Revealing a thief with balls

The Bug proudly presents another chapter from Don Brown’s School Daze, the probably never-to-be-published reflections of a young man’s turbulent journey through five years of trials and tribulations at Queensland Agricultural College and Prison in the 1960s.


Who knows where my fellow students were that morning. Probably down in a lecture room in one of the general studies buildings studying wave motion theory to determine the height of an agricultural dam wall.

That sort of knowledge could set up a man for life. It really could.don brown's school daze

Me? I had important work to do, back in my room on Pitt Dormitory putting together the latest issue of Queensland Agricultural College’s student magazine, Theoptice. Stupid name, right?

The college’s motto was Theory with Practice. Get it? Theory with Practice. You might say Theoptice after an afternoon of XXXX pots at the Royal in Gatton with that beautiful barmaid Maud. Still a stupid name but there you are.

In my fourth year at college, I was working close to edition time on a drawing to go with an article on the joys of student life when disaster struck: I knocked over a small bottle of ink. Yes, ink. Okay, I’m old. College is a long, long time ago now.

But my “study” desk drawer was open and the ink poured into it and all over an envelope containing subscription money to Theoptice, arguably the finest student magazine ever published, in one person’ mind at least.

I knew there was $8 in there – four crisp $2 notes, each being for a year’s subscription to the finest organ I’d ever had the pleasure to handle, up to that stage in my life at any rate.

Yes, $2 a year. It was fifty or so years ago. Let’s get over it, okay?

I ripped the envelope open to find it completely empty. Someone had done the unthinkable on a farm: they had left a gate open and my four green rams on those two-dollar bills had scampered.

The reality hit me hard: some thieving bastard, and most likely a dorm “mate”, had stolen $8 that was not my money but the student union’s. Not a nice thought at all.
But one I had to address. Now, who on that top floor of Block B on Pitt (possibly quite a flawed assumption in the first place) could possibly stoop so low as to steal money like that?

I walked out of my room, which was up the end of the building overlooking the dorm master’s residence, made my way down the corridor, opened the second last door on the left, walked across the room, opened the draw under the study desk by the window and picked up a wallet containing four crisp $2 bills.

My, my. Now, how to prove those notes were stolen from my room?

After lunch, I called all of the young men out of their rooms before afternoon lectures and told them what had happened.

But I fibbed just a little bit. I explained that I had remembered absentmindedly using one of my art pens to draw some hairs on the balls of the ram on one of the notes. I didn’t add that those actions probably suggested some form of animal fetish, sexual deviancy or frustration but such matters were irrelevant to the ruse I had embarked on.

I asked all my dorm mates to pair up, go to one room then the other, to open their wallets and show the contents to prove their innocence.

The student in on the plot roomed opposite the owner of the wallet and had partnered up with our potential thief.

That potential robber became the actual felon when he told this student that he couldn’t display the contents of his wallet to prove his innocence because he didn’t possess a wallet to show him.

With all the dorm students gathered around, I explained that there was in fact a wallet in his room draw and that it did indeed have four $2 notes in it, even though none of the rams had extra hairs drawn on its scrotum.

“Wot’s this then?”, Constable Plod would have said. “Hello. Hello. Hello.” “We had the thief dead to rights, your worship.”

The thief fessed up, the other students wandered off back to their rooms and I got a little bit teary, I must admit, feeling just a little guilty myself over having exposed him.

So what did our thief do? He told me he needed the money for petrol to visit a girlfriend down at the Gold Coast that weekend and could he still borrow it for that carnal purpose, one I might have readily helped out with under different circumstances.

Some people have just got it, haven’t they? The Jewish would call it chutzpah. Maybe in Australia we’d at least reluctantly admit this bugger at the very least had some balls.

To this day, I still think of that incident as my finest example of accurate character assessment. I certainly got a lot of people wrong in the decades that followed.

And who knows? Thinking up the old hairy ram’s balls trick, I might have made a very fine detective squeezing confessions out of crooks.

There are a few of my editors over what turned out to be a lifetime in journalism whom I’m sure would have fervently wished I had gone down that career path.