A Rockdale prison officer’s death at the hands of a convicted murderer is covered in a Heathcote author’s recently published book on Long Bay Jail.
John Colin Mewburn, 46, was hit with a hammer while his back was turned by Peter Schneidas in 1979.
Mr Mewburn had been a farm worker before moving his family to Sydney 12 years earlier to provide more opportunities for his five daughters, who were aged 17 to 26 at the time of his death.
He was well liked by inmates, who collected for a wreath, which they sent to his funeral after checking his widow would not be offended.
Mr Mewburn’s elder brother Ernie said when they attended the trots together, ex-prisoners would often come up and thank John for the kindness he had shown them.
Prison officers throughout the state went on strike after Mr Mewburn’s death, demanding the state government reopen the maximum security block Katingal.
Author Patrick Kennedy recalls in his book Long Bay how he was called to the jail when he was an Intensive Care Ambulance Paramedic to treat Mr Mewburn, who was unconscious.
“It is a sad tale as Mr Mewburn was a highly regarded family man and was just doing his job,” he said.
“Schneidas, a man with a troubled life, went on to become the state’s most challenging inmates.”
Another story in the book involves a former Caringbah nurse, Vera Kennedy, was taken hostage in 1980 by two desperate criminals, who threatened her and a prison officer Ian Martin with scalpel blades in a day-long siege.
“I knew Vera, originally from Matraville, as she was a friend of my mother’s at the jail hospital where both of them worked,” Kennedy said.
“After an entire day of tense negotiations, during which prison officials believed the inmates were going to inject Vera and Ian Martin with lethal doses of morphine, both were finally released.
”Sadly, Vera passed away in 2016.”
Kennedy’s book also tells of Russell “Mad Dog” Cox’s escape in 1977 from Katingal, supposedly an escape-proof self-contained jail unit.
Cox was recaptured after 11 years, but was later found not guilty of escaping because “someone forgot to sign the paperwork declaring Katingal a prison”, Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he was given unprecedented access while researching the history of the jail.
“I have seen the old gallows and stood inside the condemned men’s cells,” he said.
The book is available from Heathcote Newsagency until after Easter when it will go into book stores.
Further information: longbay.net.au, call 0408 206 773 or email firstname.lastname@example.org