CANDLES lit in remembrance of the man shot by a police officer near Tenterfield burnt down a drover’s hut on the trouble-prone property last week.
The century-old hut is now blackened rubble alongside the site where witnesses say 33-year-old Ryan Pringle tried to take the life of Andrie Messina in an attempted beheading and drowning.
Jan de Smet (pictured), whose family owns the idyllic 890 hectare property near Rocky River, said members of a group known as the Rainbow Family were continuing to arrive at the property for a gathering.
The visitors were unaware Mr Pringle had been shot and killed by a police officer this month after an attempt to taser him was unsuccessful.
On Saturday morning, the remains of police tape blew in the breeze interwoven in a pattern of weeds threaded through the property’s gate.
The giant head of a 6m kewpie doll used in the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games looked eerily across the potholed driveway at visitors approaching the house.
Mr Pringle’s fiancée and family were expected back at the property, known as the School of Happiness, on Saturday to collect Mr Pringle’s belongings. His fiancée was at the site on the night Mr Pringle died.
Mr de Smet said he was not a member of the Rainbow Family of Australia, but had allowed the group use of the property for a month-long “gathering” to play music, meditate and get together.
Mr Pringle was both a fan of the Rainbow Family and a close friend of Mr de Smet’s partner Andrie Messina.
Mr de Smet said the tragedy unfolded when Mr Pringle “lost the plot”.
“He was going to behead my wife,” he said. “He tried to drown her and then he stoned her.
“They were best friends. He was a good man, but he lost the plot.
“We called him the ‘Wild Man’. He was a real gem of a man, a larrikin… a bit of a maverick.
“He was good at everything, a good musician, a good juggler, a good circus artist, a good surfer.”
He was also the son of well-known former Balmain Tigers player Neil Pringle.
Mr de Smet said Mr Pringle had gone off into the bush before the gathering wearing only a “bit of sheepskin” and returned with some honey, and no one expected the events that followed.
“I don’t think that anybody holds any blame,” he said. “I think the police did what they had to do.
“He was in the process of beheading my wife.
“None of us hold any grudges.”
Ms Messina attended Tenterfield’s Prince Albert Memorial Hospital on Saturday with suspected broken ribs.
On the night of Mr Pringle’s attack, members of the Rainbow Family were beginning to gather.
Twelve people witnessed the incident at a picturesque spot alongside a running creek, with some managing to get away to alert police. There is no telephone service at the property.
Mr de Smet, who said he has trained dogs for the defence forces and as sniffer dogs, said his dog Spud had helped save Ms Messina’s life, delaying the attacks until police arrived.
Police have said a taser was fired by one of the two Tenterfield police officers who attended, but it had little or no effect. Shots were fired which killed Mr Pringle at the site.
A critical investigation team has been formed to investigate the incident.
A few days after Mr Pringle’s death, people at the property held a ceremony to remember him, lighting candles at the old drover’s hut Mr de Smet said was called “the love shack” where he had escaped the bustle of Brisbane and wooed Ms Messina.
“We went there to have a prayer,” he said.
“We went back inside [the neighbouring house] to watch a bit of TV and the lights went out, there was a short circuit in the power.”
They went outside to see the hut and a neighbouring shed ablaze. A large bush lemon tree alongside the razed hut is still bearing blackened lemons.
Main picture: Amar Gin helps Jan de Smet train Spud, who Mr de Smet says help saved Andrie Messina’s life.
Pictures: John Snape.