Rachel Fuller reviews 'The Worst Woman in Sydney: The life and crimes of Kate Leigh' by Leigh Straw

Rachel Fuller reviews 'The Worst Woman in Sydney: The life and crimes of Kate Leigh' by Leigh Straw

The Worst Woman in Sydney: The Life and Crimes of Kate Leigh

by Leigh Straw

NewSouth $29.99 pb, 264 pp, 9781742234793


Rachel Fuller

Rachel Fuller

Rachel Fuller is a Sydney-based bookseller and writer. She has been a contributing writer on culture, books, and the arts for

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The Worst Woman in Sydney is the first biography devoted to the early twentieth-century Sydney underworld matriarch Kate Leigh. Leigh Straw attempts to tease out whether Leigh truly was the worst woman in Sydney or something closer to that of a loveable larrikin. For such a colourful period in Sydney's history (Straw is obviously nostalgic about her own years in Sydney, a point which is rather belaboured), the book fails to deliver a cohesive or compelling portrait of the notorious Leigh. Straw admits that there is an 'absence of archival records providing insights into Kate Leigh's private life and perceptions of her criminal career'. Unfortunately, in what feels like an effort to fill pages, Straw resigns herself to superficial history lessons on sly-grogging, accounts of Leigh's court appearances from the public record, and incessant repetition and recapitulation.

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