The one-eyed cocaine king of Melbourne’s worst slum
Malvern 'Gunner' Cameron was a standover man with one eye, one arm, and one hell of a temper.
He was a cocaine dealer, a drug addict, a hard drinker and a heavy hitter. He hated the police and seemed to hate people in general. During the 1920s he was one of the most feared gangsters in Melbourne.
Malvern Cameron was born in 1891 at Eaglehawk, now part of the city of Greater Bendigo. His father was a miner.
When Malvern was 7 years old, he decided to experiment with one of his dad's detonator caps.
He took a glowing coal from the fireplace with a spoon and placed the detonator cap on top.
The result of the experiment was an explosion that caused injuries so severe that his right arm needed to be amputated, and his right eye surgically removed.
Less than 3 months later his 13-year-old sister died of typhoid fever.
In his teens, Malvern was deemed uncontrollable and made a ward of the state. He ended up at the Royal Park Depot, formerly the Royal Park Industrial School. He escaped from there twice, only to be recaptured by police.
When he escaped in 1906, his description in a police report read: "15 years of age, 5 feet 5 inches high, slight build, fair complexion, red hair, blue eye, has only 1 arm and eye, wore a dark tweed suit".
Malvern grew to be close to 6-foot-tall, and though he only had one arm, that arm was heavily tattooed and very powerful. In 1911, he was 20 years old and living back at Eaglehawk.
That year he got into a fight outside a Bendigo hotel and struck a man with such force that the blow was fatal.
Four years later, a man at a Bendigo pie stall asked Malvern to tone down his language, pointing out that children were present.
Malvern punched him to the ground and kicked him where he lay. The judge sympathised with Malvern's missing limb and eye and let him off with a fine.
Malvern relocated to Melbourne in 1916 and joined an inner-city assault and robbery gang. He spent six months in Pentridge Prison the following year for assault.
In Pentridge at the same time was Robert Aspinall, one of the kings of Melbourne's sly grog industry. When Malvern was released, he moved into Fitzroy and started operating a sly grog shop from one of Aspinall's houses.
Malvern was running an illegal bar, was in a relationship with "a woman of ill-fame" and must have thought he was living the dream. All of this came to grief, however, when he was twice busted for selling alcohol without a license.
He was given the choice of a prison sentence or paying a fine. He chose the fine but didn't pay it, skipping town instead.
When he showed up again in Fitzroy, almost four years later, the police were waiting for him and he was sent to prison.
By the 1920s, police considered Malvern to be one of the most active assault and robbery men in Melbourne.
He was also described by them as a known cocaine carrier who was addicted to drugs.
During a street robbery in Little Lonsdale St in 1926, one of his gang sliced a man's throat with a cutthroat razor. The injury was horrific, and for some time the victim's life was in the balance.
Malvern was the only one arrested because he was so easily identifiable.
In 1927, Malvern visited a Fitzroy sly grog shop run by husband and wife team: Stefano and Violet Sala.
He demanded money but they refused to pay. Malvern pulled out a revolver and said, "well take this then", and shot Stefano twice.
One bullet went through his left lung and the other through his stomach. He survived but could never quite take food the same after.
Malvern had his own brush with death in 1929. He was discovered staggering about in Collins Street moaning the words "I'm dying, take me to hospital". He'd been stabbed twice in the chest, one of the wounds puncturing a lung.
He seemed to quieten down a bit after this. Between 1930 and 1937 he only had three short terms of imprisonment, each for assaulting police.
Though this improved behaviour may have been the result of the sobering effect of his near-death experience, it may also have been that he'd finally found his calling: as a greyhound trainer.
By the 1940s he was considered one of the best in Australia. He was training national champions and making good money. He was even mentoring for new greyhound tracks in Tasmania.
Malvern's later-life could almost be considered a redemption story. He developed great trust and respect from the greyhound-racing community. He was elite. He no longer needed to use violence or standover tactics. His talent, skill, and love for animals was the basis of his success.
Malvern Cameron died at Cheltenham Home for the Aged in 1969. He was 78.
He had stomach cancer, renal failure, a urinary infection and cirrhosis of the liver. The cirrhosis he'd had for 20 years.
He never married, and his love interests always seemed to be brief among the craziness of the first half of his adult life.
The last half he spent looking after dogs. They were the real love of his life. The occupation on his death certificate was listed as "dog trainer".