Wednesday 19th August 1925:
In the 1920s Sydney found itself the centre of a thriving trade in illicit drugs, the most prevalent being cocaine. There were fast profits to be made, with very little risk of prosecution. Harry Newman was probably the first to recognise the potential of the cocaine trade. He turned drug running into a highly organised, large-scale business - but in the end died penniless.
Born in London in 1891, Newman emigrated to Australia to make his fortune. He began as a successful, legitimate businessman, and by 1924 he was able to take his wife and three children back to England for a twelve-month holiday. It was there he was first introduced to the 'white lady', cocaine, and quickly realised its huge market potential in Sydney.
Sydney got its first real taste of cocaine via troops returning from World War I. By 1924 it was estimated that fifty per cent of prostitutes in the Kings Cross-Darlinghurst area had become regular 'snorters'.
Newman's first problem was to secure regular supplies of the drug. Dentists at the time were allowed two ounces of cocaine a year for medicinal purposes, and Newman found that once he had managed to buy one amount from a dentist he could blackmail the man into providing a regular supply.
At the same time Newman began to familiarise himself with the workings of the Sydney underworld. He needed to know just where it would be safe to peddle his drugs, and what areas were taboo - no man would risk encroaching on another's established territory. The threat of violence at the hands of the razor gangs saw to that.
|The profits were enormous...|
The profits were enormous. Newman bought the cocaine for a mere £1 a unit and sold it for £50. He always claimed his 'snow' was 100 per cent pure, but police who seized some of his stocks at one stage found it was thirty per cent boracic acid. While Newman was smart enough not to use cocaine himself, his customers went rapidly downhill. Police gave an appalling account of a once-attractive prostitute: 'Her eyes were shrunken far into their sockets and the bridge of her nose had disappeared, leaving the nostrils distended. Her skin was parchment-like.'
Police were well aware of Newman's activities, but were unable to do anything about him. He had to be caught in the act of selling to be convicted.'
|Possessing cocaine was not an offence...|
Just possessing cocaine was not considered an offence. In 1927, however, the law was changed to allow for prison sentences for those found in possession of illicit drugs. At the same time the New South Wales government created a special drug squad. It was spectacularly successful, arresting many drug dealers and smashing the huge rackets. Harry Newman, though, seemed invincible.
On one occasion he was seen entering the house of the notorious underworld figure 'Botany' May Smith, carrying a large parcel. A detective outside the house didn't recognise Newman, but was quite sure what was in the parcel. Smith had been under surveillance for some time as a suspected drug dealer and this appeared to be the break they were after.
When the detective went into the house he found no sign of the parcel, just Newman and Smith sitting at the kitchen table. It was a pity he didn't look inside two freshly cooked rabbits on the table, for that was where Newman had concealed the thirty packets of cocaine he had carried inside.
|A stall at Paddy's Market|
At about the same time Newman took a stall at Paddy's Market, selling old gramophone records. It was nothing more than an income cover-up, but it served its purpose. The heads of the Sydney police even recommended that the young constables visit the store to familiarise themselves with Newman and his cronies.
Newman moved into the technological age when he bought himself a Dodge automobile fitted with a police band radio. He was able to remain one step ahead of impending raids on his dealers by intercepting police messages and racing to warn his men.
Newman even managed to escape prosecution when he was caught with over 100 packets of cocaine on him. The arresting officer hopped into the Dodge with him and ordered him to drive to the police station. Newman used his intimate knowledge of Sydney's back streets to drive up a narrow dead-end lane. The police officer obligingly checked to see if all was clear while Newman backed out of the lane. While the officer's head was turned Newman lobbed the cocaine out of his window into the gutter, and escaped prosecution because of a lack of evidence.
As Newman's empire grew, and branched out into smuggling, he also became increasingly hooked on horse racing. As fast as he made his money he blew it on gambling. In his efforts to make up his losses Newman started up as a bookie at the dog races, and promptly lost £1000.
Finally he reached desperation point, and took risks that he would not have even considered in earlier days. Following an attempt to bribe police, he was picked up and found to have in his possession eighteen packets of cocaine.
After a nine months' sentence, and a £200 fine, Newman was released. Penniless and broken. Harry Newman drifted into obscurity, never to reappear on the drug scene. Like the victims that had bought his 'white death', he faded into nothingness.