Every year at the end of September two significant events occur in Australia. One is the AFL Grand Final, the culmination of weekly battles played out across the country over six months.
It’s the Australian Super Bowl.
Australian Rules football, also known as the ‘Green Religion’, on account of the sacred ground and hallowed turf the game is played on, is in many ways a reflection of the country itself.
Completely at odds with all other codes of “football” in the world, to the casual observer, the rules are confusing and seem to lack any consistency. For example, there are no helmets or protective padding for the players, making every game full contact. Players are allowed to bump, tackle, clash and even jump on top of another player so long as they are going after the ball. Yet when blood is spilled, the player gets benched until the bleeding stops.
Of course, it hasn’t always been that way. As with everything in this convict-settled land, the rules evolved over time. It’s just one of the many anomalies of what once began as a humble game where men chased an odd shaped ball made of pig skin around a park and made up the rules as they went.
One of key rules regarding contact is to steer clear of the umpire. Making deliberate physical contact or even verbal abuse directed at an umpire isn’t tolerated. If a player were to deliberately knock an umpire out, he’d be on the bench, permanently. For the crowd watching the game, the same rules don’t apply. You can abuse an umpire as much as you like, but somehow even the most passionate of supporters knows the umpire is needed.
Without the umpire, there wouldn’t be anyone to enforce the rules. It would be mayhem on the field. You might not like the umpire’s decision or the rules they enforce, but you also know there wouldn’t be a game without them. In the game of football, they are the police, the thin blue line between anarchy and two opposing sides of fierce men built like gladiators and fit as a butcher’s dog.
Along with the rules are traditional rivalries and a love-or-hate following of fans that range from the down and out to the super rich, from barefoot indigenous kids in the outback to the private school students of the major cities, from the average family to the celebrity socialites, from the wives and girlfriends (WAGs) to the criminals the players often associate with. From politicians to peasants, and everyone in between, what team you follow is almost an attachment to your name, upbringing and family heritage.
The Grand Final is that one day in September where almost all Australians stop what they are doing and watch, swear and shout at the umpire.
But there is another event that occurs on the same weekend, which isn’t anywhere near as big, nor does it attract the same fanfare, but the meaning behind it does, because without it and what it represents, there would not be a Grand Final. There wouldn’t even be a game to start with. There would be anarchy on a much larger field.
National Police Remembrance Day is a time for both police and the community to honour the dedicated men and women who have died serving the community. This year marks 160 years of official jurisdictional policing in Australia and pays tribute to the 157 cops killed in the line of duty.
Like every year, the tribute involves a march through Melbourne toward the Shrine of Remembrance, not far from the St Kilda Road Police Complex, where almost every cop-killer and major criminal has been interviewed, charged and sent to remand.
Bendali Debs is one such man, convicted for the execution of two detectives named Gary Silk and Rodney Miller, both shot to death while conducting surveillance on a pair of armed robbers targeting Asian restaurants in suburban Melbourne.
Evidence left at the crime scene included pieces of glass, suspected to be from the getaway car used by the killers. Police tested the glass and discovered it came from a late model Hyundai hatchback. The vehicle was registered to the daughter of known criminal, Bandali Debs. Debs’s partner in crime was his daughter’s boyfriend, Jason Roberts. Both kicked the umpire in the face and are paying the price, serving sentences in maximum security prisons, with Debs having been subsequently convicted of two other murders and the suspect in several others. He is one of a select few prisoners who has no minimum sentence. For him, Life Means Life.
But getting to this point was no easy task. The investigation took three years before an arrest was made and formed the basis for numerous books and the film “Tell Them Lucifer Was Here”.
Two victims of a similar crime were Steven Tynan (aged 22) and Damien Eyre (aged 20) randomly executed after responding to a report of an abandoned car in Walsh Street, a quiet leafy part of South Yarra, on October 12 1988. Four men were charged with murder but later acquitted. Two other suspects were shot and killed by police before being brought to trial.
In 2005, Wendy Peirce, widow of one of the men accused, gave an interview in the media detailing how her late husband had planned and carried out the murders and was in fact guilty as charged. The shootings are portrayed in the film and book Animal Kingdom and the TV drama Killing Time.
Just like football, the rules of crime and justice are murky and evolve over time, but there are rules, and the rules sometimes get broken. The number one rule in the criminal underworld is to never kill a cop. Most criminals understand that killing cops is not only bad for business, but it slices the thin blue line in two. When that happens, blood gets spilt. Not just by those most affected – the victims and their families – but also their colleagues and the community at large, including the criminals.
It’s like kicking an umpire in the face and stomping on his head. Game over. Period.
Every year at the end of September two significant events occur in Australia. One is the AFL Grand Final, the holy grail of the Green Religion. Then there is March of Remembrance, the holy grail of the Blue Religion. Without one, there wouldn’t be the other. The umpire would be left bloodied and beaten, the players left to run amok on the field in total anarchy while the crowd sat dumb founded.
So once again, this year, I will watch the Grand Final like everyone else, but I’ll also observe the March of Remembrance and follow the procession to the memorial wearing a suit with a hole in the leg as a reminder of the sacrifice the Silk and Millers, Tynan and Eyre’s, and the 153 others have made to provide a community that allows all Australians to come together and watch two teams chase a ball made of pig skin around an oval on the Last Saturday in September.
The 2014 edition of Head Shot is out now on eBook through Amazon. Click the cover below for a look at the trailer.
“Catch and kill your own…
The underworld lives by this code.
When somebody gets out of line, they handle it themselves. The victim ends up face down in a driveway with three bullets in the back of the head. Bowling ball style.
The families don’t call the cops and they don’t expect our help. They wash their own dirty laundry and they do it on their own terms.
It’s been that way since I can remember, probably since anyone can. This is how they live. And how they die…”