Real men stand up
MELBOURNE HERALD SUN 2005
Ask a football lover about 1989 and they'll tell you it was
the year Dermott Brereton was shirt-fronted at the opening bounce
of the grand final only to drag himself to his feet and inspire
the Hawks to the premiership. Some will recall that a week earlier
I'd coached Coburg to consecutive VFA premierships at Windy
Hill. But how many could recite the name of the judge who that
year sentenced Peter Keogh to three years and eleven months
gaol for stabbing my 25-year-old sister, Vicki, to death? Despite
widespread revulsion at the manslaughter verdict and the leniency
of the sentence, no one in authority expressed a single word
of sympathy to my parents.
On 26 October 2005 at the Lexus Centre, home of the Collingwood
Football Club, Dermott Brereton, big tough Aussie Rules footballer,
and robust union leader Dean Mighell uttered the words no politician
or legal luminary has been prepared to say. 'I've never known
a man of real courage who's raised a hand to a woman,' said
Brereton in launching my latest book, Getting away with murder.
'There should be zero tolerance,' added Mighell, secretary of
the predominantly male Electrical Trades Union.
Getting away with murder tells the real story of the killing
of Julie Ramage by her businessman husband, James Ramage, in
Balwyn in 2003. Like my sister, Julie Ramage was accused of
provoking her estranged husband to lose control and kill her.
It cut no ice with Brereton, who in describing the book as confronting
said he 'despaired of men hiding under the shadow of provocation'
and that such violence was 'cowardly'.
Although Dermott Brereton isn't known for publicly discussing
violence towards women, his words were profound. For Julie Ramage's
twin sister, Jane Ashton, and my mother, Lorna, they were the
heartfelt words of a man who other men admire. Finally, someone,
albeit a celebrity sportsman, had said 'sorry'. For mum it was
a moving moment.
Unlike many men who inhabit the macho culture of this town,
Brereton is no apologist for male violence. 'Why do we need
to educate footballers about violence towards women?' he asked.
'Don't they know right from wrong?' Sometimes the mother or
sister of a murdered woman needs a man like Dermott Brereton
to say these things. As Jane Ashton noted, 'Maybe if my sister
had a friend like Dermott she'd still be alive'.
Sixteen years have passed since my family watched in disbelief
as Justice George Hampel granted a provocation defence to Peter
Keogh after he'd stabbed my sister more than a dozen times outside
the kindergarten in Coburg where she worked. I still say the
gaol term handed down by the judge made a mockery of her human
rights. Had I not been a football identity and later a politician,
and had I not spent these years campaigning against the law
of provocation the real story of Vicki's brutal murder and the
humiliating manslaughter verdict might never have been told.
Keogh hated me writing or speaking publicly about the murder.
James Ramage is said to be depressed about the publication
of Getting away with murder. Incapable of saying sorry for bashing
and strangling his wife and dumping her in a bush grave, he
wants his children to believe the book is full of lies and that
it was their mother's fault. There are no lies. Hiding behind
what Dermott Brereton called the 'shadow of provocation' the
cowardly Ramage allowed his wife's character to be savaged in
court and as a result received a paltry eight years gaol. He'll
be out in six.
The Bracks government's decision to abolish provocation isn't
the end of the matter. The challenge is for other 'real' men
to join Brereton and Mighell in the struggle against family
violence and the myth that women lie about rape and violence.
Just as he did in that courageous football career, Dermie has
grabbed the hard ball. Who'll be next? That's the question.