By HARRY CLARKE | EDITORIAL
There’s a well connected regional news cameraman who I understand was the first member of the media told about the terror unfolding in the Wieambilla forest last Monday afternoon.
His tip led to me being asked to race down in that direction, from my home in Chinchilla, to begin covering the shooting story for the Seven Network, as well as for the Country Caller.
On arrival, near the scene of the shooting, I saw a veteran local policeman from Chinchilla directing drivers travelling south, toward Tara, to turn around.
Two ambulance vehicles were parked at the checkpoint as well. Paramedics were assembling first aid equipment.
Countless more emergency crews would arrive at speed over the next few hours.
I’d known that police officer since 1996 when he visited my Grade 1 classroom. I’d never seen the whites of his eyes until he turned to me on the side of the Chinchilla-Tara Rd and shouted “Harry you need to get away too, for your own safety”.
What followed was four days of adrenaline, fatigue, grief and anger as we, the media, covered Queensland’s worst crime story in my memory, certainly the worst crime story in my time as a journo.
Six dead in a shootout, two of them police officers, 38km from my home. That’s not very far in the bush.
There’s a lot of wonderful things about the Western Downs region but sadly, from here on, it will be known in part for the madness that occurred here last week.
I met Rachel McCrow in June this year at the Miles Police Station while covering a story about the town welcoming its first ever Indigenous officer.
She was lovely. We got chatting over morning tea. Rachel told me she was filling in at Miles for a few weeks between jobs.
She’d been working in Dalby and was about to begin her first official posting as a constable at the Tara Police Station. She said she planned to serve there for two years.
On the weekend that Rachel was due to begin, Tara would be hosting thousands of visitors for the community’s biennial Festival of Culture and Camel Racing.
We caught up again at the festival.
I was there taking photographs and interviewing people and she was there in uniform with her new colleagues, chatting to locals and getting to know her adopted community.
We laughed at the irony of how, in the quiet, sleepy town of Tara, her first weekend on the job would be the most eventful time for the whole two years she intended to be there.
How hauntingly wrong we were.
When it was confirmed on Monday night that two police officers from Tara were among those killed at Wieambilla, of course my concern turned immediately to Rachel.
Initially I believed, based on the early information I had about the victims’ ages, that she must have been the female officer who got away.
But at about 2am on Tuesday morning a cop told me via text message that Rachel was indeed the female officer who was killed.
That’s what’s made me angry over the past 10 days.
This young policewoman, who’d told me how excited she was to be embarking on her career in the force, had been murdered by cowards hiding from the world in the back blocks of our region.
As Rachel’s former partner said to me last week, “she just didn’t deserve this at all”. Needless to say her friend and colleague, Constable Matthew Arnold, and the Good Samaritan neighbour, Alan Dare, didn’t either.
The Wieambilla forest has a reputation for being a pretty rough part of the world.
“Tara blockies” is the derogatory nickname for the people who live there.
It’s very poor country. You’d barely spot a roo or even a snake in that scrub, let alone run cattle or grow a fruit tree.
Some of the dwellings have no power or plumbing and the living standard would perhaps best be described as impoverished.
Going back to childhood, everyone I’ve met from Wieambilla have been friendly, salt of the earth, carefree people.
In a lot of television news stories we include what are called “voxies” or “vox pops”.
It’s short for vox populi, which is a Latin term meaning “voice of the people”, and it’s when we ask random members of the public for their thoughts on the story.
Probably the most profound voxie I’ve recorded was on Thursday afternoon when I briefly interviewed Tara resident Bernie Baber outside her local police station.
She said of the killers:
“No one I know, knew them people. The fact nobody knew them speaks volumes. We support our police, so they’re not like us. They’re not what our community is about.”
“My heart is broken for the police and the neighbour as well. I think it’s important now that we support these guys and they know that, on our properties, they’re always safe and we’ll always have their back.”