Mark Brandon Chopper Read is one of Australia's most notorious and colourful miscreants. A controversial figure, the convicted criminal has been a long-time cash darling of the media, in what has proved to be a love-hate relationship . They hate his thuggery but love his sellability.
Read has appeared on talk and current affairs shows, on radio and TV, written books, had a beer named after him and even had a film made of his life, starring Eric Bana. On the flipside he's been stabbed, shot, run over and forced to dig his own gravesite, until he managed to turn the tables and used the spade as a meat cleaver.
Politically, Read describes himself as 'far right to Ghengis Khan', though a lack of formal education and a trouble-filled, uncompromising childhood have problably contributed to a harsher view of the world than most. Aware of the notoriety of his own image, it's hard to tell sometimes how much about Choppers life is real, as he tells it and how much is grist for the image mill. However, there's no doubt that this man's ife has been violent and hard and about as far removed as you can get from so called normal society.
Born in Melbourne in 1954, to an ex-army officer father and a fanatical, Seventh Day Adventist mother, Reid spent the first five years of his life in a charitable Children's Home. According to his own version of events he had a monstrous childhood; severely bullied at school (in his own words "at the losing end of a few hundred fights") and was regularly beaten by his father, on the urging of his bible-bashing mother. By the time he was fourteen he had been made a ward of the State and built himself up (or descended) to the level of tough street-fighter.
During this time it was concluded he had some 'issues' and was sent along to mental institutions, where he was exposed to electro-shock therapy. Chopper has said it was it mother who instigated his psychiatric sojourns, because he had left the Church and it was his father who came to the rescue.
Like hoards of wayward kids before him he became part of a street gang, in this case a group of displaced individuals known as The Surrey Road Boys and started off his career by venturing into the risky business of robbing drug dealers, who at that time worked out of the brothels in Prahan, an inner suburb of Melbourne.
Infuriating the drug dealers wasn't enough for Chopper and he later graduated to kidnapping and torturing members of the criminal underworld. Reputedly, he employed a blowtorch and/or bolt cutters to take off the toes of his victims as a motivational tool to get them earning more money for him.
It was inevitable that his vicious behaviour and outlandish criminal activity would land him in jail and that's exactly where he ended up in the late 1970's. In Pentridge he formed a group called the The Overcoat Gang , so named because they used long coats to conceal weapons, and launched into a prison war against a rival gang who had superior numbers.
Famously, during this period Reid had an inmate chop off his ears, though there are conflicting reports as to why. One version is because he wanted to temporarily remove himself from H Division, another that he did it as a 'bet'. It's also not true that the ear incident is reponsible for his Chopper moniker; the nickname evidently came from a 'Yakky-Doodle' cartoon his childhood. "Where would I be today if they had named me 'Fluffy' ", Chopper once joked.
All up, Chopper Read spent 23 years in jail.
"I wrote books, right? How many times in those books have I got to tell you that I'm pulling your leg or let you be the judge? And I've clearly stated this. Unless you can't read, it's there. They can either believe it or disbelieve it. I couldn't give a shit. I mean, the books are $14.95. It's not the Holy Bible."
Read has written several crime novels, selling thousands of copies and he has also made voice recordings of his narratives which proved equally popular.
His first book was Chopper:From the Inside, published in 1991 -a collection of letters he sent from Pentridge to his wife and full of juicy titbits about his prison escapades.
More prison books followed until more recently, when he ventured into crime fiction with Pulp Faction. He also wrote a children's book ,Hooky the Cripple, though attempts have been made to ban it.
Reflecting on his chequered life in a 2008 television interview , Chopper said "I'm not trying to be a good man. I just want to live my life. What I did in the past, well…that was then, now I'm doing other things. And I seem to be…I seem to be… People, in a roundabout way — I'm not saying you are — but people in a roundabout way keep asking me to apologise. And as I said to a Supreme Court judge once, "If you're waiting for a heartfelt apology or a tearful rendition of 'Danny Boy', you'll be a long time waiting," because I don't regret nothing I did, I don't regret my past. If you were in the same situation, in that jail, with me, at that time, believe me, if you had a choice, you'd be standing right beside me. 'Cause at the end of the goal, it's called survival, you've got two choices — live or die, survive or don't survive. You get to the other end, and we'll figure out the rights and wrongs when you get to the other end."
The same year Chopper Read announced he had only two to five years to live. After contracting Hepatitus C in prison, he is in need of a liver transplant but refuses to put himself on the waiting list, reasoning he should not take a spot on the list someone else might benefit from and besides, he "doesn't want one anyway".
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