In 1934, various news reports across Australia alluded to a spate of ‘ransoms for cars’ in Melbourne. Apparently a car would be stolen, the owner would be contacted and informed that they could get their car back for a price.
Various articles covererd the topic across Australia that year.
RANSOMS FOR CARS
PAYING RANSOM FOR STOLEN MOTOR CARS
CARS RANSOMED Demands Of Melbourne Thieves
Art Of The Kidnapper
Looking further through the various news articles from this period , it appears that there was only one reported instance of the ransom tactic.
“A week ago today, a motor car was stolen from William street, Melbourne. Four days later, the owner was informed by telephone at his office that if he went unaccompanied to a lonely spot in Royal Park, having first announced by advertisement in a newspaper his acceptance of the conditions of secrecy insisted on by the thieves, his car would be restored to him in return for the payment of fifty pounds” (Chronicle, Adelaide, 1 Feb 1934, ‘Art Of The Kidnapper’)
And so, some more general reports give the impression that this was a crimewave of sorts. However the Williams Street theft is the only one cited. The owner, at great cost, got his car back but the police never caught the people behind it.
The Doomed Bird of Providence’s song Ransoms for Cars, maybe embraces the idea that it was an unparelled attack on the drivers of Melbourne in the mid-1930s. The video for the song with it’s unscrupulous kangaroos, bewildered koalas and hard-nosed kookaburra reporters is maybe a bit more dramatic than the reality.
Track 9 off the new Doomed Bird album is called Unlawfully and Maliciously Murdered. It concerns a murder of Sicilian market gardener Giovanni Garetto in Werribee, near Melbourne, in late 1932.
His body was left with over 50 gun shot wounds.
The general consensus is that Garetto had no enemies, yet it’s hard not to think that there must have been motivation for what he kept under his pillow:
Little clues could be found pointing to who the murderer was. Police started to speculate that Garetto was the victim of the Camorra, ‘an Italian secret society’. Although, some contested this. Local Italians suggested this unlikely as he wasn’t stabbed to death. What possibly convinced police to pursue this theory further was the incredible efficiency with which the murder was carried out. They couldn’t find any clues of any sort at the scene.
Having said this, it was also suggested that he was simply the victim of a grudge.
Garetto’s wife and child were still in Vizzini, Sicily at the time of the murder. Had the murder not taken place, they may have emigrated over and lived in Werribee. But this was not to be the case.
Track 3 on the new Doomed Bird album is called 119 Tins of Opium Came to be in Port Phillip Bay. It is drawn from a news report in The Riverine Herald, August 1931.
Mr P. H. Holden, Sub-Collector of Customs, who is endeavoring to discover how 119 tins of opium came to be in Port Phillip Bay, near the Heads, on Sunday, said today that on Sunday a motor launch was seen cruising in the south channel, taking a zig-zag course down between Sorrento and Portsea. Fishermen said that the launch which, they did not recognise, was working- toward the Heads.
The opium, it appears, was dropped in the bay attached to lifebelts. The floating package included the 119 tins and ‘ six opium smoking lamps’. The launch that took a ‘zig-zag course’ mentioned in the article clearly missed the dropped off package. The suggestion is that because the tide was seven knots the floating package was getting pushed out quicker than perhaps the launch anticipated. So they misjudged the location. I haven’t been able to find any details on who the person/people were on this launch.
…was photographed for a mug shot. The early 20th century had trade that was alive and well with real and fake opium. William was at the time of the photograph, short of luck. Indeed it seems, 5 years later, so was the captain of the zig-zagging boat that tried to locate a large quantity of opium floating in Port Phillip Bay.
Track seven on the new Doomed Bird album is called A Skeleton Found in a Limestone Cave. It tells the story of:
A skeleton found in a limestone cave in the Mungana district is believed to the remains of a prospector Frederick Stanley who disappeared on September 20, 1924.
Having looked a little further into this it appears Frederick Stanley was an Englishman who had lived around Mungana (in northern Queensland) for two decades. He went missing six years earlier and there are reports from then to that effect.
There are limestone caves in the area and in fact where Frederick Stanley was found wasn’t that far out of Mungana, a mining town. The area he was found in was called the Lime Bluffs, only about a mile out. So for whatever reason Stanley found himself there, took a rest and was found as a skeleton six years later. According to another article he was found by a young Indigenous Australian named Algy who reported it to the Mungana police.
Judging from its position, it had not been interfered with by animals. A pair of boots were near the body and a leather pouch with a watch was on the remains.
(Cairns Post Thu 13 Nov 1930)
Mungana itself is a ghost town nowadays. Some great ‘then and now’ photos can be found here.
Stanley was buried by police close to the site where he was found. He had no relatives in Australia.
The reason why he took the journey aren’t known. At the time though, Mungana was on the decline. In 1911 there was a population of almost 600 and by 1933 it was just under 100 (source). There was also the matter of a scandal where some of the mines were being sold to the government at highly inflated prices. It was known as the Mungana Affair and …
The first spark of a series that rekindled Mungana to flare into a major political issue occurred in late July 1926 when it was made known that the Lady Jane and Girofla mines had been abandoned after failure to discover new, payable ore reserves. (source)
We can only assume that Stanley maintained a living through prospecting but that the mining industry in that area appeared to be in some decline. So perhaps there was a reason for him to head to Chillagoe, at least as a starting point. Unfortunately he didn’t get much further than a cave just beyond his departure point.
The first song off The Doomed Bird of Providence album A Flight Across Arnhem Land is a song called In the Phaeton.
Based on a news report titled :
Attacked In Home
Later Shot Dead
Alighting from Vehicle
…it tells the story of Frederick Westbury who was shot dead as he got out from his horse cart, a Phaeton. Stopping the horse cart the lone gunman called out, “Is that you Westbury?”
Westbury responded and was shot dead.
Looking at a few other articles on the murder (it seemed to be well covered by various news sources), it seems there was a back and forth that culminated in the killing.
It followed an altercation the night before where Westbury was attacked by three men at his house. The motive for the attack appears to do with another incident earlier in the day where it was suggested Westbury stole some coats at a hotel. This wasn’t taken further by the police but three men took it upon themselves to retrieve the coats (which they themselves didn’t own) even though it was accepted that Westbury had nothing to do with it.
Whatever the case may be, Westbury managed to drive out the attackers with a gun.
In retribution it appears, one of the attackers on the following night shot him dead.
Frederick Westbury’s wife and another witness identified the killer.
His name was William Dashwood and was sentence to death for the murder.
Today is the release day for The Doomed Bird of Providence’s fourth album – A Flight Across Arnhem Land.
The idea was to create short concise songs where the lyrics were pulled directly from early 20th century Australian newspapers. Stories of errant flights across the desert, cold case murders and mysterious deaths, drug smuggling and a snake charmer killed by his own snakes.
All the songs are taken verbatim from these actual news reports.
Ian Hothersall – percussion Mark Kluzek – accordion, vocals, bass, piano, trumpet Rachel Laurence – viola Katie English – flute, glockenspiel, cello Richard Acton – guitar Drew Barker – ukulele, melodica Flake Brown – guitar Barry Butcher – mechanical sound, tuba Joolie Wood – violin Simon Finn – guitar, banjolin Cameron Selby – clarinet
The Doomed Bird of Providence present their fourth album, A Flight Across Arnhem Land. It marks a significant departure from the band’s last album, 2017’s Burrowed into the Soft Sky. Where that album was two extended instrumental pieces exploring early Australian colonial times, the new release is a collection of 16 short pieces that all contain vocals.
Found text was used as the starting point for every song. The texts themselves were sourced from Australian newspapers from the 20s and 30s. Thematically the album sits around stories drawn from this period in Australia. Band leader Mark Kluzek looked for stories that were open-ended or unresolved. Common themes started to arise, missing airplanes, cold case murders and curious, out-of-the-ordinary incidents.
The album artwork was by Judi Dransfield Kuepper who has done, amongst other things, most of the artwork and design for Ed Kuepper and Laughing Clowns.
The release is available as a download and a limited physical release which includes a CD, 14 page booklet and news report image on card sitting in a sliding matchbox style case.
The Doomed Bird of Providence have released a new single called Ransoms for Cars on 10 to 1 Records.
It’s been a while since the band have released something new. Soon after 2019’s Rumbling Clouds was released though, work started on new songs. The songs were built around newspaper articles from Australian papers in the 1920s/30s.
The end result is a single released today called Ransoms for Cars and an album that is planned for release in the next 3-4 weeks called A Flight Across Arnhem Land. This will be the band’s fourth album.