From Rural Idyll to Dystopian Nightmare: Narratives of Child Death in ‘Country’ Australia

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The killing of a child is a significant moment which allows enunciation by many voices. This thesis is the first cultural-historical investigation into the murder and manslaughter of children in rural and regional Australia. It is also the first scholarly historical investigation into: the deaths of Daniel O’Brien and Thomas Darbishire; the death of Jordan Anderson-Smith; and the deaths of Colleen Walker, Evelyn Greenup and Clinton Speedy-Duroux (the Bowraville murders). This study concludes that the public understandings and mythologies of people and places in rural and regional Australian influence the representation of child murder and manslaughter in the media. These representations are informed by historical understandings of ‘country’ Australia and draw from existing tropes of rurality to frame their responses to the deaths of children. The deaths of each of the children were individualised by commentary and presented as anomalous for the public. This thesis considers this to be an enactment of silencing and distancing from the difficult histories of child murder and manslaughter in Australia.

This thesis examines critical cultural commentaries generated by the children’s deaths and pays particular attention to their coverage in the Australian media. Four major case studies were selected, and each is provided with a narrative of the event and an analysis of commentary that was generated by the case. These case-studies where selected based upon their status as significant events of child murder and manslaughter in their local communities, and the amount of evidence accessible for the cases. This thesis falls into a recent theme in historical writing of considering violence and violent crime from a cultural historical perspective, with a focus on the ways contemporary Australia responds to events of child murder and manslaughter. The framing of ‘country’ Australia is of significance in the narratives that emerge from these crimes, and a goal for this research was to move the focus of crime studies away from their urban focus and to demonstrate that idealised notions of rurality have significant influence on media coverage. Ultimately, child murder and manslaughter were understood in terms of failure: failure by parents; failure by the community; and failure of rural Australian society. Through close examination and cultural historical analysis this thesis suggests possibilities of provided a more nuanced interpretation of the murder and manslaughter of children in Australia.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Taylor, Alice, Principal Supervisor
  • Whitford, Troy, Co-Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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