Leigh Straw

Author & Academic

The Worst Woman in Sydney

The Life and Crimes of Kate Leigh

Matriarch of the criminal underworld … or the Robin Hood of inner Sydney?

The legend of Kate Leigh, Sydney’s famed brothel madam, sly grog seller and drug dealer, has loomed large in TV’s Underbelly and every other account of Sydney’s criminal history from the 1920s to the 1960s. But she has never had a biography of her own.

Despite having more than 100 criminal convictions to her name, Kate Leigh is also remembered as a local hero, giving money to needy families and supporting her local community through the hard times of Depression and war. Here, novelist and historian Leigh Straw teases out the full story of how this wayward Reformatory girl from Dubbo made a fortune in eastern Sydney and defied the gender stereotyping of the time to become a leading underworld figure.

DS Claire Patterson is back.

It's a year since the Limestone case and rival organised crime leaders seek to turn the city into a battleground for their ruthless ambitions. When a body washes up in the river and a man is found dead near the Round House, the Fremantle team know the underworld feud just got a whole lot deadlier.

Claire's former partner, Michael Halliday, is refusing to come back to work. Facing retribution for the Limestone case, Halliday is keeping a low profile managing his pub. DS Luke Groves is brought in from the Organised Crime Squad in Perth to fill Halliday's position and he's looking to make his mark at Fremantle Station.

As war looks set to boil over in Fremantle's underside, Patterson and Groves know they need to end the feud before it claims another victim. Next time it could be one of their own.

‘It’s all over now, Maggie. I will release you.’

Afraid, alone, and forsaken. A killer is stalking the historic West End streets of Fremantle preying upon the women of the port city. When a third lifeless body is found discarded in a dank alleyway with her throat ripped open, Detective Sergeant Claire Patterson is convinced she is dealing with a serial killer.

For DS Patterson, this is her first time leading a major investigation, and she's intent on proving she has what it takes, even if it means working with the antagonising DS Michael Halliday.

As the murders grip the city with fear, Claire Patterson must learn to trust Halliday if she is to catch a killer before he strikes again.

DRUNKS, PESTS AND HARLOTS

Criminal Women in Perth and Fremantle, 1900-1939

Drunks, Pests & Harlots

Esther Warden was the ‘terror’ of West End Fremantle and the most dangerous woman in Western Australia. Lilly Doyle kept company with thieves and rogues and was listed an an ‘undesirable’. May Ahern was a ‘fallen’ woman who lured men into dark street corners, tempting them away from the path of virtue.

Esther, Lilly and May were notorious female criminals in early twentieth-century Perth and Fremantle. Criminalised as drunks, prostitutes and vagrants, women committing offences against good order faced a double punishment for their social and gender transgressions.

'Drunks, Pests and Harlots' takes a trip through the underworld streets of Perth and Fremantle from 1900-1939. It offers a glimpse into the lives of criminal women facing close police surveillance, negative media coverage, strict incarceration and institutionalisation.

These lives present historical perspectives on female offenders and the development of public critiques of women who fail to meet the expectations of society.

SOPHIA LANE

Crime Fiction

Eastern Sydney in the 1920s. Slumland streets controlled by two women - crime bosses Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine. Lyndsey Collier, an ambitious country girl, joins the Women's Police.

As her work draws her into Sydney's underworld, Lyndsey discovers a greater threat than the criminals she is investigating. Betrayed by a corrupt police officer, Lyndsey escapes into the shadows of underworld Sydney to protect the man she loves.

A lifetime away and nearing death, Lyndsey begins to tell her story to Abigail Hollingsworth, a nurse at Kirkland Home for the Elderly. As she is caught up in the tale, Abby must also confront her own troubled marriage.

A gritty, haunting story of loss and regret and of a love that brings together two women generations apart.

WISDOM IN WORDS

Robert Kennedy's Search for Meaning, 1963-1968

In the months following the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy struggled to find meaning in a world that no longer made sense.

For the first time in his life, he had to make a choice about what he wanted to do and what kind of public figure he would be. In the midst of his grief, he discovered the wisdom of the ancient Greeks and French-Algerian philosopher, Albert Camus.

At poignant moments in his major speeches from 1964-1968 Robert Kennedy used passages from the Greeks and Camus to express himself and inspire his audiences. This passion for reading allowed Kennedy to intellectualise his public identity and communicate in a raw, honest way. Influenced by the Greeks and Camus, RFK's last years represent a new consciousness about the world around him.

This book details the words of wisdom that inspired Robert Kennedy and allowed him to leave his own legacy in words.

A brutal killing and a secret hidden for fifty years. Kathryn Kelly, historian and archivist, is planning a WWII exhibition at Verity Library. Her latest acquisition contains private journals from a recently deceased veteran. It should be a day like any other.

What Kathryn discovers in the journals will change her life and threaten everyone close to her. Kathryn has uncovered the truth behind the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963. She knows the identity of the second shooter on the grassy knoll. Was it the CIA, the Mafia, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, the Cubans, the Russians or others?

Legacy is a powerful thriller that reveals a shocking twist in the assassination of President Kennedy. It will make you question everything you thought you knew about JFK's assassination.

Scots migrating to colonial Western Australia were part of a nineteenth century trend taking Scots to various corners of the world. By the mid-nineteenth century Scots were scattered across the globe, most noticeably in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, continuing a tradition existing since the seventeenth century. But while the large groups of Scottish migrants are well known, smaller groups of Scots such as existed in Western Australia are the least recognised in settler historiography.

Focussing on the lives of the first Scots arriving in the Swan River colony from 1829 to 1850, A Semblance of Scotland shows how not all Scots went out to areas with large groups of compatriots. Westralian Scots can be seen as an example of small migrant groups that, rather than be absorbed, can and do retain a strong sense of identity.

Dr Leigh Straw is an academic, historian, and writer. She is a Senior Lecturer in Australian and Aboriginal Studies at the University of Notre Dame Fremantle.

Leigh's true crime biography of Sydney underworld figure, Kate Leigh, who also featured in the author's historical fiction book 'Sophia Lane', is out now.

Leigh is currently working on two new books. 'After the War: Returned Soldiers and the Mental and Physical Scars of World War 1' (UWA Publishing) looks at the experiences of men who returned from the war and had to readjust to civilian life. It is a story of life after the war for returned servicemen and their families. The book will be released in August 2017.

Leigh's other current work, 'Lillian Armfield', explores the life of Australia's first female detective in early twentieth century Sydney and is expected to be released in early 2018 with Hachette Australia.

Leigh is the author of the award-winning local history 'Drunks, Pests and Harlots: Criminal Women in Perth and Fremantle, 1900-1939' and the Fremantle based Claire Patterson crime fiction series.