WOODCHIP BOMBING BUNBURY 20th July 1976 by Peter Skehan
Conservation is another area where politically-motivated destruction of property has been a regular event. One of the earliest examples of this type of political violence occurred in 1976 when two masked and armed men planted gelignite at the Bunbury woodchip export terminal in Western Australia, and blew up the conveyor tower. Other charges they set failed to explode and were defused by police
In the early hours of July 19, 1976, Michael David Haabjoern, 28 years, and John Robert Chester, 27 years, drove to Bunbury from Manjimup (130 kilometres) in a stolen car with false number plates, with 1,000 sticks of gelignite, fuses, detonators and timing devices. They intended to blow up the Port’s loading facilities, thus disabling the machinery used to export woodchips.
They gained entry by cutting away the fencing, and, wearing stocking masks and armed with a .303 rifle, entered, held up the watchman at gunpoint, then tied him up. Haabjoern set the three charges at three critical points of the machinery used to load the woodchips for shipping. They told the watchman that they intended to blow it “sky high”. They then left in the watchman’s vehicle, taking him with them.
On the access road into the port they placed two signs, “Danger Separate Explosives” and “Danger Charges Ahead”. They then dumped the watchman 9 kilometres away, where he later managed to free himself. The first explosion detonated at 5.25am causing serious damage to the stacking gantry (About $300,000.00). The remaining two charges malfunctioned, and failed to explode.
A bomb expert, Sergeant Edward John (Jack) Billing, was rushed from Perth to Bunbury where he was able to defuse the bombs at great risk to himself.
Extensive inquiries made by Detectives led them to Manjimup about one week later and the men were arrested and charged. A further large amount of explosives were found, being part of the original amount they had stolen by breaking into three explosive-magazines in Perth.
They both received ten years’ imprisonment, with a minimum amount to serve of three and half years. This was imposed after appeal because the original sentence was considered too light.
Sgt. Jack Billing was promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissioner in 1987.