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On Father’s Day
18 / 10 / 2013
On Father’s Day 2005, Cindy Gambino received news beyond comprehension of most parents – her ex Robert Farquharson, father of her three boys, veered off the road with the children and into an icy dam following a Father’s Day access visit. The terrible impact of the tragedy on his former wife, Cindy Gambino, made headline news around the country. But while Cindy struggled to come to terms with the loss of her three little boys, in what her ex-husband maintained was a dreadful freak accident, a more sinister picture soon emerged which would spark one of the most controversial, high profile and protracted legal cases in Australian criminal history.
Investigative journalist and author Megan Norris (below right, with Cindy) has meticulously chronicled this case, which spans seven years, two trials and three appeal hearings. Combined with her observations of Cindy’s painful journey as she attempts to rebuild her life after the murders, the book is being hailed by police and family violence experts as a valuable insight into the motivation and the legacy of revenge killings committed by vengeful fathers to punish mothers for ending relationships.
At the book’s launch last week in Melbourne, Megan spoke of making a promise to Cindy in undertaking the writing of the book – to help be her ‘voice’ in telling this important story. In the spirit of helping Cindy and Megan have this voice ‘heard’, Sheilas sought permission from Five Mile Press to reproduce this excerpt of the book.
They spent the larger part of Wednesday afternoon in the chapel with their families and the Colac undertaker, discussing arrangements for the boys’ funeral. It all felt unreal to Cindy. Less than a week ago, she’d sat beside Rob watching Jai receive his pennant for winning the grand final. Now here she was, sitting in a hospital chapel, discussing coffins and prayers.
Cindy looked through the window to where the rest of the world would now be collecting children from school and getting dinner ready. Life was rolling on outside, where Bailey should have been watching his Wiggles DVD and Jai and Tyler ought to have been kicking a footy. Instead their names now filled the obituary columns. The children’s classmates had written special tributes in their memory. ‘Jai is funny, cool, smart and kind. Rest in peace. LS.’
Bob and Bev Gambino went off to contact the cemetery, where they’d already made their own arrangements to be buried. The newer part of the cemetery had room for the construction of a vault. Jai, Tyler and Bailey would be the first to be laid to rest in this part of the burial ground.
Rob left with the locket samples he’d brought for Cindy to choose from. He’d get his sisters to drive him to Geelong to buy the lockets. He’d asked Cindy for a framed photo of Jai, and she’d told him there was one at Austin Street, of little Jai posing between his mum and dad. When the others were gone, Cindy returned to her hospital bed. ‘What will I do now?’ she whimpered.
Stephen was with her when her parents came back, then he made a proposition. Earlier that day, he’d sat his children down for a chat. ‘How would you boys feel about Cindy coming to live with us?’ he’d asked.
‘It’s OK if you think you might not be ready for that, but it’s just an idea. What do you think? It’s up to you.’
The boys looked at each other and spoke without hesitation. ‘Yes,’ they said. ‘We want that.’
Now, Stephen broached the subject with Cindy. ‘We’ve been talking,’ he said, studying her face, ‘and we want to know if you’d like to come and live with us when you come home.’
The idea of any kind of a life without her boys was so horrifying that Cindy hadn’t allowed herself to think about it. The thought of returning to Austin Street left her cold with dread. She had no thoughts for the future. What future?
Stephen’s offer was realistic. It was certainly what she wanted. But what she’d imagined was two families merging into one happy family with a future. Joining another family by herself wasn’t something she’d ever considered.
Her parents were visibly upset at the suggestion. Bev’s crumpled face said everything she hadn’t the words to say. Her father protested, ‘But we thought you’d come home with us.’
Bev agreed. ‘We want to take you home with us and look after you.’
Cindy understood how Bev felt. Her mother wanted to take her baby home, to wrap her in cotton wool and soothe her pain. To try and make it better.
Cindy was torn. Her heart lay with the man who’d been through so much of the tragedy that had claimed her children’s lives. He’d put his own life at risk to save her boys, and she wanted to be with him. But with so much going on, she knew the time wasn’t right. Her parents were already upset, and she didn’t want to cause them any more pain.
So on Friday 9 September, five long days after losing her children, Cindy sat in the hospital courtyard, waiting to go home to Birregurra.
Her brother Scott broached a diffi cult subject. ‘Mum and Dad don’t want Stephen coming around to Birregurra,’ he told her. ‘It’s too soon.’
Cindy shook her head. Didn’t she have enough pain? If Stephen wasn’t welcome, she wouldn’t go home with them at all. How could anyone expect that?
Reluctantly, her family compromised and said Stephen could visit. That afternoon, Scott drove his sister back to her parents’ home, and Cindy made her way to the bedroom where she’d slept as a girl. What do I do now? she thought numbly as she lay curled in a foetal position on the bed.
Last week she was a busy mum with school runs to make, uniforms to wash, kids to get ready for footy training and to drive to cubs. A mum with shopping and housework to do, with her sons and their playmates to feed when friends stopped over for dinner. She’d attended playgroup sessions where she’d sipped tea and chatted with the other mums about stuff like toilet training and holidays. And dreams.
But today she was a 33-year-old mother without children, being minded by her own mum. She felt utterly desolate, and she hadn’t a clue what she was going to do.
‘On Father’s Day’ the book is available at Big W, Target, Kmart and all good bookstores, or online at www.fivemile.com.au
Megan Norris is a UK trained journalist with more than 30 years experience. After emigrating to Australia with her husband and two sons in 1990, Megan established a court reporting agency, to supply major news stories and features to national print and TV outlets. Now writing for women’s magazines, Megan continues to specialise in crime features, covering some of the most highly publicised international cases including the Port Arthur shootings, the stories of survivors from the Bali Bombings, Melbourne’s notorious Body in the Boot murder case and the Underworld wars. Last year she was the only Australian journalist to cover the exclusive account of the death of Australia’s most notorious gangland killer, Carl Williams from an interview with his former partner, Roberta Williams. She is a former winner of the EVA (Eliminating Violence Against Women) awards and the co author of the best -selling book, Perfect Victim, which is the true life murder story of Melbourne teenager, Rachel Barber – a case she covered extensively.