Revisiting Water Rats: Why Was There So Much Crime In Sydney Harbour In The '90s?

One of the most iconic police procedurals, Water Rats followed the Sydney Water Police as they tried to curb honestly a ridiculous amount of boat-centric crime.

Famous for landmarks like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and that one Hungry Jacks, Sydney Harbour was also a major hotbed of crime — at least that’s what Water Rats had us thinking.

Kicking off in 1996, the series ran for six seasons and over 177 episodes. That’s a lot of boat chases, boat explosions and harbour-related shenanigans.

Featuring a massive cast, thankfully it wasn’t all about the nefarious goings-on in the harbour, but also followed their personal lives and the dramas they got themselves involved in.

Starring Colin Friels as Detective Senior Constable Frank Holloway and Catherine McClements as Detective Senior Constable Rachel Goldstein, the series also had a massive cast including Aaron Pedersen, Jay Laga’aia, Toni Scanlan, Dee Smart, Aaron Jeffery, Scott Burgess, Raelee Hill and Diarmid Heidenreich.

While a lot of the series is about high-paced chases and solving crimes before things escalate out of control, there was also one episode we revisited that brought back so many haunting memories. It’s not just boats that explode.

Early in the first season, Tommy (Laga’aia), Skykes (Brett Partridge) and Cassidy (Sophie Heathcote) stumble upon a vessel that appears to be abandoned.

Spoiler alert for an episode more than two decades old, FYI.

After boarding the yacht, overwhelmed by a stench of burning, the gang find an aggravated dog and what looks like the remains of a burned body. While they attempt to link the boat’s mysterious appearance with a series of other incidents, investigators begin to believe the victim on board the boat actually died from spontaneous combustion.

water rats all seasons on 10 play

Later in the ep, an apprehended criminal that was on board the ghost ship explained he and the victim were waiting to rendezvous with another ship, drinking and smoking to stay warm.

“He was about two-thirds of the way through the bottle, he was smoking too, he was taking another swig from the bottle and he started to burn up,” he says. “But there were these little blue flames all around him and then bang they were all over him and he was screaming and there was this terrible burning smell.

“I grabbed a bucket and threw sea water over him but it didn’t make any difference, the flames just started up again. It was like they were coming from inside him.”

Never revisited, never explained further, and it still freaks us out to this day!

Watch full seasons of Water Rats on 10 play.

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