Now 85 years later, two former Sydney school teachers Phillip Roope and Kevin Meagher have unearthed new evidence from the police investigation and previously unseen photos that may help solve the real-life whodunit.
Their book launched last month, Shark Arm, is set in a Sydney of high-speed boat chases, American gangster fashion killings, police collusion, forgery, drugs and smuggling. It also contains names who have since shot to prominence like barrister Clive Evatt, who represented the accused murderer Paddy Brady; shark expert David Stead (father of novelist Christina); and Sydney Harbour royalty, such as the Holmes family, whose McMahons Point boat-building business was considered the best on the harbour; and the Stannard Brothers, who have had one of the longest associations of any family with commercial maritime activities on the harbour.
We can thank the keen eye of a Herald proof reader Narcisse Leo Young who first spotted the human arm with a length of rope attached to the wrist, floating above the scum above the shark in the aquarium. Young recalled the “frightful stench” around the shark, which had been caught a few days before mere kilometres off Coogee Beach.
The arm was identified as belonging to James Smith, of Gladesville who had run a Darling Street billiard room in Rozelle, and some SP bookmaking on the side.
But the only witness Reginald Holmes was shot near Dawes Point on the morning of the coronial inquest.
Roope and Meagher, two former English and history high-school teachers, became fascinated with the story while teaching at a southern Sydney high school, and found it retold in a Year 9 text of Australian short stories.
“The Shark Arm story stood out, it was always a well-thumbed part of the book,” Roope says.
“The boys we taught never tired of the retelling of this gory story,” says Meagher.
The pair believe there are similarities in the investigations of the Shark Arm case and that of missing boy William Tyrell and the disapparance suspected murder of Northern Beaches woman Lynette Dawson, currently before the courts.
Roope and Meagher are thrilled with the recent review of their book in Police News which said: “The authors’ conclusions ring with veracity.”
As coroner Edward Oram in 1935 touched rather poetically on the mystery at the heart of the Shark Arm case: “it was a million to one chance that this one shark, in all the sea, should have been placed in an aquarium.”
Fellow jailbird flies to the rescue
James Ricketson, the Australian filmmaker jailed for 15 months in Cambodia charged with espionage, has flown to London to support jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at his London extradition trial which starts on Monday.
The Palm Beach-based filmmaker has flown to the UK at his own expense as have government backbencher George Christensen and independent MP Andrew Wilkie.
The award-winning film and documentary maker, jailed in 2017 for flying a drone at a rally in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, says he owes Assange “a debt of thanks”.
When he was in jail and still able to communicate, Ricketson sent a message asking for help from Assange, then holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
“Julian got back to me within an hour and gave me some very important advice on how to deal with the Australian government which helped secure my release,” the 70-year-old Sydneysider told PS.
Since his return to Australia, Ricketson has become close to Assange’s father, John Shipton, who has sold his house to support his son, and flown to London with his five-year-old daughter, for the trial which will determine if his son will be extradited to the United States.
Ricketson, whose films include Third Person Plural starring Bryan Brown, and Blackfellas starring John Hargreaves, hopes to visit Assange in Belmarsh Prison and take part in a London demonstration today in support of Assange, also accused of espionage.
Godfather of fashion spreads joy
This week the University of Sydney lost its Vice Chancellor Michael Spence, and daytime trading at its infamous Manning Bar – watering hole to many an undergraduate including comedians Tom Gleeson, Andrew O’Keefe, Rob Carlton and Charles Firth – but gained $4 million in research money.
Peter Weiss, known as the “Godfather of Australian fashion” is the benefactor of the money which will enable University of Sydney researchers based at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) and Westmead Hospital, to study lung disease.
Mr Weiss, 84, who became famous in the 1980s for the fashion business he ran with his first wife Adele, then for his contribution to the arts, was diagnosed in 2012 with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Reflecting on the donation which will fund 10 senior researchers and at least five postgraduate students, and his philanthropy in general he said: “There’s not a lot of joy around, these things give me joy.”
Laurie’s luncheon laments
A gaggle of journalists and media junkies gathered on Wednesday to watch 2GB radio host Ben Fordham interview former political journalist Laurie Oakes for the inaugural Sydney Media Club luncheon.
Hosted by the Kennedy Awards at Bar M, the Italian eatery at Rushcutters Bay, the 76-year-old Canberra Press Gallery veteran, didn’t hold back on his criticism of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom he declared not a “natural” or “instinctive” politician. “ScoMo’s never been good at getting the tone right,” he said of the timing of the PM’s holiday to Hawaii amid the recent bushfires.
Former Liberal staffer and member of the PM’s inner circle David Gazzard, was in the lunching crowd but didn’t choke on his over-sized spatchcock (or was it the gnocchi?) when he heard the criticism of his close mate. When questioned about the story that led to former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce’s removal from the deputy prime ministership, Oakes said “bonking is not news, and shouldn’t be news.” He then went on to share his regrets about the story he broke in 2002 about former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans’ relationship with former Australian Democrats and ALP politician Cheryl Kernot. “I wish I had never got onto it,” Oakes said in retrospect.
Hang on to your Holdens
Australia’s iconic car, the Holden, star of Mad Max movies, and Ted Bullpit’s Kingswood Country, is suddenly the brand everyone has to have. Following this week’s announcement of its closure, Lloyds Auctions has been flooded with enquiries from people this week wanting to buy a Holden Classic, according to Brett Mudie, the chief marketing officer for Lloyds Auctions.
A 1970 Holden Monaro once owned by Australian businessman Lindsay Fox, which sold at auction in January for $250,000, would have doubled overnight, a Lloyds spokesman said. The car in showroom condition, which sold for $5000 when manufactured, with original Kashmir white paint and antique gold trim, had only 322 miles on the odometer.
The very first Holden Dealer Team HT Monaro 57D also sold for $500,000 and Peter Brock’s dual Bathurst winning VH Commodore back in October 2018 broke auction records selling for $2.1million.
Sign-gate a sign of times
For those residents in Bundeena tying themselves in knots about the removal of the 4-knot sign from the front of Kerryn Phelps and Jackie Stricker-Phelp‘s new house, we have an update.
Despite assurances from the Department of Transport that the sign at the front of the house the couple settled on this week was removed at the request of the new owners, the couple insist otherwise. They say the real estate agent who sold them the $3.25 million beachfront property, Debbie Donnelley of Phillips Pantzer Donnelley, organised the removal of the sign with the vendor, George Harrison.
‘‘We love Bundeena and have received a warm welcome back from locals after four years’ absence,” Dr Phelps told PS.
She responded to claims from Bundanesians who criticised the couple for not shopping at the local supermarket and their over-zealous insistence of “poo pick up on the beach”.
She also clarified that they did not build a boat ramp at the previous home but resurfaced an old one.
“Jackie and I can shop for food where we want (including the local IGA). I don’t think anybody who is not a sociopath wants dog poo left on beaches,” Dr Phelps said.
“Let’s concentrate on real issues like recovery from the recent bushfire disaster, dealing with the coronavirus epidemic, improving Sydney, better infrastructure, saving our planet for future generations and humane treatment for refugees,” Dr Phelps told PS.
She would neither confirm nor deny if she would be running in the Sydney Lord Mayoral race, but watch this space.
Helen Pitt is a journalist at the The Sydney Morning Herald.