A blue Chevrolet, found seemingly abandoned in the bush off the main road four miles north-east of Merredin, was a problem for the police to solve on 2 December 1953. Their first step was to investigate the number plate ‘71-724’. The car was registered to 44-year-old Arthur Smith, whose registered address was Hay Street in Perth.
Arthur was known to be a keen kangaroo hunter, so it was assumed he was in the bush shooting. Evidence of his work was apparent. There was ammunition in the vehicle, and on the back seat were dried rabbit and fox skins. Pegged outside on the ground was a kangaroo skin drying in the sun. Also in the car were loose items of clothing as well as several suitcases containing his papers and belongings. Ordinarily, police might have assumed that the owner had not gone far. The issue in this instance was that the car appeared to have been sitting in the same spot for months.
With no information forthcoming, police theories assumed the worst. Had Arthur gone kangaroo hunting and become inexplicably lost in the bush? Or had he died after accidentally shooting himself? He had no family in Perth, and his sister, Eva Waud, who lived in Merredin, had no idea her brother was nearby. She had last written to him in June and addressed the envelope to the General Post Office in Perth. Another sister, Ethel Haynes of Cranbrook, had not seen him since February.
The last sighting of Arthur was when he suddenly checked out on 19 July from the hostel he was staying at in Perth. He gave no notice and left no forwarding address. He had not been seen since, and police urged anyone knowing his whereabouts to get in touch with them. Meanwhile, Detective Francis Balcombe of the Northam Criminal Investigation Branch and Constable Charles McCormack of Merredin began searching the thick scrub near the car.
On 4 December, The Daily News reported that Arthur was still missing. That morning, 50 volunteers, including three constables from Merredin, private citizens, Aboriginal trackers, and a detachment of Army cadets from Merredin Junior High School, scoured the six-foot-high mallee scrub looking for clues. They found his tracks, but they were not recent enough to be of any use.
The mystery only deepened when those searching came across a vegetable garden. Located a quarter of a mile from the car, it looked to have been planted several months ago but had not matured. Arthur had not been found, and the car, which was in working order, was driven back to Merredin by the police.
The search continued in a large rock area on 5 December. That afternoon, four miles from the car, searchers came across a humpy in the bush. Resting inside and in good health was the elusive Arthur Smith. Unconcerned about the effort gone to locate him and the worries people had held for his wellbeing, Arthur protested to police that they had intruded upon his privacy. He also initially accused them of stealing his car, a mistake made due to the fact they were not dressed in uniform.
Arthur was brought to Merredin and stayed with his sister for a few days. He stated that he often headed out into the bush on his own for weeks at a time, and he could not understand why they had initiated a search for him. At some point, while the search was going on, he had even returned to where he left the car only to find it gone. He intended to claim it back from the police on 7 December. After that, he planned to return to the bush where, I’m sure, now knowing who he was and what he was doing there, he was left alone in peace.
- 1953 ‘FINDING OF CAR SETS A PROBLEM’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 3 December, p. 2. , viewed 19 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49603144
- 1953 ‘Missing Man May Have Been Shot’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1955), 3 December, p. 2. , viewed 19 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article266146951
- 1953 ‘CADETS JOIN IN MERREDIN SEARCH’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1955), 4 December, p. 14. (FINAL), viewed 19 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article266146364
- 1953 ‘MYSTERY STILL SURROUNDS ABANDONED CAR’, Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), 4 December, p. 1. , viewed 19 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article256938779
- 1953 ‘Garden Found Near The Mystery Car’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 5 December, p. 4. , viewed 19 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49603713
- 1953 ‘MISSING HUNTER SEARCH GOES- ON’, Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), 5 December, p. 1. , viewed 19 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75787169
- 1953 ‘”LOST” MAN LOCATED’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 6 December, p. 1. , viewed 19 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59682493
- 1953 ‘POLICE FIND MISSING CAR OWNER’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 7 December, p. 3. , viewed 19 Jun 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49603921
- Cover image: Chevrolet Sedan; Illustrations Ltd; 1952. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (Call Number: 236400PD).