Monday, 13 February 2017


Chapter 1               

     A dishevelled young lady sat quietly in the corner of a government interview room. She had been sitting in silence for a little while - long enough to hear people scurrying along the corridor and mumbles of voices but couldn’t decipher what they were discussing.  She began to drift deep in thought while dazing out of the window wondering what kind of past life she once had to now be faced with such chaos and disillusionment.  Perhaps it was some ‘divine path’ that she had to travel; perhaps a sequence of ‘pre-destined’ events that would lead her to the so-called path of ‘righteousness’ or ‘enlightenment’.  Whatever the case may be being in a closed room on her own was very symbolic of where she was at during that period of her life.
     The voices on the other side of the door got louder and distracted her from her deep thoughts.  She could see shadows loitering under the rim of the door and the door slowly began to open.  A lady walked into the room and closed the door carefully behind her. She looked at me and smiled, yes - that dishevelled young lady; deep in thought about the ‘meaning of life’ - was me.
“So, are you settled into a comfortable home?” Mrs Ryan asked warmly.
Mrs Ryan was an older woman in her forties with silvery grey hair, huge forgiving eyes and a soft voice.  Almost like a mirage as she seemed to have a calming aura about her, a woman who seemed to be at peace with herself and her ‘lot’ in life.
     Scrambled thoughts were running through my mind.  I just gazed out the window and reflected on my so-called life.  It was at that point a complete mess, feelings of loneliness, heartache and tremendous grief just seemed to drain any enthusiasm I had for life and left me feeling quite numb.  There were however, little tiny specks of happiness dotted here and there which I desperately tried to focus on to make ‘living’ a little easier.  I looked into Mrs Ryan's sympathetic eyes and replied “Well, at the moment, I’m living in a squat here in Dunedin, its okay I guess.”
“Are you planning on shifting?”
“Maybe, probably, can’t stay there forever.”
“How do you feel about where you are?  I mean have you come to any decisions about how you are going to take responsibility for your future?” she quizzed.
     I remembered the first time I arrived in Dunedin. It was the early hours of a foggy morning.  There was hardly any traffic and I headed straight to the hospital where I was ushered into the intensive care unit where my brother lay there lifeless.  I could smell and almost taste the stench of dried blood mixed with antiseptic which made me gag a bit.  I didn’t take much notice of the town at first because I wasn’t planning on staying for too long, it was the first time I’d ever been to Dunedin.
“It’s hard to say really - I guess, at the minute, no.”
“Is there anything in your life that you would like to achieve?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t thought ahead that far.”
“Okay”, Mrs Ryan took a breath in as if to deliver some bad news, “I am a counsellor and my job is to gather as much information as possible in order for it to be passed to the adoptive parents of Russell’s child.  I have read your case notes and I do realise things in general haven’t been easy for you.”
     I just started to stare out into space again.  I have a nephew, of whom I will probably never get to know.  The thought of just simply getting used for information made me instantly tense and the seemingly caring attitude of Mrs Ryan seemed to fade away.  A huge mound of frustration and anger weighed my body down.  The rumbles of aggravated energy seemed to be ticking away, ready to explode at any minute.
“Tell me about your childhood.”
“Okay”, I took a deep breath in knowing full well that she knew the history anyway but carried on as if it was a sales pitch. “I grew up in Invercargill.  Russell and I had the same dad; Allan Earnest James Neil.  He’s on my brother’s birth certificate but not on mine because Mum left him before she found out that she was pregnant with me.  Mum was living in Queenstown when she met him; he worked in the RAAF and was based there.  They moved in together and Russell was born in Queenstown on the 1st December, 1972.  Shortly after that, Mum found out that he was already married and that he already had a family in Australia so she left.  When she got back to Invercargill she found out that she was pregnant with me and I came into the world on the 30th May, 1974.  Russell and I made an attempt to locate him once but failed.”  I twiddled my fingers remembering my brother.  “Russell gave up hope of finding him - he told me when he was in Corrective Training.”
     “I realise his death was very traumatic and this has made a huge impact on your life, were you and your brother close?”
I looked up at Mrs Ryan with a watery shimmer in my eyes, my voice became shaky.
“I took it badly to say the least, but then I’m not particularly sure how I should be ‘taking’ it.”
     Russell was murdered.  Not in a car accident, not a disease - someone actually beat him to a pulp.  His ear was severed and there was a gaping hole in the back of his head, cold blooded murder.  It’s just like having a living organism ripped out of your body and it’s just so hard to breathe.
“Yes, we were close.  At the funeral, his friends said that he called me his ‘twin’.”
     As I sat there in the office giving information about Russell to the lady I remembered us going to a funeral when we were really young.  Russell and I just looked into each other’s eyes at the end of the eulogy.  I could see a tremendous sadness in his eyes and we both felt the heartache.  It’s a big lump at the back of your throat that emerges from nowhere which almost causes the airwaves to close.  It’s difficult to escape the all consuming tennis ball lodged in the oesophagus and no matter how hard you try to cough it away, you have to breathe - so you take in a breath of air and that’s when the tears start to flow.  We stood in the crematorium crying.  It was the first time I’d seen Russell cry.  I don’t know why I remember that so well, it was very rare that you’d see Russell cry.  Well both of us for that matter, we never cried as kids - well, tried bloody hard not to.  If we were hurting we’d try and swallow it and push it back down.  If we did get caught having a ‘snivel’ we would get shouted at by Mum telling us that she would ‘give us something to cry about’.
“Could you just confirm that that would make you 16 and Russell 17, yes?” Mrs Ryan asked as she was scribbling down some notes.
     I just nodded in response and once again found myself drifting back in time.  I remembered our last conversation like it was yesterday.  It was the year of my school exams.  I had not long shifted back home with my mother after spending a long period of time being shifted from one foster family to the next.  He phoned to say that he was going to be a father.  I was just so happy to hear his voice.  I told him that I missed him and a gap of silence came across the phone.  He was really excited about being a father and to this day I am convinced he would’ve been a wonderful dad.  I looked at the ceiling and wiped away the tears that emerged with my finger.
     “I can see you’re in a great deal of pain and the healing process is going to take some time, did you get any support when your brother died?”
“Ha!” I said sarcastically, “Hardly. When I last spoke to Russell it almost felt like... in a strange way.... he seemed to be running from the thought of someone actually caring for him.  We’ve had to fend for ourselves basically - no matter what happened.  So once Russell had gone it felt like my whole family had gone too - I’ve got nobody.  Russell was living here in Dunedin and I was in foster care.  I saw mum and she just said to me ‘if you come back and live with me that means that I can go on benefit’.  I thought about it for a bit and then came to the conclusion that well - she is my mum.  Soon as the funeral was over I was out on my arse again. She sucks so badly.”  The room was filled with an uncomfortable silence.  Mrs Ryan looked mortified that a parent could say that.
     “Do you still think about the way he died?” Mrs Ryan leaned forward, prying deep into my mind.  I paused for a second as I reiterated the question asking myself if she really did just ask the question about ‘thinking’ about the ‘way’ he died, “How do you mean?  All the time, it never goes away.”  As if I would or could forget.    
     I never used to believe in the paranormal, but now I do.  Before Russell died I started to have premonitions about his death night after night after night.  I thought I was going crazy.  I would wake up with tears in my eyes and in a cold sweat.  I woke up one night and told myself ‘this is my dream and I can change it’ - but I couldn’t.  I desperately tried to contact him, write to him, phone him, but it was no good - I couldn’t get in touch with him.  Then one morning, I suddenly woke.  As if someone had told me to wake up.  I hadn’t dreamt that night and it was still the early hours of the morning, the sound of silence was haunting.  I looked out the window to see a police car pull up outside and two police officers get out and approach the house.  The loud knock on the wooden door echoed in the silence.  I answered the door and shortly after confirming that they were at the right address they asked us to take a seat, took their hats off and broke the news.  Russell was in critical condition and that they suspected it was homicide.  Mum was taken to the airport by the police and she got the next flight to Dunedin.  I was left behind on my own.  I couldn’t understand why I was left behind.  A short time afterwards my Aunt and Nana came.  I was in the bathroom brushing my hair frantically.  My eyes were stinging as I’d been crying so much.  They asked what was happening and I burst out into a fit of tears and blubbered “They told me he was going to die.”  I saw an image of his face and thought he’d been in a car accident and that’s what I told my Aunt and Nana.
     A few hours later I was staring out of my Uncle’s car window headed for Dunedin Hospital.  I believed it was my fault this had happened, thinking maybe I could have changed this event.
     As I was by his bedside at the hospital I was holding his hand and his fingers twitched so I thought he’d be okay - I was so wrong.  His head was bleeding that badly that the nurse had to change the pillow case every five minutes or so.  I remember having a kind of, telepathic conversation with him, I asked him, “Who did this to you?”, and his voice was saying “It’s all right, I’m all right.”  I hated myself, my brother was lying helplessly on a hospital bed with the life support machine keeping him alive.  There was no sign of life, his hair was stiff from dried blood, his left ear had been ripped off and his head cracked open but yet he was ‘telling’ me that he was ‘alright’.  The life support machine attached to him was trying desperately to give him an edge on survival; but it was hopeless, the damage had been done, he was gone - he was considered ‘brain dead’.  That’s when the doctor informed the nurse that it was time to turn the life support machine off.  When she did his body went a kind of yellowy colour; must have been all the drugs they’d been pumping into his body to try and keep him alive.  Mum turned round to everyone and said that she thought he had AIDS. 
     It was a strange feeling when they turned the machine off.  The sound from the machine when it ‘flat-lined’ was ‘eery’, I was holding his hand.  It was when they turned off the life support machine that I felt the most bizarre feeling which made me feel guilty and angry with myself for years.  It was a consuming feeling of warmth and love.  I can’t explain it.  When people have near death experiences they describe the sensation of being ‘pulled’ toward a ‘bright light’, could it be possible for other people to feel or sense the pure power of this loving glow because that is what I felt.  It was ‘pure’, it lasted seconds but felt as if it was in slow motion.  We were always close and in a strange way I know he’s watching over me.
     “How are you coping with everyday life? I mean do you keep in touch with any members of your family like Aunts and Uncles for example?” she asked.
“I don’t have any contact with my mother.  I keep in touch with my Aunt, but it’s not the same is it - she’s not my Mum.  Its better just to say that I don’t have a mother, don’t have a father and brother is now dead - an orphan and I am in Social Welfare’s eyes.”
“How do you feel now that the trial is over?” Mrs Ryan quizzed.
“I still feel the same - nothing has changed really apart from somebody getting life for murder but only doing half the sentence for good behaviour, seems pointless really.  I would’ve rather got a gun and shot the fucker or perhaps make him a cripple so he’d have to live the rest of his life paralyzed and unable to commit suicide, get spoon-fed - you know.”  Mrs Ryan didn’t say anything just jotted a few notes down.  I suspect that she wrote something like ‘emotionally damaged sister of Russell Warren Neil seeks revenge’ as a personality reference.
     “Did Russell have any illnesses or accidents when he was younger?” she asked changing the subject completely.
     “He had a thing called ‘stiff-neck’ or ‘elephant-neck’ or something, he couldn’t move his neck for a bit, it was really funny.  Oh and when he was living in Ohai he double-backed a mate on Pascoe (horse) who didn’t like it so he bucked him off.  Russell landed on a steel pipe which went into his stomach and his mate landed on top of him.  It was quite gross really, his intestines were hanging out when they pulled him off and he wasn’t allowed to eat for a couple of days.  The scar on his stomach was from about here to here”, I said whilst pointing from my midriff down to my belly button. “Apart from that - no he didn’t have that much physically wrong with him.”
“And what about you, have you had any accidents or illnesses?”
“I had German measles when I was about five years old.  I wasn’t allowed to look at the light apparently as they said that I’d go blind if I did.  I’ve had mumps, measles and chickenpox and I have a dented cheekbone.”
“How did that happen?” Mrs Ryan looked alarmed.
“Well, when we were living in Tisbury we had one of those swingy-round see-saw things, Russell was just swinging it around and I walked straight into it.  I now have a dent in my cheekbone and the scar ends just underneath my chin”, I said pointing out the semi-circumference of half my face.
“What about medical conditions that run in the family, hereditary conditions, are you aware of any?”
“My Grandad died of cancer and Mum has a heart murmur – not really sure about anything else.”
“I do realise that this is hard for you Michelle, however nearly all of the information that I need for the potential adoptive parents is now ready and I must concentrate on the matter at hand.”  Mrs Ryan put her pen and clipboard down beside her and placed her hands on her lap looking somewhat sincere. “If you would like me to give you a number for further counselling I would be more than happy to provide you with that, would you like me to get the number for you?”
     I just agreed as I knew that time was indeed money and Mrs Ryan was just simply doing her job, however - the feeling of getting used just to tick some boxes and fill in some blank spaces on a form was just pitiful.  I left the Social Welfare office in Dunedin feeling the same if not worse than when I went in.  My brother is still dead.  I was still grieving and still felt incredibly shit with no immediate support apart from that of the Samaritans and Salvation Army.  I made my way back to the squat above the bakery shop which was just five minutes walk from the city centre with the thought lingering in my head ‘what am I going to do with my life?’  After all I was 16; surely that must mean that I’m ‘wise of the ways of the world’ even though I was considered to be an ‘orphan’ by Social Welfare.
     The real challenge after Russell died was facing life on a day-to-day basis.  When we got back to Invercargill that evening from Dunedin hospital I decided to go to school the next day.  I couldn’t stomach the thought of staying home.  I had to do something with my mind.  When I was at school I couldn’t focus.  I didn’t tell anybody what had happened and nobody knew.  I just drifted off into my own world.  It was in the form room that things changed.  I saw Wendy who knew Russell so I went out of the class room and told her.  It was extremely emotional as I told her that Russell had died yesterday.  After I had somewhat ‘collected’ myself I went back into the form room.  The form teacher held me behind as everyone else left to go to their classes.  After everyone had left the form teacher just looked at me and said “I know.”  Of course all I could do was start to cry again.  It took a few minutes to kill the tears before I left to go to science.
     A few minutes later I was sitting in the science room trying to act ‘normal’ (if there was such a thing) when the schools guidance counsellor came and pulled me out of class.  We were standing in the corridor and she proceeded to ask how I was.  I just broke down but this time I could no longer contain my tears.  I went back into the science class to get my bag as I couldn’t stay in school for the whole day as I thought I could, as I did the whole class stared at me.  I had tears streaming down my face and found it hard to look at my classmates as I was somewhat embarrassed because of my tears.  I caught a quick glimpse of some of them and some faces had genuine concern, some were just curious.  The whole class went silent, silent enough to hear the birds chirping outside.  I got my things and headed home.
     A few days later I was sitting in the funeral director’s office with my mother.  The funeral director was asking what Russell’s favourite music and his favourite flower was in order to get the funeral underway.  Mum didn’t know anything so I had to tell him.  The funeral director was rather taken back by mum’s ignorance towards her dead son.
     At the wake he was dressed in a dark suit and holding a red carnation while he lay peacefully in the decorated coffin.  They had performed an autopsy and had cut his head open.  They disguised it with a toupee of course but it was the idea of him getting treated like an obsolete carcass just by the way that they’d chopped him up and slapped on a pathetic horse haired toupee to disguise it.  Almost like it was a botched attempt made by trainees working at the morgue.  I stood by his coffin and looked down onto my brother, only he was not my brother anymore, my brother had gone and his body was left behind.  The vessel he used to be in was cold and stiff.  He was covered with cuts and stitches and part of the pillow was rested up against his head disguising his missing ear.  Our cousin Brendon Takitimu was there.  He came over to the coffin and hesitantly looked, as he did the tears in his eyes started to well up.  He’d spent a lot of time with Russell.  They used to go off and do the ‘boy’ thing together before Russell ended up where he was in Dunedin.
     By the time it was the day of the funeral, everyone knew about 88 Dundas Street.  It was front page news for a couple of weeks, all over the papers, the television, everywhere you went everyone knew about it.  I found it harder when reporters started to ask mum questions about Russell’s background, everything seemed to just close in around my head.  Mum received sympathy cards from the public and she also appeared on the front page of the newspaper making out like she was the most devoted caring mother that there ever was.  It sickened me.
     While she was receiving a phenomenal amount of condolences from people all over New Zealand she remained oblivious to the fact that what Russell dearly wanted was a ‘family’.  That never came to pass as both Russell and I were treated with utter contempt and leading up to the final stages of his life he found that ‘family’ amongst skinheads living in Dunedin which resulted in a premature horrific death where the only apparent ‘victim’ was – mum.  I had friends that came to the funeral to support me and without that support from them I would’ve been completely lost.
     There were a couple of dedications on the radio for me put on by school friends, both really sad songs; Elton John’s song called ‘Daniel’ and ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’.  I know that their hearts were in the ‘right place’, but, whenever I hear those songs I just tend to go incredibly quiet.  After the funeral mum spoke to me briefly, she said “this kind of thing can either make you closer or pull you apart, you have to leave.”  There was no sign of emotion.  I was to pack my things yet again and move out of her house.
     The moment of disposal was within about a week of the funeral.  There it was; the black bin liner filled with my clothes and worldly belongings ready for ‘shipment’ by the front door.  I ended up staying with a friend and her mum.
     While I was staying at my friends, mum had found out that she could get money for her so-called grief.  She wanted the hand out for the ‘deeply traumatic’ time that she was having due to the sudden death of her son, but – she needed my testimony apparently.  She picked me up and drove me to the Social Welfare office and told me to say that I’m very upset and that I needed a break.  She certainly wasn’t wrong there.  I didn’t have the energy to argue so I just said it – it was true for me anyway.  She got the money and had arranged to go to her boyfriend’s friend’s house in Palmerston North.  
     I don’t remember much of it; everything was just a bit of a blur.  I was only there because it was a financial requirement.  I just remember getting absolutely off my face on Coruba Rum.  It was terrible, the room was spinning vertically as well as horizontally and then it came up with unbridled fury.  Of course it wasn’t mum that came in to help me.  The lady we were staying with came in and pulled my hair back, made sure that I had access to the toilet and I wouldn’t trip over anything.  She even made sure that I was tucked up in bed sleeping on my side.
     It was a quiet journey back to Invercargill.  It was clear to mum’s boyfriend’s friends that my mother and I aren’t particularly close and she really hasn’t got a maternal bone in her body.  It was apparent when we left as I got a big hug and she was snubbed with polite smiles and a wave.  I had grown quite used to it by this stage but for other people to actually witness it firsthand they must’ve been quite taken back and unsure of what to say or do.  There was a much more memorable moment during the drive back to Invercargill which is what I remember most about the trip to Palmerston North and that was – the black cat.  We were in the middle of nowhere (on the desert road) when a black cat jumped in front of the car.  It was a very ‘Doors’ (Jim Morrison movie) moment.  I felt like singing ‘Riders on the storm’.  It was an incredibly strange moment.  In the middle of the sticks and this black cat comes out onto the road from absolutely nowhere.  We slammed on the breaks to avoid it and the cat ran into the scrub.
     When we arrived back in Invercargill, I got the heave-ho.  I didn’t go and stay with my school friend this time – I headed for Dunedin.  It was to me; the last place where Russell was and I felt like I had to go there.  I ended up staying in a woman’s refuge full of battered and abused women when I first arrived.  While I was in Dunedin I went to the house that the students now call ‘the haunted house’.  The tenants were in and allowed me to look around.  It was a feeling of déjà-vu for me as to how the place was set up.  The banisters and the fireplace were hauntingly similar if not identical to the way it was in my nightmares; it was just all very spooky.  The banisters that were once slammed into the back of my brother’s head had since been replaced.  I looked into his bedroom and as if he was there with me felt a tremendous sadness and feeling of ‘being lost’. 
     It was about eight months later that the trial had come around and the journalists were buzzing once again.  The trial coverage was on the front page of the Southland Times and headlined the 6 O’clock news as well.  There it was, in big bold black and white as well as being spoken about on television, after all – it was pretty much the first teen killing in New Zealand.  At court I remember looking through the window of the door where my Aunts and Uncles were (as well as mum) listening to the evidence.  I wasn’t allowed in as they thought it would ‘distress me too much’.  So I sat there, on the stairs, alone.  When the killer, George Trounson, took the stand in court; again I had to leave as apparently according to him I looked too much like my brother and was ‘distressing’ him too much.  So there I was once again - banished to the stairs in the foyer.
     Our mother was in the room making out like she was the perfect mother, the caring devoted type who’d done everything in her power to protect and nurture her kids.  She absolutely loved the attention that Russell’s death gave her.  Members of the public, reporters, journalists, Joe Blog’s walking down the street was sending her condolence cards.  She neglected to mention the fact that Russell did in fact have a sister.  She also neglected to tell the media that Russell wanted to go home before he died however Mum wouldn’t even let him in the house let alone move back in.  Like many other ‘forgetful’ memories that she had, like telling us that she should’ve had an abortion.  We were ‘black sheep’ and we were going to be losers because our Nana said so and that no-one in the family liked us.  Explains why she ditched us I guess.  So I sat there with anger boiling up inside me.  I just looked straight ahead and thought ‘I have to get out of here’ - so I went.  At the same time that the trial was in full swing, I had a friend that was diagnosed with Acute Leukaemia.  His condition was quite grim and he’d been told that he had approximately six months to live (the third schoolmate that had cancer of the blood).  I didn’t really know what it’d be like if I went to see him or even if he felt like having any visitors but I bit the bullet and paid him a visit.  He seemed happy to have a visitor.  In saying that all his mates were down in Invercargill and he was stuck there in Dunedin which was a three hour trip.  I was speechless when I saw him.  Of course, I tried to have a ‘normal’ conversation without death being mentioned but it still arose.  He lay there contemplating his options and asked me “What do you think I should do?”  He took his cap off and began to pick handfuls of his once full and healthy bonnet of hair off, “It’s just falling out all over the place, should I let it drop off or should I shave it off?   I don’t know what to do, what do you think?” I was speechless.  To this day I can’t remember what I’d said in response however it’s one sentence that has stuck with me.  It’s the manner in which it was asked.  A once brilliant athlete lay there helpless and dying - from a sudden death to a painfully slow one.  I couldn’t help but question if life had a ‘doom and gloom’ policy.  After that it was just idle chit chat and after I left I headed back to court.  I got back to court and got a bollocking as I was no longer sitting on the stairs.
     In the Otago Daily Times, around the end of February 1991, the front page news read sentences like: ‘Student charged with beating youth to death in Dunedin’, ‘Blood staining found in flat, scientist tells murder trial of scene examination’, ‘Beaten youth’s condition was hopeless’, ‘Youth’s outlook ‘hopeless’ when admitted to hospital’, ‘Youth beaten on head, told trial’, until finally the verdict was in black and white for all to see in the Otago Daily Times on February 27th 1991, the headline read ‘Man found guilty of murder, jailed for life’:

 “A 19 year-old Dunedin man has been jailed for life for the murder of a youth who received fatal head injuries in an incident last June.
George Charles Trounson, a polytechnic student, was yesterday found guilty by a jury at the end of a six and a half day trial in the Dunedin High Court.
Trounson had denied murdering 17-year-old Russell Warren Neil on June 24 last year. Mr Neil died in Dunedin Hospital as a result of severe head injuries inflicted several hours earlier at the flat where he lived. The jury was out for just over four and a-half hours before returning to the courtroom to give its verdict. Trounson showed no sign of emotion as the foreman announced the jury’s decision to the hushed courtroom.
On the finding of guilty, Trounson was convicted by Justice Roper and sentenced to life imprisonment, the only penalty available for murder. Some members of Trounson’s family left the court in tears and several jurors showed signs of emotion.
The judge thanked them for the careful consideration they had given the case. Their task had been sad, he said. But jury service was an important duty and courts could not function without the efforts of jurors, the judge told them.
In the trial, the Crown called evidence to show Trounson had caused Mr Neil’s death by beating him several times about the head with a piece of broken stair baluster.
The defence argued that Trounson had punched Mr Neil once, and pushed him with his foot, and that the fatal injuries had been caused in an incident a short time beforehand, when Mr Neil become involved in an altercation with a group of students.
Trounson claimed he struck Mr Neil only to prevent him going downstairs and stirring up trouble again. 
     On the final day of the trial, Mr Justice Roper summed up the case to the jury of eight women and four men, reminding them the Crown had the duty of proving its allegation that Trounson was responsible for Mr Neil’s death.
Jurors had to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Trounson either intended to kill Mr Neil when he struck him, or that he intended to cause injuries which he knew where likely to cause him serious injury, and was reckless as to whether the youth died or not.
     The judge said they could find Trounson guilty of murder even if they found he did not intend to kill Mr Neil, but if they were satisfied he knew at the time of raining blows on the youth that there was a real risk of death and he continued hitting.
Both a murder and a manslaughter verdict were concerned with Trounson’s state of mind at the time of the assault. And a person’s intention could only be determined from all the circumstances, from what he said and did, the nature of the attack, whether a weapon was used, and the location of the blows.
If the jury was not satisfied Trounson intended to kill or cause death, the verdict should be guilty of manslaughter.
Should the jurors find proved the charge of murder; they should look at the question of provocation. Such a defence could only reduce a finding of murder to one of manslaughter. It was not a complete defence, the judge said.
The test was whether the fear of Mr Neil continuing the earlier fight with the students, and what it might lead to, having regard to what had already happened, was sufficient to deprive an ordinary run-of-the-mill New Zealander of the power of self control.
     Was Trounson in fact deprived of his self control, or did he simply lose his temper with Mr Neil for the problems that he was causing.
The judge said it was essential the Crown should prove Trounson actually caused Mr Neil’s death. The defence had raised the possibility the fatal blow had been struck earlier with a piece of broken door thrown up the stairs, or in another assault. The jury had to look to see if there was any acceptable evidence to support these contentions. Mr Robin Bates and Ms Sally McMillan prosecuted the case for the Crown, while Mrs Judith Ablett-Kerr and Mr Gerard deCourcy represented Trounson.”

     It later came to light that Trounson had said that he was going to kill Russell in order to gain recognition with his skinhead peers.
     I went through a fair amount of dodgy situations while I was living in Dunedin.  Like when I was pinned up against the wall and having my clothes torn off by skinheads. Thought that was ‘it’ for me.  The girlfriend of one the ‘skins’ walked in and screamed “Rapists” and that’s when I witnessed the most brutal beating a man could ever give a woman.  She was thrown to the ground and they were kicking her in the head, in the stomach, everywhere.  I had a panic attack and while the lady was getting kicked in the head, another lady came in and got me out of the room.  After the beating her face looked like she’d been beaten with a bat and the sole marks of his Doc Martin boots were engraved on her face.  She had severely bruised, split and bleeding lips, her cheeks were badly grazed and her eyes resembled a panda that had not long woken up.  I dread to think of what kind of bruises she would’ve had on her body as well as a few broken bones that she might’ve been concealing.  So, yes; some rather jeopardous situations arose during my time in Dunedin.  I felt strangely lucky as well as guilty because the lady that saved me got beaten severely.  Going to the police and reporting it would just be suicide.  They knew where me and my ‘squat-mate’ were living and had even tried to ‘pimp’ us.  The Dunedin ‘skins’ were a cross between the main characters from the movie ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘Romper Stomper’.  ‘Romper Stomper’ gave me chills when I watched it as it is quite realistic.  The best course of action to be free of their unadulterated carnage was to hightail it out of town as I did get told that killing a brother as well as a sister would put you at the top of the hierarchy.  In all fairness – I was 16; my 17 year old brother had just been murdered by the hands of the skinheads.  People who he turned to who he thought he had some kind of ‘connection’ with.  I was there on my own, nobody was looking for me, I hadn’t run away - I was turfed out.  I didn’t want to go back into foster care and quite bluntly – no-one gave a shit.  If I was to ‘disappear’ it would’ve been easily disguised.  That thought alone scared the living shit out of me.
     After the trial ended the killer got life, of course he’d only serve half the sentence due to good behaviour which baffles me - life should mean life.  Nonetheless, things seemed to calm down a bit.  My friend (Fiona) that I was squatting with moved back to her parents and I got a room in Ravensbourne which is about ten minutes drive out of Dunedin.  It wasn’t that far away from Aramoana, where yet another wanna-be-Nazi took his rifle and shot nearly the whole town.  There were different rumours floating around about why he’d done it such as he was pissed off about a $2.00 bank charge.  He also allegedly had images of swastikas in his shed and turned into a fanatic ‘white power’ personage.  Then other stories about the area; such as the Aramoana area was a Maori burial ground which meant that the land was ‘sacred’ and ‘unliveable’.  As well as being the same spot where no-one should live because the Maoris and Moriori’s died in combat there which turned into a massacre and the area was cursed.  It’s New Zealand, early ‘90’s and people seem to be dropping like flies.
     Ravensbourne was a very small suburb out of Dunedin overlooking the peninsula and the views were pretty awesome.  I had no job and no prospects and I had not long turned 17.  I left school shortly before school certificate exams which was when Russell died and I didn’t plan on going back.  I was looking for work constantly however with my age along with the lack of qualifications my prospects were rather grim.  While flicking through the situations vacant section of the newspaper one day I came across an ad that said ‘Sales people required, commission only basis, over 18, free travel and free accommodation’.  I knew that you had to be 18 but who’s going to know?   I phoned up and arranged an interview.  I took along my reference from the guidance counsellor from Cargill High School hoping that that would excuse me for not having completed my school certificate.  It read:

To Whom It May Concern
Regarding: Michelle Johnstone
I have known Michelle Johnstone for three years while she attended Cargill High School.  I am the Guidance Counsellor at Cargill.  Despite the fact that Michelle has experienced very difficult family problems, she has always shown herself to be an intelligent and able worker.  Michelle can write and present a very good report.  Her work is neat and well-presented.  In nearly all subject areas, Michelle is capable of an above-average standing. She is especially good orally and can communicate before a group with ease.  Cargill would have honestly have preferred Michelle to continue her education, however, we do appreciate that she does need to live away from home and that perhaps a period of work and part-time study is her best option for now.  In the work situation Michelle would be a quick learner and a good communicator.  She would present her work well and work easily with others.  Michelle can handle equipment with care, she would be keen to succeed and gain approval from her supervisor.  Michelle is generally a reliable and sensible person.  She has a high degree of energy and individual initiative.  I wish her the best in her career plans and recommend her to employment.

Signed: Nina Head, Guidance Counsellor.

     I went for the interview at a hotel in St Clairs.  Rather unusual having an interview in a hotel room.  Her name was Judy and she explained that I would need to sell a cleaning product called ‘Wizard’ on a door-to-door basis and that I would receive commission for every bottle that I sold.  I’d also get to travel all over New Zealand and stay in hotels. She took my reference and muttered “Oh a reference, they only say good things about you anyway”, which was a true statement.  She read it quietly and handed it back in a rather subdued way.  She then asked me if I would be prepared to partake in a one week’s trial starting the next day so I jumped at the chance.  I headed home with a spring in my step after landing my first job, okay it was sales; and it was commissioned based, but then I’d get to travel and stay in hotels provided I got through the first week.
     The next day Judy picked me up from my flat in Ravensbourne and off to work I went.  At first it was rather scary as I had to practise a spiel in front of people that I didn’t know then later on to people in their homes.  Needless to say I had to be quite gutsy.  My first day as a door-to-door sales person was daunting.  I did manage to sell a couple of bottles however I couldn’t help shaking the first couple of times as well as forgetting what I was supposed to say and attempting to answer questions that I hadn’t got a clue about.  So, I took the bottle, the cloths and the bag back to my flat and practised. 
     Once I had the spiel down-pat it was easy “Do you know how hard it is to remove ink?” was the opening sentence, followed by “Good isn’t it?” I would then lead them over to the window or any glass around and show them the fabulous streak-free glass cleaner.  Upon amazing them with the streak-free clean glass I was to pick a mucky spot on the carpet where I would magically remove a mark or a stain leaving one little clean patch on the floor and an amazed potential customer.  I have to admit I did get some ‘proper’ muck from some people’s carpets and even chewing gum.  My second day was naturally easier than the first and I managed to sell a record 18 bottles in one day in Balclutha.  When the day came to an end we all hopped in the van and headed back to Dunedin.  Judy asked me “How old are you again?” I said “17... Uh… I mean 18”, so I was busted.  As it turns out she knew that I wasn’t 18.  By the end of the week I was offered a position with the team of salespeople and we were off travelling New Zealand.  We’d be staying in hotels and making money at the same time.
     To finally have some sort of real job that involves constant travelling and being able to get away from it all - to not have all the chaos and constant drama staring at me in the face wherever I went forcing me to ‘just get over it’ was a bonus.  I couldn’t talk to anybody about my whole experience of life up to that point as their opinions would change and they wouldn’t know how to talk to me - as I learned.  It didn’t take me very long to find that ‘happy’ smile and my ‘front’ was on perfect form.
     After all you have to be ‘tough’ to a certain degree, bite the proverbial bullet and say to yourself ‘forget that shit’.  Like whenever my mum told me that ‘she wished she had an abortion’ over and over again.  It took me a little while to become thick skinned and not let it bother me too much.  To me, court was the easy part in that there is never allowed to be any sign of emotion - when Russell and I were younger if we did show emotion we’d have to run, duck and hide.  In court - in order to get the case across you must remove all sign of emotion - however in my case - they just removed me because I looked like my brother too much and I was ‘distressing’ the guy that killed him.  So yes, not just any job – it was a life-changing job.  One that I could be good at and have an opportunity to succeed in as after all, according to our mother we ‘would always be losers’ and ‘never amount to much’.
     That coming from the woman who booted me when I was just five months old, it’s the very first thing I remember.  I quizzed mum about it and apparently that happened when I was five months old and we were staying at Nana’s.  Mum being the person that she is - got annoyed and gave me a swift kick.  I still remember it as it felt like an electricity bolt.
     I’d have flashes of memories rather than ‘flowing’ ones and I remember bits and pieces - like at Nana’s house there was an orange and brown rug on the floor, my Uncle’s drum kit in a room and on the other side of the hall was the kitchen.  I remember the drum kit well as I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the sticks and have a good bash.  I did but then got told off and made to sit on the couch and wait again.
     We lived in Tisbury at that stage.  I don’t know when we moved there but I’m guessing it was when Russell and I were around two and three years old.  We had a couple of scraps with metal.  We had one of those swing round see-saw things in the garden, Russell was just swinging it around and I walked straight into it and it clobbered me straight in the face and I went flying.  I now I have a dent in my cheekbone.  I had stitches in my face and the scar is from the top of my cheekbone to underneath my chin.  I remember the pain as I was knocked out for a little while.  When it hit me I just felt a massive pain in my cheek and then everything just seemed to go really still.  Almost as if time itself had frozen.  Russell’s argument with metal came when he went on the tractor and ended up getting jabbed with a pitch fork in his rear end.  His pitch fork wound was open and bleeding.  Nobody noticed until mum picked him up and there was blood everywhere.  He let out a little ‘wince’ and ended up having some stitches in his bottom – and all without crying.  Although we were incredibly young the preconditioning methods of child behaviour that mum bestowed on us was sinking in: “Don’t you fucking cry, I’ll give you something to cry about” and “wait ‘til you get home” she would say in this demonic voice, as if she was looking forward to belting us.
     I hated going to Nana’s.  We had to sit on the couch for ages and not do anything and when we got home it was worse as we’d have to go to our bedrooms.  At that time all mum’s brothers and sisters were around, they were; Kevin, Joe, Peter and Russell and the girls were; Anne (mum), Christine, Carole and Gayna – and of course Nana who told mum to get an abortion (as mum told us).  The Uncle’s would be playing guitar in the lounge and the Aunts were normally in the kitchen.
    Uncle Peter’s wedding to Sharon was the next thing that I remember.  Russell and I were page boy and flower girl respectively.  It was great fun getting dressed up to go to a party.  The dress had an oriental flavour around the neckline and was a light blue colour with lace all the way down the front.  Russell had his little suit with the matching cushion carrying the ring.  I even remember doing the rehearsals for the walk down the aisle prior to the wedding.  At the time I thought it was really quite strange that the process before the party had to be done more than once.  I didn’t quite get the idea that we weren’t allowed to party after the first time that they swapped rings.  I asked why that was and was told that they wouldn’t be dancing because ‘they forgot to dress up’.         
     When we got home I remember the beating and getting sent to my room for being rude.  We also got the ‘behave yourself otherwise I’ll beat you ‘til you’re black and blue’ lecture.  It was when it came to the photos that both Russell and I were rather anxious as the ‘stand still and smile’ command from our mother – was a rather terrifying request.  We both smiled at the camera when asked - although it was more of ‘I’m trying to smile the best I can without getting the crap kicked out of me’ smile.
     A few years later we moved to Adamson Crescent.  Mum had met David and they had a son called Justin.  I don’t remember Justin being around that much but David used to bring him to the house to visit, turned out mum didn’t want him so he went to live with David.  David had three sons from a previous relationship (Jonathan, Timothy and Matthew).  I didn’t really know what was happening as Russell and I used to spend the vast majority of time together on our own, mum seemed to be always out.  On one occasion she was out and Russell and I were mucking about in the garden.  I went inside to make a cup of Milo but instead I ended up eating some, just as I had eaten a teaspoon of it mum walked in and caught me – not only was I inside the house but I was also eating Milo which was a cardinal sin.  She screamed and yelled whilst whacking me around the head and then the order to put my hands out came - it was the jug cord.  My hands were bright red from being whipped by the cable.  The sting seemed to last forever and once it was over it just kept throbbing.  I couldn’t close my hand.  The marks on my hands would come up in lined bumps and would stay there for quite some time before they were ‘back to normal’.  After that Russell and I talked a lot about running away and trying to find our father.  The life of getting beaten, whipped and sent to our bedrooms for solitary confinement was a rather depressing way to live.  I learned slowly that mum didn’t really give a shit about us.  Russell was more aware of it way before I was.  We were 7 and 8 years old at the time and under the impression that nobody wanted us.  We were told we were ‘black sheep’, we would always be ‘losers’, ‘never amount to much’ and ‘I should’ve had an abortion when I had the chance’ was being snarled at us on a daily basis.
     School was good; it was escapism more than anything else.  It was home that was bad.  Russell had started to rebel at school and ended up in a fight.  He punched someone in the face.  His knuckles caught his opponent’s teeth so he had tooth-grazed knuckles.  I don’t know what had happened surrounding the fight but I seen him sitting in the office at school and he showed me his fist with a somewhat proud look on his face.  For him, it was the first opportunity he had of sticking up for himself and fighting back – which he did do but ultimately resulted in a kicking when he got home.  Since that moment Mum found it easier to tell people that he was a trouble maker and difficult to handle.  Of course - we instinctively knew that if we told anyone what goes on at home nobody would believe us and nobody would care and it would just result in more lashings.  The motherly words of ‘I love you’, or ‘I’m proud of you’ were never ever said.      
     A little while later Russell had got a part in the school play of ‘Joseph and the Technicolor Raincoat’.  He was really proud of himself and I was looking forward to seeing him on stage – but; mum had other plans.  She complained to the school that we were both difficult to handle, unruly etc so she had arranged to send me to a ‘Health Camp’.  It was a place where ‘young misfits’ go - a bit like a boarding school.  It was in Roxburgh which was a wee way away from Invercargill and I remember thinking that it’s really strange with no-one telling me that I’m useless.  I’d get letters from Russell while I was there – none from mum.  We’d sleep in a dormitory, go to school etc.  I don’t know how long I was there but it did feel like ages and when I got back to Invercargill it felt like everything had changed.  Almost like I was a stranger to mum and wasn’t supposed to go back there.  Whereas Russell - as great as a brother could be, gave me a huge hug and started telling me all the stuff that he’d been up to since I’d been away.
     Things were just strange.  It took about a week before the beatings started again.  At that point mum had met a guy called Paul and they would go out playing darts at the local pub.  We seemed to be on our own the majority of the time.  One night that they came home from the pub and were playing darts in the lounge.  Russell and I were just sat watching them when mum turned to us and said “Don’t you know?”  We both looked at each other then looked back at mum and Paul with blank expressions, then mum said “I’m pregnant; I’m going to have a baby.”  Paul looked at us and smiled and mum smiled back at him then they just continued to play darts.  Russell was rather taken back by it as Justin wasn’t wanted and she made it pretty loud and clear that we weren’t wanted – so to have another baby was just – confusing.  I thought that if/when Paul saw the beatings that she gives us he would change his mind about having a baby with this woman.  That never came to pass as once Lance came along Russell and I were a ‘hassle’ and from a ‘past relationship’ and unnecessary baggage that needed to be ‘discarded’.
     That was around the time when I thought I might try and be a little bit more independent and use my initiative.  It was painfully clear that my flappy shoes weren’t going to be replaced in a hurry let alone ever get a Barbie doll.  I went into the dairy (corner shop) and admired a Barbie doll that they had on the shelf behind the counter.  She was a vision of beauty.  She had a gorgeous pink necklace, long blonde hair, a permanent smile and thee most stunning gown on.  I went to look at the Barbie on a daily basis every day after school just to admire her and dream a little more.  It was then that the light bulb moment came.  I decided to sell raffle tickets on behalf of the school to win – you guessed it – a Barbie doll.  Of course there really was no prize of a Barbie doll until I’d sold enough raffle tickets, ingenious plan for a 6 year old don’t you think?  That was until I got busted.  I was out selling my phoney raffle tickets every day after school and would count the cents on the diary’s counter.  Given the fact that I didn’t really understand money the guy behind the counter looked at me with sympathy as he explained to me that I still didn’t have enough.  When I got home that evening mum was waiting with the jug-cord in hand.  A lady had phoned the school and asked who had won the raffle.  Of course the school wasn’t running any raffles at the time and given my description… sooo busted.  Nope – never got Barbie.
     From Adamson Crescent we shifted over to a suburb called Newfield.  To get to school we would walk over a bit of a hill.  Newfield was right on the edge of town and new houses were still being built.  It took about 15 minutes to get over the hill and then we had to walk a few more minutes down the road to get to school.  It was Newfield School where Russell introduced me as ‘Shelley’ and the name stuck with me all throughout primary school.  With the family it’d be ‘Russell and Shelley’, never ‘Russell and Michelle’. Mum had told me that when I was born she didn’t know what to call me and Uncle Joe walked in, looked at me while I was laying in the bassinette and said “Nah she looks like a Michelle”, and so it was.  I was called ‘Shelley’ at Newfield because as we were sitting in the headmasters office the headmaster asked me “And what’s your name?” Russell pipes up “Her name’s Shelley, that’s her name.”  I never said anything because I thought it was rather funny.
     Newfield School was okay, just like any other school – go to school, don’t talk about home life, don’t ask anyone back to the house, go to school to play sport and pass the time until it was time to go home.
     I played hockey and used to play for the school team as well as the Southland team and I also played softball for the Cardinals in the summer.  I was also on the school’s gymnastics team and had to compete with the other school’s which is how I got my tooth scar in my knee.  I was attempting to do a flip but I didn’t bring my feet down fast enough and I landed on my arse with my front tooth catapulted into my knee.  It was rather sore and I have never attempted to do a flip ever again.  Russell played rugby for Pirates as well as cricket (and even met some Indian cricket player who was really big at the time).
     Mum was pregnant again and Michael was born.  Mum had married Paul and the beatings continued.  Paul was even starting to join in.  Russell and I were segregated from the other two kids the majority of the time.  We had to do the housework as they would often go out and we would have to stay at home.  When they’d get back - we’d either have to go out or go to our bedroom depending on whether or not we had cleaned the house to the desired standard.
      Russell and I would always just muck about together.  He was also getting older by this stage and was getting really pissed off that mum was lecturing him all the time.  It was always the same thing over and over again - that she ‘should’ve got rid of us when she had the chance’ and nobody in the family liked us.  He’d sneak out to go hang out with his mates.  I closed the bedroom window when he left and when he wanted back in he’d tap on the window so that I’d let him in.  There were a couple of pillows stuffed in his bed for safe measure.  Mum was none the wiser at the time as she’d never come into the bedroom anyway.  A fine example of this was when I was sick.  I was about nine or ten; I woke during the night feeling incredibly sick and indeed - was sick.  It was vile, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t go to the bathroom, I was aching all over and began to cry.  It took what felt like forever for mum to come in.  When she came in, she opened the door, flicked the light on and said “What the fuck is wrong with you?”, “I’m sick” I said in a way that a sick child cries and says at the same time.  She looked and said “Clean it up yourself” then she flicked off the light, shut the door and went back to bed.  After that I managed to get the sick sheets off the bed and ended up sleeping on a blanket. The next day, still feeling sick, I had to clean up the room.  I must’ve been projectile vomiting as it was on the walls, the skirting boards, the sheets, everywhere.  I was there cleaning it up with a bucket of water and a cloth, dry reaching at the same time.
     There was only one occasion that Russell was caught.  Mum went nuts of course but instead of the normal beating and verbal abuse she locked him out so he had to stay out for the whole night. I was told that if I let him in she’d knock my teeth out – I still let him in.
     Russell hated mum.  He was fed up of being told the same thing over and over again.  He was completely tired of it and couldn’t wait till he was not around mum anymore – he was 11.  We were always talking about what we were going to do when were grown up and how we would never treat our kids the way that she has treated us.  Mum had caused so much damage that it was irreversible and for the next two years it built up.  Russell would try and be gone a lot until he had to come home to go to sleep.  It was a bad situation.  Mum would never pay any positive attention - it was always lashings with the jug cord or swearing at us.  Although we did have a ‘family’ day out if you’d like to call it that.  It was a ‘day out’ with Paul which was a visit to the freezing works where we were given a tour of how sheep are slaughtered.  Aged 10 and 11 it’s not really ideal.      
     The sheep were marked with black chalk before they were electrocuted.  They’d then have their throats slit and have their entrails removed.  I can’t remember where the ‘skinning’ machine fits into the conveyor-like production but to see a half dead animal that has mucus running from its snout uncontrollably from being electrocuted then put into a machine where it just rips the skin off was… nightmarish. After all that was done the carcasses would be put into ‘hanging’ ready for carving.  That was our ‘big day out’.  Russell and I had a chalk fight and ended up getting absolutely covered in black chalk.  It was great fun away from all the carnage and it’s a wonder that we weren’t stunned, drained and quartered ourselves but then again – there were other people there.
     When we were kicked out of the house and didn’t have anywhere to go we’d head up to the forest where we made a tree hut and just generally muck about, collect pinecones for the fire, go tadpoling down at the estuary – just general outdoor things.  We were lucky enough to get second hand bikes for Christmas one year so we’d bike out to Oreti Beach and spend the day there.  It was a breath of fresh air not being at home.  We’d either be out mucking about, at school or playing sport.  Russell and I were quite active; probably because it meant less time in the house and mum never came to watch us so we were pretty safe.  
     On one occasion while we were living in Newfield (still 10 and 11 years old), Russell and I had to babysit Lance and Michael while Mum and Paul went to the speedway for the day.  She returned later in the evening quite drunk and due to her heavy size (approx size 18/20) all she could manage to do was to slump in the chair in the lounge. The next day she could barely walk.  She had third degree burns on her legs due to having them in the sun all day.  All I remember of that incident was her in the lounge, a fat lump slumped in the chair screeching ‘do the fucking dishes’, ‘make me a coffee’, ‘do the luxing’ (southerners term for vacuuming), ‘change Michael’s nappy’, ‘hurry up, you two are just fucking useless’, ‘should’ve got rid of yah’s when I had the chance’.  The screeching wouldn’t stop and the smell of the lotion that the doctor gave her absolutely reeked.  It stunk.  The smell lingered in the house for months.
     It was funny because when anybody came over (which was very rare) she’d be nice, we’d just get the beating afterwards.  If it was ‘controlled anger’ then our hands would be stinging.  If it was ‘uncontrollable anger’ or if we pulled our hands back as she was whipping us she’d go for our legs, thighs, hips – anywhere really.  It was alright for Russell as he normally had jeans on but for me - wearing a skirt the cord would be lashing my skin directly.  The lashings would come up in painful red bumps that stung for hours and felt like forever before I could use my hands again, even holding a pen hurt like hell.  The marks on my legs would also be bright red lumps.  I couldn’t go outside without getting changed as the marks were too visible.
     It wasn’t long until mum was pregnant again.  I remember she was sitting at the kitchen table talking to her sisters and all I kept thinking was “Why are you so fat?”  I asked “Are you pregnant again?” Bearing in mind that I was 10 or 11 years old and it seemed to me that that’s all mum wanted to do was to have babies.  Looking back it was quite funny but also another easy copout for mum to display my ‘difficult’ side to the other members of the family.  Turns out that she was indeed pregnant and a few months later Darlene was born.  Things still remained the same in the Johnstone house up to this point, still separated from Lance, Michael and Darlene – the phrase ‘we didn’t get raised, we got dragged up’ is indeed true.  
     Russell and I made a pact that we would never treat our kids the way that she had treated us.  The times when mum would go into a rant and tell us that her dad molested her when she was younger.  He allegedly went into her bedroom in the small hours of the night.  As well as the lecture about having to look after her brothers and sisters and she was only allowed to have her tea once she’d fed Uncle Russell.  It’s all very sad however not something that one should share with one’s own kids at a very young age, nor allowed her boyfriends to do the same to me when I was younger.  She’d had quite a few boyfriends before David and Paul came along.  The whole focus of her being was on her boyfriend/s along with the resentment of two illegitimate children that she was stuck with after a deceitful relationship and also pining after things that ‘she could’ve done’ or ‘could’ve had’.
     Our neighbour in Newfield knew about the beatings as she’d hear it.  Russell and I befriended her as she was really good at making cakes and was quite ‘mumsy’.  She told us to laugh when mum hit us but that only made things worse as it was almost like she’d beat us within an inch of our lives in order to get the desired effect of tears from the both of us.  Unfortunately our neighbour had a baby girl that was born with Spinabifida and sadly later died; she went a bit ‘doolallee’ after that.
     When we were at ‘home’ it seemed like she’d find any excuse to give us a beating.  She would find any reason to belt us whether it was being late for tea, not picking up a sock in the hallway or taking too long doing the dishes.  The jug cord would come out and pretty soon both of our hands would be bright red and throbbing as well as our legs, thighs, hips or wherever she felt like whipping.  After the whipping she’d finish off with “Go on, get the fuck out” – so we did.  It seemed to be either get out of the house or stay in our bedrooms for a day of solitary confinement.  Paul would often have a go as well.  There was an occasion when Russell and I were doing the dishes and we were just mucking about with the tea towels flicking each other.  Paul walked in and we both got a beating - not with the jug cord but whacked around the head with force and literally thrown into our bedrooms.  Aunt Carole once said to me that when Mum and Paul had a party I’d done something to annoy him and he gave me the biggest whack around the head which Aunt Carole saw - although I don’t remember it.
     Russell found it hard to cope with the constant beatings and emotional torment so started to rebel.  He went off and started shoplifting, started smoking and would try and stay away from the house as much as he could.  One day he was brought back to the house by Police and he’d told them that he gets beaten up at home.  When the Officer told Mum what Russell had said she turned on the tears and it seemed to be the conclusion that Russell was ‘just a little shit’.  However, once the police officer left both Mum and Paul beat the crap out of him.  It wasn’t long after that that mum was putting away some clothes in his draw and found a packet of cigarettes.  She went absolutely ballistic. She packed all his clothes into a black bin liner and threw them out of the house – he was 13 years old.  Russell had been kicked out of the Newfield home when he was 13 due to the fact that there was a packet of cigarettes in his draw.  Russell was out at the time she found them - I wasn’t.  She went absolutely nuts, screeching and stomping about.  She rammed everything from his draws into the bag and threw them outside as if it was everyday rubbish. Turned out Russell was at David’s, so Mum rang him and told him to come and get his stuff as he wasn’t welcome back.  So that was it, Russell at age 13 was made homeless - unwanted and severely unloved.  Paul seemed quite happy that he’d gone as he leaned over Darlene’s cot and said “they’re not part of our family are they, no, no they’re not”, talking about Russell and me in a babyish voice to his not even year old daughter.  Apart from thinking to myself that he was a complete fucking wanker - there was nothing that I could do about it, just go to my room and say nothing as it would’ve resulted in a beating if I did.
     It was David that came and got Russell’s stuff so Russell started to live with him for a bit.  From then onwards Russell didn’t really care, he moved from place to place.  Starting at David’s, then out to Aunt Carole and her husband Peter’s, then up to Nightcaps and Ohai to stay with Sue (an ex of Uncle Joe’s).
     I missed Russell terribly.  He’d escaped the verbal and physical torture and was living in the sticks.  Mum was still telling me the same old story so one day I packed my bags and rode my bike all the way to Ohai to see him.  I arrived there very late at night.  I was pleased to see him and vice versa although he was a little bit shocked, after all – it was an 8 hour journey by bike.  I realised that I couldn’t stay there and was ushered back to Invercargill after a couple of days.  Mum had told Sue “Well she can stay there then”, but unfortunately she couldn’t take me on as well as Russell as she did have a family of her own.  When I got back to Invercargill mum took me to have lunch with her sisters in H&J’s (a department store), she’d told them that I’d ran away and was misbehaving and all I remember getting was a whole bunch of glares of the silent slap kind.
     It was in Nightcaps where Russell had his first gruesome accident.  He was double backing Sue’s horse called Pascoe who didn’t like more than one rider so bucked him off.  Russell landed on a steel pipe and his mate landed on top of him making the pipe go deeper into his stomach.  I went to see him at Invercargill hospital where he was on the drip.  His stitches were sewn up and he had to suck a weird flavoured cotton ball as he wasn’t allowed to eat for a couple of days.  I was relieved that he was alright and not seriously injured.  Sue asked mum to help pay for the ambulance bill – she point blank refused and told Sue “he’s your problem now.”
     Needless to say that Sue doesn’t think a great deal of our mum.  After Russell got better and was discharged from hospital he went back to Ohai and I guess tried to carry on as normal until he left Takitimu Area School when he was 15.
     The dynamics in the Johnstone household were changing again.  The family had moved to Tweed Street.  There wasn’t enough room for me in the house so I got to sleep in the garage.  Bearing in mind I was 12 when we had our ‘upgrade’.  They get a house - I get a garage!  It wasn’t as great as it sounds - it was bloody cold.  Every night I would sleep with a car.  It was a basic corrugated iron garage with no heating or insulation along with concrete floors so not only was it bloody cold it was really noisy as well.  The wind would whistle through the window panes and my single bed was nested in the corner with a single plain bed sheet pinned up on the rafters to make make-shift walls.  I wasn’t allowed to go into the house at all.  The only place I was ‘allowed’ to enter was the laundry room which had a separate outside door.  The door that led into the kitchen from the laundry room on the inside would be locked so I couldn’t get in.  Well, not unless I’d sneak in and there was one time that I did get in while mum wasn’t there and I started watching ‘Shazam’ on television.  I phoned up to enter a competition and actually won it.  I spoke to Phillip Schofield live on television and he said that “a Chris Rea album would be with you in a couple of days.”  Unfortunately mum caught me in the house that day and needless to say that my hands were rather sore after that.  So really - all I won was a bloody good kicking.  I never got the album.  I waited absolutely ages for it and it never arrived.  I kept checking the mailbox for a strange looking package but it never arrived.
     I learnt the sound of mum’s car and worked out how long it took her to get out of the car and into the house with giving me enough time to go out the front door while ensuring that nothing looked like it was out of place.  Trying to watch television was like a military undercover operation.  I used an unravelled wire coat hanger to unhinge the door to the kitchen from the laundry room – making sure that I locked it behind me.  For a few moments I could watch television in peace but before too long I was on my way out the front door and mum would be unlocking the back door.  Lance, Michael and Darlene had the run of the house and Paul was still working at the freezing works.
      I wrote a diary about my life up to that point but unfortunately Paul found it one day and showed mum.  They both didn’t like what they read and that also resulted in another beating.  I didn’t talk to anyone at school about my home life.  Mum never got involved with any aspect of my life whether it was sport at school, parent/teacher meetings – anything, same with Russell – no involvement at all.  The only time I can think of was when I came second in the cross country and I heard mum saying to Uncle Joe and his wife Margo that I had come second.  The praise was short lived as it was like she was competing with Margo’s kids in the ‘winning’ department.  Margo had three kids; Deon, Brendon and Rebecca.  Russell used to hang out with Brendon before he got thrown out and I used to hang out with Rebecca.  Mum also pointed out that Deon lived in a garage too so I thought it must’ve been ‘normal’ - until I saw his room in the garage - it was more like a deluxe apartment.  It was completely kitted out.  It was heated, wooden walls, a door even - absolutely nothing like my concrete floored shack.  Uncle Joe had converted his garage into three rooms, one was Deon’s room, another for his office and the other just a mucking about room where a pool table could go.
     Life continued on for a bit longer until change happened once again.  It was a relatively ‘normal’ day and I had arrived back from school to see a different car in the driveway.  She had a visitor and curiosity got the better of me.  There was nothing in the house that was mine however just made something up so I could be nosey so I opened the door.  Mum jumped up out of her seat and ran over to the door and tried to shut the door in my face, I said “Let me in.”  She didn’t say anything to me but turned to the lady sitting at the table watching and exclaimed “Look, see what she’s doing, see how she is.”       
     I froze after that statement and thought to myself, ‘what the fuck?’  My foot was in the door and I stood there rather dumbfounded, she started screaming “Move your foot, let me close the door.”  I took my foot away then she slammed the door in my face and I just went.  Turned out the lady was from social welfare.  Mum had been saying that I was too difficult to handle and would abuse my mother so I needed to be put into care.
     Social Welfare didn’t place me in foster care straight away.  All I remember was David loading my clothes in the car and staying with David and his family for a couple of weeks.  It was all a bit of a blur.  All I kept hearing from David’s partner was that she was tired of me crying all the time and I couldn’t stay there.  I got told that mum said that I was old enough to fend for myself and she was sick of the sight of me.  I’d not long turned 13 and the similarities of me and Russell getting kicked out at the same age was pretty astounding.
     A little while later I was placed in a temporary foster care home.  The family bred Persian cats and also worked with kids that had Down Syndrome.  The cats were a nightmare; screeching, shitting, having babies all over the place – and they stunk.  The feeling of being ‘the odd one out’ was ever present as well as the feeling of being in the way.  I didn’t like it, living with a strange family, trying to do the ‘family’ thing but not really knowing what it meant.
     The next temporary foster care family was with a family that had ‘cool’ kids, the daughter was 15 and it was her mission not to get pregnant by the time that she was 16.  They always had kids at the house so mingling was just okay.
     The next foster care family was in Nightcaps, near Sue’s.  It was a very religious family that had a pet opossum, a fat horse, one son at home and one daughter grown up and moved out.  I had to look after the horse and exercise it which was great but the downfall of bible-bashing was too much.  Nightcaps is in the ‘sticks’.  I lived next door to a deer farm and the stags would be making a racket at night.  The opossums would be jumping on the roof every five minutes and to top it off there was also a Canadian religious group that came and stayed.  No matter how hard they tried – I didn’t and refused to convert.  One of the girls said that she ‘speaks in tongues with God’.  She began ‘speaking to God’ in a kind of gibberish way and then announced that I am a ‘lighthouse’, which I thought was really weird.
     By the time that I was living in Nightcaps with the Kingi family, Russell had gotten into a few scrapes and was a bit of a bad boy.  He’d moved to Aunt Carole and Peter’s, then back to David’s and left there a few months before Timothy shot David’s arm off (David and Timothy had an argument so Timothy got the shot gun and shot him which resulted in David losing an arm).  After leaving David’s Russell headed for Dunedin and got caught for burglary so was sent to CT (Corrective Training) up north. 
     When we were younger Russell always seemed to be the favourite and although she’d say exactly the same to him about how she should’ve got rid of him when she had the chance; I was the biggest mistake - probably because of my timing into the whole situation.  At least Russell had some flicker of legitimacy as when she had him she didn’t know that our dad was already married and already had a family in Queensland somewhere.
     Russell and I wrote to each other and remained in touch.  He was happy due to the fact that he was doing his thing and he was getting praised for good work.  Sounds silly really but in reality neither he nor I had any positive feedback so his time in CT was indeed beneficial for his state of mind and confidence.  He was pleased about working that hard that his hands were covered in blisters and he couldn’t wait to do it all again the next day.
     It was quite a few months later that I had a phone call from mum.  She’d phoned the foster care place where I was living and invited me to her house.  When I got there she was being rather nice to me, it was a weird but nice feeling.  It made a huge change despite the fact that I was incredibly suspicious.  She said “If you come back and live with me that means that I can go on benefit, you can have your own room.”  I thought ‘and the truth shall set you free’.
     I’d never thought of myself as a ‘meal ticket’ before.  My first reaction was to tell her to fuck right off however I then thought, well, she is my mum so I went back to live with her.  It turned out that Paul had left and was living in Wellington.  Before too long mum had had enough of Lance, Michael and Darlene so she put them on a plane and sent them to their dad’s in Wellington. She was on her own.
     I moved back to live with mum and got Darlene’s old room.  It was a couple of months before I heard from Russell again.  He phoned up to say that he was going to be a dad.  He was back in Dunedin after his stint at CT and was hoping that mum would let him stay with her but mum refused - she didn’t want him near the house even.  I felt guilty about me being in the house and not him.  Russell wouldn’t have liked it for too long though as it wasn’t out of love that I was there.
     Not long after I’d spoken to him on the phone I started to get the dreams.  I say ‘dreams’ but really they were nightmares.  Premonitions if you like.  I saw Russell die while I was sleeping and couldn’t do jack to prevent it.
     It was the morning of 24 June 1990 that I woke nearly simultaneously as the cop car pulled up outside. Within six months of me moving back ‘home’ Russell was dead.  After he died and just after the funeral she just looked at me and said “These kinds of things can either bring you closer or tear you apart – you have to leave.”  So, yet again, I was homeless.  I ended up staying at a friend’s house in Invercargill before I left for Dunedin.
     When Russell died it was front page national news as well as headlining the evening news on television.  Listening to Mum going on about the trouble with youth just sickened me.  In one of her interviews she had said that all unruly teenagers should be sent off to some military training camp to straighten them out.  Of course, the media didn’t know that Russell had already been to CT (Corrective Training) however he certainly wasn’t wanted at home after the time that he’d spent at CT - or wanted at home; period.  She lapped up the attention.  I went to see Russell’s plaque at the cemetery before I left.  His ashes are buried in the cemetery not far from Ascot Racecourse (where we loved going).  Its a few paddocks away from the stud farm where he used to muck out the horses.  The encryption on the plaque still irritates me; it says ‘Love Mum and family’.
     The cold harsh fact that I was completely on my own had sunk in.  As well as the realisation that if I was going to make anything of my life that I would have to leave those memories behind me; wipe the slate clean and start afresh.  I became more determined to make something of my life rather than to see it just waste away, if not for my own self-worth; in memory of Russell.  Being repetitively told that we ‘would always be losers’, and, ‘you’ll never amount to much’ was a prophecy that needed to be broken; forever.  Russell had the right idea from the beginning by way of getting as far away from her and her malevolent streak as possible – only he cared too much and he was heartbroken when she’d said that she didn’t want him near the house after his time in CT.
     It struck me just before the interview at the hotel, the thought of not turning into a ‘statistic’.  It was a very dark time in Dunedin and there were many times that perhaps I was ‘meant’ to go the same way as my brother – not giving a shit anymore, I mean really – who the fuck cares anyway?  I began thinking to myself that if/when our eyes met again; Russell would be disappointed if I didn’t have any stories to share.

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