It was Nathaniel with whom Stacey Train first fell in love in the mid-1990s, when they met through a Toowoomba Baptist Church. He was calmer and more personable than his strong-willed, hot-headed older brother Gareth. They married in their late teens. His father presided over the service. They had two children and, despite becoming estranged from both families soon after, remained close to Gareth, who lived with them. At some point, the relationship shifted; Stacey left Nathaniel for Gareth. Nathaniel moved away from the pair, achieved career success, and met another partner. Stacey, a teacher, moved with Gareth around regional Queensland to towns such as Camooweal, near the Northern Territory border, and Mount Isa.
Out west, locals found Gareth – who worked for a while as a school groundskeeper – domineering and strange. One told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation he would gut wild pigs in his yard which backed onto the school, so blood and offal ran onto the football oval. He would discipline children by marching them home to their parents with their arms twisted behind their backs. One also said she saw Gareth dragging Stacey, who was “completely subservient” to him, by the hair. A relative of Stacey’s said her estranged mother would call and leave a message on her birthday, but if “controlling” Gareth answered, she would hang up.
Away from Gareth and Stacey, things were going well for Nathaniel. He had met another woman, and they had engaged an architect to build their dream home in Moruya, on the south coast of NSW. They were often seen walking their dog together. In mid-2020, he was hired by the NSW Department of Education to lead Walgett Community College Primary School, which is difficult to staff due to violence at the high school and the bitter politics of the town. His partner moved there too, and took a teaching job.
He used the same teaching methods that underpinned his success in Queensland; setting rules and enforcing them, cracking down on staff he felt were failing to pull their weight, and telling meddlesome parents to stay outside the gate. He also favoured rote learning and direct instruction; one of his strategies in Innisfail had been to get students to memorise through chants at the beginning of the day.
This approach can be divisive wherever it’s used, and Walgett was no different. Some parents, elders and teachers were fans of his drive to lift learning outcomes for students. “He was wonderful. He was making some really important changes,” said one, who, like other residents of Walgett, did not want to be quoted due to town politics. Others were furious. “He wasn’t a very nice person,” someone who worked at the school told this masthead, adding he refused to be vaccinated for COVID-19. “His way of trying to improve results was being very strict, lots of suspension.”
Most principals are forced out of Walgett due to similar conflict – over a 23-year period, the high school next door had 29 leaders – but that’s not what ended Nathaniel’s tenure. He had a massive heart attack in the front office in August last year, and had to be revived by a school counsellor and an assistant principal.
He took time out to recover but never went back, becoming a man of no fixed address. Nathaniel nursed growing resentment towards the NSW Department of Education for, in his view, failing to support him when he came under fire from a powerful faction in the town. In March, he fired off a barrage of emails to the department’s secretary, Georgina Harrisson. He complained to the Ombudsman and his local MP. One Nation MP Mark Latham raised his concerns in parliament.
Perhaps it was trauma, resentment, or even a brain injury due to a lack of oxygen during the heart attack, but Nathaniel’s personality seemed to change. When anyone in Walgett asked his partner how he was, she would walk away. In Moruya, she took over the building project. Nathaniel told those with whom he was in contact about Walgett that he preferred to email than call because he was living in a place with poor connectivity, which suggested he might have spent much of his time at his brother’s house, where mobile reception was patchy.
Psychologists say people who feel like they have lost control of their lives, and feel that their trust in institutions has been betrayed, are vulnerable to conspiracy theories as a way to regain control. Nathaniel was grappling with the trauma from a heart attack, and a festering grievance from his time in Walgett. “He had a brother who was already involved,” said Sydney University psychology academic Micah Goldwater. “You have someone right there to say, ‘look what the institutions you trusted did, here’s a system you can trust’.”
While Nathaniel worked in Walgett, it is unclear whether he knew his estranged sister, Naomi, worked an hour away in Brewarrina, also as an educator who identified as Indigenous. The two brothers split from their parents and two other siblings 23 years ago, their father Ronald told A Current Affair this week, and never explained why. “Gwen [his late wife] and I took a trip back in 2004, to Charters Towers [near Townsville], to track them down, to try to talk to them,” he said. “But they refused to let us into the house.”
The split also meant Ron and Gwen were estranged from Nathaniel and Stacey’s two children, now adults. Their son, who describes himself as a proud Wailwan man from the central west of NSW, was Queensland’s top-achieving indigenous student in the mid-2010s, achieving an OP 1, which equates to an ATAR of at least 99. He knocked back an offer at a sandstone university in Sydney to study engineering at the University of Southern Queensland. He planned to devote his talents to improving the lot of people in the regions. His “parents are proud of him and happy for him to go anywhere with his degrees”, read a university publication, “but he feels the pull of his Wailwan heritage.”
Ronald Train does not think it was his intense religious beliefs that drove his sons away. “I’ve got two other children who didn’t have that trauma,” said the pastor, who converted to Christianity in 1985. His views sit on the conservative end of the spectrum; in a 2015 constitution governing the church he set up, the Christian Independent Fellowship of Toowoomba, he encourages regular sharing with “unbelievers”, stresses that leadership roles belong to men, and decrees “scriptures must be accepted literally in the first instance.” His books include Protestant Shame, and Without Absolutes, God is not God.
Gareth and Nathaniel might have rejected their family, but they do not seem to have rejected religion. “I am a son of Yahweh the creator God,” The Guardian quoted Gareth as writing on a private forum. “Yeshua [Jesus] is my King and brother.” He also talks about missing out on formal education “due to my critical evaluations of teaching practices and resulting conflicts”, but returning to university as a mature student to study social work. “In doing so I discovered the religions of education and psychology … I soon learned their high priests were the same indoctrinating snakes as the church high priests.” In that final video, posted after shooting the officers, police were referred to as devils and demons.
While Stacey lived with Gareth at the Western Downs property, which they bought together in 2015, she was working as head of curriculum at Tara Shire State College nearby. She did not trumpet her views, but colleagues – some of whom liked her – suspected they were “alternative”. She left the school in late 2021 because she refused to comply with the Queensland government’s teacher COVID-19 vaccination mandate. Without work, her contact with the outside world dwindled.
By the time the missing persons report was issued last week, all three were battened down together at the property – isolated, resentful and paranoid.
When Nathaniel’s worried partner contacted Walgett police in early December, she suggested a few places they might find him. Gareth’s house was one of them, so NSW officers asked their Queensland colleagues in the Darling Downs to pay a visit. The missing persons report was shared widely on social media, reaching family members including Ronald. It is not known whether she told officers about the vicious, threatening messages she received from Gareth when someone sent it to him. Walgett police are devastated by the Queensland shooting, and are receiving support.
A murky social media account, which appears to have been run by the couple and on which they posted their final video, reveals how they raged against police and foreshadowed violence in the days before the attack. “After dealing with covert agents and tactics for sometime now, Daniel [Gareth’s middle name] believes that should they choose to cross the Rubicon with public state actors our Father is giving us a clear sign. Monsters and their heads are soon parted,” reads one comment, which appears to be made by the couple.
The account also claims Nathaniel was a whistleblower for “high-level corruption” in the NSW Department of Education and NSW Police, and mentions previous welfare checks. “‘Welfare checks’ aka state sponsored murder has started up again. These fools are stepping into a world of hurt they know nothing of,” read a comment, posted on Friday last week, and first reported by Crikey.
It’s unclear how much Queensland Police knew about Gareth and Stacey before they attended the property, which, like many in the area, was rigged with surveillance equipment. They did a risk assessment, Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said, as they do before every job. Neither brother had a criminal record, or much of a footprint on social media. Gareth’s fingerprints were in the system; Nathaniel may have had a NSW gun licence, which is common in the bush. Police were likely unaware of the stash of rifles and ammunition.
Carroll said the officers felt “quite comfortable about going out to the property”. Even if they did know that Gareth was, as one police source told this masthead, “an angry man”, they could not have predicted the horrors that awaited them.
At 4.30 on Monday afternoon, two police constables from Tara station – Matthew Arnold, 26, who had been in the service for two and a half years, and Rachel McCrow, 29, who sworn in just over a year ago – arrived outside the Wieambilla property, and honked the horn. Two more from Chinchilla station – recent academy graduate Keeley Brough and Randall Kirk – pulled up at the same time. They jumped a locked gate and began walking down the driveway towards the house.
Suddenly, there were cracking sounds. Bullets rained down. The three residents were ready for police, armed with hunting rifles and shotguns. The officers returned fire, but Arnold and McCrow were critically injured. They died at the scene. “These officers did not stand a chance,” said Carroll. Some reports claim the shooters – both Train brothers, and Stacey, at least one wearing camouflage – shot the fallen officers at point-blank range.
Brough fled for her life, taking cover in long, snake-infested grass as bullets fell around her. Her attackers set fire to the scrub, hoping to force her to stand up so they could get a clear shot. “She did not know whether she was going to be shot or she would be burnt alive,” Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said. “I know she was sending messages to loved ones saying she was at a point where she thought it was her time. What was going through her mind … one can’t comprehend.”
Kirk was shot in the leg as he escaped to the police car. A photograph shows bullet holes in the windscreen, passenger window and the body of the vehicle. The Trains torched the other car. Hearing bangs and seeing black smoke, neighbour Alan Dare went to investigate. He was shot dead too. As the surviving officers hid, terrified, they called for help. It arrived at around 6pm in the form of 16 heavily armed tactical officers, who arrived by helicopter and rescued Brough. Soon after, an armoured vehicle arrived.
The standoff would last more than four hours. The trio made a final attack at around 10.30pm, and were firing at police “every five seconds”, according to a recording of Police Air’s observations to officers on the ground. Both men were armed and shooting, taking cover beside a couch. One brother moved to the ute, to reload his gun. He was shot. Stacey appeared on the verandah. She was shot. The other brother lay on the couch on his back, shooting, before rolling off, standing up, and then suddenly falling to the ground. “No movement,” police said. “No movement from No. 2.”
Nathaniel, Gareth, and Stacey Train were dead.
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