A more sensational peace-time event that earned a young woman the George Medal took place in Australia in 1972. It was known as the Faraday School Kidnapping, and its hero was Mary Elizabeth Gibbs.
Miss Gibbs was 20 years old and in charge of the one-teacher school in Faraday in the farming area near the town of Castlemaine, in the State of Victoria. Two armed men broke into the school and abducted Gibbs and six of her female students (four were away due to illness). The men left a ransom note for $1,000,000 and forced their hostages into a van and drove into a forest. To stop the children from being frightened, Miss Gibbs pretended it was a game and sang songs to them during the night. Just before dawn, she discovered that the men had left the front of the van and she urged the children to kick open the back door with her. They were lucky as the door came free and they were able to make their escape.
Connected to this event was another feat of bravery on the part of the State of Victoria's Minister for Education at the time, Lindsay Thompson. He later became Premier of the State. He delivered the ransom money in person to the place where the hostages were being kept, but fortunately they had escaped before the money could be handed over. In an amazing second incident, five years later after the kidnapper had been released from prison he attempted the same thing, abducting a teacher and group of students in rural Gippsland. Mr Thompson rushed to the scene where he intended to offer himself in exchange for the hostages, but the kidnapper was arrested after a shoot-out with the police. (One can't imagine a modern politician putting his life on the line like this!). More about the late Lindsay Thompson here.
|Lindsay Thompson, Mary Gibbs and Christine Ellery (former student) at Faraday School 2004. |
Copyright The Age
One important outcome of these events was that one-teacher schools in remote areas of Australia became a thing of the past and hastened the closure of other rural schools with low enrolments.
More on the Faraday kidnapping story here and more detail in the links below. (They may work, or not, depending on your location as all these newspapers now charge for such archival records.)
Author Gabrielle Lord wrote a novel called Fortress, loosely based on the event and which spawned a movie of the same name.