Tracking a crook at the Cape

Retired police officer Les Campbell has many interesting tales to tell about his 31 years in the police force.
Retired police officer Les Campbell has many interesting tales to tell about his 31 years in the police force. Tony Martin

LIKE every retired police officer, Les Campbell has a good yarn to tell - but the story about how he tracked a kidnapper on horseback for seven days across Cape York is one of the best you'll ever hear.

Les didn't just have a job as a policeman, he made a career of it, and believes that's the secret to making good officers.

Les was a beach inspector when he left school and when he applied to join the police service he was accepted and he spent 31 years in blue.

He worked at Thursday Island, at Mareeba where he also did relief work in Gulf towns, Marian and Seaforth, Finch Hatton, and finally as a sergeant in Mackay.

"Our district in Thursday Island covered an area from Papua-New Guinea down to the Iron Range," he said.

"Once we were in a police boat and got lost in the Jardine River and we came across a mudflat.

"There was this World War II aircraft sitting there on the mudflat, just like it had been put there yesterday.

"We notified authorities and the story went all around Australia.

"One of the guns off the aircraft is now used as part of the war memorial at Bamaga.

"One job I had on Cape York involved a local guy who took a nurse from a hospital.

"I tracked him for seven days, with three trackers. I was on horseback and they were walking.

"After a few days I realised that the local and his victim were following a telegraph line up the Cape.

"We circled in front of him and came across him in a dry creek bed.

"He stood up and had a rifle in one hand and a knife in the other.

"I pulled out my pistol and fired one shot at his feet.

"He dropped the weapons and I jumped off my horse and handcuffed him.

"The kidnapped nurse was rescued.

"Then I had to walk them all the way back to our base."

For his courageous rescue and arrest, Les was awarded a Police Commissioner's Commendation, for which he got a medal.

Les explains that, in those days, officers were allowed to use their initiative in solving crimes.

His initiative to use a horse, take trackers and fire a shot at a villain would probably all be investigated by today's senior officers.

When Les retired there was no support group for retirees so he helped to form the Mackay-Whitsunday branch of the Retired Police Officers Association and was its formation president in 2009.

One of its goals is to support retired officers from all police services in any state and territory, all police public servants, their widows and widowers.

Part of their charter is also to assist today's serving officers.

There are now 56 members of the Mackay branch, including two volunteer welfare officers.

There are quite a few people who think that establishing the Retired Police Officers Association in Mackay is the bees' knees.

When Les left the police service in 1997 he worked for five or six years as a commercial agent and private investigator, then did three years as the Liquor Licensing Officer for the Mackay region.

Most recently he worked for a few weeks on Lindeman Island, helping to shut down the resort.

Les has a passion for crabbing and fishing and has a beach house at Clairview, where he lived for five years after he retired.

Now he visits Clairview every few weeks to go crabbing and mow the lawn.

He's a NQ Cowboys supporter and used to play and coach rugby league at stations he was posted, including Thursday Island.

Les loved his 17 years as an officer in the Pioneer Valley, especially the people there.

When he retired then Mirani Shire Mayor Clive Rogers came to his send-off and presented him with a fishing rod.

"I've caught many a whiting on that rod since," Les said.

"I thought it was a great sign of appreciation."

Les proudly says that his roster nowadays is a tide times chart.

Topics:  cape york

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