26. Meanwhile, back at the ranch
There were small changes at Flora Valley station. After the boys’ disappeared the work week was reduced from seven to six days. This was welcomed by many jackeroos, but for Andrew Beezley it left him with time to round up horses and choose which ones he’d ride the following week.
Jungarri T. Bradshaw’s son Patrick and his mob were driving to their land, and as per pastoral protocols, they asked permission from Loder to pass through Sturt Creek station. He readily agreed and enquired if they needed anything. A little tobacco, Patrick replied, but instead of a pouch Giles brought out a long tin box of Log Cabin. "Was this the one who killed the gudia boys?" someone asked. He seemed so nice.
But helicopter pilot Anthony Ryan hadn’t noticed any evidence of a ‘softened’ work environment. Ten weeks after the memorial service he’d heard there was a vacancy at Birrindudu station. Having watched the Four Corners documentary, “Dead Heart” , he phoned Florence Sherwin who, according to Ryan, told him the program was ridiculous, and that he shouldn’t believe anything he saw on television.
Anthony’s mother was worried, and phoned Sandra Annetts, who warned against letting him go. “But how can I stop him?” she replied. He was thirty-years-old.
Knowing that a two-way radio in their vehicle would have saved James and Simon, Anthony insisted the plane be so equipped.
It did have a radio upon his arrival, but was removed thereafter, and Anthony found himself communicating with jackeroos by dropping stones with attached messages from the air.
He said when the Western Australia Department of Occupational Health and Safety sent investigators to Flora Valley station in response to the deaths, Loder sent the jackeroos across to Birrindudu station in the Northern Territory, which was out of the jurisdiction of the inspectors.
"Cattle were number one, people were number two," Anthony said, “thirty white people lived on top of a semi-trailer, and blacks were in a camp without running water.”
With some trepidation he gave notice in November 1987, after four months of employment. Some younger jackeroos afraid to give notice, asked if he’d ask Loder for their money, as well.
Graham Macarthur heard a similar tale when a Sherwin employee crossed the border from Birrindudu to borrow six welding rods. Graham said take a box, but the fellow said, “You’ll never get them back,” and added that he hadn’t been paid for two years. Such claims corroborated the experience of James who hadn’t been paid for two months, and was told on the evening Loder hit him with a spanner, that if he resigned he wouldn't get his back pay.
27. The reluctant coroner
The Western Australian Coroner David Arnold McCann wasn’t in any rush to announce a public inquest into the deaths. They were lengthy expensive affairs, and mysterious deaths in the Kimberley were too frequent to give them full consideration. Administrative inquests were acceptable, but only exceptional cases received a public inquiry. The question was whether Simon getting a bullet through his forehead was of special interest.
The delay gave Les and Sandra the same kick in the gut dread as Sergeant Guy sending the searchers home on the third day, or Loder delaying calling for help.
Journalists pestered the Coroner's office daily. Premier Brian Burke upped the pressure by saying he'd wait for the Coroner's report before deciding about a Royal Commission.
Les Annetts used the megaphone of media scrutiny to portray McCann as protecting incompetent police and pastoral figures. The media understood their symbiotic relationship with Les, and jumped on board and amplified his grievance.
McCann relented on 5 October 1987 and announced a December hearing. Kelly Graham from Radio 6KY told the Annetts that a Coroner's office employee had told her that media pressure had forced the announcement.
McCann told interested parties that he would gladly receive any information or questions they'd like asked. Susan Maxwell from Legal Aid in Wagga Wagga responded for the Annetts. She told McCann they were concerned about the circumstances surrounding James’ employment and treatment by Loder, and the investigative process after his disappearance. She enclosed a thick packet from Les and Sandra including names and addresses of potential witnesses, media clippings and densely handwritten statements and questions. The paperwork must have made McCann wince.
Les and Sandra arrived without a lawyer at the first Hearing in Perth on 8 December 1987. New South Wales Legal Aid refused them a representation because James’ death had occurred interstate, while the Legal Aid Commission of Western Australia refused on the grounds that a lawyer would not benefit them. The Coroner's office told them they wouldn't need a lawyer anyway. The other parties ignored that advice.
Peter Sherwin hired Peter R. Momber, whose briefing required him to portray Giles Loder positively, and absolve Sherwin from financial liability.
Dymphna Eszenyi appeared for Pat Clark. Her speciality included negligence and inquests. She and was funded jointly by Legal Aid in South Australia and Western Australia. Ron E. Birmingham, later Judge Birmingham of the Western Australia District Court, represented Simon’s aunt and grandparents. The Amos family was divided, with rumours that Pat Clark had isolated Simon’s sister from relatives who disagreed with her stance. Both factions of the Amos family felt little solidarity with the Annetts.
Mrs Joyce Delane from the Compassionate Friends offered accommodation and use of a vehicle for Les and Sandra in Perth.
Coroner McCann told the interested parties he expected to wrap things up in half an hour, and that some would be disappointed, as he didn't expect to find answers to the deaths. This left some wondering: why then hold an inquiry?
Autopsy and police reports were tendered, and witnesses pushed through, including Shane Kendall who went unchallenged when he prevaricated about knowing whether Loder had hit James with a spanner.
The legally naïve Annetts were flooded with disappointment, and believed another whitewash was proceeding in front of their eyes. Most people are fatalistic when faced with legal cover-ups, but Sandra hit the pavement running as she left the Court. She claimed disingenuously that staff had fooled her and Les into thinking a lawyer was unnecessary, when in fact they were unable to get legal representation. And, she said, Shane Kendall was lying. He'd already admitted he'd seen James after Giles Loder hit him with a spanner.
Sandra’s new media campaign brought forth a white knight, popular Sydney barrister, Daniel J. Brezniak, and Tim Robertson, the brother of Geoffrey Robertson. Brezniak and Robertson prompted opposition leader Nick Greiner to ask New South Wales Premier Barry Unsworth in Parliament, why his Corrections Minister Rex Jackson received Legal Aid to defend himself against charges of accepting bribes for releasing prisoners early, while good citizens like the Annetts were refused assistance.
Unsworth hummed and hawed, then realising the political damage, called for help from Western Australia Premier Brian Burke, on 11 January 1988. Burke issued a media release two days later, promising an ex-gratia payment for lawyers for both the Annetts and the Amos families. After two weeks of wrangling, WA bureaucrats authorised the payments, just days before the 2nd of February 1988 Hearing in the east Kimberley administrative town of Kununurra, 360 kilometres north of Halls Creek. Premier Unsworth later wrote that New South Wales would pay both legal and air travel costs for future Hearings.
The semi-literate working class couple from the Murrumbidgee had finally assembled their legal team.
Nor were they disappointed, when Sydney barrister Kevin Murray stormed into their Kununurra hotel room two days before the Hearing. The booming 57-year-old had been a Major-General, and head of the Australian Army Reserve, and arrived with Colleen Donnelly, his sharpminded twenty-nine year old instructing solicitor, sent by Daniel Brezniak.
Colleen self-deprecatingly described her crucial role as having “basically just carried all the paper around. Shuffled notes and tried to make sure the statements were in front of Kevin. Stuff a junior barrister would do.”
She was thoroughly in awe of Murray and during a four-hour stopover in Darwin:
“...everybody knew Kevin. He was being stopped all the time; everybody was pleased to see him… from his time helping with cyclone Tracy, but it also meant he knew quite a lot about rescue efforts… Kevin Murray was a force of nature.”
Coming down from their respective hotel rooms, they ate breakfast in the restaurant where, one morning, Colleen realized she’d seen him before, in uniform, on Geoffrey Robertson’s television show, “Hypothetical”.
One observer felt Murray electrify the court room with his presence. And despite having just days to prepare, he appeared under little stress, and got on top of his briefing very quickly.
Colleen saw the Inquest being rushed through. They sat one day from 10am until 7pm, when sittings were usually less than five hours, due to the intense mental stress. Her memories of witnesses and the gallery are blurry, as she was facing frontward, and concentrating on putting the appropriate paperwork in front of Murray. She remembers one jackeroo carrying a briefcase, who said he’d been living on cornflakes, and was not allowed to return to the main station for more food.
Outside the court one of the Chooga men whispered to Les not to expect anything, because he'd seen McCann routinely decide in favour of the police on deaths in custody.
The gallery was predictably filled to capacity for the high profile case. Ten police officers sat with Giles and Vicki Loder and Peter Momber. More men than had searched for the boys. They listened carefully every day, especially to fellow officers giving testimony so if they were questioned they wouldn’t contradict each other. Noticeably absent from the witness list were the Aboriginals from Balgo and Yagga Yagga, including Jungarri T. Bradshaw and Johnny Brown.
Peter Momber's role was to minimise liability to Peter Sherwin, and that required defending Giles Loder. His spoiler role was to reduce the credibility of dangerous witnesses and, arguably, minimise credible evidence presented to the Coroner. The Annetts wanted Loder charged with murder, but Kevin Murray, whose life clock was rapidly ticking to an end, was more realistic, and sought a criminal negligence verdict against Sherwin and Loder. John Boland wasn’t impressed with Murray:
“…the QC was a bit mad that volunteered for the Annetts...something wrong with him. I thought he looked like an old alky but that might not have been the case...the questions he was asking; it just went on and on. It had nothing to do with that [death of the boys and the Inquest].”
Patrick Barry thought the same, when Murray tried every trick in his legal repertoire on his workmate, Noel Tones. The ‘Sergeant-Major’ coaxed witnesses into unfamiliar areas with pedantic questioning, then when they became nervous and confused he relentlessly hammered them with a barrage of repetitive accusations.
28. A bad case of amnesia
Twenty-four-year-old Shane Francis Kendall, wearing his sly half-smile and thin moustache, wasn’t overly concerned when he walked into the Kununurra court room. His interview with the investigating police, and his testimony in Perth had been a breeze. While mildly annoyed at the inconvenience of a second appearance, he wasn't averse to soaking up another fifteen minutes of fame. But he had a premonition this ride wouldn't be so smooth. Every time he opened a newspaper or turned on the television, Jim’s parents popped up, and they were telling anyone who would listen, they thought his former boss was hiding something?
Kendall had a gregarious and excitable personality. You didn't mess around with him. He entered the pastoral industry after Simon and James, but within six months bewilderingly found himself head stockman over 5000 square miles of grazing country.
He might have commanded less than a dozen stockmen, whose main job was setting up and dismantling yards, but he was still the stock camp boss, the third most powerful person on the four stations. And when Vicki flew to the east coast to have her second child, and Giles flew to Birrindudu to supervise yard erection, Shane found himself in command of the Flora Valley homestead.
Giles Loder consistently put in 16-hour days, but he was ineffective at delegating tasks. A middle-aged Shane remembered from his home in Broome in 2009, that Giles:"… was pretty much a pretty hard working fellow. He used to just go off and seemed to do his own thing a lot and left us to our own devices.”
But it was such a long time ago, the younger Shane Kendall complained under oath to Kevin Murray on 4 February 1988. Over a year had passed since he'd worked at Flora Valley, and no, he couldn't remember whether Giles told him to take the radio calls from the ‘bore runners’, or that he'd done it off his own bat.
Chris Rumpf testified that it was Kendall's job, but the latter couldn't even remember the call sign, maybe VJ, maybe VJY, something like that. Kendall remembered operating the Codan radio morning and evening on the crucial days of Tuesday and Wednesday when raising the alarm might have changed the outcome. Maybe he used it on Thursday night also, but not Monday night, he said. He thought scheduled call-in times were: "Pretty sure 7:00am and 6:00 - 6:30pm," but became so flustered by Murray's barrage of questions, that he couldn’t recollect these times a few minutes later.
Nor could Kendall remember if he’d waited at the radio during the allotted call-in times, or walked off after not getting a response. Later in his testimony he became more definite and said he spent "probably about twenty minutes", at the radio and that if he didn't get an immediate response, he left the radio room and returned five-minutes later, despite the risk of missing their call.
His confusion became pitiful, when he couldn't remember whether he'd heard on Wednesday other voices that would have indicated the radio was actually turned on and operational.
It wasn't his fault, he said, because he hadn't been given instruction on radio use or call-in protocols. He'd used the radio just once at Flora Valley, though he couldn't remember if this was before or after the boys disappeared.
Nor could he remember whether he knew how long he'd be looking after the radio. Or whether Loder told him the purpose of his Birrindudu trip, and how long he'd be away, or even what day he left.
Shane Kendall claimed he told Loder on Wednesday evening at Flora Valley that the boys hadn't called in, but couldn't remember Loder’s response, except that he would take a look around the next day. He remembers Loder was worried the next night, Thursday, but couldn’t remember if Loder told him he'd called the police or not.
Kendall said he saw Simon at Sturt Creek homestead on the afternoon of Monday 1 December 1986, the same day Loder saw James, but a few minutes further into his testimony changed the time to Monday evening, then became confused, and was not able to recall whether it was morning or night. It was so long ago, he moaned, as if repeating a protective mantra.
His memory had been stronger a few months previously when he’d spoken to Chris Masters during the making of “Dead Heart”. He told Masters he’d had a cup of coffee with Simon, who had been very happy though homesick and looking forward to driving home in the Valiant Charger with James and himself.
Kendall told Murray that he believed he was Simon’s only visitor that day, when he delivered the weekly food ration. This saved Simon the impractical ten-hour return trip on the tractor to Flora Valley, but it meant he would miss Graham Heleurs’ fancy Wednesday meal with ice-cream. It also meant Simon was effectively relegated to being alone at Sturt Creek homestead, without a break for the foreseeable future. And like Loder with James, Kendall couldn’t remember any part of the conversation he’d had with Simon Amos on that fateful day.
When Loder flew in from Nicholson on Wednesday 3 December, after failing to start the homestead bore motor, he told Kendall that James was missing. Kendall went into the kitchen, where the other jackeroos and Therese Stansfield-Campbell asked him why the ‘bore runners’ were absent. Did Kendall tell them he'd delivered food to Sturt Creek two days previously, and that was why Simon was absent? He couldn't remember.
Therese remembered. She didn't hear Kendall mention them until Thursday morning. Did he forget to tell the others, or perhaps he didn’t see Loder until the following day? One fact Kendall certainly forgot to tell police in his original statement was that the boys had missed their radio safety call-ins.
Perhaps a gentler questioning would have been more effective: Mr Kendall, you took the food down to help him, didn’t you? You tried to contact him by radio to help him. You did your best. Where did you meet Simon at the homestead that Monday? Did you have a cup of tea? What did you talk about? Was the boy upset about anything?
But Shane Kendall gave nothing away, except the appearance of deception. When released from the court, he avoided eye contact with the Annetts, and ran from the building, back into anonymity, and hoping never again to be required to give an account of his actions during those crucial three days of his life.
29. That other case of acute memory loss
"The lack of certainty of the whereabouts of Giles Loder and his false account of his fire fighting is a matter of justifiable concern..."
Daniel J. Brezniak
Solicitor representing Les and Sandra Annetts
Most journalists prowling outside the court missed Giles Loder on his first appearance. Rather than the clichéd villain with a busted nose and scarred face he appeared more an innocuous public servant, in neat slacks and shirt over his medium build body. Vicki wore a modest dress and hat, and appeared the dutiful wife and mother that she was. With heads held high they walked past the photographers, assuming nothing but their own dignity. The fact that two kids had died due to Giles’ incompetence, appeared to be the last thought on their minds.
Not that he could turn back. Too much bad water had passed under the metaphorical bridge, and the flow of negative media reports wasn’t decreasing. It was doubtful whether Giles Loder could have stemmed them, even if he’d been frank about his systematic use of violence against the younger jackeroos.
What put him in especially bad odour was his callous attitude towards the deaths. When Murray reminded him of Mr and Mrs Wallace finding James bleeding and dazed under a tree, rather than expressing condolence in the presence of the deceased boy’s parents, his reaction was that James was "probably speeding". While many Kimberley pastoralists saw death and injury as acceptable risks on cattle stations, most of the public did not, and Loder’s lack of sympathy propelled him into the position of media scapegoat, from which he never escaped.
He was otherwise a skilled witness, who avoided direct responses and answered questions with: "I feel I did"; "I don't recall that"; "I could have done" or "That is possible." Amnesia is a helpful disability, when trying to avoid self-incrimination, but staying vague for a day and a half, under the withering attack of a fearsome Sydney barrister, was no mean feat. As if intuiting digital technology he referred to his boss as Peter, to avoid peppering his testimony transcripts with Sherwin's full name. It was ironic that while having such high control over his words, he used brute force rather than subtlety while managing his employees.
But what Loder couldn’t conceal was the suspicious coincidence, that both he and Kendall suffered the same amnesia over the same three day period, when each had been the last to see one of the boys alive. Neither could remember what happened at these meetings, nor could they produce witnesses who could verify that James and Simon were still alive at their homesteads on that Monday. And Kendall’s rapid promotion over men with more experience, only added to the suspicion.
Loder couldn't remember if he told anyone the boys were missing, when he returned to Flora Valley from Sturt Creek homestead with the bore motor, on Thursday morning. Nor could he remember whether he told police that James was also missing, when he phoned about Simon. This meant that he waited forty-two hours in blistering weather before telling police James was missing, when twenty-four hours without water could be enough to kill a human.
Nor could Loder remember details of what should have been a lively discussion on Monday at Nicholson homestead, considering the spanner incident the previous fortnight, and that James was skinning a duck when he should have been tending the bores.
James had fallen behind keeping the troughs and ‘turkey nests’ full of water, and had required help from Kendall on three occasions. He’d also been doing 400 kilometre round trips to visit Simon at Sturt Creek, and the Caranya store. On one occasion he found a stone on the side of the road, with a message from Simon saying Loder was in the vicinity. Loder had discovered these visits, plus the swimming trips to Mistake Creek, probably from Shane Kendall, though it was common knowledge amongst the jackeroos. One might have expected a lively conversation on that fateful Monday visit, but Loder couldn’t remember a single detail.
Loder’s mind went blank for the period from Monday lunch to Thursday morning, when action might have saved the boys’ lives, and for which he hadn’t witnesses to verify his whereabouts.
He couldn’t say one way or the other whether he told Kendall to operate the radio while he was away. This memory loss absolved Kendall from blame, and defused a potentially dangerous witness, while Kendall’s own amnesia equally ‘absolved’ Loder.
Station protocols required that someone physically visit an outcamp when a ‘bore runner’ missed two calls. When Kevin Murray asked if the boys had missed ten calls Loder said he didn't think so, then later changed his answer to "possibly so", then further qualified that answer, by saying that Shane Kendall was attending the radio while he was away.
Arguably, the two most important witnesses at the Inquest, and with the highest duty of care, remembered practically nothing about what were three of the most significant days of their lives.
More anomalies littered Loder's time and place estimations. He began the drive in darkness from Nicholson to Sturt Creek homestead to pick up a bore motor, but stopped at 11pm, half way between Flora Valley and Sturt Creek. He arose between 3am and 4am, then reached Sturt Creek station homestead at about 5am, but after finding the bore motor difficult to load, sought out Simon, who was gone.
He felt Simon’s bed and found it cold, then after looking around the homestead buildings and finding the tractor still in the shed, returned to Simon’s room and read his letters, then loaded the bore motor and drove the 120kms back to Flora Valley, where he arrived at 7am, an incredible amount of activity in the space of two hours. Even more astounding was how Simon’s unposted letter to his father, read by Loder that morning, managed to be franked that same day at the Kununurra post office. Why would he seal the envelope and post the letter to the father, from a boy gone missing? “I wasn’t aware that I had posted it. I probably did…,” he told Kevin Murray.
Loder showed his reactive capacity, when Chris Rumpf claimed the food at Nicholson was inadequate and spoiled, and he threw much of it away. Rather than explaining the food allocation he said Rumpf was the type who would "wolf down" his week's food in the first few days, and that the farm boy was probably a "gun nut", due to his ownership of two or three guns.
"Liar, liar," muttered respected local Aboriginal Bobby Skeen, in a background chorus to Loder’s testimony.
Asked whether he told police he'd begun a ground search on Thursday, Loder replied: "I could have, I'm not sure," then when contradicted by a police report, replied: "I believe that could be right." But had he arranged a ground party? "No," he said, with uncharacteristic frankness. Why he hadn’t enlisted the help of the jackeroos was never explained. The only rescue attempt by a Flora Valley jackeroo came later in court when Andrew Tanion Beezley tried to save Loder.
Loder called the police twice on Thursday 4 December, the second time saying Simon was actually missing. He testified he also told police on Thursday that James and the ute were also missing, but Constable Colin Main contradicted this saying he first heard James was missing when Loder told him on Friday morning at Sturt Creek homestead, when the three man search began.
Loder was generally unfazed by his 14 hours of interrogation from Sergeant Kermode and Kevin Murray. Murray tried every trick he knew to rattle Loder, and rather than becoming louder, Loder’s voice simply faded away. Just once he exploded and Murray countered: “Don’t yell at me. I’m not one of your employees.”
Outside the court, Vicki and Giles were in good spirits. They had lunch with Kimberley Echo journalist John A. Turner, then afterward during a conversation with them, outside the Sergeant's quarters at the police station, John became convinced Giles was guilty of a dark deed.
30. The man who didn't need an alibi
Loder initially testified he’d returned from fighting fires at Birrindudu on Tuesday 2 December, then advanced the day to Wednesday, thus streamlining his ‘alibi’.
Suspicions might have dissipated, if he’d detailed his whereabouts hour-by-hour from Friday 28 November to Friday 5 December. Witness testimony could have triangulated his whereabouts during periods when he was alone, by showing who saw him last, and who saw him next, and where. This laborious process might have exonerated him from suspicions, but neither Coroner McCann nor Peter Momber felt the need to interrogate him in this direction.
McCann made it clear that Loder was not a murder suspect, so he accepted his unsupported testimony of flying to Birrindudu from Nicholson at midday on Monday after speaking to James, to supervise yard erections in preparation for Sherwin's ‘black fella’ mustering crew.
These were superior trackers and stockmen who worked and lived in harsher conditions, and were kept segregated from the ‘white trash’ jackeroos, lest they compare food, working conditions and pay.
“Don’t shut the gate for no black bastards,” Russell Linke remembered Loder yelling, when he’d waited for a ‘black fella’ vehicle to pass through a gate before closing it. Linke said Loder told John and Debbie Davis not to talk to them.
Danny Verschurren, 25, Andrew Beezley, 19, Wade Morphett, 19, Tony Gordon, 17, Brett Goodman, 17 and Luke Giumelli, 16, had worked through the weekend at Birrindudu in low-forties temperatures, setting up iron fence panels left in the sun.
Loder claimed he saw from his plane, lightning hitting the ground and starting fires, and this took his attention from yard building. He sent Beezley and Verschurren back to Flora Valley. Danny returned with a grader, and Andrew with twenty more yard panels. Loder said they extinguished the fires by Wednesday, upon which he returned to Nicholson, and found James missing. This was his alibi for his inaction when radio calls from the boys stopped.
The thorn in his scattered recollections was Christopher Vivian John Rumpf. Rumpf grew up on farms in Queensland, and was less dazzled by the glamour of being a jackeroo than were the city boys. He testified that the other jackeroos at the Wednesday slap-up meal had asked Shane Kendall why Simon and James hadn't arrived, and that Kendall told Loder that evening they hadn't called in for a couple of days.
Rumpf disputed Loder’s alibi for the period, after the latter saw James, and later discovered he was now missing. Sergeant Kermode asked: "Wasn't Giles away at Birrindudu fighting fires at that time?"
"I don't think so," replied Rumpf.
"You do not think so or you do not know? asked Kermode.
"From what I recall there was one fire when I was there and there was myself, Giles, Tony and someone else went down to fight the fire."
“Was that before the boys disappeared or after the boys disappeared?"
“After the boys disappeared I think," replied Rumpf.
Therese Stansfield-Campbell stated to police at GoGo station in late 1987 that: "I think the boys went missing during the Territory fire" then recollected differently at the Inquest. She thought the yard assembly at Birrindudu happened "…a little bit after…" the boys' disappearance and “…I think they were missing on a date before that fire started up."
Danny Cornelius Verschurren had worked several years in the pastoral industry prior to Flora Valley. He was the de facto overseer before the promotion of the inexperienced Shane Kendall. There was no love lost between the two men. Danny said it was well known that Simon, James and Shane Kendall were planning to leave in Simon's Valiant Charger on 17 December for the Christmas holidays, implying, so why would they try to drive to the other side of Australia in the station ute?
Danny also agreed the fires and the disappearance happened at different times, but it isn’t clear from his testimony which event happened first: "There was a fire, but that was previous to, it would've been a couple of weeks, about a fortnight or so back"
But he still challenged Loder's alibi for those critical 48 hours, during which he had to have been somewhere, and it wasn't fighting fires, said Verschurren. Kevin Murray asked Danny where Loder was on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of 1-3 December 1986. Danny replied for each day: "I don't know." If Loder wasn't there for those days, and if the fires had occurred at other times, then where was he?
Peter Momber knew Verschurren’s recollections were too dangerous to further interrogate, so he played the spoiler. He would discredit Verschurren as to why he left Flora Valley. “You had a fight?” he asked Danny, whose life would end at the end of a rope nine years later.
“A fight, too, yeah. So what was…,” Danny replied, but Momber cut him off
“Yes, with Shane Kendall?”
“Yeah. What was wrong with that? I never left…,” Momber cut him off.
“There's nothing wrong with it at all, except that fight occurred at Christmas time?”
“It was over a woman?”
“No, it wasn't.”
“It was not over a woman that I can remember.”
The Coroner interrupted and said: “I don't know that one should necessarily involve people who aren't here to…”
“Sitting in the rear of the court, sir,” Momber interjected.
Andrew Tanion Beezley came from a Darling Downs dairy farm in Queensland, before starting work at Flora Valley in early November 1986. When he testified on 31 May 1988, he'd been working eighteen-months as Simon's replacement ‘bore runner’, and was the last jackeroo left from the James and Simon era.
As a Loder loyalist, he dropped a bombshell saying that Loder flew to Birrindudu on Thursday 4 December, and told the jackeroos, "The boys are missing. You'll have to come back and help out if you can." Was this the same week as the fires, the wily Murray asked him. "No, the fire was long before that," Beezley replied, not realising the significance of his answer.
Murray pounced like a cat, saying to the Coroner that Beezley's evidence "throws grave doubt" on Loder's claim that he was fighting fires during the crucial forty-eight hours, during which he couldn’t account for his whereabouts. McCann interrupted Murray, saying it had been a long day, and Beezley could continue his testimony the next morning. Murray protested. He knew he’d struck gold and wanted to continue. He was indestructible, he told McCann, but the Coroner was unmoved. He warned Beezley not to discuss the case with anyone, and to return to court the following morning.
Beezley left the courtroom, then went to 'The Big Rooster' for a chicken meal, then phoned his parents, after which he spent the rest of the night at Hotel Kununurra. He returned to court the next morning, a ‘new man with a new story’.
He'd been thinking, he told the court, that the fires and the disappearance were much closer in time than he'd previously testified, even days apart, possibly in the same week. "It couldn't have been more than a couple of days," he swore then, as if struck by the same amnesia that had slipped over Kendall and Loder, his mind fogged over, and any memory of his two trips to Birrindudu: the one assembling the yard panels, and the other fighting the fires, became lost in time. He denied having spoken to anyone the previous evening.
Murray boomed like an angler who had landed a fish, only to see it slip between his hands and fall back into the river. The Coroner admonished Murray, who replied that: "I will be as quiet and non-aggressive as I can," then attempting the same tactic Momber used on Danny Verschurren, he asked Beezley how much he earned at Flora Valley. Beezley didn't see the relevance of what he was paid, but the Coroner did, and stopped Murray dead in his tracks. He knew exactly what Murray was doing.
It was a shame McCann didn’t direct Andrew Beezley to disclose his amount of pay. In later years Andrew’s memory was hazy, but he recollected it had been $2000 a month, of which he received $1400, after what he called expenses were deducted, such as room and board, and purchases from the homestead store. It was never clear how much exactly James was getting, but it was a little over $100 a week. The difference would have taken a little explaining, though Andrew was a more productive jackeroo.
When the floods washed away a section of fence at Birrindudu, and cattle were getting out, the break had to be mended right away. Andrew Beezley tracked across a flooded creek on an inflated tyre tube, walked a kilometre through knee deep mud, and fixed the fence. He was a ‘can do’ man who threw himself into the job.
Peter Momber clamorously attempted to change the spin of Murray’s questioning, by introducing a list of dates from Loder's dated work diary, supplied to him by George Cridland, Sherwin Pastoral Company’s corporate lawyer. The pages were offered as proof that Loder was at the fire in the first three days of December 1986. But Andrew Beezley said days and dates meant little to him, so Momber proposed to read sections of the diary, like spoon feeding a baby, and Beezley could either agree or disagree with the dates. He read a page where Loder described being at the fire.
Murray raged: "…it's wrong to lead a witness who is partial to your cause. Indeed, it's a breach of the evidentiary rules…if you want to get to the truth and you have a partial witness, you don't read him a page and pause while he grunts, 'yes'." He argued that Beezley had already said that days and dates meant nothing to him so how could reading sections of Loder’s diary to him be helpful? And, anyway, Beezley wasn't a real witness; he was George Cridland's offered witness. The Coroner hadn't actually subpoenaed him, like the other witnesses, real witnesses, Murray implied.
McCann said all witnesses were his witnesses, and allowed Momber to read pages from Loder’s diary. But Beezley proved not such a pliable witness, and said he couldn't remember the significance of many of the dates.
The credibility Beezley gained with this admission took a hammering, when he praised his boss of the past eighteen months, and with whom he might be sharing a meal that evening.
Loder was an approachable boss, he said. You could talk to him. When he replaced Amos at Sturt Creek station, Beezley said he found a cupboard full of food, the electrical generator worked perfectly, and the radio, what a radio. "I’d get through all the time," he testified. And during those call-ins Loder would ask if he needed anything, and would visit twice a week, even three or four times a week. It was a dream job, for which he had no complaints.
The media gave little credence to Beezley's new improved memory, or his praise of Loder, and instead focused on his first day of testimony. Margot Lang’s article in the West Australian newspaper screamed: "Station manager's evidence disputed". She wrote that Andrew Beezley and Danny Verschurren both said the bushfire was a week or two before the boys went missing. Mary Mills snapped a hawkish profile shot of Beezley smoking a cigarette.
But city journalists knew little of the relationships on pastoral stations. One afternoon, an hour before dark, Giles called Andrew Beezley on the radio, and asked him to bring some meat to the homestead. No problems. Andrew could shoot a beast and have the meat ready in two hours.
While knuckling a back leg to remove a hoof, and in a race against the dark, Andrew’s knife slipped and cut through the bone of his thumb, then slipped further and stabbed his leg. He bled badly and went into shock. A jackeroo with him tied up the wounds and drove the vehicle over the track to Flora Valley homestead.
Andrew later remembered: “I was in shock and passed out for half of it. I can remember sitting at the station there, Vicki Loder giving me pain killers, and wrapping me thumb up, and trying to get hold of the Flying Doctor, and tightening the tourniquet on me leg to keep it closed.”
The Flying Doctor was on another job, but could meet them at Halls Creek. Vicki drove Andrew over the mountain range as he slipped in and out of consciousness. He remembers getting needles in his thumb and joint at the Halls Creek hospital, then “getting flown off to Derby in the plane and when I woke up in Derby, me thumb was sewn back on me hand, and I still have full use of me thumb.” He says of Giles and Vicki: “They were definitely not evil people. She was one of the nicest ladies I ever met.”
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