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

No news is bad news

Australia’s free press is on life support

Image of Robyn Davidson

Something mythic

For Robyn Davidson, her acclaimed memoir ‘Tracks’ was an act of freedom whose reception hemmed her in

COVID-19 versus human rights

The virus is the latest excuse for governments to slash and burn the individual rights of prisoners

Image of Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

Road map to nowhere

Angus Taylor’s road map is anything but an emissions reduction strategy


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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Melbourne-born, New York–based filmmaker Kitty Green’s powerfully underplayed portrait of Hollywood’s abusive culture

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What is the future of cinema without cinemas?


More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

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Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller


Read on

Image of Robyn Davidson

Something mythic

For Robyn Davidson, her acclaimed memoir ‘Tracks’ was an act of freedom whose reception hemmed her in

COVID-19 versus human rights

The virus is the latest excuse for governments to slash and burn the individual rights of prisoners

Image of Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

Road map to nowhere

Angus Taylor’s road map is anything but an emissions reduction strategy

Into the slippery unknown: ‘The Gospel of the Eels’

Patrik Svensson’s eloquent debut is a hymn to the elusiveness of eels and an ode to family


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