Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Rugged Angel

I only discovered Lillian Armfield when I read the fascinating "Razor" by Larry Writer, a book that tells the "true story of slashers, gangsters, prostitutes and sly grog" in Sydney during the 1920s and 1930s.

While I was well aware of Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, the notorious madams who controlled a big chunk of eastern Sydney's underworld in King's Cross and Darlinghust ("Razorhurst") during the period and who have acquired a legendary status in Australian folklore almost on a par with Ned Kelly, I knew virtually nothing of the police who had to deal with these notorious women of crime on a daily basis.

Lillian Armfield, one of Australia's first real policewomen (image from the NSW Police files, 1915), was as tough as many of the street women she arrested such as "Botany May" and Nellie Cameron

Although the first woman to receive the King's Police Medal, Lillian received no pension when she retired and spent her latter years in virtual poverty. She is another amazing woman who carried a bucket behind men, but also blazed a major trail for policewomen of the future and she really needs to be given much more credit.

A book, "Rugged Angel", was written about Lillian in 1961 by Vince Kelly, but surely the time has come for a new author to take fresh look at this remarkable ground-breaking woman!

Click here to discover more biographical info about Lillian Armfield.

Visit the real Razorhurst


brookegoldfinch said...


My name is Brooke Goldfinch and I stumbled on your blog whilst trying to track down the book 'Rugged Angel' online. I was very excited to read what you had written about Lillian Armfield. I'm trying to write a miniseries about her life and work at the moment. I've just begun my research but I'm living in the US so I'm having trouble accessing information. I was just wondering where you got a copy of 'Rugged Angel'. It seems that most libraries in Australia have it but I'm trying to buy a copy online and haven't had any luck. Did the book contain a lot of information? Would you recommend it?

I really like your blog. Keep the posts coming!


LeighStraw said...

Thanks for this wonderful piece on Lillian Armfield. I have signed a contract with Hachette Australia and am currently writing a new biography of Lillian Armfield. I published 'The Worst Woman in Sydney: The Life and Crimes of Kate Leigh' in July 2016 and am really pleased to now tell Lillian's story. The book will be published soon and am happy to be contacted at


Regina of Arbeia said...

Thanks, Leigh. Great news about the biography. Do let me know when your book is available as I would love to do a review and let people know about it. I am already on Hachette's ARC list for historical titles so perhaps your editor can arrange to send me a copy at some stage?