Dispatch from Perth

The sound of crickets. Tumbleweed. Unchecked comments and a staggering pile of spam. It’s been quiet on the Chooks. Let me tell you why…

I’m in Perth researching a book about murder, meaning and the colourful constellation system of justice. The institutions that formally comprise it, and the variety of individuals involuntarily thrown into it. What are their roles? How do they each make sense of the senseless?

The pivot for this long exploration is the bizarre and hideous murder of Rebecca Ryle, a 19-year-old woman strangled to death 70 metres from her home. Her killer was a teenager too, a man-boy she had met that night in a pub on the ocean. It was 2004.

It’s exhausting and exhilarating work. Not least for the long, remarkable encounters I’ve had with the victim’s family. In fact, I wrote this for the King’s Tribune (excerpted from my piece “On Irony” to appear in the December issue. Order your copy here and you can read the full thing):

I’m writing this from Perth, where I’m researching a murder. It’s taken me to police stations, legal firms, homes, libraries and bars across the city and suburbs.

While the city enjoys a modest renaissance, and hip habitués sprout like mushrooms, up north it’s still the limestone and McMansions and glorious, uninterrupted coastline.

For the bartenders in the city, mixing cocktails in baked bean tins and enthusiastically comparing health warnings on their cigarette packs, the burghers of the north are industriously mocked. Mocked for their vacancy, their greed, their unwitting celebration of sterility.

I once would have joined them.

Don’t get me wrong: sprawled alongside the coast hugging developments of Perth are issues of sustainability, housing density and profligacy. No doubt. But snuggled uncomfortably next to them are also issues of snobbery, cultural contempt and freedom.

None of this could have been better demonstrated last weekend. Friday night was spent with friends of a friend: boorish, cliquish, very young and obscenely shallow. I left early.

I didn’t sleep well. The following day I was meeting with the family of a murder victim, a teenage girl killed 8 years previously. I wrestled with the ethics of it, and found comfort in the fact that their co-operation was voluntary—they thought it might help them.

Still, the thought that I was tearing off their scabs, callously aggravating their trauma, stung me. It was a difficult train ride up the coast, up amongst the limestone and McMansions, and the first thing I told them was that they had zero obligations to me—I was the one obliged to them.

Up there, on a day that started blue and turned grey, I found the most incredible family. They radiated warmth and openness when everything I knew told me they should be reticent and cold.

They spoke eloquently and softly and with dignity. Their home was small and modest, but filled with meaningful things.

They spoke of leaving a homicide victim’s support group because the group seemed to reinforce the individuals’ bitterness, amplifying each other’s rage as they collectively descended into victimology. “No,” said the father, “we needed affirming things. We didn’t want to define ourselves by what happened. We needed to show the boys there were options, things to do.”

Later, the father would enrol in university while still working. Later still, he would successfully apply for a job in Antarctica. Amongst the pain, there was still opportunity. I held back my tears.

After 6 hours drinking and chatting with this family, I took the train back to the city—towards the small bars and tattoos and irony…


Thanks to Jane at King’s Tribune for allowing me to include this excerpt here. Go and order the issue and read the whole thing. Chooks will resume normal broadcasting shortly…


One Response to Dispatch from Perth

  1. rrs says:

    Ouch, no more taking you to bars! (Though it is an accurate description of the bar’s habitués)

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