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

ScoMo-tion demise

The accidental PM appears accident prone

Still from The Old Man and the Gun

‘The Old Man and the Gun’ and the outlaw Robert Redford

David Lowery’s new film pays too much tribute to the Sundance Kid

Image from ‘House of Cards’

The magnificently messy ‘House of Cards’

The show that made Netflix a major player comes to a satisfying and ludicrous end

How you are when you leave

This must be how it feels to retire


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)


More in Arts & Letters

Still from The Old Man and the Gun

‘The Old Man and the Gun’ and the outlaw Robert Redford

David Lowery’s new film pays too much tribute to the Sundance Kid

Image of Eddie Perfect

Eddie Perfect goes to Broadway

The Australian composer has two musicals – ‘Beetlejuice’ and ‘King Kong’ – opening in New York

Image of Julia Holter

A bigger, shinier cage: Julia Holter’s ‘Aviary’

A classically schooled composer seeks shelter from the cacophony of modern life

Detail of a painting of Barron Field

Barron Field and the myth of terra nullius

How a minor poet made a major historical error


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 ‘House of Cards’

The magnificently messy ‘House of Cards’

The show that made Netflix a major player comes to a satisfying and ludicrous end

Image of Scott Morrison and the ScoMo Express

The ScoMo Express backfires

The PM’s farcical bus tour cements spin over substance as his brand

Image from ‘Suspiria’

Twisted sisters: Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’

Sentimentality ruins the magic of this otherwise unsettling and actively cruel film

Image from ‘The Other Side of the Wind’

Orson Welles’s ‘The Other Side of the Wind’ and Morgan Neville’s ‘They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead’

The auteur’s messy mockumentary and the documentary that seeks to explain it are imperfect but better together


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