Brendan Bannan was off duty and shopping for a snack when two armed bandits stormed the store looking for a quick take.
Brendan Bannan was off duty and shopping for a snack when two armed bandits stormed the store looking for a quick take.

Off-duty cop’s dramatic shootout with two bandits

Geoff Wilkinson, One of Melbourne's most decorated police and justice journalists, returns with a new weekly interview with the men and women of Victoria Police.

Like most people, I have no idea what I was wearing on February 3, 1978. But I have a distinct recollection of what Brendan William Bannan was wearing the same day.

It was a pink, short-sleeved shirt.

It was hardly dress of the day - or any day - in the back bar of the City Court Hotel on the corner of Russell and LaTrobe Streets, where most coppers favoured white short-sleeve shirts and polyester.

web behind the lines crime feature
web behind the lines crime feature

The usual Friday night gathering of squad detectives and police reporters was there, sniffing out a yarn or justifying their expenses, or both. Bannan, a tall, quiet, strongly built senior detective from the armed robbery squad, was among them.

I remember discussing with him the merits of wearing pink in a heatwave, and other important matters, but didn't notice him slip away into the warm summer's night.

The next sighting of the pink shirt was at a supermarket in East Preston about an hour later.

Bannan, now 70 and retired, dismisses suggestions he was there to provide store security, and is adamant he was merely sniffing around the cabana section, looking for something to eat while waiting to be picked up by a mate and driven to the Preston Club for a cleanser.

Whatever, the explanation of what happened next - which saw two masked bandits fire 14 shots at their pink target but miss 14 times - is probably best left to the Queen.

Senior Detective Brendan Bannan after the gunfight. Picture: Supplied
Senior Detective Brendan Bannan after the gunfight. Picture: Supplied

 

The announcement of Bannan’s George medal, Australia’s second highest civilian award for bravery.
The announcement of Bannan’s George medal, Australia’s second highest civilian award for bravery.

 

Bannan, right, along with fellow policeman Ray Mulder, left, were shot at by the bandits.
Bannan, right, along with fellow policeman Ray Mulder, left, were shot at by the bandits.

Her citation for Bannan's George Medal, Australia's second highest civilian award for bravery, presented on September 11 the following year, reads:"Sgt Bannan displayed outstanding gallantry when at very grave risk to himself he persisted in his pursuit, in the face of gunfire, as they attempted to escape".

The citation recorded that as the robbers forced their way into the supermarket office area and

ordered a cashier to open the safe, she made a distressed call for the store manager over the public address system, which concerned Bannan and prompted him to investigate.

"I just strolled down to the office to see what was up, and wandered in chewing a stick of

cabana," Bannan recalled this week.

"When I walked through the door these two characters were taking money out of the safe and

one of them stuck a gun in my ribs and made me stand in the corner. They obviously thought I was one of the supermarket staff, but when one of them left the office I introduced myself to the other".

 

 

Introductions were brief, but included the five-shot police-issue .38 revolver Bannan had tucked away in a shoulder holster in the armpit of the ubiquitous pink shirt.

"Then it was on. They both got out of the office, but they went the wrong way down the passage and had to come back past me to get out into the store to escape.

He said when the bandits started firing a sawn-off .22 automatic rifle at him from only three metres away in the passage he "let a few go" and hit one in the groin. When they then ducked into another office and kept firing, Bannan again returned fire - around the doorway - and hit the second bandit in the middle of the chest.

By the time the shooting stopped, the score was Bannan 2 v Bandits 0 and the door at the end of the passage looked like a knife-throwers' target at the circus.

The front page of the Sun News Pictorial in February 1978 covers the shooting.
The front page of the Sun News Pictorial in February 1978 covers the shooting.

 

Bannan showing the bullet holes in the doorframe at the supermarket.
Bannan showing the bullet holes in the doorframe at the supermarket.

 

Bannan received the award for Outstanding Recruit of the Year in 1967.
Bannan received the award for Outstanding Recruit of the Year in 1967.

HAPLESS BANDITS HAVE A VERY BAD DAY

Meanwhile, things went from bad to worse for the hapless bandits when another off duty policeman who'd also been shopping in the supermarket joined the fray.

Ray Mulder was a former policeman who had served the force for 10 years before retiring and taking seven years off. After a year away he started getting itchy feet and rejoined the force as a reservist at Reservoir CIB in 1977.

Unarmed, he started clearing frightened customers from the store when he heard the sounds of gunfire. Mulder, whose courage was later acknowledged with a Queen's Gallantry Medal, followed the armed gunman, who turned and pointed the rifle at him from about five metres as they ran towards the main entrance. He dived at the gunman and missed, but managed to kick the second offender as he ran past and knock an overnight bag containing $15,000 from his grasp.

The chase then switched to the supermarket car park, where Bannan caught one of the wounded men, wrestled him to the ground and used him as a shield when the other returned.

"I kept him close and held him by the neck with his right arm twisted behind his back. We were wrestling over my revolver and the crook I had was urging the other one to shoot, while the other bloke was dancing around trying to get a clear shot at me.

"I think he was as scared as I was at the finish".

When the dust finally settled the score was again 2-0, with Bannan taking a firm grip of one crook and the cash bag containing almost $15,000, and the other villain arrested in the bathroom of a nearby house, where he was trying to wash dye out of his hair and blood out of a bullet wound.

 

BANNAN'S COOLNESS IS TESTED AGAIN

It was 30 years before Bannan's courage and coolness under pressure was tested again to the same extent, when "the finger from Boort" was mistaken for "the thumb from Durham Ox".

Bannan was renovating an old family farmhouse in northern Victoria in 2008, shortly before he was due to retire, when he cut off his thumb with a circular saw.

"I was pretty lucky," he recalled this week. "I found the thumb just before my brother's three fox terriers did".

He doesn't remember what colour shirt he was wearing this time, but again he put it to good use.

"I wrapped the thumb up and poked it in my shirt pocket and away we went, but not before I unhooked the trailer and started the car. I wanted to get the airconditioning because I thought I might go into shock.

"My brother, Terry, wanted to go to Boort Hospital because it was closer, but I convinced him it would be better to head to Bendigo. I think he set a new land speed record, but we made it.

"As we pulled in to Bendigo Base Hospital emergency department we heard someone yell out: "Is this the finger from Boort?" so we said "No, it's the thumb from Durham Ox!"

"It was quite funny, really".

X-rays taken at Bendigo and sent to Melbourne in a road ambulance with Bannan expedited his surgery at St Vincent's, where a specialist team was awaiting his arrival.

"There was no mucking around. I cut it off at Durham Ox at 11.45am and the surgery was done and dusted by 11pm the same day".

 

An x-ray of Bannan’s hand, minus his thumb, after the accident with a saw.
An x-ray of Bannan’s hand, minus his thumb, after the accident with a saw.

 

Bannan had a love for flying.
Bannan had a love for flying.

 

Bannan, at home today, is looking for his next adventure.
Bannan, at home today, is looking for his next adventure.

STILL A HIGH FLYER IN RETIREMENT

Ten years earlier Bannan, who concedes he is "adventurous by nature", had been back in the news when he flew around Australia in a light aircraft he'd built from plans in his garage.

With his 15-year-old daughter, Natalie, in the rear passenger seat of the tiny two-seater Long Ez - at the time one of only six of its type in Australia - Bannan took on the Bicentennial Around Australia Air Race.

The rear-engined plane, which has a 118hp motor and a cruising speed of 350 km/h, completed the 11,500 km journey in 44 hours. It finished 12th outright of the 157 aircraft in the race.

Bannan's leadership potential was identified early career at the Police Academy. In 1967 he was named Outstanding Recruit Of The Year at the old Police Training Depot in St Kilda Road, after joining as a cadet, aged 16.

By the time he retired in 2008 he was acting Assistant Commissioner in charge of the force's Counter Terrorism and Emergency Management Division.

He had worked in uniform and CIB, then spent eight years at the Special Operations Group as a sergeant, inspector and superintendent before going switching to Major Events Planning.

He says his final career challenge - and most important achievement - was as Commander in charge of security planning for the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.

As for his next challenge, he's not so sure. There's always that weird-looking (very) light plane for thrill seekers in a hangar at Moorabbin.

But after so many years he's concerned that flying has become "a bit boring".

Do you have a story for Geoff? Contact crime@heraldsun.com.au

 

MORE FROM GEOFF WILKINSON:

THE AFTER DARK BANDIT

WILKO'S BLACK LIST OF NOTORIOUS CRIMS

THE MINUTES AFTER THE HODDLE STREET SLAUGHTER

 

Originally published as Off-duty cop's dramatic shootout with two bandits



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