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Brothers in Arms
By Lindsay Simpson, Sandra Harvey
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2012 Sandra Harvey and Lindsay Simpson
All rights reserved.
Shots at the clubhouse
Mrs Lesley Proudman's eyes opened wide in her darkened bedroom. Jolted from a heavy sleep, she held her breath.
Then she heard it again — a deafening explosion outside her bedroom window. This time she knew exactly what it was.
Pulling back her tapestry bedspread, she leapt up and ran slipperless to the bedroom door.
Clad only in her long winter nightie, she was halfway into the loungeroom before she realised she was running. Curiosity propelled her towards the large front window, where she knew the blind would be up. Here, standing in the dark, her presence as an observer would be undetected.
Peering into the night, she picked out the figure clearly. He stood isolated in a pool of light from the street lamp in the empty turning circle. Across his groin cradled horizontally in both hands was a pump-action shotgun.
The figure, in a bulky black leather jacket, seemed frozen, staring, as if towards her. She gazed back at him, transfixed. For a moment they seemed linked in an unspoken conspiracy.
He broke the spell, turning quickly, the shotgun dangling awkwardly from a strap in his right hand. She noticed the car parked behind him, and two other men. One climbed into the driver's seat and the other slammed the door on the passenger side.
Mrs Proudman blinked and they were gone, disappearing up Louisa Road, rounding the first bend with a resonating crunch as they changed gears.
No, she didn't get the registration number, she couldn't see — it all happened so quickly. "And, no, I didn't really hear anything else, but wait, there could have been shouting."
Later, Mrs Proudman would curse herself because she left her glasses sitting on her bedside dresser. Was it a Holden or a Valiant? Well, it was pale coloured she had thought an hour later, standing in the the cold street in the company of two uniformed policemen.
She turned from the window, released from her spell. Skirting the large mahogany coffee table, she made for the front door, hurtling down the outside stairs and almost colliding with the dark figure coming up them.
"David! Did you see? That was shooting again ..."
"Yes, yes, I know, I was flat on the floorboards. Are you okay, Lesley?" His breathing was quick and shallow.
"I saw him out of the window ..."
"You did what, Lesley? What were you doing at the window, woman? You could have been killed."
"I saw the man with a gun, it must have been the same fellow as last time
"What on earth were you doing looking out ...come upstairs. I'm ringing the police."
Back in the loungeroom again, Mrs Proudman talked excitedly.
"There were three of them ..."
"Yes, I heard them all shouting. I was reading in bed when they drove up."
Reverend Connolly switched on the lamp next to the phone and began dialling. It was the second time in two days he had rung Balmain police station. He remembered the number from the night of the first shooting.
"I heard the racket as the car sped up, Lesley, I was expecting — ah, yes — it's Reverend David Connolly here, from Louisa Road, I'd like to report another shooting. No, no-one hurt ..." But the trembling in his free hand was a telltale sign that the Reverend was clearly shaken.
"The police are on their way, Lesley. Now, where's your gown? Put it on or you'll catch a death of cold. I'd like to know exactly what's going on around here." The Reverend's words made Mrs Proudman realise just how cold she was, and just how foolish she'd been standing by the window with the blind up and the gunman opposite. She imagined the gunman hadn't seen her.
Back in her bedroom, she pulled on her dressing gown and found her glasses on the dresser. How silly can you be? she thought to herself.
Constable Peter Blinman had convinced himself some hours earlier that 11 August 1984 was going to be a bugger of a day. Earlier that morning, during an unexpected downpour, the police car in which he was a passenger slid off the road sideways into the gutter. He spent the day filling in paperwork.
Now, at 2.31 am, already into August 12, just when things were quiet and he and Constable Barry Powter were patrolling the narrow back streets of Balmain, the call came over the radio: "Shots fired at Louisa Road, Birchgrove. Nearest car in attendance."
Powter was not impressed. He was working a double shift because his replacement had rung in sick. But Blinman radioed back to confirm their attendance.
"Address, please. This is car 48, VKG over."
"Number 150," Blinman repeated after the crackling radio had responded. "That's not the bikies' place is it?"
The two constables had seen exactly two years' service in the police force. Blinman, a tall young man with a deep voice, was two months senior to Powter. "Shit, just our luck, you and me and a pack of bikies," Powter rejoined. "We'll look real good."
Counting the numbers down Louisa Road, Blinman was sure he was correct. Powter dropped into second gear as they crawled along. Yes, there was 150, the large old wooden house with the red tiled roof at the end of the street — the bikie clubhouse.
It was in darkness. The redbrick side walls had eerie shadows cast by the street lights leading down to the Long Nose Point ferry. Powter stopped in the turning circle at the end of the street. Neither man was in a hurry to open his car door.
The bikies had been in the upstairs kitchen when the shooting started, drawing in turn on a carved bamboo bong, inhaling lungfuls of sweet-smelling marijuana, and staring with drug-addled introspection around the place they called their home.
On the grey and white laminex table someone had spilt tomato sauce. Dirty plates stood piled around the sink and on the table. The remnants of Big Tony's leg of lamb, yesterday's feast, lay congealed on some of the plates in thick, white grease.
Charlie Sciberras, a diminutive figure with a woolly goatee beard and fuzzy black hair, was telling jokes. The laughter that followed was infectious.
Some time after midnight, a few of the men crawled into the bedrooms off the kitchen, bedrooms of sorts — bare rooms with double mattresses and little other furniture to be seen.
Seven men were there that night, all of them Bandidos. Four men lived there permanently. Rua Rophia, a tall, handsome Maori known to his brothers as Roo, Stephen Cowan, whose club name was Opey, Big Tony Cain — another New Zealander with a neanderthal-shaped head, and Chopper, one of six Campbell brothers in the Bandido Motor Cycle Club.
The upstairs kitchen, where the seven men now lay shaken, cowering on the floor, was used by the clubhouse residents. It was here their enemy had attacked, smashing the kitchen window and spattering shotgun pellets through the shabby, fibro sheeting around its frame.
When the first shot was fired, Charlie was standing, leaning up against the wall underneath the window, his black droopy moustache framing the wooden stem of the bong. Without warning, a pellet sliced the air above his head and lodged in the kitchen cupboard. Charlie gasped, and then laughed, partly from disbelief and partly from the effects of the marijuana.
Roo had a hangover. The Bandidos had been partying all day Friday and all day Saturday. The shooting made Roo sober. He was impressed enough to whistle in disbelief.
"Boom, boom, smash ... man, that's what I heard," Charlie said, making the most of his brief flirtation with death.
"You'll never believe this, man," he said later to Roo. "Look at this ... the fuckin' thing whistled through my hair like this." He ran his fingers through Roo's black shiny mane. "Hell, brother, if I'd been any bigger ..."
Chopper took control of the situation as soon as the first shot was fired. He switched off the kitchen's single electric light and ran downstairs into the bar, where the club shotgun lay across the carved wooden bartop. Upstairs again, he took up position to the right of the shattered window.
He strained around to the left and saw the gunman in the turning circle opposite. He recognised his scrawny frame and lifeless long hair. Chopper took aim and fired one shot.
He turned and looked at Rick Harris, whose club name was Lout. "I got the bastard."
"Fucking idiots," Roo said. "They're crazy, man, they're really trying to fuckin 'kill us."
"I'll bet the woman next door rings the cops. The whole neighbourhood'll know about it."
"We don't want the fucking pigs inside here swarming all over the place," Chopper addressed the men in the kitchen. "I'll handle it, I'll do all the talking."
The men laid low in darkness until they heard the car roar off down the road. Then Chopper went downstairs with the gun, opened the front door and looked gingerly up the street before venturing out to the top of the front steps.
"The Pres" should be told right away. They couldn't afford to slacken off on guard duty. Next time someone would be killed. Those bastards meant business.
Chopper, whose real name was Mario Cianter, was a somewhat hot-blooded Italian, used to being in charge. Although not an office bearer, he was one of the the club's older and more influential members. And as a Campbell, albeit an adopted one, he assumed a natural authority. Out of the seven people in the house that night, he felt he was the most responsible.
"Keep inside," Chopper motioned to the two men behind him. "I'll do the talking."
At least, Reverend Connolly thought, this time the police had been quicker. Standing at the loungeroom window, he heard the patrol car approach and saw the lights sweep the turning circle. He secured the cord of his dressing gown before going outside to meet them.
"Good evening. Yes, Reverend David Connolly, the man who rang you. I'm a visitor to Sydney and I'm staying here at number 148, Mrs Proudman's house. Mrs Proudman stood behind him, her hands deep in the pockets of her winter dressing gown.
Glancing to his right, the Reverend saw several men emerge from the house next door. They looked a ferocious lot. He was momentarily struck by the bizarre situation. Big, scruffy men standing around in sloppy joes and jeans, he and Mrs Proudman in their night attire, and the two uniformed young policeman going through the motions, emulating experienced detectives. This time, he was sure, the bikies were angrier.
Another police car pulled up and three more officers, and another neighbour in a dressing gown, joined the odd assortment of people in the middle of the road.
"I was terrified out of my wits," the Reverend continued. "I was downstairs reading when I heard a car speeding down the road towards us. It was just like the other night."
The uniformed constable scratched away in his notebook.
"... Next I heard was doors slamming, lots of shouting and then the gunfire started. It was then, as I lay face down on my bed, I heard shots returned from the house next door."
Chopper ignored the Reverend's last comment. He told the police his name was Cooper Lewis (Louie Cooper was one of the Bandidos still inside the clubhouse). "I don't know why anybody would shoot at us," Chopper lied. Behind him, the other men stood silent.
"I don't know who it could possibly be ... imagine if my lady was making a cup of coffee at the window, she could have been killed ..." said Chopper, anger still brewing.
Constable Blinman, Powter and Chopper walked to the rear of the house where they looked up at the smashed second floor window.
Powter returned to his police car, then started to search the roadway under the No Standing sign. He was rewarded. Bending down, he picked up a red coloured shotgun cartridge lying about 30 centimetres from the kerb. Back in the police station at Balmain, he placed the find in his locker.
The bikies, or bikers, as they preferred to be called, moved in on a Sunday afternoon in late August 1983. At that time, they were members of the Comanchero Motor Cycle Club. The lease was signed by "Mr S.J. Curtis" on 26 August 1983, rent stipulated at $300 a week.
"Mr Curtis" (in reality Stephen Cowan, known to his brothers as Opey), provided two references to the manager of the real estate agency in Darling Street Balmain. He gave the name of an employer — J & B Fencing — from which a certain "Mrs Ross" described him as "reliable".
The other comment on the application form under reference checks came from a Mrs King, named as his last real estate agent. It was a little more effusive: "Tremendous, always on time paying his rent."
On the day he inspected the house, "Mr Curtis" was dressed in a cream coloured sports coat, his long hair neatly plaited at the back. He appeared to be a reliable if somewhat unusual tenant. After all, it was not easy to rent out a house at $300 a week with $1530.45 required in advance, particularly as both the inside and outside of the house badly needed a paint and some of the carpets were stained. But Opey had been on the look out for "something with a bit of style", preferably near the water and close to the city.
On that Sunday afternoon in August 1983, Mrs Proudman and a friend were sitting on her lounge suite sipping a cup of tea when they heard the utility trucks pull up.
Mrs Proudman, a kindergarten teacher nearing retirement, was the widow of a clergyman who died fifteen years earlier from multiple sclerosis. Quiet and thin, her olive-brown skin showed signs of middle-age but her body was still trim and agile. She had a quiet way of speaking, almost subdued, but occasionally she permitted herself to laugh like a schoolgirl.
From her loungeroom Mrs Proudman had a bird's eye view of Long Nose Point Reserve, the turning circle opposite, and the house next door.
She stood at the window facing north, astounded at what she saw.
"Just look at this!"
Three utility trucks completely blocked the turning circle. The white wooden gate leading up to the steps of number 150 swung open as three men in leather jackets laboured under the weight of two poker machines. They struggled up the front steps. "That fellow there with the long plait is the one who came down with the real estate agent," she explained to her visitor.
As she spoke, her friend read out loud the insignia on one of the men's jackets, the lettering embroidered in gold in a horseshoe shape: "Comanchero Motor Cycle Club".
Behind the three who disappeared into the house with the poker machines, two other men struggled with a large neon sign with the same club name in red and yellow letters.
"But, Lesley, poker machines aren't legal are they? I mean they can't be serious, moving things in like this in broad daylight ..." The two women watched, unnerved by the spectacle.
"Space invader machines? No, I don't believe it ... and no furniture that I can see." Mrs Proudman, always practical, looked back to the utility trucks.
Two days later Mrs Proudman still felt uneasy about her new neighbours. She had been marking exercise books when she heard the sound of hammering and decided to investigate. The first thing she noticed when she walked past the old garage was a series of little white lines painted diagonally across the garage floor and in between each a Harley Davidson motor cycle was neatly parked. She crept under her balcony around to the back of the house. As she peered through the downstairs window, she cupped her face with her hands in astonishment.
A large wooden bar had been erected across the middle of the main downstairs living area, straddling the room under an archway. Next to it, on the wall, was a blackboard with prices chalked up. "Jack Daniels 75c a nip, Fosters and Tooheys $1 a can." Then she noticed the photos pinned around the bar, snapshots of men standing next to motor bikes. It looked like a Hall of Fame.
"It's a clubhouse, for goodness' sake! They're turning it into a bikie clubhouse ..." she said out loud to herself.
Never in the history of Louisa Road had the residents seen such occupants as the members of the Comanchero Motor Cycle Club. The street was a mish-mash of expensive double-storeyed homes. Its residents included a famous Australian author, a playwright, a pop star of the 1970s and various people from the wealthy fashionable set of Sydney society. The winding, narrow roadway ran the length of a peninsula that jutted into the sprawling Parramatta River.
Number 150 is one of the prime pieces of real estate in the street, standing as it does overlooking the river and the Long Nose Point Reserve. Perhaps it needed a little renovation, but the structure was sound. Built in 1910, it was typical of the grand houses of its time, with high white stucco ceilings upstairs and down, double windows facing the foreshore and a large cool sandstone wine cellar in the basement. Its gardens, deteriorated from neglect during the years the house had been up for rent, were built in layers with sandstone walls like military parapets facing the river. Square holes were drilled in the stone, as if ready for cannons.
Excerpted from Brothers in Arms by Lindsay Simpson, Sandra Harvey. Copyright © 2012 Sandra Harvey and Lindsay Simpson. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Shots at the clubhouse,
2 Two leaders,
3 Tale of two clubs,
5 The war begins,
6 Presents for Father's Day,
7 The Viking,
8 The battle,
9 The aftermath,
11 The following days,
12 The dawn raids,
14 The diary,
15 The hanging,
16 The verdict,