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The Sydney fugitive who spent a long time hiding in plain sight

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The Sydney fugitive who spent a long time hiding in plain sight

2022-09-22 02:22:20
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Matthewson argues Desic has been by means of sufficient. He’s a delicate chap, and if he can return to the northern seashores, he may have pals, work – his stonemasonry expertise are distinctive and uncommon – and an house beneath Matthewson’s house.

His pal has executed his penance. He hasn’t had any form of life for 3 a long time. “I simply wish to give him some years,” says Matthewson. “I wish to see him a free man.”

After being sentenced final yr, Desic was despatched again to Grafton. He had little concept that his story – that of a person who’d tried so onerous for thus lengthy to go unnoticed – had captured imaginations internationally.

Scott Matthewson has constructed a flat for the pal he is aware of as Dougie beneath his Avalon house.Credit score:Peter Rae

Till Desic is free, Matthewson is the keeper of his pal’s story. He is aware of little of Desic’s youth, past that his mom died when he was younger, and his father was a safety guard on a jail island when Croatia was a part of Europe’s communist bloc. They’d been poor.

He places Desic’s ability with stone all the way down to his years of constructing with rocks as a baby. These years gave him survival expertise, too, which might show helpful.

One Christmas a couple of years in the past, when Matthewson gave Desic a brand new guitar – he’d taught himself to play on one he’d picked up from a garbage pile – his lonely pal’s eyes crammed with tears. He’d solely ever been given one different current; a plastic Daffy Duck, when he was a child. “He’s a tricky, robust man, and his eyes began to properly,” Matthewson stated.

Darko Desic, 64, was part way through his prison sentence when he escaped.

Darko Desic, 64, was half method by means of his jail sentence when he escaped.

Desic got here to Australia within the Nineteen Eighties, sponsored by a distant relative. After a quick marriage, he turned a resident. He hung out on the northern seashores, then moved to Kempsey on the NSW north coast. It was there he was arrested for rising and possessing hashish, and sentenced to a few and a half years within the infamous Goulburn jail.

Halfway by means of his sentence, Desic’s ideas turned to flee. It wasn’t jail that bothered him, Matthewson stated, however the considered what would possibly come after, if he was despatched again to war-torn Croatia the place males his age have been dying on the entrance strains of battle.

His plan concerned escaping by means of the barred window. He practiced falling and rolling from the highest bunk. He additionally ran across the yard, engaged on his endurance.

Desic stole a hacksaw and bolt cutter, and, when the wind and rain have been wild sufficient to drown out the sound, would hold by one arm on the high of his window, sawing the bar with the opposite. Finally, he was capable of pull the bar down and climb by means of. He shimmied alongside the window ledge and dropped two storeys, rolling as he hit the bottom to keep away from damage.

He lived within the bushes, blackening his prison-green overalls with mud and charcoal to camouflage himself. After a couple of, freezing days, he caught his thumb out subsequent to the freeway and the primary automotive picked him up. It was going to Avalon.

Thus started three a long time of hiding out on the northern seashores. He labored as an odd jobs man, taking money. He rented a room in a dilapidated home, the place he lived like a monk. At one level, he was featured on Australia’s Most Needed, however nobody round him seen.

His meals was low cost and plain, his habits fastidious. “Dougie had his little mattress, and every thing was neat,” Matthewson stated. “All his instruments have been in place. He had a couple of garments. He was very, very frugal. Each cent counted.”

He by no means drank. He meditated, performed guitar and taught himself to repair discarded computer systems. He pulled out a number of of his personal enamel, together with one in every of his foreteeth, with a pair of pliers. “I’ve by no means seen somebody who can cop a lot ache,” Matthewson stated.

One of the ‘Free Darko’ signs around the Northern Beaches

One of many ‘Free Darko’ indicators across the Northern SeashoresCredit score:Peter Rae

Desic was common with tradesmen throughout the peninsula for his ability and work ethic, however by no means labored for anybody lengthy sufficient to lift questions. “He’s a really clever stonemason,” Matthewson stated. “Years in the past, you might shake a tree and a stonemason would fall out of it. Now there’s only a few of us left. I get a name each week from one in every of them, saying, ‘the place’s Dougie’?”

The true property increase in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic signalled the tip of Desic’s 30-year run. The home during which he rented a room was bought, so he and his flatmates needed to go away. Now he had nowhere to stay.

“He stated ‘mate, that is actually dangerous for me’,” stated Matthewson, who provided his boat as a brief berth till Desic got here to a call about what to do subsequent. “I knew the answer was for Dougie to return into jail, do his time, no matter occurs, occurs, that’s the way you get on along with your life.”

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So Matthewson drove Desic to the police station, hugged him, and, at his pal’s request, drove away. Desic didn’t go inside. He spent one final night time as a free man, sleeping within the sand dunes, earlier than presenting himself to baffled law enforcement officials at Dee Why.

Desic has sturdy supporters on the northern seashores, starting from a neighborhood millionaire who organised his legal professionals to the native builders, whose assist is tinged with self-interest as a result of they need him on their worksites. Throughout the peninsula, there are “Free Dougie” stickers on bumper bars and telegraph poles.

A Go Fund Me web page has raised greater than $30,000. “Doug was my next-door neighbour for a few years,” wrote one donor. “He’s a really variety individual and an awesome bloke. He taught me find out how to use computer systems and even taught me and my finest pal karate after faculty typically.” One other stated, “The 30 years agony is the heavy worth he already paid.”

One of the “Free Dougie” bumper stickers around the northern beaches.

One of many “Free Dougie” bumper stickers across the northern seashores.Credit score:Peter Rae

Dreyfuss’ workplace referred the Herald’s queries about Desic’s destiny to the Division of House Affairs. In an announcement, a spokesperson stated the division didn’t touch upon particular person instances.

“The Australian Authorities takes significantly its accountability to guard the Australian group from the danger of hurt posed by non-citizens who interact in legal conduct or different behaviour of concern,” it stated.

“Non-citizens in Australia, who don’t maintain a legitimate visa can be chargeable for detention and elimination as quickly as practicable, pending decision of any ongoing issues.”

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