Wollongong's past may be too sordid for Underbelly

Wollongong's paedophile underbelly, uncovered during the Wood Royal Commission, featured a who's who of the region's business and civic leaders, from former mayors to Catholic priests. But will this grim cast of characters feature in the upcoming third series of TV's Underbelly to be based on the mid-1990s royal commission into police corruption and paedophilia?Not likely, according to true crime writer Andrew Rule who co-authored, with fellow Age journalist John Silvester, the original Underbelly books on which the television series were based.

  • Underbelly 3: A tale of Wollongong's darkest hourRule said he doubted prime time television audiences were ready for the seedy world of paedophiles."I would say not, because I don't think the public has a very big appetite for drama based on paedophiles, I don't think paedophiles are good box office," Rule told the Mercury yesterday."Commercial TV would not see that as good fodder for mainstream TV because they are making shows that will go up against Packed to the Rafters, they are not making some dark series that appears at midnight on SBS."It is more than 10 years since the royal commission lifted the lid on the dark underbelly of Wollongong that lurked beneath the surface from the 1960s to the 90s. Eight high-profile Illawarra men were named during the hearings, including former Wollongong mayors Tony Bevan - who died in 1991, three years before the commission began - and Frank Arkell, who was murdered in 1998, a year after the commission closed.The commission was told Bevan, known in paedophile rings as Commander Hook, lured young boys with gifts and aeroplane rides and then used them in a sex ring he ran in Wollongong and Sydney.Evidence given by the young victims was damning, horrific and explicit. Even a decade later the news reports of the day make painful reading. But for anyone with an interest in crime, they are fascinating reading too, as more links in the paedophile chain were revealed and more characters were drawn to the surface.There was Tom Gaun, a wealthy industrialist and bandmaster, whose death in 1994 saved him from the public humiliation of being outed as a paedophile.And there was the former Wollongong City Council alderman Brian Tobin, who escaped the commission's scrutiny by committing suicide.Then there was the outing, by the Mercury, of the former parish priest of Edmund Rice College Peter Comensoli.But perhaps most shocking was when the Illawarra awoke on Saturday June 27, 1998, to learn that Arkell had been brutally murdered in his Reserve St home - just months before he was due to stand trial on sex charges.The crime scene had similarities to the murder of Albion Park shopkeeper David O'Hearn a fortnight earlier.The community thought there was a serial killer in their midst until the arrest of Wollongong teenager Mark Valera on October 1. In a later twist, Valera's sister Belinda Van Krevel was jailed in 2001 for encouraging her boyfriend, Keith Schreiber, to murder her father with a tomahawk while she slept in their Wollongong home.Rule and Silvester's Underbelly III tie-in book will focus on the royal commission in Sydney and its links to Melbourne crime.

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