… the light-hearted, and sometimes light-headed, folk who have imagined that anybody’s car is everybody’s car when the owner is absent …

Evening News (Sydney), 17 July 1924

From the beginning, young men and fast cars were a volatile mix. The irresistible lure of shiny new automobiles is reflected in the many Specials of bewildered, bruised and bandaged youths who in some cases had just been dragged out of a wreck. Offenders often argued in court that they had intended only to borrow the car, not to steal it. The courts initially saw joy-riding as a minor misdemeanour but came to treat it as a more serious crime, one that endangered public safety and destroyed private property. As car numbers in Sydney jumped from 33,000 in 1921 to 127,000 by 1926, traffic offences took up an increasing amount of the police force’s already stretched time.

Raymond Kinnear Robertson

13 January 1926

Suspected of driving without a licence, theft and stealing a motor vehicle

After crashing a car he had stolen, Robertson arranged for the vehicle to be towed to a garage and then saw a doctor about the injuries to his face and hand. Witnesses said the car was a wreck and it seems Robertson was lucky to be alive.

Edward ‘Eddie’ Banbury (alias George Brown) & Robert Charles Warren


Ronald Wilson Ford (alias Charles Kemp, Ronald Wilson) & Gavin Banbury (alias Frederick Irving Steel)

6 August 1920, suspected theft of a vehicle

Eddie Banbury’s prison record indicates that he had experienced a difficult childhood. Police had noted him as being a ‘neglected child’ and he had been charged with attempting to set fire to a house. Banbury, his brother Gavin and their mates Ford and Warren stole a police motorcycle, two motor cars, some fuel, money and a revolver. They fled to Queensland but were caught and sent back to Sydney to face court.

Athol Smith

13 March 1929, suspected of illegally using a motor car

Smith was part of a gang of youths who stole a car and took it for a joy-ride. They were caught by police in the western suburbs of Sydney. For reasons that remain unclear, they were not convicted of the offence.


Behind the scenes: How to read a ‘special’

Around the world, police forces followed established conventions when taking mugshots. But Sydney police in the 1920s did things differently

Gold painted plaster bust of William John Mackay, Commissioner of Police

Big Bill MacKay

William John MacKay (1885–1948), known as Bill, was a Scottish-born police officer who played a major role in policing Sydney’s underworld during the 1920s

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