ON AT THE
Cashbook and Claypan
Birdsville or Bust
East From Oodna
Alive in the Dead Heart
B-line for Birdsville
Lord of the Lockup
Legendary Birdsville Track Lawman Eric Sammon
Thommo Leads in Dashaway
Once our seismic survey party had reached Eyre Creek we were in 'Sammon Territory' and all of our dealings switched from Alice Springs and Oodnadatta to Birdsville exclusively. Eric's bailiwick became our stamping ground, too. CGG were to work the area bounded by the four 'B's of Birdsville, Bedourie, Boulia and Betoota for the next twelve months and we joined in with the locals at every opportunity, engaging them in pursuits such as cricket and football challenges, not to mention our enthusiastic rollups at the races.
Thommo and the President's Cup
"I've got nineteen emoluments and I earn more than Bischoff",
was Sammon's boast to me, pointedly demeaning Bischoff, his Police Commissioner in Brisbane. Though to his credit, Eric took on the honorary community jobs as well, such as office-bearer for both Birdsville and Bedourie Race Clubs. Bedourie hold their weekend races a week after the Birdsville meeting and Eric Sammon was on hand when CGG's sweepstakes entrant Dashaway, strapped by John Thompson, won the 1964 President's Cup. Thommo, snapped in his front yard with the cup, still cherishes the win.
The combined Post Office and Police Station was on the opposite side of the airstrip from the Birdsville Pub in the old verandah'd building third along from the corner. Around the back were the two cells forming the sum total of the Birdsville lockup's capacity. A most redeeming feature of the cells was the fact that they had no cell doors fitted. These had been thoughtfully removed to allow for the comings and goings of any occupants (who might have been waiting any time up to six weeks for the next visit of the circuit magistrate). There seemed to be no escape possible, even without cell doors, for Birdsville offered no easy way out for even the most-determined felon, for whom the frontier town at the apex of the Simpson Desert and the Birdsville Track must have appeared the end of the line in every respect.
The Old Birdsville Post Office and Police Lockup
Eric arrived and delivered a warning to Elva and Joan alone that the liquor laws of the state required him to clear the bar by 11pm and he added that he would be back to enforce the Act. This brought much mirth from the gathering which rapidly dissipated when the Sgt came back in uniform at 11pm and arrested both women, stunning my party into silence. We couldn't imagine such provocative behaviour in a tiny outpost of eight white people and sixty-three native Australians.
Eric charged them both and bailed Elva immediately on her own recognisance but threw his wife Joan into the hoosegow, where she was to stay and await the circuit judge, due, we heard, in six weeks. This was a serious turn of events, we believed and a grave injustice for poor Joan or so it would appear. I learned years later from Elva that it was a regular occurrence; Eric developed a habit of locking up his wife and imprisoning her. It gave him access to an extra income - she was contracted to the State to provide meals for prisoners and in this case she was the prisoner and duly collected the allowance, although she ate all of her meals in the residence and eventually got let off with a bond when judgement day came.
The Hub of the Birdsville Universe
One fine day a group of CGG men sat soaking up the scenery from their spot on the verandah and were amused to see Eric Sammon waving to them from his verandah, where he'd moments before pulled up his truck and trailer, loaded with mail and goods off the fortnightly TAA plane. They bought another round and still he waved on. One more drink and they were surprised to find him still waving. Finally, curiosity overcame them and they roused and hopped in four or five Lannies to roar around and find Eric was indeed in a bind.
The Indefatigable Side of Sgt Sammon
Visitors to Birdsville will know there is a dusty laneway providing access for these buildings all in a row. At Christmas 1963 I had a special request for Sgt Sammon. Our Party Chief wanted all of the migrants in our crew lacking Australian driving licences to be given driving tests before they departed on leave for the Gold Coast (and their rented holiday cars). There is maybe thirteen panels of fencing in that laneway shown in the photo.
Eric's solution was to have them one at a time drive our five ton supply truck the length of the laneway and back, whereupon the driver would change places with the next applicant who would emerge from among his fellows on the back, and so on. It was my job to type up the licences. As Eric gave their efforts the nod, I identified them and typed in their details and he signed them. In this way, twenty free 10 year licences were granted and I got one that I became very attached to, for the address was endorsed C/- Birdsville Post Office.
The Warning Sign at Birdsville
Back in Sydney on New Years Day I read of the alarm being raised when a note was found in the missing Page family sedan car. It was reported that they had lost their way when confused by tracks left by oil survey crews. I was apprehensive that the tracks might have been my own, as I had done a couple of round trips during the last mission from deep within the Simpson to Birdsville before we broke through and past Eyre Creek and on those occasions I had circled south via Old Alton Downs and on across the Birdsville Track to Pandie and then to Birdsville. The main party of CGG workers had never been within a bull's roar of Goyders Lagoon and I was steadily convincing myself that I might have been the culprit. The reports were sketchy and inconclusive and even right up to my return on the first Saturday of the New Year, the metropolitan press were none the wiser about the fate of the Pages'.
Sergeant Sammon Inspects the Page Family Vehicle
Outback Australian policemen have for a long time enjoyed a reputation as quiet, laconic and resourceful bushmen and Eric Sammon was certainly on par with the best of them and no shrinking violet when it came to action. There had been trouble in our camp in the Simpson at times with weapons abuse, fuelled by grog and, while we were outside his area of jurisdiction being in the desert, Eric put it to me to pass on to the men that as far as he was concerned his area of influence was what counted and that was wide enough for him to look after anything officially that we wanted him to cover.
Up to that point our few recalcitrants had been smugly reckoning that they were out of the law's way and were popping off any amount of wildlife and in one nasty incident one drunken stalwart had to be rushed by aghast onlookers and disarmed when he was threatening to shoot first his pet dog and then anyone trying to stop him. All weapons from then on were housed in the cabins of the locked trucks in the motor pool and not allowed within the precincts of the camp, lest Eric be called in. Thanks to Sgt Sammon's reputation, it worked a treat.
||Try the "with Malice a'Forecourt?" link and read what they did|
|Alive in the
||Thommo's Desert Report||The BeeGees Page|
|Coles Express Picks On a Pensioner||The Kid From Towra Point|
|Bulldozing a Desert||Trans National Causeway|
|Signwriter for the Simpson||The Long Haul|
|Simpson Desert Birdlife||French Line Circa 1979|
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