Ashburton and the Friday Night Fights
When I started this blog, I did not want to shy away from the darker history of Ashburton and the surrounding areas. From writing about the murders of Maureen Ferrari in 1965 and Valerie Dunn in 1968, several people have contacted me about the culture of violence prevalent in the neighbourhood at the time.
Violence – either in the home or in public – has a long and tragic history in Australian culture. Australia has long told its men they need to be physically and mentally tough to be considered sufficiently masculine. During the late 1960s and early 70s, the spectre of conscription also hung over the head of many young men. The press carried daily reports on the slaughter of them in Vietnam. Young Australian men combined cultural expectations with their anger over the lack of control over their lives and carried it with them all week. Then, after a few drinks with their mates, their anger could explode in fist fights with each other on Friday and Saturday nights. These fights regularly occurred outside dances, food outlets and pubs.
In Ashburton, the dry-area laws meant there were no pubs for men to drink in. So these fights tended to be limited to dances and the sporting fields. The long defunct Ashburton Football Club had a notoriously bad reputation for violence either during matches or when the game did not go their way. According to a former player I spoke to, after each match the young men would partake in a ‘barrel’ (a quantity of alcohol much bigger than the keg we know today) of beer before staggering home or worse, tumbling into cars to look for food and a fight.
The police did not tend to bother themselves too much with the Friday night fights. There were usually no weapons involved and the fights had always long dispersed before anyone managed to find a phone and summon the police. As far as they were concerned, this was just Aussie boys doing what they had done themselves back in the day. This means it’s hard to ascertain how systemic the problem was today.
Con’s fish and chip shop near the corner of Huntingdale and Waverley Road had a reputation as a location for these fights. That’s one of the reasons a lot of young men went there. The fight that occurred outside Con’s on the night of 1 March 1968 would not have rated much of a mention if it had not ended very differently from the thousands of fights that had come before it across Melbourne.
After just one punch, 17 year old Tim Harvey died. The perpetrator was a 20 year old Ashburton resident, Peter Holzer. Holzer’s name would later live on in the resulting court case. For it is what he did that night that set in motion a change in the legal landscape around these fights and, in particular, what we know today as ‘one-punch’ laws.
Timothy Mark Harvey
Tim Harvey was a tall, well-built 17-year old with a pleasant nature. He wouldn’t have known it then but with his shaggy blonde hair, he looked a little like Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars movie (or the 4th one - whatever the number is now).
Tim lived with his parents and younger brother in Johnson Drive, Glen Waverley. The year before he died, he received a six subject Leaving pass (this is before my time but some Googling says this is very good) and commenced a business management course at Prahran Technical College a few months before his death.
‘He was good at school – a bit lazy but good – and he was settling down nicely,’ his devastated mother told The Herald the day after he died. ‘He didn’t deserve to die like this.’
On 1 March 1968, the last day of Tim’s life, the lazy side of his temperament surfaced and he decided he didn’t feel like going to school. His girlfriend Sue, a dressmaker who lived with her family in Chadstone, was unable to go to work because of a wide-spread electricity strike. So Tim decided to visit with her.
Sue and Tim spent the afternoon like most 1960s teenagers did; buying drinks from the milkbar and listening to records in Sue’s room. The couple had plans to go out for the evening to the Wheeler’s Hill Hotel with Sue’s friend Jean, her brothers Tony and Keith, and one of their friends, John.
The friends arrived at the Hotel around 8 pm in two cars. They had a few rounds of beer, chatted and listened to music for around two hours. It was a pleasant and uneventful evening.
Con’s Fish Shop
By closing time, Sue wanted to go home but the others wanted to pick up some fish and chips at Con’s Fish Shop on Huntingdale Road near Waverley Road. Since she lived nearby, the friends drove Sue home. She and Tim said their goodbyes. It was the last time Sue saw Tim alive.
‘When he left me, he was in a happy mood,’ Sue told the police later. ‘He never provoked or had an argument with any person that night.’
Back at Con’s Fish Shop, around a dozen young men had congregated along the shopping strip when the boys and Jean arrived. Tim knew one of them, Ken Rea, and gave him a friendly nod and a ‘g’day’ as he walked into the shop. There was no other conversation between any of the others.
Inside the shop, the friends placed their orders. As they waited, Tony and Keith started teasing Jean about Stewart, her boyfriend. What was she doing out with a group of boys? Jean was very sensitive about Stewart. The Government had drafted him to fight in Vietnam and he was up at Puckapunyal Army Camp in basic training. Since teenage boys can be total pricks to their sisters, Jean started to cry.
Meanwhile, outside the shop, Ken Rea watched as a few acquaintances drove up to the shop in a blue/green HD Holden. They were three friends; Mark Crabtree, Peter Holzer and Terrence Lawson. Since most of the young men around the neighbourhood vaguely knew each other either through school, girlfriends, Jordanville Tech or work, it was not surprising that the trio struck up a conversation with one of the groups of young men. Among them were casual friends of Mark and Peter’s; Russell Wade and Lennie Harrison.
Inside the shop Tim, being a kind-hearted fellow, put his arm around Jean to comfort he over her brothers’ teasing. He led her outside. As he walked past his acquaintance Ken, the two exchanged a glance. The other to say ‘what’s going on?’ and Tim to shake his head and smile as if to say, ‘no way’ he would do that to Sue.
A fatal act of violence
As Jean’s brothers and John left the shop to join Jean and Tim, what happened next occurred very quickly.
Tim’s friend Keith said later, ‘The boys in the main bunch appeared to know Tim and as they passed this group, one of them said to Tim something like, ‘hey you, how about giving me a kiss?’ or something like that. He was standing right in front of him and Tim kept saying, ‘No, no, no.’
Then one of them hit Tim. ‘He only hit him once on the face. Tim fell backwards onto the roadway and hit his head.’ Everyone heard the crack of Tim’s skull breaking.
Ken Rea concurred with this version of events. John Kipps, another young man there that night said, ‘the boy that did this was Peter Holzer who I’ve known for a couple of months. After he hit him, he walked further up towards the service station end of the shops and was fighting with someone else.’
Yet another boy concurred. ‘I first knew Peter Holzer about two years ago, I’ve seen him around a few times. He was the one who threw the punch at Tim.’
Meanwhile, Tony and John were being pummeled by Russell Wade and Lennie Harrison. One of the three grabbed Keith saying ‘what do you want some too do you?’ and threw him across the boot of the car and started punching him.
Jean was screaming hysterically, kneeling over Tim’s inert body and trying to rouse him. He was lying face up with his head on the roadway and his legs on the footpath. His nose was bleeding and his lip was slightly cut but there was no other obvious damage except for the strange noise of his breathing. Realising Tim was not moving, a few of the other boys not involved in the fight ran over to try and help Jean with Tim. They lifted him into the back of their car, an EH Holden sedan.
Then it stopped as quickly as it started. The three attackers had moved up the road. None of Tim’s friends had even thrown a punch.
John, Keith, Tony and Jean piled into their car and led the other boys with Tim to his girlfriend’s Sue’s house. One of the boys in the car with Tim said, ‘I stayed in the back of the car with him and tried to wake him up but I couldn’t. He was out cold and kept on snoring while I was slapping his face trying to wake him up.’
At Sue’s house, her parents sent them immediately to Tim’s house. Tim was transferred into his friends’ car.
By this time, Tim was in a very bad way and had stopped breathing. The boys got Tim into the house and laid him on his bed. His desperate mother gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and one of the friends gave him external heart massage. Someone called for a doctor and an ambulance but by the time the doctor arrived, Tim was dead.
In shock, Tony and John left the house and drove to Oakleigh Police Station.
Peter Holzer was a tall, good-looking young man aged 20. ‘He was a good bloke usually,’ one of his old acquaintances told me. ‘But when he drank, he could be very unpredictable.’
The eldest of six children, Peter lived in Mustang Court, Ashburton with his parents. Like many in the area, it was not a happy home. His father had war neurosis and his mother suffered from unspecified ill-health that required an operation. The night of Tim’s death, Peter had already served time for violent offences, possibly in relation to the affair he was allegedly having with his friend’s wife.
His uncle ran a brickworks across town and Peter picked up casual work as a brick labourer. But his volatility made him an unreliable employee.
Peter Holzer, Mark Crabtree and Terrence Lawson had been drinking at the Mountain View Hotel in Glen Waverley since around 7 pm on the night of Tim’s death. In those days, whoever had a car was the one who got to decide how the evening went. After an hour, the trio moved on to the Village Green Hotel in Mulgrave. They stayed there drinking steadily until closing time at 10 pm. Then they headed to Con’s in Huntingdale Road for potato cakes. At the shop, they met up with two acquaintances, Russell Wade and Len Harrison.
After Tim walked by, Russell recalled Peter turning to him and Len and saying, ‘do you want to fight?’ ‘I’m easy,’ Russell replied. ‘OK, let’s go,’ Peter said. And that was all there was to it.
One witness remembered Mark Crabtree was the one to break the fight up. Russell said later the first thing Peter said to him afterwards was, ‘did you see the grouse straight hander? I laid the bloke out with one punch!’ Another witness recalled Peter telling him boastfully, ‘It was a right cross, one of the best punches you can give!’
But both Mark and Terry were disgusted with what Len, Russell and Peter had done. There were unspoken rules about Friday night fights that included the need for provocation and a fair fight. None of Tim’s friends had done anything to remotely come close to provoking them. As far as they were concerned, the men had broken the unacknowledged code.
‘What a c#nt act, you should not have done that,’ Mark said he told them. ‘But they just shrugged their shoulders,’ he continued. ‘On the way to Peter’s house, I had a big argument with him about the fight, he didn’t seem to care less about it.’
As he sobered up, Peter grew remorseful. The next morning, the morning paper carried the news that Tim had died. It was Peter who called Mark to tell him. ‘I’m in a bit of trouble, what am I going to do?’ he told Mark. ‘He kept repeating that he should not have hit the bloke,’ Mark told police later.
Later that day, Terry Lawson met Mark and Peter at Chadstone Shopping Centre. ‘Peter said he was going to have one last night on the town and then give himself up,’ Terry said. ‘Then he went off.’
The police turned up at Peter’s house in Mustang Court on Sunday, 3 March. Russell and Len had already been taken in and charged with affray. The police had already interviewed Tim's friends, his girlfriend Sue and other witnesses who came forward. Whatever code of silence existed around the fights and the police, no-one was prepared to protect Peter Holzer now that an innocent young man was dead.
During his interview, Peter admitted hitting Tim. The police charged him with murder. It was later reduced to manslaughter.
Peter Holzer’s trial
Despite arguing his terrible family circumstances, Peter Holzer was refused bail. His manslaughter trial began on 12 June 1968 and for the first time, the press used the phrase ‘king-hit’ to describe what he had done to Tim.
‘Harvey was approached by Holzer who, for no apparent reason, smashed him in the face with his fist. It was an unprovoked and brutal attack on a young boy,’ the Crown Prosecutor L W Flanagan stated.
Peter Holzer took the stand. He admitted he had hit Tim but denied he had intended to kill him. ‘I’m the person who caused his death. I never meant to harm him. I never meant to do any serious damage to him at all. It wasn’t a hard punch, and it wasn’t a soft one. I thought it would just cut his lip or sting.’
After only six hours of deliberation, the jury declared they were hung. This was an exceptionally short time for a jury to decide they could not agree.
The problem was that at the time, the Victorian Crimes Act 1958 decreed manslaughter had the same requirements as reckless or intentional murder except for mitigating circumstances. These were in relation to suicide pacts and excessive force in self-defense. The idea that an accused could accidentally cause the death of someone outside of these circumstances and not be charged with murder was called ‘involuntary manslaughter’. Until the Holzer case, this was a largely untested legal area.
The case turned on whether Peter Holzer knew that what he was doing was dangerous enough to cause death. The jury could not decide.
‘A tendency for violence’: Peter Holzer’s second trial
In his second trial, Peter Holzer pled not guilty. Although Holzer again admitted that he had hit Tim, his defense argued that he had not intended to kill him. But on 17 August 1968, the jury convicted him.
‘Although only 20,’ Justice Smith said in his statement, ‘Holzer had a bad record and had already been gaoled twice for assault. He has shown a tendency to violence which, in the end, has had tragic results.’
The jury recommended mercy. Although there was strong community disapproval for what he’d done, they did not believe Peter Holzer intended to kill Tim Harvey. Justice Smith sentenced him to a three year prison term with a minimum of 18 months.
In his judgment, Justice Smith wrote, ‘the Crown has shown that a reasonable man would have realised that he was exposing the victim to an appreciable danger of some really serious injury.’
In doing so, Justice Smith set in motion the foundation of Victoria’s one-punch laws.
It certainly doesn’t seem that the fateful events outside Con’s Fish Shop changed the propensity for violence among Ashburton’s youths. However, after his conviction, there is no mention of Peter Holzer on the public record. The acquaintance I spoke to who knew him and all the boys involved that night told me he had no idea what had happened to them all.
It would still be another 46 years, numerous deaths of young men just like Tim Harvey, and a widespread media campaign to redefine ‘king hit’ to ‘coward’s punch’ for the Holzer precedent to be over-turned.
‘One-punch manslaughter’ now carries a maximum penalty of 10 years under Victorian laws introduced in 2014.
To quote a 2018 report on one-punch violence:
‘the victim’s lives have been destroyed through this one incredibly stupid action that might have occurred a thousand times and not produced the same result. That was the risk that someone took throwing that punch.’
Thanks to Keith M for sharing his memories of this time. Compiled with documents from the inquest into Tim Harvey's death and the following news reports:
 Clancy, Geoff, "Street Mob Attack - Boy Dies," The Herald, 2 March 1968.  "Bail Refused on Killing Charge," Canberra Times, 13 March 1968.  "Jury Fails to Agree in Fight Case," The Age, 14 June 1968.