The Whitlams - Ballad of Bertie Kidd

• New Single - Ballad Of Bertie Kidd •

Our first new song in 14 years, “Ballad of Bertie Kidd," is out now - a six minute crime caper about a notorious criminal and his hapless crew. Classic Whitlams with a Russian choir and a menacing Jak on guitar. Find out what Bertie says to the judge…

• All About Bert •

Ballad of Bertie Kidd” is a six minute crime caper that immediately takes its place with the classics of The Whitlams’ repertoire, and is their first new song since 2006. As the track begins, Freedman is cornered by a Rabbitohs fan at the pub who relates a tale that only the patron saint of hapless criminals could have dreamt up.

His confidante reveals the tale of four blokes in 1988 who put their balaclavas on too early en route to an art gallery heist. Looking rather suspicious in their stolen Sigma, they are spotted by the cops, and thwarted in their ambition to possess a fine collection of Pro Hart and Ken Done masterpieces.

Reunited with producer Daniel Denholm (“Blow Up the Pokies”), the band has created a soundscape of dark alternative folk that provides the perfect backdrop for the hopeless gothic of the narrative. Just as the second chorus drops the observation, “Some men when they’re drinking / Mistake their thoughts for thinking,” eight comrades from Mullumbimby’s famous Russian choir “Dustyesky” enter the track to channel an Australian beer ad from the 80’s, and provide the perfect accompaniment for the downing of lukewarm cans of Reschs Pilsener in a car’s back seat.

The protagonist of the song is a young man roped into a crew of burglars as the “cockatoo” or “lookout” by the menacing personality of Bertie Kidd.

Bertram Douglas Kidd, known as Bertie, was born in London in 1933, and moved to Australia in 1947 aged 14. A safe blower, armed robber, burglar, horse doper and standover man, Kidd is regarded as criminal royalty due to the scope and audacity of his criminal exploits.

He first came to police attention shortly after the introduction of decimal currency when he financed the forgery of millions of dollars’ worth of $10 notes which circulated for years. Best known as a “tank man” or safe cracker, he led something of a charmed life from the 1960’s through to his jailing in the late 1990’s after a policeman was shot in the wrist during a factory robbery in Brisbane when Kidd was 64.

There was also a period in the early 1990’s when Kidd was implicated in two murders. In 1991, underworld figure Roy Thurgar was shot in the head while sitting in his car. The weapon was later identified as the sawn-off shotgun used by Kidd in a series of Sydney home invasions. In 1992, underworld figure and former boxer Des Lewis was shot dead outside his Bondi Junction home. The murder weapon was later identified as also belonging to Kidd.

Kidd was due for release in August 2015, but received considerable publicity when then Immigration Minister Peter Dutton wanted him deported back to his English birthplace the minute he stepped outside of jail. Kidd fought the deportation order and won. He was finally released in May 2018.

Versions of the balaclava story have long been passed around Australian pubs, and Freedman was gratified to hear that he had got it 80 to 90% correct. Freedman says he changed some details of the yarn to suit a song structure. For example it now appears that Bert explained the presence of balaclavas by saying “It’s cold” not to the judge at the trial, but to the police who had pulled over the stolen car. “We’re going fishing,” he is reputed to have said.

• FAQ •

Three volumes of biography?

In 2019 the first volume of a three book biography “The Audacious Kidd” was published, written under the pseudonym Simon Griffin due to the sensitive nature of some of the material. It covers Kidd’s childhood and the start of his criminal career in the 1960’s. The second and third books, The Notorious Kidd and The Infamous Kidd, are planned for release later this year and next. The former chronicles the years when Kidd was sent to Pentridge, where he changed brutal H Division’s draconian disciplinary rules by challenging authority which until then had been set in stone.

Has Bert Kidd heard the song?

The author of the biography played it to Kidd down the phone in late September 2020. The only comment relayed back to songwriter Freedman was a question: “Where did he get this from?” The author had not been aware of the episode, possibly because in a life so crowded with successful heists, this was not one of Kidd’s prouder moments. He told the author after hearing the song, “No, it didn’t go down the way it was supposed to.”

Where is Bert Kidd now?

Bert Kidd is 87 and lives a life of reflection and repose near Launceston, Tasmania. He is looking forward to the release of volumes 2 and 3 of his biography, with those close to the project saying that they expect newspaper headlines when some of the material reaches the public domain.

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Will be seeing Tim down at my local in a few weeks.

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As the track begins, Freedman is cornered by a Rabbitohs fan at the pub

Hold my beer …

I might need Moon for backup.

I must be getting old. I was astounded to read that this was The Whitlams’ first new release since 2006. Huh?

I used to go see The Whitlams a bit in the late 90’s and early noughties. I shared a house with their sax player and even had the odd night out on the drink with Tim Freedman and his band. When I left the city in 2005 and had kids, I sort of stopped going to gigs. But I just assumed that Tim Freedman would still be out there producing new material.

A couple of asides…

Tim Freedman became good friends with and is an admirer of fellow muso and Souths tragic Perry Keyes. Maybe that was where he got the yarn from?

Also, in the early days of The Whitlams Freedman was quite anti rugby league (“Don’t believe in Bondi, Don’t believe in rugby league”). So maybe Perry turned him around.


Tim Freedman Perry Keyes & Dave McCormack


Tim Freedman on Perry Keyes: an authentic voice of a disappearing Waterloo
By Tim Freedman
September 27, 2018

His song The Day John Sattler Broke his Jaw from 2007’s “Last Ghost Train Home” is surely the greatest song ever written that references rugby league. Keyes has frustrated past managers by refusing to play it at NRL finals or on The Footy Show because he doesn’t want it reduced to an anthem or himself reduced to “the guy who sings about rugby league”.

Perry Keyes on life, music & his gig with Tim Freedman at 48 Watt Street
by Newcastle Live 2 years ago

NL: How did you meet Tim and become friends?

PERRY: To the best of my recollection, we met back in the late 80s – although Tim says we originally met at a football game at Redfern Oval in 1976. He can tell you that story one day.

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Yes, I noticed he is playing there today when I walked past & saw the Nov gig guide for the pub.

Nice to see live music returning to the pub.

Yes it is. Certainly have missed it.

thewhitlams.official - Wollongong Town Hall
thewhitlams.official Thanks to Wollongong last night for the “Creation of Glue” first show. A nice chat about lockdown and Bertie Kidd. Show 3 of 37 tonight. It’s all coming back to me…

The Whitlams – Ballad of Bertie Kidd
by Nathan Jolly and Guardian Australia
Sat 7 Nov 2020 06.00 AEDT

The Whitlams’ first single in 14 years finds Tim Freedman in storyteller mode, spinning a long-winded and factually loose yarn about real-life criminal Bertie Kidd. Now 86 and comfortably retired, Kidd was once Australia’s greatest robber, and proficient in crimes of yesteryear such as safe-breaking, forgery and race-fixing. A stolen Sigma, thwarted plans to liberate artworks from some of Australian’s finest (Pro Hart, Ken Done), and a Rabbitohs fan are all woven throughout. This strolling six-minute piano-driven tale is an odd choice as the return single for one of Australia’s most revered groups, but Freedman is no longer aiming for the airwaves. He instead adds another classic slice of Australiana to a hefty catalogue that attacks inner-city pokies, lampoons the 2000 Olympic bid, and chronicles a corner-store lothario, all with a wry wink and a silent signal towards the bar. It’s good to have them back.

For more: Tim Freedman is touring solo throughout November and December, with shows around NSW, QLD, Adelaide and the Barossa Valley.

Saw him tonight. Great show.

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Dates for new gigs here

@BunnyBill did you see this thread on Perry Keyes?

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I hadn’t seen it, Serendipity. Thanks for pointing it out to me. I saw Perry at the Vanguard a few years ago and I would have been bitterly disappointed if he hadn’t played ‘The Day John Sattler Broke His Jaw’. I also understand and appreciate his reluctance to play it for the footy show for the reasons he gave but it’s a shame he didn’t sing it then as it would have introduced him and his magnificent song to a wider audience.

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