(1771) RUN FOR YOUR LIFE
EASTER, 1985, I’d taken the weekend off from refereeing in the lower grades to attend the Bathurst bike races, but it wasn’t a pleasure trip. I was on police duty, and by the end of the long weekend I’d lost a tooth, I was knocked senseless by a bit of rubble and I also suffered nerve damage in my big toe. However, my injuries were minor compared to the blokes who’d been smashed by house bricks or burnt by Molotov cocktails . . .
A FULL moon shone over Bathurst, its golden glow providing an eerie backdrop while bedlam reigned on earth. It was ugly and as I recall this night in my mind I remember a fellow TRG officer and I sprinting for our lives from a crazed mob wanting to kick us to death . . .another officer draws his revolver as a maniac knocks him to the ground and then shapes to spear him through the chest with a metal star picket pole . . . cops are being knocked cold by house bricks . . . TRG members are set ablaze when they’re hit by Molotov cocktails . . . and for eight long hours an army of 4000 feral barbarians surround the police compound bombarding it with bottles ‘n rubble and taunting us to come out and fight. The scene could’ve been taken straight out of the movie Zulu and it now seems ironic to think when we were first called into action I figured it would be a bit of fun. The police media unit – who were on hand to film the sequence of events – even filmed me belting out an Elvis song as I kitted up for battle! Though, I wasn’t alone in that regard because, to a man, the TRG was happy to be called in to action to relieve the boredom of whiling away the hours playing cards, reading and telling stories at our base camp, an old building halfway down the racetrack. We’d spent weeks preparing for this action based on intelligence that had been gathered during the Bathurst dramas of 1983. We practiced our drills in an area the authorities had marked out on the parade ground to represent the police compound so we knew where we had to go and how we’d need to aim up. Yet, nothing braced us for the scene we viewed from our bus as we neared the top of Mount Panorama. Thousands of people had surrounded the police compound and they were out of control throwing Molotov cocktails, burning toilet rolls, house bricks and bottles at the dozen or so police officers trapped in the compound. Throughout the night the mob sang a song to the tune of Old McDonald’s Farm and they were having a great old time. They started as a drunken rabble that had decided it would be a bit of fun to rock the coppers. But they were re-enforced by more people who started screaming and yelling insults at the police and it didn’t take long for them to be whipped into a frenzy, intoxicated by the atmosphere and the copious amounts of grog they’d consumed. It became a full scale riot and the police in the besieged compound were in danger of serious injury – or worse. As soon as we entered the compound we rushed out the front gate to get amongst the mob and disperse them. The mob ran back as we formed up in our four lines of 12 surrounding the front of the compound and that’s when the mud hit the fan! They regrouped and pelted us with anything they could get their hands on! I was team 2’s “fireman” armed with a shield and fire extinguisher. I wore a canvas vest, which held another fire extinguisher and a blanket to smother the flames and my position was to roam behind line 2. The officers would try to ward off the fire bombs with their shields and my job was to try and spot the “incomings” and rush towards where I thought they would land and then put them out. In the event of being set alight the officers were drilled to stand still and wait for me to put them out – and that took a heck of a lot of discipline because it’s terrifying to see yourself enveloped by flames. When I’d put the officer out I’d sometimes have to turn the extinguisher on myself and douse the flames now engulfing my trousers. One guy, Gary Duncan, broke ranks. He was hit, set alight, panicked and he ran in blind terror. You can see me on the old news footage bolting after him yelling Stop! Stop! Stop! But the poor bugger was spooked and he kept going! I eventually caught up with him and doused the flames before too much damage was done, but as the night progressed the situation became a lot more dangerous and a constant stream of police were being carted to the Ambulance post for treatment.
I copped it about an hour-and-a-half into the riot when a rock smashed me square in the mouth. It knocked my tooth out and I hit the deck unconscious. My mates carried me into the compound and when I regained my senses it was like being in a M.A.S.H. unit because bodies were strewn everywhere. One bloke had copped a full house brick in the knee and he was stuffed, another had blood pouring out of a gash in his head and other officers were being bandaged up. The mob had demolished a brick canteen to arm themselves with a new supply of ammunition – big dirty, brown house bricks – and as a Channel 10 reporter noted they were throwing them with the intention to hurt policemen. He was right because they’d howl and cheer at the sight of a copper falling and being carried out of the firing line for treatment. TRG personnel were issued with ice hockey leg pads to protect us from the rocks they threw at our shins but as general duty police joined our line to fill the holes left by the injured they too became easy targets. The rioters soon gelled the cops dressed in normal uniform were minus the hockey pads and missiles were directed at their legs. It was a relentless barrage and police were going down at a rapid pace with leg injuries. Right now as you read this imagine your leg being hit with a half brick, a river stone the size of your hand or a stubbie. Police were falling and our lines were straining. After regaining consciousness I was sent straight back into the fray, armed with a baton and shield. I was fired up and can vividly recall one grub who’d urinate into a bottle and then lob it at us, his piss spraying our line. Then, egged on by the mob, he’d raise his hands in triumph and gee us up with a stupid dance. He angered me and my mate George Thompson and we promised the next time we were given the order to charge we’d target him for “special” attention. The bloke had stumbled and fallen just as the order was given and we both chased after him . . . I would’ve been an arms length away from him when the whistle for us to fall back and regroup was blown. George and I, however, ignored it. We were so close to the bastard I could smell his fear! We followed him deeper into the campsites, a bad mistake because we’d charged blindly into enemy territory. Both of us became painfully aware of our precarious position when someone rallied the retreating masses by yelling; “THERE’S ONLY TWO OF THEM!” and with that the hunters became the prey. They turned on us and judging by the looks on their faces we weren’t just going to cop a flogging, they were going to kill us. I yelled to George “We gotta run, mate” and we bolted . . . hurdling tent ropes, sidestepping camp sites and doing our best to avoid the lynching mob that was hot on our heels. As we tore up the hill I could see George and I were surrounded and I didn’t know what we were going to do to escape. Yet, as George and I prepared for our last stand a mate back on the line, Des Hansen, yelled to the officer in charge that two men were missing and the TRG went into overdrive. The boys charged back to rescue us and from my vantage point they looked like the cavalry as the mob stopped, turned and fled from the ensuing well aimed baton strokes. We were saved. As I returned to the line I realized I’d broken the TRG’s standard of discipline . . . I’d ignored the whistle all because a bloke had got the better of me and I was disappointed in myself. It was my one slip up, and I was to ensure throughout the rest of my police career that I’d never do that again because it had almost cost me my life and also placed a lot of good blokes at risk.
Other battles raged. The Channel Seven car was torched outside the compound, destroying thousands of dollars worth of television gear. Another police officer was belted across the back by a star metal picket fence post and when he looked up the bloke who’d dropped him was poised to spear him through the chest. He pulled his gun and threatened to shoot, but a team of coppers saved him from having to do that by running in and flooring the dreg who’d wanted to kill him.
As the night wore on we started to get the upper hand. When we charged forward any rioter slow to move was smashed across the knees to immobilize them and left writhing on the ground for the arrest team to collect them. It’s funny, but the blokes who were so brave in front of their mates went to water when dragged into one of the huts in the compound to have their photographs taken. Cowards. You could have asked them to tap dance naked and they would’ve done it without question. People – the do-gooders – complained innocent citizens were beaten by our batons. However, my response is innocent people wouldn’t have been there because every 15 minutes our commander read out a declaration warning them the police would soon be taking forceful action to clear the area. We won the battle but the bleeding hearts said the TRG had lived up to our nickname as Terribly Rough Guys. But all of that was lost on me when we finally were stood down in the early hours. Back at our accommodation some ripped into a few cans of beer and swapped war stories but I was too sore and hurting so I went off to soak in a bath. While reflecting on the night I don’t mind admitting I shed a tear. We had been bashed from pillar to post and placed in life threatening situations on a number of occasions. After I got out of the bath I managed three sips of a beer and then fell into a coma . . . I was shattered. We went back out the next night and while it was hairy we‘d restored clam. We’d done our job.
(1771) RUN FOR YOUR LIFE