Our king-hit culture keeps on swinging
It is just over 100 days since 18-year-old Thomas Kelly died from an alleged king-hit while walking down the street in Kings Cross with his girlfriend on the night of Friday July 7.
His death was completely senseless. It broke the nation’s heart. It also inflamed our shared sense of dismay at the casual nature of violence on our streets. But despite all the coverage the case received, since Thomas Kelly died there is little evidence of any significant reduction in the frequency or nature of this violence.
Since that terrible night in Kings Cross, in my hometown of Adelaide alone, two young men have died and another remains in hospital after unprovoked king-hit attacks. The cases received limited attention nationally, largely for the depressing reason that similar cases were playing out in other parts of the country.
In all three cases the young men were out on the town when they met their alleged assailants. One of them was a Dutchman, Henk van Oosterom, a young father who lost his life in September after allegedly being king-hit by two men while trying to break up a fight in the carpark at a northern suburbs hotel. Van Oosteron was due to be married in the Netherlands the following Sunday to his fiancée Sandra van der Klink, the mother of their 18-month-old daughter Janice.
A second man, Jason Lindsley, was belted outside a nightclub in Hindley St and spent a fortnight in an induced coma. It is not yet known whether he sustained a brain injury as a result of the attack. The photos of him in the ICU turn your stomach.
A third bloke died last week. Clint Hislop, 28, was drinking with mates in the beach suburb of Glenelg when he was allegedly attacked by two men at 2.40am.
Two facts are common to the van Oosterom and Hislop cases, and they suggest that the justice system has failed to respond to the sense of public disgust at the nature of these crimes. The assailants in both cases have not been charged with murder but with lesser crimes, continuing the legal fiction that you can smash someone in the head and claim that you had absolutely no intention of killing them. If the courts are going to reflect community standards, as they should, a much lower test for recklessness should apply given the well-documented risk carried by a single punch.
The second fact is that in both cases all bar one of the assailants has been granted bail. In the case of Clint Hislop, the two men accused of hitting him have even been allowed to return to their home state of Victoria pending trial in December.
The extent to which these types of attacks have been commonplace was underscored by a genuinely horrible coincidence involving the family of Clint Hislop. The Hislops are good friends with another family, the Davis family, who in 2008 lost their son Sam in a random king-hit attack. At the time, Clint Hislop’s father Peter helped his mate Neil Davis through the pain of losing a son to an unprovoked act of violence. Four years on, Neil is now returning the most gut-wrenching of favours to his mate Peter as he too does the one thing no parent ever wishes to contemplate in laying to rest his child.
If the Thomas Kelly case was going to force a change in the behaviour of young men, these three cases are hardly a cause for optimism. Campaigns such as Real Heroes Walk Away have focussed less on calls for legislative change than for greater discussion around personal responsibility, in urging young blokes to think through the consequences of violent behaviour, and challenge the conduct of their mates when they start acting like ratbags, especially when they’re full of ink.
One new proposal which is worth some consideration came out of the killing of Clint Hislop. His two alleged assailants were 23-year-old amateur footy players from the Geelong and Districts Football League team Inverleigh. There have been calls from a former South Australian police minister Robert Brokenshire for the creation of a “thug register” to ban violent young men from all football codes at all levels. Brokenshire’s argument isn’t that sport is the problem, rather that punishing young blokes by ostracising them might be a way of hitting them where it hurts, showing that they will be socially excluded if they behave in a seriously anti-social manner. The two men accused of attacking Clint Hislop were on an unsanctioned end-of-year footy trip and are the type of blokes for whom sport is everything. A life ban from playing footy would be almost as shocking a result as jail time. Given the often pathetic nature of our courts, it may even be a more likely result.
The bigger challenge is to put an end to the molly-coddling nonsense that when a bloke swings a punch and someone ends up dead it was just one of those things, a rotten bit of luck. Luck shouldn’t come into it. The consequences of this conduct are depressingly and tragically foreseeable.
The quote from the coach of the Inverleigh Football Club, Dale Smyth, left me cold. After Clint Hislop died, Dale Smyth said the two men accused of the attack had been involved with the club for a number of years and that the club would be sticking by them.
“I can only say what I see and they are good kids,” Mr Smyth said.
I’m not trying to bag Mr Smyth, and up to a point you have got to give a bloke credit for sticking up for his mates. But the key difference with these two blokes is that while they apparently are good kids, Clint Hislop was a good kid. Past tense.
Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…