The Big Issue : Edition 492
THE BIG ISSUE 28 AUG – 10 SEP 2015 21 PHOTOGRAPHSBYISTOCK was retrenched in Geelong’s Pyramid crash of the early 1990s. He ended up working at a petrol station as a console operator (my own first job while at uni). At later social gatherings, Bob and Barb were found in corners with their beers, quietly observing and only nattering with those who approached them. Soon they weren’t there at all. By the early noughties, a decade later, Dad had accepted, without animosity, the loss of his friendship with Bob Day. But Mum seemed annoyed. She’d talk with Barb on the phone from time to time, but soon Barb didn’t return her calls. Then Barb received a phone call that changed everything. She and her husband were on holidays in London in 2004, when Bob Day was phoned and told Grove Conveyancing Services had collapsed. Investigations had begun and police wanted to chat with Bob. Barb returned home, but Bob remained in the UK. Mum caught Barb on the phone upon her return. “I don’t know why they want to talk to him, Carol,” she said. “It’s a very difficult time for us.” She didn’t know that her husband, over 15 years, had stolen $6 million of his clients’ money. Some of those clients were elderly, others disabled. Many were trusted friends. Bob Day had charmed people into investing with him, then used their money to cover his investment debts, interest charges, credit cards and lifestyle – including overseas holidays. Also to put his kids through exclusive private schools. After a four-year investigation, Day was finally charged in May 2008. When, at last, he entered the Geelong police station he had a newspaper covering his face. “Couldn’t you have found better things to do this morning?” he asked the waiting photographers. But Bob’s victims thought the media were in the right place. Especially wheelchair-bound widow Mavis Avery. Bob reportedly owed her $414,000, her life savings. “I only ever met the man once and he told me he’d look after me. He did know that I lost two dear family members,” she told the Geelong Advertiser. There was a mere $200,000 in Grove Conveyancing Services’ trust account at the time of its collapse. Police investigations never located the rest of the money. After Bob Day was tried and sentenced, having pleaded guilty to 182 charges relating to the missing funds. I talked to Dad about it. “What do you think of it all?” I asked him as he tended slow-cooking sausages on his electric barbecue. “Not much.” “He was your mate.” “Well, people make their choices.” “How do you feel about it?” “I don’t want to talk about it.” “He was your best friend.” Dad turned the sausages. Case closed. Mum was in touch with Barb during Bob’s sentencing. “He says he’s innocent.” When I contacted Bob in jail, he didn’t want to be interviewed. But he wrote me a letter. There was no talk of guilt or innocence. Just disappointment that no one had visited him. DAD LOST MUCH of his life’s savings in the Pyramid collapse of the early 1990s, as well as his job. The local financial sector was rocked. But he didn’t go down with Bob Day. No way. Bob Day is now lonely in a provincial prison cell. Dad has retired to a home in Belmont, Geelong. He’s gone down a suburb from Highton, but his garden produces tomatoes, he has time to fish and travel with his wife and sons, and can get to know his grandchildren. And he still volunteers, helping the poor, disabled and elderly get fridges and washing machines. “Why doesn’t your father use his hearing aid?” Mum asks me when I visit. I tell her I don’t know. “Take him out the back and shoot him.” “I just might,” she smiles. But I reckon some people who get NILS loans would be on her doorstep if she did. » Paul Mitchell is a fiction writer, poet and freelance journalist, who is based in Melbourne.