Mounted Constable Robert Stott of Roper Bar, Kitty told me, was something of an enigma. A man who would one day go on to become Central Australia’s first Police Commissioner, he was maligned by some, and lionised by others. On his police record were awards for courage, yet he was once fined for brutally striking a Chinese boy who had disobeyed an instruction.
Born in a blacksmith’s loft in Nigg, Kincardineshire, Stott was an ambitious and capable lawman. He had joined the South Australian police not long after his arrival in Australia, and soon requested a transfer to the Territory, chasing dreams of adventure and exotic landscapes. His colourful life continued, until he was run over and fatally wounded by a train in 1928.
Even though he now knew the whereabouts of Joe Flick, and was keen to add this arrest to his growing reputation, Bob Stott was nothing if not patient. The rivers were flooded, so, knowing that Joe Flick would not stray far, Stott bided his time. Apart from anything else, he did things by the book, and a warrant was required.
Finally, when the Wet Season floods had begun to recede, Stott took a leisurely ride up along the Roper track to the Elsey. From there he telegraphed Palmerston, seeking a warrant for the arrest of Joe Flick on charges of escaping lawful custody in Queensland. The request was duly facilitated by the Commissioner, Paul Foelsche.
A week or two later, a mounted constable rode south, bringing the warrant, but also prepared to stay and assist in the capture of Joe Flick. Red Lily Lagoon was the agreed rendezvous, and there Bob Stott had made camp with his two trackers.
The man with the warrant rode in the next day, and the two comrades hailed each other, catching up on the news while their trackers hobbled out the plant and pitched tents.
The new man, Friedrich Wilhelm Haedge, anglicised to Frederick William, was, like Hasenkamp back in Queensland, a second-generation German. He was a solid horseman and a tough customer. Stott was glad to have him on hand for the arrest of Flick.
Red Lily lagoon was a beautiful sight – a vast sheet of still water – fringed with reed beds, and dotted with lily pads and their flowers. Thousands of waterbirds floated or fossicked on narrow legs in the shallows. Pig-nosed turtles touched their snouts to the surface, and on the banks, agile wallabies flirted with the visitors, torn between curiosity and safety.
Haedge shot a goose, plucked it and arranged it on a wooden spit to roast on the coals. Then, he pulled a round bottle of Franken wine from his saddle bags and Stott matched it with one of whisky. Before long Stott was slapping his new mate on the back and calling him a gentleman.
‘Have you a plan of how we’ll bring this rascal in?’ Haedge asked.
‘There’s one a’ him an’ four of us, wit’ the trackers,’ said Stott, ‘so it shouldna be tae hard, but I’ve devised a ruse that should put him at ease.’
The next day the two policemen and their trackers rode downstream along the Roper track for the first few miles, then turned off towards Minyerri. All had revolvers and rifles loaded, in holsters and scabbards.
The afternoon was well advanced when they reached the homestead. Not attempting to hide their approach, the policemen rode in on the main track, right up to the verandah, where James Crawford waited for them with a pipe in his mouth.
‘What brings yew lads this way?’ Crawford called.
‘Serious matters indeed,’ said Stott, dismounting and greeting his countryman with a handshake. ‘T’ere’s been an attack on Newcastle Waters homestead by a mob a’ Jingili spearmen. We’re formin’ a troop tae ride over an’ put an end tae the mischief.’
Of course this was a ruse, but it was enough to get Joe off guard. Unsure of whether the officers were coming for him or not, he had been hiding behind an outbuilding. When he heard that they were not after him, but were looking for men to ride with them, he came out in the open.
‘Hoy there Jack,’ cried Crawford. ‘Are yew keen on a mission of righteousness?’
Joe slowly walked towards the verandah, hands in his pockets. He wasn’t keen at all. In fact he had no desire to go anywhere at all, most particularly not as a member of a police attack party.
‘So t’is is Jack then,’ said Stott. Then, peering down at Joe, ‘I’ve heard that yew’re a braw stockman. Come up here an’ throw down a drink, then we’d be pleased if ye rode with us.’
Stott himself walked to the waterbag hanging from a verandah post, and filled a tin pannikin for Joe, who had slowly made his way up the steps and was standing, still hesitantly, next to Crawford.
When Joe accepted the pannikin and took a sip, Bob Stott seized him from behind, while Haedge whipped out his revolver, and levelled it at Joe’s face.
‘You’re under arrest for the escape of lawful custody in Queensland, Joe Flick,’ Haedge bellowed. ‘Come quietly or we’ll bury you here, and save everyone a pile of trouble.’
‘Yew sneakin’ belters,’ said Crawford, red in the face and furious. ‘Yew’ll take t’e ablest ringer in the Territory off me, an’ fer no gid reason?’
Stott scowled and twisted Joe’s arm viciously behind his back. ‘T’is lad here is Joe Flick … a criminal, a lag on the run. Are yew saying you’d already ken his identity? T’is a criminal offence to harbour a fugitive from t’e law.’
‘All I ken is that this man here, called Jack. Is a good an’ honest lad an’ is no more a criminal than yew and me. Now ease up on him, yew’re hurting him.’
Stott relaxed his grip on Joe’s arm a tad, but addressed Crawford. ‘Dinna stand in ta way of justice, James.’
‘Whose justice, English justice? You should be ‘shamed a’ yersel’, you’re a disgrace tae yer countrymen, arrestin’ honest men fer to make yer own self look big.’
Bob Stott was starting to lose his temper. ‘I’ll ask ye again. Did yew ken that this ‘ere Jack was Joe Flick? If so we’ll arrest ye too.’
‘Nah,’ muttered Crawford, backing down. ‘I didna ken.’
‘Weel shut yer trap an’ leave it there.’
Joe, for his part, felt like a wallaby caught between two fires. He wished with all his heart that he had leapt on the back of the nearest horse as soon as he had seen the police coming. His self-protective instincts had softened with an easy life here.
The two policemen led him off the verandah and out to where the trackers were readying travelling chains for the prisoner. Joe did not, at that time, think to wonder why they charged him only with escaping custody, rather than the original charge of attempted murder.
That strange omission was to have terrible consequences for him later, but Joe had no idea of that now. His first and only thought was how he might get away from these men at the first possible opportunity.
Continues next Sunday
© 2019 Greg Barron