Kath Pettingill has an eerie, terrifying stare – her left eye always sitting slightly off centre.
In 1978, she was shot in that eye through a closed door at the Collingwood Housing Commission of Victoria flats, and she has worn a glass replacement ever since.
Jo Chandler writes for The Age that Pettingill has a distinctive “nicotine-stained chortle,” especially at the memory of Lenny Rogers (who was actually an undercover policeman by the name of Lachlan McCulloch) whose testicles she offered to buy, unattached, for $20,000. $10,000 each.
Pettingill was the inspiration for Jackie Weaver’s character in Australian crime film, Animal Kingdom, released in 2010. Although it was met with critical acclaim, Weaver herself winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Pettingill was hardly a fan.
Listen: Kath Pettingill is Australia’s most infamous matriarch. Post continues after podcast.
“I’ve seen the movie and I’m not impressed. She’s supposed to have read books about me and studied me for the part, but it doesn’t come off,” she said.
“We’re both short and blonde, but that’s where the similarities end. If this is supposed to be a film about the life of me and my family, it couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Pettingill takes particular issue with Weaver telling her boys to “give her a kiss and then planting one on their mouths”.
“If I’d done that to any of my boys, I’d have copped a smack in the mouth, not a kiss. It was disgusting. No mother behaves like that,” she said.
The Pettingill family is the subject of the most recent episode of True Crime Conversations, in which host Jessie Stephens chats to Adrian Tame, the author of The Matriarch.
Born in 1935 to a working class family, Pettingill’s upbringing was far from ordinary. Men came and went. Pettingill grew up believing that her father had died in WWII, but would later discover that he died by suicide.
At 16 years old, Pettingill met Dennis James Ryan and gave birth to her first son, Dennis Allen, who would become one of the most heinous criminals Melbourne has ever known. It is believed she went on to have nine more children, six of whom we know about. All ended up with criminal convictions, and three have died.