I was the senior person on the van, at twenty five years old with my brand new trainee by my side, Ed, who was twenty five himself. We were on an early morning shift. It was 7.30 am a crisp Sunday spring morning and the sea mist had just lifted to expose a beautiful blue sky.
Driving down Fitzroy St, it was very quiet, all the restaurants and hotels closed. No one on the sidewalks.
I noticed further down the street a man walking by himself and as we got closer I could see he was an Aboriginal, looking around hesitantly, as he carried a large object. I pulled the van up beside him and motioned to Ed, my partner, the trainee, to hop out with me.
“Good morning,” I said. “What brings you out and about so early and what do you have there with you?”
The Aboriginal man held his hands behind his back, seemingly hiding something.
“Let’s see it,” I said. Finally, he showed us. It was a large, professional, expensive-looking camera.
“Where did you get that?” I asked.
“Found it,” he said.
“What’s your name?” “Simon Black,” he said.
We both raised our eyebrows at this. An Aboriginal called Black. That’s a first.
“Okay, Simon, we will hang on to the camera for now. Hop in the back of the van and we are going down the station for a chat.” Slowly, but obediently, he got in the back of the van.
As we drove towards the station I called into the back of the van.
“Simon, by the time we get back to the station I want to know how and where you stole that camera from, okay?”
My new trainee whispered “Aren’t we supposed to read him his rights, say “You are not obliged to say anything unless —.”
“That’s only in the movies, and besides we haven’t arrested him yet,” I replied.
My trainee got a huge crush on me that day. He thought I was ‘a super cop’ because it turned out in fact that Simon had just climbed into a lovely Stkilda home’s open window about an hour earlier and taken the camera from the coffee table of a local resident.
There was a label attached to the camera with the name of the owner. When we called him, he had just woken up and said “yes the camera belonged to him.” He went into his lounge room and was shocked to find out that a man had been wandering around his house while he was asleep an hour earlier.
I knew I had just got lucky seeing him walking along the street with the camera, it just didn’t fit the picture.
I said, “Okay Simon I know you have done at least three other burglaries recently. Why don’t you tell me about them?” And he actually did!
We spent the afternoon driving around the streets as he pointed out houses that he had burgled and we solved a number of crimes that day. Simon Black pointed out houses he had stolen VCRS, TV sets, boombox radios, etc. In total, six houses and he also gave up his ‘fence’, the guy who got rid of these stolen goods for him.
As we began the interrogations, our local detectives paid a visit. They normally take over at this stage but they said, “You can do this one because Simon has been in and out of jail many times and normally says nothing at all when he’s arrested so you go for it.”
I asked Simon later why he told me everything and he said, “cause I didn’t give him a wack across the ears and I talked nice to him.”
There was a group of local homeless Aborigines at that time that congregated in the Cattani Gardens by the foreshore and drank copious amounts of cheap alcohol out of brown paper bags and then fell asleep in the grass. Most were harmless and just displaced citizens.
The history of the Aboriginals in Australia and the way they were treated is not something our country should be proud of.
They are a nomadic people that were introduced to western ways through alcohol, disease and attempts to urbanize. Generally aborigines are alcohol intolerant which also doesn’t help.
Around the time of arresting Simon there was a huge national incident that made the front page of every newspaper.
There was a local trendy bar in Fitzroy Street, named the ‘Cattani Bar’ just like the local park at the foreshore at the end of the street. The owner refused to serve a man he thought was one of the local homeless Aboriginal drunks and sent him out of his bar. Unfortunately, the owner did not recognize this slightly drunk Aboriginal who just happened to be a famous Aboriginal singer with a number one hit record.
The singer made a national incident out of it and a few weeks later the bar was closed for good.
*This is an excerpt from Sex, Love & Cops.
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