The hunt for Malcolm Naden
Shooting into the dark and hoping something squeals
13 December 2011
When I went down to the Brushtail Café for breakfast Bruce from the advertising agency was sprawled out over the long table with the papers and a full English breakfast.
“Geez, the cops are hopeless, did you see they were within metres of this Malcom Naden bloke but he got away – surely they could have thrown a roadblock around the place?” he declaimed, pointing at a photo of cops clad in low-visibility gear and much hung about with webbing and assault rifles.
It was pretty obvious that Bruce’s idea of ‘The Bush’ wasn’t informed by much more than having once shot a dog food commercial on a hobby farm at Bowral.
For the last few years, Naden’s been ranging over an area in north-east NSW the size of Belgium. There’s an ocean of wild country up there – hundreds of kilometres of tangled mountain ranges and thickly-forested valleys.
“Not as easy as you might think”, I said. “There probably aren’t any roads where they tried to nab him, except maybe old logging roads or fire trails. Image this: once Naden fires at the cops, forcing them to take cover and rescue the cop that got hit, he starts moving off through the bush. After he’s covered a hundred metres he’s almost impossible to see, although you might hear him, but only if you all stopped moving and kept quiet. Once he’s covered three hundred metres you won’t even be able to hear him. Staying low and moving fast, that’s only going to take him a couple of minutes. By that time, the front you might have to cover if you went after him has widened to three hundred metres. The weather closes in, mist descends and he’s clean away. If he’s headed south, after a couple of days he’ll be deep into Barrington Tops National Park.”
“So what’s Plan B?”
“Well, the cops’ only hope is to guess which routes he might take to escape and to stake them out. Of course they could do that – probably have done that – ’cos they’ve got the advantage of four wheel drives and choppers, but in country like that, that’s like shooting into the dark and hoping something squeals. Mostly the bush is so thick that the easiest routes to take are the ridgelines or the valley floor but our fugitive is almost certainly smart enough to stay on the slopes and never cross open ground in daylight. And he’s not on horseback either, he’s on foot. Horses made the bushrangers much easier to detect and track.
“Once he’s cleared the immediate area – gone a few kilometres – he could just go to ground until the hunt is abandoned. That’d be relatively risk-free. They reckon he has various camps and caches of gear set up so he might have retreated to one of them.
“Plus there’s thousands of isolated farms in the valleys and remote private huts. Naden is very clever at observing these from a distance before moving in to steal what he needs when nobody’s there.”
“Hang on, what about air power. Couldn’t they spot him from the air?”
“If they managed to narrow down the search area to, say, three or four square kilometres and if a decent sized posse was closing in on the ground, a chopper would be useful, but otherwise he’ll hear it coming and he’ll take cover … and up there, there’s lots of cover. It’s not like chasing someone in open woodland. You know, thirty years ago a Cessna with five aboard went down in the Barrington Tops area and no trace of it has ever been found in spite of multiple searches.
“Provided he’s got warm clothes and sufficient food – and he’s armed so he can always shoot something to eat – really, the greatest threat to him is if he injures himself somehow or gets sick.
“Some people are saying that the constabulary ran down the bushrangers of old in less time than Naden’s been on the loose, but the bushrangers were usually trying to get rich – this bloke is just trying to survive. He doesn’t have any dreams about bailing up a stage coach, stealing a million bucks worth of gold and taking ship to California. Such things ain’t possible these days. Naden’s a natural loner and after seven years on the run he must be inured to his own company. Smarts and technology and rewards probably aren’t enough. The cops are going to have to get lucky.”