Updated: Aug 29
In about mid 1988 I moved from my first IT job at the (then) State Bank of NSW to join a weird IT co-operative called TCG (Technical Computing and Graphics).
It was located in Chippendale, a kind of nether-region between Sydney city proper and Redfern.
From a quick bit of Googling it appears TCG has all but disappeared. Their web site looks a million years old. It certainly doesn't look like a modern functioning company's web site.
TCG was run by "Poppa" Fritz and his son Peter Fritz.
Both seemed nice enough people but Peter, at least, let me down on more than one occasion* (Hi Peter, see below for 30/8/21 update). But that is another blog post for another time (and it's not really about Peter anyway).
This post is about my favourite lunchtime haunt; Sonia's Malaysian Restaurant.
At my first job I had developed a love for Malaysian food.
To this day the best Ayam Bali and Satay I've ever had come from a hole-in-the wall that was across the street from the State bank's IT headquarters in Whitlam Square (Oxford st).
So when I moved to TCG I felt lucky to find Sonia's around the corner.
I dined there often for lunch and often alone. Nobody I worked with wanted Malaysian food as often as I did.
I didn't think about it too much. It was lunch. What was there to think about?
Sometimes the place would be empty but for me. The food was great but it was lunch time in a strange place.
As a result I got to know Sonia. Sonia was/is an actual person.
Her and her team would look after me.
One day I arrived for lunch and Sonia had made some changes.
Suddenly there were more waitresses than usual and they were wearing far less than usual.
I didn't think too much about it. It was a lovely bonus but I was only there for the food.
I ordered a chilli prawn dish that I'd never had before.
To this day it is the hottest thing I have ever eaten and it tasted FANTASTIC.
I don't think I could do it again especially if I knew what was coming...the heat I mean.
Aside from being the hottest dish I had ever eaten, it was also the fastest dish through my system. But that's not why we're here...
As I cried and sweated my way through this meal, enjoying every bit of it, I was "comforted" by one of the scantily clad women.
It was weird but I wasn't going to complain. Surely she knew I wasn't in real distress?
It was around this time I noticed more women upstairs than downstairs. I'd never been upstairs and decided at that point in time that I probably should never go upstairs.
It was around this time, after returning to work, that I discovered Sonia's surname was Saffron.
It turned out that Sonia was Abe Saffron's daughter. Abe was one of Sydney's big time crime bosses.
If the chilli prawns didn't make me...well...you know, then that news did!!
Needless to say I never went back to Sonia's.
I lamented the passing of another great Malaysian restaurant and moved on.
After that Sonia's Malaysian Restaurant turned into the "Black Market Cafe". The name probably tells you all you need to know.
Then, again in fairly short order, the Black Market Cafe started running "Hellfire Club" nights. Again, your imagination is probably right.
Then it was pretty much 24/7 Hellfire. They even had a "Day Club" where inside it was really night and still "Hellfire".
I only know this because I was still working nearby and even after that drove past it a lot!!
I was only ever there for the food. Honest. HONEST. Shame on you for thinking that ;-)
There's no point to this post. Just a weird snippet from my early IT days.
This morning I received a message on my phone.
"Please call me back".
No details other than a deep male voice that didn't sound young.
When I called back the first thing I asked was "What's your name?"
I am bad with names so make a point of recording them and using them when I can, especially when they are very noticeable absent.
I was admonished for "rushing things" and a sense of dread washed over me.
"Here we go I thought".
The voice asked me if I could move his web site from one host to another.
The dread lifted "No", I said "I don't do that anymore".
"Oh, that's no good" was followed but a pregnant pause.
"How have I disappointed you David?"
The dread returned.
"Who is this?" I repeated. Determined to go no further without a name.
"Really, are you serious?"
"Yes" or words to that effect. Things seemed really weird now.
"OK, well here's how you disappointed me. You fired me instead of the person (name withheld but I said it to Peter) you should have. We had conversations in your car about this guy stealing things from previous employers and decimating your team but it was still me who got fired".
Peter said it wasn't him and named someone else at TCG. A name I remember but, again, I won't reproduce here.
I pointed at that it was his company and he had ultimate authority. But this didn't seem right in my head.
It seemed true that someone else would handle the actual firing.
So why did I think he'd disappointed me?
I had to check my blog, this post, to remember the full context.
Then I remembered, it wasn't about me being fired for whistleblowing.
It was about the conversations in the car as Peter gave me a ride to the train station.
On at least 2 occasions Peter said "I will handle it". On one occasion, as best the mists of time allow, I am sure Peter said he would "fire him".
The opposite happened.
I was fired.
When it came I wasn't surprised, angry or anything. I had already worked out what was going on. It was probably a relief. I actually kept doing work for TCG for some time thereafter writing programs as a freelancer.
I learnt a very valuable lesson...a lot of very valuable lessons...during my time at TCG.
All I'd done was show loyalty to my employer by honestly reporting things that were damaging that said company. Things that included what looked very much like industrial espionage (not even joking). [Man I should really write that related blog post].
I wasn't the only person unhappy with this person, but I was one of the few who did anything about it.
My firing came down to dollars.
The projects I was working on were worth less than the ones this other person was working on.
Simple, brutal, business. $
Anyway, Peter and I finished our phone call on a more pleasant notes;
- how TCG hasn't really gone away and is now 50 years old and many, many companies.
- One of those is a wholly charitable organisation (I'll have to look them up now).
- why the web site looks old.
- how wonderful Tassie is and Peter's planned visit. etc.
I told him to look me up when he visits.
I genuinely hope he does. It would be kind of amazing.
My head is still reeling from this weird blast from the past but it has made me smile a lot.
I have been telling this story for a long time.
For some reason I never questioned the information I was given about Sonia's identity.
A while back I watched the Luna Park Ghost Train Fire expose on ABC TV (https://iview.abc.net.au/show/exposed-the-ghost-train-fire).
Spoiler alert: Abe Saffron did it.
This show prompted me to check into where Sonia may be now.
Weirdly I can find no trace of a "Sonia Saffron" who is related to Abe or in Sydney around that time.
So it seems I may have been living in quite the delusion for quite a very long time.
I can't recall who told me her identity but clearly, at the time I had no compunction to question it.
Besides there was enough evidence to just "stay the hell away" anyway.