A feature story for The Weekend Australian Magazine, August 2014

Private investigator Julia Robson. Photo by Simon Schluter


IT’S 7am on a Saturday morning and the car pulls to a stop. “There’s a pillow in the back,” Jesse “S” turns to me and says. “You might want to make yourself comfortable.”

The minutes pass. Our car slowly cools and the interior temperature regains equilibrium with the frigid winter morning. We’re here to look for any sign of life from number 17. Inside is a man suspected of hamming up a gammy leg, trying to outstay his welcome on WorkCover. Jesse is a private investigator (PI) and I’m here to delve into this hidden world. His ­camcorder is ready and waiting, with emphasis on the waiting. It’s two hours before anything happens. A woman drives out of the driveway — the claimant’s mother, perhaps. The camcorder records. Ten minutes later, the car returns. For the next four hours, nothing. Jesse recounts the salient facts into his dictaphone, then turns and says, “I think we’ll call it a day.”

For all their snooping into other people’s business, most PIs are loath to have someone snooping around them. I’m told by one (who won’t give me his name) that I’ll be lucky to find anyone who’ll give me the time of day. Why? “The nature of the industry,” he says, evasively. I call another in Perth. He says he can’t talk. Why? “Legal reasons.” What legal reasons? He hangs up. Desperate, I reach for the phone book and call a private investigations company with the most respectable sounding name I can find, but the weary voice down the line from “Flingbusters” refuses to help….

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