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Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities is a 13-part Australian television mini-series loosely based on real events that stemmed from the marijuana trade centred around the New South Walesmarker town of Griffithmarker. The timeline of the series is the years between 1976 and 1987. Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities primarily depicts the Mr. Asia drug syndicate and its influence on crime in Australia. Among the characters presented are real-life criminals Robert Trimbole, Terry Clark, George Freeman, Christopher Dale Flannery and the Kane Brothers. The mini-series is a prequel to the 2008 production Underbelly, which was about the Melbourne gangland killings and forms part of the Underbelly series.

The series premiered on the Nine Network on 9 February at 8.30pm, with the double episode premiere attracting an average of 2,501,500 viewers nationally, in the mainland capitals. The show has consistently rated highly, being the most watched show on Australian television for all episodes broadcast so far. In New Zealand, the series began broadcast on 4 March where it has been advertised as Underbelly: The Mr Asia Story. This name stems from the common misidentification of protagonist Terry Clark as "Mr Asia", within New Zealand. "Mr Asia" was in fact the name assigned to Marty Johnstone by Auckland reporter Pat Booth in his series of investigative newspaper articles into the Mr Asia Drug Syndicate. Johnstone was both Clark's business partner and victim.


The series is a broadly fictional account of the Australian criminal underworld, loosely based on events in New South Walesmarker and Victoriamarker between 1976 and 1987. The story revolves around the organised crime groups that stemmed from the Griffithmarker-based marijuana trade, led by "Aussie Bob" Trimbole (Roy Billing) and Terry "Mr Asia" Clark (Matthew Newton).

New Zealandmarker drug trafficker Clark arrives in Sydney with plans to establish a heroin racket. He meets with marijuana-grower Trimbole but is at first rebuffed and bashed by crime figure George Freeman (Peter O'Brien). Soon however, he convinces Trimbole he is genuine and the two establish a partnership. The activities of local politician Donald Mackay (Andrew McFarlane) put their plans in jeopardy and when attempts to extort and blackmail him fail, Clark tells Trimbole to have him killed. Trimbole visits Melbourne to organise the hit. Detective Liz Cruickshank (Asher Keddie) is tipped off about the murder plot but her boss Joe Messina (Peter Phelps) discredits the informant, Les Kane (Martin Dingle Wall), as unreliable. When Mackay is murdered by Jim Frederick Bazley (Scott Burgess), the efforts of detective Warwick Mobbs (Matt Passmore) to investigate are stymied by high-level police corruption that leads to him being posted to rural NSW.

Clark has soon established the Mr Asia syndicate in Sydney. Allison Dine (Anna Hutchison) arrives in Australia with her boyfriend but soon becomes Clark's lover and major accomplice as she devises a new method of passing the drugs through Customs. Meanwhile, Trimbole helps Melbourne armed robber Ray 'Chuck' Bennett (Nathan Page) organise a major heist in defiance of local stand-over men Les and Brian Kane (Tim McCunn), who demand a cut of any loot. After Bennett cuts reckless bully Chris Flannery (Dustin Clare) from his team, Flannery informs the Kanes, touching off a turf war. When two of Bennett's crew steal some of Trimbole's money from the Kanes, the violence escalates until Les Kane is machine-gunned to death in front of his family. Bennett stands trial for the murder but is acquitted; while being led into court on another matter, a disguised Brian Kane murders him.

Clark, his Singaporemarker middleman Andy Maher (Damon Gameau) and couriers Doug and Isabelle Wilson (Gareth Reeves and Simone Kessell) travel to Queenslandmarker where Clark is arrested on a gun charge and extradited to New Zealand. The Wilsons crack under police questioning and reveal the location of the body of murdered drug mule Pommy Lewis (Sam Anderson). Clark's lawyer Karen Soich (Katie Wall) becomes his new lover and he is acquitted. Returning to Australia, Trimbole convinces him to have the Wilsons killed.

Clark goes to England to expand his business. Bazley completes the Wilson hit but the bodies are found almost immediately, finally causing the Victorian and Federal police to form a join taskforce led by David Priest (Jonny Pasvolsky), and including Mobbs, Cruickshank, Messina and a Sydney CIB detective Trevor (Dieter Brummer) with links to Dennis Kelly's (Paul Tassone) bent NSW cops. Kelly's corrupt detectives attempt to take control of the drug trade, while working to deceive the interstate police by closing down George Freeman's casinos. Allison questions her role in the syndicate after being threatened by corrupt narcotics agent Jack Smith (Samuel Johnson). Freeman begins to aggressively push into other avenues of crime and is shot by an intruder outside his home.

Now in exile in the UK, Clark becomes paranoid and after a meeting with Trimbole, convinces him to take a contract out on Allison. Reluctantly, Trimbole hires Chris Flannery, but Smith arrests Allison in the meantime. Clark changes his mind, Trimbole cancels the contract and helps Allison flee to the USmarker. Meanwhile, Freeman recovers from his wound while his friend, stand-over man Lenny McPherson (John McNeill), murders his would-be killer. Back in England, Clark meets with his supplier Marty Johnstone (Merrick Watts). In the belief Johnstone has ripped him off, Clark orders Andy Maher to kill him.

British police find Johnstone's body and arrest Clark. Allison Dine is apprehended by the FBImarker and returned to Australia to turn star witness against her former lover. Trimbole learns of a massive shipment of Lebanesemarker cannabis from his friend Dr Nick Paltos (Wadih Dona) and makes plans to import it. In the meantime, legal secretary Brian Alexander (Damian de Montemas) comes under intense police scrutiny as the weakest link in the syndicate. At the inquest in the Wilsons' death, Allison implicates the entire syndicate. The prime minister announces a Royal Commission and disbands the Federal Narcotics Bureau. Trimbole flees overseas and Alexander is murdered by Dennis Kelly. Messina uncovers a leak in his team, but the taskforce still manages to tie the murders of the Wilsons to that of Mackay through a deal Messina makes with Frank Tizzoni (Tony Poli), an associate of Trimbole.

Allison testifies against Clark in England and he is jailed. Now in Irelandmarker, Trimbole becomes an arms dealer for the IRA while also working with Paltos to import cannabis into Australia. Chris Flannery arrives in Sydney and approaches Freeman for work, killing a number of drug dealers in order to make a name for himself and putting himself at odds with Kelly and his cronies.

Clark suffers a heart attack in prison and dies. With the net tightening on him, Trimbole, dying of prostate cancer, is arrested in Ireland on a trumped-up charge. Before the Australian police can bring evidence against him, however, he is released and flees to Spainmarker. Paltos completes the drug shipment but Mobbs arrests him immediately; however, he refuses to reveal Trimbole's whereabouts. Meanwhile, Kelly convinces Freeman that Flannery is too dangerous to live. Flannery arrives at Freeman's home and McPherson kills him with a machine-gun. The Feds finally discover Trimbole's location, but as Priest arrives at his Spanish hospital to question him, Trimbole dies.

The series' epilogue states that Freeman and McPherson continue their illegal businesses for another decade or so, Laurie Prendergast (Teo Gebert) goes missing after Flannery's death and the corrupt NSW police continued their illicit operations but as the narrator (Caroline Craig) suggests this would all change in the years to come.


Similar to the first season, five main cast members are billed in the opening credit sequence, Roy Billing (as Robert Trimbole), Anna Hutchison (as Allison Dine), Matthew Newton (as Terry Clark), Asher Keddie (as Detective Senior Constable Liz Cruickshank) and Peter Phelps (as Detective Inspector Joe Messina). Other major cast members are billed in the episodes in which they appear. Andrew McFarlane features in the opening episodes as Liberal politician and anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay. Peter O'Brien portrays the late Sydney underworld figure George Freeman. Kate Ritchie appears twice as Judi Kane, wife of slain standover man Les Kane and step-mother of Trisha Kane who was married to Jason Moran. Merrick Watts appears in an episode as Marty Johnstone, Clark's main supplier. Caroline Craig is the narrator, reprising her role from the first series. Other prominent actors to appear in the series include Samuel Johnston as a corrupt Federal Narcotics Agent, John Wood as corrupt NSW chief magistrate Murray Farquhar and Diane Craig as Don Mackay's wife.

Main Characters

Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities features four regular cast members, with other actors who recur throughout the series.

  • Matthew Newton stars as Terry Clark, the head of the Mr Asia drug ring.
  • Roy Billing stars as Robert Trimbole, Clark's partner in Australia.
  • Anna Hutchison stars as Allison Dine, Clark's lover and main drug mule.
  • Asher Keddie stars as Senior Detective Constable Liz Cruickshank, a member of the Victoriamarker Major Crime Squad
  • Peter Phelps stars as Detective Inspector Joe Messina of the Major Crime Squad, Cruickshank's boss.
  • Peter O'Brien recurs as George Freeman, bookmaker and illegal casino operator
  • Dustin Clare recurs as Chris Flannery, the Melbourne hitman known as Mr Rent-a-Kill
  • Samuel Johnson recurs as Jack Smith, corrupt Federal Narcotics Agent
  • Paul Tassone recurs as Dennis Kelly, corrupt NSW police detective
  • Jonny Pasvolsky recurs as Dave Priest, head of the Federal task force investigating the syndicate
  • Matt Passmore recurs as Senior Detective Constable Warwick Mobbs
  • Simone Kessell recurs as Isabelle Wilson, one of Clark's drug mules and victims
  • Gareth Reeves recurs as Douglas Wilson, one of Clark's drug mules and victims
  • Damon Gameau recurs as Andy Maher, Clark's Singapore middleman.
  • Damian de Montemas recurs as Brian Alexander, the syndicate's legal advisor
  • Jenna Lind recurs as Maria Muhary, the mother of Clark's son
  • Martin Dingle Wall recurs as Les Kane, Melbourne stand-over man
  • Tim McCunn recurs as Brian Kane, Melbourne stand-over man
  • Nathan Page recurs as Ray "Chuck" Bennett, Melbourne armed robber
  • Suzannah McDonald recurs as Anne Marie, Bob's Mistress in Sydney
  • Katie Wall recurs as Karen Soich, Terry's lawyer and lover
  • Wadih Done recurs as Dr. Nick Paltos, surgeon and drug trafficker
  • Caroline Craig is the series narrator, reprising her role from the first series

Secondary characters

  • John McNeill recurs as Lenny McPherson, Sydney stand-over man
  • Elan Zevelsky recurs as Alphonse Gangitano, Melbourne stand-over man
  • Teo Gebert recurs as Laurie Prendergast, one of Bennett's crew
  • Wayne Bradley recurs as Vinnie Mikkelsen, one of Bennett's crew
  • Scott Burgess recurs as Jim Bazley, Melbourne hitman
  • Ric Herbert appears in one episode as Al Grassby, former government minister and associate of Trimbole
  • Dieter Brummer recurs as Trevor, a corrupt NSW detective
  • Daniel Roberts recurs as Jim Egan, a corrupt NSW detective
  • Don Halbert recurs as Barry Walker, a corrupt NSW detective
  • Kate Ritchie appears in two episodes as Judi Kane, wife of Melbourne stand-over man Les Kane
  • John Wood appears in two episodes as Murray Farquhar, corrupt NSW chief magistrate
  • Merrick Watts appears in one episode as Marty Johnstone, Clark's Singapore supplier
  • Andrew McFarlane appears in the opening episodes as Donald Mackay, Trimbole and Clark's first victim
  • Diane Craig appears in the opening episodes as Mackay's wife Barbara Mckay.
  • Renato Fabretti appears in one episode as Mark "Chopper" Read, Melbourne stand-over man and Bennett's fellow inmate
  • Tony Poli recurs as Gianfranco "Frank" Tizzoni, Marijuana grower and a close associate of Trimbole
  • Anthony Simcoe appears in two episodes as Danny Chubb, Sydney drug supplier
  • Brendan Donoghue appears in two episodes as Mick Sayers, Sydney heroin dealer
  • Paul Ireland appears in two episodes as Tony Eustace, Sydney brothel owner and drug dealer
  • Myles Pollard recurs as Phil de la Salle, a Sydney homicide detective who investigates Mackay's murder
  • Sam Anderson appears in three episodes as Harry "Pommy" Lewis, one of Clark's drug mules and victims
  • Chris Sandrinna appears in two episodes as Greg Ollard, a heroin dealer and friend of Clark
  • Jake Lindesay recurs as Wayne Robb, Allison's boyfriend and drug addict
  • Ian Roberts recurs as Barry, Freeman's bodyguard
  • Ria Vandervis recurs as Kay Reynolds, one of Clark's drug mules and friend to Allison
  • Peter Lamb appears in two episodes as Johannes Muller, Sydney underworld figure and who organised the hit on Freeman
  • Josh McConville appears in two episodes as Michael Hurley, would-be drug dealer and Freeman's failed assassin
  • Harold Hopkins appears in two episodes as George Joseph, Melbourne gun dealer and Bazley's associate


Filming took place in both Sydney and Melbourne until March 2009. Sydney locations Richmondmarker and Warwick Farmmarker were used to portray Griffith in the 1970s. Along with these sites, a house in Wahroongamarker was used to shoot episodes seven and eight. The scenes in Freeman's casino were shot at a hotel in Seftonmarker. Writers Peter Gawler and Greg Haddrick have admitted that there is more nudity and sex than in the original.

The Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities DVD was released 27 May 2009 by Roadshow Entertainment.


Critical reception

Critics praised Kate Ritchie for her performance as Judi Kane. Ninemsn's Sam Downing said he was "pleasantly surprised" by her acting. Downing expected to be thinking of Ritchie's Home and Away character Sally the whole time, but found "she was surprisingly different and really good". TV reviewer and La Trobe Universitymarker media lecturer Sue Turnbull thought Ritchie managed to cast off her soap opera persona through the role. Turnbull said that Ritchie did not overplay her scenes, and the emotion on her face indicated there was "a lot more going on".

The series has been criticised for embellishing and dramatising the real events on which is it based. In a column for the tabloid The Sydneymarker Daily Telegraph on February 24, 2009, author Keith Moor is highly critical of the events depicted in the show. In the article, Moor points out among other things that Trimbole and Clark never met until after Donald Mackay was murdered, that Trimbole had no role in the Great Bookie Robbery nor did he own or live on an orange orchard and that Allison Dine didn't see Clark for three days after he killed Pommy Lewis. It is also known that Brian and Les Kane did participate in the Great Bookie Robbery and were not shut out of it as suggested by the show. Former NSW police detective Roger Rogerson was also critical of the show, particularly with regards to the characterisation of Chris Flannery and the portrayal of George Freeman as a murderer and major crime lord.


The series debuted with double episodes attracting an average of 2,501,500 viewers nationally, in the mainland capitals. The first episode with 2,584,000 viewers was the biggest audience for a non-sporting program since the introduction of people meters in Australia in 2001. As of episode 3, the series has attracted an average of 2.489 million viewers per episode. The previous years highest rating broadcast was Seven's Packed to the Rafters with 1.938 million.

Series ratings

The following table's ratings and rankings are subject to change as more episodes are broadcast.
TV Season Timeslot Season Premiere Season Finale Weekly Ranking Yearly Ranking Viewers
1st 2nd >2nd
2009 8:30pm
9 February 2009 4 May 2009 10 2* 1** TBC TBC
*Second due to double episode premiere**5th due to other networks grand finales and premieres

Weekly ratings

The weekly Australian metropolitan ratings are below.
# Episode AU Air Date Timeslot Viewers (m) Nightly Rank (#) Weekly Rank (#)
1 "Aussie Bob & Kiwi Terry" 9 February 2009 8:30pm
2.582 1 1
2 "Bad Habits" 9:30pm
2.397 2 2
3 "Brave New World" 16 February 2009 8:30pm
2.476 1 1
4 "Business as Usual" 23 February 2009 2.334 1 1
5 "A Tale of Two Hitmen" 2 March 2009 2.233 1 1
6 "Stranded" 9 March 2009 2.267 1 1
7 "A Nice Little Earner" 16 March 2009 2.174 1 1
8 "Diamonds" 23 March 2009 2.069 1 1
9 "Judas Kiss" 30 March 2009 2.126 1 1
10 "The Reckoning" 20 April 2009 1.826 1 1
11 "The Brotherhood" 9:30pm
1.803 2 2
12 "O Lucky Man" 27 April 2009 8:30pm
1.705 4 5
13 "The Loved Ones" 4 May 2009 2.078 1 1
--- Series average --- --- 2.159 1.3 1.4


The third season, titled Underbelly: The Golden Mile, will begin airing in 2010. It is a sequel to the second season and a prequel to the first.

Peter Andrikidis, director of the first series, has said that writers are penning a third edition of the crime drama to link the two series. "It's being written at the moment and I think it takes it up to the first series. So it's the end of this series and up to 1995, that is the plan. I'd say it'd have something to do with the people that were set up in series one. But they're still developing that, it's just what they can get the rights on," Andrikidis said.

In a further press release on June 11, 2009, Nine Network has disclosed the plot will pick up from where A Tale of Two Cities ended in 1987: centring around the worsening systematic corruption within the NSW Police and associated illicit drug, prostitution, underground gambling, night club activities at King's Crossmarker in the late 1980s. This entrenched culture of corruption and entanglement with organised crime only ended in the mid 1990s with the Wood Royal Commission which "cleaned out the Black Empire within the NSW Police".

See also



External links

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