I can’t remember the name and our paths only crossed once but had a profound effect on me. It stays with me to this day.
I left school at 15, jumping before I was pushed: I hadn’t been getting on with the powers that be at school. They were determined to get rid of me one way or another: my political activities in relation to Vietnam and the Springboks had made me a marked man.
My parents were devastated and offered to pay for me to go to Uni if I would stay on and bite my lip. I was having none of that; University was for rich kids back then and I wasn’t one of them bastards….I was going out to work.
After about a year in the meatworks and a couple of factories, my mother convinced me to sit for the Commonwealth Public Service exams. I passed, and was accepted. The purchase of some polyester garments soon followed, and I reported for duty. I was sent to a musty filing section in an old office block.
There was lots of wood panelling, overhead fans, and creaking leather chairs; the cool gloom in the old building’s shiny corridors was almost Victorian, but I didn’t mind. The work was a lot less physical and I didn’t end the day covered in blood and shit, so I was definitely on the up as far as I could see.
My first task upon arrival every day was to go to the post office, see if there was any mail, and then collect the daily editions from the newspaper offices at the other end of town. I had pointed out to my superiors that I passed both these establishments on the bus coming to work; and could quite easily hop off and do both jobs on my way in, but that was not how it was done. I had to sign on in the old green book which sat on a lectern inside the door, then go straight out again, and walk back the half-mile or so to do the pick-ups.
It didn’t really matter, it was a chance to get out and about, wander through the record shops, and go for a bit of a stroll in the early morning sun. The city has a fresh feel about it then; the smell of brewing coffee, newly washed footpaths glistening, and the calls of paperboys echoing down the slowly awakening canyons. I thought it wasn’t a bad wicket really, at least I wasn’t out in the suburbs on a building site in the blazing Brisbane sun.
One morning I headed out, umbrella in hand, as light showers had begun, and for some reason decided to do my run back to front. I headed down an alley as a shortcut, and, as I passed a loading dock, noticed a bearded man standing in the drizzle staring at me. He was carrying some roses in a long cardboard box, and just standing there getting wet. Our eyes met for a second as I passed, and I thought,
“What’s he doing…bloody idiot.”
I gave it no more thought, and headed out onto the street to complete my round
It would have only been twenty minutes before I returned, as I had been in a bit of a hurry due to the worsening weather. As I got to the end of the alley there was a crowd further down, police were pushing people back, women were sobbing, and there was a definite commotion in progress. I got to where I could see what was happening, and the blood ran out of my head and into my solar plexus.
There was a young girl lying in the alley. I couldn’t see her face: only the long, blonde hair flowing out from under the police raincoat that had been placed over her, and being gently washed the rain. A single bullet hole in her leg trickled a thin stream of blood to meet it in the gutter. Opposite her was the man I’d seen earlier, a rifle sticking out of the cardboard box, and the roses scattered about his body as it lay there with the brains blown out.
I stood there in horror for a minute or two; then, realising that I couldn’t do much, and the boss would be waiting for his paper, went back to the office. They were unaware of what had happened just opposite the entrance but soon crowded the windows for the glimpses of the grim tableaux we could catch from our floor.
As I sat back down at my desk, I was consumed with emotion: I had seen the bastard, I should have known, I could have stopped him… if I’d only left a few minutes later I would have been there…I could have stopped him…maybe saved her… why didn’t I pick it?…he was obviously suss…I should have known!!!
This was nonsense of course. Who could know that he was lying in wait to kill this girl as she walked to work? Feelings of rage overtook me…the dirty bastard…Why do it? Kill yourself if you want to, but don’t take the life of an innocent girl just because you can’t take it!!!!
I began to hate him with a ferocity that consumed my every thought, and it got to the stage where I couldn’t function. I stormed out of the office and paced the rainy streets in a daze. That cooled me off a bit, and after a couple of hours it settled down to a dull seething rage; I was still livid at the monstrosity of it all, and I didn’t even know her.
The news that night gave a lot more details; as did the next day’s paper, and the more I learnt, the more my loathing for this murdering bastard took hold.
He had been stalking her for ages: she had even changed jobs to get away from him, but somehow he had wangled a position at the same firm and relentlessly pursued her; she had no escape at home or work.
She was sixteen and he was nearly forty, and a bit of a drongo to look at, so he had no hope, but wouldn’t give up. He was the ultimate dickhead who wouldn’t go away: every girl’s nightmare. In the end, one of her male co-workers pretended to become engaged to her in an attempt by the rest of the staff to get him to go away and leave them all in peace, but it backfired badly.
He had followed her from home to work and back again so many times that he knew which entrance she used to leave the train station and set up his ambush accordingly. He apparently hadn’t uttered a word, just walked up and let her have half a dozen rounds point-blank, then stepped back laughing and sucked the barrel for the next one. I was outraged at the gutlessness and stupidity of it. Where the hell did this creature think he got the right to just take over this person’s entire life and make it a misery?
An animal stalks its prey to survive, but this was total selfishness of the most evil and destructive kind. Why hadn’t someone done something before it had gone too far? How had this been allowed to happen? It was a horrific example of the downside of our worship of beauty, and a failure of society to provide her with our most basic social rights.
His mother apparently told the press that she couldn’t believe this had happened because he was such a good boy: he had always lived with her, and never hung around with “bad women”.
They were bible-bashers of some description, and I’m never been big on them, so I was further infuriated the thought of this pious fuckwit, still living with his mum at his age, snuffing out the life of an innocent girl my age, because he was too pissweak to just go out and get a woman his own age.
How much of this rampaging anger was sublimated inadequacy because I somehow felt that I’d failed, or just the common reaction to the death of a pretty young girl, I don’t know, but I was very upset about it all. It may have just been shock, as they called post-traumatic stress in the good old days. I do know that I really hated that miserable turd, but couldn’t take it out on him or anyone else.
The injustice of the tragedy, and my powerlessness to prevent it, was magnified my own adolescent self-doubt to a degree that really disturbed me, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Once the press interest had run its course and all the fuss settled down, it became just another big city story, probably only remembered the families, and it slowly sank into my subconscious, until many years later.
I was talking to my girlfriend of the time one night, about how much effort I had put into the chase snaring her: she had been with someone else when we met, but I’d seen that as a temporary obstacle, so I kept an eye out, and hung around, until the right moment arrived.
We finally gave it a try and were now living together. She began to tell me how wary she was of guys who were too keen, because of what had happened to a friend of hers about eight years earlier: she had never spoken of it since because it had been so traumatic. She had been working in this office when an “old guy” got a job there and her best friend and workmate had freaked when she saw him….you can guess the rest.
I was stunned, it all came boiling up again, the disgust and loathing was just as strong; the coincidence of it was secondary to the resurgence of that frustrated anger, and it surprised me how strongly I still felt. We never spoke of it again.
It has now been over thirty years, and I can still see that morning’s events as clearly as if they happened yesterday, although I don’t know why: I’ve seen a lot of horrible things since then that are forgotten or hidden away in the mind’s basement.
These days we are constantly exposed to human tragedy, and stalking is commonplace media fare: but back then it was something unknown in my little world; and maybe that exposure to the dark side of sexuality is what impressed me so much at the time.
I now think that it had a marked effect on my own attitude to women. I have always seen the mating game as exactly that, and when I was a younger man, a sporting approach was never too far from my thinking. Looking back and emotions notwithstanding, a healthy view of the whole proceedings always stood me in good stead.
I was, however, always careful to take no for an answer; partly out of respect and partly from pride. Perhaps, deep down, I feared that I might appear to be like him: a pathetic supplicant, and a loser, and doesn’t a small piece of the cringing beggar who turns nasty exist in all of us?
It’s possible that I may have learnt a small lesson from his worthless life and her pointless death, and that it affected my dealings with the women I have met in my life.
It’s debatable, however, and whether or not I come out with a positive reading on Judgement Day is something I’ll have to wait until then to find out.
It would be nice to think that some good somewhere came of that terrible incident, but that’s cold comfort if any.