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The Leyland P76 was Wheels magazine’s car of the year – possibly to its later embarrassment – and Godspell was “bringing its joy to the screen”.
On the Cairns railways, a heist would play out that stumped the law and has had train drivers chuckling ever since.
Kuranda Train Robbery: Gunmen held up a Cairns-Ravenshoe Rail Motor in December 1973The Great Cairns Train Robbery of railmotor RM 1819 on December 6 has never been solved and probably never will.
Police sources suggest the file has been relegated to the trash and the two masked gunmen who held passengers and crew at shotgun point have scooted away scot-free with $50,000 in today’s money that has long since been spent.
Division 5 Councillor Richie Bates worked at Queensland Rail for 25 years and remembers the water cooler talk about the holdup.
Councillor Richie Bates remembers the Great Cairns Train Robbery of ‘73.“The fact that the robbery has never been solved is a source of great speculation,” Cr Bates said.
“In my time at QR I have never heard of an event like it; it has become part of the folklore.
“There was always speculation that it was an inside job.”
Indeed. One man who was up close and personal with the business end of the robbers’ shotties is former train guard Clive Adby, now enjoying retirement in his 70s. Mr Adby now lives in Brisbane, having left the Tablelands shortly after the robbery.
Kuranda Train Robbery: Train guard Clive Abdy with a spent shotgun shell casingThat Friday, 44 years ago, the temperature would peak at, compared to the current heatwave, a positively delightful 34 degrees and at the start of his shift Mr Adby had no reason to suspect the Ravenshoe run would be unlike any other.
RM 1819 pulled out of Cairns at 9.40am carrying a paybox full of wages.
Approaching the number six tunnel, Mr Adby noticed something odd.
“We were going up the range and the door was open in the driver’s compartment,” he said. “I could see there was a rock on the line.”
A giant rock had been strategically placed on the tracks to halt the railmotor near the tunnel’s mouth.
Strangely, a chain had been padlocked around rails.
He jumped out to investigate and two men – garbed in black with dark visored motorcycle helmets – appeared from the tunnel and boarded the train.
Retired train guard Clive Adby was held up by masked gunmen on December 6 1973“Then I came back and thought ‘this is a bit suss now’,” Mr Adby said. “The driver said it was a hold-up - they had already gotten on the train.
“I looked down and there was a bloke standing there with a shotgun. I thought ‘holy mackerel it’s a hold-up all right’.”
The pair moved through the train – they knew what they wanted and worked quickly to get passengers to lay flat on the deck. “I jumped out of the way; they were after the pay box,” Mr Adby said.
“I shut the door and heard the shotgun go off.
“They blew a hole through the bulkhead of the luggage compartment and away they went.”
No one dared give chase and the pair disappeared out the back of the train.
“They wanted to keep our heads down so we wouldn’t see which way they went,” Mr Adby said.
“I was sh***ing bricks, I can tell you.”
The chain around the tracks then revealed its purpose.
Kuranda Train Robbery: Police set up road blocks on the Kuranda range after the rail motor was held up“We couldn’t go forward or backward,” Mr Adby said.
“They had wrapped the chain around the back wheel.
“We had to sit there and wait until the coppers arrived.”
Cairns police were taking no chances – roadblocks were thrown up but it was soon apparent the bandits were long gone, likely using bush trails.
“People thought they got away on trail bikes,” Mr Adby said.
“Apparently riders had been seen up on the line. They were away for hours before the coppers even got there.”
Heading the investigation was Cairns CIB Detective Sergeant JJ Bidner – as a detective in the early ’70s, he is remembered in police circles as a very hard man of the old school.
He has since died after retiring from the job.
Det Sgt Bidner was convinced the robbers were pros.
“They knew what to do, how to do it and when to do it,” he told the Cairns Post the next day. “The train system was well watched and planned for the right day.”
Despite their best efforts, the investigation was fruitless.
None were above suspicion – Mr Adby knew some of the officers who screened passengers and crew.
“Mate, the coppers interviewed me on the Saturday morning; I used to play football with one of them,” he said.
“He said ‘if you had anything to do with it ...’
“They thought it was an inside job.”
They and every retired train guard and driver, seems.
“I reckon it was an inside job, yes,” Mr Adby said.
This article first appeared on www.cairnspost.com.au
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