This article was originally published in Blitz Martial Arts Magazine, Vol.30, No. 5, June/July 2016
“I just don’t see the interest in wading through someone else’s dirt,” says Gawain Sue, principal of the Ging Mo Kung Fu School in Perth and heir to Malcolm Sue, one of the most infamous figures in Australian martial arts.
Malcolm Sue transcended the martial arts community and entered the public eye when he found himself in the spotlight of Australia’s most notorious corruption scandal, the Fitzgerald Inquiry.
Named after Tony Fitzgerald, the QC at the helm of the Royal Commission charged with probing government and police corruption in Queensland, the Inquiry bought into the public arena a tale so strange and remarkable, it was almost too outrageous for any medium other than a newspaper.
And the thing about dirt is that it’s fertile. All kinds of fanciful things grow in it.
The findings of the Fitzgerald Inquiry are public knowledge, freely available on the internet. The Inquiry itself was ignited by a series of articles written by Phil Dickie and published in the Courier Mail newspaper in 1987.
Shortly after, Four Corners aired their own investigation into events. While Sir Joh Bejelke-Petersen was travelling interstate, the deputy premier, Bill Gunn, ordered a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations.
The Inquiry itself was expected to run for a couple of weeks. By its conclusion, it had run for almost two years, hearing testimony from three hundred and thirty nine witnesses.
As a result, Joh Bejelke Peterson was sacked as premier by his own party, two by-elections were held, three former ministers were jailed and the police commissioner, Terry Richardson, was charged with corruption, stripped of his knighthood and jailed.
It led directly to the end of the National Party of Australia’s thirty-two year run as the governing political party in Queensland, leaving both its membership and reputation in tatters.
The court records make for dense reading. The information given through testimony resonated through Australian society in rings, eventually crystallizing in a variety of newspaper articles, some of which are still available on the internet.
Even more remarkably, that trail of information has been expanded by a few of the people implicated, most notably Malcolm Sue himself.
Taken as a whole, the three hundred and thirty nine testimonials illustrate the relationship between law enforcement and human vice that become inextricably linked by corruption. Each testimonial is a story in itself however, bent away from its own conclusions by the dominant narrative of the Inquiry.
Defining that narrative was ultimately the responsibility of Fitzgerald himself. The essential task was to discern whether or not the speaker was telling the truth, and then decide what that truth meant in the broader context of the story.
Taken in isolation, even the stories of relatively minor players, such as Malcolm and his son Gawain, make for fascinating reading. These comparatively minor stories are actually major sagas of human themes writ large like frailty, betrayal, hubris and redemption.
Each of the players, not just the principles, has made different assertions of what they believe their stories to be about. Regardless, the saga of the Sue family accounts for one of the most remarkable tales in martial arts.
If the title is anything to go by, the autobiographical film treatment of Malcolm Sue’s life is about ‘Humility.’
Malcolm, the hero of the story, enters our consciousness as he is tortured by his father as a punishment. That young man then leaves post-World War Two China as a refugee, undergoing a perilous journey by sea to Australia.
Malcolm, his father, and his younger brother Henry immigrate in the time of the white Australia policy and eventually open a Chinese restaurant.
Rather than integrating with the local community by serving them, the Sue family are forced to constantly fight to defend themselves against racially-motivated attacks. Around this time, Malcolm becomes interested in martial arts, ‘refusing to become a victim in any situation’.
From this point, the film treatment jumps time to thirty four-year old Malcolm, who has reached the ‘pinnacle of success.’ Apparently, this is the result of opening his own chain of martial arts schools. His assets grow to include property, racehorses and a security company.
He becomes a member of Brisbane’s elite inner circle and his friendship with Terry Richardson, the police commissioner, flourishes. This affords Malcolm to the opportunity to acquire a private detective’s license and a number of handguns which he wears conspicuously to impress the airline stewardesses that dine at his restaurant.
There are Lamborghinis, Ferraris, an illegal casino and allegations of drug importation which result in police surveillance. The flamboyant Malcolm Sue negotiates them all with a moustache and a smile.
His friendship with the police commissioner, handguns and general bravado see him engaging in some debt collection and a spot of kidnapping (according to the treatment).
Around this time, Malcolm embarks on a martial arts quest, travelling to China to train with the mysterious Ip Shui, master of the Chow Gar Praying Mantis style of kung fu.
Malcolm’s son, Gawain, makes a sudden appearance at this point, when he accompanies his father to Hong Kong. They are stopped on the street by a fortune-teller who reads faces. The fortune-teller, when pressed, tells Malcolm that the man he is accompanied by is destined to betray him.
Malcolm’s kung fu odyssey continues. He visits the Shaolin monks and shows them who’s boss. He also works his way through a few more marriages before receiving a call from Gawain, informing him that they have become embroiled in an inquiry into police corruption on a massive scale.
The negative publicity decimates the membership of his kung fu school overnight; debts are called in and both Malcolm and Gawain find themselves up against it. To make matters worse, Malcolm and Gawain are charged with murder and drug trafficking.
The financial strain sees Malcolm relocate to Mainland China, where he works in near-poverty and, of course, marries again. He has a child and is contacted by Gawain who informs him that another school has been founded, this time in Perth, but Gawain has chosen to both rename the school and take control of Malcolm’s entire body of assets, telling his father he wishes to never see him ever again.
From these cataclysmic turns of fate, Malcolm rebuilds his character, stripping away the egotism and ostentation that defined him as a successful kung fu instructor and businessman in Brisbane in the seventies.
Gone is the gold Lamborghini and, presumably, the moustache; in its place is humility and a new school of kung fu. And of course, a proficiency in the “art-form [which] is second to none in the world of Martial Arts” [Malcolm’s own emphasis].
Roll credits. The reason this appears in the voice of the author, rather than Malcolm’s own is because the film treatment ‘Humility’ is the only voice Malcolm has. The phone number listed on the internet is disconnected and the email address is closed.
According to Paul Brennan, Australian representative of the Chow Family Praying Mantis style, the dirt surrounding Malcolm Sue’s life story is especially fertile for one particular reason:
Fortitude Valley in Queensland in the late seventies and early eighties was a vacuum as far as oriental martial arts were concerned and it was easy for Malcolm – a Chinese schooled in the exotic art of kung fu – to make an impression.
“[Malcolm’s style of kung fu] was not traditional; it was very commercial. He had hundreds of students… [because] we didn’t know any better. We all thought it was the right way.”
Paul Brennan would know. As a young man, he packed up everything he had and moved to the mean streets of Kowloon to learn the authentic Praying Mantis style from Ip Shui, the grandmaster of the style.
“Grandmaster didn’t like him,” says Paul. “[Malcolm] made it difficult for me to learn in Hong Kong. Ip Shui said to me, ‘We don’t teach Australians anymore. Everyone who came from Malcolm is arrogant and we don’t teach them.’
“I came for the proper training and proper linage, and after ten years, Grandmaster began to trust me. Malcolm had to learn from other places because Grandmaster deliberately kept it basic.”
Ultimately Brennan discovered that Malcolm’s approach to kung fu was at odds with the system itself.
“I found that the teaching [at Malcolm’s school] was too commercial for the system. They made up quite a lot of stuff, probably about seventy per cent. They had to, because they didn’t have a lot of info. I went to Hong Kong to go and find the real stuff.”
Paul O’Malley was also a former student and then instructor at the Malcolm Sue Kung Fu School. He became a member of the Chinatown Security Firm and even made an appearance at the Fitzgerald Inquiry himself.
“I was a student at the kung fu school. I got a job as a maintenance man and a mate of mine got a job as a cleaner. We lived in the school, in the instructor’s quarters.
The block behind [the school] was the Unification Church of Tonga, and there was a five-story commercial building behind that. Malcolm owned all three. This was [in the days] before the Fitzgerald Inquiry, when everybody had a casino.”
O’Malley began training with Malcolm in 1981. He remembers the Fitzgerald Inquiry reaching into the training hall.
“In 1981 or ‘82… One day after training, we had to go move the stuff from the gambling den – a roulette wheel, card tables – into the church behind the kung fu school. The church burnt down that night.
“It was this beautiful old sandstone thing; it had stood there for a hundred and fifty years. Malcolm burned it down to get rid of the stuff.”
Paul was one of many deeply impressed by Malcolm’s kung fu skills.
“We thought [Malcolm] was a kung fu God. Now we know he got kicked out of [Ip Shui’s] school at a low rank. We, a bunch of gullible Aussies, thought he was brilliant. There was no UFC in those days. Malcolm was kicking arse in the Valley. People listened.”
Malcolm’s reputation was like his handguns; whether or not they were actually fired was one thing, but they were often seen and people knew they were real.
“Chinatown Security Services’ was one arm of the kung fu school,” says Paul. “The main security detail was night patrol. We drove around, checking doors were locked, attending break-ins, that sort of thing. I ended up doing security on the door of the casino.
“The coppers in the Valley used to walk past the door and ask how business was. Nobody gave a rat’s arse. After the Fitzgerald Inquiry, the joke was, the police minister couldn’t find it, but any Yellow Cab could take you to several.”
Around this time, Malcolm’s son, Gawain, became a prominent figure in his father’s business. According to O’Malley, Gawain began working in the security company after leaving university.
“He dropped out of Uni, and his father made him take over the security part of the business and work seven days a week. Malcolm made him do rounds as one of the security personnel. After he shot through, [Gawain] put us on and we ended up doing [all the work] for him.”
While you can transfer an office, you can’t transfer a reputation, O’Malley says.
“When Malcolm said things had to be done, they got done. But when Gawain went to recover debts, they laughed at him [because] he wasn’t his father. Once Gawain took over, people stopped paying.”
Gawain’s problems extended beyond Chinatown Security and into the kung fu school.
“Gawain didn’t have the Hong Kong experience, but he got promoted anyway. He had the belt, but didn’t do the training. No conditioning, no skills, any of that. Originally, you had to grade properly. By the end, you did a short course [and received the] belt at the end.”
Paul sums up his time working with and for the Sue family quite simply.
“Basically, Gawain went broke. He pissed the money up against the wall, the mortgages were called in, and everything got sold out from underneath him.”
Paul eventually found himself on-stage at the Fitzgerald Inquiry, giving testimony of his own.
“I testified. It was nothing, really. I did one segment of it. I was the last one to be interviewed for the Gawain connection.
“There was also Malcolm Philips, who was a high-level instructor that was arrested and extradited from the US after being rounded up by Texas Rangers.
“That was nothing to do with Malcolm, or Gawain, though. He was a dick-head in his own right.”
Not everyone who knows things is willing to talk. Certainly, many of those willing to talk do not want to be named. And no story of this kind is complete without its anonymous voice.
“The reality is, they [Malcolm and Gawain] are very good businessmen. Where there is an opportunity, they will utilise it.”
While Malcolm’s skills as a fighter gained him respect and credibility, his willingness to exaggerate threw a light on his limitations, especially in relation to his vaunted connection to the Shaolin temple.
“I found out it was bullshit because I couldn’t go,” says the former student who wishes to remain nameless.
“In the early 80s, Malcolm went [to the Shaolin Temple] to see what the monks were like and show off the style he’d invented. Once he arrived, he thought he’d found an opportunity to make some cash.
“He’d taken a few photos in and around the grounds, with the monks, which anyone can do.”
The business aspect of the idea was the thing that eventually bought Malcolm’s ambition to ground.
“At one point, he claimed they had a temple in Western Australia. Blitz said he had done some ninety-nine day program and become a monk. [Malcolm] wanted to build one, but once he discovered that once you build it, you give it to the Shaolin, they weren’t interested and gave up. Gawain has a connection to school in area, but not the temple or its abbot.”
Discussion soon returns to the subject of Malcolm and the mystique that surrounded him.
“Malcolm was intense. A serious guy. He was one of those naturally talented fighters, trained or otherwise; he was going to be good, whether he trained or not. The Sue family learned in their kung fu in Brisbane, not Hong Kong.
“He was the kind of guy that would send people around to bash you. He was protected by the top tiers of government and the police commissioner at the time.”
As for the Gold Lamborghini?
“You don’t make that sort of money teaching kung fu, if you know what I mean.”