When Monte Dwyer rocked up to the isolated Far North Queensland farm of Stephen Struber and his wife Dianne Wilson-Struber, he was just hoping they wouldn’t run him off their property.
He never imagined his interview footage would end up as part of a murder trial.
The Lake Macquarie author and former TV weatherman had been travelling around the outback in 2012 researching a book on the “grey nomad phenomenon” when he heard the story of a couple of graziers who were renowned for their tense and sometimes violent altercations with all who dared cross “their land”.
Despite their reputation for shooting at unwelcome visitors, Dwyer decided to pay a visit to Palmerville Station to uncover the Strubers’ side of the story.
When he left a day later with his footage – and Stephen’s denials of his reputation for terrorising those on his land – Dwyer thought that was the last he would hear of the Strubers.
It wasn’t until a few months later when he returned to Far North Queensland to attend a writer’s festival that he learnt there was far more to the tale of Palmerville Station and its inhabitants, who were being investigated for the alleged murder of gold prospector Bruce Schuler.
“I was researching the previous Red in the Centre book, which is my non-fiction range, and that book was called Nomads at Large about the whole infiltration of grey nomads all around the country, 60,000-80,000 nomads wandering around, changing the countryside,” Dwyer said.
“While I was in North Queensland I heard about this couple of graziers who had a reputation for not liking people going through their property, be they prospectors, Telecom workers or indeed grey nomads, they just didn’t like it.
“It’s not uncommon out there in the bush, sometimes farmers get a bit proprietary, but this particular pair had a reputation for shooting at people, pulling people up at gunpoint, physical violence, tyre staking, that sort of thing.
“So I thought bugger it, I’ll go in and talk to them. I just wandered in and turned up on their doorstep; I didn’t ring in advance because they’d have said no so I just turned up and said ‘Look I’ve heard everybody else’s side of the story, I’m here to give you a chance to give your side of the story’.
“They took the bait, and I had an interview with Stephen Struber and talked to him about why he was so cranky with people going through.
“I thought he had certain complaints that were valid… but I pushed him pretty hard on why he had this reputation for bailing people up and of course he denied everything.
“I got the interview and went on my way. Then shortly after that it turned out that he and his wife murdered a bloke called Bruce Schuler who was a prospector, they found him on his property, and they murdered him.
“I heard about it when I came back to North Queensland two or three months later, and somebody said ‘Did you interview Stephen Struber?’ and I said ‘I did’. I asked why and he said ‘He shot my mate’.
“I gave my footage to the cops, which they used as sort of background. There wasn’t much in there that could have been incriminating, but it did give them an idea of what (the Strubers) were thinking and how they were working this sort of stuff out.”
Understandably Dwyer became interested in the ensuing murder trial, following it through from their initial conviction and sentence of life imprisonment, all the way to the Strubers’ final, unsuccessful appeal to the High Court.
It was a watershed case for the Queensland judicial system that eventually led to the introduction of ‘no body, no parole’ legislation because Schuler’s body has never been found.
Dwyer said he was “fascinated” by both the legal nature of the story as well as what it suggested about the darker side of isolation in rural Australia, with his own unique position of being involved “before the fact” prompting him to chronicle the events in a new book: Struberville: Consequences of Isolation.
“I followed it all the way through and got to know the players pretty well and because I was in the mix in an insignificant way - my interview was part of the matrix of evidence - the police were very good about telling me stuff and I could get access to material that wasn’t always easy to get hold of,” he said.
“As a consequence, I was able to tell this story from before the fact, which I think is really quite interesting that a journalist gets to interview a would-be murderer before they do it."
“In many ways, it is a watershed case in Queensland’s judicial system. Legally it’s quite fascinating, as well as the isolation thing, which is really quite bizarre.
“(When) the checks and balances of society aren’t brought to bear on them, people go a little bit stir crazy. They start making up their own laws, and each time they get away with something it would embolden them further, so they just kept getting bolder and bolder.
“As someone who’s been mainly used to fairly whimsical, tongue-in-cheek, have a bit of fun with it (stories), it was a really disciplined write. I had to be very clear, and I had to be very fair to both sides.
“There were several times in the process I thought do I really want to do this story, but in the end, I thought look, no-one else could tell this story the way I can because I started on the inside, so I really owe it to the people who want the story told.
“That’s been one of the great, really satisfying things about this book; really it has pleased both sides. I haven’t heard a lot from the Wilson-Struber’s side, but some of the family have recognised that it’s a very fair account.
“But certainly the Schuler family were grateful that someone was prepared to tell a clean version of the story, unobstructed by editorialisation and passing judgement.
“It’s important to me to tell stories seldom told because as we go on we’re losing these stories and mainstream media tends not to go bush.
“I can be out there in the bush and uncover the stories myself that nobody else has heard of really, and in this instance, I got embroiled in it.”
To find out more about Dwyer’s range of books and DVDs, including Struberville: Consequences of Isolation, visit www.monte.com.au