TROUBLE AT THE POWER STATION
In the early days of Yallourn, life was demanding and hardly idyllic for the workers on the project; and it is documented that the camps were not without ‘trouble and strife.’ Numerous newspaper reports, of that early period of local history, provide some insight into the ‘comings and goings’ that kept the Yallourn constabulary ‘ever watchful’ and always busy.
The following extract was unearthed in the ‘Weekly Times’; and reported on an attack of a nightwatchman, Peter Wells, in Yallourn in 1931. Fortunately, and thanks to the prompt action of SECV staff, Mr Wells escaped from the ordeal relatively unscathed; and, as the report shows, the trespasser was ‘chased down’ and ultimately arrested.
The footnotes attempt to provide some details of: (i) The subsequent hearing at the Morwell Court of Petty Sessions and (ii) Snr Constable Collier, a police officer of some repute in the district.
MAY 30TH 1931 WEEKLY TIMES PAGE:6
Attracted by cries for help and moans near the Yallourn main office on the night of May 26, three members of the Commission staff, Messrs. H. Ashley, C. Mitchell and C. Muir, found a watchman, P. Wells, lying on the ground while another man brandished a large knife above him. They immediately challenged the intruder, who is alleged to have replied that he was "just having a bit of a fight with his mate."
Wells bore scalp and neck wounds, and was in a state of collapse. His assailant suddenly took to his heels, with Messrs Mitchell and Muir in pursuit. The man tore through a two-stranded barb-wire fence, completely uprooting a post.
Chase to River
The chase led through the bush and close to the Latrobe River, where the fugitive was overthrown and held. It is alleged that while Wells was on duty in his box, a man, brandishing a knife, demanded to be allowed to pass through to the Power House.
The intruder then entered the box, dismantled the telephone, and attacked the night watchman. The police have detained a man who recently arrived at Yallourn.
1. The incident at Yallourn received wide coverage in city papers such as the ‘The Age’ and ‘The Argus’ while a country newspaper paper the ‘Riverine Herald’ led with the headline: ‘Alleged Assailant Arrested’.
2. As for the subsequent court case, the ‘Morwell Advertiser’ (June 5th 1931) provided a most comprehensive report on the matters before the Police Magistrate; and several newspapers mentioned the accused man’s name. One press report stated that he was a member of a gang from the Fitzroy- Collingwood area.
3. It is believed that Mr Peter Wells was 69 years of age when the incident took place. Reports on his condition varied depending upon the newspaper one read. . One local weekly paper said that Mr Wells was lying on the footpath, semi-conscious and suffering from blood loss. Whatever was the truth of the matter, Mr Wells was in a parlous state and he was taken, by ambulance, to the Yallourn Hospital for further treatment…
“Watchman Wells, a South African veteran, was treated for scalp and other wounds at Yallourn Hospital.” Source: ‘Morwell Advertiser’ May 29th 1931 Page: 3.
4. For younger readers the term ‘South African veteran’ may mean that Peter Wells served in the Boer War (1899-1902). Using the AWM archives, twenty-three soldiers with the family name ‘Wells’ were listed but more information was inaccessible about the above Peter Wells.
5. It is unproven but possible that Mr Charles Muir was the same ‘C. Muir’ who was an active member of the Yallourn Glee and Madrigal Society and featured in various musical productions in the town. No further information could be gathered regarding Charles Mitchell or Mr H. Ashley who assisted Mr Wells that night.
6. The arrested man was charged on the information of Constable James Ryan; and he presented before Police Magistrate Mr Downs at the Morwell Court of Petty Sessions on June 2nd.
7. During the hearing, the accused man’s prior convictions were listed and taken into account by Mr Downs in reaching his verdict. The accused man received fines for trespass, damaging property of the SECV and for the charge of unlawful assault he was imprisoned …
“A third charge of being a rogue and a vagabond and being on an enclosed area without lawful excuse…..(he) was given six months imprisonment with hard labour.” Traralgon Record June 4th 1931.
8. One of Yallourn’s best-known police officers of that era, Snr Constable W.M. Collier, was stationed at Yallourn for 12 years. Mr Collier was the police prosecutor in the above hearing and presented the case against the defendant.
9. Senior-Constable Collier was praised for his brave actions in rescuing the Brock family (and others) during the unprecedented flooding in the area in December 1934.
10. Snr Constable Collier was held in high regard throughout Yallourn and district. He later gained promotion to the rank of 1st Class Sergeant and transferred to Russell Street, Melbourne, in June 1939. In one newspaper report he was described as…
“He (Mr Collier) was stationed in an industrial centre where a lot of tact and ability was required, and in this respect Sergeant Collier had distinguished himself, and he ventured to say that he was esteemed and respected by men he had prosecuted, as well as by all other sections of the community, because in doing his duty he had been straight and fair and never took an unfair advantage of anyone. Source: ‘Morwell Advertiser’ July 6th 1939
The research and writing of this article were completed by Roger Spaull and presented and posted by Julie George for the Virtual Yallourn website in September 2019.
The above extract from the ‘Weekly Times’ has been faithfully reproduced. The only amendments to the original copy are the font style, font size and spacing, so as to enhance the story for the purposes of posting on the Virtual Yallourn website.