My mum loved the little wrens, she had feeders for them around her house. Allen and Unwin stole that from my family and used it on the abhorrent cover of a book we did not condone. And they used it in a most horrid way – A little Wren, that mum so loved alighting on the knife that killed her son, my brother. This is the height of insensitivity to our family on behalf of the author, publisher and the designer. My campaign for a ‘Code of Ethics’ for True Crime writing would be designed to protect victims and their families from unethical practices of predatory authors and unscrupulous publishers, I have decided to call ‘Claiming Back the Wren’ in my Mum, Mary’s memory. This proposed ‘Code of Ethics’ would seek to provide a right to privacy and respect for victims and their families.
Sunday night – We sit here, my husband and I, after spending the last three days attending the Bendigo Writer’s Festival, after our successful appeal to the Bendigo City Council for the author’s removal from the program.
Ms Cuskelly was scheduled to appear in three panel sessions,
‘I Just Snapped’, ‘Regret’ and ‘What’s New in Crime’. In all three sessions it was blatantly obvious that Cuskelly’s subject matter would not have been relevant to the discussions which were presented.
One can only wonder why she was considered for inclusion in the program?
In particular, the third session, ‘What’s new in Crime’ focussed on the writing of ‘Crime Fiction’. Having spoken to the majority of the members of that panel afterwards, they were shocked to learn of the unscrupulous writing ethics of someone, with whom, they were to share the stage. They were amazed that a reputable publisher had not listened to my repeated pleas for the book not to be released, and ignored my assertions that the book contained misleading and incorrect information and that I was concerned for the emotional well being of my family. It was comforting to hear that all of the authors responding to my question from the floor, were all adamant that respect for victims and their families and their right to privacy was paramount.
I’m writing to address the statements made by Maryrose Cuskelly in an article published in Crikey last month. I’m writing to defend my objection to this author’s inclusion in the Bendigo Writers Festival (BWF). I’m writing to outline my objections to the content of Cuskelly’s true crime book, Wedderburn: A True Tale of Blood and Dust, and how it was contrived. I’m writing to provide my first-hand insight into the pain, distress and utter devastation that this book’s very existence has inflicted on myself and my immediate family.
Firstly, the festival. When I discovered that Maryrose Cuskelly was to attend the BWF I was distraught. Why had no one flagged this author and her book as potentially controversial, as a locally sensitive issue? After all, the town of Wedderburn, after which the book is named, is just 75kms north of Bendigo. Two of the three victims whose murders the book claims to explore were born and bred in Bendigo. I thought all I would have to do was alert the organisers of the festival to this and they would rectify what I thought was surely an oversight. How wrong I was.
I made repeated attempts to contact the festival director through request for phone calls, which went unreturned, and emails, which were met with silence. I then turned to the local city council. After my initial appeal was denied, I then emailed and approached local politicians and festival sponsors, to gather support for my appeal to be at least acknowledged. Eventually, I and three other family members arranged to meet with Cr Rod Fyffe and Mayor Margaret O’Rourke who recognised our distress and acted upon it. This led to the author withdrawing from the festival.
How dare we, as the family of the victims — the victims were my brother, mother and step-father — request that this festival that my husband and I attend not support, promote and seek to profit from a book that has inflicted further trauma to myself and those I hold most dear?
We never made threats to disrupt the festival as Cuskelly states and, as we never directly contacted the author. If she felt intimidated then it was nothing we did. I object most strongly to Cuskelly’s statement that there was “pressure brought to bear in ways that were, I’m led to believe, intimidatory and aggressive”.
Ours was a simple appeal for respect for my mother and brother in their hometown.
As a former school librarian I am a lover of the written word, and indeed I can understand the value of the true crime genre, where it is written by professionals, sanctioned by the families, supported by judiciary and police, in an attempt to help solve cold cases or explore issues. But, in my opinion, Cuskelly’s book serves no such purpose.
Wedderburn was contrived through Cuskelly’s link to the perpetrator of this crime in her words “through an accident of knowing someone who knew someone…” and her “luck” in the courtroom, in approaching the two members of the family, that she did. My two older siblings, to whom I am estranged, contributed to the book. I was never approached by Cuskelly. Through my consultation with the 10 surviving children of the victims, only five were approached — of these, three declined. I believe that consensus within the victim’s families should have to be sought, before a book such as this can be written.
I must say, I wouldn’t have contributed even if I had been asked. Does that matter to anyone? Is my family now public property because we suffered a horrific event?
As the fifth anniversary of the event approaches I am still, and at times quite desperately, trying to work through my understanding of that night and the events leading up to it. I am trying to find a way forward, but I find I am still stuck. There has never been a day with any kind of peace of mind since this happened.
Publishers and their authors need to recognise and be accountable for the added distress and trauma that can potentially be caused by the insensitive publication of books such as this. I have repeatedly dissuaded several family members from reading this book because I greatly fear the impact it may have on their mental health. I know what it has done to mine.
Frequently I am stuck in my chair unable to find any enthusiasm to engage in day-to-day tasks and the lives and interests of those around me. Yes, I am still grieving and deeply affected by the events of October 22, 2014, but my failed appeals for the withdrawal of the book also left me feeling powerless and hopeless. Now my little win with having Cuskelly withdraw from BWF is being re-framed as an unwarranted attack.
Victims of crime and their families need protections. We are completely defenceless to becoming fodder and prey for journalists and would-be authors. Why must we be subjected to more trauma? Haven’t we been dealt enough?
I remain deeply saddened and disappointed by what we have had to experience since
discovering that the Bendigo Writer’s Festival had included the book ‘Wedderburn’ and it’s author Maryrose Cuskelly, in this years program.
My husband and I attend the Festival, and to think that this author and her book were going to be a part of it, was more than I could cope with. We (family) were also distressed, that local organisations and businesses sought to gain from promoting something which causes most members of the families involved, such personal pain and misery.
Bendigo was my Mother and Brother’s home town. Mum worked at Coles, Myers and St.John of God when it was Mt.Alvernia, raising most of her family to adulthood and residing here for more than half her life. What should have been a simple appeal for some respect for our family has turned into an unwarranted ‘bun fight’.
Family of the victims and the perpetrator, live in Bendigo and its surrounding areas.
We are all victims of the fallout of this crime, and now this book.
I would like to clearly state, I do not represent the part of my mother’s family, who gave interviews for this book and still support it, nor are we those who sued Jamieson therefore, impacting on his family.
It is now apparent that, the current Director of the Festival, Rosemary Sorensen, had prior knowledge that this would be a locally sensitive topic, but abandoned her ‘duty of care’ to the Bendigo’s wider community in allowing its inclusion.
After my repeated requests to Sorensen for contact, were met with silence, I chose to contact the Chair person of the Festival Cr Rod Fyffe, and numerous others, including our Mayor Margaret O’Rourke, trying to have our objection acknowledged.
Along with my sister, my husband and son, we met with Cr Fyffe and Mayor
Margaret O’Rourke who sympathetically heard our grievances.
Threats were never made to the festival or to cause disruption to it, by us. Unless, one can call contacting the sponsors and making them aware of what was happening – when we were being ignored – can be perceived as a threat. Then of that, I am guilty.
My sole purpose in doing so was to seek support for the removal of the book and the author from the published program.
I have protected my privacy since the event in October 2014, trying to maintain some dignity in my pain, but I had to speak out about what I saw as an injustice to my mother and brother’s memory in their home town. I knew I couldn’t allow this to happen.
I have not contacted the Author over this issue and for her to infer intimidation and threats is offensive and completely unfounded.
Something must be learned from this… All the pain and suffering of the last few weeks could have been avoided I believe, if the Bendigo Writer’s Festival, had again, a working committee who could discuss such issues, that may be raised by featured authors and their books.
I object most strongly to the content of this book and its very existences. True Crime as a genre, may be worthwhile in resolving unsolved crimes or to gain understanding, but this book, in my opinion, serves no worthwhile purpose.
It is appalling to me, that in 2019, when everyone is protecting and discussing their privacy rights, that victims of crime have no right to defend themselves or their deceased family members. Authors can write whatever they like by telling themselves and us, as Cuskelly does, “she tried to be as compassionate and as honest as possible”.
Cuskelly frequently indulges in victim shaming and much of the material in the book had nothing to do with the crime. I believe, people who, without thought, involve themselves in books such as this, using the platform to support their own selfish agendas, give no thought to the impact on victims and the families.
After all, Cuskelly for one, is an acquaintance of a friend of the perpetrator of this crime.
Of the ten surviving children of the victims. Cuskelly only interviewed two for her book, and indeed did not even bother to approach half of this number. I believe, consensus within a family should have to be given before a book such as this can be contrived.
Cuskelly included unfounded gossip, which she knew to be incorrect, and personal information of the victims and members of the families, which had nothing to do with the crime, this continues to denigrate the memory of the dead and the haunt the lives of the living. Salaciously included to sensationalise and sell her book. She repeatedly makes suppositions and judgements about people she has never met. In my opinion, it does nothing to honour the dead.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank all those who I approached for support and others who reached out to offer support throughout this issue, as we sought understanding and a resolution, in particular Mayor Margaret O’Rourke and Cr. Rod Fyffe.
We would also most sincerely like to thank, our family members and friends who privately and publicly supported and encouraged us throughout this endeavour, also those who publicly put themselves out there, when they are normally reserved people, who do not seek attention.
I am also pleased to report that one thing we gained, was an assurance that if a similar issue ever arose, this would not be allowed happen to another local family.
I know that my Mum, Peter and Greg would be equally horrified to know of this books existence and that some of her own children, and so called friends and acquaintances contributed content to its existence. She meant so much more to us than the way that she died.
We have achieved something in her memory. We did this for you Mum and your son Greg.
A huge thank you for the immense support we have received from family and friends who recognised this book – since it’s publication – for what it is – a betrayal to the memory of the dead and those left behind. There is no honour here for anyone. In the book Cuskelly tells one of those to whom she is speaking “they’ll come to resent her no matter how careful she is with what they’ve told her”. I believe, her purpose, is clearly evident in this statement. Betrayal, She used them but then they used her for their own selfish agendas.
The cover causes further pain to my family every time we see it. To have a Blue Wren, a symbol which represents our Mother, alighting on a knife which represents the weapon, used in the brutal murder of her son, along with a shotgun which Jamieson used in the most horrid way, let alone all the dreadful quotes, is abhorrent! This book cover, is insensitivity on a grand scale, on the part of the author, designer and publisher. Thought for the families of the victims, were never in any of their minds when this was conceived and approved.
Repeatedly in the media it is reiterated that Cuskelly would not be speaking directly about her book. That is a ridiculous statement! Anyone who knows how Writer’s Festivals work, knows that the panelists, at least, refer to their latest book, frequently having a copy with them to hold up to the audience. They then settle down for signing opportunities afterwards, either outside the venue, or in the Festival book shop, for Bendigo, this is at the Capital Theatre, where copies are available in significant numbers. Indeed one of the panels she was planned to take part in was called ‘I Just Snapped’ Jamieson’s own words! No of course she wasn’t going to mention it!
Thank goodness, we and our family and acquaintances, will now, not have to be confronted with rows of them in the Bookshop at the Festival!
Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to contact me, please email.
Hi, My name is Rosalee Anne Clark. My Mother, brother and step- father were the victims in a triple murder at Wedderburn, in Central Victoria on October 22nd, 2014.
This webpage is essentially to object most strongly about the liberties predatory authors take, in exploiting the lives of Victims and Crime and their families.
This has happened to my own family. I will not be publicising the book here, but I will be criticising the authors methods and addressing my issues with the book. That others seek to profit from something which causes such personal pain and misery is abhorrent in the extreme.
When your family tragedy gets turned into a true crime novel
ABC Central Victoria By Beth Gibson
Posted 2 Aug 2019, 4:44pm
A woman with red glasses sits in front of a bookshelf.
PHOTO: Rosalee Clark at home in Bendigo. (ABC Central Victoria: Beth Gibson)
RELATED STORY: Why are we so obsessed with true crime? And does it help or hurt our legal system?RELATED STORY: True crime podcast fans help solve real crimesRELATED STORY: Triple murderer Ian Jamieson jailed for life for killing neighbours
On Wednesday October 22, 2014, Rosalee Clark’s life changed forever.
A Victorian woman who’s family was murdered is critical of a book about the tragedy
The book’s author says society has an interest in such events and believes she portrayed those who died as real people, not victims
Journalists who’ve written about true crime say it is important to have the blessing of the families involved
Her family — brother Greg Holmes, 48, mother Mary Lockhart, 75, and step-father Peter Lockhart, 78 — were murdered by their neighbour Ian Jamieson in the small central Victorian town of Wedderburn.
Jamieson confessed to police on the night and ultimately pleaded guilty to all three murders.
He was sentenced to life in prison with a 30-year non-parole period.
During court proceedings it emerged that Jamieson had stabbed Mr Holmes, who lived in a separate home to his parents, almost 25 times before he retrieved two shotguns and shot dead Mr and Mrs Lockhart in their home.
The court case centred around the fact that Mr Holmes and Mr Lockhart used tractors on a dirt road that bordered Jamieson’s property, causing dust to get on his property, which infuriated Jamieson.
In September last year, author Maryrose Cuskelly wrote about the case in her book — Wedderburn: A True Tale of Blood and Dust.
The book includes detailed court proceedings and interviews with the victims’ family, as well as with friends of both Jamieson and the victims.
For Rosalee Clark, 57, who lost her mother, brother and stepfather in the tragedy, the book has prompted her to relive the painful ordeal.
In her first interview since the book was published, she said there was no justification for such literature.
“To use families where there’s no purpose to writing this book other than to entertain, for people’s morbid fascination of people’s private lives, is wrong on every level to me.”
A grey haired man gets put into a police van by two police officers.
PHOTO: Ian Jamieson is serving a life sentence for the murder of Greg Holmes and Mary and Peter Lockhart. (ABC News)
‘It haunts the living’
Ms Clark said reading the book for the first time “destroyed” her.
“I felt completely powerless and distraught for my mum, for Greg and Peter and for all of us, that this was going to be freely available for people to go and buy.”
She said she understood the value of true-crime storytelling when there was a mystery to solve or a perceived wrong which needed to be righted but she said the murders of her loved ones did not fit that criteria.
Two of her siblings cooperated with the author, but Ms Clark said Ms Cuskelly never approached her directly.
She said it was painful knowing that strangers would be able to read personal details about her family’s life which she said were irrelevant to the crime.
A woman’s hands holds a book that has been covered in brown paper.
PHOTO: Rosalee Clark has covered her copy of the book in brown paper because the cover image is too distressing. (ABC Central Victoria: Beth Gibson)
She said the cover of the book added to her pain.
It featured a fairy wren — the family symbol for Ms Clark’s mother — sitting on top of the knife that was used to kill Greg Holmes.
“I find it abhorrent,” Ms Clark said.
Her distress was exacerbated recently when Ms Cuskelly was scheduled to appear at the Bendigo Writers Festival this month, in the town where Ms Clark lives.
But after Ms Clark objected to the local council, the author agreed to step down from the festival.
She has not yet come to terms with the tragedy and said the book made it harder to move on with her life.
“It’s a denigration to the dead, and it haunts those of us left living.”
Two women, one slightly older than the other, smile softly at the camera.
PHOTO: Rosalee Clark says her mother Mary Lockhart (left) was a great support.
An ethical minefield
In a statement to the ABC, Ms Cuskelly said she attempted to reach Ms Clark via a family member.
She defended the book and said she did not believe it “denigrated” the victims.
“I didn’t want to portray them simply as victims, but as their three-dimensional selves.
“I wanted to show that they were people who loved and were loved and I believe I did this.
“One aspect of the book is about the malignancy of rumour and innuendo and the impossibility of establishing an objective truth,” she said.
“I believed it was important to acknowledge this.
“Society as a whole has an interest in understanding how such terrible events occur and how it responds to them.”
Ms Cuskelly said she could not fully understand what it would feel like to experience such a tragedy and accepted that the book had caused Ms Clark pain.
“I don’t think there is anything I can say that will assuage her grief and anger,” the author said.
a woman and two men stand arm in arm posing for a photo
PHOTO: Mary Lockhart, Greg Holmes and Peter Lockhart were murdered by their neighbour Ian Jamieson. (Supplied)
Appetite for true crime
Balancing the ethics of true-crime storytelling is a real struggle for many writers, podcasters and documentary makers.
While creating the Trace podcast about the 1980 murder of Melbourne woman Maria James, ABC journalist Rachael Brown said she worried about causing further distress to Maria’s sons Mark and Adam.
“This is not my story, it belongs to the James brothers and I helped them tell it in a way that would best do justice to their mother, Maria,” Ms Brown said.
She said she would not have pursued the podcast without the blessing of the brothers and former detective Ron Iddles.
Mark James holds forward a photo of his mother Maria James, who was murdered in 1980.
PHOTO: Mark James pushed to reopen the inquest into his mother’s death. (ABC RN: Jeremy Story Carter)
Journalist Dan Box created the Bowraville podcast about the murder of three Indigenous children in Bowraville, New South Wales between 1990 and 1991.
He also wrote a book about the murders.
LtoR Colleen Walker, Clinton Speedy-Duroux, and Evelyn Greenup.
PHOTO: (LtoR) Colleen Walker, Clinton Speedy-Duroux and Evelyn Greenup were killed in the early 1990s. (ABC TV)
“Neither the book nor the podcast would have gone ahead without the knowledge and consent of those closest to the victims, and in particular the parents of the children who were killed,” Mr Box said.
Mr Box said he took a draft of the book’s manuscript to each victim’s family but that despite his efforts, he still caused upset.
“I have sat down with one relative of one of the victims, who told me pretty bluntly what I have got wrong, or could have done better.
“That was a necessary conversation and I am glad to have had it.”
Mr Box said he was concerned that true-crime storytelling has turned tragedy into entertainment.
“These are the worst, most painful memories of people’s lives and there is capacity for causing even more harm if we do not respect that.”
A lasting legacy
A man smiles at the camera with two dogs on his lap
PHOTO: Greg Holmes was stabbed to death in his Wedderburn home. (Supplied: Rosalee Clark)
Ms Clark said it was difficult to accept that the book may be her mother, brother and step-father’s lasting legacy.
“So now I’m trying for my family to write something to be handed down through the generations about them all.
“The lives of these people were so much more than the way that they died.”
She said consumers of true crime stories should remember that the people involved were real.
“We’re real people with real feelings and real emotions.
“We’re all complex people.”
Topics: murder-and-manslaughter, crime, non-fiction, wedderburn-3518