Story 18 - Last Night in Brisbane

(Extract from ‘The Cream of Her Youth’, Chapter 7 by Stuart Weller) 

The last night in Brisbane (1 May 1967) for 104 Signal Squadron before deploying to South Vietnam, saw a large number of the guys deciding to go to the National Hotel in the City for a few drinks.   By closing time (10pm) the boys were charged and it appeared no allowance was to be made for Vietnam bound diggers and they were asked to leave.

 Geoff Molineaux who depending on who you talk to on the night’s events could be seen as anything from a 'victim of a horrible misunderstanding’ to a ‘noble, good Samaritan and righter of wrongs'.

Anyway it appears Geoff was one of the first out of the Hotel but was a little stirred, saw what looked like a 104 guy sprawled face down on the roadway with an unknown person standing over him.  Geoff enquired as to the problem and why one of his mates was face down on the roadway.  They were obvious requests and Geoff may have been a little rude in the way he posed them.  That is he grabbed the vertical one by the scruff of the neck, spun him round and belted him one on the mouth – always intending of course, to ask the question shortly thereafter.  You can imagine Geoff’s surprise therefore, when the guy (through a mouth full of loose ivory and busted lips) informs him (Geoff) that he (with the loose ivory) is a loyal, card-carrying member of the Queensland constabulary.

 Well, as Geoff was to say later, "You could have flattened me with a feather!"  That however, wasn’t quite what the good policeman had in mind and Geoff was somewhat taken back when, with all his defences down and his mind in a whirl the good policeman returned the compliment and loosened a couple of his bicuspids.  That’s not cricket of course, as Geoff had felt he’d already squared things away by apoligising profusely and so all bets were off.  More of 104 poured out of the National, more Queensland police gravitated to the scene and it quickly developed into an all in brawl.

 A few of the 104 guys did a job on Queensland’s finest and a number escaped in a fighting withdrawal movement – Some of the police looked like they had damaging rounds with a cement mixer!

After Queensland’s finest got the best of the engagement, a number of 104 guys were cooling their heels in paddy wagons, on their way to the city watch house.  Geoff however, was closely examining one of the tram poles in the middle of the street.  John Lonergan was handcuffed to another pole and spends a quiet half hour trying to chew through the cuffs. 

 Geoff remembers while the others left in their wagons, he was taken separately “the long way round” in another, with 4 or 5 police for company.  They insisted on him examining each and every panel of “his” wagon by bouncing him off them with their fists.

 Next morning saw Geoff almost alone in a cell, most of the others having been released as they’ve sobered up.   Still with Molineaux was John Lonergan who hadn’t woken up yet – John sure knew how to enjoy himself!

 Geoff and three others were charged with a grab-bag of offences and appeared before a beak at a special early morning sitting of the court.

 Capt Ren Hinton, 2IC 104 Sig Sqn, arrived at Enoggera and has, in no uncertain terms, informed the duty officer at the front gate what he can do with his sick joke about half of 104’s men being in the city watch house overnight.  You don’t need things like that happening the night before; you’re due to lead the main body of 104 to war.  After the orderly room confirmed that sizeable percentage of the unit have been through the watch house during the night, he seriously considers opening a vein.  Ren contacts the army legal eagles and had somebody front for the group and orders the rest to parade in front of him.  So there he sat, the unit’s senior officer (Major Lawrence, the OC was already with the advance parity in Vietnam), with four members in the slammer, the Queensland police still looking for others, the bulk of the rest hung-over and showing definite signs of wear and tear, due to fly out to a war this afternoon and suddenly very, very alone in command – Duntroon’s training, had not prepared him for this!

 Hinton was to say later that it was a useless exercise trying to get the correct story.  All the blokes were either lying or could not remember.  He learnt little and the only thing he was sure, he got out of it was a headache.

 Meanwhile, back in court, the defence lawyer makes big of the fact that all the boys were high spirited because:

 "To-day …(pregnant pause, followed by a slow and deliberate turn of the head to look at the wall clock) …that is to say in exactly 3 hours, 10 and one quarter minutes – these soldiers must be on the tarmac at Brisbane’s Eagle Farm Airport to board a plane to fly to Vietnam.  Last night’s get –together was a final farewell to Brisbane and quite possibly Australia, before departure to an uncertain and danger fraught existence in the steaming jungles of Asia in pursuit of an enemy etc, etc"

 "I am sympathetic to your plight gentlemen", says His Honour the beak, who is apparently a WW1 or WW2 veteran.

 "Thankyou, Your Honour", put in the 104 quartet.

 "But we must not allow all this fighting in the streets to continue", say His Honour.

 "Couldn’t agree with you more, Your Honour", echo the 104 four.

 "Who is going to make restitution to the detective for his suit and the police uniforms?", asked His Honour.

 "Your Honour, we’ve acknowledge our guilt and accept that we must pay".  A quick whip around between these in the dock and the amount required of $50 was handed over.

 "Very well then", says His Honour, "In that case I find you guilty of the offence as charged and you are to remain guilty until the rising of the this court" Guilty for all of about 5 seconds!

 While the police sit dumbfounded the boy’s bolt – they’re sober now and know what the score is with the Queensland constabulary. 

 With Geoff still looking over his shoulder for his police mates, he boards the plane mid afternoon and the main body of 104 departs Eagle Farm for Darwin as planned, with all members and a very relieved Ren Hinton!

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