MICK Gatto writes about Alphonse Gangitano – and his old mate’s propensity for extreme violence.
WHEN I first met Alphonse Gangitano, he was a really good bloke. We used to socialise a lot, go to parties and have fun.
But as he grew older, he got into the gangster image. He was very fiery and wouldn’t take
a backward step.
And later in life, he changed completely. I didn’t see it, but everyone said he was using a lot of cocaine. People would look at him the wrong way and he’d attack them.
I saw the warning signs early, after our night out at the St Kilda club that almost ended with a fatal shooting.
Alphonse made his money in a few ways. He helped people with different problems such as collecting money, and was probably paid by a few places to look after them.
He was a big gambler. He had a couple of trotters; one of them was pretty good.
He also had a share in a King Street nightclub and was involved in fight promotions. (Gangitano became a promoter of world champion boxer Lester Ellis, who was beaten in the ring by Barry Michael. Not long afterwards, Gangitano attacked the much smaller Michael in a Melbourne nightclub, even trying to bite off the boxer’s nose.)
While we were mates, between Alphonse and me there was always some unspoken competition, a sort of power struggle; we clashed a bit.
If we were both sitting at a table and put a cigarette in our mouth, and someone lit my cigarette first, he’d be filthy. Then he wouldn’t let anyone light his cigarette – he’d have to light it himself.
And if someone shook my hand before his, he’d be furious. Stupid things like that.
I had to bar him from the Two-Up, and he didn’t speak to me for months. He’d pick fights with other customers. If he lost his money, he’d either want to fight someone or to borrow more and if people didn’t lend to him, he’d want to kill them.
One of the Underbelly books had a story about Chopper Read, quoting him as saying, There’s only one good bloke in Carlton and that’s Mick Gatto. And he said Alphonse wasn’t fit enough to work in a Turkish sauna bath.
Alphonse read it and was frothing at the mouth. I told him I’d paid Chopper $5000 to say it. (I hadn’t.)
Apart from being partners in the baccarat in the early 1980s, we never did business together.
Even the baccarat was a disaster. I didn’t want to do any more business with him. I just did my own thing, because I knew he was going to be a headache: he was too volatile.
From his early days, Alphonse hated the police, a loathing that began after he got into a fight at a club in Footscray called Bunny’s. I wasn’t there, but I’m led to believe it was a bloodbath: all the bouncers were attacked and someone drove a car through the front door. The police caught Alphonse, took him back to the station and punched the s— out of him.
He told me he was sitting with his hands on a desk when a policeman smashed them with a typewriter. They really battered him.
I saw him about a week later: he looked like the Elephant Man, his head was so swollen, and his hands were f—–.
It didn’t faze him: he copped it on the chin. But he was determined to even up with the coppers that did that to him. I don’t know if he ever did.
Alphonse really liked the gangster image. He chased it, going out of his way to meet people with reputations: high-profile crooks from all over Australia.
He was quite friendly with Chris Flannery (a hit man who made his reputation in Sydney in the 1980s, before disappearing, presumed murdered, in May 1985). He actually bashed Flannery one night.
Alphonse developed a fearful reputation, although some of the stories about him weren’t true. One day at the Joker Bar everyone was drunk, having a good time, and this Turkish bloke played up and did the wrong thing. And he copped it in the kneecap. Alphonse was blamed for that but he didn’t do it – someone else shot the Turk.
Once, Alphonse shot someone in the leg – a Pommy bloke, a standover man that Alphonse was having a power struggle with. I don’t know much about it; all I know is that the bloke was being smart and disrespectful and got his right whack.Several times I saw Alphonse turn on close friends, which left a bad taste in my mouth. I also saw the darker side of him.
One night a gorgeous young blonde girl walked past him: she was beautiful and he said, Gee, you’re ugly. He was joking.
She turned around and said, Have a look in the mirror yourself. And he king-hit her, and broke her nose.
I couldn’t believe it. You’re kidding, I said.
F— her, he said.
That’s probably the worst thing I saw Alphonse do. It’s something a normal person wouldn’t do.
He used to be filthy if someone said something out of order to him, and he acted very quickly.
A few days before Christmas in 1995, we were at a restaurant in Carlton: there were thirty or forty people there, including the boys from Perth. Alphonse came in with his crew and started drinking.
I wasn’t really talking to him at the time, so I said hello and left. I didn’t want to stay. And that night, Alphonse got into trouble at the Sports Bar, in Melbourne’s King Street. (With Jason Moran and another man, Gangitano attacked and injured thirteen people. Moran was later recorded on a police listening device saying that he had to shower to wash the blood off and that he’d started the fight. Moran was also taped saying about Alphonse: He’s f—— lulu. If you smash five pool cues and an iron bar over someone’s head, you’re f—— lulu. Gangitano was arrested at the scene, but Moran escaped. While police had some evidence against Moran, the case against Gangitano was stronger.)
One night in 1996, the bouncers at Monsoons Nightclub wouldn’t let Alphonse in, and he threatened to kill them. Someone involved with the bouncers came to see me. They were pretty worried about it.
Police pulled him over and they had a blue, and they charged him with threats to kill and God knows what. The police raided his house and hit him on the head with the butt of a shotgun.
Towards the end, Alphonse went right off the rails: he was just mad. He got into fights a lot – people would say something and he’d attack them. I’ve never seen anyone else go off for no reason.
And while he wouldn’t have made a great prize fighter, he was pretty violent. He did his best to win.
(On 16 January 1998, Gangitano was shot dead in his home in Templestowe, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. He was forty. Police believe the killer was Jason Moran, who put three bullets into Gangitano – who had been his friend – after an argument.)
I found out early the next morning, when someone rang me. In fact, people thought it was me who’d been killed, because the radio was reporting that a well-known underworld figure had been shot in the eastern suburbs.
It didn’t take long to work out it was Alphonse.
It came as a shock, but I knew it was going to happen one day.
I had nothing against Alphonse, and if we fell out we always finished up friends again, and we were mates until the day he died.
I first heard about plans for the Underbelly television series from a Melbourne journalist who co-authored the books of the same name.
Simon Westaway was cast to play my part, and we met over lunch at a Carlton restaurant. He was a good bloke and we had a chat.
Afterwards, a couple of friends asked if I’d noticed what he was doing over lunch. Whatever you did, he did, they said. What do you mean?
When you were picking your teeth with a toothpick, the way you do, he was doing the same. When you drank, he grabbed the glass and drank the same way you do. He was trying to imitate you. I hadn’t noticed.
That afternoon I made a few inquiries about Simon and discovered he was an ex-copper, which, to me, meant there was no way he could play my part. So that night I rang him. Mate, is it true that you used to be a copper? Yes. That was twenty years ago.
Well, you can’t play my part, I said. You are from the other side of the fence.
I am a good actor, Mick, he said. I promise you, I will make you proud. I wasn’t convinced but I thought about it overnight, and decided, Its really not up to me who plays my part. I knew there was a fair chance I could get him moved if I made the call but I didn’t make the call.
The next morning I rang Simon. Just do the best you can for me, I said.
And he did a great job: he made me look very respectable and honourable, although I’m a more happy-go-lucky bloke than he portrayed and we ended up mates.
The is an edited extract from I, Mick Gatto by Mick Gatto with Tom Noble (Victory Books), RRP $29.99, available at all good bookstores.