When ‘Mickel’ Hurley owned 23 Toxteth Rd in the early 2000s he brought a touch of colour and nervousness to the usually quiet neighbourhood. Fictionalised in Underbelly, Hurley in 1994 had been exposed by the Wood Royal Commission as a key figure in Sydney’s underworld, and at the time of his death was about to stand trial on charges of heading one of Australia’s biggest cocaine importations. In Glebe he used a public box rather than the home phone, his babysitters were instructed not to open the door, and a neighbour decided against installing an air-conditioning unit after being warned Hurley would object. A fireplace, stolen from number 23 during renovations, was restored within 24 hours of its theft when it became known that its owner wanted it returned. The day after a full-page newspaper article (plus photo of the house) was published naming him as Sydney’s new Mr Big, Hurley threw a big party, but the family home had to be sold to pay the $600,000 bill when his assets were confiscated by the NSW Crime Commission. By 2005 Hurley had moved to a waterfront unit at Pyrmont.
A Catholic born on 5 November 1946, Hurley grew up one of eight children in a Pyrmont terrace. He repeated third class three times before leaving school at age 14 after which he worked at Swift & Moore distilleries putting labels on bottles. His first illegal activity was stealing chickens and selling them for a dollar apiece. Aged 18 he began working on the wharves where he linked up with inner-city locals Danny Chubb and Malcolm Field; known as The Balmain Boys they engaged in large-scale pilfering on the docks and stealing cash from clubs. In 1977 Hurley was sentenced to four years’ gaol (but was out in less than two) for the theft of $1 million worth of watches from the Mascot customs bond store. In 1980 he and others stole a $2 million diamond from a locked glass case in Sydney Town Hall but the charge was dropped after an eyewitness was unable to distinguish Michael from his brother Jeffrey.
By the 1980s Hurley was involved in large-scale thefts of cigarettes and electrical equipment and was dealing in cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine. In 1987 he was a member of The Friendly Gang (others included Balmain’s Ray Johnson and Glebe’s Glen Flack) who used explosives to break through a neighbouring wall to empty the safety deposit boxes of a Chinatown bank. Although Hurley was charged with multiple offences from 1962 onwards most charges were withdrawn or didn’t go ahead. He consistently gave his employment as garbage collector. Arrested when a police informer revealed details of a large-scale cocaine importation, in custody awaiting trial and weakened by terminal bone cancer, Hurley died on 23 January 2007 after suffering a fall. His accomplice, ex-Balmain Tigers player Les Mara, subsequently received a 20-year gaol sentence. Mark Standen, the police officer who ran the case against Hurley, was himself charged in 2008 with importing pseudoephedrine and sentenced to 22 years’ gaol three years later.
A man of considerable personal charm, Hurley was farewelled at St James Catholic Church Glebe which overflowed with mourners including his hospital chaplain. A wake in a Pyrmont pub followed. Some old associates were unavoidably absent because incarcerated. Others had died, including Danny Chubb shot dead outside his mother’s house in 1984, Hurley’s one-time mate and ex-Glebe Public School pupil George Freeman who was shot in the face at home probably by Hurley’s father-in-law Jack Muller in 1979, and Muller himself who was shot dead in his driveway six weeks later.