On 16 December 1929, at the Rothbury colliery near Newcastle, thousands of miners protesting against an illegal wage cut were fired on by police with tragic results. But the battle began long before the bullets started flying. For most of that year, these miners had been at the centre of a bitter battle that toppled a federal government, saw the NSW state government use basher gangs of police and resulted in a new Labor prime minister committing an act of political betrayal — all just as the economic after-shocks of the Wall Street Crash were starting to be felt. The police shooting would result in one of Australia’s most stunning front pages — which was actually a fake. Then, ten years later, Rothbury would be the scene of a mysterious bombing — and another brazen case of media manipulation.
Born in 1935 in Sydney, Kevin John Simmonds was a teen rebel without a cause, who’d do time in two juvenile prisons before serving a three-year stretch as an adult in Goulburn Gaol. Released in February 1959, he embarked on a crime wave that saw him steal the equivalent of $1.1m worth of goods in just four months. For these offences, Simmonds got a 15-year sentence, and, in court, vowed to escape. He did just that, breaking out of Long Bay Gaol on the 9th of October 1959, triggering the biggest manhunt in NSW history — and the first Australian media circus of the television age.
In 1931 John Kennedy, his mind unravelling partly as a result of being sent white feathers for supposed cowardice during the Great War, took to the streets of Bondi Junction with a rifle. A number of young Sydney police responded, and two would pay the ultimate price.