I mentioned Helen Garner in a post last week on why I write. Her non-fiction is both domestic and sublime, telling and infuriating and her way with crafting the stories of real life, of the non-fictional, spoke to me. Her non-fiction collection, True Stories, included rich handfuls of freelance stories published in newspapers and magazines around the country. One of them won her the Walkley Award for journalism, recounting the murder of two-year old Daniel Valerio ('How we lost Daniel's life', titled 'Killing Daniel' in True Stories). The story is a court report, a question on the state of our society and how a young boy can be irretrievably lost.
I didn't know the story of Daniel Valerio until I bought and read True Stories in 2005. But the facts of his short life have resonated over the two decades since it was brutally taken from him. The circumstances surrounding his death led to the introduction of mandatory reporting in Victoria but that certainly hasn't prevented similar tragedies. Jaidyn, Keisha, Tanilla, Sean, a set a nameless twins... these are just the one's I can remember off the top of my head.
Last night I was scrolling through ABC News online and found the story of Daniel Thomas, a little boy my son's age who died in 2003 and whose body was discovered buried under a house in 2008. The Victorian Coroner has just now announced that the little boy's babysitter, in conjunction with his mother, was responsible for his death. His mother.
I'm not going to link to the story. The details of the story are horrific, as awful as the details of all the other child murders, of all the other child abuse stories that shuffle through the news feeds with alarming regularity.
This is one of the first of these stories that I've focused on since becoming a mother myself. A little boy, my son's age, who lived (briefly) not so very far away from where we live our lives now. I recoiled from the horror of the story as well the immensity of how you even begin to prevent this from happening. How can our services protect all the children when the Coroner is only now able to get around to a judgement in this case? I am sure the backlog of cases is immense, the resources to investigate growing scarcer, and the red tape to push through new legislation and new funding a nightmare I cannot begin to fathom. This is not even to touch on issues like mental illness and domestic abuse that are often entwined in these cases.
I closed down the browser and crept into my son's bedroom. He was tossing his snuffly head on his pillow, murmuring in his sleep about driving a bus. I pulled his blankets up around his shoulders, found his wandering dummy and closed his fingers around it. I touched his sweaty forehead and lay my hand on his chest. And I stayed there, hovering over him, unable to leave his side, contemplating how many nights a little boy just like him was able to sleep peacefully, how many nights were fitful, how many nights were wide-eyed and frightened, wailing behind the gag in his mouth, behind the door of a locked cupboard.
And then my boy turned in his sleep, clutched at the dummy in his fist, and mumbled 'oh Mummy, I love you so much'. And I cried, an open-mouthed, lurching, silent cry, and stumbled from his room.