IT IS after midnight in Bendigo and police are racing to St Paul's Cathedral after being told four people are climbing the scaffolding that clings to the building's tower.
Police arrive and the culprits are nowhere to be seen, but the large crowd of onlookers shouting commentary across the road in the Coles car park suggests there are still people on the building site.
This is just one of the call-outs the officers of Bendigo's "Cabool" foot patrol unit will go to tonight.
On this occasion, the Bendigo Advertiser is riding along.
The team of four or five officers routinely patrols nightclubs, hotels and restaurants into the early hours.
While the team is not the only police unit in town tonight, the city centre is its patch, so if something is happening it will likely be sent in.
"Right, kids, come down," First Constable Keith Marshall calls out after police reach the church steps.
There is no sound from the top of the tower, but one of the officers has spotted movement.
Before long, police are forced to climb the scaffold steps to make sure the trespassers all come down.
The first returns to earth with a sheepish grin on his face and is told to sit on the church's front step.
His smile vanishes when an officer asks, "Do you realise how dumb that was? When you fall from 200 metres you are not going to bounce."
The four people removed from the site get no sympathy from onlookers in the Coles car park either. They are sharing advice and a blow-by-blow commentary on the plight of the church-climbers.
Nor does the scaffolding's owner have anything generous to say. He has arrived after one of his employees saw a video on Snapchat.
You can put up all the fences and signs you like but that only keeps the honest people out, he says.
Still, there is a lot on the line when people trespass.
"If one of those d***heads fall off, I can kiss goodbye to the family home," the owner says.
Fewer clubs, fewer drunks but police still busy
Bendigo's nightclub scene is shrinking, Cabool Unit Acting Sergeant Grant Polglase says.
"I reckon there would have been 10 nightclubs, at one stage," he says.
Acting Sergeant Polglase has been in Bendigo for 18 years and says even the hotels are much quieter now, once the evening meal rush ends.
The number of busy city centre nights has shrunk to just Fridays and Saturdays.
"We used to say that Tuesday was uni night because all the students from La Trobe and the TAFE would be out," Acting Sergeant Polglase says.
"Thursday was a lot of people's payday so they would go out that night and then you would have Friday and Saturday nights."
Talk to the bar staff, taxi drivers and other late-night workers and they have a few theories about what is going on.
Some say that alcohol is too expensive - that it has stopped the punters from coming out and made it impossible for club owners to continue.
One person thinks more young people are laying off the alcohol because they are more carb-conscious than ever, although they note that won't stop all of them abstaining from illicit drugs.
A taxi driver says technology has changed the game for nightclubs among at least some of those who are going out on the town.
"You can find a girl without leaving the house now. You just get on Tinder," he says.
None of the officers on patrol tonight with the Cabool Unit will offer their own opinion, but the nature of their work has certainly shifted, Acting Sergeant Polglase says.
"It used to all be about alcohol. I remember one New Year's Eve we locked up 36 people. Now, on a New Year's Eve we might get eight people," he says.
"And most of that is for their own safety. Maybe they won't do what they are asked after being kicked out of a nightclub."
The club and hotel scene is also less violent, Acting Sergeant Polglase says.
Clubs now have a computer ID system that alerts them when someone who has been kicked out of one venue tries to get into another.
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There are also fewer people spilling out of venues and into others as clubs close.
"You once had the (now closed) Universal finish at 5am, Puggs finished at 3am, the one next door to that at 2am," Acting Sergeant Polglase says.
That changed when lockout laws stopped people entering pubs after 2am.
The laws were meant to tackle violence and antisocial behavior that the then-liquor licensing commissioner Sue McClellan labelled "atrocious".
Andrew Lethlean owns the Star Bar, The Metropolitan and the Four Ponies.
"It is now all about the atmosphere and music. You've got to give people a reason to go out and people tend to want smaller, more intimate bars," he told the Bendigo Advertiser last year.
Dave did not see the police. But they saw him
The decline of Bendigo nightclubs does not mean the Cabool Unit is sitting idle.
Acting Sergeant Polglase and two of his officers have already swept through every hotel and nightclub by 11pm.
Their goal was to be seen by as many patrons, bouncers, bar staff and business owners as possible.
And they wanted people to approach them.
"I guarantee it will be one of the bouncers who says, 'That bloke's rolled back into his car drunk'. People will tell us. So if you work together with your community you can solve a lot of crimes that are around the place," Acting Sergeant Polglase says.
That is why Cabool member First Constable Richard Cairns goes out of his way to talk to the teenagers who another police patrol saw sitting under the Rosalind Park rotunda.
"Yes, it's been a good night so far. A bit quiet but that's a good thing," he tells them.
People are still doing things they should not, though, and late nights in the city centre still draw out risky behavior.
Officers have just finished an unsuccessful search for the person letting off fireworks in one part of the city centre when someone sees what they believe to be drunk teenagers climbing over a fence and up scaffolding at St Paul's.
It turns out all four of the "boys" who climbed it are adults between 18 and 22.
All are sober and should know exactly how dangerous it is to climb a poorly-lit scaffold surrounding a tower with cracks so large the bell has not rung in years.
The four trespassers will not be going back to the station tonight but police have not finished their investigation, or ruled out charges.
Even still, the men do something Acting Sergeant Polglase says is common in Bendigo but rarer in Melbourne. They thank the officers.
Bendigo might now be called a city but most of the people he deals with still have a "country kid's mindset", Acting Sergeant Polglase says.
"They won't like it but they will still shake your hand once it's all done."
Dave* is no different.
He tells officers he was driving past a couple of women and decided to gun his engine to get their attention.
"I just didn't see you guys," he tells the officers after being stopped.
"There's no excuses for doing it, I know. Just young and dumb and stupid.
"I got done, that's fair enough. Where were you guys, by the way?"
The van was in a nearby street.
Dave waits on the Bath Lane footpath, in front of his friends, as police do a roadside breath test and inspect his car.
In the distance, another car squeals its tyres.
"That's the next car we'll pull over," Acting Sergeant Polglase tells Dave.
So much to drink but, alas, so few toilets
Dave is not the only person who will do something stupid in a car right in front of police officers tonight.
"The problem is that they (drivers) don't really expect to see us here," Acting Sergeant Polglase says.
Yet, Cabool officers are chasing fewer people, either in cars or on foot, as more and more CCTV cameras go up throughout town.
Police work is increasingly shifting to domestic violence and mental health call-outs, Acting Sergeant Polglase says.
After Dave is given a ticket for failing to display P-plates, police move on to one last job for the night, this time far out of the city centre.
"A lot of times we do end up backing up other units, if needed," Acting Sergeant Polglase says.
This time, the Cabool Unit is heading to Mandurang, where property owners have begun calling in about "up to 100 teenagers" trudging through their paddocks.
Someone has thrown their 17-year-old daughter a birthday party.
When the event's security guards close the party at midnight, a large number of guests start walking next to, and on, the mostly unlit 100km/h road back into Bendigo.
Other teenagers are milling next to, and on, an intersection close to the house.
Parents are stopping in a turning lane to pick up them up.
One boy has just decided to go to the toilet under one of the few street lights lining the road.
He has also chosen to face the bitumen, in full view of three security guards and a van full of police officers, with nothing but a wooden power pole for cover.
First Constable Marshall winds down a window and leans out of the van.
"Oi, do that somewhere else," he yells.
The boy tries to explain the urgency of the situation but is cut short."Yes, and I said do it somewhere else."
The boy zips up and stalks towards a white SUV that has just pulled up nearby. With every step he seems to become more bowlegged.
Then he looks down at his pants.
He never turns around though, so only the driver of the white SUV will know whether nature finally called.
Other police officers at the scene have radioed back to the station for taxis.
The Cabool officers decide to park their van at the top of a hill as a warning to motorists to drive cautiously.
Its lights flash red and blue until the first taxis arrive.
Job done, the van and its crew disappear into the night.
* Name changed