61. The Wyndham liaison
Sylvia’s feet squish across the sodden landscape near the boat ramp then she appears through the tropical night fog with another woman. She’s selling carved Boab nuts for $25 – a bargain if you like that sort of stuff.
Sylvia went to art school in Adelaide, and claims descendancy from the Bradshaw painters, a pre-Aboriginal people that lived from the northern Kimberley down into the Great Sandy Desert, when the latter had a tropical climate.
Ira Lans Junama asked me to meet him at the Town Hotel. He‘d been a police officer before switching to the Department of Corrections, just before Andy Brett found the Datsun, before a frightened Mark Moora called him.
Ira phones from the beer garden while I’m in the bar. His face bears the same Balinese good looks as Sylvia, and wears an expression one instinctively trusts.
He went to Balgo in early May 1987 with Marshall Smith and Brian Charlie, both Corrections department men, at Mark Moora’s request.
Mark was worried. Police questioned him at Yagga Yagga after the remains were discovered. One officer stopped taking notes when Mark told them a helicopter had landed under the water tower, near the time of the disappearance, and that a small bore rifle lay between the seats – like the one that put a bullet into Simon’s head. Bai Bai Sunfly also saw it land at Yagga Yagga. It wasn’t the Telecom helicopter. That arrived the next day.
Can Mark be trusted? Ira says Mark's memory has been in decline, but that he is generally an honest man. Two white constables told me separately that Mark was an unreliable source. Ira says the police made a short visit to Balgo after the disappearance, and the locals told them the boys had stopped at the store, but the officers were too lazy to search the hot sand to the south.
Sylvia's friend joins our table. She’s a tough black woman who intermittently holds my gaze, then roars into a barrage of anger. We’re distracted by a breathless tourist running through the beer garden. "I bought an Aboriginal painting," she says, holding a still wet canvas from Sylvia, painting in the gutter under a street light. The buyer’s drinking companions exchange glances then praise her acquisition.
After a few rounds I bid my farewells not knowing what to make of this meeting.
62. Giles Munro Loder at home
"I don't know how you tracked us down but you've obviously done a fairly fine job."
Giles Loder, 2010
An older woman hands the phone to Giles, now in his late fifties. “Are you Giles Loder? I ask.
“Yes,” a shaky voice replies then gains a convivial tone with an occasional sharp edge that implies, 'I'm nice, but I could go off'.
He stayed on at Flora Valley for a number of years, then worked in a welding shop in Berrimah, a suburb of Darwin. When his marriage to Vicki ended she stayed in Darwin with their two sons.
With the coolheaded skill he presented at the Inquest, he chooses his words carefully:
“A lot of people like yourself have done this sort of thing in the past and they've twisted things and it's never come out the right way…there was some terrible untruths that came out and were written incorrectly so… you could appreciate that I have a fairly sour taste about journalism…I was always advised to say nothing and let it ride…we took a blast a long time and the sour taste has lasted with myself and my ex-wife and that was pretty bad so I don't have a high opinion of the journalism that went on…it was very, very difficult [with] the children at the time; they were children.
“For me to give you a true story I'd write my own book I think. There's been some terrible things that have gone on…we've taken a long time to get over it.
“I might leave it for the moment and you can always ring back on this number, but, um, I mean, you'd have to hear my side of the story from the start to the finish to give yourself a truthful book.”
When I call later his phone has been disconnected and Giles doesn’t respond to my written request to question him further on the subject.
63. Shane and Julie Kendall’s anger
After his stint in the pastoral industry Shane Francis Kendall moved to Broome, where he spent fourteen years working on council roads, then entered the concrete business. He met Julie during the inquest, and they had at least two boys and lived on Shearwater Crescent in affluent Roebuck Estates, behind the One Mile Aboriginal community, where naïve male backpackers awaken with old grannies in their bed.
Locals describe Roebuck Estates as "million dollar tin sheds", inferior to the older government houses built in Old Broome on spacious blocks, fronted by generous lawns and huge shade trees and, ironically, occupied by indigenous people, welfare recipients and discerning multi-millionaires. There are few welfare recipients at Roebuck Estates, but quite a few indigenous bureaucrats.
Shane has a gregarious manner with a tendency to begin sentences with, "I honestly believe". During a phone conversation the previous year he said of Loder:
“My dealings with him were that he was always firm and fair. He never had any nasty streak in his nature, I guess, and I always found him to be, did the right thing, there was never a problem.”
No one answers my knock about noon, so I return at night passing the memorial cross where Roebuck Estate man Josh Warneke was recently chopped to death with a tomahawk while walking home from the Bungalow Bar. A sharp crack like a belt buckle or slingshot hits my car as a 4WD passes.
A woman opens the door of Shane’s house. A little boy clutches her clothing. She's just moved in and directs me to friends of Shane’s next door. Edging sideways between gleaming vehicles and a seaworthy boat, I find four adults drinking beer in a covered garden. They don't know where Shane and Julie have moved, but say their son Steve works at Nor-west diesel in the light industrial area of Broome.
Steve is angry when I call. He suggests I’m drunk. His brother takes the phone saying Steve's hearing impediment and beer drinking have confused things. He messages me his Mum's number.
In a guarded voice Julie Kendall tells me that since meeting Shane during the inquest they haven’t talked about the boys' deaths. Not once. Shane works in the mines, but she’ll ask him to call me, if he’s willing to speak to me.
The Kendall’s low security screen door sits ajar in front of a flimsily stapled front door that a good kick would reduce to a heap of rubble. Julie and Shane aren’t living in fear, nor do they embrace change. As in Broome they chose a new house on a small block amongst narrow maze-like streets on the leeward side of coastal dunes, this time in the Perth suburb of Alexander Heights. The locked carport holds a late model car, while a sparkling new Land Cruiser sits in the driveway.
Relief pours through my body when no one answers my knocks, not because Shane might want to “get in first”, but for fear they’ll laugh at my pindan-stained Excel and my vagabond attire. I whisper a message on their answering service saying I'm outside the front door. And praying Shane won’t burst through in a fury.
Ten minutes later Julie’s grinding voice climbs through my phone like a subconscious grievance awoken from the dead and taking even her by surprise. Rather than speaking from an experience forgotten, her voice resembles a suppressed memory that won’t die. Amidst the tweets of sports whistles she snarls,
“I asked Shane and he said, ‘just forget it, don’t want to have anything to do with it.’”
Julie says that unless I agree never to call them again she will call the police.
"But I'm investigating the deaths of Simon and James,"
“Dead and Gone. Buried. Forgotten," her voice raises then drops like a hammer as if striking down a reviving corpse. “If you call us again we’ll call the police.”
Shane’s voice growls into my ear two hours later while I’m collecting my laundry at the Midland Caravan Park."I hear you've been harassing my wife.
“Don’t call me; don’t contact me. I don’t want to have anything to do with this. If you contact me again there will be trouble. Is that clear? Understand, understand?”
"Are you threatening me? I ask.
"There will be trouble," he repeats.
“You played a major role in the deaths of those two boys.” I react.
“Bullshit, bullshit. Get a life. Do something useful, something else,” he shouts then hangs up.
64. Strange Broome
The Broome council would charge visitors for breathing if they could devise a billing system. Rangers patrol the hinterland dishing out fines to tourists daring to camp in the Australian bush, instead of paying top dollar to be squashed sardine-style into crowded caravan parks.
I pitch my tent at the Broome caravan park with its swimming pool lined with Lord McAlpine-style palm trees, under which lie sun-wizened grey nomads unabashed by their bodily degeneration. Owners Graham and Donna Sutherland slave seven days a week to put their seven children through a Perth private school. Their strapping older son has finished high school and is filling his gap year with internet poker, wild women and drinking beer at the Roebuck Hotel.
In town a black man sits under a blue plastic tarp atop a sand dune with the turquoise of Roebuck Bay on one side and the prison on the other, the two separated by Carnarvon Street and what is arguably Broome’s most dangerous footpath, day or night. The police are regularly urged to destroy such camps by mixed race Aboriginal bureaucrats who resent the desert people camping on the local tribes’ land. These bureaucrats call the desert Aboriginals “blackies”, while the latter call the mixed race people “half-castes”.
A black woman with white hair sits on the dune overlooking the prison and desultorily shouts the name of a man inside.
Phillipa Cook has returned to Broome from a long stint in a Perth hospital for bleeding lungs. She was married to Labour Senator Peter Cook, who died from cancer. She says the rumour that she witnessed staff selling cannabis over the front counter at Centrelink is wrong. But she did receive a huge bill from the government’s Water Corporation. They ignored her claims that someone was tapping her pipeline, until workers doing routine digging discovered a diversion pipe that led to a dope crop further into the bush.
John Kernot tasted the hard edge of the cannabis industry when he owned Kimberley Bush Taxis in the late 1980’s. He was famous for 300kms fares to desert communities. Through numerous Aboriginal girlfriends and their subsequent children, and his acquired in-laws, he developed an intricate network of friends and relatives across the Kimberley. He also delivered mail and took passengers up the Cape Leveque Peninsula through Beagle Bay and One Arm Point.
Kernot’s taxi customers had high rates of contact with the police, prison and court system and told him the locations of cannabis crops, who ran them, who gave protection and how the product was distributed in Broome and beyond. He gained an unprecedented insight into how crop bosses ensured the police didn’t disturb production and distribution. Some passengers claimed that off duty police protected the crops at night and told would-be thieves they were doing a stake out.
It was dangerous knowledge, made more dangerous when Kernot drew a map of the Kimberley with crop locations, names of growers, protectors and distributors, then sent copies to the Premier and Minister of Police. Within weeks he was confronted at the Seaview shopping centre by drug dealers. His life was never the same.
The dope industry was less organised in the central and east Kimberley. Crops planted along the Fitzroy River were routinely washed away by floods then haphazardly matured wherever their roots gripped soft ground, thus giving birth to “Ganja hunting” as a local tradition.
Seeds were also dropped from helicopters during the wet season near springs east of Sturt Creek near Lewis Creek around the abandoned homesteads. It was prime cannabis country due to its remoteness and seasonal water. When the land dried out the mature plants were collected by ground parties. Crops were also planted in creek beds by a trio of growers from Balgo.
The police took seriously the 605 cannabis seeds in Simon's quarters to the extent that they disappeared from the investigation even quicker than James’ water bottle. While they portrayed James and Simon as little more than thieves who had stolen a station vehicle, they didn’t take the opportunity to label the boys drug users. Instead, they shunted the seed discovery out of the investigation.
65. The enigmatic courier
The former police Inspector won’t speak by phone, but after exchanging emails he agrees to a face-to-face meeting at Fast Eddy’s restaurant at the Carousel shopping centre in Perth. I expect to meet a grizzled, low intellect ex-copper with a croaky voice who was promoted beyond his abilities, then botched the big event of his life. He’s half an hour late.
A courier wearing a high visibility shirt exchanges what seems a conspiratorial smile with the waitress. He’s a blond, fair skinned shortish man with an almost feminine demeanor. He warily introduces himself as Jim Guy.
Jim went to school in Boyup Brook in the sou’west. He served in the police Tactical Response Group, and was a Perth detective prior to returning to uniform, and being transferred to the Kimberley.
Following James and Simon’s entry into his life his career blossomed, and he became the officer-in-charge of the Emergency Operations Unit, the search and rescue branch of the Western Australia police. He reached the rank of Acting Superintendent before retiring in 2003. Jim is currently studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree in international aid and sustainable development at Murdoch University, and runs his own rescue consultancy. He also delivers parcels one day a week.
“We would do nothing differently now except use all available technology: satellite phones; satellite imagery,” he says, his voice hardly audible amongst the restaurant’s blasting music.
Who was supposed to be manning the radio at Flora Valley to monitor the boys’ welfare while Loder was away? “No clarity on that,” he says, like the Coroner who absolved both men. Who chose where to search? Jim easily sidesteps the question. He led the search, he says, adding that Graham Macarthur, John Boland and Jungarri T. Bradshaw knew the area and provided locations they thought should be searched. He avoids naming the elephant in the room until I do, Giles Loder. Guy praises Loder saying he knew the boys’ bore runs, and had the most recent local knowledge, so he followed Loder’s suggestions where to look, none of which included the land south of Balgo.
Jim can’t remember discussing with John Boland the reported sighting of the boys at Balgo. He says the theory the boys had stolen the vehicle was discarded quite early, despite this belief appearing in his July 1987 report. He says the “boys gone hunting” theory was also dismissed, but still implies a fault on them for getting lost. He says at Sturt Creek homestead there was, “Evidence that there had been smoking there. Evidence of smoking, but no evidence of cannabis with it. Paraphernalia and half-smoked papers.” But when I ask if he’s saying the boys were smoking cannabis he becomes vague and changes the subject.
Jim’s memory of Loder remains positive. “I found Giles Loder to be reasonably honest about what was going on. He was concerned more than anything,” he says. But the mention of Sandra Annetts fills his mind with distaste. Her claim that Loder told her and Les at Flora Valley homestead that the boys had stolen his vehicle must have been a misunderstanding on Sandra’s part, Jim says. And her panning him in the media leaves him cold. And getting her local Member of Parliament, Adrian Cruikshank, to phone the Halls Creek police station wasn’t right, either, Jim says. There are strict protocols to be followed: “police call police; politicians call politicians”.
Jim says it was a round table discussion to call off the search on Sunday, Day 3, five days after Loder and Kendall claimed to have seen the boys alive. He says the pilots were doing it for nothing and told him, “We cannot afford to run our airplanes anymore.” But who said this, I ask, as the helicopter and Loder’s plane were supplied by Peter Sherwin. Jim had sent the Kingfisher plane home the previous day. The only other plane was from Graham Macarthur.
Jim corrects himself saying costs were not the issue. The pilots had to get back to work on Monday, and Graham had some charter work, he says, pointing the blame at Macarthur, who gave most to the search, without being paid.
Jim says they’d checked the majority of places that needed checking and then breathtakingly adds that the decision to stop was done by “police hierarchy, not me.”
The decibel blast of Muzak in Fast Eddy’s increases as Jim’s voice rises in pitch and his eyes narrow in pain. The hard man laying down the law wants to be understood: “We did the best in the circumstances with the resources we had. We were grasping at any issue that might give us resolution.”
As to systematic violence against jackeroos, Jim says they had no knowledge of that, and asks how can we know that those stories the kids were feeding the press were even real? Was Jim being disingenuous? Couldn’t he remember? The allegations were in sworn statements to police, as well as interviews to the media. Why couldn’t this sensitive man acknowledge that cattle station discipline was maintained by fists and boots, and it was police policy to overlook these assaults, even after they’d gotten out of hand at Flora Valley?
I ask him about the twin-engined plane that Les Knight offered to lend and fly, that supporters of the Annetts would fuel. He says it would have been too fast for a ground search, and weren’t the Annetts supposed to have been broke? Yet at the inquest he denied knowledge of the offer, but agreed that he would have accepted it if he’d known, and that to refuse would have been irresponsible.
Jim says his neck never recovered from the helicopter crash. He uses anti-inflammatory medicine to treat the chronic pain. He has a 25% disability rate. Jim’s phone rings, and I remove my two voice recorders from the table. We part outside the restaurant. No smiles. He wants to get away. That’s good for me because I don’t want him to see that I can’t remember where I parked my car.
“There wasn’t any crash,” Jim Guy’s helicopter pilot, Peter Leutenegger, tells me on the phone from Napier Downs near Derby in the Kimberley.
“There wasn’t anything damaged, or anything…We were flying relatively low and we still had some power and there was still three cylinders out of 4 producing power so it was more just an enforced, straight ahead landing. That’s about all it was…It wasn’t like a full engine failure in the helicopter when you have to put it in auto-rotation … we just landed....There was nothing damaged on the helicopter. It didn’t even require a heavy landing inspection. That’s how normal a landing it was.” ,
Peter also questions Jim’s recollection of an eight kilometre walk in 46 degree heat after the landing. Peter says his memory is hazy, but it didn’t seem that long a walk.
Peter does remember receiving a letter from a legal firm saying that Jim Guy was, “...claiming to have suffered some disability since, but there was no injury to my knowledge at the time and there was no damage to the helicopter so I don’t know how there could have been some injury, but that’s for him to say.”
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