Goodbye to Chopper and his 'dirty laundry'
Mark 'Chopper' Read chose a basket of dirty laundry to appear in place of a casket at his public memorial Thursday afternoon, at which this family statement was read. Vision courtesy of Nine News.PT5M23S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2vou8 620 349 October 17, 2013
''Frankly,'' said celebrant Nigel Davies in a quiet moment before Thursday's public memorial for celebrity criminal Mark ''Chopper'' Read, ''we don't know what we are going to get. Anything could happen. But that's what he wanted.''
Read died of liver cancer last week, aged only 58. He spent much of his notorious life in jail - including an 18-year stretch from the age of 20 where he only spent a year on the outside. He was a stalwart of Pentridge Prison's feared H Division. Most of the charges that got him there were for firearms, armed robbery, assault and kidnapping.
As he was dying of cancer, Read made plans. A private family funeral was held on Monday; he is buried at Fawkner cemetery. He was also not opposed to a public event. His wife, Margaret Read, opted to hold it in clubrooms next to the Brunswick Street footy oval in Fitzroy, deep in the heart of Chopper's inner-north haunts.
Mark 'Chopper' Read memorial
Mark "Chopper" Read's wife Margaret leaves the memorial . Photo: Jason South
As well, he was not opposed to the idea of whoever turned up having the chance to speak. To say a few words. He was informal, at least, to the last. In fact, in lieu of a morbid coffin Read had also planned his final prank for the event - a laundry basket full of boxer shorts with a handwritten note taped to the front saying: ''Could someone please take care of this for me? Thanks very much. Chop.''
And so it was that the public memorial was handed over to the public to say whatever they wanted about one of this city's most divisive figures - the violent criminal who refused a liver transplant because it meant someone ''better'' would go without.
Bill Sutcliffe was a prison chaplain when Chopper was in H-Division. They became friends. Chopper was a ''survivor, a great character and a great entrepreneur - but not a great criminal, otherwise he wouldn't have done so many laggings''.
North Carlton pharmacist David Nolte said Read was diagnosed with ADHD late in life, and if it had been identified as a child he ''would not have had the life he did''.
A stocky, pug-nosed and heavily neck-tattooed man who introduced himself as ''Craig, a fellow older crim'' said Chopper had his respect because ''he never robbed old people or touched kids''.
Then an urbane young man called James, an artist from the Gold Coast who got to know Chopper through the art world, says even when Read had a broken arm he would paint with the other and ''whatever he did he was so very real''.
Maria, a Fitzroy art gallery owner, said she was reluctant to exhibit his work at first but when she did he sold a roomful of $4000 paintings in 20 minutes.
''And he was always so nice to my mother,'' Maria said. ''Her name was Valerie, the same name as Mark's mother.''
The motley gathering was asked to sing along with Read's favourite song, the old American folk standard Plastic Jesus, used in the Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke: ''I don't care if it rains or freezes, long as I have my plastic Jesus, riding on the dashboard of my car.''