Wild Dog River

Chapter Ten – The Watch House


Like waking from a nightmare, my memories of the following days are disjointed and confused. From the police jetty in Cairns, they escorted me under guard to the watch house, where I was examined by a doctor who took blood from my arm, peeled back my eyes and listened to my heart.

They shoved me in a cell to sleep off the last of the heroin in my system, and all night the Tong dragon curled its body around my limbs and breathed its fire on my skin. They dragged me out again the next morning, when my state of mind was bordering on hysterical. They pushed each of my fingers in turn into an ink pad and stamped my prints onto a form, took photographs and typed a statement that was mostly their words, not mine.

They charged me with two counts of murder in the first degree. Me, a lover of calm rivers and mist on the water at dawn, accused of the murder of two men I had liked and respected. It was terrifying to learn how the truth could be so easily lost amongst false ‘evidence’ and conjecture.

I was allowed five minutes with the duty solicitor, who had been assigned to my case. He showed me a copy of the Brisbane paper and the front-page headline: DRUG-CRAZED EX-SOLDIER SLAYS TWO. He said that we would apply for bail, but warned me that no magistrate in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland would let a man facing such a brutal crime onto the street.

The cops walked me outside – two constables and a sergeant, an escort that seemed excessive to me, my head swimming with vertigo in the sunlight on Sheridan Street. Outside the courthouse, my mates from the Post, radio journos with mikes, and a couple of TV crews ringed the steps like sharks around a purse seine. They shouted questions so fast that I felt like the sky was falling in on me.

I sat in the courthouse with my head in my hands as the crown prosecutor read the charges. Statements and testimony from the arresting officers came next. The magistrate did not attempt to hide his disgust for the crime and its apparent perpetrator. It took him five minutes flat to refuse the bail application that was made on my behalf, then remanded me in custody for a trial seventeen days in the future. The solicitor assured me that he would be in touch, and asked whether my family would be seeking other representation. The thought of my poor mother brought shame crashing down around my head.

The cops shoved me in the back of an HQ paddy wagon, and they drove me through the heat of the day down the Bruce Highway to Townsville. Sweating so that my clothes soaked through, I soon had a headache like a horse had kicked me, and the roar of the 253-cube engine filled my head. After a couple of hours, in genuine pain, I screamed at them to take off my cuffs, but they either did not hear or did not care.

When we finally reached Townsville, I stared through the cage and front windows past the shoulders of the two cops. I saw Stewart’s Creek Gaol come up ahead, that hundred-year-old dumb fortress on the swill of Townsville’s outer suburbs, encircled by a twenty-foot stone wall.   

I saw the gates open. Surely this was hell. I heard the banter of the cops and the screws in the gatehouse. The paddy wagon went through, accelerated, turned, then stopped. The rear doors opened, and I braced myself as a brawny arm dragged me out by the back of the shirt. I spilled out of the van, still cuffed, unable to use my hands to break the fall. My hip and elbow took the brunt.  

‘Get up,’ came a voice, and when I did not respond someone kicked me in the guts, then the head. My first view of the inside was through the lens of blood dripping from a cut on my eyebrow.

©2023 Greg Barron

Read all the chapters here.

Continued next Saturday

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