from the editor's desk

Review of ‘Don’t Make a Fuss: it’s only the Claremont serial killer’ by Wendy Davis

Davis, Wendy. Don’t Make a Fuss: it’s only the Claremont serial killer. Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 2022. RRP $29.99, 216pp, ISBN: 9781760991227.

Jen Bowden

It’s hard to know where to begin when discussing Wendy Davis’s raw, emotional and damning memoir detailing her life before and after a violent attack on her by the man who was later convicted as the Claremont serial killer.

Davis welcomes us into the narrative with an honest and open look at her life in the lead-up to that event. After finding the courage to leave an abusive marriage, she explains how she retrained and started working in a job she loved at Hollywood Hospital, only for a Telstra (then Telecom) worker to attack her in her office.

The attack is relayed in detail, as is the aftermath, in which the violence of that man’s act was dismissed and diminished: he was only charged with common assault and was able to keep his job. Then follows the revelation, years later, that the same man has been arrested on suspicion of the Claremont serial killings. The book then follows the investigation and subsequent trial, where Davis finally gets to tell her story. Throughout, Davis attempts to reconcile herself with the fact that, had her account of the assault been believed, investigated and dealt with, the Claremont murders may not have happened.

One of the things which makes Davis’s book so compelling is the way she weaves the impacts of her attack into the narrative of her ‘ordinary’ life:

It was a week before Christmas in 2016 when, midway through icing the Christmas cake, I answered a call on our landline. The caller asked if I was Wendy Davis. I replied that I was, and she introduced herself as Katy, a detective senior constable from the Western Australia Police Force. (17)

This combination of everyday ins-and-outs with the constant interruption of violence and trauma shows what it is to live with these kinds of constant disturbances. Davis details grandchildren being born, meeting the love of her life and trying to settle into life in Hobart while facing a constant barrage of reminders of that one horrific day. There’s the sense that she’s telling her story because she has been silenced for so long, not to seek attention.

Though Davis avoids placing blame squarely on the shoulders of one single institution, she asks a number of questions about why firstly Telstra, then the police, diminished the attack on her and failed to properly investigate it. She often hits the nail on the head when exploring the wider social and cultural issues which impacted organisational responses:

My story did not begin with the assault at Hollywood Hospital in 1990. It began when I was born into a society whose patriarchal social institutions were originally developed within an ideology that viewed men as more important than women. Early in my life I learned that, as a female, it was easier for me to negotiate those institutions and my relationships if I didn’t challenge the status quo, but conformed to the expectations of others. (207)

This sense of having to conform and submit to patriarchal values is a recurring theme in the book. Even during her second marriage—to a police officer—Davis relays how she was told that she would need to put his career first and support him. But far from being accusatory, resorting to cliché and stereotype, she maintains her dignity and offers nuanced observations based on her own experience.

Though movements such as #metoo have given women the courage to speak out against their abusers, it’s clear from this book that we still have a long way to go before those who have been victims of crime can feel confident that they can speak out, and that justice will be done. All too often, as was the case here, the victim’s experience is dismissed in favour of their attacker’s reputation. Davis writes,

I believe that we still need to have these conversations—because there were in fact no real consequences for Edwards of his unprovoked violent attack on a stranger while at work. His resulting police record was minor. He retained his job, his career, his reputation. (208)

This is a story we’ve heard all too often, and one which will send chills into the hearts of those who haven’t had the chance to have their voices heard.

Don’t Make a Fuss… is an important, brave and timely book that offers an honest and heart-wrenching insight into how an ordinary woman’s life was turned upside down. Wendy Davis deserved to have her voice heard then. Because it wasn’t, this story needs to be heard now. We need to listen so that we—as a society—can learn to open our hearts and our ears to those affected by violent crime, in order to afford them the space to speak their truth.

Jen is a writer and journalist based in Perth. She lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland for ten years and has written for a number of UK newspapers and magazines including The ListThe Guardian and The Scotsman. She previously worked for Scoop Events and in the marketing team at Fremantle Press, and is now a freelance writer and editor.

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