I am sick to the stomach this morning and the causative agent is not a meal of spoiled seafood or badly cooked chicken, but the unfolding daily horror that I am reading in the newspapers about the Coronial Inquest into the brutal murders of Lorraine Wilson and Wendy Evans that occurred nearly forty years ago. The two young nurses went missing after setting off, hitch-hiking, from Camp Hill in Brisbane en route to Goondiwindi. Their remains were found, two years later, and showed that they had been violently battered and bound, in a lonely paddock in Murphy’s Creek at the bottom of the Dividing Range below Toowoomba.
In 1974 I was eight years old and making regular trips with my parents past that spot to the Darling Downs to visit my grandparents. I now live in Camp Hill, the last place the girls were seen, officially alive. The scenery, if not the tale, is all too familiar to me.
The unfolding horror-story tells of a violent misogynist culture operating as a dirty undercurrent in the region of Toowoomba in the seventies. The appalling lack of intelligence-gathering and follow-up of significant evidence during the initial investigation by the police appears to have been so shoddy that it was little more than useless.
There was a well-known group of men around Toowoomba at the time who were infamous for their weekly hunts when they would cruise about Ruthven Street looking for girls to tumble into the car or boot and then they’d drive to a paddock to give them a good ‘hiding’. Many locals knew of this. One younger brother of the gang recalled in the Coroner’s Court, that he had sat on a log witnessing about ten blokes ‘making love’ to two women until his brother knocked him senseless during a brawl for asking what he was doing. The younger brother was ten at the time and his own parents were present.
THE MIND BOGGLES.
The 1970’s were a bad time to be a woman in rural Australia. Unless you are a woman, you cannot begin to understand how horrifying it feels to know that you might be considered fair game or ‘prey’. I recently watched a documentary on the endemic rape and abduction of Indigenous women by the Tasmanian sealers during the nineteenth century and was appalled at the primal, animalistic attitude those men had toward the native women and their families and culture. I am further sickened to read that men were still doing this for sport in the seventies in my own back-yard, four years after the world welcomed Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch.
Witnesses collectively saw two women ‘gang-banged’, beaten, strangled, dragged screaming into cars, begging for help and actually having their wrists bound. Some came forward with their information a day or so later, some not until the missing girls made the headlines, some not for many, many years. A few reported being too scared and others ‘didn’t want to get involved’. One witness explained that she and her husband had dismissed it as ‘a domestic’ (as if that somehow lessened the crime). There were so many witnesses it makes me hyperventilate with disbelief.
Those terrified girls were seen alive by so many in the hours before they had their skulls hammered to pieces. At someone’s back door, on a roadside, in a paddock. With raw and visceral fear, they begged for assistance. Not one person came to their aid. It seems the menace of the men and the stench of their blood-lust was too much of a threat to their own safety for the witnesses to come to the rescue or summon immediate police reinforcement. That was forty years ago and justice delayed is justice denied.
Marauding men hunting women for sport sounds so foreign and archaic to me, an educated woman who has been brought up to believe in gender equality and mutual respect for my brothers and sisters in society, that it makes me wonder how far we have really evolved since the flesh-tearing sports of the Colosseum and the town-square entertainment of witch-burning. The idea of monsters in the dark is not just a Gothic fairytale.
The hunters are still out there, some on those same dark country roads, others at home with their families. Some dead. Some still alive.
The most telling and tragic thing that struck me from this latest, belated and long overdue inquest into the murder of the eighteen and twenty year old girls, was that the ‘persons of interest’, were known to drive their Holdens up and down the streets of Toowoomba and the surrounds picking off girls to give a ‘hiding to.’ Everyone knew - that’s just what those men did. Regularly. Routinely. One has already admitted this behaviour during the inquest, while strenuously denying any guilt in the double murder. Where were the police in this lawless Wild West nightmare? Really! Where were they?
When Wayne Hilton (now deceased) allegedly confessed his part in the murders to his boss decades ago, his only excuse had been that they’d just been lads ‘too full of piss and bad manners.’ He boasted so often of his involvement while downing beer at the pub that it had become local folklore. Just piss and bad manners.
Not saying please and thank-you is bad manners. Slobbering down the phone to an old friend is being too full of piss. Hunting women, bashing women, tying women to trees and raping women, strangling women, abducting women, torturing women, slaughtering women. These are the actions of vile animals not blokes with too much beer in their bellies who ain’t been taught proper manners like….
If you’d stumbled across those horrific scenes on the side a dark road in 1974 or now– what would you have done? Is fear for our own safety or the discomfort of involvement actually a form of complacency which makes us morally complicit?
The inquest continues.