Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey


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1937 : Little Flemington

Perhaps a little off-topic and leaping forward a few years, and it is not quite clear (without an expert legal analysis) whether the modifications to the Police Offences Act introduced by Mr. Menzies brought about another anomaly, but it is a story worth telling.

For many years during the latter half of the twentieth century (probably still today), the area on the hill across the Maribyrnong River opposite the winning post at Flemington and the balcony of the Angler's Arms Hotel was packed with people opting for a distant, but free, view of the races, especially on Cup Day.

The unfenced area was often referred to  - not necessarily with tongue-in-cheek - as "Scotsman's Hill" and generally only heavily populated during Cup Week, but back in the 1930s was known as "Little Flemington" with crowds packing the hill every Saturday, regardless of where the races were being held.

The attraction was eight or ten bookmakers who openly called odds despite the crack-down on street betting and gaming houses.

The anomaly was that the Act prohibited betting in hotels, factories, shops and other premises as well as in streets and lanes, but seemingly because of doubts about the status of some of the smaller country racecourses, made betting in “open spaces” illegal only in cities, towns and boroughs.

Hence the rub - "Little Flemington" at the time was within the Shire of Braybrook and Sunshine - a Shire being the lowest level of municipal authority based on rate revenue and not covered by the Act.

The absurdity of the irregularity came to light in March, 1936 when two men were arrested in the vicinity of the Hill - one was acquitted because he was taking bets in the open area, the other fined £20 because he accepted a wager in a lane-way leading onto the hill and thus actionable under the "streets and lanes"provision..

This case attracted some attention in the press, but Little Flemington became front-page news around seven months later when on 14 November, two men posing as plain-clothes policemen "arrested"  a man they believed to be a bookmaker carrying a large sum of money and amid some commotion, forced him into a car and drove off with the intention of robbing him.

Reports suggest up to 300 men chased the car, some throwing rocks and rolling boulders in front of it, and a shot was fired at a pursing motor cycle policeman before the car crashed.  Three men were arrested on the spot, but one eluded police and escaped after he swam across the river.

Some weeks earlier, a man was fined £40 by magistrates in Essendon Court for taking bets on the Hill - just a week after the "kidnapping" and while it the sensational event was still in the news, he appealed against the conviction in the Full Court, the Bench squashing the fine on the basis of the Shire anomaly.

Four men appeared in court in December, one Joseph Kain with robbing the man, the other three with assisting in the crime, including one who had lent his car for the purposes of the robbery, the other pair, men who had witnessed the incident and apparently driven their car to the opposite bank to pick up the escapee and provide him the dry clothes.

Kain was found guilty of robbery in company and sentenced to three years in prison and a subsequent term at the Governor's pleasure in a reformatory prison.

The other man arrested over the abduction was released on bail, but subsequently absconded before the trial.

Braybrook Shire Council indicated that was totally opposed to the betting in the park area but was powerless to stop it without State Government co-operation, although it did do what it could by unanimously deciding to declare the road from the bridge over Maribyrnong River to a point some distance west of the recreation ground a non-parking area with by-laws officers paid overtime on Saturdays to police the restriction.

Within days, the State Cabinet announced that it would rush through legislation to include Shires within the restrictions (it was noted that other “Little Flemingtons” were full swing at Blackburn and Red Cliffs).

The first charges under the revised legislation were heard in Essendon Court in August of the following year with three men fined a total of £100.  The arrests appear to have had an immediate effect and there was scant mention of "Little Flemington" after the court hearing.

The kidnapping case was revived in July of the following year when the man who skipped bail was re-captured and sentenced to three years jail with hard labour. His wife in the interim was charged with assisting him to abscond and sentenced to three months jail and forfeiture of the £250 bond she had lodged on his behalf after she admitted previous convictions for soliciting, consorting and unlawful possession.

In another odd sideline, around the time the woman was committed, a Senior Detective applied to the court for a ruling on the ownership of £4/5/4 found in Kain's pocket after he was arrested, both Kain and the robbery victim, one Ronald Thomas claiming the money (hardly the the large sum which might have motivated the offence).

There was no dispute over the fact that between £6 and £7 was stolen from Thomas, but Kain in evidence claimed the money was part of £5 wired to him from Ballarat via Fitzroy Post Office on the morning of the robbery an his counsel produce a receipt confirming the transaction.  Mr. Jackson, P.M. ordered the money be returned to Kain, saying there was no evidence that it had been taken from Thomas.

There is no obvious reference to the man (Raynor) who swam the river ever being apprehended.