Wedderburn, Maryrose Cuskelly

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Wedderburn
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9781760528072
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Book Synopsis

'The slaughter was extravagant and bloody. And yet there were people in the small town of Wedderburn in Central Victoria who, while they did not exactly rejoice, quietly thought that Ian Jamieson had done them all a favour.'

One fine Wednesday evening in October 2014, 65-year-old Ian Jamieson secured a hunting knife in a sheath to his belt and climbed through the wire fence separating his property from that of his much younger neighbour Greg Holmes. Less than 30 minutes later, Holmes was dead, stabbed more than 25 times. Jamieson returned home and took two shotguns from his gun safe. He walked across the road and shot Holmes' mother, Mary Lockhart, and her husband, Peter, multiple times before calling the police. 

In this compelling book, Maryrose Cuskelly gets to the core of this small Australian town and the people within it. Much like the successful podcast S-Town, things aren't always as they seem: Wedderburn begins with an outwardly simple murder but expands to probe the dark secrets that fester within small towns, asking: is murder something that lives next door to us all?

Book Review

WEDDERBURN is not just a book, it's a small community situated in North Central Victoria - in the area known as the Golden Triangle. Like so many small communities out here, it's battling drought, population decline, and doing a pretty good job at holding back the tide. In 2014 when the unthinkable happened everyone with any connections or knowledge of the place couldn't help but wonder what on earth would trigger such an appalling act. 

The primary reason behind this book, and the reading of it, has to be to search for a meaning. The weirdness of these awful murders was followed closely by the weirdness of shifting pleas by Ian Jamieson, and ultimately, no trial to explore that meaning fully and provide understanding for those left to mourn. It seems Peter Lockhart was known to be a "bit of a stirrer" and there had been niggling arguments over dust being raised when Lockhart was carting water, there was tension over cropping activities, basically tension, stirring and odd reactions left right and centre from the sounds of it. What would make somebody turn from being a bit pissed off with a neighbour to extreme, and very explicit violence (the injuries inflicted on the Lockhart's had particularly nasty overtones) is anybody's guess, although Cuskelly does raise a possible psychological explanation of male friendship turning toxic that was particularly compelling.

Jamieson originally pleaded guilty to the shooting murders of Mary and Peter Lockhart and not guilty to the stabbing murder of Greg Holmes. Holmes was the first to die, and Jamieson's switch to a third guilty plea and then an attempt to return to not guilty again muddied the waters and created a technical legal argument that all but obscured the crimes, and his victims. But provocation seems to have been at the heart of all of Jamieson's protestations - despite much of what he claimed had occurred at the time that Greg Holmes died not being supported by the evidence or logic. By pleading guilty to the Lockhart murders at least he acknowledged the deliberate, cold and calculating way he went about it - even if he seems to have ended up feeling resentful of everything and everybody - including the legal system.

Reading another book about rural locations recently (political not criminal that time), there was a comment in it that resonates, and I'm paraphrasing here but, in large cities, different types of people and circumstances are often divided into postcodes, but in small towns they live up close and personal. I've always said there's nothing really different about people in rural and regional locations to those from the big city, it's just harder to ignore. Tolerance, forbearance, amused observations, bitching, whinging, stirring and being stirred up are all part of daily life. How somebody responds to the minor irritations of life often says more about the annoyee than the annoyer, and it's hard to come away from WEDDERBURN without a very clear picture in your head of two blokes, having at each other on a regular basis, niggling and pissing each other off - with one having had a lifetime's practice at being the annoyer and one not handling being the annoyee until all hell broke lose. 

For the record - the blurb quote ending "done them all a favour" is, in my opinion, sensationalist and not fair to the book, the entire community and the victims. Nobody deserves the sorts of deaths that Greg Holmes, his mother Mary and her husband Peter Lockhart were subjected to and there are family and friends out there still suffering. Especially as, after reading the book and understanding as much as can be of the circumstances, it's not justified in anyway by anyone's behaviour before or during the murders, and definitely not during the long-drawn-out legal proceedings that Jamieson inflicted on everyone. Seeking an explanation is the task of books like WEDDERBURN and it does this incredibly well, much better than that one quote indicates. 

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