In the murky world of violent crime, there are some names that will forever haunt the public psyche – names like Peter Sutcliffe, Ted Bundy, Ian Brady and Jeffrey Dahmer. And yet, none of those infamous criminals is Australian. Why? Is it that Australia simply doesn’t have violent crime? As Crimes that Shook Australia has shown us, that is definitely not the case. So why aren’t Australian crimes more familiar to us?
One reason could be that the continent itself has a relatively low level of violent crime – there are fewer than 1.2 homicides per 100,000 persons a year, almost three times less than America – meaning that there aren’t as many crimes to report; however the age-old motivations of money, revenge and sex are just as prevalent in Australia as they are in any other place inhabited by the human race.
Perhaps one or two well known soaps have helped inform our view of the Land of Oz as a crime-free paradise; a view fuelled by idyllic holidays on Bondi Beach and tales of hundreds of families who have moved their lives to the Southern Hemisphere to raise children in a perfect suburb; a view that often goes unchallenged by the British media. On the rare occasion that we do hear of atrocities down under, it’s often through the filter of Hollywood, and films like Wolf Creek.
Based on the crimes of serial killer Ivan Milat, he’s portrayed as a one-off, a psychopathic Crocodile Dundee, preying on the young travellers unfortunate enough to cross his path. Milat is without doubt Australia’s most notorious criminal, but he is far from the country’s only serial killer; alongside Peter Dupas, who killed three women after attacking a string of others over the course of four decades, there’s John Wayne Glover, convicted of murdering six elderly women in 1990, Eric Edgar Cooke, who killed eight people in the early 1960s, and many more.
Perhaps another reason we are less familiar with Australian crime is the country’s decisive response when atrocities do occur. When spree killer Martin Bryant carried out his horrific gun-attack at Port Arthur on Tasmania, semi and fully automatic weapons were successfully banned, therefore avoiding any similar attacks on the public - a strategy the American Government watched with interest. When 9-year-old Ebony Simpson was brutally murdered by Andrew Garforth, her family and supporters tackled the justice system itself, successfully introducing Victim Impact Statements to the sentence hearings of violent offenders, limiting appeals for prisoners serving life without parole, and bringing victims’ rights to the forefront of criminal law.
The Australian Judiciary also isn’t afraid to make tough decisions. In the case of killer Katherine Knight, the sentence passed down - despite her desperate attempts to appear insane - made her the first woman in the country’s history to be given a natural life tariff. Similarly, when child killer Derek Percy was found not guilty on grounds of insanity in 1970, he was given no minimum sentence for his rehabilitation, and died in prison in 2013.
The dignified, unfussy way in which the Australian public and government join forces to heal the wounds caused by such atrocities might not make for great Hollywood material or juicy news footage, but it does make for a community to be proud of. And that’s definitely something that should be news-worthy. Further Investigation: Five Australian crimes worth looking into... The Snowtown Murders Also known as the Bodies in the Barrels murders. John Bunting, Robert Wagner and James Vlassakis murdered 12 people between 1992 and 1999; six of their victims were found in plastic barrels.
The Frankston Murders Self-confessed woman-hater Paul Denyer murdered three women in Frankston, Victoria in the early 1990s. In a bizarre twist Denyer has reportedly looked into gender reassignment. Aunt Thally Better known as Caroline Grills, Aunt Thally got her nickname for poisoning four family members with Thallium. Martha Rendell The last woman to be executed in Western Australia, Martha Rendell murdered three children by forcing them to swallow Hydrochloric Acid. William Macdonald Preying on homeless men in the early 1960s, Macdonald was convicted of four brutal murders in 1963, and is the longest serving prisoner in New South Wales.