The disappearance of David Eason

More than 600,000 tourists visit Queensland’s lavishly tropical Fraser Island each year. The world’s biggest sand island, covering 184,000 square kilometres adjacent to the coast, seldom seems crowded. With its sweeping beaches, towering dunes framing freshwater lakes, and horizons of coloured sand, the island is infused with the primal hush that stilled the lips of the earliest white settlers.

Named after Eliza Fraser, whose ship “Stirling Castle” foundered on the Great Barrier Reef in 1836, the island has long been characterized by poets and novelists as a place of mystery. Perhaps the greatest mystery of all was the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of an English tourist named David Eason. Police, who conducted massive and prolonged searches for the missing man, described the total absence of possessions, clothing or other clues as ‘bizarre’ and ‘beyond belief’.

Eason, aged 46, was an art director of a British advertising company specializing in pharmaceutical products. On the 29th of March 2001 he visited the island as part of a 4WD tour group. Around lunchtime, following several hours of sightseeing, the group’s leader announced that everyone should now head for Lake Wabby, two kilometres inland. From there they would proceed to Kingfisher Bay on the other side of the island, where they would board a tour bus at 3.00 pm and then leave the island.

MapFraserIsland
Map of Fraser Island – Lake Wabby is approximately halfway on the eastern side.

David Eason hadn’t yet experienced enough of the island. Fresh from a grey London winter, he was entranced by the wild crashing surf, endless stretches of dazzling beach, kauri pines and gigantic ferns, and the sting of the tropical sun. He told his companions that he would sunbathe for 30 minutes and before following them on foot to Lake Wabby.

When police individually interviewed the other members of the party the next day, they all shared the same recollection. As they departed, Eason, who was wearing a green singlet, shorts and sandals, had laid back smiling, against a dune and placed a cigarette in his mouth. He seemed relaxed and carefree. Beside him on the sand lay a leather bag containing his expensive camera gear. The time was approximately 1.00 pm.

The tour group waited an extra 30 minutes at Lake Wabby, but with no sign of Eason, they decided to continue to Kingfisher Bay to meet the tour bus. At 6.00 pm, when there was still no sign of him, the tour’s organisers alerted police and park rangers. That night, police officers and volunteers search the island, using spotlights and torches. The next day helicopters and lights places scanned the island from the air – the first of many searches over the following days and weeks.

Particularly puzzling were the results (or lask of them) obtained by 80 State Emergency Service workers who picked painstakingly over an area of two square kilometres surrounding the spot where Eason was last seen. They found nothing: no tracks, no scraps of clothing, no cigarette butts and no leather bag – Eason had vanished off the face of Fraser Island.

Police printed flyers and posters, asking for information from the crowds who had been on the island during the Easter holiday break. No-one could help. The missing man’s sister, Janice Eames and her husband Harvey flew to Queensland from England. They told reporters that they were ‘dumbfounded’ by David’s disappearance- and dismissed suggestions that he might have drowned or committed suicide as ‘just not on’.

EasonPressClipping

According to his sister, David was financially secure and was in a stable and happy relationship with his girlfriend Jo. There was absolutely no reason why he would have harmed himself – and if he had done so on the island, there would have been evidence left behind. Detective Sergeant Bruce Hodges of the Queensland Police force summed up the bafflement of his colleagues. ‘People have gone missing – but usually there is some sort of trace’, he said.

One months after Eason’s disappearance, a nine year old boy, Clinton Cage, was mauled to death by dingoes on the island. Could David Eason have suffered a similar fate? According to police, it was extremely unlikely. Dingoes would have left traces: body parts, bloodied clothing, and they would have not eaten either the leather bag or the camera in it.

After debating and exhausting a broad range of explanations, David Eason’s family was left with only one theory – that he had been murdered. Why, by whom and for what reason they could not begin to imagine. They asked police to treat the case as a homicide enquiry. But with no body, no belongings, no tracks no idea of Eason’s movements, police admitted it would be almost impossible to find the murderer.

For two years there was no new information or leads until the 14th of April 2003, when English tourist Arwen Heaton discovered near Lake Wabby human bones and personal property that was identified as belonging to David Eason.  The scattered bones and personal property were found along the sides and at the bottom of a steep slope.

A coronial inquest was held, with the State Coroner rejecting the theories of homicide (personal belongings were found with the bones) and suicide (stable financial situation and personal relationship). The most plausible theory advanced by the coroner was that Eason was returning to the rendezvous with the tour group when an event occurred which caused him to stumble down the slope, where he died. The Coroner’s best theory was that Eason suffered a fatal heart attack when walking back to the rendezvous, although the possibility that he was suffered a snake bite or other paralysing injury could not be discounted. The Coroner also made recommendations regarding future searches for missing persons, as well as better signage for the walking tracks around Lake Wabby.

While this sounds logical and reasonable, I am still intrigued as to why Eason’s body wasn’t found immediately after his disappearance, especially if the SES volunteers had gone over that area with a fine-tooth comb.

The basis for this blog post was John Pinkney’s book “Great Australian Mysteries” (Five Mile Press, Melbourne, 2003, p. 232-235), along with the exhaustive and thorough inquest of the Queensland State Coroner.

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Australian cars of the 1920’s

There were several attempts to manufacture cars in Australia in the 1920’s. The most successful of these was the Sydney-based “Australian Six”, with approximately 900 vehicles built between 1919 and 1925. Here is a summary of some of the other Australian makes of the 1920’s.

1922 Summit

1922 Summit

Advertised as a ‘New Wonder Car’ and ‘An Australian Triumph’, the Summit was built in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria by Kelly’s Motors Ltd between 1922 and 1926. It was equipped with a radio, cigar lighter and electric stop lights. The Summit also came with a 12 month warranty, which was unusual amongst cars of that era.

The Summit was powered by a 3.4 litre 4-cylinder Lycoming side-valve engine. The only body style available was a five-seater tourer. While most of the mechanical components were imported from the United States, an option was an unusual locally designed suspension system.

This used a series of leaf springs running the full length of each side of the chassis frame and was said to provide an exceptionally smooth ride. Unfortunately the long springs were prone to failure.  A couple of hundred Summits were built, with at least one fully restored example surviving today.

1922 Albani

1922 Albani Six

The Albani Six was built in Melbourne by Albani Motor Constructions Pty Ltd. The protoype, fitted with a US-built Continental 6-cylinder engine, underwent an endurance test in which it covered 8,000 kilometres in 12 days with the bonnet sealed, so that no repairs or adjustments could be made to the engine. Engineers who inspected the car after the trial reported that it suffered no serious mechanical or structural faults. Despite this excellent publicity, the Albani Six never made it into production.

1922 Southern Six

1922SouthernSix

Shortly after the end of World War 1, ex-aviator Cyril Maddocks established the Australian-British Motors Ltd to build a car. The Southern Six was powered by a British-made 2.4 litre 6-cylinder Sage engine developing 20bhp. Other mechanical parts sourced from Britain included Sankey wheels and a Wrigley gearbox. The body was built locally.

The prototype was extensively tested and was said to have a top speed of nearly 100km/h and used only 4.5 litres of petrol per 100 kilometres. Plans were made to make a 4-cylinder engined version of the car, but the only Southern Six built was the prototype.

1923 Marks-Moir

1923 Marks-Moir.jpg

The Marks-Moir was the most original of the attempts to build an Australian car in the 1920’s. The Marks-Moir was the brainchild of a Sydney dentist, Dr AR Marks, who in 1923 had the car built to his specifications in Britain and shipped to Sydney , where it was his personal car.

The Marks-Moir featured a unique chassis-less construction in which stressed plywood was used to provide an unitary structure. The 4-cylinder engine sat ‘east-west’ across the chassis, closes to the centre for optimum weight distribution. The transmission featured a 2-speed epicycle transmission (probably from a Model T Ford), driving the back axle through a limited-slip differential.  A handful of Marks-Moirs were built. One of the cars was passed onto Jim Marks, AR Marks’ son. Jim Marks later went into partnership with noted Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith to build car in the early 1930’s called the Southern Cross, which used the same unitary construction principles.

1925 Besst

1925BesstSmall.jpg

The Besst was conceived by the May’s Motor Works of Adelaide. The company imported 3.2 litre 4-cylinder Lycoming engines from the United States, along with Muncie gearboxes and other mechanical parts. It is believed that the chassis was clearance stock from the Crow-Elkhart company of Elkhart, Indiana.  The lone body style – the ‘King of the Road’ 5-seater tourer was built by local coachbuilder TJ Richards.

The Besst was promoted in local advertisements as a ‘new appreciation of motoring ease and security’, but it cost nearly twice as much as an imported car of similar size and performance, Approximately half a dozen were built and sold.

The black and white pictures for this blog post were sourced from the Allcarindex.com webiste, while the picture of the Besst was taken from the book “South Australian Cars: 1881-1942” by George Brooks and Ivan Hoffman, 1987.

Text is from the book “Aussie Cars” by Pedr Davis, published by Marque Publishing, Sydney in 1987.

 

 

 

The Battle of Broken Hill

Four months before the 25th of April 1915, when the ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) landed on the Turkish coast at Gallipoli, the first Australians to fall from Turkish enemy fire were Oddfellows and members of their families – civilians on a Broken Hill picnic train.

The incident occurred on New Year’s Day, 1915, in Broken Hill, located in the far west of NSW. Broken Hill is a mining town, and was where the BHP mining company was founded in 1885. Members of the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows and their families – 1,200 people, including children, crammed into open ore trucks of a train steaming to the picnic grounds at Silverton, located 25 kilometres north-west of Broken Hill. Short of the picnic grounds, however, the train groaned unexpectedly to a halt.

Picnic train
A picture of a Broken Hill picnic train – the exposed positions of the passengers can clearly be seen.

The engine driver had braked at the curious sight of an unattended ice cream cart by the side of the track. Attached to it was a pole, and from the pole hung a flag – the Turkish flag, although none of the passengers recognized it as such. The happy babble on the train died down as the passengers pondered the meaning of the deserted cart and the forlorn flag.

The silence was suddenly broken by the sound of a gun shot, followed by another. It took the crowd a short time to realise that they were under attack, with a boy, girl, old man and three women hit in the initial volley of bullets. Some of the people on the train realised that they were under fire from two men in a trench dug in a nearby sand dune. The two men firing at them were the town’s ice cream vendor and part time camel driver, Gool Mahommed, and the butcher for the Afghan camel drivers and the leader of the local Islamic community, the elderly Mullah Abdullah. As well as the dead and injured on the train, a man riding by on a horse was also shot, while another man chopping wood 500 metres away was killed by a ricochet of a bullet. The train started up again, taking the petrified passengers out of range, while news of the attack was telegraphed back to the town police and citizen militia.

Mahommed and Abdullah made a run to a new vantage point, and along the way they shot a man who had barricaded himself inside a hut. Near the Cable Hotel, still on the run, the pair came across a group of police. When the police saw they had rifles, two constables were ordered to approach them to ascertain their identity. Mahommed and Abdullah opened fire, and one of the constables was wounded by two bullets. The police decided to retreat and wait for reinforcements. The killers ran for cover to a rocky white quartz outcrop a few hundred metres away that gave them good protection and from there, for the next 90 or so minutes, the they shot it out with police, with the militia and enthusiastic civilians joining in.

Quartz
The quartz outcrop where the final shootout occurred between the Turks and the local police, militia and citizens.

 

The Barrier Miner reported the engagement:
“The general operations were under the direction of Inspector Miller and Lieutenant Resch. The attacking party spread out on the adjoining hills, and there was a hot fire poured into the enemy’s position, the Turks returning the fire with spirit but without effect, which is rather surprising, as the range was short and the attacking parties in some cases exposed themselves rather rashly to get a shot.”

The reason for the ineffectual return fire from the Turks was that Abdullah had been shot dead early on in the battle. Eventually Mahommed stood up with something tied to his rifle – either the Turkish flag or a white flag of surrender, and was shot immediately.

The Barrier Miner reported on the end of the shooting:

“In the battle there was a desperate determination to leave no work for the hangman or to run the risk of the murderers of peaceful citizens being allowed to escape. It was not a long battle. The attacking party was constantly being reinforced by eager men who arrived in any vehicle they could obtain or on foot. At just about one o’clock a rush took place to the Turks’ stronghold and they were found lying on the ground behind their shelter. Both had many wounds. One was dead, the other expired later in hospital. They were in the dress of their people, with turbans on their heads. The police took charge of the bodies.”

Found on the body of Mohammed was a note, which read:

“In the name of God, all Merciful, and of Mahommed His prophet. This poor sinner is a subject of the Sultan. My name is Gool Badsha Mahomed, Afghan Afridi. In the reign of Abdul Hamid Sultan, I have visited his kingdom four times for the purpose of fighting. I hold the Sultan’s order, duly signed and sealed by him. It is in my waistbelt now, and if it is not destroyed by cannon shot or rifle bullets, you will find it on me. I must kill your men and give my life for my faith by order of the Sultan. I have no enmity against anyone; nor have I consulted with anyone, nor informed anyone. We bid to all the faithful farewell.”

Barrier_Miner_31_January_1915_p03_gool-note_1qaa1

 

The Battle of Broken Hill left four people dead and ten wounded, and had far reaching implications. The Australian Attorney-General, Billy Hughes, used the incident to agitate successfully for the internment of all enemy nationals (mostly those of German descent) in Australia during World War 1.

Paul Taylor’s book “Australian Ripping Yarns”, Five Mile Press, Rowville, Victoria, 2004, p. 175-177 was used as the basis for this blog entry.

 

 

The goalpost Grand Final of 1967

Grand Finals of any code of football code in Australia usually provide suspense and excitement, but few of them could match the drama and chaos that occurred at the end of the 1967 Tasmanian State Championship game.

Despite being the smallest state in Australia with the smallest population, Tasmania has never had a truly statewide Australian rules football competition. This is due to the way that the population is spread – based on the State capital, Hobart in the south and on Launceston and other towns in the north. Thus there were three major football competitions – the Tasmanian Football League (TFL), based around Hobart, and two competitions based in the north of the state – the Northern Tasmanian Football Association (NTFA), based around Launceston,  and the North West Football Union (NTFU), based on the towns on Tasmania’s north coast.

map_of_tasmania
Map of Tasmania – the TFL based in the south, the NTFA in the north and the NTFU on the north-west coast.

To determine which team was the best in the state, a play-off between the premiers of each league was held at the end of the year. In 1967, it was the turn of the NWFU to host the final, so the NWFU premiers, the Wynyard Cats qualified directly for the championship game. In the Preliminary Final, TFL premiers North Hobart defeated NTFA premiers East Launceston to qualify as Wynyard’s opponents. The State Championship match was scheduled to be played at West Park Oval, home ground of the Burnie Dockers, on the 30th of September 1967.

With the aid of a strong breeze, North Hobart established a 19 point lead at quarter time – 3.8 (26) to 1.1 (7). Now kicking with the breeze in the second quarter, Wynyard dominated, and turned the 19 point deficit into a 20 point lead – 9.7 (61) to 5.11 (41).

Once again kicking with the breeze, it was North Hobart’s turn to dominate, and they had established a 14 point lead at three-quarter time – 11.17 (83) to 10.9 (69). 122 of the match total of 152 points had been kicked to the eastern end of the ground, but just prior to the start of the final quarter, the breeze died down, giving neither team an advantage. Wynyard scored two early goals to close the gap to a couple of points, and with only behinds being kicked from then on, Wynyard lead 13.14 (92) to 12.19 (91) with the final siren about to sound. The stage was now set for one of the most incredible and bizarre finishes to a major Grand Final in Australian football history.

After being awarded a free kick, North Hobart player-coach John Devine kicked into the goal square, where a mark was taken by North Hobart full-forward David Collins. Just after Collins took the mark, the final siren sounded, but as Collins had taken the mark prior to the siren, he was allowed to take his kick. Being only 10-20 yards from goal, and on a slight angle, it looked certain that Collins would kick the goal and win the match and the State Championship title for North Hobart.

But before Collins could take his kick, thousands of Wynyard supporters invaded the field, and to make sure that Collins couldn’t take his kick, proceeded to remove the goalposts. With the police unable to get the spectators off the ground, and with the goalposts no longer being in place, umpire Jack Pilgrim abandoned the game, and left the field. Collins stayed on the field, with the ball tucked under his jumper, for another ten minutes, in the vain hope that he would somehow be allowed to take his kick.

On Monday, the 2nd of October, the Standing Committee of the TFL met to decide on a course of action. A full replay was suggested – Wynyard agreed, but North Hobart said that a full replay would vindicate the actions of the Wynyard supporters who invaded the pitch. Another option discarded was for the match to be restarted at the point where it was abandoned, with Collins ready to kick for goal. Instead the TFL recommended that no replay should be held, and that the 1967 State Premiership title should not be awarded.

To this day, this is still the only major Grand Final of any football code in Australia that was abandoned and never replayed. Collins took the ball home with him. I believe a few years later he was invited back to West Park Oval to have his kick. He scored a goal, but unfortunately it had no bearing on the result (or non-result) of the game.

Here is a video showing the pitch invasion after Collin’s mark, as well as recollections from several players and umpires:

 

The source for this blog post was “The 3AW Book of Footy Records” by Graeme Atkinson and Michael Halon, Magistra Publishing, Melbourne, 1989, p. 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1982 Clancy Mirella sports car

There were several attempts in Australia in the 1970’s and 1980’s to produce limited edition GT coupe/sports cars, but nearly all of them foundered before serious production could occur. While the persons responsible were able to build a prototype, they were unable to find the capital required to undertake production, as well as creating a mechanism to sell the car to the public, along with advertising to create awareness as well.

One of the more obscure examples that I know about wass the Clancy Mirabella, created by a Melbourne doctor in the early 1980’s. The car was displayed at the 1982 Melbourne Motor Show, which is probably the reason why “The Age” newspaper dated the 4th of March gave it some publicity:

                                         “Hand-built Clancy will draw the eyes
One of the most unusual and exciting vehicles on display at the motor show will be a car that you can’t buy and that has no name. Simply known as the Clancy Project Car, until a suitable name can be decided on by its owner/builder, the exotic vehicle is the brainchild of Dr Michael Clancy, of Toorak.
Built for the pleasure of designing, constructing and devising the type of vehicle that most car buffs would love to own, the Clancy Project Car is not juts a one-off ‘special’. With a body designed by Clive Potter, one of Australia’s few automotive designers, the hand-built car is professionally engineered and constructed to Dr Clancy’s own specifications. The body design is in keeping with the motor show;s Winds of Change theme. Dr Clancy expects it will have a drag co-efficient of around 0.28, although it has not been tested in a wind tunnel.
mirella-ts230
Clancy Mirabella TS230
It has an attractive fibreglass body painted Monza red over dove grey and is similar to a Ford Laser, but lower and wider. It features fully independent suspension with a disc front, drums rear brake combination and is powered by a turbocharged 2.25 litre six-cylinder engine that produces around 200bhp.
Dr Clancy took two years to complete this, the latest in a long line of vehicles he has designed and constructed in his well-equipped garage at home. The third vehicle, a fibreglass-bodied sports car named Mirella, after his wife, has been his means of transport for some time but he found its Chrysler E49 engine was using too much petrol. After two years of work with his friend, Clive Potter, the latest project is an attempt to build a vehicle that combines excitement, performance and economy.”
clancy_mirella_1973_01
The original turbocharged engine in the red/grey car was from an Austin Tasman, and was replaced in 1985 by a Mazda rotary driving through a Lancia Beta 5-speed transaxle. I am unaware of the location of the two cars, assuming that they are still intact.

Broken Windows

Earlier this year I joined the Windsor Rotary Club. My membership came about through an unusual meeting – the 2015-16 President, Terry Munsey, is our regular handyman! He was at our house doing some work when he mentioned that he was a member of the Club. I was looking to increase my social circle, get out of the house more often and contribute to the community by volunteering. I attended a few meetings, and before I knew it, Terry was sponsoring my membership.

One of the benefits of joining is the “Rotary Down Under” magazine. While reading the September 2016 issue today, I came across an article called “Broken Windows”, which resonated with me, both as a Rotary member, but in regard to life generally. So here it is.

The “Broken Windows Theory” dictates that if windows are broken and left unfixed, people tend to infer a prevailing sense of indifference towards the upkeep of order in the neighbourhood. Subsequently, they show less inhibition towards breaking further windows or similar anti-social behaviour – if nobody really cares, why not? Similarly, if it doesn’t really matter, why prevent it taking place?

If this attitude continues unchecked, it can cause the entire area to be affected by a rise in crime. Petty vandalism can lead to larger wrongdoings, as people perceive an apathy to lawfulness and feel free to act without restraint.

broken_windows

So what does this mean to Rotary? Our clubs’ successes are defined by their internal cultures. High levels of meaningful service, ethics, integrity, respect and unity, as well as a commitment to fostering goodwill and assisting the development of both our own members and the wider community, are the foundations of Rotary worldwide. These are our windows.

Occasionally and regrettably, these windows get broken. Areas of service may become neglected. We may fail to bring in new members or members who add fresh perspectives. We may defer the opportunity to undertake projects of significance or may not embody our values when interacting with other club members or when facing difficulties in reaching our objectives.

We have two choices once this occurs: we either identify and set about fixing the problem, or we do nothing and watch the resultant drop in standards….and membership. Seems like an easy choice. But we all know that the right choice isn’t always the easy choice.

We can look to others to fix the problems, or even expect they will do so. We may believe we “aren’t responsible for” or “don’t own” the problems, so therefore they aren’t ours. We may even figure that nobody will notice, or that the problems will fix themselves over time. In reality though, these “windows”, which our success rests upon, are every Rotarian’s priority. Small fractures left unchecked can lead to large breaks.

Great teams comprise of individuals prepared be self-managing. They take personal responsibility for ensuring standards are met and raised further again. They don’t need to be prevented from breaking windows, they are out there fixing windows, polishing them and taking pride in them.

We all, at times, get off course and our windows get broken. But it is how we respond to both our own broken windows and those within our vicinity that will define Rotary’s future success.

rotary_club

 

While this article deals with how Rotary responds to and fixes problems in its local community through the volunteering and drive of its members, the whole concept of the “Broken Window” can apply to any person, family, organisation and community. So what broken windows do you see, and how are you going to fix them?

 

John Friedrich and the National Safety Council

Gordon Gecko said in the movie Wall Street that “Greed was good”, and the 1980’s was a decade that showed that gaining great wealth and showing it off was considered almost a virtue, rather than as a trait of poor character. Australia was not immune to this – examples included Christopher Skase and Qintex, Alan Bond and Swan Breweries and John Elliott and CUB. One of the more interesting and notorious examples of the “Greed is Good” motto was the rise and fall of the National Safety Council of Victoria, and its charismatic leader John Friedrich.

The story began back in January 1975, when John Friedrich arrived in Australia from his native West Germany. John Friedrich wasn’t his real name, which was Friedrich Johann Hohenberger. Hohenberger was born in Munich in 1950, and started work for a road construction company there in the early 1970’s. In December 1974 it was discovered that Hohenberger had defrauded the company of 300,000 Deutschmarks. Before he could be arrested for embezzlement, Hohenberger disappeared, making it look like he had either committed suicide or had died in a skiing accident in Italy. Instead he caught a plane to the other side of the world to make sure that the West German police couldn’t follow him, and rearranged his name to make the name that would make him infamous a few years later.

After spending several years working in remote Aboriginal communities in South Australia, Friedrich landed a job with the National Safety Council, Victorian Division (NSCV) in 1977. The NSCV was founded back in 1927 to promote road and industrial safety, and was barely known to the general public. This anonymity would quickly change with Friedrich’s arrival.

Friedrich quickly rose through the organisation until becoming executive director in 1982, earning a yearly salary of $130,000. It was when Friedrich reached the top position in the NSCV that things started to get out of hand.

John_Freidrich
A very confident John Friedrich during his time as Executive Director of the NSCV in the 1980’s.

Partly organised on paramilitary lines, the assets of the NSCV included multiple helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, flagship, midget submarine, search and rescue boats, vehicles, decompression chambers, computer equipment, infra-red scanners and much else that was shiny, flashy and expensive. Pigeons were being prepared for search and rescue missions, while dogs were going to be parachuted with their handlers into remote areas to look for missing people.

Friedrich surrounded himself with fit young men – some of whom he rewarded with expensive cars, and was especially proud of the elite rescue group, which was known as the parachute jumpers, or PJ’s. Staff of the NSCV had grown from 100 in 1984 to approximately 450 by the end of the decade. The NSCV often worked in tandem with the Australian Defence Forces, and there were rumours that the NSCV may have also had links with Australian intelligence services, or that the whole organisation was a front for the US Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Friedrich, who had been described as an affable, motivated workaholic, was able to transform what had been an obscure and sleepy organisation into a sophisticated search-and-rescue organisation by fraudulently borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars and eliciting the assistance of a few friendly business that helped him ‘cook’ the books. The purpose of the fraud was not for his own personal financial benefit – Friedrich lived a modest lifestyle on a farm with his wife and children on a property near the NSCV’s base at Sale in Gippsland. Friedrich was a classical narcissist, and the building up of the NSCV would put it (and thus Friedrich) in the public eye, where he could bask in the glory of the changes he had made.

Unfortunately for Friedrich, the house of cards collapsed in 1989, due to the use of millions of dollars that he borrowed as cash flow to keep the organisation running. When the NSCV chairman asked Friedrich to explain some anomalies in the financial accounts of the organisation, Friedrich disappeared, leading to the collapse of the NSCV with debts of over $250,000,000. Friedrich became the target of a police manhunt that attracted the attention of the media. Friedrich was reportedly sighted in all parts of Australia , but after a couple of weeks he was arrested near Perth and extradited to Victoria, where he was released on bail.

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A not so confident John Friedrich after his arrest in 1989.

 

Multiple court appearances followed, and when Friedrich realised that he may be deported from Australia as an illegal immigrant, he committed suicide with a shotgun on the 26th of July 1991, shortly before his trial for fraud was to begin. After the collapse of the NSCV, the National Safety Council was restructured – the search and rescue function was disbanded, and the NSC concentrated on promoting safety awareness, occupational health and safety training, consulting and auditing – functions which it continues to this day.

So how did an illegal immigrant with a dodgy past rise to the top of such an organisation and build an empire based on lies and deception? Friedrich himself was one of the key elements – a driven and charismatic man, who was notably successful in persuading others to trust in his ability and integrity, and who had built up powerful connections with bankers, politicians, police, public servants, military officers. These connections protected him from serious scrutiny until there was substantial evidence of suspicious behaviour.

The other element was the attitude of the banks, and the way that they almost pushed money onto entrepreneurs like Friedrich. Between his arrest and suicide, Friedrich wrote his memoir Codename Iago: The Story of John Friedrich”, which was released after his death. While the book contained many lies and falsehoods (Friedrich claimed that he was born in South Australia in 1945, and was recruited by the CIA, given the codename “Iago”, and worked against left-wing extremists before returning to Australia in 1975), his description of the behaviour of the banks when lending money seemed to have a ring of authenticity about it:

“[We] never once had to approach anyone to ask for money. They came to us every time and asked us if we wanted money….They made much more effort to sell their product to us than we did to buy it.”

This video clip gives some information on Friedrich’s life and running of NCSV.

 

The main source for this blog post was the book “The Eighties – The Decade That Transformed Australia” by Frank Bongiorno, Black Inc Publishing, Melbourne, VIC, 2015, pp. 140-142