The Crutchy Push, led by Valentine Keating, terrorised Melbourne in the early 20th century.
The Crutchy Push, led by Valentine Keating, terrorised Melbourne in the early 20th century.

The gang of amputee thugs that terrorised Melbourne

In an age when people with disabilities were pitied, the Crutchy Push - a gang of men with missing limbs - struck fear into the people of Melbourne.

"Push" is an old slang word for a gang. Like footy teams, Melbourne's larrikin pushes were suburban and tribal in nature.

Carlton had the Bouveroos, named after Bouverie Street. The Flying Angels hailed from South Melbourne. There was the Fitzroy Forties, the Freeman Street Push from North Fitzroy and the Irishtown mob from Richmond.

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The Crutchy Push from North Melbourne menaced Melbourne's streets between 1895 and 1905.

In a 1953 report on pushes, the Sydney Morning Herald's Bill Beatty said these pushes were populated by young larrikins who grew up in the slums with a bitter resentment about their circumstances.

 

Crutchy Push leader Valentine Keating’s 1904 prison mugshot. Picture: Public Records Office of Victoria
Crutchy Push leader Valentine Keating’s 1904 prison mugshot. Picture: Public Records Office of Victoria

 

Of the Crutchies, he wrote: "The Crutchy Push, with one exception, consisted of one-legged men. The exception was a one-armed man who kept half a brick in his sewn-up empty sleeve.

"He led his followers into battle swinging his weighted sleeve around his head.

"Behind him came the men on crutches - each one expert at balancing on one leg.

The tip of the crutch was used to jab an opponent in the midriff. With the enemy gasping for breath, the crutch would be reversed and the metal-shod armrest would be used as a club."

Members required a missing limb and a taste for grog and violence.

The sweetly-named Valentine Keating, who lived with his mother and father in Arden Street, was a leader of the Crutchies.

His father was a drunkard and once, after he was picked up off the street by authorities, was sent to a boys' home. Keating's criminal record started at age 12 with an assault conviction.

By March 1898, as the Crutchy Push gathered strength, Valentine had earned his first conviction for assaulting police - two policemen, in fact. He was resisting arrest after fleeing an earlier scuffle with police involving gang mates William Walsh and Peter Sullivan in Queensberry Street, North Melbourne.

Senior Constable Healy told the Carlton Court that he initially could not catch Keating as he raced away "like a flying kangaroo" on his crutch.

The following year the gang - all North Melbourne Football Club supporters - was refused entry to a VFA game between the Shinboners and Footscray at the Western Oval.

They caused a near-riot as the paraded outside the ground, fighting and abusing patrons before police swarmed.

In 1899, William Walsh and Keating appeared before the North Melbourne Court on charges of insulting behaviour towards two policeman.

 

Valentine Keating’s prison mugshot in 1919. Picture: Public Records Office of Victoria
Valentine Keating’s prison mugshot in 1919. Picture: Public Records Office of Victoria

 

 

This February 17, 1902 article from the Herald report’s Keatings assault on Constables McSweeney and Noone. Picture: National Library of Australia Trove collection
This February 17, 1902 article from the Herald report’s Keatings assault on Constables McSweeney and Noone. Picture: National Library of Australia Trove collection

In remanding the pair for a further hearing, the chairman of the three-man judicial panel, Dr Lloyd, remarked: "This Crutchy Push wants breaking up, or any other push that is causing a nuisance".

Over the years, Keating and members of the push were charged with offences including assault, unlawful wounding, assaulting police, obscene language, insulting behaviour and theft. They took food, drink and entertainment whenever they felt like it.

But it was the murder of the Crutchy Push kingpin, George Reginald Hill in 1901 that brought the Crutchies to national prominence.

Hill - Reggie to his mates - suffered three separate skull fractures, bashed as he slept in the squalid North Melbourne shed he shared with gang mate James Walsh.

Reggie walked to a cousin's house and was taken to hospital.

The case attracted lurid headlines around Australia. The Sydney Truth reported: He could not speak, but made signs for something to write on. A slate and pencil were given him, but the instant he made the attempt to write he collapsed, lost consciousness, and died a few hours afterwards.

"The miserable tenement where he slept was visited. A sofa (dirty and vermin-laden with a rug on it) bore traces not only of a struggle, but it was saturated with blood. In the corner of the room was a piece of granite, weighing several pounds. It also was bloodstained and matted hair was on it.

"A poker, with blood and hair on it, was found in another part of the wretched tenement. Blood tracks were in the room leading to the door."

Walsh, who slept in an outhouse elsewhere in North Melbourne that night, was arrested and charged with Reggie's murder - covered in blood, which he said came from another fight.

Police said that shortly before Reggie's death, he and Walsh quarrelled in a pub when a drunk Walsh said to Reggie: "I wish I had your moustache. I would steal your girl".

Harriet Adderley’s prison mugshot, 1904. Picture: Public Records Office of Victoria
Harriet Adderley’s prison mugshot, 1904. Picture: Public Records Office of Victoria

Reggie saw this as a challenge to his leadership, and bashed Walsh. Walsh swore revenge.

Walsh was committed to stand trial following an inquest but was acquitted at trial by the jury and was welcomed back to the push.

In 1901, Premier Alexander Peacock was under pressure to crush the pushes.

Victoria Police set up a squad of 10 special constables with methods that met violence with violence.

Keating, who assumed leadership of the Crutchies, and his mates remained frequent visitors to the courts.

On one occasion in February 1902, the Keating family joined him in the dock.

Keating was being arrested at his home over a fight with a man in a North Melbourne street that attracted 200 onlookers when his mother Bridget, brother Thomas and sister Margaret intervened.

Constables McSweeney and Noone popped around to his house in Arden Street to arrest him when he retreated there. It became an all-in brawl.

Keating smashed Noone's head with his crutch. One of the policemen tackled Margaret and was set upon by Keating. Keating himself was clouted across his head with a set of handcuffs. The fracas ended when Bridget, aiming to hit McSweeney with a chair, accidentally clobbered her son, knocking him out. All were arrested.

In August 1904, Keating and another man, John Hobson, bashed unconscious publican James Boyle of the Sportsmen's Club Hotel in Elizabeth Street after Boyle refused them service.

Then, the following month, Keating, his girlfriend Harriet Adderley and several Crutchies were accused of the murderous assault of a policeman, Constable Mulcahy, who sought to arrest them after gatecrashing a party in North Melbourne.

Valentine Keating’s prison record includes details of his imprisonment in 1904 and 1919. Picture: Public Records Office of Victoria
Valentine Keating’s prison record includes details of his imprisonment in 1904 and 1919. Picture: Public Records Office of Victoria

Adderley kicked Mulcahy several times in the face as he wrestled with Keating, while accomplice John Collins fractured Mulcahy's skull by bashing him with his crutch.

Keating and Collins were each sentenced to five years' jail and Adderley was imprisoned for a year. Keating got a further six months for the attack on Boyle.

By the time Keating was released from jail, the Crutchy Push was gone.

He became an unlicensed publican in Fitzroy, and business was good. He set up sly grog shops in other Melbourne locations, and did time at least twice for the crime.

In the 1920s, he was a second-hand dealer and beat a charge of receiving stolen goods - two saws and a brace and bit - at his shop in Drummond Street, Carlton.

Keating was still a wild man well into middle age, fined 40 shillings for his part in a brawl at a party in Cardigan Street, Carlton.

He last came to the notice of the newspapers in February 1929, jailed for 14 days for being drunk in charge of a motor car.

The Argus reported that Constable Donnelly of the wireless motor patrol found Keating slumped at the wheel of a car.

"He was very drunk, and had abrasions, and his face was covered in blood. I asked him, 'Where did you get these injuries?' He said, 'Jackie did it. I would like to get him'," he told the Fitzroy Court.

Keating died of tuberculosis on May 20, 1930, aged 52.

@JDwritesalot



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