Clementine Ford issues an edict in response to last week’s horrific familicide in Western Australia’s southwest:
Despite not knowing the obviously extraordinary circumstances which resulted in a well-regarded man apparently killing his wife, daughter, four grandchildren and himself, self-appointed forensic psychologist Ford is certain of two things: assumed perpetrator Peter Miles was never a “good bloke”; and mental illness was not a factor.
Turning murderers into “Good Blokes” only reinforces an underlying community belief that there are circumstances in which men (and it’s always men, because nobody defends women who murder children or describes them as “awesome”) can be driven to this kind of response. That indeed the pressures of being a man can be so intense and suffocating that they feel they have no choice but to end the lives of everyone they’re “responsible” for.
Massacres become tragedies, victims’ names disappear into the swirl of commentary and all that’s remembered is that something awful happened but he was a Good Bloke at the end of the day and that, my friends, is perhaps the saddest part of all of this.
This was a horrific act of violence. The framing of criminal acts like these as being somehow the result of depression or financial struggles or just a lack of appropriate emotional support cannot help but infect the circumstances with an air of sympathy and understanding. It’s dangerous to immediately valorise the people responsible for this kind of behaviour. It is an act of valorisation to focus on the so-called “awesome” traits of someone who has just slaughtered their entire family. More importantly, it’s a valorisation of traditional notions of masculinity to regard a homicide like this as a father and grandfather’s misguided way of protecting his family from the stress of his own suicidal ideation.
Ford doesn’t provide any examples of “valorisation” because there are none: statements of surprise do not valorise. With nothing to offer, Ford veers off on a tangent:
When Geoff Hunt murdered his wife and three children in Lockhart in 2014, much was made of the fact that Kim Hunt had recently acquired a disability in a car accident. In this case, the “quiet grain farmer” was described as having suffered “considerable pressure and tension” following the crash, and that police believe this might have been what caused him “to snap”.
Much of the public’s commentary following the murders was sympathetic to Hunt. Again, feminists were urged to consider the plight of mental health and not to use this as a way to demonise men. If refusing to discuss domestic homicide as anything other than an incomprehensible act of violence with no excuse is “demonising men”, then we have a long way to go.
If there is any demonising to be done, it is of the structural system called patriarchy that informs men – even “good” ones – that they shoulder the responsibility for familial care and order. In the case of Geoff Hunt, the coroner’s report later found “it was the result of an egocentric delusion that his wife and children would be better off dying than living without him”.
Ford craftily fails to link to the coroner’s 24 page report, instead condensing a complex multi-year dynamic into a simple matter of murder and suicide owing to Geoff Hunt’s patriarchy-instilled “egocentric delusion” [see page 22].
Ford, having read the report, knows that the coroner found Hunt to be a “good bloke”:
Geoffrey Hunt was the scion of a prominent local grazing family. He was well liked in the area, charismatic, an excellent sportsman and a tertiary educated and skilful farmer. He was sociable and hard working. [page 19]
There was no history of domestic violence:
Overwhelmingly the witness statements describe Geoff as personable, a devoted husband and father, easy going, outgoing and positive. [page 2]
Jenny Geppert is Kim Hunt’s younger sister and only sibling. They have always been very close. In a detailed statement that candidly acknowledges the unattractive and unpleasant behaviours of her sister as a result of Kim’s acquired brain injury, Jenny denied any knowledge of any domestic violence occurring in the Hunt’s marriage. She said; “Kim had never mentioned to me anything about Geoff being violent whether it be physical, mental of psychological.” [page 10]
Searching the report produces 142 mentions of Geoff and 176 of Kim, the wife. Kim’s name appears so frequently because of her longstanding and contributory psychopathology . Friends and family considered Kim “highly strung”, a psychiatrist who treated her commenting to the coroner that she was, “probably already suffering from bi-polar disorder” prior to being critically injured in a car crash.
[Kim] suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in 2012 that reportedly changed her personality. According to her sister, she could be unpleasant to people (particularly Geoff), would fixate on issues that troubled her and lost her ability to filter information. She was frustrated by her physical limitations, including the impaired functioning of her right hand. [page 3]…
Kim’s mood seemed to broadly improve once she returned to work in April 2014 as a nurse educator for 8 hours per week. However, as detailed below, she continued to suffer from wild mood swings. [page 4]
Family and friends observed that Kim’s personality was altered due to her brain injury and she lost her filter, could be aggressive and abusive and would often publicly criticise Geoff. Things appear to have reached a crisis point later in June 2013 when, on a drive to Sydney, she “became suddenly and explosively upset with Geoff and yelled at him persistently for 45 minutes.” Kim was urgently referred to Sydney based psychiatrist Dr Stephen Rosenman whom she met with on 21 June 2013. Dr Rosenman noted in his report that Kim had increasingly had difficulties with angry outbursts and disinhibition, and loss of empathy and comprehension of the impact of her anger. [page 8]
[Fletcher] could be challenging at times, probably due to the behavioural condition ADHD. Kim lost some patience for Fletcher after her accident and described their relationship to psychologist Kylie Irlam as a “disaster combination”. Kim and Fletcher’s personalities were a lot alike. [page 4]
Belittling of Geoff continued to the very end:
At about 5.00pm, Geoff came home. After wrapping some father’s day presents for their grandfather, the children went with Geoff into Lockhart where his parents lived.
According to his father; “Geoffrey appeared no different than any other time. He was talking to us fine and appeared happy.” His mother however considers he was less happy than usual. She said to her husband after her son and grandchildren had left “Geoffrey had no smiles today.” She said his father replied; “No, he hasn’t smiled for a week.” Geoff mentioned the disputed goal at the football the day before but his mother said it didn’t seem to be of any concern to him. They left at about 6.00pm.
While Geoff and the children were in Lockhart, Kim and [disability support worker Lorraine] Bourke went to a neighbours’ property that Kim was looking after while the owners were away. They watered the garden and picked some fruit before returning to Watch Hill.
When the two women got back to the farm house the children were eating dinner that Geoff had prepared. Kim disapproved of the meal and expressed her views forcefully to Geoff. Ms Bourke described Kim as being “cranky”. She followed Kim into the back yard and attempted to calm her down. That was unsuccessful and “Kim went on a bit of a rant about her usual things: that Geoff was lazy; that Ian and Sally (Geoff’s brother and his wife) had stolen money from the family trust…” etc.
When Ms Hunt and Ms Bourke returned into the house the children were having or had had their baths and were in pyjamas. Mr Hunt was making their school lunches for the following day.
Ms Bourke considered that Mr Hunt seemed quieter than usual and she asked Ms Hunt whether he was depressed. His wife responded in the negative and told Ms Bourke that she was angry with him because he’d played golf on Saturday and left her to care for the children.
By this stage the children were watching a favourite television show that commenced at 7.00pm and Mr Hunt was lying of the sofa in the same room. Ms Bourke and Ms Hunt sat at the dining table that was also in that room. Kim remained hostile to her husband and complained to Ms Bourke about him being lazy and doing nothing. [page 12]
An experienced forensic psychologist informs the NSW coroner:
Dr [Sarah] Yule believes that Geoff likely experienced depressive symptoms over some time that, coupled with his tendency to internalise cognitive and emotional distress, escalated into his decision to kill his family. Marital and family stressors, including Kim’s permanent injuries, would likely have contributed to probable feelings of hopelessness for the future.
In contrast to other cases of family murders and suicide where the deaths are preceded by custody disputes and sometimes a history of family violence, in this case it appears Geoff could not contemplate separating from Kim or his children.
In Dr Yule’s opinion, the children were likely killed because Geoff believed they could not cope without him. These distorted beliefs may have included that he was ending Kim’s misery, particularly given that her recovery was believed to have reached its maximum expectation.
Therefore, Dr Yule concludes that Geoff’s primary intent was suicide, and his decision to kill the remaining members of his family had a pseudo ‘altruistic’ motivation. His distorted thinking resulting in this action was likely associated with symptoms of depression and feelings of hopelessness for his and his family’s situation. [page 17]
It is therefore appropriate that the cover page of the coroner’s report, rather than listing “egocentric delusion”, indicates instead:
CORONIAL LAW – manner and cause of death; filicide; impacts of mental illness and acquired brain injury; family
It is irresponsible that Fairfax publishes Ford’s simplistic, neo-Marxist, blame-all-ills-on-the-patriarchy drivel.
Finally, when originally published, the following was not appended to Ford’s article:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Since mental illness plays no role in such matters, why was the Lifeline phone number added?