"Big" Tim Bristow

"Big" Tim Bristow: A personal true tale of Australia's legendary private investigator, by Greg Tingle

In memory of "Big" Tim (26th August 1930 - 13th February 2003)

Why did I choose one of Australia's most colourful, and some many say, notorious underworld figures, for the subject of this feature article, you may ask?

Well, the late Tim Bristow was my friend, some time mentor, and a great man. He proved to be a great man, friend and community minded individual. Yes, that's right...a good community minded man. Tim was synonymous with the northern beaches community, with friends and contacts in just about every street from Palm Beach, to Manly and well beyond.

Tim sadly passed away on Thursday, February 13th at his home in Crescent Road, Newport, just around the corner from my original residence in Yachtsman's Paradise.

My first introduction to Tim was via my late father, "Tricky" Ricky Tingle, in the mid 80s. Dad used to do a bit of debt collecting with Tim, when he wasn't building up his trucking and property business, and in the 1985 to 1990 period, as a young, tough lad, I helped out with the odd job as well. It should be mentioned that Tim paid on time, and more often than not, in cash, usually comprised on stacks in $50s or $100 bills.

Time with Tim was always precious, and you had a sense of that then as well. Actually, I'm not just referring to his latter years, when his heath was failing. Even having a punt at the Newport TAB or enjoying a bite at Lucky and Peps Pizza were momentous experiences. Tim made them so. (Incidentally the Newport TAB is just to the side of my great grandfathers old property, where he, Eric Fraser Tingle used to run the most successful SP book making business in his day). It's no coincidence the current TAB is just next door to the original betting house; Eric's barbershop and plant nursery, but Eric Tingle may have told the authorities it was, had they ever been questioned about this. If only the walls could talk!

Tim wore many hats including role of private investigator, primarily focused on divorce cases, "problem solver" for industry disputes, bouncer for Newport Arms, sportsman, specialising in diving, surf sports and rugby; and mentor to many of the youth of Sydney's northern beaches. Tim continued his hobbies well into the latter part of his life, still having a punt on the horses, diving and collecting the many newspaper articles and videotapes that carried his name, and those of his contemporaries.

In his younger years, Tim was even a male model for Bond's, and was the first to secure major sponsorship from the likes of Coke-a-cola. Tim was a real life "Chesty Bond", a man's man, and a ladies man.

Detractors of Tim's will say he was a "standover man". From my experience with Tim, anyone ever receiving "bad luck" from Tim "Earthquake" Bristow, probably had it coming. It is true Tim didn't last long in the NSW Police Force. This was due in part to Tim never favouring others' authority; and his self managed style was not a good fit for the discipline of the Police Force.

In 1976 Bristow was convicted of assault and sentenced to 18 months' jail. A decade later he was sentenced to five years' for supplying Indian hemp. I am not saying Tim was an angel, and this was mentioned in his eulogy, which was delivered by both his brother, Max and his friend and biographer, Kevin Perkins.

Tim did strike fear into some of the nastiest, "mongrel low-life scum" that Australia ever produced. He used his hired gun status to eradicate such undesirables.

Educated at Shore and briefly a police cadet, or police officer, he once said, "I bribed police for 40 years. I found that the higher I went in society the lower the morals became."

He was both a very public and private personality.

Certainly his funeral, held at St Thomas', North Sydney, and to a less extent, wake, held at Chatswood, were quite public affairs. It was a most moving experience. A part of Newport died when Tim passed. For myself, it was particularly moving, as my late father, based at Newport, died in 1992. Tim had been a remaining link for me to my late father.

Tim went to incredible lengths to keep his name out of certain newspapers, when he wasn't fond of what they were about to publish. Thus its ironic that one of Tim's friends, a fine journalist and writer, Mr Kevin Perkins is in the process of writing Bristow's biography, as we approach mid 2003.

Like many personalities, Tim had a love - hate relationship with the media. The media is just one of, all be it an important factor in his significant profile. Tim certainly was larger than life, and did not need the media to exaggerate it. He was intimidating and imposing, both physically and psychologically.

Both five weeks and two weeks before Tim's death, he invited me around to his beautiful Newport home to have a chat, drink and bite, and he delighted in having his partner, Sue, play the old VHS tapes of Tim being interviewed by journalists and TV presenters such as Derryn Hinch, Mike Willesse, Ray Martin, Mike Munro and a host of others.

As I sat down with Tim, I raised the question of a book I had recently read, Not for Publication, by Chris Masters. The chapter of particular interest was entitled Guilty Buildings. I was, as you imagine, absolutely fascinated, as I knew Tim must have been the source of these writings. I simply said, "Tim, you were the main informer for that chapter weren't you?" in only a manner I could get away with, and Tim jovially replied with, "Yes Greg, Chris Masters and I conferred at length about the building industry". We then continued coffee and flipping through his extensive newspaper clippings collection, and playing a bit of one upmanship. Literally every media and crime figure personality I alluded to, Tim had a suitable anecdote for. The John Laws story was my favourite, being a big fan of Laws, so a version of that may have to be included in a future article or documentary.

During this time and in keeping with Tim's generosity, he referred my sister and I, to Peter Meakin, at the time the News Producer at Sydney's Network Nine; who was in this own period of transition.

Like many of us, Tim had an ambivalent relationship with the media, due to its obsession with his exploits in the sometimes "seedy" building industry.

Mr Bristow, who had a criminal record as well as his "enforcer" reputation, led a building royal commission into the underworld in the early 1990s when he told 60 Minutes he had been employed by big builders as an "industrial relations consultant".

In my time with Tim, I can confirm that he visited many a "friendly visit" to building sites around Sydney, sometime accompanied by an extra passenger or two, just in case more persuasion was called for. One may say, just the speaking of his name shook buildings to their foundations. The rumours about the odd uncooperative fellow falling to his death from building sites may actually have more "foundation" than you may initially think. Tim personal tennis court is also rumoured to have its foundations made up from more than rubble. The story goes there are a few broken bones, perhaps from building sites, thrown into the concrete mix. Fancy a dig?

During the royal commission into productivity in the NSW building industry, Mr Bristow said he had suggested to people on building sites that if they continued to disrupt the work, they might meet with some bad luck and specifically, a "bad accident".

Separating the fact from the fiction was always an interesting pastime of Tim's. Additionally, when you listened to Tim's tales, one got the feeling that he was adding at least a little bit of colour. It's not that he was full of bullshit, he certainly was not. I believe it was just to add further entertainment value. Entertaining he was (if you were on the right side of him). I clearly outlined this to both John "Golden Tonsils" Laws and Brian Wilshire (the master conspiracy theorist), when I has the pleasure of speaking at length about "Timmy" on national radio in the first quarter on 2003. This was the time I was starting to "hit my straps" in the Australian media business.

Radio broadcasting king-pin, Alan Jones may care to share a story he will likely not soon forget. In 1974, when Jones was a teacher at Kings and coaching the school's first 15, Bristow turned up to provide pointers to Jones's lads on the finer aspects of the game of rugby.

A member of the team leaked that he and his schoolmates were wide-eyed as Bristow instructed them on how to dislocate a shoulder; how to re-align the jawbone of an opposing player with the merest nudge, and how a simple twist could break a finger. "It was all very subtle but the end result was very messy," recalled the player.

At the end of Bristow's chat, an ashen-faced Jones thanked him, waited until the Enforcer was safely ensconced in his Mercedes convertible, before saying to his charges: "Just forget everything you've heard this afternoon." Not long after his "thugby" lesson, Bristow was sentenced to 18 months' jail for assault.

Tim's tale about the "see-you-later-club", which is located conveniently just off the heads of Palm Beach, is legendary. I took the trip a few times, and needless to say I lived to tell the tale. The trip was quite a pleasant experience, however, I must admit that when I sat on the bow of the speedboat at a speed towards 50 knots, I felt somewhat tentative.

Humor has it if you got on the very bad side of Bristow, you secured a one way ticket to the club, and ended up wearing concrete blocks for boots. We all know that there are certain individuals in this world, that that would perhaps be to easy a punishment for some of the crimes they has committed, and still…has been allowed to walk!

Never let it be said that just because some of your friends and associates may carry nicknames like "Tricky Ricky", Michael Twothumbs and John "Mad Dog" Cooper, that this implies ones own criminal status.

Tim understood what true justice was all about. How many of us know about certain individuals who have done terrible things in the community, and are allowed to stay at large, just searching for their next victims?

Tim demanded respect and got it. Not a more loyal friend and lending ear and heart to turn to, could ever be found. Tim always took the call, and a "too hard basket" didn't exist.

During the end period of Tim's life, he was so giving, that just two weeks prior to his death, he gave the word to an undesirable who was hassling my sister, to "back off", and what do you know, suddenly the problem disappeared. Tim was asking questions like, "this fellow, he's a want-to-be architect in the building industry is he"? Tim give them his trademark, "Be told".

It is my belief that anyone that ever "badmouthed" Tim probably had something to hide.

I firmly believe that although Tim circulated in a somewhat dubious world, he was in no way of dubious or "dodgy" character. He had all the characteristics of a good person - he had morals, was loyal, truthful, giving of his heart and time to those who deserved it and cared for, and in his own way, he was champion of "right". No one is pretending he was always easy to get on with, as Matthew Bristow was recently explaining to me, but that was part of his charm.

It is with absolute pleasure and pride that I am able to give this insight into one of Australia's most misunderstood, legendary and public figures.

How tantalising a book will Kevin Perkins tome be. One need not wait too much longer, with Bristow's life story in print, due to be released this October, with the option of a feature film.

Tim, thank you for the privilege of knowing you and your wonderful family.

References include:

Sue Bristow, Matthew Bristow (Bristow Films), Kevin Perkins, Eric "Tricky Ricky" Fraser Tingle (and a host other others who may prefer that their names not be published)!

*Kevin Perkins is one of Australia's most respected journalists. Kevin is currently writing the life story of "Big" Tim Bristow. Expect Bristow's biography to be available before the conclusion of 2003.


Time spent with a loveable rogue (Greg Tingle's edited article published on GreatReporter.com)

The Shitville Pub, by Ross Renwick

The Surf Carnival, by Ross Renwick

The truth about Tim (f2 Rubgy Heaven article)

What Is Coke, by Greg Tingle

Interview: Matthew Bristow, Film Maker, Producer and Director, Bristow Films - 15th May 2003

Melbourne Super 8 Film Group: Matthew Bristow profile

Crime Factory

Time spent with a loveable rogue (Greg Tingle's edited article published on GreatReporter.com)


"Big" Tim Bristow