Illegal gamble supremo Bruce Galea jailed for refusing to rat

When ‘s underworld was turning against itself in the mid 1990s at the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption, Bruce Galea flatly refused to join in.

Criminals and crooked police were lining up to give evidence against each other but the illegal gambling identity kept his mouth shut and took the consequences. 

For refusing to tell what he knew of how Sydney really operated Galea was jailed for contempt in July 1995 and served two years and three months in Long Bay jail. 

It was a record sentence for such an offence but earned Galea the lasting respect of the colourful players in his old school world for always staying staunch.  

‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,’ Galea supposedly told Justice James Wood before he was sent to prison.

Bruce Galea, who was once described as the biggest illegal gambling operator in Australia, has died on the Gold Coast aged 84.Galea was jailed for two years and three months in 1995 after refusing to give evidence at the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption. He is pictured outside his Coogee apartment on the day of his release

Bruce Galea’s father Perce was known as the Prince of Punters and was one of Sydney’s illegal casino kings.Perce is pictured left with Bruce and Bruce’s third wife Cindy at Warwick Farm racecourse in 1977

Galea had known what was coming. Before appearing at the commission he had moved out of his eastern suburbs apartment, put his furniture into storage and even brought along his own toothbrush. 

Bruce William John Galea, who has died aged 84, was the son of Perce Galea – the ‘Prince of Punters’ who for decades was Sydney’s most prominent illegal casino king.

Galea junior would not gain the notoriety of his father but went on to become the reputed biggest illegal gambler in the country, named in parliament as an associate of violent criminals and a briber of police. 

The Galeas were Maltese Catholics and Bruce grew up with older brother Clive at Clovelly and Coogee in Sydney’s beachside eastern suburbs in the 1940s and 50s. 

Clive would become a solicitor, radio producer, rugby league commentator and novelist – as well as spending a stint behind bars for fraud – but Bruce would follow closely in their father’s footsteps. 

Bruce Galea’s 29-year-old wife Patricia was murdered in a bungled burglary in Los Angeles in 1974.He killers never faced justice. Patricia is pictured at Randwick racecourse in 1972

Bruce operated as a legitimate rails bookmaker in the 1960s and raced horses in his father’s famous colours of black with an orange Maltese cross, orange armbands and black cap.

His personal life made headlines in April 1974 when his 29-year-old wife Patricia was shot dead during what appeared to be a bungled burglary while she was living in Los Angeles.

Patricia, mother to the couple’s 10-month-old daughter Emily, had initially gone to California with hopes of setting up a clothing boutique.

Her murder was extraordinarily brutal and seemingly senseless. 

Two vicious armed robbers had stormed Patricia’s West Hollywood apartment and slashed the throats of five of her friends. 

The friends survived but one of the robbers put a .410 shotgun barrel in Patricia’s mouth and pulled the trigger. 

Galea is pictured at Sydney Airport before he left to claim the body of his wife Patricia after she was shot dead.His refusal to give evidence at the Wood Royal Commission won him widespread admiration from the criminal fraternity 

The killers escaped with diamond rings, $400 in cash and two mink coats but missed $6,000 hidden in the freezer. 

Galea’s reacted with horror back in Sydney, saying: ‘The bludgers just let go…They shot her!’ 

Despite rumours at the time, there was no link established between the Galea family’s criminal interests and Patricia’s murder. 

In a stunning case of apparent police bungling the two alleged killers were identified almost immediately but not arrested until 2007.

By that time  evidence had been lost and witnesses were dead.The California Court of Appeal ruled in 2012 the alleged killers had been denied a speedy trial and declined to prosecute them.

Bruce Galea began as a licensed rails bookmaker but was involved in illegal casinos with his father Perce.He told the Independent Commission Against Corruption he did not operate illegal gaming premises or pay bribes to police. Galea is pictured with a relative

The Galeas’ fortunes seemingly improved in 1975 when they won $200,000 in the Opera House lottery.’I guess we were just born lucky,’ Bruce’s mother Beryl said.

It is just as likely the family had been laundering money by purchasing the ticket from a genuine winner and paying a 10 per cent premium.   

Galea continued bookmaking through the 1970s, while at the same time being involved in his father’s casinos including the Forbes Club at 155 Forbes Street, Darlinghurst and Double Bay Bridge Club.

The latter, at 455 New South Head Road, Double Bay turned over today’s equivalent of almost $1billion a year. 

Galea inherited his father’s share in the casinos – the Double Bay Bridge Club became the Telford Club at 79-85 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction in 1976 – when Perce died in August 1977.

David Waterhouse of the famous Sydney gambling family also remembered Galea running the Palace at 22 Rockwall Crescent, Potts Point for his bookmaker father Bill. 

In August 1978, Galea sold his Yowie Bay mansion Dallas to illegal gambling boss George Freeman for $220,000. 

Galea sold his Yowie Bay mansion Dallas to illegal gambling boss George Freeman for $220,000 in  August 1978.The house at 2a Muneela Place has been  extensively renovated 

Galea wrote the foreword to George Freeman’s 1988 autobiography: ‘As a friend he is a good one; and I am proud to be counted as one of his friends’.Freeman is pictured

Freeman later bought two adjoining blocks for $65,000 and Banker Player $70,000 and when he put it on the market in September 1986 was asking for $1.4million.

In April 1979 State Parliament heard Galea had been seen in the company of Freeman, gangland assassin Stan Smith and crime boss Lennie McPherson at Balmain’s Bald Rock Hotel about six weeks earlier. 

In response, Galea said he had never met Smith or McPherson and had no dealings with Freeman other than having sold his house to him. 

Galea described himself as a reputable bookmaker licensed with the Australian Jockey Club and Sydney Turf Club who had nothing to do with organised crime, political corruption or the ‘so-called’ underworld. 

Despite these denials Galea wrote the foreword to Freeman’s 1988 autobiography and left do bout about their closeness: ‘As a friend he is a good one; and I am proud to be counted as one of his friends.’

Galea drew further adverse attention in 1982 when then deputy commissioner Bill Allen claimed to have won $4,200 betting with him at Rosehill the previous year. 

Five decades ago this stairway at 455 New South Head Road in Double Bay took patrons up to an illegal casino called the Double Bay Bridge Club that turned over today’s equivalent of almost $1billion a year 

The Double Bay Bridge Club site is wedged between Woollahra Library and a discount chemist with a toy store on the ground floor.It is near the Golden Sheaf Hotel

That bet had been the last Galea took on the day and it was suggested the wager on a 20-1 longshot named How Apparent was recorded to legitimise Allen’s nefarious activities.  

Galea quit bookmaking in the early 1980s and by the middle of that decade was operating the 77 Club casino with Frank Amante at Darlinghurst. 

In June 1987 then Labor police minister George Paciullo named Galea as ‘a close associate of notorious Sydney criminal George Freeman’.

Mr Paciullo had said Galea and Freeman provided ‘protection and legal advice’ to Sydney’s illegal casinos for years.  

Opposition police spokesman Ted Pickering then claimed Galea was a close friend of Sport, Recreation and Tourism minister Michael Cleary. 

Mr Cleary’s spokesman said the minister – an international rugby league winger who played for South Sydney through the 1960s – had gone to school with the gambler but he was not ‘close friends’ with Galea. 

When the Double Bay Bridge Club moved to the first floor of 79-85 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction (above) to become the Telford Club in 1976 all its equipment was transported across the eastern suburbs in broad daylight

Unlike his performance at the Wood Royal Commission, Galea did evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s inquiry into the relationship between criminals and police in June 1993.

By that time Galea was running what he called a mah-jong and bridge club in Sydney’s Chinatown. He refused to admit illegal gambling took place on the third floor of 31 Dixon Street. 

Counsel assisting the commission, Peter Neil QC, suggested to Galea he was was ‘believed to be one of the biggest illegal gaming operators in the state.’

‘I take offence at that,’ Galea said.

Galea explained how he was able to make a weekly profit of $1,400 from the Dixon Street operation after paying $1,600 rent.

Instead of earning a cut of illegal gambling, Galea said he did nicely from the sale of $5 coffees, $7 sandwiches and up to $600 a week from a cigarette machine. 

The Forbes Club at 155 Forbes Street, Darlinghurst, catered to a working-class clientele downstairs and more well-heeled clients on the second floor.It is now a backpacker’s hostel called Summer House (pictured)

When the main roulette had to be replaced at the Forbes Club council workers barricaded the street one Sunday morning so a new one could be hoisted in by crane through the first floor bay windows

Galea also denied ever receiving tip-offs from police of imminent raids on the club, despite a former member of the Gaming Squad admitting he did.

Buckets of water kept at the Dixon Street club were not for dissolving mats used for playing the illegal dice game hazard but to take the overflow from a dodgy air-conditioning unit.

The Gaming Tribunal of NSW declared the Dixon Street club an illegal gaming house on September 21, 1993 after police spent two years gathering evidence.

Gaming Squad officers had disguised themselves with make-up as Asian punters to establish it was being used to play Chinese dominoes (pai kau), hazard and Russian poker. 

Gambling charges against Galea were nonetheless dismissed a month later by a magistrate who found there was a lack of evidence. 

More ominously, Galea was granted legal representation at the coronial inquiry into the May 1985 disappearance of hitman Chris Flannery in 1993.  

Galea was granted legal representation at the coronial inquiry into the May 1985 disappearance of hitman Chris Flannery in 1993. There was no suggestion Galea was involved in Flannery’s presumed murder.Flannery is pictured

Unlike his mate Freeman, there was no suggestion Galea was involved in Flannery’s presumed murder but the inquest drew him unwanted attention in the lead up to the Wood Royal Commission.

At that inquiry a corrupt detective told Justice Wood he sometimes collected $400 a week in bribes from Galea while he was at the Consorting Squad in the mid 1980s. 

The commission would later hear Galea’s right-hand man Brian ‘Herbie’ Hardaker had paid $4,000 a month to the Gaming Squad for protection from a consortium of illegal casino operators. 

Galea appeared at a secret commission hearing on July 14, 1995 when he refused to answer questions about whether he had ever conducted gambling houses or paid bribes to police. 

He was locked up that day and jailed indefinitely by Supreme Court judge David Hunt on July 27. 

Galea’s solicitor Chris Murphy had said his client was ‘highly regarded in racing and gambling circles where things like paying your debts and keeping your word are important’.

Sun-Herald columnist Alex Mitchell explained another reason Galea chose not to speak. 

David Waterhouse (above) of the Sydney gambling family remembered Galea running the Palace at 22 Rockwall Crescent, Potts Point for his bookmaker father Bill.’I always found Bruce a nice guy,’ Waterhouse said. ‘He wasn’t like a heavy gangster or anything like that’ 

‘Such a roll-over would create turmoil all over the eastern suburbs because of the vast number of legal eagles, media types, business execs and politicians who enjoyed Galea’s hospitality over the years.’ 

Galea’s silence no doubt saved some reputations but caused damage to others who praised his stance.

Radio broadcaster Jon Harker’s tilt at running as a Liberal candidate for the state seat of Pittwater in 1996 was ended by comments he made over Galea’s imprisonment. 

Harker had told his 2GB listeners in July 1995 ‘crooked cop after crooked cop’ had been rolling over at the royal commission, ‘giving up everybody possible in a bid to save their own skins.’

‘But as for Bruce Galea, he’s showing the sort of honour which doesn’t exist elsewhere.’

Galea was put to work as a clerk in Long Bay’s remand centre and steadfastly refused to speak.  

‘I’ve got nothing to say to anyone,’ he told a journalist when approached for an interview in December 1996 after 17 months in prison. 

Galea, a passionate Sydney Roosters supporter who is survived by children Emily and Jamie, died on the Gold Coast earlier this month.He is pictured with Jamie at the Sydney Football Stadium in 2015 

Galea, who was never given a determinate sentence for refusing to purge his contempt, was only released when the royal commission finished.

Justice Wood delivered his final report on August 26, 1997 and Galea was let out of jail on October 13. 

He returned to his family at Coogee and still declined to talk, even about his time in prison. Five days after his release Galea was back at Randwick racecourse. 

Galea, a passionate Sydney Roosters supporter like his late brother Clive, died on the Gold Coast this month and his funeral was held at Burleigh Heads on January 20.He is survived by children Emily and Jamie. 

A wake will be held on February 3 at Clovelly Surf Life Saving Club where Galea’s father had swum daily and been handball champion until 1961 when his youngest son took the title from him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.