Former PLSLSC captain John Turner, Colin Macleod and Cliff Deacon carried out the bold heist in 1957, stealing the camel from the visiting circus, camped near the original surf club.
Through a Camel’s Eye is the first book in Johnston’s new sea-change mystery series.
A teenager in Point Lonsdale at the time, she clearly remembers hearing of the boys’ antics.
“I remember it in the 60’s and in the way that things just sit at the back of your mind and then pop out. It popped out when I was thinking about how to start my mystery novel,” she said.
“It is a very amusing story, I don’t think it’s the type of thing you could get away with today.
The camel was loosely tethered with a rope, it was pitch dark and the young men had quite a bit to drink, the story goes.
“He wanted to be stolen,” Mr Macleod reportedly stated.
The enterprising trio evidently thought the full-grown male beast would be perfect for hauling their belongings over the back beach sand dune.
The abductee however proved uncooperative in the crime, sitting down and refusing to budge.
When he did get up eventually, the problem became how to hide him. They tried a tent, and someone even had the idea of the Point Lonsdale lighthouse. Eventually the lads took the camel all the way to Ocean Grove.
All three remember the police appearing at their door next morning.
“My story starts with the camel disappearing and they think they’ll find it very easily, but in my case it stays lost,” says Johnston.
“When I’m writing my novels I obviously draw on many, many memories. My main characters are two police constables who work out of the Queenscliff station – Chris Blackie and Anthea Merritt.
“They are just two ordinary officers who stumble on what turns out to be a murder. “They don’t bare any resemblance to anyone in Queenscliff but the physical aspects are there like the police station itself, across the road from the black lighthouse.”
Johnston is no stranger to the crime genre, having written a quartet of mysteries set in Canberra. The first of these, The Trojan Dog, was joint winner ACT Book of the Year. Two of her literary novels, One for the Master and Ruth, have been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award. She has published many short stories and essays and reviews fiction for Fairfax media.
“This is the first book that has been set entirely in Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale,” she said. “It’s got a light touch and hopefully a humorous element because there are quite a few eccentric locals who come into the story as we go. But there is also a dark side to it.”
The novel will be the first of three in the series. A potential television series is also not out of the question.
Through a Camel’s Eye will be launched by Commissioner John Johnson, AO, at the Vue Grand Hotel, on Saturday April 23d from 4 PM. RSVP : thebookshopatqueenscliff@ gmail.com
POSTSCRIPT: Back to the fate of the camel… It was returned to the circus safe and well with some (disputed) claims it had been painted black and yellow – Point Lonsdale Surf Club Colours!