Nervous Norm and the Crossword Bandit

The reported death of old-time Sydney crim ”Nervous” Norm Beves has provoked my nostalgia gland.  According to the SMH:

Nervous Norm’s criminal ineptitude was so legendary that for years ”Norm’s form” was used as the case study on recidivism for police officers studying to be detectives. …

Colourful Sydney racing identities, ex-crims, lawyers and golfing buddies were on hand to farewell Beves, who had once worked for George Freeman and later, when he wasn’t shoplifting, on the wharves.

”No one is unluckier than me,” Beves was heard moaning to his wife in an intercepted call played to the Wood royal commission on police corruption in 1996.

Actually, my great uncle Andy was quite a bit unluckier than Nervous Norm.  What’s more, he moved in a much lower class of criminal than old Norm. No-one in their right mind would ever have considered employing Andy as caddy master at the Australian Golf Club, not unless they were keen on daily trips to pawn shops to redeem the members’ clubs.  Andy even presided over the theft of all the grog from my parents’ wedding reception at Paddington Town Hall by engineering a brawl out the front to give him cover to back a truck up to the rear entrance while all the guests were milling around in Oxford Street.  The brawl hit the Daily Mirror at the time, but not the fact that Uncle Andy had ripped off the liquid supplies.

Andy had a nickname too.  The Crossword Bandit.  He used to fill them in to relieve the boredom of long hours spent “casing the joint”, but always left the completed crosswords behind at the scene of his crimes.  And when the CIB found them and came around to see him, he always confessed.  Uncle Andy was institutionalised.  He couldn’t cope on the outside.  One of the few clear memories I have of him was when I was about 8 and Andy accompanied us to Central Railway Station in Sydney where our grandfather was managing to hold down a regular job for one of the few times in his adult life.  He was selling papers on the ramp at Central.  “Sun or Mirror” he’d yell every few seconds as the commuters surged past.  It was the best he could manage as an epileptic with  a metal plate in his head after a fair slice of his brain had been shot away in France in World War I after enlisting at 16 by lying about his age.

As Andy accompanied the Parish tribe up the station ramp to see granddad, a couple of burly blokes in ill-fitting suits passed us.  “G’day Andy”, one of them said , smiling. ” G’day George, Fred” Uncle Andy replied in his thick Scottish-Australian brogue.  “Who were they?” my mum asked, impressed and nervous at the same time. “Oh, that was Detective Inspector Jones and Detective Sergeant Oldfield (or whatever) from the Armed Holdup Squad” , Uncle Andy explained.  It wasn’t the answer Mum had been wanting.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Don Arthur
12 years ago

Ken – What about your great uncle Denis? What happened to him?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
12 years ago

Denis was my mother’s father i.e. my maternal grandfather (not great uncle). He was the one selling papers at Central in this story. He died of emphysema in a nursing home near our family home at Freshwater in his early 80s in about 1981, not long before I moved to Darwin. He was a life-long smoker from the age of 10 – he started smoking in the orphanage. We only found that out when mum was nagging him to give up the weed in the nursing home as the emphysema worsened. “It’s too late now. I’ve been smoking for 70 years and the damage is done,” grandad replied. “Hang on,” Dad chimed in (he was sharp in those days). “That would mean you started smoking at 10”. Grandad smiled and explained a few things about the orphanage.

My maternal grandmother had died a few years earlier after years of Alzheimer trauma, narrowing and closing down. Uncle Andy the Crossword Bandit was my grandmother’s brother. Cornelius, Kitty etc who are discussed in the other story Don linked were my grandfather’s siblings. I was a little confused on family relationships in that earlier story. Andy wasn’t grandad’s brother he was nanna’s brother. Grandad DID have another brother who was part of the pact to rescue Kitty from the orphanage. His name was Jack (Cadigan). The brothers were Denis (my grandfather), Jack and Con, and their sisters were Martha and Kitty. Another relative contacted me after the first story was published and pointed out my error (and I went back and checked with my mum).

The Cadigans (my mum’s maiden name) were pretty colourful (if that’s the right word) on both sides. Nanna’s maiden name was Smith. Her other brother Frank was a lifelong communist and Seaman’s Union organiser. He lived around the corner from nanna and grandad in Bondi. Grandad used to have heated arguments with him that I barely understood. Grandad was a lifelong devoted supporter of Jack Lang, and hated Labor rats like Billy Hughes and Joe Lyons as much as he did the commos. He didn’t think much of Bob Santamaria or the DLP either. Grandad and Paul Keating would have had a lot in common, although grandad was more of a caustic ironist than a great hater. Mind you, he refused to speak to Uncle Con for 30 years after his failure to honour the rescue pact, which even PJK would struggle to beat.

Don Arthur
12 years ago

Ken – Silly me, I should have read the sentence that begins “My maternal grandfather Denis Cadigan …” before commenting.

Have you written anything else about your family?

brett beves
brett beves
11 years ago

Hi Ken,

I am currently trying to find a bit of family history, but get blockages.

My father is Peter John Beves, mother barbara (nee nelson.

Dads father was Walter Edwards and Mum Catherine Nee Blackley. Walter was awarded the Militory cross (but only have ribbons) and was married before to Emma and divorced in the 30’s. Dad says he has sibling robyn and another sister ? and a twin brother Deceased very young Barry, apparently hit by a bus in Sydney.

Dad won’t give me his birth certificate so I cannot verify anything.(Must be some skeletons)

Have done hours of searching on the net and only just found Catherine was cremated in Brisbane 1952. Dad say Walter is in Rookwood cemetry (but cannot find)

Just wondering if you have any info that might help me


7 years ago
Reply to  brett beves

My grandfather name was Walter Edward. He was awarded the MM? Everything else in your post looks like him.
I may be able to give a few details as I am related via the Emma line.