The fortunes of the Liegh Brothers, James and Howard, are a part of the DNA of the Victorian Police force. In the history of these two twins is shown the very best and very worst that copper in Melbourne can aspire to be.
Born on All Saints Day, 1900, the last year of the old century or the first year of the new (depending on how you count it, or if you can count), the brothers lived a normal sort of childhood for their time and place, which was early twentieth century Carnegie. Both brothers were too young to fight in the Great War, and both were aggrieved by this (they finally reached an age where they were eligible to enlist a mere ten days before the Armistice was signed), and more aggrieved by the death of their father, Rufus Liegh, who died in the trenches around Ypres.
Resolving to follow their father’s fine example of service to King and Country, but believing that all war was now ended, they joined the police rather than the army. Both of them were patrolmen, although with quite different reputations – James for rectitude, and Howard for corruption – when the labour dispute of 1923 broke out. The issue that split the police down the middle was pay and conditions – Victoria’s police being notably poorly paid compared to those of other states, and also lacking a pension scheme. The brothers, both of them proud and passionate men, found themselves on either side of this issue.
James Liegh firmly believed that striking was not the police way, and that the potential costs – social and economic – of such a strike were too great to risk. Howard believed that nothing short of a wildcat strike would make the government pay attention to their claims. Both men had good arguments on their side, and on the eve of their birthday – and of the strike – Halloween night, 1923, they went out drinking together, each determined to talk the other around to his way of thinking.
They both succeeded.
On the morning of the strike – and of the twin’s 23rd birthday – Howard showed up for work as part of the half the force that did that day, keeping peace throughout his beat to the south and east of Carnegie; James instead ran across a disorganised mob of looters on his beat directly south of Carnegie, and turned them into a disciplined gang of theives, at least for the two days the strike lasted.
Thus it was that James Liegh, formerly known to be as straight and strong as an ancient tree, became known as “Bent” Liegh, and Howard, formarly known to be crooked and sly as a fox, became known as “Oak’ Leigh.
Suburbs near Oakliegh: