I have just finished editing a manuscript on the development of the Opal industry in Queensland and apart from annual reports from the state’s Mines Department, much of the content came from newspaper and magazine articles, all of which were retrieved from Trove, which is operated by the National Library of Australia (NLA)1.
Trove’s blurb says that it is the place to explore all things Australian. It is a single point of entry to a treasure trove of artefacts, curiosities and stories from Australia’s cultural, community and research institutions. It contains, unbelievably, more than 14 billion digital items on any topic. It connects the user to digital collections from the hundreds of partners across Australia, including libraries, museums, galleries, the media, government and community organisations and more1.
While I have used Trove before, it was mostly to get publication details of older scientific monographs rather than any of their content. This editing job made me realise how valuable Trove is. So, it was gratifying to find out that it had been saved from closure by a grant of $33 million over four years to the NLA, to maintain the service. The Library will then receive $9.2 million in ongoing, indexed funding from July 2027. The library stressed that secure ongoing funding was what was required to keep the resource online.
So, I decided to try to find out something which I knew a bit about. I tried to find it elsewhere, but there was nothing online, except on Trove. There may be assorted reports and records in archives somewhere, but I wouldn’t know how to go about finding those. So, I looked up details of a shooting which occurred in Newcastle, New South Wales, in October 1931.
So, I googled the topic and Trove came up with an article on the front page of the now defunct Newcastle Sun newspaper from Saturday 10th of October 1931. It read:
“Two policemen shot in Waratah in S.P. raid
Constables Kenny and Smith
Both Men admitted to hospital
Went to back of shop and shots rang out
Alleged to have been shot by a man with a pea rifle [0.22 rifle] outside a shop at Waratah during an S.P. raid this afternoon, Constables Kenny and Smith of Newcastle were admitted to Hospital this afternoon.
Both are in a serious condition.
One of the constables was shot when he was entering the shop at the back, and the other was shot near the front of the shop.
Both constables dropped to the ground.
‘He’s shot me boys, I am bleeding to death,’ gasped one of the constables [Kenny] as a number of men who had heard the shots dashed up to where he was lying on the ground.
‘My God two of them have been shot,’ said one of the men and dashed off to ring the ambulance.
Both the policemen were bleeding profusely, one of them [Smith] from the neck. Police arrived on the scene quickly and a man who is alleged to have had a gun in his possession, was arrested.
The police said that the exact extent of the injuries to the two constables was not yet known. It was not sure whether a bullet, which passed through Constable Kenny’s lip, had lodged near the ear or not. In the case of Constable Smith, the bullet passed through the cheek and lodged at the back of the neck, near the spine.
According to the stories of eyewitnesses, a car containing Constables Kenny and Smith drove up and stopped in Railway-street, Waratah [a suburb of Newcastle]. Constable Kenny jumped from the car and entered a shop. Meanwhile Constable Smith went round to the back entrance.
As Constable Kenny entered a shot was heard. The next thing onlookers saw was Kenny staggering out and then he collapsed on the pavement.
In the meantime Constable Smith had gained admittance to the premises from the back.
A second shot rang out and Constable Smith, too, staggered from the building, also shot.
A man then came out on to the footpath, and according to eye-witnesses, a third shot was fired. This time at the police car, the bullet passing through a section of the body of the vehicle.
Other police were soon on the scene as was the Newcastle Ambulance, and lifting the inert constables from where they had fallen, placed them in the ambulance waggons [sic].
The doorstep where Constable Kenny had fallen was covered in blood.
Both policemen, seen at the Newcastle Hospital, were facing their injuries bravely. Constable Kenny was saturated with blood, but he waved his hand in a nonchalant manner and smiled. His one concern was that the news should be broken to his wife, and that she should not be alarmed about him.
‘Tell her it is nothing,’ he said. ‘I will get over it all right. Tell her that it is only a scratch, and that she must not worry.’
He was sitting up, and the doctor was examining a wound to his right side of his face. ‘Don’t forget,’ said Kenny. ‘Let my wife know that it is all right.’
Constable Smith was equally brave, but very quiet and pale, but he, too, smiled. He said that the one man had done for them both. They knew the man. He kept a shop at Waratah. The thing happened at an S.P. raid.
‘I am as good as 10 dead men yet,’ he said, and smiled again.”3
The man who shot the two constables was Loftus Arthur Johns. On December 8, 1931, he was initially sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to 10 years “penal servitude”.4
Constable Donald Roy Smith was, at the time of the shooting, 29 years of age, and had two young children, Rex, who was 3, and Alvin who was 21 months old.
The reason I looked up this event was because Donald Roy Smith was my uncle and was my mother’s second oldest brother. He was born in 1902 and died in 1992 and I loved him dearly.
Trove is a resource for punters like me that should never be allowed to die.