opinion

Life on the land does not drive someone to this.

Editor’s note: This post deals with suicide. Some readers may find the article triggering.

By ELISSA RATLIFF

People are reeling after news broke that a man living on a property in rural NSW allegedly murdered his wife and three children before taking his own life.

Nurse Kim Hunt, 41 was found dead on the footpath outside the family house near Lockhart, west of Wagga Wagga, on Tuesday afternoon. Her three children, Fletcher, 10, Mia, 8 and Phoebe, 6 were found inside the house. Media reports indicate the four members of the Hunt family had allegedly been shot dead.

Kim Hunt’s husband – the children’s father – Geoff, 44 was missing, and a suicide note apparently written by Mr Hunt was found on the property. His abandoned ute was found next to a dam on the family’s property, a set of thick tyre tracks cutting across the wheat crop and leading directly to it.

On Wednesday afternoon police recovered a body and a gun from a dam on the Hunt’s property, and police immediately discontinued a search for Mr Hunt.

They are now preparing a report for the coroner, and are not looking at any other persons of interest in relation to the incident.

“We have five dead people. We believe they were all members of the same family,” Wagga Wagga police Superintendent Bob Noble said. “There’s nothing to lend us to believe that there are any other victims or persons of interest.”

Bizarrely, the reaction in some quarters has been to point the finger not at the apparent killer, but at his work on the land.

Now, any Australian farmer could tell you that things are pretty tough right now. Our country is currently experiencing one of it’s worst droughts in 100 years, and it is taking its toll on people who live in rural areas. Some are struggling, some are making ends meet – and some are doing what they’ve always done – just getting by.

The experiences of rural families has been triggering mental illness for many. We know this. It can be painful, even horrific because that’s life on the land; unpredictable and riddled with anxiety.

However. It’s an experience that cannot be blamed for one man’s decision to allegedly murder his entire family before taking his own life.

Lockhart Mayor Peter Yates told the media yesterday “It’s been devastating,” he said. “No one can understand it. It’s mind-boggling that these young lives could be cut so short. Everyone wants to know why,” he said.

It is understandable to wonder why, to question the cause, or search for some meaning and logic in the case of this incomprehensible tragedy.

Naturally, grief is causing people to want to blame someone or something. And it seems that many in our community and the media are blaming the current state of Australia’s farming industry.

Wagga Wagga Police Superintendent Bob Noble told a press conference yesterday that the Hunt’s were “well-integrated into their community through social events, through sports and were well loved”. When asked what may have caused these murders Superintendent Noble said: “No doubt life on the land is very difficult. In certain parts of the country at present it’s very hard on people”.

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Sophie Benjamin, Crikey’s social and website producer – sent out these series of tweets earlier this morning:

Yes, more funding for mental health services in rural areas. For sure. But we must not turn this shocking tragedy, this crime, into some kind of inevitable consequence of farming life.

On ABC 702 radio this morning, one interviewer, speaking to the Deputy Mayor of Lockhart used words like “perished” when referring to the murder of three children and their mother and asked questions about the father such as “what may have pushed him to do this”.

When questioned by the interviewer about the weather conditions in Lockhart and their impact on the rural community, the Deputy Mayor spoke of recent frosts and how they could really do with some rain. Afterwards, the station was inundated with complaints from listeners about any suggestion that there could be any justification for allegedly murdering your entire family.

Yes farming can be difficult. I grew up on the land and my family are still there, doing it tough and making a living on pretty harsh conditions, like so many others. But we shouldn’t be looking at the land as the cause of what looks to be a brutal quadruple murder and suicide.

Because that is a disservice to all those people who live their lives on the land and struggle. It is a disservice to the farmers and graziers who make the most of what they have. And it is a disservice to those farmers who battle every day with a mental illness but would never in a million years hurt their own families.

To group their pain together with this unforgivable crime is unfair.

Geoff Hunt and his wife Kim were farmers. They lived their lives on the land, they raised their children on the land – and I am sure as hell that they knew and experienced the hardships that come with being a farmer. Droughts, floods, banks, stock, help. The list goes on.

Farmers describe it as a ‘way of life’. And it is. It’s not just an occupation – it’s a lifestyle, a passion – and more often than not a tradition. And when you feel that lifestyle slipping through your fingers it can be gut-wrenching.

But to kill your own family is not a cry for help in the name of a community you love. It is a crime. It is a crime that achieves nothing good and positively furthers no cause.

Not for any reason. Especially not for the love of the land.

The feature image is a stock photo. 

If this post brings up issues for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114. You can also visit the Lifeline website here and the Beyond Blue website here. If you’re looking for mental health services in the rural or remote areas click here.