Michael Taylor has written a book on his criminal past and his exploits in Melbourne, which will be launched this month.
Michael Taylor has written a book on his criminal past and his exploits in Melbourne, which will be launched this month. Rob Williams

How a bus driver left behind life in the criminal underbelly

WAKING up in the middle of the night after yet another nightmare, Michael Taylor is constantly haunted by the sins of his past.

The 56-year-old has come a long way since being in the thick of the 'underbelly' of Melbourne's western suburbs but still the actions of a past life linger in his mind.

He moved to Queensland 15 years ago to escape a life of crime and make a fresh start after several previous attempts had fallen by the wayside.

Michael has called Ipswich home for almost a decade and has a loving partner, job he enjoys and strong group of friends.

For those who know him now, it might be hard to recognise the man he once was.

He grew up in a hard part of Melbourne and came from a dysfunctional home life where alcohol abuse and violence was the norm.

From a young age he started hanging out with mates on the streets and found "his place", not feeling comfortable at home and struggling to concentrate at school.

It started with smoking cigarettes and breaking into shops and escalated to stealing cars and robbing homes.

"I felt wanted... I spent more and more time not coming home," he said.

As he got older, the boys he hung out with would form the crew he ran with and he fell deeper into the crim' life, getting caught up with drugs and becoming involved with organised crime.

His uncle Fred, a painter, docker and notorious crook, acted as somewhat of a father figure and pushed him further away from the light.

"I was basically a crew member, you'd get told to collect money or a (drug) crop is ready," Michael said.

"Then you could be going stealing cars, car racketeering, chopping cars or loan sharking. One of the kids I grew up with become a powerful person and had people working for him. I hung with bikies and skin heads... I had my fingers in all different pies. I was not freelancing but it was sort of like that."

Some members of the Melbourne underworld have become household names thanks to television series Underbelly and Michael had several run-ins with Mark 'Chopper' Read.

Andrew 'Benji' Veniamin, right hand man of Carl Williams, was a friend and associate.

His uncle Fred associated with the 'old school' crowd, mixing with the like of the notorious Graham 'The Munster' Kinniburgh as well as doing prison time with Ronald Ryan, the last person to be legally executed in Australia.

 

Michael Taylor has written a book on his criminal past and his exploits in Melbourne.
Michael Taylor has lived in Ipswich for the past eight years. Rob Williams

As he was starting to plot his escape from the life, names like Williams and Mark and Jason Moran were starting to be thrown around more and more.

"A lot of them were just business associates," Michael said.

"I never met (the Morans). I could have been in the same room as them and I wouldn't have known. I'd be in the kind of room these kinds of people would be at; pool halls, nightclubs, strip clubs - I was always around those places."

The day Williams was shot in the stomach at a park by Jason Moran in 1999 to spark a bloody gangland war, Michael said he was in the same park only a couple of hours earlier celebrating his son's birthday.

The criminal life started to wear away at Michael and at the age of 40 decided he needed to step away or he might be just another victim in a long line of bodies piling up around him.

He watched as close friends were killed off and paranoia swept through the streets as the amount of ecstasy and ice circulating around Melbourne exploded.

An attempt to go straight via his own landscape business didn't take off, he felt himself looking over his shoulder after borrowing money from his boss.

"I was growing a hydroponic set up. I've got a guy there with a shotgun living in my shed protecting it, rottweilers in my yard with electric fences and all that," he said.

"You can't just say 'no I don't want to do it anymore' because you know too much. I was sort of stuck in the middle, trying to do the right thing but I'm corrupted in this direction by my crew because they've got control over you.

"I got paranoid thinking one day I'm going to get a visit and it's not going to be a friendly visit.

"They would knock you off for the littlest thing."

So he pulled down the hydroponics without permission and "disappeared".

He sold everything, moved to Hervey Bay to be closer to his son's mother and started working as a chef.

Michael said his focus became his work; he cut out the drugs and alcohol and stayed away from the bad elements he had hung around with for the whole of his life up to that point, even cutting off contact with two of his children who were still involved in that world.

Since moving to Ipswich eight years ago he has been supported by the love of his partner and "rock" Tarina and set his life in the right direction, associating with "good people" and enjoying his job as a bus driver.

He has spent the past two years working on his first novel Broken Compass, putting the details of his life on the page to help others in his position and tell them that turning things around is possible, no matter how far gone it may seem.

"(My concious) was always nagging away at me that I don't want to do this," he said.

"I have nightmares to this day," he said.

"When you write it down it's like a release.

One recurring nightmare will stay with him forever.

Michael was told to head to a set of commission flats to collect from a drug addict who owed his boss money.

When the young man couldn't pay up, Michael held him out of the window 12 stories up by his scruff until he could come up with a solution.

His girlfriend said she would do anything for Michael not to release his grip and he told her she would pay off the debt by working as a waitress at one of his crew's nightclub.

She did but as Michael returned to check up on the debtor, he found he had overdosed.

He learned later that the man's girlfriend had thrown herself from the very window Michael held her boyfriend out of due to the loss.

"That was two lives gone for what? For me being an arsehole," he said.

"There's a breed of people that are meant to be that bad person... they don't have a conscience. I must have had that conscience there.

"I feel like doing this book now I'm making up for the wrong that I did. It will never replace the loss of people or the damage or hurt that I've created. If (reading the book) helps one person stop from doing what they're doing, I've achieved what I wanted to achieve."

Broken Compass will be launched on September 14 at Chapters Book Shop in the Karalee Shopping Centre from 10am until 1pm.