‘The Real Chopper’ by Adam Shand – Book Review

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Review by John Kerrens

He has been called “a modern day Ned Kelly” and “a bullshit-artist”, both of which are applicable to Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, who passed away in 2013. A new biography; ‘The Real Chopper, the Man Behind the Legend, Inside and Out’ by Adam Shand, attempts (successfully, as far as most of us can tell) to sort out the myths, lies and obfuscations from the real life of Mark Read.

The overwhelming impression Shand’s book gives of Chopper Read is that of a violent psychopath and a self-serving liar. Read’s own books also give this impression, but many Read-fans believed his entertaining stories. Read’s destructive mindset is already evident in his first book; not only in his violent behaviour, but also in his chronic determination to demoralise and degrade everyone; friend and foe alike. And like all psychopaths, he felt no remorse about his behaviour.

Read got off to a poor start in life; his mother, a devout Seventh Day Adventist, held her religion above her children and had Mark placed in an orphanage for the first year or so of his life. He claimed that she later had him committed to a psychiatric hospital for a course of electro-shock therapy and psychoactive stun-drugs which probably left him with a “deficit” (he was convinced that there was a misdiagnosis and the prescription of wrong drugs turned him into a monster). His father, Keith, was a career soldier who converted to Adventism to please his wife. Whenever she decided that Mark needed disciplining, Keith would thrash him black and blue with his belt while she watched; impassive and uncaring.

Not surprisingly, Chopper was a lonely child who found it difficult to make friends, and impossible to keep them. His books, accordingly, contained a number of “fantasy friends”, composites, etc… (this reviewer was convinced that “Dave the Jew” and “Cowboy Johnny Harris” were made-up characters, but Shand says they did exist as composites). The Surrey Road gang and its militant activities were pure fiction, however.

Read’s underworld ambitions would never be realized. In Pentridge prison, he was the most despised of all the inmates, due in part to the fact that he was regarded by others as being a snitch. There were times when it was only his collusion with the guards that kept him alive. On the outside, he would enthusiastically collaborate with the police, giving up other criminals as/when it suited his purposes (at one point, he inexplicably shopped in his old friend Mad Charlie to the police – presumably because he could). He would, unwisely, tell others that he was actually employed by the police to carry out various extra-legal activities on their behalf. This only served to make him even more toxic within the Melbourne criminal world.

Then there were his bogus claims of kidnapping drug dealers, cutting off their toes with bolt-cutters etc… to persuade them to part with their ill-gotten moneys. Shand called him out on this and states unequivocally that Read had never engaged in such acts and was in fact projecting the life and times of the legendary standover man Linus Driscoll, whom he hero-worshipped.

Mark “Chopper” Read, for all his entertaining tales and self-mythologizing, certainly was a violent and, sometimes, complex man, and he never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

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