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Michaela Dunn deserves our sympathy as a victim. Ask Kaera

Michaela Dunn deserves our sympathy as a victim. Ask Kaera

On the rare occasions I am allowed to leave the office and engage with humans I am often asked: “When are going retire?”

The question, while confronting, is quite reasonable considering I look around 100 years old and in urgent need of a walking frame. Despite this impression the answer is I have no plans to move into a nursing home any time soon as the only thing left working in the present state of decrepitude is the teeth, which means my food does not, as yet, require processing in a blender.

I actually enjoy what I do, expressing random thoughts in this column in return for a small stipend that helps pay for life’s necessities such as cabernet merlot, blue cheese and chocolate-covered almonds.

The alternative would leave me the most boring man at the pub, mumbling incoherently through a mouthful of salt-and-vinegar crisps telling those who aren’t interested how I think the world should work.

We are often defined by what we do, not who we are. Worse still, there is a secret system of affording people a value based on their occupation. This is particularly true in the world of crime, where we make a snap judgement on the victim using this unspoken order of rank.

A young man who may have a future as an AFL player is considered more valuable and newsworthy than a young man who is very good at chess. A young woman has more to lose if she is pretty than one who is not. That is of course if she is a “good” girl and not a “naughty” one.

When Michaela Dunn, 24, was stabbed to death in a Sydney CBD apartment a few days ago she was quickly identified as a sex worker. Her profession did not define her for she was a young woman loved by her family, respected by her friends, filled with optimism and entitled to live a full and happy life.

Victim of Sydney knife attack Michaela Dunn, 24.

Victim of Sydney knife attack Michaela Dunn, 24.

There is a reason for the judgement and it is not necessarily a moral one. If we can “blame” the victim it makes us all feel a little safer. If the person has engaged in behaviour that we would not, then we feel less at risk. If a skydiver dies it is sad. But if a swimmer is taken by a shark at a popular beach it is terrifying, because it could be us.

There can be no greater example than Kaera Douglas, the victim of repeated domestic violence before being shot in cold blood in a city street.

On the conventional meter of sympathy she should be off the scale. She was young, smart, pretty, white and a former private school student from the posh suburb of Toorak.

Except for one thing. She was a stripper and her partner a bikie. There is no doubt she made bad choices but that doesn’t make her a bad person. She is the victim, not the offender.

When she appeared in court over a minor police charge just recently she was still identified as a “former stripper”. A package worth less than $100 was delivered to her home and she kept it – hardly the Great Bookie Robbery.

“I’ve worked so hard to get my name out of the mud and then this happens. It is so disappointing,” she says.

For more than a decade she has battled physical and mental scars – plus a slice of guilt that two strangers who tried to save her were shot, with one losing his life.

A natural extrovert, she was the self-confessed class clown at Catholic private school who harboured an unusual ambition. ‘‘I always wanted to be a stripper. I was attracted to the beauty and glamour. I just wanted to look like that.”

After Year 12 she and a friend went to work at Camp USA holiday sites but she had another secret plan on the trip - to become an exotic dancer in Manhattan.

Kaera Douglas, a natural extrovert.

Kaera Douglas, a natural extrovert.Credit:Internet

Armed with a fake ID (she was underage) she started in a backstreet venue before moving to bigger Mafia-dominated clubs.

“I loved the money and attention,” finishing each shift with at least $1500 in cash. Perhaps that’s where she developed a weakness for bad men. Returning to Melbourne in 2002 she was soon associating with the city's gangsters, including the notorious Jason Moran, who was gunned down in June 2003 as part of the gangland war.

There is a certain glamour around gangsters. Certainly a big underworld function seems to have more than its fair share of young women in designer dresses on the arms of older men.

“I got involved with the Moran crew. I wanted to be in with them – there were drugs, fast cars and money. And they liked to spend it. It was fun.”

Sometimes she would be invited to the Moran crew’s business lunch, usually held at a Japanese restaurant in Moonee Ponds, but if there were secrets shared she didn’t hear: “I was so self-involved I didn’t see what was going on.”

It was when she moved to Sydney that she met Christopher Wayne Hudson and if you were to have a relationship with a bikie, Hudson should have been the last choice.

He had defected from The Finks to the Hells Angels, which sparked a bikie war. He was always dangerous and constantly in danger. He hurt some people while others wanted to kill him. He was erratic, armed and a heavy drug user, not that Douglas had the maturity to see the danger.

She saw him as romantic, handsome and devoted to her. “We were head over heels together. It was magic,” she says.

That is until Mother’s Day, 2007. She still doesn’t know what triggered him to kick the hotel door off its hinges and punch her in the face. “I just kept apologising. I was thinking I must have done something wrong.”

Christopher Wayne Hudson at the Supreme Court.

Christopher Wayne Hudson at the Supreme Court.Credit:Jason South

Later he made her eat a meal in the dark so he didn’t have to look at her battered face.

Over the next two months she was beaten, choked and tortured by the increasingly unhinged Hudson.

“He told me had already found the place he was going to bury me. I knew he would eventually kill me. He loved bashing women. He was sick for it.

“He made me stand up, then choke me to see what shade of purple I would turn. He broke my ribs and left welts all over me.”

The outgoing, confident young woman was soon broken – she felt if she told her family they were in danger and she was too scared to run because “I knew he would find me”.

It was early on Monday, June 18, 2007, just as city workers were arriving at their jobs, that Hudson finally imploded. First he beat and kicked a woman in a strip club before dragging her into King Street. Then he saw Douglas, who had just arrived on Hudson’s orders to drive him home.

“He grabbed me and said, ‘Today is the day you are going to die.' I tried to make a run for it, then he shot me in the stomach.”

Two men - solicitor Brendan Keilar, 43, a father of three and Paul de Waard, a 25-year-old Dutch backpacker, tried to step in. Keilar was shot and died near the corner of William Street and Flinders Lane. De Waard and Douglas both survived.

The plaque on the corner of William Street and Flinders Lane paying tribute to the heroism of Brendan Keilar, who lost his life, and Paul de Waard.

The plaque on the corner of William Street and Flinders Lane paying tribute to the heroism of Brendan Keilar, who lost his life, and Paul de Waard.Credit:Jason South

The word hero has been devalued over the years but the actions of these two men were truly heroic. Hudson was a huge man, inflated by a diet of steroids, who was beating a woman. Whether they knew he had a gun or not, they both knew they were risking serious physical injury.

Witnesses told police the gunman hesitated then pointed the gun under his own chin as if considering suicide. But self-preservation instincts overrode the impulse and he dumped the gun, a .40-calibre Llama Mini Max, before escaping.

He surrendered to police two days later with a self-inflicted wrist wound and was later sentenced to life with a minimum of 35 years.

After emergency surgery, De Waard survived but only just. Douglas was in intensive care for two weeks and hospital for a month, losing a kidney in the process.

Looking forward: Kaera Douglas, August 2019.

Looking forward: Kaera Douglas, August 2019.Credit:Paul Jeffers

When she woke she had to deal with the trauma but also the guilt that two good men had made great sacrifices for her. They were seen as victims but she was treated as part of the problem.

“I was 24 years old and I felt I was never given the privilege of being a victim. I had to get on with it. I felt as guilty as he was. Why did I stay? What was it all about?”

She had nightmares for years and was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She wrote to Hudson in prison: “I wanted to know why. He couldn’t tell me – I have no answers.

“It took me years to understand it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. I wasn’t special, I was just the girl at the end of the chain when he snapped.

“It took me three years to decide that I needed to embrace life to honour his [Brendan Keilar’s] sacrifice.

“I want to be someone worth saving.”

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