It was going to be wet that Thursday when Mary got ready for school. It was October 6, 1972. Mary was twenty and she was a teacher. It was a small school in the north of Victoria only thirty kilometres south of the large inland city of Bendigo. When I say it was small; there were only six students, all girls and the eldest two were eleven.
Mary was fashionable and dressed in her short mini-skirt and wore a heavy crocheted sleeveless jacket. Her boots came to below her knees and had heavy leather soles. This is important information. It was an ordinary day. Mary was an ordinary girl, young, only just out of school herself but things were about to change.
I wonder what they learned in school that day.
I went to her school the other day, 46 years later. The school closed on the 7th of October, 1972 but the building is still there. It is built solidly of local granite and is now a house.
Back in 1972 it looked like this;
This is Mary’s Torana parked outside the school.
But today the school is a little different.
It is surrounded by trees and I didn’t want to pry.
When I drove into Faraday I saw nothing to indicate that it was once a small town. Now there is an old church, the old school and a sign. That’s about all. Kids don’t go to small local schools. Today they get bused into the big towns. And that’s a bloody shame.
Back in 1972 the road wasn’t bitumen and there was no sign. But that didn’t worry two unemployed friends Robert Boland and Edwin Eastwood. This day they were going to be famous.
Boland and Eastwood walked into the school about 3.00 o’clock in the afternoon with a sawn off shotgun, and forced Mary and the six girls into an old delivery van. They left a note at the school demanding a ransom of one million dollars and threatening to kill all seven of their captives. They drove the van into a remote part of the surrounding forest.
When the authorities were informed the Premier of Victoria said that he would pay the ransom. You can’t put a price on six little girls.
The Minister for Education, Lindsay Thompson, who later became the Premier of Victoria, rushed to Faraday. In the car with him was the Assistant Commissioner of Police who was dressed as the Minister’s driver. He was armed with a concealed weapon and on the floor of the car, covered with a blanket was a policeman, Mick Miller, who was armed with a high-powered rifle. Mick Miller later became the Chief Commissioner of Police (1977-1987). He was also a graduate of the US FBI Academy.
Eastwood and Boland did not turn up to the rendezvous as expected but later that night they told Mary that they were going to collect the ransom and left them locked in the van. While the two men were away, Mary started kicking in one of the door panels in the van with her heavy leather boots. I told you they were important. With a little help from the two elder girls they succeeded and escaped.
The two men were captured, tried, and sentenced to fifteen years in gaol.
Safe and sound. The girls, Mary, The Minister for Education, and the two cops all with smiles on their faces. Real smiles, not political vote getting smiles or cop smiles. Real smiles. Real ‘you are all safe’ smiles.
Mary Gibbs was awarded a George Medal for bravery. The Medal is a decoration of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, awarded for gallantry “not in the face of the enemy” and was presented to Mary, with all the girls, by Sir Rohan Delacombe the Governor of Victoria.
And if that isn’t enough go up to the top of the page and look at the smile on Mary’s face and the little girls looking at the medal. It’s a real joyful lump in the throat photo.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. It is enough.
And PS. Mary was only twenty and she coped. I know some people who don’t cope as well and they are older.
But if you want more then ;
On 16 December 1976, Edwin Eastwood escaped from Geelong Prison after stealing a car.
On 15 February 1977, he kidnapped a teacher and nine pupils from the Wooreen State School in Gippsland, Victoria. While driving off, he collided with a truck and held the driver and his partner hostage. Twenty minutes later, another log truck came along and Eastwood waved it to a stop before taking the driver and passenger hostage. He then commandeered a campervan with two female occupants and also took them hostage.
Finally, with sixteen hostages, he demanded a ransom of US$7 million, guns, 100 kilograms of heroin and cocaine, and the release of seventeen inmates from Pentridge Prison. However, one of the hostages escaped and notified police, and Eastwood fled with the remaining hostages; after the campervan was disabled by police gunfire at Woodside, Eastwood was shot below the right knee and re-captured by police. (Eastwood claimed that he was shot after surrendering to police whilst unarmed.)