By Michael Shelford © 2016
Valentine Keating was the leader of the Crutchy Push, a standover gang which ruled the streets of North Melbourne from 1895 to 1905. The ‘Crutchies’ made their living by demanding drink, food and money, from pubs, shops and members of the public.
Gangs were called pushes in Australia at the time and to qualify as a member of the Crutchy Push you had to have a missing limb, a thirst for drink and a fighting attitude. Valentine Keating had lost his right leg from just below the knee and like most of his gang - he depended on his crutch as a deadly weapon when fighting pushes from neighbouring suburbs.
A Sydney Morning Herald article in 1953 reflected that:
“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 the 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 arm rest would be used as a club.”
Hailing from North Melbourne, the Crutchy Push were huge fans of the Shinboners: the North Melbourne footy team now known as the Kangaroos. In August 1899 the Crutchies travelled out to Footscray to see the North V Footscray game but their plans were stalled by a brave gate keeper who refused them free entry. Wearing top hats, and with blue and white streamers hanging from their drab suits, they paraded around the outside of the ground, swapping oaths with the officials and anyone who looked at them the wrong way.
It was when the Crutchies tried to scale the fence that the real trouble began. Officials moved to prevent their access and uniformed police began to arrive as backup. Blows were traded and it appeared that an all in brawl was inevitable. Fortunately the police presence increased to a point where the Crutchies realised that they were hopelessly outnumbered and opted to retreat.
Whilst on the subject of the North Melbourne Kangaroos, I’ll draw your attention to an analogy used by Senior Constable Healey to describe Valentine Keating in 1898. The Crutchies had been involved in a brawl at North Melbourne and whilst attempting to quell the disturbance, Constable Healey had been struck a blow by Keating. He tried to arrest Keating but could not catch him and testified in court that “he was off like a flying kangaroo – although he goes on a crutch!”
Keating became leader of the Crutchy Push in 1901 after the former head, George Hill, was battered to death with an iron bar during his sleep. The main suspect was also a member of the Crutchy Push and one of Valentine Keating’s in-laws. Other members of Keating’s family displayed a penchant for violence as well. In 1902, arresting officers found themselves under attack from not only Keating but his brother, mother and sister. Keating ‘s mother, Bridget Keating, saved the day for the police when she knocked out her son with a mistimed attempt to smash a chair over one of the constable’s heads.
In 1898, the same Bridget Keating laid waste to the abode of Mrs Walsh, the mother of another Crutchy member. First she entered Mrs Walsh’s house and broke four window panes. After surveying the damage she walked over to the dining room table, picked up a teacup and threw it into Mrs Walsh’s forehead. Mrs Walsh’s arm then received a nasty gash as she tried to prevent a plate coming down on her head. Not satisfied with this, Bridget grabbed hold of a burning kerosene lamp and hurled it at Mrs Walsh, hitting her on the back of the head. When questioned on her motives Bridget stated in court that Mrs Walsh “wants my daughter to marry her son, who is a cripple.” Regardless of her interference, Bridget’s daughter (Valentine Keating’s sister), would go on to marry David ‘Crutchy’ Walsh.
With pushes such as the Crutchies ruling the streets of Melbourne, a special task force of the ten burliest policemen in Victoria were assembled. The 'Terrible Ten’ were issued lengths of hose and sent out to beat the pushes into submission. South Melbourne had a push called the Flying Angels, Carlton had the Bouveroos (named after Bouverie St), North Fitzroy had the Freeman Street Push and so on. Whilst it was recognised that the Terrible Ten brought about the end of the dominance of the suburban push, the Crutchies remained unconquered until Valentine Keating, girlfriend Harriet Adderley, and fellow Crutchy member John Collins, were imprisoned for a murderous assault on Senior Constable Mulcahey in late 1904. . The constable was called out due to the Crutchies enjoying food and beverage as uninvited guests in a private home. In court, Keating was quoted as saying to the constable, “I always did as I liked in North Melbourne and I will show you that I’ll bloody well do so too. I’ll knock your bloody brains out you bugger”. After dragging the officer to the ground, Keating called on Collins to “crutch the bugger!” “Righto Val”, said Collins and cracked the constable over the head with the metal arm-piece of his crutch. Mulcahey complained in court that he was still picking pieces of skull from his fractured head.
On release from prison, Keating opened up an unlicensed beer house in Fitzroy and went on to be one of the most notorious sly grog operators in Melbourne. A brutal man, he was well suited to the job of keeping bar in an establishment that couldn’t and wouldn’t call for police assistance when trouble arose. Keating died of Tuberculosis at the not so gentle age of 50.
1878: Born at home to Irish immigrant parents in the heart of Melbourne’s Chinatown.
1890: 1st conviction at the age of 12 years, assault.
1898: Keating's 1st conviction for assault of a police officer. He would go on to be convicted for assaulting police on 7 further occasions.
1901: Valentine Keating and Harriett Adderley’s only child, (Valentine Jnr), dies aged 9 weeks.
1901: Victorian Premier leads deputation to increase police force “to deal with pushes such as the Crutchies and Flying Angels”.
1901: Keating’s in-law charged with the murder of Crutchy leader George Hill.
1904: 5 years prison for murderous assault on police officer. Harriet Adderley gets 1 year for the same attack.
1917-1919: 2 separate prison sentences for sly grog.
1921: Harriet Adderley dies from ruptured aorta.
1925: Charged with receiving stolen goods.
1927: 2 weeks prison for drink driving. When arrested the police note that he is drunk, covered in blood and probably on his way to seek revenge.
1930: Dies of tuberculosis, aged 50.
(The above article by Michael Shelford uses some excerpts from his original article ‘Bourne Identity: Valentine Keating, first published in Melbourne Time Out, 2012)
Photographs reproduced with permission of the Keeper of Public Records, Public Record Office, Victoria, Australia. © State of Victoria through Public Record Office Victoria
Michael Shelford is a writer who specialises in Australian true crime. He is currently completing a book on Melbourne's crime scene c1890's to 1920's. He is also the creator and guide for the walking tour company Melbourne Historical Crime Tours.