Episode 12: Vice Queens of Sydney: Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh

Screen Shot 2018-10-17 at 12.13.09 PM.png

If you were looking for vice, Sydney in the 1920s-1940s was the place to be. Duck into the back alleys of Surry Hills and Woolloomooloo and you’d find all the cocaine, “sly grog” (booze!), brawling, and brothels your dark little heart desired, all of it presided over by not one but two larger-than-life crime queens: Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh. The women’s’ rivalry was bloody, colorful, absurd, and stretched on for decades. They raged at each other in the press and in the streets; they insulted each other’s dogs (GASP!); they tried to outdo each other with glamorous photoshoots. Polish your diamonds and hike up your garters, listeners, because we’re diving into their story.


Razor by Larry Writer

Lillian Armfield: How Australia’s First Female Detective Took on Tilly Devine and the Razor Gangs and Changed the Face of the Force, by Leigh Straw

“Bad Beef,” Western Mail, 4 April 1929

“Gang War,” The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Dec 1929

“Notorious Underworld Figure Does Not Fear for Life,” Truth, 13 April 1930

“Says Tilly to Kate,” Truth, 29 Jun 1930

“K-K-Katey…You’re the Only ‘Girl’ That I Abhor!” Truth, 7 Feb 1932

“Underworld Queen Is an Interesting Contrast,” Arrow, 7 Oct 1932

“Two Bragging Crooks Live on Fat of the Land,” Truth, 27 Aug 1933

“Tilly Devine in Brawl,” The Newcastle Sun, 20 Sept 1943

“Practical Jokes On Tilly Devine,” Morning Bulletin, 16 Jun 1945

“Wedded Bliss—Or a Razor,” The Sun, 22 Jan 1950

“Study in Scarlet: An Uncrowned Queen of Slumland Drips with Diamonds and Charity,” People (Sydney), 15 March 1950

 “Tilly Devine’s Birthday Party,” The Sun, 10 Sept 1950

“The Bloom Has Gone Off Sly Grog, Says Kate,” Truth, 8 Aug 1954

Tilly Devine, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8 (1981)

Kate Leigh, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10 (1986)


“Guilty,” by Ruth Etting, via archive.org

“Shake It and Break It,” by Lanin's Southern Serenaders, via freemusicarchive.org

“K-K-K-Katy (Stammering Song),” sung in 1918 by Billy Murray

Tori Telfer