1) BOOK REVIEW
Murder in Melbourne: The untold story of Aiia Maasarwe by Alex Mitchell, 2020
Kevin Bain writes: This little book added important aspects to my awareness of this terrible event, which I discuss below. My interest in reading it was because of one thing that I found so sad at the time, which was reported in the media and repeated in Alex’s book.
The murderer Codey Herrmann said he wanted to be in jail because “I’ve gained a safe place to sleep. I get fed three times a day. I have a shower and I’ve also gained a sense of hope that maybe one day, if I behave myself in custody. I might get to go to a prison that has good programmes.”
That he lived in close proximity to others in a Melbourne suburb for most of his life, yet was so unloved and alienated from his surroundings, is profoundly depressing. The book gives much of his background which suggests his statement can be taken at face value.
It raises a wider question. How is it that our capitalist society, in the name of individual freedom, allows such damaged and lost souls to float freely for so long? But he was not unnoticed: Herrmann had a long history with the welfare sector, but no priors for anything at all. Until, that is, he commits one unspeakable act against another person, and is sent to prison for 36 years. The unreported big picture here is the low bar set by the welfare state for helping him deal with life – keeping his nose clean with the law is good enough to leave him alone.
Alex wants a wider discussion about the justice system, but in fact he documents here its pervasive middle-class superiority and conservative bias. Herrmann’s lack of worth resonates with the recent WA case of an orphan abused by the Christian Brothers, whose barrister argued for a lower level of damages because the “child did not come from a well-off, middle-class family with professional parents and great prospects.” I suspect a more useful and fundamental question is how we get our self-described “community” to absorb and give meaning to its outsiders.
His sibling’s account of their early life, and Herrmann’s recent personal history, is also provided here. Mysterious aspects of the case are discussed, namely his Facebook entries and another incident the night before, which was officially unrelated.
Other important aspects are highlighted, including the generous and dignified response from the victim Aiia’s family. Also, the official Israeli response which only showed interest in citizenship status, ignoring her Palestinian identity. The Australian media, suborned to Israel’s interests for so long, echoed this denial of her humanity, which was noticed here and abroad. But it is no surprise that [Guardian Australia journalist] Gay Alcorn is noted as an exception.
Kevin Bain is an economic analyst and retired teacher from Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula who has widespread involvement in community activism and human rights. He has written acclaimed articles on refugees, poverty, neo-liberalism and development aid.
In a comment on the review by Bishop George Browning, Jim Kable writes: Every now and then a Jesus-like Christian stands up and practises honest-to-God understanding which is not vituperative, not finger-pointing – but full of compassion across the spectrum of humanity being oppressed and suffering the ugliness of those concerned only with power. In other spaces I have praised the backgrounding by Alex Mitchell in this book to the tragedy of Aiia Maarsawe – tragedies do not spring fully-formed – they develop and bubble up out of a myriad of other injustices and oppression. Thanks to Alex Mitchell and to George Browning. And no thanks to the others named in this review. And how interesting and appropriate it is to have bullying acknowledged as the weakness it truly is: “The world is full of victims, but Israel’s brutalising of Palestinians is a sign of deep-seated weakness as they use historic victim-hood as a badge of identity, justifying crimes against others.”
Jim Kable has taught in NSW, Spain, Germany and Japan and writes about social justice, the rights of indigenous Australians and asylum seekers, and the need for Australia to have a foreign policy independent of the US.
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