Unlikely heroes shine as neighbourhood watches

Sam de Brito -Mar 25, 2012


AN OLD friend of mine recently recounted to me the terrifying experience of a home invasion, when she and her boyfriend were beaten and threatened by two men.

It's a horrible story, made all the more unbelievable by the reactions of her neighbours, who did absolutely nothing to help. In fact, it's almost a modern parable of how we can put our trust in the wrong people because, when it came to the crunch, the most unlikely of heroes materialised to save the day.

My friend is not the sort of person you'd turn away from your front door. She's respectable, a former editor of a well-known, national magazine; she's bright, polite and showers. None of that seemed to matter to the other middle-class professionals in her inner-suburban street that warm summer night.

It was about 11pm on a Sunday when my friend - let's call her Anne - heard unfamiliar sounds from the rear of her house. Her boyfriend said she was being paranoid, so he jokingly crept out of bed to find the ''spooky men'', opened their bedroom door and was attacked by two hooded males.

The intruders proceeded to beat her naked boyfriend, dragging him down the hallway, as he screamed out to Anne to call the police. While she searched for the cordless phone in their bedroom, one of the men returned to menace her, telling her he'd kill her if she resisted.

''I never realised how powerfully terror manifests itself physically,'' she told me, ''I started sweating like I'd been running - I stank of it for about five days afterwards.

''I was frozen. Time slowed down to nothing, sounds were weirdly amplified. I would love to see a video of what I was actually doing. It was sheer panic.''

The attackers dragged her boyfriend into the couple's lounge room, smashing windows and destroying furniture, all the while kicking and punching him, as he fought them into the rear of the house.

Everyone was screaming, glass was shattering, objects crashing to the ground and it was late at night on a Sunday. Theirs is a sleepy inner-city street, with little traffic, houses nuzzled up to each other, only metres apart.

''No one came to see what was happening, no one called the police,'' she told me.

Petrified her boyfriend would be killed, Anne bolted out her front door in her underwear (''thank god, I'd worn them to bed'') and ran to her neighbours' house.

''They turned off their lights. I was screaming out their names. We knew them, we were friendly with them,'' Anne said.

She then ran across to her neighbours on the other side of her house. ''They turned off their lights as well. That was one of the worst moments of my life, realising they were going to do nothing.''

Anne stood in the dark street in her underwear screaming for someone, anyone, to help, when ''this crazy-looking man came running down the road at me''.

''There were two guys coming behind him with missing teeth and beards, wearing footy shorts and thongs and I thought, 'Oh no, there's more of them.'''

Instead one of the men asked, ''You all right, love?'' then charged through her front door with his mates, scaring off the intruders, who escaped over the back fence, yelling, ''We've got a gun!''

The rescuers? They'd heard Anne's screams from up the road, from the halfway house for people just released from prison, the undesirables whom the middle-class professionals muttered about during the day and locked their doors to at night.

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