WILD DOG RIVER BY GREG BARRON
In the holding cell I paced back and forwards, from wall to wall, interrupted only by the need to use the thunderbox, for my guts had turned to water and the calm of the previous night was just a memory. I felt dirty, as if the grime of this place, and of other men’s crimes, was smeared on my face and clothes, never to be removed.
My barrister had warned me that a quick decision from the jury was rarely a good thing – long delays meant that the defence had raised enough doubt to provoke lively discussion. I was therefore torn between impatience and hope that the jury’s deliberations might roll on for hours.
It felt like an age, but less than three hours passed before the cops unlocked the door and escorted me back into the court room. From my place in the dock I studied the faces of the twelve members of the jury – very much like twelve regular people I might have seen at Shaw’s Arcade in Flinders Street on a Saturday morning. What were they thinking? What had they decided? Some averted their eyes and others looked back with a strange new hostility.
The judge harrumphed impatiently while the courtroom settled, as if he were in a hurry to get the trial finished. I saw that his spectacles were sitting crookedly on his nose, and he adjusted them several times, before slamming the gavel down on the bench.
‘Foreman of the jury!’ he called. ‘Have you reached a decision?’
A middle-aged woman, between fifty and sixty, came to her feet. Right from the start of the trial I had guessed that she might be a schoolteacher, with her grey hair tied in a bun, and a kindly sparkle in her eyes. Her voice was quiet but firm. ‘We have, your honour.’
‘And what is your verdict?’
The schoolteacher voice never wavered. ‘On count one of murder, we find the accused guilty. On count two of murder, we also find the accused guilty.’
Guilty? No earthquake could have shaken my world more thoroughly than that word. My breath left my chest as if had been compressed by a vice and my legs lost all strength so that I could not have stood up if I’d tried. I heard my poor old mum wail from the gallery. Her pain was like a knife sliding through my ribs and into my heart.
The judge banged his gavel. ‘Peter Andrew Livermore. A jury of your peers has found you guilty of two counts of murder. You are to be held in custody until sentencing, fourteen days from today. I order the preparation of a pre-sentence report and a psychological assessment on your prospects for rehabilitation. Please use this time to prepare yourself for the certainty of a lengthy custodial sentence.’ Finally, after a pause and a sigh, he turned to the cops who had come up on either side of me. ‘Take the prisoner away.’
Two weeks later, at the sentence hearing, my barrister did his best, trying to establish my otherwise good character and leaning heavily on my war service. His advocacy, however, fell on deaf ears. The judge wasted no time in belting me with two twenty-five-year terms, to be served consecutively, with a non-parole period of thirty-seven years and six months. Half a century all told, for having admitted to taking drugs; for being found in a ‘confused’ state, with no other believable reason why my two shipmates were dead, but that I had shot them.
Other things happened, at around that time, out in the world – Alan Moffat and his Falcon GT beat Peter Brock’s Torana at Bathurst, and my dear Mum was admitted to Townsville hospital after having a ‘turn’ from the shock of my charges.
It was a world, it seemed, that I was no longer part of. I cursed the Wild Dog River and the people who lived there and their secrets, and I cursed the face of that dragon rendered in bronze. That thing, that foul creation, it seemed, had conspired with others to ruin my life.
©2023 Greg Barron
Continued next Saturday.
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