Michael Bourke – Don’t Drink The Lemonade!

Opening: Saturday 3rd August 2024
Exhibition Dates: 31 Jul - 25 Aug

Wed-Sat: 11am-6pm
Sun: 11am-5pm
Mon-Tues: CLOSED

130 Regent Street Redfern


Don’t Drink the Lemonade!

The unlikely life of Australia’s Tom Lemonade Ley.

Don’t Drink the Lemonade!                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     90 x 60cm

From the humblest of beginnings, Thomas John Ley rose through local, state and federal politics to set benchmarks for corruption, deception and violence that have remained unsurpassed for over one hundred years.
A church going atheist, “Lemonade Ley” courted the temperance movement with a campaign to ban alcohol in New South Wales, whilst simultaneously enjoying a bottle of wine each day in the parliamentary lunchroom.
As a member of the New South Wales Progressives, he orchestrated a leadership spill to bring down the Nationalist Party, installing himself as the Minister for Public instruction in a government that lasted just over six hours.
In business, Ley was able to corrupt government officials, fabricate scientific reports, falsify financial records, and administer Ponzi schemes on an international scale. Even when his own son was jailed over crimes they had committed together, an unswerving self-belief kept Ley one step ahead of the law.
But it is as a murderer, that Ley is best remembered.

In a world gone mad, it is useful to remember that the world was once a whole lot madder.

A Rabbit In A Hat                    $ 700
acrylic on canvas     50 x 40cm

Like most people, Thomas John Ley was born into poverty and confusion.
With limited education and opportunities for women in late 19th century England, Tom’s mother Elizabeth was forced to spend her days completing a never-ending series of gruelling and thankless tasks in the family home. However, Tom’s father Henry, had trained as a domestic servant and was qualified to spend his days completing a never-ending series of gruelling and thankless tasks inside somebody else’s house.
Unfortunately for the Leys, all of the houses surrounding theirs were full of poor people. The neighbours were perfectly capable of polishing their own silver, choosing their own wines and tucking themselves into bed at night. And so it was that, when Tom was still only a baby, Henry was forced to abandon his young family in search of wealthy people to boss him around.
Within two years, Henry was dead in a flop house and Elizabeth was left penniless with four children.
But despite the deprivations of his childhood, Tom Ley would go on to become a solicitor, a government minister and eventually a multiple murderer.

There Goes The Neighbourhood                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     60 x 90cm

Elizabeth Ley arrived in Glebe in 1886 with four children, a dead husband and a sack full of rats.
Tom, the youngest, was only six years old, but would claim to be eight, something that would remain a complete lie for most of his life.
Glebe had been granted to Anglican clergyman Reverend Richard Johnson by Governor Arthur Phillip at a time when he should have been checking who it actually belonged to.
The term “Glebe” is an archaic English expression for a parcel of land granted to a parish priest. Not surprisingly, there appears to be no equivalent term in the language of the Gadigal people.
With few parishioners to attend to, Reverend Richard Johnson spent his days sketching potential designs for the Wentworth Park Greyhound Club which was completed in 1882 and briefly experimented with the use of monkeys as jockeys in the 1920s.
Governor Phillip is best remembered as the guy that kidnapped Bennelong and then got speared whilst eating a whale in Manly.
Tom Ley would go on to be the Minister for Public Instruction in a government that lasted less than seven hours.

A Foretelling                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     60 x 90cm

The fatherless son of a poor new migrant, Tom Ley was forced into work at the tender age of six.
Wheeling a trolley full of newspapers through the cramped and crooked streets of Glebe, the young boy made a startling discovery – not everyone was poor!
In fact, some people were ridiculously not poor.
At Hereford House, the grand home of judge William Wilkinson, Tom Ley glimpsed his future. It was a future of power and privilege, of respect and influence. Not only was Wilkinson a judge, but his son was a member of the NSW parliament. An unlikely friendship was struck up between the little urchin and the wealthy judge. For years to come, Ley would refer to Wilkinson as his mentor.
But perhaps Ley had seen even more. For Hereford House had once been the home of prominent religious pretender, prohibitionist and murderer William Tawell.

You can never have too many mentors!

A Boy Apart From Others                    $ 800
acrylic on canvas     50 x 60cm

There are some things you can teach yourself and there are some things that the world must teach you.
Having already mastered ambition, Thomas J. Ley knew that he would also have to learn both treachery and resentment in order to succeed in politics. Where better to learn these things than at school?
With two years of full-time work behind him, the eight-year-old enrolled at Crown Street Public School in Surry Hills. Among his classmates was a young Victor Trumper. Already a promising cricketer, Trumper was confident, kind and immensely popular with the other children.
It was around this time that Ley developed a lifelong hatred of sport.

The Rough End                    $ 800
acrylic on canvas     50 x 60cm

There are a few things less pleasant than sleeping on a bunch of pineapples. For most people going to work is one of these things.
After only two years at Crown Street Public, Elizabeth removed Tom and enrolled him in the school of hard knocks. Although the discipline was harsh and the tuition only sporadic, this new arrangement allowed the young boy to have a part time job manning a grocery store for sixteen hours a day.
Elizabeth had originally purchased the shop on Abercrombie Street with a view to running the business herself. It then occurred to her that it would be much easier to have her 10-year-old son do all the work.
Elizabeth had become something of an entrepreneur by this stage. Not only had she taken out a lease on the terrace next door and turned it into a boarding house, but she was also renting out beds in the family home. Wedged between the docks at Woolloomooloo and Central Railway Station, Surry Hills was perfectly located to accommodate both drunken sailors and drunken shearers.
When packing up the store of an evening, Tom would regularly receive a message “don’t come home tonight.”

Climbing into bed the next night, the smell of salt and sheep, of beer and regret was unmistakable.

Exile And The Kingdom                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     60 x 90cm

When the Board of Education told Elizabeth Ley that she couldn’t have her 10-year-old son skip school to run a grocery store, the ever-resourceful mother of four hit upon a novel solution. She would sell him into slavery.
Before the authorities could escort him back to school, Thomas Ley was secretly transported out of the city and into the country to work as a labourer on a dairy farm in Windsor.
For the aspiring lawyer and politician, this was undeniably a setback. But the fact that he couldn’t tell one end of a cow from the other, that he had only two years of schooling, a dead father , and a mother who seemed determined to profit from his exploitation, was not going to stop Tom Ley from achieving greatness.
To overcome extreme hardship, one must have equally extreme determination. Delusion and luck are probably helpful too. But even more important than determination, delusion or luck, is a plan.
And Tom Ley was always a man with a plan, even when he was only a boy. Between milkings, Tom would teach himself shorthand with a cheap textbook and a stack of Sydney Morning Heralds. That way, should he ever get out of the mud and dung and find his way back to Sydney, he could walk right up to any solicitor and basically demand a job.
Of course, he would have to shower first.

A Threshold Is Crossed                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     90 x 60cm

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a 17-year-old boy in possession of grandiose ambitions, must be in want of a wife.
Tom Ley was never all that interested in truths, but he was mad for wives. To marry the twenty-one-year-old Louisa Vernon, he had to pretend to be eighteen. And while some may claim that a lie is not the best foundation upon which to build a marriage, it is, in fact, a very useful foundation upon which to build a life in both politics and crime.
By a strange coincidence, the newly married couple would begin their life in crime and politics directly across the road from Hereford House; the very place where Tom’s dream of a better future had begun.
And who said God doesn’t play dice!

How Many Warnings Must I Send You?                    $ 800
acrylic on canvas     38 x 76cm

In 1917 Thomas J Ley stood against labour member Samuel Toombs for the NSW Parliamentary seat of Hurstville.
It was during this campaign that slanderous graffiti first appeared outside of Hurstville Train Station referring to him as “Lemonade” Ley. It is highly likely that Ley painted the graffiti himself, it is almost certain that he came up with the nick name. It was as good a way to win the votes of church going wowsers as it was to feed his increasing sense of paranoia.
At his final campaign rally, Ley arrived in a hearse and delivered the words “We are here to bury Labor’s hopes, we are here to entomb Toombs”
Politics is a funny business.

The Cootamundra Incident                    $ 1, 800
acrylic on canvas     91 x 91cm

One of the trickiest things about keeping a fully stocked army, is that all the bravest soldiers tend to die.
By 1917 many Australians had started to question whether sleeping in a rat-infested trench and getting shot at by foreigners was the sort of thing that they were into. The Australian Government was in a bit of a pickle. It was fully committed to supporting Britain in a pointless and seemingly endless waste of human lives but very few government members were all that keen on wasting their own lives. The trick was to get other people to do the dying.
Because Australians believe in a fair go for everyone, it was decided that everyone over 21 years of age would get to have their say as to whether men between 18 and 35 could be sent to war against their will.
Perhaps the reason that Tom Ley was so enthusiastic about this plan, was the fact that he was now 36. Full of patriotic zeal and way too old to fight, Ley set out on a speaking tour of rural NSW in support of conscription. But sometimes standing up for what you believe in is not enough, especially when there are other people who believe in other things.
At an anti-conscription rally in Cootamundra, Ley’s constant heckling finally earned the response, “Why don’t you put on the king’s uniform?”
So, he punched a man with one leg.

Love Is In The Air                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     60 x 90cm

Hard to believe now, but in 1921 there were far too few Australians putting in and putting out for the country. With so much dirt and so few people holding onto it, the great southern land was basically screaming ‘Terra Nullius’ to our northern neighbours.
As part of the push to ‘Populate or Perish’, Tom Ley visited Perth and spent a very productive week exploring all sorts of ways to make the country grow with married couple Mr and Mrs Brook.
At some stage, whilst Maggie Brook and Lemonade Ley were focussing on the populate, Mr Brook seems to have perished in the most mysterious of circumstances.
Allergic to bees, the unfortunate fellow suffered multiple stings whilst lunching at his house, leaving behind a widow, one child and a truckload of money.
Despite having a wife and children of his own, Tom Ley helped Maggie find comfort as she mourned her loss – at first in Perth, then later is Sydney. Eventually, he managed to find her a flat just near his parliamentary office so that he could comfort her as often as he liked.

A Promise Of Lemonade For Everyone                    $ 1, 200
acrylic on canvas     76 x 76cm

On the whole, Australian politicians are rather crap at all things bat and ball related. For every David Pocock or Nova Peris, there’s a thousand no-balling John Howards and child tackling Scott Morrisons. But there has always been an expectation amongst all Australians, that their elected representatives will at least pretend to care about sport.
Pretending was one game that Tom Ley excelled at. He pretended to be friends with former Essendon ruckman cum social justice good guy celebrity priest Robert Hammond. He pretended to be deeply concerned about the evils of alcohol and the devastating impact that it had on the lives of the poor and vulnerable. He pretended that he had suffered the jibes and slander of electors who derided him as Lemonade Ley. And he pretended that, with the help of Cannon Robert Hammond, the Association of Churches and generosity of campaign donors, that he would push for a ban on alcohol.
From community halls throughout the suburbs to the Sydney Town Hall, church going teetotallers rallied to watch the footballing priest and the man they called Lemonade deliver a message of hope.
But when he was re-elected and made Minister for Justice, Lemonade was not quite ready to call last drinks. The immediate referendum that he had promised, was scheduled for five years hence. Long enough to give the brewers and the hoteliers a chance to mount their own campaign. Long enough to allow for a change of minister, a change of government, a change of mind.
Long enough to develop an extensive portfolio of hotel shares and an extra few inches around the waist.

No One Is Safe From A Monster Like Ley                    $ 800
acrylic on canvas     36 x 78cm

Being the Minister for Justice used to be a great job for a self-righteous psychopath. Unfortunately, New South Wales no longer has a Department of Justice. We have a Department of Communities and Justice. Putting the community first, even if only in name, would surely take the shine off the job for a man like Ley.
From a psychopath’s point of view, what is worse, is that they have done away with executions and put in place a whole heap of checks and balances so it’s hard to manage quite the same level of corruption and interference. Organised crime, like so many things, has been privatised.
But even overseeing the execution of the mentally ill and drafting legislation for the castration of sex offenders couldn’t hold Ley’s attention forever. He had dreams of being Prime Minister. Canberra was calling. Only Canberra wasn’t actually Canberra yet because it was in Melbourne. Canberra was mainly just sheep stations and building projects.
And besides, the Nationalists, whom Ley had re-joined, were headed for electoral annihilation. If there were ever a time to jump ship, it was now.
As a thank you to the people of New South Wales and a gesture of goodwill to the incoming Government, Ley arranged for the secret release of a notorious sex offender and child killer, Leonard Puddifoot.
Not surprisingly, the public was outraged. Graffiti started appearing around Tom Ley’s old seat of Hurstville warning the public “No one is safe from monsters like Puddifoot and Ley.”
Strangely enough, most of this graffiti was painted by Tom Ley himself.

*On the 28th of May 1923, Leonard Puddifoot killed Percy Carratt in an abandoned lot in Arncliffe. In court, Puddifoot explained that he hadn’t meant to kill the five-year-old, that he was only trying to stifle the young boy’s screams whilst he sexually assaulted him. Surprisingly, this defence held some sway with the judge and Pudifoot received the remarkably short sentence of three years.

The Mysterious Disappearance Of Frederick McDonald                    $ 1, 800
acrylic on canvas     91 x 91cm

The only thing that stood between Tom Ley and a seat in federal parliament was his long-term friend and colleague – Frederick McDonald.
Before rock and roll, the internet and fun, young people would sometimes join the School of Arts debating society. It was here, as a sixteen-year-old, that Tom first met the twenty one-year-old trainee school teacher Frederick McDonald.
It was a friendship that lasted almost thirty years and could have lasted even longer had Frederick been a little more willing to take bribes and a little less willing to get kidnapped and murdered.
Had Frederick been willing to pull out of the 1925 federal election, had he kept his mouth shut about the bribe that Ley had offered him, had he refused to lodge a case at the Court of Disputed Returns and had he agreed to pay Ley several thousand pounds in damages, the friendship may have survived.
But instead, Frederick McDonald disappeared somewhere between Martin Place and Macquarie Street in broad daylight on the 15th of April 1925 and was never seen again.

A Very Prickly Business                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     60 x 90cm

Before the introduction of the cactoblastis moth in 1925, Australia was in danger of becoming one enormous cactus garden for hardened rabbits to eat and make love in.
Prickly pear was originally introduced to provide habitat for the cochineal bug so necessary in the production of Tim Tams. But before long, it was rendering thousands of square kilometres of grazing land unproductive and forcing many Australians to move towards a diet made up entirely of chocolate biscuits.
Despite being quite partial to the occasional sweet treat, Tom Ley saw that there was money to be made in saving our soil and promptly set up a private company called “Save our Soil Prickly Pear Poisons”. As a successful businessman, solicitor and government minister, Ley had all the connections and know-how necessary to get an effective poison onto the ground. All he needed was financial backing – and an effective poison.
By the time Tom Ley had sold his shares in Save Our Soils, he had convinced a legion of investors from within the world of politics, finance and the law, to buy up big. Using falsified scientific studies and fake financial statements provided by his son Keith, the minister was able to turn a couple of hundred drums of bleach into a small fortune – and still enjoy as many Tim Tams as he wanted.

The Mysterious Death Of Hyman Goldstein                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     90 x 60cm

Mystery has a way of following some people. Take, for instance, Scooby-Doo.
Hyman Goldstein was another friend and colleague of Tom Ley.
He had worked at the same legal firm and was a member of the NSW Parliament.
As a friend, Hyman was lucky enough to receive some business advice from Tom.
But by the time the truth about Save Our Soils Prickly Pear Poisons had surfaced, Hyman was thousands of dollars out of pocket and Tom Ley was nowhere to be found.
As a man of law, Hyman had a nagging feeling that he had paid way too much money for a lie.
As it turned out, the truth would prove to be far more expensive.
Hyman convinced several other investors to start legal proceedings against Tom Ley.
With investigations underway, Hyman Goldstein was found dead at the bottom of a cliff near his house at Coogee Beach.
Apparently, he had wandered a little too close to the edge and accidentally fallen off.

The silly fellow probably didn’t have his glasses on.

The Mysterious Death Of Keith Greedor                    $ 1, 100
acrylic on canvas     90 x 46cm

In the olden days, Newcastle was a long way from Sydney. Infact, Newcastle was so far away that people would often travel there by steam ship.
Following the mysterious death of Hyman Goldstein, disgruntled investors appointed Keith Greedor to lead the legal action against Tom Ley and Save our Soils Prickly Pear Poisons.
As fate would have it, whilst travelling to Newcastle as part of the investigation, Keith Greedor fell of a ship and was drowned at sea.
The silly fellow probably didn’t have his lifejacket on.
Not surprisingly, the investigation against Save our Soils Prickly Pear Poisons ended at exactly the same time that Keith Greedor’s body hit the water. Solicitors had lost interest I even discussing the case.

The Heart Will Go On                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     60 x 90cm

Sometimes everyone just needs a chance to get away from it all, particularly when you are the subject of several corporate and criminal investigations.
For years Tom Ley had been giving. Giving to his family, to his community, to the legal system, to local, state and federal government. It was time to give back to himself.
Awash with prickly pear money, and not particularly interested in legislating now that his reputation had ruled him out of the chance at a ministry, Tom Ley decided to take a round-the-world cruise.
Although he may have briefly considered taking his wife Louisa, in the end, Tom Ley decided to take Maggie Brook with him. The woman was just so in need of comforting.

On The Run In The Free City Of Danzig                    $ 1, 500
acrylic on canvas     60 x 90cm

After a brief appearance at the League of Nations, Tom Ley disappeared for some time. It was almost as if the mystery that had been surrounding him for so long, had finally swallowed him whole.
Eventually he resurfaced, somewhat bloated, in the Free City of Danzig selling entry to a major sweepstakes for the 1931 English Derby. The prize was said to be over one million pounds, an inconceivably large sum of money in the years between the wars.
Against all odds, Tom Ley had finally become a sporting man.
According to form, the million pounds never materialised. The winner received a paltry four thousand.

A Heart Is Hard To Hold                    $ 1, 000
acrylic on canvas     61 x 61cm

The Second World War was good for Tom Ley. By now he was way too old and way too fat to fight. But you are never too old to take up black marketeering.
With the money he had made through shonky gambling ventures, Tom Ley was able to invest in shonky real estate ventures throughout London.
Both his wife Louisa and Maggie Brook were in London with him. Maggie was still in need of occasional comfort, but the sixty-year-old, he began to suspect, was in need of more comfort than a busy man could provide. As busy as he was, Tom found time to stalk his mistress. You are never too old to take up stalking.
Whilst Maggie was visiting her daughters place in Wimbledon, Tom noticed her being greeted by a young man.
John Mudie was thirty years Maggie Brook’s junior. With the smoke still settling from the war, he had left the army and was now adjusting to civilian life and peace time, working as a barman.
John Mudie was living in the same block of flats as Maggie Brook’s daughter.
He met Maggie Brook only once – on the steps outside his flat, when the landlady introduced him to her.

Amateur Hour At The Chalk Pit                    $ 1, 100
acrylic on canvas     76 x 76cm

In Sydney, as a solicitor and as Minister for Justice, Tom Ley had connections to some of the city’s leading criminals. In London, he had to rely on amateurs.
The murder and dumping of John Mudie’s body in a chalk pit just outside of London was a crime of such incredible incompetence that it would almost make Tom Ley discover his sense of shame.
Within a day, the body had been found, and several unwitting accomplices were coming forward to the police with information.
Within months, Tom Ley and Lawrence Smith were convicted of murder.

A Short Stay                    $ 1, 200
acrylic on canvas     61 x 76cm

Thomas John “Lemonade” Ley was declared insane and sent to Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. To this day, he still holds the honour of being the institutions wealthiest ever inmate – Take that Ronnie Kray!

Tom Ley died on the 24th of July 1947 aged 66.


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