Michael Kenneth Pratt GC (born 15 November 1954) is a former constable (no. 18182) of the Victoria Police Force of Melbourne, Australia, and the nation’s only living recipient of the George Cross Medal - the highest award that can be bestowed upon a civilian for an act of gallantry.
In 2012, Michael (pictured at far left with Her Majesty Queen
Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace) took time out from duties at Wallan
Police Station to reflect
on his life both prior to and after the frenetic events of June 4,
This is his story.
I grew up in Edward Street, Macleod. Mum and Dad, who met in a plastics factory in Collingwood, built a place in Macleod in 1951, and I lived at that address for all my school years. In the end, they sold that property and bought another in Darkan Court, Eltham. That happened in 1992.
The house at Edward Street was on the eastern side of the high school, about two-thirds of the way up the hill. There were a lot of trees then, and you could see all the way to the railway crossing in Ruthven Street.
It was a good sort of an area. It wasn’t far from Mont Park, it was all open in those days, and there were a lot of dormitories there. We were buggers of kids I suppose, but we got to know the kitchen staff at Mont Park. They used to give us a bit of lunch and we gave them a bit of a hand with the garden or whatever. We even got to know some of the inpatients who weren’t allowed out, and they were quite harmless really.
Mont Park’s not what it was. I know that of the original buildings the administration block is still there, but most of the dormitories are all gone – and also gone are the old M5 and M6 wards for the mentally insane – people who were there at the Governor’s pleasure for fairly serious crimes. I went there over the years during my time in the police force, and it was a bit scary I have to say.
My father Ken left school quite early in life. He was born in 1930 and times were pretty hard. If I remember rightly he hadn’t even turned 14 when he left school to join the boot trade as a “clicker”, which involved stitching the sole of the shoe to the upper, and he worked in a factory in Abbotsford.
He also held down three part-time jobs to put all of us kids through school. He drove a tow truck part-time, worked as an auto parts salesman in Watsonia during the day and he was also cleaning offices for the Melbourne City Council by night.
I can also remember him driving a pie truck for Four ‘n’ Twenty. He used to run pies for the company in an old Comma – his truck - which was quite a good job for him until he got involved in a head-on with a drunk driver on the Geelong Highway, wrote off the truck and nearly wrote himself off. That then led to his involvement in spare parts for motor cars, and area he remained in for the rest of his life and if ever you needed a spare part you saw my father.
Dad was a strong influence on the lot of us because he was a bloody hard worker. He had to be virtually dying not to go to work. Sometimes he had the flu and still went in, and he was pretty methodical in what he did. But because he left school so early he didn’t read and write very well, and when he took up with my mother Valda, she took it upon herself to tutor him to help him read and write better. That was because in those days, if you left school early and you didn’t have a grasp of what was going on, you were in a bit of trouble.
Back then, Mum stayed at home to look after all of us while Dad worked in the factory.
Dad died in August 1996, but Mum’s still going well.
the Parade years
I commenced my schooling at Parade Alphington in 1964. In the early days I used to catch the train from Macleod Station to the Preparatory College Parade Alphington, which was a bit of a hike, but it was a good school and I for one enjoyed it.
I had a good voice back then and could sing quite well, so I used to compete in the eisteddfods at the town halls in Collingwood, Northcote and Heidelberg through to form one.
In the old days, on completion of second form at Alphington, you went to East Melbourne. But in 1968, upon the opening of the new college, I switched to Parade Bundoora. That was when I started riding my pushbike from Macleod to Bundoora, cycling in the old back gate when it was open of a morning.
The college at Bundoora was a very big place compared to Alphington. The sporting fields weren’t quite developed, and we were playing on a paddock that was constantly cut to look something like a playing field. With time the fields came, and the front oval was pretty good.
As a young bloke I played a bit of football and when I changed schools in my final year I captained the footy team at Preston Tech. But when I joined the police force football stopped.
I played at centre half-back. Sometimes I played well and sometimes I played badly. I don’t think I was afraid of anybody on the field and I crashed into a few who didn’t appreciate it. I was around at the same time Robert Hyde played at Parade, and he and I were mates. He probably doesn’t know it, but I watched a few Calder Cannons games to see how he was going when he was coaching from the sidelines. Robbie was cut down with injury early, but he was a very, very good footballer.
Commencing school at a very young age doesn’t necessarily change you, but it forms you. It happens through the teachers you bump into and their outlook, together with your parents and those others you bump into through the school in tuckshop duties, fundraisers and the like.
At Parade, one of those was Brian Flynn, who was good mates with my Dad. They were part of what was the network, and as a kid you got to saw the networking. Dad, as I mentioned, was in auto parts, so he could get any part you wanted, whereas if Dad needed something legalled he went to Brian.
Each had a hand in eachother’s pocket you might say.
In thinking back to the teachers at Alphington, I remember there were the Christian Brothers and quite a few lay teachers. Brother Frank Monagle was the Principal at Alphington back then. He was jockey-size, there wasn’t much off him, but he was a feisty character. Occasionally the brothers used to play football and I tell you what, he was a bit of a goer on the footy field. He had a crack all right.
joining the force
I left Parade at the end of fifth form to complete an introductory accountancy course at Preston Tech with a view to moving on to a higher level at RMIT or somewhere else. I was all right with figures, but to be truthful accounting didn’t appeal to me once I finished at Preston.
I always liked to help people, so I submitted an application to join the Victoria Police as a cadet, another to join the ambulance service, and another to join the fire brigade.
The first offer that came back was from the force, and when the fire brigade came back with an offer I had to ring them to say “Sorry, I’m joining the police”.
In my first year at Parade Bundoora they ran a careers day, and I remember that a couple of coppers came along to give their spiel on what the police force was.
In the back of my mind I was a bit impressed with that.
I thought about it again when I finished at Preston Tech, and in the end decided “I’ll put up a case and join the police force”. That was in September ’72.
For about four months I’d been doing a bit of work in an industrial glue-making factory in Northern Road West Heidelberg to make a few bob while I waited for the responses to my applications. When my application to the police force was accepted I told my factory boss “I’m going to join”. He said to me “From what I’ve seen around here you’d make a good policeman”, which was a nice thing for him to say. He was a really good bloke.
I remember the first day I rocked up to my new job with the recruits and the police cadets at the old police depot on St Kilda Road. The Victorian College of the Arts hadn’t taken over at that stage and the depot was still in place, with the mounted police just a little further down the road and the police hospital on Nolan Street corner, just opposite the Arts Centre.
The police cadets were frowned upon by some of the recruits. The recruits were coming and going, and some stayed of course. But the cadets really wanted to become policemen and I have to say that most of the cadets who went in with me went a long way in the police force. In fact, a number of them are still serving.
There were a few cadets from Parade there too, amongst them Terry McManus and Noel McCrohan. I reckon Noel did about 20 years and then got out, and Terry’s still in the job. He’s a Sergeant down at the transport branch.
I only did a shade over six months in the police cadets, which was basic training to get a bit fit. I was then sent out to train at Heidelberg Police Station for three months under the watch of Laurie Gaffney and Dick Joyce, who have both unfortunately passed away, and Hayden Schobel who is still in the job. They were a good crew at Heidelberg.
I followed up with three months at Eltham and was told “You’re going to D24”. I said “Yeah, no worries” and served as the general dogsbody working the teletype machines at Russell Street.
At Heidelberg they put me in the watchouse and there I learned how to answer phones, saw what went on at the front counter and head off in the police cars with the senior officers.
When I was a cadet at Eltham the boss was Barry Phelan, another Old Paradian. Barry came from the Armed Robbery Squad, he was a pretty tough nut and he was a good boss too.
I remember one day there was a hot “burg” (burglary) and the bloke took off on foot through the paddocks. Anyway we had a police car and a van, and Barry said “We’re going in the car, ‘Pratty’ - you drive the van”. Barry then threw me the key, but I didn’t have a police licence, and when I said “Boss, I can’t . . . ” he came back with “What did I just tell you to do – get in the van and drive it! There’s another officer up the street. We’ve rung him, he’s waiting for you, so pick him up . . . off you go!”.
Sure enough the bloke, Carl Beale, was there waiting, and he jumped into the driver’s seat and I became the passenger.
Anyway we got to the scene and sighted this bloke running over the paddocks, so Carl got the car as close as he could to the paddock fence, decamped the car and jumped over. Carl was a pretty fit fellow, who played a bit of footy in the Diamond Valley and he chased this bloke down.
These are the things you remember - things like driving the van without a police licence, but being reminded to do what you’re told; and sitting in on interviews with the crooks they bought in (some of whom were a bit nasty) and learning the interview techniques.
During my time at Russell Street a note went up on the wall requesting that those wishing to join the Traffic and Patrol Division down at Elizabeth Street sign here. I didn’t really like Russell Street, so I put my name down to do something different and got a position.
The traffic and patrol office was on floors one, two and three, above the old Stephanie Dest beautician, between Flinders Lane and Collins Street on the western side. It was a small building, and a lot of us were in there, so it was pretty cramped. Directing traffic had its moments, and working with people at the T-intersection on the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth was a bit of a handful. They used to swarm down from their buildings to catch their trains, which would create pandemonium, and walk through the middle of the T. You’d blow your whistle at them to go back and they wouldn’t be happy. On top of that, you had to deal with street crime - like cars being broken into, ladies getting their bags stolen, and assaults. It’d be worse now, with clubs and bars holding liquor licences, whereas back then only the corner pubs carried licences.
In April of 1974 I graduated and by February/March of ’75 was transferred back to Heidelberg. I knew them all there, but it took me a couple of goes to get back as you had to apply to the Police Gazette for a transfer and any transfer was determined by seniority in those days.
As a constable back at Heidelberg I worked the van and I knew the area pretty well because I wasn’t too far from home. Heidelberg was pretty good, but once you got on Bell Street over the hill, it was a completely different place. I can remember coming to grief in a couple of really bad prangs chasing stolen cars, but I never got a scratch. How, I don’t know.
Then in ’76, the shooting happened . . .
Friday, June 4, 1976
My father’s sister Margaret and her husband George – Aunty Marg and Uncle George – had a barber shop on Queens Parade, Clifton Hill. Aunty Marg used to work with Uncle George in the shop, selling tatts tickets and so on, and I was going down there to get my hair cut on my day off.
It was about quarter to ten in the morning. I was in my little Mazda 808 coupe, driving down the Heidelberg Road hill beside the old pub which is now a McDonald’s, and approaching the intersection where High Street and Heidelberg Road meet Queens Parade.
Anyway, I’ve looked to my right to give way and in my vision, as I’m looking back, I’ve seen three blokes pull balaclavas over their heads, produce handguns from their belts and walk in through the front door of the ANZ Bank.
I put two and two together very quickly, realised they were about to hold up a bank, and switched on my car’s hazard lights. I put my hand on the horn and drove towards the bank, and even the tram gave way to me.
There was a service road in front of the bank with great big bluestone partitions, but there was a break in the bluestone and I just drove through it, up over the gutter and straight into the bank’s front door.
I jumped out and saw a bloke just inside the door with a gun pointed straight at me and motioning to me to move the car. My initial thought was “stick it up your bum”, but another was up on the counter pointing a gun at all the staff and customers face down on the floor, and the other was at the tellers’ drawers behind the counter pulling all the money out. These blokes were serious.
The staff were down behind the tellers’ cages, and I think there were two customers in the bank, one of whom was with the manager. They’d taken off out of his office after a shot was fired, and the bullet landed head-high in the doorframe.
At that time I had a block of land up at Murchison and had been doing some work on it, so I thought I had a long-handled shovel in my car. When the bloke told me to move my car, I went around to the boot. At that stage a bystander started walking towards me, probably wondering what I was doing I suppose, and I said “Look, I’m a policeman – go and ring the police”. I’d already thought about that, as down on the left hand side from Heidelberg Road onto Queen Street there was a post office and I could have gone there and done that. But I thought “No, I’ll go and present myself at the bank”.
I suppose your training kicks in and I had no qualms about it.
With the mayhem going on inside the bank, and the bloke inside the door motioning me to go to the car, I got to the boot only to discover that there was no shovel. So I grabbed the jackhandle, which was just a flimsy little thing, and waited.
I can remember looking through the bank window and seeing the guy standing on the counter lifting his mask and motioning to the other guy behind it “What are we going to do?”. I also remember hearing the cry of “Shoot him! Shoot him!” - meaning me - to the man at the door, which didn’t happen.
Next thing, the bloke from behind the counter appeared on the other side with the money, and the man who had originally been standing on the counter watching the staff took off out the back door.
The bloke with the money and the other bloke started pulling on the door, but it wouldn’t open because I’d hit the door with my car in such a way that the frame was out of kilter. So they then kicked the glass out of the door, which freed the frame up, and they pulled it open.
The guy who’d been standing just inside the door then emerged across the top of the bonnet, so I grabbed hold of him and it was on. Punches were flying, and he got a few good ones in and so did I.
After he went down on his hands and knees, crouched over, I then started looking for the other bloke. When I saw him he was standing no more than eight to ten feet away and he had the gun pointing straight at me. He said to me “Don’t move or I’ll shoot”.
In the meantime the bloke hunched over on the ground started to get up, so I thought if I get him in a bear hug and use him as a shield the bloke with the gun won’t shoot. But the bloke with the gun tried to get away, I lost sight of him and he got around behind me.
He then shot me in the back from about six feet, and down I went.
A young fellow in the doorway of the bicycle repair shop next to the bank – I’m not sure whether he was the son of the shop owner or not, but he was about 18 years old - had witnessed all this from about three or four metres and came to my aid straight away. The guy who I’d asked to ring the police, who had run to the other side of the nearby lane to a paint shop to get the call made, also came to my aid.
Queens Parade is of course a busy place with trams and cars, and there was a hell of a commotion because I was lying face down and could hardly breathe. The bullet had gone through my left shoulder blade, through the right lung, hit the bottom off my sternum and did a complete U-turn in my chest cavity. It then went through my spine between T6 and 7, kept on its trajectory, punctured my right lung, then slowed down enough to drop to the lung’s base.
Had the bullet kept going on that spiral it would have cleaned up my liver. Luckily it didn’t have enough power, because it wasn’t a jacketed round, but a flat-nosed practice round. If it had been a jacketed round it would have killed me, because when it entered my body it would have fragmented the tip of the bullet, and torn out the aorta when it brushed against it.
As it is I’ve got a burn scar on my aorta, and from time to time I get what feels like indigestion. But it’s just a vital reaction.
“this is a bit serious”
I never thought I wasn’t going to make it. All the bystanders were around and I was conscious the whole time.
The first car to arrive was the Collingwood van. One of the blokes came over and said “You’ll be right”. He knew I’d been shot because he could see the nice neat hole through the back of my leather jacket. But in lying face down on the footpath with both lungs punctured, it felt like someone was standing on my back and jumping up and down. Every time I breathed it bloody hurt – by gee it hurt – and at that stage nothing was known about the other injuries until they opened me up.
After the Collingwood van arrived and word went out over the radio of a bank hold-up, the Heidelberg CIB car, with Johnny Tobin inside, suddenly pulled up (and CIB blokes are like that). Johnny didn’t know it was me until he got there, and I heard this voice shouting “Pratty! . . . Geez!” and recognized it as Johnny’s straight away.
They carted me off in an ambulance, down Hoddle Street, onto Punt Road and up to St Vincent’s Hospital. It was the bumpiest ride I’ve ever had in my life, only a short distance, but it seemed to take forever. I was then wheeled into casualty on a trolley where the surgeon Tony Wilson and his crew were already waiting for me.
When I first got to St V’s they were pushing and prodding at me, and talking about opening me up with scissors, and I said “Hey, what are you doing?”. I then got off the trolley and actually undid my jacket, shirt and trousers before getting back on the trolley.
How I did that I don’t know.
They quickly took my pulse and listened to my chest, and a young bloke said to Tony Wilson “I don’t like what I’m hearing in his lungs”. Next thing he’s up on top of the trolley, leaning over with a scalpel and he’s made a couple of cuts in my chest. The blood then began to go, and they stuck tubes into my lungs.
They pumped about a pint and a half of blood out of my lungs because they knew straight away there was an entry wound but no exit wound and I’d been slowly drowning in my own blood.
That young bloke was obviously very switched on, and so too was Tony Wilson - a brilliant surgeon - together with his crew. I was terribly lucky that they were, because we’re talking 35 years ago and I don’t think medical services then were what they are now.
I remember Mum and Dad arriving at the hospital, and Dad was very upset. Peter, my next youngest brother, then arrived, having left his work at the Melbourne Sports Depot in Elizabeth Street, and he was very upset too. Then my wife Dianne, to whom I’d been married just short of four months, arrived having been given a police escort, and I was still conscious when all this was happening.
Until she walked in, Dianne didn’t believe I’d been shot. She knew I had the day off and wasn’t working, but unbeknown to her I’d gone to get that haircut.
I was still conscious when all this was happening, but when they started to operate it got a bit fuzzy. The next thing I know there’s a priest there with a tiny little nun, and he’s giving me the last rites. That’s when I started thinking “This is a bit serious”.
At that stage I started to lose consciousness, and the crew realised they had to operate. There was no time for paperwork because in those days you still had to sign off on it, and Dad said “Yes, do it”.
Though it seemed like forever to me, all these things happened in a very quick space of time - people like Tony Wilson running in and out of theatres, cars going at a million miles an hour to get my brother Peter and my wife Dianne, and Dad making it in from Sleeman Ford Coburg in eight minutes flat.
After they opened me up, found the damage to my lungs and my heart, stitched up what they had to and made sure there were no more holes, they sent me off to intensive care where I remained for six days.
On the Saturday morning after the surgery, two coppers - Iain Findlay (now the AFL Tribunal advocate) and another fellow whose name escapes me – came into the hospital, having been told I wouldn’t see the night out. They’d got hold of the bank footage by then, they had a fair idea of who it was, and they sat beside me with a book of identikit photos. What they were effectively doing was taking a dying statement from me, which is irrefutable in a court of law.
I’d got a reasonable look at the bloke on the other side of the counter. He’d actually worn a beanie on his head and a scarf over his mouth with plastic around it to keep the scarf up, but in the heat of it all the scarf dropped down and you could see his face.
So when I looked at the book of identikits I picked him out straight away. “That’s him – that was the bloke behind the counter,” I told them.
All of a sudden, the coppers had a positive identification and a dying statement from me.
But by the next day I was still around. Still going.
Once the police knew who they were looking for, they went to town the boys. They knocked joints over left, right and centre.
The gunman was gone from where he was, so they went to his mother’s house and turned it upside down, as well as the houses of his brother, sister, and everyone else associated with the family.
Over the next couple of days, as I began to recover in intensive care, the criminal world also came to the party. They know eachother pretty well, and they declared “we want ’em” because even though they knew I was in plain clothes you just don’t shoot coppers.
With that, all the two-up schools were shut down and all the sly groggers, until the three were given up.
But it wasn’t the criminal world who gave them up. Would you believe it was a van driver two of the robbers hired to take stuff from an address in Coburg to a flat in Rathmines Street, Fairfield?
Conscious of details of the shooting in the paper every day, the driver decided to ring the coppers. He told them that when he was taking stuff out of the garage at Coburg, he noticed things on the ground that didn’t quite add up, like the hair with green dye through it which was lying amongst the rubbish. That was because the bloke behind the counter had picked up a dye bomb, and when he got back to the joint in Coburg and opened up the bag with all the money, “POOF!” Off she went. And he got covered in green dye and had to cut his hair.
When the driver explained that he took all the gear to a flat in Rathmines Street, the police said “Okay, no problem”, and took his statement. Then, on the Thursday after the shooting, in the early hours of the morning, they barged through the door of the flat and there they were, two of them – Keithy Faure, who did the shooting, and his cousin Norm.
The third bloke – Lance Chee – was later rounded up, having shot off to New South Wales.
the road back
I took three months off after the shooting, and when I returned to Heidelberg station in September I got back into the van and went out on the road. But the pain in my back was unbelievable, I found it very difficult work, and by October I told the boss my back was killing me.
Unfortunately the medical people hadn’t been able to find the hole in my spine. It wasn’t until later on that they subjected me to this special X-ray and there it was – this nice, neat hole right through my spine.
And they were amazed, absolutely amazed, that I could walk around.
Though they’d talked about going in and scraping the shrapnel out of the wound, Jonathan Rush, a thoracic spinal man, said “I don’t like it”. “If we go in there and scrape the wall of the injury and clean it up, it’s so close to the spinal column I’m afraid we’ll actually rupture it and the fluid will leak out. I suggest we don’t go in there at all”.
Jonathan Rush explained the situation to me. He said “the spine is so badly damaged that I don’t want to play with it”. “You’re walking around - how I don’t know - but that’s a good sign because you haven’t done any nerve damage, and until it immobilizes you in some way it’s my view that we don’t touch it”.
Of course I agreed with him.
Tony Wilson, the surgeon who completed the operation at St Vincent’s, has said to me “You don’t know how lucky you are”. He told me that when they opened me up they were nearly going to take out my left lung. As it happened they took about 50 per cent of it out and the lung did expand again, but only by 10 per cent or so.
Members of the public were particularly supportive – a case in point, the Queens Parade shoptraders. Unbeknown to Uncle George and Aunty Marg, who ran the barber shop there and who were purposefully kept out of the loop because the traders knew I was their nephew, the traders took up a collection and bought me a lovely silver tea service, and a gold pocket watch inscribed by the Queens Parade shoptraders. They appreciated what I’d done on the day.
I had nightmares about it for a while early on, particularly one night at St V’s when I was sitting up throwing punches and they couldn’t snap me out of it. But I’ve always tried to keep a pretty positive disposition. Maybe that’s come from my upbringing with Mum and Dad, maybe it’s had something to do with the Christian Brothers, or maybe I was hardened by other things that happened through life . . . it’s difficult to say.
I remained at Heidelberg until late ’77. I then ended up at the Public Relations Division in town, at what was the Chief Commissioner’s office.
After taking time off to recover from the shooting, I spent two years in a pizza shop in Craigieburn, then got involved in a fire protection business, supplying extinguishers and visiting premises to check that their equipment was okay. I did that for about 18 months, before joining the new D24 when it became privatised.
But it wasn’t like the old D24, and it ended up a message service as far as I was concerned. I was an operator there and because of the copper in me I’d ring for fingerprints or offer any other help I could for the troops on the road. Unfortunately the boss of the mob running it, who was looking over my shoulder, said to me “That’s not part of your job – you’re to give the messages out and that’s it”. And I said to the boss “if that’s your attitude then I’m out of here. I’m off. See ya. Bye”.
I then returned to the fire people I’d worked with for another eight months, and then tried to get back into the police force as an unsworn member. A couple of policemen helped me out, I returned to the force in 1996 as the only unsworn staff member in the job, and here I am now in Wallan via the stations at Moonee Ponds and Broadmeadows . . .
I wouldn’t say I was religious, but religious in the sense that you have to be responsible to your Maker in the end and if you do the right thing by yourself and by others you’ll be all right.
In saying that, I do suffer from acute emotional anxiety, and if I allow that door to open up it’s not very nice. I do get a little bit emotional sometimes and you’ve really got to keep it together, particularly when you’re faced with other challenges. For example, I beat a bowel cancer scare in 2005, got operated on in 2006 and got the clearance in March this year.
And I did develop the “why me?” syndrome. That took a long time to get over, probably five years, and it was a form of depression. I took the steps to create the incident, it wasn’t flushed into my face. I was cool, calm and collected, and went over. The robbers didn’t run down the street and into my arms.
It’s fair to say that my outlook on life certainly changed. I learned not to worry about things you can’t control, and as I went through the process I realised “Why am I worried about this?” In the end I went back to work.
I don’t consider myself a hero. I was just doing my job. After all, I joined the Victoria Police and I took the oath.
The George Cross Medal
After the shooting, my boss at Heidelberg, Laurie Gaffney, filed a report that I should get what was then the Victoria Police Valour Award. But in his report, Laurie said “there are other awards higher than this that I think he’s more than eligible for”, and his recommendation was forwarded to the superintendent and up through the chain of command to the Chief Commissioner. At the time, “Mick” Miller was the chief.
Mick agreed with the recommendation for a higher award and made a presentation to the then Minister for Police, who I think was Sir John Rossiter. The recommendation was then forwarded to the Premier’s department, and then over the waters to England, to London’s Privy Council.
In July of ’78 I was still off sick and hadn’t gone back to work. This particular day I’d been out seeing a few blokes and when I got in the front door my wife Dianne said “Where have you been?”. She told me “You’ve got to ring Bill Bennett” (Inspector Bill Bennett), he’s been trying to call you all day”.
I rang Mr Bennett who promptly asked “Where have you been? Now, tomorrow, at ten o’clock, you’re to report to Government House to see Sir Henry Winnecke. You’re to wear your best suit, make sure your shoes are clean, be on time and go alone”. Bang goes the phone – that’s it.
So I put on my suit, cleaned my shoes, got in my car and drove down to Melbourne. I headed up Government House Drive, got to the gate, and the bloke came out and said “Can I help you?”. I told him “Michael Pratt’s the name” and he replied “Oh Mr. Pratt, I’ve been expecting you. I’ll just open the gates, drive down to the portico, park your car on the side of the building and the Governor’s aide will be there to meet you”.
I walked up to the portico and there was the Aide-de-camp, an Army Major, and he’s nice and straight. “Mr. Pratt” he said, “it’s nice to meet you. Come on in, Sir Henry’s waiting in the study”.
I walked up the stairs to the study, and Sir Henry was there to meet me at the door. He shook my hand and invited me in to this room with an open fire going and books everywhere, and I was still none the wiser for what was going on.
Sir Henry said “This is one of the greatest days of my time as Governor . . . will you please sit down”. I said “No, I can’t sit down, I’d rather stand, please” and he said “If you’re going to stand we’ll both stand”. He was a lovely man.
He then said “It’s with the greatest of pleasure that I inform you that the Queen has decided to award you the George Cross”. I must have had a blank look on my face – I didn’t know what a George Cross was - and he told me it’s the highest civilian award for bravery you can get.
But the penny still hadn’t dropped, so Sir Henry finally managed to sit me down and explain to me what it was all about. We then had a cup of tea, a bikkie, and he asked me about my family, my brothers and my sister, and so forth. I reckon we were there an hour before he said “Oh well, I suppose we better move on”. He shook my hand and said “Will I see you back here to receive your medal?”, as I had the option of being flown to Buckingham Palace with my wife to receive it. I said to him “I don’t know”, as I was a bit dumfounded at that stage. I then said goodbye to Sir Henry, got in my car and drove home.
I got in the door and Dianne said to me “What’s going on”. I explained to her what it was all about, then we both piled into the car and drove down to Mum and Dad’s in Macleod. I said to them “I’ve just been to the Governor’s residence – they’re going to give me a George Cross”, and I had to explain to them what a George Cross was because they didn’t know either.
Though I had the option of receiving the award at Buckingham Palace, my Mum and Dad and all the members of the family were here, and I thought it would be nice for them to be present. So I decided that I wanted to receive the medal in Melbourne and I think that in the subsequent correspondence I received from the Governor he was happy with that because he looked forward to presenting the medal.
The formal invitation then came in the post for my wife and I, plus six guests. I thought, “Hang on, this is not right”, so I rang up Sir Henry’s Aide-de-camp at Government House who said “I’ll just get the boss”. Next thing Sir Henry’s on the phone, and he said “What seems to be the problem, Michael?”. I told him the invitation only allowed for six and I wanted to bring my brothers and sisters and my uncles and aunties. Sir Henry said “How many do you want to bring along?” and I said “about 40”.
He then said: “Consider it done. Bring them all” . . . and that’s what happened.
The presentation day at Government House, November 8 I think it was, was a great day. All my family members took their places in the main ballroom while I presented to the Master of Ceremonies. He asked me my name and when I told him he advised that I was No.1 on the list of the award recipients.
He then told me to proceed down the hall to a green room and take my place at seat no.1. Because I was no.1 and got there early, I was first to enter the room and sit down.
The next person to enter the room was Ron Barassi, who was awarded his OAM that day. Ron sat next to me, we had a bit of a chinwag, and he was quite impressed that I’d won the George Cross Medal. He was a lovely bloke.
The other recipients of various awards then filed in, and after a while I was told to stand at the nearby doorway, wait for my citation and then walk in. I then heard the citation, heard my name called and walked into the room. Sir Henry then pinned the medal on me and that was that.
I first attended a reunion of George Cross winners at Buckingham Palace in 1981. On that occasion, more than 315 George Cross and Victoria Cross recipients attended. Last year there were nine VC winners in the house and 22 George Cross recipients, as quite a number have died.
When I first went to England I thought I was a fish out of water and it took a long time to sink in. But they looked up to me and while we see eachother every two years it’s like we only caught up last week . . . they’re all such lovely people, and quite unassuming.
wife and family
My future wife Dianne only lived around the corner of the old Pratt home in Macleod. She lived in a house at Munro Street, about 250 metres away as the crow flies.
Dianne and I started going out together when I was a police cadet in ’73. I’d known her since I was about 14, as she lived around the corner in Munro Street, Macleod, about 250 metres as the crow flies.
She went to secretarial school in Northcote, then went to work at a place in Elizabeth Street, not far from where I was working. She didn’t stay there long, then took up a position with ACC Insurance in St Kilda Road, then the assessing department for that company. She knew a lot of panel beaters because she was the secretary to the man in charge of assessing.
Dianne and I married on February 28, 1976 at St. John’s Church Heidelberg where my Mum and Dad married. We lived in a flat in Jika Street, Heidelberg, around the corner from the police station, and we were there when the shooting happened.
In September 1976 we bought a house in Greensborough, which is where I actually convalesced. I can remember watching the ’76 Olympics from Montreal, because colour TV hadn’t been in long. We lived there until March of 1989, when we relocated to Wallan . . . and we’ve lived in Wallan ever since.
Dianne and I are the parents of four children - Stephen, who was born in February 1979, then Danielle 1982, Amanda 1984 and Michelle 1987. We’re grandparents too now, and there’s always quite a tribe around the place.
. . . and if given the same circumstances . . . ?
That question has been put to me many, many times.
Hindsight’s a marvellous thing, and if I had my time over I’d do it a bit differently. Next time I’d wait for them to come out and run them down with my car. A car’s a pretty good weapon in front of a bank, but it’s an even better weapon if you use it another way.