CANBERRA, Australia — An off-duty Australian police officer fought through the smoke to narrowly escape from Brisbane’s Whiskey Au Go Go fire that killed 15 people, the state coroner has heard.
The re-opened inquest into the 1973 firebombing concluded it’s first two-week sitting with evidence from Jennifer Mahony, the daughter of the man caught in the blaze.
Her father, known as Vince, was getting a lift home with two other police officers when they told him they needed to call into the nightclub, she told the inquest.
It was the night of the fire, and he decided to stay at the club after meeting two friends, father and son Ernest and Desmond Peters, who were in town having bought a racehorse.
Mahony said her father was in the bathroom when the place “went up” and luckily always carried a handkerchief which he used as a makeshift face mask.
He saw a flash that seemed to come from the front of the club which quickly filled with strong-smelling smoke, his statement given just after the fire and read at the inquest said.
He tried to open “two or three” doors before eventually getting to a courtyard where he slipped on “greasy fat” and fractured his wrist.
“I can remember several bodies being brought down, and one of them was the body of the diseased Desmond Peters,” the statement said.
Mahony said her father had hold of Ernie, the father, before slipping over.
“I think there was grease put there, so he slipped, and he sprained his wrist, and he’s lost track of Ernie at that point,” she said.
The other two police officers, identified as Scanlan and Cassidy, had left the club by the time the fire started.
“Being young at the time, I wish I’d asked him more about it … It would have caused him a lot of stress, the fact that he lost his two friends,” Mahony said.
More than 60 patrons and staff tried frantically to escape as air conditioning vents acted as chimneys, pouring black smoke into the club, the inquest was earlier told.
Fifteen people succumbed to the deadly smoke, with autopsies confirming their death from carbon monoxide poisoning. Two men — John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch — were convicted of murder over the crime and sentenced to life in prison.
The Whiskey Au Go Go attack was Australia’s worst mass murder until the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.
The inquest’s final sitting before coroner Terry Ryan will be held in the coming months.
Port Arthur is a village and historic site in southern Tasmania, Australia. Sitting on the Tasman Peninsula, it was a 19th-century penal settlement and is now an open-air museum.
Ruins include the huge penitentiary and the remaining shell of the Convict Church, which was built by inmates. Solitary confinement cells in the Separate Prison building were used to inflict mental punishment in place of floggings.
(Edited by Vaibhav Pawar and Ritaban Misra)
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