On a Sunday morning sometime in the mid 1970’s, I would have been roughly five or six, there was a ‘knock’ at our front door. A highly irregular occurrence, as no one used our front door, the back door being the unofficial entry. Secondly, and more importantly, the driveway out to our farm was two miles long, and only went to our place. We had been eating breakfast.
“Dad stood up and went to the door, he opened it, and found a funny looking man standing there. With my father trying to swat me away from looking from behind him to see who had come to our place, the dark haired man I saw was poorly shaved, dressed in a mismatched set of clothes that didn’t fit him properly, and, well through the eyes of a six year old at least, looked ‘wrong’. He would have been slightly taller than Dad, but not as stocky, and he didn’t say “Hello.” What he did say was “You got any petrol? Me mota car is almost empty, an I won’t make it to town.” No ‘please or thank you’, even I knew to say ‘please and thank you’.
I was surprised when Dad told him to go away, and get off our farm. After the man left and I was finishing off the boiled egg Mum had made for me, I asked Dad why we didn’t give the man some petrol and why he told the man to go away? Dad started to answer, but Mum spoke over him and told me that the man who had come to our house was not a very nice person. I finished my egg.
After half an hour, being the big boy that I was, I was going to go up the paddock with Dad to help him move sheep when there was another knock at the door. This made Dad a bit angry, and he went and got a rifle from under his and Mum’s bed before he got to the front door. It was a different rifle to the one Dad and I took to shoot rabbits and foxes, and it had wood nearly right up to the end of the barrel. It looked like the one I saw pictures of soldiers using in a war my Grandpa was in. When Dad opened the door, there were seven men standing outside, and they wanted some fuel. All of the men except for the first one who knocked on our door were dressed in exactly the same clothes, but with different numbers on there shirts. Dad got really mad and told them to “go away”, and “get off our farm”. He said some other stuff too, but Mum had dragged me into the kitchen, and told me to “stay inside”. Then from the kitchen, I heard a lot of yelling outside being made by the men with the dark hair, but my Dad started to yell louder. Almost as soon as Dad started yelling I heard a really big ‘bang’ that was much louder than the rifle we used to shoot rabbits with that Dad called a ‘twenty two’. Then there was another big bang, and then Dad ran inside and told Mum to ring the neighbours farm to say there were baddies running toward their house. Dad ran back outside with the rifle that was really loud, did some more shooting, and then let our sheep dog off the chain, but took the dog up to our house and tied it to the front veranda.
Our neighbour’s house was not very far from ours, and was built in the corner of their farm like ours was. Grandma told me it was because when we get the power on to our house it would be easier to do it if the houses were closer together because of the powerlines. I didn’t know what powerlines were. We had a generator that Dad would swear at to get our power.
A little while later I was standing outside with Dad talking to ‘Squirt’ the sheepdog, when we heard some more bangs. They were coming from our neighbours place because the baddies tried to get into their house and were being mean to Mrs. P and Mr P shot at them. It was very exciting. Nothing much happened after that, but my sister and I weren’t allowed to play outside at all that day.”
Many years later I was to learn that the men that had showed up out at our place had escaped from prison the night before in Perth, stolen a car, and escaped out into the country. When they got to our town, they ditched the car they were in, and pinched another. As it would turn out, the car they pinched belonged to the local Police Sergeant’s wife, and they drove it the 12 miles west of town where the car genuinely almost ran out of fuel, hence, they pulled into our driveway. The catch was though, they crashed the stolen vehicle into our creek on the way in, leaving them well and truly stuck. After Dad had told the first bloke to bugger off, that bloke walked back to the crashed vehicle, got the other six men, and walked back up to the house. What they didn’t anticipate was my father’s complete lack of fear of them, and the fact that threats to his young family were not taken lightly. The somewhat more terrifying thing though was that Dad had spent a very active time in Vietnam a handful of years earlier as a national serviceman, and had absolutely no issues with shooting someone; an observed and identified threat in this case. When he started shooting with an old Lee-Enfield .303, he later told me that he was aiming at the trees to either side of the prison escapee’s, essentially keeping them all together so none managed to head in different directions individually, but didn’t actually shoot at them, apparently they ‘zig zagged’ all over the place. When they got to the neighbours, not more than a mile and a half off, they walked into a world of trouble, in the form of the neighbour, younger than Dad, armed, and fearing for his young family.
This is the funny bit, after they went past the neighbours farm, they got to my Uncle’s farm, pinched a superspreading truck, and headed for a town roughly 80 km south west of his place. Three rode in the front, the others in the bin on the back. They were later caught when a motorist reported a broken down truck 20km east of the town they were headed to. What gave them away was that firstly you don’t find a heap of blokes riding in a superspreading truck, secondly, but more importantly, they were all bar one, still in their prison uniforms. Again they had run out of fuel.
To round off, and this is all 100% true incidentally, obviously Mum called the cops immediately when the first bloke showed up at our door. In the statement that Dad made, there was no mention of him having a shot at the crims on the run, obviously. After that, not much more happened, until one Sunday night after the local football a few months later, the Sergeant who had his wife’s car nicked, walked up to Dad and quietly said, “I didn’t know you had a .303, and I really hope you go on not having one. Get rid of the bloody thing or I will,” which Dad did shortly after.
Here is the horror of the incident, Mum followed up on who it was that showed up at the farm. Subsequently she learned that the blokes that had escaped were seriously bad men. A violent rapist was among of them, and the others had been put away for horrifically violent crimes against a multitude of people from all walks of society. The crim’s were also all related to each other, although their surnames varied. Had Dad not been home, there is a very real chance that myself, my sisters, and mother would have been savaged by these men. Conjure up in your mind the very worst case scenario, and that is what a young mother and her very young children would have lived. It took Mum years to get over her fear of being on the farm alone at the house, and as a kid I was completely ignorant to it. The farm was 12 miles to our turn off from town, and another two miles down a winding driveway. The often forgotten terror rural and isolated living presents.
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