Port Lincoln deaths, a tragedy but also a crime

Date

To prevent such acts of family violence we need to clearly see the criminal acts behind them.

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Video settings

What type of connection do you have?

Video settings form
  1. Note: A cookie will be set to keep your preferences.

Video settings

Your video format settings have been saved.

Town in mourning after wharf tragedy

Tributes are lining the wharf of a South Australian country town where two young boys were killed when their father sent the family station wagon plunging to the bottom of the ocean.

PT2M7S 620 349

A man drives his car off a Port Lincoln wharf and into the deep waters below. In his vehicle he is transporting three things. The first is a rifle with a telescopic sight. The second and third are his children, with barely five years of life between them and no more to come. The father hurtles his car, rifle and baby boys off that wharf at a speed so great, it immediately plunges more than 30 metres down. It takes six hours for police divers to retrieve the three bodies (and "bodies" is what they are now) and the rifle, which is carefully bagged as evidence for an inquest that will happen at a later date.

Police confirm they are treating the incident as a murder-suicide.

Over the next 24 hours, and likely for days beyond, media stories about this investigation will reference it as a "tragedy", and with the loss of two baby boys it cannot be anything but. But what they will also do is write glowing reports about how wonderful this man was. They will interview the people who knew him, the neighbours, the football club members with whom he played and laughed, and they will construct a public image of him as the quintessential "top bloke". People will express their astonishment that something like this could happen.

The bodies of Damien Little and his two children were discovered in the wreckage.

The bodies of Damien Little and his two children were discovered in the wreckage. Photo: Port Lincoln Times

This criminal act that the police are investigating as a murder-suicide will be carefully repackaged as a tragic accident that came like a hurricane out of nowhere and whose purpose must consequently be surrendered to as an act of God.

Advertisement

Here's another take. At 5:45am on Monday, Damien Little was seen driving his car along the wharf at speeds of up to 80km/h. He had just uploaded a suicide note (since removed) to the Facebook page he shared with his wife, Melissa. There is the matter of the rifle and the police investigation. And so while we cannot know without a doubt yet if Little meant to drive his two boys and himself into the waters off Brennan Wharf, it seems almost certain that he did and that death was the intended outcome.

How quickly comes the narrative of shock around these "community" men who murder their wives and/or children, particularly when those men come from solid middle-class backgrounds in the largely white country towns that popular fiction likes to imagine as the fertile ground of Australia's grassroots. When these men murder their families, testimonies are published identifying such gruesome, horrifying behaviour as "out of character", as if there could be a circumstance in which one murders their family to establish such behaviour as a trait.

We are assured of their goodness, how they were the most loving husbands and fathers you could ever meet and how they wouldn't hurt a fly. That these accolades of gentleness sit in direct contrast with their choice to violently end the lives of the same people they are praised for having loved so deeply is never quite addressed. They are not seen as men who've murdered their families, but victims of circumstance.

Consider the tweet from ABC Adelaide earlier this week, which declared, "Respected, well-liked: Locals describe father who died with his kids after car went off #PortLincoln wharf", as if Little had died while trying to protect his children, rather than being the engineer responsible for their demise.

Community discourse in this country still suffers from an inability to balance what we think we know about family violence with what is actually presented to us. Violence is more often hidden in shadows, primarily because the choice to perpetrate violence is exactly that – a choice. The issue of mental health is always raised. But while men's mental health is an important issue, it's also a distraction. Most mentally ill men don't murder their family members. And all this focus does is continue to position harm to women and children as the sad by-product of the greater tragedy of men's low self-esteem.

Family violence doesn't follow the rules of fairytales, where people are either good or bad. Damien Little was considered to be a good man who was well-liked by his community. Damien Little allegedly drove a car carrying his two little boys off a wharf and killed them. Men who are kind to their friends and colleagues can also be cruel to their families. These are complexities that have to be recognised if we want to change the state of family violence in this country. To prevent these tragedies, we have to understand these crimes.

Naming them is the first step.

Clementine Ford is an Age columnist.

Need help?

Lifeline 131 114

beyondblue 1300 224 636

SuicideLine 1300 651 251

MensLine 1300 789 978

 

146 comments

  • Well said Clementine. "Top blokes" don't go around murdering their children. The woman at the centre of the Wyndham Vale lake crash was treated very differently by the media.

    Commenter
    Disgusted
    Date and time
    January 06, 2016, 4:42AM
    • ""Top blokes" don't go around murdering their children."

      That only holds true if you have some childish, simplistic notion of people as either 100% good or 100% bad. Top work by Clem, as usual though. Mental illness can just be washed away as some side issue. Would never make someone do something horrendous.

      Commenter
      Tim the Toolman
      Date and time
      January 06, 2016, 9:34AM
    • Yes, Well said, Ms Ford. Naming it, and recognising all instances of the same act, is the starting point.

      Commenter
      Jump
      Date and time
      January 06, 2016, 10:36AM
    • A very thought provoking article, Clementine.
      Society tends to categorize criminal acts like this one under headings like 'Good man stretched to breaking point does the unthinkable' to avoid telling it like it is. The unlawful taking of life, whatever the circumstances, is a crime. Murder/suicide, domestic violence, once labelled thus, seem to be put these acts away into the too hard basket, so that everyone can, supposedly, move on. Two innocent young human beings have had their lives cut short by the very person who should have protected them from harm. And saying anything to the contrary cheapens their very short time on this earth. At the end of the day, nevertheless, may all three of them rest in peace.

      Commenter
      VW
      Location
      Benalla
      Date and time
      January 06, 2016, 10:41AM
    • sure this article has valid points but it seems as though the author has an axe to grind and I am sorry clem but yes mentally ill people can kill yes it does not make sense but mentl illness does not make sense

      Commenter
      kippy
      Location
      sinapore
      Date and time
      January 06, 2016, 11:46AM
    • +1. I always find myself agreeing 100% with Clementine Ford's articles, and yet again she says so eloquently what had to be said.

      Commenter
      David
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 06, 2016, 12:34PM
    • We cannot make any judgement on this tragedy until all the facts are known and/or made public, if ever.

      Commenter
      Marg
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 06, 2016, 3:09PM
    • Terrible. Yes, but is this more terrible or any different than the Cairns mother that stabbed eight of her children to death? Apparently so, because in this case he was a man.

      Commenter
      Sexual politics
      Date and time
      January 06, 2016, 3:11PM
    • @Sexual Politics... +100

      Commenter
      Hanging Judge Jeffries
      Date and time
      January 06, 2016, 4:29PM
  • Yes, totally agree with your points. It's a control issue and a topic not often analysed. What exactly is control in a relationship ... Not a happy one I'll bet.

    Commenter
    Pagoli
    Date and time
    January 06, 2016, 7:40AM

    More comments

    Comments are now closed