IF JACK “Sailor” Manley had managed to find his sea legs, then perhaps a legend of policing would never have been created.
They buried him the other day after he finally died, aged 95, remembered as a copper who could shoot, box, sing, track a robber through the bush and hold his own in any pickled quail egg eating competition you cared to organise.
He fought crocs and crooks and locked up safe-breakers and cattle rustlers in equal measure, while always showing compassion for the down and out.
When he retired he was Victoria’s longest-serving detective with what is believed to be the most commendations ever awarded.
For years around the Warrnambool district he was the lone detective and his word was law — so much so that when he spotted his own son Terry on the street, hanging around with other teenagers with too much time on their hands and Brylcreem in their hair, he simply wound down the window and yelled, “Get home and chop the wood”.
Soon it sounded like a country axemen’s picnic as they all scurried off to attack the family woodpile.
Warrnambool detective Colin Ryan remembers Jack fondly. He said Jack often used to join crime conferences with the detectives from Portland, Hamilton and Colac. “Jack enjoyed the camaraderie of those events. He just loved talking to detectives and reliving his war stories,” Ryan said.
“We would call around to Japan Street to pick him up to go to the conference and he would be standing on the nature strip in the suit and tie and pork-pie hat, always proudly displaying the Police Association life membership badge.”
Jack joined the navy in 1933 as a 16-year-old, but after four years of chronic seasickness on destroyers and frigates he was forced to look for a land-based career.
As Australia was slowly recovering from the Great Depression, Jack spent more than a year scratching out a living as a bushie — learning skills he would later use as a country lawman.
He worked with a blacksmith in Tasmania and developed a powerful build, partially from rowing his father, Marmaduke, around the Great Lake trolling for trout.
He trapped possums for their pelts and sold kangaroo meat before moving to Victoria where he cleared scrub around Kinglake.
History shows that some of the best police come from depression eras, when the lure of secure government employment becomes the gold standard.
In 1938 he decided to become a copper.
He was accepted in Victoria and soon became Constable 9311. To put that in perspective, a group of recruits at the Police Academy were sworn in this month, with one allocated the registered number 40,000.
Within two years he was appointed a detective and was an original member of the feared consorting squad that dealt with the major hoods of the day in a robust fashion.
Some would challenge Jack to put his badge away and go toe-to-toe — foolish because the policeman was an accomplished middleweight boxer with a strong chin and wicked left hook.
This won him respect from some and a permanent grudge from others. It was rumoured that one crook offered £1000 for any man who would put a Molotov cocktail through the window of the policeman’s home.
CIB legend Frank Holland heard that gangster Freddie “the Frog” Harrison, had taken the contract.
Holland ordered his young detective to go home and protect his family while he jumped on “the Frog”.
The next morning when Jack went to work, a dishevelled Harrison was there to say he had no intention of bombing anyone and that it was all a horrible misunderstanding.
When Jack asked him why he appeared to have shaved with an electric blender, the gunman responded, “Me and Mr Holland had a talk last night and I must have tripped and fallen down the stairs.”
When goaded to fight by some tent boxers in country Victoria, Jack’s response was typically direct. The story is best told by his then chief commissioner Alexander Duncan, who recalled the incident while visiting Bairnsdale in 1942.
“(Manley) was a zealous and energetic constable and attentive to duty. On one occasion, when stationed here a year or two ago, some showman heard about his prowess as a boxer, so they threw out the challenge.
“Now it is a rule of the force that a constable must not engage in fisticuffs, not when on duty anyway. The challenging business went on and Manley decided to accept.
“He declared himself off duty and engaged one of the team. It showed the calibre of the man and I am glad to say, for the honour of the force, he won by knockout.
“The fact that there was a money prize was a worrying feature, but no member of the force would, I am sure, think of breaking such a hard and fast rule, so the matter ended satisfactorily.”
It was in Gippsland where Jack chased the notorious Snowy Mountains Bandit, who had escaped from NSW and survived by holding up farmhouses.
Jack had to live off the land, catching trout with a hand line and drinking creek water, until they caught up with the escapee. In the spirt of the Jolly Swagman, the bandit decided to end it all before being caught, but as he couldn’t jump in a billabong he chose to shoot himself between the eyes.
It is fair to say the gunman was not a deep thinker and used a cartridge filled with ratshot, which only managed to knock him out and leave a nasty hole in his head. He was taken into custody, treated and survived.
Terry Manley, one of Jack and Phyllis’ six kids, was an apprentice plasterer in the 1960s when business went bad in country Victoria due to a drought. Like his dad, the idea of secure employment took him to policing, which he did for 42 years — 22 as the boss of the one-man Dartmoor station.
“He was my best mate,” Terry says of Jack, as they shared a mutual love of family, policing and country life.
In 1977, mandatory retirement age forced Jack to leave the job, but for years he remained a valuable resource for serving detectives.
The former head of the Purana Taskforce, Detective Inspector Jim O’Brien, spent six years working in Hamilton in the 1990s and recalls Jack “was a detective’s detective, completely respected and loved by us all.
According to O’Brien, “I can attest that he could hold his own in pickled quail egg eating after a lot of beer, and had a solid tenor repertoire. The general public in Warrnambool loved him and everyone called him Mr Manley.”
In October last year, aged 94, Jack had a hankering for some fresh rabbit, so he took out his old .22 rifle, headed off to a friend’s property and nailed one with a single shot, cooking it for dinner that night.
He died on February 22 after a short illness. At the wake there were plenty of warm memories and cold beer, but not a pickled quail egg in sight.
with ANDREW THOMSON