Monday, January 3, 2011


I was thinking about the people who has been in my life for as long as I can remember, a continuous influence . The first memory of my cousin Marlene was when we ran away from home together. I was about four and she was almost seven. We left a note and a dish with flowers for our mothers to find. We walked to the vacant block of land and played in the tadpole pond. Arriving home before we were missed did not diminish the pride in our short lived bravery.

Our bravery was tested again on December 19th 1965, when Ronald Ryan and Peter Walker escaped from Pentridge Prison , a prison guard was killed. My family were staying with my cousins family . Marlene and I shared a bedroom, I have a strong memory of laying in bed convinced the escaped criminals could come through the window at any moment. Capture was quick and Ronald Ryan became well known for being the last man to be hanged in Victoria.

I now feel sympathy for Ryan and great disdain for the Victorian Premier Henry Bolte who was determined to hang a man many people believe was innocent of murder. If this episode in my childhood had only been informed by the fear generated watching the six o’clock ‘horror movie’ news, I may have taken a different view . The response of my parents to the situation informed my adult view. They were horrified about the hanging of Ronald Ryan. Looking back I now wonder was it a purely moral stance or was it because Henry Bolte was a Liberal Party leader and our household were stalwart Labor voters.

I also wonder if having an older adventurous cousin gave me the confidence to go into the world with just a little more aplomb than may have been the case .


  1. What an amazing memory Lauren! Yes, the media was prolific in their account of the robbery, his capture and hanging. However, most major newspapers opposed the death penalty. I was attending Balwyn High School that year and my friend Kathy Ryan swore Ronald was her uncle and, so naturally we all believed him innocent. But this point of view was not without it's followers. There were many that thought hanging was an evil best to be avoided and many large-scale protests occurred, resulting in the abolition of the death penalty. Since police officers and other custodians of the law appear to be held in higher esteem than the ordinary person, this may well have been the reason why Ryan was hanged. Of course, there may have been some political agenda that propelled Bolte to be so adamant that Ryan should die ~Interesting to speculate. Now, in regards to you 'running away', I think young children do this and having an older adventurous cousin would definitely have made some impression upon you, as did your parent's attitude to the event you describe.

  2. I am aware that I did not address the question you posed about Liberal and Labor politics in regards to the issue of Ryan's hanging. One can never really know whether Ryan's working class background ~ born in Carlton with an alcoholic Irish father ~ garnered sympathy from Labor supporters and an adverse reaction from Liberal voters. But I strongly suspect that class relations always come into the picture in one way or another. I think that Ryan was considered a bit of a larrikin and the general 'Aussie' approach to these types is indicated best by the fact that 'we' made Ned Kelly a heroic figure. I've always had a bit of a soft spot for anti-authoritarians and have put it down to the fact that I am from Irish stock. I think I've been stereotyping in this way most of my life, but there is a certain pride here (and I'm certainly not supporting the death or killing or anyone), but I can't help 'rooting' for the underdog!

  3. I was privilaged to have met many times with Ronald Ryan's defence attorney Dr Philip Opas QC. - a brilliant high-profile barrister and supporter of capital punishment. He was convinced Ryan was innocent. The case was most ambiguous with a total lack of scientific ballistic forensic evidence.

    I wrote an article after a lengthy and intensive study of the Ryan case, citing all the 'facts' that strongly suggest a wrongly convicted man was executed.

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  5. Thanks for your comment and link to your article, which I think I had a brief look at before making my comment. I'm sure others will find it interesting. :)