Read Before I Sleep Online

Authors: Ray Whitrod

Before I Sleep

Ray Whitrod
was born in Adelaide in 1915. He matriculated from high school during the Depression. While cycling around South Australian Riverlands in a vain attempt to find work as a fruit-picker he learnt of a scheme to recruit teenagers as police cadets. Thus began a police career — interrupted by war service and a stint with ASIO — that led to his appointments as the Commissioner of the Commonwealth, Papua New Guinea, and subsequently as the Commissioner of Queensland Police Force. After seven hard years trying to eliminate malpractice in the Queensland force, Ray Whitrod was forcibly presented by the Bjelke-Petersen government with a deputy commissioner, whom he knew to be deeply corrupt. Whitrod resigned in protest in 1976.

Ray Whitrod was active in the establishment of the South Australian Victims of Crime Service. He had a lifelong involvement with Scouting and was awarded many honours, including appointment as Companion Order of Australia and a doctorate from the Australian National University. But once, when asked on ABC Radio what he personally regarded as his finest achievement, he replied, “Marrying Mavis.” He died in 2003.

For Mavis

But I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost,
‘Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening'

Introduction

When I was a boy I lived in a little faux-colonial suburban house in a Brisbane suburb called The Gap, a handful of kilometres west of the CBD. The Gap itself was quite literally the narrow S-bend between Mount Coot-tha and the Taylor Range, in the folds of which the suburb nestled.

I had a happily mundane childhood except for a few things. One was this — in the street parallel to mine, Barkala Street, there lived an important man. I know he was important because he had a driver who picked him up in a big, fancy American automobile each weekday morning and presumably dropped him home again in the evening. I saw the car and the attendant driver many times, but never the important man.

Four decades later, while researching my true crime books on Queensland police corruption, I would put two and two together and understand that the man was none other than Francis (Frank) Erich Bischof, Queensland commissioner of police from 1958 to 1969. I would further learn that Bischof — supposedly one of the finest detectives the state had ever produced — was the primary architect of institutionalised police corruption known as The Joke, that would, decades later, infect virtually every arm of government in Queensland and inflict damage upon the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of honest police officers and their families.

At the end of Bischof's near 11-year tenure as commissioner, he was soon replaced by Raymond (Ray) Wells Whitrod. It was Country Party minister for police Allan Maxwell (Max) Hodges who convinced Whitrod to relinquish his post as commissioner of police in Papua New Guinea, and try his hand at cleaning up the Queensland police force. He took the chair in early 1970.

Even before landing in Brisbane to be interviewed by members of the Queensland Cabinet, Whitrod had heard whispers of a group known as The Rat Pack — this was a triumvirate of officers, Terence (Terry) Murray Lewis, Anthony (Tony) Murphy and Glendon (Glen) Patrick Hallahan — who had supposedly acted as Bischof's bagmen and dogsbodies.

The story of Whitrod's attempts to reform the Queensland police force has been told and discussed in many forums over the years. He believed in educating his troops in a force that, when he took over, had three members who had matriculated beyond grade 10. He believed in the need for more women in the force, rightly arguing that the many benefits of this included the hopeful dilution of a special brand of Queensland misogyny that wracked the police service. And he believed in promotion by merit, not seniority.

What can never be discussed enough is the lead-up to and manner of Whitrod's resignation. It should be studied as a pure example of abuse of political power, as a case of political assassination, designed and executed by corrupt police. In 1976, after Whitrod had endured almost seven years of genuine threats and childish pranks from members of the force supporting The Joke — truckloads of gravel dumped on his driveway in St Lucia, ambulance officers turning up in the early hours of the morning given false reports that the commissioner had suffered a heart attack — two watershed events occurred.

The first was a student street protest march in Brisbane when a young woman, Rosemary Severin, was beaten with a police baton. The moment was captured by television news cameras. Whitrod promptly ordered an investigation into the violence. His Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, interceded and stopped it.

Then police, looking for drugs, raided a hippie commune in Far North Queensland at a place called Cedar Bay. They shot up the place and assaulted residents. Whitrod ordered another inquiry. Bjelke-Petersen said no. Whitrod went ahead with the inquiry and as a result Hodges was sacked as Police Minister and given a new portfolio. Around the same time Whitrod also lost to retirement his trusted deputy, Norm Gulbransen. It left the Commissioner completely exposed in an unfavourable political climate.

When obscure Inspector 3rd class Terry Lewis of Charleville was vaulted over more than 100 officers into the position of Whitrod's assistant commissioner, Whitrod fought. He had put forward the names of three competent officers for the assistant commissioner's position, and was ignored. He had known for years Lewis was one of Bischof's bagmen, and Lewis' appointment would see his attempts to clean up corruption come to nought.

Whitrod argued with his new Minister, Tom Newbery, and demanded to see the Premier. Newbery told him Cabinet was solid on the choice of Lewis. Whitrod demanded to speak to Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and was rebuffed. Smart enough to see the situation as hopeless, Whitrod tendered his resignation and Lewis quickly replaced him as commissioner.

The loss of Whitrod from the helm of the Queensland police force was a tragedy on many levels and had profound ramifications that are still being felt in Queensland today. It took Lewis seven years to rid the force of Whitrod's trusted team, and it was done at great cost. Careers were crushed. Families were destroyed. Lives were literally lost. Dozens of police were either ejected from or turned their back on the profession. Their places were filled with Lewis appointments, and the cycle of corruption jump-started all over again with catastrophic results. The force was instantly politicised. Within a handful of years, the government, the public service, the judiciary and the police force were thoroughly compromised. The Joke soon flourished in a second incarnation, interrupted as it had been by Whitrod's tenure.

Today, the mention of Whitrod's name in Queensland is synonymous with fairness and honesty. In 1983, having returned to his home town of Adelaide, Whitrod started training for marathons. He shed a lot of weight and in photographs was almost unrecognisable as the man who had tried to rid a police force of endemic corruption.

He never forgot those dangerous years in Brisbane. He had struck head-on a system that would not be exposed and dismantled until more than a decade after his resignation as commissioner, courtesy of the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption from 1987 to 1989. Whitrod had tried to tell the world of its existence through his actions. It wasn't enough.

Yet, despite being vindicated by history, he never crowed his achievements and equally didn't express bitterness over this unfortunate period in his life.

There is an anecdote about Whitrod that says a lot about him. As a young boy living in Adelaide, he once “jumped the fence” at a local Australian Rules football match and left without paying the gate fee. The guilt gnawed at him so profoundly he returned the following week and settled his account.

It never happened again.

When Ray Whitrod ultimately went to sleep, it was as a man of unimpeachable honesty and integrity.

Matthew Condon

1
Where I come in

(1915-1925)

I
N the early years of the last century, the smell from Burfords factory in Sturt Street, Adelaide, was so strong that tenants in the surrounding cottages were charged lower than normal rents. My grandmother, Clara Haylock, and her two unmarried daughters took advantage of this economy, renting a three-roomed cottage in nearby Russell Street. Burfords produced long yellow sticks of soap from the fat of boiled down animal carcasses. In those days, few people were able to afford the more expensive toilet soaps, even for personal washing, and I remember that, for many years, my mother shaved pieces of bar soap into the outside copper in which we boiled our weekly clothes wash. Burfords eventually burnt down in one of Adelaide's more spectacular fires — one that rivalled even the conflagration that destroyed Charles Moore's in Victoria Square.

I was born in my grandmother's cottage on 16 April 1915. The Russell Street address is also shown on my birth certificate as my mother's place of residence. I doubt that my parents normally lived with Clara Haylock and her two other daughters. My mother, Alice Olive, had probably moved back to her mother's house for the confinement. Clara was an experienced midwife, so I was probably delivered by my own grandmother. Clara had learnt the midwife's art on the lonely cattle stations around Birdsville in far west Queensland. Indeed, the demands of midwifery so shaped my mother's early years that it is worth starting this story not in the Adelaide of my birth, but in my mother's native Birdsville.

When they arrived in Birdsville in September 1890, Clara and William Haylock had been married for ten years and already had a family of five boys, although four of these were from Clara's previous marriage to a Mr Finlay. The Haylocks had travelled from Tibooburra, in central New South Wales, with a view to taking up a land grant at Charleville in Queensland. However, by the time the family reached Birdsville, Clara was about to give birth to Alice. On her ninety-sixth birthday, Alice told a reporter from the
Adelaide Advertiser,
“A doctor in the town talked my father into staying for a few days, because my mother was quite pregnant. It's a good job they did, because it was a difficult birth and I don't think I would have made it without the doctor.”

The enforced stay in Birdsville cost William Haylock his grant of land in Charleville. In those colonial days, Birdsville was a major staging post on the droving route from north Queensland to the rail head at Marree. It boasted a police station, three pubs and a customs house. There has been little change in the surrounding country from that day to this. The flatness is broken by sand dunes that run in long, jumbled lines to the north west. Between the sandhills are broad flats on which cattle can find enough pasture to keep themselves alive, although the casual visitor may often doubt that this could possibly be true. The watercourses are usually dry; when they are not, they are in flood. In times of flood, the Diamantina can be many miles wide. Clara and her family stayed in Birdsville for fourteen years. With the meagre resources available to him, William set himself up as a carrier along the Track. When Alice was eight, William's team of twenty horses was stolen, and while he was tracking them on foot he perished — perhaps he drowned in the endless Diamantina which was then in flood. (My brother Frank's version of this story is that William simply got fed up and left. At this distance it is impossible to tell what really happened — William's body was never found.) Clara battled on, working as a midwife, attending to the needs of pregnant women on station homesteads.

To be present at a birth, Clara had to arrive at the station well before the baby was due, and she would not leave until both the baby and mother were doing well. As a result, she was often absent from her own home for weeks at a time. These days it is almost impossible to imagine leaving a nine- or ten-year-old girl on her own to run a household which consists of herself and four younger children. Yet outback life at the turn of the century was like this and Alice, my mother, routinely became the acting head of the household. She also had the responsibility of providing the town with its supply of fresh goats' milk. This required not only daily milkings, but also driving the herd of twenty goats to and from the town common every day because of the danger of dingo attacks at night. Her elder brother and her four older stepbrothers were by now working as station hands elsewhere and were not in touch with the family — perhaps because they were illiterate, perhaps due to lack of interest, or perhaps because of distance.

Years later, when my mother used to tell me stories about her life in Birdsville as she was tucking me into bed, she would recall how, if any of the children got sick while she was in charge, she would go across to the police station to seek advice. She well remembered the kindness of the sergeant who would take down a big book on home remedies, and the two of them — the big, old policeman and the little girl unable to read — would work out how best to use the limited medication available: castor oil, Bates' Salve, bread poultices, and the like. On other occasions there would be rowdy, drunken brawls at the nearest pub, which was only a short distance from their home. Alice would try to comfort the other children while she waited for the sergeant to restore order. Sounds magnify at night in the desert, and these violent encounters and bad language must have been terrifying to a small girl.

My mother would often tell me how she would look across the intervening paddock at night and see a light in the police residence — something which helped calm her anxieties. She described how she would take her sisters and brother out to the sandhills to play with Aboriginal children, or walk down to the Chinaman's garden by the lagoon to buy fresh vegetables.

My mother would describe to me the terrible drought which lasted from 1898 to 1904. Water holes became claypans; cattle died in their thousands; the Diamantina and Cooper's Creek were totally dry. Supplies in Birdsville fell so low that people were reduced to living on weevilly biscuits because the usual carriers could not get up the Birdsville Track from Marree. My mother recalled how the townspeople would listen at night for the sound of camel bells. Years after the event, she would speak with emotion about the feeling of relief that washed over her when that distant tinkle of bells heralded the arrival of the Afghan camel drivers and their essential supplies.

Alice was very conscious that she could not read, so when a little one-teacher school opened when she was ten she was delighted. On her ninety-sixth birthday, she told the
Advertiser.
“It was lonely for us kids, but when the Birdsville school opened in 1900 our whole life changed. We had a school picnic once and I remember staying awake all night, I was so excited.”

My mother always referred to her teacher as “strict Mr Duggan”, and he may well have been the source of her fierce desire to obtain the best possible education for her own children. Alice, however, was only able to attend school for two years because when she was twelve her mother, Clara, found a job for her working in the store at Mulka. Gladys, the next oldest girl, aged ten, then took over as surrogate mother during Clara's absences and assumed responsibility for the goats.

Mulka Store, just beyond the Natterannie Sandhills in the centre of the sand country, is a lonely spot halfway between Marree and Birdsville. The store has since crumbled, but it was an important calling-in place for all the hardy souls who then used the Track. Few in numbers, these travellers must have been the store's main customers. Tom Kruse, who for many years carted mail up and down the Track, once said of the Mulka Store: “You'd see it there in the distance, its iron roof shimmering in the sun. It was a very welcome sight.” Sometimes wandering Aborigines would call and curiously inspect the stock. The store managers, a husband and wife, also ran a small cattle herd and were often absent. So, at the age of twelve Alice would spend days by herself, seeing nobody and nothing but the empty Strzelecki Desert. She found a set of Charles Dickens books in a crate in one of the sheds and she read and reread them all over the next two years.

My mother and I flew to Birdsville in 1974 when I was the Queensland police commissioner. We called at some of the nearby stations and some of the people we met remembered Alice and her brothers and sisters from the old days. At Birdsville, I was accepted as I had been nowhere else in Queensland. I was treated as part of the family, I had come home. In Brisbane and the rest of Queensland, I was always regarded as “mexican” — someone from south of the border.

When Alice was fourteen, Clara Haylock moved her family to Adelaide so the younger children were able to attend state schools. William, the elder boy, aged sixteen, had already taken a station hand's job, so he stayed in Queensland. Alice found herself a job as a waitress at West's Coffee Palace, a cheap hotel in Hindley Street. There were a number of so-called coffee palaces in Adelaide in those days. They had earned their name because coffee and tea were all they served — no liquor — but they provided inexpensive accommodation in the centre of the city and were attractive to station hands and other working folk from out of town. Many of the station hands from along the Birdsville Track would have made their way to Adelaide and a bed in a place like West's, as it was easier to go south rather than east to the Queensland coast for holidays. Years later, when I was a young constable in the South Australian Police Force, I often had to call at West's Coffee Palace to inquire whether anybody on the “wanted” list was staying there. I never told the proprietor that my mother had once worked in his establishment as a waitress.

After the Coffee Palace, Alice found another job with better hours — as a chocolate dipper at the confectionery factory of A. A. Walton in lower Grote Street. A photograph taken at the time shows her to be an attractive young lady of about twenty with dark hair, bright eyes, a tidy figure, regular features and a pleasant smile.

It was while she was working at Waltons that Alice met my father. He had been christened Walter, but was generally known as “Tim” (from Tiger Tim because he was the smallest by far of his brothers.) At the time, he must have just finished his five-year apprenticeship as a confectioner and was working in the “starch” room at Waltons making boiled sweets and “jubes”.

My father's father, Raamiah, an unmarried shoemaker, had migrated from Norfolk in England, in 1871 when he was thirty-two years old. The Whitrod family were long-time residents of the Fen country, having recorded births and marriages there since 1550. They had been mainly country folk, farm labourers, small farmers, yeomen. Village shoemakers were made obsolete by the large output of footwear from city factories that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution. The shoemakers seem to have dispersed — at least from the small villages in southern England — and at least one, my grandfather, migrated to that far-away land, Australia. Perhaps he was able to do so because he was single.

His emigration may also have had something to do with George Fife Angas's campaign to recruit free settlers for South Australia from amongst the Protestant religious fellowships in England. In Adelaide, Raamiah became a committed lay preacher in a Methodist circuit at Thebarton. But he first settled at Mt Barker, which was then a thriving town presenting itself as a possible rival capital city to Adelaide. He probably worked as a shoemaker/repairer. Two years after he arrived in Mt Barker, Raamiah — then aged thirty-four — married Elizabeth James, a girl of sixteen.

For the next twenty years, the couple lived at Mt Barker, producing nine children at two-yearly intervals, before moving to Thebarton in west Adelaide. Perhaps the move was the result of Raamiah's ill-health. He died not many years later. I do not know how his much younger widow and her younger children survived. All of Raamiah's sons secured stable employment, only one following his father's trade of shoemaker. The others became a driver of horse trams, a driver of brewery wagons, a railway guard, a boilermaker, a jeweller and a confectioner (my father).

My father, then aged twenty-four years, and mother, aged twenty-two, were married in a Methodist church in Morphett Street in the City on 4 December 1912. It is likely that this would have been, for both of them, their first serious relationship. Their first child, Sidney, was born a year later, and I appeared two years afterwards. Sid died some time during the First World War from diphtheria and I survived as their only son until Frank was born in 1923. There were no other children.

My earliest memories are of our home at 1 Murrays Lane, in the West End of the City of Adelaide. I must have been about four years old. I can dimly remember walking with my father and mother to King William Street to join an enormous crowd celebrating Armistice Day 1919. We stayed for a while and then, on the way back, my father carried me on his shoulders.

Murrays Lane is a short dead-end street off Gouger Street near the West Parklands. Number 1 was at the start of a series of terraced, three-roomed cottages. A similar terrace occupied the other side of the lane. I spent my first six years there quite happily. In our house, my parents had the front room. I had the middle room which had a skylight. The small kitchen had a wood stove, and there was an outside copper for boiling the Monday weekly wash. The small backyard was bounded on two sides by the narrow lane which in earlier years had allowed the passage of the night cart. This had been the sole method of sanitation when the houses were built. All the privies were, of course, at the bottom of their respective yards. They were equipped with ten inch squares of old newspaper on a wire loop. I first discovered paper toilet rolls when I was about sixteen. I cannot recall anyone in Murrays Lane having the newspapers delivered, but everyone saved them, both for lavatory use, and for swapping at Turners, the local butchers, for a pound of sausages. The butcher used them to wrap the purchase which had been first wrapped in a small sheet of more expensive greaseproof paper.

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