Terang Express
Robbery reunion heals 35-year wounds

TERANG’S Steve Lamb’s life changed forever on January 31, 1984, after he was taken hostage in a bank robbery in Sydney, had a gun to his head and escaped with his life thanks to the quick thinking of police.

Now, 35 years on, the mental and emotional wounds of the incident have finally taken a significant step towards healing as he recently reunited with the people involved in the event, including the police officer who saved his life.

On Tuesday, January 31, 1984, the final hours of what was a normal work day at the George Street Commonwealth Bank branch for Mr Lamb and his colleagues would soon turn into a day none of them would ever forget.

At about 3.10pm, 35 year-old Hakki Atahan entered the branch and announced his intention to rob the bank.

Mr Lamb said it soon became clear he was not looking for a quick escape from the bank branch.

“He was using our branch as a safe haven,” he said.

“He was going to use us as his defence.”

Mr Atahan had successfully robbed about 17 banks since the year prior and had robbed two banks earlier that day.

Mr Lamb said he fired his gun in the branch, but released the four female bank members.

He said the gunman spoke with the large number of police officers and other response personnel outside the branch until he came up with his next move.

Mr Lamb said at about 5pm, Atahan forced the five remaining male staff members to leave the branch with guns pointed at their heads.

“He got us to form a human shield,” he said.

The strange formation marched down Pitt Street with police and television news crews following them close behind.

“It was incredible, it was like a procession,” Mr Lamb said.

“It was like a circus.”

Getting onto Hunter Street, the captor moved the five men into a Datsun 180B.

Squashed into the middle of the back seat of the car, Mr Lamb said it was clear Atahan had no clear escape plan.

The car drove from Circular Quay to Bondi Junction, over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and eventually to Manly.

Atahan forced one of the men to get out of the car to call his girlfriend to meet them in Manly.

His girlfriend then replaced one of the men in the car, as they continued to the Spit Bridge, which was raised.

“This was where it was going to end,” Mr Lamb said.

Mr Lamb said he has had constant flashbacks of what happened next for 30 years following the incident.

He recalled Senior Constable Steve Canellis coming up to the window of the car and Atahan shooting him between the eyes.

Two police officers quickly discharged shots, one entering through a side window and the other through the back window, both striking Atahan.

Mr Lamb received injuries to his head from glass and bullet shavings.

“I thought I’m not going to come out of this alive,” he said.

“It honestly felt like someone had hit me with a baseball bat.”

Exiting the vehicle and ending up on the side of the road, Mr Lamb remembers one of the police officers saying to him he was a “goner”.

Atahan was luckily the only casualty, as Snr Const Canellis survived, with part of the bullet which nearly killed him still residing in his shoulder.

Mr Lamb said he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder in the 30 years following the incident.

“I think it’s gone now,” he said.

Returning to work with the bank, Mr Lamb said he became “aloof” and always alert in a crowded room.

Mr Lamb moved to Queensland and spent 18 years in several jobs including real estate and insurance positions.

He and his son moved to Linton in 2004, where he met his wife Anne Gleeson while working in the funeral industry in Ballarat.

The pair married in 2010 and purchased Macqueen’s Funerals in 2014.

Mr Lamb said the love and support of his wife Anne was a major part of his recovery.

“When Anne and I married, she went on the journey to get me where I am now,” he said.

Mr Lamb said the move to the Terang area, coupled with having a loving family, friends and employees had allowed him to move on.

“I have three full-time staff members I couldn’t live without,” he said.

“I’ve had a few lifestyle changes.

“This last one is the best one I’ve had.”

Mr Lamb experienced a profound cathartic experience earlier this year, when Channel 9 contacted him asking if he wished to feature in an upcoming show highlighting the events of January 31, 1984.

They flew him out to Sydney to reunite with a number of his fellow hostages and the three police officers who helped them escape from the bandit’s clutches.

“It was so good to see them,” he said.

“It was a healing thing. It’s because of them that I’m alive.”

Mr Lamb said what was planned to be a brief meeting turned into an “outpouring of emotion” which stretched into the evening.

He said it was a debrief which should have happened 35 years ago, as he had never had a chance to thank them.

Terang and Camperdown has become home for Mr Lamb and Ms Gleeson, with Mr Lamb now looking forward to his son’s marriage in November.

“We’ll be in Terang until we die,” he said.

Mr Lamb said he had finally reached a place of contentment.

“I did it tough for 30 years,” he said.

“I’ve been able to turn it around.

“I’m not afraid to talk about it anymore.”

Mr Lamb will feature in the ‘Murder, Lies and Alibis’ Channel 9 program on Monday, July 22 from 9.30pm.