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JOHNS, William Francis

William Francis JOHNS, known to many as Mulga Bill, was born on the 23/3/1885. In 1906 he joined the SA Police as a Foot Constable, and in fact later became South Australian Police Commissioner.

JOHNS, William Francis
JOHNS, William Francis

Meanwhile, Mr Johns was transferred to the NT Police on 15/10/1909. In this new environment, he developed and exhibited all manner of resourceful characteristics, and this six years remained in his memory as one of the richest experiences of his long life. Mounted Constable W. F. Johns had arrested Neighbour and two other Aborigines in the Roper River area for cattle stealing. Heavily chained at arms and legs, the prisoners were being brought back to Darwin for trial. Crossing the flooded Wilton River, Johns's horse slipped and rolled over. In struggling to regain itsfeet, the horse kicked Johns in the head and knocked him out. Neighbour, in chains, dived for the drowning trooper and risking his own life, brought him back to consciousness, and rode sixty miles to get help from the nearest white man. For this act of gallantry, Neighbour was doublely rewarded. No action was brought against him for the cattle stealing, and he was awarded the Albert Medal for gallantry in saving M.C. Johns. From that time Neighbour abandoned his lawless pursuits and became a model tracker. Mr Johns was a gifted public speaker; he was also a writer of absorbing stories, many of which which were based on his experiences in the Territory. The yarn to the right "A Bush Fight" was published in the December 1967 issue of Citation.

WWI Service

William rejoined the South Australian Police after his discharge from the AIF. His career as a police officer in the Northern Territory and South Australia culminated in his being appointed in 1944, as the Commissioner of the South Australian Police Force. The King also recognised his long and successful policing career by bestowing upon him The Order of the British Empire – Commander (Civil) on 1st January 1946. William was born at Hambly Bridge South Australia on the 23rd March 1885. He joined the South Australian Police and he arrived in Darwin on the 15th October 1909. He served in the Territory, as did his brother John until his five-year secondment to the Northern Territory was completed in 1915. Whilst in the Northern Territory he served from November 1909 to July 1911 at the Roper River. From July to August 1911, he was stationed at Stirling Creek. From March 1912 until July 1913, he was stationed in Darwin. William was appointed as the Goldfields Warden for District D in November 1911. He was at Boomoondoon (Bulita) in January 1914 and at Victoria River in March 1914, but these appear to have only been visits. William was involved in a life threatening incident when he was thrown from his horse into the flooded Wilton River and was saved from drowning by his prisoner. His brother Robert (Jack) who was also, an NT Police Officer recorded the incident in his book, 'Patrolling the Big Up ‘Neighbour had been a prisoner some three or so years before on a charge of stealing when my brother was second in charge under Trooper Kelly at Leichhardt’s Bar. They had reached the Wilton River when it was in flood. They attempted to cross and my brother became unseated from his horse and thrown into the river. Neighbour, though in chains went to my bothers aid and succeeded in bringing him to the shore, He was liberated from the charge because of his action and afterwards awarded the Royal Albert Medal. He enlisted on the 18th February 1918 as No. 64886 of the Ninth Australian Light Horse Regiment. [7th Company S E.Egypt]. He embarked from Sydney on HMAT Malta on 10th October 1918. He arrived in Suez on 22nd November 1918. He joined the Ninth Australian Light Horse Regiment, which at that time was on active operations, which involved armed actions aimed at suppressing the Egyptian uprising. He returned to Australia on the Oxfordshire on the 10th August 1919. He was discharged on the 26th August 1919. It appears that William had been required to wait for permission to enlist and had almost missed the war. The enlistment of forty-five South Australian Police into the Australian Imperial Force by 1917 had placing a strain on the resources of the South Australian Police. Commissioner Edwards decided in 1917, that in order for the Force to remain functional, he had to restrict police enlistments. It appears that William may have been given a late dispensation from that rule, which allowed him to arrive at the war at its climax.



By W. F. Johns

To say that Billy McLeod was born and brought up in a tough suburb of Sydney would be putting it somewhat mildly. His father was a tough and hard-drinking navvy and all of Billy's earliest associates were rough and very unsophisticated. Fighting was their main interest and subject of conversation. Any attempt at a discussion on any current topic was almost foreign to them, but mention any fighter from Larry Foley's day to the present and they all claimed to be authorities on the subject.

So Billy was born and brought up in a fighting community. He had very little schooling, and in his early teens heard his father, as usual under the influence of liquor, talking to his mother. "Our boy Billy", he said, "is doing well with his fists and you will see that he gets plenty of meat - red meat, do you understand?" The mother, a very mild and frightened woman, had no option but to agree. So Billy, encouraged by his father, became a fighter. When he grew into manhood, he had little respect for anyone except his mother. At the age of fourteen his mother died and Billy was left alone to manage as best he could for himself in his rough environment, and I saw him develop into a splendid specimen of manhood, standing six feet in height and weighing thirteen stone. As a fighter he was somewhat eccentric and I believe all fighters of any class become that way. He was a teetotaller and non-smoker. I was aware that there was nothing' eccentric in this, as all first-class athletes know that tobacco and alcohol are the enemies of fitness. One outstanding eccentricity of Billy's, which could never be understood by those who knew him well was that at the conclusion of a contest, as soon as the referee gave his decision, Billy would return to his corner and solemnly bow to the East. There was some speculation at this peculiarity and some believed that it was because his mother was buried in an easterly cemetery. Others believed it was because learning had originated in the East. Some said it was because the sun rose in the East. But no-one was able to discover the reason for his peculiarity and no-one had the courage to enquire from Billy. In my opinion, it had nothing to do with his mother's last resting place, and I am sure that Billy knew nothing about the origin of learning. He was interested mainly in seeing that his opponent did not rise after he had been floored by that deadly right heart punch for which Billy was famous. Billy had a straight left like a piston rod. His footwork was perfect and he seemed to conduct his fight right from the start, constantly seeking an opening. I saw him in his biggest fight; round after round it went on until the tenth, when Billy sent in a wonderful straight left that straightened his opponent from the crouch, then brought his right into full play. It landed right over the, heart, leaving his opponent completely out of action. When the referee gave his decision, I noticed that Billy walked to his corner and solemnly bowed to the East. In the many fights which he contested he had never been beaten and this particular fight brought him fame and everything pointed towards him winning Australian Championship honours, and possibly the World Championship. Strange as it may seem, Billy quit the ring and Sydney-siders saw him no more. He completely disappeared and there was much speculation on what had become of him. Some said that an opponent had died after a contest. If this happened, it must havebeen years afterwards, and fight records did not disclose such happening. Others considered that it was a disappointment in love. I do not think this was the case either, although Billy, being a fully developed male, no doubt would admire and attract admiration from the ladies - and anything is possible then. But no-one had ever known him to form any particular attachment. Some of the returned Soldiers from World War I declared that they had seen him in Palestine as a member of the 9th Light Horse, but I think it was only guesswork, as I served in that Regiment and never recognized anyone resembling him. As I said before, he disappeared into the blue, and all trace of him was lost. On the return from the War, I eventually drifted into Northern Queensland and joined a droving plant that was going to Hodgson Downs, in the Roper River area, to take over a mob of cattle. The journey to Hodgson Downs was uneventful and in time we were pretty tired of each other's company. There comes a time when you have spun all your yarns andthe result is silence. After a long journey we arrived at Hodgson Downs and the first thing we heard was that there was to be a fight that night between two of the Station Hands: a bare knuckle fight. That suited us, and after our evening meal we strode over to the Station, anxious for a little excitement. We were told that a Station Hand, 25 years old, named Jerry Sullivan, was considered a local champion. The boss of the Station had a great admiration for Jerry and offered toback him for £50 to beat any man in the Roper River district. Old Billy Matthews was the Station Cook, and some said he got the job because he was too dirty for any other job. Matthews was a very quiet and unassuming old grey beard, who kept mostly to himself. He had a goanna which he had tamed and when his day's work was done he would lay on his bunk and talk to Joey, as he named his pet. It is strange how a small incident will change a quiet, retiring man to a fighting fury. This particular incident was brought about by Jerry Sullivan catching Joey by the tail and throwing him out of the room. Old Billy Matthews suddenly turned. "You are a coward, Sullivan, to treat my mate like that and I will take his part and fight you as soon as it is cool." News spread around the Station and this was the fight we heard of treated as a joke, of course, when considering their ages - Sullivan 25 years, old Billy Matthews 55 years.

A rough ring had been put up, with a bucket of water and a box in each corner. With Croweater Kelly as Referee, Mulga Jim as Time Keeper and Pigweed Harry and Chokebore Charley as Cornerman, all was set. We gathered at the ring-side and, after a short delay, Sullivan entered, stripped to the waist, and certainly looked, his part. Billy Matthews, of course, did not strip nearly as well, and lumps of dough were sticking to his forearms. To make the joke complete, the Referee called to the Station boss, "Is that £50 still on the winner?". "Yes," the boss said. Matthews stepped into the ring with a springy step for an old man and with a look of determination. After a few preliminary passes, Sullivan let go. a terrific right swing, intending to go for the old fellow's head. To the surprise of all, old Billy 'ducked and planted a beautiful straight left on Sullivan's mouth. Jerry's head shot back, and blood was spurting from his lips as the bell sounded. At the commencement of the second round it was noted that the grin had disappeared from Jerry's face, and he, too, had a look of determination. As they advanced, Jerry sent a tremendous right cross aimed at Billy's jaw. The old fellow ducked neatly and again drove his left into Sullivan's swollen lips. The fight was now on in earnest and everyone was amazed. Here was old Billy Matthews, the Station Cook, standing up to the great Jerry Sullivan - and so far using his straight left. I was dumbfounded. I racked my brains. Where before had I seen a fighter like this? Wonderful straight left and using the right only occasionally. The bell sounded for the third round. Sullivan stepped out of his cornerwith a mad rush and drove a terrific blow to Billy's head. Old Billy stepped back just a small step. The blow fell short. A terrific right cross followed, and old Billy ducked and planted a beautifully aimed Straight left on Jerry's mouth. As the blow landed, Jerry straightened up momentarily. Old Billy's right came across. It landed with terrific force rightunder the heart, and Sullivan fell to the ground, quite unconscious. The Referee declared Billy Matthews the winner. The Station boss handed him a cheque for £50. "You are a surprise, Billy, where did you learn to fight?" "I can't fight, Boss," Billy said, "and I don't like fighting. But, as I said to Joey last night 'You stand by·me and I will stand by you. We will be mates and always have a roof over our heads'." Sullivan slowly got up from the ground and muttered unbelievingly, "Beaten by an old grey-beard who talks to a goanna - and I thought I could fight!" Then something happened. I could hardly believe my eyes. Old Billy walked to his corner and solemnly bowed to the East. Everyone wondered why I laughed, but the secret was mine and I would not share it.

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