Mad Gorilla used to do a song called Highway robbery and it was a true story, very freaky but true. The highway was The Highway Hotel at Wentworthville which is gone now. There’s a super market or something there now. It wasn’t a real big room but a decent size with a good stage. The back doors were right next to the stage on stage left (or house right for the punters, are you confused yet?) and about 8 steps down into the carpark.
Plenty of room on that side of the stage and the other side was against the wall. All in all it was a pretty good room to work in. It was the October long weekend so instead of finishing our week on Sunday we had this gig on the holiday Monday. It wasn’t a big crowd but it was a good friendly crowd and the gig itself was uneventful. From memory Frank Seckold (aka Franky Valentyn aka Percy Sludge aka Kate Bush) turned up for the show and after a chat with the band he left while we were starting to pack up. George was still playing keys at the time & Geoff was on drums.
We were tired and keen to get out of there so the pack up was going pretty quick. The truck was in place ready at the end of the gig so as soon as everything was unplugged it was going in the truck. I had room to put the road cases out ready to be loaded in order to go straight in the truck as they were packed, we were flying. The first of the PA was going in the truck while I was packing the drums. All was looking good. As I brought the kick drum down from the stage the boys went past behind me with another mid bin to the truck. As I was fiddling with the bloody stupid lid on the case ( Geoff still has that kit & cases) the boys came back in from the truck. I was cursing the thing when I heard the back doors closing. They were your usual double doors with the push bars on them, I’ve heard that sound so many times I can hear it now. The last thing I needed was someone playing silly buggers.
My head snapped up and I said “Hey mate open the doors we’re trying to fuckin’ load out” the guy had his back to me. He was about ten foot away (3metres kids) He had blue overalls on and a blue & yellow Parramatta beanie “Mate open the fuckin doors!” As he turned he pulled the beanie down like a balaclava and pointed a sawn off 12 gauge shotgun at me! Now for your sake I hope you have never looked down the barrel of a shottie being pointed at you by a man wearing a balaclava; believe me it looked about the size of a train tunnel. “Shut up,get your hands up & get over there with your mates!” In a calm but very firm voice as he pointed with the shottie. Of course I put my hands up & said “That’s cool mate, its cool” Only then I noticed his mates were already in the room and they were herding everyone over against the wall. Two were behind the bar and had the staff & manager. OH SHIT!!!!!
As I was moving over to the wall it looked like a couple of the girls were gonna crack up & I said nice and loud to them “Just stay calm OK?” “That’s right, don’t do anything stupid!” said our gun wielding Parramatta supporter. Everyone was backed against the wall. Me and Zac were the last herded in so we were right at the front about 10 foot from him. Zac as I later found out had just come out of the bosses’ office after picking up the money for the gig and had a wad of cash in his pocket. I’ll bet that for just this one time he wished it was a cheque! The shotgun kept panning back & forth along the line of us, slowly, deliberately, while he kept his eye on us. He didn’t sound nervous when he spoke just firm & confident; this guy was a pro he’d done this before. That was the only thing that kept me from shitting myself. I was thinking to myself if someone got shot it wouldn’t be by mistake they would have to do something stupid. His mate’s had taken the manager into the office to get the takings. This was a long weekend so there would have been takings from Friday to Monday & being a holiday weekend the bottleshop takings would be bigger than usual as well.
Everything is dead quiet and all of a sudden BOOM! from the office. The Parra supporter took a half step back and looked for a second at the office door as a ripple of nervous noises came from behind me. I took the chance to whisper to Zac “Have we been paid?” he gave me a glance that could kill and whispered “SHUT UP!” (I’m sorry Zac it was a really stupid thing to do) Our guard told us to shut up and stay still. Pretty soon his mates were back out of the office with the cash. The manager was told to get over with us and they headed for the door. The Parra supporter was backing away from us toward the door, still covering us with the shottie. He told us to stay where we were for 5 minutes, no phone calls & anyone who went out the back door would be shot. He left and slammed the doors shut behind him. There was a pause and then everyone was talking at once and all of a sudden two of the bouncers were running for the doors. Everyone was yelling at them not to as they burst out the door. I was expecting carnage but nothing happened, they were gone. We hadn’t heard a car, nothing. They just disappeared.
It didn’t take much to get the boss to pull some beers, the first round went down quick & we grabbed another one & got back into the pack up, pretty soon the cops arrived and they wanted to talk to all of us. We joined the others at the bar and by Christ those beers tasted good! Free beer always tastes good but after something like that they taste even better. We told the cops what we could but it wasn’t a lot really. More beers helped to get rid of the shakes and when the cops told us we could finish the load out we got it done double time. The car park was crawling with cops. It sloped down to a creek with a swampy flood plain area on either side and they had dogs looking for tracks etc, lights everywhere. We went back in and did an idiot check (to make sure nothing was left behind) & grabbed a six pack. We said our goodbyes to the staff and headed out the back. The night was still and the sky clear. It seemed particularly beautiful for some reason, funny about that. The cops had left. Engines were warming up and we piled into vehicles. I think we were in their car jumped in with Zac & Coby in the passenger seat. They were parked next to the truck facing the skip bin next to the stairs. As we rolled back from the parking spot and the headlights were turned on we all saw the scariest thing. The lid was up on the bin about 2 or 3 inches and a pair of eyes were staring at us!!! The lid dropped down & we got out of there as fast as we could!
They were in the fuckin’ bin the whole time! Holy shit!!! They must have realised we saw that guy looking at us. Do we go and tell the cops? NO FUCKIN’ WAY!! They would have been gone by the time the cops got there anyway. If them or their friends got wind of us talking to the cops they wouldn’t think twice about getting some revenge. We weren’t hard to find either as there were ads in the street press, local papers and posters up for our gigs all over the place.
The guys from the armed robbery squad had told us that that robbery fitted the pattern of a number of others they were investigating. And every time they just disappeared. Not long after they got caught and it was only then I relaxed. Skip bins had been making me nervous. The cops had also grilled us about the audience that night. Was there a group of blokes who didn’t socialise and left early? Was there anyone checking the back door or side of stage area? They were sure those guys had been there scoping the place out. We took more notice of the punters for a while after that.
The whole robbery part of thing had taken less than five minutes but it could have been hours. Very, very freaky.
In about September 1980 I was in the back of the truck packing the gear on a Sherbs loadout, the gig was the Comb and Cutter at Blacktown. I was yelling into the open doors for what ever it was I need next and at the back of the truck appeared a guy in a balaclava pointing a shot gun at me…I thought it was a practical joke and told the guy “stop wasting my time c***, cant you see I’m working here, pissoff. He told me in a calm clear voice that he and his mates were ripping off the pub and if I wanted to keep breathing I should go inside and lie on the floor with everyone else…the robbery took only a few minutes, the robbers got away with over 30 grand and as soon as it was over we finished the loadout and went home. No free beer but I always had dope in those days and I reckon we probably smoked non stop from Blacktown to Bondi. I later heard that it was one of a series of similar robberies in the western suburbs…I wish I had your memory Recko, clearly I smoked too much pot, but its pretty interesting over 30 years later to hear your story. Your crew and my crew at the time probably just blew the incedents off as part or our jobs, lives, lifestyles…I wonder how todays crew would handle shit like that, some of them would probably claim stress leave.
Yeah mate we fronted up for the next round of gigs & joked about it.
The bit that really scared me was seeing those eyes looking at me out of the skip bin! Knowing that they knew we’d seen them & the cops had said it fitted a pattern of other armed robs. Makes me wonder if it was the same mob. It was about the same time as well. Same type of target too. As for my memory it does take some time to get things in order and talking to the people involved. We all burned the candle at both ends back then & lost plenty of brain cells. People have talked to me about stuff that happened that i’m fucked if I can remember, stuff that I was involved in apparently. The gigs were wild back then & we got used to stuff that would definitely have crews these days in counselling.
One of the only things I remember about that night was a copper teling me that it was a local gang that had already done several identical jobs…the MO was to sneak in the back door where the crews were loading out, thus catching the pub staff unaware…I guess the impact of that night has faded in my memory compared to other more personally traumatic experiences of those days.
‘How to get rid of the vice squad’ ……..classic !
I just cant believe he was an Eels Supporter 😉
Well there ya go Rob, seems there’s bad apples in every bunch! I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a bunnies supporter.