ by Florian Habicht (director)


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Still from Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre

‘Penny Wong: Passion and Principle’

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Margaret Simons’ biography of one of the country’s most admired politicians

Patricia Cornelius

Patricia Cornelius: No going gently

‘Anthem’ marks the return of the Australian playwright’s working-class theatre

East Melbourne liturgy


More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller


Read on

Image from ‘Judy’

Clang, clang, clang: ‘Judy’

The Judy Garland biopic confuses humiliation for homage

Image of Joel Fitzgibbon and Anthony Albanese

Climate of blame

Labor runs the risk of putting expediency over principle

Afterwards, nothing is the same: Shirley Hazzard

On the splendour of the acclaimed author’s distinctly antipodean seeing

We will not be complete

The time for convenient denial of Australia’s brutal history is past


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