Time spent with a loveable rogue
By Greg Tingle
Australia’s legendary private investigator, Tim “earthquake” Bristow, was one of Australia’s most colourful, and some may say, notorious underworld figures until his death earlier this year. He was also my friend and some time mentor.
Bristow was synonymous with Australia’s northern beaches community. He seemed to have contacts in almost every street from Palm Beach to Manly and beyond.
Our introduction came about via my late father in the mid-1980s when he and Bristow worked together as debt collectors. I helped out on the odd job as well, but my services were mainly in his trucking and property business.
Time with Bristow was precious, whether we were enjoying a bite at “Lucky and Pep’s Pizza” or having a punt at the Newport TAB, which had been the most successful book-making business of its kind under my grandfather's previous management.
Bristow wore many hats over his lifetime, including those of: private investigator (specialising in divorce cases); “problem solver” for industry disputes; a bouncer; and a competitive sportsman in diving, surfing and rugby.
Betting on the horses or collecting press clippings and videos of broadcasts he featured in were hobbies that continued well into later life.
In his younger years, he was a model and secured major sponsorship from Coca Cola: a real-life “chesty Bond.” He was a man’s man and a ladies’ man.
A spell in the New South Wales Police Service didn’t last long due to his unwillingness to bow to authority. His self-managed style did not bode well in an atmosphere of strict discipline.
In 1976, Bristow was convicted of assault and sentenced to 18 months in prison. A decade later he was sentenced to five years in prison for supplying Indian hemp. He was no angel, and this was touched upon by his brother during his eulogy.
Bristow struck fear into low-lifes in Australia. "I bribed police for 40 years. I found that the higher I went in society the lower the morals became," he was once quoted as saying.
He was both a very public and private personality. His funeral took place at St Thomas’ Church, North Sydney in February; his wake at Chatswood – both of which were public affairs.
He went to great lengths to keep his name out of the papers if he knew they intended to publish something detrimental about him. It is ironic one of his closest friends - the journalist and writer - Kevin Perkins, is now penning his biography: warts and all.
He had a love-hate relationship with the media and their interest in his exploits in the sometimes “seedy” construction industry.
Twice in the weeks before his death, I went to his beautiful Newport home to chat, drink and watch old video tapes of his TV interviews.
I mentioned a book I had read recently: “Not for Publication” by Chris Masters and a chapter of particular interest to me, entitled: “Guilty Buildings.”
I knew Bristow was the chapter's inferred subject but nonetheless I had to ask while I still had the opportunity.
Bristow jovially confessed.
Literally every media and crime figure personality I alluded to, he seemed to have a suitable anecdote for.
His criminal record and "enforcer" reputation led a royal commission to investigate the construction industry underworld in the early 1990s after he told 60 Minutes he had been employed by big building firms as an "industrial relations consultant."
From my time spent working for him, I can confirm he visited many building sites around Sydney, sometimes accompanied by an extra passenger or two in case more persuasion was called for.
Rumours of unco-operative men “falling to their deaths” on building sites abounded at one time and his home tennis court is rumoured to have foundations of more than just rubble.
During the royal commission investigation into productivity in the New South Wales building industry, Bristow said he suggested people on building sites that continued to disrupt work might meet with a “bad accident.”
However, listening to Bristow’s tales, one got the feeling he was adding at least a little colour for entertainment value.
Australian radio broadcasting kingpin, Alan Jones, will remember that in 1974, when he was a coach for King's first XV, Bristow turned up to provide pointers to his lads on the finer aspects of playing rugby.
A member of the team recounts how Bristow advised them on how to dislocate a shoulder; how to re-align the jawbone of an opposing player with the merest nudge, and how a simple twist could snap a finger.
"It was all very subtle but the end result was very messy," the player recalled.
At the end of Bristow's on-air chat with an ashen-faced Alan Jones, no-doubt recoiling in his studio chair some years later, the broadcaster waited for the “enforcer” to be safely ensconced in his Mercedes convertible outside, before answering to his charges by telling his audience: "Just forget everything you've heard this afternoon."
Rumour has it if you got on the bad side of Bristow, you secured a one way ticket to the “see-you-later-club” - located off the heads of Palm Beach – with concrete blocks for boots.
I took the trip with him a few times, and needless to say I lived to tell the tale. The trip was quite a pleasant experience. However, I admit when I was sitting on the bow of his speedboat at a speed approaching 50 knots once, I felt somewhat tentative.
Although he circulated in a somewhat dubious world, Bristow was in no way a dubious or “dodgy” character. He had all the characteristics of a good person – he had morals, was loyal, truthful and giving of heart.
Still, no one is pretending one of Australia’s most misunderstood, legendary and public figures was always an easy man to get on with.
Tim “earthquake” Bristow's life story by Kevin Perkins is due to be released in October.