Killings put men­tal health ser­vices in dock

The Water­low Killings: A Por­trait of a Fam­ily Tragedy A Dou­ble Spring: A Year of Tragedy, Grief and Love

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Alis­tair Jones

By Pamela Bur­ton Vic­tory Books, 272pp, $29.95 By Juliet Dar­ling Allen & Un­win, 224pp, $24.99

IMAG­INE you’ve given in to feel­ings of vi­o­lent rage for much of your life. Dark moods have ex­ploded into psy­chotic episodes. You’re good-look­ing, in line for a fam­ily baronetcy and have al­ways had ac­cess to money, creative minds and con­nected peo­ple. And yet you’re a para­noid schiz­o­phrenic and the voices in your head won’t let up.

At a fam­ily gath­er­ing on Novem­ber 9, 2009, you feel com­pelled to grab a carv­ing knife and stab your fa­ther — art cu­ra­tor Nick Water­low — and your mar­ried sis­ter Chloe, in­jur­ing a tod­dler niece in the frenzy. There’s blood every­where. Even as you at­tack your fa­ther, he in­sists he loves you. What do you do next?

Ac­cord­ing to the re­con­struc­tion of events in Pamela Bur­ton’s The Water­low Killings, Antony Water­low just walked up the street from his sis­ter’s house in Syd­ney’s eastern sub­urbs, his black T-shirt coated in blood. When the 42-year-old no­ticed a mo­torist star­ing, he mimed mak­ing a phone call.

Water­low quick­ened his pace and ducked into a fa­mil­iar park. For the next two weeks he hid in a garage at the back of a res­i­den­tial prop­erty, eat­ing pre­served pep­pers and onions that he found in stor­age and uri­nat­ing into a plas­tic bag. Mean­while, a po­lice man­hunt was un­der way with at least 80 false sight­ings.

When Water­low emerged, he headed for a nearby ATM, with­drew $600 from ac­crued Cen­tre­link pay­ments and caught a taxi to Colo Heights, about 90km north­west of Syd­ney. The driver was pleased to have such an ex­pen­sive fare. Shortly be­fore he was dropped off, Water­low asked to stop at a ser­vice sta­tion to buy wa­ter and sup­plies. He con­tin­ued on and made a shel­ter in the bush be­hind a va­cant lot.

Two days later he walked back to the ser­vice sta­tion for more sup­plies and bought a pair of sun­glasses. A lo­cal res­i­dent recog­nised him from the news and po­lice were alerted.

Af­ter an at­tempt to evade ar­rest, Water­low threat­ened to self-harm with a steak knife. The of­fi­cers calmed him down and he asked about the ‘‘ sit­u­a­tion’’ of his fa­ther and sis­ter. Eigh­teen months later, Water­low was found not guilty of mur­der due to men­tal ill­ness. The wounds to his niece were deemed reck­less rather than ma­li­cious; she was caught in the cross­fire. Bur­ton writes: The tragedy is that be­fore Antony killed, his treat­ing psy­chi­a­trists were not con­vinced he had schizophre­nia or posed an un­ac­cept­able dan­ger to oth­ers. Those who ex­am­ined him af­ter­wards had no doubt.

Water­low knew how to present well un­der ex­am­i­na­tion and con­sis­tently re­fused an­tipsy­chotic med­i­ca­tion. He couldn’t be forced to take it with­out be­ing sched­uled into su­per­vised care. Even in­creas­ingly ur­gent ap­peals from fam­ily and friends with ev­i­dence of vi­o­lent be­hav­iour and death threats did not per­suade the doc­tors to rec­om­mend sched­ul­ing.

There would have been few places to put him. The men­tal health sys­tem has long been de­in­sti­tu­tion­alised, with asy­lums shut down and the man­age­ment of pa­tient care handed back to fam­i­lies and the com­mu­nity, with­out suf­fi­cient sup­port mech­a­nisms. There’s a chronic short­age of se­cure beds. Even low-rent board­ing houses largely have dis­ap­peared, some re­de­ployed more prof­itably as back­packer hos­tels.

Bur­ton, a for­mer bar­ris­ter, high­lights how an in­ad­e­quate men­tal health sys­tem failed to pre­vent a fam­ily tragedy. She also un­rav­els the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem when deal­ing with in­san­ity pleas. The Water­low Killings is a well-re­searched ac­count of once-charmed lives turned shock­ingly sour.

The fam­ily seemed to have it all. Nick Water­low was a leader in his pro­fes­sion and the chil­dren — Antony, Luke and Chloe — grew up with ev­ery ad­van­tage. Their mother was Rose­mary ‘‘ Romy’’ O’Brien, a vi­va­cious ben­e­fi­ciary of the Bre­ville ap­pli­ances for­tune. A year af­ter she died of can­cer in 1998, Nick Water­low met and fell in love with artist Juliet Dar­ling. Antony, Luke and Chloe, now adults, didn’t wel­come the new re­la­tion­ship.

Dar­ling’s A Dou­ble Spring is an el­egy to a great love ripped from her grasp, a grief mem­oir with mo­ments of in­ef­fa­ble sad­ness. She tells her ver­sion of events, hon­our­ing the union of mind and body she shared with Water­low for more than a decade.

Dar­ling dis­plays a sharp eye for de­scrip­tion,

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