I got up at usual at about 7.30 this morning, and as usual wandered downstairs to make my morning latte and to feed the keening dog. I wandered into the study to check my email, and sat down – not as usual – and have been sitting here ever since, catching up on the news.
It’s a sad morning, though there is no surprise, or even shock at the sadness. For most of the last week Melburnians have been transfixed at the news of an Irish girl who disappeared last Friday night (Saturday morning) after drinks, somewhere in the short distance between a bar in Brunswick and her home down the road and around the corner. Like few other events I can recall we’ve hung off the daily updates, both mystified and shocked. She was a bright, pretty girl out drinking with colleagues from the ABC, plucked from the streets it seemed while her grieving husband looked out from our TV screens with hollowed eyes. Everyone had a theory, not all of them generous, and pretty well everyone hoped for the best, while expecting the worst. Now we know. She is dead, and her murderer is in custody.
I’ve wondered what it is about this case that has aroused so much fascination. Is it that she was photogenic? Or that she was out doing what so many of us do on a regular basis, having an innocent and happy drink with friends? Is it the sheer mystery of the scenario, disappearing it seemed within the space of metres? Or is it the grim reminder that our streets are not as safe as we would believe, especially if you’re a woman? I suspect most of these, but particularly the last two. I know in my case I look at her and feel as if I might have known her, could imagine meeting her in a bar somewhere and falling into conversation. I don’t know if it is the same for everyone – probably not – but she appears like someone who might easily have been a part of my social circle, or perhaps might be the cute and likeable girl you work with, never imagining that something like this could ever happen.
The full details of the crime have yet to be released, but we know from news reports, and from CCTV footage, that it seems that Jill Meagher was the victim of an unlucky random, opportunistic abduction. We see Jill, tottering slightly because of a drink or two, on her high heels, and talking to the man now infamously described as wearing a ‘blue hoodie’. Watching the event in hindsight there is a sense of the ominous, like in the movies when you can see something happening the poor victim cannot. There is the sense in this footage something like in Jaws, the circling shark coming ever closer to the ignorant victim. We see the man in the blue hoodie walk past the camera going one way at about 1.40 Saturday morning, then a minute or two coming back the other, much like a patrolling shark, or a shark that has spotted its prey. Then when we see him again he has returned, and this time with him is Jill. He is talking to her, gesturing. She stands there as if unsure, perhaps foggy with drink. People pass by, more than you would expect at that time of night, one looking over his shoulder as he goes by. Then, after pausing, Jill goes on, out of view and, it seems, to her death – she didn’t make it to the next corner.
It’s perhaps a sign of the times that this mystery and tragedy lit up the social networks. Within hours there was a Facebook page, Find Jill Meagher; now there is a R.I.P. Jill Meagher page. Speculation, concern and horror were the themes on Twitter as people joined the conversation. There was conjecture on forums, and was the focus – and this GF week in Melbourne – of most conversations in the tram or train, in the kitchen at work. Most has been decent and humane, some not. I contributed to a forum yesterday to rebut dickheads who had claimed it was the husbands doing, because he ‘looked guilty’. That predictable look-at-me lowlife Catherine Deveny joined the scrum by claiming she had been attacked by the same man – of this she had no doubt – but had never thought to report it, until she did so through the twitterverse, and not the police. I guess this is pretty standard, it’s just that social media makes the scumbags so much more visible than before.
The great majority of Victorians today will be feeling much as I do, like a tragic, but inevitable story has played out. We hoped against expectation that she might turn up, but who really believed it would be any different? Times like these you feel most human, most part of the common weal. I feel for the family of Jill, and sad as a member of society that such awful things like this can still be. It’s a dark, rainy morning, and storms to come, which seems an apt reflection of the mood today.