Anthony LaPaglia first heard of the mafia extortions that took place in the Queensland cane fields in the 1930s during a casual conversation with screenwriter Adam Grossetti.
“I met Adam a few years ago at a party… and he told me he wanted to do this project, Black hand. He gave me a very short introduction and I said, “When you have something to write, send it to me and I’ll read it.” A few years later – because these things take time – he sent it to me, and I read it and was really fascinated by it because it’s part of Australian history that I wasn’t even aware of,” he says. TV tonight.
The result is a series in 3 parts, The Black Handan Italian organized crime gang, who go back in time to explore the struggles of an Italian Australian community against extortion, arson, kidnapping, mayhem and murder by Italian criminals targeting their fellow migrants in the deep north of Australia Australia.
“Even though it involves my own people, I really didn’t know about the cane cutters of Far North Queensland. Although my father and his two brothers did quite a bit when they first moved to Australia in the 1950s,” he continues.
“They made some sugarcane, they did hurricane fencing in the Northern Territory, they worked on the Myponga Dam. Wherever they could find work, they did.
LaPaglia, who is both presenter and co-producer, travels to both Far North Queensland and Calabria, Italy to learn about the mafia roots that have taken hold in the centers around the town of Ingham. The Black Hand she also operated from Ayr, Mossman (near Port Douglas) and Innisfail.
“It’s pretty big out there. I can’t imagine what it was like in the 1930s. There is a lot of space between each farm and the cities and the farm. It’s not easy to reach any of them,” she explains.
“It’s almost comical that they went out there to extort money, but that’s what they did. Mafia kids ran brothels and gambling, so extortion was just a side job to keep the other trades going.
“I think the farmers thought, ‘We won’t put up with this time. We will fight back.’ It’s that simple. They felt more, I guess. encouraged to do it…to face them. Because these guys are out of their element. I’m no longer in Calabria”.
The series is creatively shot by Nick Paton ACS and directed by Kriv Stenders.
“That was one of the other big reasons I wanted to do it, because I love his work. If I hadn’t known the person who was filming and directing it, I might have had a different reaction. But the quality of things about him is always quite high. I felt like he was going to do something cool with it and he did,” says LaPaglia.
LaPaglia, who argues that the mafia has changed more recently, adopting a tactic of “charm offensive” rather than strong weapons.
“I think their mission statement can be changed. I think what happened is that a lot of these kids — because it happened here — a lot of the old school decided they weren’t going to be productive much longer. After John Gotti in the 90s it seemed like a lost proposition. I have come to understand that many of these kids have educated their children and as their children take on leading roles in the legal profession or politics. They have become more educated and have adapted a little more to the mainstream. But I don’t know if they have completely left their old ways behind.
He adds, “In the 1940s, I think farmers had them out. They had successfully stopped them. But you know, the mafia has a way of always being there no matter what.
The Black Hand airs Tuesdays at 8:30 pm on ABC.