Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brifman, Shirley Margaret (1935–1972)

by Phil Dickie

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Shirley Margaret Brifman (1935-1972), prostitute, was born on 7 December 1935 at Atherton, Queensland, thirteenth child of native-born parents James Emerson, labourer, and his wife, Beatrice, née Currey. Shirley took a job as a barmaid. On 13 June 1957 at the courthouse, Cairns, she married Szama Brifman, a 42-year-old, Polish-born hotel-proprietor. The marriage was to endure, despite her career as a prostitute which probably began in a North Queensland hotel. As 'Marge Chapple', Brifman was working in 1958 in one of Brisbane's half-century-old brothels. Next year Frank Bischof, the recently appointed commissioner of police, unilaterally closed the 'houses': the Department of Health was thereby relieved of regulatory responsibility, but opportunities for corruption were extended. A personal favourite of some police officers preferred by Bischof, Brifman was well placed to continue working out of hotels. Dark haired, slim and petite, she was 5 ft 1 in. (155 cm) tall; she had a lively personality, spoke with a slightly nasal tone, laughed easily, and could be garrulous.

In 1963 Brifman moved to Sydney. That year she was a star witness at the Queensland royal commission into the police and the National Hotel. Schooled in her evidence by police (according to her own account), she denied that she had ever been a prostitute, and accused the chief witness to police misconduct at the hotel of having 'done an abortion on me'. Although her testimony was almost wholly false, she succeeded in impairing the inquiry. Her later confession was to cast doubt on the evidence of a number of other witnesses. Until 1968 she worked in Sydney from the lounge of the Rex Hotel, King's Cross. She subsequently opened brothels at Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay (controlling up to fifteen 'girls' and claiming that she earned $5000 a week in 1969) under police protection, purchased by both cash and favours. In June 1971 Brifman and her husband were charged with offences related to prostitution. Her arrest, despite protection papers, apparently induced her to appear on national television to make allegations of police corruption. She then fled to Queensland.

As one of the few criminal sources on the era of police-controlled organized crime, Brifman has considerable historical significance. From July to October 1971 she was interviewed by senior police from New South Wales and Queensland. In her recorded responses to 320 questions, she named over fifty police from both States, the majority in connexion with specific crimes or corruption. Her allegations involved prominent policemen, but the Crown's case against the only officer to face criminal charges collapsed when she was found dead of barbiturate intoxication on 4 March 1972 in her flat at Clayfield, Brisbane. She was due to face a procuring charge on 17 March in Sydney and to give evidence of perjury against a detective senior sergeant on 22 March in Brisbane. Her death was treated as suicide and, at the request of the Queensland police, no coroner's inquest was held. Brifman was buried in Atherton cemetery with Presbyterian forms; her husband, son and three daughters survived her.

In March 1978 in the South Australian House of Assembly the attorney-general Peter Duncan tabled a 64-page document containing Brifman's responses to the New South Wales police interviews in 1971.

Select Bibliography

  • P. James, In Place of Justice (Deception Bay, Qld, 1974)
  • A. W. McCoy, Drug Traffic (Syd, 1980)
  • R. Fitzgerald, A History of Queensland from 1915 to the Early 1980s (Brisb, 1984)
  • D. Hickie, The Prince and the Premier (Syd, 1985)
  • E. Whitton, Can of Worms, vol 2 (Syd, 1987)
  • P. Dickie, The Road to Fitzgerald (Brisb, 1988)
  • (G. E. Fitzgerald) Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct (Brisb, 1989)
  • Royal Commission into Allegations Made Against Members of the Police Force in Relation to the National Hotel, 1963-64, Report and Transcripts of Evidence (roneoed copy, Parliament House, Brisbane)
  • Queensland Police, records of interview with S. M. Brifman, 28 Sept-26 Oct 1971 (copy held by author, North Quay, Brisbane).

Citation details

Phil Dickie, 'Brifman, Shirley Margaret (1935–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brifman-shirley-margaret-9580/text16881, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 31 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Chapple, Marge
Birth

7 December 1935
Atherton, Queensland, Australia

Death

4 March 1972
Clayfield, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Religious Influence
Occupation