Non-fiction – paperback; Fremantle Press; 2016 pages; 2022.
This is a story about the tragic consequences for all women when one woman speaks up and nobody listens.
The above line, quoted on the back cover of Wendy Davis’s memoir Don’t Make a Fuss, perfectly encapsulates the moral of this story.
Wendy, a 40-year-old social worker at a hospital in Perth, was randomly attacked at her workplace by an onsite contractor in 1990. He grabbed her from behind while she was sitting at her desk alone in her office. He put a cloth over her mouth so she couldn’t scream and tried to drag her into a nearby toilet cubicle. Wendy managed to fight him off and ran for help.
The culprit, a Telecom (now Telstra) technician, was charged with the relatively minor charge of common assault, told to undergo counselling and kept his job. Meanwhile, Wendy’s shock, trauma and concerns were dismissed by the police, by Telecom (who claimed the man was having “relationship problems” and was a “good worker” with a “good future ahead of him”) and even by her husband (a policeman), whom she later divorced.
She buried her fears and never talked about what happened. She left her job, even though she loved it and had worked hard to achieve her position, and tried to put it all behind her. She remarried and moved to Tasmania.
Claremont serial killer
Meanwhile, the man that attacked her went on to murder two women, and a suspected third, in what became known as the Claremont serial killings, which occurred in 1996-1997. He remained undetected for almost a decade, but in 2016 he was arrested by the Special Crime Squad which had ploughed extra resources into investigating the killings.
Bradley Robert Edwards, 48, was charged with…
the wilful murders of 23-year-old Jane Rimmer and twenty-seven-year-old Ciara Glennon, who had disappeared from Claremont in 1996 and 1997, the abduction and rape of a seventeen-year-old woman in Claremont in 1995, and the sexual assault of an eighteen-year-old woman in Huntingdale in 1998, with both of the latter offences including deprivation of liberty. […] Police were still investigating the 1996 disappearance of another woman from Claremont, eighteen-year-old Sarah Spiers.
Response to arrest
Wendy’s memoir is written as a response to the news of Edwards’ arrest, which affected her deeply. She had spent 25 years pretending the attack hadn’t happened, burying it deep in her subconscious, until she received an unexpected call from Western Australia police at her current home in Hobart, which made it all come rushing back.
I had forced the trauma deep down. As people, especially women, of my time were taught to do, I just ‘got on with it’. I didn’t make a fuss.
Her story is written in an intimate but forthright style and swings between Wendy’s life in the immediate aftermath of the attack and the resurgence of anger and grief she felt more than two-and-a-half decades later. She details her involvement in the state trial (she was called as a witness), which took seven months and was conducted without a jury, but actually took years to get to trial.
What emerges is a portrait of an intelligent, thoughtful and resilient woman, now in her 60s, who effectively suffered three traumas: the attack itself, in 1990; the dismissal of her concerns by the authorities immediately afterwards; and a resurgence of psychological trauma upon news of Edwards’ arrest and the subsequent trial.
Taking concerns seriously
The issue that hits home hardest, however, is the importance of taking women’s concerns seriously. While Wendy’s story is written with the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard not to see how Edwards’ terrible deeds may have been stopped if Wendy’s “incident” had been taken more seriously in the first place.
A meeting with Telecom, just a week after Edwards had tried to abduct her, is a case in point. Wendy attends the meeting with her husband, not sure what it is going to be about, but then discovers it’s the company’s way of making excuses for their employee and of ensuring that Wendy won’t go on to sue them.
The manager went on to say that, although he understood that I was shocked by what had happened, it would not benefit anyone if this promising employee lost his job, his career. I was rendered speechless for a moment or two. When I recovered, I told him that I thought I was going to lose my life. I told him it was not normal behaviour to attack a complete stranger because you were having difficulties in your relationship. I said that he’d had cable ties in his pocket, that he’d put something over my mouth, tried to drag me into the toilet, that I was still bruised and in shock.
The manager tells her that it wasn’t unusual for Telecom employees to carry cable ties, that he’d never done anything like this before and that counselling would help him with his “current personal issues”. Wendy claims the manager was “clearly not hearing my account of the events” and that she left the meeting feeling anxious, angry, concerned and totally disempowered.
It’s hard to read this compelling memoir and come away from it without feeling the same.
This is my 10th book for #20booksofsummer 2022 edition. I bought it new from Dymocks not long after it was released.
And because the author grew up in Western Australia and lived in Perth for much of her life, this book qualifies for my ongoing Focus on Western Australian Writers reading project, which you can read more about here.
13 thoughts on “‘Don’t Make a Fuss: It’s only the Claremont Serial Killer’ by Wendy Davis”
I’m glad to have read this thoughtful review, because from the cover, I’d just have dismissed it as a sensation -seeking bit of cheap-thrills drama. There’s clearly a lit more to it than that. I don’t think the cover does the book any favours.
Admittedly, I don’t like the subtitle which feels sensationalist to me but I understand they’ve done that to encourage Perth residents to pick it up. There’s a few books about the Claremont serial killer available but the first one written by a survivor. I found it very moving.
I can see that. Difficult, isn’t it? What draws one reader in will discourage another.
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Infutriatin Kimbofo … this “it’s hard not to see how Edwards’ terrible deeds may have been stopped if Wendy’s “incident” had been taken more seriously in the first place” let alone poor Wendy’s trauma and what she’s been through. Brings to mind the Lynne and Chris Dawson business where police back then in the 80s were more prepared to believe that she had just walked away from her children, parents, siblings, leaving not trace, than that her unfaithful husband might have done something to her. I find it hard to believe that these things happened as recently as my adulthood by which time I thought Australia was better than that! Thanks for this review.
Yes, there are so many cases of women going ‘missing’ and the husband getting away with it! The justice system has so much inbuilt bias (that favours white men) and it’s clear from Wendy’s case that there are biases in the workplace too.
The memoir reminds us that a woman’s career (in the 1990s) was far less important than a man’s: it was like everything had to be done to protect Edwards’ employment (he was only in his early 20s) but it didn’t matter about Wendy, even though she had an important job as a grief counsellor in a palliative care hospital and had worked hard to get there. She was so scared of being attacked at work again that she quit!
The whole book is infuriating, to be honest, and I only hope Wendy found some peace in writing it. She has been so shabbily treated in so many different ways by systems that should have protected her but ended up protecting the culprit! 🤬😡🤯
Oh why didn’t I check what I wrote … I detest writing on my phone! Anyhow, yes, I can understand that it was infuriating. It’s also gobsmacking that that behaviour was seen as something they could excuse.
This sounds horrific, Kim. Poor Wendy. She couldn’t have been more let down, by the sound of it. Like you say, hopefully writing the memoir will have brought her some peace. Hopefully, too, the failings of the system being in the open has brought about change. It’s hard not to be cynical, though, isn’t it?
Yes, poor Wendy – I was so angry on her behalf. I’d like to think attitudes are changing now, but there is still a long way to go.
Whoa, that’s really disturbing.
Yes, it’s a disturbing story all round.
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Difficult to read this book without feeling incensed. What happened about the initial charge – was he convicted? The company’s response is extraordinary, but so is the attitude of the police. They know that serial offenders often begin in a small way but become emboldened if they are. It caught and Increase the severity of their attacks .
Yes, he was convicted but the punishment was minor. I think the case just goes to show how sexist the police and society at large was back in the 1990s. I’d like to think things have changed now, but am not entirely convinced, although I guess it helps that there are more women in the police force.