A great day to be alive
It was one of those good days in Queenstown, Tasmania.
When I say good, I mean the sun was shining, no clouds and no rain – which was different to almost every other I day I worked as a police officer there. The locals had a saying. “If you can see Mount Lyell, it’s going to rain. If you can’t see Mount Lyell, it’s already raining.”
Have you ever heard of Gormanston?
Ken and I were on town duties when we were tasked to attend the Gormanston Hotel where a woman had allegedly tried to stab a man with a knife. Gormanston was a small town about 10 minutes’ drive up the mountain east of Queenstown on the Lyell Highway to Hobart.
It had once been an accommodation centre for the big copper mine but was then, in 1979, being used by the Tasmanian Government for inexpensive public housing. These days, Gormanston is considered a ghost town with just 17 residents in the last census.
At the hotel we were told the woman had left and the man she tried to stab was her husband who she had found in a compromising position with another woman, behaviour not uncommon in Gormanston or in fact in Queenstown at the time of high unemployment, isolation, limited public transport and low socio-economic living conditions.
Charge her, he said
It was something we had to follow-up, the husband wanted her charged with assault but there was no great urgency on our part, we’d just speak with the woman, offer her assistance and call in the social welfare organisations – at least we thought this would be the best course of action.
I led the way to the front door, noticing on the way two kiddies being dropped over the fence into the backyard by neighbours.
Just as I knocked, the front door flew open outwards and I was looking right into the twin barrels of a 12-guage shotgun.The woman was obviously distressed and emotional, red-eyed and teary, shaking, blubbering speech and the look of someone who might do something stupid.
I stood where I was and ordered Ken to stand back near our vehicle. Although I held no fear at the time, I couldn’t actually decide what else to do. So we stood there facing each other with me trying to calm the situation and explain the gun wasn’t going to help the situation in any way.
Standing, talking, still standing, still talking …….. It seemed like 40-minutes we stood there, more likely about five when she turned and ran back into the house, leaving the gun lying across a lounge. I quickly checked the gun; it was fully loaded with heavy-load cartridges which I took possession of and still have on my dresser to this day.
The kids went back to the neighbours, the woman came with us to Queenstown where we tried to organise for her to have some mental health assistance as neither of us really wanted her to be charged. We arranged for a local doctor to see her at the station and the sergeant of police later decided to let her go with a caution.
I still believe an emergency order giving her a three-day stay at a psychiatric hostel would have been the better option but the matter was taken out of my hands. Now, 40 years later, I can still relive this situation in my mind as if it happened only last week.
I knew then, as now, what damage a gun or rifle can do. While in infantry training I had been accidently shot in the right thigh by another trainee and two years later almost to the day, had been severely wounded in action in Vietnam. What if the woman had pulled the trigger?
There was no escape, there was nowhere to hide or to seek cover, all would have been lost but… just as in the two previous cases mentioned, intervention.
What else has God in store for me?
To this day I believe God had his hand on my life, He had other duties for me to complete and He wanted me alive.
Could it have been the 20 years I spent as a Children’s Ministry leader or perhaps my hand in the setting-up of the Rodeo Cowboy Ministry in Australia? There are people I’ve had a hand in leading to Christ, there is half-a-lifetime of mentoring young Christians or is there something else God has in store for me?
John Skinner served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam then the Tasmanian Police before taking up the position of CEO of the Australian Rough Riders Association (professional rodeo based in Warwick Qld). Before retirement to his small farm, he was a photo-journalist for 25 years. He is married with 3 children and 7 grandchildren.