A huge fireball ignited by two cans of petrol engulfed the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley on March 8, 1973. The fireball and its lethal gases killed 15 patrons at the popular nightspot. It became one of Australia's worst mass murders resulting in the arrest and conviction of James Richard Finch and John Andrew Stuart. The firebombing also left an indelible impact on my psyche. It was an impact I documented in my book Intractable because it was a significant turning point in my life story.
At the time of the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing I was doing time for armed robbery. I’d already been classified as an intractable prisoner following an attempted escape from Parramatta Jail and was transferred to Grafton Jail. It was there I observed a recurring pattern. It became a familiar pattern over the next 35 years. It was a pattern that created dire consequences for society as a whole. And it was a pattern I strived to avoid.
Men like Finch not only experienced the institutional brutalisation concept of Grafton Jail as an adult prisoner they also shared another common denominator. They had been raised by the State of New South Wales as children.
The formative childhood years of Finch, and men like him, had been secretly nurtured by institutionalised violence at Tamworth Institution for Boys in northern NSW. It was the mini Alcatraz of the NSW juvenile justice system. An institution cloaked in secrecy by the NSW Child Welfare Department.
It was 1973 when Archie “Mad Dog” McCafferty became Australia’s answer to Charles Manson after he graduated from Tamworth boy’s reformatory during his teens. McCafferty received three life sentences for leading a ragtag gang of drug-crazed teenagers on a thrill-kill rampage through Sydney’s western suburbs.
It resulted with the indiscriminate murder of three people. During the 1980s McCafferty formed part of a prison execution squad dubbed the “Grim Reapers”. Each gang member had a tattoo of the grim reaper somewhere on their body. They were responsible for at least three prison murders.
William John Munday was another graduate of Tamworth boy’s reformatory. He was also member of the “Grim Reapers”. Munday received a life sentence for the 1981 prison murder of bank robber and prison escapee Steve Shipley.
At the time of the murder Munday was serving 58 years for a violent rape rampage throughout Sydney. In 1979 he escaped from the Morrisset hospital for the criminally insane with John Cribb. The pair kidnapped two teenage girls and held them as hostage sex slaves until they were recaptured.
Peter Schneidas was a Lithuanian child migrant who became a school truant because he couldn’t speak English. The State of NSW made truancy a crime and Schniedas was swallowed up by the NSW Child Welfare system that eventually placed him in the Tamworth Institution for Boys for running away. Schneidas was a non-violent offender.
In 1979 Schneidas bludgeoned a Long Bay prison guard to death with a hammer in a senseless, unprovoked and motiveless attack. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and served 20 years, mostly in solitary confinement, before being paroled in 1998. He died from a heroin overdose shortly afterwards.
Perhaps one of the most notorious graduates from the Tamworth Institution for Boys was Arthur Stanley “Neddy” Smith.
Smith murdered and exploited the corruption of Sydney police in an unprecedented and violent rise to the top of Sydney’s organised crime milieu. Smith was a major player in the Sydney underworld wars during the 1980s but he received a life sentence for the unprovoked stabbing murder of a tow-truck driver during a 1987 road rage incident. He was later given another life sentence for the murder of Sydney brothel-keeper Harvey Jones.
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