Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Who is being tried?

The Gambino-Farquharson case has me intrigued, I admit it. I am drawn to macabre events like this one. Aren't we all? I guess unless you are a super-sensitive person and have to turn away (some people can't read about this stuff, just like my mum can't bear to hear stories about people injuring their toes or fingers) or have suffered something similar, we humans like to read about the dark stuff, hear about it, talk about it. We revel in it. It's the car-crash thing, the schadenfreude thing. The There but for the Grace of God Go I thing.

But those of us who do lap this stuff up, we enjoy, if that's the word, from the safety of our nice, safe lives. Because it makes us feel lucky, perhaps (not a bad thing to feel.)

Puts things in perspective for us, that our small lives are untouched by such tragedy, drama and horror.

Feeds the need in us for thrill and shock and awe.

It's a long time since I wrote here commentarily. I haven't been inspired by the news or current affairs for ages.

But in today's Age, in the article on page 2, I was shocked by the story. We have all heard of rape victims being cross-examined and having to justify the length of their skirts, the volume of alcohol in their blood, or about how faint or inaudible or tardy their No was.

But in a murder trial? Is this a new form of misogyny? Attack a grieving mother who wasn't even within hoo-ie of the scene of death. Who had nothing to do with it. And was clearly a person who believed her estranged husband's story that he blacked out during a coughing fit and drove the car into the dam.

Nevermind that there is evidence that before it happened he told someone he was going to hurt her by killing the kids. Yeah, forget that. Innocent until proven guilty.

This man drove a car into a dam and in the back were his three young sons. This man said he had a sneezing attack, lost control of the car and then was unable to save them. This man called his wife it seems, first? She was on the scene very quickly and called the ambulance and police?

The defence lawyer - a Mr Peter Morissey SC - attacked the mother in court with such provocative insinuations that he got what he wanted - an emotional reaction, and probably thinks he managed to discredit her story. Because, you know, people have to stick to their evidence as given to the police, when you are a witness, not adjust their thinking over time, especially not if new information comes to light. No, just ignore all that and stay with what you originally said. Otherwise you are suspect and hypocritical.

I'm sure the police are suspicious of witnesses who don't change details over time.

But he's right. Her attitude may have changed. Why? Because at first she couldn't believe a father could do that. But then she realised he could. Don't forget, this was before the girl got thrown off a bridge. Irrefutable evidence that people can do awful things. But people don't want to believe the worst. We can't. Otherwise we may have to wonder what did I marry? What didn't I see?

Morrisey is on a mission to discredit her or suggest that she has changed her story, possibly defaced a tomb-marker and dared to be photographed at the boys' funeral in what remains undescribed in the paper but is insinuated to be what one could imagine a friendly, co-grieving clutch with her ex-husband.

So grubby. How does he sleep at night?

The fee? It can only be the fee.

The glory? What glory?

What the fuck does SC mean anyway? Standard Counsel. Satisfactory Counsel. So-so Counsel.

[Flashback - an eight-year-old Melba once took on a barrister, who these days specialises in similar grubby work defending people who clearly "did it." She told him not to call her mother and her friend (his wife) a "couple of tarts."

I remember him standing officiously in front of his enormous fireplace in his enormous house in St Vincent's Place, South Melbourne, red wine in hand, joshing around in his booming court-room voice. He was being funny, you see. Little Melba didn't know that, she took everything on face value, as is fairly normal at that age.

Don't call my mother a tart.

Later, at the age of maybe 14, an exchange:

Do you have to defend criminals?


Do have to be their lawyer even if you know they are guilty?


Thus endeth Melba's small thoughts of becoming a lawyer.

And another time. Melba enters the office on William St of the above barrister's lawyerly friend. The two of them were working on the Mr Asia case. This is oh maybe 1983/84. Melba is doing some work for them, data entry into a tinny little TRS-80 from Dick Smith. Evidence. Masses of it. Interesting stuff. I wish I'd kept a copy. No real link to anything here, just fills out the picture of the calibre of client.

But back to the story.

The defence for Farquharson, Peter Morrisey, who is not a designer of anything other than maybe paperclips in rows on his faux-teak desk, said the following to Cindy Gambino, mother of those three boys:

"What have you got to say about your role, if any?" (relating to the chiselling off of Farquharson's name on the boys' headstone.)

Why is this even being discussed? Even if she did, don't you think most reasonable people would understand why she might have hacked at it? It's something a mother might do, but its completely irrelevant to the case. And why is she being asked about her previous testimony? Is she in contempt of court, is she trying to cause mischief?

As she said:

"What mother could fathom that a father could do such a thing to their children?"

Morrissey insinuates that she defaced their grave.

Then he suggests that she is "deliberately putting a bad spin" or " 'deliberately exaggerating' aspects of her evidence to increase the likelihood of him being found guilt over the boys' deaths."

The trial continues, the paper says.

Whose trial?

Oh, and a literary tip. Book in the offing from high-profile writer. Can't wait.


BookMoth said...

Ooh, is it Helen? Been following the trial in the paper and keep thinking, "I'd love to know what Helen has to say about this." I loved Joe Cinque's Consolation. (Well, as much as you can love a book that only exists because of a tragedy and miscarriage of justice.)

BookMoth said...

I don't know why I always refer to Helen Garner by her first name... It sounds silly, but I feel like I know her so well from her writing that we're friends, sort of. A one-way friendship at least. And when I see her on the streets of Melbourne (as I have by chance a couple of times) I'm always a bit sad that I recognise her but she doesn't recgonise me!

Mike from Adelaide said...

Certainly its not the defendant who is on trial. We had a similar case in SA where the father carefully placed a can of petrol between his daughters legs; spotted an animal and drove off a cliff avoiding it. Luckily the car didn't explode so only one of the kids was killed, but lo and behold he got off.

Funny how you can tell how guilty they are by their defence lawyers. As soon as you see the name, you know they only defend the unrepentedly guilty.

Melba said...

Hello Moth it is indeed. But she's been "stuffed up" by this retrial. Book was ready to go, so my source tells me. I can't wait too.

And hello Mike. It must be years since I've had a new reader. Welcome, and talk about that story being ironic. I know what you mean about the lawyer names and how guilt becomes associated with them.

suze2000 said...

I didn't know Helen Garner lives here.

Also: I never believed the sneezing story, but I am not a parent and have a much more jaundiced view of parenthood. My heart breaks for the mothers in these cases though.

Melba said...

Not to be rude, suze, but unless the number in your "handle" relates to your birth date, how can you NOT know Helen lives here?

Started re-reading The First Stone last night.

Anybody want to talk about it? I one got into a conversation about it a party and felt that I was talking to someone who was one of the girls or knew one of the girls. She hadn't read the book, and made a point of saying that, but was so harsh and critical and negative. It was the only time I've come across such vitriol against someone who wasn't physically present in the room.

suze2000 said...

Actually, I've heard of her, but I don't think I've read any of her books. Plus, I'm from Perth. Are they all set in Melbourne?

2000 just refers to the year I was forced to choose a new online nick. That's about all. :) I'm FAR older than 10.

Melba said...

Yep Suze. Not all her stories are set in Melbourne but the ones that are, are very "Melbourne". She's always riding her bike everywhere, through Carlton, to the State Library, around the cemetery to the north of the uni etc.

I think Chez Nous was set in Sydney though.

I knew you were older than ten!