In the wake of the murder-suicide of seven people in Western Australian town of Osmington there have been calls for the ‘good bloke’ narrative to go away and to honour the victims rather than the perpetrator of the heinous crime.
This isn’t a new request, often when someone commits a murder or a crime there are plenty of folks around who will step up and refer to the goodness of the perpetrator, particularly if the perpetrator has died, and in recent years there has been a strong push for the removal of the ‘good bloke’-type reporting. People want the perpetrator tarred as the baddie HE clearly is.
I feel like, sure, there are times that’s appropriate, but the calls for it in this case are in my opinion misguided.
In the Osmington murder-suicide we find a father, Peter Miles, 61, who killed his wife, Cynda (58); his daughter Katrina Cockman (35); and her four children (Tay, 13; Rylan, 12; Arye, 10 and Kayden, 8), before calling 000 to report himself, and then took his own life on the porch of their home.
The crime will be under investigation for several months, but it doesn’t stop the reporters reporting, and many headlines carried the “Good Bloke” narrative. Where friends and acquaintances of Peter Miles referred to him as that, a good bloke who they couldn’t imagine could commit such a heinous crime.
One headline in particular, the one often quoted, read “Grandad the killer. ‘Good Bloke’ shot wife, daughter and her four kids then himself“, sure it probably should have had a comma after the word ‘kids’ but he wasn’t being called a “good bloke” by the headline, the term was in inverted commas which implies that the writer didn’t really agree with the sentiment, but was reporting what he heard about the guy.
The reporter, Robert Ovadia, has been raked over the coals by this descriptor and has reaffirmed his reporting with a follow-up article calling out those who railed against his reporting. Many opinion pieces have been written, including one by Van Badham “When we make excuses for male violence, we encourage it“, in which she argues “There’s a single good reason to be outraged at the ‘good bloke’ narrative: prevention”, her article in part reads:
Reports of the far-away murders broke over my own phone, and I sobbed. The handful of personal details revealed about this family are enough to imagine anyone similar into their unbearable horror. The mind demands: who does this to kids? Who does this to anyone?
The answer, according to Australian reporting tradition, is a “good bloke”. This was the description a tabloid applied to the alleged murderer, under the headline “Grandad the killer.”
It’s a dangerous frame for reporting domestic homicide we have grown too used to in this country; commentators were quick to call it out. Juanita Phillips remarked that “nobody in the story” had “actually described (Peter Miles) that way”. Reminders came from Georgina Dent and Clementine Ford that the “good bloke” trope is a media habit. It was used to describe wife-murdering Greg Floyd in 2017, and, in 2014, Geoff Hunt – who murdered his wife and three children.
To this I’d like to point out a couple more domestic murders in which the perpetrator was described with the “good bloke” sentiment, but wasn’t a bloke at all.
Sidonie Thompson was murdered by her mother with an axe in 2011 before her mother drove the Brisbane’s Story Bridge and jumped to her death, leaving her 12 year-old son in shock in the back seat of her car. Sidonie’s mother, Kim Patterson, was described in stories about this as “a devoted mother who lived for her children”.
Of Kim Patterson a friend is quoted as saying: “She just put all her time into her family. Out of anybody I know, she is the least likely person I’d ever expect to do anything like that because Kim adored them completely”.
Another friend described Kim Patterson as a “‘saint’ who would never hurt anyone”.
Another murder-suicide in 2011 was committed by Heather Glendinning in Port Denison. Western Australia. Glendinning taking the lives of two of her three daughters before killing herself. She stabbed her two daughters to death and then stabbed herself to death with multiple stab wounds.
A friend Robyn O’Brien said of Heather:
“I am absolutely shocked. I just can’t believe that, I have other friends here that I have spoken to this morning and for Heather to kill her children is not what we know of Heather, it’s not possibly something she could do.”
“Justice and ethical behaviour is what she was fighting for,” she said.
She said she was angry that her friend’s last memory would be in such horrific contrast.
“It breaks my heart, it just can’t be Heather. They were so close, they weren’t problem kids and all the other people who knew her down here say the same thing,” she said.
“I do feel really, really angry on her behalf and on behalf of the girls. The Heather we knew and the family we knew would never do that.”
Cara Lee Hall murdered her husband in December 2015, and also attempted to kill two of her four children with the same knife she used stabbed her husband to death.
Hall claimed during her trial that she acted in self-defence after suffering years of abuse. A finding not backed up by evidence including testimony by her children. She further claimed to not know how the children were injured during the attack but witness statements by the children report she actively stabbed them in an attempt to kill them.
Hall’s friend Wendy Lourenco said “Cara is a loving mother, I don’t think she ever meant to hurt her children.”
In addition to these cases of mothers who have killed their children I also found a report “Mothers who Kill” in which the methodology found 28 cases of women who have killed their children under the age of 2 between 1997 and 2012. However, they only used a subset of these in describing infanticide as some states define infanticide as being a victim under the age of 12 months, while others are 24 months, in attempt to keep the methodology clean they only looked at victims under 12 months of age in their study.
None of the mothers who killed their children in a act of infanticide since 1997 have received a custodial sentence. Infanticide is treated, as it likely should be, as a product of a mental illness; such as post-natal depression. Infanticide statistics also don’t include cases of neonaticides which is the killing of a child within the first 24 hours of life.
I’m sure I’ve read of many infanticides written up as outliers, as actions of women who are typically described as loving and family-oriented.
I guess I’m not winning any brownie points here, and it’s not my aim to do so. I just think it’s time we understand that why someone commits an act so egregious against their family we may never understand.
Yes what Peter Miles did was horrible, it guts me to think there are seven people who are dead now because of the actions of one. The driver for these actions though, we can never understand.
Sherele Moody writes in the Daily Mercury newspaper “‘Good bloke’ Peter Miles was a violent selfish monster“. She goes on to say:
Much of the public discussion around Peter Miles’ deadly actions focuses, almost sympathetically, on his “troubled” life while managing to neatly tip-toe around the fact that this was a clear-cut case of domestic abuse and male violence – both major issues in our society.
But was it? When his daughter left her husband, she returned to her family home, to stay with her mother and father. It doesn’t seem likely a mother would take such action if she was walking back into a home in which “a monster lurks”.
We can’t know the mind of another, we’re foolish to think we ever can. When we realise that perception is reality for humans we’ll think about things differently. When family kills other family in a case like Peter’s or, any of those documented above, we as outsiders can never understand it. Especially if mental illness is at the core of it.
From some reports Peter’s actions were driven out of a desperate need to care of his family. It’s reported he was under the impression his time was short and he worried for the family he’d be leaving behind when he died of his illness. A family that he seemingly felt had no other resources and would struggle to survive once he was gone.
The brain is an amazing thing, it can decide what it wants to know, and when it decides, the human it controls is taken along for the ride. I’m sure the mothers mentioned above all had their issues that saw them believing the only way to truly protect their children was to end the lives of their children. They weren’t monsters, they we just humans, and sometimes humans break. Note I don’t say “snapped”, because sometimes when the brain breaks it’s not the flip of a switch, it’s a shift in perception, their view of the world is different. Sometimes different from reality. Sometimes it’s all consuming and it sticks on an idea and ruminates on it until it becomes an action.
These aren’t cases of the perpetrator attempting to gain from their actions, they are often considered, from evidence left behind, or by the surviving perpetrators as acts of compassion. Most often there is a case of some form of untreated, or mistreated, mental illness at the core. And more often then not it’s seen that the person committing the act has considered their actions carefully, as illogical as those actions seem to us, to them they were reasonable to take.
I can’t see that Peter’s actions could be described as an act of family violence or part of the epidemic of domestic abuse. It was a confused mind making confused decisions, but decisions that seemed reasonable to the mind at the time. Those looking for a poster-boy for the “‘good bloke’ = monster” cause are looking at the wrong guy here.
Tragic it was, but an act that should see the man branded a “monster”? I don’t think so.