Although his crimes include assault, armed robbery and kidnapping, and allegations of murder have consistently featured in the media, Mark Brandon ‘Chopper' Read doesn't have the typical criminal profile.
Since his release from Melbourne's Pentridge Prison, he has recreated his public persona and established an enterprise based on his experiences as a gangland criminal.
Read was secretly released from Pentridge in November 1991, at the end of his term for arson, criminal damage and shooting a drug dealer.
A stand-over man for gangsters in Melbourne, with a reputation for being tough and ruthless with his adversaries, Read believed that the ‘Lygon Street Mafia' might have plans to ‘get' him upon his release:
One plastic ‘godfather' who'd gone on an indefinite holiday overseas only weeks before had left instructions that I should be in the ground with a bag of lime before he came home.
– Mark Brandon ‘Chopper' Read
Read, M B 1992, Chopper 2: hits and memories: more confessions of Mark Brandon Read, Floradale Productions, Kilmore, Vic.
Since then, Read has fashioned himself as an expert on the underworld. He has written crime novels and plays, and there has been a movie made about him.
Read is also known for his paintings, selling more than 100 works for as much as AU$6500 each. His works include a series of Ned Kelly portraits, some of which depict the bushranger as heavily tattooed – like Read – and with machine guns or hooks for hands.
Read shrugs off comparisons between himself and Kelly, although they both had violent youths and later became well known identities, both spending time in Melbourne's Pentridge jail. The Age writer, Carolyn Webb, describes Read as ‘ambivalent, one minute dismissing Kelly as "over-rated [...]", the next saying he's a "great national hero"'.