Lying on the ground with a smoking bullet wound to his chest for an over an hour, former police negotiator Peter Eames was preparing to “meet his maker”.
Caught up in what was the single largest shooting of police in Victoria, his memories of that night in the Bendigo suburb of Kangaroo Flat on October 1, 1999, are piercingly vivid.
“While the pain was unbelievable – in fact I can’t even describe it – mainly I was thinking about my family and wondering how I hadn’t died,” he says. “I was also thinking about how quickly your life can change in the spur of a moment.”
One of four policemen shot that evening, he’d been dragged by fellow officers to a spot out of the gunman’s line of fire while the siege raged on.
He’d also been hit in the right leg and was coughing up blood. He recalls the chest wound literally smoking.
Along with Senior Detective Craig Miller, he was awarded the Victoria Police Star in 2001, acknowledging the serious injuries they both suffered. The 19-hour standoff ended after the gunman turned the weapon on himself.
While that night is never far from his thoughts, the 62-year-old has found new purpose in a cause close to his heart.
One of our newest Be Wise educational presenters, he brings a world of first-hand experience to our rapidly expanding program in schools and clubs throughout the state.
Peter also has extensive experience in assisting youth, having worked closely with the Bendigo Children’s Court on a range of programs.
‘Most assaults are preventable’
As a 33-year veteran of the force, Peter has seen some of the best – and the worst – of humanity.
He’s also steadfast in his belief that most of the 10,000-plus assaults that result in hospitalisation each year in Australia are entirely preventable.
“Absolutely! In between the stages of anger and aggression, there’s a point where you can step back, think and take a deep breath before escalating the situation to violence.”
He says that one of the hardest tasks for a police officer is having to inform relatives that their loved ones have been killed.
“I’ve handled many cases of assault, as well as similar incidents to that involving Pat. The toll on others can be heartbreaking, and one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do is inform parents that their child has passed away.
“I can only imagine what it must have felt like for them.”
A lesson on the edge of life and death
Although it’s hard to envisage remaining calm under the circumstances that night, Peter maintains it was one of the key elements in his survival.
It’s also an important life lesson that he intends to bring to his presentations at schools. Crucially, it’s also highly relevant in discussions around stemming aggression.
“I know it sounds the opposite of what you’d expect, but somehow I managed to stay surprisingly calm. Maybe it was I was because in shock but I do know that it managed to stem the loss of blood, which helped save my life.
“There is a story from that night that amused me then and one that I often tell today.
“When the officers I was with managed to flag down a car – an old Holden station wagon – they bundled me into the back and told the driver to get me to the hospital.
“As it turned out, doctors told me I had about 20 minutes left by the time we got there.
“As we were driving along, I remember thinking how bumpy it was and looking up at the ripped lining on the ceiling, when the driver slowed down and asked: ‘Would you mind if I ran a red light?
“It just goes to show there can be lighter moments in even the most difficult of situations.
“There is a saying that was drilled into us during our police training and I believe is very relevant in discussions around avoiding violence with young people today, and that is to ‘cultivate a cool, calm demeanour’ at all times.”
The Pat Cronin Foundation is dedicated to empowering young people never to use violence. For more tips, book here for one of our informative educational sessions – free and specially designed for schools, sports clubs and community organisations. Think carefully. Act kindly.