A campside police raid

In another humorous memoir, Barry recalls a memorable camping trip in the 1960’s.

When I was telling this story to Carol Parton of ‘Up Hanley Duck’ I mentioned I would be sharing it with OVF.

So, without further ado – here it is.

A Campsite Police Raid

Some of you will remember me saying that in the mid 1960’s I started voluntary youth work with the Church of England Boys’ Society (CEBS) – now known as the Anglican Boys’ Society (ABS) – engaging boys aged 8 to 17 in a range of indoor / outdoor activities.

It was about 2am when we were disturbed by voices coming from behind a nearby copse, but our initial reaction was to stay quiet…

To put it in context CEBS (now ABS) is similar in most ways to ‘Cubs and ‘Scouts with the
notable difference being CEBS (ABS) is linked to church and parish life i.e. all programme activity is supported by the ‘Church with ‘Branch Leaders reporting to the Bishop via their local parish Rectors and the ‘Society’s Chief Commissioner.

Back then our activities included mini hikes, day outings, indoor sports carnivals, weekend and weeklong camping, hiking and mountain climbing plus inter-branch sports carnivals e.g. athletics and swimming. Branch Leaders were required to submit half yearly activity schedules to their parish Rectors and the ‘Society’s governing body.

One of our hiking/camping activities for 17yo plus was a 3 day expedition from Northam to Nollamara (near Perth Western Australia) – approximately 60 miles. We would travel to Northam by car and camp overnight in St. John’s church hall courtesy of the Northam parish Rector.

Northam is a town situated at the confluence of the Avon and Mortlock Rivers in the heart of the Avon Valley and is one of several crossroads for all points east to Kalgoorlie and the Eastern States.

As a general rule the mild autumn weather provides the ideal conditions to bivouac under the stars, but we always carried 2 man tents just in case it rained. In addition we carried all the provisions needed (including army style K-rations for emergencies) plus a change of clothing.

So there we were: 2 adult leaders; 1 youth leader; and five 17yo senior CEBS members leaving Northam for our first overnight camp 20 miles down the track near Wundowie. At first the weather was just perfect, but by the time we were nearing Wundowie it was evident we would be under canvas overnight.

Folks, it simply belted down ‘till early morning and we were struggling to stay as dry as
possible, but come sun-up the rain had long gone – and so were the police.

Ah, the police! They must have thought they were on a winner.

It was about 2am when we were disturbed by voices coming from behind a nearby copse, but our initial reaction was to stay quiet. After a long silence a voice yelled out that we were to crawl out of our tents and to stand still. By now there were 5 flashlights blinding our vision, but at least the rain had stopped.

I raised my hand when asked who was in charge, and complied with trepidation when told to move slowly forward. To my surprise I walked into 5 police officers shuffling nervously in the long grass of the copse.

“IT’S NOT THEM!” shouted one of the police officer resulting in the other 4 walking back down to the ‘Highway toward several parked police vans. After satisfying himself who we were and why we were camped there he explained the reason for the ‘police ‘raid’.

Believe it or not here is the reason why…

At the same time we were making our way to Northam on the Friday afternoon – and
unbeknown to us – another group of 8 people were making headline news: an Aboriginal gentleman, his 6 sons, and a family friend.

In what was described as a very well planned escape from Fremantle Gaol the Aboriginal man linked-up with his sons and family friend and scarpered over the Darling Range into the Avon Valley and beyond – destination was the ‘Desert country – hence the reason for the big police hunt across the region.

For all their efforts the police never caught the ‘Desert people. In fact their efforts were impeded by black and white folk hiding, feeding and helping them reach their destination.

In hindsight it is understandable why it was so. Firstly, there was a growing chorus that ‘Desert Aboriginals convicted should serve their sentence in-situ rather than being culturally bludgeoned by being sent to coastal or other regional prisons. Secondly, the offences leading to the Aboriginal man being sent to Fremantle Gaol were seen as being better managed through non-custodial orders – as is the case today. On top of which – ‘Desert people not wishing to be seen or found do survive with a little help from ‘family and friends’.

After the Wundowie experience the rest of our expedition was largely uneventful, but we sure had plenty to talk about and later to share with our families.

See you later…

Barry Edge
Western Australia
May 24, 2017


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