Back in the 1950’s, Victoria’s illegal gambling industry was taking off at a time when police around the state were bribed to look the other way.
The same can’t be said for Greek Australian Nick Cecil, 90, who became Victoria’s first undercover police officer, infiltrating illegal bookmaking syndicates while masquerading as a wandering busker.
It was a job Nick actually put his hand up for willingly.
Former Chief Commissioner, Mick Miller, was lecturing new police at the St Kilda Road Depot one day about the difficulties of infiltrating the big clubs that ran huge gambling dens. Following the talk, the brash and bright Nick stepped forward to say: ‘‘I can get in.’’
It was not an idle boast. Back then, Victoria Police was filled with taller-than-average men of Australian or British descent, which made Nick an oddity as he was of Greek heritage. His father, Harry, left Greece by sailing ship for Canada but returned to fight for his country in World War I. He eventually settled in Yarraville to run a fish shop.
Nick was immediately seconded to Miller’s squad and sent to the baccarat games posing as a punter mingling with notorious gangsters such as Normie Bradshaw, who remained blissfully unaware their fellow gambler was a policeman.
“I met with one of the guys I knew who was a gambler and we got into the clubs together,” Nick says in the Naked City podcast.
“We did a raid on Bradshaw’s house one day and I went to go out the back door and he said, ‘I’ve got a dog out there. If you shoot it, I’ll shoot you.’ There were some pretty hair-raising raids and interesting innovations that these gamblers would use.”
One such example was when Nick wanted to trace a network of bookies who received their daily odds by telephone from a Flinders Lane pricing agency. Nick took the counting device from a seized pinball machine and connected it to the solenoid in a telephone so that when it was clipped to a phone wire it recorded the numbers as dialed.
‘‘We were able to knock off at least 30 SPs because of that,’’ Nick says.
Later in his career, Nick was seconded to the Homicide Squad to work on ethnic murders, investigated arson and built up an impressive network of informers – one was a Greek man who wouldn’t talk to other police. When asked why, he said: ‘‘Nick, you are Greek. I want to see you kick on.’’
A clear message of support from the Greek community for a Greek Australian who played a vital role in bringing down corruption and crime in Victoria.