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The Magnetic Drill Gang
Sunday 22nd November 1978:
The Magnetic Drill Gang
    Striking quietly and precisely this job was carried out at the Bank of New South Wales branch in Murwillumbah, on the New South Wales far north coast. At the time it was the biggest bank robbery in Australian history raking in more than 1.7million dollars -- and, it has never been recovered!
    Before the Murwillumbah raid the gang had already grossed more than $ 1 million from robberies in Melbourne and Sydney. Their two largest hauls were $350,000 from an American Express office in Melbourne and $250 000 worth of rings, earrings, diamonds and gold from a manufacturing jeweller, also in Melbourne.
    Common to the gang's raids were two pieces of specialised equipment. The first was a circular electro-magnet which was clamped onto the side of the safe. It held in place a powerful diamond-tipped drill which made a hole just above the tumblers of the lock.
    The gang then used a medical cystoscope to look through the drill hole. A special attachment allowed the operator to move the tumblers and open the safe.
    Police believed the gang had perfected the method of operation on a Chubb safe (a popular brand) which they had stolen in Melbourne. All their robberies involved Chubb safes. It was a particularly intricate method, for just a fraction of a millimetre either way when drilling above the tumblers would ruin the whole operation.
   The Murwillumbah robbery would have taken several hours to complete. While one man cut an escape exit through to the second floor of the bank, the others worked on disconnecting the combination lock of the vault.
   The robbery was not discovered until 7.30 a.m. the next day when a security officer patrolling the bank found the back door open, and the safe drilled. However it took bank officers and police nine hours to confirm that the money had been stolen.
Brute strength triumphed
   The thieves had jammed shut the vault door after taking the money. They had also removed the combination lock dials and the safe handle from the door. Locksmiths from the Chubb Vault Company worked on the door for five hours before conceding defeat.
   An engineer and workmen from the Tweed Shire Council were then called, and arrived with pneumatic drills and sledgehammers. Where the subtlety of the Chubb experts had failed, the brute strength of the boys from the bush triumphed. Ironically, for the last layer of the vault, a diamond-tipped drill had to be used.
PICTURED The safe of the Murwillumbah bank showing the holes drilled and the dyna studs used to clamp down an electromagnet; the latter held in place the diamond-tipped drill used by the thieves.
   At 4.30 p.m. a bank official put his head through the hole and confirmed the inevitable. The exact total of the theft was $1,763,400, all in untraceable notes. The money had arrived at the bank on the day of the robbery. Stored in large plastic containers, it had been collected from banks throughout the northeast of New South Wales. The Murwillumbah branch was the major point of receipt for old notes on their way to the Reserve Bank.
   Police were able to prepare two identikit pictures of men wanted for questioning over the robbery. They had been seen near the bank at about 9.30 p.m., and probably drove a white Holden HQ panel van which was sighted nearby. Detectives believed the men had probably used the Gold Coast as their base. Because of the large number of tourists in the area they would be quite inconspicuous.
   One detective said they had probably driven down to Murwillumbah for the robbery then driven back up to Surfers Paradise. He commented, 'They were probably back in bed asleep before the robbery was discovered'.
They all shot through
   Murwillumbah quickly became famous as a result of the robbery, and the locals were not slow to capitalise on the exposure. A popular song was written -- 'They came, they saw, they conquered, and then they all shot through . . .' -- and a local menswear shop marketed special T-shirts to 'celebrate' the event.
   Tea towels, calendars, beer mugs and coffee cups followed, all recalling the night the Magnetic Drill Gang came to town, and put Murwillumbah on the map. Despite a reward of $250,000 police were unable to track down the men responsible for the huge heist. They are baffled to this day.
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